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January 31, 2011

Controversial Sri Lankan official speaks in Framingham

By Brad Petrishen
Daily News staff/The MetroWest Daily News

FRAMINGHAM — A Sri Lankan diplomat and former military official whom many accuse of war crimes spoke at Edwards Church yesterday, denying the claims against him and asking Sri Lankans to move forward.

Former Sri Lankan Major Gen. Shavendra Silva was appointed Sri Lanka's permanent deputy United Nations representative in August, a decision that angered human rights groups that allege Silva played an important role in the killings of as many as 40,000 civilians near the end of the country's 30-year civil war in 2009.

The country's populace is made up of two ethnic groups, the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils. From 1983 to 2009, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam fought an on-and-off war against the government, hoping to create an independent state for Tamils.

That war ended bloodily in May 2009, when, after cornering the Tigers, the government killed many of the insurgency's leaders.

Winchester resident and native Tamil Suba Suntharalingam and a handful of others protested Silva's visit, holding signs at the intersection of Maplewood and Elm streets before going inside to listen.

When reached for comment, a church official said yesterday that leadership was unaware the building had been booked for political purposes.

"These are all lies," Suntharalingam said of Silva's speech, in which Silva praised his forces for a "humanitarian" effort at the end of the war.

In his speech, Silva cautioned Sri Lankans in the crowd about the various eyewitness reports about the last days of the conflict, in which critics of the government allege the military killed innocent Tamil civilians while it attempted to wipe out the Tigers.

Silva, who was flanked by bodyguards, said the operation was actually a humanitarian effort, with his forces rescuing civilian Tamils "from the jaws of (Tiger) terrorists."

He said Tiger fighters took hundreds of thousands of civilians hostage during their final stand, placing them in a circle around their ranks as a "human shield" against military bullets.

Silva said the government succeeded in freeing the civilians, and that the only civilians killed were shot by Tamils as they fled from their captors.

Suntharalingam, however, said the government is responsible for human rights violations, pointing to an incident that allegedly occurred May 18, 2009, when the government is accused of killing Tiger officials after they surrendered.

"They held up white flags, and (Silva) ordered them shot," said Suntharalingam, who raised the issue with Silva during a question-and-answer period following his speech.

"I am glad that you have the courage to ask that question," Silva told Suntharalingam. "I'm so proud we have Sri Lankans of your nature."

Silva said that although some military officers have been arrested and accused of killing innocent civilians, the military as a whole acted in the best interest of the Tamil "hostages."

"If there had been any violations ... it will surface one day," he said. "If there were, then the military will take action against those responsible.

"If I am a war criminal as you say, one day I'll be investigated ... and punished," he added.

Silva said he thinks his surviving a 2009 attempt on his life by a suicide bomber is a sign of his innocence.

"I escaped because I know, in my heart, that I am not a murderer," he said.

Silva encouraged those concerned about human rights to "be patient" and wait for the results of an government committee's investigation of the conflict.

But numerous human rights groups, including Amnesty International, declined an invitation to testify before the committee because it is not being conducted independently.

Last month, Sri Lanka said it would not cooperate with an independent UN investigation into human rights abuses during the war.

Yesterday, Suntharalingam and others also criticized Edwards Church for hosting the event.

Deacon Shelly Cichowlas said the church was unaware when it rented the space that it was doing so for the purpose of political discussion.

She said the room was booked to a monk who had used it before for meditation and other non-political ends. The church was unaware Silva was coming until protestors started calling.

"We had more than 20 calls since yesterday," she said, from protestors in Massachusetts, California, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Ohio.

"If we knew he was coming, we would never had allowed this to happen, because we don't allow political gatherings," she said.

Cichowlas said she learned after yesterday's event was booked that Silva had been speaking in other parts of the U.S. recently. ~ courtesy: www.metrowestdailynews.com ~

Livelihood of Sri Lankan Tamil Fishermen must not be endangered by Indian Fishing Trawlers

By V. Suryanarayan

Two recent incidents, allegedly committed by the Sri Lankan Navy, have sent shock waves throughout Tamil Nadu. In the first incident, on January 12, Veerapandian and three other fishermen left Jagathapattinam, presumably entered the Sri Lankan waters, when the Sri Lankan Navy opened fire, killing Veerapandian. In the second incident, which occurred on January 22, three fishermen, Jeyakumar, Senthil and Rajendran, set sail from Pushpavanam village and they were apprehended by the Sri Lankan Navy around 11 pm.

The Naval Officers asked the fishermen to jump into the sea, Rajendran and Senthil obeyed, but Jeyakumar hesitated as he had lost two fingers during Tsunami, making it difficult for him to swim. Even as he was pleading, the security forces tied a rope around his neck, dragged him, pushed him into the sea and left the scene. By the time Rajendran and Senthil lifted Jeyakumar, he was found dead. As the news spread, political parties entered the fray making it an emotive issue.

Fishermen through out the world are no respecters of maritime boundaries and poaching into each other’s waters is a common occurrence. Sri Lankan fishermen enter Indian and Maldivian waters, Indian fishermen enter Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Bangladeshis enter Myanmar and Japanese and the Taiwanese roam around the Asian waters. Taking this reality into consideration Articles 73 and 145 of the UN Law of the Sea characterize poaching as a civilian offence. When fishermen from Sri Lanka and Pakistan are caught poaching, the Indian Coast Guard ensure that they are tried according to the law of the land, The Coast Guard has never resorted to firing. But the behaviour of the Sri Lankan Navy has not conformed to universal practices. Since the escalation of the ethnic conflict, more than 100 Indian fishermen have been killed, 330 fishermen have been seriously injured, 50 fishing boats have been destroyed and fish worth crores of rupees have been dumped into the sea.

Colombo has emphatically maintained that the Sri Lankan naval personnel were not in the scene, implying that forces interested in spoiling bilateral relations, have committed the crime. Obviously they imply pro-LTTE elements, but the LTTE has been completely decimated. The only way by which truth can be ascertained is to appoint Joint Investigation Teams, check the log books of the Sri Lankan Navy to find out their exact location when the incident occurred. Colombo is unlikely to accept this suggestion, making fact finding exercise a difficult proposition.

What perhaps is not appreciated in Tamil Nadu are the strong feelings of Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen who have resumed fishing now after years of ethnic strife. I visited the University of Jaffna recently to participate in a workshop on small fishers. The organizers took the delegates to the fishing villages of Gurunagar, Karainagar, Vadamarachi and Point Pedro where we had an opportunity to freely interact with Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen. In order to put their point of view in proper perspective, it is necessary to highlight certain realities.

Fishing is one of the major vocations of the Tamil areas. 38 per cent of the island’s fish production used to be the share of the northern districts of Jaffna, Mullaitivu and Mannar. According to government statistics Jaffna produced 48,776 metric tons of fish in 1983, it declined to 2211 metric tons in 2000, the corresponding figure for Mannar was 11,796 metric tons in 1983, this went down to 3614 metric tons in 2002.

The Tamil fishermen were the worst victims of the protracted civil war. The conflict affected the fishermen in several ways. First, for security reasons, Colombo prohibited fishing. Even today many fishing villages come under High Security Zones. What is more, the coastal villages were targeted in savage bombing, compelling the fishermen to come to Tamil Nadu as refugees. According to the Needs Assessment Survey 90 per cent of the boats, engines and gear were rendered unusable.

After the return of peace, the Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen have resumed fishing. There are three obstacles confronting them. Mention has already been made of the High Security Zones, which dot the coastline. Second, the last thirty years have seen the southern part of Sri Lanka making rapid progress in fishing techniques leaving the northern and eastern areas behind. The fishing boats from Negombo regularly come to the northern coast for fishing. Third and perhaps the most important is the unscrupulous poaching by Indian trawlers. They penetrate deep and fish near Delft Island, Karai Nagar, Point Pedro and Pesalai and in so doing pose a grave challenge to the livelihood of Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen.

The fishermen complained that the Indian trawlers destroyed their nets and took away their catch. Trawling is banned in Sri Lanka, but this rule naturally does not apply to Indian trawlers. In the Indian side of the Palk Bay fishing is permitted for only three days, but the Sri Lankan fishermen complain that the trawlers can be seen on all the days of the week.

According to informed sources, trawlers from Nagapattinam and Karaikal are also poachng into Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan fishermen wanted to hold demonstrations before the Indian Consulate in Jaffna, but they were dissuaded from doing so by the Sri Lankan Minister Douglas Devananda.

It is inhuman to deprive the Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen of their livelihood. The Government of Tamil Nadu should not continue to turn a Nelson’s eye to this gross violation of human right. Prof. Soosai of the Jaffna University told the author that the Tamils are not opposed to Indian fishing in Sri Lankan waters, what they are opposed is trawling which is bringing about havoc to the marine ecology. A fisherman added that if the trawling continues in this scale, like the Indian side of the Palk Bay, the Sri Lankan side also will be devoid of fish.

Mention should be made of three futile attempts to resolve the issue amicably. In July 2003, the Sri Lankan Government agreed to consider proposals for licensed fishing in Sri Lankan waters, seven years have elapsed but the Government of India has not yet submitted any proposals.

In October 2008, during the height of the Fourth Eelam War, MK Narayanan and Shiva Shankar Menon discussed the problem with Gotabaya Rajapakse and it was agreed that the Indian fishermen could fish in Sri Lankan waters, Colombo would not resort to firing on them, but the fishermen should not enter the high security zones. No formal agreement was signed between the two countries. The war is over and a different scenario has emerged. Colombo is unlikely to formalise this understanding into an agreement.

More noteworthy was the agreement which was signed by the fishermen of the two countries in August 2010. For the first time, Indian fishermen agreed to phase out the trawlers within one year. The Sri Lankan side agreed that Indian fishermen could fish in Sri Lankan waters up to three nautical miles. The fishing days were reduced to seventy days in a year.

This agreement was to have come into effect on November 1 after getting the formal approval of the two governments. Colombo and New Delhi unfortunately were very lukewarm in their approach; more tragic sections of Indian fishermen did not evince any interest to abide by the provisions of this understanding.

Dark clouds are gathering over the Palk Bay. Unless the situation is diffused immediately, it may lead to strains in the relations between two sections of Tamils, living on both sides of the Palk Bay. A great responsibility devolves on Tamil Nadu, we should immediately take steps so that Sri Lankan Tamil livelihood is not endangered by wanton poaching by our trawlers.

(Prof. V. Suryanarayan is Senior Research Fellow, Center for Asia Studies, Chennai)

“Neither Epigraphy nor Pali chronicles say Dutugemunu was a Sinhala”

from DBSJeyaraj.com

Many of you would have read part one of JL Devananda’s article posted on my blog under the heading “I DID NOT SAY MAHANAMA THERO WAS A RACIST OR THE MAHAVAMSA WAS A RACIST DOCTRINE”.

I am now posting the second and concluding part of the article with the expectation that the process of unlearning and re-learning would continue in the ensuing debate

Here is the second part – click to read in full ~ DBS Jeyaraj.com

“I did not say Mahanama Thero was a racist or the Mahavamasa was a racist doctrine”

from DBSJeyaraj.com
The article by JL Devananda “Mahavamsa Mindset:Re-visiting Political Buddhism in Sri Lanka” that was posted on my blog some weeks ago evoked a passionate discussion although I did feel that some readers had missed the essence of what the writer was actually trying to say

Among the responses was an interesting and informative one by former Diplomat Bandu de Silva which was also published separately on my blog under the heading “Mahavamsa Mentality: Can the charge of Racism leveled against the Chronicle be sustained”? [click to read in full ~ dbsjeyaraj.com]

Bandu de Silva’s article also had many responses and contributed further to the debate in these columns.

10th death anniversary: An apology to my mother

by Dayan Jayatilleka

Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure. The telegram from the Home says: YOUR MOTHER PASSED AWAY. FUNERAL TOMORROW. DEEP SYMPATHY. Which leaves the matter doubtful; it could have been yesterday.” - Albert Camus, The Outsider

In the clear, cold, grey blue light of this winter’s morning in Paris, one remembers that Camus’ L’Etranger, in the original French Gallimard edition, was among my mother’s bedside reading.

LSDJTC131A.jpg

Lakshmi Sylvia de Silva, nee Fernando, died ten years ago at the age of 73, and I owe her an apology. Not for dropping out of my Fulbright scholarship and doctoral studies in upstate New York after the first class honours degree and CL Wickremesinghe prize for best results from Peradeniya university, which she felt had vindicated all her struggles and sacrifices as “almost a single parent” (as she saw herself).

Not for my two risky years underground, and one in clandestine, Spartan self-exile across the water, during which she skinned her knees in prayer in church every single day. Not for the visit she made to the intensive care unit at Nawaloka hospital in ’92 to see her son after having been beaten up and stoned by a mob at Kanatte. Not for the failed marriages and ex-daughters in law. Not for being an only child “doing his own thing” as he had already announced in his teens and unthinkingly placing his mother on a permanent emotional roller coaster of anxiety. Not for having missed being at his mother’s bedside when she died, having watched, in a solitary moment, through the glass doors of the emergency theatre at Asha Central just 18 months before, as his father Mervyn was “suddenly shocked by my [his] own mortality”.

The apology I owe my mother is a political, ideological and even a theoretical one. Growing up I had regarded her as a reactionary, a conservative, perhaps the most reactionary, rightwing and conservative person I knew or could think of. In one of my first attempts at theorising I had coined the term ‘matriarchal despotism’. Entering my teens and misapplying what I was avidly reading, I once denounced her as a “neo-fascist”. That was on one of the few occasions that she had rumbled my father’s and my plans to infiltrate me in their company for the ‘late show’ (9: 30pm) of a good movie with an ‘adults only’ tag from the local Censor board (an entity which the Daily News under Mervyn’s editorship crusaded against). Since I was just past the age of peremptory corporal punishment (an age limit I had decided upon and announced) she complained to my father, demanding to know whether he was going to let me get away with the rude appellation. He raised his eyes from his article in the pink pages of the “FT” (London) he was reading on the couch with his chilled Lowenbrau on the nearby coffee table and glancing at me with a raised eyebrow, deadpanned “but why call a spade a neo-spade?” Later that evening he would take a more successful shot at managing my reaction to maternal ‘tough love’: “since you understand the historically progressive role of the ruthless Stalinist consolidation, with all its excesses, of the foundations of socialism.” He was unable though, to resist a throwaway line, which was still closer the truth: “if we had more than one child, the Ten Commandments could have been divided up; but now, you’re expected to observe all ten”.

This is how, at long last, I had begun to understand her when I wrote The Old Man and the Typewriter serialised in three parts in the Sunday Times in Feb ’99, months before Mervyn died: “Herself a rebel, converting to Christianity against the violent opposition of a beloved father (a minor public official, brilliant Buddhist polemicist and fanatical proselytiser from Panadura) Lakshmi Sylvia taught memorably and lodged at St Bridget's Convent, drove a car, played competitive tennis, swam, boated, danced, was one of the first to cut her hair short, read Camus, gifted Mervyn books by Edmund Wilson, had Pieter Keuneman's poster on her wall and was a subscriber to the Left Book Club. But as it became more and more evident that Mervyn's waywardness was structural, she left her left-ish liberalism somewhere between HD Sugathapala's drawing room and the Navamaga editorial collective, turning into the perfect psychological and behavioural synthesis of where she was coming from and where she had gone - Panadura Buddhism and convent Catholicism - an exact antipode of her husband. Perhaps a necessary and functional transformation indispensable to his salvation.” (Sunday Times, Feb ’99)

A more objective view and that of a contemporary was Neville Jayaweera’s, in his revaluation of Mervyn: “What or who catalysed the chaotic undergraduate Mervyn into the top class journalist and internationally recognised commentator? Who or what caused those spluttering embers to come alive? First, I think it was his wife, Lakshmi who throughout his career, more than anyone or any circumstance, provided Mervyn with an anchor and a point of reference, who supplied the cohesion and the focus that he lacked throughout his time at university. She was always there for him and he hardly travelled abroad without her. Quite literally he was lost without her. Lakshmi must have been a woman of extraordinary patience and a fathomless capacity for understanding and love!” (Sunday Times, Sept 15, 2002)

LSDJTC131B.jpg

[click on pic for larger image]

I rediscovered the album of wedding photographs of Mervyn de Silva and Lakshmi Fernando, with a press notice stuck on it, from August 20th1955. Had they lived they’d have been 55 years married. The photographs show that though my father’s brother Kingsley (‘AVKV’) was a ‘best man’, no parents were present from either side: mine had broken religious and caste barriers and ‘dowry’ was never in their dictionary. My paternal grandfather was unhappy about his ‘Goigama’ Buddhist son marrying a Karawe Catholic girl who was his senior by two or three years while my maternal grandfather was upset that his Buddhist son-in-law to be had not stood up to his oldest child, a defector to the Catholic faith and teacher at the country’s leading convent, unhesitatingly marrying her in a Colombo church (All Saints, Borella), following a token spot of ‘religious instruction’ from a European padre. The album shows a bride with short hair under her veil and happiness in her eyes, wearing a graceful, soft sheer outfit which could have been a sari, being gently walked, and kissed, by a slim man with easy self assurance, Brylcreemed hair, a double breasted suit and sleek unprinted satin tie. They were in their twenties. There was no standard studio portrait. They weren’t like that.

I made some cardinal conceptual errors, conflating authoritarianism with fascism, rightwing liberalism with rightwing reaction, conservatism with traditionalism. I had taken for granted my mother’s modernity and the independence that was a sign of that modern mind. I had not appreciated the magnitude of her rupture with tradition and archaic values, the courage it took to combine love of father with rejection of patriarchy. I had not understood just how progressive and radical she was not only in her own time but perhaps even more so, against the backdrop of ours.

It took two experiences for me to understand and appreciate her more fully. One was looking around and seeing that things my mother had done already by 1949; attitudes she had displayed, were difficult for most Sri Lankan women, including young ones to bring themselves to do fifty years later. What she was, her way of being, as a modern, independent minded, non-traditional, aware, well-read, assertive woman, who never had to struggle to be regarded as an equal by any man including her famous husband, was way beyond what many Sri Lankan women would culturally dare, including middle class urbanised ones, even in the 21st century. The reason that the practice of women dressing in deference to the wishes of fathers, husbands or seniors came as such a culture shock to me was that it was unthinkable (from all recounted testimony, not to mention my acquaintance) that at least from adulthood, my mother would have dressed, worn her hair or makeup, other than as she pleased. Though my father and I would help her pick everything from accessories to sari, I cannot think of anyone, Mervyn included, who would have dared suggest hair style, or manner or mode of attire or appearance. Her advice to numerous nieces on the contentious issue of mini-skirts was “what on earth, if you can carry it off, wear it!”

Formidable personalities though her father and husband were, there was never a question, leave alone a hint of gender or role based deference on Lakshmi’s part. I never saw or heard of her making a traditional gesture of obsequy to an elder. There was never a question in my mind or in the perception of their families and friends that Mervyn’s and Lakshmi’s was a marriage and partnership of equals. As woman, wife and mother, hers was neither the second place nor one of spurious reverence. Never was I urged to be deferential to my father over my mother. All her decisions were sovereign ones: her ‘spiritual advisor’ of over half a century, Fr Perniola, PhD, author of the Oxford Pali grammar, historian of the Catholic Church in Ceylon and one time head of Sri Lanka’s Jesuit chapter told me that when she quit her vocation of teaching at St Bridget’s, she mentioned it to him only later.

Mainlining ‘the opium of the intellectuals’, as Raymond Aron termed Marxism, since entering my teens, I had thought that modernity had but two expressions: liberalism/social democracy and Marxist communism (including in its radical Third Worldist variant). I had been blindsided by the emergence of a second alternative modernity (social democracy/socialism being the first and most dramatic); that of East Asia. I also thought that the only legitimate kind of liberalism was left or leftish liberalism, such as that of my father Mervyn and that whatever was and anti-communist and anti-left liberal was also and by definition, reactionary retrogressive, archaic, antediluvian, rightwing, and conservative. Of course they were some of these things, but not all of them; they were not on a continuum as I had thought.

The second experience that enabled me to understand my mother was an epiphany of sorts: Singapore. Here I found the maternal model writ large: disciplinarian, managed, modern, urban, multicultural, and meritocratic; an authoritarian modernity. This was or has become the East Asian model, practised by the ‘Tiger economies’ before Deng Hsiao Peng synthesised it with China’s revolutionary heritage. I immediately understood my parents in global terms. If Thaththa was more of a Galbraithian liberal, Malrauxvian Gaullist or simply a Western European social democrat, Amma was more East Asian modernist. Mervyn never questioned the description of him, however nastily intended, as “Westernised”, while Lakshmi was proud to speak of “we Asians” (never “we Sinhalese”, though). In Asian terms Mervyn was more Nehru-Chou En Lai and the ‘Bandung moment’ (he ridiculed Sir John); Lakshmi more Lee Kuan Yew and ASEAN. Mervyn’s left-liberalism, which I had taken to the next level of a radical leftism, had obscured in my eyes, the progressivism of Lakshmi’s modernity. I reacted understandably against the authoritarian ‘management style’, but perhaps failed to appreciate sufficiently the achievement, embodiment and dangerous sustenance of the modern.

We had travelled through Europe during the ‘events’ of May ’68, talking and listening to student audiences. My parents witnessed the anti-Vietnam ‘Days of Rage’ in the USA and the March on the Washington monument, and I never heard a word of criticism from my mother of the rebellious youth, their conduct, clothes, music or distinctive culture. I watched Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman in ‘Midnight Cowboy’ at the Savoy cinema and ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ in Leicester square, in my mother’s company, not my father’s, and she would take me (still in the school’s blue short pants) to Lewis Brown’s in Colombo for my first Hendrix and Stones albums.

One never understands that which one takes for granted, having grown into it. What my parents shared, what perhaps brought them together apart from a passionate attraction and abiding if stormy emotional engagement, was their urban, modern, individual personalities. I had underestimated my mother’s cultural courage and the historically and socially progressive – even vanguardist-character of her way of being. She was part of a revolution which I erroneously thought was a given, but remains interrupted, unfinished. I was not an ungrateful child but my historical social science had been flawed; I had been an un-dialectical son.

January is becoming the "Black July" for freedom of press in Sri Lanka

By Karu Jayasuriya

(The following is the statement issued by UNP deputy Leader and Gampaha district Parliamentarian Karu Jayasuriya on the arson attack against the Lanka e-news media organization)

A new chapter has been added to the threat to the freedom of press in this country. Latest addition is setting fire to the Lanka E-news Office in the dawn of 31st January 2011. It is ironic that Lanka E-news is subjected to this fate in the month of January which is considered by the media, as the 'Black July' for the freedom of press since 2006.

This is not the first or the last occasion Lanka E-news has been subjected to threats directly or indirectly. One year has elapsed (on 24th January 2010) after the disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda, Special Feature writer of Lanka E-news. Lanka E-news office was surrounded by unruly crowds on 29th January 2009, for supporting General Sarath Fonseka during the last Presidential Election. After 2 years and two days since this incident, same office has been set on fire

The owner of the Lanka E-news left the island in the face of death threats aimed at him. It is a known secret that even after the failure to silence Lanka E-news by these acts, several threats were aimed against them for using the building at Rajagiriya as their office. Even with these acts of intimidation no one could prevent Lanka E-news bringing to light news, substantiated with proof.

We believe that the courage and the competence of the staff of Lanka E-news and their ability to face death threats and various other acts of intimidation, has enabled them to continue with their work. By setting fire to the Lanka E-news people have been deprived of their right to express opposing political views and to receive information.

This tragedy is another side of the story which we are facing today under the present regime. These threats were not limited only to Lanka E-news. On 1st January 2006, Lasantha Wickramatunga, Editor of the Sunder Leader, revealed a conspiracy to murder the owner of the "Sirasa" media institution. On 2nd January 2009, Sirasa complex at Depanama was set on fire and destroyed completely.

Even before the commencement of Investigations, a Senior Officer in charge of the security of the country said that the attack on Sirasa complex is an inside job. This was on 6th January. Six days after this incident, on 8th January 2009, Editor of the Leader, Lasantha Wickramatunga was murdered.

It didn't stop there, on 24th January 2009, Upali Tennakone, Editor of Rivira newpaper was attacked by thugs. Suspects are still at large. Upali Tennakone who expressed his views against this attack is still living abroad. Instead of finding solutions, the government provided police protection to the editors, which lasted for a short period.

It has become a practice of the government to take the journalist into custody and release them without framing any charges. Mr. Chandana Sirimalwatte, Editor of Lanka newspaper was taken into custody on 28th January 2010. On 16th February of the same year he was released without any charges against him.

On 29th January 2010, government took action to seal the office of Lanka, newspaper of Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, which supported General Sarath Fonseka, Presidential Candidate. On the same day, office of the Lanka E-news which supported Presidential Candidate, Sarath Fonseka was surrounded by mobs. This shows that the government is either ignorant or ignored the fact that some day they will be exposed.

There is another very important fact within these acts. Stability of any country depends on rule of law. When those who are responsible to protect the rule of law, take the law into their hands, civil society is silenced. People are isolated. Rulers become despotic. What is taking place in Algeria and Egypt is an extension of this situation. Therefore it is the inalienable responsibility of the government to rescue the country from this tragedy.

January 30, 2011

The naivety of boycotting an event to ‘send a clear message’ about the plight of journalists

by Kalana Senaratne

Having boycotted the Galle Literary Festival (GLF), what happens if those writers, who stayed away, say Orhan Pamuk and his partner Kiran Desai, decide to visit Sri Lanka for a brief holiday? It is a hypothetical scenario, no doubt. But can’t one argue that even such a visit would, going by the apparent ‘logic’ of Reporters sans Frontiers (RSF) and Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS), still give some ‘legitimacy’ to the existing ‘climate for free expression’ or the lack of media freedom in Sri Lanka?

If one is so concerned as to boycott an event such as the GLF, shouldn’t s/he be also concerned about visiting the country in which such an event is held? Or to put it differently, if boycotting the GLF sends a ‘clear message’ that writers are concerned about the state of media freedom, what’s the message that will be sent if they decide to visit the country for purely tourist purposes?

When one thinks beyond the event, beyond the GLF, one senses the naivety of boycotting an event in order to, as the ‘Galle Appeal’ stated, ‘send a clear message’ about the plight of journalists; an event which had, in the first place, nothing to do with the celebration of media freedom in Sri Lanka. Perusing the programme of the GLF, one understands (which is obvious to many who have attended the GLF) that it is an event which opens up space to discuss literature which is not even confined to Sri Lanka; for instance, African writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was principally invited to talk about her work in the context of Africa (at the Literary Dinner) and the lasting effects of Nigeria’s civil war of the 1960s in her collection of short stories.

Wouldn’t a clear, even clearer, message be sent by attending the event and voicing concerns about media freedom or lack of it? To quote Adichie, who reportedly stated during a GLF-session: "literature discussions are good platforms to clear the air about sensitive issues like suppression of free speech … the way to deal with bad speech is to talk about it." (AFP: 28 Jan, 2011) Isn’t this the approach that writers should adopt, that writers should have adopted, given the true nature of the GLF?

Also, it is somewhat amusing to note that many still seem to be thinking that they are living in an age when attending an event such as the GLF is to be a visit that would ‘legitimize’ the state of media freedom in a country. RSF was particularly disturbed by this aspect of ‘legitimacy’, when it stated: "We believe this is not the right time for prominent international writers like you to give legitimacy to the Sri Lankan government’s suppression of free speech by attending a conference that does not in any way push for greater freedom of expression inside the country". Having painted the picture of a bleak environment in which media freedom is suppressed, the RSF then pointed out: "It is this environment that you will be legitimizing by your presence."

The RSF forgot that if any ‘legitimizing’ was indeed necessary, it need not have come only through the visit of international writers. The very presence of Sunila Abeysekera (or even former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who was photographed visiting the GLF) would have been enough to ‘legitimize’ the environment that RSF/JDS are worried about. But then, who in his right mind would argue that Sunila (and Chandrika) ‘legitimized’ the state of media freedom in Sri Lanka!

Yet, should we blame groups such as RSF and JDS? Or rather, should it not be the writers who boycotted the event, somewhat irresponsibly, having earlier expressed willingness to attend, who ought to be questioned? Should it not be the writers who withdrew who should provide an explanation, a clarification, a ‘clear message’ (to quote RSF)? What is their message, really? Unfortunately, this is an issue that the organizers of GLF have been unwilling to raise.

Such clarifications ought to be sought given the fact that many of these writers have been bold and courageous in expressing their views about media freedom. Let’s take Orhan Pamuk, a wonderful novelist, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and one who knows what it is like to be charged by a government for expressing views.

As the New York Times reported in 2008, Pamuk had been quite candid about his views concerning the lack of freedom of expression in his own Turkey, during the Frankfurt Book Fair which honored Turkey. In the audience was the President of Turkey, Abdullah Gul, but Pamuk stated: ‘’A century of banning and burning books, of throwing writers into prison or killing them or branding them as traitors and sending them into exile, and continuously denigrating them in the press — none of this has enriched Turkish literature … It has only made it poorer’’, stated Pamuk. So here is a writer who does not shy away from his responsibility, as a writer, of airing his concerns of freedom of expression or the lack of it.

Now that’s a clear message. But where is Pamuk’s ‘clear message’ concerning Sri Lanka? What has Pamuk’s act of boycotting, and remaining silent, done as regards Sri Lanka’s state of media freedom?

Would Pamuk, for instance, be unwilling to visit the West if he feels that Western democracy is a sham? It does seem that Pamuk is concerned. In his essay titled ‘On Trial’ in Other Colours, he notes: "… these days the lies about the war in Iraq and the reports of secret CIA prisons have so damaged the West’s credibility in Turkey and in other nations that it is more and more difficult for people like me to make the case for true Western democracy in my part of the world." But surely, if Western democracy is so bad, could Pamuk visit a literary festival held anywhere in the West, and ‘legitimize’ (as RSF would put it) the undemocratic practices of the West? Or, as regards India, what does Pamuk’s presence in India signify? Does it signify that India’s record concerning the protection of media freedom is perfect? Absolutely not, given recent reports of RSF regarding the alleged violations of media freedom in India.

It is well known that politicians or governments in general, would certainly give some political spin to the visits made by international authors. And of course, the government of Sri Lanka would do the same, and would have done so, had Orhan Pamuk and others visited Sri Lanka. Well, they can do it anyway, since other writers did attend the GLF. But the more serious question is: should these writers, who possess ‘independent minds’ worry so much about what politicians and governments might do or say? Is boycotting the GLF, after all, such a serious act or an act that sends a ‘clear message’? Orhan Pamuk and some other writers were absent, silent. That’s not a ‘clear message’; it’s a dubious one.

Galle Face Green to be vandalised by twenty-first century savages

by Gamini mWeerakoon

Most great cities around the world have public places that have acquired historic sanctity and are left untouched even by eager modernisers who develop an itch to leave behind puny constructions for their immortality.

London has those great grand parks, palaces and open spaces such as Piccadilly Circus; Paris — the historic 86,400 sq km cobbled stone park Palace de la Concorde; New York, the Times Square; New Delhi — India Gate, their national monument standing amidst acres of spreading lawns and Beijing a vast square by the Great Hall of the People and Mao Tze Dong’s tomb

Colombo 28-02-08 0112

Galle Face green seen from Galle Face Hotel ~ on February 28, 2008 ~ pic: Drs. Sarajevo

Poor Colombo has no such historic parks or squares but still has a kilometer or more long stretch of green by the sea which looks absolutely delightful, bathed by the warm sun by day and providing views of stunning tropical sunsets as the big red sphere tantalizingly dips into the ocean over the horizon.

Galle Face Green has no monuments and does not need any. Its plain natural beauty has won encomiums around the world.

But now it is to be vandalised by 21st Century savages.

Vandals

A 400 room super luxury seven star hotel is to be built at a cost of US$ 500 million’ and obliterate the Green. And more! ‘A six star hotel also costing $ 500 million is to be built by another Chinese company.’ This report of the destruction of this esplanade which had been described as ‘a part of the government’s ambitious plan to make Colombo the Garden City of Asia’, appeared in an English language daily on Thursday.

How the obliteration of this Green which has been the playground and a place of relaxation for residents of Colombo for well over a century by concrete structures could make Colombo ‘the Garden City of Asia’ boggles our imagination.

The ‘Garden City of Asia’ is a cliché coming down from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries when streets of Colombo were lined with red, flamboyant and other flowering trees and the flowers covered roads over which a few cars and rickshaws pulled by barefooted men passed.

The scenario is quite different today as is apparent from the over heated roads sans vegetation and houses standing cheek-by jowl even in areas which was once called Cinnamon Gardens. Tourist writers are searching for clichés to justify the vandalism of the Green.

Only two parks

Galle Face Green it is well known is the only public park for residents of Colombo other than the Vihara Maha Devi Park (VMD) which former President Premadasa tried hard to vandalise by introducing cheap gimmicks imitating Disneyland. Mercifully after over a decade most of these Disneyland imitations have gone into limbo and the park is coming back to its natural state.

Galle Face Green (GFG) and VMD — the latter was earlier called Victoria Park, were gifts of the wicked British colonialists to the citizens of Colombo. Since the British were sent packing home, the native sons and daughters who ruled the land and administered Colombo have not built one park in Colombo worth pointing out! In Sri Jayewardenepura fair sized grounds opposite the parliament came into existence but periodic internecine political quarrels left it in a quagmire most of the time. Now a significant part has been partitioned for a memorial for the War Heroes.

Certainly War Heroes need to be honoured and remembered but their memorial could have been located elsewhere in Jayewardenepura where land is available other than reducing the area of the only playground. The other public park built was the one where the Water’s Edge Hotel is located. The Supreme Court cancelled the sale of this land but once again the hotel seems to be in operation.

Massive stadia but kids on streets

In Colombo, the massive stadia built for cricket and other big sports events are taboo to ordinary citizens. Poor kids play on the streets outside massive stadia whose gates are firmly locked. Thus, the question which Gotabaya Rajapaksa who has been vested with the Urban Development portfolio has to consider is where the citizens of Colombo are to relax once the Hong Kong Shangri-La or the other six star wonder occupies the Green.

Of course anyone would be permitted to enter the Shangri-La or the other Six Star wonder. But as the saying goes in America, ‘anyone can enter the Hilton but very few do.’ The thickness of the purse matters. Bank accounts or the thickness of the purse will not be the only issues but most GFG users would far prefer the free and open air of the Green, sea breezes and kotthu rotti from carts rather than the unpronounceable names of Shangri-La delicacies.

It would be safe to presume that citizens of Colombo will be deprived of the pleasures of their traditional park except for the dirty rich or the mysterious new rich that take delight in inhabiting such places.

What’s the opposition doing?

The Cabinet it is believed would approve the sale of land to the Chinese buyers and President Rajapaksa would approve the sale. Whatever procedure is adopted, do citizens of Colombo have any say in the matter?

This is a matter of grave concern to all Sri Lankan citizens because the most valuable land in the country — land which was never intended to be sold — is being sold to foreigners. So far we have not heard of any reactions of opposition parties. What does the UNP say amidst squabbling about party leadership? Even the JVP seems to have gone on to low gear.

What do the city fathers of this apparently fatherless city say?

Will there be no public agitation?

It would be recalled that the Supreme Court a few years ago ruled that even sections of Galle Face Green could not be rented out to a television company to stage musical shows because the Green was intended and built for the benefit of ‘the ladies and children of Colombo’ as a plaque still standing on the promenade of the green says.

Navy headquarters?

We do hope the authorities would still attempt to save GFG from foreigners. If the two hotels have to be built, why not sell the land occupied by the Navy Headquarters on Marine Drive and even some parts of the garden of the unoccupied President’s House? The premises of the army headquarters will be the location for one hotel project and the army headquarters is to be moved elsewhere. So, why not the navy headquarters which has no naval deployments in Colombo harbour or on the coast nearby?

The sale of Galle Face Green to foreigners is a slap in the face of the citizenry of Colombo. It shows utter disregard to public opinion because the public was never consulted. To us who have used and enjoyed doing our morning constitutional for over a quarter century on the Green, it is a crime. It is also a dangerous precedent.

The Urban Development Authority may assume divine powers and decide to give over Kandy Lake to build another Shangri-La hotel! We could even have the historic Galle Fort given for another tourist resort and even the grounds of the Anuradhapura Lovamahapaya for a multi storeyed Shangri-La. The dollar carrying tourist has become God and King. ~ Courtesy: The Sunday leader ~

January 29, 2011

Rajapaksa State prefers wallowing in extravagant dreams to dealing with insalubrious realities

BY Tisaranee Gunasekara

Unfortunately our unenlightened people will never understand the Higher Reason that governs the actions of monarchs.” — Ryszard Kapuściński (The Emperor)

Minister, Professor G.L. Peiris has a dream. In his dream Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, the Queen of England, arrives in Hambantota, followed by 53 three heads of state, to attend the 2013 Commonwealth Summit.

With such a crop of political glitterati, Hambantota (renamed Sri Rajapaksapura?) literally glitters. The august guests disembark from the Rajapaksa International Airport and the Rajapaksa Port, confab at the Rajapaksa Convention Centre and stay at the Rajapaksa Shangri-La/Rajapaksa Plaza Hotel. They go sightseeing in Asia’s newest metropolis, incandescent from its facelift, courtesy Defence Ministry. (The underprivileged inhabitants had been evicted, en masse, to special villages and their former habitats beautified).

The Minister-Professor sheds happy tears when his President lavishes praise on his commitment and industry, thanks him for putting the pocket-borough of the Ruling Family on the world-map and holds him up as a peerless example to his 199 (envious) cabinet colleagues.

Alas, the Minister-Professor has but dreamed a dream. According to media reports Queen Elizabeth II has no plans to visit Hambantota.

Prof. Peiris made his queenly blunder while addressing the Tangalle Branch of the SLFP, attended by the First Son Namal Rajapaksa: “In 2013, the Queen of England, along with 53 Heads of State of Commonwealth countries will visit Hambantota to attend a summit called CHOGM…. CHOGM is a summit where all the leaders of Commonwealth countries meet for discussion and make important decisions about their future endeavours. The summit would directly affect your day-to-day lives. Infrastructure, hotels, roads would be essential to hold this summit” (Daily News – 12.1.2011).

The Minister’s overzealous imagining incensed the Commonwealth Secretariat which “reacted angrily to Peiris’ remarks. P.M. Amza, Sri Lanka’s Acting High Commissioner in Britain, was called for a meeting with the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Political Director, Amitav Banerji. He expressed ‘serious concern’ over Peiris’ remarks. Banerji told…the remarks were ‘highly unwarranted’ when no such matter has been entertained by Buckingham Palace.” (The Sunday Times – 23.1.2011).

Ever since he left the academia for politics, Prof. Peiris has displayed an unstinting willingness to please his bosses. If he is telling apocryphal tales about Royal visits, it is probably to please his current masters, because he knows that the Rajapaksas have an overwhelming desire to hobnob with Western leaders, notwithstanding the occasional anti-Western protest or diatribe. After all, President Rajapaksa’s eagerness to address the Oxford Society (the student union of the Oxford University) was so intense he even committed the diplomatic faux pas of leaving the country in the midst of a visit by his loyal friend, the President of Pakistan. And the Rajapaksa regime pays the British firm Bell Pottinger millions of dollars to gain entrée into Western capitals via political cosmetic surgery.

President Rajapaksa’s desire for Western acceptance and his chagrin over Western rejection have become a driving force and a deciding factor in Lanka’s external relations. This love-hate relationship is helpful in understanding the seemingly inexplicable swings (hypercritical of the West at one moment, overeager to obtain Western approbation the next) endemic to Rajapaksa foreign policy.

The Rajapaksas seek to woo the West with a strategy akin to its successful Indian policy – making substantial economic concessions to atone for the absence of any political concessions (in the form of credible investigations into human rights abuses or a political solution to the ethnic problem). After all, the West is hardly consistent or principled in its attitude towards democracy and counts some of the most obnoxious Third World tyrants among its friends, such as the former President of Tunisia, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who won five presidential elections (the last in 2009) and ruled for 23 years.

In Tunisia repression and corruption marched in unison because Ben Ali’s greed for power was matched by his family’s hunger for wealth. Nominally a multi-party democracy (nine parties contested the last parliamentary election), Tunisia was in reality a tyranny, with pre-decided elections, docile courts, a self-censoring media and a dormant society. Despite this anti-democratic reality, until his sudden ouster in a mass-uprising, President Ben Ali was a key Western ally. “The Tunisian was the first Arab leader to visit Washington after President Bush’s ‘forward strategy of freedom’ speech after the Iraq war…” (The Guardian – 22.10.2009).

The Western desire for Tunisia’s friendship created an unholy nexus between the Tunisian Ruling Family and Western leaders (both democrats and royals); for instance, when the Duke of York (a son of the British Queen) visited Tunisia to promote trade relations, he was helped by President Ben Ali’s infamously corrupt son-in-law.
So, if the West can tolerate a Ben Ali (and so many other Tricontinental despots), why not Mahinda Rajapaksa? Little wonder the Rajapaksas persist in sidling-up to the West; little wonder they get furious when their overtures are rejected.

While the rulers busy themselves with dreaming of royal visits or bidding for 2018 Commonwealth Games (for Hambantota), other problems, internal and external, fester. The terror-wave in Jaffna continues unabated. Both the Tamil Nadu government and Delhi are blaming the Lankan Navy for a slew of murderous attacks at sea on Indian fishermen (causing two deaths in two weeks, one by garrotting). The Navy denies any involvement and blames unnamed third parties. Two new developments have complicated matters further.

Last Monday, the Mahabodhi society in Chennai was attacked by a mob. Reports in the Indian media hint at a quid-pro-quo angle to this disturbing deed: “The attack on the Buddhist temple….has come close on the heels of the killing of two Indian fishermen allegedly by the Sri Lankan Navy. Lankan authorities however continue to deny the charge even as rage mounted in Tamil Nadu over the death of the fishermen…. The Buddhist prayer house was apparently targeted in an expression of anger” (The Times of India – 26.1.2011).

The second development is a plan by 500 Indian fishermen to ‘seek asylum with Colombo’ to highlight the inability/unwillingness of Indian authorities to take a tougher line with Sri Lanka! “In a week’s time all these fishermen in 100 odd fibre boats…would reach the Lankan maritime boundary to seek asylum with them. Though the ‘hard decision’ seems to be taken after the tragic death of local fisherman N Jayakumar at the hands of Lankan Navy, it was primarily meant to put pressure on the State and Centre to understand the ground reality faced by fishermen in the region….” (Express Buzz – 25.1.2011).

If the Navy is indeed innocent, and some mysterious third party is responsible for the murders, it is in our best interests to conduct a credible investigation and unearth the culprits, before Tamil Nadu pressure compels Delhi to ‘do something’ (AIADMK leader Ms. Jayalalitha is already in the fray). Because, notwithstanding the constraints imposed by China and Pakistan factors, India may be able to administer a couple of painful pinches to Sri Lanka.

The Rajapaksa state prefers wallowing in extravagant dreams to dealing with insalubrious realities. But imagining will not bring Elizabeth II to Hambantota nor denial make the fishermen’s issue disappear. And our protestations of eternal-innocence have worn thin, after humanitarian offensives and zero-casualty rates.

Whither reconciliation under the incompatible system and disconcerting situation?

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

PART I

The baffling moves and actions on the political front of the potent government led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, since the war ended conclusively mid May 2009 have been considered discretely by many analysts, ignoring the many critical weaknesses in the system, which is not really democratic. Moreover, the confusing statements of the head of State on the widely anticipated political solution to the ethnic problem, which is not the problem created by the LTTE terrorists and the continuing inaction have also been considered similarly.

Considering the absolute power of the Executive President consolidated via the 18th Amendment (18A) and the intent not to weaken the system that facilitates supreme control over the entire island as well as serves the elites very well, there is concern among the realists over the future of the island nation and the freedom and rights of all residents, particularly those not close to the powers that be. This uncertainty is great, viewed from the long-term rather than short-term standpoint. Some have considered the post-war developments to be aimed at establishing a system similar to those that existed during the time of monarchs in ancient Lanka. There have been several popular monarchs, who waged wars either to defend their territories or take control of the land of other rulers. But they treated their subjects fairly, who in turn were loyal to the monarchs. 0f course, the people did not have the freedom and rights bestowed by modern democracy.

The adverse consequences of structuring the system to fulfil the ambitions of one political leader are well known. These should serve as a warning to all of us concerned about the future of Sri Lanka not just during but also beyond our lifetime. When the first Executive President J. R. Jayewardene brought in the current system via the 1978 Constitution, the focus of the people was on the economy and not on the possible manipulations for narrow political and/or personal gains by his successors. Without accountability, separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers and the vital checks and balances, the opportunities for abusing power increased enormously. These attributes were ignored by the then political leadership who viewed politics from a parochial perspective. They thought the power gained in 1977could be sustained to some degree for a long period.

Political leadership

It is not only the loose system but also the poor political leadership that has hindered Sri Lanka’s all round progress. In general, politicians do not realize that whatever power they wield has been delegated by the people for them to act responsibly in the wide interests of the people and the country. But their rash actions divided the society and the nation, denying peace and unity vital for creating and sustaining conditions conducive for economic, social and political development.

All along politics in independent Sri Lanka has been influenced by the short-term interests of political leaders competing passionately for power. Now, with the 18A, weak opposition and dormant civil society, a different political system (‘1978 plus’) has emerged. It evolved with the erosion of accountability, free and fair elections, rule of law, good governance, democratic principles and values and human rights. The spread of bribery and corruption as well as the rise in organised criminal activities in broad daylight reflect the chaotic situation in post-war Sri Lanka.

The Island in its editorial on January 19 opined: “Politicians in this country see eye to eye with one another only on one thing––feathering their nests. They fight like a pack of mad hounds in public, especially during elections, but readily make common cause where their pay hikes, perks and privileges are concerned”. There is no doubt the country is in the present pathetic state, because of egoistic politicians seeking power for short-term benefits by exploiting the loosely structured system. The ethnic division too was used as a tool in the power struggle. Promises given during electioneering, particularly on matters relating to the ethnic problem were dumped later. Unilaterally abrogated B-C and D-C pacts are significant events in the history of failures in resolving the ethnic problem during the pre-war period.

The observations of Harshi Perera, a lawyer who has worked on behalf of several human rights group cited in Sofie Rordam’s article – ‘Views and reflection on the police system's collapse through the eyes of women’- in SL Guardian January 25, 2011 also reinforce the view that it is the political system which after 1978 undermined further the separation of powers, independence of the judiciary and the police service and the parliamentary committee system for the rise in corruption, misuse of public funds, all sorts of crime including those committed by the law enforcement officers and the culture of impunity that has made governance unsuitable for ensuring peace, justice, security and freedom and promoting regional and national development for the betterment of all sections of the society.

She has also pointed out, it is a common misconception that there is a natural cause and effect relation between introducing a bill and achieving its intended function. With regard to the feeble policing system, Harshi has described the non-implementation of the relevant laws and not their absence as the main culprit. It is also well known that several laws introduced under the 13th Amendment and earlier in the wake of the 1956 ‘Sinhala Only’ Act intended to ease the grievances of the Tamil speaking people were not implemented for political reasons. Besides, the swift implementation of politically advantageous but nationally damaging policies also intensified the ethnic conflict. The centralized system with powerful Executive Presidency introduced in 1978 did not help to get rid of such abhorrent practices.

Youth Affairs and Skills Development Minister, Dullas Alahapperuma is reported to have said in his speech on 15 January in Embilipitiya that Sri Lanka has a shortage of leaders in every sphere. He also said some after entering politics become leaders by foul means. Daily Mirror 17 January 2011 reported that the Minister told the audience: “There is a belief that leadership is built through politics. It is entirely wrong”. Some contest local government elections with the aim of getting into Parliament where the personal benefits are substantial. Sri Lanka did not have national leaders the developed countries had that helped them to succeed. National leaders must have the will and the moral courage to act magnanimously for the good of all residents, respecting their rights, freedoms and reasonable aspirations, regardless of their ethnic, religious and regional connections.

When democracy is defective, as is the case in Sri Lanka, should we abandon it or try to make it meaningful to the people? This question deserves serious consideration from the standpoint of the future of the nation in the long-term.

Vacillating on the ethnic problem

Soon after crushing the LTTE in May 2009, there was a strategic move to propagate the belief that the ethnic problem too had vanished. This failed to get rooted because of the international community, notably India. The crucial support given by New Delhi to Colombo in the war against the LTTE declared as a terrorist outfit and banned in India (the ban still continues) was on the understanding that the ethnic issue would soon be settled politically based on meaningful devolution within one unified State. Evading actions on timely promises given earlier to Sri Lankans is not unusual but the circle has now grown bigger.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa is reported (BBC Sinhala.com January 14) to have told the foreign journalists at a breakfast meeting that “he is ready to ‘go beyond’ the 13th Amendment to the constitution as a political solution to the national question. But he will never agree to devolve police powers into the regions”. The Island on January 14 also reported that the President said at another meeting with the local media heads and editors the previous day (January 13) that “his challenge was to achieve his development goals. Reconciliation, communal amity and unity were essential for developing the country, he said urging the media to work towards bringing communities together and to eschew hatred”. He also rightly ‘stressed the need to heal the wounds of the past’.

The Indian daily, ‘The Hindu’, reported on January 15 that President Rajapaksa at the meeting on January 14, “reiterated what he had told The Hindu in an interview earlier: that he had a solution in mind, but was not in a position to reveal it”. This was last year during the meeting with the Editor-in-Chief N. Ram in Colombo. Astonishingly, on his return to Colombo from London he said that he was going to disclose his devolution plan (the political solution) in Oxford, England but he couldn’t as the Oxford Union meeting was cancelled at the eleventh hour. This statement too does not give much belief in the government’s zeal to seek an early resolution of the problem. The vast majority of citizens who were tired of the prolonged war expected an early political settlement to the national issue soon after the war ended, wishing to live amicably in their homeland with dignity, equal rights and hope for a better future. But there is still no clear sign of permanent settlement, except for some hopeful statements. With no sign of demilitarization of the North and East, the ground situation is also not very promising for sincere reconciliation.

The idea of a boosted 13th Amendment (13A plus) that was in the limelight in 2009 and subsequently dumped has re-emerged recently. Reaffirming his commitment to ‘13A-plus’ formula, to bring about an amicable political solution to the Tamil question, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa insisted that “the plus” would be a product of the hope and aspirations of the people of Sri Lanka. Asked if police powers would be part of the formula, he categorically said, “No… It's not practical.”

If the government stands by its declaration on the 13th Amendment this time, despite the known abhorrence of the Sinhala ‘patriots’ to devolution, there will be some exclusions (minuses) too. In the post-war era, only those who supported the hard line Sinhala nationalists have been considered as ‘patriots’. President Rajapaksa had their full support since Eelam war IV started in 2006 and became their hero after the military victory in 2009. He too was careful not to damage this new standing which was politically beneficial. But some developments locally and internationally seem to have induced him to take tactically a different course.

The emphasis throughout has been on ‘home grown’ solution. What is meant by this term remains a mystery because after India’s involvement in 1987, there have been solutions recommended by elected or officially appointed bodies. Their recommendations posed no threat to the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. It is recalled that the now discarded APRC project was launched by the incumbent President in 2006 soon after the war started to arrive at a consensual set of proposals for constitutional reform that will set the firm foundation for the building of a harmonious, united and truly democratic socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. The several rounds of discussions and the dedicated and painstaking work of the members of the Commission as well as the Expert Committee came to nothing, when the President rejected the APRC recommendations just before the January 2010 Presidential election. No reason was given for the rejection. Some key proposals were definitely in conflict with the 18A introduced after this Presidential and parliamentary election last year. Nevertheless, there are other useful proposals that deserve serious consideration.

President Rajapaksa is also reported to have told the journalists at the aforementioned meeting that he has requested the Tamil parties to discuss their proposals and come up with an agreed solution to the national question. He told them, “If the government comes up with its own proposal, the Tamil parties might raise objections”. This mode of reaching prior agreement was missing in the case of the controversial 18th Amendment. The constitution of commissions and committees to address embarrassing or not politically advantageous issues to incumbent governments is well known to be pretence from the past many disappointing experiences. This shortcoming is also intrinsic to the myopic decision-making process, influenced often by political expediency and not long-term national interest.

According to Harim Peiris, Presidential spokesman during 2001-2005, “it was Indian Foreign Minister Krishana who articulated the need for what he calls a structured dialogue between the Government and the TNA. Pressed by the West on accountability and human rights and by India for dialogue with the dominant representatives of the Tamil people, the Rajapaksa regime finally opted for the latter presumably as the lesser of two evils and commenced a low key but structured dialogue with the Tamil National Alliance earlier this month (January 2011), to work towards reconciliation through a political settlement and to address the urgent humanitarian and reconstruction issues”. (‘Increasing violence with impunity in Jaffna’ Daily Mirror 27 January 2011).

Anyway, the three-member committee of ministers headed by Senior Minister Ratnasiri Wickramamayake had discussions on current issues in the North and East with the TNA. They had their first joint meeting three days before President’s meeting with the journalists. The TNA agreed to cooperate with the government to find a durable solution for the ethnic question and for the rehabilitation and resettlement of the displaced Tamil citizens.

Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Catherine Bragg, who went to Sri Lanka recently told a news briefing in New York on 26 January: “The Government has committed significant resources to infrastructure in the return areas (of the displaced persons) but there’s so much more that still needs to be done and most of the returnees have limited access to basic services such as shelter, water, sanitation and health care.” She also said: “These communities remain extremely vulnerable. The future of the north is about investing in people. They need skills, livelihoods and social development to help them move on with their lives.” It is clear there is a dire need to work on several fronts to ease the suffering of the people and rebuild the run down island nation on firm footing.

On the reaction of the Tamil media to the joint meeting between the government and the TNA, the veteran journalist T. Sabaratnam in his weekly column - ‘Tamil perspective’- in the January 16 issue of ‘The Nation’ has observed: “Tamil media welcomed the talks as positive development” and “was also cautious that these talks should not be another exercise to drag on the peace process”.

In this regard, he cited the editorial in the popular Tamil daily Virakesari which stated: “We wish to remind that this talks too should not be like the ones held in the past- pay lip service to peace by using the words ‘reconciliation’ and ‘talks’; Tamil people expect that this talks should be conducted with dedication” ‘The Nation’ columnist in conclusion opined that the Virakesari editorial reflected “the mood of the people that this talks too should not be another exercise to delay a solution (to the ethnic problem). Since 1984, they had seen talks, talks and talks and the people have grown sceptical about them”. The one who used peace talks to buy time in the recent past was the intransigent LTTE leader. Although the entire country suffered as a result, it was the Tamil community that incurred heavy losses. This should be a lesson to all initiating talks for settling differences on national issues.

Noble goals but attainment doubtful

President Rajapaksa has been conveying resolutely the importance given by his government to unity and development in many of his messages to the people. This was seen in his New Year message as well as in his speech on 17 January during the special Thai Pongal ceremony organised in Jaffna. In the New Year message he said: "We look towards the future at the dawn of this New Year with renewed determination, firm commitment and many positive expectations. It is a great achievement that freedom and peace is now established in our motherland to make such aspirations possible." He also said: "National unity is key to both uniting and developing the motherland. Thus, the time has come to rise above all differences. Only then could all conspiracies to deny coexistence, and those against the people and the nation, be defeated. With great determination and patience, we have built mutual understanding and trust among the people about the nation’s development. Strengthening this should be among our wishes for the New Year ....” (The Island 31 December 2010). The real freedom and peace desired by many direct victims of the conflict and other harassed citizens continue to remain in their prayers. The freedom and peace gained by ousting the Tigers are only a part of what is needed.

It is apparent from this and several other pronouncements that the prevailing ‘no-war’ situation is the professed peace. The continued dependence on the military to safeguard this superficial peace is evident from the functions assigned to the security forces after the war ended, despite the considerable drain on the public funds. Sadly, even this is marred by the unchecked violence in the former conflict zone which has been liberated fully from the LTTE menace. Shockingly, there have been many incidents of killings, abductions, robberies and molestations in the Northern Province which is under the intense surveillance of the security forces. The official explanation that the reported incidents in the North are not peculiar, as the crime rate is similar to those in other parts of the island is an admission of the poor enforcement of the law in the entire country. The culture of impunity that grew during the war still exists but not to the same degree as during the heydays of the ‘white van’ syndrome. There is no victim and witness protection law in Sri Lanka, which is an impediment to bring to justice those engaged in organised crimes. Some of them are believed to have the backing of powerful persons.

Senior lawyer Gomin Dayasri in The Sunday Times 23 January 2011 Columns has observed: “Good intentions of the President remain un-implemented; like burning tyres tied round the government’s neck, searching self-immolation. Worse, there is no monitoring to douse the flames. The interim recommendations of the LLRC on burning issues still remain in filing cabinets; fast implementation would answer critics. Absence of effective implementation and monitoring the progress are setbacks to reconciliation and all other live problems”.

In the context of many anomalies in the system, it is very clear that a holistic approach is needed to achieve national objectives like reconciliation, unity, durable peace and development in a country damaged by internal conflicts and manipulations of the political system structured to help the exploiters seeking narrow benefits. The President himself has acknowledged that unity, peace and development are interconnected. It is therefore imperative to seek all simultaneously.

This broad-minded approach, in turn, requires a favourable change in the attitude of the majoritarians, specifically those in the government and the Buddhist clergy. The tolerant stand taken by the current Prime Minister D. M. Jayaratne based on the teachings of Lord Buddha with regard to the ethnic and religious minorities in Sri Lanka is encouraging. He is reported (Newsfirst.lk 19 January 2911) to have defended his earlier statement, namely, “all religions in the country are equal and no religion will be afforded special attention or special treatment”, which was objected strongly by the leader of the JHU, a coalition partner in the present coalition (UPFA) government. The Premier, a devoted Buddhist, said: “There is a special place for the Sambuddha Sasana in the (Sri Lankan) Constitution. There are five ethnicities and four religions in this country. If we don't take into consideration these four religions and five ethnicities, there will be a conflict. It will be against the Buddha Sasana as well as the teachings of the Lord Buddha.” Accordingly, “no religion or person should be hated”. Had these noble principles been observed in national politics after independence, Sri Lanka would now be an illustrious island not only for the natural beauty but also for her stability, pluralism, tranquillity and all round development.

The prime minister and Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Muslim religious leaders in Sri Lanka have jointly formed a peace council to promote communal harmony in Sri Lanka. During the inauguration on January 22 in Colombo, Venerable Bellanwila Wimala0ratana Thero, president of this ‘Sri Lanka Council of Religions for Peace’ (SLCRP) is reported to have said: “Our aim is to play a dynamic role at the national level to build peace, harmony and justice in Sri Lankan society.” This is definitely a good move but religious peace alone is not a substitute for the general peace needed to strengthen national unity and promote infrastructural and socio-economic development that benefits all residents throughout the island. This requires positive moves in the political domain too, since the present system as explained earlier does not serve the whole society equitably. It serves the privileged in many ways by allowing them to abuse freely the power delegated by the people. The less privileged are not only the ethnic minorities but also the poor Sinhalese in many parts of the island.

To be continued - Part II

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

January 28, 2011

Ramifications of crackdown on LTTE in Switzerland

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

The crackdown on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) by the Swiss Federal Police on January 11th where ten top tiger activists were taken into custody is a development of enormous significance.

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Helvetia or Switzerland is home to 40-42,000 Tamils of Sri Lankan origin. While this number is less than that of the Tamil Diaspora in countries like Canada, Britain, USA, France or Australia, the immense contribution made by the Tamils of Switzerland to the war effort of the LTTE has proportionately exceeded that of Tamils living in other Western countries. [Click to read in full ~ on dbsjeyaraj.com]

Sri Lanka military extending its influence over civilian affairs, things are not looking good for democratic accountability

by Vijay K Nagaraj
Research Director, International Council on Human Rights Policy

The Sri Lankan military is getting a makeover. Now that the war with the Tamil Tigers is over it is time to wash off the stains and spruce up. Military personnel may be spotted painting public buildings or engaged in projects to beautify Colombo, with defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa personally overseeing the transformation and development of the city.

The military playing a role in postwar reconstruction is not altogether misplaced but there is more to it than meets the eye. The Sri Lankan military, accused of grave human rights violations especially during the final stages of the war, is transforming itself by taking over many aspects of civil administration and governance.

Army trucks may now be spotted around Colombo selling vegetables rather than unloading barricades. War on food inflation, Sri Lankan style, is to get the army to buy vegetables from farmers and sell them cheaply by absorbing transport and other costs – never mind the structural problems with agriculture and food markets, including procurement and pricing issues. Indeed, one opposition MP wondered if the solution might soon include getting the navy to go fishing.

Despite the end of the war, the country's administrative and diplomatic services are being militarised. A number of serving or former military commanders have received appointments in diverse state institutions and diplomatic missions, including as ambassadors. The governors of the war-torn northern and eastern provinces are, unsurprisingly, men of military pedigree – perhaps emulating India's strategy of appointing former generals as governors of disobedient provinces like Kashmir or Assam.

The Sri Lankan Urban Development Authority has been brought under the purview of the defence ministry. Which ministry is better equipped for urban governance and waging a war on urban poverty and squalor? Reports of forced evictions and demolitions of slums involving the military followed, as did allegations by human rights groups of disappearances of beggars (described as eyesores or even security threats by senior ministers).

The National Secretariat for Non-Government Organisations, responsible for registration and monitoring of NGOs, previously under the social services ministry, and later the internal affairs ministry, is also now under the watchful eyes of the defence ministry. The director-general of the NGO secretariat has, however, assured that no pressure would be put on NGOs; the secretariat would merely "monitor where they work, to whom they cater and who are involved with them".

Little wonder that NGOs working in the war-affected areas, for example, report being so closely regulated that initiatives involving work on war-related trauma or rights advocacy are routinely refused clearance. NGOs are apparently welcome to build toilets but not to misguide people into speaking about their rights.

The fast-expanding sphere of authority of the military establishment assumes another dimension when one considers another kind of convergence of power. In all, the four Rajapaksa brothers preside over the presidency, five key ministries (defence, finance and planning, economic development, ports and aviation, and highways) and the offices of the defence secretary and parliamentary speaker. With the two-term limit on the presidency lifted last year, things are looking good for the Rajapaksas.

With significant curbs on freedom of expression continuing, civil society heavily policed, political power concentrated, and governance militarised, things are not looking so good for democratic accountability. Sri Lanka looks more like an at-war rather than a post-war country, with a ubiquitous military – accused of serious crimes – enjoying unprecedented power and reward, including a 100,000-rupee (£570) bonus for every soldier having a third child (given the Sinhalese domination of the military, a profoundly troubling move). A brutal military victory, as many warned, may well entrench militarisation and exclusion rather than democratisation and inclusion.

All too stressful? Tune into Ranaviru (war-hero) Real Star, a reality TV show reserved for military personnel. If you prefer a holiday, the Sri Lankan army will be pleased to pamper you with "luxurious comforts at very reasonable rates" at the new Thalsevana beach resort – the second army-owned and managed resort – in Kanakesanthurai on the Jaffna peninsula, long part of the Tamil homeland. According to some, the resort is in a "high security zone", so peace is assured – no annoying Tamils (they are all gone, somewhere) or dissident noises.

Forget war. In Sri Lanka it is peace that is really turning the military establishment on. (Views expressed in this article are those of the author only) ~ courtesy: Guardian.UK ~

Blazing a Trail: the purpose and project of Chandra de Silva

5th death anniversary of Sri Lanka’s leading Nursing Educationist

by Sanja de Silva Jayatilleka

Trixie Marthenez’s book “Those Delhi Days (1950-54)” tells part of the story. Chandra Samarasinghe was barely out of her teens when she set off to New Delhi from Colombo in 1950, to start a new chapter in her life.

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Chandra de Silva

She had dreamed of becoming a doctor and was studying for her university entrance exams but there she was sitting in a train with the two other Ceylonese girls who had been selected together with her, for four years at one of Asia’s leading Universities to do an honours degree, having won the coveted scholarships on offer beating a room full of extravagantly dressed applicants. Leaving Ceylon and heading off to a new country, a new way of life, she was soon to introduce herself to her Delhi classmates with a proudly delivered “I am from Lanka”.

They were the post colonial generation of young Ceylonese women, preparing to take over from the British, and as their lecturers in New Delhi advised them, to maintain and improve on colonial standards.

They were excited at the prospect of adventure, but already homesick. Their motivation was high; the girls got on well and it promised to be a wonderful four years of academic success and exuberant enjoyment of University life away from home (but not too far to pop back for holidays). Her friend Trixie was to remember that Chandra regarded Tagore as her favourite poet and that her treasured statue of Gandhi entrusted to another friend to bring back to Sri Lanka safely, arrived broken.

Chandra was the 3rd child of Peter Lionel Arthur Samarasinghe and his wife Rosalyn. Rosalyn liked to play the piano, the piano accordion, sing and dance and Peter liked to sing along with her. He was a proud man, who had found the love of his life in his wife and was devastated at her passing away when his younger daughter Chandra was only 11 months old. There were many evenings of songs from the old days at Trinity College, Kandy, where he and all 4 of his brothers were schooled, and his son Nissanka would continue to keep the old school flag flying musically, for many decades to come. Chandra would sing along with her brother to the delight of all their children, and they would relate stories to the next generation of their dad singing every night after work with their eldest sister at the piano. Chandra would grow up to be a confident young woman like her mum, with a beautiful voice trained by Saranagupta Amarasingha, which won many awards in school. Having completed her grade 8 piano exams at age 13 she would learn the Spanish guitar and play it to her little twins. Her cousin Bertie Samarasinghe, Colombo’s master physiotherapist, remembers her mother Rosalyn dancing while pregnant with her, and smilingly recalls Chandra herself as a graceful dancer, holding her sari with the tips of her fingers.

She was also a natural academic, and enjoyed every minute of her time at Delhi University, where she completed her honours degree in Nursing, along with her friends Trixie and Shireen. When they returned, Chandra was determined that she would fight for the same opportunities for other young women in the profession. She joined the Ministry of Health, and having served as principal of nursing schools in different parts of the country, she was offered a scholarship to Boston University, Massachusetts, to read for a Masters in Education and Administration. She was already married and had twin daughters by then. With a heavy heart but with the old determination, she left on a plane this time, setting off yet again to another institution of scholarly excellence to reach for a new horizon over yet another rainbow.

The responsibility weighed heavily. Unlike the optimistic young woman of the post-independence years, this time, in 1966, she had encountered many hurdles placed in the way of the task for which Delhi University had educated her. Across the water in Ceylon, nobody wanted graduate nurses. It was important that she proved it was necessary and possible, and Boston would bring her closer to achieving what seemed impossible. She was not one to give up. She had made it her mission.

Boston would prove to be a wonderfully memorable experience with high academic success and an offer of yet another scholarship to read for a PhD. She was very pleased. This would make it that much more difficult for anyone to stop her setting up a graduate course for nursing. She would make all arrangements for her family to join her. This was a rare honour in the mid-’60s and she would be one of few Ceylonese women to have achieved it.

Domestic compulsion on Mrs. Chandra de Silva was such that she had to change her plans, decline the offer from Boston University and return to do what she could with her Master’s degree. She was never to do a PhD although there were two more offers from the WHO over the years. The second and third time it was the Department of Health which prevented her, refusing to grant her leave, even when the WHO agreed to fund it at the Peradeniya University instead of overseas. All this only made her even more determined that she would keep fighting for her ultimate dream of making available to others in her profession the privilege of a university and a postgraduate education, and to the country, competent nursing staff academically qualified up to international standards.

When she died 5 years ago, she had witnessed several batches of fresh faced young graduate nurses receiving their degrees at the passing out ceremony of the Open University at Nawala. She had finally seen her Delhi dream come true almost half a century later, when she was invited to set up the graduate programme at the Open University in coordination with a Canadian university. She left her job as the Programme Director of the Defence Ministry’s Dangerous Drugs Control Division and went along for a much lower pay, to start from scratch, or “from behind scratch” (as she put it in a charming letter in 1992 to Prof Roberta Carey), the long cherished dream of a University degree for nurses. She was deeply involved - from buying tables and chairs for the office to writing the curriculum, setting exam papers, and teaching, administering, motivating, recruiting staff. She telephoned her old friends from Delhi University, now all retired, and persuaded them to join her in this historic project.

On her last day at work, I picked her up from the very pleasant offices of the Open University around 1 p.m. When Dayan, my husband, and I walked into her office, she was standing near the person who was typing the last exam paper that she was to set, looking over his shoulder to ensure it was being done correctly. She turned around and smiled at us, exam paper in hand, visibly happy to be doing what she was doing, and at being where she was, although she was about to go into hospital to have an operation performed on her to remove a kidney which had developed a tumour. She handed over the paper to the typist, looked around the room and collected her bag, not bothering to clear her desk because she was going to return to work as soon as the doctors could be persuaded to let her.

She never returned to the Open University. She never returned home from hospital. At her insistence, she was at the General hospital but the surgeon was not of her choice, for she had opted for the respected senior professor. Her extended family watched in horror as insensitivity, irresponsibility and incompetence combined in the ‘medical misadventure’ of a nicked pancreas which poured viciously corrosive juices into her abdomen causing three weeks of agony despite the heroic effort of a second and nobler surgeon to save her in a hurried second operation. What was this utterly remarkable person who had given so much of her life to the improvement of health services of her country thinking, as she lay in bed falling in and out of a coma, unable to speak a word or communicate in any way with anyone, her eyes slowly moving at times, a lone tear dropping down her cheek, an occasional painful blink in response to desperate pleas from her family?

At 3 p.m. on the 28th of January 2006, her pain mercifully ended. Her legacy however, would last for many years to benefit young women like the ones all those years ago in a train, looking to a future bright with possibilities.

Dr. Henri van Zeyst, earlier Bikkhu Dhammapala, her spiritual guru while still a school girl, referred to her in one of his letters as “Chandra the Wise”. My oldest friend Kusala, Sybil Wettasinghe’s daughter, remembers Chandra, my mother, having overheard us in conversation when we were school kids, intervening gently to counsel that nothing in life is free: “you’ve either paid for it before or you will, later”.

A file discovered among her papers shows a course she was developing on “human values” as part of the curriculum of the Open University nursing course, with substantial hand written notes on the Vedas, the Platonic Socrates, the teachings of Jesus, of the Buddha, of Mohammed. This common stock of values was what she regarded as foundational and sought to disseminate. Chandra would be happy that University education for nurses is now in the capable hands of her beloved students, confidently able to break new ground and one day, hopefully, strive for that PhD course that she herself had not been able to follow, but could have achieved with such effortless ease.

January 27, 2011

Video: In spite of 'peace' life remains difficult, in some cases worse for Tamils

Sri Lanka search for missing continues

by Prerna Suri

It's been a year since Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa returned to power after defeating his one-time military general in a presidential vote.

The Tamil Tiger rebels had just been defeated and Rajapaksa promised reconciliation between the country's Sinhalese majority and Tamil minority.

But as Al Jazeera's Prerna Suri reports, one year on, many Tamils are still looking for relatives that disappeared during the final days of the civil war.

In Pictures: GLF ~ 5th Galle Literary Festival commences

Gala of letters under way at Galle Literary Festival

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

A pictorial update via mobile Yfrog

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The most companionable of all festivals~Michael Morpurgo~ English Author, Poet,Playwright & Librettist

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5th Galle Literary Festival starts despite a call to boycott [click on pictures for larger images]

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BBC World Forum at Galle Literary Festival

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Cartoon at BBC World Forum

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Galle Literary Festival~26th of January 2011 to 30th of January 2011

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Tried & true Conversations, Gourmet events, Workshops, Performances,Tours & Children’s Programme

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Raavanesan is being performed at Galle Literary Festival

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Engrossed festival~goers in Galle

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Raavanesan is performed by the dramatists from the East of Sri Lanka.

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Police protection is given for the 5th Galle Literary Festival

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Through the Fort in Galle

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Mobile Cigarette vendor in Galle

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Ceylon Sarong Company stall at the Galle Literary Festival

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Book lovers at the Galle Literary Festiva

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Entrance of the Galle Fort

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Festival~goers in Galle

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Kids play with sword and trident used during the Raavanesan play

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1st runners up of a painting competition among school students.

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2nd runners up of a painting competition among school students

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Exhibition Launch at Galle Literary Festival

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Exit of Galle Fort

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View of the beach in Galle

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Mosque in Galle Fort

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Festival~goers on the beach

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Bicycle is parked near the beach in Galle

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Boys play volleyball in Galle

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Over 60 authors participate at Galle Literary Festival

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Light House in Galle [click on pictures for larger images]

"We read their books but excited to meet the authors in person" say the University students from North&East. "I'm pleased to participate in 5th Galle Literary Festival" says Canista Arthie Denicius, Faculty of Arts, University of Jaffna.

It is rare opportunity for the students from North&East to be at the Galle Literary Festival. This is the first time students from North&East attending the Galle Literary Festival

a mobile pictorial update via http://twitter.com/dushiyanthini and YFrog

Celebration of Literature at 5th Galle Literary Festival

Raavanesan is being performed in the Kooththu tradition ~ a form of theatre particular to the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka [HA]

Related: Glimpses of Galle Literary Festival 2010

Sri Lanka: Stonewalling on Wartime Abuses, Civil Society and Media Face Threats, Intimidation - HRW

Jan 24, (New York) - The Sri Lankan government refuses to investigate alleged war crimes despite growing evidence of widespread atrocities during the civil war that ended in 2009, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2011. The government has threatened and intimidated journalists, opposition politicians, and civil society activists, and has consolidated President Mahinda Rajapaksa's grip on power by extending executive power over previously independent government commissions, Human Rights Watch said.

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Resettled internally displaced people listen during the government-appointed Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission's first session in Vavuniya on August 14 ~ courtesy: Reuters ~ via HRW.org

The 649-page World Report 2011, the organization's 21st annual review of human rights practices around the globe, summarizes major human rights trends in more than 90 nations and territories worldwide. In Sri Lanka, the report says, the government rejected domestic and international calls for an independent international investigation into allegations of war crimes by government forces and the defeated rebel Tamil Tigers.

"Sri Lanka's aggressive rejection of accountability for war crimes is an affront to the victims' of the country's long civil war," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The government undermines its claims of clean hands in the fighting with its repressive measures against the media and civil society."

The Sri Lankan government established a Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in May 2010 to counter calls for accountability. However, the commission has severe shortcomings, including members who have not demonstrated impartiality or independence, the absence of a witness protection program for those who testify, and wide reliance on testimony from government officials and military personnel to the exclusion of outside participants.

In June, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon established a three-member panel to advise him on possible accountability mechanisms for Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government immediately denounced the panel, and a senior government minister led protests outside the UN headquarters in Colombo. The government has not approved the panel's request to visit Sri Lanka.

"The government commission includes senior officials who publicly defended the government's conduct of the war," Pearson said. "How can a panel tainted from the beginning with such pro-government bias be reasonably expected to be independent and impartial. This panel should be seen for what it is: a cynical attempt to whitewash the truth."

The government has also sought to silence the media, civil society, and the political opposition. The media is extremely reluctant to publish articles critical of the Rajapaksa government, and many journalists who fled the country remain in exile. Shortly after the presidential elections in January 2010, the government raided the offices of opposition presidential candidate Gen. Sarath Fonseka. Fonseka was arrested and court martialed on charges of fraud, and sentenced to 30 months in prison.

In 2010, after considerable international pressure, the government released most of the 280,000 ethnic Tamil civilians displaced by the war who were being held in military-controlled detention camps, euphemistically called "welfare centers." But many face serious livelihood, housing and security problems. Several thousand people suspected of involvement with the Tamil Tigers are in detention without charge, and are denied access to lawyers and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

In a clear signal that Rajapaksa had no intention of changing his governance style, the parliament in September passed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which effectively strips the police, judiciary, electoral commission, public service commission, and the National Human Rights Commission of their independence, Human Rights Watch said.

"There is no reason to believe that Sri Lanka will return to a rights-respecting government any time in the near future," Pearson said. "Until wartime abuses are prosecuted, minority grievances are addressed, and repression against the press and civil society ends, only the president and his family members in power have reason to feel secure in Sri Lanka."

Full World Report 2011 from HRW

January 26, 2011

Killings of Tamil Nadu Fishermen Cast Negative Light on Bilateral Ties - The Hindu

Relations between India and Sri Lanka have never been better. Yet the recent killings of two Tamil Nadu fishermen, allegedly by the Sri Lankan Navy, have cast a negative light on bilateral ties. While the Sri Lankan Navy has denied responsibility for the deaths, there is anger in Tamil Nadu, and New Delhi has lodged a strong protest with Colombo.

Unacceptably, miscreants have attempted to take diplomacy into their own hands by attacking a Sri Lankan Buddhist priest in Chennai. It is the responsibility of the Tamil Nadu government to ensure such incidents do not occur. The latest turn is surprising considering that in October 2008 the two sides reached an elaborate understanding to put in place “practical arrangements to deal with bona fide Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line.”

For the first time, both sides acknowledged and accepted that fishermen crossed the international boundary, and had to be dealt with in non-lethal ways. The steps included designation by Sri Lanka of sensitive areas along its coastline that Indian fishing vessels could not venture into even if they crossed the IMBL. The governments also agreed there would be no firing on trespassing vessels, which would have a valid registration or permit; the fishermen were to carry government-issued identity cards.

These measures led to a remarkable drop in the number of arrests of Indian fishermen by the Sri Lankan authorities, from nearly 1,500 in 2008 to just 34 in 2010. There were no incidents of killings in 2009 or 2010. The January 12 incident in which a fisherman was allegedly shot by the Sri Lankan Navy was the first of its kind since the 2008 arrangements.

Significantly, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has hinted at a rethink on the two-year-old understanding, remarking to the press that the end of the war against the LTTE and the peaceful situation in northern Sri Lanka necessitated a revision in the existing arrangements.

Clearly, there is an apprehension in Sri Lanka that Indian fishermen are now taking advantage of these arrangements to cross the IMBL regularly and in greater numbers, threatening the livelihood of fishermen on the other side.

While these concerns are real, it is extraordinarily difficult physically to prevent fishermen from crossing the international maritime boundary. Fishing communities in Tamil Nadu need to be sensitised to the imperative of respecting the sanctity of the IMBL but the penalty for trespass cannot be death. India and Sri Lanka, which have excellent political and economic relations, are surely capable of resolving the livelihood-centred problems that have surfaced among their fishermen in the post-LTTE era.

(This is the full text of the Editorial appearing in "The Hindu" of January 27th 2011 under the heading "Fishermen Again")

The extraordinary courage of President Mahinda Rajapaksa

BY Dr.Carlo Fonseka

One of the defects of my character is timidity. That must be why I have inordinate admiration for leaders with so much courage. Even as well-informed and intellectually sophisticated commentators on international affairs have been warning us, we are living in dangerous times. Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka perceives nothing less than ‘a global psywar against Sri Lanka’. Mr. Izeth Hussain senses ‘considerable British displeasure over the way the government is handling the ethnic problem’.

At a time like this it took extraordinary physical, intellectual and moral courage for President Rajapaksha to set foot on hostile British soil to address the world from a platform in the University of Oxford. (With strategic prescience he had ventured into dangerous territory with a small army of handpicked loyalists. No doubt he judged that attempting to beard the lion in his den could be a very hazardous exercise).

Invitation to Oxford

Having vanquished the most ruthless and diabolical terrorist group in modern history whose atrocities included decimation of the quintessence of Tamil intelligence and culture, President Rajapaksha had no disabilities to plead. So he had readily accepted the invitation to speak at Oxford. I am sure he would have told the world how he had pulled off the allegedly impossible: namely, liquidation of the most blood-thirsty, maniacal, well-funded and internationally hyped up terrorist group the world has known. He would have explained to the world why he was impelled to do so. And, I believe, he would have adumbrated what his homegrown plan is for redeeming the dignity, honor and well-being of the Tamils of Sri Lanka. But that was not to be.

Those innocents who sincerely believe that Oxford is the sanctuary of free thought were manifestly dismayed by the unilateral cancellation of the invitation to speak due to intense pressure from political activists. They seem to regard the Oxford episode as a diplomatic blunder and a political debacle. My perception is different. I think President Rajapaksha grabbed the invitation to speak at Oxford as an opportunity to enact a political scene on a world stage and make a few points dramatically.

First: with a sense of pardonable pride he would have told the world that he had achieved something that was widely believed to be impossible.

Second: by accepting the invitation to speak at Oxford, he made the point that he had nothing to hide about the liquidation of terrorism.

Third: by setting foot in the UK, he demonstrated that he dared legal arrest for alleged war crimes.

Fourth: by venturing upon hostile territory he conveyed the message that he cannot be intimidated by a ‘global psywar’.

Fifth: by accepting the invitation he demonstrated his ability to walk tall on a world stage with his nose in the air.

The matter that calls for explanation is how people associated with so prestigious an institution as Oxford University could have unilaterally and summarily cancelled an event involving a Head of State. I suggest the following explanation for your critical consideration.

Ancient History

Everybody knows that the University of Oxford is one of the oldest, best and most famous centers of learning in the world. Its beginnings have been traced to 720 AC, but it became firmly established only in the 12th century AC. From its beginnings up to the time of the Reformation in the 16th century Oxford was governed by the Roman Catholic Papacy. Catholic monks and friars of various denominations were the masters and scholars. Today people believe that Oxford is a sanctuary of free thought and speech. But that is not what its early history reveals. As it happened Roger Bacon (1214 – 1292) was Oxford’s first science man of repute. He was imprisoned for ten years by the religious authorities for doing experiments they disapproved of. Any deviation from strict Roman Catholic orthodoxy was simply not tolerated.

After the Reformation and the birth of Protestantism, Oxford came to be governed not by the Pope in Rome, but by the English Crown. Notoriously, however, during the five year reign of the ardently Roman Catholic Queen Mary Tudor, 270 Protestants were burnt to death for heresy. Then during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558 – 1603) some 30 Oxford Catholics were killed for refusing to recognize the Queen as the spiritual head of the Church. Queen Elizabeth made sure that what was taught at Oxford was politically acceptable to the rulers. (Perhaps the present authorities at Oxford who cancelled the invitation to President Rajapaksha feared that he might say things that would be unacceptable to the present rulers).

Recent History

Coming to the 20th century, the two world wars greatly affected Oxford University. It is on record that in 1914 there were 1400 undergraduates in Oxford and only 369 in 1918. A vast number of bright young students and teachers had been killed in World War I. Bertrand Russell, who was a pacifist, was appalled by the slaughter of these innocents and blamed it partly on the defective education system in the country which included Eton and Oxford University. Here is what he said: "… Eton and Oxford set a certain stamp upon a man’s mind just as a Jesuit College does… In almost all who have been through them, they produced a worship of ‘Good form’ which is as destructive to life and thought as the medieval Church. ‘Good form’ is quite compatible with a superficial open-mindedness, a readiness to hear all sides, and a certain urbanity towards opponents.

But it is not compatible with fundamental open-mindedness, or with any inward readiness to give weight to the other side. Its essence is the assumption that what is most important is a certain kind of behavior, a behavior which minimizes friction between equals and delicately impresses inferiors with a conviction of their own crudity. As a political weapon for preserving the privileges of the rich in a snobbish democracy it is unsurpassable. As a means of producing an agreeable social milieu for those who have money with no strong beliefs or unusual desires it has some merit.

In every other respect, it is abominable". (In the light of the above identification and description of Oxford’s educational philosophy by Russell who surely knew what he was talking about, what happened to President Rajapaksha in this shameful episode makes sense).

Myth

Contrary to popular belief in our country, Oxford is certainly not a sanctuary of free thought. In discussing this matter further it is necessary to be clear what is meant by ‘free thought’. There are two senses in which the phrase is used, one narrow and the other wide. In the narrow sense, a free thinker is one who does not believe in any organized religion. Unlike in the earlier centuries, free thought in this sense is now widely tolerated in the UK. Free thought in the wider sense is another matter. Thought Is not really free if people are liable to penalties of one sort or another for holding certain beliefs. For example, to this day in England under the blasphemy laws, it is illegal to express disbelief in the Christian religion, though in practice the law is not implemented. That is why the great English exponent of popular science and biologist Professor Richard Dawkins of Oxford University has become both famous and rich by writing the bestselling book titled ‘God Delusion’.

Bertrand Russell cites three specific instances in his own life to demonstrate that there has been no real freedom of thought in England in recent times. One is that the Courts intervened to prevent him from being brought up without being taught any religion as required by the last will of his free-thinking father. The second is that the Liberal Party refused to accept him as a parliamentary candidate because he was an open nonbeliever.

The third is his dismissal from his lectureship in Cambridge because of his pacifist views in World War I. It may be noted in passing that Cambridge University itself came into existence in the early 13th century when a group of scholars from Oxford left it after a controversial dispute with the people of the town of Oxford. So much for Oxbridge being a haven of free thought!

Conclusion

All in all, the Oxford episode has not been a debacle or disaster. Given Oxford’s history what came to pass was neither wholly surprising nor altogether unpredictable. In my estimate one invaluable consequence accrued from this experience: President Rajapaksha emerged as a man of supreme courage. It is salutary to remember, however, that so much courage can be a dangerous thing.

As Ernest Hemingway said: "If people bring so much courage to this world, the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break, it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these, it will kill you too, but there will be no special hurry". Because I am none of those I am going on merrily – on seventy eight.

Dayan Jayatilleka Challenges Reporters Without Borders at UNESCO Symposium

MEDIA RELEASE

Newly appointed Permanent Delegate of Sri Lanka to UNESCO, Ambassador Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka participating in the International Symposium on the Freedom of Expression at UNESCO in Paris questioned the right of Reporters without Borders (RSF) to stand in judgment of legitimate member states.

The Secretary General of Reporters without Borders, Mr. Jean-Francois Julliard, a panelist at the symposium, in his remarks earlier noted several countries and their leaders, as being infringers of the freedom of expression, which has also been highlighted in the material displayed and referred to by the organisation.

Ambassador Jayatilleka cautioned against a discourse in which there was an implicit ”moral food chain” where the states of the Global South were at the bottom, with those of the Global North above and Non Governmental Organisations of the North super imposed on top of the chain. He said that he didn’t advocate a reversal of the order either but stressed that bodies like UNESCO must not be misled by groups such as RSF with defamatory material projected as being accurate. Ambassador Jayatilleka questioned as to how such groups, like RSF in particular, could sit as ‘judge, jury and executioner’ and claim a moral high ground.

Sri Lanka’s Permanent Delegate criticised the UNESCO website for featuring the bio data of the Secretary General of RSF which boasted of him having campaigned for a boycott of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and having demonstrated at the ceremony in Olympia.

Ambassador Jayatilleka pointed out that although the RSF put up on a screen a ‘rogues gallery’ as it were of leaders such as Fidel Castro as “enemies of the freedom of expression”, it was indeed courageous individuals like Fidel who gave shelter and voice to the voiceless during the long dark night of dictatorships in Latin America, thereby contributing to the freedom that the entire region enjoys today.

Recently RSF called for a boycott of the Galle Literary Festival which opened today (26 January 2011) in Sri Lanka, citing several factors as being against the freedom of expression, but were thwarted in their attempt by social media and human rights activists within the country who contradicted the basis for the boycott call.

Speakers from China, Cuba, Venezuela, Mauritania, Ethiopia, Cameroon and several other States also raised queries on the moralising postures being adopted by NGOs and especially questioned the right for such stances to be adopted at intergovernmental organizations like UNESCO.

Attack on Maha Bodhi Society leaves Lankan monks in Chennai shaken

By R.Vasundara

CHENNAI: The Sri Lankan Maha Bodhi Society on Kennett Lane, Egmore, is barely distinguishable, crammed in between hotels and lodges that crowd the street. Hordes of policemen and a couple of patrol jeeps stand outside the society premises.

Security has been provided after an attack on the building by a group on Monday night in which four monks were injured. Yet Kennett Lane derives its name from the society itself, whose premises was once called Kennett House. The society was established in 1891 and Kennett house is over 80 years old. But the old building is being torn down and re-constructed even as a newer building was established in front of it, forty years ago.

It is estimated that about 500 Sinhala families have made Chennai their home. Many of them are employees at the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commission or work for IT companies.

Inside, it is business as usual. Unmindful of the cops lounging about the place, the monk in-charge, Kalawane Mahanama Thero, clad in saffron robes and looking flustered, rushed about the place coordinating the administration of the monastery and the visits of the daily batch of pilgrims from Sri Lanka and other parts of the world.

"Things have been crazy today," he said. "I am arranging the immigration papers of Kamburugamuwe Vajira, a very senior monk and the chancellor of the University of Sabaragamua in Sri Lanka. He is an elderly man who was very seriously injured in the attack yesterday and wants to return home today. Never before has an incident like this happened to us. This is a public place, open to all," he said.

Vajira was spotted later hobbling into the building after he was discharged from the nearby private hospital. He sported a swollen right eye, a thick bandage under the same eye and several bruises on his hand, shoulder and back where his red monk robes could not entirely conceal.

His assistant, Bhikku Sumita, a 25-year-old monk, who had never set foot outside the monastery during his three-year tenure in Chennai, bore the marks of his first encounter with the outside world a bruised and bandaged wrist. "I got this bruise when I put up my hand to protect my head," he said in Sinhala. "They were trying to hit me on the head with some instrument."

Sumita, Vajira and two other monks were sitting in the outer lobby on Monday night when the attack happened. "We were watching TV, when suddenly these men entered and started hitting us," said Sumita. "They chased me into the prayer hall and I escaped through a back door into the building behind. It was over as quickly as it began."

Shattered glass panes and a few broken figurines of Lord Buddha bear silent testimony to the attack. "Most of the monks are in shock," said Mahanama Thero. "I was in Sri Lanka last night. After spending the entire night trying to calm them down over phone, I rushed here on Tuesday morning to sort things out."

Nilanthi, a 36-year old Sinhalese woman who was on her first visit to the city looked tensed as she conversed in whispers with her two male companions. "I am worried about my safety. I am not sure why they attacked this place. But I can't speak Tamil and I have to go around the city. That worries me," she said.

COURTESY:TIMES OF INDIA

Sri Lanka: Terror campaign against Tamils reemerges

By S. Jayanth

Death squads operating in collusion with the military have once again begun to terrorise Tamils in the North and East of Sri Lanka despite the end of the war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 2009.

During December, a spate of killings, abductions, disappearances and robberies has occurred in the northern Jaffna peninsula. Similar incidents also have been reported from the Kilinochchi, Mullaithivu and Mannar districts that were previously held by the LTTE.

After President Mahinda Rajapakse restarted the war in mid-2006, hundreds of people, including politicians and journalists, were abducted or murdered by such hit squads, typically operating with white vans or on motorbikes. Invariably, despite the heavy wartime military presence, the killers escaped and were never brought to justice.

The list of recent attacks includes:

* The chief priest of the Murukamoorthy temple, Nithiyananda Sharma, 56, was shot dead in the temple at Chankaanai and his two sons were injured by an armed gang on December 11. The gun used to kill him was similar to those issued by the army. Jaffna security forces commander Major General Mahinda Hathurusinghe denied any army connection, but he later admitted that an army corporal had been involved.

* Markandu Sivalingam, a deputy director of education in the Valikaamam Zone, was shot dead at his home at Urumpirai in Jaffna by an armed gang on December 26. The police have not arrested anyone. Tamil National Alliance MP, E. Saravanabavan, told parliament that Sivalingam could have been slain because of his opposition to forcing Tamil school students to sing the national anthem in Sinhala during the recent December 2004 Tsunami Remembrance Day in Jaffna.

* Mahendiran Selvam, 28, was found dead at Meesalai last month. His family had received calls demanding 8.5 million rupees ($US76,000) in ransom after he had disappeared. Rasiah Chandrasiri, 42, was found hanged three days after his disappearance in Jaffna on December 30.

* On New Year’s Eve, postal worker and environmentalist Ketheeswaran Thevarajah, 28, was killed by an armed gang in his home at Vadamaraadchi on the Jaffna peninsula. On January 3, Mahalingam Amirthrasa, 35, a father of five, went missing in Urumpirai.

* In Mannar on January 6, six people were abducted by a gang in a white van. Others tried to rescue them, but were threatened by the abductors who shot into the air. Several people followed the van, which was allowed to pass a military checkpoint without being searched. Five of the six were handed back to their families by police the next evening, after being taken to Colombo.

* On January 20, the newspaper Veerakesari reported that an unidentified gang in a white van had grabbed two students in Manner and beaten them. The abductors asked one of the students about his father, a businessman who was reported missing four years ago. The students were released on January 17.

The military is also actively collecting details about former LTTE supporters who have been released and are living in Jaffna. After the war, the military arrested about 12,000 Tamil youth and sent them to secret detention camps, where they held without trial and interrogated. The government recently claimed that it had released about 5,000 detainees.

But they have been ordered to report to the detention camps weekly or even daily and are still in danger.

Some former detainees have complained to the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission (HRC) branch in Jaffna and sought protection. On January 10, a judge ordered a 32-year old man to be placed in protective custody after he asked for the HRC’s help. He had been hounded by a pro-government gang because of his earlier affiliation to the LTTE.

The Jaffna peninsula is under tight military control. A force of about 40,000 soldiers is deployed, with troops manning every junction and patrolling in vehicles. Paramilitary forces from the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP), one of the government’s coalition partners, operate with the military. Tens of thousands more soldiers have been deployed in the Vanni district. The killings and abductions cannot possibly take place without the military’s knowledge.

Facing growing public discontent over the criminal attacks, EPDP leader Douglas Devananda, a government minister, attempted to deflect attention from his organisation’s activities. Speaking in parliament on January 4, he called on the security forces “to bring to justice those who are responsible for these murders”.

Major General Hathurusinghe, the Jaffna commander, also denied the responsibility of the security forces, blaming “criminal activities by civilians” and “personal disputes” for the murders and disappearances. At the same time, he declared: “The army is also continuing to look for pro-LTTE elements in the peninsula.”

Government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella absurdly told a media briefing on January 7 that the killings were the responsibility of “anti-government elements” who were trying to tarnish the government’s image. He provided no evidence for the assertion.

The attempt by the government and military to deny responsibility flies in the face of a series of reports by international human rights organisations over the past four years that have provided considerable evidence for the operation of pro-government death squads who have been able to adduct and kill with impunity.

A secret US diplomatic cable recently published by WikiLeaks demonstrated Washington’s knowledge of the Sri Lankan government’s collusion with paramilitary groups. Former US ambassador to Sri Lanka, Robert Blake, sent a memo in May 2007 to the US State Department identified the EPDP and other paramilitary groups as involved in extra-judicial killings along with a range of other criminal activities including prostitution, drug running and extortion to which the government and security forces turned a blind eye.

The cable reported that Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse, the president’s brother, ordered Jaffna military commanders to “not interfere with the paramilitaries on the grounds that they are doing ‘work’ that the military cannot do because of international scrutiny”—in other words extra-judicial killings and other illegal activities. The defence ministry also instructed top officials “not to interfere with operations of military intelligence”, which worked closely the paramilitaries.

The paramilitaries also operated in Colombo, where, according to Blake: “Frequent abductions by paramilitaries keep critics of the GSL [Government of Sri Lanka] fearful and quiet.”

The escalating death squad activities over the past month take place amid rising public dissatisfaction over the government’s driving down of real wages, social spending and living standards in order to implement budget-cutting measures dictated by the International Monetary Fund. Living conditions and the lack of basic democratic rights impact especially on Tamils in the war torn North and East of the island.

The government is seeking to whip up anti-Tamil sentiment, accusing the remnants of the LTTE of conspiring internationally against it. The communal campaign is not only aimed at dividing working people, but justifying the continued state of emergency in the country and the military occupation of the North and East.

In another chauvinist provocation, the cabinet recently adopted a proposal by President Rajapakse that the national anthem should be read in the Sinhala language in every part in the country. It was customary to sing a Tamil translation of the anthem in the North and East, where the overwhelming majority of people do not speak or understand Sinhala.

Far from the military annihilation of the LTTE in May 2009 leading to a new period of peace and prosperity, as the government claimed it would, communal repression has continued to deepen, with far-reaching implications for the basic and democratic rights of the entire working class.

COURTESY:WSWS

January 25, 2011

Karunanidhi like Ban-Ki-moon is victim of Mahinda Rajapaksa's diplomacy

by Upul Joseph Fernando

The Indian media last week reported that supporters of the political party who staged protests against the distribution of calendars carrying the photograph of Sri Lanka (SL) President Rajapaksa in the Schools of the Tamil Nadu were arrested despite the fact that during the SL war and after until recently , there was bitter resentment against the name of Mahinda Rajapaksa in Tamil Nadu. Hence, it had become a vexatious issue to understand how an environment was created to enable the distribution of Calendars with Rajapaksa’s photographs in Tamil Nadu. Moreover, the media report that the political party supporters who raised protests to this distribution were arrested was also most baffling.

In Tamil Nadu, it was none other than its own Chief Minister Karunanidhi who led the opposition campaign against Mahinda Rajapaksa. But now there arising a close relationship between Mahinda and Karunanidhi is a mystery to many. It was the Ceylon Workers Congress party leader S. Thondaman who created and contributed to this relationship.

In the recent past , Thondaman visited Tamil Nadu and met Karunanidhi on many occasions carrying messages to and from Rajapaksa . A close relationship was thereby cultivated. According to Govt. sources , there had also been telephone call conversations between Karnanidhi and Mahinda . Thondaman succeeded in building this close relationship between the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and the President of SL via Karunandhi’s daughter Kanimozhi. It is learnt that the personal ties between Kanimozhi and Thondaman are exceedingly strong. It is also reported that these close ties arose following Kanmozhi’s visit to SL along with the Indian delegation of Tamil Nadu MPs who were on an exploratory visit of the North –east

Earlier on Karunanidhi and his daughter were bitterly opposed to Mahinda Rajapaksa. Prior to the conclusion of the SL war, both father and daughter were directly hostile to Mahinda and his Govt. , and they carried on a massive campaign across the entire Tamil Nadu openly on behalf of Prabhakaran and the Tamil Tigers. In addition, when the Tamil Tiger former political division leader Thamilselvan died , even poems were written in his memory. Indeed, just after the war , both of them roundly criticized Mahinda and his Govt. when discussing the issue pertaining to the North East Tamil refugees

Yet a few months after the end of the war, Karunanidhi made a strange announcement: he said, if a political solution is to be sought for the North - East Tamil people , it shall become necessary to deal with Mahinda Rajapaksa. He added that this solution cannot be accomplished by colliding with him , rather it should be secured by coaxing him . This sudden ‘U’ turn of Karunanidhi sent a wave of shock among a good many people. But to those who were aware of the ‘deal’ between him and Mahinda negotiated by Thondaman through Kanimozhi it was no shock.

The Tamil Nadu representatives along with Kanimozhi arrived in SL on an evaluation tour to ascertain the status of the North East Tamil refugees only after that deal. At the conclusion of this tour it became very obvious that Kanimozhi who took a firm and unrelenting stand against Mahinda earlier , after the close relationship with Thondaman has transformed into a friend of Mahinda.

During the war , it was Karunanidhi who kindled the opposition against Mahinda’s Govt. in Tamil Nadu with a view to winning the General elections in India. Riding on that wave and whipping up opposition against Mahinda’s Govt. Karunanidhi’s party sailed to victory at the elections.

But now, Karunanidhi is in mortal fear that at the forthcoming State elections of Tamil Nadu, the Opposition may build up the antipathy trend towards the Mahinda Govt. exploiting the SL Tamils’ issue . It is on this account perhaps Karunanidhi permitted the distribution of Calendars carrying Mahinda’s photograph in the Tamil Nadu. Though the supporters of the political party who opposed this distribution were arrested, it is learnt that they remain undaunted and undeterred.

Mahinda won over Karunanidhi via the Diplomacy ideally suited for the latter . Using this same brand of Diplomacy he ‘captured’ UN Secretary General Moon too , which Diplomacy Moon identified as ‘quiet Diplomacy’ with a view to overtaking Mahinda.

But now Moon on the contrary has fallen victim and is stymied even in his efforts to send his panel members to Sri Lanka . Some say , this is because Moon has fallen victim to Mahinda’s Diplomacy. Whether Karunanidhi the latest in the series will also be a victim of Mahinda’s Diplomacy can be known only after India’s State elections are over ~ courtesy: Daily Mirror ~

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women meets with non-governmental organizations ~ Discusses Situation of the Rights of Women in Bangladesh, Belarus and Sri Lanka

24 January 2011

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon met with non-governmental organizations to discuss the situation of the rights of women in Bangladesh, Belarus and Sri Lanka. As part of its work, the Committee invites non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions to provide information and documentation relevant to the Committee’s activities.

This was the second of two meetings the Committee has held with civil society groups this session; the first meeting took place on January 17 when the Committee heard relevant information pertaining to the rights of women in Israel, Kenya, Liechtenstein and South Africa.

Representatives of non-governmental organizations in Bangladesh noted that the Government had used its reservation to articles 2 and 16 to avoid its obligation to ensure equality and non-discrimination against women. This was especially critical considering the multiple forms of discrimination suffered by women including financial status, identity and access to resources. It was important to note that poorer women were especially vulnerable. Speakers requested that the Committee urge the State party to review all economic development policies and programmes from a gender perspective to ensure women’s empowerment and economic growth at the national and rural levels.

Speakers from non-governmental organizations in Sri Lanka said that the country had one of the world’s largest populations of internally displaced persons and within this context women faced routine discrimination vis-à-vis housing, land and property. Speakers also said that for many years the international community had repeatedly expressed its concern with regard to sexual violence perpetrated against women in the country.

The existence and legal denial of sexual violence as a crime was an expression of gender-based discrimination and patriarchal systems that needed to be overcome. Speakers also drew the Committee’s attention to violence and discrimination faced by lesbians and other sexual minorities in Sri Lanka as a result of an archaic British law that criminalized homosexuality.

Representatives of non-governmental organizations from Belarus said that during the reporting period there was no improvement in the status of women in Belarus and there was little progress towards the elimination of gender discrimination. Women continued to experience acute problems in Belarus such as poverty and discrimination in the labour market and serious challenges to participation in public life. The number of members in the women’s movement had decreased and the movement itself had encountered significant institutional development problems. Violence against women was still widespread and the real scale of domestic violence was unknown because the problem remained largely hidden; there was a lack of action on the part of the police and impunity given to perpetrators.

Speaking during the discussion were representatives from the Bangladesh Citizen’s Initiative on CEDAW, Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, the Women and Media Collective, the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights and the Women’s Independent Democratic Movement.
When the Committee reconvenes on Tuesday, 25 January at 10 a.m., it is scheduled to begin its consideration of the combined sixth and seventh periodic report of Bangladesh (CEDAW/C/BGD/6-7).

Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations

BANGLADESH

SALMA KHAN, of Bangladesh Citizen’s Initiative on CEDAW, focused her intervention on five areas: withdrawal of reservations; gender mainstreaming; women’s political participation; violence against women; and livelihood issues. With respect to reservations, Ms. Khan said the Government had used its reservation to articles 2 and 16 to avoid its obligation to ensure equality and non-discrimination against women. This was especially critical considering the multiple forms of discrimination suffered by women including financial status, identity and access to resources. It was important to note that poorer women were especially vulnerable. With respect to gender mainstreaming, Ms. Khan said the CEDAW Convention had not yet been domesticated in the legal framework and had not been translated into a cohesive national plan of action for the full implementation of its obligations under the Convention.

AYESHA KHANAM, of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, said that in relation to women’s political participation, the State had not adequately addressed the issue of development of political leadership at the local level. The elected women representatives at the different tiers of local government were not provided with the needed institutional support, allocation of resources and clear roles and responsibilities. Due to these and other factors, women’s share in political representation at the national level remained a low 19 per cent. In addressing violence against women, it was noted that directives to the state administration mandated by High Court judgements were often not circulated to or implemented by the stakeholders, leading to a recurrence of violence against women. In relation to women’s access to economic growth, Ms. Khanam requested the Committee to urge the State party to review all economic development policies and programmes from a gender perspective to ensure women’s empowerment and economic growth at the national and rural levels. Finally, with regard to women migrant workers, despite an increase in demand for women migrant workers, the Government had not taken measures to ensure safe migration. The absence of a State policy combined with a complete lack of information on the part of the worker had put this entire population at risk, especially women.

SRI LANKA

CHULANI KODIKARA, of Women and Media Collective, said that the representation of women in elected political bodies was extremely low in Sri Lanka. One major reason was the low number of nominations given to women by the major political parties. Sri Lanka was the only country in South Asia without a quota for women at the local government level. A new law which was tabled in parliament, but had not been passed, provided for a combined quota for women and youth with no specific guarantee of a minimum quota for women. Furthermore, this quota was discretionary and non-compliance would not result in any penalties. Ms. Kodikara requested the Committee to urge the State party to mandate a quota for women in local government.

JAYANTI KURU UTUMPALA, of the Women and Media Collective, said that with regard to conflict affected women, rehabilitation activities had been sporadic with mainly stereotypical vocational training such as sewing and beauty culture provided to former women combatants. Continued militarization and military dominance of civil administration had exacerbated the vulnerability of women to violence and harassment. Ms. Utumpala drew the Committee’s attention to the violence and discrimination faced by lesbians and other sexual minorities in Sri Lanka, as a result of an archaic British law that criminalized homosexuality. This violence came in the form of homophobic articles in the media, familial violence and State sanctioned violence under Section 365A of the Penal Code and the Vagrancy Ordinances Act. Many joint suicides of young girls had been reported in the media.

SHYAMALA GOMEZ, of the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, said that Sri Lanka had one of the world’s largest populations of internally displaced persons and within this context women faced routine discrimination vis-à-vis housing, land and property. Ms. Gomez said that the application of the “head of the household” concept had resulted in discrimination against women. This was seen in the aftermath of the tsunami when women were disentitled to property as a consequence of the “head of the household” rule, seen as synonymous with being male, and thus not being authorized to sign official documentation.

Secondly, while the State had been giving land to landless peasants for many years, this process systematically excluded women. Most often it was the man who applied for land and he was given the land as single ownership as head of the household which meant the land was not held jointly by a married couple, but solely by the husband.

ANNA VON GALL, of the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights, said that for many years the international community had been monitoring the human rights situation in Sri Lanka and had repeatedly expressed its concern with regard to the sexual violence perpetrated against women. On the basis of the 2002 observations, the Committee was also alarmed by the high and severe incidents of rape and sexual violence against Tamil women by police and security forces in the conflict areas. Ms. Von Gall argued that gender-based violence was a foreseeable consequence of conflict in certain circumstances. The existence and legal denial of sexual violence as a crime was an expression of gender-based discrimination and patriarchal systems that needed to be overcome. Ms. Von Gall called on the Committee to increase its recognition of rape as a tactic in conflict and to strengthen its approach for a broad response to the impact of conflict on women.

BELARUS


LYUDMILA PETINA, of the Women’s Independent Democratic Movement, said that during the reporting period there was no improvement in the status of women in Belarus and there was little progress towards the elimination of gender discrimination. Women continued to experience acute problems in Belarus such as poverty and discrimination in the labour market and violence against women as well as serious challenges to women’s participation in public life. The number of members in the women’s movement in Belarus had decreased and the movement itself had encountered significant institutional development problems. Poverty and labour market difficulties were the main problems experienced by Belarusian women. Low income levels and problems in job placement were the most critical issues facing women and a nationwide survey conducted in 2009 showed that 54.3 per cent of adult women did not have enough means for purchasing clothing and even food. Violence against women was still widespread and the real scale of domestic violence was still unknown because the problem remained largely hidden. There was a lack of action on the part of the police and impunity given to perpetrators.

ELENA TONKACHEVA, of the Women’s Independent Democratic Movement, drew the Committee’s attention to issues related to democracy, rule of law and human rights in Belarus. The peaceful protest of Belarusian citizens on the day of the presidential election resulted in immediate and violent repressions against the opposition and a war against dissenters. Of the 700 people beaten and arrested in Minsk the night after the election, one third was women. The State then organized so-called court proceedings without advocates and behind closed doors. The arrested people were denied access to lawyers and were subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment and torture by the State. Ms. Tonkacheva called on the Committee to demand an explanation from the Government for this violence against women, whose sole aim was to ensure their voices were heard in national politics.

Questions by Committee Members

A Committee member asked a question regarding women and agricultural production in Bangladesh and what were the principal problems faced by these agricultural workers? Did the Government have special policies to help them?

Another Committee Expert asked whether there were any attempts by the Government or civil society in Sri Lanka to have the ban on judicial review removed? How did the Sri Lankan Government disseminate information on the Optional Protocol and how did non-governmental organizations use this tool to mobilize their activities? Apart from land allocation, were there any other areas in which women were adversely affected by the “head of household” terminology?

With respect to Bangladesh, an Expert asked for more information from non-governmental organizations about the reasons the Government gave them about not lifting reservations to articles 2 and 16? Were any outcomes to the commission that was tasked to domesticating the Convention into national law? Had non-governmental organizations used the individual communications provisions under the Optional Protocol to further their work?
An Expert asked whether there was cooperation with the Governments of Sri Lanka and Belarus with non-governmental organizations or was it a restrictive situation?

A Committee member asked about micro-credit institutions in Belarus and if there were any negative impacts seen for women in that country.

An Expert asked whether non-governmental organizations had been able to check on the status of women who were imprisoned in Belarus after the presidential elections. Could they use the declaration from the European parliament to advance their aims? Was there coherent cooperation among the women’s non-governmental organizations in the country? Also, what was the situation concerning the dissemination of the Optional Protocol in Belarus? This was a particularly strong instrument to help women suffering from domestic violence.

The next speaker asked if anyone had taken up the work of the women’s political party that was dissolved in 2007

Responses by the Non-governmental Organizations

A representative from a Bangladeshi non-governmental organization said that in terms of female agricultural workers they demanded that the Government recognize the contribution of women agricultural workers and that half of the resources devoted to agriculture should go to women. Landless farmers worked in bonded sharecropping and the Government should institutionalize the support system for these workers.

Another non-governmental organization representative from Bangladesh said that recently there had been a lot of concern regarding micro-credits and at this point in time the Government was taking the issue seriously and had appointed two committees to review micro-credit programmes. The problem was that non-governmental organizations started offering micro-credits without the proper oversight and some of them offered credit at very high interest rates.

A representative from a Sri Lankan non-governmental organization said that the constitution did not recognize judicial review of legislation, but it was possible to challenge a bill before it became a law if it discriminated against women. The constitution also allowed discriminatory laws that were in place when it was promulgated in 1979 to continue.

Another non-governmental organization representative from Sri Lanka said that cooperation with the Government was difficult and they had trouble getting meetings with government officials.

On the questions of the “head of household” rules, another NGO representative from Sri Lanka said this terminology was used in every area of public administration on all their forms and it was generally understood that men were heads of household, although the language in and of itself was not discriminatory. It pervaded all areas of public administration. The Government also gave land in single ownership, not joint ownership, which meant that when a couple applied for a land grant, it was granted to the husband, but not the wife. In terms of cooperation with Government, the representative said there had been tremendous difficulties in dealing with various government ministries.

In responding to the questions surrounding Belarus, a non-governmental organization representative said that there had been a fruitful period of cooperation with the Government after the Peking Conference. But beginning in 2005 when the harsh attitude toward non-governmental organizations began, that cooperation decreased. Women made up 30 per cent of parliament in Belarus, but this was not an independent body so when members were told not to cooperate with non-governmental organizations they stopped offering their assistance. The draft bill to prevent domestic violence was prepared in 2001 by a non-profit organization, but to date that law had still not been adopted. The women’s party was closed down due to formal reasons, but the women who had been in that party were still active in politics.

Another Belarusian non-governmental organization representative said that concerning conditions in prisons and detention centres, some women were arrested for 15 days and they had a good sense of what the conditions were for those women. There was no information whatsoever on the KGB prisons because the women held there could not communicate with the outside world and their lawyers were not allowed to say anything about their clients or the conditions in which they were held.

Follow-up Questions by Committee Members

An Expert asked if there was any follow-up on the suicides of lesbian women in Bangladesh. The Expert also asked more about women who were former combatants in Sri Lanka? Did the domestic violence bill in Belarus also include the concept of physical violence as well as mental anguish, or did it refer the same definition that was currently contained in the criminal code?

The next speaker asked how many people were imprisoned by authorities in Belarus.

Responses by the Non-governmental Organizations

One speaker said that although Bangladesh had not incorporated the Optional Protocol in domestic law, there was a class action suit and judges were very active in this regard and both the Government and civil society had taken initiatives in this area.

In terms of micro-credits, another speaker said that sometimes these credits led to increased gender-based violence and they did not always empower women.

In terms of the questions posed to Belarus, a speaker said that the proposed law on domestic violence did contain a different definition of domestic violence than that contained in the criminal code. Had this bill been adopted it would have represented a major step forward in combating domestic violence. Without the adoption of this law, Belarus women were not protected.

Regarding ex-combatants in Sri Lanka, a speaker said that about 10,000 of them were sent to rehabilitation centres but since 2009 no non-governmental organizations had had access to these centres so there was no way of verifying whether they had all been released.

January 24, 2011

'Looking forward to provide cultural and educational resources to the entire Jaffna community' - US Ambassador Ms. Patricia A. Butenis

The American Corner in Jaffna: 'A place that will connect Jaffna with the rest of Sri Lanka and the world'

Full Text of speech by US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Ms. Patricia Butenis the at the opening of American Corner in Jaffna

January 24, 2011

Vanakkam. Good afternoon to all of you, and thank you for coming to the opening of the American Corner in Jaffna. I am delighted to be here today for this important event, which expands the American partnership with the people of Jaffna.

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Ambassador Butenis opens the American Corner Jaffna with Mr. Jeff Anderson, Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Embassy Colombo and Mr. Sughirtharaj, Director, Jaffna Social Action Center. (State Dept.)

I would like to give a special welcome to Northern Provincial Governor, Major General Chandrasiri, and Jaffna Government Agent, Ms. Imelda Sukumar. I would also like to thank Sughirtharaj, Director of the Jaffna Social Action Center, for his tremendous support in establishing the American Corner.

Not everyone may realize that Americans have a long relationship with the people of Jaffna. American missionaries arrived here in 1813, almost two hundred years ago. They taught English and learned Tamil, founded the first printing press in Jaffna, started the first Tamil language newspaper anywhere, and established Sri Lanka’s first medical school.

Last June, during my first trip to Jaffna, I visited a cemetery in Uduvil where several Americans lie in rest. There I learned that former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, one of the United States' most renowned diplomats, visited the gravesite of his great-grandmother Harriet Winslow, founder of Uduvil Girls School — whose choir sang earlier in the ceremony. This was the first girls’ boarding school in all of Asia.

The opening of the American Corner today is a symbol of our sustained commitment to the people of Jaffna. And, with its opening, we add another American "first" to the list – the American Corner is the first facility in Jaffna to have an operating ADSL internet connection.

An American Corner is much more than a small library where people can read books, magazines, or current newspapers. The American Corner is a place that will connect Jaffna with the rest of Sri Lanka, and with the world. Through digital video conferences, the Jaffna public can now interact with American scholars or business leaders in New York, Los Angeles, or Washington D.C. Of equal importance, you can also connect with a network of universities throughout Sri Lanka and with our American Corners in Kandy, Oluvil, and Colombo, as we are doing today. We will engage young people via the internet, web casts, and programming to develop their communication and leadership skills. Our online databases, English language library collection, regularly scheduled book clubs and film screenings will provide educational and cultural resources to both children and adults. We hope and expect that the American Corner will quickly become a vibrant community center, and provide a space for dialogue between Sri Lankans and Americans.

The American Corner is only one of the ways we are engaging with the people of Jaffna. The U.S. Agency for International Development created 20,000 full-time jobs in the North and East through an innovative series of partnerships with private companies. We have also given many small grants to youth organizations for projects such as training translators, promoting the performing arts, and addressing domestic violence. I even gave the Jaffna Public Library some books from my own collection of detective stories and mysteries.

The Jaffna Social Action Center is an ideal partner organization, with a deep commitment to community-level support and youth-based initiatives. We look forward to working closely with JSAC to provide cultural and educational resources to the entire Jaffna community.

Thank you all again for coming to the opening today. I look forward to following the activities at the Jaffna American Corner as it continues the strong tradition of American engagement here in Jaffna.

January 23, 2011

Legitimacy crisis envelopes the world over the issue of "investigations"

by Kalana Senaratne

This is not another critique of Amnesty International (AI) or any of the international human rights organizations. But reference needs to be made to the interesting press release issued by AI (dated 19 Jan, 2011), and some issues arising from it. The press release asks the US to investigate President Rajapaksa, who is on a ‘private’ visit to that great land of freedom, hope and justice, the US.

One such issue concerns the interesting and rather curious nature of contemporary Sri Lanka-US diplomatic relations. That relationship is becoming more curious and interesting due to the reference made by AI, in its press release, to the US Ambassador in Sri Lanka.

The press release, to substantiate AI’s argument that an investigation is imperative, states the following: "In December Wikileaks exposed a secret United States Embassy cable sent by Ambassador Patricia Butenis from Colombo in which she noted the difficulty of bringing perpetrators of alleged crimes of justice when ‘responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country’s senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers

What is interesting to note here is that the Wikileaks cables, and the observations made by the kind US Ambassador, are being used by human rights groups to press their case for an international investigation. It is considered as ‘evidence’, worthy of quotation. It is selective quotation, no doubt, and the observation made by the Ambassador is only a personal observation.

Nevertheless, viewed from the perspective of human rights groups, it is useful ammunition. A process has begun; a process in which the above words of the US Ambassador will be repeatedly referred to, and it will be referred to in various international fora too, such as the Human Rights Council in Geneva. How will both Sri Lanka and the US cope with this?

Both parties may have well realized, by now, that nothing can be done about it. One option available to diplomatic officials of Sri Lanka and those in the US Embassy is to grin as best as one could in front of the camera during public engagements. Something called persona non grata may have crossed the minds of some nationalist elements within government, but a little more thinking would have made them realize that while this was a personal observation of an ambassador, this observation would be made by any US Ambassador. Wikileaks has not revealed something unimaginable or something unknown to many.

Therefore, taking drastic action that further hampers diplomatic relations is futile. And certainly, Sri Lankan officials may have made the same observation concerning the leaders of the US in their diplomatic cables. In any case, leaders of both States know that they are being accused, and that none, especially those in the Western camp, have any reason to be too overly concerned about it given the lack of moral legitimacy they wield.

‘Damage control’ is another option. Ever since the cable was released by Wikileaks, one noticed a lot of kind words coming from the US Embassy. For instance, the US, we learn, is very pleased about the resettlement efforts carried out by the Sri Lankan government. "The Sri Lankan government has every right to be proud of its progress in resettlement and we are also proud to have contributed to this massive effort", said Ambassador Butenis when announcing a new USAID donation of $5.5 million of food aid to support the displaced in the North of Sri Lanka. Suave, smooth diplomacy.

Another issue that arises from the AI press release concerns the issue of investigations, and the crisis of legitimacy that envelopes the world today.

In AI’s press release, reference is made to Sami Zarifi, AI’s Asia Pacific Director, who had stated the following: "The United States has an obligation under international law to investigate and prosecute people who have perpetrated war crimes and grave human rights violations such as extrajudicial executions, torture and enforced disappearances." The press release points out the following too: "The United States should further investigate these allegations and support calls for an international investigation into Sri Lanka’s role in war crimes."

Firstly, it is time that AI and other groups make similar appeals as regards the US, referring as AI has done here, to the cables leaked by Wikileaks concerning the atrocities committed by the US forces elsewhere in the world.

Secondly, AI’s observation is to be viewed with a great degree of sympathy, since AI had, in fact, made the same kind of appeal, asking the US to investigate the conduct of former President George W. Bush. On 10 November, 2010, AI called for a criminal investigation into the role of Bush and other US officials in the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ against detainees held in secret US custody. This was after Bush admitted, during an interview (NBC), his personal involvement in authorizing ‘water-boarding’ and other techniques against ‘high value detainees’.

Interestingly, Claudio Cordone, Senior Director of AI, stated, "[u]nder international law, anyone involved in torture must be brought to justice, and that does not exclude former President George W. Bush" and that "in the absence of US investigation, other states must step in and carry out such an investigation themselves."

When one reads the above, would s/he not feel sorry for the plight of AI and other similar organizations?

President Rajapaksa travels to the US and AI asks the US to investigate President Rajapaksa. But then, we quickly realize that AI is asking the very administration that is, most certainly, unable and unwilling to investigate its own former leaders! That’s how pathetic, even hilarious, the situation today is; for there is a legitimacy crisis, an absence of legitimate state actors in the world, which can initiate investigations on its own volition.

The crisis is further aggravated due to the absence of any international organization which could initiate investigations. For instance, there is the UNSG Ban Ki-moon and his Panel, and some observers wonder (seriously?) whether its members will come. To put it politely, neither the UNSG, nor his Panel, knows whether they are coming or going, and it is rather naïve to imagine that the Panel is meant to address the problem of ‘accountability’ in Sri Lanka.

The UNSG, it should be known by now, is an officer who has clearly shown that there is no great difference between a local politician and a top international bureaucrat. The local politician would build a road or repair a culvert just before the local elections to gain votes and get re-elected. The top international bureaucrat, somewhat similarly, engages in a hitherto unknown practice of appointing a panel of experts to advice him on ‘accountability’ issues (and that too concerning one State only) with the hope of garnering support by an influential vote-base within the UN to help him get re-elected.

The legitimacy crisis is not local, or strictly confined to the domestic sphere and domestic investigations. It is a global one. Such is the magnitude of this state of affairs, or rather, the state of crisis. In such a context, what can be done, in the least, is to expose the hypocrisy of all actors concerned (international and domestic), and the violence carried out by State actors and other groups against the people (international and domestic).

Batticaloa crop losses: Will 're-learning' from natural disasters ever stop?

by Lareef Zubair
Associate Research Scientist, Climate Adaptation
Earth Institute at Columbia University, NY, NY

Drawing on our studies of weather, climate, disasters and contributing to water management in Sri Lanka operationally for the last decade in Sri Lanka, there are some lessons and resources - unfortunately, in Sri Lanka,. as in other places, we just keep seem to be relearning them after every disaster whether it be the 1978 Cyclone and Floods, the 2001-2 drought, the 2003 Floods and Landslides, the 2004 Tsunami and now this.

LESSONS:

1. As several commentators have pointed out, priority should be given to the regions that are most affected:

2. Regions with minorities should not be neglected as happened in the Eastern Coast during the 2004 Tsunami and the 1978 Cyclone in Batticaloa - Eastern Sri Lanka.

3. The past history of floods and the lessons learned should be implemented - this includes better governance, zoning, and flood risk warning. All too often there are "lessons learned" after each disaster - which are repeated.

4. The International Agencies that collect aid are not able to help develop local capacity to deal with floods and the local agencies have not upgraded their capacity in the last three decades.

5. There is a perverse set of incentives at work with the Disaster Industry - the more disasters there are, the more funding they get.

RESOURCES

The Foundation for Environment, Climate and Technology (www.climate.lk) and a group of scientists/engineers the Earth Institute at Columbia University mapped the seasons and regions where there are frequent floods in Sri Lanka is during December-January - see http://portal.iri.columbia.edu/

2. The current flooding has been most severe in the East - see maps at: http://fectsl.wordpress.com/This has been a region with the most catastrophic impacts of the Tsunami - indeed the flooding in January 2005 - a year with only slightly higher than normal rainfall retarded relief soon after the disaster. See postings at
http://lareef.blogspot.com

3. The present flooding hazard exceeds many in the past. The rainfall
as pointed out here far exceeds that in the past.
See the details in the weekly report that is provided for Water Management in Sri Lanka at http://www.climate.lk

3. The focus should be on vulnerability reduction - income and power inequalities in Sri Lanka militate against vulnerability reduction - see
http://issues.lines-magazine.org

January 22, 2011

“Veedu Nokki”…………Homeward Bound After 28 Years

By A.Jeyapalan

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Banyan Tree at Jaffna College

War in Northern SriLanka comes to an end. Commotions of emotional despair slowly fade in to the daily routine of the expatriates’ lives, here in Australia .

Yearning…

My heart suddenly yearns for that humble little village Sandilipay in Northern Sri Lanka , where I grew up in to adulthood; the village that brings sweet memories of my teen days.

A simple yearning for the village, a notion with love, materialises in August 2010.

I was joined by five oversees born visitors from the United States and Singapore . They all were with some SriLankan ancestry but some had foreign names. We landed in Colombo and I was anxiously waiting for the onward journey. The long awaited trip to Jaffna . I already started feeling the dust of Jaffna under my bare feet that strolled and ran in young age.

Ministry of Defence in Colombo granted us permits to fly to Jaffna.

Compassion…

A rental car operator picks us from the hotel in Wellawatte and drives us to Ratmalana airport. The man was a well read Sinhalese and he started the conversation on the way to the local aerodrome. He asked if I was going to Jaffna after a long time. I nodded with a sense of excitement “yes, after 28 years”. After a few minutes of pause, he glanced at me and I could see some moist in the corner of his eyes. He continued (in mixed Sinhala and English) “Sir, I just wondered how those innocent people endured this war. They were carrying their stuff on their heads running for cover and moving from place to place for this many years; I just don’t know. I don’t know if my people would have withstood this agony for so long. Sir, your people are very resilient. By God’s grace, I wish they lead a peaceful life”. The moist in his eyes was still there. A sweet send off for me to Jaffna.

Jaffna here we come…

The turbo propelled twin engine aircraft roared in to the horizon towards Northern SriLanka . I sat in that window side seat watching the clouds and the landscape pass beneath me. My mind went on a fast rewind to the past 28 years; the agitation, the riots, and the bloody war that ensued and the final carnage. All thoughts surfaced and vanished at the same speed. I was overwhelmed by the euphoria of setting foot on that soil that I yearned for.

Thoughts of my young innocent days caressed my heart.

The aircraft touches down at Palaly and slowly taxis towards the arrival building.

I stepped out of the aircraft in to the thick red dusty soil of Jaffna . The army and airforce personnel get busy handling the arrival of passengers.

My senses got busy feeling the idea of being in Jaffna ; the smell of the dust, the noise of the colourful roosters and morning sun beaming through the towering Palmyra trees.

Scars of war…

We begin the next leg of our journey towards Jaffna town in an army bus. The bus crawls through the garrison village hopping up and down in and out of pot holes on an old gravel road. The bus keeps tossing from left to right cradling everyone slowly in to the reality of the three decade war.

My eyes gazed out of the bus window in to the vacated lands that bore all the scars of a senseless war. The houses stood here and there without roofs completely abandoned, resembling a forgotten generation.

The scene brought home an important unshakeable fact in to my heart. The abandoned homes are all taken over by one important entity of this existence; Nature. The bullet riddled walls are completely engulfed by the trees, creepers, weeds and shrubs.

All ideals, grievances, enmities will all succumb eventually to nature. Nature always has the final answer. Nature is the owner. We are only tenants on this planet.

Does that mean we just eat and survive until we depart? No.

Jaffna smiles…

Jaffna town bustles with noise of buses, three wheelers and vans. Small businesses and eateries are busy with people moving in and out buying stuff. Saris, and churithar dresses flutter in the wind at every textile shop inviting people to buy and dress up and be happy.

To add to the enthusiasm, the famous Nallur Kandasamy temple was having its annual festival. Pilgrims from all parts of Jaffna and the South streamed in to the streets of Nallur in bus loads. Small shops had sprouted in every nook and corner like mushrooms.

Jaffna was smiling again.

Agony of war…

We chatted for hours through the nights with my remaining cousins in Jaffna . The stories of the past thirty years filled the air. I just sat there still, listening and listening. Being caught up in the crossfire, continuous harassment from the warring factions, addiction to alcohol caused by undue stress of harassment and many more stories kept rolling one after the other. The long walk in 1995 from their homes to escape the fighting was heartbreaking. They had walked over dead bodies of old men and women who just dropped dead out of hunger and dehydration.

Staying alive has been the first struggle. Staying neutral between the state and the rebel was another struggle. They had to face relentless terror day and night to be non-aligned and be at peace. Living daily to avoid recruitment and escape persecution would not have been a peaceful life. It is like dead man walking.

Man had wielded his power against his own kith and kin with his finger across a trigger.

How small the man had become?

The IDPs…

Stories eventually led to the IDPs who have returned back to their villages from Wanni. I was keen to see them.

While Jaffna springs back to life, there is pain behind the cajan fences in the villages.

Small clay huts under a stack of Palmyra leaves are the shelters for these families who have returned from Wanni. A tarpaulin given by UNHCR provides some cover from inclement weather. Some families who fled with children of five year old have returned now with grown up teenage girls.

They had no basic water and sanitation facilities. Preserving the girls’ privacy is a struggle for the parents.

With the help of some generous individuals, a program was launched to build toilet facilities for these people who have nothing left in their hands after the war. This has brought some smile in the faces that saw no hope for many years.

I came across a set of documents, a list of war widows below fifty years of age who need a livelihood to look after their children. My heart sank when I saw the numbers. That list alone had seventy two registered widows who were below fifty years. They have no income and were depending on the little rations given by the state.

I walked up to a small hut where little children were playing. I met this young lady with three children. Her right leg had been operated after a shrapnel injury and the little boy had an injury in his neck. The boy has a twisted arm and he wouldn’t walk straight. He stumbles and falls often. The lady’s father, husband and the sister had perished in the war. Her name forms part of the list of seventy two war widows in that small hamlet. What could I do? I just took the little fellow and kept him on my lap for a while.

The innocent soul smiled with some temporary joy.

Fears…

I met many educated men from time to time during my stay. None of them talked about the war. During one such visit, the gentleman slowly broke his silence on war and peace. His deeply buried fear surfaced in a low tone. He had seen peace come and go many a times. For him, peace is like an interval between two miseries.

He said if there is a slight outbreak of violence against the state again, that would be the end of the remaining story.

His eyes drooped as he muttered “that’s what always worries me”.

He continued, I pray that it should not happen again, we have had enough suffering, and we want to live in peace.

I was once seated in a function arranged for an elder’s home in Jaffna . The gentleman who was seated next to me was a high school principal from the area.

We started a conversation as he enquired about me and my trip after twenty eight years to Jaffna . He was forthright with what he had to say about the future of Jaffna . He said the country had gone through immense turmoil with violence and it had lost some of the important human values.

He said what this land needs is education of human values and good men and women must come back to this land to teach values to the growing children.

Jaffna College…

Lastly I visited my school that always stayed in my heart. Jaffna College , one of the best institutions I have been through in my life. The gates were locked as it was a public holiday, so I stood at the gates for a few minutes as my eyes panned through the campus. The great banyan tree (Aaladi..) with Principal’s bungalow in the background was an eye catching view. The banyan tree would tell many love stories it had watched in silence through its life. It still stands there selflessly giving shelter as generations pass through to further their lives.

A message…

Back in Australia , I was asked this question by many people. How is Jaffna ?

My message was one for all.

People have gone through immense misery with three decades of war. They want to be left alone to live in peace. Any form of agitation again would bring again unbearable suffering. If one still has love for his mother land, he should take time and go to his village where he grew up. You should walk around and talk to people. Identify the needs and help in whatever way you can.

Grama Sevakas are the best source of information to render any help. He is the first contact for every villager for his or her needs.

Always remember that we who left for other shores have a responsibility to help those innocent souls. Most of them did not know how and why it all started for they were not even born then, but they have taken all the beating.

Show them that you care and you are there for peace and not to agitate.

Quotes:

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” - Muhammad Ali

Peace-“If you wish to experience peace, provide peace for another.”

Conflict-“Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional.”

Governance-“Generous grants, compassion, righteous rule and succour to the downtrodden are the hallmarks of good governance.”

V. N. Navaratnam: A personal tribute to the former Chavakachcheri MP

BY Prof.Rajiva Wijesinha

On January 29th, it will be twenty years since the death of V.N. Navaratnam, Member of Parliament for Chavakachcheri for many years(1956-1983). Though he was of course much older than me, I think I can claim to have known him well, for he was a particular friend of my father, and associated with him with affection whilst he was Secretary General of Parliament.

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V.N. Navaratnam

Their friendship was an epitome of an aspect of this country that has long been overshadowed by less pleasant ones, for they had met at the Brodie Hostel of the University of Ceylon. Mr Navaratnam alluded fondly to those days when he spoke on the vote of condolence on the Hon George Rajapakse, who had also lived in that hostel nearly 70 years ago.

Mr Navaratnam was a member of the Federal Party when I first got to know him properly, at a meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Paris in September 1971. I was on my way to university in England, having left Ceylon as it then was in June, to take my Advanced Levels in Madras, since they could not be taken in Colombo at that period. I had then travelled straight on, to take advantage of the stopovers permitted on ordinary tickets in those days. After exploring Greece and Italy and a couple of other countries, I was exhausted by the time I reached Paris, and Tissa Wijeyeratne, our ambassador at the time, who was supposed to put me up, did not help.

It was a relief therefore to associate again with civilized Sri Lankans, who realized I was just seventeen and should not be expected to shack up with a young lady picked up on the Left Bank. Though my father was not present himself, I was treated with great kindness by the delegation, and in particular by Mr Navaratnam, who gave up an excursion to the champagne country around Rheims so that I could use his invitation.

Seven years later, I joined a similar delegation in Berlin, which was when my father was able to save Mr Navaratnam when he collapsed suddenly with heart failure. He was then on the IPU Executive Council, and highly respected internationally – which was perhaps an advantage to the TULF in its efforts to highlight the ethnic problems in Sri Lanka, problems which the then government proceeded to exacerbate, with a corresponding increase in sympathy for Mr Navaratnam’s position.

He however was, like the others in the TULF, sidelined when President Jayewardene’s principal response to the attacks on Tamils in July 1983 was to introduce legislation which, acceptable though it might have been in any other context, inevitably drove the TULF out of Parliament after the suffering their fellow Tamils had undergone. Mr Navaratnam, not in the best of health, gave up politics then and settled in Canada – thus escaping the fate of his senior colleagues who returned to Parliament in 1989 and were shot by the Tigers. Mr Navaratnam himself died relatively peacefully in Canada in 1991, having never come back.

But the family did not forget the association, and when Mrs Navaratnam was finally able to return to Sri Lanka a few years back, and stay with us before going on to Jaffna, she very kindly gave me the watch which I still wear. Those sadly were the days when the Tigers were in the ascendant. In her husband’s time, moderate Tamil politicians agitated through Parliamentary means against political measures they wanted changed. Though there had been violence too against Tamils, it had been sporadic, and was dealt with firmly, if not always in time. But with the repeated attacks on Tamils of 1977 and 1981 and 1983, which seemed to have government support not only before but also after they occurred, things got worse. Even before they left Parliament, the influence of the older Tamil politicians had waned, as they were overtaken by youngsters who made a fetish of brutality. The collegiate decency of Mr Navaratnam, and his associates such as Mr Amirthalingam and Mr Sivasithamparam, gave way to unbridled violence, which seemed to have triumphed in the first few years of the 21st century.

In the interim however there had been yet another reminder of the ties that bind our communities close. My father, in Canada, as Ombudsman now rather than part of Parliament, met again Mr Navaratnam’s son, whom he had helped to get into Britain at a time when the British were less free with visas to people in difficulties than they are now. The young man remembered the fact with gratitude, just as I now recall with gratitude and affection the kindness his father showed me in 1971, at a time when differences of opinion had not been transformed through the intransigence of a few into bitter and corrosive hatred.

At a time when the former TULF is still struggling to find a role for itself, some members unsure how far cooperation should go, others perhaps hankering after the polarization the Tigers so successfully achieved through killing moderate Tamils, its members would do well to think back to Parliamentarians such as Mr Navaratnam. Though he argued passionately for his people, and though his attitudes hardened with the hardening of government approaches in the early eighties, his commitment to democratic pluralism endured. I write this in his memory then, to make it clear that, as Yasmine Gooneratne remarked in ‘Big Match, 1983’, some lines were never cut.

The caste factor in the Tamil nationalist uprising

By Neville Jayaweera

The opportunity to pose this question in writing came my way when Charles Ponnuthurai Sarvan’s book, "Public Writings on Sri Lanka" arrived on my desk about three months ago with an invitation to review it. Without denying the familiar "The Sinhala majority oppressing the Tamil minority" narrative, which I concede remains central and true, I am offering a complementary narrative, a different set of spectacles through which to look at the ethnic conflict.

When viewed from the latter perspective it will be evident that the complete story about the origins and causes of the ethnic conflict has yet to be told and that it was a more complex phenomenon than popularly believed. This is not to say that the familiar narrative is false, but that the reality was more complex.

The author and the book

Sarvan seems to have been a pupil of Prof. E. F. C. Ludowyke of the English Department of the University of Peradeniya, and that is evidenced by the quality of his prose. However, I do not know the author personally because he was up at Peradeniya several years after I, and after graduating he has been living abroad since 1963. Consequently, our paths never crossed.

The book is a collection of articles contributed by Sarvan to various newspapers and journals, articulating the plight of the Sri Lankan Tamils as they experienced it between 1956 and 2009. One may not agree with everything Sarvan says, but one cannot help feel the sadness and the pain, the humiliation and the tears, that seep through every page of his book. However, it must be said to Sarvan’s great credit, he writes without rancour or vituperation, which is rare on either side of the ethnic divide. If anything, he communicates his views with subtlety and balance, and even with compassion towards those who he feels have harmed his people over the decades. Within the polemics that have swirled around the ethnic debate over the past six decades, that is indeed a very rare quality, much to be commended and emulated. Sarvan’s writings are characterised by stature and dignity, and I urge that as many Sinhala as possible read his book

The central narrative

Sarvan’s central narrative is a familiar one. It has been said again, and again, by liberal intellectuals both at home and abroad, and there is nothing new there, except the nuanced tones in which Sarvan expresses it.

hat the Tamil uprising was largely a response to the discrimination perpetrated against them by the majority community is the version commonly accepted among most intellectuals and scholars, both in SL and abroad. One has to be unintelligent or dishonest, to deny that claim. More particularly, to deny that the events of 1956 and 1983 catalyzed and accelerated the conflict is even more perverse.

Having conceded all that, I want to say that there is another narrative, another explanation for the Tamil uprising, which neither Sinhala nor Tamil scholars have so far recognized, except that it has been articulated in a strong polemic by H. L. D Mahindapala, a Sri Lankan journalist domiciled in Australia, and also fully researched and set out coherently in my own memoirs of my time as the Government Agent of Jaffna in the mid-sixties, four chapters from which, titled "The wretched of the earth" "Two Tamil nationalisms" , the "Twilight of the Vellalas " and the "Non-Vellalas unbound" were published in four editions of the Sunday Island through November 2008.

The complementary narrative

In order to grasp the complementary narrative which I want to present here very briefly, we have first to gain an understanding of the structure of Sri Lankan Tamil society.

Tamil society, both of Tamil Nadu and of Sri Lanka, is the most minutely structured pyramidal society one can encounter anywhere in the world, virtually set in concrete, and allowing hardly any space for vertical mobility. It is the classic caste society, governed by the principle of heredity, whose parameters, according to Hindu mythology, had been defined over two thousand years earlier by Manu, the Hindu equivalent of Adam, the first man. The Hindu myth claims that these Laws (Manusmriti ) had been handed down to Manu ( the mythical first man and law giver ) by Brahman himself, like the ten Commandments had been handed down to Moses by Jehovah, and were therefore unalterable and inviolate.

As prescribed by Manu, at the top of the caste pyramid were the Brahmins, the priestly caste, but within Jaffna society itself, being very few in number, they did not constitute a substantial power group. Next down the pyramid were the Vellala caste, the repository of real power within Jaffna Tamil society. When I was working in Jaffna in the mid-sixties, the Vellalas did not constitute more than 35% of the population but they owned almost 95% of the land and exercised almost all of economic, social and cultural power.

The rest of Tamil society, i.e., 65% of the Tamil population, were lumped together as "low caste", or "pariahs", and lived on the margins of Tamil society, as faceless non-persons. For over two thousand years they had been, oppressed, humiliated and denied the right even to worship in the same temples as the high caste Vellalas, or even to drink water from the common village well. What was worse, for over 500 years since 1560, even the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British colonial powers also connived at the system, and co-opted the Vellala caste into their colonial structures, making of them a text book comprador class.

Even after Independence, the Sinhala dominated governments in the South, hardly knew of the existence of the Tamil underclass. As far as the Sinhala leaders were concerned the Tamils whom they met in Colombo, the leaders of Tamil Congress and the Federal Party, the Tamil professionals and academics, and the Tamil public servants were the real Tamils, indeed they were only Tamils, and of course they were all from the Vellala caste!!

Even the academic and intellectual community in the South, who wrote copiously about the ethnic conflict and argued the need to be fair by the Tamils, had only the Vellalas in mind, and hardly knew of the extent of the problem of the Tamil underclass. The fact that, back in Jaffna, the Vellalas were more oppressive of the Tamil underclass, than the Sinhala were of the Tamils in the South, was not even whispered around. In the Vellala mind, the oppression of the "pariah" castes belonged in another universe, and the only oppression that needed talking about, was their own oppression by the Sinhala majority!

The cauldron of discontent

Unbeknown to the rest of the country and hardly suspected even by the Tamil Vellala leaders, a cauldron of discontent was bubbling up from below. For over 1,500 years the "low castes" and "pariahs" had had no access to education of any kind. The first defection from the system came around 1850 when Christian mission schools started taking in "low caste" Tamils, and after baptizing them, started giving them western names so as to erase their "low caste" identities. Sensing a serious threat to the hallowed system, the great Hindu nationalist Arumuga Navalar launched a campaign to deny "low caste" Tamils access to mission schooling, but his campaign failed to win support from the British rulers. After government schools started proliferating in Jaffna during the early 1900s, fault lines began to develop in the old social structure, and the C.W.W. Kannangara reforms that came to Jaffna in the mid 1950s, accelerated the disintegration.

During the 1950s and 1960s the "low caste" youth started coming out of Central Schools in Jaffna in droves and went looking for employment, which meant trying for government jobs. Sadly however, just when it seemed as if, after 1,500 years the Tamil "low castes" were about to emerge from bondage, the Sinhala Only Act slammed the door in their faces. While the children of Vellala parents went abroad, the "low caste" youth were turned away to languish in their mud huts.

They had no land to cultivate, no jobs, no income, and no political or social power. By the mid 1960s, the "low castes" who comprised nearly 65% of Tamil society were fast turning into a cauldron of unrest and hate, and the lid had to blow.

Breaching the caste ramparts

The first major breach in the ramparts the Tamil caste prison occurred in June 1968 when the "low caste" Tamils stormed the Maviddapuram Temple, the great fortress of high caste dominance. That event had an impact on the Tamil caste system analogous to the impact that the storming of the Bastille had had on the ancient regime in 18th century France. The flame ignited at Maviddapuram in 1968 took hold rapidly, and by the early 1970s the "low caste" youth had begun to think in terms of an armed struggle, aimed not merely against the government, but at the hated Vellala caste as well. They formed two youth organizations committed to armed struggle, the Marnavar Peravai and the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation, (TELO) of which a leading member was an 18 years old school dropout named Velupillai Pirabhakaran!

Following the 1983 tragedy in the South, the armed youth groups proliferated rapidly, principally among the "low castes", with the common goal of finally liberating all of the Tamil people. They felt that there was no point in tilting merely at the Vellalas because, in their minds, the Vellalas were collaborators who would be propped up by the state. They decided therefore that the only way to shake off the common yoke was by setting up an independent Tamil Eelam.

The assassination of high caste Tamils, such as Alfred Duraiappah, Amirthalingam, Neelan Tiruchelvam and Lakshman Kadirgarmar was only one aspect of that strategy.

The Sinhala oppression in context

When the Vellala Tamils refer to the oppression that Tamils have suffered at the hands of the Sinhala majority, they have in mind primarily the privations their caste suffered at the hands of the Sinhala majority in 1956,1983 and thereafter. The Sinhala Only Act took away from them one of the most important sources of their power, which was their unfettered access to government jobs.

It is significant that to this day not a single "high caste" Tamil intellectual or politician talks openly about the problem of the Tamil underclass. To this day, the Tamil underclass remains a nation of non-persons, useful as cannon fodder in an armed struggle, but non-persons, notwithstanding.

Several Vellalas have told me how secretly they were hoping that the SLA would obliterate the LTTE forever. It seems as if the SLA had fought a proxy war on behalf of the high caste Tamils!!

Even today, within the diaspora, though the "high caste" Tamils join the "low castes" at demonstrations, they move in their own respective orbits, hardly talking to each other, much less socializing with each other, and holding each other in absolute contempt. Such is the hostility engendered through centuries of caste antagonism.

Conjecture

I am saying therefore that, given the violent mood of an awakened Tamil underclass in the 1960s/70s, and given that there were no opportunities within Tamil society itself, or outside, for their fulfillment, an explosion from within was inevitable. The triggers of 1956 and 1983 were only just that, only triggers, and not the real causes.

It is also relevant to mention that the Tamil underclasses were by heredity and lineage ferocious fighters. They are the descendents of the Vellakkaras and Maravars, the mercenaries whom the Sinhala Kings, especially King Manavamma of the 7th century AD, and his heirs for three hundred years thereafter, had employed to defend their thrones against rival Sinhala claimants. They were not intellectuals, they had no negotiating skills, and the only thing they knew was fighting. It is therefore my contention that even without oppression and persecution by the Sinhala, a rebellion from within Tamil society was inevitable. A cocktail of free education, lack of employment opportunities, grinding poverty, centuries of oppression, an inviolable caste structure, an acute awareness that the principal enemy ( the high caste Vellalas) were living within their camp, and a tradition of militarism going back over a thousand years, had to combust and explode, and it did!,

By the very nature of the case the validity of this claim cannot be tested against written records or other empirical data as historiography would require and the hypothesis must therefore remain only as conjecture. However I must claim that this hypothesis is not just empty speculation spun out in a library. Rather, it has grown out of my personal experiences, working among the Tamil people for seven years in the 60s and 70s, in Jaffna, Trincomalee and Vavuniya. At least it offers scholars, politicians and analysts another paradigm through which to look at the ethnic conflict.

Towards a fascist state?

In an article he wrote to the Island paper in 2005 Sarvan had raised the question whether Sri Lanka was drifting towards being a fascist state. Nowadays, one hears this question being bandied around quite frequently and I have read academics and journalists use the word as cliché and rhetoric when discussing the current political climate in SL.

There is no universally accepted definition of a fascist state except of course to point to Mussolini’s Italy, Hitler’s Reich and Pinochet’s Chile as ostensive definitions.

However one may safely say that there has to be a conjunction of certain minimum conditions before it may be said that a fascist state has come into being. Among these conditions are - an undergirding myth of racial superiority, the gradual eviction of minority groups from the political landscape, total state control of media and the suppression of all free expression, suppression of all political opposition, the suborning of the judiciary, the use of brutality and assassination as political tools, the emergence of a charismatic leader, and above all, a state military apparatus committed personally to the charismatic leader and his caucus, rather than to the Constitution or Parliament.

For many centuries the Sinhala polity has indeed been undergirded by the myth of racial superiority. That is not something new! Furthermore, most of Sri Lanka’s institutions of governance have been corrupted over the decades and the democratic process has sometimes come under threat. However, to talk of Sri Lanka as a fascist state is to indulge in irresponsible rhetoric and hyperbole. I am glad that Sarvan has not gone down that road.

Blemishes

Sarvan’s book is not without blemishes. Upon first skimming through the book my immediate reaction was to put it aside, so appalling was the Indian publisher’s editing and production of it throughout. If anything will put off readers it is the shabbiness of the production. It is amateurish and unworthy of any professional publishing house. I honestly think that Sarvan should ask for a refund from his publishers.

Also, the longest chapter in the book, comprising about half its length is titled "Reign of Anomy". What is "anomy"? It is not a word that appears in any of the English dictionaries I consulted, and neither does Sarvan define it even in a footnote. By "anomy" did Sarvan mean "ennui" which commonly means weariness resulting from lack of work, but that would hardly apply in the context! The failure to define "anomy" when almost half the length of the book flows from it is a serious omission.

Then, there is the bibliography which is a whole library by itself. Sarvan has fallen into the trap, common among some intellectuals, of wanting to impress the reader with the breadth of their learning, rather than with adducing facts to support their thesis. His book is about the injustices perpetrated upon the Tamils by the Sinhala majority, and all that was required were facts, evidence and logic.

Quoting extensively from authors and writers who merely share his opinions and values, but are not authorities on the subject on which he writes, has not added depth or conviction to what he has written. Considering that the facts at Sarvan’s disposal could speak for themselves, and considering that he was not writing a research paper, what was the need to resort to a mountain of references and quotations? In his lack of restraint on this matter Sarvan has exposed himself to the charge of pedantry.

Lastly, like most intellectuals and scholars who have written on the ethnic conflict, Sarvan has chosen to keep his blinkers on and think strictly within the box, thereby failing to notice that there is another narrative, another hypothesis, another paradigm, which can explain and illuminate the facts.

Conclusion

Nothing I have said in this review is intended to diminish the quality of Sarvan’s writings, which I rate as being of high quality. Even more, I value highly the quality of consciousness back of Sarvan’s writings. True, he has not said anything that we have not known before, but he has said it in prose that is worthy of his teacher E.F.C. Ludowyke. If one can make allowance for its shabby production I would say that Sarvan’s book is definitely worth having in one’s library. I understand that it is on sale at Suriya Bookshop, Suleiman Terrace (off Jawatte Road), Colombo 5.

Is Sri Lanka becoming "Hub of crime" and "Criminal miracle of Asia"?

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“You fasten all the triggers, For the others to fire Then you sit back and watch When the death count gets higher.” — Bob Dylan, Masters Of War

Forget justice and fair play; forget altruism; unadulterated selfishness alone should compel us of the South to pay attention to the wave of violence engulfing the North. After a period of relative quiet, murder and abduction are becoming rife in the North, despite the ubiquitous presence of heavily-armed troops and the rigorous implementation of the Emergency and the PTA.

Has the North, with its politically abandoned and disempowered populace, become the regime’s testing-ground, a place where the Rajapaksas experiment with new tactics of citizen-subjugation?

Will the more successful methods then be re-employed in the South, whenever necessary?

Currently terror stalks unimpeded through towns and hamlets of the North; the people are numbed by fear and uncertainty while the official response varies from lackadaisical to risible. The regime either denies the existence of the terror-wave or belittles its potency.

The police have issued two leaflets, advising citizens to be vigilant in their own safety and to apprehend would-be killers and abductors and hand them over to the authorities!

When asked about the terror-wave in the North, President Rajapaksa characteristically blamed negative reporting and enemy action: The President said that the alleged incidents in the North were not endemic to that part of the country and even in the other areas criminal activities took place…. “I learn that people are moving about freely even at night in Jaffna,” he said. When it was pointed out that what was reported in the media ran counter to his argument….a somewhat exasperated President Rajapaksa said that such stories were being propagated by certain frustrated elements.

He was critical of some of the Tamil language newspapers which he faulted for what he called “blowing the law and order situation in the North out of proportion to cast the country in a bad light” (The Island – 12.1.2011). The supremely pliant Minister G.L. Peiris remarked that the “situation in the North was not different from that in the South” (ibid).

This cynically dismissive attitude indicates that the regime is as unconcerned about the safety and wellbeing of the Tamils now as it was during the Fourth Eelam War.

(A digression: During his recent Thaipongal visit, the President repeated his warning to the Jaffna media about the undesirability of ‘negative reportage’. Hopefully, ambitious underlings will not take these presidential remarks in the spirit that the four knights who murdered Thomas Beckett took the supposed comment by Henry II about the contentious prelate: ‘Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest’?).

If, as the regime opines, the North is experiencing a normal crime-wave (akin to rest of the island), then Sri Lanka has become a ‘Hub of Crime’ and the ‘Criminal Miracle of Asia’.

Even as the President was enjoying himself riding sea-scooters, armed men on a motorbike opened fire on a Hindu priest in Manipay, injuring his 31 year old wife. If unidentified armed gangs can roam the North unimpeded, killing and kidnapping at will, why spend billions on perpetuating a blanket military presence?

The army’s curious inability to clamp-down on the current wave of violence can have only one of two explanations: either the entity which defeated the LTTE has become transmuted into a company of bunglers (akin to say, the Thomson and Thompson duo in the Tin Tin books); or these are political crimes committed with official complicity.

The President’s much vaunted National Thaipongal Celebration in Jaffna contained an unmistakable indication about what ‘national’ means in the Rajapaksa parlance (and a subliminal hint to the Tamils about their ‘rightful’ place in post-war Sri Lanka). The National Anthem was sung not in Tamil but in Sinhala.

During the President’s recent encounter with media heads, he was asked about the National Anthem controversy. “Rajapaksa said as far as he was concerned there was no issue. Hence he did not wish to talk about it. Though he did not say it, administratively government officials and departments have been told that the National Anthem would be sung only in Sinhala. Special arrangements have already got underway…to train school children on the use of the anthem” (The Sunday Times – 16.1.2011).

The reversion to a ‘Sinhala Only’ National Anthem comes in tandem with many significant absences, ranging from the non-appearance of a political solution to the non-implementation of a housing programme by the state for the displaced Tamils. President Premadasa, who understood the centrality of the housing issue to any economic strategy aimed at developing people (an insight unshared by Ranil Wickremesinghe and Sajith Premadasa) described shelter as a ‘necessity’ which “mobilises the social dynamic against the dynamite in society” (Address at the International Shelter Seminar – MIT).

Homelessness is arguably the most acute problem facing the Northern displaced. There are several laudable efforts by non-state entities at addressing this issue; but the only large-scale programme on the agenda is the Indian project to build 50,000 houses. It would fill a crying need, but that need should have been fulfilled by the Lankan state. The Lankan state building houses for Lankan Tamils would have amounted to a powerful message of friendship and reconciliation. Instead Northern Tamils are being sent a negative message.

Not only has the Lankan state delegated the task of house-building to India; it is busy building army camps and cantonments, while its Tamil citizens suffer from homelessness.

The reversion to a ‘Sinhala Only’ National Anthem is thus symbolic of an official mindset characterised by insensitivity and indifference. The consequent neglect and discrimination cannot but cause discontent in the North. Though there is discontent in the South too, about unrealised promises, patriotism can still be used to prevent silent dissent from metamorphosing into active opposition.

But in the North, given the Sinhala supremacism of the Rajapaksas, hegemony is a non-option. Dominance, achieved via force, is the only way to prevent discontent from progressing into democratic dissent. But the Rajapaksas would know that as economic woes accumulate, the capacity of patriotism to manufacture consent in the South would diminish and new measures of population subjugation would be needed.

What better place to experiment with these tactics than the North, with its subject populace?

The Jaffna police, in its leaflet of instructions to the public, advised citizens that “if any member of defence forces comes for inspections, they should ask for their official identity cards before opening the door and ensure they are accompanied by a police officer from the area” (The Sunday Times – 9.1.2011).

Is this a hint that some members of defence forces are involved in the wave of violence?
Are political crimes being committed under the guise of ordinary crimes?

A robbery gone wrong can get rid of dissenters in a manner which accords the state plausible deniability and minimises any political backlash. Suspected gangsters being killed in police custody, as they attempt to escape, has become a Lankan norm. Will the habit of dissenters being killed by armed robbers or disappeared by kidnappers become another Lankan norm?

Is it the dress rehearsal of this new practice we see enacted in the North?

Family bandyism, corruption and repression cause fall of dictator in Tunisia

by Gamini Weerakoon

Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, the deposed Tunisian president was described as being ‘ubiquitous’ by an AP report last week. Like all Third World strongmen he had his picture plastered all over the country. As the second president of Tunisia, he ruled the country undisturbed for 23 years. But like most dictators or strong men of the Third World, the day came when he had to fly out of the country in a hurry, into exile. He chose Saudi Arabia which had been the refuge of another notorious dictator, Idi Amin.

In conservative Western eyes, Ben Ali had managed the economy well since he became president in a ‘bloodless coup’ in 1987. During his rule Tunisia’s per capita tripled till about 2008. The GDP had grown at an average of 5 per cent.

He won many brownie points from reputed Western organisations. In 2010 July the Boston Consulting Group named Tunisia as one of the ‘Eight African Lions’ that contributed to the African continent’s GDP. The Global Competitiveness Report of the Davos World Economic Forum ranked Tunisia as the first in Africa and 32nd globally out of 139 countries.

Ben Ali, though pro-Western in outlook, pursued a moderate foreign policy. He contributed to peace making in the Middle East and Africa and hosted the first Palestinian-American dialogue. He supported the Palestinian cause but joined the US sponsored Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism initiative.

So what went wrong for this former army general, the head of the security forces under the presidency of his predecessor, the first president Habib Bourguiba?

It could be the kind of government that he inherited.

Bourguiba

Bourguiba from his youth had fought for Tunisian independence against the French and was jailed twice for it. He had been an active member of the Tunisian freedom movement, the Neo Destour Party and was instrumental in gaining Independence in 1956. He had been the architect of modern Tunisia. In 1957 Tunisia’s monarchy was abolished and declared a republic. Bourguiba became the first president and ruled till 1981. He was Muslim but repressed Islamic fundamentalism and used arbitrary methods of governance.

He did not tolerate opposition and drove his main political rival Sulach Ben Yusuf into exile in Cairo. He jailed other political opponents or sent them into exile too. By the 1980s, Bourguiba’s rule met stiff opposition and he cracked down with extreme severity on his opponents and closed newspapers that were critical of his administration. Protests were repressed by his security chief Ben Ali. Ben Ali took over the presidency after Bourguiba’s physicians declared him senile and incapable of carrying out the duties of presidency.

Good start: like all dictators

Ben Ali started by giving much hope for those who wanted to see a freer Tunisia, like all rulers do at the commencement. He called for a ‘truly democratic set up to evolve’ but after a brief period, reforms came to a halt and opposition parties were declared illegal. Western governments kept mum over the repressive actions of the Ben Ali regime even though they were well aware of the repressions that were being imposed because of his pro-Western policies. A WikiLeaks cable recently leaked out had the US government saying that Tunisia (under Ben Ali) was a police state and that Ben Ali had lost touch with the people.

Ben Ali went through the motions of a typical dictator. He first changed the constitution which enabled him to run for re-election in 2004 and 2009 (BBC Online report). Then he won three elections with ‘99.9 percent’ of the votes cast!

Despite his experience as being the security chief for long years under Bourguiba, he appears to have been unaware of the pressure built up against his regime. Even though the economic indices may have appeared satisfactory or even good, there were other factors that were working very strongly against him. The first, analysts point out, was unemployment. From the time of Bourguiba and continued under Ben Ali, free education from the ages of 6 to 16 was provided. This created a very educated set of people which now comprises the greater proportion of the population but most of them are unemployed.

The danger of having large numbers of educated unemployed first impacted in Sri Lanka in 1971. Thousands of graduates who entered universities under the free education scheme had passed out but were unable to find jobs. The core of the first JVP insurrection comprised these unemployed graduates. Unlike uneducated unemployed, these graduates are agitators and do not accept their fate or karma, philosophically.

Nepotism and corruption

The other factors attributed to this first ‘Arab Revolution’ are corruption and nepotism.

Ben Ali’s family, particularly his wife’s family members, had not only moved to top government positions but plundered the state’s resources. A Guardian online report on Thursday said that 33 relations had been arrested for committing ‘crimes against Tunisia.’ Pictures of jewellery and gold found in their possession are shown. On Wednesday the residence of an ‘in-law’ which had been razed to the ground by angry activists was also shown. One of the few things remaining was the leg of a grand piano!

Economic progress may have been an achievement of Ben Ali’s but ignoring growing unemployment, corruption and nepotism and political repression had been his nemesis.

Arab revolution on?

Speculation is also rife whether this ‘first Arab revolution’ would initiate a chain reaction in Arab countries almost all of which are ruled by strong men backed by the armies. Most of these countries are ruled by pro-American despots and have held on to power because of the backing of the military. In the case of Ben Ali it appears that the army had told him that their support could no longer be expected.

Those wishing for a domino effect from Tunisia would be Western liberals and Arab radicals, particularly fundamentalist Islamists — both parties want to see the dictators out although for different reasons. Those who would want the dictators in place would be Western nations, particularly America, for the sake of stability to fight Islamic terrorism. Self immolations reported in Egypt against the Hosni Mubarak regime appear to be directly inspired by the self- immolation of a youth in Tunisia but only time will show whether the Tunisian catalytic effect will catch on. ~ courtesy: The Sunday Leader ~

Related:

Dayan Jayatilleke assumes duty as Ambassador in Paris

The newly appointed Sri Lankan Ambassador to France, with accreditation to Spain and Portugal, and Sri Lanka’s Permanent Delegate to UNESCO, Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka assumed duties at the Embassy in Paris on January 17.

Speaking on the occasion, the newly appointed Ambassador highlighted the necessity for engagement with the French society in the bilateral arena and stressed the importance of a greater degree of cross cultural dialogue in a bid to broaden the existing relations with the countries of accreditation and UNESCO.

Having served as Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative/Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva from 2007 to 2009, Ambassador Jayatilleka is an academic who is an Honorary Senior Fellow of the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS) at the National University of Singapore (NUS), having been Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the ISAS, NUS in 2010.

The winner of a Fulbright Scholarship, he read for his PhD at the Griffith University in Brisbane. A Senior Lecturer at the University of Colombo, Ambassador Jayatilleka was a Visiting Senior Fellow at John Hopkins University, Washington.

Ambassador Jayatilleka has served on several international panels, including the UN Human Rights Council’s Inter Governmental Working Group on the effective implementation of the Durban Declaration which he chaired, in addition to chairing the Governing body of the International Labour Organisation. He was vice president of the Human Rights Council, and Coordinator of ‘General and Comprehensive Nuclear Disarmament’ of the UN Conference on Disarmament as well as of the Asian Group of UNCTAD.

Ambassador Jayatilleka is the author of Fidel’s Ethics of Violence: The Moral Dimension Of The Political Thought of Fidel Castro, co-published by Pluto Press, London and the University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbour (2007).

Residents of Jaffna gripped in a fear psychosis

by M.A.Sumanthiran

(Full text of speech in Parliament by TNA National list parliamentarian MA Sumanthiran on January 20 th during adjournment motion debate)

“Honourable Deputy Chairman of Committees, I move for the adjournment of the house to discuss a matter that is urgent, a matter of which notice was given with regard to serious security situation that has arisen particularly in the Jaffna Peninsula and generally in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka.

This matter was to be raised by our party leader on the 4 th of January as Parliament convened for the first time for the year and a notice of that motion was submitted the previous day as required by the standing orders, however it was not taken up on the 4 th of January it was taken up on the 5 th instead on account of the fact or at least we were told, that translation of that motion was being delayed, however curiously on the 4 th of January Hon. Minister for Traditional Industries raised this matter.

After we had given notice of the motion for our party leader to raise it, quite unusually and breaking with tradition a cabinet minister sought to raise a question of public importance as he claimed it to be and again breaking with tradition no answer has been given up to date neither to the question that was raised by the Hon. Minister nor the issue that was raised by the Hon. Member from Jaffna as leader of the Tamil Nation Alliance, Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi. The issue is one of grave significance. When my party leader raised this matter he listed out several incidents of violence that had taken place in Jaffna in the months of November and December 2010. These incidents of violence have largely gone without being investigated and that is the seriousness of the matter. The first issue is the number of such incidents that take place in one particular area and that too in an area where there is a….....

Honourable Deputy Chairman of committees I am coming to that, I will read the motion but before that I am seeking your permission to layout the background circumstances under which this motion is being moved and the Hon. member will do well to be patient and listening.

In this back ground we find that when there is no... one thing is that there are a series of incidents that take place in the area that has the tightest security control in the whole country and no one, I repeat, no one has been apprehended at the time of the offence in any of these incidents and stranger still no one has been apprehended even thereafter except in one or two instances and what is curiosa there is that persons who have been apprehended by the security forces are said to be members of the EPDP. The Security Forces Commander Major General Hathurusinghe is on record saying….......

[AZWER] Inaudible

What is the point of order?

[AZWER]inaudible

Honourable Deputy Chairman of Committees, there is no point of order there, I have not refused to read the motion I will read it, I will read it. Honourable Deputy Chairman of Committees, there is no point of order there I said I will read it; I am giving the back ground to the motion.

[AZWER]inaudible

Very well sir I will bow to your ruling… I will bow to your ruling, I will read the motion. This is what the motion says,

‘There is a complete break down in the law and order situation in the Northern Province and more, particularly in the Jaffna Peninsula resulting in murders, kidnapping, extortion and other crimes. This has gripped the residents of Jaffna in a fear psychosis since the perpetrators have managed to get away in every one of these instances. The situation has been further compounded that even a Government Minister from the area has thought the situation so serious that he himself raised this matter in the house on 4th January 2011, but no reply has been given by the Government to date. In view of the deteriorating law and order situation in the Jaffna peninsula this house resolves that it is imperative on the Hon. Prime Minister on behalf of the Government to explain to this house what steps this Government intends to take to stop this grave situation from further aggravating.’

I was on the issue that persons who have been apprehended according to the Security Forces Commander are members of the EPDP. One then understands the indecent hurry of the Hon. Minister to have jumped the gun, so to say, and raise the matter himself in the house before it was duly and properly raised by the party leader of the TNA, but that doesn’t cloud the issue because the incidents are, therefore all to see I am moving to place a list of 24 incidents for the record now. There is a similarity; there is a pattern in some of these matters; bodies are found in wells in a number of incidents, but in none of those incidents are the death due to suffocation in the well, death has been caused previously and in almost all the incidents the bodies were found with torture marks.

A high number of incidents have been reported from the Maanipai area and also from Vadamarachchi East particularly in the Kudaththanai area, where there are at least four incidents that have been reported. One of the later incidents reported from that area is that of an employee of the postal department who was at the forefront of the opposition to an illegal sand mining activity that is being carried out by the EPDP in that area. He had been seen at demonstrations; his pictures have appeared on the web. EPDP has, is said to have a, a foundation called the Maheswari Foundation, in fact there is no such foundation, all of us in this house know because there is an incorporation that is still being awaited and for sand that costs only Rs.286/=, Rs.286/= This illegal body run by the EPDP charges Rs.13,600/= Highway robbery, and people of that area have been protesting about this. In fact Maheswari Foundation that is awaiting incorporation in this house also cannot be incorporated at this point in time because the matter of the incorporation of this body is subjudis at this moment. There is a court case pending CA 647/10 in which the issue of incorporation of that foundation in itself is a subject matter and in due time that will be communicated to this house not to precede further on that matter.

In any event it is a person who led the protest against this robbery by the EPDP on the residents of Jaffna. Armed gun men invaded his house; shot him dead and got away. I said there are many curious matters that arise in these transactions. Another curious issue is, several EPDP members attended the funeral, put up posters to mourn his death and tried to suggest that this was one their own members who had died when the world knows that he is one who opposed the EPDP. So one understands the reluctance of the Government to reply to this serious issue that has been raised and one understands the anxiety of the Hon. Minister to want to raise it first himself. The Government doesn’t have to look too far. The President had spoken a few days ago in Jaffna, and stated that he is resolved to do away with all the underworld Mafia, all the underworld groups, now for, there are no underworld groups in Jaffna, anybody who knows Jaffna knows that there are no underworld groups in Jaffna.

The President, His Excellency, does not have to look too far to know who these persons who are illegally carrying arms, who are threatening people, who are driving the people to a fear psychosis, who are extorting money who are remanding ransom and who are carrying out these murders. That’s a group that is very close to the Government and that is why it has become necessary for the opposition today to move at this adjournment to discuss this matter and move this resolution for the Prime Minister to reply to every one of those incidents, the incidents I have placed. In fact when the incidents were given notice of the Honourable leader of the house stated that in 24 hours he cannot give a reply because there are several incidents, but 24 hours later he came and said since here is a full day adjournment debate that has been agreed upon I will answer every one of those incidents at that adjournment debate and we are awaiting the reply to those incidents that I have placed and I have placed many more that have happened between the 5 th of January and today.

The Government must take responsibility for this state of affairs particularly when it is published in the media quoting the Security Commander of Forces himself, as to the identity of the persons who are related to at least one or two of these incidents. The most highlighted one is the murder of Mr. Markandu Sivalingam, The Deputy Zonal Director of Education of Valigamam. Now his murder has been carried out, I have personally spoken to very close relatives of his, his murder has been carried out by a well trained person, a person who had managed to get into that house through the Chimney. Through which even a person of my dimensions cannot go through. There are foot marks inside the chimney. He is so well trained that he has used a micro pistol and even when Mr.Sivalingam had held him down with the hands down being unable to raise his hand to fire, from below his hips he had fired one shot through his heart, such a marksmen; such an athlete at least the person who had carried out the murder of Mr.Sivalingam.

He did not panic thereafter; he had spoken to his daughter, asked for the daughter’s earrings; showed his gun and walked out of the house without anybody apprehending him. Now various theories have been put forward as for the motives for this killing, but one thing that we can say is that the motive for the killing is not robbery. The motive for that killing is been personal feud, there has been no personal feud as some people have tried to suggest saying that his wife was living in another house, that’s two houses away, his mother is elderly and sick and lives alone so the daughter-in-law goes and sleeps in the night in that house that has been sought to be made out as though he was estranged from his wife. That’s far from the truth. One cannot find any plausible explanation that is being trotted out. There is one other suggestion that has been made, that he was opposed to the event that the Hon. Prime Minister attended in Jaffna at which the Tamil children were forced to learn the National Anthem to be sung in the Sinhala language in a short time. They were used to singing it in the Tamil Language.

Now we don’t know the truth or otherwise of that allegation and I don’t want to be as irresponsible as to suggest that is the reason for the killing, but there is no other reasonable explanation that can be given either. Now why would the Government want this kind of negative publicity on itself?

One cannot understand why the government is doing this or allowing this to happen.

Either the security forces that are in, said to be in total control of the peninsula are running a mock and the Government has no control over them or whatever the security forces or the persons aligned to them. Two the government has no will to put a stop to. Also the Government is turning a blind eye then to the activities of EPDP which even the Security Forces Commander of Jaffna concedes is involved in some of these incidents. I think it is time that the Government moves away from tolerating this kind of persons to be part of their ranks. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission that the Government appointed in an interim report has suggested that all those persons who are bearing arms illegally must immediately be disarmed. So your own commission concedes; your own commission says that there are such persons and in Jaffna it is common knowledge that it is the EPDP that is that group that is bearing arms illegally and that it’s part, that it’s constituent of this Government.

I am making a fervent appeal to the Hon. Prime Minister who is present here and through him to His Excellency the President, at least at this point in time that you say that you want to reconcile with the Tamil people; at least at this point in time when His Excellency takes an effort to speak in Tamil to show his good intentions; at least now move away from these criminal elements that are part of your Government. It’s time that you told them enough is enough, this Government will not tolerate your criminality anymore and move them out of the Government’s fold. If you are serious about the Tamil people respecting this Government, if you are serious about Tamil people taking what you say seriously then it is imperative that you do this, but for the moment, the issue that has arisen now at this adjournment debate are identifiable instances of criminal activity that have all gone unresolved, none of this have been resolved. Out of 24 that I have placed now in Parliament, in this house hardly two or three incidents have been even investigated and one or two persons apprehended.

This is a very strange issue, in other parts of the country where there is less than ten percent of the security measures that are prevalent in the Peninsula of Jaffna, within a couple of days persons are apprehended, investigations are carried out. So if you allow this state of affairs to continue, then you will be confirming the doubt that all of us have that it is some part of the Government that is responsible for all of these matters. Some of these incidents have spilled over to the other parts of the Northern Province as well. Some of my colleagues who will speak after this will detail those as well, but for the moment let me wind up my speech by moving that this house will adopt the resolution that I have proposed.

National question must not be treated as a rift between the Sinhalese and Tamils with Muslims caught in the middle

BY Dr. A. C. Visvalingam
President, CIMOGG

Newspaper reports about the recent meeting between President Rajapakse and the media has given encouragement to those who value freedom of expression. The President had apparently said that he does not resent any criticism that is directed against him in the media but the latter should not in any way encourage ethnic or religious friction.

The Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) believes that all wise citizens will have no qualms about supporting the President’s stand. Nonetheless, one should necessarily keep in mind that the latitude allowed for the free expression of dissent should not be exploited in bad faith to criticise the President – or, for that matter, anyone else or any institution.

In truth, during the past few years, we at CIMOGG have had occasion to express concern, always in good faith, about some of the Government’s policies and actions as well as deficiencies in governance. This being so, we are relieved to learn that, in the spirit of true democracy, the President has indicated that he has no wish to suppress non-partisan views such as ours.

A goodly proportion of CIMOGG contributions to the Press over the past five years and more have stressed the importance of all our citizens’ responsibility to think as Sri Lankans rather than as members of particular ethnic or religious groupings. Consequently, all members of CIMOGG are delighted to express their support to the President in his appeal to the media not to exacerbate inter-group differences.

We need no convincing that the media of all three national languages have a paramount duty to pay heed to the President’s call. As we move into the future, there should be less space and headlined prominence given to extreme or overly partial views on ethnicity, religion and similar factors and more space dedicated to the creation of a single national identity which embraces the pluralistic nature of our society.

It is also relevant to recall that the President had indicated a few weeks back that he had intended to reveal his plans for solving the National Question when he was in the UK. However, this did not happen. While he may have had his reasons for having wished to disclose these plans on foreign soil, CIMOGG is obliged to remind him that it is the executive powers that belong to the People of Sri Lanka which have been delegated to him and that it would only be right and proper for him, even belatedly, to take the grantors of those powers into his confidence and share with the Nation at least the particulars of the plans that he says he has for solving our most vexed problem, which, if not solved properly, will continue to have a negative effect on peace, security, development, our international standing, the creation of a sustainable common Sri Lankan identity, and other very important challenges.

The inescapable fact is that, if the President had made known his plans on the day on which he had originally intended to do so, we and the whole world would have become aware of them several weeks ago. Why then should his plans continue to remain a secret now? There is no question that it is high time for the President to apprise the People of his intentions in this regard.

CIMOGG reiterates its position that the National Question should not be treated as a rift between the Sinhalese and the Tamils, with the Muslims getting caught up in the middle. It has always been our position that most of the problems faced by the citizens of this country have little or nothing to do with religion or ethnicity. The majority of Sri Lankans, irrespective of which subgroup they belong to, need to feel secure and free, to have a roof over their heads, a basic supply of food for their children and themselves, permanent employment, easy access to moderately good schools, inexpensive transport, low cost health facilities, a multilingual administration and other fundamental requirements.

Once these are provided in an equitable manner to all Sri Lankans, the only thing that the existing subgroups would want separately for themselves is sufficient clear space to preserve and develop their own religious and cultural heritages. Much of these spaces are already there and what is needed is a formal enhancement of these within some rational and distinctly specified boundaries.

Equally important is that the Police and Judiciary should carry out their duties in such an apolitical and humane manner that the steady erosion of the Rule of Law will be brought to a halt and the public can begin to rebuild its respect for these institutions which were held in very high regard at the time that Sri Lanka gained its independence.

As long as the 18th Amendment is not improved to bring it line with the thinking behind the original drafts of the 17th Amendment (rather different from what was passed by Parliament in 2001), the Police will too often be coerced by selfish interests to act in such a way as to cause them (the Police) to be looked down upon by the public, who will not fail to take note of the myriad examples of the increasing discrepancy between the arbitrary manner in which the Police carry out their duties and what the law requires.

As for the Judiciary, it is up to the Chief Justice, the Supreme Court and the Judicial Services Commission to look inwards and see what it is that they and their predecessors have done or omitted to do that have led to the public losing faith in the Courts as a reliable mechanism for dispensing justice. Failure to carry out this introspection and to take appropriate corrective measures will cause future generations to wonder how such a deplorable loss of trust and respect came about, and will no doubt enable them eventually to trace the blame to where it belongs.

The President has to set the standard for all his Ministers and State employees as regards accountability to the People and also create the appropriate machinery to monitor and enforce compliance. This step will be difficult to implement with the 18th Amendment in place and will get more and more difficult with time, so much so that by the time that President Rajapakse "hands over the baton" to his successor, the whole machinery of State would, in our view, have become seriously flawed and unmanageable.

Blind reliance on the popularity and leadership qualities of the present incumbent will place the whole Nation in a highly vulnerable position if his successor fails to measure up satisfactorily. Based on the past history of all nations, it is extremely rarely that honest leaders with ability and charisma appear on the scene. Indeed, it is because of this low probability of the continuity of good governance that most of the powers of the People are usually trifurcated, separated to the maximum practicable extent, and then delegated within such a constitutional framework that the three legatees (Parliament, the Executive and the Judiciary) will be able to act independently in exercising the specific powers given to each of them.

It is, therefore, the duty of all Members of Parliament, especially those in the Opposition, not to sit back and say "There is no point in trying to improve anything because we would only be hitting our heads against a brick wall" but to keep on chipping away to put right what is illogical, ineffective or downright wrong.

January 21, 2011

Ban's Sri Lanka war crimes panel stuck in New York

By Colum Lynch

Sri Lanka has cut off direct talks with a U.N. panel set up in June to promote accountability for war crimes during the final stages of the country's bloody 2009 offensive against Tamil separatists, U.N. officials told Turtle Bay.

The panel had been planning a trip to Colombo to question senior officials responsible for addressing massive rights violations during the conflict, but that visit is now unlikely.

Sri Lanka's deputy U.N. ambassador, Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva, who commanded troops during the war, wrote to the office of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon this month to say that going forward his government would only hold talks with Ban's advisors, not with the panel investigating war crimes. U.N. officials say they fear Sri Lanka's action, which comes one month after Sri Lanka's U.N. ambassador, Palitha Kohona, invited the panel to Colombo, may be calculated to run down the clock on talks on a visit until the panel's mandate expires at the end of February.

The dispute centers on the terms under which the visit would take place. Sri Lanka has agreed to a visit by the U.N. panel on the condition that its activities be limited to testifying before the Sri Lanka Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, which was set up by President Mahinda Rajapaksa last year to address the conflict and promote reconciliation between the country's ruling Sinhalese and minority Tamils. The panel has demanded broader freedom to talk to a range of Sri Lankan officials.

President Rajapaksa agreed to invite the panel to Sri Lanka during a meeting with Ban in New York along the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly debate last September, Sri Lanka's U.N. envoy, Palitha Kohona, told Turtle Bay. "The understanding at that point was the panel will come to Sri Lanka and make representations to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission," he said. Kohona claimed the panel has sought to unilaterally "expand the scope of that understanding." U.N. officials have privately challenged Kohona's account of Ban's agreement with Rajapaksa, saying Ban did not agree to limiting the scope of the panel's activities in Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan army mounted a brutal military offensive in 2009 against the country's rebel Tamil Tigers, decisively defeating the 33-year-old separatist insurgency that pioneered the use of suicide bombers and assassinated a Sri Lankan president, Ranasinghe Premadasa, in 1993 and former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.

In their last stand, the separatist Tamil Tigers embedded themselves in a displaced community of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tamil civilians, forcing them to serve as human shields. The Sri Lankan military, meanwhile, fired indiscriminately into crowds of civilians, killing as many as 30,000.

Human rights groups fear that Sri Lanka's successful, though highly brutal, military campaign will become a model for other governments seeking to crush insurgencies. They have pressed Ban to ensure that Sri Lankan war criminals are held accountable.

Ban exacted a pledge from Rajapaksa in May 2009 to ensure that war criminals on both sides of the conflict be held accountable. The government has since set up the Lessons Learnt Commission to promote reconciliation between the Tamils and Sinhalese, but the commission has been criticized by human rights groups and foreign dignitaries as inadequate.

Frustrated with the lack of progress, Ban established a three-member panel in June to advise him on how to ensure rights violators are held accountable for possible war crimes. In a statement, Ban said the panel hoped to cooperate with Sri Lankan officials in Sri Lanka.

The panel is chaired by Marzuki Darusman of Indonesia, Yasmin Sooka of South Africa, and Steven Ratner of the United States. It has a mandate to examine "the modalities, applicable international standards and comparative experience with regard to accountability processes, taking into account the nature and scope of any alleged violations in Sri Lanka." It is also supposed to advise Sri Lanka on ensuring Sri Lankan war criminals are held accountable.

Sri Lanka initially accused Ban of exceeding his authority and refused to provide the panel members with visas to enter the country. Sri Lankan authorities are concerned that the panel, which will produce a report with recommendations, may call for the establishment of a commission of inquiry, a frequent first step before an international prosecution.

In July, Sri Lanka's minister for housing and construction, Wimal Weerawansa, led a group of pro-government protesters that ringed the U.N.'s Colombo headquarters, harassing U.N. employees, preventing staffers from entering and exiting the U.N. compound, and burning U.N. Secretary-General Ban-Ki moon in effigy. Sri Lanka officials essentially ignored the panel's repeated requests for visas to travel to Colombo.

But in December, Sri Lanka's U.N. ambassador, Palitha Kohona, invited the panel to lunch and offered an invitation to visit Colombo. A subsequent letter made it clear that the panel's visit would be restricted to sharing their views on accountability before the Lessons Learned Commission: They would not be permitted to question the commission or conduct interviews with key Sri Lankan officials, including the attorney general, responsible for pursuing justice in the case.

"The Sri Lankan mission had initially indicated they would be amenable to the panel meeting with it to make whatever representations it may wish to make, but it seems now that such a visit has still not been decided," said a senior U.N. official. "I am not sure if this is a simple matter of the Sri Lankan side prevaricating. The panel is nevertheless open and keen on any appropriate interaction with the LLC."

"The Sri Lankans have sought to keep their interaction through the secretariat, specifically the EOSG [the executive office of the secretary general]," the official said. "We have, however, been asking them and the panel to deal with each other directly and shall continue to do so." ~ on http://twitter.com/columlynch [courtesy: http://turtlebay.foreignpolicy.com]

Full Text of State Dept. briefing on President Mahinda Rajapaksa's visit to US

Philip J. Crowley
Assistant SecretaryDaily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 21, 2011

QUESTION: What’s your understanding of the visit of the – or what do you know about the visit to the United States of the president of Sri Lanka?

MR. CROWLEY: He is visiting the United States and it is a private visit.

QUESTION: Is he – does he have any – he has no plans to meet with any U.S. officials?

MR. CROWLEY: No.

QUESTION: I understand he might be in Texas and that Assistant Secretary Blake was there. There was some speculation that the two might meet.

MR. CROWLEY: There is no meeting that I’m aware of with the president during his visit. So I – yes, you’re right. I think Assistant Secretary Blake gave a speech at Rice University, but we specifically asked, and there’s no meeting between a U.S. Government official and President Rajapaksa.

QUESTION: Is the Sri Lankan foreign minister with him? And maybe you will meet him or the Secretary will.

MR. CROWLEY: Again, if I’m wrong, we’ll correct the record, but I’m not aware of any meetings associated with his visit.

QUESTION: There have been some calls for him to be investigated or to be looked into or even prosecuted. Is this something that you’re willing to look at?

MR. CROWLEY: Well – and in fact, we have made strong public statements and are supporting what Sri Lanka is doing. It’s a process that is still ongoing. We clearly believe that those who have violated international humanitarian law must be held accountable, and we believe that accountability for alleged crimes is an essential component of national reconciliation in Sri Lanka. There is a Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission that has been receiving testimony from hundreds of people. I think its mandate has been extended to June of this year, at which time it will make a report to President Rajapaksa. We would hope that Sri Lanka would continue this effort and take advantage of expertise that exists, for example, within the United Nations and the Secretary General’s Panel for Experts that has volunteered to provide assistance to Sri Lanka as it continues this effort.

QUESTION: Right, but the president and his government have refused the UN any (inaudible) as I understand it, correct?

MR. CROWLEY: I understand that. So we –

QUESTION: Well, so why wouldn’t this be an opportunity, if he’s in the United States, to meet with him –

MR. CROWLEY: We will – this is a process that is ongoing. We will continue to encourage Sri Lanka to have a full accounting of what happened at the end of the – during and at the end of this conflict. We think it’s very, very important to Sri Lanka’s future, and we will not hesitate to speak out as this process continues.

QUESTION: Right, well, if it is very, very important to Sri Lanka’s future and you support the UN role in this, why not take the opportunity of a visit of the president to meet with him and to reinforce that position, tell him face to face?

MR. CROWLEY: We’ve had no trouble communicating our views to the Government of Sri Lanka.

QUESTION: Well, how about this then? Have you –

MR. CROWLEY: I –

QUESTION: Have you sought – have you asked to meet with him?

MR. CROWLEY: We did not; nor did he ask to meet with us.

QUESTION: Well, okay, then can I ask why not ask to meet with him if you feel so strongly that his government should drop its opposition to UN involvement in this panel?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we’re going to wait and see how this process unfolds, and if it falls short, we will not hesitate to say so.

Significant humanitarian needs exist from flooding in East as well as from former conflict areas in North, UN says

UN News Centre

21 January 2011 – Senior United Nations relief official Catherine Bragg today stressed the world body’s continued commitment to helping Sri Lanka tackle its growing humanitarian needs, as she wrapped up her three-day visit to the South Asian nation.

“We need to continue our humanitarian work and are committed to remaining here and providing humanitarian assistance to all those in need, wherever they are,” said Ms. Bragg, who serves as Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator.

“It’s my observation that there are significant and immediate humanitarian needs resulting from the recent flooding in the east, as well as the ongoing needs in the former conflict areas of the north,” she stated.

During her visit, the UN official travelled to the north, where she spoke with people who have recently returned home since being released from Government-run camps set up in 2009 at the end of the decades-long conflict between the Government and Tamil rebels.

“Most of the returnees currently have limited access to basic services such as shelter, water and sanitation and health care. These communities remain extremely vulnerable and have critical humanitarian needs that we must address immediately.”

In her meetings with government ministers, Ms. Bragg reaffirmed the commitment of the UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to remaining in Sri Lanka to help the Government, especially in rebuilding the north.

Ms. Bragg also visited the worst flood-affected areas in the east of the country and launched a flash appeal to raise $51 million in emergency funds for the one million people who are now in need of assistance.

The flooding – which reached an almost 100 year high – has driven more than 360,000 people from their homes, killed 43 people, and totally destroyed some 6,000 homes. People are now returning to their homes, but 10,000 people still remain displaced in temporary relocation centres.

Ms. Bragg had noted during her visit that the floods are “an enormous and tragic setback” for a community that is slowly rebuilding their lives following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and recovering from the decades-long conflict. ~ UN.org ~

January 20, 2011

Deputy UN humanitarian chief urges increased assistance for returnees

UN News Centre

20 January 2011 – The deputy United Nations humanitarian chief today called for greater efforts to assist former internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sri Lanka who have returned to their villages and are facing daunting challenges trying to rebuild their lives.

“Significant progress has been made in meeting the needs of the displaced and promoting return processes,” said Catherine Bragg, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, on the second day of her three-day visit to Sri Lanka.

“However, those who have been released [from camps] now face a daily struggle to rebuild their lives, and have to start from scratch,” said Ms. Bragg, who is also the UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator. “There is nothing left. They are going to need schools and teachers, hospitals and doctors, and basic social services,” she added.

Northern Sri Lanka was ravaged by decades of conflict that ended in May 2009. The violence displaced more than 300,000 people who were accommodated in IDP camps. Only 20,000 people remain in the camps, unable to return home due to the risk of landmines and lack of basic services.

Ms. Bragg travelled across the South Asian country to get a better understanding of humanitarian priorities. In the north, she went to Theravil in Mullaitivu District, which was recently cleared of landmines, enabling former residents to return and begin rebuilding their lives.

Some 263 families have returned to Theravil – which was one of the last battlegrounds in the conflict – after their release from the largest camp, Menik Farm, in November last year.

During Ms. Bragg’s visit, aid organizations expressed their wish to help address the range of physical, social and psychosocial needs of the returnees.

“We are here to support them. It is good that the Government has invested significantly in infrastructure, but this should be combined with investing in the people as well,” said Ms. Bragg.

She then travelled to Batticaloa in the flood-ravaged eastern province where she heard from local government and aid organizations about the extent of the damage, especially in the agricultural sector, which has lost an estimated 80 per cent of this season’s harvest in some areas.

Ms. Bragg also launched a Flash Appeal for the flood emergency. The appeal seeks $51 million to meet the immediate needs of one million people affected by the floods for the next six months.

She announced that a $6 million grant from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has been allocated to jumpstart key life-saving projects. ~ UN.org ~

Related:

January 19, 2011

No War, No Peace - The Denial of Minority Rights and Justice in Sri Lanka - Minority Rights Group International Report

Human rights violations in Sri Lanka continue unabated against ethnic Tamils and Muslims who fear an increasingly nationalist government, a new report by Minority Rights Group International says.

Nearly two years after the end of the war, minorities face daily repression and marginalisation in politics and development policies, particularly in the country's north and east, documents the report.

The report titled 'No war, no peace: the denial of minority rights and justice in Sri Lanka' includes groundbreaking first-hand research from the north and east of the country, including areas that international and national media and NGOs have limited access to.

'Despite the end of the war, many Tamil and Muslim minorities in Sri Lanka continue to live in fear, ' says Mark Lattimer, Executive Director of MRG.

The report quotes minority political leaders and activists who express serious fear of a state based on Sinhala hegemony. It documents cases of land in traditional Tamil and Muslim areas being seized by military and civilian authorities and used for the construction of everything from military encampments and a power plant to hotels and leisure facilities. The report also expresses concerns by minority activists at the sudden proliferation of Buddhist temples and religious symbols in Tamil and Muslim areas, which they argue is politically sponsored.

In 2009 the Sri Lankan government declared that the country's 30 year conflict was over after it successfully defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels who had been fighting for a separate homeland for ethnic Tamils. In the immediate aftermath of the war the country faced a huge humanitarian crisis with more than 250,000 people displaced and interned in camps for months.

The report says that while many of those displaced in the last stages of fighting have been moved out of the camps, the resettlement process has not taken place according to international standards. It also stresses the need for the government to provide for the return and resettlement of over 200,000 'old displaced', who lost their homes in earlier stages of fighting. This includes a substantial number of Muslims who were forcibly displaced by the Tigers from the north in 1990.

'The situation in the resettlement areas in the north and east is very worrying, particularly as international and national media and NGOs have restricted access. There is a high level of militarisation and state control over freedom of movement and association, with local women vulnerable to sexual abuse and harassment,' says Lattimer.

The report argues that the government is doing little to resolve some of the original minority grievances that led to the conflict, such as violations of physical integrity including torture and enforced disappearances, lack of political autonomy and denial of language rights.

[Full Report]

'The government has made little mention of greater political autonomy for minorities which has always been a key demand of Tamils and Muslims. In fact, the government is now proposing legislation to change the electoral system in a way that threatens to decrease their political representation,' Lattimer adds.

The report makes a series of recommendations to the Sri Lankan government including asking for a published policy to address minority rights issues, the resumption of all-party negotiations aimed at reaching an agreement on political representation and governance for minorities, and the development of an impartial and credible mechanism for justice and reconciliation in the country.

'We urge the Sri Lankan government not to lose the opportunity to bring in a lasting peace that can be enjoyed by all communities in Sri Lanka. Justice, reconciliation and human rights protection are essential for peace to become a reality for all,' Lattimer says.

[Full Report] (Available on SCRIBD ~ no downloading needed)

* Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non-governmental organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide.

Investigate visiting Sri Lankan President - U.S. Urged by Amnesty Int'l

Amnesty International Press ReleaseWednesday, January 19, 2011

Amnesty International Calls on the United States to Investigate Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapksa, During his Surprise Visit to the United States

(Washington, D.C.) The United States should investigate Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapksa, who arrives on a surprise visit to the United States today, for his alleged role in perpetrating torture and war crimes, Amnesty International said today.

Rajapaksa reportedly left Sri Lanka early Wednesday morning with a delegation of 20 bound for the United States.

"The United States has an obligation under international law to investigate and prosecute people who perpetrated war crimes and grave human rights violations such as extrajudicial executions, torture and enforced disappearances," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director.

Rajapaksa is commander in chief of Sri Lanka's armed forces, which face numerous allegations of engaging in war crimes, enforced disappearances, and torture. Under international law, military commanders may face criminal responsibility if they knew, or should have known, of such crimes being committed by their subordinates.

The president’s visit comes as a Panel of Experts appointed by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon works on a report advising him on accountability issues in Sri Lanka. Both Sri Lankan government forces and members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are accused of having committed war crimes in the final phase of the decades-long conflict.

Amnesty International has called for the United Nations to initiate an international investigation.

"Thousands of victims in Sri Lanka demand accountability for the abuses they've suffered from the Sri Lankan security forces as well as armed groups such as the LTTE," Zarifi said.

In December Wikileaks exposed a secret United States Embassy cable sent by Ambassador Patricia Butenis from Colombo in which she noted the difficulty of bringing perpetrators of alleged crimes to justice when “responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country's senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers ....”

The United States should further investigate these allegations and support calls for an international investigation into Sri Lanka’s role in war crimes.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.8 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

# # #

For more information, please visit: www.amnestyusa.org.

Ancient temple stitched back together

By Sivaramakrishnan Parameswaran
Producer, BBC Tamil Service

A 1,250-year-old temple has been saved from collapse using "granite stitching" in southern India.

The Kailasanathar Temple in the town of Uthiramerur is more than 1,250 years old, according to studies of its inscriptions.

AT119A.jpg

Inscriptions suggest the Kailasanathar temple is more than 1,250 years old

Uthiramerur town, which is one of the oldest settlements in the state of Tamil Nadu, was highly developed according to inscriptions found in the town, which describes a society which held elections and had a government.

The temple dedicated to the god Shiva was built during the reign of Pallava King Dantivarman with additions made by later rulers.

"The centuries-old monument is made up of a brick super-structure and a granite substructure," explains Dr Sathyamurthy of the REACH Foundation and the prime mover behind this restoration and an archaeologist with four decades' experience.

Cracks of more than three feet in width had developed in the intricately constructed temple dome made of brick and lime plaster, which is around 80ft high.

"It was about to collapse completely and there were so many conservation problems because of the growth of thick vegetation on the Vimana or dome of the temple," Dr Sathyamurthy told the BBC Tamil Service.

While the upper part of the temple was in bad shape, the basement and plinth had other serious issues with cracks at more than 20 places in the granite stones according to the archaeologist.

Faced with serious technical problems the REACH team turned for advice to the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT-M) a premier engineering institute in India.

"The conservation team was faced with a problem as to whether the stone plinth can bear the weight of the entire super structure," Dr MS Mathews of the civil engineering department at IIT-M and a consultant to the Archaeological Survey of India, told the BBC.

When the monument was examined it was found that a few stones in the sub-structure were dislodged from their original position, and there were several cracks in the plinth due to stress, strain and shock says Anu Padma, who was involved in the conservation project as a research scholar.

"In Uthiramerur the options were limited. If the broken stones are to be removed and replaced, the restoration process would have become very complicated and could have further damaged the temple dome," Dr Mathews said.

Funding for the conservation project was another huge issue since governmental support for such projects were almost nil, according to the Conserver Heritage movement.

Conservationists also point out that while numerous monuments exist in India, the government preserves only 5% of them.

So the team at IIT-M decided that "granite stitching" would be the most simple, least invasive and the necessary method to restore the temple to its original glory, Dr Mathews said.

The site observation and inspection showed that the cracks in the granite stones were "non-progressive" and laboratory tests were conducted to assess the load-bearing capacity of stitched granite beams in comparison with the solid, uncracked granite beams.

"Test results proved that the stitching would bear the desired load," Ms Anu Padma said.

In the stone stitching technique, the cracks in the plinth are strengthened with stainless steel rods and an epoxy-based chemical anchor without disturbing the original structure.

Holes are drilled on both sides of a crack in a roughly 45 degree angle. They are then cleaned and the chemical anchor filled in, Ms Anu Padma further explains.

Stainless steel rods are then inserted and finished with rock powder to cover the conservation work and provide an aesthetically pleasing appearance.

"The inserted rod starts at one side of the crack and ends at the other side of the crack, holding both sides together. This is actually like stitching seen in cloth," she said.

According to Dr Mathews, the technique itself is very simple and not very expensive. But he says that when dealing with ancient monuments, it is important that care is taken over the materials used.

"High-grade stainless steel rods with a high percentage of chromium were used so that they didn't corrode for at least another five hundred years," he says.

Both Dr Sathyamurthy and Dr Mathews say that in India there are many temples and monuments in danger of total collapse or partial collapse and that these are causes for concern.

AT119B.jpg

The conservation team wanted to provide an aesthetically pleasing appearance

Dr Mathews says that further research in the laboratory in stone stitching and other reversible interventions is needed. This could allow the technique to be used to conserve other monuments in future.

With the basement safely secured, the team started conserving the super-structure, including the huge dome using a newly created lime plaster based on the old formula.

The conservation team now says that a weight of around 30,000 tonnes can safely rest on the basement and the plinth of granite rocks. ~ courtesy: BBC News ~

January 17, 2011

UN official to highlight Sri Lanka’s humanitarian needs during upcoming visit

UN News Service

18 January 2011 – One of the UN’s top humanitarian officials will visit Sri Lanka later this week to highlight the country’s humanitarian needs and to advocate on behalf of the most vulnerable.

The Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Assistant Secretary-General Catherine Bragg, will be in Sri Lanka from 19 to 21 January, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a press release on Tuesday.

Her visit is expected to provide an opportunity to emphasize the commitment of the United Nations to the people of Sri Lanka in the midst of devastatingly heavy rainfall and to rally donors to support and expand ongoing national efforts to respond to the growing humanitarian needs.

In the last week, torrential rain has affected more than one million people in Sri Lanka’s eastern and central districts, forcing up to 370,000 people to flee their homes, and has claimed 43 lives to date.

This is in addition to the ongoing humanitarian concerns in the country’s north, where 20,000 internally displaced people remain in government-run camps since the end of the conflict in 2009, and those who have returned to their areas of origin are struggling to rebuild their lives.

“Humanitarian work is about reaching all people in need and in particular the most vulnerable, providing them with emergency assistance and supporting them through their most difficult time. This includes helping them recover and rebuild their lives,” said Ms. Bragg.

The United Nations and humanitarian partners are supporting the Government of Sri Lanka to provide critically needed emergency supplies such as safe drinking water, food, sanitation and emergency shelter, and will launch an appeal for emergency funds on 20 January.

Sri Lanka’s floods, which may have destroyed at least half of the season’s harvest in the eastern province, will also have a severe impact on agricultural livelihoods in a region still suffering the effects of the 2004 tsunami and recovering from the decades-long conflict.

During her mission, Ms. Bragg will visit the north of the country where thousands have returned following the end of the conflict, as well as visit the worst-flood affected areas in the east. She will also meet representatives from the Government, donors, and aid agencies.

January 16, 2011

Sri Lanka is wasting the peace dividend

Editorial, The Globe and Mail - Jan 17, 2010

The government of Sri Lanka is squandering an important opportunity to build lasting peace. Though its treatment of Tamils has been substantially moderated since the civil war’s end 18 months ago, President Mahinda Rajapaksa is still engaging in some oppressive policies toward them.

After nearly three decades of civil war, reconciliation between the country’s Sinhalese majority and Tamil minority was never going to be easy. But Mr. Rajapaksa, whose three brothers are also in government, must do more to quell ethnic tensions.

The government’s “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Committee,” which is looking into claims the army killed tens of thousands of Tamil civilians and soldiers in the last phase of the war, lacks credibility.

And Mr. Rajapaksa, who has taken sole credit for the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, has used his popularity to change the constitution, eliminating the ban on more than two terms in office, and giving himself final authority over all appointments to the civil service, judiciary and police.

“Despite postwar promises to address the political marginalization of Tamil-speaking people, the government has taken no steps to devolve power from the centre,” concludes a new report by the International Crisis Group.

While the Sri Lankan government has released the majority of the 12,000 people detained on suspicion of LTTE involvement, and 300,000 more displaced people, 70,000 Sri Lankans are still unable to return to their own land. “Those who have returned home face huge problems, including a lack of housing,” notes the report.

There should be a transparent process for resolving land disputes, and greater efforts made to include Tamils in the process. They must be reassured that the government isn’t trying to colonize the north by sending Sinhalese people to live there. Reconciliation – not consolidation of personal power – should be Mr. Rajapaksa’s priority.

~ courtesy: The Globe and Mail ~

UPFA govt has not done "enough" for the Tamil people or areas traditionally inhabited by them

by Sumanasiri Liyanage

When Rahul Gandhi made a statement, on rationally justifiable ground, that he was concerned about the fact that the government of Sri Lanka had not yet done enough for Sri Lankan Tamils in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, many people for multiple reasons got angry and even began lamenting about the breach of sovereignty of Sri Lanka as a nation. They may have thought how Sri Lanka treated its Tamils was her business and not anyone else’s. They have even refused to make an inquiry whether his statement had any truth before criticising him.

Let me connect with this with a statement recently made by the President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The President, I think, addressing officials of the Ministry of Highways, reiterated the importance of road network and its proper maintenance. He particularly mentioned that immediate attention must be paid to roads that connected cricket grounds used for the forthcoming cricket World Cup matches. Cricket lovers, including yours truly, would love that directive in that a good road network will facilitate the movement among the match venues. One may wonder why and how I am going to connect these seemingly unconnected two statements. Of course, there is a missing link. Here, I would like to mention the experience two of my Indian friends faced during a short visit to Sri Lanka.

Two academics from the University of Pondicherry visited Sri Lanka about two weeks ago and while they were here, the University of Jaffna and University of Peradeniya invited them to visit the two places. It took them 12 hours to reach Kandy from Jaffna along A9 highway. It was not only the long time they spent on the road but the nature of the road that made the trip extremely strenuous. I told my Tamil colleagues that when I bought a new car on my duty free vehicle permit it, I intended to visit Jaffna first of all. They asked me jokingly an interesting question: Would you plan to dump your car after the trip in Jaffna or, if you are fortunate, in Kandy on the completion of the trip? I listened carefully to President’s statement on the development of highways and the government’s priorities. No mention was made about A-9.

I remember that a Cabinet Meeting was once held in Kilinochchi and so much publicity given to it. Did the members of the Cabinet including the President reach there by helicopters? Didn’t they experience the road conditions all the way? Did the RDA make patchy repair work only for that particular event? Is the President aware of this deplorable condition of the A-9 Highway beyond Vavuniya?

Let me place it in its proper context. The armed conflict came to an end about 20 months ago. Highly advertised Uthuru Vasanthaya has been in operation for around one and a half years. It was told that the priority would be given to the construction of main roads as it facilitated peoples’ movement. The A-9 Highway in the absence of Kankasanthurai-Colombo railway line is the main link between the Jaffna Peninsula and the rest of the country. There should be something wrong in any development programme that neglects the re-construction of the A-9 highway.

I have no idea what Rahul Gandhi meant when he said that the Sri Lanka government was "not doing enough" for the Tamils in Sri Lanka. However, I am sure that the UPFA government does not understand the Tamil problem and how it and related problems should be addressed. It was said that the UPFA government would hold an election to Northern Provincial Council after the Parliamentary Election. However, nothing has been heard about the full implementation of the 13th Amendment or the formation of the NPC. Meanwhile, we hear bad news about the law and order situation in Jaffna. The matter was raised in the Parliament by Minister Douglas Devananda. The positive suggestion by the Leader of Opposition, Ranil Wickramasinghe that parliamentary delegation visit Jaffna to report back to the Parliament the situation in Jaffna has not taken seriously by the government.

Just because the armed conflict has come to end with a comprehensive defeat of the LTTE, it should not be presumed that the Tamil national conflict has been resolved. The root causes of the problem remain unaddressed. It is true that the way in which return and resettlement of IDPs were addressed by the Sri Lankan government is much better than such efforts in other countries faced with human-made or natural disasters. However, the Tamil national question cannot be reduced to the issue of return and resettlement of the displaced. It has multiple dimensions and many implications. Soon after the war, the leaders of the government seem to have perceived that if the state can fulfil the economic and development needs of the Tamil people, problem would gradually fade away.

The whole idea behind the Uthuru Vasanthaya is that the ethnic problem is essentially a developmental problem. One may see two fundamental weaknesses in this approach. First, the Tamil problem is not similar to the problem of poverty and underdevelopment in the districts like Monaragala. Even if it is similar, communities who are marginalized by the State tend to perceive that the issue of poverty and underdevelopment are related to and part and parcel of the identity-based marginalization. I need not to reiterate what has been written on this subject. Secondly, the bad experience of my academic friends from India demonstrates that even developmental work cannot be carried out to achieve intended results, unless the people who are affected by decisions are not allowed to participate in the decision-making process. The deplorable condition of the A-9 is a good example for this. Developmental priorities are decided upon by the politicians, bureaucrats and military officials in Colombo so that what is necessary for the region are invariably swept under the carpet.

I believe what Rahul Gandhi said was an eye-opener. The UPFA government has not done ‘enough’ for Tamil people or to the areas that are traditionally inhabited by them. If Uturu Vasanthaya turns into bleak and dark ‘winter’, the tragedy will be followed not by farce as Marx told us but by a worst tragedy. So, instead of asking Rahul Gandhi to get more details about the Northern Province from the Sri Lankan High Commission offices in New Delhi and Chennai, it would be more productive, if the delegation from the Ministry of External Relations make a trip to Jaffna along the A-9 highway.

Sri Lanka and the Spectre of an International Investigation

By Kalana Senaratne

To rephrase the words of Marx and Engels: a spectre is haunting Sri Lanka – the spectre of an international investigation. More specifically, a demand has been made by the West, and will be made in the future too: a demand for an international investigation.

The response to such a demand, without any doubt, should be: NO. Such a response should not be based purely on the issue of ‘sovereignty’ alone; i.e. that an international investigation violates Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Furthermore, this response should not be (and should not have been) the fast-unto-death kind.

But there are other reasons. One reason is the fact that the demand is made by Western/European States which do not practice what they preach (for instance, when US Ambassador Patricia Butenis stated in her cable of 15 Jan 2010 that “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”, one is not sure whether she was referring to Sri Lanka or the US and its allies; or whether she was mindful of the fact that the same could be said about US regimes). That habitual practice of preaching to the ‘other’ as to what they should do, and how they should address issues of accountability, has not gone away (and certainly, will not go away). That imperialist and neocolonial civilizing mission should have an unambiguous counter-response, a negative one.

Another reason concerns the question as to who is going to play the role of ‘investigator’ in that exercise: those belonging only to the West? Is that what these States mean by ‘international’? And if so, what of ‘independence’?

Moreover, another critical and important reason is the following: that while ‘accountability’ and ‘individual criminal responsibility’ are most important issues that need to be addressed, they hardly take into account the responsibility of significant international actors which may have contributed to the prolongation, or even an escalation, of the internal conflict.

As scholars such as Professors BS Chimni and Antony Anghie have persuasively argued, any mechanism which attempts to investigate allegations of crimes should consider: “the extent to which the negligence and failure of existing international institutions contributed to the problem”; and “the very direct ways in which powerful states, which have played the virtuous role of establishing new mechanisms of accountability may have promoted, or in the least, failed to prevent, the very violence which they now seek to redress.” (In the Sri Lankan context, if an investigation concerning the above is to take place, it would involve an examination of not only the Western powers, but also India.)

It is this very crucial issue that the West, in particular, very conveniently and even wittingly forgets when making that pompous and hypocritical demand for an international investigation. International human rights organizations, unfortunately, miss this point too. Why? Because some or most of them are heavily funded by those very same Western powers which have played a significant role in those conflicts, especially in the form of ‘peace-makers’.

Evidence, in the form of leaked cables (via Wikileaks), has emerged to suggest that some of the major powers which were involved in the Sri Lankan peace-process were, at times, unwilling to appreciate the dangers posed by the LTTE. The documents which have been leaked should not be, by any means, regarded as documents which set out a particular country’s foreign policy. What they do show, however, is the thinking behind, and the input that goes into, the possible formulation of foreign policy and stance.

Serious concerns, it should be remembered, have been raised even by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga. The US cable of 10/23/2003 reveals that President Kumaratunga had requested Norway to remove SLMM’s chief Tryggve Teleffsen. The accusation - surrounding the issue of SLMM preventing the Navy from intercepting an LTTE arms resupply ship - had been that the SLMM had either being “deliberately trying to tip off the Tigers via a phone call so that their boat could escape” or was “acting in a highly negligent manner.” Teleffsen had admitted that “the matter had been badly handled.”

In what context does this take place? This happened after Anton Balasingham had revealed that the LTTE “suspended peace talks to get concessions”; a decision which, according to the US, “highlighted the tactical nature of the LTTE’s recent moves” (cable of 08/05/2003). It is this same LTTE’s ‘theoretician’ who “danced around the question of responsibility for Kadirgamar’s assassination (and disavowed any prior knowledge)”, as per the cable of 08/18/2005.

And while former US Ambassador Jeffrey Lunstead seems to have referred to Eric Solheim’s observation that “President Rajapaksa meant well and wanted peace but has a ‘shallow understanding’ of the ethnic issue”, the question needs to be asked: what sort of understanding did the Norway have about the LTTE and its long term goals? It does not come as a surprise then to learn that US Ambassador in Oslo, K. Whitney, had thought that: “Norwegians do not generally see any threats. For example, they do not see a danger from terrorism”, and that Norway “revels in its self-described role as the ‘moral superpower’…”

Even the demeanour of Norwegian diplomatic officials based in Colombo has been severely criticized, by Dr. Ratnajeevan Hoole. Dr. Hoole stated before the LLRC (on 12 Nov., 2010) that he “felt treated like a mangy stray dog shut out at the palace gates”. This had happened when he approached the Norwegian Embassy in Colombo to complain about LTTE trying to scuttle his appointment as Vice Chancellor of the Jaffna University. The officials “would not even open the gates to let me speak to anyone of substance”, recounts Dr. Hoole, further stating that he has, to date, never received a reply nor acknowledgment of the note he was asked to write and leave outside the gates of the Embassy.

All this and more suggests that any international investigation should start with a complete and thorough investigation of these Western powers which were unwilling to assess the LTTE, its tactics, its long term goals, with the kind of seriousness that responsible international actors would, and should, have done. Alas, such international investigations which try to hold these international actors accountable, however necessary, would not take place. That much, we all know. Thus, ‘International investigations’ which do not, inter alia, investigate the above cannot be acceptable.

Yet, should that history that has been further revealed by Wikileaks, a history which is behind us, hamper our relations with the West? Shouldn’t we move on, having realized the true nature of these actors? We should. And if moving on is difficult, let us revisit some of those very cables which were quoted above, and focus on some positives which might help us overcome, to some extent, the anger that is obviously generated due to the hypocrisy exhibited by these powers.

For example, one needs to appreciate the following: that “Norwegian society values dialogue above all … Norwegians are extremely opposed to the use of military force to achieve goals, no matter how laudable…” (as stated by Ambassador Whitney: but tell that, again, to Dr. Hoole!). Or else, one might need to focus on what Jan Petersen wrote to LTTE’s Anton Balaginham, in a letter dated 16 August 2005, concerning the assassination of Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar: “[P]ublic perception both in Sri Lanka and internationally is that the LTTE is responsible. This public perception is a political reality… If the LTTE does not take a positive step forward at this critical juncture, the international reaction could be severe.” Well, the LTTE did not. And one knows the kind of domestic reaction and response that the terrorist group had to confront, a few years later.

Attaching the label ‘friend’ or ‘enemy’ does not help us over much. For that, we would in any case need more information about what other envoys in Sri Lanka are informing their respective political masters. Friends too have their ulterior motives, and a ‘friend’ that has supported our fight against terrorism will turn out to be an ‘enemy’ if it now wishes to carry out policies which are not in the best interest of the country. Identity, like anything else, is in constant flux. Hence, while not forgetting what these powers are and how they acted and what they are capable of, it is time to move on.

Yet, there is one final matter. While rejecting the calls for an international investigation, Sri Lanka should not, however, reject the importance of holding necessary domestic investigations and inquiries. The issue of human security is paramount, and kidnappings, killings and abductions of innocent Tamil citizens should be investigated by the State, as it should be the case as regards any other citizen belonging to any other ethnic group. ‘NO’ to an international investigation should not mean ‘NO’ to domestic investigations and inquiries concerning allegations raised by people within the State.

Those who may have been harmed during the conflict, or those who are reportedly being abducted or killed today, are citizens of Sri Lanka. If the Government of Sri Lanka cannot protect them, who will? And in this regard, the government does not need to turn to the reports compiled by those international organizations which are unwilling to appear before the LLRC. The government only needs to listen to the voices of the innocent and helpless people, in the Northern and Eastern parts of the country in particular. Sri Lanka has nothing to lose by addressing those enduring concerns of security raised by her own people. Sri Lanka will have the hearts of people - in short, ‘a world’ - to win.

Stronger Civil society and International response needed to deal with the flood crisis

by National Peace Council

Recent heavy rains across Sri Lanka have caused flooding and landslides that have left tens of thousands homeless, caused several deaths and affected over a million people. The flood crisis continues to be serious. The worst affected areas are in the East of the country which was previously devastated by long years of war and by the Tsunami of 2004. In comparison to the Tsunami, even though the number of persons who lost their lives is significantly less, thedamage is terms of destruction agricultural lands, infrastructure damage and loss of livelihoods is higher.

The government has dealt with the immediate aftermath of the disaster by deploying security forces personnel who have been supported by local level government structures in place working closely with local and international NGOs and communities living adjacent villages and towns. Government Ministers in charge of Disaster Management and other relevant Ministers were quick to go to the flood hit areas. The government's focus at present is on the provision of immediate relief. The government would be aware that further problems are likely to arise in the future. Besides epidemics, a scarcity of rice may come in the wake of floods that have destroyed vast extents of paddy land and irrigation systems, upon which many farmers are dependent for cultivation.

As a result of the floods the country is facing a serious situation in the immediate and short term. However, no national emergency has been declared by the government as yet which will generate a more generous and speedy international donor response. We urge the government to do all it can to generate more assistance for the affected people. People who lost their belongings and houses in war and tsunami now face the especially demoralizing challenge of once again starting from scratch after the floods. The National Peace Council is of the view that they need special solicitude on account of the many blows and setbacks they have suffered over the past many years.

The National Peace Council also believes it is important that the flood affected people should be given hope and confidence that they will not have to face the future alone, but will have the government and non-governmental organizations working with them in the longer term. The overwhelming nature of the crisis shows the importance of having international donor support and active and strong non-governmental and civil society sectors that can supplement the commendable efforts of the government. The establishment of an emergency response mechanism based on a partnership between these actors would be a task for the government to undertake.

The Batticaloa floods of 1957-1958: A personal account

by L.C.Arulpragasam

The months of November and December of 1957 were marked by torrential rains in the Batticaloa District leading to the biggest flood of the 20th century - till the floods just now of January 2011. I was at that time (1957) Assistant Government Agent of the Batticaloa District. Around December 20th 1957 (just before the flood), the Commissioner of Agrarian Services, Mr. M. S. Perera, rang me to say that the Ministry of Agriculture was asking for my appointment to the post of Deputy Commissioner of Agrarian Services in charge of the Paddy Lands Act. He wanted me to assume duties immediately.

It was finally agreed that I should come down to Colombo to work over Christmas Eve and Christmas day (24th and 25th of December) in order to draw up the administrative regulations under the Paddy Lands Act. I was thereafter to assume duties formally on December 27th. Since this was too good an offer to lose, I consented, although it was going to be personally very difficult for me and my family to move at such short notice.

We were on the train going out of Batticaloa on the night of December 23rd 1957. (We did not know at that time that it would be the last train that could get out of the district.). We hardly made it through Polonnaruwa Station where the Guard, holding a lantern over his head, had to wade waist-deep in water in front of the train, guiding it at two miles per hour through the station. We made it to Colombo in time for me to work on December 24 and 25th on the needed administrative regulations under the Paddy Lands Act. Late that (Christmas) night I heard the Government Agent of Batticaloa (my boss) calling on the radio for the evacuation of Kalmunai.

Although this may not have made sense to anyone else, I realized that this was based on the fear of a possible breach of the Inginiyagala (Gal Oya) dam. If this were to happen, at least one million people in the densely populated Kalmunai area could be swept out to sea. Unfortunately, the Government Agent was new, having assumed duties only one month previously. So there was no official in the district to cope with a crisis of this magnitude.

It was now midnight on Christmas day. I am a Christian and we were staying with a Christian family in Colombo. Unfortunately, I had a throat infection with a slight fever while my wife was also sick. The next day (December 26th already dawning) was our wedding anniversary and I was to take up duties in Colombo on the following day, December 27th. Meanwhile, all road and railway links to Batticaloa had been impassable for the last three days. I was in a quandary: I was still legally Assistant Government Agent of the Batticaloa District although I was in Colombo under official instructions to assume duties in Colombo on the next day, December 27th.

It was supposed to be impossible to reach Batticaloa. Even if I set out immediately, I could not hope to arrive there (if at all) before December 27th the date on which I was supposed to start work in Colombo. Thus the rational thing to do was to remain in Colombo and assume the duties of my new post (a promotion for me) on the next day (December 27th ). Being blessed (or cursed?) by an absurd sense of duty, I felt that it was my moral duty to get back to Batticaloa, even if it meant disobeying official orders.

The question now was how to get there. By chance, I had seen one of the Divisional Revenue Officers (DROs) of the Batticaloa District in Colombo that day. I knew that he was in Colombo without authorized leave, away from his post at this time of crisis. While normally I would have had to take disciplinary action against him, I now seized upon the opportunity to force him to take me back to Batticaloa in his car.

But first I had to decide what route I should take, since I knew that the road to Batticaloa had been impassable for over one week. So I rang the Automobile Association (AAA) and enquired about the road to Badulla which runs through the hill country. The AAA officer replied that it was impassable due to landslides and wash-aways. I then enquired about the road going south to Hambantota, from where I could possibly make my way northwards into Batticaloa. At this point, the officer interrupted me saying: "I thought you were trying to go to Badulla (in the hills); but now you are asking about going south to Hambantota. Where are you trying to go?" "To Batticaloa" I replied, not without some embarrassment.

The officer guffawed with laughter saying: "All the roads to Batticaloa have been impassable for the past week and there is no way that you can get there!" I was so embarrassed and annoyed that I replied: "I shall get there… and I shall let you know!" and banged down the phone. I decided to take the high road through the hill country despite the odds.

Having decided this, I managed to trace my way to the DRO’s house in a suburb of Colombo. It was past midnight on Christmas day and he had had more than one too many and was fast asleep on a sofa. His wife balked at the danger of his travelling to Batticaloa and refused to let him go. But I pointed out that the only way for him to avoid dismissal was to get back to his post with me. So I bundled him into the back seat of his car (where he immediately fell asleep again) and I set out driving to Batticaloa. I decided to take the hill country road through Badulla.

Once I got into the hills, I was stopped by landslides obstructing my path at every turn. With each deviation I encountered more landslides, with the same result. By around 5.30 a.m., completely exhausted and completely lost, I stopped at a small waterfall to freshen up. Fortunately the DRO woke up and recognized the place, having worked in this area before. He was thus able to show me another route through which we reached a major causeway over which the Gal Oya River was flowing at full speed. Cars were packed on both banks of the river for almost half a mile. They had been waiting more than four days for the river to subside. It was very risky to cross the river in this condition. In fact four passengers in a car had plunged to their death the previous year in trying to do so.

I could not, however, (like all the other cars lined up) accept that the river could not be crossed. But I needed to know whether the river was rising or falling. Fortunately I had experience of rivers like this since I had done many river trips by canoe in our schooldays. So I planted a few sticks on the bank to mark the water level. If the water level fell, it could be expected to continue falling, making it safer to wait longer before crossing. On the other hand, if the water level were rising, then I had to cross immediately or give up the idea of crossing altogether.

After two hours (during which I slept) my sticks showed me that the river level was rising, probably due to heavy rains upstream. Under these circumstances, I decided to cross straight away, despite the protests of my colleague and the advice of the crowd. To cut a long story short, we did manage to get across the river amid cheers from the crowds on both banks! The other cars would have had to wait for at least another five days before they could cross.

So we were able to continue our journey by car. However, it was not long before we were halted by massive mara trees that had fallen across the road. Their trunks alone were about eight feet wide (lying horizontally across the road) while their roots jutted up in the air for another eight feet. We could not sidestep the trees by going off the road because the ditches on either side of the road were full of water over five feet deep. So we had to abandon the car, creep under the trunks of the fallen trees, and walk. Thereafter, we got a mini van1 which took us some distance till we came across more massive trees obstructing our path.

We abandoned the van and continued further on foot. Then we commandeered a couple of bicycles since my colleague had only to identify himself to get anything he wanted! Thereafter more trees again: so more walking. Then we commandeered a tractor which took us a few miles, followed by more trees across the road and more bicycles, until we finally reached my DRO colleague’s headquarters in the western part of the Batticaloa district. After lunch, he got me a bicycle and someone to accompany me. So I cycled to the Unnichchai Colonization Scheme, deeper into the Batticaloa District, where I was well known.

The Colonization Officer was very fond of me and begged of me not to go on because no one knew whether Batticaloa was still there or whether it was completely inundated– in which case I could possibly be swept out to sea! Since it was about 6 p.m. and already getting dark, he persuaded me to wait till morning, when he promised to get me a boat and someone to accompany me. At 5.30 next morning, we set out going as far as the road could take us. Meanwhile a small crowd had gathered since it was known that the AGA was trying to return to Batticaloa from this point that morning. But my heart sank when I saw what was before me. Apart from the heavy rains, two dams (of Unnichchai and Rugam Tanks) had breached, unleashing a wall of water which had gouged open the main road to Batticaloa, kicking up a wave of water over ten feet high across the road which I was trying to follow, with water beyond as far as eye could see.

My instincts and knowledge of water told me that it would be suicidal to try to cross here. (In retrospect, I realize that I was foolishly trying to follow the course of the road to Batticaloa, whereas the flood waters had covered everything, making the road completely irrelevant).The Colonization Officer (CO), who was worried for my safety, started crying, scaring me even further! He then called for volunteers from the crowd to accompany me. Although many of them had received land from me as AGA, there was not a single volunteer – for which the CO berated them all as ungrateful wretches! Fortunately for me, I chickened out at this time and requested an inflated tube to wear around my waist in case I capsized. We had to go back a few miles in order to get the tube.

This move saved my life that day. Although the swollen lagoon water was moving rapidly there, I realized that it was more navigable from this point. The problem was that there was no land in sight (normally one could see Batticaloa in the distance from this place) or any sign that Batticaloa was still there – in which case we would be swept out to sea! Anyway I decided that I would cross the lagoon starting from here - a decision which almost certainly saved my life.

As soon as I announced this intention, two men immediately volunteered to come with me. They were fishermen who knew that whereas my first plan was suicidal, my present plan was feasible. They dismantled the outriggers from two canoes, then joined the two canoes together with three planks across, so as to create a stable twin-hulled craft. We set out with the CO intoning prayers while the crowd cheered us on.

To get us some idea of direction, I tried to follow the course of the road to Batticaloa. We could sometimes make this out by the tips of coconut trees which (we knew) skirted the road. Sometimes we would hear unearthly howling like people dying of pain. They proved to be from dogs marooned on roof ridges with six days of hunger in their belly. After rowing for some hours (aided by the flowing current of water) we reached what we thought was highland adjoining Batticaloa town. We left the boats and started walking - only to find that we were surrounded by water again. So we had to return to the boats and row farther towards where we thought Batticaloa to be. Again we left the boats and started walking.

We could now see the outskirts of the town but we encountered water once more. At this point we started swimming from tree to tree until we reached high ground and entered Batticaloa town. When the people saw me wading in (in four feet of water) they started cheering and shouting "The AGA has come, the AGA has come". It was late afternoon on December 27th (the day on which I should have started duties in Colombo) when I finally reached Batticaloa. I had taken a little more than one and a half days to get there. I say this with some pride since a combined army-navy amphibious team sent to relieve Batticaloa took seven days to do so!

The first problem was to get to my own home. It was a very old British up-stair bungalow with thick brick walls (about 1.5 feet thick) with very high ceilings (at least 13 feet high) and a long verandah around three sides of the house, both upstairs and downstairs. It was built on the bank of the lagoon and the garden and floor level were now at least 15 feet under water. I could not approach it from the lagoon side lest I be carried away by the current. So I had to approach it from the higher ground at the back of the bungalow. This involved swimming from higher ground across the PWD yard (which lay behind my house) to reach my back boundary wall which although over 10 ft high, had been topped by the flood waters.

Feeling (melodramatically) like Tarzan, I had to dive into my own backyard and swim directly into my up-stair verandah! While doing so, I came upon a large fish which seemed injured or dazed. So I trod water, grabbed the fish by its tail and threw it into my upstair verandah. I had it fried for dinner that night. Standing on my upstair verandah (at more or less water-level) I could see the lagoon engorged with flood waters rushing past me like a torrent, carrying all before it. Trees, fences and bits of houses whizzed past me. There were animals too: bloated carcasses of cattle, buffaloes, goats, dogs and even a couple of deer.

Getting sleep at night was also a problem. Since a rise of the waters by even two feet would flood me out of my upstair bedroom, I had to be constantly vigilant. Meanwhile our piano which was floating in the living room downstairs was thumping on the 13 ft high ceiling of that room (which was the floor of my upstair bedroom) playing "tunes" made by the lapping waters.

Meanwhile, conditions in the town were chaotic. The people were demoralized because communications had broken down and food supplies were short. Although the Government Agent was in town, he was new, knew nothing of the district, and was marooned in his house. Almost all the district governmental heads (health, public works, irrigation and agriculture) were out of the district for the Christmas holidays and no civic organization or leadership was evident. Hence my return proved to be a rallying point both for the government services as well as for the people. I immediately started several measures to cope with the situation.

First, because food hoarding had already started, I took over food supplies from the traders and ensured a ration to every household. Second, I ensured the burial of dead bodies, mainly animals. Third, I ensured the decontamination of wells and drinking water supplies. Fourth, as the flood waters began to recede, I undertook the emergency repair of roads and infrastructure. Fortunately, the PWD Engineer returned with the army-navy amphibious team and took over his functions. Fifth, I organized the farmers to stack layer upon layer of sandbags to save whatever water was left in the irrigation reservoirs.

But the biggest problem was the most immediate. The water level in the lagoon kept on rising, fed by the continuing rains and the collapse of the two reservoirs upstream. Although the lagoon mouth was wide open and discharging masses of water into the sea, the rate of discharge was not enough to prevent a dangerous rise in lagoon levels due to the greater incoming floods. Quite fortuitously, I had a historical key in my hand to solve this problem.

About a year earlier while fishing in the sea with the turn of tides at midnight, I was told by a fisherman that in his grandfather’s time, the white men’s ships used to come into the lagoon through another mouth much farther south. Because my father had served as a medical officer in this district when I was a boy, I was able to identify this place as the so-called "Dutch Bar" (just south of Batticaloa, across the Kalladi Bridge). I summoned as many workers/volunteers as I could (about 25 men turned up) to open another outlet to the sea.

With a free flow of arrack (from supplies requisitioned by me!) our volunteers worked through the night to cut open another outlet to the sea near the old "Dutch Bar". This was an experience in itself: for the little trickle of water through the new outlet increased to a flood: and then with a roar the sand bar burst, releasing volumes of water into the sea. By this lucky chain of events, I was able to dramatically bring down the water level within a few days, thus saving the town from devastation.

Looking back, I marvel at the number of coincidences that made this possible: that I was AGA in the district at this time, that I met a fisherman at midnight who spoke about his grandfather’s time, that I happened to visit Batticaloa as a boy and knew where the "Dutch Bar" was, and that now (as AGA) I was able to realize its significance for saving the town of Batticaloa. The problems of relief and rehabilitation were great. We had no communication with Colombo or any instructions from headquarters. Hence, I had to start work (with the approval of the Government Agent, Mr. Douglas Misso) to restore needed rehabilitation and development work.

With the help of volunteers, we sandbagged entire stretches of the damaged reservoirs so that they could retain at least some water for the next cultivation. Most paddy fields had been silted with mud while most field ridges and channels had been destroyed. I authorized the farmers to de-silt their fields and channels, rehabilitate their fields and reconstruct their irrigation channels, promising to pay them at usual government rates.

I did this without obtaining any authority from the Ministry, thus risking a personal surcharge for these costs later on. It was marvelous to see this flood-stricken district humming with activity with the farmers working to put their fields back into shape before the next cultivation season. Apart from rehabilitating their fields, we were in effect funding relief works which would provide them with food and employment until their next crop.

Meanwhile, I had to face the problem that I had defied official orders in coming back to Batticaloa on the day on which I should have assumed duties in Colombo – for which I could have been reprimanded or (theoretically) sacked. So it was a great relief when about three weeks later I received a telegram from the Secretary to the Treasury and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, Mr. S. F. Amerasinghe, who was the head of the Ceylon Civil Service to which I belonged. It had been sent from Colombo by plane to Gal Oya and from there by boat to Batticaloa, reaching me about three weeks after it was sent.

It said: "Your transfer to Colombo postponed. Remain in Batticaloa, repeat: remain in Batticaloa as Assistant Government Agent". It had obviously been written on the wrong assumption that I had been in Batticaloa all the time, forgetting that I had been officially ordered to work in Colombo on December 24h and 25th. So I just laughed and put the telegram away.

The biggest problem now was that the Maha paddy crop (the main crop for the year) which had been planted one month previously had been entirely washed away. Although I got the farmers to de-silt their fields and channels for the second Yala season crop, I found that their seed paddy for this crop (a three- month variety) had been destroyed by the rising floods.

Thus, while their first crop had failed, their second crop could not be sown, which would result in widespread famine for at least one year. I suddenly realized, however, that although we had lost one and a half months of the main (4 ½ month) season, we could still pull off a three-month crop during the balance of this season - if only we could find adequate quantities of three month seed paddy, since their shorter term would enable harvesting at the usual time. In order to obtain a supply of such seed, I opened up emergency "roads" to the north (to the Polonnaruwa district), to the south (to the Hambantota district) and to the west (to the Badulla district).

I then commissioned our DROs to go out and buy as much seed paddy as they could from the adjoining districts with money supplied freely from the Kachcheri vault. By this means we managed to re-sow almost the entire extent of Maha paddy lands despite the earlier loss of the entire crop. The problem was that we had done this by using government funds without obtaining any approval at all.

Fortunately these problems were solved in short order. After about one month, a helicopter was able to land in Batticaloa with the Minister of Agriculture Mr. C.P. de Silva, accompanied by the leader of the Opposition, Dr. N.M. Perera. They came to visit our flood-torn district with promises of relief. The Minister read out a small proclamation authorizing the de-silting and reconstruction of channels, de-silting of paddy fields, etc. at government-approved rates of subsidy.

I smiled with relief because he was giving retroactive authorization for something we had already done more than a month ago without approval. However, when the Leader of the Opposition visited the field, he was surprised to see lush paddy growing in all the fields instead of the devastation he had expected. After he found out how we had accomplished this, he was lavish in his praise of our initiative (which he later recorded in Parliament) in bringing about this reversal of fortune in our flood-torn district. However, he did berate the Government for allowing the initiative of one district to deplete the seed paddy reserves of others!

It took me some months to settle accounts for all the monies that I had disbursed from government funds. Some of this was made up of loans which farmers had to pay back. But most of them were in the form of subsidies which I had given out at approved rates, which were subsequently blessed by ministerial sanction. By this time I had been working non-stop for almost four months with intermittent fever, continuing to take shots of strepto-penicillin under the doctor’s orders.

Meanwhile my family (and all our furniture) had been moved to Colombo on the basis of my officially ordered transfer there. So after a period of four months, when the flood situation and its consequences had been brought under control, I asked my boss (the Government Agent) to fix the date for my assumption of duties in Colombo with the Secretary to the Treasury/Ministry of Finance who had ordered my transfer. The reply from the latter was terse. I was to be told that there had been a flood in Batticaloa and that in any case I was too junior for this post; hence my transfer was cancelled!

I was in a state of physical, mental and nervous exhaustion and in a highly emotional state. Distraught, I asked for an appointment with the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance (who was head of the Civil Service) and went to Colombo to see him. He was curt and offhand, saying: "I suppose you have come to see me about your transfer. I am sorry the transfer cannot take place because there has been a flood in Batticaloa" - and then he added gratuitously "besides, you are too junior for this post".

On hearing this, I was ready to explode. I had never asked for the post and, in fact, had not even known of its existence. But he had appointed me to it four months previously! (The post was that of Deputy Commissioner of Agrarian Services in the Ministry of Agriculture, in Colombo). Besides, if I was too junior for the post now, how come he appointed me to this post four months earlier when I was even more junior for it? Now he was telling me (who had gone through the flood) that there had been a flood in Batticaloa!

Being in a highly overwrought state I burst out: "You are telling me that there was a flood in Batticaloa? Do you know that I had moved to Colombo on your instructions and had already started work in my new post at the express request of the Government? Meanwhile, my family too had moved to Colombo on the basis of your instructions?". Taken aback, he then asked: "If you were in Colombo then how could you have been in Batticaloa?" To which I replied; "I went back". He then interrupted: "But how you could have gone back when there was this big flood". I replied: " I just went back". To which he again asked: "But how could you have gone back?" I asked: "Do you really want to know?" He nodded. So I told him: "I went by car, I walked, I went in a van, I walked, I went by tractor, I walked, I went by bicycle, I walked. Then I went by boat and then I swam and reached Batticaloa!"

He was so taken aback that he asked: "You really did that?" "Yes". I replied. By this time both interested and curious, he questioned me more about it and then asked: "If faced with the same choice, would you do it again? Do you regret that you did it?" To which I replied: "Yes, I would do it again. As for regrets, I have no regret that I did it. My only regret is that I belong to a service where you can do this to me – and this is easily remedied because you can have my resignation." Now it was his turn to get agitated, saying: "Young man, don’t get excited. Calm down, sit down. I agree to your transfer. When can you take up duties in Colombo?" And so my problem was solved - by my emotional outburst - and I was able to take up my new post! However those four months of working with fever took their toll on my body.

I developed pleurisy in both my lungs. After barely three months in my new job, I had to be sent on two months’ leave in order to recover. Even to this day (at age 83 years) the patch in my lung shows up in x-rays!

When news of my transfer to Colombo was received in Batticoloa, the Members of Parliament from the district came to see me in my bungalow in Batticaloa. I was so sick by this time that I was lying on a mat on the floor, since even my furniture had been moved to Colombo. I remember that the MPs brought me copies of some thirty telegrams addressed to the Prime Minister from all the Members of Parliament as well as from the Chairmen of all the Village Councils in the district protesting my transfer and requesting that I be kept on in Batticaloa.

They brought these to me partly to show their appreciation of my services but partly because they thought that they were doing me a favor, being convinced (due to my work for the district) that I wanted to stay on in Batticaloa! I had to plead with them to please withdraw these telegrams (but it was too late to do so) asking: "Can’t you understand that I want to go?" They were really amazed and even hurt that I wanted to leave the district of my own volition!

It is now more than 50 years since I left the Batticaloa District. Since then I have been working abroad for over 40 years. I write this now because the district is again facing devastation by a similar massive flood. Fortunately there are more resources to cope with its consequences than were available at that time - but the issues are likely to be the same.

The Gal Oya Dam may be in danger – in which case Ampara, Karativu and Kalmunai would need to be evacuated. In order to save Batticaloa, the Dutch Bar will have to be kept open – if this has not already been done. Reservoirs that may have been breached need to be sandbagged to prevent further loss of water. All needed relief and emergency measures will have to be undertaken. In this respect, the presence of the army and their helicopters are a boon. After the floods recede, the longer-haul tasks of relief and rehabilitation will have to begin. I wish them all success.

Footnotes

1 My DRO colleague was well known in this area since he had previously been DRO in charge of this Division in the Badulla District and was treated with great respect. So he was able to "commandeer" any vehicle we needed!

2 The seed paddy for the next crop is usually stored on the paddy field in bins covered on all sides by straw. With the long inundation by the flood waters, the seed had not only germinated but also had rotted.

Related:

AlJazeera on 2001 floods

Namal Rajapaksa is innocent of wrong-doing until and unless found guilty

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“And appetite, an universal wolf,
So doubly seconded with will and power,
Must make perforce an universal prey….” — Shakespeare, Troilus And Cressida

Impunity is to a country what cancer is to a body; it creeps in unnoticed and spreads with gathering-speed, inexorably annihilating everything healthy and functional in its path. Impunity never completely spares any member of the society it finds a home in.

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We may seem safe from its contagion for now, but someday our turn to be afflicted will come.

D.M. Tushara Jayaratne, a final year student of Sri Lanka Law College (SLLC), has alleged that College authorities made “exam papers available beforehand to selective students” and offered “special privileges to President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s son, Namal, MP….. The student says he lodged a formal complaint after he overheard a conversation involving at least two examinees discussing questions in the Commercial Law question paper 30 minutes before the exam. President Rajapaksa’s eldest son, Namal….was not one of those students allegedly overheard by Jayaratne…. Mr. Jayaratne also alleges that the President’s son received special treatment by providing him facilities to sit the examination in an air conditioned computer room” (BBC – 10.1.2011).

An allegation is just that – an allegation; Namal Rajapaksa is innocent of wrong-doing until and unless he is found guilty. But for this principle to work properly there must be an unbiased inquiry by a panel of indubitable probity in an atmosphere free of favour or fear. Not only must justice be done to both the accused and the accuser; it must be seen to be done. The process of turning law students into lawyers must be as above suspicion as Caesar’s wife.

Initially the authorities remained mute about Jayaratne’s charges. Then the Chief Justice stepped in, promising an investigation: “In a letter to whistle-blower Jayaratne, SLLC has said that a preliminary inquiry will be held on the 11th of January. SLLC Principal has informed that the inquiry will be held at the Law College premises by attorney-at-law Uditha Egalahewa” (ibid).

There is a problem though; the complainant is said to be in hiding, unsurprisingly: “The student says he currently is in hiding as he regularly receives telephone calls threatening him with death and demanding he withdraw the complaints. Student Jayaratne says he does not feel confident to attend the inquiry to be held on Tuesday as some of the calls came from the college’s official numbers. ‘If the student is facing death threats as a result of revealing such a misdeed, it is of course a serious concern,’ CJ Asoka de Silva added (Ibid).

The allegations, as the Chief Justice told the BBC, are a ‘serious matter of concern’; especially because they involve a member of the President’s family and the legal fraternity. A country with a dysfunctional justice system is, by definition, a dysfunctional country.

When the executive and the legislative are both under the thumb of a single family, the judiciary becomes the last reservoir of hope for the citizenry. If the judiciary too succumbs to the Familial malady, that last hope evaporates, stranding the citizenry in an aridity of despair.

If the proposed investigation is not carried out in a manner which inspires public confidence or if the complainant comes to some harm, irreparable damage will be done to citizens’ faith in the judiciary. And a country in which people have no faith in the judiciary is a country one step away from anarchy.

When a society becomes habituated into turning a collective Nelsonian-eye to the injustices done to its most powerless and vulnerable members, it enables the creation of precedents which will some day be used against all of its members. For instance, if the arbitrary mass-eviction of Colombo’s low-income families does happen, a precedent will be created which will enable the rulers to appropriate any property they desire in the name of ‘development’, outside of the due process and without the payment of adequate compensation. Because a considerable segment of Colombo’s poor earmarked by the authorities for eviction are legal owners of their properties.

The authorities, however, are totally unconcerned about the gross illegality of summarily evicting legal-owners from their properties: “Urban Development Authority Chairman Janaka Kurukulasuriya said the families who had valid deeds to their houses would be evicted as part of plans to develop the Colombo city” (The Sunday Times – 9.1.2011).

The sale of 10 acres of prime Colombo land to a Hong Kong-based company for a tidy-sum seems to have whetted the Rajapaksa-appetite for more lucrative land deals: “The premises of the Gangarama temple and the former Commercial Company would be converted into a recreation area and the existing main road would be relocated soon…. A foreign investor has already presented a proposal to construct a 40 storey mixed development project at this venue….” (The Sunday Observer – 9.1.2011).

The result is illegal and arbitrary mass evictions: “Hundreds of Colombo families having valid deeds for their houses and land are being told to be prepared to vacate their homes, as the Urban Development Authority wants more land in the city for new development plans” (The Sunday Times – 9.1.2011).

The state can appropriate private property for development purposes, via due process which includes adequate compensation for affected owners. If the authorities apply the same procedure vis-à-vis those Colombo families with title deeds to their properties, their eviction will at least be legal, even if it is unjust and inhuman.

But the state is planning to appropriate these high-value lands ignoring the due process, by main force, and without paying adequate compensation: “….some 400 families holding deeds or valid documents issued by the National Housing Development Authority were called for separate meetings with UDA officials and were offered a rent of Rs. 8,000 a month for the next one and half years to leave their homes. But they were not promised new houses in the areas where they live now” (ibid).

A perch in Colombo 2 must be worth several million rupees; yet these Lankan citizens, the lawful owners of their properties, will get a mere pittance; A maximum of Rs.144,000, for the land, and for the house, rebuilt or improved over the years, with their hard earned money, often as migrant workers in some Middle Eastern country. This is more than unjust; this is a crime. What the regime is planning to do is to steal from the poorest of its citizens, rendering them homeless and futureless in the process.

This Chandi Malli method of land acquisition must be opposed, because if it becomes a reality, the Rajapaksas will be armed with a precedent which can be used to punish political opponents or to dispossess any citizen who happens to own a land the Ruling Family covets. The monster of impunity, once grown into its full strength, has no respect for law or for those other attributes (such as ethnicity, religion and class) which we believe can shield us from the fates of the Northern Tamils or Colombo’s poor. And it is our collective indifference to the suffering of others who are ‘The Other’, this rapacious monster feeds on with greatest avidity.

January 15, 2011

Thai Pongal in Batticaloa: Floods hit harvest festival

By Mel Gunasekera

Jan 15, BATTICALOA, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka's minority Tamils would normally celebrate their annual harvest festival Saturday, but instead they are struggling to survive the worst flooding in living memory.

With a handful of rice and a couple of incense sticks, Sadairani Kumar is keen to mark the festival of Thaipongal, popular among the Hindu ethnic Tamil community who offer thanks to the sun god for a bountiful harvest.

But this year, floods have washed out crops, swamping agricultural land in the country's rice-growing east and forcing hundreds of thousands from their homes -- Kumar's family among them -- leaving them with little to celebrate.

"It's almost like a curse, don't you think?" Kumar, 47, told AFP as she arranged her meagre offerings on a plastic cup she will take to the Hindu temple opposite the welfare camp for flood-displaced people.
"First the war, then the tsunami, then the war, and now this. God has cursed us this year," she said, shaking her head.

Batticaloa saw heavy fighting between troops and Tamil Tiger rebels before security forces crushed the guerrillas in May 2009, ending a 37-year ethnic conflict.

It was also hit by the 2004 Asian tsunami that killed 31,000 in Sri Lanka, so like many of its residents, Kumar is no stranger to hardship.

She had already pawned her jewellery to raise cash to grow vegetables last year. When the rain arrived in December, she shrugged it off -- but as rains became floods, the family fled with a few belongings piled onto their tractor.

A tree crashed into their house, while their belongings were lost to the muddy waters. Now they are among almost 400,000 people forced out of their homes.

"There is nothing else," her son 11-year-old son Neelan says. "My school books are gone. New uniforms, shoes, toys. We don't have money to rebuild the house or pay our loans."

Over half a million people in the lagoon district of Batticaloa were affected by the rising water, which cut it off from the rest of the country for several days.

A similar number were hit by the floods in nearby Ampara and Polonnaruwa districts -- which like Batticaloa are traditional rice harvesting regions -- making a total of a million people victims of the deluge.

The Disaster Management Centre put the death toll at 27, and said that dozens of people in remote parts of the area were still marooned and unable to reach welfare centres.

Small boats crammed with flood victims on Friday struggled to help them to shelter, while the army flew in relief supplies on helicopters. In the town of Batticaloa, a lone truck struggled to navigate a normally busy street turned into a river.

"We have never faced a situation like this before," said K. Kandalingam, 34, who works as a casual labourer on building sites.

"Even in the war we could buy food if we had money. Today, even shops are rationing food because there are no supplies."

When sun briefly shone on Friday, residents braved the muddy waters to stock up on essentials. But key access roads were blocked, and those that were not quickly became impassable, prompting the army to step in and help.
Mamangewswaran area government official M. Mahendrarajah said people would have to sleep on cold cement floors in schools, churches and Hindu temples until state or donor assistance arrived.

"A lot of work needs to be done after the water goes down, but first we have to assist people in welfare centres, to make sure they get adequate food, medicines and clean drinking water," UNICEF spokesman Mervyn Fletcher said.

Businesses have also taken a beating and may drive people into more debt, complains Yogendran Rameshkumar, 24, a plastic goods salesman who lost his stock to the rising waters.

"The gods will have to help us this time. There is no jewellery left of my wife and mother's to pawn. Our house, that was built two years ago, needs to be renovated. We need help from above now," Rameshkumar said. ~ courtesy: AFP ~

January 14, 2011

Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism: Past, Present and Future

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

"Thai Piranthaal Vazhi Pirakkum" is a popular saying in Tamil about the month of January or "Thai" in Tamil. It’s meaning in English would be something like this – "When January is born, a way will dawn".

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The birth of January in the Hindu Almanack is in mid-January according to the Western calendar. It generally co-incides with the Tamil harvest festival called "Pongal" or "Thaippongal".It is usually a season of Thanksgiving and celebration.

Amidst the atmosphere of festive joy, it is also a time of individual and group reflection where the past is re-examined critically, present re-assessed pragmatically and future plans renewed optimistically. [click to read in full ]

January 13, 2011

Help those affected by the flood: An Urgent Appeal by All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama

Over a million people of all races are engulfed by water

By M.S.Shah Jahan

Dear all,

As you all know the East and the North Central province of Sri Lanka are under flood catastrophe. Over a million people of all races are engulfed by water for the last three days and unreachable to supply of basic items.

Some fainted want of food. Few died. It is a heart rendering scene worse than that of Brisbane needing urgent assistance in all forms and from all quarters to save those stranded in or surrounded by water.

As per the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) on the 13th ; more than 1,066,000 affected. At least 36 persons have been injured and 21 were killed. A total of 2468 houses have been damaged and 14,953 houses partially damaged.

The authorities have also set up 534 IDP camps in all districts to accommodate, provide dry rations and medical assistance to 72,041 flood victims. An amount of Rs.138 million was spent by the government as relief measures, the DMC said. Certainly this is an insufficient amount.

The government said the current disaster situation is second only to the 2004 Tsunami. In a way we may say it is worse than the Tsunami. Though the Tsunami took away 35,000 lives, it lasted for a day only. Here the rain was nonstop for a week, going severe on Sunday.

On Sunday the 12th , the district of Batticaloa received 342 millimeter of rain surpassing the one with 312 millimeters on January 10th of 1913, 98 years ago. The hardship of the people is indescribable and I leave it to your imagination.

Besides a daily paper reported on her web with pictures that the body of a three-year-old baby elephant that was washed away in the recent floods and got stuck on a 15 ft tree for three days was found in Habarana. The water level in the area was estimated to be 18 ft high.

On the other hand, the rain god was not kind to the Central province even. An earth slip in Rajasinha Mawatha, Kandy killed seven estate workers and injured many. The rest of Up Country is also affected by rain, earth slip, mini cyclone etc. In many places tin roofs of estate houses were flown and trees fell on some houses crushing them and injuring the residents.

A pathetic case is where an estate worker committed suicide being reprimanded by his son for not going to work due to inclement weather.

In the mean time, the cold weather situation, a rare phenomenon, that prevails throughout the country is said to continue and the Met Department advised the public to take precautions to save themselves from infections and illness as they expect unusual high rainfall for the next few months.

Surprisingly the temperature of Colombo dropped to 18.8 Celsius and Nuwara Eliya and Batticaloa went down to 7.9 and 16.9 Celsius respectively.

A Washington based Sri Lankan female journalist of majority community who is touring the Northern Sri Lanka wrote in twitter on Thursday “temperature in Sri Lanka drops to 18.8C after 61 yrs. Cold in Jaffna too, sweater needed at night”.

On the whole travails of Lanka, sorry, Sri Lanka cannot be put in words. Seeing is believing. I reemphasize this is the time the country needs help from all sources.

Though the government has so far not open her mouth for international help, [for the reasons known to you] it is the Asian countries that are rushing in with relief materials led by India whose first consignment of twenty-five tons of relief materials of food, drinking water, sleeping mats, blankets, bed sheets, ready-to-eat meals, sugar, pulses, milk powder, baby milk formula, salt and other essential seasoning powders and water purifying tablets are expected to arrive on Friday by Indian Air Force aircraft IL76 in two sorties, with the second scheduled to arrive on January 17.

Minister of Justice, a Muslim, has appealed to the Middle Eastern countries that have promised help. Besides this is the time for the SL Diaspora and the well wishers to go to the Western Union immediately to show their kindness to "Sri Lanka Maatha" or “Elangai Thaaye”, forgetting the bitter memories and tussles.

The all Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulama, a body of Muslim religious scholars appealed to all good hearted people to donate money through their own sources to the needy and those who wish to channel through them can remit to ;

ALL CEYLON JAMIYYATHUL ULAMA, A/C No.1320006768, COMMERCIAL BANK, MARADANA.

Ramakrishna Mission, Batticaloa appeals for flood relief helping hands

Amidst the floods and short supply of food in Eastern districts, Ramakrishna Mission in Batticaloa issued the following appeal today:

Dear friends and well wishers,

We are sorry to inform you, due to the continuous heavy rain in the District most of the people have been badly affected and some are staying in Welfare centers while others are residing with their friends and relatives.

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[click on image for larger view]

According to the request from the District Secretary, Batticaloa, the following items are urgent in need to distribute among the needy peoples.

Food Items

1. Infant Milk – 25,000 Packets @ 400g
2. High energy biscuits – 100,000 Packets

Non Food Items

1. Bathing soap – 100,000 Nos
2. Washing Soap – 200,000 Nos
3. Tooth Paste – 100,000 Nos
4. Tooth Brush – 100,000 Nos
5. Bed Sheets – 100,000 Nos
6. Towels – 100,000 Nos
7. Sanitary towels for women – 100,000 Nos

Therefore please extend your helping hands towards the affected people of this district.

May Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna Deva, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi, Swami Vivekananda bless you all and the members of your dear family with lasting good health, peace of mind and prosperity. This is our sincere prayer for you all.

Yours in the service of Lord.

Swami Jnanamayananda

Swami – In – Charge
Ramakrishna Mission,
Batticaloa.
Sri Lanka

Phone: 0094-65-2222752
Email: rkmbat@gmail.com

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Shrine at Ramakrishna Mission, Batticaloa (file pic)

Methodist Headquarters in Sri Lanka capital collecting flood relief supplies

Methodist Headquarters in Colombo, Sri Lanka is collecting dry rations and cash for flood relief efforts.

An email from the Department of Social Responsibility of the Methodist Headquarters as follows:

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As you may be aware, there has been severe flooding and earthslips in various parts of Sri Lanka – particularly the Central, Eastern, Uva and Northern areas. Over 832,000 have been affected. Official figures give the death toll as 13 with 24 injured. Other figures are higher.

Please contact Mr. Hemal Fernando on 2575707 / 2370915 (Department of Social Responsibility) if you wish to get involved.

A relief pack will cost Rs 1000.00 contains : rice 3kg,flour 2kg, dhal 500grm,sprats 250gr,soya 500grms, sugar 1kg,tea 250grms,chillieP 100grm, salt 250grm,mpowder 250gr.

Thanks for your concern & Partnership

In Pictures from the East:

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“In my 37 years of living in Batticaloa I have never seen anything like this” – UNICEF official

Hundreds of thousands displaced by floods in eastern Sri Lanka

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, 12 January 2011 – Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by flooding in eastern Sri Lanka, where water levels in some areas are two metres higher than normal – and still rising.

Preceded by more than a week of intense wet weather, four days of non-stop heavy rain since the weekend have turned part of Sri Lanka into an ever-deepening lake. Crocodiles and snakes are a threat to anyone considering wading through the floodwaters.

“In my 37 years of living in Batticaloa I have never seen anything like this,” said Health and Nutrition Officer Kirupairajah Gowriswaran of UNICEF’s Batticaloa Zone Office. “Ninety per cent of the local population is affected. Everyone is occupying whatever buildings they can find on higher ground.”

Supplies on the way

UNICEF has conducted rapid assessments of the needs of flood-affected families and children, even though staff members themselves face flooding of their homes and the zone office. As the floods continue, seven truckloads of UNICEF supplies are on their way to Ampara and Batticaloa to aid families living in temporary shelters.

Floodwaters inundate the area arounbd a UNICEF zone office in eastern Sri Lanka, where crocodiles and snakes are a threat to anyone wading to higher ground.

“These supplies will help to ensure families and children have access to safe drinking water and are able to maintain basic levels of hygiene,” said UNICEF Representative in Sri Lanka Reza Hossaini. “Understandably, all schools have been adopted as temporary shelters. There are no classes for children.

Supplies en route to the flood zone include 50 water tanks (1,000 litres each), water tablets to purify 2 million litres, 7,000 tarpaulins, 7,000 sleeping mats, 3,000 buckets and 30,000 bars of soap, as well as chlorine bleaching powder and cooking pots.

Unfolding emergency

This consignment of UNICEF support is part of a wider UN effort to support the government as it provides emergency support to the affected communities. Because most roads are impassable, the Sri Lankan military is using boats to deliver much-needed aid.

“We are liaising closely with the government and other UN partners,” said Mr. Hossaini, “as we continue to monitor the flood conditions and determine how we are best able to assist those whose homes have been flooded.”

Meanwhile, the UN is expected to launch a flash appeal for emergency funds to respond to the flood crisis.

One third of staple rice crop at risk of loss, Supply shock could cause inflation spike

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[ BBC- Sri Lanka Floods in Pictures ~ Click to see more]

Reuters: One third of staple rice crop at risk of loss * Supply shock could cause inflation spike

By Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal

COLOMBO, Jan 13 (Reuters) - The death toll from flooding across a third of Sri Lanka rose to 23 people on Thursday, and another 100,000 people were forced from their homes as heavy monsoon rains lashed the island and threatened food supplies.

The Agricultural Ministry said at least 21 percent of Sri Lanka's staple rice crop had been destroyed, raising concerns over supply shocks and higher food inflation just as the central bank lowered lending rates to spur growth.

Greater-than-normal monsoon rains since early January have pounded Sri Lanka's Northern, Eastern, Central and North Central provinces, setting off mudslides, swamping roads and bursting hundreds of dams and reservoirs.

At least 325,000 people have been forced from their homes by the waters, 23 have been killed, 36 have been injured and one was missing, the national Disaster Management Centre said.

In the hardest-hit area, the eastern port of Batticaloa, rainfall since the beginning of January stood at 1.8 metres (5 ft 11 in), more than its average annual rainfall of 1.6 metres, Meteorology Department Deputy Director S.R. Jayasekera said.

"About 161,878 hectares of paddy lands are under water and it is still too early to estimate the extent of damage. If the water subsides in the next two-three days we might able to recover 30 percent of it," Agriculture Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene told Reuters.

That translates to 21 percent of Sri Lanka's total 570,000 hectares of paddy destroyed, and as much a third still at risk.

FOOD INFLATION RISK

Abeywardene said that the government had about four months' supply of rice to offset the losses.

"It might affect the inflation but we are trying with various short-term methods to control it," he said. That includes providing seeds of fast-growing rice to help farmers replant once the waters recede."

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has deployed the military to rescue people boat and assist in relief efforts.

The Meteorology Department late on Thursday said there was a possibility rains would ease on Friday night.

The flooding comes just as Sri Lanka's central bank lowered policy rates even further to spur corporate credit growth, saying it had inflation under control for 2011. Economists and analysts have said that it remains a risk. [ID:nSGE70A00Z]

Sri Lanka has been able to maintain low inflation since May 2009, the end of a three-decade war with the Tamil Tiger separatists, mainly due to the higher supply coming from the Northern and Eastern Provinces where the fighting took place.

Food accounts for 45.5 percent of the total goods basket used to compile inflation, which hit a 21-month high in November due to higher food prices, government data shows.

Flooding and displacements are common in Sri Lanka, where a southern monsoon batters the island between May and September, and a northeastern monsoon runs from December to February. (Writing by Bryson Hull)

~ courtesy: Reuters ~

January 12, 2011

Mannar diocese offers proposal for genuine and lasting Tamil-Sinhalese reconciliation

by Melani Manel Perera

Bishop Rayappu Joseph and two priests from his diocese submit a report to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), calling for complete transparency on what happened between 2002 and 2009 as a step towards finding an effective and lasting solution to the ethnic conflict.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – The report that Mgr Rayappu Joseph, bishop of Mannar, Fr Victor Sosai, vicar general, and Fr Xavier Croos submitted last Saturday to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) begins by recognising “the importance of learning lessons from our history in order to move forward as well as prevent further conflict and violence”. In their submission, the representatives of the diocese speak on behalf of the Tamil community of Mannar, one of the most affected by the war that ended in 2009.

In their report to the LLRC, a commission set up by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to investigate events that occurred between 2002 and 2009, the three religious leaders said that the commission provided an opportunity for all Sri Lankans to take a step towards reconciliation.

For genuine and lasting reconciliation, “it is crucial to address roots of the conflict and war, primarily issues affecting Tamils such as recognition of their political reality, language, land, education and political power sharing,” the report said.

“We also believe that it is crucial for any serious effort towards reconciliation to go back into our history beyond February 2002, as roots of the conflict and reasons for the war that caused so much pain, destruction and polarization dates much further. In fact, the LTTE, other armed Tamil groups and the war are not the cause, but only results of the conflict. Although LTTE and other Tamil armed groups have caused much suffering, their actions were prompted by the failure of successive governments to respond favourably to Tamil’s efforts to resolve their problems through peaceful and political means. While acknowledging the part played by LTTE and other armed groups in the suffering of the people, we wish to point out that the state military and their secret agents are feared more by the people and are held responsible for much of their woes,” the clergymen said.

The bishop reiterated that Tamils are part of Sri Lanka, even though they have their own distinct cultural, linguistic and religious identity. The government must acknowledge this reality, and recognise that the bases for power-sharing and minority rights must be enshrined in the constitution.

The report notes that no one has been “convicted for numerous crimes such as extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture, arbitrary detention, rape and sexual abuse. It is our belief that this culture of impunity, over the years, [has] led to more and more crimes against Tamil civilians during the course of the conflict. Measures such as forgiveness, amnesty are only possible when there is genuine acceptance and repentance of wrongs done and the truth is acknowledged.”

The report ends by reiterating that reconciliation is possible if three key elements are met. First, there must be the acknowledgement of what actually occurred during the conflict, particularly in the closing stages of the war. Secondly, a political solution to the ethnic conflict must be obtained in a participatory manner and within a specified timeframe to ensure good governance and the rule of law. Thirdly, the immediate concerns of the people who were affected and suffered because of the war must be addressed. ~ asianews.it ~

Record rains increase urgency of climate change adaptation

by IRIN News

COLOMBO, 12 January 2011 (IRIN) - Ongoing storms have dumped more rain in one eastern district of Sri Lanka than witnessed in a century, according to the country's Disaster Management Centre (DMC). Nationwide, storms have hit some two million people in the past seven months and hastened climate adaptation plans already under way, according to the government

Main road

Batticaloa flooding, photo from NGO via - indi.ca

National climate scientist WL Sumathipala said recent storm activity had sped up the timetable to help residents cope with changing weather. "We have looked at weather patterns for a long period of time and it is only now that we are ready to make scientifically supported statements about climate change."

Sri Lanka is in its winter monsoon.

Continuous rains since 26 December have caused rock slides and displacement, mostly in northern and eastern parts of the country, and closed schools. As of 11 January, about 33,330 families have been displaced to 351 relocation centres.

Some 300km east of the capital, Colombo, Batticaloa District - which set the century's rainfall record - accounts for almost half of those families, according to DMC.

Here, some 200 reservoirs have completely washed away, with most other tanks spilling over, based on early government surveys.

Adaptation

Former Minister of Disaster Management, Rishard Bathiudeen, told IRIN the Environment Ministry was considering adaptation strategies. "We are now being warned by scientists that climate change is not only real but Sri Lanka needs to be well prepared. We do not want to wait till the people become climate refugees as is happening in other parts of the world."

A top official in the Ministry of Agriculture, who preferred to remain anonymous, told IRIN that experimentation had been under way to find highly resilient crop species, especially rice. "We are reverting to traditional knowledge. Sri Lanka has some 2,000 traditional rice varieties and [some] have a special capacity to withstand extreme weather." But production is slow and will take several years to bear results, he added.

Since the 2004 tsunami, the Colombo-based office of the NGO Practical Action has trained farmers in how to cultivate four weather-resistant traditional rice strains.

"Priority was given to varieties which are popular and already have a market," said Hemantha Abeywardena, a facilitator with an organic agriculture project at Practical Action.

"A key factor was to avert impending food crises. With the climatic change and overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, salinity in the fields has increased," said Abeywardena.

The government's meteorology department has reported that heavy rains will continue until at least through 12 January across the north and north-central sections of the country, particularly the provinces of Eastern and Uva (south of Eastern) and the country's southernmost district, Hambantota.

The government, with the UN, conducted an assessment in all affected districts in the east, north and central provinces on 11 January, with results expected soon.

The New Yorker's ~ Postcard from Sri Lanka: After the War

In the Newyorker magazine this week, Jon Lee Anderson writes about Sri Lanka following its decades-long civil war, and explains the bloody ethnic conflict between the Sinhalese and the Tamil people. Here the photographer Patrick Brown documents the aftermath in the northern part of the country and looks at how people are getting on with their lives.

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In the northern district of Mannar, which for many years was the front line of the civil war, hundreds of residents were forced to abandon their homes in the face of oncoming Sri Lankan troops.

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/photobooth/2011/01/patrick-brown-sri-lanka.html#ixzz1AqUroGBy

Prabhakaran and LTTE were architects of their own misfortunes and disasters

By Upul Joseph Fernando

The confidential letter sent by the erstwhile Foreign Minister of Norway ,Jan Petersen to former Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran which was exposed by ‘Wikileaks’ had shed light on a hitherto unknown side : firstly , it proves that the accusations levelled by the pro Tamil Tiger Diaspora that Norway and the International community were responsible for the devastation of the Tamil Tigers are false ; and secondly , the allegations mounted by the political groups of the south of Sri Lanka (SL) that , Norway while acting as the mediator in the peace process was secretly helping the Tamil Tigers are baseless.

The confidential letter sent by the erstwhile Foreign Minister of Norway ,Jan Petersen to former Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran which was exposed by ‘Wikileaks’ had shed light on a hitherto unknown side : firstly , it proves that the accusations levelled by the pro Tamil Tiger Diaspora that Norway and the International community were responsible for the devastation of the Tamil Tigers are false ; and secondly , the allegations mounted by the political groups of the south of Sri Lanka (SL) that , Norway while acting as the mediator in the peace process was secretly helping the Tamil Tigers are baseless.

The former foreign Minister of Norway had addressed this confidential letter to Prabhakaran on 16th August 2005. According to the Wikileaks exposures, the former Foreign Minister and Deputy foreign Minister Helgesen had met Tamil Tiger Theoretician Anton Balasingham in London and handed over the letter on 17th August 2005 in order that it reaches Prabhakaran via Balasingham.

During that period , the Norwegian Ambassador in SL ,Hans Brattskar had informed America that the then ruling Govt. of Chandrika Bandaranaike hadn’t any knowledge of this letter , and if the Chandrika’s Govt. gets wind of this , it would leak out to the Colombo Press , Wikileaks exposures had declared. When the Norway foreign Minister and his Deputy met Balasingham in London, they had questioned the latter about the Tamil Tiger killings and their operations in the North -East. Balasingham who had expressed concern over the killings however had been evasive on the issue of accepting responsibility for the murder of former SL foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, the WikiLeaks had stated.

The first letter sent by the Norwegian Foreign Minister to Prabhakaran clarifies many a fact . The letter is published hereunder :

Dear Mr .Prabhakaran

As I am sure you realize, the peace process is in a critical situation. The killings and counter killings over the last few months have been watched with mounting concern by Norway and international community. Along with the continued recruitment of children to the LTTE , this has created distrust about the LTTE’s intentions as regards the peace process.

The assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar has exacerbated the situation. It is not up to Norway to draw conclusions about the criminal investigations now under way in Colombo, or on any other judicial matter in relation with the killings. However public perception both in Colombo and internationally is that the LTTE is responsible. This public perception is a political reality. The LTTE needs to respond to this situation in a way that demonstrates continued commitment to the peace process.

I see it as my obligation to make clear to you the political choice now facing the LTTE. If the LTTE does not take a positive step forward at this critical juncture, the international reaction could be severe.

Against this backdrop I would ask you urgently to consider the following steps:

1.To accept the Norwegian Government’s invitation to participate in a review of the implementation of the ceasefire agreement in order to find practical ways of ensuring full compliance by both parties.

2.To establish direct communications between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Army in the East , in order to improve security.

3.To accept without delay the Sri Lanka monitoring mission proposal for transportation of LTTE cadres

4.To collaborate in a practical way with Govt. initiatives to speed up reconstruction in the North and East. The LTTE’s continued commitment to the P -TOMs agreement is vital in this regard.

5.To take effective steps to halt killings and to cease the recruitment of underage combatants.

I trust that you appreciate the gravity of the present situation and will take steps to demonstrate to the International community that the LTTE is committed to the peace process.

Yours sincerely Jan Petersen

In accordance with the facts enumerated in this letter, Norway had held out a warning to Prabhakaran : the warning was , if positive steps are not taken towards the peace process , the international reaction could be severe. Indeed this warning turned out to be true , for , the European union proscribed the LTTE when Prabhakaran did not take positive steps even after this letter was received by him. This constituted a huge blow to Prabhakaran.

It becomes crystal clear when reading this letter that Prabhakaran and the LTTE were the architects of their own misfortunes and disasters, and neither Norway nor the International community can be blamed for those debacles. Moreover, on the basis of the confidential letter and the discussions held between Norwegian foreign Minister and Balasingham , it is manifest that the charges levelled by the SL politicians of the South that Norway funded Tamil Tigers and reinforced them are without a foundation.

No matter what incriminations are heaped upon WikiLeaks, one unassailable fact stands out that it indeed helped to elucidate and enlighten on the unknown side of the true picture.

COURTESY: DAILY MIRROR

January 11, 2011

Submission by the Catholic Diocese of Mannar to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission

8 th January 2011

A. Introduction:

This is a presentation on behalf of the people of Mannar district by the Roman Catholic Bishop and Priests of the Diocese of Mannar to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC):

At the outset, we must express our disappointment that previous Commissions of Inquiry have failed to establish the truth into human rights violations and extrajudicial killings they were inquiring and bring justice and relief to victims and their families.

For example, the attack on the Pesalai Catholic Church while civilians were taking refugeand the disappearance of Fr. Jim Brown, both in 2006, were amongst the 16 cases that the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire into Alleged Serious Violations of Human Rights was mandated to look into, but we have not heard of any progress. It is also disturbing that reports of these Commissions have not been made available to those who came before the Commission, victims, their families and general public.

However, we believe the appointment of the LLRC by His Excellency Mahinda Rajapakse is an opportunity for all Sri Lankans to move towards reconciliation. We recognize the importance of learning lessons from our history, in order to move forward as well as prevent further conflict and violence. Thus, our willingness to come before the LLRC and assist the LLRC by working with the Kacheri and Grama Sewekas to make it better known amongst our people.

We appreciate the positive response of the LLRC to our request to visit Mannar district and meet people here who have been seriously affected by the war, especially the last phase of war from 2006-2009. However, Mannar being a district that tens of thousands of people have been affected by war for 3 decades, we are disappointed that the time allocated to listen to our people is very small. We request that special period of time be allocated for further submissions by the public even after the formal sessions of the LLRC are completed.

We also believe that it is crucial for any serious effort towards reconciliation to go back into our history beyond February 2002, as roots of the conflict and reasons for the war that caused so much pain, destruction and polarization dates much further. Infact, the LTTE, other armed Tamil groups and the war are not the cause, but only results of the conflict. Although LTTE and other Tamil armed groups have caused much suffering, their actions were prompted by the failure of successive governments to respond favorably to Tamil’s efforts to resolve their problems through peaceful and political means. While acknowledging the part played by LTTE and other armed groups in the suffering of the people, we wish to point out that the state military and their secret agents are feared more by the people and are held responsible for much of their woes.

In order to achieve genuine and lasting reconciliation, we believe it is crucial to address roots of the conflict andwar, primarily issues affecting Tamils such as recognition of their political reality, language, land, education and political power sharing.

B. Importance of truth:

We are convinced that recognizing in public the objective truth of the events of destruction that has taken place during the decades of war and violence is indispensable for any attempts at reconciliation.

Although establishing the truth is not explicitly mentioned in your mandate, we believe you will share our conviction that there can be no genuine and lasting reconciliation without truth. In particular, the truth about violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, such as enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, torture, bombing and shelling of civilian’s spaces including hospitals and religious institutions etc. must be publicly acknowledged bearing also in mind the principle of “Command Responsibility”. We note that except in one case (rape and murder Krishanthy Kumarasami) no perpetrators have been convicted for numerous crimes such as extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture, arbitrary detention, rape and sexual abuse. It is our belief that this culture of impunity over the years, led to more and more crimes against Tamil civilians during the course of the conflict. Measures such as forgiveness, amnesty are only possible when there is genuine acceptance and repentance of wrongs done and the truth is acknowledged.

It is our earnest appeal that the LLRC will give high priority to establish in public the truth of what has happened in the course of conflict and war.

C. Importance of political solution:

It should be recognized that Tamil people along with other inhabitants are part of one Sri Lanka, while having their own identity, culture, language, religion and traditional habitation. This reality in Sri Lanka has to be duly recognized by the government, considering also international law and practices in resolving conflict through political processes. Basic principle of power sharing and rights of minorities must be legally entrenched in the Constitution.

The constitution and legal system must not favor and should not leave any room to be even perceived as favoring majority or any one community or religion.

We believe that this process should be done with full participation of all communities, with the assistance of Sri Lankan experts as well as drawing on relevant international experience.

We acknowledge that this will be a long process. We note that several such processes initiated in the past had been abandoned, including the All Party Representative Committee appointed by the present President. Political solution could be carved out taking into consideration previous attempts at a political solution and relevant amendments made to the constitution.

We believe it is crucial to take initial steps immediately, with a clear time frame for completion of the process and implementation of the final political solution.

D. Immediate issues to be addressed

While a political solution to the conflict is essential, we would like to highlight several immediate issues that need to be addressed to ensure that we move forward on the path to reconciliation. Without addressing these needs, people affected by the war will not be able to move towards reconciliation and neither will they have any confidence or hope in any reconciliation process initiated at macro level.

Below are some such concerns with some practical suggestions:

1. Enforced disappearances:

We are submitting herewith a list of 100 persons that have disappeared as reported by their loved ones. (Annex 1 – parts I and II) The actual numbers would be much more. Existing mechanisms such as the Police,National Human Rights Commission and previous Presidential Commissions that many family members had complained to, have been unable to assist the families of the disappeared people. We are particularly worried that there is no news about two Tamil priests from the North who disappeared in this period, namely Rev. Fr. Jim Brown and Rev. Fr. Francis Joseph, although not from the Mannar diocese. Fr. Jim Brown’s case was even
part of the mandate of the previous Presidential Commission of Inquiry in 2006.

Suggestions:

1.1 Establishment of a special fast track mechanism that is independent of state institutions and will be perceived as independent by affected families.

1.2 In cases where it is clearly established that the person cannot be found, processes for death certificates and compensation should be expedited.

1.3 Procedures for applying for same should be simple, time bound and should be made public.

2. Remanded LTTE suspects:

We are submitting a list of 274 persons who have been reported to us as being remanded. We are again aware that the actual number of persons in detention is much more than we present.

There are thousands of LTTE suspects detained in prisons all over the country, such as in Welikeda in Colombo, Bogambara in Kandy, Jaffna, Batticaloa, Vavuniya, Anuradhapura etc.

Almost all are Tamils. Most are detained purely on suspicion of links to the LTTE, with no charges brought for years. Others have been charged, but their trials are going on for years.

Some of those, such as those detained in Omanthai under the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID), have been denied access to lawyers, ICRC and National Human Rights Commission and right to participate in religious services. Their relatives face a lot of problems visiting them and are often compelled to talk in inhumane manner through wire mesh, with more than 10 at a time in congested small room. There is no centralized list of detainees in
each detention centre that relatives could refer to. It is very important also to identify and pay special attention to vulnerable groups with special needs, such as those with young children and physically disabled.

Suggestions:

2.1 A centralized, comprehensive list of detainees should be made public – with names, places of detention as well as record of transfers, so families are made aware of the whereabouts of their family members. The list should also provide the reasons for detention and under which legal provision they are being detained.

2.2 Unhindered access to detainees, by their families, religious leaders, lawyers, ICRC and other statutory bodies and individuals.

2.3 Release all those who are not charged or detained in accordance with the legal framework and expedite the cases of those who have been charged.

2.4 A proper screening process should be in place to identify special cases, such as those with
young children and with physical disability and provide special assistance they need.

3. Extrajudicial killings:

We present herewith a list of 166 people who had been reported to us as killed during the last phase of the war, from Mannar district. (Annex 3) This number is not complete. Thousands of persons have been reported killed during the three decade old war from the North and East, most of them, since 2007 and particularly in the last five months of war in 2009. This includes a large number from the district of Mannar. Rev. Fr. Pakiaranjith, a priest of our diocese was also killed on 26th September 2007 in Vellankulam Road near Thunnukai, while he was taking assistance to displaced people. Hundreds of civilians from the Mannar district have also been deliberately killed by the military at the beginning of the war in early 1980s, such as the mass massacre at 11th mile post on the Mannar –Medawachiya Road on 4 th December 1984.

Based on eyewitness testimonies, we believe thousands of people would have been killed in the last five months of war between January – May 2009 and we believe a large number of these people are also from the Mannar district.

Based on information from the Kacheris of Mullativu and Killinochi about the population in Vanni in early October 2008 and number of people who came to government controlled areas after that, 146,679 people seem to be unaccounted for. According to the Kacheri, the population in Vanni was 429,059 in early part of October 2008

(Refer Annex 4 and 5).

According to UN OCHA update as of 10 th July 2009, the total number of people who came out of the Vanni to government controlled areas after this is estimated to be 282,380 (Refer Annex 6).

Suggestions:

3.1 All killings should be formally acknowledged

3.2 The number of civilians killed during the last phase of the war should be made public

3.3 Due clarification should be made regarding what happened to 146,679 people, which is the discrepancy between the number of people who came to government controlled areas between October 2008 – May 2009 and the population reported to be in Vanni in early October 2008.

3.4 Processes for death certificates and compensation should be expedited.

3.5 Procedures for applying for same should be simple, time bound and should be made public.

4. Rehabilitation of civilians affected by war

Thousands of civilians have also been injured, some seriously during the course of the war, especially in the last few months of war in the North in 2009. Many suffer permanent physical disability and are unable to get about their daily lives, including education and livelihoods without special assistance. There are also many who are traumatized due to being eyewitness to the war and having family members killed and made to disappear after being detained by the military, being admitted to hospitals etc.5

Suggestions:

4.1 All civilians physically affected should be offered needed special care and assistance.

4.2 All those who are in need of trauma counseling should be offered opportunities to receive trauma counseling and psychosocial support.

4.3 Government should facilitate and assist religious groups and NGOs to collect correct data in order to provide these services, including financial assistance where needed.

5. Rehabilitation of ex-LTTE cadres

We welcome the release in batches of ex-LTTE cadres. But there is no clear official number for those being detained and rehabilitated.

2 There is no transparent classifications and distinctions between those alleged as ex-combatants and others who were not in the frontlines (e.g. cooks, medics, admin staff etc.). There is also no clear indication about how many ex-combatants would be charged, and under what laws, with different Government MPs saying different numbers at different times.

3 We have also been told by several ex-LTTE cadres who had been released that they had not received any serious rehabilitation, such as counseling and livelihood skills. Those who have been released after rehabilitation have reported that their freedom of movement has been restricted and several have been reported as threatened and even abducted after release.

Suggestions:

5.1 Ensure freedom of movement and security of those released after rehabilitation

5.2 A comprehensive programme to address the psychological needs of ex-LTTE cadres and those rehabilitated and reintegrated should be implemented by the Government in partnership with agencies who have expertise in the area.

5.3 There should be an independent authority/body to monitor the rehabilitation and reintegration of detainees, so as to ensure that proper rehabilitation is conducted, and if the reintegration process is taking place effectively. (e.g. facilitate family units to re-start their lives etc.,)

6. Permanent housing, Livelihoods, Healthcare, Education and Transport:

We appreciate the fact that most people displaced during the war have been allowed to go back to their villages. We particularly appreciate the efforts made to demine these areas. However, although many people have returned to their villages, they are not able to live in dignity.

For example, in an interview with the Sunday Observer of 1sT August 2010, Minister D. E. W. Gunasekera was quoted as saying there 7000 ex combatants in custody out of an initial number of 12,000 at the end of the war.

However, the Minister was quoted in the Divaina of 15th Sept. 2010 as saying 4000 out of 12,000 had been rehabilitated and released implying a number of 8000 that remained detained. On 10Th August, Government MP Rajiva Wijesinghe was quoted by IRIN as saying 6900 continue to be detained out of an initial number of 11,000 LTTE fighters that were detained.

3 Minister Gunasekera pointed out in his interview to Sunday Observer of 1st August that about 1100 were “hardcore tigers”. However, the Divaina of 15th September reported the Minister as saying only about 700 could be charged. MP Rajiva Wijesinghe however quoted a different figure of 600 that will face charges and long term rehabilitation in IRIN news of 10th August

Almost 20 months after the end of the war, most of displaced people still have no housing and live under tarpaulin sheets. Others live in makeshift and temporary houses, mainly cadjan and tin sheets. There is no comprehensive housing scheme in place. We are also disturbed that a limit of Rs. 325,000 has been placed as the amount that should be spent for one permanent house for houses being built by The North East Housing Reconstruction Program (NEHRP). Based on present construction costs, it would be difficult to complete a good quality permanent house within Rs. 325,000. Further, we are also concerned that only few agencies are involved in building permanent houses, which we understand is due to undue restrictions and formalities of the government.

In this context, we were relieved and happy to hear about the offer of the Indian government to build 50,000 houses. We believe it is essential that the Government of Sri Lanka cooperates fully with the Indian government to ensure that people without housing can benefit in full from this generous offer.

Newly resettled people also lack assistance to restart livelihood (fishing / farming / shops etc.).

The large number of shops runs by the military and businesses started by people from other parts of the country are negatively affecting the ability of local people who are trying to restart their lives through small shops and restaurants.

People also lack water supply, nutritious food – including milk foods for children and education facilities, health care and transport facilities are inadequate.

Although we are allowed to extend our services to affected people at the moment, we have faced restrictions in earlier in our (Catholic Church) attempts to provide some such services and facilities and have received reports from NGOs who are ready to provide such services about restrictions presently in effect by multiple government bodies such as the Presidential Task Force and Ministry of Defense.

Suggestions:

6.1 Government should assume primary responsibility to provide decent permanent housing to displaced people who have now returned to their own villages.

6.2 Government should ensure that religious groups and NGOs who are willing to provide assistance and services are able to do these without long and complicated procedures.

6.3 The Indian government should be given the opportunity to build the 50,000 houses they have committed themselves to build, without leaving space for any local politicians, government officials and middlemen to engage in any corrupt practices.

6.4 High priority should be given to provision of quality healthcare, education and transport facilities to newly resettled areas such as Manthai West, Madhu and Musali divisions.

6.5 Due compensation should be paid to properties damaged, and a simplified, fast and transparent procedure must be put in place for this process.

6.6 No limitation should be placed on the amount to be spent on building permanent houses.

7. Creating a positive environment for displaced Muslims to return:

The forced evacuation of the Muslims in 1990 by the LTTE is a sad event in the conflict and we are happy that good number of them is able to return back to their places of original habitat.

All the displaced Muslims of the Mannar district must be allowed to return freely and must be assisted by relevant authorities to be reintegrated into the communities in Mannar. We are relieved that Muslim people were not subjected to extrajudicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary arrests that most others who stayed in Mannar have been subjected to.

Suggestions:

7.1 A favorable environment should be created to ensure the return of Muslims who want to come back and they should be provided all facilities that returning people are entitled to.

7.2 Dialogue between Tamil and Muslim communities as well as community and religious
leaders is important to ensure both communities can live in harmony.

7.3 Government must ensure that resettling Tamil and Muslim communities get equal level of assistance and support, and avoid creating situations where one community is seen as the favored community, as this will only cause further tensions.

8. Demographic changes and land colonization:

While we welcome efforts to resettle and assist displaced people to return and resettle, we are alarmed at reports that there are plans to handover land to large number of people from outside the district. We have also received reports that several individuals and groups from outside the district are already occupying lands (E.g. in Musali division) and these seems to be done with blessings of a Government Minister.

There is suspicion amongst historical inhabitants in the district that these are part of a government plan to bring about demographic changes in terms of ethnic and religious composition of the districts and the Northern Province as a whole. Such efforts in the past have been a key factor that led to the conflict, war and violence and as we try to move towards reconciliation, it is crucial to learn lessons from the mistakes made in the past and not repeat
such mistakes.

9. Occupation of land by military:

We appreciate the fact that the Government and the military had handed back some of the Church land that had been occupied by the military. However, we are disturbed that civilians in some areas are unable to go back to live in their own lands due to occupation of their houses and land by the military, such as in Sannar and Mullikulam. Land owned and administered by us (Catholic Church) in Mullikulam have also been taken over by the Navy without prior information or consultation with us (Catholic Church) and the people about alternative arrangements. There are no alternative arrangements offered as of now to those evacuated.

Suggestions:

9.1 Priority should be given to allow people to live in their own lands

9.2 Occupation of land by the military should be a last resort only, and in this case, provision of alternative land and in consultation with those affected and due compensation is also essential

10. Militarization and politicization of the civil administration:

Almost 20 months after the end of the war and after more than a year since the resettlement process started, we are disturbed that there is a heavy military presence in Mannar district particularly in recently resettled areas of Manthai West, Madhu and Musali divisions. This is something most Tamil civilians fear and not happy about, due to the many negative experiences they have had in the past. Many activities and decisions that should be attended to by civil authorities are still being handled by the military.

We have also seen an alarming level of interference in the civil administration of the Mannar district by politicians of the ruling party. Appointments and transfers to important positions in the civil administration including crucial areas such as healthcare and education etc. are controlled and monopolized by politicians, completely by passing the official procedures.

The culture of political patronage seems to have engulfed the Mannar district as it is in rest of the country. This has also caused a fear and tension amongst the majority Tamil community, who feel they are being marginalized in favour of those known to influential politicians of the government.

In this post war era, it is worrying that Governors to both the North and the East are former military commanders, as it is natural that senior military officers would operate based on military perspective rather than civilian perspectives.

Suggestions:

10.1 Military presence should be minimized and should be to the extent required.

10.2 Military should remain in barracks and camps and not in public places unless it’s required for security purposes.

10.3 Government Ministers and the Governor should not exceed powers vested in their office by law and in particular should not interfere in matters that are under the purview of the civil administration.

10.4 Transfers and appointments in the civil service should follow the established procedures devoid of any influence and interference of politicians.

10.4 Civilian administration should be strengthened and administrative, development and rehabilitation functions should be handed over to civil authorities with relevant expertise and experience.

11. Freedom of Religion, Expression, Association and Movement:

Almost 20 th months after the end of the war, it is disturbing that restrictions on expression, association and movement that are not in force in other parts of the country and communities are being imposed on recently resettled Tamil people. On several occasions, the military had cancelled religious services to remember and pray for civilians killed or missing and even some of our priests have been threatened and intimidated for their attempts to commemorate those who were killed during the war.

While celebrations for the war victory had been held under government patronage, no efforts have been made by the government to express solidarity with families of those killed, missing and injured in the war, by observing a National Day of Mourning. Attempts to protest peacefully about land occupation and lack of basic facilities had also drawn threats and intimidations.

Church organizations and NGOs have been instructed in writing and verbally by the Government Agent of Vavuniya and the Army in Mannar that no events should be organized without inviting the military.

Restrictions on travel still remain and even last month, some overseas visitors were prevented from visiting people in Manthai West division.

Such restrictions make Tamil people in these areas feel that they are living under military rule and cannot enjoy the rights and liberties that people in other parts of Sri Lanka enjoy.

Restrictive measures for peaceful and humanitarian activities also create further tensions and distance between the Government and Tamil people, and should be avoided in order to move towards reconciliation. Travel restrictions on foreign nationals who are interested to help resettled people deny these people opportunities to get further assistance.

Suggestions:

11.1 People, community leaders and religious leaders should be free to organize peaceful events and meetings without restrictions.

11.2 The government should declare a national day of mourning, to remember civilians who have been killed in the war.

11.2 Visitors from outside the district and from overseas should be allowed to freely visit their friends and relatives in recently resettled areas without having to obtain prior permission from the Ministry of Defense.

12. Fears of Sinhalese – Buddhist cultural domination:

We are deeply disturbed that some signboards in villages in Manthai West are only in Sinhalese and that some roads names have been given Sinhalese names. These are seen as indicators of “Sinhalization” of traditional Tamil areas and these are things that should be avoided if we are to move towards reconciliation.

Building a Buddhist place of worship (Pansala) in Murunkan Town where there was a Hindu Kovil is something that has caused a lot of concern, particularly as there is no Buddhist population in this area. Erections of Buddhist statues in prominent public places in many new locations in the North have also made our people fearful of Buddhist domination of majority Hindhu, Christian and Islamic areas.

While being deeply respectful of Buddhism and believing in religious freedom for all religious communities all over the country, we believe the erection of Buddhist statues and places of worship in public places in the North, will not help in reconciliation efforts and infact, may lead to further tensions and polarization amongst different religious communities.

E. Conclusion:

We hope due notice will be taken of concerns we had raised and practical suggestions made. We reiterate that key three elements towards reconciliation are:

1. Acknowledging the objective and total truth of events that had happened throughout the conflict and war, particularly in the closing stages of the war

2. A political solution to the ethnic conflict, that will also ensure good governance and rule of law, drawn up in a participatory manner within a specified time frame

3. Addressing of immediate concerns (such as of people who had been affected and suffered doe
to the war

We stand ready to further assist and collaborate with the LLRC and the Government of Sri Lanka towards achieving these goals and offer our prayers and blessings towards the success of such efforts.

Yours sincerely,

Rt. Rev. Dr. Rayappu Joseph
Catholic Bishop of Mannar

Very Rev. Fr. Victor Sosai
Vicar General of Diocese of Mannar

Rev. Fr. Xavier Croos
Representative of the Priests Forum of Mannar

(The Diocese of Mannar comprises the administrative districts of Mannar and Vavuniya. For the purpose of this submission, only the Mannar district is covered)

Thousands displaced as torrential rains and floods hit Sri Lanka – UN

Thousands of people people remain displaced because of flooding in Sri Lanka.

11 January 2011 – Floods caused by heavy rainfall in Sri Lanka have affected nearly a million people, including more than 127,000 displaced from their homes, the United Nations humanitarian office reported today, quoting figures provided by the Government.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has re-allocated funds to support the Government’s aid efforts, and will provide 735 metric tons of food assistance to feed approximately 400,000 of those affected, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Torrential rainfall has lashed the Indian Ocean island nation since 26 December, triggering floods and mudslides, mainly in the eastern and central parts of the country, with Batticaloa district in the east reported to have received the largest amount of precipitation in a century.

According to the Government’s Disaster Management Centre (DMC), the total number of affected people stands at nearly 863,800, including 13 deaths, one missing and 44 injured as of today. Roads in affected areas remain submerged, reducing access, OCHA reported.

Initial assessments in some of the affected areas over the past 24 hours have identified food, non-food items and water and sanitation services as priority needs.

Sri Lanka’s health ministry has sent five medical teams to the eastern and Polonnaruwa areas ready to control possible outbreaks of diseases, and to set up mobile medical clinics to assist internally displaced persons. The UN World Health Organization (WHO) will bear the cost of the mobile clinics.

In addition, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has been delivering water tanks and taps to the eastern region since the beginning of the flooding and is supporting further assessments. [UN News Centre – UN.org]

Thai Pongal: 'An opportunity for all Canadians to recognize the tremendous contributions of the Tamil community' - Minister Jason Kenney

Greetings from the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism

I would like to extend my warmest greetings to all those celebrating Thai Pongal, a magnificent festival that unites Tamils from all over the world. On behalf of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, I would like to thank you for your unwavering devotion to Canada – the open and diverse country we are all very proud to call our home.

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Honourable Jason Kenney, PC, MP

Thai Pongal is a special time of the year for many Canadian Tamils as it is the perfect occasion to celebrate and give thanks to God and to the Sun for a generous harvest. It is also an opportunity for all Canadians to recognize the tremendous contributions of the Tamil community and share in the joyous spirit of this great festival. We are all privileged to live in a country where we can discover the diverse traditions of our fellow Canadians and join them in their celebrations. As Prime Minister Harper noted: "Canada has been immeasurably enriched by such a broad array of ethno-cultural traditions. Each community is part of the cultural diversity that is one of Canada's greatest strengths in this globalized world."

As Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, I would like to take this opportunity to offer my best wishes for a happy Thai Pongal festival and to thank Canadian Tamils for their enduring contributions to the success of our pluralism.

All Canadians join me in wishing you Peace!

Sincerely,

The Honourable Jason Kenney, PC, MP
Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism

January 10, 2011

The Forthright Journalist Who Changed Sri Lankan Journalism

Tribute to Lasantha Wickrematunge on Second Death Anniversary

By Sunalie Ratnayake

A recollection of facts

Two elongated years have come into conclusion, precisely as of today (January 8, 2011), since the incongruously horrendous cold-blooded murder of one of the most outspoken, clear-cut, intrepid and young Journalists that may have ever set foot on planet earth, in aspects of a noteworthy epoch of time in history, to date. Indeed, a Sri Lankan Journalist Par Excellence, who requires no introduction by any means, not only on the segment of his motherland Sri Lanka, but also, on the phase of the earth. He is none other than the beyond compare soul of brilliance and brains, Lasantha Manilal Wickrematunge, the best and only boss in life, thus far, in my 7 year succinct tenure in Journalism.

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The late Lasantha Wickrematunge with Sunalie Ratnayake on New Year's Day - 2007

As I recall, it was in the morning hours of January 8, 2009, that I had received the most heartrending phone call, ever in my life, thus far, on my fourth day in Colombo, Sri Lanka, during a vacation in my motherland. A phone call which reached my mobile, in all probability, in less than ten minutes following the vile incident that had taken place down Main Attidiya Road in Dehiwela, that fateful Thursday morning, just a few minutes away from where I lived in Colombo. A phone call, that had managed to profoundly damage my fortitude and conviction, not only in terms of my rest back home two years ago, but also in the facet of life itself, as a whole.

Specifics hard to acknowledge

To date, the incident itself, and the series of moments that followed the atrocious, blatant act of murder of my editor, from the murder scene, to the Kalubowila hospital Intensive-Care Unit, to the mortuary, to the undertakers, to the Sunday Leader office and to the respective abodes and finally to the Borella Kanatte from January 8 to12, 2009 seem to have deeply carved a constant reel of images in my memory, that still seem to haunt me with strife. The assassination and it’s unashamed manner itself, seem to be way beyond mind’s eye, when compared to the nightmarish episodes I seem to experience even in my slumber, from time to time, and time and again, ever since. At times, the thought does whack my mind, “ why did I really opt to be in my motherland on vacation, just to experience the worst ever episode that life had to offer me, thus far ? ” But then again, I console my mind, believing that there is a reason behind all, in this riddle called life.

Vacuum left behind

Following Lasantha’s forced and planned exodus from the Sri Lankan media industry two years ago, there is no doubt of the fact, that the momentous vacuum he left behind, is far from being filled. It is also a matter of reasonable doubt, whether that same vacuum would or could ever be filled again, in the local unbiased, undaunted media scene. Especially, at a time in present day Sri Lanka, where certain journalists too, just like the unashamed slice of individuals representing various other fields in the country, could be bought over in exchange of cash and benefits of all nature, distancing them from holding a clear conscience and from conducting a genuine livelihood of their choice, by those holding power. Sadly, yet truly, Sri Lanka is no longer a situate, where Journalism or any other profession could be practiced decently or ethically, with a conscience that could be unambiguous.

The Rajapaksa totalitarianism

Consequently, the prime fear cum query remains that whether unbiased, undaunted and unbowed journalism could ever be practiced in Sri Lanka, a country, following a near three decade crucial and brutal war by a cluster categorized as the worst terrorist group on the phase of the planet, the LTTE, has now become a land that brazenly practices totalitarianism under the so called Rajapaksa government, in no time, whatsoever. Indeed, it is the worst administration thus far, that saw daylight in the island, of which it’s election for the first and second terms alone, remains a pragmatic, yet never to be solved mystery.

Moreover, it is a regime represented by a leader, who depicts no ethical or core values whatsoever, even in the slightest possible manner. President Rajapaksa, his brothers and relatives that depict shrewdness and lack of remorse to the bone, are only perfectly familiar with, and truly capable of robbing the country, it’s assets, it’s prospects, and above all, it’s freedoms from it’s citizens, by and large, with the fanatical, yet hysterical mindset of establishing perpetual wealth, and an everlasting dynasty for himself and the entire Rajapaksa family element, a pessimistic ordeal extending beyond imagination and lenience.

But, what is most evil is the fact that, all this happens to be at the cost and freedom of the lives of others. Lasantha paid the ultimate price of death, two years ago, just prior to reaching the age of 50, merely for being a journalist who fought valiantly for the freedom of the press, as well as the rights of the citizens of his country, thus uncompromisingly pursuing what he believed was right. The Rajapaksa government’s shameless acts in eliminating even fractions of entities, that seem to be intimidating, in terms of carrying on with their sordid acts of deception, could be viewed as nothing, but outright disgust beyond exoneration, and it is nothing but disgrace on the President, the so called Mahinda Rajapaksa, in actuality, Percy Mahendra Rajapaksa and his bunch of hooligans. The Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and the Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa too are just to name a few, who are part and parcel, in terms of making Sri Lanka an object of mockery, in the facade of the world.

Void of progress in investigations & brutal attacks

Two years passing by, void of any progress whatsoever, as per the so-called investigations pertaining to the brutal broad day light murder of Lasantha is obviously to be expected, as the responsible parties are evidently entrenched in supremacy. Lasantha may be no more, for the reason that he was one of the very few in the country, who intrepidly spoke the truth, throughout his life, especially in the shoes of a Journalist. He was unafraid of “power,” never intimidated by same, ever. That was the same “power” that passed it’s own cool time, and got him killed, at the finest opportunity to do so.


The Sunday Leader is a newspaper establishment that underwent repeated destruction by all respective governments to date, from it’s inception back in 1994. A well known fact remains, in two instances, Lasantha was brutally assaulted, while in another, his house was machine-gun fire sprayed.

We recall with pity, as if to the repellent manner in which the press was attacked several times, and also sealed by the government of Chandrika Kumaratunge. On November 21, 2007, a commando style operation took place, within the high security zone, in which the Sunday Leader new office was located in close proximity to the Ratmalana military and domestic airport. Ten to twelve armed men had forced their way into the printing press, and this was an arson attack, the second such assail within a two-year period on the publishers of the newspaper.

The masked arsonists that entered the press room of the Sunday Leader, Morning Leader and it’s sister paper Irudina had set fire on it, damaging a number of printing machines and copies of freshly printed newspapers, ready for distribution. In December 2008, along with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), The Sunday Leader was censored by the Rajapaksa regime, ordering to refrain from publishing reports relating to the Defence Secretary brother of the President.

The only accurate reason for all such consequences was the publication’s instinctive nature of being unbowed and unafraid, thus exposing corruption after corruption and misconducts in numbers, relating to all echelons of all governments that came into power through the years. However, under the watch of the present Rajapaksa regime, it’s editor’s life on earth was snatched, thus, eradicating his right to live, as well as his freedom of expression.

Despite frequent threats and the aforesaid physical attacks prior to his death, Lasantha continued his work undeterred. It was evident that he never hid behind euphemism.

Unashamed statements of tyrants in power

I recall, when I was part and parcel of Lasantha’s editorial at the then, much celebrated National English weekly, The Sunday Leader publication, probably the only publication in Sri Lanka that stood out “unbowed and unafraid”, depicting its slogan to the fullest, despite the aforesaid endless malicious consequences having to be faced, the revolting phone call Lasantha received on January 11, 2006, from non other than the President himself. It was barely two months from him being elected to power on November 18, 2005. The phone call was in obscene language in the president’s mother tongue, aggressively threatening Lasantha with no “shame”, nonetheless a characteristic that has no meaning in his being whatsoever, making strong statements, that in no time, he will hush the editor.

Mahinda, after screaming his belly, rather than his lungs out, at that time, not as stout as it is at this point, in the most despicable manner, also brazenly calling out the name of Lasantha’s aged and innocent mother, the undeviating devil living inside Mahinda’s phony persona, effortlessly did come out that day. The utterance in his phone conversation with Lasantha came out similar to the following ; "I will finish you! I treated you well all this while. Now I will destroy you. You don't know who Mahinda Rajapaksa is. You watch what I will do to you! I will show you what it is like to be scared. I will rest only, once I have destroyed you."

As these sadistic words of our so called president repeatedly loop in my memory, all I can think of is, Mahinda sure did keep to his word, yet, in a shockingly succinct period than we all expected. Once again may I say, “Shame on you Percy a.k.a Mahinda”

More proclamations of repugnance

While writing this piece on Lasantha’s second death anniversary that falls today, I also recall, similarly, with a sincere objective in stressing on “human rights“, as per the present day media freedom in Sri Lanka, the Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was interviewed by Christopher Morris of the BBC.

In that particular interview broadcast by the BBC in the most recent history, in responding to the questions forwarded to the Defence Secretary by Morris, with regards to the January 2009 assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge, Gotabaya went into a state of extreme mockery, amalgamated with wrath, further filled with absolute disrepute, in aspects of the cold blooded murder of Lasantha, that had seen daylight under the watch of his brother’s rule. Gotabjaya was unable to even sit straight on his chair, throughout the interview, tossing his arms all over the air, his face depicting expressions as disgusting as ever.

As usual, it was the common effect instilled in Gotabhaya, while facing interviews, especially those conducted by diverse media institutions other the state media (in which questions and answers are obviously pre-planned & pre-arranged and conducted in a relaxed environment of the interviewee’s choice, thus the interviewer always being reduced to a mere puppet), this too was yet another interview of his, handled in the most unprofessional possible mode.

As per the aforementioned BBC interview, to the Defence Secretary, it all seemed to be nothing beyond a matter of mirth, whereas, in reality, to the rest of the world, it was nothing but a matter of grave apprehension. A matter that clutched authorities worldwide, needless to point out the downright tension that escalated in Sri Lanka alone, concerning media freedom, and the articulation of facts as is, as means of enlightening the general public and their right to know.

It is justly a dignified, customary and ethical human right, for which, once president Rajapaksa himself stood up for, not so long ago, when power was not significantly within the reach of the Rajapaksas,’ let alone having modes of abusing same, as at present.

In the Defense Secretary’s words at sarcasm at it‘s best, he made the following statements, with irrepressible mirth, completely out of place, as far as a serious interview was concerned. Moreover, it was based on a cold blooded murder that saw daylight, of a prominent editor who held international recognition, a murder that took place in a high security zone in Colombo, under the bristly watch of his brother’s government, and him as Defence Secretary of the same constituent.

Gotabhaya would hysterically go to the extent of making statements as follows, as answers at the interview ; “Who is Lasantha Wickerematunge ? He is just a…..there are so many murders in everywhere, in the whole world there are murders. Why are you asking about Lasantha ? Who is Lasantha ? He was somebody who was writing for tabloids. I’m not concerned about that. People are panicking. Why people are so worried about one man….?”

As per the above mentioned disgusting interview given by the Sri Lankan Defence Secretary to the BBC, on the slain editor of The Sunday Leader, as far as the Defence Secretary and his behaviours are concerned, the following contemplations scuttle through my mind ; “Does he actually know what the word “tabloid” stands for, and didn’t he truly not know who Lasantha was, before he was killed at the convenience of those in power ? Wasn’t Lasantha the thickest thorn on the flesh of this government and its muggers ? And, also I wish that he would bare in mind, that the person that he refuses to know, shall stand tall, as a person who bowed to no one at all, and shall march into history as one of the bravest men that ever lived, representing the field of solid journalism in our times, especially under a creepy, dishonest regime such as that of the Rajapaksas’.”

Another murder swept under the rug

Just like any other entity of high concern in Sri Lanka’s history up-to-date, Lasantha’s brutal murder too has been contentedly swept under the carpet with much ease, only with so called appointed committees to hold ostensible investigations, moreover those consisting of desired personal of parties holding power, the personal who would only avidly fulfill the agendas of the same supremacy. Hearings, numbering over fifty have thus far being held before a magistrate’s court, yet a “blank” seem to be depicted by the police.

Over 15 military intelligence officers were held in custody for succinct periods, as of late, yet discharged void of any means of clarification, as far as the courts were concerned. As certain political analysts, as well as politicians themselves happen to deem, (the latter of course, artfully in their benefit whatsoever), if General Sarath Fonseka was responsible for the vicious murder of Lasantha Wickerematunge, why on earth was he tried via military tribunals for relatively and naively minor offences, in comparison with that of murder ? Why couldn’t this co called receptive government with it’s so called sensitive leader work it through, to charge Fonseka with murder, at the first place, if crooked fingers could continue to point at the General, with regards to Lasantha’s murder ?

More pleasurable memories

There were recurrent times, that everyone around Lasantha, who truly loved and cared for him used to repeatedly advise him to be safe, and to believe in the fact, that his life was of utmost importance, especially when the common death threats kept rolling in via mail and the telephone. Hitherto, it happened to be a life of utmost importance to all that truly knew him close enough, for the man he was, except for himself.

Whenever the editorial members would remind him of the importance of living, and being safe, and the gravity of the repeated threats being received through the years, his words with that unprecedented grin of his, would only be, “ There are two places that you cannot avoid when you have to go, you have to go. One is the toilet and the other is the grave.” Therefore, once we repeatedly hear this kind of lingo from our editor with a merry nature, at least for that moment we used to give up on further elucidation of the dangers that awaited his life, and laugh it all off, together with this ever so witty soul, as if nothing really mattered. Lasantha managed to lift the gravity, at least for a moment, as per the danger that ultimately snatched away his life, way ahead of time. A smile on his face was never an absent entity, even on Thursdays, the most demanding day of the week.

Don’t cry for me Argentina

Every now and then, a best known song of all time “Don’t cry for me Argentina” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s and Tim Rice’s 1978 musical Evita could be heard in Lasantha’s most unmusical voice ever, assuring it to be one of his favourites. At this moment, I also recall D.B.S Jeyaraj, a seasoned Journalist, whom I hold in elevated esteem, though I have never met him through my tenure in journalism thus far, too had once stated his reminiscences on Lasantha’s version of Don’t cry for me Argentina.

Though the tune of the song hardly was in place, coming from Lasantha on a frequent basis, it seemed to be delightful, as it made us crack with laughter. I recall once stating at the typesetting room of The Sunday Leader that “Evita would have run hundred miles away if she heard you sing her song,” and the usual chortle could be heard from Lasantha.

The best days of my life

Though responsibilities were foremost, life was carefree in Lasantha’s editorial. Every moment of pleasure and pressure (the two P‘s), the latter of course, not in keeping with the deadlines, but in managing the constant menaces of infuriated politicians happened to be a way of life for us young reporters, back in most recent history. Those were the best days of my life, in my carrier in Journalism that began with Lasantha, the days we had joy, we had fun, and we had seasons in the sun.

If one knew Lasantha the way I and my colleagues knew him, no one would ever believe the fact that the country’s most controversial weekly editorials were produced by a pen held with the left hand of this supreme human that I have met, thus far in life. His simplicity as well as his humorous, yet sharp nature made him a soul that could be loved and respected beyond words could ever express. His remarkably down-to-earth qualities were unsurpassed with that of anyone else, in the field he mainly depicted all his life, journalism, apart from being a qualified Attorney-At-Law.

A man who changed Sri Lanka’s Journalism

Lasantha’s life was taken away just before him turning 50, yet he remains a man who single-handedly changed the facet of Journalism in Sri Lanka. Fifty seem to relatively be a brief period, in terms of life, yet, in that half a century, Lasantha had achieved many an entity, in aspects of Journalism and admiration, which others could only have dreamt of. Above all, what’s more important is the fact that he was an authentic, sincere human by all means. Rest assured, not even an ant would have been harmed by him, through the course of his fifty years.

Today, as I write this piece, 24 months following the untimely, undesirable, unpardonable departure of Lasantha, I sit at my desk, in a land far away from home, with an assortment of emotions such as sorrow, disgust, suffering and calamity running through my mind. Yet, the cheery picture of the preeminent and only boss in my life in journalism, depicting that ever so familiar, unmatched, effortless smile on his face, seem to add some soothe to my thoughts at this convoluted hour.

Last but not least, may I enunciate the fact that my sincere thoughts on this day, which happen to be the second death anniversary of Lasantha Wickrematunge, shall always be with his endearing children Aadesh, Ahimsa and Avinash, as well as with his one and only genuine companion and comrade throughout life Raine Wickrematunge a gem of a woman personally known to me, as well as with his doting parents, siblings, nephews and nieces, and fellow genuine journalists and all those who loved him irrefutably, the assemblage that shall truthfully suffer, having paid a price, way beyond acceptance, in terms of losing their dearly beloved, unlike the numbers out there that happen to shed crocodile tears, those once benefited, and continue to be benefited by the perquisites associated, once with the life, and now, with the name and legacy of this incomparable editor of our times.

Lasantha, a forthright journalist with unparalleled audacity, will be remembered with acute fondness, and desolately missed, at the wake of his second death anniversary (Jan 8, 2011).

Dearest editor, mentor, comrade and confidante, who was also a second father by all means - May your soul rest in peace.

The Journalist Sunalie Ratnayake could be contacted at sunalie.secretandbeyond@yahoo.com

Something Tamils can accept with dignity and self-respect should be given says Chandrika Kumaratunga

By Kelum Bandara and R. Sethuraman

Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, after a long period of silence, expressed herself in an exclusive interview with Daily Mirror at her residence in Horagolla. She discussed about her currents activities and future plans in retirement, and also lashed out at the government. Here are excerpts of her interview.

Q: What are your present activities in retirement?

After I retired, I decided that I would never be involved in politics directly because I did not like the manner in which the governance is done. There is lack of democracy and future vision. I did politics for 33 years though I was the executive president only for two terms. I retired at 60. when I was in the active politics, I could not spend enough time with my children. In fact, when I contested the election in 1994, they were quite against it. There is a reason for that. Bandaranaikes have lost what they had due to politics. My father was killed, and again my husband. Later, I was nearly killed. I determined not re-enter politics though I was physically and mentally fit for it. We have not earned even a single cent out of politics.

Anyway, after that, I was harassed. They made various allegations against me in the media. Later, I sent corrections. Yet, poor journalists were harassed and influenced not to put them. However, I thought I could give enough and more things for the country at large using my experience and knowledge. With that intention in mind, I formed the organization called ‘Foundation for Democratic Studies’. It is a non-profit charity registered in the UK and Sri Lanka. The institution is run on the contributions of the foreign donors.

Q: What is the focus of this organization?

It mainly focuses on the South Asia. It is the region with the largest number of poor people and unresolved political conflicts. We work on areas such as economic development, poverty alleviation and empowering women. Having come out of their lot into the political arena I cannot forget the challenges I had to face as a woman. This organization also give priority to issues such as Climate change, regional co-operation, peace building, conflict resolution, and post conflict peace building in Sri Lanka.

Here, we have projects. We gave water facilities for 31 poor households for domestic purposes in Embilipitiya. That is through the collection of rainwater and filtering it. In Jaffna, we constructed 30 houses for the Internally Displaced Persons with solar power electricity. In Jaffna, we want to construct around 100 houses. Yet, the government has not given us the names of the IDPs who are in need of houses. They insisted that they should identify the deserving people. We want to give the benefit solely for the displaced persons.

Besides, we have put up the institute called Sirimavo Bandaranaike Academy for Leadership Training. We started it with the 50th anniversary of my mother becoming the world’s first woman prime minister. Education is my passion. We cannot develop a country without a sound education system. Today, adults in our country behave badly.

They are different. There is extreme thinking. I never allowed it under my government. They do not respect democracy and equal rights. We need a total attitudinal change. Today, scientific education which I introduced has deteriorated.

After I went home, I see education has gone down again. Officials were crying and complaining to me that all those good programmes implemented by me had now been stopped. There is nothing I can do anymore.

The country today needs good leaders. There are only a few good leaders in the country. Not only political leaders, I mean there are only a few in the public service. Of course, the private sector has some good leaders. But, they can do with a few more. We want to build some good leaders who do not lie, rob and sell Kassippu and drugs. Today, politicians are doing that also.

Q: Who are the South Asian leaders involved in your programme?

We have a team called international advisory council. We have I.K. Gujral, another person called Mr. Megnad, a UK based Indian, who is the head of the London School of Economics. Ours is a research institute that does a lot of policy studies and recommends policies for the South Asian countries. We cover various aspects such as good governance, and the role of South Asia in the global perspective.

South Asia is the only region which does not have any regional think tanks. There are country based ones, but not a regional one. Even poor Africa has one under various names. We have a larger number of highly educated people. This may be the first properly functioning regional think tank. We have taken research fellows from all over the world, who will do research under ten selected themes, and do publications. We have another academic council that will review the research work. It comprises academics from different parts India, Bangladesh, Pakistan , the Maldives, Harvard University, Europe and France. Other activity is to hold seminars.

We encourage government and private sectors to implement what we recommend. We will also have an annual conference in South Asian countries. There will be one in Sri Lanka. I cannot reveal it because I fear sabotage from the government. They are so jealous and vicious against me personally. This is a very independent and intellectual exercise. Anyway, when the time comes, I will talk to them. So far, reaction from some of this government is very petty-minded.

Q: What is the kind of role you expect to play in Sri Lanka under the theme ‘Post Conflict Peace Building?

Post conflict peace building is absolutely important. I do not know whether you saw the message of congratulation I sent to President Mahinda Rajapaksa after the war was over. I did not say he won the war. I said the government won the war. I carefully drafted it with my wordings.

I mentioned, “Your government undoubtedly won the war. Yet, you face the daunting and much more difficult task of winning peace. In that exercise, I wish you luck, magnanimity and wisdom.” That is what I said. It is absolutely important. You can win a war. When one part of our nation which is about ten percent of the population, is angry and hurt, you cannot build a stable society.

There was a marvellous opportunity after the LTTE was destroyed to bring about harmony. The LTTE never allowed it. Also, the opposition blocked my efforts to bring peace. Had they given me eight more votes in Parliament, there would have been almost a federal state. Then, the Tamil civilians would not have supported the LTTE. Tamil people insisted me to give what I had. Even the Diaspora insisted me. I needed only eight votes. All the Tamil and Muslim parties voted for it. Today, one does not give so much because the war is over and the LTTE is no more. Anyway, something Tamils can accept with dignity and self-respect should be given. Not ‘Thuttu Deke Pradeshiya Sabhas.’ Now too much of water has passed under the bridge.

Nineteen months after the war, only 8000 houses have been built for the displaced. After the tsunami, we had to build 70,000 house. By the time, I retired from office 11 months after the tsunami, the construction work of all the houses was finished or nearly finished. I do not know why they took 19 months to build only 8000 houses after the end of the war. There seems to be lack of political will.

I never changed my stand that the final solution should be a negotiated political solution. I still believe it the case. You may need to engage in battles if the LTTE asked for it. They finished the LTTE. It is good. Nobody is sad about the LTTE except its cadres. But, sovereign government of Sri Lanka must be capable of proving that they are the government of all the people of Sri Lanka, all the citizens of Sri Lanka.

To prove that, they have to treat all in the same manner. If this government can organize the war and win it in a short time, they obviously have the ability to organize themselves in the same manner to win peace. If they do not have money, they can put money from the south. The south has a lot of money. If they stop corruption, they can find a lot of money. Today, 40 percent of the National Budget is wasted on it.

Q:How have you calculated this figure?

That is a rough figure. There are no figures on how much top people are robbing. From talking to tenders, from my own knowledge about the mega projects, foundations were laid during my time for these mega projects. I know how much they cost at that time, and the amount now involved. The extra amount is corruption. Materials have not gone up to the last two years. If they stop corruption, they will be a substantial amount of money to go around.

Q: What is your comment on the APRC?

I laughed at it. There was no need to waste four years in deliberating because we had enough examples in the past. We did a lot of work on the 2000 constitution. We held talks with the UNP for years. They did not give their support. They were just dilly dallying. With them alone, I had 34 discussions. I talked to Tamil and Muslim parties. We did not include all what they asked for. It was my passion. Had the UNP supported, I could have passed it.

In fact, I could have become a dictator. Several people suggested it. I could have become a dictator and brought the constitution. I considered that, not for myself, for me to remain in power for consecutive terms, but to bring that constitution which had extensive package of devolution of power. It also had a section to do away with the executive presidency.

Yet, I did not have it in me anyway because I have been a democrat. I have never ever indulged anything undemocratic during my time. I could not bring me as a dictator even for this purpose. I may regret it now. Temporally, I should have become a dictator for six months and bring in the constitution, and gone back to democratic system again. If I had known that dictatorship would come after me, I would have done it for the betterment of the country, not for me to remain in power.

After two years for the war victory, I am still worried about my country. Nothing tangible is being done to bring about durable peace. There is nothing for us to assure that there will no more Prabharakans in future.

Q: Do you think that former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka would have been better leader for the country?

I do not know actually. I have not associated with him. I only know him as the commander in chief. I cannot say anything.I know president Mahinda Rajapaksha very well. A change of leader is always good in a democratic system.

Q: What is your pinion about the present opposition?

The strength of the government is the weakness of the opposition. The main reason is why the government is strong is the war victory. There are a lot of problems, salaries not being raised. During my time, I raised salaries by 500 percent by five times. The strongest point for their success is the war victory. The opposition’s weakens is second point.

Q: What are feelings about the manner in which some of the government members treat you now?

The government members, except a few, have not done or said anything wrong against me. Our party was in the opposition for 17 years. They lost every single election. In 1994, I gave the leadership for them to win. What they are today is partly due to me. Of course, their efforts also contributed to their success.

Q:How do you spend your leisure time in retirement now?

I hardly have free time. I am busy with my international assignments. Whenever I am free, I do gardening and housekeeping. I renovated Horagolla Walawwa. I personally selected the curtains needed. I love gardening and painting. I would love to have free time to read. I am now writing a book on my political life.

COURTESY:DAILY MIRROR

10 dead and over 800,000 affected due to rain from various parts of Sri Lanka

Source: Sri Lanka Red Cross Society

By Mahieash Johnney – IFRC Communications & Information manager in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

10/01/2011 @ 1200hrs

The Disaster Management Centre has released the latest figures of affected people from floods in various parts of Sri Lanka bringing the total over 800,000. Most of the affected was reported from Batticaloa where 482,830 were reported as displaced from severe floods in the region.

In Ponlonnaruwa 6,388 were affected while Trincomalee and Ampara recorded 22,026 and 306,998 respectively.

Currently the branches of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society have deployed Non Food Relief Items (NFRI) to the affected areas and are currently in the process of getting assessment reports in order to determine the future course of action.

The Head of Operations for the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society Surein Peiris said "As soon as we receive the assessment reports we will put in place a relief mechanism that would help the people of these areas in order to restore their lives"

Meanwhile the government agents in Ampara and Trincomalee have begun to distribute cook food items to the affected people.

The Disaster Response Manager for Sri Lanka Red Cross Society Chandana Thammannegoda said "Currently there is a dire need for safe drinking water. Most of the areas which are inundated cannot be accessed as roads have been blocked or being washed away. The SLRCS branches in these areas are doing their level best to get safe drinking water and other essential items to the victims as soon as possible."

Meanwhile an MI 17 helicopter operating in the Batticaloa district dropped 2.5 tonnes of dry rations today.

Meanwhile a Bell 212 operating in Ampara rescued 24 persons in Tampitiya today. The missions are continuing despite heavy rains and strong winds.

The Air Force also rescued 22 persons who were marooned in Tampitiya and Bogamuyaya yesterday by using a Bell helicopter.

January 09, 2011

Is this govt thinking before leaping or thinking after leaping?

by Kalana Senaratane

Checks and balances are vital not only to separate and demarcate the powers and functions of the principal branches of the State but also to ensure no single branch becomes overly powerful, hegemonic, or monarchical. Checks and balances are absolutely essential during these times in Sri Lanka, due to a very simple reason: the existence of a strong and powerful government.

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Photoby Bethany V. Pereira, World Resources Institute

At times, the government seems to act as if the victory achieved by the valiant Armed Forces had somehow provided it with a blank cheque of sorts to do whatever it likes concerning matters of governance. When such signs keep emerging, and re-emerging, pressure needs to be exerted, and it is most effective when such pressure is firstly exerted by those within the government. This is particularly so, especially within a context whereby relying on the Constitution is not going to be the most fruitful or productive exercise.

In this regard, 2010 ended on a somewhat positive note when Senior Minister and former Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake expressed certain important and widely shared sentiments about the government of which he is a senior member. Minister Wickramanayaka highlighted very critical issues: the inability of the government to address the problems concerning the rising cost of living; the importance of economic self-sustenance; the lack of a proper plan which would result in governance ending up like the mess that was created after the appointment of ‘Senior Ministers’; and the internal contradictions that are emerging concerning public statements made for public consumption and actual government policy.

Some of these concerns, to be sure, may be motivated by one’s own ‘political’ grievances. However, that such concerns were raised is to be welcomed at this juncture; especially because they were directed not against a weak government but a strong one. Perhaps, the views of Minister Wickramanayaka encapsulate what this government has sadly, during recent times, shown the people to be; contradictory, unthinking.

As the editor of The Island most correctly and pithily pointed out (editorial, 8 Jan 2011): "The government has earned notoriety for thinking after leaping." To earn any kind of notoriety, there needs to be evidence of constant practice. And that is precisely what the government has shown. And it would be necessary to remember here (as has been discussed in previous columns) that this seemingly growing obsession with the curious practice of "thinking after leaping" is seen not only in matters concerning the formulation of domestic policy, but also foreign policy, too.

Yet, let us think about this practice of "thinking after leaping". The consistency with which this "thinking after leaping" takes place throws up some questions; for surely, a government cannot be so unthinking after all?

Is the government "thinking after leaping", or is this really a case of thinking before leaping? Does the government want us to think that it is "thinking after leaping" and therefore that one should forget and move on? Or are these just temporary setbacks? Is the government ‘testing the waters’ to gain some idea of what the masses think about the policies it is determined to implement and realize on some future date? Why are the internal debates that take place within the government, or in Cabinet, postponed and not resolved or finalized? For instance, as regards the ‘mini-skirt’ issue, does the government want us to believe that what the Secretary to the Ministry of Cultural Affairs has told an international news agency is simply ‘rumour’? And all this leads to a far more serious question, of course: does thinking take place, or the ability to think dawn, only during times of an armed conflict?

These are some of the questions that arise given the consistent and constant practice of the government; i.e. the practice of "thinking after leaping". And it is hoped that critical voices from within would emerge, which would be able to constantly check the process of policy formation of the present government.

Much more needs to be done. And it is here that developments taking place elsewhere, in the form of the emergence of a new leadership within the UNP, play a very useful and necessary role. One still does not know what kind of tactics the current Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe will resort to, or how the intended ‘peaceful transition’ would materialize. Yet, the developments that have taken place ever since the conclusion of the UNP Convention, have sent an unnerving message to those who did not expect it.

This does not mean that one should embrace the emerging leadership within the UNP uncritically or unthinkingly. Such acceptance would be most dangerous. And it also needs to be remembered that there was a time when those within the Opposition, those within the UNP in particular, were also "thinking after leaping" (especially in terms of statements which were being made denigrating the Armed Forces and then rushing to endorse an Army Commander as a Common Candidate etc., etc.). But today, the government has mastered that art, and the role of the Opposition has become much easier. It simply needs to wait and watch; wait and watch a government leaping from here to there (from Colombo to London, for example).

The problems confronting the government, and indeed the people, are too serious to take this issue of "thinking after leaping" lightly. 2011 will be, as any other year, a critical one. So many have reposed so much of faith in this government; yet, the masses need to be vigilant, ever mindful. It is hoped that some within the government, and those within the Opposition, would play a necessary and constructive role.

"Mahavamsa Mentality": Can the charge of "Racism" leveled against the chronicle be sustained?

Bandu de Silva on “Sinhala Buddhism” and “Mahavamasa mentality”

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Hello Friends

The article by JL Devananda titled "The Mahavamsa Mentality: Re-visiting Sinhala Buddhism in Sri Lanka" was posted on my blog last mont. As expected the controversial viewpoint expressed continues to elicit diverse and very often passionate responses.

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I was pleasantly surprised to receive an article written in response to Devananda’s article from Former Sri Lankan Foreign service officer Bandu de Silva a few days ago. The former diplomat whose writings appear frequently in Colombo newspapers has an illuminating essay. [Click to read in full ~ on dbdjeyaraj.com]

Ranil Wickremesinghe is the main obstacle preventing re-establishment of democracy in Sri Lanka

by Sumanasiri Liayanage

Marx began one of his brilliant essays, the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte with a correction of Hegel’s idea that history necessarily repeats itself. According to Marx, Hegel "forgot to add the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce". Last autumn when I was in London, I had a long discussion with a Tamil gentleman who had left Sri Lanka in the early sixties and settled down in the UK. He does not seem to be sure that his decision to migrate to UK was directly linked to the national conflict in Sri Lanka. The subject of our discussion was democracy in Sri Lanka. He identified multiple and complex factors both local and international that had led to deterioration of democracy in Sri Lanka in the last 35 years.

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pic: ranil-wickremesinghe.com

Let me deviate a bit from the main story. I am not that enthusiastic about democracy for two reasons. First, democracy and the related ‘goodies’ such as human rights and good governance are being increasingly used in the recent years for the protection and defence of the rule and domination of finance capital. Hence, recently I have become suspicious of ‘democrats’, liberal or social. Secondly, I believe that if the marginalized classes and groups capture the state power in a country, they cannot afford to be at least in the initial phase democrats. Moreover, I would like to add that they should not adhere to the known principles of democracy.

Back to the main story! Having identified and agreed on the causal factors, our discussion gradually switched over to the concrete issue of how to overcome this deplorable situation. Leaving his mug of coffee on the table, he suddenly asked me: "what is the main obstacle today (we talked about LTTE leader, Velupillai Piripaharan before) that prevents reestablishing democracy in Sri Lanka?" My answer was: "The main obstacle is Ranil Wickremasinghe".

Democracy needs strong and dynamic opposition. Wickremasinghe for the last ten to fifteen years has prevented the United National Party from becoming a strong and dynamic opposition. As I have argued in my previous articles and essays, owing to the predominance of political society, the civil society cannot play a positive role in the post colonial societies in defending democracy. The UNP, the major potential contender to political power, under Wickremasinghe has played NGO politics rather than party politics aiming at governmental power.

If we compare the UNP with the UPFA, the UNP has more intelligent and dynamic young group with leadership potential. I include Rosy Senanayake, Buddhika Pathirana, Dayasiri Jayasekera, Thalatha Athukorala, and Sujeewa Senasinghe in this category. Reflecting on the past, one can easily observe how late J R Jayewardene succeeded in transforming a young group with similar potential in the 1970s into an effective political leadership to capture political power in a massive electoral victory in 1977. Re-capaturing power invariably needs reorganization and reshuffling of the party as such an exercise is an essential element in reinvigorating a political party that has been thrown into wilderness by series of electoral defeats.

In 1994, the SLFP regained power under a new leadership. Wickremsinghe has proved during the last 15 years or so that he is not capable of capitalising on even most beneficial situation to lead the party to an electoral victory. He will be portrayed in history as a politician without a strategy for capturing power. Sajith Premadasa, the leader who happened to confront Wickremasinghe, has raised a very simple slogan that the party wants to win elections. This simple slogan has generated so much of enthusiasm among not only the rank and file but also the provincial and local level leaders. It happens in a historical conjuncture that the Mahinda Rajapaksa government began its second term badly, without a plan in spite or may be because of pompous statements. The UNP in the national convention held last month has passed a amendment to the party constitution to the effect that the party can change the leadership if necessary.

This amendment is positive as it has removed the main obstacle to removing the present leader from party leadership. But, will it happen in practice? This seems to be biggest question that the party is facing at on the eve of series of mini-elections. In a system that does provide space to have by-elections, the only way to test the government popularity or the lack of its performance at the provincial and local government elections. Like in by-elections, the party that is in power invariably uses State resources in order to win such elections. However, Sri Lankan electorate has shown time and again that it could counter such an effort if the people really need to express their displeasure at the government.

The government has become unpopular as it has shown its ineffectiveness in curbing inflationary pressure on main wage-goods and as it has failed to fulfil its promise to grant a pay hike of Rs. 2500. Its promise to keep the size of the cabinet to 40 has also been reneged on. The limited checks and balances that were introduced in 2000 have been repealed making the institution of president highly authoritarian. In spite of the government’s claim that average per capita income has gone up substantially, many people experience that their living standards are continuously falling. The ad hoc policy decisions on all matters create enormous problems to the country and its people.

One of the recent examples is the warning by tour operators on the issue of visas and the possible adverse impact on tourism (The Island, January 7, 2011). Averages are always misleading. Can the UNP cash in on this situation? If it fails to change its leadership prior to the local government election, as Marx said, the party’s tragedy will turn into a farce even if the party gets some electoral gains. And the result may be more terrifying.

In an article published in the respected journal, the Economic and Political Weekly, an Indian Marxist remarked that history repeats itself not twice, but thrice: "the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce and the third time as joy". If Sajith Premadasa and his group can take over the leadership prior to the local government election, as party leader and Leader of opposition, he would be able to use this favorable situation to re-build the party as an alternative. In doing so, he should form a small shadow cabinet of ten with integrated subjects. Hence my Tamil friend understood very well my remark that Ranil Wickremasinghe is the main obstacle to reversing anti-democratic trend in Sri Lankan politics.

The strong and dynamic UNP would pose a continuous challenge to the UPFA government and that in turn would create a more healthy space for other political parties and organizations that engage in different kind of political activities. Whether the UNP will be able turn the past tragedy into equally terrifying farce or promising joy is yet to be seen.

Recruitment of Tamils to the police force to serve in the Northern and Eastern provinces

by Lynn Ockersz

At long last, the Lankan state has taken what may be seen as a few ‘baby steps’ towards addressing some hitherto unmet crucial needs of the Tamil-speaking citizenry of the Northern and Eastern provinces. Considering that the government could not have been described as getting down to addressing post-conflict issues thus far with any notable aplomb and zeal, the recent decision by the state to recruit Tamil persons as police officers, for the express purpose of serving in the North and East, needs to be welcomed as a step in the right direction.

We are given to understand that some 2000 Tamil police officers would be recruited to serve in the North and East from among particularly the youth of those areas and could not help but feel that such measures could go some distance, if carried out with the best of intentions and are followed-up and expanded on, in meeting the crucial Tamil need of having law and order authorities in these former strife-torn regions of this country, who could speak their language fluently and thereby meet their needs more expeditiously, besides giving them a more sensitive hearing. The heavy toll taken by the decades of war on the able administration of North-East affairs could be gauged, among other things, by the progressive and phenomenal decline in the number of Tamil officers serving in the country’s Police and security forces.

This yawning lacuna in the law and order machinery, had an aggravating impact on the ethnic conflict because throughout the war years, Police and security forces personnel operating in the North-East were viewed by some sections of the ordinary people of those provinces as an alien and hostile presence who could not be relied on to be in tune with their needs and aspirations. If Tamil-speaking personnel were present in abundance in the law-enforcement machinery, the conflict in the North-East would not have grown to the unmanageable proportions it finally did, because the vital needs of the ordinary citizenry would have been met with relative sensitivity and expeditiousness by the law enforcers.

This positive factor would have enabled the law enforcers to be seen as a people-friendly presence and not as an ‘occupation force’. Consequently, the LTTE would not have been in a position to establish sections sympathetic to it among the general populace.

It needs to be swiftly clarified, though, that the majority of the North-East people were not supporters of the separatist cause. Right throughout the war years this writer was given to understand by residents of long standing in the strife-torn areas that the sympathies of the majority of the North-East citizenry were not with the militant separatists.

Very many people, no doubt, had grievances, but they preferred these to be resolved by political means through their parliamentary representatives. In other words, the majority of the people of the North-East were of a peaceful disposition and this should be borne in mind by those who at one time considered it quite in order for even scores of innocent Tamil lives to be snuffed out if the Tigers could be militarily neutralized in the process. These dangerous, self-serving pedagogues would do well to learn that the end could never be conceived as justifying the means. After all, the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were also seen as necessary to end World War 2. It will be only a matter of time before these elements who are baying for blood and those with whom they are in league, would learn that peace could come only by peaceful means.

Coming back to the points at issue, the government’s decision to recruit Tamil police officers would have the added benefit of enabling the Tamil youth of the relevant areas to feel a stronger sense of identity with the Lankan state. This would come about as a result of the sense that they are needed by the state. Thus far, sections of the Tamil youth were compelled to alienate themselves from the state on account of the perception that they were discriminated against in the provision of employment opportunities by successive governments. Their recruitment as law enforcers and the prospect of sustainable and gainful employment could go some distance in enabling these young persons to overcome this sense of being alienated from the Lankan state. In fact, the state’s move could have a unifying impact on those sections of the citizenry who have hitherto felt estranged from it.

There is no doubt that ordinary Tamil citizens would see the judiciousness of these measures because, thus far, a complaint often voiced by them is that police stations in particular were not manned by personnel who could converse fluently with them, understand their needs and swiftly meet them. Hopefully, this nightmare would now progressively come to an end but the government should not delude itself into believing that a big load is now off its chest. To begin with, the scheme in mind should be successfully implemented.

Not only must more and more Tamil youth be provided employment in the state agencies of the North-East, but the bilingual policy of the state must be fully implemented. That is, every public servant should be required to be fluent in both Sinhala and Tamil. Although the necessary state machinery was established to implement this policy, these efforts, apparently, have proved futile. Now that a Ministry of National Languages and National Integration has been established, we hope the needful would be done sooner rather than later. Sincerity of purpose, as we see it, would prove the most major catalyst of positive change in this context.

The enormity of the task facing the state has been underscored by reports of a growing ‘fear psychosis’ in the North. These reports are proof that all is far from well in the war-torn region of yesteryear. Peace, very clearly, does not come from ‘the barrel of a gun’. Nor could it be generated by eye-catching infrastructure development programmes. Even a measure of peace could be achieved only on the basis of equity and justice. In the absence of the latter, the North-East conflict could not be expected to be resolved.

The government is obliged to ensure that the single step it has taken forward in the form of the Tamil police personnel recruitment scheme is not nullified, by it taking two or more steps backwards by allowing the law and order situation to deteriorate in the North. The government is duty-bound to use the legitimate means at its disposal to end the resurgent violence in the North and to bring law-breakers to justice.

Rajapaksa plan is to impose a "Pax Sinhala" by force and maintain it through fear

by Tisaranee Gunasekara

“National Socialism, in its unscrupulous technique of deceit, was vary about disclosing the full extent of its aims before the world has become inured… Only a small dose to begin with, then a brief pause. Only a single pill at a time and then a moment of waiting to observe the effect of its strength, to see whether the world conscience would still digest this dose….” Stefan Zweig (The World of Yesterday)

The ‘Sinhala Only’ National Anthem is a reality. Its inaugural manifestation took place at a tsunami commemoration ceremony in Jaffna, at the tail-end of 2010. The students of Jaffna Hindu College and Vambadi Girls School were compelled to sing the National Anthem in Sinhala, a language they are unfamiliar with; provincial authorities, under orders from Colombo, ignored the complaints of the students about the impossibility of learning the pronunciation of unaccustomed words in a very short time.

When The Sunday Times broke the story about the regime’s decision to scrap the Tamil version of the National Anthem, there was a chorus of dismay, in the North and in the South. In Tamilnadu, Chief Minister Karunanidhi too expressed concern, stating that “if the news is true, it should be strongly condemned”. Challenged by this barrage of criticism, the regime backtracked. The Minister of Home Affairs told the media that the cabinet merely discussed the matter; no final decision was taken, he insisted. His denial was confirmed by several colleagues. Reassured, the chorus of indignation died down. A fortnight later, the Sinhala Only National Anthem became a fait accompli, in stealth. Obeying orders from the centre, provincial authorities scrapped the scheduled singing of the National Anthem in Tamil.

The manner in which the Tamil version of the National Anthem was scrapped is symbolic of the Rajapaksa modus operandi. When controversial decisions are made or indefensible deeds are done and a public outcry ensues, the government backtracks. This turns the issue into a non-issue. Once the outcry dies down and public attention moves on, the decision is implemented or the misdeed is repeated, in stealth, and with some plausible deniability. The unthinkable thus becomes the reality and the abnormal the norm. The next time Tamil students are forced to sing the National Anthem in Sinhala, nary an eyebrow will be raised; the third time around it will not even make the news.

The scrapping of the Tamil version of the National Anthem demonstrates that the Rajapaksas are not interested in winning over the Tamils. Their plan is not to achieve a stable peace via Tamil/Muslim cooperation but to impose a Pax Sinhala by force and to maintain it by fear. The new terror-wave sweeping across the North may well be a part of this plan, a macabre signal to Tamils/Muslims about the dangers of non-acquiescence. As Murders and abductions of civilians become a staple in the North, denial, indignant or frivolous, but hardly credible, is the Rajapaksa reaction. Amongst the more prominent victims of the new terror-wave are Deputy Director of Education Manikkam Sivalingam and the Hindu priest of the Chankani Muruthamarudhu Kovil, Nithyanadan Sharma.

The question cannot but obtrude: is a wave of terror possible in a province dense with army camps and gun-toting soldiers, without official knowledge/sanction? The following story about white van-abductions in Mannar has a ring of authenticity; even more disturbingly it indicates a high level of official complicity in the ongoing terror-wave: “Sinhala-speaking armed men in white-van rushed through Mannaar abducting four males, one of them a Muslim youth, Jaharil Jazeel…. Sri Lanka Navy, Sri Lanka Army and Police guarding the Mannaar Bridge withdrew their security, allowing the abductors to proceed southwards after seeing a piece of paper produced by the men right in front of the victim’s relatives, who were chasing the white van in four three-wheelers. The armed men, confronted by Jazeel’s relatives opted to take away the mother of Jazeel in their vehicle only to force her off their vehicle at gunpoint at Vangkaalai Junction after crossing the Mannaar bridge on their way to South along Mannaar – Medawachiya Road” (Tamilnet – 6.1.2011).

The Rajapaksa reaction to this new wave of terror has been woefully, appallingly inadequate. The regime has denied the very existence of some of the deeds while attributing others to private disputes. For instance, officials maintain that the cold blooded murder of Deputy Educational Director Sivalingam happened as a result of a private dispute! The official response reeks of lies; since the North is under direct military control, either the military is superlatively inefficient or the government is criminally complicit.

Sri Lanka’s peace-time defence budget is higher than its wartime budget. Is there any purpose in spending billions of (mostly borrowed) rupees on defence if the state is incapable of ensuring the security of its own citizens? The Rajapaksas are refusing to demilitarise the North, claiming that a huge military presence is necessary to ensure peace and stability in the province. Why station tens of thousands of troops in the North if they are incapable of quelling murder and abduction?

In the heavily militarised North, assassins and abductors cannot roam free, attending to their grisly duties, without official sanction. The only debatable point is the reason for this sudden onset of terror. Is the terror-wave a pre-emptive attempt to deal with potential dissidents or an excuse to expand the presence and the role of the military?

Or is it but the natural outcome, when a disempowered populace lives under the de facto occupation of an ethnically, linguistically and religiously alien state which subscribes to a historical narrative casting the subject-people in the role of alien invaders and perennial enemies?

Though the issue was raised in the parliament, Southern society, by and large, remains unaware of/indifferent to this latest Tamil plight. Yet, this is an issue which concerns the South intimately, because it has a bearing on whether a Sri Lankan future, characterised by peace and stability, is possible. If these terror attacks are allowed to continue, if the perpetrators are not punished, if justice remains beyond the reach of the victims and their families, can we, the Sinhalese, reasonably expect the Tamils to feel secure in Sri Lanka or to nurse a belief in a just and desireable Sri Lankan future?

The local government bodies have been dissolved and elections are to be held on a staggered basis (another Sri Lankan First). This indicates not a regime confident in its strength but a nervous government. It is no secret that cost of living issues are most acute in urban and suburban areas. Obviously this is the reason behind the regime’s decision to further postpone elections in these areas, since winning would require a degree of violence and malpractices which would tear the Rajapaksa’s already tattered democratic fig-leaf into smithereens.

Using religious or cultural fundamentalism is a favourite ploy of rulers who feel the need to shore up their popularity. As economic woes of the Southern masses intensify, the Ruling Family’s need to stun and stupefy its base with politico-ideological opium will increase. The Rajapaksas would want to convince its Southern base of a proliferation of threats to its very existence and to cast themselves in the role of the sole-saviour. They would want the Sinhala South to feel insecure, suspicious and frightened, so that it would accede to the permanent presence of a costly and an abusive protector.

There has to be a ‘greater evil’ for the Rajapaksas to be seen as the ‘lesser evil’. And in the post-war, post-Tiger Sri Lanka, fulfilling this requirement would entail manufacturing dangers of all sorts – national, linguistic and cultural. This is the context in which the ongoing miniskirts controversy can be comprehended. Last Sunday, a newspaper owned by a UPFA parliamentarian wrote about a preposterous proposal to ban miniskirts, as part of a new public dress-code.

As with the Sinhala Only National Anthem, a chorus of dismay greeted the news item and the regime, predictably, backtracked, castigating the news item as an opposition canard. Which is strange because the announcement of a possible miniskirt ban was made by a none other than the Cabinet Minister overseeing culture: “Cultural and Aesthetic Affairs Minister T.B.Ekanayake has instructed the Arts Council attached to his ministry to prepare guidelines over ‘wearing of miniskirts.’

Minister Ekanayake, when contacted by Lakbima news, said individuals and ‘groups’ had complained to him about the cultural impact of the miniskirt. ‘There are individuals and groups representing religious and cultural interests, who have written to us raising concerns that this kind of dress would corrupt our culture,’ Minister Ekanayake said. ‘They say with the arrival of tourists, this situation would worsen,’ he said. The Minister did not name groups which have raised concerns. ‘I have directed their concerns to the Arts Council headed by Prof Carlo Fonseka,’ he added.

When pressed whether the new move is a part of the government’s ‘moral crusade’, he said that it was not a government initiative and that the issue was not taken up at the cabinet level. When asked how he could decide on a matter which is perfectly within the private rights of people, Minister Ekanayake said he had only responded to concerns raised by individuals representing the ‘moral high ground’. ‘The arts council would formulate recommendations and we will act upon their recommendations,’ he said…. Minister Ekanayake when queried as to how he plans to implement the miniskirt ban said the Arts Council would make recommendations including the procedure for its implementation” (Lakbima News – 2.1.2011; emphasis mine).

Subsequently the story was confirmed by the relevant Permanent Secretary: “Nimal Rubasinghe, Secretary of the Cultural Affairs Ministry said the government has received representations calling for a ban on wearing revealing clothing in public though he declined to name the groups involved. ‘There have been complaints from various quarters about mini-skirts, but we are only considering them and no final decision has been taken’ Rubesinghe told AFP” (AFP – 4.11.2011)

When a newspaper broke the story of the Sinhala Only National Anthem, the regime convincingly denied its veracity. “‘We have decided to use the national anthem as it is now at the moment and no decision was taken to scrap the Tamil version’ Public Administration and Home Affairs Minister WDJ Seneviratne told Reuters.

Two other ministers confirm that” (Reuters – 13.12.2010). And yet, within the month, the Sinhala Only National Anthem became a ground reality. In a similar vein, Government Spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella ‘refuted rumours of a ban on miniskirts’; he then went on to argue in favour of a ‘proper and decent dress code’:

“However, there should be a proper and decent dress code when visiting public or religious places. Sri Lanka is not an exception, as almost all countries follow such dress codes when visiting specific places and areas” (Daily News – 7.1.2011). What does the minister mean when he says ‘public places’? In general parlance, public places are those spaces which are not private places. Does the minister mean that there should be a ‘proper and decent dress code’ when taking a bus or walking on the road or going to the market? And what does he mean by ‘proper and decent’? Does he consider miniskirts to be ‘proper and decent’?

If not, will miniskirts be banned from ‘public places’ as part of this ‘proper and decent dress code’? What else would our moralising rulers consider improper and indecent next? Shorts? Tank-tops? Trousers for women? Where and how will this embracing of cultural-fundamentalism end? Because, contrary to the Ministerial assertion, ‘almost all countries’ do not follow intrusive dress-codes; only those states ruled by fundamentalist despots do.

January 08, 2011

Palmyrah is synonimous with the Northern Peninsula

by Randima Attygalle

Palmyrah or Thal or Panei is synonymous with the northern peninsula of Sri Lanka; its splendour often romanticised in verse, cinema and all forms of art associated with the region.

Yielding a variety of food and beverages, palmyrah is also a rich source for exotic handicrafts.

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Papyrus or pus kola derived out of palm leaves occupied a significant place as writing material in ancient Sri Lanka and India. In Tamil culture, palmyrah is revered as ‘karpaha’ or the celestial tree with each of its parts rich in economical value.

A plantation of national value, palmyrah cultivation and development was severely affected by the civil war which engulfed Sri Lanka in the last three decades.

Today the Palmyrah Development Board is engaged in several ambitious schemes including advanced research and expanding the foreign market in an effort to revive this traditional national industry

The popular saying in the North and East regions of the island is that ‘if you got eight Palmyrah trees, one family is secured’.

A kapruka and a source of nourishment and shelter alike, palmyrah (Borrassus flabellifer) is popularly known as Thal or Panei among the Sinhala and Tamil communities of Sri Lanka respectively.

This unique gift of a flora by mother nature is a metaphor for the Northern Peninsula in the country and an expression of its geo-economic-social and cultural facets.

Impact of civil war

NPTC18A.jpgNot a single part of a palmyrah tree goes unutilised for diverse means of human consumption, ranging from food and beverage production, handicrafts, timber production and a buffer for soil and sea erosion. Resilient to drought and other diseases, palmyrah is a sturdy tree grown in the arid and partially arid zones with no aid of any fertiliser. Spread in an extent of 70,000 hectares in 11 districts, Sri Lanka claims around 11 million of palmyrah trees. “Out of the 11 districts, nine were war-torn regions during the past 30 years and as a result we lost nearly 4 million palmyrah trees hindering a lucrative national production and at present we are in the process of re-cultivating the tree and reviving the industry,” said Palmyrah Development Board Marketing Manager D G K Wahalathantri.

Watchdogs of palmyrah

Established in 1978 by a legislative enactment, Palmyrah Development Board presently comes under the purview of the Ministry of Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise Development. Among its imperative objectives, conservation of palmyrah as well as the promotion and production of palmyrah-related industries are noteworthy.

“In the North and Eastern regions of the country, a considerable percentage of the population depends on this tree with jaggery, thal hakuru, sookiri and kottei kilangu production being among their main sources of income,” said Wahalathantri.

Although considered a traditional crop in Sri Lanka, the economic value of palmyrah is immense. In addition to palmyrah pulp, syrup, cordials, mee raa, sookiri, jam, oils and cordials (panam paanam and palmta) a myriad variety of handicrafts are produced including baskets, trays, peduru, hats, wall hangings, rugs exhausting palmyrah fibre and leaves.

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A delicious experience

Stepping into ‘Katpaham’ – the sales outlet of the Palmyrah Development Board in Colombo, I was awe struck by the variety of food and beverages conceived out of palmyrah as well as the exotic handicrafts.

Tasting thal pinatu, a special delicacy, complemented by a drink of Palmta – both ‘first timers’ for me, was undoubtedly a ‘delicious experience.’

Among the range of innovative products available at Katpaham is ‘Palm toothpaste’ and cordial.

“Apart from Katpaham centres found in several parts of the island, palm products are not freely available as a result of the war destroying the production capacity. In the post-war context, only the model farms in Kilinochchi area have been cleared for our operations and the rest in the North-East region are yet to be cleared for access.

The breakdown of the industry has taken its toll on the functioning of the Palmyrah Development Board as well,” Wahalathantri expressed his concerns adding that the National Crafts Council had pledged to render its assistance in launching several other potential marketing outlets in Colombo and its suburbs.

Regional centres

The regional centres affiliated to the Palmyrah Development Board renders its assistance to the palmyrah growers providing them with the necessary technical know-how and training programmes. According to Wahalathantri, Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Kalmunai areas are considered prime areas for a lucrative growth of the tree and the necessary assistance is provided by the regional centres operative in the areas. “Palm seeds are sown between October and December and nearly 70% of such seeds are assured to grow successfully. In 2009, nearly 2.2 million palmyrah seeds were sown,” explained Wahalathantri who believes that a lucrative palmyrah cultivation can be expected in future years in the country, the accelerating figures of palm production justifying it. The 1,800 kg of jaggery in 2009 had soared up to 4,000 kg last year, palmyrah pulp notching a similar rise in production from 8,000 litres in 2009 to 20,000 litres last year.

Foreign market

NPTC18C.jpgPalmyrah pulp has discovered a lucrative overseas market in countries such as the US, Canada, Germany and Australia.

The Palmyrah Development Board in collaboration with accredited private partnerships facilitates the export process of palm products including the pulp, jaggery and fibre. “There is a high demand for the fibre as well, which we currently cannot meet with. However, with the clearing of the model farms in the North and East regions, the Board hopes to supply to a wider foreign market,” said Wahalathantri.

For a palmyrah tree to reach maturity with a bearing of a fruit, it takes nearly 15 years and for eight years, apart from thal goba (tender leaves) popularly known as kottei kilangu no other part of the immature plant can be utilised, the reason why felling of palmyrah is made prohibited by the Gazzette Notification 790/9 of October 27, 1993. (This applies to the felling of Jack as well as del tree) “The lifespan of a tree is as high as 120 years, the reason why the destruction of palmyrah is considered a national crime,” elaborated Wahalathantri.

Revival of the Research Centre

Shedding light upon the re-establishment of the Palmyrah Research Centre in Kaithadi in Jaffna District, S Wijendran, Manager, Research and Development, Palmyrah Development Board cited, “The Research Centre which was housed in Kaithadi became a pile of rubble during the war and at present it’s defunct. The good news is that the Indian Government has pledged its support with a generous financial grant in re-establishing it which is a timely move.” With the objective of enhancing the quality of palmyrah products, The Palmyrah Development Board is presently engaged in several collaborative research ventures with some of the state universities, Industrial Development Board, Industrial Technology Institute and National Engineering Research Development Centre.

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According to Wijendran several ambitious research projects including the manufacturing of palm vinegar and several other beverages hitherto unexplored are in pipeline. “Palmyrah industry was one of the worst affected national industries during the last three decades and the time has now dawned for the revival of it- life blood of thousands in the North and East regions of the island,” said Wijendran.

(Photo credit: Palmyrah Development Board) (Katpaham Pix: Rukshan Abeywansha)

Courtesy: The Nation

The Rajapaksas have a proven capacity to normalise the preposterous

BY Tisaranee Gunasekara

"We must be horrified.” — Stephane Hessel, French resistance hero (The Alternative Information Centre)

Last week the Rajapaksa regime sold 10 acres of land located opposite the Galle Face Green, to Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, for US$125 million. Little wonder the brothers are rearing to evict 65,000-75,000 low-income families from Colombo. Quite apart from the overwhelming need to deprive the UNP of its last electoral bastion (ideally before the next CMC election), the lands occupied by these families are ‘gold mines’ which can be ‘developed’ and sold to foreigners, satiating, albeit temporarily, the voracious appetite of a cash-famished regime.

Normally state land is not sold (especially to foreigners) but given on 99 year leases. But under the ultra-nationalist Rajapaksas, prime land will be sold, so that the Ruling Family can make a fast-buck to sustain its money-guzzling habits (including the stratospheric defence bill). Far from being limited to Colombo, this ‘Sell Baby, Sell’ policy will be implemented island-wide, often to the detriment of local communities, including the Sinhalese.

According to media reports, Shangri-La Hotels are interested in 100 acres of land in Hambantota while bidding is on-going for several islets off the North-Western coast. Soon it may be the turn of arable farming lands.

Development is the new Rajapaksa mantra. But their ‘development vision’ is as one-dimensional as their perspective on the North-Eastern issue. In the Rajapaksa worldview there is no ethnic problem, just Tiger terrorism; winning the war has solved all issues and Tamils no longer have grievances or fears requiring a political resolution (meanwhile in Jaffna, the disempowered inhabitants are being terrorised by a flash-flood of killings and abductions).

The same flat-earthism characterises the Rajapaksa development-vision. It begins and ends with economic growth and regards growth rates and per-capita incomes as sufficient indicators of economic wellbeing of the people.

Social justice is thus rendered a non-issue, like ethnic-justice. Special measures to ameliorate the adverse effects of lop-sided economic growth are perceived as unnecessary, even damaging, as devolution. Perorations about agricultural self-sufficiency and knowledge-hubs notwithstanding, the Rajapaksas’ really existing plan is to turn Sri Lanka into an R and R land (rest and recreation) for wealthy foreigners (thus, for instance, the Casino Bill, the low priority accorded to social infrastructure and the obsession with physical infrastructure).

There is a hitch though; this strategy cannot but have a devastating effect on the living standards of the masses. This is why the President, in his New Year Message, exhorted the people to make sacrifices for development. But Rajapaksa, an astute politician, would know that his Sinhala base will not consent to make endless sacrifices for an elusive future, especially with the political elite enjoying the good life at public expense and in plain sight.

So issues and events must be machinated, to divert and to unify the Sinhala base of the Ruling Family. Fudged statistics and events such as the Cricket World Cup, though helpful, would not suffice. The Rajapaksas would need more potent rallying cries and more enduring facades to cover-up the unpalatable realities of a ruthless and a jobless growth and keep the Sinhala masses ranged on their side. Thus the resonating calls to primordial identities and abrasive appeals to primordial fears.

In the mid-1950’s the Sinhala Only impacted on Lankan politics with the devastating suddenness of a tornado — not because a Sinhala majority clamoured for it but because S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike needed an election-winning slogan. ‘Sinhala Only’ was confined to a sliver of Sinhala extremists, leading a precarious existence on the margins of the polity, until Bandaranaike’s endorsement brought it – and its vocal supporters – into the political mainstream. Bandaranaike had expected his SLFP to win the 1952 election but was handily defeated by Dudley Senanayake (the UNP’s share of vote increased by 4% between 1947 and 1952, despite the Bandaranaike-Challenge).

An astute politician, Bandaranaike realised that without a politico-ideological tectonic shift, he was doomed to lose the next election too. The left had a near-monopoly on economic-class issues; Sinhala Only was the fastest way out. Though Bandaranaike was intelligent enough to comprehend the dangers inherent in strengthening extremism, power-hunger prevailed. With his adoption of Sinhala Only, not only did he create a new and a deadly polarisation; he also partially de-economised class by giving it an ethnic (and a religious) veneer. He tied ethnicity (via language) and class together, creating a make-believe world in which the class struggle was between poor Sinhalese (and Sinhalese, excepting those supporting the UNP, were ‘poor’ according to this rendition) and rich minorities. The Pancha Maha Balavegaya symbolised this politico-ideological Chintanaya which became the new commonsense and created conceptual myths which still endure.

With the definitive defeat of the Tigers, the objective conditions which created and sustained ethnic overdetermination are evaporating. Post-war, economic-class issues are likely to come to the fore. This would sunder the Ruling Family’s Sinhala base and reduce its capacity to hegemonise the South. The Rajapaksas need to keep ethnic overdetermination alive, and if the natural conditions for its perpetuation have eroded, it must be saved via artificial respiration. Various ruses will thus be used to make the Sinhalese feel that their country, nation, religion, culture, values and way of life are at grave risk.

The resultant heightening of the ‘Sinhalaness’ of the Sinhalese will sharpen the Tamilness of the Tamils and the Muslimness of the Muslims, but this would leave the Rajapaksas unfazed. A genuine Lankan nation is not their aim and the heightened ethno-religious consciousness of the minorities can be used to exacerbate Sinhala fears to a fever-pitch.

The purpose would be to burnish the Sinhala-Buddhist credentials of the Rajapaksas and to divert Southern attention from worsening economic woes and anti-democratic practices.

Last week Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistani Province Punjab was assassinated by one of his bodyguards. The reason was Taseer’s courageous opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. These blasphemy laws were introduced by the very pro-US military dictator Zia ul-Haq who used Islam to buttress his anti-democratic rule.

He introduced a series of religious-fundamentalist measures (which would have shocked Pakistan’s cosmopolitan founder Mr. Jinna) with the blessings of his American masters, who regarded fundamentalist Islam as a key ally in their battle against the Soviets, especially in Afghanistan. The current plight of Pakistan is the direct outcome of this politically motivated embracing of religious extremism.

This is a lesson Sri Lanka cannot ignore. We have already lost our way once, and brought a 30 year war upon ourselves. Unleashing the demons of extremism again will retransform Sri Lanka into a hub of violence. Our collective self-interest alone should compel us to oppose the ongoing Rajapaksa attempts to ignite the fires of ethnic and religio-cultural fundamentalism to buttress Familial Rule. The unnecessarily divisive, seemingly illogical reversion to a Sinhala-only National Anthem is a signal of things to come as is the inane proposal to ban miniskirts and introduce a public dress-code; soon the anti-conversion cry too will return.

Let us remember that the Rajapaksas have a proven capacity to normalise the preposterous. Just one year ago, Presidential term-limit removal was dismissed by serious-minded people as a figment of overwrought anti-Rajapaksa imaginations

Newspaper editor’s murderers still at large two years later

by Reporters Without Borders

Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunga, a courageous, talented and iconoclastic journalist, was shot dead in Colombo by a death squad two years ago tomorrow. His murder is still unpunished.

Reporters Without Borders is appalled by the fact that the Sri Lankan government is doing nothing to solve this murder and in fact is clearly preventing the truth from coming to light. By blocking the investigation and by fostering a climate of impunity and indifference, the government has become an accomplice. Wickrematunga’s murder dealt a major blow to media freedom in Sri Lanka.

The press freedom organisation voices its support for the editor’s family and colleagues, including his widow, Sonali Samarasinghe, and his brother, Lal Wickrematunga, who are themselves journalists.

“We urge President Mahinda Rajapaksa to launch an exhaustive criminal investigation by requesting the assistance of international experts, so that the person responsible for this horrible murder can be identified,” Reporters Without Borders said.

His brother, Lal Wickrematunga said: " Lasantha was murdered two years ago and the investigation has not progressed beyond the perfunctory level. Although fingers have been pointed at Gen. Sarath Fonseka, the investigating arms seem to be waiting for a nod from politicians before making any significant moves. The arrests made thus far do not give the impression that an honest attempt is being made to find out who ordered the killing.

More than 50 hearings have been held before a magistrate’s court and the police still seem to be drawing a blank. Although 15 military intelligence officers were held for a brief period, they were released with no explanation being given to court. If Sarath Fonseka was responsible, as political analysts believe, the government should have charged him for murder instead of using military courts martial to try him for relatively a minor offence compared with murder. Lasantha’s family does not believe that the investigation is being conducted with any real purpose and it may take a long time, and a change of government, to get to the bottom of this heinous crime."

Interviewed about the anniversary, a local investigative journalist told Reporters Without Borders: “It is sad and shocking to see that, although two years have elapsed, the government and law enforcement officers have still not been able to make any key arrests in Lasantha’s murder (...) All pleas by Lasantha’s editorial staff and his family for a thorough investigation seem to be falling on deaf ears.”

The journalist added: “There has absolutely been no progress in Lasantha’s murder investigation and this is quite surprising as government ministers such as Mervyn Silva had publicly claimed that he knew who was responsible for Lasantha’s assassination but would not divulge it. If ministers can make public remarks of this sort, then it is only right for the authorities to question them and get to the bottom of who is responsible for Lasantha’s murder.”

The editor’s family, friends and colleagues will gather at his tomb at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow to mark the second anniversary of his death.

January 07, 2011

Lasantha Wickrematunge’s widow and fellow editor Sonali Samarasinghe’s statement, on his second death anniversary

by Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrematunge

Statement to RSF by Lasantha Wickrematunge’s widow and fellow editor Sonali Samarasinghe on his second death anniversary

January 8, 2011

Lasantha Wickrematunge was a journalist who fought fearlessly for the freedom of the press and relentlessly pursued what he believed was right. It is a sad tribute to Sri Lanka’s growing indifference to democratic principles, justice ands fair play and the present regime’s strangle hold on the media and democratic institutions, that even 24 months after his murder there has been no conclusion to Lasantha’s murder investigation

Even as the so-called investigation fell apart, I wrote President Rajapakse a letter on April 24, 2009 and again on January 4, 2010 calling for an independent international inquiry into my husband’s death. I also wrote to then-Inspector General of Police Jayantha Wickremaratne requesting his cooperation. Yet no real progress has been made except to make his murder a speaking point of every election campaign in order to throw allegations at political oppnents. President Rajapakse has reduced Lasantha’s investigation to a political circus.

As we commemorate Lasantha’s death anniversary we much not forget those other brave journalists who have also paid the supreme sacrifice in the pursuit of their craft. Several other journalists have been attacked or otherwise threatened, resulting in their being forced to flee Sri Lanka. Yet others have been coerced into submission. At no time in the history of our country has the freedom of expression been so brutally been repressed as it is now. Such media as do operate in the country have been transformed into propaganda mouthpieces for the government, or into flaccid shells of their former integrity, bullied into submission through draconian pieces of legislation or emergency regulations.

The danger for Sri Lanka’s people is that the subversion of democratic mechanisms and violence against democratic institutions continues unabated in a time of peace. And yet now the war has ended the international community will conveniently choose to see only an outer façade of peace. Tiny Sri Lanka, though deeply troubled and under the jackboot of an authoritarian regime will once more recede into the background of the international consciousness as other more pressing issues of more importance to the world emerge.

Meanwhile President Rajapakse’s priorities are now to attract foreign investment and increase trade while defending his army and his political family against allegations of war crimes.

He continues to use his large majority and the enormous powers vested in his administration to perpetuate authoritarianism and the culture of impunity while obliterating any remnants of a free media.

Last September he lifted Presidential term limits and gave himself unlimited power over judicial, police and other public service appointments and removed constitutional safeguards over the electoral process.

Certainly it is not uncommon in societies that have undergone violent insurgencies or civil wars (And Sri Lanka’s people were weary of a war that lasted 27 years) to tolerate and even embrace authoritarian hawkish governments that are perceived as taking a tough and relentless stand in defense of public security. They tend to enjoy widespread support and are able to amass considerable power, even if known to be violating civil liberties and human rights.

I do sincerely believe that given time the war weary people of Sri Lanka will once again see the Rajapakse regime for what it really is – a self serving parasite on Sri Lanka’s escutcheon.

However the danger is that over time even as the people come to this realization there will be no tolerance whatsoever for any kind of political uprising to restore sanity and true democracy as by that time the Rajapakse regime would have completely constitutionalised their authoritarianism and tyranny and militarized the entire system, and it is at these desperate times that bloody revolutions may again take place. This is what we must try to avoid and this is why the government must stretch out a sincere hand of hope to the war ravaged people of the north and restore immediately and with urgent attention the democratic institutions including a truly independent media in the country.

Sri Lanka army becomes vegetable vendor as prices rise

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Colombo

As the people of Sri Lanka grapple with the rising cost of everyday living, the country's huge army has started buying up vegetables from producers.

It is then selling them on at fixed prices lower than current shop prices.

The army, which no longer has a war to fight, says it is doing its bit to ease people's lives in peacetime.

The military has been moving into new areas of life in Sri Lanka - it recently opened a tourist resort in the north of the country.

A military spokesman told the BBC that the army is buying up vegetables from farmers. It is bringing them to the Colombo area to sell them at concessionary rates - about one third less than the shop price.

He said the army would bear most of the transport costs and that it was a better deal for both producers and hard-pressed consumers.

High tariffs

The move is of several unusual recent measures taken to tackle food price rises and shortages.

Eggs and chickens have been imported on a huge scale. Coconuts were also to be brought in, but the idea has been suspended because of quarantine regulations linked to palm diseases.

Economists say the price hikes are worsened by Sri Lanka's protectionist food policies, meaning there are usually high tariffs on food imports.

And some question whether the army's vegetable sales can work.

One business analyst said that prices should be allowed to fluctuate so that farmers can invest their profits in increased production.

The impact on ordinary greengrocers and vegetable sellers is also unpredictable.

But the army says it will continue selling vegetables until prices stabilise. ~ courtesy: BBC News ~

January 06, 2011

'Killings in Jaffna raises the question whether death squads have been reactivated'

by R. K. Radhakrishnan

Politicians and non-governmental organisations have expressed serious concern over the “deterioration” of law and order in the northern districts.

Sri Lanka's main opposition leader Ranil Wickremasinghe demanded in Parliament that an all party delegation should be sent to Jaffna to assess the situation. Traditional Industries and Small Enterprises Minister Douglas Devananda told Parliament on Tuesday that fear psychosis was prevailing in Jaffna.

Local newspapers have quoted the Army spokesperson as saying the incidents referred to were cases of individual enmity and that there was no organised crime or related problems in the north.

Networking for Rights (NfR), an NGO, in a statement has expressed “serious concern” about the deterioration of the law and order. “The series of killings that have taken place during the last few weeks in the Jaffna Peninsula raises the question whether death squads have been reactivated in the Jaffna Peninsula.

The latest in the series of killings is the cold blooded murder of 28-year-old Ketheeswaran Thevarajah of Jaffna on December 31. This is the fifth such killing that has taken place in Jaffna within last two weeks. None of these killings have been seriously investigated or resolved, so far,” it said and wanted the government to step up efforts to bring the situation under control. ~ courtesy: The Hindu ~

In Pictures: International Tamil Writers Conference commences in Colombo

a mobile update via YFrog ~ By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

The International Tamil Writer's Conference starts traditionally in Colombo, Jan 6th, 2011

Click for larger images

The International Tamil Writer's Conference is currently being held at the Colombo Thamizh Sangam

The International Tamil Writer's Conference is being held for the first time in Sri Lanka

It is organised by the International Tamil Writer's Forum

Traditional decorations for the International Tamil Writer's Conference

Traditional Hindu welcome at the main entrance of the venue

Traditional touch for the conference

Colourful procession in Wellawatte

Traditional welcome for the guests at the International Tamil Writer's Conference in Colombo.

Colourful and traditional procession for the event

Traditional lighting of oil lamp at the event.

Two minutes silence is being observed.

"Ganeshaanjali"~welcome by dance at the International Tamil Writer's Conference

The conference continues for four days

There are more than 1,000 participants gather in Colombo

Books are on display for sale during the conference

Writers,journalists,poets,novelists&artists are taking part in the event

Snacks and soft drinks available here" reads the notice in Tamil

Bo tree leaves swing in circles for the non~stop wind in Wellawatte

Birds trying to balance the extremely rushing winds

Pictures Courtesy of ~ via Yfrog: by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

January 05, 2011

Terrible truth of the Trincomalee tragedy

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Hello Friends,

Compliments of the Season and Greetings for New Year.

A New Year dawns and the nation gears up to face what lies ahead.

In a reflective mood I went through some of the articles I had written in the past particularly about incidents of human rights violations in the North and East. One thing that struck me was that justice has not been done in most of those cases. No person has been penalised for these crimes so far. There is a climate of impunity

One such case where the families of victims are yet to get justice is the horrible incident in Trincomalee where five Tamil students were killed in cold blood by the beach on January 2nd 2006 allegedly by members of the security forces. [click to read in full ~ dbsjeyaraj.com]

January 04, 2011

Keerimalai~A Land of Sacred Springs & Spirituality

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

Keerimalai” natural springs is known for its water and rituals. The water with mineral contents has curative value. Hindus believe the water here has miraculous powers to cure many diseases. According to many legends, the sage “Nagula Muni” was born with mongoose face and meditated in a cave in “Keerimalai”. He bathed in “Keerimalai” springs and his mongoose face turned into a human face. "Keerimalai" was known as Thiruthambaleswaram.

featuring pictures from Keerimalai ~ Manickavasagar Thiruvasagam ~ Rendered by Ilaiyaraaja ~ "Masatra Sothi" ~

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“Keerimalai” is 50 feet above the main sea level, and situated West of Palaly. The fresh water comes from an underground fresh water spring. Hindus flock in large numbers on “Aadi Amaavaasai” day which falls during the Tamil month of “Aadi”, to carry out rituals for their forefathers and take a divine dip in the natural springs. These rituals are usually carried out by men. “Keerimalai” is famous for “Aadi Amaavaasai” and continues to be the foremost place.

“Nagulaambigai Sametha Sri naguleswara Perumaan” temple (commonly known as “Naguleswaram” temple) spreads to 50,000 square feet. “Naguleswaram” temple is one of the hallowed Sivan temples (Pancha Ishwaram) in Sri Lanka is situated here as well. Lord Siva is the destroyer or transformer. He is viewed as the supreme deity in Hinduism. There are five famous Ishwaram~ Sivan temples in Sri Lanka. They are Thirukoneswaram in trincomalee, Thiruketheeswaram in Mannar, Naguleswram in Jaffna, Munneswaram in Chilaw and Kokkattichcholai Thaanthondreeswaram in Batticaloa.

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Click for more pictures

Naguleswaram temple stands supreme in Jaffna Peninsula, North of Sri Lanka. It is endowed with special three attributes such as Moorthy (deity), Thalam (temple) and Theerththam (water).

The old “Naguleswaram” temple was destroyed by the Portugese in 1621. A Brahmin priest, who fled the area during the Portugese regime, took the valuables from the temple, put and preserved them in a well according to Yaazhpaana Vaipava Maalai. In 1878, Hindu reformer Sreelasri Aarumuga Naavalar campaigned to rebuild the temple. After 17 years, the consecration ceremony took place at “Naguleswaram”. But, due to an accidental fire in 1918, the temple was severely damaged. The current temple is being renovated, and nearly 70% of the construction work is completed so far.

~ passionParade ~ dushi.pillai@gmail.com

Glorious Jaffna: Review of a coffee table pictorial volume

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by Gaston de Rosayro

BOOK REVIEW
Reviewed By Gaston de Rosayro

Title: GLORIOUS JAFFNA
Publisher: Asia Capital PLC
Authors: Tharindu Amunugama
Sunela Samaranayake

Among our tropical island’s localities which have been suffused for centuries by calm and contentment, Jaffna had been the beau ideal. Time was when its old-world charm and equally enchanting cultural traditions could seldom have been encountered anywhere on earth.

The peninsula, with its quaint cadjan-thatched fences, picture-book villages and placid inlets and lagoons, was decidedly a composed macrocosm within our own delightful little universe. It was also a thriving commercial port where barges once plied the shallow Palk Strait between Jaffna and South India, ferrying tourists and tradesmen in addition to a variety of consumer goods.

From Jaffna they took tobacco, soap, betel-leaf, betel-nut, onions, potatoes, chillies and spices to supply a massive demand in the neighbouring Indian marketplace. Jaffna was also the nation’s largest single grower of tobacco supplying more than 40 per cent of the country’s total output of the cured addictive leaf. But years of civil conflict had illuminated quite another side of its existence. The locale unexpectedly attained a larger than life role and was thrust into becoming a stage for much of the nation’s turbulent struggles for the last three decades or so. For Yarlpaanam - in the recent past the fateful ring of its name had resounded with a discordant clash of cymbals. Nearly three decades of war had reduced the once-bustling northern trading post to virtual debris

Glorious Jaffna is a captivating coffee-table pictorial that depicts a once tranquil district which became a springboard for a senseless secessionist conflict. It is also a tribute to a resilient people and picturesque milieu that had been transformed into a war-ravaged landscape of rebellion, rubble and ruin now ready to rise from the ashes.

The quality tome has been commissioned and published by Asia Capital PLC, a financial services company quoted on the Colombo Stock Exchange. It is designed with the aim of funding both nutritional and educational children’s charities in the northern peninsula. Its humanitarian quest is decidedly a stirring trend-setting demonstration to remind and appeal to its corporate peers that the success of running their organisations comes not only by raking in the shekels into their business coffers but in shelling out from their hearts.

Astonishingly, the production is entirely an in-house work of talent. Its contents in both text and photography are not the creation of professional essayists in either genre of the art but are the conception of two of the publishing conglomerate’s financial analysts Tharindu Amunugama and Sunela Samaranayake who are both skilful communicators.

The text and captions by Sunela in keeping with the tenor of the publication are candidly uncomplicated with no room for misunderstanding. Her style is lucid and unpretentious as she adds flavour to the publication by providing a sprinkling of traditional Jaffna recipes that have for centuries tickled the taste-buds of residents and visitors alike.

Clearly, this magnum opus has propelled debutant lensman Tharindu Amunugama to leap-frog into the constellation of elite professionals. The notion of hope and human enterprise flows through the pages, forging several images and events with enlightening discernment. Readers will not fail to perceive his ‘seeing eye’ that has in each photograph captured his every medium with the most brilliant expression. He has handled his subjects with an incisiveness and intellect indicative of the highly-tuned instincts of an extraordinarily talented photo-journalist. Tharindu’s work conveys the eclectic breadth and humanity of his photographic mind, combining an intricate mix of sensitivity and an almost imperceptible propensity for idyllic innovation.

The collection offers a veritable assortment of topics ranging from personality portraits to landscapes, devotees, places of religious worship, spices and its colourful culture and traditions. The combination of elements here is powerfully expressive as his camera appears to pan into idyllic reverie, deftly embellishing those special elements of atmosphere and mood.

The publication is certain to be well-received by all communities, particularly Tamils who have always had an emotional, almost sentimental attachment to their motherland. The book’s creators hold out the hope that first-generation Tamils at least are likely to return now that a tangible peace has returned to Jaffna and capitalize on its traditional trade and cultural links with south India, which has immense possibilities for expansion.

The compilation swivels with images from the heart-warmingly happy to the starkly melancholy with a moving candour. Here the photographer as artist conjures up a cluster of personality portraits of ordinary yet dignified personages including the venerable profiles of the ruggedly grizzled patriarchs and stately grande dames of Jaffna society. One cannot but fail to be transfixed by the eloquent intensity of hope in their expressions instilled by their robust faith in simple religious values. The children are featured in harmonised composition that portrays them in fascinating allegories of laughter, high-spiritedness and blissful innocence that conveys a kind of seraphic sweetness. They are images that tug at the heartstrings and herein lie their appeal.

In many others he captures the dynamics of the resourceful Jaffna work ethic, the hopes and expectations of a peninsula that stands to profit now that a lasting peace has returned to the northern district. The pictures tell it all from Jaffna’s main township avenues, to its provincial village bazaars and byways that for decades have lost the benefit of the open economy. That is sadly because when the economy opened Jaffna closed.

The illustrations weave a captivating mélange of enthralment, simplicity and timelessness into the pleasing tapestry of this pictorial mosaic. There are echoes in both text and picture everywhere of a hopeful ebullience of the rebirth of this cultural and commercial urban giant. The images unravel the story that the task of reconstruction will not be easy, but that the people do not seem dismayed. They have already set about the rebuilding process with rarely witnessed enthusiasm. The place is leaping back to life with an astonishing vitality.

Despite the years of death, devastation and decay it is poised for a blast-off along a capitalist trajectory, with the aim of hauling the great eastern and southern heartland along with it

Mahinda Rajapaksa outsmarts "Quiet Diplomacy" of Ban-Ki-moon over panel issue

by Upul Joseph Fernando

The website of Wimal Weerawansa, a Minister of the Government who staged a fast against UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s panel of experts stated recently that the report of Moon’s panel will not be compiled in disfavour of Sri Lanka (SL), and the panel will be whittled away.

It is not known whether this enunciation of his was to falsely please his followers or based on his cognizance of the secret agreement between Mahinda and Moon. No matter what , it has now become abundantly clear that the ‘quiet diplomacy’ Moon is pursuing in relation to the SL Govt. has met with failure.

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pic courtesy: Inner City Press

Some time ago, Moon clearly stated that the President of SL Mahinda Rajapaksa agreed to issue visas for Moon’s panel members to come to SL, and Mahinda’s flexibility must be appreciated, while adding that this breakthrough was rendered possible after ‘long consultations’.

Moon spoke of this as though he had accomplished a great victory. But to everybody’s surprise , the SL Govt. made an announcement the very following day that visas will be issued to Moon’s panel members to visit SL only to give evidence before the Truth and reconciliation Commission (LLRC). All what Moon’s panel told in response to this was , the panel’s functions are broader than the LLRC.

Thereafter, it said that Moon’s panel shall be meeting the LLRC in a foreign country. Later on it was reported that Richard Bennet , the chief of staff of Moon’s panel will be arriving in SL to prepare the necessary groundwork prior to the visit of Moon’s panel. However , now it is clear Bennet will not be coming to SL meaning that Moon’s panel too will not arrive here.

Interestingly , Moon and his media spokesman unable to give answers to clear the cloud of doubts were in ‘hiding’ lately. It is therefore manifest from all these events that Moon is in a state of embarrassment unable to make good his diplomatic victory he so proudly and loudly announced based on his claim that he has won over Mahinda to issue visas to his panel to come to SL.

When Moon was questioned regarding the SL issue , he and his media spokesman were of the view that via the ‘quiet diplomacy’ with SL, Moon was heading for success .Moon’s declaration that the panel getting the okay for visas to come to SL is a result of the success of the ‘long consultations’, may be based on the success of the ‘quiet diplomacy’. Yet,. Moon’s ‘quiet Diplomacy’ has failed again.

Mahinda is also like Moon exploiting the war crime issue for his political ends. Moon in order to get himself appointed again as the UN Secretary General, is maneuvering through the panel designated by him pertaining to the SL war crime investigations to achieve his political objectives by making reference to the ‘quiet diplomacy’ he is supposedly following, not to offend Mahinda’s Govt. as well as China and Russia which are backing the Mahinda’s Govt. , while also seeking to please and gratify the wishes of the Western countries led by America and the International human rights Organizations.

Moon is at the same time portraying on the one hand, that he is negotiating with SL regarding the war crimes investigation in pursuit of his ‘quiet Diplomacy’ while on the other ,that he is not an enemy of the China- Russian alliance which backs the SL Govt.

It has however become very apparent based on the Wikileaks cables exposures that America is in a state of deep confusion over the stance taken by the UN in relation to SL’s war crimes : the Guardian newspaper had reported thus , ‘ the United States wanted its Diplomats at the UN Headquarters to find what Global Agency was thinking about the human rights situations in Sri Lanka’.

The Guardian newspaper , had further quoted US as saying , ‘the views and intentions of the UNSC (United Nations security Council), UN human rights and humanitarian assistance , UN’s views about appointing a special Envoy for Sri Lanka , the cable queried from the Diplomats. Next , it goes on to ask the Diplomats to find out plans and perceptions of member states towards establishment of new measures to prevent genocide , crime against humanity, war crimes and other systematic human rights abuses ; plans and intentions of member states toward proposals and resolutions supported by the US or like minded States , including those advancing Democracy

The above report clearly conveys that America is entertaining doubts and suspicions about the ‘quiet Diplomacy’ of Ban Ki Moon and his UN staff pertaining to SL. Hence, it may not be possible for Moon to masquerade in this dubious role and take refuge in camouflages for long . On the day the panel’s report is put out that may well be the day Moon too will stand out exposed. - courtesy: Daily Mirror -

Cattle left behind by fleeing owners a problem for returnee farmers in North, FAO says

by IRIN News

COLOMBO, 4 January 2011 (IRIN) - Returnees to the north of Sri Lanka are struggling to deal with up to 40,000 stray cattle that are damaging their crops, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says.

"Stray cattle were always involved in damaging cultivations in the past. This time it [the damage] is high, as farmers do not have enough fencing around their lands," Ravi Dissanayake, a national veterinary specialist with the FAO, told IRIN.

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Stray cattle in the north ~ Photo: Amantha Perera/IRIN

About 80 percent of recently resettled households in the northern districts were involved in farming before being displaced, according to the UN.

The animals were left behind when their owners fled fighting between government forces and the now defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who had been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland for more than two decades.

Despite ongoing efforts by FAO and authorities to round up the animals, vaccinate them and return them to their rightful owners, large numbers continue to roam freely, leaving many farmers unsure what to do.

Much of the damage is caused at night and by large numbers of meandering herds that cannot be chased away easily, farmers complain.

"It's not until the morning that we see the damage," Christine Gurukularajah, 57, who cultivates 45 hectares of paddy and vegetables in Tharmapuram village in Kilinochchi District, told IRIN.

Large herds

According to FAO, free-grazing cattle herds in northern Sri Lanka are nothing new, with normal herds averaging between 20 and 100 animals and sometimes as many as 300.

"It is a highly intensive farming system based on free grazing on abandoned lands and roadsides," Dissanayake said.

To date, the FAO programme to round up the stray herds has delivered about 20,000 animals to their former owners or new ones.

Sixteen corrals (10 in Kilinochchi District and six in Mullaithivu District) and 15 paddocks (10 in Kilinochchi and five in Mullaithivu) have been set up in the two districts. The rounding-up is carried out by 12 farmer organizations.

Animals not claimed or whose owners cannot be traced have been given to female-headed households.

Livestock management and dairy farming are slowly resuming in Kilinochchi where a private company has set up a milk-collecting centre. The FAO estimates that about 1,200 litres of milk are collected daily in the district.

The agency is also providing medical supplies to start a veterinary clinic in the district.

According to the UN, more than 50 percent of residents living in the Northern Province were involved in livestock rearing before the onset of the conflict, which officially ended on 18 May 2010.

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

Sri Lankan American Roy Wijewickrama becomes US District Court Judge

Sri Lankan American Roy Wijewickrama was elected District Court Judge by popular vote in the 30th Judicial District of North Carolina, USA on November 2, 2010 and will be assuming duties immediately after being sworn in as a Judge on January 1, 2011

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http://www.royforjudge.com/

According to the NC State Board of Elections Roy defeated Stephen Ellis by more than 4000 votes, garnering 53.88 percent of the vote and winning all seven counties in the district. He takes his oaths as judge in the Haywood County Superior Court in Waynesville, North Carolina.

A graduate of Tuscola High School in Waynesville, NC, USA, Roy did his BA in Political Science at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC and earned a Juris Doctor, JD degree from Cleveland State University’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.

Roy served as Assistant District Attorney (crown counsel) for the 30th Judicial District in the State of North Carolina from September 2001 until August 2007 during which time he prosecuted many cases including criminal cases from murder and rape cases to child sex abuse cases. These included hundreds of jury trials and bench trials. He also was a board member for the County’s Child Abuse Advocacy Center and led multidisciplinary teams with numerous agencies including law enforcement, Department of Social Services, and the District Attorney’s Office.

Thereafter he worked as a partner in the Waynesville, NC, law firm, Kerstien, Davis & Wijewickrama and was involved in both criminal and civil litigation, handling cases in State, Federal and Tribal courts.
In 2008 he was appointed as Tribal Prosecutor for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the native Indians of USA and prosecuted crimes occurring in the Cherokee Indian Reservation.

Roy is married to Jodi O’Neil and lives in Waynesville, NC with his wife and two daughters. He is the son of Chandra and Ramanee Wijewickrama of Panadura and Makola, Sri Lanka. They immigrated to NC, USA in 1964 from Sri Lanka. Roy has two brothers, David Wijewickrama, an attorney-at-law in private practice in Waynesville, North Carolina and Rohan Wijewickrama, an ENT surgeon, working in Buffalo, New York. ~ courtesy: the sunday times.lk ~

January 03, 2011

India, China and Sri Lanka: A response to Kuldip Nayar

By Gamini Gunawadane

I have been reading Kuldip Nayar’s feature articles with interest as they generally presented a different view of India. But I was rather perturbed to read his recent article on Sri Lanka. I would wish to express my humble opinion on some of the issues raised by him therein.

Really the ‘cat is out of the bag’ on his actual concern and the message he wanted to convey is clear, in his last sentence. He says "But if Colombo continues to encourage China and Pakistan, India would have to do something to safeguard its interests." What a patronizing statement!

So what is unsaid here is that Sri Lanka being the neighbour, India will choose whom Sri Lanka should associate with and her friends! Ignoring the insult, let me explain the Sri Lankan side of the story. It is not Pakistan or China who created this mess for Sri Lanka by creating the Monster that is Tamil Tiger Movement, by providing them a safe haven, training them and arming them in their formative years, with which Sri Lanka had been struggling with for the last 30 years and finally succeeded in wiping them out by the dint of her own hard work, which caused so much suffering to the Tamils themselves whose welfare he is now mourning over. If not for this short sighted policy, perhaps Rajiv Gandhi may have been still living, who knows?

Although it is conceded that the ultimate success would not have been possible if not for the ‘hands off’ policy by India this time during our final campaign, we know that India did that not for our sake but for its own sake, because the ‘Monster’ they created was becoming a real threat their to security and political stability. Thus, Sri Lanka did a big favour by India, by removing a looming threat to her security and stability when Sri Lanka saved her from a serious impending crisis with no cost to India, for which India should in fact be grateful to Sri Lanka. It reminds me of the famous lion and the mouse story.

Yet, during this difficult campaign, when India was refusing to help us with the weapons we asked for and were trying to tell us which weapons and military devices we should use and not use, it was Pakistan and China who readily helped us all the way. Not content with nurturing the Sri Lankan terrorists, when India denied the Sri Lanka military men admission to their higher Military Training establishments, it was Pakistan who opened theirs readily. Pakistan also co-operated with the Sri Lankan Air Force, exchanging their know-how with us. Incidentally, it was neither China nor Pakistan who nurtured Tamil terrorists in their countries.

It is true that India has helped us in this effort; but it was always in exchange for a bigger deal in return. Nayar says: "New Delhi has also allocated a large sum of money for rehabilitating the Tamils who have suffered during the war." Not only that. India is doing the Northern Railway line, re-developing Palali Airport and obtained a contract to construct a coal powered plant in Trincomalee etc. etc. But look at what they extracted in return. A consular office in Jaffna and Hambantota, of all places. For what? I may ask.

It is common knowledge here that the Jaffna office given unasked, is to serve as a watch post for RAW and to churn up another revolt if the need arises, through the RAW, in time to come. And what is the Hambantota office going to do, other than to serve as a watch post for the RAW, thinking that China is going to have a military base here! Could India be so naïve to imagine that Sri Lanka will entertain such fancy ideas? In Sinhala there is a saying Ahaka yana nai sarama asse daagannawa meaning: "one does not tuck under one’s sarong, cobras that are going away." Our President is quite familiar with all this folklore. He is a man of the soil.

True, China in return have got many mega contracts here. They have given them on very low interest credit. They did not ask us for a pound of flesh, like some others. They did not scrutinize our bank balance and our earning capacity like the World Bank or the IMF. before they released the loan in tranches watching our work and conduct. The Chinese do not try to teach us how we should spend our money and try to brainwash us on how to manage our affairs as they do. In short, they have not impeached our self respect as a nation. They have not tried to influence our way of life. As somebody pointed out, they have even brought their own prostitutes for their work force. So what, as long as they take them back to their next work site?

Besides, is it nothing but proper to reciprocate China in whatever way we could as they have been our unfailing friend with no questions asked when almost the entire Western world was bringing pressure on us during the height of our crisis. And Pakistan who had done all this without asking anything in return, a true friend indeed.

Nayar says in one place: "He (Rajiv Gandhi) even sent an Indian Peace Keeping Force when the Sri Lankan government was in trouble". Oh my foot! This makes the whole of Sri Lanka laugh aloud. J.R. Jayewardene himself must be laughing in his grave! Who put the Sri Lankan government in trouble, may I ask? Who prevented the Sri Lankan forces from dealing the knockout blow to Prabhakaran in July1987, with the ‘Parippu invasion’, may I ask? If not for the unseemly, crude intervention of India on that occasion we would have saved all the lives of several thousands of Sri Lankans lost till 1 ½ years ago, of the many Indian soldiers as well as that of Rajiv Gandhi himself. That was not Pakistan or China. And who do you think Rajiv Gandhi was, to ‘persuade’ Sri Lanka to include an Annexure C in our own Constitution?

Have you heard of any such thing happening anywhere else in the world? Did Sri Lanka ever try to tell India how to solve their Kashmir problem where heinous human rights violations are alleged to be occurring regularly? Have we asked for a war crimes inquiry against India? That is not all. We are still struggling here with the 13th Amendment that Rajiv Gandhi forced on our Constitution, and are left helpless with the Provincial Councils set up here as a result, which has turned out to be a white elephant. And he says : ‘A federal structure is what is needed in Sri Lanka so that the North has a feeling that it is as much part of the country as other areas area+". A federal structure for Sri Lanka which is minutely smaller than the smallest state in India? And that in this age of communication revolution? You must be kidding.

Nayar refers to the Sri Lankan government as "Sinhalese government". A Sinhalese government when several Tamils and Muslims are holding Ministerial positions in our jumbo cabinet. How come?

Mr. Nayar an ex-diplomat of repute in India should know better. If not for the proportional representation system in our constitution, very few of these people would even reached parliament. "….. to persuade Rajapaksa to decentralize power and to have the North to have a say in their own affairs". Who does Nayar think are the government agents in Jaffna, Mannar and Batticaloa are, but Tamils?

So are all the officers in the administrative bureaucracy there, down to the grassroots level. So are the top of the corporate sector in these parts. So, where is the "Sinhalese Government"? Are the structures in the rest of the country any different? So where do we need the advice of Nirupama Rao? It would be a better exercise for her to study the administrative structures here at some depth, to advice her own government.

"This will only confirm their belief that they (Tamils) are second-class citizens". Could Nayar please tell us some instances where the Tamils of this country are made to be "second class citizens"?.

This is a genuine enquiry. As far as we know, there are no situations where Tamils or any other community is made to feel "second class". They have held most of the highest positions in this country and some, even todate. They are entitled to the same fundamental rights that the rest of the people are entitled to under the constitution. They are entitled to all the privileges that the rest of the population is enjoying in this country. True, they have suffered setbacks in these opportunities due to the deprivations caused because of the restrictions imposed by Prabhakaran. From now onwards, there are no obstacles down the road.

As regards the national anthem, is the beautiful Indian national anthem sung in any other language than Bengali? Do the rest of the people in all the other Indian states thereby become second class citizens as a result? At the same time, will the Tamil Diaspora now domiciled in England and Canada feel second class citizens because they cannot sing the national anthems of those countries in Tamil? On the same line of argument, will the Sri Lankan anthem have to be sung in Malay too because there is a Malay minority too here? It seems strange that all these things are being decided for Sri Lanka, by other people quite unsolicited.

That brings me to my last point. If only India and other countries in the rest of the world could leave Sri Lanka alone, to manage her own affairs, much of the problems will be solved. True, we have some problems to solve in the aftermath of the ‘war’. We are settling them slowly one by one of our own time. These are not things that could be rushed through, to please others. We have confidence in Rajapaksa to deliver the goods, despite the motley crowd that he has to manage with; he does make mistakes, for he is human. But he has made fewer mistakes than most leaders we have had.

To wind up, let me say this to Kuldip Nayar to be conveyed to the Indian high command, Rahul Gandhi inclusive. Sri Lanka has not gone insane, to be doing things that would jeopardize the interests and fears of India, our closest neighbour. No sane government would do that. For, to do so will be to the ultimate detriment of our country. We are not such fools.

But by unnecessarily bullying and pushing Sri Lanka with condescension, India will only push Sri Lanka more and more into the lap of China, which we do not fancy either. However, a country needs many friends. For, when pushed and bullied by another, there has to be a way out.

Therefore, please understand us in a realistic perspective and the best that India could do is to leave us alone, while managing the cheap rabid communalism of Tamil Nadu as best as you could

How The West and India are letting Sri Lanka slip into China's orbit

by M.D. Nalapat

That old habits die hard is clear from the way in which the functionaries of the European Union seek to influence the developing economies on the best way to manage their nations. And woe betide those leaders from the former colonies who explain that their knowledge of local conditions may be a tad better than the EU officials jetting in from Paris, London, Berlin and other exquisite capitals to advise the locals.

If Chechnya or Kashmir did not follow the Kosovo and East Timorese path of breaking away from their parent countries, then it was the good luck of Russia and India, both countries with leaders receptive to advice from afar. Indeed, India has the distinction of asking the British Viceroy to tarry a while longer in 1947 after its independence and partition of Pakistan, so terrified were the new rulers of the country to exercise their responsibilities sans the guidance of the colonial hand.

If India has had about a century and a half of unbridled European colonisation, Sri Lanka has had nearly five centuries. Small wonder that its leadership, of whichever political hue, obeyed the dictums of even junior officials from Europe and the US.

That ended when Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected President of Sri Lanka in 2005. Within a year, he had shed the cocoon of subservience that had been the characteristic of his predecessors, going so far as to challenge even India, the country that " Sri Lankans love to hate, and hate to love"

Rajapaksa's most egregious crime of lese majeste has been his refusal to heed the many and ever-shriller EU, US and Indian demands for an immediate ceasefire in early 2009. Then, the Sri Lankan army was on the cusp of overrunning the last sliver of territory controlled by the LTTE, an organisation whose backers have significant influence not merely in Chennai, but even more so in Brussels.

Once the liquidation of the LTTE demonstrated that Rajapaksa would ignore the commands from Washington and Brussels, the imposition of punitive sanctions on Colombo began - the latest being the EU withdrawal of the Generalised Scheme of Preferences for Sri Lankan textiles. This is seriously damaging: next to tourism and remittances, textiles is the largest earner for the Sri Lankan economy.

Efforts are on to declare President Rajapaksa, Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and others in the new team as "war criminals" and seek their extradition and prosecution at the International Court of Justice – an institution not only headquartered within the EU, but largely controlled by that alliance.

This has put Sri Lanka on the road to becoming another Myanmar, a country to be subjected by the US, the EU and its developed country allies to isolation and sanctions, all in the name of human rights and democracy.

And as in the case of Myanmar, the major beneficiary of such a boycott will be China, which has today displaced India as the country of consequence in Sri Lanka.

How did India stray so far from this neighbor?

The distancing of Colombo from Delhi began in 1998-1999, when Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee brushed aside requests from Colombo for emergency military assistance. The LTTE had inflicted a series of defeats on a demoralised Sri Lankan army, which was running out of ammunition and weapons such as mortars.

Within India, foreign policy towards Sri Lanka has almost always been set not by Delhi but by Chennai. With the DMK as a partner in the BJP-led coalition, it became evident that no such assistance to Colombo would be forthcoming. After all, the DMK had even organised rallies to decry the returning IPKF forces from Sri Lanka in 1990, and had made no secret of its affinity towards the LTTE's demand for a separate "Tamil Eelam" carved out of the east and north of Sri Lanka.

When it became clear that India would refuse assistance because of its own political compulsions, the "friendly Chinese embassy in Colombo" suggested that Pakistan be approached to provide military help. It was, and within days a flood of equipment poured into Sri Lanka – a move that proved decisive in holding back the LTTE. Soon, China directly joined Pakistan in providing military help - all this while Vajpayee looked on, and the alliance with the DMK continued.

Years later, history repeated itself. Since the 2004 elections, the DMK has been a partner of the Congress Party, and was therefore, once again, able to ensure that no help was forthcoming from Delhi in President Rajapaksa's 2006-2009 war against the LTTE. Once again, Pakistan made up for India's refusal to help, joining its Chinese ally in pumping in weapons into Sri Lanka.

In 2009, when the parliamentary polls in India were announced, the Manmohan Singh government demanded that President Rajapaksa halt the military offensive against the LTTE. This "request" became insistent just a week befoire the capture and killing of LTTE supremo Prabhakaran, when a team of officials from Delhi was sent to Colombo to attempt a forced ceasefire that would allow LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran and his organisation to escape annihilation.

As he had done with similar requests from the EU, Rajapaksa ignored the Indian advice, calling off the campaign only after the destruction of the LTTE and the killing of Prabhakaran and his close associates. He threw a fig leaf in the direction of Delhi, halting the use of mortars and heavy artillery two days before Prabhakaran was killed on May 19, 2009.

Since then, it has been the China-Pakistan duo that have become the partners of choice for Sri Lanka - though care is taken to avoid making this too public. The combination of India's refusal to provide military assistance and the EU's diplomatic blockade of the Rajapaksa government have had the effect of sending Sri Lanka into the arms of China and Pakistan or risk becoming the next Myanmar of the international community.

Apart from pandering to the Eelam demands of the DMK, another factor that weighed with the Manmohan Singh government is the fact that elements within the EU have long been effective protectors of the LTTE. Led by Norway, the EU enforced a cease-fire in 2002 between then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the LTTE. This accord gave the latter control over the north and east of the country, and helped ensure the defeat of Wickremesinghe and his United National Party in the polls three years later.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, who came to power in 2005 on the platform of a united Sri Lanka, was unique in that he was the first representative of the rural Sinhala Buddhist social underclass to become President of the country. In its six decades of freedom, Sri Lanka had only one other head of state who was from the lower echelons of society - Ranasinghe Premadasa, also of the UNP.

Premadasa was born in urban poverty but was almost as far removed from the chemistry of the rural Sinhala Buddhist majority in Sri Lanka as were the westernized urban elite who had ruled the country almost without interruption since its independence in 1948.

Unlike Premadasa, who was content to be a figurehead while actual power continued to vest in the upper-class elite that provided his UNP with its leadership, Rajapaksa swiftly began to eliminate such elements from his government. Instead he populated it with those from his own social group,the rural Sinhala Buddhist population that today forms the base of his support.

It is not so different from the Indian leaders like Bihar’s Lalu Prasad Yadav and Kumar Mayawati of Uttar Pradesh who rely on caste support. Rajapaksa has also adopted the Bandaranaike family's penchant of filling up top posts with his close relatives.

In view of his rustic ways – in contrast to the westernized Ranil Wickremasinghe or the equally elite Chandrika Kumaratiunga (Bandaranaike) – Rajapaksa began to be distrusted by the EU's diplomatic representatives in Colombo. They were far more comfortable with the westernized, upper crust politicians of the opposition UNP and similar elements within the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party than with a grassroots politician like Rajapaksa.

That made the EU receptive to the criticism of the new President by members of the old Sinhala elite, who suddenly found themselves marginalized by a group who they contemptuously termed as "country people." The change in Sri Lanka that followed the election of Rajapaksa in 2005 would be akin to that in India, were the Bahujan Samaj Party, comprising a vote bank of the Dalit (former untouchable) castes, to secure a majority in India’s Parliament and their leader Kumari Mayawati be sworn in as Prime Minister.

The arrival of Mahinda Rajapaksa on the political stage of Sri Lanka held no terrors for LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran,who had confidently seen off several Sri Lankan heads of state (and assassinated at least one, Premadasa). He saw Rajapaksa as less able to rally international support for a united Sri Lanka than rival Ranil Wickremasinghe. Prabhakaran even facilitated Rajapaksa’s 2005 election victory by enforcing a poll boycott in the Tamil areas.

The LTTE leader's weakness was one of his earlier strengths: his incapacity to stop short of the jugular. Although Wickremasinghe had conceded autonomy to him in the north and east of the country, even allowing the LTTE to conduct political campaigns in government-held areas without the government having the right to similarly enter LTTE-held areas,

Prabhakaran wanted the Sri Lankan Prime Minister to concede full independence to the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka - impossibility. It was a miscalculation that would cost him his life four years later.

Prabhakaran regarded Mahinda Rajapaksa as being a better bet for securing "Eelam,” a presumption borne out during the first eight months of Rajapaksa’s term, when numerous LTTE attacks went unanswered and the buzz in Colombo was that Rajapaksa was a "weak" head of state

Those who were observing closely, though, knew that Rajapaksa was just stalling to get the real measure of his enemy. Unlike his predecessors, the new President of Sri Lanka personally attended each week's Security Council meeting, thereby getting an insight into what needed to be done to ensure the defeat of the LTTE.

An indication of his mindset was the surprise sacking of his 2005 campaign manager, Mangala Samaraweera, from the Cabinet in end-2006, after a newspaper owned by the politician criticised the Sri Lankan army. In 2002, when Defense Minister Anuradha Ratwatte planned a campaign against the LTTE in their northern redoubt, it was also Samaraweera who insisted in the Chandrika Bandaranaike Cabinet that the push be abandoned.

Under Rajapaksa, a campaign was quietly launched to burnish the reputation of the army, and within a year of taking office, an overall increase of 300,000 in the strength of the Sri Lankan army was approved, of which 50,000 were to be recruited "immediately." It was then that requests were sent to India for weapons and equipment - and when this was turned down, Pakistan was asked to fill the gap, which Islamabad (and its ally Beijing) did immediately and with zest.

By mid-2007, the eastern provinces were cleared of the LTTE and this time around, the militia was not allowed to return. While army units were sent further north, units of the police, navy and air force ensured that the LTTE cadres were denied entry into the eastern provinces.

Slowly, the encirclement of Prabhakaran was progressing.

At this point, the EU - led by Norway which had built up a close rapport with the LTTE since the 1990s - began demanding that Rajapaksa call off his offensive and agree to peace talks. Till that time, every Sri Lankan government since the J R Jayawardene administration beginning in 1978 had been responsive to "advice" from the US and the EU.

Its consequences were manifold – one of them was to set off India's then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who began arming the LTTE in 1980 as a counter to Jayawardene's "softness towards the imperialists." Each time the Sri Lankan army pushed the LTTE into a corner, professional peacemakers stepped in and halted military operations, giving the LTTE time to recover and once again emerge as a deadly force.

This time around, Rajapaksa turned a deaf year to the peaceniks in the EU, India and the US, all of whom were united in asking that he declare a cease-fire. Instead,he publicly assured the armed forces that this time around, he would not stop "until the LTTE was eliminated."

As is the case in India, especially with reference to Kashmir and now the Maoists, Sri Lanka has numerous "peacemaking" NGOs. Each of these come up with numerous reasons why military force ought not to be resorted to even in cases where there is an armed attack on the unity and integrity of the state. In both countries, these are led by well-meaning idealists from the upper echelons of society.

While the Manmohan Singh government has been very receptive to such voices, several times pulling up the armed forces, the Rajapaksa team ignored them, angering the NGOs and their diplomatic backers. Because of the substantial military assistance given by Pakistan and China, the Sri Lankan army was able to destroy the LTTE by May 19, 2009. It brought celebration in Sri Lanka but Western condemnation. Since then, the EU has led in imposing sanctions on Sri Lanka, including most recently the withdrawal of export preferences for Sri Lankan textiles. All this has had the (hopefully unintended) effect of drawing Colombo ever closer to Beijing.

There is little doubt that the "beautiful people" of Colombo dislike the feisty, rural Rajapaksa. But consider the reality: the President of Sri Lanka is a hero to the 70% of the population that is both rural and Sinhala. They voted him back to power with an overwhelming majority in January 2010, giving him an additional five-year mandate.

Now that the war against the LTTE has been won, efforts are ongoing to ensure that the Tamil community be given the opportunity to participate in the political and economic life of the country without discrimination - still a work in progress. With each call from European leaders for a "war crimes" trial of Rajapaksa and his close associates (including his brothers Gotebaya and Basil), the attraction of China becomes ever greater. It is ironic that the EU - and to a lesser extent the US - is pushing away a country that is among the most West-friendly on the globe.

India must understand the desire of the Sri Lankans to be a united country - much the same as India desires to stay united with Kashmir and China to stay united with Tibet. It must also understand that Sri Lanka is too important a country in terms of security and geopolitics, to view only through the single prism of the Tamil issue. It is vital to India’s security, and to the sea lanes of the Indian Ocean.

For these and other reasons, New Delhi must broad base its relationship with its southern neighbor. Sri Lanka can be a natural ally not only for India but also for the western world. English is spreading in Sir Lanka almost as fast as it is in India. One day, Sri Lanka will be, along with India, part of the 21st century Anglosphere.

(M.D.Nalapat is director,Dept of Geopolitics,Manipal University. This article appears in "Gateway House" published by the Indian Council on Global Relations)

Lankan Govt wants to Ban wearing of mini-skirts in public places

by Ranga Jayasuriya

A new era of moral purity is in the offing in the New Year; if the new government directive has its way, miniskirts would be banned from public places.

Cultural and Aesthetic Affairs Minister T.B.Ekanayake has instructed the Arts Council attached to his ministry to prepare guidelines over ‘wearing of miniskirts.’

Minister Ekanayake, when contacted by Lakbimanews, said individuals and ‘groups’ had complained to him about the cultural impact of the miniskirt.

Religious and cultural interests

“There are individuals and groups representing religious and cultural interests, who have written to us raising concerns that this kind of dress would corrupt our culture,” Minister Ekanayake said.

“They say with the arrival of tourists, this situation would worsen,” he said.

The Minister did not name groups which have raised concerns.

“I have directed their concerns to the Arts Council headed by Prof Carlo Fonseka,” he added. When pressed whether the new move is a part of the government’s ‘moral crusade’, he said that it was not a government initiative and that the issue was not taken up at the cabinet level.

When asked how he could decide on a matter which is perfectly within the private rights of people, Minister Ekanayake said he had only responded to concerns raised by individuals representing the ‘moral high ground’. “The arts council would formulate recommendations and we will act upon their recommendations,” he said

Kamal Dissanayake, secretary of the subcommittee of the Arts Council said the council headed by Prof Fonseka had not yet taken up the issue and hence it was premature to ‘talk to the media.’ Prof Fonseka could not be reached despite repeated telephone calls to his residence.

When contacted by Lakbimanews, Udaya Gammanpila, legal advisor of Hela Urumaya - the political party generally associated with Sinhala ultra nationalism - said his party had not raised concerns with Minister Ekanayake against the ‘miniskirt.’

The latest moral drive comes in the wake of a previous government directive to remove advertising cutouts depicting what was described as scantily clad women, though in most cases that amounted to a reasonable exposure of legs or cleavage.

Two months back police brought down advertising cutouts in Colombo on a directive by the Women and Children Protection Bureau.

Later, police arrested alleged ‘porn stars,’ in a move which was widely criticized for bigotry and for victimizing the victims. Pictures of 80 or so women who allegedly appeared in ‘pornographic’ video clips were published in the newspapers.

The government’s latest move was ridiculed by cynics, while others feared that the Rajapaksa administration was taking on the role of a moral police

We would soon become like Saudi Arabia, a media wag quipped.

Another raised the pertinent question as to how the government is planning to police the streets to make sure that every woman is suitably attired.

Repressive Islamic states in the Middle East ranging from Saudi Arabia, Iran to Sudan have special branches of religious police which are mandated with enforcing strict Islamic dress code on the streets.

Minister Ekanayake when queried as to how he plans to implement the miniskirt ban said the Arts Council would make recommendations including the procedure for its implementation.

The Rajapaksa administration has used morality as a means of ‘regime legitimization.’

Moral well-being

The role of the government as the guardian and overseer of the moral well-being of its people is a much disputed concept. In classical liberal dispositions, the guardian of the moral well-being of a legal adult should be the individual himself. As former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau put it succinctly, the ‘government should have no business in people’s bed rooms’

However, religion, culture and morality remain to be a potent weapon in political mobilization, especially in conservative societies -- as observed in moral and cultural resurgence in the newly independent former colonies, including Sri Lanka which jettisonec English and much of western tradition soon after independence.

Successive Sri Lankan governments, beginning with of D.S Senanayake and most notably of S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike have invoked religion and culture for political mobilization.

The Rajapaksa administration’s recent moral crusade against alcohol, photography and the now, miniskirts is intended to increase its ratings among the government’s core constituency, i.e. the conservative rural south. However, many others view it as excessive and as incompatible with the modern day reality of a more cosmopolitan and individualistic society. Some even complain that a climate of xenophobia has stemmed from the government’s recent rhetoric, including its moral drive.

Not surprisingly, a government reviled by the west for its culpability in alleged human rights violations and increasing authoritarianism at home is striving to rediscover its own identity. In the process it is rejecting everything associated with the west, including the seemingly harmless miniskirt.

Courtesy: Lakbima News

January 02, 2011

Shock waves in Jaffna: Three killings and two abductions in a fortnight

By Ranga Jayasuriya

A curtain of fear is coming down on the Jaffna peninsula as unidentified gunmen return and, sometimes, white vans resurface. Three killings and two abductions reported within a fortnight have sent shock waves within a Jaffna populace that has gone through much in the past.

Last Sunday, deputy director of education, Markandu Sivalingam was shot dead at his residence in Urumpirai . Armed men who came in a motorcycle shot Sivalingam, 52, on his chest and calmly drove away.

Later in the week, the mangled body of Mahendran Thiruvarudchelvam, a vehicle dealer was found dumped on the roadside.

The victim was abducted a week ago, and his abductors had demanded 8 million rupees as ransom.

Jaffna sources who requested anonymity said the victim’s body bore the marks of torture and that his throat has been slashed.

Earlier on December 10, the chief priest of Murukamoorththi Kovil in Valikaamam Niththiyantha Sharma, was shot dead and his two sons were wounded when gunmen raided his Kovil in an attempted robbery.

Priest Sharma was fatally shot when he confronted the gunmen, and he was pronounced dead on admission to Jaffna Hospital.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, local sources reported that another youth had been abducted by unidentified men who arrived in a white van. The youth was picked up while he was riding his bicycle in Urumpirai; the same area where the educationist Sivalingam was shot dead last week.

Police had denied any knowledge of the abduction and contested statements made by eye witnesses who alleged that the youth had been abducted.

Worst yet to come

A senior Jaffna journalist who requested anonymity lamented that people feared that recent abductions and killings were only the beginning and that the worst was yet to come.

‘People are scared, they are scared to talk about these incidents’, he quipped when asked who the people think the killers are.

“After one year of peace, killings have begun and the white van has returned. People are afraid. They don’t know whom to approach for help,” he said.

He repeated an oft asked question: How could the killers escape and the white vans operate without the knowledge of the military which has an all encompassing presence in the Jaffna peninsula?

M.K. Shivajilingam, former Jaffna District MP of the Tamil National Alliance and a presidential candidate echoed the same sentiments.

“There are 40,000 army and 10,000 police personnel in Jaffna. Why can’t they stop these killings? How can killings take place without their knowledge?”

“We feel someone is organizing and overseeing these incidents to keep people of Jaffna in a climate of fear.”

However , when pressed on this issue, military spokesman Major General Ubaya Medawala retorted: “army can stop abductions, if they are not part of Jaffna’s system. No one is going from Colombo to Jaffna to carry out abductions. These activities are carried out by Jaffna people against Jaffna people. It’s neighbours who are holding their neighbours at gun point to take ransom.”

He alleged that there were personal and family disputes which have culminated in abductions and killings in Jaffna.

“If people withhold information and don’t inform army about criminal gangs, what can the army do?”

He however was quick to add that some people provided information and that the crime rate in Jaffna was lower than in the rest of the country.

Personal rivalry

Police sources investigating the murder of Markandu Sivalingam, the deputy director of education confided that preliminary investigations have revealed that the killing had been carried out due to personal rivalry.

A Jaffna source who requested anonymity told this newspaper that people were worried that a military intelligence unit was behind at least some of the recent killings.

The vehicle dealer Mahendran Thiruvarudchelvam who was abducted and killed was a resident of the Wanni who came to Jaffna after he was released from an IDP camp.
The Army has denied involvement.

Shivajilingam, the former MP laments that peace has not dawned in Jaffna even one and half years after the end of the war.

“With local government elections to be held soon, perpetrators of recent violence would step up activities to terrorize people,” he cautions.

He queries: How can the government say Jaffna is free , when people are abducted in broad daylight?

It matters who does it -- or doesn’t it?

If we really want sustainable peace then we must face the violent demons of Sri Lanka’s past

By Kanishka Ratnapriya

Due to Sri Lanka’s geographically strategic location coupled with its natural and economic resources the absence of war will give us a chance to move in the direction of a vibrant South Asian economy based on a fiscal program concentrating on exports, tourism, self sufficiency and Post War infrastructural development.

However, this cannot be achieved by one section of Sri Lankan citizens alone and it will take inter community cooperation and coordination for Sri Lanka to emerge into its true potential. Hence, it is essential that we are sensitive to ethno political and social grievances when we work towards a climate in which all Sri Lankans can share the benefits of economic and infrastructural development.

The real question we should be asking ourselves right now is whether we can create more opportunities for ourselves to establish a sustainable peace with the end of war in Sri Lanka by creating a culture of inclusiveness, equality and respect for all communities in the motherland. A broader, stronger and longer homegrown reconciliation process will be a good ‘first step’ in this direction.

Two ‘universal’ theoretical underpinnings should be taken into account in any Sri Lankan post war reconciliation process. Firstly, learning our lessons from the last 30 years of war and 60 years of conflict must be based upon the twin reconciliation principles of promoting historical revisionism over denial and minimizing cultural dissonance. For the stability of our country and future of our children it would bode well for all Sri Lankan citizens to work towards upholding and utilizing these two principles as a basis for learning lessons from the past during a reconciliation process. Secondly, there must be a focus on improving social cohesion during a post war reconciliation process.

Hence positive and negative social cohesion trends could be used as indicators to monitor the health of a reconciliation process. If we take these concepts into account when designing a practical and inclusive truth and reconciliation process we may be able to build a more stable peace in Sri Lanka. This is no simple matter and it will have to be examined in greater detail then what is presented in this article. However, it is important that all citizens exchange our ideas on how we can live together peacefully in this country and this article attempts to get the ball rolling on this discourse. Hence, let us start with the two basic principles.

Two Reconciliation Principles

If we only look at one side of the past or if we look at the past from only one perspective, chances are high that we will miss critical aspects through which we could learn lessons for the future. Historical revisionism entails the refinement of existing knowledge about a historical event without denying that the event itself took place. Refinement comes through the examination of all empirical evidence by accounting for all knowledge about a particular historical event in a ‘better light’. We must be able to acknowledge a body of convergent indisputable knowledge in a manner that helps us to understand whether a historical event did occur in the manner that it did.

This form of legitimacy is essential in a post war reconciliation context. Denying historical events and the manner in which they occurred rejects the entire foundation of historical evidence and is thus detrimental towards building social cohesion on the long term. Hence, we must promote historical revisionism over denying what happened in the past. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission is a step in this direction, but it must be made stronger and allowed to operate for a longer period of time.

Cultural dissonance is an uncomfortable sense of discord, disharmony, confusion and conflict experienced by people in the midst of a changing cultural environment. There are three root causes for cultural dissonance to increase and they are all best on ‘change’. Firstly, to a particular community social, political or economic changes could be seen as unexplained. Secondly, these changes could be seen as unexpected. And thirdly, these changes may be perceived to be not understandable. Hence, everyone must be given the opportunity to explain, understand and then expect ‘change’. Hence, it is essential to have a reconciliation process that will minimize cultural dissonance by giving all people the opportunity and access to present their own perspectives on critical reconciliation related issues. Furthermore, such an opportunity will also give people the right to experience different perspectives thus creating a chance for people to build a more socially cohesive configuration. In the present context, only the Sri Lankan State has the capacity to evolve strong mechanisms that will create the space and legitimize the right of its own citizens to present their perspectives on a reconciliation based issues. What it lacks is the will to move forward on genuine reconciliation and only the people can foster such a ‘will’ in the Sri Lankan state.

Taking these principles in tandem will ensure that a reconciliation process based on learning lessons from the past will aid us to understand the ‘truth’ about what happened in the past in a more practical sense. It will be a painful process but if we really want sustainable peace we will have to face the violent demons of Sri Lanka’s past.

Social Cohesion as an Indicator of a Reconciliation Process

In a situation of cultural diversity, social cohesion is a term used to describe socio dynamics that increase positive social interactivity between people in society. The definition of social cohesion is broad because it is a multifaceted notion covering different types of social phenomenon. While the definition is broad the indicators that are used to monitor basic human needs in relation to social cohesion are much clearer. Hence, positive or negative trends in relation to social cohesion can be utilized as indicators of whether socio – political relations between different groups are good or bad. There are five different dimensions of social cohesion:

Material conditions: Are fundamental to social cohesion, particularly employment, income, health, education and housing. Relations between and within communities suffer when people lack work and endure hardship, debt, anxiety, low self-esteem, ill-health, poor skills and bad living conditions. These basic necessities of life are the foundations of a strong social fabric. They are also indicators of social progress.

Social Order: Is mainly in relation to safety and freedom from fear, or "passive social relationships". Tolerance and respect for other people, along with peace and security, are hallmarks of a stable and harmonious society.

Positive interactions, exchanges and networks between individuals and communities: Is mainly in relation to the quantity and quality of contacts and connections between individuals and communities which become potential resources for places since they offer people and organizations mutual support, information, trust and credit of various kinds.

The extent of social inclusion or integration of people into the mainstream institutions of civil society: Including people's sense of belonging to a state that is based upon the strength of shared experiences, identities and values between those from different backgrounds.

Social equality: Is in reference to the level of fairness or disparity in access to opportunities or material circumstances, such as income, health or quality of life, or in future life chances. It is possible to utilize material conditions indicators for this purpose but the emphasis here is upon any form of disparity in material conditions between different community groups.

In addition to these 5 dimensions there are an additional number of sub dimensions in each of these 5 dimensions which are indicators in relation to the positive or negative dynamic of each trend. These 5 dimensions and their sub dimensions can be utilized as a basic framework to monitor or promote social cohesion in a reconciliation process. I could not include them here because it would have elongated this article, but they can be discussed and researched further if it is needed. When taken as a ‘whole’ these social cohesion dimensions can be used as a Social Cohesion Matrix, reverse engineered to suit the Sri Lankan context. We could then adopt this framework to design and monitor social cohesion during Sri Lanka’s reconciliation process. However, it must be very humbly said that this is only a basic framework which must be expanded through dialogue.

A Homegrown Sri Lankan Reconciliation Process

Utilizing historical revisionism over denial and the minimization of cultural dissonance as a principles in the design of a reconciliation process for Sri Lanka would increase the chances of sustaining such a process and reduce the chances of long term conflict re escalation. By monitoring any aspect of the reconciliation process utilizing social cohesion as an indicator we would at least be given the opportunity to asses, compensate and reorient different aspects of the process. However, the most important issue in a homegrown Sri Lankan reconciliation process would be whether the process itself can synergize with contextual factors, actors and dynamics in the Sri Lankan socio political environment. Therefore there should be five contextual areas of importance in relation to such a process:

(1) All Internal Actors, (2) Internal Mechanisms for Reconciliation, (3) Internal Reconciliatory Attitudes, (4) Internal outcomes from the Reconciliation process and (5) All External Actors. None of these areas are ‘set in stone’ they are fluid and interchanging at many levels. They represent only a proto stage set of proposals for a broader, stronger and longer Sri Lankan reconciliation process which must be designed through the interaction and participation of all Sri Lankan citizens. A very basic representative diagram is available in order to visualize what it could look like.

However, the real fact of the matter lies in the hearts and minds of our people. Do we really want to reach out our hands to people who believe to be our significant ‘other’? Can we really get over years of bloodshed and violence? Can we really forgive ourselves and the people who committed violence against us? The answers to these questions lie in the future. But the course of action we take depends upon you and how you can influence our leaders, our state and our beloved motherland towards a greater and brighter future.

My appeal is that we do not let this opportunity slide away from us. No war, no peace nor end of war is perfect. It is only in the purity of thought in pursuing peace, respect and harmony between communities that we can reach perfection. This article represents the tip of an iceberg representing a younger generation battered and scarred by years of war. The chains of communal ignorance will not bind us further. One day, we will rise together by not only respecting our differences but enjoying them in a deeper respect for each other. Our future is already written. It is inevitable and the only choice left to us is whether we wish to start the true process of reconciliation now or later.

National Unity is key to both uniting and developing the Motherland

by Mahinda Rajapaksa

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Following is the full text of Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s message:

We look towards the future at the dawn of this New Year with renewed determination, firm commitment and many positive expectations. It is a great achievement that freedom and peace is now established in our motherland to enable such aspirations.

The major challenge before us is to raise the position of our country in the world. We recognize this year as one where many giant steps towards development will be taken based on the five-fold sectors of progress. There will no doubt be a considerable increase in the sacrifices needed to achieve this, similar to those made to gain victory in the last five years.

Our aim is to recover with speed all that was lost to Sri Lankan society in more than three decades. Our wish is to make use of every opportunity to ensure prosperity to Sri Lankan society by providing the equitable sharing of economic benefits.

National unity is key to both uniting and developing the motherland. Thus, the time has come to rise above all differences. Only then could all conspiracies to deny coexistence, and those against the people and the nation, be defeated.

With great determination and patience, we have built mutual understanding and trust among the people about the nation's development. Strengthening this should be among our wishes for the New Year. In doing so, I trust you will gain further strength to make this New Year bring further victory to the nation.

I wish you a Happy New Year

Please help me to secure the freedom that I lost by entering politics

By Sarath Fonseka

The new year message of Gen.Sarath Fonseka is as follows:

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[file pic ~ Posters for Sarath Fonseka in Jaffna Jan 2010 - pic. indi.ca]

When the year 2010 dawned , I dreamed that by the dawn of the year 2011, the Executive Presidency shall be abolished; an all party Govt. is installed ; nepotism , corruption and violence are banished ; a just superlative Govt. is established and Sri Lanka shall be put back on the top slot of the world .But unfortunately , a wicked force which has not even an iota of love for my motherland and my people militated against it and plundered my dream.

As the new year is dawning I am within a cell of the prison. Though I know under these rulers this year too will not be a happy year and that cannot be expected , yet in keeping with the traditional greetings, I fervently wish and hope that this new year will bring each and everyone of you happiness and prosperity.

Please help me to secure my freedom which I lost simply because I came into politics to save the country from the terrorist Govt. in the same way as I saved the country from the Tigers terrorists. Please help me to get my freedom . I express my gratitude to all of you for the protests you staged, satyagrahas you performed , the political campaigns and the religious poojas you engaged in to demand my release. I thank all the religious dignitaries and political leaders who campaigned on behalf of my freedom. I am also indebted to those who had even by spoken word stood by me.

When the new year was dawning we wished that this country will flow with milk and honey. Likewise even those in thatched coconut huts hoped to have a kiribath meal with the dawn of the new year .Yet , if you look around and realize the prohibitive prices of coconuts and rice, not only those in thatched huts even those of the middle class are being denied a kiribath meal. This situation alone is testimony towards what decline and rot this country is heading one and half years after the war was won.

Yet , we who love the country and the nation , can we remain silent and watch idly? There is a maxim , without cursing the darkness , even with one lamp light your way. That is the way to come out of the darkness. Let us rally together and come out together that way while wishing that this year is a new year of hope and joy. By that struggle , if the individual who is going to get the freedom is Sarath Fonseka , then that freedom let me emphasize is not his personal freedom alone.

Was "pro-LTTE" allegation made agaianst LLRC by Gunadasa Amarasekera a pre-emptive attack?

By Kalana Senaratne

Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera, President of the Patriotic National Movement (PNM), recently leveled a serious accusation against the LLRC. In an unexpected manner, this has caused some embarrassment, I believe, to both Dr. Amarasekera and Prof. GL Peiris, Sri Lanka’s Minister of External Affairs. The reason for this embarrassment is a peculiar one; for it is not only the nature of the accusation, but the inability of Dr. Amarasekera to clarify the real name which he dropped during the course of PNM’s now controversial press briefing, which has caused much embarrassment.

It is the name ‘GL Peiris’ that the BBC-Sandeshaya heard being used by Dr. Amarasekera; hence the report titled "Sri Lanka war panel ‘pro-LTTE’" (dated 24 December, 2010). The report states the following: "Sri Lanka’s foreign minister has accused some members of the presidential panel investigating the war of being pro-Tamil Tigers, a Sinhala nationalist organisation affiliated to the government claims. Chairman of the Patriotic National Movement (PNM) Dr Gunadasa Amarasekara said Foreign Minister Prof GL Peiris advised him not to appear before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC)."

The report goes on to point out that Dr. Amarasekera, in the course of the press conference, said the following: "I told Prof GL Peiris that we would testify before the LLRC. Then the minister asked me why you should testify, there are some members who are against us …"

If one listens to the precise words used by Dr. Amarasekera, one would note that Dr. Amarasekera did make the accusation that there are some within the LLRC who are sympathetic towards the LTTE (Koti hithawaadeen). Yet, having stated so, the name that he drops does not seem to be that of Prof. GL Peiris (as the BBC-Sandeshaya reported), but rather that of Prof. GH Peiris, the well known academic and leading social scientist. What is also clear is that Dr. Amarasekera, does not use the word Emethi thuma (i.e. ‘then the minister asked me…’ as stated in the BBC-Sandeshaya report above). Instead, the word used is mahathmaya.

The controversy has led to the issuance of a statement by the Ministry of External Affairs. In that, the Ministry points out that Minister Prof. GL Peiris "had not had any conversation with Dr. Amarasekera within the last year." (Media release, dated 27 December, 2010). Dr. Amarasekera, in response to the BBC-Sandeshaya report points out in a media release that the report is a "fabricated news item" and that "Prof. GL Peiris neither made any claims on the matter nor has had any conversation with me in the recent past." Interestingly, or rather unfortunately, he does not clarify or state as to which ‘Peiris’ (GL or GH?) he referred to during the press conference. This, he could have easily done.

Yet, the more important or critical issue is not that. The critical issue is the accusation leveled by Dr. Amarasekera, that the LLRC is comprised of ‘pro-LTTE’ elements; which unfortunately is both amusing, and serious.

It is ludicrous, or even amusing, in that what certain international human rights organizations have been stating for quite sometime is precisely the opposite: that the LLRC is largely made up of those who defended the activities of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces during the last stages of the armed conflict. So, while groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group have shown concern because they feel that there are members in the LLRC who are ‘anti-LTTE’, Dr. Amarasekera’s PNM is worried that the same LLRC contains some who are ‘pro-LTTE’.

In a curious way, the LLRC has suddenly emerged (going by the statements made by these respective groups) as one which has a very healthy balance of anti-LTTE and pro-LTTE members! Dr. Amarasekera should have substantiated his accusation, for it is a serious one.

Moreover, on a more serious note, the attack leveled by the PNM and Dr. Amarasekera suggests other things too. If the name referred to by Dr. Amarasekera during the press conference is that of Prof. GH Peiris (as this columnist tends to believe), and if the views expressed by Dr. Amarasekera are views which are endorsed by Ministers such as Wimal Weerawansa since the PNM is an organization ‘affiliated to’ Minister Weerawansa (as the BBC-Sandeshaya report states), the accusation leveled by Dr. Amarasekera suggests that a significant and influential segment of the government has strong reservations about Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Minister, Prof. GL Peiris.

In fact, certain statements made by Dr. Amarasekera during the press briefing can be interpreted in a way that strengthens this assertion (i.e. about there being elements sympathetic towards the LTTE even within the Ministry of External Affairs, about the recent appointment of the ‘Monitoring MP’, and the skeptical tone in which the meeting between Minister Peiris and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is referred to).

This is also clear if one goes through the very important and illuminating study of Prof GH Peiris, titled Twilight of the Tigers: Peace Efforts and Power Struggles in Sri Lanka. In that, Prof. GH Peiris engages in an excellent and constructive critique of the administration of former PM Ranil Wickremasinghe and the peace negotiations carried out by his administration.

The author points out, for instance: "The general impression conveyed by the entire exercise in direct negotiation was that GL Peiris, the head of the government delegation, despite his scholarly erudition and extraordinary communication skills, was no match to the overbearing personality and polemical skills of his counterpart, Anton Balasingham, who, as it turned out, was amply aided in his antics by the lax approach adopted by the Norwegian facilitators of the talks. Minister Peiris was handicapped by his prim persona and his preoccupation with protocol, and was seldom agile enough to pre-empt or counter Balasingham’s carefully calculated manoeuvres" (at p. 98-99). But, today, the question is: does the past of Prof. GL Peiris still haunt certain influential figures within the government?

If it does, what will be the future of Minister Peiris as Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Minister?

Another unfortunate outcome of the accusation leveled by Dr. Amarasekera is the following and obvious one. Dr. Amarasekera and the PNM seem to have reminded the people, beforehand, that the final report of the LLRC will be rejected and be termed one which furthers the interests of the LTTE, if it contains any serious recommendations which run contrary to the views of the PNM. For instance, how would certain sections within the government (attached to the PNM) respond if the final report of the LLRC contains very important and useful recommendations concerning the improvement of Sri Lanka’s human rights investigation and inquiry mechanisms?

Was Dr. Amarasekera’s allegation a pre-emptive attack, intended to send the above message to the LLRC?

The year 2011, which has just arrived, will shed more light on these matters.

The defeat of the LTTE is being systematically transformed as the defeat of the Tamil and Muslim people

An Interview with Mano Ganesan by Raisa Wickrematunga

Q: As a human rights campaigner and a Tamil party leader, what do you think of the current situation on Tamil rights in Sri Lanka?

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Mano Ganesan

A: There are two counts. First count is the Tamil daily life. It’s horrible today in the north. Only 2 days before, a Zonal Director of Education was shot killed. 3 days before that a Tamil Hindu priest was murdered by gunfire. Yesterday body of a youth who’s abductors earlier demanded ransom, was found in Meesalai. These killings happened in Jaffna, which is supposed to be under tight military control as nothing moves in Jaffna without the approval of the military. These are only few examples. Systematic murders and armed robberies are the order of the day in Jaffna now. Those who dispute me can ask for the monthly police log book of the Jaffna peninsula. The Government claims the LTTE is defeated.

Then again the Jaffna commander says that armed elements are responsible for these killings and robberies. Who are they, commander? There is a terrible fear psyche within the Tamil community, in the North and to a lesser extent in the Eastern province. You also have a reflection in Colombo, of course. One may escape the blame by comparing the human rights situation with that which prevailed during the war -- from 2005 to 2009, when on a daily basis 10 Tamils were abducted in Colombo, and an uncountable number in the North and East. But the war is over-- that is what the Government claims. The Tamil people are eager to enjoy the dividends of this newfound so-called peace. But this rare commodity is not there.

The other count is lack of genuine state efforts to provide answers to what happened before and during the war. I am not encouraging Tamils to live in the past. But don’t tell the families to simply forget all what happened. Before the war, many Tamils were abducted, people went missing or were killed inside and outside Government controlled territories. During the war, a large number of deaths occurred, especially during the last stages. Our people need answers, they need accountability. So until these issues are settled and the relevant questions are answered, only a fool or a sellout can claim that the human rights situation has improved, and Mano Ganeshan is neither a fool nor a sellout.

Q: What do you make of the recent directive on the proper use of the national anthem?

A: The Tamil version of the national anthem did not fall from the sky yesterday. It was there from 1950s or before, when Ananda Samarakoon created the Sinhala version, reputed Tamil pundit and poet Nalla-thambi-pulavar, then teaching at Colombo Zahira college, translated it. The Sinhala verses have been translated to Tamil. The music score is the same. The Government should have been happy that there is a Tamil version sung from the 1940s. Only two days before, the Prime Minister traveled all the way to Jaffna as Chief Guest for a meeting commemorating the tsunami victims. The big debate going on there was what language the national anthem would be sung in at this public event in Jaffna. At the day we witnessed that the poor Tamil school children were forced to sing it in Sinhala. Why? I ask the President, the Prime Minister isn’t Tamil one of the official languages in this country? No one is asking that Tamil be used for national anthem in Hambantota or Galle at state functions.

If honorable minister Douglas Devananda or Vice President of the SLFP Karuna Amman travel to deep south for an public event, will the Government approve the Tamil version of the national anthem sung? I don’t think so. The Prime Minister should have pleasantly and affectionately allowed those young school children to sing the national anthem in their own language. It would have been the statesmanlike behavior. And also sensible as those children don’t understand Sinhala but Tamil. The best joke is that after forcing Sinhala on Tamil children and elders, this prime minister in his speech was calling for national unity by wining the hearts and minds of the Tamils. It is a tamasha. How can there be peace sir, without equality? Forcing Tamil speaking people to sing national anthem in Sinhala that too in the Tamil dominated areas is Sinhala Buddhist domination.

This attempt to prevent national anthem being sung in Tamil language is yet another ill attempt that alienates Tamil speaking people in this country. I wonder what national reconciliation the government is talking of by discussing such divisive attempts at a time when Sri Lanka needs more endeavors towards reunion. I fail to understand why the government leaders cannot accept the our national anthem also in Tamil as a symbol of unity and make use of it to bring communities together. We in Sri Lanka need more public and private endeavors to bring ethnicities, languages and religions closer to each other. But unfortunately it seems we are heading opposite.

Q: There has been much negative publicity of the Tamil Diaspora. Do you think the issues raised by them are valid?

A: The Diaspora community is part of Sri Lankan society. Nobody can take away the Diaspora from the Srilankan equation. We should understand this position and start discussing the pros and cons. As a party leader I would not approve the Tiger flag being waved at any of the Diaspora protests. The LTTE is a proscribed organization. As a responsible citizen of this country, I respect the law of the land. I understand that even in Britain it is a banned organization. In-fact I think, that tiger flag has misdirected the real message of the Diaspora and also given armory to some racists down here. Anyway it is a technical issue.

The larger issue is that Diaspora community has every right to protest. By protesting they are expressing their opinions on the conditions and alleged activities occurring in Sri Lanka. They are voicing in the interests of their kith and kin back home. On the other hand, those who are making complaints about the Diaspora protests are very freely conducting demonstrations in Colombo. Ministers, politicians, party leaders, are demonstrating against visiting foreign dignitaries, even gathering a large crowd of people in front of diplomatic missions including that of the UN and decorating the city walls with abusive posters. I’m not finding great faults with that, because it is a democratic right to conduct processions and protests. We need these in a lively society. But they can’t be one sided. Such rights should be understood with the Diaspora Srilankans too.

Q: Do you think there has been a solution to the national question?

A: What solution? Where? We are nowhere near any solution. In fact the government of the day has backtracked from all the promises and undertakings it gave to the Tamil moderates and international community. We thought the post war era would bring solutions. But it has not happened. The Government has missed a God given opportunity to address the national ethnic question, which is the root cause to the destructive war.

The defeat of the LTTE is being systematically transformed as the defeat of Tamils and Muslims. This is where the danger lies. This thinking is very much a disability within the Government policy makers. Whether in Temple Trees, Parliament, or even at small district development committee meetings, this thinking is being put into practice. The thinking is ‘We have won against Tamils; It is a warning to the Muslims too; This is our ‘Sinhala only’ country. We are the masters. There can’t be anybody not accepting this position; If anybody so, they may leave the country.’ The earlier referred national anthem issue is also one out of this thinking.

Q: Your brother said in an interview that the protesters at Heathrow consisted of a small group of pro LTTErs. Would you agree with that assessment?

A: I have thousands of brothers and sisters in my party. Are you speaking of that person who crossed the well of the parliament against the party position? This man was somebody when he was in our party, Now he is a sorry figure and a spent force. So first of all, I would not like to answer to a political nonentity. But I will talk to you on the general issue. People misguided the President to make the trip to Oxford. Thereafter the initial misfire occurred, in a volatile situation in London. The follow-up misfires were in Colombo.

Even before the President arrived in Sri Lanka, several elements in the UPFA tried to cash in on the situation, for their own benefit. Even Chief Government Whip Dinesh Gunawardena took up the issue in Parliament. The whole country witnessed the ugly scene. If I had been the Chief Government Whip, I would have called for an all party leaders meeting in Parliament, even invited TNA leaders and other Tamil and Muslim party leaders. I would have tried to address it as a national issue concerning the head of the state not just leader of SLFP/UPFA, and pass a resolution on the London protests.

That would have sent a united Sri Lankan message to any elements within the Diaspora and to the British government too. Instead the Government member tried to score brownie points. One merry maker minister took upto the streets again. These put the President in more disrepute then what happened in London. It ended up in a sorry state. This person who you referred to in your question, also played a comic role. He is making an effort to obtain a Deputy Ministerial portfolio in the next reshuffle. He and another MP who also jumped from the Opposition just three months after the general elections, conducted a media conference in Colombo where they made such comments in respect of the Diaspora thinking that they can make the president happy by saying so. These comments are not valid because they are not sincere. They were speaking on their own interests, in obtaining a Government portfolio. Interestingly major SLFP ministers generally confronted this issue maturely. It is only those so called partners in the UPFA. This president should be protected from these elements.

Q: What are your comments on the war crimes allegations made by the Diaspora and some of the international community? Your brother said that the war crimes were purely the result of the LTTE using civilians as human shields. Do you agree?

A: What is a war crime? You harm, kill or torture a person who is not directly involved in combat operations and mistreating the PoWs. Such things have occurred, especially at the last stage of war. That has been established. We do not know who is responsible, whether it is LTTE or Government forces, but the deaths have occurred. That is why we need an investigation. That is what human rights activists in this country and the world over are demanding. I join them. Parallel with the Ban Ki Moon’s Commission, this Government established LLRC, the local commission, which is functioning. Forget Ban Ki Moon’s, if you go through the recorded evidences given by family members of the victims at our local commission you will understand the anguish of the people and gravity of the situation. A large number of women came before the Commission demanding to know the whereabouts of husbands, or children. Parents and elderly people came demanding to know the whereabouts of their children. So where are they?

We need to get answers. Government report says that there are near 90,000 widows in the north and east alone. This is about the deaths of married men. And what about the women? And the unmarried men? And children? These are the questions of the voiceless. You can’t reject this as a small, simple issue. That doesn’t mean I am totally putting the blame on the Army and excusing the LTTE. There was war, and two known parties and other Para groups. I just expressed that there have been crimes. You can’t say nothing happened and paint some rosy picture. I live to die as the voice of the voiceless. Let’s investigate and give answers to the voiceless people. This will be the starting point for the real reconciliation.

Q: What is your view on the development projects in the North and East?

A: From the beginning this Government has been conducting the issue of resettlement and reconstruction of the North and East as a private party issue of the UPFA. Given the enormous destruction in the North and East it should have been conducted within a national agenda, accommodating all the parties. The opposition parties were willing to work with the Government on issues of reconstruction and resettlement. But it did not happen. Immediately after the Eastern province was cleared the Government hurriedly conducted the Eastern PC election. I’m asking the President- You conducted a Presidential, a Parliamentary election in the north. What is holding the Government back from holding Northern PC elections? Simply put, if there was a Provincial Council election now, given the results of the last Parliamentary election, the TNA would take control of the Northern PC. That would be the first non UPFA administration in the country. The Government did not want that to happen, it’s the open secret. That is why I say that this government is conducting the activities, be it resettlement or reconstruction or political solution, all under their own private political agenda. I call upon the President to immediately conduct the Northern Provincial Council elections without any further delay, end the military administration in the north and hand over the resettlement and reconstruction activities to the new Northern Provincial council which the people of that very province would be electing. This will solve half of the issues.

Q: In recent times, there have been reports of people from the South being moved to the North. What is your view on this, in light of those IDPs who still wait to be resettled?

A: Sri Lankans of any ethnic origin live in Toronto, Wellington or Paris. So why can’t we live where we want? I don’t think any Tamil political leader or party is against the Sinhalese settling down in the North. The issue is this systematic scheme where Sinhalese people are being encouraged to go to the North for settlements. They are given state patronage. There is a difference between colonization and immigration. Immigration is on a private basis and can happen anywhere, but systematic colonization is not acceptable. What is happening in the Gaza strip, or occupied Tibet are dangerous examples for Tamils in the North. Recently there has been plenty of talk, equating the Sinhalese people settling in the North with Tamils in Colombo.

First of all, the Tamils in Colombo are not newcomers. They have been living in this area since the 1940s. Second, Colombo is the national capital. The best available health-care, education and state services are in Colombo. Also the only major international airport is in Colombo. During the war many Tamils wanted to escape, so they moved to Colombo. Now, many Tamils who took shelter in Colombo during the war are moving back to their homes in the north and east. The Government directly or indirectly supporting a community to go and permanently settle in a territory where another community is living traditionally is sinister. It is a sinister move to change demography. That is not acceptable. In-fact the IDP resettlement activity of the government should get the priority. Now I consider it as sham and bogus. On the other hand the Muslim resettlement in Jaffna should get priority. When LTTE chased away innocent Muslims from Jaffna, my party voiced opposition. We still stand on that. Those Muslims should get back to Jaffna, the Government should help these IDP Tamils and Muslims. Sinhalese should be always welcomed in Jaffna. I look forward to join large number of my Sinhalese friends in a tour to Jaffna with song and dance of-course, at end to sing national anthem in Tamil.

Q: Usually after a war, those who sought political asylum abroad will return, but that has not been the case here. People are still moving away. Why do you think that is?

A: Though the war is over, peace has not been established. The Government has failed to win the confidence of the Tamil people. The dust has not settled, though the war was over about one and a half years ago. On the other hand I won’t be honest if I say every Tamil person seeking asylum is a genuine case. Also, I have recently learned, there are Sinhalese people leaving the country, pretending to be Tamils, using Tamil names, and claiming asylum. In Australia, Europe, Canada, these things happen. But as a policy I do not encourage Tamils to go out of the country.

There are special cases who face threats and challenges to life. They will have to flee. I support them to seek a living outside the country until the situation returns to normalcy here. But we cannot generalize these threats and challenges today. We cannot allow the traffickers to take advantage of the situation to make their bucks. Right now, though we still face the arm of state terrorism in this country, I think there is a small space available, which was not there during the 2005-2010 period. It was the very difficult risky period. Then almost alone myself, Siritunga, Wickremabahu conducted our campaigns against the extra judicial killings, abductions and human rights violations of Tamils and Tamil speaking people. So I call upon all Tamil brothers and sisters who are planning to go out of the country, not to go. Stay with us and fight for our rights in a democratic manner.

Also, members of Diaspora, other than against whom the real dangers await here, should come back to Sri Lanka. I am not assuring them that peace is established or heaven has come down here, the way the stooges of the government are claiming. This government is not turned saints overnight. The arm of the state terror is visible. But we have to use the little space here now for the democratic struggle. There is no Tamil only journey here today. Come back, let us together with the Sinhalese and Muslim progressive democratic forces, struggle.

COURTESY:THE SUNDAY LEADER

January 01, 2011

Opposition must counter patriotic narrative of Rajapaksas with socio-economic and political narratives

BY Tisaranee Gunasekara

"He goes along, pretends to be a gentleman, pretends to be accommodative, pretends to be seriously committed to the law, and turns around…. beating up people, using violence to coerce and to literally defend power for the sake of defending power.” — Morgan Tsvangaiai on President Mugabe (New York Times – 25.12.2010)

The UPFA lost the budget vote in the Anuradhapura Municipal Council, its sixth such defeat; the budget of the Maharagama MC was voted-down, for the second time. Former Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake publicly lamented the plight of senior ministers while Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa waxed eloquent about astronomical food prices. Not the advent of a rebellion, not by a very long chalk; but nevertheless hints of a subterranean seam of discontent running through the ruling coalition.

A narrow stakeholder-base is an essential feature of Familial Rule. Discontent is bound to churn, when one family is omnipotent and three siblings control almost 70% of the national budget. The SLFP is too cowed to contemplate a rebellion; yet, beneath the public kowtowing runs a current of simmering resentment at the gross monopolisation of power by the Rajapaksas. Even within the Family, heartburn can ensue over preferential treatment accorded to more-favoured members.

Speaker Rajapaksa is said to be unhappy about not getting a ministry while the abrasiveness with which young Namal is being promoted may jar the sensibilities of some of his closest relatives. Internal disquiet will thus remain an omnipresent feature of Familial Rule.

The Rajapaksas would know this; their object would be to ensure that these discordant thoughts do not find any political expression, but is ever confined to private-personal realms. Their favoured method of containment combined bribery (powerless posts and substantial perks) with fear: the ‘money + violence formula’.

So the Jumbo-cabinet, is set to expand even further; the government is ignoring the news that 65 parliamentarians have illegally sold their duty-free vehicle permits; 74 UPFA parliamentarians were given Prado jeeps ‘to supervise development work’….. The unenviable fate of Gen. Sarath Fonseka would be an hourly reminder to psychologically errant parliamentarians of the danger of permitting their discontent a political or organisational expression.

The anti-Rajapaksa simmering within the UPFA/government is a positive development; it must be encouraged, without overestimating either its strength or its capacity. Unless a spontaneous anti-Rajapaksa wave sweeps the country, most SLFPers will not venture beyond criticising and ridiculing the Rajapaksas in the relative safety of their private-personal spheres. The cost of actively opposing the Ruling Family would seem unbearably high to those who regard politics as an escalator rather than as a cause.

Minister Maithripala Sirisena has announced that local government (LG) elections will be held in March. The LG election will present the opposition with an opportunity – probably the last of its kind — to slightly correct the dangerous power-imbalance between the Ruling Family and citizens which is imperilling the democratic system. Once the LG election is over, there will be an electoral-hiatus of about four years.

This will give time for the 18th Amendment to achieve its intended outcome – a public service (particularly a police force and an election commissioner) which is completely in thrall to the President and thus bereft of not just the capacity but also the desire to act freely and fairly.

Worsening economic woes are beginning to sour the southern political ambience and dent, albeit marginally, the support base of the Rajapaksas. The dominant economic strategy precludes winning popular support via pro-people development measures of the sort President Premadasa excelled at. Instead the regime will have to make-do with giving the electorate some marginal (and purely temporary) relief.

Already the electricity rate-hike has been eased and the import tax on gas removed. But such paltry socio-economic giveaways would not suffice for the regime to record a landslide victory at the LG polls with the minimum use of violence and overt malpractices. The Rajapaksas would need to use Sinhala supremacism, masquerading as ‘patriotism’, to manufacture and sustain consent in the south, during the election season and beyond.
National (actually Sinhala) pride, xenophobia and chauvinism: these will be the ‘values’ the regime will seek to promote.

Sri Lanka, cash-strapped and indebted, is ever ready to host any regional or international event. These circuses are expected to divert public attention from advancing economic woes and receding political rights; plus enable the Rajapaksas to strut-about in front of regional/global audiences. A relentless campaign would be waged, to inculcate a fear psychosis in the south, to imprint on our collective-psyche the belief that we are perennially on the cusp of an existential threat.

Like Orwell’s Oceania we will have to be embroiled in a conflict, forever, because ‘protectors/saviours’ need enemies to justify their very existence. With deeds such as the execrable compelling of Tamil students in Jaffna to sing the national anthem in Sinhala (instead of in the customary Tamil), the south will be reminded of the essential nexus between Sinhala supremacism and Rajapaksa rule. And the southern voters will be asked to back the Rajapaksas as the most effective defenders and sole guarantors of a Sinhala-First (and where necessary a Sinhala Only) Sri Lanka.

Given the abysmal state of the popular-economy, such a patriotic meta-narrative is necessary to cover-up for Rajapaksa sins and to create a favourable terrain in which politico-electoral battles can be waged and won with the minimum use of violence. For instance, during the LG election campaign, the war-crimes scare may be used to drum-up support for the regime, even though the UN Secretary General made it very clear that Colombo consented to a visit by his advisory panel as a result of his discussions with President Rajapaksa.

The JVP, believing that it finally has a chance to outdo the Rajapaksas in patriotism, has jumped into the ‘breach’ accusing the government of treachery. But at the opportune moment, the Rajapaksas will do another volte face, taking the nationalist-wind out of the JVP’s sails; the ‘invitation’ to the UN panel will be denied and denigrated as a diabolical lie, and a suitable sacrificial victim found to shoulder the blame.

The opposition therefore needs to counter the patriotic narrative of the Rajapaksas with a socio-economic and political narrative which places cost-of- living/standards-of-living and democracy issues centre-stage. Though an electoral pact between the UNP and the JVP may not be feasible, the two parties need to form an understanding not to attack each other during the campaign but to concentrate all their politico-propaganda fire-power on the regime. A similar understanding – augmented by electoral pacts wherever possible — with minority parties is also necessary.

The aim should be to reduce the magnitude of the Rajapaksa victory to a sliver and to open up a few more spaces for democratic dissent. The Rajapaksas will try to beat the dead Tiger or to invoke some other bogey; the opposition needs to focus on economic and democratic issues like a laser beam, because these are where the Ruling Family is at its weakest and most vulnerable. In any battle the enemy should be attacked on his weakest and not strongest flank. And post-war, post-Tiger, Lankan democracy’s main enemy is none other than its tyrannical Ruling Family and its Dynastic dreams.