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Symbols of war commemorated

 "Sindhiya raththam podumada, oru eelaththaye kattiyeluppa" (The blood that is shed is sufficient to build a Tamil nation) was one of the phrases from a song that continued to echo in the Kilinochchi area right throughout "Heroes' Day" which fell on November 27.

The songs were all composed by local artistes and they were played through the loudspeakers at every junction. "Nengil eriyum nerupputhan, oru eelaththaye uruwakkum" (The fire that burns in our hearts is the force that creates Eelam) was another phrase from a song.

One of the most important events in the calendar of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is the Maveerar Thinam (Heroes' Day). The sacrificial act of every fighter by laying his/her own life during a confrontation for the sake of Tamil Eelam is recognised and remembered by the living comrades. Such an act of devotion is considered to be the supreme act in the 20 year old Eelam war.

No cadre is ever honoured more than a person who has given his/her  life for the cause of achieving self determination and self rule, and therefore Heroes' Day has become a part of the life of the people of the north and east.

Every dead fighter's photo is displayed in public. The people garland the photos and pay their respects with utmost reverence. "Because of them, we are able to live in peace today," they say.

This year's Maveerar Thinam became even more significant because of the ongoing peace process initiated by the United National Front (UNF) government. Amidst their busy schedule, residents of Kilinochchi however did not fail to laud Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who they say could be a force to reckon with, and usher in a new era of peace in the country.

Towns, villages and even the remotest hamlets in the north and east held by both government forces and the LTTE were all gaily decorated with yellow and red flags and cut-outs depicting the Tamil liberation struggle observing the final day of 'Maaveerar Thinam.

Celebrations in Jaffna, Batticaloa, Vavuniya and Mannar were held in a grand scale - much more than it was expected.

"Martyrs' Resting Home"

For the first time since the signing of the ceasefire agreement, unarmed police personnel had been deployed to maintain law and order in this cosmopolitan town of Kilinochchi. Shops were closed. Only the eating houses and tea kiosks were allowed to carry out business to cater to the large number of people who were thronging the war cemetery from all quarters.

Several hundreds of people including students congregated in the war cemetery, which is called the "Martyrs Resting Home" to pay homage to the graves of their sons, brothers, fathers, sisters and their relatives who were buried there. In other places people also flocked to the special rooms that were made with photographs of 'Maveerar' (Heroes) that were on display.

The entire function was colourful and emotional. It was heartbreaking to see relatives of the dead garlanding the monuments and then stretching themselves on top of the graves and crying, remembering their lost ones. Some even fell prostrate to show their highest respect for the dead fighters.

The event at Kilinochchi was quite a colourful one. The area leaders hoisted the Tiger flags that came into being only in 1990. The Sunday Leader was witness to a small ceremony that took place at the office of Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO) in the morning of November 27. Deputy Executive Director, TRO, Iniyawan hoisted the Tiger flag. Then a few minutes of silence was observed as a mark of respect for the fallen heroes. Lighting of the oil lamps in the room where the photos of the dead were on display and garlanding their photographs followed. LTTE's Political Wing Leader and a key negotiator in the ongoing peace talks, S.P. Thamilchelvan, and Pulidevan who happened to arrive there, stood motionless when the Tiger anthem was played.

The environment in Kilinochchi was sombre. An eerie feeling prevailed in the area with people going in large numbers to the war cemeteries at Viswamadu in Mullaitivu and Kanagapuram in Kilinochchi.

The songs played through the loudspeakers were sorrowful - all speaking of the commitment of the fallen heroes. Some mothers, fathers, sons and sisters of the Maveerar were seen clad in white. It was a moment of great sadness but it was also coupled with joy. "I am sad my son is no more, but I am glad he gave his life for this cause," a mother from Wattakachchi who was seen sobbing over her son's grave at Viswamadu, observed.

Most of the children of the dead heroes were clad in camouflage. Relatives from Trincomalee, Ampara and Batticaloa travelled to Kilinochchi to pay their respects to the dead. They told The Sunday Leader that this is the first time that they were able to use their liberty to travel from such far destinations in order to pay their respects. "Previously, we could not do this, due to the war situation," they explained.

Smartly clad

The main event at Kilinochchi took place at Kanagapuram war cemetery under Theepan's leadership. The cemetery was adorned with flowers. Tigers were smartly clad in their ceremonial uniforms. More than 30,000 people thronged the cemetery to participate in the main ceremony. At 5.46 p.m. (LTTE time) LTTE Chief Velupillai Prabhakaran delivered his speech - dubbed the "throne speech" by the people. Almost all gathered at the cemetery stood to 'attention' until the entire speech was completed. The speech lasted only 20 minutes, which was followed by lighting of the main torch by Col. Theepan, the northern military commander. This was followed by the relatives lighting the torches attached to each monument.

The LTTE has been celebrating the Maveerar Thinam since November 27, 1989. The day November 27 was specifically chosen by the Tigers as the first ever Tiger Lieutenant to be killed in the Eelam war, Shankar Sathiyanathan was killed on this day in the year 1982. He was killed in action on November 27, in 1982, following a confrontation with the Sri Lanka Army in Velvetithurai (VVT). This day became important in the diary of the LTTE because he was the first ever Tiger to lay down his life for the sake of Tamil Eelam.

From that day onwards the LTTE has been remembering the dead with reverence and honour. The dead are considered as 'seeds' that would grow again to give more fruit to achieve their principal cause. This is why every Maveerar is not cremated but buried - contrary to the Hindu tradition of cremating the dead. They are instead laid to rest in the Martyrs' Homes built for them. "We say that the dead heroes are seeds and are sown to grow again. They are neither buried nor cremated," LTTE cadres explained.

The LTTE has taken untiring efforts to remember all 17,651 including 251 Black Tiger cadres who sacrificed their lives in the Eelam war. In addition they build a home for their souls to rest as well.

The Tigers claim that they have led a few successful military operations against the Sri Lankan armed forces. They pride themselves in capturing a large quantity of arms and ammunition and other equipment necessary to fight a war. The first South African built armoured car was snatched from the Sri Lanka Army by the LTTE in 1990 during a confrontation in Kondachchi, Mannar. The LTTE also captured Mullaitivu army camp in 1996 during the "Unceasing Wave 1" operation while taking over Kilinochchi in 1998 in operation "Unceasing Wave II." The LTTE also annexed some other areas that were under the control of the armed forces in the following year.

The LTTE believes that without the support and the commitment of the Tiger cadres who are not living in this world any more, it would not have been possible to achieve this target.

According to statistics provided by the LTTE, the highest number of male cadres killed in the Eelam war was in 1997 during the "Jayasikurui" operation. Approximately 2106 cadres have been killed, while in the same confrontation some 507 female cadres, which is also the highest, were also killed.

Highest tribute

Paying the highest tribute to the dead is a bounden duty of every army. It is deplorable that the government has not set aside a day to remember the dead soldiers. The soldiers too, it must be mentioned have sacrificed their life to safeguard the sovereignty of the country. According to official figures 14, 101 Sri Lankan soldiers have been killed since 1983. In addition some 2542 soldiers are still missing in action. But so far, successful governments have neither earmarked a day to salute the dead soldiers nor have had plans to do so even in the future, though remembering the soldiers who died in the Second World War.

"First Heroes' Day"

The first Heroes' Day celebration took place in 1989, November 27.

Lt. Shankar Sathiyanathan was the first male hero to have been  killed in action on November 27, 1982.

Second Lt. Malathi was the first female heroine to be killed in action on October 10, 1987. She was killed in Koppai during a confron-tation with the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF).

Captain Angayarkanni was the first female black Tiger to lay down her life.

* * * * * *

The commitment...

THE LTTE hierarchy believes it is fitting to give supreme honour to every soldier either before or after death.

Jegan's story is a clear manifestation of a fighter's honest commitment to the cause the Tigers have been fighting for.

Jegan is a 23 year old Tiger. He has participated in several military operations and one difficult fight he remembers is the Elephant Pass attack, where the LTTE over-run the entire camp killing most of the army personnel.

Jegan says along with him some female cadres were also fighting. While the fighting was on, a female cadre was hit and started bleeding profusely. And another colleague senior to Jegan had requested Jegen to carry the wounded female soldier to the makeshift camp for treatment.

"We were fighting a fierce battle. But I could not resist the orders from my senior colleague. So I placed the wounded cadre on my shoulder and walked up to the room where the wounded were being treated. Until I reached the room, the female soldier was alive. But the moment I laid her on the mat, she breathed her last ," he said while sobbing.

Jegan went on to explain the most painful part of this saga. He said only after placing the combatant on the ground did he realise that the war heroine who departed from this world after valiantly fighting was his own younger sister.

"Then I told the officers there that it was my own sister and I asked them to do the final rites according to the military requirement and went back to fighting as there was a lack of combatants to fight the battle. In fact, this incident further encouraged me to fight until the end. And that is the day we over-ran the entire camp," he told The Sunday Leader.

* * * * * *

The toll so far

Year     M            F            Total

1982     01           -            01

1983     05           -            05

1984     36           -            36

1985     123          -         123

1986     258          -          258

1987     437        14         451

1988     352        11         363

1989     371        01         372

1990     889        72         961

1991     1405      208      1613

1992     713        75         788

1993     801        124        925

1994     363         12        375

1995     1217       288      1505

1996     1092       285       1377

1997     1599        507       2106

1998     1150        648       1798

1999     1052         493      1545

2000     1237        743      1980

2001     489          270        759

M - Males,  F - Females


A victim of circumstances

By Frederica Jansz

Dr. Kamalika Abeyratne, is Sri Lanka's heart-rending proof of a human error that is irreversible. An HIV positive patient, Dr. Abeyratne contracted the illness in early 1996, six months after she had been infused with over 60 pints of blood at the Galle Teaching Hospital and the Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital.

The blood was transmitted into Dr. Abeyeratne after she had been involved in a serious car accident down south and suffered multiple injuries. Six months after, Dr. Abeyratne secure in the belief she had narrowly escaped death from a motor accident, tested positive for HIV.

Dr. Abeyratne initially received a pint of frozen plasma donated from the Central Blood Bank which routinely carries out an individual screening of each donor. The blood is screened for HIV, Hepatitis B and Venereal Diseases. Medical practitioners however say that the screening for HIV is not highly specific which is how Dr. Abeyratne was infused with contaminated blood.

The blood of 58 donors was used in 1996 to transmit some 60 pints to Dr. Abeyratne. At the time 18 of the donors involved in this donation of blood could not be located. Dr. de Lanerolle, who was then Director, Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital said some of the donors were from distant areas while some had also given false addresses when donating blood.

The screening of blood unfortunately can never be 100% successful, doctors say due to a 'window period' that exists. For instance any individual that may have contracted the HIV virus would initially test negative and only show positive after a period of at least six months.

8500 HIV cases

Consultant Venereologist, Dr. Sujatha Samarakoon said that it is estimated there should be about 8500 people living with HIV in Sri Lanka. "It may be more or less," she asserted adding that so far out of the people in Sri Lanka tested for sexually transmitted diseases, only 435 have been detected as being HIV positive.

Unfortunately, Dr. Samarakoon said that at present testing for HIV and AIDS locally is confined to only those within the STD programme or in some cases when it is an employment requirement. As a result, the detected cases  do  not in anyway portray an accurate or realistic statistic of HIV positive and AIDS patients in Sri Lanka.    

Dr. Samarakoon said that HIV and AIDS is categorised as a sexually transmitted infection because 90% of the transmission worldwide is due to unprotected sex with an infected person. Dr. Samarakoon asserted that there are many patients who though infected with the virus, are symptomatic and the illness is not immediately visible.

After the virus gets into the human body there is a period of about 10 to 12 years until the development of the symptoms of AIDS is visible. During this period of no visible symptoms, Dr. Samarakoon said there is a danger that a person who has the virus is infective to others.

AIDS and HIV is not transmitted strictly via sexually active individuals only. The illness is also transmitted through blood transfusions or from an infected mother to her unborn child.

The need for drugs to fight the illness is of paramount importance. Dr. Kamalika Abeyratne pointed out that she has survived six years after being infected with the virus as a result of having taken drugs to fight the germ.

"Prevention alone is no longer of any use," Dr. Abeyratne asserted, adding that it is vitally important for medical treatment in every situation - no matter how poor the countries may be.

A drug manufactured in India and named DOUVIRN has received World Health Organisation approval as a drug to be taken by HIV positive patients.

The drug is available for sale in Colombo at a cost of Rs. 4,750. If purchased one package will last one month for each individual and will help contain the illness.

Dr. Abeyratne said unfortunately the government has yet to purchase this drug on a government to government basis which would drastically reduce the price and make it more freely accessible for all HIV positive patients in Sri Lanka.

There are at least 300 known patients in Sri Lanka who desperately require this drug, Dr. Abeyratne said.

Dr. Abeyratne is the only case detected in Sri Lanka to have been infected with the virus via a locally induced blood transfusion.

Now nearly 70 years old Dr. Abeyratne said the virus can no longer be detected in her blood as a result of the drugs she has been taking for the illness since tested positive for HIV in 1996. Dr. Abeyratne however still suffers from the wounds of 17 broken ribs and two broken legs after the horrifying car accident she was involved in - down south - six years ago. That horror continues in her life due to her being a victim of human error ironically in the medical field.


Dengue strikes Colombo's heart

By Ranee Mohamed

Dengue has risen again, this time in highly commercialised areas such as Bambalapitiya, Wellawatte and Milagiriya.

Chief Medical Officer - Health,  Colombo Municipal Council, Dr. Pradeep Kariyawasam said that about 18 cases have been detected from these areas and in addition to Colombo West, Colombo Central and even Cinnamon Gardens.

"Many people come from outstations and settle in Colombo, this may be one reason for the ongoing dengue problem," pointed out Dr. Kariyawasm, who also warned the public to be aware of their surroundings.

"If there are neglected bare lands around your homes, please inform us," said Dr. Kariyawasm. The telephone number to call is 696594.

The public are advised to clean their gardens and empty water that  collect in tins, pots, flower pots and in other crevices.

While the Colombo Municipal Council conducted a clean up operation in Bambalapitiya last Sunday, the public is advised to do their own cleaning up and be alert. While the adult mosquito can be eradicated with the use of malathion, the breeding can be stopped by preventing the accumulation of water, the authorities warn.

"When dengue hit my little daughter, we were panic stricken," said Anil Kumara whose child survived the dreaded disease because of Kumara's quick action. "My daughter was hospitalised and unconscious and we were completely helpless. I don't want to go through it again. The message is simple and clear. We ought to pressurise the government, the schools and all other authorities to be alert," said Kumara.

He also said that the public take precautions when they hear about a case, but soon forget. "For a few days we begin to apply creams on our children before they go to school, pull mosquito nets over them and clean up our gardens. But we tend to do these things only for a short time because we are quick to forget," alerted Kumara.

Kumara was able to save his daughter from dengue after taking a blood test on the first day of the onset of fever.

Jennifer Liyanage whose eight year old daughter succumbed to the deadly dengue fever in February this year said that she still dreams of her child. "I don't know how it happened. She was well three days before and suddenly she was gone. Schools are closing and children are getting ready for Christmas parties and I keep missing my daughter Shani more than ever each day," she said.

"Even last night my husband had dreamt of her throughout the night," said Jennifer on Friday morning.

"I am still trying to find out ways and means of learning how it happened. But there seems to be no explanation. My advise to parents is, if your child has fever, take a blood test and observe the platelet count. Waiting for the results of the dengue tests may take time. I did my best. I pulled the net over my children, I lit mosquito coils, but still the dengue mosquito attacked my little daughter and took her away," she said.

"If your child has fever, please ensure that he or she gets good medical care in a responsible hospital," she advised. Jenny and her husband were helpless as their little daughter's organs failed in the throes of the dengue fever. It was a time when doctors became mere spectators as the dengue virus took over.

Be alert, clean up, be cautious and prevent dengue, is the message to the general public. Several children have died of dengue in and around the city of Colombo.

It is time that all schools put studies on hold for a few days and begin cleaning up their environment and save their precious students  from the danger that lurks in the form of dengue.


Tamil Eelam ball in Sinhala court

"The Sinhalese people should not oppose the Tamils' aspirations to manage their own affairs under a system of self-rule in their own homeland. It is the politics of the Sinhala nation that will eventually determine whether the Sinhalese could peacefully co-exist with the Tamils or to compel the Tamils to secede... If the Sinhala chauvinistic forces, for their own petty political reasons scuttle this peace effort... The Tamil people will be compelled to pursue the path of secession and political independence."

- Velupillai Prabakharan in
'Maaveerar Naal' speech of November 27, 2002
 

By D. B. S. Jeyaraj

Another Maaveerar Naal or great Heroes Day has come and gone. The much awaited address by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) Leader Velupillai Prabakharan has not caused any convulsions. It has been on predictable lines reiterating some points made by the Tiger supremo on earlier occasions. Other salient factors of the speech were more or less a carefully constructed repetition of what LTTE Chief Negotiator Anton Balasingham has been saying all along.

Wrong image

A comparative study of views expressed by Balasingham in media interviews, press conferences and meetings connected to the Thailand peace talks will reveal that the essence of what he said has echoed in Prabakharan's speech.

This naturally is not surprising as it is well known that "Bala Annai," the Tiger ideologue, writes "Thamby" Prabakharan's Maaveerar speeches. In that context, it was amusing to note some news agencies reporting that the LTTE Leader has contradicted what the chief negotiator had stated earlier without realising who the actual speech writer was.

Moreover, it illustrated once again the abysmal ignorance of many media pundits of the actual situation. Sections of the  media created a totally wrong image earlier that Balasingham had dropped the Tamil Eelam demand at the Sattahip summit.

After engaging in an unnecessary exercise of misunderstanding and misinformation, these sections are now baffled. Once again, these elements are trying to project an impression that the LTTE is vacillating. The truth however, is that the LTTE remains consistent in its stance while some media circles continue to be confused and in turn confuse the public. The underlying cause for these erroneous assumptions is the inability to comprehend the ideological dimensions of the Tamil political struggle and the LTTE's current approach.

Given the past history of oppression and repression, a substantial number of Tamils in the north and east felt that the sovereign state of Tamil Eelam was the only answer. The overwhelming electoral victory of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in 1977 signified this mindset. Tamil militants as opposed to the old guard felt that only an armed struggle will help establish a Tamil Eelam comprising the Northern and Eastern Provinces of the island. The LTTE like many other Tamil militant groups in the past, subscribed to this theory of Tamil Eelam being the only solution and the armed struggle being the way to achieve it.

Due to several reasons, the LTTE has now emerged as the preponderant representatives of the Tamil people. While pursuing an armed struggle, the Tigers did on occasions engage in peace talks.

While the LTTE did feel that no Sinhala government would be able to address Tamil demands meaningfully, national and international factors compelled the organisation to participate in peace parleys. Thimpu talks in 1985, New Delhi talks in 1987, Colombo talks in 1989 - 90, Jaffna talks in 1994 -95 are but some of these. Various explanations have been provided for the failure of these attempts.

Addressing 'core' issues

Now we have the Thailand talks facilitated by Norway. A ceasefire has lasted for more than nine months. Some progress has been achieved in setting up committees. Compared to earlier attempts at peace making, the present process seems to have progressed far. An important reason for this success is the international effort personified magnificently by Norway. Despite the euphoria, one cannot gloss over the fact that the parties in conflict are yet to address what are known as 'core' issues. These are the fundamental political issues and would require extraordinary constitutional arrangements to be resolved.

Whatever the illusion created, no permanent peace is possible unless and until these 'core' issues are resolved satisfactorily. The magnitude of the task is illustrated by the fact that both the Tamil and Sinhala sides have totally contradictory perceptions about what these core issues are. Moreover, public pronouncements made by prominent Sinhala and Tamil political personalities suggest that there is a massive hiatus between both positions. There seems to be a vast gap between the minimum demands and maximum concessions.

In that context, there seems hardly any basis for anyone to expect the LTTE to modify its avowed position of Tamil Eelam at this juncture. Such a possibility could materialise only after the peace talks reach a fruitful stage of development. It is indeed disappointing that some media circles should continue to create false impressions of the LTTE dropping its Tamil Eelam demand prematurely. Equally distressing is the impression conveyed that the Tigers are dilly-dallying on the issue or that there is internal dissension on that account. What is important to realise is that the LTTE is only prepared to consider alternatives without having abandoned secession.

Viable alternative

Thus, when the LTTE says it is prepared to participate in the search for a settlement short of Tamil Eelam, a familiar strand in Tamil politics is visible again. Once again, the dominant Tamil political force of the day like the TULF in the past, is ready to accept a viable alternative to Tamil Eelam. The analogy ends there.

The LTTE unlike the TULF has reached this dominant position through force of arms and is in a far more powerful position vis a vis the government in Colombo than the TULF ever was. This position of strength and its ideological make up will not let the LTTE compromise for something far less than Tamil Eelam. So any viable alternative that the Tigers would be ready to accept has to incorporate the core principles of self-determination, homeland and nationhood. That simply put is the bottom line.

This  position was directly and effectively conveyed to the world at large by LTTE Chief Negotiator Anton Balasingham at the press conference in Thailand in September itself. Reiterating  then that the Tigers were not in negotiations to pursue Tamil Eelam, Balasingham emphasised that the Tigers were operating at a different level with other concepts such as self-determination, homeland, etc.

There was however an explicit warning. If the three concepts were not enshrined in any forthcoming settlement or if oppression continued, the Tigers would use the right of 'self-determination' as a last resort and secede, launching if necessary a separatist war again. Unfortunately, sections of the media twisted this to project a view that the LTTE had dropped Tamil Eelam.

Now the LTTE position has been clarified unambiguously through Tiger Supremo Prabakharan's annual address. Arguing that the Tamils of Sri Lanka constitute a distinct nationality or national formation with a separate language, culture, territory and consciousness of ethnic identity, the LTTE leader emphasises its right to charter its own future. Prabakharan says  in his speech:

"As distinct people, the Tamils are entitled to the right to self-determination. The right to self-determination has two aspects; internal and external. The internal self-determination, entitles people to self-rule. The Tamil people want to live in freedom and dignity in their own lands, in their historically constituted traditional lands without the domination of external forces. They want to protect their national identity pursuing the development of their language, culture and economy. They want to live in their homeland under a system of self-rule. This is the political aspiration of our people. This constitutes the essential meaning of internal self-determination. We are prepared to consider favourably a political framework that offers substantial regional autonomy and self-government in our homeland on the basis of our right to internal self-determination. But if our people's right to self-determination is denied and our demand for regional self-rule is rejected, we have no alternative other than to secede and form an independent state."

Continuing further, Prabakharan appealed directly to the Sinhala people: "The Sinhalese people should not oppose the Tamils' aspirations to manage their own affairs under a system of self-rule in their own homeland. It is the politics of the Sinhala nation that will eventually determine whether the Sinhalese could peacefully co-exist with the Tamils or to compel the Tamils to secede. If the Sinhala chauvinistic forces, for their own petty political reasons scuttle this peace effort, the Tamil people will be compelled to pursue the path of secession and political independence," he warned.

This then is the LTTE position. The most noteworthy feature of Prabakharan's address is that he is underscoring the LTTE's preparedness to consider "favourably a political framework that offers substantial regional autonomy and self-government in our homeland on the basis of our right to internal self-determination." At the same time, his warning too should not be disregarded lightly - "But if our people's right to self-determination is denied and our demand for regional self-rule is rejected, we have no alternative other than to secede and form an independent state."

Golden opportunity

Government spokesman and Constitutional Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris has been enthusiastic about Prabakharan's stance. He seems to be of the view that as negotiations progress, a satisfactory constitutional settlement acceptable to all parties could be worked out. Peiris is happy about the LTTE Leader enunciating the Tiger stance lucidly. It is indeed a step forward from a southern perspective. The LTTE leader, described often as uncompromisingly intransigent has proved flexible. He has gone on record that he is prepared to consider a viable alternative 'favourably.' Also, he has expressed confidence in the bona fides of Ranil Wickremesinghe

This is a golden opportunity that should not be neglected. The supreme challenge facing the Sinhala polity therefore is to explore ways and means of evolving a viable alternative to  the Tamil Eelam demand that would be acceptable to the LTTE and by extension, the Tamil people. Unless Tamil aspirations are accommodated, the demand for Tamil Eelam will not be abandoned. If a viable alternative is to evolve, then the core principles of homeland, nationhood and self-determination have to be recognised.

The core principle of self-determination (internal) is not something extraneous in Tamil perception. It is perceived as an  inherent right of the Tamil people and not a concession given as a hand-out.

The formidable task at hand is to work out a solution providing self-rule in an autonomous region incorporating the right of self-determination in a manner acceptable to the Sinhala and Muslim people as well. These are issues that have to be addressed and not glossed over, ignored or postponed indefinitely. Unless and until these issues are resolved and a radical re-structuring of the state is effected, prospects of a final and permanent settlement are bleak indeed.

Ball in Sinhala court

What Prabakharan has done therefore is to fling down the gauntlet to the Sinhala people and their political leaders. He has requested them to provide an acceptable  solution. The onus has been placed on the Sinhala south to provide a viable alternative to Tamil Eelam. The present rounds of talks may defer discussions on the subject for a future date. Yet, the day will dawn when the issue is really and constructively discussed. A meaningful settlement will have to be reached then.

There are two questions to ponder in such a situation. One is  whether the powers that be are capable of evolving an equitable solution that would be acceptable to the LTTE? The other is whether a Sinhala consensus endorsing such a solution will materialise? It is only then that the Tamil Eelam demand would be laid to rest. As for now, the Tamil Eelam ball is in the Sinhala court.


Power(ful) battle at the CEB

By Frederica Jansz 

A fierce row is brewing between the Ceylon Electricity Board’s Engineers Union (CEBEU) and the CEB’s Vice Chairman, M. M. Zubair over the installation of a multi million dollar project involving the setting up of a 22 Mega watt power plant at Sapugaskanda. The battle is reaching alarming proportions with the all powerful CEBEU threatening stern trade union action if this project is not dropped.

The engineers charge that the setting up of this plant has been approved by the cabinet of ministers after Vice Chairman, CEB, M. M. Zubair misrepresented the facts in the case without consulting any CEB official including the general manager or the additional GM Commercial on the subject.

The Engineers Union has also clashed with Power and Energy Minister Karu Jayasuriya over this issue maintaining the Minister too without evaluating the proposal more thoroughly has pushed for cabinet approval.

Zubair and the CEBEU clashed over an agreement between the CEB and S. E. M. T. Pielstick of France, which was to be signed in early August this year. This agreement entailed that Pielstick and their associate company Centrales Diesel Export would supply, install and maintain for 12 years a new diesel generator of 22 MW capacity at Sapugaskanda station and continue the maintenance of the four Pielstick 20 MW diesel generators which are at the same location. 

The Engineers Union charge that the project is totally unnecessary and a cost the CEB can ill afford. The financial commitment of the CEB for this project will include Euro 11 million for the new generator in instalments and Euro 4.5 million approximately towards payment for maintenance over the 10 year period immediately following the installation of the new machine.

The loan is to be facilitated by Pielstick through Hatton National Bank, but serviced by the CEB, with all loan repayment obligations on the CEB. On August 6, this year the CEB Engineers Union wrote to Minister Karu Jayasuriya stating their concerns and objections to this project.

This letter was later taken up for discussion at the Energy Supply Committee (ESC) meeting on August 16, at which two union representatives were also present by invitation. Following this discussion, the ESC decided to inform the CEB not to sign any contract on this proposal until the CEB chairman’s report was obtained. Since the CEB has no chairman in place yet, M. M. Zubair serves in his capacity as acting chairman.

Unsolicited deal

Apart from the massive loan liability for the CEB in this regard, the Engineers Union asserts that the offer by Pielstick was unsolicited and although accepted and evaluated is in complete violation of government guidelines stipulated by the cabinet.

The offer from Pielstick arose after follow-up discussions between President Chandrika Kumaratunga and President Jacques Chirac of France in 1996.  A letter from Pielstick dated June 23, 2000 addressed to the Director General of the BoI later sets out details of the offer and its advantages and benefits to Sri Lanka.

Kumaratunga in her former capacity as finance and planning minister in a cabinet memorandum on August 25, 2000, described the offer from Pielstick and stated that Pielstick had offered to sell to the CEB, electricity at an all inclusive price of US cents 3.98 per Kwh for a full 12 year term of the contract.  Kumaratunga’s memorandum expressed hope that the proposal would “address the short-term capacity shortage of electricity” prevailing at that time.

The price indicated in this memorandum was misleading due to the fact that Pielstick had not included the cost of payment for maintaining the existing 80 Mega watt plant at Sapugaskanda. 

The all-inclusive price of US cents 3.98 per Kwh was based only on the proposed new 22 mega watt plant. This conditional clause appears to have been conveniently ignored by Kumaratunga, her cabinet of ministers and later the UNF cabinet of ministers, where the offer insists that Pielstick must be given the maintenance contract as well as the installation of the new generator for 22 MW of electricity. The French firm will not agree to install the 22 MW generator only, without renewing a 10 year maintenance contract or the existing 80 MW plant at Sapugaskanda.

When a technical evaluation committee studied this proposal in the year 2000, after evaluation, they determined that the cost of a unit of electricity per Kwh from Pielstick would amount to US cents 4.72.

President, CEBEU, Dr. Susantha Perera states that according to present day fuel and other costs, even a price of US cents 4.72 is understated and that in fact, the CEB will have to pay Pielstick around US cents 6 for each Kwh of electricity.

Although the current price figures are available with AGM (Commercial), Zubair, Perera charges did not consult this officer before writing his report.

Perera further reiterated that the cabinet paper originally submitted by Kumaratunga asserts the financial aspects of this proposal would be covered in a Build, Own, Operate (BOO) proposal with the option of operations of the plant being carried out by CEB staff.

A typical BOO/Build, Own, Transfer (BOT) project, Perera pointed out is based on non-recourse financing in that equity is generally limited to about 30% of the project cost.  The proposal by Pielstick on the contrary he asserted has no resemblance to a typical project financed investment, but relies on suppliers credit. Citing the Pielstick proposal as a BOO/BOT project therefore is grossly inaccurate, Perera said.

Acting Chairman Zubair disagrees.  He is of the view that citing the offer as BOO/BOT or by any other label should not cause a proposal to be automatically discarded or viewed as tainted.

This is not what the CEBEU is saying.  They have in fact clearly stated the financial implications of a BOO/BOT project and pointed out that as such, this offer on the basis of the terms and conditions proposed cannot be cited as such and that it is misleading at best to do so.

The Engineers Union in their letter to Minister Jayasuriya also maintain the original offer by Pielstick proposed using residual oil for the plant — the same fuel which is used by diesel generators at Sapugaskanda. The above factor was cited as a justification for locating the plant within the Sapugaskanda power station. 

The Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) however, has confirmed that no additional residual oil would be available for electricity generation in the future. For this reason, the proposed 22 MW plant would be operated on furnace oil which is used by many other diesel plants in the country. As such, Dr. Perera asserted that locating additional capacity at Sapugaskanda therefore does not offer any cost advantage as envisaged in the Pielstick proposal.

Zubair dismisses this aspect as well asserting in his letter to the ESC on November 18, 2002 that there is no advantage or disadvantage in locating a new 22 MW unit at Sapugaskanda.  He adds that as regards the viability of fuel, it is upto the CPC or any other new player in the fuel supply arena to meet market demands.

The engineers meantime, assert that it is important to note that the cabinet paper by Kumaratunga which received cabinet approval on September 21, 2000 was submitted by a ministry outside the subject ministry which was the Power and Energy Ministry. Perera said that at the time, even the former Power and Energy Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte was not consulted or informed of this proposal, but that it had been handled entirely by Kumaratunga alone.

Zubair charges that even though the cabinet paper on this issue was indeed submitted by another ministry, “the fact is that cabinet has accepted it and set in motion follow-up action.”

Subsequently, following the change of government, Attorney General, K. C. Kamalasabeyson, noted that since cabinet approval for this project had been obtained at a time when parliament stood dissolved, it was important to obtain fresh cabinet approval.

Zubair has dismissed even the AG’s concerns stating in his letter to the ESC that the concerns raised by Kamalasabeyson “were not matters legal but matters which could be more appropriately raised by the Auditor General or the Treasury!”

Fresh approval was obtained by the UNF cabinet on July 10, this year, based on a cabinet paper submitted by Minister Jayasuriya.  It is being alleged that Jayasuriya had not consulted either the CEB general manager or any other official before submitting this fresh paper to cabinet even though the CEB had raised concerns by this time on the prudence of procuring additional capacity at a time the demand growth has not shown a significant increase. Indeed, the CEB has questioned the wisdom of procuring additional capacity under the 200 MW Medium Term Project currently under evaluation.

The government is in fact in the last stages of procuring 200 MW of medium term capacity from the private sector on a 10 year contract. This capacity is expected to be operational by end 2003. In addition, the CEB plans to also include 300 MW of combined cycle capacity at Kerawalapitiya, on which tender preparations are being done at present. 

Dr. Perera noted that committing substantial financial resources for another 22 MW which in all likelihood would become redundant, would only serve to further deteriorate the financial position of the CEB.

Dr. Perera further pointed out that in the power sector restructuring programme of the government, the CEB would be divided into several state owned companies including generation companies. 

Giving away 100 MW of capacity immediately before forming these companies would obviously be counter-productive, Dr. Perera said, adding that if any decision to enter into maintenance contracts is needed, such decisions should be left to the management of these newly formed companies. “It is wrong in principle therefore to entertain any proposal for entering into a 10 year maintenance contract for a sizeable portion of CEB’s thermal capacity in view of the imminent restructuring of CEB,” he said.

Zubair disagrees strongly once more. He asserts that the power sector restructuring programme is going on and the vesting date could be a good year from now. “The CEB’s decision making process should not be stalled on the hypothetical basis that it will burden the new companies,” Zubair said.

Zubair adds that as a result of Pielstick having access to all engineering and managerial expertise, they are able to achieve productivity targets much better than others. As a result, he states awarding them a maintenance contract for the existing generators at Sapugaskanda will ensure the generators are in very good condition at the end of a further 10 years. Even after 10 years, the CEB or its relevant successor company will have a 100 MW plant of high merit, he notes.

Dr. Perera however, insists that the cost of paying Pielstick to maintain this 100 MW plant would cost almost twice the amount when compared with the CEB maintaining the plant.

Perera also charged that the CEB has received lucrative offers of power generation as low as US cents 5.5.  He noted that even this fractional difference in price amounts to billions of rupees saved for the CEB.  Perera pointed out that these offers are not conditional and do not insist on a maintenance contract as well at Sapugaskanda or any other location.

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