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December 31, 2010

National Anthem: From "Namo Namo" to "Sri Lanka Matha"

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

A campaign is being conducted by majoritarian hawks to do away with the practice of singing the national anthem in Tamil. There are however indications that saner counsel is prevailing and that the current National anthem controversy may turn out to be a tempest in a tea cup.

Controversy however is nothing new as far as the national anthem of Sri Lanka is concerned. A retrospective gaze into the evolution and growth of our national anthem shows that the song has been mired in controversy right from the beginning.

The concept of a national anthem was introduced by the British to what was then Ceylon. The modern Ceylon nation itself was a colonial construct.It was the British who integrated different territories under their control into a single entity and set up a unified administration for the Country. [Click here to read in full ~ dbsjeyaraj.com]

Slain clerk had been sent to U.S. to escape violence of Sri Lanka

By CHRISTINE VENDEL
The Kansas City Star

Sujendra Amarasingham escaped the violence in his homeland of Sri Lanka only to find it lurking in the parking lot of a gas station in Kansas City.

His parents sent him to the United States to get him away from a decades-long civil war that killed more than 70,000 people, friends said.

“They sent him here to be safe,” said Jonathan Williams, a classmate at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Amarasingham, 25, was one semester away from graduating with a degree in electrical and computer engineering with an emphasis in power distribution and control systems. He planned to pursue a master’s degree, possibly on the West Coast, Williams said.

But a masked gunman ambushed Amarasingham while he was reportedly taking out some trash about 4:40 a.m. Tuesday at Inner City Oil, 5901 Swope Parkway, where Amarasingham had worked part-time for about three months. The killer shot him, stepped over him and stole merchandise from the store.

A customer who showed up minutes later saw Amarasingham mortally wounded on the floor and stepped over him to steal from the register.

Another customer called police about 20 minutes later, but it was too late. Amarasingham was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Peaches Brinston, who works at Inner City Oil, described Amarasingham as a “beautiful spirit” and a “happy-go-lucky guy.” He just didn’t understand how tough the neighborhood could be. A few weeks before the slaying, a thief reached through the store’s window and stole Amarasingham’s wallet, which was on the counter, she said.

“He was naive to the fact that he was in a bad neighborhood,” Brinston said. “He didn’t deserve this.”

Imtiaz “Easy” Moknijia, the store’s owner, echoed her: “He made a small mistake, and he trusted people.”

The store plans to offer a $10,000 reward in the case, said spokesman Jeremy Ploeger.

Williams said he met Amarasingham in January 2009.

“He just approached me and started talking,” Williams said. “We just hit it off. He was so nice. That’s why I liked him so much.”

Williams said Amarasingham was very intelligent; loved Kansas City and UMKC; and had a positive, gracious attitude.

“He was the type of kid who never had anything bad to say about anybody,” said Williams, who added that Amarasingham regularly offered to buy food and gifts for people.

The Ad Hoc Group Against Crime sponsored a prayer vigil Wednesday evening at the crime scene. It drew dozens of people, including many UMKC students, clergy and neighbors.

Amarasingham’s parents live in Sri Lanka, and he has a sister, friends said. Relatives were expected to arrive Wednesday night in Kansas City.

Police were still looking for the killer and opportunistic customer. Investigators were sifting through tips called in after the release of store surveillance photos. Police ask anyone with information to call the TIPS Hotline at 816-474-TIPS (474-8477).

The Star’s James Hart contributed to this report. To reach Christine Vendel, call 816-234-4438 or send e-mail to cvendel@kcstar.com.

Couresty ~ Kansascity.com

Related ~ Facebook profile of Sujendra Amarasingham

Sri Lanka Army says Jaffna killings and abductions are nothing really out of the ordinary

'Fear still prevails' in Jaffna

By Charles Haviland
BBC news, Colombo

Reports from the main city of northern Sri Lanka, Jaffna, say people there are living in fear because of a current series of killings, abductions and robberies.

Among those killed by unidentified assailants within the past three weeks were a Hindu priest and an education official.

The army, which has a heavy presence there, has expressed some concern while saying it is nothing really out of the ordinary.

The Sri Lankan government usually excludes foreign journalists from Jaffna.

Violent crime has been rising in and around the mainly Tamil city to such an extent that the municipal council issued a statement urging the government to stop it.

The Jaffna councillors say they want the president and defence secretary to take action.

The local army chief, Maj-General Mahinda Hathurusinghe, told the BBC he was “worried” that the killing of a local education official last Sunday remained a mystery.

He was shot in front of his teenage daughter.

Three weeks ago a Hindu priest was killed and two of his sons seriously injured and this week a young businessman was abducted and stabbed to death; some accounts say he was beheaded.

Reports say another youth was abducted on Thursday and his body has now been found, but the military denies the entire incident.

People have taken to going out at night in groups rather than alone.

The government has now issued a statement denying reports which, it said, sought to discredit the government and ascribe a political motive to some of the killings.

It specifically denied that the education official was killed for condemning the singing of the national anthem in the majority language, Sinhala, rather than the local one, Tamil, at a function the same morning.

The local army chief, General Hathurusinghe, said the killing of the priest earlier in December was the work of two former Tamil Tiger fighters working in cooperation with a government army corporal.

All had been arrested, he told the BBC. courtesy: BBC Sandeshaya

December 30, 2010

Move over Ceylon, it will be Sri Lanka from now on everywhere

by R. K. Radhakrishnan

Colombo, Dec 30 ~ The Sri Lankan Cabinet, which met here and was considering a change in name for its power board, Ceylon Electricity Board, debated and decided to extend the name-change to all the remaining organisations.

BOC1230.jpg

A Bank of Ceylon logo. All institutional names that include Ceylon is to be changed as per a Cabinet decision.

The country changed its name from the British colonial “Ceylon” to Sri Lanka in 1972 when it became a Republic. Even before that, the country was “Ilangai” to the Tamils and “Lanka” to the Sinhalese. The Ramayana too describes the Ravana kingdom as Lanka.

The name Ceylon is of recent origin, given the fact the Arab traders called it ‘Serendib' (island of jewels) and the Romans, “Taprobane”. A few academics in Tamil Nadu theorise that the river “Thamirabharani” in Tamil Nadu derives its name from Taprobane, pointing to the fact that no river in Tamil Nadu has such a sanskritised name. The 18th century European seafarers and conquerors seemed to have been in the business of naming everyplace they visited and the name of Sri Lanka changed from “Sinhaladvipa” to Ceilao, to Ceylan and, much later during the British occupation, Ceylon. “The Cabinet decided to bring in legislation to effect the name change not only for the electricity board, but other organisations which still have ‘Ceylon' as part of their name,” AFP, quoting a government official said. [courtesy: The Hindu]

Sri Lanka's Shrinking Payoff

By MOHAMMED HADI and BIJOU GEORGE

Sri Lanka's post-war economic boom is only just beginning. Have investors already missed the boat?

In the 19 months since the nation's civil war ended, stock prices are up nearly 250% and the rupee up 6%. Government debt is also in high demand: The difference between yields on a Sri Lankan dollar-denominated bond due in 2012 and similar U.S. Treasurys is just 3.5 percentage points, data from Barclays Capital show. A year ago, that was spread closer to 6%.

WSJ1230.gifThe potential here goes well beyond a boost in tourism. Sri Lanka's location within East-to-West shipping lanes is promising, and large areas of farmland and coastline in the northeast can be developed now that fighting has ended. The government, meanwhile, recently implemented tax cuts and other reforms aimed at boosting foreign investment. Adjusted for inflation, economic growth could be close to 8% this year, up from an average of 5% in the prior decade.

Bond market strategists are now expecting Sri Lanka's credit rating to be revised upward next year. Investors, though, have already taken things a step further: Moody's says the market-implied rating on Sri Lanka's sovereign debt is Ba1, three notches above where the agency currently rates the country and only one level below investment grade.

But Sri Lanka is still far from investment grade, in large part because of government debt racked up over three decades of fighting. This debt stood at a whopping 86% of gross domestic product last year. On "debt affordability" Moody's rates Sri Lanka higher only than Lebanon and Jamaica. Rising commodity and food prices could make efforts to cut this debt tougher if domestic investors demand the government pay higher yields to compensate for inflation. About 40% of spending in next year's budget is allocated for interest payments.

Stocks face a possible headwind too. As many as 60 companies could conduct initial public offerings next year, says Yolan Seimon, head of research at John Keells Stock Brokers in Colombo. Many of these deals will be small, but the rush is still substantial given that there are only 240 companies currently listed. Anyway, Seimon says, with stocks now trading at 14.9 times expected earnings, price gains will likely average 20% to 25% a year, tracking profit growth.

Investors turning up now, seeking the triple-digit returns of recent years, will find that ship has sailed.

courtesy: The Wall Street Journal

Sri Lanka says U.N. panel can not conduct own war crimes probe

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka said on Thursday it would not allow a U.N. panel to conduct an independent probe into the country's 25-year war, a few weeks after reversing a ban on U.N. members taking part in a controversial, local investigating body.

The government said in a statement the U.N. panel can only testify before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), a state-created body that human rights groups say lacks the credibility, and impartiality, needed to look into alleged human rights violations by the military against Tamil Tiger rebels, especially in the last few months of the conflict.

"The U.N. panel will be given visas only to testify before the LLRC if they request (that) and not for any investigations," government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella told reporters in Colombo.

"This is the government stance and there is no change in that. The U.N. has so far not requested visa in this regard."

The government statement came in response to demands by opposition parties to clarify a December 19 statement that President Mahinda Rajapaksa would allow a three-member panel appointed by the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon into the country to take part in the LLRC.

Sri Lanka has vigorously fought against Western pressure to allow an international investigation into allegations that war crimes were committed during the final months of a 25-year civil war with the Tamil Tiger separatists.

Human rights groups, Tamil pressure groups overseas and some Western governments accuse the Sri Lankan government of responsibility for what they say are thousands of civilian deaths or other atrocities that could constitute war crimes.

The government has acknowledged some civilians were killed but says accusations that thousands died are inflated for propaganda purposes by rebel supporters.

Sri Lanka's failure to set up an independent probe into the alleged war crimes has already cost the island nation $150 million (97 million pounds) worth trade concession from the European Union annually. Economists also said it is hampering foreign investment.

(Reporting by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Miral Fahmy)

Courtesy: Reuters

December 28, 2010

Boston Globe: 'Heed the awful truth in US Ambassador's cable and push for a legitimate UN investigation of war crimes in Sri Lanka'

Dec 29, 2010, Boston Globe Editorial ~ Probe both sides in Sri Lanka

NO FOREIGN leader has fared worse in the cables released by WikiLeaks than Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has been resisting calls for an international inquiry into possible war crimes committed when Sri Lankan troops wiped out the secessionist Tamil Tigers in May 2009.

In this particular case, disclosure of an American diplomat’s confidential assessment serves the cause of human rights, validating the stand of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the International Crisis Group. All three have argued, rightly, for a credible investigation of alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka, whether committed by the Tamil Tigers or government forces.

The documents show that US Ambassador Patricia Butenis observed last January that no regime investigates “its own troops or senior officials for war crimes.’’ She then added, in a devastating aside, that in Sri Lanka “responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country’s senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers.’’

The ambassador’s candor illuminates a recurring contradiction between the moral imperatives of human rights and the cold logic of diplomacy. Videos and survivor accounts strongly suggest that hundreds, if not thousands, of Tamils were stripped naked, had their hands bound behind their backs, and were murdered during the final weeks of the government’s war against the Tigers. Yet for reasons of state, neighboring powers India and China show no interest in documenting and punishing such crimes. All the more reason for America to heed the awful truth in Butenis’s cable and push for a legitimate UN investigation of war crimes in Sri Lanka.

Hambantota is symbolic of major shift of political and economic power away from Colombo

By Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe

As the first ship entered the newly opened port facility at Hambantota on November 18, there continues to be more speculation that the facility could potentially be used as a Chinese naval base as part of a so called ‘string of pearls’ strategy to encircle India. However, evidence suggests that the Hambantota port has a largely different function that is likely to alter Sri Lanka’s political and economic centre of gravity.

For many decades, plans to develop a port at Hambantota have been talked about and studied, but they remained a low priority to successive governments that were either unable to acquire adequate funds or were preoccupied by the outbreak of three full scale insurrections.

However, this state of affairs changed when Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected as Sri Lanka’s president in November 2005 during which a notable feature of his election platform was a strong emphasis on infrastructure development. As such, the most significant project among his development ambitions was to construct a large, modern, world class port facility at Hambantota.

However, the breakdown of the Norwegian mediated ceasefire agreement (2002-2007) led to the commencement of the final phase of Sri Lanka’s civil war, from 2006-2009, and temporarily suspended these initiatives. Nonetheless, even while the war was at its peak, funding for the development of the Hambantota port was actively sought, and in view of India’s disinterest and reluctance to be involved, China proved willing to offer funding and technical assistance and by early 2008, construction to build the port at Hambantota finally commenced.

Given the size of the port project, Hambantota has been the subject of much speculation and negative commentary. A salient example of this was seen by Indian academic Professor Brahma Chellaney who in April 2009 told The Times of India: “The Chinese are courting Sri Lanka because of its location in the Indian Ocean; Chinese engineers are currently building a billion-dollar port in the country’s southeast, Hambantota, and this is the latest `pearl’ in China’s strategy to control vital sea-lanes of communication between the Indian and Pacific Oceans by assembling a `string of pearls’ in the form of listening posts, special naval arrangements and access to ports.”

However, such views fail to take into consideration wider historical and political considerations. The significance of what is happening in Hambantota is far greater than the port project itself. In fact, there are a series of other major development projects in the Hambantota District that include the construction of a brand new international airport, a major highway connecting Colombo with Hambantota, an international cricket stadium and a large, modern, international conference facility that can hold thousands of delegates.

In addition to the port, all of these projects suggest that the development of the Hambantota District, which is also President Rajapaksa’s home constituency, is in fact symbolic of a major shift in the balance of economic and political power away from Colombo District, which has historically been the centre of commerce on the island and has enjoyed a virtual monopoly on development.

Since Sri Lanka attained independence from Britain in 1948 power has remained in the hands of a minority euro-centric Colombo political and social elite. As a consequence, major development often remained skewed towards Colombo, much to the detriment of rural areas in the south, east and north. Such lopsided development seriously contributed to fostering political unrest that fueled two Sinhalese rebellions in 1971 and 1987-1989 respectively, and a Tamil separatist insurrection from 1983 to 2009.

Since the end of the civil war the Sri Lankan government has aimed to implement an ambitious development strategy, which includes the construction of new highways and roads, energy infrastructure such as the Norochcholai and Sampur coal power plants and the Upper Kotmale and Uma Oya multi-purpose hydroelectric projects, oil refineries at Sapugaskanda and Hambantota, and the construction of the Colombo south harbour,

The significance of the Hambantota port can be seen in its proper light. For instance, by developing a world class port facility accompanied by an international airport and supporting industrial and commercial facilities, it is evident that Hambantota is symbolic of a realignment of economic and political power away from Colombo towards the underdeveloped South of Sri Lanka. And it is the Hambantota port that will serve as the catalyst to drive the economic development of the region.

Given that Hambantota is situated only 10 nautical miles from the strategic Indian Ocean East-West shipping arterial, it has a critical geographical advantage which neither the Chinese built ports of Gwadar in Pakistan, Sittwe in Burma, nor any Indian ports can compete against.

Although Hambantota has been built with Chinese assistance, it is still unlikely that the Sri Lankan government will allow a permanent Chinese military presence on the island given President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ongoing policy to maintain amicable relations with India.

This would indicate that Sri Lanka is seeking to balance its strategic considerations between India and China, and is unlikely to act in a manner that would jeopardize its relations with both emerging superpowers who are also its key strategic partners.

(Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe is an analyst who specialises in South Asian and Indian Ocean politics and security.)

Lankan Premier attends Jaffna event where national anthem was sung only in Sinhala

By P.K .Balachandran

COLOMBO: Ignoring the Tamil community’s protest against the reported bid to ban the singing of the Sri Lankan national anthem in Tamil, officials saw to it that it was sung only in Sinhalese at a function in Jaffna on Sunday to mark the sixth anniversary of the tsunami disaster.

Sources in Jaffna told Express that the authorities had insisted that the anthem be sung in Sinhalese only because it was a Central government function presided over by Prime Minister D M Jayaratne.

The authorities’ move has received much flak from the Jaffna media over the last three days. The media had reported that when the organisers, authorities and the army joined together and insisted that the choir from the Tamil-medium Hindu Ladies College sing the anthem only in Sinhalese, the girls and their parents protested vehemently.

The girls complained that it was hard for them to pronounce the Sinhalese words, as they did not know the language. They had always sung the anthem in Tamil, they argued. But their protests fell on deaf ears.

When Douglas Devananda, the lone Jaffna Tamil in the Lankan cabinet, was asked for his views by the Tamilmirror website, he said it was an established practice to sing the anthem only in Sinhalese in the presence of top leaders like the President and the Prime Minister.

When the government agent (District Collector) of Jaffna, Imelda Sukumar, was asked, she said it was a Central government function and that she had no option but to carry out the orders of the Centre.

Though the Lankan anthem Sri Lanka Maatha was originally written in Sinhalese — the language of the majority community in the island nation — an authorised Tamil version of the song, beginning with the words Sri Lanka Thaaye has been sung in Tamil-speaking areas and Tamil-medium schools in the country since 1952.

The bilingual anthem stirred a hornet’s nest when the cabinet recently discussed the question of making it compulsory for all Lankans to sing it only in Sinhalese. On hearing about this discussion, Tamils across the political spectrum protested, while Sinhalese nationalists endorsed the move and slammed the Tamils for dividing the nation on linguistic lines.

Though the cabinet refrained from taking a decision on the matter, reports from Kilinochchi and Jaffna suggest that the army has been successfully enforcing the diktat that the anthem be sung only in Sinhalese.

Courtesy: Express News Service

National interest of Sri Lanka requires middle path in external affairs

By Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

For a society in which the Middle Path should be a natural option, opinion making commentators seem to tread every path but that one. One set seems to think that the world is full of enemies of Sri Lanka, ranging from USA and the UN to India, and from Barack Obama through Ban Ki Moon to Rahul Gandhi. The other lot think that Sri Lanka has no external enemies or threats at all, and that the only enemy of Sri Lanka is its democratically elected leadership!

The first bunch hit out at everybody while the second bunch does not see a need to defend the country against any external threat at all, except perhaps from China! The first lot see enemies and threats everywhere, the second lot do not see any enemies at all and any threats are merely Rajapakse smokescreens and ‘special effects’.

For the first category, patriotism is the highest value and overrides all considerations of humanism, humanitarianism and internationalism. For the second category, patriotism has no value whatsoever.

For the first crowd, patriotism is defined in the narrowest of terms while for the second, anything but an infinite elasticity of definition smacks of chauvinism and is to be rejected.

Neither serves the national interest. Given that a long Cold War is being waged against Sri Lanka by non-state actors, we may use a Cold war analogy: the first perspective is rather like that of the Cold War hawks, the second that of the liberal fellow-travellers (on both Western and Russian sides at different times) who saw no threat whatsoever except that of their respective ‘military industrial complex’.

One school of thought concedes nothing to anyone, and the other, gives away the store and the family silver. What these perspectives lack is one such as that of George Kennan or Henry Kissinger—or, in Russian terms, Evgeni Primakov or Sergei Lavrov.

Both approaches have in common, an absence of Realism and the appreciation of smart power allied to the presence of an unfortunate self-righteous irresponsibility.

Consider the perspective that turns Sri Lanka into a hedgehog, spines sticking out in all directions against all comers or an alligator with a tail permanently lashing out. In using these animal analogies I am of course, being diplomatic, because in a sophisticated liberal society as on the East or West coasts of the US, commentator-ideologists such as these have long sported the nickname ‘Mad Dog’. They consider themselves somehow progressive but if shorn of the anti US, anti-western rhetoric, are far closer to the radical Right of Fox TV personality Glen Beck.

They fail to understand that the external relations perspective which best suits the interests of Sri Lanka, countries like Sri Lanka and countries facing situations like Sri Lanka, is one that rationally combines engagement, openness and cooperation with a lucid determination not to submit to or comply with anything that infringes upon, still less erodes, our national sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.

Is the radical ultranationalist approach that lashes out at India, the US, the UN and the EU, somehow an anti-imperialist or progressive policy? What should be the perspective of a state which faces a complex challenge in the international arena?

On such issues I usually look to one of the most lucid and determined political-strategic minds, not just of the last century but of modernity, Lenin. Writing precisely about the struggle in the international arena, he said:

"...to refuse beforehand to manoeuvre, to utilize the conflict of interests (even though temporary) among one's enemies, to reject agreements and compromises with possible (even though temporary, unstable, vacillating and conditional) allies -- is not this ridiculous in the extreme? Is it not as though, when making a difficult ascent of an unexplored and hitherto inaccessible mountain, we were to refuse beforehand ever to move in zigzags, ever to retrace our steps, ever to abandon the course once selected and to try others?" (‘Leftwing Communism: An Infantile Disorder’)

The xenophobic discourse of the Sinhala ultranationalists --including the JVP --and the isolationist strategic perspective that can be deduced from it should be measured against this clear commendation of Lenin. To my mind, the attacks on India and the US at a time that Tamil émigré secessionists brandishing the Tiger flag are posing a clear and present external challenge to Sri Lanka, is an "infantile disorder", which cannot but remind one of the rhetorical query raised by the greatest radical anti-imperialist strategist the world has seen: "is this not ridiculous in the extreme?"

The opponents of the xenophobes are pacifist liberal cosmopolitans. If, in Lenin’s analogy, the radical xenophobes want Sri Lanka to reach the mountain top in a straight line if not a single bound, the civil society cosmopolitans do not see any need to climb the mountain at all, and do not in fact see the mountain itself.

For them, there is no real external threat and the only thing remotely objectionable about the flag waving Tiger émigré mobs is not that their project and influence is directly hostile to Sri Lanka and is aimed at its eventual dismemberment; the only objection is that their actions may help Mahinda Rajapakse!

These critics are so nihilistic towards patriotism, that they are allergic to any patriotic current even within the anti-government, anti-state, ‘civil society’ space they inhabit. Their argument is that the opposition cannot compete with the government on the terrain of patriotism. This betrays a purely tactical or instrumentalist attitude to patriotism.

Patriotism, even a measure of liberal ‘communitarianism’, is not seen as an intrinsically positive feature, in the defence of national independence and sovereignty. These are themselves regarded as of dubious import and worth.

Sarath Fonseka’s defeat at the Presidential election of January 2010 is taken as evidence of the need to abandon the ground of patriotism, when that election result proved no such thing and perhaps the very opposite: Douglas Macarthur could not have won against Truman, and in any event Mr Fonseka’s patriotic appeal was dented by his strange ‘white flags’ story and the deadly embrace of the TNA, remembered by the Sinhala voter for its role as Tiger proxy, did to his campaign what the Tiger suicide bomber could not do to him physically!

Even from a utilitarian viewpoint, the argument for the abandonment of patriotism is plain silly, because any viable political formation has to wield the shield of patriotism against vulnerability to attack on ground of being unpatriotic (recall the electoral fate of decorated war hero John Kerry) and can only do so by projecting its own brand of ‘smart’ patriotism (Obama’s ‘soft power’ plus Predator drones) as better serving the national interest.

In the perspective of the critics of patriotism, all that is real and recommended are ‘grass roots’ or ‘civil society’ struggles. This is eerily redolent of the old Samasamajist approach of ‘workerist’ ‘class struggle’, itself a perspective decried by Lenin as ‘Economism’ or ‘trade unionism’.

The problem with the policy recommendation of the civil society oppositionists as a political perspective, is that political reality is not purely or even mainly socioeconomic; that politics tends to not to be socioeconomic but – how to put this gently? –political. As we know from Lenin, Schmitt and Mao, ‘the political’ is defined by the distinction between friend and enemy.

'Returning to normalcy & Tourism taking off': What is the impact of this on the spread of HIV in Sri Lanka?

Stigma stifles HIV reporting

by IRIN News

Reducing social stigma and improving awareness is needed to better monitor and prevent the spread of HIV in Sri Lanka, experts say.

HIV prevalence in Sri Lanka is relatively low: The latest government figures (December 2009) indicated 1,196 cases - less than 0.1 percent of people aged 15-49, and less than 1 percent of those in high-risk groups.

IRIN1228H.jpg

Migrant workers like this one in Sri Lanka are reported to form half of those infected with HIV in the country ~ pic by: Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/IRIN

However, accurate assessment of HIV prevalence is difficult as social stigma and lack of knowledge make HIV prevention and information campaigns difficult. UNAIDS estimates the total number of infections is at least three times higher than indicated by official figures.

“The numbers are probably under-reported,” David Bridger, UNAIDS country coordinator, told IRIN. “What we really need to do is to concentrate on risk.”

“People know that AIDS is dangerous,” said Mohamed Naseer, coordinator of Positive Women’s Network (PWN), a national non-profit network of persons living with HIV. “Beyond that, they know very little else.”

Public efforts to spread knowledge about HIV have sometimes raised opposition, Naseer said.

On 10 December, a PWN director appeared on national TV to speak about HIV prevalence in Sri Lanka. The next day the PWN office was bombarded with threatening phone calls, and taxi drivers refused to give a lift to the official in question.

“We [people] are scared that we can get HIV by just sitting next to a victim,” Naseer said.

The stigma around HIV makes HIV-positive people reluctant to disclose their status or even get tested, warned a joint report by UNAIDS and the Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka entitled People Living with HIV Stigma Index Sri Lanka.

According to Bridger from UNAIDS, this makes it hard to launch programmes targeting high-risk groups, including migrant workers, since no one is sure which those groups are based on prevalence.

Job recruiters in the Middle East require HIV testing for Sri Lankan migrant workers, and preliminary results indicate HIV infection rates could be on the rise for this group.

More than half of reported HIV-positive cases in Sri Lanka are migrant workers, according to a November 2010 UN report, HIV and Mobility in South Asia.

With over a million Sri Lankans working overseas, and more people travelling since the end of a decades-long civil conflict in May 2009, Bridger warned that HIV monitoring is increasingly important.

“Sri Lanka is returning to normalcy… Tourism is taking off… The impact of this on the spread of HIV? This is a question we need an answer for.”

December 27, 2010

Our National Anthem - A Statement by the Rt. Rev. Duleep de Chickera, the Bishop of Colombo

I am deeply perturbed with the regrettable Cabinet decision to deprive our Tamil speaking citizens of the right to sing the National Anthem in their mother tongue. The decision amounts to an insensitive shift and conveys a message of exclusion to the Tamil speaking minorities. It will undoubtedly isolate the minorities even further at a time when policy decisions that strengthen National integration should receive priority.

The singing of the National Anthem is every citizen’s right and privilege. It is, like praying; done most meaningfully in one’s mother tongue. Regardless of what other countries do or do not do, our own progressive bi-lingual National Anthem enabled us to demonstrate our loyalty to our Nation together and in our respective mother tongues.

It was a pragmatic and unifying model that Sri Lanka was proud of and should not have been tampered with.

Consequently the Cabinet has no option but to rectify this very serious mistake. I call upon the President, who values the use of the Tamil language, to ensure that this is done without delay and before it creates another minority grievance.

With Peace and Blessings.

Rt. Rev. Duleep de Chickera

The three stooges of Ban-Ki-moon and temporary diet of Weerawansa

By S. L. Gunasekara

Conflicting news items about a proposed visit to Sri Lanka, with the blessings of the Government, of the ‘Three Stooges’ of Ban Ki Moon have come virtually simultaneously with a sudden glut of anti-Sri Lanka statements made by various foreign politicians such as William Hague, the former ‘attempted Prime Minister’ of the once ‘Great’ Britain, and currently, the successor to the presumptuous clown David Miliband as Foreign Secretary, and some assorted Senators of the United States of America, who are said to have called for an international investigation into alleged ‘War Crimes’ alleged to have been committed by the Sri Lankan troops in the closing days of the military operations against the gang of underworld criminals called the LTTE.

One more person, namely, Rahul Ghandi, but for whose paternal grandmother and father, the Tamils would not have had to undergo the immense sufferings they underwent at the hands of the LTTE or become IDPs in their thousands, has now added his ‘two cents worth’ to the discordant cacophony of anti-Sri Lanka voices [in the run up to the elections to the State Assembly of Tamil Nadu] stating that not enough is being done for the Tamils of Sri Lanka by the government here and that he would see to it that those Tamils get justice!

One common feature about these charlatans who seek to fatten themselves politically by pandering to those such as the Tamil rowdies and hooligans who misbehaved on the streets of Western Capitals in an effort to save those tormentors of the Tamils in particular, and others in general, called the LTTE when Sri Lanka’s armed forces were on the verge of liberating our people from those tormentors; as well as those Tamil rowdies and hooligans who misbehaved on the streets of London to prevent President Rajapaksa from talking to a students’ association at Oxford; lies in the fact that neither they nor Ban Ki Moon nor any of his predecessors raised a whimper of protest or called for any inquiry:

a) when Rahul Gandhi’s grandmother armed, trained and equipped Sri Lankan terrorists of the LTTE and other separatist gangs on Indian Soil, to commit crimes such as murder, arson, mischief and other acts of terrorism on Sri Lankan Soil;

b) when Rahul Gandhi’s father [subsequently murdered by the LTTE which his grandmother had so armed, trained and equipped] by an act of contemptible thuggery, intimidated our senile President JR Jayewardene into halting military operations against the LTTE, when the Sri Lankan military were on the verge of defeating the LTTE once and for all in 1987, and was hence responsible for the tens of thousands of deaths of our citizens [as well as his own death a few years later] and the sufferings of the Tamil civilians who continued to live under the thrall of the LTTE, thereafter;

c) when the LTTE kidnapped little Tamil children, murdered Tamil civilians as and when they wished, and extorted money from them [I do not refer to the multitude of murders of Sinhalese and Muslim civilians in this context because Sinhalese and Muslims to these foul hypocrites in ‘high places’ are ‘children of a (much) lesser God’]; and/or,

d) when the LTTE suppressed in their entirety, the individual freedom and the right to self-determination of all Tamils living in areas where the LTTE exercised usurped power.

It is evident, therefore, that had our Forces not been able to defeat the LTTE and free our land of terrorism, and had the LTTE continued to kidnap Tamil children, murder Tamil civilians, extort money from them, impose on them a degree of repression unprecedented in the long history of our land, blast buses, trains and crowded city centres, commit mass murders of Sinhalese and Muslim civilians by slaughtering them wholesale while sleeping in their huts, working in their fields or worshipping in their temples and mosques, destroy billions of Rupees worth of State property and bring our economy to a grinding halt, none of these foreign political clowns would have called for any inquiry, whether international or otherwise, or voiced any concern for the problems faced by the Tamils. In short, the ‘grouse’ of these blackguards is that little Sri Lanka has, despite all the obstacles placed in its way by their countries, defeated terrorism decisively which is something that no country in the world was able to do during the past 50 years or so. These undeniable facts prove beyond doubt the wholesale hypocrisy, insincerity and wholly unprincipled opportunism of these despicable political functionaries.

Was it then a coincidence that these frauds made those noises at a time when Moon’s ‘Three Stooges’ were expected to come to Sri Lanka? Or were these events orchestrated?

With the exception of the JVP and JHU, all the parties of the government and the Opposition have let the country down in respect of this planned visit.

The government [which means President Mahinda Rajaspaksa] which/who took a highly commendable principled and courageous stand when Moon appointed his ‘Three Stooges’ and also when the likes of Moon, Hillary Clinton, Milliband, and Kouchner among others sought to give the LTTE a new lease of life and thereby prolong the agony of our land by coercing the government to declare a ceasefire, has evidently had a change of heart or got cold feet and consented to these ‘Three Stooges’ coming to Sri Lanka after first announcing unequivocally that those ‘Three Stooges’ would not be recognised or given visas to come to Sri Lanka.

However, news about the purpose of their proposed visit is indeed contradictory and garbled. One version is the they will come to have ‘discussions’ with or give evidence before the LLRC, while another is the they are coming in furtherance of the purported ‘mandate’ given to them by Moon, which is not to give evidence, but to inquire into the conduct of our Forces and tender advice to Moon about what steps he should take in that regard.

It should be plainly obvious to any person who has eyes to see and wants to see, that no set of foreigners whomsoever has the right, in the absence of consent given by our government, whether by treaty or otherwise, to inquire into and/or arrive at purported ‘findings’ about the conduct of our Forces in defeating a ruthless gang of unrepentant criminals which is what the LTTE was. Thus, any permission given to these ‘Three Stooges’ to enter Sri Lanka and pursue their purported ‘mandate’ from Moon would amount to an admission that foreigners have such right and that our sovereignty and independence are but theoretical concepts.

It is in this context the we must view the brash statement of Lakshman Kiriella, who in my view, is the non-pareil of political opportunists, that the government should give General Fonseka the opportunity of going before or meeting these ‘Three Stooges’, and General Fonseka’s earlier comment the he was prepared to go before any international tribunal and say what he knows, what he heard and what he was told because our troops committed no ‘war crimes’.

Both of them have wholly lost sight of the glaring fact that foreigners have no authority to inquire into our internal affairs, and that by participating in any way in the charade being enacted by these ‘Three Stooges’ we would only be conceding that foreigners have such rights. They have also lost sight of the even more glaring fact that having regard to the antecedents of the ‘Three Stooges’ and of their ‘Patron’ Moon, and the background of the circumstances in which they were appointed, the chances of a ‘snowball’ surviving in a microwave oven are better than those ‘Three Stooges’ arriving at an unbiased and honest ‘finding’.

The version that the ‘Three Stooges’ are coming here to discuss matters with, or to give evidence before the LLRC is plainly nonsensical. If the ‘Three Stooges’ had indeed sought to come for such a purpose, they should have first made an application to the Commission to do so, leaving it to the Commission which is independent and not subject to the orders of the President, to either accede to or deny their request. There can be no doubt that no such request has been made of the LLRC. Besides, what personal knowledge can any of the ‘Three Stooges’ have about the last days of the so called ‘war’.

Whatever (if any) they know can only be hearsay – thus, there is nothing material that they could contribute to the deliberations of the LLRC. As regards having a ‘discussion’ with the Commissioners, there is not, to the best of my knowledge and belief, any provision of law or precedent for any set of persons to have ‘discussions’ with the Commissioners in respect of their mandate or functions. Thus, there is clearly no reason for giving the presumptuous ‘Three Stooges’ an opportunity to have such ‘discussions’ or to give such evidence.

Thus, whichever of the conflicting versions is true, it behooves President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his government to stand by the country by honouring and not departing from their earlier principled decision not to recognise in any way, grant visas to, or permit any of the ‘Three Stooges’ to set foot on the soil of this country.

There is a further matter of relevance in this regard, and that is the role of Minister Wimal Weerawansa who, with the blessings of the government, went on a temporary diet by skipping three or four meals in a highly publicised and equally puerile charade opposite the UN Headquarters, describing that nonsensical exercise as a ‘fast unto death’ until or unless Moon disbanded the ‘Three Stooges’.

Moon has not disbanded the ‘Three Stooges’ and Weerawansa has not died of starvation as he then threatened. What will he now do if the Government of which he is a member abandons its earlier principled stance and permits these ‘Three Stooges’ to pollute our soil. Having disgraced himself and the country by that puerile exercise, Weerawansa is under a manifest duty to make a public declaration of his stance on this matter and what he proposes to do in that regard.

December 26, 2010

India would have to do something if Colombo continues to encourage China and Pakistan

by Kuldip Nayar

SRI Lanka is going the wrong way in solving its ethnic problem. The Tamils nourish a grievance that they do not get their due in their own country. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, representing the Sinhalese, the majority community of Sri Lanka, should have at least after an overwhelming victory at the polls, looked into what has come to be the Tamil question. But he has discontinued the singing of National Anthem in Tamil, a practice followed for years to give the Tamils a feeling of equality. This will only confirm their belief that they are second-class citizens.

The Tamils, living mostly in the northern part of the country, were critical of what the LTTE did and its chief Prabhakaran was not their hero because he brought them misery and indignities which the Sinhalese government heaped on them. Yet as long as long as he lived and the LTTE held aloft the standard of resistance from Jaffna and the places in the North, the Tamils believed that Colombo would give them a better deal under pressure.

Most of Tamils kept away from Prabhakaran lest the government should wreak its vengeance on them. Still it did. However, the fact remains that the fear of LTTE on the one hand and the pressure of Tamils outside Sri Lanka on the other made the Sinhalese government go slow in their plan to have one nation, one flag and one anthem. The steps Colombo has taken after vanquishing the LTTE do not hold much promise for the Tamils. They feel too lonely, too neglected.

India, towards which they look, sent Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao early this year to persuade the Rajapaksa government to decentralise power and allow the North to have a say in their own affairs. Foreign Minister S. M. Krishna has also visited Sri Lanka and hopeful that the Sinhalese government would take measures whereby Tamils feel safe and secure. He still hopes that the Tamils, who constitute nearly one fifth of the country’s population, would not be ignored. But the deletion of national anthem in Tamil has made India somewhat despondent.

New Delhi has also allocated a large sum of money for rehabilitating the Tamils who have suffered during the war. Still 300,000 Tamils are languishing in camps or living in the open although the war ended more than a year ago. And there is no dilution of the situation that the Tamils continue to be discriminated. A democracy, which Sri Lanka claims to be one, has to treat all citizens equally. The Sinhalese are in a majority and Tamils in a minority. Yet, together, they constitute the nation.

New Delhi, which enjoys good relations with Colombo, has been under pressure from Tamil Nadu in the Southern India, to get a better deal for the Tamils. A federal structure is what is needed in Sri Lanka so that North has a feeling that it is as much part by the country as other areas are.

But, to spite New Delhi, the Rajapaksa government has begun building close relations with Pakistan and China, the two countries which are in conflict with India. Sri Lanka has, in fact, given the two facilities to China for building the Trincomalee harbour and to Pakistan for training the new entrants to the Lankan army. However irritating, they do not change New Delhi’s policy of befriending Sri Lanka and helping the country to have a system where the Tamils can participate politically. This is in Colomboown interest.

Otherwise, the alienated Tamils will once again organise themselves into a force to harass or even fight the government. New Delhi may also be faced to stand by them because of domestic political compulsions. The DMK-run Tamil Nadu is crucial in the survival of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s coalition government.

The late Rajiv Gandhi had tried to persuade Sri Lanka to include Annexure C to its constitution that ensured decentralisation so that the Tamils would also enjoy power. He even sent Indian Peace Keeping Force when the Sri Lankan government was in trouble. Sri Lanka can overlook New Delhi’s efforts to effect understanding at its own peril.

I recall when I was India’s high commissioner at London, a senior official, Ratnakar Rao, telling me that the LTTE leader, Sadasivam Krishna Kumar, better known at Kittu, wanted to meet me. I had spent several hours with him in Chennai many years earlier, when he was present during my interview with the LTTE mentor, Anton Balasingham. I refused to meet Kittu.

New Delhi commended my ‘decision.’ It did not want any contact with anyone from the LTTE at any level, we were told in the message which followed my refusal to meet Kittu. India did not want to be misunderstood by the Sri Lankan government. But if Colombo continues to encourage China and Pakistan, India would have to do something to safeguard its interests.

Govt seems to be trying hard to please too many people at the same time

by Kalana Senaratne

First the government stated that the establishment of the Panel of Experts by the UN Secretary General (UNSG) Ban ki-Moon was ‘illegal’ and the members of the Panel would not be permitted to enter Sri Lanka. A few weeks later, the government said that if a request was made, it would be willing to ‘consider’ granting visas.

A few more months have gone by, and the government now announces that it is ready and willing to facilitate the visit of the UNSG-Panel. Yesterday, the Panel was illegal, unacceptable. Today, a warm and gentle embrace, everything is alright. But, tomorrow? One has to wait and see.

Did the government do the correct and diplomatic thing by deciding to grant visas and facilitate the visit of the members of the UNSG-Panel? It seems to be so, but there are many questions which neither the government nor the Panel, has answered to dispel the doubts of those observing and following this grand drama. The answer depends, in large measure, on the bona fides of the parties concerned; i.e. the government and the UNSG-Panel.

The members of the Panel would want to visit Sri Lanka, meet as many groups/individuals as possible, collect information concerning alleged crimes committed by both parties, and also meet members of the local ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ (LLRC).

The Panel will not be here to investigate (or it has no mandate to ‘investigate’ we are told), but there’s nothing much, viewed from a practical perspective, that one could do to prevent anyone from meeting members of the Panel and handing over relevant documents; ‘evidence’. For instance, the members of the Panel could decide to stay back in their hotel rooms, but still, one could easily visit the hotel and hand over relevant documents, discuss, etc. One could even phone them, if necessary.

Given these considerations, the government cannot, in all seriousness, grant visas and then impose conditions which are meant to curtail or limit the freedom of movement of the members of the Panel or prevent anyone meeting the members of the Panel. If the real intention of the government is to invite the Panel and then impose conditions, it should be stressed that it would have been far better if the government had not agreed to facilitate the visit, given its initial (hyper) reaction.

Besides, two general questions arise here. Firstly, if the mandate of the UNSG-Panel does not refer to ‘investigations’, why should the UNSG-Panel be all that concerned about visiting Sri Lanka? If collecting documents is what it wants to do, or talk to people, then why travel, in this day and age when all of this could be done via a simple email and a telephone conversation, for instance? Does it want to visit the North and the East, the ‘battleground’? If so, has the Panel spelt out what it wants to do? Farhan Haq, the acting deputy spokesperson for the UNSG has reportedly stated that the "Panel’s work is broader than meeting the LLRC". How broad is it, really?

Secondly, is the Sri Lankan government really revealing all that it has discussed with the Panel?

The understanding of the government seems to be a curious one. The press release of the Ministry of External Affairs, dated 18 December 2010, states that "in the event of the Panel of the Secretary-General wishing to present representations to the Commission [LLRC], the Ministry of External Affairs will make the arrangements that are necessary to enable the Panel to do so." Now, what happens if the Panel wants to meet interested individuals/organizations, i.e. do more than simply "present representations" to the LLRC? Will the government then state that it is not willing to facilitate the visit? Will the situation turn out to be that absurd?

Also, there’s something strange about the UNSG-Panel meeting the LLRC, and here, both the government and the UNSG-Panel seem to be acting in a rather dubious way. What is the main function of the UNSG-Panel? It is to advise the UNSG on what he (UNSG) ought to do in terms of ensuring accountability in Sri Lanka. Now, what kind of representations can such a body which is required to advise the UNSG present, before the LLRC?

Let’s also remember this: it was the UNSG who informed that the Panel "will be available as a resource to Sri Lankan authorities should they wish to avail themselves of its expertise in implementing the commitment". If then, what is the UNSG-Panel doing here, unless the LLRC has made a request. The LLRC has not made a public request. Why should the UNSG-Panel visit Sri Lanka and meet the LLRC and why should the government state that it is willing to facilitate the visit? Is it the government which has, surreptitiously, asked the Panel to visit Sri Lanka so that it could ‘enhance’ its image during these turbulent times?

The UNSG-Panel is not established to advise the government of Sri Lanka or the LLRC on what needs to be done. Its main function is to advise the UNSG. So, what is purpose of the UNSG-Panel, and what is the government thinking? Are we to blame the UNSG-panel, or are we to blame the government for being unable to think before acting?

These are some of the questions that arise and one does not know whether the government, or even the UNSG-Panel, would provide any answers in the near future.

Yet, like many other decisions made by the present Sri Lankan government, there are broader and very basic questions concerning foreign policy-making and governance that arise from this latest volte-face. For instance, have those in government given any serious thought to how contradictory and confusing their statements and policy decisions have been, especially during the past few months?

There seems to be no clear and principled policy, no proper coordination between relevant organs of the State, no single and authoritative decision-maker concerning issues of foreign policy and no single voice that could be relied upon on matters concerning Sri Lanka’s external affairs.

And, underlying all those questions above is the broader question: why such glaring contradictions? Has the government finally realized that the way in which it acted, over the last few months, has been wholly unbecoming and ungainly? Or is this a government that can be trusted?

One of the main problems seems to be this: the government seems to be trying hard to please too many people at the same time. It attempts to please those who are strongly opposed to the UNSG-Panel. It attempts to please those who are not. It attempts to please the people of Sri Lanka, and others elsewhere. It bashes the Western/Europe, and then when the going gets tough, it goes and attempts to please the same Western/European States. And by trying to do all this, it pleases no one.

The government should be far more principled, and think hard before it acts. It is sad if this government is turning out to be one which cannot be trusted.

Pro-Tiger elements in the Tamil diaspora are helping Rajapaksas stay in power

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

"….night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say there are no barbarians any longer.
And now, what's going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution." - Constantine Cavafy (Waiting for the Barbarians)

The war is won, has been won for one a half years. The Tiger is dead, and has been dead for one and a half years.

Why do the Rajapaksas resist accepting this reality?

Why do they talk and act as if the Tiger is only hibernating, not dead, and the war is still on at some indefinable, invisible, intangible level? Why do they want to keep the Sinhala South entrapped in a universe of fear, seeing in every passing Tamil, the shadow of the Tiger?

The obsessive refusal to develop a post-Tiger vision suited to a post-Tiger era is one of the many characteristics the Rajapaksas have in common with the ‘arch-enemy’, the Tiger elements in the Tamil Diaspora. Every few weeks some member of the government - the President or the Defence Secretary, the Prime Minister or a minister - evokes the Tiger Bogey, telling the Sinhala South, over and over again, that the Tigers are not really dead; they are still lurking around, waiting for an opportunity to make an explosive come back.

The occasion on which this story is told most often gives us an indication as to its provenance – the monthly Emergency Debate in parliament. Almost every time the renewal of the Emergency is debated, some senior member of the government reminds the Southern populace of the need to keep its collective guard up and its collective fears intact, because the Tigers are not really dead.

Naturally. How can the extension of the Emergency in peacetime be justified, without the Tiger Bogey?

How can the spending of stupendous sums of money on ‘defence’, post-war, be explained, except in terms of an extant Tiger threat?

How can the continued implementation of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and a plethora of other repressive laws make sense, post-victory, if the Tiger is not lurking in some dark corner, waiting for our moment of weakness to pounce?

The Rajapaksas, having decimated the Tiger physically, are keeping the Tiger alive spiritually, because without the Tiger, the raison d’être for Rajapaksa rule will evaporate.

The Rajapaksas need the Tiger Bogey, to ensure the success of their own dynastic project. Without the Tiger Bogey, the Rajapaksas will not be able continue their hegemony in the South.

Without the Tiger Bogey the Rajapaksas will have to resort increasingly to naked repression to keep the South quiescent. It is the Tiger Bogey which is enabling the Rajapaksas to retain their hegemony and legitimacy in the South, despite escalating economic woes.

Without the Tiger Bogey, the Rajapaksa regime will not collapse, but its capacity to hegemonise will become reduced, rendering its legitimacy threadbare.

Vellupillai Pirapaharan enabled Mahinda Rajapaksas to win the presidential election in 2005 with his ill-considered boycott campaign. Today, the pro-Tiger elements in the Tamil Diaspora are continuing with Mr. Pirapaharan’s good work! They have mummified the Tiger and are trying to hoist it on the collective back of Lankan Tamils. And in doing so, they are presenting to the Rajapaksa regime on a platter, the Tiger Bogey it so desperately craves for.

At one level, extremists of all sorts speak the same language. This commonality enables them to bridge seeming chasms and feed-on and nurture each other.

The Rajapaksas and the pro-Tiger remnants in the Tamil Diaspora are alike in their need to keep the ghost of the Tiger alive, in order to justify their refusal to adapt to peaceful conditions. It is in the interests of both these entities to prevent the Sinhalese and the Tamils from moving beyond the LTTE and developing a mature and moderate political vision apposite to the post-Tiger reality.

The Rajapaksas want the pro-Tiger elements of the Tamil Diaspora to be irrational and extreme, to refuse to acknowledge post-war realities, to keep on talking about separate states and trans-national governments, to wave Tiger flags and act like Tiger clones.

That way, the Ruling Family can use the Tiger Bogey to keep the Sinhala South in a state of mindless fear, and justify every sin of omission and commission, from the absence of normalcy in the North and the East to the absence of a peace dividend in the South.

What if the Tamil Diaspora liberates itself politically from the Tiger remnants and psychologically from the pro-Tiger mindset?

What if the Diaspora distances itself from Tiger errors and atrocities, abandons maximalism, develops a democratic political agenda, and based on it, reaches out to oppositional forces in the South and to Delhi?

What if the Tamil Diaspora apologises for the killing of Rajiv Gandhi and Appapillai Amirthalingam, condemns suicide killings and child conscription, expresses fidelity to pluralist democracy, eschews the idea of a separate state and puts forward a set of proposals ranging from the withdrawal of the bulk of the Lankan Forces from the North and the East to a political solution to the ethnic problem within a united Sri Lanka (based perhaps on the neo-federal Oslo Accord repudiated by the Tigers and happily forgotten by Colombo)?

Such a radical change will enable the Tamils to get rid of the aura of non-respectability which the Tigers’ penchant for violent extremism has saddled them with. It will enable the Tamils to build bridges to Delhi and to democratic forces in the South. True, the idea of making such concessions unilaterally would be unpalatable, especially given the magnitude of the defeat the Sinhala supremacists – empowered by the LTTE - imposed on Lankan Tamils.

The crass triumphalism of the Rajapaksas and their ungenerous and inhumane treatment of the Lankan Tamils, post-war, would have made the idea of any compromise (however reasonable, logical or desirable) seem like capitulation. After all, unrealistic, impractical extremism, masquerading as idealism or fidelity to principle, is often the sole psychological refuge of the defeated. But this attitude, though understandable, will not help the Tamil cause.

It will prevent the Tamils from rebuilding themselves politically, based on a programme which can be taken seriously by Washington or London, Delhi or the Lankan opposition. It will prevent the Tamils from rebuilding their damaged relationship with Delhi, the only force still capable of rendering them some real assistance. It will also strengthen the Rajapaksas, by enabling them to justify their crimes and misdeeds, inabilities and errors through the invocation of the Tiger Bogey.

Currently the pro-Tiger elements in the Tamil Diaspora, with their insistence on carrying the Tiger carcass, are helping the Rajapaksas, albeit inadvertently, to hide their Familial Rule and Dynastic Project behind a patriotic façade. What if, for instance, the London protests against President Rajapaksa’s Oxford Union speech took place minus the Tiger flags?

The Rajapaksas would have been left with nothing to say and their defeat would have been total. It was the presence of the red-and-gold Tiger flag which enabled the Rajapaksas to re-don the somewhat tattered anti-Tiger cloak and scream about threats to national security.

So long as the Diaspora keeps on flaunting the dead Tiger, the Rajapaksas will have all the excuses they need to keep Lankan Tamils living in Sri Lanka under bondage, to keep North East under de facto military occupation, to implement colonisation schemes, to prevent the politico-economic regeneration of Tamils. Without the Tiger Bogey the Rajapaksas will not abandon their Sinhala supremacism, but they will run out of excuses to justify it, even in the South.

The Ruling Family needs the Tiger Bogey to stay in power, without having to resort to generalised repression. And so long as the Rajapaksas are in power, the Tamils in Sri Lanka will not be able to win even their minimal political demands.

The inability of the pro-Tiger elements of the Tamil Diaspora to give up Vellupillai Pirapaharan’s ghost is regrettable. Such an obsession does not help the Tamil cause, or the Lankan Tamils, especially the Tamils of Wanni and Killinochchi, who bore the brunt of the war and are eking meagre and precarious existences in peacetime. The Tamil Diaspora once failed the Lankan Tamils by kowtowing to the Tigers, by rendering the Tigers unconditional support, even when Tiger extremism was manifestly endangering the Tamil cause and hurting the Tamil people. They must not fail the Lankan Tamils again by engaging in political necromancy, in the company of the Rajapaksas. Unless they emerge from under the Tiger carcass, they will be a liability and not an asset to the Tamil cause.

The South needs to ask itself what the Rajapaksas are really doing, even as they prance about in patriotic garb.

According to media reports, the Defence Ministry has a five-year plan for the Navy which includes the setting up a ‘naval air station’ with the help the Air Force, acquiring ‘four Israeli-built vessels to strengthen the FAC squadrons’ and a ‘Chinese-built YLC radar system to counter a possible air threat’ and setting up new ‘naval ground infrastructure facilities’ (The Island – 20.12.2010). All these would be extremely costly and we need to ask ourselves whether such huge military outlays are necessary in peacetime, whether they are apposite for a country caught in a financial crunch.

According to another media report, 60 ruling party members have sold their vehicle permits at Rs.13.17 million each. Such acts of blatant criminality would not be possible without the tacit blessing of the Ruling Family. This demonstrates that the Rajapaksas are not serious about combating waste and corruption.

The LTTE was the most successful, the most efficient of the armed Tamil groups in the 1980’s.

The Tigers were the Tamil Prussians, and their successes engendered the belief that only Vellupillai Pirapahran and his men can liberate the Tamils from the oppressive Sinhala state and take them to the Promised Land. It was their many victories against the Lankan Forces which enabled the Tigers to impose and sustain an anti-liberationist regimen at home, which was both abusive and corrupt.

A similar psychological process is underway in the South currently. The Rajapaksas are using their victory over the Tigers and the Tiger Bogey to justify the illegal, the inane and the immoral. For the Sinhalese it is important to take a stand and do it now because it is all too easy to go the way the Tamils went with the LTTE. And the South will not be able to come to its collective senses so long as it fails to see the Tiger Bogey for what it is – a ruse to fool the Sinhala masses.

The Mahavamsa mindset: Re-Visiting political Buddhism in Sri Lanka

from the blog ~ www.DBSJeyaraj.com

Hello Friends

Compliments of the season to you all.

Several readers have been posting comments on this blog about various themes like the antiquity of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, the Mahavamsa, Lord Buddhas visits to Sri Lanka. This in turn has generated a heated and healthy discussion in this forum

BL1226.jpg

None of these comments were in any way directly related to the topics of the articles under which they were posted. It was a parallel debate of sorts without any reference to the subject matter of the article. I allowed readers to engage in this parallel discourse because I did not want to curb their enthusiasm. [click here to read in full ~ on ~ www.dbsjeyaraj.com]

December 25, 2010

Rajapaksa juggernaut may seem unstoppable but can be slowed down

by Tisaranee Gunasekara

"We assaulted the protesting students at the Dehiwala Higher Technical Institute and chased them away leaving them only with their underwear…. In Peradeniya, they had put up a hut and were conducting a big fast.… We stripped them naked and chased them away.” — Minister of Higher Education, S.B. Dissanayake (Speech at a workshop on ‘Preparing for a Strategic Plan to Develop Skills’ – News 1st – 19.12.2010)

Beliatte, Tangalle, Matara, Mahawa, Maharagama…......

Five defeats for the UPFA, in one month. In five local-government bodies, the UNP and the JVP, backed by some governing-party members, trounced the UPFA at budget-votes.

These defeats, though encouraging, are not the ‘writing on the wall’; the regime is firmly ensconced and will remain so, barring a miracle. Yet, they reflect a malaise at the grassroots-level which can be used to rein-in the Rajapaksas at the national-level — if the opposition remembers its raison d’être and stands-up for citizens whose livelihoods, homes and rights are endangered by the regime.

The government can conjure an economic Shangri-la through statistical skulduggery (according to The Sunday Leader, bread was replaced with biscuits in the food-basket used to compute monthly-inflation, to reduce inflation, statistically!). But these ersatz-statistics cannot fool the average citizen struggling with stagnant incomes and soaring prices. The absence of the bustling throngs in Colombo and suburbs this festive season indicates harder times and non-sanguine expectations.

The drab emptiness stems also from the absence of pavement-traders, confined to hastily constructed commercial-ghettos. Their expulsion has deprived average citizens of a source of shopping which combined infinite variety with reasonable prices and easy access. Pavement-vending is a global phenomenon, present even in developed metropolises. ‘Pavement’ forms the starting point of many a rag-to-riches tale and its absence would benefit neither the economy nor the masses.

In the Rajapaksa-worldview, development is not a complex process which seeks to balance conflicting/incompatible interests of different classes/groups and strives to broaden the stakeholder-base of the economy by incorporating marginalised elements.

The Rajapaksas see development as an all out war; consequently economic tasks are undertaken as if they are military operations, with no consideration for side/after-effects. Take the proposed electricity hike. Sri Lanka already has the highest electricity rates in the region (until 1994, ours was the lowest); the latest hike will increase production costs of industries, reducing our export-competitiveness (already affected by GSP+ withdrawal) and worsening domestic inflation. To compensate, industrialists may try to reduce wage-bills, causing public misery and political discontent.

Creating fear psychoses and seeking scapegoats are standard reactions of regimes bedevilled by economics. The Rajapaksas may try to ignite a ‘war-crimes’ hysteria to divert public attention from rice-and-coconut issues. An international war-crimes trial on Sri Lanka is almost impossible; even if it happens, the President and his henchmen will be safe, as Sudan’s leader is, if they forego Western-sojourns. Surely not an impossible sacrifice for such committed nationalists?

Last week authorities denied Ranil Wickremesinghe permission to give a birthday cake to Gen. Fonseka – not the action of a regime truly loyal to all ‘war-heroes’! And the arguments used by the regime to justify proceedings against this ‘premier war-hero’ are equally applicable to ‘lesser-heroes’, such as those mentioned in the Wikileaks-exposes: “XXXXXXXXXXX stated that the GSL allows Karuna’s cadres to recruit children forcibly from within IDP camps in the East…. XXXXXXXXXXXX also explained that Karuna operates prostitution rings out of the IDP camps to “take care of” GSL soldiers…. XXXXXXXXXXXX and XXXXXXXXXXXX independently described how women are forced into prostitution, or to give up their children to traffickers….. Working in concert with SLA soldiers stationed in the Jaffna peninsula, the EPDP is able to conduct extortion, abductions, extra-judicial killings….” (Cable by Ambassador Blake – 18.5.2007).

Forget the UN and the West; the state investigated corruption allegations against Gen. Fonseka; why cannot the same state investigate these far more heinous allegations, instead of hiding behind faux-patriotism? Surely trafficking in children and women or extortion is incompatible with our laws too, and our morality?

‘Patriotism’ (in its currently-dominant Sinhala-supremacist version) is a Rajapaksa preserve. On that terrain the opposition can never effectively challenge the regime (even the war-winning army commander couldn’t). Because of this natural advantage, the regime would try to inveigle the opposition onto the ‘patriotic’ terrain. Instead the opposition should focus on socio-economic conflicts and democracy-issues, such as the proposed mass-expulsion of 70,000 low-income families from Colombo. This is an issue the UNP can ignore only at its peril, since these families form the bedrock of its urban support-base.

This is a battle not just Ranasinghe Premadasa but also J.R. Jayewardene, Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamani Dissanayake would have plunged into. That neither Ranil Wickremesinghe nor Sajith Premadasa comprehend the political significance of this issue is symbolic and symbiotic of a party which has lost the capacity to understand who its natural allies are.

Another critical issue is the fate of Negombo lagoon. The Ports and Aviation Authority and the Navy (both Rajapaksa-fiefs) plan to build a 2 km-long, 100 meter-wide runway for sea-planes which “will destroy the livelihoods of 15, 000 villagers and run down the lagoon into a dead eco-zone….” (Lakbima News – 19.12.2010).

The direct involvement of the Ministry of Defence is a thread linking the expulsion of pavement-traders, proposed expulsion of Colombo’s poor and the sea-plane project. Indeed, the Defence Ministry’s intrusion in areas totally unrelated to ‘defence’ is a leitmotiv of Rajapaksa rule and demonstrates the growing militarization of socio-economic spaces even in the South. Post-war, the regime is acting like an amputee suffering from the ‘phantom-limb’ syndrome; instead of focusing on democracy and development, it is obsessed with defeating enemies long-dead or unborn.

For instance, the Defence Ministry has a five-year plan “to set up a ‘naval air station’ with the involvement of the Air Force…. The SLN will acquire four Israeli-built vessels to strengthen the FAC squadrons…(and) its own Chinese-built YLC radar system to counter a possible air threat…. New naval ground infrastructure facilities are also in the pipeline” (The Island – 20.12.2010). No wonder military expenditure is sky-rocketing, post-war.

A corollary of this militarization of the economy is the increased use of armed forces in the ‘development war’. According to Anura Roshantha, a leader of the Alliance to Protect the Negombo lagoon, “The Navy called us for a meeting on November 24 and everyone who came to the meeting was photographed and videotaped. The commanding officer told us that the Navy is in charge of security. He added that when the project commences the Navy will not allow anyone to enter or leave the area without permission.

A Rajapaksised military seems set to become a key stakeholder in the economy, using its muscle to conduct ‘economic operations’, such as expelling Colombo’s poor or countering the peaceful protests of Negombo fishermen. Soon it will be the turn of trade unionists and other dissenters unmanageable by the likes of S.B. Dissanayake and Mervyn Silva.

The Rajapaksa-juggernaut may be unstoppable, but it can be compelled to a slower pace, if the opposition can kick its navel-gazing habit and shift the terrain of conflict from ‘patriotic’ issues to socio-economic and democracy issues. If so, 2011 may not be as bad a year as 2010.

Heartrending human drama in crowded courtroom in Vavuniya

By Kishali Pinto Jayawardene

In a crowded courtroom in Vavuniya, there is a moment of ecstasy when detainees who had surrendered in the final months of fighting between the government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam are allowed to mingle with their families for a shot while before being segregated to stand at attention when their cases are called.

One scene is particularly striking; that of a small seven year old child hugging and embracing his father who is one of the surrendered detainees while his mother sheds uncontrollable tears nearby.

Bitterness and despair

The two soon need to separate as the cases are called. What follows is truly heartrending. Each of the detainees is called out by name as the case is reached by the presiding judge for the purpose of raising his or her hand to signify presence in court, prior to being escorted back to custody. When it is the turn of the father with the seven year old child, it is not only he who raises his hand. From the edge of the courtroom, his small son, seeing the father raising the hand and hearing the family name being called out, also raises his hand, forcing pin drop silence in the crowded courtroom for a poignant second in time.

Outside, after the cases are finished for the day, a colleague of mine hearkens back to this scene and makes a fleeting observation; ‘if a different climate of reconciliation is not actually encouraged as opposed to being talked of only in theory, then we will have another generation coming to age with the same bitterness and despair felt by their parents.’

Even taking into account, the obvious need on the part of the government to carefully determine the levels of ‘radicalism’ of these detainees in order to decide whom to release, whom to rehabilitate and whom to indict, this observation has much truth contained in it

Cynicism about the Rule of Law

Seven days spent in the Northern Province last week only increases the sense of cynicism that one feels when speaking of the value of the law in Sri Lanka today. The disinclination among the legal community to even refer to the Rule of Law is palpable. Some incidents immediately invoke outrage as one instance where, after a high ranking officer of the establishment was cited as a respondent in a habeas corpus petition and notice was accordingly issued after the initial hearing, security officers paid a visit to the registrar and demanded to know why the application had been entertained.

This intimidation does not need to happen consistently. On the contrary, one such incident will suffice to strike terror into the hearts of all those who administer the law at various levels.

Political rhetoric and ordinary people

The peculiar factor also is that (apart from a few exceptions) the majority of army officers who one meets by chance either at the checkpoints and entry points manned at every step of the way on the A-9 road or within Jaffna town itself and its environs are by and large, pleasant faced individuals whose stories of the unfamiliar territory in which they now live, are not all negative. At the historic (Kantharodai in Tamil or Kandurugoda, in Sinhala) archaeological site located in Chunnakam, a few kilometres away from Jaffna town, the site of strange, ghostly looking round shaped dagobas supposed to house the relics (as said) of Buddhist monks, an army soldier confesses that he fell in love with a Tamil girl but was forced to abandon the relationship when the fighting intensified.

Kantharodai or Kandurugoda was, in 2003, marked by a protest march (some say, orchestrated by the LTTE) against the construction of a Buddhist vihare at the site. Ostensibly this was to make the point that the Sri Lanka army should have played no part in the construction of a vihare and that the protestors were not against the Buddhists or the Sinhalese. However, the rhetoric underlying the protest engaged in during the then UNF government’s ceasefire, spoke unmistakably to political undertones framing the concept of a separate state fought for by the LTTE at that time.

Yet, take away these inflammatory undertones and what remains is the plight of the ordinary people, trapped between the totalitarianism of their so called liberators and a government which, even after conflict, shows no sign of genuine reconciliation, let alone restoring the Rule of Law in a ravaged land.

Redressing the legal process

Redressing and correcting the legal process in this background remains of paramount concern. Over decades, the abuses committed by non state agents and state agents alike have deprived the legal process in this country of much meaning. It was not so long ago that people were simply 'disappeared' under the cover of emergency law which conferred extraordinary powers on police and service personnel. That sense of fear still persists. The environment which allowed these abuses to occur still persists. Paramilitaries responsible for a significant percentage of these violations with the knowledge and concurrence of sections of government are now in provincial governance.

As commented previously in these column spaces, the writ remedy of habeas corpus should have been of central importance in this background. However, the practical efficacy of this remedy has been faltering. Applications for the issuance of writs of habeas corpus have not generally yielded positive results in the appellate courts or in the Provincial High Courts, excepting a few specific cases. Manifold factors have been to blame stemming from severe dysfunction of the legal and judicial process.

The deliberate negation of this remedy by the respondents to the applications has been a contributory factor. Even in those few instances of grave human rights violations that were actually being taken before the judicial institutions, common features that encourage impunity have been evidenced such as the release of the suspect perpetrators on bail, intimidation of witnesses and family members of the victims, transfers of the cases to other courts at the instance of the alleged perpetrators but resulting in grave disadvantage to the petitioners due to financial costs as well as the difficulties of travelling to and from locations in the North/East. Delays in the court process, oftentimes stretching to ten years and more are common.

Calm and sober engagement

As Sri Lanka looks forward to the start of another year, the public call should be for antagonistic rhetoric on the part of those handling the country’s policy processes to be replaced by calm and sober engagement, whether with the United Nations or elsewhere. This country’s foreign policy makers have much to learn from the late Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, no doubt.

It may be useful for those working at the level of the government or who defend government policy for their personal benefit or advancement to label each and every criticism levelled against the government as emanating from traitors or ‘non-patriots’ or non-governmental organizations who are motivated by Western forces and so on, ad nauseam.

Let it be clearly said that those who justly and legitimately criticize the workings of government will not be deterred by such slander. This should be our exceedingly firm conviction as the New Year dawns. - courtesy: The Sunday Times -

No Tamils in new intake of 135 For Sri Lanka Administrative Service

by Ranga Jayasuriya

Last week, President Mahinda Rajapaksa presented appointment papers to a new intake of 135 recruits to the Sri Lanka Administrative Service (SLAS). The apex of the government’s bureaucracy, the SLAS is supposed to represent all communities which form the citizenry of this country.

Alas, there were no Tamils and just a single Muslim among the new batch of recruits . None of the Tamil medium candidates were among two hundred and fifty seven candidates who were shortlisted for the interview. Even the Secretary of Ministry of Public Administration and Home Affairs P.B. Abeykoon confides that it was unfair. But, there is little room for remedy.

His explanation is that the new recruits were chosen through an open competitive examination and none of the Tamil medium candidates could score enough marks. Secretary Abeykoon says that the exam papers were marked and re-evaluated by the Tamil language academics and that the Ministry could do little to help disgruntled Tamil candidates as the bulk of the marks in the selection process are allocated for the examination. Only 25 marks out of the total of 500 are allocated for the interview.

Be that as it may, others feel bitter and excluded. Dr. A.L. Farook, a member of Professional Administration of Ampara District says that recent appointments smack of ethnic discrimination. He also points out that there is only a single Tamil speaking recruit out of 29 recent appointments made to District Secretariats in Ampara District.

“This would create a huge communication gap. Even in areas, such as Valapapitty, where Tamil speaking communities comprise the entire population, the new appointee could only speak Sinhala. People simply can’t communicate with government officials”, he says.

Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims live in equal numbers in the Eastern community. Dr. Farook argues that the appointments to government jobs should reflect this demographical reality.

“When two communities are excluded in favour of the majority community, that would create bitterness which could translate into racial enmity,” he cautions.

He adds that the ethnic composition in the East itself makes it too dangerous to upset the status quo.

He calls for affirmative action for minority communities and points out that Tamil candidates could not compete with the others due to years of neglect in educational facilities as a result of the war.

An ethnic quota for minority communities would address the existing imbalances in the government bureaucracy, he suggests.

However, Abeykoon, the Secretary of the Ministry of Public Administration says that the Attorney General had instructed the Ministry not to ‘give preference to anyone on ethnic lines”. The instructions by the Attorney General’s Department are in line with an on- going hearing of a Fundamental Rights Petition challenging affirmative action.

Abeykoon says the Ministry would hold a separate examination to recruit civil servants to the North East.

This examination has been held every ten years, beginning from 1991, and in 2001. The next examination which would be held in 2011 and would recruit 79 Tamil speaking civil servants, who will have to serve in the North East for a minimum of ten years upon appointment.

Abeykoon says the intake of Tamils in the civil service was dwindling even when he joined the civil service in the early 80s. There were only four to five Tamil recruits even then, he says, reminiscing the past.

That was a complete reversal from the colonial days and the early decades of independence when Tamils dominated the civil service, supported by a network of schools which Christian missionaries built throughout the Jaffna peninsula in the 19th century and the colonial practice of divide and rule which favoured minority Burgers and Tamils over the majority Sinhalese.

Dominance of Tamils and Burgers didn’t confine to the Civil service. Burgers accounted for 40 per cent of colonial defence forces while Tamils claimed for 20 per cent. Anton Mutukumaru, a Tamil, was the first native commander of Ceylonese Army and Rajan Kadirgamar, the brother of former foreign minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar was the second native commander of the Ceylonese Navy and the one who served the longest as the commander of Navy in its history.

However, tables turned with the independence and Tamils perceived ethnic discrimination at the hand of Sinhalese led governments. Statics of ethnic composition in civil service indicates a gradual decline in the Tamil share in the civil service since the independence; in the administrative service, the number of Tamil office holders declined from 11.1 percent of the total during the 1970-77 period to only 5.7 percent during the 1978-81 period. The percentage during 1978-81, however, was substantially lower than Sri Lankan Tamils’ percentage of the total population (12.6 percent in 1985).

That was a sharp decline from 24.7 % Tamils who were employed in the Civil Service in 1948.

The standardization of university admission was introduced as students from the Jaffna peninsula that benefitted from better education facilities in the region thronged to local universities. Disproportionate Tamil presence in local universities came at the cost of resource starved rural Sinhalese students.

After three decades of conflict, education facilities in the North East are in shambles. The standard of education has come down drastically as people were displaced and schools were forced to move out from their original premises which were taken over by the army and declared as High Security Zones. Journalist and educationist V.T. Sahadevaraja complains that even after the end of the war, the government is slow to rectify the disparities in the education sector.

For instance, he says in the Eastern province, 147 Additional Directors of Education are serving in temporary capacity for nearly a decade. He claims that though it is the practice in other parts of the country that Additional Directors of Education are made permanent after two years of service, the officers from the Eastern province are treated differently.

This smacks of discrimination, he alleges.

“This has its toll on the education service in the province which is still reeling from the consequences of the war.”

Referring to the exclusion of Tamil speaking candidates in recent appointments to Additional District Secretariats in Ampara District, Sahadevaraja says the Ampara District Inter-Religious Federation , of which he is the media coordinator is planning to make submissions before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) about the exclusion of Tamil speaking people in the civil service.

LLRC is scheduled to meet in the East next month.

Minister W.D.J. Seneviratne - Minister of Public Administration and Home Affairs:

It is not fair that Tamils and Muslims are not represented in the new intake. But, the new batch of SLAS officers was selected through a competitive examination. We recruited those who scored highest marks and it has been the practice throughout the past in recruiting to the civil service.

Then, we noticed that none of the Tamil medium candidates has scored enough marks. We can’t fail those who have passed this highly competitive examination. The problem is candidates from the North and the East could not compete with the candidates from the other parts of the country. This was due to the consequences of the war which caused education standards in the North-East provinces to decline.

Now we are planning to hold a separate examination for Tamil language candidates to fill the vacancies in the North East.

Mavai Senathirajah - MP, Tamil National Alliance:

This issue was taken up in Parliament. It is grossly unfair that minority communities are excluded. The explanation given to us was that none of them scored high marks.

We have now asked the government to conduct a separate examination for the Tamil language candidates and fill in the vacancies in the North-East from those who are selected via that examination. ~ courtesy: Lakbima News ~

Who on the Tamil side is accountable for spawning and sustaining Tiger fascism?

by Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

The strangest polarization is taking place in perspectives on Sri Lanka’s recent conflict and the way forward, as reflected in submissions to the Lessons Learnt Panel and the debate surrounding them. One the one hand there are those who say that the roots of the conflict have to be dug up and addressed, if not for which the conflict would recur or reconciliation would not be effected. This school of thought could be identified by their slogan or cliche , that the LTTE did not emerge out of nothing and that it was a response to an unresolved ethnic problem which remains unresolved.

Most recent advocates of that view have been MA Sumanthiran of the TNA and Rt. Revd Dr Daniel S. Thiagarajah, Bishop of the Church of South India in the Jaffna Diocese (JDCSI) and Chairman of American Ceylon Mission (ACM). Perhaps 'a Daniel come to judgement'? ('Truth-telling consists of speaking aloud those things kept secret or hidden during the conflict' - www.transcurrents.com).

On the other hand there are those who hold that the armed conflict/terrorism was the problem which has now been resolved and there is no further need for reflection.

I have a few problems with both approaches and shall suggest a third. The first approach-”the LTTE didn’t spring out of nowhere, it was a response to the ethnic problem”-is a dangerous cop out. The tribunal in Cambodia investigating war crimes by the defeated Khmer Rouge, is not being told “the Khmer Rouge didn’t emerge from nowhere, they were a response to the problem of US imperialism” while Nuremburg would hardly have regarded as legitimate a claim that Nazism was a response to the unfair Treaty of Versailles.

Now it is not untrue that Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge didn’t emerge from nowhere, and that they were a response to the unresolved questions of rural poverty and monarchic rule, US bombing, and military regime installed by a CIA coup, but that begs the main question of the horrific barbarism of the Khmer Rouge. The same was obviously true of the Nazi phenomenon.

This 'root causes' line as presently articulated, functions as a posthumous excuse for the Tigers and for those who collaborated with them, appeased them or remained silent. It can also serve as propaganda for the Tigers overseas.

Some Tamil Christians are continuing the ignoble tradition of opting for Barabbas or justifying that option. Barabbas, let us recall, was an anti-Roman ultranationalist terrorist and social bandit— hence his popularity among the crowd. Arguably Barabbas didn’t emerge from nowhere: he was a response to Roman imperial oppression. However, the Good Book doesn’t excuse the Barabbas option.

The ‘root causes/ethnic problem’ school would certainly be in the right if it fore-grounded a set of interlocking questions and followed them up with a reminder of the need to address the root causes. These central questions which M A Sumanthiran, Bishop Daniel Thiagarajah and their intellectual ilk avoid are the following:

1. Why did the ‘reaction’ to or ‘result of’ the ethnic problem take the preponderant form of the barbaric LTTE when there were other alternatives available, both armed and unarmed? If the glib response is that Sinhala oppression blocked a peaceful path, the counter is twofold: the Sinhalese didn’t wipe out the TULF, from Amirthalingam and the Yogeswaran couple to Neelan Tiruchelvam; the LTTE did. Secondly, there were militant alternatives such as the PLOT and EPRLF which were not as barbaric and had a dialogue with southern progressives, so why didn’t the preponderant Tamil response to the unresolved ethnic question converge around them? Here too it must be recalled that the non-tiger Tamil militants were wiped out, not by the Lankan state but by the Tigers.

2. Why did the ‘reaction to the unresolved ethnic question’ continue, in its armed and barbaric form, even after there were options available to address if not resolve that problem?

How can these intellectuals fail to condemn as illegitimate the LTTE’s armed actions from September 1987 when, in the wake of the Thileepan fast, JR Jayewardene agreed to an Interim Council of the merged North and east with 7 of 11 seats including the chair reserved for the Tigers?

3. Why don’t the ‘roots causes’ boys and girls, clerics and laymen, engage in an open denunciation of the terrorism of the LTTE against unarmed civilians and peaceful political rivals, Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim, instead of avoiding or glossing over them?

What responsibility did those victims bear for the ‘root causes’ of the conflict?

Why doesn’t Northern civil society even denounce the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi?

Doesn’t the murder of Nehru’s grandson give the lie to the theory that the monstrous Tigers and their barbaric violence were but a consequence (inevitable or understandable) of an ethnic issue unresolved by the Sinhalese?

When will Tamil civil society openly admit that the Tigers were not simply a consequence but also a cause of the problem and an obstacle to its solution, at least from ‘87 to 2006?

Where is the civil society or intellectual initiative, especially the Tamil civil society initiative that investigates these issues?

Is it that Tamil ideologues want to send the Sinhalese on a guilt trip while they do not feel any guilt whatsoever and do not engage in any self critical reflection?

Why is the finger of accountability pointed only southwards?

Who on the Tamil side is accountable for spawning and sustaining Tiger fascism?

Is this not an absurdly twisted narrative in which the sole or main accountability for Tamil fascism lies with the Sinhalese?

The ‘root causes’ school has an adjunct proposition: there must be justice for the victims. Sounds good, but let’s unpack that. In their re-telling, the victims are (explicitly or implicitly) the Tamil people. This is a half truth at best and an oversimplification at its most charitable.

The Tigers were ‘victims’ (actually, casualties) so, are we talking of the Tigers?

What of those who supported and sympathized with the Tigers?

Are they among those victims who cry out for justice?

What of the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims who lost their lives, limbs and loved ones in acts of Tiger terrorism?

Are they not victims?

Who tells their stories?

What would constitute justice for them?

Thus a colossal moral and ethical fraud by inversion is taking place: those who supported or did not oppose Tiger fascism and terrorism are the victims crying out for justice, while those who opposed Tiger fascism, terrorism and separatism are the oppressors with deaf ears and hearts of stone! Go figure!

Of course none of this means that there should be a taboo on reflecting on ‘root causes’. But where does that start and stop; who effects the cut-off and who decides?

To each, his or her own ‘root cause’. The Sinhala hardliners have their own narrative, which is the Tamil narrative turned inside out, upside down or run backwards.

One thing that both sides agree on is the need for uncovering the roots. I disagree with this ‘horticultural’ historicism. In the great wave of transitions from the 1970s onwards, most societies (Spain, Portugal, Greece, ex-Soviet Russia, Indonesia, Chile to give but a handful of examples) avoided lacerating issues of accountability and official searches for root causes and perpetrators.

This approach served them well, facilitating peaceful transition, preventing a military backlash, and maintaining social peace and prosperity. To my mind, these are the best practices.

Let us not replicate the mistake of Orpheus in looking back. Wise scholars have said that societies are divisible between those which look back and those that look forward. The latter succeed.

There is obviously something wrong with the way we were; the way we were as ourselves and to each other, which is how we had thirty years of war. It is stupid to believe otherwise. It is worse than stupid not to want to learn the lessons, avoid the repetition of the past and build a better, different future.

The best way to do that is to focus on the here and now, the present, the current moment. There is a problem that is over and another that is not, there is a historical outcome after a thirty year long contestation; there is, in short, a reality. Let us take the situation as it is, and fix it, in the light of the mistakes of the past but looking to the future.

In theory this is called the ‘structuralist’ approach as distinct from the ‘historicist’ one. Structuralism in this instance also accords with realism and prudence, while a moralising historicism goes against them.

I suspect that this is why Justice CG Weeramantry, who (if I may be pardoned the pun) is the best judge of these things, has NOT called for a digging into ‘root causes’ or war crimes, but argued for peace education and reconciliation’ not for a look so far back but a fresh start and a look forward. He has focused on changing attitudes, building peace.

There is a reality and effective reconciliatory change that must begin with the recognition of that reality.

A successful attempt to transform and transcend that reality must be of a sort that reassures the masses that the reality is not sought to be reversed or negated in its most positive aspect; the total defeat of the Tigers and armed secessionism. If the majority perceives that the project to transcend reality is aimed at or would result in, a restoration of the status quo ante, there will be resistance to transformation.

No one, no community, has a monopoly of either victimhood or virtue. In the words of the man who was not himself a philosopher (he remained significantly silent when posed the challenging question ‘what is truth?’) but about whom more philosophers and have written than on any other: “let he who is without sin, cast the first stone”. And the bottom line which all communities and political formations in Sri Lanka should heed: “go and sin no more”. (John 8:2-11)

December 24, 2010

The Christian Church Stands for the Liberation of the Oppressed

Message of Christmas is the Liberation of the Oppressed

by Fr. Leopold Ratnasekera, OMI., Ph.D., Th.D.

Christmas is by now a Christian annual festival well known to the world. Indeed at Christmas the whole world takes on a festive air. However, in a highly secular culture such as today, many unfortunately tend to sideline the more profound message and meaning of Christmas. Christmas stands for the birth of Jesus Christ. He is the very incarnation of God, God walking this earth. The Bible says that "God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him, may not perish but may have eternal life" (John 3:16).

In fact, further it is stated by Christ himself that: "I came that they may have life and have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). When Jesus appeared for the first time in public in his village synagogue of Nazareth, he opened the Jewish Scriptures and quoting a very ancient prophet declared: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour" (Lk 4:18-19). When he declared that today this prophecy is being fulfilled in your sight, the listeners were stupefied and their eyes rested with awe upon this young man from Nazareth, the son of Mary. St. Paul who was a great protagonist of early Christianity and staunchly preaching Christ against all odds declares clearly to the first believers of the city of Corinth that: "Though He was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich" ( 2 Cor 8:9).

Christmas is therefore a festival time for the poor to rejoice and be glad. It is their day of celebration. For, at Christmas the poor are being exalted and given pride of place and the highest consideration. The birth-story of Jesus deliberately sets the scenes of his birth in humble surroundings and under very trying and difficult circumstances. Jesus Christ was not born in the comfort of a home. He was born according to the Gospel story in a cold midnight in the backyard of an inn where the cattle lodged and rested for the night. The new born infant was placed not in a cushioned cot, but in a manger that was meant to hold the hay, the food of the cattle. He was wrapped up not in warm linen but in swaddling clothes just to keep the cold off his tiny frame. The first blessed ones to whom the news came of the birth of the Messiah were the shepherds of low caste.

Young Jesus himself led a poor and a simple life. He was an itinerant preacher going in simple sandles from village to village, covering on foot long distances throughout the length and breath of what is Palestine today and being ministered unto by others. Luke and Matthew, the Gospel writers recall the words of Jesus when he said: "Foxes have holes and the birds of the air nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head" (Lk 9:58, Matt. 8:20). When his disciples had no way of paying the tax money, Jesus had to do the needful by providing the four-drachma coin from the belly of a fish taken out from the lake nearby. Such was his poverty and that of his disciples. He has overturned in fact the whole idea of the value of mammon by exalting the generosity of the widow who put in two small copper coins into the treasury than the hundreds of drachmas that were thrown in there by the affluent and the rich (Lk 21:1-4). The widow had given her all but no so the rich. In the moving parable of the rich man and Lazarus lying in sores at his door-steps and yearning to fill himself with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s sumptuous table, Jesus revolutionises the social status of the two and describes the final fate of the rich man and the exaltation of Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31). In the authoritative teaching of the Sermon on the Mount that fascinates anyone who reads it, priority of place is given clearly to the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.

This means that the Kingdom of God will be realized the day the rich decide to share with the poor. One can raise the question whether, in the highly complicated area of international economics this sharing is taking place at all! It is still the kingdom of the Mammon, the rule of money with everything, even the dignity of a person and the value of his labor are measured in terms of commodity produced and profit accrued. There is the commoditisation of human persons and belittling the dignity of human work and labor. God always sides with the poor and the oppressed in this matter of economic status. Has the Kingdom come with a massive part of the inhabited earth overburdened by its third-world population that is poor. The third-world was once known as the greatest tragedy of the twentieth century. Doesn’t the tragedy continue to our day, even in this new century. The first decade of this new millennium has many heart-rending stories of the poor who have been driven to dire straits and untold sufferings, like the boat-people, those forced to flee their countries because of war and terrorism and those stranded in the high seas while trying to migrate illegally into affluent countries. The eight millennium goals advocated by the United Nations are intended to create interest in people to lend their hand to solve this colossal problem of the alleviation of world-poverty and of empowerment of the poor.

The same paradoxical logic is written into all the rest of the beatitudes. The meek will inherit the earth, for they are people who have extra space in their lives for others unlike those who crave for property, goods and inheritance and desire to grab even that which is not legitimately theirs. So is the case with those who mourn, for their tears will turn into joy when the evil and injustice over which they are saddened will one day disappear and society will be transformed into a benevolent fraternity of sharing of goods and communion of persons. The Beatitudes also highlight the blessing inherited by those who suffer persecution, trial and suffering for the sake of justice, for when God’s Rule prevails in the final phase of world history, a world system of justice will emerge. We can include in this category all those who suffer under political oppression when their voices are silenced and their imprisonment is rather politically motivated. This is a beatitude that is very relevant to many situations that we see in some countries. Then come the peace-makers who are blessed because they will prevent oppression from enslaving people in many ways and thus there will be what St. Augustine once said: "Tranquility in order" which precisely in his mind is peace, a state of personal and social transparency.

Jesus Christ is a symbol of a paradox: he who came to enrich the poor, himself became a poor man. It was a clear case of voluntary poverty. He who came to liberate the prisoner, was himself made prisoner by the civil and religious authority in the course of his passion. All these were a result of social oppression to which Jesus was subjected. This shows that unless the so-called liberators do not identify with the state of the oppressed, the silenced and the helpless, no freedom will be won in their favour. Jesus thus was able to be in solidarity with those who were marginalized in society like the women and children as shown in the case where he defended the helpless woman caught in adultery(John 8: 1-11) and won the victory over the conspiracy that the accusers have laid to trap him.

The accusers ultimately were shown to be the offenders and guilty of patent injustice for there was no one among them who would be without sin or guilt and who could in all honesty raise his hand to cast the first stone! It is the same with the blessing of children and his reference that anyone guilty of scandalising little ones deserve severe punishment. In the Jewish society women and children were stateless. Jesus even in the last moments on the cross of his death did not hesitate to forgive the repentant thief and promise him the joy of paradise in his company as the Son of God.

The Christian Church stands for the liberation of the oppressed. This oppression is not merely in political sphere but also in the physical, personal, social and institutional spheres. She denounces injustices ingrained in institutions and social structures since these dehumanize human persons. Christianity gives pride of place to the dignity of human persons and his fundamental rights and makes the human person the measure of all things. The perennially hundred-year old social doctrine of the Church that began with Pope Leo XIII’s social encyclical "Rerum Novarum" on capital and labor (May 1891)and just ended with the social encyclical "Charity in Truth" on integral human development in charity and truth (June 2009) of the present Pope Benedict XVI bear ample testimony to the continuous social concern of the Church and her leaders.

This trend was given a great impetus in the Second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church (1962-1965) which dealt with the task the Church has to perform in the world. The opening poignant words of the relevant document begins by saying that "the joys and hopes of the world are also those of the Church" ie. Christian community that lives in the world. The Church is not an esoteric or Gnostic religious community but one incarnated in the heart of world society and so neither are the aspirations of mankind nor anything genuinely human appear strange to her. The social involvement of the church is not just philanthropy or an act of compassion and mercy but flows from her very essence of being Church – God’s people.

This grand involvement of Christianity with the world, its joys, aspirations and hopes is verily based on the Mystery of Incarnation of God that is celebrated during Christmas. God became man and took upon himself human nature and its woes, in order to heal it and make human beings whole and fulfilled. In the mystery of the man Jesus Christ, is the riddle of man solved. Incarnation inspires and drives Christianity to get involved with the processes of liberation in the world. But this liberation is without violence that is physical or external. The only violence she exercises is the tender and silent appeal to the consciences and the reason of man.

The greatest oppression that enslaves people of today is the "poisoning of thought" as Pope Benedict XVI has said in his most recent book "The Light of the World" (November 2010), which breeds wrong perspectives in the way approach reality. Thus reason can be darkened and our actions meander the wrong way. Hence, Christmas is good news to the poor and the oppressed. It is the festival of the poor and those who have lost their freedom and keep yearning for it. It is thus good for those who are affluent to think, care and share with the poor during this festive season of Christmas.

The spirit of Christ who gave all for our sake in complete self-giving will inspire all of us to greater generosity during the season of Christmas that challenges oppressors and the unjust to conversion of heart. To free the oppressors from their oppressive mind-set is the first step to the liberation of all who are oppressed.

(Fr. Leopold Ratnasekera,OMI., Ph.D., Th.D. is Superior, Oblate Scholasticate in Ampitiya, Kandy and Former Asst. Secretary General of the Bishops’ Conference)

No room amongst their own - A Christmas message by the Rt. Rev. Duleep de Chickera, the Bishop of Colombo

Jesus was born in a cattle shed. A census required by the then political regime created this situation. When Mary was ready to give birth there was no room for them amongst their own; even her vulnerability made little difference.

The celebration of Christmas today compels us to address the anxieties of those who have no room amongst their own; whose vulnerability seems to make little difference.

The urban poor, living in congested communities fear relocation to unfriendly and distant places that will dislocate them from their livelihood and their children’s schooling. There is no longer room for them in the big city.

The Negombo lagoon fisher community, fear an adverse impact of sea plane tourism on their traditional livelihood. There is little room for them in their own habitat.

The IDPs, still waiting for normalcy; our rural subsistence farmers, still left to their own devices; the plantation sector, still confined to the margins of life ; are some of the other neglected communities amongst us. There is no room for their dignity and legitimate aspirations in our development plans and national conscience.

Development that neglects the fears and needs of our own “little people” in preference to collaboration with financial giants, amounts to yet another form of neo-colonialism. These investors benefit at the expense of the powerless amongst us, simply because the cries of the powerless do not seem to matter.

The celebration of Christmas consequently calls for inclusive development. Dialogue for economic development with prospective investors must also address dialogue for human dignity with our own vulnerable communities. To exclude these anxious and hard working Sri Lankans is to make a serious political and economic mistake. I urge those elected to resolve the problems of the people; to listen to their cries and to serve them.

Jesus the liberator was born in vulnerable circumstances. The vulnerable amongst us offer us all a liberating perspective on inclusive development. The message and miracle of Christmas is that God is full of life-giving surprises, if only we are able to think and act outside the prejudice and arrogance of power and class.

May God forgive our foolish ways; may Christ’s birth illuminate and transform us all.

With Peace and Blessings to all this Christmas.

December 22, 2010

"The 13th Amendment to the Constitution must be properly implemented": Dharmalingam Siddharthan

by Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe

With the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war in May 2009 the situation facing the Tamil population is still dominated by genuine concerns for the future, perhaps most notably in the political arena. In this context, the views expressed by Dharmalingam Siddharthan, the leader of the moderate People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), which has a support base in the Vanni and the Jaffna Peninsula, are of much interest. In an interview conducted by Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghein June 2010, Dharmalingam Siddharthan provides his opinion on contentious issues such as war crimes allegations, the flight of asylum seekers, whether the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) can revive, the aspirations and grievances of Tamils in Sri Lanka, and future of the LTTE and the Tamil diaspora.

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Dharmalingam Siddharthan

Allegations of War Crimes

Both the LTTE and Sri Lankan government have been accused of breaching the Laws of Armed Conflict, particularly in the final stages of the civil war.

Dharmalingam Siddharthan: “Before the final civilian safe zone operation the Army was very accurate in the use of firepower and nobody can complain that they hit civilians purposefully. Although the LTTE shouted, we know from here [in Sri Lanka] that it was not accurate. But what happened in the last stages has to be accounted for and we must ascertain the number of deaths and whether the claims are true. From what I heard from Tamil IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons] who fled LTTE controlled areas on the last days, they feel the LTTE was more ruthless in that they killed a large number of Tamil people in cold blood who tried to escape. Whatever the circumstances the fact is a large number of people were killed. The figure differs from 5000-7000 fatalities. I don’t take any of these figures seriously.

“I feel what should be done is, after the resettlement of all the civilians then only we can get a reasonably, at least 90%, accurate figure of how many people were killed. When I go and talk to the villagers in the Vanni they say, ‘In that house two were killed, in that house four of them were killed.’ Then only can we know the names and collect the figures. Also, recently in Vavuniya the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) [the largest Tamil political alliance in Sri Lanka which has had pro-LTTE affiliations] won the Parliamentary election by only 4000 votes. Even in Jaffna north, the government lost only by 20,000 votes. So a large number of Tamils voted for the government. If the government committed serious war crimes, as some suggest, many Tamils would not have voted for the government.”

Asylum Seekers

Even though the civil war has ended and the civilians held in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps have either been released to live among relatives or in their original villages or allowed to continue to live within the camps with freedom to leave at their will, the situation related to the flight of civilians and former LTTE fighters from Sri Lanka still continues to have currency.

Dharmalingam Siddharthan: “At the end of the civil war the conditions in IDP camps were very bad. That is accepted. Out of the 280,000 people in the camps, definitely about 50% were genuinely sympathetic to the LTTE. After the Army searched and found many LTTE fighters, many of them bought their freedom and escaped. Definitely not less than 5000-6000 people fled the IDP camps. Out of that, at least 500 hardcore LTTE would have fled overseas. Possibly 50-60 could have been Lieutenant Colonel rank, others were civilians or LTTE families and supporters. It is quite possible that more than 50% of the IDPs that fled the camps are likely to be connected to the LTTE because they had the money and the help of the expatriate LTTE community in the West. They not necessarily fled to Tamil Nadu, but they also went to Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, and they found mainly Australia to be the easy way to go. Even in Canada, the LTTE might help them to go to Australia. I complained to President Mahinda Rajapakse about them buying their freedom and leaving and he was very angry.

“At the beginning many Tamil civilians were unsure whether to complain about the LTTE, because LTTE top rankers were co-opted by the Army. The Tamil civilians are very angry with these people because the men who forcibly conscripted the children are free, but many of the children are still in detention. Because of this they are very angry with the government. These LTTE people, put them in the frontline, and a large number of them were killed as a result, so that makes them very angry. Whoever goes there asks, ‘Can’t we get our child out?’ That is their main demand. That is why they did not want to complain to the Army because they know that this man is now close to the Army, so he might put them into trouble. The LTTE cadres who are working with the Army might purposefully identify the people who were opposed to them previously. There was one girl who was forcibly recruited by the LTTE and when released took refuge at someone’s house. She didn’t go to her own village because the man who recruited her is working with the Army and is going around and identifying child soldiers. Only because of the fear she has for him she is now in hiding.”

End of Militancy?

Given that significant changes have taken place in the north towards reconstruction and normalization, it is increasingly apparent that a revival of militancy, as espoused by the LTTE, remains a unlikely probability in the immediate future.

Dharmalingam Siddharthan: “I don’t think that the LTTE can revive to the extent they were in the past. If the government is wise enough, they can definitely stop it. When the LTTE was defeated many Tamils also feel they have also lost the war, that we have failed, but I don’t think like that. As soon as the war was over, within a couple of months I travelled around very freely without any armed guards to visit almost all the resettled villages in the Vanni. There were dozens of small villages I visited and the people are happy that they are back, but at the same time the hardship is there. There is much damage due to the war. Now, the people are safe, the war is over and they are at least relieved if not happy. There are still those who are angry as they have lost their kith and kin in battle, but even they feel that the end of the war is good.

“In the north, there is very good communication between the public and the army. If there’s any problem, the people don’t hesitate to tell the army, and the army tries their best to do it. I’ve never come across any serious complaint about the army. In certain areas, the army sends groups of soldiers who rebuild houses for the civilians. That is quite a good thing they are doing. In line with this, another reason Tamil people voted for the government at the recent Presidential elections in January this year is because some of them felt that at least the government has helped them to recover. In Mallavi, a town in the Vanni, there is a tea boutique owned by a lady and a son who are known to have been hardcore LTTE supporters, but now they are not. They are very friendly with me. I met one of their family members, a girl, who was an attorney at law, not real attorney at law, an LTTE attorney at law. She said, ‘We wasted our life. In the later stages we understood what was happening, that the LTTE was really cheating us. They were using us.’ In another example, I spoke to a former LTTE fighter who survived the last battle, who said ‘If anybody takes up arms again, I will chop them into pieces.’ They clearly have had enough of militancy.”

Aspirations or Grievances?

While the end of the civil war has brought immediate relief to the people of the north and east, Tamil concerns for the future on a range of issues continue to dominate the agenda. Key issues include the reconstruction of the north, implementation of the 13th Amendment and the full implementation of the Tamil language,

Dharmalingam Siddharthan: “The reconstruction of the north is slowly happening, however this is a massive task no government can manage alone. There are NGOs prepared to do it but the government is still denying access for some of them. This is justified because in the past, during the tsunami, many NGOs were working in the LTTE controlled areas, but you could not visibly see any development. They stayed in LTTE controlled areas for about two to three days and then returned and stayed in five star hotels in Colombo and enjoyed their life. That is the way they behaved. But still I think the government can now supervise the NGOs and selected agencies should be allowed to work.

“I have also seen that a lot of privately owned brick houses are being demolished all over the Vanni. The roof and the bricks were taken out, and the people say it is being transported to the south. That’s what they say. The government officials say this is not the case, but we see it happening. Even most of the contractors and labourers are from the south. That also is leading to a little resentment among the people as they have nothing to do. Why should they bring labourers from the south? Even with inland freshwater fishing, they don’t allow the local man to go and fish. I don’t know why it is a problem, but this is still happening in certain places.

“The 13th Amendment to the Constitution must be properly implemented [The 13th Amendment represents the decentralization of power to Sri Lanka’s provinces]. I think the government has made a mistake and they feel that from Dondra Head to Point Pedro, their rule must be there. That attitude must change. In Jaffna, if the TNA rule, they should let them rule it, then half the problem is over. I believe we can only implement the 13th Amendment, I don’t think India is interested in anything else and we have been told by them very clearly. As far as I’m concerned, if the 13th Amendment is implemented properly it can be a good start and we can see if it works. However, many Sinhala people think that federalism is the first step to separatism.

“When Mahinda Rajapakse speaks the Tamil language some people criticise him, I say ‘No. At least that man had the courage to learn. We must appreciate that. He is not very good at speaking Tamil, but at least he tries.’ We realise that is at least a good gesture. This is what I say about 1956, if the government was clever enough, if they had proclaimed Sinhala, Tamil and English as official languages, even if you send an everyday letter in Sinhala, no Tamil would have worried. All the Tamils would have studied Sinhalese. In Jaffna, there was a Bikkhu (Buddhist monk), who was living in my house and teaching Sinhala and at the time the Tamil schools were willingly teaching Sinhala. I really still don’t understand the stupidity of Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike and why he did he implemented Sinhala as the only official language in 1956.

“Issues like the Sinhala Only act are now ancient and forgotten. At that time Sinhala Only and ethnic ratios at universities and the development of these areas were never addressed. We have forgotten about our grievances, now it has developed into aspirations. However, I feel the fundamental problems between Sinhalese and Tamils have not changed. When I talk to a Sinhala man, he will say, ‘No way, Tamil is an official language today, and now it’s not a question of language or ethnic ratios to enter universities.’ When the President talks, he says, ‘There is no difference between the races here, everyone is a Sri Lankan.’ Former Sri Lankan Prime Ministers DS Senanayake said that in 1948, and SWRD Bandaranaike again said it in 1956. However, none of them recognized that Tamil is a separate nationality. I’m not talking about a separate state, nor am I talking about ethnicity, which is where you come as minority and majority.

“I feel the Sri Lankan government has ulterior motives because the claim of our homeland must be completely destroyed. Even if it’s state land, we feel it is our land. We want recognition, that is, demarcation of land, something like a province. Why can’t we develop those areas? What happened in the Eastern Province is our fear. That is the reason we are asking for control of land power. In my opinion the most serious Tamil grievance is land power more than the police power. We are afraid of state sponsored colonization of Sinhalese. So far there is no evidence of new Buddhist temples being built in the north. I only see this Kilinochchi one, which has been there even when I was a boy and visited my farm in Kilinochchi. That was there for 70 odd years and now they have rebuilt it. That sort of thing can happen, which should be done. Buddhism is an offspring of Hinduism. The mistake was made by the Sinhala leaders, they should not have made it Sinhala Buddhism, they should have emphasized Buddhism as Buddhism and Sinhala as Sinhala, a clear separation. At least Tamils could have bonded on religion, Buddhism is a really good religion, but unfortunately in this country everything is politicised.

“A Sinhala man buying land is something completely different and nobody is opposing, but if they slowly try to build new Buddhist temples that will be a problem. Nobody cares about old Buddhist temples. If they’re trying to colonise those areas with some Sinhala people, these things definitely the people will resent. In the east, not only the Tamils, but even the Muslims have this fear. Even after the war the complaints continue. A large number of Tamils fear the aim of the government now is to change the ethnic demography in the Vanni. On the Vavuniya-Mannar road in the Vanni there’s a place called Madurote, where there was a traditional Sinhala village whose villagers left in 1983, but have since returned. As far as we are concerned that is not a problem, but are they the original people? Now their numbers also have increased from 20 families to about 30-50 families, which they say is their offspring. These are the sort of questions that need to be answered.

“Tamils want an ethno-federalist state like in Tamil Nadu or something similar. I would like to see a Tamil speaking province. The government says that they have implemented the 13th Amendment, but even Pilliyan is complaining [Pilliyan is a former LTTE commander who broke away from the LTTE in 2004 and was coopted in the political mainstream and elected Chief Minister of the Eastern Province]. There’s no need to give police powers to the provinces now, that part we understand. There are a lot of positive things being done in the Eastern Province by the government which is true. I have seen it for myself. But the local people are often not consulted which makes them feel like they do not have influence over what is happening in their home areas. Most Tamils want provincial level autonomy. Then only the hearts and minds can be won over. Our fear is justified because of the colonisation of Sinhalese in the past. We fear that if the land is not under the provincial setup what will happen is they will bring new people into these areas and because of this fear only we are talking about control over land. It is also important that Tamils are recruited in the police, and later the army. Before May, 2009, nobody would have joined. Only a few Tamils joined the police before May 2009 out of fear of assassination by the LTTE. If there are 40 policemen in a police station, and there are at least 20 Tamils and 20 Sinhalese, that way we can manage. If a Tamil policemen hits me everyone will see it as a Tamil versus Tamil. In the past, the whole thing started partly because of police excesses.”

LTTE and the Tamil Diaspora

While the LTTE has been defeated in Sri Lanka, its influence and actions, which direct a sizeable proportion of the Tamil expatriate community, will continue to have long term implications for both Sri Lanka and the Tamil diaspora.

Dharmalingam Siddharthan: “The PLOTE has a following in Canada, Britain, Switzerland, Norway, France and Germany. In Australia we don’t have many supporters. Australia is traditionally an LTTE stronghold. I don’t know why even from the 1980s the Tamil diaspora in Australia have been very strong LTTE supporters.”

“I believe the death of Prabhakaran has definitely brought the LTTE down. We expected the defeat of the LTTE, but I never thought it would be to this extent. I thought it would take another two or more years for the LTTE to be finished off. No Tamil person in the expatriate community ever believed that the LTTE could fall like a pack of cards. For pro-LTTE Tamils it was like they were watching all sorts of war movies. They never lived in the real world. Like the expatriate Tamil community, 99% are not involved with the problems of Tamils in Sri Lanka. If an LTTE collector comes and they give $100, they feel, ‘I have done my part for the Tamils’. They just want to look after their own lives, it’s as simple as that. For the LTTE, Tamil separatism is a big business. Even if there is a solution in Sri Lanka, they will say, ‘No, it’s not a good thing!’ They know they can’t achieve Eelam, but they will continue to talk about it so they can extract a lot of money from the Tamil diaspora.

“Due to this, the TNA is definitely getting funding from the pro-LTTE diaspora. A lot of money was pumped in for the recent elections. All the four Tamil newspapers in northern Sri Lanka fully supported the TNA. However, the LTTE is now very quiet in the diaspora. Except for criminal activities, I don’t think the LTTE will seriously affect the national security of Western countries. Maybe one or two extremists might, but the real problem will be the continuation of criminal activities. The LTTE has created a mafia all over the world, a Tamil mafia, which is going to be a problem for a long time. But after the death of the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, that threat is also likely to weaken.”

Short History of the PLOTE

The Peoples Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) was founded in 1980 by Uma Maheswaran, after its members broke away from the LTTE due to bitter factional differences. By the mid-1980s, the PLOTE grew in size to become one of the largest Tamil militant groups and played a leading role in the Tamil resistance fighting against the Sri Lankan military. In 1987, the PLOTE became a signatory to the Indian sponsored bilateral agreement with Sri Lanka, known as the Indo-Lanka Accord, and thereafter entered the democratic political mainstream. The PLOTE received international coverage in December 1988, when 70 of its fighters staged an abortive coup to depose President Maumoon Gayoom’s government in the Maldives, but were thwarted by timely Indian military intervention. The following year, in July 1989, PLOTE leader Uma Maheswaran was believed to have been assassinated in Colombo by the LTTE. Throughout the 1980s, especially after the Indo-Lanka Accord from 1987 onwards, the PLOTE was involved in sustained internecine fighting with the LTTE in a bitter intra-Tamil civil war and suffered heavy casualties with estimates suggesting that over 650 PLOTE cadres were killed. Continuously pursued by the LTTE, the PLOTE was compelled to seek the protection of the Sri Lankan government from the early 1990s onwards up until the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009. Its support base has largely been centred in the Vanni, and also to a lesser extent, some areas of the Jaffna Peninsula. The PLOTE currently has about 1500 cadres and its political wing is known as the Democratic People’s Liberation Front, both of which are headed by its leader Dharmalingam Siddharthan.


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Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe is an analyst specializing in South Asian and Indian Ocean politics and security.

Are Tamils waving LTTE flags "terrorists"?

by Dushy Ranetunge

Apologists in Sri Lanka are quick to defend Mahinda Rajapakse in pointing to LTTE flag waving protestors in London as evidence of proscribed terrorists on British soil plotting to divide the “motherland”.

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They are confused as to why Britain is turning a blind eye, refusing to crack down, accusing London of harbouring and even tacitly supporting secessionists to underpin a perceived master plan of colonial/European/Western domination. Its “divide and rule” they say.

Another favourite explanation is that it is all being done for electoral expediency of British parliamentarians.

The above is a display of weakness of Colombo’s thought and policy in relation to what is going on. As long as this attitude persists, the present regime’s desire to reconcile its relationships with the Tamils, the West and overcome its war crimes conundrum will remain an uphill task.

The mindset of the present regime gripped with a Serbian style nationalism liberally branding opponents “traitors” seem incapable of rising above a certain water mark and this will directly impact on Sri Lanka’s fortunes and the destiny of Sri Lankan citizens.

Successive Sri Lankan regimes insecure and lacking in confidence have repeatedly attempted to buttress their domestic popularity in covering themselves with the “national” flag of religion and nationalism.

Over the decades this policy has alienated Tamils, Burghers, and even English speaking Sinhalese who have reacted in different ways. All these communities have emigrated in large numbers and have withdrawn from the state sector.

It is only the brave from the elite English speaking educated Sinhalese or Tamil communities who will aspire to participate in the Sri Lankan state. Those of the calibre of Lakshman Kadirgamer who venture into the state sector are indeed a rarity, irrespective of ethnicity.

The Sri Lankan state no longer functions at the optimum available to it in terms of its human resources. It has alienated entire sections of its population, often the highly educated and skilled in the republic.

Those who do venture in, run the risk of leaving with their reputation in tatters. One observes those sitting on the LLRC with sympathy and you can forget about those “experts” who expressed their “expertise” about the channel 4 war crimes video on behalf of the Sri Lankan state.

While the vociferous nationalistic Sri Lankan mind wants to brand those who waved the LTTE flags in London as terrorists, London appreciates the nuances of the Sri Lankan problem and the alienation of sections of its population.

It recognises that Sri Lankans are rallying to the LTTE flag as a means of protest against inherent weaknesses of its make up which has alienated sections of its population.

British intelligence routinely monitors the Tamil Diaspora and advises the government. The LTTE hardcore in London is a small group, which is being “empowered” by Colombo’s behaviour.

The successive riots leading up to 83 riots, Sinhala only, the burning of the Jaffna library etc were acts of Colombo that “empowered” the LTTE and facilitated the rallying of Tamils to the LTTE flag.

The recent Tamil national anthem fiasco, is yet another such empowerment. Disrespect for Tamil and English languages have been a major issue of contention and the recent Tamil national anthem fiasco once again underpins the insensitive behaviour of the Sinhala nationalist mindset that empowers the LTTE flag.

Colombo needs to come to terms with the fact that just as some Americans continue to wave the confederate flag, some Sri Lankans will continue to wave the LTTE flag.

The British establishment recognises the need of Colombo to urgently address governance issues. It recognises that the global turbulence of the Tamil Diaspora is a direct response to weaknesses of governance in Colombo, leading to the empowerment of the small group of fumbling radical Tamil separatists who are heavily monitored by British intelligence.

The isolation or the empowerment of this core LTTE group is directly correlated to Colombo’s behaviour. Hardliners in Colombo expect Britain to crackdown on the Tamil community in the UK similar to the way it does against Tamil activists in Sri Lanka, without appreciating that such action would be impossible and would be deemed illegal, as it would be action against an entire community and would be defeated in the courts.

Tamils engaging in activity that is deemed terrorist logistics/violence would be disrupted by British authorities, but the answer to Sri Lanka’s problems are in Colombo.

Sri Lanka needs to change, to take the bull by the horns and change its behaviour for the better, building a rainbow nation (not a Sinhala only one) uniting its many talents and races creating space for all communities.

It would be incredibly foolish to think that Mahinda’s unity forged with an army larger than the British army would last the test of time.

Sri Lanka needs to change. It needs to forge a new nation, uniting its estranged peoples, not with empty words to an empty United Nations or empty Oxford Union which had to be filled in the last occasion he addressed it with bus loads organized by the High Commission in London, but with change in behavior and deed.

Until then, as Colombo fumbles with poor governance, the LTTE flag will continue to fly around the globe by Tamil sons and daughters of Sri Lanka, protesting at Colombo’s foolishness.

The present regime is depending excessively on Kadirgamer’s “terrorist” strategy to encourage foreign governments to crack down on LTTE activists amongst the Diaspora without fully appreciating that it is running out of fuel. With poor governance, if Sri Lanka continues its present strategy in a post LTTE world, it runs the risk that at some point, that Kadirgamer’s “terrorist” strategy will begin to unravel.

The United States was the first country to list the LTTE as a proscribed terrorist organization. Others countries followed it over the following years. The Sinhalese need to understand that globally the Tamils have the sympathy of host communities and the Sinhalese are perceived as the aggressors.

Now with a democratic grouping agitating as the Trans National Government of Tamil Eelam, increased democratic activity and the moving away from terrorism since 2009, the LTTE is building a case to push for de-proscription globally.

Already, the ignoring of those waving the LTTE flags in the West is an indication that the lobbying of the LTTE that its cause is a liberation struggle and not a terrorist one is slowly, but steadily gaining currency.

This argument was used in the past as well, but less convincingly, as the LTTE were carrying out terrorist attacks negating it. But in a post LTTE world, attitudes are changing.

Colombo is indirectly helping in this endeavor with its record of poor governance. The recent fiasco in London and its delay/inability to address the war crimes issue is further damaging Sri Lanka, giving momentum to the Tamil cause who are now on a high after the May 2009 downer.

The concept of separatism is not unlawful internationally. Only Terrorism is. If the Tamils mobilize a democratic movement for separatism and the Sri Lankan state crushes it militarily, it will further weaken and isolate Colombo internationally.

Have China and India "divided" Sri Lanka among themselves?

By Malathi De Alwis

On 18 May 2009, Sri Lanka officially declared the end of a 30-year civil war fought between. Sri Lankan government forces (GoSL) and Tamil militants, namely the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE). Such a sea change in the life of this tiny island nation has come at a tremendous cost; not just in terms of the dead, on both sides, but also those displaced, dispossessed, maimed, traumatized and made bereft.

While the de-mining, re-settlement and development of the war-torn regions seems to have been embraced with gusto by the Sri Lankan government, the deeper and more enduring psychic wounds of a war-torn nation sadly remain unaddressed.

It is clear that a military resolution of the ethnic conflict would not have been possible without the pivotal power play that ensued between two regional giants —the quiet dominance of China and the ‘hands off’ approach of India, particularly during the past three years. Chinese aid, de-linked from human rights conditionalities, included military hardware which was crucially buttressed by extensive loans and investments in infrastructural projects that considerably plumped dwindling foreign currency reserves, and significant diplomatic support at international for a. These varied and disparate forms of interventions contribute to what I have termed the ‘China Factor’, the unfolding of which, during and after the war in Sri Lanka, will be discussed here along with reflections on what it augurs for a new global and regional order.

Military aid

During the latter stages of the war, when civilian casualties began to escalate once the LTTE moved into the ‘no fire zone’ set aside for civilians, and continued to battle with GoSL forces while holding civilians hostage, debates regarding how best to resolve this horrific situation reached fever pitch at national, regional and international levels. The dominant argument articulated by numerous Tamil diasporic groups, many bi-lateral donors, innumerable UN, international and national human rights and humanitarian organizations as well as the majority of the international media was that the Sri Lankan government should cease fighting and start negotiating with the LTTE in order to ensure safe passage out of the ‘no fire zone’ for all civilians.’ The compliance of the Sri Lankan government was sought not merely through protest campaigns, condemnations and lobbying regarding human rights violations, but with North American and European bi-lateral donors threatening and often following through with cutbacks on development aid while also refusing to provide military equipment, support and training.

The Sri Lankan government countered with arguments that it was on the verge of decisively defeating the LTTE and, given the history of many other failed ceasefires between the two sides, attempting to negotiate with the LTTE, at this stage, would be tantamount to prolonging the war for another 30 years.3 It also constantly provided assurances that civilian deaths would be minimized and refuted estimates of the number of civilians trapped in the ‘no fire zone’ as well as those who had been wounded and/or killed, up to that point, on the grounds that the latter figures were being provided by the LTTE, which controlled the satellite phones inside the zone, or aid workers sympathetic to the LTTE. The GoSL also severely cracked down on anyone who publicly spoke out against the war, denying entry to supposed pro-LTTE parliamentarians from Canada and Sweden, deporting foreign media teams and aid workers perceived to be partisan towards the LTTE, attacking local TV stations and newspaper offices, intimidating and beating up journalists and even murdering one particularly outspoken newspaper editor. Journalists who could be relied on to provide ‘unbiased’ coverage were embedded within various army battalions.

The GoSL forces did succeed in defeating the LTTE, killing its leader, Velupillai Prabhaharan, along with several members of his family and most of his elite cadre as well as taking another 9000 cadre, many of them child soldiers, prisoner. GoSL forces also launched two daring rescue attempts (resulting in the decimation of entire battalions) which enabled thousands of civilians to escape from the ‘no fire zone’ although the number of those who died inside the zone, en route, and in the ‘welfare camps’ subsequently set up to ‘process’ them, is still a matter of fierce dispute. Serious allegations, as yet uninvestigated, have also been made that many of the elite LTTE cadre were shot dead rather than being taken prisoner, as per the Geneva protocols.

The Sri Lankan government’s ability to continue waging war amidst excessive pressure to cease fire exerted by what was colloquially described as ‘Western pressure’, which included high powered visits from key UN special rappoteurs, the foreign ministers of Britain and France, delegations from the United States, Norway etc, would not have been possible without the support it received from China and its allies as well as the Indian government’s refusal to intervene, as it had done in 1987, during a similar standoff between GoSL forces and the LTTE This shift in diplomacy and dependence is cogently captured in the words of the Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in an interview with Somini Sengupta:

Sri Lanka’s foreign secretary, Palitha Kohona said that Sri Lanka’s ‘traditional donors’, namely, the United States, Canada and the European Union, had ‘receded into a very distant corner,’ to be replaced by countries in the East. He gave three reasons: The new donors are neighbors; they are rich; and they conduct themselves differently. ‘Asians don’t go around teaching each other how to behave,’ he said. ‘There are ways we deal with each other - perhaps a quiet chat, but not wagging the finger.’ (Sengupta 2008)

As I noted above, China’s support came in several forms, much of it being negotiated during a well-publicized visit to China by President Mahinda Rajapakse in February 2007, when the two governments resolved to fight against three evils: terrorism, separatism and extremism (Foster 201 0).7 During this visit, a US$37.6 million deal with Beijing-based Poly Technologies was signed to purchase Chinese Jian-7 fighter jets, anti-aircraft guns, JY-11 3D air surveillance radars, armoured personnel carriers and other sophisticated weaponry (Chellaney 2009). Indian policy analyst, Brahma Chellaney, attributes Pakistan’s support to Sri Lanka as also being engineered by its ‘Beijing ally’: ‘With Chinese encouragement, Pakistan — despite its own faltering economy and rising Islamist challenge — has boosted its annual military assistance loans to Sri Lanka to nearly US$100 million while supplying Chinese-origin small arms and training Sri Lankan air force personnel in precision guided attacks’ (Chellaney 2009). Iran, also singled out as an ally of China (Foster 2010), and the supplier of 70% of Sri Lanka’s oil imports, not only offered a special concessionary rate on its oil but also provided a low interest loan to fund the purchase of military equipment from China and Pakistan while investing US$100 billion in energy-related projects on the island, after President Rajapakse’s visit to Tehran in November 2007 (Raman 2008).

Not surprisingly, the unconditional support of China and its ‘unsavoury’ and ‘villainous’ allies along with their poor human rights records incited the ire of the international media, which responded with scathing articles bemoaning the ‘Democratic Dictatorship of China malign influence’ (Peter Foster, Daily Telegraph, UK), its ‘threat to global good’ (Susenjit Guha, UPI Asia.com) and querying whether it was ‘doing a Myanmar in Sri Lanka’ (B. Raman, rediff.com) (Foster 2010; Guha 2009; Raman 2008). These articles, in turn, elicited vituperations against the ‘finger pointing at China,’ in the local media, with columnist Neville de Silva commenting that Jilt is China’s growing diplomatic and economic clout challenging the former western colonial powers who have held sway over their historical hunting grounds in the southern hemisphere that they find unacceptable’ (De Silva 2009). Members of the Tamil diaspora responded by attacking the Chinese embassy in London (Times of India 2009). Interestingly, a post-war analysis of India’s ‘betrayal’ of the Tamils, posted on the popular website, www.transcurrents.com, suggested the time was right to ‘[forget the North, turn East to China’ (Sivathasan 2010). The mixed but primarily favourable comments it received is best summed up by this post:

China is going to be the next super power and only China can make a difference in Sri Lanka. China does not care about internal politics of another country. It is only concerned about its interest and the safety of its growing trade routes. If Eelam Tamils can befriend with Communist China and allow it to use Tamil homeland for mutual benefit Eelam Tamils might get what they want! Eelam Tamil diaspora can cultivate their relationship with Western powers but they are not going to help the Tamils as they will only listen to India, when it comes to Srilanka [sic]. Therefore [sic], the only power that can really make a difference for the Tamils will be China and Tamils should start making contacts with China at the highest level. (Gopi 2010)

Among the majority of the Sinhalese, China now occupies ‘most favoured’ status; it has been lauded as the ‘real Superpower of the World’, grateful thanks have been extended to its ‘Great People’ for supporting Sri Lanka and its ‘Beloved People’s President, Mahinda Rajapakse’ against the ‘Wild West’, while ruing the fact that Sri Lanka does not have a large Chinese community as in Malaysia and Indonesia (Sri Lanka News-Adaderana 2010).

Trade and investment

The Rubber-Rice Pact, signed between China and Sri Lanka in 1952, even before formal diplomatic ties were established in 1957, has often been cited as a landmark moment in Sino-Lankan relations. Enduring for over 25 years, this pact has proved to be one of the most durable and successful agreements despite ideological differences between the two countries (Naizer 2009). Under this pact, China agreed to buy rubber from Sri Lanka at premium prices while supplying rice at considerably less than the market price. Sri Lanka entered into this agreement after the United States refused to offer a fair price for Sri Lanka’s rubber after releases from American rubber stockpiles had depressed market prices during the Korean War (Gunewardena 2003: 315). The USA had also placed an embargo on the sale of rubber to China, given its support to North Korea, and thus withdrew development aid to Sri Lanka for several years as a punitive measure. Today, China and Hong Kong combined make up the second largest importer to Sri Lanka, behind India (Naizer 2009). Chinese companies have set up garment, leather, telecom and electronic manufacturing facilities in Sri Lanka, with further investments expected through lucrative tax concessions being offered to Chinese entrepreneurs in the Special Export Processing Zone in Mirigama. All Chinese entrepreneurs who invest a minimum of US$25 million will be provided with a Sri Lankan passport in lieu of what has been termed a ‘second home’ passport (Naizer 2009).

According to a recent Treasury report, China was also Sri Lanka’s largest single lender in 2009, overtaking the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (The Island 2010). China has lent US$1.2 billion to build expressways and railways, a coal power plant, a port and an airport, the latter two in the President’s constituency of Hambantota. This is a five-fold leap in aid —from a few million US dollars in 2005 to providing more than half the total of the US$2.2 billion in foreign aid received by Sri Lanka in 2009 (The Island 2010). Such substantial support is particularly reassuring to Sri Lanka, which is on the verge of losing important trade preferences (popularly known as the GASP+ facility) from the European Union due to concerns over Sri Lanka’s human rights record and its failure to ratify certain international conventions.

China has been long attracted by Sri Lanka’s advantageous location in the centre of the Indian Ocean — a crucial international passageway for trade and oil transportation. The billion-dollar port and oil bunkering/storage facility Chinese engineers are now building in Hambantota, on Sri Lanka’s southeast coast, is perceived to be the latest ‘pearl’ in China’s strategy to control vital sea-lanes linking the Indian and Pacific oceans by assembling a ‘string of pearls’ in the form of listening posts, special naval arrangements and access to ports (Chellaney 2009). The work on the Hambantota port is considered to be particularly timely due to the lack of progress on the massive Kra Canal Project, a critical component of China’s ‘string of pearls’ strategy (Devonshire-Ellis 2009). China, along with India, has also received the rights to prospect for oil and gas in the Gulf of Mannar, in Sri Lanka’s north west. The ‘semi-permanent presence’ of the Chinese in Sri Lanka, notes a perturbed former RAW (Research and Analysis Wing —India’s euphemism for their secret service) agent, B. Raman, ‘will bring them within monitoring distance of India’s fast-breeder reactor complex at Kalpakam near Chennai, the Russian-aided Koodankularn nuclear power reactor complex in southern Tamil Nadu and India’s space establishments in Kerala’ (Raman 2008).

As one of the leading international partners for the development of the war-torn north, China has gifted de-mining equipment and heavy machinery, invested in infrastructural support systems such as railway and road networks, and provided humanitarian aid in the form of tents and a cash donation of US$100 million (Zee News 2010).

Outright gifts from China, such as the Supreme Court Complex, the Central Telecommunication Exchange and the redevelopment of the Lady Ridgeway Children’s Hospital are scattered across Colombo, the capital city, but none of them are as impressive or of such symbolic significance as the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH) which was built during the heyday of the Non-Aligned Movement, as a mark of friendship between the peoples of China and Sri Lanka, and is now undergoing a very costly refurbishment courtesy of the Chinese government. The National Performing Arts Theatre, currently being constructed by the Chinese government, promises to be another gigantic symbol of friendship between the two nations, which will be indelibly etched in the memory of future generations of Sri Lankans.

Diplomatic support

Diplomatic relations between China and Sri Lanka were established in 1957, and since then the two countries have consulted each other at the United Nations and other international for a and cooperated closely on political, economic and cultural matters. Sri Lanka has consistently upheld and supported the ‘One China Policy’ by opposing all attempts by Taiwan to seek membership of the United Nations or any other organization of sovereign states (Rodrigo 2007). It has adopted a similar position on Tibet (De Silva 2009). Sri Lanka also co-sponsored the draft resolution to restore China’s legitimacy in the UN, in 1971, and signed a special agreement with China in 1997 in support of China’s admission to APIA (Asia Pacific Trade Agreement), where both countries have benefited from tariff concessions (Premadasa 2009). In early 2000, the Sri Lankan government supported China’s entry into the WTO (World Trade Organization) while also playing an active role in helping China obtain ‘observer status’ at the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) meetings. China has reciprocated by supporting Sri Lanka’s request for observer status at the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) Regional Forum (Naizer 2009). Having such a close ally on the UN Security Council has reaped rich dividends for Sri Lanka with China ensuring that no Security Council resolution would be issued against Sri Lanka, while supporting Sri Lanka during last year’s ‘skirmish’ at the UNHRC (UN Human Rights Council).

So far, the Sri Lankan government’s military victory has been greeted with two major initiatives by the United Nations. In May 2009, the UNHRC convened a special session at which a resolution was brought forward by Switzerland, with the support of Britain and France (and behind the scenes backing by the United States), calling for an investigation of human rights violations by the Sri Lankan government, as well as the LTTE, during the war. The Sri Lankan government, with the support of China, Russia and India, proposed a counter resolution, which turned the Swiss resolution on its head by congratulating Sri Lanka on eliminating terrorism, liberating the north, addressing the needs of Tamil refugees and also reaffirming the ‘principle of non interference in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of states’ (cited in Dias 2009). After two days of acrimonious wrangling, the UNHRC adopted the Sri Lankan government’s resolution 29 to 12 with six abstentions. The Island likened it to a battle between David and Goliath (cited in Dias 2009), while the Daily Mirror hailed it as a momentous victory that demonstrated that ‘Asians and Africans have started to realise their true potential’ (cited in Dias 2009).

Wije Dias, analysing the outcome of the resolution, remarked in particular on China’s decision ‘to cast aside its usual low-profile diplomacy and back a direct challenge to the European powers and the US’ (Dias 2009). It is a significant indication, he further noted, of China’s growing determination to assert its influence and Sri Lanka was not alone in ‘viewing Beijing as a counterweight to a waning Washington, particularly as the global economic crisis deepens’ (Dias 2009).

In March 2010, the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, announced that he would be appointing a panel of experts to advise him on ‘accountability issues’ with regard to alleged violations of humanitarian law and human rights, by the Sri Lankan government, during the latter part of its military operations, against the LTTE. An incensed President Rajapakse responded by pointing to the double standards once again being adopted by this world body. How could the UN demand a war crimes probe against Sri Lanka’s counter terrorist operations, he queried, while turning a blind eye on the multinational counter terrorist operations in Iraq and Afghanistan? (Ferdinando 2010). A ‘government spokesman’ accused the Labour government in Britain of exerting ‘unjustifiable pressure’ on the UN while seeking to interfere in another country’s domestic issues for political gain in a ploy to garner diasporic Tamil votes in the upcoming elections in May (Ferdinand 2010). The Sunday Times alleged that Ban Ki Moon, who was seeking a second term as Secretary General, was being pressured to act tough by ‘western nations, including the United States’ (Sunday Times 2010a: 1), while the Daily Mirror editorial asserted this latest initiative was an effort to ‘checkmate Sri Lanka’ over its ‘robust and ever growing ties’ with China, Russia and perhaps even India (Daily Mirror 2010). It was time, the editorial concluded, that the UN adapted to ‘new global realities’ rather than genuflecting to an obsolete ‘post-cold war hierarchy’ (Daily Mirror 2010).

Almost on cue, the Non Aligned Movement (NAM), the largest regional bloc representing two thirds of the UN membership, issued a strong statement condemning ‘the selective targeting of individual countries’ contrary to the founding principles of NAM and the UN Charter (cited in Sunday Observer 2010). The Secretary General’s initiative, it further noted, does not take into account ‘the particularities of the domestic situation,’ nor has it been done in consultation with the government concerned (cited in Sunday Observer 2010). The NAM statement is reflective of opinions expressed by UNHRC members who voted in support of Sri Lanka, in May 2009:

Many delegates were of the view that the Western countries, simply because they had written the international laws and built international systems like the UN, refused to accept the fact they no longer were the policemen and interpreters of who could do what in the world, and can no longer selectively apply ‘humanitarian intervention to small eastern countries. Would they, for example, have convened a special session of the UNHRC to call for a war crimes investigation in Iraq - or Afghanistan - or even Northern Ireland? (Wijesinha 2009)

These views led columnist Sanjiva Wijesinha to speculate whether they augured a ‘clash of civilizations’ and a possible re-making of the World Order (Wijesinha 2009).

Regional games

Reflecting on nation and empire 50 years after the Bandung Conference, which inspired the formation of the Non Aligned Movement in 1961, Partha Chatterjee suggests that in our current global context, the ‘imperial prerogative’ is no longer annexation or occupation of foreign territories, but rather, ‘the power to declare the colonial exception’ (Chatterjee 2005: 495). While everyone agrees that nuclear proliferation is dangerous and must be stopped, who gets to decide that India and Israel and maybe even Pakistan be allowed to have nuclear weapons but not North Korea or Iran? Those who claim to decide on such exceptions are ‘indeed arrogating to themselves the imperial prerogative,’ argues Chatterjee (2005: 495). Such a declaration also opens up a ‘pedagogical project’, of taking on the responsibility of educating, disciplining and training up the colony to bring it up to par with the norm (Chatterjee 2005: 495-496).

Economist Saman Kelegama’s observations regarding the EU are also consistent with Chatterjee’s arguments regarding imperial prerogatives. The EU, which seeks to withdraw trade preferences offered to Sri Lanka (see above), is extremely inconsistent in its application of this system of ‘rewards for democratisation,’ says Kelegama.11 Some of the biggest increases in recent EU aid and support have gone to authoritarian or partly autocratic regimes. In fact, China and other ASEAN countries have refused to have political conditionality clauses included in their agreements with the EU, points out Kelegama, which proves that if commercial or strategic interests are important, fulfilment of political conditionalities are overlooked and non-fulfilment is confined to verbal denunciations: if it is a ‘state of marginal interest to EU they will be subject to strict political conditionality in order to show the world that the EU is doing something about, say human rights’(The Island, Financial Review 2010).

Indeed, this linking of development aid with the pedagogy of human rights is a relatively new phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Sunil Bastian’s recent mapping of the politics of foreign aid in Sri Lanka has led him to conclude that donor support to Sri Lanka has been primarily fuelled by economic interests rather than those of Shuman rights; as long as Sri Lanka continued in the broad direction of economic liberalization and capitalist development, donor support was forthcoming despite the war in the north and east and youth uprisings in the south which resulted in increasing human rights violations by the state as well as militant groups (Bastian 2007). 12 If this is so, how do we account for recent shifts to link development aid with human rights, despite Sri Lanka not having deviated from its path of economic liberalization and reforms? What is required is a broadening of this economic frame to also encompass strategic interests of donor countries as well as the increasing presence of diasporic populations in these countries who now constitute important voting blocs.

Canada, Britain, USA, France, Germany, Norway and Australia have large, well-organized and articulate diasporic Tamil populations who carefully monitor how their host nations interact with the Sri Lankan state. 13 They are also experienced in lobbying the media as well as politicians, and are gradually even running for political office in these countries. However, the situation in India, which also has a large Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, with over 100,000 still living in 115 refugee camps in Chennai, is somewhat different. The cause of Sri Lankan Tamils is supported by Indian Tamils, primarily resident in Tamilnadu, who seek to influence policy in Delhi through their local politicians and parties. 14 Interestingly, China, which has recently emerged as a key ally of the GoSL, does not have a Tamil diaspora, and therefore it is telling that members of the Tamil community now seek to ‘turn East’ to rectify their lack of influence (see above).

The presence of diasporic and/or sympathetic populations complicates geostrategic manoeuvres of nation-states. This is particularly clear in the response of India to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka during the past three decades. India has armed, trained and harboured Tamil militant groups while also intervening in a variety of other ways too complex to address adequately here. 15 It has constantly vacillated between trying to intervene in Sri Lankan affairs in order to appease its Tamil constituency in Tamilnadu and also ensure its strategic interests, while simultaneously trying not to antagonise its tiny neighbour across the Palk Strait by being too interventionist. For the past 25 years or so of the conflict in Sri Lanka,

India’s dominance within the South Asian region has been strong, extensive and unchallenged; recall the astute observation in the transcurrents post quoted above: ‘Western powers ... will only listen to India, when it comes to Sri Lanka’ (Gopi 2010).16 Until China decided to join the game. China’s recent’artful moves in India’s backyard,’ as Somini Sengupta aptly puts it, have considerably complicated India’s power play in the region (Sengupta 2008). India shares a national border with China and has already weathered several disputes with regard to it, so it must tread particularly carefully when dealing with this neighbouring giant. 17

The United States, which has in recent years forged a strategic partnership with. India, which for many years had been more closely allied with the Soviet Union, seems to share its concerns about Beijing’s increasing influence in the region, judging by a report published by the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in December 2009. The report called for Washington to counter Beijing’s influence in Colombo, noting that the US ‘cannot afford to "lose" Sri Lanka’ (cited in Symonds 2010). It advised ‘a new approach that increases US leverage vis-a-vis Sri Lanka’ using economic, trade and security incentives (cited in Symonds 2010). While human rights remained important, the report argued that ‘US policy towards Sri Lanka cannot be dominated by a single agenda. It is not effective at delivering real reform, and it short-changes US geostrategic interests in the region’ (cited in Symonds 2010). The US Pacific Command is currently providing training and equipment, worth over US$100,000, to the Sri Lankan Army to support its de-mining efforts in the north (News Line 2009). In addition, the Pacific Command is funding the work of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to rebuild schools and hospitals in the east -(UPS Pacific Command Blog 2009).

While India is no doubt counting on Washington’s assistance to counter China, it is sure to be wary of Washington’s own strategic goals articulated rather overtly in the US Pacific Command’s offer, supposedly scuttled by India, to attempt a sea rescue of civilians trapped in the ‘no fire zone’ during the war — the US Navy is considering Trincomalee harbour as a fallback option in case its use of the Karachi port, for logistics and other purposes, is jeopardised due to anti-US feelings in Pakistan (Raman 2008). This is not the first time India has sought to curb America’s interests in Sri Lanka, which were given free reign during the eponymous Yankee Dickie’s (President J.R. Jayawardene) regime in the 1980s, when the US built a Voice of America transmission/ listening facility, set up an Israeli interests section in the US embassy, and acquired the coveted Second World War oil tank farm in Trincomalee through a shadow company (Jeganathan n.d.: 4).18 It is widely believed that several clauses in the 1987 Indo-Lanka Agreement, signed after the Indian government facilitated a ceasefire between the GoSL and the LTTE, were inserted with the US in mind. These include references to Sri Lanka reviewing agreements with foreign broadcasting organizations in order to ensure that they will not be used for military or intelligence purposes (Jeganathan n.d.: 4)19 and that Trincomalee or any other port in Sri Lanka ‘will not be made available for military use by any country in a manner prejudicial to India’s interests’ (cited in Nalankilli 2002). An Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA), which would have allowed the United States military to utilize Sri Lanka’s ports, airports and air space was not signed in 2002 due to India’s ‘displeasure’ being conveyed to Sri Lanka (Nalankilli 2002).20

As further appeasement, the Indian Oil Corporation’s wholly owned subsidiary in Sri Lanka, Lanka IOC pvt (LIOC), was granted a 35-year lease, in 2002, on the one million metric tonne capacity oil tank farm in China Bay, Trincomalee — the largest tank farm located between Singapore and the Middle East (Indian Oil 2003). The tank farm connects to the Trincomalee harbour, coveted by various colonial governments over the centuries, due to it being ‘the fifth largest, all weather, non-tidal natural harbour in the world, with a 56 km shoreline’ making it most effective for fuel receipt, storage and supply (Indian Oil 2003). In a move to further consolidate India’s dominance over this harbour, India’s giant utility company, the National Thermal Power Company (NTPC) is building a 1000 MW coal fired power plant on a 770 acre plot in Sampur. The Memorandum of Understanding signed in December 2006 was to locate it in China Bay, but it was shifted to the other end of the harbour after the Eastern Province was ‘liberated’in 2007. The power plant will now be located within an area that has been conveniently declared a ‘High Security Zone’, thus restricting residents, primarily Muslims who had fled during the war, from. returning to their homes and paddy fields (Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions 2009).21

India, like China, is also currently involved in revitalising the war-ravaged Northern Province and has been supporting Sri Lanka’s de-mining as well as relief and resettlement efforts in that region (The Hindu 2010). It recently offered a US$108 million aid package that would include the restoration of rail links, upgrading of the Palaly airbase (the only civilian airport for residents in the north) and setting up a consulate in Jaffna (Jayasekere 2010; The Hindu 2010). Indian companies have been invited to build technology parks and invest in telecommunications in the north (Sengupta 2008). India is also involved in the rehabilitation of the southern coastal railway line from Colombo to Matara by providing credit worth US$167.4 million (Jayasekere 2010). In addition to these more recent interventions, India has considerable investments in Sri Lanka in the retail fuel, telecommunication, hotel, cement, banking, tyre, rubber and information technology sectors (Jayasekere 2010).

There is a joke circulating in Colombo which recalls that, several centuries ago, the King of Kotte elicited the help of the Dutch to get rid of the Portuguese and ended up having the Dutch occupying parts of his kingdom. Today’s King of Kotte, i.e.

President Mahinda Rajapakse, elicited the help of the Indians and the Chinese to get rid of the LATE and now these two countries have annexed the entire island – the Chinese have taken the south and the northern half has gone to the Indians! While my discussion above has shown that there is no clear cut northern and southern division of ‘spoils’ as is alluded to in this joke, it nonetheless illuminates the vulnerable positioning of Sri Lanka vis-à-vis global and regional powers. Clearly, the new global realities of which the Daily Mirror editorial (see above) speaks cannot be fully grasped without first understanding regional feints, sparring and negotiations. It also requires one to be cognisant of those who arrogate to themselves an imperial prerogative as well as those who refuse it or seek to thwart it. In a context where the Non-Aligned Movement no longer retains the respect and authority it once wielded, the future of nation-states who seek to refuse and thwart remains precarious. The greatest tragedy however is that those who get crushed underfoot in this unequal battle between Davids and Goliaths are the oppressed, the displaced, the dispossessed and the traumatized.

courtesy: Inter Asia Cultural Studies

Why did Mahinda agree to let UN Inquiry panel visit Sri Lanka?

by Upul Joseph Fernando

When Sri Lanka (SL) President Mahinda Rajapaksa went to New York to attend the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon met him and had discussions regarding the visit of the UN panel of experts to SL. At the discussions Mahinda had consented to grant visas to the panel members to visit SL . Earlier however the SL foreign Minister Dr. G L Peiris stated that they cannot be granted visas to come to SL on the ground that the panel is an illegal body.

But Ban Ki Moon after discussions with Mahinda succeeded in changing this stance by inducing him to issue the visas to the Panel members. In any case it is to be noted that the visas were not issued soon after despite the President’s okay - it was delayed. This triggered speculations that Mahinda took time until he was sworn in as the President of SL for the second time.

Moon declared, ‘after long consultations between myself and President Rajapaksa of SL, I am pleased that the panel of experts is now able to visit SL’. May be the ‘long consultations’ Moon refers to is the long time taken to grant visas to the panel following his discussions with Mahinda on latter’s visit to New York for the UN general assembly when Moon talked Mahinda into granting the visas . Of course a lot of water had flowed under the bridge during this period of ‘long consultations’. The most significant of the series of events during this period was Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Oxford tour. Rajapaksa learnt a grave lesson on this tour.

That is he learnt his exact orientation , his status and station in relation to the world. The next lesson was, even though the Tamil Tigers were destroyed within SL , the Tamil Diaspora across the world cannot be destroyed. If they are to be destroyed , it is paramount that the Western countries which pedestal the Tamil Tiger Diaspora are won over to his side. Another important lesson learnt by him was the Tamil Diaspora cannot be defeated by going to London and Europe in the way the Tamil Tigers were defeated at Kilinochchi and Nandikadal.

Wikileaks exposure was another of the important events in the series. Following this exposure, Mahinda was able to get an idea of what the US was thinking about SL. Mahinda’s advisors hitherto may have told him that there is nothing that the US can do against SL except hurl accusations against it and, though US makes loud denounciations to the world about the human rights violations in SL , it is not inclined to offend SL, adding that Robert Blake of the US State Dept. who is in charge of the affairs pertaining to SL , and the US Ambassador to SL Patricia Butenis can also be bent in SL’s favour via the personal relationships which exist between them and SL.

On the contrary, after the Wikileaks exposures, it became abundantly clear that the US Govt. is taking a very stern stand in relation to the SL Govt. Besides, it also became very evident following this exposure that the US stance is not based on its private animosity or grudges against the Govt. of Mahinda Rajapaksa or aimed at effecting a regime change within SL . The US Ambassador in SL has consistently conveyed a positive report to the US States Dept. whenever Mahinda’s Govt. toed a positive line of approach in regard to human rights implying that the US was always ready to engage SL positively provided Mahinda’s Govt. takes a positive approach towards human rights concerns. The most critical lesson Wikileaks taught to Mahinda’s Govt. was that.

The unrelenting criticisms leveled by the SL Govt. against the US Embassy in SL is that, in tow with the Opposition it is hatching conspiracies against the Govt. Yet nothing in the Wikileaks cables bore testimony to these allegations.

Even in regard to President Mahinda Rajapakse and Sarath Fonseka who was the rival to Mahinda at the last presidential elections , the US Ambassador declared , since Fonseka and his political Alliance are speaking for and on behalf of human rights and National reconciliation , in the event of their coming into power more profound changes can be anticipated in SL than those effected by Mahinda’s Govt.

In any case these are only her observations and not an optimism that Fonseka shall be victorious. In the circumstances , it is imperative that the Govt. of Mahinda Rajapakse realizes that the US is voicing its concerns about SL’s human rights , Democracy and media freedom not with a view to paying off a grudge against Mahinda’s Govt. or to topple it , rather only to remedy the Govt.’s lapses in these spheres.

Owing to the Wikileaks exposures , on the one hand Mahinda has got shaken up over the stern stand the US Govt. has taken against his Govt. , while on the other it must have made Mahinda also to perceive why US indeed took such a firm stand.

Yet another lesson learnt by Mahinda’s Govt. from this series of events was , by Liam Fox canceling his tour of SL, it is a demonstration that the Western countries cannot be won over through British PR Firms or personal ties.

Hence, it is a reasonable inference that the decision of Mahinda’s Govt. to permit the UN Panel of experts to come to SL was spurred by this series of events. It is obscure whether Ban Ki Moon’s ‘long consultations’ referred to this? ~ courtesy: Daily Mirror ~

December 21, 2010

Corrupt politicians and officials cannot control cost of living

By Chakaravarthy

"Four hundred rupees” said he. I was shocked. I could remember the days he charged twenty five rupees decades ago and later hundred rupees for a long time. So I wondered whether the money has lost value or the cost of living has gone so high for this native doctor who attends to bone fracture and other related ailments at Darley Road, Maradana.

I am a sort of a princely type of guy who does not look at the price or the expiry date of articles I intend to buy with my little shopping here or abroad as I value time more than money. That part is left to my “woman boss”.

On expiry date, there is no problem in the West as the seller takes care of it for the authorities are strict. In Lanka even big importers were caught doctoring expiry dates. But they got away easy through their contacts as their funding is indispensable for the electioneering of corrupt politicians.

Can corrupt politicians and officials who sing for their supper control cost of living? No cannot. Lanka’s cost of living is astronomical. There is no effective price control in anything. In this god blessed fertile land with abundance of coconut trees, there is a shortage of nuts.

Today the picture of distribution of coconuts is qualified to appear in the front page of news papers as both a kilo of rice and piece of coconut fetch Rs.55. Never in the history of this wonder land that is still wandering direction less. Under Madam Srimao’s rule, a pound of bread was more cherished than a bar of gold

The media says, to meet the festive season, coconuts were imported from Kerala to whom Lanka was exporting coconuts until recently. .As said by politicians, the country is on the fast track of development, but in news papers only.

Many basic salary employees who leave behind their families in their villages and work in Colombo are giving up the city job and returning back home as high priced food in the city takes a major part of their salary. At the same time the poor of Colombo are being pushed away losing their abodes for so called city developments. In time to come there will be a shortage of employees to do minor jobs in the factories.

Proposed electricity power hike of 8% is widely resented by the consumers. Look at a news item in a Sunday paper under the headline;

CoL to shoot up with electricity rate hike

“Government is poised to raise electricity rates by 8 to 10 per cent and consumers are up in arms. They point out such an increase would result in a further rise in the cost of living. A cross section of people including shop-keepers and members of the general public, said the measure was extremely unfair.

A retired engineer currently operating his own timber mill questioned as to why the hydropower generation advantage was not being passed on to the people. “During the last few weeks we have seen pictures of the main reservoirs reaching spill level. This means hydro power generation could be increased. Why isn’t the advantage of the rains at least passed on to the consumers,” Amaranath Karunaratna asked.

Sarath Amerasekera said the price hike was unfair, since the burden of losses suffered by the CEB was being simply passed onto the general public. The price of electricity he said was already one of the highest in the Asia region. He said if proper infrastructure was put in place the cost to the CEB could be decreased and the Board would be able to absorb the losses.

Mr. Amarasekera stressed that electricity was a basic public necessity similar to water. For this reason alone the price hike was totally unacceptable, he said.

Passer-by Sarath Fernando said if the rate for 90 units was raised it would cause a considerable burden and said he could not afford to pay more than Rs. 500 to Rs. 1,000 per month. He added that if the price hike was to affect those consuming only 60 units the measure was even more unfair as these were poor households.

Shop-keeper R. Sajaka said that the general public would have to tolerate the situation for the sake of the development of the country and for better rewards in the future. He said judgement of the new measures could be gauged in only around five year’s time and were necessary for the sake of fiscal stability.

M.F.L Jesley, a shop-owner-cum manager of a jewellery store said the price hike would have an adverse effect on his jewellery business. The first change would be the lights which displayed the jewellery. Spotlights would have to make way for CFL bulbs. He forecast a drop in sales.

Another shop manager Rizwie Rashiwie, manager of an electrical goods store said the price hike would have an effect on the cost of overheads but would not result in a price increase. Fowzie Ismail, the manager of “Abdeen’s” said that sales which had already decreased would drop further due to the price hike. He said he would not be able to bear the cost.

Sampath Perera who manages a shoe shop in Kollupitiya, said sales were expected to drop further as a result of the price hike and the added cost of display.

Housewife Amara Vithanage said the price hike would add a further burden to the high cost of living. “We are already paying a high price for food. I cannot imagine how we can cope with the increased cost of electricity,” she said.

To make things worse the gas price is also to be increased. See the news in another Sunday paper;

LAUGFS Asks Rs. 200 Increase, Powdered Milk Follows

X’mas Shocker

LAUGFS Gas, Sri Lanka’s private cooking gas operator, has asked the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) a price increase of a little over Rs. 200 on a 12.5 kilo Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) cylinder due to high LPG prices in the world market, it’s learnt.

LAUGFS’ 12.5 LPG cylinders are currently sold through its dealers at Rs. 1,520 a unit to the consumer.

LAUGFS has a 30% market share. LPG prices in the global market have gone up recently due to the rising demand in the Western Hemisphere with the advent of winter. LPG prices are revised once in two months based on a price formula overseen by the Government owned Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA), with the new price revision due next month.

LAUGFS’ competitor, Government owned Litro Gas, retails its LPG cylinders at a price which is Rs. 132 more than the private gas operator, at Rs. 1,652 a cylinder. LAUGFS has the advantage of buying 30% of its requirements of LPG, produced as a byproduct by the state owned Ceylon Petroleum Corporation’s (CPCs) Sapugaskande oil refinery, thereby obtaining a saving in affreightment costs on such volumes. Sri Lanka imports its petroleum requirements as it doesn’t have a local production base. LPG is a petroleum byproduct.

Meanwhile Litro CEO P.Kudabalage said that they will be submitting their papers for a price revision to the CAA shortly. He was not in a position to immediately say what sort of price increase that they would be asking for, from the authorities.

CAA Chairman Rumi Marzook was tightlipped as to what sort of price increase that LAUGFS was requesting for.

Cooking gas price increases, like President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s recently proposed 8% electricity hike, also to be effective from next month, has a cascading effect on the economy, with other dependent sectors of LPG, such as the bakery sector, being impacted by the rise in cooking gas prices.

The rise in bread prices in the city, is in part attributed to the cost of LPG, of which however the periphery is immune, due to the availability of the cheaper firewood as an alternative to LPG for cooking purposes.

Hard on the heels of LAUGFS asking for a price increase, it’s also learnt that the country’s milk powder manufacturers too have had asked for a price increase from the CAA due to the rise in milk prices in the global market. Sri Lanka’s milk food market, because of the poor production of liquefied milk locally, is heavily dependent on imported milk foods to fill in the demand requirements for milk foods. Marzook refused to comment on what sort of price increase the local milk food suppliers were agitating for, from the CAA.

For your information, read a Letter to the Editor;

High Prices ‘On The Way Home’

“This is the season when we look forward to a bit of fun and good cheer for the family and friends. Of course for the hard pressed bread winners December is also an expensive month. But now that the “war”, the eternal excuse for our economic hardships is over, and also the rupee is quite strong against the all important US dollar, we expected a good festive season which we can enjoy without financial hangovers.

But on a visit to the supermarket promoted as a good place to go ‘on the way home’ I discovered to my shock, things like imported chocolates and nibbles like cashew-nuts and even peanuts have gone up by nearly 20% this month!.

A small bar of imported Cadburys (the not so good Indian version) which is marked 40 Indian Rupees is sold at Rs. 180 here ! A 500 gram cashew bottle previously sold for Rs. 1050 is now Rs.1250 !

This is a local product. Obviously these supermarkets are confident that while being in the festive mood, the consumer will not raise objections too loudly. Such an attitude leaves a bad taste in us, the faithful customers of these supermarket chains”.

What the reader said is true. On my personal hunt from shop to shop to find a power cord extension for my Laptop, to my surprise I was quoted different prices in different places.

A known guy in a Hardware shop asked Rs. 925 against the marked price of Rs.950. The shops in the so called “Computer City” that is opposite to the supermarket quoted above as, promoted as a good place to go ‘on the way home,’ price varied between Rs.1100 to Rs.1250.

To my shock, in another Super market situated in the Hyde Park [not in London] the same power cord was marked Rs.1650. Isn’t it a day light robbery? {they close at 9 pm}. Wal-Mart’s declared profit is 5 to 10% only. Here some traders have 100%.

When people’s stomach is burning [bada gini] Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus is fiddling. Is National Anthem the priority at this time more than people’s hunger?

Why have the Ceylon Tamils made a significant impact in Singapore?

by Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Finance Minister, Singapore

(Remarks by Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Minister for Finance at the Singapore Ceylon Tamils Association 100 Years Celebration)

Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good Evening

Introduction

1 It is my privilege to be here this evening. This is a momentous occasion as we celebrate 100 years of the Singapore Ceylon Tamils Association (SCTA). The Association has not only contributed to the Ceylon Tamil community, but in doing so has helped the community add visibly to Singapore’s progress as a multi-cultural society.

2 The SCTA has itself grown. It was formed by 300 Ceylon Tamils in 1909, and growing to over 1400 members today.

TSTC1222.jpg

Tharman Shanmugaratnam

Making the Most of Multiracialism

3 Ceylon Tamils in Singapore are a small community. They are a minority within a minority.

4 They have done well. In the judiciary and legal profession, in academic medicine and clinical practice, and in engineering, their contributions have been greatly disproportionate to the size of the community. There were also, historically, well represented in the senior levels of the civil service on both sides of the Causeway. My JY Pillay who is here this evening was the foremost example during his time in the Service in Singapore.

5 Equally important was their contribution to education, starting in colonial Malaya where they served as Principals and teachers in schools up and down the country, and continuing in the independence years. Educationists like Mr Sigamoney, former Principal of RI in Singapore.

6 Sporting life also saw many Ceylon Tamils excelling. It seemed to run in the blood. We are proud to have names like Dr A Vijiaratnam, who played for state in hockey, cricket, football and rugby.

7 Why have the Ceylon Tamils made a significant impact in Singapore? I think the most important reason has to do with the way they took advantage of an environment in post-independence Singapore that rewarded talent and effort regardless of race, and the way they have interacted freely with the other, larger communities. They have never had a minority complex, never looked inward to seek refuge.

8 The habit of interacting freely with other communities in fact went back many years. The Ceylon Sports Club for example, going back to the 1920s, was an example of how Ceylonese of all races got along as friends and fellow sportsmen. Tamils, Sinhalese and Burghers. They also opened their doors to non-Ceylonese, including many from the majority community in Singapore, and expats from all over the place. The Club knew of only one form of discrimination. It was not a comfortable place to be if you didn’t appreciate cricket, or at least feign an appreciation in the sport.

9 So the Ceylon Tamils were well-disposed to the multiacialism that defined Singapore after independence. It is probably no accident that S Rajaratnam, coming from this minority community, drafted the Singapore Pledge – with its call for a single, united people regardless of race, language or religion.

10 This habit of integrating with other races and thinking of ourselves as Singaporean first, is the only way each of our communities can progress in Singapore. We can afford neither majority or minority complexes.

11 The multiracial instinct that has always been there in the Ceylon Tamil community must continue to define its role in the years to come Singapore – in work and business, in culture and in every field of civil life. It is how we will keep contributing to Singapore.

12 It is difficult to say if our future generations will see themselves as a distinct community of Ceylon Tamils. Not a few are marrying with the broader Indian community, or with other races. That too is part and parcel of their growing up in Singapore. But we must hope they will take pride in their Ceylonese roots, and never forget the way their forefathers made their way to this part of the world, and made the most of opportunities despite being in a minority. We must hope they understand deep in their hearts that their only future is to champion multiracialism.

Role of SCTA

13 The SCTA has provided a platform to nurture the cultural heritage among the Ceylon Tamils while actively promoting its integration in our multi-cultural society. It helps keep alive the Tamil language and culture through the present SCTA Sunday School and its various activities.

14 SCTA must continue to innovate and stay relevant to a changing Singapore. For instance, by helping to integrate new immigrants into Singapore society.

15 To the younger members, I urge you to heed Dr. Theyvendran’s earlier call to serve and continue the good work of the Association as well as to preserve the rich heritage of the Ceylon Tamils.

16 On this note, I wish SCTA many more fruitful years to come and a happy 100th year

Best Wishes.

(Singapore Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam is of Sri Lankan Tamil origin)

Sri Lanka must officially adopt Sinhala,Tamil and bilingual versions of National Anthem

by Nimal Rajapakse,Canada

Following the recent news regarding the alleged banning of the Tamil version of the Sri Lankan National Anthem by the government, there has been a plethora of associated arguments and counter-arguments for and against such a ban. The arguments of the Sinhala hardliners expressed in support of the ban have been made purely based on their racial intolerance.

They clearly demonstrate that they are ill-informed of the facts they cite as well as are not sensitive to the damage this issue can cause to the fragile restoration of the confidence of the Sri Lankan Tamil community in the country and the Diaspora. The world opinion on the efficacy of the reconciliation efforts following the 30 year bloody unrest in Sri Lanka last year is that a lot needs to be done to even begin to win the respect and commitment of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka and elsewhere.

The reason for the onset of post-independence peaceful struggles for Tamil rights in Sri Lanka and the subsequent ‘liberation terrorism’ to create a Tamil Homeland that lasted over three decades, are the results of successive majority Sinhalese governments ignoring the grievances of the Tamil community.

If the Sinhalese majority genuinely desires to have a lasting peace, they must understand the fact that destroying the LTTE has merely put on hold the agenda of the separatist Tamils. Winning the war against LTTE, however remarkable it was, will only be a temporary reprieve unless winning the hearts and minds of the Tamils everywhere is realized. The majority Sinhalese must, at every occasion, go out of their way to accommodate the sentiments of the Tamil community in sincere anticipation of winning their trust.

The alleged ban on the Tamil version national anthem will quite definitely damage the most delicate and minute healing which has occurred following the defeat of the LTTE only 18 months ago.

At a moment like this, the Sinhala majority must study the issue carefully before jumping to conclusions prematurely, based on racial sentiments. It has widely been reported in the media that very responsible and highly regarded members of the Sinhala majority have categorically stated that no other country in the world has the national anthem in more than one language and ‘it is a joke’ to sing Sri Lankan national anthem in Tamil.

There are many countries in the world that has official versions of their national anthems in more than one language. For example, Canada, one of the world’s most respected democracies, have three official versions of their national anthem.

The Canadian Ministry of Heritage, which oversees the issues of national anthem, has defined the English, French and Bilingual versions as all legal. In practice, the most suitable version for the occasion at hand is used.

For example, in a region where English is the most preferred language, the English version is used whereas in the Province of Quebec in which French is the first official language, the French version is sung. However, in an occasion in which both the language groups are represented, such as a Federal Government function or a sports encounter between teams of English and French speaking regions, the Bilingual version is sung. This version begins and ends in English while the middle verse is in French.

Therefore, hopefully, the Sinhalese nationalists should realise that ‘it is not a joke’ to sing a national anthem in more than one language. There are many more examples like this in the world if anyone is eager to find out. However, the Canadian example is quite sufficient to demonstrate and justify having more than one language version of a national anthem.

To add more insight into the origin of the Canadian national anthem, it must be noted that the original versions were written and music was composed by French artistes over 100 years ago before it became official in 1980. More information on this subject is available in Ministry of Canadian Heritage website, www.pch.gc.ca. Follow the link to Anthems and Symbols.

Another misconception given exposure in the media is that the Indian national anthem is sung only in Hindi. Of of course, in a country like India, where official business is conducted in some 60 languages, it is not practical to have versions in all recognized languages. However, the Indian national anthem was written by well known poet Rabindranath Tagore, in Bengali. It is ironic that Tagore also belonged to a minority group. Even though the words in the lyrics sound very close to being in Hindi, Bengali was the original language in which Tagore composed the original version.

Rather than banning the Tamil version of the national anthem, Sri Lanka must officially adopt Sinhala, Tamil and bilingual versions of the anthem. Or, perhaps, they can set an impressive precedence by adopting only the bilingual version as the only official version and force all Sri Lankans to learn and sing at least a few words of the other official language.

This book "Fire From the Mountain" from my brother Omar Cabezas.

by Dr.Dayan Jayatilleka

A quarter of a century ago, the Summer of ’85. Campinas, Sao Paulo, Brazil. I was at the Pugwash Conference, hosted by Senator Fernando Henrique Cardoso, famous ‘dependency theorist’, later to become President of Brazil. I was presenting a paper on the Nicaraguan Revolution and it lessons, on a panel with Francisco Lacayo, a Minister in the Sandinista Cabinet.

Lacayo excitedly excused himself from one session of the conference to visit Frei Betto who was just back from Havana with tapes of his interview with Fidel, to be published as the path-breaking book ‘Fidel on Religion’, a copy which I found four years later on Vijaya Kumaratunga’s bookshelf at his mother’s home when a few of us were doing the documentary on him which aired on Rupavahini in Feb ‘89; the annotated book’s presence itself evidence of the Pol Potist nature of Wijeweera’s JVP that shot him in the face.

Frei Betto was to be Lula’s Minister of Poverty Alleviation decades later. It was ‘Chico’ Lacayo who told me that the most authentic, intimate narrative of the Nicaraguan revolutionary struggle was a work by Commandante Omar Cabezas, guerrilla and Vice-Minister of the Interior under Tomas Borge, the iconic surviving founder of the Sandinistas.

Days later I was in London, crashing in a crummy apartment in Brixton I think, after the long transatlantic flight from Brazil which segued into a gruelling all-night political discussion/ debate with Dr. Rajini Tiranagama (comrade Dayapala’s wife). Ram was passing through from the USA, having graduated from the MIT and intending to join his cousin in the TELO. He had been present when I had a clash with A. Sivanandan at an editorial board meeting of Race & Class which I had just been invited to join and promptly been fired from because I took serious exception to the splendidly expressive yet marginally megalomaniacal Siva ‘dissing’ Antonio Gramsci.

I persuaded Ram to join our North-South revolutionary project with the Marxist EPRLF, instead of the TELO. He had a hardback copy of Omar Cabezas’ ‘Fire from the Mountain: The Making of a Sandinista’, just published in English with a preface by Carlos Fuentes, which I consumed at a sitting. He brought it to Colombo where it circulated among our comrades, including in a Sinhala translation.

Weeks later, I was in Moscow, having returned briefly to Colombo on the way from Rome where I had been on a panel with Samir Amin, at the 50th anniversary conference of the Society International Development (SID). The World Festival of Youth and Students was in Moscow that year, and Vijaya, Ossie and I were among those attending. The Nicaraguan delegation in the march around the gigantic stadium was led by the son of Carlos Fonseca Amador, the late founder of the Frente Sandinista. Vijaya led the Sri Lankan contingent.

My account of the event appeared in The Island later that year. Not being a member of any party, but invited in my individual capacity I was accommodated separately, in the Hotel Moskva, a famous old Stalinist-chic hotel (since demolished) in the Red Square overlooking the Kremlin, almost close enough to touch one of its red stars from the window. Angela Davis was across the hall at breakfast but my attention was on the unmistakable curly haired and bandit moustachioed Commandante Cabezas. My long conversation with Cabezas was published in the Lanka Guardian that year, entitled ‘The Man, the Fire, the Mountain’. I ended the interview asking Cabezas what happened to Celia, the estranged lover the crack-up with whom almost drove him to suicide, from which he was saved by his commitment to the Frente.

He told me with a quick smile, to await the second volume. He never wrote it. Strangely I found that issue of the ’85 LG in ’06 among the papers of the Delhi and Boston educated mother (who had just died of surgical misadventure capping the delusional folly of others) of my wife Sanja.

In the early ‘90s I was set upon, stripped, stoned and sought to be beaten to death by a lynch mob at Kanatte after the funeral of Gen Denzil Kobbekaduwe. The mob was part of the opposition to Premadasa that hysterically alleged that Kobbekaduwe was killed by that President; a charge which divided society and the military and greatly assisted Prabhakaran; a charge that no one believes today.

While undergoing the experience with its distinct possibility of death in the manner of St Stephen, I didn’t once think of my parents, friends, places I’d been or things I’d done; I saw in my mind’s eye, a man who had irrupted into History like no other, sundering it in two, and I wondered about one other: I wondered whether I would or would not be around to commemorate Che Guevara’s 25th death anniversary in two months.

I was. In the special issue of the People’s Bank’s Economic Review (Oct-Dec ’92), I wrote ‘A Meditation on Che’ (in the aftermath of Kanatte) in which Omar Cabezas’ ‘Fire from the Mountain’ takes up a paragraph (p34).

Walter Benjamin interprets Paul Klee’s painting of the Angelus Novus as the angel of history who would wish to make whole the wreckage of humanity in the past but cannot as he finds his wings caught up in a stormy wind from Heaven. Out of the wreckage of 20th century socialism, Che made it into the 21th century and the new millennium, like some crucified Christ with a carbine instead of a corded whip to drive out the money lenders, black beret for a crown of thorns, the star of Bethlehem come to rest in silver on his brow.

When the 30th anniversary of Che’s death was commemorated this first decade of the new century and millennium, the Cuban Communist Party Central Committee’s paper Granma, which featured so much of Che during his lifetime, carried my essay, ‘Che’s Visage on the Shroud of Time’. The London based website Culture Wars reviewed Soderbergh’s Che movie (with Benecio Del Toro in the lead role) with a reference to my Fidel book and its point on the ethical use of violence by Fidel and Che which earned them permanent possession of the moral high ground.

2009, Geneva, Omar Cabezas walked into the Palais de Nation which houses the Human Rights Council, in an unbuttoned off- white trench-coat, like a world weary Latin American private eye. The commandante is now the Human rights ombudsman of the Nicaraguan parliament under President Daniel Ortega, and also the head of the inter-American parliamentary body on human rights. The Nicaraguan ambassador re-connected us, told him how delightedly his companero, the former foreign minister of the first Sandinista regime, Padre Miguel D’Escoto, President of the UN General assembly that year, regarded my book on Fidel.

We reminisced about our meeting in Moscow almost a quarter century before, caught up with the experiences of that intervening shift in world history, deploying the shorthand and shared semiotics of our generation worldwide. I briefly explained my struggle in Geneva-- and the Sri Lankan process in the global context and Tricontinental terms. Writing on ‘Marxism and The Millennium’ in The Hindustan Times (April 30th 1999), well before the tide of the discourse turned in Sri Lanka, I had warned against "....the aggressive policy of degrading the sovereignty of independent states", arguing that "the response should be a global alliance based on the defence of national sovereignty and territorial integrity...It is on the whetstone of anti-imperialism that Marxism can continue to be sharpened." What I told Cabezas was confirmed by the delegates at the UN in Geneva, of left-leaning (and overwhelmingly Catholic) Latin America.

A day or two later, Omar Cabezas was on his way out of Geneva and came into the Palais in his trench-coat, trailing his carry-on luggage. He had left something for me with my friend the ambassador, he said, giving me un abrazo, an embrace, while parting.

I was handed it the next day. It was an old copy of ‘Fire from the Mountain’ in the original Spanish, ‘La Montana es algo mas que una immense estepa verde’, bearing the imprint of Bibiloteca Popular Sandinista. The flyleaf has seven lines of inked inscription. It starts "Para nuestro hermano Dayan" ("to our brother Dayan") and ends with "Por los muestos, por los vivos, para todos nosotros este libro de tu hermano, Omar Cabezas" which means "For the dead, for the living, for us all, this book from your brother, Omar Cabezas".

And I had grown old believing I was an only child.

Wikileaks: 'Mendacious stories clearly fabricated to denigrate Sri Lanka' - Prof. G.L. Peiris

Meeting between the External Affairs Minister and the US Ambassador

External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris invited the US Ambassador Ms. Patricia Butenis to meet with him on Tuesday, 21st December, in the context of news reports that several United States Senators and Members of Congress had addressed on the 10th of December, a letter concerning Sri Lanka to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The Minister pointed out to the US Ambassador that the text of the letter as carried by the media, appears among other matters to assert that the effort of the Government of Sri Lanka through the Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) lacks mandate and broad scope. The Minister noted that on the contrary, the Terms of Reference establishing the Commission expressly call for it to make recommendations to prevent recurrence of the inflicted strife of the past, while promoting further national unity and reconciliation among all communities. Accordingly, the Commission has the necessary amplitude for its effective functioning.

In fact the Minister added, the robust manner in which the LLRC is setting about its task is seen from its already having held 35 public sessions in Colombo. Additionally, it has met in the East in Trincomalee, in Mutur and in Kuchchaveli. In the North sessions have been held in Vavuniya, in Kilinochchi, in Mullaitivu and in Jaffna. While during the sessions in Colombo, over 85 persons have made representations, the public in the North and in the East were especially facilitated in presenting submissions, through the prior circulation of forms to enable the advance gathering of information.

Committee (IAC) chaired by the Attorney-General, to oversee and facilitate follow-up. Among the practical results stemming from the setting up of the IAC, is the establishment of an appropriate mechanism to which the Commission can now channel the complaints it receives for immediate investigation and remedial action, where so warranted.

Minister Peiris recalled to the US Ambassador that when he met Secretary of State Clinton in Washington on the 28th of May this year, the Secretary had observed with regard to the LLRC that “this Commission holds promise”. It is therefore important to allow the Commission the necessary space and time to accomplish its objectives. The Minister went on to express the hope that the US Embassy in Colombo and the State Department in Washington would convey to the Senators and Congressmen, the need to avoid being pushed by false propaganda towards the adoption of a pre-judgemental attitude.

The Minister discussed as well with the Ambassador the matter of the US Embassy communications put out into the public domain by the Wikileaks website. Prof. Peiris reiterated the stated position of his Ministry that Sri Lanka does not condone the act of putting in the public domain in an illegal manner, privileged and confidential information. He said that he is constrained however to point out that the purported cables do contain glaring instances of allegations totally unwarranted by the ground reality, being conveyed to Washington. As examples, the Minister cited the claims of children being sold into slavery, with the boys to work in camps and the girls to prostitution rings. The Minister emphasized that the conveying of such mendacious stories clearly fabricated to denigrate Sri Lanka, are totally negative to the objective of diplomacy, which is building bridges and promoting understanding. The Minister expressed the view that at least where future instances may be concerned, greater circumspection would be appropriate.

Ministry of External Affairs, Sri Lanka Press Statement

Colombo Anglican Bishop resigns from the Bishopric voluntarily

Bishop Duleep de Chickera has voluntarily resigned from the Bishopric of Colombo with effect from the 31st of December 2010. The (Anglican) Church of Ceylon Constitution requires Bishops to voluntarily resign after ten years of ministry, or at the age of 65, whichever comes first. The former applies to Bishop Duleep.

He completes ten years in May 2011, but has decided that the end of a calendar year is the most appropriate time to go. He will continue to serve the Diocese of Colombo in Sri Lanka as the Metropolitan’s Commissary and Vicar General of the Diocese with effect from 1st January 2011, till his successor takes over.

He and his wife Geetha hope to spend a short sabbatical abroad thereafter in reflection and writing.

Mrs Thanja Peiris
Secretary,
Diocese of Colombo
Church of Ceylon

21st December 2010

December 20, 2010

In Pictures: One of the oldest Hindu Women's School in Sri Lanka marks 80th Anniversary

80th Jubilee Celebrations of Saiva Mangaiyar Kazhagam

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

"The most beautiful make-up of a woman is PASSION. But cosmetics are easier to buy" ~ Yves Saint-Laurent,(1 August 1936- June 1 2008), French Fashion Designer

Saiva Mangaiyar Kazhagam in Wellawatte~ Tamil neighbourhood celebrated its 80th anniversary and Founder’s day on 11th of December 2010 at the school auditorium. It is one of the oldest Hindu Women’s School in the Island. The celebration included songs, dance and drama by the students.

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Portraits of the Founders of the school ~ click on pic for larger image ~

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"80" ~ Beautifully lit specially made candles decorate the venue

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All power and knowledge whether secular or spiritual in Hindu thinking are inherent in the human soul

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View of the main entrance of Saiva Mangaiyar Kazhagam in Wellawatte

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The school has grown gradually over the years

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Brass Lord Nadarajar and Goddess Parvathy are dressed up for the celebration

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"Kolam" drawn by White chalk at the main entrance of the venue

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Statue of Thiruvalluvar at the auditorium of Saiva Mangaiyar Kazhagam in Wellawatte

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Traditional Hindu welcome at the entrance of the auditorium

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The school has more than 2,300 student on roll

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Temple in the school which was built in 1939

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Earthen lamps are lit and placed on five fresh Betel leaves

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Students for the traditional welcome

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Portraits of famous 63 Naayanmars

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School song is being sung

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Devotional songs are sung by the students

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School promotes the traditional values of our culture

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Students light the traditional oil lamp

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Pushpaanjali in dance form by the students of Saiva Mangaiyar Kazhagam of Colombo

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Kampavaarithy Jeyaraj gives benediction

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"Kuyile..,Kaattinile" songs are being beautifully sung by the students of Saiva Mangaiyar

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President of Saiva Mangaiyar Kazhagam Sivanandini Duraiswamy welcomes the guests

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"Kuravar" dance by the students of Music and Dance Academy of Saiva Mangaiyar Kazhagam

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Member of Parliament Praba Ganeshan addresses the gathering

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Scene from Sounds of Music by the student of Saiva Mangaiyar Kazhagam

~ click on pics for larger images ~

by~passionParade ~ Email: dushi.pillai@gmail.com

more pictures:

Tamil diaspora is doing what is desirable in their view in their interest

by Gomin Dayasri

He called Aussies ‘sissies” when they feinted excuse to play us in Colombo at the World Cup which sledged them in Lahore. Now from his grave he turned the Brits to ashes over a talk to commemorate his memory, by out foxing the Con-Lib government to send a sob letter with a lame plea, parents make to schools when children play truant.

The Defence Minister’s letter of excuse carries a protocol phrase “of an extension of a scheduled visit to the Gulf ” that prevents him from delivering the talk on international security but artfully will do so next year (if permitted). Words are as Brit as are pubs and darts: chips and crossword puzzles. Surely if you take Fox at his word, his diary or organizer must be acting queer.

The English do say one thing to mean another, such is the language. The good man said it with stress under duress; probably does not believe his own words or want to be believed. Sounds more a burp from the British Ministry of War of an Orwellian Doublespeak (2010).

L.K. if living, would have mocked U.K. for being short of proper words or long on clarity of thought.

The British government is virtually placing Sri Lanka on quarantine for their Ministers though the red alerts have been taken off for tourists. It’s a unilateral declaration of “cold war” on the diplomatic front and an “arrival visa” for their countrymen to enjoy the sun and surf safely in peace after the war with the decimated LTTE, still declared a banned terrorist organization, ended. They probably feel in their distorted post - colonial minds, bestowing us a privilege too much to entertain an impartial minister or an unbiased minister may become infected with our virus.

The issue at large is the alleged war crimes. It takes precedence over terrorism, peace, democracy and the safety and security of the domiciled locals, in their warped pecking order. That is Fair Play or British Justice.

Its elementary my dear Fox, the Conservatives are down grading terrorism to uplift the Tamil Diaspora vote. You had to follow party discipline but it means more…all of Britain does not live on picking the floating vote, if there are more of your tribe. Unlikely you will get that vote mate, unless you pander to the Diaspora. Do stick to principles, taught at school and forgotten in Parliament.

It is believed No 10 Downing Street intervened to ground Liam Fox after the Foreign Office failed to convince him to stay at home. A Fox associate told the Guardian newspaper that Fox was to pay for his ticket and hotel expenses to deliver a lecture in memory of his long time associate at his widows request. Whitehall knew Kadirgamar was the target of a terrorist sniper but the British did not want to be present when a eulogy is said of him. They do bow to the heirs of terrorism and fail to honour a friend downed by the telescopic sniping of a banned terrorist.

There are 300,000 votes to be shared between Conservatives, Labor and Liberal Democrats. Reach the leaders of the Diaspora and it can be a captive vote, a decisive factor at a close election. That vote is not going to fade away but increase over the years with its biological multiplication. So is the lust for it. It would be juvenile to think the attitudes of the British governments are going to shift towards Sri Lanka as against an increasing vote base. We have to learn to live with the good bad and ugly of the UK Governments and treat them accordingly. Would any of our Ministers decline to visit Great Britain on an invitation or on an inclination, if tit for tat is a possibility? Give ticket-will travel, with some foreign exchange in the hip pocket.

In the time of J.R. Jayewardane we cast a vote in favor of UK at the UN against Argentina in the Falklands war, while the rest of the world voted the other way. The other vote in favour was from Her Majesty’s Government that part funded the Victoria project.

Head of State was not afforded sufficient security to address a gathering at Oxford in the fear of a disturbance and returned home without an apology. The Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government does not respect a friendly head of a sovereign nation on its soil or permit a Minister to land on our soil. They are more comfortable with an unruly mob waving LTTE flags. The mob has a registered vote at a General Election - that makes the difference. Nothing tastes sweeter to politicians than the taste of votes.

They come uninvited, like David Milliband, once did. Of course, the pilgrim had to pay respect to Prabakaran. Did David not tell Wikileak, he spent 60% of his time courting the Tamil Diaspora? Good luck but don’t play foul, using us as a punching bag, to pick votes.

There is no difference between Conservative and Labour. They are fighting for the same vote. Diaspora has only to split the vote, to have all sides knocking on their doorstep; outsmarting the hosts to divide and rule. Don’t take the British seriously on war crimes: say, it is unadulterated domestic politics at play.

The Tamil Diaspora is doing what is desirable, in their view, in their interest. Understandable.

Major political parties in the UK are trying to siphon benefits off them. Understandable.

But let not the British governments be heard to place war crimes or its investigations on purported high moral grounds, as they make out. That is bluff intolerable.

Ambassador Aryasinha protests denial of Sri Lanka's right of reply at European Parliament

Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and the EU Ravinatha Aryasinha has strongly protested the denial of Sri Lanka’s ‘right of reply’ at an “exchange of views on Sri Lanka” held last week at the European Parliament.

In a letter of protest addressed to Ms. Heidi Hautala, Chair of the Human Rights Sub-Committee who was not present during the discussion, Ambassador Aryasinha pointed out that in the over one hour long discussion on Sri Lanka on 6 December, of the 32 MEPs on the Sub-Committee only one chose to speak, and other than for a few comments by the European Commission, most of the time was given to a number of Non-Governmental Organizations”.

The Ambassador said despite his being present and demanding Sri Lanka’s ‘right of reply’, its denial by the Presiding officer at the time, “leaves the unmistakable impression that the Human Rights Sub-Committee is not interested in having a reasoned and balanced discussion on Sri Lanka, but is merely content to allow itself (the European Parliament) to be used as a platform for LTTE apologists to discredit the Government of Sri Lanka”.

This week during the plenary sessions of the Parliament held in Strasbourg, Ambassador Aryasinha who addressed the ‘Friends of Sri Lanka’ of the European Parliament - a cross party group which comprises 25 MEPs from over 10 EU member countries, drew attention to this issue, and urged them to prevail upon European institutions and their respective home governments “to prevent efforts by LTTE apologists to seek to discredit Sri Lanka, which having overcome its 30 year long struggle against LTTE terrorism, is now firmly embarked on a path of reconciliation and development”.

He said "it would be a mistake if European Institutions and member states allow rump LTTE cadres and other LTTE apologists to dictate foreign policy towards Sri Lanka”. He cautioned that “these institutions and states should be mindful that these elements, as in the past, are continuing to be active and are raising funds in these countries using the cover of human rights, and would pose law and order problem to their hosts, as is evident from the continuing number of arrests of LTTE and its front organization activists in many parts of Europe.”

Addressing the group, the Chairman of the ‘Friends of Sri Lanka’ MEP Geoffrey Van Orden, who called on President Mahinda Rajapaksa in London recently and attended a briefing given to Members of the British Parliament and Members of the European Parliament by the President, informed the group of the discussion he had with the President. He said the ‘Friends of Sri Lanka’ is advocating that full benefit of the post war development should be enjoyed by the people of Sri Lanka and that to this end the EU should play a prominent role. The group also took note of the rapid strides taken in Sri Lanka to re-settle and provide livelihoods to most IDPs from the conflict, to re-integrate into society all child combatants and many others who surrendered/were arrested, to progressively relax emergency regulations and the on-going work of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) which had already made a number of interim recommendations which were being implemented by the Government.

They agreed to intensify efforts to protect the good image of Sri Lanka, both within the European Parliament and in EU member state capitals.

(Press Communique, Embassy of Sri Lanka,Brussels,17 December 2010)

Truth-telling consists of speaking aloud those things kept secret or hidden during the conflict

by Rt.Rev. Daniel.S.Thiagarajah, CSI Bishop of Jaffna

(Submissions of the Rt. Revd Dr Daniel S. Thiagarajah, Bishop of the Church of South India in the Jaffna Diocese (JDCSI) and Chairman of American Ceylon Mission (ACM), before the Commission of Inquiry on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation appointed by His Excellency the President

INTRODUCTION

First of all, I would like to thank the honourable members of this Commission and the President for according me an opportunity to present submissions before this Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).

I am here before this Commission this afternoon as a person who has served first as a Priest and now serving as a Bishop, as a person who has lived in the Vanni region for several years, as one who has experienced the war and sufferings for many years, as one who has identified with those who have undergone hardships and as a leader who steers not only the congregations under my care but also the community at large in the areas where we minister toward fullness of life. Hence it is important to set the background of who I am before this Commission. I appear here with experience of suffering and trauma and as someone who has seen, observed and identified the tragedy of loss of people in various forms. In short, I am here both as a victim and a witness.

I appreciate His Excellency the President for appointing a Commission such as this. I was happy to read the text of the Warrant issued by the President. As I was going through I came across an important observation in the first few lines where he refers to an ‘opportune moment’ that has arrived. Students of Greek will recognize that ‘an opportune moment’ in Greek is kairos. Immediately my thoughts were lingering around the ‘Kairos Document’ that came out as a result of the end of or the need for the end of the apartheid regime and related to this was the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” of South Africa popularly known as TRC. As a result of this revelation I also wondered why ‘Truth’ has not been included in the phrase or title of this Commission as in the case of the ‘Chilean Truth and Reconciliation Commission or of ‘TRC.’

RECONCILIATION – A NOTION FOR SUCH A TIME LIKE THIS

We are gathered in the context of post-war. It is our task to reflect on what has happened over the period, which His Excellency has termed as “conflict phase” and the sufferings people have undergone. Connected to this task is the necessity to see that there will be no recurrence of any internecine conflict in the future. Hence there is a mandate to analyze and a resolution to adopt. In this context, the word that is often being spoken of is “reconciliation.’ Among the new paradigms for such a context like this that are emerging, ‘the paradigm of reconciliation’ is considered to be important and thought provoking. Reconciliation has to do with coming to terms with a painful past, and engaging in the reconstruction of societies which had gone through or had seen the end of a conflict.

The Problem of understanding the notion of Reconciliation

There are at least three understandings of reconciliation that come close to the genuine meaning of reconciliation but distort and even falsify its true meaning. These are reconciliation as a hasty peace; reconciliation instead of freedom or liberation and reconciliation as a managed process.

It needs to be recognized that ‘Reconciliation as a process’ takes time. Reconciliation is a process and a way of life with an eschatological horizon that cannot be foreshortened by circumventing history. It requires respecting, and often, restoring the human dignity of the victims of violence. Furthermore, reconciliation cannot occur without recognizing the sources of conflict and initiating a process that liberates the victims of violence from the structures of domination and oppression. The struggle against injustice is part of the genuine pursuit of reconciliation. Furthermore, reconciliation cannot be confused with conflict mediation, a process whose goal is to lessen conflict or to get the parties to accept and live with situations of conflict. One needs to understand that compared to conflict handling mechanisms viz., negotiation, mediation, adjudication, and arbitration, the approach called ‘reconciliation’ is perhaps the least well understood. Its meaning, processes, and application have not been clearly articulated or developed. In a way reconciliation is a complex term.

Reconciliation is the resolution of violences. It begins to happen when one participates in positive relations with ‘previous enemy.’ It happens as persons or groups begin to shape their lives in positive relation to one another. It happens as people learn to deal with what separates them and as they find a bridge to new attitudes and practices that enable people to live in relation to one another, not in isolation from each other. In fact, the Greek term katallage, reconciliation, was a word used for monetary exchange in the Hellenistic world. It meant “the making of what one has into something other” or, by extension, one becomes a new person by exchanging places with another. It is not without effort.

Reconciliation is not a hasty peace that tries to escape the examination of the causes of suffering. If the causes are not addressed, suffering is likely to continue and the wheel of violence keeps turning and more and more people get crushed. In trivializing and ignoring a history of suffering the victims are forgotten and the causes of suffering are never uncovered and confronted. It is important to bear in mind that often in the deliberation about peace and reconciliation the victimized are called to forgive and reconcile in a way that perpetuates rather than rectifies the root causes of injustice, alienation, and division. While reconciliation suggests a genuine change in relations, reconciliation can also mean a collapse into acceptance of the status quo because of the belief that nothing can be done. Reconciliation involves a fundamental repair to human lives especially to those who suffered. It requires restoring the dignity of the victims of violence. Reconciliation contains four dimensions viz. political, economic, psycho-social, and spiritual.

The victims are often told to be peaceful in the sense of being passive and nice, and to allow them to be walked over. Many talked about peace that was to be achieved by pounding the opposition into submission, peace maintained by crushing protest against injustice and peace for the rulers and the oppressors at the expense of the oppressed.

Sometimes the call for reconciliation comes to the victims from the oppressors or the perpetrators of violence, in the hope they will be spared punishment and the responsibility to change and transform the violent structures, or from people who are outside the situation and have accepted the narrative of the lie, the lies about the situation of the victims. It is important not to give in to the lies and myths that were created either to demonize the victims or to conceal the appalling human cost they suffered hitherto. They cannot move to reconciliation if the truth about their human hurt and human hope is unknown. They have to find a redeeming narrative to restore truth. Hence it is important to see that the victims do not succumb to the erasure of memory of the suffering which took place in the past. An utmost commitment to social analysis and pursuit of justice is necessary.

What, then, is reconciliation? Obviously, the rebuilding of a society after conflict involves many skills and points of view. Peace building, social and economic reconstruction, coming to terms with the past are all involved.

Models of Reconciliation

Despite the lack of knowledge about how to operationalize reconciliation and the intricacies involved in understanding the definition of the term, there is however no question about the common agreement about the tremendous need for it. Among many models of reconciliation spoken of or tried by various countries in a similar situation as ours at least two major models may be thought of as ‘umbrella models’ under which others can be brought. On the one hand, there is a model that can be termed as ‘individual or interpersonal reconciliation.’ In this model reconciliation happens between the ‘victim’ and the ‘perpetrator’ and one envisages the need to reconcile victims and perpetrators of gross violations of human rights. This is generally known as “IR Model.”

On the other hand, there is “national unity and reconciliation model” which is known as “NUR Model.” This model is closely associated with politics and the units of analysis in this model are not individuals but socio-political institutions. This model calls for a commitment to share a future and for each to build towards that future.

The IR Model emphasizes either inheriting a religious paradigm or a therapeutic one. While the first model talks of confession, repentance and forgiveness the second one emphasizes the healing of individual victims and their experience of restoration of strained or broken relationships. The main purpose is the experiencing a sense of healing. One will recognize that throughout the TRC Report a language of IR is implied.

Two aspects of reconciliation as a paradigm of urgency

Two aspects in particular of this vision shape reconciliation as a paradigm of urgency. These are healing the trauma of the past, and the moral reconstruction of society. No matter how much one wishes to look to the future, the horrors of the past yawn like a bottomless pit. Sometimes what has happened has never been truly recounted. In any event, its full emotional and spiritual impact has not been plumbed. Without some measure of coming to terms with the past, the unhealed wounds will continue to fester, poisoning whatever new society is constructed, and posing the risk of victims themselves turning into oppressors of others.

What, concretely, is involved in the healing of the past? Three things in particular can be identified viz., “Truth-Telling,” “Pursuit of Justice” and “Healing of memories and Forgiveness.”

Truth-Telling

Truth-telling is an act where the community validates individual memory. The basis for the healing of the past is truth-telling. Truth-telling consists, first of all, of speaking aloud those things kept secret or hidden during the conflict. Truth, in Greek, is aletheia, (ἀλήθεια) is the Greek word for "truth", and like the English word implies sincerity as well as factuality or reality. The literal meaning of the word ἀ–λήθεια is, "the state of not being hidden; the state of being evident". People were often not allowed to speak of the atrocities which they had witnessed in totalitarian regimes. One could not raise the question of what had happened to loved ones taken away by the police or the armed forces. Speaking the truth breaks through the wall of silence imposed upon a society.

Second, truth-telling counters the falsehoods and lies perpetrated by the wrongdoers to legitimate their wrongdoing. Such truth-telling is essential to having a different kind of society. It also exonerates those who have lived under suspicion and false judgment.

Third, truth-telling is a matter of trying to establish just what did happen and why it happened. This is usually very difficult to ascertain, and in itself takes a long time. But without at least attempts at it, a society cannot construct a new narrative about itself.

Fourth, truth-telling is an essential ingredient for the new society. The very exercise of truth-telling becomes an important practice for the new society, something to be engaged in publicly and regularly.

In political processes of reconciliation following what social upheaval or trauma, the first step is always establishing the truth about what happened that provides a basis for a common memory that in turn provides a basis for a new moral order to be established. The process of establishing the truth provides a pattern of truthfulness and honesty on which any new political order must be built. It must be a public process to insure the right of all parties to contribute to a new narrative of truth. Without the validation of wider community, truth remains elusive and prone to the "narrative of the lie" perpetuated by the previous political order.

Hence the truth needs to be told. It needs to be told completely. A society that recovers from traumatic experiences needs as much truth as possible. Walter Wink says, “Truth is medicine and without it a society remains infected with past evils that will inevitably break out in the future. Domination cannot exist without the Big Lie that persuades the many to offer their lives for the protection of the privileges of the few. Truth telling not only exposes that lie, but establishes a sacred space where others may gather who will no longer tolerate the lie” [Walter Wink, Healing A Nation’s Wounds: Reconciliation on the Road to Democracy, Life & Peace Institute, Uppsala, March 1997, page 45].

The TRC adopted a slogan, “Truth: The Road to Reconciliation.” Another title noteworthy of this period is “Reconciliation through Truth,” co-authored by Kader Asmal, former Minister in South Africa.

The pursuit of justice

The truth must be told, and it must be acted upon. Pursuing justice is both a way of healing the past, and creating the practices which must undergird the new society. Truth-telling is a precondition for justice. To try to pursue justice without first establishing the truth runs the risk of seeking revenge under the guise of justice. And this is another form falsehood, which only continues the violence of the past and does not overcome it. Basically, there are three forms of justice which must be pursued.

The first is punitive justice. This entails ascertaining wrongdoing and punishing those responsible for it. There is almost never total punitive justice; in the case of a civil war, for instance, not every combatant can be punished. The purpose of punitive justice, however, is to establish publicly that such behavior is wrong and will not be tolerated in the new society.

The second one is restorative justice. To the extent possible, that which has been stolen is returned; those who have suffered loss are given some compensation to aid them in the times ahead.

The third is structural justice. This is part of the rebuilding of society: the reallocating of resources so that the injustices which contributed to the conflict cannot be allowed to cause such violence again. Land redistribution, allocation of public monies for basic education, improving the status of the affected ones are all examples of this. This final kind of justice is part of the long work of reconstruction. It is in many ways the most difficult form of justice, but also the most necessary.

Aristotle defined justice as refraining from pleonexia, that is, from gaining some advantage for oneself by seizing what belongs to another – property, reward, office; or by denying a person that which is his or her due – the fulfillment of a promise, the payment of a debt, or the showing of proper respect, for example. At the same time, Webster’s New World Dictionary defines justice as the quality of being righteous, impartiality, fairness and the quality of being right or correct. It may be pertinence to note that while Aristotle defines justice in the negative, that is, ‘refraining from,’ Webster’s approach appears to be more positive, which is, ‘quality of being.’ Hence it is both the quality a person should possess, that is, being righteous and fair, and a relationship that person should maintain, that is, not gaining advantage by taking what belongs to others. Both dimensions of justice are important.

Healing of Memories and Forgiveness

The healing of memories and forgiveness are related to one another. Healing of memory does not mean forgetting. One can never forget what has been done, at the risk of losing one's own identity and integrity. Healing of memories means that the memories are no longer toxic; that is, they no longer control our lives and poison everything with which they come into contact.

Forgiveness has to be understood in this context. Forgiveness is not forgetting; it is, rather, remembering in a different way. One is no longer controlled by the past event and by the perpetrator. One is able to see the perpetrator from a different angle. It may still be necessary that the perpetrator be punished or make restitution - that is to acknowledge the gravity of what has been done. But in forgiving, one establishes a different relationship to the perpetrator.

One sees the perpetrator as a deeply wounded human being in need of healing. One does not have to become a friend with the perpetrator; such may not be possible and is not always even desirable. In forgiving, one seeks the redemption of the perpetrator.

The healing of the trauma of the past is complex and complicated, requiring the efforts and talents of many different kinds of people. What one brings to this process is concentration on these three areas of truth-telling, justice, and healing and forgiveness.

What that does is shaped by the understanding of reconciliation. In the now well-known words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “there is no future without forgiveness.” Without healing of the trauma of the past, a society has no future. All it has is a constant repeating of a past it cannot escape.

Hannah Arendt, a political philosopher, in The Human Condition (University of Chicago Press: Chicagi, 1958, pp. 236-43) says, “Human societies could not exist without forgiveness and the public acts of contrition and confession that makes reconciliation possible.” However, it needs to be understood that reconciliation is more than forgiveness. The goal of forgiveness is reconciliation. Also, forgiveness does not mean that one condones or accepts the behavior of the perpetrator. Charles Villa-Vincencio, in his article titled “A Different Kind of Justice: the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission” appeared in Contemporary Justice Review, says, “contrition cannot be imposed, and forgiveness, even when it is possible, is rarely more than a first step.”

The second aspect of reconciliation as a paradigm of urgency is the moral reconstruction of society. This idea is borrowed from Jose Zalaquett, the lawyer who headed the Chilean Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He saw the work of reconciliation as the moral reconstruction of society in such a way that the evils of the past could not happen again. This is exactly what His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapakse says in the text of the Warrant, “the lessons we would learn from those events and their attendant concerns, in order to ensure that there will be no recurrence."

It is important here to focus upon the moral reconstruction of society. By this it is not meant simply preaching on moral values to be upheld. Rather, it means a special attention paid to the steps that are taken in the reconstruction of society. What does each of those steps communicate about morals, norms, and values? What does the pursuit of justice itself say about the nature of justice in a just society? Thus, attending to the moral reconstruction of a society is also an attending to the symbolic reconstruction of the society.

In the second model of reconciliation, “National Unity and Reconciliation Model,” as narrated in the beginning, what is envisaged is an enhanced peaceful coexistence. In this model, “people are expected to hear each other out and enter into a give-and-take with each other about matters of public policy, build on areas of common concern, and forge compromises with which all can live” [David Crocker, “Truth Commisssions, Transitional Justice, and Civil Society” in Robert I. Rotberg and Denis Thompson (eds.) Truth v. Justice: The Morality of Truth Commissions, 99-121. Priceton university Press, 2000]. Charles Villa-Vincencio, in his unpublished paper in 1998 on the title “Truth and Reconciliation: In tension and Reconciliation,” says, "peaceful co-existence, governed by a culture of human rights and the dismantling of the structures that made human rights violations not only possible but often inevitable, is perhaps more important, at least for the present, than forgiveness and reconciliation."

Different Levels of Reconciliation

At least four levels of reconciliation need to be identified. These are within one’s self, between victims and perpetrators, within a community, and at a national level.

In the first level the primary concern is that of ‘closure.’ Here ‘the reconciliation of victims with their own pain’ and/or of perpetrators ‘with their guilt and shame’ take(s) place. This level of reconciliation is "coming to terms with the painful truth," in which the disclosure of truth helps people to reach closure and to make peace with their past. Victims become reconciled with their own pain and perpetrators come to terms with their guilt and shame.

At level two, there is forgiveness and healing between victim and perpetrator. In this level, the IR model is exemplified where victims and perpetrators reconcile with each other.

The third level clearly makes one think that reconciliation is not only necessary between ‘the oppressed or suffering/alienated ones and the perpetrators but is also needed for intra-community reconciliation.

The final level, the level four, raises the question or concern of ‘reconciliation between those who benefited from the past and those who continue to be disadvantaged by what happened in the past.’ It is evident that a healthy democracy does not require everyone to agree or become friends. A culture of human rights and democracy, however, requires respect for common human dignity and shared citizenship as well as the peaceful handling of unavoidable conflicts.

Lessons Learnt: An Evaluation of what has gone wrong

It is important to discern what and why things had gone wrong in the past. Sri Lanka has seen the emergence of many militant movements. A careful reading of events that led to the formation of armed groups in Sri Lanka will reveal that the systemic alienation of a group of people by the introduction of some legislature and actions paved way for resurgence or rebellion of people, especially young ones or students. The language policy during the early post-independence years or the Sinhala only Act, disenfranchisement of the plantation workers of Indian origin, introduction of the system of standardization in admission to Universities, schemes of colonization etc. were some grave concerns of the Tamil community that gave rise to rebellion and revolt which were easily put down.

It is sad that the aspirations of the Tamil people as put forward by the Tamil leaders of that time were not addressed properly. All these, I believe, gave birth to the militant movements and when the activities of those who rebelled were put down by the State machinery a counter revolt began and the circle went on and on. As such one needs to identify the “cycle or spiral of violence” involved in the whole process. It is also important to see whether any militant movement, especially the LTTE, emerged as the consequence of all what is thus stated or it is the cause of what the state has become to be. There is no justification given here for any militant movement. What is demonstrated here is the ways and means available at that time to address the grievances of Tamil community to prevent any rebellion, counter rebellion or even military resistance.

Whatever that has happened in the past witnesses to the suffering of the ordinary civilians, I mean, the non-combatants. People were becoming victims of either State terror or the terror unleashed by the LTTE or any other militant group.

This is opportune moment for all to rise up to admit the past mistakes in order to open a way for a new discourse. All the communities in Sri Lanka trace their origin to two great ancient civilizations of the world, the Indian and the Middle Eastern. Likewise, their faiths too go back to these times. We trace back to great cultures and have shone glorious in many human activities

At the time of independence following five centuries of colonial subjugation, a period during which there were also some positive impacts despite large scale ravages of our culture and traditions, we had a golden opportunity to lead the newly freed world to become a role model multi-cultural, multi-faith, multi-lingual nation which would have impressed the whole world about how communities can co-exist in nations and how nations can live in peace with each other. We missed that great opportunity.

The Need of the Hour

The significance of Asia or that of Sri Lanka is its pluriformity where cultures, ethnicities, languages, religions or faith traditions are called to live in unity and harmony. It is a call to manifest unity among diversity. A country known as ‘the pearl’ in the Indian Ocean turned out to be ‘a tear drop’ in the same ocean. Much could have been avoided only if the ‘otherness of the Other’ was understood, appreciated and celebrated. As the French philosopher Simone Weil has rightly said, “we need to understand that the other can also be true,” we need to develop appreciation for the Other in a context of multiple identities.

The attempts to resolve the conflict by way of mediations or peace talks have failed due to reasons of mistrust, inconsistency, unwillingness to move forward, hidden agendas etc. The country has seen and tried means of conflict suppression, conflict management, and conflict resolution. These are some levels of mutual participation in search of a solution. However, the stage of conflict prevention and transformation is now the need of the hour. We have experienced tragedies and traumatic events both by nature and by humans. People have gone through a cycle of displacements. Many thousands of lives have been lost, crores of rupees worth of properties have been either damaged or destroyed, many have been maimed, basic infrastructure has been dislocated, livelihood of the people have been shattered.

This is kairos, an opportune moment, a decisive moment where all are called upon to find ways and means to live in unity and harmony. There are signs of initiatives taken to help assist the IDPs resettle in their places of traditional abode. Resettlement process, though slow, helps the victims of the recently concluded war. However memory haunts. It is a joyful time when people go back to their places of origin but going there without being helped with healing of memories will do much harm than any help at all.

Listening to the experiences of the survivors , (I would rather not call them stories) reveal that we are left behind with survivors who daily suffer psychologically, intellectually, physically, spiritually etc. To come to terms with their own selves, to prepare for them to accept and forgive the so called perpetrators is going to be another burden on them at this stage. Long term of trauma and acute stress tend to develop not only Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but also is carried on in the form of Complex PTSD, or Disorders of Extreme Stress, Not Otherwise Specified. As a result, the survivors may suffer from less ability to regulate emotions, especially anger and rage. They can also show dissociation, become depersonalized, or preoccupied, and have to face relationship problems, depression, and attempts of suicide.

The task that faces victims of war and atrocity is often spoken of as a “healing” or “recovery” through “processing” (of traumatic experience), “acceptance,” and “coming to terms with the past.” The question of how people recover from the catastrophe of war is profound, but the lesson of history is straightforward. “Recovery” is not a discrete process: it happens in people's lives rather than in their psychologies. It is practical and unspectacular, and it is grounded in the resumption of the ordinary rhythms of everyday life—the familial, sociocultural, religious, and economic activities that make the world intelligible [Bracken P., Trauma. Culture, meaning and philosophy. London: Whurr Publishers; 2002].

It is important that the Government of Sri Lanka wins the hearts and minds of the people who have suffered and survived the war. Therefore, it is imperative that the ‘hitherto victims’ need to be provided with spaces of safety and trust; their needs and interests be specially attended to; and a larger vision of the healing process be provided.

The space created for the people who have experienced trauma in many aspects, especially through the loss of their loved ones and disappearance or not knowing of their whereabouts, to come forward to testify in this Commission is a significant step. For many, making statement before this Commission brought much relief from their ‘self-imposed silence’ or an ‘emotional silence.’ The experience of such is the experience of telling others that what has been repressed or shut out for so long is now coming out in an atmosphere of acceptance. The importance of making provisions for the process of story telling should be recognized for it is a therapeutic or healing process for them.

A commitment to reconciliation and healing means that the psychological plight of individuals who were involved in the perpetration of gross human rights violations and their families should be acknowledged. Like victims, perpetrators need to be given space to examine their emotional reactions and to reintegrate what has probably been disassociated from their emotional life.

It is important to establish as complete a picture as possible of the causes, nature and extent of the gross violations of human rights which were committed during the period.

Equally important is the attempt to facilitate the granting of amnesty to persons who make full disclosure of all the relevant facts.

Action should be taken to expedite hearing of cases of the ex-militants which are still pending in order to fulfil the process of re-integration into the normal life system.

Any reconciliation effort needs to be seen as a process before it is understood as a goal or destination. In this process elements such as granting of amnesty to ex-cadres, resettlement of IDPs, initiation of livelihood programmes, assistance to start economically viable trade or profession should be included.

Besides, space needs to be created for an honest acknowledgment of the harm/injury each party has inflicted on the other; to express sincere regrets and remorse for the injury done: to be ready to apologize for one’s role in inflicting the injury; to have the conflicting party prepared to ‘let go’ of the anger and bitterness caused by the conflict and the injury; to make commitment by the offender not to repeat the injury; to identify and make sincere effort to redress past grievances that caused the conflict and to compensate the damage caused to the extent possible; and also to enter into a new mutually enriching relationship.

Finally, reconciliation should be understood as both a focus and a locus for reconciliation is envisioned here as a meeting place where Truth, Mercy, Justice and Peace come together. Forgiveness happens within an individual. Reconciliation takes place within a relationship. The Lessons learnt hitherto, I believe, will make us reach the destination of reconciliation by going through a process of truth-telling, pursuing justice and healing of memories through a journey that necessarily takes everyone through the four levels demonstrated in this submission.

Once again, I thank the Learned Commissioners for the opportunity given to me as I always believe in not missing an opportunity!

December 19, 2010

Government needs to understand that a country’s domestic and foreign policies are inextricably intertwined

by Kalana Senaratne

It is time this government gave serious thought to building a positive image of Sri Lanka. First, it needs to worry about how Sri Lankans in Sri Lanka view Sri Lanka’s image as citizens of the country, before worrying about how Sri Lankans overseas or other States would perceive Sri Lanka. If those within Sri Lanka are not satisfied with the image of their country, no amount of monitors would help boost Sri Lanka’s image. The government needs to understand that a country’s domestic and foreign policies are inextricably intertwined. Messy domestic policies lead to messy foreign policies and external affairs.

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Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the British Parliament Richard Ottaway MP, accompanied by Committee member Ms. Ann Clwyd MP called on President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Dec 2nd in London. External Affairs Minister Prof G. L. Peiris, Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga and Sri Lankan High Commissioner in London Nihal Jayasinghe were also present

First, a question of trust and confidence; a question that is being asked these days. There was a subtle way in which President Mahinda Rajapaksa showed that his former Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama was unimpressive and not-so-trustworthy. This happened when a special group – which comprised the then Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Secretary to the President, Lalith Weeratunga – was chosen to handle affairs with India. Handling the ‘Indian affair’ in the most serious and cordial way possible was one of the most important tasks before President Rajapaksa, especially during the final stages of the armed conflict. He wanted trustworthy men around him to do this.

After the general election in April 2010, came the appointment of Prof. GL Peiris as Minister of External Affairs. It was a refreshing move, an important and necessary one - given the way in which his immediate predecessor had conducted and (mis)handled affairs. It was also important, not because Prof. Peiris was the most principled politician around - but because he was, and is, one of the most educated and academically qualified politicians we have. It was also felt by some that having Prof. Peiris as the External Affairs Minister would help boost Sri Lanka’s image, given his academic qualifications and his relations with the West.

But what seems to have happened to Prof. Peiris after the cancellation of President Rajapaksa’s Oxford Union address is somewhat telling. The appointment of a ‘Monitoring MP’, to ‘monitor’ the work of the External Affairs Ministry is a curious, awkward and odd one. Why a special Monitor, like in a school class-room, to monitor work of the External Affairs Ministry, when there is a Permanent Secretary, a Deputy Minister and a Minister? And why now?

A number of questions arise. Is this appointment a way of showing that President Rajapaksa is unhappy about the Oxford-debacle? Is he unhappy with the way in which the External Affairs Minister and the Ministry in general handled the issue? Is he unhappy with the advice he received from the SLHC in London? It was not so long ago that a no-confidence motion was brought against Prof. GL Peiris in Parliament by the Opposition. But is this appointment of a Monitor the most compelling show of no-confidence, not by the Opposition, but by the President himself?

With such questions hanging in the air, how would the External Affairs Ministry or those within the establishment view these political developments? This is a question that goes unaddressed, and a question that politicians don’t give much thought to. How does the confusion created by these wholly unnecessary and unwanted appointments impact on the diplomats representing Sri Lanka, especially career-diplomats, and the job they are supposed to do?

The government needs to give serious thought to the importance of improving the morale of those who, professionally, are required to defend and further the interests and image of Sri Lanka. Those within the foreign-service establishment are there to stay, and meaningless appointments such as the appointment of ‘monitors’ would only make our professional diplomats more demoralized. Given the nature of our politics, there is confusion caused as to who is in charge; minister or monitor? This creates a deeply frustrated foreign-service establishment, members of which will develop a cynical attitude towards those who are their political masters. The establishment will be divided on party-political lines (if it is not already). More seriously, this could also lead to a situation where some, out of sheer anger and hatred, act against the interests of the country they are supposed to defend. Given the kind of external threats that Sri Lanka continues to face from separatist elements overseas, such a development could be a most serious setback.

Underlying this mess is the inability of the government to realize that building a positive image of Sri Lanka (as opposed to a negative image, which can be built somewhat easily) has much to do with understanding some fundamentals, one being, that domestic and foreign policies are closely linked. It is, in the main, a country’s domestic policy that the diplomat based overseas would need to defend.

For instance, in the realm of human rights, the government cannot expect its diplomats overseas to do a ‘good job’ in defending Sri Lanka, when a simple scrutiny of the domestic legislative framework and the mechanisms established to protect human rights are seen to be failing. The government cannot expect its diplomats to argue that Sri Lanka has credible and independent institutions when political practice and Constitutional amendments do not point in that direction. In terms of ethnic-reconciliation, the government cannot expect diplomats to be doing their best in terms of educating the world about Sri Lanka’s progress in terms of ethnic-reconciliation when serious debates ensue within the Cabinet about whether or not the Tamil version of the Sri Lankan national anthem ought to be abolished. On this issue, it needs to be noted that President Rajapaksa has, correctly, postponed taking a decision on this matter; and one hopes that the President would not only postpone, but simply end the debate, by deciding conclusively that there would be no abolition of the Tamil version of the national anthem. These are the simple ways in which that clear link between domestic and foreign policy can be established.

The point, then, is a simple one. The government cannot expect anyone to monitor Sri Lanka’s image and its external affairs, and such monitoring will turn out to be utterly superfluous, unless serious steps are taken, domestically, to improve its own image by adopting and implementing policies which are meant to address problems affecting the people of Sri Lanka. Some of the views expressed by Sri Lanka’s former diplomats, over the years, and especially during recent times, need to be considered far more seriously by this government. The myth held on to by certain politicians, that our foreign and domestic policies are unrelated and the latter has no bearing or impact on the former, needs to be demolished. In fact, that myth has been demolished. It’s just that some don’t seem to understand this.

(Kalana Senaratne is a postgraduate research student based at the Law Faculty, University of Hong Kong)

Norwegian Committee awards Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo against fundamental principles of Alfred Nobel

Politics of the Nobel Peace Prize

by Sumanasiri Liayanage

"In the present situation, the Nobel Prize stands objectively as a distinction reserved for the writers of the West or the rebels of the East." - Jean-Paul Sartre

Is the decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize political? Since the decision has to be taken giving due consideration to the contribution of the individual/s or institution to the promotion of world peace and disarmament, it is essentially a political decision.

According to the last will of Alfred Nobel, who died in 1896, the Nobel Peace Prize should be awarded to the person who "shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace". Alfred Nobel’s will further declared that the prize should be awarded by a committee of five people chosen by the Norwegian Parliament. Does the Nobel Committee stick to these principles when it decides to award Nobel Peace Prize? The award of the prize to Barak Obama in the last year and to Liu Xiaobo of China this year has raised the issue whether the Nobel Peace Committee does take the decision on the basis of hidden criteria other than those laid out clearly by the founder of the prize. Barak Obama has, in fact, increased the size of the invading army in Afghanistan significantly since he took office as the President of the USA. His statement to pull out the invading US military forces from Iraq has turned out to be a ruse.

The Obama administration has shown its incapability and reluctance to stop illegal Israel construction in Palestine.

Alfred Nobel would not rest in peace in his grave if he happened to know that his criteria were totally ignored and grossly violated in awarding the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. The same mistake was repeated when the committee had decided to grant 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

Announcing that the committee had decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize 2010 to Liu Xiaobo, Thorbjørn Jagland, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, stated that Liu Xiaobo was chosen because of "his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China". He emphasized that "[t]he Norwegian Nobel Committee (NNC) has long believed that there is a close connection between human rights and peace. Such rights are a prerequisite for the "fraternity between nations" of which Alfred Nobel wrote in his will". Hence, it was the first criterion that was expected to uphold, according the committee, in taking this decision. Who is Liu Xiaobo? This is the answer given by the committee: "For over two decades, Liu Xiaobo has been a strong spokesman for the application of fundamental human rights also in China. He took part in the Tiananmen protests in 1989; he was a leading author behind Charter 08, the manifesto of such rights in China which was published on the 60th anniversary of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 10th of December 2008".

One may wonder that this almost unknown person in China had in fact been invented by the NNC. In China, before the award, most people neither knew nor cared about Liu. According to Andrew Jacobs, (writer to the International Herald Tribune) an "official survey of university students taken since the prize was awarded found that 85% said they knew nothing about Liu and Charter ‘08." A Norwegian Sinologist has elicited comments from Chinese people and indicated that younger Chinese still do not care about Liu. Older Chinese intellectuals are interested in discussing the award, but many do not think Liu is an appropriate recipient. (The Guardian).

The most distressing fact is that Liu Xiaobo has been working against the fundamental principles of Nobel’s will. British Marxist Tariq Ali while criticizing the Chinese government’s decision to keep him behind the bars and also defending his right to hold his views has revealed that Liu Xiaobo is in fact reactionary warmonger. He is a champion of war, not of peace. Tariq Ali has shown that NNC has been gradually deviating from the Nobel criteria by awarding the Peace Prize to Obama in 2009 and Liu Xiaobo in 2010.

This is what UK Guardian revealed about Liu Xiaobo. "[Liu Xiaobo] has endorsed the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and he applauded the Vietnam and Korean wars retrospectively in a 2001 essay. All these conflicts have entailed massive violations of human rights. Yet in his article Lessons from the Cold War, Liu argues that "The free world led by the US fought almost all regimes that trampled on human rights … The major wars that the US became involved in are all ethically defensible." During the 2004 US presidential election, Liu warmly praised George Bush for his war effort against Iraq and condemned Democratic party candidate John Kerry for not sufficiently supporting the US’s wars: ‘[T]he outstanding achievement made by Bush in anti-terrorism absolutely cannot be erased by Kerry’s slandering … However much risk must be endured in striking down Saddam Hussein, know that no action would lead to a greater risk. This has been proven by the Second World War and September 11! No matter what, the war against Saddam Hussein is just! The decision by President Bush is right!’."

The paper further said: "Liu has also one-sidedly praised Israel’s stance in the Middle East conflict. He places the blame for the Israel/Palestine conflict on Palestinians, who he regards as "often the provocateurs". Liu has also advocated the total westernisation of China. In a 1988 interview he stated that "to choose westernisation is to choose to be human". He also faulted a television documentary, He Shang, or River Elegy, for not thoroughly criticising Chinese culture and not advocating westernisation enthusiastically enough: "If I were to make this I would show just how wimpy, spineless and f… up the Chinese really are". Liu considered it most unfortunate that his monolingualism bound him in a dialogue with something "very benighted and philistine," the Chinese cultural sphere.

Harvard researcher Lin Tongqi noted that an early 1990s book by Liu contains "pungent attacks on the Chinese national character".

What does the decision NNC to award the Nobel Peace Prize signify? Was it just another deviation from basic fundamentals? Or can it be considered an exception to basically correct practice? In my opinion, the decision reveals two fundamental flaws in the decision making practice of the NNC. Moreover, it proves that the so-called human right discourse has now degenerated to the extent of serving the domination of finance capital and the US hegemony. The selection Liu Xiaobo was for sure a conscious action to embarrass China. For instance, Geir Lundestad, secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said during a talk at Oxford University at the end of October 2010 that in recent years the committee judges had gradually come to believe they had to "address the China question". Hence Liu became an "obvious choice" for them to "address China". Fredrik S. Heffermehl, a Norwegian lawyer has criticised the NNC for awarding the 2010 peace prize to Liu. He opined that "[r]ather than cooperation and dialogue, this year the Nobel Committee has promoted controversy and ill will". So he asked for the NNC resignation. Heffermehl surmised that the 2010 decision of the NNC had reflected ‘mindset of people still caught in Western paternalism and a cold war mentality’.

Secondly, that Nobel Peace Prize has unfortunately become a victim of new technique of governmentality that has been adopted by the international finance capital under the cover of the US hegemony. Norwegians, in case of WikiLeaks, Sweden and other Western peripheral nations have been playing second fiddle to US led imperialism.

Almost entire human rights discourse has now become one essential part of the hegemonic agenda. Liu got the prize because he has been what Sartre called "a rebel of the East".

The writer teaches political economy at the University of Peradeniya.

December 18, 2010

The first decade of the new millennium

by Dr.Dayan Jayatilleka

“The contest is never over, the field never quite ours.”- Dave Robicheaux in James Lee Burke, ‘The Tin Roof Blowdown’ (2007)

Is it only me, or is not sad that there is no review in the Sri Lankan public space, of the first decade of the 21st century and the new millennium?

Should we not be looking back at the road that has been travelled by the world, by our country and ourselves as individuals?

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At the global level, we experienced 9/11, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the overstretch of the USA and the West due to the Iraq war, the rise and fall (and now the incipient return in a vicious grassroots form) of neo-conservative ideology in the West, the erosion of the West’s soft power reserves and consequent global standing due to hawkish unilateralist militarism, the revival of that soft power and resultant recuperation of some measure of that global prestige through the breakthrough Obama moment and his multicultural new centrist discourse, the emergence of a new left or new social democratic Latin America, the return of Russia as a strong international player, the economic power shift to Asia, acting as engine of an Asian Renaissance and the emergence of what is variously termed a New Asian modernity, an Asian Alternative modernity or a Post-Western Modernity.

At the level of political ideas, thought and leadership- my favourite field of inquiry- the most exciting developments come from a widely diverse set of sources or impulses: the surge of the Latin American democratic populist left as most successfully represented by Lula, the model of Asian meritocratic modernity as exemplified by China and Singapore, the ‘soft power’ success of India under the Congress, Obama’s inspired and inspiring oratory and literary brilliance, the robust rational statism (labelled ‘sovereign democracy’) of Vladimir Putin, and the stream of contemporary commentary by Fidel, the Old Testament prophet in the new millennium.

Sri Lanka as a society began the millennium and the century with a patchy period of vacillation (retreat from Elephant pass, retention of Jaffna), and as the decade wore on experienced years of appeasement, retrenchment and bitter humiliation as state and community. The Sri Lankan ‘Southern’ Risorgimento came in the decade’s second half, when the country took the hit of the tsunami, rallying better than did Louisiana, a state of the world’s sole superpower after Hurricane Katrina, and moving into a fight-back against one of the post World War II era’s worst terrorist formations (a Jim Jones mass suicide cult with a navy and air-force instead of Kool-Aid, says Robert Kaplan in ‘Monsoon’, citing an authoritative American researcher), prevailing over it and reunifying the territory of the island. As a postscript we rolled back by means of the vote, a possible tilt away from the principle of elected civilian leadership, long cherished in Sri Lanka.

We have proved ourselves a country and a community that cannot be pushed around, will not retreat beyond a point without rallying. Our resilience and resolve, stemming from a continuous collective awareness of selfhood and situation, should not be underestimated.

Opinion on and off the island, and on and of it, divides up between those who see the post-war glass as half full and those others who see it as half empty. There are of course those at the lamentably thick (in its descriptive and British colloquial senses) fringes who see it as a cup running over or wholly empty. Painfully aware as I am that the most progressive war against secession in the modern era, the American Civil War, was not devoid of scorched earth tactics and was followed by the ghastly years of Reconstruction and decades of Jim Crow, I know that most mornings after in History dawn upon a more sluggishly prosaic reality than the heroic promise of the night before.

I trust and value the modest potentialities of electoral empowerment, democratic re-openings and representation, just as I recognise the power of the larger reality, the need of even the most myopically self centred collective consciousness to take account of the environment in order to survive, and the wisdom of my father’s words that just as Donne was right and no man is an island, in today’s Age of Information and economic globalisation “no island is an island either”.

As an analyst-commentator I have had the satisfaction of seeing some of what I advocated in my writing and public statements over the decade, achieve fruition. In the battle of ideas that accompanied the wars of the decade, I struggled against appeasement and for the defeat of the LTTE, as well as the safeguarding of the sovereignty of states in the face of externally imposed outcomes such in Kosovo and Iraq and for the vision of a multi-polar world.

Less grandly I have pushed for the replacement of the removal of the comprador, anti-national leadership of the main Opposition party, with a more patriotic and social democratic one. I have seen some of these struggles succeed, participated actively in some others (e.g. at the UN special session on Sri Lanka in May 2009 facing the boys in Miliband’s band, plus tens of thousands of Tiger flag waving demonstrators, the human rights and humanitarian lobbyists and the western media offensive), and am perhaps on the verge of seeing a positive generational, leadership and ideological change in the mainline domestic opposition.

The new century hit me exactly halfway between the deaths of my father and my mother, sharply etching the adjective in the defining lifetime designation of ‘only child’, except that this was a man entering his mid-forties. Nietzsche was the greatest help, but as the first decade of the third millennium ends, the minds I continue to find the most politically penetrative are a pair on opposite sides of the barricades of crisis and war, revolution and counter-revolution: Antonio Gramsci and Carl Schmitt. A personal pick of this decade’s thinkers would be Slavoj Zizek with his irreverent, retro-chic Leninism, and Kishore Mahbubani, evangelist of the Asian Resurrection.

The decade’s reading is ending in the company I commenced it, with the fiction of Elmore Leonard (tagged by Dennis Lehane as “the greatest crime writer who ever lived”), James Lee Burke (described by the LA Times as “hardboiled...neo-existentialism”), George Pelecanos and Walter Mosley. Two very different films, ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ and ‘The Hurt Locker’ are my movie picks of the decade, Jack Nicholson directed by Scorsese in ‘The Departed’, Javier Bardem in the ‘Coen Brothers’ ‘No Country for Old Men’, Uma Thurman and David Carradine in ‘Kill Bill 2’ and Jet Li in ‘Hero’ and ‘Fearless’ are my favourite pieces of acting, while ‘The Wire’ and ‘Justified’, were the most addictive television of these years.

Deaths of parents and assassinations of friends, another divorce, marriage to Sanja in Brisbane and peace, contentment, satisfaction and equilibrium in personal life after the right choice of life-partner at last, a doctorate quickly accomplished after two decades long interruption due to political activism, a book published in the UK and US on a non-Lankan, non-Asian subject collecting some decent reviews and classified as political philosophy, rotation between university pedagogy, op-ed commentary, diplomacy and think-tank research, a battle or two won against the enemy outside and the demons within, a prized photograph with Brazil’s Lula while he peruses my book on Fidel (placed next to the one of my parents seated chatting with Indira Gandhi), listening up close to Leonard Cohen, Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy, the decade shows up positive on a balance sheet. Whatever the disappointments and frustrations, it did close out with a collective win, following a protracted struggle, over an implacable foe.

I’ve spent the better part of the 21st century’s opening decade overseas, on four continents— America, Europe, (East) Asia and Australia. I’ve also written quite a bit over those years; political writings, written politically; interventions in “the battle of ideas” (Marti, Fidel). However, with an imminent return to representing my country Sri Lanka in the international arena, it’s going to be a short goodbye. Au Revoir.

"I defended the Tamil struggle but never advocated separation"

by Dr.Vickramabahu Karunaratne

I defended the struggle of Tamil nationality for democracy and freedom, since 1974. However, I never advocated separation; on the contrary I appealed for voluntary unity in one country. This is the position of Marxism. I believe Tamils have a right to take up arms to defend and resist oppression and brutality.

At the same time I condemn violence against innocent people, in particular violence against children and women. Also, using assassination and murder to settle political disputes should be condemned severely. Particularly, such action on the same side of the barricade will lead to the degeneration of the liberation movement.

Any liberation movement that cannot keep democracy, discussion and debate, will produce a hideous situation. History has given many such examples. I always disputed the bourgeois politics of the Tamil liberation movement. Clearly, the view that the global powers including India, could deliver freedom and autonomy to Tamils was proved again and again, to be a fallacy.

Tamil freedom rests on the fundamental unity between the Tamil liberation and the struggle of the proletarians, both local and international. Having said all that, I must dispute the illiterate view that every village peasant leader that organizes a provincial dictatorial power represents fascism.

Fascism arises in an industrial society by planned regimented chauvinist action against the organized proletariat. It displays a moment of degeneration and decadence, of a cultured modern society. In fact if fascism forms a state today it definitely will lead to a nuclear holocaust. Every word has a meaning given by the process of history. If one uses words as one pleases then sensible discussion will be impossible.

Ranga Jayasuriya of Lakbimanews reported the following interview taken through the mobile of Minister Sarath Kumara Gunaratna:

Question;

“You are accused of attacking two journalists and NLF leader Dr. Karunaratne inside the airport?

Answer:

I also heard that. But I was in Parliament on that day. It was patriotic people who were enraged by the betrayal of Karunaratne who assaulted them, but I am happy that even ordinary people of this country are taking their patriotic duty seriously and acting against traitors.

Question:

Was it the patriotic public who assaulted two journalists also?

Answer:

I don’t know. But, they had Went there with his (Vickremebahu’s) supporters. I can tell you that in the future, it does not matter whether they are politicians or journalists. People will beat up anyone who betrays this country. That is what I call people’s power. You can see how people came to the airport on the day of the president’s arrival (from London) and pledged that they would be behind their great leader. People will take to task anyone who betrays this country and its leader.”

This utterance of the minister depicts the respect the Mahinda regime has for law and order in this society.

I seriously believe that my position on the national problem is the way out for a united Lanka. Hence it is the position of a true patriot, a lover of a free democratic Lanka. The violence advocated by the minister shows well, the attitude of the regime towards not only Leftists like myself, but also towards the Tamils who do not submit to the Sinhala chauvinism of the Mahinda regime.

Tamil liberation is not Prabahkaran. Hence the death of Pirapaharan does not mean the end of Tamil liberation. Tamil liberation will continue and rise up again and again, until an acceptable solution is given to the Tamil people. The problem of the government is the debt, and the bondage pressed on them by the international money lenders.

Mahinda had to carry out every promise he has given to the people of this country in the negative. No, to wage increase, no, to free education, no, to free medicine, no, to village welfare, no to pensioners and no, to fisher folk; but yes to the agents of global capital. The wrath of the poor man has to be faced. Already workers, students and fisher folk are up in arms. Even doctors and university teachers, are angry over the way they were cheated by the regime. Burning anger is spreading from urban worker to the village poor.

The humiliation suffered in London has broken the image of the great leader of the parochial humbugs. Something has to be done. He has taken the traditional path of reactionary capitalist leaders. That is to arouse Sinhala chauvinism and create civil unrest. If his goons start attacking us of the Left in the streets, through out the country, it will take the form of a civil war, worse than that of the 88/89 period. In a scenario of rising prices and unemployment, it could take the form of a riot of the hungry against the rich, if not a new wave of communal riots.

Yes Gunaratna, come to the streets; start your epidemic. It maybe the beginning of the end of your beloved regime!

Has Liam Fox been dragged into a morass created by Sri Lankan politicians?

by Namini Wijedasa

Relations between the United Kingdom and Sri Lanka are at their lowest point in recent times and may worsen if the underlying cause of this growing estrangement is not addressed, foreign policy analysts say.

Their warning comes amidst a conspicuously last minute “postponement” of a visit to Sri Lanka by UK Defence Secretary Liam Fox-apparently over an urgent commitment that arose during a tour of the United Arab Emirates. Fox confirmed months ago that he would deliver the 2010 Lakshman Kadirgamar Memorial Lecture and last week sent ahead his personal assistant Werrity, to finalise

Earlier this month, President Mahinda Rajapaksa suffered an unprecedented embarrassment when the Oxford Union unilaterally cancelled his scheduled address a few hours before the event. While this was dressed up locally to garner public support for the president, there is no gainsaying that it was internationally an awkward diplomatic situation. The UK government noticeably washed its hands off President Rajapaksa’s visit, leaving the police to warn the Oxford Union of a possible threat to his security.

But what is the problem?

Ties between the UK and Sri Lanka started deteriorating during the Rajapaksa regime’s war with the LTTE. It was worsened by former Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s overbearing policy towards Sri Lanka. Leaked US diplomatic cables have since revealed that some of Miliband’s actions were motivated by a desire to win the support of expatriate Tamils living in key Labour marginal seats.

Still, Miliband is now out of power and diplomatic observers say there is little logical explanation for the continued rapid decline in UK-Sri Lanka relations. “Whether relations are strained or not, the perception (of strain) itself is an issue,” added a senior Sri Lankan diplomat, requesting anonymity.

For some, the collapse of UK-Sri Lanka ties is a result of our political shift towards nationalism. For MPs like Wimal Weerawansa, it is the painting of Britain as a conspiratorial, meddling imperialist that sells.

Fox was last week hailed for defying the UK government in confirming his visit to Sri Lanka-until he dropped out. This soon led to a further vilification of Britain that will likely keep Fox away for even longer.

Earlier, External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris told parliament that the president was brave enough to visit the UK for the Oxford Union address that humiliatingly never took place. These spins are attractive locally but hardly contribute towards strengthening foreign relations.

Confidential interviews conducted by LAKBIMAnEWS to determine the official Sri Lankan position yielded two points. First, the government has always been receptive to any suggestions from “our friends abroad” on ways and means to further the best interests of all Sri Lankans. Proof of this was progress in resettling internally displaced persons, rehabilitating child combatants and the progressive release of LTTE detainees.

Second?

“The constraint our authorities face is our partners in London for their part have not precisely articulated the matters that are irritating or perplexing them which have led to current issues in our relationship,” said the senior diplomat. “If those could be spelt out in whatever appropriate means, either through formal or informal channels, given our background of receptivity this government could see what could be taken aboard.”

“If a gap has opened, we could try to bridge it,” he insisted. “Without the essential clarity, one is stymied from doing so. This is the conundrum we face. We want to strengthen all relationships, explore and broaden our horizons of friendship.”

Dangerous local politicking

And yet, how does one forge relationships and broaden horizons when there is so much domestic politicking on sensitive international relations? Many analysts felt that Liam Fox has now been dragged into a morass created by Sri Lankan politicians who survive by trumping up bad international ties to prop up the president and his regime.

Two weeks ago, not long after the Oxford Union debacle, another senior diplomat warned this reporter that there was great danger in Sri Lanka painting Liam Fox as the country’s sole friend in the British government.

This was after Fox became the only UK politician to meet President Rajapaksa on his London visit, although his office took pains to stress that it was a private discussion.

“Liam Fox is now being identified by the Tamil diaspora as a Sri Lankan agent and is targeted for criticism,” this diplomat said back then. “It is only a matter of time before Liam Fox also gets cold feet and this is not a pretty picture diplomatically.”

Prophetic words, yes. But they also mean there are enlightened individuals lost within the system who could help improve Sri Lanka’s standing in the world provided they are given the space. Instead, it is the likes of Sajin de Vass Gunewardena that advise the president on foreign affairs and organise his visits abroad. A special post was recently created for Gunewardena: ‘Monitoring MP to the Ministry of External Affairs’.

Damage control

The question now is whether both governments will formally accept that UK-Sri Lanka relations need mending. Or will Sri Lanka-given its propensity to follow the counsel of nationalist sycophants over the voice of saner counsel-prefer to spew popular rhetoric on how Britain is a disruptive enemy state wanting to destroy our noble nation.

Sri Lanka still feels that the UK was a spoke in the wheel during the last battle against the LTTE. There are sufficient people to back and promote this position. Nevertheless, one David Miliband doesn’t make a summer. Britain did apply pressure on Sri Lanka on human rights grounds and much of this may have been prompted by the pro-LTTE Tamil diaspora.

But the UK was also at the forefront of supporting Sri Lanka’s campaign to ban the LTTE within the European Union. This happened under President Rajapaksa during a time when the Tigers were still in talks with the government.

“The UK went to the extent of convincing recalcitrant Europeans like the Scandinavians to agree to a ban on the LTTE as a means of exerting sufficient pressure on that movement,” said an authoritative source who did not want to be identified. “In fact, the US and UK acted together to lobby the Scandinavians, with the former even using a special envoy for the purpose.”

“Secondly, the British government could have motivated the UN Security Council to take up Sri Lanka’s situation during the United Nations General Assembly had it wanted to,” he said. He strongly felt there must have been some foreign relations management deficit for relations between the UK and Sri Lanka to now sink so low.

One of the problems (from Sri Lanka’s side) is the Rajapaksa government’s equation for local fame based on this statistical coefficient: International unpopularity has proportionate value to popularity at home. “In other words, the more unpopular you are in the West, the more popular you are here,” commented a state source, again requesting anonymity. “Working diplomatically to that coefficient is a real problem.”

But the choice is clear. Do we help the Weerawansa sorts with their political careers or do we salvage what is left of our relations with the West?

Ambiguous at best, muddled at worst

UK would need to sort out its mixed-up policy-whatever that may be-towards Sri Lanka. At least Sri Lanka is convincing in its unbridled nationalism. In contrast, Britain’s problem with Sri Lanka remains a mystery. Ambiguous at best, muddled at worst.

Is it a war crimes inquiry the UK wants? Are they irritated about Sri Lanka’s new international alliances? Is it something to do with the prevailing state of human rights? Is it the domestic rhetoric in Sri Lanka that rankles? If that is the case, doesn’t Britain spew domestic rhetoric of its own with regards to Sri Lanka and to other nations?

Or is Britain just confused about how to tackle pro-LTTE diaspora groups who, buoyed by their recent successes, are intensely lobbying the UK government to sideline the Sri Lankan government.

Sri Lanka’s position on the diaspora cannot be too clear. The UK needs to encourage the diaspora to play a constructive role rather than a destructive one. It also needs to do more to recognise the abhorrence of the Tamil Tigers, and to get the diaspora to accept that.

If the UK fails to recognise that the pro-LTTE diaspora wishes nothing but ill for Sri Lanka-and if British politicians are to be guided by Tamil voters supportive of the Tigers-we might as well pound that last nail into the coffin now. ~ courtesy: Lakbima nEWS ~

Proposal to scrap Tamil translation of National Anthem is of huge symbolic importance

BY Tisaranee Gunasekara

"The conquering hero who threatens to destroy the liberty of his homeland belongs to history, not myth”. - René Girard (Violence and the Sacred)

The disturbingly inane proposal for a Sinhala-Only National Anthem has suffered (an ephemeral) setback, due to internal dissent. Still, it may return, as the proposal for presidential term-limit removal did (initially withdrawn due to internal opposition and subsequently reintroduced via the 18th Amendment). A resurrection is likely because the idea of a Sinhala-Only National Anthem is integral to the Ruling Family’s nation-building project aimed at moulding a Sinhala- supremacist and a Rajapaksa-supremacist Sri Lanka.

The proposal to scrap the Tamil version of the national anthem is of huge symbolic importance; its historic equivalent would be the 1958 policy of using Sinhala letter ‘Sri’ in vehicle licence-plates. A Sinhala-Only National Anthem would be a divider rather than a unifier; it will widen the psychological gulf between the majority and the minorities and drive home the impression that minorities are not-so-welcome interlopers in a Sinhala-country. Consequently it will be a natural landmark in our journey to the past, to the time before India compelled us (via the Accord) to replace the post-1956 Sinhala supremacist vision of Sri Lanka with a more inclusivist and pluralist model.

Sri Lanka is not the only country with a bi-lingual national anthem. Canadian and Cameroonian national anthems are sung in English and French (O’ Canada has an Inuktiut version too); Swiss national anthem is in German (the original), Italian, French and Romansh; New Zeeland’s national anthem has English and Maori lyrics; post-Apartheid South Africa has a multi-lingual national anthem in Xhosa, Zulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans and English. Perhaps the President got his anti-factual information from Minister Wimal Weerawansa, who backed the ‘Sinhala-Only’ proposal vigorously, stating, as a clincher, that Indian national anthem is in Hindi! (This latest Weerawansa faux-pas is on par with his previous gems, such as Guy de Maupassant wrote The Old Man and the Sea and Angulimala hurled a boulder at Gautama Buddha!) That President Rajapaksa and Minister Weerawansa were unaware of India’s national anthem being written by Rabindranath Tagore in Sanskritised Bengali is hardly outstanding. What is remarkable is that in a 60+ cabinet there wasn’t a single minister with both the knowledge and the backbone to set them right. That lacuna says much about what we have become in this Era of Our High King.

A review of George W. Bush’s memoir ‘Decision Points’, claims that “by Bush’s own account, revenge is among his chief motives in sanctioning torture” (New Yorker – 29.11.2010). Was the proposal for a Sinhala-Only National Anthem a knee-jerk reaction by the President to the Oxford Debacle, a painful humiliation heaped on Lankan Tamils as a collective punishment for the anti-Rajapaksa protests by a segment of the Diaspora? Perhaps.

On the other hand, this proposal is no coup de foudre; it is very much in consonance with previous Rajapaksa measures such as reversion to a unitary-state model, abandonment of the homeland concept, unilateral-judicial de-merger of the North-East and reduction of the ethnic issue into a terrorist/Tiger problem (plus resumption of internal colonisations, mushrooming of Buddha statues in areas with no Buddhist-civilians and the arrest and ‘blasphemy’ trial of Islamic-convert Sarah Malani Perera).

These measures are reverting Sri Lanka into a Sinhala-First country in which the minorities are not citizens with equal and inalienable rights but guests living on sufferance (how they are treated depends on how the majority perceives their conduct; Tamils ‘misbehaved’ in London; ergo, the punishment).

The Sinhala-Only National Anthem proposal reeks of vindictiveness and ill-will. Can such measures which humiliate ethno-linguistic minorities promote national reconciliation? Surely there is a greater chance of inculcating a sense of Lankan patriotism in Tamil/Muslim children and youth if they can sing the national anthem in their own language rather than parrot it in a language they barely understand?

Incidentally, a Sinhala-Only National Anthem will neither hurt nor displease Tiger remnants and sympathisers; in fact they will use such measures as vindication of their past deeds and a green light for their future plans. It will be those Tamils who still believe in a Lankan future who will be dismayed, grieved and alienated by such mean-spirited and petty-minded measures.

The Sinhala-Only National Anthem idea fits in with the Rajapaksa strategy of peace-building not by winning-over the minorities but via repressive laws, militarisation and internal colonisation. The Defence Secretary recently stated that the “re-positioning of security forces in a post-war era was a costly business as new bases and cantonments were needed to accommodate troops in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. ‘This is a very high priority. Unlike during the war, troops cannot be given makeshift shelter,’ he said” (The Island – 8.12.2010).

Lankan Armed Forces would correctly regard the North as their country but they are unlikely to regard its ethnically and religiously different populace as their own people, especially with historical and recent memories redolent of suspicion and enmity. An army in a territory it considers its own, controlling a population it considers alien (and inimical) is a recipe for abuse and repression. For instance, in his latest letter to the President TULF leader V Anandasangaree (whose anti-Tiger credentials cannot be in doubt) states that “20 business persons from Jaffna had been summoned by the Army Intelligence to know about the contribution they made to the LTTE when they had certain areas under their control. I understand that this is going on for some time. At this rate there will be no end to the harassment the people will be subjected to” In the name of ensuring security the regime is busily creating a new vicious circle of hatred and violence.

The dominant Manichean mindset condemns as a terrorist/traitor anyone who is not totally subservient to the Rajapaksa project. This is the basis on which the regime interacts not just with the Tamil/Muslim North-East but also with the Sinhala South and the world.

Wherever there is difference of opinion, democratic dissent or peaceful opposition, the rulers see a mortal enemy ‘who must be brought down before he brings us down’. The recent statement by President Rajapaska at the 11th National Convention of Samurdhi Officials about ‘trade union leaders on foreign payroll’ indicates that the winds of repression are wafting in a Southerly direction. Ere long, the regime may brand trade-unionists and workers, fishermen, doctors, nurses and teachers, students and public servants as ‘traitors’ and suppress their dissent with brutal efficacy.

Juxtapose the Presidential remark with the statement by a Presidential sibling that “Emergency Regulations couldn’t be lifted due to clandestine activities of the TNA and JVP. Defence Secretary Rajapaksa alleged that the TNA and JVP had launched a campaign to destabilise Jaffna Peninsula…. the war veteran said that armed forces had paid a huge price to restore peace in the country, therefore politicians couldn’t be allowed to jeopardise national security according to their whims and fancies” (The Island – 29.11.2010).

The composite picture is of an intolerant land in which democratic dissent is outlawed; and of a regime determined to utilise anything – from Sinhala extremism and xenophobia to repressive laws and extra-judicial deeds – and sacrifice everything to ensure its own longevity.

"I see congruency and complementarity between the Premadasa and Rajapaksa projects"

by Dr . Dayan Jayatilleka

As the year and the first decade of the 21st century winds down, politics in Sri Lanka displayed new and portentous developments. One was the convention of the UNP, the ratification of its new constitution and the transformation of Ranil Wickremesinghe into a lame duck ‘leader’.

The other was the tentative drawing together of the two wings of Tamil political representation in Sri Lanka (as distinct from the Diaspora). The third was the broad social reaction (e.g. Cardinal Ranjith’s December 6th remarks and Sajith Premadasa’s statements) to the recent events in London and the ‘war crimes’ outcry in the Western media.

Though it may not seem so as first glance, there is a linkage between the first and third phenomena, which in turn, has implications for the second, Tamil politics and the political settlement of the minorities question or nationalities question.

On the morning after the convention, the UNP spawned two press conferences, but it was not further evidence of deadlock or a split down the middle. One media briefing, that by Ranil and Mangala, represented the outgoing leadership and the tendency in irreversible decline, while the other, led by Sajith Premadasa, represented the incoming leadership of the party and the tendency in the ascendency.

The UNP convention witnessed something radically new in Sri Lanka and South Asia: the (potential) democratisation of inner-party politics. More concretely it represented the beginning of a transition from the Ranil Wickremesinghe leadership to that of a different generation and project represented by Sajith Premadasa. That transition is not complete but it is on the horizon.

The struggle to replace Ranil Wickremesinghe, and return its Premadasaist programme to its rightful place has taken over a decade. A glance at the Lankadeepa somewhere in mid 1997 would show an editorial page political commentary on what it dubbed the ‘Karu-Kuru alliance’, which was a pun on the rapprochement of Sirisena Cooray and Karu Jayasuriya in the run-up to the Premadasa Commemoration that year.

Ranil whispered in a little bird’s ear, CBK had Cooray arrested and charged in courts for attempting to assassinate her. The commemoration went ahead with moderate success in the face of the opposition of the government and the opposition leadership. I know. I was there. As the Executive Director at the time, of the Premadasa Center, I was one of those on stage at the stadium and addressed the gathering.

The next stage in the struggle was in 1999-2000 in the aftermath of Ranil’s explicitly pro-Tiger line and the UNP’s defeats. A young Muslim financier belonging to the dissident faction of that time was shot, but survived undergoing six surgical interventions and Colombo Central UNP activist G. Ariyapala was shot — gunned to death in the context of that struggle.

The protracted struggle to dislodge Ranil Wickremesinghe is an adjunct or subset of, or postscript to, the struggle to defeat the LTTE, the legacy of appeasement and the memory of national humiliation. The identities of the players have changed and the factions have decomposed and realigned but at long last, the struggle is on the verge of success.

The ascendency of the patriotic or nationalist and populist wing of the UNP and the decline of its neoliberal elitist Old Guard, has a dualistic or dialectical effect on the country.

While on the one hand it renders the polity potentially more competitive and bi-polar, it paradoxically homogenises society and polity; broadens and reaffirms the patriotic-populist consensus and squeezes the old pro-appeasement, pro-West, minoritarian, ‘NGO peace lobby’ within the UNP and the country into a narrow, vanishing space.

This has implications for the ongoing convergence of the TNA and the TPPF. While it will strengthen the collective Tamil voice and facilitate negotiations with the government in that there will not be a competitive cacophony, the new developments in the UNP also mean that the Tamil bloc, while able to benefit from competitiveness between the two mainline formations, will be unable to punch through a certain definable ceiling in their demands.

It is unlikely that the rising or newly emergent patriotic UNP leadership will agree to go beyond the 13th Amendment, though it sincerely reiterates the principles of multi-ethnicity, equality and multiculturalism.

So while Sinhala opinion comes to terms with the geopolitical and geostrategic reality that the 13th Amendment constitutes a ‘floor’ and its rollback would entail unacceptable risks and costs in terms of our diplomatic and strategic vulnerability, the Tamil parties will have to face the reality that its full implementation — minus merger and police powers — and improvement constitute the ‘ceiling’ of the possible.

The protagonists may deny and decry the idea but as a political scientist I see a congruency and complementarities between the Rajapaksa and Premadasa projects; indeed between those of S.W.R.D Bandaranaike, Ranasinghe Premadasa and Mahinda Rajapaksa, especially with regard to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty.

They need each other for completion, and tend to reappear, positioned on a spiralling dialectical movement. With their different inflections and emphases on the ‘national’ and the ‘social’, they are variations and ‘moments’ of what we may regard — using the terminology of Antonio Gramsci — as the ‘national popular’.

Oxford speech cancellation fiasco has not caused embarassment to country

An Interview with Sajin Vaas Gunawardena by Chandani Kirinde

Galle district MP Sajin Vaas Gunawardena who is also a coordinating secretary to President Mahinda Rajapaksa was appointed as “Monitoring MP” to the Ministry of External Affairs last week. In an interview with the Sunday Times at his new office at the Ministry, he spoke of the duties entrusted to him in the sphere of foreign affairs as well as about the Oxford Union fiasco to which his name has been linked. Excerpts:

What are the new duties that have been assigned to you in the Ministry of External Affairs?

New entrants to Parliament have been assigned duties as monitoring members with the aim of giving them new responsibilities in ministries. As part and parcel of that programme, I have been assigned to the Ministry of External Affairs. The role of the monitoring member would be to function as an understudy, assist the respective minister in whatever way possible as well as strengthen the work conducted by the ministry.

It’s the first time such an exercise has been undertaken? Why was such a move made?

There are 161 MPs in the Government so I think it is prudent that all those resources be utilized. There are 60 or 70 who have portfolios but what about the rest? It is best that each MP be given responsibility. The difference here is their task is going to be target-oriented. Despite the fact we are new MPs and only six months into the process, we have an opportunity to learn and perhaps one day go up the line of succession. The President wants to utilize the talents and youthful energy that young MPs have to deliver what the people want.

Why were you picked for foreign affairs?

I have been associated with foreign affairs for a long time. I have been a coordinating secretary to the President for the past six years and I have been handling foreign affairs on behalf of the President’s Office in terms of coordinating and liaising with the foreign office.

What are your targeted goals in this field?

It’s only my second day in office but I can say overall we have a lot to achieve. The attitude the West has towards us has to be tackled among other challenges. In particular one must understand that the LTTE is projecting itself as a democratic movement by floating a transnational government idea abroad.

In that context there is a huge challenge facing Sri Lanka as well as the External Affairs Ministry. If the LTTE is transforming itself, it must be done here and not outside Sri Lanka. It’s obvious that even today its aim is still Eelam. There is also the challenge in terms of enhancing relations with the west and making the west see the danger in this whole scenario where terrorism is being propagated in a different form and getting stronger. This is something in the west and in particular Britain.

You speak of enhancing relations with the west and the need to convince them about the new face of the LTTE, but hasn’t this government’s attitude towards the west been antagonistic?

We have definitely taken into consideration everything that the west has told us but when attempts are made to infringe on our sovereignty, we obviously have to protect our country. Our country comes first. Our people come first. We are only saying respect us as a country. We welcome anyone to come to Sri Lanka and visit the north and see the development taking place after 30 years of war. The priority of the people is to get back to their normal lives, to build a home and have food on the table. If there is evidence of crimes being committed, then the legal course of action must take over.

Isn’t there a difference between the government’s words and actions when it comes to inviting people to visit the country?

Our words of welcome may not to be acceptable to everyone because they want to come on their terms. But we are not willing to succumb to that. Why are we being penalized to a certain extent? Is it because we eradicated terrorism? If there are allegations of war crimes bring it to us. We have appointed the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) which is an independent body. Members of the commission are going around the country and it has given an interim report on which the government has acted.

The government seems to have a particularly sticky relationship with Britain. Your comments?

I would not say a particularly sticky relationship. The Oxford Union fiasco must be viewed independent of the British government. The British Foreign office had no involvement in it. They looked after us and gave us adequate security. The President met 25 members of the House of Commons, Dr.Liam Fox (Defence Secretary) and also the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons. We made a request through our High Commission to the all party committee in the House of Commons on Tamils to meet with us but they refused.

Is the India-China centric foreign policy of the Sri Lanka Government driving the west away?

The issue is that the west by and large has a list of items they want us to comply with. First they came up with the GSP, saying you do this and then we will continue the GSP. Then it’s something else. The goal post keeps changing every month, so are we to pander to that? Our primary concern is what is good for our people. India and China are helping us commercially.

Bi-lateral relationships are one thing and commercial relations another. If we don’t go to where we get what we want, for the sake of our people and country, where do they expect us to go to? Will all these western countries together give us the money we need? Their (western nations) economies are also in the doldrums and they are trying to dictate terms to us .Today, Sri Lanka is not a small entity. We have grown to be a strong nation. We want relationships on equal footing.

Your name has figured prominently as one who advised the President to undertake the visit to address the Oxford Union. Your comments?

When the President addressed the Oxford Union the first time, we faced the same threats. Even when he was delivering the speech, there were large scale protests taking place and helicopters were deployed for surveillance. Then came the second round invitation, from Dilan Fernando, president of the Sri Lanka Oxford Union.

But of course the main invitation came from Oxford Union President James Kingston. It was the first time a head of state was addressing the Union for a second time. There was particular emphasis on Sri Lanka because of the end of the war. The victory in eradicating terrorism is a huge achievement not only for Sri Lanka but also globally. They wanted to hear the other side of the story but the whole world missed out on the President’s speech in which he was going to introduce what the devolution package was going to be based on.

We thought this was a good forum which is why we accepted the invitation.

We are not fools. We knew that a certain buildup was taking place and that the Diaspora was gathering. Then they simultaneously also brought up war crimes allegations. If the President decided not to go we would have faced more allegations--that he has committed war crimes and was scared of going abroad. Sri Lanka is a sovereign nation and the president is an executive president, the head of a sovereign nation. He is not Sajin Vaas Gunawardena or anyone else.

So we took the decision and we went. We had other meetings also planned regarding strengthening of our relationships. Then after that we found that the President of the Oxford Union had unilaterally decided not to proceed with the speech due to huge protests that were expected. We can’t take a foot backwards just because the LTTE exerts pressure.

Sri Lanka will never take a foot back. We will do our best to educate these countries that they are dealing with fire. The LTTE is very powerful there. It has control over constituencies; balance of votes and over some individual members of the House of Commons. The prevailing danger signs are more pertinent to Britain than Sri Lanka. We will ensure that terrorism never raises its head again in this country.

Was the President advised by the Sri Lanka High Commission in London not to travel there?

That is factually incorrect. What was sent was a note explaining to us the prevailing situation which was general knowledge. It was not something we woke up to find out after reading the note. Having taken into consideration those reports that were sent about the general condition we took a decision that we have to go and face the situation.

You keep saying “we’. Who is “we”?

As a government we made the decision.

You did not play a big role as an individual in the whole thing?

I don’t have a big say in anything. I basically fulfil the task I am entrusted with. I am not a deciding factor but if someone wants to put the blame on me, on behalf of my government and my President, I will take it. There is no problem in that but from our perspective nothing went wrong. We actually gained. We proved one point to the world that the LTTE is a force to be reckoned with even politically and needs to be diffused now before it becomes a threat in the future.

You didn’t think it was an embarrassment to the country?

What was the embarrassment? From my point of view absolutely no embarrassment was caused to the country. The President didn’t proceed with the speech due to security concerns. That is one aspect but we attended to our full programme. It is not an embarrassment to the country but an eye opener for everyone that the LTTE threat still looms. Perhaps it is an embarrassment to the likes of (UNP MPs) Jayalth Jayewardene and Karu Jayasuriya who wanted to get the President arrested in Britain.

Will your new appointment inpinge on the work of the Minister and deputy Minister of External Affairs?

Absolutely not. The minister has carved out certain areas of work for the deputy Minister and me and we work as a team. Issues will only arise if we don t work as a team. There is a vast area we have to handle .I report to the minister of External Affairs. He is a learned person and one of the best foreign affairs ministers we have had.

What additional perks will you get with this appointment along with what you get as an MP?

I continue to be an MP and the coordinating secretary to the president and now this additional post. I only take the salary of an MP.I don’t even a use a government vehicle except the security vehicles assigned to me.

The performances of our missions abroad have come in for severe criticism. Even a Cabinet minister recently castigated them for leading a cushy life abroad and not doing their duty by the country?

There is an element of truth in that. I don’t want to go into details. We have to change the archaic way of doing diplomacy as the field has changed drastically over the years. What was good 20 years ago does not hold good today, because the forces against us have also advanced especially with technology at hand. We have to upgrade our missions and have more interactions with them. ~ courtesy: The Sunday Times ~

December 17, 2010

Princey Mangalika: "My neighbours burned my house because they thought I had HIV"

by PlusNews
Global HIV/AIDS news and analysis

GOTHATUWA, 16 December 2010 (PlusNews) - There are few positive stories of people living with HIV out of Sri Lanka, but Princey Mangalika's is an exception.

Since learning she was HIV positive in 2001, she has made overcoming stigma associated with HIV a personal crusade, heading the Positive Women Network, one of a handful of NGOs working to support an estimated 3,000 people living with HIV in the country.

TC1217PN.jpg

Princey Mangalika has come a long way since 2001 ~ pic by David Swanson/IRIN

"Before my husband died of AIDS in July 2001, I had never heard of AIDS, much less HIV. Even the word stigma meant nothing to me. My husband had been working in Germany for six years and I knew little of such things. After all, I was a stay-at-home mother with two young girls.

"That all changed, however, when he became ill and the doctors began asking me lots of questions - difficult questions to which I simply didn't have the answers.

"They insisted I be tested as well, but I declined and returned to our village to care for my husband.

"But upon my return, I soon realized everything had changed. Once my neighbours learned of my husband's condition, they demanded that we leave. They told us we were all 'infected'; a risk to their families.

"Even the local shop refused to sell things to us, while others demanded that we take our children out of school, lest their own children became infected.

"Fearful of what might happen next, my husband sent me and my two daughters to my family's village.

"However, shortly after my departure my husband fell into a deep depression; he was found four days later outside a Buddhist temple after taking a lethal dose of poison.

"The doctors were unable to save him and when I tried to bury him in my husband's village, again my neighbours refused, forcing me to bury him in Colombo instead - with strict instructions by doctors that the grave be at least 9ft [2.7m] deep.

"After I returned to our village, I had hoped that things might improve, but instead I faced hostility. Again, people I had known for years looked and behaved differently towards me. They were afraid. I could see it in their eyes, but I didn't understand why. For days on end, they would shout at me or place death threats under our door - demanding that we leave. They even threw stones at me, but still I refused.

"Then one night I awoke screaming and realized that the house had been set ablaze. My neighbours burned my house because they thought I had HIV.

"Shortly afterwards I was tested and learned the truth."

PlusNews is an online news and analysis service on HIV and AIDS. Part of the United Nations award-winning Integrated Regional Information Networks IRIN. PlusNews aims to promote dialogue and foster knowledge, awareness and advocacy among decision-makers, the media and those affected by the epidemic

The language controversy over Sri Lankan National Anthem

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

A National Anthem is a song of patriotic sentiment affirming loyalty to one’s country or nation adopted officially by that Country or Nation. An anthem becomes a national anthem through Constitutional provision, specific legislation or long – standing tradition.

Stylistically the majority of anthems are marches or hymns.They are usually written or composed in the most common language in the Country.There are however some notable exceptions to this rule particularly in multi-ethnic nations.

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Ananda Samarakoon

In Sri Lanka then known as Ceylon , the song “Namo Namo Matha” written by the artist-poet Ananda Samarakoon was formally adopted as the national anthem in 1951. It was slightly amended and changed to “Sri Lanka Matha” in 1961 without the consent of Samarakoon. [click here to read in full, on ~ dbsjeyaraj.com]

'Social movements must compete for attention, conflict in Sri Lanka is no different'

Canada silent on Sri Lankan war crimes

by Amarnath Amarasingam

Why do some conflicts attract more attention than others? Why, for example, did throngs of celebrities hold rallies and concerts to shed light on the atrocities occurring in Darfur, while dozens of other conflicts and human rights violations are ignored by the international community?

The Tibetan fight against Chinese domination is, for example, a cause célèbre around the world. Northwest of Tibet, the Uighurs, numbering around 7 million people, have been waging a similar struggle against the Chinese government for centuries.

In the keynote address for the Oslo Freedom Forum 2010, Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer reveals the plight of her people

However, as Clifford Bob writes in his award-winning book Marketing Rebellion, “No Hollywood stars or corporate moguls write fat checks for the Uighurs. No Uighur leader has visited with a U.S. president or won the Nobel Peace Prize.” In stark contrast to the Tibetans, many do not even know they exist.

The Uighurs, Bob argues, have essentially failed a marketing contest, a game which only a handful of social movements have learned to play well. While I am not equating the Uighur cause with that of the Tamils, both communities have spent years attempting to gain international legitimacy.

Scholars like Bob have argued that social movements must market their struggle if they are to gain the support and backing of non-governmental organizations, as well as the compassion of people around the world. Individuals lead busy lives, and read about many social ills throughout the course of their day, so social movements must compete for their attention just as they compete for all other resources. The conflict in Sri Lanka is no different.

In early 2009, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. President Barack Obama, and U.K. Foreign Secretary David Miliband all called for an end to hostilities in Sri Lanka, noting that civilian lives were being “lost on a large scale.” Members of the Tamil diaspora around the world also took to the streets to shed light on the conflict, but the international community remained largely silent. As if recognizing the need for the marketing of conflicts in today’s geopolitical landscape, Miliband stated that civilians in Sri Lanka are the victims of “what at the moment is a war without witness.”

While many human rights organizations sounded the alarm about war crimes committed by both the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan government during the final push of the war, new evidence is coming to light. Though there may never be a full record of the abuses carried out by the Sri Lankan government or the Tamil Tigers against civilian populations in Sri Lanka, a particularly disturbing video of what appears to be Sri Lankan soldiers indiscriminately shooting Tamils was broadcast by Britain’s Channel 4 News on Nov. 30.

This video is not new. A few months after the end of the long and bloody Sri Lankan civil war in May 2009, Channel 4 News broadcast footage “apparently showing government troops summarily executing Tamils.” The Sri Lankan government swiftly declared the video to be a fake, but a United Nations investigation later concluded that it “appeared authentic.” Now, a year and a half later, another video is available. The new video shows the same incident, according to Channel 4 News, “but rather than stopping after the execution of a second bound man, it continues and the camera pans left to reveal the naked and dead bodies of at least seven women” and several other blindfolded individuals.

About three minutes into the disturbing video, the camera fixes on the body of a deceased, unidentified woman. She is blindfolded, her hands appear bound behind her back, her breasts are draped with a white cloth, and her underwear has been pulled down to her thighs. The camera stays on her for close to a minute, during which a soldier walks by and removes the cloth covering her breasts. The soldiers are heard laughing, while the camera remains on her nude body. One soldier can be heard saying, “She has fallen in a nice way. It looks new. Looks like no one has even touched her thighs.” As Channel 4 news pointed out, many of the comments heard in the background suggest that these women were sexually abused before being shot.

Deeming Sri Lanka execution video authentic, UN expert calls for war crimes probe ~ Jan 2010

With the broadcasting of what has come to be called the “Channel 4 video,” the international community has renewed its call for an independent investigation into war crimes in Sri Lanka. Human Rights Watch recently repeated its call “for the United Nations to undertake a full investigation into wartime abuses by both government forces and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.”

War crimes lawyer Julian Knowles told Channel 4 News that the newly broadcast video “is clear evidence of the execution of unarmed combatants or civilians.” According to Knowles, “It doesn’t matter which they are, they’re both prohibited under the Geneva Convention and they are both ranked as what we call a grave breach of the Geneva Convention so they are crimes in international law.”

Canada, on the other hand, has remained woefully silent on the issue of war crimes in Sri Lanka. The revelation of the Channel 4 video as well as any subsequent evidence deserves international attention. Canada should join the international community in calling for an independent investigation into war crimes and reaffirm its commitment to human rights.

Amarnath Amarasingam is a doctoral candidate at Wilfrid Laurier University, and is currently completing his dissertation titled, “Pain, Pride, and Politics: Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism in Canada ~ He can be reached at: amar2556@wlu.ca ~ This article first appeared in The Toronto Star of Jan 17, 2010

'The reality may be that there is little the United States can do to influence Sri Lanka'

By Maria McFarland
Deputy Washington director for Human Rights Watch

With great pomp and amid massive government-sponsored celebrations, President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka just started his second term. In the coming months, he and his many relatives in senior government posts will no doubt trumpet Rajapaksa's re-election as proof of his popular appeal and democratic credentials.

But while Rajapaksa may enjoy the support of the country’s large Sinhalese majority, he is leading his country in anything but a democratic, rights-respecting direction.

Rajapaksa’s domestic popularity is largely based on what he presents as his success in ending Sri Lanka’s long-running internal war. What he repeatedly denies is the brutal manner in which Sri Lanka’s military, in mid-2009, brutally crushed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) insurgency, with attacks on hospitals, shelling of civilian areas, and extrajudicial killings. The United Nations has estimated that thousands of civilians were killed.

Outside the country, Rajapaksa is much less popular. Recently, while Rajapaksa was visiting the United Kingdom, lawyers sought warrants for his arrest for alleged war crimes. In a cable made available on WikiLeaks, the U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka, Patricia Butenis, notes that the lack of progress on investigations of war crimes within Sri Lanka is connected to “the fact that responsibility for many alleged crimes rests with the country's senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa.”

Yet foreign donors, for the most part, feel there is little they can do to influence Sri Lanka, either to promote accountability or to stop its slide into increasingly autocratic government.

Rajapaksa is rapidly concentrating power, eliminating any meaningful opposition to his rule, and wiping out checks on his government.

Shortly after Rajapaksa's re-election in February, authorities arrested the main opposition candidate, the former army chief Sarath Fonseka, on charges of engaging in politics while in active military service. He is now serving a three-year prison sentence.

In September, Rajapaksa quickly pushed through a constitutional amendment that eliminated presidential term limits. It also wiped out limits on his ability to appoint members of the judiciary, police, election commission and national human rights commission, among other institutions, stripping them of any semblance of independence. The ease with which he got the amendments through has raised fears in some circles that further constitutional changes might be in the works — including centralizing power that is now granted to provincial governments.

Rajapaksa’s three brothers (the secretary of defense, economic development minister and speaker of parliament) and other family members have assumed direct control over the country’s most powerful institutions. A survey by one of the few remaining independent Sri Lankan newspapers in May counted 94 government departments under the direct control of the Rajapaksa brothers.

Rajapaksa has vastly expanded the authority of the Defense Ministry, placing it in charge of, among other activities, regulation and oversight of NGOs. Most groups I interviewed during a recent visit, particularly those that are critical of the government, believe they are under constant surveillance, making communication with them difficult.

It is particularly hard to communicate with organizations and people in the northern part of the country, where most of the worst abuses occurred during the war. The military keeps tight control there, and international media and monitors need Defense Ministry permission to visit. Even with such permission, it would be extremely difficult to speak freely with the local Tamil population, the minority to which the secessionist LTTE belonged. Foreign journalists who have been to the north report having been openly followed by members of military intelligence.

Little independent media remains: most independent journalists fled the country due to threats and the assassinations and disappearances of colleagues during the war. They have yet to return.

These difficulties are compounded, many groups say, by the dwindling funding for civil and political rights work in the country. With the end of the war, and facing economic difficulties at home, foreign donors have slashed their overall assistance. Unfortunately, those cuts included funding for several of the country's leading civil society organizations.

The United States Agency for International Development, for example, is focusing much of its limited assistance on funding development projects in the eastern part of the country, as well as some police training and governance programs. While some of these programs may be important, what is urgently needed now, when independent voices are so few and under so much pressure, is international assistance to press for freedom of expression, and projects to promote independent media.

Butenis’ cable is consistent with the frustration U.S. officials often express over what they view as their lack of influence in Sri Lanka. Indeed, in the final months of the war, the Rajapaksa government thumbed its nose at governments that called on it to stop military abuses. It relied on its friendship with China and the quiet acquiescence of India for cover. And the government has aggressively resisted international inquiries into alleged war crimes.

In fact, beyond maintaining pressure for such an international inquiry, there may not be much the United States can do now directly to influence the Rajapaksa government's policies and decisions. But what it can do is invest for the long term, by protecting and assisting those few who remain in Sri Lanka who are struggling to report the truth about what is happening, and has happened, in that country. ~ courtesy: The Global Post ~

December 16, 2010

UK Defence secretary Liam Fox postpones Sri Lanka trip to the new year

Liam Fox cancels Sri Lanka trip amid claim in cables of Colombo's war crimes complicity

by Nicholas Watt, Mark Tran and Jason Burke in Delhi
Guardian UK

Liam Fox, the defence secretary, was tonight forced to abandon a private visit to Sri Lanka this weekend after a row with William Hague, who feared that he would upset Britain's carefully balanced approach to Colombo.

Fox announced his change of heart as US embassy cables leaked tonight provided fresh allegations of the Sri Lankan government's complicity with paramilitary groups in last year's offensive against the Tamil Tigers.

Labour accused the government of adopting a "chaotic" approach to diplomacy when Fox announced that he would instead make an official visit to the country in the new year.

Fox's decision came after talks with Hague, the foreign secretary, and a warning by the British Tamils Forum that his trip would send mixed messages to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is facing strong international pressure for an investigation into allegations that Sri Lanka forces committed war crimes.

The Ministry of Defence blamed the delay on the need for Fox to extend a visit to the Gulf. A spokesman for the defence secretary said: "Dr Fox has postponed his private visit to Sri Lanka due to an extension to his scheduled official visit to the Gulf. He intends to carry out an official visit to Sri Lanka next year, during which he proposes to fulfil the speaking engagement that he had planned."

The move by Fox came as the latest batch of US embassy cables to be published by WikiLeaks show that:

• US officials expressed concerns that the Sri Lankan government was complicit with paramilitary groups. One cable, sent in May 2007 by the then US ambassador, Robert Blake, details abductions, extortion, forced prostitution and conscription of child soldiers.

• Five Sri Lankan doctors were coerced by the Sri Lankan government to recant on casualty figures they gave to journalists in the last months of the civil war.

• The Tamil Tigers (LTTE) were guilty of human rights abuses and demanded a cut of international NGOs' spending in the areas they controlled.

• The US ambassador to Colombo, Patricia Butenis, said on 15 January that one of the reasons there was such little progress towards a genuine Sri Lankan inquiry into the killings was that President Rajapaksa, and the former army commander, Sarath Fonseka, were largely responsible. "There are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power," Butenis noted.

It is understood that Fox, who held a private meeting with the president in London two weeks ago, abandoned his private visit after intense pressure from Hague. Foreign Office sources said that Fox's private visit could have jeopardised Britain's nuanced approach to Sri Lanka, in which ministers put pressure on Colombo to agree to an investigation into last year's offensive against the Tamil Tigers while acknowledging the Tigers were responsible for terrorism.

One Whitehall source said: "William has said to Liam: 'This is the Foreign Office line, Liam.' In brackets William will have said: 'You have needed my support in the past.'"

Fox still plans to deliver the Lakshman Kadirgamar memorial lecture after being invited by the widow of the late foreign minister who was murdered by a Tamil Tiger sniper in 2005. But he will do this as part of his official visit next year.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow foreign secretary, said: "Chaotic diplomacy like this does no good for the government's standing on such a significant issue. It also raises serious questions about the defence secretary's judgment.

"What on earth has he been doing holding 'private' meetings with the Sri Lankan president while refusing to say if he has pressed for the war crimes investigation we need or supported the foreign secretary's position? William Hague must be spitting mad."

President Rajapaksa, who won a second term in January following the military victory over the separatists last year, has repeatedly denied any involvement in or knowledge of human rights abuses.

But the latest cables published by WikiLeaks highlight human rights abuses committed by the LTTE, against whom the paramilitaries and the government forces were engaged. Sources told representatives of the US embassy to Sri Lanka that the LTTE regularly demanded a cut of international NGOs' spending in the areas they controlled. Other sources described a harsh regime of compulsory conscription into fighting forces. "If they fail to report, they are taken forcibly, often at night," one said. Cables from early this year referred to "progress" by the Government of Sri Lanka on a range of human rights issues in recent months.

"There has been a dramatic improvement in the treatment of IDPs and their living conditions … [and] numbers of disappearances have experienced a steady and significant decline across the island since the end of the war," one dispatch said.

Another affirmed that "child soldiers affiliated with the [paramilitaries] have been significantly reduced over the past year, with just five reportedly remaining at the end of 2009."

One senior journalist had been released from detention, the cable added, and diplomats were "not aware of any additional physical attacks on journalists since June [2009]".

There was even some tentative steps" on "accountability" for human rights abuses during the civil war, Washington was told.

"Accountability for alleged crimes committed by [government of Sri lanka] troops and officials during the war is the most difficult issue on our bilateral agenda, and the one we believe has the lowest prospect for forward movement," a cable sent in late January said. "In Sri Lanka this is further complicated by the fact that responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country's senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers and opposition candidate [and former military commander] General Fonseka." ~ courtesy: Guardian, UK ~

Sri Lanka's Ambassador in Cuba gets Venezuelan plaudits for Palestinian solidarity

The Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Cuba, Tamara Kunanayakam, participated on Saturday, 11th December, in A Day of Voluntary Work to commemorate the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people, by joining in the renovation of the Kindergarten Amiguitos de Palestina (Little friends of Palestine) in the Havana suburb of Alamar.

In an effort, characterised by an extraordinary spirit of teamwork and unity for a common cause, the Ambassador of Venezuela, Ronald Blanco La Cruz, the Ambassador of Ecuador, Edgar Poncé, the Ambassador of the State of Palestine, Akram Mohammad Rashid Samhan, and Sri Lanka’s Ambassador Tamara Kunanayakam, were joined by more than a hundred diplomats and students from Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Palestine.

“There is urgent need for a new kind of diplomacy based on principles of solidarity, cooperation, reciprocity and respect, in which words must be translated into concrete action and exemplary behaviour,” declared Ambassador Kunanayakam. “The global crisis is not solely an economic and financial one. We are facing a profound crisis in human values and have much to learn from the innovative and solidary project that diplomats of member States of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) are engaged in. Diplomats must set the example! Rhetoric must be replaced by concrete action and sincerity if lasting ties of friendship and solidarity are to be secured for the mutual benefit and progress of our peoples.”

Sri Lanka, with its own history of commitment and practice to voluntary work, Shramadana, fully identifies with these noble principles. In Cuba , Ernesto Che Guevara was the first to launch the principle of voluntary work, which continues to inspire this generous and altruistic action, without expecting anything in return, in a country that has faced, and continues to face, an unjust blockade for over 50 years.

In his address to the 65th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in September this year, Sri Lanka ’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa unequivocally expressed his solidarity with Cuba and Palestine.

This is not the first time that Ambassador Kunanayakam has participated in the ALBA initiative to contribute, through voluntary work, toward the renovation of primary and secondary schools in the Cuban capital. In October, she participated in the renovation of an Elementary School and in November in the renovation of a school for handicapped children, dedicated to Argentina , on which occasion she collaborated with the Ambassador of Argentina to Cuba , Juliana Isabel Marino.

In a letter of friendship addressed to Ambassador Kunanayakam, Venezuela ’s Ambassador Ronald Blanco expressed his gratitude to his “Esteemed Compatriot” and her team: “when the result from that effort is the restoration of a space for the highest prized of the human race, as are children and youth, then the happiness of the duty accomplished multiplies and dearly comforts us.”

To further reinforce the bonds of friendship between Sri Lanka, Cuba, Argentina, and ALBA member States,* Ambassador Kunanayakam announced a day of voluntary work in February next year to be dedicated to renovating a facility in Havana to accommodate the first pharmacy for natural medicine, to be provided free of charge, to children in the final stages of cancer for which allopathy has no response. The initiative is part of the Embassy programme to promote traditional medicine, particularly Ayurveda, in Cuba and the region.

* Member Status: Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Dominica, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, d'Antigua & Barbuda. Honduras was withdrawn from ALBA following the 2009 coup d’état. Observer States: Iran , Russia , Uruguay , Haiti , Surinam , & Guyana)

Embassy of Sri Lanka
Havana, Cuba

December 15, 2010

Food security in northern Sri Lanka remains fragile

by IRIN News

COLOMBO, 15 December 2010 (IRIN) - Food security in northern Sri Lanka remains fragile, according to preliminary findings by the World Food Programme (WFP). Of 1,755 households surveyed in five districts - including Mullaitivu, Vavuniya, Jaffna, Killinochi and Mannar - the majority spend more than 65 percent of their income on food.

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Food security for returnees will be a key challenge for 2011 ~ pic: WFP-Sri Lanka

Although dietary intake of returnees was remarkably good, maintaining that over time will prove difficult given low income levels, a slower-than-expected livelihood recovery and widespread asset and livestock depletion, the agency said.

The emergency food security and nutrition study was conducted from 7 October to 5 November by WFP with the Medical Research Institute and UN Children's Fund (UNICEF). A similar study was undertaken in March 2010.

More than 300,000 conflict-displaced have resettled in the north following the defeat in May 2009 of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who had been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland for almost 30 years.

UK Foreign secretary William Hague is "annoyed" about Defence secretary Liam Fox's trip to Sri Lanka

News Update on BBC: Defence Secretary Liam Fox postpones Sri Lanka trip

by Owen Bowcott and Nicholas Watt
Guardian.co.uk

Liam Fox, the defence secretary, is planning to defy the Foreign Office by making a personal visit to Sri Lanka this weekend to deliver a speech in honour of a former foreign minister.

The Foreign Office is debating whether to appeal to Downing Street to prevent Fox from visiting Sri Lanka, whose government is facing allegations of war crimes during its final assault on the Tamil Tigers last year.

The row erupted after Fox, who has personal links to Sri Lanka from his time as a Foreign Office minister in the 1990s and who has visited the country twice in the last 13 months, accepted an invitation to deliver the Lakshman Kadirgamar memorial lecture. The invitation was issued by the widow of the late foreign minister, who was murdered by a Tamil Tiger sniper in 2005.

Whitehall sources said that William Hague, the foreign secretary, is annoyed by Fox's decision. One Whitehall source said: "It is dreadful. William is appalled. It will take No 10 to haul him in." Britain wants to maintain pressure on Colombo in light of questions about its assault on the Tamil Tigers.

A spokesman for Fox said last night that none of the cost of the trip to Colombo would be paid for by the Sri Lankan government. "He will be paying for the hotel himself and he will be paying for the flight. The speech is about international security. It's nothing to do with anything that's going on in Sri Lanka."

Fox is understood to have discussed the trip with the Foreign Office. Hague is aware of the visit.

Two weeks ago, Fox held a private meeting with the Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, during an abortive visit to Britain. Rajapaksa flew out promptly after the Oxford Union cancelled his speech because of a threat of mass protests while Tamil campaigners attempted to obtain a war crimes arrest warrant against members of his entourage.

Human rights groups claim that 40,000 civilians were killed in the final stage of the war that eradicated the forces of the separatist Tamil Tigers in 2009. The Sri Lankan government has refused to allow any independent, international investigation of the alleged massacres and has instead established its own "lessons learnt and reconciliation commission".

Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group, and Amnesty International have all declined to testify before it because the commission cannot assign accountability for war crimes.

On the day that Tamil campaigners applied for an arrest warrant, pro-government demonstrators besieged the UK embassy in Colombo in protest at the cancellation of Rajapaksa's speech.

According to Sri Lankan papers, Fox is scheduled to deliver the lecture on 18 December. The Ministry of Defence confirmed that he is due to fly out to Colombo.

The Labour MP Jim Murphy, who tabled five questions about Fox's trip in parliament last night, said: "Sri Lanka is a nation with a troubled recent history. Britain can have an important role there but Liam Fox has to be clear exactly what he is trying to achieve with this visit."

Pressure on Fox increased this week when the shadow foreign secretary, Yvette Cooper, said in the Commons: "[Hague] will know [Fox] will be meeting the Sri Lankan government … next week. Will he then take the message as a member of the UK government … about the importance of a credible investigation into alleged war crimes, and will he also press for an international element to the investigation?"

According to the latest register of members' interests, Fox has declared that he has been paid for two recent flights and stays to Sri Lanka.

The first was for a trip between 14 and 19 November 2009, recorded to have been worth £3,000. The donor was recorded as the Sri Lanka Development Trust, with an address in Edinburgh.

The purpose of the visit was said to be "to attend the Sri Lanka Freedom Party national convention and for meetings with the president of Sri Lanka and the foreign minister". ~ courtesy: Guardian.UK ~

British Parliament spotlight on Sri Lanka again

Sri Lanka (Red Cross Operations)

14 Dec 2010 : Column 795
House of Commons

Tuesday 14 December 2010
The House met at half-past Two o'clock

PRAYERS

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions
FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH OFFICE

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7. Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab):

What recent reports he has received on the decision by the Sri Lankan authorities to end the operations of the International Committee of the Red Cross in the north of that country. [30265]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt):

The Government are aware that the Sri Lankan Government have asked the International Committee of the Red Cross to close two centres in the north of the country. We are also aware that the ICRC has, after a review, already closed down its own operations in Mannar.

Siobhain McDonagh: The removal of the Red Cross from the predominantly Tamil area shows contempt for a renowned international non-governmental organisation and will seriously inhibit much needed aid and assistance. In light of the comments made by the new cardinal of Colombo-that there is a dangerous trend of ethnic Sinhalese moving into Tamil areas-does the Minister agree with me that the real reason for removing the Red
Cross was to allow for Government-supported demographic change to go unchecked by
independent monitors?

Alistair Burt: I am not sure whether I can speak for the Government of Sri Lanka in explaining how they made their decision, but it is certainly true that the international community listens extremely carefully to the voice of the ICRC as an independent monitoring body, and its unavailability will therefore have to be compensated for elsewhere. The Government have consistently pressed Sri Lanka to live up to its offer of post-conflict reconciliation, but moves such as restricting access to detainees and any restriction of the work of significant non-governmental organisations will make that process rather harder.

Mr Lee Scott (Ilford North) (Con): One of the valuable tasks performed by the ICRC has been investigating the disappearance of young children throughout the Tamil community and trying to repatriate them with any relatives who are still alive. Will my hon. Friend look into the possibility of pressing for that valuable work to be allowed to continue?

Alistair Burt: I will ask our posts in Sri Lanka to consider it carefully. The fact that more people need to return to the areas from which they were removed is another measure of the steps that are necessary in the post-conflict resolution, and although we have seen a great deal of progress over the years, more needs to be done.

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab): As the Minister will know, recent additional footage from Channel 4 has shown Sri Lankan forces executing civilians at the end of the conflict. He described the ICRC as an independent international monitor, but, as he will also know, there is serious concern about the continued lack of independent and transparent investigation of alleged war crimes in the country. Have
Ministers urged the Sri Lankan Government to support a properly independent inquiry with international involvement, and did the Secretary of State for Defence also raise those points in his meeting with the Sri Lankan President earlier this month?

Alistair Burt: Our Government have made very clear to the Government of Sri Lanka that any process involving the examination of war crimes or other issues must be credible and must have an independent element. We suggested recently that those appointed to a United Nations panel should be the interlocutors with whom it would be wise for the Sri Lankans to be involved in an effort to influence the international community. They have the first responsibility in dealing with the inquiry, but if there is to be credibility in the international community it is essential for there to be an international element, and for the issues that have been raised recently to be looked
into extremely carefully.

Yvette Cooper: I welcome and agree with what the Minister has said, but I urge him to go further in pressing the Sri Lankan Government to accept international involvement in order to increase the credibility of the report.

The Minister did not answer my question about whether the Defence Secretary had also raised the issue, and I must press him for clarity. The Sri Lankan Ministry of External Affairs has said that the President and the Defence Secretary had

"discussed areas of assistance to Sri Lanka", and that "There was agreem "There was agreement that the friendship between Sri Lanka and the UK should be strengthened".

Will the Minister tell the House what status that agreement has, and whether all Ministers are taking every opportunity to press for a credible investigation of war crimes?

Alistair Burt: The interest taken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in Sri Lanka dates back to his time as a junior Foreign Office Minister in 1996, when he helped to broker a ceasefire in the conflict that was taking place then. He has retained that interest, and it is very helpful to the Government as a whole to have an interlocutor with such long-standing relationships.

The United Kingdom Government are united in respect of the issues that we raise with Sri Lanka. That process involves helping the Sri Lankan Government to understand what the international community requires, in monitoring what is currently happening, in access of NGOs to detainees, in further reconciliation following the conflict, and in providing opportunity for independent experts to be involved in the inquiry. The Defence Secretary fully understands and appreciates that united position.

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): Given the strong all-party interest in the House in human rights in Sri Lanka, will the Minister reassure us that conversations are continuing with the Commonwealth and its secretary-general to ensure that they do not step back from their active interest in human rights issues generally and Sri Lanka in particular?

Alistair Burt: I am sure that is the case, and may I say in passing that we welcome the recent visit of a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association group to Sri Lanka? I have already met representatives who were on that trip. The visit shows the Commonwealth's strong interest in Sri Lanka's continuing development post-conflict. I was greatly appreciative of the efforts made by Members of this House in going on that trip and reporting back, and I am sure that they will report back to the House more fully at a later stage.

picture: Houses of Parliament from Westminster Bridge ~ by UK Parliament

"Under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, one is presumed guilty until proven innocent"

Legal limbo Tamils beg for mercy or trial

By Swaminathan Natarajan
BBC Tamil

Hundreds of Tamils detained for years on charges of helping the Tamil Tigers have asked Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to show mercy or grant them a trial.

The detainees were arrested under prevention of terrorism legislation introduced as a temporary law in 1979 and made permanent two years later.

Under the act, suspects can be held for up to 18 months without charge or trial.

SNBBC1215.jpg

"Why the need for political prisoners if there's no terrorism?" asks the placard

But some detainees have spent more than 10 years in jail, with cases still pending in courts.

Human rights activists say more than 650 Tamils, including about 50 women, are suspended in legal limbo in Sri Lankan jails.

A few of the detainees, whom the BBC interviewed by phone, said they want the president to look into their plight.

"The Sri Lankan government has so far released more than 5,000 LTTE [Tamil Tiger] cadres who had surrendered to the army during the final phase of the war. We are begging the president to show us the same leniency," said one inmate.

He said he was arrested on suspicion of aiding the LTTE from the eastern town of Batticaloa in 1997.

Tamils held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act are detained in separate jail cells.

Another man, who said he has been in prison since 1999 accused of involvement in a bomb blast, says there has been little progress in his case.

"After my arrest the police tortured me and forced me to sign many papers," he claimed.

"I have been going to court for the past nine years. The only evidence the prosecution has is my confession paper."

No family visits

He said his family is too scared to visit him for the fear of being noted by security agencies.

Government officials deny torture has been used during interrogation.

Most of these detainees were arrested on suspicion of having gathered intelligence for the LTTE or providing logistics for its covert operations.

But activists say the Prevention of Terrorism Act has been widely misused.

Periyasamy Chandrasekaran, a well-known Tamil labour leader from the tea-growing region of central Sri Lanka, was detained under the act for a brief period.

After his release he went on to become an MP and a cabinet minister.

But many others ended up spending long years in prison.

Last month, a Tamil man, Satyavel Thilangeswaran, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for his role in the attempted assassination in 1999 of former president Chandrika Kumaratunga.

Twenty-eight people died in the blast; Mrs Kumaratunga survived, but was blinded in one eye.

Recently, Thilangeswaran, 30, who has always denied the attack, pleaded guilty to the charges, hoping it would lead to his release.

"I was advised by my lawyer that if I plead guilty I will be given a maximum of 15-year imprisonment," he told the BBC.

"Since I have already spent 10 years in prison, I accepted his advice. But the court has given 30 years."

Speaking to BBC through an intermediary, Thilangeswaran said he regretted his decision.

'Presumed guilty'

He still maintains he is innocent and hopes to get justice in the appeal court.

Colombo-based human rights activist Mekala Shanmugam said there is no need for this draconian law now the civil war is over.

"Some of these prisoners might have helped the LTTE. But now the war has ended. A former LTTE commander [Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan] is now a minister," she said.

"The government has given general amnesty to thousands of former cadres. Government should release these prisoners or speed up their trial."

Political analyst DBS Jayaraj blames the nature of the anti-terror law for their long wait for justice.

"The basis of law is that one is presumed innocent until or otherwise proven guilty," he said. "But under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, one is presumed guilty until proven innocent.

"This leads to distortion of justice. It seems their cases have fallen through a crack."

Amnesty International, too, has called upon the Sri Lankan government to speed up the trial.

Yolanda Foster, a spokeswoman for the human rights organisation, says not many lawyers are willing to appear for these detainees because they fear repercussions.

The Sri Lankan government admits there is a huge delay, but says it has yet to decide whether to release or charge the detainees.

The new Justice Minister, Rauf Hakeem, recently said he had told the attorney general to review the cases of the Tamil political prisoners.

But for many suspects who have spent anywhere between a third to half of their adult life behind the bars, the wait is unbearable.

"We are routinely taken to courts and brought back to prison," said one inmate. "I feel it is better to die than to suffer like this for years." ~ courtesy: BBC News ~

'Will govt take care of minority Tamil population in North, as much as it does with other Sinhalese populations in the south?'

by Nita Bhalla

NEW DELHI (AlertNet) - Sri Lanka’s 25-year war is over but aid groups on the Indian Ocean island say strict government controls are hampering their ability to help hundreds of thousands of survivors rebuild their lives.

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, more than 70,000 people were killed and over 1 million forced to flee their homes during the civil war between the army and separatist Tamil Tigers rebels.

Asia’s longest-running modern war - which saw the Tigers controlling almost a fifth of the entire country - ended in May 2009 with the government declaring victory. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people are now returning to their war-ravaged homes in the north of the country and shelter, food, clean water and sanitation remain pressing needs.

But strict government rules, including on visas for foreign staff, approvals for aid projects and access to the former war zone, mean the provision of such humanitarian relief is often delayed, say aid professionals.

“There is a definite trend to reduce aid agencies to service providers where the government says where, what, when and how. Therefore, it might be more difficult for NGOs to operate in the future according to humanitarian principles or their mandate,” said one relief worker based in Colombo.

It takes up to five months to obtain a visa for a foreign aid worker, longer than before. If approved, visas are generally valid only for one month and have to be renewed.

Relief workers say they often have to wait for months to have a project in the highly militarised north to be approved by the state, adding that the guidelines change constantly.

Aid workers based in Colombo also need to seek clearance from the defence ministry to access the northern parts of the island, adding that they are not permitted to stay overnight and end up wasting time and donor money in the six-hour drive from Colombo to the north and back again.

“The government and army are doing a good job in terms of the big projects such as building roads and other infrastructure, but people still need the basics. We are here to fill that gap,” said one aid worker. “The authorities need to give us more freedom by easing up our access.”

ACCUSATIONS AND SUSPICION

But the Sri Lankan authorities says strict monitoring is necessary, adding that there is a history of mistrust of aid groups, some of which worked in rebel-controlled east and north areas for years.

Officials accuse some aid workers of failing to adhere to principles of neutrality and becoming “too sympathetic” to the Tigers who were fighting against the majority Sinhalese government for a separate state.

“By and large, the NGOs have been doing a good job but there have been instances when they were found to be doing things which were against Sri Lanka’s sovereignty,” Sugeeswara Senadhira, Minister Counsellor at the Sri Lankan High Commission in New Delhi, told AlertNet.

Senadhira said that during the war some drivers working for international aid agencies were found to be smuggling explosive devices for the rebels, carrying banned items such as batteries, wires and firearms or even transporting rebels - a charge denied by the aid organisations.

The government has also accused relief groups of doing work considered “beyond their mandate” such as human rights – a sensitive topic, with activists saying that both the rebels and the army are guilty of war crimes.

In September last year the government expelled James Elder, a spokesman for U.N. children’s fund UNICEF, saying he was spreading propaganda in favour of the rebels.

In statements to the press, Elder had spoken of the poor conditions in the camps where around 280,000 ethnic Tamils displaced by the war were being held by the government, waiting to be resettled.

He had also spoken of the “unimaginable hell” that children went through in the final months of the conflict, when government troops surrounded the rebels together with hundreds of thousands of civilians on a tiny strip of land. The rebels were accused of using civilians as human shields.

PRIDE AND IMAGE

While some observers attribute the tighter regulations on aid work to government paranoia and see it as an attempt to rid the country of any remnants of sympathy towards the rebels, others say it is also about pride, control and the desire to forget the war and move on.

Last month the authorities asked the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to close down its operations in the former war-zone towns of Jaffna and Vavuniya where it was providing artificial limbs to war victims and helping families visit relatives who were in detention.

Officials said the organisation’s mandate in Sri Lanka had changed since the war ended, but some aid workers say the move was motivated by something else.

“The ICRC is an organisation associated with war and that’s not helpful when the government is trying to promote an image to the world which is aimed at attracting foreign investment as well as to boosting its tourism industry which is a key economic sector,” said one aid worker.

Aid workers fear the tighter controls will continue and predict more agencies will be asked to shut down operations in the coming year, something which most agree should happen eventually.

“I’m not against NGOs scaling down their operations in a country if the work is finished and as long as the needs of the population have been met,” said one aid worker.

“The main question is whether the government will take on those responsibilities in the north and take care of the minority Tamil population, as much as it does with other Sinhalese populations in the south.” ~ courtesy: trust.org (Reuters/Alertnet) ~

December 14, 2010

Have National Anthem in both Sinhala and Tamil languages

By National Peace Council

There are reports that the government has decided that the national anthem would be sung only in Sinhala at all official and state functions although the Constitution of Sri Lanka states that both Sinhala and Tamil are official languages. It is also reported that a government directive to use only the Sinhala version will soon be sent out which will mean that even in the Tamil majority parts of the country, where Sinhala is not commonly spoken, the people will have to sing the anthem in a language they do not understand.

The National Peace Council notes that language can be a potent instrument of unity or disunity within a country. When Sri Lanka was deciding on the replacement of English as the official language in the mid 1950s, Dr Colvin R de Silva said that it was a choice of two languages and one nation or one language and two nations. The language issue made the Sinhalese-Tamil cleavage the most divisive one in Sri Lankan society and the forerunner to the thirty year war. We need to learn from the past. A threat to language or its demotion can become seen as a threat or demotion of the community itself.

Especially in the aftermath of the war, the government needs to consider the issue of co-existence between its ethnic majority and minority communities and to ensure that all feel equal as citizens. In Canada, where there have been tensions between the two largest communities the national anthem is sung in both languages at official functions, usually with a mix of English and French verses. In Switzerland, the national anthem is sung in the four national languages, German, French, Italian and Rumantsch. In South Africa the national anthem is in three languages Xhosa, Afrikaans and English and in New Zealand there are separate English and Maori versions with the Maori version usually sung first.

Last year, President Mahinda Rajapaksa gave honour to the Tamil language and to the Tamil people of Sri Lanka and worldwide when he became the first head of state to address the General Assembly of the United Nations in the Tamil language. The National Peace Council calls on the government to act in this spirit of statesmanship and to honour the constitutional promise of Sinhala and Tamil as official languages and have the national anthem sung in both languages. We also call on parliamentarians to respect the two language policy and work towards ensuring national and social integration.

December 13, 2010

War crimes allegations and the revanchist global psywar against Sri Lanka

By Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

"You never empower the perps, no matter how many aces they’re holding"
Dave Robicheaux in James Lee Burke, ‘The Tin Roof Blowdown’ (2007)

Let’s confront the issue of "war crimes" and all that jazz. In the first place, where is it an issue and among whom? Hardly among the states in our neighbourhood or on the continent to which we belong. Is that because the standards of democracy are lower in Asia than elsewhere? It is true that in Asia, democracy is not always equated with liberalism, and there is sometimes differentiated from it, but that is a legitimate and fairly old debate in political theory and practice.

No, the more understanding attitude that Asia displays towards Sri Lanka is because neighbours know best the reality of what happened, what was at stake, the dangers of dismemberment and the dynamics of external interference and intervention which use ‘rights’ as the entry point. Asia has had two searing collective experiences, colonialism and Cold War imperialism, and is therefore painfully aware of the value of national sovereignty and strong states.

Secondly, let us define the issue of war crimes. Is the denial that they were committed, a bland assertion that no civilians were killed? What a rational minded Sri Lankan rejects is the charge or the insinuation that civilians were intentionally targeted by the Sri Lankan armed forces, in the final or at any stage of the last war, and that any civilian casualties incurred derived from the disproportionate use of deadly force, given especially the character and capacities of the enemy. Civilians are hit during almost every single strike by Predator and Raptor drones, but that is neither intentional nor the primary target, and decisions have been made that the strikes were not a disproportionate use of force in the circumstances.

The prospect of civilian casualties when administering the coup de grace to a terrible enemy must be weighed against the civilian deaths that would result if that coup de grace were not administered and the terrorists lived on to regroup and re-launch operations. Every drone strike is fraught with such considerations. Sri Lanka’s war, which did not take place on foreign soil, entailed precisely such considerations and calibrations. Sri Lanka’s final offensive was to terminate a thirty year conflict which would have gone on for another thirty had the enemy not been liquidated utterly, like the Nazis they resembled. In that sense it was a Predator drone strike writ large; magnified or multiplied.

If so, why not accede to an impartial international war crimes inquiry? Let us, in the first place, dispense with the equation of the ‘impartial’ and the ‘international’. The WikiLeaks revelations have shed light on the complicity between the UN inquiry into the killing of Lebanon’s Rafik Hariri, and superpower agencies.

A summary of an article by Dyad Abu Jahjah in Open Democracy, founder and former president of the Arab European League reads: "Who has benefited most from the assassination of Rafik Hariri? As the UN special court on Lebanon arrives at its version of events, one Lebanese reading finds confirmation in Wikileaks for pointing us in a different direction" This author of several books on the Middle East cautions that "...It is in this context that one must read the actions of the international tribunal investigating the death of Rafik Hariri and the indictment of Hezbollah that it will be releasing shortly...The efforts of the international tribunal for Lebanon that is housed in the Hague are now focusing on framing Hezbollah for the deed. This is done through engineered telecommunication evidence that implies that a Hezbollah network of operatives conducted the operation...The United Nations special court on Lebanon has from its inception been a political tool in the hands of the powerful. It is now being used to create a pretext to destroy the Lebanese resistance...When the indictment will be issued in the coming weeks (maybe days) things will take a dangerous turn in Lebanon. ..The web of lies is being drawn again, and soon the media will be telling us that it is a Sunni/Shia war that is the background to the problem, and that Hezbollah and behind it Syria and Iran want to seize control of Lebanon." (Dec 7th 2010, http://www.opendemocracy.net)

Those who sermonise on the need for a war crimes inquiry to restore international credibility, simply must pause to ask themselves why the person most qualified to do so, Judge CG Weeramantry, has so far chosen not to lend his voice to this slogan. Is it that he is morally and ethically inferior or of lesser courage than those who vociferate, or is it that he is possessed of far greater wisdom? A probable explanation is that he is fully aware of the realities and complexities of international inquiries, the way in which the dice is loaded against the Third World, and that each society deals with these issues in their own way and in their own time.

Why has Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith who aired his critical dissent on ’56, and ’72 and recommended devolution at the LLRC, praised the country’s political leadership for ridding the country of terrorism and restoring peace, rather than joining the chorus insinuating that war crimes were committed and calling for an international investigation into war crimes allegations?

There is hardly anything that the incumbent administration can do to or for either Cardinal Ranjith or Judge Weeramantry. It is far more likely that they are sensitive to the unhealthy, lacerating consequences for polity and society of such externally propelled or induced inquiries in the aftermath of a popular war, experienced widely as one of emancipation and national reunification. Any such process must incubate and mature within each society. It is the society, the public and the nationally specific historical process in question that can legitimately and successfully call forth such a settlement of accounts though a great many societies choose to let the wounds heal, the social scar tissue to form and other forms of therapy, individual and collective to do their work.

The UK took 38 years and two commissions to issue a report into a massacre that took place in broad daylight on bloody Sunday. Spain initiated prosecution of its top prosecutor for seeking to open up the Spanish civil War, and that curtain of silence has done that country no harm— indeed it forestalled a military backlash and civic polarisation which could have impaired the transition to its vibrant democracy. The invocations of parallels from South Africa, Cambodia and Central America are ridiculous. In Cambodia, it is the commanders of the defeated Pol Pot forces who are being prosecuted, not the forces of the state that defeated them, led by Hung Sen. In South Arica, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was in the context of a negotiated, peaceful transition from minority rule to majority rule, not a panel which sat in the aftermath of a war waged by majority rule against a secessionist attempt at minority rule. The Central and Latin American experiences of transitional justice issued from negotiated peace settlements between guerrillas and governments or transfers of power from military juntas to civilian democracy (many of which entailed amnesty and immunity from prosecution for the military).

Sri Lanka belongs to none of these categories. The Premawathie Manamperi case is no precedent: that was a deliberate, eye-witnessed atrocity committed in a space held sacred by two communities, during a Sinhala-on-Sinhala civil conflict between the state and a rebel movement in its initial romantic incarnation. The emotions and social psychology that prevailed post 1971 and that which prevails now after a thirty year war of ethnic separatism (including memories of massacres of samaneras) are drastically different. The reality is that there was a social consensus for the prosecution of that crime but there is none for turning on this or that soldier, less than two years after a long sought and hard fought victory. Such action would tack dangerously against the national zeitgeist.

I have watched some of the videos which claim to reveal war crimes. Belonging as I do to the generation that recalls the visuals of Col Loan of the South Vietnamese police draw and fire his revolver into a the head of a captured Vietcong suspect during the Tet Offensive, a TV cameramen being shot dead by a Somocista Nicaraguan National Guardsman while lying on the ground, and the indelible scenes from Srebrenica or the footage of mass executions from the camera of the carrier based US warplane over Bosnia, I can tell a smoking gun when I see one. From what I have seen, the Channel 4 videos do not fall into that category. By contrast, what they do remind me of are the Tonkin Gulf incident (the North Vietnamese gunboats that supposedly ‘attacked’ the USS Turner Joy, but actually didn’t), the manufacture of consent for Kosovo and the Iraqi WMDs that weren’t.

Ever heard the term ‘revanchisme’ (or simply, revanchist)? It means revenge seeking, and originated with reference to fascist or pro-fascist groups seeking revenge for their defeat by the Allies in World War II. The Sri Lanka hating element of the Tamil Diaspora is in a revanchist mode, drawing support from those in the international order who seek revenge from us for ignoring their edict to stop the final assault on the Tigers. They are waging a global psychological war against Sri Lanka.

We are being set up. We are being framed and then asked to prove our innocence by submitting to an external inquiry, at a time and by entities other than of our own choosing. That’s a violation of sovereignty and of our national self determination. We must not fall victim to it. That this is not reducible to a merely a pro-regime view and is in fact the subject of a broad consensus is evidenced by the explicit remarks of the most popular personality in the Opposition and in every likelihood its incoming leader, in a recent interview given to Raisa Wickremetunga of the (hardly pro-government) Sunday Leader.

"Q: You said in Parliament that war crimes had only been committed by the LTTE. What is your comment on Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya’s interview published in a weekend newspaper?

A: I’m not privy to the context and circumstances in which Karu Jayasuriya’s pronouncement or statement was made. I don’t know the minute details. I’ve always maintained my stance. This didn’t grow from yesterday or the day before. It was my policy decision right from the beginning and will remain so. This proposal was put forward by myself in fact, and has become party policy; to protect the armed forces and the defense establishment that so courageously annihilated the LTTE after more than three decades.

Q: In that sense, you condemn the UN war crimes probe?

A: As far as war crimes are concerned, I don’t think the UN has taken a balanced approach. It has taken a partial discriminatory approach when it comes to the defense establishment. The UN is supposed to be impartial and balanced, not politically prejudicial and discriminatory. I admit the UN performs a magnanimous role in making society healthy and peaceful, but I have great reservations on its motives and actions on the war probe." (Sajith On The Constitution And War Crimes, The Sunday Leader Dec 12, 2010)

Thus, on the issues of sovereignty, war crimes allegations and the defence of those who defend us —our armed forces —there is hardly any daylight between government and opposition. This is as it should be. As a society and a country, we must not close up or close off; we must remain open to the outside world; but as a state we shall not succumb, be suckered into sacrificing our sovereignty or committing suicide.

If only Sri Lankans can see ourselves as others see us

by Gamini Weerakoon

Philosophers down the ages have pointed out that one of the greatest of deceptions people face as individuals and nations is self deception. It is human nature to avoid looking into the mirror when we realise that the image looking back would be repulsive. ‘The rage of Caliban seeing his own face in the mirror’, is how Shakespeare put it. The much quoted Scottish poet Robert Burns said:

‘O would some power giftie gie us,
To see ourselves as others see us.’

Best and greatest

We in this resplendent isle always had a great opinion of ourselves and have not given a damn about how others saw us. Two thousand five hundred years of recorded history, ‘hydraulic civilisation’, ‘Granary of the East’, are some of the magnificent perceptions that kept us and keep us going. After the victory over the LTTE, the ego of our leaders and the collective ego of the nation have gone through the roof. We have won what Western pundits said was: ‘An unwinnable war’. We are the best and the greatest. But only we think so.

Do China and India or our newfound friends and allies like Burma, Iran, Libya or even the non-aligned countries think so? Even if they did, they haven’t said so. But how does the rest of the world see us? The Western powers led by the United States, Britain and even the United Nations have a dim view of us. Investigations have been called for alleged violation of human rights and even war crimes. Anything said against our armed services or President Rajapaksa results in mass hysterical outbursts and accusations of treason. Is winning this war on terrorism, the be all and end all of everything that we aspire to?

Karu breaks the ice

The Opposition, by and large, maintained a strict silence on what Western nations — the democracies of the world — have been saying about us. Last week the quiet and suave Deputy Leader of the UNP, Karu Jayasuriya committed sacrilege in the eyes of the Rajapaksa faithful by making a statement calling for an investigation into the allegations made against Sri Lanka. He said: ‘Since the conclusion of the war against the LTTE, Sri Lanka has been dogged by allegations of massive civilian casualties and the blatant disregard for human rights, which has led to the muzzling of the free press, abduction and assassination of journalists and stifling political dissent. The government playing constantly to the sensibilities of the hawkish support base has consistently denied these allegations, refused to investigate even the more serious incidents of violence and extra-judicial killings and adopted an obtuse approach to global criticism by constantly making wild claims about international conspiracies’.

An avalanche of abuse and accusations has descended on Jayasuriya since his comments were made. His speech has been misinterpreted, distorted and words he had not used ‘such as war crimes’ and ‘Tamil diaspora’ put into his mouth. Attempts are being made to show that the Deputy Leader of the UNP has joined forces with the enemies of the state and that he has called for an investigation to probe war crimes of the Sri Lankan armed forces, and normalising relations with the Tamil diaspora. Jayasuriya in reply had pointed out the gross distortions made of his statement. This disgraceful yellow journalism had been resorted to by a once reputed independent newspaper, whose founder was the great and respected publisher and businessman Upali Wijewardene.

Eye opener

Claiming that the world was growing impatient with Sri Lanka’s attitude, he said that President Rajapaksa’s recent visit to London should be an eye opener for the regime and that the ‘only way to restore Sri Lanka’s name in the good world is to investigate these many allegations and take genuine steps to address the just claims of the minority. This is the only way to diminish the credibility of these protest groups, and the only way to counter worldwide sympathy with their cause. Let us put the house in order before the impunity and hubris of today becomes our collective tragedy and shame tomorrow’.

This kind of enlightened politics goes way above the heads of clowns and thugs holding high political office who are attempting to score brownie points with the Maharajathumano. Karu’s statement has been seized as electoral fodder to feed the gullible masses at the forthcoming provincial elections. So far, accusations of association with Tamil terrorists have worked at elections wonderfully well and the political strategists of the regime are anticipating that the electorate would be gullible buffaloes as before.

Varnishing and mud slinging

More than one and a half years after the celebrated ‘patriotic’ victory over the terrorists, it is quite apparent that the nation remains divided and the Tamil community in Sri Lanka is silent and aloof about their future role. Equally important is that Sri Lanka’s image is smeared with mud, however much those seeking to go places are attempting to varnish it. Jayasuriya’s suggestion of investigating alleged violation of human rights, suppression of freedom of expression and the accusations made against the armed forces needs to be investigated. Investigations of alleged crimes by security forces have been made by governments in which President Rajapaksa was a key minister and, many say, present members too.

In the 1990s mass graves in which it was alleged civilians were buried after being massacred were investigated on the request of the UN by the government of Chandrika Kumaratunga. One such grave, the Sooriyakande mass grave, was excavated in September 1994 under the supervision of the High Court and the discovery of an unspecified number of skeletal remains were reported to have been found. These are said to be that of school children who were JVP activists.

There was the Ankumbura mass grave where the police were held responsible. Some officers were indicted with crimes but were later honourably discharged. The Chemmanai mass grave was excavated and 15 bodies were discovered. Even though justice could not be meted out fully to the accused, at least attempts were made to investigate and the government of the day did not insult those nations that called for investigations and justice being done, of conspiring against the Sri Lanka government.

Chandrika and Kadirgamar’s roles

The Chandrika Kumaratunga government dealt adroitly with foreign nations about violation of human rights here under the able guidance of Lakshman Kadirgamar and that perhaps was the reason why the banning of the LTTE came about in most Western countries. The Rajapaksa regime will not be able to avoid allegations of violations of human rights and war crimes by the security forces, and it appears the accusations won’t simply disappear.
What can be done is to appoint an investigating committee — not of foreigners or even the UN — but an independent Sri Lankan committee like a Parliamentary Select Committee comprising of government members as well as opposition members from the UNP, JVP, SLMC and of course Tamil parties. That will solve the problem of credibility of a Sri Lankan committee, and help Sri Lanka look like the Resplendent Island its name claims it to be.

~ courtesy: The Sunday Leader ~

Sri Lankan govt. says singing of National Anthem in Tamil is not banned

COLOMBO (AFP) – Sri Lanka denied on Monday plans to outlaw the singing of the national anthem in Tamil after the main minority party raised strong objections to the mooted ban.

The status quo will remain, said public administration minister John Seneviratne, who is in charge of managing the code of conduct for the national anthem as well as the national flag.

"There is no decision to make a change with regard to the anthem and we will continue what we have been doing," Seneviratne told AFP.

The Sunday Times newspaper in Colombo reported that the cabinet of President Mahinda Rajapakse decided last week to order that only Sinhala should be used for the anthem.
Language and discrimination were key issues used by Tamil Tiger separatists to gain popular support for their campaign of suicide bombings and assassinations that terrorised the country until last year.

The main Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), said earlier it was seeking clarification from the government, which is dominated by the majority Sinhalese ethnic group.

"At a time when the government is talking about ethnic harmony and national integration, this national anthem is an unwanted issue," TNA legislator Suresh Premachandran told AFP.

"If we can't sing the anthem in Tamil, we will be driven to boycott the anthem."
Traditional industries minister Douglas Devananda, who is Tamil, told the BBC Tamil service that the issue had been discussed in cabinet, but no final decision taken.

However, housing minister Wimal Weerawansa, a hardline nationalist, told the local Ada Derana television channel that he supported any move to outlaw the Tamil rendition of the anthem.

"Only in Sri Lanka you have the national anthem translated into another language and sung. This is a joke," Weerawansa said. "What the government is doing is to correct a wrong practice that has been in place since 1978."

Tamil separatists battled for a homeland for Tamils in the north of the Indian Ocean island for nearly 40 years.

Their violent campaign was finally crushed last year by government forces, but a legacy of polarisation and mistrust remains between the communities and Rajapakse made reconciliation a plank of his re-election campaign in January.

India, which has a large Tamil population, has led calls by the international community for Rajapakse to heal the wounds of the country's civil war by reaching out to Tamils.

"If the reports in this regard are true, it is strongly condemnable," the chief minister of the Tamil-dominated Indian state of Tamil Nadu, M. Karunanidhi, said in a statement.

"This will further dishearten Tamils (in Sri Lanka), who are already suffering. I condemn it." ~ courtesy: AFP ~

Cabinet defers decision on National Anthem language

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Contrary to news reports the Sri Lankan cabinet has NOT decided that the National Anthem should be sung in Sinhala and not in Tamil also.

Public Administration minister WDJ Senevirathne submitted paper that Sinhala be the sole language for national anthem for cabinet approval

During discussions ministers Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Douglas Devananda, Rajitha Senaratne, Rauf Hakeem & Athaullah opposed the idea vehemently

Seeing the deep differences in cabinet on the matter President Rajapaksa announced that a decision would be taken later&deferred the issue

Until a final decision is taken the national anthem would be sung in both the Sinhala &Tamil languages. Let the status quo remain forever!

from http://twitter.com/dbsjeyaraj

December 12, 2010

Sri Lankan President is Behaving like gangster politician in Hindi film

By Sarath Fonseka

An Open Appeal Issued by Former Army Chief and Presidential Candidate 2010

SFTC1212.jpgMRTC1212G.jpg

Dear Sri Lankans,

The time has now come for us to stop being complacent and start taking an active role in shaping our future and the future of this country. Sri Lanka is still a democracy and the Constitution specifies certain rights - among them the right of the citizens to exercise their franchise without being intimidated or persecuted. Sadly, the reality is quite the opposite. Those with dissenting views and those who oppose the activities of the government are seen as enemies by the Rajapaksa regime and are subjected to horrific persecution. My detention and the spurious allegations filed against me is a good case in point.

However, locking me up won't silence me. I know they will try to take my life to silence me, but I am not scared. I will face all hardship and trauma for the sake of my country and my people. I strongly believe that, if we as a people have no freedom to speak or express our political opinion that govern our daily life and direct our future, it is much better to die than live under a dictator. Hence, protecting the sovereignty and democratic rights of the people is one of my main political goals.

Every Sri Lankan, irrespective of social standing or status must have equal rights and more importantly the freedom to exercise those rights. They should be able to live with dignity, self respect and decorum and enjoy the right to live where they chose. They should also be treated equally. Sadly however, in order to keep us apart even now, our corrupt politicians have created mistrust and suspicion amongst the different communities, purely for their personal short-term political gains. I humbly request all citizens of Sri Lanka not to fall prey to divisive politics, but to live in unity as Sri Lankans and work towards a common goal - of developing the country. All communities deserve a better tomorrow, not just pockets of few.

Political Thug

The President of Sri Lanka is behaving like a gangster politician in a Hindi film, destroying all those who oppose him, specifically politicians and journalists, so that in the end no one stands in his way.

A Government is elected to power on the promises it makes to develop the country and improve the living standards of its people. The policies it implements are expected to be for the greater good of the country and the people.

What we have here is a blatant abuse of power, where the President manipulates the legislature through bribes, intimidation and numerous other forms of coercion, to reinforce his position. His priorities are first, his and his sons' welfare and the power they can accumulate and second, destroying any political opposition that stands in the way of the first priority.

The manner in which the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was passed is a classic example. Through his lap dog ministers and the opposition MPs he could bribe and intimidate, he has secured the constitutional changes he needed to ensure the Rajapaksa dynasty's survival. Moreover, he extended his powers to bring under his direct purview, the appointments to all the vital public offices and commissions. Going forward, come election time, he won't have any independent bodies putting road blocks on his bid to stay in power for ever.

This is not a situation conducive to further democracy. Given that Sri Lanka is a democracy, and both the President and government are elected to power by the people, it is the people's right to demand that the nation's interest be given priority. We don't have to put up with this situation. It is high time we wrested control of our future and ensured that Sri Lanka remains a democracy and doesn't descend into a shameful dictatorship.

Presidential Interference

I am beginning to realize our legal process does not do any good to the people, primarily because of the manner in which the President interferes. If you need even further evidence, look at the travesty of the two courts martial that found me, with all evidence to the contrary, guilty as the President wanted.

Sri Lanka maybe the only country in the world where a civilian is charged in a military court. The circumstance under which the ruling was made was truly a joke. In the first case, the courts were on vacation so no lawyers were present. In the second case, the ruling was given despite all evidence to the contrary, and with evidence that I had no hand in manipulating the military tender procedure.

I didn't expect any justice and I didn't get any.

The Rajapaksa regime probably feels victorious after illegally removing my General rank, gallantry medals and retirement benefits. This is to be expected, especially from an ungrateful man suffering from an inferiority complex.

He got junior officers previously cashiered from the army, to sit in a court martial jury. This contravenes all norms, ethics and traditions of any military. A shameful act that has insulted both the military and the country it serves.

Having said that, I must point out that I never served the country expecting promotions or medals. My forty years of service rendered to the country, shedding blood on several occasions, cannot be erased through this shameless act. I served the army, because I loved my country and didn't expect anything in return. The only thing the country was supposed to give me was my monthly pension of Rs. 50,000, which I had pledged to charity. Mahinda Rajapaksa has only succeeded in robbing that altruistic endeavor from me - nothing else.

He cannot take away my rank and medals, as he cannot give back what I have given for the nation. If he wanted to erase what I did, then he has to give life to Prabhakaran too. Our ungrateful leader will never do any good for the country. If this can happen to me, all our citizens one day can expect to face the same fate under this regime.

Independence of Judiciary

The politicization of the judiciary is a hallmark of a country forsaking its democratic principles and tumbling headlong into a state of tyranny. The President is solely to blame for this situation. He has interfered and used the influence of his office to make the august arm of democratic rule a toothless lapdog of the executive. The legal fraternity and even the general public are aware of this, but simply play along because they fear reprisal.

Keeping quiet won't help. I urge all those who are tasked with safeguarding the independence of the judiciary to stand firm in their conviction and reject this kind of blatant abuse. For a day may come, when they will have to not only reckon with how they allow the judiciary to be subjugated, but also rue their complacency in allowing that to happen.

Call for change

For a country to develop and its people to feel they are truly partners to that development, there must be economic freedom. Unfortunately, the reality in Sri Lanka is that, only those who get the blessing of the President and his close associates are allowed to prosper. This ensures the promise and potential for development will always remain a distant dream for many. It is up to us to take up the challenge of changing the system.

The strength of our country; and the power of the politicians lie with - the people, many
of whom live in under-developed rural areas. Our leaders do not want the masses to realize this. They make grand promises of development, but only offer paltry benefits like the Samurdhi handouts ensuring the state of affairs remain unchanged. I believe our people, especially the poor, deserve much more than this. They need better employment prospects, a better means to improve their living conditions, better schools so their children receive a good education and better access to health facilities. To achieve this, the masses need to realize the power they hold in their own hands. They need to use their power and use their vote and elect the people best suited to govern, candidates who will put the peoples' interest and that of the country before their personal agendas.

So let us work together to ensure we elect politicians who are not corrupt, but are
educated, qualified, experienced, sincere, genuine, patriotic and energetic, to be the leaders of our country.

The business community can also play a decisive role in helping change the system. For as much as we need honest and committed politicians, we also need honest and upstanding business leaders who can guide the country on the right path to development. Their participation in governance will instill greater confidence in the international community and help create a better investment climate ensuring Sri Lanka gets the necessary foreign income to facilitate the development process and improve the standard of living of its people.

Plea to:

Religious Leaders:

Religious leaders can and should play a greater role ensuring the country progresses in the right path. History shows us that religious leaders played a key role in protecting the sovereignty of the country and the people.

However, today, unscrupulous politicians are even going so far as to intimidate our religious leaders if they fail to toe the line with their selfish political agendas. We are now witnessing how the Venerable Mahanayakas are being intimidated, harassed and threatened with the blessings of Mahinda Rajapaksa. The irony is that the President preaches Sri Lanka is going to be developed in line with Buddhist principles. Where is the justice in that if he threatens and intimidates the Mahanayakas to do his bidding?

No religion condones corruption or the abuse of power. I sincerely believe our religious leaders can play a great role in helping the country and make a humble plea to all to extend their assistance to put Sri Lanka on the right path to democracy and good governance.

The Youth:

The youth are the future of the country. However, under this regime, they are not only neglected, but are also a subjugated lot whose voices are increasingly becoming silenced. An unfortunate example is how university students are being attacked and even killed for agitating for their legitimate rights.

This government does not consider the youth of Sri Lanka as future rulers. Only Namal Rajapaksa is deemed the single worthwhile youth in this country. The future leaders should understand the current form of governance is not conducive to the long term interests of the country. Politicians have successfully suppressed the younger generation and persecuted all of us. We need to change this system and I urge our youth to play an active role in ushering in that change.

Armed Forces & Police:

For me especially, the treatment of the Armed Forces and the Police are very personal.

We did not sacrifice life and limb to save the country from terrorism so that corrupt politicians can destroy it.

Mahinda and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa have no respect for the members of the Armed Services or Police Force, or the great service they rendered to this country. They wouldn't be riding the glory of a war victory, if you had not put the country above all else; even your personal safety, to eradicate terrorism. How do they treat you now? You have witnessed the manner in which the Rajapaksa brothers abused the servicemen in the post Presidential election period - sacking, demoting and transferring Generals and Brigadiers, without even a cursory inquiry. Was exercising their democratic right to vote for the person of their choice, truly a crime?

I urge you to take pride in your achievements and call upon you to safeguard the country from the spread of political terrorism. Do not allow your sacrifices to be squandered by leaders who are only interested in personal gains and reinforcing their power base. Sri Lanka needs you now to stand resolute in your commitment that saw you conquering a world feared terror outfit. Your duty is, and has always been to the country, not to corrupt leaders. I urge you to maintain your dignity and your pledge to serve the nation and refrain from becoming political tools of a regime intent on destroying all what you have proudly achieved and dearly hold.

Media rights

In a democracy, media freedom must be held sacrosanct.

Under the Rajapaksa regime the media is under constant threat. Even during the presidential elections, the media was not only abused but was also persecuted and intimidated. A number of journalists were also attacked. The disappearance of journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda is both saddening and frightening. The government has shown no interest in investigating incidents where journalists were killed, attacked or abducted, but have instead tried to blame the military and others for these atrocious deeds and mislead the masses. This is another means of undermining the selfless services rendered by the forces and creating mistrust among the public. I urge the public not to fall victim to such blatant lies.

The government, though elected by the people, does not trust the people. Secrecy seems to be the hallmark of al its actions. A free media cannot fulfill its obligations of keeping the public informed in this culture of secrecy. I make a solemn vow that the day we come into power, all media in this country will enjoy the freedoms guaranteed in the constitution and the public will have access to information, while enjoying their democratic right to free expression.

False Propaganda

The majorities of our population live in remote areas and see only the distorted news dished out by the government media. Don't be misled by this false propaganda of the Rajapaksa regime and its character assassination campaigns. Rupavahini and ITN are biased. These two channels will and do mislead the public. They initially tried to destroy my political career by fabricating false allegations about me. Some of the things I am accused of cannot be committed by even the most dangerous criminal in this country.

As it is, there is no justice in the nation. What we have in place is an all out attack on political opponents who the government fears.

My honor, dignity and self respect are important to me. I value them even more than my life and I have never profited from my service to the army or the country. When I left the army, I only had a three bedroom house. Even my soldiers had much larger houses than me. When I entered politics, the government concocted a series of preposterous stories about me to tarnish my image and paint me as an unscrupulous villain. Had I committed even a fraction of the intransigencies I am accused of, it wouldn't have been possible for me to become even a captain in the army, let alone its Commanding officer. I am proud to claim I could never be bought or bribed.

The Secretary of Defense wanted to get one of his supporters to build a house for me while I was Commander, but I refused, saying accepting such gifts was not my way of life and was against my conscience and principles. Then they tried to cajole my wife into accepting the house, that didn't work either. This would no doubt give you an idea of why the case cooked up against my son-in-law, saying I was involved in corrupt arms deals is entirely untrue.

My son-in-law's company has only worked with another company in Sri Lanka that supplied some non-weapons items to the military. Even the court martial and prosecuting councils agreed on July 28 that these were not weapons and that I had never favored or given any support to this company. Apparently the only allegation they put against me was the position I held as the President of the Tender Board. Now everyone can clearly see that I am not guilty or even accused of any corrupt deals. However, the government is still bent of painting a different picture in the media, when even their own Kangaroo courts have admitted my innocence.

Prosecuting political opposition is a cowardly act by any head of state. Only power hungry dictators fearful of their opponents, indulge in the practice of putting their opponents behind bars, I am not scared of spending time in jail for the sake of the people of this country. The Rajapaksa regime can never silence me by putting me in jail. I will continue my struggle to ensure the freedom of the people, even if I have to spend the rest of my life in jail. In fact, I'd rather be in jail than be party to shameless acts of betrayal, where terrorist leaders like KP are being given VIP treatment.

Political Culture

I did not embark on a political career to become simply another corrupt member of this regime, which has ruined out country and destroyed the dignity of our people. If I wanted to improve my well being, it would have been easier to continue with the army. I left my uniform, ready to sacrifice for the sake of the country and my people. I did not and do not want to be a shareholder of the prevailing system. I am ready to sacrifice everything, even my life, to change this corrupt regime.

Political interference in all spheres has eroded discipline in society. This is a serious issue. Examples must be set by the head of the state. Unfortunately, some of the most undisciplined are his closest associates. Their actions, no matter how corrupt, vulgar or unacceptable are condoned. Mervyn Silva's behavior is a good example. We need a country where men, women and children are all respected. We need to show the world and our younger generations that we are a civilized people. We need to prove that we respect human rights and human dignity, and not only pay lip service. It is not prudent to resort to high handed acts like challenging global organizations. The conduct of Wimal Weerawansa in front of the UN office in Colombo, carried out with the blessings of Mahinda Rajapaksa was an insult to the whole nation. Such behavior will only succeed in other countries tagging us as a pariah state and reinforcing their efforts to impose all types of sanctions on us.

There is an unacceptable level of political interference in the public sector. The Rajapaksa regime has totally politicized this area and the powers given to him through the 18th Amendment will only make things much worse. Even the military has been politicized and is being mishandled by one of the most incompetent Defense Secretaries we have ever had. Both the President and the Defense Secretary are shamelessly interfering with all administrative activities of the country and as a result administrators have become ineffective.

Sri Lankans should consider the negative aspect of these developments seriously and should not allow one family to destroy the country. The best example of such political interference is the decision by Mahinda Rajapaksa to bring the Urban Development Authority under the Defense Ministry and the Attorney General's Department under the President. This show in all actions, Mahinda Rajapaksa has personal and vested interests and that his personal interests will always take precedence over the country's best interest. The best example for this, is the colossal sum of Rs. 1 billion spent on inauguration ceremonies for his cheated second term of office.

Shareholders of Change

I cannot singlehandedly make the changes needed to ensure a better Sri Lanka. It should be a joint effort and for this I need the help and willing support of the people. My humble request to the beloved people of this country is to speak to your own conscience and to your heart. Saving the motherland from unscrupulous politicians and this corrupt system is the need of the hour. Only the people of this country can do that. All of us have to be shareholders of the effort to save the country and to ensure we leave behind a civilized, prosperous country for our future generations.

Please do your part and be a shareholder in this sacred effort. We need to look forward to be the proud owners of a civilized and a discipline nation and a country. This present corrupt regime is only in the habit of cheating the people by giving false promises. I request all the people of our beloved motherland to try and understand the reality and select the people who love this country to be the future leaders of our nation. We have to do that for the sake of our motherland. I hope and pray our beloved country will begin to prosper both economically and politically in the times ahead and our people will have a prosperous future.

May the Noble Triple gem bless and guide and God bless all Sri Lankans.

Sarath Fonseka

Tamil Christian Congregation of Western Australia celebrates 25th carol service

Twenty five years of blessings

By Saba-Thambi

Last Saturday the 11th of December 2010 has been a special occasion for the members of the Tamil Christian Congregation of Western Australia (TCC) as they celebrated their 25th carol service in Perth. The carol service was held at the Maylands-Mount Lawley Uniting Church at 5.30 pm.

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The inaugural carol service as the Tamil Christian worship group, under the Tamil Association of Western Australia, was held in December 1986 at Bentley hall. A handful of Christian families and a few Hindu friends of the Tamil Association assisted in holding the first Carol service. Currently the TCC membership has around fifty families who have migrated from Sri Lanka, South India, Singapore and inter-state and who belong to all the denominations of the Christian faith including Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Evangelical, Methodist and Pentecostal churches. The TCC meet for worship on the first Sunday of each month at the Osborne Park Uniting Church.

The current President of the TCC Mr Michael Kirubarajan Richards thanked the Tamil Association for their initiative and help given to the Tamil Christians in the formation of a worship group. In his opening speech, he remarked that there was a necessity to have a Tamil worship group outside their homeland as many of the Tamils who migrated to Australia at that time were affected in the July 1983 civil riots in Sri Lanka.

The President also mentioned that his wish for the future would be that the younger generation of the Tamil Christians take over the reins of the TCC towards the fiftieth carol service, and thanked the Almighty for the blessings showered upon the Tamil migrants.

The Order of Service comprised the adult choir, youth instrumental medley, Sunday school children’s item, a solo by Mrs. Geetha Gunaratnam, prayers, Bible reading and a sermon. The Sermon was delivered by the Riverton Baptist church Pastor Colin Meadows. The music accompaniments for the carols were provided by the youth and the adults of TCC. Mr. Raman and Mr. Prabhakaran Samuel, two tireless non-members of the Association played the percussions and violin respectively, as they have done many times previously. The Service was well attended by about two hundred people including the members, Hindu and Australian friends of the Tamil Christian Congregation.

The Bible readings were taken from the book of Isiah chapter 9 and a Gospel reading. Pastor Colin Meadows delivered the message with a slide-show presentation of Bethlehem he visited few months ago. His message was informative with the parallel showing of the bible verses with the photos of the sites mentioned in the bible. The presentation started with a picture of Bethlehem, viewed from Jerusalem which is currently a part of the Palestine region. Bethlehem is situated approximately 9 kilometres south of Jerusalem. Then the slides moved on to the burial site where Rachel, Jacob’s wife, was buried at the birth of Benjamin which then followed on to show where Naomi and Ruth chose the place of Bethlehem and then on to the Nativity church where Jesus was born and a view of the place believed to be where the manger was. He also mentioned that this was the longest functioning church in the world from the 4th century.

The church remains untouched even today and Christians still continue their worship there. The church is currently shared by three denominations of Christians. The presentation concluded with a picture named the "door of humility" at the church, which is the entrance to the Nativity church.

The door has been purposely made smaller to avoid the soldiers entering the church in the early years of the church history. The entrance door was so small and one has to kneel down to enter the church hence the message "humility". The service concluded with the Benediction delivered by Pastor Meadows.

At the end of the service, the president asked the congregation to join the members for a fellowship at the church hall. At the fellowship, the President invited the senior members of the TCC Messrs Stanley Sinnadurai and R Vijayasekaran to cut the 25th Carol service Cake. Mr Stanley Sinnadurai and Mr R Vijayasekaran and the late Mr N S Rathinasingham had been the steering committee members of the then Tamil Christian worship group of the late eighties until it became an independent body of Tamil Christian Congregation of WA in 1991.

As the modest celebrations of the congregation mark the landmark of a quarter of a century in Western Australia, it was also notable that there were a handful of Tamil refugees who arrived at the shores of Australia recently to start their new lives also joined the TCC in its celebrations.

For unto us a child is born,
To us a son is given,
And the government will be on his shoulders
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace - (Isaiah 9:6)

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[click on pic for larger images] ~ (Photos by Alfie & Daniel Jebakumar)

Would Karu Jayasuriya have asked for "investigation" if Sarath Fonseka had been elected President?

By Kalana Senaratne

Can a senior, experienced and responsible politician be taken seriously when he asks the government to investigate allegations of war-crimes levelled by protesting pro-LTTE/separatist groups when that politician is one who seriously believed that the former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka should become the President of Sri Lanka not so long ago?

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[Former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka (R) and deputy leader of the opposition UNP (United Nation Party) Karu Jayasuriya leave the election commission after they met with election commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake, in Colombo January 3, 2010 ~ pic courtesy: Reuters]

Having defended and supported Fonseka to the hilt, is it correct for Jayasuriya to ask President Rajapaksa to now conduct an investigation concerning what happened during the last stages of the conflict? Jayasuriya is so deeply concerned about Sri Lanka’s image, but he does not tell us, at the outset, how Sri Lanka’s image would have been better projected to the world had Sri Lanka elected its former Army Commander as Head of State; an Army Commander who has been accused of giving orders to commit serious crimes; the candidate Jayasuriya and his colleagues supported in January, 2010.

There is, of course, another question which is: Was this the game that the likes of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and Jayasuriya would have liked to play, had Sarath Fonseka won the Presidential election? Would they have brought up this issue of ‘investigations’ to make life difficult for their President, or even to oust him, with the assistance of certain external elements? Or, for instance, could we ever imagine of a situation where (Minister) Karu Jayasuriya would have asked his (President) Sarath Fonseka to carry out an investigation because pro-LTTE groups, around the world, were demanding an investigation? That would have been the end of Mr. Jayasuriya’s political career!

The above is a fundamental issue that makes Jayasuriya’s recent statement and the concerned appeal contained therein look disingenuous. There are, of course, many other questions that arise from Jayasuriya’s statement. It contains an important appeal, but is based on wrong reasons.

Jayasuriya states: "It is clear that the world is growing impatient with Sri Lanka’s attitude. If nothing else, the President’s visit to Britain should be an eye opener for this regime that the only way to restore Sri Lanka’s good name in the world is to investigate these many allegations against us and take genuine steps to address the just claims of the Minority. This is the only way to diminish the credibility of these protesting groups and the only way to counter worldwide sympathy with their cause."

Firstly, this issue was about investigations. And what is there to be investigated according to those who have made these accusations? These are, in the main, war-crimes (allegedly committed mainly by Sri Lankan Armed Forces). So, when the government stated that Mr. Jayasuriya was calling for a war-crimes investigation (and as the title of the report in The Sunday Island suggested). Jayasuriya made the ridiculous counter argument that he never mentioned the term ‘war-crimes’.

This clearly showed that Jayasuriya was not being really truthful, or even courageous, to defend what he actually meant. If not war-crimes, then what? If it had not been ‘war-crimes’ that Jayasuriya was referring to, why should he have made reference to the groups, which protested in London? The protesting groups were not asking for the reduction of the cost of living in Sri Lanka: they were asking for something specific – investigations and/or arrest of President Rajapaksa et al. Either Jayasuriya did not give much thought to it when he was writing it, or did not care to go through what was written for him by someone else.

Secondly, as very correctly pointed out by Prof. GL Peiris (in Parliament) and Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka (in The Island last Monday), those "protesting groups" that Mr. Jayasuriya mentioned were made up of LTTE or pro-LTTE/separatist elements? This was so obvious when it was seen that the protestors were holding the ‘Ealam flag’, and Jayasuriya couldn’t have missed them. Jayasuriya seems to be overly concerned about what these pro-LTTE/separatist groups seem to be saying, without appreciating the fact that their accusations are motivated, principally, by ‘revenge’ and ‘vengeance’.

Does Jayasuriya believe that these very groups that supported the terrorist organization which tried to kill Jayasuriya’s and the UNP’s ‘Common Candidate" Sarath Fonseka have any credibility? It would have been a more open and honest thing if Mr. Jayasuriya had clearly pointed out the specific allegation which needs to be investigated, if he thinks that an investigation is necessary. This is especially so, because he was perhaps one who seems to have believed that in general, the Armed Forces didn’t commit war-crimes at the time he was supporting Presidential candidate Fonseka.

Thirdly, Jayasuriya argues that he never referred to the "West" or the Western-European bloc. Yet, Jayasuriya would know that those who are really "impatient" or "growing impatient" about the Sri Lankan situation are the Western/European States. And here, it needs to be stated, that Sri Lanka should not be too concerned about the demands made, and concerns raised, by the West with regard to war-crimes investigations. This is certainly not an excuse for those in government to lambast the West as if Sri Lanka were an emerging super-power in Asia. But, it should be remembered that the West has no moral right or integrity to coerce Sri Lanka into any serious investigation.

Jayasuriya talks about "growing impatience". Yet, think for a moment - how impatient should other States be, how frustrated should these other States be, for having witnessed, for decades and decades, the callous attitude shown by the West concerning the use of force in armed conflict?

If then, Jayasuriya should realize that there is no question of a "growing frustration". This world is in a frustrated state, anyway; and a very large chunk of the blame should go to the West, the so-called self-appointed promoters of the international rule of law. A more holistic understanding about the frustration of States, as regards the lack of investigations concerning war-crimes committed elsewhere in the world and crimes which are still being committed, could have done Jayasuriya much good.

There are, however, certain issues raised by Jayasuriya which are of much importance. He mentions that it is time to look inwards. He states: "Let us put our house in order before the impunity and hubris of today becomes our collective tragedy and shame tomorrow."
These are important sentiments.

In this regard, it is very important for this government to ensure that Sri Lanka takes seriously the importance of independent investigations and the overall promotion and protection of human rights. But that is not the only message of Jayasuriya. One notes how a politician such as Jayasuriya - who once believed that there was no problem about the last stages of the war or that there was nothing to investigate as regards Fonseka’s conduct as the former Army Commander - is seen to be feeling distressed and concerned about the noise made by pro-LTTE elements at the Heathrow airport.

December 11, 2010

National Anthem only in Sinhala; Tamil version out

Sri Lanka's national anthem will remain only in Sinhala, the Cabinet decided on Wednesday. The move will mean that the current Tamil version will no longer be played at any official or state functions. At present, the Sinhala version of Sri Lanka Matha is used in all parts of the country with the exception of the North and the East which have a large Tamil population.

Sri Lankan national anthem, sung by various artists including Bathiya and Santhush

The decision to do away with the Tamil version, the Sunday Times learned, came after a lengthy discussion at last Wednesday night's Cabinet meeting. It was the first after President Mahinda Rajapaksa returned to Sri Lanka following a visit to Britian where a scheduled address to the Oxford Union was cancelled allegedly due to security reasons.

President Rajapaksa told ministers that in no other country was the national anthem used in more than one language. He cited an instance where one time Prime Minister, the late Sirimavo Bandaranaike, had walked out of a function in the north where the national anthem was played in Tamil.

He said there could not be two national anthems and that it was a shortcoming that must be rectified. He said, "We must all think of Sri Lanka as one country."

Minister Wimal Weerawansa supported President Rajapaksa's proposal. He said that even in neighbouring India, where around 300 languages were used, the national anthem was only in Hindi.

However, two Ministers voiced their dissent. National Languages and Social Integration Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara said the move would not be a suitable one.

Minister Rajitha Senaratne, the Sunday Times learned, endorsed the same view. Later, the Cabinet decided to adhere only to the Sinhala version of the national anthem.

A directive to use only the Sinhala version is to be sent out by the Ministry of Public Administration. All government establishments including district secretariats will be called upon to adhere to this decision.

The 1978 Constitution (Article 7) states: "The National Anthem of the Republic of Sri Lanka shall be "Sri Lanka Matha," the words and music of which are set out in the Third Schedule. ~ courtesy: The Sunday Times ~

Sinhala Lyrics of the Anthem

ශ්‍රී ලංකා මාතා
අප ශ්‍රී....... ලංකා නමෝ නමෝ නමෝ නමෝ මාතා
සුන්‍දර සිරිබරිනී සුරැඳි අති සෝබමාන ලංකා
ධාන්‍ය ධනය නෙක මල් පලතුරු පිරි ජය භුමිය රම්‍යා
අප හට සැප සිරි සෙත සදනා ජීවනයේ මාතා
පිළිගනු මැන අප භක්‍තී පූජා
නමෝ නමෝ මාතා
අප ශ්‍රී ...... ලංකා නමෝ නමෝ නමෝ නමෝ මාතා
ඔබ වේ අප විද්‍යා
ඔබ මය අප සත්‍යා
ඔබ වේ අප ශක්‍ති
අප හද තුළ භක්‍තී
ඔබ අප ආලෝකේ
අපගේ අනුප්‍රාණේ
ඔබ අප ජීවන වේ
අප මුක්‍තිය ඔබ වේ
නව ජීවන දෙමිනේ නිතින අප පුබුදු කරන් මාතා
ඥාන වීර්‍ය වඩවමින රැගෙන යනු මැන ජය භූමී කරා
එක මවකගෙ දරු කැල බැවිනා
යමු යමු වී නොපමා
ප්‍රේම වඩා සැම හේද දුරැර දා නමෝ නමෝ මාතා
අප ශ්‍රී........ ලංකා නමෝ නමෝ නමෝ නමෝ මාතා

Tamil lyrics of the Anthem

ஸ்ரீ லங்கா தாயே - நம் ஸ்ரீ லங்கா
நமோ நமோ நமோ நமோ தாயே
நல்லெழில் பொலி சீரணி
நலங்கள் யாவும் நிறை வான்மணி லங்கா
ஞாலம் புகழ் வள வயல் நதி மலை மலர்
நறுஞ்சோலை கொள் லங்கா
நமதுறு புகலிடம் என ஒளிர்வாய்
நமதுதி ஏல் தாயே
நமதலை நினதடி மேல் வைத்தோமே
நமதுயிரே தாயே - நம் ஸ்ரீ லங்கா
நமோ நமோ நமோ நமோ தாயே
நமதாரருள் ஆனாய்
நவை தவிர் உணர்வானாய்
நமதோர் வலியானாய்
நவில் சுதந்திரம் ஆனாய்
நமதிளமையை நாட்டே
நகு மடி தனையோட்டே
அமைவுறும் அறிவுடனே
அடல்செறி துணிவருளே - நம் ஸ்ரீ லங்கா
நமோ நமோ நமோ நமோ தாயே
நமதோர் ஒளி வளமே
நறிய மலர் என நிலவும் தாயே
யாமெல்லாம் ஒரு கருணை அனைபயந்த
எழில்கொள் சேய்கள் எனவே
இயலுறு பிளவுகள் தமை அறவே
இழிவென நீக்கிடுவோம்
ஈழ சிரோமணி வாழ்வுறு பூமணி
நமோ நமோ தாயே - நம் ஸ்ரீ லங்கா
நமோ நமோ நமோ நமோ தாயே

English translation

Mother Lanka we salute Thee!
Plenteous in prosperity, Thou,
Beauteous in grace and love,
Laden with grain and luscious fruit,
And fragrant flowers of radiant hue,
Giver of life and all good things,
Our land of joy and victory,
Receive our gratefull praise sublime,
Lanka! we worship Thee.
Thou gavest us Knowledge and Truth,
Thou art our strength and inward faith,
Our light divine and sentient being,
Breath of life and liberation.
Grant us, bondage free, inspiration.
Inspire us for ever.
In wisdom and strength renewed,
Ill-will, hatred, strife all ended,
In love enfolded, a mighty nation
Marching onward, all as one,
Lead us, Mother, to fullest freedom.

IPA Transcription of the Sinhala text

ʃriː laŋkaː maːtaː, apa ʃriː laŋkaː,
namoː, namoː, namoː, namoː maːtaː!
sundara siri barini,
surændi ati soːbamaːna laŋkaː.
daːnja ɖanaja neka,
mal palaturu piri, dʒaja bʱumija ramjaː.
apa ɦaʈa sæpa siri seta sadanaː,
dʒiːwanajeː maːtaː!
piɭiɡanu mæna apa bʱaktiː pudʒaː,
namoː, namoː maːtaː, apa ʃriː laŋkaː,
namoː, namoː, namoː, namoː maːtaː!
oba weː apa vidjaː, oba maja apa satjaː,
oba weː apa ʃaktiː, apa ɦada tula bʱaktiː.
oba apa aːloːkeː, apaɡeː anupraːneː,
oba apa dʒiːwana weː, apa muktija oba weː.
nawa dʒiːwana demineː,
nitina apa pubudu karan, maːtaː.
ɲaːna wiːrja waɖawamiːna ræɡena,
janu mæna dʒaja bʱumi karaː.
eka mawakaɡe daræ kæla bæwinaː,
jamu jamu wiː nopamaː.
prema waɖaː sæma bʱeːda duræra laː,
namoː, namoː maːtaː, apa ʃriː laŋkaː,
namoː, namoː, namoː, namoː maːtaː! ~ Lyrics from: Wikipedia

Rape case charge against Julian Assange is similiar to corruption charge against Sarath Fonseka

by Tisaranee Gunasekara

"Basic to a free city was the right to speak back to the state, to criticise its actions in the assembly, the courts, the theatre, or conversation. If the sate suddenly interfered with that right, it was breaking its part of the contract. It was becoming a tyranny.” IF Stone (The Trial of Socrates)

Emperors are almost always naked. We think they are garbed in regal attires because of the collective psychological blinkers imposed on us, the ruled, by dominant ideologies. Those who take upon themselves the necessary task of exposing the structural nudity of Emperors risk imperial wrath and vengeance. So it was then. So it is now. So it is everywhere, even in the liberal heartland.

As Eric Ambler said, when a man is being persecuted for political reasons by the powers that be, “he must be discredited and destroyed as a man so that he may safely be dealt with as a criminal” (Judgement of Deltchev). Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, could have raped half a hundred women without causing political and law enforcement authorities of the Western world a single moment of anxiety or concern, had he not been the head of Wikileaks and had Wikileaks not engaged in outing the sole superpower’s secrets. Mr. Assange became a marked man only because he is the founder of Wikileaks and the leading spirit of Cablegate. If the rape charge is what it purports to be, there is no need for the Interpol to get activated or for a host of Western nations to make a concerted effort to erase Wikileasks out of cyberspace. The rape charge is clearly the fig leaf used by Western democracies to do their intolerant work while hiding their repressive intent.

The rape charge against Mr. Assange is rather similar to the corruption charge used by the Rajapaksas to politically incapacitate their bête noir Gen. Sarath Fonseka. Given the far more democratic conditions prevailing in the West, Mr. Assange may succeed in stymieing the machinations of his persecutors. At least he will have a far better chance of doing so than Gen. Fonseka did. Even the young soldier, without whose moral courage the Wikileaks revelations would not have happened, Private Bradley Manning of the US Army, is likely to have a far fairer trial than Sri Lanka’s war-winning Army Commander. Still, the hysteria with which the Western democracies are reacting to Wikileaks revelations reveal that democracy will always be a work-in-progress than a finished product, not just in the Tricontinental World but also in the liberal Western states.

The Special UN Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Frank La Rue believes the Americans, for all their thunder, will not be able to make a credible case against Julian Assange: “I will hope certainly that the principle of freedom of expression is the one that prevails because I believe that even if the US feels embarrassed it will be a bad example if anyone is harassed or charged or prosecuted for that” (ABC News – The World Today). The Assange trial will be a test case not for Wikileaks but for the West. That trial will enable the world to see to what extent the Liberal West has allowed its own core values to be eroded in its obsessive efforts to win the war against ‘terror’. The West will be on the dock with Mr. Assange.

Are Western democracies becoming more and more akin to anti-democratic countries, such as China and Sri Lanka, even as they preach to the world about the dangers of intolerance and the value of freedom? Leaders of those countries who are or aspire to be autocratic will be watching the Assange trial with riveting interest, hoping for a negative example which will help make the world a more permissive place for the rulers and a more unfree place for the ruled. If the West acts contrary to its purported liberal values and manages to lock up Mr. Assange and shut down Wikileaks, that outcome will politically and psychologically empower anti-democratic forces all over the world. That will be bad news especially for the people of actual and nascent autocracies who are struggling against enormous odds to gain or save even a vestige of democratic space.

As historian Tony Judt pointed out, “The question is not whether terrorism exists: of course it exists. Nor is it a question of whether terrorism and terrorists should be fought: of course they should be fought. The question is what other evils we shall neglect – or create – by focusing exclusively upon a single enemy and using it to justify a hundred lesser crimes of our own” (The problem of evil in post-war Europe - New York Review of Books - 14.2.2008). Terrorism has become the favourite catchphrase of rulers in many parts of the world who want to enhance their own freedoms by curtailing the freedoms of their peoples. The illiberal manner in which the Liberal West is reacting to Cablegate will be used by apologists for (actual and would-be) autocrats to justify the qualitatively greater intolerance prevailing in their countries; and to discredit the very idea of democracy in general and freedom of expression (media freedom) in particular as mere mirages. After all freedom of expression will be worthless, if it is reduced in practice to freedom to express only what governments permit.

There are public figures in the US who are demanding that Mr. Assange be extradited to America and executed (doubtless after a show-trial). Fortunately for all of us these extremists are not in control of Washington, not yet. In consequence, American (and European) media remain free to publish the Wikileaks revelations and to defend Mr. Assange. Even in the US Republican Party, there are politicians who defend what the Wikileaks is doing as an essential component of a democracy (for instance Republican Congressman – and Tea-Party darling - Ron Paul broke ranks with most of his colleagues and defended Wikileaks: “In a free society we are supposed to know the truth. In a society where truth becomes treason, we are in big trouble”). And all over the US and Europe, those who are defending Wikileaks are as vocal and strident as those who attack Wikileaks, if not more so, because dissent in general still remains free and unimpeded.

In a place like Sri Lanka the outcome would have been far more different, as the fates of Lasantha Wickremetunga and a dozen other media personnel demonstrate. As the hysteria surrounding Karu Jayasuriya’s timely statement about the need to carry out a credible investigation into the ‘war crimes charges’ against Sri Lanka indicates, a sober and rational discussion/debate about the conduct of the Lankan Forces during the Fourth Eelam War is tabooed. According to the dominant (Sinhala supremacist) ideology, the only ‘patriotic’ stance is to assert again and again that Lankan Forces never committed ‘war crimes’ (this is the mirror image of the Tiger stance) or even mistakes. We did not kill any civilians inadvertently or knowingly: there the matter is supposed to end. Anyone who ventures beyond this border is a traitor and will be treated as such.

After the victorious conclusion of the Fourth Eelam War, the Rajapaksas and their acolytes claimed that the West should follow the Lankan example in its own war against terrorism. Perhaps the liberal Western nations may yet emulate (at least to some extent) Sri Lanka (and other like-minded countries the world over) in curtailing democratic rights and freedoms of their people. The ancient Greeks warned about the human tendency to become like the enemy one is fighting, and destroying that which one is striving to protect in consequence. Euripides’ Heracles tries to protect his family from the murderous wrath of Lycus; but in a moment of madness he does that which he wanted to prevent Lycus from doing: he kills his wife and his children, believing them to be his enemies. “With grief and many a bitter tear we go our way, robbed of all we prized most dearly”, chants the chorus at the end, the robbery committed not by any outside entity, not by an enemy, but by oneself, the natural protector of the victims.

Hypocrisy is not new to West. Of all the cases in point, perhaps the most telling was the failure of the West to save German and Austrian Jews, when it was yet possible. Until the war broke out, the Nazis’ favoured solution to the ‘Jewish Question’ was emigration. But there were no takers for the Jews who wanted to leave. When the US criticised the Nazis for their persecution of German Jews, the Nazis challenged the US to take the Jews in to save them from persecution. The Americans were not willing to back their fine words with appropriate deeds, much to the glee of Hitler and his cohorts. By reacting in such an intemperate and intolerant way to Wikileaks and Mr. Assange, the US in particular and the West in general are discrediting themselves far more greatly than any of the Wikileaks revelations did or can do. They are killing that which they say they want to protect most – democratic values.

In Sri Lanka, the Rajapaksas are breaking new ground in their effort to transform a democracy into an autocracy, from within. By deciding to punish a grandmother for sheltering a fugitive grandson, the regime is setting a deadly precedent. The law was always in the books; but this is probably the first time it has been implemented against a close family member of an offender, especially when the offender is charged with a non-lethal minor crime and the family member is a 79 year old grandmother.

Danuna Tilakaratne, Gen. Fonseka’s son-in-law, is wanted not for murder or even manslaughter but for a minor act of corruption. That is in theory. The real purpose of the exercise is to harass the family of Gen. Fonseka, who dared to commit the ultimate crime of making a serious attempt to unseat the Rajapaksas, democratically. Mr. Tilakaratne, on the run, was sheltered by his 79 year old grandmother. Very few grandmothers worth the name would turn their backs on a grandchild in trouble. Mr. Tilakaratne was not the only fugitive to seek help and shelter from a close family member. Though legally such assistance is punishable, only an administration which is devoid of common human decencies would want to enforce such laws.

The fact that the Rajapaksas administration is doing precisely that and getting away with it should be a matter of deep concern for all of us. We can be as apolitical as we like, but we all have loved ones to whom we would want to be loyal, especially when they are in trouble. By going after Mr. Tilakaratne’s grandmother, the Rajapaksas are sending a clear signal – that our duty to the Ruling Family should take precedence over our duty to our own families. This is the mindset which premised the ancient practice of punishing close family members for the crime of a man, if the wrongdoer cannot be apprehended. Taken to its extreme, this custom enabled the last king of the Kandyan Kingdom to execute the entire family of his erstwhile chief minister suspected of treasonous deeds. With the infamous granny trial, we are heading in such dangerous directions.

Under the Rajapaksas we have achieved things, both positive and negative, which were hitherto unimaginable. Perhaps the time to stop charting new courses and heading in unprecedented directions has come. If we do not, we may find ourselves in totally unfamiliar terrain, barren of common or garden compassion and loyalty, pity and sympathy, kindness and consideration. Under the rule of the Sun God, the Tigers punished parents who tried to save their children from being conscripted, in the name of Tamil liberation. Under the rule of the Sun King a grandmother is being punished for not handing over her grandson to the police. Is this our country?

Oxford alumni of Sri Lanka must speak up about Oxford Union cancellation

By Gnana Moonesinghe

This article is to call to attention the Oxford alumni of Sri Lanka to speak up for their country in the context of the now infamous withdrawal of the invitation to the President of Sri Lanka, to address the Oxford Union.

The President travelled to Britain to honour the invitation to address the Oxford Union but was unceremoniously informed that the invitation was forthwith withdrawn as the organizers had made this unilateral decision on the basis that they could not give adequate security to ward off the Tamil Diaspora if and when they stage a peaceful protest outside the university.

The most pertinent issue here for consideration is, one, that the Tamil Diaspora is a proscribed organization in Britain and two, the concerns of a leading University in Britain that could not garner the support of the local authorities to organize effective security to a visiting President of a friendly nation. This unfortunate incident has aroused national and international interest and has given rise to an intrusive appraisal of Oxford as a learning centre.

Oxford University has always been seen as the premier institution of learning in Britain, where every stone, every pebble, every grain of sand one treads on, opens up pages of the hallowed history of the past; an institution where the teaching of liberal arts flourish, where students drink from the cup of wisdom, their thirst never quenched, they spread out into the four corners of the world to nurture their gathered wisdom and on this foundation to build on further from the life’ s fountain in their own personal experience.

The torch that is lit to train young minds of men and women who enter the portals of its imposing precincts, imposing in its old revered buildings and imposing intellectually from the ‘knowledge’ in the history of the institution, that rests on liberalism and liberal thought, dialogue and debate. Forever, it was hoped they will keep up the constant search for the values of right and wrong, of correct attitudes and behaviour patterns. These remain constant, the dictum which Oxonians follow scrupulously while in the university and after they leave this seat of learning.

The Vice Chancellor in his graduation oration on October 5, 2010 referred to “……the opportunity it provides to meet Oxford alumni and hear their accounts of what this university meant and continues to mean to them, often many years later. Our old members are our real and valuable expression of Oxford in the world.”

This is therefore a good time to exhort the Oxford alumni to bring about some introspection to the events that took place which when couched in colloquialism becomes a ‘slap’ in the face by a group of young cubs from the Oxford Union to the head of a sovereign nation.

This had happened not long after the Vice Chancellor had mentioned in his oration to Oxford’s place in the world and said that, “the future health and prosperity of Oxford as a great university is ultimately connected to its international achievement and ambition.” Here there are two issues for the alumni to consider. One, how will the Sri Lankan alumni of Oxford view this situation as representing the “real and valuable expression of Oxford in the world.”

Second, how will this action portray “the university in international relations?”

One cannot in any seriousness accept that those who extended the invitation to the President feared a proscribed group so much that they were unsure of ranging effectively the law enforcement authorities to provide protection to the invitees. Then it needs to be asked whether the young Oxonians hoping to represent this premier seat of learning had any other agenda in their portmanteau. Even if it were not so, it would seem a simple lesson learnt at the mother’s knee that you do not insult your guest by suddenly withdrawing an already issued invitation, even if he/she were not the Head of State.

In the address quoted here of the Vice Chancellor’s oration, the latter refers to extracts from “The ideas of a University” written by John Henry Newman, formulated a 150 years ago. He quotes that the university is a place “ ….. for the communication and circulation of thought, by means of personally verified and perfected and…. error exposed by the collision of mind with mind … and knowledge with knowledge.”

On the basis of this what better opportunity could have been had, than what would have been available in a face to face, constructive dialogue, with the invitee rather than to a cowardly demonstration behind a barricade and shout slogans which create noise and disturbance but nothing constructive in dialogue to have some clarification on controversial issues. Let us not tie this ‘abrogation’ of the invitation to domestic issues related to the ethnic reconciliation process, to the law and order situation or to the human rights situation before and after the war or the media restrictions within the country. All of these are matters to be resolved and to be resolved urgently but emphatically, not a concern of the Oxford Union or any other extraneous groups.

If there is a desire to solve these matters it has to be done in the domestic arena by the people of this country. If the authorities do not heed there is the people’s verdict to look forward to at the next elections. It is therefore necessary for the alumni to make the essential response to the country’s dignity and not fall by the wayside of political partisanship or apathy to concerns that they may consider extraneous to them personally.

If they fail to respond in their collective reflection how will they measure against the standards of the Oxford ‘culture’? Will they consider the action of the Oxford Union to be an aberration?

LTTE Scored its first goal after Prabhakaran's death while Mahinda sulked at Dorchester

By Gomin Dayasri

Lessons Learnt and Reconcile. It's not the commission sitting at Horton Place rather a lesson of a lifetime learnt at Oxford. Pilgrimage to Oxford is a trek to a colonial bygone; paying homage to an educational enclave for kittens of fat cats with stuffed purses mostly of mid-eastern breeds that attracts more gravitation than heavy academic magnets.

A President that showed the world the art of defeating terrorism and is attempting to make friends with them on the wings of a triumph need not travel that distance to get a message across with an entourage, to warm seats to trumpet achievements. His mere presence is sufficient to attract numbers at Oxford to hear and on hearing barrage questions that make an 'evening with Mahinda' intellectually stimulating.

S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike or Lakshman Kadirgamar may have graced the portals of the debating society for a billing of a stylish nature. Mahinda of Richmond and later Nalanda, has achieved much more to relay a hot theme on current affairs in traditional country vein, deserving a hearing more than any other Sri Lankan before him at Oxford Union.

But it was not to be. It need not have been; if not for our asinine values of overrating Oxford and desire to be a synthetic part of it, however remote. Why crave for an insignificant site in a world where more is on offer to a Sri Lankan who created history?

Are we on the westward-ho drive with a Right turn on budget day to attract investors from abroad?

Are we deviating from those glory days, in wrestling westerners to ground, in the same swashbuckling style of the wild-west, where the President and his brother Gotabaya sent David Miliband and Bernard Kouchner packing home, never to return?

We were the envy of Asia during the tug o' war of war time by showing true grit; need we devalue by wanting to worship at the holy shrines of the Brits?

Have the company of the new found cronies from the corporate sector with its inherent meek mannerism of worshipping Ye Olde England become infectious?

They unbalanced the UNP to keep it permanently in the opposition. These phony scouts could render the same service to the government. On the political barometer having them close sends the mercury line on a downward route.

Instead the LTTE scored its first goal since the death of Prabhakaran while the President sulked on the sidelines at Dorchester. It was a goal scored against the run of play or did we net our own goal by selecting a poor venue knowing of hooligans in that blood sport.

LTTE is compelled- like one of our good neighbors - to play all their fixtures away from home. They play to their strength and Britain was a friendly turf where there are over 300,000 of their countrymen, many eligible to vote, though not all cheer for them. David Miliband on WikiLeak articulated, their leaning to the LTTE, was based on a vote thirst.

We did not walk into a trap instead went blindly and got trapped. Naturally, with a Ministry of External Affairs more at departure gates at the airport than in their seats in office?

This will give strength to their counterparts in well populated capitals to stage more road shows to display a revival. The LTTE and western governments are on the same wavelength -- punish us for winning the war after failing to prevent us from winning. Neither wanted to defeat the LTTE, it's a continuation of the same policy for the same reason -- the vote.

Britain is the head of the Commonwealth -- supposedly a friendly nation to its former colony. It is not so -- whether Conservative or Labour, they (there are no differences in the varying shades of the left/right struggle in the lust for votes) are forever friendlier to the LTTE, purely for the votes they deliver, where election are close.

Pragmatically, in Britain. winning votes to form a government takes precedence over being fair to an insignificant island in the Indian Ocean without any sentimental attachments, where much of its local literate consider, worthwhile British legacies left behind are in cricket and the English language after democracy stands devalued.

Britain's foreign policy on Sri Lanka is wedded to the domestic policy of garnering votes from the Tamil community. The varnishing with democracy, rule of law and human rights is pure crap. We are grappling with these mock idealistic issues without exposing the Miliband doctrine wherein the concern of the British government lies in the vote. To place Britain on the defensive -- the truth must be bared with a stiff upper lip.

What is required is a quiet diplomatic hard talk with the High Commissioner at a time when the External Affairs Minister, happens to be in Sri Lanka. Sure, it would be understood better delivered in Oxford prose at which the Minister excels. If we could take the diplomatic corps on familiarization visits to the North during the height of the war, when they were trying to whip us, the British constabulary can provide security in a peaceful rural rustic university town for head of state to deliver a talk? Are we stupid to intake the rot in the excuses trotted!

If it happened to Obama, it would have been equated to fairy tales to be retold to the Marines? We take it silently in servility as if Britain still rules the waves. Instead, sent another Minister to exhibit at the High Commission gates, hysterics in vaudeville style?

We have a classic Opposition that continues to endanger itself by hinging itself to the words of the hostile forces and never endears itself to the people. They lost the opportunity of blaming the British for shaming Sri Lanka and censure the government for meekly waiting. Now they face treacherous crossfire of siding with the enemy.

We learnt a lesson the hard way. Let's reconcile and tell those westerners their homilies on democracy, law and order and human rights are pure bluff to cover their greed for the Diaspora vote. Let's be on the offensive and extend the lesson learnt. ~ courtesy: the sunday times -

Denials will not make the war crimes issue go away

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“For almost an hour in a suite in the Dorchester, Mr. Rajapaksa had painted a picture of his government and country that was as white and spotless as his traditional garb….. His large entourage, ranged on sofas around the room, nodded in rapt agreement at every word the President said”. — The Times (2.12.2010)

There is madness in the air. Instead of making a sobre analysis of the Oxford debacle and deriving appropriate lessons, the regime is frenziedly lashing out at the opposition, dementedly searching for suitable ‘sacrificial victims’ to propitiate the Jovian wrath of the President.

Very little is beneath a ruler with unlimited power and a tyrannical bent. The efforts to expel Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena from Parliament and present a no confidence motion against Karu Jayasuriya are unlikely to fail. Both would accelerate Sri Lanka’s descent into anti-democracy and intolerance, but neither would resolve the crisis of international legitimacy the Rajapaksa administration is plagued with, of which the Oxford debacle is but a telling manifestation.

The President is not content with lording it over Sri Lanka or even a regional entrée; he desires to cut a dash in the world. He is not satisfied being feted in Beijing or Tehran but yearns to visit London and Washington in style. Perhaps he regards staying in plush Western hotels with huge entourages as proof-positive that he is indeed ‘The Leader who conquered the World’, as his acolytes hail him.

Money or good sense is no impediment in this Presidential quest for international honours. In this spirit, Colombo volunteered to host the SAARC summit when the Maldives backed down and volunteered, again, to host the G15 summit, treating as a high honour that which other member states shunned as a wasteful extravaganza.

We lack money to give public sector workers a salary increase; accidents at unprotected level crossings reached a ten-year high in 2009 because the Railway Department lac0The trip was made, in this insalubrious atmosphere, because of the President’s craving for another record (the first Head of State to address the Oxford Union twice; the invitation and the disinvitation were both by the Oxford Union proper).

The large delegation accompanying him indicates that visiting London (in time for Christmas/ New Year shopping) at public expense was an alluring prospect. Thus an inadvisable trip was made which enabled the pro-Tiger elements of the Tamil diaspora to score an ego-boosting victory. (Incidentally, had the regime come up with a political solution to the ethnic problem, or treated Lankan Tamils with some generosity and consideration, or sounded even minutely contrite about civilian casualties and suffering during the war, the pro-Tiger elements within the Tamil Diaspora would not have been able to put up the show they did).

The growing gap between the Rajapaksa claims and the Lankan reality, which no propaganda effort can fully efface, is increasingly impeding the international ambitions of President Rajapaksa. Retaining expensive lobbying firms at extortionate costs cannot make up for the absence of a political solution or human rights. “We are very weak in our propaganda”, the President Rajapaksa lamented in his interview with The Times. How can our propaganda be anything but weak when it consists on trying to convince the world that we won the war without killing or injuring a single Tamil civilian? Or that Tamils are happy sans democracy, normalcy or devolution? Or that there never was a leader as democratic, as humane, as humble, as efficient as President Rajapaksa?

These Scheherazade tales still have some currency in the Sinhala South, but not in those Western capitals where the President yearns to sojourn, not when contrary ‘evidence’ keeps on popping-up. The Channel 4 video which is an elongated version of the initial video; “rather than stopping after the execution of a second bound man, it continues and the camera pans left to reveal the naked and dead bodies of at least seven women, with accompanying dialogue from onlookers who make lewd and callous comments, which seem to suggest strongly that sexual assaults have taken place before the death of the women,” (Channel 4 – 1.12.2010).

According to UN Human Rights Investigator, Philip Alston, “the reports by three US-based experts on forensic pathology, video analysis and firearm evidence ‘strongly suggest that the (first) video is authentic,’” (The Huffington Post – 9.12.2010). Channel 4 has forwarded the new video to the Secretary General’s Advisory Committee on Sri Lanka; the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, Professor Christof Haynes opines that this video is ‘shocking’ and “clearly deserves more investigation” (Channel 4 – 1.12.2010).

Armies tend to retaliate against civilian populations seen as ‘enemy’; consequently even a just war contains within itself the possibility of war crimes.

There are no exceptions to this rule, as the Wikileaks’ revelations demonstrate. This reality conflicts with the belief in ‘national infallibility’ (one’s own nation can do no wrong) which has replaced Papal/monarchical infallibility. This erroneous belief is fundamental to extremist versions of patriotism, which regards all criticism of one’s nation as treachery.

The LTTE’s brand of Tamil nationalism belonged in this category, as does the Rajapaksa brand of Sinhala nationalism. This worldview renders certain issues taboo, categorising them as ‘psychological enemy territory’ and thus no-go areas for ‘patriots’. The ‘war crimes’ issue is one example. Consequently the ‘patriotic’ response to the Channel 4 video is an ipso facto denial, however incredible or unhelpful or counterproductive it may be.

Denial is comfortable and safe and resorted to by millions of ordinary, decent people in both dictatorships (Germans about concentration camps) and democracies (Americans about Guantanamo/Abu Ghraib). Many Tamils, especially in the diaspora, chose to ignore the manifold crimes of the LTTE. Now we are headed in the same unhealthy direction. But denials will not make the ‘war crimes’ issue go away.

Moreover, can we justify atrocities even when they are committed for a just cause and against atrocious enemies?

Would it not demean the victory over the Tigers and poison the peace we all need?

If atrocities cease being atrocious when the victim is an enemy, and the Rulers can ‘make’ an enemy at will, will the resultant impunity spare the Sinhalese?

The ongoing trial of the 79 year old grandmother of Gen. Fonseka’s son-in-law should make us pause for thought: in a country where a grandmother is persecuted and prosecuted for sheltering a ‘fugitive’ grandson, can any of us feel safe?

Oxford Union President cancelled lecture at instigation of Tamil Tiger diaspora - President Rajapaksa at Cabinet Meeting

It has been the practice of President Mahinda Rajapaksa hitherto to hold his Cabinet meetings at Temple Trees. But after the recent Cabinet re-shuffle he decided to have it at the Presidential Secretariat last Wednesday. This was because the new Cabinet is enormous and Temple Trees Hall where it is usually held was not adequate to accommodate all. Mahinda Rajapaksa attended the first cabinet meeting following the re-shuffle after having listened to all the gossip, tales about others told to him and the stories woven around his London tour fiasco.

Those who sneaked to him on others had told him that the organiser of his London tour Sajin Vaas Gunewardena, the Galle District MP, is the target of vicious criticism among the ministers and government MPs who are having discussions in dark corridors regarding his tour. Amidst these accusations, Vaas himself had made a complaint to the President that when JVP MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake accused him in Parliament for being responsible for the failure of the President’s London tour, the ministers and government MPs did not defend him. Dissanayake had made a hard hitting speech against the tour and praised Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris saying that he has high regard for him, but unfortunately, today, Peiris is unable to perform his duties because of the interference of Sajin Vaas.

Sajin then began obstructing Dissanayake’s speech and at this provocation, Dissanayake alleged that it was Vaas who had encouraged the President on the tour and finally let him down. Dissanayake went on to castigate Vaas for encouraging the President to go on the tour contrary to the advice of the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in Britain. Though Vaas was yelling out in self defense, no other minister or MP stood up to support him and Vaas had complained about this to the President later.

As though to add fuel to fire, a weekend Sinhala newspaper too had pinned the entire blame on Vaas. To the President’s consternation, he had come to know that this news had been released to the newspaper by a group within the government. Rajapaksa who attended the Cabinet meeting with his head ‘reeling’ from listening to all these tales and complaints began by saying, ‘‘A national newspaper had reported various stories. All these are erroneous. I believe that as ministers, all of you must know what truly occurred."

“I received an invitation from the Oxford Union. On an earlier occasion too I was invited and I responded to it. On this current tour it was my intention to communicate to the world via my address to the Oxford Union how communal harmony can be accomplished in Sri Lanka and I thought the Oxford Union would have been a splendid forum to do this. The Oxford Union President who invited me was scheduled to relinquish his post on 4th December . It was during those final days of his term that I received his invitation. I accepted the invitation and toured the UK. I was to deliver my lecture on the 2nd of December, but on the 1st of December I was informed that my lecture had been cancelled. This was ludicrous. Had I become aware of this earlier I would not have undertaken this tour.

“ After this intimation of cancellation, another team of the Oxford Union came and met me. Among them was the new president of the Union who was to take over duties on the 4th. He suggested that if I could stay on for three or four days more he would make arrangements for me to deliver my speech after he takes over duties. Had I heeded his request I believe I would have voluntarily walked into deep trouble. By that time, the LTTE Diaspora had gone to courts to take out a warrant to arrest the former army officer who had gone with me. I therefore decided to return to Sri Lanka as swiftly as possible. The President of the Oxford Union cancelled this lecture at the instigation of the Tamil Tiger Diaspora.’’

At this point G.L. Peiris asked him whether to issue the letter of invitation from the Oxford Union and the cancellation letter to the media. The President after agreeing to this, continued with his speech, ‘‘I wish to emphasise one thing. The British government accorded me the maximum security. My plane was to stop at Terminal Four, but for my sake they stopped at Terminal Five and summoned all the security vehicles to the tarmac and whisked me away under a heavy security blanket. The protests were being staged at Terminal Four. Had I arrived at Terminal Four I would have had to confront serious problems. We must express our profuse gratitude to the British government for these arrangements.”

“However the British High Commission conducted itself in a most untoward manner. When I included Minister Douglas Devananda in my delegation his visa was refused. Even the issue of visas to my security division was deliberately delayed and consequently my flight got delayed. The British High Commission did not give recognition to the fact that the President of the State was traveling. I know how the British High Commission treats our Sinhala children when they seek visas to study abroad. Those children whom I met in London complained about the harassment meted out to their parents by the High Commission when they request visas to visit their children. But they issue visas without any hesitation to those who are trying to attend meetings of the Tamil Diaspora. If Devananda had requested the visa to attend a Tamil Diaspora meeting they would have gladly granted it.’’

When the President made all these remarks critical of the British High Commission he did not however utter a word about the harassment and embarrassment that were caused to their High Commission in Colombo when his ministers staged violent demonstrations in front of it hurling rotten eggs and tomatoes. Mahinda Rajapaksa then turned his vituperative speech in the direction of UNP MP Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena and NSSP Leader Dr. Wickremabahu Karunaratne whom he made scapegoats for his ‘catastrophic’ tour .

‘‘I met a lady from the media by the name of Rajeswari Balasubramaniam in London. She asked me whether I was not aware that Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena and Dr. Wickremabahu Karunaratne came to London and held a series of meetings with the Tamil Tiger leaders. These are the people who advised the Tamil Tiger leaders and the Tamil Diaspora leaders to hold demonstrations and protests on your arrival there. ‘These are the people who have incited them’, she declared. It was then and only then that I came to know of the involvements of these two individuals in the protests,” the President said.

It was clear that Mahinda made this announcement in order to justify the attacks launched on Dr. Jayawardena in Parliament and on Dr. Karunaratne at the airport. Later on, a minister wished to know the view of Rajapaksa on Karu Jayasuriya’s statement published in a weekend English newspaper wherein he had recommended that an investigation into alleged war crimes be conducted. In response to this the President said, “I know Karu’s capacity. He is incapable of issuing such statements. It is Mangala Samaraweera, the UNP MP who is behind all this. Today, Karu is a captive of Mangala and his team.

Mangala is hatching conspiracies using Karu as a shield. I am also aware that behind Mangala and his team there is a huge Tamil lobby. This is the group which is running websites to undermine the forces and tarnish the image of the country. We have started investigations into this. We are bound to expose the ghosts of the LTTE hovering around the country.” He then unleashed his fury on Karu and Mangala who were next on his hit list.

After the cabinet meeting was over, Rajapaksa had a separate discussion with Ministers Dinesh Gunawardena, Wimal Weerawansa and Susil Premajayantha. This discussion focused on how to weaken the opposition inside Parliament. From all this it became obvious that the President was at the bottom of all the attacks launched against Dr. Jayawardena, Dr. Karunaratne and the mudslinging against Karu Jayasuriya. At any rate the ministers who were leaving the cabinet meeting made a parting shot that Mahinda Rajapaksa’s speech was fully oriented towards searching for scapegoats for his flopped UK tour and an attempt to defend those who organised it and inspired him.

Minister Basil Rajapaksa playing an uncharacteristically silent role during the sessions caught the attention of the other ministers and that became the topic of their conversation thereafter. Sources close to Basil disclosed that three days before the President embarked on his tour he had discussions with Basil and asked him for his opinion about it.

Basil had also advised him against making the tour pointing out that this is not an opportune moment to address the Oxford Union adding that he too had received invitations to tour Europe but had postponed them because the Tamil Diaspora is violent and very active these days. But the President had rejected his advice explaining that keeping away from the tour could be interpreted by the Tamil Diaspora as a defeat inflicted on him. Basil had however advised his brother to re-consider his decision.

The SLFP Union London branch is taking measures to probe conclusively as to who were the culprits responsible for the President’s tour. They had discovered that about a month ago Sajin Vaas had come to London in advance on a fact finding tour to make a study of the situation there along with two of the President’s security division chiefs, DIG Wickremesinghe and SP Tuduwatte. Two reports were compiled based on their tour. One advised Mahinda Rajapaksa not to undertake the London tour as it was ‘untimely.’ It is learned that the London Branch Union has requested the President to find out who suppressed that report. - courtesy: The Sunday Leader -

"It Was My Statement And I Take Full Responsibility For It" - Karu Jayasuriya

An Interview with Karu Jayasuriya by Namini Wijedasa

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Karu Jayasuriya, the UNP deputy leader, last week said he did not know why the government was agitated over a statement he issued in good faith. He maintained also that he had never alleged war crimes had been committed by Sri Lankan troops. Excerpts:

Did you draft the statement or simply lend your signature to it?

It was my statement and I take full responsibility for it.

Given the nature of politics in the country, did you not expect a controversy?

My intentions were pure. I know it was a very strong statement. I also had very strong sentiments about the way things were happening in the country. These are not just mine but the sentiments of this country’s people.

Did you get party approval for it or was it a personal statement?

Every time you issue a statement you don’t need party approval. Of course the party hierarchy was aware that I was issuing a statement on behalf of the incident that happened. We are a democratic party and I enjoy my freedom of expression.

What was your objective in issuing that statement?

Our colleague Jayalath Jayawardana was harassed, assaulted and insulted inside parliamentary premises, and accused of taking part in the rally against the president. I know how his family suffered. I got telephone calls from our branches everywhere... in the UK, Geneva and Europe. Dr Jayawardana has been a frequent visitor to Europe. He’s our additional secretary in charge of human rights. Lately he has been travelling quite frequently on General Fonseka’s imprisonment, talking to connected institutions in Switzerland and the UK. There’s nothing wrong with that. We all know that the president went to Geneva when he was in the opposition in 1989 against the situation in the country. We have also asked Dr Jayawardana to strengthen the UNP branch organisations including our branch and youth league in London and to look into the setting up of professional organisations for the UNP.

So that is what you did?

I took the liberty of saying, “Don’t do this”. If there are accusations against the country, look inwards. I never used the words ‘war crimes’ or ‘diaspora’ in the first place. It was not ethical for the journalist who did this to give interpretations to that. I have never at any time wanted foreign intervention or investigation. I was one of the people that voted against LTTE atrocities, supporting the government for two years. I left the government on 10 December 2008 after voting for the 2009 budget that enabled them to buy military equipment. It’s grossly unfair to label me with a Tiger brand. On the other hand, I’m not surprised because the former army commander who was responsible for the defeat of the LTTE is also branded a traitor. We accept the fact that president gave political leadership, defence secretary gave the required coordination and the strength, service commanders and police played their role as did everyone else but the former army commander played the biggest role.

Was the government’s treatment of Dr Jayawardana the only factor that prompted your statement?

I must also tell you that if the president of a country is insulted, it’s an insult to the country and all of us. When we travel abroad, we always maintain the respect of the country. We have no personal grudges against the president. We only disagree on policy matters. We don’t agree for instance with the policy on the executive presidency or the 18th Amendment. Therefore, it’s highly uncalled for that we are called traitors merely because we express an opinion. I don’t know why this type of approach is taken. We all want the pride and self respect of the country to be maintained, that can only be done by not leaving room for various international forces to point fingers at Sri Lanka.

What is your position on war crimes?

Sri Lankan forces fought the world’s worst terrorist enemy. In such instances, you can’t expect everything to happen to perfection. Even if there were excesses, they would have been under exceptional circumstances. I always respect the gallant forces and the role played by the Sri Lanka army. If this happened in any other part of the world, the casualties would have been much more. The fundamental principles governing this kind of international investigation that is being threatened against the Sri Lankan state is the proof that the local justice system has failed or is not in a position to deliver justice. By not addressing these accusations we are playing into the hands of our enemies who want to drag our military and political leaders in front of an international tribunal. My point is that the only way we can prevent outsiders investigating us is for us to conduct a credible investigation of our own.

This is the only way to exonerate the good name of the entire military. It has been done before in this country during war time, under different administrations. The reason why this is so controversial now is that there is no room in this country any more for political discourse that differs from the official line. The time for playing local politics is past. This is a national issue, one that affects the very core of our value systems as a nation. We need to act, to prevent others acting for us and bringing disrepute to our forces. I always maintain we must protect the Sri Lankan forces; there cannot be charges against the Sri Lankan forces. We have to maintain that. But what we say is that when charges are made tell the world what exactly happened. There are things that could take place in certain abnormal circumstances. For instance, if you are attacked you have to attack back. Even a court of law allows that. It’s just a matter of explaining, I’m sure the world will understand.

Your statement speaks of investigating and telling the truth. Do you expect prosecutions to take place?

My personal view is that our soldiers have done their duty. However the charges being brought against us are of the utmost seriousness. They are accusations we cannot as a civilised nation, ignore. Why can’t prosecution take place? Has it not happened before? We are not the first nation in history to be accused of excesses during conflict, nor is this the first time such things have happened in Sri Lanka. You may recall, during the JVP insurrection of 1971 an army officer was accused of raping and killing Premawathie Manamperi, a mass grave was found in Suriyakanda in the early 90s, military personnel were accused of killing Krishanti Kumaraswamy in Jaffna. In all these cases, there was agitation for justice both locally and internationally and the Sri Lankan government allowed a local investigation and the perpetrators were found and prosecuted under Sri Lankan law. In those instances, justice prevailed and as a result the whole military and the nation did not suffer the ignominy of being accused of ‘war crimes’. Had similar steps been taken to address these allegations when they were first brought against us in the current context, we wouldn’t be fighting this losing battle in the world today. We have the processes to look into the allegations ourselves, in a credible way that will alleviate international pressure and restore our image in the world.

What about the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission?

I don’t think the commission is going deeper into those areas at the moment and I think they should. In my view we must tell the world that we fought the worst terrorist organisation in the world. Even if there were excesses, that would be under exceptional circumstances. There are two ways of settling this. Most Western countries are highly sensitive to press freedom, democracy, and the rule of law and so on. When they raise issues in those areas, the best way would be to explain the actual position. If any country makes a statement against Sri Lanka, the normal practice would be for that envoy of the country to be called to the foreign ministry so that we can lodge a protest. Unfortunately, when things like that happen we go before the relevant embassy, stage a ‘bali-thovil’ ceremony, hoot at them, throw stones and become an international joke. This is not the way to handle international affairs. We are living in a civilised world and these countries follow the Vienna Convention. What I meant was that I simply can’t understand why the government got agitated on a matter which I raised in good faith.

How do you react to being labelled a traitor?

As much as the so-called patriots, we love the country. I was a military officer for seven years, I have been a diplomat and I raised both hands for the elimination of terrorism being part of the government. Therefore, if they dare to label me as a Tiger supporter they are sadly mistaken and people will not believe it. But I will always stand for democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech and I will fight for those virtues unto my death.

Do you expect the government’s proposed no-faith motion against you to materialise?

As far as normal parliamentary laws are concerned, a no-faith motion can only be brought against somebody holding office. You can’t bring it against an opposition MP. On the other hand, even if I lose my seat, this is not my employment. I don’t live out of being MP, I’m performing a service. My policies will not change. I will speak for what is right and I will speak the truth.

Why did you not openly identify the crowds who protested against President Rajapaksa as LTTE supporters?

The reports reaching us said there were not only LTTE supporters but others. - courtesy: Lakbima News -

Cabinet Ministers have given wrong advice to President expecting to humiliate him

by Dr.Vickramahu Karunaratne

I came back from England on November 7, Tuesday. I was warned by friends that I could get arrested by the Mahinda regime. But the ruler had a better arrangement set for me. I was not disturbed in any way while I went through the airport. In fact most respectfully officials attended to my matters and within minutes I was out of the airport.

Then the vicious plot of Mahinda regime was launched. Mahinda proved again that he is not ruling this country according to the law. On the contrary, the rule of law was observed in the negative and rules of thuggery and intimidation were activated in utmost faith. I requested help from the DIG north Colombo. I have reason to believe that police instead of helping me, used their power to let the goons attack our last vehicle and assault the passengers. I was allowed to go as I came out of the airport; and also the other vehicles that went fromColombo. After allowing us to move out, the last vehicle was carefully retained for the assault. Maybe they planned to kill the passengers. Thus it was a narrow escape for them.

Reporting this sinister event one media said “Supporters of the General Secretary of the Nava Sama Samaja Party (NSSP), Vickramabahu Karunaratne and some journalists were attacked at the Colombo airport by a mob while the police were looking on.” While another said “MTV Katunayaka correspondant Prema Lal and Lankaenews journalist Shantha Wijesuriya who went to cover Dr. Vickramabahu Karunaratna’s arrival from the UK have been assaulted. NSSP party members, journalists, trade union leaders, lawyers and human rights activists were among the victims of the attack. During his visit, the NSSP General Secretary addressed several public meetings. He was one of the main speakers at the Tamil Remembrance Day 2010 held on November27. The government of Sri Lanka has accused Dr. Karunaratne and opposition parliamentarian Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena of organizing the protests in London in collusion with Tamil Tiger supporters.

On the other hand, Lakshman Hullugalle, the Director General of the Media Centre for National Security has said that it is too early to name suspects. He has said further that the attack was instigated by people who were discontented by Dr. Karunaratne’s anti government activities in the United Kingdom. Also he has indicated that “Dr. Jayalath Jayawardhana and Vickramabahu, both will be investigated and will be taken into custody if necessary for their anti government activities abroad”.

The truth is that violence was directed at the last vehicle that was delayed by the police. Not only was it delayed but no protection was given as promised. Lankaenews Journalist Shantha Wijesuriya and Sirasa Katunayake Airport reporter Premalal had to bear the brunt of the attack. Shantha Wijesuriya who sustained injuries on his head following this attack had taken treatment. All this shows that the ruler is ruling the country by violating the rule of law.

He may be angry that he was hooted out of London by the proletarians and the Tamil speaking people. It is strange that he walked into London full of angry Tamils and protesting workers without any formal invitation of the Tory regime. The British regime is unable to give protection to any foreign politician who is on a private visit. Also, in London protesting and the show of displeasure are quite legal and a common event.

On the other hand, if anybody accused of a crime visits England he can be arrested provided somebody concerned takes the matter to courts. The president could get diplomatic immunity but army officers are not above the law. All this is common knowledge. However, knowledgeable cabinet ministers have given wrong advice to the president expecting to humiliate him. This is the only conclusion I could arrive at after looking back at the flow of events.

US envoy Patricia Butenis is not a Tiger, Tiger supporter or sympathiser

By Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

One does hope that in her next cablegram, Ambassador Patricia Butenis will not fail to inform her bosses that Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the highest ranking Sri Lankan in a formation that stands at a rare interface of global civil society and the global inter-state system; a member of the top elective college of a planetary organisation of a billion adherents; the leader of the only social organisation on this island bridging the Sinhala-Tamil gap; and an advocate of devolution and ethnic equity, has at a landmark public occasion on December 6, expressed endorsement of Sri Lanka’s final military offensive for national unification and liberation, decisively demarcated himself and the Church from the ‘targeting of civilians in the final phase of the conflict’ discourse and decried the international propaganda drive against Sri Lanka.

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U.S Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Maldives Ms.Patricia Butenis is in conversation with Venerable Professor Bellanwila Wimalaratana-Chief Incumbent of Bellanwila Temple ~ at The Martin Luther King Jr Commemorative Exhibition ~ see & read more ~ pic by: Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai ~

One also hopes that the US Ambassador will add that the most popular personality in Sri Lanka’s moderate opposition, Sajith Premadasa, is categorically of the view that the only war crimes in Sri Lanka were committed by the Tigers.

It must be emphasised that Patricia Butenis, the US Ambassador is not a Tiger or a Tiger supporter or sympathiser. Nor does she support the establishment of a separate state of Tamil Eelam. Therefore she is not a foe of Sri Lanka.

I think her Sri Lankan critics have not understood exactly what Patricia Butenis has tried to do in her cable to her bosses. Far from being a dreadfully anti-Sri Lankan creature brewing a nasty concoction, the cable traffic seems to indicate that she was trying to soften and counter some of the worst of the anti-Sri Lankan thrust in US and Western circles.

It is important to note the chain of causation, and that certainly does not originate with Patricia Butenis or the US. The crucial cable is not from the US Embassy in Colombo, but the one from the US Embassy in London, to the State Department. In it, the entire diplomatic campaign – its leading personalities, the reasoning, the dates, the moves, the roadmap studded with two mentions of the looming United Nations Human Rights Council Special Session on Sri Lanka in Geneva in May 2009 — becomes transparently clear in the briefing the US diplomat receives from his British counterpart.

This in turn is reported by the US diplomat to his bosses in Washington DC, not with any noticeable degree of enthusiasm or approval but as deep background of the British preoccupation with Sri Lanka at a pretty high level. The Patricia Butenis cable must be seen as coming downstream from those developments which included visits by the UK Foreign Secretary to New York and Washington, where the ‘special relationship’ was obviously sought to be leveraged.

The policy process in Washington DC must be understood. On any given issue there are a plurality of voices, originating from a plurality of institutional sites, and a policy consensus evolves, which reflects the overall balances within the administration and the polity (including the Senate, Congress etc), and entails trade-offs among factions as between personalities. The Butenis cable must be embedded in that context.

What is the main thrust of what Ambassador Butenis is telling her bosses? The message is two pronged, neither of which is aimed especially against Sri Lanka. One point to Washington DC is: war crimes investigations? C’mon guys, whatever the Brits or our own human rights archangels are plugging, you’ve just got to be kidding. Note that Ambassador Butenis uses the adjective “alleged” war crimes, even in her cable traffic home.

Her second message is as important or even more so: though apprehension of intimidation cannot be ruled out as a factor, there is a basic asymmetry, even a schism, between the perspectives and priorities of the Tamils of Sri Lanka, including the (Oppositional, Tamil nationalist) TNA, and those of the Tamil diaspora, so let us not be pushed, pulled, prodded or guided mainly by the diaspora lobbyists. The Tamils on the ground in Sri Lanka and their democratically elected representatives are more important or at least as important.

Pat Butenis served in a very nasty place at a very nasty time: El Salvador in the early 1980s when the allies and interlocutors of the US (such as the US trained Atlacatl and Ramon Belloso brigades, and the notorious Roberto D’Aubisson) made the Sri Lankan state apparatuses look positively saintly. She would have been there during the massacres on the Cathedral steps and in the waters and bank of the Rio Sumpul; and the slaying of Archbishop Romero while he was celebrating the Eucharist. She knows that prosecutions on human rights violations (the murder of the Archbishop, the killing of the six Jesuits and their personal staff) take place way down the road, as part of a negotiated settlement in an ethno-linguistically homogenous society with common institutions (such as the Church). US Secretary of State James Baker III successfully negotiated the end of the conflict.

Pat Butenis knows that Sri Lanka’s conflict did not end in a negotiated solution, decommissioning and partial de-militarization, largely because of the nature of the Tigers. The Salvadoran revolutionaries were from a different planet than the Tigers, the JVP and sundry Sinhala chauvinists.

Where in Sri Lanka were there ever equivalents of communist leader-theoretician Schafik Jorge Handal, top revolutionary intellectual Salvador Samayoa, or guerilla commander Joaquin Villalobos, a favourite son of Fidel, who currently commutes between Harvard’s Kennedy School and Oxford University? The remotely possible equivalents were murdered by the Tigers.

Ambassador Butenis isn’t out there pitching for Sri Lanka. Why should she? That’s not in her job description. She’s a professional US diplomat who pitches for her country. She may not be a friend of Sri Lanka or even like the place, let alone its administration, but going by the textual and contextual evidence she seems to be commending a realist perspective to her government in relation to ‘alleged war crimes’ and their investigation, the Tamil diaspora and the aspirations of Sri Lanka’s Tamil citizenry.

She regards this as in the best interests of the USA. Though not quite as constructive and forward looking as the Kerry-Lugar (‘re-set’) Report a year ago, this realist or (less flatteringly) pragmatic in-house corrective is helpful to Sri Lanka. It is in our interests.

The inability to distinguish between private critic and public enemy is a hallmark of political fundamentalism. Far too much of it is going around, disguised as patriotism or nationalism, when it is quite harmful to the national interest. Sri Lanka has no enemies other than the External LTTE and the projects for Tamil Eelam. Sri Lanka certainly has no enemies among the existing states of the international system.

While our enemy has friends, these are not necessarily our enemies and certainly not our main enemy. Furthermore, our enemy has no friends which are existing states or countries. It may have friends, allies or sympathisers within those states, but that does not make those states or their representatives, our enemies. Nothing could be more damaging to our international standing and more helpful to our enemy, than to widen our target list and classify or regard a state and its representatives as foes of Sri Lanka.

Story of Lord Vinayagar: To Echo Glory and Eternal Bliss

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

“Think of the magic of that foot, comparatively small, upon which your weight rests. It’s a miracle and the dance is a celebration of that miracle”~ Martha Washington,(1789-1797), (American First Lady~George Washington’s Wife)

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Pillaiyar Perunkathai” (Story of Lord Vinayagar) ends today~10th of December 2010. Devotees used to gather at Pillaiyar temples and read “Pillaiyar Perungathai” as a group.

Normally 21 days of fast is observed and special poojas are performed are performed during this period. “Gajamugasoora Samhaaram” is held at the end of the “Pillaiyar Perunkathai” at Lord Vinayayagar temples. “Gajamugasoora Samhaaram” was held at Sri Maanikka Vinayagar temple in Bambalapitty on 10th of December 2010 amidst heavy downpour. [click to see & read more]

December 10, 2010

“I do not think the LTTE can revive” - Thirunavukkarasu Sridharan

by Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe

In an exclusive interview conducted in June 2010 with Thirunavukkarasu Sridharan, the leader of the left leaning Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front, Padmanaba faction, (otherwise known as the EPRLF-Naba), who spoke candidly to Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe about the general situation facing Sri Lankan Tamils after the civil war, the implications of the demise of the LTTE, and Tamil aspirations for the near future.

The Return of Plurality

After nearly two decades of LTTE suppression of dissident Tamil parties, the re-emergence of plurality in Tamil politics since the May 2009 has altered the political landscape for Sri Lanka’s Tamils.

Thirunavukkarasu Sridharan: “The EPRLF is a left-wing progressive political party. Our first leader K. Padmanabha was assassinated in 1990 in Madras by the LTTE, and we have also lost about 1400 EPRLF cadres fighting against the LTTE. Today the EPRLF-Naba has about 300 full time members, mainly around Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Jaffna. In the Tamil diaspora there are also around 500 active EPRLF members in Canada, England, France, Germany and Switzerland. The EPRLF has split in two groups [the ERPLF-Naba and EPRLF-Suresh faction]; our rival splinter group is headed by Suresh Premachandran who is now allied with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) [the TNA is the largest Tamil political formation in Sri Lanka consisting of several parties]. The TNA’s politics is different to us, our politics is cadre based. Politically, the TNA are not broad minded people, their politics was circumscribed earlier by the LTTE and now by the trends of the diaspora.

“Unlike the narrow sectarian politics of the TNA, the EPRLF-Naba, Peoples Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), Eelam Peopls Democratic Party (EPDP) and the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) believe we must establish a good fraternal relationship with the Sinhalese. That is why the EPRLF is also traditionally allied with the left, the Lanka Sama Samajists Party (LSSP) and the Communist Party of Sri Lanka (CPSL). Even though it was a large organisation earlier, the PLOTE has 500-600 cadres in the Vavuniya district and there are about 500-600 members abroad. The EPDP is has 500-600 cadres but not much support or representation overseas. The TULF character is different to other parties, it has always been a prominent persons party, they have maybe only 50 members and are not a cadre based party. Our party, the PLOTE and the EPDP are different, we are cadre based parties.”

Status of the LTTE

Since the defeat of the LTTE it increasingly appears to be the case that the prospect of an LTTE revival, however small or ineffectual, remains an unlikely probability under the present circumstances.

Thirunavukkarasu Sridharan: “The LTTE is a fascist organisation which dismantled Tamil society, which hates Sinhalese and Muslim people and even hates other Tamil parties that hold a different view. Now most Tamils realize that confrontational politics is not good. The Tamil people, particularly in the Vanni [in northern Sri Lanka] utterly hate the LTTE, as well as Jaffna people. Generally this is what the people are thinking. I do not think the LTTE can revive, I doubt even in 15 years from now that there will be any form of Tamil militant movement. There might be political violence, but I doubt there will be militancy. The extremists are a small minority. In Sri Lanka now, only about 15% of Tamils would support the LTTE. Particularly, the Vanni people are very angry and wary of the LTTE as they were exposed to their brutality at the end of the war. I was told by a number of Tamil civilians who escaped from the LTTE in the final months of the war, that the LTTE were behaving very arrogantly and ruthlessly by forcibly recruiting and shooting Tamil civilians.

“When civilians were put into IDP camps more than 8000-10,000 thousand people escaped and a number of LTTE fighters, about 500 hardcore members, also ran away. The pro-LTTE Tamil diaspora reported about these camps in a very exaggerated way. We know this because we visited the camps much earlier. Some people in the Tamil diaspora said that the IDP camps were like concentration camps, this was an exaggeration of the conditions. The pro-LTTE Tamil diaspora have a different psychology from the Tamils in Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka, our people are more worried about their children’s education, housing and employment. But the pro-LTTE Tamil diaspora thinks about separatism and militancy – while their children are being educated.”

Tamil Aspirations

Although a key concern among Sri Lankan Tamils is the full restitution of normality, resettlement, reconstruction and development, the emphasis on governance and a political solution continues to dominate the agenda.

Thirunavukkarasu Sridharan: “I repeatedly mention, at least minimum credible devolution is very important, meaning at least the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution [the 13th Amendment represents the grant of limited autonomy and the decentralization of power to Sri Lanka’s provincial councils]. The Tamil and Muslim people must feel that they are also a part of the Sri Lankan governing system with some kind of political arrangement. We think that the President should also form a committee to interpret the 13th Amendment, specifically areas such as administrative power, finance, police and the security forces. I think there should be two kinds of police; a federal police force as well as a provincial police force directed by the provincial council. The Provincial Councils must run local administration, taxation, public transport and public health. If this can be implemented, the people will feel that they are also part of the Sri Lankan governing system. I also heard some good things about the implementation of Tamil as an official language; there has been a lot of improvement. In 1987, Tamil was introduced as an official language in Sri Lanka and it has since been slowly implemented. At least Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapakse, can also speak Tamil. Now in the south of Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese youngsters also have a better knowledge of the Tamil language. Earlier there was no knowledge. Also, the Tamil people want development, they want employment and to establish their children’s education. The only main industries in the north were the Kankasanthurai Cement Factory, Valaichenai Paper Factory and Paranthan Chemical Factory. These have been defunct for decades and need to be restarted. Earlier there were also a number of glass factories, but now there is nothing due to the destruction during the war.

“At present, IDPs are being gradually resettled in their own areas, only a small proportion of IDPs are remaining in camps. Within three to six months everybody is likely to be resettled in their home areas. From 300,000 odd people there are only 30,000 people left in the IDP camps, who have full freedom of movement and voluntarily chose to live in the camps. Resettled IDPs are given paddy seed to plant in their fields and Rs.20,000 as a package to help them restart their lives, I also heard the World Bank was providing an additional Rs. 20,000 to them. There are over 100,000 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in Tamil Nadu, southern India, that want to return to Sri Lanka now that the war is over. Definitely the majority of the people want to return to our country. They need housing infrastructure and employment opportunities, then definitely they will come. The reconstruction phase after resettlement is also very important. Things have slowly improved. For example, along the Mullaitivu coastline in the Nanthi Kadal area, new facilities have been built and are available now for use by fishermen. At the moment there is extensive demining going on throughout the north, new roads are being built, but electricity is not always available. There is also a problem with wells where the water must be purified. Educational facilities also must improve. In the heath sector also – some surgical theatres are opening in Kilinochchi and also other areas.

“However, the presence of large numbers of troops in the north and east is intimidating and needs to be reduced. As for the emergency laws, after decades some crucial laws have been lifted. The A9 road has only the Omanthai checkpoint, which is not checked heavily, but randomly, and in a polite and professional way. Civilians can now travel throughout the Vanni region, with some exceptions where restrictions apply and permission is required from the Army. There are no problems between the Army and the civilian population, definitely not. The Army has been very polite and are also helping to build homes. In the future we think the Sri Lanka Army must be organized as a multi-ethnic army consisting of Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim youth – that way we’ll establish a united Sri Lanka. The police have already started recruiting Tamils now. I heard 600 were recruited from Jaffna. That is good. Even if Tamil speaking policemen are Sinhalese, there is no problem, as long as they understand the Tamil language.

However, in the north and the east, the balance of Tamil representation in the police should be 50-60%; the other remaining 40-50% should be Sinhalese and Muslim. Although the LTTE and Tamil diaspora claim that Tamils and Sinhalese don’t get along, the reality is there are many Tamil people living from Wellawatte, Moratuwa and up to Negombo, among Sinhalese. In the greater Colombo area alone, I think 250,000-300,000 people are north-eastern Tamils. In Kandy there are also a lot of Tamils. Sinhalese people also visit the north. Over the last 15-20 years Jaffna has been a quiet town, but now people are visiting and suddenly everything is booming. For reconciliation this process is a good thing, where people visit, the fear psyche also becomes reduced. I think Tamil people are not fearful of this. I don’t think this is a tense situation, it is a good situation.”

Short History of the ERPLF:

The EPRLF was formed by Tamil student activists in 1980 as a militant Tamil separatist group, which throughout the 1980s emerged as one of the dominant Tamil insurgent groups. In 1986, the LTTE, which was vying for supremacy among Tamil militants, declared war on the EPRLF. When the Indo-Lanka Accord was signed in 1987, which saw the deployment of the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka, the EPRLF entered the democratic mainstream as a registered political party and contested in the 1988 provincial council elections, which saw its leader, Vadharaja Perumal appointed as the first Chief Minister of the newly created North Eastern Provincial Council. However, with the withdrawal of the IPKF, the LTTE, which was engaged in a bitter conflict with the latter, quickly reasserted its dominance and banned all other rival parties and militant groups, forcing many Tamil dissidents to either flee to India or seek protection with the Sri Lankan government. In 1990, thirteen senior EPRLF officials, including its Secretary General, K. Padmanaba, were boldly assassinated by the LTTE in Madras. Furthermore, not until 1997 was the EPRLF able to reopen its office in Jaffna town, after the Sri Lankan military recaptured the Jaffna Peninsula from the LTTE. In 1999, the EPRLF again split into two factions, with the parting faction, led by EPRLF (Suresh), choosing to support the LTTE. The EPRLF (Varathar), led by Varatharajah Perumal (who has been residing in India for nearly two decades) continued to function, however, this was latterly changed to EPRLF-Naba, in commemoration of its late leader K. Padmanaba, when it came under new leadership as seen by the incumbent General Secretary and de facto leader, Thirunavukkarasu Sridharan.

President Rajapaksa initiates political dialogue with TNA

By D.B.S.Jeyaraj

RSDS1210TW.jpg

Tamil National Alliance (TNA)leader, Rajavarothayam Sampanthan underwent heart surgery at a hospital in New Delhi on December 7th. The surgery according to TNA sources was successful and the veteran Tamil Parliamentarian from Trincomalee is likely to be discharged this week

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The septuagenarian Sampanthan will not however be returning to Sri Lanka soon. Given his age and state of health, Sampanthan will be recuperating in Chennai with his family and not engage in active politics for quite a while.

[Click to read in full ~ dbsjeyaraj.com]

December 09, 2010

Can Non - Tamils buy land in Jaffna?

By C. V. Vivekananthan

There is often a general outcry in the South that non-Tamils cannot buy land in the Northern Province. It is commonly believed in the South that Thesawalamai lays down restrictions in transferring the ownership of immovable properties to non-Tamils. They articulate that Sinhalese and Muslims cannot buy land in the Northern Province and urge now and then that the Law of Thesawalamai should be amended or repealed.

Question arises whether the Law of Thesawalamai and/or any other law impose such restrictions as some of the Southerners assume. It is absolutely an incorrect view that the Law of Thesawalamai or any other law subject to Law of Thesawalamai prevents a Sinhalese or a Muslim from buying land in the Northern Province. It is a blatant misconception of the Law of Thesawalamai due to lack appreciation and understanding of the law.

The Law of Thesawalamai is a personal law applicable to ‘Tamils with Ceylon domicile and a Jaffna inhabitancy’. One who asserts the doctrine of ‘inhabitancy’ has to prove it. Thus, it is not applicable to all the Tamils who happened to be the Tamils of the Northern Province.

It is also a regional or municipal law, in that, it applies to all lands situated in the Northern Province irrespective of whether the land is owned by a Tamil, a Sinhalese, a Muslim, a Burgher or a Chinese or by any person of any other race. During the period of the Portuguese no attention was paid to the laws of the natives. The Portuguese did not codify the customs and usages of Thesawalamai.

In the year 1704 the Dutch Governor of Ceylon, Simons ordered the Disawa of Jaffna, Claas Isaakasz to compile the customs of the Tamil inhabitants of Jaffna as then existed for the due and proper administration of justice.

An extensive and deep study and investigations were made of the usages and customs of the Tamils inhabitants of Jaffna before such compilation. The Code was written in the Dutch language and the same was submitted to the Commander Van der Duyn in 1706.

In 1708 the codification of the customary laws of the “Malabar inhabitants of the province of Jaffna” came into force. Thus, the codification of Thesawalamai Code brought the preponderance of traditional customs, evolving as law-making rules to static.

In 1806 Ceylon was ceded to the British Crown. By Regulation No.18 of 1806 the British declared that the Code of Thesawalamai, as collected by the Order of Governor Simons in 1706 shall be in full force and that “all questions between ‘the Malabar inhabitants of the Province of Jaffna, or in which a Malabar inhabitant is a Defendant’, shall be decided according to this Code of customs”.

In 1814, Sir Alexander Johnstone caused the translation of this Code into English and the English translation of the Code of Thesawalamai derives force in law as at today.

Walter Pereira in his treatise of ‘Laws of Ceylon’ states that five systems of municipal laws were given royal sanction by the British. They were the Roman-Dutch Law, the Law of Thesawalamai, the laws and usages of the Muslims, the Mukkuva Law (now obsolete) and the Kandyan Law.

The Regulation No.18 of 1806 was enacted and came into force on 9TH December 1806 guaranteeing the continued operation of Thesawalamai. Later, the Ordinance No.5 of 1869 was enacted in this regard. In 1911, Matrimonial Rights and Inheritance Ordinance (Jaffna) was enacted to amend the law relating to the matrimonial rights of the Tamils who are governed by the Law of Thesawalamai with regard to Property and Law of Inheritance and it was amended by Ordinance No.58 of 1947. The Thesawalamai Pre-emption Ordinance No.59 of 1947 was enacted to amend and consolidate the Law of Pre-emption to lands affected by the Law of Thesawalamai.

It is notable that where-ever the above laws are silent the Roman-Dutch Law, the common law of the land, shall apply.

Many of the provisions of these laws were from time to time amended or repealed by legislation, and also they were modified by laws which apply through out the country without exception, for example, Prescription Ordinance, Partition Act, Pawn Broking Ordinance, Prevention of Frauds Ordinance and the like.

Thesawalamai Pre-emption Ordinance No.5 of 1947 regulates the law in relation to land affected by the law of Thesawalamai. This Ordinance came into force on the 1ST July 1948, repealing so much the Thesawalamai and of the Ordinance No.4 of 1895.

The term ‘Pre-emption’ means that certain classes of persons enjoy a preferential right to purchase immovable property over others. This right of pre-emption under the present law is restricted to two classes of persons, namely (1) Co-owners and (2) Heirs in the event of the intestacy.

Accordingly, when immovable property is co-owned, one co-owner cannot sell his share of the land to an outsider without first offering it to the other co-owner or heirs whether he is a Sinhalese or otherwise.

The right of pre-emption shall only be exercised in respect of an undivided share or interest of an immovable property.

The right of pre-emption shall not be exercised in property held in sole ownership. If the land to be sold is a divided and defined allotment of land, no right of pre-emption shall exist. In that case, the Vendor shall have the absolute right to sell the same to any person whom he prefers, whether he is a Sinhalese or not. No provision of the Ordinance prevents him from selling the land to a Sinhalese or a Muslim. No reasonable man would refuse to sell his property to the highest offer of consideration.

A pre-emptor has to be a co-owner or an heir of an undivided allotment of land. A pre-emptor can be a Sinhalese, a Tamil, a Muslim or any person of any other race. A careful reading of the provisions of the Thesawalamai Pre-emption Ordinance shows that the co-owners or ‘the would’ be heirs of the intending vendor of an undivided allotment of land, whether a Sinhalese or otherwise will have preferential right to purchase that share. If the co-owner is a Sinhalese, then, he will have the preferential right to purchase that share over others.

If an owner of an undivided land has conveyed it to an outsider, a pre-emptor has the right to institute an action to set aside the sale of the undivided share of the land on any of the grounds set out in the Ordinance but there are defences to defeat such action.

No action is maintainable for pre-emption if more than one year has elapsed from the date of registration of the purchaser’s deed of transfer.

If the intended vendor of a co-owned property had given valid notice of sale in terms of Section 5 of the Thesawalamai Pre-emption Ordinance, and the pre-emptor failing to purchase the vendor’s undivided share, the vendor is free to sell it to any person, whether he is a Sinhalese or a Muslim.

It does not apply to property in respect of a share of a land which has been possessed and dealt with in divided lots by amicable partition among the shareholders, with each other’s knowledge and consent’. It also does not extend to an exchange of land.

There is a general misunderstanding that Law of Thesawalamai or the Thesawalamai Pre-emption Ordinance gives exclusive right of purchase of immovable property in the Northern Province only to Tamils of that province and that the Sinhalese cannot have the right to buy any immovable property. It is a myth rather than a legal concept: it is a misperception of the law of Thesawalamai.

An examination of the Law of Thesawalamai and of the Thesawalamai Pre-emption Ordinance would demonstrate very clearly that it is an erroneous thinking due to the lack of understanding, appreciation and tolerance of the applicability of these laws. Both these laws do not prohibit a person, whether, Sinhalese, non-Jaffna Tamil or Muslim or a member of any other race from purchasing any allotment of land situated in the Northern Province.

The right to own or dispose any immovable property situated in the Northern Province is not at all restricted to Tamils alone as perceived by some of the politicians in the South. Neither the provisions of Thesawalamai nor the Thesawalamai Pre-emption Ordinance have any such provision. The widespread thinking that Sinhalese cannot buy land in Jaffna has no foundation at all both in fact and law.

It is only a fanciful emotional feeling that Sinhalese cannot buy land in the Northern Province or in Jaffna though it is common knowledge that there are hundreds of Sinhalese and many thousands of Muslims owners of land at Jaffna.

It is notable that Vavuniya and Manner come within the territorial limits of the applicability of the Law of Thesawalamai, Thesawalamai Pre-emption Ordinance and Matrimonial Inheritance Ordinance (Jaffna). Can anyone state that Sinhalese and Muslims do not own lands in these districts?

Even a non-citizen could purchase immovable properties under certain conditions in terms of the provisions of the Finance Act No.11 of 1963. When the Finance Act No.11 of 1963 was repealed by the UNP Government there was an outcry that foreigners were allowed to buy immovable properties at their will and the former Act was re-introduced by the Finance (Amendment) Act No.8 of 2004 whereby foreigners were prevented from owning immovable properties in Sri Lanka subject however to certain exceptions. Northern Province is not at all entitled to enjoy such privileges as provided by Act No.8 of 2004 inasmuch as it is not a separate state in law and the Sinhalese and Muslims are not foreigners.

Thus, a wrong conception of these laws has created imaginary scenarios that Sinhalese and Muslims are excluded from ownership of part of the land of Sri Lanka without understanding that this ‘exclusive doctrine of ownership’ is one of the attributes of a separate statehood.

Do these miscreants say that Northern Province has enjoyed the legal efficacy of a separate statehood since the Dutch Governor, Simons compiled in 1704 the customs of the Tamil inhabitants of Jaffna as then existed? Do they contend that Parliament has conferred such statehood by the aforesaid three Ordinances?

It would be apposite to mention that neither the Dutch nor the English would have tolerated such anti-national law to remain in force. No government since independence would have acquiesced the doctrine of exclusive ownership of land to the Jaffna Tamils.

Justice, Dr. H.W. Tambiah published a treatise under the name of ‘The Laws and customs of the Tamils of Jaffna’. It is an accepted authoritative text book on Thesawalamai. The Women’s Education and Research Centre (WERC) brought out the second revised edition under the same title. It appears that they have discussed with Professor Savitri Goonesekere as they needed expertise in the law. Since the Professor was busy with her own work she recommended Mr.Shivaji Felix from the Faulty of Law, University of Colombo.

In his Introduction to the Second Edition (Revised Edition) Mr. Shivjii Felix states that “It is widely believed that the Sinhalese cannot buy land in Jaffna and that such a law exists in order to ensure that the land remains within the same family or community. …. It is submitted this belief is based upon an inadequate appreciation of the law of pre-emption. It should also be noted that any person could buy land in the Northern Province if he or she was prepared to pay a higher price than the persons who are entitled to preempt”.

At page 259 of this Book, under the Caption, “Law of Pre-emption benefits Non Tamils”, it is stated inter-alia that ‘As erroneous view has been taken by some, who do not know the applicable law, to state that a non-Tamil cannot buy any immovable property in the Northern Province. There is not a single provision in the Pre-emption Ordinance which supports this view’.

It is submitted that a meticulous reading of the aforesaid Revised Edition of ‘The laws and customs of the Tamils of Jaffna’ would dispel the doubt that some of the southerners have so far entertained and clear their misunderstanding and distrust and make them to refrain from acting on fallacies and emotional feelings.

Sri Lanka to boycott Nobel peace prize award ceremony

Report from The Human RIghts Watch:

Liu Xiaobo, one of the most outspoken critics of the Chinese government, spent a year and a half in prison after the 1989 Tiananmen Square peaceful protests, and in 1996 was imprisoned for three years for criticizing China's policy toward Taiwan and the Dalai Lama.

Last year, he was sentenced to a further 11 years for co-authoring Charter 08, a petition to mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A former university professor, Liu Xiaobo won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. Human Rights Watch honors Liu Xiaobo for his fearless commitment to freedom of expression and assembly in China.

Report from www.sundaytimes.lk:

Sri Lanka joined a host of pro-Chinese countries today in refusing to accept an invitation to the Nobel peace prize awards ceremony in Oslo.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman said Sri Lanka's ambassador in Oslo would not accept the invitation to particiapte in the Nobel award ceremony scheduled for Friday.

Beijing has protested against the award to jailed Chinese dissident and human rights campaigner Liu Xiaobo.

China has said Liu's nomination is an interference in China's internal affairs.

Apart from Sri Lanka, countries that have refused to accept the invitation include, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iraq and Iran.

Meanwhile, the CNN reported that the U.N. is not going to attend the ceremony. A UN spokesman said that is not unusual. The U.N. was not formally invited and usually does not attend the ceremony unless someone from the organization wins the award, the official said.

Attack on journalists at BIA, State sanctioned attempt at suppressing media freedom - Free media movement

The Free Media Movement (FMM) unequivocally condemns Tuesday’s (7th December) attack on journalists at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) and views it as yet another serious blow to media freedom, ethical and democratic right to impartial reporting.

Lanka E News journalist Shantha Wijesuriya and Sirasa TV Airport correspondent Premalal were attacked by a group of persons purported to be BIA employees. Wijesuriya suffered serious injuries and had to seek treatment at a hospital.

According to reports, the journalists had been assaulted when they were covering an attack on Dr. Wickremabahu Karunaratne, Leader of the New Left Front, and his supporters, by a group of BIA employees, allegedly under government patronage. Dr. Karunaratne was returning from a visit to the United Kingdom where he delivered several lectures. His speeches was earlier criticised by ruling party members as ‘traitorous’.

In a democracy opposition politicians have the same right as pro-government politicians to express their opinions and ideas. Assaulting someone for the political ideology he upholds is a hallmark of a tyrannical regime. Dr. Karunaratne and his supporters were assaulted for their political stance. The FMM while deeming the attack on Dr. Karunaratne, at no less a place than a State-run establishment like the international airport, a serious violation of his rights, believes the attack on the two journalists covering the incident, to be a well co-ordinated incident aimed at ensuring the media remains silent.

The attack on the journalists had initially taken place at the high security environs of the airport with the police, tasked with maintaining law and order, looking on. Later, the assailants, (in another vehicle) had followed the van in which the journalist were attempting to leave, and renewed the attack with iron rods and clubs, injuring the journalists and causing extensive damage to the vehicle. The assailants had also removed the cameras from the journalists. FMM believes the systematic manner in which the attack was carried out, is a well planned attempt at preventing journalists from reporting the attack on Dr. Karunaratne and his supporters.

The incident highlights the serious threat to media freedom in Sri Lanka and the right to express / report on dissenting views as well right to impartial reporting. It also showcases that the government rather than promoting media freedom is endorsing its suppression by assisting and condoning attacks on journalists. FMM calls up all citizens who treasure the freedoms that democracy entails to rise against the injustice.

Seetha Ranjanee
Secretary

Sunil Jayasekara
Convener

"My life is in danger" says Dr.Bahu

Leader of the New Left Front Dr. Wickremabahu Karunaratne said that the government is trying to silence him in order to stop criticism against the government.

Dr. Karunaratne told The Sunday Leader online that President Mahinda Rajapaksa is trying to take revenge from him for an alleged involvement in a protest campaign in UK and added that it was the President that has allowed goons to protest against him at the Bandaranayake International Airport (BIA) upon his arrival to the country yesterday afternoon.

“Two goons shouted at me for having hand with the LTTE to obstruct the President’s planned address at the Oxford Union. I do not have any hand into it. Why do they blame me? I asked them to go and ask the President as to what went wrong with his UK tour without pointing fingers towards anyone else,” he said.

According to Dr. Karunaratne, it appears to him that President Rajapaksa is not governing the country within the legal frame but out side the law through thuggery and added that his life is in danger.

“My life is now in danger. This is not the time for them to attack me but certainly they will try to silence me very soon,” he said.

COURTESY:THE SUNDAY LEADER

December 08, 2010

Buddhist monk makes submissions in Tamil Before LLRC

North and East Inter-Faith Forum Makes Representations

In the mid-afternoon of Dec 1, a small group of people, headed by a Buddhist monk, was seen entering the auditorium of the Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations to give evidence before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. There were Hindu Priests, Catholic Priests, Christian Pastors and Muslim Moulavis in the group.

As the vanguard headed towards the front of the auditorium, another stream of saffron robed monks, white frocked fathers, white-capped moulavis and bear-bodied as well as white verttied Hindu priests followed closely behind. The group included two gentle-faced Buddhist nuns. The sprinkling of the public who had come to listen to the ‘evidence’ had perplexity written all over their faces. Possibly a publicity seeking gimmick some would have thought.

This congregation was the delegation of the North and East Interfaith Forum for Reconciliation (NEIFR). As the various spokespersons of the delegation began to deliver presentations, as a Team, the initial perplexity of the audience gave way to focused listening and towards the end to a sense of admiration and awe.

The presentation was opened by Rev. Ranmuthugala Sangharathana Thero.

Rev. Sangharathana addressed the Commission in Tamil. This set the tone for the whole presentation. Here was a Buddhist monk speaking in Tamil about the national problem and reconciliation. The Reverend Thero spoke Tamil with such confidence and assurance that the initial doubts of the audience evaporated and everyone began to concentrate on the proceedings. Rev. Father Thevakumar followed in English. Rev. Wimala Thero spoke, next, in Sinhala. Moulavi U. L. M. Mohammed Mackie was the next presenter, and spoke in Tamil. It was then the turn of Deshabandhu Dr. Manohara Kurukkal and he spoke in Tamil. Rev. Father Reginald Francis made the final part of the presentation.

Responding to questions from the Commissioners Rev. Sangharathana articulated his ideas both in Sinhala and Tamil. Moulavi Mohammed Mackie also responded in Tamil and Sinhala.

Of course the quick turnover of speakers and constant change of language of presentation created some difficulties in comprehension as well as some light difficulties in interpretation. But the mutual respect displayed by members of the interfaith group towards each other, their enthusiasm and confidence, the positive atmosphere created by the use of three languages, and their team approach more than made up for these weaknesses.

This was not a sophisticated, slick, media-savvy presentation. It was, however, a very effective piece of communications. It reflected ground reality. It demonstrated a possible way forward. It attempted to practically demonstrate that reconciliation programmes, based on spiritual principles such as compassion, forgiveness and human respect; undertaken genuinely and sincerely; using all three languages, and (multi) culturally sensitive approaches; implemented through mixed ethnic and religious groups could have a high probability of success. Therefore the presentation made by the North and East Interfaith Group was unique in that the it articulated not only ideas and concepts for nurturing peace, harmony and reconciliation among communities, but practically demonstrated a ‘ methodology as well as a social (relationship-building) process’ for empowering people to enhance harmony and reconciliation. The Forum requested support from the State and the community to strengthen and expand this initiative.

The North and East Interfaith Group has clearly begun to ‘walk the talk’. A process such as above could only be evolved and sustained by people and leaders living in specific multicultural settings and experiencing positive and negative trends of (such living) at first hand, be it at the village level, district level, or the national level. And that is why the "concept of a home-spun solution’ is so vital to promote reconciliation and strengthen peace in Sri Lanka or any country that has undergone a long period of strife. The members of the LLRC steeped in the national as well as varied cultural milieus of Sri Lanka combined with deep and varied professional competencies, and possessed of abundantly rich international experiences are eminently placed to internalize and utilize these unique local experiences in exploring appropriate recommendations.

The Chairman of the LLRC Mr. C.R.de Silva, spoke possibly for everyone present, when he commended the NEIFR and identified the Group as a (emerging) symbol of national reconciliation.

The North and East Interfaith Forum for Reconciliation represents Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. The membership of the Forum in Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Mannar, Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Ampara and Anuradhapura met in October 2010 in a workshop themed ‘Spirituality as a resource for reconciliation and reconstruction; the role of relgious leaders’. The key ideas presented at the LLRC were developed during this workshop influenced by concepts and approaches discussed by group of religious leaders in a similar workshop held at BMICH in 2008.

In the presentation to the LLRC, the NEIFR affirmed that the Sinhala-Tamil divide began with the categorization of people on ethnic terms during the colonial times, and unfortunately had persisted even after independence, and now in the hands of politicians ethnic characterization has emotionally strengthened as a powerful weapon to mobilize people in exclusive groups for gaining political power.

The Forum believes that spirituality and common human values founded and strengthened by the different religious teachings should be used as a force to promote inter-ethnic understanding and social cohesion. Compassion is the glue to keep humans as individuals and communities, thus, it ensures care and safety of everyone without endangering the rights of all other living beings in their respective domains.

Peace … is of little value to someone gripped in poverty. The Forum believes that all post reconstruction efforts in terms of macro level infrastructures are crucial, but they need to be people-centered with the sole objective of making them self-reliant, and reconciliation efforts should go hand in hand with reconstruction efforts. This is where the religious leaders have an obligation to bring in a sense of moral authority for restoring societal relationships that were severed by the war and to inculcate virtues of co-existence based on human dignity and commitment as shareholders in protecting the integrity of this country.

The Forum believes that in any country conflict resolution should address ethnic diversity, equity and justice, accountability and people’s security and safety.

The Forum made the following key recommendations:

Constitute a National Committee of Conscience rooted in spiritual guidelines of right to life, share of common space and resources. This will be the apex body to advise governments on human rights, resource access and allocation, ethical harnessing of natural resources. It will also function as an advocate for safety of endowments passed down to the next generation. The Committee will also advise on inclusion of spiritual teachings of human and family values in schools. The Committee will monitor divisionary or extremist publication or pronouncement that could incite divisions.

Constitution of Reconciliation and Peace Committees at District and Pradeshiya Sabha levels including clergy from different religions. These Committees will hold meetings, seminars, and workshops involving public officers and general public as ways of strengthening inter-ethnic relationships with a focus on a common Sri Lankan identity. These Committees will be linked to the National Committee of Conscience.

Community Steering Force – Encourage formation of community councils at village level including two members of clergy as ex-officio steering members. The responsibility of the steering members would be to guide the work of the Committees, and prevent excesses and corruption in public life and inculcate resource conservation as a spiritual requirement for posterity. The Committee will promote respect for human values including right to life as a platform to building a peaceful society.

Role Models – The religious leaders should be role models and focal points for forging peace and harmony in the society by providing incentives and recognition for humanitarian services and community reconciliation work.

(COURTESY: THE ISLAND)

Proficiency in Sinhala and Tamil will be a must for public sector recruitment in future – Vasudeva

By Lynn Ockersz

‘A bilingual capability, or a knowledge of Sinhala and Tamil, will be a prerequisite for those aspiring for recruitment to the country’s public sector in the future. Right now, however, emphasis will be placed on public servants acquiring proficiency in Sinhala and Tamil and incentives, such as salary increments, will be granted those officials who acquire this bilingual capability’, Minister of National Languages and Social Integration Vasudeva Nanayakkara said.

Explaining that the government was placing strong emphasis on the capability of the country’s citizenry to communicate with each other with ease, in the national languages, the Minister told this journalist in an exclusive interview that the full implementation of the state’s language policy was ‘a crying need’ which can no longer be put off. Spelling out the state’s priorities in the area of language capability among the people, Nanayakkara said that proficiency in Sinhala and Tamil will be stressed, firstly, and, secondly, a trilingual capability, involving an inculcation by each citizen of a knowledge of Sinhala, Tamil and English, will be stressed. At present, it is compulsory that a public servant acquires a knowledge of Sinhala or Tamil, as the case may be, within five years, it was pointed out.

A programme will be worked out in collaboration with the Ministry of Education to cultivate a trilingual capability in the country’s student population. Eventually this programme will be extended to cover even Sri Lanka’s adult population, the Minister said. However, the first priority in this context will be a knowledge of Sinhala and Tamil among students. The language proficiency project will be ‘superimposed on the social integration programme’, it was pointed out.

Nanayakkara said that the aim of his ministry is to not only integrate the country’s communities with each other but to lay the basis for the empowerment of all sections which are backward and lacking in skills, knowledge and capabilities which are essential for effective living. Thus, what will be aimed at is not only inter-communal integration but also intra-communal integration. All sections which are ‘backward’ and disadvantaged will be sought to be empowered, to enable them to integrate with the national mainstream and thereby play meaningful roles in public life.

‘It is assumed that all citizens must be knowledgeable, confident and better informed, so that they could claim and demand their rights from the administration. To that level we must develop those sections of our citizenry which are not yet effective. They must be enabled to press their demands and satisfy their legitimate needs, Nanayakkara explained.

When asked for his views on the impression in some quarters that the government is downplaying the need for a political solution to the country’s ethnic conflict, now that a military victory has been scored by the state against the LTTE, the Minister said that the matter ‘does not come under my ministry.’ He, however, explained that the ‘government’s present policy has given us all the necessary resources to carry out the basic step of endowing the Tamil people with the right to use their language in relation to matters which are relevant to them. This has been denied them even now, not by any design, but due to the lack of facilities and arrangements. So, we will provide these requirements or ask the relevant authorities to practise a bilingual policy. We will thus enable the Tamil people to feel that their language and the right to use their language is available to them. This will lay the groundwork for a solution to the political aspirations of the Tamil people. We have to do this quickly. We can’t take years to do this.’

‘We could not do this thus far because the Tamil areas were inaccessible because of the conflict. Now that we have gained access to these areas, we must go pell-mell into them to work out our programmes, the Minister said.

Asked whether the basis of his work was the principle that equality should prevail among the country’s communities, Nanayakkara answered in the affirmative and said that this principle was the basis of Sri Lanka’s constitution. He said that equality was a fundamental right and was justiciable. He agreed that the work carried out by his ministry would lay the basis for Tamil public servants to rise to the top in their respective institutions. ‘The senior Tamil public servants should give us their experiences and recommendations on what we should be doing in the Tamil-speaking areas of the country’, the Minister said.

COURTESY:THE ISLAND

HRW Says Army Unit Linked to Executions in Sri Lanka

New Evidence Reinforces Need for Investigation of Wartime Atrocities

(New York, December 8, 2010) – New evidence links the Sri Lankan army’s 53 Division to the alleged summary execution of prisoners on May 18, 2009, during the final hours of the 26-year armed conflict in Sri Lanka, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch repeated its call for the United Nations to undertake a full investigation into wartime abuses by both government forces and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Human Rights Watch has obtained a longer version of a video broadcast on November 30, 2010, by British Channel 4, and photographs of the same incident from other sources. The videos and photos show what appear to be the summary execution of prisoners by government troops. At least a dozen dead bodies are visible.

“This horrific new evidence demonstrates graphically that the Sri Lankan army engaged in summary executions of prisoners during the final days of fighting in May 2009,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government’s failure to investigate these serious war crimes in the face of overwhelming evidence shows the need for an independent, international investigation.”

In August 2009 Channel 4 broadcast excerpts from a video showing what appears to be Sri Lankan government soldiers executing several undressed, blindfolded, and handcuffed men believed to be captured LTTE members.

The Channel 4 broadcast on November 30 showed excerpts from a longer, five-minute video, which shows more dead bodies, including those of two unclothed young women.

One of the dead bodies in the video and photographs is of a woman named Isaippiriya, a 27-year-old reporter for the LTTE. Human Rights Watch has received independent confirmation from multiple sources, including family members, identifying one of the dead women in the photographs and video as Isaippiriya.

One source, “Kavetha” (not her real name), submitted a written statement to Human Rights Watch in January 2010 stating, “On the morning of the 15th [of May, 2009], I saw a girl who reads the news on the Tamil Eelam National Television. She was an actor, a poem writer and a news reader. That was the last time I saw her, on the 15th. The next time I saw her was on the Internet [when I was] sitting at home, a photo of her dead body in an unimaginably horrible state.”

After examining the photographs and the second Channel 4 video, “Kavetha” confirmed to Human Rights Watch that one of the dead women was Isaippiriya. “The undressed clothes are even the same as the ones she wore on May 15,” she told Human Rights Watch.

Confirmation that Isaippiriya is among the executed people in the video contradicts the Sri Lankan government’s account of her death. A June 21, 2009 post on the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence website lists a Lt. Col. Issei Piriya of the LTTE Communications/Publicity Wing as one of 31 “[i]dentified LTTE leaders who were killed on 18 May 2009 by 53 Division” during “the Last Battle.” Isaippiriya’s body can be seen lying near three dead men who were bound and blindfolded. Isaippiriya’s arms appear to behind her back but it is unclear whether she was bound.

The 53 Division of the Sri Lankan Army was one of three divisions directly involved in the final battle against the LTTE at the Nanthi Kadal lagoon, close to the northeast coastline. The division, under the command of Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne, participated in some of the heaviest fighting of the final months of the conflict.

The Sri Lankan government denies that its forces committed any violations of the laws of war during the final stages of armed conflict. Soon after the broadcast of the video by Channel 4 in August 2009, the Sri Lankan government announced that four hand-picked local investigators, two of whom were government officials, had concluded that the video was “fake.” But the government failed to provide details to support such a finding. The authenticity of the video was strongly supported by independent expert analysis commissioned by the United Nations expert on extrajudicial executions.

The Sri Lankan government immediately responded to the broadcast of the second video, saying without substantiation that it “categorically denies that the Channel 4 News TV video is authentic.”

In June 2010, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon established a panel of three experts to provide him with advice on next steps for accountability for laws-of-war violations in Sri Lanka. The panel’s report is expected in January 2011.

“Each time new evidence emerges of a wartime atrocity, the government’s kneejerk reaction is to claim that it’s all part of some bizarre plot against it,” said Adams. “How many more photos and videos need to emerge before the government recognizes that it can’t hide the truth forever?”

To read the May 2010 Human Rights Watch news release, “Sri Lanka: New Evidence of Wartime Abuses,” please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/05/20/sri-lanka-new-evidence-wartime-abuses

To read the August 2009 Human Rights Watch news release, “Sri Lanka: Execution Video Shows Need for International Inquiry,” please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/08/26/sri-lanka-execution-video-shows-need-international-inquiry

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

December 06, 2010

Shelter tops returnees' needs as rains continue

by IRIN News

COLOMBO, 6 December 2010 (IRIN) - Heavy rains continue to wreak havoc on the lives of thousands of returnees to Sri Lanka's conflict-affected north, aid agencies say.

"At this point the immediate needs are food and shelter," Thaya Thiagarajah, a senior official with the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India, told IRIN, noting even schools in the Jaffna area were unable to function properly.

IRINRTC126.jpg

A returnee stands outside her one-room makeshift shelter in Mullaitvu District

"Everything is flooded, including roads, fields and homes. These people can't live like this. Things are going to get worse."

Of the 15 districts affected nationwide, five are in the north, including Mannar, Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi and Vavuniya.

Almost 34,000 people are now affected in Mannar District, 15,770 in Jaffna, 13,250 in Kilinochchi and 3,588 in Mullaitivu districts, the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) reported on 6 December.

Thousands have been forced into shelters, it added.

Since the return process began in August 2009, more than 300,000 conflict-displaced have resettled in the north following the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who had fought for an independent Tamil homeland for almost 30 years.

Many of the returnees live in transitional shelters, often little more than tarpaulins, unable to withstand the abnormally heavy rains and flooding.

Health risks

Since returning, some families have dug their own latrines; however, many have not, exacerbating potential health risks. "If they don't have a latrine, they are defecating in the open," said one aid worker.

Aid workers now worry that even minimal rain could have an "enormous" impact on returnees, particularly among the most vulnerable segment of the population, the UN's latest Joint Humanitarian Update warned.

These include people living in traditionally flood-prone areas, returnees in remote locations, recent returnees living in tents and those with specific needs, such as the elderly, the disabled and single-headed households.

An analysis made during the distribution of assistance showed the most vulnerable may cumulatively represent 40 percent of the entire returnee population in the Vanni, it added.

Key challenges

Reaching everyone remains a challenge, despite ongoing efforts by the government and its partners to provide assistance. Added to that is the limited capacity of government and agencies in the north.

At the moment, the DMC has only two teams on the ground, comprising just one person each in Mannar and Vavuniya, with the latter responsible for Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts as well.

Until last week neither office even had vehicles to go out into the field, nor immediate formal funding capacity on the ground.

During the recent flooding in Mannar in November, the local DMC representative had to write to Colombo requesting financial assistance, which delayed the speed at which assistance could be delivered.

But according to the DMC's director-general in Colombo, the situation is watched closely and everything is being done to address the needs of those affected.

"While there are always going to be shortcomings, we are monitoring the situation and are working closely with our UN and NGO partners. If we need additional tents or shelter we will get it," Major General Gamini Hettiarchchi said.

According to Sri Lanka's Meteorological Department, this year's inter-monsoonal rains, which began in November, will continue this week, in particular in the Northern, Eastern and Uva provinces, before the generally heavier northeast monsoons begin in mid-December.

Pic by: Udara Soysa/IRIN

Will Mahinda learn some lessons from London "fiasco"?

By S. L. Gunasekara

The Head of State of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, went to London to address the Oxford Union upon their invitation. While the address was scheduled for December 2, 2010 the President was informed the previous day by the Oxford Union that the address had to be called off because of alleged ‘security concerns’ of which they had just come to know.

If the excuse given by the Oxford Union for canceling the scheduled address is true (it has not been contradicted by the Oxford Union or the British Government to date), it must follow that this episode proves beyond doubt, firstly, that the law enforcement authorities of the allegedly ‘Great’ Britain were intimidated by and/or confessed to being unable to control a gang of Tamil hooligans/rowdies/rabble and their backers if they chose to misbehave on the streets of Oxford and inconvenience bona fide travelers thereon; and secondly, that the law enforcement authorities of the allegedly ‘Great’ Britain and the members of the Oxford Union are a bunch of imbeciles.

The Tamil hooligans/rowdies/rabble who, by their threats of misconduct on the streets of Oxford are alleged to have so over-awed the law enforcement authorities of the allegedly `Great’ Britain and the Oxford Union into canceling at the 11th hour, an address by the Head of State of Sri Lanka who came to London specifically for the purpose of delivering that address on the invitation of the Oxford Union caused indescribable jubilation among those hooligans/rowdies/rabble and their supporters. That episode of British imbecility and cowardice was trumpeted unceasingly in various newspapers and websites as being a tremendous humiliation for our Head of State and a victory for those hooligans/rowdies/rabble among the Tamil expatriates and their backers.

Was this claim really tenable?

While many, like some of our ‘old colonials’ labour under an incurable inferiority complex vis-à-vis our former ‘colonial masters’ and regard the University at Oxford and anything that is British to be the best, and an invitation by a students’ association of that University to our Head of State as being an honour bestowed upon our Head of State, the facts are manifestly otherwise. Mahinda Rajapaksa, our Head of State though possessed of faults and weaknesses which are legion, is no ordinary Head of State/Government such as those colossal failures like George W Bush, Barak Obama, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

He is the only contemporary Head of State/Government who was able to give leadership to his country to defeat a gang of implacable terrorists, namely, the LTTE. He, therefore, was not one who could have been ‘honoured’ by an invitation to address a mere association of students at a British University- be it Oxford, Cambridge or any other. It was rather he who bestowed an honour on the University of Oxford by deigning to waste his precious time by addressing them. Thus, the Tamil hooligans/rowdies/rabble and their supporters who overawed the British law enforcement authorities and the Oxford Union into canceling that address only caused a loss to the Oxford University but not to our Head of State. Let us always keep that in mind.

The next question is: What are the inferences that arise from the alleged reasons given by British sources including the Oxford Union for canceling the scheduled address assuming they are true (that being a big assumption)?

It is undeniable that LTTE, apart from being mass murderers etc, were in the habit of kidnapping little Tamil children in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. extorting money from the Tamil civilians both indigent and well-to-do, living in those areas, and otherwise harassing and repressing them as no one has harassed or repressed anybody in Sri Lanka before.

Can we ever forget that when that gang of degenerates were on the verge of being conclusively defeated by our armed forces, these selfsame loathsome hooligans/rowdies/rabble and their backers misbehaved on the streets of London, and other foreign capitals, beheaded a statue of Jawaharlal Nehru, and caused indescribable inconvenience and colossal expenditure to the citizens and other residents of those capitals in order to prevent those unrepentant criminals from being defeated; and to give them a new lease of life so that they may be able to continue with their mass murders, to continue kidnapping Tamil children, to continue extorting money from Tamil civilians and to continue otherwise oppressing them as no one had oppressed anybody before. What, one wonders do these Tamil hooligans/rowdies/rabble who call themselves the ‘Tamil Diaspora’ and actually want to be taken seriously, have against the Tamil People of Sri Lanka?

Of course, those hooligans/rowdies/rabble and their backers who, I believe, include the likes of David Milliband, Hillary Clinton, Ban Ki Moon and Bernard Kouchner failed miserably in their endeavours due to the undoubted courage and fortitude of our Head of State. That these hooligans were, thereafter, nursing a self inflicted grievance and waiting for a day when they could get what in their perception was ‘revenge’ is something that even the biggest of morons could not have failed to realize.

Thus, unless the government of the allegedly ‘Great’ Britain, its law enforcement officers and the members of the Oxford Union were entirely without any kind of intelligence, they could not have failed to anticipate the type of rowdyism that was threatened by these unspeakable vagabonds and their backers. If the British law enforcement authorities were such arrant cowards and incompetents as to be unable to control even a mob of such hooligans etc. how did the Oxford Union come to invite our Head of State to waste his precious time so as to honour that Union by deigning to address it? Would that Union have done so if it possessed a fraction of a morsel of decency? They could not have become aware of the existence of a so-called ‘security threat’ from these hooligans etc. which infused mortal fear into the hearts of the British law enforcement authorities [which they cited to cancel the address] only on or about the 1st December. If what they say is true it is surely a confession of ‘national imbecility’.

In any event, by giving in to those hooligans/rowdies/rabble, the government of the allegedly ‘Great’ Britain, its law enforcement officers and the Oxford Union were necessarily confessing that they were so overawed and/or frightened out of their wits by those hooligans/rowdies/rabble and what they might do that they deprived themselves of the great privilege of being addressed by our Head of State who refused to be overawed not by a mere gang of uncivilized hooligans/rowdies/rabble, but even by allegedly ‘powerful’ political functionaries such as Milliband, Clinton, Kouchner and Ban Ki Moon and was ready, willing and able to face and destroy once and for all the most virulent gang of terrorist that ever polluted this earth despite the stringent opposition of those hooligans etc and those wholly hypocritical political functionaries.

The matter does not end there. There are lessons in this episode for Mahinda Rajapaksa too. Mahinda Rajapaksa should realize his worth and his standing among the leaders and purported leaders of the Comity of Nations. He should not degrade himself by accepting invitations to travel thousands of miles to address mere associations of students such as those of Oxford University. In short, he should not demean himself by going ‘slumming’. Secondly, Mahinda Rajapaksa should realize that by accepting that invitation and going to London with a vast entourage, he was committing an unforgivable waste of the scarce resources of this country while the people were suffering.

He should realize that our country would gain nothing from his addressing the Oxford Union, though the Oxford Union would have gained much had the British not permitted rowdyism to prevail over decency, and that there would be no return whatever for this country or its people from the expenditure of public funds incumbent upon his traveling thousands of miles to make such an address together with a vast entourage of sycophants who were incapable of making any contribution whatsoever for this country by going on such trip at State expense.

If Mahinda Rajapaksa learns even these lessons, the London Fiasco would have been of some benefit to our country.

The Snake is dead; why still keep awake looking at the Roof?

By Chakravarthy

The snake is dead. This is what the authorities have been emphasizing from May 17, 2009 and we believe so without any reservation. Road check posts are removed in many places and identity card is asked for randomly by the soldiers who are seen in few points.

The Galle Face Green is open to strolling public and one should see the local crowd of all ethnicity especially the minority Tamils and Muslims in a joyful mood, in addition to few Indian and other country tourists.

The number of outstation school children and bus load of visitors arriving from faraway places is a scene beyond one’s memory. On weekends, GFG has a Perahera like crowd even though parking space for vehicles is insufficient. All these are welcome signs. Fear on the faces of the Southerners is entirely gone while hunger has replaced it. Any way that is not my issue here.

It is a new country- free country now. But whether media freedom is regained or not is still a question. In the Tamil news media even 18 months after the war, still curbs are enforced on certain views on ethnic issues and news that are unfavourable to the government.

Tamil magazines coming from Chennai are still put into dissection. Pages that carry any write-up about the dead snake, IDP or with some harsh words on the government are torn here and there defacing the magazines. Readers, who are used to read short or long stories, lose a portion of it. Are all who read these periodicals traitors? Is this step still necessary? Should not they be ignored to lose value?

Take the case of “Makkal TV”. No doubt it has been a snake sympathizer. But it was allowed to run most of the days of war and shut down recently – may be permanently. It is to be noted here that this TV did not or, do not broadcast matters indigestible to the regime every day. Why do you worry about them any more with the dawn of peace?

A significant point about this channel is, it is not devoted to entertainment like screening movies and that sort of things. Further it is one with no or least agonizing advertisements. That way it has a reasonable amount of viewers here in disregard to its political affiliation on the ethnic issue.

Most of the days of last week, BBC’s mouth in Tamil was shut intermittently. News originated from London on the Channel 4 video and that of Heathrow to Oxford University and to Dorchester Hotel was blocked, black out or received axe with interruption of “Nadhaswaram” [a traditional Tamil musical instrument] followed by excuses like “power failure in the station” “satellite problem” etc.

Such editing, banning and stripping in Tamil language is done by nobody else but by the Tamils who are close to the government or those who want to express their hyped loyalty to the masters, and patriotism to the country like the natives did during the colonial period.Sometimes masters may not know all that is happening behind their back. Have they got anything to hide from your own countrymen? Hi, “King of Jaffna”, the snake is dead, why still keep awake looking at the roof?

Apart from this, These days the words “right of free speech” “right of expression” are very much jarring on our ears. Of course denial of such rights to a person under democratic set up is painful. Democracy itself dies there and a country’s respect will depend on how it upholds this right.

According to the ‘Daily News’ of SL, on the 3rd December, the Honourable Speaker of the SL Parliament vehemently defended the right of a member saying, “Any Member in Parliament has the right to express his opinion and the rest should have the patience to listen to him,” when the said member’s reply to an allegation was hooted down by his opponents.

As per, the Speaker also queried from the Members in the House if a Member in whatever party has no right to express his opinion what was the freedom guaranteed in Parliament’?

A day prior to that, an opposition MP and the name sake of the President said in the august assembly that “democracy would not last long if people’s freedom of right to know is denied. This is a vital aspect for people to live under democratic set up. Keeping them in the dark one cannot develop a country”. This part of his speech did not find space with the same news paper that quoted something of his in less value.

Well, how important “right of free speech” “right of expression,” to a person, “right to know” is equally important to another person and denying him/her that right is too painful.

A Sunday paper wrote; “BBC's Sinhala service Sandeshaya broke the story that the Oxford Union had cancelled President Rajapaksa's address on December 3. In Colombo, the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC), which has an agreement with the BBC Sandeshaya to broadcast simultaneously their news bulletin, was to black out the news item. This agreement followed substantial payments to the BBC. Instead, they played Music”.

It was a piece of non military news. What is the point in blocking it? If you cover it today, tomorrow it will come out. In this electronic age there is no guarantee that shutting one’s mouth alone would prevent others from hearing it.

Look at the WikiLeaks documents. To theUS administration it is the biggest damage in their entire history. Did Washington try to interfere with the media from bringing them out? No it was unethical and an impossible job in a democratic country.

BBC’s “Thamilosai”, despite of strangling her neck few times on Tuesday 30th November, let the same cat out as the last news, in one line before the censurer got ready. Otherwise the beam could have gone home dumb.

Yet a sizeable amount of masses of all sects were aware of those London incidents. It is human nature to raise curiosity when something is denied.

In politics will a government never face an awkward position that would create unfavourable news? Will they always walk in the path of roses? No. Sometimes they will have to tread on the muddy road with reptiles and other dangerous elements.

To face and win such a situation is credible not avoiding, blocking, stopping, deleting etc. In war such restrictions may be acceptable because spreading false news and, news favourable to one party and unfavourable to another is a norm and war tactics too. Therefore a government’s desire to filter or restrict news in connection to war could be accommodated even though one may not take for granted everything the authorities put out.

But when people breathe the air of freedom, do not they have the right to know what is happening around them instead of swallowing what is fed by spoon? Can a regime live on its laurels forever? Don’t you think people will get fed up with the same slogan, crowed day in and day out?

Look at the Indian government, oh what amount of bricks they still face on scandals like Raja Gate and other issues? Even the court made the Prime Minister to lose sleep.

On demanding a joint parliament commission probe on the Raja scandal, parliament session has come to a halt for the past 17 days costing an estimated financial loss of over Rs.100 crores. Every bit of news reached people without any censure or modification.

The same Sunday paper in Colombo reproduced 642 words on the Indian scandal “Raja Gate”. Good. It is the duty of the media to bring to the attention or make their own people to know matters of this nature happening in the neighborhood or elsewhere.

When personally hit, Kneeling down to Voltaire like a commander did to his Majesty in Shakespeare stories, saying “I disagree with every word you say, but shall defend unto death your right to say what you have to say…..", alone would not bring food on the table. It should be put into practice. We receive what we give only.

Finally, is it necessary to keep the country under iron curtain when the leaders are still parroting that peace has dawn under the present kingship after thirty years of conflict?. The snake is dead. Why still keep awake looking at the roof?

Professor R.A.L.H.(Leslie) Gunawardana: an appreciation of his life and scholarly contribution

By Prof. Gananath Obeysekera

I was saddened to hear the news of the death on 16 November of Leslie Gunawardana, someone whom I knew from our Peradeniya days and with whom I have maintained a long friendship even when I, unlike Leslie, lived and worked in the US for much of the time. He was ill for a long period and was undergoing daily dialysis and all of us knew, as indeed he did, that he would not last very long. Even though his death was expected, it is always sad to lose a friend who till the very end of his days continued his scholarly work unabated.

Also unabated was his passionate commitment for social justice and the ills of ethnic discrimination that he critiqued in his writing. Although he was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Peradeniya and for sometime a minister for science and technology, he was not a public speaker offering platitudes but someone who expressed his social and political concerns through his scholarly writing.

That writing, an enduring monument to his memory, is extensive in length and wide in scope and contains over a hundred scholarly articles and books both in English and in Sinhala. They deal with Sri Lanka’s ancient and medieval past and the relevance of that past towards understanding the present. Let me present a few of the themes that animate his writing.

His first major book entitled Robe and Plough: Monasticism and Economic Interest in Early Medieval Sri Lanka was published in 1979 and contained the seeds of much of his later work. Given Gunawardana’s Marxist orientation it was natural that he would relate Buddhist monasticism to the social and economic order although he eschewed any kind of naïve economic determinism.

The book concerned, among other things, an important paradox: Buddhist monasticism, as much of Buddhist theory and practice, had to adapt itself to the socio-political world in which it found itself. Thus Robe and Plough is not only a brilliant descriptive account of medieval monasticism but also one which dealt with phenomena antipathetic to the spirit of ancient Buddhism. Thus in medieval times Sri Lankan monastic landlordism was well established largely owing to the largesse of monarchs who, like their Indian counterparts in respect of Brahmins, had given extensive properties for the maintenance of the Sangha.

But this entailed many seeming contradictions, such that slaves became an essential component of monasticism, however benign that "slavery" was in comparison to European forms that developed later. Slaves were however not uniquely monastic; they existed among the wealthy of that time and later. Thus Leslie’s work deals with the intersection of the monastic and the political order alongside with everyday lay life. The one cannot be separated from the other; each takes its meaning and significance in their interrelationships.

From the point of view of Sri Lankan historical scholarship this work was a landmark event in critical historiography that until then was mostly concerned with descriptive accounts of the devolution of regimes (kings and governors, one might say) such that economic, political and social relations were for the most part relegated into separate "sections" of historical writing. It is as if lived existence can be confined to the barracks.

Leslie’s concern with medieval and ancient Sri Lanka led him almost inevitably to discourse on the nation’s great achievement, the complex hydraulic networks (the "tank" system as it is foolishly known), that brought about vast areas of arable land into the cultivation of rice and other crops. He is an astute critic of those who have suggested that this feature of civilization led to a form of "oriental despotism." His early research also prompted him to write on some key technical features of the hydraulic engineering, focusing on the complex technology associated with sluice gates.

These interests and his later work on early science and technology in South Asia have a technical quality about them that might not interest the present reading public. I hope that Leslie’s papers will be posthumously republished in book form so that both the Sri Lankan and international scholarly public will have ready access to them and reflect on them with the attention they deserve.

The multiple themes in Leslie’s writing inevitably led to the recognition that no island is an island unto itself but is involved in a wider world. Hence he is concerned with another theme, namely, the implications of ocean routes and international relations of the time on the local situation.

Many historians have of course recognized this interplay of the "global" with the local, and the other way around, but Leslie’s work has recognized its importance for understanding our ancient and medieval history. There is a kind of "trans-nationhood" to the historiography of the nation and Gunawardana illustrates it in many ways, as for example his work on the linkage between Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, especially Thailand and further his explorations into Tibet in a 1990 essay on Sri Lankan nuns’ biographies found in Tibet. Let me now mention another example that might interest Sri Lankans. We know that Magha of Kalinga (1215-1236), with Tamil and Kerala mercenaries, led one of the most devastating invasions in Sri Lanka resulting in the conquest of the Rajarata and the destruction of Buddhist places of worship, graphically described in the Culavan sa and the near-contemporary Puja valiya.

There is no doubt that these texts speak of "Tamil" invaders in the most horrifying terms. Yet, as Leslie and his friend and collaborator Amaradasa Liyanagamage point out, it is also the case that when this invasion occurred, monks fled to South India and there in the Chola country they sought refuge. This is no isolated pattern either. We know that the resistance to Magha was led by Vijayabahu III and he, the chronicles tell us, brought back these monks and in his reign and in the reign of his son, the great Parakramabahu II, the lapsed higher ordination was resumed with the aid of Tamil monks. And one of the founding monks of a notable monastery of that time was a Tamil. It should also be remembered that several kings right down to the later Kotte and Kandyan times were knowledgeable in Tamil.

And some of the kings of the Gampola and Kotte kingdoms had Tamil or Kerala ancestries, the most obvious examples being Bhuvanekabahu VI (Sapumal Kumaraya) and his brother Vira Parakramabahu VIII (Ambulugala). In other words scholars like Gunawardana and Liyanagamage point out that Sinhala and Tamil are not simple oppositional categories but instead their interplay must be grasped to properly appreciate our past and its continuing presence.

In his complex presentation of the past Leslie demonstrates how present day nationalists simplify the past to create a view of a sanitized Buddhist culture and reify the oppositional dualism of Sinhala versus Tamil, Buddhists versus others. Two of his papers are especially illuminating in this regard, these being, "The people of the Lion" and "Historiography in a time of ethnic conflict: construction of the past in contemporary Sri Lanka." There have been two responses to this dimension of his work.

One is a scholarly reaction that is quite understandable because no one can be certain about what actually occurred in history and one must be satisfied with "reconstructing" history from the bits and pieces of evidence that we possess. History is always a matter of interpretation and interpretation permits considerable leeway for disagreement. There is and should be scope for scholarly debate. The other reaction is hostile vituperation, mostly in intemperate language that nowadays appears in every part of the world and, even as I write this, in the United States.

In Sri Lanka it is by people who claim to be Sinhala Buddhist nationalists ignoring the norm of "right speech" that the Buddha himself promulgated. Leslie is right to ignore the latter persons who seem to have forgotten that "nationalism" was a term invented in Europe, even though there are "family resemblances" to nationalism in other polities. I do not know whether Leslie believed as I do, that fanatics should be left to choke in their own venom.

After his stint as Vice-Chancellor, Leslie moved into the political arena and was briefly minister of Science and Technology in Chandrika Kumaratunga’s government during the period 2000-2001, not as an elected representative but as an appointed one. I doubt his appointment was based on his knowledge of ancient irrigation technology! Rather it was his long time association with the Communist Party of Sri Lanka, a partner in the Kumaratunga coalition government. I do not agree with Leslie’s politics.

Yet one of the interesting features of our political life is that it was possible for someone like me to have friends with political opinions I do not share, and some of which I openly condemn, as long as these political views do not entail intolerance or condone ethnic violence and discrimination or shackle our freedoms. We live in a small but complex culture and many have friends and relations on every side of the political spectrum. Friendship that cannot straddle differences is no friendship at all. For many in Sri Lanka continuing friendship and kin ties can involve considerable juggling, not always with happy results.

With Leslie I have had no problem because his Marxist political beliefs were in fine tune with what I would call his "Buddhist humanism." I have known other Marxist leaders who, at least in their later careers, combined their Marxism with reasonable, sometimes even disconcertingly respectable, bourgeois or capitalist virtues! I believe that Leslie never lost his compassion for the poor of our nation. I remember vividly his visiting our hilltop home in Kandy with his wife Viru a few months before his death. It was evening and the two of us were in our balcony overlooking the Eastern hills, the beautiful Dumbara valley below and the distant Knuckles range. And then as night fell there emerged another kind of beauty, the flickering lights from thousands and thousands of village homes, most of which one could not see during the day, hidden as they are by thick foliage. Leslie said, "a few years ago all would be in darkness but now, see, how many of our poor folk have electricity."

This is of course true. His was not a political statement defending any particular regime but recognition that some progress has indeed occurred for many of the poor and that is something one can be proud about. One can also be proud of the fact that Leslie was a "village boy" who entered the University from Tholangomuva Central School, itself a product of our Free Education system, a system that successive governments undermined and is now beginning to be dismantled. From Tholangomuva to the University of Ceylon where he obtained a First Class Honours degree in History and reaped many prizes and awards; and then on to London where he obtained his PhD in 1965, studying under the distinguished Dutch scholar and teacher, J.G. de Casparis. Perhaps it was de Casparis who stimulated his interest in Southeast Asia and prompted his desire to learn Dutch and Chinese.

Unfortunately, his official position as Vice-Chancellor at Peradeniya and his political views alienated him from many of his colleagues, perhaps for wrong reasons, perhaps for right ones. But surely his colleagues ought to have appreciated his enduring contributions to Sri Lankan studies? Leslie’s sense of alienation combined with his impending illness pushed him into a life of a recluse, such that very few except close friends visited him. A scholar can easily become a recluse and in Leslie’s case his hermitage was his study, lined everywhere with books and from where he continued to write whenever his illness gave him some respite.

My reminiscence of Leslie in his twilight years gazing at the evening lights has triggered another memory, one of many, of our long gone greener years. During the course of my fieldwork near Maha Oya I had visited one of the most fabulous, and little-known archeological sites in Sri Lanka, Rajagala, a huge, forested mountain, extremely difficult to reach, then a refuge for elephants, another of the many species fast disappearing from our Island. I suggested to Leslie, sometime in the late 70s that we should visit this site.

My wife and I and Leslie ascended the mountain and there before us were acres and acres of scattered archeological remains. Leslie was in top form discoursing at length on them that we did not notice time go by and then realized that dusk had fallen and the three of us had to go back. We missed the footpath on the first round and the darkness was closing in on us. We were getting anxious, climbing trees to try to glimpse a footpath, and fortunately hit upon the right path almost by accident and got back to safe ground. Years later that place became a refuge for the LTTE and I have wondered: what became of those priceless remains of our past? Did terrorism spare the site? Or more somberly, has another brand of cultural terrorists searching for treasure despoiled it? It is with a different form of sadness I note, as I am sure Leslie did, that treasure-hunting has become a way of life for many and politicians, even an occasional monk, have become complicit in it.

Something beside the long war has trampled on our values; or perhaps the effects of that long war. It is no longer Magha of Kalinga who despoils our religious sites but our own people. Everywhere in the area I am engaged in current fieldwork, there is evidence of despoliation, as when stone pillars are taken to build houses for politicians. In a cave that held old "primitive" paintings dynamiters have been at work, searching for non-existing treasure. And so is it with other sites. If one cannot take pride in the remains of the past, what can possibly remain of our future?

For me Leslie was one of the truly creative historians of Sri Lanka and I feel different kind of sadness to think there are very few of his caliber remaining. As with the remains of the past being despoiled, so is it with the remains of learning in our universities. Leslie hoped, as many of us do, that scholarship will in the future bourgeon once again although some of us won’t be there to witness it as we join Leslie in the silent land. His was a long illness and during that time his wife was with him, his companion and friend and succor. She is the one who administered the injections he constantly needed and who supervised the daily dialysis performed at home. In her quiet and self-effacing way Viru possessed an understated and quiet heroism. Our love and sympathy go out to her and to their son Asela who lives in Seattle and was with his father during his last days. What else could one say? Impermanent are all conditioned things and separation from loved ones are the inevitable part of our species existence

(Emeritus Professor Gananath Obeysekera was Anthropology Dean at Princeton University, USA)

"As a Medical Officer I was Trying Hard to Control my Emotions"

By Dr.Thangamuthu Sathiyamoorthy
Medical Supdt, Vavuniya

Born in 1970, I had my primary and secondary education at Kilinochchi Hindu College till 1989. Entering the Medical Faculty of the University of Jaffna in 1991, I passed out as a medical graduate in 1998 with an internship at Base Hospital, Nuwara Eliya from 1999 to 2000.

I assumed duty as a Medical Officer at District Hospital, Akkarayan, Kilinochchi in February 2001. From October 2002 to October 2005, I covered the position of the Regional Director of Health Services in Kilinochchi.

From 2005 to 2006, I did my Masters Degree in Medical Administration and thereafter appointed as Regional Director of Health Services Kilinochchi and Acting Medical Superintendent, General Hospital Kilinochchi. I continued in these positions till 15th May 2009 and at present working as Medical Superintendent, General Hospital, Vavuniya.

I was involved in many Health sector development activities during 2002-2005 when the peace process was in progress.

During this period Government peace delegates frequented Kilinochchi by helicopters that land at the Rodrigo grounds in Kilinochchi. I have experienced traffic blocks on the A-9 road near the helicopter landing ground to facilitate smooth movement of peace delegates. These were occasions that made me happy as I considered these as potent signs of a dawning peace.

Few Sinhala Doctors reported for duty during this time and we conducted many mobile health camps with the support of teams from the South.

I had a friend whom I know from my early childhood without any sense of identity as Sinhalese or Tamil but just as a friend. But in about three or four years time when one’s identity began to crop up as Tamil and Sinhalese, I began to rightly or wrongly realize that he was different from me because he was a Sinhalese.

I remember having seen an election manifesto with the photograph of former President J.R.Jayawardena when I was just a seven year old boy. Most curiously, a slogan titled “War or Peace” on the second page of the leaflet instilled a sense of fear about ‘an impending war’ in my young mind because I hate violence.

The ensuing years saw the acceleration of militancy and I was strikingly shocked and worried about many of my seniors in school joining militant movements. As a child in a peasant family I was brought up with care and a strict emphasis on morals and non-violence. I was, in fact, a peaceful and peace loving child with a strict “NO” to violence in speech or action.

I have seen two displacements during my university period. The first one was in 1995. In September 1995, all people from Valikamam division in Jaffna district displaced towards Chavakachcheri and Vanni. I saw many dead bodies of elderly persons who had probably fallen behind in the stampede to cross over on the roads. One man was crying on his wife’s dead body saying that he was unable perform the last rites. We helped him eventually to perform an ad-hoc ‘last rites’.

My family along with our neighbours was displaced in early part of 1997 from Kilinochchi town. One of our close relatives was killed in a shell attack. Among those injured, one suffered a spinal injury and is permanently paralyzed now.

During September and October 2008 all the people in Kilinochchi and suburbs were displaced and moved towards Viswamadu/ Tharmapuram areas. In January 2009, they were again displaced and moved to Udayarkaddu. In February 2009, a sizeable majority of these people went to Puthumaththalan and Mullivaikkaal area.

Hospital staff along with a few medical personnel also moved in keeping with the movement of civilians. In displaced areas we put up temporary/make-shift hospitals and almost all of the health staff worked with dedication.

Thinking in retrospect, I just cannot help concluding that we all managed to survive in deplorable conditions, unfit even for animals. Fear, suffering, loss of life or limbs, penury and a squalid surrounding littered with dead bodies and carcass of dying animals was all what the poor peasants had to bear with. Many did not have access to a square meal a day and most importantly and pathetically water was a hard to get commodity for many. Conspicuously absent were toilets and even the most conservative of the women folk had to go in the ‘open’. As a Doctor I was sick at heart witnessing this human tragedy, both in the sanitation point of view as well as the embarrassment factor that the unfortunate people had to bear with. Frustration, first as a man of medicine and then as a human being with a heart that was bleeding with empathy, was totally unavoidable.

In the latter part of January 2009 we received injured civilians daily and treated them with the available facilities. Later we transferred most of them to General Hospital Vavuniya by land route.

In the early period of February 2009 we moved with civilians to Puthumaththalan area and we set up a makeshift hospital there. We informed about the shortage of medicines to Ministry of Health. Since the land route was closed, the Ministry tried to send medicines through ICRC ship. When we received the medicines we treated patients as much as possible and at the same time we evacuated injured people to Trincomalee by ICRC ship. It was a great help to injured civilians. Many civilians were literally ‘begging’ us and the ICRC officials to make arrangements to transfer them to better medical locations.

I have seen and heard several people praying aloud, invoking God’s Blessings to end the cruel war and bring about lasting peace. Frustration ran that high that there were times when I noticed people throwing themselves prostate and cry aloud that they have lost all their faith in God. As a medical officer, I was trying hard to control my emotions borne out of empathy, but realized that I too, as a human, fell victim to a feeling of dejection. Reminding me incessantly from a remote corner of my mind was the ‘oath’ I have taken as a man of medicine and I, like many other medical personnel, took courage and did what we could do in those dire circumstances.

I was so depressed when a nursing officer died while treating an injured old woman. Even after such incident, the health staff worked continuously and untiringly, and many health volunteers’ services are unforgettable and should not be allowed to go unrecorded.

In a theatre of war, I realize now in retrospect, that however much one tries to bring about sanity, the environment dictated otherwise and I was no exception to that. There wasn’t anything whatsoever as a privilege a doctor would normally become entitled to under the conditions that prevailed in the areas wherein we were called upon to serve. The golden lesson on peace that I was nurturing since my childhood was revisited in the conflict zone and made me to determinedly decide that one must leave no stone unturned to resolve conflict and achieve lasting peace at whatever cost to anyone’s ego or vain pride. I am fully convinced that conflict in any form would only splinter the social and by extension the national fabric.

In future we all should work for real reconciliation of the society and rebuilding of this war-tattered nation of ours.

(Report submission to Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission
19 November 2010)

I Want to be a Sri Lankan as well as a Tamilian

By Dr. Noel Nadesan

A good day to you, ladies and gentlemen,

I thank the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission for having invited me to present my point.

I consider it a privilege to have this opportunity to submit my view on this important occasion.

I am an expatriate Sri Lankan from Tamil origin, living in Australia. I have decided to narrate the events on my life as twines in and out of the tragic story of the 30-year-crisis that ruined the lives of tens of thousands of innocent civilians of all communities.

With this narrative I hope to illustrate how communal relationships can deteriorate overnight and rebuild too. I also hope to demonstrate the various political threads that exacerbated to the communal politics and led to unnecessary violence that could have been avoided by both sides.

At the outset I must mention that I am a member of the Tamil Diaspora Dialogue team engaged actively in working closely with Sri Lankan and international authorities to foster reconciliation, peace and rehabilitation. I must also acknowledge the constructive proposals and ideas made by Dr R. Narendran, Professor of Physiology, who has been a part of the Diaspora Dialogue Team. I have incorporated some of his ideas. However, I must emphasize that I take full responsibility for all the statements made in my submission.

Looking back I think it was my good fortune to be born in this era where I witnessed the major events that shaped our society. As a young veterinarian I spent the days of my early career happily working in Medawachichiya – a predominantly Sinhala area -- and traveling to my home in Jaffna every weekend for three years.

1983 violence did not affect me personally but I was overwhelmed and traumatized by the violence perpetrated by human beings to other fellow human beings. I must admit that I was scared to work in Medwachchihya which was a border area. I got a transfer to Ragala which is closer to Nuwara Eliya.

My veterinary office was inside the Ledesdale tea estate. Within few months -- i.e in April 1984 -- there was a dispute between the Assistant Superintendant and a laborer working in the tea estate. Because the Assist Superintendant was Sinhalese and Laborer was Tamil work related dispute turned into a communal one. People from adjoining village rushed in and set the fire to entire workers lines or houses. The hostility lasted for several days. I was living within the Estate and knew many workers in the Tea estate. I tried to help the victims. This was not welcome by many people. I perceived some hostility.

I was in dilemma. I was debating what I should do next.

I could not go back to Jaffna or any other place in Sri Lanka.

My best option at the time was to spend short time in India. The plight of the Tamils opened my eyes. I thought it was my duty to help those in need and I set up a charity to help the Tamil refugees. I was joined in this project by many volunteers, including my wife who is a medical doctor. Within two years, fighting among the Tamil militant groups threatened my security and suddenly found myself in an environment not conducive to live there. This crisis compelled me migrate to Australia. I was one of the people who reluctantly left my own country.

As my life experience demonstrates the life of a Tamil was not secure not only among the Sinhalese but even among the Tamils. It was not secure in Sri Lanka nor was it secure in India. Having experienced a life full of events I am still faced with the critical question of what should be the place of a Tamil in any part of the globe. I think I have found the answer in the conclusion drawn Prof Sivathambi who says: ‘I want to be a Sri Lankan as well as a Tamilian. I do not want to lose the Sri Lankan identity and become Tamilian or become Tamilian to lose the Sri Lankan identity.

Tamil people in North and East are made to believe, they are second class citizen in Sri Lanka by Tamil politicians since 1948 and they held not only Sri Lankan government but also Sinhala people responsible for this.

This issue is debatable and it is unlikely that this controversial issue can be resolved to the satisfaction of all. But whatever the pros and cons may be, the fact remains that tensions mounted and sporadic violence flared up in many forms which ultimately resulted in all out war.

The Sri Lankan constitution states that it provides equal opportunity to all its citizens -- Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims.

IF SO HOW DID THIS PROBLEM COME ABOUT? WHY DID THE TAMILS TAKE UP ARMS?

IS IT BECAUSE OF THE FAILURES OF THE SINHALESE TO UNDERSTAND THE PROBLEMS OF THE TAMILS?

Personally, I believe Tamil problem can be divided into two categories:

1 Real problems, and

2 Perceived problems.

Real one

1)1956 the Tamil Language was relegated to 2nd place but later this was rectified. However, the implementation was not done properly. Almost overnight this legislation denied 24 percent citizen of the privilege of functioning or interacting with the state in their mother tongue.

2) The introduction of language-based admission to university, introduced in 1972, further alienated the Tamils and led to Tamil militancy among the Tamil youth.

Present government is understanding this problem and rectifying

Perceived problem

1. Sinhala colonization

A small island like Sri Lanka, with its improved health facilities, particularly after the eradication of malaria, was bound to face population explosion. Any government facing this problem would be compelled to release the state land for human resettlement. This is understandable and many lands in Northern Province were given to Jaffna people. Lands in eastern province were allocated to people from south.

2. Communal riots during 1958, 1977, 1983

These are not riots caused by bitter rivalry among the two communities. These riots erupted because of the failure of the government to maintain the law and order. Especially in 1983, Government and armed forces actively took part in the killing and looting. The fact that there were no communal riots after 1983 proves that government action and vigilance is necessary for the maintenance of law and order.

Most of the violence was politically motivated and driven from the top rather than from the bottom. The 30-year-old war was waged from both sides more on divisive politics than on communal bitterness. Both parties committed despicable acts. The burning of the Jaffna library, the killing of civilians, killing prisoners, bombing sacred places, massacring innocents, assassinating politicians were all politically motivated acts rather than acts arising from communal hatred.

The bitter past continues to haunts us. We are now faced with the question: How are we as Sri Lankan both Tamils and Sinhalese leave the past behind and handle the new challenges?

An independent Tamil Eelam within the island of Sri Lanka is virtually dead and buried. Those who are chasing this dream are living in a world of fantasy. Those who are still actively scheming to resurrect the Tamil Eelam project should be aware that they are also simultaneously digging a mass grave for the Tamils in Sri Lanka. What are the alternatives?

Devolution of powers to the periphery, particularly to the northern and eastern provinces, has once again taken the centre stage. It is at the heart of the debate on how to manage the majority-minority equation within the island. Fully-fledged federalism, with extensive devolution of powers, has to be ruled out not only because the Sinhala polity is convinced it is tantamount to separation but also because the majority of Tamils living in southern part of Sri Lanka and 2/3 of Easterners are not willing to this constitutional arrangement.

The Sinhala people are now indifferent to the 13th amendment, which gave birth to the Provincial Councils, under Indian pressure. It remains a symbol of insult to Sri Lankan sovereignty for many. These Councils as presently constituted perform some services, but have no major impact on the people they serve. These Councils have been avenues to create unnecessary layers of politicians who are a burden on the people who have pay out of their pockets to keep them going and impeding the traditional local government institutions which are more closer to the people. Municipal Councils, Urban Councils and the Gam Sabhas (Village Councils) have progressively lost their power to move effectively because a huge white elephant is sitting on top of them.

Devolution, as an exercise to empower the minorities in Sri Lanka, cannot be imposed on an unwilling/ unconvinced government and a disinclined Sinhala polity. It is pertinent to note that there was no demand for devolution from the Sinhalese and the Provincial Councils were thrust on the seven (out of nine) provinces where they are a majority, in order to accommodate the demands of the Tamils. Any greater degree of devolution grudgingly accepted because of external pressures, is likely to be rendered meaningless, as the 13th amendment. It is futile to waste our time discussing, debating and demanding the full implementation of the 13th amendment with +/-, or any other devolution mechanism in the prevailing circumstances. Seeking Indian pressure to force the Sri Lankan government on issues relating to devolution and power sharing will definitely prove counter-productive for the Tamils.

The Tamil politicians of today as those of yester-year have miserably failed to understand the Sinhala psyche. With the escalation of Tamil demands, culminating in the demand for a separate State and a war, the position of the Sinhala politicians and polity, also progressively hardened. The reverse is also true. The Tamils or those who claimed to represent them waged a prolonged war for a separate State, which ended with no gains, but debilitated the Tamils to an unimaginable extent.

Is it time for the Tamils and their politicians to seek a different path towards securing their place within Sri Lanka? Is it time to think out of the box? The political objectives of the Tamils should be defined clearly at this stage.

Do the Tamils want power for the sake of grabbing political power and territory or for the sake of improving the quality of lives by living in harmony and peace in a multi-cultural society? The recent history in which the Tamils threw all their might into carving out a separate state has failed and only those who refuse to see the grim consequences to the Tamil people will boast of going down that disastrous path again? Our future political course must first take into consideration the lessons learnt from the total failure of our leaders who took the Tamil people to lowest depths in their history. If this position is accepted – and history as it stand today does not provide us another realistic scenario -- what should be the future course of Tamils? What is it that the Tamils need most now to lay the foundations for their future security, peace and progress? I do not want future generations of Tamils to go through what I and my fellow Tamils had gone through in the last thirty years which ended in Nanathikadal. The Tamils like fellow-Sri Lankans are sick of violence.

To begin with we must have a clear perception of our goals. First and foremost, we must not mix violent politics with our cultural pursuits. We have come a long way from 1956 and we can achieve our goals peacefully without any violence if we have an enlightened leadership like the Muslims and the Indian Tamils. They have achieved their goals, and they have retained their identity without going down the destructive path of the Jaffna Tamils. To achieve this we have to be a Sri Lankan without losing our Tamilness, like the way the Muslims and the Indian Tamils have retained their Muslimness and Indian Tamilness.

The historical conditions that led to the Vadukoddai Resolution of 1976 or even “1983” do not exist now. It is clear that 2010 is not the same as “1983”. Our politics have gone for isolationism, to create an existence of our own cutting off the umbilical cords that links us to other communities. Our community bled to death in going down this suicidal track. This has not only failed but has no future. The viable alternative is to engage with not only the Sinhala community but also with Muslims, Indian Tamils and other communities as equal partners. This is necessary to secure our place in one big nation. In short, we have to be like Murali – a team player fighting shoulder to shoulder with other communities for common goals.

How do we achieve this?

Primarily the Tamils need help to recover from the devastating effects of the prolonged war. They also need security –of person and property- to live as a free people without fear, equal citizenship rights and equal opportunities in all aspects of life. They have to be guaranteed their cultural and linguistic rights as individuals and a people. During the coming years, the northern and eastern provinces should be developed to provide means of livelihood and higher standards of living for the people. Could there be another way of achieving these objectives?

There are yet Tamils who have failed to understand the current situation in Sri Lanka. The Tamils have been debilitated to an extent that day- to- day survival has become a priority to a very large number. Language, culture, religion and concepts of homeland have become distant considerations. The need to find food, shelter, health-care, livelihood and other basics of plain existence far outweigh the need to exercise power over their affairs as articulated by their so-called leaders.

The hunger for power felt by their so-called leaders and leadership aspirants does not reflect the sentiments of the Tamils at large. To quote Prof. Sivatamby again, 90 per cent of the Tamils do not want Eelam. The basic needs of the Tamils are so acute and the northern and eastern provinces so impoverished that only the central government with whatever international assistance it can procure is capable of providing relief.

Provincial Councils in most provinces are very dependent on the central government for their finances, and in the north and east, these provincial bodies have no technical skill, wisdom or political magnanimity. The political realities throw serious doubt on the need for a second tier of government.

The Tamils yet persisting with the demands of yester-year do not also understand that the Sinhala attitudes towards the minorities have changed. They no longer feel a disadvantaged majority. They are a confident people, who now feel their destiny is firmly in their control. They can no longer be described as a 'Majority with a minority complex'. Issues of language and religion no longer are their greatest concern. The ordinary Sinhala people have found their place in the sun. The extreme elements among the Sinhalese are firmly under the control of this government. They are incapable of rousing divisive passions any longer and cannot strike a chord with the Sinhala people.

The Sinhalese are now seeking development and economic prosperity above everything else. They understand that unless there is peace in the country these objectives cannot be achieved. They now have a stake in the economic pie. They want to learn English now to pursue their ambitions, in a culturally and economically globalizing world.

English is no longer the 'Kaduwa' (sword) they once despised. The other welcome development is that the shift from 1956 to 2010 has brought about a new realization among the enlightened Sinhala community that the Tamil grievances need to be addressed within the framework of a unitary Sri Lanka. Having experienced the war and seen the aftermath, they empathize with the Tamils. The Rajapakse government has shown all signs of moving in this direction. When the Rajapakse government talks of a homespun solution, it is articulating a desire to find a solution that will address the aspirations of all communities. Models of devolution imposed from outside may not satisfy these criteria. But I believe that a new model of nation-building has begun.

The window of opportunity that has opened for all minorities including the Tamils should not be missed this time. Politics is the art of the possible and compromise is its essence. Of course, many Tamils influenced by the politics of confrontation of the past would ask why the Tamils should compromise. My answer would be that it is common sense to do so and the height of hypocrisy and stupidity not to accept current realities. The Tamils leaped to reach the skies but they ended up falling into the lowest depths. Their task now is to climb to the top once again and they cannot secure their future if they decide to go back to the past.

Tamils have to compromise and move away from their failed past to achieve attainable goals. The Tamils cannot talk the language of a minority with a majority complex any more. History, as perceived by many Tamils may prove that they had an independent Kingdom before the Portuguese invasion and hence they have a right to self-rule of sorts, if not a separate State. Unfortunately, history that is more recent has pointed the Tamils in the direction to find their place within a unitary Sri Lankan State.

Rather than accept flawed and debilitated Provincial Councils, it may be prudent for the Tamils to seek alternate arrangements, which would be easily acceptable to the Sinhala polity and cater to their current needs and those of at least the next few decades.

In my opinion, the best solution to resolve minority-majority issues is not through confrontation but through cooperation and consensual politics. Besides, in the foreseeable future it will not be possible to force the Sinhala majority through violence. Peaceful engagement with the majority is the only viable option available to the minorities. Pragmatic politics dictates that the only option available is to join the mainstream which is destined to direct the nation in the days ahead. This is not political cynicism or a total surrender. To me anything is better that violence. We have gone through enough and it is time to say that enough is enough. And this is nothing new either. If we look back we have gained most by being in the mainstream politics than in finding new routes to Nanthikadal.

I suggest in broad outline approaches that have the potential to find viable routes to attainable goals. I do not want to go down the path that I outlined at the start ever again. I think all communities have bright future if they abandon their bleak past. Ensure for the minorities what they seek:

1. A bill of rights, covenant or social contract in the constitution that will enshrine as an entrenched principle that all citizens are equal and have inalienable rights to,

a. Security of person and property, wherever they freely choose to live in the island.

b. Equal opportunities in education, chosen profession and employment, based on merit.

c. Live in accordance to their culture; be educated in the language of their choice (Sinhala, Tamil, English or a combination of these) and practice their religion.

d. Total and unqualified equality at all legal, political, administrative processes.

e. Non-discrimination based on professed identity, language, religion, beliefs, political affiliations and place of residence.

f. Preserve and develop their distinctive identity and its associated visible symbols.

g. Deal with the government at various levels and its agencies in Sinhala, Tamil or English.

In conclusion, I wish to state that Tamil politics has gone through its most bitter and traumatic period. Our experiences must teach us new lessons. The primary lesson that no one can miss is that we can never go back to the past. It will be suicidal for the Tamils to repeat their failed history. Under no circumstances can Tamil resort to violence.

We have to find a new leadership that will guide the Tamils to a new future. The Tamils have suffered the most and they must, at any cost, avoid the sufferings of the past. Our duty is to find our way into the mainstream democratic politics. Like the other two Tamil-speaking communities we will have a lot to gain from joining the democratic mainstream. Any other course of action would drag further back into a place worse than Nandikadal.

(This statement was made before LLRC at Colombo on 30/11/2010)

December 05, 2010

W.D.Amaradeva: Creator of Modern Sinhala Music

by Dr.Carlo Fonseka

Amaradeva is the creator of modern Sinhala Music. His biography is its history. He set out to discover the genuine idiom of Sinhala music, the highest development of which to date is the art song. He sensed that in this Indian isle called Lanka the foundation of its music had to be based on the Indian raagahadhari tradition. It had to derive its sustenance from Lanka’s folk music. Its enrichment had to come from judicious interaction with other musical traditions of humankind. His is the recipe that empowered Amaradeva to elevate the minor musical genre "song" to the level of serious art.

Amaradeva has composed and sung some of the best songs – the musical gems – ever created in the universe of Sinhala music. Dr. Lester James Peries the Founding Father of Sinhala cinema, judged that Amaradeva’s voice "is the greatest musical instrument we have in this country". The magic of his voice, the exquisite permutations and combinations of notes that comprise his melodic creations, the pristine perfection of his pitch and his impeccable phrasing add up to make him an absolutely unique vocal artiste.

In its strictest sense "absolutely unique" means "the sole existing specimen". And that precisely is what he is. In the Kingdom of Sinhala Music Amaradeva has long been the anointed sovereign. It is true to say that the more we know him the more we love him; but the more we know of him, the less there is that is both original and significant we have to say about him. So all one can do at this point in time is to ask rhetorically: "When comes such another?" and answer: "Never".

Magsaysay Award

When honoring Amaradeva with the Ramon Magsaysay in the field of Creative Communication Arts in 2001, the Foundation recognized "his life of dazzling creativity in the expression of the rich heritage and protean vitality of Sri Lanka Music". To pay homage to Amaradeva the undisputed Sovereign in the world of Sinhala music at this stage of his life is surely in Shakespearean language: "To guard a title that was rich before/ To gild refined gold, to paint the lily/ To throw perfume on the violet/ To smooth the ice or to add another hue/ Unto the rainbow …". This is, indeed, "wasteful and ridiculous excess".

Biology of Music

Accordingly in this essay I propose to take a different tack and explore the question why we love Amaradeva. Given my background of knowledge and experience in biology – pure (physiology) and applied (medicine) – that is something I feel qualified to do. There must be reasons grounded in biology for the emotion we feel for him. We love him for his music. Jay Chou, the best selling Chinese pop star recently said: "… even when my female fans approach me they don’t tell me that I am handsome. They tell me they like my music. It is my music that has charmed them". What then is the biological function of music? What is music good for? Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882), the Father of Modern Biology, gave the answer.

Biological Evolution

That Charles Darwin’s name is inextricably associated with the theory of biological evolution is common knowledge. His famous book "The Origin of Species" was published in 1859. One implication of the theory of evolution is that we humans – Homo sapiens— are one of the 193 living species of monkeys and apes. That we humans are part and parcel of the web of life is implicit in the Buddhist world view. This is reflected in the oft repeated "May all beings be happy, healthy and well". In the orthodox Western outlook, however, Man is a unique being specially created by Almighty God in his own image. In an inspired moment of poetic truth, Shakespeare made Hamlet to exclaim, "what a piece of work is Man … the paragon of animals". That was about 250 years before Charles Darwin marshaled the scientific evidence that man was a member of the animal kingdom.

Sex Appeal

More relevant to our present purpose is the book Darwin published in 1871 titled "The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex". In this book he suggested that some features of every animal have evolved to make it sexually attractive to members of the opposite sex of its species. The classic example of this biological truism is the peacock’s tail. Careful observations by zoologists show that peahens choose their sexual partners by the size and shape of their tails. This makes biological sense because the larger the tail the healthier the male bird and therefore the better its chance of siring healthy offspring.

According to Darwin what their tail is to peacocks, the ability to sing is to humans. That good singing is sexy will be denied only by the 4% or so of every population who manifest the condition called "amusia". In Shakespeare’s phrase these unfortunates are "not moved with concord of sweet sounds". The sex appeal of good singing is too well known in this age of sexual liberation to require elaborate documentation. Elvis Presley was a living legend. Thousands of young women yearned to be with him.

The evolutionary biologist Dr. Geoffrey Miller of the University of New Mexico has studied this phenomenon in depth. He cites the case of rock guitarist and singer Jimi Hendrix who had sex with hundreds of young female fans for the mere asking. The singer Robert Plant said, "I was always on my way to love. Always…". For the edification of those who are doubtful about the reason for the sexual demand for good singers let it be pointed out that just as unhealthy peacocks do not grow gorgeous tails, unfit people cannot sing well.

There is evidence of the sexual appeal of singing from certain other species too. Zoologists have discovered that several species of birds, whales and one of Man’s closest evolutionary cousins the gibbons also indulge in singing as part of their courtship. There is ample reason to conclude that the females of these species respond most favorably to the best singers. To quote another Shakespearean insight, "The man who hath no music in himself … is fit for treason, stratagems, spoils …". But he is certainly not fit for love.

Uniting power

Another function attributed to music is that it serves to bind bands of people together into united tribes. In the modern world national anthems bind people together. Traditionally soldiers have marched to war to the beat of drums. In the remote past music appears to have played a very important role in determining the character and direction of whole civilizations. In ancient China, Egypt, India and Greece the role music played in shaping society was well recognized and appreciated.

If music in fact served to bind members of a tribe together then the more musical a tribe the more closely its members would be bonded and this solidarity would have conferred on them an evolutionary advantage over less musical tribes in the struggle for existence.

Application

Finally let us see whether, and if so to what extent, these Darwinian insights are applicable to Amaradeva. In 1927 he was born into a culture which was essentially Victorian in manners and morals. (In Britain Victorian morals were dominant from the middle to the end of the 19th century. Overt Victorian morals were so austere that even piano legs were not left unclothed). Men with a strong sexuality were labeled "beasts", and their sexuality was a source of guilt and shame to them. So they endeavored to repress their sexual feelings. The emphasis was on the utmost rectitude in matters of sexual behavior and morals.

In the Sri Lankan world of music unlike in the West, the human counterparts of peacocks with splendid tails were not expected to reap the biological rewards of their magnificent singing. Restraint was the name of the game they played. Renowned musician Dunstan De Silva has recorded that "audiences raved over Amaradeva’s violin playing and singing".

At a private sitting at the residence of the Indian High Commissioner, one of India’s famous vocalists Suchitra Mitra had been moved to ecstasy by Amaradeva’s singing. She had said "Amaradeva just goes on singing in perfect "sur" and "tal" that music gushes out from his throat like water from a fountain". That there were hundreds of thousands who shared Suchitra Mitra’s feelings cannot be proved; but it is true.

As to Amaradeva’s role in uniting the nation to which he and we belong by the magic of his music, there cannot be any manner of doubt. The melody he created for Dalton Alwis’s lyric "sasara wasana thuru" and the exquisite style with which he performed it vocally made Amaradeva the noblest promoter of patriotism in our nation. His song "rathna deepa janma bhumi" has assumed the unofficial status of Sri Lanka’s national song.

Amaradeva says: "I routinely sing it as the last item in my musical concerts; and audiences invariably, spontaneously and enthusiastically join in as I sing it. On such occasions I feel one with them". When Amaradeva feels one with us, we feel one with him. So we love him because we love ourselves

(Amaradeva’s birthday is the 5th of December. This birthday eulogy for Amaradeva has been composed by the Chairman of the Arts Council of Sri Lanka,Dr. Carlo Fonseka)

Birthday Tribute, Dec 5, 2010

Rae Duru Rata, song by W.D. Amaradeva

W.D Amaradeva Mandoharp (Short Documentary)

Why should a popular govt feel threatened by a most unpopular politician?

By Kalana Senaratne

Sri Lanka has been provoked, and that too, in an unprecedented manner. Not necessarily due to the Oxford Union’s unilateral decision to cancel the scheduled speech of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. But very simply because the cancellation was an outcome of the threats posed by the pro-LTTE, pro-separatist/eelamist groups which, having supported terrorism and the killing of thousands of innocent Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim people are now demanding an international investigation concerning alleged ‘war-crimes’ committed by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces.

President Rajapaksa, even under such provocative circumstances, responded in an admirable manner, stating that he will continue in his efforts to unite all the people. "As a united country we have a great future. If we allow divisions to dominate we will not realize our true potential", stated President Rajapaksa. As veteran journalist DBS Jeyaraj very correctly pointed out: "A lesser man could have erupted into bitter, caustic sentiments but the president to his credit remained graceful under pressure." Clearly, then, President Rajapaksa’s "immediate statement was admirably magnanimous and highly commendable."

While the response of President Rajapaksa was magnanimous and commendable, the response of the government, within the Parliament of Sri Lanka, was not such a commendable one. An acrimonious and bitter debate followed when on 2nd December, MP Dinesh Gunawardena accused UNP MP Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena of being in London at the time of President Rajapaksa’s arrival. Attempts are being made to bring a resolution against Dr. Jayawardena. Accusations of MP Dr. Jayawardena having violated the 6th Amendment to the Constitution have been made.

The editor of ‘The Island’ (on Saturday) interestingly argued that this move by the government was somewhat bemusing. This is true, due to a number of reasons. Firstly, that Dr. Jayawardena may have established links with pro-LTTE elements is not news. This is an accusation leveled against him for years. Secondly, the sad and unfortunate manner in which those in government behaved runs contrary to the "statesmanlike statement" (as per DBS Jeyaraj) issued by President Rajapaksa. Thirdly, one cannot imagine why such a popular government should feel so threatened by a most unpopular politician in the country.

But there is another critical question that arises here. If the matter was so serious, why did the government target a single individual? Why did the government target a member of the Opposition who was alleged to have been in London, and not the very Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe? If Dr. Jayawardena had violated the Constitution, if he had really participated in the pro-LTTE demonstrations at the Heathrow Airport, could it have happened without the approval of the Leader of the Opposition? The accusation is a very serious one, and given the seriousness of the accusation, one cannot imagine how the government missed targeting Mr. Wickremasinghe. The government ought to have taken action, first and foremost, against Mr. Wickremasinghe.

Is it, then, an unimaginable development? Absolutely not! Mr. Wickremesinghe would not be targeted, he would not be attacked, so severely today. The reason why the government bypasses Mr. Wickremasinghe and attacks the likes of Dr. Jayawardena is obvious, since having Mr. Wickremesinghe as the Opposition Leader is a supreme political investment for the government.

The government is mindful of the political context, about the somewhat precarious position that Mr. Wickremasinghe is in, today. Speculation is rife that finally, after many years, there will be a change in leadership taking place at Sirikotha, sometime on the 12th of December or soon after. ‘Change’ remains doubtful of course, but the fact that there needs to be a significant change in the UNP leadership cannot be doubted. In such a context, it causes no great wonder to witness Mr. Wickremasinghe enjoying his leadership position, untroubled by the government, even though Mr. Wickremasinghe is perhaps the most prominent political leader in Parliament to have denigrated the Sri Lankan Armed Forces.

More importantly, that Mr. Wickremasinghe has done so especially during the final stages of the conflict, has been so prominently and forcefully pointed out by the government – especially during election time – when day after day statements made by Mr. Wickremasinghe denigrating the Armed Forces are repeatedly shown in the government’s news channels.

Such is the irony of this episode, and some in government continue to tell us that they are deeply wounded and angered by the alleged pro-LTTE activity of Dr. Jayawardena. Plans are devised to investigate whether he was instrumental in instigating the protest movement of the pro-LTTE groups, and Mr. Wickremasinghe very happily agrees that some form of inquiry should take place! Dr. Jayawardena’s past causes so much concern. Mr. Wickremesinghe’s past is conveniently forgotten.

Suddenly, we also realize that Mr. Sajith Premadasa is facing an uphill task. His political rivals are not only Mr. Wickremesinghe and those close to him (many of them being MPs, let us not forget, who denigrated and ridiculed the Armed Forces not so long ago) - but also those in government. That is why the challenge faced by the UNP-reformist group is a gargantuan one, and the struggle is not only a political struggle confined to the UNP, but in a sense, a national struggle with formidable forces working against the reformists.

In addition, however, it needs to be noted that the suggestion made by some that there should be a reformation of the UNP and its brand of politics before a leadership change takes place is an important one. Yet, it is quite clear to many that such change ought to have come sometime ago. That necessary reformation did not take place for so long affirms the view that under the present leadership, no such reformation can be expected, anytime in the near future.

There was time to reform, there was time to reorganize, if such reformation or reorganization was considered to be necessary by Mr. Wickremasinghe and his group. Today, ‘reorganization’ seems to mean one thing: a new leader. As MP Dayasiri Jayasekera once noted, this is what the people seem to be demanding today (as he pointed out in a speech some months ago, prathi-sanwidhaanaya kiyanne ekai; apita aluth naayakayek denna). And importantly, the concern raised - that the UNP needs to be reformed before leaders are changed - can be addressed if that very change in leadership is a change which promises a reformation of the party, its politics and its message.

There is then a subtle relationship between the raucous and cackling response of the government, and the upcoming UNP Convention. Especially at a time as this, when so many are playing so many different political roles and so much is at stake, one cannot deny this. The government has made a lot of noise. Mr. Wickremesinghe seems to have understood the hidden message. But let us hope that the government is more serious about the accusations it levels against members of the Opposition.

The government cannot ignore the importance of holding an inquiry into the accusations leveled, for a long time now, against Mr. Wickremesinghe; since it could turn out that it was Mr. Wickremesinghe who remains the main culprit in this entire episode. That inquiry needs to take place before the 12th of December!

(Kalana Senaratne is a postgraduate research student at the University of Hong Kong)

The ubiquity of the Tiger flag in the recent London drama

by Dr.Dayan Jayatilleka

"In the last analysis, the outcome of the struggle will be determined by the fact that Russia, India, China, etc., account for the overwhelming majority of the population of the globe." - Lenin (Last document, ‘Better Fewer, but Better’, March 22, 1923)

I don’t know about you but what struck me most about the recent drama in London was the ubiquity of the Tiger flag, with its 32 bullets and crossed rifles. This was not a protest by ‘suffering’ Tamils and associated solidarity groups.

This was a protest by Tiger supporters, waving the Tiger flag. The Tigers are a proscribed and notoriously terrorist group which has fielded more suicide bombers than any combination of Islamist fanatics. British society and the British establishment just didn’t care. That tells me a little more about Britain and its attitude to Sri Lanka than it does about Mahinda Rajapaksa and his government. It also tells me that if you applaud or rejoice in the reception accorded to Mahinda Rajapakse in London you are lining up wittingly or unwittingly, with the Tigers, because those were the only two sides visible and present in the field. Sometimes the game is zero-sum: when push comes to shove, those are the only choices available, and each of us has to make ours.

Taken together, the incidents in London and the WikiLeaks memos on Lanka, was "the flash of lightning that illumines the reality" (Lenin). What is that reality? Sri Lanka has an enemy: the offshore, external or overseas Tigers, or if you prefer, the Diaspora Tigers. The Tamil Diaspora has a disproportionate influence on the framing of Sri Lanka policy in certain western states, and therefore there is a bias against Sri Lanka. In the UK the factor of electoral geography is compounded by colonial prejudice and favouritism.

The favouritism wasn’t a one way street; as Sri Lanka’s most distinguished historian, Cambridge trained KM de Silva observed, there was never an anti-British colonial rebellion from within the Tamil community while there were at least two major revolts from among the Sinhalese. As the disclosures about Miliband’s role reveal, the UK factor will be used by the Tamil Diaspora to leverage other Western states, and that Diaspora will continue to be dominated by the pro-Tiger element.

Given this reality, what should Sri Lanka do? Quite obviously, a certain dispassionate distancing if not selective delinking or de-coupling is in order. If certain states are biased against us and are diplomatically active on so-called accountability issues while not being accountable for their own actions in our part of the world; if ‘ accountability issues’ are aimed like a loaded weapon at Sri Lanka’s defensive shield, our armed forces; if these states’ policy towards Sri Lanka is tilted in favour of the Diaspora activists and thus against Sri Lanka’s core interests which include sovereignty and non-intervention in our internal affairs, then we must strive to limit the influence of these powers upon our destiny and balance them off by constructing countervailing coalitions. This cannot be done alone, in splendid isolation or religio-culturally narcissistic self delusion.

There has to be a multiple reinforcement of ties with the whole of the global South, and with Eurasia, according special but not exclusive emphasis to our home continent, Asia, which is undergoing a renaissance. Our natural constituencies are in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eurasia, including the parts of Europe that are more consistent and less hypocritical than ourold colonial patrons; not in the ‘Atlanticist’ tier of the global North.

However these friends must not be taken for granted. Their support is not axiomatic. Latin America is no less concerned about human rights than the West/North, except that it is not hypocritical and duplicitous in that concern, nor insensitive to issues of national sovereignty. India, Japan and South Africa will be unwilling to cut us a blank check on minority rights and human rights, and Sri Lanka must be willing to take on board the concerns of these friends, making the necessary trade-offs to keep them on side.

I was greatly dismayed to read a statement on the London episode in Sunday’s (yesterday’s) papers by the Deputy Leader of the UNP, Mr Karu Jayasuriya, a man I like, respect and have supported in the past. It is not that his criticisms are not of value and utility for the state and the country. But consider the following remarks studding Mr Jayasuriya’s statement:

"...It is somewhat correctly assumed that Asian nations vying for influence in Sri Lanka do not care about the current regime’s appalling human rights record or the trampling of freedoms while the West expects a higher standard of governance... While some may argue that there is a Western conspiracy to tarnish the image of Sri Lanka it would better serve us to realise that the image is but a reflection of reality... As long as the government ...flatly dismisses serious allegations without credible investigation and opts to denigrate and insult our fellow members in the global community every time they expect us to hold ourselves to a higher standard of civility and conduct, Sri Lankans will be seen world over as barbaric killers and heinous liars...It is clear that the world is growing impatient with Sri Lanka’s attitude. If nothing else the President’s visit to Britain should be an eye opener for this regime that the only way to restore Sri Lanka’s good name in the world is to investigate these many allegations against us..." (‘To normalize relations with West, Tamil Diaspora, Sri Lanka should probe war crimes allegations: Karu’, Sunday Island, Dec 5, front page lead)

Throughout the UNP Deputy Leader’s entire statement (as well as certain other commentaries in the media, as distinct from the superb journalistic reconstruction by DBS Jeyaraj) there is no mention at all of the ubiquity of Tiger flags, criticism of those demonstrators and no robust defence of Sri Lanka, its armed forces and its military victory in relation to that opponent and their critique! It is not that we must not hold up a mirror before ourselves.

While we must not go "mirror, mirror on the wall" and be content with the flatteringly echoed reassurance, neither must we hold up a distorting, circus mirror as the UNP Deputy Leader has done. We must not see ourselves through rose-tinted glasses gifted by courtiers, or through the distorting lenses that biased outsiders try to trick us into wearing. We must regard ourselves, our situation, our vulnerabilities, our friends, allies and enemies, the friends of our enemies and the enemies of our friends, and our interests, all with a lucid objectivity and tough-minded realism.

The best opportunity to resolve the Tamil National question is available to the UPFA govt.

by Sumanasiri Liyanage

The United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance, in my view, reached its climax at the Parliamentary election held in April 2010. Since then although the UPFA government has been able to secure the support of more MPs to obtain two-third majority necessary for constitutional changes, it seems its support base is decreasing gradually. The cancellation of the scheduled address by President Rajapaksa at the Oxford University may be treated as the first major setback for President Rajapaksa and the UPFA government.

It is likely that the UPFA will lose the control of a substantial number of local government councils at the forthcoming local government elections owing to the fact that the living standards of people have not proportionately increased although the economy has recorded a high rate of growth. As I still believe that I place myself within the UPFA mass base, this is an internal critique of the UPFA government, its policies and its administration.

The cancellation of the President’s talk at the Oxford Student Union raises many questions. It was clear that the Sri Lankan High Commission office in London had failed miserably to make a correct situation assessment prior to the visit of the head of state. President office should have done its own independent situation analysis before the acceptance of the invitation by the Oxford Student Union, the prestige and reputation of the inviting organisation notwithstanding. Since this was not an official invitation by the Government of the United Kingdom, there is no ground to place the blame on the UK Government over the cancellation of the talk.

There are 300,000 Tamil Diaspora in the UK. And it is not difficult for the Tamil Diaspora living in Western European countries to cross the narrow English strait to come to London to participate in a protest. Trans-border movement of Diaspora has happened in the case of previous protests as well. President’s tour was arranged just after one of the most important days in the LTTE calendar, Hero’s’ Day, that was celebrated in London at a well attended meeting. Had the Sri Lankan High Commission in the UK monitored these developments that would have served as an advance warning to the President’s Office of the possible developments. Knowing very well that the Tamil Diaspora can mobilise large numbers of people for a protest in the event of President Rajapaksa’s address, Oxford Student Union would have seen the possible security implications before it extended invitation to a head of state.

However, it appears that the President’s Office has blindly accepted the invitation without doing necessary homework taking into consideration all aspects of the issue. Hence I think Minister Weerawansa should have organised a protest not in front of the UK High Commission, Colombo but in front of the President’s Office and the office of the External Affairs Ministry for their lapses as regards the visit of the head of state without making a careful situation analysis. In my view, the President’s Office, External Affairs Ministry and the Sri Lankan High Commission Office in London should take the full responsibility for this embarrassing situation and humiliation which the President of Sri Lanka faced owing to the cancellation of the scheduled talk at the Oxford Student Union.

War has ended in May 2009. However, the UPFA government has so far not taken any significant action to address political grievances of the Tamils. I am not referring to economic development projects in the North and East. One important thing that the government should seriously think about is that Tamil armed struggle began because Tamil youth felt that they did not have opportunity to participate in decision-making process that affect them directly. So the post colonial state has been under constant contestation since 1948. It is simplistic to depict this contest as an attempt to form a separate state although in the hands of LTTE it developed subsequently into a separatist armed struggle.

When I visited London couple of months ago, many Tamils raised time and again the marginalization and neglect of the political issue in the UPFA agenda. A substantial section of Tamil Diaspora in fact has expressed their willingness to participate in the North-East reconstruction process if the government demonstrates its willingness to devolve power to people so that they could take decisions that would impact on their lives. Instead of addressing these issues, some Sinhala academics and think tanks have even suggested that the limited constitutional provision enacted by the 13 th Amendment to the Constitution be repealed.

One may argue that Tamil Diaspora is capable of organising this kind of resistance abroad but this would not have had an impact on Tamil politics in Sri Lanka. In my opinion, this perception is wrong. Hence, the government, in the post war situation should engage Tamil Diaspora to find a political solution to the problem. Armed conflict can be ended in multiple ways. In Sri Lanka, it happened through a military victory of the government security forces.

However, this fact does not negate the necessity of addressing the root causes of the conflict. Can the government win local government elections in the North and East on the basis of its work on resettlement and reconstruction alone? I would answer this question in the negative. There is no doubt that the post war situation has created a new space with lots of opportunities. However, we should not forget that the new situation has also generated new and serious challenges. Is the UPFA government capable of facing these challenges? The cancellation of the Oxford Student Union talk signifies the UPFA government’s political impotency and administrative incapacity with regard to the Tamil national question.

The best opportunity to resolve the Tamil national question is available for the UPFA government and it should not be allowed to pass by adopting confrontational attitudes towards Tamils in Sri Lanka and Tamil Diaspora. As the President very correctly has argued in his UN speech, the negotiation is the best way to resolve social conflicts, the need for using other methods in exceptional situations notwithstanding.

(The writer teaches Political Economy at the University of Peradeniya)

Rajapaksa regime wants to expel Colombo’s poor through a "humanitarian" operation

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

Mounting evidence suggests that losing a job or a home can rock our identity and savage our self-esteem. Forced moves wrench families from their schools and support networks.… Economic polarisation also shatters our sense of national union and common purpose, fostering political polarisation as well. — Nicholas Kristoff (New York Times – 6.11.2010)

The poor are ugly, unclean and undesirable; they obstruct flood-control, law and order and development. Colombo cannot become a modern metropolis with clean air, unblocked drains and safe streets while the poor are here. To win the development war, the poor must be removed, en masse.

So the Rajapaksas would have us believe.

A ‘humanitarian operation’ is to be launched, to liberate the poor from their squalid existence, and turn Colombo into a ‘slum-free city’. 65,000-75,000 families (around half a million men, women and children) are to be turned-out of their homes. According to the Director General, UDA, Nihal Fernando “We have identified sites in Homagama, Gampaha and Kalutara for resettlement… We cannot allow them to live in the city any longer.” (The Sunday Times – 21.11.2010)

The eviction plan will encompass not just unauthorised settlers but even families with legal titles to their lands. Each family will be paid the princely sum of Rs 100,000, as compensation (some ministers receive as much per month, as rent allowance). When private land is appropriated for developmental purposes, owners are paid the market value.

Will the legal owners among the evictees receive identical treatment or will they too be paid Rs 100,000 for land which is worth much more?

What will these families find when they are taken to their new habitats? Will there be at least shacks or tents to protect them from the elements?

Or will they find bare land with no shelter, water or toilets, no place for the children to keep their books or the elderly to rest their heads?

How will the surrounding rural communities respond to this urban influx?

Who will decide which family will go where — the families or the state?

Isn’t the forcible relocation of citizens unconstitutional?

What about the Herculean task of finding schools for children?

How would this expulsion impact the elderly or students facing crucial exams (Year 5 scholarship, O/L and A/L)? What about the livelihoods of evictees?

What is the moral difference between the proposed expulsion of Colombo’s poor and the expulsion of Muslims by the LTTE?

Most of us are not yet callous enough to ignore the pain of fellow human beings dragged away from their homes, possibly at gun-point; not when images of their tragedy are brought into our homes by the media, in the form of weeping children or pleading elderly. So the Rajapaksas have launched a propaganda campaign to market this moral outrage as a ‘developmental necessity’, via a narrative which portrays the poor as perpetrators of criminals and health-hazards.

The aim is to blunt our capacity for compassion by playing on our phobias, to persuade us to see Colombo’s poor not as fellow human beings but as ‘threats’ and ‘obstructions’. And thereby to win our silent collusion for the eviction plan, so that the land of these citizens can be ‘developed’ and sold/leased to foreigners, to finance a rapacious Ruling Family and a mammoth cabinet. (Incidentally, the construction of luxury hotels and apartments on the wetlands around Diyawanna Oya would have worsened city-floods than all Colombo ‘slums’).

Politics augment greed. For the siblings who vanquished the Tigers, the failure to conquer Colombo must be galling. And Colombo would be unconquerable, so long as its poorer residents remain. Because not only are Colombo’s poor pro-UNP; they are also ethno-religiously pluralist, culturally heterodox and, in their irreverence, immune to our Ruling poseurs.

President Rajapaksa is a vocal adherent of trickle-down economics, a dogma which has failed spectacularly, in Sri Lanka (1977-1989) and elsewhere, including in the developed world. As Jeffery Sachs, once the begetter of shock-therapy, points out, “The lesson from America is that economic growth is no guarantee of wellbeing or political stability” (The Guardian – 6.10.2010). A recent IMF-ILO study warns of an ‘apparent decline in the employment intensity of growth’ i.e. an exacerbation of the old phenomenon of ‘jobless-growth’. Thus the model adhered to by the Rajapaksas cannot ensure better living conditions for the poor and the middle classes because of its ingrained flaws.

In addition, the Rajapaksa infrastructure projects create minimal employment/income-generation opportunities for Lankans due to extensive use of Chinese convict-labour; they also combine astronomical costs with abysmal quality (the new Dehiwala flyover is so structurally unsound, heavy vehicles are banned from using it). The planned hiking of electricity rates despite the successful completion of the Norochcholai plant is an indication of where this model is headed.

As historian Tony Judt points out, “For the last 30 years…when asking ourselves whether we support a proposal or initiative, we have not asked, is it good or bad? Instead we inquire: Is it efficient? Is it productive? Would it benefit gross domestic product? Will it contribute to growth? This propensity to avoid moral considerations, to restrict ourselves to issues of profit and loss — economic questions in the narrowest sense — is not an instinctive human condition. It is an acquired taste” (London Review of Books – 17.12.2009).

During the Premadasa years a concerted effort was made to abandon this ‘acquired taste’ and factor in the impact on people as a primary measure of the desirability or undesirability of an economic policy. The Premadasa approach to slum clearance, which aimed at improving housing and living conditions of urban poor rather than uprooting them, reflected this thinking. This is a main contributory factor to the fact that Colombo’s ‘slums’ are often stolid houses, like lower-middle class dwellings anywhere in Sri Lanka.

The Rajapaksas favour a system of governance which objectifies people, either to be used as weapons, discarded as marginals or suppressed as obstacles. They follow a politico-economic policy regimen which is tyrannical, predatory and pitiless.

With their humanitarian operation, the Rajapaksas increased the psychological divide between the North and the South. If their economic policies take wing, a similar exacerbation in the class-divide will result. Old repressive laws are retained and new ones being considered to quell the popular opposition to these unpopular measures, as is indicated in the recent statement by a Rajapaksa sibling that the Emergency will continue because of the ‘clandestine activities of the TNA and JVP’.

Colombo’s poor are organising to defend their homes but they cannot prevail alone. The UNP must consider this battle its own; if the eviction plan works, the party will lose its last bastion. Current and potential UNP leaders can prove their prowess on this battlefield, because if Colombo is lost, nothing and no one will be able to resurrect the Elephant.

But this is an issue which should closely concern the entirety of Southern society, beyond political, ethno-religious or class divides. Enlightened self-interest, apart from moral or humanitarian considerations, demand that we resist this outrage, because if the Rajapaksas get away with it, what guarantee do we have that we will not be the next (or the next….) target of their acquisitive spirit?

False notes in President Rajapaksa's second symphony

by Col R Hariharan

President Mahinda Rajapaksa started his second innings as President when he was sworn in at an auspicious hour on November 19, 2010 with all the pomp and ceremony associated with the coronation of royalty. “It Is fitting in a way” thousands of his supporters would say because President Rajapaksa is now “monarch of all he surveys.” Not only his United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) has bagged two thirds majority in parliament but also dutifully amended the Constitutional two-term restriction imposed on presidents. With that the President’s second tenure that would have been his swan song, has now been turned into an orchestration for a second symphony, with options open for him to compose more.

Though the beaming President Rajapaksa looked supremely confident as he watched a military parade and the screaming fly past of air force jets on the occasion, there were a few false notes within few days of the second term.

The first came when 104 members out of 161 members of the UPFA coalition were ushered into a jumbo cabinet. It included the prime minister, the new class of 11 senior ministers, 61 ministers and 31 deputy ministers. In his first term Rajapaksa’s coalition did not enjoy the advantage of two-thirds majority and his adoption of the ‘jumbo cabinet’ strategy to strengthen his coalition in parliament had some validity. But why has he fallen to the same ‘jumbo’ tactic? Does it mean he has doubts about retaining the loyalties of his coalition members? With his mass popularity, does the President really feel politically insecure? This doubt is further reinforced when we see the senior ministers - trusted lieutenants of earlier years - have been given the option of attending cabinet meetings when they chose, despite holding high sounding portfolios! Have they been put to pasture? Does it mean the President wants to keep them at arms length in his decision making process?

The second jarring note is the way portfolios have been allotted to the ministers. In spite of such large number of ministers, the President has retained the vital portfolios of defence, finance and planning, ports and aviation and highways under him. President’s brother Basil Rajapaksa will be handling planning and development as before. The portfolios allocated to other ministers and deputy ministers are confusing. They also appear apportioned from cohesive entities, and we can expect the ministers to trample upon each others territory. Does this mean the President has little confidence in his cabinet members in delivering his development agenda of which he has been speaking at length? Or is it for more mundane reasons of keeping the ministers on the leash as they look for small pickings?

Of course, there was also the President’s ill-timed, if not ill-advised, visit to the U.K. to address the Oxford Union. The President’s 100-strong entourage marked a big occasion in his calculus. The organisers aborted the meeting the day before it was scheduled for reasons of security after a well orchestrated protest march of Sri Lankan Tamil expatriates, largely peppered with Tamil Tiger acolytes, threatened to converge on Oxford to disrupt the meeting. The Tamil protest had a well-timed added provocation when Channel 4 TV beamed an old but more detailed version of the gruesome slaughter of Tamil women captives allegedly by Sri Lankan army soldiers in uniform. The British government kept the legendary stiff upper lip and had nothing to say Oxford SNAFU as Rajapaksa’s visit was ‘unofficial.’ Wikileaks also added its pennyworth up loading cables on how the US ambassador Ms Patricia Butenis felt the President and his team had collective responsibility for war crimes.

The President bravely weathered the cold rebuff in Oxford in the icy British winter and went home to a thundering reception by an adulatory crowd. Regardless of the Tamil Tigers colouring of the war crimes issue, the Oxford experience should be a moment of truth for the President. He has to face the issue squarely at the international level and clean up, if not erase, his and Sri Lanka’s image blurred by war crimes allegation. No locally compounded formulation of the Lesson Learnt Commission-kind will can do this. Solutions like the one proposed by his irrepressible minister Mervyn Silva to educate all Englishmen from the highest officers to the lowest on Mahinda Chinthanaya can only provide comic relief. Sri Lanka has a credibility deficit in this respect. And this has to be overcome.

The President in a recent interview given to N Ram, the Editor in chief of the Hindu, had explained the rationale behind getting the constitutional two-term bar on the president lifted. He said he had found in the past, presidents were effective only in the first year of their second term after which they became lame ducks. As per this reasoning, the lifting of the constitutional limitation would enable him to use the second term fully for “development of the people.” If that was his idea, neither his cabinet nor its structuring gives confidence of fulfilling Rajapaksa’s hopes.

Moreover, with the abolishing of the two-term limitation for the President, Sri Lanka may end up with a life time president, though Rajapaksa had disclaimed any such intention in his Hindu interview. Going by his demonstrated political acumen, President Rajapaksa is probably shrewder than other ‘life term’ presidents of the world to make such a mistake. Some of the ‘life termers’ who rose to pinnacle of fame ultimately ended up in the dust bin of history. [Of course, there is a modern day precedence of a president who became an emperor! Jean Bèdel Bokassa, President of Central African Republic, declared himself President for Life in 1972 and crowned himself as emperor in 1976! Of course, he was overthrown later and died in custody is a matter of inconvenient detail.]

As Oliver Goldsmith wrote “Popular glory is a perfect coquette; her lovers must toil, feel every inquietitude, indulge every caprice, and perhaps at last jilted in the bargain.” President Rajapaksa needs to rewrite his opening of the second symphony lest it fails at the altar of popular glory. He needs it to get his development agenda succeed.

(Col R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka as Head of Intelligence. He is associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies and the South Asia Analysis Group.)

December 04, 2010

Tamil public opinion has to choose between the West based diaspora and India

by Dr.Dayan Jayatilleka

"A social group dominates antagonistic groups, which it tends to ‘liquidate’ or to subjugate perhaps even by armed force; it leads kindred and allied groups.” - Gramsci

The massive WikiLeaks detonation took place in the wake of a significant conjunction of events for Sri Lanka. That was the celebration of Mahaveera day by the Diaspora Tamils and the visit to Jaffna by India’s Foreign Minister SM Krishna. Remember Mahaveera day, when Prabhakaran had his torchlight parades, and Sri Lanka’s state television, Rupavahini, uplinked his speech to the BBC and European stations in accordance with an arrangement entered into when Wasantharajah was made chairman of Rupavahini by President Kumaratunga? That self-abasement of the Sri Lankan state and humiliation of the Sri Lankan citizenry took place in the Chandrika-Ranil days.

This partnership hoped to win the 2005 Presidential election and share power with the LTTE through the PTOMS. I am glad I supported presidential candidate Mahinda on television in a close fought election which decided the history of our country and its peoples. Had he not won, Mahaveera day would still be addressed by Prabhakaran, uplinked by Rupavahini and telecast by MTV!

When one recalls how Mahaveera day was celebrated in Sri Lanka, how can anyone with an iota of patriotism avoid the feeling that in the single most important respect Sri Lanka as a state, a country, is much better off today than then; that those were the worst of times and that these are comparatively better?

Little wonder then that Mahinda Rajapaksa is enjoying a “hegemonic moment”. Both his critics and courtiers would do well not to confuse this “limited hegemony” with “structural tyranny” ignoring as they do the basic Gramscian distinction between ‘hegemony’ and ‘domination’ and conflating the one with the other.

Of course Mahaveera day was celebrated this time too, and the locations of that celebration tell us a great deal. They were the concentrations of the Tamil diaspora in the west. This then is the true ‘traditional homeland’ of Tamil Eelamist sentiment. Worse, they openly commemorated terrorists and assassins who died in the cause of dismembering and disintegrating Sri Lanka. Maybe we should celebrate too: after all, those terrorists are dead and that is a cause for satisfaction. As far as I am concerned, these folk can celebrate it for the next generations to come and I wish them luck establishing a separate Tamil state on the soil of those countries where they reside and demonstrate, because they sure ain’t gonna get one anywhere in Asia, still less on the soil of our island.

More significant is the truth that came to light. While the Mahaveera conclave took place in the UK and Tiger flags were openly waved at Heathrow, neighbouring India has once again stated in its domestic legal hearings that the LTTE remains a real threat to its own security and that the danger of reactivation is real.

If India has a perception of threat from the LTTE, how can anyone argue that Sri Lanka does not? The threat to Sri Lanka comes secondarily from Tiger elements which may regroup in South India and primarily from the Tamil Eelam project, with its terrorist, violent and non-violent variants (as disclosed by authoritative columnists Sathiyamoorthy and DBS Jeyaraj) embedded in the Tamil diaspora in the West.

The role of the diaspora generates and is compounded by the stance of certain elements in Western states. As the WikiLeaks reports indicate, a former colonial metropolis canvassed the case against Sri Lanka, while its closest partner, a superpower, seems to have taken an inordinate interest in possible UN moves on Sri Lanka. To counter the threat located in the West, Sri Lanka must be able to leverage the entirety of Asia. To consider India ‘The Enemy’ or an enemy (“the greatest enemy...a horrible enemy”) as some Sinhalese publicists and ideologues do, is to gouge deeply into that support, discarding more than half of it. This is all the more imbecilic since India is one of the few states that have recently re-designated the LTTE and the possibility of its reactivation as a threat to itself.

Indian Foreign Minister SM Krishna’s visit to Jaffna coincided with the Mahaveera madness in the West. The message was clear: Prabhakaran and the Tigers are gone, baby, gone; the Sri Lankan and Indian states are not, and are very much present. That wasn’t the only signal to the Tamil people. Mr. Krishna’s revised schedule did not permit a separate meeting with the TNA, despite attempts in some quarters to build up the TNA as the main if not sole legitimate interlocutor with both the Sri Lankan and Indian governments.

The TNA MPs were present on the platform in Jaffna but as the photographic evidence shows, they had to take second place to Minister Douglas Devananda, the elected Tamil leader who stands at the intersection of the Sri Lankan and Indian initiatives for the Tamil people. There may be those preferred by Colombo and others by Delhi, but he is trusted by both Colombo and Delhi. The space he occupies cannot be bypassed and he cannot be dislodged from it.

Tamil public opinion has to choose between the West-based diaspora and India, while the TNA has to choose between diaspora-driven dogmatic rhetoric and the parameters of the evolving Indo-Lankan equation.

The Oxford debacle was avoidable and could have been avoided

by Tisaranee Gunasekara

'Base fortune, now I see, that in thy wheel
There is a point to which men aspire
They tumble headlong down…”
Christopher Marlowe (Edward II)

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Call it a result of hubris, blinding, stupefying hubris. The Oxford fiasco need not have happened, if President Rajapaksa did not have an insatiable appetite for such inane encomiums as, ‘The Leader who Conquered the World’; or if his ministers, officials and other hangers-on were a little less inclined to lie, cheat and exaggerate in order to please their Lord and Master. Unfortunately the President needs regular ego-boosters and to fulfil this need, his acolytes are willing to go to any lengths (including into the realm of pure fantasy): the Oxford/British rebuff was the outcome.

President Rajapaksa and his administration are not popular outside of Beijing, Islamabad and Male. Several recent incidents point to this less than palatable truth. For instance, when President Rajapaksa held a lavish reception at the Waldorf Astoria this September for world leaders attending the UN General Assembly, the hall was filled with members of his jumbo delegation, Sri Lankan-Americans and only a handful of foreign dignitaries.

It was a massive and spontaneous snub, from which the correct conclusion should have been drawn. Either make yourself more acceptable to that part of the international community interested in Sri Lanka; or stop trying to play a role on the world or even the regional stage (and be content with shuttling among China, Iran, Pakistan and the Maldives, with occasional visits to India, to relieve the tedium). One cannot scream invectives at the West, literally from rooftops, organise unruly demonstration outside Western embassies and act like a tin-pot dictator in a fit of temper or sulks and still expect to be treated as a welcome visitor in Washington, London, Paris or Berlin.

Imagine a neighbour who has gained status and wealth lately in life and go to embarrassing lengths to display both. Wouldn’t he and his family become the laughing stock of the neighbourhood? Would anyone take him seriously or accord him any genuine respect? Wouldn’t this ridicule become worse, if this same neighbour is inclined to make exaggerated claims about his own virtues and his standing in society? President Rajapaksa is behaving like that man, and bringing both himself and Sri Lanka into disrepute in consequence.

According to media reports, the invitation from the Oxford Union was not a singular honour bestowed on the President, as his fawning propagandists claimed, time and again. The Oxford Union is organising a series of lectures by foreign leaders and the invitation to President Rajapaksa came as a part of this general initiative. Whether the expensive public relations firm hired by the administration, Bell-Pottinger, engaged in any lobbying to obtain for the President an early slot is unknown; what the lobbying firm, the Lankan mission in London and above all our Foreign Ministry should have known was that this was not the right time to visit the UK, for a number of very obvious reasons. Relations between Colombo and London are not warm. London has repeatedly demanded that the Rajapaksa administration agree to an independent international investigation into possible war crimes. Colombo has dismissed these requests, in a dismissive manner.

Having done so, it cannot expect London to go out of its way to welcome President Rajapaksa (who is not on a state visit) or to mount a huge and expensive security operation to enable him to keep a private engagement at a non-state institution (the Oxford Union).

“We are very weak in our propaganda”, President Rajapaksa is said to have lamented in his interview with The Times. Indubitably; but the primary fault lies with the product which is being marketed rather than in the calibre of propagandists or the efficacy of their methods. The Sinhala South may be willing to suspend basic commonsense and accept an obvious lie – that the Eelam War was won in a ‘humanitarian operation’ which caused ‘zero-civilian casualties’; or that our soldiers went to war with a gun in one hand and the UN Charter on Human Rights in the other, as the President once claimed. But the rest of the world will not believe, and cannot be expected to believe, such obvious and inane untruths.

Such tall tales cannot be rendered credible by even the best of propagandists – or by one of the most expensive lobbying firms in the world! The other extravagant claims that the President insists on making about Sri Lanka, his administration and himself are equally unconvincing. The President’s personal style does not help either, such as his propensity for self-aggrandisement, his lust for praise and his ostentatious mode of living and travelling.

These inherent flaws in the ‘product’ itself and the consequent absence of credibility can be understood best by the manner in which The Times reported its London encounter with President Rajapaksa. The piece was titled ‘Sri Lanka never killed any civilians as such – Rajapaksa’ and began in a manner which indicated that the President has failed to convince, despite his charm offensive: “The most telling moments in the Times interview with President Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka came after it was over. For almost an hour in a suite in the Dorchester, Mr. Rajapaksa had painted a picture of his government and country that was as white and spotless as his traditional garb….. His large entourage, ranged on sofas around the room, nodded in rapt agreement at every word the President said. Then just as we were about to leave an emissary was sent to the lobby to summon us back. Mr. Rajapaksa looking both angry and crestfallen, met us in the corridor, to declare that the president of the Oxford Union no longer wanted him to give a speech today… ‘I think he has been threatened by these fellows’ snapped Mr. Rajapaksa a man, one suspects, not used to being disinvited” (The Times –2.12.2010; emphasis mine).

Protests by sections of the Tamil Diaspora may not have been the only reason the Oxford Union cancelled President Rajapaksa’s speech, unilaterally. The latest Channel 4 ‘war crimes’ video (a longer version of the earlier ‘war crimes’ video) may have had something to do with it. The second video, according to media reports, is even more damning than the first one: “The new video seems to show the same incident but rather than stopping after the execution of a second bound man, it continues and the camera pans left to reveal the naked and dead bodies of at least seven women, with accompanying dialogue from onlookers who make lewd and callous comments which seems to suggest strongly that sexual assaults have taken place before the death of the women” (UN: Sri Lanka ‘war crimes’ video needs investigation - Channel 4 – 1.12.2010).

The official response of the Sri Lankan High Commission in London to the new video is basically dismissive. Its main argument is that the government of Sri Lanka investigated the first video and found it to be a fake. Unfortunately the regime’s ‘investigations’ do not carry much credibility internationally, given its past record. Moreover, a significant part of the international community, including UN experts, believes the first video to be authentic. Channel 4 has forwarded the new video to the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Committee on the Lankan ‘war crimes’ issue. “The UN has told Channel 4 News that the Sri Lanka apparent execution video broadcast on Tuesday, deserves further investigation. The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Professor Christof Haynes, said: ‘It is shocking indeed. , and clearly deserves more investigation’…” (ibid).

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The Oxford Debacle was avoidable, and could have been avoided, if the Rajapaksa administration learnt from the IIFA debacle. The Indian International Film Awards was held in Sri Lanka with the intention of attracting the crème de la crème of the Indian film industry. No expense was spared (the cost of the entire exercise was said to be close to a billion rupees). This was to be the show of the year, showcasing the achievements of President Rajapaksa and heralding the advent of his eldest son into the international scene. Instead it became one of the most extravagant and embarrassing fiascos of recent times. Due to pressure from Tamilnadu in general and its powerful film industry in particular, most of the Bollywood stars (including the actor-organisers of the show) decided to stay away.

Even the actors who did turn up avoided the official function organised by the President, on the flimsiest of excuses. The entire effort backfired, because the regime underestimated the cultural influence of the Tamilnadu film industry.

The Oxford fiasco was thus an unavoidable one, because sections of the Tamil Diaspora made no secret about its determination to mount protests against the Rajapaksa visit. Nor was the Oxford Union engagement imperative from a Lankan point of view. It was more of an ego-booster for the President, as the official propaganda-hype indicated. ‘The Leader who Conquered the World’ is one of the favourite encomiums of Rajapaksa propagandists; speaking at the Oxford Union, a second time around, would have been a significant ‘boost’ to this inane claim. Plus it was a chance for a whole lot of acolytes to visit London at public expense, because, according to media reports, a jumbo delegation of around 100 accompanied the President, though this was strictly a private visit.

Last month Sri Lanka was snubbed by Nepal when Kathmandu denied Foreign Minister GL Peiris’ boast in parliament about Nepali leaders requesting President Rajapaksa to help them sort out their political problems. A few days later, American media exposed the claim made by a Lankan Consul about meeting and briefing President Obama to be a lie. If this is the way we interact with the world, ere long, we will become a global laughing stock.

Having won the Eelam War, the Rajapaksas believe that every other problem and crisis can be overcome by using the same approach. They seem to regard every challenge as a war and every enemy as a terrorist. So the regime has a ‘development war’, ‘wheat terrorism’ and ‘climate terrorism’. Unfortunately these methods will not work either with the West or with the Tamil Diaspora. The only way the Rajapaksas can win-over the West and silence the Diaspora is by making a serious effort to improve the human rights climate in Sri Lanka and to find a political solution to the ethnic problem.

And as the Oxford fiasco demonstrated, the President, for all his angry rhetoric, wants to be accepted by the West, to visit Western capitals, to hobnob with Western leaders and other public notables.

For all his shrill invective, it seems as if he is still in thrall (psychologically) to our former colonial masters. Why else would he be so proud of his Oxford Union invitation, even though it is an invitation which will be extended to all other world leaders?

The Ruling Coalition engineered a huge reception for President Rajapaksa at the Katunayake Air Port as a salve for his bruised ego. In the meantime, the regime has accused Dr. Jayalath Jayawardene of being involved in the anti-Rajapaksa protests (despite his denials Dr. Jayawardene was manhandled in parliament by several ministers, eager to show their fealty to the President) and wants to expel him from parliament for violating the 6th Amendment.

If this proposal is implemented, it will set a deadly precedent. That way the regime will have one more powerful weapon to be used to silence and incapacitate the opposition whenever it shows any sign of life.

The President's visit to Britain should be an eye-opener to this regime

by Karu Jayasuriya

Statement by Deputy Leader of the United National Party

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The events that transpired during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit to Britain have filled the people of this country with dismay and caused significant embarrassment to the Sri Lankan state and its citizenry. The President was beleaguered from the moment of his arrival in Britain, with protesters flocking to the airport and causing disruptions to every aspect of his programme, culminating in the unilateral cancellation of his scheduled speech to the prestigious Oxford Union, which was the primary purpose of his visit.

The treatment of the Sri Lankan President deeply wounds the psyche and the morale of the people of this country, who are struggling still to break out of economic shackles, despite the conclusion of the war and the tremendous economic saving the conflict’s end has created for the country. A slight to the Head of State of this country is a slight to the Sri Lankan state and it is disgraceful that it is the cavalier conduct of this regime has led to this tragic and humiliating state of affairs during the President’s visit overseas.

Since the conclusion of the war against the LTTE, Sri Lanka has been dogged by allegations of massive civilian casualties, and the blatant disregard of human rights which has led to the muzzling of the free press, abduction and assassination of journalists and the stifling of political dissent. The government, playing constantly to the sensibilities of its hawkish support base has consistently denied the allegations, refused to investigate even the more serious incidents of violence and extra-judicial killings and adopted an obtuse approach to global criticism by constantly making wild claims about international conspiracies. The events in Britain this week is merely a case of this regime’s immature and delusional approach to foreign policy coming to a head.

This regime has continuously claimed that it “looks East” as a keystone of its foreign policy and many of its vociferous proponents have continuously lambasted Western nations and the UN. While there is nothing wrong with strengthening our ties with Asian nations, the reasons for the government to do are troubling. It is somewhat correctly assumed that Asian nations vying for influence in Sri Lanka do not care about the current regime’s appalling human rights record or the trampling of freedoms while the West expects a higher standard of governance.

While some may argue that there is a Western conspiracy to tarnish the image of Sri Lanka it would better serve us to realise that the image is but a reflection of reality. If the Sri Lankan government has intentionally targeted our own fellow civilians during the later part of the conflict, if its agents have killed and hounded journalists, stifled free speech and made a mockery of this country’s proud democratic traditions paving the way for a dynastic autocracy then we, more than any other should be concerned regarding our plight. It will serve us well to introspectively reflect on what our own government has done or in many cases not done to attract such sanctions in the international arena.

Rightly or wrongly the world expects nations and their governments to conduct themselves according to certain universal standards. Democracy, freedom of expression and adherence to fundamental human rights of citizens, whether they are eastern or western concepts are principles that will better serve a nation. It is important that the Sri Lankan people realise that autocratic politicians from countries such as Myanmar and Zimbabwe have consistently sought to label these values as Western interventions in order to deny their people these basic rights.

It is indeed unfortunate that the Oxford Union did not allow the president of Sri Lanka his right to free speech. In fact his Secretary, Lalith Weeratunge had called the Oxford Union as an institution with a rich history of upholding freedom of expression. It is however ironic that this is the very freedom that has been mostly affected by the present regime back home in Sri Lanka. It might be a point to ponder for the President whether he and his administration has held the right to free expression in the same esteem that he expects the Oxford Union to. Killings, abductions and assaults of journalists have gone unabated in Sri Lanka under Presidents present administration . Media institutions have been bombed, intimidated and bought into submission. The voice of dissent has been silenced and democratic space has been shrunk to near non existence. While the president had all the right to be heard it is only hoped that he allows every other voice that his regime has silenced be given this basic right.

As long as the government maintains that its record in warfare has been spotless and pure, flatly dismisses serious allegations without credible investigation and opts to denigrate and insult our fellow members in the global community every time they expect us to hold ourselves to a higher standard of civility and conduct, Sri Lankans will be seen world over as barbaric killers and heinous liars. This negativity towards Sri Lanka will have devastating consequences for trade, tourism and foreign investments, creating further economic burdens for the people of this country.

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Karu Jayasuriya

I appeal to the government to stop treating governance as a joke and something so trivial as to conduct government business in a way that only appeals to the local electorate. Governance cannot only be about winning elections. In these last two years, Sri Lanka’s standing in the modern world has been eroded in an unprecedented way and the government has no one but itself to blame. While it is all very well to harp on Sri Lanka’s rights in the world, it would do this regime well to contemplate also upon its obligations, both to its citizens and as a responsible member of the world community.

Instead this regime has chosen once more to lay blame on the opposition, manhandle opposition members of parliament and generally pass the buck for all the winds that are blowing against Sri Lanka in the world. Once more it has chosen to play to local sensibilities, reinforcing the notion that all the business of this government is one big sell, to ensure votes at the next election. Where it could have sought the support of the opposition to help our country to face these international allegations, the regime has chosen to divide and fracture us, throw the man responsible for the military victory against the LTTE behind bars and accuse opposition members of treason.

The time has come for introspection. It is clear that the world is growing impatient with Sri Lanka’s attitude. If nothing else the President’s visit to Britain should be an eye opener for this regime that the only way to restore Sri Lanka’s good name in the world is to investigate these many allegations against us and take genuine steps to address the just claims of the Minority. This is the only way to diminish the credibility of these protesting groups and the only way to counter worldwide sympathy with their cause. Let us put our house in order before the impunity and hubris of today becomes our collective tragedy and shame tomorrow.

[Pic courtesy:
An Indian soldier, left, and his Chinese counterpart stand still at the China-India border ~ by Deshakalyan Chowdhury .AFP Via TIME magazine]

December 03, 2010

Remembering Late S. Sivanayagam

by Dr. V. Suryanarayan (Chennai, India)

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S. Sivanayagam

Two Sri Lankan Tamils have contributed immensely in internationalizing the Sri Lankan Tamil cause after the communal holocaust in July 1983. The first was Mr. Kandaswamy, who started the Tamil Information Centre in London. Through sheer hard work, perseverance and persuasive skill Kandaswamy sensitized many human rights organizations like the International Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to champion the cause of the Sri Lankan Tamils.

Kandaswamy’s second in command was S. Sivanayagam, who was in charge of the Tamil Information Centre in Chennai. Easily accessible, genial and friendly, Sivanayagam was a rich storehouse of information and sensitized a whole generation of Indian and Western Journalists about the momentous events taking place in the Island in the 1980’s. The Tamil Information Centre in Chennai had a rich collection of books and newspaper clippings and the TIC publications themselves were good reference materials.

I met Kandaswamy and Sivanayagam in Sri Lanka in January 1983. I went to Jaffna and visited the Saturday Review Office, where I met Sivanayagam and the dedicated group who were behind the functioning of the Saturday Review. Sivanayagam gave me back issues of Saturday Review and soon after my return to Madras, got them bound. When Sivanayagam, like many others, had to flee the shores of Sri Lanka after the horrendous events in July 1983 and came to Madras, I gave him the bound volumes of Saturday Review. Siva had efficient research staff, they made use of my Centre’s library, photocopied many books and articles and made the TIC library in Chennai a repository of excellent reference materials.

Genial and friendly, Sivanayagam was a great conversationalist, had a good sense of humour and used to enjoy jokes, bald and ribald. On many evenings we used to sit in the Besant Nagar beach and reflect and converse on matters, wise and otherwise. I organized a national seminar on Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka: Emerging Trends in the University of Madras, in which former diplomats, eminent journalists and academicians participated. I persuaded Sivanayagam to write a paper on Phenomenon of Tamil Militancy. It was later included as a chapter in an edited volume published by the Patriot Publishers, New Delhi.

I had lot of differences with Sivanayagam, I never subscribed to the cause of a separate state of Tamil Eelam, I used to point out that the violence available at the hands of the State was far more than that of the Tamil militants, I was also more sensitive to the feelings and aspirations of people of Indian origin and the Tamil speaking Moslems.

Siva had a different point of view. We used to end the conversation by agreeing to disagree. It was unfortunate that he had to spend many months in prison. He fell sick and was hospitalized in Madras, when I called on him.

I lost touch with Siva after he left Madras. But I used to enquire about him and other members of the family through common friends. My daughter Geethanjali was very fond of Siva’s daughter Narayani and it was very difficult for me to get Geethanjali back to my house from Narayani’s company. I came to know that Siva was not keeping well and had returned to Colombo.

When I read about Siva’s tragic demise this morning, a flood of memories about my association with Sivanayagam came to my mind. It is very difficult o put these memories into words. May God give sufficient fortitude and courage to the immediate members of his family to bear with the loss. May his soul rest in peace.

(Dr. V. Suryanarayan was Senior Professor and Director, Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Madras. He is currently Senior Research Fellow, Center for Asia Studies, Chennai)

Mahinda Denied Right of Free Speech by Oxford Union

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

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Journalists James Harding and Ben Macintyre of the UK ”Times” were about to leave the Dorchester Hotel in London on December 1st 2010 when an aide of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa came down hastily to the lobby and contacted them.

“President Rajapaksa wants to see you urgently. Can you come please?” asked the Presidential emissary.

Both journalists had just completed an hour long interview with the Sri Lankan President at his suite in the Hotel and taken their leave. Now they were being summoned again. [click to read in full ~ dbsjeyaraj.com]

Parallel world’s short circuit in Oxford

By Dushy Ranetunge

Wimal Weerawansa, who survived a fast on to death outside the UN compound in Buller’s Road, amidst voodoo style devil dancing, has accused the Sri Lankan High Commission in London of failing in their duty to warn President Rajapakse of the security risks of his recent trip to London.

The Sri Lankan High Commissioner to London is a political appointee, hand picked by the President and a former judge of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka. Weerawansa is in effect raising questions about the Presidents judgement in selecting suitable personnel for these appointments.

London and the press in Colombo had widely raised the possibility of litigation in respect of alleged war crimes charges during a trip by Rajapakse to London.

After much deliberation and assurances from London, Rajapakse left for London as the considered opinion of the Sri Lankan state was that legal action by Tamil activists for war crimes could be successfully defended using the legal principle of sovereign immunity. The most that legal action by Tamil activists could achieve is to cause embarrassment.

The assessment of the security aspect of the visit is the responsibility of the Sri Lankan Defense Attaché in London, Brigadier Nirmal Dharmaratne, the former commander of the Special Forces. He would have submitted his assessment to the Defense Ministry under Gothabaya Rajapakse, before the Presidents departure.

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Amongst the Presidents considerable entourage was Mrs. Kshenuka Seneviratne, who was shown on Channel 4 news, making a tactical withdrawal at the airport away from the gaze of the TV cameras. She was a former Sri Lankan High Commissioner to London and is presently assigned to the UN in Geneva. She would have also briefed the Sri Lankan government as well as the President of the risks that he would have been exposed to in London.

But incidents that took place from the moment that the President landed in London exposed the fact that they were all taken completely by surprise.

The combined knowledge base of the Sri Lankan establishment failed to assess the strength of protest that they would face.

A large hostile group of Tamils had gathered at Heathrow airport to give the Sri Lankan President a reception that he is not accustomed to.

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The waving of the LTTE flag at Heathrow Airport by Tamil activists was a clear violation of Terrorism laws in Britain, where the LTTE remains a listed Terrorist organisation. The British police are mostly unfamiliar with the flag to take any action, and in some cases they chose to ignore it in order to manage the crowd. During May 2009, the LTTE flag was displayed openly opposite the British Parliament and the police chose to ignore it in order not to incense the volatile crowd.

On that occasion, the Tamil nationalist equivalent of Wimal Weerawansa conducted a death fast for their tribe outside the British House of Commons. Weerawansa’s death fast was for the Sinhala tribe, outside the UN offices in Colombo.

These are the parallel worlds in which the two tribes of Lanka agitate, one accused of being terrorists and the other accused of being war criminals. Both however, try to convince themselves and others that their leader is like Nelson Mandela or like the Americans and the British in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Both are equally ridiculous and are living in their parallel worlds.

This week, these parallel worlds short circuited, and the famous Oxford Union acted as the trip switch.

Other than the Presidential reception at London Heathrow, the respected Channel 4 news programme broadcast more horrendous footage alleging war crimes and this time the faces of soldiers as well as some of the victims were recognisable and a female partially naked victim was identified as a Tamil reporter.

Channel 4 News is respected in the West. In Sri Lanka, the Sinhala tribe does not like it as it has exposed things that they don’t want the world to see. The Tamil tribe likes it as they are more or less, silenced, as they feel “vulnerable” in Sri Lanka, as mentioned by the American Ambassador in Wiki leaks.

The Ambassador had also expressed an opinion that the Sri Lankan President and Sarath Fonseka are responsible for alleged war crimes.

Similar to the Tamil tribe, which ignored terrorism emanating from their society because they felt that it was for their greater good, Sinhala society ignores alleged war crimes. They want to shoot the messengers who publicise war crimes incidences, be it Channel 4, BBC, Al Jazeera, UN or anyone else. The strategy used is, if it is a local, he/she is branded a traitor, and if it is foreign, it must be pro-LTTE.

Then there are those Sri Lankan “experts” who said the first channel 4 tape broadcast was false, when the UN experts said that the tape was legitimate. Now that more of the tape has been broadcast and a victim has been indentified, the Sri Lankan “experts” stand somewhat exposed.

Those sitting on the LLRC may find the same fate of credibility in time to come, with their reputations exposed.

The Sinhalese want to forget the past and march on to a perceived glorious future filled with riches.

But the past has a habit of catching up with you. Incidents in London were a reality call, to wake up and smell the air.

Other than friends in China, Burma, Iran etc. the Rajapakse’s are globally isolated. Any politeness and hospitality that they receive internationally is due to the office that they hold.

The Sinhalese tribe has not yet realised, that unlike past Sri Lankan leaderships, loss of office would have serious implications to the present leadership. This has serious consequences on Sri Lanka’s democracy.

Rajapakse is trying hard to overcome his problem. The visits to NY and now London were charged with strategies to bring dissidents into the fold and unite, to overcome the unfortunate “status” his administration has acquired.

It can be done. But eloquent (Sinhalese opinion) speeches to an empty UN, or equally eloquent (Sinhalese opinion) speeches at the Oxford Union, now cancelled, is not going to take him to the Promised Land.

On Thursday, the Sri Lankan foreign Minister complained that the President had effectively been silenced, with the cancelling of the Oxford Union event. He was complaining that the Presidents eloquent (Sinhalese opinion) speech could not be delivered.

Eloquent (Sinhalese opinion) words have no value, especially when they come from those who seriously lack credibility.

To overcome his problem, which was in the first place created by him, Rajapakse needs to rise above politician and become statesman. He needs to seriously address the Tamil issue, he needs to restore democracy and more importantly credibility for Sri Lanka and for himself. Like what Mrs Bandaranayake did of the Manamperi case, he needs to ensure that those who committed war crimes are investigated and brought to trial. He needs to do so with international involvement and assistance (similar to the investigation of Chemmani mass graves) with great transparency to restore legitimacy and credibility in his regime.

Unfortunately for him, the first piece of serious legislation that he passed was the controversial 18th amendment, which was an erosion of democracy. Rajapakse has already kicked off his second term, on the wrong foot.

As the US Ambassador had correctly assessed, Democracy in Sri Lanka is a mirage in the horizon

[pix courtesy of: puthinappalakai.com & Channel 4 UK]

December 02, 2010

Sri Lankan detainees “resettled” in appalling conditions

By Subash Somachandran

Following the defeat of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May last year, the Sri Lankan government detained about 280,000 Tamil civilians from the northern Vanni region in huge military-controlled camps. After many months of incarceration, in violation of their fundamental legal and democratic rights, detainees were later “resettled” in designated areas or consigned to “transit camps”. According to the government, around 20,000 people are still living in the military-run detention camps.

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Inside a nursery school

On November 3, Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapakse, the brother of President Mahinda Rajapakse, fraudulently claimed that “Sri Lanka has kept a unique record by resettling IDPs [internally displaced persons] within a short period of time.” He insisted that “the government is committed to improve the life of the resettled people”.
However, the situation on the ground is appalling. Detainees have been left without proper facilities, including houses. In order to conceal these conditions from the outside world, the government has imposed restrictions on the media visiting these areas. A WSWS team travelled to the region recently and compiled the following report.

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Vattakachchi is a large rural area about 8 kilometres east of Kilinochchi town in northern Sri Lanka. It is one of the districts in the Vanni region that bore the brunt of 30 years of communal war, instigated and driven by the Colombo political establishment. Along with other parts of the Vanni region, Vattakachchi was devastated during the final phase of the Sri Lankan military’s offensive that reached here in December 2008.
About 7,000 people lived here. Many joined the hundreds of thousands who fled the indiscriminate attacks of the advancing military. People trekked from one place to another, mainly on foot, until they reached Mullivaikkal in the Mullaithivu district, where the army’s final attacks took place. We met people who had seen thousands of people killed and maimed, including their loved ones, during the military’s barrages.

After being detained for months in huge military-controlled camps, some people were “resettled” in villages in the Vattakachchi area. No one knows what has happened to the many others who have not returned. Many residents are now widows or widowers. Some young people were dragged off to secret detention camps as LTTE “suspects”.

On our way to Vattakachchi, near a place called Thiruvaiyaru Kanagapuram, we saw wrecks of war-damaged vehicles that had been abandoned by fleeing civilians. It was a few kilometres from the Iranaimadu Tank—a large artificial lake that is famous for inland fishing. Now the army is guarding the tank, which also provides water for agriculture.

Fishing has been banned for the many Tamil families who once relied upon it for their livelihoods. The army has also occupied the living quarters for irrigation department employees. People are allowed to enter the Hindu temple only at times of worship. A Buddhist temple has been built by the army—another sign that the military occupation will be permanent.

We stayed in one family’s hut. It was only about 10 square metres. The roof was made of coconut leaves, with walls of mud and sticks. The floor was also mud-based. There was a smaller hut used as a kitchen. In the whole district, we only saw huts with tarpaulin or coconut-leaf roofs. When it rains, the huts become muddy. Rain floods the low-lying huts and strong winds often take off the makeshift roofs. Because the huts are so small, some people sleep in the kitchens. Now and then, we saw people living in half-damaged or partly-repaired houses.
There is no electricity in the area. Even to use a mobile phone, residents must pay a private generator owner a fee of 20 rupees (17 US cents). Villagers have no access to television or even newspapers.

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Outside a cooperative store

People were brought back here about six months ago, but nothing has improved since. Very few resettled people have any means to earn a living. Some are working on low-cost housing sites, still uncertain about their jobs.
An unemployed worker told us: “My wife got injured in the stomach at Mullivaikkal. I tried to bring her to a government-controlled area for treatment but the LTTE stopped us. I later got to a government-controlled area with other people. The army took my wife, saying they were going to provide her with medical treatment. I was detained in a camp with our one-year-old son. I appealed to the army and civil officers to allow me to leave and search for my wife but I was not allowed. After we were released, I began to search for her and I am still searching.”
The only government dispensary in the area opens for just three hours a day, two days of the week. This dispensary is supposed to serve around 7,000 people, including in Ramanathapuram and Kalamadu in addition to Vattakachchi, but it is totally inadequate.

Taking a patient to Kilinochchi is a nightmare. The access road is so bumpy that the maximum speed of a vehicle is about 5 kilometres per hour. Even though there is supposed to be a bus running between Kilinochchi and Vattakachchi every hour, people often have to wait many hours.

The villagers’ main meal is rice with dhal or coconut sambol. They get small amounts of dry rations from the UN’s World Food Programme. But people often sell their rations to buy cheaper food or raise money for other needs. Some people have started cultivating rice but with much difficulty, since they lack adequate equipment, manure and seeds.

We visited Mayavanoor South village, on the southern boundary of the Vattakachchi area. Villagers have to walk about 500 metres to fetch water. There are no toilets. Residents have to walk 3 kilometres to catch public transport to Kilinochchi. Earlier, the villagers used bicycles but they lost them all during the war.

Mayavanoor South village school has only five teachers for several hundred children, from grades one to five. It has a roof thatched with coconut leaves. Class rooms are divided by tin sheets. Teachers told us they were ordered by the education department not to give any details and not to allow any media photos.

One voluntary teacher, however, told us her story. “We fled to Mullaithivu as refugees. My husband was shot and killed on the spot by the military. We buried him there and went to the government-controlled area. I have been teaching for many years. Previously I was paid an allowance of 3,000 rupees but now I get no allowance. I continue teaching without pay in the hope of getting a permanent appointment.”

We came across a functioning Montessori school, which previously had been abandoned for a long time. Two teachers were there but no one paid them. One teacher was a war widow with two children. Her husband had died in a shell attack by the Sri Lankan military. Around 70 children were registered but only around 40 were attending. The children’s parents were not in a position to pay the teachers. Some children were even coming to the school without meals. These children have no drinking water, toilet facilities, desks, chairs or play things.

The situation in villages throughout the Vanni is much the same. People are angry about the devastation caused by the military, and the government’s false promises, as well as the role of the Tamil parties, including the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), previously a political proxy for the LTTE.

One villager told us: “The LTTE controlled the people with repressive methods. Now people are afraid to speak because of the military. The war is over, yet our problems remain the same. TNA MPs visit here to pretend that they are interested about us. But they cannot do anything for us.”

Since the LTTE’s defeat, the TNA has expressed its willingness to collaborate with the Rajapakse government. When TNA parliamentarians visit people they claim they can change the situation by speaking to the government. The TNA has also sought the help of the Indian government and the Tamil Nadu ruling party, Dravida Munnethra Kazhagam, to put pressure on Colombo to agree to a “political solution” for Tamils.

By a “political solution” the TNA and other Tamil capitalist parties mean the devolution of certain powers to them in Sri Lanka’s north and east, to provide privileges for the Tamil elite. The TNA issues statements on the plight of Tamils in the Vanni, but its real interest is in cutting a deal with the government. ~ courtesy: WSWS ~

The cordial relationships we want between the Tamil and Sinhalese people have not been built

By Dr.Harsha de Silva

Mr. Speaker,

I am glad that important Ministers and Members from the Government side have come to listen to this speech. I must first state that I am happy to have been able to join the Budget Debate. I thank all concerned for giving me the opportunity. I intend to subject the Budget presented by the President on Monday to constructive criticism. Mr. Speaker, I want to be constructively critical. I consider it my duty as a Member of the Opposition. Therefore I expect that you will cooperate by not shouting too much.

In fact, all heads of state meant to enhance the living standards of the people of this country. Be it the father of the nation, be it President J.R. Jayawardene, or H.E. Mahinda Rajapaksa, they all attempted and are attempting to do exactly that. However the problem was that the economic models, economic policies they used were varied. Because of these differences, the country progressed under some leaders and collapsed under others. We remember that when we were schooling, we had to remain in the canteen queue in order to get shirt material. We received a piece of kerosene-smelling white shirt material and piece of blue short material.

Actually we witnessed that there was a situation where people did not have enough to eat. Some ate out of dustbins. However, today the situation has changed. I accept that nobody has died of starvation after 1977 in Sri Lanka. True, some incidents have occurred; we have heard stories of children being thrown into rivers. But taken as a whole, the period of people dying without anything to eat has ended. Mr. Speaker, as I think the main reason for it is the continuation of the economic policy begun in 1977. Whichever head of state made only superficial changes. The Budget presented by H.E. President on Monday also carries forth the same policy.

We are happy about it. Mr. Speaker, we are happy that His Excellency the President is not wavering. He is sticking to the policies that were introduced in 1977 by Mr. J.R. Jayawardene and continuing with that same process. We are today at a much different place from that of 1977. Many tried to end the war that prevailed for 26 years. However, President Mahinda Rajapakse has been able to finish it off. Gen. Sarath Fonseka and all others contributed to it. We wish to express our gratitude to all of them on behalf of the United National Party.

Now we have arrived at an important crossroads. Everybody calls it a golden opportunity. I also call it a golden opportunity. Therefore we have to discuss this Budget not only as a budget but also the overall economic policy within which it has been presented. We should first of all examine its background. We say that we want to build a national economy, and cultivate and build up the country. These are good. I am not contradicting it. However we have to be realistic. Globalization is here to stay.

Whoever says whatever thing, that America collapsed, that Australia collapsed; there is no way that globalization can collapse. In fact, it is for small countries like ours that the globalized economy is even more important, Mr. Speaker. We do not have domestic demand like India and Australia. We have only 20 million people. Therefore, we will not be able to achieve the development in life which we need if we fail to link our country’s economic process to the global economic process. Having said that we must examine what has happened to the global economy.

Mr. Speaker, I have today’s ‘The Economist’ magazine in my hand. What does ‘The Economist’ show? The Mahinda Chinthana Vision for the Future commences with what ‘The Economist’ says about Sri Lanka. Therefore, I think that you will accept what it contains is the truth. There are many stories here. It mentions the problems in America, China and Europe and talks about the fall of Ireland. We know that the recession is now over. To a great extent, the economic crisis is now over. But the recovery has not been concreted yet.

Hence what needs highlighting is that the world economic growth has not been established strongly. That is one aspect. That is the global aspect. We should look at what happens to the world. So, when the world develops, if we can fix the plug to the world, we can develop. We remember people talk about the plug. Those people are now on that side. They said they needed to remove the plug. That cannot be done. That is not realistic. We should fix the plug. If by fixing the plug, we get energy, we should get that energy to develop our country. That is the first matter.

The second matter is the post-war environment prevailing in our country. Despite what is being said, we all know that the cordial relationships that we want between Tamil people and the Sinhalese people have not yet been built. I am not saying that the Government is not making an effort to provide relief to the people in the North and the East. But there are questions concerning whether the amount of relief provided is enough or not.

The people who have come back from the North as of even last week told me that there is a deep sense of disappointment among people in Jaffna about the Government. –

Hon. Al Haj A.H.M. Azwer: Absolutely not!

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva

- and they do not feel, Sir, that what is due to them after the war has been given to them – [Interruption] I am not saying that it can be done in one week or month but I think, the Government should be taking measures to ensure that the people in the North do not feel like that. They must feel comfortable with the Government. – [Interruption] That is the background that we need to understand in this Budget and the economic policy. That is the second point.

The third point is this. We should consider what the people’s condition is. I do not intend to talk about the people in the North and East at this juncture. After the war they have problems unique to them. The Government should solve these problems.

Let us now see what the living condition of the people is. H.E. President has stated this on page 3 of the Budget Speech. I must read it. It is important.

“I have a humble pride that I have been able to fulfill a broad task as the Minister of Finance during the last 5 years in order to carry our country ahead, reducing poverty to 7.6 percent as an emerging economy in Asia.”

We all want to eliminate poverty. We would be glad if His Excellency could have been able to reduce poverty within his tenure. However, I have a question. That is, when the poverty was measured at the end of year 2006/2007, the poverty was 15.2%. It was 5.4% in Colombo District. I will read out percentages for two, three districts. In Rathnapura District it was 26.6% and 33.2% in Monaragala District. Nuwara-Eliya District had a poverty of about 33.8%.

Hon. Sajin the Vaas Gunawardena

Hon. Member, what was the figure in Dambulla?

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva

There is no District called Dambulla, Hon. Member. There is no such District. Matale District had a poverty of 18.9%. [Interruption] During the period which is said to have experienced a reduction of poverty from 15.2% to 7.6%, inflation prevailed to a great extent. In 2007 the inflationary rate was 16%. In 2008 it was 22.6%. In 2008 the inflationary rate was 3.5%. In 2010 it was 6.8%. I checked where this figure 7.6 came from. Thereafter I searched for the official report. I searched in the Internet. I phoned the Department of Census and Statistics and asked whether there was such an official report. I talked to the Director of the Department of Census and Statistics yesterday and said “Sir please explain this to me. I want to know if poverty has reduced by 50%, because as a person who studies economics, and as a person who has been watching this economy for years, I do not see how it happened”. Then he says:

Hon. Lakshman Senevirathna

You are referring to the statistics by the United National Party….

The Director said “this has been submitted in a Preliminary Report. Every 3 or 4 years, a Household Income and Expenditure Survey is carried out. It subjects 25,000 families to study. However, this figure has been presented through an analysis on data obtained for 5,289 families during July, August and September 2009”. Mr. Speaker, I downloaded the document from the Internet. It has this:

“Main objectives of the survey

I To measure the levels and changes in living conditions of the people.
Ii To observe the consumption patterns.

Then I got this document and read it. Hence I have a question regarding this data. Mr. Speaker, this report itself contains what happened to the income of an average household during the period concerned. It says that the average real income of a household during the period 2006/2007 – for, this survey needed one year to undertake – was Rs.17,465. That is after the inflation. However, Mr. Speaker, it says that the average income of a household has fallen to Rs.17,023 by 2009. Mr. Speaker, what I do not understand here is that if the overall real income has fallen in this country, how poverty can fall by 50%. I have a big concern about it. Therefore, more inquiry is needed in this regard. For if there is a mistake, if our assumptions are wrong, if we think that the people are actually doing much better that they are, may be, we may not want to give them the subsidies or whatever benefits that they require. Isn’t that so? Mr. Speaker, if anybody thinks that someone is better off, they feel that “he does not need a relief”. That is why we argue at length. We do not need to give subsidies to anyone. We need to give subsidies only to the people who need subsidies. Therefore, what I’m saying is that here arises a concern. I think you will all trust what I’m saying. [Interruption] I will come to the rice ration card story.

Hon. Sajin de Vass Gunawardena

This Budget has been prepared based on what you said. [Interruption]

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva

Mr. Speaker, there is another story here on page 06. His Excellency the President and all in the Government side talk about this. This is on page 06. It says the per capita income has increased to 2,375 dollars United States. That means in rupee terms it is 266,000 rupees Mr. Speaker. In that case it is 22,166 rupees per month. However, Mr. Speaker, this is the official report. It has a part styled “Per Capita Income”. It says this:

“Per capita income indicates the average living standard of a country or an area. In 2009 the per capita income in Sri Lanka was Rs. 8,931 per month”.

Rs. 8,931 is a figure much below Rs. 22,166. Now I accept that when countries are compared, we use per capita GDP. Ours is 2,000 dollars. In India say it is 1,300 dollars. China may have yet another figure. And in America say 50,000 dollars. It is good when a comparison is done between countries. However, when we calculate our income within our country, the correct thing is not to divide the Gross Domestic Product by the number of people. The correct method is to check the income of a family. For there are people who make hefty profits in the stock market. There are millions and millions in bank profits. These all are reflected when the GDP is divided by the population. Then we ….

Hon. Basil Rohan Rajapaksa – Minister of Economic development

Those are the international data ….

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva

Hon. Minister, that is what I said. That method is correct when we compare different countries. [Interruption] No, No. As I can see it, it is not a comparison between countries that we need here. What I am doing is a constructive criticism. I am making some constructive Criticism.

Hon. Basil Rohan Rajapaksa –

Hon. Member, [Interruption] Said two things. He said one was eight thousand. The other one was some two hundred thousand. That is the difference. We calculate both. We on the one hand, check what the income is. On the other, everywhere in the world the Gross Domestic Product ….

Okay, then what I referred to as income was Rs. 8,931. That is what has been mentioned in the official report. However, the Budget states the income as Rs. 22,166. What I’m saying is there is a contradiction here. I do not need you to accept what I am saying. Neither do I need anything done about it. However, since I want to mention this I am mentioning. Next comes consumption. If poverty has now fallen, what has happened to the consumption? Mr. Speaker, it is actually disheartening to state that the consumption of rice, wheat flour, bread, lentils and sugar has all gone down. How could it have happened? If the living conditions of the people have increased, and poverty has halved, why don’t these people eat? We have to look into it.

Hon. Basil Rohan Rajapaksa

State the other things also. How about vegetables? The amount of vegetables consumed has doubled.

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva

Hon. Minister, I will tell you. It is like this. Hon. Minister, I am not a Member or a Minister of the Government. I do not have access to everything. Hon. Minister, I have only access to public documents. So I am quoting from Table 8: Per capita consumption of selected food items per month – 2006/07 of that official document. In that official document the consumption of -

Hon. Basil Rohan Rajapaksa

Hon. Member, that is meaning of what is called nationalist economy. We have acted so that the appetite for local products increases.

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva

No, Hon. Minister. Now it is called local. Samba rice is local. So is Nadu. Raw rice is local. They are local and we do not import them. There consumption has reduced.

Hon. Basil Rohan Rajapaksa

No, the consumption of white Samba has increased. Please check.

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva

When these three are added, we would sometimes eat Samba rice. I do not know, at home we sometimes eat raw rice. That is how it is. We are talking about rice consumption. [Interruption] Okay, it is not such a big thing. It has decreased by only a small amount, I accept. It has decreased only by an amount like a gramme. That is not what I’m driving at. My argument is: I expected this to have increased. However, it has not increased. That is where the argument lies Hon. Minister. I think the reality about the people is reflected there. The people do not know of these fairy tales, Mr. Speaker. They don’t! I wonder whether the officials have given false data. The other day a real problem occurred. [Interruption]

Hon. Sajin de Vass Gunawardena

Who gives it? Who gave them 10 years ago?

Mr. Speaker,”

Listen, please.

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

No, I will explain it. [Interruptions] I have operated the project styled “Govi Gnana Seva” which I have personally financed for about 6 or 8 years. I have spent more than four million for it. [Interruptions]

Hon. Sajin de Vass Gunawardena:

Now you are lying, aren’t you? That’s the thing.

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

Please stand up to say “Thank You” for it. [Interruptions] Say “Thank You”. Don’t attack everything. That is a contribution that I have made with my own money. So you should appreciate it, my good friends.

Mr. Speaker:

Listen.

Hon. Sajin de Vass Gunawardena:

That is because your pockets are being filled. Then, that is yours. Speak the truth in this House.

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

Mr. Speaker, the deputy Prime Minister of Singapore gets up and says Sri Lanka has the fastest growth rate after China. [Interruptions] After China, the development pace is …. [Interruptions] Hon. Minister, this is public relations; have some public relations with this. .. [Interruption].

Mr. Speaker:

Do not disturb. Sit down.

Hon. (Dr.) Mervyn Silva:

You are my honourable relation.

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

China’s growth rate is 9.6%. Sri Lanka does not have as much. However, India’s is 8.8%. Singapore is 10.3%. 9.8% in Malaysia. 9.8% in Taiwan and 9.1% in Thailand.

It would be good if Sri Lanka’s were higher. However, frankly speaking, Sri Lanka’s is not higher than that. What I am going to say is that there is a problem about these data.

Hon. Basil Rohana Rajapksa:

The calculation has been made by allowing for inflation. Do not compare it with the inflation.

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

No, no, this is without inflation, Hon. Minister, this is without inflation.

I vouch for that. This is without inflation. This is real growth. What I am saying is Singapore and other countries are growing faster than Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is not the second fastest growing economy in Asia. That is my point. Why I am saying this is that it is material very much, it is material in the context that the credibility of the data that is being given to us. Therefore, this is marketing ….

Hon. Lakshman Seneviratne:

Hon. Member, can I ask a question?

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

Ask, Hon. Minister.

Hon. Lakshman Seneviratne:

You are telling that what the Deputy Prime Minister has said because you cannot digest it. You would accept it if it was said in some other way.

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

Okay, thank you.

Hon. Lakshman Seneviratne:

Is that the argument? Give me an answer.

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

I will, I will. You are not saying the same thing that you said with us. [Interruptions] Not necessary. Later. Let me speak during the time allocated for me.

Mr. Speaker:

Okay. Let the Hon. Member speak.

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

There is only a short time left. [Interruptions] Hon. Member, let us talk in the Lobby outside. [Interruptions]. These are marketing propaganda. I saw on television an advert on a T-shirt being broadcast. [Interruptions] When the youth goes out in that T-shirt, girls come running. Girls come toppling and tramping him. Then some get foxed to believe that they will also experience it and they buy these T-shirts. However, not many will experience it. Hence what I am trying to say is that a marketing gimmick is being played with regard to the data. The data that are produced are not true ones. When such data are presented, they create a dreamland. However, reality is not that dreamland. In fact, I have in my possession the Auditor …

An Hon. Member:

Auditor General

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

Yes, that report. [Interruptions] The one that was presented on 01 July 2010. There is a fantastic story about marketing consultants in the Central Bank. This has the fact that a sum of 18,139,642 rupees was spent to pay a public relations company for presenting to the world positive economic data to the world. They are said to have undertaken to publish six articles in first-grade magazines and have interviews with Minister and senior officials to be broadcast over television channels. However this has not been fulfilled. It was just one interview secured for one person that has materialized. 18.6 million has been paid to perform this marketing gimmick.

It has been queried in this Report of the Attorney General. What I’m trying to say is that not everyone can be cheated by giving statistics.

Some get deceived but some don’t. So this is deceit. Why am I presenting this argument? For this is the first phase. Forgive me for saying this. I am not saying that this was something done purposefully. This may have happened because of the errors in the data. If people live well, if poverty has decreased, why should there be relief for people. Let us take into account the statement that the poverty level is 7.6%. Mr. Speaker, I looked yesterday for the poverty level for America. 14.3%. What is it for Canada? 10.2%. How much is it in Britain? 14%. How about South Korea? 15%. Are we trying to say that Sri Lanka has developed more than all these countries? What is the meaning of this? [Interruptions]

Hon. Basil Rohana Rajapksa:

Sri Lanka has developed. That is for sure.

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

Mr. Speaker, I have a conflict here. I see a contradiction here. That is why I can’t believe it. [Interruptions] If I had been told that the poverty level was 14 or 15 percent, it would have been all right. There is that problem. It was also mentioned that the poverty had gone down in a period when incomes had doubled and that the per capita income doubled from 1,200 to 2,400 US dollars, and that the poverty was halved. In that case Mr. Speaker, we have already performed the miracle. Now the wonder of Asia has materialized. Now Sri Lanka is the Wonder of the World. We must already be enjoying it, aren’t we? The problem is it is not just so. [Interruptions] If incomes have grown like this, there is no need to give 2,500 rupees. That is true! [Interruptions]

An Hon. Member:

That is why it is not given.

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

Yes, it may be the reason for not giving the 2,500 rupees. However, Dr. P.B. Jayasundara has made a nice statement yesterday. This statement has been published in the Lanka Business Online this morning. He has said at a seminar of the Chartered Institute:

“…. Could have given Rs.2500 or Rs.10,000.”

He has said it is not just 2500 rupees but 10,000 rupees could have been given. He has said “Who cares? Print and give this money.” He has made an important statement there. I respect him because he is an economist. He has made a true statement. For, we can increase salaries by printing money. But what happens when we print money and increase salaries? Inflation goes up. If inflation goes up, the whole population will suffer.

Hon. Basil Rohana Rajapksa:

Do you accept it?

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

I do! I speak the truth, don’t I, Hon. Minister? What we want is not to give pay hikes to give temporary relief to people in order to pacify them. However, [Interruptions]

Hon. Basil Rohana Rajapksa:

That is correct!

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

However, [Interruptions] However …. However! [Interruptions] Listen to the rest as well. However …. [Interruptions]

Hon. Sajin De Vass Gunawardena

That is it; it is not giving short term relief that has been done through this Budget.

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

There are two things. When the vote was requested, we were told that the Rs 2,500 would be given. Before taking the vote, didn't you ask Dr. P.B. Jayasundara: “Dr. P.B. Jayasundara, can we pay the 2,500-rupee pay hike?” The election was campaigned with him some time before. Did he say “Can, Sir”? Was it after that that the President said
”We will give 2,500? It could have been done that way, couldn’t it? That is the ethical thing.

Hon. (Dr.) Mervyn Silva:

This Dr. tells lies on and on.

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

The other thing is that the living condition of the people has come down.

Hon. (Dr.) Mervyn Silva:

I am obstructing to the speech.

Mr. Speaker

Do not disturb.

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

As people’s living conditions have come down, Mr. Speaker, we can logically show why a 10,000-rupee salary hike is necessary. When you apply it in the COLA equation, it is clearly reflected. Apart from that, this Rs.10,000 or 9,600 for that matter, is not something which fell from a tree. There is a theory behind it. There is a logic behind it. There is an equation behind it. Therefore it should be received by the people. The reason was this. Those days the inflation rate was at an apex.

Now the inflation has been reduced. It is also acknowledged. I must state that this is not an unfair request. [Interruptions] Now the rice ration card has been mentioned. Let us assume that Mr. President says that some people have low income; therefore we give them a rice ration book, lentils ration book, potato ration book, onion ration book, and we have allocated some money for the purpose. Let us also assume that the low-income people are Samurdhi beneficiaries.

I don’t know how it will be divided. Let us for argument’s sake say that it is the Samurdhi beneficiaries. Mr. Speaker, how much has been allocated for each month? Eight rupees. However, how much is the tax on canned salmon? 85 rupees. Salmon tax is 85 rupees. Eight rupees has been allocated for each rice ration card. Therefore I think that there is a contradiction there. That is not what should happen.

Mr. Speaker, what else has been done? Into the bargain, the public servants were also caught in a pay tax net when it comes to those earning more than 50,000 rupees. A PAYE tax of 4% will be levied on those earning more than 50,000 rupees. For, in order to get this 2500 rupees, one has to earn 50,000 rupees. A PAYE tax of 4% will be levied when one earns more than 50,000 rupees. The salary is increased by 5%. A tax of 4% is imposed. I think there is a big problem here.

Next matter is that IDD call charges have been increased. Many people are in Dubai. Taking calls will be a problem to them. Meanwhile a tax gimmick has been done. Someone or other said “We reduced the Nation Building Tax”.

He said that the Nation Building Tax has been reduced from 3% to 2%. Now let us go to the technical details and assess that statement.

Mr. Speaker, through the reduction of this tax, the Government is said to increase its revenue by 12 billion rupees. How could it happen if the Nation Building Tax has been reduced? That means the majority has to pay this tax. That majority means people, Mr. Speaker. Therefore it really is a gimmick that has been done here. Next they say that the telephone tariffs have been reduced. Although telephone rates have been reduced, a tax has been introduced on the bill. An additional sum of 15.5 billion rupees is expected to be extracted from people. The charges for entering the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens and the Zoo is said to have been increased.

I do not know the amounts exactly. But it has been stated that 4 billion rupees is going to be raised from it. So Mr. Speaker, that is why the people are blaming the Government. The people berate the Government for the dirty deed that was done through this Budget. [Interruptions] Why do they blame? The Government says that the people are living well. However people are living comfortably. Therefore, as people live in pressure and unhappily, they expected relief. As they did not get them they are fair to blame the Government.

Let us set it aside for a moment and talk about investors. For, this is a Budget that gave concessions to investors. The screaming headlines in all the newspapers, the trade chambers and all, carried what? "An investor-friendly Budget."

They said this is a Budget that the Government presented to encourage investors, aiming at development goals. The government said that the Budget will put forth a policy of increasing concessions which it had been offering for the past 1 ½ years following the war. The tax on profit was reduced.

Income tax was reduced. Even the taxes imposed on banks, which are been earning in billions, were reduced. What did the government expect? This is a fair expectation. What did the markets expect? The expected the Colombo Stock Exchange to zoom and go through the roof. The government expected it to pass 7000 points. As computers are permitted into the House, I have been able to see live what is happening to the Colombo Stock Exchange. [Interruptions] See what has happened now.

This is falling. Already a decline of 0.94 has occurred as of now. It fell on Monday. It fell on Tuesday. The Government tried desperately to prop it up. However, what I’m trying to draw at is this. The investors have not lapped this Budget up. There seems to be something terribly wrong in it.

Why is it not moving up? Because if the profits of firms go up it should reflect on their share prices. That is the theory. Anybody who has learnt economics or studied accountancy knows this. Now investors are also blaming. That investors are blaming does not mean that they come to streets and demonstrate. That means they manifest it in the stock market that they do not accept this. If the stock market accepted this Budget it would go up to 7,500 or 8,000 points. However, now it is in the process of decreasing.

Now it has fallen a little from the previous position. Now the reason for this is [Interruption] that the Government tells investors that it would grant concessions. However, on the other hand the Government recovers its tax losses by imposing other tax. Now consider the reduction of VAT on financial services. Next the income tax has been reduced. However, a new investment fund has been introduced and the Government says …. [Interruptions]

Mr. Speaker:

Listen and reply.

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

That the profits of banks be sent to that institution – i.e. Government. We all know what the Government does when it receives the money from the private sector. Therefore, even these firms are asking the government not to do it. I urge you Hon. Ministers to reconsider this because nobody wants that direction. [Interruptions]

Mr. Speaker,

Sit down. Sit and listen. Having listened, you can reply in turn.
[Interruptions]

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

O’ Doctor, please listen.

Hon. (Dr.) Mervyn Silva

As a representative of people, I insist to you that we cannot give way to such empty speeches of empty persons. [Interruptions]

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

Can we have some order please?

Mr. Speaker:

Now you are a Minister. Please sit down.

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Now let us look at this. I accept that the Colombo Stock Exchange is not the best indicator to measure development. Let us now consider what has happened to Foreign Direct Investment. Mr. Speaker, what I am saying are important matters. What has happened t our Foreign Direct Investments? The 2010 Report has been presented the other day.

How much Foreign Direct Investment did we get for the first six months of 2010, in a full year of peace, Mr. Speaker? It is much less than what we got last year. In fact we got only US $ 208 million. Compare that, of course, for the full year with other countries. Pakistan has got 3,695 million US Dollars. Cambodia 5.3 billion. Laos 7.2 billion US dollars.

Vietnam 7 billion US dollars. When Vietnam is getting 7 billion US Dollars, how come we are only getting 200 million? Let us double it for the twelve months. That is still 400 million US Dollars. Let us say even 600 million US Dollars. That is one tenth of what Vietnam is getting. So, I urge you to honestly reconsider some of these policies. There is something wrong. I also love this country as much as they do, Mr. Speaker.

I do not have hatred towards anybody. I am talking from my heart. I am telling the truth. I am also a citizen of this country. My children are being brought up in this country. Therefore, I also want to develop the country. There is a problem. Look at what that problem is. Don’t say that there is no problem. If the car misses, don’t say that there is no problem in it because it can miss and stop. Don’t let that happen. Important investors will not come. It’s not all. They will dwindle. Look at what has happened to the apparel sector. The exports to the US and EU – [Interruptions]

Hon. Sajin De Vass Gunawardena

How many factories has he started? Ask him. [Interruptions]

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

Mr. Speaker, we know the amount of garments sent to the EU and America have decreased. It has gone down as against the previous year. It is not a lie. It is true. [Interruptions]

Those who remain are also chased away. Now consider the other big problem with regard to the hedging deal. I saw in the newspaper that Hon. Dinesh Gunawardena says he would not speak about it in detail because there is a lawsuit about it. I respect it. However, there is a problem there. For, a big investor had come and said “everything depends on the resolution to the hedging case.” I do not say that it is the only problem. However, when it happens, the investors’ trust in Sri Lanka will go down. Therefore, don’t let that happen. We were told that Mahindra and Mahindra would come.

Nokia would come. Who has come actually? I’m asking: who are the fortune 500 investors who have come to Sri Lanka? [Interruptions] Recently the Nokia people have gone to India and opened a factory. [Interruptions] At least the investors fetched by KP are nowhere to be seen. [Interruptions] I want to make another point that is important. Now we should consider this: we have to look at the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement seriously. Hon. Sarath Amunugama, Hon. Sajith Premadasa and I went and met Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna. He asked us what we thought about CEPA.

I don’t know if it is based on this that Hon. Amunugama has been stripped of his portfolio and been given a senior Minister post. However, you must look at these in a pragmatic way. It is true that some people are going to lose. But, as a whole we have to grab the opportunity that is going to be available in India. We have to do that. Merely because two three people say “Don’t do this Mr. President, this is not good”, it should be discussed broadly and see how it can accrue a benefit to the country, and its people. Don’t refrain from doing it thinking about the disadvantage caused to a few cronies.

The other matter is this. Who benefits from this economic policy? Who enjoys? Look at something right said on the Sunday Times of 21st November 2010. Shangrila has been promised lands in front of the Galle Face at 12 million American dollars per perch. We wonder if the statue of former Premier S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike’s will be removed from its place for this. However it has been promised that land will be given at 12 million. However, they are now reported to be saying the property of the Colombo Commercial Company located by the Beira Lake will be given at 7 million US dollars per acre to a person who went to the UN meeting in New York. Therefore, people are asking who this friend is. Who is this crony?

Mr. Speaker,

Hon. Member, you have only 2 more minutes.

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

Can I have five more minutes, please?

Mr. Speaker,

Yes.

They are asking who this bosom friend is. It is said that 31 persons requested this. It is said that the land is going to be given to them for a song without any tender procedure. The Secretary to the Treasury had said yesterday on the newspaper –

Hon. Al Haj A.H.M. Azwer:

Mr. Speaker, I rise to a Point of Order.

Mr. Speaker,

What is the Point of Order?

This Hon. Member is saying that it is the statue of Mr. Bandaranaike. That comment is very wrong. Even according to Buddhism it is wrong. It is not statue. It is the image. That is not all. The head of the Department of Census and Statistics is a female called Surajanie Vidyarathna.

Mr. Speaker:

All right. Sit down.

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

All right. I will correct myself. Thank you very much for the correction. Image, not statue. I withdraw that word. The Secretary to the Treasury says that the deal will be signed by next week. Where is transparency in any of these deals? That is what we ask. Then it is said that the sea will be filled to create 400 hectares of land

Mr. Speaker:

Hon. Lakshman Kiriella, please tell me from whose time this 5 minutes is to be reduced.

Hon. Lakshman Kiriella:

Reduce one minute each from all speakers of the opposition.

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

Thank you. It is said that 400 hectares will be reclaimed and sold all in a hurry. Where is a discussion or dialogue concerning this? Where is transparency? I don’t know whether it is this deal or some other deal that will be signed next week. However, it is reported this deal will be signed all of a sudden. Our Hon. Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena has said that hereafter land deals will be concluded and signed in two weeks. This is where the problem lies. This is where we do not want this country to be taken. We support the economic reforms. We support the tax benefits to the investors. But we want them to be proper investors, but not just crony capitalists who come here. [Interruptions] Hon. Member sit down.

Mr. Speaker:

Allow him to speak.

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

Thank you. We passed a gaming Act. It is said that a Mr. Jhun Jhun Waala will be coming and opening casinos. Now look at how the rains which started after passing it is still continuing. The Parliament was also inundated once after its passage. Now today it is just six inches from the point of inundation. Even today it can flood. The point is, we want good investors, but not fly-by-night people or crony capitalists. Now there is a report which says “The rail track from Pallai to Kankesanthurai costs US Dollars 4 million a kilometer done by the Chinese. But the same line from Omanthai to Pallai costs only US Dollars 2 million a kilometer. I do not know the reasons for it. This is the problem we have. We want proper and good investors who want to bring their own money to invest, to bring the technology, bring the expertise and bring the management.

Only now the secret is coming to light. There is no place for respectable, renowned investors in this policy. It is the bosom friends who have the place. The marketing clique is saying that it is the aid given to us by the government of China. "This is aid from China". Why do these utter lies have to be told? We were given this book when the Budget was being read; the report on the Fiscal Management Responsibility Act. It says that China provided some funds for year 2010. But I cannot find it now. Some 500 million or so has been given. However, Mr. Speaker, not even five cents has been given as grants for the year 2010. What do they mean by aid? It is not aid, but a vast majority of it is commercial credit. So, commercial loans have been obtained. In the website it says that actually they are buyer’s credit but called "government-government credit for world projects". I am referring to their website and it also says that you as an agent can earn millions of US dollars as commission. This website says. This is lack of transparency that we do not want happening. We want transparency; we want tenders to be called; we want competition in these projects not be given just to various fly-by-night characters and crony capitalists.

Into the bargain, there are unnecessary expenses. How much was spent for IIFA! Now look at the idea that Commonwealth Games should be held in Sri Lanka. Who knows how much the Commonwealth Games held in India cost? For the first phase of the Mahinda Rajapaksa Harbour built in Hambantota –

Hon. Geethanjana Gunawardena

Sir, I rise to a Point of Order.

Mr. Speaker:

There is a Point of Order being raised.

Hon. Geethanjana Gunawardena

He misleads the House as well as the whole country by stating that the Chinese government has not given five cents. The Chinese government had given a grant each time a dignitary came here. Even last week, when the harbour was inaugurated, where you also participated, a grant was given. Before that, [Interruptions]…. Million was given. Please correct this. This is another contract. [Interruptions]

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

Mr. Speaker, my time is taken. [Interruptions] Here is the Government's Fiscal Management Report. Hon. Geethanjana Gunawardena, read it. Look at page 45 of Fiscal Management Report. This is the book we were given. Please turn to page 45 and see how much has been stated under Chinese grants. Mr. Speaker, not five cents has been given. Others have given. The Netherlands have given. Japan has given. Korea has given. Germany has given. However, China has not given. I am saying it with responsibility. If the data here are false, please state that they are false. Catch the official who has fed them. Here it is mentioned [Interruptions]

Hon. Geethanjana Gunawardena :

What are you talking about?

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

It is here in page 45.

Hon. Geethanjana Gunawardena:

No, it is not.

Hon. Dinesh Gunawardena:

Hon. Member, are you saying that China has not given a grant to our country?

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

For 2010.

Hon. Dinesh Gunawardena:

No, no. Please clarify the point you are stating.

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

That is what I was saying. For this year –

Hon. Dinesh Gunawardena:

Do you mean to say that China has not given a grant to our country?

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

No, no. That is not what I meant.

Hon. Dinesh Gunawardena:

Then what did you say?

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

Okay. I will tell you again. According to what is stated by the official report for this year, [Interruptions] what I am saying is what is said in the official document that your government gave us. Anybody can see. It is not a falsehood.

Hon. Dinesh Gunawardena:

Turn to the other page, not the one you referred to. Do you know the thing called Performance Arts Centre.

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

It is not in this year. [Interruptions] Yes, I accept that. It is a grant. I accept. That is not what I said. I said in 2010 – [Interruptions]

Let me finish. Please, sit down. The point is that according to the official report given to us and given to me as a Members of Parliament, China has not given even one cent in grants to Sri Lanka in 2010. it is according to the documents tabled in this Parliament on the day His Excellency the President presented the Budget. Hon. Minister, if that is wrong, please, deal with that. [Interruptions]

Mr. Speaker,:

Hon. Member, please, conclude your speech now.

Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva:

I am going to wind up. Please give me one minute, Sir. So, Hon. Speaker, Hon. Members, what I was trying to say is that there is a problem in the economic policy. The Government seems to believe that the people are doing well and that they do not need any benefits; they do not need any subsidies; they do not need any salary increases, because, they believe that the poverty has dropped to half and that the income has doubled. But, Hon. Speaker, the reality is not that. The reality is far from it. Therefore, what I say is please, you need to reconsider this and provide relief to people; accept the reality and do the needful. I want to say that there is a sustainability problem in this model. We just cannot carry on like this with loans after loans. It is difficult to obtain loans in this fashion. There is a sustainability problem. The amount of debt service is higher than the amount of tax revenue in this year, in the last year, and in the year before last. So, think about it. I am trying to explain in the way I could as a constructive criticism of what is happening. So, I appreciate everybody’s attention. Thank you very much.

Mr. Speaker:

Thank You.

(ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF PARLIAMENT SPEECH by UNP National list MP Dr.Harsha de Silva ON THE BUDGET on 26 NOVEMBER 2010)

Did a U.S. ambassador accuse Sri Lanka's president of war crimes?

By Charles Homans

Are we surprised to learn, via WikiLeaks, that American diplomats in Colombo blame Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his top officials for the massacre of tens of thousands (by most estimates) of Tamil civilians during the final months of Sri Lanka's bloody civil war? The goods are in a Jan. 15 cable sent by U.S. Amb. Patricia A. Butenis on the eve of Sri Lanka's presidential elections (which Rajapaksa won handily). Butenis was assessing the country's ability to come to terms with the atrocities committed in the protracted conflict between the government and the Tamil Tigers rebel group, which was defeated in May 2009 after nearly three decades of fighting.

In May, the Sri Lankan government announced plans to launch a "truth and reconciliation commission," modeled on South Africa's post-Apartheid investigation, to look into the brutal last phase of the war, in which large numbers of Tamil civilians were trapped between the government and rebel troops. Human rights groups aren't exactly holding their breath for the results of the ongoing inquiry, led as it is by the same government that was allegedly responsible for most of the carnage. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and International Crisis Group -- which released a sweeping and damning report on the war crimes in May -- all turned down invitations to participate. Butenis, it turns out, was similarly nonplussed, writing:

There are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power. In Sri Lanka this is further complicated by the fact that responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country's senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers and opposition candidate General [Sarath] Fonseka.

This last observation gets headline treatment from the Guardian, and it is notable for Butenis's willingness to name names. But the State Department has been fairly clear, albeit more diplomatic, about what it thinks happened in the spring of 2009, in a report released in March:

The government's respect for human rights declined as armed conflict reached its conclusion. Outside of the conflict zone, the overwhelming majority of victims of human rights violations, such as extrajudicial killings and disappearances, were young male Tamils, while Tamils were estimated to be only 16 percent of the overall population. Credible reports cited unlawful killings by paramilitaries and others believed to be working with the awareness and assistance of the government, assassinations by unknown perpetrators, politically motivated killings, and disappearances.

An August report from State also (cautiously) expressed concern about the integrity of the government's commission. In short, Butenis's assessment is generally consistent with what humanitarian workers on the ground in Sri Lanka at the time of the conflict thought State's position was -- one that may not have been shared by American defense and intelligence personnel, who were believed to be less squeamish about the military campaign against the Tigers.

I asked Alan Keenan, Sri Lanka project director for ICG, about the cable. He says it contains few surprises:

It's certainly consistent with how the embassy and the State Department are looking at the situation. They knew bad things happened -- they're calling them "alleged" war crimes, but I think in a quiet moment they would say they were war crimes. They recognize that that happened. But they don't think there's the space internally for it to be addressed. So I don't think we're learning a whole lot new. What would tell us more, and what will be more interesting, and where the issues are a bit more gray, is what happened during the war -- what did the U.S. government know, and what did it do, or not do, to prevent the worst abuses and suffering? ~ courtesy: The Forbes ~

December 01, 2010

Neither Rajapaksa nor the LTTE should get away with amnesia

By Yolanda Foster, Amnesty International’s Sri Lanka campaigner

A buzz of attention surrounds Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa’s visit to the UK. “Arrest Rajapaksa for war crimes” reads one banner brandished by a Tamil diaspora group keen to see Rajapaksa arrested under ‘universal jurisdiction’, the principle that allows war criminals to be arrested in any country. His appearance at Oxford University has been cancelled.

As Amnesty International calls on the United Nations to establish an independent international investigation to document the full extent of crimes committed during the final phase of the conflict, my thoughts go back to two earlier acts of violence.

Both sides in the Sri Lankan conflict that ended in May 2009 have been accused of atrocities.

In 1999 I was a research fellow attached to the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) in Colombo. That year, one shocking event affecting the whole institution reminded me that the stench of violence was all too real, despite the authorities’ attempts to gloss over a bloody past: It was on 29 July 1999 that the Director of the ICES, Dr Neelan Thiruchelvan was assassinated on his way to the office.

In the previous weeks, MPs who belonged to the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) had been threatened by the LTTE. It is widely believed that Dr Thiruchelvam, a TULF MP campaigning for constitutional reform, was killed by the LTTE for being a moderate.

Over the years both sides to the conflict have used labels to justify acts of violence against civilians.

On 14 August 2006 a Kfir airforce jet attack killed a group of young women in the district of Mullaitivu. The girls, from various schools in the Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi districts, were attending a two-day course on first aid at Sencholai when the air raid by the Sri Lankan air force took place. Despite claims from the Sri Lankan government that the site was an LTTE training camp, the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission who visited the site said they couldn’t find “any evidence of military installations or weapons.”

What shocks me about both these acts of violence is the immediate desire by the perpetrators to erase people as individuals. Dr Thiruchelvam was punished for being a moderate, a ‘traitor’ to the Tamil cause. In the Sencholai incident the government spokesman claimed the girls were Tiger trainees and therefore a legitimate target. He chose to forget the girls’ names or consider that they might themselves be victims if forcibly conscripted.

In the final months of the Sri Lankan war I wondered how a war reporter like Martha Gellhorn would have responded to the restrictions placed on media reporting in Sri Lanka. Gellhorn reported from Madrid when the destruction of Guernica became “the moment when indiscriminate bombing of civilians became an acceptable and terrifying tactic of war”. The Sri Lankan government made theirs a war without witnesses, by sealing off the combat zone to journalists during the final months, and deliberately underestimating the numbers of civilians trapped.

It was difficult for Amnesty to verify the horrifying reports we had of spiralling civilian casualties, or make sense of photos of body parts or children shaking from shell attacks. No war reporter was present to document the terrible scale of violence in the final weeks of war in the Vanni.

It is hard even now for me to think back on April and May last year without profound sadness. I have met families whose lives were ripped apart, their children mute from seeing an ocean of bodies. I want to know the names of the ordinary civilians killed; I want to remember their individuality. To me they are not just a label.

I’m proud to be a member of an international human rights movement that is calling for an independent international investigation into what happened in Sri Lanka. We need to recognise that unacceptable tragedies have occurred in Sri Lanka and that victims’ families have the right to truth. Neither President Rajapaksa nor the LTTE should be allowed to get away with amnesia. - courtesy: http://livewire.amnesty.org -

Mahinda suffers political Waterloo at Oxford

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa suffered an ignominious political embarrassment at the stately university town of Oxford when his scheduled address to the prestigious Oxford Union was cancelled unilaterally.

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It remains to be seen as to how President Rajapaksa reacts to this embarrassing set-back where a head of state has had his scheduled address to the prestigious Oxford union cancelled unilaterally.

But the views expressed by the President in the official press release are magnanimously statesmanlike and highly commendable.

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

WikiLeaks cables: 'Sri Lankan president responsible for massacre of Tamils' alleges US Envoy Patricia Butenis

by Julian Borger

Tamil activists in Britain - where Mahinda Rajapaksa is currently visiting - are seeking an arrest warrant for alleged war crimes.

American diplomats believed that the Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, bore responsibility for a massacre last year that is the subject of a UN war crimes enquiry, according to a leaked US cable.

Lawyers for Tamil activists in Britain are seeking an arrest warrant against President Rajapaksa - who is currently visiting the UK and is due to meet the defence secretary, Liam Fox, tonight – for alleged war crimes committed last year at the bloody end of the long-running civil war against Tamil separatists. Rajapaksa had been due to address the Oxford Union tomorrow but that appearance has been cancelled due to security concerns.

More than 10,000 Tamils, are thought to have died in the space of a few days in May 2009, when a large concentration of both Tamil Tiger guerrillas and civilians, crammed in a small coastal strip, came under heavy bombardment from Sri Lankan government forces.

In a cable sent on 15 January this year, the US ambassador in Colombo , Patricia Butenis, said that one of the reasons that there was so little progress towards a genuine Sri Lankan enquiry into how so many people were killed was that the president and the former army commander, Sarath Fonseka, were largely responsible.

"There are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power," Butenis noted.

"In Sri Lanka this is further complicated by the fact that responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country's senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers and opposition candidate General Fonseka." Fonseka was convicted of corruption by a court martial earlier this year.

In her cable to Washington , Butenis seeks to explain where there is so little momentum towards the formation of a "truth and reconciliation" commission, or any other form of accountability.

Most Tamil Tiger commanders, also under suspicion for war crimes such as the use of civilians as human shields, had been killed at the end of the war.

President Rajapaksa had meanwhile fought an election campaign promising to resist any international efforts to prosecute "war heroes" in the nation's army.

Not only was the Colombo government not interested in investigating itself, but Tamils in Sri Lanka – unlike those abroad – were also nervous about the issue at it might make them targets for reprisals.

Butenis wrote: "While they wanted to keep the issue alive for possible future action, Tamil leaders with whom we spoke in Colombo, Jaffna and elsewhere said now was not time and that pushing hard on the issue would make them 'vulnerable'.

"Accountability is clearly an issue of importance for the ultimate political and moral health of Sri Lankan society," the ambassador concludes, but she does not think it will happen any time soon.

Last month David Cameron endorsed calls for an independent investigation into the end of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009. The UN has set up a enquiry into the events of last May, but Butenis thinks that any overt foreign push for prosecutions would be counter-productive.

"Such an approach, however, would seem to play into the super-heated campaign rhetoric of Rajapaksa and his allies that there is an international conspiracy against Sri Lanka and its "war heroes," Butenis argued.

A spokesman for Fox said: "Dr Fox will be meeting President Rajapaksa in a private capacity. This reflects Dr Fox's long standing interest in Sri Lanka and his interest in, and commitment to peace and reconciliation there." - courtesy: Guardian UK -

President Rajapaksa talk at Oxford Union cancelled

Statement from The Oxford Union on the visit of President Rajapaksa, Dec, 2, 2010

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Earlier this year, The Oxford Union invited the current President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, to address our members at a date convenient to him. The Union has a policy of inviting a broad range of prominent politicians and heads of state from around the world and the invitation to Mr. Rajapaksa was made within the context of this policy.

OUTC121.jpgSince the invitation was first accepted by Mr. Rajapaksa, the Union has consulted extensively with Thames Valley Police as well as the Sri Lankan High Commission in London on security arrangements for the President’s visit. Due to security concerns surrounding Mr. Rajapaksa’s visit which have recently been brought to our attention by the police, the Union has regretfully found that the talk is no longer practicable and has had to cancel his address.

This decision was not taken lightly and the Union deeply regrets the cancellation. The Union has a long tradition of hosting prominent speakers and upholding the principles of free speech. However, due to the sheer scale of the expected protests, we do not feel that the talk can reasonably and safely go ahead as planned.

The Union holds a politically neutral stance with regards to speakers and the decision was not made in relation to any aspect of Mr. Rajapaksa’s political position, the policies of his administration or any allegations against his government. As the President of Sri Lanka for the last five years, the Union felt that Mr. Rajapaksa would provide a unique insight into the political climate of the region in his speech. The Union wishes to apologise to our members for this unfortunate cancellation.

Oxford Union Society
Alistair Walker
Press Officer

Statement issued by Mr Lalith Weeratunga, Secretary to the President of Sri Lanka

For security reasons the speech by His Excellency President Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka at the Oxford Union, the home of free speech, has been cancelled. This is a decision that has been made unilaterally by the Oxford Union, reportedly as a result of pressure applied by pro-LTTE activists.

His Excellency said:

“I am very sorry this has had to be cancelled but I will continue to seek venues in the UK and elsewhere where I can talk about my future vision for Sri Lanka.”

His Excellency went on to say:

“I will also continue in my efforts to unite all the people of our country whether they live in Sri Lanka or overseas.

As a united country we have a great future.

If we allow divisions to dominate we will not realise our true potential.

We have had thirty years of division and conflict. We must now secure peace and harmony for all Sri Lankans.”