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April 30, 2009

Canada uniquely positioned to reactivate and support constructive forms of engagement in Sri Lanka

Statement on Sri Lanka by International and Canadian Academics

We are writing to express our grave concerns about the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in the “safe zone” in the Vanni region of Sri Lanka. Most independent observers estimate that more than 200,000 Tamil civilians, many already displaced multiple times, have been under siege in the tiny coastal strip with at least 50,000 still there. Confirmed reports indicate that more than 6,400 civilians, including 700 children, have been killed since January 2009.

Displaced persons who have managed to flee the fighting have been placed in de facto detention camps by the Sri Lankan government where they are denied freedom of movement, in contravention of international standards. There are over 40,000 displaced people being held in 13 sites in the Vavuniya District in overcrowded conditions without adequate access to healthcare, food and water. There are reports of rape, torture and killings in the camps (Medico International, Germany, April 16, 2009). Civilians who are suspected of LTTE ties have been taken into government custody, leading to fears of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, tactics the government and its allied militias have employed in significant numbers over the past few years (Amnesty International, ASA 37/004/2009).

Recent artillery attacks by Sri Lankan forces have indiscriminately targeted civilians and civilian objects, in contravention of international humanitarian law. There are credible reports that the Sri Lankan army may be using illegal cluster bombs as well as thermobaric bombs in the safe zone with high civilian casualties. There have been more than two dozen incidents of artillery shelling or aerial bombardment on or near hospitals, in flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions. The presence of wounded combatants in hospitals does not turn them into legitimate targets. Deliberately attacking a hospital is a war crime. At the same time we deplore the LTTE’s forcible recruitment of civilians, including children, for untrained military duty and for labour in the combat zones as well as its practice of forcing civilians to retreat with its forces, deliberately preventing civilians under its effective control from fleeing to safety. Nevertheless, violations of the laws of war by one side to a conflict do not justify violations by the opposing side. They do not permit the indiscriminate use of force by the Sri Lankan forces in response (Human Rights Watch, 20 Februrary 2009).

The overall human rights situation in Sri Lanka has deteriorated dramatically since the current government assumed power in 2006. The Sri Lankan government has utilized the “war on Terror” as a cover to systematically destroy all democratic processes and institutions. Sri Lanka was ranked 165th out of 173 countries in the ‘Reporters Without Borders’ 2008 press freedom index, the lowest ranking of any democratic country. Political opponents and journalists with critical views are subject to threats, intimidation and assassination. The culture of impunity has been institutionalized. In an effort to shield its own actions from public scrutiny, the Sri Lankan government has barred most humanitarian agencies, independent observers and journalists from the conflict zones. As a result there is a lack of timely information about the situation of the trapped civilians as well as severe shortfalls in humanitarian assistance.

The government of Sri Lanka continues to justify its actions as necessary to achieve an imminent victory over “Tamil terrorism.” However, as long as the human rights of the Tamil minority are subject to systematic violation, the conflict will persist and the LTTE will garner support from Tamils in both Sri Lanka and the diaspora, despite its proscription by various Western countries, including Canada.

There is a critical need for international solidarity in the face of this immediate catastrophe. We believe that the government of Canada has a special responsibility to act to bring about an end to violations of international law and to make a significant contribution to a political resolution of this conflict. As host to the largest Tamil diaspora outside of Sri Lanka, Canada should assume a proactive role in promoting and supporting efforts aimed at resolving the legitimate grievances of the Tamil people including recognition of their right to self-determination. The world-wide Tamil diaspora is strongly represented and plays an important role in the life of many of our cities; their concerns should be our concerns too.

The previous government supported an advisory role for the Canadian Forum of Federations in Sri Lanka while the current government appointed a representative to the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) with a mandate to observe investigations into human rights abuses (the IIGEP withdrew from Sri Lanka in March 2008 in the face of Sri Lanka’s failure to meet even the basic minimum standards in probing rights abuses). Canada is uniquely positioned to reactivate and support such constructive forms of engagement.

We therefore call on the Government of Canada to:

•Work with both parties to the conflict to implement an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire.

•Urge the International community and the UN to take responsibility for the protection of Tamil civilians.

•Urge the UN Security Council to authorize timely and decisive measures to halt mass atrocities in the Vanni region of Sri Lanka, including the dispatch of a special envoy to the region, and the creation of a commission of inquiry into crimes under international law committed by any person or entity.

•Demand that the government of Sri Lanka remove restrictions imposed on access to the conflict zone for humanitarian workers and media and permit international observers in the detention camps.

•Demand that the LTTE allow civilians to continue to leave the conflict area.

•Initiate internationally mediated efforts aimed at achieving a durable political solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka.

Signed by:

Nuzhat Abbas, Toronto
Maita Abola Sayo,York University
Lyn Adamson
Greg Albo, Professor,York University
Tariq Amin-Khan, Assistant Professor, Ryerson University
Benjamin Baader, Assistant Professor, University of Manitoba
Zaheer Baber, Professor, University of Toronto
Reem Bahdi, Professor, University of Windsor
Tanya Basok, University of Windsor
Andrew Biro, Assistant Professor, Acadia University
Malcolm Blincow, Associate Professor, York University
Raoul Boulakia, Lawyer, Toronto
Mark Bradley, UQAM
Mike Burke, Associate Professor, Ryerson University
Laura Cameron, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair, Queen's University
R. Cheran, Assistant Professor, University of Windsor
Tanya Chung Tiam Fook,York University
Francis Cody, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto
Janet Conway, Associate Professor, Brock University
Kendra Coulter, University of Windsor
Carol Lynne D'Arcangelis, Instructor, Ryerson University
Radhika Desai, Professor, University of Manitoba
Susan Drummond, Professor, York University
Robin E. Feenstra, McGill University
Christoph Emmrich, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto
Bryan Evans, Associate Professor, Ryerson University
Pascale Fournier, Assistant Professor, University of Ottawa
Evan Fox-Decent, Assistant Professor, McGill University
Victoria Freeman, University of Toronto
Doreen Fumia, Assistant Professor, Ryerson University
Grace-Edward Galabuzi, Associate Professor, Ryerson University
Glynis George, Associate Professor, University of Windsor
Wenona Giles, Professor, York University
Sam Gindin, York University
Harry Glasbeek, Professor Emeritus and Senior Scholar, Osgoode Hall Law School
Avvy Go, Director, Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic
Ellen Goldberg, Professor, Queen's University
Rebecca Granovsky-Larsen, Ryerson University
Ricardo Grinspun, Associate Professor, York University
Gayle Gross, The NIA Group, LLC
Victoria Gross, The NIA Group, LLC
Tanya Gulliver, York University
Shubhra Gururani, Associate Professor, York University
Denise Hammond, CUPE
Sharryn J. Aiken, Assistant Professor Queen's University
Barbara Jackman, Jackman & Associates, Barristers and Solicitors
Kajri Jain, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto
Amina Jamal, Assistant Professor, Ryerson University
Donna Jeffery, Associate Professor, University of Victoria
Ilan Kapoor, Associate Professor, York University
RM Kennedy, Centennial College
Samantha King, Assistant Professor, Queen's University
Gary Kinsman, Professor, Laurentian University
Mustafa Koc, Associate Professor, Ryerson University
Joy Kogawa
Jane Ku, Assistant Professor, University of Windsor
Anton Kuerti
Lee Lakeman, Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter
Jack Layton, Leader, New Democratic Party of Canada
Genevieve LeBaron, Professor, York University
Jean Lee
N. Gitanjali Lena, Lawyer
Eleanor MacDonald, Associate Professor, Queen’s University
Audrey Macklin, Professor, University of Toronto
Ali Mallah, Canadian Peace Alliance/Canadian Arab Federation
Elizabeth May, Leader, Green Party of Canada
Susan McGrath, Associate Professor, York University
Pat McKendry
Susan McNaughton, York University
Adele Mercier, Professor, Queen's University
Nchamah Miller, Network of Latin American Investigators for Democracy and Peace
Srimoyee Mitra, SAVAC
Kevin Moloney, York University
Colin Mooers, Professor, Ryerson University
Khaled Mouammar, National President, Canadian Arab Federation
Katharine N. Rankin, Associate Professor, University of Toronto
Mary-Jo Nadeau, Trent University
Mera Nirmalan-Nathan, Ontario Public Interest Research Group
Peter Nyers, Associate Professor, McMaster University
Obiora Okafor, Professor, York University
Leo Panitch, Distinguished Research Professor, Canada Research Chair, York University
Stephen Pender, Associate Professor, University of Windsor
Steve Pitt
Srilata Raman, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto
Narda Razack, Associate Professor, York University
Judy Rebick, Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy, Ryerson University
Darryl Robinson, Assistant Professor, Queen's University
Stephanie Ross, Assistant Professor, York University
Carole Roy, St. Francis Xavier University
Andre Schmid, Associate Professor, University of Toronto
Craig Scott, Professor of Law, Director, Nathanson Centre on Transnational Human Rights, Crime and Security, Osgoode Hall Law School
Alan Sears, Associate Professor, Ryerson University
Mitu Sengupta, Assistant Professor, Ryerson University
Tyler Shipley, York University
Sadeqa Siddiqui, Centre Communautaire des Femmes Sud-Asiatique, Montreal
Preethy Sivakumar,York University
Haema Sivanesan, SAVAC
Jamie Smith, York University
Susanne Soederberg, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Global Political Economy, Queen’s University
Aparna Sundar, Assistant Professor, Ryerson University
Donald Swartz, Associate Professor, Carleton University
Cheryl Teelucksingh, Associate Professor, Ryerson University
Vimalesan Thasan, York University
Nishant Upadhyay, York University
Ravi Vaitheespara, Associate Professor, University of Manitoba
Chris Vance, York University
Heather Vidito, CUPE
Karen Walker, York University
Rosemary Warskett, Associate Professor, Carleton University
Mel Watkins, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto
Melissa Autumn White, York University
Cynthia Wright, York University
Jesse Zimmerman, York University

Endorsed By:

Elizabeth Allen, Massey University, New Zealand
Gnana K. Bharathy, Assistant Professor, Old Dominion University, USA
Anne M. Blackburn, Cornell University, USA
Piya Chatterjee, Associate Professor, University of California Riverside, USA
Lawrence Cohen, Professor, University of California Berkeley, USA
E. Valentine Daniel, Professor, Columbia University
Öivind Fuglerud, Professor, University of Oslo, Norway
Anita Hillestad, Norway
Paul Knight, Massey University, New Zealand
Ram Mahalingam, Associate Professor, University of Michigan, USA
Dennis McGilvray, Associate Professor, University of Colorado at Boulder, USA
Mr. J.B.P. More, Institute for Research in Social Sciences and Humanities
Kathleen Morley, Professor, University of Oslo, Norway
Madhusree Mukerjee
Tove Nicolaisen, Professor, University of Oslo, Norway
Lalsangkima Pachuau, Associate Professor, Asbury Theological Seminary, USA
Peter Schalk, Professor, Uppsala University, USA
Janikke Solstad Vedeler, Norwegian Social Research
Jonas M.N. Sørensen, Norway
Margaret Trawick, Professor, Massey University, New Zealand
Padma Venkataraman, MANGAI - Theatreperson
Sita Venkateswar, Massey University, New Zealand
Mark Whitaker, Professor, University of South Carolina, USA

Britain's foreign secretary David Miliband accused of policy based on LTTE propaganda

Sri Lanka's defence minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa has launched an angry verbal attack on Britain's foreign secretary David Miliband, accusing him of basing his policy on Tamil Tiger propaganda:

By Dean Nelson in Colombo

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, the president's brother raged at the co-ordinated pressure being put on his government by the international community and singled out this week's visit of Mr Miliband and Bernard Kouchner, his French counterpart, as a "waste of time".

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[Britain's foreign secretary David Miliband with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Apr 29th in Colombo]

He spoke after reports of a "stand up row" between him and Mr Miliband during a meeting in Colombo in which the Foreign Secretary was trying to persuade the Sri Lankan government to declare a ceasefire to allow civilians trapped in the fighting to leave.

Mr Rajapaksa, who is known as a passionate and feisty advocate of completely crushing the Tamil Tigers and capturing its leadership, said Mr Miliband had interrupted him during their meeting.

"Maybe it's his way but I don't mind his attitude or his ways. My issue is the present situation and why he should interfere in these things. That's what I told him. People in this country approve of what the president is doing and a leader must listen to people in his own country not the foreign minister of the UK," he said.

On the eve of Mr Miliband’s visit to Sri Lanka, Colombo denied a visa to Carl Bildt, Sweden’s foreign minister, who was hoping to join the peace mission, sparking a row with the European Union.

A Sri Lankan foreign ministry official indicated that Colombo felt it had already done enough by letting in Miliband and Kouchner.

Mr Rajapaksa said Britain and other members of the international community were now plaguing Sri Lanka with "unnecessary" visits to please the Tamil communities in their own countries but had not been so vocal when the Tamil Tigers had assassinated top Sri Lankan politicians and innocent civilians.

"In Mr Miliband's constituency there are many Tamils and they want to save the LTTE leadership, not civilians. It's a joke. We have proved we can save these civilians by rescuing 200,000. So why so many foreign ministers in this indecent hurry?

"When Prabhakaran [the LTTE leader] killed so many innocent civilians, no foreign minister came or put pressure on the LTTE. Where was Mr Miliband? What happened to him? Was he sleeping? We're just wasting our time with these dignitaries and VIPs coming to this country over and over again because of your internal problem to satisfy their [Tamil] diaspora," he said.

The two men had apparently clashed when Mr Miliband said he had received reports that army shelling was killing civilians. Mr Rajapaksa accused him in turn of believing BBC reports which he claimed were influenced by Tamil Tiger propaganda.

The British High Commission in Colombo denied it had been a row but admitted there had been an "open and frank exchange of views and strong opinions were aired".

A spokesman for Mr Miliband said he was not aware of there being a Tamil community in the Foreign Secretary's South Shields constituency.

"I take some exception to the suggestion that the Prime Minister, David Miliband, Bernard Kouchner, Hillary Clinton or the ministers of the G8 and European Union are motivated in this by electoral politics rather than genuine humanitarian concern," he said.

It is not the first time Mr Miliband has upset government ministers during a foreign trip. Earlier this year, the Indian Government lodged a complaint about his "aggressive" and "arrogant" manner during a visit to the country. A senior official spokesman said the Government had been irritated by the Foreign Secretary's attitude, adding: "He did not come across as the foreign minister of a friendly nation". [courtesy: Daily Telegraph]

AM 640 Audio and in Pictures: Toronto Tamil demonstration

University Ave. was reopened on Apr 30th to traffic more than four days after a group of Tamils blocked off a section of it to demand international intervention in the Sri Lankan civil war.

Several Canadian media outlets continue to widely cover the Sri Lankan situation and here is one such broadcasts, aired today on Toronto's AM 640 Radio. An interview with Bandula Jayasekara, Consulate General of Sri lanka in Toronto and Manjula Selvarajah from the Tamil community, on the John Oakley Show:

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"John Oakley is widely considered to be one of Canada's pre-eminent talk-radio hosts"

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Stop the Killing of Tamils in Sri Lanka

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Spreading Awareness

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Line up for donuts

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Stop the Genocide in Sri Lanka

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Tamil Demonstration. STOP THE GENOCIDE IN SRI LANKA

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Cops on horses with knee pads

[Pictures and captions by: Paul Koniec]

April 29, 2009

Mullivaaikkaal Hospital hit as shelling continues

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

While there has been no Aerial bombardment , sporadic artillery and heavy mortar fire has continued in the tiny strip of territory in the Karaithuraipatru AGA division in the Northern Mullaitheevu district on Wednesday April 29th 2009.

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[in Mullivaaikkaal, Apr 29]

A tragic consequence of the shelling has been the incident where shells fell on the makeshift hospital in Mullivaaikkaal in the 10 sq Km area controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) resulting in the death of nine patients. Further injuries were inflicted on another fifteen patients admitted to hospital for treatment. [click here to read the article in full ~ in dbsjeyaraj.com]

US acts to delay IMF loan to Sri Lanka - officials

By Arshad Mohammed

WASHINGTON, April 29 (Reuters) - The United States has decided to delay a $1.9 billion International Monetary Fund loan to Sri Lanka to try to pressure Colombo to do more to help civilians caught in the fighting between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

The officials, who spoke on condition they not be named, said the Obama administration last week conveyed its view to other members of the IMF board, which has yet to formally consider the loan.

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[Displaced Tamil civilians watch as unseen French and British Foreign Ministers, Bernard Kouchner and David Miliband arrive at a camp in Chettikulam, Apr 29, 2009-getty images]

The U.S. stance does not appear to have had any impact on the government so far in its battle to capture the last redoubt of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which have been fighting a 25-year war for a separate ethnic Tamil homeland.

U.S. officials say the government has done too little to protect the civilians in the war zone and has failed to allow in sufficient international aid workers to care for the tens of thousands who have left.

The civilians, estimated by the United Nations to number as many as 50,000, are caught in a tiny LTTE-held area on Sri Lanka's northeast coast, which the military says is down to just 2 square miles (5 square kilometres).

The British and French foreign ministers urged Sri Lanka to implement a humanitarian ceasefire with the rebels to allow tens of thousands of trapped civilians to escape the battle zone. They also urged the rebels to let the civilians leave.

Sri Lanka's ambassador to the United States, Jaliya Wickramasuriya, said the government has generally come to oppose cease-fires, arguing that the rebels have used them in the past to "regroup, rearm, reposition."

He also said the government's primary concern was protecting civilians, arguing it had ceased using heavy weaponry and was proceeding slowly and "defensively" to try to release civilians from the area with minimal casualties.

MILITARY VICTORY, POLITICAL PEACE

"We are fighting against terrorism," Wickramasuriya said in an interview, likening the Sri Lankan push against LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran to the U.S. effort to capture Osama bin Laden, whose al Qaeda group carried out the Sept. 11 attacks.

"If bin Laden is trapped in Afghanistan, we don't want (the) U.S. to give him a ceasefire," he said. "In the same way, if Prabhakaran is trapped in Sri Lanka, we don't want anybody to tell us to give (him) a ceasefire."

The Tigers say the government claim to have ended heavy weapons use is a sham, and that artillery and air strikes continue to cause scores of civilian deaths, with 20 killed when a makeshift hospital was shelled on Wednesday.

Verifying claims from the battle zone, where 50,000 troops face an estimated few hundred to few thousand remaining rebel fighters among far more civilians, is difficult given lack of access and independent sources on the ground.

"The problem, from our vantage point, is that the Sri Lankans have refused to engage on the humanitarian crisis as a priority," said one U.S. official. Delaying an IMF loan "is an attempt to get their priorities back where they should be."

However, U.S. officials said Washington could ultimately support the loan if Columbo addressed the humanitarian issues or it concluded preventing the loan was counter-productive.

"I don't think there is any stomach to punish them from here to eternity on this," said another U.S. official. "I could see the loan going through (eventually) but right now it's very difficult for (IMF) board members to go through with this."

Asked about the matter, an IMF spokeswoman said: "Discussions with the authorities on an IMF-supported program are still ongoing. We do not have any schedule of the Executive Board meeting at this moment."

U.S. officials said they feared the government, in seeking a military victory, had neglected preparing for a political accommodation that may be necessary for a lasting peace.

Wickramasuriya said the government wanted to bring Tamil Tiger sympathizers into the political process and had done so in the past, noting that a prominent LTTE member had come over to the government's side.

Teresita Schaffer, a former U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, said the government was loathe to make concessions such as giving provinces more power to bring in LTTE sympathizers.

"This government, I think, has not thought very deeply about the fact that if they do have a military victory they will still need to make a political peace," Schaffer said. (Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton, editing by Todd Eastham)

[courtesy: Reuters]

Why is govt not admitting international media to the war zone?

by Prof. A. N. I. Ekanayaka

As the war draws to a close Sri Lankans eagerly look forward to a crushing and decisive victory over terrorism.. However, one enigma of these last days of the conflict that may puzzle future generations who look back on our time is the consistent reluctance of the government to allow reputable international media like CNN, BBC and AlJazira to cover the war. Brilliant journalists of unimpeachable integrity like John Simpson, Martin Bell, Christiana Amanpour, Kate Addie, and Anderson Cooper, have brought distinction to such channels.

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[A photograph of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa hangs above military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara (rear, 5th R) as he points to a diagram that he says shows the progress of the Sri Lankan army against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during a news conference at the media centre for national security in central Colombo April 22, 2009.-Reuters pic]

Why was an ostensibly golden opportunity of neutralising the disinformation of terrorists and silencing skeptics with the truth passed by? Ironically, dedicated reporters from these channels have been permitted to cover much larger global conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. American and European taxpayers who pay for those wars have the privilege of watching unbiased reports and analyses of war on their TV screens filed without fear or favour by independent reporters working for international networks in conflict zones. At the start of the Iraq invasion in 2003 hundreds of "embedded" reporters reported from the war front having attached themselves to military units.

Despite some limitations on the information such reporters are permitted to transmit and understandable attempts by the military to manipulate them to get its own story told – they too play a part in giving citizens who pay for the war as accurate and independent a picture as possible of what is happening.

By comparison Sri Lankan tax payers have not been so privileged. They have had to settle for whatever the state reports or what they are told by compliant journalists who find it hard to transcend their innate prejudices.

Now, that may be good enough for a large proportion of a gullible population that only wants to be told what it likes to hear. The problem is that throughout the history of human conflict down the ages the first casualty of war is truth. There is no denying that all over the world in the bitter "information warfare" waged by combatants in parallel with the warfare on the ground inevitably inaccuracies, omissions, and exaggerations abound.

But, who can blame them cynics and pragmatists would say – "war is a deadly business where the end justifies the means and we can’t allow truth to get in the way!" So, we have to endure the bewilderment of rival protagonists putting out their own contradictory version of events true or false. Is there a way out of all this confusion?

One solution in democratic societies that value transparency and acknowledge the people’s right to an honest accounting of public funds expended in the war effort is for independent journalists, too, to enjoy the right to report from the front. Reluctance to let them in inevitably leads to suspicions that there is something to hide. In the Sri Lankan conflict the government has (with much credibility) consistently claimed to be the force for good, as against the wicked terrorists whom we all unequivocally condemn as the forces of evil. It is the terrorists who use innocent civilians as human shields and shoot down those who try to escape to safe zones.

It is the terrorists who employ child soldiers and are in one way or another responsible for the manifold miseries of civilians in their areas. It is the terrorists who hijack the food and drugs meant for the civilians for their own use. It is the terrorists who are waging a diabolical campaign of disinformation to mislead the international community.

By contrast the government has consistently claimed that it was waging a righteous war with disciplined military intervention to liberate a besieged people from the tyranny of ruthless terrorists. It would like the international community to believe that it is at every turn acting out of humanitarian concern for the civilian populations in the war torn areas, who see the advancing forces as their saviours.

Consequently, it is difficult to understand why the State which occupies the moral high ground in this instance and makes such extravagant claims, does not seize the golden opportunity of promoting its image abroad by allowing international journalists to freely visit the war zone and graphically confirm the authenticity of its claims to a skeptical international community. The objection that such a policy would compromise military strategy is not convincing. War correspondents are never made privy to battle strategies and tactics that may be adopted in the future.

They only report on how things are now, based on what has happened in the past – and that perhaps is something the general public are entitled to know in a democratic country. Shouldn’t a government, whose hands are clean, be exploiting the international media to give global publicity to its own claims rather than denying them admission?

We cannot escape the disturbing reality that in wartime as in peacetime, in our private life as in our communal existence - truth and transparency are invariably two sides of the same coin.

Why LTTE Retreat May Provide One, Small Opening for Peace

by Mitu Sengupta

Over the course of a long and brutal war with Sri Lanka’s armed forces, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (the LTTE) emerged as one of the world’s most formidable insurgent groups. Besides engaging the Sri Lankan government in a bloody battle for more than 25 years, the LTTE (or, more informally, the ‘Tamil Tigers’) managed to seize substantial chunks of government territory, and operated these as a quasi-state for well over a decade. Today, however, the mighty Tigers are on the verge of total military defeat. Will their demise bring peace to Sri Lanka?

Unsurprisingly, the LTTE’s hammering has come at an enormous price. Since its beginnings in the early 1980s, the war has claimed more than 70,000 lives, rendered some half a million Tamils refugees in their own country, and driven an equal number out of Sri Lanka. The last six months of fighting have been particularly intense, with the Sri Lankan government at its most aggressive in decades. Reports from the United Nations, Red Cross and several other reputed humanitarian organizations indicate that the country is on the brink of a colossal humanitarian disaster.

Some 6,500 civilians have been killed since January, and another 100,000 are caught – facing carnage, and without adequate food, shelter and medicine – in the crossfire between the Tigers and government forces. An additional 40,000 or so that have fled the war zone are being held in military-run camps, where conditions, according to the most recent reports, are similar to those in Nazi-run concentration camps (journalists and humanitarian workers have been banned from these camps for over a month).

Led by the United Nations, concerned voices in the international community have repeatedly pleaded for a halt to the fighting, or even a ceasefire of a reasonable length, in which more civilians may be moved to safety, and aid workers allowed access to the sick and wounded. Determined to run the Tigers to the ground, however, the Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has remained undeterred, apparently confident that a full purging of the LTTE – now perhaps only days away – will have been worth the carnage and dislocation, and the palpable damage to his country’s international reputation. Rajapaksa evidently believes that a Sri Lanka free of the Tigers will be a Sri Lanka whither all good things will come.

Over the years, the LTTE has earned the reputation of being a ruthless organization; one that turns children into hardened soldiers; that has perfected suicide bombing as a tactic; that relies on extortion and smuggling for funding, and that has zero tolerance for critics and competitors. While there are no reliable measures of the extent of support for the LTTE among Tamils in Sri Lanka, or within the vast diaspora, Tamil human rights activists both inside and outside the country have spoken out against the LTTE’s cruel ways, totalitarian structure, and uncompromising, maximalist demands.

The LTTE has duly assassinated many of these detractors. Indeed, given all of this, it is tempting to presume that Sri Lanka will be infinitely better off without the LTTE, and that its elimination will necessarily steer the country towards order, stability and reconciliation. But though appealing, this conclusion ultimately rests on a wrongheaded view of the Tigers’ role in the conflict. The LTTE is the product, not the cause, of Sri Lanka’s deadly politics.

To begin with, the conflict, if not the war, predates the LTTE by a few generations. Its origins may be traced to the effects of the nefarious “divide and rule” policies devised by British colonial administrators to govern Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The British used the island’s Tamil minority to keep its Sinhalese majority in check, and in return, gave Tamils the best government jobs and the benefit of English education.

With independence in 1948, however, the Tamils were deprived of their patrons, and found themselves outnumbered and marginalized inside the new Sri Lanka’s unitary state and majoritarian institutional framework. With the Tamils rendered politically irrelevant, short-sighted politicians competed with each other for the Sinhalese vote, and soon discovered that the political party with the stronger anti-minority stance was almost always guaranteed electoral success.

Such “ethnic outbidding,” as scholars have characterized the dreadful process, led to the rise of a ferocious Sinhala nationalism that demanded revenge for the Tamils’ supremacy during the colonial period, along with a revival of Sinhala language and culture. It saw Sri Lanka as for the Sinhalese alone, and insisted that the Tamil minority submit to its second-class position or, better still, simply leave the island. In the first few decades following independence, Sri Lanka’s Tamils were systematically stripped of their erstwhile social and economic privileges, with the demotion of their language (Tamil) to secondary status, and the imposition of strict quotas that shrank their employment and educational opportunities. Sinhalese farmers were encouraged to settle in and around the island’s north-east, in an obvious attempt to reduce the concentration of Tamils in these areas.

Initially, the Tamils attempted to resist these changes through democratic means, forming political parties that pressed for federalism and various minority guarantees. While many sensible Sinhalese politicians warmed to such appeals, the forces of majoritarianism always seemed to triumph. Any government seen as making too many concessions to the Tamils was swiftly pulled down, a disheartening ritual that eventually left most Tamils alienated, and the Tamil parties largely discredited.

By the late 1970s, the conflict had taken a violent turn, with the surfacing of several militant outfits, including the LTTE, which called for armed struggle and secession – the creation of a Tamil ‘homeland’ (‘eelam’) out of the Tamil majority areas in Sri Lanka’s north-east. The LTTE proved the strongest of these militant groups, and, out-powering its rivals, became locked in bitter conflict with the Sri Lankan state.

As an insurgent force, the LTTE has been remarkably successful. By the early 2000s, it had captured much of the north and east, and was governing these territories as though they were already a separate state (the LTTE provided schools, postal services, and even rudimentary hospitals). The LTTE brought forth a harsh and authoritarian regime, but one that was, perhaps, an inevitable response to the harsh and authoritarian regime that the Sri Lankan government had become.

Human Rights Watch has characterized the Sri Lankan government as one of the world’s worst perpetrators of enforced disappearances. Indeed, in many ways, the LTTE and the Sri Lankan state have been reflections of each other’s total lack of generosity. Both have squandered numerous opportunities for peace, though it is unlikely that the Sri Lankan government would have agreed to negotiate at all – as it did in 2003, following a ceasefire – had it faced a lesser organization than the Tigers. The annihilation of the LTTE will mean that only one of the two fearsome, unbending contenders in the country’s long and bloody war will have left the arena and, that too, probably not for good. Far from being a recipe for peace, this will probably ignite a new cycle of grotesque injustice and pitiless retaliation.

One danger that looms heavily is that the Sri Lankan state will try to use its victory to seek a permanent solution to its “Tamil minority problem.” The government might begin by preventing Tamil civilians interned in its military camps from returning to their villages. These camps have already taken on an air of permanence, with the government arguing that no-one can be moved until the LTTE is fully flushed out, and the military demines the conflict zone.

This could take months, if not years. It is entirely possible that while tens of thousands of Tamils languish in these camps, encircled by razor-wired fences, the government will move large numbers of Sinhalese settlers into the island’s north and east, thus stamping out, once and for all, the geographical rationale for a separate Tamil homeland. The counterpoint to the government’s expected belligerence might be an even darker phase in the Tamil resistance; one with a more lucid and focused fury that will bring great disquiet to Tamils everywhere.

To most governments, the bloodbath in Sri Lanka is the consequence of a sovereign power besieged by a brutal domestic insurgency. This is to be expected in a world where states are generally considered legitimate, no matter what they do, and those that challenge their authority are immediately viewed as criminal – a distinction that’s been sharpened, of course, by the menacing language around the “war on terror.”

Indeed, following Sri Lanka’s success in having the LTTE proscribed as a terrorist organization by 31 countries, including the United States, the sense that the Sri Lankan state is on the right side of history has gone from strength to strength, which might explain the muted condemnation of its actions in the rapidly unfolding tragedy.

It’s probably too much to expect the US government – or any other government for that matter – to accept the argument, however rigorously advanced, that the Sri Lankan state and the LTTE have mirrored each other’s unyielding attitudes and methods, and, that ultimately, the noble sovereign power and the sinister terrorist organization are two sides of the same bloodied coin.

The one, small opening for peace that the LTTE’s retreat may provide, however, is that without its looming spectre, the Sri Lankan government will be less able to shield its decaying democracy and ugly human rights record from the eyes of the world. It will, hopefully, be the subject of an international initiative that helps rein in the country’s majoritarian forces, thus barring any further acceleration of the vicious cycle of injury and retribution these tend to set in motion.

(Mitu Sengupta, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Politics at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada.)

W.P. Voters prefer known devils to unknown angels

by Dharisha Bastians

The people of the Western Province went to the polls last Saturday to elect their regional representatives. It was a mini-poll that assumed proportions of a national election, largely because the all important capital of Colombo happened to be one of the electoral districts that would poll on April 25, along with the slightly more suburban Gampaha and Kalutara.

With the Elections Commissioner having allowed a campaign period of over two months, the election managed to creep its way into the political consciousness of the Colombo residents despite the ongoing noise of the military operations in the north that have occupied pride of place in the attention span of most Sri Lankans for the better part of a year.

This infiltration was owed in no small measure to the poster blitz and incessant advertising by the most marketing-savvy UPFA candidates in the loop: R. Duminda Silva and Thilanga Sumathipala. It also helped that they happened to have the deepest pockets, leaving other government contestants far behind, with the ‘squeaky clean’ Udaya Gammanpila being the only also-ran to have made any kind of impression.

For the main opposition, Rosy Senanayake worked her charm among the few voters who bothered to show up and the even fewer who felt a compelling desire to vote for the UNP. No other UNP candidate appears to have made much of an impression on the Colombo voter, with even promising candidates such as attorney at law Shiral Lakthilaka not having made the cut.

Fascinating though the prospect might be to contemplate a provincial administration run in large part by (a) a man being sued for statutory rape, (b) a bookie and (c) a beauty queen with no claim to political leadership other than a crown she won almost 30 years ago and a women’s talk show, the ground reality is that they won’t really be in charge of anything much.

The provincial councils are a complete waste of public money in that they only afford second rate politicians the opportunity to whiz around in SUVs, escorted by armed guards and make no impression whatsoever on the people in the provinces they allegedly serve.

Ascension to these white elephants however is certainly a cause of celebration for the Silvas, Sumathipalas and Senanayakes, who have by virtue of popularity (or notoriety) managed to circumvent the usual political route – from poster boy to pradeshiya sabha member to provincial councillor etc. Instead, given that the provincial council has little or no bearing on the running of things in the Western Province, the ‘preferred candidates’ can spend their time preparing for the next step: election to the national legislature.

It is important to stress at this juncture that there is absolutely nothing wrong with this particular order of ascension. The trouble it portends is something entirely different. While it might not worry a body too much that the likes of Silva and Senanayake are running things in a redundant provincial legislature that has really no bearing on anything of importance, it is a whole other set of consequences if these characters end up being the candidates between whom we must choose at a national election. Because, it is a fact that this country is becoming increasingly bankrupt politically and at each election, our choices keep getting worse and worse.

And whatever one’s personal views might be about Silva and Co. the fact remains that they were the choices of the masses and in a democracy, the people are sovereign. The majority choice, in a democracy, can never be wrong. But it is also a fact that any voter needs to have a decent set of choices in order to make an informed and educated choice. In Sri Lankan elections, each choice seems worse than the rest, and clearly the Western Province voter has decided ‘better the known devil.’ It behoves the leadership of both main political parties to take stock of what kind of candidates they are putting out there and while it is futile to expect them to make any decisions for the good of the nation, we cannot stop appealing to their better instincts, indeed if such things exist.

With the conclusion of this latest provincial poll, the murmuring has begun within the UNP once again, with party bigwigs now planning to get involved in yet another attempt to oust the Party Leader. And while their leadership battles might make for interesting comic reading, it will be interesting for the UNP seniors to take a long hard look at the preferential voting results and allow some cold hard facts to hit home.

It is a tragic tale indeed when the top two candidates in a district that was once considered a traditionally green bastion happen to be defectors from your own party. Both Silva and Sumathipala campaigned vigorously for the UNP in the 2004 general election and the subsequent local polls. Their success story is the UNP’s personal tragedy, that they are unable to keep even the bottom rung members within their fold.

Why an international relief effort is now urgently needed in Sri Lanka

Victory without humanity can be no triumph

by David Miliband and Bernard Kouchner

Recent demonstrations in London, Paris and elsewhere have brought the situation in Sri Lanka to wide public attention. But the island's civil war has been running for 28 years. The Tamil minority in the north has long argued that it is marginalised politically and economically.

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[France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner (2nd L) and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband (C) listen to local officials as they visit the Menikfam Vanni refugee camp located near the town of Chettekulam in northern Sri Lanka April 29, 2009-Reuters pic]

In the early 1980s the LTTE (the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or Tamil Tigers) started fighting for an independent Tamil state. By 1986 it had full control of the northern Jaffna peninsula. What began with violent protest soon led to civil war - to the majority the assertion of military power by a sovereign government against a murderous terrorist organisation, to the minority the abuse of violent power by the State. Repeated attempts to find a political solution ran aground.

The Government of Sri Lanka now believes that it is in the final stages of that campaign. Its military advance is undoubted. The LTTE leadership appears trapped in an ever-diminishing strip of land, now only a few square kilometres. But despite its size, at least 50,000 civilians remain there with the LTTE, the others having fled to “screening centres” and IDP (internally displaced people) camps. So civilian suffering and loss of life continues, and the chances of any kind of political settlement recede.

We visited Sri Lanka yesterday for a simple reason: time is running out for those trapped or displaced by the fighting. Our mission was simple too: to make, in person, the case for the humanitarian relief that the UN, the EU and the G8 have called for.

We saw the situation for ourselves in Vavunja, close to the fighting, where we visited displaced Tamils and saw the newly arrived French field hospital. We heard stories of individual human tragedy: civilians forced by the LTTE not to leave its stronghold, deaths and injuries from bombs and artillery, and families separated, desperately seeking news of their loved ones - fears from the recent past, fears for their present situation and fear of what might happen in the future.

The UN and EU have spoken loud and clear about the immediate needs. First, both sides must act to protect civilians inside the so-called no-fire zone (which has become the opposite). We have called for some time for the Government of Sri Lanka to set a ceasefire in place and for the LTTE to allow all civilians under its control to leave the conflict area safely and as quickly as possible, preferably under UN auspices.

The Government of Sri Lanka's announcement of a cessation of heavy military combat is a welcome step towards the protection of civilians. Similar announcements have been made in the past. This one must be implemented and kept to. The UN had an agreement with the Government to send a mission into the conflict zone to help to assess and address civilian needs. That agreement has not been implemented. It must be.

The second concern is over arrangements and conditions for the displaced persons fleeing the zone. Here the refusal to allow the UN, the aid agencies, and the media full and proper access is quite wrong. The Government wants to “screen” civilians escaping the fighting to ensure that LTTE fighters cannot get into the wider community to continue the struggle using terrorist means. But it is vital that this process is transparent - the Government must allow the UN and other international agencies proper access to all stages of the screening process.

Third, conditions for civilians who have fled the fighting are an important concern. Any country would struggle with 200,000 IDPs. When these include many who are injured and traumatised, as well as the old and children, this is doubly the case. In the past, the Sri Lankan Government has been unwilling to let international aid agencies get involved directly. But without a properly managed, resourced and co-ordinated humanitarian aid effort, their suffering will only intensify. That is why we fully supported the visit this week to Sri Lanka of Sir John Holmes, the UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs. Within the IDP camps, there must be better medical facilities and improved access to food and shelter. Britain and France have made commitments of money and medicine and shelter. So have others. But there needs to be proper access.

Finally, while our focus today is short term, we cannot ignore the long-term context. The Government of Sri Lanka is an elected one and is rightly held to the high standards expected of members of the UN - so all its obligations under international humanitarian law must be respected. To the LTTE we repeat the EU's longstanding position that violence will not serve the Tamil people and affirm that only the renunciation of violence will bring progress.

In the future, the communities of Sri Lanka will have to find ways to live together. That will not be achieved through military victory alone. The deep-seated sense of political alienation that has fuelled Tamil resentment towards successive governments in Sri Lanka must be addressed through a political process of integrity and decency. We are under no illusions about how entrenched positions are on either side. The Government of Sri Lanka believes it is days away from the victory that it has sought for three decades, but at the cost of too many civilian lives. The LTTE is a terrorist organisation that is now using innocent civilians as human shields. The gravity of the situation means that the international community has a duty to respond and to do all that we can to halt the suffering.

People ask what does it have to do with us? As members of the UN Security Council we do not shy away from the responsibility of sovereign governments and the international community to protect civilians. Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, has joined us in describing the failure to protect civilians in Sri Lanka as truly shocking. Yesterday we took our plea direct to the Sri Lankan Government. In its moment of triumph it must show the humanity and self-interest to find a way to win the peace.

Bernard Kouchner is France's Minister of Foreign Affairs; David Miliband is Foreign Secretary

April 28, 2009

Hundreds of civilian casualties in 17 hour “blitzkrieg”

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Hundreds of civilian casualties were reported within the 10 sq km area controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) due mainly to a 17 hour long heavy fire "blitzkrieg" conducted by the Armed forces of Sri Lanka.

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[Air attack between mullivaikkal and Iraddaivaikkal-pic: RDHS]

The "blitz" like intensive attacks commenced at 6.00 pm on Monday April 27th 2009 and continued for 17 hours till 11.00 am in the morning of Tuesday April 28th 2009.

[Please click here ~ to read the article in full on dbsjeyaraj.com]

Post Script; WPC elections and the Ethnic divide

by Kusal Perera

Full results of the Western Provincial Council (WPC) election are now officially released. This includes the final count of preference votes for each candidate in all 03 districts. Accordingly, the lists of eligible candidates elected to the PC from each political party for the 03 districts have been announced by the Elections Commissioner.

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[Officials reported on April 26 that Sri Lanka's ruling party on April 25 won by a landslide in a local election that the country's president had turned into a referendum on his military campaign to crush Tamil rebels-getty images]

This adds further evidence to the reading I made in my article written on Sunday 26th April, on the WPC elections, before the preference vote was counted.

As pointed out, Gampaha and Kalutara districts with extremely high Sinhala voter presence returned ONLY Sinhala candidates from political party lists, except the single candidate who was elected from the SLMC list in Gampaha. That was possible due to the concentration of Muslim voters in Malwana Pradeshiya Sabha area and in Thihariya, in Nittambuwa area. Though the Kalutara district too has Muslim concentrations as in Beruwala and Keselwatte in Panadura, the concentration of Sinhala votes made the Muslim numbers inadequate to return a Muslim candidate. Therefore in the two districts that elected 59 Councilors to the WP only 01 Muslim has been elected at this election.

Colombo district thus become the mirror on which the ethnic divide can be clearly seen. In Colombo the Sinhala vote that rallied round the government list (UPFA) made it certain that 24 out of the 25 elected candidates are Sinhala. The only other being a Muslim.

The UNP considered the strongest list for the Minorities to use their vote as a protest vote against the government and its war, has 07 out of 15 elected candidates representing the Minorities.

There are 03 Muslim and 04 Tamil candidates elected as Councilors from the UNP list, while from the 03 other Opposition candidates elected, there are 02 Muslim Councilors with the JVP getting a Sinhala Councilor. This makes a total of 09 Councilors representing the Minorities in the Opposition from 18 Councilors elected from the Colombo district to the WPC Opposition.

Sweden recalls its Chargé d'Affaires in Sri Lanka for consultations

SWEDETC0428.gifPress release
28 April 2009
Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Sweden will recall its Chargé d'Affaires in Colombo for consultations today. Minister for Foreign Affairs Carl Bildt has not been granted an entry visa to Sri Lanka and has therefore been forced to cancel his participation in the planned visit to the country today with his British and French colleagues.

Related News item by Xinhua News Agency: Sri Lanka's denial of entry of Swedish FM "grave mistake:" Czech FM

The Sri Lankan government's denial of entry of Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt is a "grave mistake" and will have consequences, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said Tuesday.

"It is lamentable that the Sri Lankan government denied him a visa," Schwarzenberg told reporters.

"It is a grave mistake by the Sri Lankan government, which of course will have repercussions in Europe and will influence further relations between the Sri Lankan government and European states," he said.

CBTC0428.jpg

Carl Bildt said he knew no reason why he should have been refused a visa-AFP pic

Bildt had been scheduled to visit Sri Lanka this week along with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. Both Miliband and Kouchner have been granted entry.

Schwarzenberg said Miliband and Kouchner were visiting Sri Lanka in their capacity as representatives of two permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, therefore not directly linked to the European Union (EU).

But it was a good idea to take Bildt along, he said. The participation of Bildt, who is an expert in conflict resolution, would be very valuable for Sri Lanka, said Schwarzenberg.

According to AFP, A Sri Lankan foreign ministry official indicated that Colombo felt it had already done enough by allowing Britain and France's top diplomats -- David Miliband and Bernard Kouchner -- to visit on Wednesday.

"The Swedish minister also wanted to jump on that bandwagon and we said no," the official said.

"Some think they can land up at our airport and expect a red carpet treatment. We are not a colony and neither a bankrupt Third World country. Our main donors are in Asia, not in Europe," the official added.

April 27, 2009

Combined pre-dawn operation launched by Armed Forces

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

The Sri Lankan armed forces have launched a combined military operation in the Karaithuraipatru AGA division in Mullaitheevu district against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the early hours of the morning on Monday April 27th 2009.

The pre-dawn operation that began around 3.45 am was going on as scheduled at dusk despite wrong information being circulated in Tamil Nadu by interested parties that a ceasefire had been announced.

[M. Karunanidhi, chief minister of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, lies in a bed during an indefinite fast in the southern Indian city of Chennai April 27, 2009-Reuters pic]

The news that a ceasefire had come into force was conveyed by Central Govt minister for Home Affairs, Palaniyappan Chidamparam to the State chief minister Muttuvel Karunanindhi.

[Click here to read the article in full in dbsjeyaraj.com]

Hands up or feet first: The only deal in town

by Dayan Jayatilleka

It is heartening that the Tamil Tigers have retained a sense of humor under extreme pressure. It is a lesson to us all. The Tigers have declared a unilateral ceasefire and promised not to engage in any offensive military operations. The joke is in two parts. Firstly, they are in no shape to engage in any offensive military operations. In the second place these clowns have pulled this on us and the IPKF on more occasions than I can recall. The first ceasefire in 1985 saw the Tigers under Kittu ringing Sri Lankan army camps in Jaffna with landmines. The IPKF’s stop-go campaign -- its rhythm and inconstancy influenced by Tamil Nadu and electoral considerations -- enabled Prabhakaran to survive, escape and turn the tables on them, culminating in the suicide bomb murder of Rajiv Gandhi on Tamil Nadu soil in 1991.

Let’s be crystal clear on this. The only deal that must be on the table is “hands up or feet first”. The Tigers, starting with the leadership must surrender themselves and their weapons to the Sri Lankan armed forces, not some Third Force which it can manipulate through the Diaspora. There must be NO amnesty for the leadership, which has committed war crimes.

Anyone anywhere who cares for the Tamil civilians trapped in the no fire zone should recognize that over a hundred thousand civilians came through to safety precisely during a brilliantly surgical military operation, and NOT a humanitarian pause or ceasefire. It was not the product or by product of an international appeal. It was the direct product of the actions of the Sri Lankan army, and in particular, the sacrifices made by the Special Forces and Commandos.

None of those who are urging from afar, a humanitarian pause /ceasefire, amnesty and talks with the Tigers, are going to live in Sri Lanka when the suicide bombers strike again, the parcel bombs go off in shops and at bus stops, promising leaders are assassinated, and dead and disabled soldiers start coming back to our villages when the war resumes as it will if we stop operations now and the Tigers survive.

What awaits us if operations are halted before the Tigers are decisively defeated? Anita Pratap, the journalist who has known Prabhakaran from before July 83 and has had access to him virtually on demand since that time, let us know a few days back, in an article for the upcoming months issue of The Week. In a special Report for the May 3rd 2009 edition, entitled Crouching Tiger, she exudes confidence that “Prabhakaran still has enough grit to continue the fight”. Here is her scenario:

“…Prabhakaran has lost wars before. He had created a de facto Tamil Eelam with its own army, police, courts and taxation system not once, but several times in the past-only to have it all smashed and wiped out. And he had to start all over again. At 54, Prabhakaran still has enough grit to start again and continue for another 20 years.

In the meantime, he will be watching the Indian elections closely to see which dispensation takes charge in New Delhi . He will be watching to see if there is a popular upsurge of support in Tamil Nadu for the plight of Tamils across the Palk Strait . He will be watching the disastrous impact of war on Sri Lanka 's economy. He will be watching Hillary Clinton who said there should be a 'nuanced' approach to dealing with terrorism. He will be watching President Barack Obama who rightly analyzed that conflicts stem from our perception of 'the other'.

Today, Prabhakaran's situation looks dire. But the wheels of fortune are not static. Things change. America has changed. The world is changing… As new winds blow away many certitudes of the recent past, new opportunities, alignments and paradigms take their place on the world stage. And they will inexorably weave their impact in remote corners of faraway Sri Lanka ...” (Anita Pratap, The Week, May 3, 2009)

Then there is the far more scholarly and analytical assessment of Shyam Tekwani, no sympathizer of Prabhakaran. A photojournalist earlier, Tekwani has been studying the Sri Lankan conflict since 1983 and has met the LTTE leadership on several occasions on battlefields and elsewhere. Currently he is an Associate Professor in NTU, Singapore , teaching Journalism and International Relations. In the Hindustan Times, he offers this prognosis:

“…A strategic withdrawal to live to fight another day and ensure he [Prabhakaran] is not relegated to a footnote in the history books has guaranteed his endurance and longevity.

The war, it would seem, is over. Not for the LTTE. ..

…He has once again successfully rallied the international community behind his cause. The global outcry in support of the remaining 50,000 civilians cornered in the last strip of the battle zone and the increasingly insistent calls for an immediate ceasefire play perfectly well into his plans to save what is left of his dream and the group.

The dream of Eelam has evidently become an even more distant fantasy – but his unswerving loyalty to it will ensure the fight will continue. Having lost the support of over 100,000 Tamils who challenged his diktat and abandoned him to flee for the safety of the army camps, his hope will now reside largely with the Tamil Diaspora. The 800,000 Diaspora, who he specifically appealed to in his Hero’s Day address when he launched the ‘Final War’ in 2006, has been the group’s lifeline. Prabhakaran has mobilized the Diaspora like very few other insurgent groups ever have. Providing the mainstay of his support (funds, networks, lobbyists) the Diaspora has unwaveringly stood by him and kept up the sustained pressure for the Eelam ‘cause’ alive across the capitals of the world.

It has become a truism that the only way out is a political solution, not military. Having thrust a very local issue into the international limelight, Prabhakaran has consistently reneged every opportunity to seek a political solution. Every attempt at one – that did not mention Eelam - during the last two decades was doomed to failure. A lasting solution is extremely unlikely with him heading the group. As long as he endures, so will his cause. Therefore, any talk of a lost cause and an endgame in Sri Lanka would be premature.

The military victory could well become another pause in the history of the conflict if the same degree of effort is not invested by the Rajapaksa government to set right the wrongs of previous administrations. And the international community would need to ensure it sustains its campaign against groups branded as terrorists.

None of which would amount to much if Prabhakaran continues to be out there, somewhere.” (Shyam Tekwani, ‘Don’t Write the Tigers Obit Yet’, Hindustan Times, April 25, 2009)

We must take these scenarios with the utmost seriousness. It is always wiser to prepare for the worst case scenario. This also provides the best argument why Prabhakaran must not be given the time and space to escape and the operations must go on uninterrupted until the Tiger leadership is eradicated. Some months ago I quoted and commended the words of General Colin Powell during the Gulf War: “first we cut it off, then we kill it.” We have cut it off. Now we must kill it.

As Ronald Reagan, no favorite of mine, once said “the problem with playing your last card is that once you’ve played it, you no longer have it”. The so-called international community played its last card in 1987 when a coercive external intrusion, catalyzed at least partly by sub-regional electoral compulsions (MG Ramachandran “air dashing”, as it used to be called, to prevent “that boy” Prabhakaran from being killed). It is not that other forces in other, more impressive combinations are incapable of doing a larger version of the same thing. The point however, is that the Sri Lankan state and citizens have been through this before and will not be deterred this time around, from defeating the secessionist-terrorist enemy, reclaiming sovereignty and restoring territorial unity. Sri Lanka ’s spirit this time around is one that will resist intervention “by whatever means necessary” as Brother Malcolm X used to say. There is a gross asymmetry of tangible material strengths, against Sri Lanka , but as for the intangibles, Sri Lanka has the advantage. Sri Lankans have demonstrated their willingness to fight and die in pursuit of their cause. How many others are willing to do the same in order to prevent us, and for how long and at what financial cost will they be willing to do so?

No other country, institution or leader will share our fate. Therefore we alone must shape that fate, decide our own destiny. This is our country, our borders, our land, our peoples, our future. No one must be allowed to dictate to us or pressurize us. We must go ahead and do what we have to do to end our 30 years war in a manner that it cannot be easily re-started. This means eliminating the Tigers and following up a decisive victory with a generous and wise humanitarian and political policy.

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

Sri Lankan government breaks promise to end use of ‘heavy weapons’ against civilians; rejects UN humanitarian team

Statement by PEARL:

On April 27 the Sri Lankan government announced that it would stop its use of “heavy weapons” in its military offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the North of the island. On the same day, the Tamils Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) and Dr. T. Sathiyamoorthy, Regional Director of Health Services, both inside the “safe zone,” reported that the government was carrying out aerial bombardments and artillery shelling in Mullivaikkal, located in the “Safe Zone.”

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[Inside "safe zone'-pic: RDHS]

In a statement dated April 27, Dr. Sathiyamoorthy wrote that one series of shelling injured 139 civilians and 19 died after being admitted to the hospital. TRO stated that heavy shelling coming from Puthukudiyiruppu, Ianaipalai and Oddusuddan areas and aerial bombardments in the Rattai Vaikal area, killed at least 100 civilians and injured 500. It said the scale of attacks makes it difficult for aid workers to reach injured civilians or assess the number of casualties.

In a visit to Sri Lanka this week John Holmes, UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief, stated he was unable to persuade the Sri Lankan government to allow a “humanitarian pause” in its military offensive. The Sri Lankan government also rejected a UN proposal to send a humanitarian relief team to the war zone, where 60,000 to 100,000 Tamil civilians are at risk.

The UN estimated that 6,500 Tamil civilians have been killed and 14,000 have been injured in the last three months. Despite calls from the United States, United Kingdom and other international human rights organizations to implement an immediate ceasefire and protect civilians, the Sri Lankan government continues its military offensive. The government also rejected a unilateral ceasefire declaration by the LTTE.

PEARL urges the US to take strong leadership in condemning Sri Lanka for continuing to violate international law and attack Tamil civilians in the “Safe Zone”. PEARL urges the US to impose economic and diplomatic sanctions against Sri Lanka to demonstrate its concern for the plight of Tamils. PEARL also urges the UN to bring Sri Lanka to its Security Council agenda and invoke the Responsibility to Protect to allow a UN humanitarian team to enter the war zone and provide international monitoring of refugee camps in the North.

For more information, visit www.pearlaction.org

Sri Lanka govt. conceding its use of heavy weapons warrants UN inquiry

HRW: Sri Lanka: Government Admission Shows Need for UN Inquiry ~ Visiting Envoys Should Make Civilian Protection Top Priority

The Sri Lankan government's admission that it has been using heavy weapons in an area crowded with displaced civilians underscores the need for an international commission of inquiry into violations of the laws of war by government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Human Rights Watch said today.

The Sri Lankan Presidential Secretariat conceded today that it had been using heavy weapons in the recent fighting, despite earlier statements that it had ceased their use. The statement said: "Our security forces have been instructed to end the use of heavy caliber guns, combat aircraft and aerial weapons which could cause civilian casualties."

"By finally admitting it has been using heavy weapons all along, the Sri Lanka government has shed light onto its official deception as well as its brutal military tactics," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The UN Security Council should stop burying its head in the sand on Sri Lanka and urgently create an international commission of inquiry to look at abuses by both sides."

For months, the Sri Lankan government has denied that its operations against the LTTE were killing civilians and ignored appeals by the United Nations and many other members of the international community to stop attacks in the government-declared "no-fire zone," where it had encouraged civilians to take shelter. For example, on April 23, Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa told the BBC: "We are going very slowly towards the south of the no-fire zone to rescue the remaining civilians. Our troops are not using heavy fire power, they are using only guns and personal weapons."

Numerous accounts by witnesses as well as photographs and satellite imagery have demonstrated the continuing use of heavy artillery and aerial bombardment in the fighting between government forces and the LTTE. According to the UN, an estimated 6,400 people have been killed and more than 13,000 wounded in the conflict area since January 2009.

The UN estimates that more than 50,000 civilians remain trapped. The LTTE reportedly continues to prevent the escape of many. The extreme vulnerability of these civilians is compounded by severe shortages of food, water, and medical supplies. In addition to its indiscriminate attacks on the "no-fire zone," the government's continued refusal to allow adequate humanitarian personnel and delivery of essential relief supplies has denied civilians critical assistance. Its ban on allowing impartial outside observers, including journalists and human rights monitors, into the area has obstructed another important aspect of civilian protection.

Human Rights Watch said that many of the internally displaced persons now entering government-controlled areas had not eaten for days. They continue to face shortages of food, water, shelter, and sanitation as they await government screening and registration before being transferred and detained in closed government detention camps, which the government calls "welfare centers."

Human Rights Watch urged the foreign ministers of the United Kingdom, France, and Sweden, who are bound for Colombo on April 29, 2009, to make the government's accountability for the protection and welfare of displaced civilians their top priority.

"The visiting foreign ministers from the UK, France, and Sweden may be the last hope of the remaining trapped civilians," said Adams. "They should make it clear to Sri Lanka's leaders that they will be held accountable for attacks on civilians or denying them access to humanitarian aid."

Pictorial: Sri Lanka: Trapped and Under Fire II

For the most recent UNOSAT satellite imagery of IDP shelter movement, please visit [PDF File]:
http://unosat.web.cern.ch/unosat/shared/UNOSAT/SriLanka/UNOSAT_Report_Damage_IDP_analysis_19April2009_v6.pdf

"LTTE factor in Tamil Nadu: Panel discussion on NDTV"

It was the Sri Lankan government's biggest triumph in its current offensive - Daya Master, the Tigers' media spokesperson and George, an interpreter for top leader Thamilselvan have surrendered with their families. To the world, they were the voice of the LTTE. The defeat is all but complete, except the capture of LTTE's supremo Prabhakaran. The government believes that Prabhakaran is still in hiding in the area and cannot escape.

The politicians in Tamil Nadu are speaking in different voices on the Lankan offensive on the LTTE. While Vaiko threatened of a bloodbath if Prabhakaran is killed, Karunanidhi called the LTTE chief his friend, whereas Jayalalithaa opted to keep her stand on the issue undisclosed. And so - how will the end of the LTTE affect Tamil Nadu? [Click & watch video]

Endgame for LTTE is not endgame for Tamils in Sri Lanka

by A.S. Kalkat

Twenty years ago Sri Lanka’s President Ranatunge Premadasa announced that his government and LTTE leader Velupillai Prabakaran had come together and demanded that the Indian Peace Keeping Force leave. A hundred thousand casualties and a shattered economy later, this week President Mahinda Rajapaksha issued an ultimatum to the LTTE to surrender or perish. Despite many voices in India and elsewhere sounding the alarm for over two years that a gigantic human tragedy was waiting to happen in Sri Lanka, it was allowed to happen notwithstanding the international community and human rights organisations being aware of it.

This article has long been under preparation, for nearly two years, but had to wait out the time to see how the endgame would play out. The final showdown is in an area of 8 sq km immediately north of Mullaitivu designated as a No Fire Zone (NFZ). LTTE cadres of unknown strength are ranged against Sri Lankan forces. The presence of the LTTE leader, Prabakaran, is not confirmed, and he may or may not be there. The LTTE is fighting for its existence and the Sri Lanka forces are fighting for the survival of their country’s sovereignty. Sandwiched between them are nearly 70,000 starving and long-suffering men, women, and children under inhuman conditions.

It may be the endgame for the LTTE and its supremo but it is certainly not the endgame for the Tamils of Sri Lanka. It will serve to remember that it was not Prabakaran who created the ethnic conflict but the ethnic conflict that spawned a Prabakaran. If the cause of the ethnic conflict is not addressed, the end of the LTTE and its leader will be just a short-term victory.
Why did the LTTE lose?

The first question one asks is: why did the LTTE lose? Ironically, Prabakaran and the LTTE have only themselves to blame for it. From their lofty claims in 1986 of protecting the Tamils against atrocities by the Sri Lankan forces, they descended into the predator preying on the same helpless Tamils. It soon became clear that Prabakaran’s goal was not the ballot box but the bullet box with the objective of carving out an autocratic Eelam of ‘AK 47’ dictatorship under him.

The LTTE alienated itself by its forcible recruitment of men, women, and children; usurping the humanitarian aid meant for the devastated population; extracting a ‘living tax’ from the poverty-stricken population; and brutal killings of Tamils who opposed its demand. The truth that LTTE is a ruthless killing machine was evident as early as 1986 when, on the pretext of calling an all-party meeting in Batticaloa of militant leaders, Prabakaran decimated them in a night of the long knives. The only one to escape was K. Padmanabha, the EPRLF leader, who was later gunned down in Chennai.

As long as the LTTE confined itself to guerrilla warfare and terrorism, it was able to bleed Sri Lankan forces and the country’s economy. Its successes in 2005 and 2006 went to its head, resulting in its losing the focus of a guerrilla force. Prabakaran thought that he had achieved Eelam in the North-Eastern Province and the LTTE usurped the trappings of a sovereign ‘state’ with Prabhakaran as ‘head’ of state. He established the state ‘capital’ at Killinochchi; created departments emulating government departments, imposing taxes, dispensing ‘justice’, and issuing ‘travel documents’; and pretended that his armed cadres were the regular army, navy, and air force. Then either due to arrogance or over-confidence, Prabakaran made the blunder of taking on a regular army and tried to fight like one, with disastrous consequences. The LTTE was fighting outside its core competence. This was the undoing of a guerrilla and terrorist organisation, which thought it had suddenly become a regular army.
1987 breakthrough

The irony of all this is that the statutory arrangement to secure the welfare and interests of the Sri Lankan Tamils was served on a plate by India in 1987 and put into effect by December 1988. Prabakaran and the LTTE chose to reject it because he had a different agenda and the concept of democracy was certainly not part of it. The India-Sri Lanka Agreement of July 1987 and Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) operations had ensured the enactment of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution — a giant step in devolution of power to the Northern and Eastern Provinces, resulting in their merger as a single Tamil-majority North-Eastern Province, which had always been the Tamil dream for their ‘traditional homeland.’ Today obtaining even half that dispensation will be difficult: the Northern and Eastern Provinces have since been de-merged, the status and powers of provincial Chief Ministers have been severely constricted, and consequently provincial autonomy has already been compromised.

The question now is: what are India’s options and how should it proceed, keeping in mind that we can ‘stress,’ ‘insist,’ and ‘demand’ – but cannot enforce the solution. It is critical for both governments that they not lose their focus. India’s objective has always has been to ensure the welfare and legitimate rights of the Tamil minority within a united Sri Lanka and it stands committed to this goal. India has no commitment to any militant organisation or leader and the LTTE’s claim to represent all the Tamils of Sri Lanka is just a canard.
Way forward

The reality is that military force alone cannot defeat the adversary. Simultaneous political, economic, and societal initiatives are necessary to end the conflict. For the Tamils, their political future remains a question mark depending on President Rajapaksa’s ability to fulfil their legitimate demands. Although he has indicated every intention to do so, his ability to deliver is limited due to opposition from hard-line Sinhala chauvinists, including those within his party, to enacting the necessary legislation. It is likely he will go in for a general election to get the necessary numbers of his supporters elected before taking the next major political step.

Sri Lanka’s concerns over its territorial integrity and sovereignty are well founded, as are India’s concerns over the security environment in its backyard and the sentiments of its own 60 million-plus Tamils. The leaders of both countries have displayed remarkable restraint and maturity in managing the situation. The time has now come to bell the cat. Unfortunately, there is not even a draft political proposal on the table to kick-start the dialogue. In this political vacuum, the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 can serve as the basic document to begin the political dialogue and since it has been passed by parliaments of both countries and placed on the floor of the United Nations it cannot be labelled as unilateral or discriminatory.

India must now demand that: (i) the LTTE lay down arms and release the civilians in the No Fire Zone, (ii) the Sri Lankan government order a ceasefire and undertake a crash rehabilitation programme, (iii) the Sri Lankan government initiate a political dialogue with the Sri Lankan Tamil leaders for a practical and lasting dispensation to meet the legitimate Tamil demands. India must associate itself as an observer in the political dialogue but it must be kept in mind that only the government of a country can give dispensation to its citizens, not an outside power.

It could be a coincidence that whenever India has been confronted with a crisis situation in relation to Sri Lanka — as in 1989 when President Premadasa demanded recall of the IPKF or in 2008 when President Rajapaksa decided on full-fledged military operations against the LTTE — the timing has been surreal, coinciding with the run-up to general elections in India. However, it is no coincidence that our political parties have not hesitated to use it as a card in domestic electoral politics. Today with the grave threat of global terror confronting us, the dangers are very great and the stakes too high for anyone to play any kind of political cards.

(Lieutenant-General (retd.) A.S. Kalkat is Director Emeritus, Centre for Joint Warfare Studies, New Delhi. He is a former Army Commander and was the IPKF Chief. His email id is kalkat@vsnl.com)

April 26, 2009

Western PC Verdict: Sinhala “wave” for Govt Though Minorities voting against

by Kusal Perera

The much awaited Western Provincial Council Elections were over 24 hours ago and the results have just rolled in for the constituencies in all 03 districts, sans individual preference vote counts that may take another 24 hours (today, Sunday 26 April) or even more. On the face value of the results, the Rajapaksa regime that contested as the UPFA has swept the sheet clean with 64.7% of the votes polled and 68 seats out of the total 104 in the Western Provincial Council. It’s a big win no doubt with the main Opposition the UNP managing only 29.6% of the votes polled and 30 seats. The JVP once again got totally decimated with 2.4% votes giving them just 03 seats from all 03 districts.

In a country where even local government and provincial elections are campaigned for on strictly "national issues" instead of development and other issues relevant to the local and provincial areas, the call for a vote in support of the Rajapaksa regime for eliminating "Tamil terrorism" was the centre stage of this WP elections as it was in all other previous PC elections. This time the call was much stronger with all media crying out loud that the Tamil Tigers have been almost wiped out and this vote for the ruling party at the Western PC elections would be a vote of gratitude to a leadership that saved the nation from Tamil terrorists. Thus the campaign for votes went beyond that of an election campaign and was clearly planted in the Sinhala Buddhist hegemonic campaign this regime organised around the war during the last two and a half years.

The hype that was created in the final push for the remaining patch of land in Mullaitivu, despite its human agony, its human slaughter, mobilised Sinhala Buddhist votes here in the Sinhala majority South, though distancing all minorities from the government. This regime showed it is not so much worried about Minorities. It thus tried to force itself even in the Colombo city area, trying to pull out a victory that would give them an advantage as one that for the first time defeated the United National Party (UNP) in its own traditional stronghold.

Western Province (WP) holds a very important key in showing how the political fate of different political ideologies and political parties fare in the social psyche of Sri Lanka . WP holds or has accumulated over 51% of the countries wealth and thus is the richest of all 09 provinces. Also, the WP has a very cosmopolitan population with a high percentage of Minority ethnicities and religious populations resident in large patches, especially in Colombo . While the two districts Gampaha and Kalutara have 91 and 87 per cent Sinhala populations respectively, Colombo has only a 76 per cent Sinhala population. Colombo has a 13% Tamil and a 10% Muslim population that is a Moor and a Malay population taken together. According to the Colombo District Secretariat, within this Sinhala population of 1.7 million in the district, 13.5% are Catholic and Christian.

These are all factors that had serious implications at this WP elections. While in most constituencies where the Sinhala Buddhist vote dominate, the UPFA polled well over 70% as in Kaduwela (70.1%) and Kesbewa (71.0%) in Colombo district, Horana (75.9%) and Bandaragama (73.3%) in the Kalutara district and then in Attanagalla (72.9%) and Dompe (75.2%) in the Gampaha district. In other constituencies with a good Sinhala majority, the UPFA still managed over 60% of the votes polled as in Kotte (61.9%) and Homagama (66.1%) in Colombo district, Katana (68.8%) and Kelaniya (64.5) in the Gampaha district and in Matugama (67.8%) and Panadura (66.6%) in the Kalutara district.

The trend in voting clearly showed a big shift towards the Rajapaksa regime where the Sinhala Buddhist vote was concerned. Thus even in constituencies like Ja-ela and Wattala where there is a concentration of Catholic and Christian vote, with over 62% and 63% turning out to vote, the UPFA still managed over 58% votes polled. Let's not forget that here in Sri Lanka , though Christian or Catholic, as a Sinhala voter they have often tried to identify themselves within the anti Tamil hype to look very much Sinhala. A typical inferiority complex in a Sinhala Buddhist hegemonic society. Yet where the Minority voters like Tamils and Muslims increase in their presence as in Dehiwala (51.0%) and Borella (49.9%) the UPFA is seen losing their clout.

This is amply demonstrated in the voting in Colombo city. Here the UPFA loses all 05 constituencies. Colombo the commercial hub with a population of 642,163, Sinhalese make up only 41.4 percent of the city's population, while Sri Lankan Tamils are 28.9 percent, Moors and Malays total 25.6 percent and Indian Tamils adding another small 2.2 percent. It's thus 58.6% non Sinhala population as against 41.4% Sinhala in the city of Colombo , a unique demographic pattern in any city outside the N-E provinces.

Therefore, the Sinhala war hype, the agony of the Wanni people, the huge cry against a human carnage unfolding in the Mullaitivu coast, have all played against the otherwise popular Rajapaksa regime. In the 03 electorates Colombo North, Central and West, the Rajapaksa regime could not go beyond 30% and in the remaining 02 constituencies, Colombo East and Borella, they got less than 50% of the votes and lost.

This was despite the Tamil vote in Colombo not going to the polls as strong as it did in previous elections. They had their own reasons for taking this election as one that did not consider them any more as a necessary voter. As one that has any importance in Sri Lankan politics. While the UPFA campaign was a government campaign for winning the war, which obviously left out the Tamil people, all others including the UNP did not take the Tamil voter as an important factor. The UNP shied away from standing with the Tamil people who were being savagely treated in the Wanni. The UNP has not been very clear where they stand on the Tamil conflict with different leaders having different explanations and all leaders in the UNP happy the war is being won – by the "war heroes" as they wish to say. Therefore the Tamil vote that went the UNP way was a "Protest" vote against the Rajapaksa regime and then because the Democratic People's Front's 03 Tamil candidates who contested Colombo district in the UNP list campaigned on a platform of their own, led by Mano Ganesan.

So did the Muslim vote. They had their own list fielded by the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) led by Rauf Hakeem. There was also the internal clash within the UPFA in Colombo city. Their own Muslim candidates in the city came under goon attacks and were prevented from campaigning. The UPFA thus projected itself as a Sinhala dominated power bloc in Colombo . Therefore in Colombo , the Muslim vote too, either went the UNP way or to the SLMC.

This Western Provincial Council election thus shows a very strong polarisation of the Sri Lankan society along ethno-religious lines. The Sinhala voter has not bothered how it would live in a fast deteriorating economy, with consumer prices flying higher, the rupee gradually losing its buying power, all democratic life brutally suppressed and large lay offs in the private sector due to the financial crunch weighing heavily on their lives, given the promise that the Tamil terrorists would be completely wiped off.

All of it has made the Tamils in particular and the Muslims in general consider this government as one they wouldn't ever trust. This Western Provincial Council election shows that Minorities therefore as a rule has voted against the Rajapaksa regime, while as a rule the Sinhala Buddhist voter has gelled more with this regime on the war campaign.

It's now getting more clearer. We are a stubbornly dividing society with Minorities not wanting to have any say in what the Sinhala government does here. The question therefore is, what the future would be, if this trend persists with Colombo governments sticking to their racist politics for Sinhala votes. Not giving the minorities due recognition, but not wanting them to go away either. A dog in the manger no doubt.

Dept of Elections: Western Province Elctions Results

April 24, 2009

Wretched of the Wanni earth break free of bondage

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Latest developments on the Wanni war front have brought much relief to all people yearning for the safety of entrapped civilians in the coastal strip of northern Mullaitivu district currently controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The long awaited military operation to break through Tiger defences and facilitate the evacuation of civilians that began at midnight on Sunday April 19 has been a success in terms of numbers.

By Thursday April 24 around 103,000 people from Palammaathalan, Ambalavanpokkanai and Puthumaathalan areas had been freed from what was in reality an open prison.

Since the Government had not geared itself up to handle such large numbers the officials both military and civil are struggling to cope with the large influx. [click here to read the article in full~in DBSJeyaraj.com]

April 23, 2009

Fleeing the war zone and arriving at hospitals with horrific injuries and severe trauma

By Emma Batha

LONDON, April 23 (Reuters) - Thousands of people fleeing Sri Lanka's war zone are arriving at hospitals with horrific injuries and severe trauma, doctors said on Thursday.

Some are dying in buses on their way to hospital, according to doctors working round the clock to treat wounds from shelling and gunfire. Many patients are also deeply traumatised after seeing loved-ones killed in front of them.

CTCP0423A.jpg

[Civilians arrive at the village of Putumatalan in Puthukkudiyirippu, northern Sri Lanka April 22, 2009-Reuters pic]

"About three-quarters of the injured coming in now have suffered from blast injuries, and the rest are gunshot wounds and mine explosions," said Paul McMaster, a surgeon working with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) at a hospital in Vavuniya.

"We are doing a lot of amputations. Many of the lower limbs are severely, severely injured and blown off ... We had a young woman of about 19 who is breastfeeding that I had to do a major leg amputation on. I just wonder what the future for her life and child will be."

The military says more than 100,000 civilians have poured out of the battle zone since Monday when troops blasted through a massive earthen wall built by the Tigers. But the United Nations says tens of thousands more could still be trapped.

E G Gnanakunalan, a Red Cross doctor at a field hospital in Pulmoddai, about 40 km (25 miles) to the south, said many people were extremely traumatised.

"They need some kind of psychological support. They are mentally and physically tortured," he said.

"One lady came and she had been eating with her husband and children. A shell fell on the house and her husband and some of the children died and she lost both her legs. She was crying and asking what would she do in future. There are a lot of sad stories."

The hospital, which has received more than 6,400 people since mid-March, is treating people evacuated by Red Cross ships from the war zone - a narrow strip of land on the northeast coast.

Gnanakunalan said three to four ships had been arriving every week bringing 500 people a time.

Doctors said it was impossible to say which side had caused the injuries. The Sri Lankan military denies Tamil Tiger accusations that it shells civilian areas.

TRAUMA

The government is putting people fleeing the war zone into temporary camps in Vavuniya, about 60 km (37 miles) to the southwest.

MSF's Sri Lanka medical co-ordinator Lisabeth List said staff at the 600-capacity hospital were overwhelmed, with close to 2,000 patients needing treatment.

"It's completely overcrowded. You might have two people in a bed and one lying under the bed and one on each side," she said.

"They are lying in the corridors and outside on the walkways. One ward was so crowded that all the beds were pushed together to make one giant bed."

Many people coming out of the battle zone are also suffering from hunger and dehydration. List said staff had seen one man collapse and die from dehydration shortly after reaching camp.

A U.N. spokesman in Sri Lanka, Gordon Weiss, said people coming out of the war zone were in "very poor condition".

He said a U.N. survey of the camps found a quarter of young children had severe malnutrition and he expected children emerging now to be in even worse health. (Editing by Philippa Fletcher) (For more humanitarian news, visit Reuters AlertNet: www.alertnet.org)

Severely Injured Patients Stream into Vavuniya Hospital

Paul McMaster is working along with another Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) surgeon and Ministry of Health staff at Vavuniya hospital in the Northern province of Sri Lanka to treat some of the tens of thousands of civilians streaming out of the Vanni, the conflict zone to the north.

Over the last few days an estimated 60,000 civilians have escaped the heavy fighting in the Vanni and many wounded have been brought in buses to Vavuniya hospital. On April 21, MSF reported treating 400 people in 36 hours, almost twice as many patients as were admitted the previous week. The following day, patients continued to arrive at these levels, said Dr. McMaster.

VCTC-0424.jpg

What is the situation at the hospital now?

We and our Sri Lankan colleagues have been dealing with casualties brought into us over these last few days from the conflict in the north of us. We’ve been seeing very severely wounded patients, the numbers of patients have increased rapidly over the last three or four days, so we’re seeing a stream of badly wounded people being brought into us.

Our hospital has got about 450 beds, and we’ve now got more than 1,700 patients in the hospital—on the floor, in the corridors, and even outside. So the hospital is very close to being overwhelmed.

What conditions are the patients arriving in?

About three-quarters of the injured coming in now have suffered from blast injuries, and the rest are gunshot wounds and mine explosions. We are seeing who has survived on the field and actually reached us. We see abdominal injuries, but many of the chest or head injuries we’re suspecting don’t survive the blasts to get to us.

We are doing a lot of amputations. Many of the lower limbs are severely, severely injured and blown off. So we’re doing emergency amputations and a lot of these patients we’re doing abdominal expirations, or damage to internal organs and the bowel, we’re dealing with chest injuries, draining damaged chests and lungs, and we’re dealing with some head injuries as well, but the majority of the severe head injuries don’t make it to us. Buses that bring these people down, people are dying on those buses, and bodies are being taken off the buses sometimes as well.

Are you seeing many women or children with severe injuries?

We’re seeing a lot of men with severe injuries, but we’re also seeing a lot of women, a lot of children. We’re doing amputations on children; we’re doing abdominal expirations for internal damage as well, in children. And sometimes we’re operating on both the mother and father and a child from the same family that had been wounded in the same explosion or mine. We’re seeing whole families that are wounded sometimes.

We had a young woman of about 19 who is breastfeeding that I had to do a major leg amputation on. I just wonder what the future for her life and child will be. We’re seeing children that have no parents with them. We had a little boy with a blast amputation of his leg, I think he’s about five, and he’s being looked after by his big brother, who’s about seven, and we don’t know where the parents are or whether they’re even alive. But these two little children are in the middle of a very traumatic hospital setting on their own.

In what sort of mental state do patients arrive?

Well we’re obviously seeing the critically injured and the shock patients. As I said earlier, they just lie silently waiting their turn to get the treatment. We’re dealing with critical people who need surgery urgently, and truthfully there’s little time to go further. We have people in the team who are counselors and mental officers who are working in the camps. But these are deeply, deeply traumatized people. We have children sitting in the middle of emergency wards seeing people brought in with major blasts limb injuries. And these are children, just sitting silently, emotionless, in the middle of all this, as we try to treat them and move them quickly up to the surgery or the ward.

Can you tell what the patients’ living conditions must have been like before they arrived at the hospital?

Many of them clearly have been living under very difficult conditions. They come in needing acute surgery, so are not able to eat, and certainly some of them have had little to eat in the previous days. They come with nothing; they have barely the clothes that they have on. Of course, they’re injured. The family members, if there is one, come with nothing – no pots, no pans. We and our other colleagues and organizations give them sometimes some clothes and sandals and a mattress. And we’re also feeding in the camps, supporting in the camps, thousands of children and pregnant women who need supplementary food to try to build them up again.

What are the challenges to providing care in the hospital right now?

The post-operative care is the area of main concern, really. It’s very difficult. We have a ward that I think is supposed to have 45 beds; we’ve had something like 325 patients in it. It’s extremely difficult to give any quality post-operative care, and we try constantly to pick out the ones who are at risk of infection or sepsis.

The nurses work very hard; the nurses are working 19-, 20-hour shifts. But even so, there are very few nurses to go around. And often it’s trying to pick the patient with the problem and deal with it, rather sometimes doing our full normal quality of work that we want to support these people. It is very difficult for all the staff here, who are all working very, very hard.

What do you expect to see in the coming days?

From what I hear, the numbers are likely to continue over these coming days, and could even increase. We’re making what preparations we can to receive and even larger number of casualties over these coming days. And our hope and prayer would be, of course, this stops very quickly, but I’ve seen no sign of that as yet, and I’ve not heard anything from the team or our Sri Lankan colleagues to suggest that’s going to stop any time soon. [MSF]

LTTE and Tamil People: Setting the scene–II

by Prof.Michael Roberts

PART TWO

In their moral anguish the human rights activists of compassionate heart took little note of this powerful element in the firmament embracing the northern Vanni. None of them spelt out the means by which the LTTE could be persuaded to release the people in their besieged territory (as pointed out in one comment in groundviews). Take Lionel Bopage’s first response in groundviews to my first Dilemmas article: "there is an urgent need for the involvement of an international body such as the UN, to create a safe passage to affected civilians and ensure their protection." The peremptory demand bears an evangelical strain: an expectation of some miraculous happening through the agency of the UN or some other international outfit. Even with my limited expertise in the field of international affairs, this seemed to be a utopian anticipation: the UN machinery is quite cumbersome, while the global politics bearing on penetrations into the sovereign territory of nation states is labyrinthine (as events proved).

I wondered to myself at that point if some of the leading activists would offer to make up a team that would combine with LTTE sympathisers of the diaspora, say, the Editor of the Tamil Guardian, in order to helicopter into LTTE territory under a white flag organised by local ICRC personnel; and there, in that forlorn context, attempt to persuade the Tiger leadership to lay down arms and abstain from any bargaining demands (the other object of the LTTE exodus exercise). "Let the people go" voiced by personnel who are not enemies could have been a powerful appeal. If such a successful emergency intervention had taken place at that point, then, of course, I would have been pleased to eat all my words.

Dilemmas focused on the immediate situation in early February 2009. As Bopage knows well, I remain firmly committed to "a political solution which genuinely devolves power to address the issues that gave rise to the war in the first place" (Bopage’s words immediately after the part-sentence that I have quoted). Arguably, though of course debatably, the military defeat of the LTTE may facilitate that process, if -- a big IF this -- Sinhala triumphalism and the chauvinist forces within the governing coalition do not climb to reigning position.

Political devolution and a process of development that equalises job opportunities for the people of north and east are both integral to such post-war goals. This urgent project of the immediate future must enshrine the fundamental rights of Tamil, Muslim and all other citizens of Sri Lanka in ways that do not render them subject to the whims of new elected governments and all-powerful Presidents. The Sri Lankan Tamil peoples’ struggle for dignity and self-determination from the 1950s, after, all, did not seek this status as a gift from the Sinhalese, but as the rights of citizens of Sri Lanka. The principle of a consociation of nationalities within the Sri Lankan nation, or a "new form of confederative alliance that gives scope to the majoritarian force of the Sinhala nation without subsuming the Tamil nation and Muslim community" (Roberts 2000b), a principle that rejects the subordination of whole (Sri Lankan) within part (Sinhalese), must, as I have insisted consistently (Roberts 2000c, 2002, 2008a, b and c), be a pillar in this new scaffolding.

The nature of the possible political settlement in the coming months is not the issue I raise here. That vital focus has already been signalled by GROUNDVIEWS in its appeal for suggestions on the subject (see one note by me – Roberts 2009e). Important suggestions have been presented by web-articles by Rajan Philips, Dushy Ranetunge, et cetera. As self-evident, the terrain I cover in the two sets of articles addresses (A) the cultural ingredients conditioning and motivating the sacrificial dedication to cause demonstrated by the vast majority of Tiger fighters -- not just the karumpuli; (B) the relationship between the LTTE regime and the Tamil people in the lands they ruled; and (C) the degree of coercion and/or popular participation in the exodus activated by the LTTE in the northern Vanni in late 2008 when the Sri Lankan army juggernaut got rolling and the LTTE mounted what must, in military terms, be considered a magnificent retreat in the circumstances.

Ironically, some GOSL spokesmen and some human rights agencies/activists seem to be agreed in their conclusion that the Tamil peoples of exodus were "forced" into moving with the retreating Tigers. This, in my view, is a sweeping generalisation. The fact that some 65,000 of these civilians have struggled out of Tigerland in the past three months is not proof of the government contention as generalisation.

That is to read the present into the past of, say, August-November 2008. We must allow for a change of minds. And I insist that the relationship between LTTE regime and people between 1990 and mid-2008 had some symbiotic strands and participatory faith/hope/ oneness. The kudumbum (m?v?rar familie) and the kinfolk of active LTTE cadres had stakes in the regime – rather like the soldier families settled on Saipan by the Japanese state. In both instances I refuse to believe that all the civilians had no agency and were mere ciphers responding to the dictates of the command state when they joined in the exodus in Sri Lanka or jumped en masse off Banzai Cliff in Saipan in mid-1944. Readiness to negate one’s being for the higher purpose of an ultra-nationalist cause is a possibility that I present as counter-point to views that treat all the people as corks on water. This is a question, a quarrel really, about agency.

Part I - Tamil people and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam I

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bopage, Lionel 2009 "Colombo, English, Human Rights, IDPs and Refugees, Jaffna, Peace and Conflict, Politics," www.groundviews.org, mid-February.

Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 2009a"Top Tiger leaders killed in a major debacle for LTTE," www.transcurrents.com, 6 April.

Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 2009b "Theepan of the LTTE: Heroic Saga of a Northern Warrior," Daily Mirror, 11 April 2009.

Ohnuki-Tierney, Emiko 2002 Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms and Nationalisms, The Militarization of Aesthetics in Japanese History, University of Chicago Press.

Ohnuki-Tierney, Emiko 2006 Kamikaze Diaries. Reflections on Japanese Student Soldiers, University of Chicago Press.

Roberts, M. 2000b "History as Dynamite," Prav?da, vol. 6, no. ?, pp. 11-13. Also published in the Island Special Millennium Issue, 1 Jan 2000, pp. 43-44

Roberts, M. 2000c "The Sri Lankan Identity," Lanka Monthly Digest, November 2000, vol 7: 4, pp. 43-44.

Roberts, M. 2002 "Hyphenated Identities," Lanka Monthly digest, August 2002, pp. 129, 131.

Roberts, M. 2008a "Split Asunder: Four Nations in Sri Lanka," www.groundviews.org, 13 January 2008.

Roberts, M. 2008b "Addressing the Nations of Sri Lanka," in www.groundviews.org, 27 January 2008.

Roberts, M. 2008c "Issues for Tamil Nationalism: Revisiting Publius," www.groundviews.org, 24 March 2008.

Roberts, M. 2009c "Dilemma’s At War’s End: Thoughts on Hard Realities," www.groundviews.org, 10 Feb. 2009 and Island, 11 Feb. 2009.

Roberts, M. 2009d "Dilemmas at Wars End: Clarifications & Counter-Offensive," www.groundviews.org, 17 Feb. 2009.

Roberts, M. 2009e "The Needs of the Hour," www.groundviews.org, 1 April 2009.

Victoria, Brian D. 2003 Zen War Stories, London: Routledge.

Victoria, Brian D. 2004"The Ethical Implications of Zen-related Terrorism in 1930s Japan," AAR Zen Seminar, San Antonio, November 2004.

Victoria, Brian D. 2006 Zen at War, 2nd edn. New, York: Weatherhill.

Colombo Conference: Meeting Between Diaspora Tamils and the Government of Sri Lanka

by T . Constantine - London

The objective of this article is to report the proceedings of the meeting organized by the Foreign Affairs Ministry and to share the views expressed therein. The word of mouth about the meeting started to surface in November last year. Dr. Nadesan (Uthayan Paper) of Australia was instrumental in initiating it. At the beginning it was rumored that the meeting would be held in Delhi. Subsequently it was reported that due to the forthcoming elections in India, it would be held in Singapore. The invitations and the agenda were sent out accordingly. However, one week before the meeting the venue was shifted to Colombo, said to be due to ‘unavoidable circumstances’. Security related concern was the reason privately attributed by some Ministry staff. The letters sent out with regard to the meeting and the agenda were published in many websites including the tamilnet. Many invitees decided not to participate at the meeting as a result of last minute change of venue. Some, while expressing their discontent over the change of venue have also conveyed their displeasure over the agenda of the meeting.

The agenda was purported to create a forum to listen to the speeches of the Government Ministers and Officials rather than creating a space for dialogue with the expatriate Tamils. This concern was raised by many and they requested to allocate more time to exchange views. They also raised their concern that the Government should not use this conference as a propaganda forum for the state. The officials who listened to these complain, not only made changes in the agenda but also gave assurance that the Government would not use this conference for its propaganda purpose. While the Government pledged not to use this forum for its political promotion, it was saddening to note that participants were vying with each other to give interviews to the press.

More distressing to note was that some were trying to make it as a meeting to demonstrate support to the Government of Mahinda Rajapaksa and as a forum for anti LTTE convergence. Nevertheless, there was an overall unity and consensus of opinion amongst the participants. Another notable thing amongst the participants was their respect for different opinions and the willingness to accommodate those views.

Twenty one people from nine countries such as England, France, Germany, and Switzerland. Norway, Saudi Arabia, Denmark, Australia and Canada participated in the meeting. Foreign Affairs Minister Rohitha Bogollagama, Secretary to the Foreign Affairs Ministry Dr. Palitha Kohona, President’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, and Senior Adviser to President Basil Rajapaksa, Minister Professor Tissa Vitarana, Minister D. E. W. Gunasekera and Central Bank Governor Ajith Cabral participated on behalf of the Government.

28.03.09(Saturday)

‘There cannot be space for terrorism and oppression in a country that is predominantly Buddhists.’ - Dr. Palitha Kohona, Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The proceedings on the first day started with the address of Dr. Palitha Kohona, Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He said that a new chapter is about to be written after three decades of war. The notions such as the LTTE are the sole representatives of the Tamils and that they are liberation fighters cannot be accepted, he emphasized. Dr. Kohona while stressing that in a country that is predominantly Buddhists, there cannot be any room for terrorism and oppression and he called upon the people of all races to forget the bitterness and to unite. He appealed to the Tamil Diaspora to help towards the education and emancipation of the children in the North and East.

He claimed that the country has lost many valuable lives due to the three decades of war and thousands of scholars and workers have migrated as a result. He stressed that in today’s context the Government will never agree for a ceasefire and said that the LTTE in the past have always made use of the ceasefire for its wrongdoings.

Rejection of the 13th amendment by the LTTE is a historical error– Foreign Affairs Minister Rohitha Bogollagama.

After the welcome speech, Foreign Affairs Minister Rohitha Bogollagama spoke on the subject of ‘Future of Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the war’. The Government is willing to work with all the democratic forces, said the Minister, but it is a great mistake in the present situation the TNA is not engaging itself with the Government. He recalled the meetings he had with late Anton Balasingham and Tamilchelvan and said the LTTE had made a historical mistake by rejecting the 13th amendment.

Minister admitted the intricacy of the situation of the refugees in the North and East and said that his Government is endeavoring to solve the issues faced by them. He said that he is willing to bring constitutional amendments without jeopardizing the unity of the country.

‘East is lacking experienced and capable political leadership’ - Ministry Official

The speeches of both Minister Rohitha Bogollagama and Dr. Palitha Kohona were not deep-rooted, they were just grazing. It was more of a sentimental appeal. They described the changes that have taken place in the Eastern Province as a leap towards democracy, but they failed to mention anything about the real complex ground situation and the inability to re-establish democracy in that province. It shows that it is difficult to engage in an open and pragmatic dialogue with those who are in the democratic mainstream of national politics.

However, when we spoke to the respective ministers and their officials privately, we were able to engage in fruitful discussion with regard to many practical difficulties encountered. One of the advisors of the minster of the Eastern Province, while speaking privately with regard to the devolution of power, confessed that due to the non-availability of experienced and knowledgeable officials to undertake mega-projects, most of the work is being carried out from the centre. He said that creating an administrative structure with able and talented officials is not an easy task that could be done over the night. Another advisor while expressing his view privately said that in the East there are no educated politicians; hence interference by the centre is inevitable. It is not a preplanned act of the Government, it is the reality, he further added.

One of the Tamil participants very clearly emphasized that if the Government intends to bring forth the democracy akin to the one East in the North that would not be an indication of progress.

Speech of Dr. Nadesan – Not reflecting the aspirations of the Tamils.

After the minister, Dr. Nadesan (Australia) spoke on behalf of the Tamil participants. He said that there is no firm leadership to the Tamil community today. Those who claim to be the leaders are not prepared to face the reality, he said. Dr. Nadesan’s speech reflected more of Governments position rather than revealing the political aspirations of the Tamils. He should have emphasized the responsibility of the Government in resolving the issue politically. He should have, in particular, pointed out the inordinate delay in bringing the necessary constitutional amendment to meet with the aspirations of the Tamils. Almost all the Tamil participants were aspiring to put it across, but Dr. Nadesan’s speech did not either mention or emphasized that need. The tone of his speech was that you do what ever you want we would continue to extend our support, which was very perturbing.

APRC – All Party Representative Committee

Followed by Dr. Nadesan was Minister Professor Tissa Vitarana, who spoke on the subject of devolution of power. He started by tracing the history of the APRC and said that the UNP is not a participant of the committee at present, but expressed his hope that they would join in the future. In short, APRC appear to be like a snake without the teeth to bite. Although the aim of the APRC is for a good cause, the prolonging of its proceedings for years without reaching any solution shows that it is going to be a futile exercise.

Professor Vitarana said that today 53% of the people from the North and East are living in other districts and that any political demand other than devolution of powers would be an impossible one. Professor Vitarana’s lengthy speech was void of any political intricacy, but it clearly articulates the APRC’s powerlessness.

Although he said that the APRC would recommend a proposal based on Westminster Parliamentary system with devolution of powers, he has not mentioned any time framework for the submission of the proposal. Minister Professor Tissa Vitarana appears to be a person with clear political vision, but without political clout.

Sinhala only act of 1956 is a scar in the pages of history– President’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunga.

The next speaker was President’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, who spoke on the subject of ‘Civil administration and the practical difficulties’. He said that only a few Tamils join the civil administration today and there is only a handful of Tamils in the higher echelon of the service. He pointed out that the Government is fully aware of the misery of the Tamils from time to time and that it has initiated action to remedy the situation. Every five minutes, during the course of his speech, Weeratunga quoted from Mahinda Chintanaya. He contended that in the history of Sri Lankan only the present president laid down the policies in writing. He also pointed out that in Mahinda Chintanaya the president had stated his willingness for a direct dialogue with the LTTE leader. He described the 1956 Sinhala only act as a scar in the pages of history.

Following the address of Lalith Weeratunga, the session was opened for discussion. Replying to the views expressed by the Tamil participants, the President’s Secretary said peace and prosperity cannot be achieved by enacting laws alone. He said that President Mahinda Rajapaksa is taking personal interest to ensure the implementation of Tamil as an official language. He cited as an example that forty officials attached to the Presidential Secretariat are studying Tamil on the direction of the President.

Replying to a question raised by a Tamil participant, Minister Professor Tissa Vitarana said that there is an invisible third force in politics today. This third force is keen on continuing the war.

He said that many people are swindling millions of rupees as a result of fraud, corruption and administrative irregularities associated with the war. These personals will always hamper the efforts to bring peace and stability in the country, minister further added. He revealed that these are the forces behind the killing of parliamentarian Joseph Pararajasingam on the Christmas day few years ago. These third forces are using their henchmen to contest parliamentary elections spending millions of rupees.

Dawn of the East

After the brief exchange of views and question time, the advisor for the programme “Dawn of the East’ Chandra Fernando addressed the audience. He authenticated his speech by showing photographs of the mega development projects carried out in the East.

From the facts presented and the photographs shown it is evident that many mega development projects are being carried out in the East. Nevertheless, there is no indication that democratic political leaders of the East viz. Chief Minister Chandrakanthan and Minister Karuna have any role in those development projects. All these development activities are being carried out under the direction and supervision of President’s Senior Advisor Basil Rajapaksa.

Open Discussion: The growth and strengthening of regional, racial and religious political parties will not be apposite for a healthy society. That will lead to hazardous proportions.- Foreign Affairs Minister

Then the session was opened for questions and answers and for discussion with Minister Rohitha Bogollagama. His replies could be summarized as follows:

1. The elections in the North will be held very soon.

2. The programme to resettle the refugees will commence early.

3. The growth and strengthening of regional, racial and religious political parties will not be apposite for a healthy society. That will lead to hazardous proportions.

4. The migration of Tamils from North to South in increasing daily. The Government is actively engaged in reducing it.

5. The propaganda machinery of the LTTE is well established in the foreign countries. The Government is now prepared to counter it.

Most of the views expressed by the Tamil participants were baseless sermons. However the view expressed by one participant from Australia, Mr Raveendran, echoed the aspirations of the Tamils as a whole. His views were resolute and decisive. One Tamil participant pronounced that he is a fan of President Mahind Rajapaksa, for which another participant demonstrated his support by clapping alone. These degrading conducts made me to feel what was said in a Tamil axiom - losing even the loin-cloth, the piece of cloth that was upholding the self respect.

29.03.09 Sunday

Minister D. E. W Gunasekera

The last day session was focused on development, reconciliation and bringing understanding amongst races. The main speaker was Constitutional Affairs and National Integration Minister D. E. W Gunasekera. It should be noted that Minister D. E. W. Gunasekera is the leader of the Sri Lanka Communist Party and a longstanding politician.

He recalled how LTTE, in the past, have eliminated other political parties and suppressed the political opinions. He reminded that the organizer for Northern Province of the Communist Party was assassinated by the LTTE and that the party press was set on fire by them. He gave an extensive discourse about the constitutional provisions with regard to the rights of the minorities and the legal provisions related to the rehabilitation of surrendered combatants.

Detention Camps – Rehabilitation Centre

Secretary to the Ministry of Justice and Law Reforms Suhada Gamalath, replying to a question with regard to the detainees kept under ‘Prevention of Terrorism Act.’ for a long period of time, explained the practical difficulties in framing charges against these youths. He assured that very soon all those who cannot be charged before the court of law will be released.

There was a lengthy discussion about the Rehabilitation Centers where the LTTE child soldiers who were either arrested or surrendered are being rehabilitated.

An invitation was extended to the Tamil participants to visit the child rehabilitation centre in Ambepusava on Colombo Kandy Road.

Accordingly, the following day all the participants were taken to Ambepusava to see the child combatants captured in the war front.

The participants were told of the Government’s expectation from expatriate Tamils towards the welfare of these children. At present everything such as education, food and clothing are provided by the Government.

During a lengthy discussion, the Ministers repeatedly sought the assistance from expatriate Tamils. Those who are willing to provide assistance need not send it through the Government, they can be directly send to the respective officers in charge of the centre, it was told.

Winding up of the meeting

The following requests were made, in the winding up speech delivered by Foreign Affairs Ministry Secretary Dr. Palitha Kohona.

1. Expatriate Tamils should take part in the development and growth of the country.

2. Must join whole heartedly in discussions to learn from the past and to find solutions to the issues.

3. These types of meetings and discussions should have taken place long ago; it should not be delayed hereinafter.

4. The issues of the internally displaced people have to be addressed without delay.

5. The Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has only 59 Parliament MPP out of the 225. The rest are MPP of the coalition parties. All should understand the political intricacies and extend their support towards peace building process.

6. All are responsible for the current crisis in the country; hence it is the duty of all to join together in finding the remedial measures.

7. It is a false propaganda that genocide is taking place in the country. In spite of all the troubles, thousands of Tamils are living in Colombo and its outskirts. Ninety five percentages of those living in Wellawatta are Tamils. Government considers this as a healthy sign of progress.

8. There is no point in repeatedly scratching an old wound. All should feel it from the bottom of their heart and come forward to find solutions.

9. The issue of refugees is not a new phenomenon. Ninety five percentages of those displaced from Vakarai and Mutur have now been resettled. We will implement the same programme of work for the North.

Replies by Basil Rajapaksa to the questions raised by the Tamil participants.

Although the name of the Senior Advisor to President Basil Rajapaksa too was mentioned in the agenda, he did not come to Mt. Lavinia hotel to participate in the meeting. We are able to gauge that it was a last minute decision due to security concern that prevented him from attending the venue.

Once the meeting was over, all the participants were put into a vehicle and taken to the old Parliament building at Galle Face, where the office of the President’s Secretariat is functioning. A meeting was arranged there between the Tamil participants and Basil Rajapaksa. The meeting lasted for about four hours. By answering all the questions put across calmly and patiently with facts and figures he has proofed himself to be a person managing all the activities.

His ability and authority has been proofed beyond any doubt when he answered and countered the tough questions put across with regard to the reports that some of the displaced people are missing and about the future of those refugees.

At the beginning he allowed about twenty to twenty five questions to be asked and he answered all the questions. Some of the important answers are as follows:

1.In the Mahinda Chintanaya it has been stated clearly that the Government was prepared to talk to LTTE and its leader Prapakaran to resolve the issues.

2. We were determined to solve the issues faced by the country. We had no reservations in this respect. I went personally to Geneva, without the knowledge of the media, to meet Pulithevan and late Balasingam and TamilChelvan.

3. The fire power of the LTTE was mighty. We knew it. The people of Vanni have no political clout. It is the Tamil Diaspora that has to express their feeling to the LTTE.

4. Today many people are trying to visit refugee camps in Vanni like visiting a Zoo to see the animals. It is not fair, they are not exhibits. Help this people that is what is needed.

5. There is a rumor that I personally send TNA parliamentarian Vinothan to refugee camps in Vanni and instigated him to speak in parliament about the betterment of the camps.It is a false propaganda. Vinothan requested permission to visit the camp to see his relatives and accordingly the permission was granted, that’s all. What he spoke in parliament about the conditions of the refugees is his personal opinion, from what he had seen there. No body needs to apply pressure to speak of that in parliament and we have not requested so.

6. It is not practically possible to continuously keep those refugee camps. We don’t intend to do so. We are politicians, we depend on the peoples votes. We are aware of one thing from our past experience, those who are in the refugee camps will always vote against the state. In the past elections we were in the eighth place in some of the refugee camps. Do we need this?

7. According to our plans and programmes, there won’t be any refugees in Sri Lanka in another three years time. Within a short period of time we have resettled about 200,000 people. This is a World record.

8. The refuges in the Vanni area are kept in constricted enclosed area protected by barbed wire. It is true their freedom of movement is restricted. This situation is not going to continue for ever. The documentation of thousands of people and to issue them with identity cards is not an easy task. Most of the refugees don’t have any documents to proof their identity. Very soon we will complete the process of registration and issuing them with identity cards as we have done in the East. We have successfully completed this programme in the East; we will implement it in the North very soon.

9. I will make arrangement for all of you to visit these camps freely. You see it yourself. There may be practical issues, as far as possible we are trying to remedy it immediately. In the last few weeks alone about 10 officials have been transferred out due to various allegations.

10. Propaganda is being carried out in foreign countries that those in the refugee camps are subject to sexual harassment and being subject contraceptive treatment.

We would not betray our own people; you all go and witness it. As compared to Dafur and other refugee camps world over, our refugee camps are in better standard. This is a short term achievement; we are keen on resettling them.

11. Today there are many social issues in the refugee camps than the political and security issues. Some outsiders have taken those refugees declaring as relatives and keep them as domestic servants. Those in the refugee camps are economically and educationally in a backward position. From communicating with the officials to writing a small letter, they cannot do of their own. They need help. We are fully aware of their anxiety.

12. There is another misinformation campaign carried out in the foreign countries that the Government intentionally steer up the refugees in order to drive them out from their traditional habitat. It is totally untrue. About 97% of those who were displaced from the East in recent times have already been resettled in their places of residence.

13. In an informal manner we are in touch with Norway Government, newly appointed LTTE coordinator K.P and other LTTE leaders in the foreign countries. Even yesterday John Holmes has spoken to K.P. No body new about it. While waging a war we have not forgotten the politics. Whatever it is, we cannot and we will not change our stance on the international arrest warrant against the seven including Prabakaran and Pottu Amman. These seven people will have to face the charges according to the international law. We are prepared to discuss all other issues other than this.

14. We are prepared to work with TNA. If they don’t talk to us how can we solve the issues? We have repeatedly told this to TNA leader Sampanthan.

All the replies of Basil Rajapaksa were substantiated with facts. He had a heap of files with him. For each of his reply, he validated it by showing the respective file. Although there were three secretaries around him to assist, Basil Rajapaksa appear to be more familiar and talented in taking the appropriate files and locating the required document. At times he answered the questions jokingly and at certain times signaled the media personal to leave the room.

At one point while explaining about the IDP camps, he referred to a letter written by TULF leader Anandasangari to him. Everybody laughed at when he pointed out that Sangari had requested in his letter to give biscuits and tea at 10am and 4pm to the IDPs.

When he was questioned about the intense security search against the Tamils he shared his experience in Geneva when he visited recently. He said that when he went to UN with dhoti, the security officials requested him to remove the belt. Then he said, he explained to them that if he removes it the dhoti will fall down.

Dignitaries we met

In the two days summit and the banquets held, lot of events took place over and above the decided agenda. Some were able to make private meetings with some of the officials who participated in the meeting. The important dignitaries I met with were;

1. Minister Rohitha Bogollagama
2. Foreign Affairs Ministry Secretary Dr.Palitha Kohona.
3. Presidents Secretary Lalith Weeratunga
4. Senior Advisor to President Basil Rajapaksa.
5. Minister D. E. W. Gunasekera
6. Minister Tissa Vitarana
7. TNA MP Sri Kantha
8. Minister Karuna
9. Minister Douglas Devananda
10. PLOTE leader Sidarthan
11. TULF leader Anandasangari
12. EPRLF (Naba faction) Sugu
13. Advisor to Eastern Province Ministry Chandra Fernando
14. Minister Mahidananda Aluthgamage
15. American Ambassador for Sri Lanka Robert Blake
16. The First Secretary in Indian embassy B. Siam
17. Secretary to Ministry of Justice and Law Reforms Suhada Gamalath
18. Private Secretary to Minister Karuna Santhini Perera

Other than those referred to above, I was able to meet many officials and advisors privately. What I was able to see (from Sri Lankan officials) is that today Srilankan politicians are matured politically. While the Tamil polity was centered on political violence, the Sinhalese politicians were focusing on massive strategic programmes along with military actions. As a result, while the Srilankan government was able to secure their standing before the international community, the Tamil community has been compelled to jump into the Thames River dancing with their with their drums and trumpets.

The epics of the Diaspora

The political maturity and the apposite behavior found in the Srilankan politicians and officials are no match to the conduct of the Tamil Diaspora who had been domicile in the Western countries for over two decades.

The participants from the Diaspora community wasted their time on either attacking the LTTE or in praising and commending the Government, rather than collectively raising their voices on concrete political issues, arguing with factual evidence and engaging in constructive political dialogue.

I was feeling ashamed and humiliated when some participants raised questions centered on their profession or their children.

It was a disgrace to the Tamils that some participants, read out quotations from Einstein and Churchill from the scribbles.

It was saddening to note that most of the Tamil participants were not conversant with basic protocol as to how to perform and conduct in a meeting of this nature.

One of the Tamil dignitaries, who gave the vote of thanks, spoke about his job and his wife’s background. The conduct of the Tamil participants clearly illustrates that in political apprehension they are still like the frog living in a well.

Moreover, it is very distressing to note that some participants elevated themselves as representative of the Tamils and Tamil leaders. The interviews given by some participants to the media did not reflect the collective will of all the participants.

To see the memorandums handed over by the Tamil participants, official statement of the Government and the media reports with regard to this meeting visit http://srilankan-diaspora.org/

Consensus amongst the Diaspora

There was one common opinion amongst all the participants. There is no military solution to the problem of the Tamils; LTTE are not the sole representatives of the Tamils; only through negotiation with the Sri Lanka Government that the problem of the Tamils can be resolved; the propaganda carried out by the LTTE in the Western countries are to safeguard the LTTE leadership and not to resolve the political problem of the Tamils; there should be a ceasefire and refugees should be resettled in their original places of residence.

31.03.2009 Tuesday

Visit to IDP camps in Vavunia

This visit was organized by the Foreign Affairs Ministry at the direction Basil Rajapaksa on the request of the Tamil participants. Nine Tamil participants and four officials from the Foreign Affairs Ministry accompanied by security personal went to Vavunia by road.

In the vicinity of Madawachiya, army or police sentry points could be seen almost every 50 feet, irrespective of whether it is a shrub land or jungle area. We could not get the opportunity to either talk to them or to observe their activities, since we were escorted by security personal. But, we could see people being subject to security checks in all the check points. There was no indication of any force being used or misuse by officers. As far as we could observe the security checks were swift and carried out without causing any difficulty. We have not seen any no long queues in front of these check points.

When we passed Madawachiya, Thandikulam and Eeraperiyakulam along A9 route, we were able to see de-mining activities being carried out in most of the places. There were indications of de-mining activities as well as notice boards. The presence of Buddhist Viharas, Mosques and Hindu Temples were common occurrences up to Madawachiya junction.

Gigantic poster of Mahinda Rajapaksa and a poster depicting child soldiers being engaged in war are the main attraction at Vavunia junction. The prevalence of grief and sorrow across the Vavunia city is noticeable. The city appears to be quiescent without the spirit of liveliness. We had a brief discussion with assistant Government Agent Sampanthan and senior officer Paramanathan about the situation in Vavunia. Sampanthan gave details about 48,859 refugees who had come from combat areas up to 30.03.09 and that they are being housed in 15 schools. He told us that those who are in the detention camps are worried, frustrated and perturbed. They are showing their resentment on the officials, he said.

After this meeting we were taken to Gamini Mahavidyalaya, about half a mile from Vavunia junction. According the Government Agent’s account up to 30.03.09, 1487 people were registered there. While we were there, more than 300 people were at the gate waiting for registration. When we set foot to speak with those people who had just arrived, I could see the eyes of all of us, including the Foreign Affairs Ministry officials who accompanied us, were soaked with tears. It is difficult to describe in words the conditions of those refugees who had just arrived.

We cannot forget in our lifetime the faces of those people whom we have met in front Gamini Mahavidyalaya and their cries and plights; it would continue to reverberate in our minds. Those innocent people, unaware of who we were and the purpose of our presence there surrounded us and started to tell-tale the misery and sufferings they had encountered, as if we were going to do wonders. Mother who had come past the corpse of her own daughter, helpless husband while trying to carry his daughter out of muddy water, had seen his wife drowning ……….were some of the incidents narrated to us. When those people were puzzled as to what to say and how to say, even the Foreign Affairs Ministry officials started crying.

[future is bright...?]

Even though the letter from the Minister was produced at the gate, the army official on duty at the gate refused to permit us to go inside. Finally, when the responsible Ministry officer spoke to the higher command in the army, we were permitted to go inside.

We felt as if our heart was stripped apart when we saw the conditions of the refugees inside that camp. Sixteen babies born within one week were lying on the ground. A youth with both legs and an arm amputated; a boy with amputated arm; eight year old child with bullet inside his back. We were able to see all the cruelties that our mind is able to think of to its utmost capability, within that small arena.

A woman showed us a scar caused due to the attack by the LTTE when she tried to flee the area. The people over there spoke with us frankly and instinctively. “We don’t mind who rules us, send us back to our villages’ was their motto. When we enquired from about twenty five people whether any injection being administered on them, their reaction was as if they were hearing such thing for the first time. They told us that many people have died as a result of aerial bombing by kafir jets. They also told us about the conscription, forced labour and extortion by the LTTE.

After meeting the people at Vavunia Gamini Vidyalaya, we met the Government Agent Mrs. Charles. She appeared to be an able officer and gave straight answers to all our questions.

[...genocide..?]

Today the LTTE members in Europe and America are campaigning that in IDP camps women are being raped and contraceptive injections are administered. We do not have resources to counter that campaign. You can visit and speak with them and find out what is happening there. If there is genocide here then that means I am doing it. However, Mrs. Charles admitted that there are practical problems in the camps. She made an appeal that the Diaspora community should help these people by sending clothing and nutritional supplements for the children and women.

49,859 people have been registered up to 30.03.09 in 15 temporary camps in Vavunia. The number of people who flee the combat area is calculated on the basis of this registration. However, there is no account as to how many people really fled the combat area and entered the army controlled area. The LTTE claim that many people are reported missing in between. When we enquired about this from those in the camps they do not agree with that allegation.

Apart from these 15 temporary refugee camps, there are four additional permanent camps put up by the Government. There details are as follows;

1. Kadirgamar Village – It is in full occupation. 6,000 people are housed in this camp.
2. Arunachalam Village – It is constructed in 333acre land. 11,683 people are housed here.
3. Anandakumaraswamy Village – Under construction in 260 acres land. Not occupied yet.
4. Ramanathan Village – Under construction in 376 acre land. Not occupied yet.

Kadirgamar Village

This village was established by razing last extent of forest. The houses are fairly large. with thatched roof. All the facilities such as people’s bank, post office, training centers, temple and hospital are available within the village. Even though all these are available, certainly it cannot be compared to living in a village.

People from Vanni and Mullaitivu are not used to living in this type of constricted enclosed area. There are possibilities for socio psychological issues to crop up. Though all the facilities are available and meals are provided, those who are capable of working are idling. The schools have all the facilities. Students can study up to advanced level. Students Saroji and Tharsika told us that the facilities at the school in Kadirgamar village are much better than the school they studied. A nineteen year old student Thyakaran told us that they got displaced on the 23rd of November and was living in Kanakarajankulm, from where they came to Vavunia.

Overall we had the liberty to visit any IDP camp and meet anyone independently without being followed by anybody. At times, when people surround us we get mental fear, but it fades away and we felt like talking to people familiar to us.

In both the camps I visited there were about 8,000 people. Out of them twenty people talked to me for a long period of time. I talked with many others as a group. Not a single person spoke about Tamil Eelam or praised the LTTE. Few told us about the LTTE extortion and forced labour. I spoke with about twenty five children in the age group of seven to ten. With age related playfulness, they spoke beautifully in Tamil. They frequently told about the kefir jet. It is the unanimous view of everybody that they do not have any problem with the army and police personal stationed in the camp.

What is Next????

There is a blend of many officials in the IDP camps such as Sinhalese doctors, Sinhalese officers, Tamil officers, Sinhala army, Muslim officers etc. The existences of these types of camps are inevitable at this point of time. But, we do not know what is happening in the battle zone. But one thing is clear; there is no truth in the propaganda carried out by the LTTE supporters about the conditions in the IDP camps. It is the duty of the Tamil Diaspora to help those in these camps.

I wish to reiterate that in the present context, the existences of these camps are inevitable, but, without delay arrangements should be made to close these camps and to allow these people to settle in their places of origin. Failing which, it will lead to the emergence of ten Prabakarans and hundreds of suicide cadres.

T Constantine – London
22 April 2009

BBC Audio: Live from a Sri Lankan protest outside Parliament in London

Thu, 23 Apr 09: Today's programme is live from a Sri Lankan protest outside Parliament in London. Tamils are angry at the government offensive against Tamil Tiger Rebels.After decades of violence, could this finally be the bitter end of the civil war in Sri Lanka?

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[pic by Bruce Thomson]

[50 mts~From BBC World Service~Have Your Say-Thu, Apr 23]

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[Tamil demonstrator Parameswaran Subramaniyan, 28, enters the seventeenth day of his hunger strike outside Britain's Houses of Parliament in London, on April 23, 2009-pic: getty images]

Assuming the worst for both Tamil and Sinhala innocents

by Kusal Perera

Over 100,000 Tamil civilians have crossed over to be in the "safety" of the SL government, says official sources. The 20 sq km "no fire zone" was bifurcated the day before and another 12 sq km had been taken over by the military, according to latest reports. The SL war against the Tamil Tigers will be concluded within 48 hours from now (23 April night) according to government propaganda. The State media hypes the influx of civilians in to government controlled land as the "biggest ever humanitarian evacuation" as proudly announced by President Rajapaksa himself.

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[This well-organized protest was peaceful and orderly. Afterwards volunteers picked up trash and cleaned all traces. On the following day, few signs remained of the thousands who had assembled here. Pic by Mikey G Ottawa]

Within that hype, the 01% Nation Building Tax (NBT) that was imposed last year was increased to 03% without much notice among the public. The Opposition was only bothered it would further increase prices. Beneath all of that there is also city talk of the top few leaders of the LTTE having slipped out of the country, a few weeks ago. Some diplomatic types were eager to have the talks making rounds, confirmed either positively or negatively.

None could confirm, at least positively. Therefore, the only possible way was to logically eliminate the "impossibilities". When the LTTE decided to roll up their 06 year old mini State from Mannar in the West through Killinochchi to Mullaitivu in the East, they would have definitely worked out a fall back option, is a strong argument. Could it have been fleeing the country though ? Wouldn't the LTTE have thought they could slip into the Mullaitivu forests and occupy South Alampil and the Eastern Province once again as a guerilla out fit ? Yet the manner in which they gave up Killinochchi without a shot fired and the town completely deserted, it was more like they were abandoning the fight all together. Then the question is, why did they have the civilians move with them in such large numbers, if that was the case ?

First is that most of the civilians would have expected the LTTE to hold the government security stay put at some areas West and South-West of Kilinochchi and thus decided they could move to areas East of Kilinochchi up to Mullaitivu. There is no doubt, those Tamil people have very much less trust on the wholly Sinhala dominated military, they know of only as a very ruthless opposing military and nothing else. Its therefore obvious, their first choice what ever difficulties they would have to face, is to be in their own Wanni and out of government control.

When the LTTE started moving out of Kilinochchi too and retreating into Mullaitivu, they probably had no option but to follow the orders of the LTTE. As for the LTTE, it had two very sound reasons to have the civilians with them. One, the SL security forces were held at bay and delayed their forward push giving the LTTE time to rearrange their fall back options and two, the damages, co-lateral or not, gave them a humanitarian platform to campaign on, in the West and lobby international agencies.

The LTTE leadership nevertheless would have known such international campaigns would not guarantee security of their lives in Mullaitivu. Totally empty Wanni does not allow any possibility of survival even as an underground group. With sea lanes almost lost with Indian satellite intelligence strengthening the SL Navy patrolling, would cut their supply routes almost completely. That deprives the LTTE leadership of going under ground in the forests and in Eastern province. In EP they have a military supported para military group waiting to pounce on them and for the leadership it would be suicidal to enter East.

That line of argument leaves two options for the Tiger leaders. Fight to a definite decimation and then commit suicide. Or get the cadres to put up stiff resistance and gain an exit to slip out of the country. But go where ?

No part of India is safe soil. Not even the heated Tamil Nadu, unless the RAW for some reason wants the Tiger leaders to continue the fight at a low profile, for India to continue with its interests in the island nation through the conflict. For now, that does not seem the case. None of the Western countries would have them either, with the LTTE listed as a terrorist organization and with the international community as a bloc holding the Tiger leaders equally responsible as the SL government for the human tragedy in the Wanni. Most would suggest the retreat to be South Africa. That had been soft towards the LTTE and the large Indian origin population makes it conducive too. There is also Malaysia and Indonesia with far less spoken Fiji on the list, according to some who wish to guess.

Yet the question is, what could they do from a foreign location ? Yes, they wouldn't have much visibility for some time in SL. Not if this government makes a very nasty turn around to devolve power to the peripheries in an adequate manner to install some Tamil leaders. At least to be seen as more effective that Pilleyan. All chances and any sane guess would say 'no' not this government. Here is a government that's trying to marginalize even the Muslim leadership in Colombo. Even those in their own political party. A fate that had befallen the Fowzies at this Western Province elections. Colombo hereafter would be led by a Sinhala political leadership. Such a political leadership would not provide any space for devolution of power.

Political space and the call for rallying would be thus available. But there would be no supportive social links for armed activities for some time more to come. It would therefore remain a "Diasporic" movement. The strongest Diasporic movement that any oppressed minority in a country had ever stirred to aggressive life. In London it mobilized over a hundred thousand and continues to press the British government in to action. In Canada the Parliament Hill it was reported had over 30,000 demanding the Canadian government to intervene. Berlin had a huge rally they never see in modern Germany. The crowds were as large as those of Hilter's Brown Shirt rallies, according to some. This Diaspora now shows a difference to what was seen a few years ago. It is now more youthful, having drawn the second generation too into political activity. Its "M.I.A" generation now that shows up in rallies and are very agitated. They are also very much more educated and tech savvy than their parents. It’s a new educated generation of Tamils that have come together as the dynamo of the Tamil Diaspora.

They clearly mean that the LTTE and Prabhakaran had done their historical role in planting the Tamil cause on the world map. It's the turn of the next generation now to take the baton. But how would they wield it ? It’s a tough guess. So let's wait for the first signs to emerge.

But meanwhile let's remember, a very well educated generation on the offensive could be far more dangerous than a dumb and brute leadership. It may leave all, Sinhala and Tamil innocents on Sri Lankan soil as victims of circumstances.

April 22, 2009

The national sentiment of Sri Lankans

By Dananjaya Dissanayake

I personally feel that Transcurrents blog site provides us with a good platform to discuss current Srilankan situation and world political affairs in a constructive manner. The diversity of opinions shown mainly by English literate Srilankans and expatriates depict the depth and the width of the crisis in Srilanka.

Statistically it is very difficult to analyse the contribution by writers on their ethnicity or geographical location but I personally feel that it does not represent the stream of thinking of the majority of Srilankans, who do not have exposure to the cyberspace as well as English literature.

So if we try to extrapolate the myriads of opinions depicted in these blog spots as National sentiment we are not far from being wrong. The National sentiment of Srilanka is mainly governed by the Sinhala Buddhists but there is significant contribution from Sinhala Christians and a handful of Tamils and Muslims as well.

For most of average Srilankans an ethnic question does not exist. Why should there be an ethnic question in our Sinhala land, which has been governed by brave Sinhala kings like Dutugemunu, Maha Parakramabahu for so many years? We Sinhala Buddhists are entrusted to protect our motherland from any unnecessary intervention immaterial of whether it is within or without- that is exactly what Mahawansa advises us to do. They reckon that most of Chola and Pandya invasions were carried out to destabilise the Sinhale and any one from that dynasty does not have any legal right to dismantle Sinhala land into pieces. It is righteous to wipe out anyone, who does not recognise that holy right.

In that sense we Sinhala Buddhists are bound to fight against the separatist LTTE with all the mighty that we have as we did against British imperialists and all other invaders. This has been the National sentiment against the right of self determination of Tamils since the independence.

This is the back ground for the communal disharmony and violence since the independence. Those are the seeds of the evolution of Tamil struggle of self determination from Tamil Nationalism to the Tamil Terrorism against Sinhalese.

After three decades of separatist war and loss of thousands of lives and resources the same sentiment governs the country. Probably we must have deviated marginally during 2001-2003 period which paved the way for the CFA and 1994-1995 during the time of Peace Package. Otherwise we have not accommodated the right of self determination for Tamils at any period in the history unless they fought and won it.

According to the average Srilankans, the Tamil who asks for self-determination is a Terrorist who needs to be wiped out or rehabilitated. Most of our hands are up for a wipe out as we have been trying to do for last thirty years.

According to most of us Srilankans there is no communal tension as there are few hundred thousands of Tamils are still living among us in Colombo. Most of the incidents of communal violence happened were instigated by the ruling or opposite political parties but not by us average Srilankans.

It was SLFP in 1956, UNP in 1977 and JVP and the clan in 1983 etc.

The sentiment is same for the JVP uprising as well. It was a clan of misguided youth who rebelled in 1971 against the just SLFP regime. It was justifiable to wipe them out or float them along the rivers after being killed.

It was different in 1987-1990 as the rebels were justified against the Unjust JRJ’S regime. It was very wrong to burn them alive in tyre pyres. Even though Wijeweera’s plan was to topple the democratically elected government it was considered wrong to wipe them out. It was not considered wrong to nab the power from Unjust JRJ’s regime by a set of immature youngsters. For a fair bit of time most of us average Srilankans supported the movement.

We still believe that nabbing the power from a bad government by a minority of Sinhalese youth is far more justifiable than dividing the country and giving a reasonable portion to a minority of Tamils. Some great intellectuals identified this as the 3rd phase of Sinhala National freedom movement started in 1956! They must have interpreted the ongoing patriotic humanitarian operation as the 4th as well.

We average Srilankans believe that peace talks are useless and ceasefires are counterproductive. Since the time of Thimphu talks we tend to mock at each and every peace talk and “Thimphu talk” is in day to day slang now in use for non productive conversation. As history shows we have achieved only limited results through talks. It was military involvement that brought peace to the motherland not only against the LTTE but also against the JVP. So we heavily depend on the soldier.

"It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of press”, “It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has paved the way for the peace"- Neither talking nor writing only the gun.

All the ceasefires were used by LTTE elements for regrouping and rearming. Not a single life saved, not a cent saved, not a single National resource saved during any of these cease fires. So most of us majority Srilankans are in the opinion that a ceasefire at this juncture does not help anybody other than Prabaharan, as it gives the opportunity to regroup and re breath.

We average Srilankans do not believe that there is a humanitarian catastrophe. It is considered primarily as LTTE propaganda for their own survival.

As the current war against LTTE is a humanitarian operation, it is not considered to be killing civilians. Our soldiers are so disciplined that they would not kill or rape a single innocent Tamil even in their wildest dreams. All our military hardware is such advanced and programmed that they would not target anyone other than ruthless Tigers.

NB: Total number of lives loss from 1977-2001(25 years) approximately counts up to 60-70000.

Total number of lives lost during JVP insurrection from 1987-1989( 3 years) approximately 60000.

Total number of lives lost from 2006-mid 2009 (3 ½ years) LTTE caders 18000+SL forces 12000+ civilians on both sides 4000= 34000 ( could it be more by any means?)

We average Srilankans do not believe that there is a hidden agenda behind the current war. There are no financial or political agendas and it is an extremely patriotic move. As soon as Prabaharan is dead the war will be over and the country is bound to be as prosperous as it used to be in ancient times. None of these neoliberal economic crises are wild enough to pull our legs. We are very lucky to have a genuine leader and his always patriotic brothers to safe guard the country and guide it through the troubled waters. Our military is so advanced and triumphant against global terrorism that they are bound to get more and more contracts in overseas to yield foreign currency to the motherland. We average Srilankans believe that most of our military leaders would be consulted by global antiterrorism experts (? in experts) like Americans for their survival, gaining a massive reputation to the country.

The demand for military recruitment is overwhelming and most of our youths do not want to be professionals in any other field other than our well disciplined professional armed forces. Joining of our beloved president’s son to armed forces is regarded as extreme act of patriotic devotion and it shows his authenticity towards the current humanitarian war as oppose to Prabakaran. Currently his family is living abroad happily and children are getting foreign education.

We Srilankans consider our education system is far more superior to the foreign education and it is exemplary of our current president to not to send his children abroad as opposed to what his predecessors or Prabakaran did. We do not believe any IQ issues persist.

We Srilankans believe that most of English speaking world is against us, including INGOs; English based local NGOs, English speaking intellectuals etc. As we were under British imperialists we do not like their mother tongue as well. That was the reason behind the Sinhala only sentiment hovering over us in post independent era. Until recent times most of our heads of the governments were from English speaking background excluding Ransinha Premadasa. The change of National sentiment against our English speaking allies depicts the end of the era which was governed by English educated lobby. Iran, Russia and China as non English speaking econo-political giants are our main allies for the next generation, needing interpreter service for our government heads. In this regard we have achieved exceptionally well and we are not far away from needing interpreters when our politicians travel in western world as well.

We Srilankans (esp. Sinhala Buddhists) believe that we are a special tribe for many reasons. Budda landed in this blessed land 2500 years ago not by a mistake. Ancient voyagers always landed in our Sinhalaland looking for their fortune. Tamils landed here by a mistake and needs to be deported from both upcountry and north east. British imperialists landed here and it is the reason for their economic prosperity. Americans were interested in Trinco harbour due to its advantageous position in naval war fare and maritime. India always wanted us to be their 29th state; de facto currently. Norway had hidden agendas as SLMM and was interested in Mannar oil basin.
We Srilankans do not believe in the myth that the fall of LTTE is multifactorial-it is the unique achievement of our beloved head of the state and the brothers. Probably a few military leaders included. We do not recognise post 09/11 scenarios, subsequent proscription of LTTE and its assets, dwindling of international interest in Tamil homeland, estrangement of new generation of Tamil Diaspora from the ethnic isuue,CFA in 2002 and breakaway of Karuna as anything to do with their current down fall.

We do not consider the current resurgence of Tamil Diasporas interest in their old homeland as serious and it is nothing to do with current humanitarian operation. Nobody can argue that we took the enemy within to international arena.

We Srilankans are very much polarised in our politics. We are divided into blue, red, purple or green. As a result the National flag is nicely divided as well. Read-www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Sri_Lanka.

Though we cohabitate as Srilankans, we do not tolerate other’s political views. When UNP waged the war against LTTE, we SLFP lovers did not support them. Now when UPFA is waging a winning war against LTTE most of UNP hardcore are not supporting them. Though we love the demise of LTTE, both UNP supporters and UPFA supporters do not like the other winning the game: either by war or peace. JVP, LSSP, JHU etc are so much polarised in this regard that there is no place for compromise.

A reasonable common ground exists against the right of self determination for Tamils as well as LTTE in general.
Tamils are equally polarised: for LTTE verses against LTTE. When it comes to the right of self determination they work on a common flat form.

We Srilankans do believe in spiritual than economic development. We know absolute truth as Buddhists and complacent at economic gains. The Karma is overwhelming and most of non Buddhists also believe in our economic Karma. Post independent economic achievements depict this sentiment. Sometimes we used forward gear and sometimes the reverse and currently the neutral needing us to get down and push it hard. It is not easy to feed 100 odd ministers, their kith and kin, body guards and 200000 odd soldiers.

As I am finalising this article, it is unreasonable to not to write about the “Great traitors”. We Srilankans have a soft edge for traitors. Starting from Ehalepola who joined English imperialist against King Rajasingha, we have seen many great traitors who betrayed their leaders and the clan for politico military gains. SWRDB in ‘50s, Ronnie de Mel , Rjitha and clan in 2001, Karu and the clan in 2004 and last not the least Karuna in 2005 betrayed their leaders and joined the enemies in stark day light. We Srilankans still adore these people and were rewarded as well. I would like to mention once a minister Alahapperuma, who did not join the enemy and packed up and went home when he had issues with his leader-strange in our political culture!

Ps: No part of this article may be commented in written or verbal means: we Srilankans believe neither talking nor writing, but only the gun and you are at the risk of gunning down in the high security zone in Colombo as we did it to Lasantha and Richard de Zoysa!

Is a post Eelam Sri Lanka inevitable?

by Ilaya Seran Senguttuvan.

More than one Lankan academic of note dared envision in recent years the more than distinct possibility of a Sri Lanka after the coming of the much contested Eelam – in the North Eastern part of the island where Tamil-speaking people live today under conditions described as "horrible and sub-human" inviting unanimous condemnation of the world community. Tamils have been living in these areas as the majority community for thousands of years - a reality supported by history and archeology.

In the nature of the sharp dispute between the Sinhalese and Tamils that gathered momentum in recent times, even this is disputed for reasons that can only be described as mischievous. While the State of Eelam is yet to emerge formally chances are sooner than later this is inevitable - largely due to the obstinacy and suspect political manouverings of Sinhala politicians. Indiscriminate attacks from the air and sea where thousands of civilians have perished and vital infra-structure including schools, hospitals, places of worship were targeted have hardened the Tamil resolve to secede. The callous rapes of young women, killing of youth suspected to be militants and other genocidal acts continue in gay abandon to the point Tamils want to be left alone. The call for restraint by the international community in the matter was ignored by the armed forces – often believed to be out of the control of the political hierarchy. Gross sub-human treatment of Tamils in the conflict zone subjecting them to de-housing, starvation, shortage of essential medicine, destruction of their sources of livelihood have all contributed to this cumulative demand to go separate ways. Tamils see through a conspiracy to reduce their influence in numbers in the North is now clearly evident where the Eastern political leadership is made a mockery with the Chief Minister claiming "he does not even have the power to appoint a peon". This after loud assurances from the highest levels he will be given almost everything to build the District. The much-heralded transformation of Batticoloa for her people to enjoy the fruits of democracy is clearly a sham – which the Tamil people have not failed to take notice of.


The situation has reached the stage of no-return since Sinhala political rulers at different times and in various ways worked up the Sinhala mind homing on them this was, is and will be the Land of the Sinhalese majority. They rubbed it in by adding "minorities can live only on our magnanimity and pleasure. That too only if they behave" - a refrain eloquently expressed loud and clear by the Army's I-give-a-dam-to-anyone Sarath Fonseka joined by the Defernce Secretary Gothabhaya Rajapakse " to boot the President" brother.

Different political groupings among the majority and the head of the now politically and numerically powerful army have made clear what is in store for Tamils and the minorities in the future. There is no reason to believe this has not registered in the minds of the targeted audience.. The outside world has found it somewhat puzzling why the virtual Sinhala-only armed forces - now around 300,000; ultra-modern and equipped with sophisticated gear; required such a vast number to battle a rag-tag, shoeless army of LTTE cadres numbering less than 2,000 (Government figures) generally equipped with small firearms. It is curious why even today within the claimed single square mile a militant strength of less than 2,000 has not been hounded out - after weeks of assurances to the people. The bulk of the meager resources of the country that could have gone into useful development projects is deliberately squandered in the purchase of expensive equipment for the (note, not by the) forces – many of which & nbssp; reported to be at highly inflated prices. Much of it predictably siphoned off overseas. That this insensitive claim of Sinhala hegemony was not effectively contested by competing Sinhala political forces in the South is an indication of its unanimous acceptability among the wider Sinhala population.

However, more for cosmetic reasons than objective, the UNP – the Sinhala right-wing party that has been in power several times - lets off a grunt or two in feeble but lackluster opposition to this preposterous claim in what is referred to in the Constitution as a multi-racial, multi-ethnic secular society centered on equality before the law. The Army chief or the Defence Secretary and their fellow-thinkers do not necessarily concur with what the 1978 Constitution lays down. It is now a Buddhist theocratic society run by a Buddhist clergy-lead political grouping that holds more effective power and influence than what the country's ineffective Parliament does. At any rate, the average attendance in Parliament is no more than 15% we are told, with Ministers hardly in their seats to answer questions from the Opposition of which due notice is given several days earlier. That is the plight of governance in Sri Lanka today and for some years now.

The demand of the Tamil people for their rights for language, State employment and for safeguards in higher education for their children that gathered momentum in 1956 were greeted with contempt bordering on mockery. Their sad lot was decades of disappointment and step-motherly treatment. State players and resources, meanwhile, were utilized to weaken the Tamils and their traditional homeland in the North-East Province. Open and surreptitious State-aided colonization in Tamil majority areas in the Eastern Province continued unabated despite strong opposition from the Tamils. Whereas there was already significant land hunger on the part of the Tamil and - to a lesser extent, the Muslim people of the area; Sinhala colonists, mainly from the deep South, many of them hard-core criminals, were settled here with the State lavishly using resources meant for the use of all communities. This calculated move was engineered from the time of the late D.S. Senanayake in the 1950s to rapidly alter the demographic pattern of the district against the Tamils in the area. The population statistics of the area from the 1950s todate will reveal the real story.

There is room to believe governing sources in the Sinhala south coming from the two major political parties found convergence in this policy as they incorrectly figured, and indeed advised their followers, unless Tamils are rendered unto minority status in the Eastern Province, local Tamils will link with adjoining Tamilnadu in South India and eventually swamp the Sinhalese. This is a falsehood upon which platform many pro-Sinhala nationalist parties have come to power. Though this fear is unthinkable in the modern world, the vast mass of Sinhalese believed or "wanted to be believe" such a theory. It is possible much of the hatred and prejudice against Tamils is based on this delusionary fear.

However, in the final analysis, the coming into two of a hitherto singular political unit (from British times) along language lines – that was right along avoidable - does not necessarily mean the end of the world for both sides.

The writer argues both States can still function within a modified Sri Lanka with necessary political and structural arrangements to follow. There is absolutely no need for a blood-bath reminiscent of that.ignominy that took millions of lives when the Indian sub-continent split into two during 1947/48. Looking at history in sober terms what is being discussed is, in fact, the restoration of the Status Quo that was altered with the coming of the Portugese early in the 17th century - the first colonial power to set foot in the island. The separate Tamil, Kandyan kingdoms and Low Country political reality were unified by the British for reasons of "administrative convenience" when they held sway in the Island.

Tamils in the North-East and Sinhalese in the South were the pre-dominant races until that time which also had a minority of Muslims. Later Tamils of recent origin, who arrived early in the 19th century brought in as workers in the Plantations. They are settled mainly in the Central Hills of the Sinhala South. A rupture of this nature is not new to the region considering Singapore engineered a bloodless divorce from Malaya in 1965. The separation did not see the shedding of blood on a wide scale, loss of assets or properties of the Malays in Singapore or Chinese in Malaysia. In retrospective, it would appear both Singapore and Malaya would have mutually destroyed each other's capacities and future if they allowed their own rocky marriage to continue with the bitter relationship they endured. Today thanks to the resolve, industry and commitment of both Malaysians and Singaporeans both countries have reached NIC level with Singapore in the first world league. The powerful and liquid Tamil diaspora believes though they do not have the right and capacity to get GoSL and her hardline Sinhala leadership to change course at this late hour, they may be in a position to help their Tamil brethren to begin their shattered lives afresh. They have pledged to invest billions of dollars in the new entity purely to enable it to get on its feet. Even amounts of US$10,000 to 50,000 per person per year in the half of a diaspora close to 800,000 this appears sufficient to build a viable new State.

Then there is the possibility of at least 4 successful Tamil billionaires in Malaysia, USA and the UK who have the influences to build valuable infra-structure in the nascent State. Understandably, there will be some hiccups in the initial stages of the estrangement but this will work out gradually. Now that the Buddhist-priest led Sinhala State made the relationship unworkable one hopes the Sinhala side will gain the resolve and the muscle of its own indigenous and diaspora strength to rebuild her own shattered economy. There is no reason at all they cannot. Singapore gets its life-giving water from Malaysia and both countries did not interfere with the free movement of either people to and fro. Both operate on the basis of mutual survival – a philosophy ideal for Sri Lanka and the new State. In the nature of the lawless situation where much of the law and order machinery has been hijacked by criminal and lawless elements here – many of them under State protection - the rupture might not be as smooth as in the Malacca Straits. This is where the international community should step in and ensure a smooth transition.

The convergence of views of Tamilnadu's feuding Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha where both have now openly declared their support for Tamil Eelam coincides with the publication of these views. India and the international community will very likely go along with this option that can put a stop to the long blood-letting and enable GoSL to start afresh - now that they were unwilling or unable to prevent the haemorrage for over 50 years.

Foundation for Modern Terrorism from the annals of the world history

by Point of View by Victor Ragunathan

"The Black War of Van Diemen's Land" was the name of the official campaign of terror directed against the Black people of Tasmania between 1803 and 1830. The Black aborigines of Tasmania were reduced from an estimated five-thousand people to less than seventy-five. With the declaration of martial law in November 1828, Whites were authorized to kill Blacks on sight. Although the Blacks offered a heroic resistance, the wooden clubs and sharpened sticks of the Aborigines were no match against the firepower, ruthlessness, and savagery exercised by the Europeans against them.

After the Black War, for political expediency, the status of the Blacks, who were no longer regarded as a physical threat, was reduced to that of a nuisance and a bother, and with loud and pious exclamations that it was for the benefit of the Blacks themselves, the remainder of the Aborigines were rounded up and placed in concentration camps.

In 1830 George Augustus Robinson, a Christian missionary, was hired to round up the remaining Tasmanian Blacks and take them to Flinders Island, thirty miles away. Many of Robinson's captives died along the way. By 1843 only fifty survived.

On Flinders Island Robinson was determined to “civilize and Christianize” the survivors. His settlement--at a windy site with little fresh water--was run like a jail. Children were separated from parents to facilitate the “work of civilizing” them. The regimental daily schedule included Bible reading, hymn singing, and inspection of beds and dishes for cleanness and neatness. However, the jail diet caused malnutrition, which combined with illness to make the natives die. Few infants survived more than a few weeks. The government reduced expenditures in the hope that the native would die out. By 1869 only Truganini, one other woman, and one man remained alive."
The tragedy of the Black aborigines of Tasmania, however painful its recounting may be, is a story that must be told. What lessons do we learn from the destruction of the Tasmanians? Truganini's life and death, although extreme, effectively chronicle the association not only between White people and Black people in Tasmania, but, to a significant degree, around the world. Between 1803 and 1876 the Black aborigines of Tasmania were completely destroyed. During this period the Black people of Tasmania were debased, degraded and eventually exterminated. Indeed, given the long and well-documented history of carnage, cruelty, savagery, and the monstrous pain, suffering, and inhumanity Europeans have inflicted upon Black people in general, and the Black people of Tasmania in particular, one could argue that they themselves, the White settlers of Tasmania, far more than the ravenous beast portrayed in American cartoons, have been the real Tasmanian devil.” From “- BLACK WAR
THE DESTRUCTION OF THE TASMANIAN ABORIGINES” By RUNOKO RASHIDI 1998

There are many annals in the world history books has similar stories. There are many more race on the planet earth have been subjugated to total annihilation. The above story reminds me what is going on in my homeland. My people are going through the same at the present time in the hands of the Sinhala Buddhist rulers of the beautiful Island nation. In the name of fight on Terror and eradicating Terrorism (hence the Tamil race), they were terrorized by the host of nations who are sponsoring the GENOCIDE.

Writings on the wall


I have been writing to the web publications and I am very upright and outspoken. This has put me in hot waters many times both in my personal life and professional life. I only write when I feel that I have to express my feelings to the outside world or to the others that either someone or something is very wrong.

I have requested the International Community to act for Peaceful solution many ways I can. What we need at this time is not beating our chest who won or who lost like a third grader, rather how could the Tamils and the peace loving Sinhalese can live without killing each others for the next many centuries to come.

I am not a war monger or an LTTE member. In fact I have been tortured and beaten by both parties in the eighties and early nineties. I see things in Physician stand point such as what causes the disease than to treat the symptoms. I look for the cause, contributing factors and I tell the patients that not all the diseases can be cured with the medications. I see my own homeland turmoil as a disease, I see that the root cause has never been addressed and all the so called DOCTORS are trying to eliminate the symptoms than addressing the disease. The disease is slowly killing both the nations. It is slowly bleeding and the effects will only be felt in the near future. Some of the spin Doctors who only talk about some virulent symptoms try to cure with unconventional methods.

I am not a poet but I wrote the following titled “Only if the tables have turned” three years ago .

We only asked decision making equal opportunity
We only asked a federal system
We only asked to be respected and
We only talked about our rights

We didn’t ask a separate state
We didn’t ask any preferential treatment
We didn’t talk about our homeland and
We didn’t start the fight

You asked why minority want equal rights
You asked why minority want federal system
You said minority is asking preferential treatment and
You picked the fight by killing innocent Tamils

You wouldn’t be asking this if Srilanka has Tamil Majority
You wouldn’t be asking this if the (majority Tamil) government has massacred (minority Sinhala) youths for attending Sinhala language research conference.
You wouldn’t be asking this if the government burned your schools, library and Buddhist temples
You wouldn’t be asking this if you were sacked from the job or demoted for not learning the Tamil.

Instead,

You would ask equal right with majority Tamil.
You would ask for a federal solution.
You would ask a separate Sinhala state and
you would fight with the Tamil Government, Only if the tables have turned

I received the response from a Sinhala Chauvinist saying “Are the Tamils fit to rule the Tamils” blaming all the misdeeds to the LTTE and its activity and the cast system of the Eelam Tamils.

From that point I knew that Sinhala Majority Government has nothing to offer to the Tamils and they will find every excuse to subjugate the whole Tamil Nation.

Systematic elimination

In return I have listed some of the historic events in the history of the Island nation starting from the 20th century. I have listed the historic mindset of the Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism and its real face dating back many decades when there is no Tamil militancy. It was systematic effort by the successive Sinhala Buddhist government made the two communities looking to part each others. It was a systematic violence, pogroms and ethnic cleansing that lead to the current climax of genocide.

In my conclusion I have asked “I have been a victim of both state terrorism and separatist terror activities and I survived. However, if LTTE is not strong enough to create a bulwark, there would have been many island wide pogroms after 1983. There is no justification for violence of any kind but history tells me that state sponsored massacres created the vicious cycle of massacres as you may check the dates. There is no question that LTTE is committing, committed and will commit grave violation of human rights. Does it mean the state has every right to create more homelessness in the name of war for peace?

What have you, your WAPS, or the Government of Srilanka tabled so far to justify that they are talking peace? At the least, LTTE has tabled an Interim Self Governing Authority? How can anyone claim that this is a stepping stone for separation without even discussing or the least countering with a proposal acceptable to the majority Tamil speaking people? Is it an excuse not to find any meaningful solution in the name of LTTE terrorism or simply wolf is crying for the sheep is in the rain? What have you done to the Tamil speaking people in the Island to isolate them from LTTE if you are so worried about their terror tactics of the LTTE and the Sun God?

Again in the mid 2006, when violence was unleashed by both sides, I have written an article rightfully titled “Violence bigot violence, the unheard cries”. I have pointed out that “ Had the international community listened to the cries of the innocent civilians, and taken concrete measures to arrest the violence in the beginning, there would have many lives of innocent civilians including children were saved. Instead, they elected to side with the government who is committing the shadow war on Tamils and LTTE. Inevitably, the civilians on both sides continue to be the pawns of the game. Yet another vicious cycle has been started.”

As an academic, when the Human Rights Watch released a statement about the “Funding the final war”, I rightfully pointed out that “War is a Complex, Multi-Symptom Disease” and unless there are concrete measures taken to cure the disease, like the one in Sierra Leone by the UK with promising effort, treating or suppressing the symptoms will never help solve the problem. It is high time that all concerned parties focus on solving the disease rather than aiding, abetting and arming more and more people and groups. It is high time that the Western governments look into the fundamental problems of the Tamil Diaspora as an oppressed, Trans-National people, rather than simply yet another immigrant population. The only way to eliminate the violence against humanity is to eliminate the fundamental problem.

There are many good hearted and visionary people who have expressed sentiments and suggested to their prospective governments about this Genocidal Government as early as in the eighties. It seems no one listen to them as my writings are like spit on the ocean.

In 1984 Noach Dear a New York City Councilman expressed that the United States cannot simply write off murder and systematic discrimination as an ‘internal matter’ when the country happens to be non aligned and is willing to say nice things about our country. We should be putting pressure on President Jayewardene to move to resolve the terrible, terrible divisions within his country. We must let the Sri Lanka government know that we will not tolerate a government that is in any way complicit in the killing of its own citizens.

Instead of taking actions, those governments stood by and aided the very Genocidal Governments. Even today it is not too late than creating another Rwanda in the South Asia. If those governments, who are aiding and abetting this very genocidal war, ignore these warnings, they will one day see the birth of modern Terrorism from South Asia rather than from Mideast.

Building foundation for Terrorism

I am always amazed to see and read about the news on Terrorism and the Bush’s doctrine “war on terror “. However and how hard the effects of Terrorism can be, one thing that has not changed is the foundations of making terrorist. It is rightfully said that one man’s fight for the right to live could be other man’s terrorism.

Who are those terrorist, where did they come from. Are they alien to the world born out of the solar system became allergic to the human race and humanity. Did anyone studied and analyzed the birth of any of those special people?. Even those who studied and analyzed the Terrorism and terrorist are merely for the academic reason than to change the world and to understand the basic facts.

These people are from the very same community we were born and they were in the same class, same town and possibly went to the same church or temple. Their parents are the same next door neighbor. They didn’t study or elected to become Terrorist or carry out terror activity. They didn’t choose that path instead they were forced by some circumstances that they felt could have changed. They were forced out of their homes, their kith and kin were slaughtered, raped or disappeared into some mass graves. They have seen their parents, siblings, friends and family lose their lives and limbs. They were or their family and friends were tortured, mutilated and locked up and possibly massacred.

Hamas did not exist 20 year ago. Birth of Hamas happened among the people of Palestine who were living under the extreme hardship with no hope.

Taliban did not exist before the super powers of the cold war made Afghan a playground for their power testing.

LTTE did not exist before 1976 and became stronger with people who were subjugated by the very Srilankan government. They wouldn’t have existed without the people’s support.

As far we all know that LTTE is a lethal force than any groups in the world. They are more technologically advanced than any known group in the world. Yet they have not sold the technology to any known groups like the Pakistan Atomic Scientist Dr, Khan who sold the nuclear Technology to Iran and North Korea.

It is a high time that world powers look into solve the Tamil National question and to contain all the information being sold to the other groups.

It is my fear that if the Tamil National question is not answered in time, there will be wealth of lethal information can spill into the rest of the South and south East Asia.

As I see the news all over the world, the Tamils are more united than ever before and they are more in need of their own land, government and more than anything else PEACE. Millions of Tamils from the Island Nation need a land call Homeland free of any internal or external subjugation.

When Millions of Jews needed a HOMELAND, the state of Israel was created.

When the ethnic Albanians needed a home the Kosovo was created. So does the East Timor, Eretria, Bosnia and Bangladesh.

Why the Tamils of the Eelam are any different from the others. The need of the hour is a UN Intervention and a demilitarized Homeland be it a Federal Government or a Separate Nation State call EELAM.

This Time We Can't Say "We Didn't Know": The Deadly Cost of International Inaction in Sri Lanka

There is a saying that has become common amongst those in the United Nations Human Rights Council. When a tense stand-off arises someone will say "Lets not play the naming and shaming game -- lets try and work together." Perhaps this "game" played in the most elite policy circles is counter-productive -- but it does allow history to identify those in positions of power who were complacent, cowardly, and indecisive at a moment when hundreds of thousands of civilian lives were on the line. In the case of Sri Lanka, there is no shortage of those to blame, and the footage from the civilian carnage in recent weeks should put all of us to shame.

TCO0422.jpg

[Potest in Ottawa-Apr 21-more pics-by CTV]

The Government of Sri Lanka, representing the majority Sinhalese community in Sri Lanka, is calling its most recent operation a "Hostage Rescue Mission" -- claiming to have evacuated 30,000 civilians from the minority Tamil population from an active fighting zone. They say they are nearing the end of their hard-line military campaign to eradicate the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a guerilla group who has been fighting to carve out a seperate Tamil state within Sri Lanka for nearly three decades. As they recaptured formerly LTTE-held districts in the North East of the island, Government forces have trampled on international humanitarian law, any semblance of free press, and committed human rights abuses on a scale that can be categorized as crimes against humanity.

As we receive daily reports of civilian casualties, the international community continues to listen to briefings, debate, and make "strong" statements of condemnation which will not jeapordize the delicate geopolitical balance that the Sri Lankan Government is relying on. Developing world nations have rallied around Sri Lanka's cry of neo-colonialism against western nations who highlight human rights abuses. Some simply vote alongside Sri Lanka, while nations like Libya, Pakistan, and Iran, have given hundreds of millions in aid along with substantial military training and technical support. While the U.S.A has limited its support to only "non-lethal" weapons (since the Leahy amendment) and India provides mainly intelligence support (radars, patrol boats) -- both are warily monitoring the growing influence and involvement of China and Russia on the island.

It seems that economic woes in the Western world have not only affected consumer confidence, but has sparked a crisis of confidence amongst policymakers who now hesitate to challenge countries like China. Some prefer to hide behind the safety of the War on Terror, promising to take on a more active role in Sri Lanka once the "end of terrorism" has been
achieved. This week there will be a Tom Lanton Human Rights Commission hearing on Capitol Hill, where members of Congress will hear from Human Rights Watch, The Committee to Protect Journalists, and the Sri Lanka NGO Counsel. They will again detail gross human rights violations, the conditions in internment camps, and the concern for the lives of journalists and human rights workers.

When approximately 1,000 civilians die in one day of shelling, are Special Representatives appointed and condemning statements made our only option? Is every international institution and powerful nation so restricted by geo-political and financial realities that any sort of meaningful action becomes impossible-and worse, something we can no longer expect of them? In the last few days 68,000 civilians have entered intointernment camps where they join nearly 200,00 others recently from the conflict zone; 57,000 are being "processed" with no outside monitoring; 600 injured are waiting for ICRC transport to the only remaining hospital in the area which was recently hit by a rocket-propelled grenade; and 50-100,000 remain trapped inside and active warzone. Since January of 2009, the International Community and the safeguards designed from lessons learned elsewhere have failed 5,000 civilians in Sri Lanka. The loss of the next 5,000 may come quicker than the first -- and history will claim Sri Lanka as yet another case of lessons learned by a failure to act. [courtesy: huffingtonpost]

LTTE is dying but long live the Tamil cause

By B. Raman

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is in its death rattle. It was decisively defeated by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces weeks ago, but a handful of its leadership headed by Prabhakaran has cynically and cruelly prolonged the agony of the Tamil civilians by using them as a buffer and human-shield in order to delay the re-establishment of the writ of the Sri Lankan Government in a miniscule piece of territory (about 20 sq.kms), which has been declared by the Government as a no-fire zone to avoid collateral casualties among the civilians still under the control of the LTTE and to enable them to escape from the clutches of the LTTE.

2. Prabhakaran is a leader with a split personality. During the 26 years he has dominated the Tamil landscape in Sri Lanka, he had shown a remarkable organizing capacity and an ability to motivate his followers to perform virtual miracles. His motivating his cadres to acquire a capability for action by air and sea would go down in the history of insurgency and terrorism as indicating an organizing capability of a high order. The LTTE under his leadership managed to bring almost the entire Tamil-inhabited territory in the Northern and Eastern Provinces under its control. The determined manner in which the LTTE fought against the Indian-Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in the late 1980s and frustrated its efforts to defeat it spoke highly of its capabilities for a conventional warfare.

3.If Prabhakaran had the activities of the LTTE confined to conventional warfare and developed the LTTE as a purely insurgent force, which targeted only the armed forces and not innocent civilians, he would have acquired greater support from the international community for the Tamil cause. The rational side of his personality as illustrated by his organizing capabilities had to constantly contend with a highly irrational side, which drove him to simultaneously take to terrorism of a shockingly brutal kind.

4. The targeted killings by the LTTE of many Sri Lankan Tamil leaders, who were perceived by Prabhakaran as possible impediments to his rise as the unquestioned leader of the Tamil community, and its brutal assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991 were the outcome of the irrational side of his personality. No other Indian leader had done more to help the Sri Lankan Tamil cause than Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Only a sickly and sickening irrational mind could have ordered the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and Laxman Kadirgamar, a highly-respected Tamil leader, who was a senior adviser on foreign policy to former President Chandrika Kumaratunge. The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi on Prabhakaran’s orders shocked Indian public opinion----including public opinion in Tamil Nadu--- and weakened Indian support for the Tamil cause. The assassination of Kadirgamar shocked the Western public opinion and led to the declaration of the LTTE as a terrorist organization by the Western world, thereby denying the last vestiges of Western support for the Tamil cause.

5.As the LTTE faced one defeat after another during the last three years from the Sri Lankan Armed Forces---initially in the Eastern Province and finally in the Northern Province---- the irrational side of Prabhakaran’s personality erased his rational side. His shocking use of the Tamil civilians in order to delay the final end of the counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism campaign undertaken by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces is driven by this irrational streak in him, which now dominates his personality.

6. The prolonged agony of the Sri Lankan Tamils caused by the final bout of Prabhakaran’s irrationality and loss of lucidity in thinking has to be ended. The Sri Lankan Armed Forces, which have shown patience till now and deliberately slowed down their operations, cannot be faulted if they have come to the conclusion that the time has come to liberate the no-fire zone too from the clutches of the LTTE by undertaking limited operations with small arms and ammunition even at the risk of some collateral casualties to the civilians.

7. The desperate attempt of Prabhakaran to use the civilians to protect himself from the advancing Sri Lankan Army can be attributed to the total loss of lucidity in his thinking and his consequent inability to face the bitter truth that he and his organization have been defeated decisively by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces and that there is no chance of their staging a come-back. The Requiem for the LTTE could be written without fears of going wrong, should the LTTE stage a come-back as it had done on occasions in the past. It has been defeated beyond recovery. His conventional as well as terrorist capabilities are in shatters. Earlier conventional wisdom that small groups of the LTTE might still be able to keep indulging in sporadic acts of terrorism in different parts of Sri Lanks needs re-consideration. His desperate delaying action at the cost of immense suffering to the Tamils, whose cause he claims to espouse, is meant to give him an opportunity to seek safe sanctuary either in Tamil Nadu or elsewhere from where he could try to re-start his fight against the Sri Lankan Armed Forces. It is in the common interest of India and Sri Lanka that Prabhakaran is finally able to make peace with his Maker by either being killed by the Armed Forces or by taking his own life. A defeated Prabhakaran, if left alive in India or elsewhere, would not be a threat, but could be a nuisance for both the countries.

8. After the final death of the LTTE, which is expected any day, what is the future of the Sri Lankan Tamil cause? Would a Requiem for the LTTE also mean a Requiem for the Sri Lankan Tamil cause? Hopefully not. It is in India’s interest that the LTTE as a terrorist organization is destroyed once and for all, but it is not in India’s interest that the Sri Lankan Government and Armed Forces proceed from the destruction of the LTTE to the destruction of the Tamil aspirations for greater political and economic rights in their traditional homeland and for greater human dignity.

9. Let us not forget that ever since our independence in 1947, the Bengalis of the then East Pakistan, the Balochs and Sindhis of Pakistan and the Tamils of Sri Lanka have been India’s natural allies. It was this reality which persuaded Indira Gandhi to assist the Bengalis of the then East Pakistan to achieve their independence. Even though successive Governments in New Delhi refrained from supporting the causes of the Sindhis and the Balochs, Indian public opinion sympathized and continues to sympathise with their cause. It was sympathy for the Sri Lankan Tamil cause at New Delhi when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister and in Tamil Nadu, which induced India to take up their cause in the 1980s.

10.There is no reason why India should not pride itself and seek to be the paramount power of the region. To emerge and remain as the paramount power, we need natural allies in the region around us. We should not let the legitimate aspirations of our natural allies---whether they be the Sindhis and Balochs of Pakistan or the Sri Lankan Tamils--- be crushed by a brutal regime--- whether in Islamabad or in Colombo.

11. Since 1947, the Balochs rose twice in revolt in favour of independence for their homeland. On both occasions, they were defeated by the Pakistani Armed Forces as decisively as the LTTE by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces. The Pakistani leadership brutally used the Air Force against the Balochs to crush their freedom struggle. Undaunted by this, the Baloch people, under a new leadership, rose in revolt for a third time two years ago and their third war of independence is still going on.

12. The remarkable victory of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces against the LTTE was partly due to their improved counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism capabilities made possible by Indian assistance in the form of training and sharing of intelligence and partly due to their emulating the Pakistani Armed forces in the brutal use of the Air Force against people whom they portray as their own. Just as the Balochs were defenceless against the brutal Pakistani air strikes, the Sri Lankan Tamils were defenceless against the Sri Lankan air strikes.

13. The US has used air strikes in Iraq and Afghanistan----but in foreign territory and against foreign nationals. Only three countries in the world have used air strikes in their own territory against their own people---- the Pakistanis against the Balochs, the Russians against the Chechens and the Sri Lankans against the Tamils.

14. President Mahinda Rajapakse has repeatedly promised that once the LTTE is defeated, he would be generous in meeting the political aspirations of the Tamils. He gives the impression of being a sincere man, but will the Sinhalese Army with its head bloated by its success against the LTTE allow him to do so? The indicators till now are not encouraging. Many Sri Lankan officers might have been trained in India, but their mindset and their attitude towards the minorities have more in common with those of their Pakistani counterparts than with those of their Indian counterparts. Therein lies the danger that after winning the war against the LTTE, the Government, strongly influenced by a victorious army, might trey to impose a dictated peace on the Tamils.

15. If the angry Tamils once again look up to India, there is no reason why we should not reciprocate provided a new leadership emerges in the Tamil community and it has drawn the right lessons from the brutalities of the LTTE.

16. The LTTE is deservedly dying, but long live the Tamil cause. (22-4-2009)

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

Civilian casualties rising in Sri Lanka conflict

Statement by Amnesty International

More than 4,500 civilians are believed to have died in the fighting according to UN estimates in north eastern region in Sri Lanka. There were hundreds of civilian casualties reported on Monday alone. Immediate action must be taken by all parties concerned to prevent further mass killings of civilian/non-combatants.

An estimated 100,000 civilians remain trapped in the conflict zone between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan army in the north of the country. On Monday, the Sri Lankan government gave the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) 24 hours to lay down their arms or face further attack in a "final offensive" raising concerns that civilian casualties could spiral.

"The security of civilians trapped between Sri Lankan forces and the Tamil Tigers is paramount," said Yolanda Foster, Amnesty International's Sri Lanka expert. "The plight of these civilians demands that the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE take all necessary measures immediately to prevent unlawful killing of civilians and that they fully comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law.

"The LTTE and the Sri Lankan government must cease hostilities with immediate effect and agree to extend a humanitarian pause for a reasonable duration, in order to permit civilians to leave as well as the reopening of access routes for food, water and medical supplies. "

Both parties have an obligation to comply with international humanitarian law in all circumstances. However, the government appears to have resorted to the use of heavy weapons such as artillery, which is intended for use on conventional battlefields and are not capable of pinpoint targeting. The use of artillery in densely populated areas is likely to lead to indiscriminate attacks.

"The Tamil Tigers must cease forced recruitment, the use of civilians as human shields and deliberate attacks on civilians who have tried to escape from areas under their control," said Yolanda Foster. "They must immediately allow those civilians who wish to leave to do so."

According to reports, over 35,000 civilians have been able to exit the combat zone in the last few days. In the last week, Amnesty International has received reports of a number of enforced disappearances of young Tamil men separated from their families during the screening process.

"The Sri Lankan authorities should allow international monitors to visit ‘reception centres,’ to help reassure both fleeing civilians and surrendered LTTE fighters that they will be treated according to international standards," said Yolanda Foster.

Amnesty International has urged the United Nations Security Council to discuss the crisis without any further delay.

"The Council must express concern at the escalation of violence and the deteriorating humanitarian and human rights situation, in particular the resulting heavy civilian casualties of recent days," said Yolanda Foster.

"The Council must call for a humanitarian truce, urge that the government and the LTTE immediately take all necessary steps to fully comply with their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, and stress that the perpetrators of grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law must be held individually responsible and prosecuted for such violations.

"The situation is extremely bleak and calls for immediate action. Both parties must fully observe their obligations under international humanitarian law to limit civilian casualties and ensure that critical humanitarian assistance reaches families in desperate need,” said Yolanda Foster.

Sri Lanka fighting threatens to produce exactly the kind of cataclysm that states vowed to prevent when they adopted R2P

"War on Terror" Discourse silences "Responsibility to Protect" Obligation

By James Traub

At this moment, at least 60,000 civilians trapped in a tiny strip of land along the northern coast of Sri Lanka are being deployed as human shields by the insurgent force known as the Tamil Tigers -- while artillery shells fired by the Sri Lankan army land indiscriminately among rebels and noncombatants alike. The United Nations asserts that at least 4,500 civilians have been killed since January as the government has sought to decisively end a bloody rebellion that has lasted for a quarter-century. The army is said to be preparing a final assault that, according to U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes, could produce a "bloodbath." Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has spoken of "tens of thousands" of lives at risk. Yet the conflict has barely been reported, and the international community has barely stirred.

The fighting threatens to produce exactly the kind of cataclysm that states vowed to prevent when they adopted "the responsibility to protect" at the 2005 U.N. World Summit. This doctrine stipulates that states have a responsibility to protect peoples within their borders from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. When states are found to be "manifestly failing" to protect citizens from such mass violence, that responsibility shifts to the international community, acting through the United Nations. At the core of this norm is the obligation to act preventively rather than waiting until atrocities have occurred, as has happened too often.

Why, then, the silence? The most important answer is simple: "the war on terror." Government officials have artfully, and relentlessly, appropriated the language of the war on terror to characterize their fight against the rebels, formally known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The group is one of the world's most ruthless insurgencies: The Tigers perfected the technique of suicide bombing long before Islamist jihadists did so (using it in 1991 to kill Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, among many others) and operate almost as a suicide cult. The United States includes the LTTE on its list of foreign terrorist organizations. Any government that failed to aggressively confront such a threat would be guilty of failing to protect its citizens.

When we think of mass atrocities, we think of regimes -- or their proxies -- massacring defenseless citizens, as in Rwanda or Darfur. The situation in Sri Lanka is more complicated, morally and legally: This is a situation of armed conflict in which both parties are acting in ways that pose a grave risk to innocent civilians. The party that is perhaps more culpable -- the rebels -- answers to no one. And the Sri Lankan government has been able to operate with virtual impunity because it is fighting "terrorists." Even Western states that usually condemn violations of international law have given the situation a wide berth.

But states engaged in combat do not have the right to perpetrate atrocities; nor does the cruelty of armed opponents absolve states of their responsibility to protect citizens. And there is no one better equipped than we in the United States to recognize the cynicism behind the language of the war on terror, which allows states to do as they wish in the name of defeating supreme evil. Over the past quarter-century, Sri Lanka has been accused of fighting the Tigers with a policy of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and arbitrary detentions. In the current battle, the army has engaged in intense shelling and aerial bombardment of the combat area and an adjacent "no-fire zone," set aside for civilians.

Colombo is in no mood for lectures. But we cannot accommodate its ambition to crush the LTTE if doing so could lead to massive loss of life among civilians. Quiet diplomacy by U.S. officials and by Ban and others last week persuaded the government to observe a two-day pause in the fighting, but the Tigers refused to let civilians leave, the government continued to prevent humanitarian groups from entering the conflict zone, and the battle resumed with equal or greater ferocity.

There is widespread agreement about what must be done: The LTTE must allow civilians who wish to leave to do so; the government must agree to observe a more extensive cease-fire, guarantee the safety of those civilians and treat them according to international standards governing internally displaced peoples. The Tigers may refuse to release civilians, whom they view as the only thing standing between themselves and annihilation. But the army must not use this as a pretext to resume hostilities: The rebels no longer represent a threat to the state, and most analysts believe that a Gotterdammerung on the beach would spawn a new insurgency.

The time for behind-the-scenes diplomacy has passed. The Security Council must take up the issue -- a move Colombo has fiercely resisted -- and remind both sides that there will be consequences, in the form of prosecutions for crimes against humanity. The council should also demand that the government grant humanitarian groups and the media access to the conflict zone, dispatch a special envoy to the region, and consider imposing sanctions. Ultimately, it must help facilitate a durable political solution to the fighting. In 2005, the United States, along with the rest of the world, accepted the obligation to protect civilians at risk of atrocities. The moment has come to redeem that pledge.

(James Traub is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and director of policy for the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.)

April 21, 2009

Congressional Hearing Assesses Humanitarian Crisis in Sri Lanka



22 April 2009
 
The situation in Sri Lanka, where government forces are fighting to eliminate the last stronghold of Tamil separatist rebels, was the subject of a U.S. congressional hearing Tuesday.  

Discussion of the military conflict and what the United Nations and human rights groups call a dire humanitarian situation came during a hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, formerly known as the Congressional Human Rights Caucus.

Sri Lankan government troops are pressing an offensive against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in their last stronghold, the northern area of Vanni. Thousands of civilians have fled to government-controlled areas.  

The Tamil Tiger rebels have fought for 25 years to establish an independent homeland for Sri Lanka's Tamil minority in the northern part of predominantly Sinhalese Sri Lanka.  More than 70,000 people have died in the civil war.

Representative Jim McGovern, 21 Apr 2009
Representative Jim McGovern, 21 Apr 2009
Representative Jim McGovern chaired the hearing:

"The particular case we are exploring this afternoon, Sri Lanka, is a situation where both the government forces and the Tamil Tigers have abdicated their responsibility to protect from mass atrocities civilian non-combatant who are caught in the cross-fire of war," said Jim McGovern. "It has therefore fallen to the international community, and especially humanitarian organizations like UNHCR and the ICRC, along with a handful of NGO's, to try to assure their safety."

The International Committee of the Red Cross has warned of a catastrophic situation in which hundreds of civilians have been killed or wounded.  The Sri Lankan government and Tamil separatists have issued varying casualty figures.

Amin Awad, UNHCR Representative to Sri Lanka, 21 Apr 2009
Amin Awad, UNHCR Representative to Sri Lanka, 21 Apr 2009
Amin Awad, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative to Sri Lanka, said 100,000 civilians have been on the move in the last 48 hours, adding to an already large population of 180,000 Internally Displaced People (IDPs).

"The 100,000 who just left the no-fire zone are being processed by the [Sri Lankan] army in the district of Kilinochchi and the district of Mullaitivu," said Amin Awad. "This will become an extra burden on the already-meager resources and the limited space the government of Sri Lanka provided to receive the IDP's."

Awad puts the number of civilians remaining in the Tamil zone at 50,000 to 60,000, which he calls a conservative estimate. He says more than 9,000 people, many with serious injuries, have been evacuated since February.

The United Nations and Human rights groups have urged the Sri Lankan government and Tamil separatists to exercise restraint, with Awad urging additional humanitarian pauses.  However, both came under sharp criticism in Tuesday's hearing.

Anna Neistat of Human Rights Watch says both warring parties have committed serious violations of international humanitarian law.

Tamil separatists, she says, continue to prevent civilians from fleeing to government-controlled areas and use them as human shields, while numerous casualties can be attributed to government artillery attacks.

Anna Neistat - Human Rights Watch, 21 Apr 2009
Anna Neistat - Human Rights Watch, 21 Apr 2009
Neistat faults the government for failing to ensure delivery of sufficient relief supplies to people still in the conflict zone, and failing to provide sufficient aid to the internally-displaced:

"The way that people are being treated now leaves little doubt that the welfare, quote unquote, of the inhabitants is the last thing on the government's agenda, and that leaves very little hope that people will be indeed resettled as well as that their other rights will be respected," said Anna Neistat.

The comment was also a response to a Sri Lankan Embassy statement, issued through a Washington public relations firm Patton Boggs, sharply criticizing Human Rights Watch and other non-government groups.

Despite what it called unfounded fears expressed by Human Rights Watch and other organizations, the statement said the government has an excellent track record of restoring war-torn areas and returning displaced persons to their homes as soon as practicable.

It said the United Nations and International Committee of the Red Cross have full access to 16 IDP camps, which the government says meet international standards and provide adequate shelter, food, medicine and services.

Miriam Young, Director of the U.S. Non-Government Organization Forum on Sri Lanka, says the most critical need is an immediate cessation of hostilities to allow the U.N., Red Cross, and other humanitarian agencies to provide food and medicine to those in need.

She urges the Obama administration to use its influence to press both warring parties to stop the fighting.

"This is an opportunity for the Obama administration to reassert our country's moral leadership on behalf of desperately vulnerable people," said Miriam Young. "Not to do so would mean the loss of tens of thousands more needless deaths [lives]."

The United States considers the Tamil Tigers a terrorist organization. The State Department on Tuesday appealed to both sides in the conflict to spare civilians, and urged the Sri Lankan government to permit international monitoring and access to sites where internally-displaced persons are being processed. [voice of america - voanews]

The “human” costs of the “humanitarian” rescue operation

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Thousands of Entrapped Tamil civilians fled from areas controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on April 20th in the aftermath of a military operation by the Army that was successful in breaching tiger defences in the Karaithuraipatru AGA division in Northern Mullaitheevu district.

According to official sources , besieged Tamil civilians were able to escape LTTE clutches and move towards Army positions after the security forces broke through the “bund cum Trench” defence constructed by the Tigers in the Puthumaathalan-Ambalavanpokkanai area.

There was much euphoria about the event and President Mahinda Rajapakse himself was present at the Air Force headquarters to see at first-hand how the operation described as a humanitarian rescue exercise was in progress.

[click here to read the article in full~in dbsjeyaraj.com]

April 20, 2009

A mass slaughter of civilians will take place...And everyone knows it

Day of Reckoning in Sri Lanka
By Robert Templer

The Sri Lankan government has issued a deadline of noon tomorrow for the Tamil Tigers to surrender. With the embattled rebels unlikely to put down their guns before then, only forceful and immediate international action to halt the fighting can prevent the possible deaths of tens of thousands of civilians trapped between the warring parties.

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More than 100,000 men, women and children are trapped in a space roughly the size of Central Park, caught up in a war between the Sri Lankan government and the remaining forces of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), or Tamil Tigers. Cornered in a shrinking patch of coast in the Northeast of Sri Lanka, with little access to food, water or medicine the past three months, the civilians have remained out of the sight of most of the world. U.N. and humanitarian workers were forced by the government to leave LTTE areas last September; journalists have also been banned from witnessing the unfolding horror.

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The area the Sri Lankan government calls the "no fire zone" -- a sea of people, tents, and makeshift shelters on a sliver of jungle and beach -- is being shelled by the military. The Tamil Tigers are using the refugees there as human shields, preventing them from leaving. Available reports suggest 5,000 civilians, including at least 500 children, have died since mid-January, and more than 10,000 have been injured. And even though tens of thousands of civilians escaped the so-called "no fire zone" last night, as the Sri Lankan military advanced, many more remain in grave danger. If the Sri Lankan government's noon deadline passes, the long feared final assault could begin, with innocent civilians suffering disastrous consequences.

After a 25-year fight against a brutal LTTE insurgency, the government's desire to "finish the job" is understandable. But as the onslaught continues to imperil civilians, an already humiliated Tamil diaspora is growing more volatile, angry, and mobilized -- a potentially explosive combination.

There are disturbing signs that a new generation of young Tamils in the United States, Canada, Britain, Europe, and India are being radicalized. That process has the potential to produce new forms of terrorism and violence. While the Tigers' targets have so far been contained to Sri Lanka, they might soon find new venues. If the Tiger's leadership is removed or killed in a government assault, it's easy to imagine one of the newly energized generation stepping in to fill the void. The dream of an independent Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka resonates powerfully across the diaspora and will certainly live on even after the defeat of the LTTE as a conventional military force. The deaths of tens of thousands of innocent Tamil civilians -- while their family members watch from afar -- is a recipe for another, possibly more explosive, generation of terrorism.

Much of the international community knows what is happening and what is at stake. Nongovernmental organizations, including the International Crisis Group, have been sounding the alarm bells since last fall. Since then, more and more hard proof of unacceptable civilian suffering and war crimes have emerged, including the satellite images of the crowded tent camps seen here, video of dead children, and interviews with exhausted ICRC doctors. Nonetheless, the U.N. and influential governments have been slow to act and have allowed a bad situation to grow much worse.

Similar paralysis and foot dragging by multinational institutions and powerful countries produced Rwanda and Srebrenica. Barack Obama's administration has said it is committed to the principals of international law and humanitarian protection. Sri Lanka is the perfect opportunity for the new U.S. president to show that this is not empty rhetoric.

With both government forces and Tamil Tigers abdicating their responsibility to protect civilians from mass atrocities, urgent, determined, and united international action is necessary to ensure the safety of the innocent -- by the United Nations Security Council, other multilateral organizations, and individual countries that have relations with Sri Lanka, including India and Japan.

The French, British, and U.S. governments released important statements last week calling for a new pause in the fighting. They urged all sides to facilitate humanitarian access and free movement for at-risk civilians. This was a good start, but not nearly enough. Strong and timely messages must continue, and the consequences of a bloody end to this crisis must be made crystal clear. Both Tamil Tiger and government leaders should be told that they are liable to be held personally accountable for breaches of international humanitarian law, and that they need to find a solution that avoids further bloodshed.

Until a more lasting solution can be found and the Tigers persuaded to put down their guns, international actors must demand that the Sri Lankan government halt its offensive. What's needed is a humanitarian pause of at least two weeks to give a chance for relief supplies to get in and civilians to get out. U.N. agencies and the ICRC must be allowed full access to all locations where either civilians or surrendered Tamil Tiger fighters might cross over into government controlled areas. Both civilians -- and fighters who agree to lay down their arms -- need stronger international guarantees of their safety. Only international supervision, unhindered by the government, can provide the necessary level of protection.

All means of influencing the Tamil Tigers must be explored. The Tamil diaspora has an important role in persuading the LTTE to allow the trapped civilians to leave the target area and ultimately, agree to lay down their arms. Simple and one-sided denunciations of government shelling and civilian deaths are not enough -- the Tigers, too, share the blame and must be held accountable.

But at this decisive moment, it is the Sri Lankan government that holds the lives of the trapped Tamil civilians in its hands. It is to the Sri Lankan government that international leaders must send their most immediate messages of restraint. How the war ends will be critical to Sri Lanka's future. Will it be in a bloody massacre whose memory will be used to incite decades more war and terrorism? Or will we see renewed efforts to find a negotiated end to the fighting, and with it, the possibility of building a new, more peaceful Sri Lanka for all its people? [courtesy: Foreign Policy]

Robert Templer is Asia program director at the International Crisis Group

Protect Civilians in ‘Final’ Attack

UN Security Council Should Initiate Commission of Inquiry

(New York, April 20, 2009) – An expected major attack following the Sri Lankan government’s “final warning” to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam underscores the need for heightened measures to minimize civilian casualties, Human Rights Watch said today. The continuing laws of war violations by both the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE indicate the need for a United Nations commission of inquiry to investigate war crimes by both sides, Human Rights Watch said.

Sources in the 20-square-kilometer “no-fire zone” reported to Human Rights Watch that the Sri Lankan army is still using heavy artillery in attacks on the densely populated area and that the LTTE continues to block civilians from fleeing. There were unconfirmed reports of hundreds of civilian casualties today alone. At least 10,000 people have managed to escape in the past day, but 50,000 to 100,000 civilians remain in the conflict area under grave threat.

“The government’s ‘final warning’ to the Tamil Tigers should not be considered a final warning to the thousands of trapped civilians,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Both sides need to show far greater concern for civilians, or many more civilians will die.”

Under international humanitarian law applicable to the armed conflict in Sri Lanka, both the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE are obligated to take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilian life and property. But since January, both sides have shown little regard for the safety of civilians in the embattled Vanni region in northeastern Sri Lanka, and more than 4,500 civilians are believed to have died in the fighting, according to UN estimates. The LTTE has violated the laws of war by using civilians as “human shields,” by preventing civilians from fleeing the combat zone, and by deliberately deploying their forces close to densely populated civilian areas. The Sri Lankan armed forces have indiscriminately shelled densely populated areas, including hospitals, in violation of the laws of war.

Human Rights Watch reminded Sri Lanka of its obligations under international law to investigate credible allegations of war crimes, including by members of its own forces, and appropriately prosecuting those responsible. Past Sri Lankan government investigations into allegations of war crimes have led to few prosecutions, particularly in recent years. Human Rights Watch also called on the UN Security Council to establish a Commission of Inquiry into allegations of war crimes by both sides.

“The Sri Lankan government needs to hear loudly and clearly from a concerted international community that they, just as the Tamil Tigers, will be held accountable for what happens to the civilians in the no-fire zone,” said Adams. “It is high time for the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka to be officially taken up on the Security Council's agenda.”

Individuals who commit serious violations of international humanitarian law with criminal intent – that is, deliberately or recklessly – should be prosecuted for war crimes, Human Rights Watch said. War crimes include using human shields and deliberately attacking civilians. Evidence as to whether indiscriminate attacks on civilians were deliberate or reckless would include information on the known number of civilians in the area under attack, attacks striking presumptively civilian objects such as hospitals, and a showing that such attacks occurred repeatedly.

In addition to those who ordered or executed unlawful actions or attacks, commanders who knew or should have known of war crimes being committed and failed to take measures to stop them can be held responsible as a matter of command responsibility.

“Military commanders on both sides need to be taking civilian security into account in every action they take,” said Adams. “By not doing so, they are leaving themselves open to future investigations and prosecution.”

To view “Sri Lanka: Trapped and Under Fire,” an audio slideshow on the civilians affected by fighting in the Vanni region in northeastern Sri Lanka, please visit:

http://www.hrw.org/en/features/sri-lanka-trapped-and-under-fire

For more of Human Rights Watch’s work on Sri Lanka, please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/en/asia/sri-lanka

For more information, please contact:
In London, Brad Adams (English): +44-20-7713-2767; or +44-790-872-8333 (mobile)
In New York, Anna Neistat (English, Russian): +1-212-377-9491; or +1-443-812-9640 (mobile)
In Mumbai, Meenakshi Ganguly (English, Hindi, Bengali): +91-982-003-6032 (mobile)

There was/is no mainstream "left" in Ceylon/Sri Lanka

by Lalith Abeysinghe

I disagree with one of the main points that Kusal is presenting in his article “Sri Lanka:Non-existing Capitalist and Working Classes and growing “Sinhalaisation”of Business Community”.

According to Kusal, at least it implies that the "Left" in Ceylon and in Sri Lanka was totally if not partly responsible for the agony that the country is experiencing now.

I disagree.

There was/is no mainstream "Left" in the country at the first place.

We, for various reasons, like to believe that there was (or is) a "Left Movement" in the country. True, the LSSP, the CP and the numerous fractions of those two and the most recent the JVP and the equally numerous fractions were / are there.

They are RED. They quote Marx, Engles, Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Mao, Gramskey and so on. They talked about the 'Working class' too.

Pathetically, and in reality none of those parties had a "Left (or Marxist/ Leninist) Program". If we prepared to accept or believe that there were/are "LEFT" movement, from that point onwards, whole of our analysis and the predictions get derailed.

The LSSP was the first, which introduced the Marxist elements to the Sri Lankan politics. They were more in Trotskyism. The CP was responsible for Stalinism and Shan for Maoism.

If we accept the Russian Revolution, as Kusal discussed in the Sri Lankan context, there was no "Capitalists" and nor "Working Class" in Russia as such, at least compare with Germany. If we accept the Chinese Revolution, there were no "developed" working class and capitalists in then China. Both the countries were escaping from the feudalism.

If we accept the Cuban Revolution, there were no developed capitalists or working class. If we compare Russia, China and Cuba with the other developed countries such as England, France, and Germany and later on USA, the revolution should have been taken in the developed countries.

The 'conditions' explained in the Marxist theories were more and conducive for the "revolution" in those countries.

Then what was the "decisive factor" that led the revolutions in Russia, China and Cuba? It was the "Marxist Party" with a "Left (Marxist/ Leninist/ Maoist/ Castroist) Program.

The context in Ceylon in 1930 s was unique in itself and not that different to the contexts of Russia, China and Cuba. Of course the contexts were different from one to the other. There will be no similar situations and the contexts to compare with.

There are vast differences in each situation. The Revolution takes place in different ways addressing the details and the differences in each context.

The "Left" in Russia, China and Cuba were equipped with true and capable "Communist Parties" which had a "Program" towards the Revolution. They were not necessarily or unnecessarily uttered the "Marxist" jargons.

Lenin in Russia even contributed to the Marxist literature in a creative ways, addressing the Russian context in which the revolution took place. Mao and Castro did the same ways in China and in Cuba.

There were/are no mainstream "Left" in Sri Lanka. It is of course very hard to accept. But we very freely say that there was no "Left" in the Cambodia. Simply because we were not involved in it and we could look at it very objectively.

As Kusal (wrongly!) expressed, there is no need that the country should have 'capitalists' and 'working class' for a revolution. There should be a proper program based on the "Marxist Values" led by a Party for a socialist revolution.

The "Left" in the country is still to come; no matter there is capitalists or a working class.

KUSAL PERERA RESPONDS

Hi Lalith,

Your response is most welcomed.

And you raise a very serious issue about what the "revolutions" were in Russia, China and Cuba. If you are talking in terms of a working class revolution in establishing a new "socialist" order and if that is projected as "socialism" which Marx and Engels wrote about, then let me tell you, those revolutions were never that.

Its very plain. None of those countries after their revolutions could achieve social stability, democracy and economic development with social equity. They were plain authoritarian States under heavily regimented Communist Parties.So "revolutions" just don't mean anything without socio political programmes for democracy and economic development with social equity. One could only say the Communist Parties are in power.

That is also why all those countries hit social upheavals and broke off. That is why in China the CP leadership is holding onto their State power and liberalising the economy. All of it is going to prove that the basic and fundamental assumption by Marx still holds true. "Socialism" can only be achieved after a society reaches its full growth within a capitalist system.

Why countries like Germany, France and England as Marx saw, did not have working class revolutions is because, the Russian revolution did not leave any ideological justification for a developed capitalist society to revolt against itself to establish a mediocre, rigidly regimented Soviet type society. Why should they ?

That therefore gave another lease of life for the world capitalist order. And we are now living through that, which has again come to a huge crisis. Again with no better alternative. So the world would have to repair itself and live through another phase of capitalist existence.

Sri Lankan capitalism has not future without help from global capitalism

by Vasantha Rajah

In countries like Sri Lanka, capitalism did not organically evolve from feudalism as happened in Europe. Capitalism was arbitrarily imposed by colonialists on a feudal society. Therefore, it is not surprising at all that its feudal past is still alive. The feudal consciousness continues to persist in various forms. The Sinhala politicians’ pathological failure to politically solve the Tamil Question is partly a result of that.

Sri Lanka’s capitalist economy and its state are invariably intertwined and dependent on the global capital serving rich countries’ interests. Sri Lanka’s capitalism has no future without direct help from global capitalism. Thus, the formation of a fully-fledged capitalist class with a commitment to democratic values fails to take roots; and the greed ‘for a few dollars more’ with foreign blessings becomes the sole interest. In the absence of a strong capitalist class, the state plays the major role in profit-sharing with the global capital. The political elite have become indistinguishable from the business circles, and corruption inevitably has become the hallmark of political power.

During the past few decades, easily available global credit facilitated Sri Lanka’s economic and political survival. The US-led global capitalism had no choice but to pump in mountains of paper money – using a deregulated banking system – to keep the poor afloat – which is essential for their own survival.

There’s no viable internal market in Sri Lanka for a capitalist class to thrive on. So the SL state had to orientate the country towards “dollar-earning” activities: garment industry, tourist industry etc. Expanding tea exports, ‘exporting’ labour to foreign countries (particularly to the middle-east), along with textile exports and tourism, (all of them major foreign exchange earners) have been the central pillars of the SL economy. The service sector, including construction related industries, has been closely linked to them.

But here’s the rub: The mainstay of Sri Lankan economy during the past few decades has been thoroughly dependent on colossal amounts of global credit that was part of the global credit bubble that recently collapsed.

I explained all this for a reason: to show that the Sri Lankan economy is very much a tiny part of the global economy, and what happens to the SL economy is directly linked to what’s happening in the global economy.

The global economy’s existing format is going to change dramatically in the foreseeable future. The recent G20 summit in London has given important clues in this regard, and before addressing how Sri Lanka should economically orientate towards the onrushing changes let me briefly mention how the global world-order may look like in the near future. [Read the top articles in Global Economy, Global Politics and Global Vision sections of www.lankaeye.com ]

The global leaders, including China and Russia, will take decisive action to launch a new global currency that is independent of any single country’s domination. [China proposed this in no uncertain terms. US President Obama didn’t like the wordings. This is excusable for the time being. Considering the entrenched western prejudices against such radical views the politicians like Obama will have to move slowly. However, this is essentially the project the G20 leaders finally agreed to.]

Also, a global central bank - that has immense power to create money for the purposes of global economic development – seems to be very much on the agenda. All banking outlets, in the final analysis, will have to be part of this new order. The financial anarchy that existed prior to the global credit crunch will have to go.

The ongoing bailout efforts may turn out to be mere ad hoc efforts to postpone a social chaos on a global scale. The governments fear the immediate political and social repercussions if the big banks and industries are allowed to collapse overnight. Pumping trillions of tax-payers money into these bankrupt institutions is not going to solve anything. G20 leaders know this, and they know the old system will have to be fundamentally transformed.

The hitherto existed US domination, dollar domination and western domination will have to go. Global institutions of supranational nature that are democratically accountable to nation-states will have to play the dominant role within the new world-order. Only a highly regulated private sector will have to be allowed to operate within the framework of such global parameters.

Surely, changes of such magnitude will not happen overnight. But, that is the direction things are heading. And, these new realities should be taken into account in planning Sri Lanka’s economic and political future.

Firstly, immediate steps should be taken to radically transform its constitution that, in the final analysis, is the main culprit of Sri Lanka’s conflicts. There cannot be any economic prosperity without a constitution and a new political framework that tally with Sri Lanka’s social realities.

Secondly, a viable economic vision – that is attractive to all communities - should be in place. Such a vision should be firmly based on the fast developing global realities I outlined above.

The first step in this regard is to discard some existing nationalist prejudices: In the context of the emerging democratically globalized future we must not think in terms of national self-sufficiency. Instead, we must learn to relate to the global economy in the most efficient way possible.

Considering the wide variety of geographical and cultural assets Sri Lanka has, no doubt there are many ways of contributing to a globally harmonized ‘One World’. But, in my view, Sri Lanka’s scenic and cultural beauty comes on top. Thus, tourism should become the central plank in planning the state’s blueprint for islandwide infrastructure.

Remember, planning of infrastructure that include roads and railway networks, energy distribution, communication networks, education, health, housing and welfare networks and so on should be the task of the public sector. A regulated private sector should operate within the parameters of an islandwide economic vision of such calibre. Negotiating funds for infrastructure projects designed to dramatically increase Sri Lanka’s productivity as part of IMF’s future funding for global development is, I believe, bound to be fruitful.

In conclusion I argue that there should be a united front of Sri Lanka’s Left primarily based on two central tenets: One, a political programme to transform Sri Lanka’s constitution and the institutions that is unambiguously appealing to all communities. Two, an economic programme based on common welfare that is equally beneficial to all communities and all regions.

(This is a contribution to the discussion initiated by Kusal Perera in his article “Sri Lanka:Non-existing Capitalist and Working Classes and growing “Sinhalaisation”of Business Community”.)

Tamil people and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam I

by Prof. Michael Roberts

Part one: Seting the scene

In early April I used my previous research to present what I hope is a clinical study of suicides for political cause with special attention to the Tamils in general and LTTE in particular. This review embraced self-immolation in protest as well as fasts-unto-death, ansd defensive suicide not just suicidal act as attacking weapon. This ‘bank’ of work is now being augmented by another set of essays intended to arouse debate on web sites.

All these ventures are a product of a comparative survey that I embarked on about five years ago: namely, a review of the cultural ingredients which have motivated the projects of the jihadists (holy warriors) and mujahideen (fighters for cause) on the one hand and, on the other, the kamikaze and the karumpuli (Black Tigers) after – and this point has to be stressed -- these forces had been generated by specific politico-military situations in particular contexts.

In all three instances notions of honour figured strongly in the inspirations for what we might regard as suicide for political cause (though the Japanese did not deem it as suicide, but defined it as "killed in action" – Ohnuki-Tierney 2006: xvi-vii). Fine-grained analyses of each arena may conceivably find differences within this broad commonality of a honour code, but I have not addressed that issue.

Rather, I have focused on the conceptions of selfhood (that is, the category "person") in each field. In my tentative thesis the jihadists, in keeping with the characteristics of all the Semitic religions, attach a greater degree of autonomy to the individual (here gendered male) than among the peoples of South Asia and East Asia where hierarchical notions have permeated societal interaction for centuries.

Within the Indian universe governed by the multi-stranded corpus we identify today as "Hinduism," moreover, selfhood is informed by theories of substance. Thus, each individual is seen to be made up of particles and can, as individual, become a particle in another entity. This is the working out of the holographic principle, where the part also embodies the whole. Thus, while there are numerous named goddesses all over India and Sri Lanka, they are understood to be emanations of the one single Goddess.

Some ardent devotees undertake arduous pilgrimage journeys in order to secure a fusion of self, however temporary, with the deity presiding over the holy destination. Indeed, some deities in the Indian lands are deified humans. The m?v?rar have this potential prospect – though I am not contending that this objective was in their thoughts when they fought for the LTTE and Tamils, but am rather pointing to subsequent possibilities. Be that as it may, self-negation, or transcendence of one’s being, through fusion of self in ultimate endeavour has been one facet of the Tiger endeavour.

While the principle of self-negation seemed to be an important element in the inspirations for the Japanese "tokk?tai" (special attack) operation -- [that is, the kamikaze as we label the project today] that was initiated by the Japanese military leaders in October 1944, my initial readings suggested that a nihilistic strain was more pronounced in this setting when placed in comparison with LTTE fighters.

I was led to this idea by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney’s emphasis on the nihilist aesthetics permeating some of the diaries maintained by a few young kamikaze pilots (2006: 17; plus her 2002 book); and by the a-moral stress on the equivalence of "Life" and "Death" in the strands of Zen teaching adopted by right-wing Japanese patriots in the 1930s and also incorporated within the military’s Field Service Code during World War Two (Victoria 2003, 2004, 2006). However, in conversation in Adelaide in December 2008 Brian Victoria argued that in the Japanese case of self-sacrifice (both military and civilian) during the war there was a fusion of self in higher cause.

As background facts, note that during the process of imperialist expansion initiated by the fascist Japanese regime from the 1930s, the state "managed to promote and inculcate in the minds of the people the idea that all the Japanese, but especially the soldiers-to-be, must sacrifice their lives for their country" (Ohnuki-Tierney 2006: xiii).

The "state dictum" for soldiers was that they must "never be captured by the enemy" (2006: 5). "Even where entire corps of Japanese soldiers faced utterly hopeless military situations, the soldiers were told to die happily. The policy led to the infamous mass suicides (gyokusai) on Atttu, Saipan and Okinawa islands and elsewhere culminated in the tokk?tai operation" (2006: 4).

The degree of coercion and voluntary participation among the civilians who committed suicide by grenade, leaping off cliffs or other means at Saipan and Okinawa remains a contentious subject. But there is no disputing the fact that the Japanese soldiers demonstrated admirable courage in hopeless battlefield situations just as the Tiger fighters have done in recent weeks (Jeyaraj 2009a, 2009b).

The contentious thesis here, then, is that within the ultra-nationalist mind-sets within the Japanese and Tamil arenas, the person -- the individual -- becomes subordinate to Cause (capital C), that is, to country, people and nation-state (or state-to-be, viz., Eelam). To put it in different words, once the LTTE secured the commanding heights in the struggle for cutantiram (liberation), the Sri Lankan Tamil Individual and the Collective, Tamil Eelam, have been regarded as one.

This reading of LTTE ideology informed my interpretation of the exodus activated – seemingly by a combination of persuasion and coercion –vis a vis the Tamil peoples of the northern Vanni from late 2008 as the Tigers were forced to retreat. It also directed my essays on Dilemmas in February (2009a 2009b).

Thus guided, I was convinced that the LTTE would not allow the civilians a choice, especially since the latter also provided a labour pool, a source of foodstuffs from the supplies sent by the government of Sri Lanka via the ICRC and a political bargaining chip (a stack of chips really). It followed that the LTTE would not agree to a ceasefire or if they did so (as occurred eventually when in dire straits around 22 February), they would not lay down arms.

In other words, the civilian mass would be one of the ‘bunds’ in their fortress situation, a bund they could never forego (a) because this bund of people was vital to the survival of Eelam as cause and (b) because total sacrifice was deemed to be the duty of one and all. [to be continued]

Douglas Devananda addresses UN anti-racism conference

Media Release by The Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations Office at Geneva

Addressing the widely publicized UN world conference against racism and racial discrimination under the theme “United against Racism, Unity and Justice for all”, currently underway in Geneva, Sri Lanka’s most senior ethnic Tamil Cabinet Minister said that Sri Lanka’s President Rajapakse was firmly committed to the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which gives substantive autonomy to the provinces. He also called upon the international community to put pressure on the LTTE to allow the civilians in its captivity to leave unconditionally.

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Hon Douglas Devananda meeting UN Secretary- General Ban Ki- Moon

Given below is the full text of the Address by Hon Douglas Devananda, Minister of Social Welfare of Sri Lanka at the Durban Review Conference:

“Ayubovan, Vanakkam, Asalam Aleikum,

Mr. President, Madam High Commissioner Navanethem Pillay, distinguished delegates,

I am honoured to address this assembly on behalf of His Excellency Mahinda Rajapakse and the people of Sri Lanka.

I am a Sri Lankan who is also ethnically Tamil, representing the North, a province populated overwhelmingly by ethnic Tamils. It also had many Tamil speaking Muslims, such as my colleague Minister Rishad Bathiudeen who is with us today, after being internally displaced himself by LTTE terrorism.

Sri Lanka has four major religions Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam, and three distinct major communities, Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, and three languages Sinhala, Tamil and English. This diversity has made for coexistence as well as conflict.

The sources of conflict lie in factors related to our deliberations here. They are also related, as in many places, to colonialism. Though post-colonial Sri Lanka saw legislative changes which made Tamils feel they were being treated unequally and discriminated against, the majority Sinhalese felt Tamils got disproportionate advantages during colonial rule. Redress was thought necessary but the Tamils felt those actions were discriminatory.

Tamils started agitating against the discrimination and demanded equality and power sharing in areas where they lived in substantial numbers. In the early period these agitations were democratic and non-violent. However, the next generation reacted to the state machinery crushing the non-violent acts of the Tamils. They took up arms against the state through many militant organizations. I was the leader of one such organization.

The flames of conflict should have been doused by the Indo-Lanka accord of 1987, brokered by the Prime Minister of India at the time, Shri Rajiv Gandhi, who was later murdered by the LTTE. It paved the way for a power sharing arrangement. The agreement also required the militants to lay down arms and join the democratic main stream, and almost all of us did so at the time.

Due to the fanaticism of the LTTE, which rejected the Indo-Lanka Accord, the full implementation of the provincial council system has been blocked. The LTTE has been waging war with the ultimate aim of creating a separate state, Tamil Eelam. They are not only waging a war against the state, they also annihilate any democratic Tamil forces that would not be subservient to them.

As a young man in my twenties, I was a survivor of the massacre of Tamil political prisoners in the Welikada jail, in July 1983 by a majority racists mob. However, I had not foreseen the evil of the racism and terrorism of the minority. When I gave up armed struggle and entered the democratic mainstream in 1987, I was regarded as a traitor by the Tigers. The US State Department reports I have survived eleven assassination attempts by the Tigers. My sight is impaired in one eye due to a spike driven into my skull by Tiger detainees when I visited them in prison to improve their conditions of detention. But my perspective is clear.

Our President took action to curb LTTE terrorism after his attempts at negotiation were rejected. Now the Sri Lankan security forces have almost crushed the Tigers. However the Tigers use innocent civilians as human shields. These are my people, Mr President, from the island’s North; people to whom I belong; people to whom I am tied by common ancestry and place.

Though over 70, 000 of those held initially succeeded in getting away, despite being shot at by the LTTE as they escaped, there are still a large number held in captivity. Yet even as I speak today, thousands managed to get away to refuge with the government.

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Hon Douglas Devananda addressing the Durban Review Conference.

If the international community can pressurize the LTTE to surrender or at least to release the rest of these civilians unconditionally, that will go a long way in ending the suffering of the Tamil minority.

President Rajapakse is committed to full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution which ensures substantive provincial autonomy.

The political process has already started.

Elections were conducted for the Eastern provincial council in May 2008.

A Task Force for the Development of the North under my Chairmanship was established to oversee activities until normalcy is established in the province and elections are held.

In the meantime, an All Party Representative Committee is finalizing proposals, including necessary constitutional amendments, to address grievances of the Tamils.

We refer to this as “13th amendment Plus”, that is, deeper provincial autonomy than currently in the Constitution.

This will include a Second Chamber based on Provinces.

Mr President, this being the current situation in my country, we entered wholeheartedly into commitments at the conference in Durban. This was a landmark event in the struggle against racial discrimination and intolerance.

Sri Lanka is party to major international human rights instruments and has acceded to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Since language rights are perhaps the most important issue of contention in Sri Lanka, we have taken measures to enforce bilingualism in administration while improving training in this field. We have also taken steps to ensure recruitment of Tamil speaking persons into our defence forces.

Mr President, I call on all member states to cooperate in achieving the objectives of the World Conference and implementing the DDPA.

My experience with racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia is real. In the struggle against these, I have been imprisoned, lost close family and friends, shed my blood, risked my life and had my sight damaged.

But I have learned through struggle and sacrifice, that it is Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance that are our enemies, not one another.

Thank you.”

ICG calls for humanitarian pause monitored by the UN and the ICRC

The following statement was issued by the Board of Trustees of the International Crisis Group meeting over the weekend in Washington, DC:

A humanitarian tragedy is unfolding in Sri Lanka involving the possible deaths of tens of thousands of civilians trapped between government and insurgent LTTE (Tamil Tiger) forces in a tiny strip of land not much bigger than Central Park in Manhattan.

As many as 150,000 or more civilians are so trapped. Their living area is being shelled by the Sri Lankan military, and the Tamil Tigers are using them as human shield hostages. Dozens are dying every day, and there are grave shortages of food, water, and medical treatment. Available reports suggest 5,000 civilians, including at least 500 children, have died since mid-January, and 10,000 have been injured.

With both the government forces and Tamil Tigers abdicating their responsibility to protect civilians from mass atrocity crimes, urgent, determined, and united international action is necessary to ensure their safety — by the United Nations Security Council, other multilateral organisations, and individual countries with relations with Sri Lanka.

The International Crisis Group urges that the following specific steps be taken:

-The Sri Lankan government should halt its offensive and accept a humanitarian pause monitored by the UN and the ICRC of at least two weeks to give a chance for relief supplies to get in and a humanitarian corridor to be established for civilians to get out.

-UN agencies and the ICRC should be allowed to conduct a needs assessment, and based on the actual number of those trapped in the so-called "no fire zone", bring in the relief supplies needed so long as civilians remain.

-UN agencies and the ICRC must be allowed full access to all areas and at all locations where either civilians or surrendered Tamil Tiger fighters might cross over into government controlled areas. Both civilians and fighters who agree to lay down their arms need stronger international guarantees of their safety. Only international supervision, unhindered by the government, can provide the necessary level of protection.

-The Tamil Tigers should immediately allow civilians to leave the area and cease forced recruitment.

-All means of influencing the Tamil Tigers must be explored, particularly stepped up restrictions on foreign financing and support for the group. The Tamil diaspora has an important role in persuading the LTTE to agree to an internationally supervised pause and allow the trapped civilians to leave the target area.

-But continuing intransigence by the Tigers should not be an excuse for delaying a humanitarian pause, or the government forces acting in a way that results in the death and maiming of their own citizens.

-It should be made very clear by relevant governments and international organisations to leaders of both the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government that they are liable to be held personally accountable for breaches of international humanitarian law.

-Sri Lanka's development partners should make clear that continued non-emergency funding will not be available if the war ends in a bloodbath.

Contacts: Andrew Stroehlein (Brussels) +32 (0) 2 541 1635
Kimberly Abbott (Washington) +1 202 785 1601
To contact Crisis Group media please click here
http://www.crisisgroup.org

April 19, 2009

Audio by The Economist: Interview with Karuna, Sri Lanka's 'Reconciliation Ministry'

Audio: Interview with Karuna, Sri Lanka's 'Reconciliation Ministry' - by The Economist

The Economist: For a man charged to bring reconciliation to Sri Lanka, Minister Karua is certainly a divisive figure. As a guerilla commander he is alleged to have been responsible for serious crimes. As a politician, it is alarming as how quickly he's fallen out with his former LTTE comrade and political rival Pillaiyan, The Chief Minister of the East.

This is a familiar theme in Sri Lankan politics.

The governments have a history of co-opting Tail militants in pitting them against each other, and thereby sought to control the country's ethnic conflict, instead of solving it.

If this is happening again, history suggests Sri Lanka may not have the peace it surely needs, but instead more discord.

April 18, 2009

Fraudulent concept of a “fire-free, no-fire, safe zone”

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Nowadays there is a lot of media focus on the terms “Safe-Zone,” “fire-Free Zone,” and “No-Fire Zone” in the Northern mainland known as the Wanni.

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[People waiting to get sugar-pic:RDHS]

All terms refer to a designated tract of territory where the warring parties namely the armed forces of the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are not supposed to fire from or fire at each other. [click here to read the article in full ~ in dbsjeyaraj.com]

Sinhala supremacist war cannot create a Sri Lankan peace

by Tisaranee Gunasekara

The middle ground exists, even when it is unoccupied, ignored or denied. There is a moderate space between the two extremes of a permanent ceasefire and an immediate (ground cum air) assault on the ‘safe zone’. The Rajapakse administration positioned itself on that sane locus, momentarily, when it declared a two day unilateral ceasefire in time for the traditional Sinhala and Tamil New Year. That one gesture did more to counter Tiger propaganda and improve the tattered image of the country than innumerable verbal and written barrages.

The two day respite from incessant gunfire, from omnipresent death and injury, would have been very welcome to the beleaguered civilians. It was obviously and manifestly unwelcome to the Tigers. The LTTE always throve in polarised situations, which could be twisted in accordance with their politico-propaganda needs. A Colombo willing to compromise or even appease, was ever an anathema to the Tiger. The last things the Tigers want at this juncture are humanitarian gestures, acts of generosity by the regime. They would welcome a permanent ceasefire because that would give them another lease of life; in the absence of such an elixir, they would prefer an all out assault on the ‘safe zone’ by the Lankan Forces, killing and injuring tens of thousands of civilian Tamils. Such a carnage would enable Vellupillai Pirapaharan to cover his failure on the battlefield with the blood of innocent Tamils. Such carnage would win for him a place of honour in the Tamil Pantheon of Gods and Heroes by transforming the military defeat of the LTTE into a heroic saga capable of inspiring future generations of Tamils.

As Sri Lanka comes to the verge of geographical reunification she is more divided than ever before - psychologically. The regime’s timely action prevented the traditional New Year’s Day, one of the few points of reference common to Sinhala Buddhists and Tamil Hindus, from becoming a day of blood and death for the Tamils (particularly those caught in the ‘safe zone’). Still there was a chasm of difference in the way the Sinhalese and the Tamils would have greeted their New Year. Despite debilitating economic conditions, most Sinhalese are hopeful about the future. But for the majority of Tamils the future would seem bleak (if not dangerous) since the Sinhala Supremacist nature of the regime and its war effort is turning the impending defeat of the LTTE into a humiliation and a setback for the Tamils in general.

The 48 hour humanitarian pause would have been more meaningful had it been preceded by an international effort to persuade the LTTE to permit the evacuation of civilians. The LTTE is unlikely to be persuaded to let go of its final and most potent weapon, but the effort needed (and still needs) to be made by the government, in conjunction with selected members of the international community and the UN. For the humanitarian crisis in the ‘safe zone’ is no Tiger illusion and the government’s refusal to admit to its existence is ridiculously untenable. Truth is indeed the best propaganda; it would make far more sense for the government to acknowledge the plight of the civilians while focusing on the LTTE’s primary culpability for this tragedy though its inhumane refusal to permit these unarmed men, women and children to flee for their lives.

The Penchant for Extremes

In Sri Lanka the moderate centre is unoccupied territory while the two antipodes are teeming with actual and would be owners. The Tigers and their supporters want the war to end either in a permanent ceasefire or in a bloodbath of epic proportions; they are undeterred by the knowledge that the victims of the latter outcome will be fellow Tamils, unarmed men, women and children, who want to escape and live, even in open prisons masquerading as welfare villages. The Rajapakse administration and its Sinhala extremist allies are similarly undeterred by the possibility of massive human losses and the Tamil hatred such carnage will give rise to (if anything is giving them the pause, it is the prospect of international outrage). They are also uninterested in a parallel political track, and openly declare their disbelief in the very existence of an ethnic problem. Each side lives up to the worst expectations (and the most damaging propaganda) of the other; neither hesitates to prove the other correct.

By refusing to make a clear break with the LTTE and by failing to concentrate solely on the suffering of the civilians, most Diaspora Tamils are becoming a party to the diabolical plan by the LTTE to cover the shame of its defeat with the blood of innocent civilians. Ironically the Diaspora Tamils would have met with more international sympathy and support, if their protests were not premised on the oneness of Tigers and Tamils. That equation has brought the Tamils little gain. On the contrary it enabled the LTTE to subjugate Lankan Tamils in the name of liberation, denying to them even the most basic of rights. The Tigers can no longer further Tamil interests and Tamils need to emerge from under the Shade of the Tiger if they want a future for themselves. The longer they remain prisoners of the LTTE politically and psychologically, the more damage they would do to themselves, as a nation, as a people.

If the UNP had a leadership that was hard on the Tigers but soft on Tamils, backed the war while advocating a political solution to the ethnic problem, Sri Lanka’s problems would not have reached the level of an existential crisis. Unfortunately such a leadership is impossible so long as Ranil Wickremesinghe clings to the zenith of the party. The JVP is caught in a time warp and blinded by ideological blinkers. It is trying to be more ‘patriotic’ than the regime, an impossible effort which is doomed to political and electoral failure. With a pro-Tiger UNP and a Sinhala chauvinist Left, moderation and sanity are as rare in the ranks of the opposition as it is within the government.

This critical absence of a moderate centre has created a debilitating vacuum in the Lankan polity. A Sinhala Supremacist war cannot create a Sri Lanka peace, unless there are powerful countervailing forces which can propel Sinhalese and Tamils into more moderate (and centripetal) courses. The Sinhalese need to stop talking and acting in old ways; they have to combine their opposition to the LTTE with support for substantial devolution. The past is not a good place to return to, because it is full of errors which alienated the Tamils and pushed them into (initially non-violent and subsequently violent) separatism. If the end of the conventional phase of the war entails a return to that past, the victory, however intoxicating it is now, will be a toxic one which will further poison the country’s social fabric, rendering it unsustainable.

The Tamils need to embark on a less destructive-self-destructive path. They need to consciously move away not only from the LTTE but also from the thinking that created and sustained the LTTE, enabling it to beat the competition and dominate Tamil polity and society. The end of the war will not end the conflict. The Tamil struggle will resurface, possibly with the Diaspora playing the role of the ‘Motive Force’. But if it is to succeed, it needs to be not just non-LTTE but also anti-LTTE; it must embrace a different ethos and a different path from the Tiger Way, consciously and manifestly. It needs to be tolerant and democratic, and embody the best rather than the worst in Tamil culture and civilisation. If the Tamils (especially the Diaspora Tamils) fail in this task, if they permit Tigers or proto-Tigers to enslave them once again, in the name of liberation, the living would have suffered and the dead would have died in vain.

Eternal Recurrence?

In a post-war analysis of the German debacle, Thomas Mann made the crucial distinction between liberating and anti-liberating liberty, of liberations which liberate and liberations that subjugate a nation. "The German concept of liberty was always directed outward… this German concept of liberty behaved internally with an astonishing degree of lack of freedom, of immaturity, of dull servility. It was a militant slave mentality…" (Germany and the Germans).

The LTTE was the most successful, the most efficient of the armed Tamil groups in the 1980’s. The Tigers were the Tamil Prussians, and their successes engendered the belief that only Vellupillai Pirapahran and his men can liberate the Tamils from the oppressive Sinhala state and take them to the Promised Land. It was their many victories against the Lankan Forces which enabled the Tigers to impose and sustain an anti-liberationist regimen at home. In the process of winning for the Tamils the right to self-determination as a nation, the LTTE took away from each Tamil his/her right to self-determination as an individual. As the Tamil liberation struggle gained momentum under the Tigers, the Tamils became less liberated than ever before. The most fundamental human rights were denied to them, in the name of furthering the cause of liberation.

A similar psychological process is underway in the South currently. The Rajapakse regime has been more successful than any of its predecessors in dealing with the LTTE; in return it is demanding certain rights and privileges which are extra-constitutional. In a bargain as destructive as the one offered to and imposed on the Tamils by the Tigers, the Sinhalese are being expected not just to tolerate but to embrace the denial of certain basic rights in return for ‘national liberation and reunification’. They are being asked to back the regime unconditionally because of its success in beating the Tigers. Unfortunately many Sinhalese seems to regard this ‘quid pro quo’ with either approbation or indifference. As the Tamils did once, they too tend to look upon the anti-democratic conduct of the regime as something necessary to the successful completion of the task at hand, the task of defeating the LTTE and taking the country back to the ‘idyllic’ days predating the outbreak of the war. The regime is thus getting away with the objectionable, the abominable and the punishable, from messing up the economy to sabotaging the 17th Amendment to killing dissidents. For the Sinhalese it is important to take a stand and do it now because it is all too easy to go the way the Tamils went with the Tigers. The descent to the abyss can often be too gradual to be noticeable.

Post Scriptum:

Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange crisis is symbolic not only of the regime’s inane economics but also of the limits of Sinhala Supremacist ‘patriotism’. Early this year the Central Bank, under the stewardship of its unique Governor, Ajith Nivard Cabraal, launched a ‘Patriotic Bond’ targeting the Sinhala Diaspora. The aim was to raise US$600 million to stave off the impending foreign exchange crisis. That effort was a monumental failure, compelling the regime to turn to the once despised IMF. Argentina in 2001 may provide us with some inkling of what awaits us if the IMF loan fails to materialise. Faced with a foreign exchange crisis - caused by IMF advice, according to many economists, including Nobel Laureate Joe Stiglitz - Argentinean government announced its incapacity to payback foreign loans; it also cut down government expenditure drastically, triggering off a societal crisis.

Extremism is irrational; it does not pay in the end, however beguiling it may be in the interim. [courtesy: The Island]

Sri Lanka:Non-existing Capitalist and Working Classes and growing “Sinhalaisation”of Business Community

By Kusal Perera

What realy is wrong with Sri Lanka ? Where have we landed ourselves as a developing country after 61 years of independence ? And now, how fractured and beleaguered our "paradise" island is ? Thereafter, one should also ask, how stupid and foolish the "Left" had been in Sri Lanka . The "left" during the immediate pre and post independence period called shots in our national politics, deciding many things that have misled and misdirected the society all through the decades there after. Before coming to the current issue of how the "Left" (including those who pose as "pedigreed" Marxists) stupidly projected and explained the UNP (United National Party) as a "capitalist" political party, let us just remember how incompetent and amateurish the "Left" had been in Sri Lanka from the time it was ' Ceylon '.

First, the LSSP, the most articulate and democratic of the original "left" political parties and the traditional Communist Party (CP) were both talking of "working class" politics, when there was no such working class in then Ceylon , in the way they chose to define the working class. It was therefore obvious they could not become a mass national force, though they could in the early period become an urban "protest" force.

Second, the failure in understanding this fundamental mistake in their politics led them to portray the "Sinhala" break away faction from the UNP as a "progressive" force in order to work out a platform to defeat the UNP. "Progressive" they decided, because this break away SLFP was going on a "State take over" of private business as a principle stand of their economic policy. The result ? This anti-UNP "left" parties supported "Sinhalisation" of the State in lieu of "State take over" of private business, in the name of "nationalisation". Nationalisation for them was as good as "Socialism". Thus it was "socialism" under a racist government that turned the State into a Sinhala State . "Never mind" they thought, if the UNP could be defeated.

Why defeat the UNP and not the SLFP ? Here in lies the big lie of the "left". There is no capitalist class in Sri Lanka as explained by the "left" activists and intellectuals. The UNP and the SLFP have almost the same social base in terms of political strength. The same business community fund them both. The Sri Lankan society is yet to develop and polarise into economic classes. Every segment in society still lives a quasi feudal life, with their attachments to caste and village. One great recent exposure of this social thinking and attitude was the aftermath of the 2004 December Tsunami. It was not only the ordinary man in the Colombo streets who ran to his village to see what relief could be organised, but the big time businessmen too. They took over most relief work in their own villages. For them Tsunami relief immediately meant their village and their own caste.

It's very plain. They live in feudalistic beliefs and social ties. We have businessmen and their professional advisors trekking to Kataragama annually, to fulfil their previous year's vow and to make another this year, expecting their businesses to flourish with the help of God Kandaswamy. This only explains the attitude, the competitive mind set of the business community. What we have in Sri Lanka is a "business community" scrapping out profits by what ever means and not a Capitalist "class" regenerating capital for growth.

It has to be so. Our economy is not an economy that stands or lives on "productive" capital. The plantation based economy that was introduced into a feudal society during the British rule, did not help dismantle the feudal society in full and generate new "capital". It only grafted a new money based plantation sector with other service appendages, into the existing feudal society leaving whole parts of it with old social values, social structures and also the traditional village hierarchy intact. What developed around all that in the colonial economy which we inherited after the 1948 independence was a service oriented consumer economy. Tea and rubber that could have opened up value added product based industries were not encouraged by the Colonial ruler and wasn't thought of after independence. The major focus was on a welfare State subsidised and run by the State. The private sector therefore grew as a trade and commerce sector, with the government playing the role of a regulator of trade, especially of import and export trade.

There after productive capital came in as grants and aid from pro-Soviet regimes since 1956, when the Bandaranayake government moved into a State centred economy. All corporations producing leather, ceramic, steel, rubber and timber products, were Soviet bloc gifts to be State owned. While most such enterprises were mismanaged and used for political advantage by ruling political parties, with other main service sector enterprises owned by private individuals also taken over by the State, there remained very little opportunity for a capitalist class to evolve and grow.

Nothing proves this better than the privatisation of the commuter bus service. Three years after the economy was turned into a complete free market, there were no large capital investments available for the private bus service. Private buses are run by many hundreds of individuals with finance and leasing 25 years and plus after the privatisation. They represent the social segment that indulges in small time business like groceries and local distributor agencies for consumer products. This is the main reason for this service sector to be totally and wholly ad hoc and thus unprofessional in its management and operations.

Such petty expansion of trade capital depends on State patronage. All recent frauds and corruption cases have exposed links between ruling regimes and the business community. From JKH group to Ceylinco group, from LMS Ltd to Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation privatisation, the issue is not only how unethical and unprofessional these big time business dealers have been, but also how well knit the ruling regimes have been with business persons in supporting them for all things vulgar in business.

Therefore, all through the past decades, the economic growth in Sri Lanka has not been able to shift ownership and social relationships based on capital. Economic activities have not been able to change attitudes and social values to suit the development of a modern society. Instead, it nurtured ethnic and caste polarisation within the business community. With such polarisation, political patronage became an important factor in competing for markets.

For such a sucking, dependent business community which tries to sustain itself and make profits in an economy with snail pace lopsided growth, competition to survive becomes important and often times crucial. It is this that led the majority Sinhala business community to gang up and take control of the State and organise themselves to have the larger share of the existing market. Over the years, politics of the business community thus became more and more Sinhala. The "Sinhala Veera Vidhanaya", basically a market oriented organisation of the Sinhala urban middle class was seen promoting local trade associations to clear out non Sinhala traders from their towns and cities. Over the years, it became quite apparent that in urban areas where trade capital accumulates, the region becomes more Sinhala in politics.

Western province, the geographical area which enjoys the greater accumulation of national wealth at 51%, showed this "Sinhalisation" during the last general elections in 2004 April. In all 03 districts, the JHU which fielded Buddhist monks as candidates polled over 10% with Colombo the most commercialised of all districts giving them 18% of the votes polled at that election. These are districts with large percentages of non Sinhala and non Buddhist presence as well. Yet in predominantly Sinhala Buddhist districts like Hambantota, Moneragala and Anuradhapura , but with very much less accumulation of trade capital, the same JHU polls a falteringly less percentage of 0.1, 1.4 and 2.2 percentages respectively.

Such "Sinhalisation" of the business community is only possible with competition for a larger market share with State power. This has become more evident with the present regime that uses the Sinhala platform to wage war against Tamil separatism. The social call by the Rajapaksa regime, backed by Sinhala political groups like the JVP and the JHU that compete between them to be the best Sinhala representation in politics through war, has provided space for the majority Sinhala business community to use that Sinhala hype to carve out bigger shares in the market for themselves on ethnic bias.

The collective of Colombo based big business people as the "Maubima Lanka Padanama" (Foundation of Motherland Lanka) with its improvised Lion logo called the "Soorya Sinha" logo is the tragic example of such Sinhala dominance in the market. It is this business community that funded the UNP. They now want the UNP too to represent them as a Sinhala political party, as the party in waiting to form the next government. The crisis within the UNP in bringing a pro Sinhala political leadership represents this tussle for Sinhala political power. The UNP is thus far from a "capitalist" political party. It can not be in a country that lacks a capitalist and a working class.

What ails Sri Lanka is this backwardness in capitalist growth and not socialism. Sri Lanka needs to work on a subjective factor, an intellectual leadership to achieve such capitalist growth. The "left" in Sri Lanka is not one that could help generate such intellectual discussion. Sadly, it’s dead wood now.

Let not this silence on Sri Lanka by India and UN Security Council persist

by M.G. Devasahayam

An estimated 250,000 people are trapped in a 250 sq-km area which has come under intense fighting. The people have no safe area to take shelter and were unable to flee. When the dust settles, we may see countless victims and a terrible humanitarian situation unless civilians are protected and international humanitarian law is respected in all circumstances. It is high time to take decisive action and stop further bloodshed because time is running out.” This was the warning issued by Jacques de Maio, head of operations for South Asia, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) several weeks ego.

It has been clear that Sri Lankan crisis was escalating dangerously, where according to all indications a humanitarian tragedy of horrendous proportion was exploding, given the ‘massive mobilisation for massacre’ by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces on the small number of militants and quarter million civilians holed up in the jungles of Wanni.True to the foreboding of Jacques de Maio, in the last 100 days alone 4,800 Sri Lankan Tamils have been massacred and over 10,000 grievously injured. According to reports, not denied by Sri Lanka Government, thermobaric bomb - a bomb that uses a fuel-air explosive capable of creating overpressures equal to an atomic bomb – has been used in this mass killing. In one such attack over 520 men died and the Sri Lanka Defence website displayed the photos as if these were trophies won!

This is the latest from UNICEF's Executive Director Ann M. Veneman: “Hundreds of children have been killed and many more injured as a result of the conflict in Sri Lanka . Thousands are now at risk because of a critical lack of food, water and medicines.”Sri Lanka Government’s response to the civilians trapped in the ’killer zone’ is demarcation of some ‘safety zones’.

From all reports it appears that safety zones themselves have become killer zones. UN secretary-general Ban Ki moon has expressed deep distress at the persistent reports of shelling, mortar fire and aerial attacks in the no-fire zone. A UNICEF news report on their web says, "This (the govt declared no fire zone) is a 14sq km strip of coastline, home to an estimated 150,000 people, of which around one third are children. Despite the Government’s declaration of a no fire zone, shells continue to fall inside the densely-packed area, exacerbating the high casualty rate.”

New Indian Express said it all in an investigative report when it touchingly quoted a Sri Lankan Tamil refugee describing ‘life’ in no fire zones: “It was like dying each day again and again.” Nothing further needs to be said. The paper’s editorial on 18 April sums up succinctly: “There seems little doubt now that the so-called safe zone is anything but safe. Safety is a delusion for people outside the place to comfort themselves with. Both the West’s finger-wagging over the situation as well as India ’s statements of concern seem patently unreal in this context.”

In this context ‘Super-power’ India ’s stance appear to be the most pathetic. In spite of all the harrowing happenings in the neighbouring island, India ’s External Affairs Minister has made this policy declaration while appealing to the Government of Sri Lanka to extend the pause in cessation of hostilities: "No question of mediation. We were not offered to mediate. Our policy is quite clear. The current concern is to ensure security and safety of civilians trapped in the 'no-fire' zone."

Whose policy is this? Is it the one laid down by the Union Cabinet or the whim of certain parochial bureaucrats in New Delhi ? How is the honourable External Affairs Minister going to ‘ensure’ the safety of the civilians trapped in the 'no fire' zone where life there was “like dying each day again and again.” What is worse, when there have been serious allegations of support by Government of India to the genocidal and racist war waged by the Sri Lankan Army and Government on the hapless Tamils of the island, the Minister was eerily silent on this.

In a ‘response telegram’ Chief Minister Karunanidhi says: “We welcome with gratitude, the appeal made by the External Affairs Minister for ceasefire in Sri Lanka . If the appeal is not honoured and implemented by the Lankan government, we request the Indian government to snap all diplomatic relations with Sri Lanka .” One wonders what this ‘gratitude’ is for and will ‘snapping all diplomatic relations’ save thousands if not lakhs from the jaws of ‘thermobaric death?’

Most unfortunately the rest of the world remains silent, unconcerned and uninvolved except for odd statements and pious intentions. UN Security Council, the only International Institution that is capable of making a difference, do not even have Sri Lanka on their ‘agenda for discussions’ despite their senior officials making heart-rending statements. It is alleged that India has a hand in the conspiracy for blocking this agenda!

The world cannot stand apart and abandon tens of thousands of helpless innocents to their uncertain fate. It must heed to the appeal issued by a group of experts and human rights champions: “It is the UN Security Council, according to the terms of the 2005 agreement, which must authorize ‘timely and decisive measures’ to prevent or halt mass atrocities. The Council must be prepared to bluntly characterize the violence in Sri Lanka as mass atrocity crimes; to demand that the government of Sri Lanka grant access to the conflict zone to humanitarian groups and to the media, both of whom it has barred until now and to consider the imposition of sanctions.”

“Tragedy of mankind is not the brutality of the few, but the silence of the many” said Martin Luther King years ago. Let not this silence – most of all by India and UN Security Council – persist. Lest, the Sri Lankan tragedy befalls and we are judged by history as its co-perpetrators!

(The writer is a former Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, who had held many important positions nationally and been in a very high position in the TN State administration, before retirement. Presently chairs the Chennai Intellectuals' Forum and was a member of the Chennai team that met with President Rajapaksa to discuss possible power sharing mechanisms as a solution to the present conflict. )

Politics as continuation of war by other means

by Rajan Philips

If the war was a continuation of politics, what is to come after the war is over? That seems to be the political dead end that the government is now up against. The government is at a dead end not because it does not know what to do politically, but because it doesn’t want to do anything positively. The government’s problem is that it, certainly the dominant sections of it, would prefer to act only negatively – roll back all the constitutional potentialities that have been rolled out since the Thirteenth Amendment, and put the minorities in their place, where they were in 1983. Every negative action has its own equal and opposite reaction. This time the reaction is more abroad than at home.

The military defeat of the LTTE has, far from demoralizing, galvanized the Tamil Diaspora to express its support for the LTTE more strongly than ever before. In delivering the LTTE its biggest military defeat the government of Sri Lanka has also given the organization its greatest political significance. Brazenly rallying behind the LTTE, the Tamil Diaspora has ratcheted up its demand to the highest – a separate state if possible, confederation if necessary – at the very moment the LTTE’s military significance is at its lowest.

This maximalist Tamil demand is a dead end too, useful only as a counter to the government’s dead end of doing nothing politically. So long as the government insists on archaic notions of sovereignty and the unitary constitution and frames the Tamil political problem as nothing but LTTE terrorism, the Diaspora will, in chorus, insist on Tamil self-determination and accuse the government of genocide. One set of extreme claims counter-posed by another set of extreme claims.

Living far flung and away from the horrors of war, isolated from the ignominy of defeat, and enjoying the kind of freedoms abroad that the Sri Lankan government is denying its critics at home, the Tamil Diaspora can afford to keep the dream of Tamil Eelam alive for a long time. That Eelam as separate state is now impractical or unrealizable is immaterial. And it makes no sense to ask the Tamil Diaspora to give up Eelam because there is nothing to give up. Objectively, the Eelam dream is the separatist counter to the Sri Lankan government’s ‘unitary’ intransigence, while as ‘a state of mind’ Eelam will keep the political batteries of the Diaspora constantly charged.

If there is to be any positive movement away from these dead ends, it has to start with the government. Of the two it is the only one that has some thing to give up, or change – give up the unitary constitution and regionalize the power structure. It has also the excuse to show magnanimity in victory, as it used to be said. So far it has given no indication that it is about to do anything different, new or positive. On the contrary, the signs are that the government is going back to the same old, same old ways of the past.

The war has made the Tamil Diaspora a new force in Sri Lankan politics and the Sri Lankan government in turn has been forced to realize that despite its military victory in the Vanni it has to deal with the Sri Lankan Tamils abroad if it is to resolve the Tamil problem in Sri Lanka. But rather than putting out a substantial political proposition to address the Tamil problem and engage broad sections of the Tamils, the government has decided to go fishing to find nondescript Tamil counterparts in the Diaspora to its cohorts of Tamil supplicants at home. Technically, fishing for minority supplicants is called political co-option.

Tamil political co-option has never worked in the past and it is not going to work now – either within Sri Lanka or in the Diaspora. From Sir Arunachalam Mahadeva to Lakshman Kadirgamar, including many third rate Tamil hacks not only now but also in the past, the practice of political co-option has always been fruitless and counterproductive. With the exception of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and, to a lesser extent, Dudley Senanayake in 1965, every Sinhalese leader tried to co-opt Tamil supplicants only to come a cropper.

Mutual dilemmas

It is unethical and unwise for the present government in spite of all the past experience to go fishing for spineless Tamil support in the Diaspora without offering anything to change the political system. Instead, the government should take the moral high road of offering something very substantial that would be acceptable to broad sections of the Tamil people and win the insuring endorsement of the international community.

But the government cannot abruptly take the moral high road after going too far down the low military road. Not with the government controlled by its current militaristic leadership and supporters who cannot understand that the defeat of the LTTE is not the end of the Tamil problem.

At the same time, the government needs the support of the international community to deal with the mountain of economic difficulties and reconstruction challenges, and the international community is already insisting on a political solution as a precondition for economic help now that the bogeyman of LTTE terrorism has been put to rest by the government itself. This is the government’s dilemma and it is its own making.

With the excuse of the war over the government has to demonstrate how capable it is in dealing with so far neglected but constantly accumulating problems of balance of payments, plummeting exports, the petroleum hocus-pocus, growing unemployment, never ending electricity uncertainty, and the country’s only growth industry – Colombo’s garbage! In addition, it has to deal with the direct consequences of the war.

It has to provide, as it has promised, long term compensation to tens of thousands of Sinhalese families whose young men either perished in the war or returned home minus their limbs in need of lifelong care. As the Sunday Island editorialized sometime ago, no one begrudges the promised compensation to the soldiers and their families, but the question is whether government would find the wherewithal to make these payments at all. The demobilization of the army after the war, unless the government decides to keep the hugely expanded army intact and pay for it, will create a new army of the unemployed.

The families of the LTTE fighters who died unwept and unsung have no assurances of compensation, but Sri Lanka will be poorer if these families become destitute for want of help and support. The plight of the Vanni civilians displaced many times and finally caught in the eye of the war is now under international spotlight, and the Sri Lankan government has to deliver on the promise to rehabilitate them – a promise that it ought to make to international agencies to qualify for their assistance it so desperately needs.

In sum, the war has created more problems for the government than it thought it would solve by defeating the LTTE. This is analogous to the US predicament in Iraq and internationally after getting rid of Saddam Hussein, with two significant differences. Unlike the US leaving Iraq, the Sri Lankan government cannot walk away from its own country; nor does Sri Lanka have the resources necessary to put things right on its own. All the bravado about getting help from China only means that Sri Lanka is headed in the direction of Burma.

The dilemmas facing the LTTE and Tamil Diaspora are of equal and opposite kinds. The Diaspora has been able to use the humanitarian crisis and the concerns of the international community to put the Sri Lankan government politically on the defensive despite its military offensives in the war. But it is far fetched to assume that by persuasion and protests and by self-serving and geo-politically naive legal opinions the Tamils could get the support of the international community to create a new state in Sri Lanka. Why wasn’t this thought of earlier?

While the Diaspora, certainly the overwhelming majority of it, cannot be faulted for rallying behind the LTTE and recognizing it as the ‘authentic’, if not the sole, representative of the Tamils, that solidarity by itself is not enough for the world governments that have banned the LTTE in their countries to lift those bans. The LTTE was banned for certain specific reasons and not because it lacked support among the Tamil people. It is therefore incumbent on the organization and those who speak for it to address those specific reasons and enable its entry into open and democratic politics. At the end of the day, so to speak, the LTTE or its accredited representatives have to be at the table when the terms of a political solution are negotiated.

How a British Journalist was denied entry and deported from Sri Lanka

A First Person Account by Jeremy Page

The Sri Lankan immigration officer’s eyes narrowed as she swiped my passport at the international airport in Colombo last week. “Come this way,” she said, leading me into a side room, where a colleague typed my details into a computer.

A message flashed up on his screen: “DO NOT ALLOW TO ENTER THE COUNTRY.” With that, my passport was confiscated, I was escorted to a detention room, locked up for the night, and deported the next day. I can’t say that I was surprised, though it was my first deportation in 12 years of reporting from China, the former Soviet Union and South Asia.

Despite multiple applications, I’ve been denied a journalist’s visa for Sri Lanka since August. For almost two years, the Sri Lankan Government has prevented most independent reporters from getting anywhere near the military campaign against the Tamil Tigers. So I was trying to enter as a tourist to write about the 150,000 civilians that the UN estimates are trapped in a no-fire zone with the remnants of the Tigers. The only other countries that I can think of where foreign journalists have to pose as tourists are Zimbabwe, Turkmenistan and North Korea.

I am blacklisted because the Government thinks that the British press, support the Tigers because of the large Tamil community in Britain. That is nonsense: I have no personal connection to either side of this 26-year civil war. The Times has repeatedly reported that the Tigers are banned in the EU, US and India as a terrorist group. It has also reported criticism of the Government’s strategy and tactics from ethnic Tamils and Sinhalese.

This is what journalists do in a democracy. I regularly interview members of the Taleban in Afghanistan. In Russia I reported on both sides of the Chechen conflict. In China I interviewed dissidents and Tibetan independence activists. To do the equivalent in Sri Lanka is not only forbidden, it is highly dangerous.

The last time I visited Sri Lanka, it was to write about Lasantha Wickrematunge, a newspaper editor who was murdered in January. He left behind a part-written obituary in which he accused the Government of assassinating him because of his criticism of the war. The Government denies this.

Another story that annoyed the Government was about its plan to keep Tamils who are fleeing the fighting in camps, ringed by barbed wire, for up to three years. The Government denounced me personally at a news conference, but the most surreal response came in a letter from Rajiva Wijesinha, head of the Government’s Peace Secretariat, who accused me of sensationalising the use of barbed wire in the camps. “Unfortunately, a man from a cold climate does not realise that, in the sub-continent, barbed wire is the most common material to establish secure boundaries, to permit ventilation as well as views,” he wrote.

(Jeremy Page is South Asia correspondent for the "Times")

Sri Lanka's national interest and security cannot be shaped by somebody else's ethnic lobbies

by Dayan Jayatilleke

We Sri Lankans have no excuse whatsoever. We have been forewarned. A piece by PC Vinoj Kumar in the latest issue of Tehelka magazine says that "while the Sri Lankan army claims to be close to wiping out the LTTE, Prabhakaran may already have an able successor in his son".

The article goes onto say that "The techno savvy Anthony is widely tipped to succeed Prabhakaran’s mantle" (sic). And again: "It is expected that Anthony will take over the leadership from his father". "Many LTTE cadres are said to have entered the thick Mullaitivu jungles, an area where several Indian soldiers died during battles against the LTTE in the 1980s. This is truly the lair of the Tigers…Observers now expect that Prabhakaran’s son, Anthony, will lead the coming guerrilla attacks on the Sri Lankans in uniform. Indian journalist Anita Pratap, who shot to fame after interviewing the elusive Prabhakaran, believes that Anthony will eventually take over the leadership of the LTTE from his father some day".

The Tigers have taken a heavy toll on our country and its prospects. They have done so even when other alternatives had presented themselves, starting with the Indo-Lanka accord of 1987. If the Tiger leadership surrenders to a non-Sri Lankan entity, the strength of the Tamil Diaspora will almost certainly secure their release and they will return to blight the future of another generation of Sri Lankans.

If the No Fire Zone (a misnomer inasmuch as it is a Zone from which and within which the Tigers fire at our troops, escaping or restive civilians) remains intact it will expand cancerously over time and become the beachhead of a future Tiger recovery. Therefore the Tiger leadership must be given no quarter and must be annihilated.

Can someone explain to me how the Sri Lankan armed forces campaign to conclusively defeat "one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist groups"(FBI), and "the most lethal and totalitarian guerrilla organization in contemporary Asia" (Barbara Crossette in The Nation) is "futile fighting" (to quote a recent international pronouncement), while the escalating war in Afghanistan is not?

Maybe someone can also tell me why those who opposed a Security Council call for an immediate ceasefire when the war on Gaza was raging, and delayed the meeting of the Security Council, are now calling for an immediate ceasefire in Sri Lanka.

The Diaspora Dimension

These stands are being taken primarily because of the influence of Tamil Diaspora in Western societies. Now, some societies are acutely prone to influence by lobbies, special interest groups, particularistic interests, while others, such as Sri Lanka, Russia and many states of today’s Latin America are more driven by a quasi-Rousseauesque General Will.

The policy of some powerful countries towards places as divergent as Cuba and the Middle East are driven by voting blocs and lobbies. Earlier, such states would argue that Taiwan rather than the government of the Peoples Republic of China with its several hundreds of millions of citizens was the authentic representative of China and was deserving of China’s seat in the United Nations.

To each his or her own. If some states wish to shape their policies towards sir Lanka on the basis of the Tamil Diaspora, that’s their prerogative. Sri Lanka’s national interest and national security cannot be shaped by someone else’s ethnic lobbies. The Sri Lankan state owes its primary responsibility to its citizens, of all ethnic and religious groups.

These are the shareholders and stakeholders of Sri Lanka. Insofar as there are non –resident Sri Lankans, i.e. Sri Lankans who live and work overseas, they are stakeholders of our state and indeed very important ones; the migrant workers in the Middle East bear the burden of our war against secessionism.

Inasmuch as expatriate Sri Lankans have dual citizenship, then they too are citizens of our country.

Inasmuch as they do not, they have no claim on the Sri Lankan state, which in turn has no obligation by them. "British Tamils", "Tamil Canadians", "Tamil Americans" (or "American Tamils"), are just those: British, Canadians and Americans. If we choose to have a dialogue with them – and it is always good to dialogue with everyone—it is not because we have any obligation to do so, or because it is a priority, but because we as pluralist democrats are open to discussion.

This does not mean that there must be no dialogue, but the necessary dialogue is not only between the Sri Lankan state and the Tamil Diaspora, it must, on the one hand, be between Sri Lankan citizens living in this country of ours, and on the other, within the Diaspora between progressive minded Sinhalese and Tamils, especially the younger generation.

In a word, a double dialogue, but both taking place in a social or cultural, i.e. civic space. This double dialogue, particularly among the young, can bear fruit in formulating plans and programmes which can be fed back into Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile the duty of the state and government is to have an open dialogue with all of its citizens as represented primarily by political parties, and various citizens groups.

Lack of a Lankan Guardian Class

Why has Sri Lanka failed to achieve its full potential? Each has his or her own explanation. Mine is that we failed to produce the kind of elite that could have led us to achieve that full potential. We failed to produce or to sustain the kind of vanguard necessary for the task. Without such a vanguard we shall find it difficult to face the challenge posed by the huge mobilization of the Tamil Diaspora in the developed countries, spearheaded by its student youth.

We need such a national vanguard or elite to fight the next war, the coming Cold War on a world scale between the pro-Tiger overseas Tamils (including the irredentist extremists in Tamil Nadu) and Sri Lanka.

It is not that we have not had or do not have elites. We have had elites aplenty: traditional, Westernized, urban, provincial, Sinhala, and Tamil, rural, professional, and monastic. What we have not had is the kind of meritocratic elite necessary for the task of the fulfillment of the country’s full potential. Such an elite would have to unify the various communities into a single nation, while recognizing and accommodating the diversity of the underlying society.

Therefore such an elite would have to be meritocratic, multiethnic/multiracial and multi-religious, just as the Indian elite is and was from the days of independence. The closest we came to such an elite was the Ceylon National Congress, and interestingly, counter-elite, the Ceylon Communist Party in the first decade of its existence. Neither was sustained. Perhaps neither could sustain itself.

How do we define the traits of the Sri Lankan elite that is necessary for the tasks of catching up with the rest of Asia and fulfilling our potential?

Kishore Mahbubani, the outspoken former Ambassador/Permanent Representative of Singapore to the United Nations in New York, Dean of the Lee Kwan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore and one of the most respected theoreticians of the emergence of Asia, provides the answer in his essay in Foreign Affairs, entitled "The Case against the West", subtitled "America and Europe in the Asian Century". The essay is adapted from his latest book The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East (Public Affairs, 2008).

He identifies the secret of the recent emergence of the East and an essential social ingredient of that emergence. Of course, Mahbubani himself is a prime example, as was his illustrious and equally outspoken predecessor, Ambassador Tommy Koh, of the kind of national elite, which is also an intellectual and policy elite; the neo-Platonic Guardian class that he describes and we have lacked and sorely need.

"Fortunately, some Asian states may now be capable of taking on more responsibilities, as they have been strengthened by implementing western principles…Their [China and India’s] ideal is to achieve what the United States and Europe did. They want to replicate, not dominate, the West. The universalization of the Western dream represents a moment of triumph for the West…The success of Asia will inspire other societies on different continents to emulate it. In addition, Asia’s march to modernity can help produce a more stable world order…" (‘The Case Against the West’, Foreign Affairs, Vol 87, No 3, pp111-124)

He describes a particular historical process and social category, in fact a particular social creature emerging from that process: a westernized Asian who resists Western hegemony and stands up to the West, competes with it, but standing on the ground and using the terms of Western universality and modernity. This is an Asian who is anti-Western in the sense of refusing Western hegemony, while being westernized in another; an Asian who has adopted the baby while throwing out the bathwater.

Sri Lanka has had a westernized elite but which was servile to the West. That is the elite responsible for the retention of the British bases in Trincomalee, the non-recognition of Russia and China (our crucial defenders today in the UN Security Council), the departure from our Non aligned foreign policy which helped trigger Indira Gandhi’s policy dual track policy towards Sri Lanka, and worst of all the CFA-ISGA-PTOMS season of appeasement of Tiger fascism.

Sri Lanka also had a counter-elite which was anti-Western but not from the Nehruvian or Mahbubani-esque standpoint of meritocracy and modernity, secularism and universality, but in the most backward, parochial sense, which was almost always ethnocentric. This counter-elite has sometimes been led by members of the old elite or included Westernized/Western-educated chauvinists. (By the way I wonder what Prof Mahbubani would say about the ultranationalist Professor who opined that we do not need a Barack Obama nor do we need to fuss about him, because DS Senanayake was already our Barack Obama — ignoring of course the glaring sociological fact that in complete contradistinction to Obama, who did not even look like the majority of US citizens and previous Presidents, and belonged to a group traditionally discriminated against, DS came from the traditionally dominant Sinhala Buddhist Goigama propertied elite).

The dominance of each of these two elites has over time, led to backlash which replaced one by the other. Neither is a truly Lankan elite. On the one hand we have a corporate elite which cares about Sri Lanka only as a "brand" and a place for exotic domestic tourism. The other is a Sinhala or Sinhala Buddhist elite, which by definition cannot be Sri Lankan.

This limited alternation and the absence of a synthesis of a patriotic, nationalist or national-minded yet multiethnic, multi-religious, modernist, universalizing elite; an elite which is both nationalist and internationalist, patriotic and globalized as well as globalizing; an elite which is the organic counterpart of those in emergent Asia, has been an abiding source of the Sri Lankan tragedy.

(The writer wishes to state that these are his strictly personal views).

April 17, 2009

Prabhakaran's eldest son, Charles Anthony is likely to be LTTE leader's successor

by P.C. Vinoj Kumar

One day in July 1987, in a plush room of a New Delhi hotel, an Indian diplomat was beginning to lose his temper at an intransigent young man. JN Dixit, then Indian High Commissioner in Colombo, wanted Velupillai Prabakaran, the dapper chief of the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), to accept a proposed accord between the governments of India and Sri Lanka that aimed to bring an elusive peace to the strife-torn island nation.

The accord stipulated that the Tigers, as the LTTE is popularly known, would lay down arms in return for a great degree of autonomy in governance of the Tamil-majority areas of Sri Lanka. Dixit wanted the LTTE to also drop its campaign for a separate Tamil Eelam, or nation. Prabakaran, of course, would have none of it.

“If you defy us,” said Dixit puffing angrily at his pipe, “We can finish you before I put out this smoke.” Four months later, the Indian army was locked in a disastrous conflict with the LTTE that was expected to finish in under a week but went on to last nearly three years, claiming the lives of 1,155 Indian soldiers.

Twenty-two years later, the Sri Lankan army claims that it is on the verge of wiping out the LTTE and capturing Prabakaran, dead or alive. On April 5, it announced the fall of the last LTTE stronghold, the town of Puthukudiyiruppu in northeast Sri Lanka. The army claims it recovered the bodies of 420 rebel Tigers from the town. Sri Lankan military spokesperson Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara says top LTTE leaders, including Prabakaran, his son, Charles Antony, and the intelligence chief, Pottu Amman are holed up in a 20 sq km area known as the ‘no-fire zone’, ironically a region where the most civilian deaths have taken place in the last two months.

“There is no way they can escape from here,” Nanayakkara told TEHELKA from Colombo in a telephonic interview. “We have surrounded them.” He refused to set a timeframe for their capture, saying that the army’s priority was to rescue the civilians trapped there.

This is not the first time in the last two decades that the Sri Lankan army has claimed it has cornered Prabakaran. Talking to TEHELKA, B Nadesan, the chief of the LTTE’S political wing, scoffed at these claims . Last January, Sri Lankan Army Chief, Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka, had told journalists that Prabakaran may have fled the country by the sea route.

On April 1, the army claimed that Prabakaran’s eldest son, Charles Antony, 24, had been wounded in the fighting, which, too, the LTTE denies. The army now claims it is keeping a close watch on Antony, who is believed to have led from the front in recent battles. The Sri Lankan army claims Antony had “produced two powerful bombs”, but gives no more details on its website. The Sri Lankans also link Antony to a number of LTTE air attacks since 2007. The technosavvy Antony is widely tipped to succeed Prabakaran’s mantle.

It is expected that Antony will take over the leadership of the LTTE from his father

With the loss of the town of Puthukudiyiruppu, the LTTE is in the midst of one of its severest setbacks ever. Not long ago, the LTTE under Prabakaran ran a de facto state within Sri Lanka called Eelam. Controlling an area about 150km by 100km in size in northern Sri Lanka, Eelam had its own civil administration, courts, army, navy and even a fledgling air force. All this started to unravel when Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa scrapped the government’s six-year-old ceasefire with the LTTE and started an all-out war against it in January 2008.

They started rolling up their mini-state bit by bit,” says Colombo journalist Kusal Perera about the LTTE. “The last town to go from them was Puthukudiyiruppu.” Perera, who has widely reported on the conflict as editor of the news website, lankadissent, believes that the Tigers are preparing for a guerrilla war from Sri Lanka’s eastern provinces, from where they were forced out a couple years ago. (Perera shut down his website in January following the assassination in Colombo of journalist Lasantha Wickramatunga, who was critical of the Sri Lanka government’s policies.)

Perera says the LTTE cadres have infiltrated the eastern districts of Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Amparai. They are exploding landmines and carrying out attacks on the police, the army, and a progovernment milita group led by Karuna, a former Tiger turned ally of Rajapaksa.

Suspected LTTE cadres shot dead HL Jamaldeen, a police officer, in Amparai on April 5. Two days earlier, the army had said it had ambushed 13 Tigers in the area. On April 1, a soldier was killed and another injured in a LTTE grenade attack in Batticaloa. A couple days earlier, six special task force (STF) personnel were killed in three separate incidents in the same district. On March 26, two ‘Karuna group’ members were gunned down in Amparai. A week earlier, the LTTE had attacked an STF camp in Batticaloa killing about three soldiers.

According to estimates, nearly 3,000 civilians may have been killed since last January.

The Sri Lankan Army’s casualties are never publicly disclosed. “About 10,000 Sri Lankan soldiers may have died in the last two years,” says Sirithunga Jayasuriya, a leader of Sri Lanka’s opposition United Socialist Party. Siritunga was a candidate in the 2005 Presidential elections that Rajapaksa won, and is a critic of the present regime’s policies.

Says the Army’s website: “Pockets of Tiger terrorists since of recent times after their entry into Trincomalee, Batticaloa, and Ampara provinces have been carrying out a new wave of killings to provoke civilians and security forces.”

Many LTTE cadres are said to have entered the thick Mullaithivu jungles, an area where several Indian soldiers died during battles against the LTTE in the 1980s. This is truly the lair of the Tigers. India’s Major General Harkirat Singh, who headed the Indian Army operations against the rebels in 1987, had later noted that the LTTE “always managed” to smuggle in weapons despite the heavy blockade of the Indian navy.

Observers such as N Srikantha, the MP from Jaffna in north Sri Lanka, once a stronghold of the LTTE, echo such views. “It is a fact that thousands of LTTE cadres have melted into the jungles,” Srikantha told TEHELKA. Observers now expect that Prabakaran’s son, Antony, will lead the coming guerilla attacks on the Sri Lankans in uniform.

Indian journalist Anita Pratap, who shot to fame after interviewing the elusive Prabakaran, believes that Antony will eventually take over the leadership of the LTTE from his father some day.

“It is easy to inherit the title,” she says, “but hard to inherit the mandate.” Whether Antony can live up to the expectations remains to be seen. [courtesy: Tehelka]

India for cessation of hostilities in Sri Lanka

Terms continued military action “totally unacceptable”


Tamil National Alliance parliamentary group leader and member of Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi R. Sampanthan, flanked by A. Adaikalanathan, president, TELO, (left) and K.S. Premachandran, general secretary, EPRLF, at a press conference in New Delhi on Friday. —

NEW DELHI: The Centre on Friday called for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Sri Lanka, terming the continued military action by the Sri Lankan armed forces leading to civilian casualties as “totally unacceptable.”

The U.S. also made a similar appeal and called for allowing international observers to oversee the evacuation of civilians trapped in the ‘no fire zone.’

“India expects Sri Lanka and others concerned to respond positively to this appeal in the interest of the Tamils who are citizens of Sri Lanka,” said a statement by the Minister for External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee.

The Minister’s statement was welcomed by a visiting delegation of four Sri Lankan Parliamentarians from the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA) who have sought India’s intervention to prevail upon Sri Lanka to ensure the safety of the Tamil civilians and their humanitarian treatment.

The TNA MPs also urged Colombo not to disregard India’s appeal for allowing safe passage to the civilians trapped in the “no fire zone” and termed Mr. Mukherjee’s statement as “very specific, clear and unambiguous.”

Asking India to ensure that its appeal was implemented by the Rajapaksa government in “letter and spirit,” TNA parliamentary group leader and member of Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) R. Sampanthan told journalists here that the safety and right to life of the people could be ensured if India’s statement was taken seriously by Colombo.

Denying that the LTTE had been using civilians as a “human shield” as claimed by the Army, Mr. Sampanthan charged that it was the military which had been mercilessly and indiscriminately killing and injuring even civilians waiting for medicines, milk and food.

Colombo was so adamant to “finish off the ethnic Tamils” that it was not listening to the voices of even its own Sinhala human rights group leave alone other international agencies.

The Tamils were afraid to come out to the government-controlled areas or refugee camps as they were nothing but ‘concentration camps.’ There were instances of illegal detention, disappearance of persons and torture of those Tamils under government control, Mr. Sampanthan alleged.

Mr. Mukherjee ruled out any mediation by India while assuring further humanitarian help to the civilians trapped in the ‘no fire zone’ near Mullaithivu.

“Our policy is quite clear. The current concern is to ensure the security and safety of civilians trapped in the ‘no fire zone,” he said.

“India is deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka. Continuing conflicts have been taking a heavy toll among Tamil civilians caught in the crossfire,” added Mr. Mukherjee in the statement posted on the Ministry of External Affairs website. While expressing concern over the civilian casualties, Mr. Mukherjee also called on the LTTE to release all civilians under its control.

The U.S. also expressed concern about the “dire humanitarian situation” and called upon Colombo and the LTTE to immediately stop hostilities till civilians trapped in the conflict area were evacuated.

Further violence, it cautioned, will not end the conflict and “stain” any eventual peace.

It wanted the Sri Lankan government to allow international monitors to ensure the safe exit of the civilians and enforce international humanitarian standards in the camps for the internally displaced persons.

“The Sri Lankan government, as the legitimate sovereign power, has before it an opportunity to put an end to this lengthy conflict. A durable and lasting peace will only be achieved through a political solution that addresses the legitimate aspirations of all Sri Lankan communities,” added the statement. [courtesy: The Hindu]

Sri Lanka Military rejects LTTE’s call for permanent ceasefire

Full text of statement by S. Pathmanathan, LTTE plenipotentiary for international relations

LTTE’s call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire has been rejected by the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL). GoSL on 15th April, 2009 restarted its offensive on the self declared “safety zone” after rejecting LTTE’s call for a ceasefire. LTTE fighters have engaged the Sri Lankan armed forces in the corridors of the ‘safety zone’ and put forward stiff resistance against the Sri Lankan armed forces attempting to break the forward defense line. Sri Lankan forces have fired several thousand rounds of shells and are aerially bombarding the ‘safety zone’ killing hundreds of civilians and injuring many more.

Mr Selvarasa Pathmanathan, head of LTTE’s international relations department has called on the International Community to take on its moral responsibility of civilized world to stop such carnage by bringing about an immediate and permanent ceasefire. International community, especially the Tokyo co-chairs USA, EU, Japan and Norway, together with India, have the power and coercive capacity to bring about an immediate and permanent ceasefire.

“Although the International Community is fully aware of the precarious conditions prevailing in the ‘safety zone’, we are troubled that no effective measures are being taken to bring about a ceasefire and to end the human catastrophe” said Mr Pathmanathan. The lethargic response of the International Community hints towards encouraging a military solution to end the conflict in Sri Lanka and does not lend any support for searching a political solution, he stated. “Resolving the conflict through war will not bring stability in Sri Lanka or in the region”, he added. Mr Pathmananthan insisted only a just political solution for the Tamil national question could pave the way for peace and stability in Sri Lanka.

The head of LTTE’s international relations department reiterated that the assumption built on that the LTTE would use a ceasefire to rebuild, regroup and continue to wage an armed campaign was a fallacy. He said, “LTTE’s armed struggle is the historical product of injustice against the Tamil Nation in the island, and if the International Community could achieve a just political solution to the conflict, the need for an armed struggle would cease to exist”.

The LTTE has again called on the International Community to act urgently at this crucial juncture to bring about an immediate and permanent ceasefire which would create a conducive environment for humanitarian relief operations and to commence a process that would lead to a just political solution.

“We assure the International Community that the LTTE is ready to participate in political negotiations and fight to meet the political aspirations of the Tamil nation at the negotiating table through political means if an immediate and permanent ceasefire is ensured and the human sufferings of the Tamil people are addressed” Mr Pathmanathan has stated.

Department of International Relations
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam

Permit international monitors to ensure the safe exit of the civilians-US State Dept.

USRWTC0417.jpgRobert Wood
Acting Department Spokesman, Office of the Spokesman
Bureau of Public Affairs
Washington, DC
April 16, 2009

The United States government is deeply concerned about the current danger to civilian lives and the dire humanitarian situation created by the fighting in the Mullaittivu area in Sri Lanka. We call upon the government and military of Sri Lanka, and the Tamil Tigers to immediately stop hostilities until the more than 140,000 civilians in the conflict area are safely out. Both sides must immediately return to a humanitarian pause and both must respect the right of free movement of those civilian men, women and children trapped by the fighting.

The United States calls upon the government of Sri Lanka to assist its Tamil citizens by halting shelling of the safe zone, permitting international monitors to ensure the safe exit of the civilians. The government of Sri Lanka should also enforce international humanitarian standards in IDP camps, grant visas to international aid groups and permit entry into Sri Lanka of international monitors and media access to those camps.

The Sri Lankan government, as the legitimate sovereign power, has before it an opportunity to put an end to this lengthy conflict. A durable and lasting peace will only be achieved through a political solution that addresses the legitimate aspirations of all Sri Lankan communities. Further killing, particularly killing of civilians, will not end the conflict and will stain any eventual peace. We urge the Sri Lankan government to employ diplomacy to permit a peaceful outcome of this conflict. 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.

Joint UK and French statement on Sri Lanka

The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, and the Foreign Minister of France, Bernard Kouchner, issued a joint statement on the situation in Sri Lanka on Wednesday 15 April. They said:

'We welcomed President Rajapakse's announcement on 12 April of a pause in the Sri Lankan government's military offensive as a first step towards the protection of civilian life. But we are deeply concerned that there was no large scale movement of civilians away from the conflict area to safety as we had hoped to see, in the short period allowed for the pause. It is clear that the LTTE have been forcefully preventing civilians from leaving the conflict area and we deplore their determination to use civilians as a human shield. We do of course continue to call on the LTTE to renounce terrorism and lay down their arms as a necessary element for a long-term solution.

We urge President Rajapakse to announce a new pause . Democratic governments are rightly held to higher standards for civilian protection than terrorist organisations. We also urge the LTTE to allow civilians to move to safety. It is vital that a pause in the fighting should be long enough to give civilians the opportunity to leave the conflict area, and for the UN to build confidence amongst the population that they will be safe if they leave. Both sides must abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law and do all they can to protect civilians. This includes giving international humanitarian agencies unimpeded access to those affected by the fighting so that they can deliver adequate supplies of assistance. France and Britain, as two members of the Security Council, continue to support the active engagement by the UN and by other members of the international community on this urgent issue.'

Source: Government of France; Government of the United Kingdom

Date: 15 Apr 2009

Instead of "Sinhala" and "Tamil" when will we celebrate "Our Sri lankan" New Year?

by Capt. Elmo Jayawardena

The holidays are over and the Kavun Kokis smell is postponed for another year. We inherit again the usual "drudgery reality" of day to day life. The domestics who went home to bust their earnings in fun and frolic have now returned, broke as the Ten Commandments.

No more need for the madam to organise "take away" pseudo Chinese and the man who drove the Honda Civic is relieved, he doesn't have to feed the dog and sweep and collect the garbage anymore. Great, let's get ready for the next event, the elections are coming and the posters are up of the venerated.

There will be a lot to celebrate when the promises are kept and the land will flow with kiri and pani and we will cheer the saints as they go marching in to power offices. Nothing new, we've believed the mythology before.

Yes, the avurudu theme is over. The thelgana velava has been respected and the ganu denu notes exchanged, both the Sinhala and Tamil people kept intact their age old identical traditions and are now ready to begin another era hoping for the silver lines of life to reappear which will mainly be linked to a beautiful word called PEACE.

Anadapuram saw many a veteran of the LTTE fall along with the "girls and boys" they led. Whether they had a "cause" or died for "no cause" is a matter of perception. Were their sacrifices sterile and changed nothing? Then it is sadness at its best. Theepan, Nagesh and Gaddafi were killed in battle and so did those of the women's brigades, Vidhusa, Durga and Mohanaa.

Maybe on a fairer day the ladies would have made the "Hi" magazine on a winner's ticket instead of being buried in the Vanni in nameless graves. Or Theepan dressed in pin striped Savile Row may have driven a Pajero along parliament road, that too would have been possible. If only things were different, but sadly they are not. The two pilots who flew the last failed mission and died would have been good at their trade, flying little aeroplanes in the night and navigating at tree top level is no easy task. Unfortunately for them, theirs was a wrong call of the toss.

The fact remains that all who died for the Eelam cause were part of a revolution they believed and revolutions are mostly evaluated by the results they achieve. You either win or die. Revolutionary romanticism lost flavour after the days of Mao's Long march and Castro's Sierra Maestra. Mao and Fidel were victorious and became world leaders. It is always a champion's parade; the vanquished usually gets blamed, scorned and forgotten.

The North is bleeding and the South is bleeding, both have bled for years with many a failed attempt to bandage the wounds. The tragedies of war had straddled everyone and spared none. No less sad by any means for either side and no easy task to rebuild lives connected to those who were bombed or needlessly destroyed in battle uniform or worse, in trains and buses where the totally innocent paid high prices for a conflict they hardly knew anything about.

The conductor in Butthala walks in crutches and the visually handicapped Jinadasa still cries for his daughter who died in the Fort Railway station blast. Priyantha is paralised, only guilt, being seated in a bus that blew up in Katubedde.

These stories I know and there are hundreds more. Then there's the blackened ruins of Mankulam or the still smouldering fires of Kilinochchi where amidst the rubble the remnants of a broken doll or a cheap plastic toy car without wheels could be found, maybe a torn photograph of family that managed to get to Toronto.

The innocent were always present and became the expendable, they did not vote for the war, just suffered the tragedy and the trauma mostly choice less, whichever way you count.

"It is them or us" is an unarguable equation and what we are left with today is the incredible arithmetic of the missing, the maimed, the displaced and the dead.

Maybe the year 2010 would change things and military success will gradually convert to a political settlement and result in social compatibility where the two war waging fractions will find solutions of peace. Maybe then I can drive down Buller's road and my friend Mani (I will write about him another day) who is making omelettes at the Movenpick in Zurich can go home to visit his aging parents in Velvatathurai.

And when the sun climbs again next year through the vernal equinox and the avurudu time begins for the traditions to be respected and followed, I like to think it will not be a Sinhala and Tamil matter anymore, but a Sri Lankan celebration where we all can proudly call OUR NEW YEAR.

It is time we dreamt of such and lifted at least our little fingers in support of reconciliation. Maybe we can share a thelgana ceremony and do ganu denu across racial separations and light a Sinhala, Tamil Muslim wick of a lamp for prosperity and call ourselves one nation.

When the Air force Mig jets gather cobwebs in the Katunayaka hangers and the ones who wore ammunition belts around their necks return to their homes to their loved ones, wouldn't it be a beautiful day; something sacred to hope for, something worth the wait.

The Tamil diaspora: solidarities and realities

by Nirmala Rajasingam

The Sri Lankan Tamil community may not be the largest of the diaspora communities represented in London or other such greatly diverse cities around the world, but the numbers and conviction they have mobilised in recent days to highlight the plight of their brethren at home have been exceptional. The demonstrations by Tamils in the centres of London, Toronto and other cities have been spectacular, defiant and spirited displays of grief and anger: men, women, and many young people have gathered with colourful flags and banners, staged sit-ins, and chanted slogans, while several of their number have promised to fast unto death.

Their slogans are simple: "Genocide!", "Pirapaharan is our leader!", and "We want Tamil Eelam!". These references to the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the aspiration to an independent state in northern Sri Lanka are accompanied by the touting of images of this figure and the waving of flags showing the Tiger emblem. Several parliamentarians in Britain and Canada have voiced support for the demonstrators.

The humanitarian situation in parts of northern Sri Lanka - especially in the narrow strip of land around Mullaitivu - is indeed desperate, as the Sri Lankan army's advances have continued and as they lay siege to LTTE redoubts where approximately 100,000 civilians are confined - the latest stage of a long war that has persisted since 1983 (see "Sri Lanka's displaced: the political vice", 8 April 2009).

The cries of genocide have risen with the intensification of the military campaign and a sharp turn for the worse in the fortunes of the Tamil Tigers. They have spread too beyond the official Tiger propaganda stream (radio, TV and newspapers); the blood-splattered images and messages have inundated cyberspace: via Facebook and YouTube and other cyberspace outlets, via a torrent of emails, the drenching claim is simple, direct and frightening: genocide. This campaign has mobilised even those who had never been politically involved before.

The sorrows of commitment

The genocide alert is at heart about the trapped civilians in Mullaitivu. But the truth about the horrific circumstances in which civilians are stranded there is not stated in full. They are caught between two armies, each of which seeks to use them as pawns in this war. The government forces have shown no inhibition in bombing and shelling indiscriminately into crowded civilian areas, schools and hospitals as long as their military objective of crushing the Tigers is achieved. But the civilians are dying not only as a result of such bombardments or in crossfire; for credible reports indicate that Tigers are not allowing civilians to move out of the line of fire and escape to government-controlled areas, and may be going further to prevent attempts to flee.

It has long been established that many children have been forcibly recruited into the ranks of the Tigers, and that such cadres are forewarned that their families would be wiped out if they surrender. Now, as the Tigers' military situation becomes more and more desperate, the logic of their own anti-civilian approach is apparent: for the Tamil civilian presence now provides the only chance of ensuring the Tiger leadership's survival.

It is striking, however, that in all the demonstrations not a single cry, slogan or placard seems to demand that the Tigers should let the civilians go or cease their own assaults on them. The silence of the diaspora community on this issue is deafening. The general support for the Tamils' cause has in the public arena collapsed into one soundbite. There is no recognition in these demonstrations of the fact that the military objectives of the LTTE are no longer reconcilable with the safety of the trapped civilians. There is a disjunction between propaganda and reality here that reflects the way the logic of Tamil Tiger propaganda has become internalised by much of the diaspora. This does nothing to help Sri Lankan Tamils.

Such spectacular demonstrations have the potential to send a powerful message to the international community about the true nature of the predicament of the trapped civilians. Why then do the demonstrators fail to highlight this. Why have they not also raised their voices against Tiger atrocities as well as the government's? Why do they elide the horrifying predicament of the civilians with the political interest of the Tigers?

What makes these questions even more pertinent is that the huge demonstrations in the west that endorse the LTTE are in direct opposition to the waning popular support for the LTTE amongst Tamils in Sri Lanka itself. The eastern region of Sri Lanka where many Tamils live - and which has lost far more of its young people and children in this war than any other Tamil region - has largely abandoned support for an independent state. The Jaffna peninsula in the north has been largely uninvolved for more than a decade or so in the separatist cause; there, the vast majority of civilians have submitted to uneasy cohabitation with the army simply because amid available options, they prefer an absence of war. The LTTE's cynical and callous use of civilians for its war effort has also over the years undermined its status within the Tamil population in Sri Lanka.

There are other considerations absent from the demonstrators' concerns. The escalating military campaigns have placed great pressure on civilians for months, yet there have been no demonstrations to highlight the plight of those commandeered to retreat and follow the Tigers in the wake of government army advances - for example, those from the Mannar area in the western part of the northern province, who had to follow the trail of the Tiger retreat all the way across the Vanni jungles to their current pocket on the eastern coast of the Vanni. Many of these civilians had been corralled out of Jaffna at gunpoint by the LTTE in 1995 during the first big and enforced Pol-Pot-style exodus.

The frenzied demonstrations have begun only when the military defeat of the LTTE appears a real prospect. Again, the confusion between humanitarian protest and political solidarity with the LTTE is evident. But this still leaves open the question: what explains the widespread support that the LTTE enjoys in the diaspora despite its declining fortunes in Sri Lanka, and the atrocities it commits against ordinary Tamil people there?

The political war

The answer to this question lies in part in general conditions experienced by the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora community, and in part in the particular role of the LTTE in establishing its political dominance within it.

The Tamils in the west have like many other migrant communities from the global south faced racist discrimination, exclusion, social isolation and economic deprivation. Their search for membership of and integration with "host" societies is, even in the best of circumstances, difficult. The result is that Tamil communities often lead culturally and socially a ghettoised life in which they - in an attempt to preserve "Tamil cultural and social heritage" in these new environs - construct anew a self-conscious way of "being Tamil" or of "living as Tamil". This has meant the mushrooming of Tamil cultural organisations, self-help groups, Tamil schools, businesses and temples. This pattern is in itself not an unusual phenomenon with migrant communities. But with the Tamils, there is an unusual twist.

The LTTE in the course of its military and political campaign decimated all other political opinion within the Tamil polity in Sri Lanka, in order to establish itself as the "sole representative" of the Tamil people. At the same time, it began to flex its muscles within the Tamil community in the west. Its representatives moved in on community groups, temples, Tamil schools and businesses and took control of many of them. In time its stranglehold over the diaspora communities - including through methods of intimidation, assault, and threats to families in Sri Lanka - became an accomplished fact. Paris and Toronto were prime examples of the phenomenon, where unquestioning compliance was demanded and wrought.

The intimidation of independent media outlets is a key arm of this strategy. The LTTE has for a generation sought to dominate the "Tamil narrative" - martial, dogmatic, missionary, zealous, leader-fixated - with many tales of military valour, of brave conquests against a marauding Sri Lankan army, of resolute "final wars", of "operation motherland redemptions". To a great extent it has succeeded.

The Tiger lobbyists, fundraisers and propagandists in the diaspora are relentless in attempting to enforce submission to this narrative and its command performances. Even for events such as "martyrs' day" celebrations or the funeral of the LTTE ideologist Anton Balasingam, thousands are mobilised and bussed in. Every tragic event is turned into a fundraising opportunity.

Also on Sri Lanka in openDemocracy:

Alan Keenan, "Sri Lanka's election choice" (17 November 2005)

Alan Keenan, "Sri Lanka: between peace and war" (14 May 2006)

Meenakshi Ganguly, "Sri Lanka: time to act" (10 September 2006)

Nira Wickramasinghe, "Sri Lanka: the politics of purity" (17 November 2006)

Irfan Husain, "Sri Lanka: giving war a chance" (8 February 2007)

Nira Wickramasinghe, "Multiculturalism: a view from Sri Lanka" (30 May 2007)

Sumantra Bose, "Sri Lanka's stalemated conflict" (12 June 2007)

Meenakshi Ganguly, "Sri Lanka under siege" (30 January 2009)

Meenakshi Ganguly, "Sri Lanka's displaced: the political vice" (8 April 2009) A whole class of Tiger operatives has become affluent through being involved in the Eelam enterprise. Many have vested interests in its continued mobilisation, independent of the political situation or tragedies involving civilians. Moreover, the Tamil diaspora also sports a financially powerful and influential class of educated professionals and businesspeople who are also in many ways implicated in the Eelam roadshow and help to buttress it for social and other reasons.

The diaspora gaze

The outcome of this lengthy process of political manipulation is that the vast majority of Tamil homes in the diaspora are exposed to "Tamil" news that is heavily weighted towards LTTE propaganda - and it is a perspective that feeds into news about the rest of the world, not just Sri Lanka, as well. The LTTE channels provide a daily diet of culture and politics: everything is seen though the Tiger lens, including the international community's attitude to the conflict in Sri Lanka and to the Tigers.

The diaspora Tamil community has been acculturated to the LTTE message for a good part of two decades. But the message is the work of more than intimidation; its potency draws on and appeals to that aspect of life in exile which makes meaningful and satisfying the sense of abstract belonging to a homeland - especially if there is no tangible possibility of return in the immediate future. A "captive" audience that lives to a great degree in its own social and cultural bubble, determined to hold fast to the "Tamil culture" finds the mythical call for an independent Tamil state all the more attractive.

In this way the enterprise of preserving Tamil culture and Tamil way of living is wedded to the political quest for the independent state. At a moment when Tamil nationalism of the strident and dogmatic - indeed totalitarian - kind espoused by the LTTE is beginning to lose its flavour with Tamils in Sri Lanka, it is very much alive in the diaspora; and the Tigers are determined to use the serious military setbacks that they have experienced to entrench it further.

When in Sri Lanka itself the Tigers peddle the dream of an independent state of Tamil Eelam, many people recall aspects of the LTTE's own record: the 1995 exodus, the eviction of Muslims, abductions of their children, the waste of lives, the internal and internecine killings, the fanatical hero-worship. Their tangible experiences are evidence that the Tigers' brand of uncompromising politics leads to suffering and death. The result is increasing questioning and dissent - including about Sri Lanka's political future, the interests of the Tamils and how a sustainable and democratic future can be built after decades of war.

For diaspora Tamils living far removed from the day-to-day problems of living with the Tigers in battle, it is much easier to support the LTTE's zero-sum solution.

For the Tiger lobby and their its large bank of support - as well as for many young diaspora Tamils whose compassion and concern is as yet unmatched by independent sources of information and argument on events in Sri Lanka - the complex questions of democratisation, demilitarisation, cohabitation with other communities and the search for political settlement of the conflict appear to be immaterial. The suffering of civilians only helps to further reinforce the "imaginary" of an independent state of Tamil Eelam as the only solution. The destructive logic of the Tiger cause is to annihilate political reason and progress in favour of a totalitarian fantasy of power and control. Those who dream from afar have a responsibility to think harder, to look deeper, and to break through to reality. [courtesy: Open Democracy]

Mexico refuses to give legitimacy to the LTTE

by Dushy Ranetunge in London

Ambassador Claude Heller, the Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations has accused Sri Lanka of inaccuracies in its statements emanating from the Foreign Ministry in Colombo.

The statement was issued by Colombo, after a meeting between Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona and Juan Manuel Gómez Robledo, the Mexican Vice-Minister for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights.

It had stated that Mexico had given assurances that Sri Lanka will be kept off the Security Council agenda this month and also drawing an analogy between the conflicts in Chiapas and Sri Lanka.

MXTC0417.jpg

[The sign states that this residential collective "The Isla Mujeres Collective adheres to the Sixth Declaration and The Other Campaign of the EZLN [the Zapatistas]."-pic:dharmabum90]

When questioned this week, Heller dismissed the statement by the Sri Lankan foreign ministry as being inaccurate.

The Sri Lankan foreign ministry responded on Wednesday stating that it stands by its statement.

Chiapas is one of Mexico?s poorest and southern most states and there was an insurrection in the state by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, EZLN). It was against the marginalisation of the indigenous population and they demanded social cultural and land rights. The group gets its inspiration from Emiliano Zapata, Che Guevara and Commandante Marcos.

According to the CIA factbook 2007, there are 5,500 to 10,000 internally displaced because of the conflict. The number of casualties of the entire conflict is estimated at less than 200, compared to 70,000 in the present Sri Lankan conflict.

As an analogy, it?s clearly a poor one.

Ambassador Claude Heller has had to defend Mexico against various allegations of abuse during his long diplomatic career and raising the issue of Chiapas would have placed him on the defensive.

Mexico holds the office of the President of the UN Security Council during the month of April and it passes to Turkey for the month of May. So, Mexico has just over a week remaining to place Sri Lanka on the agenda.

Ambassador Claude Heller is under severe pressure from NGO?s and Tamil lobbyists, who are carrying out an orchestrated campaign in the UN and in Washington to put Sri Lanka on the Security Council agenda.

There is also speculation that Mexico may be under pressure by the United States.

But then Heller is known to have chastised the United States as well. In 2003, Claude Heller who was even at that time the Mexican Ambassador to the UN, chastised the US for constantly insisting on a resolution against Cuba, to the exclusion of all other issues more appropriately brought before the Commission. It wasn't that Heller was saying Cuba is perfect, but simply that the UN HRC was not set up to analyze the human rights situation in each and every country in the world. It's purpose, he noted, was to denounce and attempt to bring about changes in those countries where there existed massive, systematic, gross violations of human rights. And Cuba, whatever its shortcomings, simply never fit that category.

Heller may have also been defending Mexico?s South and Central American interests.

However, this position is consistent with Hellers assertion this week that "we were clear, in the case of Sri Lanka, there is a concern, there is a 'responsibility to protect' the population that are in very difficult situation,".

Mexico will work to assure humanitarian assistance to population, the Ambassador further said.

Despite what the UN counts as 100,000 civilians still trapped between the Sri Lankan army and the Tamil Tiger rebels and an internal UN estimate of several thousand civilian casualties, Sri Lanka did not formally appear on the Council?s program of work for April.

While the Security Council is clearly concerned about the predicament of the civilians in the Vanni and the Human Rights situation in Sri Lanka, it is aware that taking up the issue will only prolong the suffering of the civilians in the Vanni, by giving hope and a degree of legitimacy to the LTTE.

The UN Security Council holds the LTTE, who are using the civilians as human shields, responsible for the predicament of the civilians. It wants the civilians? released/liberated and the LTTE out of the equation so that the international community can concentrate on the post conflict scenario.

The tens of thousands of Tamil civilians who have been protesting around the world waving LTTE flags have not done any favours to the LTTE. The Security Council sees the LTTE for what they are, terrorists, and those who are waving the Tiger flags, lobbying and protesting as sympathisers of a proscribed organisation.

April 16, 2009

Sri Lankan Muslims and the politics of identity - I

by Izeth Hussain

part one

This article is an extended version of a short address that I made at the recent launch of the Sailan Muslim website (www.sailanmuslim.com), in which my focus was on the politics of identity. As this article has the same focus I will not be going into the rationale and objectives of the new Muslim website except to the extent that they have a relevance to the politics of identity.

When I and a group of my Muslim friends hit on the idea several months ago of starting a new Muslim website, we were troubled – I must say that we were deeply troubled – by the fact that in doing so we would be engaging in the politics of identity. By that is meant a politics intended to serve group interests.

SLMTC0416.jpg

[UK High Commissioner H.E. Dr. Peter Hayes speaking to a group of Muslim students in Batticaloa-Jan 2009]

There is nothing inherently wrong about that in pluralist multicultural countries such as Sri Lanka. However, it has been found in practice that there is an almost irresistible drive in identity politics to make group interests predominate over every other interest, including the national interest, and that of course can be expected to lead to misunderstanding, tension, rivalry, and also conflict, as is attested by the tragic history of Sri Lanka in recent decades.

I and my Muslim friends were acutely aware of those facts. But we continued also to be acutely aware of the major rationale for our wanting to establish a new Muslim website – namely, the continuing failure of the Muslim politicians to properly represent the Muslims. That may not have mattered at one time when all that was needed to satisfy the Muslims was to meet their religious needs and business interests.

But with the spread of mass education, younger generations of Muslims are increasingly involved in the struggle for scarce resources. In this situation, a continuing failure to properly represent the Muslims will almost inevitably lead to a radicalization of Muslim politics, the incipient signs of which in the Eastern Province have troubled many of us for some years.

But there is also a broader reason for our engaging in identity politics by establishing this website. Our minorities do not unequivocally accept that our two major parties are authentic national parties, after the manner for instance of the Indian National Congress. They are seen, rightly or wrongly, as serving primarily the interests of the majority ethnic group – which is a reason why the Muslim members of those parties play a marginalized role in them and cannot adequately represent the Muslims.

The Sri Lankan failure to come up with an authentic national party should really be seen in an international perspective, which suggests that identity politics are in the process of becoming predominant practically all over the world.

In the last century the great black American ideologue W. E. B. Dubois wrote that the greatest problem of the twentieth century would be the colour line. Most historians would probably disagree, but a plausible case can be made out for that notion if we recognize that Hitler waged the Second World War to establish a white Aryan domination over the globe, and thereafter the coloured peoples of the world engaged in a successful struggle to assert their independence.

Some months ago President Obama was reported to have said that the greatest problem of this century would be that of the Other, evidently having in mind ethnic problems that cut across the colour line. Some time ago the Marxist economic historian Eric Hobsbawm wrote that the only kind of politics we are coming to have are identity politics in which group interests predominate over everything else.

I cannot go into much detail in this article to substantiate that view. I will mention only that in Britain which seemed to be a solidly integrated society the drive for Scottish and Welsh autonomy has proved to be irresistible, and India where secularism in politics seemed so well entrenched has witnessed the Hindutva upsurge.

I cannot of course explore in this article the reasons why identity politics have come to acquire such salience in the contemporary world. The point I want to emphasize is that that salience makes it understandable that a group of SL Muslims decided to establish a Muslim website while at the same time being deeply troubled about its implications. In the course of our discussions we came to realize that the way to evade the possible negative consequences of identity politics is to recognize as the legitimate interests of the group, namely the Sri Lankan Muslim ethnic group, only those interests that are compatible with the interests of the Sri Lankan nation.

This would mean, for instance, that the SL Muslims refrain from kicking up a row over the Kashmir problem because the interests of the Sri Lankan nation require that we maintain the friendliest possible relations with India.

The argument that I have been developing above implies certain facts about identity. People in the contemporary world tend to have multiple identities. Every SL Muslim, for instance, has at least two identities, as he is conscious of being a Muslim and at the same time of being a Sri Lankan. It is only on the basis of recognition of this dual identity that the legitimate interests of the SL Muslims can be secured and promoted, as obviously that will not be possible in opposition to the interests of the SL nation.

We have accordingly called the new website Sailan Muslim – Sailan being the ancient Muslim name for Sri Lanka – to remind ourselves of our inescapable dual identity. Also we have adopted the motto Diversity and Inclusiveness to give value to the existence of diverse ethnic groups and at the same time to their reaching out to a sense of unity with other ethnic groups. A politics of identity developed on this basis can lead to a notable contribution to the nation-building process in Sri Lanka – a desperate necessity as shown by our ethnic civil war. [to be continued]

Firm action against terrorism must be accompanied by political reform

by Rajiva Wijesinha

The decision of the government to declare a ceasefire over the New Year period has met with they type of reaction that suggests how difficult it is to achieve peace when so many influential and noisy international actors are full of destructive preconceptions.

The main purpose of the ceasefire is to allow people to leave, which is what the so called international community has been requesting. Ignoring the fact that several months ago we suggested to these people that they concentrate their energies on ensuring freedom for the Tamils trapped by the LTTE, it was only a few months ago that they suddenly, when the defeat of the LTTE seemed inevitable, registered the plight of the civilians.

Even so they did not make any categorical demands, but played into the LTTEhands by suggesting that there were reasons these people might not want to leave the arms of the Tigers.

That claim was belied by the thousands who did walk out, thirty five thousand in February. Then the efforts of the Tigers to stop them became more brutal, the shootings more public, a suicide bomb, land mines. The flood stopped, and once again the so called international community found ways of reasserting a balance, instead of categorically condemning the Tigers and demanding that they free our people.

Then in March the people again spoke for themselves, and another exodus commenced, this time of twenty five thousand, some appearing in our midst with the wounds inflicted on them by the Tigers as they tried to flee. These were the lucky ones. They spoke of their loved ones being forced back or killed. But very little of this was noted by the international community. Their silence enabled the LTTE to engage in even more brutal repression, including the building up of a wall to pen in those who sought to cross the lagoon. No talk though of concentration camps from agencies such as Human Rights Watch or newspapers such as the London Times when this happened.

Instead we had, from Britain in particular, egged on by amoral MPs, demands for a ceasefire. Though there was a pretence that this was to help the trapped civilians to escape, the aims of the British were as usual shrouded in ambiguity, and those who wanted what they called a permanent ceasefire were able to make the running.

In the process the rationale for a pause in fighting was lost. The Sri Lankan forces in any case did not need to be told to pause with regard to shooting at escaping civilians, since at no time has it even been alleged that this has happened. Sixty five thousand civilians have got away to the safety of government controlled territory, many braving LTTE violence to flee, and at no time has there been any suggestion that, even by accident, firing by the Sri Lankan forces has harmed them.

Still, if only to make the situation clear, there have been requests by those who understand the situation better than those who echo the demands of terrorists that there should be a definite pause in the fighting. The Indian Foreign Secretary made such a request earlier, and this was echoed by Prof Walter Kalin, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons. The latter indeed, following his visit to Sri Lanka, said ‘I believe that a series of humanitarian pauses must be initiated immediately to allow civilians to leave and humanitarian actors to provide life-saving relief to the remaining population.’

Prof Kalin’s use of the phrase ‘a series of humanitarian pauses’ makes clear his understanding of the problem the Sri Lankan government faces, in trying to rescue its citizens who are now trapped by terrorists. The purpose of the pause is to free the civilians, but it is possible that the Tigers will use such a pause to entrench their control more deeply, to build up higher walls, to launch a witch hunt against those seeking to escape, to recruit more indiscriminately. It is therefore essential, if such pauses are to continue, to make sure that they achieve their purpose, not the opposite.

That is why it makes sense to have a brief pause, to see whether the purpose is achieved. Thus far it has not been, which suggests the Tigers will be intransigent. In such a context, which is essentially a hostage situation, the Americans have shown what should be done, by their dramatic rescue of the ship’s captain taken hostage by Somali pirates. But the so called international community will continue to seek excuses for the Tigers, without standing by its original rationale as to the need for a pause, namely that it should be to ensure the release of the civilians.

Interestingly the BBC, perhaps not deliberately, indicated some sort of bias in its coverage of the situation, which is of a piece with the British government’s ambiguity as to whether it wanted a ceasefire or a humanitarian pause. Without much reference to the Sri Lankan government or supporters of the government, except for a brief interview with the Foreign Minister in Colombo, it sought the views of Tamils demonstrating against the government and also Robert Evans, the rascal who seems to have been instrumental in preventing European MPs from visiting the Eastern Province last year.

It did interview Sir John Holmes, but what he said was not repeated satisfactorily, with Evans replacing him. And then, when his remarks were reported, they were twisted in that, whereas he had clearly put the blame on the LTTE for not letting people out, the BBC said that the people might not be willing to leave. In short, the original purpose of the pause will now be ignored, and the so called international community will renew its call for an actual ceasefire, a ceasefire that the Tigers seek desperately in order to renew their strength.

Such indulgence would be dangerous. The Tamil people have suffered enough and, while every effort should be made, in accordance with the latest request by a senior UN official, to seek safe egress for the civilians, the Sri Lankan government cannot allow the possibility of terrorism being resurrected. At the same time, firm action against terrorists should be accompanied by political reform that encompasses all Tamil groups that reject terrorism.

In this context it is to be hoped that democratic elements in the TNA will finally throw off the yoke that they allowed themselves to be placed under during the ceasefire period. But, whether they come in or not, the government should proceed with a political solution that will enable it not only to destroy terrorism but to get rid too of the possible breeding grounds of terror.

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

Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect urges UN Security Council action in Sri Lanka

GCR2TC0417.jpgOpen Letter to the Security Council on the situation in Sri Lanka

The situation in Sri Lanka has reached a point of extreme urgency. With the government having resumed its military offensive after a two-day pause, the approximately 100,000 civilians trapped between the army and the rebel force, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), are now at grave risk of mass atrocities. The LTTE continues to shoot at non-combatants who try to leave and to use them as human shields, as a result few civilians were able to leave during the brief lull in fighting. Government forces, which have engaged in intense shelling and aerial bombardment both of the combat area and of an adjacent “no-fire zone,” are believed to be preparing a final assault. John Holmes, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, has stated that “a bloodbath . . . seems an increasingly real possibility.”

We are writing to you as members of the Security Council because we believe that the very grave risk of mass atrocities compels the international community, and the Security Council specifically, to take measures to protect civilians, as states pledged to do when they adopted the “responsibility to protect” at the UN World Summit in 2005.

At the core of this norm is the obligation to act preventively to protect peoples from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, rather than waiting until atrocities have already occurred, as states have too often done in the past. There can be little doubt about either the magnitude, or the imminence, of the peril civilians now face in Sri Lanka. Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has stated that casualties may reach “catastrophic levels” if the fighting is not stopped.

We recognize that in the face of a ruthless insurgency the government of Sri Lanka has not only the right but the responsibility to protect its people. But states engaged in armed combat do not have the right to perpetrate atrocities against civilians; nor does the cruelty of an armed opponent absolve states of the responsibility to protect citizens from atrocities committed in the course of such a war.

We recognize as well that the current threat of mass atrocities arises at least as much from the behavior of the LTTE as it does from the Sri Lankan army. Nevertheless, the state has the sovereign obligation to protect its own people; and when, according to the terms of the World Summit Document, a state is “manifestly failing” to do so, the international community is obliged to act. While we view the two-day pause observed by the government of Sri Lanka as a preventive act in the spirit of the responsibility to protect, the army states that it has now returned to “normal operations.” The resumption of hostilities directed indiscriminately at military and civilian objects constitutes manifest failure both by the state and by the LTTE.

There is widespread agreement about what must be done immediately: The LTTE must allow those civilians who wish to leave to do so; in return, the government of Sri Lanka must agree to observe a more extensive ceasefire, guarantee the safety of those civilians and treat them according to international standards governing internally displaced peoples. Donors and others with close ties to the government of Sri Lanka must press for action, as must those with influence over the LTTE.

However, it is the Security Council, according to the terms of the 2005 agreement, which must authorize “timely and decisive measures” to prevent or halt mass atrocities. The Council must be prepared to bluntly characterize the violence in Sri Lanka as mass atrocity crimes; to demand that the government of Sri Lanka grant access to the conflict zone to humanitarian groups and to the media, both of whom it has barred until now; to dispatch a special envoy to the region, and/or to consider the imposition of sanctions. And ultimately, it must help facilitate a durable political solution to the fighting.

Signed:

Jan Egeland, Director, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, former UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, and member of the International Advisory Board, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

Gareth Evans, President of the International Crisis Group, former Australian Foreign Minister, and Co-Chair of the International Advisory Board, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

Juan Méndez, President, International Center for Transitional Justice, former UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, and member of the International Advisory Board, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

Mohamed Sahnoun, President, Initiatives of Change-International, former Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General, and Co-Chair, International Advisory Board, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

Monica Serrano, Executive Director, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

Ramesh Thakur, Founding Director of Balsillie School of International Affairs, Distinguished Fellow, The Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Professor of Political Science at the University of Waterloo in Canada, and the member of the International Advisory Board, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

Thomas G. Weiss, Director of the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies, and member of the International Advisory Board, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

Video: Inside the "safe" zone

Channel 4 News has obtained footage from inside the "safe" zone which shows what is said to be the aftermath of an artillery attack on people queuing for milk and food.

http://www.channel4.com/

Some of the images in this report are distressing.

After months of heavy fighting, government troops are now surrounding the rebels in a tiny strip of north eastern Sri Lanka, inside a specially designated zone where thousands of civilians are sheltering.

Tamil Tiger reports claim scores of people were killed and injured in the strike eight days ago, many of them children

External intervention: How to avoid a re-play of events in 1987

by Dayan Jayatilleke

Will this Sinhala and Tamil New Year be the gateway to a new period of Sri Lanka’s history?

Will it be better or worse than what has gone on so far?

Or will there be no change and will the country still remain in the same stage of history that we have been in all these dozens of Aluth Avurudu celebrations?

Or will a new cycle of the old conflict begin with this Avurudu?

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[Medical staff from India assist an injured ethnic Tamil man at the Pulmudai temporary hospital in Trincomalee, about 257 km (160 miles) east of Colombo, April 3, 2009-Reuters pic via Yahoo! News]

The answer depends on how we comprehend this period we are living through, the moment in which the Aluth Avurudu has taken place. It is characterized by three factors or potentialities:

I. Prabhakaran’s efforts to play for time until the Indian election season puts irresistible pressure on Delhi and thereby on Sri Lanka.

II. The uncoiling of the full mobilizing, lobbying and electoral capacity, deriving from the sheer demographic weight and mass of the overseas Tamil collectivity.

II. The combination of factors I and II, which have the potential to bring into alignment India and the US, in a condominium or pincer, which puts irresistible pressure on Sri Lanka.

In short a repetition or more accurately a variant of 1987. Sri Lanka cannot afford such a return of contemporary history.

The longer we have to hold back (Tamil Nadu elections end on May 13), the more time Prabhakaran has to dig in and make the eventual battles more expensive for our troops, slip his cadre through our defenses, and arrange his own escape. If Prabhakaran, his successors and the LTTE leadership survive, the country will be plagued by war for the next several generations, culminating possibly in the setting up of a Tamil Elam.

Simultaneously, the sense of outraged Southern nationalism will consume the status quo, all which is identified or identifiable with the social structural and systemic flaws that thwarted final victory. This being the case, there is only one way to prevent such an outcome and it is most certainly not the “Ostrich Option” of ignoring external pressures. We have to use smart power to support our hard power. We have to engage in a trade off, a grand bargain, and fast. This grand bargain would be one in which we give New Delhi something to stave off Tamil Nadu pressure. By doing so, we would keep Delhi on our side as we finish off the LTTE. This trade off would be a straightforward swap: a solemn commitment at the highest political level to a roadmap and time frame for the full implementation of the 13th Amendment.

My suggestion is a reverse version of the events of 1987 in order to pre-empt a re-run of the events of 1987. In 1987, India set a flotilla of small boats with the flag of the Indian Red Cross. We arrogantly turned them back, only to fall into the trap set for us. The turning back of the Red Cross boats triggered the airdrop, which we had no capacity to resist. Had we attempted to do so, we would have incurred severe military losses within a short time frame. The next link in this chain of events was the signing of the Indo-Lanka accord, followed by the Southern civil war.

What if the Indo-Lanka accord, with necessary modifications, had been signed before the Vadamaarachchi Operation? We would have been able to proceed with our military drive to defeat the Tigers. The evidence is that the IPKF took up from where we left off and tried to enforce the Accord and the 13th Amendment. Similarly, had we agreed to the Parthasarthy proposals or promptly signed off the Chidambaram proposals of December 1986 (the real opposition to those came from the Tamil side), we could have proceeded with our military campaign against the Tigers. Strategy and tactics apart, there are intrinsic reasons as to why Sri Lanka should commit itself sincerely to the full and speedy implementation of the 13th Amendment. It is a simple matter of identity, autonomy and adequate space.

This is true not only of ethnic communities but also of individuals. This is the basic case for devolution. It is not a question of a Tamil being elected Chief Minister. It is a question of devolving an adequate number of powers and functions to the people of those areas. No peoples like to be policed, patrolled, garrisoned and ruled by those of a different ethnicity and religion who do not speak their language. No one likes their areas of habitation to be dominated by others. This is why a measure of self-rule is needed, simply to make the people of certain areas feel stakeholders of the state, and to make governance secure. Let there be no mistake: governance and ruler-ship can be sustained only by consent of the governed. If those governed see no congruence between themselves and those doing the governing, they will resist and rebel, in one way or another.

The case for devolution is weaker if the state treats all communities – ethno logistic and religious as equals. This is so in republican France. Indonesia’s population is over 90% Muslim (it has the largest Muslim population in the world) but it is a secular state. This is not so in Sri Lanka. But that doesn’t mean that those who are not of the dominant culture wish to live on the terms of that culture, which in effect means to live under it. It is in such situations that peoples require their own space where they are free from the linguistic and cultural dominance of others, and are able to administer themselves.

Right now, we have to keep open and in fact widen the political space needed for the successful conclusion of the conventional war. That space is being narrowed daily by the gathering and cumulative pressure of the large majority of overseas Tamils on the states in which they live–from the indigenous Tamils of Tamil Nadu to the émigrés of the UK, US and Canada. We have to make an existential decision and make it fast. Which is the lower price to pay: internal devolution or external interference/intervention? What do we want more: to win the war, smash the LTTE or to preserve an un-devolved centralized unitary state? Who and what is our enemy: the secessionist Tiger army or the full and speedy implementation of 13th Amendment?

The 13th Amendment is the “booster rocket” or “turbo charger” we need to win, the boulder we have to block Prabhakaran’s exit with, and the only life belt or parachute that we have to escape intervention. We do not have the luxury of not making choices. We are on the high wire or if you wish a different metaphor, on a razor’s edge. The more we delay, the higher the price we shall have to pay and the more precious the chance which we shall lose. It is nothing less than the chance for victory.

(Dayan Jayatilleke is the Sri Lankan Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva.The opinion expressed here is his strictly personal view.)

How flying the "Tiger" flag in Ottawa annoyed Canadian Foreign Ministry

by Kenneth Jackson, Sun Media

For a brief moment, Tamil-Canadian protesters nearly had one of their demands met when they pulled down their controversial tiger flags.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon's office was preparing to release a statement after the Tamils stopped flying their flag.

However, the protesters decided they would only lower their flags for the morning and the flags were flying again by noon.

Cannon's office then decided not to release a statement.

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On Apr 11-[pic by: Hans Raffelt]

"We will monitor over the next days but our position stands," Catherine Loubier, Cannon's spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail to the Sun.

When asked whether that meant the Conservative government might meet with the protesters soon, she said not yet.

The feds have said as long as the protesters support the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) -- a group the government considers a terrorist organization -- and fly a flag they believe is the Tigers', the government will not address or meet with them.

The LTTE have been fighting for independence from Sri Lanka for 25 years. The war has resulted in more than 70,000 deaths.

The protesters argue the flag, which shows a tiger and two crossed rifles circled with bullets, is their national flag and a symbol of freedom.

"We don't want to give the Canadian government any further excuses to (not) come and meet with the hunger strikers," protest spokesman Senthan Nada said early yesterday. "We are holding our messages high."

MEETING SOUGHT

Nada said the group might be prepared to lower the flags again, but the government would have to propose a time to meet.

"I'm not sure though if everyone would do that. It's their national flag," he said.

In addition to wanting to meet with government officials, the protesters also want the government to recall the Canadian high commissioner in Sri Lanka and to push for a permanent ceasefire in the south Asian country.

Then the protesters say they'll leave Wellington St. Hundreds of protesters lined the street in front of Parliament Hill for a ninth day yesterday.

Meanwhile, Julius James, 34, the hunger striker who went to hospital Tuesday, remained there yesterday.
He didn't drink water for four days and was taken to the hospital with stomach pains.

Four other strikers, one as old as 74, intend to continue their protest.

Civilians Wounded, Families Separated in Conflict Zone

An interview with MSF head of mission Annemarie Loof

Since the beginning of the year, fighting between the Sri Lankan army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has intensified. There has been heavy fighting in a region on the northeastern coast of the island. Even after a temporary ceasefire, approximately 150,000 civilians remain trapped in this eight-square-mile area.

In Vavuniya, about 50 miles south of where the fighting is taking place, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) provides food in 10 camps for displaced people and works in the area’s hospital. Two MSF surgeons provide support to the existing surgical team; in March, they carried out almost 800 operations. Most of the cases involved people suffering from bullet or grenade wounds.

Outgoing MSF head of mission for Sri Lanka, Annemarie Loof, describes the situation.

VDPMSF0406.jpg

[Displaced people rest at a camp near Vavuniya]

MSF worked in the hospital in Kilinochchi, in the middle of the conflict area known as the Vanni region, in Northern Province, until September of last year, when MSF was forced to evacuate. We had been busy starting to provide help to displaced people when the government announced that all aid organizations had to leave the area. Last year around this time we could see the situation had worsened. From our base in Vavuniya, near the southern frontline, we could hear shots fired every morning and evening and artillery going off—back and forth. It started getting worse in April, and in May, the frontlines moved up. And what did the people do? They fled, traveling with the frontline, to the north. That’s why they had to flee again and again, sometimes as many as five or six times.

“People arrive in a complete state of shock”

The people from the Vanni region who arrived in Vavuniya this past February were brought here by the army. All day long you could see red army buses riding back and forth. Then no one came from the region for weeks. Later, patients told us that they couldn’t flee before they did because the LTTE prevented them from going. It was only in the middle of March that another busload of people appeared again. The people arrive in a complete state of shock. They tell how they sat in bunkers for weeks, seeking shelter from the bombs. Often, they have crossed over the frontline at night—in groups—at great risk to their own lives.

“No contact with the outside world”

Approximately 50,000 people are now sitting in improvised camps in and around the city of Vavuniya. Try to imagine it: 30 people packed tightly into a classroom or a cricket field full of huts. The camps are surrounded by two rows of barbed wire, with about six feet between them. People outside and inside the camps look at each other, trying to recognize relatives. Some 80 percent of Vavuniya’s population is also Tamil and they have not seen their families for years. However, there are no lists showing who is living in which camp. The people are not allowed to leave and they cannot have contact with the outside world.

“Terrible stories”

A woman approached me. Her children were away at a boarding school in Mannar, on the western coast. She had not spoken to them in two years and her children did not know if she was still alive. I gave her my mobile phone so that she could call them. I will never forget her relief after she was able to reach them. We have heard the most terrible stories. There was a 15-year-old boy—when the bombs fell, six members of his family were killed instantly and he lost his arms. He said to one of our staff members: “Do you perhaps have new arms for me?”
“Can you help me? I am looking for my child”

Our teams go to the camps every day. We cook porridge and distribute it, especially among young children and pregnant women. We provide a kind of distraction for many people when we are there, a moment of human contact. People are extremely upset. They ask, “Can you help me? I am looking for my child.” “I am searching for my husband.” “Do you know who is in the other camps?” I spoke to a woman who had eight children. She had been separated from her husband. Her eldest child, age 17, and her youngest, only four months old, were both dead. Her 15-year-old son could no longer speak. They come up to you, hold you tight and begin to cry. The fear is deep inside of them.

“Welcome to paradise”

The people that are still living in the conflict area must be in a desperate state. They are stuck in an area consisting only of beach and jungle. In March, it rained for days; the water came up to people’s knees. The chance of diseases spreading just increases. It is so frustrating that we cannot get permission to bring medical help to this area. I know that this is an ‘internal’ conflict that isn’t high on the geo-political agenda and that this war has gone on for almost 25 years, but it has never been as bad as it is right now. The war is being carried out above the civilians’ heads. Yet every day airplanes full of tourists continue to arrive. Once when I was returning to the capital Colombo from Europe, the plane’s purser said during the landing: “Welcome to paradise.”

Sri Lankan govt and LTTE must immediately agree to emergency evacuation of civilians

by Meenakshi Ganguly

After Sri Lankan army forces overran parts of the last stretch of territory held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on 1 April 2009, a statement from the defence ministry in Colombo announced that they had found the bodies of over seventy LTTE cadre. The statement went on to detail the spoils of war: the numbers of captured rifles, grenade-launchers, and mortars. As for civilian deaths and injuries - despite what was evidently hard fighting in populated areas - not a word! Indeed, except to assert its own blamelessness, the ministry has been silent on the more than 3,000 civilians believed to have been killed in the fighting since January (see "Sri Lanka under siege", 30 January 2009).

POTC0417.jpg

[Children taking safety in order to avoid gunshot injuries]

A military that counts seized landmines but not killed or wounded civilians is a cause for concern. The LTTE, which has refused to let tens of thousands of civilians flee the fighting, shows as little regard for civilians. But that's not a standard Sri Lanka's government should try to emulate.

Tens of thousands of terrified civilians are trapped in a dangerous conflict-zone. The military says that the remaining LTTE cadre - along with their leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran - have effectively hidden themselves among the civilians in a government-declared "no-fire zone". As the military plans the final defeat of the LTTE in this twenty-six-year conflict, the fact that the army has repeatedly and indiscriminately shelled these zones means that fear for the safety of civilians has increased.

A brutalised country

This terrible plight of civilians is hardly surprising.

The LTTE has itself long been responsible for horrific human-rights abuses. These include forcibly recruiting people to serve its cause; turning schoolchildren into combatants; using Claymore landmines and human-bombs; indiscriminate killings and outright murder. During the 2002-08 ceasefire, the LTTE continued to commit systematic human-rights abuses, not least in the territory it controlled.

Sri Lankan governments, in an effort to appease the majority Sinhalese population, have consistently failed to address Tamil grievances; this has helped the Tigers to build support among the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora. But the present government of Mahinda Rajapakse is hoping that its current military campaign will finally mark an end of the LTTE. Since 2006, when both sides resumed major military operations, the conflict has killed and wounded thousands of civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands, leaving many suffering from disease and hunger.

To ensure its success, the Sri Lankan government has chosen to silence dissident voices. Many of those demanding another approach or criticising government actions or policies are accused of being closet LTTE supporters or otherwise sympathetic to terrorists. Journalists and human-rights defenders wonder when they might fall prey to a bullet or be subjected to arbitrary detention. Many have fled the country. Meanwhile, all over Sri Lanka, Tamils are treated as suspects, often asked to report for profiling and identification.

As the military made significant gains in reclaiming virtually all of northern Sri Lanka previously held by the LTTE, the Tigers have withdrawn. But with utter disregard for the international laws of war, they have scooped up civilians to be used as combatants, provide labour to build trenches and bunkers, and now to serve as human shields. These are Tamils, the people that the LTTE claims to represent and protect - yet, it is deliberately putting them in danger.

The army, as it marched victorious through towns and villages, found abandoned homes, schools, churches and temples. For over two years, the Sri Lankan government was aware that civilians were being forced to accompany the retreating LTTE - for the Tigers have also used this strategy in the past. Yet the government has made no attempt to secure the safety of its citizens held hostage by the enemy. It could have helped them to escape much earlier, ensuring that displaced escape the fighting and are treated in accordance with international standards - creating fears in the minds of many Tamils that they will be persecuted, both now and when the fighting is over. Instead, it has only recently set up detention-camps for the 60,000 or so displaced persons who have managed to

An urgent need

As the military fired into the few square kilometers still held by the Tigers, there were widespread reports of civilian casualties. The government says it is doing its best to avoid these, and has routinely denied that its shells were landing on civilians. When questioned by the United Nations, diplomats or journalists, the military has claimed that the casualties are not necessarily civilians.

An official statement said: "It has been found that the terrorists fight in civil clothes and when they get wounded they can be mistakenly considered as civilians", but it added that there could be accidental injuries to non-combatants if they were in the line of fire. These dangerous statements convey the opposite of what is needed: for as LTTE militants merge with displaced civilians, the Sri Lankan army needs to demonstrate greater - not less - restraint.

It is impossible to know exactly what is going on in many combat-zones. The government has expelled virtually all humanitarian agencies and has kept independent journalists far from the combat-zone. The United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has called for the protection of trapped civilians, asking the LTTE "to allow civilians to leave the conflict-area of their own free will", and reminded the Sri Lankan government of "its responsibility to protect civilians, and to avoid the use of heavy weapons in areas where there are civilians, as promised."

The international community needs to take decisive steps to ensure that the war's victims are protected. It should work with concerned governments that have supported the Sri Lankan government's efforts against the LTTE; and with those in the Tamil diaspora who have for so long backed the LTTE, and encourage them to speak up for Tamil civilians caught up in the fighting.

The LTTE must stop placing civilians at risk and instead allow them to evacuate the combat-zone. The Sri Lankan government for its part should make every effort, including seeking the assistance of international experts, to rescue civilians - and request humanitarian agencies to provide them with appropriate care and protection. Both sides should agree to an emergency evacuation of civilians before more die or are maimed. Every day that passes is a stain on the consciences of those who could have saved new victims.

(Meenakshi Ganguly, is former "Time" correspondent in India is currently senior researcher on South Asia for Human Rights Watch)

April 15, 2009

Implementing tri-lingualism quickly is essential for national reconciliation in Sri Lanka

by Arjuna Hulugalle

"Language policy my main concern" said Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, A.K.A. Karuna Amman MP when he assumed office as Minister of Constitutional Affairs and National Integration. He also maintained that the Tamils should learn Sinhala and the Sinhalese learn Tamil for communal amity and national integrity to build up. At last someone was talking with a lot of commonsense on a issue which needed attention and which would make a difference to the country.

Karuna having faced death on so many occasions and finally deciding to turn his back to a senseless war realizes more than any one else the importance of the communities living together in harmony. One milestone in that path is certainly communication and that can only be effective if people are able to understand each other.

We have come a long way since Dr Colvin R de Silva said "One language two nations; two languages one nation". The traumas of the last few years have made us realize the validity of that statement. The nation has now taken ownership of those wise words.

But two languages however important, is not enough. A knowledge based society needs to have access to the enormous reservoir of international literature without which we will remain restricted in our development. That access in our case will be possible only with English. We have to be in this instance honest to ourselves and not prevaricate and shun that need. That does not mean that English has to be the primary language and perfection of pronunciation, syntax and grammar of foremost importance.

Problem of identity

Today’s imbroglio termed the ethnic conflict has a deep seated emotional dimension. This is where imagined and perceived wrongs originate. This is the problem of identity. Identity and language are closely intertwined. One’s innermost emotions can best be articulated in one’s mother tongue, even if in later years one masters a different language and acquires in that language a much larger vocabulary and even a better command of expression.

Home, family and one’s own native environment gives a good feel factor and one’s own language reinforces in most cases that mental state. Tarzie Vittachi used to say "People don’t live in the world. They live in their villages and in their streets". This is why the vernacular is important in the education of small children in primary education. Yet these same children as they grow up have to relate to their counterparts in other communities. This is essential in a multi-racial society and here the second language is important. Later he or she needs an international language to get to the reservoir of human knowledge and human wisdom.

Once this process of language learning is set in motion, where every student is introduced to the second Sri Lankan language and to English, over time a national identity and a national allegiance will emerge. President Rajapakse’s example of speaking in three languages at public occasions is an encouraging and positive development in our political culture. Language will play an important role in the process of reconciliation and uniting the nation.

Getting a population to learn the language of others is not easy unless there are incentives and the facilities for learning and teaching is made available. The reality based on researched literature on languages shows that it is rare for a majority of speakers to learn other communal languages.

However, there are some exceptions. Switzerland is one of them but this is because its location in Europe is such that it borders France, Germany and Italy, all three very powerful economic and cultural entities and the people of Switzerland have one of these languages as their mother tongue. What is however, very interesting is the importance of English in Switzerland. This is because most Swiss have reached an economic level where the use of English is of great help.

The maintenance of stability in a multi-racial society which Switzerland is, can be attributed to the fact that it is a polyglot society, that is one where several languages are spoken.

In Finland the two state languages are Finnish and Swedish. The Swedes form 5.5 per cent of the country and live in areas close to Sweden. Bilingualism is promoted in that country, by compelling government servants to pass a competency language test in both languages before they can be appointed. Though the Swedish population is small, the fact that Swedish is an official language binds the communities.

Similarly in Canada, public servants must have acceptable levels of competence in French and English.

In Nigeria, however, (and this is also the case in India) although people may be able to use a number of languages, language competency is mainly for specific purposes such as entrance into administration, higher education, business or trade. An example is the mother tongue of Nigerians is Arabic among rural Muslims, English is used for administrative work and Swahili for trading with other African countries. However, a Hausa speaker would rarely be competent in speaking the Yoruba language.

Language and national reconciliation

Encouraging the learning of 3 languages in Sri Lankan schools has to be looked at also as a part of the gigantic task of healing the wounds and salving the suspicions of the communities.

Communication and dialogue is the most potent instrument to help in this process. This commitment will bring with it equality. Naturally like water finding its own level, certain languages will gain priority and preference in certain areas and under certain circumstances.

This would be a natural process and would not be resented. If the process of encouraging the learning of languages at an early age is pursued, greater success will be ensured as children acquire languages with great ease. This will also lead to early contacts and the gelling of friendships at childhood.

India’s importance as a global player in the 21st century and our expanding interaction with South Asia will make the learning of Tamil particularly and other South Asian languages imperative.

The window of opportunity

The knowledge of English will give us access to the window of opportunity which the modern world is opening up. IT enables connectivity even with the remotest of places. Education will be enhanced with Cyber-libraries, which are replacing the conventional libraries. CDROM is supplementing books for academic work. Internet is becoming the main source of commercial and government information. With all these rapid changes, the pace at which we can adjust our minds to this change will dictate the time frames of our own development. English will be an important factor in this growth.

Practical steps

Here is a picture of a practical plan of action for immediate implementation.

1. From 1 January 2010, a pilot trilingual literacy program is started in 20 schools in each district with special financial incentives to those participating and wishing to participate in this scheme. If this can be shown to work, it can then go island-wide by 2015 with national policy.

2. Government policy to lay down a time frame that all new recruits to the public service must be fluent in written and spoken Sinhala and Tamil with a competency to conduct all business in the three languages. A date should be set for all public servants including teachers to be fluent in written and spoken Sinhala and Tamil and English. This will enable the public to conduct government business in any of the three languages.

3. All university students to follow a one year immersion language course in English and their second language before commencing their degree courses. Question arises whether one would be able to get highly competent teachers at University salaries. Indian assistance can be got for a programme to teach English and Tamil. This will be a leap forward to making Sri Lanka, the gateway to India.

4. English language academies will be encouraged to set-up in the principal towns in every district for evening courses and holiday courses. Relevant in this program should be the question of ensuring quality of education and the numbers in each district. A special teacher trainee programme has to be initiated for this.

The dynamics of the Peace Process will change dramatically if the Government and the Opposition accept a Tri-lingual formula. This must have the endorsement of the JVP and the JHU and the Tamil parties.

Buddhist priests reaching Tamil students

Apart from the practical measures tabulated above, government educational policy should make the learning of the three languages compulsory in all schools, starting immediately from the Kindergarten and working upwards. This will also mean the employment of thousands of Tamil teachers to the Sinhala schools and Sinhala Teachers to the Tamil schools. The Tamil speaking areas could revert to having Buddhist priests in their schools to take the Sinhala classes as was the case prior to the tensions. This will result in Buddhist priests learning Tamil and being able to preach in Tamil, and Tamil will be introduced to study the Buddhist precepts. Both these developments will make a gigantic difference to the psyche of the nation.

Ethnic quotas in public service

Another important measure should be 25 per cent of the recruitment to all public services from the minorities. This should be followed with a similar proportion for all higher level public appointments.

The country belongs to all

These steps will underline President Rajapakse’s constant declaration that this country belongs to all Sri Lankans. The international community and the minorities will be reassured that this is actually the case. Far more Tamils and Muslims live in areas where the Sinhala population is in the majority. The communities have to live in peace and harmony and begin to share their destinies. That is not possible if there is no language communication between them and no fairness by the biggest employer - the State.

Speaking the language of the other community is the greatest respect you can show. Respect for the other is the beginning of Peace in the country.

The two vernacular languages and English will have to be the cornerstones to achieve this. We have to give it high priority. Imagine every notice board of the government and the private sector in three languages. Such an action will transform the psyche of the nation. Imagine every child in the country being able to read those boards in all three languages and talk about them. We are talking not of perfection but effective use of each language. At the start of this process, there will be lethargy, inertia and resistance. However, it is of such great importance that large budgets have to be allocated to realise this objective.

Theepan of the LTTE: Heroic saga of a Northern warrior

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Velayuthapillai Baheerathakumar alias Theepan was from Kandawalai in the Kilinochchi district. He used to adopt the nom de guerre Sivatheeban and an alias Thavabalasingham at times . [dbsjeyaraj.com]

['Col' Theepan]

[Click here to read the article in full~in dbsjeyaraj.com]

Tamils in Sri Lanka: Between the devil and the deep sea

by S Ratnajeevan H Hoole

INrecent US senate foreign relations committee hearings, testimony from Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the previous US ambassador to Colombo among others was heard. It was a damning indictment on the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers for their rights abuses against the Tamil people. According to HRW, the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), a large humanitarian disaster is in the making as the government prosecutes its war against the Tigers holed up in a small area with civilians in the Vanni.

HRW has documented Tigers shooting at civilians trying to leave, even as the government bombs civilians in areas that the government itself declared safe areas. Recall 1987 when the Tigers used civilians as human shields and shelled the Indian Army from Jaffna Hospital and Kokkuvil Hindu College refugee camp - the ensuing carnage earned much sympathy for them.

Because of mistrust of the Tigers who have used previous ceasefires to regroup, the government seems to have been given a free hand by the international community to finish off the Tigers while making token calls to the Tigers to let the civilians go. The world seems tired of terrorists; no quarter is offered. Sadly it seems the calculation of world leaders that civilian loss is worth the defeat of the Tigers. As I write there are claims of huge holes being dug by government around Mullaitivu.

For what ominous purpose - to hide the planned genocide as claimed or more likely to hide the inevitable collateral civilian damage as the army moves in - no one knows.

But who are these Tigers whom the word has given up on? Who are the civilians caught in this death trap? The Tiger leadership has insisted on every Tamil household contributing one person to their forces - children have not been spared. As Tiger military fortunes waned, they insisted on two per household.

In December in a visit to the Vanni I heard personal testimony of a funeral in almost every household. Tiger recruiters had arrived at a house to fetch a young girl. As she cried aloud and clung to her mother, her clothes ripped off and she was carried away by the men in their van wearing only her lower underwear. A deaf man was recruited and naturally got badly injured and returned home - only to be taken away again before he had healed, as the Tigers got desperate. Community elders had myriad complaints - including of suicides by recruits with no stomach for a war they did not believe in.

As the Tigers lost ground and withdrew, they ordered all civilians to move with them. Nearly all did because of government murders of anyone suspected of Tiger involvement - for every family had a forced Tiger recruit. In the event, their fears are well founded; those who do dare the Tiger firing and cross over to government land are herded into barbed wire areas without access to relatives and those who appear suspicious to the government disappear from the camps with no one knowing where.

These are the people the world has given up on as Tigers. The world therefore cannot write off the people cornered with the Tigers. Lower LTTE cadre need to be treated sympathetically as people forced to wear the uniform of a terrorist organisation. The world that condemned the forced recruitment of children, now cannot give them up as terrorists deserving slaughter.

At this juncture friends of Tamils - and those who want a just world with rights - can only focus on the after events following the formal military rout of the LTTE as government forces are reportedly moving into the so-called safety zone that has been anything but safe for civilians. Going by the experience of the Lanka's East following government take-over, the North soon will be subject to the same regime of rigged elections and cultural colonisation. As forced Tiger child-recruits are treated like hardened criminals following capture or counted among terrorists killed, resentment will grow.

Those Tamils who see no way out except through cooperation with the government, will be devalued among Tamils as has happened to many who really do care for their people. And without addressing Tamil grievances, we would come full cycle with another guerrilla uprising - if not under Tiger leadership, then under another.

In a civil war, everyone compromises and we should respond with understanding rather than condemnation.

If the international community looks the other way as the people holed up are finished off, we will have no solution to the Tamil problem in Sri Lanka.

The Tamil National Alliance who were forced to accept the dictates of the Tigers and are described by many as Tiger proxies, also need to be viewed sympathetically. They surrendered only after the Tigers murdered many of their parliamentarians. For a Tamil in Sri Lanka the choice was between accepting Tiger overlordship and, being hunted by them, seeking army protection and thereby being viewed by fellow Tamils as part of the hated government.

When the Tigers threatened me with death, I fled because I could get a decent job abroad but lost my ability to serve my people. The Alliance parliamentarians compromised but have been able to serve Tamils as best as they can. They possess an automatic vote bank among the Tamils and can play a major role in getting Tamils back into the polity. Only Alliance leaders from pre-Tiger days can convince the Tamil public of any peace deal.

The international community, especially India and Sri Lanka's donor group that includes the US, must intervene to ensure that the government of Sri Lanka is accountable to all its citizens through a wide spectrum of Tamil representatives, discounting no one.

This is the only way out.

(The writer is professor of engineering and science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at Hartford, Connecticut.He was appointed as Jaffna University vice - chancellor but was unable to take up duties due to LTTE intimidation.This article appeared in the New Indian Express)

Traumatised Tamils live in fear of new crackdown in Sri Lanka

by Annie Kelly

Last year, in a village in the east of Sri Lanka, Selvi Ratnarajah opened her door to find three masked men pointing guns at her face. They pushed inside and screamed at her to turn off the lights. When she refused, they shouted for her husband, Ravanana, dragged him into the street and forced him at gunpoint on to the back of a motorbike.

"I went out of the house and ran and ran through the bush," she said, fingering her husband's tattered ID card. "I could see the lights of the motorbike ahead and I saw them stop by a bridge. Then I heard shots. I ran towards the noise and I could hear someone breathing. It was dark and there were no lights and I was screaming for him. When I found my husband, they'd shot him in the mouth. He was trying to talk to me. I tried to scream again, but no sound came out. Then he died."

Ratnarajah says she has no idea who took her husband or why. "When they came to the house, all they said was that he was being taken for questioning, but nobody has ever told me why he was taken," she says. "Everywhere there are men with arms. We don't know who they are and what is happening with the fighting, and I don't know who to trust. I saw him being taken from the house but nobody will listen to me. My husband was never accused of anything."

As the Sri Lankan military mounts a spring offensive designed to eliminate the Tamil Tigers and end their bloody 26-year struggle for an independent Tamil homeland, the civilian population of the Tamil-dominated regions is terrorised, displaced and fears the worst.

According to the Sri Lankan army, the Tigers are now making a last stand on a tiny strip of land in the north-east of the country. But the defeat of the rebels as a fighting force is unlikely to usher in a new period of tranquillity. Instead, say human rights organisations, a humanitarian catastrophe of "epidemic proportions" is unfolding in Sri Lanka's north and east. Up to 190,000 civilians are still trapped between remaining Tamil Tiger fighters and advancing government forces in the Vanni region.

As rebel soldiers melt back into the civilian population, and the number of those displaced by the fighting swells, tales of brutality and intimidation are legion. Meanwhile, people are simply disappearing.

Despite journalists being banned from travelling to the war zone and not being allowed free access to "liberated areas", the Observer, working with a local journalist, has obtained the testimonies of women such as Selvi who tell of husbands, brothers and sons vanishing or taken by force.

Bhavani Varnakulasingham, a 26-year- old mother of two, wept as she held her husband's photograph and told of the day he disappeared on his way home from his job as a driver for an international aid organisation. "He'd gone to [the capital,] Colombo. He called to say he was on his way home, but when he didn't arrive I started calling his mobile," she said. "I tried calling for days. Once, someone answered, and I screamed and pleaded for them to release him, but they rang off. Then I knew for certain he'd been taken."

She has no idea why her husband was taken or who took him. And despite repeated requests to police and government officials, she has received no information about what happened to him.

In a village near Batticaloa on the east coast, Amirtha Sinnathamby said unidentified gunmen had shot her elder brother in 2006 and another died after being caught in crossfire between rebels and government soldiers. Last November, her husband disappeared after travelling to Colombo to apply for a work permit.

"People from Colombo called me and said he'd been taken," she said. "I went to the police station and lodged a complaint, went to Tamil politicians, the Red Cross, the Human Rights Commission, but nobody could help me. Nobody can tell me who abducted him or why he was abducted. Now I have nothing; I have used all my money travelling to Colombo to lodge complaints with the police. But I don't know whether he is dead or alive. I continue to live with tears."

The wave of disappearances and arbitrary arrests has led a host of human rights organisations to sound the alarm. Chris Chapman, conflict prevention officer at Minority Rights International, said: "We are extremely concerned about the situation faced by minorities in Sri Lanka's conflict area. Apart from the humanitarian catastrophe in the battle zone, there is also evidence of rising incidents of human rights violations.

"We are getting reports of arbitrary arrests, abductions and disappearances among Tamils fleeing the fighting. These violations are also happening in other parts of the country. Whatever the military outcome is, we see no evidence that this pattern of human rights violations will stop.

"There needs to be serious international pressure on the Sri Lankan government to put in place a human rights mechanism to ensure that the large number of incidents of abductions and enforced disappearances in the north and east are stopped and the perpetrators brought to justice."

Anna Neistat, senior emergency co-ordinator at Human Rights Watch, said: "This isn't about the conflict; it is about the government doing nothing to acknowledge the current human rights violations being committed against Tamil civilians. We are extremely concerned about the humanitarian crisis faced by thousands still trapped by fighting in the north, and these kinds of violations look set to continue. Continued intimidation of the independent press and human rights activists also continue unchecked."

Both sides have been accused of targeting Tamil civilians caught between the warring sides. There have been reports of civilians being shelled by government artillery, while the Tamil Tigers have been accused of using civilians as human shields and shooting those trying to flee the area.

Last Thursday, the UN sent Walter Kaelin, representative of secretary general Ban Ki-moon on the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs), to assess the situation and meet senior government authorities. He is due to stay until tomorrow and is there at the invitation of the Sri Lankan government.

The prognosis is likely to be bleak. Charu Hogg, associate director at the international thinktank Chatham House, believes that the destruction of the Tigers as a fighting force will only mark the beginning of a new and ugly phase of civil repression. "The end of the territorial fight will undoubtedly lead to a more authoritarian regime. The fighting forces might be wiped out, but the end of the battle will not mean the end of the [Tigers] or their striking potential," said Hogg.

"There will be severe human rights repercussions for any civilians suspected of being affiliated to or sympathetic to the [Tigers]. Disappearances have been an ugly side of this conflict and are likely to continue as a counter-insurgency tactic used by the government and the pro-government armed groups."

Sri Lanka already has the second highest number of disappearances reported to the UN of any nation. A 2008 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report says that more than 1,500 people were reported missing between 2005-07, with more than 1,000 reportedly "disappeared" in 2006 alone.

Last month, the government ramped up its mandatory registration of Tamils in Colombo on security grounds. There are concerns that, after the end of the conflict, any Tamil will be considered a potential security threat, leading to a rise in detentions and killings.

Fears are already rising for the safety of 60,000 IDPs, the majority of them ethnic Tamils who have fled into government-controlled areas. Reports are already surfacing of enforced detentions, abductions and disappearances at hospitals, "welfare camps" and security checkpoints in the Vavuniya and Mannar districts.

A Sri Lankan aid worker who asked to remain anonymous said there were reports that masked gangs were entering hospitals full of displaced Tamils in Vavuniya and taking patients by force.

Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives in Sri Lanka, said enforced abductions were also occurring at "welfare camps" in Jaffna and Vavuniya.

"People fleeing the conflict are being put into highly militarised transit camps or welfare camps that are alleged to be more like detention camps," he says. "There is no proper plan with regards to resettlement and there is a presence of paramilitaries in the camps, where people are being identified and disappeared as being supporters or sympathisers of the [Tigers]."

Saravanamuttu says he "cannot emphasise enough" the importance of independent international monitoring of how the government is screening Tamil civilians fleeing the fighting.

Since the beginning of the civil war in 1983, more than 800,000 Tamils have been displaced and more than 70,000 killed. Although the Tamils are a minority, they constitute the majority in the northern and eastern provinces.

With the government likely to destroy remaining Tiger resistance in the coming days, international and local human rights campaigners say there must be an end to the lack of control over heavily armed pro-government paramilitary groups operating in the north and east of the country. Many of these groups have been accused of unlawful killings, hostage-taking, enforced disappearances and the recruitment of child soldiers since 2006.

"From 2006, the government has increasingly used allied armed groups to carry out its counter-insurgency strategy and has allowed these groups to operate with impunity in the north and east," says Yolanda Foster, policy officer for Sri Lanka at Amnesty International.

"If you look at what happened when the government 'liberated' the east from Tamil forces, we saw an increase in unlawful killings, with no recourse to justice for families who have had relatives disappeared with no indication of what happened to them. In Vavuniya, where most of the camps are based, there are at least 10 armed groups operating and ready to move into the vacuum left by the defeat of the Tigers."

Although the north has been worst affected by fighting, the UNHCR says there has also been a significant increase in the numbers of killings, abductions and injuries in Sri Lanka's eastern provinces. A statement in January said the deteriorating security situation in the region was threatening the safe return of more than 200,000 people displaced by fighting and that families were reporting increasing intimidation and restrictions on their movements by armed groups.

Sri Lanka's civil war has already left thousands of families in the north and east desperately searching for relatives who they say have "disappeared" without trace or been taken by force at security checkpoints or from family homes.

In its 2008 report, Human Rights Watch stated say that, despite the hundreds of alleged "disappearances" reported since 2006, little has been done to bring perpetrators to justice. It says the government has also refused to provide statistics about the number of people reported missing.

However the government rebuts these claims, saying they are unsubstantiated by any hard evidence. It also rejects as propaganda claims of disappearances and abductions at IDP checkpoints and welfare camps.

"We have a resettlement plan in place and are in complete understanding that the screening and registration process of IDPs has to be done properly. We are in a position where one in 1,000 people coming into government-controlled areas are suicide bombers, but one in 1,000 is enough for us to be diligent in our screening processes," says Rajiva Wijesinha, secretary to the ministry of disaster management and human rights.

"The allegations that there are human rights abuses being perpetrated by the government against Tamil civilians is appalling LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] propaganda. We have 250 people who have admitted to being LTTE cadres, but those who obviously are no connection with the LTTE are moving to wherever they can."

The government points to a UNHCR statement on 31 March as evidence that it is adhering to international standards. The statement welcomed what is called "positive developments" at IDP camps in the north, including the recent release of 371 people with special needs, but also called for increased freedom of movement for those IDPs who had already gone through the screening process.

Wijesinha also defended the government's refusal to allow journalists into the conflict zone, saying it was not prepared to have the blood of journalists killed by the Tigers on its hands.

He denied claims by the International Federation of Journalists in Sri Lanka that violence and intimidation is being used to suppress information and silence human rights campaigners.

With the military campaign drawing to a close, there are renewed calls for the international community to put pressure on the government to agree to an establishment of a UN human rights monitoring mission to investigate and report on abuses by government forces and the Tigers throughout the country.

Meanwhile Selvi Ratnarajah continues to wonder why her husband had to die. "I'm scared of asking for information about my husband," she said, "but I can't bear living if I don't know why they killed him like they did."

• Names in this article have been changed to protect identities

Chronicle of conflict
• Sri Lanka gained independence from Britain in 1948. The country has a population of 21 million, of whom about 3.2 million are of Hindu Tamil origin.

• Tamil is one of the principal languages of the South Indian Dravidian group of languages, with more than 200 million speakers in India alone.

• Ceylon Tamils are ethnic Sri Lankans and constitute approximately half of the Tamil population in Sri Lanka. They are concentrated in the north of the island, are relatively well educated, and many hold clerical and professional positions.

• Other Tamils, so-called Indian Tamils of Sri Lanka, were brought there by the British in the 19th and 20th centuries from southern India to work on the tea estates.

• Though both predominantly Hindu, Ceylon and Indian Tamil are organised under different caste systems and have little to do with each other.

• In the 1970s, growing tensions between the Hindu Ceylon Tamils and successive Sinhalese Buddhist majority governments broke out into a campaign of guerrilla warfare against the central government by Tamil militants demanding a separate state in the north-east.

• The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's conflict with the government has killed an estimated 70,000 people since it began, and left thousands more displaced.

• Violence increased in 2005 after President Mahinda Rajapaksa's election campaign, when he ruled out autonomy for Tamils in the north and east and promised to review the peace process.

• Both the military and the Tigers have been regularly accused of gross abuses of human rights by organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

• This article was corrected on Thursday 9 April 2009. We originally said that Tamil was one of the principal languages of the Hindu Dravidian dialect, with more than 200 million speakers across India. It is in fact one of the principal languages of the South Indian Dravidian group of languages with more than 200 million speakers in India alone. This has been corrected. [courtesy: The Observer-UK]

Time to Rewrite the Sri Lanka Agenda - Part II

By Col R Hariharan

[This may be read in continuation of "Time to Rewrite the Sri Lanka Agenda Part I"]

Long-term agenda

Sri Lanka's long-term agenda has seen enough words; it urgently needs action. Last week, the Chief Justice of Sri Lanka Sarath N. Silva speaking at Anuradhapura spelled out the fundamentals of a new long term agenda for Sri Lanka: peace must be maintained in the North by enforcing the rule of law. 'We must look into the causes of law breakdowns and the terrorism and find ways and means to rectify the situation,' the Chief Justice said. If justice had been meted out to all in the past, a faction of people would not have become terrorists, he added.

President Rajapaksa promised of equity to the Tamil population after the eliminating the LTTE in the eastern province However the eastern province has not been a real model of democracy in action. Its problems are not merely of devolution of powers but the basic issue of good governance. In playing politics there, a good opportunity to show Tamils everywhere that the government means what it says has been frittered away. Already the remnants of LTTE are showing their hand their hand and they could find increasing relevance if rule of law is not established and basic problems of security is not addressed there.

To make an impact in the long term, the overall aim of all actions relating to north and east should be at reduce the relevance of separatism to the Tamil people.

Promises of action are not enough. Large sections of Tamils had seen such political promises made in the past vanishing into thin air. With such a historical background, there is no doubt that the President has the tough task of disproving their ingrained suspicion of Sinhala politicians by his actions as the country is riding the crest of military victory.

So merely holding local body and provincial elections are not going to resolve the problems of the troubled provinces. Development and devolution are not a zero sum game. They are mutually reinforcing factors to be meaningful they have to be carried on together.

A starting point of the long-term agenda would be to transform the military operational mould of the environment in north and east to a normal civilian one. The government should not allow a military mindset to influence every action it takes in restoring normal life in the areas freed of the LTTE control. The sooner it is done, the better it would be. And militarily this should not be difficult as the security forces have proved their prowess in the battlefield and the population is tired of war. The security forces have grown large and powerful and undoubtedly their concurrence would be an important factor in any action relating to the military.

During the period of war, Jaffna was a town set amidst a military garrison. The military check posts should be progressively reduced and if required, handed over to the police. Of course, there might be a need for continued military patrolling. And at times the army might be required to carry out search operations. However, there is a requirement to reduce the military profile of such operations. Policemen have to be Tamil speaking to reduce the feeling of alienation.

Life in Jaffna peninsula had been severely affected due to the war. There had been shortages of fuel, medicines and food supplies. The A9 road linking Jaffna to the mainland should be opened for free public traffic. The railway has resumed the Yaal devi express which now runs up to only Vavuniya. The President has said the reconstruction of the railway line linking Jaffna destroyed during the insurgency would be rebuilt. This project should be undertaken on a priority basis. Presumably help of India, which has a record of successfully undertaking railway construction projects, could be sought for the expensive endeavour.

It is good to remember that one of the main reasons for the failure of the peace process 2002 was the failure to resolve the vexing issue of High Security Zones in populated areas. A participatory mechanism has to be created to resolve the issue not only in the north and east but elsewhere in Sri Lanka in the long term.

Public utilities and housing have suffered heavy damages in most of the towns and villages in Vanni area in the north. For the people living there life can be meaningful only if they enjoy at least the basic essential facilities. Easy credit to rebuild homes and restore business should be extended to the affected people and international financial resources could be made available if the international community feels confident of the outcome of such schemes.

International community can also help the government agencies in such work and enable rehabilitation of the affected people. However, that would require the easing of current restrictions on the operation of NGOs in northern province. There is no use flaying them at every opportunity.

Tamil agenda

By now it should be clear to Tamils that they also should take a relook at their priorities. Expounding the worn out rhetoric is not the way forward. They should take the leadership once again in order to ensure interests of Tamils are not paid adequate political attention in the aftermath of war. First thing is to restore normal life of the people, battered by three decades of extremism, insurgency, revenge and retribution. The politicians' agenda must focus on progressing both development and devolution in tandem. For this their own petty bickering should be deferred to evolve a common minimum programme of action. Use of collective political power rather than recounting historical blunders is the way to achieve results. That would constructively pressurize the government into action.

The Tamil National Alliance knows that the LTTE failed to deliver the goods for Tamils when it had the political opportunity and they had a role in this failure. However, it should forget about saving its face for its role in the past and get into some positive action. Unfortunately, the LTTE enigma appears to have prevented it from using the opportunity to talk about the gut issues of Tamils when the President offered the opportunity. But perhaps as the enigma is diffusing now TNA leaders should muster their courage and assert their position in their own rights. They owe it to the people in whose name they have been claiming their representation in parliament. Unfortunately, so far the TNA has not shown any unified to resolve to visit new pastures which is disappointing. The members are debating to decide on whether they should talk to the Indian Foreign Secretary! So there appears to be more inaction than positive action. I hope they prove me wrong.

International community

International community, despite its pious criticism of Sri Lanka on human rights and humanitarian issues, has helped Sri Lanka in preventing the LTTE?s global support network from coming into play during the war. Much has been written on their ability to set right the human rights records and sagging economy of Sri Lanka. One can only hope at least some of this turned into action.

However, they have a key role in ensuring that the LTTE is not allowed to use their soil to resurrect its war machine. The LTTE global network, despite some serious setbacks in the last three years, still exists. India, Britain, the US and Canada in particular have a major responsibility in this. The EU should ensure a little more coordination among member countries in curbing LTTE activities either directly or through front organisations.

In the changed environment after war, the LTTE would lose two key elements of international recognition accorded to it in the peace process 2002: status of parity with Sri Lanka and exclusive representation of Tamil interests in any dispensation. This would indicate that the peace process 2002 needs not only a change of name but in form and content. The peace process 2002 will have reincarnate as a peace and reconciliation process between communities rather than a peace process between the government and the LTTE.

Norway despite its good intentions has lost its credibility with the Sri Lanka government and sections of the people. So its usefulness in any future international effort in Sri Lanka is likely to be minimal.

The EU, Japan, and the US, the other three co-chairs of the peace process, should rework their strategies to constructively contribute to the twin processes of devolution and development.

India as a dominant neighbour can make immense contribution to restoration of lasting peace in Sri Lanka. Its role in Sri Lanka is different from other countries in form and content. However, India?s role can be analysed meaningfully only after the general elections set to be completed in May 2009. Even if the same ruling coalition returns to power the Sri Lanka dispensation may be different in form and content.

(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.)

April 14, 2009

An opinion: Does Britain have a right to intervene in Sri Lanka?

by Prof. M Sornarajah

I have been asked by some British citizens of Tamil origin to give an opinion on the status of the British Government to intervene in the present humanitarian crisis caused in Sri Lanka by the shelling of safety zones declared by the Government of Sri Lanka by the Sri Lanka armed forces and the indiscriminate bombing of Tamil civilians. This shelling, as well as other indiscriminate targeting of objects, has resulted in massive civilian casualties. The extent of the duty to protect the civilians caught up in the hostilities and the competence of the British Government to provide such protection through intervention are the subjects of this opinion...

UKTC0411.jpg

[April 11th, march in London]

The British Government has not traditionally subscribed to the notion that a state may intervene in order to prevent humanitarian catastrophes in other states. But, the British Government reversed this policy in 1998 just before the NATO intervention in Kosovo and participated in the NATO intervention. A lachrymose Mr Blair, then Prime Minister, in justifying this change of policy, apologized for not having made a similar intervention in Rwanda to prevent the massacres that took place in that country. After the NATO intervention, the Secretary of State for Defence, justifying the intervention, stated that “in international law, in exceptional circumstances and to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe, military action can be taken and it is on that legal basis that military action was taken” (Statement reproduced at 1999, Vol.70, British Yearbook of International Law, p.586).

The next year, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs made a statement (19th July 2002) stating that “no one can claim any longer that massive violation of humanitarian law or crimes against humanity fall solely within a state’s domestic jurisdiction.” Mr Robin Cook, the then Secretary at the FCO indicated that Britain had submitted clear principles to the United Nations to guide intervention by the international community. There were six principles in the guidelines. Among the principles he stated, was that “when faced with overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe, which a government has shown it is unwilling or unable to prevent or is actively promoting, the international community should intervene.” At the present moment, there is a humanitarian catastrophe entirely caused by the Government of Sri Lanka. Britain and the international community have a duty to act to prevent the loss of lives as a result of the actions of the Sri Lankan Government.

There is nothing to indicate that the policy of the British Government has changed since this time. It must be taken that since then the UK policy has been to accept the right of humanitarian intervention, even through forcible means, to put an end to internal civilian suffering caused by a state intent on massacring a part of its population identifiable on the basis of race, language or religion.

There are obvious objections to forcible unilateral humanitarian intervention. The dilemma is that the doctrine could be abused by strong states which would use it to influence political courses in states but, at the same time, it becomes necessary that states not stand by when harrowing incidents of genocidal killings take place. In Bangladesh, Cambodia and Uganda, unilateral interventions took place which the world condoned because the killings in Bangladesh by the Pakistani forces, the massacres of Pol Pot in Cambodia and the ruthlessness of Idi Amin in Uganda had to be brought to an end. The forcible interventions in these incidents by India, Vietnam and Tanzania were silently applauded by the international community. None of these governments sought to justify their actions on the basis of humanitarian intervention. The NATO intervention in Kosovo, however, was justified by the UK and other NATO members on the basis of a principle of humanitarian intervention. The intervention in Kosovo by NATO was necessary because two members of the United Nations Security Council (China and Russia) vetoed United Nations action. Such a veto is to be expected whenever internal massacres are discussed, as both China and Russia have minority problems in Chechnya and Tibet which they do not want to hold out to international scrutiny. Neither do they want to contemplate the future possibility of an intervention to deal with such issues. Collective exercise of forcible humanitarian intervention under United Nations auspices, therefore, remains remote.

It is in the light of the dilemma presented that the international community came up with the idea of the duty to protect. The duty to protect was promoted largely by Canada and Australia. Two former foreign ministers of these two states, Mr Lloyd Axworthy (Canada) and Mr Gareth Evans (Australia) were instrumental in pushing the idea. A commission set up by the Canadian Government issued a report on the scope of this right. The idea was to ensure that, whatever the international law position on the principle of humanitarian intervention is, there is a right recognized by the international community to provide assistance to a civilian people who are caught up in the hostilities between the armed forces and insurgents.

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

It is the duty of the international community to ensure that the devices that it has created are meaningful. In the case of the British Government, its duty is clear in this regard. It, now, subscribes to a principle of humanitarian intervention, which justifies even the use of unilateral armed force in order to achieve humanitarian ends, such as the protection of the civilians caught up in the hostilities in the North of Sri Lanka. Failing the use of this doctrine, it has the duty to ensure their protection as a result of the new doctrine relating to the Responsibility to Protect.

In the case of Britain, its exercise of this duty arises not from its membership of the international community or from a moral duty alone. It bears a historical responsibility in the problem that affects Sri Lanka. The distinguished British political scientist, Bertram Hughes Farmer detailed in his book, Ceylon: a Divided Nation (Institute of Race Relations, Oxford, 1963), nearly half century ago, how the British had brought under one rule an island divided on the basis of ethnicity into three kingdoms for the sake of their administrative convenience. They left behind the same system of a single government for an island that had contained three separate kingdoms. He predicted that the constitutional arrangement that the British created on granting independence to Sri Lanka had to break down as it did not give the minorities in Sri Lanka sufficient protection. Much of the blame can be placed at the doors of Britain. Events unfolded exactly as Farmer had predicted.

The unitary government of Sri Lanka came under Sinhala chauvinists, who outdid each other in their racial and religious fanaticism against the minorities, declaring Sinhala the only official language and the peaceful religion of Gautama Buddha, the renouncer of his own kingdom, the state religion. They adopted a national flag of violence, which symbolized the creation myth of the Sinhala race, a lion holding a sword, symbolizing violence against those who opposed Sinhala supremacy. All minorities were excluded from participation in government and as the head of the armed forces declared without being contradicted, Sri Lanka belongs to the Sinhalese and others live in it only upon tolerance. Several pogroms have been unleashed against the Tamils, resulting in a flood of refugees accounting for a large Tamil diaspora in the capitals of the world. Unfortunately, this was a result that the Sinhala chauvinists did not anticipate. While they kept their own people mired in a blinkered existence of hatred, the minorities in Sri Lanka have been well received in the capitals of the West where they have prospered and grown in influence.

In the light of the terror that has been unleashed on the Tamils by successive governments, a right to self-determination has arisen in them. The modern scope of that right has been discussed authoritatively by the Canadian Supreme Court in Attorney Generals Reference on the Quebec Secession (1998) and by the Badinter Commission set up by the European Union to consider the issues relating to Kosovo and Yugoslavia. Essentially, such a right is held in abeyance where the right to equality is recognized in a plural state held in good balance through its political structure, as it is in Canada, where four successive Prime Ministers were French Canadians. But, whereas in Sri Lanka, there is not only the persistent violation of the right to equality of the Tamils but a course of violence unleashed by government forces on the civilian population, a right of secession arises in them. Such a right can be asserted through violence. It is inapposite to describe such violence as involving terrorism. Right down history from the American War of Independence to the struggle of Mandela against apartheid, violence has been used for the assertion of lawful rights. Though it is obviously preferable that, as in the case of Mahatma Gandhi, peaceful methods should be used in the pursuit of rights, such peaceful methods of protest used by early Tamil leaders in Sri Lanka failed miserably. It is only after the peaceful methods of protest had failed that violent means were adopted by Tamil youth. It is evident that the Tamil diaspora supports their struggle.

The present situation arises because of the hostilities between the two contending forces. The Tamil Tigers are fighting a war of secession in a lawful manner as combatants wearing recognizable uniforms. The civilians have sought refuge in zones designated as safe zones by the Government of Sri Lanka, but are still being massacred by government troops. Those who have escaped the war zone are kept in detention camps in reportedly miserable conditions of captivity for the simple reason that they are Tamils.

In this context, a clear duty of protection arises and this duty, for reasons explained, is the greater in the case of the British Government. It is a duty enhanced by the fact that the relatives of many of its citizens are caught up in the war zone. Though the British government owes a special historical responsibility, this responsibility attaches to the whole international community. The NATO members in particular, having set a precedent in Kosovo, have, at least, the duty to take the lesser route of intervening to protect the Tamil civilians.

Today, we try the henchman of Pol Pot. Fujimori of Peru has just been convicted. Tomorrow, the international criminals in the present Government of Sri Lanka responsible for the atrocities against the Tamils in Sri Lanka will surely be tried for their callous massacre of thousands of Tamil civilians. But, it is today that is relevant. It is today that the hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilian lives under the threat of massacre by the Sri Lankan Government must be saved.

Waiting for 'Godot' that Prabhakaran promised

- A resumé on SL Tamil politics -

by Kusal Perera

Vladimir:

But all four were there. And only one speaks of a thief being saved. Why believe him rather than the others?

Estragon:

Who believes him?

Vladimir:

Everybody. It's the only version they know.

Estragon:

People are bloody ignorant apes. - (from Samuel Beckett's stage play "Waiting for Godot")

There is much to talk about the post "present conflict", by what ever name one calls it. The LTTE political boss Nadesan refuses to accept the coming period as a "post – LTTE" period. Could it be "post Prabhakaran" then?

There are questions about Prabhakaran and what he would do next after this massive humanitarian debacle and the biggest military beating in his entire history. He first appeared as a promising guerrilla leader and established himself as a decisive character in Tamil politics with a promise to establish an independent Tamil Eelam. That being so, he is a man with an abundance of (self) confidence, uncompromising tenacity and with a very conspicuous place in Tamil history.

The role of Prabhakaran and his singularly led LTTE therefore needs a political evaluation at this point of time in Sri Lankan politics, for the simple reason he broke all limits in political thinking to position “Tamil Nationalism” as a global issue with a very strong voice that no one else would have ever dared to think of as possible. This therefore leads to the inevitable question, “what then went wrong for Prabhakaran and the LTTE ? What about his promise of a Thamil Eelam ?”

Justification of armed Tamil politics

Within Tamil nationalism, “armed politics” emerged as an alternative in the early 70’s. Democratic Tamil political leadership(s) was discussed as spent and impotent in meeting Tamil aspirations even before the 70's. In the first ever political resolution for a separate Eelam State mooted by the FP youth federation at the April 1969 Uduvil convention of the FP, the youth were explicit in their assessment of democratic politics being unable to meet Tamil aspirations. This resolution was withdrawn by the youth federation on the insistence of "Thanthai Chelva" (S.J.V) but the distrust on their leadership amongst youth remained and grew.

Starting from the disfranchising of Indian Tamil labour in 1948 under D.S., moving through colonisation programmes that very conspicuously changed the demographic pattern in the East to the disadvantage of minorities during the early 1950's, the Official Languages Act that made Sinhala the only official language since 1956 under Bandaranayake, all negotiations and agreements entered into – B.C. Pact of 1957 and the D.C. Pact of 1965 – with the Sinhala political leaderships in power, the 1972 Republican Constitution and then to the geographical and linguistic Standardisation of University Admissions in 1974, were all clear evidence against democratic Tamil politics being unable to stake a rightful claim in this Sinhala nation State. This also led to a very valid argument that Sinhala political leaderships irrespective of their political differences would not honour any negotiated agreement in accommodating Tamil aspirations.

On that it was argued, the Tamil society in Sri Lanka needs to establish their own nation State to take charge of their own fate. The failure of the TULF led by late Amirthalingam to carry through the unanimously adopted resolution at the 1974 Waddukodai Conference to establish a separate Thamil State that in 1977 general elections was given a resounding mandate by the Tamil people, further justified the armed struggle in place of democratic politics. Yet, this struggle for a Thamil Eelam remained one waged by different armed groups that did not see much fraternal support beyond the SL Tamil society and the shores of Sri Lanka . Their later search for safe houses in Tamil Nadu was due to rival clashes and the ruthless repression President Jayawardne ordered for in 1979 under General “Bull” Weeratunge.

The Delhi administration’s covert support to the "boys" around 1980 under PM Indira Gandhi was the first Indian and foreign intervention in armed Tamil politics, Delhi provided arms training, weapons and funds to the SL Tamil armed groups to fight for their perceived separate Thamil State. This provoked a political discussion on how much the “Eelam struggle” could depend on Indian support. Within the LTTE, a horribly regimented group from its very beginning, this wasn't anything to discuss about. But it was very much a topic within the PLOTE then that was influenced by Maoism and was more political. The PLOTE had seen the Eelam struggle similar to the East Pakistani “Mukti Bahini” struggle in establishing an independent Bangladesh . Mukti Bahini was first militarily supported by Delhi , but was subsequently crushed savagely to install the Awami League in power. This doubt on India in PLOTE thinking when felt by the Indian RAW, antagonised Delhi and PLOTE was eventually starved out. Other groups like the EPRLF meanwhile decided to go the Indian way.

A new Thamil ideology for SL Tamil politics

The growth of the LTTE is attributed to its independence totally focused in establishing a Thamil Eelam. The Tamil society was still not certain though, how it would separate out from the larger SL State. The TULF as the traditional political party that lived on a strong democratic history was still there accepted in mainstream Tamil politics and hesitant about the next step. The LTTE thus moved on a path that gave them a very aggressive nationalist platform based on the historical roots of the Chola Empire, the grand emergence of Tamil dominance in whole of South India and beyond from 09th to about 13th Century. The Chola Empire and the rich and unique Dravidian culture it inspired provided a very strong nationalist psyche to strengthen the dream of a proud Thamil nation. The snarling “Tiger” emblem picked from Chola history signified the aggressiveness of this chosen Thamil nationalism.

The LTTE was thus fighting with a new Thamilean culture that led to a cult of “martyrdom”. It led Tamil youth to commit suicide for the dreamland of an Eelam State . All the “heroes’ cemeteries”, the many colourful pandal for heroes, the “Mahaveer day” that culminates with the leader’s “Mahaveer” speech, comes with the martial arts and the rituals that wrapped up heroism in Chola culture. This was pure Thamil nationalism above “Marxist deviations” and modern world interpretations of national liberation which made the LTTE different to all others.

Yet the Tamil nationalism of the LTTE had to live on the "Thamil homeland" that was sealed by bringing all differing Tamil groups across Tamil politics. The "Joint Thimpu Declaration" in 1985 laid it clear that further negotiations should accept the right of self determination of the Tamil people as a "Nation". The Tamil people have a historically established "homeland" defined as the Northern and the Eastern provinces together, was beyond any debate or argument, it said.

This nationalist platform with a "homeland" for the Tamil "Nation" like that of the Palestinians who claim their right to a Palestinian State with a right to their homeland, provided the LTTE with a reach to mobilise an unusually strong support base that had not been gathered by any armed group for any cause, in such an extensive scale. The Tamil Diaspora was systematically brought in to provide the LTTE with a very consistent international voice, funds, communication expertise and technology, procurement of arms and a new generation of Tamil professionals and specialists. This Thamil nationalism also radicalised the periphery of Tamil Nadu politics and turned it into a pressure bloc that impacted on TN electoral politics.

The Diaspora became a key factor in the growth of the LTTE as the single Thamil organisation that took over Tamil representation. The argument that the LTTE usurped such single status by eliminating other armed Tamil groups and respected Tamil leaders can be explained by saying that the LTTE could do it that way on two counts. One was the ideology of a broader Tamil nation based on the aggressive Chola Empire of the Raja Rajas and two, the independence the LTTE gained over the Tamil society in Sri Lanka , on the strength of the Tamil Diaspora.

Such was the background to all successful military operations carried out by the LTTE from mid 1980's to the successful annexation of Vanni land in late 1990's. Though vulnerable, in the Eastern province some coastal stretches in the Batticoloa district from Kokkadicholai to parts of Verugal Aaru too were taken over by the LTTE during this same period.

By then, within Tamil politics, the line was clearly drawn. Only moderates who accepted the LTTE hegemony in Tamil politics could live politically. That was how the TNA came into being and existed. All others were forced to live with State patronage and thus play politics according to Southern political needs. The 2002 February cease fire agreement (CFA) with the Ranil Wickramasinghe government was possible only because of the Diaspora plus armed strength.

Stalemate in negotiating a democratic solution

The 2002 CFA went defunct after a year and a few months of its signing. The LTTE and Prabhakaran with military successes behind them worked towards a situation they thought would push the UNP government into agreeing with them on their terms and conditions. Their respected ideologue Anton Balasingham, perhaps the only person who could argue politics with the Tiger Supremo, once said in private while negotiations were on in Oslo that it took many years for him to convince Prabhakaran to accept the theoretical principle of "internal self determination". Thus with "self determination" still there on the table though with a different dressing, negotiations were hard and frustrating.

After all, with thousands of youthful lives already sacrificed for a separate Thamil State , the LTTE and Prabhakaran could not possibly turn around and say anything less. Anything less before politically preparing the LTTE into accepting a negotiated settlement based on a system of power sharing. Any thing less before a long preparatory period, would have made Prabhakaran another "Amirthalingam". Therefore the onus of developing confidence in the Sinhala and Tamil societies and keeping the LTTE at the negotiating table fell on Wickramasinghe's government.

The Wickramasinghe government was far short of that responsibility in handling the 25 year conflict and was politically irresponsible. Neither did their cabinet of ministers ever have serious discussions among themselves on how the government should work towards confidence building to strengthen discussions and campaign politically in the South, nor did the UNP as a political party ever developed a discourse within the party and in society. Wickramasinghe as PM did not accept he had a serious responsibility towards the society in bringing the Executive Presidency into a consensus in strengthening the CFA and negotiating peace. Wickramasignhe was a leader who is awfully scared of people mobilised into political activity. He thus preferred the international community to push the LTTE into accepting what he thought he could be comfortable with in reaching the Southern voter.

All agreements on different "interim mechanisms" with gorgeous labels did not come through because of these diverse or differing agendas by the two negotiating parties. It thus gave way to a "fork reaction". In the South, it allowed confirmed anti UNP parties and groupings to move together with the Sinhala racist groups and elements in defeating the UNP government. Its logical path was through an anti CFA, anti Norway and anti negotiation platform. In the North-East, the LTTE was also working towards defeating the UNP. It feared Wickramasinghe would network international pressure to accept what they did not want to accept, after a 25 year armed struggle. The UNP had thus effectively paved the way for both Sinhala and Tamil politics to oppose it and its negotiating process. In other words, the UNP leadership had pushed both the Sinhala extremists and the extremist Tamil Tigers to oppose a democratic, negotiated solution to the conflict.

It was in such a complex polarisation of nationalist extremism, the Wickramasinghe government was dismantled in January 2004 using the executive powers with President Kumaratunge. The Delhi administration that was not happy with Wickramasignhe's approach in broaching peace with the LTTE and Prabhakaran, had also given its nod.

Miscalculating politics on military pride

This political polarisation set the stage for Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to contest the presidential elections as the SLFP candidate in 2005 November, with all Sinhala groups and parties from moderates to extremists including the JVP, flocking round him. This was clearly an extension of the anti-Norwegian, anti-CFA and anti-devolution platform that evolved due to the UNP government's failure to politically utilise the CFA. Rajapaksa's presidential campaign thus gave form to Sinhala chauvinist content with a simple campaign slogan "for a Unitary State " to defeat Tamil separatism.

The LTTE decision to go on a polls boycott was a military strategy more than a political decision. Its leadership believed they could once again militarily dictate terms in defining SL politics, if they manipulated the elections to have Rajapaksa as President. The LTTE was no doubt seen as deciding politics in the South on many occasions before. They were projected as formidable and militarily decisive.

From surviving the fierce and determined National Security Minister Athulathmudali's military strategies to taking on the hefty IPKF, the LTTE gained stronger international recognition as an unbeatable armed group. They thereafter took on the SL army under Presidents Premadasa and Kumratunge, all the time improving their image as an uncompromising and committed organisation. Prabhakaran in turn was considered a mastermind in modern day warfare from guerrilla to conventional war.

Such perceptions and egos were formed forgetting the fact that the LTTE in all their previous struggles survived only with the advantage of having another ally though in proxy. They came out of the Vadamarachchi onslaught somewhat battered and after most of the Tamil people in the Jaffna peninsula were forced to flee, thanks to the Delhi administration that forgot SL is a sovereign State. The LTTE would not have survived the IPKF without President Premadasa's overt and covert support against the IPKF. All through Premadasa and Kumaratunge presidencies, the LTTE had the advantage of strong anti war, pro devolution campaigns in the South that imposed restrictions on how the war is waged. In fact during the Kumaratunge rule Minister Ratwatte complained that peace campaigns organised and supported by the government itself were having a negative impact on his war efforts.

Within this path of emergence to military dominance, at the time of the 2002 February CFA, all other armed groups had splintered, had been usurped by Indian intelligence needs, had folded up totally while some had buckled under the intense brutality of the LTTE compelling them to seek refuge under the security of the SL State. Democratic players like the TULF and the ACTC whose political arena was also restricted by the LTTE's ruthless presence were forced to play front roles to the LTTE. The decision of the LTTE prevailed over Tamil politics. Prabhakaran's decision to boycott the 2005 November presidential elections was accordingly a decision imposed on the Tamil people. The modus operandi was thus quite clear.

The spread and strength of the Tamil Diaspora to impress upon the international community was one that was taken for granted and as an advantage in deciding the polls boycott. The advantage was assessed against a Sinhala regime without Kadirgamar as a would be Tamil Prime Minister and a very convincing Foreign Minister. The hard stand of a Sinhala regime on a unitary State that would not even allow a dialogue on power sharing was the pivotal issue of campaigning. With a much publicised mini ad hoc State in hand with its own administration, own banking system and taxes, policing of the Vanni society, its own law college and a legal system accepted by the Vanni Tamil people, the argument that Tamil people have only one option and that is to exercise their right for self determination was thought to be a very strong argument. Yet, what was not talked of was their political system that ran the mini State. That would have exposed the military authority which totally suppressed a political process.

Misreading the Sinhala psyche under Rajapaksa

The LTTE meanwhile overlooked the possibility of a Sinhala regime waging war that could defeat them. They failed to assess the political impact of a bifurcation of their constitutionally linked homeland they would not be able to hold militarily together. They under played Karuna Amman who had by then betrayed them whole sale. The LTTE also ignored the Tamil psyche in the Vanni that was nurturing peaceful aspirations after many decades, with the CFA in 2002 allowing them access to a growing free market with new values, new promises and new comforts.

Worst is that the LTTE leadership did not want to account for the social psyche an extreme Sinhala government could mould in the South and the political impact it would have in waging war against them. It also failed to see this Sinhala extremism positioning itself within a very strong global campaign against terrorism after the 09/11 debacle in New York . Politically inept in understanding international relations, the LTTE failed to picture them in a different foreign relations canvas when the Rajapaksa government realigns its foreign relations to suit its own Sinhala agenda. A new canvas where the Diaspora would be totally absent. In short, the LTTE leadership could not foresee a brutal situation that would rob them of their mini Thamil State , when a Sinhala leadership under Rajapaksa is brought to office. LTTE had rarely worked on alternatives.

The LTTE leadership was therefore pitched against a Sinhala government that rallied the South on its promise to fight against Thamil separatism. It was up against a world community that preferred to see them as "terrorists" on their past. They little realised this Rajapaksa regime had realigned its foreign relations with countries like China , Pakistan , Iran and Russia that were not only far away from Diasporic pressure, but were also not bothered about Human Rights violations.

The LTTE was thus left with an international community that was willing to accommodate the Rajapaksa regime's war against LTTE "terrorism", if the cry of the Tamil civilians could be reduced in volume. The role India would play to hold on to its "big brother" status in South Asian geo politics, was also shifted in favour of the Rajapaksa regime with its new foreign alliance and the potential it showed in curbing the LTTE militarily.

Teething Sinhala extremism for the final bite

All of it together made it difficult or impossible for the LTTE leadership to stand against a regime that was equally ruthless in its push for military supremacy on a hardened Sinhala platform. Thus for the first time the LTTE proved immature in their military strategy. When they started retreating, the plight of the civilians was no concern, unless their agony could be internationally campaigned on.

They first started moving out of the Eastern Province with token resistance offered. The argument was the LTTE would defend their Vanni mini State with all resources gathered within it. That left to be proved, the government took political advantage of this retreat by holding provincial elections to establish a nominal Tamil Chief Minister, marketed as a democratic evolution out of liberating the East from LTTE "terrorism". It proved that the LTTE had no credible answer to counter this development against them.

Subsequent military offensives by the Rajapaksa regime first launched from the West coast in Mannar and then moving across Vanni to the East coast, forced the LTTE to roll their mini State part by part, district by district, leaving the land they controlled for over 06 years totally empty and at the hands of the military. The LTTE proved it could not this time face a multi pronged conventional war, despite their reputation. They ended trapped in an ever reducing patch of land declared as a "no fire zone" by the government security forces in the Mullaitivu coast.

The brutality with which this whole war was waged by the Rajapaksa regime can never be underscored and can never be justified. Its brutality was not limited to the North –East only. Was never limited to persecuting the Tamil people only, though they were the most ruthlessly hounded. This war waged by the Rajapaksa regime dismantled the long standing democratic structures of the whole society and has overturned social values. It has totally violated democratic and human rights of the people. Has throttled media freedom and coerced all media to obey its dictates. It has paved the way for a politico military regime that no longer represents the elected government and is not responsible to the people. It has eroded the sovereignty of the people with an intimidating social psyche, in the name of eliminating Tamil "terrorism".

Yet all of it does not help the LTTE leadership to shun its part of the responsibility in throwing a whole Tamil society into savage decimation. Its a catastrophic situation that has now emerged as a result of the decision taken by the LTTE Supremo in forcing 04 lakhs of Tamil people out of voting with no political options given. The Jaffna peninsula has gone under military occupation as never before. Whole of Vanni is uprooted and displaced. Thousands have died, hundreds die daily and thousands of others agonise within their painful, nomadic and hungry living. Many thousands are caged in as refugees with no promise of a decent human future. The once linked homeland of the Tamil people lies bifurcated. The promise of a Thamil homeland has to bleed in waiting.

"Gentlemen, I don't know what came over me. Forgive me. Forget all I said …… I don't remember exactly what it was, but you may be sure there wasn't a word of truth in it …... Do I look like a man that can be made to suffer? Frankly? (He rummages in his pockets.) What have I done with my pipe?"

(A line from Pozzo: a character in Samuel Beckett's stage play "Waiting for Godot")

The dead and the wounded would be history. Martyrs do not have a role any more. They would perhaps live in Diasporic literature. Another debate, another discussion would ensue in the Diaspora, in the comforts of intellectual idealism about the future of Tamil nationalism. On the salty lands of North – East, it would be a new start with the old war by yet another generation.

But, to those who live here in this beleaguered old paradise, is there a place to intervene within this unfolding tragedy ? Create a pluralistic democracy and prevent the next generation from going through the same human tragedy? Well, I have no ready made answer. May be, we could discuss too.

Commonwealth urged to pressure both sides and end humanitarian disaster in Sri Lanka

The Commonwealth and its members should use their combined diplomatic influence to press the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to cease attacks that violate the laws of war and end the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka’s northern Vanni region, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) and Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG). A two-day holiday pause in military operations was not long enough to address the desperate situation of trapped civilians.

Fighting reportedly has resumed in the tiny government-declared “no-fire zone” still in the control of LTTE forces, where the approximately 100,000 civilians remaining are at grave risk. LTTE forces have prevented civilians from leaving the area, while government forces have repeatedly and indiscriminately shelled the no-fire zone. More than 3,000 civilians have reportedly been killed and many more wounded during the fighting since January.

“With the United Nations warning that there could be a potential ‘bloodbath,’ the CMAG needs to assert itself to protect the civilians trapped in the fighting in a member country,” said Maja Daruwalla, executive director of CHRI. “It should not stay silent during this mounting tragedy.”

Both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE deny they are violating the laws of war. However, there is credible information that the LTTE is preventing civilians from leaving the conflict area and shooting at those that try to escape. Displaced persons who have managed to flee the fighting have been placed in detention camps by the Sri Lankan government, where they are denied freedom of movement. The government has said that it will improve access to the camps by relatives and allow some to leave after screening for LTTE combatants, but to date only a few hundred elderly have been allowed to leave. There are allegations that an unknown number of people with alleged LTTE ties have been taken into government custody, leading to fears of enforced disappearances.

The Sri Lankan government has refused to allow independent observers and journalists into conflict zones so that there is a lack of accurate and timely information about the situation of the trapped civilians. It has also barred most humanitarian agencies from the conflict area in northern Sri Lanka, citing security concerns, leading to severe shortfalls in humanitarian assistance. There have been repeated allegations of threats and intimidation against Sri Lankan journalists and human rights workers.

“The Commonwealth harms itself when it stays silent during a crisis in a member state,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Abuses by the Tamil Tigers should not deter it from pressing the Sri Lankan government to uphold the Commonwealth’s fundamental principles.”

In the Harare Commonwealth Declaration, 1991, Commonwealth Heads of Government pledged to protect and promote fundamental human rights and to support “the United Nations and other international institutions in the world's search for peace.”

Calling upon CMAG to protect the fundamental principles of the Commonwealth, CHRI and Human Rights Watch urged it to:

Seek assurances that civilians are given the highest protections, and that international humanitarian law is being complied with in full.

Call upon the Sri Lankan government to cease attacks that violate the laws of war, including artillery bombardment and aerial bombing that does not discriminate between military targets and civilians, or that causes expected harm to civilians and civilian objects disproportionate to the anticipated military gain. Violations of the laws of war by the LTTE do not justify attacks by government security forces in violation of the law.

Call upon the LTTE to stop using civilians as “human shields,” take all feasible steps to avoid placing military targets near civilians, stop preventing civilians from leaving areas under its control, respect and facilitate the right to freedom of movement of civilians, including their right to move to government-controlled territory for safety, and end all deliberate attacks on civilians, such as those seeking to flee LTTE-controlled areas.

State its concern for the trapped civilians, call upon both parties to facilitate the immediate creation of humanitarian corridors to allow trapped civilians to escape and offer neutral assistance to ensure safe evacuation of civilians, as well as to provide aid for humanitarian camps for relocated civilians.

Consistent with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, ensure that camps for displaced persons respect the basic rights of residents. The camps should be under civilian authority, residents should have the freedom of movement due all Sri Lankan citizens, and impartial humanitarian agencies should have access to the centers without unnecessary restrictions.

Call upon the Sri Lankan government to allow independent observers, including journalists, access to conflict zones so that accurate and timely information about the situation of civilians in such areas is publicly available.

Call upon the government to lift immediately the September 2008 order barring humanitarian agencies from the conflict area in northern Sri Lanka and allow humanitarian agencies to return to assist at-risk individuals and reach all civilians in need. Restrictions on relief should be made on a case-by-case basis and only when there is a specific and justifiable security reason for the restriction. Refusals for valid security reasons should only be for as long as necessary and should not block legitimate humanitarian assistance.

Call upon the government to ensure that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are able to perform their work without arbitrary government interference. Regulation of NGO activities should comply with international standards, be transparent, and follow clearly defined procedures. Registration should ultimately facilitate the work of NGOs and should neither disrupt legitimate NGO activities nor put NGO workers at risk.

Strongly urge all CMAG members to act on the crisis in Sri Lanka collectively as a positive way to engage the crisis and such situations in the future, while also giving full adherence to the Harare Declaration among the Commonwealth’s membership.

THE FULL TEXT OF THE JOINT LETTER IS REPRODUCED BELOW:

Joint Letter to CMAG on Follow-Up Action on the Deepening Crisis in Sri Lanka

April 14, 2009

To: Chair and Right Honourable Commonwealth Ministers & Members of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group[1]

Re: Follow-up Action to the CMAG Meeting 2009 and Deepening Humanitarian Crisis in Sri Lanka

Dear Ministers:

Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) and Human Rights Watch are writing to you following CHRI's submission to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) meeting held on 4 March 2009, in which CHRI had urged CMAG to place Sri Lanka on its agenda. Since January 2009, the fighting in the northern Vanni area of Sri Lanka between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has resulted in at least 3,000 civilians killed and thousands more wounded. Recently the Sri Lankan government announced that its military had captured the entire stretch of territory held by the LTTE, and that the group's senior leaders and remaining fighters had now merged with displaced civilians in a government declared ‘No Fire Zone.'

Since the CMAG meeting, the situation in Sri Lanka has deteriorated and there is mounting international concern. While welcome, the two day ceasefire, brokered by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, has not provided enough time to address the plight of trapped civilians, who continue to face a crisis.

On 24 March 2009, the United Kingdom House of Commons debated the Sri Lankan crisis. On April 8, 2009, John Holmes, Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, who had earlier briefed the UN Security Council about the current humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka, warned that "a bloodbath on the beaches of northern Sri Lanka seems an increasingly real possibility." A European Parliament Resolution of 12 March 2009, also expressed concern about the danger to civilian population in the afflicted area. Walter Kaelin, Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons, made a visit to Sri Lanka from 2 to 6 April 2009 at the invitation of the Government. After his visit, he had stated that there would be a bloodbath in Sri Lanka unless government and rebel forces stop fighting for long enough to allow tens of thousands of civilians trapped in the war zone to flee. He added, "It's absolutely necessary to avoid a bloodbath. If the Sri Lankan army would try to go into there, if the LTTE would not be ready to let these civilians go, then we'll end up with a bloodbath, and this must by all means be avoided".[2]

We are particularly concerned about the plight of civilians caught in the fighting, the strong likelihood of serious violations of international humanitarian law by both sides, the refusal of the Sri Lankan government and LTTE to allow independent observation or reporting on the situation in the conflict zone, and the limited access of humanitarian organisations to provide assistance. It is critical for the government, LTTE and international community to establish a way in which to ensure safe evacuation, passage and treatment for trapped civilians.

It is in this respect that we are writing to you now. The Commonwealth should urgently address this humanitarian emergency and push for a solution to assist trapped civilians. We urge the Secretary General to use his Good Offices' mandate to engage directly and urgently in the crisis in Sri Lanka. In particular, we urge the Secretary General to speak out publicly and in private meetings with Sri Lankan authorities and other concerned officials on the situation in northern Sri Lanka and insist that the government adhere to its international legal obligations on human rights and humanitarian matters.

We urge the CMAG to engage in the crisis and keep it under review until the next meeting. We continue to urge the CMAG not to self limit its mandate, but to proactively examine all "serious or persistent violations of the Harare Declaration," wherever they may occur. As the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative noted on 5 March 2009:

CMAG has in the past limited its mandate to scrutinising countries where there has been coup d'etat or refusals to follow the rule of law and democracy. However, it has not operationalised its mandate to protect the human rights of citizens of Commonwealth countries. In a situation of mounting human tragedy, the body's silence raises serious questions about its credibility. CHRI reiterates its urgent call to the International community and to the Commonwealth in particular, to take immediate notice of the situation in Sri Lanka in order to ensure the safety and security of civilians, uphold democracy and the rule of law, and to promote and protect human rights in Sri Lanka - the Commonwealth and the wider international community must act urgently in a meaningful way, placing human rights principles at the forefront of their response to the growing humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan government defends its record by saying that it is a democracy and that it is fighting terrorism. Neither should be a green light for human rights abuses or failing to protect civilians caught between warring parties. Democracy requires more than elections. At a minimum, it must include good governance (with civil society participation), rule of law and human rights. Furthermore, measures conducted for the purposes of countering terrorism, while a duty of all states, must also protect human rights, as specified in UN General Assembly Resolution (A/RES/60/288) (8 September 2006),[3] which requires that States reaffirm "that the promotion and protection of human rights for all and the rule of law is essential to all components of the Strategy, recognizing that effective counter-terrorism measures and the protection of human rights are not conflicting goals, but complementary and mutually reinforcing, and stressing the need to promote and protect the rights of victims of terrorism".

Furthermore, reaffirming General Assembly resolution 60/158 of 16 December 2005, which provides the fundamental framework for the "Protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism", in which, amongst other things, States:

• Must ensure that any measures taken to combat terrorism comply with their obligations under international law, in particular human rights law, refugee law and international humanitarian law; and

• Consider becoming parties without delay to the core international instruments on human rights law, refugee law and international humanitarian law, and implementing them, as well as to consider accepting the competence of international and relevant regional human rights monitoring bodies.

In addition, Security Council Resolution 1373 (2001),[4] which called for States to "take appropriate measures in conformity with the relevant provisions of national and international law, including international standards of human rights, before granting refugee status, for the purpose of ensuring that the asylum seeker has not planned, facilitated or participated in the commission of terrorist acts [...]".

In this context, Sri Lanka must uphold its obligations under international humanitarian law, including Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and customary laws of war, even in the face of violations by the LTTE.

For the above reasons, CHRI and Human Rights Watch urge that the Commonwealth:

• Seek assurances that civilians are given the highest protections; that international humanitarian law is being complied with in full.

• Call upon the Sri Lankan government to cease all attacks that violate the laws of war, including artillery bombardment and aerial bombing that does not discriminate between military targets and civilians, or that causes expected harm to civilians and civilian objects that is disproportionate to the anticipated military gain. Violations of the laws of war by the LTTE do not justify attacks by government security forces in violation of the law.

• Call upon the LTTE to stop the use of civilians as "human shields," take all feasible steps to avoid placing military targets near civilians, stop preventing civilians from leaving areas under its control, respect and facilitate the right to freedom of movement of civilians, including the right of civilians to move to government-controlled territory for safety and end all deliberate attacks on civilians, such as on civilians who are seeking to flee LTTE-controlled areas.

• State its concern for the trapped civilians, call upon both parties to facilitate the immediate creation of humanitarian corridors to allow trapped civilians to escape and offer neutral assistance to ensure safe evacuation of civilians, as well as providing aid for humanitarian camps for relocated civilians.

• Consistent with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, ensure that camps for displaced persons respect the basic rights of those residing there. The camps should be under civilian authority, residents should enjoy the right to freedom of movement due to all Sri Lankan citizens, and impartial humanitarian agencies should have access to the centres without unnecessary restrictions.

• Call upon the Sri Lankan government to allow independent observers, including journalists, access to conflict zones so that accurate and timely information about the situation of civilians in such areas is publicly available.

• Call upon the government to immediately lift the September 2008 order barring humanitarian agencies from the conflict area in northern Sri Lanka and allow humanitarian agencies to return to assist at-risk individuals and reach all civilians in need. Restrictions on relief should be made on a case-by-case basis and only when there is a specific and justifiable security reason for the restriction. Refusals for valid security reasons should only be for as long as necessary and should not block legitimate humanitarian assistance.

• Call upon the government to ensure that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are able to perform their work without arbitrary government interference: regulation of NGO activities should comply with international standards, be transparent, and follow clearly defined procedures. Registration should ultimately facilitate the work of NGOs and should neither disrupt legitimate NGO activities nor put NGO workers at risk.

And,

• Strongly urge all CMAG members to collectively advance action on Sri Lanka as a positive way in which to engage the crisis and such situations in the future, whilst also giving full adherence to the Harare Declaration amongst the Commonwealth's membership.

We believe that a Commonwealth statement would offer encouragement and carry weight towards the development of a solution for the humanitarian crisis and would go a long way toward the fuller realization of CMAG's potential as a protector of the fundamental principles of the Commonwealth.

Yours sincerely,

Maja Daruwala
Executive Director
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative

Brad Adams
Asia Director
Human Rights Watch

[1] Including Right Hon Sam Kutesa, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uganda; Right Hon Betty Mould-Iddrisu, Minister for Justice and Attorney General of Ghana; Right Hon Marco Hausiku, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Namibia; Right Hon Murray McCully, Minister of Foreign Affairs of New Zealand; Right Hon Samuel T. Abal, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Immigration of Papua New Guinea; Right Hon Datuk Abdul Rahim Bakri, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia; Ms Gillian Merron MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom; Mr Elridge Stephens, High Commissioner of St Lucia to the United Kingdom; Mr. Sumith Nakandala, Acting High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to the United Kingdom.

[2] Walter Kaelin radio interview on Tuesday, 7 April 2009, on the Geneva-based radio station WRS.

[3] The United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy was adopted by Member States on 8 September 2006. The strategy, in the form of a resolution and an annexed Plan of action (A/RES/60/288), is a unique global instrument that will enhance national, regional and international efforts to counter terrorism. At http://www.un.org/terrorism/strategy-counter-terrorism.shtml (accessed on 9 April 2009).

[4] The United Nations Security Council Anti-Terrorism Resolution; calling for Suppressing Financing, Improving International Cooperation, Resolution 1373 (2001) at http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2001/sc7158.doc.htm (accessed on 9 April 2009).

April 13, 2009

Suicidal political action IV: LTTE Power & popular support

by Michael Roberts

My previous essays have scrutinised the factors and ingredients that directed suicidal action for political cause among Tamil peoples (Roberts 2009a, b, c). Special attention has been directed towards the LTTE project. Here it is critical to recall that all Tiger fighters bind themselves to suicidal action, not just the Black Tigers.

mr4a.jpg

Committed to armed struggle from the 1970s and initially working underground, the LTTE was necessarily a centralised organisation with a top-down command structure. To expect anything other than a dictatorship, with Pirapāharan at the apex, in the 1980s and 1990s is to assume a position utopian. But the LTTE also moved decisively towards a monopoly of the violent path among Sri Lanka Tamils (SLT). In April-May 1986 they ruthlessly eliminated the TELO Eelamists and thereafter proceeded to strangle or eliminate the other Tamil fighting groups as well as the TULF. They also deployed Black Tigers to eliminate leading figures in those forces deemed inimical to their interests, among them Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991.

The LTTE was able to secure ascendancy over the other SLT militants in part because of their extensive sea-faring networks and their early development of a brown-water navy under the guidance of Captain David and then of Soosai (both with roots in VVT). These links also contributed to a logistical capacity to bring in supplies through an international shipping company flying under Pan-Ho-Lib flags. That arm was just one limb in the ramified links that rendered the LTTE into a transnational corporation by the 1990s if not earlier.

By mid-late 1989 they had shown the Tamil people that they had the capacity to keep the 100,000-to-130,000 force IPKF at bay. By mid-1990 they had outmanoeuvred the Sri Lankan government and set up the rudiments of a de-facto state controlling most of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. By then, too, they had the makings of a conventional army and were able to fight the GOSL forces on many fronts, both conventionally and in guerrilla fashion.

In this hot war the dialectical principle postulated by Mao Tse Tung came into play: “there is a unity in any contradiction.” As with the more free-flowing engagements of the 1980s, there were many atrocities against civilians (usually an unambiguous category at this point) by both sides in the 1990s, especially in the Eastern Province. Though outnumbered, between 1991 and 2000 the LTTE achieved a series of striking battlefield triumphs at Pooneryn, Mullaitivu, Puliyankulam, Kanakarayankulam and Elephant Pass. With the exception of a handful of cases, moreover, the Tigers never took prisoners: all captured and wounded GOSL personnel were killed (ABC documentary, “Truth Tigers,” 15 May 2002). It is probable that some such killing occurred on the GOSL side as well.

In the territories controlled by the LTTE – Tigerland in short, in differentiation from Sinhalaland – the LTTE regime was draconian, especially for those suspected to have links with the EPRLF, PLOTE et cetera (e. g. UTHR Bulletin No. 5). The severe character was revealed in late 1995 when the GOSL forces broke out of their beachhead at Palaly and proceeded to conquer the western two-thirds of the Jaffna Peninsula, including its revered symbolic centre, Jaffna town. In a brilliant military step the LTTE enforced an exodus, in effect taking the sea of people with them as they made a tactical withdrawal to the northern Vanni.

mr4b.jpg

[Pongu Thamil Pageant at Vavuniya, 2003 - pic: TamilNet]

Anecdotal evidence from several of those subject to this enforced shift from their familiar locale indicates that the enforced exodus was widely resented by some SLT people subject to this privation. In time many of them returned – presumably with LTTE acceptance because the re-population of the western parts of the Jaffna Peninsula enabled the Tigers to (a) tie more GOSL forces down within this area; (b) encouraged the SLT people in that part of the Peninsula to regard the GOSL command as an “occupation army” and (c) permitted the LTTE to sustain an underground government with a capacity to tax the people as well as mount occasional attacks.

During the period 1996-2008 the LTTE seems not only to have secured the loyalty of many Tamils in this “occupied area,” but also, quite remarkably, managed to induce a “collective amnesia” whereby those who had cursed the LTTE during the exodus of 1995 now blamed the whole act of migration on the GOSL forces (I cannot cite sources here because of security concerns).

Writing from afar and in surmise, I would say that this shift in popular attitudes towards the LTTE regime is not surprising. The criticisms directed at the LTTE (in sotto voice) in late 1995 were context-specific and did not necessarily amount to any approval of the opposing regime (even though Chandrika Kumaratunga had been received with rapture when she visited the area during the peace negotiations earlier in 1995). Few Tamils would have forgotten the policies of discrimination that had generated the Eelam struggle some decades back. Nor could they forget the terrors directed against Tamils in the south in mid-1977 and July 1983.

Again, the capture of Jaffna town and the triumphalism displayed by the government forces on that occasion was heart-wrenching to many a Sri Lanka Tamil person, whether migrant or resident. Such reactions, therefore point to a fundamental force linking people to regime: what I call “Tamilness,” something that had even wider pan-Tamil dimensions embodied in the concept of “Tamilttāy” (Ramaswamy 1997). In other words I am referring to Tamil patriotism founded upon culture and language and amenable to affiliations with a named territory -- in this instance the area deemed to be “the traditional homelands” of the SLT.

“Tamilness” here refers to Sri Lankan Tamil patriotism. Insofar as leading SL Tamils had proclaimed their community to be a “nation” from 1949 onwards, this ideology had climbed to the political heights available to a modern nationalism (Roberts 1978 and 1999). The right of self-determination underpinned the demand for a separate state postulated at Vaddukoddai in 1976.

The LTTE was, now in the 1990s, at the forefront of this nationalist thrust. In the result, by the late 1990s they were able persuade even the remnant TULF elements to accept them as the “sole representative of the SL Tamils.” Along one dimension one can say that this was a prize wrested by sheer power and intimidation. But, along another overlapping dimension, it is clear that it was a product of success. The military victories of the LTTE were a source of pride to many a Tamil. Like the German Liberals who bowed before Bismarck in the year 1870, the Tamil parliamentarians decided to worship at Pirapāharan’s feet.

The Tiger victories had been garnered in part by the LTTE’s organisational capacities. But they also were self-evidently due to the bravery of their soldiers, both male and female. Standing out were those who had fallen in battle, the māvīrar. Their self-negating sacrifice was admired.

The LTTE exploited this resource to the full. From 1990 through to the 2000s they incrementally built up the annual commemoration of their fallen fighters into a massive logistical exercise and ceremony where the Tamil people mourned and yet celebrated these losses, thereby transcending grief in the interests of a higher purpose. My visit to Jaffna and Kilinochchi in November 2004 and conversations with the late Joe Ariyaratnam (reporter) revealed how the fortnight-long activities leading up to Mavirar Nal on 27 November involved a multi-media evocation of sacrifice-for-cause. Popular participation was massive. Through this means a community of suffering tinged with pride was generated.

This brief visit, then, confirmed what anyone could have logically expected to be the outcome of years of propaganda by an efficient organisation working within the context of war and the memories of past grievances: there was considerable popular support for the LTTE in Tigerland. A brief dialogue in Sinhala with a visiting Tamil businessman and one of the proprietors at a cheap guesthouse in Jaffna Town (where I was residing) suggested that such strands of support extended to people in the occupied lands of the Peninsula as well. For the proprietor to remark “apit koti” -- as spontaneous unsolicited response to a story of Tiger sacrifice in the Eelanādu -- spoke volumes (Roberts 2005: 77-78 ).

To be partial to the LTTE within circumstances threaded by Tamil patriotism in the sense Tamilttāy suggests to me that those wholly or partially oriented to the LTTE and its achievements would also be supportive of its quest for Eelam, a demand favoured even by moderate parliamentarians from 1976. This does not preclude other considerations in the attachment to LTTE and/or place. Nor does it mean that some Tamils in these regions were not ambivalent about the LTTE or even silently opposed.

It is difficult enough in functioning democracies, even with sociological and/or opinion surveys, to assess why and to what degree people support a particular government. It is well-nigh impossible to speak for the people within an authoritarian regime that restrains and punishes dissent. But, subject to this cluster of qualifications, I still hold by one of the contentions within my article Dilemmas I, namely: that the “semi-juridical status” secured by the LTTE during the early 2000s, both within Sri Lanka and in the international sphere, rested in part upon “the support of many – but not all – Sri Lankan Tamils” (2009). I abide by this claim in opposition to a counter-assertion by Devanesan Nesiah to the effect that “there is no such wish [for Eelam] prevailing in the majority of the population, what is sought is internal self-determination” (2009).

Nesiah’s contention, it seems to me, is a perspective favoured by a small body of Protestant Vellalar Tamils. It discounts the investment in the struggle for Eelam by so many young Tamils, whether Saivite, Protestant and Catholic, fighting under the tiger emblem of the LTTE. Nesiah seems to cleave to a rational outlook and assessments based in either/or terms. In contrast I give weight to the power wielded by the cultural symbols and political grievances that animate nationalism; and thereby render leaders and people extreme. At the furthest end of this nationalist extreme is the sacrifice of self as soldier and cases of suicidal political action. Sivakumāran, Tilīpan, Annai Pupati and Varnakulasingham are among those who join the māvīrar as testimony to its inspirational force.

Related Articles:

- Suicidal political action III: Imperatives

- Suicidal political action-Part II: Ponnudurai Sivakumaran

- Suicidal political action-Part I: Soundings

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Nesiah, Response, www.groundviews,org, 19 February 2009.
Ramaswamy, Sumathi 1997 Passions of the Tongue: Princeton University Press.
Roberts, Michael "Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka and Sinhalese Perspectives: Barriers to
Accommodation," Modern Asian Studies, 1978, 12:353-76.
Roberts, Michael 1999 “Nationalisms Today and Yesterday,” in Gerald Peiris and S W R de A
Samarasinghe (eds) History and Politics. Millennial Perspectives. Essays in honour of
Kingsley de Silva, Colombo: Law and Society Trust, pp. 23-44.
Roberts, Michael 2009a “Suicidal Political Action I: Soundings,” http://www.transcurrents.com
& www.sacrificialdevotionnetwork.wordpress.com/
Roberts, Michael 2009b “Suicidal Political Action II: Ponnudurai Sivakumaran,” http://
www.transcurrents.com & sacrificialdevotionnetwork.wordpress.com/
Roberts, Michael 2009c “Suicidal Political Action III: Imperatives,” http://
www.transcurrents.com & sacrificialdevotionnetwork.wordpress.com/

Anandasangaree urges President to restrain armed forces

Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) President Veerasingham Anandasangaree has in a letter to President Mahinda Rajapakse urged that the armed forces should not try to move in further into tiger controlled territory so as to prevent civilians being killed and injured.

He has asked that the Govt should get the UN to intervene and evacuate the entrapped civilians immediately.

The full text of the letter is given below:

His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa,
President of Sri Lanka ,
Colombo-03

Your Excellency,

SAVE THE IDPs IN DISTRESS

I regret to note that my repeated requests to you to prevent the army from advancing further, had not been considered favourably. Now that they are on the last lap of the war and the LTTE had taken their position in the midst of the innocent people, using them as a human shield, the casualty rate has increased many fold. The lives of over two hundred thousand people trapped in Newmathalan, which is also a LTTE controlled area, are at stake. We can’t expect the LTTE to conform to any norms but the forces can. Having earned a good name for keeping the casualty rate at low level, by sacrificing several of their comrades, they cannot now, during the last lap of the war and in such a short period, lose it. The situation is disastrous and is deteriorating day by day and your intervention cannot be delayed any more. When the truth comes to light one day, the whole world will condemn us, the Government and the People. Please rest assured that this advice is given with good intentions and should not be construed as something done for personal gains.

I have confirmed through various reliable sources that on 8th April, 296 injured persons got admitted to the hospital of whom 47 had died, some of them are children. This number is the record for one single day since the war started. The number of casualties crossed 200 with over 30 reported dead yesterday, surprisingly a Poya day, on which even slaughter of cattle is prohibited. Several people had died outside the hospital with no records maintained. Due to whose shelling these people died or got injured is not the question the International Community will ask. It is the Government that will remain condemned. Allowing every one to condemn the International Organizations will prove counter productive.

On humanitarian grounds and also to save the good name of the country, you should without any delay:

1. Advice the forces to stop shelling and firing forthwith.

2. Declare a safe zone or no-fire zone in an area fully under the control of the Government.

3. To protect every citizen, is the Government’s duty. I appeal to you to seek the assistance of the UN or any friendly country or countries including India and the United States , both of which as I understand offered to evacuate the trapped persons. There are several instances in which countries had spent very large amounts to save just one life. Failure to summon assistance to evacuate these people will be seriously blamed in the future.

4. Conceding the fact that the people are on the verge of starvation, please take steps to send sufficient food items to meet the requirements of over 200,000 people and airlift sufficient quantity of milk food and other children’s requirements, since most mothers have lost their capacity to breast-feed the babies and they are now fed with only tea, till fresh stocks arrive from Colombo.

5. Please take immediate steps to send an UN team to visit IDPs and to report on their number and their requirements.

Thanking you,

Yours Sincerely,

V. Anandasangaree,
President – TULF.

Time to Rewrite the Sri Lanka Agenda I

By Col R Hariharan

The Sri Lanka security forces appear to be completing out what they set out to do in early 2006 – militarily defeat the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). After three days of fierce battle they captured of the last of the LTTE stronghold in Anandaapuram in Puthukkudiyiruppu area on April 5 the LTTE are left with only the 20 sq km “No fire zone.” Ideally, they would like to get out of the area by both land and sea to safer pastures.

The last major operation was a bloody one where the body counts had been high. The LTTE is have suffered over 500 dead including almost the cream of senior commanders. Confirmed figures of the security forces’ casualty are not known, but likely to be high. Militarily they also appear to have lost their major artillery weapons including 130mm guns and anti aircraft weapons. Thus the security forces have overwhelmed the LTTE not only physically, but also psychologically, as it would take a long time to recover its strength again.

Some pointers

However, it would be useful for Sri Lanka to look beyond the final military victory and draw some pointers for its future course of action.

• The immediate issue is saving over 100,000 of Sri Lankan non combatant people, regardless of their language and beliefs, trapped in the “safe zone” that had not ensured their safety. Over 2500 of them appear to have perished in the area as the two warring sides do not appear to have shown adequate sensitivity to their safety in pursuing their own military goals. Even if Sri Lanka disputes the numbers involved it has the responsibility as an elected government to get them out safely.
• There had been massive demonstration of Tamils all over the world – in almost all metros of the world – for a ceasefire to save the civilians in the safe zone. And the issue has almost found unanimous political support in Tamil Nadu, the home of sixty million Tamils of India. Just because some LTTE acolytes displayed carefully modified LTTE’s red flags at these rallies and raised some slogans in support of Tamil Eelam the sentiment behind the rallies should not be ignored or denounced as LTTE propaganda ploy. There is genuine concern among Tamils all over the world, including this author, regarding their safety. This includes even those who do not subscribe to the LTTE goals or methods. It would be a folly for Sri Lanka to ignore their sentiment.
• The battle at Aanandapuram has shown the strong motivation of the LTTE cadres to carry on the fight even in the face of sure death. That shows that mere territorial victory or high body count or capture of heavy military hardware is unlikely to prevent regeneration of the LTTE particularly as both the LTTE chief V Prabhkaran and his second in command Pottu Amman appear to be still at large. The Sri Lanka government needs the support of the Tamil expatriates the world over to prevent the rise of the LTTE or its clone in some other name. That could happen sooner than later as Prabhakaran is sure to cash in on the wave of public sympathy among Tamils for their kin in trouble.
• Almost all nations, who had supported Sri Lanka’s war either overtly or covertly because they were averse to the LTTE’s goals and methods, have highlighted the need for Sri Lanka to take adequate steps to ensure safety of trapped civilians. And UN agencies and interlocutors have also expressed the same opinion. There is no point in finding fault with their views. It is for Sri Lanka to disprove their opinion is incorrect by taking adequate visible action. It will be good to remember that all of them including the much maligned Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have denounced the LTTE vehemently for its attitude and actions in this regard. And Sri Lanka needs all their support, particularly its friends – India, the EU, UK, USA and Canada – if it has to prevent the resurrection of the LTTE once and for all. This overall goal should not be confused while members of the government make statements at will denouncing them.

Immediate agenda

Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa has proved that he could militarily do what he promised. But it is time he revisited his agenda to deliver on the “freedom” he promised the Tamil people while reneging the peace process 2002.

To quote a well-worn statement once again, military victory is not the final act in counter insurgency warfare. The victory comes fully when the government is able to win over the people who had supported the insurgents. This time-consuming battle to win over the minds that have indelible memories of grievous personal losses is yet to start. Shorn of all political and military rhetoric that should be President Rajapaksa’s purpose of the new agenda. It has two parts – immediate and long term.

The immediate agenda should be to extricate the civilians trapped in the “No Fire zone.” With the LTTE in the midst of civilians it is going to be a messy affair when the security forces close in. The aim should be to minimize the civilian casualties with the selective use of heavy firepower and avoid air strikes. No one outside the government is confident that the security forces are addressing this requirement. So it would be useful if greater access were provided to representatives of media and selected NGOs. This is unlikely to compromise the ongoing operations when the LTTE has reeled under grievous losses. At worst, it might prolong the operation but it would help Sri Lanka improve its credibility. And militarily the final results are not going to be affected if Sri Lanka agrees to give a sufficiently long pause of its operations. That would compel the LTTE to come to terms with the reality and send a strong message to the international community.

The trapped civilians are scared of their treatment at the hands of the security forces manned mostly by Sinhalas. More of them would walk out of the area if they are confident of fair treatment. Over 60,000 people, who had fled from the LTTE areas, are now housed in camps run by the army. The army is involved in the time consuming process of screening them to weed out LTTE cadres and active supporters among them. This has given rise to a lot of suspicion among some of the NGOs and sections of public about the purpose of these camps. To create a climate of confidence, Sri Lanka government should implement the suggestions of the UNHCR regarding these persons. The key elements of the suggestion are: handing over control of these camps to a civilian agency even as the army continues its screening process, providing external access a little more liberally to the inmates, house the 3000 LTTE cadres in their midst separately, and a more humane approach to resolve problems of split families, the sick, infirm and the wounded.

Speedy completion of the screening process should not be too difficult for the military intelligence now that the war is on its last legs. The early return of these people to their villages to resume normal life would be biggest public expression of fair treatment extended to Tamils not only among the Tamil population everywhere but also in the international community.

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

Inconvenient questions answered

By Col R Hariharan

In the last few weeks I have received a number of questions from readers for which there are no simple answers. I have tried to answer some of these inconvenient questions, although my answers may not satisfy all.

1. You have been writing only about the war situation, in utter disregard to the humanitarian crisis. And your analysis is also based upon Sri Lanka defence sources reports. Don’t you think it would mislead the readers?

There are three issues involved in my writing:

• I am basically a military analyst. I am commenting upon the military performance of the two sides. And war is not a cricket match. It is basically an inhuman exercise. It is a fight by the two sides to eliminate each other and survive. And I have commented upon the inhuman nature of war and its humanitarian implications in many of my articles. But as I am not a human rights analyst – many experts in that field are doing excellent work – my comments on humanitarian issues are included in my analysis as relevant in forecasting the developing military trends. (Please see SAAG Sri Lanka Update No 167 dated March 8, where I had commented in detail on the humanitarian disaster waiting to happen.) But I also believe war can be still prosecuted more humanely; so I am against small arms proliferation brought about by insurgency and war as well the use of inhumane and dangerous weapons. I had devoted an entire article on the subject of small arms proliferation and insurgency. Similarly I had also condemned the reported use of cluster ammunition.

• Sri Lanka security forces have been providing detailed and regular battlefield reports and most of the analysts have been using them with caution, particularly regarding the number of casualties. On the other hand the LTTE had been giving reports in bits and pieces with no logical coherence – perhaps due to problems of communication after the destruction of its infrastructure including TV broadcasting facility were destroyed during the war. And the LTTE has not regularly reported on the fall of its defences creating doubts about its selective reporting. In war, possession is three fourths of law and the security forces achievements are there for all, including the LTTE, to see. There is no point in not recognizing the reality that the security forces have performed better than LTTE. So the question of misleading the readers does not arise.

• Lastly, as far as possible I am avoiding what other commentators are writing in their own expertise on political, sociological and economic issues related to war. So I have been confining largely to my area of specialisation – intelligence analysis and assessment. So there will be limitations in content on issues not directly related to the overall assessment. As this war is being commented upon with inadequate independent sources of battlefield information, commenting upon every incident is not possible.

2. From your writing you appear to be against a ceasefire that would provide relief to the trapped civilians. Even the UK and Canada have called for it. Please explain.

Ceasefire in war is not a purely military issue. It is a political issue also; in the case of Sri Lanka there is a strong international element also. So, although ceasefire is not wholly in my domain let me attempt to answer the question from the point of view of a military man.

I am not against a ceasefire. But to expect a ceasefire to come into force when one side is routed and the other side is winning in a hot war is not realistic. This applies to any war. I believe in writing on what is possible. And my writing on Sri Lanka is no exception.

Even if theoretically, the Sri Lanka government agrees to a ceasefire it will not be able to survive the political upheaval that is likely to follow. Moreover, if a ceasefire comes into force, the LTTE would be the gainer, not the Sri Lanka government. LTTE would survive to carry on the fight as before another day. So for Sri Lanka to seriously consider ceasefire as an option instead of war, there has to be an incentive - say a LTTE promise to denounce armed conflict to gain Tamil Eelam. (I am not too sure the LTTE would agree to it). Protagonists of ceasefire call should take their own call seriously and work on how to achieve a ceasefire; mere sloganeering would not do. And they should work on both the warring sides to get results and not focus on Sri Lanka government only.

Yes, the well-meaning souls in power in the UK and Canada have called for an immediate ceasefire. Although I don’t doubt their humanitarian intentions, it sounds a little hollow as there is suspicion their eyes might be on the Tamil expatriate votes while making the call. So if they are to be taken seriously they can come with some concrete suggestions on how Sri Lanka can go about doing it without a loss of face. One suggestion is that they can offer a sanctuary to all the LTT militants on their soil to start with.

And for a lasting ceasefire, the question “what after the ceasefire?” also needs to be examined in advance. That was one of the reasons for the failure of the ceasefire of 2002 to hold. Ceasefire has to be linked to a political process. I don’t see any such move in the horizon in Sri Lanka or elsewhere.

3. “Prabhakaran is a clever military strategist. So even if the LTTE is defeated now, he would rise up once again and vanquish the Sinhala Army.” Your comments please.

There is no doubt that Prabhakaran has a natural talent for military strategy. But progressing a war is a dynamic process and one cannot be victorious at all times. In the present Eelam War IV, he has been outwitted, outgunned, and out-strategised. And that has hurt the LTTE grievously. It will take a long time for the LTTE to recoup from the war wounds. That process requires safe havens, funds, arms, and a lot of loyal supporters who would forgive LTTE’s failure and be ready to sacrifice the lives of the next generation of Tamils. So even though he might still be capable, Prabhakaran has to run the gauntlet of issues I have raised to rebuild the LTTE literally from the ashes. At the age of 52 it will be an ordeal of fire for Prabhakaran to do so. But now his immediate priority is to survive the war that has not ended yet.

In this context I am reminded of the life of Mustafa Barzani (1903-1979), the legendary political and military leader of Kurdish revolution. He fought both the Iraqi and Iranian governments to carve out an independent Kurdish nation all his adult life. Although a short-lived Kurdish Republic of Mahabad was created in Iran in 1945, it lasted only a year. He went into exile in Soviet Union after the Iranians overran the Republic. He did not give up; he revived the Kurdish struggle and negotiated peace with Iraq but ultimately all failed because Iran and Iraq bartered away Kurdish autonomy to suit their mutual rapprochement efforts. He died in exile in Washington. And an independent Kurdistan never came into being; it exists as a province in Iraq with a measure of autonomy thanks to the support of the US.

(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.)

April 11, 2009

Call for journalists to be let into area where “a major humanitarian crisis” is unfolding with no media presence

Reporters Without Borders reminds the Sri Lankan government of its international undertakings as the media continue to be prevented from moving about freely in the north of the country, especially in the area where tens of thousands of Tamils are surrounded by the army.

The death of at least two journalists in the so-called "no-fire" area tends to support allegations that the Sri Lankan security forces are responsible for war crimes against civilians. It also shows the government is violating UN Security Council resolution 1738 (adopted in December 2006) about protecting journalists in war zones.

"With a major humanitarian crisis and war crimes clearly taking place, the government must heed the international community's calls for a ceasefire and for better access for humanitarian workers and journalists," Reporters Without Borders said. "It is a disgrace that this war is being waged without independent journalists present. And by preventing thousands of innocent civilians from moving freely, the Tamil Tiger rebels bear a large share of the responsibility for these crimes."

The press freedom organisation added: "By limiting media coverage to guided tours with the purpose of confirming military victories, the armed forces are preventing the press from doing its job and are disregarding the public's right to be informed in an independent manner."

Reporters Without Borders also condemns the propaganda being orchestrated by both the government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eeelam (LTTE) about the fate of the civilians who have been trapped by the military offensive against the rebels.

The organisation calls on the Sri Lankan and international media to join in its condemnation of the obstacles put in the way of the news media in war zones by using its campaign ad: "Whenever blood flows, reporters' ink should flow too": http://www.rsf.org/rubrique.php3?id_rubrique=111&id_mot=888

Reporters are unable to travel freely in the northern Vanni district, especially the coastal area where nearly 100,000 civilians and rebel combatants have been surrounded by the army. More than 2,000 are already believed to have died in air strikes or as result of appalling sanitary conditions.

The army claims to have launched "the world's biggest humanitarian operation" to free the tens of thousands of civilians in the "protected area," but reports emerging from the last Tamil Tigers redoubt suggest that the situation is catastrophic. The Tamil armed separatists are trying to prevent the civilians from leaving by force, while the government forces continue to bombard the area.

Meanwhile, the military have not organised any press visits to the Vanni district for several weeks.

At least two journalists have been killed in the area. Punniyamurthy Sathyamurthy, the correspondent of several Tamil media based in Canada, was killed in a shelling on 12 February. A reporter for Tamilnet, a news website that supports the LTTE, was killed in a bombardment by government forces in early March.

Sasi Mathan, who was in charge of distribution of the Tamil nationalist daily Eezhanaatham, was killed in March in the Aananthapuram area.

Contact:
Vincent Brossel
Asia-Pacific Desk
Reporters Without Borders
33 1 44 83 84 70
asia@rsf.org

Defence Ministry refuses to let 37 MP's visit IDP camps in Vavuniya

By Namini Wijedasa

The defence ministry has denied permission to a group of 37 parliamentarians to visit camps for internally displaced persons in Vavuniya, raising a vital question: Can a government prevent elected representatives of the people from travelling to any part of the country?

It is also being asked what criteria are applied when selecting who may gain access to certain areas of the country that the government considers “sensitive”.

Rejected

The controversial UNP parliamentarian Jayalath Jayawardana is the secretary of the 37-member Parliamentarians for Human Rights which was formed in December 2008. The equally controversial Mano Ganesan is its president while Hassen Ali is the treasurer.

Jayawardana is now taking his protest abroad and has already written to Navi Pillay, the UN human rights chief. His strategy is not likely to bother a government that has ignored criticism at shutting out media and humanitarian organisations from the conflict zone. Nevertheless, the defence ministry’s refusal to let even MPs access the Wanni has caused concerns that such limits on personal freedoms will become more widespread in future.

The Parliamentarians for Human Rights first applied for permission on 12 February 2009 in a letter addressed to Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Jayawardana was informed by his Military Liaison Officer Gen Palitha Fernando that the security environment was not conducive to such a visit.

Jayawardana wrote several more letters, none of which received a reply. In a final missive on 3 April, he pointed out that Buddhist monks and other religious dignitaries had been allowed to visit the Wanni. There have been guided tours for heads of diplomatic missions in Sri Lanka while visiting foreign dignitaries — including John Holmes and Yasushi Akashi — were escorted to IDP camps.

Parliamentarians like the Tamil National Alliance’s Vino Noharathalingam, Basil Rajapaksa, Douglas Devananda, Rishard Badiudeen and former MP Veerasingham Anandasangaree have also had access. “Anandasangaree is under severe threat from the LTTE but he was allowed to go,” complained Jayawardana last week. “Why is the security situation used as an excuse to keep us out? There is clear cut discrimination.”

Parliamentary privilege

Is it a violation of parliamentary privileges for MPs to be barred from visiting a certain part of the country? Acting Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Kitulgoda has held that the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act only applies to MPs who are proceeding to or leaving parliament — they must be given unfettered passage. This was confirmed by Priyanee Wijesekera, former secretary general of parliament, who said that visits to IDP camps could not be interpreted under the Act as “parliamentary duty”.

But Rohan Edrisinha, head of the legal unit of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, differed strongly. “My argument is that visiting IDP camps is the work of parliament,” he insisted. “MPs have to inform themselves of the reality to be able to contribute towards the proceedings of parliament. How can MPs discuss the situation in IDP camps if they cannot visit them? MPs are members of the national legislature, which is not only supposed to pass laws but serve as a forum where national issues and national challenges are discussed.”

Edrisinha contended that the basic purpose of the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act was to protect the freedom of parliamentarians to perform their functions without inhibition or restriction. “They have special responsibility to focus on what is happening in the country,” he stressed, adding that the parliamentary authorities earlier quoted had delivered “a very narrow, legalistic interpretation of privilege”.

A variety of other persons have also been kept out of selected locations. For instance, journalists can visit Trincomalee but not interview injured civilians in hospital. TNA MP R Sampanthan, too, has been denied access to the Trincomalee hospital. Jayalath Jayawardana, a doctor registered with the Sri Lanka Medical Council, is prevented from visiting the Mannar and Vavuniya hospitals. And so on.

Political agendas

Asked why the movement of MPs was being restricted, Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said he did not know anything about it. “But I’m willing to look at the matter, to see what can be done so that visits can be facilitated in future,” he quickly added.

“In principle, if there is no security issue, access could be given,” he continued, cautiously. “It is also important to remember that IDPs have suffered enough at the hands of the LTTE and that they should not be used for narrow political agendas. This is why certain restrictions have been placed. Even the media going in there constantly would be a nuisance for them, really. Whenever politicians go, it does result in political agendas being played out subsequently. That needs to be avoided, in my opinion.”

The TNA wants access for their own political agendas, he pointed out, so did the UNP. What he failed to add was that the government had a political agenda in keeping both these groups out. The only people who get to go are the ones who would come back saying what the government wanted them to.

A defence ministry official confided that some of those denied permission were “mad fellows”. “Very frankly, everybody has their own agendas and we are sandwiched in between,” he complained. At the same time, there were serious security constraints to be addressed. “If something happens to an MP or a human rights guy, we will be in trouble,” he said. “We can’t take a risk because everyone will be on our head.” He admitted that Anandasangaree had been permitted to go but said he had been accompanied by a “brigade of troops”. “The situation in those areas is not settled and things are still happening,” he elaborated. “IDPs are moving, LTTE cadres are moving with IDPs, registration and screening is still ongoing. There are dangers and to be quite frank it’s a damn nuisance when these people try to go up and down frequently."

Police state

Ultimately, many factors are considered when the defence ministry considers requests for permission to access the conflict zone. While security concerns may be cited, they ring hollow when they appear relevant only to opposition MPs or others whom the government does not “trust”. There is also no reason why group visits cannot be organised on particular days for which security is arranged. The government cannot be confident that people like Jayalath Jayawardana will not return with tales of horror that will arm the Tigers with material for propaganda. Nevertheless, forcibly restricting MPs from the war zone may not be the answer.

It is the responsibility of a democratically elected government to be answerable to the public — and part of that process is to permit detractors to see the truth, whatever that truth might be. After all, the president has appealed patriotic Sri Lankans abroad to return and help rebuild the country. Such individuals may initially be fired with patriotic zeal but this enthusiasm will flag if they find themselves penned into a motherland that has turned into a closely monitored police state. [courtesy: Lakbima News]

Cancer of racism needs to be cut out of Sinhala Society to win the peace

by Dushy Ranetunge in London

It will be written in the great book that as the new century dawned, a "demala" King Velu, ruled in the North from his capital in Kilinochchi. It will be written that many kings and queens of Lanka tried in vain to defeat him but failed until Mahinda, from the ancient Kingdom of Magama, ascended to the throne of Lanka and after assembling his "yodhayas", one Gotabhaya among them, raised a huge army and battled in the East on the banks of the Mahaveli and then to the North, where he defeated the "Demalas" and drove them to the sea - well a patch of beach. It will be written in the great book, that Velu hid among the civilians on the beach to save his bacon.

The story is almost identical to that which occurred in 161 BC between Dutu Gemunu and Elara. Both Dutu Gemunu and Mahinda are from Magama, both mobilized huge armies, both had a Gotabhaya, both first battled in the East and then the North. Both have had to appease the population - Gemunu by building a tomb for Elara and Ruvanvelisaya and Mahinda having to initiate massive reconstruction projects.

The only difference is that 70-year-old Elara was a brave warrior who wanted to save his people and came out and challenged for single combat outside his capital while King Velu ran away from his capital and hid among his people on the beach, using the people as a human shield.

There is great historical significance in present events in Sri Lanka which few Lankans appreciate. Most Sinhala nationalists like to think that the island was united for most of history under a central Sinhalese authority. It was not.

Before the present day Mahinda militarily united Sri Lanka in 2009, the British King George III of the House of Hanover militarily united it in 1815. That unity lasted for about 150 years before starting to come apart.

Before that Parakramabahu I of Polonnaruva united Sri Lanka around 1160 AD. The great Parakramabahu’s unity did not last even 100 years.

From 1215 to 1619 there was a kingdom in Jaffna, longer than the life of the United States of America. It was briefly annexed by Bhuvanekabahu VI, also known as Sapumal Kumaraya, in 1450 but lost control of it by 1467.

Rev. Phillipus Baldeaus who lived and preached in the Kingdom of Jaffnapattnum has written extensively about it and his publication in 1672 has a map of the Kingdom.

It is quite extraordinary that what is happening today is a mere repeating of history which has been played out so many times on this island.

Unfortunately, no one has over the years has come up with a winning formula to politically consolidate the unity achieved militarily.

If we are to focus out and look at global developments in democracy and governance over the last 200 years, the present developments in Sri Lanka are an anomaly; Rajapakse and his supporters are swimming upstream.

It is this anomaly, which attracts criticism of the Sri Lankan regime, particularly in the Western democracies.

The global trend, dictates in favour of the Northerners getting their political space in the North (not the one the Sinhalese, drunk with nationalism at present have in mind). From Hong Kong to London, substantial devolved governance is on the cards and the level of devolution is increasingly not controlled by force of arms of the centre or the majority, but by the aspirations of the citizens of the unit of devolution.

In Quebec, Czechoslovakia, and Scotland, referendums have been held or speculated, on separation. This is the future, whether the Sinhalese like it or not.

Unlike Rajapakse and his supporters, senior Sri Lankan diplomats are tuned to global trends and acknowledge that the Northerners always had and have the moral high ground in respect of their cause. Hence the international sympathy for the Tamil cause (not LTTE).

What the Southerners have is a mere window of opportunity.

War on terror, so skilfully exploited by the Sri Lankan state, is the trade wind that has carried the Sri Lankan galleon thus far. What is disturbing is that the Sri Lankan authorities, lost in a whirlwind of nationalism, may fail to position Sri Lanka to exploit the new changing winds.

The War on terror phenomena ensures that India and the Western powers can be managed at tolerable levels to eliminate the scourge of LTTE terrorism. But the moral high ground of the Tamil cause always remains, only temporarily eclipsed by War on Terror.

Globally, as the War on Terror phenomena fades as we move into this century and the ability of the Sri Lankan state to manage the calls for increased autonomy and devolved governance will diminish.

Today, unity of the island is enforced via the barrel of artillery and the level of militarization is at its pinnacle with civilian power and rights severely curtailed. To maintain the status quo at the present level, Sri Lanka will have to maintain a Burma style militaristic regime. This is unrealistic and unlikely and will eventually meet with civilian unrest.

A more realistic trajectory is a fading of militarism and a gradual restoring of civilian rights and powers over the next few years. Already all military procurements have ceased. Economic circumstances will not allow it.

These developments would be encouraged by the international community including India, which will be uncomfortable with a militarized Sri Lanka. This is a process that will gradually increase democracy in Sri Lanka up to a point where its citizens will, like in other democracies, be able to determine the level of devolution and yes, even the unthinkable at present.

The days that ethnic majorities controlled the political aspirations of minorities via legislative or physical control at the point of a gun will rapidly diminish within this century.

The state can justify a military response to terrorism. It cannot justify a military or a police response to the aspirations of a community if demanded politically.

Military power as a means to control or contain internal political aspirations/disputes would increasingly be viewed globally as being expensive, counterproductive, increasing local and regional risk and leading to political and economic destabiliztion.

The world will frown upon states, which use the military or police power as a strategy to contain internal political aspirations and demand that political intervention be used as it is far more successful and less costly.

Unity and nationhood, has to be won over, and can never be enforced. In other societies the racists like the KKK in the United States, the BNP in India, NF in the United Kingdom are outside the government and marginalized, but in Sri Lanka they are in bed with the government, a cancer within the majority community and within the government.

Gotabhaya speaks of the cancer of Tamil nationalism which has to be overcome to win the war; but to win the peace, the more potent cancer of Sinhala nationalism will need to be cut out of society. This would be the more difficult task and without it the days of Mahinda’s unity, achieved at great cost to the nation, are numbered.

Its Mahinda’s choice: does he want to be a conqueror like those before him whose enforced unity disintegrated within a few years as in the case of George III and Parakramabahu I or take bold initiatives to assault the ingrained prejudices of the majority community, empower all the citizens with wide powers of devolution, and be a liberator to all our peoples, breaking the cycle of history and setting Lanka on an unprecedented path of unity, prosperity and political stability.

It will be nonsense to think of eradicating the LTTE

Dr. Vickramabahu Karunaratne

The government, while discarding all appeals for a ceasefire is hell bent on finishing the LTTE. The LTTE cannot be finished as it is a movement in the hearts and minds of the Tamil people. It represents the strongest commitment to the Tamil right to self determination and Tamil freedom. Even those who disagree with the LTTE’s violent methods or with its political programme for Tamil liberation, still hail it as the most formidable opposition to Sinhala repression. So, it will be nonsense to think of eradicating the LTTE. UNP leaders led by the then defence minister thought of finishing the JVP by eliminating over fifty-thousand JVP suspects with the leadership. It is claimed that Wijeweera was burnt alive by a military group. But today modern dissidents of Wijeweera and other JVP leaders virtually run the government of Mahinda. The ghost of Wijeweera is behind the president at all times. Champika Ranawaka and Wimal Weerawansa today, represent the last political message of the Deshapremi Janatha Viyaparaya, the brainchild of Wijeweera. In that sense both Champika and Wimal are legitimate political children of Wijeweera. The rump JVP is left in the ditch without being able to go along with these two. It does not represent the JVP past or present. While howling for a better war it is barking at the government for repression! So we can count it out. But the real JVP represented by the chauvinist duo, Champika and Wimal, is doing great. So, the dream of the UNP leaders to eliminate the JVP has not been fulfilled.

Similarly the dream of Mahinda to eliminate the LTTE by brutal repression of all who are associated with the LTTE will be a void in the coming period. In the case of the LTTE, it represents the real anger of the Tamil people against discrimination, humiliation and oppression by Sinhala chauvinism. The JVP was correct to an extent. It protested about oppression of Sinhala society by the Anglo-Saxon Western upper classes. But it was and is wrong to the hilt in hating Tamil society for its demand for equality and self determination. Strangely enough it is the wrong side of the JVP that is flourishing today both inside and outside of the government. However the anger of the Tamil people over the ruthless attacks made by both the state and the pogroms cannot be dispersed by decimating the LTTE. The latter will enhance the hard feelings within Tamil society. It will pour out in the future not only in Lanka but also in India as a gigantic Dravidian movement.

Already unknown to many, a demon is haunting India; it is the demon of neo Brahmanism. This resurgence of Brahmanism is less connected to Hindu self assertion but more to the rise of global capital. The crisis in global capital is demanding a massive human sacrifice as in the previous global capitalist setback. After the economic crash in 1929, the capitalist system faced a massive crisis. Then the rise of Nazism and Hitler was for a purpose. Freud says in human history every crisis has demanded a human sacrifice and massive bloodletting. Maybe the rise of neo Brahmanism in India is the new ideology necessary for human sacrifice that may come, if the liberation of mankind does not take place in time! The rise of the Dravidians will be one of the most important challenges to the designs of neo Brahmanism. Taking the rule of Freud seriously one could say that the sacrifice made by the Tamils today is for the victory that will come in the future against neo Aryan Brahmanism. Of course I am just speculating, but the truth is that Tamil consciousness in the world has expanded due to the repressive war of the Mahinda regime. All global capitalist powers including India will be forced to repent in time to come for their aggressive participation in human suffering of this order. The LTTE cannot be blamed for not surrendering to the Sinhala army of the chauvinist regime. If thousands die due to the attacks of the army the blame will squarely fall on the government and its masters. America, India and others shed crocodile tears about the massive human tragedy after doing everything possible to repress the Tamil speaking people.

It is sad to watch the UNP and other so-called liberals happily waiting to see the effect of the tragedy on the government. There is no attempt to press for a ceasefire. In effect they give their support to the aggressive war efforts of the government. In this scenario there is no other way out except the programme of the Left.

Sri Lanka-New dawn and new independence

By: Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

The stage is set for the elimination of the LTTE in Sri Lanka. The likely decimation of the LTTE and concerns for the civilians held hostage by it in the 17 square kilometer war zone (supposed to have been the safe zone!) have become emotive issues for the Tamil populations within Sri Lanka, the Diaspora and the world at large. The inability of the International Community to demand the LTTE let go the civilians it is holding hostage as part of its survival tactics, is shameful and demonstrates a refusal to articulate the truth, in the face of overwhelming evidence. Diplomacy does not dictate the international community should take the side of blatant evil and falsehood.

The LTTE had over the years come to epitomize Tamil anger against real and perceived injustice in Sri Lanka and the hope for a just future in an independent Tamil Eelam. In the absence of credible and vibrant political formations espousing an alternate vision, due largely to LTTE violence and machinations, a large swath of Tamils are filled with gloom and forebodings of an impending disaster in Sri Lanka once the LTTE is defeated. There is a leadership vacuum among the Tamils and this is contributing to Tamil fears. Those positioning themselves as the alternate leadership lack credibility among the Tamils. The LTTE is continuing to exploit these feelings very efficiently through a vicious propaganda campaign based on falsehood and exaggerations unleashed in the media and in the streets of major western cities. This propaganda effort is the last straw the LTTE is holding onto to stay afloat in the deluge about to overwhelm it.

The impending defeat of the LTTE after a near thirty year struggle, I am sure has taught a majority of Sri Lankans many valuable lessons. We have gained our independence only now. The day the LTTE is finally and decisively defeated should be our real independence day. The independence we received from British colonial rule sixty one years ago was handed to us in a platter and we did not understand how valuable it was. We did not perceive that independence as something national, encompassing all citizens. We made use of the opportunity to promote our sectarian interests, rather than our national interests.

We have shed blood over our island in the past thirty years on the issue of how the Sinhalese and Tamils are to share the island and her bounty. The Sinhalese claimed the island as a whole belonged to them, whereas the Tamil claimed parts of the island belonged to them. Both were however united in their allegiance to either the whole or parts of the island. The war that is hopefully about to end has established that this island belongs to all of us, who are her citizens. We have finally proved our love for this island and our sense of belonging to her. This ultimately has been our battle for real independence and freedom from bigotry, racism and extremism. This is a new dawn for all the peoples of Sri Lanka and an opportunity to develop and emphasize our commonality in being Sri Lankans.

India struggled for several decades, united as a nation, to get her independence from Britain. The whole of India- north, south, east and west; across religious and linguistic boundaries- were united in their struggle against colonial rule. As a result the Indian identity came to the fore and has withstood the test of many fissiparous issues over the post-independence years. The pride of all Indians in their Indian-ness is something that we have to admire. Unfortunately, we have promoted our Sinhala-ness, Tamil-ness and Muslim-ness in the post-independence years over our Sri Lankan identity. The result was the civil war that is about to end after thirty long years of misery and mayhem.

Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese have lost many things in this war- life, limbs, property and prosperity- to an unacceptable extent. The Tamils have lost more. However, the Tamils have demonstrated a commitment to fight for their rights that surpassed their strength in numbers. The Tamil resistance was legitimate and is justifiable even today in the context of post-independence realities. However, the path along which it was taken by the militant groups, particularly the LTTE, was abominable and much lamentable. The cause was right, but the path was strewn with adharma, misjudgments, and missed opportunities. The ‘End justifies the means’ approach taken by the LTTE and other militant groups were bound to fail.

The Tamil militancy lost sight of its initial objective, namely the welfare and prosperity of the Tamil people, at a very early stage. Tamil lives became as expendable as that of those the LTTE considered its enemies. It should not have been a war against the Sinhala people, but a war to assure the rightful place of the Tamils under the sun in Sri Lanka. It is not the Sri Lankan armed forces that are about to defeat the LTTE, but the silent cry of many thousands of innocent Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims, who were the victims of its brutality and bestiality, which reached the high heavens! The Sri Lankan armed forces have been strengthened by a divine force beyond that of the weaponry in their possession. Similarly, the LTTE is about to be defeated because it had lost its moral force and had become the target of divine anger or karmic revenge. No amount of weaponry and propaganda will win the war for the LTTE, on account of the ‘Wrong Path’ along which it hijacked the legitimate resistance or struggle of the Tamils.

The lesson that has to be learnt is ‘Wrongs’ can not be righted by equally or worse ‘Wrong ‘reactions. The principle of ‘Ahimsa’ inherent in Jesus Christ’s ‘Turn the other cheek’ concept and Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance, stand vindicated in Sri Lanka today. The Sri Lankan government has to draw the ‘Correct’ conclusions from our 61 year history and make sure the impending defeat of the LTTE is a victory for the Tamils in particular and all Sri Lankans in general. This should be a win for our nation and not a win for the Sinhalese or the extremists among them. We are fortunate; the majority of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims have come through the darkest years in our recent history with our essential humanity intact and acutely aware that a new course for our nation has to be chartered.

The concerns of the Tamils at this stage should become the concerns of the government of Sri Lanka. The government of Sri Lanka and the Sinhala polity have to convince the Tamils that a new Sri Lanka, cleansed of a regrettable past is emerging, where all citizens irrespective of their linguistic, regional, religious and cultural affiliations will be treated equally and will receive equal protection. The Tamils and other minorities should be assured their lives, limb and property will be safe in Sri Lanka. The Tamils and other minorities should be assured their rights will be equal to that of any Sinhala citizen, irrespective of their numbers. Tamils and other minorities should be assured by both word and deed that existing constitutional provisions with regard to their language rights and fundamental human rights are sacrosanct and will be upheld at all times. There should not be any room for communal violence of any form in Sri Lanka, any more. There also should not be any room for anyone or any group to call the Tamils and other minorities, aliens, anymore.

Tamils (& Muslims) should also be assured that all efforts will be made to enable them to exercise tangible political power in the areas where they predominate and at the level of the central government. Platitudes will not suffice any longer. Tamil accusations that they have been the victims of Sinhala chicanery over the past sixty years should be laid to rest once and for all.

If the rule of law ; dispensation of justice in terms of fairness and speed; and due process take centre stage in Sri Lanka, and are respected by the high and low in society and the instruments of state handling such issues, most of the issues of concern to the Tamils will evaporate overnight. However, it should be emphasized these concerns are not unique to the Tamils. It is up to the government to have the inclination and the will to transform Sri Lanka into a state that abides by its laws and enforces them without fear or favour. The JVP insurrections and the Tamil militancy have contributed in large measure to the erosion of the rule of law in Sri Lanka. We have been ruled under emergency laws for long periods in our post-independence history. Impunity has become a way of life in Sri Lanka. These unfortunate developments have to be reversed once the LTTE is defeated. Democratic dissent and protest should be accepted as normal, a necessary safety valve and the voice that has to be heard and responded. Violence at any level or section of society should be promptly dealt within parameters of existing laws, which are judiciable.

Many of the grievances upon which the Tamil struggle was founded have become irrelevant today. Tamil is recognized as an official language in the Sri Lankan constitution and if provisions relating to it are fully implemented, there should not be any problems with regard to the use of Tamil in dealings with the government. There is a sincere effort being made to implement the constitutional and statutory provisions with regard to the Tamil language. All new recruits to the government services are required to have a working knowledge of Sinhala or Tamil as the other language, old recruits have to acquire sufficient proficiency in Sinhala or Tamil as a second language, Tamil is being taught to Sinhala school children and to monks in Pirivenas (Schools for Buddhist clergy) and concerted efforts are being made to recruit bilingual translators. The private sector works in the English language yet and currently employs a large number of Tamils. Tri-lingualism (Proficiency in Sinhala, Tamil and English) is being recognized as essential for Sri Lanka’s economic development and prosperity in the modern world. The efforts of Minister DEW Gunasekera in this regards should be appreciated and encouraged. This reverses the trend towards mono-lingualism that was seeded in 1956 and laid the foundations for the subsequent national turmoil.

If the Tamils are dissatisfied with the government supported educational system, private schools can be established under the Companies ordinance. Private universities can also be established under this ordinance. The liberalized economy also permits students to go abroad for their education. Further, when the 13th amendment is fully implemented, schools and universities will come fully under the purview of the provincial administration, permitting greater localized inputs towards excellence. The increase in number of government universities spread over the island with faculties for professional studies, has also increased the possibilities for a larger number of Tamil students to enroll.

The demand for government employment has precipitously declined among Tamils. The Tamils have forsaken the security they traditionally sought in government employment and embraced more adventurous avenues to make a living. This is a positive development in the thought processes of the Tamils and a clear break from the mind set of the past. The new found sense of adventure and available entrepreneurial skills should be exploited to develop agriculture, agro-industries and other industrial ventures in the north and east.

The open economy has eliminated the highly controlled and much abused licencing system for industries prevalent thirty years back. Any industry that meets the legal requirements can be established in the north and east easily, once peace returns to the island. Local industries utilizing human resources in the north and the east can be established with different levels of sophistication, permitting influx of Tamil Diaspora funds and skills. This will bring in its wake employment, infra-structure development and prosperity. The private sector operated health services have expanded rapidly in the island over the past decade or so, and there is no reason why this would not expand into the north and east. Every opportunity available in the rest of Sri Lanka will become available to the Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese of the north and East once this war is over and there is no impediment to this in the Sri Lankan system at present.

Tamils have demonstrated through this war, spear headed by the LTTE, they treasure their identity and their connections to the island. They have also demonstrated an enduring commitment to be a people who can hold their heads up in the island. Through the war they have demonstrated ingenuity, inventiveness, organizational abilities and tenacity that our nation as a whole can be proud. Although the war was lost, the Tamils have come through a baptism of fire. The positive aspects of the Tamil struggle should be recognized, respected and made use in our nation building effort. The Tamils are down, but not out. They are a resilient people. They will come out of their present misery faster, if a helping hand is extended by the government, the other peoples of Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan Diaspora. The extent of this help, will determine the success of the much needed national healing process. Tamils on the other hand must put memories of a bitter past in the back burner and reciprocate the ‘Forgive and forget’ attitude of the other communities and the government in Sri Lanka. The time has come for the Tamils to look forwards and cease looking backwards. Tamils have to accept the reality of being Tamils within a Sri Lankan identity.

However, the Tamils in the north and east may not have the political power that was sought through an independent Tamil Eelam by our politicians and militants. It was an exhilarating dream that has turned sour in reality for the Tamils. It was a dream that was unrealistic to begin with and became totally untenable with time. It became with time the dream of the hating, vengeful, self seeking and ill informed carpetbaggers! It had ceased to be the dream of the ordinary people in the north and east long ago. The unwillingness of the LTTE to seize several opportunities that came its way to secure greater political rights for the Tamils within the provincial council system or a suitable federal governance system, has ensured the Tamils have to work within the existing system, while negotiating with the government to enshrine the proposals being finalized by the All Party Conference (APC) chaired by Prof. Tissa Vithanage in the constitution. The rehabilitation, resettlement, re-building and development activities in the north and east can be easily carried out under the existing Provincial Council system in collaboration with the Central Government. Tamils have no alternative but to make the most of what is available, while working in tandem with the progressives in a national context to get greater powers devolved to the provinces.

The Tamil Diaspora is spread over seventy odd countries in the world and largely represent the best of Sri Lankan Tamils. They have not only acquired the skills needed to productively function in 21st century societies, but also the wealth that can be spared for not only the development of the north and east, but the whole of Sri Lanka. This Diaspora although largely supportive of the LTTE and its mission at present, can be weaned to contribute towards a new dawn in Sri Lanka, provided the government initiates progressive and confidence building measures to build bridges to the Tamils. Mechanisms to involve the Tamil Diaspora in the re-building and development of the north and east should be initiated by the government as an urgent priority and this should extend with time to cover the whole island. The government having recently involved sections of the Tamil Diaspora in a dialogue, should take this process forward vigorously and make gestures to empower those Diasporan Tamils who participated at considerable risk to their person and reputations, by dealing with issues that concern the Tamils at present with wisdom and compassion.

The immediate issue that concerns all Tamils is the fate of thousands of civilians entrapped in the so-called safety zone. The government should do everything in its power to ensure these civilians and those in the LTTE willing to come out, are brought out safely and treated with compassion and humanity, surpassing those demanded by international norms. Most of these trapped civilians are the poorest of the poor and come from the lowest rungs of Tamil society. They do not have the influence or where withal to buy their safe passage from the LTTE. The war is currently being fought with the lives of these poor and innocent people as pawns. This is a situation the LTTE and the Tamils yet supporting it should be ashamed of. Every life is precious and at this juncture every Tamil life is very precious. This should demonstrably become the overwhelming concern of the government in the face of the greatest sin the LTTE is committing.

We as a nation- Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and others- are on the threshold of a new dawn, after years of darkness. This is an opportunity to renew our independence and engage in a nation building process, recognizing our diversities as peoples. The voice of the rational, decent and compassionate majority in all communities should be heard above that of the extremists amongst us. The government headed by President Mahinda Rajapakse now within a whisker of winning the war, has a more difficult task ahead in winning the peace. President Rajapakse’s single minded approach to winning the war has produced unbelievable results. A similar approach to winning the peace will be his crowning glory. He has to harness the positive forces within the country, among all communities and in the Diaspora to win the peace and make our island the ‘Dhamma-Dwipa’ it was destined to be.

Sri Lanka-New dawn and new independence

By: Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

The stage is set for the elimination of the LTTE in Sri Lanka. The likely decimation of the LTTE and concerns for the civilians held hostage by it in the 17 square kilometer war zone (supposed to have been the safe zone!) have become emotive issues for the Tamil populations within Sri Lanka, the Diaspora and the world at large. The inability of the International Community to demand the LTTE let go the civilians it is holding hostage as part of its survival tactics, is shameful and demonstrates a refusal to articulate the truth, in the face of overwhelming evidence. Diplomacy does not dictate the international community should take the side of blatant evil and falsehood.

The LTTE had over the years come to epitomize Tamil anger against real and perceived injustice in Sri Lanka and the hope for a just future in an independent Tamil Eelam. In the absence of credible and vibrant political formations espousing an alternate vision, due largely to LTTE violence and machinations, a large swath of Tamils are filled with gloom and forebodings of an impending disaster in Sri Lanka once the LTTE is defeated. There is a leadership vacuum among the Tamils and this is contributing to Tamil fears. Those positioning themselves as the alternate leadership lack credibility among the Tamils. The LTTE is continuing to exploit these feelings very efficiently through a vicious propaganda campaign based on falsehood and exaggerations unleashed in the media and in the streets of major western cities. This propaganda effort is the last straw the LTTE is holding onto to stay afloat in the deluge about to overwhelm it.

The impending defeat of the LTTE after a near thirty year struggle, I am sure has taught a majority of Sri Lankans many valuable lessons. We have gained our independence only now. The day the LTTE is finally and decisively defeated should be our real independence day. The independence we received from British colonial rule sixty one years ago was handed to us in a platter and we did not understand how valuable it was. We did not perceive that independence as something national, encompassing all citizens. We made use of the opportunity to promote our sectarian interests, rather than our national interests.

We have shed blood over our island in the past thirty years on the issue of how the Sinhalese and Tamils are to share the island and her bounty. The Sinhalese claimed the island as a whole belonged to them, whereas the Tamil claimed parts of the island belonged to them. Both were however united in their allegiance to either the whole or parts of the island. The war that is hopefully about to end has established that this island belongs to all of us, who are her citizens. We have finally proved our love for this island and our sense of belonging to her. This ultimately has been our battle for real independence and freedom from bigotry, racism and extremism. This is a new dawn for all the peoples of Sri Lanka and an opportunity to develop and emphasize our commonality in being Sri Lankans.

India struggled for several decades, united as a nation, to get her independence from Britain. The whole of India- north, south, east and west; across religious and linguistic boundaries- were united in their struggle against colonial rule. As a result the Indian identity came to the fore and has withstood the test of many fissiparous issues over the post-independence years. The pride of all Indians in their Indian-ness is something that we have to admire. Unfortunately, we have promoted our Sinhala-ness, Tamil-ness and Muslim-ness in the post-independence years over our Sri Lankan identity. The result was the civil war that is about to end after thirty long years of misery and mayhem.

Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese have lost many things in this war- life, limbs, property and prosperity- to an unacceptable extent. The Tamils have lost more. However, the Tamils have demonstrated a commitment to fight for their rights that surpassed their strength in numbers. The Tamil resistance was legitimate and is justifiable even today in the context of post-independence realities. However, the path along which it was taken by the militant groups, particularly the LTTE, was abominable and much lamentable. The cause was right, but the path was strewn with adharma, misjudgments, and missed opportunities. The ‘End justifies the means’ approach taken by the LTTE and other militant groups were bound to fail.

The Tamil militancy lost sight of its initial objective, namely the welfare and prosperity of the Tamil people, at a very early stage. Tamil lives became as expendable as that of those the LTTE considered its enemies. It should not have been a war against the Sinhala people, but a war to assure the rightful place of the Tamils under the sun in Sri Lanka. It is not the Sri Lankan armed forces that are about to defeat the LTTE, but the silent cry of many thousands of innocent Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims, who were the victims of its brutality and bestiality, which reached the high heavens! The Sri Lankan armed forces have been strengthened by a divine force beyond that of the weaponry in their possession. Similarly, the LTTE is about to be defeated because it had lost its moral force and had become the target of divine anger or karmic revenge. No amount of weaponry and propaganda will win the war for the LTTE, on account of the ‘Wrong Path’ along which it hijacked the legitimate resistance or struggle of the Tamils.

The lesson that has to be learnt is ‘Wrongs’ can not be righted by equally or worse ‘Wrong ‘reactions. The principle of ‘Ahimsa’ inherent in Jesus Christ’s ‘Turn the other cheek’ concept and Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance, stand vindicated in Sri Lanka today. The Sri Lankan government has to draw the ‘Correct’ conclusions from our 61 year history and make sure the impending defeat of the LTTE is a victory for the Tamils in particular and all Sri Lankans in general. This should be a win for our nation and not a win for the Sinhalese or the extremists among them. We are fortunate; the majority of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims have come through the darkest years in our recent history with our essential humanity intact and acutely aware that a new course for our nation has to be chartered.

The concerns of the Tamils at this stage should become the concerns of the government of Sri Lanka. The government of Sri Lanka and the Sinhala polity have to convince the Tamils that a new Sri Lanka, cleansed of a regrettable past is emerging, where all citizens irrespective of their linguistic, regional, religious and cultural affiliations will be treated equally and will receive equal protection. The Tamils and other minorities should be assured their lives, limb and property will be safe in Sri Lanka. The Tamils and other minorities should be assured their rights will be equal to that of any Sinhala citizen, irrespective of their numbers. Tamils and other minorities should be assured by both word and deed that existing constitutional provisions with regard to their language rights and fundamental human rights are sacrosanct and will be upheld at all times. There should not be any room for communal violence of any form in Sri Lanka, any more. There also should not be any room for anyone or any group to call the Tamils and other minorities, aliens, anymore.

Tamils (& Muslims) should also be assured that all efforts will be made to enable them to exercise tangible political power in the areas where they predominate and at the level of the central government. Platitudes will not suffice any longer. Tamil accusations that they have been the victims of Sinhala chicanery over the past sixty years should be laid to rest once and for all.

If the rule of law ; dispensation of justice in terms of fairness and speed; and due process take centre stage in Sri Lanka, and are respected by the high and low in society and the instruments of state handling such issues, most of the issues of concern to the Tamils will evaporate overnight. However, it should be emphasized these concerns are not unique to the Tamils. It is up to the government to have the inclination and the will to transform Sri Lanka into a state that abides by its laws and enforces them without fear or favour. The JVP insurrections and the Tamil militancy have contributed in large measure to the erosion of the rule of law in Sri Lanka. We have been ruled under emergency laws for long periods in our post-independence history. Impunity has become a way of life in Sri Lanka. These unfortunate developments have to be reversed once the LTTE is defeated. Democratic dissent and protest should be accepted as normal, a necessary safety valve and the voice that has to be heard and responded. Violence at any level or section of society should be promptly dealt within parameters of existing laws, which are judiciable.

Many of the grievances upon which the Tamil struggle was founded have become irrelevant today. Tamil is recognized as an official language in the Sri Lankan constitution and if provisions relating to it are fully implemented, there should not be any problems with regard to the use of Tamil in dealings with the government. There is a sincere effort being made to implement the constitutional and statutory provisions with regard to the Tamil language. All new recruits to the government services are required to have a working knowledge of Sinhala or Tamil as the other language, old recruits have to acquire sufficient proficiency in Sinhala or Tamil as a second language, Tamil is being taught to Sinhala school children and to monks in Pirivenas (Schools for Buddhist clergy) and concerted efforts are being made to recruit bilingual translators. The private sector works in the English language yet and currently employs a large number of Tamils. Tri-lingualism (Proficiency in Sinhala, Tamil and English) is being recognized as essential for Sri Lanka’s economic development and prosperity in the modern world. The efforts of Minister DEW Gunasekera in this regards should be appreciated and encouraged. This reverses the trend towards mono-lingualism that was seeded in 1956 and laid the foundations for the subsequent national turmoil.

If the Tamils are dissatisfied with the government supported educational system, private schools can be established under the Companies ordinance. Private universities can also be established under this ordinance. The liberalized economy also permits students to go abroad for their education. Further, when the 13th amendment is fully implemented, schools and universities will come fully under the purview of the provincial administration, permitting greater localized inputs towards excellence. The increase in number of government universities spread over the island with faculties for professional studies, has also increased the possibilities for a larger number of Tamil students to enroll.

The demand for government employment has precipitously declined among Tamils. The Tamils have forsaken the security they traditionally sought in government employment and embraced more adventurous avenues to make a living. This is a positive development in the thought processes of the Tamils and a clear break from the mind set of the past. The new found sense of adventure and available entrepreneurial skills should be exploited to develop agriculture, agro-industries and other industrial ventures in the north and east.

The open economy has eliminated the highly controlled and much abused licencing system for industries prevalent thirty years back. Any industry that meets the legal requirements can be established in the north and east easily, once peace returns to the island. Local industries utilizing human resources in the north and the east can be established with different levels of sophistication, permitting influx of Tamil Diaspora funds and skills. This will bring in its wake employment, infra-structure development and prosperity. The private sector operated health services have expanded rapidly in the island over the past decade or so, and there is no reason why this would not expand into the north and east. Every opportunity available in the rest of Sri Lanka will become available to the Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese of the north and East once this war is over and there is no impediment to this in the Sri Lankan system at present.

Tamils have demonstrated through this war, spear headed by the LTTE, they treasure their identity and their connections to the island. They have also demonstrated an enduring commitment to be a people who can hold their heads up in the island. Through the war they have demonstrated ingenuity, inventiveness, organizational abilities and tenacity that our nation as a whole can be proud. Although the war was lost, the Tamils have come through a baptism of fire. The positive aspects of the Tamil struggle should be recognized, respected and made use in our nation building effort. The Tamils are down, but not out. They are a resilient people. They will come out of their present misery faster, if a helping hand is extended by the government, the other peoples of Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan Diaspora. The extent of this help, will determine the success of the much needed national healing process. Tamils on the other hand must put memories of a bitter past in the back burner and reciprocate the ‘Forgive and forget’ attitude of the other communities and the government in Sri Lanka. The time has come for the Tamils to look forwards and cease looking backwards. Tamils have to accept the reality of being Tamils within a Sri Lankan identity.

However, the Tamils in the north and east may not have the political power that was sought through an independent Tamil Eelam by our politicians and militants. It was an exhilarating dream that has turned sour in reality for the Tamils. It was a dream that was unrealistic to begin with and became totally untenable with time. It became with time the dream of the hating, vengeful, self seeking and ill informed carpetbaggers! It had ceased to be the dream of the ordinary people in the north and east long ago. The unwillingness of the LTTE to seize several opportunities that came its way to secure greater political rights for the Tamils within the provincial council system or a suitable federal governance system, has ensured the Tamils have to work within the existing system, while negotiating with the government to enshrine the proposals being finalized by the All Party Conference (APC) chaired by Prof. Tissa Vithanage in the constitution. The rehabilitation, resettlement, re-building and development activities in the north and east can be easily carried out under the existing Provincial Council system in collaboration with the Central Government. Tamils have no alternative but to make the most of what is available, while working in tandem with the progressives in a national context to get greater powers devolved to the provinces.

The Tamil Diaspora is spread over seventy odd countries in the world and largely represent the best of Sri Lankan Tamils. They have not only acquired the skills needed to productively function in 21st century societies, but also the wealth that can be spared for not only the development of the north and east, but the whole of Sri Lanka. This Diaspora although largely supportive of the LTTE and its mission at present, can be weaned to contribute towards a new dawn in Sri Lanka, provided the government initiates progressive and confidence building measures to build bridges to the Tamils. Mechanisms to involve the Tamil Diaspora in the re-building and development of the north and east should be initiated by the government as an urgent priority and this should extend with time to cover the whole island. The government having recently involved sections of the Tamil Diaspora in a dialogue, should take this process forward vigorously and make gestures to empower those Diasporan Tamils who participated at considerable risk to their person and reputations, by dealing with issues that concern the Tamils at present with wisdom and compassion.

The immediate issue that concerns all Tamils is the fate of thousands of civilians entrapped in the so-called safety zone. The government should do everything in its power to ensure these civilians and those in the LTTE willing to come out, are brought out safely and treated with compassion and humanity, surpassing those demanded by international norms. Most of these trapped civilians are the poorest of the poor and come from the lowest rungs of Tamil society. They do not have the influence or where withal to buy their safe passage from the LTTE. The war is currently being fought with the lives of these poor and innocent people as pawns. This is a situation the LTTE and the Tamils yet supporting it should be ashamed of. Every life is precious and at this juncture every Tamil life is very precious. This should demonstrably become the overwhelming concern of the government in the face of the greatest sin the LTTE is committing.

We as a nation- Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and others- are on the threshold of a new dawn, after years of darkness. This is an opportunity to renew our independence and engage in a nation building process, recognizing our diversities as peoples. The voice of the rational, decent and compassionate majority in all communities should be heard above that of the extremists amongst us. The government headed by President Mahinda Rajapakse now within a whisker of winning the war, has a more difficult task ahead in winning the peace. President Rajapakse’s single minded approach to winning the war has produced unbelievable results. A similar approach to winning the peace will be his crowning glory. He has to harness the positive forces within the country, among all communities and in the Diaspora to win the peace and make our island the ‘Dhamma-Dwipa’ it was destined to be.

A letter to all MP's from Lankan Christian leaders on anti-conversion bill

Christian church leaders both Catholic and Protestant have written a letter to all Parliamentarians in Sri Lanka on the controversial anti - conversation legislation.

The full text of letter and list of signatories are given below:

Dear Hon. Member of Parliament,

Bill on the Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion

We write as a group of Christian leaders of several Main Line Churches, who are deeply concerned about the implications of the above Bill which is now before Parliament. We wish to state right at the beginning that while we too, are categorically opposed to unethical conversions, we do not agree that legislation is the answer to inter-religious tensions.

It is our considered view, that if this Bill is passed there will be serious negative repercussions on the people’s freedom of choice, inter-religious harmony and national integration. We have consequently decided to apprise you on our position and to seek your wise participation in the process of debate and decision making regarding the above. We trust that as Representatives of the people you will consider our concerns with respect.

The following is our position in brief:

Background:

1. All religions practised in our country have had their origins outside Sri Lanka. Our ancestors embraced those religions while remaining citizens of the Country. Over the centuries the Christian Church and Christians have grown to become an intrinsic and inegral part of the social fabric of our country. As Sri Lankan citizens, therefore, you will appreciate, that we are entitled to all rights and privileges that every citizens is heir to.

2. Over the years Christians have co-operated in the task of nation building and continue to do so together with our sisters and brothers of all faiths. Our common aspiration has been on integrated Nation. Built on justice, dignity and freedom for all. In this process Christians have enriched and influenced nearly every aspect of national life. We have made our contribution, as Sri Lankans, in and through the Professions, the Judiciary, Industry, Education, Politics, Agriculture, Private Sector, Fishing. Foreign Affairs, the Arts and Aesthetics, Sports, the Media and the Police and Armed Forces. Moreover we have engaged in a wide range of humanitarian services to the most vulnerable of our people such as the elderly, orphans, the destitute, IDPs, those affected with leprosy, HIV and Aids, and sight and hearing impaired, unmarried mothers, prisoners, the housebound, those in asylums and so on. Most of these services are rendered to all Sri Lankans irrespective of religious beliefs. Much of this work has also been of a pioneering nature and through the sacrificial vocation of early Missionaries and Religious Orders. We also believe that we have made a significant contribution to the cultural, ethical and moral values of our society.

3 While we may have made some errors in the past, we believe that today Jesus Christ is leading us on a journey from privilege to responsible servant-hood. In the recent past we have strived to transform ourselves into a more open, understanding and inclusive Church rooted in and appreciative of our ancient heritage and culture. Significant aspects of this journey are our friendship and cooperation with our sisters and brothers of all other Religions, as well as our operation with our sisters and brothers of all other Religions, as well as our commitment to an integrated Nation with dignity and democratic space for all.

The Bill

The concerns that we have about the bill are:

a) That it will erode the democratic right of religious freedom, namely the right to choose a religion according to one’s conscience. This is the hallmark of a democratic pluralistic society which includes the right to freely change from the religion of one’s faith through legitimate means. It will be difficult to capture the complexities and nuances of such a conversion legalistically or otherwise without infringing on the rights of each party. Moreover the bill as proposed opens itself to the abuse of wrongful allegations.

b) That it will prevent Christians: and indeed the adherents of all religions in spite of their innocence, to stand with the affected and serve one another for fear of legal consequences in spite of their innocence. Serving our neighbour, irrespective of ethnicity or religion is an intrinsic part of our Christian calling which we carry out without prejudice to other religions.

c) Thirdly the interpretation and implementation of certain provisions of the bill are likely to provoke more inter-religious suspicion, tensions and conflict than will resolve them. This will have adverse consequences on national harmony. Our country simply cannot take another conflict, centred around religious tensions.

An alternative proposal:

We admit that there have been in the recent past insensitive and even thoughtless methods of Christian behaviour on the part of some Christian and other groups that have upset our Buddhist and Hindu brothers and sisters in particular and recognize the need to learn new lessons of respectful coexistence with the adherents of all faiths. In this connection our Churches have always adhered to a code of ethics for mission, which respects all other religions.

While we consequently recognize that inter-religious hurt, Misunderstandings and tensions do exist and need to be dealt with, we do not agree that legislation is the answer. We instead wish to propose a representative Inter-Religious Council with statutory powers to mediate when tensions occur including when allegations of force are made in conversion.

A draft for such a council has been prepared already and could be studied by a suitable committee.

Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka

The Most Rev. Dr. Oswald Gomis,
Archbishop of Colombo.

The Most Rev. Dr. Thomas Savundaranayagam.
Bishop of Jaffna.

The Most Rev. Joseph Ponniah
Auxiliary Bishop of Trinco/Batticaloa.

The Most Rev. Dr. Raymond Peiris,
Catholic Bishop of Kurunegala.

The Most Rev. Dr. Rayappu Joseph,
Bishop of Mannar

The Most Rev. Dr. Winston Fernando SSS.,
Bishop of Badulla.

The Most Rev. Dr. Harold Anthony Perera,
Bishop of Galle.

The Most Rev. Dr. Valence Mendis,
Bishop of Chilaw.

The Most Rev. Dr. Norbert Andradi, OMI.,
Bishop of Anuradhapura.

The Most Rev. Dr. Cletus C. Perera, OSB
Bishop of Ratnapura.

The Most Rev. Dr. Marius Pieris,
Auxiliary Bishop of Colombo.

The Most Rev. Dr. Kingsley L. Swampillal,
Bishop of Trinco/Batticaloa

Retired Archbishops/Bishops

The Most Rev. Dr. Nicholas Marcus Fernando,
Archbishop Emeritus of Colombo.

The Most Rev. Dr. Frank Marcus Fernando,
Former Bishop of Chilaw.

The Most Rev. Dr. Elmo N. J. Perera,
Bishop Emeritus of Galle.

The Most Rev. Dr. L. R. Anthony,
Bishop Emeritus of Trincomalee/Batticola.

Heads of Churches

Rev. Kingstley Perera,
President,
Sri Lanka Baptist Sangamaya.

Rev. Roshan Mendis,
President,
Christian Reformed Church.

Rt. Rev. Duleep de Chickera,
Bishop of Colombo,
Diocese of Colombo

Rt. Rev. Dr. Daniel S. Thiagarajah,
Bishop of Jaffna Diocese,
Church of South India.

Rt. Rev. Kumara Mangasinghe,
Bishop of Kurunagala,
Diocese of Kurunagala,
Church of Ceylon.

Rev. W. P. Ebenezer Joseph,
President - Methodist Church in Sri Lanka

Rev. Saman Perera,
Moderator,
Presbyterian Church

Colonel Lalzamlova,
Territorial Commander,
The Salvation Army.

April 10, 2009

Anatomy of the LTTE military debacle at Aanandapuram

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) organization has experienced many major setbacks during the course of its 33 year old history.

Despite misgivings expressed on these occasions by prophets of doom, the movement has always managed to withstand these blows and continue on its politico-military journey. [Click here to read in full~in dbsjeyaraj.com]

Colombo cannot survive by brute force says Krishna Iyer

Respected Indian Jurist , Krishna Iyer has issued a special message pertaining to the Sri Lankan situation. It is reproduced below:

“I do not take sides in this message with the LTTE or the Srilankan Government although there have been violent excesses on both sides resulting huge loss of life, property and tremendous suffering which I hate as one who stands for human rights. I pity the beautiful island of Srilanka which has now been a criminal field of carnage and butchery and savagery.

Day after day, the Srilankan Government since the days of its Independence been guilty of discrimination against Tamils as a class and the fuel for this fury and extremism and terrorism by the LTTE was the terrible discrimination in many dimensions against the Tamil Minority.

A fair federal system would have been perhaps the finest political, solution where justice, social, economic and political evenly managed, would have created a highly developed and prosperous island but that was not to be. Even now statesmanship of Srilankan Government should have declared a glorious federal state unilaterally. Currently claiming victory the State Government in Colombo is inflicting untold slaughter tragedies, killing daily bleeding lives and indescribable human suffering. International law, so far as the Tamils are concerned, is the vanishing point of humanist jurisprudence.

Sovereignty does not authorize internal atrocity and incalculable casualty. I plead with moral indignation with the Buddhist Colombo Cabinet in power that militarized torture of a minority in Jafna will never be lasting if Rome and Greece and London have fallen, Colombo cannot survive by brute force. Please declare immediate cessation of military operation under international supervision. Humanity, not legality, is the process of Buddhism and Shaivism. The world around should intervene to see that justice is done.

The most satisfactory ideal I have ever been able to form of justice is embodied in the picture of a judge courageous enough “to give the devil his due,” whether he be in the right or in the wrong. - (John F. Dillon)

Appeal on Sri Lanka by concerned South Asia citizens

Contents of Appeal from concerned citizens of South Asia to halt the mass murder of Sri Lankan Tamils in the Vanni Area of North Sri Lanka.

Appeal is addressed to: Respected Mr. Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary General; Respected Ms Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India and Heads of Government of South Asian Countries

We are appalled at reports of mass deaths of Sri Lankan Tamils trapped in a small area of the Vanni region in northern Sri Lanka . Both electronic and print media have reported the death of over 700 Tamils in the last couple of days, with only a section of them being identified as LTTE cadres, meaning thereby that a vast number of those killed are civilians trapped in the area. There are serious apprehensions that thermobaric bomb - a bomb that uses a fuel-air explosive capable of creating overpressures equal to an atomic bomb – has been used in this mass killing.

For the last several weeks, we have expressed our concerns about this imminent massacre. In fact we pointed out that the possibilities of almost close to 150,000 Tamilians getting affected was not just most probable but real. We also pointed out that the Sri Lankan Government had been dangling this as the fruit of its declared `war on terror' as the `final victory' - and that the Government was pushing for the ‘final solution’ before the soon-to-ensue Sinhala New year day falling on 14th April, 2009.

Our worst fears are turning true. The sheer scale of artillery and explosive attacks and the massive deaths of Tamils points out to the grave situation of the Vanni region becoming the graveyard for thousands of Tamil civilians.

Now the perceived usage of thermobaric bomb by the mindless Sri Lankan Army and Government has taken the situation beyond limits. Sri Lanka President Rajapakse himself has threatened ‘complete rout and annihilation’ of Tamils.

Sri Lanka has turned a terror state though they keep blaming LTTE as a terrorist outfit. The brazen and insulting manner by which Sri Lankan authorities have attacked any person or agency seeking accountability of the Sri Lankan Government to human rights standards can be gauged by the fact that several British Parliamentarians were forced to take up the issue of being branded terrorists by the Sri Lankan officials in a debate in the UK House of Commons! Even Louise Arbor, the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN Special Rapporteur on Extra Judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Philip Alston were not spared.

The reality is that the Sri Lankan Government has utilised the so called `war on terror' as a cover to systematically destroy all democratic processes and institutions in Sri Lanka.

Government and its minions have turned the state into a terror apparatus, crushing not just the Tamils, but also others challenging its actions. As a result, numerous non-Tamil, Sinhalese citizens have also fallen prey to the Sri Lankan terror state. Journalists have been the major targets with 19 journalists, both Tamil and Sinhala being killed in the last 2 years, over 35 exiled, driven away from the country or silenced, and numerous publications closed down. The assassination of Lasantha Wickramathunge, Editor of Sunday Leader, a widely respected Sri Lankan weekly in January highlights the fate of anyone challenging the ruling dispensation.

Respected and expert UN bodies have investigated and brought out reports about different aspects of the breakdown of democratic and judicial systems. Recently, on 9th February, 2009 , 10 top UN Experts issued a statement sharing the deep concern of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights over the rapidly deteriorating conditions facing civilians in the Vanni region and the significant number of civilian casualties.

They also deplored the restrictions on humanitarian access to conflict areas which heightens the ongoing serious violations of the most basic economic and social rights.

We are extremely concerned that in this racist genocide war Sri Lankan government is using banned and illegal weapons and ammunitions, including thermobaric bombs which kills vast numbers of people across a wide territory. Sri Lanka security forces have a long record of using cluster bombs and engaging in aerial targeted bombings of civilian areas which are banned under the Geneva Conventions. Sri Lankan Government has never denied the use of cluster bombs.

Across the world there is a tremendous outpouring of anguish and agony at the prospects that surviving Tamil civilians will be mass annihilated through the use of weapons of mass destruction. It is therefore very critical that the UN urgently intervene and restrain the Sri Lankan Government from using banned bombs, explosives and weaponry.

It is very important that the truth about the actual use of these ‘weapons of mass destruction’ including thermobaric bombs be independently verified and its source of supply identified. If indeed these horrific weapons have been used, the international community should immediately initiate prosecution of the highest functionaries of the Sri Lankan state and the Government of the country that supplied these bombs for commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

We would also like to point out that the humanitarian crisis has been made worse because the Sri Lankan Government has banned independent observers of UN agencies, the ICRC and other independent institutions from operating in the war zone. It is of utmost importance that independent observers are sent both to monitor the situation as also to ensure humanitarian aid reaches the area.

The innocent Tamil civilians have been living a precarious life without food, water and health supplies for the last several weeks. Emaciated, starved, severely malnourished and seriously injured, the women, children, aged persons and remaining men are already dying. They deserve the protection that can be offered by concerned world citizens who by demanding an end to the war will also be asserting a chance for these innocent men, women and children to live.

As citizens of South Asia, we therefore demand that the UN and the International Community, effectively intervene to ensure immediate cessation of the brutal and savage war in Sri Lanka and ensure immediate humanitarian relief to the suffering thousands caught in the middle of the war. We also call upon the as also the Governments in the South Asian region, viz., the Government of India, Pakistan , Bangladesh , Nepal , Bhutan and Maldives to intervene forcefully to stop the genocidal war that threatens peace not just in Sri Lanka , but in all of South Asia .

________________________________________________________________________________

Appeal is jointly issued by:

K.G.. Kannabiran, National President, PUCL, Hyderabad; Justice Rajinder Sachar, former chief Justice, Delhi High Court, Arundhati Roy, New Delhi, Pushkar Raj, General Secretary, PUCL; Pamela Philipose, Women's Feature Service; Swami Agnivesh, New Delhi, Prof. Amit Bhaduri, Professor Emeritus, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, Rt Rev. P J Lawrence, Bishop of Church of South India, Diocese of Nandyal, Praful Bidwai, Columnist, New Delhi, Sumit Chakravorty, Editor, Mainstream Weekly, New Delhi; Tapan Bose, New Delhi; Rita Manchanda, South Asia Forum for Human Rights, Nepal; Prof Kamal Mitra Chenoy, School of International Studies and President, JNU Teachers Association, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; Ernest Deenadayalan, Bangalore; Pradip Prabhu, Kashtakari Sanghatana, Dahanu/Mumbai; Prashant Bhushan Advocate, Supreme Court, New Delhi, M.G. Devasahayam IAS (Retd), Chennai, Sukumar Murlidharan, Journalist, New Delhi, Rev. Dhyanchand Carr, Madurai, Henri Tiphagne, People’s Watch, Madurai, MSS Pandian, Chennai, Sushil Pyakurel, Former Commissioner, Human Rights Commission of Nepal, Kathmandu, Mubashir Hasan, Lahore, Pakistan and others

For many Tamils, Eelam has become a temporary rallying point

by Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrematunge

Even as the streets of London swarm with demonstrators calling for Tamil Eelam – a Tamil nation – for justice and for a stop to the genocide, for many of them their anger stems from desperation. The despair is borne out of an unbearable helplessness to reach out to their fellow countrymen and women now languishing in the northeast of Sri Lanka. And desperation does not always result in rational thinking.

For many Tamils, Eelam has become merely a temporary rallying point: a soapbox upon which to make a desperate international plea to stop the slaughter of their people. That such a call under the Tamil Tiger standard is oxymoronic may not matter to them in their haste to stem the flow of blood.

That is, just as much as LTTE operatives would not hesitate to exploit the desperation of the very people it claims to protect, in order to regain for themselves the military initiative and large swaths of land lost to a relentless war waged by Sri Lanka's government in the past two years.

Certainly it is immaterial to either side in this war that the blood of hundreds of Tamils will be spilt in the coming days. Today I received a message from a human rights activist and friend who had just travelled to the embattled north – or to parts of it to which journalists and international workers are allowed by the government. "These next few days are going to be so horrible," he said. "Knowing that so many lives are being sacrificed – the trapped civilians and people from both sides – and we are all watching it, and we are helpless."

On Sunday Sri Lanka's military claimed that more than 500 cadres of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had been killed in fighting over the weekend, and that the LTTE were now confined to a narrow coastal no-fire zone little over seven miles long in northern Sri Lanka. The government states the LTTE is firing from the no-fire zone in which are trapped some 61,000 civilians. International agencies say the figure may be as high as double that number.

Despite defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse telling Reuters that Sri Lanka's troops were in no hurry to enter the no-fire zone, military sources say up to eight military divisions with as many as 50,000 personnel heavily backed by the air force are going in for the kill, with all escape and supply routes by sea clamped by a naval blockade.

There seems little doubt the military operation will soon be over and the LTTE will be crushed by government forces. It is, however, the human cost of this victory that will blot Sri Lanka's history. Neither is it a battle
that will end. A section of Sri Lanka's community will remain deeply wounded and the scars will remain forever. The military occupation of the north and east will relegate the Tamil population of these areas to live like second-class citizens deprived of self-respect. Fleeing civilians and internally displaced people (IDPs) will be moved to model villages for two to three years which in reality are little more than open prisons.

The Tamils have suffered terribly both at the hands of the LTTE and successive Sinhala-dominated governments. Reconciliation with them will take a government that has greater reverence for secularism than the present one. Sri Lankans have become inured to the pervasive Sinhala-supremacist racism and religious bigotry that the present government has brought to Sri Lanka.

It is this racism and bigotry more than any passionate belief in the LTTE that has now pushed a desperate Tamil community towards the LTTE.

Indeed, it is an insult to the Tamil people that all they have to represent their cause for emancipation are the Tamil Tigers. A group that not only systematically eliminated the political leadership of the Sri Lankan Tamils but wiped out the entire moderate Sinhala leadership and prevented Tamils from voting in elections.

Meanwhile President Mahinda Rajapakse has refused to heed calls from the international community to declare a ceasefire to allow safe evacuation of civilians. Instead he calls upon the LTTE supremo Velupillai Pirapaharan
to surrender. "It is now time for you to release all Tamil civilians and let them live in peace and harmony," Rajapaksa said at a political meeting at his official residence at Temple Trees Sunday.

Even if Pirapaharan were to surrender now, there might not be many civilians left to live in peace and harmony. Little wonder their relatives in the western world are angry.

(Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrematunge is the widow of murdered Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge. She is a lawyer and international award-winning journalist. Since her husband's assassination she has been forced into exile and now lives in an undisclosed location. This article appeared in the London Guardian)

‘A Ceasefire Is Needed To End The Genocide By Sri Lanka’s Army’

Even as the Sri Lankan army claims it is close to wiping out the LTTE, the rebel group’s political head, B Nadesan, rejects the assertion that the Tigers are about to be made extinct. In an exclusive interview with PC VINOJ KUMAR, he reiterates the LTTE’S commitment to continue waging a bloody war to secure a separate homeland for the Tamils of Sri Lanka.

Many observers have already started talking about a post-LTTE, post- Prabakaran scenario in Sri Lanka.
Let me make one thing very clear here: There will not be a post-LTTE scenario. Look around the world, and you will see the desire for freedom and dignity in the hearts and minds of all Tamils. The LTTE is seen as the way to achieve the political aspirations of the Tamil people. We have achieved this status by spearheading Tamils’ quest for self-determination over the past 35 years without compromising our responsibilities as their freedom fighters.

On the military aspect, in a war, setbacks and advancements are unavoidable. What matters most is what we achieve in the end. I want to tell the international community and India that they should focus on fulfilling the political aspirations of the Tamil people by recognising their struggle for self-determination and a homeland, instead of wasting time, effort and lives while waiting for a post-LTTE scenario, which is never going to come.

What is your reaction to reports that Prabakaran’s son, Charles Antony, has been injured in the fighting?
This is false propaganda from the Sri Lankan government. He is not injured.

Where is Prabakaran? Is he in the battle zone or in a safe place?
He is here with our people, leading our freedom struggle as our national leader, and guiding the war as our Commanderin- Chief.

What are the chances he will flee the country?
Zero percent.

What is Prabakaran’s reaction to reports that the Sri Lankan army is trying to capture him alive?
He laughs [at such reports].

How does Prabakaran react to the Sri Lankan government’s charge that he is a coward who does not lead from the front?
Again, he laughs. Let me point out that this is being said by a government that is anticipating the capitulation of the Tamil people because of the embargo on food, medicine and essentials that they have enforced against Tamil areas over the past two-and-a-half decades. They still continue to use food as weapon.

Does Prabakaran still believe he can achieve Eelam?
If he didn’t, he would have given up long ago.

Are Indian soldiers on the battleground fighting the LTTE along side the Sri Lankan army?
I can say that a very high level of military cooperation exists between the Sri Lankan and Indian governments.

What is your response to allegations that the LTTE is using civilians as human shields?
The Tamil people are aware of the repeated aggression against them by the Sri Lankan state under various guises. Calling the people here “trapped” or “human shield” is inappropriate, as they do not want to go into the hands of the aggressor state. Sri Lanka should give a safe passage to independent humanitarian officials to come here and find out the will of the people.

You have repeatedly announced that you are ready for a ceasefire. Is this a sign of weakness?
We insist on a ceasefire because Sri Lanka keeps accelerating its genocidal war [against the Tamils]. A ceasefire is needed to address the humanitarian crisis and for people to get essential relief supplies right where they live.

What is your appeal to the international community?
Innocent children, mothers and elders are being massacred by the Sri Lankan armed forces everyday. Therefore, there is an urgent need to push the Sri Lankan government towards a ceasefire. We urge the international community not to go along with Sri Lanka’s uprooting of Tamils, being carried out in the guise of “fighting terrorism”. We appeal to the international community to halt this war immediately and facilitate a negotiation for a permanent political settlement based on the Tamils’ right to self-determination. [courtesy: Tehelka]

Theepan of the LTTE: Heroic saga of a Northern Warrior

by D.B.S. Jeayaraj

Thavabalasingham Sivatheeban alias Theepan was from Kandawalai in the Kilinochchi district. His family had its origins in the Thenmaratchy sector within the Jaffna peninsula.

Theepan was a first cousin of Thileepan alias “Curdles” , former LTTE commander for Thenmaratchy region who was killed in the Kaithaddy explosion of Feb 14th 1987.

Curdles also known as “Kerdy” was also from Kandawalai where his father served as School principal for a long time.

According to knowledgeable circles it was Curdles who recruited his younger cousin into the movement. Theepan joined the LTTE at the age of sixteen in 1984. [Click here to read the article in full ~ in the Daily Mirror.lk]

UN Security Council Action Needed to Avert Humanitarian Catastrophe-HRW

Stop Shelling ‘No-Fire Zone’

(New York, April 8, 2009) – The Sri Lankan government should stop firing heavy artillery into the “no-fire zone” in the northern Vanni area where some 100,000 civilians are trapped by the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, causing skyrocketing casualties, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch called upon the United Nations Security Council to take urgent measures, including by sending a special envoy to Sri Lanka, to bring an end to violations of international humanitarian law by government forces and the LTTE.

“Sri Lanka’s so-called ‘no-fire zone’ is now one of the most dangerous places in the world,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Security Council has quibbled over protocol when it should be acting to bring an end to this ghastly loss of life.”

People in the government-declared no-fire zone told Human Rights Watch that several areas have been subjected to heavy shelling since April 7, 2009, resulting in numerous civilian casualties. According to a doctor at the make-shift hospital in Putumattalan, on April 7 the hospital received 133 wounded civilians and 20 dead bodies. He said that all were the victims of a shelling in Pokkanai, a seaside area within the no-fire zone that is crowded with displaced persons.

Two other shelling attacks hit the same area on the morning of April 8. The doctor said the hospital received 296 wounded and 46 bodies on April 8, and 300 wounded and 62 bodies on April 9. Because of a lack of access to the conflict area, Human Rights Watch is unable to confirm these figures independently. On April 9 the International Committee of the Red Cross evacuated 230 injured civilians plus their relatives by ferry from Putumattalan.

A witness to the first attack on April 8 said that it took place at 7:30 a.m. near Pokkanai primary health center. Hundreds of civilians were waiting in line near a food distribution center when four or five artillery shells hit the area, killing at least 13 civilians immediately and wounding over 50 others. The doctor, who examined the site two hours after the attack, said that the shells were 120mm rounds and appeared to have been fired from Sri Lankan army positions to the south.

A 35-year-old man told Human Rights Watch that he was waiting in the food distribution line with his wife and 2-year-old child when the shelling started:

“There had been no distribution of milk powder for three months, and so when they announced that there would be distribution today [April 8], hundreds of people lined in queue. It was early in the morning. I heard the first shell, and hit the ground. Then several more landed nearby, after three or four minutes. I survived by miracle, but my 45-year-old uncle died on the spot – he lost both legs.

“I tried to get him to the hospital by bike – there are no cars, and no ambulances, and there were so many people – women, and children – injured in that attack. Now I am staying in the hospital with my wife and child, because we have nowhere else to go and the hospital may be the safest place. But there is also no place to stay here – there are so many injured people, and the new injured are being brought here all the time as we speak.”

Another attack followed several hours later. The doctor said the new patients continued to arrive by the minute.

Human Rights Watch called on the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE to urgently facilitate the safe evacuation of civilians from the conflict area. Approximately 100,000 civilians are believed to be trapped in the roughly 20-square-kilometer area under LTTE control.

Several people who recently managed to flee the no-fire zone reported that escape was becoming increasingly difficult because the LTTE had built an earth mound and posted sentries at regular intervals on the zone’s perimeter. One woman who escaped in mid-March said that LTTE fighters had opened fire on her group as they tried to flee in the dark, but they kept running. A large number spent the night hiding in the Nanthikadal lagoon, which borders the no-fire zone, standing in water up to their necks. Only when it was light enough for government forces to see that they were civilians did the group emerge from the water toward the government side.

A 19-year-old youth who tried to escape with his family on April 1 said that the LTTE had forced his parents to turn back. He and his younger brother made a run for it, however, and eventually made it to the government side.

The Sri Lankan government continues to prevent the media and other independent observers from traveling to the war-affected Vanni region to report on the situation. The doctor told Human Rights Watch that he and other medical staff who have been providing information from inside the no-fire zone have been threatened by the authorities and ordered not to speak to the media.

“We decided that we are beyond the point where we can just complain to the authorities,” the doctor said. “Because we told them a hundred times and they have failed to take any proper steps to stop the attack on civilians and did not send in the necessary amount of medications.

“We have been reporting every day, every day providing reports to relevant authorities and to the international community, and still there are no real steps taken to save these innocent civilians.”

Under international humanitarian law applicable to the armed conflict in Sri Lanka, both the government armed forces and the LTTE are obligated to take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilian life and property. Since January, both sides have shown little regard for the safety of civilians in the Vanni, and more than 3000 civilians are believed to have died in the fighting. The LTTE has violated the laws of war by using civilians as “human shields,” by preventing civilians from fleeing the combat zone and by deliberately deploying their forces close to densely populated civilian areas. The Sri Lankan armed forces have indiscriminately shelled densely populated areas, including hospitals, in violation of the laws of war.

Individuals who commit serious violations of international humanitarian law with criminal intent – that is, deliberately or recklessly – should be prosecuted for war crimes. War crimes include using human shields and deliberately attacking civilians. Evidence as to whether indiscriminate attacks on civilians were deliberate or reckless would include: information on the known number of civilians in the area under attack, attacks striking presumptively civilian objects such as hospitals, and a showing that such attacks occurred repeatedly. In addition to those who ordered or executed unlawful actions or attacks, commanders who knew or should have known of war crimes being committed and failed to take measures to stop them can be held responsible as a matter of command responsibility.

Sri Lanka has an obligation under international law to investigate credible allegations of war crimes, including by members of its own forces, and appropriately prosecuting those responsible.

“War crimes by the Tamil Tigers don’t give Sri Lankan commanders free rein to ignore civilian casualties,” said Adams. “Accountability is a two-way street.”

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 read the March 2009 Human Rights Watch press release, “Sri Lanka: No Let-Up in Army Shelling of Civilians,” please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/03/23/sri-lanka-no-let-army-shelling-civilians

For audio from an eyewitness to an attack on a food distribution center, please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/en/audio/2009/04/09/trapped-sri-lanka

For more broadcast-quality audio, please contact:
In New York, Jessie Graham: grahamj@hrw.org

For more information, please contact:
In New York, Anna Neistat (English, Russian): +1-443-812-9640 (mobile)
In Mumbai, Meenakshi Ganguly (English, Hindi, Bengali): +91-982-003-6032 (mobile) \

Disgraceful" failure to identify those responsible for newspaper editor's murder three months ago

Statement by RSF:

Reporters Without Borders has gathered information from various sources that supports the theory that the Sri Lankan authorities are blocking the investigation into the murder of Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunga in Colombo on 8 January, exactly three months ago today.

Government officials, including Keheliya Rambukwella, said at the end of January that President Mahinda Rajapaksa would announce "very important details" about the murder in February. But since then, there has been nothing to confirm the existence of a political will to solve the case. Wickrematunga's family and colleagues have been forced to conclude that the authorities have no interest in arresting either the perpetrators or instigators.

"Members of the government have made contradictory statements about the motives and identity of this leading journalist's murderers," Reporters Without Borders said. "It would be better if the investigation were given proper resources. We urge President Rajapaksa to assign members of the criminal investigation police to the case and to formally request the help of international experts in solving the murder."

Wickrematunga's murder in the capital marked a dramatic escalation in press freedom violations in Sri Lanka and Reporters Without Borders "which is a member of the International Mission for Press Freedom in Sri Lanka" will continue to insist that it is not left unpunished.

Wickrematunga's widow, Sonali Samarasinghe, herself a journalist, said in an open letter to police inspector general Jayantha Wickremaratna in mid-March that: "There has still been no credible breakthrough in the investigation. No murder weapons, no suspect, no post mortem report has yet been made public."

Wickrematunga, who has just been awarded a UNESCO press freedom prize posthumously, was never given the police protection he requested.

Wickrematunga was killed by men on motorcycles as he was driving to work. They blocked his car's path near Malagalage primary school, smashed its window and apparently beat him about the head and body with steel bars. He was taken unconscious to a hospital where he died from his head injuries. Several witnesses said no shots were heard and no bullet impacts were found. Strangely, the autopsy findings have never been released.

The attack took place just several hundred metres from an air force checkpoint but the assailants were able to get away. One of the motorcycles was found by the police but it is still not known if it was of any help in tracking down the assailants.

Wickrematunga knew that he was being watched and was in danger. That morning he had seen two helmeted men near his home. He had told friends about it but finally decided to drive to work anyway. A relative said a motorcycle seen parked near his home belonged to the security forces.

The investigation was assigned to Colombo's Mount Lavinia police station and a police source it was not given any special priority. The authorities said four teams were assigned to this case and to an attack on MTV, a Colombo TV station, but no significant results have been reported. Several of Wickrematunga?s colleagues have voiced concern that the Criminal Investigation Department was kept out of the case. His widow even filed a court petition for it to be transferred to the CID, but her request was denied.

Police spokesman Ranjith Gunasekara told journalists that the investigation was focusing on the calls Wickrematunga received on the day of his murder. Gunasekara created confusion in early March by claiming that the police had not received the forensic report from the "government analyst" (GA) although the GA insisted in statement to the press on 5 March that he had sent it several weeks earlier to Officer Hemantha Adikari at Mount Lavinia police station.

The police announced the arrest of a suspect but it was just a passer-by who stole Wickrematunga?s mobile phone from the scene of the murder. At the start of this month, a court ordered that this suspect continue to be held until 16 April.

In an interview for an international TV station, Wickrematunga?s widow said he had written several times to the police inspector general to tell him about the repeated threats and to request protection. The police ignored his requests. "Lasantha always said that if he was killed, it would be by the government (?) Our reports about the suffering of the civilian population did not sit well with the patriotism of the military."

The authorities have made contradictory and in some cases defamatory comments about Wickrematunga. The president's brother, defence minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa, said in an interview for a foreign TV station: "Who is Lasantha? A tabloid publisher. Why is the world worried about one man? He criticized everybody. So everybody had a reason to kill him." He went on to make similar comments to the Australian TV station SBS: "He has antagonised so many people. He had criticised and reported wrong things about all persons."

The Sunday Leader, now being edited by his brother, Lal Wickrematunga, has continued to be subjected to pressure from government circles since his murder. A significant loss of advertising income is now threatening its economic survival.

President Rajapaksa called Wickrematunga a "terrorist journalist" during an interview with a Reporters Without Borders representative in Colombo in October 2008, three months before his murder.

Sri Lanka was ranked 165th out of 173 countries in the Reporters Without Borders 2008 press freedom index. This was the lowest ranking of any democratic country.

April 09, 2009

Why these Tamil sons in London, mourning their slain mothers in Sri Lanka, have placed Westminster under siege

by Will Self

What's your name, please?” “Miles.” “First name?” “Superintendent.” “Your parents must have been very farsighted.” “Yes, when they had me 47 years ago they probably realised I'd end up here one day.”

Here being the steps of Portcullis House, the MPs' office block in Westminster, and Superintendent Miles being the Met commander on the ground charged with policing this, the third day of ­protests by British Tamils inflamed by the military actions of the Sri Lankan government as it moves to extirpate the last of the Tamil Tiger fighters hanging on in the city of Vanni.

The UN may have called for a ceasefire but there's a widespread perception among the Tamil community here that the British Government is essentially in cahoots with the Sri Lankans and that aid from both the UK, the World Bank and the IMF is being diverted into arms purchases.

LondonTC0409BH.jpg

[London protest-Apr 7, 2009-pic: milenabuljan]

Besides, as Subramaniyam Paramestvaran, one of a pair of Tamil students from Mitcham who have gone on hunger strike in Parliament Square, told me: “My mother, brother and sisters were killed two days ago in Venna by the Sri Lankans, using poison gas. They say they are attacking the LTTE [the Tamil Tigers] but there have been pictures of these dead babies in the papers.”

Both Paramestvaran, and his fellow hunger striker, Siviatharsun Sivakumaravel, have refused all food and drink since 10am and there's no mistaking the intense emotional atmosphere that ­surrounds them. When I arrived in the square at noon yesterday, there were only two or three hundred demonstrators, but more and more were coming all the time, filtering their way between snap-happy tourists and dour policemen in stab-proof vests.

“We are hoping for maybe as many people as we had on the bridge on Monday, perhaps 15,000 or 20,000,” said Cejay, a good-looking young London Metropolitan student in black, who was striding up and down the front rank of the protesters.

“We're going to be here no matter how long it takes,” he continued. “We are willing to sacrifice our lives for the ­people back home.”

And yes, Cejay had also lost family in Vanni — an aunt and cousins. “Tamil Tigers! Freedom Fighters!” shouted a small girl through a megaphone. She was wearing a pink top emblazoned “Miss Attitude” and can't have been more than four years old. Indeed, the first impression of the demonstrators — if anyone bothered to take them in — was of a gaggle of small brown people with drums and flags, together with toddlers in pushchairs and school-age children — hardly a threatening mob.

And, of course, most people weren't bothering to take them in: after all, it was just part of London's timeless street theatre, wasn't it? I spoke to a couple of Spanish tourists outside Parliament, who, seeing Brian Haw's longstanding peace camp, with its tattered posters signalling Iraqi civilian deaths, had assumed that these others were Iraqis.

Zulu, a self-confessed shaman, who was manning the Haw peace camp while waving a Palestinian flag, seemed no wiser than the Spaniards as to the nature of his fellow Londoners' ­grievances. “It all begins and ends with Palestine so far as I'm concerned.”

It's this sense that they're falling below the radar of popular and media perception, combined with the activities of the Sri Lankan government, that has galvanised the Tamils:

“There is no organising group,” said Karan Murugaval, a Queen Mary College student. “We students from all over, we got fed up with the situation, so we started using our mobiles.” It was the resulting flash mob that brought thousands on to Westminster Bridge on Monday, and succeeded, at last, in getting Tamils the attention they want.

Like others I spoke to, Sam Edward, another Queen Mary student, believed the Sri Lankans have put pressure on the Government to prevent Tamils displaying their flags. “It is our national flag. The police tore it from people, they trod on it — they disrespected it.”

Whether there has been pressure applied or not, the facts are that the LTTE is a banned organisation here, while the British Government remains prepared to accept that the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers is a desirable end — even if the means are suspect. Just how suspect no one really knows, and the most harrowing thing for the Tamils in Parliament Square is the news blackout imposed by the Sri Lankan government.

Iven Sinnappu, a 47-year-old petrol ­station proprietor from High Wycombe, broke down in tears as he told me he had been unable to send food to his aged parents in the Vanni region. He himself had left Sri Lanka in 1989 after witnessing one of his friends being “necklaced” (killed by having a tyre placed round his neck then ignited) by Sinhalese.

It was clear that Mr Sinnappu was on the horns of a painful dilemma. This is a very British demonstration — not least because the demonstrators are British. These Tamils are passport holders, the younger generation have grown up here, and the older ones are more than conscious of what they owe to Britain.

“There is no loyalty question,” said Mr N Kuleratnam, a retired biology teacher from Purley. “This is a wonderful country — perhaps the most wonderful in the world.” Then he went on to speak of the long history of British rule in Ceylon, the unification of the two separate kingdoms “as an administrative convenience”, and finally to assert: “The Tamil Tigers are not terrorists — they are freedom fighters.”

There's a curious dissonance, of course, between the dreadful atrocities committed by the Tamil Tigers in the jungles of Sri Lanka and their avowedly peaceful countrymen, demonstrating by the acacias in Parliament Square.

Everyone who accosted me said how “Gordon Brown must do something”, and the young hunger striker Siviatharsun Sivakumaravel was forthright: “We pay our taxes — Gordon Brown has to stop this war.”

There was something sad and touching about this faith in the Prime Minister's ability to disregard realpolitik and effect humanitarian change — after all, it's a faith that most Londoners have long since discarded.

However, faithful democrats or not, clearly the taking of Westminster Bridge has rattled the Met. On top of the suspicious death of a man at the G20 protests, it's not been a good fortnight for public order policing in the capital. There are images of officers manhandling Tamil protesters on the BBC news website, and Cejay told me: “They stamped on my hands and they broke my friend's arm, the bones were sticking out.” Karan Murugaval said he had seen police covering up their identification numbers before moving in on the demonstrators.

But for all that, there wasn't any sense of a rent-a-mob about these people, and while copies of the Workers Revolutionary Party's News Line were doing the rounds, it seemed only a forlorn attempt by the redundant Marxian groupuscule to hijack what remains a very community-based and spontaneous reaction.

At Portcullis House Superintendent Miles — urbane, inscrutable behind rimless glasses and immaculately uniformed — answered all my questions by referring me to the Met's press office, a tactic that doesn't exactly endear operational commanders to the media.

After all, senior officers should talk to the media — off or on the record — when it matters to the community, rather than solely when they're trying to nobble their colleagues. As it was, Miles expressed some surprise when I told him that the Tamils were expecting anything up to 20,000 more to zone in on Westminster.

A burly inspector came barrelling over to us from the doors of Portcullis House: “They're asking in there if we could reduce the profile a little,” he said.

I could see the parliamentarians' point: the front steps were blanketed with blue serge — it was the kind of profile the Tamils had been seeking all along but one the Met would be wise to shrink from.

As I walked past the long file of belted and truncheon-dangling officers, I noticed several had small green cylinders attached to their waists. “What're those?” I asked a sergeant.
“Fire extinguishers,” he replied.

“Are you expecting petrol bombs?”

“No, not that...” — he looked a little bashful — “but y'know, these Malaysians an' that — they set fire to themselves. I wouldn't want to get my hands burnt patting it out.”

That, for me, summed up all of what's right and what's wrong with crowd policing in London at the moment: a combination of caring paternalism, flippancy and shocking ignorance.

It might have upset the Tamils to learn they'd been so egregiously misidentified by the law enforcers their taxes pay — but then, they're upset enough already. [courtesy: Evening Standard]

Puthumaathalan hospital in "No fire zone" shelled: 20 dead, 300 injured

by Gethin Chamberlain

At least 20 people were killed and nearly 300 injured yesterday, Apr 8th when a hospital in the last area of Sri Lanka held by the Tamil Tigers was shelled in what one doctor described as the worst day of bloodshed since the start of the military campaign.

The doctor, Thangamutha Sathiyamorthy, blamed the Sri Lankan army for firing shells that landed next to two health facilities in Putumattalan, on the northern end of the tiny strip of the Sri Lankan coastline where tens of thousands of civilians are trapped by the fighting. The military strenuously denied the allegation.

Sathiyamorthy said 22 people, including an 18-month-old child and a medical worker, were killed and 283 injured in the attack, which started soon after dawn yesterday. He described how he found dead and wounded civilians on the site of the first blasts, which occurred as about 500 people queued beside a mother and baby clinic to receive milk powder and food rations.

['This was a heavy shell attack' - MP 3 Audio]

"We were ready to distribute at 7.30, there were 500 people waiting, then suddenly shells fell," he said. Half an hour later he went back to assess the damage. "I saw there were bloodstains on the road, I saw there were slippers and sandals."

He said he saw five bodies still lying on the ground. "One was about a one-and-a-half-year-old child, another was a 30-year-old lady - she had four children - another one a 60-year-old man, he died while he was sleeping, and another lady died at home ... These were the bodies I found." The 39-year-old doctor, the regional director of Kilinochchi health service, said more people were killed and injured in two subsequent attacks. In the final attack, at about 11am, one member of the hospital staff was killed and another seriously injured.

"Everyone clearly knows it has come from the Sri Lankan army side ... all shells come from their direction," he said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said one of its aid workers was killed in shelling in the region yesterday, but it was not immediately clear if it was the same incident. International media are not permitted to enter the no-fire zone to verify claims. The Sri Lankan military said it was aware that there had been a number of explosions yesterday morning, shortly after it broadcast a final offer for the rebels to surrender.

But military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara categorically denied that Sri Lankan forces were responsible for the shelling. He said troops had reported hearing explosions from within the zone but suggested they may have been Tamil Tiger mortar fire. He said no artillery had been used by government forces for weeks.

Since stepping up the military campaign since the start of the year the Sri Lankan armed forces have driven the last remnants of the once-powerful Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) into a narrow strip of land estimated to be no larger than 20 sq km. Estimates of the number of civilians trapped alongside them vary, with the UN putting the figure at about 100,000 and Sri Lankan authorities claiming it is no more than 40,000.

Yesterday Sathiyamorthy said conditions inside the no-fire zone were now desperate, with 13 people dead from starvation and 69% of children below the age of five showing signs of malnutrition.

"Of course the food supply is inadequate. Many children are at risk. Yesterday we distributed milk powder and I saw very thin children coming to the clinic," he said. He estimated that more than 5,000 people had died since the start of the latest offensive. "Every day they expect some solution because everybody was asked to go to the no-fire zone, but actually the people reached this area and unfortunately the government is shelling this area," he said. "It is a real disaster. We didn't expect this amount of disaster."

Medical staff have set up a temporary hospital in a former school to try to cope with the casualties. Sathiyamorthy said 75% of the civilians trapped in the zone were living in closely packed tarpaulin shelters and were extremely vulnerable to shelling. He estimated that about 100 people a day were being injured and that, of those, about 20 died every day in the hospital. Another 30 or 40 a day were dying outside the hospital, he said, but no accurate figure was available.

"The civilians don't have the facility to take them to hospitals so whenever that happens they are burying them by the site or near places," he said.

The Sri Lankan army believes it is close to a total victory, but faces a dilemma over how to extract the remaining LTTE fighters from among the civilians. [courtesy: Guardian.UK]

Video: Sri Lanka Ready for peace & Justice ?

Mahinda Rajapakse, Sri Lanka's president, announced the military was on the verge of wiping out the Tamil Tigers. Is Asia's longest-running civil war really near an end? And what are the human costs of the latest fighting?

[Aljazeera ~ Inside Story - Sri Lanka Ready for peace & Justice ? - Part 1]

Panelists: Charu Lata Hogg, Asia Programme Chatham House, London - Patrick Mendis, OSGOOD Centere for INTL Studies, Washinton DC and Rajan Philips, Political Analyst, Toronto

[Inside Story - Sri Lanka Ready for peace & Justice ? - Part 2]

April 08, 2009

MIA v the Sri Lankan army

by Sean Michaels

MIA has found herself in the sights of the Sri Lankan army after backing a campaign to send food and medical supplies to the island nation.

The British singer, who grew up in Sri Lanka, has given her support to the Vanni Mission, which aims to send a boat of civilian aid from Britain to Sri Lanka. The cargo is destined for Tamil civilians within a government "safe zone".

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[Singer M.I.A. (Maya Arulpragasam) poses in the press room during the 51st Annual Grammy Awards held at the Staples Center on February 8, 2009 in Los Angeles, California-Getty images]

However, Sri Lankan military leaders have rejected the "mercy mission", citing reports that the boat will carry supplies for Tamil fighters. The country's navy has announced that it will open fire on any ship that enters their waters without authorisation. MIA was also singled out on the army's official website, after the singer announced her support for the campaign.

Though MIA did not appear at the 31 March launch of the Vanni Mission, she sent a statement of support via Manjula Guganesan, "a member of her extended family".

"I just had a baby last month, that's why I can't be there today, but I want to give my support and thanks to the launch of the chartered humanitarian ship Mercy Mission," she wrote. "I made it out in the late 80s and so my baby is going to grow up with hospitals, healthcare, food, free education, freedom of speech and religion, a life expectancy of 80-90 years and many of the liberties that we in the democratic world take for granted."

"A baby born in the Vanni region today is getting no access to hospitals (they bombed the last one and it's run out of supplies). There is limited food because the government banned the aid agencies and there is no education because the trapped civilians only have one option and that is to make it to the government-run internment camps where they only enforce the language and ideas of the government. The Tamils have fewer rights than the animals in Sri Lanka."

"The Mercy Mission will carry dry food and medicines for Tamil civilians ... Many have already perished from starvation and preventable disease. We can not ignore these genocidal conditions, and if the aim of the Sri Lanka government is to protect the lives of the civilians, then this ship will reach its destination and lives will be saved."

Earlier this spring, Sri Lanka's foreign secretary, Dr Palitha Kohona, criticised MIA for her continued activism, saying she should "stay with what she's good at, which is music, not politics".

Sri Lanka has spent decades in a civil war between government and separatist Tamil forces. Despite a few years of ceasefire, the fighting has intensified since January 2008. [courtesy" The Guardian UK]

Tamil protest ‘turned nasty' after bid to ransom British PM failed

A POLICEMAN drafted in to tackle an overnight protest by Tamils in the capital said that trouble erupted when they realised they could not hold the Prime Minister to ransom.

Inspector Kevin Nutter, 42, of Bromley's emergency response team, said that the protest on Westminster Bridge against alleged human rights abuses in Sri Lanka initially had a "party atmosphere" when it started on Monday afternoon.

But when officers moved protestors from the sit in on Tuesday morning towards Parliament Square, to make way for rush hour traffic, scuffles ensued.

Cans and sticks were thrown at police and four lifeboats were scrambled after some protestors threatened to throw themselves into the river.

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Police scuffle with demonstrators during a protest calling for a ceasefire in Sri Lanka, in central London April 7, 2009. [Reuters pic]

Two individuals were known to have jumped into the Thames and were taken to hospital and several people were arrested, according to Inspector Nutter.

He was drafted in when the numbers for the protest swelled from under 100 to 3,000 people at its height. He added: "There were no batons or anything like that, we just locked our arms together and encouraged them to move down to Parliament Square. Around that time one or two incidents escalated and someone jumped off the bridge.

"The primary goal from their overnight vigil is that they wanted to see Gordon Brown but as he didn't come their plan was to sit in overnight and close the bridge.

Their goal was to hold Gordon Brown to ransom.

"People are welcome to demonstrate but other people have rights to travel through London and commute to work."

The demonstration had not been registered with the Metropolitan Police under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 and was effectively illegal but according to Inspector Nutter, the majority of demonstrators were peaceful.

He said: "It was very peaceful for the majority of it, with almost a party atmosphere, it was quite relaxed with a mixed group of men, women and children.

"It was only when police were ordered to move demonstrators down to the grass area near Parliament Square that some people started causing trouble."

The protest caused disrupted traffic stretching out to the Victoria Embankment and entry to Westminster tube station was suspended.

Reports claim that demonstrators carrying banners reading 'Stop Sri Lanka's Genocide of Tamils' chanted "shame on British police" as officers started breaking up the road blocks.

The Sri Lankan military announced last Sunday that they were close to wiping out the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) after decades of bitter fighting for an independent homeland.

The United Nations claim as many as 150,000 civilians may still be trapped in the war zone, although the Sri Lankan government insists the figure is less than half that.

It is believed more than 2,800 civilians may have been killed and 7,000 others injured in the fighting in the north-east in the last two months. The Sri Lankan government disputes these figures. [courtesy: The Bromley Times]

Tamils bring their fight to Westminster to highlight war in Sri Lanka

by Jerome Taylor and Amol Rajan

Tamil activists vowed to spend a second night on the streets of London last night after hundreds of demonstrators converged on Parliament to protest at the worsening conflict in Sri Lanka.

Police have struggled to contain the crowds who managed to blockade Westminster Bridge on Monday night and were yesterday camped out on Parliament Square.

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[London parliament square-pic: Rooney]

The unauthorised protests began on Monday afternoon. The demonstration caused widespread traffic disruption and led to at least five arrests. The authorities appear to have been caught off guard by the protests which were organised by Tamil students texting each other. The protests drew more than 3,000 people on Monday night as demonstrators blocked Westminster Bridge, while some threatened to throw themselves into the Thames below. Four lifeboats were scrambled in response and at least two people did jump into the water. Both were taken to hospital.

Early yesterday morning police forcefully moved the protesters off the bridge and the numbers in Parliament Square appeared to be dwindling. But by the late afternoon the crowds had swollen once again, with as many as 1,000 people thronging the area.

Police "snatch squads", armed with truncheons, caused anger in the broadly peaceful crowd yesterday morning as they repeatedly waded in to remove flags supporting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). It is listed as a terrorist group in Britain but many Sri Lankan Tamils venerate it and regard members as freedom fighters.

Tamil Tiger units are battling the Sri Lankan army, which has won a series of victories over them in the past six months. Tamil activists and human rights groups have accused the Sri Lankan government of committing numerous human rights abuses as they push to take remaining Tamil strongholds. The Sri Lankan government has banned journalists from entering the war zone but the UN estimates there are 155,000 civilians caught up in the fighting.

Last night the Metropolitan Police warned it may have to make a "huge number of arrests" to disperse crowds and said they were confiscating flags which represented a proscribed group under the Terrorism Act 2000. But many of the activists condemned the tactics, saying they were needlessly provocative and risked turning a peaceful crowd into a violent and angry one.

Mathavi Uthayanan, a 26-year-old medical student, said: "Those flags are not just in support of the LTTE. To Tamils around the world they represent our suffering and our national struggle. We are not supporters of terrorists but we are treated like terrorists simply because we dare to say that there is genocide in our homeland or raise a flag in Parliament Square."

Iven Sinnappu, a 49-year-old businessman from Harrow, said he left Sri Lanka in the late 1970s after a friend was killed by the Sri Lankan army.

"The world completely ignores what is happening to the Tamil people," he said. "Well, now we want to make sure people cannot forget about us. We will stay here for as long as it takes. The killing of Tamils has to stop."

Earlier this year a young Tamil from London committed suicide by setting himself on fire in Geneva in protest at UN inaction over the conflict. [courtesy: The Independent]

Why are the Tamils protesting, and are claims of abuse in Sri Lanka true?

By Andrew Buncombe

Why are we asking this now?

In recent days large crowds of Tamil protesters have taken to the streets of London to highlight the plight of thousands of Tamil civilians caught up in the apparent endgame of a long and vicious civil war in Sri Lanka. The demonstrators are demanding that Britain use its influence to try and enforce a ceasefire between the Sri Lankan army and the fighters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Police arrested four people – one for violent disorder – after scuffles broke out when officers moved protesters off a bridge into Parliament Square.

LondonAPTC0407.jpg

[From left to right, siblings Mukana,7, Mushika, 6, and Mushikan Muralitharan, 5, with their faces painted with the colors of the British flag and the Tamil Tigers flag, participate in a Tami demonstration calling for an end to the war in Sri Lanka, opposite London's Houses of Parliament as the protest entered a third day, Wednesday April 8, 2009-pic: AP]

Why are protesters now taking to the streets?

The fighting between the LTTE and the government forces may now be in its last phase. Apart from a tiny patch of jungle no more than one mile by two, over which the two sides were last night still fighting, the remnants of a once powerful LTTE force are now holed up in an area measuring no more than 7.7 square miles. This area is a so-called "no-fire zone". The problem is that also squeezed within this no-fire zone are anywhere between 100,000 and 190,000 Tamil civilians. The Sri Lankan government has rejected numerous international calls for a ceasefire to allow the evacuation of civilians – yesterday another UN special envoy added his name to the growing list – but at the same time it has so far stood back from ordering a major assault on the no-fire zone that would almost certainly result in massive civilian casualties.

"I am deeply concerned for the lives of over 100,000 civilians trapped in the 14 square km area of the Vanni declared by the Government of Sri Lanka. Large numbers of civilians have been killed or wounded. Following reports that LTTE fighters now have been pushed entirely into this zone, many more are at risk of losing their lives," said Walter Kaelin, the Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons. "I urgently repeat my call to the LTTE to allow all civilians under its control to leave this zone and to seek safety elsewhere. I also call on the Government of Sri Lanka to scrupulously respect the no-fire zone."

What are conditions like in the no fire zone?

Journalists have been banned from getting anywhere near the war zone, apart going on sanitised officially organised visits escorted by the military, so the picture is not entirely clear. Aid groups say conditions there are dire; there is insufficient food, water and medicine and people are pushed together under makeshift plastic shelters. "It's desperate, desperate, desperate," said Sarah Crowe, a senior regional official with Unicef. People have been stuck there for months and while thousands of civilians have managed to slip out of the no-fire zone, many more are trapped. UN officials say that the LTTE is preventing people from leaving in order to provide themselves with a bulwark against an onslaught by government troops. "The government has said this is a hostage situation," said Gordon Weiss, a Colombo-based spokesman for the UN. "They have indicated they are going to play a wait and see game and to seal this area."

What has been the civilian toll?

There are no official figures but in recent weeks there have been reports that hundreds of civilians are being killed every week and many more wounded, having been caught up in crossfire and shelling by both sides. Medical facilities in the zone are all but non-existent. Those who are able to get to the evacuation points on the coast are taken by ferry south to Trincomalee where, under heavy guard, they are moved for treatment in hospitals. After that they are taken to internment camps. The Sri Lankan authorities say they are doing this to ensure that no LTTE fighters are hiding themselves among the civilian wounded. Mr Weiss said around 65,000 civilians may now be held inside these camps.

How long has this conflict been going on?

The fighting between the Tigers and the government has taken place since as early as 1983. The Tigers, led by Velupillai Prabhakaran, have been fighting for a separate homeland for the largely Hindu Tamils, claiming that the Sinhalese Buddhist majority has long discriminated against them. The Tigers have used brutal tactics, including the suicide bombing of civilian targets, in addition to the many Sri Lankan politicians they have killed. At least 70,000 people have died in fighting but the death toll might even be much higher – possibly double that.

Why have events happened so quickly?

President Mahinda Rajapaksa won power in 2005. Following the breakdown of a ceasefire agreement between the Tigers and the government in January 2008, Mr Rajapaksa vowed to undertake a "war for peace" and to destroy the rebels within a year. The military has not achieved that but has been able to squeeze the rebels into enclaves. In November, government troops took the town of Kilinochi, the rebels' de facto capital. Since then they have taken every remaining stronghold. The army now says that every LTTE village and town is in the control of government forces.

Why has there been such controversy surrounding the government's tactics?

The government assault upon the rebels has been accompanied by a crackdown on critics. Various groups have criticised the government for an assault upon the media. Amnesty International said that since 2006 at least 14 media workers have been killed and hundreds of others harassed and attacked by both sides of the conflict. More than 20 have fled the country in response to death threats. Among the most high profile killings was that of Lasantha Wickrematunga, editor of The Sunday Leader and an outspoken critic of the government. The authorities have denied accusations – made most famously by Mr Wickrematunga himself in an article published posthumously – that they were involved in his killing.

What has the international community done to end the violence?

There have been widespread calls for a ceasefire to allow an evacuation of civilians but there has been remarkably little action. India, the most influential regional power, has asked Sri Lanka to find a political settlement for the Tamils – of which there is a large population in Southern India. But by pitching the operation of the government troops in the language of so-called "war on terror", Mr Rajapaksa may have insulated himself from anything other than words. Yesterday Foreign Secretary David Miliband, became the latest to express concern, saying: "Recent reports suggesting that the Sri Lankan military have now captured all the territory outside the so-called no-fire zone and that fighting is now going on inside the zone, where the civilian population is concentrated, are deeply worrying." These words are unlikely to assuage the anger of London's protesters, however.

Can there be a military solution to Sri Lanka's conflict?

Yes...

* Destroying the Tigers now would leave them without a stronghold and potentially without a leader

* The government is better at preventing money getting to them

* The government's actions against the Tigers have been popular among the Sinhalese majority. They will use that to seek re-election

No...

* The last remnants of the Tigers will hole up in patches of jungle and fight a hit-and-run war as they once did

* The political demands of the Tamil population have to be addressed. There is too much evidence they are treated like second-class citizens

* The Tigers still receive significant support from outside Sri Lanka

[courtesy: The Independent]

Defeat of Tigers does not make challenges of reconciliation less necessary

by David Cameron

For decades, Sri Lanka has been living through a tragedy of its own making. Its modern history is a cautionary tale of lost opportunity and self-inflicted damage. When it achieved independence from Britain in 1948, the people of Ceylon, as it was then called, had every reason to believe that their country would be a leader in South Asia, setting the pace for economic development and the improvement of the lives of its citizens. Wantonly beautiful, endowed with a well-educated population, a glorious climate and abundant resources, and located strategically on the major sea lanes of the region, the country seemed to have everything going for it. People could have been forgiven for believing that the next 50 years would bring unparalleled national growth and prosperity.

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[Children of stateless Sri Lankan tea plantation workers on their way to class at Kotagala. / UNHCR / G. Amarasinghe / May 2007]

Instead, Sri Lanka's development has been blighted by economic and political mismanagement. More than that, it has been disfigured by a vicious civil war. During the past 25 years this conflict has taken the lives of 70,000 persons, turned a half million or more Sri Lankans into displaced refugees in their own country, and driven hundreds of thousands of its most talented citizens abroad.

The roots of the conflict - although not the current responsibility for it - lie in Sri Lanka's colonial past. For almost 450 years, the island was ruled by European powers, the British being the last to leave. Under Britain's colonial administration, the Tamil minority enjoyed a privileged status, assisting the imperial rulers in the governance of the island. The large Sinhalese, Buddhist majority looked on with sullen resentment.

After independence in 1948, it was get-even time. Successive Sinhalese-dominated governments used the instruments of majoritarian democracy to impose discriminatory policies on the Tamil and Muslim minorities, who made up respectively about 20 per cent and 6 per cent of the population. Sinhalese was made the official language of the country, and Buddhism was given a privileged status over Hinduism, which was the faith of most Tamils. Government policy made it more difficult for young Tamils to get into the country's universities, a particularly grievous blow to a community that prized education as a critical means of advancement.

Political opposition and peaceful protest yielded little, and gradually harder men seized control of the Tamil resistance movement. The hardest and most brutal of all were the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, led by their reclusive leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. Often "credited" with being the first to use suicide bombing as a tactic, the Tigers, over time, succeeded in wiping out the Tamil competition. Things came to a head in 1983, when the Tigers killed 13 government soldiers in the northern town of Jaffna. This ignited a massive anti-Tamil pogrom in Colombo and in other cities in the south, which the government did little to stop. With that, the civil war began, and for the last 25 years, despite fitful efforts from time to time to stop the conflict, it has continued. Until now, neither side has been able to gain the upper hand.

A ceasefire that was agreed to in 2002 gave Sri Lankans momentary hope that they might be turning the corner, but it soon became clear that the peace talks were going nowhere. While the talks went on in Norway, Thailand, Germany and Japan, the LTTE continued to smuggle arms, assassinate competing Tamil politicians and government officials, and abduct children to serve in their military. The government of Sri Lanka, for its part, gave the impression that the ceasefire agreement was an end in itself, rather than the beginning of a difficult peacemaking process, and did little to capitalize on the opportunities the ceasefire presented. The LTTE withdrew from the talks in 2003, and a general election in the south brought a harder-line, more nationalist government into office in Colombo.

A devastating blow was delivered to the LTTE in 2004, when the Tigers' eastern military commander, known as "Colonel Karuna," broke with Mr. Prabhakaran and set up a competing movement in the northeastern part of the country. This destroyed the Tigers' claim to represent all of the north and northeast of Sri Lanka, and radically undermined its military strength. The Karuna faction began to work covertly against the LTTE with elements in the Sri Lankan army. The Sri Lankan government formally withdrew from the ceasefire agreement in early 2008, and has been pursuing the Tigers aggressively since then, amid consistent reports of rights abuses on both sides, including abductions, disappearances and the targeted killings of civilians.

The army has pushed the Tigers back into a tiny patch of jungle near Mullaitivu, and it's pretty clear that the end is nigh for the LTTE. There is acute international worry about the thousands of civilians caught in the middle, whose welfare seems of little concern to either side. The Tigers won't let them leave; they have shown no compunction in using civilians as instruments of war - in this case, as human shields - and the army, intent on finishing the Tigers off once and for all, does not have the welfare of trapped Sri Lankan citizens as their primary concern. The government is deeply suspicious of the international community, and has limited the access of journalists and aid workers to the battlefield, so it is difficult to know the full dimensions of what looks like being a looming catastrophe.

Militarily, the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is succeeding where all its predecessors failed. It seems only a matter of time before the Sri Lankan armed forces gain control of the whole island. The government's success on the battlefield places the country's people and political leaders at a historic turning point. Having won the war, will they make the peace? The prospects are far from promising. There is little in Sri Lanka's history and not much in the composition and leadership of the current government to encourage optimism. Several Sri Lankan governments in the past have been given an opportunity to bind up the wounds of division; none has shown much determination or taste for it. The present government is heavily reliant on Sinhalese nationalist support. What lesson are the nationalists likely to draw from the pending historic victory? They have always believed that Sri Lanka is for the Sinhalese; defeating the Tigers will just confirm it.

To heal the wounds of war

Mr. Rajapaksa has spoken of social justice and the need to heal the wounds of war. In a speech on Feb. 4, he declared that it is the task of the entire nation to extend to "the people of the north" "the kindness, friendship and prosperity they deserve." The President urged his fellow Sri Lankans to act "with the dignity of a citizen who equally loves the Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher, Malay and all others who make up our nation." Yet he is committed to the "unitary nature of the state."

That is the rub. If the nation is composed of all these communities, why is there so little concrete expression of that fact in the affairs of state? For a great many of the President's supporters, Sri Lanka is not a multicultural society, but a single Sinhalese nation with several small minority groups. Government documents are typically issued only in Sinhalese; there are few Tamil-speaking officials; there are repeated reports of racial profiling by the predominantly Sinhalese police force. These realities will be damnably difficult to change, because they emanate from a spiritual and ideological source. The rock of identity for a large proportion of Sinhalese Sri Lankans is the conviction that their society is unitary, not plural, and even 25 years of civil war seems not to have changed that. Indeed, for many of these Sri Lankans, the battlefield victory will be a triumphant confirmation of that belief.

Appropriate action at war's end depends on a recognition of the justice of the claims - not of the LTTE - but of the Tamil and Muslim minorities. After all, there has to be an acknowledgment that something is broken, before you can try to fix it. One might hope that the defeat of the LTTE would allow Sri Lanka to tackle its deep ethnic divisions and begin the hard task of delivering a measure of justice to its Tamil and Muslim minorities. Alas, I fear that will not happen, in part because it would involve profound and extensive reform of the Sri Lankan political order, but also because it would entail an assault on the cherished identity and self-perception of the majority.

If, in the years after independence in 1948, members of the Tamil minority had been welcomed into the institutions of government, if the Tamil language had received some respect, if the Hindu religion had not been relegated to second-class status, but recognized as one of the great religions of the national community of Sri Lanka - if it had been possible, in short, for members of the Tamil community, as Tamils, to participate in the life of their country, the history of Sri Lanka over the last 60 years would have been very different. The defeat of the Tigers does not make the challenges of reconciliation less necessary; instead, it offers Sri Lanka a moment of historic importance in which to set things right. But that will require that the government discover the virtue of magnanimity in victory and that its supporters permit this virtue to be expressed in a postwar policy of reconciliation and peaceful reconstruction. That is an outcome fervently to be desired.

(Prof. Cameron teaches political science at the University of Toronto and took part in Sri Lanka's peace talks from 2002 to 2004 as a member of the Forum of Federations.This article appeared in the "Globe and Mail" of April 4th 2009)

April 07, 2009

"Vanangamann" ship is arrogant intrusion combined with provocation and diversionary intent

by Dayan Jayatilleka

Let me get this right. Two hundred and thirteen years since the first British colonial ships landed in Sri Lanka, a ship is setting sail from Britain, launched at an event with banners and posters (Vanangaman: “Mercy Mission to Wanni” ) bearing the map of Tamil Eelam, patronized by politicians and personalities of the former colonial occupier; a ship which hopes to enter the territorial waters of Sri Lanka without our permission and in violation of our sovereignty, at a time when our Navy is involved in the closing battles against a separatist terrorist army.

This is an arrogant intrusion combined with provocation and intertwined with diversionary intent.

While there is no doubt that what this Vanangamania deserves is the sort of treatment that Sir Francis Drake or Sir Walter Raleigh would have administered to any similar ship sailing for the British Isles, such a reaction would doubtless be an error (remember JRJ’s ’87 response to the Indian Red Cross boats?) and play into the hands of those who are mounting this diversionary raid so as to entrap us into a move that will trigger an external outcry which would interrupt our ongoing offensive against the encircled Tigers.

Absurd Analogies

One of the strangest features of the Sri Lankan conflict is that both sides, or more correctly, elements on both sides, see themselves as the Israelis or as an Israel, while neither has the qualifications to consider themselves so. The flip side of this fantasy is that each side tries to “Palestinianize” the other. The Tamil ultra-nationalists have long seen themselves as the Jews of South Asia, deserving of their version of Israel , an independent state for 80 million Tamils, not so much to inhabit as to identify with. An early, renowned gunfighter of the LTTE, Raghavan, now in exile on London, related to Ahilan Kadirgamar the seemingly strange combination of ideological roles models that inspired Velupillai Prabhakaran: Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf and on the other, the Zionist model.

Now this is an impossible contradiction only if one is unfamiliar with the history of Zionism, in which there were two broad tendencies, a social democratic, labor-movement based secular left, represented by the Haganah, Palmach and the Histradut, and a radical, terrorist Rightwing represented by the Irgun and the Stern gang. Jabotinsky, the leading figure of this latter tendency was known to have sympathies with European fascism and derived some inspiration from the Hitlerian movement. Thus it was with Prabhakaran. In this identification Prabhakaran is not alone. The veteran Marxist V. Karalasingham identified and criticized this pro-Zionist ideology in the Tamil federal party leadership decades ago.

The Tamil Eelam project continues to model itself on the founding of Israel . The recent World Tamil Forum meeting in London , organized by the British Tamil Forum and attended by many Western luminaries in and out of office, endorsed four resolutions, one of which designated the war conducted by the Sri Lankan state as genocidal and the Tigers as the authentic representatives of the Tamil people. This and other similar meetings are clearly an attempt to secure something along the lines of an updated version of the Balfour declaration. At the time of the Balfour Declaration, the Arabs were a majority in British mandate Palestine, but decades later, they were a dispossessed people on whose traditional lands a new state had been erected. As Sri Lanka ’s Secretary Defense has recently said, the LTTE’s captured documents and maps show that its plan was for a large Tamil Eelam. This was the thinking behind the ISGA and the PTOMS, which if they had taken shape on the ground would have been the same kind of intermediate steps used to turn the Arab Palestinians into a minority. We Sinhalese would have become like Palestinians. This project goes on unabated and must be resisted.

We must also resist the temptation and it must be said, the folly, of seeing ourselves as an Israel . Unlike the neighbors of Israel our neighbors are far more powerful than we are, and will simply not countenance the Palestinianisation of the Tamils of the North and east. This is the lesson that President Jayewardene and then National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali learned in the 1980s, when they surreptitiously introduced techniques of settler-colonization, tactics of massive retaliation, and West Bank model occupation. Our neighbor ratcheted up, covertly and by proxy, levels of pain upon the Sri Lankan state that were impossible to withstand, leading finally to overt intervention.

Mental Maps

As the conventional war approaches its climactic phase, Sri Lanka must plan for the morning after. Doubtless the extremists on both sides are, the Tamil Eelamists for a protracted struggle in which the emphasis initially shifts to the international battleground, and Sinhala chauvinists who plan for a hard and permanent occupation. Both sides see themselves as Zionists, though neither are, except perhaps in ideological terms.

The struggle is for the future is best illustrated by maps, both real and mental ones. The pro-Tiger Diaspora still dreams of the map of Tamil Eelam which is brandished at all demonstrations and will continue to be for a while. The Sinhala chauvinists fantasize a map in which the Tamil and Muslim majority areas are rediscovered to be ancient Sinhala or Buddhist sites, and renamed, reclaimed not just from the Tigers and the project of a separate state, but from the Tamils and Muslims.

The battle of the maps makes for a bitter peace, not a better place. Each of these maps, the one which represents division and dismemberment guarantees the brandishing of the one for coercive, hegemonic homogenization.

This reflects a larger and parallel process: the more that the so-called international community - actually the western liberal democracies - engage in contacts with Tiger arms dealers and proceed to justify such conduct on humanitarian grounds; the more that western capitals are the site of gatherings graced by western political personalities at which the Tigers are dubbed “the authentic representatives of the Tamil people” (as if Hitler were an inauthentic representative of the German people!); the more the West undermines the anti-Tiger Tamil political current; the more its own designated Tamil moderates boycott the political mainstream and prove themselves in thrall to the Tigers; the more that western double standards and hypocrisy are in evidence on their attitudes towards terrorism in South Asia; the more there appears to be a compact between Tamil secessionism and terrorism and the West; the more that memories of colonial discrimination and privilege are revived by such conduct; then the more difficult is to combat the growing stranglehold of “Sinhalese hard-line elements” that is bewailed in the quality Western press by those self-same Western diplomats and representatives.

What we need is a third map, cartographic and cognitive. That should not be too difficult at one level, because it is a map of the status quo, a map of Sri Lanka as it is. What has to change is our mentalities and attitudes, not the reality. Our mentalities have to change to reflect more accurately the reality of Sri Lanka . That reality is of a pluralist society; a country in which the narrowing Northern area and the top part of the East are preponderantly ethnic Tamil, while the Eastern province comprises almost equally of the three main ethnic groups while being preponderantly Tamil speaking in linguistic terms. Recognition of reality consists, in the first instance, not of radical reform but of the full adherence to our basic law, the Sri Lankan Constitution. Adherence assumes activation of the entirety of the Constitution of which the 13th amendment is a component

Fantasy vs. Vision

The fantasy of the pro-Tiger Tamil Diaspora cannot be defeated purely by the mobilization of Sinhala nationalism. Put at its crudest, 18 million people cannot match the reach of 80 million Tamils. The Tamil Zionist project can only be buried by a strategic move which cuts them off from India and the West, which in turn can be achieved only by the Sri Lankan side swiftly accommodating itself to the reform recommendations of those whose assistance we need to win the next stage of the struggle, namely our friends and neighbors. If rejected, ignored or frontally confronted the moderate international consensus will rapidly become “radicalized” to the point of considering a possible solution outside the borders of the Sri Lankan state formation. There is no guarantee that such a programme will be supported only by the west and not by India

What then are the contours of the moderate external consensus? A report in the Asian Tribune by M Rama Rao, India Editor, on the recent visit by the Indian PM’s Secretary Mr. Nair says: “Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon, who met reporters Monday, confirmed the visit saying "With military operation against LTTE appearing to near an end, India has asked Sri Lanka to take steps towards ‘credible devolution’ of powers to Tamil-dominated northern region". He added that Nair in his talks with Sri Lankan officials stressed the need for taking steps which can be 'seen as the key step in meeting the needs of all minority communities, especially the Tamil community'. India believes that political package to the minority Tamil community is the ultimate solution to the ethnic conflict, the Indian Foreign Secretary said. PM’s emissary’s discussions also focused on ways by which India can help Sri Lanka in reconstruction and rehabilitation of the northern region, which is being freed from the control of LTTE. Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi appears to have been taken into confidence before mounting the Nair mission to Colombo ”. (March 31, 2009)

Meanwhile the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Hearings on Sri Lanka showed us what the American elite consensus on Sri Lanka is for the moment. Ex-ambassador Dr Jeff Lunstead’s testimony does not urge talks with the Tigers or a ceasefire or even federalism. Instead he says “Sri Lanka's political system, which centralizes power in Colombo , needs to be changed to devolve power to local areas. This will allow Tamils--and indeed all Sri Lankans--to have a greater say in how they are governed and how they lead their lives…” and reiterates the need to “engage seriously in political reform… genuine devolution of power…”

Any discourse with and about the Sri Lankan Tamils which is patronizingly integrationist but lacks any reference let alone commitment to devolution and the 13th amendment, falls outside the parameters of the international and regional consensus, and is akin to an Israeli or Palestinian discourse that fails to mention the two state solution. Such a discourse leaves open ideological and political space for the Tamil Diaspora to gather international support for its project.

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

Suicidal political action III: Imperatives

by Michael Roberts

The LTTE, as we know, has fostered a sacrificial ideology as a vital force in their struggle for the liberation (cutantiram) of the Sri Lankan Tamil people, a just war in the view of a significant proportion of Tamils. The imperatives driving this readiness to sacrifice self for political cause were provided by this context of military-political goal. When initiated in the early 1980s, this gifting of individual life as weapon, or uyirautam, was informed by circumstances of military asymmetry.

Thus, as argued in my previous essays (2006, 2009a, 2009b), political goal, relative weakness in power and the inspirational force in securing popular support prompted the Tiger leadership in their recourse to suicidal commitment – first as defensive tool and then as symbolic protest (Tilīpan, Annai Pūpati) or precision weapon in attack.

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Tuyilam Illam at Vadamaradchchi, November 2004-Picture by Michael Roberts

These were the necessary conditions for the development of this method. The brief allusion to this set of political factors should not be held to obscure their central significance. Nor should we forget that the other fighting groups, EPLRF, PLOTE, TELO et cetera, did not adopt this tactic. I do not know why they did not.

That emphasis marked, I turn to the cultural foundations promoting the LTTE’s policy in this regard. A clue to the significance of this dimension is provided in the reverberating popular response to Ponnudurai Sivakumāran’s act of defensive suicide in June 1974 (Roberts 2009b). Apart from the humiliating assaults on leading politicians at his funeral, “several [Tamil Youth League] members slashed their fingers and with the blood … placed dots on their foreheads, pledging collectively to continue the fight for an independent state” (Narayan Swamy 1994: 253).

The influence of cultural strands within Indian Hindu civilisation in encouraging suicide for political cause did not strike me till 1995. I literally stumbled upon this line of inquiry. I was in Delhi then collecting secondary data on “communal violence” in India. This included a study of newspaper material on the anti-Sikh pogrom after Mrs Indira Gandhi was killed. A little footnote to this atrocious episode caught my attention: when the news of Mrs Gandhi's assassination reached Tamilnadu at least ten people attempted suicide or committed suicide, in some cases by self-immolation; and these actions were attributed locally to grief associated with her death (The Hindu, 3 Nov 1984). The numbers are small, but should be assessed against the absence of similar tales from the Hindi-speaking heartland.

However miniscule the numbers, this unusual tale of suicide in empathetic political alignment (at least as interpreted locally) led me further. I found that when MGR suffered a paralytic stroke in October 1984 "at least twenty-two people immolated themselves and cut off their limbs, fingers or toes as offerings to various deities" who were propitiated to spare MGR; while more than a hundred people are said to have attempted self-immolation (Pandian 1992: 18). When he died on the 24th December 1987, at least 31 of "his desolate followers" are said to have been "unable to contain their grief" to the point where they committed suicide (Pandian 1992: 17). Others in the principal Tamilian city of Madras went on "an orgy of violence" in the main thoroughfare of Anna Salai. Several of them assaulted the statue of MGR's archrival, M. Karunanidhi, with crowbars and placed burning tyres around its neck in a symbolic killing (Frontline, 9-22 Jan 1988, p 122). What is more, at these sites of violence exclamations of despair, essentialised expressions, were voiced by MGR's followers: "With MGR dead what is the use of living" (India Today, 15 Jan 1988, pp. 25-26).

Thus activated, I read Ramanujan’s translations and exegesis (1985) on the Cankam poetry, including the warrior themes in the Purananuru. The Cankam poetry of the period 100 BC to 250 BCE emerged from oral traditions and flowed back into it (surmise confirmed subsequently by K. Sivathamby in conversation). In an article published in India (1996), in what was a monumental leap of speculation, I suggested that these lines of inspiring poetry had linked up with the bhakti movement in southern India dating from the latter half of the first millennium BCE and had then been carried through into the modern era by both literary and popular modes of transmission.

In my thesis one of the linking texts was the Periya Purānam, a kāvya for Sivā through the tale of 63 Tamil Saiva Nāyanārs (saints), a tale that pressed the value of participation in the object of one’s devotion. The absolute devotion of these saints inspired them to indulge in fierce acts in sacrificial mode against their own loved ones and against themselves. In brief, their “emotional intensity of anpu [love]” drove them “far beyond normal moral boundaries” to an “excess of blood and death;” and this excess pleased Siva because it embodied total devotion (Hudson 1990: 375).

My article was immediately disparaged by Peter Schalk (1997b). Since then Dagmar Hellmann-Rajanayagam’s translation of some LTTE poetry in recent propaganda literature has indicated that both “Saivite symbolism” and motifs from the Purananuru feature within these evocative expressions (2005: espec. pp. 122-23, 126-30, 133, 139-400). Her conclusion is that three ideas run through the poetry and prose she has examined: “the hero as seed out of which new life springs…, the hero as history clothed in immortality, and the hero as victim who sacrifices himself to pay a debt …” (2005: 151).

But before this article appeared I had returned to this topic as part of a series challenges directed against the highly instrumental/rational explanations of “suicide terrorism” that were being served up by in the academic circuit by several Western scholars, such as Robert Pape (Roberts 2005a, 2005b, & 2006a). Within the space of this short essay I can only provide brief and incomplete outlines of the work on the Indian and Saivite backdrop to what I call the “embodied practices” of sacrificial commitment among Tiger personnel.

* * * *

Those familiar with ancient Indian history will be aware of the incidence of sati as well the practice among certain warrior lineages of fighter retainers and/or familial entourages committing mass suicide when their chief dies in battle. Way back in medieval times Indian Hindu practices spread to the Indonesian archipelago and secured deep roots within Bali in particular. When the Dutch imperial forces defeated the forces of Badung in 1906 and reached the King of Badung’s palace, “the king, his wives, his children, and his entourage marched in a splendid mas suicide inot the direct fire of [the Dutch] guns…. Two years later, in 1908, this strange ritual was repeated in the most illustrious state of all, Klungklung: … the king and court again paraded… out of the palace into the reluctant fire of by now thoroughly bewildered Dutch troops” (Geertz 1980: 11).

The instances of followers of chiefs committing mass suicide may have been episodic and few in ancient and medieval India; that is, one can hardly say that such devotional loyalty to a chieftain was widely generalised. But the point here is that it was valorised in both oral and literary traditions in some areas, notably in Rajputana and southern India (Cf. Jayabarathi n. d. & Sivaram 1992).

Throughout India, moreover, the heroic action of village chieftains was recognised by commemorating them with stone epitaphs known as natukal or vīragal, namely, “planted stones” or “hero stones,” which are considered part of a generic category referred to as hero stones (Settar & Sontheimer 1982; Rajam 2000). Such memorial stones were also planted for sannyāsi and women of sati. In all such cases the individuals were treated as special and thus buried, not cremated.

In many localities such hero stones were invested with divine power: they became shrines where local people invoked a named deity. Southern India is replete with shrines and temples, both local and regional, which are dedicated to fierce deities, “divinities of blood and power” as Susan Bayly refers to them (1989: 27 ff).. In other words, we have here tales and embodied practices relating to the deification of human beings.

When the cinema industry developed in the middle decades of the twentieth century, heroic figures from the past, such as Rājarāja Chōlan, Shivāji, Madurai Veeran and Kattabommān were among the central figures featuring in some films with MGR and Shivāji Ganēsan in lead roles. One such local hero, Madurai Veeran, had in fact developed into a “quintessential Tamil hero” (Shulman 1980: 355). He had, over time, become a regional god in many parts of south India where he also serves as a male attendant and thus a guardian for “nearly all the village goddesses throughout Tamil country” (Whitehead 1921: 25, 114). Such deities are known generically as bhairavar and māvirar. Their (righteous) vengeance is widely regarded to be as bloody as devastating (Mines 2005: 129-35).

Such avenging deities at the local level are in step with the character of such punishing higher deities as Kannaki and Draupadi. Likewise, the blood and gore associated with sacrifice (velvi) and punishment in Tamil Saivism is in keeping with the Hindu religion in general, a multi-stranded corpus that is founded on the proposition that “life is born out of darkness; Death himself is the Creator” (Shulman 1980: 42, also Bowker 1991: 157-58 & Mines 2005: 31).

A fundamental principle within this religious schema is the idea of “creative destruction” and “creative sacrifice” – so that “the symbol of the new life produced from the sacrifice is the fiery seed” (Shulman 1980: 108 & 90-91). It is no surprise, therefore, that on one occasion Pirapāharan called forth a folk aphorism along these lines: “death is the breadth of life” (quoted in Schalk 2003: 396).

* * * * *

The traditions associated with nadukal (also written as natugal) do not seem to have flourished in the Jaffna Peninsula in the last two centuries. The āgamic reforms pressed by Arumugam Navalar would have discouraged such forms of local practice. However, it is possible that some vestiges of this practice remained alive in the northern Vanni and Eastern Province. S. Visahan, for instance, has referred me to the Nacchiyar shrines in the Paranthan locality and their worship by his grandparents’ generation (personal communications).

Thus, it appears to have been radically innovative for the LTTE to import and implant this concept around the year 1989-1990 (Roberts 2005a, 2005b). This was an ideological innovation in support of a radical new practice for Saivite Tamils: namely, the burial of their deceased, in this instance Tiger fighters and personnel – where, previously, Saivite Tiger dead were cremated, while Christians and Muslim fighters were buried. When at some moment down the track an LTTE official (S. Elilan) garlanded the nadukal of Lt. Col. Bork (Mapanapillai Arasaratnam) -- who was killed in a valiant effort to destroy the entrance to the Mankulam army camp on 23 November 1990 – at the Eachchankulam Maveerar Thuyilum Illam near Vavuniya (image in www.TamilNet.com) we have clear demonstration of this programme.

As significantly, the LTTE dead are not usually called tiyaki or catci, but rather referred to as māvirar, literally “great heroes,” but often translated by the LTTE as “martyrs.” The first great ceremony for these māvirar was held on 27 November 1989, the anniversary of the first Tiger fighter to die, viz., Shankar (alias Sathiyanathan). We are indebted to DBS Jeyeraj (2007) for the details on this meaningful event,

• “Around six hundred LTTE cadres assembled at a secret venue in the Mullaitheevu district jungles of Nithikaikulam on November 27. The occasion was the newly proclaimed Great Heroes Day or Maaveerar Naal.”

• “The LTTE leader was justifiably proud then of the performance of his organisation in having withstood the onslaught of 132,000 troops of the Indian army.”

• “The first Great Heroes Day was a restricted affair of which the highlight was a highly emotional address delivered extemporaneously by Prabakharan to his enraptured followers.”

Jeyaraj contends that “the Great Heroes Day observances provide [the LTTE] with the feeling that by sacrificing their lives they would grasp eternity and ensure immortality.” It is in line with this orientation for these burial sites to be depicted by the LTTE as tuyilam illam (literally “resting places”). Staunch Saivites who visit these sites do not have to cleanse themselves with a bath in contrast with their visits to polluted cemeteries. These tuyilam illam, therefore, are regarded as “holy places” and “temples” (www.TamilNet.com, 27 November 1998, and Natali 2008: 297-99).

In brief, in this manner the tuyilam illam imprint a sacred topography within the lands controlled by the LTTE. As Sangarasivam contends, the “laying of bodies … and the building of tombstones inscribe the presence of the honoured dead into the land [and] their physical substance coalesces with the soil of the land to create a culturally circumscribed sacred space” (Sangarasivam 2000: 300). In inspiring and animating their struggle for cutantiram in this manner the LTTE has synthesized the principle of utility with that of cosmic power.

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[Col. Bork’s Nadukal venerated by LTTE official-Courtesy of Tamil.Net.com]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bayly, Susan 1989 Saints, Goddesses and Kings. Muslims and Christians in south Indian society,
1700-1900, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bowker, John 1991 The Meaning of Death, Cambridge University Press.

Geertz, Clifford 1980 Negara. The Theatre State in Nineteenth-Century Bali, Princeton University Press.

Hellman-Rajanayagam, Dagmar 2005 “ ‘And Heroes Die’: “Poetry of the Tamil Liberation Movement in Northern Sri Lanka,” South Asia 28: 112-53.

Hudson, Dennis 1990 “Violent and Fanatical Devotion among the Nayanars: A Study in the Periya Purānam of Cēkkilār,” in Alf Hiltebeitel (ed.) Criminal Gods and Demon Devotees, Dehi: Manohar, pp. 375-405.

Jayabarathi, S. “Self-sacrifice or Navakantam,” http://www.geocities.com/Vienna/Choir/4262/navkantha.htm.

Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 2006 “No public speech ceremony for LTTE Chief this year?” 26 November 2006 in http://transcurrents.com/tamiana/archives/234.

Mines, Diane 2005 Fierce Gods. Inequality, Ritual and the Politics of Dignity in a South Indian Village, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Narayan Swamy, M. R. 1994 Tigers of Sri Lanka, Delhi: Konark Publishers Pvt Ltd. Natali, Christiana 2008 “Building Cemeteries, Constructing Identities: Funerary Practices and

Nationalist Discourse among the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka,” Contemporary South Asia 16: 287-301. Pandian, M. S. S. 1992 The Image Trap, New Delhi: Sage Publications.

Rajam, K. 2000 South Indian Memorial Stones, Thanjavur: Manoo Pathikam.

Roberts, Michael 2005a “Tamil Tiger ‘Martyrs’: Regenerating Divine Potency?” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 28: 493-514.

Roberts, Michael 2005b “Saivite Symbolism, Sacrifice and Tamil Tiger Rites,” Social Analysis 49: 67-93.

Roberts, Michael 2006 “Pragmatic Action and Enchanted Worlds: A Black Tiger Rite of Commemoration,” Social Analysis 50: 73-102.

Roberts, Michael 2009a “Suicidal Political Action I: Soundings,” http://www.transcurrents. com & sacrificialdevotionnetwork.wordpress.com/

Roberts, Michael 2009b “Suicidal Political Action II: Ponnudurai Sivakumāran,” http://www.transcurrents.com & sacrificialdevotionnetwork.wordpress.com/

Sangarasivam, Yamuna 2000 “The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Cultural Production of Nationalism and Violence,” Syracuse University: Ph.D dissertation.

Schalk, Peter 1997a “Resistance and Martyrdom in the Process of State Formation of Tamililam,” in Joyce Pettigrew (ed.) Martyrdom and Political Resistance, Amsterdam: VU University Press pp. 61-84.

Schalk, Peter 2003 “Beyond Hindu Festivals: The Celebration of Great Heroes’ Day by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Europe,” in Martin Baumann et al. eds.) Tempel (und Tamilien in Zweiter Heimat, Wurzburg: Ergon Verlag, pp. 391-411.

Settar, S. & G. D. Sontheimer (eds.) 1982 Memorial Stones, Dharwad: Institute of Indian Art History.

Shulman, David 1980 Tamil Temple Myths. Sacrifice and Divine Marriage in the South Indian Saiva Tradition. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Sivaram, D. 1992 “Tamil Militarism,” Lanka Guardian, 1 May 1992 et seq. in 11 parts.

Whitehead, Henry 1921 [rep. 1981] The Village Gods of South India, 2nd edn, New Delhi, Cosmo Publications.

Escalated Conflict Takes Toll on Children, Civilians in Northern Sri Lanka

by IPS Correspondents

The escalation since December of the conflict in Sri Lanka’s north between government forces and the Tamil Tigers is taking a heavy toll on children and civilians, many of whom are still trying to escape the combat zones.

At least 12,000 schoolchildren are now remaining among over 57,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have fled the fighting and reached the safety of government areas, according to local education officials in Vavuniya.

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[Inside the 'safe' zone- Sunday Apr 5]

Many more children and civilians are trapped within the combat zones and face the risk of injury, death and forced recruitment. The non-profit organisation Save the Children has begun assisting the setting up of temporary learning centres in the 17 transit centres in Vavuniya, where over 44,000 IDPs escaping the fighting are staying. Save the Children has so far established learning centres in 10 transit camps.

'We are trying to make sure that children can continue with their education without a break. We are providing educational materials and other help,' Ashok Kumar, Save the Children district coordinator in Vavuniya, told IPS.

The agency is also providing morning meals and has trained 48 pre-school teachers among the IDPs to conduct classes. 'The circumstances are very difficult, but we will help these kids to continue with their education,' Kumar said.

The fighting has disrupted the education of at least 60,000 students, according to Save the Children. 'The effect on the education and the children’s lives has been huge,' explained its spokesperson, Meneca Calyanarathne.

The United Nations estimates that over 150,000 civilians are trapped inside areas of heavy fighting east of the town of Puthukkudiyiruppu in the northern Mulaithivu district, about 330 kilometres from the capital Colombo. The government estimates the figure to be around 70,000.

For more than two decades, this South Asian island nation has been gripped by civil war between the state and Tiger rebels, who have been seeking a separate homeland for minority Tamils. The armed conflict in this majority Sinhalese country has taken more than 70,000 lives.

Thousands have escaped the fighting overland in the last three months. Mahinda Samarasinghe, minister for human rights and disaster management, said that over 7,000 had escaped to government-held areas during the last week of March. 'More will come, we are expecting more,' he said.

Gordon Weiss, the spokesman for the United Nations in Sri Lanka, said that more trapped civilians will try to escape. 'We assume that most civilians who are trapped will try to flee,' he said. 'Their best chances for survival obviously lie outside the combat area.'

The International Committee of the Red Cross has also transported over 6,600 injured and sick civilians and caregivers out of the combat zone by ferry since February, with the assistance of the Sri Lanka Navy. Due to intense fighting, overland convoys have been unable to travel to the combat zones since late January.

The ferry link has also been used by the World Food Programme (WFP) to transport food and other supplies. The WFP said that it has sent over 2,200 metric tonnes of food supplies since February.

This week, it dispatched the largest shipment of supplies of 1,000 metric tonnes. 'This is the largest shipment we have sent and it comes at a crucial time for these people,' Adnan Khan, the WFP country head in Sri Lanka, said.

Those remaining inside the areas of fighting are cramped into a 12 km no-fire zone at the edge of combat areas.

The no-fire zone was declared by the government, but the Defence Ministry and the Army now say that the Tigers have retreated into it and are taking cover amidst the civilians. The government said that from within the safe zone, the Tigers had fired two surface-to-air missiles at two Air Force helicopters that were evacuating wounded soldiers on Mar. 25. The helicopters were not hit.

The United Nations and the ICRC have warned that the conditions within the combat zones are extremely dire. On Apr. 4, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon once again appealed to the Tigers to allow civilians to move out of the areas of fighting at their free will.

'The Secretary-General is deeply distressed by continuing reports from the Vanni region of Sri Lanka that civilians are at extreme risk, with heavy casualties, and that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tigers) are keeping civilians in a very small area of active conflict against their will. While some have been able to leave or escape, reliable reports indicate that the LTTE have prevented others from leaving, including by firing at them,' a statement from Ban Ki-moon's office said.

Children were being recruited into Tiger ranks and thrust into battle, the same statement said. 'The Secretary-General calls upon the LTTE leadership to allow civilians to leave the conflict area of their own free will. The severe restrictions of the LTTE on their freedom of movement violate international law. The Secretary-General also deplores the forced recruitment of civilians, particularly children.'

The ICRC, which has regular access into the no-fire zone due to the ferry service, also warned that situation in the no-fire zone was serious.

'Many patients need to have a limb amputated because of a shrapnel injury. We also treat injuries to other parts of the body, sometimes to remove shrapnel. I have seen many patients with heavily infected wounds, sometimes in areas where amputation is required,' explained Martin Hermman, an ICRC surgeon attending to evacuated civilians.

'Infections set in rapidly when a wound is not treated with antibiotics or a dressing cannot be changed. On some patients arriving here, strips of sarong or t-shirts have been used instead of dressings. Pieces of wood are often used as splinters to immobilise a fracture and spare the person a lot of pain,' he said. 'Amputees will need physiotherapy and prosthetic work if they are to regain the use of their limbs.'

Meanwhile Walter Kaelin, representative of the U.S. Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons, is in Sri Lanka on a four-day visit. He is expected to meet with top government officials and visit the transit camps in Vavuniya.

courtesy: Inter Press Service

Sri Lanka war commonly misunderstood as one between terrorist group and legitimate state

by Jegan J. Vincent de Paul

Last December, the government of Sri Lanka held a day of national festivities to commemorate the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. In April, intense fighting continues between government and LTTE forces. However, the escalating humanitarian crisis of the Tamil civilians remains unheeded by the international community.

The war on the island of Sri Lanka is one of disparities on a number of accounts. It is commonly misunderstood as one between a terrorist group and a legitimate state, and its status as Asia’s longest continuing civil war—lasting 26 years—with deeply rooted ethnic tensions is not properly considered by the United Nations, the United States or any other nation.

The proscription of the LTTE as a terrorist organization by the U.S.—followed by the U.K., the EU and others after Sept. 11—has created a diplomatic imbalance on the island, legitimizing the Sri Lankan government’s indiscriminate military attacks on areas populated by civilians without impunity. Since the government’s official withdrawal from a ceasefire agreement with the LTTE in 2008, its military campaign has internally displaced over 200,000 Tamils in the northeast of the island, killing and injuring thousands.

With its proclaimed goal of rooting out terrorism, the Sinhalese-dominated government of Sri Lanka has systematically destroyed and taken control of nearly all of Tamil Eelam. This is the minority Tamils’ homeland, rightfully defended and governed by the LTTE following the 2002 Norwegian-led ceasefire agreement.

Caught in the midst of the Sri Lankan army’s continued offensive against the LTTE, the displaced Tamil civilians are currently subject to moral degradation, hunger and numerous acts of genocide. In the name of security, the government continues to effectively exploit the LTTE’s terrorist designation to confine Tamil civilians to “welfare villages,” a euphemism for internment camps surrounded by barbed wire.

In early March, 38 members of the U.S. Congress sent a joint letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton highlighting the fact that Sri Lanka is one of eight “Red Alert” countries experiencing ongoing or imminent genocide, referencing a ranking produced by the New York-based Genocide Prevention Project. Human Rights Watch had reported that, from early January to the end of February alone, over 2,000 Tamil civilians had been killed and over 7,000 injured. More recently, government forces continue to kill or maim an average of 100 civilians a day.

Yet it remains a war without witnesses, and independent reports are rare. Foreign journalists, monitors and aid workers are banned from the epicenter of the fighting, making it increasingly difficult to produce meaningful criticism of the government’s actions.

The LTTE’s continued call for a ceasefire and insistence on international monitoring and aid for civilians goes unheeded by the United Nations. In mid-March, the LTTE’s political head, B. Nadesan, put out a call for the United Nations to directly investigate the situation on the ground instead of taking the word of the government of Sri Lanka.

The immense call of the global Tamil diaspora, as well as independent voices to cease the violence and to support self-determination of Tamils, is similarly ignored and consistently fails to be put on the agenda of the U.N. Security Council. The protesting diaspora is of the same generation and people who have been subject to the Sri Lankan government’s discriminatory policies and violence since Sri Lanka’s independence from the British in 1948.

In mid-March, more than 120,000 expatriate Tamils demonstrated in Toronto, condemning the genocidal war and asking for international support. Countless other demonstrations carried out in London, Geneva, Paris, Washington and all over the world have made calls for the international community to help stop the violence and recognize the LTTE as the voice of the Tamil people.

In his recent address to the World Tamils Forum in London, the American civil-rights activis tthe Rev. Jesse Jackson reiterated the right to self-determination and the importance of an immediate ceasefire before any political solutions can follow. Similar expressions of concern uttered by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as well as the president of East Timor and Noble Peace laureate José Ramos-Horta, remain meaningless to the government of Sri Lanka, which considers the systematic subjugation of Tamils the only solution to decades of racial tension.

(Jegan J. Vincent de Paul is a graduate student in the Visual Arts Program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture and Planning. This article appeared in"The Harvard Crimson" under the heading "endless war")

Wanni no-fire zone is in reality a no-food, no-care, no-safety zone

By Meena Kandasamy

Colombo calls it a no-fire zone, but it could also be called a no-food zone, a no-care zone, even a no-safety zone, if the story of Prasad Siva­tharsany is anything to go by. Early last month, the pregnant 24-year-old was injured in army shelling. Twelve days later, on March 14, she gave birth to a baby girl at the zone’s only hospital, a makeshift affair. Staff noticed a piece of shrapnel in the baby’s thigh. So even before her first feeding, the child underwent surgery.

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[Inside the 'no'-safety zone]

By some accounts, mother and child were lucky. Two days earlier, doctors found that the feet of a six-month-old foetus of another pregnant woman admitted with shell-blast injuries had been severed by shrapnel. Mother and foetus died.

Such stories are synonymous with Sri Lanka’s safe zone in the northeast, where the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the army are locked in a last-ditch battle. Also in the area are approximately three lakh civilians, and it is for their safety that Colombo unilaterally declared a no-fire zone along a now constantly shrinking strip of coast that is 12 km long and 1.5 km wide.

Stretching from Maththalan to Mullivaikkal, it is bounded by the sea on one side and natural lagoons on the other. The fighting takes place west of the lagoons. The International Committee of the Red Cross can enter the safe zone by sea.

In the zone, every day is a gamble with death. The shells fall everywhere, on humanitarian supplies, hospitals, water bodies and roads. According to a United Nations document, on an average day, 63 civilians are killed and 145 injured.

The survivors struggle against insurmountable problems. Food is the biggest. A World Food Programme review in January concluded that Vanni was facing a crisis caused by an almost complete loss of livelihood and diminishing stocks. With farm land no longer in use, coconut and fish are the only food items in the market. But a coconut costs SLR 250 and fishing has stopped because of floods. The coastal terrain is barren. Even onion stalks have disappeared. The cultivators have become scavengers, scrounging for a handful of rice from last season’s paddy husk discarded by mills. Last month four children were admitted to hospital having eaten the toxic Adampan creeper (Ipomoea biloba). The hospital at Maththalan has reported 16 starvation deaths so far.

In February, the Kilinochchi Regional Directorate of Health Services (RDHS) said Vanni had only 2.2 per cent (109.71 tonnes) of the total monthly requirement of food (4,950 tonnes) that come through the ICRC. So food is strictly rationed nowadays among the 81,000 families. Most civilians in the zone subsist on a single meal a day. Chronic malnutrition is simply a matter of time. Potable water, too, is in short supply, distributed at just 10 locations.

Civilians live in tarpaulin huts and take refuge in bunkers when they hear artillery, multi-barrel and cluster bombs falling. Torrential rain and strong winds last month blew the roofs off a fourth of the dwellings and damaged the temporary toilets. Because of the army’s ban on transporting construction material, most people have no choice but to defecate in the open. The area’s medical officers fear an outbreak of water-borne communicable diseases.

Why do the people stay on in such hardship? The greatest fear seems to be that if they leave, they won’t be allowed back. And young Tamils in the zone have never lived in army-controlled areas, but they have heard stories of life under the army. They are also held back by the prospect of confinement in army-run internment camps. Only the critically injured and their caretakers leave when the ICRC rescue-ship arrives.

The healthcare system has collapsed. Only one temporary hospital is operational. The zone’s makeshift hospitals at Udaiyarkaddu, Suthanthirapuram and Thevipuram were abandoned after continued artillery attacks. A school building at Puthu Maththalan has been converted into a surgical centre. The playground has now become the mortuary.

As for conditions, a terse March 16 letter by Dr T Varadarajah and Dr T Sathiyamoorthy, RDHS of Mullai­thivu and Kilinochchi, states the problem clearly: “Since January 2009, more than 500 civilian deaths, either on or after admission have been registered at hospitals. Thousands of civilian deaths could have gone unrecorded, as they were not brought to the hospitals. Most of the hospital deaths could have been prevented if basic infrastructure facilities and

essential medicines were made available. We have been supplied with no antibiotics, no anesthetics and not a single bottle of IV fluid.”

Dr Sathiyamoorthy is the people’s hero. Even as drivers hesitated to transport the injured, he led the ambulances. Where people could not be carried to hospital, he went to their huts. At one point, bandages and pads were not available. He had to make do with old cloths for bandages and palmyra pads to support the fractures. Now, the absence of fuel has driven people to use bullock-carts as ambulances.

Children, as always, are the worst hit. Dr J Sivamanoharan and S Edm­und Reginald of the Vanni Psycho-social Coordinating Committee say that 65,000 children are affected as 288 schools failed to reopen in the Vanni this year. Roughly 7,800 children have lost the chance of starting school. And the absence of adequate prenatal and antenatal care has sent infant mortality rates soaring.

Hospital records with The New Sunday Express show that 49 children below 15 have died in shelling from March 1-26. Thirty children were less than 10. In the same period, 431 children have been admitted to hospital with grievous injuries. Nearly a third have shrapnel injuries to head and face, and 212 have been treated for shell injuries to limbs.

Santhirakumar Eraimagan is just 18 months old, but he’ll never walk properly again. His right leg was

amputated on March 14, even as Siva­tharsany‘s baby emerged into this safe zone of death and starvation.

These children hear no lullabies, only the sounds of people mourning their dead. But you wonder if they will even survive long enough to swap stories. Given the world’s hands-off attitude so far, it would be a brave man who said yes.

(Meena Kandasamy is a poet, writer and activist from Chennai. This article appeared in the "New Sunday Express")

April 06, 2009

Top Tiger leaders killed in a major debacle for LTTE

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) organization suffered a terrible blow in the Aanandapuram area of Puthukkudiyiruppu AGA division.

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In what may very well be the defining moment of the on going war the tigers have lost a vast array of illustrious fighting commanders as well as large numbers of cadres in a single battle. [click here to read the article in full~in dbsjeyaraj.com]

Desperate Bid by Diaspora to save LTTE Leadership from Annihilation

By Gomin Dayasri

The dedicated Tamil Diaspora with its travelling companions in the international NGO networks are synchronising a campaign to attract foreign intervention and commit Sri Lanka's military to foreign tribunals in a desperate bid to save the LTTE leadership from annihilation. That is their contribution from across the seas, in truth, to further aggravate the sad plight of the civilians trapped in the No Firing Zone (NFZ).

The initial attempt was through a NGO loaded Presidential Commission of Inquiry with so called biased foreign Eminent Persons (IIPEG) in attendance to fix the Security Forces with possible war crimes on the death of the 17 aid workers of the ACF in Mutur; leading to the air attack on a fictitious Shencholai where young people in a LTTE jungle training camp were killed.

Presently the active campaign abroad is directed towards a dubious desire on the purported perception to safeguard civilians in the No Fire Zone (NFZ), but more to attract provisions of international law, to hinder the forward march of the Armed Forces.

The bottom line is to place pressure on the successful military operations by raising the plea of war crimes to dispirit and thwart operations as an additional pressure on the servicemen to lower the morale. The emerging arena is the NFZ the final resting ground of the LTTE hierarchy.

The LTTE advocates will resort to argue that since it is a designated NFZ sanctioned as a safe sanctuary for civilians by the government forces it must remain so irrespective of whether the LTTE terrorists also seek refuge. It is paramount to retain the civilian population within the boundaries of the NFZ as a soul shield. Any attack made or an inspired attack by the LTTE itself will be portrayed as an act of criminality outside the realm of war.

Even a counter attack to an LTTE onslaught from within the NFZ will be queried as to whether it was in an legal sense 'defensive' invoking the principle of a right of exceeding limits of self defence.

The legal objective would be to tar brush any harm caused to civilians in the NFZ (possibly from LTTE fire) as a prohibitive non defensive use of force under the UN charter, amounting to an aggressive act constituting a crime against peace. At Nuremberg Nazi leaders were charged with similar acts of crime and the judgement described it as a supreme crime.

Action in a battlefield, in a densely populated confined area such as in the NFZ, the terrorist can intermingle with the civilian population and criminally attack the civilians in the absence of policing and place the burden on the Security Forces or draw the Security

Forces to save the civilians and cause an attack. The ensuing collateral harm or damage will be a tactical move inspired by the Diaspora and orchestrated by the LTTE to draw a distinction between war crimes and lawful combat.

The prime objective would be to scuttle military action and bring again a foreign third party intervention to seek diplomatic overtures to make "good faith reliance", as legally obligatory. It would be sugar coated, as a prelude to the launching of a successful military operation, after freeing the trapped civilians.

To display a degree of good faith a foreign party enters to safeguard the civilians, for a possible evacuation exercise, as a condition precedent to armed forces entering the NFZ. A foreign interventionist would call for a cease fire and a monitoring process and will eventually commence a negotiating process.

The negotiation is the point for the LTTE to resurrect itself from the grave yard of doom. It is the escape clause from the dungeon of no return.

However to the advantage Sri Lanka holds unlike in the ongoing Gaza episode, there is no punitive blockade. On the contrary the civilians crossing the line have been welcomed with secured safe passages; the civilians are fleeing from terror and the LTTE are indulging in cruel preventing measures to build a soul shield for their own defence.

There is no possibility of raising the "shock and awe" doctrine because the State has been providing food medicine fuel and other provision to civilians for years in LTTE controlled areas at state expense including those presently in the NFZ and beckoning them to cross. Medical facilities are provided even to injured of the LTTE.

These humanitarian acts of wisdom comprehensively eliminate the attraction of Articles 33 and 55 of the Fourth Geneva Convention relating to the treatment of a civilian population and Sri Lanka emerges triumphantly against charges for possible violation of such humanitarian laws.

Diaspora cannot turn to the International Court of Crime since neither Sri Lanka nor the LTTE are affiliated to its jurisdiction. NGO pressed hard for Sri Lanka to become a member trying to lobby the garment sector with a tariff exception cherry but the President stood firm notwithstanding pressure brought by interested parties from within the Cabinet.

The establishment of ad hoc international criminal tribunals as in Serbia and Rwanda by the UN Security Council is out of reach because of support received by Sri Lanka from within the UN Security Council and the veto power of China and Russia. The support extended by Asian giants China and Japan at critical times is of much value.

It is possible in view of ground work by the NGO community to invoke, without justification, the claims of universal jurisdiction inherent in national municipal courts on vague allegations of war crimes. This has been resorted to in Britain, Spain, US, France, Germany and Belgium. There is such legislation presently in 12 countries.

The dictator of Chile, Pinochet, was indicted in a Spanish High Court and detained in Britain. The Law Lords of UK upheld the right to extradite, but instead he returned to Chile on the ground of unfitness to face trial, due to extreme illness. Spain has also indicted several Israeli military officers on human rights violations, but they never marked an appearance.

German courts refused to press charges against Donald Rumsfield on torture charges despite strong evidentiary basis and non prosecution by the US authorities. These are opportunistic ventures to attract high profile publicity and as a deterrent of possible claims of detention and prosecution to inhibit travel plans of military personnel.

This is a most unlikely procedure as extradition cannot be sought by governments as the LTTE is a universally acknowledged terrorist organisation holding the civilians against their will in NFZ and preventing their departure by cruel methods for their own survival.

This is still more difficult as the voice of responsibility have called upon the LTTE to free the civilians. In a criminal jurisdiction there is no upper guardian.

The final opportunity could be convening a non governmental civil society tribunal with symbolic legal authority. Bertrand Russel took the lead to establish the Russel Tribunal on the Viet Nam War. The Permanent Peoples Tribunal based in Rome has organised inquiries on 20 international topics.

The unofficial World Tribunal on Iraq held in Istanbul under the chairmanship of Indian novelist Arundhathi Roy issued a Declaration of Conscience condemning the US and Britain.

Therefore Diaspora which funded the LTTE may fund a sponsored after dinner theatre presentation of a soap box opera named 'Crimes against Humanity' as a requiem for the many Tamils killed by the LTTE? At most it would be a pantomime, at the least a vaudeville in style of the Wild West.

Global realities are based on double standards. Justice is never measured on Justice alone- Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic is treated differently to Pinochet ((Chile) or Suharto (Indonesia). As stated by Richard Falk, Professor of International Law at Princeton University:

"When it comes to International Criminal Law, there continues to reside impunity for the strong and victorious and potential accountability for the weak or defeated".

A lull, breather, respite, interval is the salvation for the LTTE. Did a Minister play to the tune of the LTTE when he spoke of "a pause"? A pause for the international players to enter to negotiate until dooms day? Conjuring a defeat from the jaws of victory is possible with bizarre thinking.

UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize 2009 to be awarded posthumously to Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge

LWUNESCO0406.jpgThe late Sri Lankan journalist and editor of the Sunday Leader Lasantha Wickrematunge, who was assassinated on 8 January this year, has been named laureate of the 2009 UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize. The Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, today endorsed the choice of the Prize’s jury of 14 professional journalists from all over the world.

“Jury members were moved to an almost unanimous choice by a man who was clearly conscious of the dangers he faced but nevertheless chose to speak out, even beyond his grave,” said Joe Thloloe, President of the jury and Press Ombudsman of the Press Council of South Africa, referring to the laureate’s posthumous editorial in which he voiced his commitment for press freedom at the risk of his life. “Lasantha Wickrematunge continues to inspire journalists around the world,” added Mr Thloloe.

Mr Matsuura welcomed the choice of Mr Wickrematunge: “In awarding the 2009 World Press Freedom Prize to a committed journalist who opposed war, UNESCO, along with media professionals from all over the world, recognizes the important role that freedom of expression can play in fostering mutual understanding and reconciliation, the theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day celebration.”

The Director-General will present the World Press Freedom Prize in a ceremony on May 3, World Press Freedom Day, which UNESCO will celebrate this year in Doha, capital of Qatar.

Born in 1958, Lasantha Wickrematunge trained as a lawyer and was a member of the Sri Lankan Bar Association. While working as an attorney-at-law, he began working as an investigative reporter for the Sun/Davasa newspaper.

In 1994, Mr Wickrematunge started the Sunday Leader with his brother and used the publication to campaign vigorously against the war between Sri Lanka’s army and Tamil rebels.

In 2000, Mr Wickrematunge secured a court victory which led to the abolition of the law that allowed the government to curb the media. In November 2007, the Sunday Leader was damaged in an arson attack that Mr Wickrematunge said resembled a “commando action”.

Mr Wickrematunge expected to be assassinated and went so far as to write an editorial for publication after his death. It appeared in the Sunday Leader on 11 January 2009, three days after he had been murdered. In his editorial, Mr Wickrematunge voiced his commitment and readiness to die for press freedom: “[…] there is a calling that is yet above high office, fame, lucre and security. It is the call of conscience.”

Created in 1997 by UNESCO’s Executive Board, the Press Freedom Prize is awarded annually to honour the work of an individual or an organization defending or promoting freedom of expression anywhere in the world, especially if this action puts the individual’s life at risk. Candidates are proposed by UNESCO Member States, and regional or international organizations that defend and promote freedom of expression.

Since its creation, the US $25,000 prize - financed by the Cano and Ottaway family foundations, and by JP/Politiken Newspaper LTD - has been awarded to the following laureates: Lydia Cacho (Mexico, 2008), Anna Politkovskaya (Russian Federation, 2007), May Chidiac (Lebanon, 2006), Cheng Yizhong, (China, 2005), Raúl Rivero (Cuba, 2004), Amira Hass (Israel, 2003), Geoffrey Nyarota (Zimbabwe, 2002), U Win Tin (Myanmar, 2001), Nizar Nayyouf (Syria, 2000), Jesus Blancornelas (Mexico, 1999), Christina Anyanwu (Nigeria, 1998), Gao Yu (China, 1997).

[Unesco.org Statement]

The Thillaiampalam Trio:"Boston Brothers" divided over Tamil cause

By Farah Stockman

Sri Lanka violence repels two while a third clings to hope

It started 30 years ago with a Somerville post office box registered to a grandiose name: the Embassy of Eelam.

Three brothers from Sri Lanka who lived on Mount Vernon Street turned their dining room into an international headquarters for the struggle to create a homeland for the ethnic Tamil minority. It would be called Eelam.

They lobbied state and local officials about the abuse of Tamils at the hands of the Sri Lankan government, prompting a Massachusetts boycott. Then-Governor Edward J. King announced his support for a Tamil homeland. Their lobbying boosted a Tamil rebel army fighting in Sri Lanka.

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[Sritharan Thillaiampalam, pictured with the Sri Lankan president, now thinks it might be wise to work with the government.]

But since then, the rebels have killed thousands with suicide bombs, and were declared terrorists by the United States. The 25-year civil war, fueled in part by donations from local Tamils, has become one of the longest, bloodiest wars in the world, with more than 70,000 dead. And now, the rebels are on the verge of defeat.

That has left some of the roughly 2,000 Tamils in Boston grappling with the possibility that Eelam might never be achieved. They are also faced with the reality that their most cherished cause is now inextricably linked to a guerrilla war that pioneered the use of suicide bombings.

"We used to be the victims," said Sritharan Thillaiampalam, a 69-year-old former Bank of Boston employee who helped spearhead the Eelam movement with his two brothers but is now disillusioned. "Later, a group of people started taking up arms, killing people, killing each other. That's how it changed."

But 2 miles away, his older brother, Sri Thillaiampalam, a 70-year-old former freight company assistant manager at Logan Airport, hasn't given up on the dream of Eelam. He calls the Tigers "defenders" of the Tamils.

"My brother used to be my secretary general," Sri lamented. "But now he has lost his way."

There was a time when it seemed like the fate of Eelam lay on Mount Vernon Street. That was where the Thillaiampalam clan - five boys and five girls - all moved during the 1970s.

While many other Tamils in America avoided politics, fearing retribution against relatives back home, the Thillaiampalams were all in Massachusetts, so they threw themselves into the cause.

As children, the brothers grew up in a time of relative peace in Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon, an island off India's coast roughly the size of West Virginia.

In the early 1940s, when they were boys, the island was a British colony. Sinhalese, who make up 74 percent of the population, were mostly Buddhists living in the south, while Tamils, who make up roughly 18 percent, were mostly Hindus in the north.

Living on the outskirts of Jaffna, a city populated by Tamils, the brothers played with the few Sinhalese classmates there and learned the Sinhalese language in school from Buddhist monks. But in 1956, shortly after the country gained independence, the Sri Lankan government declared Sinhalese to be the only official language, forcing many Tamils - including some Thillaiampalam relatives - out of government jobs. When Tamils protested, they were beaten by thugs.

At the time, Sritharan was a teenager fascinated by politics. He protested by defacing the Sinhalese words on the license plates of government buses - and landed in jail.

"My mother scolded me - 'Why did you get involved?' " he recalled.

In 1961, he joined a strike that shut down government offices.

A decade later, seeking to advance his career, Sritharan moved to Somerville to live with his older brother, Srikanthan, an engineer. Sritharan got a job with the Bank of Boston, while his wife became an insurance analyst at John Hancock. Within a year, they bought their own Somerville three-decker.

"We always thought we would return to Sri Lanka," he said. "But things kept getting worse."

By the late 1970s, some of Sritharan's friends in Sri Lanka formed a new nonviolent political party, the Tamil United Liberation Front, which demanded a separate state. In 1977, it became the largest opposition bloc in Sri Lanka's Parliament. But its separatist views were swiftly outlawed.

Frustrated, many Tamils took up arms, joining a group of militants called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. (Eelam is a word in ancient Tamil literature that appears to refer to Sri Lanka.) Led by Velupillai Prabhakaran, an elusive guerrilla leader who inspires cultlike devotion, the militants killed 13 Sri Lankan soldiers in 1983. Riots and revenge killings followed, sparking a mass Tamil exodus.

Tamil refugees poured into Somerville, where they were hosted by the Thillaiampalams. Sritharan - pensive and serious - and Sri - gregarious and persistent - helped form a new group along with their older brother: the Eelam Tamil Association of America.

They opened a PO Box and got vanity license plates - Eelam One and Eelam Two. They lobbied their state representative, Marie Howe, an Irish-American who sympathized with their tales of marginalization and struggle. Every time Howe had a function, the whole Thillaiampalam clan would show up. (Howe did not return calls seeking comment.)

Howe persuaded Governor King to declare his support for Eelam and pushed through a divestment resolution modeled on the antiapartheid campaign. She introduced the brothers to Senator Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry, a rising star in politics. Howe also helped get Somerville to declare Eelam Tamil Day, and to become a sister city to Trincomalee, a Sri Lankan port claimed by both Tamils and Sinhalese. A series of Somerville mayors, including Michael Capuano, raised a Tamil United Liberation Front flag over City Hall.

The brothers met then-House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill at a clambake fund-raiser and posed with him for a photo, creating the illusion that power brokers in Washington were dedicated to Eelam.

"It had a big impact back home," Sritharan said. "They thought the US government was backing us fully. They thought we are millionaires here, giving money to Kerry and Kennedy, so that they were in our pockets."

The brothers' success shocked the Sri Lankan government, which complained to the State Department. But it impressed Tamil politicians, who began to make regular US visits to meet the brothers, who in turn introduced them to politicians and State Department officials, helping to block millions in foreign aid to Sri Lanka.

The brothers caught the attention of India, a regional superpower with a Tamil population of its own. They met Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and her son and successor, Rajiv Gandhi, and begged for India's intervention.

The brothers also met with Tiger militants in India.

"We thought they were doing a great thing, sacrificing their lives to fight the Sri Lankan Army," said Sritharan. "We called them our younger brothers. Through emissaries, [Tiger leader] Prabhakaran would say, 'Send us money.' "

In 1984, Sri helped orchestrate a successful meeting between Indira Ghandi and Tamil militants who were seeking weapons and training from India, including Prabhakaran.

"They looked at me as someone who would make the world move," Sri said. "They asked me to be part of the team. I said no. I had to draw a line, where I get off. I'm not getting involved in fighting."

In 1986, the brothers held a conference in New York and invited militants to participate, according to Sritharan.

But the Tigers refused, sending a letter that read like a warning: "We are the only representatives of the Tamils. . . . We are fighting in a military battle and we need financial support. If you want to achieve Eelam, you have to help us."

By 1987, the brothers' work seemed to be coming to fruition. India sent peacekeepers and prodded the Sri Lankan government to agree to set up a semiautonomous regional council in the Tamil north.

But the Tigers refused to accept anything short of a separate state. They attacked the Indian peacekeepers and later assassinated Rajiv Gandhi, who had sent them. They killed moderate Tamil politicians who tried to join the council.

They shot the Tamil leader who had traveled to Boston to meet Ed King. They killed Neelan Tiruchelvam, a Harvard-educated lawyer who advocated federalism instead of Eelam. They killed Sri Lanka's foreign minister, a Tamil, and the head of the Tamil United Liberation Front, one of Sritharan's best friends. Tiger suicide bombers, who pioneered the technique before it became common in the Middle East, also killed scores of Sinhalese civilians.

The violence prompted Srikanthan, the eldest Thillaiampalam brother, to give up activism. Now living in Winchester, he did not return a call seeking comment.

Sritharan, too, had a radical change of heart. At his dining room table, surrounded by newspaper clippings and photos of himself with famous people who are now dead, he explained why he stopped lobbying for Eelam.

"Everybody was being killed by the Tigers," he said. "How can you complain to the State Department - 'We are the victims. Please save us?' "

Now, he believes Tamils will have a better future negotiating with the Sri Lankan government for autonomy under a federal system. He supports Douglas Devananda, a former Tamil militant serving in Sri Lanka's Cabinet. Recently, he traveled to the United Nations to meet Sri Lanka's president.

"Today, I am a traitor," he said, describing how he believes other Tamils in Boston see him.

Across town, at another dining room table piled with copies of the same photographs and newspaper clippings, Sri says he doesn't blame his brothers but continues lobbying alone.

"I tell the State Department: 'Look at me. I am like a Jew. Look at Eelam. It is like Israel,' " he said. "I dedicate my life. This is all I do."

Sri said he was shaken by the suicide bombings, but that the Tigers "only do these things when they have to."

In 1998, the US government designated the Tigers a terrorist organization. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, people began to shy away from the Tamil cause. The US government cracked down on Tiger fund-raising.

The Eelam Tamil Association faded away, replaced by the Boston Thamil Association, which members say is solely for organizing cultural festivals and language training.

But it has been embroiled in controversy over terrorism.

After a tsunami struck Sri Lanka in 2004, the Boston Thamil Association raised more than $200,000 for victims. But it gave $12,245 to the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization, or TRO, a charity that the US Treasury banned as a Tiger front in 2007.

Surenthira Thurairatnam, president of the Boston Thamil Association, insists that TRO is a genuine charity.

"The Tamils know that TRO is the only organization in the region helping the Tamil civilians," he said.

Sri, also a member of the Boston Thamil Association, said the accusations against the TRO were "trumped up."

"None of us that gave to the TRO had any intention of buying bullets," he said. "I'm struggling to pay my bills. How can I afford to buy a bullet?"

But according to documents filed in a 2007 criminal case against an alleged Tiger fund-raiser in New York, the Tigers had instructed their proxies in the United States to "collect monthly donations from the Tamil communities," funneling the money through the TRO.

Martin Collacott, a former Canadian ambassador to Sri Lanka, said that Tamils abroad send millions of dollars each year to fund the war, sometimes unwillingly. In Canada, home to the largest number of Tamil expatriates of any country, "heavy pressure is put on each Tamil family to contribute," he said.

Collacott said Tiger fronts control Tamil language newspapers, radio stations, and resettlement services in Canada. Those who speak out against the Tigers or refuse to donate risk social ostracism and physical attack.

Last year, fund-raisers from Canada knocked on Sritharan's door in Winchester.

"They said, 'We need helicopters, guns,' " he recalled. "They said, 'This is the final push.' "

When he told them he had no money, they produced paperwork for a bank loan and asked him to sign, saying, 'When Eelam comes, we'll settle it.' "

"They know that I am against them," he said, adding that he did not sign. "But they tried it anyway."

But his brother insists that he is not aware of any Tiger fund-raising here. Still, Sri got a visit from the FBI a few years ago, asking him whether he was involved.

"They know I am in the Eelam movement," Sri said. "Tigers are defending my people. I respect them. But I'm not funding them."

Some Tamils maintain that the Tigers do not really use suicide attacks. Others say the Tigers are the lesser of two evils - and the only hope for self-government and respect.

"I am not in any way supporting violence, but if there were no Tigers there would have been a lot of other things - the taking of land and the lives of innocent people," said Thurairatnam, the head of the Boston Thamil Association.

But today, the Tigers are on the verge of defeat. After a 2002 cease-fire broke down, Sri Lanka launched a major offensive, recently reclaiming all but 8 square miles of the once-vast area the Tigers had controlled. Now, Sri Lanka is poised to wipe out Prabhakaran and the last of his fighters. The only thing stopping them are tens of thousands of civilians mixed in with the rebels.

Some news reports say the Tigers are using them as human shields, shooting those who try to leave. Tamil media says Sri Lanka's military is perpetrating a genocide.

The situation has sparked a new generation of Tamil activism, State House rallies and petitions for a cease-fire. More than a dozen Tamils have set themselves on fire in India and elsewhere. Tamil students across the United States, including a Winchester teen, went on a hunger strike, earning her an invitation to Washington to meet Kerry, now chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

But this time, Tamils are having a hard time generating support.

"We are crying loud, but it seems like nobody is listening," said Thurairatnam.

In Winchester, Sritharan shakes his head at the burst of activism. He believes the war will end soon - "it's a matter of hours and days" - bringing a brighter future for Tamils. He believes those who are holding out for Eelam will scatter and disappear.

But his brother stays at the computer night and day, sending e-mails and organizing protests. Despite the news, he does not believe that the Tigers will be defeated.

"This is a people's movement," Sri said. "They are not going to walk away and vanish in thin air." [courtesy: Boston Globe]

April 05, 2009

Lankan groups clash in Melbourne

Two injured people were admitted to hospital after two Sri Lankan diaspora groups have clashed in Melbourne, police said.

[SBS NEWS ~ 5th April 09 ~ Melbourne Attack ~ 18:30PM]

Glen Atwell, spokesperson for Victoria police force told BBC Sandeshaya that the clash erupted as a group of anti-LTTE demonstrators on the steps of parliament house clashed with a Tamil motorcade in Melbourne on Saturday.

"Around 11am on Saturday, about 1500 Sri Lankan Sinhalese students gathered in front of parliament house. That was a peaceful protest," he told the BBC Sinhala service.

'Shops attacked'

"Around 1.25 pm members from the Tamil Youth Organisation (TYO) were holding a motorcade protest. This group was driven to the steps of parliament house and that is where the conflict of two groups occurred," the spokesman added.

Police say that a car was damaged during the scuffles that broke out and later there has been a "larger fight" between the groups on a nearby street.

Two men in their twenties, one each from rival groups, were admitted to hospital "due to minor injuries".

Police said the situation is "under control" and that no arrests were made by the Melbourne police investigating the incident.

However, Australian media reported that some shops were attacked after the event.

Denying any knowledge of the attacks on shops, Mr. Atwell urged those affected to report any further incident to the police. [courtesy: bbc Sandeshaya]

Remembering “Lassie Boy” on his 51st birthday

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Sunday Leader”‘ founder Editor,Lasantha Manilal Wickrematunge, who was assassinated on January 8th this year, would have celebrated his 51st birthday today (April 5th) if among the living.

For the first time in many years I will not be wishing Lasantha Manilal Wickrematunge on his birthday. [click here to continue reading in dbsjeyaraj.com]

April 04, 2009

Lester James Peries: Liberator of Sinhala Cinema

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Lester James Peries is the acknowledged pioneer of authentic Sinhala cinema. It was he who created an indigenous cinema in every sense of the term . It was he who first gained worldwide recognition for Sinhala cinema. [click here to read in full ~ dbsjeyaraj.com]

April 03, 2009

The myth(s) about post-LTTE democracy and post-conflict political solution

By Kusal Perera

This war is riddled with many misnomers and many myths. In fact the whole history of the conflict is that. Some due to ignorant interventions in interpreting the conflict from both Sinhala and Tamil chauvinistic positions and some due to wily crafting of history by Sinhala and Tamil extremism over the past decades. This wouldn't change even after 01 million deaths, many thousand made limbless, many more thousands turned destitute and displaced over and over again, mothers losing children, children losing parents, wives losing husbands and all of them losing their esteemed selves and their future.

Still wanting to live on myths and misled hopes, the most recent myth in the South is that the "war against terrorists" has only a single phase and that is being fought to a victorious finish by the GoSL security forces and thereafter SL would be peaceful and full of democracy. Now it's only a matter of pushing the "Tiger terrorists" completely out of the remaining 21 sq/ km in Mullaitivu as declared by the defence spokesman, and the war is won and "the mission accomplished" for the Sinhala South

Within the Tamil Diaspora and now in a very big way within Thamilean politics in Tamil Nadu, in total contrast to the Sri Lankan South, the myth is about a "sure, a definite Thamil Eelam" emerging with this war. They wouldn't want to accept that the "military projection" of the LTTE for a separate Thamil State is now defeated and for some time to come. They would argue that it is only now the whole world is discussing about the "Right to self determination" of the Tamil people.

When told it is an old theoretical debate and even within the left trade union movement it was being discussed as early as the 70's they are puzzled. When told the Ceylon Teachers' Union adopted a resolution way back in 1978 at their Annual General Meeting held at the Weerasingham Hall, Jaffna, that the resolution in fact "accepted the right to secede", they are stunned.

Most of them Maoists in their origins and therefore preferring to stay within the ML orbit, feel screwed when told that Late Shanmugathasan who pioneered the Chinese brand of Communism in Asia from around 1961, did not accept the "Right to self determination" for Tamil people in Sri Lanka as late as 1980. By then, all the Trotskyite left parties and groups had accepted that right. He, "Shan" argued the Tamil people were not a separate nation on Sri Lankan soil and thus did not qualify for self determination.

Within all these misnomers and myths, or debates as one would say, which got battered and beaten in brutal battles for military supremacy in establishing a separate Tamil State, the LTTE came to be seen as the only representative of the SL Tamil society and therefore of the Tamil State.

This allowed Sinhala extremism and now the State to lump the Tamil civilian population and the LTTE as one and all. "How does one distinguish between a Tiger terrorist and a Tamil civilian" they would insist. The war against the LTTE thus turned out to be a war against all Tamils in every sense, though the government wants the world to believe otherwise.

It is in this politico-military context the whole conflict has now been wrapped into a single bundle and the Sinhala people are told it’s the final WAR the government security forces are convincingly winning on the ground.

Yet, what is not been told and what is not been discussed in the South is that, this would only bring the "conventional phase of the conflict" to an end, in favour of the government forces for now. It has already defeated the military project of establishing a separate Tamil State by the LTTE at this point of time of the conflict. Yet what is not been said is that the next phase, the ruthless and the most unpredictable guerrilla phase of the conflict is being brought forth once again, in its place. It is the initial thrust of this guerrilla war that is rolling out now in the Eastern Province day after day.

Almost every day, there are reports of ambushes, claymore explosions, attacks on police and STF posts, on TMVP offices, killing of TMVP cadres and at times their supporters. It would be some time before we hear of "lamp post killings" in the East. That is how the war is being won in the North and if the LTTE infiltrates the peninsula, then Jaffna that is now an open prison would change into another ruthless killing field.

Despite all that, the myth about winning this war is one that is being dragged over for a long time now. It was promised to be victoriously concluded not for the first time though, before the Sinhala New Year in 2008. That Sinhala New Year came and went a year ago. The LTTE was to be wiped out in 06 months, there after. What ever the calculating formula is, 10 Tiger cadres each day and the whole 6,000 remaining cadres would be wiped off in 06 months said the Army Commander himself.

That did not come true and it was again said SL would be freed of “Tiger terrorism” before the year was out. The dawn of year 2009 was promised to be peaceful for Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and all others as never before without "terrorism". That forgotten, it was going to be a truly independent Sri Lanka free of “separatist Tamil terrorists that hold Tamil people as prisoners” after the national independence day on 04th February, this (2009) year.

That not done, with provincial council elections for Western Province , the “liberation of the Tamil people” from the clutches of "LTTE terrorism" was promised to be before this coming Sinhala New Year. Everything is believed and everything turns a myth if not a broken promise, never thought of again as the South moves on to another myth, another Sinhala promise.

With the remaining days for the New Year now counted in single digits, two Ministers, one the Foreign Minister and the other reckoned more as the Defence spokesman, said the government is prepared to consider a “humanitarian pause” to the conflict as resolved by the UN, backed by the US and the British government.

Such is the confusion in this conflict that it has not only led to the Sinhala psyche in the South to accept a post-LTTE era after the Sinhala New Year, but also the Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to say the US called upon the SL government “to devise a post-conflict political solution that will demonstrate to Sri Lanka's Tamil population and the Tamil Diaspora that the government is serious about political inclusion."

British Foreign Secretary Miliband too wants to see "an end to the conflict" and then the post-conflict solution "to achieve a sustainable political settlement that takes fully into account the legitimate concerns of all Sri Lanka's communities – Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims."

The myth lies not only in the belief that the post-conflict era could bring about solutions to Tamil aspirations, but also in the belief the Sinhala South would have a “post-conflict” terrorist free, democratic Sri Lanka under a Unitary State.

This Rajapaksa regime, would provide neither. In fact it can not, for the simple reason that it is not ideologically and practically geared for such transition. Yet the reason for all these wild beliefs is the statements made by the ministers about a "humanitarian pause" in response to the UN and US/British appeals. That was, as has been the practice of this government, a ploy to clinch a deal with the IMF to have the requested US $ 1.9 billion as soon as possible.

TCKP0404.jpg

[People's Liberation Front activists hold placards and shout slogans during a demonstration march demanding the government to reduce petrol prices in Colombo December 29, 2008-pic: courtesy of Reuters-via Yahoo! News]

The government is in dire need of the IMF loan and fast, to tide over its financial crisis. From all available information, Sri Lanka lost over two thirds of its foreign reserves defending the "Rupee" value against the US dollar from September 2008. National reserves therefore fell to US $ 1.4 billion in January 2009 from 3.4 billion in early September, 2008. Since then, Sri Lanka has spent US $ 290 million defending the Rupee with no additional reserve accumulations. That apart, this government has to fix problems created in the banking sector due to defaulted oil derivatives.

Meanwhile it continues to mismanage, plunder and waste public monies. It has absolutely no clue about what development in a country is. China and Iran it depended on for credit lines are also caught in the global melt down. Even if China continues with its promised programmes in constructing the Hambantota harbour and the Norochcholai coal power plant, Iran with its Uma-oya project, that would not in any way solve the balance of payment deficits the government is currently burdened with.

Without a quick loan to face the balance of payment crisis, the public sector could collapse due to local debts, salary, overtime, allowances and advance payment requirements for end April and after.

What would a "post LTTE" or as some call it a "post conflict" era look like with such economic crisis under a militarily guided regime ? A militarily backed regime in such crisis, can not afford to allow its citizens to enjoy democracy, even if it is going to be a "Sinhala only democracy". It can not afford to allow media freedom once again. Especially in Sinhala media, for that would allow space for lobbying and campaigning against many issues outside the war, even if there is an "editorial self censorship" on war related news and information.

This government can not afford to allow any of the democratic structures it militarily dismantled in the name of "war against Tamil terrorism" to be operative once again, because that would bring people onto the streets in the South, asking for pay hikes, overtime, bonuses and possibly against heavy corruption at the highest levels.

No "Constitutional Council" and "Independent Commissions" would be established honouring the 17th Amendment to the Constitution just for that reason. Only those that would have similar labels but with decoctions prepared by the Rajapaksa regime could be possible, if at all.

Militarization of the whole society would definitely continue, justified by claims of "flushing out Tiger remnants". The TID would continue to play a lead role in investigating and indicting "terrorist" informants and they could still mean any one who opposes the regime. The defence establishment would hold its forte in decision making on the strength it was the military strategy that for the first time put down the "Tiger terrorists".

That is possible on the social psyche that has been driven into the Southern polity with "one way one voice communication" that kept the media under brutal pressure. In short, "impunity continued" would be the "pay off line" of this regime that would further tighten the repression against any and all opposition and dissent.

In such a context of hard repression where democratic discourse becomes an extremely expensive rare luxury, there will be no possibility of discussing "devolution" or "justifiable solutions" to the Tamil problem. In the absence of any pressure from any quarters, this government would not bother any more to appease Tamil grievances.

The so called international community would nevertheless continue supporting rehabilitation and reconstruction programmes, in the name of "humanitarian relief". In Delhi , who ever runs the administration, the strategy would be to play "better" than the Pakistanis and the Chinese in supporting the Rajapaksa regime.

The Rajapaksa regime in turn could be expected to once again prop up the APRC as it had been doing for the last 02 years and more, for the Delhi administration and the world to hang their hopes of "a sustainable political settlement" on it for some time.

The so called moderate Tamil leaders will have no other role to play but sit along with the JHU and Weerawansa, listening to their rhetoric against any form of devolution, with which the Rajapaksa regime could prolong APRC sessions endlessly.

In short, the "post conflict" or otherwise termed the "post LTTE" era would be one when the Sinhala South would have its lessons, learning how catastrophic it is to forfeit democracy and civilised values of humanity in the name of "fighting terrorists". It would be learning that this "war against terrorism" was one that had only paved the way for a politico - military regime that now eats into their own democratic and economic lives.

One that could have been learnt with no human lives wasted, if only the South was rational and logical, instead of being emotional and racist. But that was how it was and how it would be. We are Sinhalese (Buddhists), after all.

Suicidal political action-Part II: Ponnudurai Sivakumaran

(This is the second article by Prof. Michael Roberts in an exclusive four part series on the phenomenon of suicidal political action within the Tamil political milieu.)

by Prof. Michael Roberts

Within the Sri Lankan context the ‘invention’ of self-abnegating devotion for cause among the Sri Lankan Tamils was not the work of either Pirapāharan or the LTTE. The initiator was young Ponnudurai Sivakumāran, a student member of a tiny cell (one that does not seem to have had a name) of budding resistance fighters in the early 1970s. Sivakumāran carried some cyanide and instructed his comrades to point to him if ever they were arrested. When he himself was cornered by the police on 5 June 1974 after a failed assassination attempt, he swallowed the cyanide in order to protect his comrades. His was the first case of defensive suicide for cause, that cause being Thamilīlam, or Eelam in contemporary usage. This was prior to the formal birth of the LTTE in May 1976.

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[Sivakumaran on left stands next to the venerable and much-admired leader of the former Federal Party, SJV Chelvanayakam (already ailing, who passed away in 1977)]

It was a path-breaking episode. Sivakumāran’s funeral, a cremation, in his home village of Urumpurai (mostly Vellalar caste and with high literacy) became an expressive moment, an outpouring of intense grief and anger, the stuff of dramatic politics. Popular action decreed the day to be a one of hartal, that is, a strike and demonstration of protest where all shops were closed and no work was done. Massive crowds journeyed to Sivakumāran’s home village. So too did venerable Tamil leaders, many of them lawyers of note. There, within the feverish fervour aroused by untimely death, these leaders were subject to assault by slippers wielded by angry young men. Being “slippered” is the ultimate in insults within Asia. It is a slap that proclaims a heinous transgression. The victim is deemed to have no moral ground. He must cop his fate silently (Roberts 1985)

Clarified in terms understandable to those in the West one could say that the slippering of Tamil leaders was the equivalent of leading American Congressmen being spat upon in public with impunity, thereby being branded as ‘animals’ beyond the pale. But within Tamil history this act of symbolic punishment -- there in Sivakumāran’s natal place -- is significant in heralding the immediate future. The restive and violent young men were preparing, as we know with the advantage of hindsight, to oust their older, moderate parliamentary leaders.

TC0405PS.JPG

[In the 1790s the British in the Madras Presidency had to subjugate a local chieftain named Kattabommān. A number of diverse folk tales subsequently developed among the local peoples about this chieftain-bandit. In the 20th century Kattabommān was picked up by Tamils partial to Dravidistan sentiments as their version of a freedom fighter. His “heroic exploits” were seen as an example of a “true Tamil warrior.” A film was produced in 1959 with the famous Shivāji Ganeshan cast as Kattabommān. This replication of the hero not only reveals the influence of Tamilnadu politics and media among Tamil-speakers in Sri Lanka, but signals the heroic mould in which Sivakumāran was (is) cast.

The main caption encompassing this picture says: “Do or Die.”]

Sivakumāran had also set the stage for altruistic self-sacrifice. He was likened to Kattabommān, a recalcitrant chieftain who was hanged by the British in southern India in the 1790s and subsequently resurrected in modern Tamilnadu as a “freedom fighter.” What is more, a statue was immediately erected in his honour by the people of the Jaffna Peninsula and thereafter a symbolic struggle occurred around this icon as the Sri Lankan army knocked it down– repeatedly after it was rebuilt.

Sivakumāran’s sacrificial act seems to have inspired young Velupillai Pirapāharan and he began to carry cyanide from early one, perhaps the late 1970s or early 1980’s (surmise from his interview with BBC, 1991). The LTTE was both secretive and careful in its induction of personnel into the fighting cadre. Even in mid-1983 their core of fighters numbered around 27 to 35 men, certainly no more than 50. At some point around then the decision had been taken that all the fighters should commit themselves to biting the kuppi if they were in danger of being captured. This commitment was concomitant with the oath that they reiterated when formally inducted into the force: “The task (or thirst) of the Tigers (is to achieve) Motherland Thamilīlam” (Schalk 1997: 64, 74). A statement variously attributed to Kittu and Pirapāharan displays the goals behind such a technique.

It is this cyanide which has helped us develop our movement very rapidly. Carrying cyanide on one’s person is a symbolic expression of our commitment, our determination, our courage… As long as we have this cyanide around our necks we have no need to fear any force on earth! In reality this gives our fighters an extra measure of belief in the cause, a special edge.

Initially from 1983/84 to 1987 the kuppi was a defensive tool. It was only after debate that it was adopted as an attacking weapon from 5 July 1987 onwards. The first strike was at a battlefront. Indeed, it is probable that most LTTE suicide strikes have been in battlefront contexts on sea and land (Hopgood 2005). However, those that have attracted world-wide attention have been their dramatic and devastating strikes in Colombo and elsewhere. Many of these have been rightly deemed atrocities because they embraced civilians.

As in other countries where suicide attacks have occurred, the recourse to such tactics has usually been a “weapon of the weak” – in the sense that suicide attacks are deployed by a party that is in a situation of military asymmetry in resources. However, in the story of Sri Lanka’s war the LTTE has found suicide strikes to be useful even after they had achieved a condition of approximate military stalemate. Suicide bombers are low-cost precision weapons and there is no restriction on their deployment. All that one requires is motivated men and women backed up by good organisation. Such resources the Tigers have had in full measure.

PSTC03TC.jpgBIBLIOGRAPHY

Hopgood, Stephen “Tamil Tigers, 1987-2002,” in Diego Gsmbetta (ed.) Making Sense of Suicide Missions, Oxford University Press, 2005, pp. 43-76

Narayan Swamy, M. R. Tigers of Sri Lanka, Delhi: Konark Publishers Pvt Ltd., 1994
Roberts, Michael “‘I Shall Have You Slippered”: The General and the Particular in an Historical Conjuncture,” Social Analysis, 1985, 17: 17-48.

Roberts, Michael “Filial Devotion and the Tiger Cult of Suicide,” Contributions to IndianSociology, 1996, 30: 245-72.

Sabaratnam, T. 2003 et seq Pirapaharan, http://www.sangam.org/index_orig.html, serialised book on web

Sahadevan, P. 2006 “Fighting for the Tamil Eelam: The LTTE’s Commitment to Armed Struggle,” in N. de Votta & P. Sahadevan, Politics of Conflict and Peace in Sri Lanka, New Delhi: Manak Publications, pp. 298-343

Schalk, Peter 1997b “Historicization of the martial ideology of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE),South Asia

Schalk, Peter 1997a “Resistance and Martyrdom in the Process of State Formation of Tamililam,” in Joyce Pettigrew (ed.) Martyrdom and Political Resistance, Amsterdam: VU University Press pp. 61-84

David Miliband chastises Sri Lankan Government

Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband has told the House of Commons that LTTE actions could not excuse the Sri Lankan government of failing to meet the higher standards expected of democratic governments in a conflict.

Referring to the situation in Sri Lanka, Mr. Miliband renewed the call for an urgent humanitarian ceasefire and urged the LTTE to allow the remaining civilians to leave the conflict area and to desist from enforced recruitment of civilians even as the remaining LTTE territory continued to shrink.

“Despite the lack of verifiable reporting from the conflict area there are credible reports of civilians being killed and wounded every day, including in the 'no fire zone'. We condemn the killing of civilians in the strongest possible terms and continue to urge all parties to take action to avoid further civilian casualties. Both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE must abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law and ensure the protection of civilians at all times.”

“We recognize that the LTTE is a terrorist organisation and that the government of Sri Lanka has a need to root out the threat of terrorism. But the over-riding need is for an immediate end to the tragic humanitarian crisis. We want to see an end to the conflict and a serious drive to achieve a sustainable political settlement that takes fully into account the legitimate concerns of all Sri Lanka's communities - Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims.

As part of this process the government of Sri Lanka needs to tackle seriously the problem of human rights violations and the culture of impunity that underpins it. We urge the government to ensure that all violations, including recent attacks on the media, are thoroughly investigated so that those responsible are brought to justice.

The Government will continue to engage with political parties across all communities in Sri Lanka to support progress in all of these areas,” Mr. Miliband said.

While stressing on the need fro a ceasefire, Britain also called for unhindered access by humanitarian agencies to the civilians displaced by the fighting, including those still trapped in the conflict area.

Mr. Miliband said there was an urgent need to increase the quantity and frequency of food and medical shipments to those affected by the fighting. He urged the government of Sri Lanka to abide by its public commitment to return 80 per cent of displaced people by the end of the year.

“The appointment by the Prime Minister of Mr. Des Browne as his Special Envoy to Sri Lanka was a measure of Britain’s commitment to contribute to an improvement in the humanitarian situation and to the search for a sustainable political solution to the conflict.

It should be seen as such. We have been disappointed that the Sri Lankan government continues to reject the appointment, despite earlier assurances from the President that his government would engage with an envoy. We will continue to press the Sri Lankan government to reconsider. In the meantime Mr. Browne will engage with representatives of other countries, United Nations agencies, non-governmental organisations, parliamentarians and community representatives with an interest in Sri Lanka,” he said.

Mr. Miliband said that at the UN, Britain was working for some time to ensure that the Security Council was fully briefed on the situation in Sri Lanka. At the recent meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, although Sri Lanka was not on the agenda, Britain nevertheless took the opportunity to raise its concerns over developments in Sri Lanka, particularly the humanitarian crisis.

Why TNA should have gone to President's meeting

By M.S.M. Ayub

Tamil Tigers, the main stakeholders on the Tamil side in seeking power have been cornered in the battlefield and their total military annihilation is seemingly imminent. Under this circumstance the further debate on the devolution of power has appeared to have taken a back seat.

No government so far took steps to seek a political solution to the ethnic problem without pressure on the part of Tamils. With the LTTE being trapped and their pressure on the government being reduced to the minimum level in history, it is natural that the government felt relieved of taking measures to devolve more powers to the periphery or seek fresh solutions to the ethnic problem.

At the same time still there is need for the government to pacify the international forces that rely not only on the Government but also on the English speaking elite NGOs and the hundreds of pro-Tamil nationalistic websites for information and knowledge on the ground situation in respect of war and ethnic problem. The pathetically passive hope by the international community that the LTTE will release the civilians once the government announced a military pause is a result of the reliance by the international community on these latter sources.

Government may display some interest to debate the ethnic issues due to international pressure though it is mostly subdued. The recent call by President Mahinda Rajapaksa for a meeting of minority political parties on the “current situation” is a point in fact.

Media first portrayed it as a meeting with the pro-LTTE orthodox Tamil party, the TNA, but it has been a common invitation to all minority parties. The TNA rejected this invitation on the ground that the invitation did not specify the matters to be discussed in the meeting. It seems to be a lame excuse considering the fact that the word “current situation” indicated only one issue, that was the situation pertaining to the war and the civilians displaced repeatedly several times and entrapped in the tiny LTTE held areas.

The TNA’s rejection to participate in the meeting seems to be out of mere arrogance or fear of reprisal by the LTTE. Also they might have taken into consideration the present Tamil psyche that is not in par with the government’s propaganda that the Tamils are fast turning to accept the government’s version on the war and the related matters. Instead the party issued a strongly worded statement explaining the reasons behind its non participation at the meeting.

What the party failed to realize was that there is no bargaining party currently on the part of the Tamils, with the LTTE being humiliated in the battle ground. If the TNA needs solutions for the Tamils’ problems, whatever they may be, either they have to take to arms or take to negotiations. TNA taking to arms is out of the question and it could have grabbed the opportunity for this meeting to create a fresh platform for negotiations and enliven the Tamil point of view, whatever the government’s intentions. Instead, the leaders of the TNA thought it fit to leave the forum purely for the pro-government Tamil leaders, some of whom live on the government’s mercy.

Despite TNA’s distancing itself with a possible discourse on the “current situation” government would continue its course of action in order to stabilize itself. One possible measure that could be inferred is that President might first go prematurely for a parliamentary election in order to get a clear cut majority in parliament without relying on various small parties, despite the fact they would not leave the government or revolt against it under the present circumstances.

Another possibility is that the president after completing the constitutionally required four years later this year would go to the people for a mandate for his second term. The idea behind the early major elections is that the UPFA believes that it would gain a landslide victory in these elections due to the recent war victories and the possible total annihilation of the LTTE by the security forces.

The very idea points to the fact that the ruling party is not in that case interested in the minority votes, especially in the Tamil votes. In fact the candidates belonging to the minority communities and fielded by the ruling party could not shine at the latest election held for two provincial councils. That indicates the minority psyche. The widely accepted perception that ruling party is hell bent to gain political mileage from the war victories goes counter to the occasional claims by the leaders of the government that they are highly committed to finding a “lasting” political solution to the ethnic problem.

In case of LTTE being reduced to a guerilla group with or without its present leader at the helm and Tamil parties currently with the government meekly accepting what government does or offers with respect to the Tamil problem and also the Parties like TNA taking a back seat, the discourse on the devolution and similar matters is highly destined to fade away in the face of the ruling party’s ambition to gain landslide election victories in the southern parts of the country. Or else a dialogue with or among the Tamil parties some of which rely on the mercy of the government might be displayed to the world as one with the Tamil leadership.

The dissenting Tamil voices must be heard and those views have to be debated for a lasting peace in the country. Irrespective of the motive of the government, the minority party meeting that was convened by the President was vital in that sense. Banking on the revival of the military strength of the LTTE or for that matter another armed Tamil organization in order to fight for a separate state another day seems to be unrealistic. The TNA has a leading role to play in reviving the dialogue in finding a lasting solution to the ethnic problem and guide the government in assimilating the Tamils with the general Sri Lankan society. [courtesy: Daily Mirror]

Remembering Lasantha: We Shall Fight for Freedom Like he Did

by Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrematunge

On April 5th Lasantha would have been fifty-one years old. Slightly given to vanity, I suspect he may not have readily admitted it in public. It was one of the many reasons why he and I were to spend his big five-oh last year with just 12 of his close friends quietly enjoying Tepanyaki at The Hilton Hotel in Colombo. He may have revelled in the turbulence of politics and plied his art with an almost frenetic energy but in his personal life he was unassuming and easily embarrassed.

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[Lasantha Wickrematunge ~ April 5, 1958 - Jan 8, 2009]

He liked birthdays. They were happy moments. And Lasantha was a happy person. Child like in many ways, Lasantha loved opening presents. If there was one thing he disliked more than anything else it was exaggerated wailing and weeping. Sack cloth and ashes. Emotional excess.

In his darkest moments he would still smile. In his most trying hour he had time to listen to another's tale. On his most burdensome day in office he would still greet a staffer with a hearty slap on the back. Days before his death he short messaged a friend. 'life is a celebration,' he said.

No he would not want us to wallow in sorrow. He would say instead, 'celebrate my life.' And by Gad! What a life. What a great body of work.

And for those of us left behind it's the memories. Memories of a smile, a touch a shared moment of laughter. We get by due to the mercy of God, the love of family and the kindness of true friends. In one of my darkest moments I was to receive a verse from Ilika Karunaratne a true and sincere friend to both Lasantha and me. 'Í hope it will help you the way it helped me,' Ilika wrote in her note to me. The verse now serves as my constant companion.

"Death is nothing at all,
I have only slipped away into the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other, that we still are.
Call me by my old familiar name,
speak to me in the easy way you always used to.
Put no difference into your tone,
wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together:
Play, smile, think of me Pray for me.
Let my name be the household name it always was.
Let it be spoken without the shadow of a ghost in it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
What is death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of your mind because I am out of your sight?
All is well,nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before."

My family and I miss him everyday. But until we meet again on that beautiful shore, we have the memories.

Until we meet again we shall fight for freedom just like he did. Another true Friend Sriyani was to send a little prayer to me which inspired my resolve and gave me courage. It's power compels me to reproduce it.

'May God bless you with discomfort with easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within yourheart, " the prayer began.

"May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done."

God blessed Lasantha abundantly.

Perhaps it is through the death of this warrior and others like him, that the mark of freedom will be seared into the soul of Sri Lanka.

Lester at Ninety: Changing the course of Sinhala cinema

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Lester James Peries,Sri Lanka’s foremost film director turns ninety tomorrow (April 5th). This writer being an avid fan of the maestro from his schooldays , pens this column , as homage to the nonagenarian. The man who changed the course of Sinhala cinema has in a remarkable career spanning six decades , become a national icon identified with the cinema sphere. Lester James Peries is acknowledgedly the pioneer of authentic Sinhala cinema. It was he who created in every sense of the term an indigenous cinema in both substance and style. It was he who first gained worldwide recognition for Sinhala cinema. [click here to read the article in full ~ in daily mirror.lk]