rock peace process
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.
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.
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,
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.
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).
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.
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.
however did not happen and instead, Fonseka's full and detailed
de-escalation plan was handed over to the Tigers.
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.
the problem reached a stalemate Economic Reforms Minister Milinda
Moragoda flew to Jaffna with a special team of government
representatives last week.
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.
to Fonseka, there are only 10,000 houses within the Valikamam North,
Palaly and Jaffna Beach Road HSZs.
LTTE strongly disagrees with this number. The Tigers maintain that there
are at least 30,000 houses within these areas.
to the Jaffna Government Agent there are 15,000 houses within these
areas. Hence, it is uncertain which count is accurate.
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.
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.
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.
government has pointed out that the LTTE while having rejected Fonseka's
plan outright must then also come up with a suitable alternative.
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.
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.
the other two close contenders for the post of army commander are Major
General Shantha Kottegoda and Major General Sarath Fonseka respectively.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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."
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."
advised that armed groups having the ability to take cover behind
civilians should not be ignored, thus "leaving the terrorists to
take maximum advantage."
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.
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.
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.
adds that even the security of IDPs within the HSZs has to be considered
as they would be vulnerable to mines and "terrorist
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.
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).
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
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
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.
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
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
Any normalising plan which affects the HSZ should go hand in glove
with reducing military options available to LTTE.
Armed groups having the ability to get cover behind civilians
should not be ignored and leave terrorists to take maximum
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.
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.
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.
If the civilians are allowed to enter, threat on survivability of
all HSZ are equally increased including the ones facing uncleared
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.
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.
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.
Humanitarian Requirement - Resettlement in HSZ deserves serious
concern as per the humanitarian angle and the whole issue should
be seen from following perspectives.
There are about 10,000 houses affected due to the existence of HSZ.
Due to prolonged displacement, education of Jaffna students have
Due to displacement, cultural values and traditions are being
Due to displacement, civilians have become more vulnerable to the
activities of undemocratic forces.
Displaced people have been socially handicapped and virtually face
Displaced people will be deprived of the services and
infrastructure facilities afforded to normal civilians.
Having displaced people will have a direct adverse impact on the
economy of the region.
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.
Take sufficient interest on resettlement followed up with
Request for foreign donor assistance for development of affected
areas and people.
Take necessary steps to win hearts and minds of people affected.
Mobilise all government ministries and departments etc. for the
purpose of successful resettlement of people by solving
Provide an environment which encourages and assists in practising
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
to be given due consideration in order to ensure security
is not compromised.
Resettlement of civilians should be arranged in such a way that SF
should not compromise its security at any stage.
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.
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.
Security of command and logistics elements to be ensured.
Vulnerable and sensitive defences, air and sea communication
agencies should not be sacrificed.
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.
Govt. infrastructure facilities, transport agencies are
Security of law enforcement agencies have to be considered for
smooth functioning of govt. authority.
Infrastructure Facilities - It is important that following
facilities are required to be provided before the resettlement
proper takes place in the HSZs.
Repairs to the road network
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.
SLMM representatives - It is required to create an understanding
between the SLA and LTTE in many areas. Following requirements to
be looked into.
Expansion of the monitoring mission by additional numbers.
Enhance the mandate to cover more security issues.
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.
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.
proposals in relation to resettlement in HSZs
De-escalation proposals in relation to resettlement in HSZs are
given at Annex "A".
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
Areas to be resettled including boundaries to be identified.
Clearing of mines.
Demarcation of prohibited areas/No go areas.
Enumerate the legitimate ownership.
Financial support and rehabilitation.
Providing infrastructure facilities.
Working out of a detailed security system which will be revised
from time to time as per deployments on ground.
Action plan for de-escalation in relation to resettlement.
Following hotels and houses can be vacated for intended
use/resettlement as early as possible as follows.
Subash Hotel - By mid June 2003.
Gnanam Hotel - By end March 2003.
Houses around and above two hotels in Jaffna Town - About 80 in
number - By mid July 2003.
Private houses in Chavakachcheri - By end 2003.*
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.
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
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".
Area west of Keeramalai. (Annex A)
Kovilakkandy. (Annex B)
This report/proposals will have to be studied and approved by the
20 December 2002.
Fonseka RWP RSP reds psc
of the Army
of the Navy
of the Air Force
make or break?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
councillor from the CMC however observed that even if the mayors take
prompt action, the order gets bogged down somewhere in the labyrinth of
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.
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
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.'
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.
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.
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.
front businesses keep encroaching on the pavement at ease and
pedestrians are driven to the road.
of the pavement hawkers who were selling fireworks during the season
belonged to the same category.
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.
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.
CMC once had to offer the location of one of its yards as alternate
space to make sure that an unauthorised garage was removed.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
the Prime Minister should send a circular or something like that urging
tough and urgent action. Then the mayors might take note," a CMC
challenge of HSZs
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
third of country
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The writer is a former Sri Lanka Air Force Commander
Bradman's meeting with Van Orden
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.
had said a sum of around US $ 500 million had been identified as a 'ball
park' figure in this respect.
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.
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
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.
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
had been taken out of context.
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
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.
was also helpful that the joint committee had military personnel from
both sides," Weerakoon had said.
response to that statement, Van Orden had said," You are in a way
conceding equivalent status to the LTTE."
is in the context of that committee Weerakoon had responded stating
"this was inexorably happening."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Orden concluded the meeting by saying that if he personally could be of
any assistance, he would be most happy to do so.
Year of mixed fortunes
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%.
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.
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%.
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
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.
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.
Colombo Stock Market, despite the controversy over the insider dealing
scandal, ended the year 30% higher than when it began.
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
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.
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.
the expectation is that with the peace dividend finally coming through,
construction would be the main beneficiary.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
their own homeland
"A nation cannot live
confident of its tomorrow if its refugees are among its own
— The Good Earth by Pearl
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
night - much ado over nothing
Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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'
to the fore
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.'
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.