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October 31, 2009

Survivors have had little justice

Widow of a Sikh who was killed in the riot
 
by Rahul Bedi

Nearly 3,000 members of India's Sikh community were massacred after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her two Sikh bodyguards on 31 October 1984. Rahul Bedi, one of the first journalists to reach the affected areas in the capital, Delhi, recalls events.

The 25th anniversary of Indira Gandhi's assassination revives stark memories of some 3,000 Sikhs killed brutally in the orderly pogrom that followed her killing.

The wave of ethnic cleansing which raged unhindered across the country, especially in Delhi, after Mrs Gandhi was shot dead ended only with her cremation on 2 November.

During these three days droves of Sikhs were determinedly hunted down by Hindu mobs from their homes, corralled and slaughtered like animals.

The trigger for Mrs Gandhi's killing was the storming of the Golden Temple in Sikhism's holy city Amritsar four months earlier to flush out Sikh militants fighting for an independent homeland of Khalistan or Land of the Pure.

Sikh owned shops sit on fire during the riots in 1984
Sikh shops and establishments were targeted and burnt

The heavily-armed militants - many of them former soldiers - had barricaded themselves inside the temple and were dislodged only after three days of bitter fighting. Some 1,000 people, including women and children pilgrims and about 157 soldiers, died.

Tanks too were employed to end the siege, leaving Sikhs highly aggrieved.

The eventual and possibly avoidable storming of the Golden Temple generated a wave of violence leading to Mrs Gandhi's assassination, the anti-Sikh riots and a vicious insurgency across Punjab that was eventually stamped out by the military around 1993, although not without widespread human rights abuses.

But the 1984 Delhi riots rocked the world, more so for the state's direct involvement and public justification of the blood-letting.

'Earth shakes'

Reacting to the continuing Sikh killings in Delhi and other places, newly appointed Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi declared at a massive rally in the capital that "once a mighty tree falls, it is only natural that the earth around it shakes".

One of the worst massacres took place in two narrow alleys in the city's poor Trilokpuri colony where some 350 Sikhs, including women and children, were casually butchered over 72 hours.

A widow of a victim of the anti-Sikh riots with a picture of her husband
Nearly 3,000 Sikhs were killed in the massacres (Photo: Soutik Biswas)

The charred and hacked remains of the hundreds that perished in Trilokpuri's Block 32 on the smoky and dank evening of 2 November 1984 were stark testimony to the unimpeded and seemingly endless massacre.

Soon after news of Mrs Gandhi's killing by her Sikh bodyguards spread, Hindu mobs swung into action - like they did elsewhere in the city armed with voters' lists - in Trilokpuri against the low caste Sikhs inhabiting one-roomed tenements on either side of two narrow alleyways barely 150 yards long.

With local police connivance they blocked entry to the neighbourhood with massive concrete water pipes and stationed guards armed with sticks atop them.

For the next three days marauding groups armed with cleavers, scythes, kitchen knives and scissors took breaks to eat and regroup in between executing their bloodthirsty mission.

Bodies of Sikhs killed in the riots at the New Delhi railway station <i>Photo: Ashok Vahie</i>
Sikhs were killed in the main railway station (Photo: Ashok Vahie)

When as a reporter then with the Indian Express newspaper I along with two other colleagues visited the area on the eve of Mrs Gandhi' funeral, both lanes were littered with bodies, body parts and hair brutally hacked off, forcing us to walk precariously on tip-toe.

It was impossible to place one's foot flat on the ground for fear of stepping on either a severed limb or a body.

Earlier in the day two policemen on a motorcycle had emerged from Block 32 and reassured us that shanti or calm prevailed inside it and no untoward incident had occurred.

A few hours later on returning to the spot we saw that the entire area was awash with blood, a large proportion of it black coagulated mounds over which flies buzzed lazily.

Abject terror

It was also piled high in the open drains on either side of the tenements, never efficient at the best of times, alongside other human remains.

As we walked through this implausible slaughter in the light of hurricane lamps provided by some residents, the complete silence despite the large mob surrounding us was eerie.

No one spoke and nothing, except the bizarre, dancing shadows moved during this surrealistic interlude.

Even one of the only survivors - a young polio-afflicted mother - holding her new born in her arms gazed sightlessly upon us.

Her blank look momentarily changed into one of abject terror as we bent down to take her child to whom she fiercely clung.

She probably took us to be the butchers who had massacred her entire family piled up high in the room behind her.

A whimper led us to a barely conscious young Sikh, hiding under a heap of bodies, his slashed stomach wrapped crudely around with a turban.

A family of a riot victims
Riot victims have been waiting for justice for 25 years (Photo: Soutik Biswas)

All he wanted was water, parched after over 36 hours of concealing himself under the mound of corpses and bleeding steadily. He died soon after in hospital.

Some doors down a two-year-old girl, unmindful of the bodies, walked lazily over to us holding out her arms asking to be taken home.

Unfortunately, she was home; but one littered with the bloated bodies of her parents and siblings killed two nights earlier.

Police arrived in Trilokpuri 24 hours later when the Indian Express revealed the horrific massacre.

Sadly, there were no Sikhs left to protect.

Two inquiry commissions and seven investigative committees into the 1984 Sikh riots later no one has been held guilty for the Trilokpuri killings.

Of the 2,733 officially admitted murders, only nine cases have so far led to the conviction of 20 people in 25 years; a conviction rate of less than 1%.

But Manmohan Singh's elevation to India's prime minister in 2004 was looked upon by the flamboyant Sikh community as the vindication of its destiny of being born to rule.

Previous transgressions by his Congress party were forgiven but not forgotten and his casually tied trademark blue turban represented a collective crown for the enterprising but persecuted Sikh community.

Mr Singh, they said, was king.[Courtesy: bbc.co.uk]

Rahul Bedi is based in Delhi and works as the India correspondent for Jane's Defence Weekly and the Irish Times. During the 1984 riots he was with the Indian Express. 

Indira Gandhi's death remembered

by Ramachandra Guha

Indira Gandhi was gunned down by her bodyguards on this day 25 years ago. Ramachandra Guha looks at the legacy of India's most controversial and best-known politician.

In the summer of 1965, Indira Gandhi was thinking of shifting base from Delhi to London.

Indira Gandhi
Indira Gandhi remains very popular among many Indians

She was then serving as a junior minister in the cabinet of Lal Bahadur Shastri, who had succeeded her father Jawaharlal Nehru as prime minister of India.

With her political prospects fairly bleak, she was attracted to England for personal reasons. Her sons Rajiv and Sanjay were both studying in the United Kingdom; besides, living in London would allow her to further her interest in culture and the arts.

In the end, Mrs Gandhi chose to remain in her homeland and would reap a wholly unexpected reward.

When Mr Shastri died of a heart attack in January 1966, she was asked to replace him as prime minister. The choice was made by the "Syndicate", the group of crafty old men who ran the ruling Congress party.

Hesitant start

They calculated that the elevation of Nehru's daughter would reassure a nation reeling from the deaths in quick succession of two prime ministers; besides, as a novice in politics she could be easily manipulated.

After a hesitant start in office, Mrs Gandhi grew in confidence.

Indira Gandhi's body before taken to the cremation
Mrs Gandhi refused to remove Sikh guards from her security detail (Photo: Ashok Vahie)

In 1969 she cut herself loose from the "Syndicate" by portraying them as a bunch of reactionaries while she represented the progressive forces of history.

She nationalised banks, mines, and oil companies; abolished the titles and privileges of the former maharajas; and comprehensively won the general elections of 1971 on the stirring slogan of "Garibi Hatao" (Remove Poverty).

The elections were held in January; in the last month of the same year, Mrs Gandhi played a key role in India's military victory over Pakistan, which led to the dismemberment of that country and the formation of an independent Bangladesh.

Among a certain section of the middle class, Mrs Gandhi remains very popular.

In polls conducted by English-language magazines she is usually chosen as "India's best-ever prime minister". This endorsement is principally based on her performance during the 1971 war, invariably contrasted with her father's disastrous leadership during India's border war with China in 1962.

Lukewarm

Others admire her for her identification with the whole of India (although a northerner by birth and background she had a special affection for the south). Socialists sympathise with her pro-poor rhetoric.

A news ticker in Delhi announcing Mrs Gandhi's condition in hospital
Mrs Gandhi's assassination was a traumatic moment in Indian history (Photo: Ashok Vahie)

On the other hand, there remain many Indians who are lukewarm about Mrs Gandhi's legacy.

They point to her authoritarian tendencies, which came to the fore after her annus mirabilis: 1971.

At this point she asked for a "committed bureaucracy" and "committed judiciary", seeking to make these previously autonomous institutions subject to the whims and fancies of politicians in power.

In 1974, the respected Gandhian politician Jayaprakash Narayan launched a countrywide movement against corruption in government. In June 1975 the Allahabad High Court found the prime minister guilty of electoral malpractices.

Mrs Gandhi's response to this twin challenge, political and judicial, was to declare a state of emergency, censor the press, and put hundreds of opposition politicians in jail.

The emergency lasted until January 1977. In elections held in March, the Congress were routed by the Janata Party, a coalition of four previously distinct entities.

However, the new government lasted less than three years, collapsing under the weight of its contradictions. In 1980 Mrs Gandhi and the Congress were voted back to power on the plank of "stability".

Stoking trouble

The first two years of her fourth term were uneventful, but then, almost at once, Mrs Gandhi was confronted with discontent in the state of Andhra Pradesh, secessionist stirrings in the north-east, and a fully-fledged insurgency in the Punjab.

Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi in March 1977
Mrs Gandhi has been accused by critics of promoting dynastic politics

It was claimed at the time that the prime minister deliberately stoked the troubles in the Punjab, so that when elections were held in 1985 she could put herself forward as the one person standing between India and anarchy.

In June 1984 she ordered the army to storm the Golden Temple, where a band of Sikh extremists were holed up. The "terrorists" were killed, but the action also led to the destruction of the second holiest building in the complex.

Five months later, two Sikh security guards gunned down Mrs Gandhi in an apparent act of revenge.

"I see that marble conceals a multitude of sins," remarked Aldous Huxley on seeing the Taj Mahal.

In the same manner, the fact that she died a martyr's death - and after contemptuously rejecting advice to purge her staff of Sikhs - has led to a posthumous evaluation of Indira Gandhi that exculpates or ignores her very many mistakes.

That she was a thoroughgoing patriot we may not doubt; nor, indeed, that she led India nobly and well during the refugee crisis of 1971 (when nine million East Pakistanis fled into India) and the war that followed.

At the same time, the historian is obliged to record her failings.

Foremost among these was the perversion of public institutions.

In Nehru's time, the bureaucracy and judiciary were insulated from political interference; recruitment, postings, and promotions were decided on the basis of diligence and competence.

Damaging tradition

Mrs Gandhi inaugurated an altogether different (and deeply damaging) tradition, whereby ministers, chief ministers and prime ministers decided the assignments of civil servants on the basis of kinship or loyalty.

Golden Temple, Punjab
Mrs Gandhi's decision to send the army into the Golden Temple alienated Sikhs

Among the institutions damaged in this fashion was the Indian National Congress.

In Nehru's time, the Congress was a genuinely decentralised and democratic party, with district and state committees chosen on the basis of inner-party elections.

A chief minister was elected by the legislators of the state. Mrs Gandhi, on the other hand, worked unceasingly to make the Congress an extension of herself. Inner-party elections were abolished. Chief ministers were chosen by her alone.

That was not all.

Since Mrs Gandhi knew she was not immortal, and since she could not bring herself to wholly trust anyone who was not related to her, she brought her sons into politics.

Family politics

From 1976 Sanjay Gandhi worked closely with her, on the understanding that he would succeed her when she retired or passed on.

When it was Sanjay who unexpectedly died in June 1980, his elder brother Rajiv was drafted into politics, on the same understanding.

(The conversion of the Congress into a family firm has been emulated by other parties. Had Mrs Gandhi not showed the way, it is impossible to conceive of the Akali Dal or the Dravidra Munnetra Kazhagam [both state-based parties in India], for example, becoming, as they have now, captives of the interests of a single family.)

These criticisms are not merely retrospective.

Sanjay Gandhi
Sanjay Gandhi was a very controversial politician

They were made at the time, as indeed were criticisms of her economic policies.

By the late 1960s, India had built industrial capacity and a technological base through promoting self-sufficient economic growth.

Leading economists such as Jagdish Bhagwati now urged a dismantling of the industrial licensing system and an encouragement of foreign trade. However, instead of freeing the economy from government control, Mrs Gandhi instead further increased the stranglehold of the state, which caused (as might have been expected) gross inefficiency and corruption.

Although the economy was finally liberalised in 1991, two decades had been lost to ideological dogma and personal expediency.

Great patriot, but deeply flawed democrat - that is how history should remember Indira Gandhi, prime minister of India from 1966 to 1977 and again from 1980 to 1984.[courtesy: BBC.co.uk]

Ramachandra Guha is the author of India after Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy. He lives in Bangalore. He can be contacted at ramachandraguha@yahoo.in

"Sinhalese detainee stuns onlookers in Christmas Island"

by Paige Taylor

SRI Lankans on Christmas Island who staged a tense eight-hour standoff inside the immigration detention centre on Friday are in a long dispute with the Rudd government because they wanted to seek asylum in New Zealand, not Australia.

A Sinhalese detainee was wearing thongs when he stunned onlookers by swiftly climbing a light pole, thought to be more than 12m, and stayed there poised to jump, from 9.30am until he was talked down at 5.10pm on Friday.

He had with him what appeared to be a piece of bed sheeting, which he tied around the top of the pole and later untied and placed around his neck.

He was urged on by five other detainees who refused to co-operate with experts sent to the scene throughout the day, including a psychologist; the men removed mattresses laid down on the ground at the foot of the pole.

The six men in the protest group were due to be flown off the island and returned to Sri Lanka on Friday, but the charter plane left without them.

They are among 50 Sri Lankans who were on their way to New Zealand on March 28 when their boat hit a reef in the Torres Strait.

Stranded in international waters, they were taken aboard the customs vessel Roebuck Bay and delivered to a detention centre on Horn Island off Queenslands coast then to Christmas Island.

But the men dispute being brought to Christmas Island, and have argued they should have been allowed to ask for asylum in New Zealand as planned.

They had not been heading towards Australia when they were becalmed and ended up on Warrior Reef, about 65 nautical miles north-east of Thursday Island. - courtesy: The Australian -

October 30, 2009

US Tamil Tycoon Rajaratnam fights tough legal battle

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Members of the extended family were inundated with messages of sympathy,solidarity and support from relatives,friends and well-wishers when New York based Hedge fund billionaire and philanthropist Raj (Rajakumar) Rajaratnam was arrested and produced in a Manhattan court on Friday October 16th.

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Raj Rajaratnam

The beleaguered billionaire whose net worth was estimated by “Forbes” to be US$ 1.3 billion faced four charges of conspiracy to commit security fraud and nine counts of securities fraud.

He was released on US $100 million bail with $20 million as collateral. Rajaratnam’s travel documents were also impounded. He was forbidden to travel more than 110 miles of his Manhattan residence.

The 52 year old Tamil tycoon is the founder and managing general partner of the Galleon group of funds. According to “Forbes” Rajaratnam is the 551st richest man in the world and 236th richest in the USA. [click here to read in full~dbsjeyaraj.com]

October 29, 2009

Sri Lanka outcry over police brutality

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Colombo

A Sri Lankan policeman passes a poster portraying president Mahinda Rajapakse in Colombo on May 20, 2009
Some say the police are getting out of control

Sri Lanka's war ended in May but one branch of its security forces is now under particular scrutiny.

There has been an outcry against the police over brutal acts they are said to have committed.

People have also been protesting against their crackdown on organised crime, saying they are getting out of control.

A focus for public anger is the impoverished village of Angulana, half an hour to the south of the capital, Colombo.

Children and families play in the surf there as the ocean gleams.

The houses and shacks lining the sandy shore are poorly built with breezeblocks and tin roofs

In a house nearby two families gather to tell the BBC the harrowing story of what happened there a few weeks ago.

One evening their sons, Dinesh, a fish-seller, and Dhanushka, a gym instructor, went missing. They were cousins, both in their 20s.

Hours later it emerged that they had been picked up by the Angulana police and held at the police station.

'Shock'

Dinesh's father Sangadasa says it was late the same night that he discovered his son's fate.

"On my way to the police station I heard people saying a nice-looking boy had been killed and his body was on the beach.

"I rushed to the seashore. I saw his body there. I went into shock."

Dhanushka's body was found later by a railway track.

The two couples with pictures of their sons
Families of Dinesh and Dhanushka (in the photo) blame police for the deaths

Both youths had gunshot wounds. Nine policemen now face possible murder charges.

Media reports said the victims had been teasing a local woman but exactly what happened remains unclear and local people were enraged by the killings.

Once they attacked the police station, the authorities promised action.

This is one among a recent series of apparent police misdeeds.

There are regular deaths in detention - the government admits 32 people have died in custody this year alone.

A human rights lawyer, Chandrapala Kumarage, believes the security concerns of decades of war have left some police officers (by no means all) feeling they are not accountable.

'Impunity'

"It is really police abuse," he says.

"Impunity is really the thing which encourages the police to commit this kind of crimes. And now the extrajudicial killings continue after the end of the war."

In Maligawatte, an old Muslim quarter of Colombo with narrow streets and brightly-painted houses, there is also indignation.

A poster in Angulana in Sri Lanka condemning police for allegedly killing two boys
A poster in Angulana condemns police for allegedly killing two boys

As Friday prayers finished at the mosque, children laughed and teased each other in the street outside.

But there was anger in the neighbourhood against the police, especially a so-called Special Task Force which had, over a number of weeks, been shooting men in this part of the city in what they call a crackdown on the underworld - a phrase also used by top members of the security forces.

Most of those killed happened to be Muslims although the police say this has nothing to do with ethnicity and that they are targeting known criminals.

Local people say many are not criminals and that even those who may be, deserve due legal process.

As soon as the prayers finished, dozens of Muslim men and women marched down the street with banners showing pictures of young men, at least one of whom had been killed.

Speakers addressing a rally a few minutes later voiced outrage.

One said some of those killed had been helping politicians and were only later labelled as "underworld" members and had weapons planted on them.

In defence

"They don't have the right to kill those people," another said. "We want to show the government, the entire world, that there is no law in this country."

Many are suspicious because police accounts of these killings usually follow the same pattern.

They say that a man is arrested; he takes police to a place where weapons are hidden; then draws a gun on them so officers are forced to shoot him.

Lawyer Kumarage
Lawyer Kumarage says the government is violating the constitution

But Sri Lanka's police spokesman, Nimal Mediwake, defends his force.

In every case a magistrate's inquiry and post-mortem are held, he says.

"After completing that, the judge will decide whether it is justifiable homicide or the police are to be dealt with."

The spokesman added that there had not, to date, been any instances of the police being indicted after the death of so-called "underworld" members. In general, he said, it was ruled that the killings were justifiable homicide.

"These people have taken the law into their hands, trying to attack the police. So the police have had to return fire."

But lawyer Chandrapala Kumarage disagrees.

"In a country where there is rule of law and not law of the jungle, you can't kill people like that," he says.

'A violation'

"A responsible government has no moral right to say those killings are justified. They are illegal and they are in violation of the law of this country."

He links the "underworld" cases with the others, such as the Angulana ones, which have struck a chord with ordinary people.

Lawyers, including him, say the Sri Lankan government is violating the constitution by not having a standing independent commission on the police.

Back in Angulana, Devika Fernando grieves as she remembers identifying the body of her son, Dhanushka, killed like his friend and cousin, Dinesh.

"How can we accept the police as people who protect the public, if they commit this type of intolerable crime against society?" she asks.

"They are supposed to protect us."

In Angulana and many other places, public opinion has been hardening against the police. Now the war is over there are calls for efforts to rebuild the rule of law, undermined by decades of conflict.[courtesy: bbc.co.uk]

Sri Lanka - The New Great Game

by Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe

The defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in May brought an end to Sri Lanka ’s civil war. But the conflict also shed light on a bitter geopolitical struggle taking place against the backdrop of the declining influence of the West and the emerging influence of India and China . Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe explores the implications of Sri Lanka ’s evolving foreign policy.

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Sri Lanka’s foreign policy tilt away from the West has taken on a new dimension in recent years, especially since President Mahinda Rajapakse’s coalition government was elected to office in November 2005. When full-scale hostilities with the LTTE commenced in July 2006, Western pressure on Sri Lanka -- specifically from the European Union and the United States -- increased markedly, with substantial reductions in aid coming amidst demands for a ceasefire and resumption of peace talks. Yet there was more to Western demands than just a push for peace -- the measures also reflected implicit Western disapproval of Sri Lanka’s growing ties with China and Iran, which had been fostered not only as a means of enhancing economic growth, but also to provide a counter-weight to such pressure that ultimately gave Sri Lanka the strategic autonomy to defeat the LTTE.

‘Sri Lanka, confronted with the choice of economic blackmail or finding an accommodation with terrorism, had to strengthen its ties with alternative partners,’ Dr. Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Secretary, told BBC News. Consequently, while China ’s importance grew, so did that of Iran , which provided soft loans and investment in major infrastructure projects such as the US$450 million Uma Oya hydroelectric project and the US$750 million upgrade of Sri Lanka ’s only oil refinery at Sapugaskande. In its efforts to defeat the LTTE, Sri Lanka moved to strengthen bilateral relationships with countries outside the Western axis to reduce Western political and economic pressure (which was seen as supporting the bifurcation of Sri Lanka and as largely sympathetic to the Tamil diaspora and the LTTE) while also containing India -- including pressure from Tamil Nadu -- to avoid a scenario like Operation Liberation in 1987, when India extended a lifeline and prevented the defeat of the LTTE.

As the conflict drew to a close in the first half of 2009, there were a spate of diplomatic incidents that reflected growing tensions between Sri Lanka and the West. Sri Lanka rejected Britain ’s appointment of Des Browne as Special Envoy to Sri Lanka and declined entry to Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. In addition, a joint visit in April 2009 by British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to secure a ceasefire led to a further souring of relations. Meanwhile, in April 2009, Sri Lanka ’s application for a US$1.9 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund met with US resistance. ‘We have raised questions about the IMF loan at this time. We think it is not an appropriate time to consider that until there is a resolution of the conflict,’ said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the time.

Sri Lanka, for its part, felt that after nearly three decades of conflict, and the deaths of 100,000 people, that it had good reason to reject any developments that could have prevented the total defeat of the LTTE, something that could have occurred with Western support for a ceasefire or evacuation of the LTTE leadership. In addition, with the LTTE on the verge of defeat, there were determined attempts by the West, led by the EU, to table a resolution against Sri Lanka at the UN Security Council, a move that China and Russia vetoed on all five occasions. Following the LTTE defeat in May, the EU sought to pursue a motion against Sri Lanka for war crimes investigations at the UN Human Rights Council, which collapsed when 29 countries of the 47 member council voted in solidarity with Sri Lanka . India itself came out strongly in support of Sri Lanka at the Council and later even criticised the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Commenting on Sri Lanka ’s diplomatic feat, Sri Lankan Ambassador to the United Nations Dayan Jayatillaka said: ‘This is not a lesson that Sri Lanka taught the West. It is a victory… of the developing countries and the global south. It was not a defeat of the Tiger Diaspora alone. It was the defeat of a powerful bloc of forces… Geneva was a miniature diplomatic Dien Bien Phu or Bay of Pigs for the EU.’

The unfolding events earlier this year underscored the fact that Sri Lanka ’s confrontation with the West, which has seen relations plummet to their lowest point since the 1970s, has had less to do with human rights and more to do with a fierce geopolitical struggle for influence. There is little doubt that Sri Lanka’s move to broaden relations with China and Iran, its rejection of Western demands in its internal affairs, the timing of its victory over the LTTE, and its acceptance in June 2009 as a Dialogue Partner to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) were crucial in influencing the West’s attempts to take punitive action against Sri Lanka -- moves which served to further strengthen Sri Lanka’s relations with China.

GETTING COSY WITH CHINA

Sri Lanka has generally enjoyed cordial ties with China since relations were first established with the recognition of the People’s Republic of China in 1950 and the signing of the Rubber-Rice Pact in 1952. Since then, and especially in the last decade, trade between the two countries has steadily expanded, culminating in the signing of a China-Sri Lanka Joint Communique in September 2005. This served as a benchmark for future expansion of the bilateral relationship, which Gotabaya Rajapakse, Sri Lanka ’s Defence Secretary, recently highlighted in Lakbima News. ‘The president went to China three times, I went five times,’ he said. ‘Sometimes, the president speaks to the Chinese premier by phone. We have set up good relations. We have understood who is important to us.’

These growing ties have benefitted Sri Lanka in a number of ways. For example, China was willing to supply arms to Sri Lanka at concessionary prices when India was restricted in the type of military assistance it could provide due to opposition from its state of Tamil Nadu. Also, China demonstrated an interest in investing in the development of Sri Lanka ’s infrastructure by providing interest-free loans and preferential loans at subsidized rates. As a result, Chinese aid and commercial investments have increased markedly throughout President Rajapakse’s term, notably the Hambantota Port Development Project (worth US$1 billion); Norochcholai Coal Power Plant Project (worth US$855 million); the Colombo-Katunayake Expressway (worth US$248.2 million) and the National Performing Arts Theatre (worth US$21.2 million). Indeed, from 2006 to 2008, Chinese aid to Sri Lanka grew fivefold, replacing Japan as Sri Lanka ’s largest donor.

China, for its part, views Sri Lanka as a strategically vital gateway for securing access to shipping arterials in the Indian Ocean . Hambantota will be more than three times the size of Colombo harbour and is designed to serve as a Service and Industrial Port when fully completed, 14 years from now. It also has the potential to be developed into a major transhipment port. In addition, the port will be able to accommodate a new generation of mega-ships and is to include four terminals (12 berths), bunkering and refuelling facilities, liquefied natural gas refinery, aviation fuel storage facilities, bonded export processing zone and dry docks. The project is expected to generate more than 6000 jobs directly for the impoverished south of Sri Lanka , and another 50,000 indirectly in what is also President Rajapakse’s home constituency. As the main symbol of growing Sino-Lanka relations, the new Hambantota port (construction of which began in January 2008) will serve as a key transit point for oil and gas tankers accessing the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, Malacca Straits and the ports of Gwadar in Pakistan and Sitwe in Myanmar. Hambantota will also serve as a key maritime transit point to China ’s expanding investments among Indian Ocean island nations. However, the strategic value of Hambantota and its commercial/naval potential has raised Indian suspicions of China ’s intentions in what it sees as its sphere of influence, and in the process has contributed to an escalating India-China rivalry.

INDIAN CONCERNS

India has long been concerned with China ’s increasing inroads into Sri Lanka and has demonstrated its displeasure on numerous occasions. In early 2007, Indian National Security Advisor MK Narayanan criticized Sri Lanka for attempting to purchase a Chinese built JY-11 3D radar system on the grounds that it would ‘overarch’ into Indian airspace. ‘It is high time that Sri Lanka understood that India is the big power in the region and ought to refrain from going to Pakistan or China for weapons, as we are prepared to accommodate them within the framework of our foreign policy,’ he said. There have also been tensions surrounding the construction of the massive Colombo South Harbour Development Project and mining rights to the Mannar Basin . But India ’s concerns over Chinese investment in Hambantota are not based solely on military grounds. And Sri Lanka is said to have initially offered the project to India , which declined it for undisclosed reasons. One reason may have been political and commercial considerations, and India’s ambitions to upgrade its own ports in southern India , namely Vizhinjam, Tuticorin, and Cochin . Historically, there has been a fierce and longstanding rivalry between Indian and Sri Lankan ports, particularly Colombo , which dominates the region’s lucrative transhipment trade.

B. Raman, a retired senior Indian intelligence official formerly affiliated with India ’s key external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, is quoted as saying: ‘Presently, the Colombo port enjoys a better reputation in international shipping circles than the ports in South India … The turn-over time for ships in Colombo is much less than in the ports of South India . The Sri Lankan authorities are worried that the Colombo port might lose the advantages presently enjoyed by it vis-à-vis the ports in South India when the construction of the Sethusamudram Canal and the work of modernisation of the ports in South India undertaken by the Government of India is completed.’ Such views do much to put the Hambantota port issue in context -- the facility will diminish India ’s ability to compete. India’s dilemma is compounded by Sri Lanka’s ambitions to harness its strategic location astride Indian Ocean shipping arterials, with Dr. Priyath Bandu Wickrama, Chairman, Sri Lanka Port Authority, noting: ‘Over 200 ships sail this route [daily] and we want to attract them… Our vision is to consolidate the position of Sri Lanka as the premier maritime logistic centre of the Asian region.’

GETTING THE BALANCE RIGHT

As Rajapakse recently stated, the end of Sri Lanka ’s civil war has ushered in a new era in the nation’s foreign policy. But in the aftermath of the LTTE defeat, there is likely to be growing strategic rivalry between India and China , something which will also complicate Sri Lanka ’s relations with the West. So far, at least, Sri Lanka appears to have successfully balanced the competing interests of India and China . ‘There are elements in America and India who would like to raise the China bogey,’ former Sri Lankan diplomat Jayantha Dhanapala told the Lakbima News. ‘This is not a zero sum game where our relationship with China is at the expense of our relationship with India . We cleverly balanced the relationship.’ If he is right, and if Sri Lanka handles its foreign policy judiciously, the country could continue to benefit from the new Great Game in the Indian Ocean .

U.S. Blasted for Sustaining Embargo on Cuba

By Thalif Deen, Inter Press Service

The administration of President Barack Obama, which has vowed to improve relations with sanctions-hit Cuba, refused to break away from the traditional stand taken by successive U.S. governments and voted against a U.N. resolution calling for an end to the 47-year-old U.S. economic, commercial and financial embargo against the Caribbean island nation.

Of the 192 member states, an overwhelming 187 voted Wednesday in favour of the resolution (as against 185 last year), with only three against (the United States, Israel and Palau), and two abstentions (Marshall Islands and Micronesia).

This was the 18th consecutive year the United States remained largely isolated in a General Assembly vote on one of "the most enduring trade embargoes in history" imposed on Cuba back in 1962.

The annual vote is routinely viewed as a political and moral victory for Cuba because diplomatic support for the United States has progressively declined over the last 18 years.

The widespread reaction, both inside and outside the United Nations, was directed against the United States - and this year, specifically against the Obama administration.

Bill Fletcher, Jr., executive editor of BlackCommentator.com, told IPS the question for the Obama administration is whether it is committed to transforming the image of the United States around the world or whether it is committed to transforming the substance of U.S. foreign policy.

"Without breaking with the decades-long, criminal blockade of Cuba, there will be no actual transformation of U.S. foreign policy," Fletcher said.

He said the U.S. blockade of Cuba is an embarrassment; for the people of Cuba, however, it is the source of continuous stress and difficulty.

"The fact that the Cuban people have been able to withstand the blockade is a tribute to them. The Obama administration needs to step into the 21st century," said Fletcher.

Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Centre for Democracy in the Americas, said: "President Obama should take this U.N. vote for what it is - a sign that our country needs to act in the world like it's 2009 and not 1959, drop the embargo, and engage openly and directly with Cuba."

John McAuliff, executive director of the New York-based Fund for Reconciliation and Development, said in a statement released Wednesday: "U.S. hypocrisy in defence of the embargo is equaled by Israel's hypocrisy in voting with us. Its own citizens, unlike Americans, vacation, invest and work in Cuba."

Speaking during the U.N. debate, Ambassador Zhang Yesui of China told delegates the U.S. embargo not only constituted a serious violation of the purposes and principles of the U.N. charter but it also immensely undermined the Cuban people's right to survival and development.

The Group of 77, the largest single coalition of developing nations, called on the United States "to bring an end to the five-decades-old embargo and to fully adhere to the principles of mutual respect and non-interference in the internal affairs of a sisterly country."

Speaking on behalf of the G77 and China, Sudanese Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, said: "The deepening impact of the global economic crisis on Cuba and the continued embargo by the United States will continue to further aggravate the hardships for the people of Cuba."

Dayan Jayatilleka, until recently Sri Lanka's permanent representative to the office of the United Nations in Geneva and a widely-regarded expert on Cuba, told IPS that every year since the resolution saw the light of day, the United States has "suffered a diplomatic Bay of Pigs in full view of the world".

It is a pity and a paradox that this continues even under the Obama administration, he said.

"President Obama has sought to restore the United States to the moral high ground, combining ethics with realism," Jayatilleka said.

But the decades-long embargo of Cuba is neither ethical nor beneficial to the United States, said Jayatilleka, author of "Fidel's Ethics of Violence: the Moral Dimension of the Political Thought of Fidel Castro", co-published by the University of Michigan Press in the U.S. and Pluto Press, London.

He said the embargo deprives the United States of the moral high ground and weakens its standing in general while damaging the credibility of its stand on other international issues.

"It shows a continuity of policy in a matter where no benefit is reaped by such continuity, not least because it places the USA at sharp variance with the whole of Latin America, the progressive administrations of which should be the natural allies and partners of the Obama presidency," he said.

He pointed out that the voters of the U.S. state of Florida, home to the country's largest Cuban American community, have also shown their willingness to depart from the old rigid policy on Cuba.

Trying to soften the negative voting, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told delegates that in recent months the Obama administration has undertaken several steps to reach out to the Cuban people in support of their desire to freely determine their country's future.

"We have promoted family visits and the free flow of information to and from the Cuban people," Rice said.

She also pointed out that the United States lifted restrictions on family visits and remittances and expanded the amounts of humanitarian items that U.S. citizens can donate to individuals in Cuba.

The Obama administration has enhanced the ability of U.S. telecommunications companies to pursue agreements to provide service to Cuba and has made it easier for U.S. agricultural producers to pursue contracts with Cuban buyers.

"These are important steps and we hope they can be the starting point for further changes in the relationship," Rice added.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla provided a long list of urgently needed medicines that U.S. companies are barred from selling to Cuba because of the embargo.

"Since the election of President Obama, there has not been any change in the implementation of the economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba. The blockade remains intact," he told delegates.

"It continues to be an absurd policy that causes scarcities and sufferings. It is a mass, flagrant and systematic violation of human rights," Parrilla said.

The foreign minster said that in the Geneva Convention of 1948, it was classified as an act of genocide: "It is ethically unacceptable."

Rice responded by saying the United States regrets Cuba's attempts to label "inappropriately and incorrectly U.S. trade restrictions on Cuba as an act of genocide".

"Such an egregious misuse of the term diminishes the real suffering of victims of genocide elsewhere in the world," she added. [courtesy: ipsnewsnet]

October 28, 2009

Sri Lankan asylum seekers not disembarking

ABC News Audio:

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has denied reports Indonesia has set a deadline to end its stand-off with Australia over 78 asylum seekers.

As the Sri Lankan asylum seekers spend their 12th day on board the Customs ship the Oceanic Viking, the Government of Australia is under increasing pressure to resolve the impasse.

But the situation is dragging on with the asylum seekers refusing to leave the ship and local Indonesian authorities refusing to take them.

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[courtesy: ABC News] [Click for mp3]

Pictures courtesy of Reuters and Getty Images:

Asylum seekers from Sri Lanka, part of the group of 260 who were detained by the Indonesian Navy, shout slogans on their boat as they call on the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to take care of them, at Cilegon harbour in Indonesia's Banten province October 26, 2009. Another 78 Sri Lankan asylum seekers rescued by an Australian customs vessel in Indonesian waters are to be taken to a detention centre on the Indonesian island of Bintan.

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October 27, 2009

UN's Alston Probes Execution Video, Kaelin Says His Praise Was Misquoted

The UN Special Rapporteur on executions Philip Alston, speaking to press at the UN, noted that the Sri Lankan government "investigations" were not independent in the past and raised doubts over the outcome of a probe on human rights to be carried out by a another new panel appointed by the government, according to a report by Inner City Press.

Philip Alston also told the Press that he has "begun to commission some analyses of that video tape" depicting Sri Lankan soldiers shooting bound and naked prisoners, according to Inner City Press.

Full text of Inner City Press report as follows:

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 27 -- As Sri Lanka announces another internal investigation of the war crimes charges against it, at the UN on Tuesday the Special Rapporteur on executions Philip Alston told the Press he has "begun to commission some analyses of that video tape" depicting Sri Lankan soldiers shooting bound and naked prisoners. Video here, from Minute 6:56.

Inner City Press asked Alston about the reports that people seeking to surrender in May, waving white flags after in some cases speaking with UN officials, were shot and killed, reportedly on orders from the highest ranks of the Sri Lanka military. Video here, from Minute 11:13.

"Let's have an independent inquiry," Alston said, noting that past "investigations" by the government were not independent. He used as his example that two Sri Lankan military figures were charged with investigating the execution video. The government of Sri Lanka cannot be proud of its track record, Alston said.

Before commissioning his own analysis of the video, Alston said he "would have liked the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights" Navi Pillay to have undertaken an investigation, as was done for example by Justice Richard Goldstone of the conflict in Gaza this year.

Inner City Press asked Alston about the countries on the Human Rights Council which have rebuffed his requests to visit, including both China and Russia, which blocked Security Council consideration of the conflict in Sri Lanka this Spring. Alston said "there has to be a limit," presumably to what members of the Human Rights Council can do. But for now, there are no limits. Alston's mandate expires in August 2010 and will no be renewed.

Two other Rapporteurs, on Internally Displaced People and freedom of religion, also took questions about Sri Lanka on Tuesday. Inner City Press asked IDP expert Walter Kaelin about a headline in Sri Lanka, "UN envoy pleased with progress," in the Sunday Observer of September 27.

Kaelin said he'd never spoken with that newspaper, and went on to criticize the conditions in the Manik Farms camps. He said people were being moved out. Inner City Press asked if the so called transit camps also restrict movement. He said that they did, and that this did not comply with international humanitarian law. Video here. But the UN keeps funding it, apparently.

Inner City Press asked about IDPs' right to return to their homes, and not be displaced, as some say is planned in northern Sri Lanka east of A9, by members of other ethnic grounds. While Kaelin said there is a right to return which the government of Sri Lanka has not disputed, he acknowledged that he is not able to closely monitor what happens on the ground. And therein lies the problem.

Inner City Press asked the Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Asma Jahangir about this same issue, Sinhalese versus Tamils, the Buddhist triumphalism some see in Sri Lanka. She acknowledged she'd heard of it, ascribing it to political fights "long ago." Video here. But these fights continue. The UN system, even its special rapporteurs, may appear out of touch. Watch this site. [courtesy: Inner City press]

Washington Times Editorial: Undermining Sri Lanka

America takes the wrong side in anti-terror fight

Oct 28, 2009

Sri Lanka is joining Israel as a country facing a war crimes investigation for effectively fighting back against terrorism. America should support the Sri Lankan government or keep its nose out of Colombo's business.

Last week, Stephen Rapp, U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, filed a report to Congress on incidents during the recent conflict in Sri Lanka that "may constitute violations of international humanitarian law or crimes against humanity." The report focuses in particular on January to May 2009 when, after 12 years of conflict, the Sri Lankan military surrounded and destroyed the major armed formations of the Tamil Tigers and killed the terrorist group's leaders.

The report chronicles allegations of war crimes by both Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat whose subcommittee on the State Department and foreign operations requested the report, is calling for "a full and independent investigation" so those responsible can be "held accountable."

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights joined in the call for an investigation of Sri Lanka's war, saying there are "too many questions" left unanswered. U.N. Human Rights Spokesman Rupert Colville drew a direct comparison to the Gaza Fact-Finding Mission overseen by South African Judge Richard Goldstone. Sri Lanka and Israel are both pursuing internal investigations and have rejected the idea of international involvement in the process.

The Rapp report is not comprehensive, more a list of allegations than a fully documented indictment. Most of the offenses listed are either directly attributable to the Tamil Tigers, such as forcibly recruiting children to fight for them, or the consequence of terrorist activities, such as Sri Lanka shelling hospitals being used by the Tigers as command posts.

The tone of moral equivalence in the Rapp and Goldstone reports is most objectionable. War is by its nature violent, complex and tragic. Rules exist to mitigate war's suffering but can never eliminate it. Terrorist groups like the Tamil Tigers, Hamas and al Qaeda do not consider themselves bound by the rules of war and violate them as a matter of doctrine by targeting noncombatants, using civilians as human shields, torturing and executing prisoners, and by using hospitals and religious sites as headquarters and sniper platforms.

Any war against such an enemy will impose a degree of tragedy on people who under other circumstances would be spared war's horrors. But this is part of the terrorist tool kit, and reports such as these play into their hands. By placing the terrorists' systematic offenses against human dignity on par with the unintentional or otherwise regrettable actions of the regime trying to defeat them, such reports level a moral playing field that by rights the terrorists have no right even to set foot on.

Mr. Leahy should control his zeal to pursue what he views as justice in Sri Lanka. Any objective comparison of Sri Lanka's war against the Tamil Tigers or Israel's offensive against Hamas to America's struggle against al Qaeda would cast the United States in the same light, and elevate our enemies to a status they do not deserve. It hands the enemies of freedom unearned victories even as they are being defeated. [courtesy: The Washington Times]

Legacy of Abuse in Sri Lanka

by Anna Neistat

For several months during and after the end-game of the decades-long civil war between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Sri Lanka's government brushed off Western criticism of its abusive practices. It has relied instead on moral and financial support from states less concerned with such matters, such as China and Pakistan. Countries with similar problems and equally questionable human rights records are paying close attention — has Sri Lanka discovered the magic formula for brazenly ignoring meddlesome Western countries and getting away with it?

Sri Lanka's policy of complete dismissal was initially successful. But now the government seems to have discovered that ignoring the strongly held opinions of powerful Western partners has consequences that might not be in the long-term interest of the country or its ruling elite after all.

Atrocities and Cover-up

On May 19, 2009, the Sri Lankan government declared victory over the LTTE. This marked an end to a 26-year-long civil war that killed tens of thousands of people. Human Rights Watch's continuous research in the country established that during the final phase of the conflict, both the Sri Lankan Armed Forces (SLAF) and the LTTE repeatedly violated the laws of war, causing numerous civilian casualties.

Forced to retreat by SLA offensive operations, the LTTE drove civilians into a narrow strip of land on the northeastern coast of Sri Lanka. They effectively used several hundred thousand people as human shields. On at least several occasions, the Tamil Tigers shot at those trying to flee to government-held territory. LTTE forces also deployed near densely populated areas, placing civilians in greater danger from government attacks. As the fighting intensified, the LTTE stepped up its practice of forcibly recruiting civilians, including children, into its ranks and into hazardous forced labor on the battlefield.

The government, in turn, used the LTTE's grim practices to justify its own atrocities. Sri Lankan forces repeatedly and indiscriminately shelled areas densely populated with civilians, sometimes using area weapons incapable of distinguishing between civilians and combatants. As the LTTE-controlled area shrank, the government unilaterally declared "no-fire zones" or "safe zones" on three different occasions, telling civilians to seek shelter there. Nevertheless, government forces continued attacking these areas. In blatant disregard of the laws of war, government forces also fired artillery that directly struck or landed near hospitals on at least 30 occasions.

Sri Lanka claimed that in the last days of the war, it carried out "the largest hostage-rescue operation" that liberated thousands of Tamils from the oppressive rule of the LTTE. Yet in reality, to this day the "rescued" Tamil population has seen neither freedom nor relief. From March 2008 until the present, the government has confined virtually all civilians displaced by the war in military-controlled detention camps, euphemistically called "welfare centers." In violation of international law, the government denied the displaced their rights to liberty and freedom of movement. The camp residents are kept in the dark regarding their own future and the fate of their missing relatives. More than four months after the end of hostilities, the government continues to hold more than 250,000 civilians in illegal detention.

The full extent of the crimes committed by both sides to the conflict is still unknown. The Sri Lankan government spared no effort to prevent independent coverage of its military operations and the plight of displaced civilians. It has kept out both international and local media as well as human rights organizations, has made sure that witnesses to its abuses are securely locked up in camps, and has harassed and persecuted those who dared to speak out — doctors, activists and journalists. It has even deported outspoken UN officials.

Turning East

Despite mounting evidence of abuses in Sri Lanka, the response from Western countries was initially weak, though eventually several governments, including the United States, the United Kingdom and France, raised their voices. They strongly condemned indiscriminate attacks and urged a humanitarian corridor for civilians trapped in the war zone. After the war, they called for an independent investigation and continued to advocate against indefinite detention of the displaced. In a show of disapproval of Sri Lanka's human rights violations, these countries, along with Germany and Argentina, also made the unprecedented move of abstaining from the vote on the International Monetary Fund's $2.6 billion loan to Sri Lanka. The loan, delayed for several months because of these concerns, was eventually approved in July 2009. But each quarterly installment will need a separate vote of approval by the IMF's board of governors.

The Sri Lankan government, however, gambled on the idea that no matter how upset the West may be, nobody would judge the "winners." It dismissed all criticism out of hand. It attacked Western governments for their own human rights practices, calling the pleas for civilian protection "hypocrisy and sanctimony." And it accused critical governments and international institutions of being LTTE sympathizers.

Sri Lanka's confidence in the face of criticism was also boosted by a gradual re-orientation of its foreign policy toward the East. According to some defense experts, Chinese military ordnance was decisive in the final stages of the war against the LTTE. Pakistan has boosted its annual military assistance loans to Sri Lanka to nearly $100 million. Iran granted $450 million for a hydropower project and provided a seven-month credit facility so that Sri Lanka's entire crude oil requirement could be sourced from there; it also reportedly provided low-interest credit so that Sri Lanka could purchase military equipment from Pakistan and China. Libya pledged $500 million as a financial co-operation package for development projects. Even Burma donated $50,000 to the Sri Lankan government.

In addition to substantial financial support, Sri Lanka's new friends also stood up to defend Sri Lanka against accountability at the UN Security Council. In the Human Rights Council, Sri Lanka received wholehearted support from countries like Cuba, Pakistan, Venezuela, Iran, and others who ensured the adoption of a deeply flawed resolution that largely commended the Sri Lankan government for its current policies. In June, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization — an intergovernmental mutual-security organization founded by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan — granted Sri Lanka the status of Dialogue Partner.

While the support for Sri Lanka was largely driven by each country's political and economic motives, some common factors were also clearly in play — an effort to counterbalance India's influence in the region (in the case of China and Pakistan), similar problems with separatist groups and abusive counterinsurgency campaigns, and an overall tendency to jointly oppose Western criticism and challenge Western domination in the international arena.

Reality Bites

Sri Lanka's hardnosed response to its Western critics may have worked in the short term but it may not be, after all, sustainable.

The first reality check came with the European Union's threat to withdraw significant trading privileges granted to Sri Lanka under a trading scheme called the Generalized System of Preferences plus (GSP+). Since 2005, the privileges allowed Sri Lanka to export goods and products duty-free to EU countries. According to an EU estimate, the agreement was worth €900 million and employment of over 100,000 people in the apparel sector in Sri Lanka.

In September this year, the EU presented the Sri Lankan government with the results of a year-long investigation of Sri Lanka's compliance with human rights requirements for continued GSP+ status. The Sri Lankan government refused to cooperate with the investigation. However, upon realizing that the threat of withdrawal was real and could become politically costly if the government calls early presidential elections, authorities launched an aggressive campaign, spearheaded by a president-appointed ministerial task force, to ensure the continuation of the trade concessions. Through it all, the government insisted at home that it wouldn't bend under Western pressure.

In the meantime, the U.S. State Department has been preparing a congressionally mandated investigative report into allegations of war crimes committed by both sides during the final phase of the conflict. Around September 21, when the investigation was due to be presented in Congress, pro-government Sri Lankan media published dismissals of the report, saying that it was based on hearsay and "violates Sri Lanka's rights and sovereignty." The critics admitted they hadn't seen the text — which wasn't surprising, given that the presentation of the report had been postponed and the whole campaign proved to be a false start. It did indicate, however, how anxious Sri Lanka is about the report's possible conclusions. Some of the top officials must be particularly concerned about being accused of war crimes by a country where they hold citizenship or permanent residency status.

Sri Lanka's nervousness about its international standing has not yet triggered any significant improvement on human rights matters, and there is no indication that the government is genuinely rethinking its policies. The changing discourse, however, implies that the government may be more susceptible to pressure than the international community previously believed. And the international community should use this moment to ensure progress on some of the burning human rights issues — freedom for thousands of displaced Tamil civilians, the end of persecution of journalists and civil society activists, and accountability for violations committed during the conflict.

In addition to pushing publicly and privately for the release of the displaced, the United States has a particularly important role to play on the issue of accountability. It should use its influence at the UN to help launch an international independent investigation into violations of humanitarian law. Washington should also make clear that future development aid to Colombo will depend on concrete progress on these key issues. Abstaining from the vote on the second tranche of Sri Lanka's IMF loan would be an appropriate way to convey the message.

Anna Neistat is a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch's emergencies division and is a specialist in humanitarian crises.

Sri Lanka: Domestic Inquiry into Abuses a Smokescreen-HRW

UN Secretary-General Should Establish International Investigation

The Sri Lankan government's proposal to create a committee of experts to examine allegations of laws-of-war violations during the conflict between the government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is an attempt to avoid an independent international inquiry, Human Rights Watch said today.

The government made its proposal in response to a report by the US State Department, published on October 22, 2009, that detailed hundreds of incidents of alleged laws-of-war violations in Sri Lanka from January through May. According to conservative UN estimates, 7,000 civilians were killed and more than 13,000 injured during that period, the final months of fighting.

"The government is once again creating a smokescreen inquiry to avoid accountability for abuses," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Only an independent international investigation will uncover the truth about this brutal war and ensure justice for the victims. The UN and US should not play along with the government's pretense that it will conduct its own investigation."

Human Rights Watch urged the United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, to establish an independent international investigation into alleged laws-of-war violations in Sri Lanka. The United States, the EU and other international actors should emphasize to the Sri Lankan government that because of its proposed committee's lack of independence and the failure of past government commissions, a government inquiry is unacceptable as a substitute for an independent international investigation.

The current political climate, in which the government frequently persecutes critics, branding them LTTE supporters, makes a credible and impartial domestic investigation unlikely, Human Rights Watch said.

On May 23, soon after the end of the fighting, the Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and Secretary-General Ban issued a joint statement that promised there would be credible national investigations. The government had taken no steps to open an investigation until the State Department report was released.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement on October 23 calling for an independent international investigation, which Human Rights Watch supported. A spokesperson for the office told reporters: "We still believe that something like the Gaza fact-finding mission is certainly warranted given the widespread concerns about the conduct of the war in Sri Lanka."

On October 26, President Rajapaksa announced that he would appoint a committee of experts to "examine carefully" allegations of violations of the laws of war during the final stages of the 26-year-long armed conflict.

On October 27, the European Union, during its foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg, repeated its call for an independent inquiry into violations of international humanitarian and human right law.

Since independence in 1948, Sri Lanka has established nine presidential commissions and various other bodies tasked with investigating allegations of human rights violations. None of the commissions have produced significant results, either in providing new information or leading to prosecutions.

The most recent Presidential Commission of Inquiry, appointed in November 2006, to investigate serious cases of alleged human rights abuses was a complete failure. A group of international experts, appointed to ensure the investigation was being conducted according to international norms and standards, resigned in 2008 because it had "not been able to conclude...that the proceedings of the Commission have been transparent or have satisfied basic international norms and standards." The experts included: Justice P.N. Bhagwati (India); Bernard Kouchner (France); Prof. Sir Nigel Rodley (UK), Prof. Yozo Yokota (Japan); and Kamal Hussein (Bangladesh).

In June 2009, Rajapaksa dissolved the Commission of Inquiry, even though it had conducted investigations in just seven of its 16 mandated major human rights cases. The president has not published the report.

Among the cases it investigated was the August 2006 execution-style killing of 17 Sri Lankan aid workers for the Paris-based humanitarian agency Action Contre la Faim. Despite strong evidence of involvement by government security forces in the killings, leaked findings of the commission exonerated the Sri Lankan army and navy on the basis of limited testimony from witnesses.

Earlier this year the UN Human Rights Council mandated an international fact-finding mission into abuses during the recent Gaza conflict. On October 16, Secretary-General Ban ordered an international commission of inquiry into human rights violations in Guinea after approximately 150 people were killed during anti-government demonstrations.

Although the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and other senior UN officials have called for an international investigation in Sri Lanka, Secretary-General Ban has refrained from making such a call. Inexplicably, the US State Department has indicated support for the Sri Lankan government's committee of experts.

"The government's committee is merely an effort to buy time and hope the world will forget the bloodbath that civilians suffered at the end of the war," Adams said. "Pretending that this is a serious attempt to investigate would betray the memory of the victims of war crimes and other abuses."

[Full Text of statement by HRW]

October 26, 2009

Tamil asylum seekers in Vancouver handcuffed and shackled with leg chains

By Darah Hansen

Handcuffed and shackled in leg chains, more Sri Lankan asylum-seekers were back before immigration officials in Vancouver on Monday, pleading for release from detention.

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Sri Lankan migrants recently arrested aboard a ship brought into Victoria leave a hearing at immigration review board offices in Vancouver. ~ Photograph by: Ian Smith, Vancouver Sun

But proving their identities continued to be a significant impediment for most of the men, who were among a group of 76 ethnic Tamils apprehended on a mysterious ship off Vancouver Island earlier this month.

Several of the men arrived with no authentic documents to prove who they are.

In one case, a man told Canadian Border Service Agency officers he’d surrendered his own Sri Lankan passport, national identity card and driver’s licence to an “agent” who arranged to take the migrants to Canada for a sum of money. In exchange, the man was given an Indian passport.

Since the ship arrived in B.C. on Oct. 17, Canadian officials have been screening the migrants, and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s office has said that the government will exclude any found to have criminal or terrorist ties.

In particular, authorities are worried about possible links to the Tamil Tigers rebels, a registered terrorist organization in Canada.

Indeed, at least one of the asylum seekers is the subject of an Interpol notice for his alleged role in a Tamil Tigers smuggling ring.

That isn’t the case for the majority of the men, however, their Canadian supporters have repeatedly insisted.

Most are described as ethnic Tamils fleeing well-documented violence and oppression at the hands of the Sri Lankan government.

“In my opinion, they all appear to be polite, well-groomed young men,” said lawyer Lee Rankin, who has met and interviewed several of them.

Fifteen of the men were to appear before the Immigration and Refugee Board on Monday during the second week of detention hearings.

Those migrants who arrived without a passport or other form of ID were ordered to remain in custody for another 30 days as the government presses on with efforts to confirm their identities.

Those with valid passports will have their cases heard later this week.

The men are being held in the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre pending their release.

According to Rankin, several of them have friends and relatives in Canada who can offer them food and shelter until their refugee claims are concluded.

One man out of the 76 was offered release from detention last week. The IRB has banned publication of the names and other identifying details of all 76 men.

Sri Lankan refugees have one of the highest acceptance rates in Canada, with 93 per cent of claims in the past nine months accepted.

The recently ended war in Sri Lanka between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels left as many as 100,000 people in the country dead and forced hundreds of thousands of minority Tamils into refugee camps. [courtesy: Vancouver Sun]

Video: 'Raj Rajaratnam provided relief funds to Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka'

Joe Leahy of The Financial Times reports from the village in Southern Sri Lanka, where Galleon built houses for 2004 tsunami victims:

[courtesy: Financial Times Video]

Nandita Das on politics of identity

By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

The first regional Conference of SAWM (South Asian Women in Media) was held at Avari Hotel in Lahore on October 10th and 11th 2009. The theme of the conference was “Women in Media- Challenges, opportunities and Partnership”.

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Nearly 200 women journalists from eight South Asian countries- Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka participated in the two regional conference. It was the largest gathering of women journalists from the region [Click here to read in full~in HumanityAshore]

October 25, 2009

In defence of accused hedge fund billionaire Raj Rajaratnam

by Andrew Clark - Guardian UK

My coverage of Raj Rajaratnam, the Wall Street hedge fund manager accused of orchestrating a sophisticated insider trading ring with tipsters at firms such as IBM and Intel, has prompted an email from an acquaintance of the accused who says the Sri Lankan-born billionaire is not the "ogre" he is being made out to be.

Vijay Dandapani, chief executive of a budget hospitality company in Manhattan called Apple Core Hotels, writes to say that he was invited by Rajaratnam on a cricket trip a few years back and has since seen him "off and on" in New York.

"I do know Raj, though not well, and find it hard to believe that he is the ogre he is being made out to be," says Dandapani.

"All I can say with certainty is that I came away with the impression that he is a stellar individual on many counts, not least of it being probity on a personal level," he continues. "I do know others who know him far better who have recounted stories of his seemingly endless personal generosity while, at the same time, striving to keep his wealth and stature out of the social mix."

Rajaratanam was arrested alongside five others on October 16 and charged with 13 criminal counts of fraud and conspiracy, through alleged insider tips that produced profits of $20m for his Galleon Group hedge fund, which is winding down after an abrupt exodus of clients.

In court papers, the department for justice said it swooped on Rajaratnam because the financier had become suspicious, correctly, that one of his associates was wearing a wire. The feds moved in as Rajaratnam was preparing to catch a flight out of New York's Kennedy airport to London, and then on to Switzerland.

The Rajaratnam camp argues that there was nothing fishy about this trip, and that he certainly wasn't fleeing justice. Those around him told Bloomberg News that he was heading to London to explore an AIM flotation of his hedge fund and to see a movie he had invested in, called "Today's Special", at the London Film Festival. His Swiss travel plans, according to sources close to Rajaratnam, were to meet investors in Geneva.

Rajaratnam, who is ranked by Forbes as the world's 551st richest man, is facing a litany of lawsuits. His business is liquidating and he has been accused by one group of litigants of channelling money to the Tamil Tigers in the country of his birth. We've not heard much of his side of the story yet. But this is proving to be an intriguing saga.

source: The Guardian UK

Pitfalls and perils of Sarath Fonseka as common opposition presidential candidate

by Kusal Perera

There is now a brewing political storm over former Army Commander, Sarath Fonseka being projected or talked of as a prospective “Common” presidential candidate. Although none is sure of what elections it would be, if at all there is going to be one, this “common candidate” is being now canvassed through many forums with President Rajapaksa expected to declare his own presidency over, in a month or two.

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[Gen. Sarath Fonseka]

The UNP too has stepped into this issue of a “common” candidate after rumours had it that it was the JVP which initiated discussions with Sarath Fonsseka. That was after former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva's name dropped off the list of a prospective common candidate.

Talk of “common” candidates before and during elections are not knew in our political history. Chandrika B. Kumaratunge was also turned into a “common” candidate by the JVP, after they withdrew from the presidential race in 1994 November, having secured a written promise to the effect that by June 1995, the Executive Presidency would be abolished. Chandrika thus became the “common” presidential candidate for all those who wanted the “Executive” presidency removed from Sri Lanka's governing system.

Present incumbent to the executive presidency, Mahinda Rajapaksa was also projected as the “common” candidate of all those who vowed to have a “unitary” State and during the candidacy period, Rajapaksa signed as many accords and agreements as possible with numerous groups and parties, promising to uphold a “unitary” State and usher in peace and democracy, minus an Executive Presidency. This presidency has nevertheless given the Rajapaksa regime a fillip that no other presidency ever enjoyed since 1978 February.

It is there to stay, was what late JRJ had told a foreign correspondent, while at his “ Braemar,”residence enjoying his retirement from politics. This correspondent had met JRJ to have his comments, after the JVP withdrew their presidential candidate in favour of Chandrika, on her promise to abolish the presidency. “Sir, what have you to say ? She has given in writing that she would abolish the presidency you created..” the correspondent had asked. After a hearty laugh, the 'old fox' he was called in politics, JRJ is supposed to have told the correspondent, “My dear, you come after she abolishes it...then I will comment..... I hope, I have enough years more to meet you then...”

The issue of abolishing the presidency comes up only when political parties want to avoid other main socio political issues in forging alliances. It has surfaced again, with Sarath Fonseka taken around for consent, like a water sprinkled tray of flowers on a poya day.

What is this necessity for Sarath Fonseka to be brought in as a “common” candidate ?

For once let us be clear about who a “common” candidate is, in our politics. A “common” candidate in Sri Lanka is different to what we perceive as a “common” candidate. On our political understanding, it is one who represents all the “opposition” to the existing regime. He or she therefore has to be at this point in our political life in this country, one who would stand for (i) de-militarising of society that includes among others, removing of all security given to politicians (ii) re-democratising of socio political structures that were very badly regimented under this rule, at times even violating the very Constitution, (iii) providing a justifiable, long term solution to the political aspirations of the Tamil people at least with the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the existing Constitution and which would include a rapid resettlement of all IDPs in their own place of choice, if not where they were (iv) a very comprehensive economic development programme that would include the rural economy as well and also (v) take serious steps in reforming the State to enable transparency and accountability in governance.

Such should be the totality of the opposition to this regime that would reasonably bring about a consensus for a “common” candidate. That is also what this country needs in terms of a political alternative to this Rajapaksa regime.

But unfortunately, that is not how the present talk of the “common” candidate comes out at secretly organised dinners, covert meetings at different undisclosed venues and with unknown personalities brokering linkages and conditions for Sarath Fonseka to be brought in as some odd group's political manoeuvring, given media space for speculation. The only projected objective in all of it is to defeat the Rajapaksa dynasty.

This typically Sinhala political effort in bringing a candidate who could have an appeal to the Southern Sinhala constituency as “the war hero” was first decided by the JVP. It is clearly an escape route for JVP, who can not at this time of their political isolation, field a candidate of their own. Nor could they go along with this regime, for it is Mahinda R and his image that would still gain in such an alliance and not the JVP. The JVP is also not politically willing to leave their Sinhala war cry, afraid they would lose what ever base they have in the Sinhala rural society. For the JVP therefore, the only option is to have a candidate they could back in favour of a Sinhala constituency.

That being so, though Fonseka has not committed himself on any count, the Rajapaksa regime has openly reacted with a campaign in saying the war victory belongs to them and only to them. Going a step further, the Defence Secretary has said the media should not use the Chief of Defence Staff's name in political reporting. It is thus clear, what ever the election, be it presidential or general, this government under Rajapaksas will want the people to vote for them for winning the war and for nothing else. Obviously there is little else they could show other than the military defeat of the LTTE and its leadership. Thus it is understandable they want all credit for it and the Sinhala votes too.

What it all means is that the next election will be contested within the Sinhala constituency. The Tamil constituency has been reduced to a disorganised, disintegrated and militarily controlled population with the defeat of the LTTE. Thus it is not strong enough to impact politically on the Sri Lankan political map that is wholly dominated by the Sinhala voice.

It is reason for this regime to convince itself, they can continue with its Sinhala supremacist ideology they developed for the war. Sinhala supremacy that Sarath Fonseka too as Army Commander stood for quite bluntly, while fighting the war. He was quite frank in his political stand with all his political statements in the media and when he said what no army chief in no other civilised democratic country would be allowed to say. “I strongly believe that this country belongs to the Sinhalese but there are minority communities and we treat them like our people. 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 can live in this country with us. But they must not try to, under the pretext of being a minority, demand undue things.” he told the Canadian magazine 'National Post' on September 23, 2008.

The stupidity in Sri Lankan politics is that the main Opposition led by the UNP too does not want to work on an alternative to this very sectarian and exclusive ideology. They are also gearing up to compete on that same Sinhala supremacist platform. They seem to feel they could reach political power, overtaking Rajapaksa, if they could also project themselves with a Sinhala face. The argument is that, once they come to power, once they get to the presidency, they would do “differently”. For they could then win the parliamentary election to govern differently with Tamil and Muslim leaders with them. It is for that they think they should have a broad front including at least Hakeem's SLMC and Ganesan's DPF.

This “strategy” the UNP think is feasible with Fonseka as a “common” candidate, raises very many political issues. One, what would Fonseka's position be, in challenging the Rajapaksa regime ? He can only say its him who led the war and not the Rajapaksas and beyond that, he can not make himself any different to the Rajapaksas. Can he ? May be he could say he opposed corruption in the defense establishment. What validity would such talk have, after 04 years of living together ?

The second is the role of the JVP on this “common” candidate's platform. They would have to praise Fonseka as the true hero. Or else there is no reason to have him as their “common” candidate. Their point of departure from Rajapaksa would be in highlighting corruption and the cost of living. To raise them from a platform that accepts the war which led to the break down of law and order, human rights violations, democratic life of society, allowed unrestricted, enormous power in the name of the patriotic war, would be a total contradiction. War is that and the majority of the Sinhala constituency is still accepting it as their sacrifice for the war. This leaves the JVP as no alternative to the Rajapaksas and their ideology of Sinhala supremacy.

Then comes the UNP and Mangala, who would have to perch on this very Sinhala platform that would keep minority aspirations dumb and cold. How would they differ or would they, from the JVP and the war hero's pride ? Their argument that they would perform differently is just empty talk. Having brought such a Sinhala biased platform, they would never be able to perform differently. Its a proven case. If not the UNP, at least Mangala should know it well. His day dream of turning the Rajapaksa government into a moderate Sinhala government that would honour democratic Tamil aspirations, ended up with him thrown out from the government most unceremoniously.

These platforms, are no mere campaign tools for elections. They bring together forces that accept the ideology in its strongest form. Its these forces that make such platforms a political reality and they in turn takes over the political direction of that formation, once in power. Thus this platform with war hero Fonseka as its vote puller, the JVP and the Sinhala racist bloc in the UNP, would only be different to the present Sinhala regime, led by the Rajapaksas, in its militarised approach to society and towards the minorities. Any promise for abolishing of the Executive Presidency would end as it did every time before. In their totality, for the Sinhala constituency, they would not make any difference and thus have no reason for a change in the ruling regime.

Yet, politically it fits right for the Sinhala JVP ideology with a wholly centralised State owned economic model as their path to development, to lead their campaign with a war hero. They would be more comfortable with Fonseka than with Rajapaksa in churning out their regimented State centred socialism. But for the society, even for the Sinhala constituency, it would be far worse than living with a corrupt and plundering Rajapaksa dynasty that would have to compromise with grumbling social forces that would demand more economic freedom, now that the war is over.

It was Henry Kissinger who once said, "Military men are dumb stupid animals, to be used as pawns for foreign policy". In present day Sri Lanka it would have to be re-phrased to read as “Political leaders are dumb stupid animals, who think military men could be used as pawns for their political advantage.” The Sinhala people and not the minorities, would thus have a leadership they deserve, as they always did. The minorities would have to work for a leadership that would best cater to them.

October 24, 2009

Defeat of LTTE cannot be classified as a "Great military victory"

By Prof. Charles Sarvan

“It is the propaganda of the winners that enters the history books. The reputation of the losers is shaped by the winners.” - (New York Review of Books, February 2008, page 44)

How does one judge whether a particular military victory is ‘great’? During the years and centuries of Western domination, ‘native hordes’ (sic), sometimes in their thousands, were defeated by a few hundred men. But that had less to do with courage, and much to do with progress in science, technology and fire-power. Conquest and exploitation; expropriation and settlement (America, Canada, Australia, etc); and the so-called “bringing of civilization” were all facilitated by cannon and musket, rifle and machine gun. Though told otherwise and perpetuated in legend, song and story, there is nothing ‘great’ in such battles and victories.

Numerical strength and resources also contribute to victory. The German army of World War II is rated as among the best the world has seen but, as a historian has commented, after 1943, in every battle, the Allies had more of everything than the Germans. After a certain stage, final defeat was inevitable. Bar Kokhva and his followers, though they fought fiercely and persistently, were wiped out by the Roman legions in 136 A. D., but the outcome cannot be termed a ‘great’ Roman triumph: a very small, poorly-equipped army faced the mighty Roman Empire.

The Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B. C. took place during the second Persian invasion of Greece. (See also the first Persian invasion and the Battle of Marathon, 490 B. C.) A force of approximately 7,000 men faced a huge Persian army. Though vastly outnumbered, the small force, led by King Leonidas of Sparta, blocked the only road by which the mighty Persian army could pass. After the second day of battle, a local resident betrayed the Greeks by revealing a small path that led behind the Greek lines. Aware that they were being outflanked, Leonidas dismissed the bulk of the Greek army, and remained to guard the rear with a few hundred men. Almost all of them were killed. The inscription erected in their honour reads: “Go tell the Spartans, / You who pass by, / That faithful to their precepts, / Here we lie.” During World War I, these lines were altered to read: “For Their Tomorrow, / We gave (sacrificed) our Today.”

But numerical superiority is not necessarily decisive. Alexander the Great was often totally outnumbered by the enemy. In modern times, there is the example of the Six-Day War (June 5-10, 1967), in which Israel fought and defeated the armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, which were supported by Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. By the war’s end Israel had gained control of the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.

Sometimes, the discrepancy between two armies (in terms of numbers, equipment and resources) is not tremendous, and victory is owed to superior military tactics. Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz on December 2, 1805 was a brilliant trap that destroyed the combined armies of Russia and Austria. The French lost about 1,300 men, while the Russians lost 11,000 and the Austrians 4,000. This victory, and other early successes, made many believe that Napoleon was invincible.

It was a conviction that Napoleon himself, with fatal foolishness, held – and so it was with the Tamil Tiger leader. Another aspect of military history is falsification. Repeated and repeated, handed down from generation to generation, celebrated in song, told and re-told in story, what was fabricated becomes the truth in the people’s mind. The Song Of Roland (Chanson de Roland) is a popular European legend describing how the brave and noble Roland was ambushed and murdered by (treacherous, vile, deceitful, cruel) Moslems.
The truth is quite different.

As Charlemagne retreated through the Pyrenees, he was harried by Basques and, in a mountain pass at Roncesvalles, the Frankish rear guard under Roland was destroyed. This Christian loss – Catholic Franks slaughtered by Catholic Basques – was transformed over time into a fatal conflict between Christianity and Islam. Closer to the present there’s the Battle of Plassey, which took place on June 23, 1757. It was taught in schools, both in the UK and in the imperial territories, as a great victory in which ‘Clive of India,’ with 800 Europeans (plus thousands of Indian soldiers, but this fact was downplayed), conquered the 50,000-man army of Siraj-ud-doula, Nawab of Bengal.

In truth, the outcome of the battle was decided before the soldiers came to the battlefield. Mir Jafar, aspirant to the Nawab’s throne, was induced to join Clive, and most of the Nawab’s soldiers were bribed to throw away their weapons, surrender prematurely, or even turn their guns against their own army. (Siraj was brutally murdered by Mir Jafar’s son, Miran.)

Referring to this battle, Jawaharlal Nehru, in his The Discovery Of India, comments that British rule in India had an unsavoury beginning. However, it must be admitted, frankly and honestly, that Western powers – be it in the Americas, the Middle East, Africa or Asia – did not, and do not ‘divide and rule.’ We cannot reproach ‘Divide et impera’ and shift the blame. Foreign powers, when they find a people already divided, make use of, and where possible exacerbate existing suspicion, competition and hatred.

One of the remarkable features of The Iliad, one of the most famous Western texts, is that, although written by a Greek (or Greeks), for Greeks, and celebrating a Greek triumph, the courage exemplified by the enemy, the Trojans, is recognised and honoured. Brutality is recorded, often in detail, but bravery, loyalty and skill, when exemplified by the enemy, is acknowledged. In other Greek works too there is a measure of understanding of and sympathy for the defeated Trojans.


Similarly, Western historians, while taking full measure of the appalling atrocities committed by the German army during WWII, also acknowledge that they were very brave, disciplined and fought to the end.

However, in Sri Lanka there doesn’t seem to be that Greek generosity or Western objectivity and balance. For example:

“Yes, the Tigers carried out acts of terrorism. Yes, they made fatal mistakes, but they also mounted a few carefully-planned and bravely-executed missions.”

Rather, the conflict is presented in the primeval terms of the clash of good and evil. The winning side is entirely and always good, if not noble; everyone on the other side is always evil. Their humanity denied and obscured, the enemy are made into demons. The winners are brave and patriotically self-sacrificing, while the defeated are only brainwashed fanatics, at once cowardly and suicidal. There is no generous acknowledgement, nuance or objectivity. It is as in films and stories of a certain kind for children and naïve adults: the hero is totally good and the bad is totally bad, without a single redeeming trait or act.

This is not to defend the Tamil Tiger leadership. History shows they made a succession of catastrophic mistakes and committed many grave crimes (a secular term) and sins (a spiritual concept). The Tamils of Sri Lanka, defenseless, have been led to the worst situation ever in their history, a crisis out of which no one can predict if they will emerge. The LTTE leader was unreceptive to advice, brutal towards dissenters, had little grasp of the wider international picture, was unable to recognise trends in time, and was unable to change policy and tactics.

His final, desperate measure of forcing trapped and terrified children, women and men to act as a buffer (even when he must have realised that the government was not going to relent in its advance) does not, to put it mildly, excite admiration. Having said all this, leaving aside political calculation and military strategy, the attempt here is to ask whether the defeat of the Tigers can justifiably be described in military terms as the great victory it is trumpeted to be.

To begin with numbers: exact figures are hard to come by, but it is thought that, at their height, the Tigers perhaps numbered 30,000. Towards the end, down to a few thousand and then a few hundred, they faced an army of perhaps 250,000. Then there is the matter of resources. The Tigers did not have jets and helicopters. Their propeller planes were slow and clumsy and of no real military value. Rejected by foreign governments, the Tigers were as isolated internationally as they were totally surrounded geographically.

In contrast, the Government of Sri Lanka received help and advice from several countries. The Taliban fight in mountainous, inaccessible terrain, while the Tigers occupied flat land – albeit forested. Sri Lanka being an island and the government of the nearest country, India, implacably hostile, the LTTE did not have borders over which they could easily slip to re-group, recover and return to continue the struggle.

Fitting all this together, it seems to me the wonder is not that the government eventually won but that it took so long for eventual victory to be achieved. In short, the defeat of the Tigers cannot be classified as ‘a great military victory.’ But although it wasn’t a great military victory, it is a great victory, a watershed in Sri Lanka’s history, with both immediate and far-reaching consequence in many aspects: ethnic, economic, social, cultural, and religious.

The victory is still very great because the consequences are extremely significant, particularly for Tamils. This is not to say that government soldiers did not face danger and hardship, did not fight with courage, did not endure wounds and trauma and did not pay the ultimate price. No, the effort is to bring in some measure of objectivity and truth – the balance lacking in the present giddy euphoria and orgy of self-congratulation.

Given polarization and inflamed feelings, I suppose the above will be met with execration by both sides, rather than with calm discussion. In Moses And Monotheism, Freud, though himself a Jew, suggests the startling possibility that Moses was not a Jew but an Egyptian. I quote from the beginning of the work, adding the final emphasis:

“To deny to a people the man whom it praises as the greatest of its sons, is not something to be undertaken lightly – especially by one belonging to that people. But no consideration will move me to set aside truth in favour of supposed national interest.”

am confident there are many Sinhalese and Tamils who have Freud’s total, honest and fearless commitment to the truth. I am, therefore, also convinced that an accurate and balanced account of the history of the Tamil Tiger war will eventually emerge. Truth may be one of the first fatalities of war, but sooner or later it is discovered and resurrected.

Identical Death Threats sent by Post to "Sunday Leader" Editor and News Editor

THE WAY WITH COWARDS: Deadly missives to journalists who remain unarmed and unafraid.

Identical Death threats in red have been sent by post to the Editor in chief of "The Sunday Leader" Ms. Frederica Jansz and the News Editor Ms.. Munza Mushtaq.The letters postmarked on Wednesday October 21st were received on Oct 22nd Thursday

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We reproduce here an excerpt from a front page article in the newspaper regarding the incident under the heading "And Now They Come For Us" -

Once again editors at The Sunday Leader are under threat. Last Thursday, October 22, Frederica Jansz, Editor-in-Chief of this newspaper and Munza Mushtaq, News Editor were both sent two hand written death threats by post.

The two letters are identical — written in red ink and appear to have been posted on October 21, 2009. Coincidentally, the late Lasantha Wickrematunge, founder Editor-in-Chief of The Sunday Leader was sent a similar missive — also written in red ink — in December last year, three weeks before he was murdered.

This newspaper has consistently in the entire 15 years of its existence come under attack. We have been burnt, bombed, sealed, harassed and threatened, culminating in January this year with the brutal killing of Lasantha Wickrematunge.

Not satisfied with that assassination, The Sunday Leader has continued to come under attack. In May this year, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa brought a fresh case against the newspaper and its Editor, Frederica Jansz alleging we were in contempt of an ongoing case in court for having carried a profile on him days after he won the war.

Barely two weeks later after we were asked to show cause in Court, five lawyers who appeared for The Sunday Leader in this case of contempt of court were branded ‘traitors’ by the government’s very own Defence Ministry web site.

This was followed by another article also posted on the Defence Ministry web site by none other that the Defence Secretary himself Gotabaya Rajapaksa where he reiterated the position of the previous article on the Defence Ministry web site going a step further and accusing the five lawyers appearing for The Sunday Leader as running “to their Nanny” the Bar Association of Sri Lanka. Rajapaksa’s defensive and angry rebuttal followed the BASL and the International Bar Association having issued statements on the incident condemning the actions of the Defence Ministry.

Thereafter, continuing this war against The Sunday Leader, in September, the web page of the Media Centre for National Security carried a slanderous article refuting certain statements made to al Jazeera by Frederica Jansz in relation to the infamous Channel 4 video. The article went so far as to even carry terminology such as “prostituting and prostitute.”

This was despite Frederica Jansz having clearly in her interview to al Jazeera stated that Channel 4 – UK should never have aired the controversial video unless and until it had checked the authenticity of the images.

However, to the credit of Director, Media Centre for National Security, Lakshman Hulugalle no sooner Frederica informed him of the scurrilous article he had it removed from the web site. Interestingly, though he told Frederica at the time she informed him of the article in question that he had absolutely no knowledge it was even on the site and she had to in fact walk him through the motions to even find it. The Media Centre for National Security functions under the purview of the Defence Ministry.

Last week’s death threat to both Frederica Jansz and Munza Mushtaq appears to follow a similar pattern. The Sunday Leader last week on October 18, carried a front page news item which said that in a controversial turn of events, a United States company specialising in forensic services has in a preliminary report maintained that no tampering or editing was carried out in either the video or audio portions of the controversial Channel 4 video clip which showed a man in Sri Lankan military uniform executing civilians. Our story merely reported extracts from the report as well as quoted Minister Keheliya Rambukwella who we spoke to in relation to its contents.

The Sunday Leader has been a controversial newspaper because we say it like we see it: whether it be a spade, a thief or a murderer, we call it by that name. We do not hide behind euphemism. The investigative articles we print are supported by documentary evidence. We have exposed scandal after scandal, and never once in these 15 years has anyone proved us wrong or successfully prosecuted us.

From us you learn the state of your nation, and especially its management by the people you elected to give your children a better future. Sometimes the image you see in that mirror is not a pleasant one. The journalists who hold the mirror up to you do so publicly and at great risk to themselves. That is our calling, and we do not shirk it.

Mahinda, Gota and Sarath share the same Sinhala supremacist vision for Sri Lanka

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

During the Fourth Eelam War, the Lankan war effort was led by a politico-military triumvirate consisting of President Mahinda Rajapakse, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse and Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka.This ruling cabal adopted a strategy which was almost a mirror image of the total war strategy of Vellupillai Pirapaharan.

The Tamils, especially those in operation areas, were treated as enemy aliens. The war was prioritised above development and human needs, resulting in an unsustainably high defence budget and a permissive attitude towards human rights violations by the Lankan side.

Less than six months after the war ended in an outright victory, the three personalities at the helm of the war effort seem to be at loggerheads. Even if one were to ignore innumerable media reports, there are other telling indicators – such as verbal pinches and slaps by ministers (including a veritable barrage by ------Minister Mervyn Silva) and the curious presences and absences in the government media (General Fonseka’s speech to the army was blacked out).

There was also the 9th October ITN interview with Defence Secretary Rajapakse, in which he made but one passing mention to the General and fulsomely credited the President (and indirectly himself) with the victorious war effort.

When the para-JVP paper, Lanka, carried a front page lead story about the ‘fallout’, its editor was detained and questioned by the CID for several hours. The decision by the General to refuse the post of Secretary to the Ministry of Sports and Public Entertainment (a curious appointment indeed!) has added fuel to the inferno of rumours.

Though the origins and the extent of the problem are shrouded in mystery and its outcomes are uncertain, it is hard to doubt the existence of a problem between Gen. Fonseka and the Rajapakse brothers. Barely six months after the war, the three men who won it, seem to be on the verge of yet another uncivil war – this time against each other.

The Sinhala supremacist vision underlying the Fourth Eelam War was common to President Rajapakse, Defence Secretary Rajapakse and General Fonseka. As Army Commander, Gen. Fonseka did not hesitate to wade into political waters by expressing this vision publicly, and in the most unequivocal terms: “The truth is that this country is ruled by Sinhalese for centuries and centuries. China is ruled by Chinese, England by the Englishmen and Germany by Germans. This is because these countries are ruled by the majorities.…........... What is wrong by saying that this country, which is historically ruled by Sinhalese will be ruled by the Sinhalese… I am not a historian, but according to what I have learnt, this country is ruled by the Sinhalese and the minorities are also part and parcel of this country” (The Sunday Observer – 5.8.2008).

There is little doubt that Gen. Fonseka was both a believer and a participant in the Rajapakse project of turning Sri Lanka into a hierarchically pluralist country dominated by Sinhala Buddhists.

Soon after the war ended, Gen. Fonseka announced that the Armed Forces would be expanded further. He seemed to have subscribed to the Rajapakse vision of post-war Sri Lanka as a highly militarised society where democratic rights would be curtailed in the name of national security.

At a meeting with a group of foreign correspondents last year, Gen. Fonseka hinted at a future consisting of unending violence and overarching extremism, a future defined and shaped by a nebulous ‘counterinsurgency campaign’ against an equally nebulous ‘Tamil nationalism’: "Even if we finish the war, capture the whole of the north, still the LTTE might have some members joining them…. There are people who believe in Tamil nationalism. The LTTE might survive another even two decades with about 1,000 cadres. But we will not be fighting in the same manner. It might continue as an insurgency forever" (BBC – 30.6.2008).

Ideologically and politically, therefore, the Rajapakses and Gen. Fonseka are of the same ilk. All three are Sinhala supremacist; all three have little regard for democracy or for democratic rights; all three subscribe to a future in which the minorities will be kept firmly in their (subordinate) places (if necessary through violence) and democratic dissent and opposition will be disallowed in the name of patriotism.

The current ‘fallout’ seems to have been occasioned by ‘personal’ factors. The Rajapakses want to turn Sri Lanka into a dynastic democracy, a one family state behind a democratic façade. It would have been this Dynastic project which made the Rajapakses regard Gen. Fonseka with suspicion and treat him with discourtesy, post-war.

Incidentally one cannot but see a similarity between the way in which the Rajapakses are treating Gen. Fonseka and the way they dealt with Mangala Samaraweera. Just as the former was a key in the victorious war, the latter was a, if not the, key in the victorious Presidential election. Mr. Samaraweera was not only instrumental in organising Mr. Rajapakse’s campaign; without his intervention, Mr. Rajapakse may not have been able to bag the SLFP/PA nomination in the first place. Yet a few months after the election, Mr. Samaraweera was sidelined; and in just over a year, he was hounded out of the government and the party.

The marginalising of Gen. Fonseka began, soon after his usefulness as the Army Commander ended. After all, in a dynastic regime, there are no non-family partners, just pawns, who will be treated well only as long as their usefulness lasts. And a capable man who is outliving the role assigned to him can be seen by the ruling family as a nuisance at best and a threat at worse.

So the politico-ideological affinity notwithstanding, the Rajapakses and General Fonseka are at loggerheads. Whatever the final outcome of this internecine quarrel is, in the interim it has weakened the regime and slowed down the Rajapakses’ march towards a dynastic democracy. In that sense the breaking up of the war-time triumvirate is a blessing in disguise, because it has divided and weakened the politico-military elemental force which is undermining the democratic system. Had that triad remained intact, had its members continued to work in unison towards a shared goal, violation of democratic and human rights and attacks on the media would have increased several-fold and Sri Lanka would have been a far more unfree and unjust land, especially for minorities and dissidents.

Segments of the Opposition have, understandably, jumped into the fray, defending the General and inviting him to become the common Presidential candidate. At the forefront of this effort is the JVP, which is promoting Gen. Fonseka vigorously as a counter to Mahinda Rajapakse, just as, four years ago, it promoted Mahinda Rajapakse vigorously, as a counter to Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (The JVP seems destined to practice negative politics, driven by feelings of chagrin and motives of revenge.).

Will Gen. Fonseka agree to become the Common Opposition Candidate?

Will Ranil Wickremesinghe undercut him from within, in such an eventuality?

These are questions which can be answered only with time. As concerning observance of human rights and fidelity to democratic values, there is no real difference between the Rajapakse brothers and Gen. Fonseka.

They rode roughshod over their opponents and defended each other’s misdeeds when it was in their interest to march in unison. Now their interests have diverged, and this estrangement may indeed lead to a parting of ways. But both parties would be motivated by nothing more than pure and unadulterated self interest. Both parties will try to lay claim to loftier values, from patriotism to democracy, but the inescapable fact is that both sides would be motivated by greed for power and lust for revenge.

And if the Rajapakse brothers and General Fonseka end up on opposing sides at the next Presidential election, those tactics which were used by both parties in the last four years will be rehashed, this time against each other.

When Keith Noyhar, associate editor and defence analyst of ‘The Nation’ was abducted and tortured, five media organisations staged a demonstration of protest this criminal act. Defence Secretary Rajapakse summoned some of the leaders of the protest and comments to them are illuminating in their brutal frankness: “You are criticizing the military and its Commanders.

You are attacking (Lieutenant General) Sarath Fonseka who has committed his life for the past 18 years to waging a war. He had a narrow escape (following a suicide bomb attack). When we have committed our entire lives, you are attacking us. This is no laughing matter. Tell me one thing you have done for this country compared to Lt Gen. Fonseka. He is loved by the soldiers.

They can cause harm…... I am definitely not threatening your lives. I am not. It will happen from where it happens. Our services are appreciated by 99 per cent of the people. They love the Army Commander (Lt. Gen. Fonseka) and the Army. Those who love us do what is required. We cannot help that (The Sunday Times – 6.6.2008).

In the last four years, patriotism was considered synonymous with limitless loyalty and unquestioning obedience to the Rajapakse regime (of which Gen. Sarath Fonseka was an important part). This absolutist mindset permitted no space for questions and doubts, differences and dissent. Opponents of the regime were considered traitors and some paid the ultimate price for their ‘crime’.

This politico-ideological regimentation worked seamlessly when the Rajapakses and General Fonseka were working together. What will happen if General Fonseka indeed decides to enter politics via the opposition, as its common presidential candidate?

Who will be the traitors then and who the patriots?

Will General Fonseka damn his former masters as traitors?

Will the Rajapakse brothers damn their former Army Commander as a traitor?

Which way will the ‘patriotic’ lobby go?

Will it become divided?

Will General Fonseka be treated in the same way he and the Rajapakses treated their opponents in the last four years?

What will each side accuse the other of?

Which deeds committed in the darkness of secrecy will be revealed as a result of this internecine contestation?

It is hard to believe that Gen. Sarath Fonseka has become a democrat simply because he is having personal differences with the Rajapakse brothers. They are merely birds of a feather with some problems. Still, if Gen. Fonseka joins the opposition, it will weaken the Rajapakse camp and impede the progress of its ‘two-thirds project’. If the UPFA does not get a two thirds majority, Lankan democracy will be able to get back on track in time, albeit with a few tactical deviations, even if Mr. Rajapakse wins the Presidency (as he will).

Dreams die hard and the Rajapakses will cling to their Dynastic project to the very end. But if the UPFA is unable to get its two-thirds in the upcoming election, the Rajapakse myth will be shattered and the Rajapakse dominance within the party will begin to wane, causing Sri Lanka’s march towards a dynastic democracy to come to a grinding halt.

Furthermore, the currently dominant Sinhala supremacist camp will become weakened and confused, thereby reducing the potency of one of the most important forces opposing a political solution to the ethnic problem. An unwitting – and welcome – outcome of the next uncivil war may be the retransformation of Sri Lanka into a (flawed) pluralist democracy.

President Rajapakse must promote Sarath Fonseka as Field Marshall immediately

by Maj.Gen Lalin Fernando (retd)

‘I need this man. He fights’ - Abraham Lincoln on General Grant

‘Mad is he? I wish he would bite some of my other generals’ - King George II on General James Wolfe who took the Heights of Abraham from the French and died in the attempt.

The terrorists were decisively defeated on May 18th and peace which was considered unattainable reigns over Sri Lanka after 30 years of murderous strife. The death toll is nearly 100,000. The sacrifices made by the military and the civilians who were maimed and killed should not be forgotten. The peace dividend should usher in good governance and prosperity for all while those who led the country to victory should be held in great honour. Those who ridiculed and cursed the armed forces should remain in the shadows. Above all the next of kin of those who sacrificed their lives and the disabled soldiers must be remembered.

Unfortunately there appears to be some suspicion and bitterness in the top echelons of the nation which has galvanized the once completely written off political cadres back into action. Defeatists who attempted to destabilize the nation during the war and other groups have mobilized again, imagining and exaggerating differences between political and military leaders. The bogey of a ludicrous Indian interest in SL’s affairs is being brandished to raise zero morale.

These insidious forces must be overwhelmingly defeated with the same determination, sense of purpose, unity and self sacrifice for the national good that enabled victory in war. That is the prayer of the people. The appeasers and the reptiles who were praying for an apocalypse during the war, are also now praying to their varied gods to gift them the spoils of war.

It was after the magnificent victory of the Indian military over Pakistan (1971) in what was then East Pakistan, that Premier Indira Gandhi promoted General Sam Manekshaw, a Parsi, (twice wounded and once left for dead fighting the Japanese in WW2 ) to become its first serving Field Marshal (FM). It was this combination that won in 14 days what was called the ‘lightning’ war. Manekshaw insisted that the hoisting of the Indian Tricolour in Dacca (now Dakha) to signify victory be done by the Commanding General Jagjit Singh Aurora instead of himself as requested by Mrs. Gandhi. (General Fonseka who too was wounded twice in battle and then survived being blasted by a suicide bomber, did the same, giving credit always to the Eastern and Wanni battlefield commanders so that they became household names in the country)

After the euphoria of winning the war and a polls victory which relied entirely on the victory over East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in the next elections called early, the Congress party’s popularity quickly waned for reasons that are especially common in South Asia. This was the time that the Indian Intelligence, largely sidelined before, struck. They wormed their way to Gandhi with a tale that FM Manekshaw was planning a coup d’etat.

Mrs. Gandhi, according to the FM called him over to her Teen Murti residence. He told her that he was about to drink a cup of tea and asked if he could come thereafter. She told him "Sam, leave your tea and come over. I will make you a cup of tea". That was how close they were; famous national leader and victorious army commander. When the FM met the Premier she came to the point quickly and told him what she was warned of. The FM said he got up from his seat and went over to where she was seated and putting his nose which he said was as long as hers as close as possible to hers and said "Prime Minister, I am only a soldier. All I want to do is to serve my country. When I finish I will go back home. I have no inkling for politics or for any other government job". The matter was settled and was never spoken about again. Nevertheless she offered him the post of Governor of Bombay Presidency where the biggest concentration of Parsis in the world lived and later when he refused, the High Commissioner’s post in UK. He refused again. He became Chairman of several private companies in retirement.

Gen Sarath Fonseka, front line commander from 1984 who during the phoney peace of 2002/5 refused to hand over the HSZs in Jaffna despite severe political and international pressure, stuck his neck out as Army Commander in 2006 and said that he would defeat the terrorists, classified as the most dangerous in the world, so that his successor would not have to fight them. He kept his promise but in doing so was very nearly killed by a suicide bomber, the only army commander who was so attacked.

It is probable that if President Rajapakse had any other Army Commander that the terrorists would not have been defeated. If Gen Fonseka had to serve under a different C in C it is just as unlikely that he would have succeeded in his mission. Both of them were indispensable to the unique winning combination.

When FM Montgomery (Monty) was Chief of Imperial General Staff (UK) at the time General Eisenhower (Ike) was President of USA, was asked why he like Ike did not take to politics. The British 8th Army Commander who defeated the equally famous German General Rommel in the North African desert in WW2 and commanded all ground forces in the opening phase of the subsequent Normandy landings and was also Commander of 21st Army Group in the liberation of Europe, replied "Eisenhower. He is a good man. I know him very well. He was Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe in WW2. Unlike Ike (who had not seen battle until then), I have seen battle from the time I was a second lieutenant in WW1 and fought in Europe, Africa and Asia. I was left for dead after being bayoneted and gassed in WW1. I have seen the effects of war on people from bayonet, bullet, mine, shell, mortar, rocket and bombing including carpet bombing of cities. I have seen the survivors of ships sunk at sea, prisoners of war, the raped, the orphans and the widows, the survivors of death and concentration camps and the devastation caused by atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. War is horrible. Is horrible. But as for politics, it is far, far worse".

Gen Fonseka who will remember what FM Montgomery said, has very clearly and categorically said he too will not take to politics. He is a man who keeps to his word. The nation must pray he does. He also knows that the only other Army Commander who took to politics, General Richard Udugama, was dragged into it by the usual dregs and gave it up in utter disgust.

As chief guest of the Post Graduate Management Institute, after making a very impressive presentation to the alumni, the first by a military officer, Gen Fonseka was asked by Gunapala Nanayakara the CEO to write his memoirs saying it would bring him a lot of money so that he would not have in his retirement to depend on what Nanayakara disparagingly termed ‘a pittance of an army pension’. Gen Fonseka in his disarmingly but ramrod straight style said ‘I don’t know what it is to have a lot of money so I will have to see about that’.

The truth is that the architects of the victory were decided not in 2006 but in October 2005 when the then Prime Minister Rajapakse was campaigning. It was known to many that he would immediately appoint the then Chief of Staff, Maj Gen Fonseka, Army Commander after (not if) he won the Presidential elections to defeat the terrorists.

This was done. What were his reasons? Of many, he knew that Gen Fonseka welcomed fighting the LTTE and was the most battle hardened, tactically innovative and experienced officer in the Army. He had also been wounded at least twice in battle. He was one senior officer who though he had his idiosyncrasies like any other who dared, ("The best soldier has in him a seasoning of devilry"- FM Archibald Wavell, last Viceroy of India) would fight skillfully with great courage, undeterred by reverses and keep fighting until he won.

He was also a man of absolute integrity and a disciplinarian who would make General Martinet, Louis XIV’s Adjutant General, envious. President Rajapakse was aware that there were many experienced younger officers who were eager to battle the LTTE but had faith only in Gen Fonseka to lead them to victory. He also knew that there were other Generals who had been brain washed to believe that peace talks, political solutions and kowtowing to political masters was the path to follow for survival but not of the nation.

The President would also appoint his brother, Col (Retired) Gotabhaya, Defence Secretary to ensure that some one who he could trust implicitly was his link to Gen Fonseka. This was the winning combination. The Rajapakse’s supported Gen Fonseka through thick and thin and never wavered in their belief in him to achieve victory. Gen Fonseka did more. He decimated the LTTE, something that had never been done in terrorist warfare before.

Victory over the terrorists was thought to be impossible by those who did not know of Gen Fonseka. They were many of this ilk including foreign envoys and generals who had dabbled in SL’s affairs and voiced their doubts right up to May 2009. They were proved completely wrong.

While the victory over the terrorists was immediately hailed as one of the greatest in the world, it will take time to comprehend its actual and true significance.

What should be done now is for the President to promote Gen Fonseka Field Marshal, something only he has deserved. It is overdue. (All previous army commanders in 30 years too held the rank of General and they all signally failed to defeat the LTTE. Further some of them in the 1990s were also responsible for massive frauds, bribery and gut wrenching terrible debacles.).

Gen Fonseka’s sudden appointment to the newly created post of Chief of Defence Staff on the eve of the epic victory will then make sense to the people of the country, many of whom were perturbed and greatly saddened by its timing. It will also remove the platform that political adventurers, hatchet men etc. have mounted hoping to free fall on political victory using him as a fire and forget missile.

Their otherwise dormant brains have been terminally addled. The country believes that having come so far, generosity in thought and deed by its trio of victorious leaders for the benefit of the country is what is required to make sure this is a peace that will endure, bring success to the country and a better life for its people and very importantly honour to those who led and made the sacrifices in the crucible of battle.

It would be fair to say of Gen Fonseka like the Duke of Wellington said of Sir John Moore, the victor over the French at Corunna "We would not have won, I think, without him." (Before he died of his wounds at Corunna, Moore said "I hope my country will do me justice").

Meeting by APRSL at British Parliament on way forward in post-war Sri Lanka

by Dushy Ranetunge in London

Alliance for Peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka (APRSL) had a Parliamentary meeting at the House of Commons meeting rooms on Monday Oct. 19, exactly five months to the day that the LTTE were defeated.

The theme was Post-war in Sri Lanka: Peace and reconciliation- a way forward.

Andy Love MP chaired the meeting. Other British participants were,

Des Brown MP and Siobhian McDonough MP. The speakers included Councillor Paul Sathianesan, Reza Yehya, Director Research - Serendip Institute of Research and Development (SIRD of Sri Lanka) and Roy Chaudhury who spoke on the’ Indian perspective of the conflict in Sri Lanka’.

Minister of Science and Technology and Chairman of the All Party Representatives Committee Prof. Tissa Vitarana was the main speaker and a surprise guest. He was accompanied by the new Sri Lankan Deputy High Commissioner in London, Mr. P M Amza, who was previously in Chennai. The previous Deputy High Commissioner in London, Sumith Nakandala, was recalled by Colombo prematurely.

The APRSL is a predominantly Sri Lankan Tamil organization in the UK, which is trying to reach out to the Muslims and the Sinhalese with a view to form a broader consensus.

Andy Love MP introduced Vitarana as Sri Lanka’s version of the "renaissance man".

Vitarana reiterated his quest to find a solution, one country, one nation and that his formula, or in his words "a summary, then a summary of the summary" of the formula had been submitted to the President for his consideration. After the President responds, Vitarana hopes that the TNA also contributes. He emphasized that a 2/3rds majority is needed and that in some cases a referendum may also be required.

In response to a question regarding the 13th amendment being the panacea, Vitarana stated that it was not an exercise in participatory democracy, but an imposition by India modeled on the Indian experience where devolved Indian states are larger than Sri Lanka.

Vitarana emphasized that his "home grown" solution empowers the village level and hence minorities living in areas surrounded by a larger community. He said that this solution has a bill of rights, individual and group rights as a part of the judicial structure.

Even at this event a Canadian Tamil political activist who had spent a month in Trincomalee and was on his way back to Canada expressed these fears. According to him, the Rajapaksa’s had purchased about 80 acres of beach land in the East near Trincomalee and Sinhalese fisherman were also being settled in the East on a permanent basis. The veracity of these allegations is not the issue, but that these are the insecurities of that community.

These fears and prejudices are also surfacing in the form of a Pillayan - Karuna clash, with Pillayan attracting Eastern Tamil support and even Indian support, while Karuna is the advocate of the State’s Sinhalese prejudices and fears.

There were questions as to why peace was being delayed till after the elections. Vitarana quoted the President in stating that the UNP always says that it will support constitutional reform, but they never do, going by their past record, and therefore the President feels that the government will be in a stronger position after the next elections. The government’s "aspiration" is to obtain a 2/3rds majority at the polls.

Vitarana addressed the IDP issue comprehensively. He stated that the remaining IDP’s as at October 4, 2009 were 237,641 from an initial 306,476.

19,675 had been reunified, 15,659 had been transferred to other camps, 2,938 had been rehabilitated, 2,111 had disappeared, 5,425 had been hospitalized and the rest had been released.

He stated that water is still a problem with long daily queues to collect water, but that community cooking had ceased and that five dry rations are distributed by the WFP for individual cooking. Water bowsers were being used regularly and contractors were required to use camp labour for work in the camps.

There were preparations for the monsoon in the coming weeks to relocate 72,000 from low lying areas.

10,000 LTTE cadres had been identified and they were in rehabilitation camps. Ambepussa has one and they are constructing 20 camps with 500 in each. Psychiatric assistance was being made available in these camps.

They estimate that there are another 5,000 or so LTTE cadres in the existing camps.

Independently this writer was informed from non-government, non-Tamil sources, of the presence of LTTE cadres in the camps in Vavuniya and that they are stirring up the Tamils in the camps against the authorities.

Vitarana has personally intervened to secure the release of some Jaffna University students and he said that his visit to local hospitals indicated that there were vacant beds after being full during the earlier months. He hoped that before long the IDP situation would be solved.

Vitarana’s performance at the meeting was constructive and he made progress with the audience until the gentleman who was sitting next to me posed a question.

He was Tom Wipple from the London Times. His question was about unfettered access for journalists to the camps.

From this point onwards Vitarana lost the floor and the audience turned against him.

He stated that he was personally for unfettered access but that Sri Lanka was hypersensitive because of bad reporting, raising of the issue of genocide and the press ignoring all the good the government had done and focusing on the negative.

An ex-Tamil politician sitting next to the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commissioner, Amza, raised a question that there are so many refugees all over the world, including Muslim refugees in Sri Lanka. Why were the British raising concerns and unfairly only focusing on Sri Lankan Tamil refugees?

This seemed a planted intervention by an ally riding to Vitarana’s defence.

The same gentleman previously raised the question about the 13th amendment being a panacea, opening the door for Vitarana to market the "home grown" solution. These are games played by the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government, and after awhile one spots the plants. Others too notice and the result is a loss of credibility.

A British politician present responded by stating that he had visited the Muslim refugee camps in Puttalam and had raised the issue in the British Parliament.

There were shouts from the audience, "you are killing journalists because you are hypersensitive?"

Andy Love MP intervened to calm the situation and to allow Vitarana to speak without being interrupted.

Vitarana tried to pacify the audience by stating that the President always says that he wants to address the problems of the Tamils and that he spoke in public in the Tamil language. The audience laughed and dismissed the President talking in Tamil as a "bad joke".

Des Browne MP, special envoy of the British government to Sri Lanka spoke of the need to address the IDP issue as a priority as something fundamental could happen if this is not done.

Des Browne has Irish roots and this insight into the Irish psyche may have been one of the reasons why he was selected as the envoy to Sri Lanka. Sinhalese/Tamil psyche has many similarities to Irish Protestant/Catholic psyche, in respect of their fears and prejudices.

Browne emphasized the need for a legitimate process which identifies all Sri Lanka’s communities to achieve a sustainable peace. The need for the rule of law and the ability of the people to seek redress and substantial changes to the way that Sri Lanka is governed. The design he said, should be for the future, so that future generations could live in peace.

He stated that the Sri Lankan Diaspora is significant and its effects on Sri Lanka could be profound.

Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, presently running the South Asia security program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) was next to speak. He had previously served in the Indian Prime Minister’s Office for a few years and before that in a think tank in New Delhi. He has written extensively on India and Indian political-military issues, including two books on the Indian military.

He focused on Sri Lanka’s strategic interests to India and ruled out any Indian military intervention in the near future, but emphasized the value and influence of Tamil Nadu to the Indian Union and possible changes to India-Sri Lanka relations based on three factors. These he identified as insecurities, public mood in Tamil Nadu and China/Pakistan influence in Sri Lanka.

Before entering the Committee room, I had the opportunity to interact with some of those who were waiting for the Committee room to fall vacant at 6.00 p.m. Councillor Paul Sathianesan informed me that another Tamil candidate is being proposed to run against him at the next council elections in East Ham, because he is viewed as a "traitor" for not supporting the LTTE war effort.

The mirror image of this phenomenon is found in Sri Lanka, where those who do not support the government’s point of view are branded as "traitors" or terrorist sympathizers.

Councillor Sathianesan, British, Canadian, Australian and American politicians who intervene on behalf of Tamils do so in support of their constituents. This is a norm in democratic behaviour, similar to a lawyer defending a client in court.

To accuse them and deport them as in the case of Canadian Bob Rae as being LTTE sympathizers is as ridiculous as accusing a lawyer of being a criminal because he is defending and having consultations with criminals. Such positions are unhelpful and expose Sri Lanka as being undemocratic and intolerant.

I also met a Sri Lankan reporter who is living in London after fleeing Sri Lanka, because of fear for his life.

Siobhian McDonough MP who was present, had called for a boycott of Sri Lanka during the Labour Party conference, which was concluded earlier this month. One of the participants Ishan Gunesekera, the owner of the Asiana Restaurant in Maida Vale, West London, wanted to question McDonough as to why she called for a boycott of Sri Lanka and if such a move would help anyone. Since the meeting had to be concluded by 8.00pm and it was already past this time, Ishan’s question never got answered.

After the meeting had concluded, Ishan and his sister confronted Siobhian McDonough MP and were seen in heated argument, with Siobhian acknowledging that she had never visited Sri Lanka and did not have to visit Sri Lanka to take such a stand, while Ishan was arguing that Siobhian must make informed statements and not merely appease a Tamil nationalist constituency.

There is to be a referendum in the Western Democracies among the Tamil Diaspora about Tamil Eelam. This is expected to take place in December with Canada hosting the first vote.

Mannar Bishop Praises Basil for re-settlement of 41,685 IDPs in Four districts

By Sarashi Samarasinghe in Mannar

As the bloody war in the North and East came to a conclusion on May 19 this year, the next major issue that the government faced was to find proper shelter for the people who were saved from the humanitarian operation which was conducted by the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) in the war affected areas.

Hence the Ministry of Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services along with the other responsible authorities decided to provide temporary shelter for these innocent civilians in the North and East.

However, after the first resettlement programme which was conducted for this year in Mannar at the Musali District Secretariat (DS) division on April 30, another new chapter of the on going continuousresettlement programmes by the Ministry opened as the Ministry along with the guidance of the senior advisor to the President, Basil Rajapaksa, resettled 41,685 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in four districts in the North last Thursday.

In addition to this event, a foundation stone was laid by Rajapaksa to build a new tourist hotel under the patronage of the National Lotteries Board (NLB) near the Yodha Wewa area where a new district secretariat office was opened in Kanthankulam, Manthei West.

Addressing the gathering at the function which was held in relation to the resettlement programme at the St.Xavier’s College in Mannar, Government Agent (GA) of the Mannar District, A.Nicholaspillai stated that the people of the Manthei West were very much grateful to Basil Rajapaksa for his keen interest in assisting in the resettlement of the IDPs as well as in re- cultivating the land in the district.

“The government is also providing free seeds to our farmers and clearing the jungle areas with the intention of rebuilding the economy once again which was fallen apart for more than a decade in these areas,” he noted.

“As the Bishop of Mannar, I know how much Basil Rajapaksa is committed to this programme. All of us living in Mannar know about his dedication and his commitment to the resettlement programme,” the Bishop of Mannar, Rt. Rev Rayappu Joseph said. He further added that he would like to thank not only the government but also Rajapaksa for his efforts under the ‘Uthuru Wasanthaya’ programme as well.

Re-settled

The IDPs who have been in transitional villages up to now, have been resettled in Districts such as Vavuniya, Mannar, Mullaithivu and in Kilinochchi. In comparison to other districts, the Mullaithivu District has the highest amount of IDPs who have been resettled, totalling 16,394 of the entire population. The rest of the districts carry a total of 8643, 6631 and 10,017 of IDPs respectively.

The DS divisions in the Vavuniya District include, DS Vavuniya with 27 Grama Niladhari (GN) divisions with a population of 3595, Vengalachcheddikulam with 15 GN divisions with a population of 3414, Vavuniya South with 12 GN divisions with a population of 1634.

The DS divisions in the Mannar District include Mannar West with 19 GN divisions with a population of 5481, and Mannar Town with 10 GN divisions with a population of 1150.

The DS division in the Mullaithivu District includes Oddusudan with four GN divisions with a population of 1391, Manthei East with six GN divisions with a population of 4691 and Thunukkai with 20 GN divisions with a population of 10312.

The DS division in the Kilinochchi District includes Karachchi with one GN division with a population of 2981 and Poonakary with four GN divisions with a population of 7036.

Happy

Addressing the same gathering, the Governor of the Northern Province, Major General G.A.Chandrasiri stated that it was a very happy day for all the participants in this programme under which more than 41,000 of the refugees were being resettled on lands in their own territory.

S.R.Nelson, 42, from Kanthankulam was one of the first refugees present on the occasion to speak to The Nation.

“I am a farmer by profession and I have been living in places such as Mullaithivu, Kilinochchi and Muhamalai for two years as an immigrant. Ultimately, I came to this refugee camp in Vavuniya,” he said. He added that he was extremely happy at the present as they do not have to be afraid of the future unlike in the past. I have two children, a girl and a boy. Now my children can go to school and we can live a normal happy life.”

Edward Ivon Marina who is 18 -years- old and hails from Kanthankulam said that it was after three years that she was finally being made a permanent resident under this programme. “I was in Chettikulam for three months. After coming here, I am now studying for my Advanced Level (A/L) examination which I hope to sit next year,” she said.

She added that she obtained one ‘A’, ‘2Bs’, ‘3Cs’ and two simple passes at the ordinary level (O/L) examination.
“I have ten members in my family including myself. My father is a farmer by profession,” she added.

Marina further said that she had lost most of her friends and relatives because of the war and she and her family were traumatised by that experience. “There were landmines everywhere. But now we can look forward to a happy future and we hope that the government will also help us to achieve that goal.”

S.Jenita, 50, who is from Alakulam, stated that she had become extremely exhausted living in IDP camps because of the shortage of water, poor sanitation as well as a inadequate food. “My husband is dead and I have a son who is married at present. I hope to cultivate the land and grow some crops once I go into my new home. I do not know when I will die, but before that I am looking forward to living a peaceful life by having my own home. My son is educated. He has studied up to the A/L. So I am hoping that in the future he will be able to do a government job,” she added.

Thirunadu Tharusu, 60, from Adampan said that he was a farmer by profession though he and the other farmers had been unable to do any farming at the time when the LTTE was in power over their district. “The LTTE did not let us to cultivate or to do a job. They took us by force into their organisation. Our children were unable to go to school. The LTTE came and took them away,” he added.

According to Tharusu they are looking forward to a happy life from now onwards, and they are hoping that the government will help them to realise their dreams.

Shermila Mariyagampillei, 27 years of age, who is a teacher from the St.Xavier’s College in Mannar stated that she hoped something good would come out of this new programme which would benefit children in the camps and brighten their future.

Develop

Addressing the same event Rajapaksa stated that the IDPs who were at refugee camps up to now, are receiving their own lands today because of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ability to bring the war to an end thereby helping them to return to their own lands from where they had fled due to confrontation with the LTTE.

“According to the President ,this area will be developed by opening new agricultural services centres, co-operatives, Pradeshiya Sabha (PS) offices and also by reconstructing rivers and canals which were destroyed,” stated Rajapaksa.

He further stated that they hoped to develop the infrastructural facilities in the area as well as help the farmers by providing their needs with aid from the government as well as agricultural related organisations.

“We are hoping to reconstruct everything that was in the area such as roads, culverts, railway, electricity along with all the other necessity items,” he added.

He further stated that the government is looking forward to supplying water for 13,411 acres of paddy in the area from November 1 onwards and by November 20 they are hoping to supply water to another 11,026 acres of paddy.

“We are also hoping to reconstruct the roads leading from Puttalam to Mannar, and from Mannar to Jaffna and we hope to riase the Yodha Wewa bund by two feet.”

Rajapaksa further stated that an immense effort had been made by the defence personnel to clear the landmines in this area. “We have to also thank the Indian Government for the generous aid it has given us in resettling the IDPs. Our grateful thanks go to the Indian Government in this respect,” he said.

While addressing the gathering Minister of Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services, Rishard Badurudeen stated that the Opposition was always criticising the government at they have not made proper amendments in resettling the IDPs, although Sri Lanka is the only country which had resettled 200,000 people in a single district ( Mullaitvu) within 40 days.

The IDPs who are being resettled will be also provided with agricultural equipment, kitchen equipment, roofing sheets along with many more other items so that in the future, they could lead a normal life, like any other citizen in the country.

COURTESY:THE NATION

Funding LTTE and Investing in Sri Lanka: Dual Role of Raj Rajaratnam?

by Namini Wijedasa

Raj Rajaratnam was arrested for insider trading in the United States. But here in Sri Lanka, where this billionaire investor was born and had completed his school education, the word “terrorism” — with all its nasty implications — is again dogging his footsteps.

Rajaratnam was already a rich man when, encouraged by prominent Sri Lanka business figures, he started investing in local stocks.

The year was 2002-2003 and among those who coaxed him here were Hussein Esufally of Hemas Holdings and Murtaza Jafferjee, the former director of the Colombo Stock Exchange. They urged him to invest in Sri Lanka and he moved in.

Growing presence

Hayleys was his first investment. He bought a large chunk of shares in that company but sold those in later years. He also set up two funds — Explorer was managed by John Keels while Voyager was managed by Eagle-NDB Fund Management. They have since been liquidated.

Rajaratnam notified his employees, clients and friends last week that he would conduct an orderly wind down of Galleon’s funds while exploring various alternatives for their business. It is not immediately known what will happen to his investments in Sri Lanka. “I don’t think anyone can tell at this point,” said a market analyst, on condition of anonymity.

“An associate spoke to Raj on Thursday but he did not show an interest in selling. I think it is too early for him to decide in that sense. People here were initially nervous but they are slowly getting out of that because they have not seen any big selling after the arrest.”

Rajaratnam holds more than 8 billion rupees worth of stocks in John Keels Holdings while Galleon Diversified Fund Ltd has more than 4.5 billion rupees worth of stocks at NDB, Commercial Bank and DFCC. Galleon International Master Fund, SPC Ltd, owns more than 527 million rupees worth of stocks at People’s Merchant Bank, Ceylon Leather Products Limited, Riverina Hotels and Touchwood Investment Ltd. Among other personal investments, Rajaratnam also bought shares in the stock broking firm Lanka Orix Securities (which has since been renamed Capital TRUST Investments).

If one takes into consideration those companies from which he has since exited, his presence in Sri Lanka is large indeed. “He as hoping to invest much more in coming weeks and was selling certain funds,” said a close local business associate who did not want to be named. “His attachment to Sri Lanka was growing. He went to the extent of purchasing an apartment at Monarch Residencies. He wanted a second home here and was very much involved, though not physically present.”

There are reports that Galleon’s Asia unit may be sold en bloc to another party. In that event, the new fund manager will decide whether or not to dispose of its interests in Sri Lanka. “But it all depends on whether a total liquidation or a total sale happens,” the stockbroker said.

Friends in high places

Not only did Rajaratnam invest big money here, he made friends in high places. Authoritative sources said he was in Colombo in 2004, when the tsunami struck. Since then, he has visited Sri Lanka twice.

Closely involved with members of Ranil Wickremesinghe’s short-lived administration, Rajaratnam now also has ties with key players in Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government. Till the night of 16 October, 2009, (when news of his arrest broke here) his wealth was good enough for the Colombo Stock Exchange and for Sri Lanka. In September, he finalised an agreement to provide US$ 1 million to the child soldier rehabilitation project of Milinda Moragoda’s justice ministry. Moragoda was a key player in the Wickremesinghe administration. His relationship with Ravi Karunanayake is also well documented.

As for insider trading, it is an area that is only loosely controlled in Sri Lanka. It is illegal but not monitored to the extent it is in the US. “Actually, our market runs a lot more on inside information with earnings reports and important news coming out in so many ways,” said one stockbroker, who wanted to remain unnamed. “People have got used to it and it becomes a big story only if members of director boards are involved.”

If Rajaratnam did insider trading in the US, where the regulatory framework is exceptionally stringent, what might he have done in Sri Lanka where the exchange of sensitive market information is not uncommon?

This is where speculation about his ties with the LTTE has become relevant. Rajaratnam has repeatedly denied that he was a front for the Tamil Tigers but the lines have become blurred. One stockbroker, who also requested anonymity, advised investigators to study his past investment patterns to see whether there is a correlation with terrorist events.

“If someone does it, I’m sure you can see a correlation,” he said. “I remember thinking at one time that it was a distinct possibility Rajaratnam had insider information because such was the pattern of his activity. He invested heavily in our market during the ceasefire. He may have had information about peace talks and other events that helped him trade profitably.”

Within days of his arrest for insider trading, 30 people claiming to be victims and survivors of bombings committed by the LTTE filed a civil lawsuit accusing of him having provided financial support to the terrorist. They alleged that Rajaratnam and the family foundation headed by his father provided millions of dollars in funds used for terrorist attacks.

For the moment, however, such allegations are likely to without investigation in Sri Lanka. If anyone were to probe the terrorist ties that Rajaratnam allegedly had, it is not certain how many big names in various administrations will get dragged through the mud.

Charity

What we do know, however, is that Rajaratnam donated generously to various charitable causes. He gave considerable funds to Sunethra Bandaranaike’s Sunera Foundation. After the tsunami, he gifted five million US dollars through John Keels and Hemas to build tsunami villages. A settlement was constructed in Matara for the Sinhalese and in Ampara for the Muslims. The Tamil settlement was in Mullaitivu and, for this, he donated millions of dollars to the Tamils Rehabilitation Organisation, the LTTE ‘NGO’ that Ranil Wickremesinghe’s administration had fostered during the ceasefire. Not only was the TRO registered as a non governmental organisation at the time, the government allowed it to open branch offices - including its headquarters in Colombo - and encouraged donations.

The policy changed with the Rajapaksa administration. As John Gooneratne, one-time secretary general of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process remarked with irony: “Whether you’re a good guy or a bad guy depends on how the sun is setting here.”

Was Rajaratnam a terrorist supporter? Depends on whom you ask. The business associate earlier quoted called him “a good-hearted person who donates lavishly to all communities in Sri Lanka and America”. “He hated any form of terrorism because he wanted all stock markets in the world to go up,” he said.

A close personal friend of Rajaratnam’s father, also rejected allegations that Raj was a LTTE supporter. “I am told that he initially liked the cause for which the LTTE was but no sooner they started killing people, he stopped supporting them or their cause,” he filled in LAKBIMAnEWS via email. “He was generous in his donations.

He funded orphanages in Mullaitivu, as much as he funded educational projects in Kalutara. He funded the Vanni Tech as much as he funded the Sunera Foundation.”

But others dismiss these arguments as simplistic and na‹ve. They point to how Rajaratnam openly funnelled money into LTTE front organisations and say it is impossible that these did not fund terrorism or other nefarious activities. They speculate whether Hillary Clinton’s controversial statements on Sri Lanka were made in return for generous donations from Rajaratnam and other LTTE proxies.

Judging by the speed with which the Rajaratnam fairytale is unravelling, speculation will transform into solid facts in soon. It will then be interesting to see how influential friends of the billionaire investor will react in Sri Lanka. They are already running shy of admitting they even knew him.

On the Rajaratnam family

A close personal friend of J M Rajaratnam - Raj’s father - filled in LAKBIMAnEWS via email about the family and the business:

“J.M.Rajaratnam, the father, is a product of the Ceylon University where he passed out with honours in chemistry. He proceeded to England on a scholarship and passed out fifth in the world as a chartered accountant. He was chief financial controller of Browns Group and left to become general manager of Singer Sewing Machine Company in Sri Lanka.

He was posted to the head office in America and was vice president in charge of Asia operations. His wife, Rajeswary, is also a university graduate and their marriage was a love affair. She, too, was a talented student. They have a happy marriage and raised their children in a modest, simple life.”

“They have five children — three boys and two girls. The boys studied at St. Thomas College and the girls attended Ladies’ College. The eldest, Raj Rajaratnam then went to Penn University Wharton School of Business, set up his own business and has not only been successful but is also known for his magnanimous heart, helping people and institutions in many countries. I know that he was friendly with the former US president: The Bush Family.”

“The second son, Kanthan Rajaratnam, studied at the London School of Economics and got direct admission to Cornell University where he passed the MBA with honours, worked for IBM and now holds a senior post in the private sector.

The third son, too, did his MBA and is now portfolio manager in Raj Rajaratnam’s company. The eldest daughter, Shanthi, completed her doctorate in bio chemistry in England and is now in the US with her husband, another Rajaratnam (same surname) who is a psychiatrist in New Jersey.”

“The second, Vathani, completed her master’s degree in England. Vathani is married to Arun Amirthanayagam son of Guy Amirthanayagam, former Sri Lankan deputy high commissioner in the UK. Vathani and husband are posted in Singapore right now. Vathani is attached to USAID while he belongs to the regular Diplomatic Corp. His brother too belongs to the US Diplomatic Corp. Vathani's youngest brother Ranjan did his MBA at Stanford. He works for his brother Raj Rajaratnam.

Raj Rajaratnam

“JM Rajaratnam and his wife, Rajeswary, are known to me for over 50 years. I have seen Raj Rajaratnam as a child. The last time I met them together was two years ago when the children came to Canada in December of 2007 for their father’s 80th birthday. Raj Rajaratnam’s sister and brother-in-law belong to US diplomatic service.”

“Their mother has been sick for a while, was hospitalized in Canada last month and has now moved to the US, residing in one of Raj Rajaratnam’s adjoining houses. Raj’s chartered flights transport them back and forth to the States. They are all American citizens. He was one of the first persons to donate US$ 500,000 to the fire fighters who succumbed on 9/11.

He is a simple guy and has to my knowledge donated monies to many a charity and cause without discrimination.

Being in business, and like all businessmen here, the companies contribute to all political parties - both Republican and Democrats. I am aware that he has donated in Sri Lanka as well, where he has some investments associated with companies locally.”

“Raj’s business methods were open to the best of my knowledge. There was an open invitation to investors to attend his morning meetings. He is a friendly, unassuming person. He and his wife are rarely seen in expensive clothes or fashion. Their children are also modestly dressed, even when attending functions. He is normally a jeans-and-t-shirt sort of guy. He is family oriented and not the club-going type. He is close to all his brothers and sisters family and takes them on vacations together on Thanksgiving Day, along with his parents.”

“He is resilient and would fight for a cause to prove himself. Yes, he does own a lot of property. I was told that he has over US$ 100 million in investments in Sri Lanka. I believe he has a fight on his hands and will wind down and disappear from the limelight for a while like Martha Stewart. Life is so unpredictable; ours can change for the better or worse within seconds.”

COURTESY:LAKBIMA NEWS

October 23, 2009

Donor frustration over IDP camps in Sri Lanka

Report by UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs [IRIN News]

Donors are increasingly concerned over the conditions in Sri Lanka’s camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) and are less likely to provide funding if they continue to restrict IDPs’ freedom of movement, say UN officials.

Neil Buhne, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sri Lanka, said the response from donors to humanitarian needs had been good, but there was frustration over the closed nature of the camps.

200910230909430243.jpg

More than five months after the Sri Lankan government officially declared the war over, thousands of Tamil civilians continue to languish in IDP camps such as this one in Vavuniya

“Among the donors we talked to, there is a hesitation in terms of their assistance to camps over the next three or four months if there’s not significant progress on people returning, or larger numbers of people being allowed to leave,” Buhne told IRIN.

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Conditions inside the camps are poor and access limited. Residents at this camp in Vavuniya sleep on the concrete floor of a school

“Donor fatigue is really in respect to continuing these closed camps… Donors have not said no, but they have indicated their concerns to us,” he said.

Nearly 300,000 people fled the fighting in the country’s northeast in the final months of the 26-year civil war between the government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May.

More than 245,000 people are still in temporary camps in the north, according to the latest humanitarian update from the UN on 9 October. Only 13,336 people have been released from temporary camps to host families and another 13,502 have returned to their places of origin in the country’s north and east.

Resettlement commitment

The government has steadfastly said it is committed to resettling the IDPs, but is under growing pressure from the international community over the rate and manner that people are being released.

It has said it will resettle up to 80 percent of the IDPs by year’s end, and defended the pace of releases by saying it had to screen people to filter out any LTTE rebels, or those with links to rebels, in the camps.

The government announced on 22 October that it had begun resettling 41,685 IDPs in the former LTTE-controlled districts of Vavuniya, Mullaitivu, Mannar and Kilinochchi in the north.

Criticism growing

Even so, disquiet from the international community over the lack of what donors say are basic humanitarian principles of care in the camps has become increasingly vocal in recent weeks.

Citing concerns over the closed nature of the camps and their living conditions, David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, on 14 October said his government would withdraw all funding except for life-saving emergency interventions in camps.

Donors say they want to see a number of benchmarks achieved by the government in the treatment of IDPs and camp conditions. These include freedom of movement for the IDPs, unhindered access for aid agencies to the camps, transparency in the government’s resettlement process and plans, and the assurance of a voluntary and safe return for the IDPs.

“There have been numerous promises, but there needs to be tangible change. We want concrete action instead of promises,” a senior official from a western donor agency told IRIN.

“If the camps open, then I think there will be a lot of donors willing to give more. But as it stands, the concerns are too great to continue to support a closed camp scenario,” the official added, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Future funding

Besides direct donor funding for agencies and their projects, money for the humanitarian response in Sri Lanka has been channelled through the 2009 Common Humanitarian Action Plan (CHAP).

With the large influx of IDPs in the last months of the war, a revised CHAP in July identified funding requirements of about US$270 million for 185 projects, and Buhne said the donor response had been “pretty good”.

The best funded sectors are food, shelter and water and sanitation, while health and education are lagging, he said.

As of 23 October, $155,092,037, or more than 57 percent of the funding requested for the CHAP had been secured, while total humanitarian funding stood at $209,758,256, with uncommitted pledges of $7,194,828.

Agencies are now preparing for the 2010 CHAP, and Buhne said donors were shifting their emphasis to helping people pick up their lives, and moving away dependence on outside assistance.

“The message we’re getting is that it may be difficult to sustain the amount of funding we’ve had over the last months into 2010,” he said.

More on ‘Denial of Rights of SL Pensioners Abroad’

By Displaced Sri Lankan Pensioner

The article ‘Denial of Rights of SL Pensioners Abroad – New Payment Procedures’ posted by transCurrents on October 16, 2009 and linked in TamilWeek 18-24 October 2009 and www.infolanka.com/news/ October 17 has drawn the attention of fellow pensioners both in and outside Sri Lanka. Their concern too is not only in regard to the violation of the fundamental rights of SL government pensioners but the collective punishment given to all pensioners for the misappropriation by few unscrupulous persons and the failure of the authorities to prevent it under the present payment system.

Since the receiver of the pension on behalf of the pensioner is a recognised bank, as is likely to be the usual case, the bank should know whether the pensioner is dead or alive. The banks in Sri Lanka do not operate outside the laws of the country and rules set by the Central Bank. They should check whether the signature of the pensioner in the Pension Receipt Form requesting the bank to credit his/her pension to the specified account is genuine or not by comparing with the signature of the account holder. Thus, there should not be any difficulty in preventing someone else receiving the pension of a dead pensioner.

According to the Pension Department’s website, ‘a special unit has been opened in view of the payment of pensions through the banks’. The stated objective is “to expedite bank activities and make the payment properly by opening this unit. This unit has been established under the supervision of the chief accountant of the pension department. Four officers are working in this unit at present”. It is to be noted the expressions here and elsewhere quoted here are in the language of the department.

The listed tasks of the Foreign Pensions division include

(i) “Sending of roll forms to the pensioners after receiving request from them for the transfer;

(ii) Calling for the pension files from the divisional secretarial for this purpose;

iii) Preparing the transfer orders and sending them to the relevant authorities;

(iv) Sending of pension department circulars to high commission and crown agents;

(v) Restoration of full pensions;

(vi) Preparing the arrears of the pensioners;

(vii) Rectifying pension anomalies of pensioners;

(viii) Sending of statistics to high commissioners and crown agents if needed;

(ix) Forwarding reports to the Ministry of Public Administration & Home affairs if requested;

(x) Providing information to the ministry of foreign affairs if requested; and

(xi) Sending replies to the mail daily received from the high commission offices, crown agents and the pensioners.”

Apparently the aforementioned tasks were performed by the Department even before the circular 16 on new payment procedures was posted on its website www.poensions.gov.lk. Under the ‘News and Events’ section, it is stated that the Pensions Department had trained 350 officers “for upgrading the IT (Information Technology) skills; 250 officers for “e-citizen training”; and 125 officers for “International Computer Driving License*??? These too were accomplished before circular 16/2009 was issued.

The website states, the objectives of displaying Pensioners Data on the internet, inter alia, are “to provide an exposure for the pension payment services, to inform pensioners of the details of their monthly pension; to inform pensioners of the details of their monthly pension; to enable pensioners to keep track of their pension payment process; to enable pensioners to retrieve details of previous pension payments; to obtain a summary of the pension payments made at Divisional Secretariat level, with respect to numbers and amounts; to obtain statistics regarding monthly pension payments; and to be able to update the data-base from the respective Divisional Secretariat itself; to expedite payment of pensions through Banks; to increase the transparency and efficiency of the monthly pension payment process.”

Superficially, there are some striking but in effect misleading features here. No other government department has launched an ambitious eye-catching work programme. In fact no where even among the developed countries a Pension Department expects the pensioners to use the internet to get the information concerning their pensions and the laid down procedures for receiving them each month on a regular basis. As mentioned last week, many Sri Lankan pensioners have no access to a computer and do not know how to use a computer. This is the reality. Importantly, each pensioner should be informed by post of any changes in the method of receiving his or her pension. This is a right of the pensioner, which has been denied by the Department of Pensions. Obviously, the striking statements are not intended to benefit the poor powerless pensioners. If transparency in the payment of pensions is proposed in the public interest, how about revealing the salaries and allowances received by government ministers and top administrative and security officers? What about disclosing in the internet the income taxes paid annually by the residents in Sri Lanka? Are there dodgers only amongst the pensioners?

It was only less than a year ago the Pensions Department called for the registration of government pensioners living abroad. And now this special notice issued last year, despite the aforementioned e-project has been abandoned and new complex procedures are introduced, which require more administrative work. This muddles further a task which could be performed with less cost than required under the new procedures. The “Special Notification to Retired Sri Lankan Government Servants who live abroad” issued last year is in the Appendix to this paper. The practical thing is for the Department to put all the information pertaining to each pensioner in its computer(s) for checking the validity of the monthly payments.

There is an internal audit division to “investigate activities relating to pensions in various departments including the Department of Pensions; ministries; divisional secretariats and all municipal councils, urban councils and Pradeshiya Sabhas by executing internal audit programs”. This division is also required “to furnish responds and back observe accordingly for audit inquires of Auditor General and investigate on nominal and anonymous complaints regarding pensions” Obviously it is in regard to audit, the procedures and the adequacy and ability of the staff need to be reviewed to have adequate control over pension payments.

It is legitimate for a pensioner to have a joint account with his wife/husband or another member of the family if the spouse is dead. He or she has a duty to act in the joint interest of the family. How can the government deny this obligation? If the government had permitted early retirement for whatever reason, why should the physically fit and able pensioners under the usual retirement age working elsewhere be punished? In fact, the early retirement policy was introduced to ease the high unemployment among educated youth. As a result, the country lost many experienced and talented officers. There were also other political reasons for creating vacancies in the government service. The politicisation of the government service that began with the 1972 Constitution caused many administrative problems from the standpoint of honesty and efficiency. How closely has the pension payments been audited annually? If there had been proper audit, any shortcomings revealed in the audit reports could have been corrected promptly. Attention is drawn here to the pension entitlement of Sri Lankan parliamentarians after serving as MPs for just 5 years!

The report in the Daily Mirror of 17 October 2009 titled ‘Pensions of Lankans living overseas to be credited in Lankan banks’ is incorrect and misleading. Obviously, the reporter was unaware of Circular 16 issued by the Director General of Pensions and also misunderstood his statement. On the contrary, under the new scheme Lankan pensioners living overseas can have their pensions credited in foreign currencies in foreign banks of their choice. Regarding the reported saving of about Rs. 1 billion to the government from the implementation of the new payment procedures that require considerable paper work both in Colombo and in the relevant missions abroad, the basis of this estimation is not known. But to many discerning persons, this estimate is improbable unless there is significant rise in the mortality of pensioners living overseas, who are in a state of sudden shock and despair after knowing the new payment scheme. Many are in poor health under medical care because of old age problems such as angina, arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and amnesia.

The October 17th Daily Mirror report said - “According to the present practice, their (expats) pensions are credited to their accounts in the countries where they live. By retaining such in local accounts, a large sum of money could be saved and there are 25 accounts like that already operative.” The Pensions Department circular 16 clearly states that there will be only one special account in Peoples’ Bank Queens Branch, Colombo for the pensioners abroad to have their Sri Lankan pensions deposited in Sri Lanka, if they opt for payment in their motherland in Rupees. The condition (v) with regard to payments through approved special bank account is reproduced again here. “This Department will take action to instruct bank officials regarding recollection of money of expired pensioners or overpayments and making payments to heirs”. The Pension Department has also given itself the legal power to decide on the ‘payments to heirs’. It is obvious many Sri Lankan pensioners abroad will prefer to receive their pensions in their countries of residence and in foreign currencies. The advantage here is they can spend the money according to their present needs.

The forms for opening the special account in Peoples’ Bank Queens Branch, Colombo are reproduced here in ADOBE PDF format. As mentioned in the earlier paper, pensioners who want to fill in the forms are advised to log on to www.pensions.gov.lk and download them.

Appendix:

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Related: Denial of Rights of SL Pensioners Abroad - New Payment Procedures

Sri Lanka Pressed to Investigate Possible Atrocities

By LYDIA POLGREEN and VIKAS BAJAJ

International pressure is mounting on Sri Lanka’s government to investigate atrocities that may have been committed during the final stages of its war with the Tamil Tiger insurgency as two new reports from the European Union and the State Department detailing alleged human rights abuses were released this week.

The reports come as Sri Lanka also faces intensifying criticism for its decision to keep more than 250,000 Tamils who were displaced by the fighting in closed camps that critics have likened to internment camps. The government said it plans to allow 80 percent of these people to return to their homes by the end of January, but insists that it must first weed out any remaining Tamil Tiger rebels hiding among them.

The European Union report in particular, which could lead to the withdrawal of trade concessions worth tens of millions of dollars to Sri Lankan garment and fisheries industries, represents the first time the Sri Lankan government has faced a serious sanction as a result of its conduct of the war.

Economists and business officials said the loss of the trade concessions, known as GSP-plus, could be a serious blow to an already ailing Sri Lankan economy. The country’s large garment industry will likely bear the brunt of the impact because as much as 60 percent of the country’s apparel exports go to the European Union.

Tariffs on some products could go from zero or near zero to between 5 percent and 18 percent, said E.M. Wijetilleke, the secretary general and chief executive of the National Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka. Such increases could sink smaller companies that cannot cut costs to match bigger and lower-cost producers in China and India, he added.

“Some small-scale firms will not be able to survive and they will have to layout the workers from their jobs,” Mr. Wijetilleke said. “There will be a huge impact on the economy.”

The garment industry in Sri Lanka employs about 270,000 workers directly and another 50,000 in directly, according to estimates by Oxford Analytica, a research firm.The State Department repo, which was released Thursday, was largely a catalog of largely unverified abuses by Sri Lankan forces and the Tamil Tigers based on reports from the American embassy in Colombo.

Because of limited access to the war zone by independent aid groups, human rights investigators and journalists, the report does not draw conclusions but urges the Sri Lankan government to investigate the allegations.

Questioned why the report did not take a tougher line, a State Department spokesman, Ian Kelly, defended the conclusions at a briefing with reporters this week.

He said the Obama administration was calling on the Sri Lankan government to open the closed areas to international scrutiny, to investigate the allegations, and to bring to justice anyone responsible for atrocities.

So far, the Sri Lankan government has proved adept at eluding international scrutiny and seemingly indifferent to even the harshest criticism of the Western countries on human rights issues.

It successfully maneuvered its allies on the United Nations Human Rights Council to transform a stern demand for an international war crimes inquiry into a resolution celebrating its triumph over the Tigers. Efforts by Western countries to stall a $2.6 billion loan to Sri Lanka from the IMF also failed.

International efforts to pressure Sri Lanka to release Tamil civilians from a vast network of army-run camps in the country’s north have borne little fruit. More than halfway to the government’s self-imposed deadline to let almost all of the displaced people return to their homes, fewer than 10 percent have been allowed to leave, according to he United Nations, human rights organizations and aid groups. And some who have left the camps have been settled in other camps rather than being sent home, according to Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch.

“I think it is fair to say now they never intended to keep their commitment to return the displaced because they have consistently reneged on their promises,” Mr. Adams said. “Their promises are not to the international community, they are to the people in the camps.”

Sri Lankan officials denied this, saying that the government has in the past few days begun relocating 41,685 people from the camps to their homes in what was the battle zone. They rejected the notion that the Tamil civilians were being held prisoner.

“It is not a concentration camp where they are, and they are not being taken to a lesser concentration camp anywhere else,” said Lucien Rajakarunanayake, a spokesman for Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Lydia Polgreen reported from New Delhi, and Vikas Bajaj from Mumbai, India.

[courtesy: The New York Times]

October 22, 2009

Japan: Break Silence on Sri Lanka Rights Abuses-HRW

Full text of media release by HRW

Japan's new administration should publicly press the Sri Lankan government to end the illegal detention of approximately 250,000 Tamil civilians, six Japanese and international human rights organizations said in a joint letter to Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, made public today. The new government should also urge Sri Lanka to ensure justice and accountability for serious violations of international humanitarian law committed by government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the letter said.

The groups urged Okada to take a principled position on rights and use Japan's unique influence as Sri Lanka's largest donor to protect civilians. While the fighting in Sri Lanka ended with the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, the suffering of a quarter million detained civilians continues. The letter was signed by the Women's Active Museum on War and Peace, Amnesty International, the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination (IMADR), the Nonviolent Peaceforce, Human Rights Watch, and Human Rights Now.

"Japan is in an excellent position to make its influence felt with Sri Lanka," said Kanae Doi, Tokyo director at Human Rights Watch. "The new government needs to make clear that it expects Sri Lanka to free the people locked up in the camps and pursue justice for the victims of the war years."

In the letter, the six organizations urged the new Japanese administration to:

* Call upon the Sri Lankan government to end the arbitrary detention of civilians and permit those who wish to leave the detention camps to do so immediately; and to use every opportunity to express Japan's profound dismay at the deprivation of the fundamental right to liberty and absence of freedom of movement of the civilians there;

* Urge the Sri Lankan government to respect and follow the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and abide by these principles in the return and resettlement process;

* Insist that the Sri Lankan government facilitate safe, unimpeded, and timely access to camp residents by humanitarian agencies and human rights organizations and to allow these groups to undertake protection and monitoring activities; and

* Publicly denounce the Sri Lankan government's clear lack of will to investigate impartially credible allegations of serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law and to see that those responsible are brought to justice.

Since March 2008, the Sri Lankan government has confined virtually everyone displaced by the war with the LTTE in detention camps, depriving them of their liberty and freedom of movement, in violation of international law. The government is still holding about 245,000 internally displaced persons in overcrowded, sewage-infested camps, breaking its repeated promises of rapid return. With the monsoon season fast approaching, the health and welfare of these civilians is increasingly at risk. The United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and India have all called on the government to release civilians detained in camps as soon as possible, but the Japanese government has remained silent.

In addition, five months after what the head of the United Nations' humanitarian agency described as a "bloodbath" in northern Sri Lanka, there has been no government investigation, despite the promise made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in a joint statement with the United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, in May 2009. The armed conflict in Sri Lanka was characterized by serious violations of international humanitarian law by both sides.

"The new Japanese administration should not continue the silence on rights from the previous administration," said Kinhide Mushakoji, president at the IMADR-JC.

The organizations said that, "There will be no reprieve and there will be no accountability unless Japan and others within the international community persistently demand it," and called on Japan to "press for the speedy establishment of an independent international investigation" and "take strong action" to end illegal detention of civilians.

US War Crimes Report Details Extensive Abuses-HRW

Report Shows Need for International Investigation

(New York, October 22, 2009): A US State Department report on possible violations of the laws of war in Sri Lanka made public on October 22, 2009 shows the need for an independent international investigation, Human Rights Watch said today. The report details violations of the laws of war committed by both government forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) from January through May 2009.

“The US State Department report should dispel any doubts that serious abuses were committed during the conflict’s final months,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Given Sri Lanka’s complete failure to investigate possible war crimes, the only hope for justice is an independent, international investigation.”

The Office of War Crimes Issues of the State Department prepared the report on possible war crimes committed during the final months of the 26-year-long civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE, which ended in May with the LTTE’s defeat. The report details alleged incidents of LTTE child recruitment, government and LTTE attacks on civilians and civilian objects, killings of captives or combatants by government forces, enforced disappearances by government forces and government-supported paramilitaries, and severe shortages of food, medicine, and clean water for civilians trapped in the war zone.

The report was presented to Congress on October 21 and was released today on the US State Department website.

The report was mandated by the 2009 Supplemental Appropriations Act. The act directed the secretary of state to submit a report “detailing incidents during the recent conflict in Sri Lanka that may constitute violations of international humanitarian law or crimes against humanity, and, to the extent practicable, identifying the parties responsible.”

The act further instructed the US government to withhold financial support from Sri Lanka, except for basic human needs, unless the Sri Lankan government respects the rights of internally displaced persons, accounts for persons detained in the conflict, provides access to affected areas and populations for humanitarian organizations and the media, and implements policies to promote reconciliation and justice.

Human Rights Watch’s own research into the fighting found that both sides repeatedly violated the laws of war. The LTTE used civilians as human shields, employed lethal force to prevent civilians from fleeing to safety, and deployed their forces in densely populated civilian areas. Government forces indiscriminately shelled densely populated areas, including hospitals. Both parties’ disregard for civilian life resulted in thousands of civilian casualties. Because independent observers, including the media and human rights organizations, were denied access to the war zone, detailed information on violations of the laws of war by both sides has been limited.

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called upon the United Nations and member nations of the Security Council and the Human Rights Council to establish an independent international investigation into allegations of laws-of-war violations. The Sri Lankan government has promised to ensure accountability through domestic inquiries. For example, in a joint May statement, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, underlined the importance of an accountability process for addressing violations of international law and stated that “[t]he Government will take measures to address those grievances.” In the five months since the war ended, however, no investigations have taken place.

“Concerned governments should use the US State Department report as a clarion call for an international investigation,” said Adams. “There are no more excuses for inaction.”

Related: US State Department-Report to the Congress on recent incidents in Sri Lanka

Importance of being Fonseka

by Col R. Hariharan

General Sarath Fonseka, Sri Lanka's Chief of Defence, has been recently hitting the headlines for reasons other than military. Sections of Colombo media have been speculating on the possibility of the General contesting the 2010 presidential poll as opposition candidate against President Rajapaksa. The speculation has refused to die down despite denials by the General. It will probably gather further momentum as the election storm brews further in the political horizon.

Even during his service as army commander, the much-decorated General had always been a figure of media controversy. A man who relished hands-on action than sophistry, General Fonseka's was known for his off-the cuff, and at times inept, 'politically incorrect,' remarks. Often, they raised a lot of dust in their wake. Calling the Tamil Nadu politicians 'a bunch of jokers' typified his style. As army commander, his 'rough and ready' methods focusing only on results and ignoring hierarchy, adopted during the war did not endear him to some of the officers. During the war he also tread on a lot of toes not only in the armed forces but also in the corridors of power. He had little patience with critics. He did not take kindly to media that questioned his style or methods and even branded them as unpatriotic.

General Fonseka also showed a Sinhala nationalist streak that endeared him to the Sinhala right wing elements. This came out in clear terms in an interview to Canada's National Post in September 2008. The General said 'strongly believe that this country belongs to the Sinhalese but there are minority communities and we treat them like our people 'We being the majority of the country 75%, we will never give in and we have the right to protect this country 'We are also a strong nation.' His said other communities 'can live in this country with us. But they must not try to, under the pretext of being a minority, demand undue things.' This remark cut at the very basis of President Rajapaksa?s thesis portraying his government as an equitable option for everyone including the Sinhalas and minorities.

There had been a great deal of public adulation of General Fonseka for his significant contribution in leading the armed forces to victory against the LTTE. A first rate professional soldier, he did not change his style even in picking his successor. He recommended Lt Genearl Jagat Jayasuriya as army commander, superseding seven other generals. President Rajapaksa elevated him as chief of defence staff in recognition of his valuable contribution in winning the Eeelam War IV. However, as CDS he had a grandiose vision. Though the LTTE had been routed and the government had regained full control of all the territories held by the Tamil insurgents, the General spoke of adding 100,000 more soldiers to build an army of 300,000 to wage peace.

The rapidly growing public personality of the General probably overawed political leaders, who were increasingly feeling marginalised. This must have set the alarm bells ringing among them as they were hoping to garner full credit for the victory in the Eelam War. They were getting wary of too much credit going to the apolitical General.

In any case, the war was over and the political rat race was on. So the politicians have started questioning the relevance of General Fonseka's presence as a popular public personality outside the political spectrum. Second rung leaders of the ruling coalition have started making oblique statements sidelining the contribution of the General in the Eelam War.

From his recent statements, one could make out that the developing environment within the government is not to the General's liking. The army expansions the General spoke of have not come through and his tenure is ending by December 2009. The crowning irony was the offer to appoint him the secretary in the ministry of sports! No wonder the General did not accept the offer.

After the ruling UPFA coalition mauled the opposition in the series of post war provincial elections, President Rajapaksa plans to hold the parliamentary and presidential elections in early 2010. He appears to be hopeful of securing the vital two-thirds majority in parliament that would give a lot of freedom of action for him. In the progressively marginalised General Fonseka the two major opposition parties - the United National Party (UNP) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) - see a potential opposition candidate who can give a run for the money in the presidential poll.

In the opposition's political calculus probably only General Fonseka has a chance of redeeming their reputation as he has a nation wide appeal. The JVP has spoken of its readiness to back General Fonseka to contest the presidential poll. Media reports indicate the UNP backroom politicians are working overtime to convince the reluctant general to join the presidential race.

However, the General has to agree to be pitted against Rajapaksa as opposition candidate. It is not going to be an easy decision to make. It is going to challenge his strategic acumen, so effective in battlefields, in the political arena that is an entirely different ball game. And President Rajapaksa being an astute politician, who has managed to divide every political party, is likely to take every action to thwart opposition plans and persuade the General with other options.

Despite the General's immense popularity, there are some difficulties in projecting him as an alternative to Rajapaksa. General Fonseka is one of the three architects (the two Rajapaksa brothers being the other) who under the leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa brought an end to the legend of Prabhakaran and the LTTE. In the saluting parade held on May 28, 2009 the General had acknowledged the President's leadership contribution in winning the war. He said: 'This battle victory was largely dependent on leadership of the officers and soldiers who fought on the battleground. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Defence Secretary and all those here and abroad who offered leadership and guidance to this fight deserve our tribute and commendation.' So he will have the difficult task of sidelining the President?s contribution and pass of as a better candidate.

Unlike the President, the General is not politically savvy. He has little experience in the rough and tumble of peace time politics. Political horsetrading and doublespeak may not figure in his skill sets. During the war he had made some harsh comments about the UNP and its leadership under Ranil Wickremesinghe. Will he able to motivate them now to support him wholeheartedly is a moot point. In this election, the UNP should be able to gain the traditional Tamil votes that were denied to it in the last Presidential election. The ruling coalition has probably alienated a large number of Tamil voters by its rigid attitude in handling the 2.5 lakh Tamils displaced due to the war. Thus conditions are more congenial for UNP to woo Tamil votes.

However, Fonseka is very much associated with the whole post war architecture for handling the Vanni IDPs. So its negative fall outs are sure to affect his electoral fortunes as well. Moreover, the General had shown a cavalier attitude to the human rights issues, high on the Tamil agenda. So most of the Tamils may not support the UNP if Fonseka is projected as its candidate. This could make a difference as demonstrated in the last election when Rajapaksa won by a wafer thin majority through Southern Sinhala votes after Tamils did not turn up to vote.

It seems General Fonseka will continue to haunt the columns of media as well as the minds of many politicians. Can the General's strategic ability that helped him do so well in war help him decide his political dilemma? That is a question only he can answer. And that is the importance of being General Fonseka.

U.S. Embassy Statement on Report to the U.S. Congress

Colombo, October 22, 2009: The United States Department of State delivered to Congressional Appropriations Committee staff yesterday a report detailing incidents that allegedly occurred during the final months of the conflict between the Government of Sri Lanka and the terrorist organization LTTE that may constitute violations of international humanitarian law or crimes against humanity and related harms. The Department of State prepared the report pursuant to a Congressional request and also provided a copy to the Sri Lankan Embassy.

USTC1022.jpgThe report compiles alleged incidents, as reported by a wide range of primary and secondary sources, involving both sides in the conflict. It does not reach any legal or factual conclusions. Information concerning the majority of incidents cited in this report originated in first-hand accounts communicated by persons from within the government-declared No Fire Zones and locations close to the fighting.

The United States recognizes a state’s inherent right to defend itself from armed attacks, including those by non-state actors, such as a terrorist group like the LTTE. The United States also expects states and non-state actors to comply with their international legal obligations, including the obligation to protect civilians in armed conflict.

Accountability is an essential component of national reconciliation. The United States looks to the Government of Sri Lanka to identify an appropriate and credible mechanism and initiate a process for accountability.

Sri Lanka needs to retain GSP+ concession

Full text of media release by National Peace Council

The final report of the EU investigation team into Sri Lanka’s conformity with the standards expected to retain the GSP Plus tariff concession was handed over to the Government of Sri Lanka on Monday. There is concern that Sri Lanka could lose the concession that has helped it to boost its exports to the EU market and made the EU the country’s leading export market with a 36 percent share of total exports. The GSP+ concession is given to those countries that are found to be progressing positively in the areas of good governance, sustainable development and poverty reduction.

Sri Lanka first became a beneficiary of the GSP+ concession in April 2005 in the aftermath of the devastating Asian tsunami of December 2004. The loss of the GSP+ concession could deal a severe blow to a large segment of the economy and cause a great deal of hardship to the country’s working population. The government is currently enjoying a large measure of public support but the loss of GSP+ and the resulting economic hardship can make the task of peace co-existence and reconciliation more difficult to achieve.

The EU has stated that if the Government of Sri Lanka wishes to make any representations in relation to the Commission report, it is kindly requested to bring these to the Commission's attention no later than November 6, 2009. This could include the measures taken, and proposed to be taken, by the government to speed up the release of internally displaced persons from the welfare centres to which they have been confined in an expeditious, humane and just fashion, reversing the practices of impunity with regard to violations of human rights and reviewing emergency regulations and security measures. These issues are accumulating adverse international criticism unhelpful to Sri Lanka and cannot be reversed without evidence of visible results.

The possibility of Sri Lanka losing the GSP+ concession got exacerbated by the country’s human rights record during the time of war and the government’s refusal to permit any direct EU investigation into its adherence to international instruments deemed to be critical to good governance. However, today’s context is very different from that in which the government first refused to cooperate with the EU investigation with the war having ended. The EU’s own review process, and the statements of its Ambassador in Sri Lanka, suggests that there is scope for sympathetic understanding of the country situation. The National Peace Council urges the government to continue efforts to reach an accommodation with the EU that is mutually acceptable and which will retain the GSP+ concession for Sri Lanka.

October 21, 2009

The Role of the Opposition in a Liberal Democracy

by Anwar Ibrahim

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Anwar Ibrahim is the former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia and is currently the de facto leader of Keadilan, the People’s Justice Party

(Speech by Anwar Ibrahim at the 12th Dudley Senanayake Memorial Lecture in Sri Lanka on 16th October, 2009)

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is indeed a great honour for me to be here this evening on the occasion of the 12th Dudley Senanayake Memorial Lecture. At the same time, I stand before you humbled by the task at hand. So, let me begin by first paying tribute to the memory of Premier Dudley Senanayake. In this regard, I think I can do no better than to laud his political ideals, ideals which still resonate with us, indeed with anyone who believes in freedom and democracy.

May I be as bold as to consider Dudley a Liberal Social Democrat, that is, more ‘Liberal’ than ‘Social.’ Nevertheless, there is no question that he was a de facto social democrat in as much as he espoused the principles of social justice and put them into practice. That would include affirmative action for the poor and the marginalized and promoting land ownership and housing for the needy. His economics heralded an era of transformation and his phenomenal contribution to agriculture is legendary. As for his predominantly liberal bent in politics, that would be reflected in our discourse this evening.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The subject at hand may appear to some as having been flogged to death in as much as the landscape of liberal democracy is considered to be well traversed and the role of the opposition in such a system is self-evident.

Be that as it may, at the risk of being regarded as trying to reinvent the wheel, let me attempt to map out the province of liberal democracy and reiterate the role of the opposition in such a democracy. Let me begin with the doctrine that regards three central values as being foundational for a liberal democracy, and these are liberty, social pluralism and political constitutionalism. These values as we know are also central to liberalism itself but in the context of the discourse on democracy, our concern lies more with fundamental freedoms and the practice of constitutional government.

From Dicey we have the traditional conception of constitutionalism, which places the rule of law as being pivotal. According to him, “...the rule of law is as valuable a principle today as it has ever been. For it means that the courts can see to it that powers of officials, and official bodies of persons entrusted with government, are not exceeded and are not abused, and that the rights of citizens are determined in accordance with the law enacted and unenacted.”[1]

That would appear to be much less a definition than an indictment against executive abuse. By most accounts, the rule of law stipulates that government in all its actions is bound by rules fixed and announced beforehand. This would make it possible to foresee with fair certainty how the authority will use its coercive powers in given circumstances, and to plan one’s individual affairs on the basis of this knowledge.[2] That is why the rider by Dicey is so central because the coercive powers referred to must be based on laws that meet the criterion of justness.

In other words, the rule of law requires the application of moral standards to legislative output. And this is because every individual possesses rights founded on justice which are inviolable. The positivity of law is not sufficient to establish its lawfulness. If laws are unjust then the rule of law itself is in jeopardy.[3]

The rule of law therefore means the exercise of publicly justifiable power. Whether or not it is justifiable, that is the question the opposition must ask and answer. Herein lies a pivotal role of the opposition in a liberal democracy which is to be the voice of public reason and ensure that the “exercise of public political power is fully proper” and it can only be so if and “when it is exercised in accordance with a constitution the principles and ideals of which are endorsed by common human reason”. [4]

Preventive detention laws are a classic instance of the exercise of political power not in accordance with constitutional principles. They offend against human dignity and violate our fundamental rights. Yet such laws and such powers continue to be used arbitrarily even in liberal democracies such as the United Kingdom and the United States. The constitutional principles endorsed by human reason to safeguard our liberties are then violated with impunity by the powers that be. The use of such oppressive laws for whatever reason, let alone for the purpose of silencing political dissent, makes a mockery of the institution of liberal democracy. Clearly, it is incumbent on the opposition to challenge the use of such powers and to work relentlessly to have such laws abolished. In this regard, as the leader of the Opposition in the Parliament of Malaysia, I daresay that we are doing precisely that by campaigning for the abolition of the Internal Security Act.

In a nutshell therefore, the rule of law is the use of law to curb the abuse of law-making power. Upon this principle, power and authority are therefore predicated. It is a powerful weapon, both in legal and political argument, which can be employed judicially in the interpretation of constitutional principles so as to check excesses of the legislative and executive arms of government. Of course, the principle does not warrant that every trivial issue be accorded the process of being litigated all the way to the highest appellate court. Even the administration of justice is subject to the law of diminishing returns.

And that leads us to the position of the judiciary in a democracy. Without a doubt what comes to mind in an instant is the paramount importance of not mixing justice with politics, that is to say, the judiciary must remain independent. Under no circumstances should it be under the control or influence of the Legislature, let alone the Executive. There is a saying that when the law is subjugated to the chicanery of politics, that is, where the judges are subservient to the political masters, the administration of justice becomes farcical and perverse. We have seen what happened in Pakistan not too long ago. We see it happening in sham democracies masquerading as liberal democracies. And of course we see it being played out ad nauseam from where I come.

The opposition must therefore play the role of ensuring the separation of these powers. It is their duty to see the existence of a transparent court system and a process of accountability. No doubt, this is easier said than done. This is because in reality leaders of the opposition are the very people who will be the victims of the use of judicial high-handedness. They will be the first to be prosecuted for political reasons and they will be condemned even before the trials begin.

Instead of being the ultimate guardians of our liberty from executive tyranny, the judiciary is then transformed into principals in the destruction of the very process it was entrusted to protect. Indeed, the undermining of judicial independence by political interference has negative repercussions not only on society at large but on the nation as a whole. Very often the inability to assert independence seems to be inversely proportional to the degree of integrity.

Therefore there is no overstating the role of the opposition in reminding judges of the legitimate expectations of the people as to their competency, dedication and impartiality. In resolving disputes between the people and the government, judges must act impartially. They administer justice, according to law, not according to the dictates of political masters. The rule of law means citizens can enjoy the fruits of liberty and other freedoms without being molested by the arbitrary use of political power. Police officers may not stop and search individuals just so that they may prevent them from attending rallies organized by an opposition party. If they do so, the people can expect the courts to invoke the rule of law to strike down such acts. The rule of law therefore will be seen in proportion to the effectiveness of the judiciary’s deliberations against executive power.

Another crucial criterion for constitutional government is that the discretion of law enforcement agencies must not be allowed to pervert the cause of justice.[5] The office of the Public Prosecutor, the police and the anti-corruption agency, all these bodies, play essential roles in the preservation of the rule of law, failing which they are easily used to pervert the law. As absolute power corrupts absolutely, the arrogance of power left unchecked renders these agencies absolutely impermeable to public opinion and criticism. Once again, the role of the opposition as the conscience of the people in this regard is of paramount importance if democracy is to mean anything.

The very root of this problem goes to the question of accountability. We have seen how civilisations collapse from within as a result of corruption and moral decadence, and a disintegration of the institutions of accountability.[6] Thomas Jefferson time and again warned against the abuse of unlimited powers by elected despots and foretold that there would come a time “when corruption in this, as in the country from which we derive our origin, will have seized the heads of government, and be spread by them through the body of the people; when they will purchase the voices of the people, and make them pay the price.”[7] In our time these same sentiments were expressed with greater vigour and tenacity by the great freedom fighters, from Simon Bolivar to Sun Yat Sen, and from Nehru, from Dudley and from Mandela.

This links us back to our earlier postulation about liberal democracy and that is that political liberty is the area within which a man can act unobstructed by others. However, we must not forget that at the heart of this political liberalism lies the need for a social contract that enables such liberty. Such a contract, needless to say, must be rooted in a deal that legitimises power and holds accountable all those who exercise it. In this regard, the opposition must demand transparency in all government actions and dealings, leave no stone unturned in its quest for a fair and free media and constantly guard against the rise of despotism and tyranny. The latter as we know go hand in hand with abuse of power and corruption, that being the scourge of most developing countries and emerging economies even without the Corruption Index telling us so.

Certainly there are no simple answers to fighting corruption but the role of the opposition in pushing for transparency and freedom of information laws would certainly be indispensible if we are to make any progress in this regard. Corruption and poverty which engenders great disparities of income distribution must be seen holistically. Here I am again reminded of Dudley’s achievement in being among the first of the Asian leaders to focus on poverty eradication, which today still remains low in the order of priorities. By giving more attention to the agricultural sector and making available greater access to financial resources, as Dudley did, economic growth will get a major boost.

Liberal democracy is all well and good on paper but where hungry mouths cry out to be fed, our discourse will crystallise only into mere historical accounts of intellectual kite-flying and self-serving proclamations of pious platitudes.

That is why talk of a liberal democracy is meaningless without the state institutionalising social safety net programs such as social security or social insurance. As one of the central values of such a democracy as I had stated earlier, social pluralism must warrant that the government of the day take a holistic approach to integrate all aspects of life within a just and equitable system.

In this regard, apart from fighting poverty and redressing other social inequities, we should never lose sight of the importance of supporting strong families, education, and protecting the environment. The paramount aim must be the attainment of a system which allows for a more equitable distribution of wealth, without which it is indeed a mockery to speak of freedom and democracy, whatever hardcore libertarians may tell us.

Thank you.

[1] Quoted in Hayek, F.A., The Constitution of Liberty, Routledge, London, 1993, p 489

[2] This is paraphrased from The Road to Serfdom.

[3] This represents the quintessence of the position of philosophers such as John Rawls traceable all the way to John Locke. See Rawls, Theory of Justice. Also The Rule of Law Nomos XXXVI, Ed. Ian Shapiro, New York University Press, 1994, pp. 65 - 79

[4] see John Rawls, Political Liberalism, New York, Columbia University Press, 1993, p. 137

[5] See Joseph Raz, The Authority of Law – Essays on Law and Morality, New York, Clarendon Press, 1979, pp. 210 - 229

[6] See Abdul Rahman ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah (Princeton: Bollingen Series, 1967).

[7] See Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1781-82.

Government should be blamed for the boat people fiasco, Mano Ganesan MP

Full Text of Media Release

The high sea boat people episodes off the seas of Indonesia and Canada are direct consequences of Government of Sri Lanka’s handling of Tamil people of this country. Some of the boat people could be the escapees from the camps in the north said DPF Leader and CMC Convener Mano Ganesan MP in a statement issued today. The statement says further,

Government is keeping over 250,000 Tamils in the camps. These camps are surrounded by barbed wire and military security. The wire and military are not there to secure the inmates of the camps from any outside aggression. They are there to prevent these people from escaping to freedom. These are now public facts. Recently the army fired at some of the inmates who went outside the camps seeking firewood. One person died and many injured in this incident. We cannot blame the army but the political leadership in Colombo. Under these circumstances the government has also said that thousands of inmates have escaped the camps through the security. The boat people at the north American and southeast Asian seas could be some of the escapees.

Democratic Peoples Front does not encourage Tamil people to seek foreign citizenships. It is not the solution. We call upon the Tamils to stay back and fight for the rights democratically. It is our general policy. But there are individual cases who’s lives are at risk. Individual decisions are taken to leave the country based on personal experiences. We call upon the government to address this issue by releasing the people at the camps without any further delay. Less than 15% of the land is under landmines. Those who’s villages are situated within the mined territory could be allowed to stay in a friendly transparent camps instead of closed and protected camps.

We are out if Sarath Fonseka is in, Mano Ganesan tells Ranil

Full Text of Media Release:

Democratic Peoples Front leader Mano Ganesan has told UNP leader Ranil Wickramasinghe that his party will not be a party to the proposed United National Alliance if General Sarath Fonseka is considered and proposed as the common candidate in the event of a presidential elections. Tamil speaking people of this country do not have anything in common with General Fonseka for him to be our common candidate. Media statement issued from the office of Ganesan says that Opposition Leader Ranil Wickramasinghe has been informed of Mr. Ganesan’s position by email now. The statement further says that,

Name of General Sarath Fonseka is being considered by JVP as a common candidate for the presidential elections. Sarath Manemendra of Nava Sihala Urumaya too has invited Gen Sarath Fonseka to contest the presidential elections. He has spoken this from the office of SLFP (M) leader Mangala Samaraweera. Therefore this has given all reasonable signals to the nation that the proposed alliance between UNP, SLFP(M), SLMC and DPF wants General Sarath Fonseka to contest the presidential elections as the common opposition candidate.

This position is not shared by Democratic Peoples Front (DPF). DPF will not be a party to the proposed United National Alliance if General Sarath Fonseka is considered and proposed as the common candidate at the presidential elections. Tamil speaking people of this country do not have anything in common with General Fonseka for him to be our common candidate.

Rifts between politicians and security forces could create division and dissension

by Maj. Gen. Amu Seneviratne (Retd.)

Now, in the light of waning euphoria of the victory of defeating the military power and leadership of the LTTE, the most ruthless terrorist organization in the world which plagued Sri Lanka for three decades, the conflicts among the top brass and the political power seem to be appearing. Though not very wholesome -for theforward March of -the country, especially in building up the very badly affected economy and the image of the country, this trend is not unusual.

His Excellency the President is reaping much expected political victories in elections against disgruntled, divided and weak Opposition, although the Opposition claims that they are gaining more than the ruling party.

It is the politicians who always gain from victory in war, as the war is an extension of political strategy. In the process, it is natural that those commanders who achieve military successes get pushed to the background or sidelined.

The ruling party must never underestimate the causes of terrorism, which have yet to be eradicated for lasting peace and prosperity of the whole country. In this situation, military leadership, including those who spearheaded the war and the experienced frontline commanders and other battle hardened officers and men must be carefully employed to achieve the important peace and prosperity of the country.

Belittling and embarrassing the war heroes is not a healthy trend for the country or for the politicians. Careful appreciation of the services rendered by the heroic leaders and their deployment to build-up the war damaged North and East and winning over the hearts and minds of all communities, especially the Tamils and Muslims, by integrating them into one Sri Lankan community must be achieved.

Sri Lanka is a democratic country, though democracy is practiced not much for the benefit of the governed, but for the benefit of politicians. However, the democratic principles have not lost their value. Whoever has been going against them have either failed in their attempts or ousted democratically.

The failure of the serious coup-d’etat in 1962 and the so called made-up "Toilet Coup of 1966", had miserably failed. The revolutionary campaigns to oust the democratically elected Government by the JVP and LTTE have failed too.

The ruling elite must not have any doubt about the loyalties of the security forces. The democratic values are embedded in the marrow of the Sri Lankans in the millenniums long tolerance nurtured by Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Muslim faiths.

The fall out of rifts between the politicians and security forces could create division and dissension among and within the security forces, which will have detrimental effects that will negate the positive aspects of the historic and unprecedented achievements gained by sacrificing thousands of lives of members of the security forces.

Measures must be taken by all concerned to prevent and avoid arising such a disastrous situation. Those responsible for taking high level decisions and "Think Tanks" who advise, must always think of the country first more than themselves.

Five months after defeating LTTE Sri Lanka behaving as thought it is still at war

by Kath Noble

Five months after the Security Forces recaptured the last square mile of territory and wiped out the entire leadership of the LTTE, Sri Lanka is behaving as though it is still at war. This may be understandable, after so many decades of fighting such a dangerous terrorist organisation, but that doesn’t make it clever.

Nowhere is this clash between perception and reality more obvious than in the sphere of foreign policy. The situation created by Prabhakaran when he forced thousands of civilians to accompany his cadres as they retreated from Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu saw many countries press the Government to declare a ceasefire and then arrange a surrender. They were ignored in what I believe was the national interest, although I wouldn’t describe everything that was done in the process with equal sympathy. It was simply the best course of action at the time.

Sri Lanka had to press on with the military operation and accept the consequences, including a serious deterioration in relations with the West.

What made sense then is no longer appropriate. Instead of making use of the newfound peace to rebuild its image, Sri Lanka is busy digging trenches in anticipation of prolonged discord.

Consider the reaction to Hillary Clinton’s interjection in the UN Security Council debate on Resolution 1888. In stressing how widespread the use of rape in armed conflict was, she mentioned that it didn’t only happen in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. Bosnia, Sri Lanka and Burma had been afflicted by the same problem, she said. It was a passing reference of little importance. The Government wasn’t at risk of being denied aid or trade concessions. There was no talk of sanctions. The UN Security Council members weren’t even proposing to issue a statement.

She might as well have announced that the United States had launched a nuclear missile at Cinnamon Gardens. Politicians rushed onto the airwaves to shout about it, and there were several poster campaigns and vocal demonstrations outside the embassy. The JHU started one of its ridiculous petitions. Add to that about half a dozen newspaper editorials and more than twenty letters and articles condemning her with what could most politely be described as extraordinary vigour, and that was just in English. Colombo looked poised to sail on the Statue of Liberty.

I’m not suggesting that there was nothing wrong with what Hillary Clinton said or that she ought not to have been challenged. Her statement gave the impression that the Security Forces had been sexually abusing women as part of their advance through Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu, which I don’t think is the case.

It is a question of tactics. What was needed in response to the incident was a polite note to Ambassador Butenis requesting either a retraction or the forwarding of information on such crimes for the purpose of further investigation. That would have been proportionate and in keeping with the actual situation as regards Sri Lanka and the use of rape in armed conflict.

Screaming that members of the United States army have been responsible for sexual violence from Okinawa to Abu Ghraib and Colorado isn’t going to help. Hillary Clinton knows about it, and she probably believes that the issue in Sri Lanka is different.

I am simply befuddled by the people who think that it is sensible to argue that Hillary Clinton mentioned Sri Lanka in this way because she received and then gave back a few thousand dollars from sources connected to the LTTE when she was running for the Democratic Party nomination for president. First, that could never be enough to buy the Secretary of State.

More importantly, this accusation can only encourage her to press on with her criticism of Sri Lanka. It is rather like the other mad suggestion being thrown around that the remarks were part of a plot by the United States government to overthrow Mahinda Rajapaksa because Barack Obama is jealous of his victory over terrorism. It’s completely stupid.

A frightening number of people brought up Monica Lewinsky. If they keep going on this line, Hillary Clinton will very soon be convinced that Sri Lanka is run by an offshoot of the Taliban.

The impression given is that this country does not respect women and cares little about rape. I sometimes wonder myself.

Mindsets have been so warped over all these years of war that a lot of people now seem to be completely incapable of dispassionate and rational analysis of criticism. They don’t believe that any unfavourable remarks could possibly be true or at least offered with genuine intentions, even when that is the most likely possibility.

Some commentators went so far as to argue that the Security Forces hadn’t ever been accused of sexual violence, never mind its officially sanctioned use as a weapon in the war against the LTTE. They are sadly misguided. The list of allegations is disturbingly long. That incidents didn’t happen on the battlefield makes such blanket denials even more worrying now that the main task for the Security Forces is among civilians. It is not reassuring to argue that the general inability of the criminal justice system to punish the guilty is responsible for the lack of prosecutions.

One person even suggested that rape was not part of Sri Lankan culture. Wake up, sir.

This blinkered attitude is clearly a barrier to progress in ridding society of such crimes, but it also reinforces the negative image of the country that has found its way around the globe. Hillary Clinton is hardly the only person to think badly of Sri Lanka. Effecting a change in global public opinion requires intelligent presentation as well as supporting facts.

What was most ludicrous about the reaction to Hillary Clinton’s brief speech was that most of the venomous insults were spat out after her office had despatched a letter admitting that it had no knowledge of rape being used by the Security Forces in the most recent phase of fighting. This is what really mattered, as the Government said itself. Nothing more was ever going to be forthcoming, and it didn’t come.

It is about time that Sri Lanka stopped regarding interaction with other countries as an all-out battle. There is no need for it, and such an approach has consequences.

Now that the fighting on the ground is over, the tasks facing the Government in countering the threat posed by the LTTE have changed dramatically.

The primary theatre of operations has moved overseas to where the funds and political leaders are to be found, which is mainly in the West. Cadres have been making their way abroad too. The situation is obviously much less urgent than when Prabhakaran was holed up in the No Fire Zone with thousands of civilians, but it still requires action. That will need the collaboration of the authorities in Washington and other national capitals, which is unlikely to be forthcoming if the old strategy of confrontation persists.

Sri Lanka has to take note of its new circumstances and adjust. This is true in many ways, as I have argued elsewhere.

October 20, 2009

Rajaratnam and Bharara: Intra-South Asian courtroom battle

By S. MITRA KALITA

It seems like a courtroom drama made for Bollywood: The Sri Lankan hedge-fund kingpin being prosecuted by a fellow immigrant, the Indian-born U.S. attorney for Manhattan.

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Raj Rajaratnam-pic: courtesy: bloomberg news

But the case against Raj Rajaratnam is very much an American story. Mr. Rajaratnam, the billionaire founder of the Galleon Group, and Preet Bharara -- the Indian-born, Ivy League prosecutor – are both South Asian, a term that actually gained popularity (and possibility) overseas to refer to the collective people from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, among others. The relatively small immigrant group has formed a power elite in the U.S., from positions in corporate boardrooms to the governor's mansion.

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Preet Bharara

An estimated 2.5 million Indians live in the U.S., less than 1% of the total population. Yet their median income is a whopping 80% higher than the average American's.

And in recent years, South Asians have found disproportionate success in technology and financial services, businesses at the core of the insider-trading allegations unveiled last week.

Authorities say Mr. Rajaratnam conspired with Intel Capital employee Rajiv Goel and Anil Kumar, a director of McKinsey & Co. global management-consulting firm, between 2006 and 2008. All three received M.B.A.'s from the Wharton School. All have denied wrongdoing.

Unlike earlier generations of immigrants, the 1965 law opening U.S. borders abandoned a quota system and attracted the brightest and best-educated foreigners. That allowed South Asians particularly to penetrate and dominate highly skilled professions, said Ravi Batra, a prominent Indian-American lawyer in New York City.

Mr. Rajaratnam was born and raised in Sri Lanka, an island nation off India's coast and the site of a long-running civil war. He studied engineering at the University of Sussex in England and graduated from Wharton in 1983.

The prosecutor in the case, Mr. Bharara, earned degrees from Harvard and Columbia Law School. He was born in Ferozepur, India, and arrived in the U.S. as an infant.

“South Asians found success in technology and financial services, businesses at the core of the allegations unveiled last week…”
Honored by the North American South Asian Bar Association in 2007, Mr. Bharara invoked his heritage—and those of his fellow desi lawyers.

"We should remember that in each of those acts of migration—repeated hundreds of thousands of time—lies a quantum of courage and will and daring that few of us will ever have to summon," he said, according to a news release from the bar association. "…South Asian lawyers have a special obligation and a unique perspective—because of who we are, where we came from, and how we got here. … We must try to use our profession to bring justice and equality and dignity to those who need help."

In the insider-trading scandal, Mr. Bharara "has to walk as fine a line as there is," said Sonjui L. Kumar, president of the bar association. "White prosecutors arrest people all the time, but here you have this financial mogul who happens to be South Asian and then you have a South Asian attorney. That's just where we are. … It's a testament of where we've come as a community."

Such prominent South Asians include PepsiCo Inc. Chief Executive Indra Nooyi, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Silicon Valley financier Vinod Khosla.

A boom in high-technology and financial services helped lure South Asians from medicine and engineering into consulting and investment banking. Others turned entrepreneurial; one Duke University study found that more than a quarter of all tech start-ups in the U.S. between 1995 and 2005 were initiated by immigrants.

Through the dot-com heydays of the late 1990s into the present, organizations like the Indus Entrepreneurs, better known as TiE, have drawn venture capitalists, private equity and hedge funds looking for the next big idea. Indian immigrants became known for their innovations, said TiE Silicon Valley president Vish Mishra. The personal and professional blurred as the meetings offered talk and tastes of home—alongside access to mentors, funding, survival strategies for America.

"How do you develop friendships in a new country?" explained Mr. Mishra, also the venture director at Clearstone Venture Partners. "Rajiv Goel was Rajaratnam's college mate. That happens in every society in every community."

For some immigrants, the attraction to hedge funds was logical. Jobs were competitive and lucrative, yet favored the mathematically minded. Compared to the cozy world of investment banking, some South Asians might have found hedge funds to be more of a meritocracy, according to observers.

Some Indians fear resentment springing from the emerging scandal. "A level of success invites a level of scrutiny, that is always a natural consequence of success," said Rajiv Khanna, president of the India-America Chamber of Commerce. "It's not good publicity for the Indian businessman, but does [Bernard] Madoff define all the Jewish businessmen?"

"There've been so many scandals. This is one of several hundred," added Vivek Wadhwa, co-author of the Duke study and also a Harvard researcher who has examined immigrant education and networks.

"All it shows that Indians are coming of age," he said. "We have our bad apples too." [courtesy: The Wall Street Journal]

Related: "Powerful evidence for defendants" - In Fraud Case, a Deal That Lost Millions - New York Times, Oct 21, 2009

Those who cannot understand problems of others are unlikely to be problem solvers

by Jehan Perera

With the ending of the war more than five months ago, Sri Lankans have had the great relief of not seeing daily reports of casualties due to fighting between the armed forces and LTTE cadre. Nor have there been bomb attacks that cause mayhem and loss of innocent civilian life. These constitute major improvements that have uplifted the quality of life for all people without exception. Even those people who continue to be confined to welfare camps have more security in their lives now than they did during the time of war.

However, the rhetoric of government leaders and some of their actions suggested that the country still remains on a war footing, with institutions of war being everywhere apparent.

The continued detention of a quarter of a million people in government welfare centres is the most visible legacy of the war. Military checkpoints continue to dot the landscape, with more important cities such as Colombo and Jaffna having them every few hundred meters. Even the intrusive cordon and search operations continue with news reports of security forces checking homes in Colombo to see if suspected LTTE cadres from the IDP welfare centres had found themselves sanctuary within them.

Indeed, it now appears that with the passage of time and the approach of crucial presidential and general elections, the rhetoric of war and national security is getting increased rather than decreased. High ranking government members have been warning that separatist forces are still active and trying to create a dangerous situation to destabilize the government’s military victory. The state media has reported that conspiracies involving Sri Lankan and international forces are at play to create a political environment to achieve by political means the very division of the country that the LTTE failed to achieve through military means.

The most obvious consequence of this line of argument being made is that the present government needs to win the forthcoming elections if the sovereignty of the country and the victory over the LTTE are to be safeguarded. However, this is not a new argument, nor is it one limited to the present government and its supporters. Past governments too have resorted to similar arguments at election time to seek the electoral defeat of their political opponents, whom they have branded as possible traitors and anti-national elements. This time perhaps the rhetoric and utilization of state resources to spread this message is greater than ever before.

There is also a second argument that is being used, which is also not new, but which is being used by the government, and especially by its nationalist allies, with greater vigor than ever before. This states that the victory achieved by the Sri Lankan military at great sacrifice must not, at any cost, be bartered away for political gain. It is argued that the territory that the military fought to recapture must not be surrendered through a political solution that concedes any form of autonomy to the Tamil-majority and other ethnic minority areas. The government has accordingly put forward the proposition of one people, one nation, and has proclaimed the ideal of a country in which no one is described as a minority, and in which no part of the country is described as being an ethnic minority one.

With the approach of elections, the government is engaged in an aggressive campaign to keep its ethnic majority Sinhalese voter base intact. Its primary election-related focus is its greatest achievement, the military defeat of the LTTE, and to warn against its revival in another form unless more military precautions are taken. This may be why government members appear to be under an embargo to talk about a political solution to the ethnic conflict. Not even the proposals of the All Party Representatives Committee, which were handed over to the President several weeks ago, are being mentioned at all as being part the government’s campaign.

In order to woo the ethnic minorities, the government is engaged in other means of ensuring their support. One method has been to offer privileged positions within the government to minority leaders who will function within the limits set by the government. Several political and business leaders have been successfully co-opted by the government. The logic that some of them have employed is that it is better to get something from the government by siding with it, rather than getting nothing by opposing it. This pragmatism on the part of some minority leaders has enabled the government to claim a significant ethnic minority representation at the higher levels of governance.

Another method employed by the government has been to have high visibility meetings with leaders of minority communities, and to follow up with a media barrage regarding the success and goodwill generated at the meeting. Some recent examples have been meetings with the visiting parliamentary group from Tamil Nadu and also with the Catholic Bishops of Sri Lanka. There was extensive media coverage given to both meetings. The scenes of positive interactions shown in the mass media would send a powerful message to the general population who are not privy to what was actually said and discussed.

But beneath the smiling footage that is released to the mass media, there is a different reality. The situation on the ground is a grim one which the leaders of the ethnic minority communities have to deal with. At their meeting with the President, it is reported that the Catholic bishops gave priority to their concerns about the continued detention of displaced persons within welfare centres. They also spoke about the need to reassure the ethnic minorities that there would be a political solution that would satisfy their just and reasonable aspirations. Unfortunately it appears that the governmental response to the urgent issues raised by the bishops was less than understanding with a tense atmosphere prevailing at times.

Those who cannot understand the problems of others are unlikely to be problem solvers and reconcilers. One of the government’s strategies is to deny there are problems, when others who are affected by those problems raise them. Or, it claims that the problems are being addressed. This could either be due to their actual belief that no such problems exist, or because they know that their existing capacities do not permit them to address those problems. An example would be the much advertised government offer to relatives of the displaced, that they can apply to have their relatives released and to stay with them. Not many have been able to avail themselves of this facility.

There needs to be mutual understanding. After mobilizing the forces of Sinhalese nationalism to win the war, the government cannot simply negate the demands and fears of Sinhalese nationalism which sees the Sinhalese-Tamil conflict as a historical reality. But if the government continues on the course that Sinhalese nationalism would take it, there is bound to be resistance that arises from the nationalism of the ethnic minority communities. This is the pattern of history that needs to be transcended. An example would be the manner in which the European Union became the mechanism that ended the historical intra-European animosities.

All the people of Sri Lanka would be grateful that the bombardments and forcible recruitment of children that was part and parcel of the war have come to an end. But, once human beings are assured of their lives, they seek more from life than just to survive. They want a life that has higher values such as justice, truth, equality and participation.

The leaders of the ethnic minorities need to continuously engage with the government, as did the Catholic bishops, while voicing the problems of their constituents which the government needs o resolve in a satisfactory manner. An oppositional approach is unlikely to be fruitful, especially with a government that shows itself determined to win the forthcoming elections at any cost.

Economy sprouts under guard in Sri Lanka's north

By Shihar Aneez

JAFFNA, Sri Lanka, Oct 20 (Reuters) - The highway is open, prices are up and business is growing in post-war northern Sri Lanka, but traders say a legacy of tight security left by a 25-year conflict is holding back the region's full potential.

The northern Jaffna district has been all but cut off from most of Sri Lanka since war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) separatists broke out in 1983.

Now small-time traders and entrepreneurs, from paintshop salesmen to electronics sellers and fisherman, say sales have nearly doubled with eased restrictions and the opening of the main highway after the Tigers' defeat in May.

The Tigers' control of parts of northern Sri Lanka just south of military-controlled Jaffna meant that the peninsula and its namesake city were virtual islands -- with goods only coming by boat or by air.

The military opened the main north-south A-9 road in July and is now permitting transport under close watch. All of Jaffna remains under military control.

"In bad times, I had to sell a kilo of grapes at 30 rupees... now I am getting a wholesale price of 200 rupees per kilo," K. Devendrarasa, a 56-year old grape farmer, said on Tuesday.

Sri Lanka's only native-grown grapes come from Jaffna, and street hawkers for the first time in years are now selling them in southern Sri Lanka.

"We need more finance for expansion and investment," he said after receiving a 100,000 rupee loan from Hatton National Bank HNB.CM to finance the planting of a one-acre crop.

Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal visited on Monday and Tuesday, and met with Jaffna business leaders and bankers.

The central bank has been expediting approvals for dozens of new bank branches in the north to speed up access to credit. Many Jaffna residents kept their money out of the banking system under LTTE rule, opting to convert it to gold or outside investments.

PRICES FALL

Already, prices of consumer goods have fallen by about 15 percent in Jaffna, while the market price for goods produced or grown there have at least doubled, traders say.

"Earlier we paid 500,000 rupees ($4,350) for a truckload for shipping, but now we only pay 100,000," Perambalam Naharathnam, the owner of a hardware and cycle shop, told Reuters after making a deposit at a new National Development Bank NDB.CM branch.

Poor links with the south during the war have turned most of Jaffna's businesspeople toward trade, primarily financed through remittances from family members abroad.

More than two-thirds of Jaffna residents have relatives living outside Sri Lanka who regularly send money home, according to private-sector estimates.

Motor vehicle dealer C.J. Paul said he had sold more than 120 motorcycles and 15 motorised three-wheelers for cash since his outlet opened on Sept. 9.

Fishermen said their fortunes have been on the rise since the government relaxed a fishing ban. That has helped them meet strong demand for Jaffna's prawns, crabs, lobsters and cuttlefish -- traditionally considered among Sri Lanka's tastiest.

Despite early positive signs, most entrepreneurs privately complain that security is still too tight and transport options limited to a handful of politically-connected people.

"We can't send goods from here. There is a huge security process. All the transport business is monopolised by some influential parties," one entreprenuer told Reuters.

Most traders said Jaffna trucks have not been allowed to go out of town, while those from the outside with Defence Ministry approval can travel in both directions.

The government has pledged to ease security once it gets a proper state administration in place. (Editing by Bryson Hull and Ron Popeski) - courtesy: Reuters

October 19, 2009

Sri Lanka Govt. Breaks Promises That Displaced Can Go Home-HRW

245,000 Held in Camps Should Be Released Immediately

Full Text of HRW Press Release

The Sri Lankan government's recent statements that it aims to return only 100,000 of the original 273,000 displaced civilians confined to camps by the end of 2009 breaks a promise to camp residents and the international community, Human Rights Watch said today. In May, the government announced that 80 percent of the displaced people would be able to return home by the end of the year.

Since the end of the fighting in May, the government has released or returned fewer than 27,000 people, leaving about 245,000 civilians in the camps.

"Enough is enough," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "It is well past time to release civilians detained in the camps. Sri Lanka's international friends should tell the government that they will not accept any more broken promises."

The Sri Lankan government has used its promises of rapid return (usually called "resettlement" by the government) to stave off international criticism over its treatment of ethnic Tamil civilians displaced by war. The displaced Tamils have been held in detention camps, which the government euphemistically calls "welfare centers," where they are deprived of their liberty and freedom of movement, in violation of international law.

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called for all civilians in the camps to be allowed to leave, even if security conditions do not permit them to return home immediately. Most could live with relatives or host families. Those who have nowhere to go could choose to stay in the camps, but this should be voluntary. For those who did stay, conditions would be improved because the camps would be less crowded. The United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and India have all called on the government to release civilians detained in camps as soon as possible.

The government has in its most recent statements dramatically decreased the number of people it says will be allowed to leave the detention camps by the end of 2009:

* On May 7, the official government news portal of Sri Lanka, http://www.news.lk/, announced that "[t]he Government plans to resettle over 80 percent of the displaced families in the North before the end of this year."

* Meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on May 23, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa said, "The Government was already working on a plan to resettle most of the IDPs [internally displaced persons] within 180 days."

* In a July 16 letter of intent to the International Monetary Fund, which awarded Sri Lanka a US$2.6 billion loan, the government said that it "aims to resettle 70-80 percent of IDPs by the end of the year."

* On October 6, however, Deputy Finance Minister Sarath Amunugama, attending the annual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Istanbul, said that, "Sri Lanka may resettle 100,000 people from camps by the end of the year."

* On October 16, Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services Minister Rishard Bathiudeen said, "Our plan is to resettle around 100,000 persons by the end of this year."

These recent statements suggest that only about 37 percent of the original camp population would be freed from the camps by the end of 2009.

The Sri Lankan government has also made a number of statements about imminent releases of displaced persons from camps that proved to be untrue:

* On August 29, the government news portal announced: "Plans are afoot to resettle nearly fifty thousand persons now living in welfare camps shortly in their homes in Jaffna."

* In an official statement released on September 3, Northern Province Governor G.A Chandrasiri said: "All arrangements are in place to resettle 30,000 Internal Displaced Persons (IDPs) in 35 villages in Vavuniya District."

* On September 24, Minister of Mass Media and Information Anura Priryadarshana Yapa said: "The resettlement process of persons temporary [sic] accommodated at welfare camps in Vavuniya is in full swing and as of today, the Government has resettled 40,000 civilians in their place of origin."

* On September 25, the Ministry of Defense announced that active preparation is under way for "resettlement of an estimated number of one lakh [100,000] of displayed [sic] civilians by mid-October."

According to the UN, the government had returned only 13,502 displaced persons to their place of origin and released another 13,336 to host families and elders' homes as of October 9.

The media reported that on October 14, the Sri Lankan government promised a delegation of local parliamentarians from India that it will release 58,000 internally displaced persons from camps in the next two weeks.

"The Sri Lankan government is playing games with the lives and hopes of those displaced by the country's armed conflict," said Adams. "Its failure to address the genuine grievances of the Tamil community is disastrous for the country."

October 18, 2009

No single or body of persons can claim credit for war victory against LTTE

by S.L. Gunasekara

The final defeat of the `killing might’ of the LTTE on the 18th May 2009 ushered in a new era to our tortured land – an era when People of all races, religions, genders, ages and walks of life could go about their normal avocations without fear of being torn to pieces by bombs exploded in or about crowded city centres, shops, buses and trains; when Tamil residents of the North and the East could rest assured that their little children would no longer be kidnapped for slave labour in the LTTE’s terrorist cadres or for use as `cannon fodder’; when Sinhalese and Moors could worship at their temples and in their Mosques, work in their fields, and sleep in their humble abodes without fear of being slaughtered en masse; and when Tamils, particularly those resident in the North and the East are secure in the knowledge that their hard earned money would not be extorted from them by the LTTE in the guise of collecting `taxes’.

It was no surprise, therefore, that apart from a few rank traitors within it, the Nation, comprised as it is of Sinhalese, Tamils, and Moors among others, rejoiced as one, cutting across party lines as well as racial and religious differences.

What an opportunity there was then, to build upon that new found unity to re-build our Country on a firm foundation of decency and fair-play.

Such, however was not to be; and today, we see the outrageous spectacle of an unseemly and equally petty scramble to claim the credit for that mighty victory with a view to gaining some political advantage from it. What is most tragic is that this scramble is perceived [whether rightly or wrongly] to be principally a tussle for `kudos’ between President Rajapakse and General Sarath Fonseka; and that scenting the stench of perceived discord between the two as a gadfly scents the stench of excreta, some sniveling sycophants among the lumpen elements in that band of leeches on the body politic called Ministers have been seen to make fervid attempts to belittle the mighty achievements of General Sarath Fonseka with a view to currying favour with President Rajapakse, while the dress designer turned politician who once announced that General Sarath Fonseka is fit only to lead the Salvation Army is now seeking to promote him to contest the next election for the post of President and Commander in Chief of all our Armed Forces! How queer!

Whatever anybody may say, the nation can never forget that President Rajapakse was the first President to have the courage and the political will to give political leadership to a sustained military campaign to deliver us from evil; and that but for that leadership, that mighty victory would not have taken place.

However, all that sound and enlightened leadership would have been to no avail had not the Armed Forces and the Army in particular, [for this was essentially a `land operation’ and the final phase, essentially an `infantry operation’] responded positively with excellent strategic planning and like execution of such strategy by the Commanders, commitment, dedication and limitless sacrifice.

While the Army was, without doubt, the ‘spear-head’ and the main actor in the military operations, it could not have achieved victory alone, without the magnificent contributions of the Navy, the Air Force, the STF, and so many others.

However good the strategy and command decisions of the Commanders, all that would have come to nought but for the commitment of all ranks under their command, and in particular, the enlisted men, the non-commissioned officers, and the platoon, company and battalion commanders who fought the good fight with all their might, sacrificing life and limb and suffering dangers and hardships which we civilians could scarce imagine.

They themselves could not have so fought that fight but for the backing and support they received from their families.

The contribution to the victory of those patriots of indescribable valour, the Tamil informants, who served the Country while knowing that only slow and agonising deaths awaited them and their families if they were detected, must necessarily have been great, but by reason of its nature, the extent of that contribution can never really be known.

A moot question that arises is whether our Forces with all that political and professional leadership, courage, dedication and sacrifice could have achieved that historic victory had the efforts of the LTTE at the ethnic cleansing of the North, East and the areas abutting those Provinces of Sinhalese and Moors succeeded. That effort of the LTTE failed because there were some Buddhist Monks [now virtually forgotten] with monumental dedication and like courage such as the late Chief Incumbent of the Tantirimale Raja Maha Vihara and several others who gave leadership to the residents of Sinhalese villages in and around the Northern and Eastern Provinces and gave them the courage not to flee their villages despite the genocidal attacks on them by the LTTE.

Last but not least are the long suffering People of this Country who suffered an ever escalating cost of living while witnessing the shameless extravagance with public funds of some of those in the corridors of power, their vain ostentation and their total indifference to the rights and convenience of others; fraud and corruption; broken promises, and a host of other rank injustices without resorting to agitation which would have resulted in the Armed Forces being diverted from their tasks, and thereby made this victory possible. Let us also not forget that it was these People who provided the funds for the colossal expenditure on the military operations which made the victory possible. This victory can truly be described as one achieved on the "widows’ mite"

There is, therefore, no single person or body of persons who can claim the credit for the victory. The victory was a victory of the Nation as a whole, barring the traitors in our midst. This putrescent scramble to claim credit for the victory is not only a resounding disgrace, but also a self-defeating exercise which can only detract from the victory and gladden the hearts and strengthen the hands of our enemies both domestic and foreign.

This damned nonsense must stop: and stop NOW.

Obama marches on for war with new brand of oratory camouflaging same old war

by Kusal Perera

Its funny in a way, that the Oslo based Nobel Foundation decided to award the Peace Prize 2009 to a President of a country that lives on profits from military hardware sales and services. Its funny too, for them to think, this President, Barak Obama of USA, is making “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples”, when he is heading a State that fuels conflict more than promote freedom.

“For many, war is synonymous with Iraq or Afghanistan, but our research enumerates 25 ongoing conflicts throughout the world. In the last decade, the U.S. has transferred some $8.7 billion in arms and military services to these war zones, $970.5 million in 2003 alone. During that year (the last year for which full data is available) the United States transferred weapons and military hardware into 18 of 25 conflict zones. This is despite the fact that these transfers appear to violate the spirit (if not the letter) of the Arms Export Control Act and the Foreign Assistance Act, which bar the transfer of U.S.-origin military equipment into active areas of conflict.”

[U.S. WEAPONS AT WAR 2005: PROMOTING FREEDOM OR FUELING CONFLICT? http://www.worldpolicy.org/projects/arms/reports/wawjune2005.html ]

That is reason why the splendid orator he is, Obama sounds aggressive against Pakistan for not waging war against the Talebans. He is consistent with his cold phrased threats against Pakistan, ignoring that Pakistan is an independent and sovereign, foreign country. He said US must be willing to strike Al Qaeda targets inside Pakistan, “with or without approval from Pakistan,”(Reuters - 01 August, 2007) even during his campaign for Democratic presidential nominations.

He did so without Pakistani approval, as US President. US drone attacks inside Pakistan began again, just 03 days after Obama took oaths as President of the USA on 20 January, just the way Bush had ordered them. He thereafter signed orders to send 17,000 US army fighting cadres to Afghanistan on 18 February, within 01 month of being President of the US.

"This increase is necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction, and resources it urgently requires," Mr. Obama was quoted as having said after he signed the order, by the Christian Science Monitor.

He is marching on for war, with a new brand of oratory that can not in any way camouflage the same old war. Barak Obama is meanwhile awarded the world’s most prestigious peace prize by the Nobel Foundation for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples”. That too wouldn’t make any difference to the Afghan and Pakistani tribal people, who would have to duck to save their lives from US drone attacks.

The fact is, no US president could do otherwise, with or without a Nobel Peace prize. Obama as all other US Presidents has to continue SOUTHCOM operations, with a 600 million dollar administrative budget, to service Latin American military assistance, that annually tops over USS $ 120 million. That is not what is more important in Obama being awarded the Peace Prize. It’s the US economy and its heavy dependence on military hardware and armaments. This US economy is an economy that is heavily dependent on waging war, to sustain their heavy armament industry.

According to SIPRI Yearbook 2008, of the TOP 10 military and armaments companies, 06 are US companies and their profits for year 2007 totalled US $ 14,702 million. These companies on the other hand have employed 578,200 Americans, a number that can not be allowed to join the laid off lot in a struggling economy. In this recession or even otherwise, no Obama can forget all of them and decide US foreign policy. Foreign policy for US is simply dealing with conflicts any where in the world, for their own advantage and benefit.

The dilemma of the Head of State of the USA in saving his country’s recession hit economy does not stop with the 06 companies in the Top 10 military hardware manufacturing group. If one goes down the list to the next Top 10 to make it a total of Top 20 in the military hardware and armament industry in the world, one would find 14 US companies slotted in sharing a massive profit of US $ 45,582 million and an employment figure of 1,435,980 persons.

All of it is not the total share of the US economy in waging war. There are 46 top US companies listed among the Top 100 companies in the world, manufacturing military hardware and armaments. These companies no doubt have a very big chunk in the US economy and any blockade to sale of their war products would hit the US economy far worse than any recession or meltdown. A blockade on their war products would mean any peace initiative to on going armed conflicts any where in the world, that would produce positive results in sustaining a “cease fire” leading to a possible sustainable peace process and not necessarily a permanent end to conflict right now.

What it also means is, the US economy is not an economy that could sustain itself in a conflict free, peaceful world. It needs conflicts and big conflicts too. It also needs to now shift its axis of war from the “war weary” Mid East to some where else, to allow some respite to the Israeli - Pan Arab world. This coalition the Obamian regime would try to foster for a respite in Mid East, leaves out Iran. And it drags in Afghanistan too. Thus the Obamian long term commitment from the presidential campaign times, to shift the war from Iraq to Afghanistan.

What it also means is that South Asia, by default could be the next theatre of war, for US companies to sell their destructive military hardware and armaments. Any escalation of the Afghan war will have Pakistan held responsible for Taleban activism. Talebans, as we know are of very many shades and ideologies. They work with very many fundamentalist armed groups in Pakistan, some covertly supported by the Pakistani ISI as well. Between Pakistani ISI and the Indian RAW is another conflict that exports armed conflicts across borders. Not only across Pak - Indo borders but across Afghan borders into Kabul as well. Such rivalry and ideological battles have made cross border conflicts an inherent feature in inter State dealings in South Asian conflicts.

Thus, all manipulations by Obama to have the Afghan war going despite its public statements in bringing democracy to the Afghan people, would have its extension to Pakistan and then into India. The present Indian regime has any way decided to accelerate its war against Maoists and would be militarising the Indian society. There are 03 Indian manufacturers listed among the Top 100 companies that has gained a listed profit of over 500 million US dollars during the year 2007. They would also need more conflicts to grow on their profits.

We in South Asia are thus heading into the future with economies that live on armed conflicts, with Obama heading the biggest such economy and is awarded the Nobel Peace prize, the money he says would go for charity. Charity after all is a by product of all conflicts.

Military defeat of LTTE has drawn attention to the need for national healing and reconciliation

The military defeat of the LTTE cannot be expected to resolve our National crisis. To the contrary, it has drawn much wider attention to the need for National healing and reconciliation

by Rt. Rev. Duleep de Chickera

At the Annual Sessions of the Diocese of Colombo of the (Anglican) Church of Ceylon which began on Friday October 16, 2009, the Rt Rev Duleep de Chickera, the Bishop of Colombo, delivering his Address to the clergy and people of his Diocese called for the displaced persons in camps to be treated with dignity and trust. We must never forget, he said, that they are also Sri Lankans who crossed over at the invitation of their government to be liberated.

He also urged that his Church should work with all faith leaders to recognise the year 2009-2010 as the Year of National Healing and Reconciliation when all would engage in rigorous self scrutiny and a rediscovery of inclusive behaviour; and that this process would lead to a spirituality of compassion, courage and humility in the journey of reconciliation.

The Rt Rev Dr Thomas Savundranayagam, Roman Catholic Bishop of Jaffna, was the Chief Guest at the Sessions. Key extracts from Bishop Duleep de Chickera’s Address are:

A family separated

“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together.” (1 Cor. 12:26)

A part of our Diocesan Family is not represented at this Council. This is because most members of our Congregations of the Vanni (over 125 families) are presently in camps for displaced Sri Lankans. Our efforts to arrange for some Lay representation for these congregations were not successful. It is now up to us all to bear this in mind in our proceedings. Our thinking and decisions should carry the pain and responsibility of separation. I have also asked our Chaplains and those who lead our Bible Studies and worship to connect those who gather at Council and those who are scattered in camps, through our reflections and prayers.

Displaced Sri Lankans

The aftermath of the war created an unprecedented crisis of displacement affecting nearly 280,000 Sri Lankans. At the time of writing these persons are located in camps in the Vavuniya, Mannar, Jaffna and Trincomalee Districts. Since these tragic happenings, we have repeatedly expressed our views on the war, the future of those displaced and post-war reconciliation. The Standing Committee Report and the Report of the Board of Social Responsibility (BSR) further elaborate on our stance and ministry in these areas.

There is however, an aspect of this tragic story that needs to be highlighted. We must never forget that those who crossed over are Sri Lankans; and that they crossed over at the invitation of their government to be liberated. Liberation for the displaced requires that they be treated with dignity and trust, that their return to their original homes and livelihoods be expedited and that they thereafter receive equal opportunities for education, development and growth. Liberation also requires that they should not be hindered or harmed by any ideology or force that might want to exploit or suppress them all over again.

Reconciliation and healing of the Nation

The military defeat of the LTTE cannot be expected to resolve our National crisis. To the contrary, it has drawn much wider attention to the need for National healing and reconciliation which has eluded us for decades. As never before we are now called to strive after that way of life, which will lead us away from deceit and violence, hold us together and nourish us as equals.

While we must be thankful that we are still a very resilient, resourceful and hospitable people, certain obstructions to healing need to be acknowledged if we are to secure abundant life for all.

Past and current realities

While colonisation divided us and deprived us of freedom, our post independence history further aggravated these trends. Unimaginable violence has devalued human life and dignity. Layer upon layer of intimidation and discrimination have created deep social suspicion and antagonism. Both, fear and prejudice have created an unprecedented disregard in our society for the needs and rights of our neighbour. Repeated acts of extra judicial atrocities coupled with the absence of a fair judicial process of investigation, protection and prevention have led to an erosion of law and order and a culture of impunity. Impatience with dissent and critique has restricted the Media and public opinion. In fact the crisis of police violence, serious as it is, reflects the triumph of these trends in our society much more than it does the lack of professionalism in the Police Force.

This destructive shift in social reality did not simply happen. It is the culmination of several short sighted socio-political initiatives. The intensification of divisive ethnic party politics has systematically undermined national integration. The absence of sustainable economic, educational, agricultural and foreign policies have further polarised us internally and isolated us internationally. Clearly discriminatory legislation such as the Sinhala only Act of the Fifties and the earlier dis-enfranchisement of large numbers amongst the plantation community, marginalised the minorities. The Tamil militant struggle for self government that emerged out of this discrimination grew into a movement which oppressed its own and systematically eliminated National leaders of all communities. The subsequent security drive against the LTTE caused untold humiliation and hardship for the Tamil community. A serious and systematic erosion of higher values on all sides, drove us to the “war only” option; which in turn brought about an immense loss of life, uprooted whole communities, polarised the Nation and left us with haunting memories of communal grievance, impatience and despair.

A process

If reconciliation and healing are to come to our beloved Nation in these circumstances, we are all required to take a right-about turn and engage in two initiatives. These are the ability to look within our selves and our communities and deal with the mistakes of the past; and the cultivation of a behaviour that respects and welcomes the presence of the other. These unwritten democratic values of self scrutiny and inclusive behaviour will require time, personal integrity and an abundance of generosity. But we don’t have to go far to find them. The respective spiritualities of our religions provide these values to those of us who want to live at peace with each other.

It is from here that we will together recognise how to address past grievance and future integration. And it will be only then that the journey towards getting to that place, where each will be received with dignity, none will violate another and all will be provided space for growth and fulfilment, will be discerned. From here our collective conscience will be required to invite and encourage the other repeatedly, till the call falls on good ground and bears fruit. This is the prophetic tradition of the Church without which there can be no reconciliation and healing in Christ.

A Year of national healing and reconciliation

Since all religions have a role to play in this National agenda I request the Diocese to please recognise the year 2009-2010 as a year of “National Reconciliation and Healing.” For this to happen most effectively we will be called to work even more closely with our Sister Churches and Faiths. Our own role in this collective task will be futile if we ourselves do not engage in rigorous self scrutiny and a rediscovery of inclusive behaviour. It must be our prayer that out of this process Christ will endow us with a spirituality of compassion, courage and humility for the journey.

I invite all Clergy and Congregations, Schools and other Church Institutions to spread this message and incorporate this thrust into our respective mandates and scope of influence. I request Standing Committee, Council of Synod and the Peace and Inter Faith Desks in particular to highlight this proposal and to give it priority in the coming year.

I urge all our Commissions and Boards to give this theme priority in our work during the coming year. I also intend carrying this proposal to the Civil Society, Ecumenical and Inter Faith Groups with whom we work

October 17, 2009

Raj Rajaratnam’s name first transpired in US probe on LTTE

By EVAN PEREZ and MATTHEW ROSENBERG

WASHINGTON—The hedge-fund billionaire charged as part of a vast insider-trading case surfaced in an earlier, separate probe into U.S. fundraising by a Sri Lankan terrorist group, people familiar with the probe said.

As part of that investigation, federal agents said they uncovered documents showing that Raj Rajaratnam, founder of the Galleon Group, was among several wealthy Sri Lankans in the U.S. whose donations to a Maryland-based charity made their way to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, according to people familiar with the probe.

The LTTE, commonly known as the Tamil Tigers, fought a brutal separatist war carrying out suicide bombings and political assassinations against the government of Sri Lanka from 1976 until it was defeated in May.

Mr. Rajaratnam, 52 years old, was among six people arrested Friday in what the Federal Bureau of Investigation said is the largest-ever, hedge-fund insider-trading case. Federal prosecutors charged Mr. Rajaratnam with securities fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud.

Citing telephone wiretaps, a federal criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court for New York's Southern District describes a period from 2006 and 2008 when Mr. Rajaratnam and his group allegedly swapped inside information. Prosecutors allege Mr. Rajaratnam and his ring of alleged co-conspirators earned $20 million in improper gains. Mr. Rajaratnam's New York-based Galleon fund firm manages $3.7 billion.

There doesn't appear to be a connection between the two investigations.

Jim Walden, an attorney for Mr. Rajaratnam, said his client is innocent and will fight the insider-trading charges. Mr. Walden said Mr. Rajaratnam made charitable donations "to rebuild homes destroyed by the Tsunami" that devastated Sri Lanka and other countries in 2004, and that he wasn't involved with the LTTE.

Mr. Rajaratnam wasn't charged in the terrorism probe, which was led by the FBI and federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, Eight other people have pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to the group, designated as terrorist by the U.S.

Prosecutors in the cases do not allege that Mr. Rajaratnam and other donors knew their contributions were routed to the Tamil Tigers.

Documents in a federal criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in New York's Eastern District include allegations by federal agents that money donated to a U.S. charity called Tamil Rehabilitation Organization, or TRO USA, of Cumberland, Md., was funneled to the Tamil Tigers insurgency.

The case was brought against Karunakaran Kandasamy, described by prosecutors as the head of the U.S. branch of the LTTE. He pleaded guilty in June to providing material support to a terrorist group. His attorney said Mr. Kandasamy is awaiting sentencing.

In the same case, an FBI agent cites documents uncovered in court-authorized searches as showing donations to TRO USA made by a person identified only as "individual B." Mr. Rajaratnam is the person identified as "individual B," according to people familiar with the probe.

"Individual B" made donations to TRO USA totaling $1 million in 2000, according to bank records cited by the FBI. In 2004, "individual B" made another $1 million donation, according to bank records cited by the FBI. The funds were then wired to the TRO organization's Sri Lanka bank accounts.

Mr. Kandasamy, according to the federal complaint, told investigators the Tamil Tigers controlled the TRO charity. Another alleged TRO USA fundraiser indicted separately, said in FBI recorded conversations that "'individual B' made one of those $1 million donations to the LTTE after its successful 'Elephant Pass' attack," said to be one of the biggest military victories by the Tigers in their war against the Sri Lankan government, according to the FBI complaint.

In response to an FBI raid on TRO offices in 2006, the organization said it was a relief organization, and that its only relationship with the Tamil Tigers was in the course of the work conducted in regions then controlled by the LTTE.

Mr. Walden said Mr. Rajaratnam's donations "was responsible for rebuilding thousands of homes for Tamils, Sinhalease, and Muslims without discrimination. He obviously had the homes rebuilt, as they are standing today. Go see them."

The arrest of Mr. Rajaratnam and a couple of others of Indian origin was the talk of the weekend, coming during Diwali, one of the most important Hindu festivals, which is celebrated with lighting of candles and fireworks. Many South Asians gather at temples and people's homes, and "it was all anyone could talk about," said a person who knows Mr. Rajaratnam. "We are all trying to figure out if we can help in any way because he has been so generous but it's difficult to say what one can do given that it's now a judicial case."

Mr. Rajaratnam was a frequent contributor to various causes, from those that promoted development in the Indian subcontinent to programs that benefited lower income South Asian youth in the New York area.

He was also active politically. Data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan group that tracks political contributions, shows that Mr. Rajaratnam donated $26,200 to the Democratic Party's fundraising arm in 2007. He also provided $4,600 in 2007 to the campaign of Hillary Clinton, now Secretary of State, and $4,600 in 2008 to the campaign of President Barack Obama [courtesy: The Wall Street Journal]

US-Sri Lanka relations now at best a chill and at worst a crisis

by Dayan Jayatilleka

When Richard Boucher got surprisingly stroppy with President Rajapakse in 2007 and criticized the Sri Lankan use of “paramilitaries”, I could have stayed silent. Instead I interjected to point out the theory and extensive practice of the US military of using “local forces” and “rural self-defense militia” as allies, from Laos to Afghanistan—but that was a proportionate counterpoint, a strictly defensive parry under provocation, with no hint of personal insult, rudeness or crudeness. That’s one way of doing it. The other way is mentioning Monica Lewinsky, rapping on “rape in the White House”(courtesy JHU), slinging the insults “clown” and “house nigger” (the editorials, no less, of a Sunday paper) and a unique collector’s item: likening Barack Obama to “nothing more, nothing less than a common thug” (that’s Malinda Seneviratne in The Nation, Oct 4,’09, p10). This is no isolated lapse of taste. In an earlier commentary Malinda was even more graphic: “Where would that leave Barack Obama? Would it all translate into too many words to fit into his mouth so he can plead physical inability to move his tongue?” (LakbimaNews, Sept 13, 09, p 12). This tells us more about Malinda’s mind than Obama’s mouth.

The brilliant South Asian born US commentator and Editor of Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria sure was wrong when he said of Obama’s UN debut speech that “The speech was well received all over the world, except one place—America’s rightwing netherworld, which quickly began whipping people into a frenzy”. (Newsweek) He was unaware that what would remain the netherworld anywhere else, is mainstream in some sections of the Sri Lankan media where radical rightwing ‘netherworld’ discourse parades as progressivism and rednecks pass as reds or well-read.

The Sinhala ultranationalists detest Barack Obama. They are divided between those who love George W Bush and those who don’t but assert that “there is no serious difference between the two men”. “What is the progressive aspect of Obama?” they demand to know, when that aspect is precisely what Hugo Chavez has referred to as “the good Obama” or “Obama1”.

This is not a matter of radicalism: one merely needs to read the crude discourse of the Sinhala “super patriots” along with the well-informed, cutting yet utterly civil commentaries of Selvam Canagaratna, Sri Lanka’s sharpest, most sophisticated critic of US foreign policy (including that of the Obama administration), whose Sunday Island articles would not be out of place in any progressive liberal US publication such as The Nation or Mother Jones. However, I rather doubt that any publication of the antiwar Left in the US, UK or anyplace else would countenance an article which calls Obama a “clown”, “a common thug”, “a house nigger”, or speculates on his orthodontics. None of this is to do with Cartesian logic, dialectics, or ‘referencing’ (whatever that means) world systems theory; it is to do with civility, values and mentalities.

Contrast the ideological barbarism of the local demagogues with another way of comprehending and critiquing the US: that of Fidel Castro. While our “anti-suddha” commentators slam Obama even on climate change, this is what Fidel had to say in a column (Sept 22) entitled ‘The Serious Obama’: “The President of the United States has conceded that the developed nations have caused most of the damage and should take responsibility for it. It was certainly a brave gesture. It would also be fair to concede that no other President of the United States would have had the courage to say what he has said”.

Still more telling is Fidel’s attitude to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize which he termed “a positive action” and defended. The AP report from Havana ( Sun, Oct 11) said “Count Fidel Castro among those in favor of the Norwegian Nobel committee’s controversial choice of US President Barack Obama for the Nobel Peace prize”. Winding up an essay containing a solid critique of the political economy of the Empire, Fidel writes:

“In the morning of Friday 9, the world awoke to the news that “the good Obama” of the riddle – as explained by Bolivarian President Hugo Chavez Frias at the United Nations—had been awarded the Nobel peace Prize. I do not always agree with the positions of that institution but I must admit that, at this moment, it was, in my view, a positive action. It compensates the setback sustained by Obama in Copenhagen when Rio de Janeiro, and not Chicago, was chosen as the venue of the 2016 Olympics, a choice that elicited heated attacks from his rightwing adversaries.

Many will feel that he has yet to earn the right to receive such an award. Rather than a prize to the President of the United States, we choose to see that decision as a criticism of the genocidal policy pursued by more than a few Presidents of that country who took that nation to the crossroads where it is today. That is, as a call for peace and for the pursuit of solutions conducive to the survival of the species”. (“The Bells Are Tolling For the Dollar”)

Brazilian President Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva, a Godfather of the all-conquering democratic, pluralist Left in Latin America and a giant of the Global south, also said that “the Nobel Prize is in safe hands”. When Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega delivered a blistering 50 minute critique of the history of US foreign policy at the OAS summit this year, he exempted the listening Barack Obama, who in return thanked him in good humor for not having held him responsible for things that happened when he was five years old. While some of our local anti-imperialists, and the Taliban, cannot see a difference between Bush and Obama except for one of personal style, the Latin American Left can.

So when it comes to a critique of Barack Obama I think I’ll take my cue from the world’s greatest living anti-imperialist leader who has stood up for decades to the mightiest military power in History, just 90 miles from its shores, than from the Taliban or even Tariq Ali, still less from the local rednecks. Fidel’s way is the Third option between the supine pro-Westernism of Ranil’s comprador camp and the xenophobic fundamentalism of the JHU-NFF camp.

One of the strategically vital differences between the two types of anti-imperialism is that the rational radicalism of the Latin American Left led by Fidel always managed to have resonance within US society itself. While fighting in the Sierra, Fidel was famously interviewed by Herbert Mathews of the New York Times. In the last decade or so, Oliver Stone, one of the top US film directors, has made two sympathetic documentaries of Fidel Castro and just recently, one of Hugo Chavez which features all the current Latin American leftist leaders. Stone is also the director of a patriotic American movie on 9/11. A senior US diplomat, Wayne Smith, who was the head of the US Interests Section in Havana and is now a respected scholar, resigned from the State Dept in protest against the what he considered an irrationally hard line taken against Cuba by the Reagan administration. Can anyone envisage a former US ambassador to Sri Lanka resigning from his State Dept job in protest at an overly hostile US policy towards Sri Lanka-- and if not, why not? Why so in the case of Cuba and not in that of Sri Lanka?

The point I seek to make is best illustrated by the example of the Vietnamese revolutionaries at the height of the Vietnam War: there were US kids demonstrating on American campuses with the photograph of Ho Chi Minh, and Jane Fonda visited Hanoi. While the image of Che is ubiquitous among western youth, there weren’t and won’t be demonstrations in which they wield photos of Osama Bin Laden. Sri Lanka and the US are not at war in any sense, and yet, tellingly, Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese Communists had a more sympathetic American audience!

Another lesson that Fidel teaches is never to lose world public opinion. Today world opinion is solidly with Barack Obama. Sri Lanka is hardly competition, will not become more so by being crudely confrontational—and its profile is manifestly not one of a valiant David to Obama’s Goliath.

The discussion above pertains strictly to society, political formations and the intelligentsia, not the state. I am certainly not recommending that the foreign policy of the Sri Lankan State be identical to or imitate Cuba and Castro’s policy towards the USA. We have neither Cuba’s “soft power” nor anyone else’s “hard power” to play hardball with Washington DC. That’s a no-brainer. In Geneva, while the US was not a member of the UN HRC (nor were we after we lost the election in New York in 2008), it was definitely a highly influential player and we never stopped our frank and open dialogue. At the most tense of times such as the Special Session on Sri Lanka, we kept our lines of communication open, engaging with their suggestions and concerns, and the US stayed benignly neutral or made constructive criticisms. They are full members now and will assert themselves far more stridently, including on Sri Lanka.

On the issue of Afghanistan, Sri Lanka cannot make the fairly oblique criticism that Cuba, which considers that war unwise, makes. We cannot defend our own recently won “war of necessity” (Obama’s phrase, originally Machiavelli’s idea) against Tiger terrorism, and criticize that of the US against Al Qaeda --responsible for the terrorist attacks of 9/11-- and its host Taliban, without ourselves being illogical and intellectually inconsistent practitioners of double standards. For our part we must take our stand with Russia, China, India, Pakistan (and even Iran), which support the US campaign against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

What we have is at best a chill and at worst a crisis in our relations with the USA, which is the result of a crisis of communication as well as policy. Unless we change tack on some policy issues we will be unable to head off mounting antagonism from what my old political science teacher at Peradeniya, Prof KH Jayasinghe used to call “the most powerful legislative body in the world”, the US Senate. Two previous SLFP administrations handled the problem admirably, with Neville Kanakaratne and Lakshman Kadirgamar being (albeit at different levels) the respected, exemplary interlocutors with Washington DC, for Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike and President Kumaratunga. The profile of the Obama administration shows the highest concentration for decades, of top officials who graduated with top honors from the best US universities. One member of our current cabinet was a fellow Rhodes Scholar at Oxford with Bill Clinton – Prof GL Pieris. There is an obvious official role he could play. Today much is “lost in translation”. Vulgar anti-American, anti-Obama demagoguery only alienates the State Department, the White House, the NSC and both Clinton and Obama Democrats, just when we have hostility on the Hill. This crude discourse, violating all codes of civility, damages the possibilities for any sympathetic US audience or supportive constituency for Sri Lanka while providing one on a platter for the sophisticated pro-Tiger Diaspora.

It also risks eroding our military’s relations with the US and the benefits, material, professional and strategic, we reap from those ties. Betting on a one term incumbency (as a JHU minister warned Obama of!), a Republican resurgence, Pentagon support and influential “third country” lobbyists, just won’t cut it. What we need to do is take a step back from the brink, make an across the board review, and “press the re-set button”.

One thing I have some modest acquaintance of is constructing the broadest possible united front in successful defense of Sri Lanka in an international arena. On the basis of that experience, I can reliably say that while matters may have been different in the bad old days of Bush, our friends will not support us beyond a point if we are on an adventurist collision course with the US under Obama.

We must envision a policy convergence between Washington and Delhi on Sri Lanka, naturally embracing London, Paris, Berlin and Brussels (arguably its original drivers) and extended to incorporate Tokyo. Our staunch allies in the Security Council will regard their own improved relationships with the new US administration and its leader as far too important to permit Sri Lanka to be an irritant or spoiler, still less a bone of contention in the Big Boys Club.

The IDP crisis: If Govt. wants to win over Tamils then it should re-settle them soon

by Somapala Gunadheera

The on-going local and international campaign against the detention of IDPs appears to be one of the most formidable problems the Government is facing after overcoming the LTTE. Mr. Anandasangaree has made an impassioned appeal to the President to put an end to the IDP stalemate in last Sunday’s Island. A similar appeal was made by the TNA when they first met the President after the ‘war’. Not a day passes without a protest about the plight of the displaced people, from parties concerned with their lot, irrespective of political or communal bias.

The pressure from India to settle the IDP crisis has been a constant feature ever since the influx commenced. The West has been far more vociferous about the problem. Their references to Sri Lanka invariably highlight the matter. Unending visits of dignitaries from the UN and the West to the IDP camps and their ‘parting shots’ have served to scandalize the detention. It has also created serious economic problems for the country with GSP+ and foreign aid using the resolution of the IDP crises as a quid pro quo.

Managing a refugee settlement of nearly 300,000 inmates is no child’s play. On the civilian side it is as massive an operation as the final battle against the LTTE. Authorities in charge of the IDP camps have done a very difficult job with commendable devotion. Even the delegation of Tamil Nadu politicians, who were here on an inspection tour of the camps, was noncommittal on the allegations back at home, against the conditions in the camps. That is as far as the comforts offered to the inmates are concerned. But physical comfort is not everything for a refugee.

The mental aspects of camp life have a very close connection to inmate satisfaction. Alienation from their normal habitats, inaccessibility to familiar contacts, exposure to unacquainted control systems, absence of information about the world outside and a sense of incarceration, lead to claustrophobia that can more than neutralize all the comforts offered to refugees. It is these frustrations that form the root cause of the widespread protests against the timeless detention of the IDPs.

A management problem

The refugee crisis is basically a management problem. If it is handled efficiently, the refugees will be happy and their happiness is a cornerstone of their integration into a nation that has been struggling to be born since the advent of independence. Unfortunately that truth does not appear to have dawned on the authorities in their preoccupation with the externalities of resettlement.

Rehabilitation in the Vanni appears to follow a pattern which is necessarily time consuming. The delay is creating the impression that there was an ulterior motive behind the stagnation. Apparently the authorities want to do a perfect job. They are busy creating infrastructure in the camps. There is no doubt that rehabilitation is essential but the immediate need is resettlement.

In the background of my experience in settling IDPs in Jaffna after the "Riviresa" I have ventured to offer some suggestions for consideration.

The main recommendations made may be summarized as follows:

1. Sort out the inmates by place of residence through a census

2. Settle people from the same locality in environment friendly small camps

3. Manage the classified camps through a committee of inmates’ nominees and their normal village level officers

4. Create links with the rest of the country that can lead to national reconciliation.

5. Security clear the inmates as a matter of first priority

6. Save time by separating the normal inmates from the suspected and not vice versa

7. Separate the cleared population from those under a cloud

8. Permit their kith and kin who take responsibility for them to take them away

9. Expedite the mine clearing operations by aligning them with the existing Army Camps

10. Let there be liaison between the managing committee of a camp and the demining operation at the destination

11. Prepare a time-based Resettlement Plan

12. Make the Plan known to the inmates and the world outside

13. Grant priority to resettlement over rehabilitation

14. Make the camps as accessible as possible to genuine visitors

15. Revamp infrastructure at the point of destination without wasting funds and energy at the place of temporary accommodation

16. Don’t leave room for foreigners to tell us how to resettle our own people

The thick smoke screen between the IDPs and the rest of the world makes it impossible to be sure of what is happening in the camps. However it appeared in the papers that a census had been taken and families united about two months after the influx. But the mass settlements do not appear to have been classified homogeneously.

Separation into workable mini-camps was undertaken only after the concentration came under floods with the rains but it is not certain whether this opportunity was used to recreate neighbourhoods. The management structure of a camp is very relevant to its efficiency, cohesiveness and inmate satisfaction but there is no knowing how these camps are run.

The above recommendations may be categorized broadly under the following heads:

* Resettlement Plan covering,

* Demining

* Security clearing

* Orientation

* Accessibility

* Communication

Demining

Preparing a well thought out Resettlement Plan should be the foundation to resolving the refugee crisis. The Plan should be focused on two main concerns, demining and security clearing.

The stock excuse for the delay in settling the IDPs in their own homes is the presence of land mines. The time required to clear the mines is a function of the area to be cleared and the resources available for the job, both of which are already known quantities. What appears to be missing is the management expertise to do the calculation. Five months after the ‘war’, there is still no evidence that this basic estimate has been worked out.

Information on where these mines are, where they have been cleared and why the residents of cleared areas cannot be sent home is shrouded in mystery. In the absence of this crucial information, the day the demining operation would be completed has to remain in the limbo of the unknown creating uncertainty and tension among the refugees as to when they would be released from the camps. The much touted ‘180 days’ is a wish, not a plan.

But sporadic decisions are taken to resettle IDPs selectively, without reference to any plan. Last week it was suddenly announced that pregnant mothers and their family members have been sent back to their homes in Kilinochchi and Mulaithivu. It is difficult to understand why others from the same areas cannot be similarly settled unless fetuses have a magic power to diffuse land mines.

This incident appears to cast a shadow over the scare stories of mine fields. It also exposes the folly of sporadic announcements calculated to impress the public but unrelated to an overall plan, not to mention the risk of a baby boom from the camps.

Security

The anxiety of the Government to keep the camps free of infiltration and adverse publicity has to be appreciated, particularly after a massive military operation. But security itself needs a plan to work on. Despite the enormity of the job, security clearing the inmates calls for a timeframe and a method of operation.

Detaining all camp inmates until the last culprit is detected, would be an atrocious violation of the human right to freedom. It is logical and humane to release the innocents as they are cleared. Here I ask for no more than what Mr. Durand Appuhamy wants done, at the end of his vehement defence of safety and security at the camps vide his article appearing in the Island of the 14th October: "all those established to be victimized civilians should be allowed to go back to their homes if that is their wish, provided their home areas have been cleared of mines."

Despite all the precautions to catch the culprits in the camps it has now transpired that about 20,000 LTTE operatives have bought their way out. There can be no doubt that those who escaped were the worst security risks. There is no point now in closing the stable door indefinitely, after the most dangerous horses have fled. It will only result in penalizing the innocent lambs trapped inside for want of funds and influence.

It is significant that most of the hardcore terrorists detected recently were found outside the camps. May be that the information about them came from those under detention in the camps but it would amount to inhuman torture to keep inmates detained until the last terrorist is discovered. Another excuse given for the detention is the presence of concealed arms and explosives but it would be ludicrous to detain the refugees until the Vanni is dug out to the last inch.

Orientation

The present approach to refugee management appears to be dealing with the IDPs in bulk, which makes it an amorphous problem. At present refugees do not have a sense of identity. They are treated as ‘things’ for which certain services are being rendered. This anonymity affects their self-respect and morale.

Lumping together refugees from different localities can lead to disorientation and distress. People who have come from the same village/locality should be housed in the same camp. This trend must be further developed by getting the selectees for a classified camp to nominate their own committee of management with their village level officials included in the body. Such proactive measures should facilitate management, reduce tensions in the camps and keep the inmates pacified until they are sent home.

Accessibility

Accessibility would act as another soothing balm on the over-wrought nerves of the refugees. Separating the suspects from others would enable the authorities to open the camps to visitors with confidence. Anxiety about security is understood, having regard to the crisis and past experience. But excluding all visitors creates suspicion by the very act, thereby giving credence to negative propaganda. For imaginable reasons, admission to camps cannot be given as in the case of a public exhibition. On the other hand accessibility naturally creates credibility.

Keeping the camps strictly out of bounds sacrificed a golden opportunity that was emerging soon after the ‘war’. There was a rush of sympathy from the South for the fallen countrymen in the North. Funds and materials were collected and dispatched to the camps in large quantities but inaccessibility put the donors and recipients asunder. In the absence of face to face contact, enthusiasm died a premature death and the door was closed on an ideal opportunity for national reconciliation.

Communication

Communication is of the essence to the resettlement plan, once it is drawn up. Refugees should be kept informed of the plan’s timeframe and progress of its implementation. This would give them information on which they can plan their own future with confidence and act as another consolation pending release.

Naturally the dates of release have to vary as resettlement has to proceed progressively, area by area as the mines are cleared. But a schedule of resettlement should be worked out methodically for each unit and announced forthwith. That would give the refugees a target of hope and the officials a coordinated program of work.

Last but not least, it would definitely be in the best interest of the Government to clear the camps well in advance of the forthcoming elections. A concentration of thousands of refugees frothing and fuming with frustration in the face of an election, can become a nightmare to the party in power.

As Mr. Anandasangaree appeals to the President regarding the IDPs, if the Government wants ‘to win over the Tamils’, it should, ‘resettle them soon". The number of votes in the camps and those of their sympathizers outside, may very well tilt the scales against the Government at a closely fought election.

Raj Rajaratnam arrest in US triggers panic in Sri Lanka

by Feizal Samath

Sri Lankan-born billionaire businessman Raj Rajaratnam's arrest in the United States on Friday on an alleged US$ 20 million insider trading charges has hit Sri Lanka like a thunderbolt with not only the Colombo Securities & Exchange Commission(SEC) here scrambling to check whether his million-dollar dealings bordered on any illegality, but also high-level politicians under a cloud for involvement with him.

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Raj Rajaratnam, the founder of Galleon Group, on his way to Manhattan federal court-pic: Reuters

The US Attorney, Preet Bharara, announced Rajaratnam's company Galleon Group had as much as US$ 7 billion in assets. "This is not a garden variety insider-trading case", he told a news conference after the arrest. "This case represents the largest hegde fund insider-trading case ever charged criminally".

In Colombo, news that his arrest by US federal agents who wire tapped his telephone calls by court authority sent the political establishment as well as the business community into a tail-spin. Cabinet Ministers and former Cabinet Ministers with whom the US-based Sri Lankan fund manager had been talking were concerned if their names would come up in the investigations.

In September this year, Justice Minister Milinda Moragoda had told President Mahinda Rajapaksa that Rajaratnam was willing to pay US$ 1 million for the rehabilitation of LTTE child-soldiers. Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama had objected to the exercise saying that the Foreign Ministry had given a dossier to the US Treasury Department's Directorate of Intelligence on Money Laundering that Rajaratnam is a front for LTTE finances.

Minister Bogollagama yesterday confirmed to the Sunday Times that he had objected to his Cabinet colleague's suggestion. The Justice Ministry later made a public announcement stating that Rajaratnam would be giving this money.

Rajaratnam's tentacles into the Sri Lankan political mainstream extends to meetings with President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. His business associates included frontline Cabinet Ministers, past and present. Much of his Sri Lankan portfolio is managed by the son of a now retired multi-millionaire businessman of a blue-chip company and who is married to a Cabinet Minister's sister.

The single largest known US contributor to a charity linked to the LTTE, the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO), Rajaratnam was a major contributor to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's campaigns.

Rajaratnam had given as much as US$ 3.5 million to the TRO. "The TRO passed off its operations as charitable, when in fact it was raising money for designated terrorist groups responsible for heinous acts of terrorism," director of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control at the time said.

The New York-based businessman has a stake in all ten of the top listed Sri Lankan companies.

In the general sense of things we need to probe and find out whether any of the transactions Rajaratnam was involved were questionable, said an SEC official, who declined to be named. “There haven’t been any issues in the past (over his investments) but due to the new developments it is incumbent on our part to look at these issues afresh”

Mr. Rajaratnam, is the single largest foreign investor in Sri Lankas stock market, investing millions in blue chips companies and lately in smaller firms. This has raised some eyebrows, according to stock market analysts.

When he first began investing in 2002-03, it raised concerns on whether he was using funds indirectly raised by the LTTE, a charge he vehemently rejected.

US TV footage and newspaper pictures of Mr Rajaratnam being led by US agents in handcuffs would be the worst nightmare for any top corporate CEO and a “good” lessons for Sri Lankan corporate bosses who get away scot free on similar issues, said a respected corporate CEO, who didn’t want to be identified. “That’s what is called democracy, where no one --the richest and the most powerful included -- is above the law. That is governance in the real sense, not the kind of nonsense that is practiced here -- where everything is only on paper and annual reports,” he said.

But a Colombo executive, who has associated with the suspect, said it was unfair to condemn Mr Rajaratnam until “proven guilty” “He has invested heavily in the stock market here and also spent his own funds on tsunami housing for the needy and recently gave a million dollars to a government project to rehabilitate LTTE cadres. This present issue has been brought upon by competitors and is a fall-out from the global financial crisis,” the executive, who declined to be named, said, adding that, “instead of a trial by media, let’s wait for the legal system to ascertain whether he is guilty or not.”

Mr Rajaratnam, 52, was ranked No. 559 by Forbes magazine this year among the world's wealthiest billionaires, with a $1.3 billion net worth, according to AP news agency reports. He was among six hedge fund managers and corporate executives arrested on Friday in a hedge fund insider trading case that US authorities say generated more than $25 million in illegal profits and was a wake-up call for Wall Street. He was given bail at $100 million to be secured by $20 million in collateral despite a request by prosecutors to deny bail. The judge also ordered Mr. Rajaratnam, who has both U.S. and Sri Lankan citizenship, to stay within 110 miles of New York City.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara told a news conference it was the largest hedge fund case ever prosecuted and marked the first use of court-authorized wiretaps to capture conversations by suspects in an insider trading case. "Greed is not good," Mr. Bharara said. "This case should be a wake-up call for Wall Street." AP quoted Joseph Demarest Jr., head of the New York FBI office, as saying it was clear that "the $20 million in illicit profits come at the expense of the average public investor."

In Colombo, the corporate world was stunned and officials at the companies and banks where the savvy US-educated investor has major stakes declined to comment. “He is an investor like anyone else,” said one official, declining further comment.

According to latest available figures, Mr Rajaratnam, whose father -- J.M. Rajaratnam was the chairman of Singer (Sri Lanka) in the 1970s before being promoted to head the multinational's South East Asian operation based in Bangkok, has a 9.2% stake in John Keells Holdings (JKH), his biggest investment upto date and, through two Galleon-related funds has 13% in People’s Merchant Bank (PMB) and 3.4% in Commercial Bank.

Brokers in Colombo say that, Mr Rajaratnam, who began investing in the Sri Lankan bourse soon after the United National Party-led peace process began in 2002, has investments -- individually and through the Galleon Fund group in the 10 top Colombo blue chips (biggest companies) which include DFCC, NDB, Dialog, SLT and Hayleys, though in some of these companies he has exited (sold his stock) in the recent past.

His most recent, big investment was in Hemas Hospitals, and like in all other companies he has not sought a board (director) position, though, brokers say, many companies would have “loved” to have him on board given his international status as a global investor.

“While there have been no issues with his investments in the big companies, there has been ‘talk’ in the market over his investments in smaller firms where the return (on investment) is lower,” one stock market analyst said.

Mr Rajaratnam is the second Sri Lankan investor who made it big in the US to hit the headlines for the wrong reasons. In 2006, Sri Lankan-born Sanjay Kumar, former Chief of a California-based company called Computer Associates International, was sentenced to 12 years in prison and fined US $8 million for securities fraud and obstruction of justice following a two-year investigation of an improper accounting scheme. Some years back, Mohamed Muhsin, former World Bank Vice President in charge of IT, hit the headlines in the US media over allegations of impropriety during his tenure at the bank, charges he has rejected.

The Sri Lankan suspect was a prominent speaker at the local CIMA business summit in June 2005, sharing the podium with well known personalities like former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed and cricket legend Imran Khan.
In an interview with the Sunday Times FT published on June 5, 2005, Mr Rajaratnam dismissed speculation that he had funded Tamil Tiger guerrillas. "I have funded orphanages in Mullaitivu, as much as I have funded education projects in Kalutara. I funded Vanni Tech as much as I funded Sunera Foundation. I know there is speculation, but I don't worry about it one bit. When somebody is successful, apparently it appears that no good deed goes unpunished. People don't understand philanthropy in this country.

“Here when you do charity people say that I have got political ambitions. I am very tenacious, so these statements are not bothering me," he was quoted as saying.

According to US news reports, also charged in the insider dealing scheme were Rajiv Goel, 51, of Los Altos, Calif., a director of strategic investments at Intel Capital, the investment arm of Intel Corp., Anil Kumar, 51, of Santa Clara, Calif., a director at McKinsey & Co. Inc., a global management consulting firm, and Robert Moffat, 53, of Ridgefield, Conn., senior vice president and group executive at International Business Machines Corp.'s Systems and Technology Group.

Mr Rajaratnam, like any US businessman, has contributed to political campaigns, the latest being $30,800 to Barack Obama and $4,600 to Hillary Clinton in the last presidential election.

He lives in a $10 million condominium with his wife of 20 years, their three children and two elderly parents, according to the reports.

Mr Rajaratnam has a degree from Britains University of Sussex and an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

He founded Galleon Group in 1997 making it among the biggest hedge funds in the world.

COURTESY:SUNDAY TIMES

To Colombo from Chennai and After

By Col. R.Hariharan

The 10-member delegation of Tamil Nadu parliamentarians returned to Chennai after a five-day visit to Sri Lanka to gain a first hand understanding of the post war problem of Tamils (if not the plight), particularly of over 250,000 people displaced from their homes during the war and now living in holding camps.

The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi had made clear the delegation was not an official one. Three political parties –– the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK), the Congress party and the Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi (VCK) – who are part of the ruling Congress-led coalition in Delhi, had sent their representatives.

The DMK and VCK apparently attached greater importance to the delegation than the Congress. DMK representatives included senior leader TR Baalu and Ms Kanimozhi, daughter of Chief Minister and DMK leader M Karunanidhi, and a rising star in the party. The VCK leader and sole member of parliament Thol Thirumavalan represented the party. The importance given to the delegation was evident from the presence of Chief Minister Karunanidhi at the airport to receive it on arrival.

Ostensibly, the purpose of the delegation was to show solidarity with Sri Lankan Tamils in the post war period and speed up the return of IDPs to their villages after nearly six months after the end of the war. But the real purpose was probably more political – to reclaim their image tarnished by their failure to meet the expectations of Sri Lanka Tamils in persuading Delhi to bring about a ceasefire in Sri Lanka, particularly in the later stages of Eelam War IV when the LTTE was under seige.

Of course, the VCK tried to have it both ways – as a vituperatively vocal sympathiser of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as well as a partner in the DMK led united front in the state. Its opportunism did pay off in the parliamentary poll as VCK won a seat in parliament, unlike other pro-LTTE parties like Vaiko’s MDMK which lost the few seats they had held earlier.

Regardless of the political purpose, the visit of the delegation from Tamil Nadu is to be welcomed as it has opened a window of opportunity for Tamil Nadu parties to make a positive contribution in bringing ethnic amity, while ensuring the Tamils get their just dues. After the Sri Lanka Tamil issue dramatically lost public support in the wake of LTTE’s assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, Tamil Nadu politicians made little effort to either help resolve the Tamil autonomy issue or bring about peace in the war torn island nation.

Similarly, their contribution was equally dismal when the peace process 2002 failed due to the LTTE’s egocentric approach and Sri Lanka’s inability to work out a Sinhala political consensus on the issue. Their apathy during the days of the peace process 2002 no doubt contributed to India’s muted role in Sri Lanka in recent years. When the war progressed, most of them failed to see the realities on the ground, probably expecting the LTTE to hold on, if not defeat Sri Lanka security forces .

However, Chief Minister Karunanidhi was more pragmatic despite his latent sympathy for the Eelam cause. He publicly distanced himself from pro-LTTE elements and Prabhakaran from 2007 onwards and steered the DMK through a middle course on this issue to reassert his strength in the parliamentary poll. This had probably emboldened him now to take the politically risky proposition of sending a Tamil Nadu delegation to Colombo.

Though nobody can expect the delegation’s visit to produce dramatic results, it has turned the much needed national focus on this issue in India. It can also claim to have produced a positive result – a promise from President Rajapaksa to ensure 58,000 IDPs would be allowed to return to their homes within the next fortnight. The Sri Lanka government appears to go along with this as it announced the despatch of 2000 IDPs from the camps to their homes in Jaffna a day after the delegation returned to Chennai. It does not really matter that last month the Sri Lanka government had claimed that by October it would able to reduce the number of IDPs in camps to 100,000 from 250,000.

The Asian Tribune quoted Ms Kanimozhi, MP as saying that President Rajapakse had assured them that his government was working on a solution to the ethnic conflict that would meet "not only the legitimate aspirations of members of all communities in Sri Lanka but also the concerns of our neighbour". In this respect, Chief Minister Karunanidhi’s statement at the airport "the Tamils' decades long struggle for equal rights, flagged by Eelam leader S J V Chelvanayakam, will become a reality" is significant.

Though the report of the delegation spoke of the poor living conditions in the IDP camps and shortages faced by the inmates, it has avoided recriminations, which is a positive development. The governments at Chennai and New Delhi should seriously take up the issues raised in the report and regularly follow their progress with Colombo.

Tamils everywhere would now expect more action than rhetoric from both the Sri Lanka President and the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister. We can only hope the Tamil Nadu move was not a flash in the pan; such efforts should continue lest the real issues behind the ethnic animosity in Sri Lanka are wished away by politicians.

On "De-Nazification": A Response to Susantha Goonatilake

by by Vinoth Ramachandra

In his article, “De-Nazification: how the West removed a virus” (Daily Mirror, 8 Oct 2009, http://www.dailymirror.lk/DM_BLOG/Sections/frmNewsDetailView.aspx?ARTID=63953 and also posted in transCurrents.com) Susantha Goonatilake sets about comparing our post-war scenario with the aftermath to the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945. The fear of a resurgent LTTE can only be quelled by military preparedness and a long process of counter-indoctrination of the Tamil people.

In this he is in excellent company. From 2003 until 2006, the intellectual ideologues of the Bush administration routinely drew comparisons between reconstruction in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein and post-World War II Germany. Their attempts at re-writing history were in the service of exaggerating the threat posed by residual elements of Saddam’s army and so justifying the continued occupation of Iraq by US forces.

Many of the Bush administration's analogies were forced, and have been discredited by a number of historians, political scientists, and former government officials. For instance, it was feared at first that a Nazi resurgence would be led by the ex-SS officers who called themselves “Werwolf” and banded themselves into clandestine terrorist cells. They did engage in sabotage and isolated raids on Allied patrols, but these were largely ineffective, not least because the Allied reconstruction of civilian infrastructure quickly won popular German support. Werwolf was rendered largely impotent.

The Pentagon report listed 42 American soldiers "killed as a result of enemy action" between June and December 1945. In 1946, there were only three.

It is true, as Goonatilake notes, that the possibility of a successful Nazi insurgency haunted the Allied Occupation force in the initial years after victory.

However, addressing the Council on Foreign Relations on Dec. 3, 1945 (just seven months after V-E Day) Allen W. Dulles, who had been the main U.S. liaison with the German resistance during the war and was now a close observer of the occupation's early stages, urged that the US “re-think the form of its occupation”.

He prescribed quartering American troops “outside of the cities, lest their presence create a talking point for German propaganda against the occupation.” The occupation authority had sought to reinstall and re-empower German financiers, seeking to rebuild local businesses as soon as possible. “Germany ought to be put to work for the benefit of Europe and particularly for the benefit of those countries plundered by the Nazis. If we do not find some work for the Germans and if we do not solve the refugee problem, the Germans will have their revenge in one form or another though it takes a hundred years.” The Germans didn't take their revenge because the occupation authority took Dulles' advice.

Interestingly, Dulles also noted that German citizens “who didn't care about politics one way or the other were told they had to join the Nazi Party in order to make up the proper quota in the factory in which they worked. The consequences of refusal being what they were, they joined the Party.”

In any case, comparisons between Sri Lanka and post-war Germany are pointless. Germany recovered as spectacularly as it did because it had a wealth of local scientific and industrial experience, a cultural ethos that prized hard and honest labour, and –after 1948- an independent judiciary and well-functioning parliamentary democracy. None of these apply to Sri Lanka today. Goonatilake’s hope that a similar “economic miracle” will happen here, once the LTTE “virus” is removed from the bloodstream of the Tamil people, is an empty one.

Goonatilake gives the reader the impression that staving off the threat of a Nazi resurgence was the paramount concern of German politicians and American troops stationed in the country. This is simplistic and misleading. The bigger perceived threat was that of a Soviet invasion and, if economic reconstruction failed, a communist takeover of the state. Neo-Nazis have always been a tiny, albeit sometimes vocal, fringe on the German cultural and political landscape.

Their persistence even today should give observers like Goonatilake pause. If his claims are true regarding the pervasive measures the German state employed to quell the re-emergence of Nazism, then those measures have not proved successful (consider Austrian politics today, Hitler’s homeland). Every society has a “lunatic fringe” and –provided such groups do not resort to violence against others- their existence is part of the “messiness” of life in a tolerant, open society. A state that employs the terminology of “detoxification” and “eliminating viruses” is itself well on the way to becoming a Nazi state. That was the language Hitler used in speaking of Jews, Gypsies and the like.

There were certainly revenge killings perpetrated by Allied forces on German civilians and prisoners-of-war in the immediate aftermath to the German surrender; but, outside the Soviet-controlled sector, these were never officially sanctioned. Reports of these atrocities could filter through because journalists were allowed to travel throughout most of liberated Germany. Yes, Nazi war criminals were hunted across national borders; but they were prosecuted before military tribunals and, later, civilians courts and provided with legal representation.

All this is a far cry from what pertains in Sri Lanka today. No doubt military excesses were committed by allied forces. The war crimes of the victors were never addressed in Nuremberg-type trials. But it was precisely because of these shortcomings in the administration of justice that the international community has developed systems of political accountability in the past fifty years. We cannot simply go back to the late 1940s as if all these developments have never occurred.

Goonatilake fails to point out that, despite the world-wide hunt for Nazi criminals and their financiers, German citizens were never herded into detention camps or “welfare villages” for months on end while the searches for weapons caches and de-mining operations were underway.

It is of the essence of a political ideology that its defenders see only what they want to see. Goonatilake is so bent on comparing the LTTE’s propaganda and brutal methods with that of the Nazis, that he is blind to the more glaring comparisons in recent Sri Lankan history.

Nazism was a state ideology. The Sinhala-Buddhist state ideology, openly proclaimed by the JHU, prominent sections of the JVP and some lay-Buddhist organizations, has clearer resonances with Nazi racial theories than anything Prabaharan and his cohorts propagated. Anagarika Dharmapala’s racist harangues were replete with references to “Aryan Sinhalese superiority”, “the Sinhalese motherland” and contemptuous dismissals of “African savages”, “Western barbarians” and “Dravidian invaders”. Many Sinhala-speaking people still refer to Tamils as “Dravida”, perpetuating misleading racial categories (Arya-Dravida) that were discredited over a hundred years ago by scholars such as Max Muller.

Dharmapala, like his Indian counterparts M.S. Golwalkar and V. D. Savarkar of the RSS, popularized the “blood-and-soil” Volk nationalism of German Romanticism that fed into Nazi ideology (with Bhumiputra instead of Volk). In turn, the Nazis were fascinated by Vedic practices and the Zen Buddhist martial arts that were an intrinsic part of the samurai cult in the East.

These inter-connections are far more interesting to explore, I suggest, than the project Goonatilake is engaged in

Goonatilake wants us to “learn lessons” from the post-war German experience, but his lessons are all one-sided. He is quick, for instance, to dub the LTTE “fascist”. Undoubtedly they were. But what is the moral difference between them and the shadowy death squads that have operated with complete impunity in the South, or the TMVP and the EPDP, parties now hand-in-glove with the ruling coalition?

Moreover, if a chief characteristic of fascism is blaming ”foreigners” for the miseries suffered by the nation, then fascism is alive and well in Colombo. Sixty years after independence, Sinhala-Buddhist politicians and even academics continue to lay the blame for all this country’s ills on “foreigners”- Western colonial powers, the IMF/World Bank nexus, the “Tamil diaspora” and Christians.

The President often invokes an “international conspiracy” against the country whenever confronted by local criticism. There is a curious inability to accept responsibility, to boldly address the nepotism, massive corruption and sheer incompetence that has reduced Sri Lanka to penury and made it one of the most brutal societies on the planet.

Goonatilake is, no doubt, aware of these things. But he lacks the courage to say them. And understandably so, for anybody who dares makes such statements courts the risk of arbitrary arrest and vindictive punishment. This is exactly the situation many Tamils experienced under the LTTE. It is so much easier to revile the defeated foe in the North than to address its mirror-image practices in the South.

Related article: Denazification: how the West removed a virus, by Susantha Goonatilake

Denazification: how the West removed a virus

by Susantha Goonatilake

One of the longest wars ever in the entire world ended in May by the military defeat of the LTTE. But there are disturbing signs that the beast may rise again. The TNA, especially over the last decade had a unanimity of views with the LTTE and was its spokesman. The TNA's recent electoral victory in the Vanni should be a cause for worry.

The reports that tens of thousands of LTTE supporters are missing from IDP camps (while innocent Tamils still languish) are a further sign that the LTTE could regroup. The creation of the so-called expatriate Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam is another symptom.

Our war started in 1973 with the import of 20,000 detonators from Tamil Nadu for 20,000 explosions to Jaffna. But before and after that, was a set of fiction created for separatist propaganda. For at least two decades in the areas controlled by the LTTE,people especially children had been brainwashed on lies to hate others and to fight. UNESCO has a slogan that it is in the minds of men that wars begin. These hateful minds must be cleaned.

Are there any lessons for us from other countries that have faced a similar situation of a brutal war carried through a brainwashed fanatical group? Yes, we have in the case of the denazification programme after the Second World War. We should follow a similar path.

There are many obvious parallels between the Nazis and the LTTE. These parallels include: the creation of an artificial exclusive mono ethnic traditional homelands (in Hitler it was his Lebensraum), ethnic cleansing of all other groups, the indoctrination of gullible segments by raw racist propaganda, the undisputed rule by one man (Prabhakaran as Sun God and Hitler as Fuehrer), conscription of the young ("Hitler Jugend" and the LTTE "Baby Brigade") - the list of parallels goes on.

At the end of World War II, the Allies were faced with the problem that although militarily defeated, the ideology of Nazism was probably intact among the German population. The Allies also had in their memory the fact that the Second World War arose only two decades after Germany was defeated in the First World War. The lesson was not to humiliate the defeated Germans as they did after World War I, but to remove Nazi thinking. We must follow a similar path. Let me first describe the Western Allies' program of de-nazification whose details can be found by anyone going to the Internet. My presentation is also informed by a lived-in-experience while I was trained as an engineer for three years in Germany where I interacted with a wide cross section of Germans.

Opinion surveys conducted after WW II showed that after the military defeat, the Nazi virus was still very much alive. For example, a majority of Germans surveyed five years after the war said that Nazism was a good idea. Even after being shown after the war the horrors of what had been done to Jews and Poles through extermination (Die Endlösung - the "Final Solution"), over one third of Germans approved it as necessary and said that Jews should not have the same individual rights as Germans. Even by 1952, roughly 1/3 said Germany was better off without Jews and that Hitler was good. The Nazi ideology had lasted long after the military defeat.

A post World War II official US document stated "Only an inflexible long-term occupation authority will be able to lead the Germans to a fundamental revision of their recent political philosophy." Beginning in January 1946, a few months after their victory, the Allies issued a series of "Denazification Directives". The target was any Nazi remnants in the society, culture, press, economy, judiciary and politics. The process identified groups and persons who were both directly or indirectly associated with the Nazis and their ideology and brougssht out means to deal with them. Those in charge of the denazification program were partly those Germans who had been persecuted by the Nazis (in our case anti-LTTE Tamils). They were the persons who interrogated the prisoners of war and who searched for Nazi sympathizers.

Very early on, the US established a screening process for those Germans that were to be re-educated. All Germans were put into five categories: major offenders, offenders, lesser offenders, followers, and exonerated persons. The newly appointed German administration established no less than 545 civilian courts for the denazification process which oversaw 900,000 individual judicial cases. The result was that by 1947, 90,000 Nazis (not ordinary Germans) were put into concentration camps, while another 1,900,000 Nazi sympathizers were forbidden any work apart from manual labor. That is, they were removed from any potential position of intellectual or ideological influence.

The advent of the Cold War from 1948 lessened these activities somewhat because the West found a new threat from the Soviet Union. Later on, denazification was carried out by newly appointed German Ministers. The US Army and its Information Control Division had a direct hand in ideologically changing the minds of Germans. By 1946, it was controlling 37 German newspapers, 101 magazines, 237 publishers of books, 7384 book dealers and printers and six radio stations. One result was the banning of 30,000 German book titles which covered not only school textbooks but also even books of poetry. Possession of a banned book was considered a crime. All this was to completely erase the Nazi stain - what was then called the "Persil process", Persil being a detergent. The denazification detergent was being applied to the whole German society to remove Nazi dirt. In the Soviet occupied zone of Germany, the denazification process was much harsher.

Apart from Germany, other European countries also followed denazification programs. Greece which had suffered under the Nazi jackboot had Nazi collaborators tried in special courts. It sentenced to death Greek Prime Ministers who had collaborated. Ordinary Greeks who collaborated were publicly humiliated, some tried on treason charges and others were repressed.

Some of the most stringent denazification programs were carried out by the Norwegians (who are one of the biggest sponsors of the LTTE). This included publicly humiliating and demonizing those Norwegians who supported the Nazis and their ideology. Norwegian Quisling, the pro-Nazi leader was tried for treason and executed by firing squad.

These denazification processes strongly influenced the contents of the subsequent German Constitution (Grundgesetz) and Germany's new polity. The total re-education through denazification and removal of the ideological virus has been successful. Germany is today a very peaceful country averse to war. Two generations of Germans have grown up after denazification and most of them are extremely embarrassed by what their Nazi forefathers did. The ambitious plan of post-World War II German reconstruction, especially through the Marshall Plan brought about what was subsequently called the German Economic Miracle.

We have all the prerequisites today to perform our own Economic Miracle whose essential constituent is continued peace and the rapid reconstruction of the North and East. To guarantee our own economic miracle, a prerequisite is a removal of the threat of a future racist war by undertaking our equivalent of denazification.

COURTESY: DAILY MIRROR

Related article: On "De-Nazification": A Response to Susantha Goonatilake by Vinoth Ramachandra

October 16, 2009

"NO RIFT between Govt and Sarath Fonseka. OF COURSE!"-DBSJ Twitter

from DBSJeyaraj Twitter:

LGSF1016.jpg

-Army spokesperson Brig.Udaya Nanayakkara says [Read more]

-Sarath or Sarath? [Read more]

-under tight surveillance [read more]

-Sarath Fonseka will leave for USA before November. [Read more]

-expose "inside dealings" [read more]

-President and Defence secy won the war [read more]

US Dept. of Justice Press Release: Charges in insider trading case

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Charges Hedge Fund Managers, Fortune 500 Executives, and Management Consulting Director in $20 Million Insider Trading Case

Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Joseph Demarest, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the FBI, today announced charges against six individuals arising out of their alleged involvement in the largest hedge fund insider trading case in history. The defendants include: Raj Rajaratnam, the Managing Member of Galleon Management, LLC (Galleon), and a portfolio manager for Galleon Technology Offshore, Ltd.; Danielle Chiesi, an employee of New Castle Funds, LLC (New Castle), formerly the equity hedge fund group of Bear Stearns Asset Management, Inc.; Mark Kurland, a top executive at New Castle; Rajiv Goel, a Director in Strategic Investments at Intel Capital, the investment arm of Intel Corporation (Intel); Anil Kumar, a Director at McKinsey & Company, Inc. (McKinsey), a global management consulting firm; and Robert Moffat, Senior Vice President and Group Executive at International Business Machines Corporation (IBM). All are charged with participating in insider trading schemes that together netted more than $20 million in illegal profits. This case represents the first time that court-authorized wiretaps have been used to target significant insider trading on Wall Street.

All of the defendants were arrested this morning by agents of the FBI. Rajaratnam, Kumar, and Chiesi were arrested in New York; Kurland was arrested in Mt. Kisko, N.Y.; and Goel was arrested in San Jose, Calif. Moffat surrendered this morning to the FBI in White Plains, N.Y. Rajaratnam, Chiesi, Kurland, Kumar, and Moffat will be presented in Manhattan federal court later today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Douglas F. Eaton. Goel will be presented today in federal court in San Jose, Calif.

According to the two complaints unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:

Rajaratnam, Kurland, Chiesi, and others repeatedly traded on material, nonpublic information given as tips by insiders and others at hedge funds, public companies, and investor relations firms -- including Intel, IBM, McKinsey, Moody's Investors Services Inc. (Moody's), Market Street Partners, Akamai Technologies, Inc. (Akamai) and Polycom, Inc. (Polycom). As a result of their insider trading, Rajaratnam, Chiesi, Kurland and others earned millions of dollars of illegal profits for themselves and the hedge funds with which they were affiliated. One of the insiders, Kumar, profited from investments in Galleon. Goel, also an insider, received profitable trades in a personal account managed by Rajaratnam.

Telephone conversations between Rajaratnam and Chiesi, intercepted based on court-authorized wiretaps of phones, as well as consensually recorded conversations with an individual who subsequently became a cooperating government witness (the CW), revealed that Rajaratnam, Kurland, Chiesi and the CW routinely received inside information directly or indirectly from insiders and provided it to each other for the purpose of trading based on the information. The material, nonpublic information pertained to upcoming earnings forecasts, mergers, acquisitions, or other business combinations (the Inside Information).

The Insider Trading Schemes Charged in the Rajaratnam Complaint

Rajaratnam engaged in overlapping schemes with the CW, Kumar, Goel, and Chiesi (identified in the Rajaratnam Complaint as "CC-1") to trade on the basis of Inside Information in several publicly traded companies. Specifically, these individuals engaged in insider trading in Polycom, Hilton Hotels Corp. (Hilton), Google Inc. (Google), Clearwire Corporation (Clearwire), Akamai, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), and People Support, Inc. (People Support).

From approximately January 2006 until around July 2007, Rajaratnam and others engaged in schemes to trade on the basis of Inside Information pertaining to Polycom, Hilton, and Google. Rajaratnam obtained Inside Information relating to these companies from the CW who, in turn, obtained this information from various inside sources. Those sources included an insider at Polycom, a source at Moody's who provided Inside Information pertaining to Hilton, and a source at Market Street Partners who provided Inside information pertaining to Google. Based on trading related to information about these entities, Rajaratnam caused Galleon to earn a total profit of more than $12.7 million. In exchange for the Inside Information Rajaratnam received from the CW, Rajaratnam provided the CW with Inside Information on a number of companies.

For example, the CW learned from a Moody's analyst, on July 2, 2007, that Hilton was going to be taken private. The CW then informed Rajaratnam of this fact, telling him that it was a "sure thing." Based on this information, Rajaratnam caused Galleon to purchase hundreds of thousands of shares of Hilton stock, reaping total profits of approximately $4 million.

From approximately March 2008 until around October 2008, Rajaratnam and Goel engaged in insider trading schemes involving the stock of Clearwire. Goel obtained Inside Information regarding investments in Clearwire made by his employer in Spring 2008, and provided it to Rajaratnam in violation of duties of trust and confidence he owed to Intel. Rajaratnam caused Galleon to trade on the basis of this Inside Information, earning a total profit of approximately $579,000. In exchange for the Inside Information Rajaratnam received from Goel, Rajaratnam placed profitable trades for the benefit of Goel in a personal brokerage account maintained by Goel at Charles Schwab.

From approximately July 2008 until around October 2008, Rajaratnam, Chiesi, and others engaged in insider trading based on Inside Information pertaining to Akamai and AMD. For example, on July 24, 2008, Chiesi provided Rajaratnam with non-public information pertaining to Akamai which is further described in the Chiesi complaint.

From approximately August 2008 until around October 2008, Rajaratnam, Kumar and others engaged in insider trading based on Inside Information pertaining to AMD. Kumar obtained Inside Information regarding certain of McKinsey's clients, including AMD, and communicated it to Rajaratnam in violation of duties of trust and confidence Kumar owed to McKinsey and its clients. For example, on Aug. 15, 2008, Kumar told Rajaratnam that the parties to a deal involving AMD had "shaken hands," and that Rajaratnam could "now just buy" AMD stock. Rajaratnam then shared this information with Chiesi. On Sept. 11, 2008, Kumar told Rajaratnam that the deal involving AMD was "gonna be October, first week." Rajaratnam caused the Galleon Technology Funds to trade on the basis of this Inside Information, and Kumar stood to benefit because he was a direct or indirect investor in one or more hedge funds affiliated with Galleon.

The Insider Trading Schemes Charged in the Chiesi Complaint

Kurland, Moffat, and Chiesi engaged in overlapping schemes to commit insider trading. Specifically, Chiesi obtained inside information from Moffat, Rajaratnam, and an executive at Akamai on several publicly traded companies, including IBM, Sun Microsystems, AMD and Akamai. Chiesi in turn shared that information with Kurland, and both Chiesi and Kurland then traded on that information in the accounts of their hedge fund, New Castle. In addition, Chiesi shared much of that inside information with Rajaratnam and received inside information from Rajaratnam in return.

For example, in July 2008, during a telephone call that was intercepted by the FBI, Chiesi told Rajaratnam, after speaking to the Akamai executive, "Akamai.... I'm trading it tomorrow.... They're gonna guide down. I just got a call from my guy.... I was talking about the family and everything, and then he said people think it's gonna go to 25 [dollars per share]. They print on Wednesday." Rajaratnam said, "you got a few more days. Friday, Monday...." Chiesi said, "Just keep shorting every day. We got a lot of days...."

In the following days, Chiesi caused New Castle to sell short shares of Akamai. On July 30, 2008, Akamai announced its quarterly earnings, providing guidance for the following quarter that was weaker than securities analysts' expectations. Later that day, during another telephone call intercepted by the FBI, Rajaratnam thanked Chiesi for the information she had provided. On July 31, 2008, New Castle covered the short positions in Akamai stock and earned a profit of more than $2.4 million.

During other calls intercepted by the FBI, Kurland and Chiesi also discussed Chiesi's sources of information at Akamai and IBM. For example, on Sept. 2, 2008, Chiesi and Kurland discussed whether to sell short more shares of Akamai stock. Chiesi asked, "Do you want me to call [the Akamai Executive] up? It's a pretty [expletive] scary thing to do." Kurland replied, "Call him.... Let him talk." On Oct. 10, 2008, during another intercepted call, the Akamai Executive said, "Danielle, I have a major present for you." Chiesi asked what he was talking about, and the Akamai Executive replied, "Information." Chiesi said, 'Well that, that is a great present."

During other calls intercepted by the FBI, Chiesi obtained non-public information concerning AMD from Moffat and Rajaratnam, and shared that information with Kurland. For example, in August 2008, Chiesi and Moffat were discussing a confidential business transaction that AMD was then negotiating with investors from Abu Dhabi. Moffat had access to inside information concerning this deal because as part of the transaction, IBM would be granting a license to an entity to be spun off by AMD. Toward the end of the call, Chiesi asked about the timing of the deal involving AMD, and Moffat replied, "six to eight weeks from my meeting." When asked the chances that the deal would fall through, Moffat replied, "Zero..., I see no way that it doesn't get done." Moffat also said that IBM had "already signed" the agreement.

On Aug. 27, 2008, Chiesi called a co-conspirator (the CC) to provide information regarding the AMD reorganization. Chiesi said, "You just gotta trust me on this. Here's how scared I am about what I'm gonna tell you on AMD." The CC asked when the announcement would take place, and Chiesi replied, "September." Chiesi said, "I swear to you in front of God... You put me in jail if you talk." Later, Chiesi said, 'I'm dead if this leaks. I really am... and my career is over. I'll be like Martha [expletive] Stewart."

Similarly, Chiesi obtained inside information from Moffat concerning IBM and Sun Microsystems and shared that information with Kurland. New Castle subsequently traded on that information. For example, in early 2009, New Castle gained profits of approximately $500,000 from trades in IBM securities and $900,000 from trades in Sun Microsystems securities based on material non-public information.

Raj Rajaratnam, 52, resides in New York.

Anil Kumar, 51, resides in Santa Clara, Calif.

Rajiv Goel, 51, resides in Los Altos, Calif.

Danielle Chiesi, 43, resides in New York.

Robert Moffat, 53, resides in Ridgefield, Conn.

Mark Kurland, 60, resides in New York.

Mr. Bharara praised the work of the FBI and thanked the SEC for its assistance in the investigation. Mr. Bharara also noted that the investigation is continuing.

U.S. Attorney Bharara said: "Today, we take decisive action against fraud on Wall Street. This case should be a wake up call for Wall Street. It should be a wake up call for every hedge fund manager and every Wall Street trader and every corporate executive who is even thinking about engaging in insider trading. As the defendants in this case have now learned the hard way, they may have been privy to a lot of confidential corporate information, but there was one secret they did not know: we were listening. Today, tomorrow, next week, the week after, privileged Wall Street insiders who are considering breaking the law will have to ask themselves one important question: Is law enforcement listening?"

Assistant Director-in-Charge Demarest said: "Make no mistake -- the $20 million dollars in illicit profits come at the expense of the average public investor. Where knowledgeable businessmen are unscrupulous and act without control, the result is unadulterated greed. The FBI's role in combating white collar crime is to ensure integrity in the marketplace, to protect the average investor, and by extension, the economy."

This case is being supervised by the Office's Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Josh Klein and Jonathan Streeter and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Michaelson are in charge of the prosecutions.

The charges contained in the complaints are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

United States v. Raj Rajaratnam, et al. (09 Mag. 2306)

COUNT CHARGE DEFENDANT MAXIMUM POTENTIAL PENALTIES

One Conspiracy to Commit Securities Fraud RAJ RAJARATNAM 5 years; $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss

Two Conspiracy to Commit Securities Fraud RAJ RAJARATNAM

RAJIV GOEL 5 years; $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss

Three Conspiracy to Commit Securities Fraud RAJ RAJARATNAM 5 years; $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss

Four Conspiracy to Commit Securities Fraud RAJ RAJARATNAM

ANIL KUMAR 5 years; $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss

Five Securities Fraud RAJ RAJARATNAM

RAJIV GOEL 20 years; $5 million or twice the gross gain or loss

Six Securities Fraud RAJ RAJARATNAM

RAJIV GOEL 20 years; $5 million or twice the gross gain or loss Seven Securities Fraud RAJ RAJARATNAM 20 years; $5 million or twice the gross gain or loss Eight Securities Fraud RAJ RAJARATNAM 20 years; $5 million or twice the gross gain or loss Nine Securities Fraud RAJ RAJARATNAM 20 years; $5 million or twice the gross gain or loss Ten Securities Fraud RAJ RAJARATNAM

ANIL KUMAR 20 years; $5 million or twice the gross gain or loss Eleven Securities Fraud RAJ RAJARATNAM

ANIL KUMAR 20 years; $5 million or twice the gross gain or loss Twelve Securities Fraud RAJ RAJARATNAM

ANIL KUMAR 20 years; $5 million or twice the gross gain or loss Thirteen Securities Fraud RAJ RAJARATNAM 20 years; $5 million or twice the gross gain or loss

United States v. Danielle Chiesi, et al. (09 Mag. 2307)

COUNT CHARGE DEFENDANT MAXIMUM POTENTIAL PENALTIES One Conspiracy to Commit Securities Fraud DANIELLE CHIESI

MARK KURLAND 5 years; $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss Two Conspiracy to Commit Securities Fraud DANIELLE CHIESI

ROBERT MOFFAT 5 years; $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss Three Conspiracy to Commit Securities Fraud DANIELLE CHIESI 5 years; $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss Four Securities Fraud DANIELLE CHIESI 20 years; $5 million or twice the gross gain or loss Five Securities Fraud DANIELLE CHIESI 20 years; $5 million or twice the gross gain or loss Six Securities Fraud DANIELLE CHIESI 20 years; $5 million or twice the gross gain or loss

SOURCE U.S. Department of Justice

Denial of Rights of SL Pensioners Abroad - New Payment Procedures

By Displaced Sri Lankan Pensioner

Also read related update to this article: More on ‘Denial of Rights of SL Pensioners Abroad’

Confusion surrounds the payment of monthly pension to pensioners living abroad with the Government of Sri Lanka imposing new procedures with no direct or indirect intimation given to the recipients of pensions. These changes that involve substantial departure from the pre-existing method of payments have been announced by Pension Circular 16 of September 2009 issued by the Director General of Pensions and published in the Sri Lanka’s Department of Pensions website (www.pensions.gov.lk).

Although many pensioners living abroad do not know that a new Circular has been issued, what is surprising is that its provisions are declared to be applicable immediately, that is October 2009. Not many have access to computers and also do not know how to use a computer
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According to the Pension Circular, at present “there are nearly 25,000 Sri Lankan pensioners living abroad, mostly in Australia (including New Zealand), India, Canada, United Kingdom and United States of America. A considerable number of them are also living in Middle East and few other countries as well.”

In an apparent attempt to justify the changes, the Circular confesses that “payment of pension in the past has proceeded (sic) without appropriate information of them in the Department of Pensions and without proper method of payment or management.” What a self-confessed indictment of the functioning of a government department that has been in the public eye for several decades? Despite its failings, one must accept that the old system of pension payments had served the retired government servants as well as many widows and orphans honourably who had joined government service because of the guaranteed pension benefit after retirement and in case of early death some assured income for their direct dependants.

New Procedure

Under the new procedures, payment of Civil Pension or Widows’ & Orphans’ pension are to be made to pensioners resident abroad through Sri Lanka overseas Missions or through a special bank account in a local (Sri Lanka) bank. Further facility will be made to draw the pension via Divisional Secretariats subject to certain conditions.

The new procedures set out indicate a substantial increase in the paper work and possible delay in payments. Moreover, the additional cost to the government both in Colombo and in overseas Sri Lankan Embassies and High Commissions because of the extra work involved will be considerable.

Via Embassies and High Commissions

With regard to the pension payments to be made through Embassies/and High Commissions of Sri Lanka, the circular states that this facility will be available only in five countries, namely, “United States of America, United Kingdom, Canada, India and Australia. Payments to pensioners in New Zealand will be made through High Commission of Sri Lanka in Canberra, Australia”.

* Pension file for each country will be prepared and maintained by the Department of Pensions in Colombo. The payment file prepared will be sent to the specified Missions monthly.

* Embassy/High Commission will take action to pay pension accordingly and after verification of his/her existence. Payments will be made by cheques or by crediting to the relevant bank account of the pensioner. A life certificate must be submitted by the pensioner to the embassy every three months.

* The money needed by the overseas Missions for monthly pension payments will be sent through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Colombo. However, monthly payment details should be sent by the Missions to the Department of Pensions.

* Hereafter, all pension payments should be made only in compliance with the file prepared by the Department of Pensions in Colombo.

General instructions to SL Embassies/High Commissions/Missions

* Monthly pension file will be prepared by the Department of Pensions and dispatched to Missions from October 2009. Relevant data will be available in the official website www.pensions.gov.lk. This raises the question of the right to privacy of the pensioners. “The monthly pension file will be prepared in accordance with the information provided by pensioners via ‘Data Entry Forms’. Pension of pensioners who have not submitted the required information” will be temporarily nullified. These will be paid together with arrears from the approaching months on receipt of information”. Therefore, all pensioners resident abroad must, without fail, submit the necessary information via Data entry Forms to The Department of Elections, Colombo.

* The Missions must collect the Life Certificate of each pensioner at least once in three months to ascertain that the pensioner is living. Monthly pensions should be paid by the Missions only after verifying whether or not the pensioner is still living. Life Certificate may be prepared (as in Annexure 2) or as preferred by Heads of Missions in the specified countries. It should be certified by an officer in the Mission, Chief Incumbent or a Priest of other religions, officer in the (Sri Lankan) Army, Navy and Air Force who had migrated from Sri Lanka or any other government officer, Doctor, Engineer, Accountant or Notary Public/Justice of Peace. Ratification by the pensioner himself/herself is adequate “if the pensioner personally calls in the Mission to submit the life certificate”.

* After verification, pension payments will be made by the relevant Sri Lankan missions either by cheques or direct credit to the relevant bank accounts of pensioners as appropriate.

* In the case of widows’ & orphans’ pension, it is necessary to verify whether the pensioner has not remarried at the time when the pension is paid. The Embassies/High Commissions/Missions should get an affidavit from the widow/widower once in each year to ensure the pensioner is not remarried.

Payments through approved special bank account

i. The special account may be opened only at People’s Bank – Queen’s Branch’ Facilities are available for pensioners to open this bank account having arrived in Sri Lanka or while overseas.

ii. In order to open this account, pensioners are required to submit duly filled Data Entry Form, Mandate form, Affidavit, Letter of Consent, Documents submitted by pensioners resident abroad should have been ratified by Head of Embassy/High Commission/ Mission.

iii. The following conditions are applicable to this account:

Joint accounts or ATM cards may not be used. Money may be drawn by pensioners themselves having arrived in Sri Lanka. (Money in this account is not transferable, however this will be considered in due course).
iv. Pensions will be directly credited to this pensioner’s bank account and pensioners are required to submit life certificates to this department (Department of Pensions, Colombo) once in three months.

v. This Department will take action to instruct bank officials regarding recollection of money of expired pensioners or overpayments and making payments to heirs. (The writer’s comment: The readers should fathom the bureaucratic work involved).

Comments

The requirement that a bank account to be opened in a specified branch of a stipulated bank (People’s Bank, Queen’s Branch) and conditions imposed on the right of the pensioner to operate his/her bank account are unduly restrictive, plainly unreasonable and legally questionable. It seems to limit the right of the account holder who is resident abroad to withdraw his/her own money only when in Sri Lanka. It also seems to prohibit the right of the account holder to place a standing order via this account to meet a regular expenditure, or meet expenses in Sri Lanka by issuing cheques while being broad. It also makes it impossible for pensioners, resident abroad to use their pension money from this account to financially help their kith and kin on a regular basis, or make arrangements with the bank to meet their financial obligations within Sri Lanka.

At a time when the country needs to conserve foreign exchange, the rationale for the Government’s decision to pay pensioners living abroad their pensions in foreign currency is inexplicable.

If the proposed methods are to prevent the abuse of the pension rights by fraudsters, it is very doubtful whether there will be any financial benefit to the government. If the existing system has been properly administered with proper checking procedures, the overpayments would not have happened. The extent of this loss is not known. There are many areas where the waste of public funds is huge. These do not require elaborate administrative arrangements as in the case of pension payments to expatriates and the saving can be achieved just by policy changes, eradication of corruption and improved performances. Is the focus on the pensions of Sri Lankan retired officers and widows of government officers resident abroad would appear to be a diversion away from other important reforms needed to improve the efficiency of the public service, which now lacks proper controlling mechanisms as in the good old days when many of the present pensioners were serving the elected governments and the public honourably.

In order to give an idea of the additional demands on the pensioners in their twilight years, the aforementioned forms are given here in Adobe format.

Those who wish to fill in the forms are advised to logon to the website www.pensions.gov.lk

Raj Rajaratnam: Known for Speed, Smarts-Wall Street Journal

By GREGORY ZUCKERMAN

Hedge-fund manager Raj Rajaratnam, who is accused of running a major insider-trading scheme, was known on Wall Street for his rapid-fire trading and in Silicon Valley for his knowledge of the technology industry.

His favorite quote, he told a magazine, came from Intel founder Andrew Grove: "Only the paranoid survive."

The Sri Lankan-born founder of Galleon Management LP churned out impressive gains since the firm's founding in 1997, making the 52-year-old Mr. Rajaratnam a billionaire. He was respected for his charitable work and willingness to pick up the phone and answer calls from even his smaller investors.

"It's quite shocking to me," said Mike Napoli of Absolute Return Group, a Los Angeles firm that invests in hedge funds and met with Mr. Rajaratnam in the past, though he didn't invest in Galleon. "There were no clues this could happen, he gathered a collection of trading talent with a lot of integrity and he is a star -- and his star hadn't fallen, he was highly regarded."

Mr. Rajaratnam had one run-in with regulators in the past, agreeing to pay a fine of nearly $2 million in 2005 after the Securities and Exchange Commission alleged the improper short-selling of 17 stocks just before the companies sold additional shares. But Galleon also was one of the minority of hedge funds that agreed to register with the SEC, which then regularly audited it.

Mr. Rajaratnam boasted to at least one client that the SEC specifically investigated whether Galleon had been doing any insider trading or other illegal trading and had given the hedge fund a clean bill of health. Galleon employed a chief compliance officer charged with making sure all trading at the firm was done properly, a position that many funds don't have.

Mr. Rajaratnam has three children and lives on Sutton Place, an exclusive street on Manhattan's Upper East Side. He was in Sri Lanka in December 2004 when the tsunami that caused more than 200,000 deaths across Asia hit the island nation. He wasn't near the coast, but the tragedy moved him to pledge $5 million to replace homes destroyed in the flood. After returning home, he organized a fund raiser at the Stone Rose Lounge in New York's Time Warner Center that raised an additional $3 million.

Galleon manages $3.7 billion, according to a company spokesman; it managed as much as $7 billion a few years ago, according to an investor. Mr. Rajaratnam's technology-focused fund, which is accused of committing the improper trading, manages $350 million. The biggest of Galleon's funds is the $1.2 billion Galleon Diversified fund. Until this year, Mr. Rajaratnam recorded annualized returns of 21% for his largest fund. This year, it rose almost 25% through October.

Mr. Rajaratnam was long considered among the top "growth" investors, with a focus on technology and health-care shares, though it expanded into energy, consumer and financial shares. While Mr. Rajaratnam continued to do his own investing in recent years, his firm churned out much of its gains from dozens of fast-moving traders who operated semi-autonomously, using the firm's capital.

Before launching Galleon in 1997, Mr. Rajaratnam was president and chief operating officer of Needham & Co., an investment bank focused on the technology and health-care industries. He started at Needham in 1985 as an analyst in the electronics sector and was promoted two years letter to oversee investment research. From there he kept rising. It was at Needham in 1992 that he started a hedge fund focused on emerging-market securities, becoming its general partner.

Prior to Needham, Mr. Rajaratnam was a lending officer at Chase Manhattan Bank. [courtesy: The Wall Street Journal]

Sydeny Morning Herald Oped: "We should accept Tamils"

by Bob Ellis

It is hard to see why we won't take these Tamils. They are fugitives from a lost civil war, recent massacres and the threat of genocide. They are beautiful, intelligent and English-speaking. There are no Tamil triads menacing western Sydney. There are few Tamils in our gaols. One of our most successful citizens is a Tamil. His name is Kamahl.

tc1016IN.jpg

A wooden boat carrying 260 Srilankan asylum seekers detained by the Indonesian Navy in Cilegon harbour in Indonesia's Banten province October 16, 2009. Australia's Prime Minister Rudd said the Australian government would not be emotionally blackmailed into accepting a boatload of 260 Sri Lankans on hunger strike after being stopped by Indonesia's navy near Java following a plea from Rudd to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Indonesia is a frequent transit country for asylum seekers aiming to get to Australia from conflict-torn countries-Reuters pic

Yet we think it better they starve to death rather than come here. We have subjected them to rendition in a country that does not recognise their rights under the Geneva Convention. We treat them as the English treated fugitive Jews in 1941. Just go away, they said, go away. Go back to Germany. Go now.

It is certain that if processed here they would be admitted. It is certain that their cause is just. So with Kafka logic they must not be admitted, lest their just cause bring them just reward. Philip Ruddock could not have expressed it better.

It is said that their journey is 'illegal' though it is not. Anyone fleeing persecution can flee anywhere to avoid it, under international law. It is said they are 'economic migrants' but it is hard to say which migrants are not. All seek a better life for their children. How is this contemptible, or even unusual? Why does it merit the death penalty?

It is said that 'people smugglers' are 'the scum of the earth' and 'they should rot in hell'. How, if they bring good citizens here, can they be this, any more than Qantas pilots? Rick in Casablanca, I wearily repeat, was a people smuggler; Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind; Sidney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities; the Scarlet Pimpernel; Oscar Schindler; Moses; the Kentish fishermen who came in their tiny boats to Dunkirk; and those scum of the earth who smuggled the Holy Family into Egypt in another time of massacre, flight and rescue.

It is said they are 'only in it for the money'. Since most of them end in gaol doing twenty years while their boats are burned on the beach by Australian authorities, they are very poor businessmen, it seems to me. Most of them opt to do this so their children may prosper while they grow old in prison. They sound pretty saintly to me. But the Prime Minister says they are scum, and the Prime Minister is an honourable man.

What we are doing is a form of kidnap, torment and piracy; rendition, persecution, and child abuse. If we do not want these beautiful people (and what harm would they do us?) we should pay their air fares to Canada, where they will be welcome, or Obama's America, if he will have them. Or New Zealand. Or Madagascar. Or Sweden. If we opt instead to shell out millions for what now must be called the Arafura Solution, we will worsen our already smirched image as racist tormentors of desperate children before the civilised world. [courtesy: The Sydeny Morning Herald]

Galleon’s Rajaratnam Charged in Insider Trading Scam

By David Glovin, Katherine Burton and David Scheer

Raj Rajaratnam, the billionaire founder of Galleon Group, and former directors at a Bear Stearns Cos. hedge fund were among six people charged in a $20 million insider trading scheme federal prosecutors called the biggest ever involving hedge funds.

Prosecutors also arrested Rajiv Goel, who worked at Intel Capital as a director in strategic investments, Anil Kumar, who worked as a director at McKinsey & Co., and IBM Corp. executive Robert Moffat. The former officials at Bear Stearns Asset Management are Danielle Chiesi and Mark Kurland, who were affiliated with the firm’s New Castle Partners, which managed about $1 billion.

“The defendants operated in a world of, you scratch my back, I’ll scratch your back,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan said at a press conference today. “Greed, sometimes, is not good.”

It’s the largest ever hedge fund insider trading case, Bharara said. It’s the first time wiretaps have been used to target insider trading, signaling the government will now use the same tools against Wall Street that it employs in organized crime and drug cases, he said. Bharara called the case “unprecedented.”

Hearing

At a hearing before Magistrate Judge Douglas Eaton this afternoon, prosecutors said there’s evidence of a “veritable smorgasbord of insider trading activities” and cited “grave concern” that Rajaratnam would flee. They asked Eaton to put him in jail.

Rajaratnam is a diabetic, supports his parents and isn’t going to flee, his lawyer Jim Walden of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher said. Galleon may close if its founder goes to jail, Walden said. Eaton is still weighing his bail ruling and said Rajaratnam may be freed tonight on $100 million bond.

Kumar’s bail of $5 million was secured by his home in California, and his wife co-signed the bond. Kumar’s passport was seized.

Tips came from insiders and others at hedge funds, investor relations firms, and companies including Intel, IBM, McKinsey, and companies whose shares were traded in the scheme, Bharara said. The prosecutor said the investigation was continuing and declined to say whether others would be charged.

Plane Ticket

Rajaratnam and his firm earned from $17 million to $18 million from the fraud, Bharara said. In recent days, he may have been aware he was under investigation. According to one of two criminal complaints filed today, he told an acquaintance that he believed a former Galleon employee was wearing a “wire.” Rajaratnam bought a plane ticket on Oct. 14 for travel to London today, the complaint says.

“Galleon was shocked to learn today that Raj Rajaratnam was arrested this morning at his apartment,” the firm said in a statement. “We had no knowledge of the investigation before it was made public and we intend to cooperate fully with the relevant authorities. Galleon continues to operate and is highly liquid.”

The Securities and Exchange Commission also today sued Rajaratnam for engaging in insider trading. The SEC’s complaint said that Rajaratnam didn’t deserve his reputation for “genius trading strategies” or “astute study of company fundamentals or marketplace trends.”

Master of the Rolodex

“Raj Rajaratnam is not a master of the universe, but rather a master of the Rolodex,” Robert Khuzami, director of enforcement at the SEC, said at the press conference. “He cultivated a network of high-ranking corporate executives and insiders, and then tapped into this ring to obtain confidential details about quarterly earnings and takeover activity.”

Rajaratnam, 52, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, was identified this year by Forbes as the 559th richest person in the world, with a net worth of $1.3 billion. Galleon Partners is based in Manhattan and has offices in London, Singapore, Mumbai, and Menlo Park, California. He faces 13 fraud and conspiracy counts, many of which carry 20-year maximum sentences.

Rajaratnam lives in New York City, as do Chiesi, 43, and Kurland, 60. Goel is 51 and lives in Los Altos, California. Kumar is also 51 and lives in Santa Clara, California. Moffat, 53, lives in Ridgefield, Connecticut.

Kurland’s attorney, Lawrence Iason, didn’t immediately return calls.

Arrested

Five of the defendants were arrested in the New York City area and are to appear today in Manhattan court today. Goel was arrested in California.

“My client is shocked and distraught,” said Kerry Lawrence, Moffat’s lawyer, in an interview in court today. He said his client learned only this morning of the U.S. investigation.

The six are charged with using insider information in two overlapping schemes to trade in shares of companies including Google Inc., Polycom Inc., Hilton Hotels Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc., according to the complaints.

Prosecutors said they’ve been investigating the case since at least November 2007, when a person they don’t name in the complaint began meeting with agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The person, who has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with authorities, had used inside information to trade securities and tipped Rajaratnam since 2006, prosecutors said.

Phone Recordings

The person, who had sought a job at Galleon in 2005, helped prosecutors by “making consensual recordings of four telephone conversations” with Rajaratnam, the complaint says.

Authorities say they have other taped conversations of the billionaire as well. On March 7, 2008, the government got court approval to intercept a cell phone Rajaratnam used, according to one of the complaints. Prosecutors said they’ve also been listening to two of Chiesi’s landlines since August 2008.

“A number of the calls intercepted over the wiretap consist of Rajaratnam either providing, receiving, or seeking material nonpublic information about various publicly traded companies,” a complaint says.

Prosecutors say Rajaratnam traded in 2006 and 2007 on leaks from insiders at Polycom, Moody’s Investors Services Inc. and Market Street Partners. A Moody’s analyst offered news about Hilton, and the Market Street Partners source provided tips about Google, prosecutors said. Rajaratnam earned $12.7 million on the leaks and gave a confidential government informant inside information on other companies in return, they said.

Intel Insider

Goel, who had been working in the treasury of Intel Corp., the world’s biggest chipmaker, passed along news about Clearwire Corp. that he learned from investments made by Intel, and Rajaratnam earned about $579,000 in profits, prosecutors said.

In return, “Rajaratnam placed profitable trades for the benefit of Goel in a personal brokerage account maintained by Goel at Charles Schwab,” Bharara said in a statement.

In another alleged scheme, Chiesi got secret tips from an unidentified person at Akamai Technologies Inc. and from Moffat, who passed along information about IBM, Sun Microsystems Inc., and Advanced Micro Devices Inc, one of the complaints says. Chiesi passed along the tips to Kurland and the two traded on the news, the complaint says.

These tips generated others, prosecutors said, as Chiesi passed them onto to Rajaratnam, who in turn gave Chiesi inside information about AMD and other companies, prosecutors said.

Akamai Guidance

The complaint quotes from conversations between Chiesi and Rajaratnam, including a July 24, 2008, discussion that they had after she spoke to the Akamai executive. That day, Akamai stock had closed at $32.18.

“Akamai,” Chiesi told Rajaratnam, according to the complaint. “They’re gonna guide down. I just got a call from my guy.”

After Chiesi said that the company would bring the stock down to $25 a share, Rajaratnam replied that he would be “radio silent” and asked when Akamai would report, the complaint says.

“Just keep shorting every day,” Chiesi responded, the complaint says. “We got a lot of days.”

The complaint also quotes from a conversation on or about August 27, 2008, between Chiesi and a co-conspirator not named as a defendant.

Martha Stewart

“You just gotta trust me on this,” Chiesi is quoted as saying. “Here’s how scared I am about what I’m gonna tell you on AMD.” Chiesi and the co-conspirator talk a little more and Chiesi says, “I swear to you in front of God, you put me in jail if you talk.” Still later, she’s quoted as saying “I’m dead if this leaks. I really am … and my career is over. I’ll be like Martha f---ing Stewart.”

Chiesi was arrested at her Manhattan apartment this morning, said her attorney, Alan Kaufman of Kelley Drye Warren. “She was pretty shook up,” he said.

Kumar gave Rajaratnam tips about a McKinsey’s clients, and Moffat tipped Chiesi about an AMD venture in Abu Dhabi in which IBM participated, the complaints allege.

“The firm was distressed to learn that Mr. Kumar was arrested and is looking into the matter urgently,” said McKinsey spokeswoman Yolande Daeninck.

Goel “has been placed on administrative leave as we look into this matter,” said Chuck Mulloy, an Intel spokesman. The company has started its own investigation and will cooperate if contacted by the authorities, he said.

Moody’s Comment

“The alleged wrongdoing by an individual at Moody’s would be an egregious violation of Moody’s policies and values,” said Michael Adler, a spokesman for the rating company, in an e- mailed statement. Moody’s will help the government with its investigation, he said.

IBM spokesmen Ian Colley and Ed Barbini did not immediately respond to phone and e-mail messages seeking comment.

Galleon, which started as a hedge fund firm focusing on technology and health-care stocks, grew to more than $5 billion in 2001 from its start in January 1997. Rajaratnam founded Galleon with three other colleagues from Needham & Co., an investment bank that focused on technology and health-care companies. None of the other co-founders are still at the firm, according to a Galleon marketing document.

Galleon Management, the company’s advisory business, oversaw more than $2.6 billion at the end of March, mostly on behalf of hedge funds, according to regulatory filings it submitted to the SEC at the time. Rajaratnam held a 50 percent to 75 percent controlling stake in the advisory, the documents show.

The cases are U.S. v. Rajaratnam, 09-02306, and U.S. v. Chiesi, 09-mag-2307, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan). [courtesy: Bloomberg.com]

October 15, 2009

Indian ex-cabinet minister TR Baalu likely to engage in commerce with Colombo

from DBSJeyaraj Tweets

TRBBR1015.jpg

Visiting Tamil Nadu MP T.R. Balu meets Presidential Adviser Basil Rajapakse- Presidential Media Unit

-Indian PM Manmohan Singh refused to re-appoint TR Baalu [Read more]

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Australia, Indonesia Increase Cooperation on Boat People Issue

By Phil Mercer

The Indonesian navy intercepted a boat carrying refugees headed to Australia after Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd telephoned the Indonesian president. Political analysts say the phone call is a further sign of increased cooperation between the Asia-Pacific neighbors on fighting human trafficking.

I1.jpg

Detained Sri Lankan asylum seekers sit in their wooden boat on an Indonesian navy ship in Cilegon harbour, Indonesia's Banten province, October 15, 2009, as they hold signs threatening to go on a hunger strike if they are prevented from entering Australia-Reuters pic

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's conversation with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono came after a boatload of Sri Lankan asylum seekers had set sail for Australia.

Mr. Rudd's call resulted in Indonesian authorities intercepting the vessel, which was carrying 260 people, including women and children.

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Australia is seeing the biggest stream of asylum seeker arrivals for seven years, forcing Rudd to defend border protection policies and seek transit nation Indonesia's assistance-Reuters pic.

The prime minister contacted President Yudhoyono after intelligence agents learned that the vessel was trying to reach Australian waters. Soon after, Australia's military started working with the Indonesian navy to pinpoint the location of the boat, which was found off Krakatoa. Australian officials think the Indonesians then escorted the boat to West Java.

Mr. Rudd says Jakarta is a key ally in Australia's attempts to curb illegal migration.

"I make no apology whatsoever for working as closely as I need with our Indonesian friends and partners to get the results we all need in terms of illegal immigration," Rudd said.

Regional political analysts say the cooperation between Canberra and Jakarta could help stem a steady flow of refugees ferried by traffickers into Australian waters. Several boats have been intercepted in recent months.

Australia blames the recent rise in refugees on the conflicts in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, along with the global economic crisis. The refugees pay thousands of dollars to make the dangerous journey by sea from Indonesia to Australia.

Many of those seeking sanctuary in Australia are taken to a camp on Christmas Island, where their asylum applications are assessed. The vast majority are deemed to be genuine refugees.

I5.jpg

Detained Sri Lankan asylum seekers stand in their wooden boat on an Indonesian navy ship in Cilegon harbour, Indonesia's Banten province, October 15, 2009-Reuters pic

Former members of Australia's previous conservative government say that Mr. Rudd's decision to relax parts of the country's asylum policies has encouraged more boat people to make the journey from Indonesia.

A former immigration minister, Philip Ruddock, says a new wave of illegal arrivals could soon attempt to make the treacherous crossing from Indonesia to Australia.

In response, the Rudd government says it is fully committed to strict border control measures.

Australia resettles about 13,000 refugees each year under official humanitarian programs. [Courtesy: VOA NEWS]

How do we sleep at night knowing 280,000 people are interned behind barbed wired fences in North

by Karu Jayasuriya

(This is the text of a statement issued by Deputy Leader UNP, Karu Jayasuriya on current trends)

In light of the many challenges facing Sri Lanka today, we are compelled to draw the attention of the powers that be and the people of this nation to the dire need to act swiftly on several vital fronts to ensure our country’s future. Five months since the conflict in the island’s north and east officially ended, Sri Lanka stands at a crucial crossroads – one path leads to growth, prosperity and the heralding of true peace and the other to our collective destruction and that of all which we hold sacred.

I take pride in the fact that I decided to stand with the government of Sri Lanka as it took on the gargantuan task of eliminating the terrorism of the LTTE.

My decision was based on the fact that country comes first, often before one’s personal political ideology or party loyalty. When the government was at the peak of its popularity, I resigned my cabinet portfolio and returned to being an opposition parliamentarian. I believed that I had rendered enough support to the administration and since the war was then nearing completion, the time had come to focus on other pressing matters affecting our nation. In order to put this country on the correct path, I believed my place was with my own party, where together with my erstwhile political colleagues, I could engage in ensuring a system of checks and balances so crucial to maintaining a democratic structure of governance.

While celebrating the success of our military, it is with a deep sense of regret that I look on my support towards this government. It might have eliminated terrorism in one form, but it continues to perpetuate the legacies of terrorism and to perpetrate a form of terrorism on hundreds of thousands of our own people, long after the LTTE is dead and gone.

How do we sleep at night, knowing that 280,000 people remain interned behind barbed wire fences in the north?

How do we engage in religious devotions in the knowledge that mothers are separated from their children, that fathers go missing in the night, that dozens are falling ill or dying every day?

How do we holiday and make merry, enjoying the fruits of peace in the once inaccessible areas of our island while one section of our people are made to suffer such atrocities?

The burden of their suffering must rest upon our collective conscience – the government believes that it is right to hold 280,000 civilians hostage in inhumane conditions in order to weed out 1000 or 10,000 terrorists. We say it is unconscionable.

We say it is a sure fire way to create wounds that will run deeper than any inflicted upon this populace before. If there were 1000 rebels or rebel sympathisers inside Menik Farm in May, the degrading treatment of these people has surely resulted in that number growing larger in the last five months. It wounds me deeply that I supported this government to bring about a better day for Sri Lanka and that it has managed to make its only success in the last five years into a bitter ignominy for all Sri Lankans standing on the side of righteousness. Inside those barbed wire fences, whose distance from us ensures our indifference, could reside Sri Lanka’s next Muttiah Muralitharan, its next Lakshman Kadirgamar. And each day he spends inside ensures the extinguishing of his hopes and the death of his dreams – impoverishing all us Sri Lankans in the long run. We promised these people liberation; we promised them freedom from LTTE terror; we promised them peace; we waged war in their name. In breaking all of those promises, we have shown ourselves incapable once more – of rapprochement and reconciliation. To make matters worse, duly elected Members of Parliament are not allowed to visit the Camps or beyond Medawachchiya, if they happen to represent opposition. Where is democracy? This is the worst ever insult to the Parliament.

This is not what our brave young men died for in the battlefields of the north and east. We have taken their noble victory and turned it into merely another political sham, desecrating their memory and failing, abysmally in our stated purpose. We are quick to react to other countries in the world that call on us to release the IDPs – it has become an experiment in machismo, this constant West-bashing, a fashionable type of patriotism. I believe I am a patriot – I have served in the Sri Lankan army and I have stood for my country in the world arena as a diplomat. True patriotism I believe comes from a profound desire to see Sri Lanka live up to her ideals, those rooted in the Buddha’s teachings and the deep traditions of democracy. It is true, as a sovereign nation, we need not bow down to the dictates of any other country. We must however want to better ourselves. Our conscience must be pricked by the fact that the people of two districts are being incarcerated on the premise ‘guilty until proven innocent’. We must seek reconciliation, we must demand a restoration of democracy, and we must desire equality for all citizens. True victory will stem from this national awakening and it is then that we can begin to rebuild our fractured land.

For five years, while this government has kept its eyes focused on the battlefronts of the north and east, the rest of the country has been mired in economic distress, state corruption and wastage and a serious deterioration of human rights that has come to affect almost every citizen of Sri Lanka, whether they are yet to realise this or not. In the guise of fighting terrorism, the government has muzzled and suppressed the independent press to the degree that no single publication or electronic media outfit in Sri Lanka is allowed to practice journalism in the way it ought to be. Dissent is non-existent, self-censorship the order of the day; the ultimate victim – the ordinary citizen of Sri Lanka whose sources of information have dried up so completely that his only version of events mirrors that of the regime of the day. Sri Lankan newspapers are forced to practice a Goebbelian form of reportage, thanks to totalitarian control over the media. Joseph Goebbels was Adolf Hitler’s most powerful weapon because his propaganda ensured the Nazis popular support. As Propaganda Minister in Hitler’s cabinet, Goebbels perfected an understanding of the "Big Lie" technique of propaganda, which is based on the principle that a lie, if audacious enough and repeated enough times, will be believed by the masses. Dangerously, the theory led to success with most of Hitler’s Germany actually believing that they were on the right side of history until the very last moment which ended in the destruction of their country. It is tragic to see this trend taking root in Sri Lanka today –the same country that boasted such a vibrant and defiant press not so very long ago. On the contrary, journalists have been slaughtered, abducted, assaulted, tortured and forced to flee their homeland all under the present regime. Investigations into a single one of these cases of brutality are yet to show any semblance of credibility or progress.

I beseech my countrymen, to remember the brutal murder of Lasantha Wickrematunga, the horrific assault Upali Tennakoon and abductions of Keith Noyahr and Poddala Jayantha and the myriad incidents of violence perpetrated on those individuals whose only crime has been to attempt to give you a version of the story that the government does not want you to hear. These were ordinary men tasked with an unfortunate duty to report the facts; fathers, husbands, brothers just like any one of us. It is when you, the citizen of Sri Lanka awake to the reality of this systematic silencing that the long march to freedom and security can finally begin. No amount of Goebbelsian propaganda can keep the truth buried forever however. Someday, history will vindicate Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP when details of secret backdoor deals with terrorists are finally brought to light.

This government is intent on isolating Sri Lanka in the world, in the full knowledge that such isolation and the consequences of that action will only place our most vulnerable people in harm’s way. Our rulers, although they mouth defiant rhetoric against the West, hold citizenship in those very countries they denigrate and when things become too hot to handle at home, they will be the first to flee. Not so for the innocent citizen of Hambantota or Moneragala. The greatest burden, economically, socially shall fall to him. It is time our President and this government realized that with great power comes great responsibility. It is time to stop stoking old hatreds; it is time for this government to shed the rhetoric and get on with governance; it is time for Sri Lanka to get back on the right side of history. The war, after all is won. There is however a great deal left to do.

The UNP is committed to ensuring that the rights of all Sri Lankans are safeguarded. Our party remains convinced that once Sri Lankans open their eyes to the reality that all is not well in their paradise, we will have hundreds of thousands marching on our side. It behoves the government to remember that the truth cannot be suppressed forever – that a people whose love for liberty and peace overrides all other concerns cannot be kept silent forever. Our party and I cherish the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. The UNP believes that Sri Lanka must live up to her full potential and towards this goal, we will fight, with all those who stand beside us, for a proud and free nation.

Karu Jayasuriya

Deputy Leader
United National Party

Time for citizens to set the agenda for reform and change

by Dr. Packiasothy Saravanamuttu

The next national election campaigns – general and/or presidential – now begin in earnest, following the conclusion of the Southern Provincial Council election. All provinces have polled except the Northern. To hold one there, given the outstanding issue of some 250,000 of its voters in camps, would be to invite derision and scorn.

At the same time, as to how these Sri Lankan citizens will be able to exercise yet another fundamental right and vote in national elections is a cause for concern. One can only express the hope that they will be out of the camps by then, as assured and that all citizens of Sri Lanka will be able to participate without hindrance in what are surely, very important national elections.

Indeed, all elections are important, but the next two especially so, given that they present the opportunity for decisively shaping the future of the country after so many miserable years of death and destruction. There is talk of a two- thirds majority and constitutional amendment if not reform. The constitutional architecture of the country will in all likelihood be determined by these elections. The key question therefore will be as to whether these elections will be fought on the past, the present or the future.

Are they to be about the country expressing appreciation and gratitude for the defeat of the LTTE, accusation and counter accusation between those who define themselves as patriots and others as traitors or about the best team to manage the transition from post war to post conflict prioritizing peace, reconciliation, national unity and economic development?

The sweeping victories won by the ruling coalition and the popularity of the president, strongly suggest that appreciation and gratitude for the victory against the LTTE has been registered in electoral terms throughout this series of provincial elections that commenced with the election in the Eastern Province. Analyses of the Southern election result point to a small yet perceptible change in voter priorities on the basis of voter turn out figures, the number and percentage of votes polled by the ruling alliance in what is the president’s home constituency.

The UPFA’s failure to meet expectations, stems in the main, from it raising expectations regarding the scale of victory, unrealistically high. There is no denying a clear two -thirds majority for the UPFA in the Southern poll and at the same time, the possibility that voter expectations could also be changing. It is quite possible that opposition voters cast their ballots across party lines to register their approval for the military victory, in an election that does not change government at the centre. It is also the case that some stayed away. Both of these factors may not be at play in a national election and in any significant measure.

This provides a glimmer of hope to the opposition. A glimmer, though is what it is and likely to fade, as long as the opposition fails to galvanize its core constituency and impress upon them, to begin with, its self confidence in winning an election and in governing the country, thereafter.

There is a need to demonstrate a hunger and thirst for power along with a vision of what to do with it once attained. Perhaps the possible salvation of the opposition lies in a combination of the slogans attributed to two past presidents of the United States – “The vision thing” and “It’s the economy stupid!” There is no substitue of course for organization, mobilization and the galvanizing of a constituency.

There is a definite need to ensure that the forthcoming national elections are fought on an agenda of challenge and for change and reform. There is simply too much at stake to ignore this and allow these elections to be the occasion for more mudslinging, accusations and counter allegations about patriotism and betrayal. Accordingly, there is a responsibility for civil society to set the agenda for these elections in the key areas of challenge and in need of change.

The issue of the abolition of the executive presidency that has been around for far too long, needs to be settled once and for all time. It need not be an issue of partisan division but one of national consensus. The real issue here is the powers of the executive that will replace it. The overarching consideration must surely be that an over –mighty executive is not good for democratic governance and the proper place of parliament in a representative democracy must be restored. Abolition of the executive presidency will serve no purpose if it succeeded by effective prime ministerial dictatorship and in this respect analogous to IDPs being moved from one closed camp to another!

It needs to be complemented by an electoral system that eliminates the current democratic deficit. This entails a combination of the first-past – the post system with proportional representation – a combination that is not weighted heavily in favour of the former. Inclusiveness and reconciliation, consensus and democratic governance should be the criteria for the choice of the system to be adopted. Two- thirds majorities are unhealthy for democratic governance because they underpin a triumphalist populism that invariably impacts adversely on reconciliation and unity.

There is no getting away from a political settlement of the ethnic conflict – military victory does not constitute a settlement as the chief executive himself has opined. Power sharing within a united Sri Lanka has always been possible and if the term power sharing scares the weak of mind and heart, devolution in its place must be robust and meaningful.

The debate about the Thirteenth Amendment is in many respects bogus since it has been part of the constitution for two decades, did not deter or contain ethnic conflict over that period and has never been implemented in full. It is time the political parties tell us honestly as to whether they propose to implement this in full, go beyond it or divest the amendment of what they consider objectionable, unacceptable and unnecessary.

The Seventeenth Amendment, though not by any means perfect, is necessary though not sufficient for democratic governance. The politicization of the institutions of the state that serve as the checks and balances on the arbitrary exercise of executive power by elected politicians, is absolutely necessary for democratic governance. Institutional decay and paralysis, the breakdown of the Rule of Law, electoral violence and malpractice, the culture of impunity in respect of human rights violations cannot be allowed to mar the governance of a united Sri Lanka and destroy its developmental potential.

Above all else, the constitution of the country, the supreme law of the land, must be respected.

It is time for a national debate on the future of governance to commence in earnest and for citizens to set the agenda for reform and change.

More of the same is just not good enough; it is bad.

Governments have ensure hegemonic control of State by majority community

by Lynn Ockersz

It is of some interest that the Lankan state is beginning to at least broach the question of ‘guaranteeing’ the rights of all citizens, now that it believes that the ‘terror’ threat to the country’s peace and stability has been effectively dealt with. There was, for instance, Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights Mahinda Samarasinghe who told the annual sessions of the Organization of Professional Associations recently that, ’the government is working on a National Action Plan to develop human rights and guarantee the rights of all Sri Lankans’. He went on to say that the government was committed to developing multiethnic and bilingual public institutions.

The Minister elaborated that ‘this would help recreate Sri Lanka’s wonderful diversity and protect the civil and political rights of every citizen in this country.’ This amounts to making the right ‘noises’ now that the GSP+ facility is hanging in the balance and is proving a prime worry for the government, coupled with a number of other challenges currently staring Sri Lanka in the face, stemming essentially from her amateurish handling of foreign relations over the past few months, but for the ‘ordinary people’ of this country or the disempowered, these pronouncements should not be matters of indifference. Hopefully, the observer is not mistaken in the belief that human rights and their implementation have not been entirely relegated to the margins of state concern.

Human rights have been, of course, at the heart of Sri Lanka’s political storms over the decades and it could be said that for the most part human rights in their entirety have only enjoyed an existence on paper in this country but it emerges as something new that the government is now thinking in terms of a ‘National Action Plan to develop human rights’. This amounts to an admission that human rights have not been fully, vibrantly and consistently implemented or rendered ‘actionable’ by the state and its agencies over the years.

Only time will tell whether the government is in earnest when it speaks eloquently about ‘Action Plans’ on the people’s rights, but it need hardly be said that the way ahead for the state is strewn with challenges of a very daunting kind, if indeed it is serious, considering that the current UPFA administration has been one of the most populist governments to emerge in post-independence Sri Lanka to date.

However, it needs to be conceded that all governments since 1948 have been more or less populist in domestic policy orientation and have not diverged much from the premise that they should not be seen by the majority community as compromising what this community sees as its principal interests. In other words, governments have not veered from the policy of ensuring hegemonic control of the state by the majority community, although, of course, syrupy lip service has been abundantly paid by all post-independence governments to concepts, such as, multiculturalism and pluralism.

Coming back to the basics in the issue of granting and implementing human rights in their totality, the impartial observer cannot but point to some glaring constitutional anomalies in this context. The 1978 constitution contains a chapter on human rights but the constitution virtually ‘takes away with one hand what it gives with the other’, when equality of status for all religions is not envisaged, although the right to practise or ‘manifest’ one’s religion is guaranteed. However, the obligation on the part of the state to give ‘foremost place’ to the majority religion, undermines the slender democratic attributes of the Lankan state and paves the way for the emergence of an unequal citizenry.

The steady and deliberate politicization of religion, or the exploitation of religion by political actors to build their power bases, contributes towards the entrenchment of this anomaly of an unequal citizenry. If the state is obliged to attach foremost status to a particular religion, it would be compelled to be seen as always working towards the interests of the religion in question. It cannot be seen as being overly accommodative of the interests of other religions, however much worthy the latter may prove to be of such treatment. The end result could be the perception among the latter that they are being treated unequally.

Freedom of worship and religious tolerance have, generally speaking, continued uncompromised in Sri Lanka, although the perception of ‘forced conversions’ and the issues growing out of it, have spurred tensions in some quarters over the years, and resulted in the vandalizing of some Christian places of worship, despite Articles 10 and 14 (1) (e) of the constitution guaranteeing, among other things, ‘freedom of thought, conscience and religion’ and the freedom for one to manifest one’s ‘religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching…’.

More specifically, the obligation on the part of the state to attach ‘foremost’ status to a particular religion could and has led to discriminatory practices against those professing and practising what are referred to as minority religions, in some state institutions. The danger in attaching ‘foremost’ status to some religions is that merit could be overlooked in the matter of promotions and elevation of position of those seen as minority religionists, in these institutions, since seeming adherence to the preferred religion comes to be seen as a chief qualification for career advancement. As should be expected, such discriminatory treatment leads to a sense of grievance among those thus affected, besides the credibility of the state being severely eroded among those being called upon to bear these slights.

Now that the state is considering it a matter of policy ‘to develop multiethnic and bilingual public institutions’, these considerations need to be borne in mind lest the long overdue project proves a failure and a sham exercise.

The state cannot wax lyrical about the importance of merit in the issue of particularly public sector career advancement, and through the back door as it were, shower ascriptive privileges and benefits on preferred cultures, communities and religions. This amounts to a travestying of the human rights provisions of the constitution.

Sri Lanka’s citizenship laws adopt some very simple rules of the thumb in the granting of Lankan citizenship but the discriminatory practices adopted by some state institutions leave one with the impression that full citizenship could be enjoyed by only some members of the majority community and religion. Needless to say, it is rampant discrimination of this kind which fanned the flames of ethnic hatred.

As pointed out by this writer over the months, while on the question of nation-building in post-LTTE Sri Lanka, the government should seriously consider outlawing racism in all its manifestations if it is earnestly considering resolving the ethnic conflict. Of course, such legislation would constitute only the initial steps towards resolving the conflict. The state would need to look at extensive devolution if it intends managing the conflict even to a degree, but it could help bridge the gap among our communities by outlawing racism in the first instance.

Meanwhile, some overzealous apologists who spat fire for a military solution are not helping in the task of national reconciliation by dangerously dramatizing the state’s military victory over the Tigers as a triumph for a ‘Sinhala’ army. To be fair, the state avoids seeing the concluded war in these terms, since it wants to project ethnic reconciliation as one of its priorities, but those seeking its favours seem to be thinking otherwise and very unfortunately so. Seeing the conflict in starkly ethnic terms, besides other destabilizing consequences, helps in perpetuating the controversial conceptualization of Lankan citizenship as having only a strong ‘Sinhala-Buddhist’ content.

Besides proving that it is more than able and willing to rectify the numerous lapses in the area of human rights implementation which have been continually surfacing, only some of which have been dwelt on in this comment, the state needs to urgently eliminate from the popular consciousness myths that have been lingering about the Sri Lankan identity. There is no way out but to emphasize and institutionalize the multiethnic and plural character of the Lankan state.

October 13, 2009

Clarification sent from Germany to Mahinda Samarasinghe about Channel 4 video

A clarification has been sent from Germany to Human Rights and Disaster management minister Mahinda Samarasinghe about the controversial video of "executions" aired by British channel four TV in August.

Ranjith Henayaka Lochbihler of the International Network of Sri Lankan Diaspora e.V. (INSD)has in a letter sent to minister Samarasinghe denied charges levelled against him of being involved in the video being shown on Channel 4 TV

The full text of the letter is as follows:

Hon. Mahinda Samarasinha
Ministry of Human Rights
2, Wijerama Mawatha
Colombo. 07

12.10.2009

Statement of clarification

Dear Honourable Minister Mahinda Samarasinha,

In August 2009, a video film showing some armed men summarily executing unarmed, naked victims, was aired by British television Channel 4. It was described that this killings happened in Sri Lanka, and was committed by the members of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces. This video film was provided by the Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS), as it was reported by Channel 4.

This film drew immediate reaction from the Sri Lankan government in general and you in particular as the Minister of Human Rights and Disaster Management, as soon as it became public. While speaking in the Sri Lankan Parliament in mid of September you held me, my wife Barbara Lochbihler, who is a Member of the European Parliament, and the members of the International Network of Sri Lankan Diaspora e.V. (INSD) responsible for the distribution of this film.

I herewith state, that we have not been involved at all in any way in acquiring or distributing this film to Channel 4 or any other media institutions. The responsibility of distributing this film purely lies with the JDS and they have issued a statement claiming responsibility and clarifying that the INSD and the persons connected to the INSD have nothing to do with it at all.

The address of the INSD e.V. was given to the JDS according to a request made by the latter, to use as a “c/o(care of)” address, on a temporary basis, until they find a permanent address for their use. This is not very unusual, as many times in the past I had offered our address to Sri Lankans, whenever they were in need. For example when Mr. Godawatta, the private secretary to the then Minister of Labour, currently President Mahinda Rajapaksa, accompanied him to Geneva in the mid-90`s I offered him a similar help. He fell sick and got hospitalized. I registered him under my address in order to be able to get treatment.

Moreover, I would like to use this opportunity to respond further to certain allegations levelled against me which were deliberately fabricated with the intent of tarnishing our reputation. Throughout the recent past, the Sri Lankan newspaper ‘Divaina’ has repeatedly printed vicious and outrages lies against me and my wife accusing that we have been supporters of the LTTE and involved in various other crimes.

These wrong accusations, manufactured mainly by the journalist Keerthi Warnakulasuriya in Divaina newspaper, started since I organised a study tour for Sri Lankan parliamentarians to Europe to study different federal systems and models for autonomy, with the intention of helping to find a political solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka. This tour took place in January 2003 and visits were made to Belgium, Germany, Austria and Italy.

Amongst others the following persons participated and most of them are currently serving as parliament members and some as even ministers: Mr. Sarath Amunugama, Mr. Nimal Siripala de Silva, Mr. John Senevirathna, Mrs. Ferial Ashraff, Mr. P. Candrasekaran, Mr. Rishad Bathurdeen, Mr. Ramaiyah Yogarajan, Mr. Jayalath Jayawardana, Mr. Kabir Hashim, Mr. H.M.H. Harees, Mr. Dr. Thideer Thoufeek and Ven. Baddegama Samitha Thero.

Since its inception, the INSD and I firmly stand for a political solution to the national question in Sri Lanka based on the principal of devolving power and establishing equal democratic rights to each and every citizen of the country. At the same time, we have constantly maintained a clear and open policy of opposition to any version of separatism while vehemently denouncing political violence used by any party to achieve their objectives.

In the above context, I kindly appeal you to take the necessary steps to rectify these wrong accusations while sincerely hoping that the threats against my family in Sri Lanka will end soon.

I would also urge you to table this letter in Sri Lanka’s Parliament in order to make all the other members of political parties aware about the true facts that have been suppressed by venomous hate campaigns carried out by certain sections of Sri Lankan media.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Ranjith Henayaka- Lochbihler

Cc:

His Excellency the President of Sri Lanka
Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs – Sri Lanka
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
The President of the European Parliament
The Sri Lankan Embassies in Brussels, in Geneva and in Germany,
The German Embassy in Colombo.

The fate of Batticaloa children hangs in the balance

by Uditha Jayasinghe in B'caloa

Batticaloa is a land of contrasts. Roads as smooth and straight as runways lead to a land steeped in potential on one hand, and poverty on the other. Colourful multi-storied buildings rise amidst blackened skeletons of brick, with the brand new Cargills and recently opened banks lining the roadside. Elsewhere are buildings demolished for road widening purposes. In the midst of all this development are signs of scars that have barely healed.

Just a few months ago travelling to Batticaloa at night would have been almost unthinkable. But the new A-11 road has changed all that. Now, one can literally fly down the road with few or no checkpoints to bar the way and arrive at Batticaloa town to find that ‘Colombo people’ are no longer an oddity. In fact many entrepreneurs have found their way to the province of opportunity motivated by government led economic incentives and untapped markets. Hotels are fully booked and the once deserted beaches of Pasekudah once again welcome weekend holidaymakers from Kegalle to Polonnaruwa.

So where are the scars? In the children. Beside all the new found affluence lies the inescapable social costs of the war. It is a well known fact that between 30,000-40,000 war widows inhabit the eastern province, but what is more startling is that in the Batticaloa District alone over 850 households have lost either both or one parent and are sustained by children as the main breadwinners. Documents detail these children doing everything from selling balloons to begging to finding money for a daily meal for themselves and their families. Reality can hardly become starker and yet it does.

Orphanages galore

Want more startling facts? Then Batticaloa can provide them in abundance. Over 60 orphanages operate in Batticaloa and Valachcheni townships with only four registered by the government. National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) officials in Batticaloa estimate that 2500-3000 children of all age groups are housed in these establishments.

Nonetheless, given the sheer numbers that the officials are up against, effective monitoring is all but impossible with each probation officer being tasked with keeping an eye on around 150 kids. Moreover there is rarely any coordination among authorities concerning kids who have been removed from the province and relocated elsewhere. Funding for orphanages is sporadic at the best of times and maintaining a consistent secure framework for these children to live in is understandably challenging.

The orphanages are an interesting mix of architecture and character. Christian orphanages sit close to Indian style ashrams in Batticaloa town. The latter is in Mylampavely, wrapped by manicured gardens with rhythmic chanting played over loudspeakers housing around 40 boys wearing dhotis. A short walk away is the “Village of Hope” which is a large orphanage built in 2005 with collective funding from countries ranging as far apart as Germany and Kazakhstan. Interestingly the BMW company of Italy were among the original donors, as a plaque at the entrance proclaims, however as corporates and countries shifted their attention elsewhere so did the money.

“Originally we had a system where each house was headed by a woman, called ‘mother’ and under her there would be around a dozen children. However, from September we will be funded by ‘Art of Living’ Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s foundation that is more focussed on universal wellbeing with communal living, compulsory breathing exercises, laughter and crying,” one of the officials told us adding reassuringly in response to our bemused glances that the children would adjust well.

Arbitrary

The arbitrary system is nothing new but the government officials are pragmatic and understand that closing orphanages would only exacerbate the situation. “Where will the children go? Some of them are not orphans but come from extremely poor families that have no way of supporting these children, and so they have been sent to nearby orphanages. Most of them maintain ties with their families. However, most orphanages are run by men which increases the chance of abuse and emotional nurturing of these children might be overlooked,” Human Rights Commission (HRC) Regional Coordinator R. Manoharan explained.

October 29, 2007 is a date that Sharmini (16) will never forget. Her mother was abducted on this fateful day by an unknown gang leaving her and her younger brother to be taken care of at the Village of Hope orphanage. “My father died when I was only eight years old,” she shyly began her story after much prompting, “I had an older brother who was killed when he was just 21. When my mother disappeared I was put through the courts and brought here. My mother is still missing,” she said nodding her head when asked whether she is happy here. For the most part the children looked happy and well taken care of at the orphanages but the future of even the brightest remains uncertain.

This particular orphanage is currently caretaker of 34 children but has the capacity to accommodate 100, with air-conditioned offices and a large number of cottages that are clearly expensive to maintain. Finding sustainable funding is difficult enough without having new age Indian gurus thrown into the mix.

Optimism

For Reverend S. Puvanedaran, helping orphans is a way of life. Having run an orphanage for the past 13 years he has seen the worst and best of human nature. The Arudpane Girls and Boys Home despite not being plush has the air of a real home. Regardless of its rundown appearance it is affable and approachable with bottomed out cane chairs and a simple chapel that is maintained by the kids. With 15 boys in this and 29 girls in the adjacent orphanage the Reverend is hard pushed to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads but has learned optimism since grappling with such issues is a daily task.

“I just heard that one of our donors is curtailing his funds. So that means no new clothes for the children at Christmas but we must make do as best we can,” he noted genially smiling without bitterness at yet another hurdle. The orphanage has just dodged another bullet in the form of a complicated land deal but authorities had ruled in favour of the orphanage. “We take it as it comes. After all where are the children to go?”

So should the government apply more stringent monitoring methods? “That depends,” he cautioned, “They must be practical to implement. Earlier we were told that only people who were Advanced Level qualified could be employed. But will they come for a salary of just Rs. 4,000?” This was sage advice indeed, if top down policy methods are made without proper understanding of challenges faced at grassroot level there is every possibility that the situation would just be made worse. A factor that must be strongly considered if any changes are contemplated by the government.

Life has brought an unusual amount of hardship for Thawamani (48). On April 14, 2004 while the entire family kneeled in prayer at home in Chenkaladi gunmen burst into the house showered them with bullets. Her husband and 15 year old daughter died and Thawamani was left with two children and no means of support. After doing various odd jobs she arrived at this orphanage with her two remaining children aged 6 and 12. “I work at the orphanages and keep an eye on the kids. At least I can be close to them. I don’t want to go home because I get depressed when I remember what happened. My main aim is to educate my elder son and send him abroad,” she said shrugging her shoulders when we asked her where she would get the money from.

Caught in the cracks

In the heart of the Batticaloa town down a dusty road sits a house, unexceptional but for the children inside it. It is a safe house that was established by UNICEF in 2003 to provide assistance to destitute children according to HRC Regional Coordinator R. Manoharan and currently houses 14 girls and one boy. Here we met Dharshani (18) the eldest of a family of six. Since her mother was abroad Dharshani grew up knowing a life of responsibility. While being employed as a domestic she had an affair with a man who was a member of a known paramilitary group. “At the start of this year I found out that I was pregnant. But he was already married and started threatening me not to tell anyone of our relationship or he would kill me.”

The result was that Dharshani was sent to the safe house to await the birth of her baby, now only four months away. Thankfully her mother having heard of Dharshani’s plight sends her money, which she in turn sends to her family as her ‘salary.’ “I don’t want my father to find out,” she nervously told us “it would mean that my entire family would be stigmatised and they would never want to have anything to do with me.” Her baby will be put up for adoption as Dharshani has no means of support.

Sixteen - year - old Govindan is in a similar plight. Having been abused by her uncle she put her child up for adoption in January and remains at the safe house to attend a vocational training programme that is run nearby by a group of Catholic Priests. Her mother and three siblings come to visit her but her father remains angry and Govindan hopes to somehow save enough money to purchase a sewing machine to earn her way in the world.

Possibly the most promising person that we met at the safe house was Shanthi (17). After her father died in the war five years ago she was sent to an orphanage as her mother was too poor to look after both her and brother of 14 years. “I escaped from there and was travelling to my home when I was abducted,” recalled Shanthi. Her caretaker Christina, who is one of seven staff manning the centre, takes over the painful tale. “When she came to us we were worried that she was pregnant but thankfully that was not the case. Now Shanthi goes to school and is preparing for her Ordinary Level exam. It would be more convenient for her to stay at the hostel but we simply can’t afford it.” A sad situation given that the monthly fee is only Rs.1 000. However, Shanthi is unperturbed by these challenges. “I want to get a job in an NGO and help other people,” her bright eyes sparkling with determination.

The Evaluation and Monitoring Committee comprising government medical officials, NCPA, police, HRC and GA among others, keep a vigilant eye on these children and provide them with schooling and vocational training. Nonetheless they cannot remain in the safe house continuously and sustained security remains a concern since returning them to families is not always an option.

Child soldiers –The third dimension

Sarvodaya is a well entrenched institution in the East and actively engages in rehabilitation and reintegration measures. Currently they are also involved in rehabilitation of child soldiers which brings us to the third dimension of a multi-pronged child crisis. Forty-two children under the age of 18 are being rehabilitated at the main Sarvodaya centre in Batticaloa. They are being given six months of training in several fields including motorbike repairs, electrical wiring and aluminum work.

Supplementary to this are counselling, psycho-social workshops, on the job training and even follow up programmes that provide loans and tool kits for their businesses. The children are funded by different government and non-governmental organisations but are kept as part of the same group during the training. Drawn almost exclusively from the TMVP, the children are encouraged to reestablish relationships with their families and return to their communities- easier said than done for some.

“Crippling poverty, lack of infrastructure, education and a market for the skills they are learning remain among the main challenges these kids have,” opined Sarvodaya Executive Assistant E.L.A Karim who heads the rehabilitation programme, showing us around the well maintained compound. These problems clearly were not going to vanish overnight.

A complex set of intertwined circumstances have relegated these children into a cycle of insecurity. All of them hail from poor backgrounds and most from broken homes, and families headed by single parents following the death of a father or the migration of a mother to work. Coupled with the war and low education levels these kids never had a chance to change their destinies until now. Regardless of whether they joined voluntarily or were abducted many of them face the same survival tests. Having been exposed to violence from a young age it is almost incredible to believe that they had the fortitude to come this far.

Vinayamoorthi (17) is a typical child of Batticaloa. Older than his appearance, though without even a trace of stubble, it is hard to imagine that he was once a child soldier who was part of a 75 strong platoon of fighters. Having schooled till year 9 he joined the TMVP and witnessed five of his comrades die and another four injured in the last battles to clear the East. Following the signing of a pivotal Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the TMVP, UNICEF and the government of Sri Lanka he was handed over to the Ambepussa camp where he underwent 6 months of training in plumbing. Returning home he opted for motorbike training by Sarvodaya because it was deemed more lucrative

Silver lining

If silver lining can be had in such a situation a shimmer of it can be seen in the fact that though all the children received weapons training, few actually participated in combat since they were recruited during the last stages of the war in the East. Maheswaran for example is at 15 the youngest member of the group and stands only slightly taller than the T56 he was trained to carry. “I participated in the drills,” he told us sanguinely “but I never had to fight.” His father was shot several years ago and Maheswaran was abducted along with two other cousins when he was on an errand in town. Fortunately he was released after two months. Some of the other children were used to guard prisoners, rather ironic given that they themselves were prisoners, and to do odd jobs around the camps including acting as sentries during the last phase of clearance.

Neither Maheswaran nor Ranjith (16) wanted to return to school, preferring to complete their vocational training and start a motorbike repairing garage. It is an option that Anushan (17) is keen on but not sure he can accomplish. Having been forcibly taken when he was just 15 Anushan escaped and returned to his family of two brothers and a sister in July only to be abducted again. Anushan was eventually released through the combined efforts of his family, Police and UNICEF and sent to Sarvodaya for rehabilitation. “I’m afraid that certain people in powerful positions are angry with me,” he admitted, forehead crinkling with worry.

“They still go to my house and search. My family wants me to go to another country but I don’t have the money,” expressing a common sentiment in this region where people are used to travelling overseas in search for greener pastures. A large number of people from the east regularly travel as migrant workers and this too has had its share in exacerbating social issues.

Children are often referred to as the future generation. But for these children their future hangs in the balance. Only the empathy of everyone and the availability of opportunity can ensure that they do not become the lost generation- lost to war, poverty and fate.

(Names of the children have been changed to protect their privacy.)

Amnesty International letter to Tamil Nadu MP delegation visiting Sri Lanka

The well-known human rights watchdog ,Amnesty International, wrote a letter to the Tamil Nadu Parliamentary delegation visiting Sri Lanka. The letter addressed to the delegation's head TR Baalu was sent on the eve of the visit. The text of letter is as follows:

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Visiting Tamil Nadu MP's meet President Rajapakse and wrap "ponnaadai" (gold shawl) around shoulders a Tamil custom to show appreciation [dbsj twitter]-Pics - Presidential Media Unit

Dear Mr T. R. Balu, MP and Leader of the parliamentary delegation to Sri Lanka,

On the occasion of your upcoming visit to Sri Lanka commencing 10 October 2009, Amnesty International calls on you to urge your Sri Lankan counterparts to act immediately to address serious problems affecting the safety and dignity of some quarter of a million Sri Lankans held in government-run camps in northern and eastern Sri Lanka.

India has announced generous support to the Sri Lankan government to provide for the humanitarian needs of Sri Lanka’s displaced people, and has vowed to provide sustained assistance for rehabilitation, resettlement and reconstruction.

The emphasis of Indian aid has been on de-mining areas to prepare them for resettlement, reconstruction of houses and supply of shelter material, medical assistance, as well as provision and repair of civil infrastructure. These are all critical contributions.

This very constructive relationship could be bolstered by a show of leadership in support of the basic human rights of Sri Lanka’s displaced people. In particular, in the course of your interactions with Sri Lankan authorities, Amnesty International urges you to emphasize the need to respect the rights of all displaced people to liberty and freedom of movement; freedom from arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention.

These displaced civilians suffered enormous physical danger and material deprivation during the war. Both sides were accused of humanitarian law violations against these civilians, who were forced to remain at risk in the conflict zone by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which used them as human shields against the approaching army. Adults and children were subjected to force conscription.

After the military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in May 2009, Government of Sri Lanka vowed to resettle the majority of displaced people within 180 days. That deadline is fast approaching and very little progress has been made in this regard. It is clear now that true “resettlement” will take much longer than the Sri Lankan government anticipated. The displaced people have not been allowed to seek alternative accommodations or start the process of rebuilding their lives. The Sri Lankan government continues to confine the displaced to closed camps, in crowded, uncomfortable and sometimes hazardous conditions.

Amnesty International has a global campaign, “Unlock the Camps”, (see http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/news/unlock-camps-sri-lanka-20090807), calling on the Sri Lanka government to end its policy of forcibly confining people to camps, which amounts to arbitrary detention.

Restrictions on Freedom of Movement

Hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the recent war in north-east Sri Lanka and living in camps are being denied basic human rights including freedom of movement. This vast population is being held in de facto detention camps. The Sri Lankan military manages and controls the camps, severely restricting the residents from leaving the camps, and denies the displaced population basic legal safeguards. Amnesty International recognizes the government’s legitimate need to carry out screening to identify potential LTTE members within the camp population. But such a screening process does not justify the detention of civilians including entire families, the elderly and children, for an indefinite period. The Sri Lankan government claims that more than half of all camp residents have now been screened; and yet only a small fraction have actually been allowed to leave. This amounts to the arbitrary detention of hundreds of thousands of people simply because they are Tamil and lived on the wrong side of the front line.

The government has recently claimed to be speeding up its release process but the reality is the pace of releases remains slow and many people have simply been transferred to other camps close to their home areas. Others have returned to highly militarised areas where freedom of movement continues to be seriously obstructed, hampering efforts to rebuild lives.

Concerns about screening and protection of the displaced

The Sri Lankan government has legitimate security concerns, and there is a need to bring to justice members of both the LTTE and the armed forces who engaged in abuse of civilians. Amnesty International stresses the need to ensure that in all cases, accountability is pursued through proper legal processes. Since the war ended in May 2009, many thousands of people detained in camps have been subjected to 'screening' processes by the security forces in an attempt to root out LTTE members. There is no independent monitoring of this process, which lacks transparency and accountability; and there is no public disclosure of the criteria used for “separation” and detention of persons suspected of links to the LTTE. While screening processes are needed to ensure that civilians are not housed with former combatants, they must not be used as a vehicle for discrimination or collective punishment against civilians originating in areas once controlled by the LTTE.

Separate detention facilities have been established for approximately 10,000 ex-LTTE combatants, many of whom are held incommunicado. Independent monitoring of these facilities is also urgently necessary to ensure against abuse.

Even in Sri Lanka’s regular displacement camps in the north and east, displaced people have been prevented from talking to aid workers. With no independent monitors able to freely visit the camps, many people are unprotected and at risk from enforced disappearances, abductions, arbitrary arrest and sexual violence.

Unrestricted Humanitarian Access

Camp residents now face a humanitarian disaster as monsoon rains threaten to flood camps. The Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that over 60,000 camp residents will be vulnerable to flooding. The government must allow unimpeded access to the camps by both international and domestic humanitarian organisations and other appropriate bodies to give assistance to the displaced.

Time to act NOW

Your delegation could make a valuable contribution to improving the ultimate outcome for Sri Lanka’s war displaced by raising these critical issues with your counterparts in Sri Lanka in the course of your visit and in subsequent communications.

Amnesty International welcomes your delegation’s upcoming visit as an important opportunity to address, in particular, these urgent concerns:

-the need to restore the rights of Sri Lanka’s displaced people to liberty and freedom of movement, ensuring that those held in Sri Lankan displacement camps are there voluntarily;

-the need to ensure independent access to and monitoring of camps housing internally displaced people to protect against human rights abuse and ensure that their humanitarian needs are being met;

-the need to end arbitrary detention; ensuring that all “screening” and detention practices associated with the displaced population are transparent, and are carried out in accordance with legal safeguards and international human rights standards. Individuals affiliated with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) arrested and accused of crimes, should be charged with legitimate offenses, tried and prosecuted in accordance with the law.

-the need to institute a meaningful consultative process with displaced people that allows them to make informed and voluntary decisions about return and resettlement

October 12, 2009

Al Jazeera video: Disease threat in Sri Lanka camps

Sri Lanka has rejected claims that the lives of hundreds of thousands of Tamils held in internment camps are in "serious danger" from a looming threat of disease.

But speaking to Al Jazeera, Brad Adams, Asia Director for New York-based Human Rights Watch, reiterated the group's view that a major humanitarian disaster is likely.

Sri Lanka defends internment camps:

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Rajiva Wijesinha, the secretary of the Sri Lanka's ministry of disaster management and human rights, admitted there had been problems with toilets and drainage and floods in August.

But he blamed the UN for the situation, accusing its agencies of not fulfilling promises to upgrade or repair facilities and doing "very shoddy" work in the camps.

Wijesinha said that there was a need for what he called "decongestion" of the camps, adding: "We have asked for assistance on sending people away to some of the districts they had originally come from, and we believe this is going on reasonably well … perhaps much better than Human Rights Watch understands."

He repeated the government's position that it is trying to release the detained Tamils, but said the process had been slow because they need to be screened for rebel ties, and their villages in the former battle zone remain heavily mined. [courtesy: Al Jazeera]

Southern province polls: Relative victory for UPFA and absolute defeat for UNP

by Dayan Jayatilleka

The just concluded Southern Province elections provided a surface snapshot of the domestic aspect of our postwar crisis. The result was a relative victory for the UPFA government and an absolute defeat for the UNP led Opposition. A comfortable win by any standards, the victory for the Government was relative rather than absolute.

This is because "Southernism" and the Ruhuna factor in the wake of a military victory which was South-driven should have seen the UPFA score at least as well on home turf as it did in multiethnic Uva, if not better. It was an absolute rather than a relative defeat for the UNP because it could not get up to a measly thirty percent, which is far lower than the vote that Ms. Srima Dissanaike, pitch-forked into a Presidential election in the wake of her husband’s assassination by the Tigers, was able to secure in 1994 for the UNP of which she did not have the membership at the time of nomination.

This is one aspect of the political dimension of our crisis: the Government’s popularity and hegemony are in decline but the democratic Opposition is also in decline and unable to pick up the slack. Our political crisis is the crisis of an absent centre space. Both Government and Opposition are victim of two diverging types of extremisms and pressure groups, the Government to the majoritarian "hawks" and the opposition to the minoritarian "doves". Neither the Government nor the Opposition occupies the moderate centre space, which is where the vast majority of the citizenry are. Will the Rajapakse administration make a course correction and "govern from the centre", and will the Opposition re-brand and relocate to the centre-space?

However, this is only the surface visual of the postwar crisis. The most striking thing about the postwar crisis is that there shouldn’t be one. We have just won a war, removing the most obvious (but not only) obstacle that which held us back as a country for decades. We should have simply mainstreamed into the world system and economy, integrating with the Asian economic miracle and catching up for lost decades.

Why didn’t the UPFA win more resoundingly in the South, registering a virtual walkover? It is because there has been no economic peace dividend for the masses and also because of rising disaffection on domestic governance issues. Why has there been no peace dividend? Not only because of a global economic downturn but because we have not overcome the policy landmines that lie between us and that peace dividend. These policy landmines and roadblocks have not been removed because they are not seen as roadblocks but as desirable by some sectors of the power bloc and the ruling coalition.

This brings us to a more crucial question: Why are we in a postwar crisis?

Because we are deadlocked as to the direction in which we want to head and the destination we wish to get to. There is no informed open discussion about the nature of the postwar order. This despite the warning and example given by one of our most distinguished citizens, also a distinguished citizen of the world, Judge CG Weeramantry in an early postwar essay carried in the Daily Mirror.

This too is only one aspect of the matter. The truth is that we are agreed with the unstated proposition of Never Again, by which is meant that there should never again be a separatist challenge and that our military victory must be irreversible. The predominant if invisible, subterranean perspective in the state and (Southern/Sinhala) society seems to be that Tamil separatism should not only be uprooted but that the soil in which its seeds may germinate should be upturned. This view is one of permanent roll-back and counter-reformation, targeting or diluting even the 13th amendment and redrawing the map of the North and the East. It is a hard-line neoconservative perspective.

There is a contrary view, which is that Tamil separatism can be pre-empted only by a more liberal approach which goes beyond the 13th amendment to explore federal or quasi-federal alternatives.

To both these approaches there is an alternative third approach, which is one I hold, hopefully not in isolation. This is a policy mix that recognizes the need for a long term and secure military presence in those areas as well as certain security red lines, which however must be broadly parametric rather than narrowly prescriptive, strictly professional rather than ethno-religious. This recognition is coupled with another, namely that Tamil nationalism cannot be stamped out and if there is a perceived threat to their collective identity we shall face blowback. This may not take the form of the renewed insurgency, which our military can handle easily, but a civic conflict, which it cannot and must not be forced to. We are not the Israelis, and the recent remarks and moves by the US, UK, EU, and UN together with the visit of MPs from neighboring Tamil Nadu demonstrates that our treatment of the Tamils is under international scrutiny. Therefore we must combine security measures with political devolution within a unitary state, and improvement on the human rights and humanitarian fronts. This is a Realist approach.

Sri Lanka’s postwar crisis is one of the inability, unwillingness or delay in making the transition from a Just War (in content if not always in method) to a Just Peace. Had we done so, there would be no crisis. There are those who will say that we cannot make the transition because the war was not just and that the absence of a Just Peace is evidence of the unjust character of the war. This is simply untrue. The Sri Lankan Final war 2006-9 met all the criteria of a Just War as did those waged against the Tigers from 1987onwards. The Six Day War of 1967 provides the classic example of a Just War which failed to move on to a Just Peace.

In a related feature, the postwar crisis also results from the divergence of external and internal pressures and State’s inability to balance optimally and successfully between the two. External realities – not only the EU but more importantly the US; not only the West but also India—will not let the State implement a West Bank model in the North. The idea that lobbyists, including influential third country lobbyists, would get the West and especially the USA on side, or off our back proved to be, shall we say advisedly, a mirage. On the other hand, the state feels it cannot eschew such a closed model and the drive towards it, because of hard-line domestic pressure groups which form part of the constituency of the ruling coalition. Failing to chart a Middle Path and balance between these contending forces, the State finds itself deadlocked.

The option it has chosen is to pile on domestic political victories, which in the absence of a change in opposition leadership, will result after the next parliamentary and Presidential elections, not in a dictatorship but in what political scientists call a "one-party dominant" state (or system), such as prevailed in India from 1947-’77 or Mexico until the defeat of the PRI. This is usually the product of a chronic failure to evolve a viable national level Opposition as an alternative government.

Post-mortem of Southern provincial poll

by Jehan Perera

T he elections to the Southern Provincial Council that took place on Saturday were the last prior to the all important General Elections, and possible Presidential Elections, scheduled to be held by April 2010. Election monitoring organizations gave the alarm that the elections to the Southern Provincial Council were going to be more violent than the series of provincial elections that preceded it. Although the polling on election day itself was peaceful, the election campaign period was not. This was a pattern to be seen at previous elections as well, and which election monitoring organizations have noted.

There was intense competition between the rival political parties, and pre-occupation within the ruling alliance to obtain victory in the pre-election period. There was an escalation of violence to the point of assaulting candidates, burning of rival party offices and even of personal property, and a concentration of attacks by ruling party members on candidates of the JVP. The law and order machinery was relatively inactive until one of the election monitoring organizations, PAFFREL, filed an action in the Supreme Court. These shortcomings made these elections fall short of the standard that is expected of a free and fair election.

The reports of acts of violence, misuse of state resources by ruling party politicians and instances of police inaction registered an increase in comparison with the previous provincial council elections for the Uva, Sabaragamuwa, North Western and Central provinces. The government machinery worked overtime on the election with people from far flung provinces being brought to add numbers to the rally presided over by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. One reason for the worsening trend of abuse could have been that these elections were projected as being a crucial test of political popularity prior to the forthcoming General and possibly Presidential Elections.

There was more at stake than victory at yet another election to the relatively powerless provincial councils. The question that these elections were billed to answer was whether there was any reduction in the overwhelming electoral support for the government that had been manifested in the earlier elections. The argument was made that the government’s popularity had peaked and its reliance on the victory it had obtained in the war over the LTTE would no longer be the determining factor in the people’s vote. Now other issues would come to the fore, or so it was hoped.

The government continued its sweep of elections with the victory it obtained at the Southern Provincial Council elections. The ruling alliance got more than 67 percent of the valid votes cast. This was less than the record breaking 72 percent it had notched up at the Uva Provincial Council elections just two months ago. As this was President Rajapaksa’s home province there was an expectation of an even greater victory. Still for all, the wide margin of victory gives little comfort to the opposition parties that had been hoping to see a significant dent in the government’s popularity being manifested at these elections.

The failure of the government to match its previous figure would be cold comfort to the Opposition. Nor would it be of much use to say that the government claimed it would get 80 percent of the vote, but ended up with only 67 percent. Such efforts to see something positive in what is objectively another crushing electoral defeat will not be helpful in either getting the Opposition back on its feet or in helping the country to find better answers to its problems.

The voter turnout of around 65 percent indicated that many Opposition voters may have not have been motivated to cast their votes.

The Opposition appears to have been banking on the increasing problems facing the people due to hardships in their economic life that might be leading to erosion in the level of public support to the government. The government gives much publicity to its massive infrastructure development projects which range from road and bridge construction to power generation and port development. But the fruits of these projects will be slow in coming to benefit the masses of the people. At the present time the main benefits are going to contractors and to the limited number of workers on these projects.

There has also been no visible economic dividend from the end of the war. Spending on the armed forces and increasing their numbers remains a government priority. Due to the strict controls on travel to the north and east, and security check points that dot the landscape, the willingness of private businesses to risk their capital in economic investments that would generate employment and spread wealth remain low. There has been no flurry of small scale economic activities that would give the general population the hope of any dramatic economic invigoration after the war.

Among the themes taken up by the Opposition in their election campaign was the looming economic threat of the withdrawal of the GSP+ tariff concession provided by the European Union, which could lead to the closure of many garment factories. Other issues included corruption and breakdown of law and order, media repression, the continued incarceration of internally displaced persons in the Vanni and deterioration of relations with the western component of the international community who have traditionally been Sri Lanka’s aid donors and continue to provide the country with its export markets. These are all matters that have the potential to seriously affect Sri Lanka in the longer term.

However, most of these problems were also ones that do not impact directly upon the voters at provincial elections. The problems of the internally displaced persons are not in the forefront of public consciousness of people who are far from those areas. In addition the government has provided security-related justifications for their continued detention which makes sense to the majority of people. Even issues such as the repression of the media and killings and abductions outside of the law do not really affect the lives of the vast majority of people as they are untouched by those tragedies that affect a relatively small number of people with whom they have no contact.

But there is an important factor that needs to be kept in mind. At all the recent elections that were held the ruling alliance achieved big victories.

The one exception was the local government elections in the north held two months ago where the ruling alliance fared relatively poorly. These results indicate a continuing north-south rift that the government has been unable to bridge. It is this rift that was responsible for the war that raged on for three decades, and the ethnic conflict that lingers. While they endeavour to win the next series of all important elections, both the government and opposition have a duty to address this rift that has held Sri Lanka back from achieving its full potential.

Persuading the electorate to vote for an alternative government requires more than negative campaigning and pointing out the failures and mistakes of the government, of which there are many. The Opposition needs to identify the links between seemingly distant events and the continued stagnation of Sri Lanka and its people at economic and social levels that many countries of Asia have now passed. The inter-connected nature of human rights, governance, trade and the economy in today’s globalised world, and the circumscribed nature of national sovereignty need to be addressed to the electorate in a language that resonates with the ethos and day to day concerns of the electorate.

October 11, 2009

Video: 'We are people asking for help'

A lengthy Tamil protest Toronto

by Jim Rankin

"My experience teaches me that truth can never be propagated by doing violence. Those who believe in the justice of their cause have need to possess boundless patience and those alone are fit to offer civil disobedience who are above committing criminal disobedience or doing violence." - Mahatma Gandhi

It is mid-afternoon, threatening rain, and a most remarkable daily demonstration is under way, some six lanes of live traffic from the U.S. consulate.

Three women sit beneath a tree on a concrete planter. Two men are beneath another tree, wearing placards. Eight more picket signs are staked in newly renovated, as-yet-unplanted flowerbeds outside the provincial courthouse at 361 University Ave.

The demonstrators are quiet. The signs do the talking.

"Boycott! Boycott! Sri Lanka products," reads one. "Tamils want justice," and "Save the Tamils, Mr. Obama, yes you can," read others. Another urges Prime Minister Stephen Harper to bail out civilians from "concentration camps."

What began 172 days ago as a protest by Toronto Tamils against allegations of genocide in the dying days of a decades-long battle between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers, is now a plea for the world to pay more attention to the plight of some 250,000 "internally displaced persons" who the government – having since crushed the Tigers – continues to confine in camps.

The United Nations agency for refugees expressed concern for the "displaced" following an incident in late September in which security forces opened fire on an angry mob, wounding several, including a child who is reportedly now paralyzed.

ON UNIVERSITY AVE., the number of demonstrators has occasionally swelled to thousands. It did so on Day 100, when the formerly round-the-clock protest was scaled back to daylight hours, and on Day 150, when a package of signed petitions was walked across the road and delivered into the hands of a guard at the U.S. consulate.

The building is the closest symbol of a superpower for the Canadian Tamil diaspora.

But, on most days now, the "continuous" protest looks much as it does on this day.

A tourist stops to photograph a Tamil Tiger flag – a symbol of what Ottawa officially regards as a terrorist group – that sits between two U.S. and two Canadian flags. Other tourists pause to read signs and take pictures.

For most, though, this spectacle – unlike the day in May when thousands of Tamils caught Toronto's attention by blocking the Gardiner Expressway – has become like wallpaper, part of a daily routine.

A man glides by with briefcase in hand, his eyes focused only on the sidewalk ahead. Television news satellite trucks often take up space nearby, but the reporters have no interest in the demonstration, only the goings-on inside the courthouse.

At this point, what would likely attract more attention is if, one morning, there suddenly were no Tamils here at all.

This is not an exercise in civil disobedience. And neither, the demonstrators insist, is the daily display particularly organized.

In the mornings, regulars drop by before work. They do the same in the evenings, sometimes bringing their children. During the day, retirees and those with odd working hours come literally to show the flag when no one else can.

It has been a peaceful protest and there have been no problems between the demonstrators and their closest neighbour, say courthouse staff.

NUMBERS EBB AND FLOW. Demonstrators are kept informed by word of mouth and other means.

On this day, there is a radio tuned to GTR-FM, a local Tamil station. A sign strapped to a tree informs of any changes in hours, in both English and Tamil.

In Sri Lanka, Tamils are a minority group to the majority Sinhalese. Many Tamils have left the country over the years. In the Toronto area alone, the Tamil population numbers some 200,000.

One of the men who is here today, as he is most days, is Rajah. He is a retired engineer, in his 70s, and came to Canada in 1996.

On a break to a nearby coffee shop, where the price of a caffeine jolt includes a welcome bathroom trip, he shares details of his work and his family, and tells of what's been happening to Tamils in Sri Lanka.

"Tamils have no safety in any part of the island," he says. "I had to take my children out. If my (now grown) son talks to someone who is from the (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), he will be taken to a police station, taken to the prison."

He also spoke of what it's like to be part of a protest that has become as seemingly permanent as the statues and monuments that dot the median of University Ave.

"I come here three or four days a week and spend a few hours when there are less people here," he says. "Some days, there are three or four of us."

Is the protest making any difference?

"We are people who are asking help from others, basic help from the international community, to relieve the suffering. Please give food and medicine to the displaced people, allow the press to go in," says Rajah.

"We have a hard time with our message. Canada is one of the best countries in the world, but we have not got enough help from the Canadian government, even though we called Stephen Harper to help us."

THE NEXT DAY, Rajah expresses regret at having shared personal details that, in hindsight, he felt might affect relatives. He asked that he be identified by his nickname, that his family details be left out of this story, and that no pictures of him run in the paper.

Another man asks that his picture not be taken.

It's a public protest, but some are afraid to be seen as part of it.

As the afternoon goes on and the workday expires, the number of protesters increases to about two dozen. There is a shared belief that the demonstration is helping. Perhaps, say some, this lengthy, long-distance protest may end when the camps empty, families are reunited and allowed to return home.

"That is the main thing. I think all of the Western countries are pressuring" for this to happen, says Suren Mahe, 46, who works for an investment firm and comes by during lunch and in the evenings.

In the meantime, says Mahe, "this is the only thing we can do, democratically, and non-violent. I will always like Canada for this. This kind of thing, you can't do it back home. Done. Finished. Only here and in the U.S.A. and Europe can you do this."

With rush hour beginning, so, too, do chants aimed at the consulate.

Five children lead the way.

"Please, President Obama." they cry.

"Save the Tamils," the adults reply.

At precisely 6:45 p.m., candles, shielded by plastic cups, are lit and handed out, just as they have been every evening during the protest. For 15 minutes, there is quiet.

Traffic streams by the demonstrators lined on the edge of the sidewalk facing the consulate.

The candles flicker. The lights across the road are off.

AT 7 P.M., the flames are snuffed. The signs and flags come down and are packed into a car. On Monday, bright and early, they will be brought out again, for Day 173. [courtesy: The Toronto Star]

Video: "If any country accepts us, we will be happy to go"

This 25 min documentary (with a focus on Tamils and portraying the plight of a UNHCR registered Tamil family in Malaysia stuck in an overcrowded apartment with no schooling for the children.

The documentary also shows Australia's strict border control policies, Malaysian police corruption and was aired recently by SBS Australia.

It is by video journalist Amos Roberts, the same reporter who did the documentary "Hunting the Tigers" in mid March 2009.

The Tamil mother says at the end "we feel like committing suicide but we have children. If any country accepts us, we will be happy to go."

[courtesy: sbs.com.au]

What next for Rajapaksa regime, after the Southern Polls Victory ?

By Kusal Perera

It was Velupillai Prabhakaran the late Tamil Tiger leader who once said the Sinhala people have only a short memory. Perhaps it is so and it seems quite in order at this elections, where the war against the Tamil Tigers with Prabhakaran projected as the icon of "terrorism" was turned into a glorifying victorious vote puller.

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Men move past election posters of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Galle, 116km (72 miles) south of Colombo, October 10, 2009.-pic: REUTERS/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds

While the war was being waged with only State witnesses to the battle allowed to get on the dock, the Rajapaksa regime started screwing the opposition with provincial council elections, beginning with the bifurcated Eastern province in 2008 May. The going was good for the Rajapaksas, with the main opposition UNP stuck with a fear psychosis of loosing Sinhala votes, but unable to compete with the ruling UPFA headed by the Rajapaksas to be the owners of the Sinhala psyche. The JVP was also left in a dilemma, the Rajapaksas stealing their shares of the war and leaving them with no clear path to campaign at elections.

The ruling UPFA that began with a 55.3% and 56.4% vote popularity in Sabaragamuwa and NCP respectively when elections were held in August 2008 and the war was being hyped as a winning war, moved to 59.5% and 69.4% in Central and NWP (Wayamba) when elections were held in February 2009, after the military moved into Kilinochchi on January 02nd and the capture of Paranthan and Elephant pass. The decline of the UNP was evident without any clear idea as to how they should position themselves against the war and the JVP was drained out of their patriotism with 4.9% reduced to a meagre 2.1%.

Rajapaksas kept Uva and Southern Province elections till the last, on the premise that Uva and South would play as their bastion in elections. The early August 2009 Uva PC elections held in less than a month after the war was declared over and the LTTE accepted as decimated, left the main opposition UNP and the JVP flabbergasted. The Rajapaksas, projecting their family image through Sasheendra Rajapaksa as the would be Chief Minister, rode home with a stunning 74.6% and in Moneragala district where young Rajapaksa contested, the popular vote was unbelievably high as 81.3%, reminding one of the old Soviet day elections in Russia.

The UNP reeking with internal squabbles, defeats at every PC elections and with no idea as to how they should face the Rajapaksa steam roller, slumped to a pauperish 21%. Meanwhile the JVP, which avoided "talk the war" and took the Rajapaksas on high handed corruption and an economy that was going haywire, managed to improve, gaining 4.2% this time.

The indications were clear. Within one month and with all the hype of a glorious war victory that was wholly accrued with the Rajapaksa brothers leaving even the Army Commander Fonseka out, the Uva Sinhala majority paid their gratitude as asked for with a resounding 74% and the young Rajapaksa made Chief Minister. Yet with economic hardships snaking out of the ant hill, the JVP got credited with an improved per centage. The UNP that was neither here nor there, could not gain anything from any platform and thus declined further.

The Southern PC election was thus brought in to crown their glory, but 04 months and 20 days after the war was declared won, it wasn't turning out that easy and that popular. That was too long a period for the Sinhala South to hold on to the memory of a war victory. Human societies perhaps can not live in the past. They have to move on. They would, or they probably would keep a margin for past achievements, if that pays enough for the future. What has the war victory provided for the Sinhala South ?

Despite a massive war victory exhibition held at the BMICH that was given prime time publicity by not only State media channels but by some private channels as well and the whole of the media still made to go hard and bang with glorifying the war victory, the people who live on the ground still has not received any "peace dividend". Not even the peace in moving about, with the same high security barriers clamped every where.

Worst was, the election campaign in the South brought home for the first time an avalanche of security boulders that wasn't there even during the war. With high profile ministers and other personalities including some UPFA candidates going round electoral districts, every kerb and corner of villages and towns were plastered with security personnel.

Those who came to buy their grocery, the 3wheeler that went for refuelling, the youth who stayed at bus stands going or coming from school or afternoon classes were all treated as "possible" security threats and checked, when the President was on a special campaign trail in Sooriyaweva in Hambantota.

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All election data – source - election department website

I for one, did not take all that as factors that could play negative on the ruling UPFA, especially with all the State resources, power play, media blitzkriegs and the mega cabinet, all taking the South by almost force. Deducting a reasonable percentage for the economic fall, projections showed, the UPFA would not do as well as in Uva, but would still hover close to 70% in the province, starting with 65% in Galle, and improving through Matara with 70% and doing the best in Hambantota with 72% as it is after all the birth place of both the war heroes and the modern day public monarch. That was based on the assumption that Rajapaksa's performance at his 2005 presidential elections at 63.3%, would improve with the war victory, though not to the extent of the most poor and ignorant district Moneragala.

Voting in the South nevertheless point in a different direction. With all the fire power used in Hambantota, with numerous projects earmarked as "development" of Hambantota, people had not been convinced enough to vote for the UPFA in Hambantota the best, even in the presence of President Rajapaksa, coming at the bottom of the popular list with only 66.9%. Galle did the best again with a 68.3% vote, while Matara came in between with 67.9%. The government could not come any where near their targeted 75 – 80%. The war glamour and its hope of a more promising future as projected by the Rajapaksa regime and its media have not been taken by the people as true or possible under this regime.

The vote gained by the JVP, considered the underdog or the "nonentity" with the war victory totally hijacked by the Rajapaksas, proved their campaign on economic issues, was what the people understood best. They have improved tremendously with 5.5% in Matara and over 11% in Hambantota, where they were bashed and bumped.

The failure of the Rajapaksa regime in delivering any substantial hope for the economic life of the people is evident in how it plays up over their war victory hype at this Southern elections. There is apparently a drop in consumer buying by about 20% which speaks of a reducing buying power in semi urbanised South, than in the peasant Moneragala. But would it remain outside rural life ?

Clearly the war frenzy can not be hyped beyond what it was hyped to. On the war front, the Rajapaksas can not show anything more bigger and more glorious than this defeat of the LTTE and the death of Prabhakaran. Four months and 3 weeks gone and with nothing else seen down the line for a fair living, the government is now being challenged on its economic performance.

The inability of the Rajapaksa regime to even plan on how they would get their money to spend on the estimated expenses, became quite evident before the close of elections, when the government had to announce they would only have a 04 month "vote on account" expenditure plan presented to parliament instead of the usual 2010 budget, without any indication as to how the revenue would be planned and budgeted. What ever the government's argument is on such escapism and the next parliament that would have to be elected by April this year, the fact remains this government which argues it would continue with more elected power, is unable to put forward its development plan with a budget for 2010.

Can it then survive another few months with high security, threats on opposition voices and media hype on the war victory alone, to win another election? Within an economy that is fast crumbling and the people willing to forget the war to focus on their day to day living, the Rajapaksa strategy seems to be giving way to more opposition.

The brutal campaign against the JVP in Hambantota gave it a new life with 11% votes. Everywhere in this region, extreme repression has given way to more opposition and more stronger voices. It happened during the 30 year war when the LTTE grew with every repressive measure adopted by successive governments that had no answers for the conflict. It is happening in Afghanistan, in the N-E provinces in India and in places like Jammu & Kashmir, Chattisgarh and Lalgarh, in the absence of answers for the conflicts and core issues of their societies.

Here the Rajapaksa regime is also slipping into a similar relapse, after a short, freak popularity. Here the Rajapaksa regime is being rejected by the same people who came on the streets 04 months and 03 weeks ago to crown them as glorious victors. There could be only one other option for this regime now. Go for a quicker elections before it could be too late. One they could still manipulate, when the popularity is a waning 60% plus for now. Unfortunately for them, the fall seems far worse if delayed than Humpty's fall, with no king's soldiers any more to put them together.

Ambassador Aryasinha misleads EU on Tissainayagam, LTTE and Al-Qaeda

by Premila Canagaratna

Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Brussels Ravinath Aryasinha, last week told the Human Rights Sub Committee of the European Parliament there that he wondered “whether journalists in Europe accepting a cheque from al-Qaeda would be acceptable.”

Aryasinha said the committee members sought to give the impression that Tissainayagam, sentenced to 20 years in jail for links with Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), was convicted by the Colombo High Court for writing two articles, while ignoring the more serious charges of accepting funds from the LTTE, a proscribed terrorist organisation in a number of countries.

In this light I think it is good for us to examine the facts of the case.

First, let us look at the charges read out to Tissainayagam on August 25, 2008 in the High Court. In summary they were;

1) Under the PTA Section 2(2)(ii) Article read with 2(1)(h), conspiring with unknown persons to incite violence and communal disharmony and bringing the government into disrepute through the publication of the North Eastern Monthly during the period of 1st June 2006 and 1st June 2007.

2) During the same period - writing with the intention of causing ethnic violence and bringing the government into disrepute.

3) Under the Emergency Regulations of December 2006 - collecting funds from Non Governmental Organisations for specified terrorist activities, i.e. to print and publish the North Eastern Monthly.

On September 9, 2008 these charges were amended by deleting the words “bringing the government into disrepute” – there being no such offence. The words ‘Non Governmental Organisations’ were also deleted. Therefore basically Tissainayagam was charged with conspiring with unknown persons to incite ethnic violence by writing, and collecting funds to print and publish a magazine. It is on this basis that the court was asked to find Tissainayagam guilty or not guilty.

Given the above charges, the act of terrorism was writing articles that incited ethnic disharmony and the act furthering terrorism was of printing a magazine that carried these inciting articles. Therefore, collecting funds was not the offence. What had to be proved or disproved is that the funds collected were used to print such a magazine that carried inciting articles. The source of the funds was not a relevant question and was in fact not proved.

Given the above, even if it was proved that Tissainayagam received funds from the President’s Fund for the publication of this magazine he would be guilty of the third charge. Tissainayagam never attempted to deny that he collected funds to publish this magazine. He stated that funds were collected in a designated bank account from the subscribers to the magazine (as is the common practice with many magazines, I might add).

In this context it is extremely puzzling as to why Aryasinha asked the EU to look at the “more serious charge” of Tissainayagam collecting money from the LTTE, because there is no such charge. The LTTE is not mentioned in the indictment at all. And a person cannot be found guilty of something he has not been charged with.

Furthermore the prosecution did not provide the court with any material evidence to link the funds flowing into the designated bank account with the LTTE or any other terrorist organisation.

In the event that the Attorney General’s office thought that Tissainayagam was indeed guilty of collecting money from the LTTE they would no doubt have charged him under the Financial Transactions Reporting Act No. 6 of 2006 which was passed for the explicit reason of combating the financing of terrorism.

Therefore Aryasinha would do well to heed the words of President Mahinda Rajapakse — to read the case before commenting on it.

(Premila Canagaratna is an Attorney at Law and a member of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka. She was present in court several times during the Tissainayagam hearings including when the decision was made in High Court.)

October 10, 2009

UNP and govt. policy are same on war, devolution and economy

by Dr. Vickramabahu Karunaratne

Government is in crisis. But the bourgeois opposition is in a worse crisis . Every other day we are told that a joint opposition will be formed. But the agreement so far is confined to those who are already in the UNP camp. Mano is already a UNP MP while Mangala is virtually a UNP member. They say they have agreed on the removal of the presidency. But can the Tamil speaking people - the Tamils and Muslims, agree to that withouta proper devolution of power.

As it is the presidential election is a vital tool the minorities have to pressure any bourgeois leadership towards a political resolution of the problem of the Tamil speaking people; for, it is an islandwide election, where the victor has to get a 50 % of the national vote. If all Muslims and Tamils come together and demand that they will support only a candidate with a proper devolution package, then that will ignite a fire in the presidential election campaign.

We understand that, they are discussing to come together to exert pressure in favour of this issue. Even the parties in the plantation sector have, not given a final word on this matter. On the other hand, they are angry that even the Rs.405 that was promised is not a reality yet. Plantation companies are wailing that this kind of salary increase could ruin their business. It only proves what we have said already; that the plantation establishment is completely out of date.

Modern arrangements have to be evolved, which is both efficient and ecologically sound. No system that renders labour to be under nourished and miserable, can survive in the modern world. The reality is that even the Rs.405 salary increase is paltry; no family can survive on that basis.

But the bourgeois opposition is unable to raise this important issue as they are tied to plantation aristocracy. There is no credible move to get the plantation based parties into the alliance. However, they are eager to woo the JVP, in spite of the fact that the latter has not shed its chauvinist stand on devolution. The JVP makes noises about the Vanni misery but it remains a chauvinist anti Tamil liberation party! The JVP is eager to get rid of both the presidential elections and proportional representation to establish Sinhala hegemony through parliament, which will then be the real centre of power.

Complete support

As it is, the bourgeois opposition led by Ranil/ Karu leadership fully supports the genocidal war conducted by the regime. They joined the victory celebrations and sent letters thanking military leaders. On the other hand, they are supporting the pro global capitalist economic policy of the government. In fact, they are sorry that the regime is not aware of the other loan schemes available; such as for poverty alleviation. If the Ranil/ Karu leadership agrees with the government, on the policy of war and on the bondage to global capital, then what are they crying for?

They shout about corruption but many of those who are accused of corruption, Karu, Milinda, Bogollagama, etc are fine gentlemen brought up in the bosom of the UNP. Following Karu they can come back any time; so what is the issue? In any case the global capitalist set up is a failed system more in trouble than any failed state! In fact the World Bank President said in Istanbul, that one of the legacies of the crisis maybe a change in global power relations, saying the latest forecasts show, that China and India are helping to pull the global economy out of recession. He noted though, that other developing countries are also drivers of growth, and that a multipolar economy, less reliant on US consumer demand, will be a more stable economy.

So India and China, with large public sectors and strong parties claiming to be communist, playing major roles, are the saviours of the system. In that context, it is amusing to see that the opposition led by Ranil/ Karu trying to tell the people that they are better equipped than Mahinda to approach the global capital. There is no point having an opposition which has the same policy on war, devolution and the economy.

Redeemable state authoritarianism and irredeemable fascist totalitarianism

A response to Dayapala Thiranagama

by Dayan Jayatilleka

"Rajani… would have found the recent war completely abhorrent."- UTHR (J), 18th Sept, 2009

I did not expect the Rajani commemoration to be a posthumous Nuremburg Trial for Velupillai Prabhakaran, as Dayapala Thiranagama seems to suggest . I did expect a single mention— a moral indictment strong and clear — of Prabhakaran, for Rajani’s murder, but obviously I expected too much. I thought it especially necessary as an antidote to ambiguity and ambivalence because the evening’s mentions of the LTTE were scattered among a welter of references to the violence of the State, Sinhala chauvinism and (perhaps mostly) the Indian army.

Crucially admitting, albeit in a gross understatement, that "there was no Tiger bashing at the event" and thereby proving the validity of my basic observation, Dayapala says it was all in the context, "the preparation prior to the event and the aftermath". That’s irrelevant: I attended and reviewed the event itself.

He accuses me of a "damning" lack of "understanding" of "language …and politics". I trust he doesn’t mean the English language. As for politics, that is amusing, coming as it does from an autodidact in that subject, to another whose product in political theory has been critically bracketed with those of Zizek and Badiou (in the International Journal of Zizek Studies) and positively reviewed by a Professor Emeritus at the LSE, and whose successful recent political practice in the international arena registered wryly in The Economist (London).

Though Dayapala now says, in his response to me, that he "supports the historic victory over the Tigers and their neo-fascistic project", he did not say so in his BMICH speech on Sept 25, surely the appropriate occasion. Nor did any other speaker, from first to last. He had also failed to say so in the Sept 16 article he wrote as part of the all-important ‘preparation’ for the Rajani commemoration.

Instead, in a remark utterly revelatory of its attitude, the UTHR-J statement (Sept 18) for the Rajani anniversary which Dayapala approvingly adverts to, said this: "If the Government believes that the war was a great military achievement, let the Sinhalese people know the truth and understand the consequences".

Dayapala explains his politics: "If there was no Tiger bashing at the event … [it was because of] the political urgency at the current moment and the strategy that would be most suitable and effective in fighting the twin problem: achieving democratic rights and challenging Sinhala triumphalism.

The democratic rights in all three communities…are being eroded under the cover of patriotism and it is being used to frustrate and postpone the devolution of power to the Tamil community". Curiously Dayapala thinks it necessary not to "bash the Tigers" at an event commemorating his wife who was murdered by them, in order to achieve democratic rights, challenge Sinhala triumphalism and expedite devolution. While it is true that Sinhala triumphalism is imprudent, he does not draw a necessary distinction and recognize that the Sinhalese have a legitimate right and reason to feel triumphant.

The victorious Final War against the Tigers approximated a people’s war of national liberation in which the vanguard was the Sri Lankan (overwhelmingly Sinhala) armed forces and the main motive force the Sinhala people/nation, with the Tamil resistance (TMVP, EPDP) playing a significant catalytic and auxiliary role.

It is a spirited and historic achievement of this generation which those to come can take pride in and inspiration from. While patriotism is "being used to postpone devolution", the remedy resides in the re-opened electoral space in the Tamil areas and the reactivation of the Tamil polity and political process, none of which would have been possible except for the Sri Lankan armed forces and President Rajapakse.

Dayapala assumes that one can successfully expedite devolution while scorning legitimate Sinhala sentiment, abandoning patriotism, making no recourse to it, regarding it as if it were wholly negative and illegitimate—and all this from London! Such is his superior understanding of politics!

According to Dayapala’s politics "if you want to talk about the titanic struggles for decades against the Tigers, you also need to talk about the historical injustices meted out against the Tamil community with equal passion and conviction…In order to fight fascism it is necessary to resolve the genuine grievances of the Tamils" (My emphases- DJ). Wrong. It was perfectly possible to talk of the titanic struggles against Hitler fascism or Japanese militarism without talking "with equal passion and conviction" about the injustices done to Germany under the Treaty of Versailles or to pre-war Japan by the USA.

It was perfectly possible (unless one was a Trotskyite) to speak of the titanic struggle against Hitler while not talking "with equal passion and conviction" about the wrongs committed in the colonies by British and French imperialism— suffice to recall the line of the Popular Front.

Though "the resolution of genuine grievances of the Tamils" is a desirable and urgent objective (the public advocacy and pursuit of which is reportedly a factor that cost me my last job), the actual movement of history was that Dayapala’s "necessity" proved unnecessary as a precondition ("in order to fight") and Tiger fascism was fought and defeated in its main dimension and expression, the military dimension, without resolving the genuine grievances of the Tamils.

Historical reality has stood the Dayapala dogma it on its head. It is the military crushing of the Tigers that was the necessary though insufficient condition for the political resolution of genuine grievances of the Tamils. That necessary condition was achieved without and before the required resolution of Tamil grievances, which reality has turned into a task of a second stage we are in transition to or have already transitioned to.

Dayapala implicitly posits a homology between the situation that prevailed under the barbaric rule of the Tigers and that which prevails in the South today. He writes that "The right to dissent is taken away with speed in the South and the methods applied here at times are reminiscent of what the Tamil Tigers inflicted on their political adversaries in the suppression of the right to dissent in the areas of their control".

This is wrong in its conceptual fundaments. In his reminiscences Dayapala might recall that the methods applied by the State in the late 1980s could not be placed on a continuum with what the Pol Potist JVP inflicted on their political adversaries. I have publicly criticized the Lasantha killing, the Tissainayagam verdict and the IDP situation, but these require denunciation independently, devoid of absurd analogies with Tiger totalitarianism.

If Tiger rule and rule in the South can be placed on the same plane in the matter of the right of dissent, the Rajani commemoration could not have been held at the BMICH. It is the Tigers’ recidivist aggression that was chiefly responsible for the backlash of hard-line Sinhala militarism and its ascendancy. Whatever its distortions and brutalities the Sri Lankan state is one in which there are multiparty democratic elections and a minimum of democratic space.

When this article appears, a multiparty election would have just been held in the Southern province, and I can’t recall one in Prabhakaran’s proto-state. Dayapala and the Diaspora dissidents implicitly conflate the authoritarian yet quintessentially democratic —and therefore redeemable — Sri Lankan state (albeit with an increasingly Caesarist/Bonapartist regime), with irredeemable totalitarian, fascist movements and barbaric systems of rule necessitating military destruction.

Far from a similarity or parallel with totalitarian Tiger rule, negative trends of political closure in the South can be reversed if the Opposition were simply to switch to a nationally more mainstream leadership, thereby rendering itself more competitive and restoring a basic equilibrium to the polity. The most critical variable of the Sri Lankan crisis today is the crisis of Opposition leadership.

Dayapala accusatorily says that in late ’89 I told him I had information that Rajani was killed by the EPRLF. On Sept 21st this year, DBS Jeyaraj writing on the Rajani anniversary confirms that "When Rajini was killed there was some confusion initially about who her killers were. Some university students staged a protest demonstration blaming Tamil armed groups functioning as lackeys of the Indian army. This was so because Rajini had very often clashed with the Indian officials on issues of human rights violations. Subsequently it became clear that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was responsible…"

Within days of her murder I had made a beeline to Sri Lankan Military Intelligence HQ at Flower Road and requested information. My interlocutor, who may have been Gen (at the time Brig or Col.) Chula Seneviratne, now retired, told me that according to reports they had at that moment, which were hazy due to the fog of low intensity war with multiple players, it was an EPRLF hit because Rajani’s polemical guns at the time had been trained on the IPKF. It is this that I shared in good faith with Dayapala.

In the matter of Premadasa, the LTTE and the EPRLF, Dayapala distorts facts, saying that I "had joined the UNP government", which I had not. In a few months I quit the North East Provincial Council of which I was a Minister, and supported Premadasa, socially the most progressive reformist leader this country has seen, against a kaleidoscope of foes—the xenophobic ultra-left JVP, the old Establishment elite (bipartisan, as seen in the impeachment conspiracy), the putschist NEPC and the terrorist LTTE.

Dayapala, the UTHR-J and the Diaspora dissidents did not support or sympathize with him even critically, and to date the UTHR-J slanders him, depicting his tenure as a dark age. So much for Dayapala’s concern for "our social and economic development for generations", set back far more by Prabhakaran’s assassination of Premadasa than by any delay in or dilution of devolution. By contrast, Devananda and the EPDP stood by Premadasa.

Premadasa commenced his election campaign and his early presidency with the support of, and supporting, the EPRLF led North East Provincial Council. That changed, because of the latter. The main challenge at that time was from the JVP which was shutting down Colombo and exploding IEDs (in which they had been trained, not by the LTTE but by the PLOTE, with Sivaram’s facilitation) in Narahenpita and Thimbirigasyaya.

The JVP insurgency drew legitimacy from the claim of a patriotic war against the IPKF presence which was becoming counter-productively protracted. State power in the South was hanging by a thread and it was Premadasa’s primary duty to prevent its fall at all costs. He requested an IPKF withdrawal, while the NEPC leadership strove to entrench and leverage it. The EPRLF led conscript Tamil National Army attacked Sri Lankan police stations with Carl Gustav recoilless rifles. Faced with the prospect of re-deploying the Sri Lankan armed forces which would have risked a firefight with the IPKF and a two front war – precisely the trap that the NEPC leadership and its handlers were laying — Premadasa and Ranjan Wijeratne tactically played the LTTE card, a proxy move that states all over the world have made when faced with similar "prisoners’ dilemma" crises.

Though I had absolutely no knowledge of the material form of this "tilt" and was certainly not privy to the policy itself, it clearly belonged to the tradition of ‘balance of power’ Realpolitik and was no reason to alter my support for Premadasa’s project of rapid growth with social equity, a precursor of current experiments in Latin America.

Rajani’s political life was defined by the relationship with the Tigers and by extension, Prabhakaran. Rajani joined the Tigers. Rajani broke with the Tigers. Rajani critiqued the Tigers. Rajani was killed by the Tigers. Rajani joining the Tigers is not as much of an indictment as it may seem today, because this was before the Tigers killed innocent Sinhala civilians, and she left when or by the time they did. The LTTE had not yet degenerated into a fascist militia.

Yet, this "New Revolutionary" had a choice, and there were explicitly revolutionary Marxist or Marxist oriented ones like the EPRLF, PLOTE and EROS. She chose not to join any of them and opted instead to obtain membership of the LTTE, which even if it did parade a trace of ideological rouge in its makeup at the time (Nithyanandan, Balasingham), was the least revolutionary or leftwing of all these organizations. Out of courtesy I will not dispute Dayapala’s dismissal of my recollection that Rajani wrongly assumed Mahattaya’s presence would deter an assassination attempt on her by the Tigers (or disclose my source).

Rather like Camus, Rajani strove to transcend the political and take a moral stand, stemming from her deep feelings for people, especially those suffering. Personally testifying that [in 1984] "Rajani had become a seemingly unwavering member of the Tamil Tigers’ military project" Dayapala goes on to liken her to Che Guevara!

Having my essay on Che’s 40th death anniversary featured in the Cuban CP Central Committee’s Granma and praised for "having seen deeply into the mind of Che" by two who knew him up close (Prof Emeritus Miguel Alfonso Martinez who was at Che’s side during his historic New York trip and interviewed by Benecio de Toro for the Soderbergh movie, and Prof Jean Ziegler, Che’s designated companion during his 12 day Geneva visit to address UNCTAD), I find this an unconvincing canonization.

"In relation to the choice between life and death", any Sri Lankan Commando storming a bunker or Special Forces officer on long range patrol in Tigerland was as close, if not closer, a fit in spirit. Can anyone imagine Ernesto Che Guevara as "a seemingly unwavering member" (however episodically) of a "military project" under the leadership of Velupillai Prabhakaran?

Tensions Mount as Camp Conditions Deteriorate-HRW

Full text of media release by The Human Rights Watch

The Sri Lankan government should immediately release the 250,000 displaced Tamils still held in detention camps, Human Rights Watch said today. Deteriorating conditions, including a shortage of water since October 5, 2009, combined with the prospect of flooding during the imminent monsoon season, have led to rising tensions among camp residents and clashes with the military.

Human Rights Watch called on international donors such as Japan, the United States and European Union member states to send a clear message to the Government of Sri Lanka that continued detention of the displaced will have serious consequences for Sri Lanka's relationship with the international community.

"With all these people penned up unnecessarily in terrible conditions, the situation in these camps is getting tense and ugly," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "If they aren't out of there before the monsoons hit, their lives and health will be in serious danger."

The Sri Lankan government has confined virtually everyone displaced by the recent conflict to detention camps, unlawfully depriving them of their liberty and freedom of movement. According to the UN, by the end of September - more than four months after the end of the armed conflict - the government continued to hold 255,551 displaced persons in camps and hospitals, the majority in a large complex of camps called "Manik Farm" in Vavuniya district.

The government has come under increasing criticism for its refusal to release the displaced Tamils. On September 29, Walter Kälin, the representative of the UN secretary-general on the human rights of internally displaced persons, criticized the slow pace of release, saying that "immediate and substantial progress in restoring freedom of movement for the displaced is an imperative if Sri Lanka is to respect the rights of its citizens and comply with its commitments and obligations under international law."

Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has warned that Sri Lanka risks creating "bitterness" if it fails to resettle Tamil refugees quickly, and on October 6, the British development minister, Mike Foster, said after a visit to the camps that, "freedom of movement is critical if a humanitarian crisis is to be averted."

Human Rights Watch said that the government's screening of camp residents for LTTE supporters has been non-transparent and protracted and that even people who have apparently been screened and cleared have not been released. In September, the Sri Lankan foreign minister announced that 162,000 camp residents had been screened. According to the UN, however, the government had released fewer than 15,000 as of September 28.

On several occasions the government has falsely claimed that it has allowed thousands detained in Manik Farm to return home. On September 24, for example, it announced that 40,000 people had returned to their districts. In reality, many of the people that the government claims to have released have been transferred from Manik Farm to other detention camps, while others are still held at a "way station," a temporary holding facility, in Vavuniya. According to the UN, more than 1,500 people who were transferred from Manik Farm to the way station on September 13 and were due to be released, are still held there, surviving in rapidly deteriorating conditions.

"While the government has the right to screen the displaced persons for security reasons, the process has turned into a ruse to hold as many Tamils for as long as possible in the camps," Adams said. "The government's untruthful statements and promises should not fool anybody anymore."

The international community should demand that the Sri Lankan government release the people in the camps and ensure their well-being, Human Rights Watch said.

Deteriorating conditions in the camps

Several displaced persons told Human Rights Watch that camp conditions have recently deteriorated, creating tension and unrest.

Residents in several sections, called "zones," of Manik Farm have had only limited access to water since a main pipeline pumping water from a nearby river was turned off on October 5 because of low water levels in the river. Camp administration officials have restricted the amount of water per family to 30 liters. The UN refugee agency recommends a minimum of 15 liters of water per person per day.

Thirty-eight-year-old "Jeevitha," a camp resident in Zone 2, told Human Rights Watch:

"This morning I managed to get only 20 liters for our family of five. I won't be able to get more until tomorrow and this water is all we have for drinking, cooking, washing and bathing. For the last three days we have not been able to take a bath or clean properly. It is agony, and the camp administration here does not seem to care about us."

"Aanathi," a 30-year-old woman living in Zone 2 with her 1-year-old son, told Human Rights Watch:

"I stood in line for four-and-a-half hours today, but I gave up in the end. I am so tired. Yesterday, I lined up around midnight and I was only able to get water at nine in the morning. I got 30 liters for me and my one-year-old son. We managed with that, but I know of families with 10 or more family members who have to survive on the same amount."

"Maadhavi," a 32-year-old resident in Zone 1, said that people are getting desperate because of the water shortage. On the morning of October 7, when the water suddenly came back for about 30 minutes, people were scrambling to fill their buckets and a fight broke out:

"People were shouting and throwing stones at each other. We went to the camp administration, but they just told us that we have to endure it. If they don't get us water by tomorrow, we will tear down the fences and go to find water ourselves!"

Over the past two weeks, the Manik Farm camps have also been hit by strong winds, causing damage to shelters and exacerbating the already difficult living conditions. Twenty-year-old "Kumaravel," who lives in one of the camps with his family of five, told Human Rights Watch:

"The winds are tearing branches off the trees and tin sheets off the huts, which then fall on the tents. We are forced to cook outside and the wind blows dust and mud into our food, making it practically inedible. It is very difficult to live here."

Because of overcrowding in the Manik Farm camps, Kumaravel's family shares their five-person tent with another family of four. The section in Manik farm where they live, Zone 2, holds more than 52,000 people even though there should be fewer than 29,000 people there under UN standards. At night, the women sleep inside the tent while the men either sleep outside or in one of the camp's makeshift classrooms. Kumaravel is worried about what they will do during the rainy season, which usually starts in October:

"We had heavy rains about a month ago. It was hell. The ground here cannot absorb water so it just gathers. We couldn't even walk around. The authorities have done some work to improve drainage, but I doubt it will help much."

Rains in mid-August caused serious flooding, as water destroyed tents and other shelter, made cooking impossible for many, and caused roads to collapse, preventing delivery of crucial aid, such as drinking water. Water also flooded latrine pits, causing raw sewage to flow among the tents. Since then, shelter in Manik Farm - most of which was set up during the large influx of displaced persons in April and May -has further deteriorated. The emergency tents or shelter kits in which most people live were designed to last for three to six months.

Clashes between residents and the military

The mounting frustration among the displaced caused by the deteriorating conditions and lack of free movement has led to conflicts with the military guarding the camps. On September 26, soldiers opened fire on a group of camp residents, wounding at least two. A military spokesperson claimed the guards were compelled to fire when the group tried to escape and started throwing stones and a hand-grenade. The authorities also quickly concluded that, "The wounded suspects and the crowd had links with the terrorists."

However, witnesses gave Human Rights Watch a different account, explaining that Manik Farm camp residents are sometimes allowed to cross between two Zone 1 and Zone 2 to visit relatives or to collect firewood (which is unavailable in Zone 1). At around 5:30 p.m. on that day, a long line of people were waiting for permission to cross the road separating the camps when a soldier called on a man carrying firewood to come forward. Four witnesses independently told Human Rights Watch that the soldiers suddenly attacked the man. Kumaravel, who was one of the witnesses, told Human Rights Watch:

"A soldier started beating the man. Then another joined in. The people in the line tried to intervene, but one of the soldiers opened fire and the other took out a hand grenade and threatened to throw it. Soon, other soldiers arrived and started beating people."

Two witnesses told Human Rights Watch that after the soldiers had dispersed the crowd, the first soldier placed a hand grenade among the wood the man had been carrying and photographed it with his cell phone. Witnesses said that the man was taken away and that the wounded were taken to hospitals. The government said 19 displaced men were arrested after the incident. Human Rights Watch has obtained credible information that at least some of the arrested were beaten during their detention. At least some of those detained were later released.

The incident came just days after soldiers clashed with camp residents in another camp in Vavuniya. On September 23, residents at the Poonthotham camp attacked soldiers and police officers and their vehicles after the police took one of the camp's residents away. The riot, which lasted for three hours, ended when the police brought the man back.

"These incidents should serve as a wake-up call for the government and donors," said Adams. "It's time for international donors to send a clear message to Colombo that continued and blatant disregard for international standards will come at a price."

Sangaree writes letter to President in "desperation, disappointment and disgust"

Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) President Veerasingham Aanandasangaree has written detailed letter to President Rajapaksa over the tragic plight of IDP's in Vavuniya . The full text of the letter written in "desperation, disappointment and disgust" is reproduced below:

09mfbbc2.jpg
Some extended families live together; others have found themselves separated from their close ones-Pic: Charles Haviland, BBC

His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa, 2009-10-07
President of Sri Lanka,
Temple Trees,
Colombo-03.

RELEASE OF THE IDPs

Your Excellency,

In utter desperation, disappointment and disgust I am writing this to you, having failed to bring relief for several thousand IDPS who are facing innumerable problems, some of which were brought to your notice off and on by me, during the past few months. You are aware that many people in the IDP camps were my constituents of Kilinochchi and Mullaitheevu. You and I entered Parliament in July, 1970. You were the youngest of the lot at that time, but I was senior to you in age experience and in politics. Some of the things that I tell you may not be palatable to you. But please be assured that I will not misguide you and that my advice will be beneficial and also help you to promote unity among all sections of the people in Sri Lanka. As I often say, I love my country and its people and cannot under any circumstances be classified as unpatriotic or as a traitor. Furthermore I am neither a stooge of anybody nor a flatterer for personal gains. You and the country knew very well that I am one who always call a spade a spade.

Being from the majority community you were fortunate enough to reach the top position as the Head of the State and serve the country while I being one from the minority community had been deprived of serving the people even through a Local Body. However much you may say that there are no minorities in this country, which is yet to be proved beyond any doubt, no member of the minority community will dare to cross your way. You should pave the way for it and it is the people who should feel so and say so. You are making all endeavors to ensure a second term for you as the President but I could not retain my seat in Parliament for a full term not once but twice, due to unwanted premature dissolutions of Parliament. On two other occasions I lost due to malpractices at the Local Level which derailed democracy completely in the North. At one election an armed group won nine seats by obtaining only eight thousand odd votes out of six hundred thousand.

At the last general election held in April, 2004 another armed group, virtually took control of conducting the elections, against the Government’s writ. Under threat and intimidation it secured for another political party, with a majority of its own Members in the list, 22 of the 23 Tamil majority seats in the North and East . Based on the strong reports and recommendations given by various Election Monitoring missions, if the Government in power at that time had really wanted, could have easily rectified the position and put democracy back on its proper track. I hope you will not dispute my claim that the present Parliament itself is not a properly constituted one and should have been dissolved by you and fresh elections held, soon after you became President in November, 2005. You cannot be unaware of the opportunities that came on my way to enter Parliament even after my defeat, deliberately and fraudulently caused by the LTTE, at the April 2004 elections. You could not have forgotten what I told you, when a couple of years back you offered me the post of Governor of the North and the reluctance I showed when the same offer was repeated on the 22nd of January 2008. Reference to these facts are to impress on you that I am not after positions and only interested in creating a non-communal, peaceful and a united Sri Lanka. Otherwise they have no relevance at all to the issue. Your Excellency, to achieve this, which is no easy task, there are certain problems that need your personal attention and quick decision. The problem of the IDPs is the most serious one, the country is facing today and should be solved without any delay. My advice to you in this matter is indispensable, being coming from a person who not only loves his country more than his own life, but also one who represented the Districts of Kilinochchi, Jaffna and parts of Mullaitheevu in Parliament and is better informed than many others who are presently advising you.

In this connection, first of all I wish to draw your attention to your address to the Nation on the occasion of the 59th Independence Day Ceremony, the first celebration after your election as President on the 18th of November, 2005. In the course of your speech reported on The Island of 5th February 2006. You had said, Similarly, we should now take speedy action to establish Democratic Governance in areas liberated from the clutches of the terrorists in the East and the North. It is our duty to protect the lives and property of the Tamil and Muslim people, and bring sanctity to the future world of their children. As I stated at the inauguration of the Moragahakanda Maha samudra, I wish to re-emphasize that the most reliable weapon against terrorism is to do justice by the innocent Tamil people. I know that the Sinhala people in the South are ready for this. We are not ready to give into the blood-thirsty demands of the LTTE. However, at the minimum we should be reasonable and honest enough to agree with Mr. Anandasangaree or the Hon. Douglas Devanada.

What is important in this speech is your reference to your duty to protect the lives and property of the Tamils and Muslims and to bring sanctity to the future world of their children. You have also said that the most reliable weapon against terrorism is to do justice by the innocent Tamil people. You have not failed to assure that you are aware that the Sinhala people in the South, are ready for this.

You certainly know as to what views I held and still hold about the average. Sinhala People. Any one going through the print Media and recorded electronic media will see hundreds of glowing tributes I had paid to the Sinhala People. I had not failed to do the same in my statements, interviews, discussions with the Diaspora and the various Diplomats, at seminars, workshops etc. The events of July 1983 earned a bad name for the country due to the communal riots that followed the killing of 13 soldiers in Jaffna. But during the past few years inspite of several unpleasant and provocative incidents, the country was spared of any communal violence. A number of appeals were made by me to the Sinhala people, following every major or minor tragic incident that took place in their midst caused by the LTTE, to keep calm and look after the Tamils living amidst them. You too had done that many times. The Sinhala People responded favorably and showed much tolerance.

The Tamils who lived in the South will certainly not dispute my claims. In fairness to the ordinary Sinhala People I should endorse your view that they want justice done to the minorities. They know that the Tamils are innocent of any crime against the Sinhalese and that the Tamils and the LTTE are two different entities.

Your Excellency, with great reluctance I wish to point out that some of your advisers do not seem to be briefing you properly. I do not certainly expect you to have every information in your finger tips. You will recall an incident that took place on 26.03.2009 at the Temple Trees. At a briefing to Leaders of Tamil Political Parties, you said that already 55,000 people had crossed into the Government Security Zone and that only about 85,000 were still left in the LTTE held area. It was I who pointed out that there were still over 250,000 people stranded in the LTTE held area. Most of them around you disputed my figures and later from where the 300,000 IDPs came was never explained by anybody. On the 7th of May a top ranking officer of the Government at press interview claimed that there were only about 20,000 people still left with the Tigers and found fault with me, as to how I got the figure as over one hundred thousand. Within a few days, in one night alone over 85,000 IDPs broke the LTTE cordon and crossed over to the Government controlled area. Several thousand followed them later. This is why I say that your advisers should be very cautious in briefing you without causing you any embarrassment.

It is not my intention to find fault with you. The events that take place now make me believe that the true position of the Vanni people had not been clearly briefed to you. The people of Vanni lived under LTTE terror for more than quarter of a Century. They had undergone untold hardships for several years. Till the LTTE came and took over Vanni the people there were living in peace and harmony. Since then, they had lost many things in life. They lost their democratic rights and their fundamental and human rights had been seriously eroded. Your Independence day speech referred to here clearly shows that you had correctly assessed their sufferings. But today they feel that they had been betrayed by the authorities. The co-operation given to the forces by the Vanni People made things easy for the forces to win the war. I do admit that a large number of soldiers sacrificed their lives to liberate the country and the people of Vanni in particular.

But it is also equally true that the people of Vanni too, amidst fear and tension had made their contribution for the war to win. The way, they and their innocent children, who were compulsorily recruited by the LTTE, are treated now make them feel that they are punished for the co-operation given by them without which war could not have been won easily. The armed forces were fully aware of the contribution made by the Vanni People and in appreciation of it, brought them safely to Government held areas without causing any harm to them. The service personnel of the opposite sex took extreme care of the children, pregnant women and the elders. Many of them had admitted that they are not at all happy with the manner in which these people are treated. There are so many people to boast about themselves and pretend to be knowing about everything happening in the camps. Some talk through their hats. But such people hardly know of the ground situation. The Soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the sake of the Vanni People know how the Vanniars suffered during the last few days of the war. Most of them are not alive to tell us their pathetic stories. Your Excellency, please silence all those pretenders who claim to be patriots or Good Buddhist and talk out of turn. Apart from being the President of this country, I want you to assume the role of a father, a mother, a brother, a sister, a son or as a husband and look with sympathy these poor creatures who had been made to keep mum. We need not do anything to please the outside world. Let us satisfy our own conscience without finding faults with the others.

Your Excellency, I am compelled to break my long silence and write this lengthy letter to you. Please permit me to point out to you, in your own interest that I am not in agreement with you on certain actions taken by you. You vouched to take speedy action to establish Democratic Governance in areas librated from the LTTE in the North and the East. I strongly urge you not to rush through because your efforts had not yielded the desired results. People enjoy their Democratic Rights only in a real Democracy and not in an artificial one. Leaders should be elected by the People free will and not elected by the State. Jaffna and the East are supposed to be liberated areas but the people are not free. Please free them.

You have claimed it as your duty to protect the lives and property of the Tamil and Muslim people. I wrote to you after Kilinochchi was taken over, that the war is now won and it is the Governments duty to see that not a single innocent life is lost in vain even if the war is prolonged for one year. Unfortunately my advice was not heeded to. If my advice had been taken seriously several lives could have been saved along with the limbs of many and billions worth of private and public property could have been saved. As regards the property of these people, like nomads they moved from place to place, leaving behind portions of what they were carrying and finally many left behind even the little clothing they had. At the IDP camps, initially majority of the IDPs did not have a spare cloth. Many had no proper meal for days and some for several weeks. Children had no milk for several days before they reached the camps. People were undernourished due to lack of food. Several who had starved in Vanni died after reaching the IDP Camps and buried in lots without any identification. Several had to share small tents and hundreds shared one toilet.

They underwent the worst agony in their lifetime, un-heard of in any part of the world. It is our duty to look after them well without claiming that they are better off than some who are refugees in other countries. The question often asked by these refugees is as to why the Government had brought them to places over hundred miles away from their homes when all of them could have been easily accommodated at various places in their own districts.

The claim that these areas are heavily land-mined, they say, is not at all acceptable to them. I too fully agree with them having discussed this with people from various parts of these two districts. If the task of resettlement is assigned to the respective Government Agents they, with the help of their Grama Sevakas and some local volunteers would have identified the spots where land-mines remain buried. It is a mystery that the advice and assistance was not sought in this connection from a person who knows these areas fully well and represented these areas in Parliament. I hope no one will brand me as an old tiger in search of prey. The government should settle these people without any delay and without giving any excuse.

Your Excellency you have committed to protect their property as well. I hardly met a beggar in the past in any of the two districts of Kilinochchi and Mullaitheevu. Most of them had been living comfortably. Some owned big mansons, tractors with trailers, lorries, cars, vans, two wheel tractors and thousands of Motorcycles. Some were engaged in extensive cultivation, dairy farming and poultry farming. They left behind everything including their lifetime savings invested on articles of Gold. When they get back to their homes hardly anything will remain there. If you allow them to go and take possession of their movables and preserve them in a common place, it will be a great boon for them.

The whole world including you know that almost all young LTTE cadre were conscripted children from poor families much against their wish and the wish of the parents. There are parents who had committed suicide protesting against conscription. Many parents had been severely punished for objecting to recruitment. Some parent, stopped the children from going to school and kept them in bunkers. All those recruits, when an opportunity came on their way came out and surrendered to the Security Forces. Many others surrendered in the camps when told that even those who had one days training from the LTTE should surrender. The hard core LTTE cadres had escaped from the camps and had fled the country. It is only the innocent children who have now been branded as LTTE cadre and kept in Rehabilitation centers. Most of them are very bright children and should be sent to schools for studies.

After the 2nd World War a lot of Malasian born students who returned to Sri Lanka were accommodated in schools, the age requirements dispensed with, for the five year period, during which they did not attend school. Such age concessions should be given to students who lived in LTTE controlled areas and lost their schooling. Except those who do not want to study, all others should be released to go to school. There are several hundred students who had been selected for various course, in the Universities, Technical colleges etc. They should be released to attend the respective Institutions to which they had been selected. There cannot be any more hard-core tigers left in the IDP Camps. Most of them had been identified and the authorities were informed. Please release all of them who are still in the IDP camps or in Rehabilitation Centres who had very little training or no arms training at all. Furthermore, I strongly urge that you should without any delay order the immediate release of the injured person, the old and the feeble, pregnant women, women with children, disabled persons, mentally retarded persons, the insane persons, orphans, destitute persons and such others who deserve release. Also reunite members of the same family from various camps and send people from various districts to their respective districts.

I am acting on the assumption that many happenings in the IDP Camps are not brought to your notice. Seeing is believing and a visit to some of the IDP camps by you is long overdue, but not any in the Menic Farm. These things cannot and should not happen in our country with you as the Head of the State. Your decision which I am sure will open the eyes of some, who think that we can play with the lives of over 300,000 odd IDPs who are suffering for no faults of theirs. We are a proud nation in which small children used to save the lives of cows from the butchers, with their pocket money.

In conclusion I appeal to you to order the authorities to pay a small amount as dole to each one of the IDP families to meet some requirements of the small children and elders, many of whom had not been a red cent since they came to the IDP camps.

If you want to win over the Tamils do this first, resettle them soon and think of any development latter.

Thanking You.
Yours Sincerely,

V. Anandasangaree,
President
Tamil United Liberation front

October 09, 2009

Hidden meaning of ‘home grown’ solution?

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

On September 27, addressing the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wikramanayake said, "the solution we will offer to all communities must be a home-grown product". President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been talking about ‘home grown’ solution since early 2006, soon after assuming the duties and responsibilities of the Executive President having powers similar to those wielded by monarchs. The formation of the APC, APRC and the Experts Committee to assist the APRC (All Party Representative Committee) was widely believed as the means towards the promised ‘home grown’ solution. But these have turned out to be red herrings.

The recommendations of the majority group of experts who were from all three ethnic communities, namely, Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim were rejected. The proposals of the Chairman of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC), based on fusing the recommendations in the majority and minority reports of the Expert Committee were also unacceptable to the President. Perhaps the inputs were not from the right sources to produce the desired output. Acceptance of the minority Expert report prepared without the inputs of the ethnic minority members would have caused other problems, although the proposals therein were consistent with the aspirations of Sinhala nationalists. What is meant by ‘home grown’ is unclear.

As the gestation period of the Mahinda Chinthanaya’s ‘home grown’ product was longer than initially imagined, in the interim the full implementation of the 13th Amendment, which is already an integral part of the Sri Lankan Constitution was proclaimed. Furthermore soon after declaring the successful conclusion of the military campaign against the LTTE, at the meetings with Indian government leaders the Sri Lankan President announced the decision to go further than the 13A in order to settle the conflict politically. The 13A plus is also now a passing. It served then to pacify not only New Delhi but also others expecting real moves towards the political settlement of the ethnic conflict. Now like the vital 17th Amendment, 13A is also said to be flawed. If there is the commitment to the original intents of these amendments, the obvious step is to rectify the flaws and proceed with the implementation. The reluctance to implement the necessary procedures vital for lasting peace, national unity and progress can only be ascribed to some hidden political agenda of the government. What the truly patriotic Sri Lankans must consider is the future of the island nation, if no meaningful steps are taken to free the country from the corrupt political system that serves the power-hungry politicians.

Daily News reported on 10 January 2009 that “President Mahinda Rajapaksa intends to go ahead with the process of implementing a political solution after enlightening the Cabinet and other political parties once he received the final draft of proposals from the APRC Chairman on January 23. The Presidential Secretariat said that the President made this request yesterday (9 January) at a special meeting held at Temple Trees with the participation of APRC members, party leaders representing the Government and party leaders not represented in Parliament. The meeting was convened by the President to discuss matters relating to the provision of an acceptable solution to the ethnic conflict in the country. According to the Secretariat, the President has pointed out that though political parties are having diverse opinions on the political solution to the ethnic conflict they should be determined to decide on a set of proposals which can be implemented practically”. The President is good at conveying statesman-like views. But the glaring omission is the deeds matching such views. Although the final draft proposals were submitted to the President by the APRC Chairman there has been no move to initiate the stated implementation process.

APRC Chairman and Minister Tissa Vitarana told the media on 4 October that the political solution to the ethnic issue would be found only after the next parliamentary election due early next year. He said that it would be easier for the government to amend the present constitution “based on the APRC proposals in the new parliament in which the government expects a clear two-third majority”. It is baffling to see the Minister contradicting his earlier positive statements on the APRC proposals. Have these been rejected by the opposition parties to assume that the required two-third majority is not achievable now? He announced earlier that discussions would be held with the main political parties, especially the TNA and the UNP on the draft proposals recommended by those who participated continuously in the drawn out APRC process.

Why this consultation did not take place? Do they know the contents of the report submitted to the President? These omissions question the real intent of setting up the APRC and the Expert Committee. One can imagine the frustration of those who spent their time and effort at the committee meetings.

Following the latest statement of the APRC Chairman, the veteran journalist T. Sabaratnam in his weekly column ‘As I see it’ in the ‘Bottom Line’ 7 October has predicted the likely scenario even if the governing coalition gets the two-third majority in the next parliamentary election. “The main concern of the governing UPFA which may perhaps comprise some Sinhala chauvinistic elements would be: What can we give without endangering the interests of the Sinhala people?” This has been the underlying maxim in the majoritarian politics of sovereign Sri Lanka. Although President declared after the decisive military victory in May that the word ‘minority’ is no more in his lexicon, the ethnic ‘majority-minority’ division has in fact strengthened.

The apparent “realisation that the Tamils and the Muslims should get together and place before the people and the country the basic needs they want to be safeguarded” also highlights this division. It is difficult to see how this move will bring about a mutually acceptable solution to the national issue. The underlying problem here is that the word ‘national’ has a narrow meaning to the Sinhala and Tamil nationalists. Another disturbing factor is the total neglect of the need to win trust, which requires winning the hearts and minds of the people who suffered immensely because of the bloody conflict.

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While security screening continues, the vast majority of the camp-dwellers are still stuck inside, unable to work and with almost nothing to do-pic: Charles Haviland, BBC

The stratagem of sustaining hope without practical moves cannot succeed in preventing the resurgence of the strife that became increasingly violent following the brutal methods used by the State to suppress dissent. The ruthless terror campaign of the LTTE must not be viewed solely from the despicable methods used on the orders of the supreme leader. He would not have had a chance to start a guerrilla war, if the ethnic problem had been resolved early. Many Tamils, including those in the Diaspora now condemn the obnoxious methods used by the LTTE in the ‘liberation’ struggle. The word ‘liberation’ in the context of the internal conflict in Sri Lanka has a tainted meaning. The LTTE wanted to liberate the Tamils in the North-East from the control of the government and bring them under their autocratic control. The present Sri Lanka government proclaimed that their military campaign against the LTTE was to liberate the Tamils under the jackboot of the ruthless Tamil ‘Liberation’ Tigers. Now after the war, the ‘liberated’ Tamils in Vanni have been denied the freedom they expected when the government forcibly detained the war refugees in high security camps.

The reason given for delaying moves on the political front and the continued detention of displaced persons seems to be a mere ruse to ensure comfortable victory in the Presidential and parliamentary elections. The aim to avoid internal conflicts and secure lasting peace cannot be achieved by trickery. Honesty and determination are vital for success. The professed national interest is nothing but parochial interest. The rejection of past moves starting from the Bandaranaike–Chelvanayakam and Dudley-Chelvanayakam pacts to win the confidence of the ethnic Tamils and integrate them into the political process highlights the underlying problem in building a united multi-ethnic nation devoid of the ethnic majority-minority division. Today Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem is highly internationalised and the consequences of keeping it unresolved are serious.

Raj Gonsalkorale has mentioned in his article in the Asian Tribune 30 September 2009 that a holistic approach to the resolution of the national problem is necessary. Resolution of the ethnic problem should be an integral part of this endeavour. As many peace-loving Sri Lankans he is also disappointed that even the contours of the political solution have not been presented by the government and the Opposition UNP. Because of this absence the level of confidence many had soon after the war in securing a just and fair solution to the political conflict has now waned considerably. To quote: “Whatever political proposals that are presented should not address the grievances of only a specific community. There has to be recognition that all communities have had and still have grievances and that all of it cannot be addressed through constitutional changes. Many require changes in attitudes. Some require administrative solutions”. The following comments are particularly noteworthy.

“Proposals must establish and guarantee equal rights to all communities. They must also consider greater empowerment of the people not because a particular community wants it, but because it is an evolutionary process in democratic governance”.

Both President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wikramanayake have in their public speeches announced that no foreign power should make demands that challenge the sovereignty of Sri Lanka. They seem to ignore the nation’s obligation to respect international laws and the promises given earlier to friendly countries and international organizations on various matters that are crucial for restoring normality and ensuring freedom and equal rights for all the people to co-exist peacefully. No country has any intention of subjugating Sri Lanka. The fact that Sri Lanka is a member of the international community and must respect international norms and laws cannot be ignored. More importantly, international support is essential for Sri Lanka’s speedy economic development.

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

Video: Broken Pottu ~ Poem by Mahesh Munasinghe

Inspired by the plight of children held inside Sri Lanka camps for the displaced:

Bright red pottu
Every morning
Never missed.
The point of your finger
Right here between our eyebrows
For both of us.

Amma puts hers first
Then she puts mine.
Remember me insisting
Me first, me first!

That day Dad give me a biggest hug, squeezed so tight,
Lifted me so high, laughing so loud.
At midnight he went out of the bunker.
Amma must have known he wasnt coming back
But still she smiled at me.

The day she went out of the bunker
Her pottu was still shining between her eyebrows.
Then her pottu went right into her head
And red blood came all down her calm, loving face.

Before then I only knew how to cry.
Then I knew how to shriek, to scream
Holding on to your body, Amma,

Scream!
Scream!
Scream!

Here too our school is under the trees
But they dont take the register.
I dont mind, Im used to it.
The only thing different is
There are no bunkers here.
Sometimes my heart beats so hard
Its louder than the gunshots
And tears just shoot out when I think about you.

Please dont ask me about pottu
If Amma cant put it on me I dont want it.
And please dont teach us about parents,
I dont want to hear about them.

Its not only me; none of us want to hear it.

Poem by Mahesh Munasinghe
Translated by Prasanna Ratnayake

‘Preventing a resurgence of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)’

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

Speaking at the Asia Society headquarters in New York on 24 September 2009, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake said: “Rebuilding Sri Lanka after 25 years of civil war will require resettling thousands, encouraging foreign investment and preventing a resurgence of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)”. No one can dispute the veracity of the statement. But the paradox lies in the Government’s approach to realize these objectives. Rebuilding Sri Lanka as a serene united country requires settling amicably the long-standing political dispute between the ethnic majority and minority communities. This is essential for creating a promising investment climate and uninterrupted development of the national economy that suffered because of the deliberate neglect of the development of some areas endowed with natural resources and later the prolonged violent conflict.

The conflict arose because of the discriminatory policies and practices that disadvantaged the ethnic minorities, including the denial of their legitimate rights as citizens of independent Sri Lanka. The development of the North-East where the majority of residents are the Tamil speaking citizens has been neglected by successive governments. On the contrary, the state sponsored colonisation schemes for settling Sinhalese there were implemented vigorously. The violent methods used by the State to stifle non-violent protests led to the violent uprising of Tamil youth. This undesirable development was mainly due to the terror unleashed by the State. The terrorism associated with the LTTE is the destructive process brought about by one ambitious over-confident radical leader, who believed exclusively in firepower ignoring the realities.

Both the Tamil and Muslim communities have incurred considerable losses and sufferings and they will not tolerate a resurgence of the LTTE. The group’s financiers in the Tamil Diaspora too have learnt lessons and it is not easy for the LTTE to re-emerge in their earlier ferocious form. However, this does not rule out the emergence of the kind of civil disturbances that hindered unity and national progress, unless the ethnic issue is resolved soon so as to start earnestly the process of reuniting and rebuilding the damaged nation.

Attention is drawn in this essay to the contradiction between the declared objectives of the government and its actions and inaction in the pretext of ‘preventing a resurgence of LTTE’. In fact, contrary to the expectations of peace-loving Sri Lankans, the post-war developments are divisive, not helpful for reconciliation and preventing resurgence of the disturbances that emerged with the dominance of ‘Sinhala majority’ rule. This is not the ideal democracy that ensures political freedom and equal rights to all citizens. Even the pseudo democracy has eroded considerably by the blatant violations of good governance, rule of law and human rights. The culture of impunity has grown rapidly with the military campaign to defeat terrorism by any means and silence the journalists criticising this campaign.

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UK Minister Mike Foster talking to some of the people in the camp recently-more pics: UK High commission, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Internment camps are immoral and illegal

According to a recent UN report 255,551 persons are currently accommodated in camps and hospitals. The breakdown is as follows; Vavuniya camps: 238,056, Mannar camps: 1,399, Jaffna camps: 7,378, Trinco camps: 6,734 and Hospitals: 1,984. The Centre to Scan issues of IDPs set up by the opposition party and former ally of the present UPFA government, had received 723 complaints from the displaced people in Vavuniya. Its convenor JVP parliamentarian Vijitha Herath told a news conference on October 1st that there was growing mental distress amongst the less fortunate, who were unable to obtain essential items unlike the others who were economically capable. He said the people with cash were able to purchase the necessary provisions from various shops (of mostly Sinhalese and few Muslims but not Tamils) that were set up within the camps while the poor were stranded without any means. “This has caused mental distress among the poor people within the camps and it had become a serious issue,” he said. (Daily Mirror 2 October 2009). The denial of the freedom they expected when escaping the clutches of the LTTE is also a major cause of the mental distress. There is clearly a moral question in the imposed detention and the disparity in the availability of provisions between the moneyed and poor detainees.

The Sunday Times of 4 October reported that gale force winds destroyed more than 2000 temporary shelters holding internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) compounding fears that the situation could worsen with the onset of the northeast monsoon.

An average of eight men, women and children occupied each shelter. These growing concerns came as leaders of five political parties urged that the IDPs be released immediately to return to their homes. A statement by the leaders of five political parties claimed that the “forcible detention of hundreds of thousands of Tamil citizens of Sri Lanka in camps for IDPs is illegal.” The signatories to the call “Let our people free” were V. Anandasangaree (TULF), Mano Ganesan (Democratic People’s Front), Rauf Hakeem (SLMC), Dr. K.Vigneswaran, (AITUF) and R. Sampanthan (TNA). This unity is a turning point in the struggle for the rights of the ethnic minorities. It was not possible earlier because of the assertive claim of the LTTE that they are the sole representative of the Tamils.

Prof. Kumar David in the Sunday Island 4 October 2009 has given an insight of the muddled situation in Sri Lanka. According to him under the cover of war, emergency is the norm and constitution is in limbo. The matters that should be of concern to all Sri Lankans are: “the state of emergency, forcible detention in the Vanni, abuse of power with impunity, murder in police custody, the independence or otherwise of the judiciary, freedom from fear of the politically powerful, freedom from fear of the police, freedom of the press, and matters of this nature”.

He has also bluntly said: “It will be quite difficult to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes that democracy and the rule of law are in fulsome bloom in Sri Lanka. The country has been under near continuous and unbroken emergency rule for 30 years, and no, it cannot all be justified by reference to the war. Some regulations go far beyond what is necessary, lend themselves to abuse and have been used to curtail legitimate democratic rights and dissent. As of August 2008 there were a total of 71 Regulations, Proclamations and Gazette Notifications under emergency law in force (Asanga Welikala, A State of Permanent Crisis, CPA Publication, 2008). Interleaving the trivial with the insane there are emergency regulations dealing with the adoption of children, the provision of edible salt and the issue of driving licences. This is the lunatic side of what is known as ‘the exception becoming the norm’, that is rule by emergency becoming a substitute, etched in stone, bypassing the supremacy of the constitution and the protection of citizens under the law. A permanent state of emergency is not a democracy”. The government considers the Emergency Regulations, Prevention of Terrorism Act and the curtailment of freedoms mentioned by Kumar are for preventing a resurgence of the LTTE! This shows the intent to continue the commanding way of governing even after crushing the terrorists.

He has also been frank in his comment on the plethora of promises given on the political resolution of the ethnic problem and resettlement of the war victims in the forced detention camps without the resolve to fulfil them. Moral principles had undoubtedly been abandoned in the case of forced detention of innocent civilians who sought refuge. The following comments of Kumar David are poignant. “The illegal, immoral and forcible detention of hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankan citizens by the government of Sri Lanka is unspeakably repugnant. If there is one thing the EU can do for human and democratic rights in this country at this time it is to barter GSP+, and perhaps few other sweeteners, for the immediate unconditional release of these detained persons. But release first, then GSP+, under no conditions should the EU allow itself to be duped by promissory notes undertaking to do it the other way round. Look how New Delhi and its High Commissioner in Colombo have been played for suckers. When will the international community ever learn? One hopes, at last, at least now”.

Many others have condemned the incarceration of Tamils who suffered immensely in the war zone and were anxiously waiting for liberation from their endless sufferings. It is not possible to present here all the condemnations by several concerned Sri Lankans. Only a selected few are cited here. Rajan Philips in his article posted by ‘transCurrents’ on 2 October has said: “Despite restrictions on visits or inspections by outsiders, the outside world knows what is going on inside the camps. Even with the best of intentions the Sri Lankan government is incapable of operating camps of this size humanely and efficiently. With intentions that are manifestly manipulative and sinister, the suffering of the people is that much worse”.

“The camps are inhuman and all the excuses that the government has been giving are adding insults to the injuries of the people it is holding against their will and against their dignity. By all indications, the vast majority of them have a place to go, and the few who have nowhere to go could remain in the camps and be looked after not by the military but civilian agencies”. He too has raised the complete neglect of ethics in the decision to detain forcibly innocent civilians in these inhuman camps. “The people in the Wanni camps are not just an ‘IDP issue’ awaiting a ‘new struggle’, but a new ethical collapse that render all other struggles, old and new, meaningless”.

The subjective intentions of the war against the LTTE have been exposed. “The government objectively justified the war against the LTTE as war against terrorism. But the subjective intentions were something else and the human camps in the Wanni are testament to the ill intentions of the Rajapakse government. The LTTE is not remembered enough by the Tamils, either as hero or as villain. It is not forgotten enough by the Rajapakse government ....The government’s priority is to perpetuate the war after the war has been won, and to keep the LTTE alive even after decimating it. That is the brothers’ roadmap to stay in power and to win elections as they come. War + LTTE = patriotism + security. That is the equation of the Rajapakse brothers. Every other variable in Sri Lankan society affecting its wellbeing is irrelevant and outside the brothers’ political radar. The encamping of the people in the Wanni is a key factor in that equation, and the government, the occasional platitude apart, is stubborn about keeping the camps going”.

Tisaranee Gunasekara in the Asian Tribune 4 October has also movingly drawn attention to the plight of the poor distressed citizens interned in the high security camps. She wrote: “Imagine the psychological conditions of the IDPs. They have been through a brutal war; they have lost family members, become injured themselves; they have lost homes and livelihoods. In the end, instead of the promised freedom, they were herded into barbed wire enclosures and are being kept there at gun point. In the absence of freedom and hope, desperation, laced with bitter anger, will grow. Desperate people take risks, with their lives and with the lives of others, because they feel they have little or nothing to lose, because they become blinded by despair”.

The TULF leader V. Anandasangaree, who defiantly refused to accept the LTTE’s thoughtless way of seeking liberation from Sinhala majority rule is reported to have told a Sunday paper: “Most of the key LTTE cadres have escaped the camps and fled to India after paying some pro government para-military groups large sums of monies.” “It is only the poor civilians who cannot speak out or are unable to do anything for themselves, trapped in these camps are being forced to endure and suffer under very trying and terrible conditions.” The detainees with ability to pay ransom like those who can purchase essential goods from the shops in the internment camps for survival are the relatively luckier beings.

On Saturday 26 September soldiers fired on captives in the heavily guarded Menik Farm camp in Vavuniya. The shooting erupted, when some detainees attacked a group of soldiers in anger over being prevented from moving between zones of this camp. Menik Farm consists of seven zones and is one of 21 closed camps spread across the Vavuniya, Jaffna, Mannar and Trincomalee districts. D.B.S. Jeyaraj in his analysis of ‘The Menik Farm camp’ shooting incident has stated: “The charge of an attempt to throw a grenade appears to be a total fabrication by army officials. It is seen as a cover up attempt to justify the firing upon unarmed civilians by the soldiers”. He also observed that “the official version – that soldiers fired on those attempting to escape – has once again highlighted the fact that hundreds of thousands of people are being held under armed guard at internment camps”.

The report in ‘The Island’ 30 September 2009 raised some pertinent questions about the continued detention of civilians in the barbed wire fenced camps guarded by armed soldiers. The newspaper reported that SSP for Kandy Ranjith Kasturiratna said at the Kandy District coordinating committee meeting, chaired by the Central Province Chief Minister Sarath Ekanayake on 28 September, “at least 20,000 of the nearly 300,000 IDPs in the Vavuniya camps had escaped. The newswire, Lanka Polity posed the question – “How do people 'escape' from the refugee camps in Sri Lanka unless they are internment camps?” According to police investigations the escapees are former LTTE cadres. Earlier the government announced that there were about 10,000 LTTE cadres among the camp dwellers. If many had escaped, why should the remaining displaced persons be forcibly detained against their wishes?

Widespread international discontent and concern

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in a press release stated, it is deeply concerned about reports of security incidents taking place inside camps accommodating internally displaced persons (IDPs) in northern Sri Lanka.

According to UNHCR, in the September 26th incident in the Menik Farm camp, “several people are said to have been injured, including a child who was hit by a stray bullet and is now paralyzed. There are also reports of several people being detained following the disturbance. UNHCR calls upon the government to ensure the protection and physical security of the IDPs and to undertake a swift investigation into the event”.

The testimony by Andrew Stroehlein, International Crisis Group's Communications Director, to the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights on 1 October on the situation in Sri Lanka is telling. Only his introductory remark is presented here. “Since the end of the war and the defeat of the terrorist Tamil Tigers, the government of Sri Lanka has been imprisoning without charge over a quarter of a million ethnic Tamils displaced by the conflict. The state has locked them in internment camps in the north of the country. The camps are surrounded by barbed wire, and the Sri Lankan army will shoot at anyone who tries to escape.

Such restrictions on freedom in the absence of due process are a violation of both national and international laws. ...The military is preventing humanitarian organisations, including the UN and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), from undertaking effective monitoring and protection in the camps.

The government has made numerous promises to release those held in the main camps, but these are little more than attempts to deliberately mislead the international community. Very little has come of any of Colombo's pledges. The worst kind of duplicity was seen just a few weeks ago, when the government announced it had released 10,000 displaced persons. In fact, we know at least 3,300 people had been moved from an internment camp to another detention facility”.

In a statement issued on 8 October, Amnesty International said, “the government had failed to deliver vital services to the camps, and they lacked basic sanitation facilities. Heavy rains last month sent rivers of water and sewage flowing through the tents” Although the harsh conditions in the internment camps have been downplayed by the government, the truth has also been revealed by the few released recently. Groundviews editors remarked on September 30, 2009 that the two short testimonies on the plight of IDPs received from Menik Camp “highlight significant challenges facing reconciliation and resettlement in post-war Sri Lanka and the urgent need for psycho-social counselling”.

The 130 page interim report of the EU titled ‘The Implementation Of Certain Human Rights Conventions In Sri Lanka’ by Francoise Hampson, Leif Sevon and Ramon Wieruszewski has looked at the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in the country, which are key among the 27 conventions that need to be ratified as a prerequisite to receive the GSP+ facility. Referring to detention in the camps, the experts have stated that while those in the camps are in effect deprived of their liberty, for all intents and purposes, they are interned. The EU panel has stated it was not clear under what law the people in the IDP camps are detained. If they are not detained under the Emergency Regulations, this is “a novel form of unacknowledged detention” (Sunday Leader 4 October 2009).

Ms. Jean Lambert, President of the European Parliament (EP) delegation for relations with South Asia, in an e-mailed comment to Daily Mirror online (8 October), said that the protracted detention of IDPs is disproportionate and conflicts with key provisions of the ICCPR It is a United Nations treaty based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, created on December 16, 1966 and entered into force on March 23, 1976. The ICCPR is monitored by the Human Rights Committee (a separate body to the Human Rights Council which replaced the Commission on Human Rights under the UN Charter in 2006) with permanent standing, to consider periodic reports submitted by member States on their compliance with the treaty.
Ms Lambert also agrees with the concerns of others about the “widespread climate of impunity which at present seems to prevail in Sri Lanka"

Col R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, who served as the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka 1987 to 1990 in his latest article on the post-war developments in Sri Lanka has said that the international community without any visible results remains unconvinced of the declared intents of the Sri Lankan government. On the issue of EU's extension of GSP+, he has opined that it now has “acquired a symbolic connection to condoning of Sri Lanka’s violation of governance and human rights norms. EU cannot ignore the strong public opinion gathering momentum against Sri Lanka’s overall conduct on human rights and humanitarian issues particularly on the resettlement of 250,000 people held in camps against their will for the past five months or so.

Sri Lanka has no choice but to address all the connected issues. Its knee jerk action to ease international pressure as it builds up is not enough. So when it says the screening of approximately 160,000 persons had been completed and would reduce the number of camp inmates to 100,000 by October it has to demonstrate it. It has to come out with a list of LTTE cadres and camp followers in custody so that there is a record of who is where lest further accusations of executions in custody pile up. These are basic norms of good governance and Sri Lanka is expected to adhere to them. These issues are gathering adverse international momentum and nothing convinces international community as visible results”.

He has also said on the IDP issue, “The US is in consultation with India as evident from the recent meeting of the U.S. Ambassador to India Tim Roemer with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi. The ambassador’s statement after the meeting that “close to USD 80 million in 2008 and 2009” invested by the US was to ensure that the resettlement process was expeditious, humane and just. The Government of India is also coming under increasing pressure from Tamil Nadu to act on this basic rights issue. By now, the way New Delhi has been duped by Colombo since the former supported the military campaign against the common enemy - the LTTE – must be known to all discerning persons. India did not wish to sacrifice the legitimate rights and concerns of the ethnic Tamils in Sri Lanka for the sake of annihilating the ruthless LTTE.

The UK Labour party conference in Brighton, England turned its attention to the aftermath of the civil war in Sri Lanka on 1 October 2009. In his speech, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said – "In those democracies, like Sri Lanka, where civil war claimed lives and liberty, we say governments have a duty to uphold the civil, social and political rights of all their citizens, whatever their ethnicity or religion."
The conference passed an emergency resolution the same day, which condemned "the detention by the Sri Lankan government of 300,000 men, women and children" as inhumane. The resolution also called for journalists to be allowed to enter Sri Lanka and report what is happening in the camps, and for the withdrawal of Sri Lanka’s favoured trading status.

Great Britain on 6 October expressed disappointment with Sri Lankan government’s handling of the war-displaced civilians and demanded that the forcibly detained persons be given the freedom to leave the state-run camps The Britain’s International Development Minister Mike Foster, after touring the camps said: "Freedom of movement is critical if a humanitarian crisis is to be averted," and also voiced concern over the conditions in the camps. He said, 4.8 million pounds (7.6 million dollars) is currently in the pipeline to assist Sri Lanka in resettlement work, but added that the money is not to be used to transfer people from one camp to another. Apparently he was aware that some said to have be released from the main Manik Farm camp that has been in the media spotlight were transferred to other camps outside Vanni.

Conclusion

Apparently the government, regardless of the enormous cost and international calls for early resettlement and political reconciliation, wants to keep the restrictions that prevailed during the war even after it ended more than 4 months ago for political gain. The forced detention of Tamils who lived in the Tiger-controlled North and looked forward to return early to their homes and regain their lost livelihood after the war that was thrust on them is part of this scheme. It is clear that the head of the government is keen on sustaining the popularity gained following the decisive military victory against the Tamil Tigers in May this year. There is definitely a political mileage in portraying the present government political leadership as the only able protector of the nation. This, of course, requires the continuation of the fear of a potential enemy.

Even the rebuff of the proposals of the UN, US, EU and others is used for narrow political advantage. Addressing the UPFA’s final election campaign rally in support of the UPFA contenders for the Southern Provincial Council on 7 October, the President said “although we have strong and friendly relationships with other nations we are not ready to bow down in front of injustice and unreasonable conditions. We would never betray the honour of our Motherland. It comes before everything else.”
But who is to decide what is ‘injustice and unreasonable’? Like getting thrilled watching exciting movies, the masses also seem to admire the Lankan hero challenging the powerful ones in the whole world.

But the problem here is this stance obstructs reconciliation essential for settling the ethnic conflict justly to enable all ethnic communities to coexist harmoniously without the fear of being denied safety, security and socio-economic advancement. It is paradoxical for the Sinhalese, who are members of the majority ethnic community to imagine their future depends on keeping the ethnic minorities powerless. The ethnic Sinhala majority rule that discriminated against the ethnic minorities is the root cause of the conflict that escalated into the armed struggle for secession. In short, the government’s approach to prevent another rebellion is counterproductive. As explained earlier, there is no chance for a resurgence of the LTTE in their violent form. The focus now after the end of the 30 year-old war should be on uniting the divided nation by peaceful means and creating a climate conducive for stability, lasting peace, progress and prosperity. The changes needed to the ruling system to achieve these are known. What is needed is to shun parochial politics and come up resolutely to bring about these changes from the broad and long-term interests of the island nation.

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

Mahinda Rajapaksa not Barack Obama should be given Nobel Peace Prize

by Jonathan Kay

I am still trying to figure out why the Nobel Committee gave Barack Obama its annual peace prize. As far as it appears, the award was based on the fact that the U.S. President is a good-natured fellow who people seem to like — and who isn’t George W. Bush.

In fact, committee chairman Thorbjoen Jagland didn’t really try to pretend otherwise. Consider the committee’s stated reasons, along with Mr. Jagland’s comments when reporters pressed him to justify Mr. Obama’s selection:

“He has created a new international climate.”

“One of the first things he did was to go to Cairo to try to reach out to the Muslim world, then to restart the Mideast negotiations, and then he reached out to the rest of the world through international institutions.“

“Obama has as president created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play.”

“Obama [has] captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future.”

What seems clear from all this bafflegab is that Mr. Obama is being given his award for mere words — for striking fashionable poses in favour of multilateralism, for making a nice speech in Cairo, for offering “hope.” Months after Americans learned to dismiss Mr. Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign slogans as the bromides they were, Scandinavians apparently are still drinking his Kool-aid.

So who should have gotten the Nobel peace prize?

Instead of droning on about “hope” and “a new international climate,” a group of people charged with awarding an annual peace prize might find it useful to focus on a more mundane and obvious inquiry. To wit: What part of the planet was beset by bloody war in 2008, but is now entirely at peace?

The only nation that fits the bill is Sri Lanka. And the reason for that is a ruthless military campaign waged by President Mahinda Rajapaksa against a militarized Tamil death cult known as the Tamil Tigers. This conflict has taken nearly 100,000 lives since it began three decades ago. But Rajapaksa ended it definitively at one stroke, killing or capturing virtually the entire Tiger leadership. It is one of the only times in the history of modern warfare that a guerrilla/terrorist movement has been utterly destroyed in such a fashion. Overnight, war became a stranger to Sri Lanka.

Sounds like a pretty good candidate for a “peace” prize, don’t you think?

But of course, actually making peace is not what this nominal peace prize is about. It’s about going through the motions of pursuing peace in a touchy-feely UN-approved way.
Mr. Rajapaksa has done some fairly nasty things en route to destroying the Tigers — including imprisoning and perhaps even killing pesky journalists and human-rights activists. More importantly (from a Scandinavian point of view), Mr. Rajapaksa committed an unpardonable foreign-policy sin en route to his victory: flouting “multilateralism.” Which is to say that he ignored the bien pensant voices from abroad urging him to let the Tigers go just as the Sri Lankan military was about to administer the coup de grace. Had he listened, the war would continue to this day.

It’s so much more fashionable to honour a man such as Mr. Obama, whose foreign-policy record hasn’t been sullied by the moral trade-offs that inevitably accompany actually doing something to create peace on the battlefield.

Since the entire body of work for which Mr. Obama is being honoured consists of idealistic pronouncements, the Nobel prize committee was able to pick him without worrying that the choice could stir up controversy among umbraged minority groups, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, or the UN’s various institutional cheerleaders.

With this pick, the Nobel committee has declared itself to be a debating society — and it has given its shiny prize to the nice man who gave the best speech. It’s like those beauty pageants wherein the MC asks contestants what they would do to promote world peace. The best answer earns applause, flowers and a trophy. But no one expects the winner to actually go out in her tiara and ballroom gown and stop people from fighting.

That task is left to head-knockers such as Mahinda Rajapaksa, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Gen. Stanley McChrystal in Afghanistan. Their job is difficult and bloody. But every once in a while, as in Sri Lanka this year, they actually defeat the bad guys.

Then they go home, and turn on their televisions, and watch men such as Mr. Obama get showered with praise for their pretty words.

(This blog by Jonathan Kay appeared in the "National Post" newspaper's "full Comment" section under the heading 'Jonathan Kay: Giving Barack Obama the Nobel peace prize is ridiculous')

From "Dravida Naadu" Separatism to "Tamil Naadu" Secessionism

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

After the tryst with destiny on August 15th 1947 Independent India embarked on it’s historic journey. In what was then the Southern state of Madras the “double-barreled” Dravidian movement comprising the Dravida Kazhagham (DK) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (DMK) commenced it’s own march towards the goal of Dravida Naadu.

Initially both the DK and DMK focused more on social reform rather than political emancipation from New Delhi. Both remained steadfastly opposed to Hindi imposition, North Indian domination and Brahmin supremacy. [click here to read the article in full~dbsjeyaraj.com]

October 08, 2009

BBC In Pictures: Inside Sri Lanka's vast refugee camp

Photos: by Charles Haviland, BBC, Colombo, Sri Lanka

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This sick man has gone from one medical facility to another. His wife says there is no room for everyone to sleep in the tent, so she has rigged up an improvised shelter for him outside.

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Menik Farm camp in northern Sri Lanka still houses some 240,000 Tamils displaced by war. The government says just over 20,000 have been allowed to leave. Others are being vetted for security reasons.

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Families live two or three to a tent. There are fears the dwellings may be damaged in the monsoon but the authorities say drainage systems will prevent that.

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Children under 10 are allowed to leave Menik Farm but their parents and older children are not.

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Some extended families live together; others have found themselves separated from their close ones.

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Water is rationed and people told the BBC there is not enough for drinking, let alone bathing. The government says it is doing its best given the massive influx.

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While security screening continues, the vast majority of the camp-dwellers are still stuck inside, unable to work and with almost nothing to do.

courtesy: BBC.co.uk

Sri Lankan displaced trapped between the military and the impending monsoon

Full text of Amnesty International media release:

A quarter of a million Sri Lankans now being held in de facto detention camps are facing a humanitarian disaster as monsoon rains threaten to flood camps, said Amnesty International on Thursday.

Months after the government of Sri Lanka set up camps in Vavuniya District in the north-east of the country following the end of the conflict there, the authorities are still failing to deliver basic services.

Camps remain overcrowded and lack basic sanitation facilities and heavy rains in September saw rivers of water cascading through tents with camp residents wading through overflowing sewage.

"People living in these camps are desperate to leave. The government must ensure that the displaced are treated with dignity. They have a right to protection and must be consulted on whether they wish to return to their homes or resettle," said Yolanda Foster, Amnesty International’s Sri Lanka expert, who is in contact with relatives of people inside the camp

"The provision of protection, assistance and return is not an act of charity but a basic right," said Yolanda Foster.

A recent escapee from Chettikulam camp told Amnesty International how some women had to give birth in front of strangers without privacy.

"Medical staff are only available in the camps 9 to 5," the escapee said. "People start queuing for medical assistance from early morning... how can you expect a lady who is pregnant to stand in a queue for hours? If the war has ended why doesn't the government let these people out?"

Amnesty International has also received reports that the military is blocking release attempts by the civilian administration.

Since the war ended in May 2009, thousands of people detained in camps have been subjected to 'screening' processes by the security forces.

While screening processes need to be followed to ensure that people are not members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) they should follow proper procedures and not be used as an excuse for collective punishment.

There are separate detention facilities for approximately 10,000 ex-LTTE combatants.
The government has widely publicised recent releases from the camps yet Amnesty International has received reports that many are simply transfers to other camps where the displaced may be subjected to rescreening by local authorities.

Amnesty International has previously raised concerns about the lack of independent monitoring and lack of accountability for the screening process.

The Sri Lankan government must involve the displaced in plans for return or resettlement. It should also facilitate the assistance of independent humanitarian organisations.

"Freedom of movement is now critical. The international community and the government of Sri Lanka can no longer ignore the voices of camp detainees to be allowed to leave," said Yolanda Foster.

Background
According to government figures, the fighting between the Sri Lankan army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) displaced over 409,000 people. At least 280,000 are displaced from areas previously under LTTE control. A dramatic influx of people fleeing the fighting and crossing to government controlled areas took place from March 2009.

The displaced people, including at least 50,000 children, are being accommodated in 41 camps spread over four districts. The majority of the displaced are in Vavuniya District where Manik Farm is the biggest camp.

When United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited some of the camps in May, he said: "I have travelled around the world and visited similar places, but this is by far the most appalling scene I have seen."

While some progress had been made on providing basic needs, much still needs to be done on the right to health, food, water, family reunion and access to relatives.

Amnesty International has also called on the government of Sri Lanka to end restrictions on liberty and freedom of movement; ensure that camps are of a truly civilian nature and administered by civilian authorities, rather than under military supervisions; and give immediate and full access to national and international organizations and observers, including aid agencies, in order to monitor the situation and provide a safeguard against human rights violations.

Challenges of peace, reconciliation and unity remain and must be surmounted

Dr.Packiasothy Saravanamattu

The country is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Sri Lankan Army, an anniversary made especially significant by the victory of the armed forces over the LTTE almost five months ago. The pivotal role of the forces in that victory was celebrated in its immediate aftermath by spontaneous rejoicing and relief over the defeat of the LTTE as well as through official ceremonies expressing the country’s gratitude and appreciation of their heroic role in shaping the destiny of Sri Lanka so decisively.

Few would quibble with the rejoicing and the expressions of gratitude, pride and joy. Not surprising that the 60th anniversary would be special including the opening of an exhibition on the Army at the BMICH on a Poya Day – a day of religious observance for our majority Buddhist community and one on which tuition classes, cricket matches and the screening of films are prohibited and mathata titha is supposed to be observed more than on most. No matter, there are exceptional circumstances.

Exceptional circumstances that at times require an Emergency to be proclaimed and at others, an exhibition of the army to be inaugurated.

When will the exceptional circumstances obtain and the seemingly exceptional thought dawn for an official ceremony to commemorate the loss of civilian lives and livelihoods in the wretched conflict that plagued us for near three decades?

Would this not be in keeping with the noble precepts of all the great religions that we in this country are blessed with and in secular terms, will this not be the appropriate commencement for the building of a new Sri Lanka of peace and reconciliation and unity?

Why not an inter-religious service at Independence Square officiated by the leading dignitaries of all faiths under the aegis of the state of Sri Lanka?

Would that not be truly historic as well as propitious for the future of this country, underpin and reinforce the genuineness and seriousness of the national commitment to peace, reconciliation and unity?

Why not complement the visit to the BMICH with attendance at such a commemoration on a Poya Day or any other?

The old may forget and be gone in the years ahead; the young may remember that the peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka they inherited was heralded by events such as this.

The war is over and victory has been won. Yet the challenges of peace, reconciliation and unity remain and must be surmounted. A paradigm shift is required for public discourse and policy to embark on this with all our citizens involved in the task as stakeholders – as they are and as they must. We need official functions that celebrate and highlight the ties that bind and will always bring us together in adversity and in triumph.

There may well be some who will contend that such a commemoration will be hollow and hypocritical when tens of thousands languish in camps. Better indeed for them to be allowed their rights and their freedom of movement.

An inter-religious ceremony will be little comfort to them and their freedom still remains, as this columnist has opined a number of times, the litmus test of the prospects for peace, reconciliation and unity. The former is not however proposed as a distraction from the imperative, which is the latter.

The two are acts along a continuum of reconciliation and unity, heralding the paradigm shift for a new beginning for us Sri Lankans. Could this happen by next Independence Day without any reservation and criticism? Six months would have lapsed, likewise the 180 days and even of most recent vintage, the end of January 2010?

This columnist sincerely hopes that this suggestion will resonate with readers and especially with the host of religious leaders in this country who have a key role to play in ensuring its harmonious and peaceful future.

Some have spoken out on peace, reconciliation and unity, on IDPs and on the war and the scourge of terrorism. Some have suffered and given their lives. Some have been IDPs themselves in camps. Some have recently been allowed to go free and have done so, leaving the faithful behind. The time is now for the eternal truths of the great religions to be brought to bear on the fashioning of a facilitating spirit of a multi-religious, multi ethnic and truly plural united Sri Lanka.

This could set the context for an end to camps and to the political settlement promised by the regime. Indeed the end of internal displacement in the land and a political settlement of the conflict that will surely come to pass in the New Year as repeatedly promised, are absolutely essential. Without them the inter-religious service will be an empty gesture.

This columnist will go further to contend that they too will not be sufficient in themselves without demonstrable commitment to reverse the culture of impunity in respect of human rights violations.

These three issues – IDP rights, a political settlement and reversal of the culture of impunity – constitute the essential elements for peace, reconciliation and unity and the verifiable indicators of our passage from post war to a post conflict situation.

October 07, 2009

Tragic fate of TRO employees abducted by TMVP in January 2006

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

It was in January 2006 that some employees of the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) were abducted and later killed by members of the breakaway faction of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) led by Vinayagamoorthy Muraleetharan alias Karuna. While the Karuna faction later became known as the Tamil Makkal Viduthalaip Puligal (TMVP) Karuna himself along with a section of his loyalists has joined the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and is now a vice-president of that party.

I came across an article I had written on the first anniversary of two separate abductions of TRO employees by the Karuna faction then coordinated by Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyaan. Seven TRO personnel were killed. One was a woman. She was gang raped before death. [click to read in full ~ dbsjeyaraj]

GSP+: The symbolic connection in condoning of Sri Lanka's violation of governance and human rights norms

by Col R Hariharan

If the EU goes by the adverse report Sri Lanka on its conformity with EU norms, the country is unlikely to get the extension of GSP+ tariff concessions for a further period from 2009 to 11. The EU report had condemned Sri Lanka armed forces for ?perverting the evidence and silencing witnesses, rather than conducting any real investigations on human rights issues. Unless there is some political horsetrading the chances of its extension appear bleak. If that happens, it would be a very big blow to Sri Lanka which is in an economic logjam after the war, as its exports particularly apparels, destined for EU markets would be priced out. To avoid this, Sri Lankan government's foreign and commerce ministers were in a last minute scramble to persuade the EU to extend concessions up to 2011.

The concession under which Sri Lanka (among 16 other countries) enjoys duty free export of 7500 items to EU was extended after the tsunami hit the country in 2005. It had expired early this year; however the EU had given one year grace period for Sri Lanka to meet the basic norms set by EU.

The EU norms require the beneficiary to effectively implement 27 specified international conventions in the fields of human rights, good governance, labour standards, and sustainable development.

The issue had been in media focus for sometime now; as it is not all about export business but also showcasing how Sri Lanka responds to international concerns.

The EU had drawn the attention to Sri Lanka's poor record on adherence to GSP norms, well before the concession was set to expire. However, Sri Lanka, presumably in the euphoria of waging a winning war, appeared confident of handling the issue politically. But when that failed, Sri Lanka appears to consider the report an affront to its dignity rather than tackling the issues raised in it.

Sri Lanka has shown the same hypersensitivity in handling a number of other issues and accusations raised by all and sundry. The slanging match it entered with the British TV Channel 4 which showed a video of alleged Sri Lankan army execution of Tamil militants in custody was typical. The government condemned it as a part of pro-LTTE smear campaign unwittingly achieving the propaganda the pro-LTTE segments wanted to gain from the show.

Worse than all this was the raising of the sordid Monica Lewinsky episode by Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayaka while taking the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to task for including Sri Lanka among countries where women were raped during war. It was absolutely unwarranted and in bad taste. Is it going to help Sri Lanka in any way on any issue? No way; it is probably going to make things a little more difficult for Sri Lanka in dealing with the US.

It is clear that the issue of EU's extension of GSP+ has now acquired a symbolic connection to condoning of Sri Lanka's violation of governance and human rights norms. EU cannot ignore the strong public opinion gathering momentum against Sri Lanka's overall conduct on human rights and humanitarian issues particularly on the resettlement of 250,000 people held in camps against their will for the past five months or so.

Sri Lanka has no choice but to address all the connected issues. Its knee jerk action to ease international pressure as it builds up is not enough. So when it says the screening of approximately 160,000 persons had been completed and would reduce the number of camp inmates to 100,000 by October it has to demonstrate it. It has to come out with a list of LTTE cadres and camp followers in custody so that there is a record of who is where lest further accusations of executions in custody pile up. These are basic norms of good governance and Sri Lanka is expected to adhere to them. These issues are gathering adverse international momentum and nothing convinces international community as visible results.

The US is in consultation with India on this subject as is evident from the recent meeting of the U.S. Ambassador to India Tim Roemer with Chief Minister M Karunanidhi to discuss the IDP situation. The ambassador's statement after the meeting that the US had invested close to USD 80 million in 2008 and 2009 to make sure that the process continued in a quick, expeditious humane and just fashion, is significant. The Government of India is also coming under increasing pressure to act from Tamil Nadu in this regard and time is running out for Sri Lanka to respond positively.

In Pictures: UK Minister Mike Foster's visit to Tamil IDP camps

by UK in Sri Lanka flickr page:

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for International Development, Hon.Minister Mike Foster arrived in the island for a two day visit (October 6-7) on the invitation of the Government of Sri Lanka.

Conditions in the camps

click for more pictures

During Mr. Foster's visit, he visited the MAG demining site in Palikuli and Giant's Tank for an update on progress on preparations for resettlement of IDPs. He visited Menik Farm Zone 2 and saw UK-funded drainage and health projects in the IDP camps and a UK-funded child solider rehabilitation centre in Vavuniya. In addition he met with key stakeholders in the Government of Sri Lanka, UN agencies, NGOs and others.


October 06, 2009

Kill the poor and not poverty, The implicit slogan of Indian Government

“We feel that it would deliver a crippling blow to Indian democracy if the government tries to subjugate its own people militarily without addressing their grievances. Even as the short-term military success of such a venture is very doubtful, enormous misery for the common people is not in doubt, as has been witnessed in the case of numerous insurgent movements in the world.” says a letter addressed to the Indian PM Dr. Manmohan Singh by 11 very eminent and respected Indians.

They see a heavy military offensive in the making, to crush Maoist rebels in many parts of India that in effect would militarise the society and violate human rights and democracy. A few weeks ago, the Indian government carried a media campaign by inserting an advertisement in print media, naming Maoist rebels as cold blooded murderers.

The letter to the PM in full:

To

Dr. Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister,
Government of India,
South Block, Raisina Hill,
New Delhi,
India-110 011.

We are deeply concerned by the Indian government’s plans for launching an unprecedented military offensive by army and paramilitary forces in the adivasi (indigeneous people)-populated regions of Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Orissa and West Bengal states. The stated objective of the offensive is to “liberate” these areas from the influence of Maoist rebels. Such a military campaign will endanger the lives and livelihoods of millions of the poorest people living in those areas, resulting in massive displacement, destitution and human rights violation of ordinary citizens. To hunt down the poorest of Indian citizens in the name of trying to curb the shadow of an insurgency is both counter-productive and vicious.

The ongoing campaigns by paramilitary forces, buttressed by anti-rebel militias, organised and funded by government agencies, have already created a civil war like situation in some parts of Chattisgarh and West Bengal, with hundreds killed and thousands displaced. The proposed armed offensive will not only aggravate the poverty, hunger, humiliation and insecurity of the adivasi people, but also spread it over a larger region.

Grinding poverty and abysmal living conditions that has been the lot of India’s adivasi population has been complemented by increasing state violence since the neo liberal turn in the policy framework of the Indian state in the early 1990s. Whatever little access the poor had to forests, land, rivers, common pastures, village tanks and other common property resources has come under increasing attack by the Indian state in the guise of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and other “development” projects related to mining, industrial development, Information Technology parks, etc.

The geographical terrain, where the government’s military offensive is planned to be carried out, is very rich in natural resources like minerals, forest wealth and water, and has been the target of large scale appropriation by several corporations. The desperate resistance of the local indigenous people against their displacement and dispossession has in many cases prevented the government-backed corporations from making inroads into these areas. We fear that the government’s offensive is also an attempt to crush such popular resistances in order to facilitate the entry and operation of these corporations and to pave the way for unbridled exploitation of the natural resources and the people of these regions.

It is the widening levels of disparity and the continuing problems of social deprivation and structural violence, and the state repression on the non-violent resistance of the poor and marginalized against their dispossession, which gives rise to social anger and unrest and takes the form of political violence by the poor. Instead of addressing the source of the problem, the Indian state has decided to launch a military offensive to deal with this problem: kill the poor and not the poverty, seems to be the implicit slogan of the Indian government.

We feel that it would deliver a crippling blow to Indian democracy if the government tries to subjugate its own people militarily without addressing their grievances. Even as the short-term military success of such a venture is very doubtful, enormous misery for the common people is not in doubt, as has been witnessed in the case of numerous insurgent movements in the world.

We urge the Indian government to immediately withdraw the armed forces and stop all plans for carrying out such military operations that has the potential for triggering a civil war which will inflict widespread misery on the poorest and most vulnerable section of the Indian population and clear the way for the plundering of their resources by corporations. We call upon all democratic-minded people to join us in this appeal.

Signed by:

Arundhati Roy
Amit Bhaduri
Sandeep Pandey
Prashant Bhushan
Manoranjan Mohanty
Gautam Navlakha
Swapna Banerjee-Guha
Madhu Bhaduri
Arundhati Dhuru
Colin Gonsalves
Sumanta Banerjee

This is the BACKGROUND to the letter sent to PM SinghIt has been widely reported in the press that the Indian government is planning an unprecedented military offensive against alleged Maoist rebels, using paramilitary and counter-insurgency forces, possibly the Indian Armed Forces and even the Indian Air Force. This military operation is going to be carried out in the forested and semi-forested rural areas of the states of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Maharashtra, populated mainly by the tribal (indigenous) people of India. Reportedly, the offensive has been planned in consultation with US counter-insurgency agencies.

To put the Indian government’s proposed military offensive in proper perspective one needs to understand the economic, social and political background to the conflict. In particular, there are three dimensions of the crisis that needs to be emphasized, because it is often overlooked: (a) the development failure of the post-colonial Indian state, (b) the continued existence and often exacerbation of the structural violence faced by the poor and marginalized, and (c) the full-scale assault on the meager resource base of the peasantry and the tribal (indigenous people) in the name of “development”. Let us look at each of these in turn, but before we do so it needs to be stressed that the facts we mention below are not novel; they are well-known if only conveniently forgotten. Most of these facts were pointed out by the April 2008 Report of the Expert Group of the Planning Commission of the Indian Government (headed by retired civil servant D. Bandopadhyay) to study “development challenges in extremist affected areas”.

The post-colonial Indian State, both in its earlier Nehruvian and the more recent neoliberal variant, has failed miserably to solve the basic problems of poverty, employment and income, housing, primary health care, education and inequality and social discrimination of the people of the country. The utter failure of the development strategy of the post-colonial State is the ground on which the current conflict arises.

To recount some well known but oft-forgotten facts, recall that about 77 percent of the Indian population in 2004-05 had a per capita daily consumption expenditure of less than Rs. 20; that is less than 50 cents by the current nominal exchange rate between the rupee and theUS dollar and about $2 in purchasing power parity terms. According to the 2001 Census, even 62 years after political independence, only about 42 percent of Indian households have access to electricity. About 80 percent of the households do not have access to safe drinking water; that is a staggering 800 million people lacking access to potable water.

What is the condition of the working people in the country? 93 percent of the workforce, the overwhelming majority of the working people in India, are what the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) called “informal workers”; these workerslack any employment security, work security and social security. About 58 percent of them work in the agricultural sector and the rest is engaged in manufacturing and services. Wages are very low and working conditions extremely onerous, leading to persistent and deep poverty, which has been increasing over the last decade and a half in absolute terms: the number of what the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) called the “poor and vulnerable” increased from 811 million in 1999-00 to 836 million in 2004-05.

Since majority of the working people still work in the agricultural sector, the economic stagnation in agriculture is a major cause for the continued poverty of the vast majority of the people. Since the Indian state did not undertake land reforms in any meaningful sense, the distribution of land remains extremely skewed to this day. Close to 60 percent of rural households are effectively landless; and extreme economic vulnerability and despair among the small and marginal peasantry has resulted in the largest wave of suicides in history: between 1997 and 2007, 182,936 farmers committed suicide. This is the economic setting of the current conflict.

But in this sea of poverty and misery, there are two sections of the population that are much worse off than the rest: the Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) population. On almost all indicators of social well being, the SCs and STs are worse off than the general population: poverty rates are higher, landlessness is higher, infant mortality rates are higher, levels of formal education are lower, and so on. To understand this differential in social and economic deprivation we need to look at the second aspect of the current crisis that we had alluded to: structural violence.

There are two dimensions of this structural violence: (a) oppression, humiliation and discrimination along the lines of caste and ethnicity and (b) regular harassment, violence and torture by arms of the State. For the SC and ST population, therefore, the violence of poverty, hunger and abysmal living conditions has been complemented and worsened by the structural violence that they encounter daily. It is the combination of the two, general poverty and the brutality and injustice of the age old caste system, kept alive by countless social practices despite numerous legislative measures by the Indian state, that makes this the most economically deprived and socially marginalized section of the Indian population. This social discrimination, humiliation and oppression is of course very faithfully reflected in the behavior of the police and other law-enforcing agencies of the State towards the poor SC and ST population, who are constantly harassed, beaten up and arrested on the slightest pretext.

For this population, therefore, the State has not only totally neglected their economic and social development, it is an oppressor and exploiter. While the SC and ST population together account for close to a quarter of the Indian population, they are the overwhelming majority in the areas where the Indian government proposes to carry out its military offensive against alleged Maoist rebels. This, then, is the social background of the current conflict.

This brings us to the third dimension of the problem: unprecedented attack on the access of the marginalized and poor to common property resources. Compounding the persistent poverty and the continuing structural violence has been the State’s recent attempt to usurp themeagre resource base of the poor and marginalized, a resource base that was so far largely outside the ambit of the market.

The neo liberal turn in the policy framework of the Indian state since the mid 1980s has, therefore, only further worsened the problems of economic vulnerability and social deprivation. Whatever little access the poor had to forests, land, rivers, common pastures, village tanks and other common property resources to cushion their inevitable slide into poverty and immiserization has come under increasing attack by the Indian state in the guise of so-called development projects:

Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and other “development” projects related to mining, industrial development, Information Technology parks, etc.Despite numerous protests from people and warnings from academics, the Indian State has gone ahead with the establishment of 531 SEZs. The SEZs are areas of the country where labour and tax laws have been consciously weakened, if not totally abrogated by the State to“attract” foreign and domestic capital; SEZs, almost by definition, require a large and compact tract of land, and thus inevitably mean the loss of land, and thus livelihood, by the peasantry. To the best of our knowledge, there have been no serious, rigorous cost-benefit analysis of these projects to date; but this does not prevent the government from claiming that the benefits of these projects, in terms of employment generation and income growth, will far outweigh the costs of revenue loss from foregone taxes and lost livelihoods due to the assault on land.

The opposition to the acquisition of land for these SEZ and similar projects have another dimension to it. Dr. Walter Fernandes, who has studied the process of displacement in post-independence India in great detail, suggests that around 60 million people have faced displacement between 1947 and 2004; this process of displacement has involved about 25 million hectares of land, which includes 7 million hectares of forests and 6 million hectares of other common property resources. How many of these displaced people have been resettled? Only one in every three. Thus, there is every reason for people not to believe the government’s claims that those displaced from their land will be, in any meaningful sense, resettled. This is one of the most basic reasons for the opposition to displacement and dispossession.

But, how have the rich done during this period of unmitigated disaster for the poor? While the poor have seen their incomes and purchasing power tumble down precipitously in real terms, the rich have, by all accounts, prospered beyond their wildest dreams since the onset of the liberalization of the Indian economy. There is widespread evidence from recent research that the levels of income and wealth inequality in India has increased steadily and drastically since the mid 1980s. A rough overview of this growing inequality is found by juxtaposing two well known facts: (a) in 2004-05, 77 percent of the population spent less than Rs. 20 a day on consumption expenditure; and (b) according to the annual World Wealth Report released by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini in 2008, the millionaire population in India grew in 2007 by 22.6 per cent from the previous year, which is higher than in any other country in the world.

It is, thus, the development disaster of the Indian State, the widening levels of disparity and the continuing problems of social deprivation and structural violence when compounded by the all-out effort to restrict access to common property resources that, according to the Expert Group of the Planning Commission, give rise to social anger, desperation and unrest. In almost all cases the affected people try to ventilate their grievances using peaceful means of protest; they take our processions, they sit on demonstrations, they submit petitions.

The response of the State is remarkably consistent in all these cases: it cracks down on the peaceful protestors, sends in armed goons to attack the people, slaps false charges against the leaders and arrests them and often also resorts to police firing and violence to terrorize the people. We only need to remember Singur, Nandigram, Kalinganagar and countless other instances where peaceful and democratic forms of protest were crushed by the state with ruthless force. It is, thus, the action of the State that blocks off all forms of democratic protest and forces the poor and dispossessed to take up arms to defend their rights, as has been pointed out by social activists like Arundhati Roy. The Indian government’s proposed military offensive will repeat that story all over again. Instead of addressing the source of the conflict, instead of addressing the genuine grievances of the marginalized people along the three dimensions that we have pointed to, the Indian state seems to have decided to opt for the extremely myopic option of launching a military offensive.

It is also worth remembering that the geographical terrain, where the government’s military offensive is planned, is very well-endowed with natural resources like minerals, forest wealth, biodiversity and water resources, and has of late been the target of systematic usurpation by several large, both Indian and foreign, corporations. So far, the resistance of the local indigenous people against their displacement and dispossession has prevented the government-backed corporates from exploiting the natural resources for their own profits and without regard to ecological and social concerns.

We fear that the government’s offensive is also an attempt to crush such democratic and popular resistance against dispossession and impoverishment; the whole move seems to be geared towards facilitating the entry and operation of these large corporations and paving the way for unbridled exploitation of the natural resources and people of these regions.

COURTESY:SOUTH ASIA SPEAKS

Remembering H.L. de Silva: A daughter's tribute

by Lakmali Casinader

It is six months since my father more popularly known as HL passed away. In the weeks that followed his passing many paid homage to thathi’s achievements, but I would like to share with you some of his qualities which influenced my life.

From my very young days I remember Thathi as someone who always stood up and spoke out for what he believed in. Whether such views were controversial or unpopular he would always voice his opinion fearlessly. These memories range from minor incidents such as a complaint he wrote in the ‘compliments book’ at the Grand Hotel in Nuwara Eliya when the management failed to control the drunken behaviour of some fellow guests who kept him up all night, to the very bold stand he took as President of the Bar Association in the Liyanarachchi incident.

Thathi was someone who was very passionate about whatever he believed in. You only have to wander through our home and you will literally trip over the many book cases that are jam packed with books on Christianity, the law, the ethnic crisis or books on Sri Lanka. He was a great believer in researching his subject and not being a techno head, he did not believe in the power of internet. If there was one paragraph that he thought was interesting in a book he would just buy it.

Many were the hours I spent with him in years gone by at the Maquarie University library in Sydney looking for some obscure case or article in some ancient law journal which he believed would just clinch his argument. Although thathi had strong views on whatever subject he wrote about or spoke on, being a lawyer he always wanted someone to challenge his views and put forward a counter argument, and always lamented the fact that no one would respond to the many articles that he wrote.

Thathi always had respect for people regardless of their background, or level of intelligence. Time and time again I would be amazed at the amount of patience he would display in the way he would treat people who were not as intellectually gifted as he was.

He was a perfectionist in whatever he did. Ammi will attest to how he would scribble his changes to his ‘final’ draft in the car on his way to making his speeches, despite having redrafted that one sentence at least five times before. His command of the English language was astounding and I would often accuse him of trying to show off because I would often come across a word that I would need to look up in the dictionary.

He always had words of wisdom to impart, whether it was in relation to his favourite dish or on some intellectual topic such as the right to self determination. His thirst for knowledge even at 81 was unquenchable and always believed that he was never too old to learn.

Thathi never sought riches or fame but rather was blessed by God through the many gifts he was given which he shared so generously expecting no return. His modesty and quiet unassuming nature would often cause people to ask are you ‘the H.L de Silva’ as given his fame they expected a brash and imposing persona.

Thathi was a very loving father and it always amuses me to look back at photographs of him playing cricket with us when we were five years old. A skill he did not possess but engaged in it to spend time with akki and myself.

Many were the days when he would have to set an alarm to pick me up from a late night party at 2am during my teenage years because he did not want some unknown boy dropping me home. He was a very conservative person yet agreed to go on the dance floor and do the baila at my wedding which was something he would have previously done only when he was drunk in his bachelor days, and complained to me thereafter that the judges would never take him seriously after they saw him dance.

If I close my eyes so many memories of thathi come flooding back. He has influenced my life in so many ways through his words of wisdom and the example of his life. They say you can’t choose your parents and in my case, how lucky I have been in the wonderful mother I have and all that thathi has been to me.

If I was to describe him as a person I would say that he placed integrity above all else and I am so thankful to God that he was my father and I had the honour and privilege of being his daughter.

Thathi I miss you so much and I will always love you and cherish you in my heart.

Who was "Father" of free education in Sri Lanka?: C.W.W. Kannangara or A. Ratnayake?

by Carlo Fonseka

I have been invited to give the Dr C.W.W. Kannangara Memorial Lecture for 2009. He was a great and good man. In order to prepare the lecture, I have been reading avidly whatever I could access easily about him. So it was with great interest that I read WTA Leslie Fernando’s tribute to him titled Dr CWW Kannangara, Father of Free Education in Sri Lanka published in The Island of 24 September 2009. Leslie Fernando was a former High Court Judge.

In his judgment, it was "on the initiative taken by A Ratnayake, the Member for Dumbara in the State Council, that the Special Committee on Education headed by Dr CWW Kannangara, the Minister recommended Free Education". If it is indeed true that the seminal initiative on Free Education was taken by A Ratnayake, the critical question immediately poses itself: Who was the real Father of Free Education in our country? Was the true father the man who conceived and initiated it, or the one who fostered and nurtured it?

Disputed paternity

Disputing paternity is a serious matter with traps for the unwary. So one must tread the ground with utmost caution. The most reliable scientific test of paternity, the DNA test, is clearly not applicable in this case. Therefore we have to rely on circumstantial evidence and we must perforce lay great store by the credibility of the witnesses we cite.

Objective evidence

The autobiography of Sir Ivor Jennings (1903 – 1965) was posthumously published in 2005. Edited and introduced by HAI Goonetileke, it is titled: The Road to Peradeniya. It has a chapter with the heading The Educational Problem. It gives a fascinating account of the activities of the Special Committee on Education appointed in 1940 to recommend measures for reforming the educational system in our country (I strongly recommend that the Editor of The Island should publish this chapter in two or three installments during this period when Dr Kannangara is being gratefully commemorated.)

Conception of free education

According to Sir Ivor, the Special Committee on Education, headed by the Minister of Education CWWK, consisted of 23 members who included 10 members of the State Council and 3 from the University College. Soon after Jennings arrived in the country in 1940, Prof Pakeman had resigned and Jennings had been appointed in his place. Jennings had become a member of the Committee from the 31st meeting of the Special Committee. At the 88th meeting, when the Committee was ready to sign the report, a member of the Committee (whom Jennings does not name) who had rarely attended meetings because he had been ill, had at last turned up and asked whether the report provided for free education.

Here is what Sir Ivor says about the matter: "The Minister explained that it provided for free education up to 14 and 25 per cent scholarship thereafter. Our colleague asked whether in this age of the common man we were prepared to deprive the poor boy of education by charging fees and thus making education a middle-class monopoly. The politicians with one accord answered that they were not, and they were right, for they thought that they would lose their 5seats if it was known that free education had been proposed and they had rejected it; though the event showed that most of them would lose their seats anyway. I said that I had no objection to free education, but in that case we must reconsider the whole report and that would take us 12 months.

Of course, I was overruled and the Secretary was directed to bring up next time, the amendments necessary to provide free education. The secretary’s amendments consisted of a new draft of the chapter on educational finance. I was not at the eighty ninth meeting…When I received the minutes I discovered to my astonishment that the whole report had been completed and we were being summoned to sign it at the ninetieth meeting. Since I clearly couldn’t sign a report without reading it, I asked the secretary for a copy of the latest version. He replied that we were not being supplied with revised proofs… it then became plain that I could not sign the report… The Committee had already assumed a vast increase in educational expenditure. The waiver of fees in the English schools would not cost much. But these fees were being paid by the wealthier parents, and if all that was intended was to relieve the wealthy of school fees, the talk about free education for the "poor boy" was political humbug. The poor boy had free education already…"

Midwife of free education

In May 1944, Dr Kannangara presented to the State Council the recommendations of the Special Committee on Education, whose report had been published in late 1943. In concluding his speech, which he considered to be the greatest of his long career, he declared: "… Sir, it was the boast of great Augustus that he found Rome of brick and left it of marble. How much nobler will be the state of the State Council boast when we shall be able to say that we found education dear and left it cheap; that we found it a sealed book and left it an open letter; that we found it the patrimony of the rich and left it the inheritance of the poor…".

Self assessment

In January 1947, Dr Kannangara made a self-assessment of the significance of his reforms: "In spite of abuse and calumny, vilification and ridicule, I have succeeded in obtaining the sanction of the State Council for a scheme of free education providing for children of the land equal opportunities to climb to the highest rung of the university, irrespective of the status or financial capacity of their parents and for obtaining for our national languages, their rightful place in that scheme, as an essential pre-requisite for building up a free, united and independent nation."

This is an assessment that has been widely endorsed. Dr Kannangara may not have conceived the idea of free education, but without him, the free education scheme would have been stillborn. But without A Ratnayake, free education would not have been conceived at all.

Who then was the real father of free education? Only a Maushada Pandithuma or a Solomon can judge this rightly.

Mangala goes to prison and meets jailed journalist and student leader

Mangala Samaraweera the leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party- Mahajana Wing, made a visit to the Welikada prison this afternoon (2009-10-06) to check on the wellbeing of the journalist J.S Tissanayagam and students of the inter university Sarasavi student Organization. After the meeting Mr. Mangala Samaraweera addressed the media and a short extract of his comments are below.

Mr. Samaraweera stated that the time has come for all responsible citizens to stand together in defeating the rise of a totalitarian dictatorship in the country. He made these comments after meeting Mr. J.S Tissanayagam who has been incarcerated in the prison, and meeting the leader of the university Sarasavi student Organization, Mr. Udul

Premarathne and other members of the student body who are currently under remand.
He further went on to state that while high ranking government officials waste and rob billions of public money, it is sad to see that students being remanded for exercising their democratic rights under minor. This is an indication of the move to suppress the freedom of speech and any dissent in Sri Lanka.

He further stated that it is deplorable to see that a man of such stature as Mr. J.S Tissanayagam who has stood for free speech and human rights, languishing in the prison. Today the whole country is being in the shadow of a totalitarian government and in the face of such adversity we must hold hands with individuals such as Mr. Udul Premarathne and Mr. J.S Tissanayagam in defeating these forces and brining back democracy to Sri Lanka.

Threatening to sue the UN over plight of IDP's in Wanni

Manufacturing Emergencies and Abdicating Responsibility

By Nishan de Mel

Imagine this scenario: A man engages in excessive drinking of expensive alcohol and squanders the long overdue school fees for his children, without which they have been told they cannot return to school the next day. His friends respond to the emergency and gather the money to make the payment. The man asks them to pay for the whole year, but they offer to pay only for a term. With time, it’s clear that the man is not going to give up his drinking habit, and the children will have to soon quit school humiliated. A relative, who helped gather the emergency support, threatens court action against the friends, because they refused to pay for the whole year.

The Sunday Leader on June 14, 2009 reported that the head of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies in Sri Lanka (CHA) had threatened court action against the UN, which helps to provide basic necessities for the 250 thousand plus people detained in government-run camps. The concern which gave rise to this threat has been a concern widely held by NGOs – that the detained people face a high risk of calamity from impending monsoonal rains. The concomitant threat, of taking the UN to court, however, suggests poor understanding about the fundamentals of responsibility in this situation.

When a recent bout of showers – a precursor to the monsoonal rains – resulted in flooding, sewage overflows and intolerable conditions in detention camps, the government too claimed that the UN was to blame. The threatened court action by CHA, and government allegations, are both based on the fact that the UN had insisted, from the beginning, that it will only contribute to the construction of temporary infrastructure, which cannot be expected to withstand the ravages of time or monsoonal rains.

But this charge against the UN begs the question; why did the Sri Lankan government contract the offered services of the UN agencies, which it well knew would be inadequate, given the plans for prolonged detention?

Two things are clear; one, the UN did not force the government to contract their provision of such temporary infrastructure. They simply couldn’t have – the government has not been wanting in its ability to assert sovereignty, in making decisions within the territorial boundaries of Sri Lanka. Two, the UN did not act in stealth, and the type of infrastructure is not a result of incompetence – the UN was loud and transparent in insisting that the infrastructure it would provide would be adequate only to fulfil temporary needs. The government could well have refused the offer of such infrastructure (just as tender bids are refused for not meeting technical specifications), and contracted privately or through state machinery for infrastructure of adequate quality. Then, on what basis is blame placed on the UN?

The most compelling rationale for faulting the UN is that in extremely acute emergency situations providing emergency relief is a recognised obligation of the UN to its member States, and therefore, the UN is accountable for the adequacy of such relief. With regard to the recent events enfolding Sri Lanka, however, this argument is mistaken in two ways. First, because there was no de facto emergency situation – apart from the one that was manufactured. Second, because the UN did provide infrastructure adequate for the immediate needs of this manufactured emergency.

Manufacturing Emergency

It was widely reported, and was common knowledge, at least from January 2009, that over 300 thousand people were being sandwiched between the fighting forces of the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE. Common sense would have dictated that many of these people would need at least temporary shelter and food when the army over-ran the LTTE. In addition, the army’s victory was established somewhat later than anticipated – the LTTE’s ability to resist the military onslaught for as long as they did, until mid-May 2009, was unexpected.

Both these factors suggest that the government had about half a year to plan for and provide for the accommodation of these people. This, therefore, was no Tsunami or Hurricane Katrina. There was no element of surprise in the situation which gave rise to the acute need for temporary basic infrastructure requirements and services. There was no de facto emergency. The emergency that arose was created by the callousness or incompetence of government planners.

This planning failure, it needs to be noted, was not systemic to government functioning. The military strategy against the LTTE, the media campaigns launched to win the support of the people, and the propaganda against opponents of the government’s war strategy, all demonstrated great competence and effective planning. The "emergency" that gradually emerged out of the situation was not only preventable, but preventing it was also well within the expectations, competence and normal functioning of the government. The fact that such prevention was eschewed is the reason for recognising the circumstances as a “manufactured” emergency.

There are several countries in the world run by dysfunctional governments that are not able – due to corruption or incompetence – to meet the basic responsibilities of governing. Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze have shown how famines (which were entirely avoidable) have been allowed to develop as manufactured emergencies, and that this is a phenomena common in countries with irresponsible and undemocratic governments.

Nevertheless, even in cases of such manufactured emergencies, UN agencies have generally been willing to become involved and provide necessary direct services, since in most instances, the people thus harmed by their own governments tend to be quite powerless and in desperate need of rescue from the consequences of such mal government. Did the UN fail to do that in Sri Lanka?

Identifying Responsibility

In the case of mal-government, the obligation of the UN to protect distressed people cannot be an open ended obligation. It does not even serve the enduring needs of the distressed if that assistance simply subsidises and strengthens a continuance of mal-government. As a result, like in the cases of famine in Ethiopia, assisting UN agencies have a responsibility to use whatever influence they have to encourage a revision of government policy, so as to address the root causes of such mal-government and manufactured emergencies.

The offer of UN assistance – to build infrastructure of only temporary durability– was grossly inadequate and inappropriate for the purpose, if the plan was to keep people detained for more than two to three months. But the offer did meet the criteria of providing immediate relief to the manufactured emergency that arose in May 2009.

The government has now proceeded to gratuitously detain these people beyond 4 months – well past the immediate need of the first manufactured emergency. The detention is being affected outside of any known laws of the country, with mounting evidence that it is unproductive even in terms of its stated security enhancing objectives.

Most people currently held in detention camps are not asking the government to house and feed them; their principal need is simply to be let free. They are not insisting on immediate resettlement to their home-towns, which may still be riddled with land-mines, but they may justifiably wish to join friends or relatives in safe neighbourhoods in and outside of Sri Lanka.

This purposeful policy of perversely prolonged detention is not a situation in which the UN responsibility for emergency assistance can be legitimately invoked. The responsibility lies with the government. Will the government continue to forcibly detain these people in precarious temporary shelters when the monsoonal rains begin to wreak havoc? Will the government seek to leech out even more international assistance by manufacturing yet another emergency?

Economics of Detention Camps

Since the miseries of these people arise "post-war", it is not possible to make the excuse that the government cannot afford the cost. Even through the costly war with the LTTE, there were resources left-over to subsidise Mihin Air by over six billion rupees. This budget airline was revived in January 2009, on the “eve of the war's end", amply demonstrating the availability of funds for policy priorities. It cannot be true that subsidising air tickets of workers in the middle-east is more important than providing basic needs to people who have been rendered unemployed and helpless by forcible detention en mass.

The cost of prosecuting the war against the LTTE, on the defence budget alone (not counting the public security and safety budget), was over one hundred and thirty four billion rupees (Rs. 134,710,000,000) in 2008. That is about Rs. 1,500 per day, for every single man woman and child currently detained in camps. What is the actual cost? Using current poverty line data of the department of Census and Statistics, we find that all the needs of these people (enough to classify them as non-poor) can be provided at Rs. 3,000 per person per month. Even for a whole year, that would amount to only 6.7% of last years war budget for all the people detained. Alternatively, all the costs for 8 months could have been met just by the Rs. 6 billion busted on Mihin Air. Therefore, any failure on the part of the government to meet the cost cannot be a matter of resources, but would have to be a matter of purposeful priorities and policies.

The government has reported that US$ 196 million or 22.5 billion rupees (Rs. 22,540,000,000) has been received in donations from international organisations to help provide relief for the detained. That is about Rs. 90,000 for every single person detained or about Rs. 450,000 per family. The amount is so large and the conditions of detention so poor its difficult to imagine how this money was spent. Furthermore, the economic activity created by this infusion of capital feeds handsomely in to government tax revenues. It is possible, therefore, that the government of Sri Lanka is in fact profiting and prospering itself through the generous response of the international community to this policy of en mass Tamil imprisonment.

Misunderstanding Fundamentals

The threat by the CHA of court action against the UN implies a belief that there is some continuing emergency situation in Sri Lanka which the government is incapable of avoiding -- thus transferring responsibility internationally. But this is contrary to fact. The dire needs of the detained people are needs that are manufactured and persisted by government policy, and therefore, the responsibility of ceasing these unjust policies and meeting the needs created by these policies lies squarely with the government.

The primary responsibility of providing basic care to a population must rest with the government under which that population lives. This is basic. A government cannot be absolved from such responsibility in the absence of Tsunami-like situations or needs that are too enormous for a government to solve (like the need for Maldives to prevent the rising of the sea level). In the absence of unavoidable emergencies or global externalities, a government that abdicates its responsibility towards its people is guilty of mal-government. Threatening to take the UN to courts suggests a gross misunderstanding of the fundamentals.

Freedom of movement is our top priority for the displaced people of Sri Lanka-UK's Development Minister Mike Foster

Full Text of UK High Commision Press Release

Freedom of movement is critical if a humanitarian crisis is to be averted, Development Minister Mike Foster said as he visited camps in the north of Sri Lanka today. After visiting the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps he voiced concerns about the impact that heavy rains, due to hit the north of the country from mid-October to December, will have on the 260,000 civilians living there.

Mike Foster added that the UK is assisting civilian returns through supporting demining and transportation of civilians back to their home areas but that progress on returning civilians to date had been disappointing. He confirmed that the UK is holding £4.8 million ready to provide further support to help the Sri Lankan Government meet its welcome commitment to release the majority of civilians from the camps before the end of the year.

But Mike Foster also made clear that UK funding could not support people simply being transferred from existing ‘closed’ camps – which detain civilians for long periods of time - to new closed camps. Freedom of movement has to be allowed now.

Many IDPs have friends and relatives to whom they should be allowed to go to, as an interim measure. For this reason, he confirmed that once the critical monsoon season was over, the UK would only fund life-saving emergency interventions in the existing ‘closed’ camps.

Mike Foster said:

“Freedom of movement for the displaced people is our top priority, particularly ahead of the monsoon. Conditions in the camps have improved since my last visit but heavy rainfall could cause devastation – polluting water and sanitation supplies and spreading disease. Host families are a viable option to avert the humanitarian consequences of the rains in the camps. This option could be used to accommodate 70 percent of the people in the largest camp – Menik Farm – for example. Transferring the civilians to new closed sites is not acceptable”

October 05, 2009

Sexual violence in the past by police and security forces against Tamil women

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Hillary Rodham Clinton's remarks while addressing the UN security council had an inaccurate reference about the Sri Lankan armed forces using rape as a tactic of war .

This is the relevant quote from the US Secretary of State:

"The resolution we passed today represents a step forward in our global efforts to end violence perpetrated against women and children in conflict zones, and it builds on two prior Security Council resolutions: Resolution 1325, which called on all parties in conflicts to respect women's rights and increase their participation in peace negotiations and post-conflict reconstruction efforts; and Resolution 1820, adopted last year, which affirms the ambitions set out in 1325, and establishes a clear link between maintaining international peace and security, and preventing and responding to sexual violence used as a tactic of war to target civilians. Yet despite these actions by the United Nations Security Council, violence against women and girls in conflict-related situations has not diminished; in fact, in some cases, it has escalated.

Now, reading the headlines, one might think that the use of rape as a tactic of war only happens occasionally, or in a few places, like the Democratic Republic of the Congo or Sudan. That would be bad enough, but the reality is much worse. We've seen rape used as a tactic of war before in Bosnia, Burma, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere. In too many countries and in too many cases, the perpetrators of this violence are not punished, and so this impunity encourages further attacks."

Predictably Secretary Clinton's comment evoked a storm of protests in Sri Lanka.While there have been many instances of rape during the course of the long war of many decades in Sri Lanka there have been no allegations of this particular type. [click here to read the article in full ~ in dbsjeyaraj.com]

October 04, 2009

US responds to Sri Lanka protest over Clinton remark

by AFP:

The United States, responding to protests from Sri Lanka over remarks by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said it had no recent evidence of women being raped while in Sri Lankan government custody.

In a letter addressed to Sri Lanka's Minister of Foreign Affairs Rohitha Bogollagama, the State Department noted that the US government and international human rights groups over the years had detailed "numerous cases of rape and sexual violence in Sri Lanka, particularly acts committed against women held in detention by the government."

However, the letter signed by Melanne Verveer, ambassador at large for global women's issues at the State Department said that "in the most recent phase of the conflict, from 2006 to 2009 ... we have not received reports that rape and sexual abuse were used as tools of war, as they clearly have in other conflict area around the world."

"We hope that this clarification puts the issue in its proper context," the letter said, adding that Washington remains concerned about extrajudicial killings, disappearances and detainee abuse in Sri Lanka.

"Secretary Clinton believes that Sri Lanka must focus to the future and move forward on the promotion of peace and the protection of human rights," the letter said.

Sri Lanka lodged its protest with the US embassy in Colombo over the remarks made by Clinton last month to the United Nations Security Council.

"We've seen rape used as a tactic of war before in Bosnia, Burma and Sri Lanka and elsewhere," the US secretary of state had said during a resolution calling for an end to sexual violence in armed conflict, according to published reports of Clinton's remarks.

Her comments sparked an outcry across Sri Lanka, where government forces in May crushed Tamil Tiger rebels after decades of fighting.

Colombo faced condemnation for its handling of the final stages of the war against Tiger rebels and managed to stave off a Security Council resolution calling for war crimes investigations thanks to the vetoes of China and Russia.

The United Nations has said that over 7,000 civilians perished in the first four months of intense fighting this year.

Sri Lanka is now facing international pressure to free 250,000 ethnic Tamil civilians who managed to escape the fighting but are now held in internment camps while they are screened to see whether they were rebels. [courtesy: AFP]

Mano Ganesan wants IDP identifications published immediately

Full text of media release:

Civil Monitoring Commission (CMC) demands the government to immediately publish the names, permanent addresses, NIC numbers and other personal details of the 150,000 IDPs it claims to have registered and the details of the 110,000 IDPs to whom it claims to have issued IDs at the camps of the internally displaced persons says the media communiqué issued by CMC convener and President of the Parliamentarians for Human Rights Mano Ganesan MP. The statement further says,

Our EU Ambassador at Brussels Ravinatha Ariyasinha in his explanation yesterday concerning the freedom of movement of the IDPs at the hearing held on Sri Lanka by the Human Rights Committee of the European Parliament chaired by Member of European Parliament Heidi Hautala had assured EU with above fine points. He has also stated that 54 international agencies, INGOs and NGOs are currently engaged in humanitarian work in the IDP camps.

We are pleased to note that the state has already completed registrations and issuance of IDs to large segments of the IDPs and subsequently assured the international community. But we, Sri Lankans from lawmakers to common man fail to understand why we are not acquainted to this information. We are also surprised to note that while 54 NGO are permitted to be at the assistance of the IDPs while the elected parliamentarians who are office bearers of the Parliamentarians for Human Rights of the Parliament of Sri Lanka are not permitted to be at the services of our people. It is very apparent now that government through the attorney general’s department blocks the parliamentarians from visiting the IDP camps from the time when we sought the intervention of the judiciary three months before.

We call upon the government to immediately publish the names, addresses and NIC numbers of the 150,000 IDPs it has collected through the registrations and also the identification details of the 110,000 IDPs to whom it has issued camp IDs. CMC is contacted by thousands of family members of the IDPs from within the country and abroad. We are prepared work with the government in launching a website so that not only the international community but most importantly millions of Sri Lankan Tamils living in the country and other countries would know the fates of their dear ones. The government should know that providing the IDP details to the family members in Sri Lanka and abroad is vital than providing it to the international community.

A real sense of actuality in Rajani Thiranagama commemoration: Dayapala Responds to Dayan.

By Dayapala Thiranagama

Dayan Jayatilleke’s article titled" An absence of actuality at Rajini memorial meeting at BMICH" published on 27th September in "Transcurrents" deserves some clarification and response in order to put the record straight. I believe this would benefit readers and will provide justice to Rajani’s life and her heroism in taking on the neo-fascistic LTTE so boldly in “a meaningful defiance”. In so doing Rajani and her colleagues in the UTHR never hesitated.

I welcome Dayan’s positive comments that it was a good evening. However, his article omitted many of the factors that made it such a positive event. I consider it a very good evening in terms of attendance, young and old, belonging to different ethnic groups, Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims (some Europeans) and multi religious ordinary people who came from the Sinhalese South, North and East and Upcountry from all social classes to remember Rajani and reaffirm her ideals. There were no VIPs or politicians. In terms of numbers it went beyond the organizers’ expectations and some had to be turned away due to the lack of seats. This illustrates the continuing meaning that her legacy holds in the fight for the democratic rights and the right to dissent.

Dayan’s main complaint was that the memorial event did not name the Tigers as Rajani’s killers. Those who did not attend the event may justifiably feel that this diminished the memorial. Most attendants at the meeting came knowing that the Tamil Tigers were responsible for her killing, particularly from the widespread press coverage including articles by myself in the Island on 16 September and by UTHR (J) prior to the event. Dayan seems to have wanted it to be stated as if it were a court of law with a charge sheet to be presented against the Tigers. Many of the items at the event including the songs, poetry and speeches laid responsibility for the killing at the LTTE’s door. If one could not understand that, one did not understand language, context, poetry and more damningly, politics.

The prior campaigning and the commemoration event as well as the work shop that was held subsequently made it very clear that the Tamil Tiger militancy was responsible for many deaths including Rajani’s. Dayan’s problem lies in the fact that he isolated the event and jumped into his conclusion without focusing on the preparation prior to the event and its aftermath. If there was no Tiger bashing at the event it was not because the organizers were unaware of the need to fight the neo-fascism of the Tigers but rather the political urgency at the current moment and the strategy that would be most suitable and effective in fighting the twin problem: achieving democratic rights and challenging Sinhalese triumphalism. The democratic rights in all three communities namely Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslims are being eroded under the cover of patriotism and it is being used to frustrate and postpone the devolution of power to the Tamil community.

Even among the most anti-LTTE segments of the Tamils in the country there is fear and tension as to what would be their future in relation to their democratic rights. If you want to talk about the “the titanic struggles for decades against the Tigers” you also need to talk about the historical injustices meted out against the Tamil Community with equal passion and conviction. It is not a one way street and not restricted to the Tamil community. The right to dissent is taken away with speed in the South and the methods applied here at times are reminiscent of what the Tamil Tigers inflicted on their political adversaries in their suppression of the right to dissent in the areas of their control. The IDPs are still languishing in their camps. In order to fight fascism it is required to resolve the genuine grievances of the Tamils. There is a historic opportunity in the country as never before to resolve the issue that has cost so many lives and our social and economic development for generations. It is entirely fitting that an event commemorating someone with Rajani’s concern for the lived reality of ordinary people’s lives would focus on these issues.

Rajani’s family and the UTHR (J) never had any lingering doubts about the LTTE as Rajani’s killers. We had credible evidence. But at the time there was no law and order in the country and it was reported as one of the war casualties. At the time Dayan had joined the UNP government and was working for President Premadasa.I that recall just before I left for London December 1989, Dayan was of the view that Rajani was killed by the EPRLF and that he had had access to the information not available to us. Dayan wanted me to make a statement regarding this information. At the time the Premadasa government had an understanding with the Tamil Tigers against the IPKF and their proxy the EPRLF. That was the crux of the matter. So much for (in Dayan’s words) “the titanic struggle for decades against the fascism of the Tigers” and the “… massive historical truths” which Rajani’s commemoration meeting failed to highlight in its ‘actuality’. What I have to say, quoting Dayan’s own words again, is that “Rajani never countenanced lies in politics and public life”.

Dayan reminds us that the LTTE was not overthrown by the Tamil resistance. I support the historic victory against the LTTE and their neo-fascistic project. He says the Tigers were overthrown not by “non violent dissent” or by “Tamil dissenters”, thus belittling the work that Rajani and her colleagues in UTHR (J) have done in reporting human rights abuses by all the parties involved in this brutal conflict and the decisive role this brave work and reportage has played. I know at times in the recent past it would have proven uncomfortable reading for him.

Dayan says that Rajani believed that Mahathaya would have saved her life and Rajani’s blindness to this historical truth killed her. Rajani never believed that Mahathaya would save her or indeed that he would be able to do so. More than any of us Rajani knew how the LTTE functioned and she had no illusions whatsoever. She knew that she would be targeted, but her commitment and dedication was such that she believed that it was worth giving her life for when the moment came. Rajani wrote in a letter sent to a friend in these words ‘I will not be killed by an outsider but someone who was born out of a womb of this society of a woman with whom my history is shared’. I would say that Rajani had Che’s spirit in relation to her choice between life and death, and was willing to give her life, when the moment came, for her passionate belief in the preservation of human dignity. Such people are rare in politics and the political classes today. That is also why I introduced her as a new revolutionary. In writing a postscript to The Broken Palmyra (page 408) she stated that “Objectivity was not solely an academic exercise for us. Objectivity, pursuit of the truth and the propagation of critical and honest positions, was crucial for the community. But they could also cost many of us our lives.”

Rajani made a choice, one that I respected in spite of the huge personal loss for our family and the children. Rajani’s life and work continues to instill hope and determination in the minds of people who will have nothing to lose except their democratic rights, including the right to dissent in this country. Rajani’s death and her murderers were not the summation of her life. It was her vision for her community, the principles she fought for and the life she lived that we commemorated last week.

October 03, 2009

Ambassador Aryasinha responds to criticism against Sri Lanka at E.U.

Urges not to use the displaced persons in Sri Lanka as a political tool

Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and the EU, Ravinatha Aryasinha has urged that the displaced persons in Sri Lanka be not used as a political tool, but instead that those being critical, step up and help the Government to overcome the difficulties faced in looking after them and re-settling them. He said “these are our people, successive governments fed them, provided medicines, ensured education through the 30 years when the LTTE dominated their lives. We will ensure that they get back to their homes in safety, not because anybody tells us to do so, but because we want them to do so”.

Mr. Ravinatha Aryasinha, Sri Lanka Foreign Service (1988)

Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha-PIC: South Asian Foreign Relations

The Ambassador made these observations when he addressed a hearing held on Sri Lanka by the Human Rights Sub Committee of the European Parliament, chaired by MEP Heidi Hautala of the Finnish Green Party on Thursday (1 October 2009).

Responding to the comments made by panelists about the situation in the IDP camps Ambassador Aryasinha outlined the procedures that the government had presently undertaken to streamline the resettlement process. He said that around 1/6 of the displaced who were originally from the Jaffna district and the Eastern province had been sent back to these areas, while the displaced from the Mannar district are presently being resettled. Additionally advertisements have been placed, informing the public that they could host any relatives who might be in the Welfare Villages.

Refuting a suggestion that “demining has been used as a political tool to confine the IDPs to the camps”, and that they “would be held indefinitely”, the Ambassador showed on a map of the main population centers of the Northern Province with adjacent farm land that had been de-mined or ear marked for de-mining on a priority basis. He said GOSL had imported the most sophisticated technology for this purpose, which was evidence of its commitment to re-settle the people as fast as possible. The Ambassador also said he was shocked at the suggestion made by one MEP that the IDPs should be “allowed to go and take the risk of landmines”, and remarked that GOSL had not rescued them from being held as human shields by the LTTE, to have them knowingly risk their lives due to left over LTTE mines.

He said the security concerns were not imagined, but very real, as it was well known that many LTTE cadres had come into the camps mingling with civilians, and GOSL didn’t want them to go back and connect with hidden weapons and re-start terrorist acts. About 10,000 ex-LTTE cadres had already surrendered and many others had been identified on the basis of information. So far, out of approximately 290,000 people liberated from the LTTE, over 150,000 had been registered and 110,000 issued with ID cards. This would help gradually ensure freedom of movement.

Responding to comments that humanitarian agencies are not allowed into the camps, the Ambassador pointed out that there are 54 International agencies, INGOs and NGOs currently engaged in humanitarian work in the welfare villages. He said within the last week alone two high level UN officials visited these areas.

On GSP+, Ambassador Aryasinha said the Government had not accepted the process of GSP+ investigation and a request for experts to visit Sri Lanka as a matter of principle, as it was felt inappropriate and unnecessary and the Government was not willing to compromise on its sovereignty. However the Government has continued to engage with the European Commission on the relevant human rights conventions - through meetings at senior officials’ level both in Brussels and Colombo, by providing material which showed Sri Lanka’s compliance with these conventions, refute unfounded allegations, and above all provided periodic reviews to UN bodies which monitor these conventions. Responding to a query whether the 4 member Ministerial Committee appointed recently by the President of Sri Lanka would be providing a response to the GSP+ investigation expert’s report, the Ambassador said there would be no response to the expert’s report from Government. The Government will continue to engage on the issues of concern with the Commission.

Responding to comments made on the judgment in the Tissainayagam case, the Ambassador said one cannot on the one hand demand separation of powers and an independent Judiciary, and on the other hand press for the executive to overrule the judicial system. He added that while speakers gave the impression that Mr. Tissainayagam was convicted by the High Court for writing two articles which in the view of the prosecution had the effect of inciting communal disharmony, they forget the more serious charge proved, which was that he had accepted funds from the LTTE. He asked whether journalists in Europe accepting a cheque from Al Quida, would be acceptable?

Mr Andrew Stroelheim of the International Crisis Group, Mr Sunanda Deshapriya, Journalist, Mr Antoine Gerard of the UN/Humanitarian Affairs Office in Belgium, Mr David Tirr and Mr. Rolf Timmens, of the European Commission, and several MEPs addressed the 2 hour session.

1 October 2009

(This is the text of a communiqué issued by the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Brussels)

The IDP situation in Sri Lanka today: An assessment by International Crisis Group

by Andrew Stroehlein

Thank you, Madam Chair, for offering Crisis Group the opportunity to present our assessment of the situation in Sri Lanka today.

Since the end of the war and the defeat of the terrorist Tamil Tigers, the government of Sri Lanka has been imprisoning without charge over a quarter of a million ethnic Tamils displaced by the conflict. The state has locked them in internment camps in the north of the country. The camps are surrounded by barbed wire, and as an incident just this past weekend in Vavuniya demonstrates, the Sri Lankan army will shoot at anyone who tries to escape.

ASTC1002.jpg

Andrew Stroehlein, ICG's Communications Director

Such restrictions on freedom in the absence of due process are a violation of both national and international law.

Conditions in the camps are poor and deteriorating. They are overcrowded, with medical facilities, access to clean water and sanitation all woefully inadequate. These conditions are expected to worsen dramatically with the onset of monsoon season. The military is preventing humanitarian organisations, including the UN and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), from undertaking effective monitoring and protection in the camps.

The government has made numerous promises to release those held in the main camps, but these are little more than attempts to deliberately mislead the international community. Very little has come of any of Colombo's pledges. The worst kind of duplicity was seen just a few weeks ago, when the government announced it had released 10,000 displaced persons. In fact, we know at least 3,300 people had been moved from an internment camp to another detention facility. (UNHCR press release, 29 September 2009)

Here are the numbers as we understand them today (as of 15 September, UNHCR with government figures). Of the estimated 289,000 internally displaced Tamils at the end of the war, some 10,000 are held in detention centres on suspicion of having links to the Tamil Tigers, about 5,000 have managed to buy their way out of the camps by paying off the right people, and only 6,000 have been resettled. Those in the main camps in the north number about 264,000.

The ICRC has not been able to visit the main camps in the north since July, and they have never been able to visit those in detention facilities who are accused of working with or for the Tigers.

The government claims two reasons for continuing to imprison over a quarter of a million internally displaced persons (IDPs), but neither argument holds up. First, they say demining must occur before people can be allowed back, but this is a nonsense, as tens of thousands could be released immediately to live with host families now living in towns and villages free of mines.

Second, the government claims to be conducting a screening process to weed out Tamil Tigers from the 264,000 in the internment camps. But no one can tell you how this process is proceeding. The government itself will not say how many people have already been through the screening process, the ICRC has not been able to monitor any screening at all, and when you ask people in the camps themselves, no one seems to know much about any such process. In any case, if the government has been conducting a screening process for four months now, why hasn't it been releasing those people who have passed the test?

We see the government is now promising "day passes" in one limited area (Mannar but not Vavuniya nor Trincomalee, where the bulk of the IDPs are) so IDPs can leave the camp, but we have yet to see this working in practice. It seems a strange idea in any case: if these people are allowed to go out for the day, then they surely have passed the screening process, so why aren't they allowed out all the time?

The fact is, all talk of release dates and resettlement schedules is nonsense. As the UN Secretary-General's Representative on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Walter Kaelin, made clear on Tuesday, saying:

"It is imperative to immediately take all measures necessary to decongest the overcrowded camps in Northern Sri Lanka with their difficult and risky living conditions. The IDPs should be allowed to leave these camps voluntarily and in freedom, safety and dignity to their homes. If this is not possible in the near future, the displaced must be allowed to stay with host families or in open transit sites. This is particularly important as the monsoon season is approaching."

Also on Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon himself warned of the dangers of Sri Lanka's current policy, noting that the government risked creating "bitterness" if it failed to rapidly resettle Tamil refugees. Indeed, the harsh conditions in the camps are already sparking unrest, as we saw in Vavuniya at the weekend. But also in the longer term, the government's policy of imprisoning so many Tamil citizens without cause is only sowing the seeds of discontent that will grow into Sri Lanka's next violent conflict.

These are precisely the warnings the International Crisis Group has been giving and exactly the solutions we've been calling for for months, and we are glad to see them accepted and supported at the very highest international levels. There is now no credible international voice saying anything else, and the Sri Lankan government has run out of excuses for continuing to keep these hundreds of thousands of innocent people prisoner.

The European Union and its member states have limited direct influence over the government of Sri Lanka, but working with our international partners, there are steps to take. The EU and its member states should:

1) speak publicly, clearly and often about the need for the displaced to have freedom of movement immediately.

2) officially demand access to the camps for all humanitarian agencies and the media.

3) work to ensure that any disarmament, demobilisation and rehabilitation/reintegration (DDR) programs are ONLY conducted with ICRC involvement and a clear legal framework. (Currently, the UK Department for International Development, DFID, and the International Organization for Migration, IOM, are funding DDR projects in which the ICRC plays no part, and no legal regime governs the process.)

4) press the UN to put a binding time limit on its phased assistance to the camps. These should not become long-term facilities.

5) oppose further disbursement of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan due later this month until the government of Sri Lanka meets the commitments on resettlement it made in its July Letter of Intent a letter to the IMF (sent by the Sri Lankan Ministry of Finance and Planning to the IMF on 16 July 2009), which included a pledge to resettle 70-80% of IDPs by the end of this year (Point 10).

In general, no donors should fund any substantial development work until there is a clear plan, with cross-ethnic consultation and some restoration of democratic rights. We must ensure international monies are not used to fund unfair and destabilising political arrangements that set the stage for the island's next violent ethnic conflict.

(Text of Testimony by Andrew Stroehlein, International Crisis Group's Communications Director, to the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights, 1 October 2009)

My life in Menik farm IDP camp from March to July 2009

A Personal Account

by A Special Correspondent

1. Introduction

A quarter million people, who have been on the run from artillery fire for more than a year, are now restricted by barbed wire inside an area less than one kilometre square. A comparison with the size of some heavily populated cities (Table) gives some idea of the congestion that is made even more acute by restricting the freedom of movement of the inmates. The scenario has drawn the attention of United Nations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, governments of many leading countries and several other local and international NGOs, as well as all the major media.

The scenario has continued for over six months and there is no end in sight despite pressures applied on and promises made by the Sri Lankan Government. The account below adds to the existing descriptions of the camp conditions and is based entirely on my first hand experience as an inmate in the zone-3 camp (Figure) for more than four months.

2. Administration

The administration of each camp named zone-0 to zone-5 is conducted by one sub office inside each zone. These sub offices in theory comes under the Assistant Government Agent Division (AGA) of Cheddikulam-Vavuniya. Each sub office has a “figure head”, a Tamil, who used to be the head of an AGA division in Vanni prior to displacement and as a rule these “figure heads” are not interned inside the camp. Scores of staff, all of them Tamils, who worked under these heads in Vanni, who are presently interned inside the camps, staff the zone sub offices and live in fear and are eager to get out just like any of the other inmates.

Above each of these “zone figure heads” are another head who are all Sinhalese and are employees of the Ministry of Resettlement. The military units that support these “Sinhalese civil servant heads” work in close association with them. The Tamils inmates, “the Tamil figure head” and all other interned staff, take orders from the military.

Once when I was in the sub-office a convoy arrived with the Minister of Resettlement and several personnel with video cameras. While the minister took photographs standing in front of the sub office we, the inmates, were chased out. Then a van with video cameras drove by and started throwing bread and some “sambol” at the inmates crowded behind the office.

The inmates rushed competing for the bread while the amused cameramen were videoing. Observing the scene it seemed to me that these video shots will be screened on the state television that night with the news of the minister’s visit to the camp for the pleasure of the Sinhala viewers. Inmates on many occasions have told me of seeing similar scenes being videoed.

3. Military

(“When we risked our lives to escape from the war zone we viewed the Sri Lankan army as our saviours. Just three months later we hate them and see them as “masters”- a 40 year old male inmate)

Gun and stick (long baton rods) wielding military control the inmates at all times. I have not witnessed the guns being used on inmates though I have heard guns being fired on many occasions. The sticks on the other hand were used regularly reminding me of the way black slaves were beaten in the “Roots” television drama. Being treated worse than animals is a very accurate description. The following incident is typical.

A medical employee inmate was regularly carrying some refrigerated medicines from one OPD clinic to another inside the same camp. The employee used a short cut through the tents instead of using the longer gravel road. One military duo attempted to stop the employee suspecting that he is a seller of some goods. Such sellers are treated like criminals as described later. When this employee in question failed to stop because he never suspected that the target of the military order to stop was him. The angered military duo drove their motorbike through the narrow space between the tents; brining down clothes that were hanging on strings stretched cross the tents; and endangering young children playing in that space.

They reached the employee, stopped and got off the motorbike and walked angrily towards the employee shouting something in Sinhalese. The Tamil employee who does not understand Sinhalese kept repeating “hospital.. hospital”, which is a word most of the people in world would understand. (Indeed 95 percent of the inmates all of whom are Tamils do not understand Sinhalese where as 99 percent of the military all of whom are Sinhalese do not know Tamil and give their orders as “masters” in Sinhalese which the “slaves” do not understand.)

The enraged military man kicked the employee on his face and stomach several times with his boots while the employee kept repeating “hospital.. hospital”. It was only after the military man was too tired to deliver any more kicks that he stopped to look at what was in the box that the employee was carrying. Several of us witnessed this in close quarters frozen in fear. When the scene cleared I asked one senior government employee inmate if this misconduct by the military ought to be reported. I was told that if I attempt anything like that I will “disappear”.

I have on many occasions taken the trek on the gravel road from one end of the zone-3 camp to its sub-office. This gravel road also separates zone-3 and zone-2 camps. It is therefore an area where the master-slave scenario is played out frequently when the inmates of one camp attempt to go to the other through the barbed wire to meet family members and friends. Anyone caught while attempting to cross are beaten brutally and the degree of brutality became worse as the inmates appeared undeterred by the military brutality.

In reality, the people were desperate to see and help family members and friends in the adjacent camp who have arrived at different times from the war zone and have lost close relatives in the war. Military brutality in such circumstance was ineffective. Though some procedure was instituted to let a limited number of people to crossover to the other camp for the day, this was ineffective and people continued to defy the military and breach the barbed wire behind its back.

4. Living area

It was obvious when we arrived in the camp that even the basics like water, toilets and tent were not in place to hold the people they are detaining. Many of us drank the water that were not meant for drinking and ended up with diarrhoea almost immediately after arrival. One could go on about the conditions at the start. There were improvements as time went by but only in comparison to what was there to start with.

The tent was unbearably hot once the sun came out but there were hardly any shade to take shelter from the sun; the place was like a desert with crowded tents. Within two months the tarpaulin material used for the tents were shredded to pieces by the strong winds that started in June. For more than a month we lived in shredded tents with no privacy at all until they were replaced. The wind during June/July was extreme and it was like living permanently in a sandstorm.

Everyone was covered with sand that will come raining down every few minutes. There were a couple of heavy downpours soon after we arrived in the camp. Some of the camps in the lower lying areas were flooded. The wind that came with the downpours lifted the roofs of some of the tents. Fear of the monsoon rains was often expressed by the inmates during conversation. I had left the camp before the August heavy rains.

The toilets are only less than five meters from my tent and the smell was strong when the emptying of the toilet pits is not carried out in time which is always the case. When there is water shortage, which is frequent, concern about how one is going to use the toilet becomes the most serious problem of the day, surpassing the problems of food, health and other major issues. Queues for toilets are common in the morning but is usually not so during the day.

Each camp is divided in units of around 300 tents, averaging 2000 inmates, with most units having an enclosed bathing space for 20 people, one for males and one for females. The spacing of this bathing area is such that the water running off the bathing of one person runs into the basin containing the bathing water of the person next to them. Majority of the inmates therefore prefer to bath in the open though lacking in privacy.

I have never seen flies and mosquitoes in such numbers in my life. While eating, one hand is fully occupied with chasing the flies; a practice that children will not adopt thus consuming food contaminated by flies that come straight from the toilets very nearby. Inmates attempted with no success to keep the flies out of their tent by cutting the mosquito nets given to them and draping it around the tent. A few weeks later when mosquitoes were on the rise inmates did not have enough nets to sleep at night. Once the sun sets, one can literally sense dust falling on the face while sitting inside the tent which is in fact the swarms of mosquitoes flying around.

The camp sites are zigzagged with open canals that take away the dirty water. This is the best breeding area for the mosquitoes and the water in the canal is always covered with a thick layer of mosquitoes lying low during the daytime ready for swamping once the sun sets. These canals are always more than a meter wide and there are never adequate cross over points to walk over. Older people and young children frequently fall into these dirty canal water while jumping across it.

5. Retailers

The very first commercial event in the camp after our arrival was the bank. First came the state run banks, with loud announcements of caring for the people. This was quickly followed by other private banks. Banking advertisements were the most prolific in the camp and everyone knew that they were all competing for the savings of the war refugees now interned in terrible conditions.

The trucks of items for sale were first brought in by the Multi-Purpose-Cooperative Societies (MPCS). The struggle people went through to buy small quantities of sugar and tea were stories in their own right. The reason is the huge number of people dying to have a hot cup of tea and the tiny amounts that were brought in for sale. This situation lasted for a few months before more trucks of items for sale and more retail outlets were installed.

Other sellers came along and curiously all of these sellers were Sinhalese except for an odd Muslim seller. A large supermarket style building was erected by “Sathosa” chain to sell mostly expensive items. Ice-cream and Soda outlets were erected. Vegetable and fruit sellers came in substantive numbers. The camp inmates attempted to buy some of these items and resell it with a small profit in order to generate some income for themselves.

This was banned by the military and thus was the basis for the frequent cruelty of the military against inmates. There were regular incidents where the military will scatter the wares of these inmate sellers and beat them severely. The inmates came to understand this as a deliberate effort to stop inmates making money whereas selected Sinhalese sellers were given all rights to sell what they like at the price they chose. There was always a market for these wares because the camp inmates included regular salaried people like teachers, health workers, administrative staff etc. Most of the items brought in for sale were those that could be sold with big profit like ice-cream, soda, and biscuits. Basic needs, such as sun hats for children were not sold. Anyone who visited the camp could see very young children roaming around without a hat, one cause for the frequent illness suffered by the children. It was a profit driven retailing with no concern for the people and the inmates understood this clearly.

I was once in the zone-3 camp office when some UNHCR staff were talking to the senior Tamil staff in the office. This was at the time when zone-3 camp was moving from large scale cooking to family level cooking. WFP had started providing the basic dry items (rice, white flour, lentils, sugar and vegetable oil). The UNHCR staff inquired the Tamil officers about vegetables and they were told that Tamil officers have been instructed by the Vavuniya District Secretariat that no vegetables are to be given to inmates. This remained the case until I left the camp. The people with regular salaries could afford to buy the vegetables which were very expensive and the others, the majority just survived with the dry rations.

Majority of the children including infants did not have milk (powder) except an occasional packet handed out by some charity. Once a father of a seven month old baby came begging for some sugar to put in the plain tea (black tea) to be given to his seven month old baby because the mother did not have enough breast milk and the baby was hungry. Plain tea had become the regular diet for this baby.

The remnants of trees that were chopped to clear the forest to set up the camp were initially used by the inmates for firewood. This quickly ran out once self cooking was begun with WFP dry rations. No axes were given to the inmates to chop the wood and people could be seen going around pleading a few who had bought an axe for loan of the axe. People were forced to go to edge of camp to collect firewood and were often beaten up by mindless military personnel. Collecting firewood also thus became synonym with military brutality.

6. Health service

Each zone has two or three OPD clinics of varying sizes. Most of the doctors attending the clinics are non-Tamil speakers. Most of them are Sinhalese and sometimes Indian doctors are in attendance too; necessitating an interpreter. Skilled interpreters are rare and anyone with a minimum knowledge of Sinhala is recruited from the inmates. Older women not wishing to use the young male unskilled interpreter have approached me to explain their reproductive system related illness to the doctor in English.

The queues are very long and the doctors work at break neck speed. I have seen a doctor writing a prescription to a 12 year old boy without finding out what is wrong with the boy. The medicines that are dispensed are arranged in a table and the total list of medicines consists of around 30 different medicines. The medicine dispensers too work with breakneck speed in dispensing them. Once an educated mother told me that she visited the doctor for treatment for her baby as well as for herself. The medicine dispensers mixed up the medicines and gave the baby what should have been given to the mother. Since the mother had some awareness of the medications she spotted it. Most mothers in the camp who do not have such awareness would have given the adult medicine to the baby. God only knows how many babies, children and even adults died due such medical negligence. Who is there in the camp to watch, monitor and investigate? Deaths are just that, deaths and no investigations are done as to the cause of it.

Patients often queue up for doctors for hours even before the doctors arrive from outside. No one in the OPD clinic will know when the doctors are likely to arrive. One just waits around taking one’s chances. For all this the level of sickness among inmates is far higher than among the population at large and it is obvious.

Take the eight tent group where I was staying. Five of the tents out of the eight had children under 10. One child died; one became seriously ill and taken away to Vavuniya hospital and all the other children had frequent fever, vomiting and diarrhoea. The children were wasting away and it was visibly obvious. Some of the children had persistent skin disease despite several visits to the doctors and treatment. Four of the children contracted HepatitisA and the parents were told by the doctors to just take good care of them and give lots of fruits because the hospitals had no medicine. Fruits were very expensive in the camp. There is a native treatment for HepatitisA involving a plant named “Keelkainelli” in Tamil. Even to get this plant was a struggle because it meant someone has to bring it from outside and handover to the inmates at the meeting spot as described later.

People young and old suddenly dying after a few days of fever is a common occurrence. All of us were left puzzled as to the cause and no one gave any explanation. All of us without exception have suffered diarrhoea at least once and most of us many times.

I used to keep telling myself during the stay in the camp how lucky I was that I do not have any young children under my care. The unhygienic living, especially the play area and the continuous illness is an ordeal for the young mothers. Even thinking about the condition of newborns and their mothers who are sent back to the camp conditions soon after birth is an ordeal. Perhaps the most telling scenes of the camp conditions and the health service can be found by visiting the OPD clinics and observing young mothers with very sick babies waiting for long time in queues with tears trickling down their face.

7. Family separation

Family separation caused by many factors is yet another ordeal that runs through the community. Contacting family living elsewhere also became an ordeal because most people have lost the addresses and phone numbers during the escape. Until after May, the camp postal service was non-existent and the camp phone service that permitted a three-minute call required standing in queues for two days; most of the time without success. Possessing a mobile phone was a crime and remained a crime until the time I left the camp. For a short period during July the military was even confiscating radios because of the rumour that the Voice of Tiger radio service had restarted.

Hundreds of injured people were taken by ICRC ship throughout the war period from Vanni. Often an adult family member and sometimes young children who had no other care giver left in Vanni accompanied the injured. The injured person and the accompanying family members were separated within a day or two of arrival and the family members were taken to the camps while the injured was sent away to some hospital. I have known family after family desperately trying without much assistance from any authorities to locate the injured family member who could have been transferred to any number of the hospitals. Many a tearful months were spent by these families not knowing anything about the fate of their injured family member. Reunion of the injured with the family in many cases took place purely by the efforts of the family with next to no help from the authorities.

The war conditions and the eventual escape from the war zone separated families. Often while escaping part of the family would cross over while the others failed to cross over. Again many families wrote dozens of letters and made many tearful trips to the sub-office trying to locate the missing members. The success often came by sheer luck and not through any set procedure. It was chaos all around. The most heartbreaking scenes prior to June was when bus loads of refugees were just arriving in the camps. People in the camps would run behind these buses hoping to catch a glimpse of a missing relative. If someone in the bus waves at them, there would be endless speculation on to whom the wave was directed and who that person was. These were all signs of longing that the family members who were not already in the camp had survived and made it across.

It is these people suffering intense anxieties about friends and families who were brutally stopped by the military from entering adjacent camps to checkout if the missing loved one has arrived there. The number of times inmates were brutally beaten when caught attempting to cross is countless. The camps were full of stories on how even women were beaten up. Walking down the gravel road that separates zone-2 and zone-3 one can see the barbed wire being breached at several places where the determined people have made spaces to crossover. The military would at gunpoint gather young men to mend these breached places and the people kept breaching them again and again. Once I saw an old man just squatting on the zone-3 side of the gravel road watching through the barbed wire the goings on in zone-2. A military person walking past called the old man on to the road and started beating him. It was clear to me that the beating on this occasion was purely for sadistic pleasure. I have seen a few more instances of sadistic actions by the military. The beating of the hospital worker described earlier also was of this category.

The military also separated families by taking away people suspected of LTTE membership at Omanthai where all refugees were first recorded. Trying to locate the whereabouts of such members was the most traumatic. In many cases families did not even know if the member had perished in Vanni or were taken away by the military. ICRC played a part in giving information to the families whenever it managed to find out the whereabouts of the missing person. If the names are not in ICRC list then locating such cases is impossible. Many families were still searching for members in this category when I left.

If there was any doubt that the Menik Farm camps are anything other than prisons the procedure in place for outside visitors to meet inmates will clear away any doubt. Each zone has a space allocated where outsiders must come to seek face to face meeting with inmates. There were times when they were barred from brining anything to be given to the inmates. This was relaxed later. The visitor gives a piece of paper to the personnel manning the place with the names of the inmates they wish to meet. This will be announced in the public announcement system. Mind you, not every tent is within the audible limits of this announcement system. By the time the inmate hears the announcement and takes the long trek to the meeting place anything from one to two hours would have passed. Across a divide separated by barbed wires the inmates and visitors must identify and signal to each other that they will enter the meeting area on the next turn. A fixed number of inmates (around 50 in zone-3) are permitted into the meeting area at a time and their corresponding visitors are also then permitted in.

The actual meeting area is divided by iron sheets up to the chest and above it are wooden grills similar to what one would find in a prison. The visitors and inmates can talk through this grill and also exchange items over the grill. One is permitted only around 20 minutes maximum to talk because there will be hundreds more waiting. Even within this short time one is often interrupted by the military demanding the national identity card of the visitor and details about the relationship to the inmate. The waiting area for the zone-3 visitors has no shade and they will be waiting in the burning sun for hours.

8. Deaths

If an inmate dies in a hospital outside camp to which the inmate was transferred earlier, there is a small chance he or she will get something resembling a funeral. Of course there must be a relative who is a permanent resident of Vavuniya who is willing to hold the funeral in their home. If this is the scenario then only three relatives from inside the camp are permitted to leave the camp to attend the funeral. A police person is sent with them and the very next day this police person must ensure that the inmates are back in camp. A three and a half year old boy died near my tent and his aunts who brought him up were not allowed to even go and see the dead body of the boy. Any death within the camp has no chance of a funeral. The body is just removed by the military and nothing is heard of after that.

Even in death families have no privacy to mourn. While people close to the deceased mourned onlookers would gather around because it all had to be done in the open space.

9. Mysterious happenings

Once there were rumours of three to six bodies of young women floating in the river adjacent to the camp. There were speculations as to the reasons for the presence of these bodies. There were rumours of white-van abductions within the camp. There were also stories of a young man disappearing while going to collect water. We were not treated like people with intelligence who deserve to find out what is going on. There were only rumours based on such facts and no way of finding out anything else.

There were these people whom the camp inmates called ‘CIDs”. They were apparently senior LTTE members who had been taken away and then “released” into the camp to be with their families. Their job is to spot LTTE members and LTTE Police members who have not reported to the military. One such CID man was living close to my tent. I have seen him interrogating other men suspected of close liaison with LTTE. This CID man has apparently said that he is doing this after he was beaten severely until he agreed to do this task. We also heard another well known female LTTE member coming in Sri Lankan military uniform to the camps and identifying LTTE members in the camp.

10. What inmates talked about

Until end of May, till the last of the displaced arrived, most people talked a lot about who were killed since they had left. Stories of entire families being killed were common in the conversations of the inmates. Especially when extended families or people from the same locality met for the first time since getting out of the war zone, they had numerous stories to share about the fate of the unfortunate relatives and villagers. How best to trace missing relatives was always part of this topic of conversation. Descriptions of the experience of crossing over from the war zone were the ones described in minute details by those who had displaced in March. While crossing over people faced intense fears of being shot at either by the military or by the LTTE. Families often got separated when they were fired at. Wealthier people hired boats to cross over. One mother lost all of her four children when her boat was fired at by the military suspecting it to be an LTTE boat.

Those who arrived in May described the experience of the last few days of the war in great detail. Many said that during the last few days they never walked erect due to fear of being hit by shelling. When making the move to exit the area they said that they had to walk over dead bodies.

Other topics included the amount of money they had wasted in transporting their possessions as they displaced again and again in Vanni. The loss of their entire possessions was acutely felt and discussed over and over again. When feeling a little less tense the inmates never tire of describing their yard and all the trees and vegetables that would be growing in their yard. The soothing shades of large mango and jack trees in their yard were frequently remembered and contrasted with the lack of shade from the scorching sun in the camp.

The going on in the camp itself also dominated the conversation of inmates who were living near each other. The most common topic is the fights among inmates that always took place at the water collection queues. These fights indicative of the tension caused by competition for the limited availability of water created a very bad atmosphere among the inmates who were otherwise very amicable and helpful to each other.

(This is a personal naarative by someone who was an inmate of the Menik Farm IDP camp from March to July this year)

Obama or Osama? A critique of crude anti-Americanism

by Dayan Jayatilleka

“…the time has come for the world to move in a new direction… The test of our leadership will not be the degree to which we feed the fears and old hatreds of our people. True leadership will not be measured by the ability to muzzle dissent, or to intimidate and harass political opponents at home. The people of the world want change. They will not long tolerate those who are on the wrong side of history…Among those rights is the freedom to speak your mind and worship as you please; the promise of equality of the races, and the opportunity for women and girls to pursue their own potential; the ability of citizens to have a say in how you are governed, and to have confidence in the administration of justice.” - President Barak Obama, UN General Assembly 2009

There is an unhealthy upsurge in anti-Americanism and what is more striking, anti-Obamaism in the Sri Lankan media, emanating from sources identified or self-identified as nationalist or patriotic. I have no problem with anti-interventionist, anti-hegemonic or anti-imperialist discourse and have been a practitioner of it in prominent international forums in defense of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and the causes of the Global South. That however is not what we are speaking of. In recent weeks, the news of a possible State Dept report critical of Sri Lanka has triggered an outpouring of insult, invective and abuse which would not be recognizable as rational anti-hegemonic discourse in mainstream progressive and radical or even revolutionary circles throughout the world, including the Third World. The current Sri Lankan discourse is recognizable though, as part of the fundamentalist critique of the West as distinct from the rational critique of the policies of neo-liberalism or neo-conservatism or of imperialism and capitalism as System.

The current outbreak of criticism in the Lankan press is not so much nationalist as ultra-nationalist, not so much patriotic as chauvinist, and not so much anti-imperialist as xenophobic. It reveals how isolated we are from the global Zeitgeist, while isolating us further from it, because it is Obama who has shaped that Zeitgeist with his style and substance, cerebration and cool, firmness and flexibility, cross cultural dialogue and deadly drone strikes, drive to defeat al Qaeda while outlawing torture under any circumstances thus “forging a framework to combat extremism within the rule of law”, disarmament and climate change goals, rejection of unilateralism and establishing a new architecture of relations with China and Russia, more robust healthcare plans and a more regulated, responsible capitalism.

What is dismaying is the utterly uncivil, unbalanced, near-hysterical nature of the current Sri Lankan ultranationalist criticism. A rational critic of the US contrasts Obama with his predecessor, distinguishes between Obama and the System, between the progressive aspect of Obama and the (perhaps inevitable) status-quoist or Establishment aspect, and finally between that which is positive and precious in the USA which permitted the presidency of Obama, and that which is not -- which for instance brought his predecessor to office and prevents the implementation of a healthcare plan along Canadian or British lines. Some Sinhalese critics of the USA actually blame Obama on the basis of testimony from the Iraq war; a war which Senator Obama opposed and which President Obama is extricating the USA from.

Illustration is better than instruction or is a more effective form of it. Therefore let me illustrate what I mean, about a rational, balanced, differentiated critique of the USA and the Obama administration from a top official of a country which has far more reasons accumulated for over half a century, to excoriate the US than has any Sri Lankan, however hot under the collar he gets. I quote from an AP report of the speech at the current session of the United Nations General Assembly by Cuba’s new and youthful Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parilla, a veteran of the Angola war, whom I have had the privilege of meeting.

Extracts from the AP report published in The Island of Wednesday Sept 30th read as follows:

‘Taking a conciliatory tone, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez told the U.N. General Assembly that Cuba had approached the American government with "a set of essential topics" it considers imperative to improving bilateral ties …

Rodriguez refrained from many of the anti-American barbs that have sometimes dominated Cuban addresses before the General Assembly and other world bodies, saying Obama has ensured "a period of extreme aggressiveness, unilateralism and arrogance in foreign policy (has) come to an end and the infamous legacy of the George W. Bush regime had been sunk in repudiation."

But he also said the White House has done little so far to justify sky-high international optimism that came with Obama’s election.

Rodriguez said there still "is uncertainty about the real capacity on the part of the present authorities in Washington to get over the political and ideological trends that threatened the world under the previous administration," adding that "neo-conservative forces" who supported Bush "have very quickly regrouped and still have the reins of power and considerable influence."

…Rodriguez blamed America’s "fascist right" for helping the Honduran military carry out the coup that toppled leftist President Manuel Zelaya in June and accused American interests of besmirching Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who sends more than 100,000 free barrels of oil a day to Cuba, keeping the cash-strapped island’s weak economy afloat. "The slanders and lies uttered against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela are brutal," Rodriguez said.’

The AP report is interestingly entitled ‘Cuba somewhat conciliatory toward Washington at UN’.

The official text shows that in his speech the Cuban Foreign Minister makes a fundamental differentiation and places the blame for the recent misdeeds of the USA exactly where it lies:

“The neoconservative groups that took George Bush to the presidency, which promoted the use of force and domination with the support of the US colossal military and economic power, the ones to blame for crimes such as torture, assassination and the manipulation of the American people... The American fascist right, represented by Cheney, openly supports and sustains the [Honduran] coup”.

Why is this so different in tone, style and substance from the corrosive vitriol in the Sri Lankan press regarding the USA in recent days and weeks; attacks which have at times been downright abusive about President Obama, not only the most cerebral, but easily the most respected and popular political leader (by all opinion polls) in today’s world? Could it be perhaps that Sri Lanka has more problems with the USA than has Cuba, or is more under threat from the USA than is Cuba? Or that the Sri Lankan Sinhalese critics of the USA are more caring about our sovereignty and independence than the Cubans are about theirs? Could it be that our anti-imperialists are more anti-imperialist than the Cubans? Once these hypotheses are discounted for the ridiculous nonsense that they are, what is one left with?

One is left with the truth: that there is a basic difference in values and outlook; that this Sinhala ultra-nationalist anti-Americanism is not the anti-imperialism of Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Vietnam or China, but of Pol Pot and Idi Amin. It is crass. It is uncivil and ugly. It is deeply racist. It contains ‘subterranean’ traces of racism towards President Obama. It is also ‘reverse racist’ towards whites (“suddhas”), and ‘reverse racism’ is not anti-racism. It is more comfortable with the universally reviled George W Bush because his militarism, unilateralism and culturally conservative religious fundamentalism is little different from theirs. They do not understand that the problem is not of exorcising or confine to an internment camp, the “suddha within”, but precisely which “suddha” and which “kalla” one has or chooses to have within.

His initial attempt at armed uprising having failed, the young lawyer Fidel Castro delivered in provincial court house, his famous defense speech History Will Absolve Me, which was actually a moral attack on his captors and the rulers, “…taking in Montesquieu to thumb his nose at despotism, and citing just about everyone from Thomas Aquinas and John Knox to Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the American Declaration of Independence.” (Fidel & Che: a Revolutionary Friendship, by Simon Reid-Henry, Sceptre, UK, 2009, p77). And what of his private reading in prison, which he shared with his fellow imprisoned revolutionaries in preparation for the struggles to come?

“After having knocked heads a good while with Kant, I find Marx easier than the Pater Nostrum”, he wrote. ‘Both he and Lenin had a powerful polemical spirit and I’m having a fine time with them, laughing and enjoying my reading’. Fidel was in fact working his way through a vast number of other thinkers too. Political and social science began with Weber and ended with Mannheim; literature began with Thomas More’s Utopia and was topped by Tolstoy, Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare and his favorite- Dostoyevsky. This still left time for Thackeray, Turgenev, and Balzac. He worked his way through Freud, Ramiro Guerra’s ten-volume History of the Cuban nation, and biographies of his favorite historical figures: Bolivar and Bonaparte both figured large (he compared Marx’s and Victor Hugo’s analysis of Bonaparte, favoring that of Marx), as did Trotsky’s Stalin.” (Simon Reid-Henry, Ibid, p90).

What a surfeit of suddhas! Fidel and Che knew that which we must all realize: that it is the mix, the fusion, the synthesis of the best of thinkers, national and international, North and South, West and East, white, black, brown and yellow, that yields the optimum results in terms of ideas and values, not some self-referential intellectual or cultural apartheid that assumes an absurd posture of purity and self-sufficient superiority. They were followers of the great 19th century Cuban and Latin American patriot Jose Marti, whose anti-colonialism resulted in his death by Spanish gunfire, but which rejected any narrow exclusivist or exclusionary nationalism and held that “homeland is humanity”. “Humanity” is homeland, not Sinhala-Buddhist or Eelam Tamil.

Little wonder then that Fidel and the Cuban revolution took one path, with a certain type of discourse, trajectory, and outcome, and Sri Lanka’s liberation movements led by Wijeweera and Prabhakaran took completely another. Sinhala ultra-nationalists actually minted a theory some years ago, that it mattered crucially that one “thought in Sinhala”. This was deemed to be politically correct. This absurdity diverted attention from the real question that what was important was what one thinks, the content of that thinking, not the language in which one thinks. What is crucial was the right attitude, the right thinking, the correct ideas, not the language in which one does one’s thinking – unless of course the assumption is that ONLY if one thinks in Sinhala, can one think accurately: “I think in Sinhala , therefore I am…correct? Superior”?

The problem is not with the “suddha” within or the scope he or she is accorded, but which “suddhas” and “kallas” lie within and to what effect. The trouble lies not with mounting a critique of US foreign policy, US society and even of the Obama administration; the trouble is that the local ultra-nationalists criticize Obama from an extremist standpoint increasingly similar to that of Osama!

October 02, 2009

DBSJ Twitter: UN special envoy on children and armed conflict to visit Sri Lanka

Updates from DBSJ Twiiter:

- UN Envoy: Retd Maj-Gen Patrick Cammaert of Netherlands will visit Sri Lanka

- New Date: US State dept report on Sri Lanka Army - LTTE war crimes

Click for latest updates by D.B.S. Jeyaraj on Twitter

Integrity with compassion: The destiny of Sri Lankans in IDP Camps

A Statement by the Rt. Revd. Duleep de Chickera. Bishop of Colombo

The Government’s decision to release persons in the camps to relatives after adequate security screening, was well received when first announced. Many welcomed this initiative. There have however, subsequently been conflicting reports in the Media about its implementation which require immediate attention and clarification.

If the decision has been put on hold it must be reactivated. If the response of relatives has been slow, more time and wider publicity should be given. If persons said to be released are in fact being transferred to camps in different Regions, this is misleading and must stop. Reports of the lack of co-ordination amongst State Authorities are disappointing, and all those responsible for implementing this decision should be required to ensure co-ordination, compassion and speed.

Such a course of action will confirm the Government’s position that these Sri Lankans crossed over to liberation at the invitation of their Government and that they are neither prisoners nor detainees. It will also recognise that no citizen of this country can or should be expected to endure the conditions in camps for too long. It will also widen the scope of current budgets and ensure better conditions, specially shelter and nourishment for those who remain. The anticipated rain is an added factor that calls for responsible action with speed.

The decision to release, should however be clearly seen as an interim measure. The much more urgent task is to expedite the process of resettlement. Once the ‘home areas” of the Displaced are cleared of mines and the required infrastructure built, persons displaced, whether in the camps or with relatives, should be resettled in their original homes.

I finally urge the Government to provide the Media with access to areas being de-mined and reconstructed, (subject to their safety and security precautions) and to also make regular public updates on this work. This will in turn provide information to all Sri Lankans, whether displaced or not, on the progress being made in this regard. In doing so the Government will demonstrate transparency in its management of the crisis and State Ministries and Officials will quite rightly be held accountable by the people.

With Peace and Blessings to all!

The Rt. Revd. Duleep de Chickera
Bishop of Colombo

24th September 2009

How India and Western nations view Sri Lankan handling of I.D.P’s

by Lynn Ockersz

Despite the Indian centre taking a keen interest in the expeditious resettlement of Sri Lanka’s IDPs, Indo-Lanka relations could be said to be working themselves out in an unruffled manner at present in marked contrast to, for instance, the mid-eighties, when ‘India-bashing’ was a popular preoccupation among some sections in Sri Lanka and Indo-Lanka ties had soured as never before.

Now as then, the compulsions are great for a degree of ‘Indian intervention’ in the affairs of this country but India seems to be playing her hand with utmost restraint.

That was a time when there was ample justification for crying ‘foul’ at India over the manner in which it handled its relations with this country. There was, for example, the issue of the running of LTTE training camps in Southern India with the apparent connivance of the Indian centre.

Rightly, this was seen by sections in Sri Lanka as providing a tremendous impetus to the LTTE’s separatist cause. In other words, there were sufficient grounds to accuse India of actively aiding and abetting the physical bifurcation of this country.

What was not factored in to their ‘readings’ of the compulsions at work, by India’s critics in this country at the time, were the larger geo-political realities of this region. South Asia was a region where the polarities of the now defunct Cold War were most marked.

Following the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the US was using Pakistan as a conduit for the supply of arms for the Afghan Mujahedin, while the Islamic Revolution in Iran the same year had deprived the US of its foothold in South West Asia.

It was also a time when Pakistan had cemented her Cold War link-up with the US through the medium of organizations, such as SEATO and CENTO and US influence in South-East Asia was bolstered by authoritarian regimes in Asia, such as the Pahlavi dynasty in Iran and the dictatorial Marcos administration in the Philippines.

India, on the other hand, was trying her best to exercise neutrality in the conduct of her foreign policy on the basis of the principle of Non-alignment but the seemingly pervasive Western influence on her immediate neighbours, compelled India to take up policy positions on regional issues which made her vulnerable to the criticism that she was allied more to the USSR and served Soviet purposes.

It was the lack of clarity in US policy on India that made India take what seemed to be pro-Soviet positions on particularly regional issues but a detailed discussion of these questions may not be quite apposite at present.

From the point of view of the current comment, what was significant was that Sri Lanka too at the time followed a markedly pro-Western foreign policy, which caused India to be highly concerned about the goings-on on her Southern frontier.

It was no secret, for instance, that the J.R. Jayewardene administration not only courted close relations with Pakistan and side-stepped the need to maintain an equi-distance between India and Pakistan, but also sought the help of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, and other Western intelligence establishments, in its fight with the Tigers.

It was this heavy tilt to the West by Sri Lanka and the security concerns it triggered in New Delhi, which compelled India to overlook the training of Tamil militant organizations on her soil. The Tamil militant struggle was held by India as a counterweight of sorts against what seemed to be Sri Lanka’s permissive policy towards the West and its security agencies.

In other words, India’s policy towards Sri Lanka at the time, could not be understood entirely in isolation from the security compulsions which came to bear on India as a consequence of the interstate power relations of the region and the belief that Lanka was heavily courting Western influence at the cost of Non-alignment.

How Indo-Sri Lanka relations shaped-up since then is now ‘history’ but it does not seem to be sufficiently appreciated that it is currently deliberate policy in New Delhi to cultivate close relations with India’s neighbours, based on what has come to be known as the Gujral Doctrine, which is, essentially, all about India developing good neighbourly relations in South Asia and of her taking her neighbours along with her in her efforts to be a major economic and political power.

Thus, even on the question of Sri Lanka’s IDPs, we are unlikely to see India heavy-handedly pressurizing Sri Lanka, although political considerations would constantly compel New Delhi to look over its shoulder at developments in Tamil Nadu and induce it to act accordingly in its relations with Sri Lanka.

Nevertheless, moral considerations too would impel India to persuade Sri Lanka to show concrete progress in resettling and rehabilitating the IDPs, since democratic accommodation of ethnic groups is a cornerstone of India’s internal policy. However, India would not be asserting herself in ‘Big Brotherly’ fashion while pursuing these aims. On the other hand, she would be seeking gradual improvements on these issues, chiefly through diplomatic means.

That said, Sri Lanka would do well to remember that she would be only serving her interests by achieving quick progress in resettling the IDPs in their former homesteads. If Sri Lanka is currently facing Western criticism on IDP-linked issues, it is because she has failed to impress on the international community that she is exceptionally concerned about the IDPs’ well being. Sri Lanka needs to do her utmost to erase this impression. This is a chief means of quelling ‘international conspiracies’.

It is insufficiently realized, among particularly nationalist opinion in Sri Lanka, that India is fast heading for First World status in almost every conceivable sphere. Her emergence as a foremost economic power bears this out. Besides, the US is seeking to forge strong links with India in view of the latter’s emerging stature, as well as in consideration of a commonality of interests between the powers.

A good example of this unity of policy and interests is the US-India civilian nuclear power deal. They expect to forge ahead together in a multiplicity of spheres, including the economic and the material.

In view of the foregoing, it must be borne in mind that, for Washington, Indo-US relations would be of greater importance than US-Lanka ties. This is one of the reasons why our policy makers would need to think and act with foresight in our relations with the West. In what is called the ‘Re-Asianizing’ of Asia, it is India and China which are emerging as the strongest states.

It is around them that the global economy would revolve and it is to them that the West would turn to for dynamic economic linkages. Sri Lanka should consider how she could be part of this major growth process, rather than be out of it by nursing a sense of grievance against the world.

I.D.P. Irony: Civilian detainees and LTTE escapees

by Dr. Packiyasothy Saravanamuttu

"Nearly 20,000 escape from IDP centres was the headline of an English language broadsheet yesterday. The strap line read –“Most believed to be LTTE cadres”. The article quotes the SSP for Kandy Ranjit Kasturiratna as saying this at a meeting of the Kandy District Coordinating Committee chaired by the Chief Minister of the Central Province Sarath Ekanayake on Monday.

The article goes on to say that according to the SSP special teams have been dispatched from Kandy to the IDP camps to conduct investigations.

This is not the first time this information has been reported in the media. Since the source of this information is a senior Police officer, we can assume that the information is reliable and accurate. Given the detention of over 250,000 IDPs in Menik Farm and many more in other camps on the grounds of their security and safety, this is indeed shocking.

Tens of thousands, most of who are believed to be LTTE cadres escape whilst ten times as many remain confined in camps to be screened for LTTE membership and sympathies! Is this a case of locking the stable door once the horse has bolted? How could this have happened? Who is involved? Security forces? Para-militaries? Surely not? The former are supposed to be outside the camps and beyond reproach; the latter are supposed to be nowhere near the camps, leave aside inside them.

It is information such as this, which truly informs the average citizen about what is really happening in respect of the most important and pressing issues facing the country – the situation of the IDPs and national security. Hopefully, as would be the case in a vibrant functioning democracy, this would lead to greater public awareness and debate about the situation of the IDPs and the need to address it as the urgent national priority it is as well as the state of national security.

Furthermore, since the question of accountability is much in the news these days, accountability for what is clearly an egregious security lapse must surely follow. The prospect of thousands of LTTE cadres at large is indeed a horrific prospect in the aftermath of a decisive military victory and a country on the cusp of a post-conflict phase of peace and reconciliation and unity.

What is also revealing is that the bulk of the nearly 20,000 who have escaped from IDP centres are “believed” to be LTTE cadres. That this could be the case after the decisive military defeat of the LTTE is quite frankly mind boggling, particularly since the figures put out by the defence hierarchy of LTTE cadre strength over the years and in the course of the war, did not lead one to believe that it ran into anywhere near tens of thousands.

Be that as it may, no doubt the regime with its proven expertise in security matters and heightened security consciousness will get to the bottom of what appears to be an uncharacteristically egregious lapse on its watch.

In the meantime, the fate of the over two hundred thousand IDPs detained in camps remains to be decided.

The statement of the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on the Human Rights of the IDPs Walter Kaelin is instructive in this context and worth quoting at length. Walter Kaelin recently concluded a visit to Sri Lanka, soon after that of the UN Under Secretary General for Political Affairs Lyn Pascoe. Kaelin in a press release of 29 September states that he is:

…..impressed by the Government’s massive demining and reconstruction efforts that I witnessed in the Mannar rice bowl.

He goes on to say:

The IDPs should be allowed to leave these camps in Northern Sri Lanka with their difficult and risky living conditions. The IDPs should be allowed to leave these camps and return voluntarily and in freedom, safety and dignity to their homes. If this is not possible in the near future, the displaced should be allowed to stay with host families or in open transit sites.

He notes that the camps were not set up to deal with heavy rains and the approaching monsoon and “whilst appreciating that his interlocutors in the Government shared these goals, called upon the Government to translate its commitments into action without further delay”.

According to Walter Kaelin:

Restoration of the freedom of movement is important to gain the confidence of the Tamil community and enable the building of a sustainable peace. …. ....

In this context an incident reported by the Sri Lankan Army on 26 September involving the use of firearms to control a group of internally displaced persons trying to move from camp zone to another that resulted in injuries to two persons raises serious human rights issues. It also underscores how interning people in large overcrowded camps not built for prolonged stays is in itself a factor detrimental to security.

On internment he points out that:

According to international law, legitimate and imperative security concerns may justify the internment of civilians during the height of a conflict, but it must not last longer than absolutely necessary to respond to these security concerns. Internment decisions must further be made on an individual rather than a group basis. Those who are not released must be informed about the reasons on an individual basis and be given a genuine opportunity to have the decision reviewed by an independent body.

Whilst noting that there have been vast improvements in the security situation, Kaelin emphasized that:

…immediate and substantial progress in restoring freedom of movement for the displaced is imperative if Sri Lanka is to respect the rights of its citizens and comply with its commitments and obligations under international law.

In the press release, Walter Kaelin makes a number of suggestions including improvements in the screening process in the direction of greater transparency and against “renewed confinement and screening in districts of return”.

Furthermore he suggests parallel options of return to homes, to host families and open relief centres in transit areas. He also points out the importance of information regarding the modalities of return, relatives and family members as well as the access of humanitarian actors to information. Kaelin also draws attention to the Muslim IDPs who have been displaced for over two decades and calls for their inclusion in reconstruction programmes.

We are now at the beginning of October and the monsoon approaches, thousands have escaped, ten times that are still in detention, some have been shot at, others relocated and there has been a foretaste of what the rains will do. And peace, reconciliation and unity awaits..........

Close down the People Farms

by Rajan Philips

The most pressing political question ought to be about the freeing of over 200,000 Tamil people held in the Wanni camps. There are many more Sri Lankan Tamils and Muslims displaced and scattered elsewhere in Sri Lanka, but they are the victims of multiple sources of violence and rights abuses that have been the lot of the land for decades. The encampment of the people in the Wanni, on the other hand, is the sole work of the Rajapakse government and the government alone can end it simply and swiftly with a single order to open the gates and let the people go to their homes.

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Tamil civilians stand behind a barbed-wire fence in the Manik Farm refugee camp located on the outskirts of Vavuniya-Reuters pic.

The government forced over 300,000 people into camps after claiming to have liberated them from the clutches of the LTTE. From the LTTE frying pan the Wanni Tamils were thrown into state administered fire. The people are still burning, protests and concerns, national and international, notwithstanding. It is not the Orwellian Animal Farm that has come to exemplify Sri Lanka’s dystopia, but the state-run people farms in the Wanni.

As many have said before, there is no reason to detain these people in camps. The camps are inhuman and all the excuses that the government has been giving are adding insults to the injuries of the people it is holding against their will and against their dignity. By all indications, the vast majority of them have a place to go, and the few who have nowhere to go could remain in the camps and be looked after not by the military but civilian agencies.

Despite restrictions on visits or inspections by outsiders, the outside world knows what is going on inside the camps. Even with the best of intentions the Sri Lankan government is incapable of operating camps of this size humanely and efficiently. With intentions that are manifestly manipulative and sinister, the suffering of the people is that much worse.

There can be no greater political priority at this point other than doing everything to get the government to allow the people in the Wanni camps to go home. The call to “Let our people free” signed by Rauff Hakeem, Sampanthan, Anandasangaree, Vigneswaran and Mano Ganesan, is a long overdue statement that is better late than never. It is a small step in bringing together different Tamil political groups and the premier Muslim organization, but for a cause that is more fundamental than any of the political questions over which they may habitually differ.

The cause of the encamped people deserves an even broader consensus cutting through political lines and even ethnic lines. It needs supportive voices from within the government as well as the disarrayed opposition. Most of all it requires the unanimous and single minded chorus of all Sri Lankan Tamils wherever they are. The internet led abstract search for a Tamil transnational government abroad can wait, but not the return of the encamped Tamil people to their homes - at home, in Sri Lanka.
The people in the Wanni camps are not just an “IDP issue” awaiting a “new struggle”, but a new ethical collapse that render all other struggles, old and new, meaningless. The struggles and the transactions over citizenship of the plantation Tamils, against linguistic racism, and for political power sharing were undertaken in the parliamentary political arena while the country’s social organization remained alive and intact. The social organization, especially among the Tamils living in Sri Lanka, is now utterly broken and its repair cannot begin anywhere except in the closing down of the camps.

The government objectively justified the war against the LTTE as war against terrorism. But the subjective intentions were something else and the human camps in the Wanni are testament to the ill intentions of the Rajapakse government. The LTTE is not remembered enough by the Tamils, either as hero or as villain. It is not forgotten enough by the Rajapakse government. The LTTE was “an absent presence” at the Rajani (Thiranagama) commemoration. It is the be all and end all of the political strategy of the Rajapakse government.

The government’s priority is to perpetuate the war after the war has been won, and to keep the LTTE alive even after decimating it. That is the brothers’ roadmap to stay in power and to win elections as they come. War + LTTE = patriotism + security. That is the equation of the Rajapakse brothers. Every other variable in Sri Lankan society affecting its wellbeing is irrelevant and outside the brothers’ political radar. The encamping of the people in the Wanni is a key factor in that equation, and the government, the occasional platitude apart, is stubborn about keeping the camps going.

The people in the camps and their families and extended families everywhere cannot be asked to show gratitude to the government for destroying the LTTE, when the destruction of the LTTE has come at the price of their own lives and livelihoods. No Tamil can undertake a political postmortem of the LTTE or publicly remember the dark ‘historical facts’ about the LTTE when the aftermaths of the LTTE’s defeat are far worse than the darkest days of its dominance. The much acclaimed post-LTTE space is a brutal military and paramilitary space that has snuffed the air out of not only the so called Tamil democratic resistance to the LTTE but Tamil politics in general.

Although disoriented and demoralized, Tamil politics, thanks to its Diaspora resources, is still capable of being the spoiler to the designs of the Rajapakse government. Ironically, for all its manipulative cleverness, the government is failing to see that the beginning of its eventual undoing is in the people farms that it has created in the Wanni. Ironically too, the Diaspora, by and large, instead of hammering the government at its weakest point is floating hot air balloons about transnational governance. They are both ignoring the human tragedy in the Wanni camps. That mutual ignorance of the human element is not hugely surprising.

Indian Independence and The Periyaar-Anna break-up

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

It was in 1939 that Eevera Periyar organized the Dravida Nadu Conference for the advocacy of a separate, sovereign and federal republic of Dravida Nadu.In a rousing speech on December 17, 1939,Periyar proclaimed "Dravida Nadu for Dravidians". This replaced the earlier slogan "Tamil Nadu for Tamils".

July 1940 saw a secession committee being formed at the Dravida Nadu Secession Conference organized by Periyar's disciple CN Annadurai known as Anna (elder brother) at Kanchipuram his hometown. In this conference Periyaar displayed a map of the envisaged Dravida Naadu.It basically corresponded to the existing Madras Presidency.

But there were some who spoke of a Greater Dravida Naadu incorporating regions in Burma, Singapore, Malaya and Ceylon where Tamils were concentrated. This was not a serious demand and was made by insignificant personalities.

CN Annadurai, M. Karunanidhi and MG Ramachandran

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

Gandhi appears as a Google doodle

Gandhi's birthday, 140 years ago today, is being celebrated with a Google logo

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The web search engine Google has decorated its home page – seen by millions of people every day as they go there to search the internet - with a sketch of Mahatma Gandhi, who was born 140 years ago.

His face is being used in place of the initial letter "G" of the website's onscreen name, making him one of a small number of people who have been given such prominence on the site's search page.

Gandhi's birthday, October 2, is marked as a national holiday in India. Born in 1869, Gandhi insisted that non-violent civil disobedience was the best way to achieve change, and led nationwide campaigns in India - then under British rule - to achieve independence. He was assassinated at the age of 78 by a Hindu extremist.

Previous people featured in Google's doodle include Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Confucius, Luciano Pavarotti, Dr Seuss, Andy Warhol, Claude Money, Louis Braille, Pablo Picasso, Vinc ent van Gogh – and, posthumously, Michael Jackson.

The doodles are overseen by Dennis Hwang, who joined the company in 2000 and has gradually been using the logo to remind people of particular dates or events. Last week the logo celebrated the company's 11th birthday by including what looked like two letter "l". Last month it also offered clues to crop circles and to the author H G Wells, through hints about the locations mentioned in his book The War of the Worlds. [Courtesy: The Guardian.co.uk]

Gandhi's own voice can be heard in a speech from 1931, available on YouTube.

October 01, 2009

Freedom for Wanni IDP's: Doing the right thing in Sri Lanka

by Rohini Hensman

Freedom for Vanni Internally Displaced Persons

It was a relief to hear that the government of Sri Lanka was at last responding to mounting domestic and international criticism, and had begun releasing the Vanni IDPs. Perhaps the shocking report in the Sunday Times on 6 September about human trafficking at the internment camps was partly responsible. An exemplary piece of investigative journalism, it revealed that up to 20,000 IDPs had been ransomed by desperate relatives who were able and willing to pay lakhs of rupees to secure their release, and had left the camps.

This exposes so-called ‘screening’ for what it is: a cover for a lucrative flesh trade, carried out with the collusion of elements in the government and armed forces who get a cut out of it. It also explains why the camp authorities refused to release a one-year-old child to leave with its grandmother, in a case cited by V. Anandasangaree of the Tamil United Liberation Front: since an infant could hardly be suspected of being a dreaded LTTE terrorist, the reason was surely that a ransom had not been paid.

One would have to be naïve indeed to believe that those who have been ransomed are ‘innocent’ while those who remain are more likely to be LTTE cadres. On the contrary, anyone in the camps who had any value for the LTTE diaspora would certainly have escaped by now. Conversely, we can be sure that the unfortunate souls left rotting in these camps are of no interest to whatever remains of the LTTE. They are the victims, not perpetrators, of crimes. The UN too seems to have woken up to the fact that by funding these camps it is colluding, willy-nilly, in a crime against humanity – the denial of liberty and other fundamental human rights to a civilian population – and has made it clear that it cannot continue doing so much longer. UN Under Secretary General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe reiterated the demand that the Vanni IDPs should be granted freedom of movement during his recent visit.

While we welcome the government’s announcement that it is willing to release IDPs from the camps to relatives willing to house them, it is a matter of concern that even while President Rajapaksa was telling Mr Pascoe that the reason so few IDPs had been released to live with their relatives was because there were so few applications, the GA of Vavuniya was refusing to release IDPs to their relatives! This suggests that ransoms are still being demanded, and IDPs unable to pay them are not being released. The condition that IDPs should be released only to relatives makes sense for unaccompanied children, but why can’t adults go and live in rented accommodation instead of staying with relatives if they so choose?

Furthermore, the whole farce of ‘screening’, which has been dragged on for more than four months, should be stopped. The best proof that the LTTE is no longer a threat in Sri Lanka is the release of top LTTE cadres Daya Master and George Master, who were with Prabakaran almost to the very end. Would the authorities have released them on bail if there were any danger from the LTTE? Hardly. If they can be released, why are lakhs of innocent civilians being detained? Did the President avoid the UN General Assembly because he was unable to answer this question?

Release should not be confused with resettlement. IDPs who wish to go and live outside the camps should be free to do so. Those who wish to remain in the camps until their original habitats are de-mined and reconstructed should be allowed to remain, but should be free to move in and out of the camps instead of being imprisoned in them as they are now, and free to leave permanently as and when they wish. The only condition attached should be that they inform the international and local agencies which are providing for them whenever they leave for good, to make it clear that there is no need to feed them any longer. The resources freed by their departure could be used to speed up de-mining and reconstruction in the war-devastated areas, and will undoubtedly improve conditions for those who choose to remain in the camps. The release of all the Vanni IDPs would end this shameful chapter in Sri Lanka ’s history.

Resettlement

Pressure on the government to ensure speedy resettlement of all IDPs should also be kept up. This should include not only IDPs who fled the recent fighting but also those who were displaced earlier, including Muslims displaced in 1990. Citizens’ committees would need to be set up to deal with problems, such as those which occur where others are living in the homes of displaced people who wish to return. It will not be easy, but with goodwill, these problems can be resolved, and the sooner the better. All those who want to return to their original homes should be accommodated, if not in their original homes, at least in the neighbourhood, or in some other place of their choice. This is the only way to reverse the ethnic cleansing drives carried out by both the state and the LTTE, and rebuild integrated communities.

An unnecessary obstacle to resettlement is created by the government’s designation of some of the areas from which people have been displaced as ‘High Security Zones’ (HSZs), some of which double as ‘Special Economic Zones’(!). Earlier attempts to dismantle these were stalled by the argument that they were necessary so long as the LTTE had not been disarmed. Now that the LTTE has definitively been disarmed, they serve no justifiable purpose. The only way their persistence can be explained is as a form of ethnic cleansing, since in practically every case, the people displaced by them are Tamils and Muslims. A good example is Sampur in the East, where the inhabitants were driven out by shelling and are now being denied the right to return, while India colludes in this ethnic cleansing by undertaking to build a coal-fired power plant on their land. The process of resettlement cannot be regarded as complete until people displaced by HSZs have also been granted the right of return. But, some people argue, the LTTE is still a threat, and therefore we need to retain the HSZs, along with the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and Emergency provisions. Is this true?

Is the War Over? Or Was the President Lying?

Back in May, President Rajapaksa gave a speech in which he claimed that ‘our Motherland has been completely freed from the clutches of separatist terrorism’. He spoke of ‘the proud victory we have achieved today by defeating the world’s most ruthless terrorist organization’ and ‘the defeat of the LTTE and the breakdown of their armed strength’. There was no ambiguity about his words: he told us that the war was over, the LTTE defeated, their armed strength broken down. On this understanding, there were widespread celebrations, and the President gained enormous popularity.

There is no reason to suppose that the President was lying. Yet in August a senior government official was reported as saying that the LTTE was still capable of reorganising in Sri Lanka , and in September IGP Jayantha Wickramaratne reiterated that the threat of the Tamil Tigers is still alive in Sri Lanka , and they have not been completely defeated. On the face of it, these people were implying that the President was a liar when he said that Sri Lanka had been completely freed from separatist terrorism, and a fraud for claiming credit for the defeat of the LTTE. So why does the President tolerate such insults from his underlings?

The reason seems to be that the government is caught in the same trap of war-dependence which was the downfall of the LTTE. A war justifies repressive measures that would never be acceptable in peacetime, and the LTTE would have been unable to function without these. That is why it broke one ceasefire after another, let slip one opportunity after another to negotiate a just peace. But this had a disastrous effect on its support base. With all due respect to the soldiers who risked and lost their lives in the war, their courage alone would not have brought about the defeat of the LTTE. The Israeli armed forces are many times stronger than the Sri Lankan military, and the Palestinians’ arsenal is pathetic by comparison with that of the LTTE, yet the Palestinian resistance has survived for over sixty years. That is because it has the support of the people: precisely what the LTTE lost due to its dependence on war.

The last straw appears to have been the peace process which began in 2002. It ushered in an unprecedentedly long cessation of hostilities, and made it clearer than ever that the LTTE was incapable of handling peace. I was among those who criticised the 2002 CFA for allowing the LTTE a free hand to kill Tamil dissidents, conscript children and prepare for war, but in retrospect, I can see that it also served a positive purpose. Karuna’s defection was only the visible tip of a vast iceberg of discontent, as Tamil people who had hoped the LTTE would deliver them from fear, humiliation and violence realised that it offered them only more of the same. Their disillusionment and consequent withdrawal of support allowed the state to defeat the LTTE.

Now the Rakapaksa regime faces the same dilemma that Prabakaran faced earlier: if the war is over, how can it justify the measures that give absolute and unaccountable power to the state? So it has to invent an ‘LTTE threat’ in order to continue with policies that would be unacceptable in peacetime. But the Sinhalese people of Sri Lanka are not fools. They will realise, like the Tamil people before them, that this ‘threat’ is simply being concocted to justify disastrous economic and political choices. With all the fire and brimstone directed against foreign-funded NGOs, it is amusing to note that Sri Lanka now has a government that is dependent on foreign funding. The Ministry of Finance and Planning reported in August 2008 that the national debt stood at over 3 trillion rupees, with 1.39 trillion being foreign debt. The IMF loan eased the immediate problem, but at the cost of getting the country deeper in debt: in other words, it can repay its debts only by expanding them, placing an ever greater burden on the people. If the EU GSP+ facility is lost, the economy will plunge even deeper in the red. In this context, detaining lakhs of civilians and expanding the armed forces constitute unnecessary and ruinous expenditures.

The social and political costs are equally huge. Horrific reports of police brutality, including the murder of two boys, Dhanushka Aponso and Dinesh Fernando, at Angulana and the abduction and torture of student Nipuna Ramanayake by SSP Vaas Gunawardene and other officers of the Colombo Crime Division, are reminiscent of the murders of the schoolboys of Embilipitiya, and result from the same conditions: rampant impunity for crimes committed by politicians in power, the state security forces and the police. This impunity, in turn, is fostered by the suspension of the rule of law resulting from the PTA and Emergency Regulations, which can only be justified by claiming that the LTTE is still a threat.

The only way to reverse the degradation of Sri Lanka’s economy and polity is to acknowledge that the war is over and take the appropriate measures: release all the Vanni IDPs immediately, slash military spending, dismantle the paramilitaries, redeploy demobilised soldiers to civilian reconstruction tasks, replace military and ex-military administrators with civilian ones, dismantle the HSZs, resettle all displaced civilians including those displaced by HSZs, repeal the PTA and Emergency Regulations, restore democratic rights, especially to freedom of expression, and release J.S. Tissainayagam and others incarcerated for exercising this right. The best way to ensure that Sri Lanka retains its EU GSP+ facility is to do the right thing, failing which, the government must take full responsibility for the loss of jobs and revenue.

Let Our People Free: Joint Statement of Tamil and Muslim Parties

Full Text of Statement

The Tamil speaking peoples of Sri Lanka have suffered great hardships for many decades since Independence. They have faced discrimination and had to suffer ethnic riots, pogroms and ethnic cleansing; in the pogrom in 1983 sections of the state were involved. In the last thirty four years Sri Lanka was consumed by an ethnic civil war in which the Tamil and Muslim people and others in the North and East and elsewhere were victims.

The Tamils in particular bore the brunt of the suffering. During the last stages of the war the people of the Vanni suffered traumatic pain which, despite the conclusive end of the war, has still not abated. While we are deeply concerned about the human rights violations everywhere in our island such as death threats, the killing of civilians, and the disappearance of journalists and others, we feel the need to prioritise in this communiqué such collective and unbearable pain of large numbers of our population as compels immediate intervention.

We the undersigned affirm the following and call for an immediate end to these intolerable conditions, and in particular:

• We state that the forcible detention of hundreds of thousands of Tamil citizens of Sri Lanka in camps for Internally Displaced Persons is illegal,

without basis in the Constitution and in gross violation of international human rights norms.

• These people should be released immediately to return to their homes and permitted to resume without hindrance their traditional livelihood activities such as farming and fishing, or to take up residence with friends and relatives, or to exercise their lawful right to abode elsewhere at their discretion. Those likely to face criminal charges should be produced in a court of law without further delay.

• We strongly urge that the camps, for so long as they exist, should be open to
relatives, religious functionaries, parliamentarians, provincial councillors, civil society, UN agencies, journalists, and national and international aid and humanitarian organisations.

• We urge that immediate arrangements be made to allow the Muslim people who were evicted from the North and have suffered acute hardships for nearly two decades to return to their homes and to resume their economic and social activities without hindrance.

• Similar arrangements must be made to re-settle in their original homes all those in the East, who remain displaced and continue to suffer greatly.

• The restrictions on movement in and out of the Northern Province and some
locations in the East should be lifted and the need for permits to enter or leave should be rescinded forthwith. In particular, any form of quarantine of the Northern Province is a violation of basic rights and should be lifted.

• The curfew and other restrictions on normality in many parts of the Northern Province and elsewhere are unjustified and we demand that normality be returned without delay. People in certain parts of the country live in fear, avoid even essential travel, and are inhibited in employment related and social activities.

• We call for an end to military administration and restrictions placed on civilians, and we urge the restoration of full civilian administration to facilitate return to economic and social normality.


V.Anandasangaree
Leader, TULF

Mano Ganesan, M.P.
Leader, DPF

Rauff Hakeem, M.P.
Leader, SLMC

Dr. K. Vigneswaran
Leader, AITUF

R. Sampanthan, M.P
Leader, ITAK, Leader, TNA