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July 31, 2009

View from Jaffna: Pre-election poll

Social Indicator (SI) the survey research unit of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), in collaboration with Home for Rights (HHR) conducted an opinion poll amongst the people living in the Jaffna municipal area to assess their views in relation to the upcoming Municipal election.

This poll did not intend to forecast the election results but rather to assess the views of the residents in terms of their optimism or pessimism about their future, political interest and participation, and how they view the upcoming election.

This poll was conducted amongst 880 randomly selected eligible voters in all 23 wards in Jaffna Municipal Council. A total of 36 field researchers-men and women-participated in the field data collection, using a structured questionnaire.

The field work of the poll was conducted from 22nd to 24th July 2009.
Even though sample was distributed uniformly across all the wards, data was weighted before the analysis to reflect the actual population proportion at the ward level.

The results of this poll is subject to + or – 3.3% error margin.

[Please click here to view PDF File of the survey results and diagrams]

Tiruchelvam, Tigers and the Tamil "Traitor" Tragedy

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Ten years ago on the morning of July 29, an unknown 'human bomb' exploded at the Rosemead Place-Kynsey Road junction. The suicide attack resulted in the death of Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam.

In a few seconds of madness the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had murdered the foremost intellectual in contemporary Tamil politics.

[Neelan Tiruchelvam]

The void created is yet to be filled. It is particularly felt at this juncture as the Sri Lankan Tamils flounder in a rudderless,leaking boat on choppy waters deprived of able sailors to steer boat safely ashore.

"Any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in Mankind," wrote the metaphysical poet John Donne.

The ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka has extracted a heavy human toll.

In my personal capacity as a Sri Lankan Tamil and in my professional capacity as a journalist , I have lost count of the number of people related or known to me who have encountered violent deaths. [click here to read in full~in dbsjeyaraj.com]

July 30, 2009

Neelan's life, not his death, that speaks to Sri Lanka's future

A Tamil Tragedy

by James Ross

NT0730.jpgDr. Neelan Tiruchelvam was slated to be a visiting professor at Harvard Law School in the fall of 1999. A renowned constitutional lawyer from Sri Lanka, Neelan was better known to me as a leading Tamil human rights activist who had thrown his hat into the political ring. As a scholar he had helped establish think-tanks to address social issues in a country beset by communal strife. And as a member of parliament he worked to develop a national plan that would end the then-15-year-old civil war between the secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan government.

I knew his academic appointment in Cambridge wasn't just about lectures and research -- it was also spurred by the many death threats he had received. But the school year started too late. Ten years ago this week, on July 29, 1999, a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber stepped in front of Neelan's car outside his Colombo office and blew himself up, killing Neelan. Five others were wounded in the blast.

Neelan was a soft-spoken yet passionate man with an incomprehensibly sunny disposition. He believed that all Sri Lankans -- Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims -- could live together peacefully in a democratic society. He spoke out against abuses by the Sinhalese-dominated government, but he did not accept violence as a means to achieving the Tamil population's aims. And he rejected the claim of the Tigers' leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, that the LTTE was the "sole representative" of the Tamil people.

Such views from a prominent Tamil undermined not only Prabhakaran's justification for unrestrained violence, but also the Tigers' argument for supremacy over all other Tamil groups. Neelan's murder and the killing over the years of others who shared his views, lost the LTTE support of many Tamils in Sri Lanka and in the diaspora, and all but foreordained the Tigers' eventual defeat.

But it is Neelan's life, not his death, that speaks to Sri Lanka's future. His 55 years were dedicated to creating a rights-respecting, multi-ethnic Sri Lanka. He would have seen the Tamil Tigers' defeat in May not just as an end to the suffering of civilians and combatants, but as an opportunity to address the grievances of Sri Lanka's minority communities and give the nation a fresh start.

Unfortunately, in defeating the Tigers, the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has adopted a very different strategy. Although the fighting has stopped, the continuation of wartime policies, including overbroad emergency regulations and severe restrictions on free expression, suggests that President Rajapaksa is not anxious for the politics of war to come to an end.

Today more than 280,000 Tamil civilians displaced from the war zone during the last brutal months of the fighting are locked up in detention camps, euphemistically called "welfare villages" by the government. Instead of letting families move in with relatives and host families if they wish, the government says they can only leave the camps when they can return to their villages after demining and rebuilding. The government already admits it can't meet its promise to return 80 percent of those displaced by the end of the year. Past government practice and pressure on international agencies to build permanent structures in the camps suggests that it may actually be years before most of these people return home -- and that this may be the government's intention as it tries to maintain full control over Tamil war survivors.

The government insists that letting displaced persons leave the camps would set hidden LTTE fighters loose. But thousands of alleged combatants have already been screened out from the displaced population and detained separately. By holding several hundred thousand civilians under lock and key, the government is keeping the survivors of the fighting from telling their stories to the media and human rights groups, even if their accounts include Tamil Tiger abuses as well as government ones.

More ominously, the Rajapaksa government is sending a message that it wasn't just the Tamil Tigers that were defeated, it was the Tamil population. As a result, the government is doing nothing to reach out to Neelan Tiruchelvam's successors among the Tamil population in Sri Lanka and abroad. This short-sighted approach is destined to continue state policies and practices that fomented Tamil militancy some 30 years ago.

The United States and other concerned governments need to show Colombo by words and deeds that ending the mistreatment of the Tamil population and ensuring full Tamil participation in the political process is the only way forward. Neelan certainly wouldn't have had it any other way.

James Ross is Legal and Policy Director at Human Rights Watch. [courtesy: HRW]

July 29, 2009

Constitutional Utopias: A conversation with Neelan Tiruchelvam

Text of the tenth Neelan Tiruchelvam Memorial Lecture delivered by Prof. Upendra Baxi, Professor of Law, University of Warwick at the BMICH on Sunday July 26th:

NT memorial 1.jpg

[(former) President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prof. Upendra Baxi at the BMICH on July 26th]

Prefatory Remarks
Beloved Neelan-san, poignantly I may not converse with you any longer in ways we used to; yet, I insist on doing so today in the spirit of a great metaphysical poet, John Donne. Addressing the ‘mighty death’ not to be ‘proud,’ Donne reminds Death: ‘One Short sleepe past ‘wee wake eternally/
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.’

In this conversation, I address you as a living presence, because you remain so for me as well as for others bearing the gift of your love and friendship. And while acknowledging and sharing all that that my distinguished predecessors in this Memorial Lecture Series have said about you, I will not quite follow these rituals of future memory.

I have to present to you, Neelan, two sorts of questions. The general question is: ‘How may one affirm the power of memory in struggle against injustice, if only because the perpetrators of injustice always thrive as the assassins of memory?’ The specific question is: ‘How may we bring alive your everyday energetic commitment, active compassion and holistic vision of justice, rights, peace, and development, and not just in the troubled contexts of the post-war Sri Lanka, and South Asia, but also beyond? ‘

Attending to the specific question is best done Neelan-san, by a fuller acknowledgement of Sithie’s contribution to the making of your public presence. As all your good friends know full well, her deep affection for you has contributed profoundly to your own development of the sense of empathy and solidarity. I do not fully know how far she accomplished the mission of ‘feminizing’ you, not exactly an impossible project! But this must remain a story for another day!

It does not matter, Neelan, that you did not feel the need to acknowledge Sithie’s contributions in a full public view because I believe this rectitude on your part signified no patriarchal vice relegating women to a familiar background effect in the lives of public men.

Like many of your close friends, I was privileged to know you both as an indissoluble singular presence. Do you recall our first meeting in Chicago in 1971, where in daytime we discussed seriously that monstrous something called ‘unobtrusive social science research methods’ yet in the evenings remained on fully display for all those who promenaded the Riverside Drive the magic moments of your politics of intimacy: your enchanting Harvard honeymoon phase remained there memorably on display!

It is impossible to overstate your doting parentage of Nirgunan and Mitran, born, like many others, as the Sri Lankan ‘midnight’s children’ and brought up in the vortex of violence. They now both live their own resplendent lives with their partners and I am sure you know about the replenishment of the Tiruchelvam-clan adored fully now by a proud Sithie-san grandma. As your grandchildren grow young in this aging world, they will remain proud of their legendary grandfather. I sense and share your joy and pride at the fact that for now over ten years, Sithie has in her own ways replenished as well as you institutional children - the Law and Society Trust, the International Council for Ethnic Studies and other sisterly siblings, amidst the recent histories of this deeply troubled nurturance.

NT memorial 5 TC.jpg

~ Continued ~ Click here for full text in Word File

- or click here for Adobe Format ~

50 Indian RAW Agents Were in Wanni Without Colombo Government’s Knowledge

Somawansa Amerasinghe Talks to Shakuntala Perera

(Leader of the JVP tells Hard Talk that the issues affecting the Tamil people would be resolved in giving the Tamil people the equal opportunities they seek, and maintains that the government is failing to understand the real issue nor seek realistic solutions. He warns the government and the country against the threat of separatism that still persists in the guise of peaceful settlement of the national issue, espoused as strongly as the military struggle of the LTTE, by others who supported the LTTE.)

SATC0729.jpgQ: The President recently announced that he would present a final political solution after seeking the mandate of the people through a Presidential poll. Certain minority parties are expressing concern that this may lead to an undue delay in meeting minority concerns. Is there a delay at all in your opinion?

He already has a mandate which he received in 2005. No one wants the Presidential election to be held next year before he ends his term. And he doesn’t have a mandate for an election before. There is an agreement with the JVP which specifies that the Presidential system will be abolished. That is really what we should do. We don’t even want to talk about an election or the mandate he’s seeking till 2010. There will be agitations in the country if he moves away from the agreement.

Q: As the Party that supported the government in the war against terrorism, why is the JVP blocking his path today, when the President has kept his part of the bargain in ending that war?

I don’t think the country expects us to support him unconditionally. We supported him to defeat terrorism in this country unreservedly. I don’t think anyone will want us to support this government to continue the corruption it practices. We can’t support a government already violating the wishes of the people and being inefficient. We can’t support a government like that. Ours was support to end terrorism, establish democracy and exercise good governance. The agreement is very clear on what our support was based on; the Mahinda Chintana was based on that.

Certainly, separatist terrorism has been defeated. But separatist tendencies and those forces that espouse that thinking is still there and is much stronger.

We are concerned about the fact that the country is bankrupt both internally and externally. We don’t have enough foreign reserves, which is why we had to go to the IMF with the begging bowl. That is why the government had to increase taxes and is already reducing monies spent on education and health. National income is low. The people are already fed up of this government that is why they are having elections two years earlier.

Q: But given the military victory over the LTTE, isn’t it in fact true that the government is at its most popular today? Wouldn’t you say that the outcome of the election is already a foregone conclusion given the popularity it enjoys in the country today?

Yes, but not everything depends on popularity. The JVP always analyses the situation, on the situation prevailing in the country, and does not let it be dazzled by such victories. This country needs to win over, mobilizing the people to obtain other victories like development. This is why we expected the President to come out with such a programme on the 17th when he addressed Parliament after defeating the LTTE. But there was nothing. It was because we knew that victory was definitely ours that we had a plan for development and hoped to contribute to whatever plan the President would announce to the country. Now the victory has already become meaningless, because we are not implementing anything to achieve national integrity and development.

Q: But in all fairness to the government wouldn’t it be correct to say that given the pressures of meeting the immediate needs of the IDPs the government needs some extra time before it starts working on those aspects of the problem?

Certainly, but the government is not even addressing the issues of the IDPs. Everyone can see that. The government mustn’t forget that it was they who invited the Tamil people to come on to its side; it should have been ready to meet their needs. They can’t now say that they have 300,000 people whose needs are difficult to be met. It’s too late now. There are a lot of concerns in the international community today, they should not have left room for that. This is why we recommended initially that there be a Committee of all political parties to attend to the burning issues of the IDPs and the country. There was no response to it. Yet, again we came out with another initiative to minimize the problems confronted by the Tamil people. These are very simple solutions that could be taken without thinking of long procedures. This would have been a good beginning for national unity to be achieved. We are losing the potential and wasting time.

Q: Are you saying that the government is losing the minority support when it was clear that the President tried to approach them as a first step when he told Parliament that there were no longer any minorities in the countries?

Yes and this is very bad in trying to achieve national integration. The Tamils are not happy; this is what we observe. From the day on which terrorism was defeated the government did not tackle it properly. When I was informed by the government that Prabakaran was defeated, my only request from the government was to see that the Tamil people were looked after. It is ok to celebrate victories but our real concern should be to look at the bigger picture.

Q: The President has however spoken about his willingness to pursue the 13th Amendment with greater powers which would be seen as meeting the demands of the Tamil political elements. But it is political parties like yours who are opposed to any form of devolution of power. ?

The JVP is the only party proposing something far beyond the 13th Amendment; something more than even Tamil Eelam. We are proposing that we first establish democracy and equal opportunities so that we go towards equality. Equal opportunities are what the people need far more than Tamil Eelam or 13+. Those Ministers who speak about these solutions speak about give and take.

But who has the right to give anything when they don’t have anyone’s rights in their pockets? Those rights are with the people. That is their power.

If we allow that it will become a bargain between the people and the elite. The President must address the legitimate grievances of the people by establishing equality and democracy in the country.

The 13th Amendment on the other hand was drafted by India and imposed on this country with their national interests at heart. The late PM Indira Gandhi treated the national interests of Sri Lanka in terms of interests of India. That was India’s foreign policy then. This is why we had to sign the Indo Lanka accord in 1987. An agreement is usually among equals but this was imposed on us after President Jayawardene knelt before India. It violated our sovereignity.

The Indian government interfered in internal affairs of Sri Lanka on the pretext of being the saviours of the Tamil people. If they had the interest of the Tamils then how did the oil tanks in Trincomalee creep into the agreement; or the Ports in the Sri Lanka creep into it? According to this the Sri Lankan government can’t take any decision regarding the ports, harbours or the airports. We should understand the concerns in India about their ports. We are living in a region where there is only one neighbour. Having said that, our own policy should be that this country is not used against India either.

President Jayewardene didn’t understand that. I remember the then Political Secretary of the Indian High Commission in Colombo telling me that ‘we must teach him (Mr. Jayawardene) a lesson.’ But by doing that it was India that learnt the biggest lesson. They lost 1500 of their men; men of the 4th largest army in the world. They were humiliated and lost also one of their PMs. We did warn India that India will suffer if they continue to support separatism in this country.

They trained the terrorists, financed them and gave them the diplomatic and political recognition they needed. They built an army to invade this country. It was an invasion. This agreement should not be accepted because it was not based on equality. The danger is that the agreement still stands and India could interfere in this country on the pretext of suppressing terrorism.

The greater problem is that India doesn’t think about what will happen to them if we implement this agreement in full. In 1988 they didn’t think about the 13th Amendment to the Constitution seriously. Today it is a bridge towards separatism. Although India says they don’t want to see a separate state in Sri Lanka they can’t stop it because that is already starting here. Now we will have to act very soon to stop that process which is gathering momentum after the defeat of the LTTE.

Although the LTTE was also fighting for separatism, those who are advocating separatism and federalism have become legitimate, lawful, peaceful and democratic. But they really are not. And they have not given up the idea of establishing a separate state in this country.

Q: Who specifically are you talking about?

Those who were with Prabhakaran earlier and have left later. They have the right to advocate what they think. We are using that same right to analyze what they say to make the Tamil people aware about what will happen if a separate state is established in this country. Why it is important to live in a united country. The problem is that those who are fighting for the 13th Amendment to be implemented will not stop at that. They have already come halfway towards a separate state, and there will be one if we don’t prevent it. Today it will not too clear and may seem too early because it can’t be understood. But what is happening now couldn’t be understood earlier in the same way. The problem is that India doesn’t take it seriously. We say very clearly that India’s territorial integrity will be threatened by what is happening in Sri Lanka now. The separatist forces have not stopped their forward march, they will fight for it until they achieve it. They are talking about aspirations and aspirations can’t be satisfied.

Q: Would you say that such political agendas are being using what they are terming the aspirations of the Tamil people for this same purpose?

This is not a problem of the aspirations of the Tamil people, but those of the leaders of the Tamil people. Such aspirations of the Tamil leadership will only have its end in getting a separate state in this country. That is when it will affect India, beause, already India is having trouble in her own states like Nagaland or Tripura or Orissa. That form of development will gather momentum once a separate state is established in Sri Lanka. It will be too soon to expect but it will happen. No one expected the youth league of the TULF to take up arms. No one expected Sri Lanka to fight this war for 30 years. All we had then was a peaceful Vadukoddai resolution. This is why we emphasize that separatism is defeated with the same vigour. At this moment India is also pressing for the implementation of the 13th Amendment. When that happens there will be a separate state. Then the Constitution of this country will be changed. And it won’t be a qualitative change, because now we have unitary state and if implemented completely this nature of the state will become a federal state instead. That is why those advocating for 13th Amendment are refusing to discuss the nature of the state, claiming these are just words. No these are not just words there is a meaning. There is a big difference with a clear definition. They make these arguments to deceive the people. The nature of state is the very basis of a Constitution. This is how one recognizes a state.

Why doesn’t the UNP or the UPFA go before the people if they have the support of the people for the 13th Amendment ? They are worried about the vote base among the Sinhalese; that is why they don’t want to talk about equal opportunities. It is the JVP that started that dialogue, because this is the only way to start national unity. They don’t go before the people and say they are for federalism if they are genuine? Because, they are racist on that basis. I’m not saying they are, in every aspect, but on that, they are. We challenge them to go before the people if they are so sure of their positions.

Q:The argument is made that given the geo- political nature of today’s conflicts and the support that Sri Lanka needed from India during the war, the government may not have a choice but to implement the 13th Amendment?

Then what about the fact that India trained and financed the LTTE? It was only after they realized their mistakes that their approach changed. The danger is that they are still being fooled by the separatist forces. Don’t forget that during the height of the war there were 50 RAW agents in the Wanni without the knowledge of the Sri Lankan government. They only gave a list and requested Sri Lanka to look in to their safety later. Why did they come? These are not secrets.

RAW has been working even after the killing of PM Rajiv Gandhi in Sri Lanka. They continued links with the LTTE. This is why we want to see India change its policy. It achieved what it aimed in the 1980’s for their interests. They are making use of the oil tanks and in Trincomalee they’re given 679 sq. km surrounding the harbor, and even members of the Parliament are not allowed to go inside on grounds that this is an exclusive Indian economic zone. It was Sri Lankans that got killed and to liberate these lands. Whose occupying these lands now?

Even if LTTE were fighting the state, these were still misled Sri Lankans who died, who have sacrificed for India to make use of the land. India today need to dominate us and take our resources and politically establish their domination. There are 1500 Indian men there. Why are Indians carrying out demining? Sri Lankans can do these jobs. These are not assistance but dead ropes. These are assistance with strings attached. We need not have any enmity with India that is not what we need to do at all. That is why we say India will suffer one day. This is a friendly warning that India must take precautions because this problem of Sri Lanka is going to affect them. They can’t avoid that. The Sri Lankan government must also see that the territorial integrity of this country is safeguarded. That is the mandate given by the people of this country.

COURTESY:DAILY MIRROR

Let the elephants suckle Diyawadane Nilame and Minister Gamini Lokuge

The Most Venerable Maha Nayake Theras of the Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters have sought to defend Diyawadana Nilame Pradeep Nilanga Dela over the cruel separation of two baby jumbos from their mothers at Pinnawala last Saturday. The animals are still grieving.

PETC0729.jpg

[An orphaned elephant baby is bottle fed by a tourist aided by a mahout, or elephant keeper, at an elephant orphanage in Pinnawala, Sri Lanka, Tuesday, July 28, 2009. The elephant orphanage aims to take care of orphaned or abandoned elephants in the jungles of Sri Lanka. The mahouts, or elephant keepers, feed the elephants and take them twice a day to a nearby river for bathing and drinking water.-AP pic]

The Ven. Theras in what they call a clarification issued to the press––The Island did not get a copy of it––have wholeheartedly endorsed the removal of the poor elephant sucklings on grounds that they had been donated to Sri Dalada Maligawa and there is a dearth of domesticated elephants for cultural events like processions.

It is unfortunate that the two prelates in their statement make a subtle attempt to give a religious twist to a purely secular matter. They accuse the environmentalists who are protesting against the forcible displacement of baby jumbos of being silent on the killing of wild elephants and call them a group ill-disposed towards traditional Buddhist festivals. Nothing could be further from the truth!

The Mahanayake Theras' clarification hardly clarifies anything. Instead, it obfuscates the central issue that it is wrong to separate baby elephants from their mothers before they are weaned from breastfeeding. Dragging extraneous and peripheral issues into an argument is tantamount to muddying the water by way of an escape. Protesting against cruelty to baby elephants and their mothers could, by no stretch of imagination, be likened to a campaign against donating elephants to Sri Dalada Maligawa or an instance of intolerance of Buddhist traditions.

Among those who have condemned Diyawadana Nilame for having inflicted suffering on the Pinnawala elephants are some Buddhist monks. The National Bhikku Front yesterday issued a statement to the media taking Diyawadana Nilame to task and asking him not to bring Buddhist institutions into disrepute through such acts of cruelty. Can anyone accuse these protesting monks of being intolerant of Buddhist traditions? Never! One may safely argue that the conclusion of the two Maha Nayake Theras is totally untenable and equally absurd and therefore their proposition is not valid at all. Reductio ad absurdum!

There is no way anyone can justify what Diyawadana Nilame and Minister of Sports and Recreation Gamini Lokuge have jointly done to the baby elephants and their mothers. They have deprived the two calves of their mother's milk, warmth and care. All four animals are in agony unable to bear their loss, though the callous perpetrators and their unsympathetic apologists may not feel their suffering.

Since the Maha Nayake Theras have accused environmentalists of being silent on the plight of wild jumbos being killed at a rate, what will they say if they are asked whether they as Buddhist monks have done anything to prevent the wanton slaughter of those animals?

Let the Maha Nayake Theras be told with due respect once again that protests against Diyawadana Nilame's cruelty to baby elephants have nothing to do with Sri Dalada Maligawa, of which sadly he is the custodian, the Buddha Sasana or Buddhist festivals like the Dalada Perahera.

Animal rights activists are only demanding that the poor babies now languishing in Kandy be returned to their weeping mothers at Pinnawala. The question that needs to be asked from the Malwatte and Asgiriya prelates is whether it is in keeping with the teachings of the Compassionate One to deprive baby elephants of their mothers' milk by forcibly separating them from one another. Would the Buddha ever have allowed sucklings to be torn from their mothers in his name? The answer is an emphatic 'No' as is known even to a tyke.

We quoted an official at Pinnawala yesterday as saying that the pining elephant mothers were running a serious health risk as milk was clotting in their breasts. We have a suggestion. Now that they do not have their calves around to feed, get them to suckle Diyawadana Nilame Dela and Minister Gamini Lokuge.

Let the excess milk, if any, be sent elsewhere for the consumption of all those responsible for 'abducting' baby jumbos and their apologists.

(This is a reproduction of "The Island" Editorial of July 30th 2009 headlined "Lajja")

Lasantha - a celebration of dissent and diversity

By: Dilrukshi Handunnetti

It is unthinkable to me that Lasantha has now become part of Sri Lanka’s gruesome statistics of dead journalists. But that is the cold reality.

This innovative and dynamic man who co-founded the Sunday Leader 15 years ago and maintained a larger than life presence in the local media circuit has now been silenced.

[Lasantha Wickrematunge ~ April 5, 1958 - Jan 8, 2009]

A buoyant and mischievous editor with the largest heart and a brilliant mind, the heartbreaking fact is that while his many colleagues were becoming statistics, it was Lasantha who would not let the targets of media violence die without cause by creating a fiery media debate around their murders. To most, that is why he was the elixir of hope and an antidote to their woes.

He displayed this combative spirit even in his final editorial published posthumously.

Typically, our editor had lots of energy. In the midst of writing his famous political column under the nom de plume “Suranimala”, he would breeze out of the room to check the latest cricket scores, while chewing on a pen or, even worse, on whatever finger food lay around someone's desk.

Unabashed, he practiced combative journalism and wrote explosive stories earning scores of enemies who were nothing but the corrupt and the abusive in this land. Even his worst detractors would acknowledge that Lasantha had extraordinary sources that others could only dream of cultivating.

If he put two fingers into his mouth and whistled, we instantly knew that he was happy and that we could get away with almost anything on such a day - except delayed write-ups.

Every Friday Lasantha and I had a ritual: Lasantha would do the final planning of the pages and I, the only journalist to do this, would bargain for less space. Each Friday he would relent, admitting that I wrote long pieces and therefore deserved to write one piece less.

If we happened not to be in the editorial room, Lasantha would never demand to know where we were, he would only call us to gently ask whether we were coming in that day. It is he who waited for us. Neither did he force discipline nor schedules on us. As long as articles arrived on schedule, he remained content.

Among my richest memories of him are those of the editorial independence he fostered. He nurtured a small, yet strong team, and was happiest when we began to spread our wings. He watched us grow like a doting father.

Likewise, he never put a comma on an article without discussing it with a journalist, a courtesy he extended even to the most junior of reporters among us.

The editorial culture he fostered was so unique that he and I often ended up writing on the same topic on opposite pages but expressing diametrically opposite views. He accepted dissenting opinions within the editorial itself, and if I ever turned apologetic, he would say with a mischievous grin: “That’s the way to go girl!”

When a young Sunday Leader reporter Arthur Wamanan was taken into CID custody over frivolous and uncorroborated charges in October 2007, Lasantha said that he would have preferred for me to have been the one to go to jail. “You have no idea what a story it would be if a woman were to go to jail. I would have gone to town,” he said with his infectious laugh, solemnly pledging to fight on behalf of Arthur and expose the insanity of a piqued politician.

Ironically, his last interview was also given to me, to be included in a regional media review report in which he said that the state made people feel as if "we all lived at their pleasure” and critiqued the international community for showing little interest in the abuse of human rights and freedom of expression, except to issue the occasional statement.

Lasantha introduced a brand of journalism others dared not practice. He dedicated an entire newspaper to investigative journalism. And he often said, “The word fear is not in my vocabulary. Strike it off early.”

Lasantha abhorred the practice of self-censorship. He never pruned articles, only polished them to enhance quality.

A Jefferson Fellow and the 2000 Integrity Award winner from Transparency International, he worried over the international ranking of Sri Lanka as the second most dangerous place in the world for journalists, coming a close second to Iraq. So he took stances of great courage and wrote stories nobody dared to publish or make space for.

He openly advocated parity, peace and a negotiated settlement for the country’s conflict when other media houses happily towed the government line. He condemned the government, as perhaps the world's only administration to aerial bomb her own people. In the eyes of many, Lasantha was the true democratic opposition in Sri Lanka.

Naturally, many hated Lasantha’s guts. Just a few weeks ago a letter arrived by post for him. Enclosed was a recent story published in the Leader titled “Kilinochchi capture made into a media circus.” Throughout the article were the Sinhala words in blood red: "If you continue to write, you will be killed.” Lasantha simply laughed and threw the article in the dustbin.

The killers undoubtedly waited for an ideal time of least resistance. The war hype post capture of Kilinochchi, which is the LTTE’s administrative capital and Elephant Pass, is such that even a brutal slaying tends to get overlooked.

Lasantha was an epoch making investigative journalist, the fiercest government critic and the most courageous man I ever knew. The man who single-handedly revolutionized Sri Lankan journalism and made a conscious decision to lose much advertising revenue in the name of the Sunday Leader's motto: to write “Unbowed and Unafraid.”

It was a personal honor to have been part of his team, all that I may aspire for but never became.

For all his strengths, he was also the joy in our lives. He told stories that others refused to write, and eventually paid the ultimate price for taking that risk in the form of a bullet in his scull.

Lasantha was a celebration of dissent. The very voice of diversity. A man without fear.

This editorial room is silent today, ominously so. We do not hear his infectious laughter. But the journalists resolutely go about doing their daily work with a body language that strangely appears to signify that his spirit still lingers: “Nothing is forgotten. Nothing is ever forgotten.” [courtesy: himalmag]

New Delhi's Leverage Over Colombo Will Diminish In a Post - LTTE Era

by M.K.Bhadrakumar

The death of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam supremo, Velupillai Prabhakaran, circa May 18, 2009 remains an enigma wrapped in mystery. The exact details of what happened, we may never know. Things have never been what they appeared on surface. Colombo’s media management techniques are a legion. Therefore, peering through a looking glass into the future of Sri Lanka becomes quite problematic.

The bottom line, of course, is that a question mark must be put on the intentions of President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the period ahead. He presides over a virtual military-political camarilla in Colombo that rides roughshod over the parliament, judiciary and the media, which he will be extremely loathe to dismantle.

Equally, the outside world is hardly aware of the murky activities of the death squads that have carried out hundreds of abductions, “disappea-rances” and murders in the recent months, inclu-ding prominent politicians and editors. The key political decisions are taken by the president and his brothers and a small cabal of trusted aides, and military and police chiefs.

Clearly, strong vested interests have developed through the brutal civil war, involving the military, bureaucracy, Buddhist clergy and the business elite, who will not easily vacate their vantage positions on the mere plea that war has ended.

Clausewitzean War

This has been a Clausewitzean war. Army Commander Lt General Sarath Fonseka told a western interviewer with absolute non-chalance: “I strongly believe that this country belongs to the Sinhalese. We being the majority of the country, 75 per cent, we will never give in and we have the right to protect this country. They (minorities) can live in this country with us. But they must not try to, under the pretext of being a minority, demand undue things.” Rajapaksa will whip up Sinhalese chauvinism to consolidate himself politically.

What all this boils down to is that Indian policies operate within strict parameters. One, any “political solution” to the Tamil problem will be on Rajapaksa’s terms. The Sinhalese regard their country as the last bastion of Theravada Buddhism. India’s locus standii is inherently controversial in the Sinhalese perceptions.

Two, the Sinhalese are highly sophisticated practitioners of diplomacy. In March 2007, they signed an Access and Cross Servicing Agreement with the US that allows American warships and aircraft to use facilities in Sri Lanka as quid pro quo for Washington’s political and military support for Rajapaksa’s all-out war against the LTTE.

But in March 2009, they depended on China and Russia to block a US move in the UN Security Council for humanitarian intervention in Sri Lanka. If India is not “cooperative”, Rajapaksa will not hesitate to show us the door. He knows he has options other than India.

Three, Rajapaksa indeed has a blueprint for the final resolution of the Tamil problem. It involves the systematic colonisation by the Sinhalese of the Tamil homelands north of Elephant Pass so that over the next decade or so, the demography of those regions will be altered to the disadvantage of Tamils. This was how Colombo “solved” the Tamil problem in the eastern provinces of Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara.

Four, the Sinhalese establishment will promote an exodus of Tamils to India as a matter of state policy. As victims of state discrimination, Tamils will be willing or even eager to migrate to India as time passes. This will constitute the Sinhalese establishment’s “permanent solution” to the Tamil problem.

Alas, these are unpalatable thoughts. But what are India’s options? Paradoxically, Delhi’s political leverage over Colombo will diminish in the post-LTTE era. Delhi needs to make up for its loss of influence by working with the international community.

It suits Delhi to promote an urgent international monitoring mission in Sri Lanka, which safeguards the welfare of the hundreds of thousands of displaced Tamils who are interned in virtual concentration camps and are highly vulnerable to coercion and violence. India must also mobilise the international opinion in favour of initiating a political process with the aim of finding a durable settlement of the Tamil problem within a reasonable timeline.

Visceral Opposition

The Sinhalese establishment will no doubt show visceral opposition to any outside intervention. Quite conceivably, a Sudan-like diplomatic stalemate may arise. But then, Sri Lanka faces a worsening foreign exchange crisis and is urgently in need of a $1.9 billion dollar IMF loan. Rajapaksa’s regime faces growing popular unrest over declining living standards due to the costly war and the global economic crisis that has caused a sharp fall in commodity prices and export earnings.

Sri Lanka has virtually exhausted all access to domestic borrowing and international markets. The IMF conditionalities should include a verifiable commitment by Rajapaksa to move forward with an internationally supervised peace process. The European Union has done the right thing by calling for an inquiry into war crimes.

A complicating factor is that Sri Lanka has become a theatre of big-power rivalry. The Sinhalese establishment views China as its “steadfast ally.” The payoff for Beijing has been the $1 billion deal to construct a major port facility comprising container port, bunkering system, oil refinery, airport, etc. in Hambantota, which China fancies as a trans-shipment hub.

The author is a former diplomat.

India has a common interest with the US in countering China’s strategy. No matter the motives behind the US’ current emphasis on a “political settlement”, after having been a staunch supporter of Rajapaksa’s war, Delhi must closely work with the Barack Obama Administration.

(The Author is a former Indian diplomat who served as political/information secretary in Sri Lanka. This article was first published the "Deccan Herald".) (Courtesy: Deccan Herald)

Remembering Neelan: Tenth death anniversary

dbsjeyaraj blog

Ten years ago on this day (July 29th 1999)that Dr. Neelakandan Tiruchelvam known generally as Neelan was brutally assassinated by a suicide killer of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) near his office on Kynsey terrace.

I was perhaps one of the last persons to speak to him on that fateful day. I spoke with him on the telephone from Toronto for 50 minutes from 7.50 am until 8.40 am (Sri Lankan time). I used to call him almost every week then.

Usually he winds up the conversation after a while saying you are going to run up a massive phone bill. But on that day he was in a mood to talk and was quite reflective of maters. [click here to read in full ~ on dbsjeyaraj.com]

July 28, 2009

Eventual Resettlement No Excuse for Holding 280,000 Displaced Tamils-HRW

Free Civilians From Detention Camps

The Sri Lankan government should immediately release the more than 280,000 internally displaced Tamil civilians held in detention camps in northern Sri Lanka, Human Rights Watch said today.

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[In this June 8, 2009 photograph, internally displaced Tamil civilians unload water from a tanker as others walk past at a camp for displaced in Manik Farm-AP pic]

The government, in violation of international law, has since March 2008 confined virtually all civilians displaced by the fighting between government forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in detention camps, euphemistically called “welfare centers” by the government. Only a small number of camp residents, mainly the elderly, have been released to host families and institutions for the elderly.

“Keeping several hundred thousand civilians who had been caught in the middle of a war penned in these camps is outrageous,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Haven’t they been through enough? They deserve their freedom, like all other Sri Lankans.”

The United Nations reported that as of July 17, 2009, the government was detaining 281,621 people in 30 military-guarded camps in the four northern districts of Vavuniya, Mannar, Jaffna, and Trincomalee. Camp residents are allowed to leave only for emergency medical care, and then frequently only with military escort. Inside the camps, humanitarian workers are prohibited, on threat of being barred from the camps, from discussing with residents the fighting in the final months of the conflict or possible human rights abuses.

Premkumar, 44 years old, told Human Rights Watch that he, his wife, and their 3-year-old daughter have been confined to a camp since they escaped the war zone in mid-May. He has been allowed out only once, when he managed to obtain a referral to a hospital.

“The way I see it, we are not internally displaced persons, we are internally displaced prisoners,” Premkumar said. “We used to be in a prison controlled by [LTTE leader] Prabhakaran. Now we are in a prison controlled by the government.”

In Kalimoddai and Sirukandal camps in Mannar district, established more than a year ago, some residents have been granted permission to leave the camp for short periods during the day. In these camps, they have to register with the military twice a day. Human Rights Watch has received reports that if a person fails or is late to register, the military may apply punitive measures, such as forcing the person to stand still under the sun for a period of time or to perform manual labor.

Sri Lanka’s policy of confining the displaced to detention camps has been widely condemned. On May 15, for example, Walter Kälin, the UN secretary-general’s representative on internally displaced persons, said: “Prolonged internment of such persons would not only amount to arbitrary detention but it also aggravates the humanitarian situation needlessly.”

In response to domestic and international criticism, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has tried to justify the detention policy by claiming that anyone in the camps could be a security threat. The government has sought to play down the situation, insisting that the displaced civilians will be quickly resettled. In May, the government said it would resettle 80 percent of them by the end of this year. Now the Minister of Foreign Affairs says the goal is 60 percent. The government has not provided any concrete resettlement plans, however, and displaced persons have not received any information about when they might be allowed to return home.

The military has reportedly removed several thousand camp residents for alleged membership or support of the LTTE, and transferred them to rehabilitation centers for LTTE fighters or to Colombo, the capital, for further interrogation. In many cases, the authorities have failed to inform relatives remaining in the camps about the fate and whereabouts of those removed, raising concerns of possible ill-treatment or enforced disappearance. The order to humanitarian workers not to talk to camp residents limits their ability to protect people from abuse.

While the Sri Lankan authorities are entitled to screen persons leaving the war zone to identify Tamil Tiger combatants, international law prohibits arbitrary detention and unnecessary restrictions on the right to freedom of movement. This means that anyone taken into custody must be promptly brought before a judge and charged with a criminal offense or released. Although human rights law permits restrictions on movement for security reasons, the restrictions must have a clear legal basis, be limited to what is necessary, and be proportionate to the threat.

“Vague promises about the future release of the people illegally locked up in detention camps are no justification for keeping them there,” said Adams. “Every day in the camp is another day that the government is violating their rights.”

The situation of camp residents is aggravated by inadequate living conditions in the camps. Many are overcrowded, some holding twice the number recommended by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. According to the UN, there is a shortage of latrines and access to water is inconsistent, causing hygiene problems. In June alone, health officials recorded more than 8,000 cases of diarrhea, as well as hundreds of cases of hepatitis, dysentery, and chickenpox.

Numerous reports indicate that camp residents are getting increasingly frustrated with the inadequate food, overcrowding, and inability to visit relatives in adjacent camps or elsewhere. In late June, they held at least two protests in the camps, which were dispersed by the security forces.

The government has effectively sealed off the detention camps from outside scrutiny. Human rights organizations, journalists, and other independent observers are not allowed inside, and humanitarian organizations with access have been forced to sign a statement that they will not disclose information about the conditions in the camps without government permission. On several occasions, the government expelled foreign journalists and aid workers who had collected and publicized information about camp conditions, or did not renew their visas.

On July 24, the executive board of the International Monetary Fund approved a US$2.6 billion loan to Sri Lanka, granting the government an “exceptional level of access to Fund resources.” Several countries – including the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Argentina – abstained from the vote, reflecting concern about human rights violations during the conflict and continued abuses, including mistreatment of internally displaced persons. Installments of the loan will have to be approved every three months.

“The world recognizes that Sri Lanka needs money to rebuild the country,” said Adams. “But the government’s treatment of its Tamil population in recent months has drained much of the sympathy for the challenges it faces. The government needs to change course or expect greater international scrutiny in the future.”

Vaas departs in a sad fashion

by Nirgunan Tiruchelvam

The selectors have mistreated Chaminda Vaas and the team. Quite simply, he should not have been picked for the third Test. Test cricket is far too serious for farewell ceremonies. Vaas was the least penetrative bowler on both sides. His pace has dipped to below that of Younis Khan. Even the term 'military medium pace' would be charitable for Vaas' effort. His swing and cut were barely discernible.

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Chaminda Vaas waves to supporters as he arrives at a presentation ceremony after the end of play on the last day of the third cricket test match between Sri Lanka and Pakistan, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, July 24, 2009.-AP pic

If the board wanted to reward the greatest seamer that the country has produced, they did not have to disgrace him by picking him. Many of the greatest fast bowlers did not have the benefit of a pampered exit. Waqar Younis departed from the scene in 2004 a year after he was dropped. As a healthy gap had passed since his last match, the public remembered his contribution in a more favourable light. Actually, Vaas should have retired much earlier.

For long hours during Pakistan's second innings, Vaas was banished into the outfield. As Kumar Sangakkara struggled behind the stumps, he would have been cursing the selectors. Another spinner would have been ideal instead of Vaas. Pakistan has three.Our lone spinner Herath had a five wicket haul.

This should not detract from Vaas' awesome achievements. In fact, his poor returns in this match actually reminded me of his greatness. The pitch was slow and unresponsive. The sun was baking. But, Vaas has taken 355 Test wickets at 29 a piece. Except for Wasim , Waqar and Kapil Dev, no other subcontinental bowler has taken as many.

Kapil was the first Indian fast bowler to be threatening on an extended basis. Vaas was not the first for Sri Lanka. Ashantha de Mel was almost as fearless as an opening bowler, as he is as the Chairman of Selectors. Rumesh Ratnayake was lightning quick. He broke John Wright's nose in 1983. Graeme Labrooy had a lovely action. He resembled Dennis Lillee in his approach and leap at the point of delivery.

But, none of them had Vaas' longevity. Sri Lanka were the beggar boys of world cricket then. So, Ratnayake, Labrooy and de Mel did not have the same chances. But,they could not stay fit until even their 30th birthday. They fell prey to the curse of modern fast bowlers - injury.

Vaas was also a lot more disciplined. His coach Dennis Lillee helped instill this quality. Vaas may have even surpassed Lillee. The Australian did not have to bowl on dustbowls on a regular basis. Lillee's record in India and Pakistan was poor. He eventually avoided those places. He only considered India as a worthy destination when MRF hired him as a coach.

Vaas' exit has put a gulp in my throat for another reason. Most great fast bowlers had a partner. Lillee had Thomson. Wasim had Waqar. Last week, the man who was supposed to be Vaas' partner was sitting quietly in the crowd. Ravindra Pushpakumara, who at 34, is 18 months younger than Vaas, had an unlucky career. He is still a stout and powerfully built man. But, injury and the impatience of the selectors has meant that he last played in 2001.

Pushpa and Vaas made their debuts against Pakistan in Kandy 1994. They were supposed to be our answers to the opposition's leading bowlers - Wasim Liam: Sittingand Waqar. Pushpa was more explosive in pace than his left-armed partner. He took four wickets in the sole innings that he bowled. Ironically, Vaas went wicketless. Pushpa has just launched a new career as a fast bowling coach. He will be an asset.

Vaas began his career with a heavy defeat against Pakistan. He almost ended it in the same fashion. Vaas would be happier if he had just watched the match like Pushpa.

July 27, 2009

Government milking LTTE "gonibilla" to get "carte blanche" - Karu Jayasuriya

an Interview With Shakuntala Perera

1. The President recently informed India that he would only seek a political solution after seeking the mandate of the people for such a solution at a Presidential election. Would you see this as a further delay in implementing a political solution to the national question, that the UNP accuse the government of adopting?

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[Karu Jayasuriya]

This is simply a tactic to buy time. We do not see any necessity to await the next Presidential Elections to provide a political solution to a national question which has been dogging this country for decades. In fact, it is an issue of critical importance that a political resolution is sought to a problem that saw the birth of the most ruthless terrorist organization in the world in our tiny island nation.

It was also, you will recall, the promise upon which the government undertook its military operation to rid the country of terrorism. However, the adoption of this tactic in no way comes as a surprise. President Mahinda Rajapaksa pledged to abolish the Executive Presidency when he sought a mandate at the last Presidential Elections. Therefore it is tantamount to a breach of pledge on his part to ask for time, and this will no doubt also affect the credibility of future promises.

The truth is that the government realizes its popularity is eroding faster than they expected. They also lack the confidence to put the country on the right track and they are fully aware that the situation is going to get worse in time instead of better. This is why they wish to seek a people’s mandate as soon as possible, before the euphoria of the military wears off. This is a government that is willing to make long term sacrifices for short term gain, rather than the other way around. It has been the hallmark of this regime. For this government, survival is the name of the game. Everything else takes a back seat.

This government lacks the ability to make tough decisions. They seem to believe that the only way to keep everyone happy is adopt delaying tactics. In the process, they also seem quite content to fan the flames of racism and continue their policies of division which is the reason we ended up with this ethnic problem in the first place. What I see as the greatest strength of this regime, from inception, has been its ability to provide temporary satisfaction to all quarters, even when it calls for making contradictory promises to various parties. But therein too lays its Achilles’ heel.

This scrambling to appease all quarters, at the cost of what is best for the country at large, will be the downfall of this administration. Now that the war is over they don’t seem to be doing anything with a sense of conviction. What this country needs are permanent solutions and not temporary patch up jobs. It is not prudent to play politics with national issues. This government, like many before them, will soon realise that they cannot fool all the people all the time.

2. There is however the contention that the civilians in the war ravaged North and East have little care for political solutions, leave alone the 13th amendment when their basic needs are yet to be met? Wouldn’t it be fair to say that no political solution would suffice till the people’s lives are improved?

As citizens of our country and as human beings in general, the internally displaced people of the north and east are entitled, at the very least, to have their basic needs met. This is naturally the easier of the things to do and of course we commend the government for prioritizing this aspect of resettlement and normalization. However, it does not take a genius to realise that with their basic needs for food, shelter and safety realised, the people of the north and east will come to need more.

The right to live as equal citizens of this land, with a degree of autonomy over their own affairs, dignity, economic growth and prosperity and such, enjoyed by others elsewhere in the country, are also their inalienable rights as people of this land. We cannot forget our history and the causes that gave rise to the LTTE, a movement that has plagued us for over 30 years. To forget all this would be to deny it, and that would be a grave mistake.
I believe that with regard to political solutions, at the very least, all that is provided for within the constitution of Sri Lanka can be granted forthwith.

There is no reason that these things can’t be done simultaneously, while the government is also attending to resettlement. There is no hard and fast rule to say you have to do one after the other. I don’t believe that Sri Lanka should bow down to international pressure but since we live in a global world we must learn the art of dealing with the international community and winning their confidence. We cannot live in isolation politically or economically. Unfortunately in the fog of war, Sri Lanka has been isolated to a great degree with significant world players. The regime has adopted a form of Rottweiler diplomacy, championed by a few politically-appointed megaphone diplomats of the regime, which has only hurt Sri Lanka’s image, where meaningful engagement may have rendered more favourable results in the long term.

Following the long and bitter conflict, the world’s attention is now on Sri Lanka and it is eagerly awaiting the fulfillment of the government’s other promises to bring about a political solution once the phase of military operations is ended. The world is watching carefully I believe, at how Sri Lanka deals with her IDPs. But these are all external factors and greater world politics. No world player needs to bring home the fact that we must take care of our own citizens. It is our sacred duty and obligation to ensure that our people live in dignity and want for nothing. I don’t believe in declaring outright victory until every citizen of the North, in whose name we waged this war, is able to live in dignity in their own homes. When all our people can stand up and say, yes, we are part of this great nation and we are all, truly free, then and only then can we celebrate.

3. How do you view the opposition both within and outside of the government towards the full implementation of the 13th amendment?

Those who oppose the 13th Amendment have become part of the system. Sadly even those who acknowledged that dealing with the LTTE and dealing with the just claims of the Tamil people were two separate and distinct issues, are now taking a different stand. I believe this is largely an issue of national psyche. The military victory was so hyped and became such a fundamental part of peoples’ lives that all other considerations fell by the wayside. Sri Lanka seems to be facing a serious dearth of moderates.

While there is consensus that the LTTE had to be defeated militarily, in order for Sri Lanka to attain any kind of real peace, the LTTE’s downfall will not automatically bring about peace. That is an illusion. Sri Lankans today are in a comfort zone, believing that with the LTTE gone, the problem is also over. Again, this is tantamount to forgetting the past, which will eventually come back to haunt us. Political parties are playing on this public psyche instead of aiming to educate the voters for the good of the nation in the long term; they are adopting the tactics that would bring them the largest number of votes at the next election. This is not statesmanship. It is not the kind of leadership this country needs in this critical stage of transformation.

Prior to the war coming to an end locally and internationally it was argued by some people that the only reason why devolution and a political settlement were discussed was because of the LTTE. Now subsequent to the war coming to an end if we take a stand that the 13th amendment is not necessary or a political solution is not necessary then we will only be giving credibility to that argument. It is a great insult to our fellow citizens of the north and east, if we as Sri Lankans stand by such an argument at this stage.

Political parties will play politics, as always, with this victory and what must follow. I would appeal to all Sri Lankans to go back to the drawing board and recall the root cause of our terrorism problem. We are faced with a golden opportunity to do the right thing. If we do not address the ethnic issues facing the country politically now, rest assured it will reemerge again at another point of our history.

Perhaps we may not live to see it. But it will be the inheritance of our children and their children. Is this really what we want? We have an obligation to our future generations to ensure that Sri Lanka does not live through such a dark age ever again. It will be a good thing if this government focuses on its obligations as much as it does on its own rights.

The 13th amendment is part of our constitution so I cannot understand all this fuss about its implementation. Ignoring the 13th Amendment and the 17th Amendment is something no government can do without being guilty of a most heinous crime – violating the constitution of the country.

4. The President recently warned parties against racism within. How much of a concern is this situation to the UNP as a Party long considered closer to the minority communities?

The UNP was not given its name randomly. The United National Party remains today, a truly ‘national’ party, encompassing constituents belonging to all races, religions and regions. It is a political body under which all shades of opinion can unite and thrive. This is why there is and never will be room for racism or any form of extremism within the UNP, however expedient politically it might be. We believe in integration and not segregation. A person’s religion, ethnicity, gender or caste has no bearing in the UNP.

Anyone who can make a positive contribution towards the country will get an opportunity under a UNP government. We believe this is why the UNP has always held the largest bases of both the majority community and the minority communities, despite what coalitions might have been formed on the other side. We remain the single largest political party in the country and that too has not happened randomly. It is because the UNP truly represents the people of this nation as they are and as they should be – diverse, beautiful and united.

5. The LTTE last month announced that a committee was established to form a Provincial Transnational Government (PTG) of Tamil Eelam. There are signs that a decision has been made by the Committee very likely with the support of the Tamil Diaspora to secede from Sri Lanka and try to form a new nation state. How do you view this development?

Obviously we will oppose such a stance, but we continue to emphasise that the Government should take meaningful steps to win the confidence of the Tamil community. If the government proves its commitment and has a backbone to address the just claims of the people of the north and east, then all these dreams of secession and forming nation states will be relegated to the dream world. If not, things could turn around again at some point of our history.

This is why we stress that the final solution has to be political. We should not be arrogant about the military victory our soldiers won for us. We should not under estimate their sacrifices and we should take maximum use of this historic victory. These latest statements by the LTTE, which has been relegated to a sole voice in some corner of the world and cyberspace, prove only that the Sri Lankan government appears to lack the political maturity or diplomacy to destroy the LTTE politically despite their military success.

6. What will the UNP try to approach the Tamil people in the North with, where the upcoming election in Jaffna could be seen as a testing ground with, when Tamil Ministers like Karuna are strong on the opinion that it’s only by being with the ruling party that they can get their rights?

As a national party, we are contesting all elections throughout the country. We are encouraged by the tremendous response that we receive from Jaffna and Vavuniya, as well as the plantation areas, which is a clear indication that the UNP policies are acceptable to all communities. We are confident that the silent majority will begin to speak up at the next elections, if the people of the north and east are allowed to exercise their franchise freely and without the fear of intimidation and threats.

It is hoped that Minister Karuna and his ilk refrain from using armed force to swing voters and that they have entered the democratic processes in a meaningful and sincere way. If the election is free and fair, the UNP has no cause to be worried. The people’s will rules.

7. Do you feel that the UNP’s last strong connection to the minority communities may have been lost with the President’s statement to Parliament that there were no longer minorities in the country thereby coming closer to the Tamil people?

Certainly not. If words were enough to sway the minority communities, we would never have had an ethnic problem. The people are fully aware that the UNP genuinely has the interests of the Tamil people at heart. It is always important to read between the lines, when politicians make statements. Recent events clearly demonstrate that the real meaning of the statement - “there are no minorities in Sri Lanka any more - there are only people who love the country and those who don’t” – is that all opposition representatives and supporters will be categorized as traitors and only supporters of the government are seen as patriots.

This is an extremely dangerous trend and a continuation of the tactics this government has used throughout the military conflict. A vibrant democracy cannot function under such an environment. Today the government has given a clear a message to our constituents, and that is ‘you are either with us or against us.’

Look at the media fraternity for instance. They have been brow-beaten, intimidated and murdered into submission. You will remember that many of those journalists who have paid heavy prices for writing the truth have been members of the majority community. So I ask you, when even the Sinhalese who do not necessarily agree with everything the government does live in mortal fear of their lives, what do you think is going through the minds of those in the minority community?

What kind of faith can they have in the President’s words? I believe that all communities know in their hearts that in order to restore democracy, have proper access to credible information and a respect for human rights it is nothing but essential to elect a government led by the UNP.

8. The UNP accuses the government of breaking its promises to the people. But in all fairness to the government isn’t it fair to say that it kept its biggest and most important promise to the country and rid it of terrorism?

We are willing to give a substantial amount of credit to the government for providing political leadership to the fight to eliminate terrorism. However, although it may not seem very populist to say this, it cannot claim full credit for its success. Giving full credit to the government is like giving the man of the match award to the batsman who scores the winning runs, as I have said before. Intelligent people believe that it is the UNP that destroyed the LTTE politically. People believe that Karuna's defection was the downfall of LTTE and even some ministers in the present government have stated in the past that Karuna was a creation of the UNP.

The other significant point is that it is the armed forces that actually won us this battle and the armed forces represent the entire country and not a single political party. It is after all the Sri Lanka Army and not the UPFA army that fought this battle in our name. Politicians who sat in comfort in Colombo are so quick to take maximum mileage out of the sacrifices of the soldiers. As an ex-soldier it saddens me that slowly but steadily, politicians are trying to take far too much of the credit, ignoring the soldiers who actually fought in the battlefront.

And we must remember that the winning the war was only one promise. All this time, the war provided the necessary excuse for the non-implementation of all the others – good governance, rule of law, democracy and media freedom that was promised at the Presidential Elections. With the military operations now behind us, the excuses are fast running out. I don’t think the Sri Lankan people have given this government an indefinite blank cheque. Eventually, patience will run out. The government has for too long neglected all other facets of government.

And what’s more, instead of building on messages and themes of hope and reconciliation, they are intent to continue to the politics of fear. By constantly reminding the people that the LTTE operatives are still among us, are still waiting to raise their heads, they are hoping to ensure their survival. As long as the LTTE gonibilla can be milked, this government thinks it will have carte blanche. It is almost Machiavellian, these tactics, but I believe that the Sri Lankan people will eventually call their bluff.

9. The UNP has charged the government against failing to give it its due in contributing towards the victory over terrorism. But doesn’t the facts; where LTTE strengthened itself under the UNP’s CFA remove such claims?

We can spend days explaining and dissecting the pluses and minuses of the CFA. Karuna is a product of the ceasefire as mentioned before. It also gave our troops the opportunity to revamp and reorganize and enhance their armoury. At the same time, there were problems with the ceasefire, but an independent, unprejudiced analyst will tell you it had its positives, and perhaps in some cases, the pros outweighed the cons. I don’t deny that it was in no way populist, nor did it play to the tune of our nationalistic fringe which is intent on seeing everything as a treacherous conspiracy.

But remember the moment – recall the situation Sri Lanka was in, devastated by innumerable elections and terrible terrorist attacks on our airports and economic nerve centres. We required that break. We were reeling and it was the best thing at the time. There were places it could have been improved upon, but while it is easy in the euphoria of this victory to label it a treacherous document, a brief look at our recent history might change perceptions.

But to expect the government to recognise these truths is futile. It is not just the UNP, but many others unconnected to our party have now begun to believe that this government is insecure because it has always shown a tendency to be reluctant to give credit where it is due. Sri Lankan and Buddhist culture holds the principle of ‘kelehi guna salakeema’ or being grateful for kindness extended to one, as extremely sacred. This government most certainly does not.

It is not a good thing to discard people once they have served your purpose and harass and intimidate them. Look at the way the government is treating – Mangala Samaraweera and Tiran Alles who were instrumental in bringing the President to this position have been completely beaten down. . They are public enemy No. 1 as far as this government is concerned. They are the victims of a concerted witch hunt orchestrated by this regime.

This government’s greatest trump card was winning the war and nothing else, but already there are murmurs that those who provided military leadership for the victory have already been forgotten now. So now people are saying that if the government can forget such key personalities, then we should not be surprised if they forget the voters who brought them to power.

We cannot forget that it was the CFA that won the hearts and minds of the international community and proved to the world that the LTTE is not interested in a political solution. Violating the CFA was the biggest mistake the LTTE made. It exposed them in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of the community they were claiming to represent as being insincere stakeholders in the peace process. It is thanks to the CFA that the LTTE began to lose this critical support.

Think about it – why did the LTTE force people to boycott the last presidential election, knowing full well that the lack of the north east vote would deny the UNP Leader the presidency? Would they do that to someone they so loved, and believed they could get anything out of? Our people have been carried away by this nationalist sentiment and they have forgotten the hard truths of this bitter conflict. But it is also our failure as a party, to have failed to articulate these truths properly to the people of this country.

10. Minister Muralidaran (Karuna) maintains that the while every past government worked on a racial element against the Tamil people President Rajapaksa was the only leader who was really reaching out to the people understanding their need for development. How will you defend the UNP under which rule the LTTE started?

As mentioned before Minister Muralidharan’s advent into democratic policies was the result of the UNP’s ceasefire agreement. This has been confirmed even by the Government Ministers. It is a case of understanding politics. What is he supposed to say about the government when he is after all holding the vice presidency of the SLFP?

11. The UNP has continued to criticize the government against corruption. But the Junior Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambapalitiya yesterday claimed that the government couldn’t act beyond the law although the Auditor General, the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC) had revealed waste and corruption?

He should consider the Bribery Commission’s submissions and no political intervention or sympathy to be given to offenders. The models of Hong Kong and Singapore would be ideal for Sri Lanka. The truth is that this government does not have a keen interest in preventing corruption. It does not have the political will to change the status quo.

As mentioned earlier, the government wants to keep everyone happy and when you want to keep everyone happy it is not possible to make hard decisions for the good of the country. All good decisions are also tough to make, but if we have the courage to make those decisions, long term success will be attainable. I would say that this is the most corrupt regime Sri Lanka has ever see and sadly, I think things are going to get much worse. Still, I hope that for the sake of this country that my hunch is wrong.

12. Minister Siyambalapitiya had asserted that the former Auditor General S. C. Mayadunne’s claims that the loss of tax revenue due to waste and irregularities could be as high as over Rs. 380 billion over several years, could be wrong?.

There is no denying the colossal waste that is going on in the state sector. I am told that even in the distribution of funds for development in the provincial areas, as much as 30-40 percent is being wasted due to corruption. These are areas that must be looked into putting politics aside. To say the Auditor General’s claims ‘Could be wrong’ is very weak. Where are the facts to back it up? Are they contesting Mayadunne’s figures? It is sad that good governance is not a priority for this government, because if they approach all other governance matters with the same diligence and unswerving devotion they did the war, perhaps we would see great change. But this is not an area they care too much about.

13. Despite, attempts by various elements to attract international pressures against the government during and after the war, the Secretary General of the UN continues to assert that he was convinced of the government’s claims of full accountability especially on the civilians?

We are not challenging UN Secretary General’s comments. However, we in the UNP and the Opposition have not been allowed to travel beyond Madewachchiya without permission. Moreover as members of democratic parties and the UNP as the leading opposition party, we have been prevented from traveling to Vavuniya to select candidates for the Vavuniya local government elections. We were refused permission and eventually the candidates had to be invited to Anuradhapura to meet with us.

The interviews were to be done by the Deputy Leader, Chairman and General Secretary of the party. This is a very serious insult to Parliament and we had to seek refuge for our rights in the Supreme Court. The Court decision is awaited. It is beyond my imagination why the government is doing this if it has nothing to hide. If you have no skeletons in your closet, then there is nothing to fear.

COURTESY:DAILY MIRROR

What is the hardest IMF condition for Sri Lanka to meet?

Thomson Reuters has published some questions and answers on key conditions of the just sanctioned IMF facility for Sri Lanka and whether the government will be able meet them:

Can Sri Lanka fulfill agreed econ reforms with IMF?

By Shihar Aneez

WHAT IS THE HARDEST CONDITION FOR SRI LANKA TO MEET?

Maintaining a 7 percent budget deficit in 2009. Latest Ministry of Finance data showed the deficit has already hit 4 percent in the first four months of this year and economists expected the full-year figure to reach at least 9 percent.

They say the government will be forced to revise its populist policies to more economically rational ones if it wants to receive the entire $2.6 billion loan.

The 5 percent fiscal deficit target in 2011 will also be a difficult task for President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who faces a parliamentary and presidential election before then.

Analysts say the Rajapaksa administration, which has already promised to cut military expenditure after the war, could introduce new indirect taxes to increase revenue.

But that might be unpopular with the electorate. So Rajapaksa could take advantage of his current high popularity and call for elections early and, assuming he wins, implement the less popular policies afterwards.

WHAT WILL IMF DO IF SRI LANKA FAILS TO MEET THE CONDITIONS?

Initially, the IMF is likely to be flexible, taking into consideration Sri Lanka's post-war situation. However, continued failures to meet conditions will compel the lender to stop disbursement of the loans, which would be negative for domestic markets. The IMF discontinued a previous loan programme due to Sri Lanka's failure in adhering to its conditions in 2001.

WHAT IMPACTS WILL THE CONDITIONS HAVE ON THE ECONOMY?

Inflation is expected to pick up. The government has agreed with the IMF to halt subsidies to loss-making state enterprises Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC). That is likely to lead to higher inflation via increased energy prices, raising pressure for policy rates to rise.

WILL THE EXCHANGE RATE POLICY BE AN ISSUE?

No. One of the conditions state that the central bank must allow flexibility in the foreign exchange rate and limit intervention to smooth volatility in the market. But the IMF has also said the flexibility should help maintain exporters' competitiveness, suggesting it is in line with the current central bank policy of intervening only when the rupee is depreciating.

Central bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal told Reuters on Monday that the rupee is trading at a reasonable rate and it will continue to maintain a stable exchange rate.

Traders also expect the rupee remain steady.

In another Reuters report, By Lesley Wroughton, IMF has defended the Sri Lanka loan "amid human rights worries:''

The International Monetary Fund defended a $2.6 billion loan to Sri Lanka on Monday saying it is aware of human rights concerns by donors but the funding is needed to prevent a devastating balance of payments crisis.

The loan was approved by the IMF board on Friday with opposition from several countries including the United States, Britain, Germany, France and Argentina, which expressed concern at human rights abuses in Sri Lanka.

"In Sri Lanka's case they have been hit by the global crisis and the IMF's mandate is to address and ward off balance of payments crises," IMF mission chief to Sri Lanka, Brian Aitken told reporters on a conference call.

"The balance of payments crisis sounds rather dry but it really would have a devastating impact on the economy and on the people, particularly the most vulnerable," he added.

Aitken said the IMF was in regular contact with humanitarian groups and diplomats over human rights worries.

Months after the end of the civil war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the Sri Lankan government continues to hold thousands of Tamils displaced by the fighting in detention camps, according to Human Rights Watch.

Aitken said none of the IMF funding would be directed through the government budget. Instead, the entire loan is going toward rebuilding the central banks currency reserves, which have been drained by the collapse in global trade that has affected the country's mainstay garment industry.

"The hope is that the loan provides a framework in which multilateral and bilateral donors can support the reconstruction effort directly," he added.

He also said it was important that Sri Lanka's foreign exchange policy remained flexible to meet targets for rebuilding international reserves to at least 3.5 months of imports by the end of the 20-month program.

"The program is targeted to increase reserves and the exchange rate under those circumstances needs to be flexible to respond to changes in foreign exchange flowing into the country," Aitken said.

Aitken said as the global crisis dissipates, Sri Lanka's growth should rebound quickly on the back of post-war rebuilding. He said the IMF agreed with the central banks' forecast for economic growth of 3 percent for 2009.

July 26, 2009

Mahinda as "Maharajaneni": constant lickers and variable arses

by S.L. Gunasekara

Servility and self serving sycophancy are not unknown to poor Sri Lanka: on the contrary, the Country, most regrettably, abounds with it.

However, never till now have we had the misfortune to witness the horrible spectacle of a pack of sniveling sycophants in political office of various types with unconcealed ambitions to climb higher on the basis of nothing more noble than their ignoble sycophancy, heaping mortal and unforgivable insults on the person of the Head of State while believing those insults to constitute fulsome praise which would so please the Head of State that they would result in his granting them some patronage or benefit whether political or otherwise !!! Such is the abysmally low opinion these scum have of the Head of State.

KMRTC0726.jpg

[A giant figure of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa stands on a street in Colombo-AP pic]

As the reader must necessarily have realized, I refer to the plethora of posters, banners and bill boards that pollute the highways of our land addressing and/or describing President Mahinda Rajapakse as "Great King" or "King" ["MAHARAJANENI" or "RAJUNI"] with the wholly unlovely pictures and/or names of the authors of those foul insults prominently displayed with a view to "earning" a reward for heaping insults on President Mahinda Rajapakse in the moronic belief that they were compliments.

By addressing/describing President Mahinda Rajapakse as such, these self serving imbeciles degrade him by relegating him to the level of a hereditary monarch like Queen Elizabeth II who secured `employment’ as Head of State of her Country not because of any merit or competence possessed by her, or being selected by the populace from among other contenders for the `job’, but purely and solely because her father who had that `job’ before her was unable to procreate any male children, and she was the elder of his only two daughters !!

President Mahinda Rajapakse did not ascend to his `job’ through any such outrageous system of institutionalized nepotism/family bandysm but through merit, in that he was selected for the `job’ of Head of State by the populace from among several contenders for that `job’.

Apart from insulting President Mahinda Rajapakse by so equating him to somebody like Queen Elizabeth who secured her employment on the sole basis of the fortuitous circumstance of her birth with which she had nothing to do other than to be born, these malodorous self seekers have also insulted him by the readily discernible unspoken premise on which their outrageous conduct is based: namely, that they believe that President Mahinda Rajapakse is so dishonourable a person that he would be so delighted by such insults heaped on him by idiot sycophants in the unbelievably stupid belief that they constituted praise, that he would actually reward them for their foul conduct !!!

It would serve President Mahinda Rajapakse well, particularly in these wholly unsavoury circumstances, to pay heed to the sagacious words attributed to former Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawela, who, upon being informed by one of his genuinely loyal supporters just after his ignominous defeat in 1956, that many of his erstwhile `loyalists’ were `queuing up’ in Rosmead Place to curry favour with the victorious Prime Minister designate Bandaranaike, is alleged to have said:

"ISAY, LICKERS NEVER CHANGE; ONLY THE ARSES DO"

This, I do believe, is a lesson that both former President Kumaratunga and former Chief Justice Silva [among so very many others] have learnt: albeit too late.

Policy framework for reconciliation must address root causes of conflict

by Gnana Moonesinghe

"Nothing has to be reinvented, yet everything has to be re-imagined." - Paul Starr

The war has ended. What next is the query on the minds of all Sri Lankans, more specifically a major concern to the Tamil community? The issues are clear and many options are available but which ones will the leadership take? An end of a war or conflict leads to many roads.

The choice the State and the citizens take should be one that looks forward with hope for the future and not one that looks backward with anger and vengeance, searching for scapegoats to crucify at the altar of recriminations and a cheap play to the gallery. To search for ‘traitors’ and anti national elements will be a futile exercise. It will lead to no constructive fence mending but will result only in exacerbating old wounds and creating misunderstandings and hostility at a time when reconciliation through compromise and tolerance are the operative sentiments.

Thus the choice of the politically astute will be the steadfast march forward towards the shining star of peace and hope. Measured steps to reunite and give the much needed confidence to the people, not with promises or rhetoric but with concrete measures enabling them to secure their inviolable status as stakeholders in the land of their birth with security and dignity. In this there is no singling out of any community, for the people of this country regardless of which ethnic group they belong to, are in need of the assurance of a better future, a future where there is no return to violence but only peace and more peace.

Wars of any description, let alone one waged within the nation, among those living within the country, is certainly an all pervasive terrible, terrible period. People face untold misery. The coffers of the nation remains depleted, the economy suffers, development activity loses its priority status and people live in fear. No one is certain who their enemy is and as a result insecurity pervades the daily life of the people. Sadly the culture of passivity gets replaced with militarization and a militarized society leaves many scars, mental and physical. Over a period of time war dehumanizes decent human beings resulting in many warped minds whose thinking narrows down to view the world through the keyhole of sectarian cultural nationalism plaguing the country in turmoil.

The ordinary man, woman and child suffer the most, cramped as they remain among the warring forces. The Sri Lankan experience of the JVP conflict and the ethnic conflict have left an indelible toll on the character of the people, be it the Sinhalese, the Tamils, Muslims, Burghers or the Malays. It is the hope that these experiences will in some insightful way contribute to strengthen the character of the people and enable mature approaches that will facilitate work towards building the nation without divisions and without recriminations.

When a country succeeds as Sri Lanka has in destroying the opponents and assumes control of territory and administration, it is indeed a moment for national pride and joy. Victory celebrations stretch over a period signaling the end of war and the dawn of reality. The intervening period is the time when one stays ‘dormant’ just being relieved that it is all over. It is left to the leadership to recognize the cut off point of when the celebrations end and serious planning for post conflict recovery begins.

Policy framework for reconciliation through reconstruction and development must address the root causes of the conflict. Permanent peace is possible only through such a reckoning. It is also a moment to ingrain into not just one’s attention but also into one’s consciousness, the distinction between the Tigers who were drawn from the Tamil community and the rest of the Tamils who were not a part of the imbroglio. This is also the time, and it is not too late to do so, to know and accept the fact that Tamils are an intrinsic part of this country, of this nation, bound together with the other communities over many centuries, not only by ties of kinship but also as a community who have shared and continue to share the highs and the lows of the nation’s destiny. This is also a time for the Tamils to accept that Sri Lanka is their home and none other and that their future is bound to the Sri Lankan nation state. These thoughts bear repetition as healing is the need of the moment and awareness of such facts will help considerably in assuaging suspicion and distrust and help to create empathy amongst the communities in this plural society.

Today a golden opportunity has arisen to consolidate the task of nation building. This opportunity must be viewed holistically and mechanisms for invigorating existing institutions must be put in place to revamp civil authority- "Nothing has to be reinvented, yet everything has to be re-imagined". Constructive ‘imagination’ must stimulate the thinking process to bring about changes that will move forward and reinforce the basic principles of equity, social justice, peace and reconciliation for the infusion of a sense of normalcy in the lives of the people. This also means that issue specific measures to ensure human rights and human security, law and order, independent judiciary, transparency and accountability in governance at all levels are taken without procrastination. The appropriate strategy in the short term, would be to undertake measures for disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration programs.

International post conflict policies provide examples of strategies to be adopted for effective and timely measures to resettle refugees and internally displaced persons, including combatants who have surrendered paying special attention to child soldiers, women cadres, those vulnerable in displaced areas and other traumatized persons. This national crisis must sensitize the people to the need to evolve a national bond that will contribute to the emergence of a collective goal over and above self interest. The need is now, at this moment and not any other time. Lessons must be learned from past experiences and calculated steps taken for inclusivity of all the people in the task of nation building. Political leadership has to take the responsibility to build economic, social and cultural partnerships. Reconciliation has to be the motivating force to gather the people together in a national bind. This time round nothing must go wrong.

Interactions a couple of weeks ago, with a few members of the Diaspora has given some pointers for future action. The immediate concerns raised by them were not language or homelands but the welfare of the IDP’s. This is not to say that other issues did not seem to matter any longer. The raising of this as priority issue was the recognition that the immediate issue is to resettle the displaced people in their own home environment from which they have been so cruelly uprooted by the LTTE. This would be a first step to help them to regain a sense of normalcy.

Circulation of information regarding registration of persons in the camps, plans for resettlement and some indication of the measures intended to be taken for the welfare of the IDPs will be sufficient indicators to give assurance to the country and the Diaspora that the State, aware of its responsibility means to extend assistance without undue delay or discrimination. No more divisive politics must be permitted to emerge as a result of acts of negligence. It is then and only then that confidence in the State as an integral part in the lives of all the people will become a credible feature.

This is the appropriate time to reach out to the Diaspora who in their anger following 1983 pogrom provided the militants the finances, the arms and the intellectual input to challenge the Sri Lankan State and also carry on effective anti government propaganda machinery internationally. They made certain that time did not dilute and dim the memory of the ’83 pogrom. Consequently the Diaspora failed to see the path the LTTE was taking. The fact that the Tigers eliminated the Tamil leadership both political and intellectual; took on the mantle of a sole representative power for the Tamils; wielded authority in the most predatory manner subjecting the already ‘injured’ community to an authoritarian rule; worse subjected them to kangaroo trials denying the conventional norms of judicial procedures were details that did not figure in the prognosis of the Diaspora.

Domiciled as they were away from the country they were unable to conjure the horror of forced conscription of boys and girls and very young children for combat; the dehumanization of the people in a manner calculated to establish a dictatorship, with the usual malaise of all politicians, of indulging in nepotism and settling for dynastic rule – the son to succeed the father. The ‘looking back’ in this instance is to see how amends can be made and the Diaspora can be persuaded now to give their time, money, intellectual capacity and energy to rebuild the ravaged lands in this country and give the people a sense of belonging and ownership. Such a positive contribution could be their atonement for their questionable decisions in the past.

There is much that can be done to give a better quality of life to the people who for the last three decades have only known destabilization, acts of impunity sourced from the various combatants in war, a total lack of human security and above all the denial of dignity and fundamental rights to which every individual is entitled to. Exigencies of war are the explanation that is offered by the State for the lapses in maintaining the democratic ideals. The Tigers on the other hand have never felt compelled to offer excuses for the excesses they subjected the people of this country.

The atmosphere is right. The political capital available to the government is immense and the government is assured of electoral support. The people in the south from all walks of life have spoken when they demonstrated their great sense of empathy for the IDP’s and shared what they could with them when they moved out of captivity from the LTTE. The Diaspora’s involvement in the reconstruction work will lighten the load of the people in the war ravaged regions. Projects for reconstruction and rehabilitation planned in coordination with the government will contribute to laying the foundation for social justice and sustainable peace and to build bridges to ‘manage pluralism’.

Building national identity is essentially a political process and the direction therefore has to come from the leaders across the political party spectrum. The urgency of the moment is such that the country cannot afford the luxury of holding on to narrow party positions. The outlook must be national and the imperative has to be to seize the moment in history and shape it to bring about not only peace but inclusivity to all people on the principles of equity, human security and human dignity in the reality of a plural society. Trust can be built if this road is taken, not if the leadership looks for mileage for their political parties.

Neil de Votta of the Michigan University gives a penetrating analysis of Sri Lanka’s political decay resulting from a misguided sense of one upmanship to out perform one another: "Beginning in the mid 50’s Sri Lanka’s politicians began outbidding each other on who would provide the best deal for their community. The ethnic outbidding was initially influenced by linguistic nationalism, though it was soon also used to undermine agreements designed to accommodate the minority Tamils. The Sinhalese tolerated ethnocentrism and illiberal governance because this relatively deprived the Tamils even as it benefited their majority community.

What they did not realize is that illiberalism cannot be compartmentalized and that eventually it affects the entire polity. This is indeed what happened over time. Consequently, the inter ethnic violence has influenced intra-ethnic violence and the project that permitted dominating the minority Tamils along ethnic lines has now influenced Sinhalese politicians to dominate their fellows along political lines. This has led to a milieu where violence is now institutionalized as a way to settle political disputes even as ethnic outbidding continues and the civil war remains unresolved.

The recent parliamentary elections accompanied by massive violence and manifold irregularities, especially signify the illiberalism and political decay that have befallen Sri Lanka". (The italics are mine)

Fortunately we have succeeded in weeding the forces of terror but the crucial test will be if we can avoid the pitfalls of the past. There are no Marshall Plan or international institutions set up to assist us on our road to recovery. We do not have too many friends in the international arena willing to assist us. We have to rely on ourselves and do it efficiently utilizing the meager resources at hand. The goodwill of the people and their support during the lean times ahead of us will be invaluable.

The national mood in general is for peace and reconciliation. Some shrill sound bytes are emerging from chauvinist elements who fail to make the distinction between those who took arms against the state and the rest of the Tamils who remained bystanders in the same manner as the country witnessed when the JVP held the country captive to their terror tactics. The Tamils are equally guilty of failure to earmark the extremists from the liberals among the majority community. Poor judgment in this regard created in the past many problems and these will recur again if such differentiations are not made and borne in mind.

History is there to learn lessons and the lessons of our history must be learnt. The constitution is here to stay, the 13th Amendment et all. The provisions of this Amendment have been implemented and it is time to rectify some of the shortcomings as pointed out by constitutional experts and the provincial councilors themselves. Constitutions are sacrosanct and they constitute well studied ideas, concepts and accepted fundamental principles. Processes for revision of constitutions are part of any constitutional provision.

It is imperative to understand that every mood change or the availability of parliamentary majority should not be made an occasion for constitutional change or for the introduction of amendments. Chauvinism and chauvinist calls have been made from the immediate post independent period but none of the leaders of these groups ever contributed to sustained political life in this country. While respecting their right to free expression, it is necessary for the country to travel the path of forward movement and not stagnation.

Good governance is possible when a constitution is in place, more specifically when the spirit of constitutionalism is dominant. When the latter prevails there can be no place for what is termed as ‘distressed governance" where " abusive police forces dominating local oligarchies, incompetent and indifferent state bureaucracies, corrupt and inaccessible judiciaries, and venal, ruling elites contemptuous of the rule of law and accountable to no one but themselves" conduct the affairs of the country.

The corrective to such situations would be to encourage professionalism and meritocracy that will help uproot political patronage and backdoor entry to unsuitable recruits. Good governance practices will be the stabilizer at this moment of reconciliation and reconstruction. A just and inclusive administrative machinery will create interest among the people to interact with the nation state for a participatory political process and in time will encourage reverse brain drain to the country.

Ensuring that actions that short circuit good governance have no chance of taking root should be the first task of a responsible government, particularly in the post conflict scenario. Shortfall in good governance can put those at the receiving end into a mode of disillusionment and hopelessness.

Transparency and accountability have to be the barometers for the measurement of integrity in service and a deterrent to corruption. People must be heard at all times. There can be no alternative to listening to people’s ‘voices’, to voices that cheer and to dissonant voices that raise protests, all of which are within the purview of democratic freedoms.

The Government Viewpoint on I.D.P.Situation in North

by Mahinda Samarasinghe

I have returned this afternoon from a visit to Vavuniya - a visit that enabled me to see, at first hand, the conditions under which the internally displaced are being housed and cared for by the Government. I must inform this House that what I saw and learned from the several parties that I talked to was the fact that conditions have improved since the critical period in the third week of May when the huge influx of people placed intense pressure on the ability and resources of the authorities to deal with the various needs of these persons.

MSTC0726.jpg

[Sri Lanka Human Rights and Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe-Jan 09 AP pic]

I am not, claiming that the situation in that area is ideal. Indeed as we move from a crisis phase into a care and maintenance operation and while we are focusing on creating the conditions that will permit an early return to their places of origin within the shortest space of time, the Government, assisted by its partners - both local and international - are working hard to ensure that the conditions in the relief villages and welfare centres are continuously improved and upgraded in keeping with global norms and standards. I must, at this point, emphasize that the IDP sites are a temporary measure to keep these people in safety and security until a process of sustainable return and resettlement can be ensured.

Conditions must be improved

However, this does not mean that we do not provide them with the maximum level of comfort and care that we can afford.

We are quite definite in our view that conditions on the so-called welfare centres and relief villages can and must be improved. As I have said on numerous occasions, these persons are not a mere statistic to be discussed as an abstract problem.

These are Sri Lankan citizens with all the expectations, hopes and dreams of a better tomorrow which has been made possible by the defeat of terrorism.

We must not let those aspirations wither away for want of concentrated and concerted effort on our part. The Government of President Rajapaksa is determined that, as far as possible, the shelter, water supply, sanitation, food, healthcare, education and other ancillary services must be provided in accordance with the identified needs of the people. I am particularly concerned that the so called protection needs, the right to personal safety and security and broad concerns of human rights, are adequately catered for.

Keeping in mind that this a unique situation where a population of over 280,000 IDPs in Vavuniya, Jaffna, Mannar and Trincomalee Districts are being housed and cared for in the aftermath of a historic operation to rescue them from a ruthless terrorist organization, all necessary measures must be taken to ensure not only their welfare but also the welfare of the general populace of Sri Lanka in those areas and in the rest of the country.

It is for this reason, that the freedom of movement of some of these IDPs has been restricted. We are not happy to do so nor are we totally inconsiderate of their rights. We are well aware that some cadres of the LTTE have infiltrated the ranks of the IDPs and, until and unless those cadres are filtered out, we have no option but to keep them within the welfare centres and relief villages. However, we have taken measures where possible to release some persons having duly considered their needs and the exigencies of their personal circumstances.

Therefore over 9,000 persons- children, elderly, pregnant mothers, mothers with very young children and the disabled have been released on a gradual basis after a thorough check as to their bona fides was carried out. It is our expectation that those who can be released, will be released in the days to come.

Reunification

Another 14,000 people constituting over 5,000 families have benefited from the efforts made at reunification. Persons who flooded out of the no-fire zone were sometimes separated from their families and ended up at different locations.

These persons are now being reunited with their immediate family members and are able to take comfort in the company of their loved ones. The Government has no wish to add to the trauma of these persons who have managed to escape a conflict during which they were held hostage by the LTTE. The process of reunification is ongoing.

In pursuance of my Ministry’s role in the protection sector both from a disaster management and a human rights perspective, we have taken the lead in forming a protection working group in Colombo to discuss and take measures to alleviate the situation of the IDPs. We have invited the United Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator and the Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to join key Government stakeholders in sharing experiences and evolving solutions to the problems they face.

One such outcome is the strengthening of the Community Service Centres in the Relief Villages on the basis that there is one Community Centre to service approximately 5,000 IDPs.

This is a measure that we mooted and one that was fleshed out by my Ministry working in close cooperation with the Child Development and Women’s Empowerment Ministry, civil society and UNHCR. We hope that a range of services can be made available to cater to the needs of the IDPs through counselling services, women’s and children’s desks, a desk of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, the Healthcare and Nutrition Ministry and the like. The Centres we expect will become ‘one-stop shops’ where several of the requirements of the IDPs will be supplied.

Protection issues

In this context, I have facilitated a dialogue between the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and the UN System and the Vavuniya office of the Commission will be strengthened to improve their capacity to respond to protection issues. Initially for a period of six months, the Commission’s regional office will be supported to undertake visits and to talk to IDPs with a view to identifying and resolving their grievances.

It is my opinion that an independent national institution such as the Human Rights Commission will be the most suitable organization to play this vital role in caring for the IDP population in the Relief Villages.

The IDPs, like any other group of citizens, have the right to receive information as to the Government’s various services that are provided or available to them. I am pleased to inform this House that we plan to put up several information points where vital information is provided to the IDPs.

Overcrowding

This is a very important measure that will greatly assist the IDPs to access the range of services that are being increasingly made available to them by the Government.

A lot of the incidents reported stem from the overcrowding and congestion of persons in a confined space.

Inevitably, this will lead to complaints of abuse and lack of adequate protection. You will be pleased, to note that the Competent Authority for Internally Displaced Persons has taken the initiative to establish smaller satellite villages of approximately 5,000 persons each which helps ease the congestion in the larger relief villages.

This has several other beneficial results. One is that camp management for a much smaller number of persons becomes much more practicable and another is that service delivery and the provision of facilities becomes much easier.

Already four of these satellite villages have been established and we expect that this initiative will continue in the future.

There have been several untruths published with regard to the IDPs and their situation. This is especially the case in relation to one foreign newspaper which has consistently exaggerated the situation to paint the worst possible picture of the plight of IDPs. For instance, 10 days ago this newspaper carried an article which stated that: “About 1,400 people are dying every week at the giant Manik Farm internment camp set up in Sri Lanka to detain Tamil refugees from the nation’s bloody civil war”. Such provocative and blatantly false language is a crass attempt to sling mud at the Government of the President.

I can tell you, and through you the Members of this House, that the Healthcare and Nutrition Ministry is closely monitoring the health situation and has reported only 163 deaths in the first two weeks of this month. These figures are high but are well below danger line identified by the SPHERE guidelines for comparable humanitarian situations for the South Asian sub-region.

Health issues

The Disaster Preparedness and Response Unit of the Health Ministry is mapping out the causes of death and we should be able to bring down the mortality rate still further through better targeted health service provision. It is best left to the imagination to find reasons why such untruths are being bandied about by the foreign media.

As my Ministry also enjoys a coordination mandate we have, from very early in the conflict, facilitated discussion between key Government focal points, international organizations and our bilateral partners with a view to overcoming the several challenges we face together in providing humanitarian assistance to those affected by the conflict.

I chair the Consultative Committee on Humanitarian Assistance (the CCHA) which brings together all these parties and where we are able to jointly identify challenges and gaps and bring our collective efforts to bear on resolving any difficulties. Moreover, I have instructed the officials of the Disaster Management Centre, which comes under the purview of my Ministry, to strengthen its operational presence in Vavuniya to better coordinate the provision of humanitarian assistance by working closely with the Government, international organizations, national and international Non-Governmental Organizations and the local Government institutions.

We have, through this initiative, identified a potential hazard of flooding in the several zones during the upcoming rainy season and have taken steps to commence the construction of drainage systems to prevent and mitigate this risk. We will work closely with all our partners to enhance preparedness and develop mitigatory measures and responses to any foreseeable hazard.

I have highlighted just a handful of measures among the many others to illustrate the Government’s commitment to continuously care for IDPs and to seek to improve their living conditions.

Measures

Many of my ministerial colleagues have visited the IDP sites and have taken a wide range of measures to address the many issues that are bound to crop up in complex situations of this nature.

We still need to work on providing better temporary shelters, more and better quality sanitation facilities, we need to focus on education and care for women and children - two very vulnerable groups - provision of psycho-social assistance, open recreational spaces and many more relief measures.

Correct approach

We are approaching these challenges in a structured and scientific manner.
Looking ahead, we are working hard to resettle the bulk of IDPs by the end of the year.
This resettlement must happen within the context of the “Wadakkin Wasantham” program. There are several stages which have to be gone through before we can confidently state that we have achieved all the targets that President Rajapaksa has set his Government.

De-mining, ensuring of security and law and order in the North, development of physical infrastructure, restoration of damaged public and private buildings, facilitation of voluntary returns, renewal of social infrastructure and a sense of community and, finally, the resuscitation and re-establishment of democratic institutions truly representative of the people and their legitimate interests and aspirations.

Our colleague, Basil Rajapaksa MP, is working tirelessly to fulfil these responsibilities in his capacity as the Chairperson of the Presidential Task Force for Resettlement, Development and Security in the Northern Province.He is ably assisted by Minister Rishad Bathiudeen who is also working very hard. I believe every one of us, in Government and outside, needs to give them our unstinted support and cooperation to ensure the success of this truly national endeavour.It is when these are all achieved that we can confidently state that we have overcome the post-conflict challenges to add lustre to the tremendous military victory achieved over the forces of terrorism.

An enduring and stable peace based on universal values of mutual respect, coexistence and brotherhood is the best tribute we can pay to the memory of the many who have made the Supreme Sacrifice for our Motherland.

(Address by Disaster Management and Human Rights Minister, Mahinda Samarasinghe in Parliament during the Adjournment Debate on Internally Displaced Persons on July 22).

July 25, 2009

IMF loan: 'Letter of Intent describes use of funds for the camps'

"Contrary to claims that the purposes and IMF debate around the loan had nothing to do with the detention camps and relocations in Northern Sri Lanka, the Letter of Intent describes use of funds for the camps, and states that "the government aims to resettle 70-80 percent of IDPs by the end of the year, "" Inner City Press reports.

Say NO to IMF loan for Sri Lanka

Tamil Awareness Rally, near UN Mission of USA, 140 E 45 st observing Black July and protesting IMF facility to Sri Lanka, on July 23, 2009

Innercitypress.com further says:

In fact, before the IMF board voted but also before it was publicly acknowledged that the release of detained Tamils was part of Sri Lanka's letter of intent to the IMF, Sri Lanka's foreign minister had already further dropped the percentage, to sixty.

Some now say that the IMF board on July 24 voted on old and inaccurate information -- which was allowed only because the IMF and Sri Lanka withheld the July 16 letter until after the $2.6 billion had been voted on.

Those detained by the Sri Lankan government can, some say, legitimately be called political prisoners. The government committed to the UN to release 80% of them by the end of the year. The government committed to the IMF, in a letter withheld until after approval of a $2.6 billion loan, to release 70 to 80% by the end of the year.

Then prior to the IMF vote, but before the letter to the IMF was released, the government gave itself space to continue to detain some additional 30,000 to 60,000 people past the previously committed deadline. The UN has nothing to say, and the IMF is giving $2.6 billion to the government.

Some call it an IMF reward for the extended detention of political prisoners -- apparently the IMF would look favorably on the internment -- and opacity or delayed release -- practices of Myanmar and North Korea.

[Click here for full report on ~ Inner City Press]

Related New York Times article:

U.S. and Others Abstain From IMF Vote on Sri Lanka

“It is a simple matter of the government thumbing its nose at the international community and then coming to the international community for relief,” said Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. [Read More]

July 24, 2009

LTTE Cabal opposes "KP" as leader of re-structured Tigers

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

The politico-military organization known as Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has virtually ceased to exist within the borders of Sri Lanka.

Tiger supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran and most military cadres including senior military leaders are no more among the living. Thousands of other tiger cadres including senior members of the political and administrative wings are incarcerated by the Sri Lankan authorities.

Small groups of tigers are holed up in the jungles of the Northern and Eastern provinces trying to engage in guerilla warfare of a minor scale where and when possible. Their impact is negligible. [click here to read in full~on dbsjeyaraj.com]

India pushed for IMF facility after "deal on Tamil Rights"-Guardian UK

India reportedly used its influence to push the IMF deal through. Diplomats say India and Sri Lanka reached some deal on the rights of Tamils,” The Guardian UK says in a report on today’s anticipated executive nod for Sri Lanka’s $ 2.5 Billion credit facility.

Funding China via Sri Lanka

Tamil Awareness Rally, near UN Mission of USA, 140 E 45 st observing Black July and protesting IMF facility to Sri Lanka, on July 23, 2009-more pics

Full Report by Mark Tran of Guardian UK:

The International Monetary Fund is expected to approve a $2.5bn (£1.5bn) loan to Sri Lanka today despite allegations of government mistreatment of the Tamil minority.

Approval by the executive board should be a formality after a staff mission reached agreement with the Sri Lankan government.

In February Sri Lanka urgently requested an IMF credit facility of $1.9bn to shore up sagging foreign reserves suffering from a combination of lower revenues from declining exports and rapid withdrawals by foreigners who had invested in government bonds.

The application was delayed amid mounting civilian deaths and other human rights allegations as the government trapped the last remnants of the Tamil Tiger rebels – along with thousands of civilians – in a tiny enclave in April. The US and Britain led the pressure for a delay as the Sri Lankan army pressed ahead with its offensive in the north-east despite the toll in civilian lives.

But on Tuesday the managing director of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, said an agreement had been reached with Sri Lanka.

"The end of the conflict provides Sri Lanka with a unique opportunity to undertake economic reform and reconstruction, which would be key to laying the basis for higher economic growth in the years ahead," he said. "To this end, the government has formulated an ambitious programme aimed at restoring fiscal and external viability and addressing the significant reconstruction needs of the conflict-affected areas."

Human rights groups, however, criticised the deal because the Sri Lankan government is continuing to hold more than 280,000 people, almost all of them Tamils, displaced by the fighting, in detention camps in violation of international law.

Human Rights Watch says the government is also restricting access to the camps by humanitarian organisations, media, and independent monitors, leaving the displaced vulnerable to government abuse.

"To approve a loan, especially $600m more than the government even asked for, while they have hundreds of thousands of people penned up in these camps is a reward for bad behaviour, not an incentive to improve," said Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch.

In May Reporters Without Borders, in a letter to the IMF, urged the organisation to obtain specific undertakings from the government to ensure press freedom in return for the loan.

RWB said the Sri Lankan government's victory over the Tamil rebels had been accompanied by a ruthless campaign against the press and critical voices.

India reportedly used its influence to push the IMF deal through. Diplomats say India and Sri Lanka reached some deal on the rights of Tamils.

Last week at a summit of non-aligned countries in Egypt, the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, praised his Sri Lankan counterpart, Mahinda Rajapaksa, for winning the war and said he was in the best position to enforce a political settlement.

Update after approval by Executive Board:

Britain signals unease with Sri Lanka by abstaining on IMF loan vote

by Ed Pilkington

Britain made clear its discontent over Sri Lanka's treatment of Tamil refugees last night by abstaining from a vote at the International Monetary Fund to give $2.4bn (£1.46 bn) to the country.

The abstention, the first by the UK since 2004, signals the degree of unease in London over the handling of the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka following the government's recent victory in its civil war against the Tamil Tigers. The US, Germany and France also abstained.

Hundreds of thousands of Tamils fled the north-east of the country earlier this year when the government launched an offensive against the Tamil Tigers that ended with the final capture of the group's last hideout and the killing of its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in May. Some 280,000 people, almost exclusively Tamils, are still being held in detention camps by the government despite condemnation from humanitarian and aid groups.

Stephen Timms, the financial secretary to the Treasury, said in a letter to MPs last night that Britain "remain[s] concerned with the humanitarian situation in the internally displaced people's camps.

"We support the UN's recent call for the government of Sri Lanka to develop a comprehensive resettlement strategy for IDPs, to allow them to return home as soon as possible."

Timms also called on Sri Lanka to honour its commitment to allow all the Tamil refugees to return to the north within 180 days.

The British abstention was more symbolic than practical in that the IMF loan will go ahead in any case. It was approved by the IMF executive board in Washington last night, with $322 million to be made available to the Sri Lanka immediately and the rest flowing subject to quarterly reviews by the fund.

Sri Lanka's president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, appealed for IMF help in February arguing that it faced a financial crunch brought about by the combination of declining exports and foreign disinvestments in government bonds.

Britain and the US pressed for that request to be put on hold during the Sri Lankan army offensive which led to a heavy toll in civilian lives.

On Tuesday the head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, said the time had come to put concerns about the loan to one side. He said: "The end of the conflict provides Sri Lanka with a unique opportunity to undertake economic reform and reconstruction, which would be key to laying the basis for higher economic growth in the years ahead.

"To this end, the government has formulated an ambitious programme aimed at restoring fiscal and external viability and addressing the significant reconstruction needs of the conflict-affected areas."

The British position remains sceptical of that view. Timms said that in London's view the likelihood of a Sri Lankan default had diminished in recent weeks.

The condition inside the detention camps is hard to gauge precisely because of the lack of access for journalists, humanitarian workers or monitors. There have been reports of rampant disease in some of the larger concentrations of Tamils, with water-borne illnesses such as diarrhoea claiming a further terrible toll.

The last remaining outside agency with access to the area in which the fighting occurred, the International Committee of the Red Cross, has itself come under pressure in recent days from the Sri Lankan government to quit the north-east on the grounds that the war is now over. [courtesy: Guardian UK]

Mahinda Rajapaksa: The Hard-Liner

 by Jyoti Thottam

Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa sits at the head of a long banquet table, presiding over what looks like a hotel's lunch buffet. The mood is informal as Cabinet ministers, their clerks and assorted relatives and friends line up patiently to eat in the main dining room of Rajapaksa's official compound. Outside, on the streets of Colombo, he is the all-conquering hero. In May, Rajapaksa's government ended Sri Lanka's 26-year-long civil war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and the capital's broad avenues are dominated by enormous banners glorifying him: "You are a divine gift to the country. May the gods bestow their blessings on you." But here, inside, Rajapaksa seems more like a down-to-earth family patriarch, nourished as much by the red rice, jackfruit curry and spicy fried fish as by the praise and demands of the supplicants who interrupt him. At one point, a young couple present him with a stack of betel leaves to be blessed. He chats casually with them; they show off their infant son. (Read "War's End Hasn't Stilled the World's Young Tamil Voices.")

A barrel-chested rugby fan, Rajapaksa, 63, will need that common touch to bring Sri Lanka to a true and lasting peace between the island nation's Sinhalese majority (which is mostly Buddhist) and Tamil minority (mostly Hindu). The civil war began in earnest in July 1983, after nearly 3,000 Tamils were killed in several days of systematic anti-Tamil violence. It was the low point of what Sri Lanka's Tamils felt had been decades of official discrimination and military repression in Tamil-majority areas in the north and east. The LTTE took up arms in the name of those grievances, raising the call for a separate Tamil homeland and eventually becoming one of the world's most feared terrorist organizations. Over the years, moderate Tamil political leaders worked to reach a political solution, and several governments in Colombo tried talks with the LTTE, but by 2006 a shaky cease-fire had fallen apart. The army pushed full-bore to finish off the Tigers, particularly its charismatic leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, and Rajapaksa would not brook questioning, by the press or his opponents, of his government's tactics. But now that the fighting is over, Rajapaksa's overwhelming military victory could prove Pyrrhic if he fails to give equal attention to reconciliation. (See pictures inside Sri Lanka's rebel-held territory.)

Rajapaksa faces questions about human-rights violations over the targeting of civilians in the final offensive, unexplained disappearances of Tamils and controls on the media. He must revive an economy that has been badly strained by military spending. Most importantly, he will have to restore to their homes and livelihoods some 300,000 Tamils in the north, a major chunk of the population of that region, who fled the fighting only to be detained in overcrowded internment camps. Without that crucial first step toward peace, Sri Lanka's alienated Tamils may never feel truly part of the nation. "If that does not happen, we are in a downward spiral in every way," says Vasudeva Nanayakkara, a Sri Lankan politician who has known Rajapaksa for more than 40 years as a friend and frequent ally in Parliament. "The way in which the state treats the victims of the conflict — that will be the basis on which national unity will be forged."

In a rare interview with TIME on July 10, Rajapaksa made no apologies about how he prosecuted his war with the Tigers. "We showed that you can defeat terrorism," he said. The U.S. and Europe, his biggest trading partners, publicly criticized his apparent disregard for human rights, but he dismisses the West's objections. "Some people think we are still colonies," he said. "That mentality must go." (Read "How to Defeat Insurgencies: Sri Lanka's Bad Example.")

Roots of Ambition
Who is the man who tamed the Tigers? Above all, he represents Sri Lanka's Sinhalese Buddhist heartland in the rural south. His sarong and tunic are the spotless white of a devout Buddhist; his reddish brown scarf the color of korakan, a rough grain eaten as the staple diet of poor farmers. Everything about Rajapaksa — his big laugh, his rough-and-ready English, his bejeweled fingers and ink-black hair — marks him as part of the rural bourgeoisie, not the urban élite educated abroad. This is more than just an image. He was elected to Parliament as its youngest member in 1970 and moved slowly up through the ranks of his party while building a base of support in his home district of Hambantota. One minister in his government, who has known him since his early days in politics, says his desire to be President was obvious: "He was methodical."

Rajapaksa's political biography was crucial in maintaining support for the final military offensive against the Tigers. The LTTE pioneered suicide bombings, and a generation of Sri Lankans lived in fear of random attacks on buses and markets, and relentless political assassinations. Four Presidents before Rajapaksa had tried a combination of military action and negotiation against the Tigers; within a year of his presidency, he abandoned talks and bet everything on force. He appealed to Sinhalese nationalism to recruit soldiers, promising them good salaries, pensions and respect. The cost was high. At least 6,200 troops were killed in the last three years of the war — more than the total U.S. military deaths so far in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet Rajapaksa's popularity remains undiminished. In his victory speech to the nation on June 3, he spoke a few lines in Tamil as a gesture of reconciliation, but most of the oration was spent in praise of "our armed forces who astonished the world by their skill in war." He linked their effort to the nation's heroic past defending itself against invaders. "The lessons we learnt from those great battles of the past are ingrained in our flesh, blood and bones."

See TIME's pictures of the week.

When asked about the future of Tamils in Sri Lanka, Rajapaksa says all the right things: that Sri Lanka is one nation, which respects all peoples and faiths. Yet the strident Sinhalese nationalism, in Rajapaksa's party and in his more extreme allies, helped mobilize support for the war and influenced the way it was conducted. The U.N. issued several warnings — which Colombo ignored — about civilian casualties as the Sri Lankan army closed in on the Tigers, and estimates Tamil civilian deaths at 7,000. Nearly 300,000 Tamils from the northern war zone — including 45,000 children — have been detained in internment camps beginning in early 2008, without freedom to leave. Even some of his longtime friends in politics are dismayed. "He is now the leader of the Sinhalese Buddhist movement, which does not in any meaningful way accommodate the political needs of the north and east," says Batty Weerakoon, a former minister and leader of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party.

Weighing Options
In the face of pressure, Rajapaksa has hardened his position, interpreting criticism as a product of either LTTE propaganda or neocolonial sermonizing. He rejects the U.N.'s civilian-casualty figures and insists that conditions in the camps are good. But he has refused — even after declaring victory — to allow the press or international observers to verify those claims. No journalists or U.N. agencies have been permitted into the former war zone (with the exception of an entourage flying over it with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon), and journalists are allowed into the camps only on government-sponsored tours. The U.N. and other international agencies — "58 of them!" Rajapaksa points out — do have some access to the camps, but they are not permitted to talk to the people inside to monitor their conditions. He insists that restrictions in the camps will be loosened eventually: "This is 11/2 months, my dear. Just give me some more time."

Still, Rajapaksa's instincts are sharp, and he is well aware that resettlement from the camps will be a big issue in provincial elections in August and the next presidential election, which could be held as early as November. His reasoning for keeping northern Tamils in detention is constantly shifting. At various points in our interview, Rajapaksa says he is waiting until the screening of LTTE fighters is complete; until the north has better roads, electricity and water supply; or until the land mines are cleared. "As soon as we do that, we will send them," he says. But he will not commit to a timeline. He says he hopes that 60% would be resettled by the time of the presidential election. "It's not a promise, it's a target," he says. (Watch a video of civilians caught in Sri Lankan civil war.)

Rajapaksa has been similarly noncommittal about Sri Lanka's economy, particularly in the north, which has suffered not just war but two decades of neglect. Aside from an application for an IMF loan, Rajapaksa's only major economic initiatives are a $1 billion port in his hometown in the south and a $26 million loan scheme for small businesses in the north, both of which, critics say, may be politically popular but are unlikely to make an economic impact. Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, principal researcher at the Point Pedro Institute of Development, notes that Rajapaksa has so far failed to explain how he will generate enough growth to sustain Sri Lanka's $2 billion military budget, an amount almost equal to remittances sent home by Sri Lankans working abroad, or pay for the massive infrastructure needs of the north. "It's a lot of talk, but not much is happening," he says. (See pictures of the deadly attack on Sri Lankan cricketers.)

Difficult to Read
That lack of conviction has angered Rajapaksa's opposition and deeply troubles Sri Lanka's peace activists, who worry that Tamils may face even worse repression and hardship than they did before the war. Their original concerns — for the protection of Tamil language and culture and self-governance in Tamil-majority areas — are not even on the agenda.

Advocates for press freedom, too, are outraged that even after declaring victory, Rajapaksa has not lifted the restrictions on the press imposed as war measures. On July 12, the government banned a popular news website that had run stories critical of the government after the war's end, and it has not yet found those responsible for the murder in January of a prominent Sri Lankan journalist and critic of the government, Lasantha Wickrematunge, who was also a freelance reporter for TIME. But those who know Rajapaksa well say that his pragmatism may, in the end, win out. He never took a strong position on the LTTE until he ran for President, and he has supported privatization as President despite his long history as a left-leaning trade unionist. Most surprisingly, he was once a passionate advocate for human rights, speaking out against the government in the late 1980s during a notorious time of disappearances and killings. "Ideologically, he is not well formed," says Nanayakkara.

However unlikely it may seem, Rajapaksa could reinvent himself once again as a champion of pluralism and economic liberalism. With few other political options, that may be Sri Lanka's best hope for the future. There is a hint of it in the President's dining room. Three years ago, he co-opted two former leaders of the LTTE, who fed intelligence to the army and helped bring the eastern provinces under its control. They had spent their whole lives fighting for the destruction of the Sri Lankan state but are now ministers in Rajapaksa's government. They stood in the buffet line with everyone else, and then quietly sat down to discuss the afternoon's committee meetings over lunch. The real world may be less civil and much more complicated, but at this table there is room for everyone.

— with reporting by Amantha Perera / Colombo [Courtesy: The TIME] ~ Presiedent Mahinda Rajapaksa's Photograph for TIME by Namas Bhojani

Dayan Jayatilleka: A Prophet in the Wilderness – An interview

Sri Lanka’s soon-to-be-ex-Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva took time off from his busy schedule of sipping martinis, getting up the Americans’ noses, and fighting on the Western Front, to have a little chat with David Blacker. This is his first interview since the Foreign Ministry announced that he has been recalled from Geneva, effective August 20th.The interview appears in David Blacker’s blog “the Blacklight Arrow”.

dj0724.jpg

Sri Lanka’s soon-to-be-ex-Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva took time off from his busy schedule of sipping martinis, getting up the Americans’ noses, and fighting on the Western Front, to have a little chat with us. This is his first interview since the Foreign Ministry announced that he has been recalled from Geneva, effective August 20th.

David Blacker: First off, there seem too be two opinions on your sacking. One, that you were too pushy about the 13th Amendment. Two, that you pissed off the Israelis. Which is it?

Dayan Jayatilleka: It could be either, both or neither. The editorials in The Island and the Daily Mirror on July 20th, indicate that it could have a personal aspect. Let’s unpack the other opinions. If I were ‘pushy’ about the 13th amendment I was only pushing a line that was the official stance of the government of Sri Lanka as contained in two post-war joint statements, of May 21st and 23rd. I was doing so in the English language, trying to convince the international community and the Tamil Diaspora of the sincerity of the Government’s commitment to devolution and a political solution, in a context where there was and is a powerful campaign calling for international intervention of one or other sort on the grounds that the Government will not implement such reforms. I was also waging an ideological struggle against those hard-line fringe elements who were opposed to the 13th amendment and playing into the hands of Sri Lanka’s enemies. I was not instructed to do otherwise.

As for the charge that I should not write to the papers or express my views in the media, I have always done so with the disclaimer that these are strictly my personal views. There are other diplomats who have done the same. The controversial articles in the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune, by Dimitri Rogozin, Russia’s serving ambassador to NATO in Brussels, and a political appointee, not a professional diplomat. The respected diplomat, Kishore Mahbubani of Singapore was a star speaker in New York’s seminar circuit where he would preface his remarks by saying ‘these are not the views of the permanent representative of Singapore but simply of Mahbubani’. In our own diplomatic history, there is the example of Ambassador Ernest Corea, the former editor of the Daily News who was posted by President Jayawardene to Washington DC, precisely so he could use his journalistic skills.

The Israeli story is old hat. That issue came and went, and I was sent a letter signed by the Secretary to the Foreign Ministry which said that H.E. the President wished me to stay on in my post until May 31st 2010. Furthermore, after I received instructions, I have stayed off the Israeli issue. Therefore, that is probably just an excuse.

DB: For months, there have been ominous warnings of your head being on the block — particularly over the Israeli issue, but these seemed to come to nothing, and you say you were personally assured of your position by The Man himself. So is this sacking in deed a personal vendetta by the Foreign Minister? The Island suggests he feels upstaged by you. What do you have to say about that?

Dayan Jayatilleka: What I have is a letter dated March 26th, signed by the Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which says that H.E. the President has decided that I should stay on until May 2010. This was after the initial controversy involving Israel. Even if some one had a personal vendetta against me, I am not naive enough to think that this sort of decision, in the wake of an earlier unsuccessful effort to remove me and in the aftermath of the successful Special Session of the Human Rights Council, would have been implemented without some semblance of a green light, however fleeting and flickering, from the top political leadership. So it was probably a confluence of factors.

DB: Many people feel you’d make a better Foreign Minister than Rohitha Bogollagama, and he knows it. Do you agree?

Dayan Jayatilleka: Is that meant to be some kind of a compliment?

DB: Maybe. Were you seen as such a threat to the Foreign Minister?

Dayan Jayatilleka: That’s insane. I am neither a cabinet minister nor even a parliamentarian, nor have I displayed any interest in contesting an election. How could I be a threat to any minister?

DB: Oh, come off it. Lakshman Kadirgama himself came in via the National List, and if they can bring Karuna in as a minister, is it such a stretch to consider Sri Lanka’s pointman in Europe as Foreign Minister?

Dayan Jayatilleka: I have never shown interest in entering parliament, or in becoming a member of one of the two major political parties. In any case, given the evolution of Sri Lanka’s political culture, isn’t this speculation irrelevant?

DB: OK, moving along, the more right wing elements in parliament such as the JVP and the JHU are rabidly against the 13th. Has your vocal defense of this amendment lost you influential friends within the GoSL?

Dayan Jayatilleka: Oh dear, you forgot the NFF — though Nandana Goonetilleke is rather more pragmatic on devolution and the ethnic question than his comrade. They and the elements you mention weren’t my friends to lose. What is a little sad is that I seem to have lost the confidence of the President.

DB: The GoSL has resolutely maintained that it is committed to the 13th Amendment, and indeed it’s probable that a lot of India’s support during the war was conditional to this. However, now that the war is over, the JVP and JHU — and the NFF — seem keen to have the 13th removed from the table. Do you think they could be successful, and is this sacking an instrumental step down that road?

Dayan Jayatilleka: I sincerely hope not. If they are successful in such an endeavour, it would automatically mean that the balance of social, political and ideological forces is such that there would be no improved or even equivalent replacement, and that would mean a renewed cycle of ethnic polarisation and conflict, though not in the form of a war. It would also mean greater political space for the Tamil separatists especially in the Diaspora, and international pressure on and erosion of support for Sri Lanka. As for my sacking, I really do not know how the minorities and the international community will interpret my removal, though I have seen some Indian newspaper reports. They know that I have a track record of staunch opposition to Prabhakaran, the LTTE and Tamil separatism, have been a critic of centrifugal ethno-federalism and Western ‘liberal humanitarian’ interventionism, but have also stood for the implementation of the limited autonomy provisions of the Sri Lankan Constitution.

DB: In addition to the right-wing, there has been some celebration in the pro-LTTE circles over your sacking. Isn’t this embarrassing for the President, and would a reinstatement or promotion seem inconceivable at this stage?

Dayan Jayatilleka: I’m not in the least surprised to hear from you that the pro-LTTE circles are celebrating. As for your question, it isn’t my call to answer, but it is clear from the decision that this is not thought to be the case.

“The atrocities committed on the innocent people of Gaza should not be permitted to be obscured, obfuscated by lies, deception, half-truths and selective reordering of facts and chronology.”

DB: These were your words when addressing the UN Human Rights Council Special Session on Gaza. But they could very well have been used by critics of the GoSL’s anti-LTTE war. Given that the Israelis have remained a staunch ally – if not a friend – to SL over the years, don’t you think your speech was ill-timed?

Dayan Jayatilleka: They have indeed been used by critics of GOSL’s anti-LTTE war, but used unsuccessfully! Had they been successful they would have won the vote at the UNHRC, not lost it so badly. They were unsuccessful because the charge is not credible or accurate, which is why those who have strong views on Gaza and are thoroughly familiar with all its details are among our strongest political and diplomatic supporters.

What is unsaid by my critics is that in every one of my speeches, I have underscored the right of the state of Israel to exist behind secure borders and to combat terrorism. I have opposed the rocket attacks on civilian targets in Israel. I have even defended the policy of selective liquidation of terrorist leaders. I was one of the few Third World ambassadors to attend the 60th anniversary celebrations here in Geneva, of the founding of the state of Israel. Furthermore, the only time that I held a position at variance with that of Cuba as Non-Aligned Movement chair here was when I spoke up in support of the abortive effort by the Special Rapporteur on Occupied Palestinian Territories, Emeritus Professor Richard Falk, to re-define his mandate to include the acts of terrorism committed against Israel!

Was my speech ill-timed? Hardly — it was within traditional pro-Palestinian GoSL — and SLFP, I might add — policy. Furthermore, I had, in the speech, pre-emptively demarcated the contrast between the wars in Sri Lanka and Israel/Gaza; I had already made the case for the battle I knew was to come, because I knew — and advocated — that we would have to go in for a military endgame, and that there would be a international campaign against us.

Israel has been a source of sales of military equipment to us. So too have they to many others, who spoke and voted against Israel in the Gaza special session at the UN HRC.

DB: Sri Lanka has often been compared to Israel of late whenever a hardline stance against terrorism is discussed. You, however, in your speeches, have often gone to great lengths to distance the two conflicts. Why?

Dayan Jayatilleka: Some try to divert attention from Gaza by pointing the finger at Sri Lanka. We must not allow ourselves to be used as a red herring. Sri Lanka has never invaded any other country and occupied the lands of others. We are not in violation of any UN Security Council resolutions. Ours is a strictly internal conflict. Under international law, Israel and Sri Lanka are two very different cases. It is also because I have successfully argued this at the UN HRC that while there is a UN HRC mandated probe headed by Justice Richard Goldstone currently holding public hearings in Gaza, there isn’t one gearing to go to Sri Lanka, which was the aim of the Special session!

DB: Was there really a single moment when world opinion turned against the LTTE? Was it really the aftermath of 9/11 or the killing of Lakshaman Kadirgama? Or was it more a collection of trickles that became a river?

Dayan Jayatilleka: No, there wasn’t a single moment. World opinion didn’t turn against the LTTE to the point that it would have opposed the evacuation option for the Tiger leadership that some seemed to have had in mind following a so-called humanitarian pause, but it had turned to the extent that there was indifference to the fate of the Tigers as distinct from the Tamils, and that those who wanted such an “honorable exit” couldn’t mainstream it. It was really a cumulative affair — one had to remind audiences of the litany of Tiger crimes and the track record of repeatedly sabotaging chances for a negotiated settlement. If you want a turning point, it was the murder of Rajiv Gandhi, which pretty much ensured that a Sonia-led Congress administration would not save the Tigers nor join the West in pressurizing to stop the final offensive. If India had been on the other side of this, we would have been in a fix.

DB: What’s your view of the IDP camps? Do you think they are the necessary evil that the GoSL claims they are?

Dayan Jayatilleka: When an 18-person Task force was set up to manage the IDPs, it was originally pan-Sinhala. There was not a single Tamil to handle the fate of a purely Tamil populace of IDPs! Later, two Tamils were inducted, but not at the very top. There should be someone in charge who can speak to the IDPs in their own language and is sensitive to their predicament as a member of the same community — someone who would be motivated at least because these are his potential constituents. This would fast-track things. The sole Tamil Minister in the Cabinet, Douglas Devananda, should be co-chair of the Task Force set up for the IDPs and the North.

DB: The LTTE’s aggression – the boycotting of elections, the throwing out of the EU members of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission – created a lot of sympathy for the GoSL overseas. This sympathy possibly was justified with the victory against the LTTE. Is the GoSL in danger of squandering this goodwill over the IDP camps issue in a similar way that the Bush administration did by invading Iraq, creating Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib?

Dayan Jayatilleka: Any administration and any society, would do well to be mindful of the lessons of History, which is that one can win a war but lose the peace and that winning the war is different from a successful and sustainable occupation of the ground which requires the winning of hearts and minds. The Six Day War was one of the most stellar military victories of the 20th century, but look at the endless quagmire that has resulted from the policies of occupation. I have long advocated the Chechen solution — an all-out, combined arms war to destroy the terrorist militia, followed by the implementation of some form of autonomy and self-governance for the area and stabilization through the rule of an elected local ally. Our military victory has to be politically conserved and socially stabilised. That’s what my advocacy of the 13th amendment is about. As for the IDP camps, I think I made clear that our Tamil partner, Minister Devananda, Minister of Social Services, should be mandated to co-manage the problem.

DB: While INGOs and certain groups within international bodies such as the UN have been heavily critical of the GoSL, during the war and since, the latter have managed to keep the head of the UN and most heads of state more or less onside. Given this, don’t you think that the GoSL’s siege mentality over certain issues such as the IDPs is an overreaction – and even bordering on paranoia?

Dayan Jayatilleka: The world has given us six months, which is the period of time within which we said we hoped to re-settle the bulk of the IDPs, though that was, as the president said, a target rather than a pledge. We will be evaluated by how much progress we have made towards that target. Conditions are better than made out in the Western media, but I guess the real moral test is whether we would like our grandmothers, mothers or kid cousins to be in these same conditions. Even from a counter-insurgency point of view, having large numbers in camps for a prolonged period is counterproductive.

DB: The loss of Lakshman Kadirgamar was a great blow to the GoSL’s fight against pro-LTTE international opinion. However, do you think that the GoSL would have been able to conduct the war in a similar manner had Kadirgamar been the Foreign Minister?

Dayan Jayatilleka: Kadirgamar would not have interfered in the conduct of the war. What he would have done was to provide, on the international front, a diplomatic and policy leadership parallel to and as good as the defence and military leadership was this time around.

DB: Velupillai Prabakharans’s death remains shrouded in mystery. Do you agree with the GoSL’s version of events – in effect, that he was ambushed by chance and killed, or do you have your own theory?

Dayan Jayatilleka: No theory of my own. The man is dead, that’s for sure and that’s all that counts. I lost just too many friends and acquaintances because of that predator. Kethesh, Neelan, Lakshman Kadir, Pathmanabha, Ossie Abeygoonesekara, Premadasa. I’ve been for too many funerals and know more dead people than live ones because of that man.

DB: While your use of blogging and other online media has made you one of the most accessible members of the Sri Lankan administration – at least to the IT generation – it has been counterbalanced by your often archaic ‘60s revolutionary stance – quoting Lenin and Castro for example in your writings. Deep inside, do you see yourself as a Commie hippy?

Dayan Jayatilleka: Ok, I’m a modernist, not a post-modernist, but Che is never archaic, anymore than Jimi Hendrix is or will be. And hey, check out Slavoj Zizek, the trendiest of philosophers in Europe today. He’s hardly archaic and he uses Marx and Lenin extensively. Commie hippy I don’t know, but I dig Lenin and Leonard Cohen. Lenin, not as Commie ideologue but as political thinker, Mao as philosopher, but I’m heavily into Nietzsche as well, at least after my parents died within 18 months of each other and I found myself a middle-aged orphan. I am more a Social Democrat or on the liberal-progressive wing of the US Democrats than a Commie, but I used to be one and a dedicated revolutionary too. So then, an ex-Commie who is a big fan of Barack Obama and one who predicted his victory and the dawn of an Obama Age, in print, while he was still behind in the primaries. Plenty ex-revo Commies who are pro-Obama, in nationalist, progressive and leftwing Latin American governments today – most of whom voted with Sri Lanka at the UN HRC special session — but unfortunately not a mix or profile you find in Sri Lanka!

DB: It’s rumored that you wear a Che T-shirt around the house, and that your ringtone is La Marseillaise. True?

Dayan Jayatilleka: Nope, I have a Che T-shirt, a gift from Havana, but I hardly get the right occasion to wear it and my phone has a standard nondescript ring tone. If I had a moment to change my ring tone it would be either to blues guitar prodigy Derek Trucks’ So Close, So far Away or Richie Havens’ Hands of Time. Around the house I do have, let’s see, an op-art Che poster (also a gift from Havana), a Sri Lankan woodcut of Christ with a crown of thorns, both books by Barack Obama, a picture of my parents with Indira Gandhi, one of me at age seven with my dad at the second Non-Aligned Movement conference in Cairo, CDs of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Tom Waits and John Maclaughlin, and a small stack of DVDs of Ray Charles, Nina Simone, Lou Reed, Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, Carlos Santana, all in concert. I also stay up late to watch BBC 2 re-runs of my favorite TV series The Wire — It used to be The Sopranos, Millennium and NYPD Blue, and in the 1980s, Miami Vice.

So what’s next ? Some of your more vocal critics have suggested you be made ambassador to Havana. What do you see in your immediate future?

Dayan Jayatilleka: Our current ambassador to Havana, Ms Tamara Kunanayakam, is a literate, multi-lingual, well educated intellectual and researcher whose views on foreign and domestic policy I share. She is perhaps the most intelligent of our DPLs and is doing an excellent job in Havana.

DB: OK, OK, I get it. So, before I let you go, who do you think is hotter — Arundhati Roy or MIA?

Dayan Jayatilleka: Man that is easily the easiest question I have been asked in quite a while. Arundhati Roy, for sure, though her political writing has declined from a superb initial critique of the Iraq war to an all points of the compass loony left nihilism. [Courtesy: the Blacklight Arrow (www.blacklightarrow.wordpress.com)]

July 23, 2009

In Pictures: “Post- Barrelism: Erasing Camouflage”

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

“Post- Barrelism: Erasing Camouflage”, An Exhibition of Paintings and Installations by Chandraguptha Thenuwara was inaugurated on July 23rd 2009 at Lionel Wendt Gallery.

The exhibition will remain open from July 24th 2009 to July 28th 2009 from 10am to 7pm.

Parallel exhibition- A retrospective of Chandraguptha Thenuwara’s “Barrelism” is being held at Saskia Fernando Gallery from July 23rd 2009 to August 6th 2009.

Gallery Hours: Monday to Friday from 10am to 7pm, Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 5pm.

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[click for more pictures~[on HumanityAshore by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai]

The exhibition is organised by Vibhavi Academy of Fine Arts (VAFA).

Chandraguptha Thenuwara is a senior lecturer at the University of Visual Arts in Colombo. He is also the Director of Vibhavi-Academy of Fine Arts, which was founded in 1993.

"The responsibility to protect the right to life is ours, so that these un-commemorable, terrible and inhuman memories will never be experienced again." - Chandraguptha Thenuwara

Sri Lanka A Rwanda-like "Atrocity" - Noam Chomsky

American political activist and author Prof. Noam Chomsky has called what happened in Sri Lanka is an "atrocity," during a UN debate today, Inner City Press reports:

During the UN's July 23 debate on Responsibility to Protect, Inner City Press asked Noam Chomsky if he thought the concept of R to P applied to or had been implemented in Sri Lanka this year. No, Chomsky said, calling what happened an "atrocity."

He said the Western powers just didn't have enough interest, although something "could have been done." He analogized it to Rwanda, both the genocide in 1994 and the lead-up, including with "structural adjustment," in the 1970s [Read full report of Inner City Press]

July 22, 2009

A truth and reconciliation commission for Sri Lanka?

DBSJeyaraj Blog

Most of us know about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission appointed by Nelson Mandela in South Africa in the post-Apartheid years.

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According to Wikipedia-

“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was a court-like body assembled in South Africa after the abolition of apartheid. Anyone who felt that he or she was a victim of its violence was invited to come forward and be heard. Perpetrators of violence could also give testimony and request amnesty from prosecution.” [click here to read in full~dbsjeyaraj.com]

Causes Championed By Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam Must be Pursued Vigorously

By Lynn Ockersz

When Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam was mindlessly and ruthlessly assassinated by the LTTE 10 years ago, (July 29 2009) he was on a momentous mission which promised to give democracy in Sri Lanka a new thrust and dimension.

[Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam (January 31, 1944 – July 29, 1999)]

Essentially, his endeavour was to develop this countrydemocracy to such a degree that it was fully accommodative of the legitimate interests and needs of all of Sri Lanka’s communities. In other words, investing every group and citizen of this country with total self-respect and dignity was foremost among Neelan’s priorities.

At the time of his death, Neelan was helping out in the crafting of the year 2000 draft constitution which was eventually consigned to the flames in Parliament by some irate Opposition MPs, who, not surprisingly, thought it wise to throw in their lot with the ultra nationalism of Southern Sri Lanka, at the proverbial eleventh hour.

Through their shocking behaviour, these MPs established their lineage with the destructive hordes in this country’s post independence history, who, on numerous occasions, put a savage end to political proposals aimed at resolving the National Question.

It is fierce, fire-breathing nationalism of this kind in Southern Sri Lanka which set the stage for the unsettling emergence of the LTTE in the North, but the brutality of the Tigers only served to heighten communalism in the South, which, in turn, of course, unrelentingly fed the flames narrow Tamil nationalism in the North.

Neelan’s inputs into efforts at resolving the conflict by political means, since particularly 1994, would have helped in ending this vicious circle of mutually-reinforcing virulent nationalisms, but it was not to be because nothing would have been in accord with the LTTE agenda more, than a Sri Lanka which was reeling and weakening in the grip of fiercely competing, armed nationalisms, which would have ensured for the Tigers, a commanding and unassailable position in the politics of the North.

By this Tiger logic, therefore, all attempts at resolving the conflict politically had to be quashed and those in the forefront of these efforts, to the LTTE, were ‘traitors’, who needed to be eliminated.

Besides, the LTTE entertained grave apprehensions about the Tamil community getting out of its grip of control. Needless to say, the majority of the Tamil community holds moderate political opinions or is apolitical, and a negotiated political solution would have been all that they would have been waiting for. Since Neelan’s efforts were promising just this, in the view of the LTTE, he needed to be got out of the way.

With the liquidating of the LTTE by the Lankan security forces a couple of months back, Sri Lanka has arrived at a crucial historical cross-roads in that some political forces in Southern Sri Lanka seem to be pondering that there is no need for a political solution to the conflict, now that the bargaining tool in the hands of the more militant sections of the North, the LTTE, is no more. The near cacophaneous animosity among some Southern sections to even the 13th amendment to the constitution, bears this out, to a degree.

Matters are complicated further, by the government sending out confusing signals on this issue. While some senior ministers have spoken of the state’s willingness to implement, ‘in full’, the 13th amendment, the country’s political leadership, per se, is yet to make an unambiguous commitment to the amendment, at least to local audiences. Nor has it shown eagerness to forge ahead with a political solution; nor is such a solution proving a particularly popular topic in ruling circles.

The current issues surrounding the Internally Displaced Persons of the North, seem to have come as a God-send to those sections among both the rulers and the ruled, who would prefer to shove into the back burner, as it were, all talk of a political solution. The IDPs, we are given to understand, are an armful, and the state could conveniently forget all else concerning the Tamil community, until the IDP issues are sorted out.

Here’s where the intellectual brilliance of Neelan would have proved essential. We need Neelan and many more of his ilk to help charter the future course of this country. Right now, many among the influential and powerful sections seem to be allowing themselves to be lulled into accepting the misleading notion that the National Problem has consigned itself to the Limbo of forgotten things with the elimination of ‘terror’ or the smashing of the Tiger leadership. This is wishful thinking which may prove fatal for the country in the long –term. If Neelan were around, one could be certain, the need for a political solution would have been constantly dinned into the collective consciousness of the polity.

There is no denying the absolute truthfulness of the proposition, although it is now somewhat clichetic, that the Tiger terror blight grew out of the unresolved National Question. We have just been through a wasting, impoverishing and dehumanizing war which claimed nearly 100,000 lives and cost the country billions and billions of rupees.

We just need not have gone through this long, dark night of ‘terror’ if the conflict had been nipped in the bud and a political solution, which granted equality to the citizens and ethnic groups of this country, was worked out long ago. Instead, the forces of narrow ethnic chauvinism were placated in particularly the South, and all possible solutions which were worked out between the main parties to the conflict, thrown into history’s dust heap.

Violence in all its forms should be unambiguously condemned and we have just had proof of the utter futility of using violence for the achievement of political ends. However, identity-based issues in a plural society, just would not wither away until the dignity of all humans in the polity concerned, is absolutely guaranteed by the state. And the only means to this is a new constitution whose chapter on human rights would be based on the fundamental premise that ‘one should do unto others, as one would have others do unto oneself’.

Now more than ever before, the causes championed by Neelan, such as the strengthening of minority protection, the expansion and enhancement of participatory governance and the strengthening of accountable governance, need to be vigorously and continuously pursued. The groundwork established by him on these fronts, needs to be built on by those who have been inspired and enthused by him.

Pertinent Questions For President Rajapakse

By Raju Rajagopal

Those who expected the decisive defeat of the LTTE to change entrenched mind-sets across the Sri Lankan divide have reasons to be disappointed. The beleaguered Tamils remain deeply suspicious of the government’s intentions, and some in the Diaspora are defiantly vowing to fight on for their Eelam dream.

The victorious Sri Lankan government, on the other hand, is driven by a potent combination of triumphalism and paranoia, despite President Rajapaksa’s assertion that the war was not against the Tamils: The continuing internment of 300,000 Tamil civilians; xenophobic restrictions on aid and access to the camps; the curtailment of international agencies; and the urge to come down hard on journalists and war-time doctors labeled as ‘pro-LTTE,’ are cases in point.

Is Sri Lanka frittering away in peace the historic opportunity for reconciliation that it created by winning the war? The answer, for the most part, will be determined by the actions of the hugely popular President in the coming weeks and months.

In a wide-ranging interview granted to The Hindu (July 6-8), the President dealt at length with the conduct of the war and his vision of a future Sri Lanka. Alas, Mr. N. Ram, who conducted the interview, passed up several opportunities to critically question the President on the self-defeating aspects of Sri Lanka’s post-war behavior. Here are some of those unasked questions, answers to which might paint a truer picture of where Sri Lankan Tamils stand:

-Mr. President, you have attributed the delay in resettling internally displaced peoples (IDPs) to the danger of landmines, and you have placed the onus on UN agencies. But why are families who have expressed the desire to stay with friends and relatives outside not being allowed to leave? Also, isn’t it a fact that the de-mining process has barely begun and the return of residents with knowledge of their neighborhoods can actually speed it up?

-Although the physical conditions in the camps have reportedly improved, there are reports of health epidemics and lack of psycho-social support, such as Trauma Counseling offered to the victims of the 2004 Tsunami. Returning volunteers also suggest that no meaningful steps have been taken to unify families held in different parts of the camps. Aren’t the authorities violating the basic human rights of an already traumatized people?

-You have stated that preventing LTTE from regrouping is your number one priority; however, that concern seems to be vastly overshadowing the need to speedily end the forced confinement of civilians. Isn’t the wide-spread feeling that innocent Tamils are being subjected to collective punishment counter-productive to your objective of preventing renewed militancy?

-There are reports of shortage of funds to care for the IDPs and of donor worries that their aid may be prolonging the internment. Hasn’t the time come for your government to call for an end to the vilification of international agencies and to forge more positive partnerships with them?

-All of the above are feeding apprehensions that the government is planning to change the demographic character of the North. Can you categorically reassure the world that the camps will not become permanent and that all those who wish to return to their original places of residence -- barring those who have committed crimes -- will be allowed to do so within the 180-day timeframe that you had set?

-Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Delhi has said that “there should be a closure of any tendency to become fixated in the past, at the cost of the ability to look ahead positively to the future.” His comment was presumably directed at the international community, but does it also not apply to those who invoke the specter of LTTE terror to justify the harsh treatment of Tamil civilians and to block access to them?

-You have reiterated your resolve to fully implement Amendment13 to the constitution, but one also hears dissenting voices from within your government. As some naysayers portray the amendment as an imposition of India, you have spoken of the need for popular consensus before proceeding. By not acting now, when there is a sense of urgency to address the root causes of the conflict, do you not risk losing the goodwill of the majority?

-Your statement that “there are no minorities in Sri Lanka” and your welcome overtures to the Tamils had rekindled hope in the hearts of many Sri Lankans. However, they have not seen any tangible confidence-building measures on the ground. On the contrary, your theory that there are “people who love their country and people who don’t,” ominously reminds one of President Bush’s infamous “either you are with us or against us.” How do you expect a people who feel historically let down by their own country to start loving it until they begin experiencing state policies that are respectful of their rights?

-Finally, Mr. President, your government has successfully resisted calls for investigating civilian casualties during the recent war. Do you think it is possible to bring true national reconciliation without publicly accounting to all sections of Sri Lankan society for the true human costs of the war?

It would be a pity if the upcoming Indian Parliamentary delegation to Sri Lanka is unable to see beyond guided tours of the Vavuniya camp and mutually congratulatory press conferences to seek answers to these troubling questions.

Sangaree speaks out: TULF President interviewed on "Hard Talk"

by Shakuntala Perera

Leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front Veerasingham Anandasangaree  speaks to  Shakuntala Perera of "Daily Mirror" for the "Hard Talk" clumn  about the aspirations of the Tamil people towards a political solution, the duplicity within the Tamil political scenario and the futility of announcing a Provincial Transnational Government (PTG) of  Tamil Eelam by the Tamil Diaspora.

Q: With the failure by the APRC in bringing a consensus on a political solution, are you concerned that there is a delay in seeking a political solution as Tamil political leaders like you have been calling for?

I warned the President soon after the end of the elections about the possibility of such a delay affecting a political solution being sought in the country. The experience of the Tamil people has been that the promises made by politicians soon as they come to power on this issue are forgotten within a few months. I knew this would happen so I am not surprised. But the situation is such that new problems have cropped up and the problem has been further complicated as a result of this delay. I don’t think the government will look at this issue till the Presidential election is over. My concern is that because of the delay the problem is being unnecessarily complicated and the people are further confused. There is a group that says that now that the war is over, there are no more problems and that the people can now live peacefully. How can it be so easy? My one consolation is that the young Tamil people are no longer poisoned and misled that there will not be another militant struggle. I have full faith in the educated youth who are thoroughly un-communal, unlike the older generation.

Q: So you don’t agree with those that argue that development and a sustainable economy in the North and the East is all the solution that the problem nee to be resolved?

This is a section of the people who are day dreaming about ideal situations. The fact remains that the Tamil people don’t want any development till a political solution ensures their rights. What is new about re-running the Yal Devi train? These things won’t win the people over. They want genuine peace. These people have lived under the worst of human conditions under the LTTE, their children had no electricity so studied for examinations under an oil lamp. They have suffered immensely. Can such a people forget everything simply because development takes place? It is utterly foolish to think that these problems of the minorities can be solved merely by developing the areas.

Q: But the President in his address to Parliament immediately following the defeat of the LTTE stressed that there were no longer minority communities in the country, that all would remain equal citizens under the Constitution. Are you having your reservations about this commitment of the government?

The very fact that the President had to mention that denotes the fact that there is a problem of the minority communities in this country. You can’t deny that there are religious and ethnic minorities in this country. Of course the President may have been talking about what he perceives the future Sri Lankan society to be. In fact that is our plan as well where no Tamil man feels a minority, or being discriminated against. But the fact still remains that today there is a problem to do with the minority communities that needs to be resolved through a political solution. We are as a country, just months after the end of a war, facing the problems that such a country would face at this juncture. A lot of minority problems have cropped up. I am fully with the President on the dream to create such a society possible. But that is not yet so. He must make every Tamil citizen feel that everyone is equal in the country.

Q: What in your opinion needs to be done on am immediate basis by the government to ensure that the path is made clear for such a situation?

The President must now openly tell the people, even by legislation that any form of ridicule or discrimination based on someone’s ethnicity is banned by law. Everyone must campaign for a minority and class less society. We can’t deny the fact that we live in a society where the minorities are discriminated against. The government must bring in laws that ensures rights against language discrimination. To date I get letters from Parliament in Sinhala. The law must exist where that person who sends that letter can be taken action against. These are simple measures that can solve this problem.

I intimated to the President to address this issue by going before the people for a mandate on grounds that granting the minority communities would not mean selling the country. The people would follow such thinking because it comes from the leader. If that assurance can come from him and what is offered became reasonable enough to the minority community then the majority community would be willing to grant them. The President would have his mandate he needs to do that.

Q: But isn’t there already a resentment towards the 13th amendment growing in the country which is most likely to prevent such a move taking place?

I always held that the 13th amendment was the cure for an ulcer that was delayed thereby it having to now cure a cancer. The late Mr. Bandaranaike was the leader who thought of a federal solution and saw it as the solution for the problem. I was at the inaugural meeting he had when forming the SLFP where he clearly supported the language policy of ‘swabasha’. However within six years when he was given the opportunity to capture power he betrayed that policy and within 24 hours made the Sinhala only policy law. My point is that if he could attempt a ‘swabasha’ policy when there was no ethnic disharmony in the country, why can’t we implement the 13th amendment when there is such a feeling of communal harmony and as desire for peace in the country? The President should do it so that we eliminate all room for any form of separation in the future. This is why I have always called for an Indian model of devolution. It is really a duplicity of the British system. The fact also remains that, what ever you choose to call it if you follow it the pressures mounting from the 60 million people in Tamil Nadu would also subside. Of course we’re under no obligation to TN but if we do that we’ll be releasing the tensions on the Central government as well. It is irrelevant whether it is home grown or imported as long as we remove all room for future meddling by anyone.

Q: So would you say that the argument that the desire of the Tamil political culture for some degree of self rule has been removed by the defeat of the LTTE is not entirely true?

It all depends on how we view self rule. Why do people talk about it? Its only because they believe that some of these issues can only be solved under self rule. But as an ordinary citizen he won’t be happy without it even if he has equal rights, if such rights make him feel different. For instance how can I feel I have equal rights when I see the way the elections are currently being held in Jaffna? There are silent cyclones blowing in Jaffna which are gaining momentum today. No people should be forced under a leader in these areas. People must have the freedom to choose. No leader should be brought from some other province and dumped here. The good name earned by the government over the last three years seems to be losing over the last two months because of the way the elections are being held here. There are Ministers who come here and promise various things and allow very little room for people to freely think. When they go in to their houses and tell them to vote, can that be called democracy? If I am armed and tell you to do something would you question me? How can people freely express themselves if they are living under another armed group today?

Q: Are you saying that the people did not get the breathing space they needed to face an election after the war? Are the polls being held too early in your view?

Its not just too early but also unwanted. Half the people are not even in their homes today; they are displaced and scattered all over. The other half don’t even know if they have a vote or not. The people’s movements are restricted therefore making it difficult for them to even come for an election meeting. I don’t have people even coming for my meetings. Jaffna is under the dominance of a heavily armed group with offices in every junction today. I still strongly urge the President to postpone the elections. A9 has been opened to please one person. I am someone who fully supported the end of terrorism, but I am now suffering under those I supported. I am being slaughtered like a temple cow, by setting people against me. I was someone appreciated for my moderate stand. My election is not to confront the government but to serve the people enjoy the peace.

Q: But Minister Muralitharan (Karuna) is very strong on the opinion that the desire of the voter in Jaffna is for the educated young and no longer these with old ideas of the past. How difficult is your position with the Jaffna voter made in this scenario?

With all due respect to him, I must mention that he is in no way qualified to make such a statement. Don’t forget there are even those who will vote for Minister Devananda in these areas because of the many promises made by him! I personally have nothing to offer them except the promise of a genuine attempt at negotiating with the government on their rights. The President himself is in agreement with the Indian model of a solution.

Q: The LTTE last month announced that a committee was established to form a Provincial Transnational Government (PTG) of Tamil Eelam. The Committee is to recommend how to pursue the Thimpu Principles which has always seen as the common link of all Tamil political parties. Where do you stand in this aspect of Tamil nationalist politics?

These are mad people who propose these governments. If anyone thinks they can do from outside what Prabakaran failed to do with arms inside the country, they are foolish. These are people who only have their interest in earning money from this. In fact this is the biggest disservice to the Tamil community in this country, because it has the threat of forcing the government to have to tighten the screws on the Tamil people, because of the threat such a move would hold. All I have to say to these people is that we can look after ourselves here. Let KP and others like him not ruin us further. There won’t be any support for such a move from the Tamil people in this country. Their wrong if they think the Tamil people are that foolish. They will now only threaten our chances of peace here, but also their own existence in those countries, because those foreign governments are not going to tolerate such moves in those countries either. Look at the danger done to societies like Canada already by such people?

I personally don’t believe in the Thimpu principles. I believe in a united country where people can live in peace of the pre 1956 era; where the Sinhalese people enjoyed visits to the North and the Tamils can visit areas like Polonnaruwa or Kandy. Let everyone, even the co-called patriots mend themselves so that this can be allowed to grow. A patriot is someone who loves his country and its people and not just his people. Thankfully the ultra nationalist feelings of some sections of the Sinhala society which seemed to gain strength immediately after the victory has now subsided. I think these feelings will die if these people are allowed to see the plight of the IDPS in those camps. These people have lost everything. There are rich Tamil people whose most treasured item is a plastic plate or a cup today. This is not the life they desired.

Q: There is one school of thought that belive that the Tamil people lost all its bargaining power with the defeat of the LTTE. Is this your reading of the current situation with regard to your position as a representative of the Tamil people dealing with the government as well?

The government failed to take some important steps after the defeat of the LTTE, thereby moving the people away from them. There are people in these areas who are wondering if their suffering has subsided. These are people who suffered immensely under the LTTE, which is why they chose to leave LTTE areas and sought refuge under the government. But kept behind barbed wires their trust on the government may wean. Children must go back to school and not be put in to vocational training courses. Husbands can’t be kept isolated from wives, or grandparents from their grand children. Pregnant women find it difficult to spend days on end under the scorching hot sun in tin roofed areas. Why would I talk like this having supported the government if there were no issues? I know what is happening there. Certainly these claims of government adopting a Sinhalization process in resettling people and distributing land are not those that I would ever make. I have no objection to Sinhala people being able to buy land or live in these areas.

Q: But with the strong likelihood of Minister Douglas Devananda following on the footsteps of Minister Muralitharan and joining the SLFP, do you fear the loss of a Tamil political base strong enough to stand together in support of the needs and concerns of the Tamil people?

I too like the idea and would support this two party theory. I don’t believe in regional parties but of national political parties. But now is not the time for it. This must happen gradually with the people’s consent. Once everyone feels equal and when regional parties are no longer felt the need for I’ll be the first to join the national party. But this is the worst time to think about it. Let us always understand what happened and appreciate their implications.

Q: What is your own role today as a moderate Tamil political leader in a scenario where the LTTE’s militant struggle for a separate state for over three decades today stands defeated?

Although the Sri Lankan forces had a bad name for some time because of the propaganda spread by the LTTE and the failures of the political administration of the South, they did a wonderful job with the war this time around. We are very thankful for that. But the room for a military rule that we’re hearing of must not take place. The Army especially is favored very much today and their commitment to civilian welfare is immense. But I can’t agree that because there is still a danger of a militant struggle in the future therefore the need to keep the pressure alive with a military presence. Certainly, this structure may be needed and could go on for a couple of years till all normalcy is in place, after that they must revert back to normal police and army duties.

 

Sri Lanka Government Should Address Human Rights Problems Before Receiving $2.5 Billion Loan-HRW

Statement by Human Rights Watch

IMF Should Not Condone Abuses:

Members of the International Monetary Fund should insist that the government of Sri Lanka address significant post-conflict human rights abuses as part of the approval for a US$2.5 billion stand-by loan, Human Rights Watch said today. The IMF board is expected to vote on the stand-by arrangement on July 24, 2009. The proposed loan has created intense controversy because of concern over Sri Lanka's serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.

Two months after the end of the 25-year-long conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Sri Lankan government continues to hold more than 280,000 people, almost all of them Tamils displaced by the fighting, in detention camps in violation of international law. The government also severely restricts access to the camps by humanitarian organizations, the media, and independent monitors, leaving the displaced vulnerable to government abuse.

In this June 8, 2009 photograph, internally displaced ethnic Tamil civilians flock around a well at a camp for displaced in Manik Farm [AP pic]

"To approve a loan, especially $600 million more than the government even asked for, while they have hundreds of thousands of people penned up in these camps is a reward for bad behavior, not an incentive to improve," said Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch. "The IMF needs to change its approach."

Key IMF members have raised concerns about the loan and condemned Sri Lanka's treatment of the displaced people on numerous occasions. In mid-May, the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said that it was "not an appropriate time" to consider an IMF loan to Sri Lanka. The UK foreign secretary, David Miliband, said, also in May, that "it is essential that any government is able to show that it will use any IMF money in a responsible and appropriate way ... I don't think that that's the case here."

In a statement issued on July 20, however, the IMF announced that it had reached staff-level agreement with Sri Lanka on the loan and that the executive board will vote on the loan on July 24. The $2.5 billion proposed loan is $600 million more than the $1.9 billion originally requested by Sri Lanka in March. If the loan is approved, the stand-by arrangement will allow Sri Lanka to obtain about $313 million immediately and the balance over 20 months.

In the July 20 statement, the IMF managing director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, said that the loan would help Sri Lanka rebuild its international reserves, reduce its deficit, and support post-war reconstruction efforts in the war-affected north.

Current government policies, however, in failing to respect human rights standards, threaten post-conflict reconstruction, reconciliation, and stability, and thereby undermine the purpose of the loan, Human Rights Watch said. The government continues to hold displaced persons in detention camps in violation of their rights to liberty and freedom of movement, limiting their ability to communicate and talk to others about what happened in the final stages of the war. It prohibits aid agencies from speaking out about poor conditions in the camps and expels critics. Persons suspected of having LTTE ties have been detained incommunicado, contrary to international law, and credible reports indicate that at least some have been mistreated.

The government has blocked all attempts to establish accountability for violations of international humanitarian law during the conflict. Government officials have failed to investigate attacks on journalists and civil society activists and have instead accused them of being in league with the LTTE, equating dissent with treason.

Following the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in mid-May, Sri Lankan military leaders announced plans to expand the size of the army substantially, from 200,000 to 300,000 troops. In addition, the government's policy of confining all internally displaced persons to detention camps means that they are not able to work, and the government or humanitarian organizations must provide for all of their needs. The camps are costing, by one organization's estimate, more than US$400,000 per day. Human Rights Watch said that IMF members should question the government on how it intends to finance these policies while addressing its critical budget shortfalls.

"The IMF board of governors should make the release of each new tranche of funds contingent on tangible human rights progress," said Adams. "Allowing people to choose for themselves whether to stay in the camps and full access for independent monitors should be minimum benchmarks."

AP correspondent penalised for his war coverage-RSF

Reporters Without Borders today called on the Sri Lankan government to give a more convincing explanation about its refusal to renew the press visa of the Associated Press correspondent in the country Ravi Nessman.

Nessman, an American national who has been based in Sri Lanka since 2007, was forced to leave the country on 20 July after his visa was not renewed.

[AP's Sri Lanka bureau chief explains the difficult situation for Tamil civilians and the limited access to journalists, to Tavis Smiley in Feb 2009]

Advisor to the head of state, Lucien Rajakarunanayake, said the refusal was because foreign correspondents were not allowed to stay in the country for more than two years, but one international media correspondent said he had never heard of this “rule”. A spokesman at the American news agency called the decision “very disturbing”

Nessman had a by-lined exclusive on a UN internal report drawing attention to the real toll of civilian victims of the conflict in the north and east of the country that ended when the Sri Lankan army defeated the Tamil Tigers in May 2009. The report seriously implicated top UN and government officials.

“News agencies have been some of the few media that managed to cover the bloody conflict in Sri Lanka independently. Now journalists are being unfairly punished for having written these reports,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

“After attacking human rights activists and doctors, the government is now taking it out on foreign journalists who reported on the suffering of the people. It’s extremely unfortunate,” the organisation added.

Reporters Without Borders has obtained information that at least eight foreign reporters or contributors to international media have been forced to leave the country because of threats from the authorities or their supporters since 1st January 2009. At least 30 Sri Lankan journalists have fled their country since the start of 2008.

The multi-cultural mosaic that is modern Sri Lanka

by J.B. Muller

No nation could be welded together with mere slogans however often repeated. The welding together of a Nation should be a consciously directed programme based on an understanding of the ground realities that obtain. This writing focuses on the diverse segments that go to make up Sri Lankan society. It was garnered from the most authoritative and credible sources in the public domain.

It is this diversity and its concomitant multicultural mosaic that makes it so inherently rich. It is a yet untapped resource of enormous potential if harnessed properly—with visionary leadership at the helm. For convenience and in order not to give any community either prominence or precedence, the segments have been listed alphabetically.

Kaffirs5TC.jpg

[A Special Evening of Music with Sri Lanka Kaffirs ~ pic: by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai]

Bharathas: The Bharathas or Bharatakula identity is maintained by a relatively prosperous merchant group from India that settled amongst the Sinhalese in the Negombo area.

According to the census categories in July 2001, Bharatakula has been moved out of Sri Lankan Tamil category to simply stand as a separate ethnic group Bharatha, thus currently they are neither Sinhalese nor Tamil.

They are primarily found in the commercial capital, Colombo and in towns north of it, particularly Negombo in the Western Province.

Common last names adopted by Bharatakula include Fernando, Croos-Moraes, Peeris and Rubeiro. Fernando is the commonest last name.

In India they were traditional fishers’ merchants and traders. Most are Roman Catholics although a significant minority has remained Hindus.

They have always been a peaceful and law-abiding community that is socially and economically active.

Dawoodi Bohras: The Dawoodi Bohras are a very closely-knit community.

While the majority of Dawoodi Bohras have traditionally been traders, it is becoming increasingly common for them to become professionals. Within Sri Lanka many choose to become doctors. They are encouraged to educate themselves in both religious and secular knowledge, and as a result, the number of professionals in the community is rapidly increasing.

They believe that the education of women is equally important to that of men, and many Dawoodi Bohra women choose to enter the workforce. Today there are approximately one million Dawoodi Bohras worldwide. The majority of these reside in India and Pakistan, but there is also a significant Diaspora resident in the West Asia, East Africa, Europe, North America and the East Asia.

Besides speaking the local languages, the Dawoodi Bohras have their own language called Lis?nu l-D?‘wat ". This is written in Arabic script but is derived from Urdu, Gujarati and Arabic.

They have lived and worked in Sri Lanka for hundreds of years and pioneered in establishing many industries and businesses, mainly in the sphere of export-import.

Burghers: The Burghers are a Euro-Asian socio-cultural group, indigenous to Sri Lanka, consisting for the most part of male-line descendants of European colonists from the 16th to 20th centuries (mostly Portuguese, Dutch, German and British) and local women, with some of Swedish, Italian, Flemish, Spanish, French and Irish origin.

Today the mother tongue of the Burghers is English, but historically other languages were spoken by the Community, in particular the Sri Lanka Indo-Portuguese, a Creole language based on Portuguese and both Sinhala and Tamil. While much vocabulary is from Portuguese, its grammar and syntax is based on that of Tamil and Sinhala.

In the Census of 1981, the Burgher population of Sri Lanka was enumerated at 39,374 persons, about one third of one percent. This has now grown to about 47,000 souls. The highest concentration of Burghers is in Colombo (0.72%) and Gampaha (0.5%). There are also similar, significant communities in Trincomalee and Batticaloa, with an estimated population of 2,700.

The Burghers were legally defined by law in 1883, by the Chief Justice of Ceylon, Sir Richard Ottley, given before the Commission which was appointed in connection with the establishment of a Legislative Council in Ceylon. They determined that Burghers were defined as those whose father was born in Sri Lanka, with at least one European ancestor on one’s direct paternal side, regardless of the ethnic origin of one’s mother, or what other ethnic groups may be found on the father’s side.

Because of this definition, Burghers almost always have European surnames (mostly of Portuguese, Dutch and British origin, although it is not uncommon to also find German, French or Russian surnames).

Burgher culture, which defines them best, is a rich mixture of East and West, reflecting their ancestry. They are the most westernized of the diverse groups in Sri Lanka. Most of them wear western clothing, although it is not uncommon for a man to be seen wearing a sarong, or for a woman to wear a sari.

A number of elements in Burgher culture have become part of the cultures of other ethnic groups in Sri Lanka. For example, baila music, which has its origin in the music of 16th century Portugal, has found its way into mainstream popular Sinhalese music. Beeralu lace making, which began as a domestic pastime of Burgher women, is now a part of Sinhalese culture too. Even certain foods, such as love cake, bol-fiado (layered cake), ijzer koekjes, frikkadels (savoury meatballs), and lampries have become an integral part of Sri Lankan national cuisine.

Burghers have a very strong interest in their family histories. Many old Burgher families kept stamboeken (from the Dutch for "Clan Books"). These recorded not only dates of births, marriages and deaths, but also significant events in the history of a family, such as details of moving house, illnesses, school records, and even major family disputes. An extensive, multi-volume stamboek of many family lineages is kept by the Dutch Burgher Union.

Colombo Chetty: The Colombo Chetties are a relatively small community domiciled in the Western, North Western and Southern Provinces; many of them have been assimilated into or identified with the Sinhala and Tamil Communities Today the number stands at around 175,000 with high concentrations in the Western and North Western Provinces.

In 1984 on a representation made by Shirley Pulle Tissera who was then the General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Chetty Association, the Government of Sri Lanka decided to classify the Colombo Chetties / Sri Lanka Chetties as a separate and Distinct ethnic group in all official documents, ratified by the Registrar General’s Department which notice was published in the Observer Newspaper of 17 October 1984. The National Census on population conducted in 2001 enumerated the Colombo Chetties as a separate and distinct ethnic group.

Most Sri Lankans are themselves astonished at the number of ethno-socio-and religio-cultural segments that go to make up the Sri Lankan Nation, still in the process of being formed. Many have yet to understand that this heterogeneity is one of this country’s greatest strengths and the best advertisement for its renowned tolerance. That image was tarnished because of bigotry and chauvinism and now needs to be refurbished anew to restore the renown of our common Motherland.

Sri Lanka Chinese: The Government decided to grant citizenship to the stateless people of Chinese origin who have been living in the island for a long time, perhaps over 150 years.

The Cabinet recently approved a memorandum submitted by Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, who is also the Minister of Internal Administration.

Approximately 200 persons of Chinese origin were permanently residing in Sri Lanka as stateless citizens due to their inability to obtain Sri Lanka citizenship under the existing legislation. These persons are early migrants from China mainly during World Wars I and II and even before as peddlers, traders, restaurateurs and dental technicians. They are famous for their ‘Chinese silk shops’ and their hotels serving Chinese cuisine modified for the local palate.

They intermarried with Sinhalese, Burghers, and Malays and have many descendants scattered all over the island from Ampara to Kandy, Galle to Trincomalee, and from Bandarawela to Chilaw.

Although most of the early migrants have passed away, their descendants, who have been born and raised here, are permanently residing in this country. Therefore, the Cabinet wisely has decided to grant citizenship to them through an Act of Parliament. Some of the families are Li, Shu, Chang, Liou, and several others which are thriving.

Sri Lanka Kaffirs: The Kaffirs (English, also cafrinhas in Portuguese or k?piriy? in Sinhala) are an ethnic group in Sri Lanka who are partially descended from 16th century Portuguese traders and the African slaves who were brought by them.

The Kaffirs spoke a distinctive Creole based on Portuguese, the Sri Lanka Kaffir language, now extinct. Their cultural heritage includes the dance style known as Manja. Curiously, Kaffringna is not their music and belongs to the Burghers of the East Coast.

The word Kaffir is an obsolete English term once used to designate African natives from the Eastern and Southern coasts. "Kaffir" derives in turn from the Arabic kafir, "unbeliever", which was used by the Arab traders to refer to those unconverted Africans.

The Kaffirs were brought to Sri Lanka by the Portuguese, Dutch and British, as a part of the military forces and for domestic work. Portuguese seafarers carried the first kaffirs to what was then Ceylon in the 1500s, most likely from Mozambique. Later, the British brought others to fight in "kaffir regiments."

The descendants of the freed African slaves are still a distinctive community near Puttalam in the North-Western province of Sri Lanka. There was some contact between the Kaffir and the Burghers, communities of partly European ancestry on the East Coast of the Island at Trincomalee and Batticaloa.

Khojas: Khojas enjoy a good business reputation and are said to have a keen sense of competition. They are described as neat, clean, sober, thrifty, and ambitious, and enterprising, cool, and resourceful in trade. They are great travelers by land and sea, visiting and settling in distant countries for purposes of trade. The Sri Lanka Khojas have business connections with the Punjab, Sind, Bengal, Myanmar, Singapore, China, and Japan; with ports of the Persian Gulf, Arabia, and East Africa; and with England, the United States, and Australia. They have also gained high places in the professions as doctors, engineers, and lawyers.

The Khojas are an ethnic group in India and Pakistan, formerly a Hindu trading caste, founded in the fourteenth century by a famous saint, and followers of the Agha Khan, the spiritual leader of the Ismaili sect. They live in the Punjab, in Sind, the Rann of Kachch, Kathiawar, and down the western coast of India; in Zanzibar and elsewhere on the east coast of Africa; and in scattered groups under the name of Mawalis. "Khoja" is the form used in India for the Persian term "Khwajah," meaning "a rich or respectable man; a gentleman; an opulent merchant."

Hambantota

[Malay children react as they being photographed in the mosque, during evening prayers, by HumanityAshore]

Malays: The Malays of Sri Lanka (also known as Ja-Minissu) originated in Southeast Asia and today consist of about 50,000 persons. Their ancestors came to the country when both Sri Lanka and Malacca were colonies of the Portuguese, followed by the Dutch and the British. Most of the early Malay immigrants were soldiers, posted by the Dutch and British colonial administrations to Sri Lanka, who decided to settle on the island. Other immigrants were members of noble houses from Indonesia who were exiled to Sri Lanka and who never left. The main source of a continuing Malay identity is their common Malay language. In the 1980s, the Malays made up about 5% of the island’s Muslim population, making them one of the smallest segments of the Sri Lankan population.

Memons: Memons are Indian Sunni Muslims and entrepreneurs who settled in Sri Lanka for business opportunities during the Colonial period. Some of these people came to the country as far back as the Portuguese period; others arrived during the British period from various parts of India. They are originally from Sind in modern Pakistan. Today in Sri Lanka they number over 10,000 and are mostly settled in Colombo.

They have contributed immensly to the economic life of the country, not only as importers and traders of various essential goods, but also as manufacturers and exporters of high quality garments that have today become a major source of foreign earnings. They also have their own member of Parliament, the Hon. Hussein Bhaila who presently serves as Deputy Minister of Plan Implementation under the UPFA Government.

செல்வநகர், தோப்பூர்

[Children in Thopur, Selvanagar-pic: HumanityAshore]

"Sonakar" or "Sonar," Moors: This dynamic community represent 7.36 percent of the total population of Sri Lanka (1989). Sri Lanka Muslims represent a number of different ethnic groups, three of which are recognized in the 1984 government Census: Sri Lanka Moors, Malays and Indian Moors, the majority of whom are ethnic Tamils from Southern India. Tamil is the established tongue of the Sri Lanka Moors. In recent years, because of political considerations, many have learned the Sinhala language and some children study it in school but they prefer to educate their children in English. With the exception of the Bohras, who are Shiites, all of the other groups are Sunni Muslims.

Soon after settling in India, Muslim Arabs began arriving in the eighth century. According to legend, they established themselves in Bentota and married Sinhala women. By the tenth century, they were a powerful merchant class. According to the historian Ibn Battuta, in the thirteenth century, Colombo was a Muslim city.

As we have seen, each segment of the Sri Lankan population has contributed to its development and prosperity in manifold ways. These groups also continue to mix and by so doing continue to enrich the already heterogeneous gene pool.

As a strategically-positioned Island in the southernmost extremity of South Asia, it has attracted people from all directions save Antarctica and this has contributed to its diversity. Indeed, history and circumstance has woven a beautiful tapestry out of these different strands. Unfortunately, a vociferous lunatic-fringe has attempted to burn holes in this tapestry whilst others desperately strive to patch the holes.

Sindhis: Sindhis are an Indo-Aryan language speaking socio-ethnic group of people originating in Sind which is part of present day Pakistan. Sindhis that live in Pakistan are predominantly Muslim, while many Sindhi Hindus emigrated to India when British India was divided in 1947. The Sri Lankan community had established itself here from early British times.

Sindhis usually flourish in business particularly that of cloth and textiles. Most Hindu Sindhis are identifiable by the "ani" at the end their last names like Ambani, Hirdaramani, Lalvani, Bharwani, Motwani, Vaswani, Chellani, Khubani .

Sinhalese: Sinhalese are a people who constitute the largest single ethno-socio-cultural group on the Island. In the early 21st century the Sinhalese were estimated to number about 14.8 million, or 70 percent of the population. Their ancestors are believed to have come from northern India, traditionally in the 5th century BCE. Their language belongs to the Indo-European family.

Most Sinhalese are agriculturalists. The low-country Sinhalese of the southern and western coastal regions have been heavily influenced by European culture, while the Kandyan Sinhalese of the highlands are more traditional. The Sinhalese are Theravada Buddhists except for a Christian minority.

Like some other peoples of Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese have a caste-based society borrowed from India and with a complex structure based largely on occupation. Marriage partners are usually taken from persons of the same caste, preferably from the children of the mother’s brother or father’s sister. Monogamy is the rule, although in the 19th century among the Kandyans a man may occasionally have had more than one wife or a woman more than one husband.

The Sinhalese divide themselves into two groups, the "Up Country people" or Kandyan and the "Low Country people." The Kandyans inhabit the highlands of the south-central region and constitute 38 percent of the Sinhalese and 25.8 percent of the national population (as of 1971). The Kandyan are the more conservative of the two groups. Culturally, religiously, and economically, they are closer to traditional Sinhalese ways.

The Low Country people, who primarily occupy the southern and western coastal regions, account for 62 percent of the Sinhalese and 42.8 percent of the national population. They served as middlemen for the trade with the interior, in which the Europeans were so interested, and they have adopted much of European culture. Until recently, the Kandyan’s attitude of aristocratic superiority toward the Low Country Sinhalese precluded marriage between them. But with the increase in wealth and sophistication of the latter, due to European and other outside influences, these barriers are gradually breaking down.

The Sinhalese are a peaceful, tolerant, friendly and hospitable people, quite insular in their outlook and easy to get on with.

Tamils, Indian: The Indian Tamils of Sri Lanka are Tamil people of Indian origin in Sri Lanka. They are also known as Hill country Tamils, Up-country Tamils or simply Indian Tamils. They are partly descended from workers sent from South India to Sri Lanka in the 19th and 20th centuries to work in coffee, tea and rubber plantations. Some also migrated on their own as merchants and as other service providers. These Tamil-speakers mostly live in the central highlands, also known as the Malayakam or the Hill Country yet others are also found major urban areas and in the Northern Province.

They are instrumental in the continuing viability and prosperity of the Plantation Sector economy. Generally, their socio-economic standard of living is below that of the National average. Politically they have supported most of the ruling coalitions since the 1980s.

Tamils, Sri Lanka: Sri Lankan Tamil people or Ceylon Tamils are an ethnic group native to the Island who predominantly speaks Tamil. According to anthropological evidence, Sri Lankan Tamils have lived on the Island since the Second century BCE. Most modern Sri Lankan Tamils descend from the Jaffna Kingdom, a former kingdom in the north of the island and Vannimai chieftaincies from the east. They constitute a majority in the Northern Province, live in significant numbers in the Eastern Province, and are in the minority throughout the rest of the country.

Sri Lankan Tamils are culturally and linguistically distinct from the other two Tamil-speaking communities in Sri Lanka, the Indian Tamils and the Sonakar Moors. Genetic studies indicate that they are most closely related to the Sinhalese people than any other ethnic group, with both groups sharing a common gene pool of 55%. The Sri Lankan Tamils are mostly Hindus with a significant Christian population. Sri Lankan Tamil literature on topics including religion and the sciences flourished during the Medieval Period in the Court of the Jaffna Kingdom. Sri Lankan Tamil dialects are noted for their archaism and retention of words not in everyday use in the Tamil Nadu state in India.

Veddahs: The aboriginal Vanniyala-Aetto, or "forest people", more commonly known as Veddas or Veddahs, are an indigenous people of Sri Lanka. They were never numerous and are now few in number.

Sinhala-speaking Veddahs are found primarily in the southeastern part of the country, especially in the vicinity of Bintenne in Uva Province. There are also Sinhala-speaking Veddas who live in Anuradhapura District in the North Central Province.

Another, largely distinct group, often termed East Coast Veddas, is found in coastal areas of the Eastern Province, mostly between Batticaloa and Trincomalee. These Veddas speak Tamil as their primary language.

Their language, usually referred to as ‘Veddah,’ is closely related to Sinhala, although much of its vocabulary (especially terms associated with the forest and their lifestyle) can not be traced to Sinhala and may be from an archaic language spoken before the adoption of the Sinhala language.

Examples include the Wanniyala-Aetto word ruhang for friend, while the Sinhala word is yaluva There are also communities of Wanniyala-Aetto who speak Tamil in the East Coast.

Some observers have said Veddas are disappearing and have lamented the decline of their distinct culture. Developments, and government forest reserve restrictions, have disrupted traditional Veddah ways of life. However, cultural assimilation of Veddas with other local populations has been going on for a long time.

Today many Sinhalese people and some East Coast Tamils claim that they have some trace of Veddah blood. Intermarriage between Veddas and Sinhalese is very frequent. The current leader of the Vanniyala-Aetto community is Uru Varige Vanniya.

The story of our Motherland is not a story of one race or community alone, but a story of all the people and all the circumstances which have shaped its course. We have all been in the crucible and all have made sacrifices of life and limb to learn the lesson that we are fallible human beings. Every one in Sri Lanka today should feel proud of the contribution which his or her community has made towards the shaping and moulding of the Sri Lankan Nation.

If we stand together, united, under ONE flag, as Sri Lankans, we will surely stand up and stand out and flourish. It is desperately important that those who live here today should recognize their contribution and should be proud of it not as an exclusive, superior or separate entity, but as ONE thread in the pattern we are striving so hard to weave.

We should be able to live, unsuspicious of each other, truly enjoying the variety and diversity of this mosaic of cultures. Appreciating our differences as the ingredients that contribute the ‘spice’ to the indigenous ‘rice’ is the starting point. Let’s dance to the hot, pulsating rhythms of the Baila, the Kaffiringha and Manja and sing the lyrics in Sinhala, Tamil, Creole, or English and celebrate the life we have.

July 21, 2009

The Truth Behind Resumption of Economic Activity in Northern Province

By Dr. Muttukrishna Sarvananthan

On July 13, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL), on behalf of the government, announced the launch of “The Awakening North — A Special Loan Scheme for Resumption of Economic Activities in the Northern Province.”

In order to revive livelihood activities in the north, an initial sum of LKR 3,000 million (circa 26 million dollars) is earmarked for lending to micro, small, and medium enterprises in the north at a concessionary interest rate of 12% per annum repayable up to a period of five years coupled with up to six months grace period.

The maximum amount per borrower is limited to LKR 200,000 (circa 1,739 dollars). Targeted sectors of the loan scheme are agriculture, livestock, fisheries, trade and self-employment ventures. Subsequently, on July 14, the CBSL made an announcement soliciting “Donations for the relief and resettlement operations for IDPs” from the general public, particularly from the diaspora.

These two consecutive public announcements through press releases of the Central Bank reveal the duplicity of the government as regards “The Awakening North.” Although the pretension appears to be revival of the economy of the north, these two public pronouncements together reveal the bankruptcy of the government and political motivation behind the subsidised loan scheme keeping in view the upcoming municipal council elections due to take place in Jaffna and Vavuniya in early August.

No money

Firstly, the solicitation of donations for IDPs’ welfare reveals that the government does not really have the money to fund the proposed loan scheme for micro, small, and medium enterprises in the north. If that is the case, why make this announcement?

My hunch is that, it is intended to woo marginal farmers, fisherpersons and petty traders into voting for the ruling party alliance at the upcoming local government elections in the north. Besides, the maximum amount borrowable under the loan scheme is grossly inadequate for effective upliftment of livelihoods of the people in the north.

Past experience shows that the majority of this type of state-sponsored and subsidised loans are appropriated by cronies of politicians — both the ruling and the opposition — and only a small proportion goes to really needy and entrepreneurial people. A similar concessionary credit scheme was implemented for enterprises affected by the tsunami throughout the country by the Central Bank during 2005.

The people have the right to know the full details about the disbursement of loans under that scheme by name, amount, district/province, etc. Will the Central Bank disclose this information?

The Central Bank and the government are hiding the dire straits of the economy from the people. For instance, the government had requested the International Monetary Fund (IMF) not to make the latest Article IV consultation report undertaken during the third quarter of last year (2008) public. Although it is the usual practice of the IMF to make this document public, it is the prerogative of any sovereign government to decide whether or not to make it public. Why is the government hiding the economic reality from the people even after the end of the civil war?

Disputed figure

Further, while it is claimed that the point-to-point rate of inflation has dropped dramatically to 0.9% in June 2009, anecdotal evidence from the markets and consumers dispute this telltale. Is the government fudging the numbers? Why does not the Central Bank disclose the overall balance-of-payments in its external sector performance data dissemination, which has been continuously and hugely negative since the last quarter of 2008?

Why has the Central Bank stopped the daily dissemination of exchange rates of foreign currencies, international oil prices, etc, since the second week of July 2009? Why has it stopped dissemination of weekly economic indicators? Central Bank has become economical with data dissemination.

There is a much simpler and less costly way of reviving the northern economy, which is to set the IDPs free immediately after completion of security screening. The President has told Time magazine that resettlement could begin after de-mining is complete in the Wanni.

As a matter of fact, a significant number of IDPs in the Wanni is originally from the Jaffna peninsula who were forcibly taken by the LTTE in late 1995 and early 1996 when the security forces took control of Jaffna. Therefore, they have their kith and kin, land, and perhaps dwellings as well in the peninsula and/or elsewhere.

There is no necessity for many IDPs to return to the former LTTE-controlled areas in the Wanni. Under such circumstances, why is the government still holding these IDPs? Setting the IDPs free would also save considerable money for the government.

Then, why is the government reluctant to release these IDPs?

Is it to mobilise humanitarian aid from donors and donations from the diaspora and thereby bolster the foreign currency reserves of the government?

Are the IDPs a pretext to solicit foreign donor funding for populist public spending in the run up to the upcoming parliamentary and/or presidential election/s (later this year or early next year)?

Is the IDPs hostage to the economic imperatives of the government?

Despite the current euphoria and political war dividend, why is the government so touchy or nervous about the economy or mundane astrological predictions?

Why is this hyper insecurity after the comprehensive and decisive defeat of public enemy number one?

t is high time the government realises that the people are much more informed about the state of the economy than itself. It is about time to call off the false pretence and reveal the real intent.

Lawyers Appearing for "The Sunday Leader" Newspaper Vilified in Defence Ministry Website

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti and Nirmala Kannangara

This country is hitting an all time low in the area of civil liberties, and it is spilling over to every sphere. The media has been at the receiving end for so long that it is now taken for granted that the media fraternity — despite the so called media friendly heads of states being elected — would not be able to resist a media bashing spree. If they personally do not get involved, there always will be those who are too happy to become the state’s service providers.

And there is no need to overemphasise the fact that even a suspect of a rape incident does have the right to legal representation. It is the right of any party to a legal dispute and lawyers too possess not only a right to represent their clients, but also a duty to offer their service to clients of their choice.

But in today’s Sri Lanka, it seems that appearing for a newspaper like The Sunday Leader could have a negative impact on the legal practitioners and earn them the dubious label ‘traitor’ to boot. In this instance, five lawyers who appeared for The Sunday Leader in a recent case of contempt of court were quickly branded ‘traitors’ by the government’s very own Defence Ministry website.

Give serious consideration

In this backdrop, lawyers will have to seriously consider not the facts of the case but as to whether they should offer their services to those who may not appear acceptable to the state or certain other groups. This also means, one may have to reconsider appearing against powerful people like Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapakse.

Five lawyers, namely Srinath Perera PC, S. Sumanthiran, Upul Jayasuriya, Viran Corea and Athula Ranagala watch the interests of Leader Publications in a contempt of court case.

That they appear against the powerful Defence Secretary may not be a popular route to take in the present circumstances, but the lawyers like all others are doing a job, practising their profession for a fee. Whether that should earn them a label of LTTE sympathisers should be something the Sri Lankan society itself should consider.

Public outcry

A legal practitioner who refused to be named told this newspaper when SLFP Parliamentarian Nalanda Ellawala was shot and killed in 1997 on his way to the Kachcheri to hand over local government nomination papers, there was a public outcry with regard to suspect Susantha Punchinilame having legal representation. “But Punchinilame’s right to representation could not be overlooked. If he was denied legal representation, that would have been a denial of a right. It is only one such example,” the practitioner explained.

If this trend persists, not only would clients be denied the services of a lawyer, lawyers too will be restricted in selecting who may ‘qualify’ to be represented by them and ‘should’ be able to obtain their services. As the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) statement (which is reproduced here in full) issued in the aftermath of the Defence website story states, there is not only a right to representation but also a duty on the part of the lawyers to appear for anyone, except in exceptional circumstances.

Not above the law

Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse, for all intents and purposes, though riding a wave of popularity post war for his style of spearheading the military effort and the privileged position of being the President’s brother, is essentially a public servant.

His position as secretary of a vital ministry should make him clearly open to public scrutiny and his title does not come with any special immunity. Other public servants sue and are sued. As such, opposing Rajapakse in a courtroom cannot render any lawyer a ‘traitor.’

The web post has pre judged the matter and may even qualify for contempt. Interestingly, despite BASL’s request that the story be removed from the website, it remains there, the images of lawyers still flashing prominently as of Friday.

Vilifies individuals

Earlier too, on March 18, the same site published a similar story on a group of lawyers. As for the publication of photographs together with a story that vilifies individuals could be easily viewed as a provocative attempt.

A different website once carried photographs of a group of persons known for their advocacy of a negotiated political solution labelling them as ‘traitors.’ Some named in that story are now in exile and at least one — Lasantha Wickrematunge has been killed.

Hence, stories of this nature cannot be treated as being frivolous but publications that may harm the professional reputation of those named and also may place them at tremendous risk. Nobody could guarantee that these lawyers would not be open to increased threats of attacks if the story were viewed in a negative light by extreme forces.

‘Justice In Retreat’

It is a truism that lawyers who take up what are perceived as politically sensitive cases in Sri Lanka do tend to come under pressure. Besides, well known lawyer J. C. Weliamuna was attacked subsequent to which another lawyer came under attack. The country has an idea as to the sensitivity of the cases they handled then and continue to handle.

International Bar Association Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) in its report titled Justice In Retreat documented the serious concerns at the publication of similar material by the same site titled “Who are the human rights violators?” which implied that certain lawyers representing LTTE suspects were themselves sympathetic to the LTTE or had terrorist connections.

It is important herein to record some remarks made by Associate Editor, Index On Censorship Magazine, Rohan Jayasekera sent to the Defence Ministry website in response to the said story. Jayasekera notes that “the website’s authors fully well know that false accusations like these can only incite the gangs of ultra nationalist thugs currently prowling the country to new acts of violence, including murder.”

It adds: “The basic human right to independent legal representation to all defendants — even those who defend powerful military leaders — is a fundamental principle of the Rule of Law and Justice.”

Public vilification

Public vilification of individuals and even institutions in the recent past has provoked physical attacks by vigilante groups in Sri Lanka and the recent history of the media industry was studded with many such incidents.

It is in this backdrop that the International Press Freedom Mission (IPFM) in an open letter to President Mahinda Rajapakse called upon to act on an eleven-point agenda to curb the current violence against the media.

This agenda calls for efforts to combat impunity through the creation of a Special Prosecutor’s Office for the investigation of crimes against the media with full autonomy to investigate attacks and assassinations of journalists, release J. C. Tissainayagam and his colleagues detained since March 2008, release the first results of the investigation into the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge in 2009, allow full and unconditional access to IDP camps by the media, repeal the Press Council Act No. 5 of 1973 and to introduce legal reforms to create an enabling environment for a free and independent media including the transformation of existing state media into independent public service media.

In the present context, it does not come as a surprise that many an eminent lawyer when contacted did not wish to offer comments on the malicious story published on the Defence Ministry website. They know only too well the repercussions for expressing free opinion.

Let’s not forget the vital position that it is every citizen’s right to seek legal advice and be represented by competent persons. It cannot be a right denied to Leader Publications or any other. The prevailing situation calls for intervention by the highest in the land to restore sanity in a country that is fast losing its grip where the fundamental principle that all are equal before the law is a principle that is fast losing its significance.

COURTESY:The Sunday Leader

Misinformation campaign in media about Muslim armed groups in East

by M. M. Abul Kalam

Need and necessity for Muslim home guards in the East arose in 1990. It was the worst year of ethnic cleansing of Muslims both in North and in East. After ethnic cleansing of Muslims from the North by the LTTE, and massacre of nearly 400 innocent Muslim men,women and children by the LTTE in the EastMuslim political leaders made representations to the govt. and introduced the home guards system to protect vulnerable and isolated Muslim villages from the LTTE and other Tamil militants.

It was a supplementary or rather complementary role to the local police and the STF. The LTTE and other Tamil armed groups named it as Jihad.

Attempts are now being made to portray Muslim youths in the East and in some other parts of Sri Lanka as anti -social and illegally armed elements and they have links with armed Muslim militants outside Sri Lanka. Lakbima English weekly on 21/06/2009 carried a lead news to this effect and it was soon followed by an Indian Journalist P.K. Balachandran tiltled “Now, Sri Lanka goes after Jihadis in the Indian Express of 22/06/2009.

Time and again some elements in Sri Lanka and India and LTTE and other Tamil armed groups were trying to portray the SL Muslim youths who were enlisted in to home guards as an organized and powerful militant group with links to militants outside Sri Lanka.

During the failed last Geneva talks, LTTE theoretician late Anton Balasingham made such claim and he even said that Jihadis with Al Qaidaa links are operating from Muttur and Kattaankudy and wanted them to be disarmed along with other Tamil para militaries. Few months after that fake LTTE claim, the Muslims from Muttur were ethnically cleansed from their hometown by the LTTE in the same way, they expelled the Muslims from the North.

It was almost the same time in 2006 where the LTTE closed the sluice gate in Mavilaru. The hapless Muslim refugees walked nearly 20 miles and sheltered in Kantale. The LTTE set up check points on the way and picked up the Muslim home guards who were working with the govt. forces. If there had been Mulsim Jihadis in Muttur as claimed by the LTTE, the Muttur Muslims need not have fled from their home towns. Thanks to the SL Army and President Mahinda Rajapaksha, the Muttur Muslims were resettled within few months with the elimination of the LTTE from Trinco district.

Lakbima English weekly on its 21st Sunday lead news stated that The Sri Lankan government was moving against armed jihadis, a new menace in the Eastern part of the island country, which just ended a long drawn out war against the LTTE.

Lakbima stated further "... although earlier accusing fingers were pointed at the TMVP and LTTE cadres that they were carrying out the recent abductions and crimes in the East, it was in fact the Jihadi militants who were behind most of the crimes that took place recently".

2nd July deadline is set by the Police in the East to surrender all illegal weapons possessed by all armed groups/militants. However, the Lakbima weekly had stated that it is a deadline set only for the Mulsim Jihadis.

Indian Express on its 22/06 edition quoted the above Lakbima news and added its fiction. Quoting or rather misquoting the official Indian sources, the Indian journalist had this to say:

“Official Indian sources told The New Indian Express that presence of Jihadis had begun to cause concern to both Sri Lanka and India. India was glad that the Sri Lankan authorities had, at long last, begun a crackdown on the Tablighi Jamaat members, who were getting funds and ideological inputs from abroad especially Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the sources added. There have been instances of the armed clashes between Jamaatis and Tamils, a community the Eastern Muslims have been at odds with over questions of land for the last two or three decades”.

It is clear from this misleading news that the Lakbima and some vested elements both in Sri Lanka and in India are trying to implicate the Muslim youths for crimes committed by the TMVP or the Tamil armed groups and white wash the TMVP with ulterior motive.

Indian Express on this edition quoted the Lakbima news and added its fiction. It also supported the attempt to whitewash the TMVP and attributed to the Muslim youths. The Indian Express said “ The Sri Lankan government was moving against armed jihadis, a new menace in the Eastern part of the island country, which just ended a long drawn out war against the LTTE, claimed a front-page report in the weekly Lakbima news on Sunday.

Quoting or rather misquoting the official Indian sources, the Indian journalist had this to say:

“Official Indian sources told The New Indian Express that presence of Jihadis had begun to cause concern to both Sri Lanka and India. India was glad that the Sri Lankan authorities had, at long last, begun a crackdown on the Tablighi Jamaat members, who were getting funds and ideological inputs from abroad especially Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the sources added. There have been instances of the armed clashes between Jamaatis and Tamils, a community the Eastern Muslims have been at odds with over questions of land for the last two or three decades”.

Lakbima news quoted unnamed intelligence sources to say that there could be about 500 jihadis in the three districts in the Eastern parts of Sri Lanka. Batticaloa alone is believed to have 250 of them.

The Lakbima weekly has also tried to white wash the TMVP by its ex-parte finding that the Muslim armed youths were responsible for the crimes and abductions took place in the East recently. “In recent months,

It said so: “ Eastern parts have witnessed a spurt in crimes such as abductions and extortions. At first it was thought that the perpetrators were members of the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal, a breakaway group of the LTTE. Later, the LTTE itself was blamed. But investigations later revealed that jihadis were behind most of these crimes”.

Two TMVP members of Mawadivembu who were wanted by the police on robbery charges surrendered to Eravur Police on 23/06/2009. They had allegedly attempted to rob some houses in the area but went missing when the villagers were out to capture them. Eravur police said they recovered two hand grenades from the suspects. What the Lakbima and the Indian Express going to say for this.

The Police investigations have proved the involvement of the TMVP in recent abductions and killings. The famous kidnapping and killing of a budding young school girl Vidusha in Batticalaoa in March this year was by the TMVP and the culprits were shot dead by the police. There was a similar kidnapping and killing of another young girl by the TMVP.

On 19/06, Security Forces commander (East) Maj Gen Srinath Rajapakse, the Security Forces and the police held a meeting with moulavis and Muslim politicians and civil society leaders at the Hisbullah Centre, Kattankudy.

The Lakbima said that the Defense Ministry had given the jihadis time until July 2 to surrender their weapons. “Thereafter, we will have no mercy on them,” the paper quoted a Defense Ministry official as saying. The Muslim dignitaries who had attended 19th June meeting with the Security Forces had admitted that some Muslim youth were armed and promised to persuade them to give up their weapons.

Apparently, Pakistan also stepped in to give money and training to radical Islamists here. According to Indian sources, the South Eastern University at Oluvil in the district of Amparai has become a hotbed of radical Islamists, the Indian Express said.

A few months back Dr. Ramadaas of Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) in Tamil Nadu also made similar allegations against Eastern Muslims and Mr. Kaayal Mahboob, Tamil Nadu Secretary to the Indian Union Muslim League gave him a fitting reply. Please see PSM update- Link given below:

http://www.peacemuslims.org/Tamil_Nadu_Muslim_League_slams_Dr._Ramadaas_and_PMK_on_LTTE_issue-20-952.html

It is crystal clear from these allegations that some forces both in Sri Lanka and in India want to put the Muslims in the East into trouble and to create communal unrest and tension. They want to achieve their sinister motive by portraying Muslims as another community fighting against the state.

Muslim community in Sri Lanka is the only community that never took up arms against the state. They are always for national unity, amity, peace and co-existence.

It is because of their resistance that the LTTE and other Tamil militant groups failed in their agenda of creating a mono ethnic region in the merged NE provinces. The Muslims paid heavy price for that. They were ethnically cleansed from the North and lost thousand of lives , lost their business and economy. It is unfortunate that still there forces targetting the Muslims even after the end of the LTTE.

'Pressure Sri Lanka to be as serious about securing a just peace’

Robert Templer, Asia program director of the International Crisis Group in an OPED article in the New York Times writes, “lives are lost every day to overcrowding, poor sanitation, lack of clean drinking water and inadequate medical services,” at the Manic Farm camp.

He urges donor countries and organizations must condition towards a just a peace.

Full text of the article, “War Without End:”

By Robert Templer

The guns have fallen silent in Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war, but the deep wounds of ethnic animosity have not even begun to heal. An estimated 300,000 Tamil civilians remain essentially prisoners in internment camps run by a Sinhalese-dominated government.

To begin easing the deep mistrust between the communities, donor countries will have to pressure the government to be as serious about securing a just peace as it was earlier this year about winning the war.

The final months of combat in the decades-long war between the Sri Lankan Army and the rebel Tamil Tigers were brutal. As government forces tightened a noose around insurgent positions, hundreds of thousands of civilians were caught in the middle.

The army was indiscriminately launching artillery shells and air strikes into mixed areas of insurgents and innocents, and the Tigers shot at people who tried to escape. The U.N. estimated some 7,000 civilians, including at least 1,000 children, died and more than 10,000 were injured in the last few months of the war.

The legacy of atrocities on both sides clearly needs to be investigated if the Tamils and Sinhalese are to share the same island peacefully in the future. The immediate concern is for the 300,000 Tamils still interned behind barbed wire in camps with no government plan for returning them to their homes. Up to two thirds of them are in the giant camp at Manik Farm, where lives are lost every day to overcrowding, poor sanitation, lack of clean drinking water and inadequate medical services.

The government has blamed the United Nations and international aid agencies for the poor conditions, because those organizations are reluctant to build permanent or semi-permanent shelters to house the displaced. The real origin of the problem, however, is the government’s refusal to expedite its “screening” process and allow tens of thousands of the displaced to live with relatives or host families.

Furthermore, access for international agencies is restricted in ways that limit the effectiveness of aid delivery. Many of the restrictions appear designed to prevent the disclosure of conditions in the camps or the situation that civilians faced during the final months of the war. No private consultations with the displaced are allowed in the camps, and no cameras or recording equipment can be brought in.

Many of the displaced remain uncertain about the whereabouts or fate of family members from whom they have been separated. Many suspected of involvement with the Tigers have been separated from their families and detained for further questioning, some in undisclosed locations. Some end up in detention and rehabilitation centers that the Red Cross and Unicef have access to.

One case deserves special mention. Three Tamil government doctors and one senior health official are known to be in government custody and are now threatened with prosecution for cooperating with the Tamil Tigers. As just about the only remaining officials inside the war zone in the final weeks, they worked heroically to save lives and alert the world to the humanitarian disaster endured by civilians trapped in the fighting. On July 8, their captors forced them to recant their stories. This farce should end: They should be freed.

After winning the war, the Sri Lankan government now risks losing the peace with its approach toward ethnic Tamils displaced by the conflict. Colombo needs to alter course if the country is to begin overcoming years of animosity and avoid having old hatreds and current antipathy turn into the next Tamil rebellion.

Specifically, the government needs to provide a clear timetable for rapid and full resettlement of those currently interned in all the camps. It also has to make significant improvements in access to and conditions in those camps. Colombo should make public its lists of the interned and allow the Red Cross access to all places of detention and all aspects of the “screening” process conducted by the military and intelligence agencies.

The international community has a clear role to play in convincing the Sri Lankan government to take these steps. The cochairs of the Tokyo Conference on Reconstruction and Development of Sri Lanka — the United States, the European Union, Japan and Norway — have particular responsibility as they prepare to meet in August. They must send an unequivocal message.

All donor countries, both acting alone and using their influence in key institutions such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, should condition all new non-emergency economic assistance to the country on their implementation. Creating the basic conditions necessary for a sustainable and equitable peace demands no less.

July 20, 2009

In Pictures: British High Commissioner visits Eastern Province

On the 15 July, the British High Commissioner H.E. Dr. Peter Hayes commenced an official three-day visit to Trincomalee and Batticaloa where he met with politicians, civil society, and business community. The High Commissioner also attended a Forum Theatre Performance organised the British Council, visited the Commonwealth War Grave in Trincomalee, and several other archaeological sites, according to the Colombo UK High Commssion website:

Met with Bishop

High Commissioner had a discussion with Rt. Rev. Fr. Kingsley Swamipillai, The Bishop of Diocese of Trincomalee and Batticaloa

Welcomed by the Muslim community

During his visit to Batticaloa, Dr. Hayes went to Kaththankudi and met Provincial Council Minister M.L.A.M. Hisbulla. They were welcomed by Muslim community when they visited IDP camp for observation.

Welcomed by Batticaloa Mayor

High Commissioner wa swarmly welcomed by Batticaloa Mayor

Raising of Sri Lanka / UK Flags

Raising of Sri Lanka / UK Flags

Visit to MENCAFP

High Commissioner went to see the new branch established by MENCAFP in Batticalao for mentally handicapped children.

Forum Theater Performance

A forum theater performance was staged in Batticaloa, organized by the British Council. The even was organized to welcome the High Commissioner to Batticaloa and show some project works. The theme of this performance was "prevent child abuse"

Visit archiological sites

High Commissioner visited a historical archiological site in Trincomalee, Welgamwehera. The Chief Incumbant of the temple and an Additional Director from the Archeological Dept. briefed the High Commissioner.

Hot water springs

The hot water spring situated close the archiological site was observed by the High Commissioner

Meet with Trincomalee Goverment Agent

High Commissioner met with the Trincomalee Government Agent Maj. Gen. T.T. Ranjith de Silva.

High Commissioner briefed by Chamber of Commerce

High Commissioner went to Trincomalee Chamber of Commerce and was briefed by its office bearers

Visit to Commonwealth War Grave

Dr. Peter Hayes visited Trincomalee Commonwealth war grave and was accompanied by Mr. Christopher Warthington, a Superintendent of Commonwealth Graves Commission

Tribute to War Heros

High Commissioner layed a wreath and tribute to war heros.

Meet with Eastern Chief Minister

High Commissioner paid a courtesy call on Eastern Province Chief Minister Hon. Sinavesaturai Chandrakanthan on 15 July.

Mango tree plant at Brandix Factory

To mark his visit, High Commissioner was invited to plant a mango tree at the Brandix factory in Punani, Batticaloa.

Warm welcomed to Brandix

High Commissioner was welcomed by the management and staff of Brandix. The Brandix factory in Punani has been helping a to the local cummunity to improve their economy by providing job opportunities for young female.

Pictures & captions-courtesy of UK in Sri Lanka:

UK Highcommision feedback URL: http://ukinsrilanka.fco.gov.uk/en/feedback

After the war-what next? Three crucial repercussions

(DBSJeyaraj blog)

The Anglican Bishop of Colombo , Rt. Rev Duleep de Chickera is one of those leaders from the Christian clergy who strives to promote inter-ethnic understanding, justice and equality.

Bishop Duleep as he is generally known concluded a pastoral visit to Jaffna some weeks ago and issued a public statement afterwards.

I was very happy to post the statement on this blog on June 18th.

Wrote in my introduction then “I think the statement provides pertinent insight into the Jaffna of today and am reproducing it here on this blog”.

It was titled “The mood in Jaffna is that of being tragically marooned”.

Bishop Duleep encapsuled the feelings and mood of Jaffna vividly in that epistle.

His suggestions on fostering greater understanding and inter-action between the ethnicities deserved much thought.

On July 13th a symposium was held in Colombo to commemorate the departed Lanka Sama Samaaja Party (LSSP) leadr Dr. N.M. Perera. Among those who participated was Bishop Duleep. [click here to read in full~dbsjeyaraj.com]

President Rajapaksa’s Military Manoeuvres

By Col. R. Hariharan

As the dust settled down after the victory celebrations ended, Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa announced a series of senior appointments connected with armed forces. To call it a shake up would be journalese but that is what it appears to be. All the three chiefs of armed forces were changed, a chief of defence staff (CDS) and a national security advisor were appointed.

The Chief of Defence Staff

General Sarath Fonseka, the military architect of the successful Eelam War IV, was made chief of defence staff. This was not unexpected particularly after the Chief of Defence Staff Act was passed in parliament last month, formalising and defining a loose arrangement that existed earlier. However, the speed with which Gen Fonseka was asked to assume office on July 15, with barely three days notice, was a little surprising.

General Fonseka’s professional skill and leadership provided to the army in the war has increased his national popularity. And probably he has more admirers cutting across party lines than any other political leader at present. He is a man who does not hesitate to say what he feels, mincing no words, whether it is calling Tamil Nadu politicians as jokers (that appears to be his view of politicians as a whole) or declaring that Sri Lanka was for majority population. He is also a man of strong likes and dislikes and has not hesitated to vocalise it. His differences with Admiral Karannagoda, the Naval Chief, are well known. Added to all this, Gen Fonseka’s political ambitions still remain a question mark.

So it is possible that the General’s style and growing public profile were making politicians in power a little uncomfortable. As CDS, General Fonseka would not be in direct control of troops as he would be involved more in providing strategic direction to them. And that should ease the politicians’ discomfort.

In Sri Lanka, Ministry of Defence, Public Security and Law and Order is a powerful one as it controls not only the armed forces, but paramilitary forces, the intelligence apparatus, and the police. (This is somewhat like combining the defence ministry and certain departments of home ministry into one ministry in the Indian government set up: a mind boggling exercise in chaos in Indian conditions!) The newly created Coast Guard adds further muscle to the Ministry. The post of CDS now will be a powerful one as has now been formalised, and made more accountable with clear cut responsibilities through an act of parliament. It provides General Fonseka a strong toehold in the Ministry of Defence and gives him the ability to influence decision making process on defence related issues including policy, procurement, expansion and probably even operational deployment.

According to the CDS Bill published on June 1, the President shall pick the CDS from among the serving chiefs of three services and appoint him for a two-year term; and he can be reappointed for any number of terms. The CDS will function “under the direction, supervision and control of the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence.” Thus the chain of command and control of not only the CDS but also the armed forces have now been clearly spelled out.

The CDS’ duties include a whole gamut of tasks connected with providing strategic direction to the armed forces, development of doctrine for joint employment of the armed forces and facilitating the preparation of strategic plans for the armed forces. He also has responsibilities relating to the co-ordination of intelligence within the three services of armed forces. The CDS will also undertake operational assessments to facilitate planning, coordination, and implementation of joint plans in the three services.

The CDS Bill also provides for the establishment of a Committee of the Chief of Defence Staff under the chairmanship of the CDS with the three service chiefs as members. Presumably this committee has been constituted to facilitate the co-ordination of activities between the armed forces and the Ministry of Defence. But tucked in the bill is a significant sentence that says the President has “powers to appoint the Chief of Defence Staff as the Chairman of this Committee.” Does it mean the CDS need not always be chairman of the Committee of the CDS? Only the bureaucracy can explain this.

Army Commander

A comparatively junior officer Maj Gen Jagath Jayasuriya, an armoured corps officer, was appointed Army Commander in the rank of Lt General to succeed General Fonseka. Maj Gen Jayasuriya had served as commander, Security Forces, Wanni with distinction during the Eelam War from 2007 onwards. But what is important is that he superseded eight other seniors to become the new Army Commander. Lt Gen Jayasuriya had a few things going for him to become the chief: apparently he came on top of the Merit Scheme General Fonseka had introduced for promotions (under this scheme which caused some heartburn, promotions are based on battlefield performance and not on mere seniority).

Secondly, Lt Gen Jayasuriya can serve a full term as army chief as he is due to retire only in 2014. The seniors he superseded were either retiring this year or in 2010. With him as the army commander, Gen Fonseka would be able to implement in full his strategic plans for the army under one army chief. It would also indicate that the new army commander enjoys Gen Fonseka’s complete confidence.

With Lt Gen Jayasuriya’s appointment the merit scheme appears to have been accepted as the norm. It has set a clear precedence of performance over riding seniority for selection of senior appointments. While this will undoubtedly improve professionalism, it is going to make officer management within the army more difficult for commanders, particularly in peacetime. Traditionally seniority is an accepted as an essential criterion for promotion in armed forces. And when operational experience does not exist (as it is likely in the coming years in Sri Lanka), the merit scheme could be trivialised to include considerations other than professional excellence.

National Security Advisor

President Rajapaksa pulled yet another surprise with the appointment of the outgoing naval chief Admiral Karannagoda as National Security Advisor (NSA) to the President. Admiral Karannagoda had performed as the naval chief with great professional skill in crippling the LTTE’s logistic fleet which was a key element in winning the war. As he was senior to Gen Fonseka, he would have been the logical choice for the newly created post of CDS. On the other hand as commander of the army, the largest of the three services, Gen Fonseka’s appointment would have been a more logical step.

The admiral’s appointment as NSA has baled out the President from a potentially tricky and embarrassing situation when Gen Fonseka was chosen as the CDS.

As the NSA would be functioning under the President, the scope of his advisory might be broader and cover more areas. However, the NSA’s functions and responsibilities have not yet been formalised. Only when that process comes in place we would know the extent of NSA’s role as a senior member of the national decision making architecture as in India and the U.S.

Significance of the changes

The Sri Lanka government appears to be taking a total re-look at its national security setup. The recent appointments and structural changes in the national security set up would indicate that this process has already started. With the plans of modernization of navy and expansion of the army to a 300,000 strong force afoot, the creation of the post of CDS and appointment of Gen Fonseka as the first CDS are of significance to strategic security of the region. This is likely to be taken note of Sri Lanka’s neighbours and allies as Sri Lanka occupies a ringside seat in Indian Ocean security. A strong Sri Lanka army is of special significance for India’s national security as both the countries have very close relations on many issues including defence.

Sri Lanka armed forces are going through a transitory phase. The army was hastily expanded for the purpose of counter insurgency operations against a formidable insurgent force that had limited conventional warfare capability. Gen Fonseka as the new CDS is in a position to translate his ideas of building what was essentially a counter insurgency force into a regular professional army ready to face other armed forces on equal footing.

According to media reports the the new CDS will have a staff of 300 including seven major generals, one rear admiral, and an air vice marshal. The staff include Chief of Staff, a Director General Joint Planning & Defence Development, Director Joint Intelligence, War Assistant to the CDS, War Secretary to CDS, and Director Research & Development. The names of the new appointees have also been mentioned. The strength of the staff and scope of work indicate that the CDS will be fully functional in his new office. It will soon become clear what will be his priorities, particularly relating to intelligence, joint operations and planning.

The appointment of a NSA, if it is more than an expedience or stop gap arrangement, has the potential to become a powerful post when it is formalized. However, only when that happens, we will be able to assess how the NSA would impact the decision making process of the executive presidency in Sri Lanka, particularly on strategic security issues.

Talking of military appointments, the appointment of Major General GA Chandrasiri, who was Chief of Staff of the Army, as governor of Northern province, has the advantage of rewarding his service without making him army commander. It might be administratively smooth to have a military man as a governor in the province which has a very large number of troops operating. However, from the point of view of normalisation and increasing the security and trust of civilians in the government it is a retrograde step.

July 19, 2009

Sri Lanka where "stupidity" becomes a 'key word' in political policy

by Kusal Perera

It was a total misfortune. Yes, to have read the draft that became the new UNP policy when unanimously adopted by two committees of the UNP and its "working committee" headed by their leader Wickramasinghe for a proposed "broad national consensus (alliance)", according to a news web site that has since a fortnight been blocked to the Sri Lankan surfers from Sri Lanka. It is now clear, here in Sri Lanka, the Tamil people would have to find their own solution(s) to their decades old political grievances, some day, if not sooner, then later.

PEACE…?

[pic. by: Yamuni Rashmika]

The two major political parties are set to compete in riding the "Sinhala wave" for sheer Southern popularity. For the rest of Sri Lanka, it is going to be an eternal "political conflict" with no options to choose from, with the new UNP policy borrowing a phrase from the JHU-NFF ideology. "The war in the North is now over. That is reason for joy" the policy document says, promising economic development by "Bhoomi-puthras".

In a way, it's good that the UNP decided to find a political dress to go out public. All these years in the past, since the last presidential elections and their hair's breadth defeat by 186,000 votes with Tamil vote not polled, the UNP was without a political dress. They were divided in deciding what to wear in public. Most in the UNP who are in politics only to be part of a government, thought what Wickramasinghe dressed the UNP with, the "United" Sri Lanka dress was the undoing at its electoral forays. Unfortunately for the country though it may be for Wickramasinghe too, he was a "politician" with absolutely no sense of who a politician is though brought to politics by his own "Uncle" JRJ, considered a political wizard.

A too liberal a mind, Wickramasinghe who thinks it’s the economy that decides everything and the people could be manipulated by media stints and international support, in fact is the spanner in the UNP's wheel. With him as the leader, enjoying a party constitution that lacks everything democratic in a political party that talks democracy for the people, the issue becomes how the UNP could be made pro active in an ethnically divided and polarised society. Instead, the UNP leadership goes round making itself a "buddy" of "Mahinda Chinthanaya".

Political parties are there to 'lead' and not to 'follow' the people. They have to have a vision for the country that has to be discussed in society and turned and nurtured into social ideology. Thus UNP's issue should be to work out how it could "lead the people" by establishing its own ideology as opposed to the present regime. The offer to the people should be a new ideology for "social reconciliation and development" and not how it would join the "crowd" by adopting the JHU-JVP forged Sinhala ideology which is now Rajapaksa's ideology. That does not need duplication.

This "new" policy of the UNP which in fact is the same old policy of the Bandaranayakes' from mid 50's that was injected with intravenous brutality by the present Rajapaksa regime is not what the Sri Lankan society needs right now. The Sri Lankan society can ill afford to live with such brutality and needs a leadership that can provide a civilised, democratic alternative. This policy as put forward by the UNP "for a victorious broad national consensus" with the tag line "Let's bring a meaning to this blessed land – Let's establish a republic instead of a kingdom" is pure rhetoric. There is absolutely nothing new in terms of policy that has not been promised before in the 60 years since independence. We have heard all these niceties about "democracy, good governance, transparency, poverty alleviation, social justice and welfare, non aligned foreign policy, sovereignty, etc., etc." in all pre election periods when political parties tuck their sarongs up to climb the victory post.
This is again a nonsensical wish list for those in the UNP who are crazy about grabbing political power. Their insane desire to be in power is nakedly exhibited in the hard lines written into policy which says "all chairmen and secretary posts and the majority of all political organisations created by the alliance should be with the UNP". That is further hardened by saying there could be no compromise on the UNP symbol, "elephant". Is this the "victorious broad national consensus" they are talking of ? There can not be any semblance of a consensus with such stupidity in calling for consensus with hard conditions laid down in advance. Conditions that leave no space for equality and mutual respect within an alliance, which they call the "consensus". This clearly sounds a desperate call. One which says, "you have to help us to come to power".

With a party mindset that is extremely authoritarian in calling for a consensus, the only piece of policy this document talks of is, power "Sharing at the Center as Well as Periphery". That is clearly and loudly defined as power sharing in a "UNITARY" state. For one like S.B. Dissanayake who is now credited with copy right for this document, it should be a far cry to achieve such power sharing within a unitary State even with Indian expertise. No "State" remains unitary irrespective of the label given, when power is devolved to other geographical units within a Constitution that guarantees space for devolution. Therefore to devolve power, one should understand that the Sri Lankan State has to be restructured to remove its centralised form in all things "peripheral". Though there would remain a strong "central" government as in India, it would not be "centralised" governance as the State gets structured into two layers. Thus it is best for these authors to understand the difference between "government" and "State", which they always misuse in their very Sinhala mindset.

This could well be understood in the conflict and contradiction there is in the present constitution since the 13th Amendment. Allowing for a highly centralised Executive while devolving power to the provincial councils leaves no chance for power at "peripheries". If the Constitution allows for such duality as it has at present, then the next layer of the State at provincial level becomes defunct and subordinate. There can not be any such duality when devolving power, is a lesson the present Constitution teaches all who wants to learn about devolution of power. The only piece of policy the UNP adopted therefore reduces itself to political garbage.

Thereafter, this policy document has nothing that talks of the present political context. Nothing about how the UNP would handle the issue of Tamil displacement in the North-East. Nothing about their policy on future rehabilitation of these displaced Tamil people. There isn't a word about reconciliation in this country that bled to savage polarisation on an ethnic divide. The UNP does not seem to know that this country is now heavily militarised and for every 85 individuals, there's a modern, battle hardened Sinhala soldier with a promise for further increase in the military and the defence budget going up beyond the 177 billion budgeted for this year. What plans have the UNP on those issues ? Will they continue in the same vein ?

This policy document has only a single line that says, "there has to be a media that censors itself with the right of the people to have information respected". How that could be achieved after the present government re-established the Press Council, is not been even hinted at. There is no mention what so ever about all the human rights violations, abductions, disappearances, extra judicial killings, extortions that were carried out with impunity in the past few years. Will there be actual and proper investigations carried out for all such issues and cases ? What is the UNP stand on them ? It sounds the UNP is willing to throw them in the dustbin of Sinhala chauvinism.

If the UNP is talking of policy, they have a duty, a responsibility to tell the people of this country where they stand on each of those issues. They can not be ignored as trivia any more. UNP's solid silence on them clearly means this UNP and Wickramasinghe are playing for Sinhala votes only and thus their development if possible, is for the Sinhala country.

I therefore wonder how they would translate this policy document to Tamil language to ask the Tamil public to vote for the UNP at the Jaffna and Vavuniya local government elections a fortnight away. That is, if they ever have anything called a political conscience. There, I agree, I may be wholly mistaken.

Sri Lankan top diplomat 'sacked'

 
Mr. Jayathilake (R) with Minister Samarasinghe at the recent UNHRC session
Dr. Jayathilake says he played "a special role" against attempts to charge Sri Lanka with war crime
Sri Lanka's permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva says he was sacked by the foreign ministry without giving a reason.

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka told BBC Sinhala service, Sandeshaya that he was puzzled as he received the fax message on Friday.

"It has ordered me to relinquish the duties and return to Colombo on 20 August," he said.

The former senior political science lecturer at the Colombo University was appointed in 2007 by President Rajapaksa, from outside the foreign service, as the government intensified its propaganda during the conflict with the Tamil Tigers.

He was influential, he says, in nullifying international attempts to bring war crime charges against the Sri Lankan government at a recent UNHRC session days after the defeat of the LTTE.

"I do not want to claim the full credit but I think I did play a special role as the permanent representative in Geneva so this decision is illogical."

13 amendment

Human rights lobbiests claimed the government victory at the Geneva session was largely due to months of hard work and lobbying of nations by Ambassador Jayatilleka.

 Some people say the reason behind this is that I openly supported the 13 amendment. But as far as I am aware that is the policy of the government. So how can it be a sin?
 
Dr. Dayan Jayathilake

The only Sinhala national in Sri Lanka's first (and the last) north-east provincial council, Dr. Jayatilleka is an ardent supporter of devolution of power.

A strong critic of the Tamil Tigers, he has been publicly supporting the government's pledge to implement 13 amendment to the constitution, that devolves power into the provinces.

"Some people say the reason behind this is that I openly supported the 13 amendment. But as far as I am aware that is the policy of the government. So how can it be a sin?" he questioned.

"Nobody informed me not to promote it".

The decision to expel him from the post might indicate the new direction of the government, according to the diplomat.

"People will have to determine what this signal means," Dr. Jayatilleka added. [BBC-Sandeshaya]

Report on Deccan Herald: 

One of Sri Lanka's most outspoken diplomats who consistently argued for devolution of power to the country's minorities has been sacked by Colombo.
 
One of Sri Lanka's most outspoken diplomats who consistently argued for devolution of power to the country's minorities has been sacked by Colombo.

In one of the most significant developments since the Tamil Tigers were decimated in May, Dayan Jayatilleka, Sri Lanka's permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, has been told to go home by Aug 20.

No reason has been given to Jayatilleka, 52, for the sudden decision. But his friends have told him that his fate has chiefly been decided by Sinhalese hardliners unhappy with his political views.

A man known for academic excellence and a penchant for political forthrightness, Jayatilleka, a Sinhalese with a Marxist past, took charge of the Geneva post June 1, 2007, for a period of two years.

As the contract ended in June 2009, less than a month after the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was crushed and its leaders slain, the foreign ministry told Jayatilleka he would not get an extension.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa intervened and extended the contract by a year - until June 2010.

But now Jayatilleka has been served the sacking order without assigning any reason.

Not a career diplomat, Jayatilleka moved to Geneva in 2007 when no one was certain how Sri Lanka's war would proceed and when some in the West were putting enormous pressure on Colombo over rights violations.

Jayatilleka is widely credited with mounting a strong challenge to the concerted drive against Sri Lanka, networking with diplomats mainly from the Third World as well as UN veto members Russia and China.

This year Sri Lanka managed to defeat a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that sought to pin down Sri Lankan leaders over alleged war crimes.

But even as he waged diplomatic battles for Sri Lanka, Jayatilleka came under attack from Sinhalese nationalists in his country over his writings in which he argued that Colombo should devolve powers to the minorities in order to address Tamil and Muslim grievances.

Jayatilleka, who wrote extensively for Sri Lanka's media, stood for the implementation of the 13th amendment to the constitution that followed the India-Sri Lanka accord of 1987.

Officially, Sri Lanka is for the 13th amendment, which sought to devolve powers to provinces including Tamil and Muslim areas in the north and east. But its provisions have not been implemented fully.

Although Sri Lanka has promised other countries, including India, that it believes in power sharing with the minorities, nationalists from the majority Sinhalese community are steadfastly opposed to such a concept.

To many of the hardliners who are close to Sri Lanka's ruling party and also President Rajapaksa, devolution of powers is a stepping stone to separatism.

Since the end of the war, Sri Lankan Buddhist leaders have visited the Tamil-majority areas in the north in signs of increasing display of Sinhalese supremacy.

A major archaeological excavation is also on in the north to unearth Buddhist 'viharas'.

Tamils in Sri Lanka are dominantly Hindus but there are many Christians too among them.

Although Jayatilleka made it clear that his writings were his personal opinion, his arguments in favour of devolution of power to the minorities did not please the ruling class in Colombo.

The LTTE fought for a quarter century with a view to breaking up Sri Lanka alleging discrimination at the hands of the Sinhalese. Many in the country feel that power sharing is the right answer to the ethnic strife.
 

Sri Lankan president postpones “political solution” with Tamil elite

By Wjie Dias

In a lengthy interview with the all-India English newspaper, the Hindu, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse declared that his so-called political solution—a promised deal with sections of the Tamil elite after his government’s war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)—would not be announced, let alone implemented, until after he was elected for a second presidential term.

Rajapakse’s interview, published in three parts concluding on July 9, was a bid to mend fences with the Indian political establishment, which has repeatedly pushed for a “political solution” in order to pacify the 80 million-strong Tamil population in India’s southern Tamil Nadu province and strengthen the regional interests of Indian capitalism.

In the wake of his military victory over the LTTE, however, Rajapakse has postponed any political package, claiming that he must first obtain a “mandate”. His first presidential term is not due to end until November 2011, although there is speculation that he could call an election early next year to try to exploit the chauvinist atmosphere that his regime has whipped up since defeating the LTTE in May.

Calls for a political solution have never been concerned with the democratic rights of the ordinary Tamil masses but with securing an arrangement between the Colombo government and the Tamil elite as a means to gain the political stability needed to make the island attractive to foreign investors. India and the main Western powers urged Rajapakse to pursue such a “solution” even as they backed the brutal military offensive against the LTTE, which killed and maimed tens of thousands of Tamil civilians.

As a concession to this pressure, Rajapakse convened an All Party Representative Committee (APRC) in June 2006 to work out proposals to meet “the aspirations of Tamil-speaking people, especially in the North and East” of the island. At the same time Rajapakse intensified preparations to resume the 25-year civil war, in violation of the 2002 ceasefire agreement.

The APRC was a thoroughly fraudulent exercise, which met 46 times, even while the military offensive continued, without producing any concluding report. Its purposes were to blunt popular opposition over the war and its economic impact, appease India and the major powers and boost the standing of anti-LTTE Tamil parties, including the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP), which is a coalition partner, and the rump Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF).

In his interview, Rajapakse cynically blamed the delay on the main parliamentary Tamil party, the formerly pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which he excluded from the APRC to satisfy his Sinhala chauvinist backers. “The TNA representatives must come and participate in the discussions [on the political solution],” he declared.

Rajapakse also reiterated his position, first expressed in his victory speech to parliament on May 19, that “there are no minorities in Sri Lanka, there are only those who love the country and those who don’t.” This stance elevates to an unprecedented height the protracted discriminative denial of democratic rights to the Tamil minority, which has been the policy of Colombo governments ever since independence in 1948. According to this view, any mention of minority grievances, or for that matter, of the basic rights of any section of the population, is treasonous and unpatriotic.

Soon after independence, the Sinhala elite began attacking the democratic rights of Tamils in order to whip up chauvinism and divide the working class along communal lines. The civil and franchise rights of more than one million Tamil-speaking plantation workers were abolished through the Citizenship Bill in 1948, categorising them as non-citizens due to their Indian origin. This discrimination was extended to cover the whole Tamil community with the passing of the Official Language Act of 1956, which made Sinhala the only official language, forcing Tamils to learn it to retain government jobs and pursue higher education.

Fearful of developing working class struggles and rural unrest, the government introduced a new constitution in 1972, bringing the anti-Tamil and anti-Hindu policy to a climax by making Buddhism the state religion. This act, perpetrated by the second coalition government in which the former Trotskyist Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and the Stalinist Communist Party partnered with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), marked a turning point in communal relations, triggering the emergence of Tamil separatist movements.

Basking in his military victory, Rajapakse now denies even the existence of minorities and dictates that they must accept his “solution”. Shedding all democratic pretences, he stressed: “I know what to give and I know what not to give. The people have given me the mandate, so I’m going to use it. But I must get these people [the TNA representatives] to agree to this. They must also know that they can’t get what they want.”

Rajapakse depends heavily on the support of the Sinhala chauvinists of his own party, as well as its coalition partner, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (National Freedom Front), and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), which currently campaigns for Sinhala supremacy from outside the government. His remarks are designed to placate these reactionary sections while boosting his own authority in preparation for dealing with social unrest.

The president’s contempt for democratic rights was evident in his comments on the detention of nearly 300,000 Tamil war refugees. Brushing aside reports by UN agencies, the Red Cross, Amnesty International and other international groups on the conditions in these camps, Rajapakse said: “I would say the condition in our camps is the best any country has.”

Rajapakse’s remark was made as aid agencies reported, via the international media, that about 1,400 people were dying each week in the internment camps due to the spread of infectious diseases. Referring to the lack of adequate lavatories in the camps, he wiped his hands of responsibility, blaming the UN and aid agencies for being “very slow” in disbursing funds supplied by the European Union.

Asked why the refugees could not be sent to safe places, Rajapakse claimed that resettlement had to wait for the UN to certify that areas had been cleared of land mines. He made no mention of, nor was asked about, his previous declared “target” of re-settling the refugees within 180 days.

In the final part of the interview, Rajapakse unintentionally exposed the lies that he peddled to re-launch the war. He dismissed the negotiations that were supposed to take place under the ceasefire pact. “[F]rom the start, I was getting ready for that [the military operations]. I knew—because I had the experience, you see. We knew that they [the LTTE] would never lay down arms and start negotiating.”

Rajapakse was asked about the July 2006 Mavilaru incident, in which the LTTE blocked an irrigation sluice gate in order to press for the implementation of a drinking water project. The president replied: “That was the time they [the LTTE] gave me the green light.” In other words, Rajapakse used the LTTE’s minor protest action as the pretext to wage all-out war under the label of “defensive operations”.

During the interview, Rajapakse’s secretary intervened to relate an anecdote regarding a March 2006 meeting between Rajapakse and Eric Solheim, the Norwegian politician who helped negotiate the 2002 ceasefire. “Solheim ... said, in the midst of other things: ‘[LTTE leader] Prabakaran is a military genius. I have seen him in action,’ and this and that. The President said: ‘He is from the jungles of the North. I am from the jungles of the South. Let’s see who will win!’ It was very prophetic.”

These statements confirm the warnings made by the Socialist Equality Party after Rajapakse’s presidential election in November 2005 that he would be a president of war. Rajapakse and his SLFP express in the extreme the historic inability of the capitalist class in the former colonial countries to resolve the democratic tasks, including those of the oppressed minorities.

The interview sought to plaster over the cracked relations between the political establishments of Sri Lanka and India because of the close ties that Rajapakse has developed with India’s traditional rival China. Beijing supplied military aid to help win the war, while India was constrained in openly supporting the war because of the discontent in Tamil Nadu.

N. Ram, the Hindu editor, put a leading question to Rajapakse: “You are happy overall with India’s response to the recent developments?” Rajapakse replied: “Yes, India was very helpful, first by understanding what was happening.” He added: “We bought the weapons we wanted from China. It was a commercial deal. China helped us and when somebody helps you, you appreciate it, don’t you? But we paid them on international terms. We were very clear about this.”

Seeking to balance between the two powers, Rajapakse recalled an instance where he helped India. “I canvassed for India during the process of choosing a secretary-general for the [British] Commonwealth. I think no other country’s leader would have been doing that openly. There were people in Sri Lanka who were interested in the job. But I said I wanted an Indian candidate,” he said. To reassure Delhi, he added: “In this region, we must have a leader.”

Whatever the intentions of Rajapakse, however, the conflicts between India and China, and between other world powers, will only intensify, making it increasingly difficult for the Colombo establishment to manoeuvre.

The same applies to the domestic social and class tensions, which have been exacerbated by the suppression of the Tamil population and the government’s efforts to impose the burden of the economic crisis on working people. [courtesy: WSWS]

Sri Lankan university students demand better facilities

By Suranga Siriwardena and Kapila Fernando

Nearly 2,000 students from five faculties of Sabaragamuwa University in Belihuloya, 160 km east of Colombo, held a protest inside the university premises on July 8. They presented 16 demands for basic facilities such as lecture rooms, hostels, labs, canteens and sports grounds.

The demonstration was held in support of Social Sciences and Languages Faculty students who have been boycotting classes since July 1 over the lack of essential facilities for a decent education. The protest is an indication of growing opposition among students and youth to the erosion of free education by President Mahinda Rajapakse’s government.

Student demonstration
A section of the student demonstration

Sabaragamuwa University, established in 1995, has around 3,000 students. Six universities, including Sabaragamuwa, were opened in the mid-1990s after protests by students and parents over the lack of university places for students who had qualified for admittance.

The new universities were hurriedly located in buildings erected for other purposes. For instance, Sabaragamuwa University’s main premises were previously used as workers’ accommodation for the Samanala Wewa [Samanala Lake] electric power project. Until 2007, the Applied Science and Agriculture faculties were located at Buttala, about 100 km from the main campus, in abandoned buildings once used for a housing project exhibition.

Despite the creation of the new universities, this year 100,000 students qualified for university entrance but only 20,000 received places. A WSWS and International Students for Social Equality (ISSE) team met with protesting Sabaragamuwa students on July 8.

Samanthi, a Social Sciences and Languages student, angrily explained the conditions in the university. “Our classrooms are like huts for chicken,” she said. “Chairs are broken. Students have to carry chairs from one classroom to the other. Lecturers were recruited to the university from Colombo University but no professors. They are reluctant to come here because of lack of transport and accommodations, as well as the long distance.

“There are two main hostels called ‘Samanala’ and ‘Singharaja’. In the Samanala hostel, there are 48 students but only two bathrooms. There are eight students in one little room and no study rooms.

A student shows cramped sleeping quarters
A student shows cramped sleeping quarters

“The cabinet approved new buildings in 2001, and the foundation stone was laid in 2006 but the work is still incomplete. Due to the lack of rooms, lectures are held until 9 p.m. in the Applied Science Faculty and 7 p.m. in ours. We get a bursary of 2,500 rupees [$US21.75] every month. But it is hardly enough for our food. The government is clipping out free education.”

A second year Tamil student from the Geometrics Faculty said there were no labs for physics. Because of the shortage of lecture halls, one batch of students was sent to fieldwork to allow other batches to attend lectures. The computer unit had not yet opened.

The geometrics student added: “Our hostel is a house taken by the university on lease. There are about 30 such hostels. Six of us have to share one room. But in some rooms there are eight or nine residents. In the dry season, lack of water is a big problem. Other sanitary facilities are also insufficient.

“A master plan has been passed for the university but it has not yet been implemented due to insufficient funding. The government’s priority was the war. That is why we have such poor facilities in our universities.”

Successive governments and the university authorities have responded to student protests by attacking the students and giving false promises. In October 2007, Sabaragamuwa’s Applied Science students refused to stay in Buttala, and travelled to Belihuloya, but the university authorities rejected their demands for the faculty to join the main campus.

After students held a sit-in protest for three months in front of the University Grants Commission offices in Colombo, the Rajapakse government sent the police to disperse them, arresting three students. Later the faculty was shifted to the main campus, but the facilities remain inadequate.

The Inter University Students Federation (IUSF), which is controlled by the Sinhala extremist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), is doing everything it can to limit the students’ struggle and isolate them from the working class.

Sabaragamuwa University Students Council president Anushka Supun Kumara told the WSWS: “We engage in protests with the IUSF. As with the IUSF, we do ‘students politics’.” Challenged to explain the failure of previous protests to satisfy students’ demands, he replied: “We are not doing workers’ politics. If we do that, we cannot win students.”

The IUSF and JVP leaders blame the poor state of the universities on wastage and corruption on the part of the university authorities. The same argument is made by the JVP and its trade unions, which insist that official corruption and waste prevent workers’ demands being met.

These claims hide the fact that the Rajapakse government slashed funds for welfare programs, subsidies, education and health services to massively increase military expenditure for its communalist war against the Tamil minority. The JVP and IUSF not only supported Rajapakse taking power but vociferously supported the war.

Despite its military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the government is increasing the size of the armed forces. The troops will be used for a permanent occupation of the north and east and to suppress the struggles of workers and students. The government has now launched an “economic war” in the name of “nation building” in order to impose the burden of the world recession and the military expenditure on working people.

Students must unify their struggles with the working class to defend free education and demand decent facilities. Above all, this means turning to an international socialist program based on abolishing the capitalist system and reorganising society to meet the social needs of all rather than the profits of a wealthy few. This is the perspective advanced only by the WSWS and ISSE. [courtey: WSWS]

Tamils look for leadership after Tigers

By Swaminathan Natarajan
BBC Tamil

Tamil Tiger supporters in London
Who will Tamil Tiger supporters look to now for leadership

The military defeat of the Tamil Tigers in May has thrown the leadership of Tamil politics wide open.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) never took part in elections but at its peak it had a standing army, a navy, a rudimentary air force and was able to control 15,000 sq km of land.

The LTTE proclaimed itself to be the sole representative of the Tamils and killed many leaders and intellectuals who differed from this view.

The last popular democratic leader of Tamils, Appapillai Amirthalingam, who led the moderate Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) was assassinated 20 years ago by the LTTE.

To avoid the the Tigers' bullets some politicians toed the LTTE line, others aligned themselves with the government to get protection, while others simply left the country.

So there is uncertainty over who will be the able to fill the vacuum created by the exit of the LTTE which dominated ethnic politics for more than two decades.

Whoever does emerge into a position of leadership will face many challenges.

Pressure power

Finding an acceptable solution to the ethnic problem is the main issue for Tamil parties.

But speeding up the resettlement process of close 300,000 people now living in the camps is the immediate challenge.

The LTTE's aim was for an independent Tamil homeland.

During the Oslo round of talks in 2003 , it said it was ready to explore the chances for a federal solution but this assurance was short-lived and the peace process stalled.

Prabhakaran
The leader of the Tigers, Prabhakaran was was killed in May this year

But now that the LTTE have been wiped-out, Tamil political parties are pressing for greater devolution, but they fear a triumphant Sri Lankan Government may not yield much.

Moreover, the Tamil parties themselves are divided about what exactly they want from a political deal.

"Due to effective military actions, LTTE was able to force the government to start talks. But today there is no leadership that can exert such a pressure," says K Sarveshwaran, a professor at Colombo University.

Federal Sri Lanka?

The pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA), an umbrella group of Tamil parties, secured 22 out of 23 seats in the Tamil majority areas of the north and east during the last parliamentary elections.

It is trying to assume a leadership role by proposing a solution.

"Our proposals will be based on the Canadian and Swiss model of power sharing in a federal set up. We will try to build a consensus among the Tamil parties barring the ones which support the ruling party," says R Sampanthan, the leader of the TNA.

But the senior Tamil politician and leader of Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) V. Anandasangaree, has already rejected the TNA's call for unity.

"During the final months of the war, the whole world was urging the LTTE to release the civilians they kept as hostage. The TNA was the only organisation which did not ask the LTTE to free civilians. How can I forget that and ally with them now?" he asks.

R Sampanthan, the Leader of the TNA
When LTTE was controlling a large chunk of territory and negotiating with the government we supported them. But now the situation is different
R Sampanthan, Leader of the TNA

He believes the Indian model of power sharing between the central and state governments will solve the problems in Sri Lanka.

But the Sinhala hardliners in the government are not keen to dilute the unitary structure of the Sri Lankan state.

The All Party Representative Committee set up by the President is also expected to come out with its final report soon, but there is scepticism that it can pull off the feat of satisfying Tamils while not ruffling feathers in the Sinhala South.

End to violence

Former militant leaders like Douglas Devananda and Vinayagamurthy Muralitharan ("Colonel Karuna") have joined the government. Col Karuna has even joined the ruling party.

However, there is also some interest in whether the remnants of the Tamil Tigers, including its remaining leadership abroad, will have any influence on events in Sri Lanka

The head of LTTE's international affairs Selvarasa Pathmanathan, told the BBC's Tamil Service, that the LTTE would pursue the goal of independence but would not use violence.

He even announced his intention to form a transnational government.

But many Tamils in Sri Lanka are not excited. Even the pro-LTTE TNA is asserting itself.

"When the LTTE was controlling a large chunk of territory and negotiating with the government we supported them. But now the situation is different," Mr. Sampanthan the TNA leader says.

But signs of dissent have emerged among TNA parliamentarians.

Map of Sri Lanka

Some MPs have started praising the government and a few others have toned down their criticism.

But Professor Sarveshwaran says that the TNA can provide leadership to the Tamils at this critical juncture.

"The TNA won the confidence of majority of Tamils in the last elections. It can spearhead the Tamil demand to achieve an honourable settlement," he says.

The TNA is engaging the Indian government in an effort to bring pressure upon the Sri Lankan government.

But some are critical of this approach.

"Ordinary Tamils are angry with India. Without the help of India, the Sri Lankan Army would have never won the war," says one MP.

But Professor Sarveshawaran says "We must remember that even those countries which have supported Sri Lankan military efforts against the LTTE never questioned the validity of the Tamil cause."

"The Tamil problem predates the Tamil Tigers. A solution needs to be found for their aspirations. There is a leadership vacuum now but this is only temporary."[courtesy: BBC.co.uk]

Govt. memos and UN documents obtained by AP indicate camp conditions worsening

The Associated Press is reporting from Colombo of worsening conditions in camps for the internally displaced persons in Northern Sri Lanka.

In a report dated Sunday July 19th, AP said "in June, chicken pox was rampant and cases of typhoid, tuberculosis, skin and respiratory infections, hepatitis A, scabies and diarrhea have begun cropping up, according to U.N. reports. More than 35 percent of children under 5 are suffering from wasting, or acute malnutrition, according to a July 3 government presentation."

Full report by AP as follows:

War refugees interned in camps built by donors

by Ravi Nessman

In just six months, one of the world's largest camps for war refugees has been carved out of the jungles of northern Sri Lanka, complete with banks, post offices, schools and a supermarket. But no one is allowed out, and hardly anyone is allowed in.

Aid workers and foreign diplomats increasingly fear that Manik Farm, a facility they helped build, is actually a military-run internment camp where 210,000 ethnic Tamil civilians displaced by the civil war are being held indefinitely. Government memos and U.N. documents obtained by The Associated Press, as well as interviews with more than two dozen aid workers, U.N. officials, diplomats and rights advocates, detail how the international community poured tens of millions of dollars into these camps, despite their concerns.

"At best, it is at the edge of all kinds of international principles," said one Western diplomat based in Colombo, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals from the government. "But more likely, it is illegal."

The documents and interviews also reveal what appear to be worsening conditions at the camp, which houses civilians displaced in the final, bloody battles of the quarter-century civil war that ended two months ago.

In June, chicken pox was rampant and cases of typhoid, tuberculosis, skin and respiratory infections, hepatitis A, scabies and diarrhea have begun cropping up, according to U.N. reports. More than 35 percent of children under 5 are suffering from wasting, or acute malnutrition, according to a July 3 government presentation leaked to the AP.

Tents meant for five are packed with up to 15 people, water is scarce and the seasonal rains expected in the coming weeks could create a health nightmare, several foreign aid workers said. Relatives are not allowed to visit, although many gather at the barbed wire fence hoping to get messages to their loved ones. Opposition lawmakers are barred as well, and independent journalists are only allowed in on rare, military-guided tours.

Signs of unrest are growing. Several weeks ago, inmates held a protest demanding they be reunited with family members in other fenced-off sections of the camp, aid workers said. Military troops shot in the air to disperse the angry residents.

The Sri Lankan government has branded Manik Farm a "welfare village," where children can go to school, parents can get vocational training and those traumatized by the war can get medical and social care. Sri Lankan officials say most of the refugees will be able to return to their homes by the end of the year, and that they will open up the camps after they screen out former Tamil Tiger rebels who could stir up trouble.

However, aid workers say the military officer in charge told them almost no war refugees would go home this year, and the screening process is dragging on, with even civilians who fled the war in January still confined to the camps.

Mano Ganesan, an ethnic Tamil parliamentarian, said the government sealed the camps to keep those inside from telling the world about the final months of the war, when human rights groups say the military killed thousands of civilians with heavy shelling.

"There is no other logical reason to understand the government's position," he said.

---

The civil war in Sri Lanka pitted the government of this island off the southern coast of India against one of the world's most sophisticated insurgencies, which was fighting for a separate state for the Tamil minority. The battle raged across the Tamil Tigers' shadow state in the north. The U.N. says the conflict the U.N. killed between 80,000 and 100,000 people since 1983.

By last August, government forces appeared to finally have the upper hand. Anticipating a wave of civilians fleeing the fighting, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees drew up a three-page memo Aug. 29 setting out the conditions it would require to help Sri Lanka set up displacement camps. The camps should be run by a civilian administration, and the displaced should be guaranteed "full and unhindered freedom of movement," the memo noted.

In January, the government asked international donors to help build five camps - with 39,000 semi-permanent homes, 7,800 toilets and 390 community centers - to hold civilians for up to three years.

Aid workers feared they were being asked to build military-run prison camps to indefinitely detain hundreds of thousands of civilians, according to an official who took part in meetings with the government. They decided to provide temporary tents instead of shacks and to make only a three-month commitment to the camps.

In four days in the middle of April, more than 100,000 civilians escaped the war zone. The same month, a U.N. document reported that armed soldiers and some paramilitary groups were stationed inside the camps. In a private memo written at that time, Walter Kaelin, a senior U.N. official, demanded a time frame for the civilians to be freed from the camps. By the end of the war in May, nearly 300,000 civilians were living in schools and displacement camps. The largest was Manik Farm, so densely populated it would stand as the second-largest city in the country. Aid groups put up 43,000 shelters and tents, 8,761 latrines, 339 places to bathe, 12 nutrition centers and 132 temporary learning spaces for students, according to the U.N.

Aid groups continued to help well after their initial three-month commitment expired, despite ongoing concerns. The head of one group said the major agencies and the U.N. "are incapable of negotiating or playing hardball with the government."

The conflict exposes a major dilemma aid groups and donors worldwide face: They feel bound to assist desperate civilians, yet such work might support government policies they strongly protest.

Most of the aid officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity out of fear the government would further restrict their access to the camps or expel their organizations from the country. In recent weeks, the government demanded agencies sign agreements promising not to make "public comments" about camp conditions without authorization. It asked the Red Cross, one of the more critical groups, to "scale down" its operations.

As an AP journalist interviewed one agency head, five immigration officials raided his office to ensure his foreign staff had the proper visas. The AP has not been allowed into the camps since May, and requests to interview Maj. Gen. G. A. Chandrasiri, the military official who ran the camps until he was named governor of the Northern Province on Wednesday, have gone unanswered.

"We are doing a great wrong to these people," former Chief Justice Sarath Silva said after a visit to Manik Farm last month, just days before his retirement.

Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Center for Policy Alternatives, a local public policy group, said Manik Farm and the other facilities are "internment camps or detention camps." His group filed a suit in the Supreme Court last month accusing the government of illegally detaining hundreds of thousands of its own citizens.

Ganesan filed a second suit, with four other opposition lawmakers, demanding access to what he called "more or less prison camps."

That description angered Resettlement Minister Rishard Badurdeen.

"That is wrong. People are very happy there," he said.

Badurdeen said the government has allowed more than 3,000 people over the age of 60 to leave the camps and resettled several thousand people since May who were displaced in fighting in 2007. He said the government needs to finish registering and screening the camp residents, and that authorities have already pulled out nearly 10,000 former insurgents for rehabilitation.

Badurdeen declined to give a time frame for when the refugees can be released: "After the registration, we can consider it, along with security concerns."

Government officials say they cannot return the civilians to their former homes until the north is demined and certified safe by the United Nations.

"Every square centimeter has been mined by the LTTE (the rebels). If something happens, I am responsible," President Mahinda Rajapaksa told the Indian newspaper The Hindu in a recent interview.

Demining experts say Rajapaksa is grossly exaggerating the problem, with one estimating that only 2 to 3 percent of the region might be mined. Experts said it would take about six months to remove unexploded shells from towns and fields and to mark off the minefields so residents don't wander into them. But deminers have been barred from all but a tiny corner of the former war zone, said three people involved in the demining process.

Ganesan said he feared the government was using the mines as an excuse to keep civilians out so it could set up armed military camps across the north.

-----

In the meantime, military officials are pushing to make the facilities at the camps more permanent - a move many aid workers had long feared.

When temporary latrines overflowed from use by more than 100 people each - 2 1/2 times their intended capacity - military commanders demanded concrete latrines. The aid groups offered to build more wooden latrines instead.

With heavy rains expected in the coming weeks, military commanders suggested giving residents bags of cement to pour foundations for their tents. The aid groups protested that cement floors could become the foundations for permanent structures.

Some infrastructure is going up. The army ran electricity lines to power lights and loudspeakers. UNICEF laid pipe to bring in water from a nearby river.

The government says 80 percent of those in the camps will return home by the end of the year. But Chandrasiri told aid officials that no more displaced families would go home in the next six months and only 20 percent within a year, said an official at the meeting. Meanwhile, the government is clearing more sites and building more camps.

"At the current rate, they will still be building the camp at the time they should be taking it down," the official said.

The pressure is growing on the government to compromise.

The U.N. called for $270 million in aid to Sri Lanka this year, but only $96 million has been promised. The lack of funds forced aid groups have cut back on fruit and vegetables for the camps, leaving many with little more than rice and lentils.

The camps cost nearly $400,000 a day to operate. Foreign governments will be hesitant to pledge more if conditions don't change, and Sri Lanka would be hard pressed to pay on its own.

"We can't keep these people very long in a refugee camp. We don't have the resources," said Badurdeen, the resettlement minister.

Neil Buhne, head of the U.N. mission in Sri Lanka, said aid agencies would review the situation in the camps in mid-August, but declined to say whether they would pull out if the gates remained shut.

For now, those trapped inside worry about their future, Buhne said.

"Every time I go to the camps more people ask me, 'When are we going to be let out?'"[courtesy: AP]

July 18, 2009

History will decide whether Mr. Rajapaksa will be remembered as a nationalist avenger or a unifying peacemaker

Justifying a Costly War in Sri Lanka

by Lydia Polgreen

More than 2,000 years ago, a Sinhalese king named Dutugemunu saddled up his elephant and headed north to fight and kill Elara, an invading Tamil king from India. The battle between the men is one of the most celebrated moments in Sri Lankan history, and the last time, until two months ago, that a Sri Lankan ruler won such a decisive victory over a mortal threat.

MRNYT071.jpg

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat of the Tamil Tigers has made him a hero to many Sri Lankans, but others find his air of triumph unseemly.

Perhaps it is no wonder, then, that fans of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president of Sri Lanka, have taken to calling him a modern-day incarnation of King Dutugemunu. After all, he presided over the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, among the world’s most enduring and vicious guerrilla separatists, hardened fighters who have humiliated four presidents over nearly three decades.

Asked about this comparison earlier this month, Mr. Rajapaksa laughed it off, insisting that the legend was misunderstood as a triumph of one ethnicity over another. After his victory, the story goes, Dutugemunu made peace with the Tamils and honored the memory of Elara, who was beloved by his people.

NYT0918.jpg

[Thousands displaced by fighting are living in camps like this one near Vavuniya. They should be returned home within six months, Mr. Rajapaksa says. ~ pic by: Keith Bedford for The New York Times]

Thousands displaced by fighting are living in camps like this one near Vavuniya. They should be returned home within six months, Mr. Rajapaksa says.

History will decide whether Mr. Rajapaksa will be remembered as a nationalist avenger or a unifying peacemaker.

But in a wide-ranging interview this month at Temple Trees, the former prime minister’s residence that now serves as the president’s office, Mr. Rajapaksa emerged as a man bent on total victory, no matter the cost, who was convinced that his government’s actions in crushing the Tamil Tiger insurgency after 26 years were not only justified but humane.

“All governments tried to discuss with them,” Mr. Rajapaksa said of the Tigers. “All failed. Because when they are weak they came to talks. Within a few weeks they walk out of the talks, but better equipped and strengthened.”

Mr. Rajapaksa’s determination to vanquish the insurgency once and for all lifted him to the presidency in 2005, in the midst of an informal election boycott enforced by the Tigers. Now, the stunning and total defeat of the Tamil Tigers in May, accomplished with an enormous loss of lives — tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians through the years — has made him a hero to many Sri Lankans.

His fleshy, mustachioed face beams down from billboards across the country. Often his brothers, who control key portfolios in the government, flank him in these portraits. One, Basil Rajapaksa, is a senior adviser who was the prime architect of the war strategy against the rebels, also known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. His other brother, Gotabaya, is the powerful secretary of defense.

President Rajapaksa is careful to use conciliatory language and speak about the importance of winning the peace, not just the war. In his speech to the nation after the Tigers’ fearsome leader, Vellupillai Prabhakaran, was killed, he pointedly spoke in Tamil. He has repeatedly invoked the maxim that the war was against the Tigers, not the Tamil people.

But so far talk of reconciliation has been just that, according to politicians, analysts and diplomats here, and there have been no concrete steps toward a lasting political solution to Sri Lanka’s thorny ethnic problem.

The Tamil minority has suffered discrimination and violence at the hands of various Sinhalese-dominated governments through the decades. Tamils have sought, first peacefully, then violently, the right to a measure of self-rule in Tamil-dominated areas.

While publicly pledging to seek a political solution, Mr. Rajapaksa has put off for the moment the question of how to share power with the Tamil minority, saying that any agreement would have to wait until after the next presidential election, scheduled for November.

“I was given a mandate to defeat terrorism; I have defeated them,” he said. “Now I must go and tell them now I want a mandate to settle this problem forever, a political solution.”

Mr. Rajapaksa is all but certain to win a second term. The opposition is fragmented. Journalists and analysts have to choose their words carefully or risk arrest. One popular astrologer was recently arrested after predicting that the president would be ejected from office.

Mr. Rajapaksa made it clear that he would tolerate only a limited amount of devolution, something that may poison negotiations right from the start.

“Federalism is out of the question,” he said. “It must be a homegrown solution.”

Most Tamil political leaders want a single, Tamil-speaking majority state in the north and east of the country that would have authority over most matters except foreign policy, trade and the military.

But this is a nonstarter for many of the Sinhala Buddhist nationalist politicians who make up the core of Mr. Rajapaksa’s coalition government. The most hard-line nationalist party has threatened to leave the coalition if even a watered-down law to share power is passed.

“Peace will require a more federal power-sharing arrangement,” said Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu of the Center for Policy Alternatives, a nonpartisan research and advocacy institution in Colombo, the capital. “But there has been this primordial fear that federalism is a precursor to seccession.”

But the opposite is true, he argued. “It is the refusal to share power that has led to the armed conflict to begin with,” he said.

Understanding this refusal requires a reach back to the time of Dutugemunu and Elara, the Tamil king who came from India. Just 20 miles off Sri Lanka’s coast, India looms large over the island. The great size of India’s Tamil population — more than 50 million people — helps explain why the Sinhalese majority here may feel threatened, thinking and acting more like an endangered minority even though it makes up more than 70 percent of the Sri Lankan population.

India has been pressing Sri Lanka to move quickly to resettle the Tamil civilians displaced by the war and reach a deal to share central power with the country’s minorities. Mr. Rajapaksa has pledged to get most of the displaced, who are living in closed, military-run camps in the north, back to their homes within six months.

Mr. Rajapaksa said he had taken a number of steps aimed at forging a sense of national unity and bringing minorities more fully into the fold.

The government is offering a one-time payment of about $250 to any civil servant who learns another Sri Lankan language, part of an effort to start requiring that officials and bureaucrats speak Tamil as well as Sinhala. The president said he was also seeking ways to recruit more Tamils into the Sri Lankan military and the police force.

But the government’s mood since the end of the fighting in May has been one of triumphant victory. Alongside the billboards of Mr. Rajapaksa and his brothers are huge, Rambo-style photographs of the bandolier-draped commandos who penetrated deep behind the Tamil Tigers’ lines to whittle at the rebel fighting force and weaken its resolve.

Many Sri Lankans see these soldiers as heroes, but given the controversy that remains over how many Tamil civilians were killed in the last weeks of the fighting, some people find the air of martial triumph unseemly.

“They are trying to get a great deal of political mileage from the fact that they militarily defeated” the Tamil Tigers, said Rajavarothiam Sampanthan, a member of Parliament for the Tamil National Alliance. “We don’t see any movement toward ending the political conflict.”

Riding high on his big victory, Mr. Rajapaksa said he needed only one verdict on his leadership: that of the Sri Lankan people.

“I am not fool enough to call myself a king,” he said with a laugh. Churchill, he mused, was thrown out of office after victory in World War II.

“If anyone doesn’t want me, I must not be the president of this country,” he said. “It is democracy.” [courtesy: NY Times]

July 16, 2009

Stop the War on Journalists in Sri Lanka

Open Letter to His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa

The following is a joint open letter of the International Federation of Journalists and other press freedom organisations addressed to President Mahinda Rajapaska of Sri Lanka over the situation of journalists in the country.

The International Press Freedom Mission to Sri Lanka, which is comprised of representatives from the world's media community, is extremely concerned over the ongoing spate of violent attacks against the media. In spite of the military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the deterioration of the press freedom situation in the country has continued.

We welcome your recent statement ensuring the safety of Tamil-language media outlets following a series of harrowing attacks and death threats against their personnel.

However, we believe that much needs to be done immediately to ensure that Sri Lanka's journalists and independent news media in Sinhala, Tamil and English enjoy the freedom and safety to which they are entitled in a democracy.

The International Mission would therefore like to propose to you and your Government a 11-point plan to redress the perilous press freedom environment in Sri Lanka:

1. Combat impunity through the creation of a Special Prosecutor's Office for the investigation of crimes against the media with full autonomy to investigate attacks on and assassinations of journalists and to bring those responsible to justice. Several journalists have been killed since 2007, and yet none of these murders has yet been solved.

2. In accordance with international standards on media freedom and freedom of expression, put in place effective measures to ensure that all journalists can work safely, in particular in areas where local council elections will soon take place such as Jaffna and Vavuniya.

3. Release imprisoned journalist J.S. Tissainayagam and his colleagues B. Jasiharan and V. Vallarmathy, who have been detained since March 2008 under the Emergency Regulations, and were later charged under the 2006 Prevention of Terrorism Act. Withdraw all unjustified complaints and lawsuits brought by the police and government against journalists and freedom of expression activists and repeal legal provisions which may be used to punish journalists for engaging in legitimate media work, including those found in anti-terrorism legislation.

4. Release the first results of the investigation into the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge in 2009.

5. Provide full and unconditional access to the IDP camps for all media in order to report freely and fairly on the reconstruction process since the end of the war. The media can play a vital role in making sure that the reconstruction and reconciliation efforts are genuine and have real impact to bringing lasting peace.

6. Repeal the Press Council Act No. 5 of 1973, which includes powers to fine and/or impose criminal measures, including sentencing journalists, editors and publishers to lengthy prison terms. Instead, allow the media to strengthen the existing self-regulatory mechanism, in accordance with democratic practices.

7. Introduce training for the police, army and the intelligence agencies on freedom of expression and the important role of the media in a democratic society. Since 2007, security forces have been allegedly responsible for kidnapping, beating and threatening at least 30 journalists and media workers.

8. Award financial compensation to journalists who have been arbitrarily detained, beaten or otherwise harassed by security forces.

9. Invite the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom and Expression to visit Sri Lanka, in line with your Government's commitments to the Human rights Council in 2006.

10. Work with the state-owned media to ensure the immediate end to direct verbal attacks and threats against independent journalists and press freedom activists, which has in particular promoted the unethical spread of accusations portraying the media as LTTE-supporters in a concerted hate campaign that has put several journalists lives in unnecessary danger.

11. Introduce structural legal reforms to create an enabling environment for a free and independent media including by transforming existing state media into independent public service media, with guaranteed editorial independence, by adopting a strong right to information law and by overhauling broadcast regulation to put it in the hands of an independent regulator with a mandate to regulate in the public interest.

We are aware that the task you face is enormous, but we hope that your conviction to ensure a prosperous and democratic future for Sri Lanka will lead you to make it a priority to strengthen press freedom as a vital pillar in the reconstruction of a unified Sri Lanka.

We, as leading press freedom organisations across the globe, hope that you will give your personal attention to these matters and that you will encourage your government to consolidate a climate in which journalists can work freely and without fear.

In October 2006, June 2007 and October 2008 delegations from the International Press Freedom Mission to Sri Lanka, which is comprised of twelve international press freedom and media development organisations, undertook fact-finding and advocacy missions to Sri Lanka.

Those organisations joining this statement from the International Mission group include:

ARTICLE 19
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
International Media Support (IMS)
International News Safety Institute (INSI)
International Press Institute (IPI)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA)
World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC)

July 15, 2009

Building a new society in Sri Lanka based on equality and justice

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Last month I posted on this Blog a letter written by a grand uncle to his grand nephew. The grand uncle was none other than the well-known trade unionist and human rights activist Upali Cooray.

This former stalwart of the Ceylon Mercantile Union was an active member of the Lanka Sama Samaaja Party (LSSP) who later broke away from it.

Upali Cooray a lawyer is now resident in Britain. He is senior lecturer in Law at the Metropolitian University in London. He is also involved with the centre for democracy and justice.

A vulgar and cruse exhibition of triumphalism was let loose in Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Cooray's young grand nephew was also one of those engulfed by the triumphalist tide. Observing the jingoist and triumphalist remarks posted by his grand nephew on his facebook the grand uncle wrote him a letter.

Stating "it is obvious that you have been swept by the chauvinist fever" Upali proceeded to point out precisely in the letter the inherent dangers of this misplaced triumphalism. [click here to read in full ~ dbsjeyaraj.com]

“Tamil camps”: The Time for silence on is over – NY Times

NY Times Editorial, July 16, 2009:

More than two months after declaring victory over Tamil Tiger guerillas, Sri Lanka’s government is continuing to hold hundreds of thousands of displaced Tamil civilians in what it calls “welfare villages,” but what increasingly look like military internment camps.

The civilians, many of whom were held hostage by the guerrillas in the bloody last stage of the long war, are not being allowed out of the camps, and access by human-rights organizations or journalists is highly restricted.

The government claims it is looking for Tamil Tigers among the refugees and clearing Tamil villages of landmines before letting people return. It may well be that there are former guerrillas hiding among the civilians — the Tamil Tigers had no compunctions about using civilians as cannon fodder or forcibly conscripting men and children. But the screening process is dragging on far too long. And many refugees see it as another abuse of the country’s Tamil minority. As one prominent Tamil politician told The New York Times’s Lydia Polgreen, “This is simply asking for another conflict later on down the road.” If President Mahinda Rajapaksa means it when he says he seeks reconciliation with the Tamils, he should start by letting these people return to their homes.

The government’s strict control on visits to the camps has also raised suspicions that it may be trying to block any investigation into possible government abuses committed in the last months of the war. Soldiers corralled the Tigers, along with hundreds of thousands of civilians into a narrow stretch of beach and, according to human-rights organizations, shelled the area repeatedly. The United Nations says that thousands of civilians were killed, though how and by whom remains murky in the absence of independent investigations.

Donor countries — including the United States, the European Union and Japan — as well as international aid organizations are helping provide food, shelter and clothing to the camps. Most have kept quiet so far about the Tamils’ plight, evidently fearful that criticizing conditions in the camps could get them thrown out of the camps. The time for silence is over. The best way to help the Tamils is by demanding their freedom and an end to their long ordeal.

July 14, 2009

Ban-Ki-moon asked of his 'accomplishment' in Sri Lanka

The venerable US Newspaper The Wall Street Journal asked the UN Secretary General Ban-KI-moon of his 'accomplishment' in Sri Lanka, in a detailed a interview and article published today.

WSJ said the Secretary General is "struggling to prove himself on the world stage," at a time of President Barack Obama administration is urging a stronger role by UN in world affairs.

Ban-Ki-moon don't cover up

[NYC Rally on June 17, protesting UN inaction in Sri Lanka-pic:aquaview]

Excerpts from the interview, questions and answers relating to Sri Lanka, as follows:

WSJ: Many of your critics say you travel too much, that you are not in New York enough and delegate too much in New York on management issues and not enough to your representatives abroad. And that by traveling too often you are devaluing the impact of a Secretary General visit. Also that your timing is off, in Sri Lanka you arrived after the fighting, almost putting a seal of approval on what the Sri Lankan government had done.

Mr. Ban: I am aware of that kind of sentiment, even criticism. I have been on the road maybe average one-third of my time trying to attend multilateral meetings or very crucial events where I can really send out some messages. But when you have 192 member states who want to invite me to their events, I have been refraining from meeting on a purely bilateral purpose. I try to be more often in headquarters. However I delegate my authority, the tendency is for people looking to the head, of course. But they know what they should do, all these under-secretaries general or assistant secretaries-general. So it doesn't involve me much in my direct intervention in the daily activities. With global communications I can be reached wherever I am.

WSJ: But on Sri Lanka. I'd be interested to hear your view about what you accomplished on Sri Lanka.

Mr. Ban: If you look at my timing of my visit to Sri Lanka you may argue that I was there after everything had finished. A long time before this crisis began I have been urging the Sri Lanka government to protect the civilian population, not to use heavy weapons. I have been talking to them all the time. Sometimes I issued a strong statement, urging and criticizing them. On my visit, first of all I called for unimpeded access to internally displaced camps. That has been done. Then [the Sri Lankan president] assured me that 80% of these people would be resettled by the end of this year. It was very difficult to agree with him on a joint communique. I conveyed the importance of full accountability, taking into consideration the view of the international community and non-governmental organizations. I strongly urged them that before there was an external imposition on them to be committed to accountability. In the end [the Sri Lankan president] agreed to full accountability and I am sure he will take action soon.

WSJ: At least 10,000 civilians died. Wouldn't it have made a difference if you had made public statements while the killing was going on as opposed to a joint communique after the fact?

Mr. Ban: That's what I said. Whatever the number may be, it was totally unacceptable. Unfortunately there was a high number of civilian casualties. At this time I would like to make it quite clear that there were some allegations that the United Nations closed our eyes to this [reported figure of] 20,000 civilian casualties and tried to underestimate this number. First of all that is totally not true. We have never done that. I should not be responsible for that. It's totally not true. Whatever the number might be, this is an unacceptable one. In these extreme conditions, it was not possible to know the exact number of people who had been killed. That is what I can tell you at this time.

Related on WSJ:

* - The U.N.'s 'Invisible Man'

* - Interview Transcript

Aid Organisations Struggle to Operate in Post-war Sri Lanka

By Feizal Samath

The Sri Lankan government wants the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to scale down its operations in the country, but is sparing other international nongovernmental organisations amid questions over the post-war role for humanitarian workers.

Sarasi Wijeratne, ICRC spokesperson in Colombo, this week confirmed that they were shutting down four offices in the eastern region. These offices had 148 local staff and up to 10 expatriates, out of its total strength of 649.

"The ICRC is in the process of reviewing its setup and operational priorities in Sri Lanka," said Jacques de Maio, the organization's the head of operations for South Asia, said in a statement last week.

Following the ‘cessation of hostilities’, the government had asked the ICRC, present in Sri Lanka since 1989, to scale down its operations in the country, the statement said. The organization, involved primarily in providing humanitarian assistance to the war-displaced, was working on the island on an ad hoc basis before 1989.

The news was however did not take other nongovernmental organisations by surprise, given they have had a rocky relationship with the nationalist government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa since the latter’s installation in power in November 2005.

Dr Vinya Ariyaratne, Executive Director of Sarvodaya, Sri Lanka’s biggest local NGO with a broad grassroots reach, said the government attitude is neither hostile nor supportive towards NGOs.

"There is a kind of middle path but I am supportive in the government move to scale down operations of agencies (like ICRC) whose role becomes limited in a post-war scenario," he told IPS.

An expatriate worker for an international aid agency, who declined to be named, said there have been discussions with government officials on the post war role for international NGOs.

"There is no pressure or request to reduce our work programmes but certainly there is a need to re-define our role and set out the boundaries," she said.

She said while the government was good at infrastructure development like building roads, schools and hospitals, civil society was more experienced in the soft side of development like reintegration of the displaced and preparing them for a life after war.

Dozens of NGOs, mostly international agencies like ICRC, UNICEF, Save the Children and from the UN system have been active in the combat zone in the northern theatre of war earlier this year, as fighting between Tamil rebels and government troops reached its peak.

Except for the ICRC, all these groups pulled out after troops closed in on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels, killing the remaining fighters and their leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and secured control of the entire north for the first time in decades. The north and the east, which the rebels have been fighting over since 1983 to establish a separate homeland for minority Tamils, are now under the control of the Sri Lanka government forces.

Over the years, Rajapaksa’s regime has dealt with civil society groups with an iron fist, and in some cases, his government has accused unnamed NGOs of supporting Tamil Tiger rebels.

NGOs are involved in providing facilities to some 300,000 displaced persons who are living in camps in northern Vavuniya, but with limited access to these camps.

In recent times, the government has imposed about one percent tax on foreign donations received by NGOs. Visas to expatriate workers, including the head of agencies, are also restricted and in some cases reduced to six months with provisions to renew, which becomes a cumbersome process mired in bureaucracy. Expatriates normally serve a 3-year period.

However, while this has been an issue with NGOs over the past few years, the post-war development phase may even seen a scaling up of work by civil society groups.

"There is a lot to be done in the post war phase and once we clarify our role with the government, this would clear the way for a more fruitful relationship with the authorities and communities," the expatriate worker said.

Dr Ariyaratne from Sarvodaya said scaling down is a natural thing given that there is a reduced need for these services.

"What needs to be done is re-define the role of NGOs and INGOs," he said, adding that there are some services that must be provided by the government in peace-time, unlike earlier times when NGOs performed this role when they were torn between two parties, the government and rebel forces.

He said that civil society’s input becomes important areas like healthcare and livelihood support. "We also help the displaced to become self reliant and prepare them to receive state services," he added.

ICRC’s Wijeratne said the agency is continuing to discuss with the authorities its future activities. She says there remain humanitarian needs that must be taken care of.

"We work with displaced people, the sick and wounded, and the disabled, and also returning populations," she said.

The ICRC also has offices in Jaffna, Vavuniya and Mannar in the northern region while two offices in the heart of the battlefield - Kilinochchi and PTK (Puthukudiirrupu) - just before it fell from rebel control, have been shut down after being captured by the government. (IPS)

War-Wounded and Displaced Patients Flood MSF Hospitals

Sri Lanka 2009 © Anne Yzebe/MSF

An MSF surgeon prepares to treat a young patient in an MSF hospital close to the displaced persons camps in Manik Farm, in the north of the country.

Working in conjunction with the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health, Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical teams in Vavuniya District in Sri Lanka’s northeast have performed more than 5,000 surgeries over the last five months, most to treat conflict-related injuries. Activities are currently focused on post-operative care, including minor surgery, dressings, and physical therapy, as well as hospitalizations for displaced persons.

Seven weeks after fighting ended between the Sri Lankan army and the Tamil Tiger rebels, fewer patients are arriving at the hospitals, but their numbers still exceed bed capacity. The total number of patients at the 450-bed hospital in Vavuniya has stabilized in recent weeks at approximately 1,200. MSF is working with Ministry of Health staff in the Vavuniya and Pompaimadu hospitals, as well as in an MSF hospital located across from the Manik Farm camps.

Surgery and post-operative care for the wounded still constituted most of June's activities, with nearly 1,200 surgeries performed on war-related injuries and thousands of wounds dressed. "Increasing numbers of displaced persons are now coming to the hospitals, too," says Hugues Robert, MSF head of mission for Sri Lanka. "The population in Vavuniya District nearly doubled over a few months, with more than 260,000 displaced persons arriving from the former conflict zone in the Vanni, area of northern Sri Lanka. This means that there are many pregnant women and many children who are developing complications from respiratory illnesses, malnutrition, and diarrhea. The Ministry of Health has expanded its capacity to treat these patients, but given the breadth of the needs, we think it's important for MSF to continue to provide support and expertise."

Treating the displaced population

At the MSF hospital located across from the Manik Farm camps, staff has hospitalized 600 patients since its opening on May 22. Most are displaced persons, referred either by Ministry of Health staff working in the camps or by other hospitals that have run out of space. They arrive and leave in ambulances, accompanied by a member of the security forces.

"The primary causes of hospitalization are old wounds and respiratory and skin infections," says Marie-Noëlle Rodrigue, MSF's emergency operations manager. "We adapt based on the medical needs. For example, we are developing obstetric care. But because we don't provide medical care in the camps, we don't have a good sense of the health status of the population that has come out of the war zone."

Some displaced persons may require hospitalization for several days to several weeks. They include, for example, paralyzed and permanently disabled individuals who are treated at the Ministry of Health's Ayurvedic hospital in Pompaimadu. MSF's physical therapists help them regain some mobility so that they can move around with the crutches and wheelchairs provided by Handicap International.

Some of the wounded and ill are burn survivors, struggling to return to normal life. "I remember one woman whose face was ravaged – you couldn't tell her age,” a nurse recalls, “and she was with her eight-year-old daughter, the only one of her four children to survive. The child helped her in every aspect of her daily life. The woman would just disappear into herself for periods; it was the only way to escape the pain, in spite of the medication. She had to undergo several skin grafts after being wounded by multiple bomb explosions. I also remember a seven-year-old boy who no longer spoke and hadn't eaten practically anything for two months, since his father died. He was severely malnourished and did regain weight while he was hospitalized. But he never said a word right up until the time he left."

Overview of MSF's activities in Vavuniya District

Map

Ministry of Health hospital in Vavuniya: MSF has supported the surgical unit since February. Approximately 4,000 surgeries have been performed on war-related injuries. The volume of work remains high, with an average of 1,400 surgeries per month since April. The vast majority, 70 percent, involve war-related wounds. More than 3,000 dressings have been applied in a temporary tent, the accident unit and three other hospitalization departments where MSF received authorization to work. MSF also supports the nutrition center in the pediatrics department, with nine nutritional assistants. In addition, approximately 100 assistants help patients in various departments who cannot feed or wash themselves. They also distribute essential supplies, including sheets, clothing, and bags, to new patients who need such items.

Ministry of Health Ayurvedic hospital in Pompaimadu: More than 170 wounded patients receive care, from minor surgery to physical therapy, in this hospital, which has received support from MSF since May. A small operating room was installed for minor procedures. Most involve wound-cleaning under anesthesia so that patients do not suffer excessively. In June, 114 minor procedures, primarily wound cleaning, were performed. Two physical therapists and five assistants help patients work their muscles and move as much as possible. Approximately 150 patients have benefited from this physical therapy to date.

Manik Farm hospital: This 150-bed hospital is equipped with two operating rooms and an intensive care unit. The tents have been replaced gradually by semi-temporary structures in order to improve hospital conditions, and the number of beds may be increased further as needed. Of the 600 admissions since late May, approximately one-quarter were children under five years of age. The surgical team performed more than 300 procedures. More than one-third involved war injuries, primarily to extract shrapnel and bullet fragments. Outpatient services are also provided for new patients and for surgery patients who require post-operative treatment. 210 patients have received outpatient care since late May.

MSF has also been working at the Point Pedro hospital on the Jaffna peninsula since 2006, providing obstetric services, emergency care, and surgical care, and in the Chavakachcheri hospital since 2008, providing surgical consultations and prenatal care. MSF has provided prenatal care in the displaced persons' camps in Jaffa since June.

Mounting death toll in Sri Lankan detention camps

By Sarath Kumara

About 1,400 people are dying from disease every week inside Sri Lanka’s largest camps at Manik Farm, according to senior international aid sources, the British-based Times reported last week. The report is the latest evidence that conditions in the military-controlled detention centres, where nearly 300,000 Tamil civilians are being held, are worsening.

July 19 will mark two months since final batch of Tamil war refugees was interned in the camps near the northern town of Vavuniya after the government declared a military victory over the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on May 19.

President Mahinda Rajapakse’s government has dubbed the camps “welfare centres” but the over-crowded and unsanitary conditions underscore the reality of the collective punishment of the Tamil population. Aid workers have warned that the conditions are inadequate, with most of the deaths resulting from water-borne diseases, particularly diarrhoea.

Manik Farm, about 30 kilometres from Vavuniya, houses some than 160,000 refugees who fled the last strip of LTTE-held territory after facing constant shelling by the military. There are about 130,000 detainees in 32 other camps near Vavuniya and some 10,000 in centres on the Jaffna Peninsula.

The razor- and barbed wire-fenced camps are guarded by armed soldiers. Army intelligence units are continuing to seize youth from the camps as LTTE suspects without even informing their parents or relatives where they are being taken.

The Times also reported that aid agencies are being given only intermittent access to the camps. Even the Red Cross, the main agency given limited access for relief work, has not been allowed in on some days.

The Colombo-based Sunday Times reported yesterday that six doctors would travel to Vavuniya today to investigate reports of “suspected” outbreaks of the deadly diseases, meningitis and encephalitis. According to the reports, 65 adults are suffering from either one of the ailments, and 35 have already died. Several displaced children at the Vavuniya General Hospital are also thought to be victims of the two diseases.

A health ministry official admitted the disease outbreak, telling the newspaper: “This issue has been going on for some time now but the hospital does not have the expertise to diagnose the cause. The deaths occurred during the past three to four months.” According to the official, who did not want to reveal his name for fear of government reprisal, there were only 20 nurses serving all the camps and 80 doctors on duty at the medical centres.

Significantly, the government-employed doctors working in the detention camps and hospitals have also spoken out. The Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) has complained about the severe shortage of nurses and pharmacists in the detention camps and hospitals. The GMOA said there was a lack of medical expertise to identify the diseases.

GMOA spokesman Upul Gunasekera told the Sunday Times: “There were no nurses yesterday. We only saw one nurse and she too came from outside with a team of doctors. We need about 120 doctors and at least 300 nurses in the camps. At the Chettikulam hospital [an improvised hospital near Manik Farm] there are 130 children receiving treatment and there is only one doctor but no nurses. How can one doctor look after all the patients?”

Dr Gunasekara added: “The ministry has no plans to send nurses to these camps and the people are just criticising the doctors who are working there. The doctors are frustrated with the situation.” He also alleged there were severe lapses in the health administration at the camps. The fuel bill for ambulances had not been paid and the petrol station had refused to extend any more fuel, so only one of the three ambulances was operating. Doctors working in the camps were not being paid overtime and had no proper lodging facilities although the GMOA had raised the issue many times.

Vavuniya health director Dr M. Mahendran told the newspaper that the monies allocated for the district’s health budget had been exhausted. He had no funds for other things such as fuel for ambulances.

Last Thursday, the Colombo government announced the further scaling down of operations of all international relief agencies, including the Red Cross. Human Rights and Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe claimed that the decision was taken because the war was over.

In fact, the government is seeking to restrict information filtering out about the terrible conditions in the camps, and to prevent witnesses giving accounts of the army’s shelling of civilians during the final phase of the war. Unpublished UN reports indicated that 7,000 civilians were killed because of the bombardment from January to the first week of May alone.

Following the government’s latest directive, the Red Cross closed two offices in the east. One in Trincomalee was providing medical care for 13,000 injured people evacuated by sea from northern Mullaithivu in the last months of the war. The other office in Batticaloa provided “protection services” to people facing death threats by military-backed paramilitary forces.

The government has blatantly defended the conditions in the camps and denied any responsibility for health problems. In an interview with the Indian-based Hindu last week President Rajapakse declared: “I would say the conditions in our camps are the best any country has. We supply water. There is a problem with lavatories. That is not because of our fault.” Rajapakse claimed that the funds for sanitation were supplied by the European Union and were paid to the UN and non-government organisations that were “very slow” in disbursing money.

Rajapakse insisted that “security concerns,” including the mining of areas by the LTTE, made it impossible for the refugees to be freed immediately. He added that the “shortcomings” in the camps would be overcome “slowly”. His remarks are another indication that the government has no intention of keeping its promise to resettle the detainees within 180 days.

Alongside the indefinite mass detentions, which violate the most basic democratic rights as well as the country’s constitution, the government has tightened the military’s control over the Northern Province by appointing the army chief of staff, Major General G. A. Chandrasiri as the provincial governor. [courtesy: wsws]

The New Found Sinhala Monarch Will “Crown” Himself Again Early Next Year

By Kusal Perera

A collective of well respected Tamil citizens, have come out with their fourth statement, since the final onslaught of the much disputed war that defeated the LTTE and annihilated its leadership in mid May. The emergence of this Tamil grouping in the political canvas of Sri Lanka at this moment, is no doubt very significant and their assumptions as "Concerned Tamil people" also sound quite important. For once after the war, there is an independent voice on behalf of the Tamil people from "within Sri Lanka" that accepts the Diaspora and political parties don't mean much or anything to the Tamil people in post war Sri Lanka.

The Diaspora and Tamil politics

 

The active Tamil Diaspora is more eccentric than the Sinhala Diaspora that is fundamentally extremist. The very decision to declare a "Transitional government of Thamil Eelam" proves how reactive and politically insane this Tamil Diaspora is. This Tamil Diaspora group that has absolutely no political bearing and no social relationship with those 280,000 plus innocent civilians caught behind barbed wire and living as displaced people on their own soil and the 03 million Tamil people whose political voice had been totally muted, declaring a "Transitional Thamil Eelam government" from some where outside Sri Lanka is no joke, simply because these innocent uprooted Tamil people here don't have time for jokes and fun. That clearly is not their political need right now and not their political voice, for sure.

 

That being the Diaspora which funded and maintained the LTTE leadership, the other political entity the Tamil political parties too have no credibility and can not speak for these Tamil people any more. They were hand in glove with the Rajapaksa regime that is accused all round for over 12,000 civilians killed in its last dumb foray into LTTE held territory and for the massive displacement of civilians now held behind barbed wire.

 

To begin with, they are only armed groups that crossed the divide in 1987 July with the Indo-SL Accord and opted to work with subsequent governments in Colombo. They remain as such to date. They have never ever been groomed within democratic politics. Even after their cross over to work against the LTTE, they were compelled to maintain their armed organisational structure, first for their own security and safety and second, to be of use to the SL security forces that guaranteed their survival. Their role thus became very suspect and a hindrance in Tamil society that was feeling the repressive and brutal thrust of the war against the LTTE.

 

With continued war for over two decades since the Indo-SL Accord, these groups did not become "ex-militant" groups as some would wish to call them. They instead remained as "para military" groups. The war would not allow them to transform themselves into democratic political parties. Truth is, as wholly disarmed groups they can not play politics, for that was not their making. It is that what has happened to Pilleyan's TMVP and its dismembered part led by Karuna Amman. Both claim they are in democratic politics, but they can not play open politics with all their security beefed up by perhaps their own armed cadres with State security support. Even after the elimination of the LTTE, none of them have tried unarmed open politics with the people.

 

Simply speaking, these Tamil armed groups have failed to take the turn the second phase of the JVP took, after they were savagely crushed by the same security forces in the 1988-90 insurgency. While no body is told how the JVP disarmed themselves and what happened to their weapons, the re-emergence of the JVP into open politics was through elections that did not allow them to act as they did with arms in hand. Therefore the JVP had to show themselves as politicians in the mainstream and act that way too.

 

There is a fundamental difference in how these two entities from North and South emerged into open politics. The JVP came out all by themselves under a suspicious State that was never comfortable with their activities and had to prove themselves to the people they are into politics without arms. But these Tamil groups did not have to go through such a social test. All they had to do is to cross over to the government's side of the war and oppose the LTTE to be called "democratic". Weapons were not their issue. Therefore these Tamil armed groups to date are unable to leave their regimentation and establish themselves as political parties like the JVP.

 

The only extension of democratic politics within this grouping of armed Tamil politics that opposed the LTTE was the democratic loner, Ananda Sangaree, who maintained he is the TULF. Unfortunately for him, his stand against the LTTE at that point of departure compelled him to seek security and safety of the State that made him no different to the other armed groups with the government. His position therefore on the bifurcation of the merged North-East province, his position in contesting elections offered by the Rajapaksa regime in a heavily militarised socio political context, his support for the beastly war despite the human cost and human tragedy, was never different to any other Tamil armed group with the government, nor was he willing to displease the Rajapaksa regime. Of course he did write wailing open letters to the President, to Prabhakaran and to India, thus making his presence felt, but not making him any different still.

 

It is these degrading and down grading of Tamil politics that make the emergence of "Concerned Tamils of Sri Lanka" worth their presence. They have very rightly taken the position, "We now go on to assert that the future of the overwhelming majority of the 280,000 IDPs as well as over 03 million Tamil citizens of Sri Lanka lies within the borders of this island. While we very much welcome the concerns shown and assistance forthcoming from overseas, we need to negotiate our future and to preserve our ethnic identity within Sri Lanka. We have been sharing this island from time immemorial and are committed to continuing to do so as citizens with individual and collective rights, not second to those of any other ethnicity."

 

The South and its new found monarchy

 

Yet the issue is what impact they could make on their own in the decision making of this Rajapaksa regime and in the Sinhala South that is willing to live within a militarised Sinhala society.

 

The declared end of the war has given the regime more strength politically to decide anything and everything on behalf of the country, taking for granted that what ever decision taken would not be opposed by any and any opposition could be suppressed as that of "traitors". Definition of "patriotism" was nationally declared by the President himself as that of supporting the government and all what it does. With that definition the President wiped off the politico historical reality of this country having majority and minority ethnicities and religious communities. Thus the issue of preserving the ethnic identity of Tamils within Sri Lanka as determined by the "Concerned Tamils of Sri Lanka" which simply is their political right for a separate identity could well be out of the "Road Map" of this regime in its future rehabilitation and reconciliation programme.

 

That road map of this regime is only known to the President, who seems to know what exactly the country needs but wouldn't tell any one just yet. He wouldn't consider a power sharing system on the lines of federalism either. "I know what to give and I know what not to give. The people have given me the mandate, so I’m going to use it" he told N. Ram, Hindu news paper boss over dinner at Temple Trees on 30 June. In a heavily contradicting explanation in that interview, while stressing he has a mandate from the people and he is going to use it, he also says, "but I want to get that from the people". He then says all parties, especially the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) representatives, should participate in the discussions on the political solution. What for ? To quote The Hindu, the President wants "….these people [the TNA representatives] to agree to this". Agree to what ? To his "home grown" solution which he says will not be out till "….after my [re]election [as President],” There again he insists, "They [TNA] must also know that they can’t get what they want. No way for federalism in this country. For reconciliation to happen there must be a mix [of ethnicities].” There it is. The TNA has to agree to what ever he offers and there is no space for Tamil identity as expected by the "Concerned Tamils of Sri Lanka".

 

With that, all the commissions, whether it is the newly constituted "All Party Committee on Development and Reconciliation" at which the President this time got the TNA or part of it to sit or the much hacked APRC of Minister Vitharana would be simply used as promotional tools to consolidate his and his regime's power, over the political process and culture of this country.

 

So far, the President has prevailed over the Army Commander with whom there was an apparent battle for the copy right of the war victory. The most recent changes in the defence establishment once again prove, the President decides the political path in the country to his own liking. The new parliamentary act titled "Chief of Defence Staff Act No. 35 of 2009" provides more leverage to the Defence Secretary than to the Chief of Defence Staff, the position to which the Army Commander is being appointed to, from 15 July. His successor has also been carefully picked, while shifting the present Chief of Staff of the Sri Lanka Army and Competent Authority for the Internally Displaced Persons in the North, Major General G. A. Chandrasiri as new Governor for the bifurcated Northern Province.

 

Yet the fact of the matter is that, the President can not ignore the dominant Sinhala thinking he created together with the Army Commander to which there were others like the JHU and the JVP who contributed by reaching out to the public. It was on their strength that the media was totally turned into one single voice of the "governmentality". This self custody of President Rajapaksa within the Sinhala mindset is what was abundantly served to Ram of The Hindu over a personal dinner.

 

Today he is not hesitant in walking his mind over any talk. His has been a daring experiment, successful in erecting his own regime. That in a country where the Tamil people is yet to find a voice once again that could negotiate their future.

 

The Indian comfort sans Prabhakaran

 

This civil monarchy had the advantage of telling his mind over dinner talk that would have been as good as briefing the Delhi administration. The recently elected Congress led "Delhi Administration" has the advantage of dealing with a head of State in SL who wouldn't talk any more of Prabhakaran, other than in the 'past tense'. It has the advantage of a Tamil Nadu CM who could now tell the TN people there is no more "Eelam" talk. It has the other advantage of a TN police that immediately after the 'Lok Sabha' elections in May, went on a systematic crack down on Tamil activists at local level.

 

The Indian media too have not been talking of HR violations and "torture in custody" issues that HR watchdog agencies regularly complain about. The "Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act 2006", the "Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act 1999", the "Madhya Pradesh Special Areas Security Act 2001" and the "Uttar Pradesh Control of Organised Crime Bill 2007" are all examples of how the N-E provincial States have been gradually militarised. In all these provinces, HR violations and torture had not been rare occurrences.

 

Since of recent months, the Indian establishment is seriously experimenting with the SL model in these N-E provinces. There were reports recently of Delhi administration giving its nod to security concerns of Assam to relocate residents of about 50 villages in the troubled North Cachar Hills district, to nine identified clusters of Dimasa and Zeme Naga villages in a bid to flush out Maoist guerillas. In retaliation to STF raids Maoists ambushed and killed 29 policemen in Rajnandgaon, Chhattisgarh in recent times.

 

It's not that Punjab or J&K holds back the Delhi administration in asking for political solutions from the SL government. From Chhattisgarh to Lalgarh through Nandigram, the Indian State is now being gradually militarised. The Mumbai 26/11 terror attack paved the way for legislation that curbs civil liberty and freedom with open militarization and SL provides a success story. Pakistan's Asif Ali Zardari went on record recently in saying that India and Pakistan must collaborate to end terrorism in the region. Within this, SL is a key player where all of these big time players met in eliminating the world's most organised and modern "terrorist" organisation, the LTTE.

 

India thus have no reason and no binding to pressure SL any more in providing the Tamil people with a political solution that would enable the Tamil people to preserve their cultural identity as equal citizens in a shared soil. That epoch is over, for both India and SL. The 500 Crore rupees from India would therefore come with "conditions" that would also be tagged with a condition that Delhi would not mind a "home grown" answer. A new Sinhala monarch would go for elections on that by late January or early February 2010 and be crowned once again. Sinhala people had always lamented even the 'ants' have a 'king' but not they. Now they would, for sure.

July 13, 2009

"Disquiet in India" over Hamabantota - Financial Times

Nowhere is the development of Hambantota by China is causing more disquiet than in India and New Delhi fears that Beijing is extending its power to control shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea, according to a London Financial Times OPED analysis. It adds the "moves have the potential to intensify the competition – and scramble for resources – between the world’s fastest-growing big economies, both nuclear-armed powers."

Full Text of "Fear of influence" - by James Lamont and Amy Kazmin:

Hambantota, in southern Sri Lanka, was a sleepy seaside village devastated by the 2004 tsunami. Famous for salt flats and a searing climate, it’s most celebrated building was a British-built watchtower, now home to a fisheries museum.

Gwadar, likewise, until seven years ago, was a fishing town in Baluchistan on Pakistan’s south-western shoreline. An enclave on the Arabian Sea given to Islamabad by the Aga Khan, it was not much thought of as a key staging point between central Asia and the Gulf.

Today these little-known towns are fast emerging on to a bigger political and economic map thanks to Chinese finance and engineering, which is upgrading their ports into world-class facilities. They are part of China’s so-called “string of pearls” – the ports, staging posts and hubs that analysts say describe expanding Chinese interests and diplomatic initiatives in south Asia. The outreach – or, to some, apparent encirclement – is underpinned by infrastructure projects, arms supplies, energy routes and diplomatic protection.

Nowhere is this development causing more disquiet than in India. As energy dumps and refineries, jetties and gantries emerge on neighbouring shores, New Delhi fears that Beijing is extending its power to control shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea – waves that it prefers to rule. The moves have the potential to intensify the competition – and scramble for resources – between the world’s fastest-growing big economies, both nuclear-armed powers.

Arundhati Ghose, India’s former ambassador to the UN, says Beijing’s manoeuvring in south Asia is “causing us a lot of disquiet”. China is “flexing its muscles,” she says. “What they want to do is say ‘We are the big boys here and Asia can only afford one power’ ... The message is that the power in Asia is China, and this is her periphery, and China is the one which will determine what is going to happen here.”

Beijing insists that its intentions are peaceful, aimed at development.

Relations between the two sides have never recovered since a short-lived border war almost half a century ago. In June 1962, Chinese forces overran mountain regions in a bitter, high-altitude conflict.

The episode brought an abrupt end to the vision of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, of brotherhood between the two countries. It also deeply wounded India’s confidence that it could defend itself.

Today, the cool relationship across the Himalayas continues to do harm. Trade between Asia’s two most powerful emerging markets may have grown, yet distrust allows neither to drop its guard. The territorial dispute still rankles, emblematic of a broader, and potentially more dangerous stand-off stirred by economic dynamism and rising military might.

While the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of Chinese Communist party, claims Indians view China’s accomplishments with “awe”, Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister, and his country’s corporate leaders boast that India’s democracy has more staying power than China’s one-party rule.

Friction has risen recently with the two sides sparring over multilateral loans, India’s civil nuclear deal with the US, and trade.

One of the most striking disagreements is China’s holding up approval of the Asian Development Bank’s loan assistance plan to India, on the grounds that it involved finance to territory it claims in India’s north-east. The Chinese opposition to the $2.9bn (€2.1bn, £1.8bn) plan – which earmarked $60m for flood management in the disputed region – is unusual and has left bank officials aghast at the treatment of India, its largest borrower. The Chinese have expressed “strong dissatisfaction” with the ADB saying it had no chance of changing “immense territorial disputes.”

Similarly, China sought to block India’s access to the nuclear supplies as the US administration of former president George W. Bush pursued a civil nuclear deal with New Delhi. That deal brought India’s nuclear programme out of decades of international isolation and was a milestone in its coming of age as a big power.

New Delhi has found ways to hit back. One weapon is trade. India has imposed bans on Chinese-made toys and mobile telephones. Another is troop deployment. It has recently aggravated China by bolstering its forces on the Himalayan border.

But while India can stem the tide of goods, it can do little about what it sees as regional encroachment in newly triumphant Sri Lanka, military-ruled Burma and arch rival Pakistan, and even the former mountain kingdom of Nepal.

Indian defence officials eye China’s activities in Sri Lanka with particular concern. – not least as the island overlooks important shipping lanes that carry much of the world’s oil trade.

Chinese military ordnance was decisive in the final stages of Colombo’s war against the Tamil Tigers, defence experts say. Beijing has increased its aid to Sri Lanka fivefold to $1bn a year and stepped up supplies of sophisticated weapons such as Jian-7 fighter jets, anti-aircraft guns and air surveillance radar.

As well as an arms supplier, China also served as important diplomatic ally to Sri Lanka, helping to deflect western criticism at the United Nations of Colombo’s human rights record in defeating the Tamil Tigers, which cost thousands of civilian lives.

“On both counts – diplomacy and arms supply – China has rendered invaluable help to Sri Lanka in its war effort against the Tamil Tigers,” says R. Hariharan, a retired colonel turned political analyst. Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, cemented relations in 2007 by awarding Chinese companies the contracts for developing the Hambantota port, in his home constituency. The port, deeper than the one at Colombo, the capital, would provide docking and refuelling facilities for, among others, Chinese merchant and naval ships.

Such efforts, says Col Hariharan, could see Sri Lanka emerge as “a friendly cockpit” from which to keep an eye on key shipping lanes – yet another concern for India, which sees the island is the southern vanguard of its strategic defence.

To India’s east, China has emerged as the closest ally and international protector of Burma’s isolated military junta, which is shunned by most western governments and subjected to sanctions. China is Burma’s largest trading partner, and was long rumoured to have a listening post in southern Burma on the Bay of Bengal.

“I don’t think there is some nefarious Chinese scheme on Burma, but with western sanctions, there has been a vacuum in Burma and China has been happy to fill that vacuum,” says Thant Myint-U, an authority on the relationship between Burma, China and India.

Beijing, which has repeatedly shielded Burma in the UN Security Council, is being repaid with access to some of Burma’s rich trove of natural gas at “friendship” prices, according to some Burmese analysts. China is beginning the construction of a pipeline that will carry oil from Sittwe, on the Bay of Bengal, to China.

For Indian policymakers – some of whom still recall when Mandalay, Burma’s second city, was the eastern-most city in British India – Beijing’s close ties to the Burmese generals are a cause of deep concern.

“In Burma, the most atrocious and evil government is supported by China, and India has no choice but to do something about it so we are not totally zero there,” said one senior retired Indian diplomat, who asked not to be identified. “But we can’t be party to people [China] wounding and needling an animal in our forest and then leaving us to handle the wounded tiger.”

China is also allied to what many Indians consider their greatest threat: nuclear-armed Pakistan. Beijing provides financial and technical support to Islamabad and is described by some western diplomats as the Islamic republic’s most special relationship. Relations have deepened over the 40 years since Pakistan was slapped with US economic and military sanctions following its 1965 war with India.

“Pakistan considers China a well-trusted friend. There are virtually no issues between us,” says a Pakistani foreign ministry official.

The Gwadar port project, one of the highest-profile examples of Chinese assistance, envisages a naval anchor, and transport and energy transhipment links reaching all the way to Xinjiang province in China’s west.

China has also emerged as Pakistan’s largest supplier of defence hardware, and is helping renew the country’s jet fighter strike force.

Such links have prompted India’s more hawkish commentators, traditionally focused on the threat from Pakistan, to turn their attention to their more powerful neighbour. Some warn that China is an unstoppable results-driven business machine with little time for democratic niceties. “Each mayor and party secretary has objectives relating to investment, output and growth, which are aligned to national goals,” says Gurcharan Das, a Delhi-based political analyst and former chief executive of Procter & Gamble India.

Naresh Chandra, India’s former ambassador to the US and former cabinet secretary, says Beijing has little interest in partnering with New Delhi to develop a common regional approach.“They fail to recognise their own power to do good in Asia. Their entire thinking is based on the People’s Liberation Army” he says.

New Delhi’s anxieties have been exacerbated by growing deference to Beijing by western powers, particularly the US, who look to China’s economic dynamism to rescue the global economy from its current crisis.

“We are not in a position to take them on militarily, economically and now not even politically,” says Ms Ghose. “The only option we’ve got is diplomatic. At the moment, the US is of no help. ”

Many Indian officials prefer to be more bland in their comments about China, and its “string of pearls”. Kamal Nath, a senior cabinet minister and former trade negotiator, says India and China follow two different models but need not be antagonistic in pursuit of growth and power.

“It cannot be India versus China. It has to be India and China,” he says.

Additional reporting by Joe Leahy and Farhan Bokhari [courtesy: FT.com]

Resettling 50% in 180 days is a target, not a promise, says President Rajapaksa

by Jyoti Thottam

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa during the interview in Colombo with TIME on July 10
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa during the interview in Colombo with TIME on July 10
Namas Bhojani for TIME
Sri Lanka's 26-year civil war between the government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) came to a dramatic end in May with a decisive military victory and the killing of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the Tigers' fearsome leader. President Mahinda Rajapaksa is the man who tamed the Tigers. Now his task is to heal a nation still divided by tensions between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils. In a rare, wide-ranging interview, Rajapaksa, 63, talked with TIME's Jyoti Thottam at the President's official compound in Colombo on July 10.

TIME: Prabhakaran had become practically a mythical figure in Sri Lanka. What went through your mind when you heard he had been killed?
Rajapaksa: Thank the Lord. Thank the [Buddhist] Triple Gem. That was a gift. (Read "Prabhakaran: The Life and Death of a Tiger.")

How did he die?
We know that he was shot — that's all. I was not interested in finding out how he was shot, but whoever that was, deserved some credit. The most important thing is that he's no more. I would have preferred to bring him here and have a chat with him. I have never seen this man.

What would you have asked him?
Why he did all these mad things. [Laughs.] What else I can ask him?

You came under fairly intense pressure from the U.S. and European governments to call a ceasefire during the final offensives against the Tigers. You resisted that pressure and, yet, these are some of your biggest trading partners. Are you worried about jeopardizing that relationship?
I don't think they're so petty-minded. They're the people who encouraged us to defeat terrorism. We followed what [George W.] Bush said. We accomplished what he wanted: eliminate terrorism. They must give credit to us. We fought their war. We showed that you can defeat terrorism.

Some foreign policy analysts saw the last stage of the war as a test case for the idea that the international community has the responsibility to protect civilians caught in the crossfire.
It's my citizens. I am responsible for them. I have to protect them and get them out. If I allow some foreign country to come and do that, they would have killed most of the people. It is my soldiers who will protect my citizens. They are my people, they are my voters ... The international community must help the government if a government is elected properly by the people. (Read "Viewpoint: Obama Failing Sri Lanka Test.")

What if an elected government is acting against its own people?
Are you going to punish [all the] citizens for that, or the man who is responsible? Take me. Say that I violated all these human rights, killed people, right? Do you punish me, Mahinda Rajapaksa, or the innocent people of this country by sanctions, embargoes, travel advisories? There are ways of punishing me if you want. There, now by saying that, I will get punished. [Laughs.]

Many people feel that the way you ended the war sets a dangerous precedent — that the cost in terms of human rights, in terms of civilian casualties, was too high.
I reject that totally. There was no violation of human rights. There were no civilian casualties. If I did that, it wouldn't have taken two-and-a-half years to finish this. I would have done this in a few hours. These are all propaganda. (Read "How to Defeat Insurgencies: Sri Lanka's Bad Example.")

The U.N. stands by its number: 7,000 civilian casualties.
7,000? No way. In the eastern province, zero casualties. I won't say there are zero casualties in the north. The LTTE shot some of them when they tried to escape.

There is so much that is not known. Would you be willing to have a Truth and Reconciliation Commission?
We must find out what has happened. The thing is, if you start something, I don't want to dig into the past.

Many people feel that's exactly what Sri Lanka needs, to talk about what happened in the past.
There must be a way, that it must not be felt that they will be punished again. Then you will have the north and the south fighting each other again, you can't have that again. I don't want to dig into the past and open up this wound.

Sometimes a wound needs airing to heal.
That is where the West is different from the East.

What is your priority now?
Over 300,000 people are in the IDP [internally-displaced persons] camps. The whole area is mined. We must demine the whole area, give basic facilities, water, electricity, roads, resettle them. (Read "The Tigers' Last Days.")

What is your time frame?
We have a 180-day program. That is our plan. In 180 days we want to settle most of these people.

What would you like to accomplish before the next presidential election [which could be held as early as November]?
At least 50% must be released. I would say 60%.

Is that a promise?
It's not a promise, it's a target.

There is a sense of relief in the country now that the war is over, but there is also some anxiety among Tamils over what happens next.
If you ask the IDPs, they'll say, we want to go back to our villages. If you ask politicians, they'll say, we want this and that. But yes, we need to give a political solution.

Do you believe in some kind of self-governance for the Tamils?
Don't say Tamils. In this country, you can't give separate areas on an ethnic basis, you can't have this. With the provinces, certainly there must be powers, where local matters can be handled by them.

What if the people in the north want a model of governance that's somewhat different from the rest of the country?
That I will not allow. The whole country must have a system. You can't have one system for the north and one for the east.

There are already signs of development — new roads, new bridges — but I've also heard some concern that the roads, for example, instead of connecting Tamil-majority areas to one another, are connecting the Tamil-majority east to the [Sinhala-majority] south, making it easier for people from the south to do businesss there, to move there. Is there some kind of effort to change the demography of the Tamil-majority areas?
No, but it's happening in Colombo. The eastern-province Muslims have come here. The Tamils have come here. You ask them, why are you coming here? Can I stop them? No. If anybody wants to come and live in any part of this island, it is the right of a man.

The port project at Hambantota — that's a massive new Chinese project.
It's a Sri Lankan project. China helped us. It's a commercial loan. Hambantota is my area, and it had been neglected for so many years. It's my duty, my obligation to develop that area. We must develop not only Colombo, but other districts too.

What do you think China's strategic interest is in this port?
I asked for it. China didn't propose it. It was not a Chinese proposal. The proposal was from us; they gave money. If India said, yes, we'll give you a port, I will gladly accept. If America says, we will give a fully equipped airport, yes, why not? Unfortunately, they are not offering to us.

Is China becoming more important than India as Sri Lanka's ally?
I don't see that. We are not thinking like that. India is our neighbor, our relation, our friend — we have a special relationship. For a small country like us, for development, you need money, you need assistance. In this world, who can afford to give us money? We can go to China. We can go to Russia, or Brazil. Very few countries can afford to give. Japan is helping us a lot. Our biggest development partner is Japan. India is helping us.

The last time I came to Sri Lanka was in January of this year for the funeral of assassinated journalist Lasantha Wickramasinghe. The posthumous editorial that his newspaper published was a very emotional piece. It addressed you.
He was a good friend of mine. He had informed somebody to inform me [that he was in danger]. But unfortunately, I didn't get that message. I would have told him to go to the nearest police station. No one knows what happened. (Read "Dying for Journalism: Lasantha Wickrematunge of Sri Lanka.")

He was very sure that it was the government.
He wouldn't have called me if it was a government thing ... I hope we will know the truth. Otherwise, I am getting blackguarded and I am getting the blame.

To send letters to TIME, email editors at: letters@time.com

July 12, 2009

"Race and Class" Siva on ethnic cleansing in Sri Lanka

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Various persons in different capacities have attempted to analyse and comment on the tragic post-independence history of deteriorating ethnic relations in Sri Lanka.

I happened to read an interesting and informative lecture on Sri Lankan ethnic relations by a brilliant left-leaning intellectual of Sri Lankan origin now domiciled in Britain.

AS0712a.jpgMany of the younger generation may not have heard of this octogenarian who is however very well known to those of an earlier vintage interested and involved in the politics of race and class. He was actively involved in anti-racist struggles in Britain.

He is none other than Ambalavanar Sivanandan, director of the London based Race Relations Institute. He was also the founder editor of the much respected journal "Race and Class" of which he is now an advisory editor.

Sivanandan or Siva is also the author of a highly acclaimed novel relating to three generations of Sri Lankans. "When Memory Dies" won the Commonwealth writers prize. Two collections of his varuois essays have also been published. [click here to read in full ~ dbsjeyaraj.com]

280,000 IDP's interned in camps are war victims and not war criminals

Fourth Statement of Concerned Tamils of Sri Lanka

Why do we sign as ‘Concerned Tamils of Sri Lanka’? It is not for lack of endorsement by very many non-Tamil Sri Lankans of every clause of each of our statements. Elsewhere, Tamil voices are heard loud and clear on our problems, but within our island, independent Tamil voices have been progressively stilled. In this crisis situation, we have a right and a duty to express our concerns collectively as Tamils of Sri Lanka. It will not do for the Tamil Diaspora or for Tamil politicians to be the sole spokespersons for the Tamils of Sri Lanka. Independent Tamil voices need to be heard.

NYT0713.jpg

[Hundreds of thousands of Tamils remain locked in camps almost entirely off limits to journalists, human rights investigators and political leaders.-pic: by Keith Bedford for The New York Times]

The question has also been asked as to why we waited until the LTTE was on the verge of collapse before raising our concerns. Firstly, we were not previously aware of the scale of the tragedy – that the population trapped in the shrinking sliver of land held by the LTTE was several times higher than reported by our media and that the casualty rate among that population was very high and continuing to rise. As soon as were alerted of the facts by the ICRC and the UN agencies, some of us got together to prepare our first statement. The focus of that statement was on urgent relief for trapped and injured civilians and on negotiating an end to the war, thus freeing all civilians. Our fears were set out in that first statement: ‘the manner in which the final phase is worked out and the terms on which it is brought to a close are critical to the future of ethnic relations in Sri Lanka’.

We have already, as concerned Tamils of Sri Lanka, called for a reversal of all ethnic cleansing over the decades, of Tamils and non-Tamils alike. We now go on to assert that the future of the overwhelming majority of the 280,000 IDPs as well as over 3 million Tamil citizens of Sri Lanka lies within the borders of this island. While we very much welcome the concerns shown and assistance forthcoming from overseas, we need to negotiate our future and to preserve our ethnic identity within Sri Lanka. We have been sharing this island from time immemorial and are committed to continuing to do so as citizens with individual and collective rights, not second to those of any other ethnicity.

Our immediate focus is primarily on 280,000 IDPs interned in camps and hospitals, mostly in the Vanni districts.

These citizens are war victims not war criminals, and entitled to all the rights of all citizens. They need to be compensated for the injuries and losses they have suffered. Instead, they have been treated as suspected war criminals, interned and denied some of their most fundamental human rights: freedom of communication, freedom of association, freedom of movement and the right to get back as a family unit to their own homesteads. Families have not only lost their loved ones in the course of the war but even those remaining are often separated. And yet others have been and are being taken away without the due processes of law. There is urgent need for transparency in compiling and maintaining records of IDPs and of those taken away under arrest or for questioning. Further, why is it that those who have already been screened and against whom there are no charges continue in detention? Security can never be achieved by unlawful and unjust practices that alienate people.

There are numerous reports on disappearances and other human rights violations in the camps. It is not possible for us to set out a verified comprehensive report on the subject because many barriers to accessing information are yet in place.

What is clear is that the crisis that has recently sullied the reputation of our country and is continuing to do so is incomparably worse than at any time in our history. The consequences of disappearances and of suspected vigilante activity, whether by state agencies or by the LTTE or by any other group, may continue to haunt the families of the victims unless there is an effective Truth Commission leading, on the part of (or on behalf of) those responsible, to an acknowledgement of their complicity in those crimes. This has been the experience in many countries across the globe.

One of us has vivid memories of Chairing a Committee on Disappearances in the Jaffna Region appointed by the Human Rights Commission in the period 1990-1998. The following extract from the conclusion of that report is pertinent to our concerns and recommendations set out above: "In addition to socio-economic degradation, the population has sustained physical, mental and psychological damage over the years on account of the disappearances and experiences since then. Many in the population require counselling, training for employment and job opportunities. In most cases, these are not alternatives but are closely inter-connected. Even those who are potentially productive in terms of skills and experience, appeared to be depressed, dispirited and unable to earn a living on account of their extended and continuing trauma.

There can be no enduring and comprehensive reconstruction, physical or social, economic or political, local or national, without reconciliation; and there can be no true reconciliation without all sections of the population collectively examining, diagnosing and working out remedies to eliminate the cancer that has eaten into our society.

"This exercise could be led by a post-conflict Truth and Reconciliation Commission established with an appropriate mandate. Such a process could be time-bound but its prescription could include the institution of commemorative processes and memorials to address the causes and consequences, and to prevent the recurrence of those ills…. (These) need to be addressed on an all-island basis with a view to healing and reconciliation, without prejudice to any steps that may be taken to secure justice. There should be no blanket amnesty. Rather, a balance needs to be struck between what Archbishop Tutu, in his Foreword to the South African Truth Commission, referred to as ‘retributive and punitive justice’ and ‘restorative justice which is concerned not so much with punishment as with correcting imbalances, restoring broken relationships, healing, harmony and with reconciliation.’"

SIGNATORIES

Dr. Devanesan Nesiah, Prof. Karthigesu Sivathamby, Mr.Sivathasan S, Mr.Thangharajah Biriyantha, Mr.Chinniah S, Prof. Ganesan S, Dr.Ganeswaran K,Ms.KirupaHoole, Dr.Rajan Hoole, Prof.Ratnajeevan Hoole, Ms.Leela Isaac, Dr.Jayasingam T, Mr.Jeyaraj D.B.S, Mr.Kanagasabai C, Dr.Kandasamy P, Dr.Kasynathan S.V, Ms.Bhawani Loganathan , Mr.Malavarayar S, Dr.Nachinarkinian C.S, Dr.Nanthikesan S, Mr.Rudra Navaratnarajah, Dr.Anita Nesiah, Mr.Lanka Nesiah, Dr.Vasuki Nesiah, Dr.Pathmanathan P, Mr.Ponnambalam V, Mr.Ratnam A, Dr.Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Mr.Saravanapavan E, Dr.Muttukrishna Sarvanandan Mr.,Shanmugalingam K, Mr.Shanmugasamy A, Mr.Nagendra Subramaniam, Mr.Thambar J.V, Mr.Visakaperumal ,Rehambaramivegananthan, Mr.Visakaperumal

Story of a soldier: Autobiography of Gen. Cyril Ranatunge

by Rohan Pethiyagoda

Almost everyone who crossed the path of Cyril Ranatunga in his long and illustrious career in the army, or at least those of us who have survived, are here today. That in itself is a celebration and thanksgiving for the life of this great man.

When he enlisted in the Ceylon Army, as it then was in 1950, the regular army was just a year old. In his memoirs he tells us why he enlisted. It was not to serve his motherland; it was not to serve and die for his country. Being a modest man—and a truthful one—he tells us the real reason was that as a schoolboy at St. Athony’s Katugastota, when Lord Mountbatten’s Eastern Command was based in Peradeniya during World War II, he stood in awe of the smartly-uniformed soldiers in and around Kandy. He was attracted primarily to their attire and their lifestyle, rather than the cause they were serving.

So he applied to be one of the first officer-entrants to the regular army of newly independent Ceylon, and was recruited. As a subaltern he was sent for training to Aldershot, Sandhurst and Bovington in England. On the last of these trips, he travelled to the UK on the P&O liner Orontes that plied between Brisbane and London. On board he met an elegant, dashing young lady, Myrtle Sumanasekera, and in the course of that three week passage, a romance began and blossomed. By the time the ship docked in London the couple had decided to become engaged. They were shortly thereafter married. That then, was the first of many conquests he was to make in the course of his eventful life.

Having returned to the comparative peace and prosperity Sri Lanka enjoyed in the early 1950s, he found there was little role for an army at the time. It was a gentleman’s army, focused on training, sports and the periodic tattoos in the course of which servicemen would perform for the public’s amusement. Even when the 1958 race riots took place, and Sri Lanka was convulsed by violence for the first time in its post-independence trajectory, the army played only a marginal role. The police was able to control the disturbances largely on their own. Many may have questioned in those early years whether we needed an army at all.

Costa Rica

As an aside I want to recall a discussion of this very question I had some years ago with Dr Óscar Arias Sánchez, who is now President of a small country of some four million people, about the same size as Sri Lanka, diametrically on the other side of the planet to ours: Costa Rica. At about the time when Sri Lanka became independent, Costa Rica shook off the last of its military dictatorships and became a democracy. It is one of the oldest democracies in the Americas.

In 1948 the Costa Ricans decided to abolish their army. It was a heretical idea, but they became the first country in modern history to do it, largely to avoid a military dictatorship ever happening again. Many people thought then that Costa Rica was doomed, because immediately to its north and its south lay Nicaragua and Panama, two extremely politically unstable countries. In the course of their internal turmoil in recent decades, Nicaragua and Columbia exported hundreds of thousands of refugees to Costa Rica. Yet, without an army, Costa Rica, as small as it was, managed to retain its sovereignty, identity and independence.

President Arias, as he is now, had visited Sri Lanka and knew of our struggle with separatist terrorism. The first question he asked me was, "What is it about your people that makes you fight with each other?" (He is not only a pragmatist but also a pacifist, having won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987). He gave me the example of why Costa Rica had not only done away with her army but, despite being rich in oil, had serious reservations about exploiting this resource. The reasoning is as simple as it is courageous: all the other developing countries that have exploited their oil have not in fact developed much, but have the highest levels of both corruption and authoritarian rule. Despite doing things different, Costa Rica, having started way behind us in 1948, now has a per capita GNP four times that of Sri Lanka.

On the topic of war, Dr Sanchez drew an interesting analogy from the world of insects. If you prod a nest of ants, a horde of angry ants will emerge to fight you off. These are not the young braves. It is the geriatric ants, well past their prime, that are sent out to do battle and give their lives up for the good of the colony. Sanchez’s point was this: if the whole world made it a rule that you had to be 50 before being allowed to enlist in the army, there would be no more war. We find it so easy to send young men out to battle. The tragedy of a country like ours, as we recover from this 30-year spasm of violence, is the number of young people who, having hardly tasted of life, have been killed or crippled. It is a tragedy that so many unfulfilled lives—lives on both sides—has been lost in vain.

Insurrection

So it happened that it was 21 years before Cyril Ranatunga saw blood as an army officer, when in 1971 Sri Lanka was rocked by the first JVP insurrection. As a lieutenant-colonel at the time, he was appointed Military Coordinating Officer of the Kegalle District by Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike. He did an excellent job there. Not only was the rebellion quashed very rapidly, it was done in the most humane way possible. But that was not generally true of that conflict.

We often forget that wars, whether it be with the JVP, the LTTE or between America and Iraq, are a result of a failure of politics. Every war in history has been the same. In 1971 and 1987, when the southern youth rebelled because of a lack of opportunity, our solution was not a political one. We simply killed them. Similarly, when a section of the Tamil people wanted what they perceived to be a separate identity, the solution amongst the militant ones was to kill other Tamils and other Sinhalese. We often forget that the biggest victims of Tamil separatist violence have been Tamils themselves.

Amirthalingam

In the course of my life I have been to many funerals and one of them presented an unusual irony. A few days before the assassination of the TULF leader Mr. A. Amirthalingam, we met at dinner at the home of my late brother-in-law, Gamini Dissanayake. There, in the course of a lively discussion, Mr. Amirthalingam probably for the first time in his life frankly admitted to Gamini that he had been wrong all along. He admitted that the TULF should not have stood idly by and applauded as the LTTE decimated the other Tamil parties. Prabhakaran had picked off one by one those he saw as his future political rivals. As this spate of barbaric murders progressed, there was not, from the mainstream Tamil parties, a single voice of protest. Each had watched with glee as the other was slain.

A few days later, when we met at her husband’s funeral in Jaffna, Mrs Amirthalingam reminded me of the fact and said that until the very end, he never thought he too, would fall victim to Prabhakaran’s bloodlust. It was too late for him, and she knew there would be yet other Tamils that were gloating at his murder, by people he had, until nearly the very end, referred to affectionately as "the Boys".

That the war was largely the result of a failure of Tamil politics (apart from Sinhala insensitivity) is among the key insights that serve to enrich General Ranatunga’s autobiography. He has subjected Sri Lanka’s recent history to careful scrutiny, though unfortunately so briefly. Why the JVP rebellion failed; what it was that made us the nation we are today.

Casualty Care

The period immediately following his retirement from the army in early 1983 as a Brigadier, saw the beginning of the most traumatic period Sri Lanka has suffered in its post-independence history. The war started in earnest that year, but as General Ranatunga points out in his book, Tamil militancy had been building up ever since the accession of the DMK to power in Tamil Nadu in 1967. Successive Sri Lankan governments failed to heed regular and persistent warnings from the intelligence services that a militant movement was in the making.

At the time of the 1983 riots I was a junior government servant working in the Ministry of Health as Director of Biomedical Engineering Services. As service casualties mounted, it became clear that the army’s medical service was finding it difficult to cope. Ours had, after all, from the beginning been essentially a peacetime army. As a gung-ho 28-year old, I asked to be sent to train for a short time with the Royal Army Medical Corps in Aldershot, to learn how fighting armies normally managed to care for casualties.

This was soon after the Falklands War of 1982 and there were still casualties from that conflict in British hospitals. I was amazed to learn that in the whole of the Falklands Campaign, in the course of which more than 250 British troops lost their lives, not a single serviceman (from either side) who reached a British Army medical facility alive went on to die of the injuries that brought them to hospital. Their medical services—even so far from home — were that good.

I decided then that we should do all we should to make this happen also in the case of Sri Lanka. With no time for procedural niceties, we siphoned large sums of money voted to the Health Ministry to help improve casualty care services for the army, acts for which the Auditor General is yet to catch up with me. In addition to equipping the forces hospitals in Palaly, Vavuniya and many other camps, we also ensured that every soldier carried with him a field dressing and, in combat, pain relievers.

It was in the course of this association with the army that I first came into contact with General Ranatunga, who in 1985 had been recalled to service and appointed General Officer Commanding the Joint Operations Command (JOC). It so happened that Cyril Ranatunga recognized even then that at least as far as medical services were concerned, the army was not yet equipped to manage a big operation.

And so, with his inspiration and guidance, I was commissioned with the job of coordinating a group of civilian doctors, surgeons and anaesthetists who would form a Rapid Deployment team that could be sent out to wherever operations were taking place. They would be on hand to take care of casualties as close to the front line as possible, and the effect this had on troop morale was remarkable. This volunteer service continued for many years, in the course of which many eminent doctors of the time—Michael Abeyaratne, Narendra Wijemanne, M. H. de Zoysa, Mohan de Silva, to name just a few of the dozen or so medics who regularly volunteered their time and skill—not least my good friend the late Sureon Commander Laki Dissanayake. We were often summoned and sent off at short notice by the JOC whenever action threatened in the North. Today the army is a different engine altogether and its Medical Service is fantastic and doing a great job. But 25 years ago, it was a very different matter.

Vadamarachchi

And so it happened that the watershed of May 1987 came along. Cyril Ranatunga had, with his senior military staff, planned what they hoped was the final battle that would rid Sri Lanka of Prabhakaran and the LTTE once and for all. At his side were brilliant officers, many of whom are in this room today, and of whom I will name only two that are not: Denzil Kobbekaduwa and Vijaya Wimalaratne. The operation was the biggest the Sri Lankan armed forces had fought up to that time. It was brilliantly commanded, efficiently executed, and in many ways it was Cyril Ranatunga’s finest hour.

He was clearly walking with destiny. We were all in Palaly in the days before the operation, preparing for the casualties that would come—and did come—and in his book you will see a letter written by Laki to his wife Cynthia from Palaly the day before the operation commenced detailing the preparations that had been made and the inspiration the General had given the troops. Laki compared the general in oratory to George C. Patton. None of us who were there could forget this.

Thus it was that in just 11 days the armed forces completely surrounded the LTTE within a small part of Jaffna. On June 3, facing total annihilation, the call went out to India to come to their aid. And we all know the sequel: the invasion of Sri Lanka by the IPKF in 1987. General Ranatunga makes no bones in his book about the fact that it was India that inspired and planned the rebellion in the north of Sri Lanka, and armed and trained the rebels.

So on June 4, those of us old enough still remember the Indian air force overflying Jaffna. Then there was the flotilla from Tamil Nadu that tried, with support from the Indian Navy, to enter Sri Lankan waters, to be bravely rebuffed by our own navy. And the threatening presence of the Indian Navy, aircraft carrier and all, anchored off Galle Face. Never since 1505 had there been as grave a threat to our island’s sovereignty. We were forced to accede to a ‘solution’ that was thrust upon us from New Delhi. That, to a large extent, broke Cyril Ranatunga’s spirit, and he was not alone. Many of us too, were pretty dejected.

Retirement

In 1988 he left the army and returned to Airport and Aviation Services as its Chairman; because the IPKF was here, there was no role for him to play. The following year he was appointed Secretary to the Ministry of Defence by President Premadasa. In his memoirs you will find the reasons we had to become dependent on Pakistan and China for armaments: even then, in the post-1983 era, the western world was treating us as a pariah nation they did not want to equip to defend itself from terrorism. The international war on overseas terror came into fashion in the West only after 9/11, when the west finally realized that terror elsewhere could come home to roost.

In due course the General moved on as High Commissioner, first to Canberra and then to London. In 1994 he finally retired to his ancestral home in Mawanella. And there he lives even today, with his wonderful wife, Myrtle. Cyril Ranatunga had earlier declined President Jayewardene’s offer to elevate him to Field Marshal on his retirement. Modesty forbade him to accept such an honour; his career in the army had come to an end and it was time to move on.

And though Douglas McArthur reminded us that old soldiers never die, they simply fade away, he did not fade away. At Mawanella, he became completely absorbed in environmental issues. Whenever you drive to Kandy, remember that the Kadugannawa Pass looks as good as it does, with even the boutiques moved to the left-hand side of the road so as not to obstruct the view, largely thanks to his efforts; likewise the greening of the Balana Pass, where he caused tens of thousands of trees to be planted. This is now the only scenic bit of the Colombo-Kandy highway.

It is wonderful then, that this remarkable man chose to record his years of service in these memoirs that we may all cherish and delight in. General Ranatunga is now entering his late ‘70s and may feel he has lived long. He has certainly lived a wonderful life, and his story is one from which every Sri Lankan could derive inspiration.

(This article contains the text of a speech made by Rohan Pethiyagoda at the launching of An adventurous journey, the memoirs of General Cyril Ranatunga, at the BMICH on 1 July, 2009.)

Provincial Councils are workable - Gamini Jayawickrema Perera

by Vindya Amaranayake

Nearly 22 years have elapsed since the 13th Amendment to the Constitution has been passed in Parliament. It envisaged power devolution at the province level while keeping to the unitary nature of the state. Since the Amendment became part of the country’s supreme law, it has been subjected to various criticisms by diverse groups; some even claimed that it ultimately leads to separatism.

The most vehement censure came from once revolutionary Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) who termed the Amendment that was introduced as part of the Indo-Lanka Accord signed in 1987 as India’s strategy of intervening into Lanka’s internal affairs. Hence the Amendment that was introduced as a possible solution to the raging ethnic strife during the late 1980s was left without being fully implemented. Until 2008, it was functioning only in seven provinces in the country, sans the most important Northern and Eastern Provinces, the geographical areas that were mostly affected by the war.

East was liberated and there the Provincial Council was established, in keeping with the 13th Amendment. Now that the entire north too has been liberated, the debate is again on the need to closely review the hallowed Amendment. Basically there are two camps: Those who envisage a political solution that goes beyond the terms of the 13th Amendment, as the minority groups have pointed out the inadequacy of it to address the fundamental grievances of the Tamil community that they believe have led to the festering civil war.

And those who insist on the total abolition of the Amendment with the claim that since the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has been militarily defeated there is no need for a political solution of any nature. And then there are those who still believe in the workability of the 13th Amendment. Those who know the system best are the ones who have had practical experiences in the workings of that system.

Hence to learn the workability of the 13th Amendment and the Provincial Council system, The Nation spoke to a former Chief Minister of a Provincial Council. Gamini Jayawickrema Perera, currently serving as a United National Party (UNP) Member of Parliament from the Kurunegala District, is one of the first to put the new system into practice. He is confident that the Provincial Councils have enough powers to carry on their designated task and the Chief Minister is like the ‘President’ of his province.

Since it is an independent post, the Chief Minister has the authority to move around many trappings and loopholes present in the Amendment to best serve his province. “During my tenure as Chief Minister of the Wayamba Province I bended many rules. I did so to develop my province. Despite many obstacles, my aim to make Wayamba as developed as the Western Province was successful,” Jayawickrema Perera said.

Following are excerpts:

Q: As someone who has practical experience with the Provincial Council system, what is your impression of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution?

A: This system was introduced to the country as a result of the Indo-Lanka Accord. I think it is important for me to mention something about how it came about. There were many changes before the country during the late 80s. There was the LTTE in the North and the JVP was conducting all kinds of rebellious acts in the South. It was also the time when Gen. Denzil Kobbekaduwa was conducting the Vadamarachchi Operation. They were about to corner Prabhakaran then. It was at that time that the Indian Government did something that they should not have. It was they who bred the LTTE. Then President J.R. Jayewardene was quite helpless to do anything against the giant neighbour. During that time the international community was under the impression that the Sinhalese community is oppressing the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Therefore, nobody came to our assistance. It was China and Pakistan who were on our side.

At that time, the President personally discussed this problem with me. He said the military was lacking the proper weapons to fight the LTTE whereas the enemy was fighting with more sophisticated weapons. India promised to help us, but in tern we had to decentralise powers to the provinces. I told him straight away, if such an agreement would be beneficial to the country I would support him at whatever cost. Earlier we had the District Minister system. But it was not very successful. The amount of money allocated per district was not adequate to initiate development projects. In the PC system the focus is on the province. And when we develop the country by focussing on each province individually it expedites the process of development. It will prompt a competition between the provinces. This is very healthy for development. The competition will ensure that each province would not want to be second to the other. However, ultimately the benefits of this competition will be enjoyed by the entire country. This is how the other countries have developed. Therefore, when the PC system was introduced we resigned from Parliament to serve the provinces. Unfortunately my five-year term was disturbed by the second JVP insurrection where politicians were murdered and the law and order situation of the country was disrupted. It was difficult to reap the maximum use of the PC system as we had to deal with this addition problem of the JVP.

There was also another problem. The administrative officers of this country are used work for a centralised system. They are trained according to the British bureaucratic system. It was very difficult for them to understand the workings of a decentralised system of governance. This caused many problems at first.

Q: The PC system was introduced as a possible solution to the ethnic problem. However, it was not put into use in the two provinces where the problem was more prominent. Is it not a redundant system when implemented in only the remaining seven provinces?

A: It is like this. India had something else in the mind, when they introduced this to us. They wanted to create a puppet-government here. Varatharajaperumal was appointed Chief Minister of the merged North-Eastern Province. However, later the government had to dissolve the PC. I must say, the political solution that is in need at the moment is not only relevant to the Northern and Eastern Provinces. It is something that affects the entire country. There are enough powers vested with the PCs. Only thing is nobody is utilising that power to the maximum. Nearly 85% of the work is allocated to the Provinces. Central government minister have nothing much to do. There is so much that can be done to develop the provinces. The Chief Minister has enough powers to get all the necessary work done.

I charge that since 1994, including the times that my party has been in power, no considerable work has been done by provincial governments. No plans were made, no policies were developed. Everything has become politicised. We regard everything through the political looking glass. That is why it appears the PC system has failed. A Chief Minister is like a ‘President.’ It is like he controls an entire country. During my tenure I created an industrial zone in Wayamba. There is enough power; the problem is there are no good intentions.

Q: Should the PCs be given Police and land powers. Do they already enjoy these powers, if so, to what extent?

A: Sri Lanka is a country that battled a gruesome terrorist force for nearly three decades. We cannot allow any such thing to come up again. The 13th Amendment envisages Police powers at the Deputy Inspector General level – under a DIG commission. However, I would say this level should be brought down to the ASP level. We cannot allow another instance of insurgency to emerge. Today, due to excessive politicisation, our society has become extremely undisciplined. It is not prudent to give more Police powers to the provinces in a context such as this.

When it comes to land powers, the provinces enjoy this power to a certain degree. We must remember that before the ethnic trouble started there were Sinhalese in Jaffna. The introduction of the Sinhala Only act caused many problems for the country. It only brought communalism to the country and divided the people. The people of this country should be able live anywhere in the country they desire. We must bear this in mind when we talk about land powers.

However, when developing the country it is possible to utilise the lands belonging to the province. During my tenure as Chief Minister of the Wayamba Province I bended many rules. I did so to develop my province. Despite many obstacles, my aim to make Wayamba as developed as the Western Province was successful. I used government land to establish an industrial zone. It was quite successful. You must work with the central government. There must be a proper development strategy and a policy framework. As the Chief Minister you must work this out with the central government.

Q: Is it possible for PCs to attract foreign aid for development?

A: The Chief Minister is not vested with the authority to sign agreements with foreign aid donors. However, this is something we can work out with the central government. When I was Chief Minister I went to China and held negotiations and worked out and agreement. Then Harrold Herath was the Foreign Minister. He ultimately did not sign this agreement. That was very unfortunate. However, what I’m trying to say is that, if the PCs can work together with the central government they can negotiate development aids from foreign donors and get it though the Foreign Ministry. It is possible. But there has to be understanding and good intention between the Chief Ministers and the central government. [courtesy: The Nation]

July 11, 2009

Tamil identity politics did not die on the banks of Nandhikadal lagoon

by Dayan Jayatilleka

There have been three civil wars fought against the Sri Lankan state: 1971, 1986-89, 1979-2009. The Sri Lankan state prevailed in all three. These three wars settled three basic questions. The first uprising was about the character of the State, society and the economy and it was settled in favor of the market economy and multiparty democracy. The second civil war brought up the same questions but placed at the forefront the issue of centralization or devolution and power sharing (Wijeweera’s 300 page magnum opus was all about it), and with the victory of the state that too was settled in favor of the post Accord structural reform, the 13th amendment and provincial autonomy, with all parties including the militarily defeated JVP actually contesting the PC elections. This reform remained dormant because of the full-scale war waged in the North East by the Tigers.

The third civil war, just won, settled the question of one state (country) or two, in favor of the former. The armed Tamil Eelam project lost the war which was the last in a series of Tamil Eelam Wars spread over 35 years, and Tamil separatism will never successfully re-emerge as a serious armed challenger to the Sri Lankan state, i.e. as a parallel contending army or militia.

While the global Tamil Eelam movement also lost the war, it was not quite as decidedly as the Tiger army did. That struggle is still on.

Existential politics

The problem may be said to be existential. The reality of Sri Lanka ’s multiethnic character is such that the challenge of accommodating Tamil identity and reconciling it with Sinhala and Muslim identity will remain. To borrow a phrase of SWRD Bandaranaike, it is “a problem within a problem”. The Tamil issue remains a problem of collective identity and the state, located within the overall problem of nation-building.

How does the state reconcile the identities of the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims and accommodate them within an overarching Sri Lankan identity?

One of the basic errors of Sinhala ultranationalists’ discourse is the conclusion that Tamil ethnic politics or identity politics died on the banks of the Nandikadal. There can be a military victory over a military challenge but there cannot be a purely military victory over a political challenge. An enemy army can and must be defeated, an armed opponent can be killed, but a political challenge requires a political response and an idea can be defeated only by another idea. The idea of Tamil Eelam can be defeated only by the counter-idea of a reformed and restructured Sri Lankan state which may remain unitary but contains an irreducible autonomous political space for the Tamil people of the North and East. Armed Tamil secessionism can and has been defeated, but the politics of collective Tamil identity cannot be militarily defeated or suppressed; it can only be politically addressed and managed.

It will be necessary for any government to negotiate with the Tamil parliamentarians who will be present in greater numbers after next year’s parliamentary election, due to the system of proportional representation.

A grand bargain already exists. It is the 13th amendment. The Sinhalese have every reason to be securely reassured by the double guarantee of a united country and a unitary form of state, while the Tamils will enjoy self rule within those parameters and inevitable national security “red lines”. The 13th amendment, however elasticized, will remain the saddle-point between the Sinhala insistence on a unitary state and the Tamil demand for an authentic degree of self –governance.

It is true that political and cultural space are obtainable without a geographic referent, but that is only in where the state is secular, citizenship is equal, no ethnic community is constitutionally privileged over any other, and culture is open and in the process of constant incorporation. There is no Tamil party, however anti-Tiger and moderate, that is willing to accept a purely non-territorial formula for political reconciliation and anything smaller than the province as the unit of devolution. The recognition of a solution with a territorial unit has little to do with separatism. The Tamil Eelamists, the secessionists, explicitly rejected the 13th amendment as well as President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s proposals of 1995, 1997 and 2000. The Tigers’ interim slogans were the ISGA and PTOMS, while the TNA’s bottom line was CBK’s1995 package Plus (all three of which I have consistently opposed in the media).

Reform and reconciliation

The 13th amendment is historically significant and currently indispensable because it is the only structural reform of the centralized Sri Lankan state which devolves power, makes for some measure of autonomy and thereby provides a basis for the reconciliation of the Sinhalese and Tamil communities within a united and unitary Sri Lanka . Furthermore, it is the only such reform to take place after exactly three decades – since the abrogation of the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam pact of 1957 which sought to establish Regional Councils.

My support for the 13th amendment is also because it is already in place and does not have to be (re)negotiated. It has only to be implemented, and Sri Lanka ’s military triumph would be politically reinforced instantly. Tamil nationalism would be split between the hyper-nationalists who reject it and the moderates who accept and participate, the Tamil Diaspora would be divided, the North-South gap would have a bridge, a renewed cycle of conflict would be much less likely or possible, the impressive weight of India in the world system would be solidly with us, the international pressure on us would lift somewhat, our allies and friends in the international system would be relieved and vindicated, external financing would be more readily available, the anti-Sri Lanka global campaign would be severely weakened and the attempt to encircle Sri Lanka internationally would be defeated. All these strategic benefits are obtainable right now.

Indian factor

Those who say that the Indo-Lanka Accord and the 13th amendment were “hurried” and “externally coerced” forget the fact that from another point of view, they amounted to a Caesarean surgical intervention, bringing forth a power sharing solution that had been thwarted from 1957, through the District Councils of 1966 and the Indian facilitated negotiations of 1984 (APC/Annexure C) to 1986 (December 19th Chidambaram proposals). It is important to recall than none of these proposals for moderate power sharing were voted down democratically. They never had a chance to be. Our elected leaders such as SWRD Bandaranaike were besieged by extra-parliamentary lobbies and the parliamentary process aborted by extra-parliamentary agitation. A structural blockage enforced by domestic coercion was removed by external coercive intervention – an “externally propelled re-composition” of the state I had predicted 3 years before the Accord, while in my late twenties. (D. Jayatilleka, “The ethnic conflict and the crisis in the south”, in Committee for Rational Development, Sri Lanka: The ethnic conflict, New Delhi, 1984).

Some critics of India ’s role make the point that India ’s intervention precipitated the deaths of 60,000 youths in the late 1980s. That’s a partial truth. If Sri Lanka had devolved power in 1957, 1966, 1981 (DDCs), 1984 (Annexure c) or 1986 (Chidambaram), there would have been no Indian intervention. If the 1987 accord had been resisted by the JVP peacefully, there would have been no call for the Sri Lankan state to defend itself violently. In a striking mirror image, both the LTTE and the JVP violently opposed the 13th amendment and the North East provincial council. Both movements have been militarily defeated. It must also be recalled that the JVP took up the gun before a single IPKF jawan had appeared on Sri Lankan soil. Colombo university student leader Daya Pathirana was murdered in November 1986, and the entire left placed under violent siege for supporting devolution which was luridly portrayed as secessionism. This was the JVP’s second time out as an insurrectionary force, the first being in 1971, with no Indians around and a freshly elected centre-left administration in place. Thus the JVP’s violent denouement was in its very programming.

The death of 60, 000 youths, of whatever ethnicity, is a tragedy to be mourned. That which is true of the JVP is also true of the LTTE: these were youths who took up arms courageously, but wielded them barbarically and after a point, needlessly. They paid the inevitable price at the hands of the state, indeed the self-same Sri Lankan armed forces, including its top brass. That’s what a state is and what a state does.

Sri Lanka in the world system

Internationally things have changed: we have a universally respected US president (with a “transformational mystique”) who commented on Sri Lanka in his remarks on the White House lawn, we have UN Security Council informal briefings and a press statement on Sri Lanka; we have rumblings from Chile to South Africa and Mauritius.

The global campaign to de-legitimize the Sri Lankan state took a step forward in the last weeks with a statement by Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, Nobel Prize winner and respected acquaintance of President Obama (who accompanied the latter to Buchenwald on June 5th, was referred to in Obama’s speech and in turn made a speech in President Obama’s presence). The campaign took a further step with the joint anti-Lankan letter to the US President by four organizations including The Carter Centre.

We must understand that there is an international system or world system. If during the Cold War, there were two systems, capitalist and socialist, and the international system consisted of the contradictory unity of these two systems, today there is one single world system, with all its unevenness and contradiction ( North/South, East/West). Sri Lanka is a peripheral unit of this world system. We can reduce the domination of and our dependence on the West by balancing off our natural allies the global South and East against them, but all this takes place within the world system.

Those who encourage us to implement the 13th amendment are not those who lectured us on federalism and the need to accommodate the LTTE. Those folks talk of war crimes tribunals, unfettered access, an UN role in political reconciliation, economic sanctions etc. These are the folks who were defeated in Geneva on May 27th. We are being encouraged to swiftly implement at least the 13th amendment, precisely by those who did not belong to that camp, and stood by us, helping us in various ways during the war. It is these friends who will be undermined and who will pull back if we fail to, leaving us vulnerable to the Tamil Diaspora driven West and a possible Indo-US policy pincer.

There are three perspectives on Sri Lanka ’s external relations and role in the world:

1. De-linking, involution, isolationism, coupled probably with a belief in the chimera of a co-religionists’ bloc of states

2. Return to the UNP- JRJ-Ranil-CFA mode of dependency on and appeasement of the West

3. A multi-vector policy generally identifiable with the SLFP, which engages the West (especially the USA) while maintaining Sri Lanka’s dignity, anchored in the neighborhood, the rising Asian region, and the Non aligned Movement/G77, while practicing a policy of multi-polar balancing to maximize our autonomy and defend our interests.

Perspectives 2 and 3 (and I am an adherent and practitioner of 3) take place within the framework and mainstream of the international system, unlike Perspective 1 which takes us outside it. While some international players (especially in “global civil society”) may wish to go beyond it, the implementation of the 13th amendment and concern for reform that accommodates Sri Lanka’s Tamils in a power sharing arrangement, is a bottom line consensus within the international system as a whole.

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

New York Times: Bush Team Discouraged Probe of Mass Taliban Deaths

A U.S. newspaper reports the Bush administration repeatedly discouraged efforts to investigate the 2001 mass killings of Taliban prisoners by the militia of an American-backed warlord.

The New York Times reports the FBI, State Department and Red Cross pushed for a probe, but the White House failed to act because the warlord, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, was being paid by the CIA at the time of the killings.

[The Bush Administration’s Cover-Up of the Dasht-e-Leili Massacre - Physicians for Human Rights blog]

Dostum and his fighters are accused of killing hundreds, and perhaps thousands of Taliban prisoners who surrendered after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. Authorities believe the bodies were placed in a mass grave found in Dasht-e-Leili in 2002.

The report says the Bush White House was also worried about undermining U.S.-backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who named Dostum to his defense team.

The U.S.-based Physicians for Human Rights called for a criminal probe into the alleged massacre Friday.

The group says it has obtained U.S. government documents that show as many as 2,000 Taliban fighters were suffocated in container trucks by Dostum's forces and buried in the Dasht-e-Leili desert in November of 2001. [Voice of America News]

Statements by detained doctors underline need for independent inquiry-Amnesty International

[Video: Al jazeera's Tony Birtley reports]

The statements made to the media by doctors detained by the Sri Lankan government for providing what it says was false information about civilian casualties during the last days of its offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) points again to the need for an independent inquiry into allegations that both parties committed war crimes, said Amnesty International.

Amnesty International raised several concerns about the credibility of the doctors' recent comments, including:

-the doctors' ongoing detention without access to lawyers and their vulnerability to torture and ill-treatment and pressure from the Sri Lankan government, which has a record of mistreatment of detainees and witnesses;

-the contradiction between the doctors' statements and independently verified facts;

-the two-month long period between the doctors' departure from LTTE-held areas and their recent 'recanting' of their earlier statements.

Amnesty International remains concerned about the safety and well-being of these men, who provided the only medical services available to hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped by the fighting, for which they should be commended, not punished.

The Sri Lankan authorities have a long history of extracting confessions by force and compelling detainees to give media interviews that support the government's position, as documented in Amnesty International's recent report, Twenty Years of Make Believe: Sri Lanka's Commissions of inquiry. Under such conditions it is impossible to assess the validity of their statements, but Amnesty International pointed out that information from independent international organisations engaged in humanitarian assistance in the midst of the crisis contradicts the doctors' recent claims, including the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Between mid-February and 9 May, the ICRC said it evacuated almost 14,000 wounded or sick patients and accompanying caregivers with the assistance of these doctors. This contradicts statements made by Dr. Varatharajah at the government press conference that only around 600 to 650 people had been injured between January and mid- April 2009.

At their press conference, the doctors also retracted reports that their hospital at Puthukkudiyiruppu was hit by artillery in February, although UN and ICRC staff reportedly witnessed the attack and confirmed the incident. Eyewitness testimony obtained independently by Amnesty International confirmed events experienced by these doctors after artillery damaged their hospitals in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu in December 2008.

Amnesty International pointed out that the doctors remain in detention and have not had access to lawyers. Senior government officials have consistently raised the threat of pursuing serious charges, including treason, against the men, despite acknowledging the doctors' claim that they were operating under pressure from the LTTE. Amnesty International has documented the LTTE's heavy pressure on Tamil civilians, including medical personnel.

Amnesty International urges the United Nations, international humanitarian organisations and other members of the international community who were able to amass information about conditions and incidents in the final phase of the war to disclose all information they possess. This information should contribute to a systematic and independent investigation of allegations of war crimes that must include confidential interviews with witnesses - most of whom are currently detained in government internment camps.

July 10, 2009

V. Nalliah: Birth centenary of an Eastern Tamil Leader

by K.C. Logeswaran

Many in Batticaloa will note this month the centenary of the birth on 1 July 1909 of Mr V Nalliah who represented Trincomalee-Batticaloa in the State Council from 1943 and Kalkudah in Parliament till 1956. Batticaloa’s debt to Nalliah as the most vigorous motivator, contributor and inspirational force for the progress of education in the whole eastern region has always been widely acknowledged and celebrated by a grateful people.

Numerous small and large educational institutions all over the region including the Teachers Training College in Batticaloa and the Central College in Vantharumoolai, now the Eastern University, bear testimony to Nalliah’s conviction that the poor in the east, in many ways a neglected province at that time, must be given access to the benefits that education alone could bring.

In the State Council functioning under the Donoughmore constitution, Nalliah became a member of the Executive Committee for Education and became a tireless for educational reform, free education for all and for the implementation without delay of education through the mother tongue.

Nalliah was from a poor background well outside the few established families in the east which, as in the rest of the country too at that time, had a monopoly of influential positions.

When Nalliah won election to the State Council it was therefore as a peoples’ candidate and this he never forgot. With all the energy of the self made man that he was, his interventions on behalf of the poor and of the Eastern province in particular were so vigorous and annoying to the establishment that D S Senanayake did not take long to see in him a meddling gadfly and to call him "a new broom". Such sneers notwithstanding, as a representative of his people Nalliah did indeed sweep very well and very widely.

He worked hard to open and expand hospitals, small post offices, roads and culverts in places like Vaharai and Valaichenai where only the poor lived. He demanded water for rain dependent farmers and argued for the improvement of tanks and channels in the East. Many small tanks and channels were rehabilitated due to his efforts. He refused to be satisfied with the State Council’s offer of compensation to farmers affected by the floods which were then a regular feature in the east and insisted on construction that went beyond repair and maintenance alone. It was necessary, he argued, to deal with the cause than to give the farmers charity.

Another telling example of his dedication to breaking the power of the wealthy in rural life was his passionate advocacy in the State Council for a living wage for Village Headmen. Nalliah argued that this crucial position of influence over the well being of the poor was kept as the preserve of the rich and the corrupt because of the state’s failure to offer a living wage to applicants.

Nalliah was inspired as many young Ceylonese at that time were, by the agitation in neighbouring India led by Gandhi and Nehru for national independence from colonialism, as well as by a deeply felt ideals of equality and dignity for the poorest in the land. He argued for the use of the mother tongue - Sinhalese or Tamil, in schools and in the courts of the country as necessities for the freedom of our people, especially the poor:

"There is absolutely no point in having a State Council and a Board of Ministers if no power has been transferred to the people... I hope the Members of this house will insist that... the languages of this country will be the languages of the courts in this country and that the legal system is made less expensive." [State Council Debates p.31 Feb. 8, 1944.]

He endeared himself to his constituents not only by his efforts for them but also by his personal integrity. When he ceased to be a member of parliament in 1956 he was not a cent richer than when he was first elected, having already disposed of the entirety of his wife’s little inheritance also for election expenses. He lived and died in a rented house.

Do the Uighurs have any reasonable chance to establish an autonomous state?

Britain’s Channel 4 News aired this video report, showing Uighur women protesting the detention of their male relatives in front of the cameras:

"Do the Uighurs have any reasonable chance to establish an autonomous state?", Eileen Frost of Winston-Salem, N.C emailed this question to Mr. Nicholas K. Kristof, New York Times OPED columnist.

Here is what the Mr. Kristof wrote, in a recent "ask the times column"

I don't think there is any reasonable possibility that the Uighurs will get their own country, carved out of China. There are three reasons for this.

First, Han Chinese have been flooding into Xinjiang, especially northern parts. The city of Urumqi now has more Han than Uighurs.

Second, Xinjiang's resources — such as hydrocarbons in the Tarim Basin — are valued by Beijing.

Third, China cares deeply about holding the country together, and that's the view not only of the government but also of most ordinary citizens (with the exception, obviously, of many Uighurs). Chinese are educated in "guochi," national humiliations, and there's a tendency to see even current events through the prism of two centuries of foreign efforts to bully China and carve it up. That's one of the reasons why Chinese opinion often reacts so strongly to perceived slights by Westerners, even when the Westerners didn't intend any offense. So the notion of letting even southern Xinjiang go its own way would provoke horror in China and conjure notions of outside powers dismembering the country again.

New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof explains how to stay safe and get the story right while covering a global humanitarian crisis.

Tamil cinema: Pirates Of The Arabian

You can't keep the Tamil macho hero down for long. But lover boys bloom in between.

By Sudha G. Tilak

A defining moment in modern Tamil cinema is a scene in Mani Ratnam's Agni Nakshatram (1988). A young woman takes a passing fancy to the hero, smoking by the wayside, and cheekily mouths "I love you" as she stops her car by a traffic signal. The hero falls to his feet at this brazen call for love and blubbers incoherently.

He did have something to cry about. In Tamil cinema, it's usually not women but the larger-than-life heroes who set the tone for romance. The pretty ladies comply after a couple of rounds of perfunctory defiance with supplicant-like ardour. For an audience fed on the quixotic courtship practices in Tamil cinema, an odd mix of virile conquest, oedipal aspiration, and dreamy fulfilment, the bold call for love by Mani's heroine was an almost unnerving display of rising female desire.

[I'll tell my eyes as the flower my dear... Bharathi & Gemini Ganesan in Malar Yedu (Avalukendru Oru Manam)]

The Tamil hero is usually known to show the way with the painfully shy heroine who succumbs to his rakishness, cools his angst or chooses to encounter adventure for his sake. In this world, romance and love are emotions of titanic proportions, expressed in a voluble manner, leaving no space for lingering doubt. Tamil cinema's romantic legacy is linked to the fabulous chemistry shared by its famous on-screen lovers or hit romantic pairs. MGR and Saroja Devi and later MGR and Jayalalitha, Sivaji Ganesan and Padmini, Gemini Ganesan and Savitri, Kamalahaasan and Sridevi, Karthik and Revathi, Prabhu and Khushboo and in recent times, Surya and Jothika.

[Eyes what work do you have ~ M.G.R. and Jayalalitha in Puthiya Bhoomi]

The black-and-white era contributed some indelible moments of magic through song and music to add sheen to the lead pair's romance. In matters of the heart, it was Gemini Ganesan, better known off-screen for his unapologetic attitude to love and incurable thirst for romance, who led the way. In a cinema culture that thrived on hyperbole and sobriquets, Ganesan was called 'Kadhal Mannan' or king of romance in Tamil filmdom. In the 1950s and '60s, it was the triumvirate of Gemini Ganesan, Sivaji Ganesan and M.G. Ramachandran that set the acting trends in Tamil cinema. Sivaji eschewed the art of street theatre and brought gravitas to his passion and MGR, a non-actor otherwise, was the superstar who revelled in romantic caprices to tame his heroines. Sivaji's onscreen chemistry with Padmini in Thillana Mohanambal, a tale about classical performing artistes, remains unforgettable for its scenes of passionate love between a combative and creative couple. MGR's seaside romances with Saroja Devi in Padagotti and the budding charm of J. Jayalalitha's debut with MGR in Adimai Pennu are made for repeat watch on lazy, nostalgic afternoons.

Gemini Ganesan left machismo to the two bigger stars. His controlled gestures and genteel mannerisms remain his enduring contribution to romance in Tamil cinema. He wrung your heart with his quiet grief in Sumai Thangi, he was the endearing lover in Missiamma, a whimsical flirt in Thennilavu, a passionate paramour in Kappal Otiya Tamizhan, and a man wracked by his own infidelity in Iru Kodugal.

Tamil romance's sexual spark was lit by Kamalahaasan. He never played coy, and brought heat into romance. He kissed without much ado and canoodled with rising ardour. Ever the tease, he played the soulful romantic with touching finesse in Rajaparvai, a melodramatic loser with dignity in Salangai Oli and a mystical crazed lover later in Guna. Bollywood woke up to his charms in Ek Duje ke Liye (1981). Tamil audiences have never mourned a hero's entry into middle age more than that of Kamal's.His kind of lover boy is a hard act to follow in these days of mediocre performers who fail to convey the frisson and crackle of passionate love on screen.

Rajnikanth's unorthodox style, his machismo and swagger, not to mention his demi-god status, made his romances seem more like conquests than love. He's played a sober lover at times, but his loyalists have always preferred him in the avatar of a superhero who conquers all, and whose prowess lies unchallenged by his consort in matters of the heart. Even dominatrix-like female characters failed to cut him down to size in films like Thambikku Endha Ooru, Mannan or Padaiyappa.

There have been women-centred romances in Tamil cinema, largely the work of filmmakers like Balachander, Mahendran, Balu Mahendra who showcased strong female leads - older women, mistresses, lovers and wives - but these films did not necessarily taste box-office success. The romance between a divorcee and a widower played by Jothika and Kamal respectively, and the story of a gay couple who become murderous villains, received damp responses. Bharathiraja gave rustic romances their rightful place in Tamil cinema. His lasting contribution remains the unusual tale of love between a middle-aged patriarch played by Sivaji Ganesan and a nubile peasant Radha in Mudhal Mariyadhai (1985), an unorthodox pairing for audiences fed on a diet of youthful gratification. Mani Ratnam's heroines too have played a larger part in romance - they can be playful, dignified but individualistic. But they remain a small voice in Tamil cinema.

Tamil cinema did go through a phase in the 1990s when swashbuckling heroes gave way to silent whiners, soulful lovers and shy worshippers, incapable of socially challenging parental authority to fulfil their romances. Actors like Murali, Vikram, Vijay and Dhanush went on to play such parts in monster hits and wrung women's hearts. But as their star status rose, moodiness was replaced by swagger. The Ghajinis are back. Surya romances the lasses and flattens villains with verve; Vijay's grungy appeal has pretty Punjabi heroines swooning on Swiss mountains, Vikram flexes his muscles as virginal heroines simper and Madhavan has girls going weak-kneed about his dimples. You can't keep the macho hero down for very long in Tamil cinema. [courtesy: Outlook]

Victorious haul of Ranga Herath in Galle is joyous event

by Nirgunan Tiruchelvam

It was said that Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister was like a Banyan tree. Not even a blade of grass could grow under it. He was always the centre of attention. Muttiah Muralitharan has played the same role among Sri Lankan spin bowlers. Not only have many batsmen failed to smother Murali's spin, but he has smothered the careers of many capable spinners.

Except for Vaas and Murali, not even a single Sri Lankan bowler has taken 100 Test wickets. Apart from Murali, no specialist spinner has taken even 50 Test wickets. Acres of newsprint have been devoted to Murali's genius. But, little has been said about the honest trundlers who played in his shadow.

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Sri Lanka's Rangana Herath celebrates taking the final wicket to give Sri Lanka victory during the fourth day of their first test cricket match against Pakistan in Galle July 7, 2009.-Reuters pic

So, Rangana Herath's victorious haul in the Galle test is a joyous event. Unlike the exalted Murali, Herath is not a freak with a double-jointed wrist. He does not deliver extravagant turn. Herath's weapons are conventional. Standing a shade over five feet, Herath relies on generous flight. His turn becomes a factor only on a wearing pitch, as was the case in Galle. Occassionally, he uses the left-arm spinner's equivalent of the doosra. But, Herath has not employed it consistently in his infrequent Test career.

It is his ordinariness that is a loss to Sri Lankan cricket. If he had played more than his 15 Tests, he would have been an ideal foil for Murali. Murali has been shockingly overbowled over the years. Sri Lanka's bowling options have been so paltry, that Murali has been both the shield and the sword. He has been both the stock bowler and the strike bowler. In fact, Murali may have taken even more wickets if not for his workload.

Many are unaware that Herath has taken nearly 600 first-class wickets. He has probably taken the largest number of wickets in Sri Lankan first-class cricket. His achievements is even more remarkable because he has always played for weak teams. Herath started with Kurunegala SC, an obscure club in the hinterland. He now plays for Moors SC, which is a mediocre team. So, every time Herath plays, it is a big match. There are hardly any cheap wickets

Had Herath played more often, he would have offered a different type of spin. Also, he could have relieved Murali. Murali would have been restricted to shorter, attacking spells. Herath would have been like Robin to Batman. Murali has lacked a subservient deputy.

Herath has risen at a time when Ajantha Mendis star is waning. Much has been made of Ajantha Mendis sudden success. Songs have been sung in his honour. Lavish praise and gifts have been showered on him. The first Test captain Bandula Warnapura has already called him "the Bradman of bowling". Such adulation is premature.

It is difficult to class Mendis as a spinner. The soldier is definitely an unusual bowler with vast variation. But, he does not give the ball air. Hence, he denies himself the uncertainty of loop. Batsmen are beginning to play him like a medium-pacer. The same fate befell Jack Iverson, an Australian bowler who was very similar to Mendis. After shocking the world in his debut, Iverson faded out. Like Mendis, his decline begun with the discovery that he was actually a medium-pacer who cut the ball.

Mohammed Yousuf looked perfectly assured against Mendis. There was no mystery to Mendis at Galle. The statistics are not pretty. He has taken only 3 wickets in the last 3 tests, at an astronomical cost.

It is time to take stock. Perhaps, Mendis should be left out of Sunday's match at the P Saravanamuttu Oval. Herath's success has reminded us that there is more to our cricket than freak bowlers. Sometimes, the ordinary bowler does the trick. Its hard to deny a man of Herath's perserverance in domestic cricket. He should be saluted.

"If we keep helping we become the jailer of these people”

"If we keep helping we become the jailer of these people,” a western diplomat is quoted as saying in a New York Times Article by Lydia Polgreen, dated from Cheddikulam, Vavuniya.

The diplomat was commenting on displaced Tamils remaining hidden from view and continued "funding being provided by several foreign countries to feed, shelter and clothe the displaced."

Full text of Many Sri Lanka War Refugees Languish in Camps, by Lydia Polgreen:

When the piercing whistle and sharp thuds of artillery shells grew faint, S. Theventhran dashed to safety. After days of cowering in a narrow, open trench on a strip of beach in the northeastern corner of Sri Lanka, he was cheered by the sight of Sri Lankan Army soldiers helping wounded and terrified survivors of the last stand of the Tamil Tiger rebels, who had held nearly 300,000 Tamil civilians hostage.

More than two months later, Mr. Theventhran, a 56-year-old Tamil civil servant, finds himself once again a captive, this time of the people who freed him from the Tigers’ grip.

“We were liberated,” he said in an interview at one of the sprawling, closed camps set up here to house those displaced in the war against the rebel group, known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. “Now we are prisoners again. I lost everything in this war. The Tigers killed my son. I lost my property. Now I have lost my freedom, too.”

Hundreds of thousands of Tamils remain locked behind razor wire in camps almost entirely off limits to journalists, human rights investigators and political leaders. The Sri Lankan government claims that the people in the camps are a security risk because Tamil Tiger fighters are hiding among them.

But diplomats, analysts, aid workers and many Sri Lankans worry that the historic chance to finally bring to a close one of the world’s most enduring and vicious ethnic conflicts is slipping away as the government curtails the rights of Tamil civilians in its efforts to stamp out the last remnants of the Tigers.

“The government told these people it would look after them,” said Veerasingham Anandasangaree, a prominent Tamil politician who has been a staunch supporter of the government’s fight against the Tamil Tigers. “But instead they have locked them up like animals with no date certain of when they will be released. This is simply asking for another conflict later on down the road.”

The Sri Lankan government has portrayed its final battle against the 26-year insurgency by the Tamil Tigers, which ended in late May with the killing of the group’s leader, Vellupillai Prabhakaran, as a rescue mission to liberate civilians held hostage by one of the world’s richest and most ruthless armed groups, branded terrorists by governments across the globe.

“We can’t say this was a war, it was a humanitarian operation to safeguard the people of the area,” said Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, in a rare interview this week. “They knew we were not against the Tamil people, against the civilians. This was only against the terrorists.”

Although many of the camps’ residents are grateful to the government for freeing them from the Tigers, frustration and anger are building as it becomes clear that reconciliation and finding a political solution to the grievances of the Tamil and other minority groups in Sri Lanka will have to wait.

Conditions in the camps have improved since the early days in April and May when the sudden influx of hundreds of thousands of people caught the government and aid groups flatfooted. Hundreds of sturdy shelters are being built to replace hot, flimsy tents.

Children are attending schools, and health centers and hospitals are helping check the spread of infectious diseases. New water pumps and toilets have made life a little more bearable for the displaced.

But that has done little to tamp down the impatience of those living here. The screening process has lasted far longer than most people had imagined. Mr. Rajapaksa said he had ordered that 80 percent of the displaced should be resettled by the end of the year. But government officials say that this goal may be tough to meet because the extensive land mines across much of the north have not been cleared.

Many of the displaced people here said they would happily leave the crowded camps to stay with relatives elsewhere in the country until they could return to their villages. Some elderly people have been allowed to leave, but government officials refused to say when others who have been screened would be released.

Mr. Rajapaksa said that the residents of the camps, which the government refers to as “welfare villages,” must be confined for security reasons because anyone could be a hidden rebel fighter. The government says about 10,000 fighters have been identified so far, most because they turned themselves in.

Indeed, the murky status of the people held here in what many describe as internment camps is emblematic of the conundrum at the heart of Sri Lanka’s civil war. The Tamil Tigers so thoroughly insinuated themselves into Tamil communities, particularly here in the Tamil Tiger’s former stronghold in he north, that in the government’s eyes the two have become virtually synonymous.

“They recruited everybody,” Mr. Rajapaksa said, from old men to teenage girls. “Everyone was ready to take the gun.”

Mr. Rajapaksa, who was elected in 2005 after promising to end the war, has cast the struggle against the Tamil Tigers as part of the war against terrorism. He is fond of saying that there are no minorities in Sri Lanka, “only people who love their country and people who don’t love their country.”

Sri Lanka’s government has celebrated its triumph over the Tigers as the world’s first purely military defeat of an insurgent terrorist group. Using ingenious guerrilla tactics, women and children as suicide bombers and even a small navy and air force, the Tigers waged a pitiless battle to sever a homeland for the minority Tamil ethnic group from the rest of Sri Lanka, a teardrop-shaped island. The war spanned nearly three decades and left tens of thousands of people dead and uprooted hundreds of thousands more.

But human rights organizations here and abroad have documented some of the other heavy costs of the victory. The government has clamped down hard on dissent. Journalists have been mysteriously killed, arrested and chased from the country. Thousands of Tamils have disappeared, presumably arrested by the state on suspicion of being Tamil Tiger fighters, according to Mano Ganesan, a Tamil member of Parliament who has been tracking disappearances for years.

Questions remain about how many civilians were killed in the last bloody weeks of the war, when the Tigers were pushed onto a narrow stretch of beach along with hundreds of thousands of civilians. After insisting for months, improbably, that no civilians had died, Mr. Rajapaksa acknowledged that some must have been killed and said that the government was investigating the last days of the war.

“My instruction was there cannot be any single civilian causalities,” he said. “The army was very careful.”

But the United Nations has said that at least 7,000 people died up to the end of April, when the last push began. No one is sure how many were killed in the last few weeks of fighting, but witnesses said the battlefield was covered with bodies. Satellite images of the zone seem to belie government claims that no heavy weapons were used there, revealing large, scorched craters.

“We had to walk over dead bodies,” said Priyadharshai Jeeveraj, whose husband, a salaried policeman who had worked for the Tigers, was arrested on the last day of the fighting and has not been seen since. “There were hundreds of bodies everywhere.”

The Sri Lankan government has managed to brush off outside efforts to investigate what happened in the final days of the fighting, quashing an effort to so by the Human Rights Council in Geneva in May.

But the longer the camps for displaced Tamils remain hidden from view, the harder it will be for the Sri Lankan government to keep the support of the foreign countries helping to pay the millions of dollars required to feed, shelter and clothe the displaced.

“Perversely, if we keep helping we become the jailer of these people,” said one diplomat from a country that is helping pay for the relief effort. Aid organizations that had initially been barred from working in the camps have stayed silent to maintain their ability to help the displaced. But many have reservations about their role.

“The longer it goes on, the more it looks like internment,” said one aid official, who asked not to be identified to protect the charity’s work.

But Mr. Rajapaksa said that preventing the Tamil Tigers from regrouping was his first priority.

“The citizen’s security is No. 1,” he said. “You must remember that we have just defeated the most ruthless terrorist group. We are very careful. I can’t let this become like Baghdad.”

July 09, 2009

Where wait for water, medicine lasts days as refugees in their own land

by Jaya Menon

VAVUNIYA (Sri Lanka): As day breaks over Cheddikulam near Vavuniya in northern Sri Lanka, life stirs in rows of white and blue tents dotting the landscape-once a dense jungle, the area has been cleared hurriedly to accommodate thousands of Tamils who have borne the brunt of final Eelam war IV.

For camp inmates, the routine usually begins with a scramble in the queues for water. With poor sanitation leading an outbreak of diseases, the lines for medicines too are getting longer. Children in the camp are being schooled, but given the dearth of facilities and teachers, education suffers.

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Tamil refugee girl displaced by the conflict between military troops and Tamil Tigers looks on from the aperture of her tent school in a refugee camp are held by authorities at Cheddikulam in the northern district of Vavuniya-Jul 7, 2009-Reuters pic.

Community kitchens have been set up to provide three regulation meals, but the business of distributing food and provisions to more than two-and-a-half-lakh people remains a challenge.

The camps are protected by barbed wires and armed guards ensure no one gets in or out without prior permission. These days, only non-government organisations or charity workers are permitted into the area, which is divided into various zones and spread over 600 hectares.

The refugees have been divided among ‘transitional relief villages’ or zones, named after late Tamil leaders including Kadirgamar, Anandakumarasamy, Ramanathan and Arunachalam. The zones have been further divided into blocks and administered by officials of the ‘presidential task force for resettlement’ and several grama niladharis (village headmen).

To the very end is located Zone IV — yet to be named — housing refugees who, along with LTTE cadres, had been driven by a relentless army to Mullivaikal, the last strip in north-east Mullaitivu. Their sufferings were the worst. The camp makes sure that their struggle for existence continues.

The Cheddikulam camp has been described by the UN as the world’s largest displacement camp. Their conditions were qualified as ‘appalling’ by the recently retired chief justice of Sri Lanka, Sarath Nanda Silva, as well as NGOs allowed to distribute relief, and UN chief Ban Ki-moon himself.

Life is all about queues here. In front of a dispensary where they fall into an uneasy slumber after waiting for hours for medicines, or in front of a water pump, or the worst of all — for toilets.

Vandhana Chandrashekar (28), who is nine months pregnant and already has five children, has been waiting in a line for water for three days. After the long wait, each family gets just 100 litres for drinking, bathing and washing clothes. Water brought in by small tankers is hardly sufficient for thousands of refugees.

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Manik Farm camp - UNHCR pic

Refugees in their own land

On the night of June 25, a small group of Tamil youths gathered furtively inside Arunachalam camp in Cheddikulam, Sri Lanka. As heavily-armed guards patrolled the camps perimeter, one of the men climbed a tree and tied a red cloth to the topmost branch.

The next day, as soldiers changed shifts and camp inmates dragged themselves out of their tents, a red flag with a tiger emblazoned on it was fluttering in the morning breeze. All the young men in the camp were rounded up and thrashed for the rebellious act of hoisting the LTTE flag.

The incident is symbolic of the tension brewing in Sri Lanka’s relief camps for the displaced. In the Cheddikulam camps in Vavuniya, there is real fear the wretched conditions and curtailed freedom could sow the seeds of insurgency and undo the government’s efforts to rebuild the nation.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has set an ambitious 180-day deadline to send the displaced Tamils back home. But international aid over $1 billion, including India’s relief package of Rs 500 crore has been slow to reach the affected, and slower still have been the mine clearing operations in the former war zones.

In the meantime, nearly 2.8 lakh displaced civilians in camps continue to suffer for basic amenities like water and medicine. There are over 50,000 children, about 1,000 of them orphaned by the war, and nearly 4,000 maimed men and women.

“It doesn’t take much to push the displaced in the camps over the edge,” said Gordon Weiss, UN spokesperson in Colombo. “The way they are treated at this point of time is important for the future. It is important to treat them with compassion, respect and acceptance,” said Weiss.

The Lankan army and police have launched a de-indoctrination exercise for LTTE cadres. The army estimates about 10,000 Tiger combatants, including about 65 child soldiers, are housed in special camps in school and college premises. Nimal HG Lewke, DIG of police, in-charge of Vavuniya, said, “It is essential to build the cadres confidence so that they can join the mainstream. All these years, the Tamil diaspora has been pumping in money, which has been used to buy bombs and bullets. Now, there is need for development.”

In the east, there are clear signs of attempts to return to normalcy. Work has begun on repairing roads, houses and buildings that were shelled. For the north, the government has already prepared an economic blueprint.

Central Bank governor Ajith Nivaard Cabraal said, “We are ready with a package of incentives, as well as delivery of credit, which we will soon unveil. The north needs a short but sharp burst. From Central Bank, we have allocated three billion (Sri Lankan) rupees.”

Other ministries, including education, power, roads and infrastructure, are also ready with plans, which will be rolled out soon after the UN certifies the land as being clear of mines. With the lifting of the ban on fishing and the A9 highway to Jaffna being opened up for trade, the economy in the north is expected to rev up and, in turn, boost the country’s commerce. [Times of India]

Sri Lankan Tamil parties participate in sham local elections

by K. Vasanthan

Sri Lanka’s Tamil parties are participating in the Rajapakse government’s sham local government elections in the war-ravaged Northern Province on August 8, thus helping the regime provide a democratic façade for the ongoing military occupation of the island’s north and east.

The election campaign for the Jaffna and Vavuniya municipal councils has featured the various parties representing the Tamil business elite, each vying to secure a place within the Rajapakse regime. At the same time, they are trying to divert the anger of ordinary Tamils over the destruction of basic rights and conditions, including the continuing detention of nearly 300,000 war refugees in military-controlled camps.

Lacking any base of support in the north, and widely hated among Tamils, the ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) is running under the banner of one of its coalition members, the Elam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP). In Jaffna, it is jockeying for support with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), the right-wing United National Party (UNP) and two independent groups.

Despite the military defeat of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Jaffna Peninsula remains under tight military rule, making a mockery of any claim to genuine democracy. Although the curfew has been reduced by five hours daily, it is still enforced from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. Thousands of Jaffna voters have been forced out of the area or are in detention camps.

The anti-democratic nature of the election was underscored when the assistant election commissioner rejected the nomination application of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), an Islamic communal party, on “technical grounds” because it allegedly had not produced a birth certificate or affidavit for one youth candidate. The Supreme Court refused to hear the SLMC’s constitutional fundamental rights challenge to the ruling.

The EPDP’s leader, Douglas Devananda, who is social affairs minister in Rajapakse’s government, has had difficulty explaining why his party is standing under the UPFA’s betel leaf symbol rather than its own Veena symbol (an Indian musical instrument).

In a statement published in his party’s newspaper, Devananda claimed: “The EPDP is an independent party of Tamil people and we defend our independent identity. But at the same time we unite with UPFA as a comradely party to achieve the Tamil people’s aspirations easily and quickly and also we try this as a test.” The EPDP has deployed its personnel in vehicles equipped with public address systems to read the statement.

Devananda’s statement is thoroughly dishonest. The EPDP backed Rajapakse’s war and assisted the accompanying military repression. Abductions, disappearances and killings were daily occurrences in Jaffna and other areas. The EPDP’s paramilitary wing worked closely with the army and the navy in this terror campaign.

Devananda formed the EPDP in 1986, after being a leading member of several armed Tamil groups, including the Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF). He declared that the EPDP would enter the “democratic stream” after the July 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord between President J.R. Jayawardene and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Under that agreement the Indian army moved into the north and east to disarm the LTTE while the two governments proposed limited power-sharing with the Tamil elite.

The LTTE initially agreed to the accord but later backtracked when the disarming began without the promised political concessions. Along with other Tamil groups, the EPDP supported the Indian army’s operations against the LTTE and established its own paramilitary wing. After the Indian army withdrew with heavy casualties, the EPDP began to collaborate with the Sri Lankan navy and the army.

In the 1994 general election, amid allegations of ballot-stuffing, the EPDP won 9 out of 30 seats in the north-east province, which had been combined under the terms of the Indo-Lanka Accord. However, in the 2004 election the discredited party won only one seat for Devananda. While its paramilitary force worked with the military, Devananda joined the government, first as rehabilitation minister under former President Chandrika Kumaratunga in 2000.

Hated for its role, the EPDP is now singing a new tune. Last week, when Devananda attended an election meeting with “mediation boards”, he was questioned about the EPDP’s gun-toting thugs. He claimed that the “gun culture” was finished and that his party was for “democracy,” yet the paramilitary cadres are still operating.

Increasingly desperate, Devananda called a meeting of unemployed graduates last week and promised them jobs. Only a handful of students attended the meeting at Jaffna University, so he had to bring in the jobless graduates by bus.

As part of the Indo-Lanka Accord, provincial councils were established under Amendment 13 to the constitution. Devananda has claimed that Tamil people can obtain democratic rights through the full implementation of this framework, but the provincial councils constitute a limited vehicle for the Tamil elite to share power with the Colombo government. The EPDP’s perspective is to secure those privileges while acting as a client of the Rajapakse regime.

The TNA was formed in 2001 by a section of the old Tamil political establishment on the basis of endorsing the LTTE’s false claim to be the “sole representative of the Tamil masses”. Since the LTTE’s defeat, the TNA has moved closer to the government, while still pursuing the LTTE’s underlying perspective of establishing its own power-sharing arrangements with the Sinhala elite.

Suresh Premachandran, a TNA leader, issued a statement on July 3 denouncing the EPDP for remaining in the government after the brutal war and contesting the election on the UPFA ticket. “The UN says 20,000 people have been killed [in the final stages of the war],” he said. “In such a situation is it correct to work to give the capital [Jaffna] of Tamils to the government?”

Premachandran appealed to all the Tamil parties, including the EPDP, to “unite in one front [so] we can put strong pressure on the government. That is what the international community and Tamils who are living in abroad expect from us.”

The TNA is seeking a new bargaining framework to accommodate itself with the Rajapakse regime, basically in line with the policy of the Indian government. Far from being concerned about the democratic rights and social problems of the Tamil working people, the TNA wants to work with Colombo and New Delhi to quell the discontent among the Tamil masses in Sri Lanka and southern India.

An editorial in the Jaffna-based Tamil daily Uthayan on July 4 commented: “Reconstruction of the north will be carried out [by the government] with the help of the TNA. India has promised that it will talk to the Colombo government and arrange for the TNA to participate in the work of reconstruction of the north.”

A TNA delegation led by parliamentarian N. Srikanthan participated in the “All Party Committee for Development and Reconciliation” meeting convened on July 2 by President Mahinda Rajapakse. It joined all the other parliamentary parties to signal their complicity with the government’s war crimes. According to Valampuri, Srikanthan asked Rajapakse for a separate discussion with the TNA, which was readily agreed.

The TULF, which, like the EPDP, ardently backed the war, was also invited to the all-party forum, even though it no longer has a parliamentary seat. The Sunday Times reported: “The Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) president V. Anandasangaree recalled how he had consistently supported the government against the LTTE, which allowed other MPs to move freely—a direct jab at his erstwhile colleagues now in the TNA.”

Anandasangaree’s statement highlights the fact that these corrupt and impotent Tamil parties are competing with each other for places in the Rajapakse government. On one thing they are all agreed—that is, hostility to any united struggle by the Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and Indian working class against the ruling elites.

Several Jaffna residents spoke to the WSWS about the repressive atmosphere surrounding the elections.

One student from St. Patrick’s College said: “Ninety percent of youth are unemployed in Jaffna. Under severe economic difficulties and in war conditions, parents have tried to educate their children but there are no jobs. Some youth have been working as volunteer teachers for only 3,500 rupees ($US30) a month for many years. In our school there are 20 volunteers teachers.

“My native place is Nainanathivu, which is in a high security zone, near a main naval base. Anybody entering our village must get a pass. My father is a fisherman. During the war, fishing was very difficult. His income is less than 5,000 rupees a month. My tuition fees are 800 per month, so my relations help.

“Young people are fed up with these political parties. The so-called liberation movements are also anti-democratic. Not only the government, but these movements also oppress the people.”

A middle-aged farmer living in a rented house after being displaced from his home said: “I was living in Ariyalai, about 8 kilometres from Jaffna. I have a sizable plot of land. About 700 families lost their land when the army established a high security zone around Poonahari.

“Now the war is over, but we still can’t go home. The army allowed only 100 people, but not to stay there permanently. Landowners have been given green passes. Workers have white cards. They can go there in the morning but must return in the evening.

“We are living on rations in rented houses. The rations are set at 1996 levels. A five-person family receives 1,250 rupees ($US12) a month. We can’t cope with the situation. Nothing has changed. When a military vehicle comes, we have to stop and give way. We will be free only when the military is withdrawn.” [courtesy: wsws]

Sri Lankan Political Parties Complicit in Rajapakse Regime War Crimes

By K. Ratnayake

All the Sri Lankan parliamentary parties last week attended a meeting called by President Mahinda Rajapakse to form an “All Party Committee on Development and Reconciliation”. Their participation signifies the complicity of the entire political establishment with the Rajapakse regime’s war crimes and mass detention of nearly 300,000 Tamil civilians.

The president’s office boasted in a statement after the meeting: “[L]eaders of 22 political parties from all communities met ... in a ground breaking move to create consensus among political parties for the task of development and reconciliation.” The participants decided to meet every month, underscoring their readiness to collaborate with the government.

The meeting was called amid continuing international calls for an investigation into the war crimes committed in the military offensive in the north, and growing opposition to the incarceration of Tamils in clear violation of the law and the constitution. In the final phase of the war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) the Sri Lankan military engaged in indiscriminate bombing and shelling of civilian areas, killing thousands and injuring thousands more.

The gathering included the 11 parties in the ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance, notably Rajapakse’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and the Stalinist Communist Party. Among the opposition parties participating were the right-wing United National Party (UNP), the Sinhala extremist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress (SLMC), a Muslim communal party.

Rajapakse told the meeting: “The humanitarian operation to free the people from the terror is now over and it’s the time for a humanitarian mission.” Every party representative in attendance knew Rajapakse’s claim was false to the core. Having carried out a ruthless war against Tamils, the politico-military cabal that runs the government has called for a new economic “war” of “nation-building” which will involve an all-out assault on the living standards and basic rights of all working people.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) joined the meeting, a development that the government hailed as “a new step towards establishing national unity”. The pro-LTTE party was created in 2001 by a section of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). Although it has quickly distanced itself from the LTTE in the wake of Rajapakse’s military victory, its agenda is a continuation of the LTTE’s perspective of seeking a privileged position for the Tamil elite in a power-sharing deal with the Colombo government.

Leading the TNA delegation to the all-party meeting, N. Srikanthan requested a “visible political solution”. According to the government statement, he said: “The TNA hopes to be a partner in the progress of the country based on the ideals of democracy.”

Rajapakse is interested in harnessing the TNA to defuse hostility among Tamils and also placate the Indian government, which has called for a “political solution” to prevent instability in Sri Lanka and southern India, which is home to some 70 million Tamils. Last week he told the Hindu, an Indian daily, that he was willing to reach a “political solution” with the TNA.

The so-called “left” parties have also fallen in behind Rajapakse. Those in the ruling coalition, the LSSP and the Communist Party, openly displayed their backing for Rajapakse.

LSSP general secretary Vimalasiri de Mel, while saying that priority should be given to resettling detainees, declared: “We give full support to the president’s program. Some are trying to incite communalism but we should not give way.” The LSSP was once a Trotskyist party but broke from the Fourth International and after a protracted degeneration joined the Bandaranaike government in 1964. Today it is a bureaucratic shell reliant on privileges from the government.

The Communist Party leader, constitutional affairs minister Dew Gunasekera, similarly expressed loyalty to Rajapakse, while also paying lip service to the resettlement of the “displaced” Tamils locked away in the government’s military-run camps.

The “radical left” groups, the Nava Sama Samaja Party and the United Socialist Party, which have no parliamentary seats and were not invited to the all-party forum, have remained silent on the significance of the line-up behind Rajapakse. During the war they echoed the position of the LTTE, calling for the major powers to push for peace talks and a power-sharing arrangement between the government and the LTTE.

The UNP, the traditional party of big business, sent a second-rung delegation headed by MP Kabir Hashim. While praising Rajapakse for seeking support from the other parties, Hashim declared that party would respond when the government presented proposals. Wracked by internal disputes and with several MPs having defected to the government over the past three years, the UNP’s leaders are hesitant to collaborate too closely with the government for fear of further undermining their position.

Ellawela Medhananda, the leader of the Sinhala extremist Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), a member of the ruling coalition, said the government should continue to restrict the activities of non-government aid agencies that offered to help Tamil refugees, accusing them of pro-LTTE activities. The JHU has stepped up a campaign to oppose any concessions being given to the Tamil elite in the form of increased powers for provincial councils.

Anura Kumara Dissanayake, representing the JVP, was more vociferous. He paid tribute to the armed forces for their war victory and declared that any decisions taken by the all-party forum “must be in line with the sovereignty, territorial integrity, national security and unitary nature of the state”.

While trying to wear a democratic face, the government is making intense preparations to strengthen the military occupation of the north. The military has created new command centres in the recently captured towns of Kilinochchi and Mullaithivu and is in the process of recruiting 50,000 soldiers.

It is already clear that the government’s plans for the “development” of the north and east of the island centre on the establishment of cheap labour platforms, including the establishment of free trade zones in Kilinochchi and Mullaithivu in the north and in Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Amparai in the east.

The war has ravaged the Sri Lankan economy and the huge military expenditure has left the government in a deep financial crisis, worsened by the impact of the global recession. By attending the all-party conference, Sri Lanka’s parliamentary parties have shown they are prepared to unite with the government in its new “nation building war” to impose the full burden of the war and the slump on the working class. [courtesy: wsws]

July 08, 2009

Lasantha Wickrematunge: The man who changed Sri Lankan journalism

Hello Friends

It is six months since the fearless editor of "The Sunday Leader" was brutally assassinated in broad daylight.Lasantha Manilal Wickrematunge was murdered in cold blood at Ratmalana by a killer squad of eight riding four motor cycles. He was driving alone to work on that fateful January 8th.

lasantha wickremetunga's funeral

pic by: indi.ca

Six months have passed and the Police are yet to progress in their so called investigation into the killing. The only "suspect" netted by them is the man who misappropriated Lasantha's cellular phone. [click here to read in full ~ on dbsjeyaraj.com]

Why cannot Sri Lanka make race hate speeches and utterances a principal offence?

by Lynn Ockersz

President Mahinda Rajapaksa is on record that he has cautioned sections of his ruling coalition against stoking communal disharmony and this position would, no doubt, be widely welcomed by the ‘moral majority’ in Sri Lanka whose hearts are in a future that would be shared among Sri Lanka’s communities. We have had no ominous indications, so far, of communal friction of any kind erupting in the wake of some already hotly debated ‘post-war issues’, such as the full implementation of the 13th amendment, but complacency carries its perils and it is gratifying that the President has sought to pre-empt stirrings of a communal kind which could make short work of the current widespread Lankan hopes of a stable future.

Admonitions of this kind need to be issued more than occasionally from government leaders for the preparation of the collective consciousness of the people for taking on the exacting but largely untouched challenge of nation-building in this country but it is best that verbal exhortations and moral persuasion are backed by relevant legislation and other legal instruments to prohibit and ‘outlaw’ the lethal cancer that has been assailing the local body politic over the decades. Such legislative and legal deterrents, besides helping to contain communalism, would have the added positive effect of building trust and mutual acceptance among our communities.

A political solution to our conflict, which would address in full the issue of empowering our communities and making them equal stakeholders in the Lankan state, is one of the most urgent national priorities currently, but governments have been notoriously slow-footed in delivering on this score and only the politically naïve would expect an accelerated drive for a political solution this time around too, particularly now that the LTTE has been militarily crushed and the perception seems to be gaining ground among some that a political solution would, indeed, be superfluous or needless. However, international pressure has been mounting on Sri Lanka over the months for a political solution and such pressure cannot be shrugged-off, particularly if there is substantial dependence on the part of the Lankan state on the world community for financial and development assistance and, this, of course, is very much the case. But if past experience in ‘peace-making’ is anything to go by, one cannot expect the Lankan government to be in what may be described as a mighty hurry to work out a solution, although some moves could be expected in this direction.

However, if the government has acquired a clear and comprehensive understanding of the national interest, it would not indulge in any more feet-dragging on this issue and the President, through his recent warning to sections of his governing coalition, on the question of rousing communal passions, indicates that he, indeed, has grasped the gravity of delivering a political package without inordinate delays. Regardless of whether this solution is ‘homegrown’ or otherwise and irrespective of whether it provides for a state dispensation containing ‘federal’ or ‘unitary’ features, the political package would need to address in full the felt need among the minorities for equal citizenship and empowerment, in all its dimensions. Anything short of these requirements would leave the National Question hugely unanswered and ensure that the challenge of nation-building continues to remain unaddressed. For, equal empowerment and citizenship, along with substantial group rights for minorities, are essential ingredients in nation-building. Without these binding elements Sri Lanka would remain disunited.

Hopefully, then, the recently formed All Party Development and Reconciliation forum would prove productive and result-oriented, although it is not clear at present whether this widely representative, somewhat clumsily large forum would be charged with addressing the question of a political solution. Nor is there any intimation of what the future of the APRC would be, although we have been told it has been working on a political solution for well over two years. Getting its act together is a matter for the state and this it would need to get round to if it is in earnest when it says that it is for a political solution.

While it would be realistic to expect a meandering forward drive to a political solution, given the highly contradictory pulls and pressures on the government, it cannot be excused for not putting in place policies and practices in the short term, that would help in paving the way to the expeditious working out of a political solution. Some such measures have already been touched on and they relate to the containing of communalism. It needs to be noted that a head-on confrontation of communalism in all its forms by the state, could help in furthering national integration and thereby lay the basis for nation-building.

Besides, putting in place the legal machinery, for instance, to contain communal violence in all its manifestations, why cannot the state make race-hate speeches and utterances, a principal offence?

We should see moves in these directions by the state if the foundation is to be laid for closer national integration and the expeditious working out of a political solution. Besides, these measures would prove immensely effective confidence-building steps in inter-communal relations.

It would also prove advantageous, from the viewpoint of communal amity, for the Lankan state to have a close look at legislation, such as, Britain’s Race Relations Act of 1976. Britain has been at the receiving end of charges in some quarters over the decades, that it has not been doing enough to curb racial intolerance and violence within its boundaries. Whatever the merits or otherwise of these charges, Britain could produce concrete proof that it has in place the legal and other relevant machinery to handle racial intolerance and violence and one piece of evidence to prove this is the just mentioned Act.

Of special interest under this category of legislation, is the creation of Race Relations Councils, under The Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, which, among other things, are charged with eliminating unlawful discrimination in local authority areas, promoting equal opportunities and promoting good race relations between persons of different racial groups.

What is presented here is a brief overview of the relevant legal machinery and legislation and a more in depth look at them is necessary to ascertain how they could be adopted to suit Sri Lanka’s conditions and requirements. From the point of view of rectifying communalism, even India, we are certain, could prove useful, if one would only care to study the relevant institutional mechanisms and other relevant arrangements.

There is hope in some quarters that the Tamil groups currently partnering the government, would prove a boon in working towards a better deal for the Tamil community and in taking the country forward to a more progressive future. Well, one way in which Karuna, Douglas Devananda and Anandasangaree could make a positive contribution is by at least helping to decommunalize social relations. They will need to prove that are indeed capable of improving the lot of the Tamil people.

Full Implementation of Thirteenth Amendment Is NOT Ultimate Solution To Ethnic Question

by Dr.Jayampathy Wickramaratne

The defeat of the LTTE as a military force has not made the ethnic question in Sri Lanka go away. If anything, the need for a political solution has become ever more urgent. The euphoria over the military victory must not allow the debate on power sharing and devolution to die. While these discussions take place, it is useful to go back to power-sharing arrangements already in place, and examine where they fall short.

The 13th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka, passed in 1987, introduced Provincial Councils with legislative and executive powers within a unitary state. There are three lists of subjects and functions – the Reserved List, the Provincial Council List and the Concurrent List. A Provincial Council (PC) has no power to make statutes on any matter set out in the Reserved List. A PC statute on a matter in the PC List makes a pre-1987 parliamentary law on the same matter inoperative in the province if the statute states in its long title that the statute is inconsistent with such law.

However, the legislative power of a PC in regard to a matter in the PC List is not exclusive; Parliament too can legislate on such matters. A parliamentary bill on a PC matter must be referred to all PCs for the expression of their views. If all agree, Parliament can pass the bill with a simple majority. If one or more PCs do not agree, and the bill is passed by only a simple majority, then the bill would become law applicable only to those provinces that agreed. But if the bill is passed by a two-thirds majority, then the law would apply even in the provinces that did not agree.

As for matters in the Concurrent List, Parliament needs to consult PCs before it takes up a bill and a PC must also do the same. In the event of inconsistency, the parliamentary law shall prevail. However, a PC statute on such a matter would make a pre-1987 law on the subject inoperative unless Parliament decides otherwise.

A significant feature of the Reserved List is its first item: national policy on all subjects and functions. This is a provision that has been abused by the Centre under successive governments. It is reasonable to expect the provision to mean that Parliament may lay down national policy even relating to a matter in the Provincial List or the Concurrent List by a simple majority, and PCs should abide by such national policy in making statutes.

In view of the express provision contained in Article 154G (3) – that a parliamentary law on a matter in the Provincial List would apply in a province that has not consented to it only if the law has been passed by a two-thirds majority – there can be little doubt that Parliament cannot, in the guise of laying down national policy, legislate on a matter set out in the PC List by a simple majority without the consent of the PC concerned. In other words, national policy on matters set out in the PC List and the Concurrent List would be in the nature of framework legislation to which PCs should conform.

To take one example, under item 8 of the PC List, the regulation of road-passenger carriage services and carriage of goods by motor vehicles within the Province and the provision of intra-provincial road transport services is a provincial subject. This clearly permits a PC to set up its own transport service. The Colombo government has, however, prohibited PCs from providing omnibus services, claiming to declare “Government policy” though the National Transport Commission Act of 1991. Although it is clear from a reading of the 13th Amendment that national policy could only be laid down by an act of Parliament, successive governments have been purportedly laying down such policy by cabinet decisions and ministry circulars.

The Gunawardena Committee, appointed in 1995 to study the operation of Provincial Councils, had the following to say on how the national policy provision had been misused:

There has been a tendency on the part of Government Ministries to interpret National Policy in operational terms, thereby extending their areas of administrative action in respect of provincial subjects. … National Policy being a reserved function brings into effect a role differentiation between the Government and the Province. Thus, whereas the Government performs a directive role the Province is relegated to an implementational role. Hence there is a tendency on the part of the Government to give policy directives, marginalizing the Province from the decision making process. This leaves only a residual role which is largely operational. The tendency to view the Province in operational terms is reinforced by the nature and scope of Government-Province relations currently in place. It is a negation of the power sharing basis of devolution and does not constitute a relation for establishing a partnership between the Government and the Provinces.

Executive power

Under Article 154C, the executive power of a PC extends to matters with respect to which a PC has power to make statutes, namely matters in the PC List and the Concurrent List. However, for provincial authorities to exercise executive power, they need statutory authority. In 1987 there were at least 300 pieces of legislation in respect of matters coming under the PC List and the Concurrent List. References to the minister or a particular public officer in such laws could not be taken to be references to the governor, provincial minister or the corresponding provincial public officer in the absence of an express provision to that effect in the 13th Amendment. PCs were thus faced with the impossible task of passing statutes corresponding to all such laws if they were to exercise executive power. They did not have their own draftsmen, and had to rely on the Centre for that too. In the absence of a statute, the Centre would continue to exercise executive power in respect of the subject in question.

PCs pressed the government to enact parliamentary legislation, providing that all references in existing law in respect of matters set out in the Provincial and Concurrent Lists be construed as references to the corresponding provincial authorities. The government reluctantly agreed to make such a provision, but applicable only to the Provincial List. The Provincial Councils (Consequential Provisions) Act No 12 of 1989 was accordingly passed. There remain an estimated 200 laws in respect of matters set out in the Concurrent List that were not covered by the act. Up to now, only a few statutes in respect of such matters have been enacted by the various PCs, mainly due to lack of their own draftsmen. The Centre has not moved to prepare model statutes that could be used by PCs, as in other countries. In the absence of their own statutes, provincial authorities are unable to exercise executive power, notwithstanding Article 154C.

Problems have cropped up even regarding matters set out clearly in the Provincial List. A pre-1987 parliamentary law on such a matter will be inoperative in a province only if a statute is made. Although provincial authorities are able to exercise powers under a pre-1987 law to which the Provincial Councils (Consequential Provisions) Act applies, central authorities are also able to exercise powers if they so wish, unless and until a provincial statute is made. That is what happened in the case of the Ratnapura and Kegalle Base Hospitals that were administered by the Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council. The Centre moved to take over the administration of the two hospitals in 1994, and the attorney-general advised the Centre that in the absence of a provincial statute that provided for the administration of the two hospitals, “the control of these two hospitals legally remains with the Ministry of Health.”

Again, on being asked for advice on whether the minister at the Centre could exercise the power of supervision over local authorities if there was no provincial statute on the subject, the attorney-general stated: “It should also be noted that the Provincial Councils (Consequential Provisions) Act does not take away from the Minister of the Central Government the powers which he has under any Act of Parliament, which can continue to be exercised by him as well.”

Clearly, the Centre has been making use of the difficulties faced by Provincial Councils in making their own statutes to encroach on areas devolved to the provinces. With regard to interference by the Centre, the Gunawardena Committee stated:

Most Government Ministries continue to conduct their operations on a pre-devolution basis. Thus Government Ministries routinely address guidelines and circular instructions direct to the respective provincial heads of departments by-passing the Provincial Ministry. Further, there has been no restructuring at the centre in terms of roles and functions in the context of devolution. It would appear that there has been a failure on the part of most Government Ministries to formulate national policies in their sectoral subjects in partnership with Provincial Councils.

It is instructive to examine in detail one significant case of a clash between the Centre and the provinces. The Agrarian Services (Amendment) Bill of 1991 sought to amend several sections of the original act that dealt with matters relating to landlords and tenant cultivators. The bill was challenged in the Supreme Court on the grounds that it dealt with matters set out in the PC List as well as the Concurrent List, and should have been referred to the PCs. The bill made no reference, in the preamble or elsewhere, to national policy being made.

The Centre did not claim, even in court, that the bill sought to lay down national policy. But the court held that, “It is sufficient for present purposes that the matters dealt with in the Bill are all matters of national policy in regard to the rights and liabilities of owners and tenant-cultivators, and thus fall within [the Reserved List].” How national policy could be laid down by amending an existing law on a PC matter was not explained.

With the establishment of PCs in 1988, agrarian services was considered a provincial subject, and the councils had their own Departments of Agrarian Services and matters relating to landlords and tenant cultivators were handled by these departments. After the Supreme Court’s aforesaid determination, an additional solicitor-general informed the Centre that, in view of the decision of the Supreme Court, the matters dealt with in the bill were all matters of national policy in regard to the rights and liabilities of owners and tenant cultivators and thus fell within the Reserved List.

As such, the latter could proceed “on the basis that Agrarian Services is not a devolved subject”. Soon, the Centre took over the provincial departments. Yet this advice was clearly wrong. Even if the Supreme Court was correct in saying that the matters covered by the bill were all matters of national policy, that did not make agrarian services a subject in the Reserved List. When national policy is declared in respect of a subject in either the Provincial List or the Concurrent List, that does not shift the subject to the Reserved List.

In 2003, in Madduma Banda v Assistant Commissioner of Agrarian Services, the Supreme Court held that matters relating to tenant cultivators came under the Provincial List. Commenting on the earlier determination, the court took the view that it would not be correct to say that the matters dealt with by the bill were all matters of national policy. The judgment was certainly devolution-friendly. Despite the clarification, PCs still do not exercise powers relating to agrarian services.

‘Full’ implementation

There is much talk about trying to “fully” implement the 13th Amendment before declaring it as inadequate. What exactly would this involve? This writer makes the following specific proposals.

First, the Provincial Councils (Consequential Provisions) Act must be extended to the Concurrent List. This does not need a two-thirds majority. Alongside, a policy decision must be taken that the Centre would not exercise executive powers on matters in the PC List and Concurrent List.

Second, national policy must be laid down by central legislation only, and that too after a participatory process involving PCs. Such policy shall be in the form of framework legislation only, and PCs would be required to work within such framework. The Centre shall not legislate for the Provinces in the guise of making national policy.

Third, the Centre has been exercising executive powers relating to the PC List and the Concurrent List. These must be handed over to PCs. This must include, for example, law and order, land, agrarian services, hospitals (that are not teaching hospitals or special purpose hospitals), schools arbitrarily classified as national schools and taken over.

Fourth, subjects such as social services, relief and rehabilitation, indigenous medicine and co-operatives come within the purview of PCs, but the Centre has ministries for these subjects and uses them to control the provincial departments. Such intrusions into provincial functions must stop.

Fifth, the exercise of powers by PCs has been seriously limited due to the inadequacy of funds. The Provincial Councils Act empowers a PC to raise loans on guarantees granted by the central Minister of Finance. The Centre should facilitate action in this regard. Section 22 of the Act stipulates that foreign aid negotiated for a project or scheme in a Province shall be allocated by the government for such a project or scheme. The Centre should route all finances in respect of special projects undertaken by the Centre in the provinces, if they are on subjects under the purview of the Provinces, through the respective provincial administrations.

And sixth, the provincial public service is weak and needs to be strengthened. There should be a clear demarcation of duties between those serving the Province and the Centre, but with effective coordination. This could be done without increasing staff, but through proper redistribution of human resources.

The implementation of the 13th Amendment should not be seen as the ultimate solution for Sri Lanka’s ethnic crisis. The 13th Amendment has inherent weaknesses, which should be rectified in the next stage of constitutional reform.

This writer suggests a Constitution that lays out a clear-cut division between the Centre and the provinces. Subjects necessary to ensure sovereignty, territorial integrity and economic unity must be reserved for the Centre, while all other subjects should be for the provinces. Powers of the Centre and provinces should be clearly set out, and powers of the provinces should be exclusive.

Provincial matters, in relation to which national policy or national standards could be laid down, should be minimal. Such policies should be by framework legislation, drawn up with the involvement of the Provincial Councils. There must also be power-sharing at the Centre – for example, in the shape of a second House of Parliament.

Along with these structural changes, there must be recognition of the identities of the various communities, and Sinhala and Tamil must be recognised as official languages with parity of status. While there needs to be inbuilt safeguards against secession, there must likewise be safeguards against amending provisions relating to devolution and power-sharing without the consent of the provinces. To adjudicate on constitutional debates, there must be a Constitutional Court. Finally, all acts inconsistent with the Constitution must be declared void, thus establishing the supremacy of the Constitution.

(Jayampathy Wickramaratne, a former senior advisor to Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Constitutional Affairs, was a member of the team that drafted the Constitution Bill of 2000. He is currently a member of the panel of experts to the All Party Representative Committee (APRC).This article was published in the "Himal SouthAsia" magazine of July 2009 under the heading " 13th hotly debated amendment and beyond".)

Doctors’ statements recanting Tamil deaths "expected and predicted," Amnesty Int’l says

Sam Zarifi, the Asia-pacific director for Amnesty International, told Associated Press the statements from the doctors who witnessed civilian massacres recanting their toll in Northern Sri Lanka were "expected and predicted."

The Tamil doctors who have been in police custody for nearly two months were brought before the media for briefing on Wednesday, July 8th to recant their reports of mass civilian casualties during the final days of the civil war.

The following is a report by Associated Press on the briefing: By Ravi Nessman

 

Sri Lankan ethnic Tamil doctors from left, V. Shanmugarajah, Thurairaja Varatharajah, and Thangamuttu Sathyamurthi prepare to address the media in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Wednesday, July 8, 2009. A group of Sri Lankan doctors who worked in the war zone and have been in police custody for nearly two months were brought before the media Wednesday to recant their reports of mass civilian casualties during the final days of the civil war. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

The men, who looked well-fed but nervous, denied they were withdrawing their statements under pressure from the government, even as they expressed hopes they might now be released. A rights group said there were "significant grounds to question whether these statements were voluntary."

Their new testimony — with drastically reduced death tolls and casualty figures during shelling of civilian areas — contradicted reports from independent aid workers with the United Nations and the Red Cross who witnessed some of the violence.

The government barred journalists from the war zone and threw out most aid workers, leaving the doctors as one of the few sources of information about the toll the fighting was taking on the hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped by the final battles of the 25-year civil war here.

U.N. figures show more than 7,000 civilians were killed between January and May. Human rights groups accused the government of shelling heavily populated areas and accused the rebels of holding civilians as human shields. Satellite photos showed densely populated civilian areas had been shelled. Both sides denied the accusations.

When asked Wednesday about the doctors' latest comments, U.N. spokesman Gordon Weiss said: "We stand by our statements."

At the time, the doctors gave harrowing accounts of the damage and described how the vast number of wounded civilians overwhelmed their makeshift hospitals as they ran low on food, medicine, supplies and staff.

The interviews infuriated government officials, who denied the men existed, then insisted the doctors were being misquoted and finally said they were under pressure from the rebels to lie. The doctors fled the area during the final battles in mid-May and were immediately arrested and accused of spreading rebel propaganda.

On Wednesday, five doctors were brought before dozens of foreign and local media and said the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels forced them to exaggerate the damage caused by the shelling and gave them lists of casualty figures to give to the media.

The rebels took medicine and food shipments sent by the government and demanded the doctors tell the media there were shortages, the men said.

"The information that I have given is false. ... The figures were exaggerated due to pressure from the LTTE," said Dr. V. Shanmugarajah.

"It's difficult for you to believe, but it's true," said Dr. Thurairaja Varatharajah, who was the top health official in the war zone.

However, Sam Zarifi, the Asia-pacific director for Amnesty International, said the statements from the doctors were "expected and predicted."

"Given the track record of the Sri Lankan government, there are very significant grounds to question whether these statements were voluntary, and they raise serious concerns whether the doctors were subjected to ill-treatment during weeks of detention," he said. "From the time the doctors were detained, the fear was that they would be used exactly this way."

The doctors' new testimony contradicted other evidence from the battlefront.

They estimated Wednesday that between 650 and 750 civilians were killed between January and mid-May in the final battles of the war, a number far below that reported by the United Nations.

Varatharajah said only 600 to 650 civilians were injured from January to April 15, even though the Red Cross rescued 13,769 sick and wounded patients and their relatives from his hospital during the final months of the fighting.

On Feb. 2, Varatharajah reported that three artillery barrages hit the pediatrics ward and women's wing of a hospital in the war zone, killing nine patients. On Wednesday, he denied the hospital had been hit.

However, the U.N. and the Red Cross, who had staff at the hospital, confirmed the attacks, the location of the strikes and the death toll. The army denied the attack.

Photos and video from the war zone showed damaged buildings and dead bodies, but none pointed to the scale of the killing.

No government officials were at the news conference at the Defense Ministry's press center to answer questions about why the doctors were being detained, how much longer they would be held, whether they were pressured to recant and whether they would be charged with any crime.

The moderator introduced himself as a freelance journalist and two men in white shirts and ties sitting off to the side appeared to be giving him directions. When one of the doctors acknowledged he was currently imprisoned, a journalist for the state media berated him, saying he was well fed, clean shaven, wearing a tie and had a decent haircut, so he couldn't be a prisoner.

In a telephone interview, police spokesman Ranjith Gunasekera refused to comment on what crime the doctors committed.

"Let the confidential inquiry continue, and we will give you the details later," he said.

In a recent interview with the Indian newspaper The Hindu, Lalith Weeratunga, the powerful secretary to President Mahinda Rajapaksa made it clear the government had no intention of releasing the doctors anytime soon.

"If they go scot-free, it will set a very bad precedent," he said.

Associated Press writer Krishan Francis contributed to this report.

 

July 07, 2009

Mahinda Rajapakse speaks out: A conversation with N.Ram of “The Hindu”

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa responds to  Editor in Chief of “The Hindu” N. Ram’s questions in this extended interview  in Colombo. Lalith Weeratunga, Secretary to the President, participated in the conversation, filling in some details and adding his insights. P.M. Amza, Sri Lanka’s Deputy High Commissioner in Southern India, was also present during the June 30 meeting at Temple Trees, the former official residence of Prime Ministers.

N. Ram: Mr. President, are you satisfied with conditions in the Vavuniya IDP camps where close to 300,000 Tamils are housed?

President: I sent some people close to me to the camps. They went and stayed for several days. They spoke to the girls, the Tamil children, and others. And they came and reported to me. I don’t rely on information only from the officials. We released people over 60. You know, a 74-year-old man, when he was released he immediately came here and went to Singapore. He was the man who had the money list, the other list. [Velupillai] Prabakaran had given lists to many, not to just one person. This man escaped; he was one of the leaders.

I would say the condition in our camps is the best any country has. We supply water. There is a problem with lavatories. That is not because of our fault. The money that comes from the EU and others, it goes to the NGOs and the U.N. They are very slow; disbursing money is very slow. We supply the water tanks; we have spent over [Sri Lankan] Rs. 2 billion. Giving electricity, giving water, now we are giving televisions to them. They have telephone facilities. Schools have been established. Some of the leaders are using mobile phones.

I had a special meeting on the disposal of waste. I sent a special team of specialists to see how mosquitoes can be eradicated.

We know there are shortcomings. Slowly, we have to overcome them. In some camps there are no problems. What these people I sent told me: they are satisfied with the housing, the shelter. They have undergone much worse conditions earlier [when they were under the LTTE’s control]. Their problem is movement, freedom of movement. Since there are security concerns, I don’t know how to do that immediately.

So I said: “We have to identify these people. So if anybody takes the responsibility, we are ready to send them.” We have called an all-party meeting for Development and Reconciliation. The reconciliation part, all parties must participate. The TNA [Tamil National Alliance] must participate.

Resettling displaced Tamils

NR: Why can’t more Tamil IDPs be sent back to the places they hail from, provided of course their security and wellbeing can be assured? Why not a grand gesture of sending tens of thousands of people to safe places where they can be looked after – at this stage, in the Eastern Province, the Jaffna Peninsula, and the Indian Tamil areas?

President: You must remember it is only one month, my friend. I said on the 20th of May that as soon as possible, we must send them to places where they can stay. My problem is that we have to get the certificate of de-mining from the U.N. We have already sent people back to several places; you can get the details. As soon as we get the clearance, I’m ready to do that. But before that I must get the clearance from the U.N. about the de-mining. I can’t send them to a place without basic facilities. Now we’re spending on electricity, on roads, on water. We can’t send them back to a place where there are just jungles. Every square centimetre has been mined by the LTTE. If something happens, I am responsible. 

Lalith Weeratunga (Secretary to the President; LW): Sri Lanka is adopting a very good system. We are de-mining the paddy fields first; then you can get into rice cultivation. The other thing is that the U.N. has been so slow in de-mining. It’s the Indian companies that have been doing the good work.

President: And the [Sri Lankan] Army. They’re doing the best work. 

My personal feeling is that as soon as possible, we have to re-settle these people. We have to send them to the villages. But my problem is that to provide security for them, I will have to recruit another 200,000! I don’t want to do that. Now I am recruiting Tamils to the Army and the police. I was always for that. I said: “Have a Muslim regiment and a Tamil regiment.” All these people started opposing it for political reasons: “No Muslim regiment, no Tamil regiment.” Not by the Sinhalese who welcomed that, but by the Tamils, by the Muslims.

You know, the mothers of our soldiers – some of them though their sons had been killed by the LTTE – when we told them that these people [Tamil civilians fleeing the LTTE] were coming and we must send them food and meet their other basic needs, these mothers contributed. The mothers of ex-soldiers contributed. Bikkus contributed. But not some Tamil businessmen. I had to remind them, shout at them, plead with them to get that support.

NR: Another issue is three doctors under detention: one may be an LTTE man; the other two are government doctors. Why can’t they be released now?  

President: I told them to organise a press conference. Let the doctors come and say what they have to say.

LW: They were lying through their teeth [about civilian casualties in the No Fire Zone]. And they are public servants, paid by the government. If they go scot-free, it will set a very bad precedent.

President: Everybody is worried about the doctors. So let them explain to the public, to the journalists, who can question them, why and on what basis they said what they said. Let the pro-LTTE journalists also question them.

The question of Tamil leadership

NR: How do you see the post-Prabakaran situation evolving politically?

President: My view is this. Most Tamil people believed they had a leader – whether he was right or wrong. This man [Prabakaran] made them proud. It was a ruthless organisation, it killed people, those are all immaterial for others. They thought: “There is a leader who is keeping us up in the world.” Suddenly that leadership vanished, after thirty years. Immediately they couldn’t digest it. Many of them know he was wrong. It will take time. Some of these people, the older people, can’t accept it yet. Still the Internet — ‘KP’ [Selvarasa Pathmanathan, the former head of the LTTE’s ‘Department of International Relations’ and chief arms procurer who is at large and on Interpol’s most wanted list] and the rest are sending messages, right? “You don’t worry, the organisation is still there,” and so on. Their propaganda machinery is alive, to get the money. Things that they bought individually, they are not giving it. There are Sinhalese businessmen here who invested the LTTE money. We know it but various powerful people protected them. 

My fear is this. Now, to collect money again, somebody will have to plan something here. Just one incident. Just to upset the world and then to show they have started the movement – so that they can continue to collect the money. They think that will help. But we are very vigilant.

No racism

In this whole thing, we have to think aloud. I have warned my party people, all party people, whether Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim, that “I don’t want any statement, anything that creates a disturbance among our three communities.” Now my theory is: there are no minorities in Sri Lanka, there are only those who love the country and those who don’t. They tried to twist that but I still maintain that position.

NR: That was in your speech of May 19.

President: Yes, in Parliament. And in my Parliament speech, I spoke in Tamil also. And I spoke only in Tamil when I gave a small message when we started the new ITV Tamil channel, Vasantham.

LW: The public service is learning Tamil. Some are following courses of 40 hours of spoken Tamil.

President: I learnt that in one school the master said: “If the President can learn Tamil, why can’t you all? You are students. You must learn Tamil.” We are paying people in the public service for learning Tamil, to encourage them.

LW: There is a one-time payment if you pass Tamil. But if they go for classes also we pay. H.E. [His Excellency] has issued a directive that with effect from July 1 we will not recruit people to the public service unless they know Tamil – and vice versa, that is, Tamils must know Sinhala, Sinhalese must know Tamil.

President: Let them learn, let them learn. I can remember that in 1970 as a young MP I said that we must teach all Sinhalese Tamil and all Tamils Sinhala. If that had happened, I think there would have been a different world.

NR: There was this famous and prophetic statement in the 1950s [in 1956, when Sinhala was made the official language]: “Two languages, one country. One language, two countries.”

President: Yes, by Colvin [Dr. Colin R. de Silva, the LSSP leader who between 1970 and 1975 was a key Minister in the Cabinet of Sirimavo Bandaranaike]. 

Towards a political solution

NR: Now about your political solution. You talked about the 13th Amendment plus.

President: I am waiting for them. The TNA representatives must come and participate in the discussions [on the political solution]. I am getting delayed because they haven’t done this yet. [On July 2, leaders and representatives of 22 political parties, including the TNA, participated in the inaugural meeting of the newly constituted All Parties Committee to build a consensus among political parties for development and reconciliation, giving priority to the speedy resettlement and rehabilitation of the war-displaced.] I am waiting but it will be after my [re-]election [as President]. I must get the mandate. After that, the political solution comes. Even tomorrow I can give that — but I want to get that from the people. Even today somebody said: “The 13th Amendment. We are not for…” I called them and gave them a piece of my mind. I called our party leaders and told them: “Now what I’m going to tell you, you’re not going to tell anybody. It’s between you and I.” Only party leaders were there. But today a professor from a university called me to say, “Thank you very much.” I said: “For what?” He said: “This morning you have warned all the people about racism. And what you said has been highly regarded. This call is to thank you.” I asked, “How do you know?” He said: “No sir, I just heard.” This professor, a Tamil man, had immediately got the news. “Whether it is Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim, I am telling you all. No racism. Don’t try to create problems for me.” 

[As for the political] solution, I’m willing. I know what to give and I know what not to give. The people have given me the mandate, so I’m going to use it. But I must get these people [the TNA representatives] to agree to this. They must also know that they can’t get what they want. No way for federalism in this country. For reconciliation to happen, there must be a mix [of ethnicities]. Here the Sinhalese, the Tamils, and Muslims inter-marry. In my own family, there have been mixed marriages: Sinhalese with Tamils, Sinhalese with Muslims. This is Sri Lankan society. No one can change this.

NR: You have this idea of a Second Chamber.

President: Yes, I want to get representatives from the Provinces involved in national policy-making. And if there is anything against a Provincial Council, they can protect their powers constitutionally. I have an arrangement in mind — this is what we call ‘home-grown solutions’ — but the idea needs to be discussed and the details settled. I don’t want to impose any arrangement. 

N. Ram (NR): Mr. President, when you were elected in 2005 what was your expectation of this conflict? This is what you said in your 2005 presidential election manifesto, Mahinda Chintana: “The freedom of our country is supreme. I will not permit any separatism. I will also not permit anyone to destroy democracy in our country…I will respect all ethnic and religious identities, refrain from using force against anyone, and build a new society that protects individuals and social freedoms.” In that policy statement, you also projected the “fundamental platform” of your initiatives as “an undivided country, a national consensus, and an honourable peace.” So what was your real expectation when you assumed the office of President? You had no plan, it appears, to go on an offensive.  

President: I was very clear about terrorism. I didn’t want to suppress the Tamils’ feelings. But I was very clear about the terrorism from the start. That’s why as soon as I knew that I was going to win, I invited Gota [his brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who took charge as Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law & Order on November 25, 2005; a battle-hardened professional with 20 years of service in the Sri Lankan Army, he played a key role in the successful Vadamarachchi Operation against the LTTE in 1987 and subsequently, in 1990, in Operation Thrividabalaya to rescue Jaffna peninsula and the Jaffna Fort from LTTE control.] I said to him: “You can’t go. You wait here.” That’s why I selected as commanders of the Armed Forces people who would get ready to do that.  

Then I sent the message to the LTTE: “Come, we will have talks, discuss.” I was trying to negotiate. I was very practical. I said: “You can get anything you want. But why don’t you all contest for this, have elections? Now you are people who have weapons in your hands. Ask the people to select. Have elections for the Provincial Council. Then we will negotiate. I can negotiate with an elected group. But with a man with weapons, I can’t negotiate.” The biggest mistake he [Prabakaran] made was this. He said I was a practical man, a pragmatic man. 

Lalith Weeratunga (Secretary to the President; LW): H.E. [His Excellency] was appointed on the 19th of November [2005] when he made his inaugural speech, where he invited this man. Then on the 27th of November came Prabakaran’s Maaveerar speech, in which he said the President was a pragmatic, practical man [the LTTE supremo announced that his organisation would “wait and observe” the new President’s approach to the peace process “for some time” because “President Rajapaksa is considered a realist, committed to pragmatic politics”]. When he said that, H.E. said in a speech: “I am willing to walk that last mile.” Then on the 5th of December, they attacked 13 innocent soldiers who were taking meals to their comrades and they were without weapons. That is how it started.

President: Even then I didn’t do anything. But then I knew what was going on. Then only I started my defence, I would say. Then Gota said we would have to increase the strength of the Army. All that was planned by them [the professionals]. I said: “What do you want? Get ready.” But I went behind them [the LTTE] pleading. But I knew people were getting worked up in the South. Then I warned the LTTE: “Don’t do this. Don’t push me to the wall.”

LW: Then you sent me to talk to one of their leaders.

President: I sent him. I sent Jeyaraj [Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, a veteran politician hailing from the Tamil minority group of Colombo Chetties and Cabinet Minister of Highways & Road Development; he was assassinated by an LTTE suicide bomber on April 6, 2008].

LW: In 2006, I went through many checkpoints without being checked. H.E. said: “Just go. Don’t identify yourself.” Later he told them: “I sent someone. You people couldn’t even find out who it was.”

President: I pulled up the Defence people, saying: “If I can send a man there, what is your security?” I told them after several months: “He [Lalith Weeratunga] is the man who went there. Do you know that?”

LW: To that extent he went.

NR: To see the weaknesses?

LW: No, to negotiate.

President: To negotiate and see the weaknesses also! Then I sent Jeyaraj. He told them some home truths in Sinhala, which they understood. “You will be killed [if they continued along this path].”

NR: Then came the Mavil Aru incident.

President: That was the time they gave me the green light!

NR: But you were well prepared by then, August 2006?

President: Yes. But before that, they tried to kill the Army Commander.

LW: In April 2006, when they tried to assassinate the Army Commander, the President said — this was in the next room — “as a deterrent, just one round of bombing, then stop it.”

President: Yes, I said: “Just go once.” We were very careful. We did our best to find a way out through talks.

LW: There was a whole series of negotiations, in Geneva and elsewhere. They [the Tigers] didn’t even want to talk.

President: So these military operations did not come without negotiation or without any reason. But from the start, I was getting ready for that [the military operations]. I knew — because I had the experience, you see. We knew that they would never lay down arms and start negotiating.

LW: In this connection let me tell you about the President’s interesting conversation with Mr. Solheim [Eric Solheim, the Norwegian politician and Minister who helped negotiate the 2002 ceasefire and was a controversial participant in the Norwegian mediatory efforts]. I was there, it was about March 2006. Mr. Solheim came to see H.E. after he became President, and said, in the midst of other things: “Prabakaran is a military genius. I have seen him in action,” and this and that. The President said: “He is from the jungles of the North. I am from the jungles of the South. Let’s see who will win!” It was very prophetic. Later the President met Minister Solheim in New York and reminded him of their conversation on the “military genius,” the jungles of the North and South, and who would win. The East had by that time, in 2007, been cleared and the President said: “Now see what’s going to happen in the North. The same.”

No underestimation

NR: When did you first get an idea that the Tigers were vulnerable, that they were hollow in some sense, that you could hit deep?

President: From the beginning I had the feeling that if you gave the forces [the Sri Lankan armed forces] proper instructions and whatever they wanted, our people could defeat them. Because I always had the feeling that what they  had they could attack South India. The weapons they had accumulated could not have been just for Sri Lanka! The amount of weapons our armed forces are discovering is unbelievable. And I knew when our intelligence was saying: “They have only 15,000 fighters,” I knew it was not that number. I was not depending on one source. I knew that the LTTE had more than that. One thing I never did was to underestimate the LTTE.

NR: So you say they were the most ruthless and most powerful terrorist organisation in the world.

President: Yes, the most ruthless and richest terrorist organisation in the world. And well equipped, well trained.

LTTE’s final strategy?

NR: What do you think was their final strategy? Prabakaran holed out with all the LTTE leaders and their families in that small space, that sliver of coastal land. It shocked the world. But what were they expecting? D.B.S. Jeyaraj, who writes for us, has a theory that they wanted to do a daring counter-attack.

President: I think what they wanted was to escape. In the final phase, they were waiting for somebody to come and take them away. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have gone there. Because they had the Sea Tiger base: that was the only place where they could bring a ship very close — even a submarine. They selected the best place for them: on one side the sea, then the lagoon, and there was a small strip. But then it was not they who actually selected the place: they ‘selected’ it but the armed forces made them go there. The No-Fire Zones were all announced by the armed forces. After Kilinochchi, they were saying: “No-Fire Zones, so go there.” So all of them [the LTTE leaders and fighters] went there. These were not areas demarcated by the U.N. or somebody else; they were demarcated by our armed forces. The whole thing was planned by our forces to corner them. The Army was advancing from North to South, South to North, on all sides. So I would say they got cornered by our strategies.

LW: Kilinochchi was captured on the 1st of January 2009. And the whole operation was over on the 19th of May. So there was ample time [for them to get away]. 

Conduct of armed forces

President: Yes, I can’t understand why they had to fight a conventional war. Prabakaran could have gone underground. If I was the leader of the LTTE, I would have gone underground and I would have been in the jungles — fighting a guerrilla fight. They couldn’t do that now because we, our Army, mastered the jungles. They were much better than the LTTE in this [mode of warfare]. Thanks to the Special Forces, the Long-Range Forces, and the small groups, the group of eight. That worked very well. And I salute our forces for their discipline.

LW: For example, there was not a single instance where the Army was found to be wanting in its conduct towards women.

President: That girl, when she surrendered — they were deciding, there were six or seven [LTTE women fighters] — she says in her statement: finally, two or three ate cyanide and killed themselves; and then two or three girls said, “all right, we will see whether we will be raped, whether we will kill ourselves or be killed by rape, we will take this risk.” The schoolteacher, this educated girl, surrendered. Nothing happened. She can’t believe this. She was paid by the government for fighting us! By the way, we are now going to get all the government servants [from the Northern areas that used to be controlled by the LTTE] and I am going to tell them: “Forget your past. You work there in these organisations, you can’t just wait there. We are paying you.” Now teachers must go and teach and others must go to their posts and work.

And the money that they [the Tamil civilians fleeing the LTTE] deposited: on the first day it was 450 million [Sri Lankan rupees] together in the two banks, People’s Bank and the Bank of Ceylon. And considerable quantities of gold. The Army has become a very disciplined force. 

N. Ram [NR]: Are you not worried by what is seen outside Sri Lanka as triumphalism following the military victory? That has to be checked, does it not, in the South?

President: No. The Tamils are happy, the Muslims are happy. They had that fear for two days. I must admit that. When my friends informed me, “Sir, we have a problem like this” — they had this fear — I spoke to them in Tamil and said: “Don’t worry, I will look after you.” People were enjoying themselves for two weeks. One day I took a vehicle and went all over just to find out what was going on. I placed the Army and the police near the Tamil houses. Nothing happened. Not a single Tamil house was attacked, not a single Tamil was humiliated. Not a single Muslim.

Do you know that recently there was a fight. Two were killed. I thought, “Another problem.” Only to find out that a gang had applied for visas saying, “The Army is bombing us and fighting us” and that they wanted to escape all this. They somehow got two visas and [to celebrate that] had a party. After drinking, two fellows were killed. We caught all of them and questioned them. They are not LTTEers, they don’t belong to any political party. They are gangsters. Gang fighting is going on. These are the underworld; we have to tackle them. They want to go to some western countries. I don’t mind; if those governments want them, let them take them!

Is the President too powerful?

NR: There is a perception that the presidency has become too powerful. If so, what is the safeguard? What would be your answer to this criticism?

President: My answer is that it is not too powerful. That is my three years’ experience. I can’t take any decision on money matters. My money is controlled by Parliament. My powers have been taken over by Commissions. I can’t dismiss any Provincial Council — unlike your central government, which has the constitutional power to dismiss a State government and dissolve a State Assembly. So how can I say I am powerful? I can’t transfer a provincial teacher. I can’t make a school a national school. So what is this power? To decide on the security, yes. The power is there. To keep the country in one piece. Otherwise I have no powers. The Cabinet has all the power. I can request.

NR: You are a man of Parliament, are you not?

President: I always say I am a man of Parliament. I like to debate. I like to fight, not physically of course. If you are inside Parliament, you’re in touch. I’m in a prison now. A glorified prisoner, I would say, with all these security personnel. I’m one who walked from Colombo to Kathargama, 180 miles in 18 days. I’m a person who went and met people. I am a person who went to their houses. I was very free: 40 years of politics was with the people. So suddenly you put me here. I also have been in remand for three months. But I can’t see a difference now. Of course I’m getting all these comforts. But what is comfort? This is not comfort. I can’t get out, I can’t drop in on my friends, I can’t bring them here. I can’t enjoy anything.

Friendship

NR: They say you value friendships a lot. You have friends in India.

President: I will do anything for a friend — not for any bad work, of course. But when a friend in difficulty approaches me, I will do whatever is possible to comfort them. Even when a country needs a friend, I always trust that country as a friend. Personal friendship has become important even in international relations. That is why I always treat India as a friend. A little more than that: a relation, I would say. Because of that, I will not get angry with others also.

NR: You are happy overall with India’s response to the recent developments?

President: Yes, India was very helpful, first by understanding what was happening. We had a list and we knew what was possible and what was not. We bought the weapons we wanted from China. It was a commercial deal. China helped us and when somebody helps you, you appreciate it, don’t you? But we paid them on international terms. We were very clear about this. That is also why I stood by Pakistan. When they were isolated, I got up and defended them. Then I canvassed for India during the process of choosing a Secretary-General for the Commonwealth [Kamalesh Sharma, a senior Indian diplomat, was chosen for this post by the Commonwealth Heads of Government in November 2007 and took up his post in April 2008]. I think no other country’s leader would have been doing that openly. There were people in Sri Lanka who were interested in the job. But I said I wanted an Indian candidate. “In this region, we must have a leader. Here’s the SAARC leader, at that time. So make them also powerful internationally and then we have a friend to defend us in international forums.” That was my reasoning.

Media issues

NR: There has been international concern over the assaults and pressures on journalists in Sri Lanka. Some of these journalists were your personal friends, especially Lasantha Wickrematunge [Editor of The Sunday Leader] who was gunned down in January 2009. Then, in June, a Tamil woman journalist [Krishni Ifhan née Kandasamy of Internews] was abducted in Colombo by unidentified persons [who questioned her for several hours before releasing her in Kandy].

President: Most of these cases were created, I would say. If you fight someone in the street and that man comes and hits you, can the government take responsibility? But we have not done anything against journalists even when they attack us. For example, even though we had evidence that a Tamil newspaper owner and editor supported the LTTE, we treated them as journalists. I invited them here and they even entered into arguments with our senior officials.

Some of our journalists want complete freedom. They can attack anybody, they cannot be charged. Under the Constitution, only the President has immunity from prosecution. But the journalists also think they have the right to do whatever they want and get away with it — because they are journalists. Some of them said they would get together and do something about this. But what are some of the newspapers doing? They use media power to blackmail innocent citizens and collect money. I am a politician, I can take it. But public servants, what recourse do they have? The journalist writes something and then publishes a correction — it is useless. If they write falsely that this person is a bribe-taker or a rapist — there are such instances — what does he do? He can’t go home; he can’t face his children. How many people can afford to go to court with a civil [defamation] case?

Newspapers must take responsibility. If they won’t do this, then you will have laws to make them do this.

Lasantha was my friend; he used to come and meet me, told me of various things that were happening, even in my party. He would drop in at two o’clock in the morning and I used to send him back in my vehicle.

NR: His last call was to you?

President: Yes, but unfortunately I was in the shrine room. It was a bad time. If I was out, they would have given me the phone. I was very angry with my security people.

Cultural values

President: I always respect the family culture of the Tamils. That is very important but it has been ruined by the LTTE. There is this 19-year-old girl in one of the IDP camps; she has had seven children! Every year she got pregnant because then the LTTE would not take her away to fight. And they don’t even know the father.

NR: And the parents also supported this?

President: Yes, to keep the child. This is in a traditional family. This is the society we are living in. We don’t want to publicise all this, although I did mention it in one of my speeches. The point is you can’t ruin the culture of a country, the future of the young generation. The drug dealers are doing that. We must do everything to stop them.

COURTESY:THE HINDU

Meeting The Canadian “Combatant” conscripted by LTTE

by Kath Noble

It would be foolhardy to assume that the conflict in Sri Lanka was irretrievably over. Prabhakaran is gone, but the Tiger diaspora is sounding as fierce as ever. They won’t do anything that involves moving from the comfort of their Western armchairs, internet cafes and lobby bars, but they have money. Whether this can be translated into bombs in Colombo depends to a large extent on the mentality of the Tiger cadres on the ground, so I was particularly interested during my recent trip northwards to meet some of those who had been detained by the Army.

More than 9,500 Tiger cadres are being held in a dozen or so camps around Vavuniya, of which I was able to visit two. Men have been separated from women, and there is a combination of longstanding members and new recruits in each place.

The first camp was in an old school building, tucked away down a narrow alley in the centre of town. It housed about 300 men, from teenagers to the middle aged. A few looked like children, small and with very innocent faces, but we were assured that those under 16 had been moved to a special location.

Our group seemed to be of tremendous interest to the detainees. Activities that had been going on when we entered the main hall stopped almost immediately, and people moved to gather round. Some of the men had been dozing on their mats in the corner, but they too got up, quickly rearranging their sarongs. Curious about our purpose, they wanted to talk.

I was introduced to a man who had been in the LTTE for 15 years. Now 31, he had known little else. He was from Kilinochchi and had been in the Tiger police. He had escaped with his wife and two children on May 17th.

He asked where we were from. Apart from the International Committee of the Red Cross, who had been to record their details and inspect the conditions in which they were being held, they had not seen any foreigners. However, many of them had received visits from family members. The man that I was talking to said that his parents had come all the way from India. He wanted to know if we had any idea what the authorities were going to do with them, to which we replied that as far as we could tell, the Government was in the process of working out a rehabilitation programme.

Speaking easily, he said that this uncertainty was their most serious concern. Relations between the LTTE cadres and their minders seemed to be good. He was surprised to find that the officer in charge was very educated, he told us, and they had had many interesting conversations. Meanwhile, a friend of mine who visited a different camp reported that soldiers and detainees were playing cricket together and even discussing battles in which they had fought on opposite sides.

One of the people I had travelled with decided to ask what the Government would have to do to prevent him from going back to the armed struggle. This seemed to me a rather peculiar question in the circumstances, and it took some time to explain. Reference was made to the Thirteenth Amendment, federalism and many of the other solutions that have been put forward over the years. What political reforms are needed, my colleague insisted. When he finally grasped what was being asked, the man laughed. We lost, he said with a shrug of his shoulders. He explained that they had tried their best for Eelam, but it hadn’t worked.

He said that they would have to rely on political parties to work for their people now, referring to the upcoming elections in Vavuniya and Jaffna. I asked who he would vote for if he had the chance, a question he sidestepped, commenting that he thought that Douglas Devananda would win.

An older person intervened in the discussion with some thoughts on the future. From the Mullaitivu area, he had a wife and a small child, and he had been a medical cadre in the LTTE for nine years. He had surrendered on May 16th. Our generation can’t forget, he said. He didn’t think that the Sinhalese community would be able to put the conflict behind them either, given what had happened over the years. It is for the children to make things better, he stressed.

Without elaborating further, he suggested that we might like to meet an English boy who was amongst their group. This was a surprising development, and he was summoned from the upstairs room in which he had been resting. He turned out to be Canadian, with the accent to prove it. Now 26, he had moved to Toronto when he was only 12. He claimed that he had returned to Sri Lanka in 2007 to visit some relatives in Kilinochchi, and had been forcibly conscripted by the LTTE. The Tiger police had turned up at the place where he was staying not long after he had arrived, he said, confiscating his passport and compelling him to join them. He had found his relatives in Mullaitivu only weeks before the end of the fighting. They were rescued by the Army on May 17th.

His cousin was being held in the same place. At 24, the LTTE had exempted him from recruitment until February this year because he had worked in one of their garages. When Kilinochchi fell and they withdrew eastwards, he had been taken into the fighting ranks too.

The Canadian was the only person to talk about the ordeal that they had been through. Stressing the need for counsellors to visit them as soon as possible, he spoke of his roommate, a teenager who had seen his parents blown up in front of him. They had all witnessed too many awful things in the fighting, he said. The rest of the group didn’t seem to feel the need to discuss it, he added, but he would be going to a therapist as soon as he got back to Toronto.

When we got to the second camp, which was in a university hostel some distance out of town, I understood just how eager the men had been to communicate. They had approached us, and even those who couldn’t participate in the discussion because of language problems had stood and listened to what was being said, getting translations where necessary. By contrast, the women seemed indifferent to our presence. Smiles were eventually returned, but they weren’t very enthusiastic until one of the people we were travelling with started a game. This soon brought pretty much all of the detainees out of their rooms, giggling like the teenagers that they probably were. They seemed a good deal younger than the men that we had come across.

I wandered outside to where a group were preparing lunch. One girl was stirring a massive pot of rice, while another was cutting up potatoes and five or six others were attempting to lift a huge kettle of boiling water off the open fire. It looked like hard work, but they must have been glad of having something to do. Unlike at the men’s camp, activities weren’t organised, there was no radio or television and no equipment for sports, and they hadn’t started classes.

Having stood and watched for some time, I asked whether anybody could speak English. They all shook their heads. When I mentioned Sinhala, their eyebrows nearly disappeared under their hairlines. That was a rather distasteful suggestion, their facial expressions implied with total clarity. Tamil only, the potato cutter emphasised, demonstrating that she did know a bit of English after all.

These limited experiences may not be sufficient to draw any conclusions about the state of mind of the remaining Tiger cadres, but they do serve to highlight some of the things that the Government could do to help to avoid a return to violence. With far greater numbers than were expected, the process of rehabilitation was bound to get delayed, but this excuse can’t be used for much longer. The Tiger diaspora is hard at work, generating propaganda that is undermined by the very existence of the people that I met. Let’s hope that their efforts will be outdone.

(Kath Noble is a freelance journalist based in Colombo).

Related: Sri Lanka won't let Ottawa see detained Canadian [The Globe and Mail]

President orders ball-by-ball Tamil cricket commentaries

by Rex Clementine-Reporting from Galle

On the instructions of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation was forced to take immediate measures to provide ball by ball cricket commentaries during the ongoing first Test Match between Sri Lanka and Pakistan here at the Galle International Cricket Stadium.An SLBC spokesman told ‘The Island’ that a single commentator was to join the Sinhala and English commentary team here in Galle to provide occasional updates of the game, but the President had instructed to establish a special commentary team and provide uninterrupted commentaries.

This is the first time the Tamil cricket listeners have had an opportunity to listen to ball by ball commentaries whereas previously they could only listen to updates after the fall of wickets and during breaks.

The SLBC spokesman said that they had to make hasty arrangements to have the commentaries in place on time with four full time commentators. He added that this would continue for the rest of the international cricket season, where Sri Lanka is expected to play both India and New Zealand following the Pakistan series.

He added that the commentary was made available in all parts of the island including areas like Vauniya, Jaffna, Trincomalee and Batticaloa.

According to him, the commentary was received even in parts of South India.The commentary is aired on SLBC Special Sports Channel in frequencies 101.3 and 102.4. COURTESY:THE ISLAND

Call for a metamorphosis from a 'well frog' to a 'tree frog'

by Kusal Perera

It is time to leave this Sinhala Diasporic purging of "patriotism" that serves no purpose for Sri Lanka , today or tomorrow. For most out there, it’s sort of a past time to lick their "run away guilt". Away from their kith and kin and living in a comfort zone. Away from abductions, torture, extra judicial killings, arbitrary arrests, uncertain detentions, death threats, barricades, high security zones, sham investigations and impotent commissions and shameless limitless corruption, waste, plunder and all things that mercilessly control and erode every aspect of life here. It's for all that in Sri Lanka , there has to be a discussion, a dialogue with intellectual sincerity for which these Diasporic Sinhala outbursts can not lend any worth as most comments to most articles prove.

This therefore is an attempt to have a serious discussion for those who could contribute with sincerity and not for others who should find a different platform for their patriotic itching. This is trying to find a way out of the chaos that Sri Lanka is dumped in right now and was being dragged towards that, for over 60 years.

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When 60 years ago, Ceylon was handed over to its citizenry by the Colonial rulers, to be led by its leaders, neither the citizenry nor the leaders had a political vision of how this country should be positioned for its future growth, with its diversity intact and honoured. They in fact did not know what type of a democracy would best suit the diversity the country was destined to live with. Therefore, they did not take upon themselves the responsibility of creating the Constitution for an independent Ceylon, the way the Indians did for India.

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India refused to have a Constitution drafted by the British. Instead, the Indians had their own expertise in Dr. Ambedkar to draft their own Constitution that gave all the space for their diversity which was and is complicated and complex than ours, in a Constitution that was far outside a "Unitary" Constitution. The Indian leadership understood the necessity of having both stability and diversity, for their future development and that, diversity can not have political consensus in a "Unitary" Constitution.

This was a basic political tenet the Ceylonese leaders did not understand in any language. Ceylon as an independent country went along with the "Unitary" Constitution on the model of Westminster democracy as drafted by Lord Soulburry and his Commission that most sincerely thought they had answered the issues of their subjects within a "Unitary" Constitution model they were familiar with. As later written by Lord Soulburry in 1963, in a foreword to B.H.Farmer's compilation 'Ceylon - A Divided Nation' (Oxford University Press) [quote]".... A Commission, of which I had the honour to be the Chairman, was appointed by the British Government in 1944, to examine and discuss proposals for the constitutional reform of Ceylon.

It did not take long to discover that the relations of minorities to majorities, and particularly of the Tamil minority in the Northern and Eastern provinces to the Sinhalese majority further South, were in the words of the Commission's report 'the most difficult of the many problems involved'.[unquote] The Commission thus thought they could include provisions for the safety of all minorities in a "Unitary" Constitution in a country where as Lord Soulburry notes further [quote] "…While the Commission was in Ceylon, the speeches of certain Sinhalese politicians calling for the solidarity of the Sinhalese and threatening the suppression of the Tamils emphasised the need for constitutional safeguards on behalf of that and other minorities..."[unquote]

The political legacy that was left with independent Ceylon was therefore the task of establishing a State that would have allowed a secular, pluralistic society, one in which all minorities which includes the Tamil polity, could have played a shared role in decision making within its political process.

It had to be necessarily so in the Lankan society that had evolved over centuries with two modern standard languages, Sinhala and Tamil, each standing for a distinct society of people with its separate cultural identity. These two cultural identities also carry with them conspicuous geographical areas where Sinhala and Tamil societies register their historical presence.

Using one of them (Sinhala) to secure a basis for nationalism in establishing a nation-state over the whole of Sri Lanka, provides for a dialectically opposing (Tamil) nationalism for another state. And the ensuing nationalistic desire to establish a nation state based on one (Sinhala) gives way for political coercion over both societies. One, to achieve its sectarian nationalistic ambition and the other (Tamil), to resist and overcome through its own separate State.

The logic behind the demand for a “ Separate Tamil State ” that gradually took hold within moderate Tamil politics and emerged most brutally is the failure of the Sinhala society to understand this simple, civilised necessity of pluralism in modern day nationalism.

Negation of this political necessity for the future development of Ceylon that was later made into a Sinhala Republic as Sri Lanka, erasing its previous secular Constitutional position, not only showed the Sinhala political leadership was averse to plurality, but also it did not have any serious vision for development of Sri Lanka. All through these 60 plus years, Sri Lanka has not proved it is positively growing, but proved it is declining in every aspect of human life.

Corruption in Sri Lanka which became a topic of daily discussion, especially after the economy was liberalised in 1978, has hit its peak during the past 02 – 03 years. It's now a common occurrence with looting and plunder becoming the order of the day. All big time deals have gone through with private and public sector collaboration receiving political buffers.

Crime in Sri Lanka is on the increase with law enforcement agencies wholly politicised and perceived as one of the most corrupt State agencies. Almost all political killings which are very many have gone without serious investigations and with no suspects being produced in any court of law. The underworld and some ruling party politicians play hand in glove, while enjoying the company of the Head of State, even in official trips.

Social values keep degrading and loosing their worth to be adhered to, while economically too, Sri Lanka has survived through increasing poverty and growing debt. The first, World Bank aid loan to Sri Lanka in 1954 was US$19.1 million for the Laxapana power plant construction and Sri Lanka was one of the first developing countries to receive WB aid. Today Sri Lanka is in dire need of an IMF loan of US $ 1.9 billion, just to service its running foreign debts. Government debt (both external & domestic) has increased from approximately 60% of GDP in the early 1970s to 96% in early 1990s to over 106% by 2003. As far as long term debt is concerned, the government’s responsibility has gone up to about 85% of the total debt commitment.

Corruption, mismanagement, lack of planning and callous disregard for people's needs in the State sector agencies topped by the most miserable of all political leaderships to date, has not been able to manage any development projects into effective conclusion. While the first Integrated Rural Development Project (IRDP) was planned in 1974 and carried out in Kurunegala district, by 1989 there had been 19 similar IRDPs in districts outside North-East. There after, IRDPs were refashioned as Rural Economic Advancement Programmes (REAP) the first of it implemented in Matale district in year 2000.

At present another similar project RUEDA is on in the Southern Province. All these projects were foreign funded through different international agencies and implemented through the Ministry of Planning. While most such projects were extended into second phase, none of them ever had any significant impact on rural economies in any of the districts. Worst is, all of them have proved that the present State and its administrators don't have the capacity to utilise even 40% of the committed funds.

So are the mega poverty alleviation projects that were initiated from 1990 April, first as Janasaviya and then as Samurdhi. A case study report on poverty alleviation titled "Beyond the framework; The challenge for rural poverty reduction" (2001) notes, [quote]Sri Lanka’s only experience with a large-scale social investment fund, the Janasaviya Trust Fund, was not as successful as it might have been. The government had majority control and decision-making became politicised. This has also been the experience of government-managed social investment funds in general.[unquote] It is far worse with Samurdhi that has a huge multi layered, extension staff. Almost 19 years after these mega projects were initiated, in Sri Lanka 39% of the families are recorded as below the poverty line. In the Southern Province, it is 38.7%.

This Unitary State with its "representative" democracy has also turned out to be a hoax. The present parliament does not represent the will of the people which elected it in 2004 April. Representation of 37.8% of the voters who voted with the main Opposition which contested as the UNF is no more proportionately represented in parliament.

Their elected representatives have deserted them to sit with the government for purely personal reasons. It was in parliament sessions that it was once told, elected Members are being auctioned for the highest bid. Once elected, these MPs take it as their right to decided where they would sit in parliament, irrespective of the vote received. They are totally irresponsible in every way.

This Unitary system therefore does not provide any development space for any one. Not even for those in the Sinhala South. Hambantota and Moneragala districts could not have been the poorest districts in Sri Lanka , with 98.4% and 95.5% Sinhala populations respectively if it was otherwise. Hambantota for instance have had billions of rupees going waste and disappearing with 07 elected representatives spending Rs. 05 million each every year, totalling Rs.35 million from what is allocated as the "Decentralised Budget".

Apart from that 35 million, the Southern Development Authority (SDA), the Provincial Council, central government ministries, special foreign funded projects together spend billions of rupees annually. Yet the voters in Hambantota don't have the right to ask where their monies go in the name of development.

That is just what happens in every district and that is what this "Unitary" State and the Sinhala hegemony is all about. For the South, if they are serious about living with development at least after 60 plus years of chaos and conflict, then its time to start thinking of leaving this Unitary State and its representative democracy aside and move to a more effective governing system with participatory democracy. A system that would invariably include,

1. legal provisions to make it mandatory for all elected representatives and those holding high public office to declare their assets and liabilities annually.

2. a total prohibition on elected representatives to legislative bodies from deciding on disbursing of public monies, such as the present decentralised budget.

3. reforms that permits plurality for social stability without any form of militarization of the society.

Today, the dilemma therefore is in finding the right ideology that would allow such socially respected plurality in Sri Lanka , to emerge as a single nation state. Plurality cannot be nurtured in a society without an ideology that calls for democratic, accommodating traditions. That rules out “nationalism” based on a single culture in a plural society like Sri Lanka . All of it needs serious social dialogue and thus it is time for those who see the world through the mouths of ancient wells to at least climb a tree and see the larger picture of this changing modern world.

"Facilities inadequate" - Deepak Obhrai MP, Canada's Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs

"Everybody is trying to address this issue, including Canada through its aid to the World Food Programme, to Oxfam and to everyone who provides shelter..nevertheless, that is still a humanitarian crisis....

These are refugee camps, people are cramped together, medical facilities are there, but with the massive number of people all these become inadequate," Canada's Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Secretary Deepak Obhrai MP, was quoted saying to Stewart Bell of National Post, about the camps for internally displaced Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka.

Full Text of the National Post Report:

Civil War 'Combatant' detained while fighting for Tigers

by Stewart Bell

A Canadian "combatant" captured during the final days of Sri Lanka's civil war is being held at a detention camp on the island, Canada's Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Secretary said yesterday.

Deepak Obhrai, who arrived in Sri Lanka on Sunday for Canada's first official visit since the civil war ended in May, said the Canadian was detained at a camp for former Tamil Tigers rebels.

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[Mr. Obhrai preparing to visit the war-ravaged northern region of Sri Lanka-Pic: Office of Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs]

"He is a combatant, according to them," Mr. Obhrai told the National Post in a telephone interview from Colombo. "They told us who he was, we are aware of his identity. We were told he was held at a camp which is for combatants, which is separate, which they classify as a rehabilitation camp. He is held in that camp."

The Calgary MP's visit comes as Sri Lanka is emerging from a long civil war between government forces and separatist Tamil Tigers rebels. During the last phase of the conflict, hundreds of Tamil fighters were killed while others surrendered or were captured. This is the first indication that a Canadian was among them.

But David Poopalapillai, spokesman for the Canadian Tamil Congress, said the claim should be viewed with skepticism because it could be the product of torture.

"Anything that comes from a Sri Lankan government statement, we want people to be cautious."

The war forced almost 300,000 Tamil civilians to flee their homes. The government is holding them at temporary camps. In a statement yesterday, the Canadian Tamil Congress called their detention a "violation of international humanitarian law" and urged Mr. Obhrai to push for their release.

Government officials had previously said that six foreign nationals were among those held at the camps: three Australians, and one each from Britain, Norway and the Netherlands. But a Toronto lawyer said yesterday four Canadians are also being held.

Gary Anandasangaree said he was assisting the family of one such Canadian but added he was aware of three similar cases.

He said he had not heard of any Canadian combatants having been captured but said that regardless they had the right to consular assistance from the Canadian government.

Mr. Obhrai said he had counted only two Canadians so far. In addition to the alleged combatant, he said he met a second Canadian yesterday while visiting a civilian displacement camp. "We talked to him and he is now in touch with our consular officials, and we will be working towards his release back home," Mr. Obhrai said.

Mr. Obhrai, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, spent yesterday visiting three displaced persons camps. In May, Canada announced $3-million in humanitarian assistance to those displaced by the war, bringing Canada's total aid contribution to $7.5-million this year.

"Everybody is trying to address this issue, including Canada through its aid to the World Food Programme, to Oxfam and to everyone who provides shelter," Mr. Obhrai said. "Nevertheless, that is still a humanitarian crisis.... These are refugee camps, people are cramped together, medical facilities are there, but with the massive number of people all these become inadequate."

He said Canada believes the best solution is to return the civilians to their homes as soon as possible. Sri Lanka says that will happen, but that it needs time to clear land-mines and rebuild towns destroyed by the fighting. Mr. Obhrai said he was told the government intends to have 80% of the war refugees back in their homes within 180 days.

Today, Mr. Obhrai was to meet Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama to discuss a long-term political solution to the ethnic conflict. Canada wants a reconciliation process to start immediately and will officer any assistance requested, Mr. Obhrai said.

The Conservative MP's visit to Sri Lanka is the first since Liberal MP Bob Rae was turned back at the Colombo airport last month. Although Mr. Rae was issued a visa, Sri Lankan authorities deported him on the grounds he was sympathetic to the rebels -- an accusation the Canadian government called absurd. [courtesy: National Post]

July 06, 2009

Video: Sri Lanka rejects refugee camp allegations

Mahinda Samarasinghe, Sri Lanka's minister of disaster management and human rights, has rejected accusations regarding its "welfare camps" for Tamil war refugees as a "load of rubbish".

[AlJazeera News Video: July 6, 2009]

Al Jazeera's Tony Birtley reports.

Sri Lanka's government has been accused of killing thousands of its own civilian citizens, war crimes, rape, torture and inhuman treatment of hundreds of thousands of refugees from its war against the Tamil Tigers.

Al Jazeera has conducted its own investigation into the conflict and spoken to Tamils who have suffered and aid workers who have remained silent until now, revealing testimonies that call into question the version of events Sri Lanka's government wants the world to believe.

Presidential Secretary calls for spy units throughout public sector

By Wije Dias

President Mahinda Rajapakse’s secretary, Lalith Weeratunga, who heads Sri Lanka’s civil service, has called for undercover intelligence units to be installed in every public sector workplace to spy on workers under the pretext of curbing corruption and inefficiency.

Officers of the police criminal investigation department would be deployed incognito, giving the government a “mole in every state department,” the Presidential Secretary proposed on June 27 in a speech delivered to the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute. Weeratunga expressed confidence that “the intelligence services could play a pivotal role in combating waste, corruption and irregularities in the government sector”.

Recalling the use of the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB) by President J.R. Jayewardene’s 1978-88 administration to monitor state institutions, Weeratunga said he had recommended a similar set-up to Rajapakse “as part of the government’s strategy to tackle corruption”. The NIB combined the intelligence units from the army, navy, air force, and police under the control of the military, with its chief reporting directly to the Ministry of Defence.

Combatting corruption is a thin veil for the real aim of the spying project, which is to discipline and intimidate public sector workers while the Rajapakse regime demands deep spending cuts, job losses and speedup. That was spelled out in the June 30 editorial of the government-owned Daily News.

The editorial praised Rajapakse for declaring an “all-out war” on waste and irregularities in the public service “now that the main war is over,” referring to the military victory over the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). While endorsing Weeratunga’s call as a “timely move” against corruption and bribery, which had become “virtually institutionalised in the State sector,” the editorial declared:

“Such an arrangement could also oversee the performance aspect of government departments to ensure optimum worker output. In fact such an intelligence body could go into the whole gamut of ills affecting the public sector inefficiency. Today state departments and corporations have become synonymous with idleness, lethargy and inefficiency.”

The editorial concluded that “raising discipline in the work place is one of the main pluses that could be achieved through such a project ... not to mention the massive slice of funds that will be saved by the State”.

This makes clear that the proposal marks a new offensive against the working conditions and basic democratic rights of workers, on top of a wage freeze that has already been imposed. The undercover agents would be tasked with supplying the regime with the names of any workers who oppose the government politically or plan to resist its austerity demands.

The announcement further underscores the meaning of Rajapakse’s declaration of an “economic war for nation building” in the wake of the LTTE’s defeat. The anti-Tamil war was continued for 26 years as a means of dividing the working people along communal lines. Having militarily crushed the LTTE, the politico-military cabal that surrounds Rajapakse is intensifying the attack on the working class as a whole.

The regime is trying to use the intimidatory political atmosphere of its victory parades organised in partnership with the Buddhist hierarchy, and the cowardly connivance of the opposition parties, to stifle any resistance to the rule of the Sinhala elite. Behind the official celebrations, the government is stepping up its efforts to pay for the financial crisis created by the war, exacerbated by the global economic slump.

A June 30 editorial in the right-wing Island newspaper expressed the concerns of sections of the elite itself about the Rajapakse cabal’s increasingly arbitrary methods and fears that they could spark unrest after “having won a bloody war at a tremendous cost”.

“State intelligence services, no doubt, are to be commended for their outstanding contribution to the country’s victory over terrorism. But, using them to cleanse State institutions may be likened to training multi-barrel rocket launchers on an illicit brewery! The forces that are unleashed in response to a threat must be proportionate to it. Else, the ‘solution’ ends up being part of the problem.”

The editorial voiced apprehension about “the emergence of an outfit like the much dreaded Gestapo” and a “totalitarian state” as in George Orwell’s dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. “This country, we believe, can do without a Big Brother. (We have enough and more Rajapakse Brothers-- Rajapakses to right of us, Rajapakses to left of us, Rajapakses in front of us, Rajapakses behind us and Rajapakses above us!).

The Island has been in the forefront of whipping up Sinhala chauvinism and backing Rajapakse’s war. Now, with Rajapakse and his cronies rapidly moving to concentrate power in their hands, this section of the elite has become nervous about the prospect of political unrest as well as the loss of their own privileges within the Colombo establishment.

Another Island commentary on July 4, written by Tisaranee Gunasekara, pointed out that the government’s claim to be fighting corruption lacked credibility following the lack of any legal action against the ministers and senior officials that the Supreme Court had faulted over the sales of the Insurance Corporation and Lanka Marine Services Ltd. Gunasekara said the real aim of the proposed “spy service” was to “keep tabs on less than loyal public servants and to further tighten the control of the First Family [the Rajapakses] over the state”.

The spy unit proposal is part of the government’s far-reaching assault on basic legal and democratic rights, which has escalated, not abated, since the end of the war. The Rajapakse administration has incarcerated nearly 300,000 Tamil civilians without trial in violation of the constitution, extended its media censorship by reactivating the Press Council and retained extraordinary emergency powers and the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act.

None of the “left” parties or the trade union bureaucracies, not to speak of the parties of the “old left” that are entrenched in the government, have said a word about this latest repressive move. Having all adapted to the anti-Tamil war, in one way or the other, they now are bent on working out their own deals with the post-war government as it seeks to impose the financial burden of the war and the world recession on workers.

The Socialist Equality Party is the only political organisation that consistently opposed the war against the Tamil minority and demanded the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the military from the north and east, while not giving any political concession to the national separatist blind-ally perspective of the LTTE. As the SEP insisted all along, the racist war was aimed against the working people of all communities, Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim.

The Rajapakse regime’s latest police-state proposal confirms this analysis and demonstrates how quickly the military victory over the LTTE in the north and east has intensified the offensive against living standards and basic rights. Only the working class, guided by a socialist and internationalist program, independent of all factions of the ruling elite, can confront and defeat these growing threats with the support of the oppressed masses. [courtesy: WSWS]

Unacceptable Methods Used By Sri Lanka to Subdue Tamil Tigers

by Robert.D.Kaplan

Though it was only a one-day news story in the United States, a momentous event occurred last spring, with worldwide military significance. After 26 years of heavy fighting, the Sri Lankan government decisively defeated an ethnic insurgency, killing all of its top leadership, whose bodies were displayed on national television. Massive victory parades followed.


The Tamil Tigers were no ordinary insurgency. Built on the ethnic hatred of the minority Hindu Tamils against the majority Sinhalese Buddhists, the movement was among the best organized and most ruthless to have emerged anywhere since the Second World War. The Tigers boasted their own air force and navy to go along with their unconventional ground troops. They helped pioneer the use of suicide bombers. (Recall that it was a female Tiger suicide bomber who killed Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.) They regularly embedded their fighters among noncombatants, using them as human sheilds. In other words, they were as organized and heartless as any insurgent group in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The Tamil Tigers, moreover, had a brilliant, charismatic leader by the name of Vellupilai Prabakharan, who was venerated by many ethnic Hindu Tamils to the same extent that radical Muslims have venerated Osama bin Laden. His following was cult-like and was largely responsible for the war that killed 70,000 people since 1983, in an island of only 22 million people. Compare that to the deaths of 3,000 in the World Trade Center out of a population of 300 million in the United States. So when the Sri Lankan government displayed Prabakharan's body on television last May, it represented the culmination of a counterinsurgency campaign that the U.S. could only dream about.

Clearly, then, the U.S. Army and Marine Corps should be studying the Sri Lankan civil war for valuable lessons about how to win a counterinsurgency, right? Actually—no. In fact, there are no useful pointers to be gleaned from the Sri Lankan government’s victory. The war was won using techniques like the following, which the United States could and should never employ.

The insurgents are using human shields? No problem. Just keep killing the innocent bystanders until you get to the fighters themselves. There is no comparison between the few civilians that have been killed by American Predator drones in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, and the many that were killed by the Sri Lankan government. The Americans have carefully targeted select al-Qaeda members and, in the process, killed a few—at the most, dozens—of civilians among whom the fighters were surrounded. By contrast, the Sri Lankan military indiscriminately killed large numbers of civilians—as many as 20,000 in the final months of fighting, according to the United Nations.

Bad media coverage is hurting morale and giving succor to the enemy? Just kill the journalists. That's what the Sri Lankan authorities did. Precisely because insurgencies are unconventional, there are no easy-to-follow infantry advances and retreats, so the media holds the power to shape a narrative for the public. Aware of the need for a compliant media to aid the war effort, the Sri Lankan government struck fear into the ranks of journalists. There were hundreds of disappearances of top opinion leaders.

“Murder has become the primary tool whereby the state seeks to control the organs of liberty,” wrote journalist Lasantha Wickramatunga in a self-penned obituary that anticipated his own assassination in early 2009. Sources told me that he was killed by having iron rods with sharp points driven through his skull. “If Lasantha, with all of his connections, could be killed in broad daylight, then they could do this to anybody,” one journalist in the capital of Colombo told me. This journalist told me stories about reporters being beaten black and blue, leading to an atmosphere of extreme self-censorship—“the worst and most insidious kind.” Another journalist told me: “Lasantha’s fate really scared us. People like me decided it was more important to stay alive than to report the news.” No journalist I met in Colombo was willing to cross the line and publicly attack the government.

The international community disapproves of your methods and cuts off military aid because of the human rights violations you've committed? Again, no problem. Get aid from China, whose assistance comes without moral lectures. That’s just what the Sri Lankan Government did. In return, the Chinese got the right to help construct a deep water port in Sri Lanka, close to world shipping lanes.

So is there any lesson here? Only a chilling one. The ruthlessness and brutality to which the Sri Lankan government was reduced in order to defeat the Tigers points up just how nasty and intractable the problem of insurgency is. The Sri Lankan government made no progress against the insurgents for nearly a quarter century, until they turned to extreme and unsavory methods. Could they have won without terrorizing the media and killing large numbers of civilians? Perhaps, but probably not without help from the Chinese, who, in addition to their military aid, gave the Sri Lankan government diplomatic cover at the UN Security Council.

These are methods the U.S. should never use. But the fact that this is what it took for the Sri Lankan government to subdue the Tamil Tigers makes clear just what a hard grind lies ahead for the U.S. in Afghanistan. [courtesy: Atlantic online]

Robert D. Kaplan is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, in Washington, D.C.

Sri Lanka revives draconian law to gag media

By S. Sampath Perera

The Sri Lankan government has revived legislation that vests the Sri Lanka Press Council, a statutory body, with broad powers to restrict the media and punish offending journalists and publishers with fines and imprisonment.

The law was first enacted in 1973 by the coalition government of Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike amid a deep economic crisis and widespread social discontent. The government had just suppressed an armed uprising of rural Sinhala youth and was facing growing industrial action by the working class, including an all-island bank workers strike. The Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), which broke from Trotskyism in 1964, played a key role in the ruling coalition.

The Press Council continued to function as a mechanism to intimidate the media under successive governments until 2002 when it was rendered inoperative through a bipartisan resolution in parliament. The United National Front government of Ranil Wickremesinghe had just signed a ceasefire agreement with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as the basis for internationally-sponsored negotiations for a permanent peace. The law, however, was never scrapped.

After plunging the country back to war in 2006, President Mahinda Rajapakse and his government pressured and intimidated the media, but did not revive the Press Council. His decision to do so now is a sign of political weakness, not strength. Having militarily defeated the LTTE, the government is now facing a worsening economic crisis as the result of huge defence spending, compounded by the global recession.

The President has the sole prerogative to appoint the revived Press Council, including its chairman. Its orders and censures cannot be challenged in any court of law. Moreover, the Council is set above public criticism. Clause 12 states that it is a punishable offence if anyone “without sufficient reason publishes any statement or does anything that brings the council or any member thereof into disrepute during the progress or after the conclusion of any inquiry conducted by such Council”.

The law prohibits the media from revealing any aspect of government discussions. “No person shall publish, or cause to be published, in any newspaper, any matter which purports to be the proceedings or any part thereof, of a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers,” it states. Even the contents of documents exchanged between ministries are prohibited from publication.

The most important restrictions are in clause 16. Subsection 3 states: “No person shall publish or cause to be published in any newspaper any official secret within the meaning of the Official Secrets Act or any matter relating to military, naval, air-force or police establishments, equipment or installation which is likely to be prejudicial to the defence and security of the Republic of Sri Lanka”.

This sweeping prohibition on matters related to the military is particularly significant. Rajapakse has repeatedly accused opponents—the media, striking workers, protesting students and opposition politicians—of undermining “national security”. In the wake of the LTTE’s defeat, the government has retained draconian emergency powers and is boosting the military. It has been particularly sensitive to any criticism of the army’s killing of civilians in its final offensives and the internment of nearly 300,000 Tamils in detention camps.

Subsection 4 prohibits the publication of “any statement relating to monetary, fiscal, exchange control or import control measures alleged to be under consideration by the Government or by any Ministry or by the Central Bank, the publication of which is likely to lead to the creation of shortages or windfall profits or otherwise adversely affect the economy of Sri Lanka”.

Under the guise of a “nation building” program, the government is preparing a massive assault on the social position of the working class. In his victory speeches, Rajapakse declared that working people would have to sacrifice like the “war heroes” had. This subsection of the law effectively provides the means for suppressing any criticism of the government’s economic policies.

The revival of the Press Council comes amid an atmosphere of communal triumphalism whipped up by the government after the LTTE’s defeat, which was accompanied by intensified harassment and intimidation of anyone critical of the government or the military. In the first instance, Rajapakse is determined to block any investigation, no matter how limited, into his government’s criminal war.

Last month, the opposition United National Party called for a parliamentary select committee to examine police investigations into the abduction and killing of hundreds of people, including journalists and politicians, over the past three years by death squads associated with the military. Media Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa summarily dismissed the proposal. “When you say that 11 journalists were killed, we have doubts about this figure. In this list of journalists, there are names of those who worked for the LTTE’s Voice of Tigers. I don’t know whether we can identify them as journalists,” he said.

The abductions are continuing. Last Wednesday, Krishni Kandasamy (Ifham), a Tamil journalist, was seized by a gang, whom she suspected were policemen, on the outskirts of Colombo city. They arrived in a white van, the hallmark of the pro-government death squads. The thugs dropped her in Kandy, 116 kilometres away, without facing any challenge at the numerous security check-points in between.

Reporters, sales agents and other employees of Uthayan, a Tamil newspaper published in the northern town of Jaffna, received an ultimatum to stop working for the newspaper by June 30 or face the consequences. The newspaper has been repeatedly attacked during the past three years. Last week, copies of Uthayan and other Tamil newspapers were seized and burned in Jaffna town after refusing to publish an unsigned pro-government letter sent by unknown persons.

Earlier this month, Poddala Jayantha, the general secretary of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association, was abducted and brutally beaten by an unidentified gang on the outskirts of Colombo. Last year he was summoned by Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse and warned not to criticise the military.

None of the attacks on the media has been seriously investigated by police. The reestablishment of the Press Council provides the government with the means to further suppress any critical reporting. Sections of the media, which has for the most part backed the war and raised very limited objections to the government’s policies, have raised some concerns about the new law.

An editorial in last weekend’s Sunday Times declared: “The Government’s act is a stab in the back not only to the media but to the citizenry. The Press Council is meant to have a ‘chilling effect’ on media freedom; it is the proverbial ‘sword of Damocles’ hanging over the head of the media practitioner.” It continued: “These undemocratic moves are totally un-becoming of the president, and the re-introduction of the Press Council betrays a gloomy picture for the future of the post-war Sri Lanka, and the questions are being raised if there is ‘deep state’ syndrome in Sri Lanka.”

President Rajapakse, however, has increasingly acted with contempt for the constitution, the law and parliament, operating through a cabal of selected ministers, senior officials and military officers. The Sunday Times editorial reflect concerns in sections of the ruling elite that Rajapakse’s open attacks on democratic rights will only undermine the legitimacy of the state apparatus and provoke opposition from working people.

The revival of the Press Council poses an obvious question: if the war is over, why is the government imposing tighter controls on the media? The answer is equally clear: it is to gag the press as this shaky government proceeds to make savage attacks on the jobs, living standards and democratic rights of working people. [courtesy: wsws]

July 05, 2009

“Sinhala Buddhist Guilt”: Giving the benefit of the doubt for ignorance

By Kusal Perera

My article, "Defining moments of living with the Sinhala Buddhist guilt" generated a heavy spurt of anger perhaps from the Sinhala Diaspora living in the comfort zone of the West, which does not surprise me. On 3rd July evening (SL time) when I logged into "transcurrents" site there were 37 comments and 17 of them stood for all that's happening in the North and said the government is right. They blamed the LTTE, the Diaspora, "those who raise issues about IDPs" (that includes me) and some in the international community as responsible for trying to establish a "separate State" and therefore for the fate of IDPs.

I listed the points all of them had raised in support of their claim(s).

Main points raised, or rather the main arguments were,

(01) Dagobert

• It was LTTE that waged war against a sovereign government (how did LTTE come into being ?)
• Majority of Tamils live outside "North" and in the Diaspora (now they live in fenced out camps too)
• IDPs, Tamils living elsewhere did not want a "separate State"
• Diaspora and certain elements international community funded the LTTE on a hidden agenda
• Govt is no party to their (IDPs) predicament
• The govt had a responsibility to do anything, as this was the aspiration of the majority community (so the majority wanted them killed and displaced?)

(02) Rajah

• Winners are Sri Lankans. Vanquished are Traitors. Don't substitute Sinhalese and Tamils (respectively)
• Average residents in the North/East in a way is responsible for not opposing the "terrorists" (LTTE)
• If the govt. did not engage in this war, many more lives would continue to be lost
• Its thus choosing the lesser evils

(03) Iroshana Ekanayake

• Sinhala Buddhists helping the IDPs is not guilt, but helping fellow countrymen harassed by Prabhakaran (these fellow countrymen were helped with continuous air raids and heavy armour too, before that)
• Remaining "bunch of terrorists" have to be weeded out and Northern area demined before everybody could go about their business
• Never seen a bigger bunch of "racists" like Tamils

UKT6656A.jpg(04) jan

• Buddhism has nothing to do with Tamil problem
• Anti-Buddhist rhetoric is part of the Christian movements plan to discredit the native religion
• RAW also funded the present problem of the IDPs
• 14% of the Tamil Christians dominated the LTTE
• SL govt just responded to the threat
(This seems another crusade for purer Buddhism in this land where over 38 Christian churches were attacked)

(05) Kanishka Dias

• Prabhakaran used the 300,000 civilians as human shield
• Sinhala Buddhist majority is staying true to their religion by helping IDPs.(that religion permits killing as much as possible)

(06) Rohan

• Blames writer for blaming Sinhala Buddhists

(07) Sinhala Voice

• Not against resettling
• All steps like, demining, identities established and all LTTE militia and arms must be destroyed before resettling (so there's arms still inside the camps ?)

(08) jane hart

• There are hard groups of killers in these camps (there's one who knows them)
• Every one of the IDPs and from this ethnic (Tamil) group suspect of supporting (LTTE) must be weeded out (wants them killed, but say weeded)

(09) NGO bootlicker

• Only an angered uncultured explosion against the writer

(10) LS

• Every one knows how much negotiations failed and there were reasons to defeat the LTTE

(11) sam69

• Agrees with the analysis on the IDP situation and the Southerners attitude,
• does not agree with all else (wonder what they are)
• LTTE did not agree to anything less than a separated State.

(12) N. Mithra

• This is not first world and therefore people should have patience in resettling IDP's especially with waste and mismanagement at the top (So the IDPs have to endure this fenced off life till the "top" finish looting money)

(13) TRN

• Does not want the Sinhalese to be blamed. Blame the Tamil Diaspora (for what, is not clear)
• Until the process of resettlement take place they need "Charity" (any idea how long that will be?)

(14) Pragmatist

• Tigers who drove them from their homes are still hiding among them (IDP camps ?)

(15) viraj
Has a question about the writer

• you never liked buddhist people of Sri Lanka. (certainly not this Buddhism that is practiced here that calls for blood)
• you were never happy about being a southerner. (no. not this type of a Southerner)
• you never happy being a Sinhalese. (not your type of a Sinhalese who can not accept and respect other cultures)
• you were not happy to see Seperatists being defeated. (happy to defeat them politically)

(16) Devinda Fernando

• People supported the war because they wanted and end to war (What logic!)
• War means casualties (why civilian casualties ?)
• There was never ending subjugation like,
1). Forced Conscription of Family for War including Children.
2). Taxation without Representation.
3). ZERO Freedom of Speech
4). ZERO Political Representation.
5). ZERO Freedom of movement.
(so the logic is bomb them and kill them)

(17) Rana

• This is a Sinhala land called "Sinhale"
• The Writer (you are) is non other than sinner of one Christian NGO which funded by West.{These NGO's which funded and nurtured LTTE to eliminate Sinhala Buddhists.}

After listing all their points, I wondered, whether it serves any purpose in responding to them. Sad they lack common sense and intellectual capacity to understand the complexities that have added up to the Tamil problem. All the contradictions in their presumptions prove it. They can only see the demon in LTTE and Prabhakaran and nothing more.

They have to first learn that this is a political conflict, based on the right of the Tamil people to be part of the decision making process in this country. They have to learn that the issue begins with the failure of establishing a "State" that is secular and all inclusive. They have to learn that we have been stupidly working towards a bloody war at least over the 60 years since independence and that was under a "Unitary" State that has not helped in solving any of the problems. Not even for the Southerners.

It’s a long and a multi faceted, complicated history of blunders as to how we reached this war with many armed groups in Tamil politics and ended up fighting a ruthless LTTE. I wouldn't know how intellectually receptive these Sinhala Buddhist protests to my article would be, but with the benefit of the doubt given to them, let me list the most important events in history that led to this unwanted massacre and chaos.

1. disfranchisement of Tamils in the plantation sector and making them "Stateless" in 1948 that thereafter allowed for more Sinhala representation from those areas.

2. colonisation of the East that changed the demographic pattern to the disadvantage of Tamils and Muslims in electing their representatives from East

3. Sinhala language made the "only" official language in 1956 that subsequently evolved a Sinhala State

4. throwing away the B-C pact in 1957 when some Buddhist monks and the UNP protested

5. throwing away the D-C pact in 1968 when the SLFP and the "Left" parties protested

6. establishing the Republican Constitution of 1972 without considering the representations made by all Tamil MPs in parliament that took away the constitutional guarantees for minorities

7. standardisation of university entrance in 1972 on geographical and language basis
(All of the above led to the first armed insurgent groups within Tamil society and to the formation of the TUF which adopted the Vadukkodai resolution for a "separate Tamil State in 1974 and gave the TULF a resounding mandate for a separate State at the 1977 general elections)

8. JRJ adopts a new Constitution in 1978 with an Executive Presidency that was never consulted with any in the Opposition, including Tamil representation

9. JRJ as President sends Brigadier Weeratunge to Jaffna in 1979 to wipe out "terrorists" before December 31st and leads to ruthless repression by the military, torture and many extra judicial killings of Tamil youth

10. TULF agrees with the JRJ government in 1980 for District Development Councils, despite the mandate received by the TULF at the 1977 general elections for a separate State and provided for the DDC elections in 1981 June, which the JRJ government rigged and slaughtered in Jaffna, burning the Jaffna library and creating chaos in Jaffna town and then the DDC's were not honoured with even the basic powers agreed to.

Rest is history that paved the way for the 1983 July pogrom that killed and chased away the Tamil people from Colombo and other Southern areas. Sri Lanka's image internationally was degraded and defamed.

It is in this political context that armed insurgency in Tamil politics gains its currency and the LTTE emerges as the ruthless face of Tamil politics.

I for one, belong to the Sinhala Buddhist community that wish to live in a modern civilised society which prefers to solve conflicts democratically as equals and wish to see no blood on this soil, for the sake of "Sinhala Buddhist supremacy" that I think is an inferiority complex. An inferiority complex that does not provide the confidence to accept the "other" culture.

Recollections of St Thomas’ College, Gurutalawa: an extract from a personal memoir

by Charles P. Sarvan

If I remember correctly, in 1950 St Thomas’ College, Gurutalawa, had 214 pupils. Not only was it among the best of schools, it was also the most expensive boys’ boarding school in Ceylon. I was completely out of my financial and social class, the other boys being from wealthy families, parents who held well-paid jobs or had political position and power. For example, of my two closest friends, the father of one was the Surveyor General of Ceylon; the father of the other was a parliamentarian from Matara – Cabinet Minister, Secretary of Defense etc - with estates and other business interests. But our friendship lasted till they passed away many, many years later.

St. Thomas College Guruthalawa Sri Lanka-pic: by Rajith Tennakoon

No doubt, being in a boarding school, spending so much time together, tested and bonded the friendship. They did not notice income-difference or, if they did, had no regard for social status. Indeed, going further, both of them had nothing but contempt for social pretense and affectation; for the status and admiration money buys. One of them, rejected privilege and inherited advantages in Ceylon, and opted for an anonymous life in the United States.

Transported abruptly from geographically flat, dusty and hot Jaffna to Ceylon’s "Upcountry", I fell in love with those mountains, with that climate and atmosphere. Long before the Tamil Tigers began their fight to establish a separate state, my personal wish was for a "separate state" consisting (on the lines of Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Room of One’s Own’) of one room and an attached bath somewhere Upcountry, a place to which I could retreat, at the least, during the European winter months. (I left Ceylon in 1963.) Perhaps, somewhat strangely, I was a Jaffna Tamil for whom Ceylon started in Kandy and went up. The poet Keats imagined that the Biblical Ruth working in the fields felt even the corn to be "alien", though they were no different from the corn in the fields she’d known.

Similarly, I found those mountains more beautiful than any other, anywhere else in the world. They stirred a deep emotion in me, while my response to mountains elsewhere was only aesthetic. (Since the emotional cannot be separated from the aesthetic, I suppose I should say "visual", rather than "aesthetic".) It is only over the last few years that I have, at last, managed to relinquish (a key word in Buddhism) those mountains; to see other mountains without making a silent, nostalgic, comparison; without feelings of deep loss.

During school holidays, and after Gurutalawa, I lived with my parents in Dehiwela, by the sea. I spent many hours with friends in and by the sea there and down South in a Ceylon that had not yet been taken over by tourists, tourist hotels and commercialization. But, unlike the sea - restless, constantly in motion - the mountains have a calm permanence and strength. (My love for the hills and mountains was strengthened by the five years I spent in Kandy: four years at University; one, teaching at Trinity College.)

The school bus met us at Bandarawela and drove us to Gurutalawa. A couple of kilometers away from the school, there was Gurutalawa village, consisting of a few, scattered, houses and a small grocery store: nothing else but the mountains and valleys. The sprawling school with its sports-grounds, farms and orchards had no fence but we were not permitted to leave school premises, unless we obtained permission to go for a walk. We raided the orchard for fruit, and the farm for carrot, more for the danger and excitement than out of hunger.

I had a friend who was a "natural" with insects and reptiles. Sometimes, he’d appear with a big but harmless snake, caught by the neck, the rest of it wrapped and wriggling round him. It was not a case of ‘Androcles and the Lion’ (Bernard Shaw) but Seneviratne with a snake. All ran away in terror, all except me who, being accepted as a friend, walked safely but cautiously, a few steps behind him. With confidence and calmness, he’d raid the school’s bee hives, and give us chunks of wax, dripping with honey.

The Headmaster, Dr. R. L. Hayman, tried as far as possible to base his school, with its motto of Esto Perpetua, on that of the English public school. I say "his" school because, being an educational missionary and wealthy, he poured a lot of his own money into the school. Among other things, he paid for the construction of a swimming pool: we were the second school in the Island to have a swimming pool. If I am not mistaken, he also paid for the first (school) swimming pool, that at St Thomas’, Mount Lavinia. The English "public" schools, of course, were (are?) very private and are "credited" (sic) with helping to establish and run the British empire. We slept in dormitories. The day was regulated by the sound of the school-bell. The man who rang it was known to us as "Bell Simon", to differentiate him from the one who drove the school bus (painted in the school colours of blue, black and blue), "Bus Simon".

The first bell, and we rushed to wash and get ready for physical exercise. Though dressed only in shorts and vests, the exercise soon warmed us up. Then it was breakfast, chapel and off to classes. There were school prefects assigned to each dormitory, and one of their duties was to see that we left our beds without a single crease; shoes by the bed in a straight line, and such things. It was, I suppose, rather like a military barracks but, given the fact that there were about thirty boys to a "dorm", the result of this imposed tidiness was positive.

Subjects included practical agriculture, where we worked with our hands. It was usually the last lesson, so that we could then wash up. Many of the teachers were from Britain. (I remember getting off on arrival that first day and seeing Dr Hayman waiting to greet us. He was a burly figure then and strange to me, being the very first white man with whom I had contact.) The agriculture teacher was from Wales: Mr Pegler? Sometimes, I heard him sing, as he pulled off the petals of a flower, one by one: "She loves me. She loves me not. She loves me" and so on. A taciturn man, but if the last petal ended with "She loves me", he visibly cheered up. At the end of the lesson, the farming tools had to be cleaned and put away. Mr Pegler would say, "After a good meal, comes the washing-up." An odd statement not only because farming was not the equivalent of a good meal to us but, given Ceylon’s culture then, and the social class of the boys, it was most unlikely any of them washed up the plates after meals at home. Gymnastics was taken care of by one Mr. Scott. We helped to build an ‘obstacle course’ that included walking on planks over a pit; climbing a wooden wall with the help of ropes, and such things.

We had a cadet corps, with uniforms, .22 rifles and a shooting-range. Mr. Amarasinghe, often seen with a pipe, was in charge. I remember him telling us that, even as a man knows his own wife in the dark, so we must know the parts of the rifle, and be able to assemble it in total darkness, going by touch and feel. (Given our age, this was an exciting, though not an experientially comprehended, analogy.) If, while marching, a boy put the wrong foot forward, Mr Amarasinghe tied a handkerchief to the erring foot and, thereafter, called out Leensu kakulla, nikkang kakuula (the leg with the handkerchief, the leg without), rather than "Left, right, left". The derisive suggestion was that the culprit did not understand commands when given in English. It indicates the status English then had - and my reason for mentioning this, apparently insignificant, detail.

Similarly, Godaya, in the sense of someone from a rural background, was a common, casual, epithet. City-dwellers, the world over, tend to be condescending towards rural folk, but godaya, as used in school, had another connotation: rural, ipso facto, not Westernised. This Western-orientated cultural condescension has much to do with the violent social and political reaction that, soon after independence, found expression.

Daily participation in some game or the other was compulsory. Attendance was kept to make sure that everyone was present and taking part. It was very much a case of Mens sana in corpore sano.

The school was divided into "Houses" and, given distance and our isolation, instead of inter-school, we had inter-House, competitions. Dr Hayman also encouraged hiking. We were given a packed lunch, knapsacks from the cadet armoury, and sent off under the guidance of senior students with maps. We left in the morning, hiked the whole day and got back in the evening. A favourite destination was Horton Plains (and precipitous ‘World’s End’), then a little-visited area: cold, very much in its natural state, often covered in mist which brought with it a sense of mystery, and a suggestion of timelessness.

Mrs. Hayman, who was the school’s matron in charge of first-aid and the "sickroom", didn’t like these hikes because we invariably returned with scratches and bruises. (The Haymans didn’t have children of their own.) Every teacher had a cane and could use it on us, usually on the outstretched palm; sometimes, on our backs: "six of the best". Writing this now, I myself am shocked, for it conjures up pictures of cruelty and terror out of some novel by, say, Dickens. But though the cane was there, and the freedom to use it, there was not one teacher who had a reputation for sadism. In other words, it was an effective, but rarely resorted to, deterrent.

A digression:

after all, this memoir, though perforce about me, is meant to be more about places and times past. Once, the swimming team went down to Colombo. The pool at St Thomas’ was not available but Dr Hayman arranged for us exceptionally to use that of the Colombo Swimming Club. (I hope I remember its name correctly.) Membership was for "whites-only", even though Ceylon had gained independence in 1948. We were impressed with how clean and "shining" everything was. We didn’t stay long, and the "white" people - no doubt, they had been informed and their consent secured – behaved as if we were not there, were invisible. The problem was with our Ceylonese waiters. They scarcely concealed their disdain, even though we were from an "elite" private school.

I remember my mother (born 1908), going still further back and into British imperial times, telling me that the housemaids with "white" children or babies in their "prams" wouldn’t speak to housemaids looking after Ceylonese children. This might seem exaggerated, if not incredible, and that is why I break off to mention it, to give a little insight into an aspect of social history. Barack Obama records (The Audacity of Hope) that, visiting Kenya and being in the company of his Kenyan cousin, they were ignored in a restaurant, attention being paid to "white" tourists. Once, when I was a child, something similar happened in Colombo, but my Uncle – he’d had military experience - strode up to the waiter, caught him by the collar and demanded, Api Kalu nissaade? (Sinhala for "Is it because we are black?") The tourists were most embarrassed: they had not wanted to break the queue; had not noticed we were there first.

It is a historical fact that, during the centuries of white domination, white people believed they were superior in every aspect – military and scientific; cultural and moral. But, as Achebe observes in Morning Yet on Creation Day, the worst "sin" was that the third-world accepted and internalized this evaluation. I don’t know if the expression is still used but among the highest of compliments that could be paid in Sinhala was Uue Sudha vaage – "He is like a white man". Someone feeling neglected or not properly treated would ask, "Api kalude?" "Are we black?" meaning, "Is it because you see me/us as black?"

The most popular teacher was the Rev A J Foster (MA, Oxford). A tall, slim, man, he was chaplain, history teacher and coach. Taking the first, service was ‘high church’, with chanting (Kýrie, eléison) and incense. "Father Foster" brought drama and dignity to church service, and I recall settling with anticipation to listen to his Sunday sermon. Where history was concerned, he showed me, among other things, the relevance and importance of geography.

A reflection of the time was that the emphasis was almost entirely on European, particularly British, history: the voyages of discovery, Nelson, Wellington and the defeat of Napoleon, the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions. Abandoning his usual white cassock and getting into a pair of shorts and knee-length socks, "Father Foster" joined in our games, sometimes playing football for one team, whistle in the mouth, since he was both player and (impartial) referee. The weekends were free.

There was no swimming on the time-table but we’d go to Father Foster’s door, knock and ask whether he would, please, supervise swimming: we were not allowed in the pool unless there was a teacher present. He never refused, and the usual answer, in his deep voice, was "I’ll be there in twenty minutes". Then the cry would go round the school: "Fossy is taking swimming" and those keen would hurry to get changed. Thanks to him, I participated in school debates: two teams, each with three speakers, the leaders speaking first and then again to sum up at the end.

At 21.25, the lights in the "dorms" would briefly dim. Five minutes later, the school generator shut down for the night, plunging the world into darkness. I recall moonlight nights when, through the soft mist that had descended, and beyond the valley, I could see the outline of distant mountains: mysterious, reposeful and strong.

Those were very happy years though, during the first or second week, I had my first experience of what is known as "racism". Involved in an argument with another boy, he called me "Para Dhemala" (foreign Tamil). It is perhaps the most common abuse hurled at Sri Lankan Tamils, rather like the "Paki" in England for all Asians. Having lived in Jaffna, I was not conscious of my "Tamilness", there being no contrasting ‘Other’ to build ethnic identity and consciousness on distinction and difference. I was surprised, naively thinking, "So what? What has that to do with anything?" Being a Tamil then was a fact, one without importance or significance. Whether one was Sinhalese, Tamil, Burgher (there were several of them, this being long before the Burgher exodus) or Muslim weren’t we all one - Ceylonese?

Puzzled, I shrugged it off but, somewhere, it must have lain dormant, to be awoken by later events. Marcel Reich-Ranicki, in his autobiography, Mein Leben, states: „Meinen Eltern bereitete ihre Identität überhaupt keinen Kummer. Darüber haben sie… nie nachgedacht, nie nachdenken müssen" (A rough translation would be: "Identity caused my parents no worry. They never thought about it, never needed to think about it." Emphases added.) But, being Jews, Nazism brought them all, violently and brutally, to face the question of identity. A separate (ethnic), rather than an inclusive, unifying (national) identity, was forced upon them, whether they would or not.

Though Dr. Hayman never directly said anything on the subject, it was understood that he had no regard for a boy who "sneaked" on a fellow pupil – even though such information would be of advantage to school authorities. Similarly, the spirit the school sought to imbue was such that, to eat without sharing with others was considered shameful. (There was a word, school slang, to designate such behavior but I don’t remember it.) Muslim boys observing the fast during Ramadhan were an exception. They received parcels from home; set the alarm, got up before daybreak and ate so as to last the day.

Dr. Hayman was perhaps somewhere between forty and fifty then. I believe he got his doctorate in Physics when in his 20s, and it then being a very rare and high qualification, he must have had many openings and opportunities, but chose instead a life of service in the field of education. He was a thorough gentleman, decent and just; incapable of meanness or the unworthy. He was generous in the care of his pupils, even as he was generous in bringing into Ceylon his own money to build and maintain the school. But things did not turn out as he would have wished.

The Island had gained independence in 1948 after almost five centuries of Western, Christian, rule. During this long span of time, Ceylonese culture in general, including religion (Buddhism and Hinduism) and language (Sinhala and Tamil), had been neglected, if not disregarded. Now, with independence, there was vociferous cultural assertion, an aspect of which was a rejection of things "Western". (The Tamils were next on the list. Unlike with the West and Westerners – powerful, admired, needed - the rejection of Tamils took a virulent, violent, form.) Private Christian schools began to draw hostile, public and state, attention. Foreign Christian teachers, missionaries, doctors and nuns were seen as allies and agents of Western imperialism.

I hope Dr. Hayman had the insight and wisdom not to take things personally but to understand the broad, historical, shifting of the templates. If not, he must have felt very hurt and sad.

Generally, history does not make individual exceptions. The lava flows heedlessly, sweeping down on the good and the bad without discrimination. Though we experience pain individually and personally, history itself is not personal. History targets abstractions - groups, categories, the other – and is blind to the fact that groups are made up of individuals, human beings, and that some individuals (like Dr Hayman and Father Foster), both for what they are and for the positive contribution they make, are good of a rare order, and very valuable.

These are (some of) my thoughts and (fallible) recollections. In memory of Asoka Perera and "Tinker" Dharmapala.

(Charles P. Sarvan was Previously known as  Charles S. Ponnuthurai. This extract is reproduced from the Sunday Island of July 5th 2009)

Non-Implementation of Tamil as an official language in provinces outside North and East

By Chandani Kirinde

While opinion remains deeply divided in the country about the full implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, the recognition of Tamil alongside Sinhala as an official language guaranteed by the same constitutional amendment remains largely confined to paper with several key areas in the government sector lagging behind in executing the Official Language policy.

ST0705.jpgLack of resources, finances, trained personnel and unawareness have contributed to the slow pace of implementation of the language policy despite attempts by the government to correct the deficiency. With the end of hostilities and the opening of more public services in the north and east, the comprehensive implementation of the language policy seems more plausible as well as timely.

“The ethnic problem was largely due to the Tamil people feeling alienated particularly over the language issue and lack of equal access to the public service. It has become an urgent need to implement the language policy, says Chairman of the Official Languages Commission Raja Collure. A recent study done by the Commission covering a population of over 3.5 million of which over 1.1 million were Tamil speaking people living outside the northern and eastern provinces found that of the 6,626 public officials of all grades working there, only 627 or 9.5 per cent were proficient in Tamil.

A similar study was conducted in the northern and eastern provinces to ascertain the availability of public officials proficient in Sinhala. Of the over 1.5 million population surveyed of which the Sinhala speaking population was a little over 365,000, it was found that only 98 or 18.1 per cent of the total of 540 public officials serving, were proficient in Sinhala.

“The language issues affect both communities but it is the Tamil speaking people who are more affected as they live in large numbers outside the north and east and this includes Muslims and up country Tamils who have no proper knowledge of Sinhala, “Mr.Collure explained.

Under the terms of the Constitution, Sinhala is the language of administration in all the provinces other than the Northern and Eastern provinces where Tamil is used. The same policy is applicable as the language of the courts in the country.

The Government issued two circulars in early 2007 pertaining to the implementation of the language policy, one offering enhanced incentive payments for public servants acquiring proficiency in both Official Languages and another making it necessary for all officers recruited to the public/ provincial public service with effect from July 1, 2007 to acquire proficiency in the other Official Language within a period of five years in addition to the Official Language through which they enter the service.

Nevertheless the incentive payments ranging between Rs 15,000 to Rs 25, 000 as well as denial of increments to public officials who fail to obtain the required proficiency within the stipulated period of time have not encouraged many to take the language issue seriously with the numbers sitting the proficiency tests conducted by the Official Languages Department highly unsatisfactory.

Since July 2007, the Police Department has recruited nearly 12,000 personnel of all ranks while the Health sector and the Public Administration sectors have recruited around 8,000 each but only around 2,100 sat the last Language Proficiency tests conducted in 2008.

The situation with regard to Translators too is dire with less than 130 in the Translator Service of whom only 28 are proficient in Sinhala/Tamil, 82 in Sinhala/English and 21 in English /Tamil. Here too the number proficient in the two Official Languages is extremely poor, he said.

“Our fear is that these circulars will become a dead letter unless they are adhered to strictly. It is the obligation of the state to provide for the functioning of the language policy,” the Chairman of the Commission said.

While the Commission and the Department of Official Languages are the main government institutions empowered with monitoring supervising and training to ensure compliance with the Official Languages policy, the lack of funding particularly for the training programmes has restricted the services they can render.

“The provincial councils too are expected to play a role in the implementation of the Official Languages policy but their attitudes are very unsatisfactory. The different departments too need to get money from the government and implement the policy on their own as we have fewer funds,” Mr.Collure said. With many new police stations opening up in the north after the defeat of the LTTE, it has become an even more pressing need to train police personnel who can work in both languages, the Chairman of the Commission said.

While all recruitment to the public service is merit based and no language based recruitment can be done, he recommends that an auxiliary service be set up from where the necessary personnel can be drawn to serve in offices where their services are needed until the levels of proficiency among the majority of public officials reaches a satisfactory level and they are able to discharge their duties in both Official Languages. [courtesy: sundaytimes.lk]

Portrayal of Conscientious Person like Shantha Fernando as Traitor is Grave Injustice

by Basil Fernando

In the present-day context, the re-imaging of a person from a conscientious citizen to a traitor can be rapid. The transformation is not in real terms as in Kafka's Metamorphosis.

The change is simply in the portrayal of the person by the intelligence agencies, with the backing of a section of media. The case of Shantha Fernando is an example of how easily this can happen.

Shantha Fernando was produced before a magistrate's court in Colombo on the 1st of July and, according to a report appearing in the media, he is accused of trying to bring disrepute to the President and the armed forces of Sri Lanka, and of having assisted terrorists.

He was remanded for a further period of 15 days at Welicoda Remand Prison.

He was arrested on the 27th of March 2009 at the airport when he was proceeding to a meeting organized by the World Council of Churches on militarization in Asia. Many persons active in the social movements within the churches were among the participants, who're from different countries on Asia. All the deliberations were in the open and a full report of this meeting has been published and distributed through the internet.

It was no different to hundreds of other meetings held throughout Asia over a long period of time by the World Council of Churches and the Christian Council of Asia, with the participation of persons from many other religions, to encourage concern for social problems that are afflicting the ordinary folk in the region. Literarily, hundreds of books have been published of these conferences and symposiums and these are available for anyone who wishes to look for them.

As a participant in this meeting, Shantha Fernando was taking published documents relating to the situation of refugees at the time. The concern for refugees has been part of the global humanitarian movement, particularly since the adoption of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees in 1951, and the churches in particular throughout the world have played some role in promoting the interest of the refugees and displaced persons as a matter of importance in their humanitarian work.

Shantha Fernando has been a long-term active person in the YMCA movement. He has worked in this movement for many years. He was also a staff member of Asia Alliance for YMCAs for about six years, and he was based in Hong Kong. During this time he took an enormous interest in the population of domestic workers from Sri Lanka, who are mostly Sinhalese and who are often faced with many problems working as migrant workers.

He spent his free time on Saturdays and Sundays to help the formation of a domestic workers' association for the welfare of these workers. Many functions were organized to bring domestic workers together on their holidays. The work he did in this regard still continues through these associations.

To be a concerned person about the problems of anyone is part of the training and the makeup of an individual like Shantha Fernando. Persons like Bishop Lakshman Wickramasinghe of the Anglican church and Bishop Leo Nanayakara of the Catholic church were role models in this regard. Taking pride in assisting people in difficult circumstances is taken seriously by such persons, who willingly sacrifice part of their time for such work. For them, being human involves being concerned for other humans, particularly those facing more difficult circumstances.

By their very orientation they are opposed to every form of violence and to seek peaceful solutions to all problems is an essential element of their intellectual and spiritual makeup. To speak out against injustice is a method they rely on in order to find peaceful solution to problems, and thereby to prevent the need for use of violence.

Thus, the participation in this meeting was one more of similar kind of activity, done out of concern for others. Demonstrating the problems of refugees in order to gain greater support for relief on their behalf is normal, decent human conduct that one would expect from anyone, and in particularly from those who, for a long time, have taken an active interest in being a conscientious person under difficult circumstances.

However, such actions are interpreted as being treachery and in violation of anti-terrorism laws. Since his arrest, his friends in the church circles have cooperated fully with the investigators with the belief that demonstrating his innocence would lead to his being released. They actively discouraged any form of campaigning and even legal actions on his behalf, thinking that once all the facts are put before the investigators in the spirit of full cooperation they would understand that he was not involved in anything illegal and that thereby he would be released.

Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Prize winning Jewish writer, who wrote the famous novel Night about the ordeal of Nazi concentration camps, noted that Jews were destroyed not because of the power of Nazis but because of their own illusions. Despite overwhelming evidence that something terrible was happening to them, they sought to interpret events in which a more favorable outcome could be expected for them, ignoring the warning signs. As a result, they got closer and closer to the concentration camps and around four and a half million to six million ended up in smoke spread to the air through the chimneys.

The case of Shantha Fernando like several others is demonstrating sinister developments where guilt and innocence may have nothing to do with the punishments that may be meted out to an individual. Fate has made these individuals symbols of a transformation that is taking place within the country, in which justice, fairplay and truth may have no relevance at all. The rest of the citizens who feel to read between the lines regarding such events may pay heavy prices for their own illusions.

July 04, 2009

Rajapakse Must Reach Out For Hearts And Minds Of Tamil Community

by Padraig Colman

Even those Sri Lankans, including Tamils, who were dubious about their government’s decision to pursue the military option against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), are relieved that the venture appears successful. They also are surprised at the reaction to the victory by nations such as the US, the UK, India and Israel, and the sharp criticism about civilian casualties and displaced people.

From Sri Lanka, it feels as if the Tamil diaspora in the UK, Canada, US and Australia has overly influenced the media in those places. People in the West seem to believe that all Sri Lankan Tamils were confined to a narrow strip of beach under shellfire from government troops, and are now herded into concentration camps. I do not wish to downplay the suffering of those in the north, but the reality is that Tamils are spread throughout Sri Lanka and many are prosperous and influential.

A distinguished Tamil journalist based in Canada, DBS Jeyaraj, wrote: “The Tamils need to remind themselves that the LTTE, despite its prolonged campaign, has ultimately achieved nothing for the Tamil people. If the LTTE had converted the military strength it once enjoyed into bargaining power at the negotiating table, the Sri Lankan Tamils would have been much better off. It did not and in the process has brought misery and despair to the Tamil people.”

Dr Noel Nadesan, editor of Uthayam, a Tamil newspaper in Australia, wrote: “The Sri Lankan president deserves the congratulations of all Sri Lankans regardless of their ethnicity. More than any other community, the Sri Lankan Tamils owe him their thanks for ending their misery.”

As a Tamil blogger remarked: “I hold no brief for the Sri Lankan government which, unfortunately, is growing more despotic by the day”, but he wondered why Sri Lanka should have agreed to a ceasefire when it had the Tiger leader trapped; it was unlikely that, in similar circumstances, the US would let Osama bin Laden escape.

Hillary Clinton has criticised Sri Lanka for being too tough on the Tamil Tigers — and Pakistan for not being tough enough on the Taliban. (In Swat there are up to two million displaced civilians. There is a shortfall in humanitarian aid and NGOs are pulling out.)

The current Indian government promotes reconciliation and a just settlement for Sri Lankan Tamils. Memories of India’s previous interventions are still acute in Sri Lanka. Indira Gandhi’s government funded and armed Sri Lankan terrorists, including the LTTE. In 1987 an Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) tried and failed to disarm the LTTE.

Tamil sources asserted that more than half of the victims of the IPKF 1987 offensive were Tamil civilians and Brigadier Manjit Singh admitted: “We could not differentiate between the LTTE and the civilians.” In October 1987 Indian troops stormed into Jaffna hospital, throwing grenades and firing, killing 70 doctors, staff and patients.

Michael Roberts, a Sri Lankan historian, argues that the Sri Lankan army had similar problems recently, noting that “the category ‘civilian’ is an ambiguous category”, because the LTTE command-state integrated civilians into the front line. Roberts makes a comparison with the end of the second world war, when the Allies insisted on unconditional surrender and carpet bombed civilians (and exploded the atomic bomb) to attain that goal.

The Sri Lankan government was taken by surprise when Israel, in spite of or because of, its actions in Gaza, accused Sri Lanka of indiscriminate military action and violations of human rights in fighting LTTE terrorism. Israel supplied military hardware and expertise which were probably significant factors in the LTTE’s defeat.

The writer and journalist Neil Ascherson has written about the way the British delude themselves that they built and divested themselves of their empire in a decent fashion, although, in fact, “In the detention and work camps, and the resettlement villages, the British created a world no better than the universe of the Soviet Gulag.” The British foreign secretary, David Miliband, was involved during a recent visit to Colombo in a shouting match with Sri Lanka’s defence supremo, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, who felt it necessary to remind Miliband that Sri Lanka was no longer a British colony. Miliband has been complicit in US rendition and torture and Britain continues to allow the US to use the British colony of Diego Garcia, from which it expelled the inhabitants, for those purposes.

A recent report by Philip Alston, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, found that accountability in the US has been "deplorable"; few would doubt that the US has killed civilians and used torture in Iraq. In Britain, Miliband proposes that an inquiry into the UK’s involvement in Iraq be held in secret, but Air Marshal Sir John Walker, the former head of Defence Intelligence, said: "There is only one reason that the inquiry is being heard in private and that is to protect past and present members of this government. There are 179 reasons [179 dead soldiers] why the military want the truth to be out on what happened over Iraq." Major General Julian Thompson said that the military wanted to be heard in public “the allegation that a British government manipulated intelligence to take part in an illegal war.”

Dayan Jayatilleka, Sri Lankan ambassador to the UN has said: “Sri Lanka is not the case of an army of occupation invading and occupying another country. Sri Lanka’s army is a military that serves a constitutional democracy, a military that fought a war strictly within its recognised borders against a separatist, terrorist militia, with whom the state had tried to arrive at a peaceful settlement on numerous occasions. Therefore, we will not have forced upon us formulae and paradigms derived from entirely different contexts.”

Because those accusing Sri Lanka of war crimes are not free of guilt themselves, should the issue of war crimes in Sri Lanka be ignored? Some would argue that a full investigation of war crimes would be a distraction from the reconciliation process; others argue that reconciliation is impossible if war crimes are not investigated (perhaps more bitterness is felt among the diaspora than among Tamils in Sri Lanka).

The reconciliation process in countries such as South Africa, Rwanda, Chile and Northern Ireland have been cited. There is no doubt that Sri Lankan Tamils have suffered discrimination and there has, in the past, been horrific anti-Tamil violence.

Nevertheless, Sri Lanka is not an apartheid society like South Africa, Palestine or even Louisiana. The government was fighting terrorists, not trying to wipe out the Tamil population. In Sri Lanka a democratically-elected government increased its popularity with voters by overthrowing a de facto unelected, totalitarian military dictatorship in part of its internationally recognised sovereign territory, and intends to restore democracy to that area.

n Northern Ireland peace was achieved through long negotiations when both sides became exhausted and accepted that neither could win. The IRA gave up its arms and put its goal of a united Ireland in abeyance. The LTTE went into any “negotiation” with an uncompromising demand for a separate state of Tamil Eelam.

There are arguments that the government must blame itself because of inept PR and censorship. Certainly, the news has been manipulated under the cover of “prevention of terrorism” and press freedom will continue to be threatened. Anti-terrorism laws (perhaps not as draconian as in the UK or US) remain in place and many investigations into attacks on the media remain unresolved.

President Rajapakse’s reputation is high with the Sinhalese majority and he should now have the political capital to reach out for the hearts and minds of the Tamil community and bring them within a unified nation without fear of backlash. It is to be hoped that other governments and the international media will help the nationbuilding by supporting reconciliation, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

COURTESY: Le Monde Diplomatique

Is Central Bank the real “Bottleneck” Delaying IMF Loan to Sri Lanka?

By Muttukrishna Sarvananthan

Ever since the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) publicly acknowledged that it has sought a stand-by credit facility of USD 1.9 billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on March 04, 2009 there have been anxiety and rumors abound among the general public (both within the country as well as in the diaspora), politicians (both local and foreign), policy makers, independent researchers, civil society organisations (especially human rights organisations), and the media (both local and international) about the quantum, conditions and the timeline of the proposed borrowing.

Four months have passed since the CBSL officially requested the credit facility from the IMF during the last week of February 2009, but there is no sign of when it would be approved and (first tranche) disbursed. In this background, I had the opportunity to meet senior officials of the Asia and Pacific Department and the Sri Lanka Country Desk at the IMF in Washington, D.C. on June 29, 2009. However, views expressed herein are solely of this author.'

“The GOSL expects the negotiations to be finalized by end March 2009 and a significant portion of the proposed facility disbursed up-front, immediately after the Executive Board of the IMF approves the facility.” claimed an upbeat Central Bank in early March (Press Release by the Economic Research Department of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka dated March 04, 2009)

Caroline Atkinson, spokesperson for the IMF in Washington, D.C. at a press briefing on May 21, 2009 said, “...We are at an advanced stage in discussions with the authorities. We don’t have a definite Executive Board date scheduled, but we look forward to being able to bring a program to the Board for its approval in the coming weeks.”

It appears that official proclamations such as the foregoing are the fundamental cause of much anxiety and rumours. Thus, public miscommunications of both the CBSL and IMF have contributed to raising expectations among the general public. It was pointed out that the ongoing negotiation with Turkey has taken longer than that with Sri Lanka. On the contrary, public pronouncements by the Secretary of State of the United States in Washington, D.C, and the British Foreign Secretary in New York a few days before have dampened expectations.

“We think that it is not an appropriate time to consider that until there is a resolution,” claimed Hillary Clinton on the proposed IMF loan to Sri Lanka on May 14, 2009.

David Miliband said the Government of Sri Lanka should be “able to show that it will use any IMF money in a responsible and appropriate way”, and that he “does not think that’s yet the case”.

Public communications of the negotiating parties and political pronouncements by major powers have contributed to misunderstanding about the whole issue.

The reality is somewhere in-between these two contrasting pronouncements. The real position of the proposed credit facility appears to be bogged down in technical details. The technical discussions between the lender and the borrower are ongoing, which are about safeguards against misuse of funds, policies to fix the longstanding fiscal problem of Sri Lanka, prudent management of the balance-of-payments, and the ability to repay. All the foregoing are economic issues and not political.

Furthermore, Sri Lanka’s fiscal needs have increased substantially with the end of the civil war (in late-May), in comparison to the time at which the original request to the IMF was made (late-February). This new development has to be addressed by both negotiating parties, which has contributed to the delay in finalising the deal.

Nonetheless, a third (and possibly final) round of talks is expected to take place shortly with an impending visit by a team of IMF officials to Sri Lanka.

Any lending programme that goes to the IMF Board of Directors for approval requires just a simple majority to be approved (i.e. 51%). However, usually there is consensus on their decisions on loans. The weight of voting right of individual member country depends on the size of its economy and value of subscription to the IMF. Accordingly, the United States, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom being the largest economies of the world are the major subscribers to the IMF, and therefore have the highest share of votes.

The percentage of votes by country is as follows: US 16.77%, Japan 6.02%, Germany 5.88%, and UK 4.86%. Hence, it is highly unlikely that a lending programme that goes to the Board of Directors for approval could be voted down. It has never happened in IMF’s history.

However, if there is any doubt about approval, it will not go to the Board of Directors until the programme is strengthened, which is what appears to be happening in the case of Sri Lanka. Moreover, the IMF does not take political or human rights issues into consideration in its lending programmes. Its decisions are solely made on the strength of the lending programme based on fiscal, monetary, and external sector policy criteria.

In spite of the noises made by certain political authorities and human rights organisations in western countries in recent times, there appears to be no political reason/s for holding back the proposed loan to Sri Lanka. The IMF’s counterparts in the US and UK governments are the respective Treasury Secretaries, and there is no evidence of objection by these economic authorities on the matter of the proposed loan to Sri Lanka.

My understanding of the real bottleneck is that, the CBSL (on behalf of the GoSL) is yet to put forward a convincing fiscal, monetary, and balance-of-payments stability package to the IMF taking into account the latest post-war economic imperatives. Although Sri Lanka has an impeccable track record on repayment of bilateral and multilateral loans on time, it has an abysmal record of fulfilling IMF’s fiscal and monetary policy recommendations.

Last time in 2001, the standby credit facility was discontinued after the disbursement of the first tranche primarily due to non-fulfillment of the agreed policy reforms and failure to attain the set targets. Therefore, to my understanding, the ball appears to be in CBSL’s court, so to speak.

It is high time the Central Bank stops issuing press releases countering pronouncements by political authorities in certain western countries and castigating negative sovereign ratings by international credit rating agencies, and get on with the work of fixing the balance-of-payments, monetary, and fiscal crises which are its own making.

(Muttukrishna Sarvananthan is the Principal Researcher of the Point Pedro Institute of Development, Point Pedro, Northern Province, Sri Lanka and Fulbright Visiting Research Scholar at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, 2008-2009)

Campaign Against 13th amendment is Self-Destructive and Counter-Productive

By Ranga Jayasuriya

No lesser than the desire of the minority communities to feel equal members of the Sri Lankan community, the Sri Lankan state has a dire need to redeem itself in the eyes of its own citizens, 300,000 of whom now languishing in the heavily guarded camps, rather misfittingly named welfare villages.

That is where a political solution comes into place if the hard earned military gains are not to be viewed as forcing the will of the victor on the vanquished. But, the Rajapaksa administration could still show to the rest of the world, that it also cares for its own citizens, though the collateral damages of its military campaign were disturbingly high- - perhaps because it was forced to match the ruthlessness of the enemy it confronted. By spearheading a political solution, the Rajapaksa administration could show to the rest of the world, that a 60-year-old democracy, no matter how flawed it is, had not destroyed all its social fabric in order to emerge victory in its fight against a monstrous terrorist group.

It could showcase to the rest of the liberal democracies that it does not seek political legitimacy through the barrel of the gun alone like most of its new found friends like Burma and Iran would do.

Therefore, a generous political solution, even before it addresses the grievances of the Tamils and of course, the Muslims, would redeem our name and re-establish us as a respected member of the international community.

That is why the ongoing campaign against the 13th amendment, executed largely by an articulate microscopic minority is counter-productive and self-destructive, not only to the Sri Lankan state as a whole, but also to the very Sinhala Buddhist identity promoted by the ultra-nationalist campaign itself . Identity politics has ruined this island nation which held so many promises at its independence to a socio-economic backwater, if not a basket case.

Compelled to fight

For three decades, we were compelled to fight an ethnic insurgency born out of perceived ethnic discrimination and paid the war machinery from the hard earned money remitted by our women toiling in the abusive Middle Eastern households. The majority of Sri Lankans of all ethnic communities are victims of this identity based populist political scheming, which produced only frustration, disenchantment with the state and a long line of political and economic refugees fleeing the country.

The unfolding ultra-nationalist campaign is the present day torch bearers of this self-destructive ideology, which has no coherence, but a heavy doze of racial prejudice.

Their success against the 13th amendment could only vindicate the Eelam lobbyists who argued in defence of the brutal separatist insurgency waged by the LTTE, the essence of whose defence was that the Sinhala Buddhist state would not grant rights to the Tamils on a platter and that the Tamil militancy is a byproduct of the indifference of the hegemonic state to the decades of peaceful campaigning by the moderate Tamil political leadership.

True that those claims need clarification--Tamil militancy is more of an Indian enterprises than that of locals--without generous Indian assistance in the form of arms and training carried out in a several dozen of camps in Tamil Nadu, none of the Tamil militant groups of the early 80s could not have passed the initial stage of the guerrilla warfare, i.e., the stage of recruitment and organization. As the theory goes, a guerrilla movement which passed though the second stage - strategic defence-- is harder to overcome and would expand as we have experienced in the rise of the LTTE.

But the fact that the Sri Lankan state had for decades been reluctant to address even some of the most obvious grievances of its minority communities cannot easily be ruled out. They range from the disenfranchisement of the Indian Tamils in the immediate aftermath of the Independence to the broken pledges of the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam and Dudly-Chelvanayagam pacts to the forced eviction of Tamil lodgers to the North-East.

Sensitive to the minority

True that some of the deep-rooted grievances of Tamils- such as language rights- were addressed, at least on paper through the 13th amendment passed under an Indian initiative. Equally, true that subsequent governments since then had been sensitive to the minority concerns, however, the worsening military conflict and the maximalist enemy in the name of the LTTE overshadowed any subsequent efforts to win over the minority communities, especially the Tamils. However, tables have turned since then. The militant LTTE is annihilated.

Now the onus is on the Rajapaksa administration to prove that it cares about all its people-- Sometime back, a lead article of the Economist magazine, of which recent edition was seized by the Sri Lanka customs challenged the Sri Lankan government to prove that it was not an elected dictatorship. It is a challenge that many people in this country want their elected government to meet.

Should a minority of bigots, whether in the name of Champika Ranawaka or Wimal Weerawansa be allowed to hijack the future of this country as did a previous generation of their ilk did through a series of militant street protests since 1956, driving this country in a ruinous path.

One could only pray that history would not repeat - but unfortunately, as our recent past indicates, our prayers had not been heeded.

COURTESY:LAKBIMA NEWS

Provisional Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam is a Dangerous Exercise

by Dr. Rajan Hoole

On 15th June S. Pathmanathan, the most prominent of surviving members of the LTTE announced the establishment of a Provisional Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (PTG), pointing to the danger to the ‘very physical survival of Tamils’ and the absence of ‘political space to articulate their legitimate political aspirations’ in Lanka. This was followed the next day by V. Rudrakumaran, heading the committee of 13 leading advocates of the LTTE for the formation of the PTG. There was a note of irony in his saying that the committee would function within democratic principles and would capture the aspirations of the people by means of contact maintained with them through the TNA.

Many of the sentiments expressed by the two gentlemen would have captured the feelings of most Tamils in the wake of the July 1983 violence and the Welikada prison massacre. We Tamils had then what was still a democratic leadership. The TULF leader Mr. Amirthalingam would have been under pressure to establish a PTG, had not India intervened and tried to push through the Parthasarathy proposals, agreed to and aborted by President Jayewardena, signalling the protracted civil war.

Much water has since flowed under the bridge, which makes the PTG a dangerous exercise, cornering the Tamils again into the pernicious politics of half truths. Rudrakumaran points to the killing of three Tamil MPs on Rajapaksa’s watch, saying nothing of the LTTE’s killings of scores of MPs, political leaders and budding leaders. A good core of thinking people on the ground and certainly the 300,000 in IDP camps would not go along with blaming all the Tamils’ ills on the Sinhalese government. The IDPs would have spoken aloud their indignation about the LTTE, which used them as hostages to protect the leadership and their booty, placed their conscripted children on the frontlines and shot and shelled hundreds who tried to escape from their clutches.

The reason the IDPs cannot do so is the Government holds them prisoner behind barbed wire indiscriminately, fearing that they would give the world ‘false testimony’ about bombing and shelling by the Government.

What is then the PTG’s link to the people, while it totally denies this tragedy and holds that the people were staying with the LTTE out of patriotic devotion? Even during the last weeks of acute tragedy, the TNA uttered not a word demanding the LTTE let the people go. It would now keep quiet about it and watch the drift remaining carefully ambivalent about the PTG. As with the LTTE, the interests and arrogance evident in the PTG’s attempt to continue a politics detrimental to the Tamil people inside Lanka, is more about attempting to sustain a bankrupt enterprise abroad through further lies, mobilisation and collection of funds.

We see here Sinhalese and Tamil polities gearing up to continue the politics of half truths, reinforcing each other’s myths to goad the country into further tragedy. The Government would, on the presumption of Tamil perfidy, go on finding reasons to expand the army and maintain it on a permanent war footing and to keep IDPs, both old and new, away from their lands from which they were violently driven out in Manal Aru (Weli Oya) and large stretches of arable land in Sampoor and Jaffna. It will find reasons to override the law and continue with disappearances, official killings, the new habit of putting persons in remand prison (even an astrologer, now that the CID could apparently read the stars even better) and thinking about charges many moons later. Besides, it now seems that the Government could detain someone on the hypothetical fear that they might give false testimony about it to foreigners.

On the Tamil side there would be an attempt to promote a mythical legacy of the LTTE shorn of all its terrible crimes against its own people. All that this politics had to offer were cycles of tragedy and displacement would be hidden behind an appeal to emotions. What happened in 1987 and described by Rajani Thiranagama in the Broken Palmyra, holds for 1990, 1995 - 2000 and 2006-2009:

“The nation was on the roads, their worldly belongings in plastic bags, their children on their hips, in the blistering noon day heat, from refugee camp to refugee camp, from village to village, fleeing from the withdrawing Tigers and the advancing army...Then came the shells, cannon, tank fire, helicopter fire and even bombs from the Sri Lankan bombers. When Tiger sentry point after sentry point withdrew without a whimper, only firing rounds of automatic fire thereby luring the Indian army, the people were the sacrifice.”

What the Tamils need uppermost is a reexamination of their narrow-nationalist politics, a challenge V. Karalasingham posed as early as 1963: “The present leadership because of its close identification with the past will not encourage any discussion of fundamental questions - it would rather see the Tamil people burn themselves out in impotent rage and despair rather than permit a critical reexamination of its politics.”

There cannot be reexamination without facing the truth, and when that happens we have to exorcise all associations with the TULF-LTTE legacy. It is the bankruptcy of this legacy that led to anger against those who try to work constructively with the Muslims and Sinhalese. It was the TULF leaders’ deadly ambivalence about violence which led them to hound Alfred Duraiappah and incite his assassination as a traitor by its parricidal progeny - the LTTE.

Where would Germany, Europe’s economic giant, be today, if her postwar political leaders had begun by denying the fascist legacy and mass murder instead of facing the bitter truth and its implications?

While living through the bombing of German cities as a prisoner, Dietrich Bonhoeffer did not utter a word of blame against Britain and the US who were themselves committing a crime against humanity. He mourned for the dead and gave practical advice to the living on protecting themselves against allied bombing, but his state of mind is best described in his citation from Psalm 60: “Thou hast moved the land and divided it; heal the sores thereof for it shaketh” (Letters and Papers from Prison). He was an internationalist, far too conscious of German blame.

Anyone observing this country’s record of several rounds of communal violence since 1956 and continual killings of thousands of civilians in security operations since 1984, mainly of Tamils by armed forces and of Sinhalese and Muslims mainly by the LTTE, and the absence of credible inquiries leading identification and punishment of offenders, would be very pessimistic about its future. Reconciliation would be a lost cause unless the truth is made public and a starting point is in place. Take the two cases below.

On 14th July 2007 Miss. Lathasini Arunachalam a timid assistant in a shop in Chavakacheri regularly visited by Army Intelligence, was followed by military men on a motorcycle and shot dead a short distance from home, leaving five bullets in her body. Having made several inquiries we found no evidence that she was helping the LTTE.

On 9th November 2008, Mrs. Sumathy Srirangan (28), a mother of two, who was travelling from Pt. Pedro to Jaffna for medical treatment was taken off the bus by the LTTE in Nallur, walked to a tank a mile away and shot dead. She had left the LTTE and become a family woman. Her crime was that she had gone to the EPDP office seeking support for her medical treatment.

Both these stories are samples among thousands which show the sadistic character of both sides. Any organized force that kills unarmed women in this way is to be utterly abhorred. To the Sinhalese in the near term the Army may be heroes, but the Tamils will find it difficult to see any qualitative difference between the Army and the LTTE.
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry assisted by the IIGEP gave the Government an opportunity to prove that impartial and professional investigations could be conducted in Lanka and thereby strike a new direction. But government manipulation made the attempt a farce. The politics of both sides obstruct any honest reassessment.

Without the truth being investigated and made public, those who want to keep the people divided would feed them with half truths that place all the villainy on the other side. Thus while one side has screamed genocide against the Government, the country’s leaders have glorified the Army for getting rid of a ‘monster’. The leaders have repeatedly dismissed well-founded cases of violations by the security forces, as fiction concocted by traitors and malignant foreigners. Others inevitably see monsters among those who planned and executed in public the fearsome killing of the Trincomalee five students.

We have a divided country set to continue the politics of half truths. The majority from all the communities are capable of looking inwardly and want to move away from the desultory post independence politics of confrontation on fanciful issues based on history and genetics, issues as slippery as reading the stars. They would be more than ready to rise to the challenge of facing the facts and to develop an impartial and effective machinery to address past violations. If that cannot happen, it is a failure of leadership on both sides.

While the people have repeatedly shown themselves ready for a political settlement, a handful of opinion makers in the South continue to blame everything that went wrong for the Sinhalese polity since independence on the Tamils. Any discussion of a political settlement is sidetracked by them with feints such as ‘not home made’, ‘imposed from outside’ and ‘not suitable to our conditions’. The logical implication would be the absurdity of discarding the modern state with its parliamentary democracy, which is a colonial legacy, and going back to the old despotic kingdoms of Kotte and Jaffna!

(Rajan Hoole is a Martin Ennals award winning human rights activist, heading the well known UTHR (J) rights group)

I.D.P.'S Yearn to Get away from Their Barbed Wire Enclosures

Further Statement of Group of concerned Tamils of Sri Lanka

The Group of Concerned Tamils of Sri Lanka is disturbed by persistent reports of continuing lack of adequate shelter, privacy, water, toilet and bathing facilities, nutrition, and medical services as well as other grave ills, notably disappearances in several of the detention centres. In any case it is surely in the interest of all concerned that the detention centres become more accessible immediately and, progressively, converted in to welfare centres that contain only those few who may choose to remain for a short period. They may opt to remain briefly on account of any unavoidable delay in getting back to the homesteads that they had vacated and have no other home to move in to as an interim measure.

UNHCR0703.jpg

pic by: UNHCR

It should be clear to all that what the IDPs seek and yearn for, is to get away from their barbed wire enclosures. The first step towards restoring their sense of dignity is to erase their sense of being held captive. They are counting days when they will be released to get back to their homes in the locations of their original domicile and breathe an air of freedom. To facilitate their movement back to their villages and familiar surroundings, one imperative is to clearly identify un-mined or already de-mined areas. Resettlement can begin immediately in these areas. To initiate this process each family would need an initial grant of at least Rs.50,000 for essential minimal repairs, purchase of household effects, etc in addition to food rations for a limited period.

It is presumed that the delay in releasing IDPs from the detention centres is because they have not yet been screened for LTTE affiliation or else their homesteads and surroundings have not yet been de-mined. It is essential that these two processes should be planned and coordinated as per published time table so that detainees can be released in batches, many almost immediately and others as early as possible. Everyone will then be aware of the likely time of their release. If this is done AGA division by division, the congestion in the detention centres as well as the competition for resources among those due to be released subsequently will ease immediately and then continue to ease further week by week. Such a programme will immeasurably enhance the spirit of the IDPs by removing any fears of indefinite detention, generate good relationship between the IDPs and the camp authorities, and enable all concerned to plan ahead. It will also attract much resources and create considerable goodwill locally and oversees.

We know from the past experience of communities compelled to leave their homes on account of violence or fear of violence, that lengthy periods of temporary relocation could lead to unending social and political problems that may continue to undermine inter-ethnic relations and national unity. A planned, phased and transparent programme of resettlement in the original homesteads will also help to attract considerable resources to facilitate such resettlement and related rehabilitation and reconstruction.

23 June 2009

Dr. Devanesan Nesiah

Prof. Karthigesu Sivathambi

Subramaniam Sivathasan

S. Malavarayar

Dr. S. Nanthikesan

Dr. Anita Nesiah

Thangarajah Biriyanthan

Lanka Nesiah

S. Chinniah

Dr. Vasuki Nesiah

Dr. S. Ganesan

V. Ponnambalam

Kirupa Hoole

Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

Prof. S. Ratnajeevan Hoole

Dr. Muttukrishna Sarvanandan

Dr. Rajan Hoole

Nagendra Subramaniam

Leela Isaac

Dr. T. Jayasingam

J.V. Thambar

D.B.S. Jeyaraj

R. Visagaperumal

C. Kanagasabai

Ehambaram Vivegananthan

Dr. S. V. Kasynathan

Bhawani Loganathan

Dr K Ganeswaran

Dr P Kandasamy

Dr C S Nachinarkinian

Dr T Pathmanathan

Mala Sabaratnam

E Saravanapavan

K Shanmugalingam

A Shanmugasamy

Related ~ on BBC: Plea for Sri Lanka Tamil refugees

July 03, 2009

Sri Lanka held hostage by extremist forces for far too long

by Shanie

Sri Lanka has for far too long been held hostage by the extremist forces. These were the vocal elements on both sides of the ethnic divide who strangulated and silenced the moderates. We noted in our column last week the effect of the vocal extremist elements among the Sinhalese on enactment of the Sinhala Only Bill. Banadaranaike’s original draft bill, while enforcing Sinhala as the sole official language, had also provision for the use of Tamil. But the extremists would have none of it.

Mettananda, the spokesperson for the extremist group of political activists, declared that ‘conferring the legal right on the Tamil-speaking minority to communicate with the government in their own language’ violated a "pledge" given by the government and demanded its removal. Sadly, the liberal elements within the government, which included Prime Minister Bandaranaike, meekly capitulated and that provision in the draft Bill was dropped and the Mettananda draft adopted.

A few liberal elements within the coalition of parties, like Wilmot Perera, had earlier taken a principled stand and, although a sitting Member of Parliament, had refused to stand for re-election at the 1956 General Election in protest at the communalist line taken by the MEP coalition. By then, even the UNP, an eve-of-the-election convert to Sinhala only, had capitulated to extremism. This led to its Tamil allies resigning from the government with G G Ponnambalam stating in his resignation speech, ‘After five years of co-operation, I yet see unmistakable signs of the desire for the establishment of racial hegemony under the guise of majority rule…. I now find myself a more determined advocate of Tamil nationalism.’

On the other side of the ethnic divide, we thus found Tamil nationalism being articulated more forcefully. By the nineteen seventies, militant youth groups were being formed in the North. They engaged in banditry, including armed robberies of banks. Some of these militants formed the youth wing of the TULF, which by then had a near monopoly of parliamentary representation in the North. The death of S J V Chelvanayakam had removed from Tamil politics a father-figure. The militant youth now began to be more assertive and began assassinating political dissidents. In the end, the TULF and its later manifestation, the TNA, also succumbed to the militants’ separatism and fascism.

Standing up against extremism

Thus the failure of the moderate voices among both the Sinhalese and the Tamils to stand up to extremists had led to a real divide among our people. The LTTE had choked the moderate and liberal voices among the Tamil civil society by assassinations (Rajini Tiranagama, Neelan Tiruchelvam, Kethesh Loganathan et al), by driving them underground (Rajan Hoole, K Sritharan, V Anandasangaree et al) or by simply silencing others with death threats. But it is tragic that forces obviously close to the government, including para-military groups, are now engaging in activities similar to that of the LTTE. The strategy seems to be to intimidate the dissident voices into silence. All the despicable weaponry employed by the LTTE - the assassinations, physical assaults, threats of death and violence, abductions and arbitrary arrests and incarceration are being used against dissidents and as a warning to potential dissidents. The great danger in this strategy is that a culture of violence becomes entrenched in society, with all its ruthlessness and brutality, and a refusal to try to understand the other’s viewpoint. And, as Nehru warned, the future thus becomes conditioned and more wars and conflicts will follow with all their attendant consequences.

With the elimination of the LTTE, independent voices among the Tamils now find greater expression; although in the run-up to the local government elections in Jaffna city and the Vavuniya town, there are disturbing reports of a para-military group now turned political party engaging unchallenged in various questionable practices, including intimidation of and violence against opponents, burning of newspapers and death threats against journalists. But elsewhere, the response to sane and moderate voices among the minorities like the ‘group of concerned Tamils’, Izeth Hussain and even the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) is typical of a majoritarian mindset that is re-emerging in the country.

Listening to moderate minority voices

President Rajapaksa has stated, and there is nothing to doubt the sincerity of what he stated, that the task before us is to re-integrate the minorities into the national life of this country and that he intends reaching out to them. The many writers to the political columns and opinion pages of the media do not seem share the President Rajapaksa’s sentiments. For instance, the plea of the group of ‘Concerned Tamils’ for a speedy resolution of the IDP issue has received a hostile and abusive response from these elements. Almost all the pleas of this group are stated government policy. The group has only asked for a speedier and more transparent implementation of this policy. Their statement had stated, after listing some basic needs at the camps which are in line with government policy: ‘We ask for a quick and effective delivery on all these (above) issues as this would help alleviate the plight of the people who have already undergone extreme hardship.’ Then after urging a speedy return to civil administration, again stated government policy, the statement urges the re-settlement programme to include all persons, internally displaced even before the current phase of the war. They specifically refer to persons of all ethnic communities, whether displaced ‘in the course of war or in acts of ethnic cleansing’, an obvious reference to the Northern Muslims ethnically cleansed by the LTTE.

One political columnist finds exception to that part of the statement where it is stated, ‘To avoid further conflict erupting and to assist in nation building, the causes of the war need to be addressed effectively and without delay. We welcome the reference in the Human Rights Council Resolution adopted on May 27, 2009 to the commitment of the President of Sri Lanka " to a political solution with the implementation of the 13th Amendment[ and to a broader dialogue with all parties in order to enhance the process of political settlement and to bring about lasting peace and development in Sri Lanka based on consensus among and respect for the rights of all ethnic and religious group inhabiting it."

A political package acceptable to all ethnic groups does need to be worked out and implemented without delay, drawing inspiration from but going beyond the various earlier proposals developed over the decades. That political package would provide for the equality of all the citizens, for regional autonomy and for the integrity of Sri Lanka.’ This political columnist takes particular exception to the statement that seeks a package ‘drawing inspiration from but going beyond earlier proposals.’ The Government is committed to implementing the 13th Amendment which became part of the law of the country over twenty years ago. Since then, there have been various proposals that went beyond the 13th amendment. If the Government in its wisdom now seeks new or amending constitutional provision, it will be because it wants to go beyond the 13th amendment adopted two decades ago, and ensure, as the concerned Tamils have stated, that there is a political settlement based on ‘consensus among and respect for the rights of all ethnic and religious groups’ and providing for ‘the equality of all citizens, for regional autonomy and for the integrity of Sri Lanka.’ Surely, this is a moderate voice that needs to be listened to with respect, And surely, these are voices that could easily have come from concerned Sinhalese or concerned Muslims.

The same political columnist dismisses the ‘Concerned Tamils’ as unknowns. This distinguished group of Tamils, in fact, comprises well known moderate and pluralist voices. As far as this columnist is aware, not one of them is known to have had any links with Tamil militancy. Indeed, some of them have been courageous and open critics of the Tamil militant groups, particularly the LTTE.

Sri Lanka’s ethnic relations have taken a nose-dive because these extremist elements attempt to intimidate and silence the moderates. Those within an ethnic community who spoke for the rights of the other communities are labelled ‘traitors’. The moderate voices among the other communities were also abused and vilified and their voices not allowed to be heard. Thus, only the extremists, whose voice was the gun and sword, came to be heard. Let the moderates and the liberals not only raise their voices but also ensure that parallel moderate voices from other communities are heard. Let us learn the lessons of history and not allow the extremists and chauvinists to continue holding us hostages. [courtesy: the island]

Unlucky thirteen: make or break number in present politics of Sri Lanka

by Lucien Rajakarunanayake

I’m no believer in numerology, or the power that numbers can have on people, but it appears that 13 has suddenly emerged as the make or break number in the politics of Sri Lanka.

We are not unaware of the strong superstitions that exist about the number 13 being unlucky. No one knows why this is so, but many say this superstition has come to us from Christians who consider 13 an unlucky number because the Last Supper of Christ had had 13 present. As the story goes on it led to the crucifixion of Christ. But, it was the same crucifixion that led to the salvation of man, and the resurrection of Christ, too. Not so unlucky after all. But beliefs unsupported by fact do not fade away easily.

The uncanny feeling that many people have about 13 is so strong that many hospitals have no Room 13. Some tall buildings have no 13th floor, and the numbers on hotel rooms and elevators are often known to jump from 12 to 14.

The late Vere de Mel, founder of Quickshaws, the first radio cab service in the country, the first chairman of the nationalized Ceylon Transport Board, and a pioneer in tourism, had an interesting twist to this fear of 13 among most westernized people. At the Nuwarawewa and Tissawewa Rest Houses in Anuradhapura that were run by Quickshaws Travels at the time, there were rooms numbered 13, with the interesting legend on the door that "13 is a lucky number in this country". There was no one to contradict it, and many visitors did try to find their luck in 13.

It seems time to get back to Vere de Mel think, especially in politics today. Some newspaper headlines scream out that President Rajapaksa is sticking to his lucky 13. Others are fast joining the chorus of those who chant that 13 portends defeat for the Government. It’s all about the President’s declaration that he would implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution; which Constitution he has sworn to uphold, and curiously too, most of those who are now crying foul about having a 13th Amendment in it at all.

Those who introduced the 13th Amendment, in the face of much opposition to it at the time, are not just watching the fun but hoping that the wielders of 13 against the President and the Government would have their day, which they hope would clear the way for them to get back to power that seems to be a distant dream. Some elephants do have dreams of creeping through the eye of a needle.

Thirteen is making some politicians extra bold too. It is making them utter threats of quitting the Government if it goes any further with 13. One wonders whether they will even have thirteen people behind them if they do make the exit. But politicians who make postures of strength hardly reveal the real sawdust they are made of.

Another interesting thing about 13 and politics in Sri Lanka is that most of the people who talk so much against 13 today, are those who have benefited most from 13. Just take the Provincial Councils that came into place thanks to 13. But for it, many politicians at the provincial level who are lining up against 13 would not be able to have their duty free cars and various perks at public expense, at the provincial level no doubt, but with their sights constantly aimed at the national level.

Ten plus three has had its tragic side too. It was the killing of 13 soldiers by the LTTE in July 1983, which led to the ugly and tragic anti-Tamil riots, well orchestrated by the Government of that day, which was made use of by the LTTE and its propagandists to attack the image of Sri Lanka, and carry on such a protracted war of terror in this country. It must be the strange effect of 13 that has strangely made many of the Tami people against whom all that violence was directed, to believe that those responsible for that attack are their saviours.

We are not far away from the recent General Election when the Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP), laid increased emphasis on the heavy shade of saffron many of its leading members were draping themselves with, only to be roundly defeated at the polls. They are still unable to make a proper analysis of why the saffron dye on them did not food the Indian voters.

It appears that on this side of the Palk Strait today, those who are now touting 13 as their symbol of strength and strongest political slogan, are also looking at the possibility of giving a hue to the number, in the hope that it will lead them to success against one who is on record having defeated the Sun God in the Vanni. Some are also trying to give a faded pink hue to the same number with similar hopes of success. There is more than a touch of farce in seeing in people who sought the votes of the people to establish a Dharma Rajya in the country, try to use a figure of 13 dipped in saffron, to rekindle to fires of mistrust and hatred that we are still struggling to overcome, having defeated the terror they had caused.

Those who try to make use of 13, with or without saffron, for their political gain today, may well be like those who used the death of 13 soldiers to give the LTTE the excuse it was seeking to wreak havoc in the country for full thirty years.

Yet, those who have courage and the people behind them are not the type to flinch at 13. Fidel Castro was born on Friday, August 13, 1926. Archbishop and later President Makarios of Cyprus had his own fascination for 13, being born on August 13, 1913, and elected President at election held on December 13, 1959.

Mark Twain once was the 13th guest at a dinner party. A friend warned him not to go. "It was bad luck," Twain later told the friend, "they only had food for 12." Those who talk of quitting over 13 today may find that they are not served at the next political dinner.

Whatever else you may think of 13, just make note that the seals on the back of a dollar bill include 13 steps on the pyramid, 13 stars above the eagle’s head, 13 war arrows in the eagle’s claw and 13 leaves on the olive branch. And, the green back is till the most used currency in the world.

So need we fear the Charge of the 13 Brigade?

Turning Tamil swords into Oriya ploughshares

by P. Sainath

The once-young fighters from Sri Lanka are now mostly family men entrenched in Malkangiri town.



The Tamils have built what is thought to be the first Ganesh temple in the Koraput region with their own hands.

One is a member of the Malkangiri District Cricket Association and custodian of its cricket kit. Another, a minor contractor in a public works project. A third runs a tiny shop. They’re all pretty rooted in Malkangiri. Not very different from any other small town group. Except that this one consists of a bunch of former Sri Lankan Tamil warriors settled in deep rural Orissa in one of the country’s poorest districts where they’ve been nearly 20 years.

Many speak fluent Oriya and Hindi and can converse or understand English well. When they came here in 1990, Tamil was about all they spoke in a land completely alien to them in language, culture and geography. “They’re more or less locals now, more or less independent, more or less on their own,” says Malkangiri Collector Nitin Bhanudas Jawale. (He is the president of the district cricket association.) Some have married locals and their children go to school here. There were close to a couple of thousand of them when they came here in 1990, belonging to several anti-LTTE Tamil groups. Now there’s less than a hundred left, most of them erstwhile trained fighters of the Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front (ENDLF).

“We are glad to be in Orissa,” says S. Prabhakaran, their leader here and a former ENDLF commander. “And particularly in Malkangiri. These are a gentle and accommodating people. There are many languages spoken in this town and ours is accepted as one more. We do not feel like strangers. We have more friends here than anywhere else.” This wasn’t always so.

In 1993, I stumbled across this group accidentally, intrigued by the sound of Tamil voices in interior Orissa. That too, in this overwhelmingly tribal district. They were in a refugee camp full of awful tin-roofed structures that were beyond endurance in a region where summer temperatures can cross 45{+0} C. Dismal conditions even saw the Tamils stage protest hunger strikes. All in all, they were in a bad state. But how did a bunch of Tamil fighters from Sri Lanka end up in rural Orissa? The withdrawal of the IPKF saw the LTTE decimate the leadership and top cadres of other Tamil groups in Sri Lanka. Many left the war-ravaged nation, including these fighters who were evacuated aboard the vessel Tipu Sultan by Indian forces.

They would have landed at Chennai but were denied permission by the then Karunanidhi government. So they were finally off-loaded at Vishakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. After which a generous gesture by then Orissa Chief Minister Biju Patnaik saw them get sanctuary in Malkangiri. Biju Patnaik remains their hero. “He saved us,” says S. Prabhakaran whose entire family was massacred in the anti-Tamil violence of 1984 in Sri Lanka when he was just 16.

The state of their camp was pretty dismal for the first few years. Many dropped out, some of the other groups went back to Lanka after striking deals with Colombo and some left for other places in India. Now there are just about 65 people left here and maybe a few more in other parts of the district. Almost all of them originally from Trincomallee.

“We had problems of food, language and communication. Those days, there were no cell phones. We had to take a bus to go somewhere and find an STD booth. Worst thing was the climate.” Unused to dry heat and often lethal temperatures, cooped into sheds with tin roofs and sides, and getting no more than Rs. 150 a month per person, they had a hard time of it. Nor were they trained to do anything other than fight a war. “All we could do here was work as labourers,” says S. Bala, now busy in the District Cricket Association. (He is also an active footballer and goalkeeper with a local side). Some also worked as drivers, fruit sellers or petty vendors.

Over years, many acquired new skills. Like Sounder Rajan who “came here when I was 32 and learned carpentry in Malkangiri.” Many of the other fighters were in their teens or early 20s and so have spent almost half their lives here. Bala is now a supervisor at the operations of a local contractor. Others like Yoganathan worked as labourers (he married an Oriya woman and their child goes to an Oriya medium school.) Today, they live in small but decent houses and are fully a part of Malkangiri town. (Some park their cycles and motorcycles in the old sheds they once lived in.) “They’re really integrated into the community,” says Collector Nitin Jawale. “They’ve married locals and created livelihoods for themselves.” Some of their children go to school here, some to Bangalore where their leaders have established one for all Sri Lankan Tamil children in India.

They’ve even built a small temple here by themselves. “And this one could well be the first Ganesh temple in the whole Koraput region,” says Gopi Krishna Patnaik, Malkangiri reporter for the Oriya daily Samaj. “Everybody uses it,” smiles Prabhakaran as he shows us around the temple. “Oriyas, Telugus, and others, too.”

The once-young fighters are now mostly family men and entrenched in Malkangiri town. A part of them, though, tugs towards another home, another time. They live here happily but find the idea of endless exile upsetting. They were opposed to the LTTE but are obviously very worried about the fate of Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka today. The more so as they see no one standing between their people and the Sri Lankan army. Will they ever think of going back? “We are here now and we love Malkangiri where everybody, people and officials have been so very good to us. But we will wait for the word of our leader Gnana Rajan (based in Bangalore and Chennai) on what to do. We will do as our leader says.”

The way the one-time, once-brash warriors have turned their swords into ploughshares and woven themselves into the community is touching. They are at home here. But, as Prabhakaran says: “you do dream of the other home. The motherland is always the motherland.” [courtesy: The Hindu]

Implementation of 13th Amendment is a Guarantee of our National Security

by Dayan Jayatilleka

There are two types of people who assert that President Mahinda Rajapakse is against the 13th amendment or does not intend to or will not implement it. These are the Tamil ultranationalists, the Tamil hawks and their fellow-traveling Sinhala doves, who say that no devolution will emanate from the Rajapakse administration, and the Sinhala hardliners who oppose any kind of devolution and attempt to use President Rajapakse’s patriotic profile behind which to hide their extremism. Some even invoke Mahinda Chinthana, oblivious to the irony that Mahinda Rajapakse can be safely trusted to know the letter and spirit of Mahinda Chinthana better than anyone else.

My advocacy of the implementation of the 13th amendment is not contingent on the authenticity or otherwise of Presidential commitment, anymore than the commitment of the Israeli and Palestinian moderates and the USA to a two state solution is contingent upon an assumption of political sincerity of the current set of leaders. As Lenin once said “there is no such thing as a sincerometer in politics”. I think it is unfair to assume mendacity on the part of the President just as it is naïve to assume the opposite.

The Sinhala ultras oppose the 13th amendment precisely because there is something of substance in it. That is precisely why Tamil democrats must support it. The Tamil ultras (most notably Prabhakaran) opposed and still oppose the 13th amendment because it does not amount to nor is a fast track to separation, and indeed undercuts the separatist goal. That is precisely why the Sinhala centrists, moderates and progressives, and indeed enlightened Sinhala nationalists should support it.

The position of the President and Government of Sri Lanka on the 13th amendment is clearly set out in two contemporary documents, namely the joint statements of May 21st and 23rd issued at the conclusion of the visits of the high level Indian delegation and that of the UN Secretary General respectively. Both statements reiterated the Government’s commitment – indeed one referred to the President’s “firm resolve”-- to implement the 13th amendment. Both statements also indicated a political dialogue which would explore further possibilities. I quote:

“Both sides also emphasized the urgent necessity of arriving at a lasting political settlement in Sri Lanka. Towards this end, the Government of Sri Lanka indicated that it will proceed with implementation of the 13th Amendment. …Further, the Government of Sri Lanka also intends to begin a broader dialogue with all parties including, the Tamil parties in the new circumstances, for further enhancement of political arrangements to bring about lasting peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.” (May 21, 2009)

“President Rajapaksa expressed his firm resolve to proceed with the implementation of the 13th Amendment, as well as to begin a broader dialogue with all parties, including the Tamil parties in the new circumstances, to further enhance this process and to bring about lasting peace and development in Sri Lanka”. (May 23, 2009)

The statements carried in the Indian media following the reciprocal recent visit of a top level Sri Lankan delegation to New Delhi shed light on what GOSL means by going beyond the 13th amendment. Mention had been made of a second chamber which would contain and represent the provinces. The somewhat less authoritative APRC has also been the source of some newspaper reports of another possibility of movement beyond the 13th amendment by means of a restructuring of the concurrent list of powers held conjointly by the centre and the provinces. Since this is speculative at the moment, it need not detain us further.

One of the silliest arguments against the implementation of the 13th amendment is that it is a stepping stone to or somehow related to the Tamil separatist cause. If that were the case, Prabhakaran would have accepted it, not rejected it and gone to war against the Indian Peace-keeping Force, damaging his relations with India and culminating in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, an atrocious crime for which he paid this May. At the very least he would have abandoned or suspended the war against the IPKF that he began in October 1987 and negotiated for privileged entry into the provincial council. Prabhakaran took a grave risk and waged this war, his second war, precisely because he knew that provincial autonomy as envisaged in the Indo-Lanka Accord and contained in the 13th amendment a year later, was a death trap for Tamil secessionism. This is because authentic moderate reform is a death trap for extremism anywhere, anytime.

Why compromise on the basis of the 13th amendment, ask the extremists on both sides of the ethnic divide. The answer is that anything else would be too risky. Open up the issue again and the Sinhalese may offer less, the Tamils may ask for more and the world may see an even more divided island.

The confusion arises over three qualifying terms: “full” or “fully”, “minus” and “plus”, as in full implementation of the 13th amendment or not; 13th amendment minus or 13th amendment plus. What is forgotten is that we are already at 13th amendment minus and is likely to remain minus in that specific respect, namely the de-merger of the North and East. So even if we upgrade the 13th amendment in certain respects (second chamber, reduced concurrent list), it will never be an unambiguous plus. It will be plus something, minus merger.

This leaves the issue of the full implementation of the 13th amendment. Here too, the question does not arise in one sense because the de-merger has taken place and what would be implemented is not the 13th amendment in full. The discussion, to be frank, is about two other matters: police powers and land. Here too the fuss is less than warranted. Even Minister Muralidharan has said that the devolution of police powers is not a matter of urgency and Minister Devananda has made matters even simpler by saying that all he wants as an immediate step is for the Northern Province to enjoy the exact same powers as have been devolved to the other Provincial Councils in the island.

Therefore we do not have to agitate our society with the issue of Police powers at this moment. However the issue will not go away, and should be addressed in the interests of national security. It is one thing for an almost totally mono-ethnic military to defeat an equally mono-ethnic enemy militia in mid to high intensity warfare. It is another for a mono-ethnic military to maintain a necessary long term large scale presence in a territory almost totally inhabited by a different and disaffected ethnic community, without the benefit of a local, or should I say “home grown” intermediary. Unless and until it becomes ethnically integrated and representative of the island’s demographics as a whole, the Sri Lankan military must not be drawn into and bogged down in policing functions which bring them into possible relations of contradiction with the local inhabitants. Some commentators have upheld as example India’s military cantonments, forgetting that India’s is a highly multiethnic military at all levels. It is therefore in the interests of the Sri Lankan military to have a local intermediary or auxiliary force and it is equally necessary that this force work with accountability and discipline, within a regulatory framework.

The next issue is that of land, which is at the heart of most ethnic and civic conflicts. The land provisions of the 13th amendment were carefully worked out by India and Sri Lanka, as Dr Sarath Amunugama for one will testify – and it may be less than prudent to seek to unilaterally roll back that understanding.

There is nothing that our enemy, the Tiger international network and the pro-Tiger, pro-Tamil Eelam Tamil Diaspora would like better, than to see a gap open up in the partnership between Sri Lanka and India; a gap that they will seek to manipulate in consonance with their Western patrons and friends. The non-implementation of the 13th amendment will open up such a gap. The implementation of the 13th amendment is not a give away or dilution of our military gains. It is the necessary political accompaniment of them and the guarantee of the consolidation of our military victory. It is in our national interests and a guarantee of our national security.

Historically this is the best time to effect a political reconciliation between the Sinhala and Tamil communities in Sri Lanka. If we do not do so internally, space opens for external interference. If a minority anywhere in the world remains disaffected and domestic reconciliation is not forthcoming it is natural that it would look to co-ethnics elsewhere and to outside powers for support. Today is the best time to draw or re-draw our political contract in a way that brings us together. The Sri Lankan armed forces have reunited the entire territory of the island. The Tamil extremists are weakened to an unprecedented extent by the destruction of their vanguard the LTTE. They can no longer sustain hard-line positions. President Rajapakse has the trust of the Sinhalese to a degree that none of his predecessors had, thanks to his leadership of the liberation war against terrorism and separatism. He can therefore carry the Sinhalese with him into a settlement of the underlying and pre-existing issues. Thus this is the best time for a moderate compromise.

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

Hold Special School Examinations for IDPs to Restore Confidence

Full Text of Statement by National Peace Council of Sri Lanka

The end of the war has brought with it the opportunity for a restoration of normalcy and reconciliation after 30 years of suffering and trauma. However, the plight of the nearly 300,000 internally displaced persons who are being kept within welfare centres in Vavuniya is a continuing source of much suffering and heartburn. The situation within these camps is reported to be very poor and cannot easily be verified as entry into them is severely restricted. The National Peace Council urges the government, as a priority measure, to specify a time frame for the release of these people from the welfare centres and their resettlement.

Other important measures would include systematic and transparent screening and registration of these people, and the reunification of families that have been divided without further delay.

Another urgent matter is the education of children. We have learnt through reports that there are between 35,000 to 50,000 children of school going age in the welfare centres. Around 750 of them will be eligible to sit for the Advanced Level examinations that will be held in August.

However, these unfortunate children will be disadvantaged as their studies would have been severely disrupted in the past months.

Nearly all the people in the welfare centres were living in the war zone of the North until May this year. Most of them were living displaced from their homes and with the barest of facilities. They clearly need to have more time to prepare for their Advanced Level examinations. NPC urges that special Advanced Level examinations be held for them at a later date. We have written to the Minister of Education and appeal to him to make this provision for the school children in the welfare camps.

There have been precedents for this practice in the past. Such an action, if coupled with the other measures specified above would do much to restore confidence in the internally displaced persons, and arger population, that the government is committed to the restoration of normalcy and reconciliation.

Governing Council The National

Peace Council is an independent and non partisan organisation that works towards a negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. It has a vision of a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka in which the freedom, human rights and democratic rights of all the communities are respected. The policy of the National Peace Council is determined by its Governing Council of 20 members who are drawn from diverse walks of life and belong to all the main ethnic and religious communities in the country.

July 02, 2009

New Michael Jackson video: "They Don't Care About Us"

On Thursday (July 2), one week after Jackson, 50, died following cardiac arrest at a rented Los Angeles-area mansion on the eve of the July 13 start of the O2 run, MTV News obtained a clip of a rehearsal filmed just two days before Jackson's sudden passing. And though it is just a 90-second glimpse of the singer performing the controversial track "They Don't Care About Us," the brief bit of film does appear to show Jackson in solid shape, stomping around the stage, apparently singing in full voice and energetically dancing with an all-male troupe of backup performers.


The footage, reportedly shot on June 23 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles — where a memorial service for Jackson reportedly will be held on July 7 — opens with Jackson performing some of his patented military-style, slow motion marching dance moves along with the male dancers, who are behind him on a slanted platform. It then cuts to the singer enthusiastically pulsating to a solo from his guitarist.

Jackson gives one of his signature "Oh!" exclamations as the track changes tempo to a rousing royal fanfare overlaid with a snipped of the "I Have a Dream" speech from the late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King. The singer and dancers straighten up and salute, then do a high-step march across the stage to a martial beat as Jackson does knee bend and shuffles in place alone center stage. [MTV]

[Tribute by Pskillz]

July 01, 2009

Defining moments of living with a Sinhala Buddhist 'guilt'

by Kusal Perera

"What is the procedure in sending relief stuff to the IDP camps ?" asked a friend one morning. "My daughter is helping some group to collect stuff for those people" he added.

"We are planning to visit the IDPs next week." another colleague told me. "Rotarians are doing some voluntary work at Menik farm."

"I was asked to join a volunteer group to Vavuniya. They had gone once. Is it O-k ?" another asked me.

The internet more than the local Sri Lankan media is full of stories about the Sri Lankan Tamil IDP's. It is an exodus to Vavuniya now, to see the IDP's "live" in their true settings as refugees. Leaving out those freelance journalists who take these IDPs as an opportunity to file stories, there are many many Sri Lankan groups from the South who try to drive up to Vavuniya with relief material and for short time volunteer work. All of them come back with their own "tearful human" stories and often try to justify their trips to IDP camps by saying how helpful they were for those thousands of "innocents" behind barbed wire fences. "Poor innocents" living a refugee life and for how long, the new breed of local tourists wouldn't want to discuss about.

IRIN0701.jpg

[A young girl receives food assistance at an IDP camp in northern Sri Lanka-pic: World Vision Lanka]

http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/825 These Tamil refugees, have not only been uprooted from their normal lives in their own ancestral patches of land due to a war they did not fight, they are over and over again uprooted now, by these charitable Southern visitors to provide "charity". Its a constant uprooting and displacing from the political conflict that made them refugees to be thrown into the lap of "charity" and shown as "victims" of a disaster no one is responsible for. There are those who compare these hapless Tamils to "Tsunami" victims. Those who try to compare the Tsunami relief system to what is now there in those Vavuniya camps. "Oh God, the army is doing a good job" they report.

For God's sake, "tax payers" did not fund the Tsunami to have thousands of people displaced. Nor did the Sri Lankan society create for itself an ideology that backed a Tsunami and reveled in it. These are not "Tsunami victims" that one sees behind barbed wire fences. So what's all this abstract charity ? This tragedy in all its wailing agony was created by tax payers money and is now being fed and looked after by money appealed and begged out from wallets and hand bags of "charitable" Southerners, not discounting those in the Diaspora too.

These "charitable hearts" watched their tax money being rained on those civilians as "bombs" from countless air raids, day after day for over a year. There were no 300,000 innocent civilians then in the Wanni. All were "tiger terrorists". These "charitoes" clapped and cheered every death and every displacement caused from their tax money, when the government said it targeted "tiger hide outs" and they argued for more. They then came out on the streets in processions waving and decorating their vehicles with "Lion" flags (It was no more the 'National' flag for them) to revel in the glory of "finally" defeating and killing separatist Tigers with their tax money. They are used to such cracker lighting orgies. They did that on city streets when the Tigers killed President Premadasa. But then, it wasn't their tax money that was used, for sure.

For weeks they went on with this uncontrolled ferocity and fury of celebrating the Sinhala victory over Tamil separatism, patronized by this regime which is funded and financed by their tax money. With that they have paid for the creation of a "modern, undisputed King" larger than Dutugemunu and also paid for a human tragedy that has left over 300,000 Tamil civilians as refugees, left children without parents, parents without children, mothers with broken and lost families, young women without husbands, young men without wives, youth without limbs and many more hundreds gone missing, either abducted or "in action".

They have paid for 03 whole districts, Mannar, Killinochchi and Mullaitivu to be raised to the ground and now pay 03% as a Nation Building Tax for "possible" reconstruction from what ever monies that would be left after pilfering and siphoning off. With that they have paid for a massive human tragedy, part of it gifted to grieving families in the South as "Weera-prasada" celebrations, as "felicitations for old boys who brought glory to motherland" and as "War hero" (Rana Viru) titles that can only be conferred by the Defense Ministry now.

They are all ordinary Sri Lankan citizens, who would not have ended up in such agonising tragedy, if the South was willing to allow a democratic answer to the conflict, which was political. They are all SL citizens who are now herded behind barbed wire fences and they need not be devastated and broken lives in thousands, if the South, the Sinhala Buddhists in particular did not want that to happen. This was a human tragedy, the now charitable ladies and gentlemen could have avoided, if they opted to a more democratic way in solving the political conflict that was dragged without seriously working out any answers for decades, since independence. But social responsibility ? They did not want to be bothered with all that. They were happy going round with a label that said "We Sinhala" and "This is Gauthama Buddha's land".

Six decades after independence, now it’s a matter of reconciling these two contradictory mindsets of the Sri Lankan middle class. The street orgies have died down. The war frenzy is over for now. But the government is not letting lose its snooze on the democratic life, even in the South which supported the government. There are new stories of Poddala Jayanthas and Krishni Ifhams being abducted. It is now confirmed the military would be further strengthened and another 100,000 recruited. Stories about news papers being burnt in bulk before distribution in Jaffna and notices of death threats being handed over to a whole news paper staff don't mean there would be peace after all. There is talk of rehabilitation and relief needed for IDP's. Their previously disputed numbers have come to stay around 270,000 to 300,000 languishing in camps. What could be done now?

It’s the typical, petty, Sinhala Buddhist mindset of the middle level village trader that froths as usual, even among the urban middle class. The mindset of the Trader who exploits the whole village the whole year through and then donates a basket of charity for the village "Dan-sela" during Wesak, to become the most "Sath-gunawath Mudalali Mahathtaya" (Most humane and pious Gentleman Trader) in the village.

Unfortunately for all, this charity is not going to work out answers to the issue at hand in any way. The issue of how these IDPs would be settled, how soon, where and with what conditions for living a normal life is directly tied to the core issue of finding an answer to the decades old, festering ethnic conflict from which the South can not escape either. The reason for semi permanent shelter, these ladies and gentlemen would see in many Menik farm camps, may mean the IDPs would not be moved out for resettlement soon. IF they are moved out, will they be billeted in security zones or will they have their ancestral land shared with Sinhala colonies ? Charity even with good hearts would not answer these basic issues that should not be allowed to go unanswered by the highest in the ruling regime. They eventually decide the fate of these IDPs.

Therefore, while organizing these charities as relief and making trips to Vavuniya, these big hearted ladies and gentlemen have to realize these men and women who peep from behind barbed wire fences too have the right to be on the roads and traveling to where they wish. While organizing these relief and charitable projects these good hearted souls have an obligation to ask the government for its programme of resettlement of IDPs. For its "Road Map for Recovery and Peace". It can not be mere "charity and consolation" without social responsibility.

No. They would not talk of all that. They are happy collecting funds and relief, happy taking them to Menik farm and happy they went and "saw" first hand. It's pacifying the Sinhala Buddhist 'guilt' that's sought for. Just that. Social responsibility ? That would not happen. It wouldn't in petty minds that lack the ability for reasoning. Lack the ability to read between what is told and what is seen. If they could, they would understand the simple human logic within these lines.

"Do I know what it means…
To stand in the queue as a mere 13 year old,
Collecting charity for my younger brother
and widowed and aching mother,
a wound in my stomach which hurts and oozes.
With no one to care for the pain
To live on, not knowing why or the reason or meaning of hope."
-(Taken from the poem written by Sumathi R and posted by DBSJ in his blog)

Related article in response by author: “Sinhala Buddhist Guilt”: Giving the benefit of the doubt for ignorance

I.D.P Camps in Manik Farm: An eye-witness account

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

The conditions prevailing at the Internally displaced person (IDP)camps in Vavuniya and Chettykulam are far from satisfactory.

Many of those who serve or have served as volunteers in these camps are upset over the continuing humanitarian tragedy .

It is widely acknowledged that the authorities are making sincere efforts to improve conditions as far as possible.

It is also accepted that conditions are improving gradually. But there is a crying need for vast and quick improvement .

Recently a team of volunteers returned after a stint at IDP camps in Manik Farm. [click here to read the article in full~dbsjeyaraj.com]

‘Camp system is all too clearly the latest stage of genocide’

Sri Lanka - camps, media…genocide?

By Martin Shaw

What kind of violence has the Sri Lankan state been committing against its Tamil civilian population as the island‘s civil war ended; on what scale and with what intentions? Martin Shaw explores the difficult terrain where war, atrocity and genocide meet.

The civil war in Sri Lanka is receding from the international headlines, as crises in Iran and celebrity deaths occupy the media's limited space and attention-span. A very large number of its Tamil victims are still, more than six weeks after the fighting ended, confined in government forces in a complex of forty camps in the north east of the country. An estimated 280,000 civilians - originally displaced from their homes by the fighting between the Sri Lankan military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (TamilTigers / LTTE), and in some cases fleeing from the brutal regime in the LTTE's former "liberated" zone - are being held, generally against their will.

Jewish children behind Barbed wires 1945

[Jewish children behind Barbed wires 1945-pic: Aquaview]

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in his "victory speech", told Sri Lanka's parliament that "our heroic forces have sacrificed their lives to protect Tamil civilians", and he took "personal responsibility" for protecting Tamils. Yet his government is now scandalously confining this huge population - who have already suffered not only from the LTTE but from Sri Lankan bombardments which caused probably tens of thousands of deaths and injuries - in squalid conditions. The government has officially backtracked, under international pressure, on plans to hold the displaced, while screening them for potential "terrorists", for up to three years; it now says that 80% will be resettled by the end of 2009.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) comments: "The government's history of restricting the rights of displaced persons through rigid pass systems and strict restrictions on leaving the camps heightens concerns that they will be confined in camps much longer, possibly for years."

In the shadows

The eruption in Iran has in a twisted way done the Sri Lankan government a service. In any case, Colombo has been ruthless in restricting international journalists and rights organisations: in May 2009 even the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was barred from Menik Farm, the largest camp, and Channel 4's Nick Paton Walsh was deported. Sinhala nationalism remains oppressively dominant within the majority population, and critics of the government face an atmosphere of intimidation and even terror: Sri Lankan journalists have frequently been murdered, assaulted and detained.

Although human-rights organisations and western governments have continued to protest at the situation, the Sri Lankan government has found friends in the United Nations's new Human Rights Council; it was able to pass a resolution there on 27 May 2009 praising its own commitment to human rights (endorsed by such notable bastions of freedom as China, Cuba, Russia, Pakistan and Egypt). The vigorous campaigns by members of the Tamil diasporas have ensured that the situation has not been entirely forgotten, but the interned Tamilsdon't have the mobile-phone access that (in the early post-election stages at least) so embarrassed the Iranian regime. There are some pictures of the camps on the internet, but no iconic images of Tamil suffering have entered the commercial, established media in the manner of Iran's Neda Sultan - or indeed of Fikret Alic, the emaciated prisoner pictured behind barbed-wire in the Trnopolje camp in Bosnia in summer 1992.

Adire predicament

It is often said that pictures tell their own story. However what is important is the media narrative and the momentum behind the issue: in both the Iranian and Bosnian cases the crises were much more strongly established in the dominant media (and the exposure of the experiences of Neda Sultan and Fikret Alic) fed this. In the case of Sri Lanka, sadly, the level and intensity of coverage - despite the impressive Tamil campaigns - has not matched these.

Moreover, what was important in Bosnia was that Trnopolje was described as a "concentration"camp - so the image facilitated the connection between the atrocious treatment of Bosnian Muslim prisoners and the murderous history of concentration camps in Europe under Nazism. The Bosnian-Serbian government that was responsible for Trnopolje naturally disputed this appellation, describing it merely as a holding centre for "refugees"; today the lowest-common-denominator descriptor seems to be a "detention" camp.
The Sri Lankan government also prefers its camps to be seen as "refugee" camps. However once people are detained, camps are clearly more than that; and where there is a sustained policy of concentrating detainees then the term "concentration camp" applies. In war, these camps - invented at the beginning of the 20th century to describe the enclosures in which the Spanish detained Cubans and the British detained Boerfarmers and their families during the South African wars - are usually designed to corral a civilian population seen as potentially sympathetic to a guerrilla enemy (as Tamils evidently are still seen despite the LTTE's defeat).

Totalitarian regimes, including Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany, have also used camps to concentrate other civilian groups -actual and potential political opponents, trade unionists, and ethnic "enemies" such as Jews. The complication in using the "concentration camp" category is that such regimes went on to develop their camps into something more - in the Soviet case, labour camps, in the Nazi case, extermination camps. Clearly, not all concentration camps are "death" camps in the Nazi sense; but all concentration camps tend to produce death, as well as widespread physical and mental harm. Since their premise is enmity towards the interned civilians, the history of concentration-camps has been marked, from the Boerwar onwards, by callous disregard for their welfare, and often worse.

As Human Rights Watch remarked of the Sri Lankan situation on 11 June 2009:

"Virtually all camps are overcrowded, some holding twice the number recommended by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Food distribution is chaotic, there are shortages of water, and sanitation facilities are inadequate. Camp residents do not have access to proper medical services and communicable diseases have broken out in the camps."

What is more, "the military camp administration has imposed numerous restrictions on humanitarian organizations working in the camps, such as limiting the number of vehicles and staff members that can enter the camps, which has delayed the provision of much-needed aid. The military does not allow organizations into the camps to conduct protection activities, and a ban on talking to the camp residents leaves them further isolated.'"

If reports of violence and disappearances are added to this, the situation of the interned Tamils appears dire.

Tamil children behind Barbed wires 2009

[Tamil children behind Barbed wires 2009pic: aquaview]

A "rolling" genocide?

The western fixation with the Nazi holocaust means that there is an obvious political temptation to link all anti-civilian violence with the Nazi model.The pro-Tamil United States-based academic Francis Boyle,in his posts, sees a sixty-year "rolling" genocide in which Sinhalese governments of Ceylon (the country's name at independence in 1948) and Sri Lanka have sought "to annihilate the Tamils and to steal their lands and natural resources. This is what Hitler and the Nazis called lebensraum - "living space" for the Sinhala at the expense of the Tamils." In this perspective, the camp system is all too clearly the latest stage of genocide - although other Tamil advocates date genocide back to the anti-Tamil pogroms in 1983 in response to which the LTTE campaign began.

The idea of "rolling" genocide, first developed (I think) by Madeleine Albright to distinguish the Sudanese campaign in Darfur from the "volcanic" genocide in Rwanda, suggests discontinuity in a history of genocide - albeit, in the Darfur case, within two or three years rather than six decades. However in many cases, there may be genocidal "moments" (as the genocide historian, Dirk Moses, has suggested of colonialism) in stories of oppression - decades or even centuries long - which do not, taken as a whole, constitute processes of genocide (see A Dirk Moses ed., Empire,Colony, Genocide: Conquest, Occupation, and Subaltern Resistance in World History [Berghahn,2008]).

There may be sporadic genocidal massacres, rapes and expulsions, or even sustained campaigns, at particular points in these histories. Something like this seems to be true in the Sri Lankan case: no one doubts the long history of Sinhalese nationalist oppression against the Tamil community since independence, which includes moments like 1983 which can be plausibly seen as genocidal outbursts. But the history as a whole is not simply one of genocide.

Indeed the dedication of the LTTE to armed struggle against the Sri Lankan state helped turn a history of oppression and resistance into one of brutal insurgency and counterinsurgency (see The trouble with guns: Sri Lanka, South Africa, Ireland", 10 June 2009). We know however that counterinsurgency is one of the most common contexts of genocidal violence. It remains to be seen - since most of the survivors are locked away from the world's media and the Sri Lankan government is blocking all attempts at independent investigation of the recent violence - how far the Sri Lankan army went in the direction of deliberate atrocity as opposed to brutal disregard for civilians. Here, indiscriminate allegations of a long-running Sri Lankan genocide paradoxically blunt the real questions: what kind of violence did the Sri Lankan state commit against its Tamil civilian population, on what scale and with what intentions?

The continuing concentration of over 250,000 people in the camps both blocks the search for answers to these questions, and itself constitutes a most serious crime. If the doors are not opened quickly, this will raise questions of whether the government seriously intends a restoration of Tamil society in the conquered zone. This would indeed pose a question of genocide, in the sense of the deliberate destruction of a population group in its home territory.

Martin Shaw is a historical sociologist of war and global politics, and professor of international relations and politics at the University of Sussex. His books include War and Genocide (Polity, 2003), The New Western Way of War (Polity, 2005), and What is Genocide?(Polity, 2007). His website http://www.martinshaw.org/