The Northern Imbroglio
Last week this column lamented that there was hardly any coverage of the crime wave sweeping the north in the English and Sinhala media. Lo and behold, beginning the very next day, Monday and continuing through Friday as this piece was written the mainstream media and parliament have been dealing with the issue exhaustively.
What is unfathomable is the fact that this crime wave is happening in the most militarised part of the island where military personnel cram every nook and cranny in this former war zone.
The Jaffna peninsula was only a witness to the final war that took place in the Wanni battlefields last year, with the peninsula being under government control since the mid ‘90s. This is all the more reason that law and order in this region should be well established by now and be a showpiece to the other former war zones as to what could be.
That no less a person than the EPDP Leader, Douglas Devananda, a government minister, has been bitterly complaining both in and out of parliament about the lawlessness in the north speaks volumes about the ground reality and the government’s post war strategy.
Devananda is no angel by any stretch of the imagination. After the LTTE was vanquished from the north by the Kumaratunga administration in 1995, Devananda’s EPDP outfit quickly moved in to fill the void, and with the nod and a wink from the government, has held sway over the region ever since. Its cadres who are still allowed to carry arms have resorted to more or less the same tactics as the Tigers to achieve their ends. Many crimes have been attributed to the organisation but no one to date has been brought before the law. Now, to find that the very man who presided over all this is complaining that there is no law and order sure raises an eyebrow if not two.
He was to state in parliament Tuesday, “people fear whether their area will be stained in blood again. It is the general fear” referring to the present ground situation.
According to Tamil media reports abductions, rape, robbery and murder have seen a drastic increase in the recent past. No one seems to know who is behind them with the police unable to bring any of the culprits to book. The military for its part has stated that most of the crimes are of a personal nature. If that is the case what exactly is stopping the police from arresting the criminals or is there something more sinister going on where the police are reduced to being mere bystanders?
Today, ask any diaspora Tamil and he/she will confirm that the LTTE is still debiting their personal bank accounts and is collecting money. What is this money being collected for? It is obvious that something is in the Tiger works, not necessarily in military form this time around, and the ground is being prepared for it. The situation today in the north is a throwback to the pre-1983 era and it seems history has not taught the present government of Sri Lanka any lessons. It would be a very sad day indeed for Sri Lanka were the events of pre-July 1983 to be repeated in the days ahead and what is really worrying is that there is nothing to assure the people especially of the north that it will not be so. Ghosts from the past seem to be visiting the region on a regular basis beginning with the episode at the Jaffna Public Library a few months ago.
The way forward is for the government to first begin by admitting that there is a law and order problem. On Monday the Police Spokesman Prishantha Jayakody told media that ‘law and order was well maintained in Jaffna.’ If that is the case then what is Devananda, the TNA and the Tamil media complaining about and in the case of the latter, reporting about?
Army personnel based in the region this columnist spoke to said that law and order was handled exclusively by the police. We have argued before that a separate police was needed to police the police so no surprises as to who is to be blamed for the deteriorating situation going by what the military personnel insinuate.
If there is nothing to hide why is it that a proposal by Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in parliament on Wednesday calling for an all-party committee headed by the Speaker to visit the north on a fact finding mission shot down?
Why is the government trying its level best post war to grab defeat from the jaws of victory when it comes to the true liberation of the people living in the north?
After all wasn’t the entire war effort of the government described as a humanitarian operation to liberate the people from the LTTE? The LTTE is no more but does that mean the people in the north enjoy true liberation today? Ask any northerner and the answer will be no.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa is to participate at the annual state sponsored Thai Pongal festival next Saturday, January 15 in Jaffna. He could use this occasion to reassure the northern people who now according to Douglas Devananda “fear whether their area will be stained in blood again,” that it will not be so. He needs to get the police to do its job and the military to rein-in armed paramilitary groups that pay scant regard for the law. Otherwise he risks walking in to a Tiger trap being laid by the diaspora.
While speaking in Tamil, like he is expected to do, at the official function in Jaffna, maybe welcome, it will take much more for the war weary Tamil people of the North to begin trusting the Rajapaksa regime. Restoring law and order in the north will be a good place to start building that trust if the government is at all serious about national reconciliation.