SLMC MPs threat to
By Frederica Jansz
THE dynamics of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) once
more see-saws dangerously. The government's valiant efforts to
appease the LTTE and bring about a resolution to the north and
east crisis has not only caused a rift in the SLMC but also
propelled Muslim parliamentarians to insist on a separate interim
council for the Muslims as well.
This is despite the fact that SLMC Chief Rauf Hakeem down
played the urgency of this demand by publicly stating, "the time
has not yet come in the stage of peace negotiations to demand for a
separate interim council for the Muslims."
Hakeem's comment, which he claims was "taken
out of context by vested interests in the media and SLMC," pushed
into fast forward mode a course of action for nine SLMC MPs who
boycotted parliament last Wednesday, October 9, demanding the government
accede to their request for a separate Muslim council in the north and
The nine parliamentarians led by MP for Samanthurai,
Anwer Ismail insisted however to The Sunday Leader that their boycott of
parliament "has nothing whatsoever to do with Rauf Hakeem and his
leadership of the SLMC."
The nine Muslim parliamentarians include, Anwer Ismail,
M. M. Harees, Deputy Highways Minister and SLMC Chairman A. L. M. Atthaulla, Vanni Rehabilitation Minister Noordeen
Mashoor, Deputy Fisheries
Minister Mohideen Abdul Cader, M.S. Thawfeeq, K. M. Thawfeeq, M.
B. A. Azeez, and Rishad Badurdeen.
The tension within the SLMC erupted on Wednesday (9) not
only with these nine parliamentarians boycotting parliament but also
with eight Tamils being killed by the STF at Kanjirankudah in Ampara. It
is being disputed whether they were LTTE cadres or Tamil civilians.
The confrontation between the LTTE and the STF followed
after a day of intimidation and threats to the Muslim community in the
east by the LTTE on
Wednesday. The threats and harassment finally culminated in a full-scale
battle at the STF camp at Kanjirankudah. (see box).
The situation with the nine SLMC MPs not only shook the
stability of the SLMC but also threw off balance the government's vote
bank on the proposed 19th Amendment.
Rauf Hakeem later indicated that as a result of this
situation, the government will "probably not have the expected
votes in favour of the 19th Amendment from the SLMC."
Defending the hardline position his MPs have taken,
Hakeem however reiterated that the leverage SLMC enjoys with the
government should not be nullified over one single issue. He reiterated
that the call for a separate Muslim council in the north-east should
first be marketed to parliamentarians and the Sinhalese before making a
demand that is uncompromising.
At the butt end of continuous turmoil and tension within
his own party, Hakeem since he took over the reigns of the SLMC is
disillusioned. Following the debacle on Wednesday, Hakeem, the following
day said, "If they can find a better person than me to lead the
SLMC I am prepared to step down - but still continue serving the
party," he added magnanimously.
As the situation snowballed to crisis proportions, a high
level meeting was held at Temple Trees on Wednesday night. The premier
met with senior members of his cabinet which included, Milinda Moragoda,
Prof. G. L. Peiris, S. B. Dissanayake, Tilak Marapone, Karu Jayasuriya,
Mohamed Maharoof and Rauf Hakeem.
The meeting was originally convened by Prime Minister
Ranil Wickremesinghe to discuss strategy for the 19th Amendment in view
of the fact it is expected to be tabled in parliament tomorrow - Monday,
October 14. By this time however the situation in the east and the
tension within the SLMC MPs had erupted so the meeting instead dealt
with that issue. It was decided that S. B. Dissanayake, Milinda Moragoda
and Maharoof should meet with the nine dissident SLMC MPs on Thursday,
October 10 at Hakeem's residence at 11 a.m. to sort out this problem.
After the meeting, when Hakeem went back home some of
these MPs were waiting to meet with him. They had indicated they do not
want to meet any ministers but want only to meet with the prime
minister. Hence, the 11 a.m. meeting on Thursday did not take place.
Instead, the SLMC met at 12 noon on Thursday to take a decision with
regard to the 19th Amendment.
This too did not happen. The SLMC met but the nine
dissident MPs remained steadfast in their decision to boycott parliament
until the premier makes a statement with regard to this issue.
Hakeem on Thursday evening reiterated that a strategy on
how the SLMC would approach the 19th Amendment could not be decided as
the discussions that day had revolved around the nine MPs boycott of
parliament. Ferial Ashraff, leader of the National Unity Alliance, which
is the sister party of the SLMC, is critical of Hakeem. While denying
she has any vested interest to 'rock the boat' within the SLMC, she
however pointed out that Hakeem's statement reiterating that the time is
not yet right to pressurise the government for a separate interim
council for the Muslims in the north and east is the cause for the
present unrest in the east and within the SLMC itself.
Stating emphatically that she does not wish to see a
break within the SLMC she however asserted that in the event there is a
split, it will be led by the fiery MP from Samanthurai - Anwer Ismail.
"A split seems inevitable given the present stance adopted by
Hakeem," she said.
Chiding Ferial Ashraff for her comments, Hakeem responded
saying it is important particularly at difficult times such as this for
political leaders to act with responsibility and not try and gain petty
political mileage out of a volatile situation. The SLMC leader
reiterated bitterly that ever since he took over the leadership of the
SLMC there have been moves from certain Muslims to portray him as an
outsider who does not understand the dynamics of the Muslims in the
"If my party and people felt I have no feelings for
them they would not have installed me in the first place," Hakeem
pointed out defiantly. Be
that as it may, the fact of the matter is that nine SLMC
parliamentarians including the chairman of the party, are of the view
that the time could not be better to address the issue of a separate
council for the Muslims in the north and east. They do not agree with
Hakeem that the time is not right yet, for this issue to be addressed
and established with the present government.
Anwer Ismail maintained there is, a lethargy on the part
of the government when it comes to addressing this key issue which will
determine the future of Muslims in the north and east. He flatly ruled
out any possibility of cohabitation between the Muslims and the Tamils
living in the north and east under an LTTE led interim administration.
"We have had a lot of bad experiences after the
infamous Indo-Lanka accord. We cannot again live under the LTTE,"
Ismail said, adding the Muslim factor in such a resolution must be
considered now and not later.
He asserted the nine Muslim MPs would not attend
parliament until and unless the government responds to their demand for
a separate Muslim administrative council. He pointed out that the
government has not bothered yet, to respond to nine demands they put
forward after the attack on Muslims in Valachchenai and Muttur in June
Ferial Ashraff is equally determined that the issue must
be addressed now. She said when the issue of devolving power is
negotiated with the LTTE, it is imperative the government ensures the
same set-up for the Muslims in the north and east. "If there is
going to be a separate interim administration for the LTTE, this should
apply to the Muslims as well," she said.
Ready to step down -
SLMC Leader, Rauf Hakeem ruled out the possibility that
the violent incidents at Ampara last Wednesday would adversely
affect the peace process. "These type of incidents have
happened before" he said, asserting with confidence that he
is certain both the government and the LTTE have the maturity to
deal with this issue and not derail the peace process. "In
the meantime however all political leaders should act with
restraint and responsibility at times such as this. Hakeem pointed
out that it had been forecasted that the peace process will face
setbacks of this nature but that it should not deter either the
government or the LTTE from focussing attention to the main issue
at hand which is the peace process.
"It is inevitable that incidents like this will take
place," Hakeem said, reiterating, "I only regret that
this should have happened at a time like this when the country is
trying to lift itself out of a quagmire of war and move forward
towards establishing a climate of peace." When told Ferial
Ashraff blamed him for bringing this situation to the point of
confrontation as a result of recent statements made by him, Hakeem
said, "there are vested interests at work and Mrs. Ashraff
has to act with a sense of responsibility and not try to jump on
the bandwagon of doomsday soothsayers among the Muslim
He reiterated that it is important everyone realises the
peace negotiations is a step by step process - "you cannot
make proclamations and declarations and achieve anything of
importance - whatever I said with regard to a separate interim
council for the Muslims was taken out of context and purposely
twisted in order to shift the focus of the Muslims from the whole
issue," Hakeem said.
He charged angrily that certain persons within the Muslim
community are working hard towards destabilising the government
and the peace process.
Disappointed and disillusioned Hakeem said despite his
efforts, "persons with interests" have roused the
Muslims in the east specifically with the intention of targeting
him. "Very disparaging remarks have been made about me - but
I am prepared to take on this onslaught," Hakeem asserted,
claiming attempts have always been made to create the impression
that he is not from the east and so is insensitive and immune to
the needs and grievances of the northern and eastern Muslim
Countering the allegation that he has said a separate
council for the Muslims in the north and east is not necessary at
this stage, Hakeem reiterated, "I have already explained to
all my party members that in my discussions with the prime
minister I have told him that in the Muslim dominated areas of the
north and east the administration of politics, law and order
issues must be left to the Muslims in an interim administrative
The government has said it will grant either a Muslim
dominated council or a viable alternative acceptable to the
Muslims. "I have told this to my party people. If I believed
a separate council for the Muslims is not important surely there
was no reason for me to negotiate with the government on this
issue," he said.
Hakeem agreed that there is "definitely harassment
and intimidation from the LTTE against the Muslims in the east and
it is absolutely out of control." This, he said has to be
checked, and the SLMC he reiterated, has repeatedly been telling
the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission and other law enforcement
authorities including the LTTE leadership that this situation
poses a great danger to the rapprochement "we want to build
up between the Tamils and Muslims in the north and east."
"This now is a question of trying to navigate this
ship during these turbulent times - this is why I am saying that
if they can find a better person to handle these issues, I am
prepared to step down," he said, adding however that at a
time like this "we should all be united - forget about party
politics - after all, this is a critical time in the peace
On the matter of posters having come up in the east
calling for his head, Hakeem said, "Ever since I joined the
party and took over the leadership I have been prepared to take on
such a consequence. Such things should not deter me from my
focused attention to get the best deal for my people - but if
somebody decides to go ahead and eliminate me so be it...God knows
best," he proclaimed, somewhat dejectedly.
"Hakeem's statement that the time is not yet right
to address the issue of a separate council for the Muslims in the
north and east came as a shock to the Muslim community,"
Leader, National Unity Alliance, Ferial Ashraff, said.
"We see it as a betrayal of the Muslim
community," Ferial commented, strongly admonishing Hakeem for
his statement. Pessimistic with regard to the future of the SLMC,
Ashraff reiterated, "We hope and pray this does not cause a
split in the SLMC. We still believe the SLMC should continue under
the leadership of Mr. Hakeem - however certain things are
inevitable." Quizzed on what is inevitable she said a split
within the SLMC is apparent because of Hakeem's recent statement.
Asked whether she would lead a breakaway group of the SLMC she
said, "we have not had any such discussions - there is no
question of challenging Hakeem's leadership."
Ashraff however was of the view that Samanthurai MP,
Anwer Ismail and the other eight SLMC MPs will form part of a
Sick of harassment
Samanthurai SLMC MP, Anwer Ismail pointed out that the
LTTE's constant harassment of Muslims in the north and east is
proof the Muslims could never reside in peace under an LTTE
dominated interim administration. "Look at what happened on
Wednesday, October 9. The LTTE from morning were blocking roads in
Akkaraipattu, Amparai and insisting Muslim shop owners and
business establishments close their shutters and observe a hartal.
This is happening all the time and we are sick of it," Ismail
said. He added the LTTE were also burning tyres in the area and
threatening the Muslim community with death if they refused to
observe the hartal.
Bullets that almost
blasted the peace pipe
"This is a tragic event and extremely sad loss of
lives. Because of an uncontrolled demonstration people are now grieving
their loved ones. Hope and reconciliation is turned into fear and
uncertainty............This is truly a tragedy - it emphasises that not
only the parties of the conflict, but each and every person in Sri Lanka
is responsible for making a lasting peace a reality in this
- SLMM Head, General Trond Furuhovde on Kanchirankudah
By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
It was a totally unnecessary tragedy. The shooting of
Tamil civilians by the Police Special Task Force (STF) stationed at
Kanchirankudah in the Saagamam area of the Akkaraipattu Pradeshiya Sabha
division could have been averted if a greater sense of responsibility
and restraint had been displayed by all sides. Minor friction was
magnified out of proportion and brought in turn a retaliatory massacre
of civilians. Seven people are dead and 14 seriously wounded with five
in critical condition; several received minor injuries; there were also
unconfirmed reports of unrecovered corpses and missing persons.
October 9 proved to be a happy day in two other aspects
concerning the on going ceasefire between the government and the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The abduction of soldiers by
the LTTE in Trincomalee and the fast unto death by Tamil detainees in
various jails were issues threatening the fragile peace process. Both
these problems were resolved satisfactorily on Wednesday. Yet the
unexpected shooting incident on the same day at Saagamam involving STF
personnel of the Kanchirankudah camp created fresh apprehensions in this
Chain of events
The chain of events preceding the shooting explains the
gradual build up on that day. Kanchirankudah is about 85 kilometres to
the south of Batticaloa town. It is on the border of the Akkaraipattu
AGA's division and is geographically close to Thirukkovil as well as
Pottuvil. The STF camp is on a trunk road close to the key Sangamankandy
junction. A tractor and trailer carrying sand was proceeding from the
Rufuskulam LTTE camp to Kanchirankudah at about 10 .15 a. m. It is said
that the same vehicle had passed the STF camp early morning and had not
heeded instructions by a STF sentry to stop. Apparently a group of STF
men in civvies was awaiting the return of the vehicle to 'teach the
occupants a lesson.'
Around 10-15 persons standing some distance away from the
STF camp asked the tractor driver to stop. They demanded his driver's
licence and registration documents. The civilian driver N. Sasikharan
obliged and showed the documents. He was told that the number on his
licence plates 37 - 9771 did not tally with the papers. When Sasikharan
protested he was assaulted. At this point the other two occupants
Manickam Viswanathan alias Visu and Mahenthiran Sasitharan alias Christy
Rajah got out of the vehicle and identified themselves as Tigers.
Viswanathan alias Visu introduced himself as the Pottuvil area political
The STF men in civvies turned on the Tigers. They were
assaulted severely. The men used rifle butts as well as mammoty handles.
All three were thrown on the ground and beaten. What saved them was the
arrival of a bus carrying civilian passengers. The STF men abandoned the
three and retreated into the camp. Visu, Christy Rajah and Sasitharan
were admitted to the Thirukkovil hospital for treatment.
News of the attack on a senior LTTE leader spread like
wildfire. Panic set in. Shops, offices and schools started closing
early. Traffic decreased sharply on roads. Clusters of youths were seen
in different places in the region. Small wayside meetings were taking
place. Youths began burning tyres on roads to block vehicles. Leaflets
protesting the attack were distributed. Posters condemning the attack
were pasted. Senior LTTE leaders were seen everywhere discussing the
issue with people, particularly youngsters. Soon minor processions in
protest were taken out.
Tacitly encouraged by LTTE leaders, minor demonstrations
were held in several parts of the Akkaraipattu, Kalmunai, Pottuvil,
Thirukkovil and Aalaiyadivembu AGAs' division areas. Tyres were burnt
widely and transport decreased considerably. The greater part of Amparai
District particularly the non-Sinhala areas became paralysed. Crowds
gathered in front of the Thirukkovil the STF camp and chanted protest
slogans and also burnt tyres. The hospital to which the injured Tigers
were admitted is situated within the STF complex premises.
While this type of widespread activity was going on some
of the agitated protestors at Thirukkovil and others found a point of
convergence in the agricultural colony Vinaayagapuram, close to
Kanchirankudah. The people of Vinaayagapuram were seething with
animosity towards the STF. It was only last year that the STF at
Kanchirankudah had prevented the Vinaayagapuram cultivators from
harvesting their paddy fields at the appropriate time. The crops were
ruined making many farmers destitute. This was part of the subtle
"scorched earth policy" practised in the past to ruin the
The Vinaayagapuram farmers were good potentials therefore
for demonstrating. After an adhoc public meeting at about 4. 45 p. m.
demonstrators numbering a little over a thousand began marching towards
the Kanchirankudah STF camp. Many participants were from Vinaayagapuram.
Senior LTTE leaders were present but remained visibly as detached
observers. They did not however urge any restraint or caution and
through their 'deafening silence' indicated their mindset. Persons
identified as Tiger helpers were openly active, taking the lead in
The personnel at the camp knew what had happened in the
morning and were expecting Tiger retaliation. The STF knew that the LTTE
will not let an assault on a senior leader go unavenged. The
demonstration was viewed with high suspicion as a covert ploy to
infiltrate the camp. The demonstrators began chanting slogans demanding
closure of the camp. Soon the demonstrators turned boisterous. Agent
provocateurs or Tiger plants commenced stoning the camp. Thereafter mob
psychology took over and large numbers followed suit.
The crowd turned unruly and soon some youngsters were
seen in the vanguard of a group advancing into the camp premises. The
STF sentries had withdrawn earlier. The barbed wire perimeter was
breached and destroyed to some extent. The sentry points and adjoining
bunkers were destroyed and burnt. Communication towers and searchlights
were damaged. Windows of cabins and buildings were stoned and damaged. A
group consisting mainly of youngsters went into the front area of the
camp and began burning tyres. Attempts were also made to target the
power supply installations.
The time was now around 6. 15 p.m. and dusk was
approaching. The Police Deputy Inspector General, STF, Nimal Gunetilleke
was quoted by a news agency that the police began firing only rubber
bullets and tear gas cannisters initially. Thereafter fearing a Tiger
assault the STF supposedly opened fire with live bullets in self-defence.
What is bizarre in this explanation is that despite the so called Tiger
attack not even a single STF policeman has been slightly injured let
alone killed. It is difficult to believe that if Tigers had really used
the crowds as cover to attack, the results would have been so scanty.
What is more likely is that LTTE inspired civilian mobs were attacking
the camp in orchestrated frenzy.
Some media circles quoting unnamed security sources
relayed initial reports that Tigers had attacked the STF camp and that
civilians were killed in the crossfire. This was blatantly incorrect and
there is no concrete evidence of such an attack whereas the hand of the
LTTE was visible in the protest demonstration turning unruly. Another
version trotted out is that the STF opened fire because the Tigers
started firing from the midst of the people and also that a grenade was
thrown. Again there is no visible evidence of any grenade being thrown.
One of the persons shot dead was a youth wearing jungle
khaki dress. This person was depicted as a Tiger because it was somewhat
similar to Tiger fatigues. That person was however a young civilian.
Another report spoke of an assault rifle being found outside the
Kanchirankudah camp. The inference was that it belonged to the LTTE.
There were however several reports in the Tamil media quoting local
correspondents alleging that the rifle was planted by the STF. Civilian
participants vehemently denied any attack by the LTTE or for that matter
any direct involvement in the demonstration by senior Tiger leaders.
There were also allegations that much of the damage caused to the STF
camp had occurred after the shooting and were allegedly self-inflicted.
An interesting report in the Jaffna based Uthayan daily
provides a different version of the incident. It says that while the
demonstration was going on, a truck carrying about 25 men from the
nearby STF camp at Thandiyadi had arrived at the scene. These men had
opened fire on the demonstrators outside the camp. When this happened,
men inside the Kanchirankudah camp had also started firing. Thus, the
people were hit inside and outside the camp premises.
This report if authenticated provides an explanation. If
the men from Thandiyadi had opened fire it is plausible that those
inside Kanchirankudah camp may have thought the LTTE was using firearms
and opened fire. This will explain the discovery of two bodies outside
the camp and four bodies inside the camp premises. It also explains the
injuries of people inside and outside. What it does not explain is the
reason for the presence of the Thandiyadi STF and reasons for the
alleged indiscriminate firing. If the Thandiyadi STF had opened fire
first, then it is they more than those at Kanchirankudah who are
Pandemonium reigned when the firing started. People
scattered in panic. There are unconfirmed reports of injured people
falling and drowning in a nearby river. There are also accounts of
missing people. These are to be confirmed. The Akkaraipattu magistrate
along with the STF commandant at Karaithivu and the SP from Amparai
visited the spot and ensured the recovery of six bodies. A seventh died
in hospital. Apart from the numerously minor injuries 14 people are
warded with major wounds in the Thirukkovil (3) and Kalmunai base
hospitals (11). Five of them are in critical condition. At least four of
those killed are under 19. One such person had been incarcerated for a
long time and had been released only last month.
Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) and Red Cross
representatives have visited the spot. The SLMM will be issuing a
report. Given the fact that the SLMM is more concerned with maintaining
the ceasefire successfully as opposed to apportioning blame, the
forthcoming report will very likely be lukewarm. TULF MP Chandra Nehru
has briefed Defence Minister Tilak Marapone and Economic Reforms
Minister Milinda Moragoda of what transpired. The Tamil National
Alliance (TNA) has blamed the STF for the incident and demanded an
inquiry. The government too has announced a probe into the incident.
Whatever the outcome of such investigations there is very little chance
of both the government and LTTE hierarchies aided by Norwegian
facilitators allowing the tragedy to affect the peace process.
The Kanchirankudah killings cannot be viewed in isolation
as a single incident. It has to be viewed against two backdrops of
history - both present and past. The contemporary one is the emerging
pattern of Tamil civilian demonstrations in the aftermath of the
ceasefire agreement against what are termed as military and para-military
encroachments of the traditional Tamil homelands. The armed forces have
vacated and relocated from a stipulated number of camps in the
north-east in terms of the ceasefire. Yet a significant amount of
military establishments remain and continue to control substantial
This is perceived as a major impediment to the relocation
and resettlement of displaced Tamil persons. The preliminary round of
talks at Sattahip dealt with this matter and a decision was taken to
appoint a high level committee to review the situation. This joint
committee comprising government, LTTE and representatives from the armed
forces is expected to go into the issue of high security zones and
location of army camps and recommend a downsizing of military
installations and a reduction of territory deemed as high security.
This process however has not deterred civilians from
articulating and in many cases demonstrating in support of demands
seeking the withdrawal of security establishments in their areas. Some
of these demonstrations have dangerously bordered on brinkmanship. The
campaign by schoolchildren at Hartley College, Point Pedro degenerated
from passive non-violence into active violence. The army camp premises
were invaded brazenly. Only the commendable restraint and sense of
responsibility shown by the regional commander Brigadier Jayawardena
prevented a Kanchirankudah type shooting and consequential massacre of
innocents. The Valachchenai demonstration and to a lesser extent the
Delft incident against the Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP) office
were also of the same category.
It is widely believed that the LTTE is orchestrating
these demonstrations through front organisations. It seems highly
unlikely that civilians are suddenly becoming courageous and launching
campaign offensives. It is suspected that the Tiger strategy is to
promote civilian campaigns in a bid to mount pressure on the government
to close down or restrict the number of security installations. The
provocative strategy may result in retaliatory fire - killing and
injuring civilians. This too is seemingly part of the plan as it would
increase alienation of the armed forces with the civilians and provide
further material supportive of the case against security camps.
Suspicion and paranoia
Despite the ceasefire lasting for more than seven months
and the increasing quantum of confidence between the government and LTTE
leaders, that bonhomie is yet to percolate downwards to the armed forces
and Tiger cadres. Suspicion bordering on paranoia exists. The recent
civilian demonstrations are perceived by the security forces rank and
file as sinister Trojan horses. It is suspected that the Tigers could
use them as cover to infiltrate and overrun security forces camps. This
is thoroughly unlikely and shows a very poor grasp of current realities
and the LTTE's tactics as far as the peace process is concerned.
Nevertheless, this fear exists and is constantly fuelled by
irresponsibly racist politicians south of Vavuniya. In a sense this
phobia is symptomatic of the irrationality that has pervaded the body
Against such a backdrop the demonstration at
Kanchirankudah seems as one more expression of sinister Tiger design and
another piece in the emerging pattern. On the other hand the armed
forces particulary the STF in the east is not blameless either. If Tiger
modus operandi is perceived as the hidden hand in contemporary civilian
demonstrations by the armed forces, the Tamil people nurse long felt
grievances against the military establishment notably the STF on account
of the long war bankrolled by western nations now promoting peace. The
STF created under Junius Richard Jayewardene was a brainchild of his son
Ravi, who for some undisclosed reason is currently defence advisor to
his cousin Ranil Wickremesinghe. Although nominally of the police the
STF was a specialised commando unit. The STF was a cruelly crafted
instrument for instilling terror into the Tamil people. This the STF did
well particularly in the Eastern Province. STF personnel remained
independent and retained impunity. The massacre of Tamil youths in
Colombo and suburbs in 1995, the detention of STF personnel in that
connection and the subsequent reluctance by the AG's Department in
prosecuting being a glaring example.
The Kanchirankudah STF camp in particular has a notorious
record. The infamous massacres of Tamil civilians in Thangavela-
yuthapuram and Inspector Ettram are attributed to
personnel stationed here in those times. Sections of the STF have been
accused of harbouring deep resentment of the Tamils in general and the
Tigers in particular. It is an open secret that substantial sections of
the armed forces are not happy with the peace process and have engaged
in activity aimed at sabotaging the ceasefire. The Kanchirankudah STF
personnel too have been involved in provocative incidents occasionally
during the ceasefire period. It was only two weeks ago that the wife of
a schoolmaster was attacked. Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF)
Parliamentarian from the Amparai District, Chandra Nehru Ariyanayagam
had a pertinent observation in an interview to a Tamil radio on October
9. He charged that some STF personnel attached to this camp had been
extorting money from civilians in the past and had supplemented their
"income." This had ceased or decreased significantly after the
ceasefire. The STF miscreants were therefore miffed at this loss of
income and were hostile to the ceasefire.
The Kanchirankudah killings have therefore to be viewed
in this historical context. A massive hartal has been called in the
Tamil areas to protest the shooting and killings. What is tragic about
this entire tragedy is that it need never have happened. The LTTE
continues to display its irresponsibility in exposing civilians
unnecessarily to harm. Even if the LTTE claims that it had no hand in
the demonstration it is crystal clear that it could have prevented it
and that it would not have escalated without perceived tacit Tiger
Likewise the STF used to a pattern of using unrestrained
force on Tamils in the past has been acting true to form. The assault on
Tiger leaders was unwarranted and deserves disciplinary censure. The
firing on civilians too necessitates intensive investigation. Given past
history it is a remote possibility that any STF personnel will ever be
found fault with officially. The least that could be done is to devise
measures preventing such calamities being repeated and ensuring adequate
compensation to the victims and their next of kin.
Confessions of a Tiger
By Amantha Perera in Jaffna
The most striking feature in Kandasami Lingeswaran, one
of the 11 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) Prisoners of War (POW)
released by the government was the deadpan answers he gave to questions
on the peace process and the prospects for peace.
If his approach to the much vaunted peace negotiations
was nonchalance, his commitment to the LTTE and its leader Velupillai
Prabhakaran was unwavering. Nine years spent in prison has not
diminished his commitment. If at all, the years in incarceration may
have hardened the resolve.
Seated under a portrait of Prabhakaran in LTTE military
fatigues, Lingeswaran at no time during the interview portrayed any sign
that the militancy within him has waned.
While some of the released POWs, especially those from
the security forces have been quite frank about their hopes for peace
and reconciliation, just six days after his release Lingeswaran's
thoughts were still on the liberation struggle.
"If war breaks out, it is my duty to fight," he
told The Sunday Leader, eyes beaming.
Will you give up your life?
"In war, you will sacrifice."
Doesn't he think that the peace process will succeed and
that there wouldn't be any need for such bloodshed as in the past? He
has his doubts on the process and its success.
Despite such commitment, he would not admit his
affiliations to the LTTE. When questioned as to whether he was a LTTE
member when he was arrested by the navy in Colombo in 1993, he stopped
the interview mid-stream and went out of the room to consult LTTE
seniors at the LTTE office in Jaffna.
When he returned he indicated that he did not want to
answer the question. And he would not divulge whether he has taken part
in LTTE operations
Meeting Lingeswaran, in Jaffna, made us realise the
enormity of the gulf that separates the two communities and especially
those who took up arms. In Colombo, soon after the POW release went
through, it was hailed as a major watershed in the negotiations.
The public has been buffeted with stories of the POWs
themselves calling for peace and decrying the futility of war. But such
sentiments were not forthcoming that easily from Lingeswaran.
Far from peace evocations, Lingeswaran's thoughts were on
"I want to live in a separate state, I prefer
that," he said.
But what do you think of the peace process, the
commitment from both sides to negotiate?
"What I feel won't matter." For the record, at
least Lingeswaran said that he still harbours doubts of the peace
process' eventual success.
His doubts are based on oppression and discrimination by
successive governments, that even existed within the prison walls.
"Prison life itself is hell, Sri Lankan prison life
is doubly hell," he recalled of his days in detention first under
the navy, then army, then army intelligence and finally the CDB.
"We were segregated from the Sinhala prisoners who
always had better treatment. We were never given the opportunity to
Lingeswaran recalled how once he had tried to learn
English from another inmate. As soon as authorities got wind of it, the
inmate was transferred to another cell.
On another occasion he began maintaining a scrap book of
press cuttings gleaned off the three Tamil papers the inmates at
Kalutara received. The authorities took that away too.
He only got it back, when he signed a pledge that he
would not fast or take part in any sort of protest activity.
It was a big price to pay for a scrapbook. His trial only
came up in 1998, five years after he was arrested - that too after a
fasting campaign. During the entire nine years, his parents were only
able to visit him thrice.
With no education, no job training and the prime of his
youth spent inside a cell, no wonder Lingeswaran's aspirations remain in
essence rudimentarily militant than those of the POWs from the security
Is Jaffna any different than when you last saw it in
1993? we ask him.
"It is worse now. Under the LTTE (in 1993), we had
our freedom. Things may have been in short supply, but we were free. Now
the army and the police are everywhere."
When he returned home, the first thing that struck
Lingeswaran was how the sea was not visible from his home. The army had
built a barrier, separating his fisher-folk family and the sea.
"Why?" he asks.
His experience with the security forces has never been
the most amicable. From the beginning jail life was a living nightmare.
He said that the first one and half months in jail were terrible.
"They kept on torturing me for the first five days
on the assumption that I was a LTTEer." The torture lessened only
after the ICRC had access to him, one and half months after the arrest.
He does not feel any animosity towards those who kept him
in jail, "the army, the police, they were doing their job."
And what did he feel when he heard that he was going to
"First, I was happy. But then only 11 from 140
inmates were released. The rest should be released fast."
He revealed that before the POW swap was to go through,
preparations had been laid that the rest of the inmates would begin to
fast agitating for their release as soon as it was complete.
Despite the release and the little hamper that the
government presented him at the Omanthai checkpoint, Lingeswaran's
opinion of the government is still very low.
"The government did not do much. It is because of
the LTTE that we were released....The government might be showing a
different face to the outside world," he said arguing that if the
government was so sincere, it should have acted earlier to release the
While POWs released by the LTTE went back to their
families after having tea with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and
have been given two months leave, Lingeswaran is back in the old fold.
He operates from an LTTE office in Jaffna. All the
efforts made by the government that released him and by the torchbearers
in the peace march have not succeeded in driving away old ghosts. He
still sees very clear definitions of the oppressed and the uninvited
"I am still afraid that we might be oppressed all
over again," he observed, while visitors from the south were
thronging to his native Jaffna and enjoying Chavakachcheri mangoes and
He is not alone. On the day the A9 road was opened,
female LTTE cadres, much younger to Lingeswaran, told The Sunday Leader
that they preferred to live in a separate state and would fight to
The lives they were born to, do not allow them to think
Lingeswaran, was born into the generation of war. The
better part of his life has been gobbled up by the war machine. He is
still unable to adjust to the vagaries of peace and to the uninvited
tourists from the south enjoying the Jaffna carnival.
Released POWs and
According to information gathered by those who arrested
Kandasami Lingeswaran alias Palan alias Kuna when navy personnel took
him into custody near the Kahn Clock Tower, Pettah on September 6, 1993,
he had in his possession a .9mm pistol, 16 bullets and two cartridges.
He had tried to fire at the navy personnel when they
approached him. Intelligence units are of the view that Lingeswaran was
on a mission to gather reconnaissance on VIPs and possible assassination
"You can't really say whether he is a big guy in the
ranks. He was on some specific operation," military sources told
The Sunday Leader.
The potential military/intelligence importance of the 13
released LTTE cadres still remains under some cloud. Before the POW
release, the military had indicated to the government that those to be
released would not make a severe impact on the battlefield.
Even in the case of the much vaunted Kennedy, the LTTE
cadre captured during an attack on the Palaly Base, his potential
military acumen is still not clear.
The attack took place in the early hours of the morning,
when ground engineers were preparing an aircraft for a morning re-con
mission over the base.
Around 2.30 a.m., the LTTE infiltrators had killed a
ground engineer and waited for the pilots. When the LTTE signaled to the
pilots with their torch lights, the pilots became suspicious and did not
proceed. Then the firing commenced, and the aircraft was set on fire.
Some of the infiltrators blew themselves up, but two
including Kennedy hid themselves inside a billet. His accomplice who had
a grenade in his possession was shot and killed but the unarmed Kennedy
Though some reports have indicated that he tried to take
cyanide, others present in the camp at the time of the attack have said
that he did not have cyanide on him and never made an attempt to take
it. They have also related that once he was captured Kennedy had more or
less divulged the plan behind the entire operation.
Burden and poverty of
By Susanne Loos-Jayawickreme
The friendly waving women in the fields are attracting
attention. That is a lovely picture, always worth a photograph taken by
tourists. Dressed in colourful lungis, sun protected with bright cloth
head covers and rain protected with full-toned plastic-sheets, these
women work hard day by day in endless paddy fields, lush green tea
plantations, wide rubber estates, majestic coconut groves and between
dense cinnamon bushes, just to name a few of the working sites.
These women are even employed for doing rigorous road
repair work. Among other tasks, they carry loads of sand and heavy
stones. That is heavy physical work, exclusively performed by machines
and men in most of the industrialised countries! In most rural areas in
the south, housewives play a dual role as the breadwinners of their
families as well. The reason is that many village men are almost
forgotten victims of war and others are horrible victims of illicit
liquor. Particularly when the female breadwinner is working abroad, men
who are alcoholics physically harm women, especially when money is
refused to buy their liquor. Be it rape or battering, just to name two
of the disgusting mental or physical tortures females being wives,
daughters, sisters, cousins, grand daughters, in-laws, etc., have to
In the rural hamlets, many men die of kassipu
consumption, which is known as the poor man's drink, bringing additional
hardship to the already poor families. The mothers work even harder to
save every rupee possible of their hard earned salary to collect the
dowry for their daughters, so that the girls can get married. Still,
many rural children are often deprived of their rightful school
They are taken out of school quite early. Many do not
even enjoy a basic education, to financially support their families by
doing odd jobs, which are always too hard for small children to bear.
The day of these busy housewives start normally very early in the
morning between 3 and 4 a.m. They have to prepare the clothing for the
school going children, working husbands and themselves, i.e. ironing,
mostly with charcoal irons as most of them do not have the luxury of
electricity, and those who have cannot afford to use too much
electricity. Breakfast and lunch have to be prepared too before they
start their work day in the fields.
In the evening, after a tough day, they have to wash the
clothes and moreover, they have to prepare dinner, clean dishes and the
house. These caring mothers have to find time in between for shopping
and to tend to sick family members, attend weddings, funerals, host
unexpected visitors, etc. However, before they can even think of
maintaining their house and looking after the family, the women have to
manage doing their jobs properly and in time.
In rural areas, the work of a housewife is burdened with
the additional hard daily work mostly under difficult and rigorous
conditions - whether in burning sun or pouring rain. And there is no
sign of their burden easing either.
Now it seems that the exact opposite is going to take
place. Just imagine the impact of misunderstood development?
Development, which might take place to worsen their situation even more?
Take for example, the proposed southern express Colombo-Matara highway.
Leave alone the environmental devastation, the focus should also be on
the impact this giant road project will have on the lives of the poor
village people. They will be thrown back into deep poverty due to the
loss of their work places as many estates providing jobs will be
destroyed, divided and eventually closed down. However, even if the
women can find employment building the road, this source of income will
come to an end as soon as the roadwork is completed. Whole villages will
be divided; some will just be bulldozed away. Centuries old village
culture will vanish overnight.
Village life will be adversely affected. The southern
village community will have to face social and environmental hardship,
which will become a big problem, difficult if not even impossible to
cope with. Thousands of families will be resettled somewhere, their
livelihoods gone, with insufficient compensation paid, whether they like
it or not. Adults and children have to find their way in a new
environment, whether it is the neighbourhood or school.
The hard working women have to find new sources of income
in new areas, where the old settlers already occupy most of the odd
jobs. These poor women fear life of extreme poverty caused by
development at the wrong time at the wrong place. Most politicians have
informed the media that these villagers, whose ancestral lands and homes
will be taken over and destroyed, are happy about the new highway coming
up, which is a lie as these villagers do not benefit at all by the
construction of the so-called super highway.
Some of these villagers cannot even afford to buy a
bicycle. Many have purposely been misled by the relevant authorities.
But these poor people do not complain, because they do not want to be
branded as anti-government. But they want to know why only the
politicians and officials are allowed to take decisions without even
consulting the people concerned. It is no big deal for them to see
tourists being driven along the highway and container lorries going by
They certainly will not benefit. And after all, who has
to bear most of the hardships? Of course it will be these rural women
who are already going through a tough life playing the dual role of
housewife and breadwinner. Watching the always-friendly rural women,
their daily routine seems to look so easy. But the appearance is
deceptive. Every day is another hard day to survive with dignity.
The 20th century was declared the 'Century of Women.'
That sounds like a bad joke as most countries including Sri Lanka failed
badly to even generate family and children friendly structures! Again it
is visible that the real problems are male domineering governments,
authorities, universities, schools and industries, be it in developed or
undeveloped countries. The voiceless women suffer and cry in silence.
There is no lobby for them as almost all decision makers
are men, many of them having lost touch with the rural folk. Here are
some figures to think about. According to the UNO, 80% of the refugees
worldwide are women. Eight hundred million out of the total one billion
illiterate people are female. Sixty million female foetuses have been
aborted in the last year alone, for the sole reason of being female. The
widespread desire for male babies particularly in Asian countries
results for example in the killing of approximately 1.5 million girls
immediately after having been born annually in India. According to UN
estimates there are at present about 100 million women who are
More than two million girls between four and 10 years
have to undergo and endure heavy physical injury and brutal torture
annually. Recently, the United Nations published another alarming
figure: 70% of the world's poorest people are women. They are denied
opportunities in education, jobs and the chance to make decisions that
shape their lives. A part of this 70%
are the rural women of Sri Lanka, who wave whilst working hard in
The smiling, waving women in the fields, playing a dual
role as housewives and breadwinner, are a lovely picture, indeed, which
many tourists and investors visiting Sri Lanka are taking back home as
cherished photos. However, photos do not show the sad situation these
poor rural women are faced with - they are suffering and crying in
silence, working hard for a better future for their children, their
families and for themselves.
in Iraq: impact on Sri Lanka
Pia Djem Leichter
Does Sri Lanka have to contend with yet another war? The debate amid US
Congress whether to pass a resolution
giving President George Bush the broad powers that he needs to
‘disarm’ Iraq and by
doing so oust Saddam Hussein still rages, especially when fuelled with
the recent release of a letter sent by CIA Director, George J. Tenet to
US Congress, further highlighting internal divides in the
administration. The letter came in response to a request made by
Congress to declassify segments of CIA briefings on Iraq over the past
few days. It concludes that Hussein does not pose an immediate threat to
the US now, but contends that if America invaded Iraq, it could push him
to retaliate with chemical or biological weapons.
maintains: “Should Saddam conclude that a US-led attack could no
longer be deterred, he probably would
become much less constrained in adopting terrorist
actions.” The main topic under debate is whether Hussein would
give weapons of mass destruction to terrorists to attack the
could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon
to a terrorist group or individual terrorists,” Bush asserted.
Bush’s firm stance was further demarcated during his national address
in Cincinnati on Monday (7), where he attempted to muster public support
for a strike on Iraq. As former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter points
out: “As signatories of the UN Charter, the US has agreed to abide by
a body of international law that explicitly governs the conditions under which
nations may go to war. All
require authority of the Security Council, either through an invocation
of Article 51 (self-defence), or a resolution passed under chapter seven
of the charter (collective security).” He concluded that President
Bush has failed to meet any
of these criteria. The Bush administration
has also made clear that its objective is the elimination of
Saddam Hussein, and the UN Charter prohibits regime removal.
These actions disregard US and UN laws and sanctions.
the debate ensues and
weapons inspectors stand still, with no apparent ‘diplomatic
solution’ in sight, and Bush advocating
war, the wide-reaching effects of a war must be calculated and
examined — Sri Lanka would also have to brace for impact.
exchange from overseas employment is currently the largest net earnings
for Sri Lanka, bringing in
US$ 1.1 billion, with the garment industry, tea and tourism following
suit. According to Chairman, Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment,
Jayantha Liyanage the total amount of Sri Lankan migrant workers abroad
stands at one million, and of that amount 60% are concentrated in the
Middle East: 15% or 150,000 workers residing in Kuwait and another 35%
or 350,000 in Saudi Arabia.
in Iraq would adversely affect employment in that region, and greatly impact the local economy, especially if
Sri Lankan workers in countries near Iraq want to return for
fear of being attacked. During the Gulf War, almost all
workers in Kuwait returned to Sri Lanka, a total of 60,000
people, with only a small percentage remaining. The current
unemployment rate in Sri Lanka is between 500,000 and 600,000 —
if workers returned due to a conflict in the Middle East,
especially another 150,000, this would deeply strain the economy by
requiring their absorption into the workforce. Once
that strain is coupled with the loss of foreign exchange, a
hike in oil prices, and a possible decrease in the export of
tea — the economy is in serious peril.
the Gulf War, according to the previous head of the Foreign Employment
Bureau, the drop in expatriate workers’ earnings cost the
country about US$ 2.5 million a month. Kuwait may again be particularly
vulnerable in the event of a war in Iraq.
to Chairman, Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, Daham Wimalasena, during the
Gulf War petrol prices increased from
Rs. 25.00 per litre to Rs. 35.00 per litre; and diesel went up
by Rs. 2.00 per litre.
least the US gave a deadline during the Gulf War, as opposed to the current possibility of a pre-emptive strike
against Iraq, in which an attack would be sudden, giving most countries
little time to prepare, and therefore, changing the modus operandi of
governments. Given the possibility of such a precarious situation,
Labour Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe has recently commissioned a study
detailing what alternative plans and
strategies must be implemented in the event of a war in
Iraq. A senior diplomat who was in Kuwait at the time of the Gulf
War is currently leading this study which includes identifying places
where migrant workers could be safe from the activities of war, housing
and feeding Sri Lankans in war affected areas, and eventual evacuation
plans. The study will be
ready in one month’s time. Samarasinghe said that they “learned a
bitter lesson from the Gulf War,” with 150,000 Sri Lankans
effected in the Middle East, and will be prepared in the event of a war in Iraq.
Lanka still has not finished picking up the pieces from the Gulf War,
and cannot fathom the consequences of a war in
Iraq. The effects of the Gulf War are still being felt today.
UN Security Council Compensation Committee arranged for victims of this
war to be compensated: 93,000 have been paid
from a total of 150,000 victims, with 57,000 people still
unaccounted for — a total of US$ 380 million was received as
compensation. The UN committee is currently dismantled leaving the
government to determine new ways and means of finding resources to
compensate remaining victims, as well as the possible future victims of
a war with Iraq.
visited the village of Eravur in the east last week and allotted a sum
of US$ 4,000 each to 10 victims of the Gulf War. Liyanage is seeking
long term solutions that would
diversify the concentration of migrant workers in the Middle East and is
currently working on a bilateral agreement with Malaysia that would
create 200,000 new job opportunities.
is also working with the Italian embassy and ambassador in order to
secure future work visas for Sri Lankans, with the intention of creating
new opportunities for males, especially since 70% of migrant workers are
women. A prospective war in Iraq could also disrupt the earnings from
tea exports. According to the Sri Lanka Tea Board, Iraq
currently ranks second in the importers list of Ceylon tea, with
3.57 million kg shipped per month, with Iran sixth at 1.24 million kg,
and Saudi Arabia following at 0.96 million kg. Tea exports could be
affected if shipments were disrupted or costs may rise if longer
shipping routes have to be utilised due to maritime warfare.
Lanka, being totally dependent on oil imports, would be
greatly affected by rising costs of oil that would ensue if a war
broke out in Iraq. The effect on petrol prices depends on the price Sri
Lanka would have to pay for crude oil or refined
products. Sri Lanka purchases about 25% of crude oil from the
Far East, and there would be a scramble from others for this oil.
With the prospect of war on the horizon, many countries,
especially those in the eastern zone, such as China, Japan, Korea, and Hong Kong, have already begun building buffer
stocks and inventories, and as a result, creating higher demand
and subsequently higher prices — this occurring at the mere
prospect of war.
is now a US$ 30 war risk insurance surcharge added per metric ton, which
in turn increases freight costs. In addition to these ‘risk’
increases, the winter months lie ahead, and the price of oil has risen
sharply: according to Chairman, Laugfs Lanka Gas, W. K. H. Wegapitiya,
the company priced a metric ton of LPG at US$ 228 in August, 256 in
September, 295 in October — a steady
increase of US$ 40 every month. Prices are currently around US$
310 delivered into Asia, the highest levels of 2002. Wegapitiya
foresees the price reaching US$ 400 in the next couple of months.
to Wimalasena, if the prices were to increase: “Transport will be
badly affected, production will suffer, electricity generation will also
be affected again. This will also depend on availability of water in
reservoirs. Sri Lankans will also have to reduce all non-essential
travel by motor cars/vans or buses
and conserve the fuel for goods transport. It may also
be necessary to close schools and offices to work on alternative
days. Leisure travel would have to cease, effecting tourism and
exports.” Sri Lanka in turn would suffer an increase in transport
costs as well as in costs of living —
prices climbing on basic commodities and on the cost of
war of this proportion would not only be felt by the Middle
East or the US, the rippling effects would resonate globally,
necessitating decisions be made internationally and
multilaterally — clearly demonstrated by the far-reaching
effects it would have on a country such as Sri Lanka. In a world that is
increasingly interconnected, the US cannot strike alone, and with
pressure mounting on international institutions
and organisations by the Bush administration, perhaps it is time that we
consolidate power where it belongs:
in our hands.