5th January 2003, Volume 9, Issue 25

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ISSUES

HSZs rock peace process

By Frederica Jansz

THE controversy over the security forces High Security Zones (HSZs) in Jaffna has temporarily at least rocked Sri Lanka's fragile peace process as both the LTTE and the military have adopted tough and uncompromising stances on the issue.

Army Commander Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle last week announced in Kandy when he visited the Sri Dalada Maligawa that the army will not compromise on this issue and that the LTTE must hand over their weapons "to a third party" before the army will agree to a phased withdrawal from HSZs in the Jaffna peninsula.

Even as Balagalle spoke, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe summoned Defence Minister Tilak Marapone, Minister Milinda Moragoda, Defence Secretary Austin Fernando, Majors General Lohan Gunewardena, Sarath Fonseka, Shantha Kottegoda and the air force and naval chiefs on Thursday, January 2.

At this discussion, Wickremesinghe was a bit hard on Major General Sarath Fonseka chiding him for having released a detailed de-escalation plan to the LTTE which in effect disclosed the government’s military and political agenda for the peace process.

Suitable proposal

When the Sub Committee on De-Escalation and Normalisation met with the LTTE in Muhamalai on December 14, 2002, and the issue of HSZs was discussed, Major General Sarath Fonseka was asked to prepare a suitable proposal for a phased out plan that could accommodate the resettlement of Tamil Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

Fonseka did just that, showed it to the army commander and thereafter handed it over to the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) on December 20, 2002, who in turn handed the document in full to the LTTE.

The government now reiterates that it expected the SLMM to prepare a summary of the de-escalation plan and discuss the issue with the military before handing it over to the LTTE.

That however did not happen and instead, Fonseka's full and detailed de-escalation plan was handed over to the Tigers.

The LTTE has now completely rejected the plan, while the army chief and his northern based commander have taken an equally hard-line stance refusing to compromise on the issue.

As the problem reached a stalemate Economic Reforms Minister Milinda Moragoda flew to Jaffna with a special team of government representatives last week.

There, Major General Sarath Fonseka impressed upon Moragoda the unfairness of the LTTE demand that the army move out of HSZs and hand back land and houses to Tamil IDPs.

Unoccupied houses

According to Fonseka, there are only 10,000 houses within the Valikamam North, Palaly and Jaffna Beach Road HSZs.

The LTTE strongly disagrees with this number. The Tigers maintain that there are at least 30,000 houses within these areas.

According to the Jaffna Government Agent there are 15,000 houses within these areas. Hence, it is uncertain which count is accurate.

Major General Sarath Fonseka meanwhile, had also told Moragoda that there are 50,000 houses unoccupied which are located outside the military's HSZs and that the LTTE should first ensure Tamil people are re-settled in these houses before trying to force the military out and away from its forward defence lines.

Fonseka has reiterated that the army will only concede to a phased out operation from HSZs if the LTTE too reciprocates by handing over their long range weapons and arsenal.

The issue will receive priority at the Thailand talks scheduled to begin tomorrow (6). The Sub Committee on De-Escalation and Normalisation is also scheduled to hold a meeting in this regard on the 14th of this month at Muhamalai, with the hope of reaching a compromise.

The government has pointed out that the LTTE while having rejected Fonseka's plan outright must then also come up with a suitable alternative.

The LTTE, on Boxing Day issued a statement condemning Fonseka's plan reiterating that the issue of resettlement cannot be conditional or based on decommissioning of arms.

The internal politics of the army is also at play in this instance. Since Balagalle received a three year extension to continue serving as army chief, it is unlikely the next in line, Major General Lohan Gunewardena will succeed him.

Instead, the other two close contenders for the post of army commander are Major General Shantha Kottegoda and Major General Sarath Fonseka respectively.

Kottegoda is playing a significant role in the government peace process. Fonseka on the other hand, has adopted a more hardline stance and has clearly displayed his mistrust of the LTTE and their sincerity or commitment to the peace process.

That Fonseka will resort to a full scale war if the LTTE so wish and is not prepared to weaken his defences, he has made clear to both the Tigers and the government.

That Fonseka is being backed fully in this instance by President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who is not only commander-in chief of the three armed forces, but also a key player in Wickremesinghe's peace process is another factor that cannot be ignored. 

Direct impact

To Fonseka, the LTTE will always remain terrorists. Despite the peace process, Fonseka has not been able to bring himself to forget the blood and thunder and consider the Tigers as peace strategists.     

This aspect is predominant in the 'de-escalation plan' Fonseka wrote.  In this document, he pointed out that resettling civilians in HSZs "can bring about a big political success to the LTTE and any other interested parties. Therefore, it can have a direct impact on the political situation in Jaffna which may go in favour of the LTTE under the present political situation."

Fonseka was careful to note that while appreciating the humanitarian aspect of this issue and the consequences thereafter, "the military gains the LTTE will achieve due to re-settling civilians in HSZ should also be taken into consideration," he cautioned.

He asserted emphatically that "while appreciating the urgent need to resettle people in HSZs it is imperative that political mileage which the government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) has to maintain throughout the peace process should not be hindered by creating a weak security environment in the north."

Stressing on the importance of maintaining the HSZs in the Jaffna peninsula, Fonseka urged that, "any normalisation plan which affects the security of HSZs should go hand in glove with reducing military options available to the LTTE."

He advised that armed groups having the ability to take cover behind civilians should not be ignored, thus "leaving the terrorists to take maximum advantage."

He noted that if armed groups are mixed up with civilians and able to thus enter HSZs, such groups would find it easier to launch physical attacks rather than firing long range weapons.

Fonseka has reiterated that "peace and development can never be achieved without security and so it is not advisable to weaken the security of the Jaffna peninsula and also aim at peace and development."

  According to Fonseka, since the security forces at present do not have 100% superiority over the LTTE's military capability, "it is not advisable to take risks" unless, he adds, the capabilities of the security forces are developed to be able to maintain 100% superiority over the LTTE.

Phased out plan

Fonseka reiterates in his plan that the entire process of resettlement has to take place over a period of time and is definitely a phased out operation which will have to consider effective infrastructure facilities as well as provide adequate development aid.

He adds that even the security of IDPs within the HSZs has to be considered as they would be vulnerable to mines and "terrorist activities."

Fonseka's use of the word 'terrorist' in his report has angered the LTTE who insist the word should not be used during a negotiated process as partners to the peace process must be placed on an equal footing. 

Fonseka asserts that implementation plans for resettlement has to be worked out in relation to de-escalation proposals which should in turn be worked out after reaching an agreement with the government and LTTE under supervision of the SLMM.  (See box for full report on de-escalation plan).

De-escalation plan Preamble

1. GOSL and security forces appreciate the most important humanitarian need to resettle people back in their houses in areas affected by the war. In this sense, expansion of HSZ from time to time has caused displacement of people in the Jaffna peninsula, thus creating a humanitarian problem. Therefore, GOSL and security forces have realised the need to expedite the resettling of displaced people and are keen to find a workable solution to solve this issue.

2. It is also understood that resettling civilians in HSZ can bring about a big political success to the LTTE and any other interested parties. Therefore, it can have a direct impact on the political situation in Jaffna which may most probably go in favour of the LTTE under the present political situation. While appreciating this situation, it should also be borne in mind that when talking in terms of political situation, political criticism in the south of Sri Lanka also cannot be ignored. Therefore, any adjustment or variations in security zones should not create  political turmoil in the south and should be considered as critical.

3. While appreciating the humanitarian achievements, consequences which will affect the Sri Lankan Security Forces (SF) and military gains the LTTE will achieve due to resettling civilians in HSZ should be also taken in to consideration. Therefore, resettling civilians in the HSZ should go hand in glove with a de-escalation process agreed by both GOSL and LTTE. While appreciating the urgent need to resettle people in HSZ it is imperative that political mileage which the GOSL has to maintain throughout the peace process should not be hindered by creating a weak security environment in the north.

Need for security

4. As existence and strength of HSZ is utmost vital for success of defences and security of the Jaffna peninsula and islands, no risks or chances should be taken to weaken security by making HSZ vulnerable.

5. As the present dimensions of HSZ are meant to face the present threat, weakening HSZs should be done in relation to reduction of LTTE military options ranging from major conventional attacks to asymmetric attacks.

6. Any normalising plan which affects the HSZ should go hand in glove with reducing military options available to LTTE.

7. Armed groups having the ability to get cover behind civilians should not be ignored and leave terrorists to take maximum advantage.

8. Armed groups if mixed up with civilians to enter HSZ or get in and about HSZ will find it easier to launch physical attacks rather than firing long range weapons as the presence of civilians in HSZ may hinder the freedom to fire long range weapons.

9. Any armed groups attacking HSZ will want to physically capture or destroy command elements and resources within HSZ rather than trying to attack with long range weapons.

10. If attacked from rear benefited due to the increased ability to close in by mixing up with civilians while facing any attack from front, SF defences in HSZ will fall and face disastrous effects losing a lot of life and resources.

11. If the civilians are allowed to enter, threat on survivability of all HSZ are equally increased including the ones facing uncleared areas.

12. As peace or development will never come without security, it is not advisable to weaken the security of Jaffna peninsula and also aim at peace and development.

13. As SF presently does not have 100% superiority over the LTTE military capability, it is not advisable to take risks unless SF capabilities are developed to be able to maintain 100% superiority over LTTE, thus any short term drawbacks can be overcome and regain initiative to avoid disasters.

14. If there is a threat for HSZ from immediate front/close proximity, rear or within due to resettling in HSZ to cater for such a situation, additional troop deployments will be required.

Factors affecting resettlement

15. Humanitarian Requirement - Resettlement in HSZ deserves serious concern as per the humanitarian angle and the whole issue should be seen from following perspectives.

a. There are about 10,000 houses affected due to the existence of HSZ.

b. Due to prolonged displacement, education of Jaffna students have been hampered.

c. Due to displacement, cultural values and traditions are being  disturbed.

d. Due to displacement, civilians have become more vulnerable to the activities of undemocratic forces.

e. Displaced people have been socially handicapped and virtually face discrimination.

f. Displaced people will be deprived of the services and infrastructure facilities afforded to normal civilians.

g. Having displaced people will have a direct adverse impact on the economy of the region.

16. Political agenda of the government - As the government is committed to the peace process to bring about lasting peace to Sri Lanka it is of paramount importance for the government to be concerned about the plight of the displaced people. Government should take all possible measures in this regard without disturbing the security requirements in order to retain its initiative to achieve long term success. Following areas should be included in the political agenda of the GOSL.

a. Take sufficient interest on resettlement followed up with rehabilitation.

b. Request for foreign donor assistance for development of affected areas and people.

c. Take necessary steps to win hearts and minds of people affected.

d. Mobilise all government ministries and departments etc. for the purpose of successful resettlement of people by solving infrastructure  problems.

e. Provide an environment which encourages and assists in practising democratic politics.

17. Security - This is given the highest consideration as resettlements are going to take place within the areas declared as HSZs, where most of the key installations are situated. Following factors need  to be given due consideration in order to ensure security is not compromised.

a. Resettlement of civilians should be arranged in such a way that SF should not compromise its security at any stage.

b. Security can be relaxed only in stages in relation to de-escalation of LTTE. i.e.: disarming of cadres and decommissioning of LTTE long range weapons.

c. Effective and accurate system of activities has to be planned out for both LTTE and GOSL in coordination with SLMM to ensure that security will not be hampered and/because of the resettlement of troops, the defence layout should not be exposed to the civilians.

d. Security of command and logistics elements to be ensured. Vulnerable and sensitive defences, air and sea communication agencies should not be sacrificed.

e. Security of IDPs also to be considered as equally important because, they may be vulnerable to terror activities, mines/IEDs which are available in HSZs.

f. Govt. infrastructure facilities, transport agencies are vulnerable.

g. Security of law enforcement agencies have to be considered for smooth functioning of govt. authority.

18. Infrastructure Facilities - It is important that following facilities are required to be provided before the resettlement proper takes place in the HSZs.

a. Electricity

b. Transport

c. Housing

d. Medical

e. Repairs to the road network

f. Communication systems

g. Education

19. Finance and rehabilitation - This requirement will go hand in glove as civilians will require financial assistance to reconstruct their dwellings and also arrangements to be made regarding dry rations. Financial assistance will also be required to develop infrastructure facilities to readjust SF deployment. Assistance may be sought from NGOs.

20. SLMM representatives - It is required to create an understanding between the SLA and LTTE in many areas. Following requirements to be looked into.

a. Expansion of the monitoring mission by additional numbers.

b. Enhance the mandate to cover more security issues.

c. Since the LTTE is indirectly interfering with the deployment of security forces, SLMM assistance is required to minimise the security threat. For this purpose SLMM mandate should be amended to give more authority/power.

21. Neutral body to supervise de-escalation - It is essential to have a neutral organisation with sufficient number of staff to make a formidable force to monitor the implementation of the de-escalation process. This neutral body should be in a position to act as mediators within the respective theatres during the implementation of the de-escalation process. This body should work in liaison with the govt., Norwegian facilitators and LTTE regarding the progress of the implementation of de-escalation. SLMM may perform this task better.

De-escalation proposals in relation to resettlement in HSZs

22. De-escalation proposals in relation to resettlement in HSZs are given at Annex "A".

Implementation plan

23. Implementation plans for resettlement has to be worked out in relation to de-escalation proposals given in this proposal under following headings. It is also required to come to an agreement by the govt. with the LTTE under SLMM supervision to work out the implementation.

a. Areas to be resettled including boundaries to be identified.

b. Clearing of mines.

c. Demarcation of prohibited areas/No go areas.

d. Enumerate the legitimate ownership.

e. Financial support and rehabilitation.

f. Providing infrastructure facilities.

g. Essential services.

h. Working out of a detailed security system which will be revised from time to time as per deployments on ground.

i. Action plan for de-escalation in relation to resettlement.

24. Following hotels and houses can be vacated for intended use/resettlement as early as possible as follows.

a. Subash Hotel - By mid June 2003.

b. Gnanam Hotel - By end March 2003.

c. Houses around and above two hotels in Jaffna Town - About 80 in number - By mid July 2003.

d. Private houses in Chavakachcheri - By end 2003.*

e. Private houses in other areas - By mid 2004.*

* Above "d" and "e" would facilitate handing over of houses occupied by the security forces on a continuing basis, as and when alternative accommodation is constructed.

25. As recommended by the Sub-Committee on De-escalation and Normalisation on December 14, 2002, it is expected that all financial requirements are provided by the government to SLA, commencing mid January 2003. Further, as stated in Oslo during the last negotiations, the SLA does not anticipate any objection from the LTTE on new relocation sites, as such responses would cause further delay.

26. Following areas can be considered for early resettlement provided de-escalation proposals have been finalised and agreed as per the security requirements stated in annex "A".

a. Area west of Keeramalai. (Annex A)

b. Kovilakkandy. (Annex B)

27. This report/proposals will have to be studied and approved by the higher authorities.

Date: 20 December 2002.

G.S.C. Fonseka RWP RSP reds psc

Major General

Commander

Security Forces (Jaffna)

Copies:

Secretary of Defence

Comd of the Army

Comd of the Navy

Comd of the Air Force

 


To make or break?

By Amantha Perera 

Recently, Colombo Mayor, Prasanna Gunawardena met three very powerful personalities. Gunawardena held a meeting with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, UNP Deputy Leader and Power and Energy Minister Karu Jayasuriya and UNP Chairman Malik Samarawickrema.

The three outlined to him their concerns about the state of affairs at the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC). Among the concerns raised by the trio was the lethargic policy the CMC has been adopting towards unauthorised structures plaguing most of the city.

But then again, Gunawardena, by his own admission, is more interested in making things rather than demolishing. "I came here to make, not to break," he once told the UNF group at the CMC. All good and fair, if not for the menace of unauthorised structures that keep coming up.

The problem is widespread in not only Colombo, but in the three main municipalities that lie next to it, Dehiwela, Kotte and Kolonnawa. A fair portion of the three and Colombo make-up the greater metropolis that Premier Wickremesinghe has envisaged.

About a month back, a meeting was held in Dehiwela where mayors and other councillors from the four were in attendance. There too, the problem of the unauthorised structures came up.

Deputy Mayor of Colombo, Azath Sally suggested that all four councils place a paper advertisement informing the public that the municipalities would be taking action to remove all unauthorised structures. It was received with enthusiasm and that was about all the suggestion received. No advertisement has been placed yet and not only are the old structures remaining, but new ones keep popping up.

When inquiries are made from the mayors privately as to what action they have taken about the structures, at most, the reply is a wry smile.

One councillor from the CMC however observed that even if the mayors take prompt action, the order gets bogged down somewhere in the labyrinth of paper work.

If a property is to be demolished, then the order has to come from the mayor and thereafter referred to the engineering department. The councillor described one instance when Gunawardena had made three such orders on one structure, but the engineering department had failed to carry out the task. Now the member is contemplating legal action against the owners of the building.

UNF CMC member Sharmila Gonawela however, sounded a different note when she told The Sunday Leader that the CMC had taken action to bring down all illegal structures she had brought to its notice. "There were some problems at the beginning, but now action is being taken," she said, adding that she was not aware of a widespread problem of new unauthorised structures.

Demolition work can be political hara-kiri and has to be undertaken during the first part of any local government tenure. "Use the first year to take whatever down, and the remainder to build," a CMC member observed. If anyone needs any proof for the viability of such a strategy, just ask former minister Mangala Samaraweera whose fall from grace was accelerated by him taking on the mantle of 'demolition man.'

Not only commercial establishments, but there are thousands of houses that have been constructed without any sort of approval. The two international stadiums in Colombo - Sugathadasa and the R. Premadasa ¥ are surrounded by thousands of such structures, preventing any sort of major expansion work.

None of the four councils seem to have any proper record as to how many such structures exist. Let alone such data, there are no records on the type of commercial activity carried out in buildings, illegal or otherwise. Colombo for example is overflowing with unauthorised lodges.

The owner of the fireworks shop that went up in flames killing more than 20 at Gasworks Street had been in the business for more than 50 years and never did he have a license or approval to carry out the business.

Road front businesses keep encroaching on the pavement at ease and pedestrians are driven to the road.

Most of the pavement hawkers who were selling fireworks during the season belonged to the same category.

The issue with the residential buildings is that if the occupants are to be evicted, then alternative housing has to be provided. "If Colombo is to be made the great metropolis, then at least 20,000 more houses have to be provided," the CMC Member observed.

And eviction would not be easy even if alternative residences are provided. Most of the structures are in prime locations and the occupants would not budge unless the deal is going to be pretty good.

The CMC once had to offer the location of one of its yards as alternate space to make sure that an unauthorised garage was removed.

The longer such a building has been occupied, the harder it is to get the occupants out. "They will stay for five years and then say they have been there for 50 years," the member said.

Not only unauthorised structures, but attention has to be paid to old buildings and additions done illegally to approved plans. The Gafoor Building in the heart of Colombo has been condemned since 1992, but no action has been taken to demolish it. Every month, the CMC sends a crew to clear the sewerage that has seeped into the building. There are many more such structures all over the city.

The enormity of the problem requires a concerted effort at government level to bring the structures down - cooperation between such agencies like the local government authority, police and the Urban Development Authority (UDA). But any such plan has to be made immune to hijacking by politicians.

Samaraweera himself started projects to get pavement hawkers into authorised areas. In Colombo, powerful politicians, both from the SLFP and the UNP resorted to having their own lists of names on who and who should get such hawker permits. After the initial heat, it becomes business as usual.

For the time being however, those who want to build can build and those who have built without any permits can enjoy the spoils as none of the councils seem to have any proper action plan to deal with the problem.

Most of the councillors who have complained of such structures and on top of that, they being allowed to exist due to political pressure, observe that the message has not filtered down from the national level leadership that it is serious about creating a proper city, or else the silence has been interpreted to mean that it does not care.

"Maybe the Prime Minister should send a circular or something like that urging tough and urgent action. Then the mayors might take note," a CMC member observed.


The challenge of HSZs

By Harry Goonetileke

With the fourth round of peace talks once again shifting to Thailand after a very successful first three rounds, there is considerable apprehension in the country that the rejection by the LTTE last week of the demand by the army hierarchy to decommission weapons and disarm their cadres as a quid pro quo to reduction/dismantling of High Security Zones (HSZ), will undermine and seriously affect the ongoing dialogue.

In the aftermath of this imbroglio, one arm of the government, i.e. the President, believing it to be the forerunner of a LTTE breakway from the internationally promoted peace process rushed to Colombo from a holiday in the south with her children to be in the city when the government collapses or promoting it, as is being speculated.

The other arm, the Prime Minister, was holidaying in Singapore confident that no such thing will happen. (This writer is convinced that from mid-December 2001, after the elections, there are two forms of government in the country, as is widely known.) Be that as it may, what does this state of affairs portend for our country?

Taking the issue of the LTTE declaration that decommissioning of weapons and disarming of their cadres is non-negotiable, the boot seems to be on the other foot. If there is no come down by them, how is the government to react? Is this rhetoric on the LTTEOs part? I am afraid it is no.

If I was the brigand leader of a liberation struggle as most of the Tamil community sees it, it would be suicidal to give up my armoury of weapons or a substantial part of it obtained by the spilling of blood of approximately 20,000 men and women lost in the struggle, and the military hardware costing many millions of rupees, a good part of it seized from my enemy.

One third of country

Besides, after 20 years of war and the capture of two districts, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi, and at the gates of another, Jaffna, the biggest prize of all, my writ of authority extends to nearly one third of the country in the north and the east with the exception of the towns of Trincomalee, Batticaloa, and Amparai.

So, my colleagues in the south, there is no way that the LTTE will back down from their stated position when they are talking from a position of strength and virtually calling the shots, except in a symbolic or by a token gesture relating to the two issues. Would this mean that the LTTE is readying for a confrontation of macro proportions? No, here too.

How one can be sure of this is the fact that the PM is in Singapore (at the time of writing), taking a breather from his busy state schedule with no indication of his rushing back, meaning that the LTTE would not jeopardise the peace talks. Then, does it mean that the LTTE would do an about turn with its tail between its legs and meekly comply with Major General Sarath Fonseka's ground plan for disengagement and cohabitation? Again, its a firm no.

What will they do then? If this problem is not resolved to the satisfaction of the two parties at the parley that is assembling tomorrow in Thailand for the fourth round, it is the belief of this writer that what happened in July in Kayts, in Batticaloa and Trincomalee thereafter, about September in Pt. Pedro, and Kanjirankudah in Amparai District in October, all less than six months ago, will be repeated in the weeks and months to come this year.

Having done two inquiries in the areas mentioned, it is once again likely to take the same form of protests, demonstrations and hartals by organised groups of IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons), university students, adult school goers, farmers, fishermen, etc., to focus the attention of the international community on the plight of the indigenous population of the north and east from returning to their homes and home territory after being displaced by the military to establish their HSZ, especially after nearly an year of an MoU.

Such acts of defiance will not precipitate an abrogation of the ceasefire now in place, but will make it very uncomfortable for the military and Special Task Force whose patience would be tested to the utmost in the face of extreme provocation, where the slightest spark in the form of a death or two of sympathetic participants could ignite and explode into a political fallout of massive proportions.

Middle ground

How does one avoid this situation in the face of a rigid stand by the two opposing forces? There is no question of the security needs of the military not being addressed when holding ground until successful completion of talks. Similarly, there is no question of preventing IDPs returning to their original abodes to pick up their lives from where they left off from territory they inhabited long before the military arrived there and set up their HSZs.

Some middle ground has to be found in the next few days in Thailand to satisfy both parties, which will take the highest priority as stated by LTTE Chief Negotiator, Dr. Balasingham a few days ago, with nothing else being discussed until it is resolved. Failure to do so will almost certainly send the peace process into hibernation perhaps until March when Japan is expected to host the talks.

This writer is confident that something can be worked out to the satisfaction of the two parties in the next few days in Thailand, but till then, sub committees envisaged to bring about a solution to the main problem, the SDN (Sub Committee on De-escalation and Normalisation) will be dead as a dodo.

Let me wind up this subject of HSZ by quoting from my special report to three of the hierarchy in government when handing over the official report of my committee that investigated the Kanjirankudah incident on October 9 last year wherein, I said in my concluding paragraph "...In the chairman's vision, as mentioned by him in his report on the Kayts incident, for withdrawal of the military from HSZ, may be incorporated in a peace accord to be signed on successful completion of talks in the near or distant future. This could also be an inducement for the LTTE not to prevaricate, but get down to the serious business of meaningful discussions of an everlasting peace. ...Only lasting peace should change the landscape in the north and the east."

Having said that, it is now incumbent on the part of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), the main plank in the peace process, to play a more dominant and active role to find that middle ground which may not be that elusive, as both parties to the dispute, left to themselves, would in every probability seek to go that extra mile on a journey they set out nearly an year ago.

In the event they maintain their rigid stands and remain inflexible, then the services of another one or two leading nations backing the peace process should be harnessed for this purpose if the ongoing dialogue is not to be compromised.

Meanwhile, new stakeholders have crept in to the peace process to create doubt amongst the hoi polloi who have now - nearly 90% of them - come to accept that war is not the answer to a political problem.

We now have the Muslim leadership engaged in a power struggle and using the fears amongst that community, particularly in the Eastern Province, to promote their claims by pushing for an autonomous region. Then there is a venerable Buddhist monk who has come forward to establish a new political party purportedly to save the Sinhala nation from annihilation, reminding us of our kings of the past.

Then again, we have our President,  the National Bikkhu Front and the JVP hammering away at the Norwegians, their ambassador and all, to get the hell out of this country and the peace process, forgetting that one of them was instrumental in getting them here.

Finally, only last week a declaration was made by the General Secretary of the SLFP, the main pillar and constituent partner of the PA, that they disavow a federal solution or federal structure that is being pursued by the government and the LTTE.

We are probably expecting too much when we ask, as a lot of well meaning people have been saying over the past many months, the head of state and head of government to close ranks to bring sunshine to our people and their country. And in this endeavour the President should accept the outstretched hand of the PM, for it was the latter who was elected to office by all 20 odd districts in Sri Lanka, bar one, at the general election only 13 months ago on a platform of ending the war and bringing peace to this nation.

Confrontationist attitude

If the extended arm cannot be grasped warmly on behalf of our people, the way to go is either assisting/cooperating with the SLMM in their difficult task of balancing the needs of the two contending forces or refrain from policy directives to the military such as not to yield any ground without considering the consequences, whilst actually applauding the stand taken by them knowing fully well, come what may, the Sinhala south will applaud the outpouring.

If this confrontationist attitude is to continue, then for the sake of our country, the President should draw the curtain on parliament and call for fresh elections as early as possible, as she has the power to do so now, despite the cost of another election to the nation, where it is opportune for the people to determine their destiny once again.

We are at crossroads now having to move forward, and the people will show what road to take and who is to guide us on that road if our two bigwigs cannot put their act together.

But God and Devas forbid, no change of government to occur with crossovers for pecuriary benefits and perks of office as was shamelessly practised in the last two years or so.

It needs no emphasis that this is our last chance for peace and if not grabbed earnestly with both hands, then the hand(s) that betrayed the nation of this final chance must be cut off as in the Muslim Sharia law.

(To be continued)

- The writer is a former Sri Lanka Air Force Commander


That Bradman's meeting with Van Orden

Secretary to the Prime Minister, Bradman Weerakoon has informed Member of the European Parliament, Geoffrey Van Orden that the need of the hour was the integration of the military force of the LTTE, reconstruction of the affected areas, de-mining, the rehabilitation of public buildings and destroyed irrigation systems.

He had said a sum of around US $ 500 million had been identified as a 'ball park' figure in this respect.

Weerakoon made these observations after Van Orden inquired whether the security apparatus of the LTTE would be integrated with the Sri Lanka military once a political solution is reached.

Van Orden had also queried whether there would be a role for the international community in any endeavour towards such integration, pointing out that the UK had much experience in this regard in the former Rhodesia.

The meeting between Weerakoon and Van Orden took place at Strasbourg, Belgium on September 25, 2002 but the meeting came into focus after a controversial statement was attributed to Weerakoon at the meeting in the media last week relating to giving equal status to the LTTE.

According to the minutes of the meeting recorded by Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the European Union, Romesh Jayasinghe, the media attribution to Weerakoon that the government was conceding equal status to the LTTE was 'inexorably happening'  had been taken out of context.

At the meeting, Van Orden had said it appeared the government was conceding a lot to the LTTE and had inquired what the government was getting in return.

The Secretary to the Prime Minister according to the minutes had responded stating the government may in turn be getting access to the LTTE's own areas. He pointed out as an example, the opening of the A9 running through the Vanni plus its lateral roads.

"It was also helpful that the joint committee had military personnel from both sides," Weerakoon had said.

In response to that statement, Van Orden had said," You are in a way conceding equivalent status to the LTTE."

It is in the context of that committee Weerakoon had responded stating "this was inexorably happening."

Helpful development

Van Orden according to the minutes wished to be briefed whether Sri Lanka is asking those countries which have proscribed the LTTE to lift their bans, in the wake of Sri lanka's own recent de-proscription. The Secretary responded that the Prime Minister had pointed out that each of the foreign countries which banned the LTTE, had done so on the basis of their own sovereign determination of the threat posted to their security interests. He felt that the fact that none of these countries were indicating at  present any wish to de-proscribe the LTTE, was basically helpful. Van Orden agreed with this perception and said that the continuation of the foreign bans would be an incentive to the LTTE to moderate its stance. Van Orden wanted to know if the LTTE had said that they were abandoning their quest for a separate state. Weerakoon confirmed that this was indeed the case and that for the first time the LTTE has gone on record regarding its commitment to self-determination within a united Sri Lanka. The Secretary said that this was a most helpful development.

Van Orden asked whether self-determination would include the areas of the hill country. Weerakoon said that while the LTTE has on occasion used the hill country as a refuge for its cadres, the interests of the two communities, namely the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Tamils of Indian origin, remain divergent. The LTTE's claim for nationhood for the Tamil people might through the negotiations eventually be accommodated by the establishment of a federal system in Sri Lanka. He said that this was also the anticipation of the government and he thought that the Prime Minister might have explained to Van Orden in Colombo last June his concept of asymmetrical devolution.

Van Orden then said he would like to know what Weerakoon envisaged would be the milestones in the discussions to come in Thailand. The Secretary said that while no doubt for the next three to four meetings the negotiations would address issues such as the high security zones and the rehabilitation of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) etc., they would also have to focus on the core areas.

One of these would be the question of an interim administration. The Secretary elaborated on the specific difficulties this concept posed, given the ethnic composition of the Eastern Province and the fact that the Tamil areas of habitation there were not geographically contiguous to the Northern Province. In this context, it was helpful that Rauf Hakeem was on the government delegation. Hakeem has been having discussions with the LTTE leadership on the need to safeguard the interests of the Muslim community. The extent to which the other communities in the north-east should be represented on the interim administration, would have to be worked out.

The LTTE for  its part, Weerakoon pointed out, preferred to emphasise that the majority of the people in the Eastern Province are Tamil speakers, owing to the fact that the Muslims in that part of Sri Lanka, share a common mother tongue with the Tamil community.

Donor conference

Van Orden questioned as to whether the government then feels that all is now on track or whether there could in the future be some critical moment. Secretary to the Prime Minister said that the Prime Minister's feeling is that perhaps such a moment could crop up about six to eight months hence in the peace talks. However, the government was confident that by then the momentum for peace would have steadily increased and that the progressive rehabilitation of the conflict affected areas would serve as a further influence against the resumption of violence.

Van Orden was clear that the way to proceed would be via a donor conference. Secretary to the Prime Minister said that the Prime Minister had already broached this idea during his visits to Washington and to New York. Questions such as who should take the lead in preparing a strategic plan and convening the conference, remained to be worked out.

Van Orden pointed out that generally pledging conferences were most useful when they took place within a framework of stability and predictability. He said that given this reality, the immediate convening of such a conference with regard to Sri lanka, could be premature. He however agreed that Sri Lanka needed to commence her planning towards this end certainly sooner, rather than later. His own view was that there could well be a two phase process, with a preliminary conference being held in the Spring of 2003 so that the main conference follows later in the Summer that same year. He also accepted the validity of the comment made by Secretary to the Prime Minister that the acknowledgment by the other Tamil parties that the LTTE is the main representative of the Tamil people, would also contribute towards a positive atmosphere for the conference. Van Orden elaborated that the agenda of the preliminary conference should itemise the specific needs. Such an itemisation would be helpful to donors, who are then likely to be more forthcoming on the basis that they would be able to better assess how their own longstanding competencies can match the perceived needs.

Van Orden endorsed Weerakoon's view that it would help for such a conference to have a steering group consisting of some of Sri Lanka's key foreign partners. It would certainly be more difficult he said for Sri Lanka to try to go it alone. Van Orden thought that given the key role Norway was already playing in Sri Lanka, it could chair the event or alternatively, the UN system could be asked to do so.

Van Orden concluded the meeting by saying that if he personally could be of any assistance, he would be most happy to do so.


2002: Year of mixed fortunes

By Amantha Perera

THE Central Bank sure did  save the best for last year. Till December 31, 2002, the economic performance had been far below expectations and the GDP growth rate had been revised to 3% by the bank from an original figure of 3.5%.

Private economic trackers had lowered it even further; the Asian Development Bank lowered the figure to 2.5%. However, the overall recap of the economy was good, but not good enough. Alarm bells were being sounded among the downright pessimistic that the economic woes would reach such a level   that voter patience would finally run thin on the UNF government.

When Deputy Governor, Central Bank, W. A. Wijewardena addressed a press conference last week, he at last gave something for the analysts to smile about. The economy had grown by 5.3% year on year during the third quarter of 2003. The original expectation was that quarter would achieve a rate of  3.3%. ÒThe third quarter performance shows a revival of economic activity,Ó Wijewardena said, adding that if the trend continues, the annual GDP growth rate would reach the original expectation of 3.5%.

The revival was mainly due to the upsurge recorded in tourist arrivals, increased consumer demand, the construction sector showing signs of a turnaround and obviously the high the success of the peace process has generated.

The Central Bank may be sounding a bit too optimistic, but in truth, the economy ended the year upbeat. There were no high fives, but at least the sighs were there signalling the worst had been at last left behind. There was expectation that the growth rates would most certainly continue in the last quarter of 2002 and in all probability into the next quarter as well.

The hotels were just getting ready for a good season and arrivals had indicated a 10% increase year on year during the first 10 months of 2002. The Central Bank estimates that tourist arrivals would grow by 18% this year and reach 450,000.  The government was also able to sign the deal to get the Southern Highway Development Project off the ground, signalling the first big infrastructure project was finally underway.

Stock market buoyant

The Colombo Stock Market, despite the controversy over the insider dealing scandal, ended the year 30% higher than when it began. 

But the Central BankÕs enthusiasm that economic revival would be possible before 2002 was not shared by many. Almost all private analysts still insisted that GDP growth would be 3% for 2002 and that it would not change.

The third quarter numbers may look rosy, but 2001 was not a particularly good year. The economy contracted by 1.7%  for the whole year and during the third quarter when the rot was really setting in, the economy contracted by 4.2%. It was from a very weak base that the 2002 calculation had to commence from.

The woes of 2001 continued well into 2002 as well, at times. The construction industry, one of the strong points for this yearÕs forecasts, did not move at all. In fact, it fell by 1% during the first nine months of 2002.

Now the expectation is that with the peace dividend finally coming through, construction would be the main beneficiary.

If the revival continues, then the Central Bank has put GDP growth for this year at 5 to 6%, almost a two fold increase from the 2002 figures. As always, private analysts put the figure at a more conservative 4.5%, according to CT Smith Stockbrokers. Along with construction and tourism, agriculture is bound to perform well since the weather gods are smiling down.

However, both construction and tourism could take a nosedive if political instability takes over. The chances are that political bickering would continue on the same level, if not more intensely between the UNF and President Chandrika Kumaratunga this year as well.

While the UNF has been working to consolidate the gains on the peace process and get the economy moving, Kumaratunga has been counting her options. She met with the JVP twice last week to discuss modalities of forming a partnership. Her lieutenants Mangala Samaraweera and Anura Bandaranaike were reportedly in London meeting JVP Chief Somawansa Amarasinghe.

Other concerns

The JVP will come out very soon with a policy framework signalling public protests. Kumaratunga is biding her time, and if the situation favours her lot, would move for the kill by June, according to opposition MPs. All depending however on how popular the UNF would be by then.

There are other areas of concern in the economy as well Ñ inflation and interest rates have been low, but are hedged on global conditions. Yield rates of government bonds and securities continued to decline last week as well. The Central Bank attributed the fall to favourable economic conditions, market liquidity, declining interest rates and a well informed borrowing plan. GovernmentÕs domestic  borrowing component has been falling as well.

 Oil prices have been on an upward swing with the Venezuelan supply drying up and war in Iraq would send prices through the roof. On December 30, 2002 Brent Crude reported that oil prices had reached a 15 month high at US $ 30 per barrel. By January 2, it had decreased to US $ 29.30. But even such levels cannot be sustained without putting pressure on the public here in Sri Lanka.  Increasing oil prices would be felt acutely in Sri Lanka with fuel prices now tied to world prices.


Cross Currents

Homeless in their own homeland

"A nation cannot live confident of its tomorrow if its refugees are among its own citizens."

The Good Earth by Pearl Buck

By D. B. S. Jeyaraj

The displaced residents of Ponnalai in the Valigamam West Pradeshiya Sabha Division are conducting an ongoing non-violent protest campaign outside the Chankana assistant government agent office. Their primary grievance is that the oppressive military apparatus imposed in their area in the name of security be removed. Their immediate aspiration is that they be allowed to return and resume a normal life in their traditional habitat without any obtrusive security presence.

The Sri Lanka Navy has constructed a lengthy wire fence and earthen bund that runs through the middle of Ponnalai. Another naval camp situated at Nellian prevents transport to and from Keerimalai. Apart from the navy, the army too has erected a number of military installations from the historic Ponnalai Varatharajaperumal temple to the beautiful beach of Thiruvadinilai. Incidentally, a Buddha statue was hastily set up by the armed forces at this beach after the ceasefire came into force.

Unable to return home even after a year of ‘peace,’ the Ponnalai citizens committee in their memorandum to the Jaffna Government Agent lament "Poradiyavargal kai kulukkip pesugirargal. Aanal naangal than ippadiye irukkirom" (Those who fought are shaking hands and talking, but we are still like this).

Grievance

These sentiments encapsule the basic essence of grievance shared by all persons displaced by South Asia’s longest war. More than a million have been uprooted of whom nearly 90% are Tamils. Some have been resettled in their former homes during this interlude of peace. Hundreds of thousands languish, still unable and not unwilling to return home. A major if not solitary impediment is the continuing presence of security zones, installations and personnel. Consequently, a very large segment of the dwindling Tamil population on the island remain homeless in their homeland. The militaristic cacophony surrounding this legitimate desire to return home threatens to drown out all humanitarian dimensions of what is undeniably a multi-faceted problem.

Geographically, the problem of resettlement is not confined to the peninsula only. Nor for that matter is the problem restricted to security zones alone. It is manifest to a very great extent in the Eastern Province. It is in the east that the concepts of Tamil identity and nationhood are very much at stake. A significant number of those displaced in the east are languishing within the province eager to return home if possible. The argument trotted out in the north justifying security zones in the name of security is not valid here. The cost of resettlement too would be comparatively less. Yet, the focus currently is on the peninsula.

Another regrettable feature perhaps of the Jaffna centred approach that clouds Tamil politics in this country.

According to figures published in the premier Tamil daily Virakesari, 23, 496 families are classified as displaced refugees in the province, still. Of these, 11,141 families are in Amparai or Digamadulla Districts, 7,046 in Batticaloa and 5,759 in Trincomalee District, 1,420 in Amparai, 576 in Batticaloa and 769 Tamil families in Trincomalee are living in refugee camps. The rest in all three districts are living ‘independently’ with relatives and friends. In Trincomalee; 99 Muslim and 159 Sinhala families are also in refugee camps.

It has been estimated that Rs. 2,122,250,000 is required for the resettlement of all displaced people in all three districts. Rs. 565 million is needed for infrastructural reconstruction. Adequate funds are yet to be allocated. Apart from the financial crunch, the question of security zones and occupation of private and public buildings by armed forces is also a deterrent. 342 and 77 private civilian residences are occupied by the security forces in Batticaloa and Amparai Districts respectively. Furthermore, 65 and 38 public buildings are also under military occupation. One of these buildings include the hospital at Thirukkovil.

The HSZ pretext has wrought havoc here, as in Jaffna. Only the larger extents of area in the eastern districts dilute the negative impact to some extent while in the high density peninsula, the amounts of affected people are greater. Tamils in the Putur-Veechukalmunai area were displaced due to the Batticaloa air base expansion and security needs. Likewise, in Batticaloa District, the security force installations in Vavunatheevu, Mankikattu, Kurinchamunai, Morakotanchanai, Kalkudah, Karuvakkerni, Mandoor, Palamunai, etc., also resulted in large numbers of civilians being uprooted. Even people in urban areas like Aaraiyampathy, Eravur and in the heart of Batticaloa town were displaced through security expansion.

While some families have been allowed to return, the bulk of those displaced are still in a state of limbo. Once again the ‘magic’ word rationalising this blatant violation of human rights is security.

In the Amparai District, the setting up of Special Task Force camps caused thousands of families in Kanchikudicharu, Kanchirankuda, Thandiyadi, Thangavelauthapuram, Sangamam, Aligambai, Navithanveli, Manikkamadu, etc., to be displaced. They languish still with permission to return home being denied in the name of security despite a year of ‘peace.’ In addition to these large scale displacement and dispersal, there is the sinister design of a scorched earth policy affecting Tamil villages particularly those in strategic border areas in the east.

Among those villages in Batticaloa that have been totally de-populated and to a great extent razed off are Muruthanai, Kudumbimalai, Perillaveli, Vahaneri, Vadamunai, Eeralaikulam, Raanamadu, Palaiyadivettai, Marappalam, Oothuchenai, Punanai west, Poolakkadu, Koraveli, Periyapul-lumalai, Koppaveli, Urugaamam, Mailavettuvaan, Kannapuram, Malaiyarkkattu, Sinnavathai, Kachaikkodi and Keviliyamadhu. Of those forcibly evicted from these villages, 5,137 families have indicated a willingness to return. But their applications are disallowed still.

Villages destroyed

In the politically sensitive Trincomalee District, traditional Tamil villages like Thiriyai, Thennamaravaadi, Kappalthurai, Pudavaikattu, etc., have been virtually de-populated and greatly destroyed. In addition, several Tamil villages in Trincomalee, Muttur and Seruwila electoral divisions have been severely affected. Thousands have moved away. One such consequence has been the concentration of Tamils in the Trinco town. Even here in the town, there are displacements and restrictions in the name of security. The Linga Nagar housing scheme for instance is constantly assailed. The authorities want it to be dismantled for security reasons. A tragic example of the powerlessness of the Tamil people in Trincomalee is their inability to open their own market, built legally by the Urban Council on the grounds of security.

This practice of driving Tamils away from what are considered security sensitive areas through ‘persecution and persuasion’ has been rampant in the northern mainland of the Wanni too. Most Tamil villages along the Medawachchiya - Talaimannar Road and Vavuniya - Mannar Road are underpopulated now. The most notorious and terrible reminder of this militarisation process is in the Manal Aaru region now known as Weli Oya. It is indeed a blot on the country’s history that the clearest and most successful example of ‘ethnic cleansing’ for a politico-military purpose was perpetrated here. It was deemed necessary to interdict the territorial contiguity of the Northern and Eastern Provinces to negate the Tamil Eelam cause.

So a substantial tract of territory from the Mullaitivu, Vavuniya and Trincomalee Districts were de-populated of Tamils. Twenty eight villages and 40 hamlets in the area were stripped of Tamils. A network of military camps were set up. Armed Sinhala settlers many of them convicts on parole were relocated here. Later, other areas in the vicinity like Kokilai, Kokkuthoduvaai, etc., were also incorporated into this zone. A sign of the ‘conquering’ mindset is revealed through the re-naming of Tamil villages like Mankindimalai, Kurunthumalai, Thannimurippu, etc., into places like Gajabapura, Parakramapura, Janakapura, etc.

‘Colonisation’

The displacing of Tamils from villages in the east and the Wanni followed by settlement of armed Sinhala persons protected by the armed forces is a phenomenon that cannot be viewed in isolation. This annexation of the Tamil homeland was not one necessitated by security considerations of the war alone. It is only a virulent twist to a whole process that had been prevalent for several decades namely ‘colonisation’ of the Tamil areas. This state aided project has brought lakhs of Sinhala ‘outsiders’ into the Eastern Province and some parts of the Wanni. The ultimate objective being to alter the demographic structure of the areas and reduce the Tamils to minority status in these areas. The results are quite visible now. The Tamils who comprised 56 % of the entire east in 1921 were only 42% in 1981.

The Sinhala people only 4% in 1921 were 25 % in 1981. A comprehensive census if taken now may very well reveal that the Tamils and Sinhalese would both be in the range of 30% to 35% now. This historic context of a deliberate policy of reducing Tamils to a demographic minority in their historic homeland cannot be ignored in the current situation. There are very strong reasons to believe that the war only provided those with diabolical motives, another pretext to drive Tamils away and annex their lands. In this, they were advised by those familiar with the similar Israeli design of West Bank annexation. Incidentally J. R. Jayewardene’s son Ravi is reportedly a defence adviser to his cousin too.

Therefore, the current reluctance in the name of security to vacate extended security zones and allow people to return must be viewed against the backdrop of contemporary history. It is regrettable that Monitoring Chief Furuhovde missed the wood for the trees when he equated normalcy and security.

Blue print

As far as the Jaffna peninsula is concerned, the danger of ‘Sinhalaisation’ is minimal at least in terms of demographics. Yet, what is not known to many is the blueprint drawn up in the mid ’90s to ‘settle’ the HSZ in Valigamam North with ‘auxiliary’ troops and their families. Sinhala farmers, fishermen, tappers and artisans were to be inducted as auxiliary or para-military troops and stationed in the north. If possible, their families too were to be brought in. These ‘auxiliaries’ were to engage in food cultivation, tapping, fishing and small industries. The idea was to create a safe security zone in the north that would be self-sufficient in food and fish. The soldiers in the military complex would be aided by a sympathetic support structure.

The idea to set up a self-sufficient sustainable base was caused by the 1995 situation. When the Tigers obtained anti-aircraft guns and downed a few planes, the entire air force was paralysed for some days. This resulted in the military bases in the north being rendered vulnerable. Although the bulk of the peninsula was seized after Riviresa, the danger of anti-aircraft operations by the Tigers was always there. Thus, the perimeter of the Palaly - Kankesanthurai - Mailiddy complex was extended greatly to encompass the bulk of what was earlier the Valigamam North Pradeshiya division. This includes much reddish soil or "sembaatuu man" conducive for agriculture. It also has a clear coastline suitable for fishing.

So it was calculated that while the extended perimeter could prevent the Tigers from downing aircraft, a supplementary effort of self-sufficiency too could be undertaken through this scheme. The powers that be actually commenced this project in secret and brought in some personnel. A foreign national with quasi-diplomatic status discovered this scheme and tipped off a Tamil journalist who in turn alerted a prominent Tamil political leader. Tremendous pressure was exerted on the government, top echelons and the project was put on hold. With the Tigers gaining military advantage through Unceasing Waves and knocking on the doors of Jaffna, the entire project was shelved.

Given the scale of desertion and demoralisation within army ranks, it is doubtful whether a sufficient number of ‘auxiliaries’ could ever have been mobilised to make the project feasible. Yet, like Jayasikurui and Agnikheela, the unrealistic plan was mooted and then aborted.

One of the significant features of the Palaly - Kankesanthurai military complex is that the annexed area is far in excess of what is required for reasonable security purposes. In the case of shoulder fired missiles, the Palaly runway can be secured with a much less perimeter. Paradoxically, if long range artillery is to be used then the Tigers can target Palaly, even now notwithstanding the existing security zone. It is noteworthy that during certain phases of the fighting within the peninsula, shells did fall on Palaly. Thus, it is perceptible that reasonable grounds of security considerations are not the sole criteria in refusing to shrink the size and area of this HSZ. It may also be recalled that the Kumaratunga regime gazetted the annexation of lands in Valigamam North a few years ago and wanted to compensate owners. This indicates that as far as Colombo is concerned, the lure of permanently annexing the area in the name of security is something that will not go away in a hurry.

The Valigamam North HSZ encompassing 44 grama sevakha divisions is not the only one of its kind in the peninsula. There are 14 other such zones, but they are comparatively less in area. Some of these are in urban areas like Jaffna city, Velvetithurai and Point Pedro. The guiding principle in setting up such HSZs is to protect the military headquarters of deployed troops both army and navy. A secondary objective is the protection from possible Tiger invasions from the mainland via the lagoon. A third in the lower areas of the peninsula is the protection of the Kilaly - Eluthumattuvaal - Nagar Kovil axis demarcating the border with Tiger controlled territory.

The navy has declared HSZs in areas such as Neelankaadu, Oorundi and Velanai. The army has set up zones in Mandaitheevu, Jaffna City Hospital, Gnanams Hotel area, East Ariyalai, Thanankilappu, Eluthumattuvaal - Muhamaalai, Amban - Pallappai, Point Pedro town area, Valvetithurai town area, Thellippalai central zone and Aralithurai - Araly areas. Together, these 14 zones along with the large Palaly base HSZ encompass or affect 67 grama sevakha divisions. This amounts to about 18% or 160 square kilometres in area out of the peninsula’s 880 square kilometres. Around 130,000 people are displaced.

According to statistics published by the Jaffna daily Uthayan, nearly 300 schools and 275 places of worship are in these HSZs. These include the historic Kandasamy Temple in Maviddapuram and Naguleswaram Temple in Keerimalai. The latter according to historian Paul Peiris was one of the five "Ishwarams" dedicated to Lord Shiva existing in the island when Vijaya landed here. At least 25 important roads are debarred for public use because of security zones. Approx. 29, 525 dwellings are reportedly within these zones, though many have been destroyed by the army for ‘security’ reasons. Around 42, 260 acres of agricultural land and 82 kilometres of coastline are within these zones. This deprives more than 16,000 agricultural and 4,500 fisherfolk families of their traditional occupations.

Indirect displacement

Another point worth noting is that apart from these security zones in the north - east the proximity of security camps also causes people to move away from those vicinities. This too results in indirect displacement. Although the ceasefire agreement stipulated that the armed forces move away from places of worship, schools and public buildings within a certain deadline, much of these obligations are yet to be fulfilled. Moreover, the ‘letter’ rather than the ‘spirit’ of the agreement has been followed in many instances. What the army has done is to shift from a school or temple, but set up camp in private residences within a few hundred yards. With the armed forces in the vicinity the expected benefits to people have not accrued yet.

While there is some truth in the charge that the Tigers will gain politically and militarily through the removal and/or reduction of security zones, that factor cannot be allowed to obstruct the return of the people to their own homes for long. What all reasonable people in the south must ask themselves is whether a similar situation as prevailing in the Tamil areas would have been tolerated for this long in a Sinhala area? Would the army be allowed to evict people from their homes and prevent their return on this scale indefinitely in the name of security? Will the Matara District for example allow 18% of its land area be declared as a no go zone for civilians in the name of security? Also, would the army have dared to occupy Buddhist temples and Sinhala medium schools not to mention hospitals and municipal buildings on this scale for such a long period for security reasons?

Whatever the advantage to the Tigers in pressing for downsizing the security zones, that cannot be adduced as a valid reason to permanently disallow the people from reclaiming their rightful heritage. The south must not allow military logic to pervert its humanitarian judgement on this issue. At the same time, the legitimate security concerns of the armed forces also have to be taken into account. What is needed now is not an unnecessary flexing of jingoistic muscle, but recourse to meaningful discussion. In the short term, the armed forces must be persuaded to reduce and remove HSZs where ever possible. In the long term, negotiations have to be intensified and hastened to achieve a permanent solution and peace.

It must be realised that the strategy of ushering in normalcy as a pre-requisite for a negotiated peace has its limits too. Certain obstacles preventing normalcy cannot be removed unless a permanent peace is achieved. The oppressive security apparatus in the north - east cannot be dismantled, de-fanged or transformed fully without a tangible solution. So it is imperative that the negotiating parties delve into the substantive issues speedily. Until then, the security arrangements cannot be done away with completely. So while the process of de-militarisation has to be expedited and expanded as far as possible, the question of an ultimate political settlement too must be addressed constructively and quickly.

In that respect, it is time for Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to assert himself on this issue and spell out to the nation where he stands. It is wrong of this government to let the issue of HSZs and even the process of de-militarisation be portrayed as a conflict between the Tigers and the army. Instead of trying to be slick and ‘mediating’ an understanding the United National Front (UNF) government must state is where it stands on this issue. It was Ranil Wickremesinghe who signed the ceasefire agreement not the army; it was G. L. Peiris who led the government delegation to the talks. It is time for this government to avoid its slippery attitude and state openly where it stands on this issue. If the government position is that it cannot control the army, then the question of negotiations becomes a meaningless farce. If it is in agreement with the army, then its entire approach towards the negotiations becomes suspect.

The question of security zones is certainly a complicated one. Nevertheless, the inalienable right of the Tamil civilian to return to his or her home cannot be denied in the name of security for long. It is also necessary to look at the problem of HSZs on a wider scale instead of a Jaffna perspective alone. There is a colloquial saying in Tamil about the "ear that came first being covered by the hair that came late." Likewise, the security installations that came after should not be permitted to diminish the people’s right to residence. The Tamil people of the north and east cannot be indefinitely rendered homeless in their homeland on the grounds of security.


31st night - much ado over nothing

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

Walking in to the Mt. Lavinia Hotel lobby around 9 p.m. on 31st night, I wondered 'let me see, now isn't it December 31? Or am I here on the wrong day?' Travelling towards Mt. Lavinia, I thought that we would have to park the vehicle some distance away from the hotel as I expected the place to be quite packed- going by past experience. It was quite surprising when we found parking space in the hotel car park. If not for the attractively decorated hotel, it sure looked as if it was the wrong day.

Once inside everything was in place - the lights, music, food, etc. - except the crowd. One by one they came in to fill up the place and one hour later the place was full. It was almost midnight when people settled down after dinner. The Colombo city line from the Mt. Lavinia Hotel's Terrace looked  gloomy and dull,  and at one point I called my mother in Bambalapitiya to ask whether there was a power cut in the area. At midnight, the usual fireworks lit the skies. Looking at the Colombo city line from the Mount Bay, fireworks that illuminated the skies too were a bit of a disappointment, except for the ones at the Mt. Lavinia Hotel that lasted close to 30 minutes.

Around 2 a.m., I decided to travel through Colombo to check out the other happening spots. Once on the road, I realised that though there were a few vehicles, most of the roads seemed quite deserted - not the sign of a celebrating nation. If this was a nation welcoming a year in the blush of peace, well it looked as if half of it was asleep. To my mind the only time Sri Lanka really 'celebrated' was when it won the Cricket World Cup in 1996. 31st night was expected to come close but, alas, by the looks of it we will have to wait for another day.

One thing I should say, the roads were all lit to glory - part of creating a partying atmosphere in the country. Travelling towards the city hotels one thing was for sure, dances organised in hotels were doing well.

Most of the hotels felt that this time around, 31st night celebrations were far greater than last time, what with each hotel having more dances than last year and with tickets sold out, irrespective of price. The Ceylon Continental Hotel, which organised only one dance last year, had organised three this year.

As for the usual violence, surprisingly  everything went off peacefully without any ministers' brats' fisticuffs. With the increase in the number of five star hotel brawls, many expected 31st night to be a 'free for all' with pay back time of the battered parties coming in to play. The recent brawl between the son of Airport and Aviation Services Chairman, Hemasiri Fernando's son Pavithra Fernando and the sons of Ministers Mahinda Wijesekara and S. B. Dissanayake was the main concern of many revellers as the battered party has promised that there will be a pay back. Some revellers felt that if one needs action, the best place to be was where the ministers' sons would be partying - such was the anticipation of a 'new year's eve' free-for-all.

Cops to the fore

Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Security and Sports Centre Manager, Taj Samudra Hotel, Deegayu Abayanayake said the cause behind hotel brawls are those who have political influence. "They are the ones who try to show their power by trying to harass junior staffers," he said. When asked about precautions, Abayanayake said that they have decided to inform the emergency police desk at  police headquarters whenever such incidents take place irrespective of  magnitude. He added that the hotel has also placed a police desk in the front area since December 15. "Apart from that, the hotel maintains a list of 'undesirable elements' and they will be denied access to the hotel's recreational facilities," he said. Abayanayake also stated that it is important to have 100% security at all city hotels at all times.

The presence of police officers in the hotels could be a reason for the  peaceful partying this time. Though every hotel did not have a desk manned by police officers, they made their presence felt by roaming around the city hotels.

A peek at  Galle Face Green made me think twice about going for a stroll in the wee hours of the 1st. Though the police kept announcing that lighting crackers on the green or the beach was illegal and that those who violate the law would be apprehended, there were those who merrily continued regardless of the warnings. The police officers though  did  manage to take a few of the 'bright sparks' in to custody.

The crowd seemed visibly disappointed that the "grand fireworks  display" promised by the Interior Ministry did not take place. The  Ministry promised a 40-minute Chinese fireworks display, which would light-up  the skies on the 31st. Those who gathered there were instead left to gaze at a dark empty sky, with the cops screaming 'no fireworks' over the public address system. When The Sunday Leader contacted the Interior Ministry, Harindra Rodrigo stated that the fireworks display did infact take place albeit quite toned down than announced. The reason for this he said was the cancellation of a mega musical show organised by  Swarnavahini. The fireworks display was to be held along with the musical show and since it was cancelled, the display was held with a small quantity of fireworks. As for the rest of the fireworks, they were used at the Town Hall he said.

With all this and being unable to light crackers, some revellers decided to light crackers on the roads and at times aimed them at passing vehicles.

Amidst all the hype  promoting 31st night and the success of the posh dances at hotels, there was a pathetic sight. Less well to do people especially those who thronged Galle Face were seen left stranded on the roads with no way of getting back home. Right down Galle Road it was hard to miss those who were seated on pavements near bus halts waiting for hours for a bus to go home. Gathered near bus halts, these people (men and women) sitting in the cold looked rather miserable at the dawn of a new year and didn't look at all as if they were part of a nation in celebration. It was more like a nation waiting to go home.

It's rather surprising to note that with the introduction of "Colombo by night" and other events planned for the festive season, the relevant authorities did not look in to the transport aspect. They seemed to have overlooked these people's need to make it back home after celebrations. Seems like the authorities have adopted an attitude like 'just get them there to show a crowd and who cares what happens  to them afterwards.'

A rather amusing feature was a hangover recovery station organised by E! FM in Colpetty. Revellers who had one too many drinks were treated at this place by professional doctors and nurses. 

 

 

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