15th  June,  2003, Volume 9, Issue 48

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Inside  politics

From Tokyo with love

By Suranimala 

While Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s carefully crafted international safety net brought in rich dividends in Tokyo last week, the real challenge of bringing the LTTE back to the negotiating table to cash in on the success still lay ahead for the government.

 

Indeed, in pledging an unprecedented aid package of US$ 4.5 billion with a sizeable component being by way of grants, the international community did make it clear, progress in the peace process was essential for the monies to start flowing in.

Challenge

The government of course has the challenge of identifying projects for the utilisation of the funds pledged, an area in which respective governments have in the past been sadly wanting but there is the added caveat this time round in making progress on the peace front.

The very fact the international community, which turned up in large numbers, pledged to Sri Lanka as much as they did for the reconstruction of Afghanistan was the clearest signal, trust and confidence was at a premium as far as Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s government went, adding that much more of a burden on Wickremesinghe’s shoulders to deliver.

For that Wickremesinghe has to bite the bullet and push through his reform agenda and proceed to deliver on the interim administration for the north east notwithstanding objections by the opposition or else it is gonna be back to square one and he knows it.

However, the LTTE too was sent a clear message by the donor community not to take their support for granted and to return to the talks at their earliest.

It is in this context significant to note the “objectives of the conference,” set out in the Tokyo Declaration wherein it was stated, “the objectives of the conference are to provide the international community with an opportunity to demonstrate its strong and unified commitment to the reconstruction and development of Sri Lanka and to encourage the parties to redouble their efforts to make further progress in the peace process.”

The Tokyo Declaration issued by the donor community at the end of the conference went on to say, “While only one party to the peace process is present at the conference, the international community takes the opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to support the establishment by the parties of the necessary administrative structure for the effective reconstruction and development of the north and east.”

It further said, “A partnership between the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE will be necessary to rebuild the areas effectively. Adequate safeguards to secure the interests of all other communities should be included in the framework.”

Thus, the international community too has come out strongly in support of an interim administrative structure in a clear message, not only to the LTTE on its call but also to the south that if Sri Lanka wants their support some hard decisions must be made. Therein also lies a message to the President and the PA that if it is to get any support from the international community, they too would have to play ball.

Equally significant is their message that the north east should be built in partnership with the LTTE, thereby not only giving recognition to the LTTE as representatives of the Tamils but also signalling to the south it is a fact of life they have to accept.

In arriving at this declaration of course, there were hectic backroom negotiations with the United States wanting a tough line taken vis a vis the LTTE, while the Norwegians wanted a softer approach to enable the speedy return of the Tigers to the table.

At the same time, Port Development Minister and Muslim Congress Leader, Rauf Hakeem was equally adamant the Muslim factor was always taken into account and safeguards provided in calling for the interim administrative structure.

Prior to the donor conference getting underway, the international community made every effort to give President Chandrika Kumaratunga too a role in Tokyo by inviting her to make a statement via satellite, an offer she declined.

The offer was made by Japan’s Special Envoy to Sri Lanka, Ambassador Yasushi Akashi and the rejection was communicated through her International Affairs Advisor, Lakshman Kadirgamar. The intention of the international community was not only to show a national consensus to the world for Sri Lanka’s benefit but give Kumaratunga also a share of the success for the anticipated outcome. She, however, had other ideas.

CBK distances herself

What is more, prior to Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s departure to the Tokyo donor conference, a formal request was made by him to meet and brief the President on the issue, but once again Kumaratunga was unavailable to meet with her Prime Minister.

Thus, Kumaratunga publicly distanced herself from the Tokyo donor conference possibly believing, given the absence of the LTTE as well, it would be a failure with which she did not want to be associated.

Furthermore, if the conference turned out to be a failure, it would have given the President a platform to launch a further offensive against the government, blaming it for mishandling the peace process as well as its own economic reform agenda.

Thereby, the President kicked the ball into her own goal and missed a golden opportunity of stealing the thunder from Wickremesinghe.

All she had to do was send a message seeking the cooperation of the international community to rebuild Sri Lanka and adding that she has instructed her Prime Minister to set out the government’s agenda for reform.

Wickremesinghe would then have merely looked like he was representing the President and the political advantage of the UNF would have been neutralised.

Instead, Kumaratunga decided to play the spoilt child and made a hash of the opportunity presented.

Attack

In fact, while ducking meeting with the Prime Minister and declining to make a statement at the conference, the President gave an interview to ABC Television of Australia which was to be telecast on the eve of the conference, Sunday, June 8.

And in that interview, Kumaratunga launched an attack on the Prime Minister, accusing his party of murdering both her father and husband while mocking at Wickremesinghe’s capability in negotiating a peace deal (see box).

Kumaratunga also used the opportunity to say she is totally in the dark about what the Prime Minister plans to give the LTTE by way of an interim council, thus distancing herself from that too but at the same time stating she was proposing much more than an interim council. It was a case of confusion worst confounded.

Resounding vote of confidence

The rest of course is history because 24 hours later, the international community not only passed a resounding vote of confidence on Prime Minister Wickremesinghe despite President Kumaratunga’s subtle attempts at undermining the conference but also endorsed the move to set up an interim administrative structure for the reconstruction and development of the north east.

Wickremesinghe for his part, playing the role of statesman to a fault, no sooner the donor conference concluded, on Tuesday, June 10, informed President Kumaratunga in writing from Tokyo itself, the outcome and the monies pledged.

At the conference itself, in his speech, Wickremesinghe paid a tribute to the President for her role in supporting the peace process. The contrasting styles were not lost on the international community.

But hardly 24 hours after the Tokyo Declaration was released, the LTTE issued a statement rejecting what it termed as a “provisional administrative structure” offer made by the Prime Minister, once again upping the stakes.

But in doing so, the LTTE itself had misunderstood Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s statement to the conference as an offer made to the LTTE for a “provisional administrative structure.”

What the Prime Minister in fact did through his statement was declare his intent of making provision for an interim or provisional administrative structure, the details of which are yet to be worked out through a process of dialogue in an effort to revive the peace process as opposed to a definitive proposal.

Differences “not that far apart”

In fact, during the course of his speech, the Prime Minister did say, “Regrettably, so far, we have not managed to reconcile our proposals with the thinking of the LTTE.” But the Prime Minister went on to say, “The differences between us over an administrative structure are not that far apart.”

The LTTE, however, has justifiably rejected what it sees as an offer for a provisional administrative structure since the Prime Minister had sought and obtained a mandate from the people for an interim council for the north east and what the LTTE now expects of Wickremesinghe is to deliver on the pledge.

At the same time, the LTTE rejection should also be seen in the backdrop of the international pressure mounted on it before and during the conference, which could lead to the perception among its cadres, the LTTE leadership was forced to yield, similar to the situation which arose in 1987 with the Indo Lanka Agreement, if they jumped the bandwagon overnight.

Thus, its initial response, harsh though it may seem, was viewed from that context and the international community took the view the LTTE should be continuously engaged to ensure its return to the table.

In fact, the Prime Minister has in principle decided to proceed with an interim administrative structure for the north east as proposed in his manifesto but has taken the view it can only be done through a dialogue without an endless exchange of letters where every nuance could be misunderstood or misinterpreted.

Ironically, that is exactly what happened with his statement to the donor conference as well.

The original draft of the Premier’s speech outlined the Oslo Declaration dealing with a federal solution and simply said, “It is now important that we develop a roadmap with milestones to get there. In this context we would clearly need to set up an interim administrative structure to manage the transition.”

It was on the night of Sunday, June 8, that the draft underwent a change at the request of SLMC Leader Rauf Hakeem, who said it was important to make provision for the Muslim interests as well.

The Prime Minister, who met with his delegation Sunday night said he has received a mandate from the people on the question of the interim administration and intends to proceed but was cautioned by Hakeem on sending a wrong signal to the Muslims in the process.

“The LTTE must not run away with the impression they are getting rewarded for their absence,” Hakeem said.

Thereafter the Prime Minister’s speech was redrafted to state, “...we would need to set up an innovative provisional administrative structure. It will be responsible for the reconstruction and development of the north east and the administrative aspects of the transitional process.”

Objectives

The objectives to be achieved by the structure was then set out and a further paragraph added stating, “In order to move forward, it is of vital importance that a Muslim delegation should participate in the peace talks to articulate the concerns of the Muslims.”

Prior to this development taking place, the draft Tokyo Declaration was worked on by the co-chairs of the conference, Norway, Sri Lanka, USA, EU and Japan where once again tough decisions had to be made, after which it went before the donor nations.

Norway in particular was adamant the LTTE should not be pushed to the wall and Ambassador Hans Brattskar was in regular contact over the telephone with Chief Facilitator Vidar Helgessen, making amendments to the draft particularly with regard to the issue of de-escalation and demilitarisation, on which issue the US was taking a tough line.

So much so, US Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage later went on record stating, “The international community cannot be blackmailed by a group who refuses to take part in the peace process...”

Equally tough was a woman ambassador from Europe during the drafting of the declaration with regard to the issue of human rights where the first draft referred to an “incremental” promotion of human rights. The ambassador argued the issue of human rights cannot be compromised and finally the words “effective promotion and protection of the human rights of all people,” came to be included in the final draft.

The bottom line is, the international community has now effectively thrown its hat into the ring of the Sri Lanka conflict, urging both parties to parley with both carrots and sticks on offer. They made it clear, Sri Lanka must be a showcase for conflict resolution.

But it will finally be the government that has to bell the cat and it is only Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who can build on the massive success of the conference and bring the LTTE back to the table.

He now has the money to deliver reconstruction, development and economic revival of Sri Lanka. What he now needs is to bring the LTTE back to the table and for that, courage is called for.

Courage to give effect to his electoral pledge for an interim administration for the north east. And he has the international community to back him up as well in taking that courageous decision.

It is then that the LTTE too will be left with no option but to return to the table. Playing with words will not do in that context.

After all, since the government has already committed itself to a federal system, why not give the LTTE a significant role in the interim to revive the peace process and build on the Tokyo outcome will be what Wickremesinghe has to now come to terms with.

It’s a case of now or never.

A President scorned

Q: Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe wants to find a way of accommodating some interim administration for the Tamils but you intend to block it. Why?

A: I cannot comment on what the LTTE is asking nor what the Prime Minister is trying to give because I am totally in the dark about it. But as far as our policy is concerned, it has been crystal clear for the past two decades my own and my party’s on this issue since it started. What we say is that the Tamil people must be given equal opportunities here.

We are not for a separate state in this little country but we are for devolution, extensive devolution of political power. The proposal for that I have put to the country nine years ago, well, eight years ago, in 1995. I have presented it to parliament in 2000, so our position is very clear on that.

We are proposing much more than an interim council, we are proposing that permanent devolution of power to the regions, including to the Tamil and Muslim people.

Q: The Tigers doubt your commitment to peace given that you are seeking an alliance with the extremist JVP, which is against any devolution of power.

A: All political movements and all individuals in human history have had the possibility of changing their view with the times. Some opportunistically, some maybe honestly. I will not go into that. The JVP has clearly stated, we have not yet gone into any alliance. We are talking about one. The JVP has, we have brought them to the position where they have agreed clearly they are not for a military solution to the ethnic problem of Sri Lanka, that they are fully, that they will commit themselves fully to negotiated political settlement so that issue is resolved.

Now, I don’t know how they can doubt my commitment, if they can, if they don’t have doubts about Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s commitment, because when I took over as President from Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe, his policy was, war, war, war.

Q: Is politics getting in the way of peace here? Is there just too much rivalry between the Prime Minister and yourself to allow peace a chance?

A: I don’t think so. If Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe had the perspicacity and the nobility to forget normal political conflicts that exist in parliamentary politics in any country like yours or mine and invite, if he had invited my party and the democratic opposition in parliament to actively participate in this peace process as I did in mine, he wouldn’t have had any problems but he tried to do an exclusive thing where he excluded everybody including a large amount of his own cabinet and this is the main problem. To find a solution to that.

Q: So the obstacle to peace is your exclusion from the peace process?

A: The main problem is that he is trying to do an exclusive thing. Er er... where, er... probably... which has resulted in a fairly highly unprofessional, unplanned, kind of spontaneous er... er... effort at peace, while on the other hand you have the LTTE which is one of the world’s best organised, most ruthless and efficient terrorist organisation, negotiating on the other side of the table, so this... even if the people, you know, even if the people who are trying to do it, trying to lead it. I don’t mind anybody leading it or getting the credit for it... That is not what matters in the national interest as far as I am concerned but it has to be handled properly.

You know you can do the right thing, something that is 100% the right thing in the wrong way and arrive at the wrong place. This is what worries me and what concerns me most.

Q: Does the Prime Minister lack caution because he hasn’t been touched by violence in the way you have?

A: Well I am the only one who has experienced violence at the hands of the LTTE. The other members of my family, my father and my husband were killed  by Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s party.

So if I can have Ranil Wickremesinghe as my Prime Minister, sitting with him at the same cabinet, I don’t see why I should not forgive Mr. Prabhakaran, which I have already done in the national interest.

Q: Does the Prime Minister have what it takes to negotiate in the best interests of the country?

A: Well, you know, I am  a student of politics. Er.. and... and I have done political science for my degree. I tend to study my political opponents as much as any political associate and while having the gentleman as my Prime Minister, I wouldn’t like to answer that question because, (laugh).... well... We’ll leave it at that (laugh).

 

World Bank tilt

The World Bank ended up as fourth runner-up in last week’s Tokyo donor conference, well behind the ADB, EU and Japan.

According to donor sources, there was a conscious decision to downplay assistance to Sri Lanka by Vice President, World Bank, Meiko Nishimizu who has made it widely known that she is a close friend of President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

Unlike the ADB delegation at Tokyo, which was led by its President, Tadao Chino, the World Bank delegation was led by its Country Director, Peter Harold.

While Harold himself is identified as a friend of Sri Lanka, The Sunday Leader learns that he was advised by the North East Project Director, World Bank, Naren Duraiswamy that the LTTE may be offended if, given their boycott, the World Bank was represented by its top level management.

This view had been readily endorsed by Nishimizu, who has built a reputation for playing politics in Sri Lanka. The bank’s dabbling in local politics in a partisan manner was a subject of much discussion among the Sri Lanka delegation to Tokyo, with some ministers urging that the government lodge a formal protest with President, World Bank, James Wolfensohn.


‘Lankan tiger’ emerges

By Amantha Perera 

Within a space of a few days, Sri Lanka was compared to a carnivorous beast by two financial research houses. HNB Stockbrokers last week released a report titled The Lion Emerges, just a few days before international researcher JP Morgan referred to Sri Lanka as “a new tiger in the making.”

Soon after the Tokyo meeting concluded, business news-wire Bloomberg joined the fun, echoing JP Morgan’s ‘emerging tiger’ simile.

The ‘Promised Land’

Leaving aside the irony in the tiger comparison, the reports coming out either side of the Japan aid meeting emphasised one point, the country has at least gained pole position to launch it self to financial heights. Once again Sri Lanka was a beacon as the financial ‘Promised Land’ of South Asia — a potential that has gone unfulfilled for the last quarter century. The road, however, will be full of potholes and bumpy, the same reports reiterated.

“The economy could chalk up annual growth rates of around 7% later in the decade, ranking it among the fastest growing economies,” JP Morgan said.

“We project the aggregate economy to grow by 4.8% in 2003 and a higher growth of 5.4% for 2004,” HNB followed suit last week.

How much the economic prospects of the country are tied to the peace process and stability stemming from it is quite clear by tracking the stock market. HNB said that the market went up between September and October 2002 in the lead up to the peace talks. Then it took a dip when the Supreme Court rejected the 19th Amendment. It dived again, slightly, with war in the Gulf and recovered as soon as the US and allies took control of Iraq.

The LTTE’s pull-out from the peace talks only caused a minor stutter and the market reached a seven year high the week prior to the aid group meeting.

HNB also predicted that the most probable scenario would be one of peace but uncertainty. “Sustainable economic growth is likely but at a slower pace,” the report predicted and gave the scenario a 45% probability chance. The climate would prevail for at least a minimum of two years, meaning that the cloak and dagger games between the executive presidency and the legislature would not go away any time soon.

The aid that was pledged in Japan would allow the government to fast track the reform process. Both HNB and JP Morgan highlighted reforms and the connected importance of implementation. Reforms have been identified in the public sector, banking, labour markets and monetary policy. A fair bulk of the ‘Regaining Sri Lanka’ policy framework deals with reforms.

One of the biggest challenges would be to change the public sector, the largest per capita in Asia. “In our view one of the biggest challenges to the reform programme lies in transforming the public sector into a productive entity,” HNB said. The public sector is the largest non-performing sector in Sri Lanka, but changing it would be akin to courting political hara kiri.

“Some of these reforms can be in conflict with political agendas. The independence, accountability and transparency of the reform enforcing authority have to be maintained in order to withstand external pressures, which may be destructive to the successful implementation of the reforms,” HNB noted.

The donor meeting performed beyond expectations. “The package emerging from the Tokyo conference should be seen as a huge vote of confidence,” Bloomberg quoted David Fernandez, Head of Asian Sovereign Debt Research at JP Morgan Chase & Co. in Singapore. “It should send a strong signal to investors Sri Lanka could be a new Asian tiger in the making.”

Criticism

 Such sentiment, however, does not mean that all the fighting is over for the government. It may have gained breathing space, but President Chandrika Kumaratunga is most certain to bide her time and make another hack at Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government when she feels the moment opportune enough.

Even the big aid has come under criticism from the likes of UNPer turned staunch Kumaratunga backer Sarath Amunugama and the ultra-nationalist Sihala Urumaya. The latter last week said that only 2% of the funds were grants and the rest were loans.

Charging that the Rs. 1,400 million of the funds were to be allocated to 14 projects carried out by the LTTE, the Sihala Urumaya said that the Tigers had no responsibility when it came to repayment and that it was up to the government of the day to make the repayments.

Both HNB and JP Morgan have factored the Kumaratunga issue as well as the LTTE issue. Ironically it is the President’s actions that could rock the boat on the short run rather the Tigers’. The Colombo Stock Market did not react adversely to Tamilselvan’s latest statement.

On the contrary, the day after LTTE headquarters in Kilinochchi released the letter, the market gained. The All Share Price Index (ASPI) gained 13 points while the Milanka gained 41 points on Thursday. The consensus is that the Tigers would not go back to arms any time soon.

HNB believes that the opposition is not moving to oust the government because of the satisfaction among the general public despite the rising cost of living. “The government needs to address the cost of living issue sooner rather than later, as it is a threat to its survival and consequently the political stability of the country.”

The reasons behind the rise in cost of living is instability both globally as well as internally, plus reforms coming into effect before economic consolidation. Foreign investments have not been forthcoming in a manner that would have allowed the government to breathe a bit easily. Foreigners look for much more stability than that which is prevailing.

LTTE hardening stand

The larger problem, however, remains the LTTE and its hardening stand. The government is all too keen to get the Tigers back to the negotiating table as donor money is tied to progress at the peace talks. There have been unofficial meetings between the LTTE and the government despite the boycott.

Last week a top official from the Tiger Political Wing, S. Puleedevan was in town. Though government sources declined to confirm if the official had had any meetings with government officials, the indication was that some sort of talking took place. Still there was no indication if the present impasse would be breached any time soon.

Still on the LTTE, there have been indications that the LTTE was once again considering mobilising public protests in the north east. Late last year such protests in places like Point Pedro and Trincomalee created severe headaches for the army.

Last week there was a hartal in the east. LTTE’s Jaffna Political Leader Illamparandi convened a meeting two weeks back and discussed the issue of protesting against the High Security Zones (HSZ) and the present impasse at the negotiations.

The LTTE has in the past secured the help of orgnisations like the International Student Organisation of Tamil Eelam and the Students Union at the Jaffna University to organise protests.

Intelligence units have also alerted authorities on the possibility of trained LTTE cadres infiltrating areas in the immediate proximity of camps to carry out reconnaissance.

There is also fear that the LTTE is developing its military capacity. During the much publicised arrests of three Tamil by Thai police, weapons used by SWAT teams were discovered. Pistols and ammunition of the Glock, Heckler and Koch type along with hi-tech laser targeting devices recovered have given rise to the possibility whether the LTTE was developing SWAT teams.

However, the government is likely to get a short respite. The JVP-SLFP tie-up despite the public fanfare is unlikely to take form any time soon. It will now be relegated back to the drawing board. The controversy on the secretary post of the new alliance was mainly due to pre-emptive action by prospective candidates.

The JVP had not demanded the post as such, but had indicated that if the chairmanship of the new alliance was to go to the SLFP, then the natural course of events would be to give the JVP the secretary post. A hopeful among President Kumaratunga’s inner circle had leaked the JVP demand to the press, which made headlines.

Among those  eyeing the post is Nimal Siripala de Silva who has played a big role in the negotiations up to now.

Change in tone

Kumaratunga also made sure that the Development Lotteries Board (DLB) issue also stayed in the firing line. Following Wickremesinghe’s and DLB Chairman J.K. Fernando’s letters to her, Kumaratunga got her Acting Secretary W.J.S. Karunaratne to write to Fernando on June 6.

The curt letter requested Fernando to submit details on development activities and other projects undertaken during 2002 and 2003 with details on expenditure. “I shall thank you to extend your urgent attention to this matter,” was how the six line letter ended.

The change in tone was quite apparent. During earlier communications the President’s office had taken pains to show that despite Fernando and company rejecting Kumaratunga’s authority over DLB, the President had been at least civil in her letters. “She addresses him as ‘dear sir,’ it is very polite,” an officer close to the President remarked during the last letter exchange. Not so this time around.

Kumaratunga also called for a meeting of vice chancellors. This came in the backdrop of agitation by unions backed by the JVP to remove the VC at the Sri Jayewardenapura University.

What the President’s actions indicate is that, despite the setbacks suffered by the opposition during the past few days, she will keep the sparks flying hoping that one day one would catch fire.

In the meantime, supporters of Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapakse were also a nervous lot last week. They are waiting with bated breath for the outcome of the SLFP convention scheduled for June 22. The fear is that Rajapakse will be side-stepped and Anura Bandaranaike appointed as deputy leader of the SLFP.

Rajapakse excluded

Rajapakse has already been excluded from several committees looking into party reorganisation. There has been a lot of debate on the murder of Rajapakse supporter, Kakanamage Ranjith alias Chandi Malli. But records at police headquarters indicate that Ranjith himself was no saint.

Charges against him range from intimidation of police officers on election duty — the case bearing number BR17/2000 at the Walasmulla Courts was due for hearing on June 6 — to murder.

One such homicide charge refers to the murder of Kalyanadasa Gunaratne, the then opposition leader of the Beliatta Town Council. The murder took place near the Beliatta market on August 13, 1997 around 8:30 in the morning. The case is pending at the Tangalle Magistrate’s Court and a revolver that was recovered from Ranjith was sent to the government analyst for verification.

Police recovered a T56 weapon with 30 ammunition pieces, a pistol with 12 bullets, a revolver with seven bullets and a riffle with five bullets without licenses from Ranjith in February this year.

All in all, the government has been able to achieve one of its prime targets this year, success at the aid meeting. That, however, will fade into irrelevance if the peace process gets bogged down. Even if the LTTE returns to the negotiating table, for lasting peace to dawn, acute changes need to take place in the national psyche.

“We do not expect a negotiation process without obstacles since the two parties have been in conflict for over 19 years. It is our belief that changing the attitudes of Sri Lankan citizens to gradually accept the fact that the LTTE is no longer an enemy would be difficult to achieve,” HNB said.

“This change in attitude and acceptance to achieve a peaceful solution require the support of the opposition parties and the masses.”

A steep task, given that some among the so-called independent press has been and continue to refer to the LTTE as “the enemy.” Independence my foot. Change of attitude? Dream on.

Drama near President’s House

There was more drama in the High Security Zone around President’s House last week. On Monday, the Presidential Security Division (PSD) took into custody a Tamil youth on suspicion of taking photographs of the President’s official residence.

Soon after that, an ASP from the PSD contacted State Counsel Dapula Livera and wanted to hold the suspect under the Prevention of Terrorism of Act (PTA).  Livera referred the matter to Solicitor General C.R. de Silva, a tough prosecutor with a reputation for impartiality. The PSD informed the Attorney General’s Department that the suspect had confessed that he was a member of the LTTE. De Silva’s advice, however, was to produce the suspect under normal law. He also requested the PSD to forward developed photographs. However, till Friday, no copies of the prints had been forwarded.

The arrest did not end in Colombo. De Silva made an attempt to get in touch with Attorney General  K.C. Kamalasabayson who was in Tokyo attending the donor meeting. De Silva was successful in reaching his former Royal College buddy, Treasury Secretary Charitha Ratwatte, who got  the AG to ring de Silva. The AG too agreed with de Silva that the case should proceed under normal law.


To be or not to be - a decisive birthday for the TULF Leader

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

June 15 is a crucial day for Veerasingham Anandasangaree. Today, the Leader of the Tamil United Liberation Font (TULF) turns 70 years. Politically too, the day has significant implications. June 15 is the deadline set by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for the veteran politician to step down from the leadership of the premier Tamil political party.

With the differences between him and the LTTE on the increase, the latest issue that has emerged concerning Anandasangaree is not the threat to his leadership, but his physical safety.

The beleaguered TULF Leader, it is learned has sought extra security from the police and the army along with living quarters in the high security area in Colombo, inferring that his life is at stake since the LTTE issued an ultimatum on his leadership.

Sangaree has been extremely critical of the LTTE in the recent past, condemning its anti-democratic approach especially in attempting to wipe out other shades of political opinion from the northeast.

It is learnt that Sangaree has been placed on the hit list, while an unconfirmed police source said that information has emerged that the TULF Leader’s security situation was precarious.

It is reliably learnt that the TULF Leader has been told to curtail his travel until additional security is provided. Meanwhile, TULF sources said that while their leader was undoubtedly running a security risk due to his outspoken manner, other members of the TULF central committee were also not safe. “What makes us secure? Of course he is under severe threat having dared to call a spade a spade. The LTTE is out to annihilate our members as they have always done and continue to do under cover,” the sources claimed.

‘Birthday gift’

As for Sangaree, a man who has given decades of his life and sacrificed much in pursuance of the Tamil political ideals, the Sword of Damocles’ that hangs above his head today appears like a tragic birthday gift from the Tigers.

And the island’s premier Tamil political party, the one that first called for a separate state 50 years ago to ensure ‘socio-political freedom’ of the Tamil people, appears to be cracking under LTTE pressure.

The volcanic political situation has reached such a magnitude that the political fate of Anandasangaree is to be decided this week when the TULF politbureau meets. That is after the defiant leader demanded his party membership to move a no faith on him to effect his removal. “Who are they to ask me to step down?” questions Anandasangaree who appears bitterly disappointed with some of his colleagues who have apparently failed to stand up to the LTTE in his defence.

It is in this backdrop that General Secretary, TULF, R. Sampanthan added a further twist to the tale by suddenly taking wing to India last week. Sampanthan who had often toed a more pro-LTTE line rushed to India for ‘personal reasons’ while the deadline approached.

It is believed that his sudden departure was precipitated by his failure to deliver on his promise made to LTTE’s Political Wing Leader S. P. Tamilselvan that Anandasangaree would be replaced by June 15.

TULF’s old guard Sampanthan and Anandasangaree go a long way back. They represent the TULF’s old guard that represented the legislature in 1977-1983. But now, the ‘consequences’ of not making the necessary changes in the TULF set-up are to be visited upon the leaders. An old friend, Sampanthan would have to pursue a decision to remove his senior colleague and friend. That being the reality of Sri Lanka’s Tamil politics.

Highly placed sources claimed that just before his departure last week, Sampanthan and three other TULF members requested Anandasangaree to voluntarily step down to contain the simmering dispute with the LTTE. But the senior politician had stoically stood his ground and requested the politbureau be convened. Sangaree, according to TULF senior sources had promised to step down if a resolution is passed seeking his removal but not at the behest of an organisation that is yet to shed its brutal image.

“I am past the age where fear could lead to decisions. I have lived true to my convictions. There is a stipulated procedure for my removal. That could be followed, and if it is so decided, I would hang my boots, but not otherwise and not in fear of reprisals,” says an adamant Anandasangaree.

It is learned that Sampanthan who is currently in India has instructed some of the TULF members to continue a dialogue with the party leader and explain to him why it is politically opportune for them to seek a leadership replacement at this juncture.

It has been said that those who support the LTTE move feel that they could bargain better for sufficient representation at local bodies etc; if the TNA pleases the militants at present.

But the position of the Sangaree loyalists is that such compromises were not necessary to secure representation. “The TULF is still the foremost Tamil political party in the north. People respect the party. We can win elections if the government ensures that the ground situation is conducive to conduct a free poll,” senior TULF sources said.

And they believe that pushing the likes of Anandasangaree to retire from active politics would not do the party’s image any good at grassroots level.

As such, there is simmering dislike within certain sections of the TULF against R. Sampanthan. But a source added that there could be much more to the fleeing of Sampanthan than what meets the eye. “Sangaree’s life is at stake, he has sought government security and has come clear on threats to his life. While nothing has been publicised, Sampanthan also could be under threat having failed to meet the LTTE deadline,” claimed the source.

Suppression politics Not long ago was Anandasangaree, the hero and sole guiding light, the man who withstood repeated LTTE attacks aimed at the TULF. During years of victimisation, the TULF’s many colourful political personalities along with lesser-known members fell victim to the LTTE’s guns.

The scars of grief were silently borne, perhaps in pursuit of a better ideal of achieving a political dream for the Tamil people with the LTTE’s assistance. It is this factor that led to the formation of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) prior to the 2001 general elections of which the TULF was the main constituent party.

The TULF, whether the Tigers would care to admit or not, also filled a great void within the LTTE set-up which lacked a mature political wing enriched by democratic tradition. The wing led by Tamilselvan is often regarded as a mere extension of the military wing, only different by name.

Despite the initiation of the peace process, it is learned that Anandasangaree has cast doubts over the manner in which an interim administration headed by the Liberation Tigers would govern. This seemed to have drawn the LTTE’s ire as the remarks, according to sources have been often repeated among close circles. Anandasangaree and his ilk do know, and it is tragic and ironic both, that his life cannot be safe among those who advocate ‘liberation for the Tamil people,’ a cause he himself has pursued with vigour through non-violent means.

Shift elsewhere

“It is common knowledge that the Tigers cannot bear the sight of any politician who would not toe their line. The TULF has done it for long enough, with a few expectations. This is why the EPDP is always at the receiving end,” said EPDP Leader Douglas Devananda who feels that if and when the LTTE gains control over the north east, not just the TULF, the rest of the Tamil political parties there would also have to shift to Colombo, Chennai or elsewhere.

“Believe me, this peace process has made most of us insecure. All of us require peace and a peace initiative. But the insecurity of other Tamil political parties has grown while the Tigers have gone from strength to strength,” says Devananda.

It is well known that the LTTE liaised with some pro-LTTE elements within the TULF to get Thurairajasingham appointed in place of TULF President and veteran politician M. Sivasithamparam following his demise. The Tigers have clearly begun spreading their tentacles within the TNA by increasing the number of members who favoured their brand of strong-arm politics.

In this backdrop, the LTTE held three meetings with the TNA to resolve matters. Anandasangaree was conspicuous by his absence. Though out of Sri Lanka on two occasions, the third meeting scheduled for May 13 took place after Anandasangaree’s return, and he indicated his desire to attend it.

Call to remove Anandasangaree

 Sources confirm that an angry Tamilselvan had demanded the immediate removal of the TULF Leader by June 1, while TULF General Secretary R. Sampanthan pleaded for time till June 15. The request was shot down and the Tiger  order was reiterated.

At a May 22 meeting in Kilinochchi, the LTTE eventually demanded the immediate removal of ‘overly critical’ Anandasangaree. The June 15 deadline was finally settled for after Sampanthan promised the LTTE to settle the issue with less political bloodshed within the TULF ranks.

Tamilselvan has, according to reliable sources made it clear to Sampanthan that hereafter the LTTE would sever its links with the TNA, a position that made Sangaree happy as he opined that the TULF could leave the TNA but support it on an issue by issue basis including the peace process.

The coming week, as events prove is decisive for Veerasingham Anandasangaree. The TULF central committee, comprising 46 members would meet soon to decide the fate of their own leader. While a cloud shadows the entire episode, it is apparent that the TULF too stands divided. 

What is more significant is not the individual fate of a leader but the manner in which the fate of the likes of Anandasangaree are decided. It will definitely send a signal to the rest of the world whether the Tamil political parties are ready to cave in or, fight as political organisations - for each other, for their rights and for democratic politics.

The LTTE’s haste in seeking Sangaree’s removal too is well understood by the large majority of Tamils. If and when an interim administration is set up with the LTTE in the driving seat, Sangaree is most likely to press for proper representation for the TULF in it.

He has a legitimate claim to that, having pursued an interim set-up since 1987 which was promised under the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord. And such a move by the TULF would seriously undermine the LTTE’s demand for dominance over the area by keeping it well within its throes.

The implications of Sangaree’s call to break-away from the LTTE-subservient TNA and go solo is well understood by the LTTE-that the premier political party is ready to face hustings and demand fair representation in an interim set up at the right time. It is the TULF’s signal that they are willing to relaunch themselves politically under a new administrative structure.

And an independently acting TULF is going to be attractive in the eyes of the northerner who had suffered silently at the LTTE’s hands and kept faith with parties like the TULF who have suffered alongside. And the 2001 election results prove that if given the opportunity, the northern voter would like to see parties like the TULF playing a significant role in regional politics.

Ultimate political betrayal

‘Elimination’ however is still possible, and remains a key strategy of the Tigers. Political activists of other groups who have gone missing or to meet their maker when gunned down by ‘unidentified’ gunmen prove this. The Tamil parties that have parliament presentation have long since handed over their weapons to the government and are facing severe security threats with violence still continuing in the northeast. Arms remain only in the hands of the LTTE which is still evading the mainstream.

The decision on Anandas-

angaree’s leadership will be an acid test for the TULF too. It will demonstrate whether they could simply remove their leader who had been with them through a journey of 45 years at the behest of the LTTE or have the courage to stand by him. If removed, soon the LTTE is likely to gun for his parliament seat and ‘plant’ a pro-LTTE member, and the trend is most likely to be continued every time a TNA member falls out of grace.

Sangaree had defended his stance through years of changing political landscape, not through brutal means but as a democrat. The TULF’s and the TNA’s failure to defend him will not only be a terrible indictment, but an indicator of the true state of Tamil politics here - that they are nothing more than mere pawns in the hands of the LTTE, unable to defend a man of Sangaree’s calibre or political stance.

It would also be the ultimate political betrayal and one that lacks gratitude for Anandasangaree’s decades of leadership provided to the community, without totting a gun.


Anandasangaree notches seventy today

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Veerasingham Anandasan-garee, senior Jaffna District Parliamentarian and President, Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), reaches the magical age of 70 today (15). Although his supporters and party members had earlier planned to conduct elaborate celebrations this  day in Jaffna, those moves were put on hold because of the current controversy surrounding the veteran Tamil leader. With the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) demanding Sangaree’s removal from the TULF presidency and the latter’s bold decision to defy that, the time naturally was not opportune for lavish grandeur.

The teacher turned lawyer cum politico will observe this day of significance on a low key,  it is learnt.

The avowed reasons and underlying causes behind the LTTE’s animosity towards Anandasangaree have been stated in these columns on earlier occasions. One refrains therefore from writing on contemporary happenings and focus on the man who was elected unanimously as president by the TULF central working committee on June 23, last year. Anandasangaree known generally as Sangaree had been earlier functioning as the senior vice-president of the party since 1993. He has also acted as president  in the absence of former party President Murugesu Sivasithamparam when away in India due to illness.

Born in Point Pedro in June 1933, Anandasangaree grew up in Atchuvely as his father was a school principal at Sri Somaskanda College in neighbouring Puthur. Sangaree himself studied at Sri Somaskanda, Christina College Atchuvely, Hartley College, Point Pedro and also Zahira College, Colombo. Before taking up law Sangaree was a pedagogue teaching at Hindu College Jaffna, Poonakari MMV, Kotalawala GTM school, Ratmalana and Christ King College Ja-Ela. He passed out as a lawyer in 1967 and was practicing until 1983 when the TULF leaders refused to take oaths under the 6th Amendment to the Constitution. He has not worn the black coat ever since.

Baptism of fire

Like many political leaders on both sides of the ethnic divide, Sangaree too began his politics as an ardent Trotskyite. He was an active member of the Lanka Sama Samaaja Party (LSSP) youth league from 1955 to 1965. His first experience in running for electoral office was in 1959 when he contested the Colombo Municipal Council on the LSSP ticket. His opponent was none other than the uncrowned king of Colombo municipal politics, V.A. Sugathadasa who was also the mayor then. It was a baptism of fire in Colombo for the 25 year old Jaffna youth.   

The 1960 March elections saw the LSSP under Dr. N.M. Perera make a  determined bid for political power through electoral politics. The party contested  101 seats in all parts of the island and ‘NM’ himself was projected as the future prime minister of the country. NM asked Sangaree to contest the newly carved rural constituency of Kilinochchi as a LSSP candidate. Anandasangaree having no links to Kilinochchi was naturally reluctant.    

NM encouraged him to plunge in saying that even if the “unknown” Sangaree lost then he would win the seat in 10 years time. NM’s words in 1960 were prophetic and in 1970 Anandasangaree was elected for the first time to parliament from Kilinochchi. Only he was no longer a Trotskyite having embraced Tamil nationalism as a Tamil Congress candidate. The LSSP however fared poorly winning only 10 seats.  

Sangaree contested the March 1960, July 1960 and March 1965 elections in Kilinochchi under the key symbol of the LSSP. He got 1114, 2011 and 1804 votes respectively, He lost both times in 1960 to S. Sivasundaram and in 1965 to K. P. Ratnam who were of the Federal Party (FP). In 1966 the LSSP now aligned with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party adopted the communal  “Dudleyge badey  masala vadai” line and opposed the Reasonable Use of Tamil as an Official Language Act in 1966. Sangaree like many Tamil LSSPers quit the party.

ACTC  

He joined the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) led by G. G. Ponnambalam Senior in  May 1966. Earlier, he contested and won the Kilinochchi town ward in the Karaichi Village Council. He became its chairman from 1965 to 1968. In 1968 it was elevated to Town Council (TC) status. Sangaree contested, won and became the first Kilinochchi TC chairman. He functioned in that capacity till the end of 1969. 

January 1970 saw Sangaree become Youth Front president of the Tamil Congress. In May 1970 he won Kilinochchi on the cycle symbol of the ACTC and defeated Alalasundaram of the FP by 657 votes. The ACTC got 9049 to  the FP’s 8392. The Tamil Congress had three MPs in 1970. They were Arulampalam of Nallur, Thiyagarajah of Vaddukkoddai and Anandasangaree  of Kilinochchi.  

Arulampalam and Thiyagarajah opted to join the United Front government. A ‘deputy-ministership carrot’ was dangled before Anandasangaree. Sangaree despite his left leanings and respect for NM refused to cross over and remained in the ranks of the Tamil nationalists. His stature increased greatly because of this.

The ’70s saw the main Tamil parties sink their differences and forging unity. The Tamil United Front (TUF) was formed in May 1972. This became the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in May 1976. In 1977, the TULF swept the elections riding the crest of a Tamil Eelam wave. Sangaree contested Kilinochchi again and polled 15607 votes obtaining a majority of 11601.

July violence

The sprawling electorate of Kilinochchi was primarily agrarian and relatively undeveloped. It was part of the Jaffna administrative district. Thus, a Tamil farmer from the rural backwoods of Kilinochchi had to travel a very long distance (up to 65 miles) to attend to matters at the Jaffna Kachcheri. So Sangaree began advocating the re-demarcation of Kilinochchi as a separate administrative district. This incurred the wrath of fellow TULF MPs from Jaffna and Sangaree became quite unpopular. In 1983 in the aftermath of the July violence the UNP government utilised the absence of TULF MPs in parliament and created the Kilinochchi District. 

The 1983 violence saw the TULF out in the political wilderness, Sangaree like many other TULF figures relocated to Madras but kept shuttling between India and Sri Lanka. In 1989, the TULF re-entered the political mainstream. Sangaree contested the Jaffna electoral district in 1989 and the Wanni District in 1994 on behalf of the TULF and lost both. 

In 2000 Anandasangaree was the chief candidate on the TULF ticket again in Jaffna. The TULF got three seats and Sangaree got the highest amount of preferences. In 2001 the TULF contested as part of the TNA under the party symbol of the rising sun. Again Sangaree topped the list gaining over 36, 000 preferences.

Sangaree has served in several capacities for the TULF being its propaganda secretary from 1976 to 1983 and a politbureau member from 1983 to 1993. He has attended several international conferences as a parliamentarian in Britain, Zambia, Austria, Norway, Chile and Switzerland. In recent times he has been part of a parliamentary delegation studying various political systems in different countries.

It was Sangaree’s fortunate experience to move closely with several political  giants during  the parliamentary span of 1970-1983. Dudley Senanayake, J. R. Jayewardene, R. Premadasa, E.L. Senanayake, W. Dahanayake, A.C.S. Hameed, M.D.H. Jayewardena, Sirima Bandaranaike, Badiuddhin Mahmood, Felix R. Dias Bandaranaike, Maithripala Senanayake, T.B. Ilangaratne, N.M. Perera, Colvin R. de Silva, Bernard Soysa, Leslie Gunewardene, Vivienne Gunewardene, S.A. Wickremasinghe, Pieter Keuneman, S.J.V. Chelvanayagam, S. Thondaman, A. Amirthalingam, M. Sivasithamparam, V.N. Navaratnam, V. Dharmalingam are but some of the illustrious personalities from whose interaction Sangaree gained.

Tower of strength

Anandasangaree was elected senior vice president of the TULF in 1993 and proved to be a tower of strength to the party when it was at the receiving end of systematic violence by the Tigers. He was instrumental in revving flagging fortunes of the TULF in Jaffna by taking over the Jaffna Municipal Council election campaign in 1998.

Thereafter when two TULF Jaffna Mayors Sarojini Yogeswaran and Pon Sivapalan along with a Mayoral aspirant,  Mathimugarajah were successively assassinated by the LTTE, Anandasangaree took up permanent residence in Jaffna and rallied the demoralised TULF. He also spearheaded its parliamentary election campaign in Jaffna during 2000 and 2001. 

He lost a brother, Rajasangaree, to EPRLF assassins in 1988. Rajasangaree, the head of the Chavakachcheri Citizens Committee had been critical of IPKF excesses and EPRLF atrocities. Similiarly Anandasangaree lost a nephew, Yogasangari in an attack by the Tigers in 1990. Yogasangari, an EPRLF parliamentarian from Jaffna was in Chennai when a LTTE hit-squad gunned  him down there. EPRLF leader  Padmanabha was also killed in the incident.

Prominent role

Anandasangaree also received wide media coverage in Tamil Nadu when he accompanied and assisted his former leader and top notch internatiol lawyer G.G. Ponnambalam (Senior) at the Sarkaria Commission sittings. The Commission had been appointed to inquire into corruption allegations of the erstwhile DMK regime. Ponnambalam led the team of lawyers representing former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Muttuvel Karunanidhi of the Dravida Munnetra Kazghagham. Anandasangaree played a prominent role in this legal arrangement.

Anandasangaree is not a person ambitious for political office within the party. The posts he held and the current presidency were thrust upon him in troubled times. It is to the credit of his courage and perseverance that the TULF remains a viable entity. Both the Tamil community as well as his party need people of his experience at this critical juncture. It is a sad indictment of our times that his leadership and - possibly his life face terrible risk due to extraneous factors.

Danger hovers in the background as he enters his seventieth year, today. Wishing him many happy returns of the day as is customary will be poignantly meaningful in the current context. Wishing him well has many connotations at this point of time. This writer has, in a professional and personal capacity known the veteran leader for more than 20 years. It is with a silent prayer that this column wishes Veerasingham Anandasangaree “Needoodi Vaalga” (long life) and “Nandre Velha” (win well ) on this memorable day of his life.  


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