A Topsy Turvy Year For Sri Lanka
It was early January this year when Sri Lankans realised that people had taken the law into their hands. It was not confined to the people who were fighting for their just rights from an autocratic government. It was also those who had taken the law into their hands to dispense justice extra judicially to those opposed to the regime.
Mix this with a healthy dose of murder, rape, robbery, abduction and extortion and we have a “land like no other”. Some “angry parents” took students to task opposite the Kelaniya University in January. Of course it was a physical assault. Dr. Wickramabahu Karunaratne returning to the island from a journey to the UK where he made a speech critical of the government was assaulted outside the airport by “patriots” who knew his flight schedule. This set the tone for the year that was 2011. If the attacks were against those who oppose the regime in power it is a safe bet that the perpetrators, (read…patriots) will never be brought to book. Unless it was an act for personal gain or did not reflect any political undertones, the long arm of the law has not moved to bring about justice against any government representative of any stature. The rise in crime reflects the trend clearly as it has a knock-on effect on the masses.
There was an uneasy peace in the Jaffna peninsular in the early part of the year. This was stated by the Minister of Traditional Industries Douglas Devananda in parliament. His party was one of two who carried arms and this statement was viewed with suspicion by the other political parties. TNA parliamentarian M. A. Sumanthiran hit right on the nail when he pointed out that even to a question of public importance raised by a government Minister, answers were not forthcoming. It appeared that the collective responsibility of the government extended only to the cover up of wrong actions by the State.
In mid January heavy rains led to major floods in the districts of Trincomalee, Amparai, Batticaloa, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa resulting in over 40 deaths and over 250,000 people being displaced. The persistent rain resulted in spill gates having to be opened and even the surrounding villages and townships were inundated. Several minor irrigation tanks were breached and needed rehabilitation. Over 250,000 acres of paddy land were affected by the floods.
The White Flag Case was taken up for hearing in the High Court of Colombo before Justices Wijeysundera, Razeen and Warawewa. Editor of The Sunday Leader Frederica Jansz continued to give evidence for fourteen days.
The President marked Independence Day, and said hard decisions are also necessary for progress. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka swapped a Chinese-made train for the Indian one, to be used on the service when the Galle-Matara high-speed line was inaugurated, which soured relationships a wee bit between the neighbours. The rail track, destroyed in the 2004 tsunami, was rebuilt by an Indian firm IRCON on an Indian line of credit.
Sri Lanka’s largest Tamil political party the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) took up the issue of finding a permanent political settlement for the Tamil people, during top level talks on the subject with the Sri Lankan government after Eelam War IV began in 2006. The TNA was keen on the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in full but felt that the talks would be futile if the government resorted to time buying exercises. The TNA insisted on Police powers with “Thirteenth Plus” according to President Mahinda Rajapaksa
However Rajapaksa had intimated to the TNA that his government was willing to go for a ‘Thirteenth Plus solution’ for the Tamil People, sans the much-debated Police powers. President Rajapaksa appointed a high-level delegation including former Prime Minister Rathanasiri Wickremanayake, Ministers Nimal Siripala de Silva, and Prof. G. L. Peiris to conduct talks with the TNA. MP Sajin Vaas Gunawardene was appointed as the coordinating secretary. The TNA negotiating committee included TNA Leader R. Sampanthan, General Secretary, MPs Mavai Senathiraja, M. A. Sumanthiran MP, Selvam Adaikkalanathan, Suresh Premachandran and President’s Counsel Kanageeswaran. Not much was achieved during the early stages of talks.
Local government elections were held in Sri Lanka starting in March. Some were held in July and others in October to elect 4,327 members to 322 of the 335 local government authorities in the country. 13.7 million Sri Lankans were eligible to vote in the elections. The United People Freedom Alliance’s (UPFA) domination of Sri Lankan elections continued as expected. It won control of 270 local authorities, the Tamil National Alliance won 32 local authorities, the United National Party won 9 local authorities, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress won 5 local authorities and a UPFA backed independent group won one local authority. These elections too were marred by violence and election law violations.
Secretary Defence Gotabhaya Rajapaksa gave evidence in the White Flag Case.
An inspired leak of the report of the United Nations panel investigating allegations of war crimes by Sri Lankan troops towards the end of the war against the LTTE in May 2009 found that there was credible evidence that government soldiers had targeted civilians, shelled hospitals and attacked humanitarian workers.
The long-awaited report undertaken to advise UN Chief Ban Ki-moon, a task given to Marzuki Darusman, a former Indonesian attorney general, contradicted the government’s assertion that the war was a humanitarian effort aimed at liberating civilians trapped by the Tamil Tigers in the last stages of the war in northern Sri Lanka.
“The government shelled on a large scale in three consecutive no-fire zones, where it had encouraged the civilian population to concentrate, even after indicating that it would cease the use of heavy weapons,” the report said, according to a leaked copy that was published “Most civilian casualties in the final phases of the war were caused by government shelling.” The fact that this was published in a local paper considered to be pro majority community led to suspicions that it was leaked by a high official within the government. Sri Lanka’s “Srebrenica moment” was how Channel 4 described it.
The Sri Lankan Cricket team returned on April 3, the day after the final match which they lost making India world champions in the one day format. Four players were replaced at the finals which led to unnecessary speculation by many sceptics. Strangely, they were welcomed at the airport by the Minister of Labour. They were garlanded, escorted a short distance by dancers and drummers and taken to Independence Square in a government-organized motorcade befitting a victory parade. The only other ministers and officials present at the airport were those who returned from watching the match on the same chartered flight as the team. Clearly the government marketing prior to the final had gone awry.
A large contingent of cabinet members were present at Temple Trees when President Rajapaksa felicitated the cricketers for turning in as runner-up. Had Sri Lanka won, the governemnt would have surely turned it into a personal victory which in fact had been planned.
Robert Blake, US Assistant Secretary for Central and South Asia in the Department of State arrived in Sri Lanka after many postponements to his earlier plans. The US country report pertaining to Sri Lanka considers the LLRC as not being credible. The report also considered Sarath Fonseka as a political prisoner. The visit of Blake was followed by a trio of top level officials from India to urge the government to handle accountability issues contained in the UN Experts Panel Report. National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon, External Affairs Ministry Secretary Nirupama Rao and Defence Ministry Secretary Pradeep Kumar constituted the delegation. The Indians wanted Police powers given to the Provincial Councils.
Australia got a nod from Malaysia to hold boat people on her soil instead of proceeding further.
Sri Lanka got a reprieve at the UNHRC sessions in Geneva when issues relating to the Channel 4 video and the UN Experts Panel Report were effectively thwarted.
Upul Tharanga was tested positive for taking banned substances during the World Cup and a VVIP doctor of dubious credentials was named to have prescribed the medication.
Interpol listed KP in the Wanted list once again.
The government announced the private sector Pensions Bill and the workers in the Katunayake FTZ went berserk. For the first time a large cutout of the President adorning the entrance to the Airport was brought down. A 22-year-old youth Roshen Chanaka, just four months in employment was shot dead by the Police.President Rajapaksa decided to postpone the Bill.
Ban Ki-moon sought a second term and got Sri Lanka’s vote.
President Rajapaksa refused to accept summons issued by a US court.
A TNA internal meeting in Jaffna was attacked by men in uniform.
Sri Lanka star Kumar Sangakkara welcomed the International Cricket Council (ICC) directive requiring all national boards to be elected without political interference.
Sanga’s speech came just days after Sri Lanka’s Sports Minister said he had forced the national cricket board committee to step down following allegations of financial impropriety.
Sri Lanka, co-host to the 2011 World Cup was left with a $ 69 million bill, with sections of the media charging that mismanagement by Sri Lanka Cricket together with political interference had been responsible for cost over-runs.
Sangakkara, the only playing member invited to deliver the Colin Cowdrey memorial lecture by the MCC said, “We have to aspire to better administration. The administration needs to adopt the same values enshrined by the team over the years: integrity, transparency, commitment and discipline. Unless the administration is capable of becoming more professional, forward-thinking and transparent then we risk alienating the common man. Indeed, this is already happening. Loyal fans are becoming increasingly disillusioned. It is their passion that powers cricket and if they turn their backs on cricket then the whole system will come crashing down. The solution to this may be the ICC taking a stand to suspend member boards with any direct detrimental political interference and allegations of corruption and mismanagement.This will negate the ability to field representative teams or receive funding and other accompanying benefits from the ICC. But as a Sri Lankan I hope we have the strength to find the answers ourselves.” The Minister of Sports wanted an inquiry into this speech but backed down as public opinion was overwhelmingly in favour of it’s content.
Ten US fighter jets intruded into Sri Lankan airspace.
Over two thousand vehicles affected due to sub-standard oil imported and distributed by the Petroleum Corporation. Sub-standard cement too enters the local market.
Sri Lankans haunted by the Grease Yakka phenomenon. Five persons complained that Grease yakkas molested them.
UNP internal strife erupted. Sajith Group wanted a new leader; Ranil however prevailed over dissidents.
Emergency Regulations were removed by President Rajapaksa ahead of a visit by Robert Blake. PTA remains with fresh amendments including the provision by Gazette notification for the military to run check points.
Robert Blake arrived on a three day visit and met with Mahinda Rajapaksa and urged that talks with TNA should commence early.
Mervyn Silva interfered and stopped animal sacrifices at the Munneswaran Temple.
Splits in the JVP appeared and Kumar Guneratnam lead the rebel group away from leader Somawansa Amerasinghe.
Ban Ki-moon shared the UN Experts Panel Report with other countries at the 18th session of the UNHRC meeting in Geneva.
Major General Shavendra Silva was served summons in a civil case related to war crimes by a US court.
The public swarmed Dompe Police Station after a suspect died in custody. Military summoned to quell the restless crowd.
Local government elections announced. Muzzamil and Moragoda pair off in Colombo. Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra shot dead in a shootout along with three others and Duminda Silva received gun shot injuries to his head.
The closing arguments in the White Flag Case continued.
The UPFA won all but one Local body and the UNP retained Colombo MC. A. J. M. Muzammil is appointed Mayor.
Major General Shavendra Silva filed papers in a US Court seeking Diplomatic Immunity.
President Rajapaksa attended the Commonwealth Summit in Australia.
Parliament passed a motion to set up a parliamentary select committee to formulate a political solution to the ethnic issue.
The government introduced a Bill to take over 37 under performing enterprises which was strongly opposed by the UNP.
The government blocked certain web sites and requested others to register.
Gold Coast of Australia won the bid to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
General Sarath Fonseka was found guilty in the White Flag case and sentenced to three years in prison.
The Southern Expressway was opened to the public.
The LLRC Report was handed over to the President by former Attorney General, C. R. de Silva.
The UNP organised a rally at Hyde Park and the government cracked down.
Ranil retained leadership over Karu Jayasuriya’s challenge at the working committee. Sajith Premadasa elected Deputy Leader.
The LLRC report is being studied by the UN. Disappearences continue in Jaffna. Lalith Kumara Weeraraj and Kugan Murugan abducted.
Sri Lanka defeated South Africa at Cricket in Durban.
This column wishes readers a better and brighter year in 2012.