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10th July, 2005  Volume 11, Issue 52

First with the news and free with its views                                     First with the news and free with its views                             First with the news and free with its views                                    

Politics

Govt. in gridlock as CBK plays for time

Inside Politics

By Suranimala

While the SLFP's presidential election nominee stakes were thrown into utter confusion last week following startling revelations on Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse's financial dealings...........

More...


 More Political Articles

> Terrorist funding and 'Helping Hambantota'

> Walking towards power (...Corridors of Power)

> LTTE-Karuna fight spills over to government areas


Govt. in gridlock as CBK plays for time

Ranil Wickremesinghe, Chandrika Kumaratunga, Anura Priyadharshana Yapa 
and Mahinda Rajapakse

Inside Politics

By Suranimala

While the SLFP's presidential election nominee stakes were thrown into utter confusion last week following startling revelations on Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse's financial dealings in relation to tsunami aid, President Chandrika Kumaratunga weakened the party's case further by declining to name the prospective candidate.

Despite repeated calls by party seniors and branch organisations to name Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse as the SLFP's presidential candidate, the President has steadfastly refused to do so, insisting the election is not due until end 2006.

No-lose situation

That the timing of the election is not her's to decide Kumaratunga knows only too well but has taken cover under the alleged secret oath taking ceremony to justify the end 2006 claim and delay naming the candidate.

For Kumaratunga personally, it is a no-lose situation since the only way she can ensure holding on to the SLFP leadership is by ensuring a candidate of the party does not succeed at the presidential election and what better way to achieve that objective than giving the eventual candidate very little time to map out a successful campaign strategy and programme.

This fact, Rajapakse and his loyalists were alive to and planned a counter strategy to pressure the President into naming the candidate using various party fora both at grassroot level as well as at the centre to do so, albeit with little effect.

The counter to this Rajapakse strategy was swift, with the President directing her senior ministers to inform the country at a press conference the presidential election is not due till end 2006.

To weaken the Premier's case further, the President also informed the party officially, the SLFP will not have any truck with the JVP in future, thereby sending a signal to the Marxists, they would have to field a separate candidate, practically sealing the fate of the SLFP candidate.

This thinking the President made known when she met with the SLFP parliamentary group on Tuesday, July 5, at President's House where both contenders, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse and Tourism Minister Anura Bandaranaike, were at hand.

Interestingly, prior to this meeting, Bandaranaike had made it known that a Rajapakse-JVP combine would be a deadly combination with disastrous consequences for the country and should be averted at all costs, a view shared by the President as well.

CBK attacks the JVP

Thus at the very outset of the group meeting, the President hailed the SLFP for taking a decisive decision to proceed with the P-TOMS agreement notwithstanding JVP pressure and pointed out the party had proved to the whole world it could not only take important decisions in the interest of the nation but also stand up to the Marxists.

Having said that, the President unleashed a barrage of criticism on the JVP stating, no party could govern in alliance with the Marxists given their antiquated ideology and self-serving politics.

The President said the JVP went into an alliance with the SLFP for the specific purpose of destroying the party and only her timely action had thwarted their plans.

Continuing, the President said the SLFP would not go in for any future alliance with the JVP - be it to contest elections or form a government - and advised the MPs to start strengthening the party's electoral base for the challenges ahead.

"I was always against this alliance. I knew their game plan all along. Our own people came and put pressure on me to form the alliance and dissolve parliament. Now look at what we have reaped. Once in government, we can't act like an opposition. We have to take decisions on national issues. This is where the JVP has failed. It has no policies to solve the problems faced by the country," she said.

Added she: "Now I don't see any future with the JVP. Therefore, go out and organise our party branches to face future elections."

Not stopping at that, the President put a lid on the presidential stakes issue stating the election is not due till end 2006.

"Get ready for the local government elections. We must decide whether we are going to contest under the 'hand' symbol or the 'chair' symbol," she further said.

And to impress upon her MPs she meant business when it comes to the JVP, the President said the four portfolios held by the Marxists would also be filled with four deputy ministers of the SLFP in the very near future.

"If we are to win a presidential election, we must link up with the minority parties. We lost their support because of our alliance with the JVP. We must work with the TNA also," Kumaratunga added.

Challenge

However, Deputy Sports Minister, Sripathi Sooriyarachchi - a strong supporter of Rajapakse - had other ideas and threw caution to the winds and challenged Kumaratunga's stand on the JVP.

Said he, "I came after meeting the people at my public day. The people are opposed to us getting together with the UNP in the Western Province. They say it was for the SLFP/JVP alliance their votes were cast and we should continue along the same path."

Shot back the President, "I don't know which party people you are meeting, but I get a lot of praise for distancing the SLFP from the JVP."

Supporting Kumaratunga on this issue was Deputy Ports Minister, Dilan Perera who said the people were supportive of the two main parties working together. "It was proved in the Western Province. Better to go without the red shirts and go with the UNP instead," he said.

Equally vocal on the issue was Deputy Minister, Salinda Dissanayake who argued there was no difference between the JVP and the LTTE.

"If the LTTE are murderers, so are the JVP. I fully endorse the President's decision to make a clean break with the JVP. We don't need them. Let us rebuild the SLFP and the people will back us," he said.

Backing up Perera and Dissanayake was Deputy Minister, Tissa Karaliyadda. He said if the local authority elections were contested under the hand symbol, he could guarantee victory for the party in the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa Districts.

The surprise however came in the form of Plantations Minister, Anura Priyadharshana Yapa who in the recent past had been working behind the scenes to bring the JVP back into the fold.

Said he, "When the UPFA was formed, I said it was not in the interest of the SLFP. I said if the alliance was to be formed, it should be done with adequate conditions to protect the SLFP. But what happened was that through the alliance pact, we sold the SLFP lock, stock and barrel to the JVP. As a result the JVP got 39 seats and is holding us to ransom. This has to stop."

It was at this point Labour Minister, Athauda Seneviratne thought it fit to broach the subject of the Presidential election, much to the consternation of the President.

Seneviratne said the UNP's Jana Bala Meheyuma was gathering momentum and becoming a big issue in the country and the government should take some decisive action to counter it, suggesting the best course of action would be to nominate the SLFP's presidential candidate.

"We must name our candidate within the next two weeks giving him adequate time to map out a campaign," Seneviratne argued.

Not impressed

But Kumaratunga was not impressed and promptly poured cold water on the issue before any other member chose to agitate the same cause.

Said the President, "We will do it at the right time. No need to do so now when the election is not due till 2006. There is no need for any person to start planning campaigns either. The party will select the candidate at the right time."

With that the President put a lid on the issue, having made it clear the chances of any prospective candidate hoping to link up with the JVP in getting the party nomination will be zero.

In fact, the Prime Minister was given an indication of the President's thinking the previous day and throwing caution to the wind, personally presented the P-TOMS agreement to parliament on Tuesday morning, earning in the process the ire of the JVP.

The JVP in fact has now decided to field its own candidate at the presidential election believing the party could, given the public mood against the SLFP, even win the election based on the voting system.

The logic of the JVP is that Opposition Leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe will not be able to secure the 50% plus one vote required to win on the first count forcing the count of the second preferential vote.

And the second preference of the SLFP candidate's vote, the JVP believes, will be for its candidate and not Wickremesinghe, ensuring thereby the victory of its candidate.

This thinking of the party was articulated by former Deputy Minister, Bimal Ratnayake when he spoke with TNA MP, Joseph Pararajasingham who in turn communicated it to his colleagues.

Probing the JVP on the issue, Joseph had asked Ratnayake whether his party would support the candidature of Rajapakse at the presidential election and the reply had been a vehement "no."

"We are fielding our own candidate" Ratnayake had said.

Asked Joseph - "But won't you help Ranil Wickremesinghe to win easily by doing so?"

Replied Ratnayake - "No, he will not get the 50 percent required to win on the first count. When the second preference vote is counted it will be to our favour because those voting for Rajapakse will give us the second preference."

Leaving aside the logic of that theory, the bottom line is, the JVP will field its own candidate and has also vowed to agitate for Kumaratunga's exit by November this year.

JVP Propaganda Secretary, Wimal Weerawansa made the party position on this aspect clear in Kandy on Tuesday when he said Kumaratunga has just a few more months in office and the party would campaign to ensure that will be the case.

It would necessarily follow, the JVP too will be campaigning for a November presidential election with the intention of fielding its own candidate.

Thus, with the single act of presenting the P-TOMS, as is now evident, the Prime Minister too buried any chances of obtaining the JVP's support for his presidential candidacy, no doubt realising the top item on the agenda was to first get hold of the SLFP.

Action plan

But unknown to Rajapakse, the President was putting in motion her own action plan having sent word to UNP Leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe she was prepared to appoint him prime minister.

The President had indicated she was prepared to appoint a cabinet of his choice together with some of her nominees provided Wickremesinghe was prepared to take over government.

Wickremesinghe was not enamoured by the idea, informing the emissary, the UNP was insisting on a presidential election this year and any link up could be considered only after the people have spoken at an election.

Wickremesinghe was understandably wary of Kumaratunga's motives given his experiences in the past, particularly in relation to her solemn pledge early February 2004 she would not dissolve parliament.

With that move coming a cropper, Kumaratunga is now looking at the possibility of dissolving parliament later this month and going for a snap general election and personally spearheading the campaign for the SLFP, possibly after resigning from the presidency, thereby knocking out Rajapakse in the process as well.

This option is now looked at seriously having got bogged down over the P-TOMS agreement as well, with the Norwegians approached to further amend the signed document in consultation with the LTTE giving the Treasury control over all funds.

As a result the entire mechanism has become a non starter and that Kumaratunga is just fine if a general election is going to be the order of the day.

The amendment the President is seeking relates to the appointment of a multi lateral agency to be the custodian of the regional funds as per Article 7 of the signed agreement.

Regional Fund issues

Article 7 titled 'Regional Fund' reads thus:

(a) There shall be a post-tsunami costal fund for the six districts (the Regional Fund), consisting of unspecified (programme) and secretariat funds. The unspecified (programme) funds shall consist exclusively of foreign funds while the secretariat funds shall consist of both foreign and local funds.

(b) The parties shall appoint a suitable multilateral agency to be the custodian of the Regional Fund.

(c) The purpose of the Regional Fund shall be to expeditiously make available funds, following proper approved procedures, to facilitate and accelerate the relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and development programme in the tsunami-affected areas of the six districts.

(d) The parties and the custodian shall agree on a mechanism for the establishment and operation of the regional fund.

That at least is what the P-TOMS agreement said.

What the President has now proposed is that the multilateral agency be replaced by the Treasury as the custodian of the Regional Fund, a proposal the LTTE has refused to look at.

Given this situation, the entire agreement is now bogged down with Kumaratunga not nominating her members to man the committees and the LTTE too not doing likewise, awaiting the flow of funds to the multi lateral agency.

But in naming the multilateral agency, as per Article 7, there must be a joint decision by both parties and with the President now insisting on the Treasury being the custodian, the question of deciding on a multilateral agency is not even up for consideration by her.

To the LTTE, with the joint mechanism already signed and tabled in parliament, the President's insistence on stalling the process until such time the amendment appointing the Treasury is made tantamounts to reneging on the agreement and it has made that position clear to the Norwegians and the international community.

Thus, having already lost the JVP over the P-TOMS deal, the President is running the risk of the LTTE too withdrawing from it over her backtracking, leaving Kumaratunga neither here nor there.

Easy way out

It is to overcome these crises  Kumaratunga is now looking at the easy way out by dissolving parliament and letting the people decide the issue.

To Kumaratunga, the non-implementation of the P-TOMS before the general election is also a better position to be in, helping take a battle cry away from the JVP.

It is in keeping with this same thinking, President Kumaratunga once again pushed to the back burner naming the SLFP's presidential candidate as well when the issue came up for discussion at the party's central committee meeting Thursday night.

Having already instructed her Ministers to announce Friday morning the presidential election will not be held till end 2006, Kumaratunga bought time by appointing a committee to consider prospective candidates for the nomination. The committee comprises Kumaratunga, Mahinda Rajapakse, Anura Bandaranaike, Maithripala Sirisena, D.M. Jayaratne and Susil Premajayanth.

In doing so, Kumaratunga also took a swipe at Rajapakse stating the choice of candidate will be decided by the central committee and not branch organisations at electoral level which comments saw the Prime Minister immediately rising to his defence.

Rajapakse said though various district organisations had proposed his name, he was not behind the move and had in no way orchestrated his nomination.

Kumaratunga however was not impressed, having earlier learned Minister Mangala Samaraweera had discussed the issue of proposing Rajapakse's candidature and also the secret discussions the duo had had in parliament.

Samaraweera in fact was planning to push for Rajapakse's nomination at Thursday's central committee meeting, prompting the President to in a pre-emptive move appoint the committee to look into the issue.

Samaraweera's thinking is that with Rajapakse controlling the levers of the SLFP, the JVP could be brought back into the alliance and the government stabilised.

In the meantime, the UNP's Jana Bala Meheyuma was gathering momentum as it wound its way to Colombo with many members urging Wickremesinghe to lead the procession to President's House demanding a presidential election this year - a call the UNP Leader has hitherto resisted.

Election

Whilst the UNP Leader is convinced the presidential election will be held in November this year, he has told party members, such drastic action should be contemplated only if attempts are made to prevent the election being held.

And now with the TNA also indicating it will vote against the government's budget in November given the growing frustration over the delay in implementing the P-TOMS agreement, the UNP too is set to defeat the government in parliament forcing a general election if the presidential poll is not held this year. Thus at best the government can only last till November,

The TNA is particularly suspicious of the President's motives, believing she would fall back on the Supreme Court decision to frustrate the implementation of the joint mechanism.

These suspicions were further heightened after leave to proceed was granted by court Wednesday on an application by the JVP, prompting the LTTE to call for a meeting of select TNA MPs to the Wanni for urgent consultations.

Given this political hodge podge and the gridlock in government, an election this year - be it presidential or general - is inevitable and is bound to be a watershed in the country's history.


Terrorist funding and 'Helping Hambantota'

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti Our Lobby Correspondent

Not even the P-TOMS agreement demonstrated the divisions in this country the way last Thursday's parliamentary debate on the Suppression of Terrorism Financing Bill did. It certainly proved that one man's terrorist is decidedly another's freedom fighter.

The speeches were so divided that it was almost impossible to believe with such segregated views, it was still possible for the members to occupy seats in one legislature.

There were verbal clashes and attempts to shout colleagues down. Only Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar who presented the enabling legislation and Opposition Chief Whip, Mahinda Samarasinghe were spared due to the diplomatic restrain in their contributions.

Bimal Ratnayake, Sripathi Sooriaarachchi, 
Mavai Senathirajah and Dinesh Gunawardena

Samarasinghe was happy that Sri Lanka was presenting enabling legislation whereas often, the practice is to rush and sign treaties but not create domestic laws that reflect the spirit of such treaties.

Clash

However, Minister Dinesh Gunawardena had no chance of making his speech, with the TNA members clashing with him from the very start as the MEP Leader made thundering accusations about LTTE fund raising.

Gunawardena demanded that an end should be put to LTTE fund raising, an organisation, he believed, that has terrorised the entire world. Beyond that, he could go no more with the TNA members noisily protesting the LTTE was doing what was right in pursuance of a community's rights.

Continuing on Gunawardena's lines was JVP's Bimal Ratnayake who claimed when bombs were exploding in Colombo, none of the anti-terrorism crusaders were there to support Sri Lanka, "until they themselves became targets of an angry Afghan who was incidentally created by the US itself."

The MP noted there was no provision to share funds with a terror organisation and said that it was clearly stated such groups seek to operate by exploiting tags like 'charitable,' 'social' and 'cultural.'

Ratnayake blamed both UNP and PA administrations for losing their Sinhala and Muslim political base by pandering to a terrorist organisation that now enjoys international recognition.

Action

"If action should be taken against anyone for aiding and abetting terrorism, then both governments are responsible. That's what they did through the ceasefire agreement and P-TOMS. When the state grants them legitimacy, what purpose does this legislation serve?" he queried, adding that finally, the LTTE has the right to control US$ 3.3 billion.

"Earlier, it was a case of providing arms, radio equipment, billions of dollars, other material support and finally duty free vehicles. Sri Lanka has violated this convention and played a massive role in support of terrorism. It is laughable to have this piece of legislation presented today," noted Ratnayake.

He added the JVP has challenged the election of TNA members to parliament, yet preferred if they as elected parliamentarians handled the aid that would come into the district committee than give such to the TRO.

Furiously responding to Ratnayake's speech was TNA's Mavai Senathirajah. A very emotional Senathirajah claimed it was time to give due recognition to Tamils and allow self-determination.

Freedom fighters

"You try to portray the LTTE as a terrorist organisation. It fights for our freedom," he said, listing out Tamil leaders who advocated Tamils' right to self-determination. However, though naming the likes of Amirthalingam and Thiruche-lvam, he studiously avoided naming their killers, a fact Sripathi Sooriaarachchi was quick to point out.

An angry Senathirajah thundered, "This constitution cannot bind us, the Sinhala government cannot suppress us and the military cannot control us." Waxing eloquence, he also scoffed at government efforts to win India's support to quell the LTTE, breathily adding that it would never happen.

Senathirajah said there was no proper definition for terrorism, and the JVP not so long ago was labeled as such, at which point Dinesh Gunawardena jumped up and demanded to know the reason for killing Rajiv Gandhi, and a verbal clash ensued.

Quietly observing that if the world's super powers did not get hurt, a tiny island nation would not have had international support to suppress terrorism was Deputy Sports Minister, Sripathi Sooriaarachchi.

He noted some Tamil intellectuals who supported the Tamil cause were originally with the two mainstream political parties. "Some wrongs have divided us and driven the two communities apart. But we should not stand here and condone terrorism," he said.

UN declaration

If UN conventions were to be the basis on which terrorism is discussed, TNA Leader, R. Sampanthan decided he would also refer to something that aided his argument, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

He noted the declaration stressed on the "recognition of inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family" and was the cornerstone of all other treaties and domestic law.

"There is nothing beyond that. We are talking about the dignity of a race. We were not at war some 40 years ago; we have been driven towards this. If you drive a man to violence and then question him as to why he does it, I think a lesson in history is needed first," he snapped.

At the end of the day, 87 parliamentarians including UNP members voted in favour of the legislation while the TNA's 20 voted against. Exercising a conscience vote was UNP's T. Maheswaran who also voted against the bill which only went to prove how divided the community is - which of course is reflected in the legislature where opinions are hardly expressed recognising the right to disagree.

Prime Minister speaks out...

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse while refuting allegations of funds from the Prime Minister's Fund being illegally transferred to a private fund named 'Helping Hambantota,' claimed his action had cabinet approval.

The Premier on Thursday morning tabled the cabinet memorandum to the House.

On Tuesday afternoon, the opposition took up the matter of some Rs. 32 million being transferred from the Premier's Fund to that of a private account maintained by the Standard Chartered Bank for the exclusive development of Hambantota. The adjournment motion was moved by UNP frontliner, John Amaratunga and seconded by Dayasiri Jayasekera.

However, prior to the debate, Amaratunga alleged the Premier was dodging the issue as the government has originally requested the debate be postponed to Wednesday (6). An angry Premier at this point responded he had nothing to hide and was glad to have the opportunity to defend himself.

The house turned noisy at this point with Deputy Ministers Mahindananda Aluthgamage, Dilan Perera, Mervyn Silva, Jayatissa Ranaweera and Sripathi Sooriaarachchi shouting at Amaratunga. Chief Government Whip, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle insisted the UNP failed to give the government sufficient notice. Proposing the motion, John Amaratunga said on the face of things, there appeared to be an obvious transfer of funds from the Premier's Fund to that of a private account targeting only Hambantota development and that The Sunday Leader has exhaustively dealt with the issue last week.

"These funds come in to help tsunami victims. Will the money reach the victims or become part of an image building exercise, especially now that the Premier is the party's next presidential candidate?" queried Amaratunga.

Dayasiri Jayasekera, who seconded the motion, had more battles to contend with. Due to the new seating arrangements, Jayasekera found himself sandwiched amongst government legislators who disturbed his entire speech, thumped on their desks and shouted abuse. MP Mervyn Silva switched off and turned Jayasekera's microphone away shouting that Jayasekera was making false allegations. "Mewa boru," he repeated, while an angry Jayasekera snapped, "Pissek evith methanata."

Jayasekera, nevertheless insisted a premier was elected for the entire country and not for a single district, alleging that it was wrong of him to unduly concentrate on a single district in this manner.

Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, Deputy Ministers Dilan Perera, Rohitha Abeygunawardene and Sripathi Sooriaarachchi collectively defended the Premier claiming that Rajapakse has sufficient wealth and did not need to siphon out monies that came in to help tsunami victims. Fernandopulle claimed Rajapakse was above corruption while Dilan Perera refuted the charges as baseless propaganda that stemmed from ugly political motives.

Making stinging accusations against The Sunday Leader, Deputy Sports Minister, Sripathi Sooriarachchi claimed the newspaper was conducting a continuous campaign against Sinhala Buddhist leaders and the Premier was the latest victim.

Premier Rajapakse in his reply said he was happy to have the opportunity to clear his name at a time when the UNP was doing its best to tarnish his image. He charged the UNP took a scurrilous poster design to a printer on the same issue, only to be turned down. "All money transactions have been approved by cabinet and a separate account was opened for Hambantota as some donors were specifically interested in assisting Hambantota development work. The unspecified monies, all went into the Disaster Management Fund and not a single cent has disappeared or been misappropriated. I can account for every rupee and the funds are managed with absolute transparency," he said.

The Premier in his response said the transfers had cabinet approval and he had not dealt with a single rupee in violation of rules of transparency. The Premier, making a reply speech to an adjournment motion on the alleged transfer of funds to a private fund manned by him, claimed cabinet had been informed at all times. He further said 'Helping Hambantota' was created on the request of a few donors who specifically wished to support rebuilding efforts in Hambantota.

Kadirgarmar's jaunts

Lakshman Kadirgamar

Travel expenses

It might not be a startling revelation that in just 14 months, Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar has made 22 trips overseas at the cost of Rs. 35,386,346.

What is truly stunning about the matter is that the Minister's response to an oral question raised by UNP Parliamentarian, Ravi Karunanayake on Thursday (7) being a shameless skirting of the issue - giving no details of others who participated in those trips.

Kadirgamar, who made a rare appearance in the House to present enabling legislation to the UN Convention on the Suppression of Terrorist Financing, in answer to the query, only provided information with regard to the number of trips abroad and the cost incurred by him.

In his tabled answer, he provided information about the purposes of the visits - but was careful not to answer part (b) (1) of the question, "the total cost for the Minister and the others who participated in the aforesaid trips separately."

It was UNP's T. Maheswaran who asked why the particular question was unanswered, with Chief Government Whip, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle doing his best to save Kadirgamar's skin by insisting the answer was complete. When Karunanayake highlighted how Kadirgamar's wife Sugandhi accompanied him, the Minister responded that certain circulars existed that provided for such travel.


Walking towards power

UPFA Parliamentarian, Mervyn Silva is a busy man these days, promoting a patriotic alliance and siding with a lone ranger, Minister Mangala Samaraweera.

Chatting a few scribes last week in the parliament lobby, Silva made an observation that nobody won governments by organising protest marches, the obvious reference being to the UNP's current Jana Bala Meheyuma that demands a presidential election.

"If a march from Dondra to Colombo can install one in power, then dogs should reign supreme. They walk than more than any other," quipped Silva, happily forgetting all the Pada Yatras against the Premadasa administration not so long ago that certainly saw the PA's ascendancy to power.

The ringing mobiles

The Speaker's repeated cautioning to have mobile phones switched off when parliament is in session often falls on deaf ears. On Wednesday morning, a phone began to noisily ring and there was TNA Parliamentarian, Natarajah Raviraj rushing to switch it off. At least the MP had the grace to appear apologetic for breaching rules, which cannot be said about most members who are often seen pushing their heads under the tables and yapping away oblivious to the proceedings.

Progressive alliances

At the government group meeting, the talk was all about forming progressive fronts, and pushing the idea were Sripathi Sooriaarachchi and Athauda Seneviratne. Deputy Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage and Dilan Perera were supportive of the new alliance theory, but were not keen on the progressive label.

Dousing cold water on Sooriaa-rachchi's enthusiasm, President Kumaratunga said new alliances were certainly in order, but for an alliance to work, it should be with the UNP and no other to the delight of the pro-joint mechanism group within who applauded the comment.

Going further, Kumaratunga said she certainly knew about the way progressives work and the most progressive step was taken when joining hands with the JVP. "See what happened. An alliance is fine, if it is with the UNP", Kumaratunga noted, while Sooriaarachchi wore a stunned expression. 

Sethusamudram - A heart burner

The proposed Sethusamudram canal project has become quite a heart burner for Sri Lanka, but more than the possible consequences of the project itself is the irksome subservience of this sovereign state to the dictates and whims of big brother India.

When Spokesman, JHU, Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thero raised a string of queries whether the Foreign Ministry has sanctioned the project despite serious concerns about Sri Lanka's ecology, port functions, environment assessments and economic loss, Minister Kadirgamar only said that India has assured that Sri Lanka's concerns would be taken into account.

When the Thero queried whether the government was willing to go before an international court and challenge the project under the UN Law on the Sea, there was deafening silence.

Kadirgamaar was more articulate about the Indian position and said scientists of both countries were working on it and an informed position has so far not emerged.


LTTE-Karuna fight spills over to government areas

Heavily armed LTTE cadres in Ambalanthurai and Police providing cover for the LTTE float

By Amantha Perera

Dusk had just fallen when the dinner bell rang at the army camp housed at the Nelliady school. It was 7 p.m. and everyone at the camp headed to the dining mess. Five minutes later, the entire school was rocked by a loud explosion.

The date was July 5, 1987 and Vasanthan Vallipuram alias Miller had carried out the first suicide attack by an LTTE cadre. He had driven an explosive-laden truck into the school premises.

Seventeen years later, Miller's heroics would have been in the mind of Ramalingam Padmaseelan alias Senathiraja as he rode through the streets of Batticaloa. As head of the LTTE political office he was busy organising the Black Tiger commemoration events. As he neared the petrol station close to the LTTE political office, shots rang out  interrupting the morning hustle. Padmaseelan received serious injuries to his torso in the shooting and fought for eight days before succumbing.  The gunmen who were also riding a motorbike disappeared into the crowd

Until Senathiraja's attack, July 5 was a day of honour for the Tigers. The suicide cadres, usually revered, are publicly feted during the Black Tiger Day commemorations. Trucks decorated with photographs of dead Black Tigers parade the streets and relatives pay homage at roadside shrines. The commemorations are only second to those held during the Tigers' Heroes' Day events in November which climax with Velupillai Pirapakaran's birthday.

Start off

The Senathiraja attack however was the start of the worst internal bloodletting in Tiger history. The LTTE eastern supremo Karuna  had defected to government areas in April last year after a failed rebellion and following its success in ousting the rebels-within the LTTE was asserting its political power when bullets hit Senathi. Immediately after the attack the Tigers blamed the murder on the rival faction which untill then had been quiet. The retaliation was fast and brutal, Kanapathipillai Mahendran alias Satchi Master, a high ranking Karuna supporter who had acted as his spokesman was shot and killed inside the Batticaloa jail on July 15 and seven other Karuna supporters were gunned down at a safe house in Kottawa on July 25.  Since the breakout of the shadow war there has been no letting up by both sides.

From the beginning the Tigers alleged that the Karuna faction could not operate with such freedom without the support of the security forces. "I think the situation deteriorated because the LTTE didn't trust the Sri Lanka Army - they accused the army of knowing about Karuna's hide-outs and also turning  a blind eye," said sources who have dealt with both the LTTE and the army in the east.

As the killings continued the growing distrust between the security forces and the Tigers deteriorated steadily. Things reached a breaking point on June 26 this year  when a bus carrying 40 LTTErs was attacked with a claymore mine at Bowatta, Welikanda. It was about seven to eight kilometres from the location where LTTE eastern political commissar Kausalyan was killed on February 7. Kausalyan has been the highest ranking Tiger to have been killed since the ceasefire.

Though the claymore went off it caused minimal damage. A female cadre received shrapnel  injuries to her face but was able to accompany her colleagues to Karadiyanaru. The LTTE hierarchy in Kilinochchi however was not ready to let the incident go unnoticed. The attempt had targeted the largest number of Tigers since the ceasefire went into effect and had occurred in an area where the Karuna faction had been the most active. Meeting SLMM Head Hangrup Haukland in Kilinochchi four days later, LTTE Political Wing Head S. P. Tamilselvan said the attack brought into question the sincerity of the government and the security forces. The Tigers also issued an ultimatum of two weeks to the army to guarantee the security of cadres travelling in government-controlled areas. It expires on July 14.

Indications from Kilinochchi last week were that the LTTE was taking the security issue dead-seriously. Many are expecting a reaction from the Tigers as soon as the deadline expires.

The LTTE said it had delayed the journey of the eastern cadres when it received intelligence that the convoy might be attacked. Last month several LTTE high rankers including eastern military head Bhanu were stuck in the Vanni when the government failed to provide helicopters. During the delay, the government indicated to the LTTE through the Norwegian Ambassador that following the murder of Maj. Nizam Muthaliff, the environment was not conducive to allow Tigers to travel through government-controlled areas. The area leaders were finally able to return to their regional bases three weeks ago.

Last week Tamilselvan repeated the same threat that he made when the helicopters were refused, that the Tigers would use its own transport facilities and security when crossing government-held areas - then he was specific in stating that the LTTE would use its air, sea and land facilities. Last week he also said the Tigers wanted security forces personnel to accompany cadres in the same vehicles while they are inside the government-held territory.

Army angered

The SLMM held several rounds of meetings last week with government authorities to reach an agreement. But the army has been angered by the LTTE's demand to put officers in the vehicles.

"That (the request) is going beyond  their (LTTE) mandate. Providing security within our areas is our duty and we have done that very well," Military Spokesperson Brig. Daya Ratnayake said. Security forces personnel, especially from the volatile east have privately aired reservations on travelling in the same vehicles. Relations between the forces and the LTTE have deteriorated even further in the east in recent days following the murder of three soldiers including two intelligence operatives on June 30. One more intelligence officer from the Police NIB was killed last week and another injured in Kalmunai.

However, SLMM Spokesperson Helen Olatsdoftir said the military would comply with the LTTE request. The SLMM met with government officials on Monday to discuss providing security to the LTTE. The SLMM declined to give details of the meeting. Haukland visiting Trincomalee on Thursday said that the SLMM was awaiting the government's response.Two weeks ago a group of LTTErs travelled through government-held areas in the east  with STF officials inside the vehicle. However, Brig. Ratnayake said there was no change in the manner security was provided to the Tigers.

The LTTE has continuously indicated its weariness over attacks by members of the Karuna faction while travelling through government- held areas in the east. "It is an LTTE problem. The confrontations with the Karuna faction are spilling over to government areas because the LTTE could not control the Karuna guys," Brig. Ratnayake said.

Tight security

The extent to which the LTTE was concerned about the security was amply clear by the number of armed LTTE cadres present inside their areas during the Black Tiger event. The main event was held deep inside Tiger territory at Ambalanthurai and cadres armed with powerful machine guns were posted to provide tight security cover. Even a five-zero anti-aircraft gun was brought to the location. The LTTE eastern military wing leader Banu made a fiery speech at the gathering and said that notwithstanding what the government does the Tigers would never forget the horrors of Black July or the sacrifices made by cadres including the suicide squads.

Banu arrived at the location escorted by motorcycle cadres armed with sub-machine guns. Even inside government-controlled areas the LTTE motorcade was surrounded by unarmed cadres riding cycles.  The army too had made sure that armed soldiers were present right along the way when the LTTE convoy led by eastern political head Marshall travelled through government areas. Two weeks ago the LTTE requested the army through the SLMM that they only required the security forces to clear the routes and did not need any escorts.

Eyewitness said that there was tension while the motorcade travelled through government territory. However no incidents were reported connected with the Black Tiger Day events.

It was totally different in Jaffna, where the main commemoration took place at the Nelliady school with relatively light security.

Black Tiger Day on a low key

Public participation in the Black Tiger Day commemorations was on a low key this year according to eyewitnesses and journalists.

Journalists who attended the Nelliady ceremony  said only several hundred civilians had turned up at the event which was attended by the mother of the first suicide cadre, Vasanthan Vallipuram. Last year too she was the main attraction at the event in Jaffna, but there was more crowd participation at that time.

The same was true in the east, where the LTTE motorcade led by eastern political head Marshall travelled through government areas before heading back into Karadiyanaru and beyond.

In the government-controlled areas the largest crowds were school children who came out of the schools to pay homage when the motorcade stopped in front of their schools. Roadside ceremonies were held at several locations along the way where parents of slain cadres offered flowers and garlanded the photographs.

At the main event attended by Banu, there was a larger crowd of around  2000. However the crowd was dwarfed by the number of armed LTTE cadres.  There were hundreds of armed and unarmed LTTE cadres swarming the event site due to the high security risk that the LTTE obviously felt after the attack on the bus.

Most observers and civilians felt that the low participation may be due to the frequency of protests and events organised by the LTTE. The calendar is packed with various events and most of the events have lost their  allure during the three-year ceasefire. 

Killing fields in the east

Killings continued unabated in the east last week as well. By Tuesday two deaths had been reported. On Wednesday two police officers from the National Intelligence Bureau were shot  in Kalmunai close to the Kalmunai Police Station. One of the officers, B. G. Kapilasiri later died.

"An immediate cordon and search operation was conducted by the police assisted by troops and recovered ten 9 m.m. pistol rounds used by LTTE assailants," the  Defence Ministry said soon after the attack.

On Wednesday night Rajeenthan Selvarajah, a Karuna supporter was shot and killed in Valaichchenai. His brother had been killed last year soon after the split.  With the body count mounting since last year, civilians in the north and east were also nervous oflarge scale violence.

In Jaffna two weeks back when three-wheel drivers were asked to report to Muhamalai for a meeting, some were visibly shaken by the notice. They felt that the meeting was a forerunner to organising their help in the event hostilities breakout. However, when some drivers indicated that it would not be feasible to transport 4000 three wheel drivers, the meeting was postponed. The move would have not only left Jaffna without the indispensable tuk-tuk, but also would have had a severe strain on the number of buses.

In Batticaloa at a recent meeting at the government agent's office, a senior army officer said that there was no evacuation plan much to the distress of aid workers present. He said that there should be a proper plan to move foreigners out of the east in case violonce increases. "It was like he felt the war was going to start tomorrow, you should have seen the faces of the relief workers, they all had wide eyes when he was talking," said a colleague. 

 

Statue of Miller at Nelliady School

Ten feet from the entrance a statue of  Vasanthan Vallipuram alias Captain Miller now greets visitors to the Nelliady Government School. He is depicted wearing a brown uniform and with one hand raised. A granite stone set nearby commemorates the first suicide attack he carried out.

The statue was erected after the ceasefire and every year since 2002 February Vallipuram's mother graces the Black Tiger ceremonies. This year too she took the pride of place.

Born in 1966, Vallipuram joined the Tigers as a driver in 1983. It was however a year after joining the movement that he became a full-time member leaving his home. According to those who knew him from the time he joined the Tigers, Vallipuram had been talking about giving up his life for the movement.

Before the July 5 attack he last visited his family on June 29 and treated his family and friends to an ice-cream feast. During that period the army had launched Operation Liberation to oust the Tigers from Jaffna and heavy fighting was raging all over the peninsula. Vadamarachchi, where the Vallipurams hailed from,  came under heavy shelling during the army advance and Vallipuram had witnessed the shelling of a library few days before the attack, according to relatives.

While the LTTE claims that more than 120 soldiers died in the attack, the army has put the figure below 50. Nevertheless the attack slowed down the progress and gave birth to dreaded Black Tigers.

LTTE Leader Velupillai Pirapaharan has termed the Black Tigers as the most potent weapon within Tiger ranks. "With perseverance and sacrifice Tamil Eelam could be achieved in 100 years, but if we conduct Black Tiger operations, we could shorten the suffering of the people and achieve Tamil Eelam in a shorter period of time," he said four years after the Miller attack.

Military officers who have had to face suicide cadres in battles say that they are like a one-way weapon that only works on destruction and achieving the mission. "No weapon, no technology can stop the determination of the Black Tigers," Pirapaharan said in 2003.

Some of the most daring suicide attacks, like the Rajive Gandhi assassination and the attempt on President Chandrika Kumaratunga's life have been carried out by LTTE female cadres. The first female Black Tiger was a cadre named Ankayatkanni. The official figure of the number of Black Tiger cadres killed in action has never been properly established. This year the LTTE quoted a figure between 261 to 264. 


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