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1st January, 2006  Volume 12, Issue  25

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                                    

Issues

Return of the body-bags

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema and Kumudu Amarasingham

Yet another claymore bomb in the violence ridden north may for most  be a casual occurrence especially if the death toll is  comparatively low - say 10, 12 or 20.  But what, if one.......

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 Top Issues Stories

   > The dead end peace process (....Pot Shots)

   > The benign parliamentarian from Batticaloa


Return of the body-bags

Yasaratne's eight months pregnant wife Anusha 
Grieves by her husband's body

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema and Kumudu Amarasingham

Yet another claymore bomb in the violence ridden north may for most  be a casual occurrence especially if the death toll is  comparatively low - say 10, 12 or 20.  But what, if one of the 10, or 20, was a father, a son, a husband, or a fianc‚? What if that bomb, altered or had the power to alter your life forever?

We treked along a dirt road off Kalutara, at least 35 km from the main road, dotted with grim faces and white flags. It was the day of Liyanarachchige Yasaratne's funeral.

The mood was sombre and silent. A young boy, from whom we stopped to get directions and rest our feet after the long trek, decided to pour his heart out.

"For years now the bodies didn't come," he said. "At first the halt was a breath of fresh air, or rather a breeze from the cool hills, the spectre of death didn't loom large anymore - for four years. But now it's back and I feel choked again. Death is in the air."

 The message from these unsophisticated rural people was loud and clear.  'We want peace, a proper peace that doesn't gulp young lives down.'

The mood in Veganthalawa, off Mawanella in the Kegalle District was no different either. Villagers in the area and also from neighboring villages flocked to the funeral house to pay their last respects to 21-year-old Sumith Wekanda, who had been killed on Tuesday along with Yasaratne.

The expression on the faces of everyone gathered was the same - 'Is the war about to break? Will our youth once again come back to their homes in coffins?'

Every mother and father at the funeral house while grieving for the departed was  also worried. Worried for the safety of their young sons, most of whom were also serving in the army.

"Of late, I keep thinking of my son who is also serving in the north. I'm so scared for him. All I can do from here is to pray for his safety and hope that God above would protect him," said Leela, concern etched on her face.

The villagers were horrified to even think that war would break out once again. For they have witnessed first hand the brutal results of a two-decade long war.

"Before the ceasefire, coffins kept coming into our villages. It stopped for a while and now it seems to have started again. People living in big cities might not be affected, but poor people in the villages are always the ones to be affected if there's a war," said Podi Banda,  from a neighbouring village.

Amidst the sabre rattling in the south by extremist parties, the coffins have started to return from the north and it is but everyone's wish that this is nothing but a temporary nightmare.

Over 50 soldiers have been killed so far this month alone. They were ordinary people - human beings like you and me - and  belonged to, and were deeply loved bytheir families. Below we profile two of the soldiers killed in the  claymore mine attack in Jaffna last Tuesday. The attack took place at Puloly, 25km (15 miles) north-east of Jaffna town.Eleven soldiers were killed and at least three injured in the incident. The recent wave of violence is the worst since the February 2002 ceasefire, which  after a two-decade conflict had claimed more than 64,000 lives.

A shattered family struggles to recover

"He's too little to join the army, he's my baby, though he has kids of his own," Missy Nona lamented amidst the tears that she could not halt. She didn't sob: the pain, she said, was too intense.

Sixty five year old Missy Nona is the mother of Liyanarachchige Yasaratne, one of the eleven soldiers who were killed in last Tuesday's claymore mine attack in Jaffna. Frail and sick, she stares at her son's body as if she would, given a tenth of a chance, give her life in exchange for his. A gift that would no doubt be greatly appreciated by his four year old daughter and unborn child.

For the soldier is also a father, husband and brother. Yasaratne's wife is heavily pregnant, and due to have her baby next week, on January 6. Anusha, his widow, sat opposite her husband's coffin, oblivious to all but the inert man before her and his yet unborn child within her. She could not speak nor rise. Disheveled and distraught, Anusha, unlike her mother in law, was wailing aloud. Their other child, four-year-old Promodini, watched her mother for a long while, silent, before an aunt took her in to have some lunch.

While the younger of Yasaratna's sisters, Dhammika, fed the child, Renuka, the eldest, spoke to us. "The last time he came home was for our father's three months alms giving," she recalled. "He was with us, reminiscing, smiling, helpful - it's unbelievable."

To fulfil a vow

Yasaratne, according to Renuka, had almost finished work on his own house in Dodangoda. "Before he went back on duty he went to Kataragama alone, to fulfill a vow father had made on his behalf to complete the house," Renuka said.

"He called me," the silent Missy Nona adds at this point. "He wanted me to come with him to Kataragama," here the tears that have been brimming spill over. "But I said I was sick, I couldn't go."  "He was an innocent boy, my innocent son, he didn't have any enemies, was friendly with everyone, helpful to all."  "He never left home without worshiping me." At this point she walks back in.

Renuka takes over. "My mother always said Malli didn't have the physique or 'forcefulness' to be a soldier and it always saddened her that he had chosen to join the army, but it's what he wanted."

Yasaratne studied at the Pelende Maha Vidyalaya, near his home. Their house is in Kalutara, way inside. To get to it one needs to trek about five kilometers on foot, climbing down steep and slippery slopes that a normal person, let alone a pregnant woman, would find a challenge. A modest house, whose inmates no doubt struggle to make ends meet, they now face the challenge of maintaining a fatherless family.

"I don't know what to do," Yasaratne's brother Rohan, the only remaining boy in the family said. "His wife is in a very difficult situation with the baby so close, and we feel helpless," Renuka added. She said little Promodini understood and kept asking difficult questions. "Why is Thaththi sleeping so still? When will he wake up? Why is Ammi and Aachchi crying?" she keeps going on over and over again.

Innocent lives lost 

"It's crazy. They talk about peace, yet it's always innocent lives that are lost. When will this end? When will real peace dawn?" A tearful sister and mother asked, yet again.

"Our only prayer now is that the problem will be solved, that no more innocent lives will be lost, that no one else will have to go through the pain of waking up one morning to hear that someone you hold precious and dear was a prey to somebody's weapon somewhere."   

Reality bites in Sumith's home

Sumith Wekanda joined the army at the tender age of 18. He did not have any childhood ambition to join the forces, but fate drew him to it as he was desperate to find a job.

Third in the family of four, Sumith was always the responsible one. Sumith had an elder brother and a sister and a younger sister. Seeing the hardship faced by his family, Sumith took it upon himself to work for the betterment of the family.

Through his dangerous job Sumith's only intension was to help his family and build a house of their own. That was his dream.

The house they lived had poverty written all over it with no proper access road to reach it.

Three years after joining the army, he finally saw that dream getting closer to reality.

Several months back he purchased a plot of land in the village. The last time he was home, in October, he made the necessary preparations to begin the construction work of the house when he received his next period of leave.

His family also built their hopes around Sumith.

Left with a smile

In October, Sumith had left home with a smile, as he knew that his dreams were finally within his grasp. Although a lot was to be done, Sumith was confident of achieving his target. Barely two months had passed since he returned to his base in Palaly when his family had the misfortune of hearing the cruel fate that befell their much loved son and brother.

The tears of joy in Sumith's father, M. R. Tikiribanda's eyes when he saw his young son taking charge of the family's future, have been replaced today with tears of sorrow. Tears that speak silently of the deep loss he feels. "He joined the army soon after sitting for the A/Level examination and he was just 21 years old when he died," this heartbroken father explained.

Looking at us, Tikiribanda tries to hide his sorrow in vain. With a breaking voice he tries to speak to us about his son. "He was based in Palaly for two years now and till the beginning of this month, we never feared about him. We knew he was doing well, but things have changed now," Tikiribanda said.

According to Tikiribanda the death of his son has also instilled fear in the minds of other parents in neigbouring villages whose sons were serving in the armed forces in the north.

Tikiribanda sadly recalled Sumith's last visit home in October. "He came home on October 6 and was so full of life. He spoke endlessly of the house he was planning to build. When the family finally managed to get together and buy a plot of land, he was the happiest. We were all happy," he said.

Confused

Unable to comprehend what to do now, Tikirbanda said that there was no hope  as the person who kept the family going was no more.

"Now what's there to be done. We will do what we can do for him  and engage in religious activities that would invoke blessings on his spirit," he managed to say as tears began to well in his eyes.

"It was around 8.15 p.m. when we were informed of his death in Jaffna. I didn't know what to do, but I quickly made my way to Colombo that night itself to claim the body," Tikiribanda said. He went on to say that when the coffins stopped coming from the north, people actually had hope of somehow finding a lasting peace in the country.

"Even about a month ago we thought that there would be peace, but after the elections, looking at the government, we knew that this would happen-the coffins would start to come,"  he said.

The true meaning of his words although bitter to accept was the truth indeed. While Sumith's near and dear mourned his untimely demise, 11 other houses in the island were also grieving for their dearly beloved. Parents crying for their son; brothers and sisters for a brother lost; and wife and children for a husband and a father was now gradually becoming a reality once again.

 Tikiribanda believes war is inevitable at this juncture. "All the signs indicate that there will be another war very soon," he said, adding, "In a way it is better to see an end to this than go like this. Every week there were several young ones returning to their homes in coffins. What is the point in that? Dying without a war at a time of so called peace."

While Tikirbanda struggled to summon the strength to speak to us with a straight face, Sumith's mother, K. Mallika Menike could not hide her grief. Looking at us she says, "What's there to say now. My dear son is dead. It is a great loss for me and his family."

Recalling the horrors of war, Mallika Menike wiped away her tears. Tears that she wished no other mother would have to shed.

The plight of mothers

"If there is another war, a lot of young ones like my son will die. I can just imagine the plight of the mothers now. Mothers must now be worried for their sons  in the armed forces," she said. She fondly reminisced the departing words of her son when he last visited home.

"Before leaving he told me to go to a soothsayer to get an auspicious time to begin the construction work of the house he was planning to build for the family. I said ok, and asked him to come back soon," she said.

Little did Mallika Menike realise that her darling son Sumith would make his way home before his scheduled leave - in a terrible twist of fate - in a coffin.

"He was a good boy. Always cared about everyone, especially his family. Whenever he came home on holiday he always helped his father and other family members with their work," she said.

As Sumith's mortal remains lay at his uncle's residence, as his home could not accommodate the people who would be making their way to the funeral house, the dream the family had of moving to their own home has been shattered.

Sumith's funeral took place yesterday (31) and for his family it is going to be a new year filled with sorrow and heartache.

"Govt. must stop this"

Colleagues from Sumith's unit were also at the funeral house helping out with final preparations and every time they passed the coffin they grieved for the young life lost.

"When one joins the army, he has to be ready for any eventuality, be it death. No matter how ready you were, your family can never accept the loss of a dear one. They are the ones to forever suffer the loss and grieve over death of their son, brother, husband or father," one of his colleagues said.

Another colleague,  said that their hope was also for a permanent peace in the country.

"We also want peace. Who on earth would want war? But if this killing spree continues during a time of a ceasefire then some action has to be taken about it," he said.

Most of Sumith's colleagues have served in the north during the height of the conflict and they were well aware of the brutalities of war.

"The government has to put a stop to these killings. We were ready for peace, but if the other side continues to kill then we too would be forced to make harsh decisions," they said.


The benign parliamentarian
from Batticaloa

By D. B. S. Jeyaraj

Joseph Pararajasingham is the latest in a long line of parliamentarians done to death by political violence in Sri Lanka. The 71 year old politician was shot dead within the hallowed precincts of the St. Mary's Cathedral in Batticaloa at 1.10 am on Christmas Day.

Pararajasingham was attending the Christmas midnight mass conducted by Bishop Kingsley Swampillai, the Catholic prelate for the Trincomalee -Batticaloa Diocese. He was returning to his pew after partaking of Holy Communion at the hands of the Bishop when the assassin seated a few pews behind him walked forward and opened fire. While Joseph was killed his wife Sugunam and seven others were injured in the firing.

The mortal remains of Joseph Pararajasingham were laid to restat the family plot in Batticaloa's Aalaiyadicholai burial grounds on Thursday, December 29. The body lay in state at the Subharaj theatre owned by the family, for the Batticaloa public to pay their respects. The funeral was held at the family residence on Lady Manning Drive. The body was then taken in procession to the cemetery for the final farewell.

It was indeed heart-wrenching according to those presentto see Sugunam Pararajasingham sobbing unconsolably. The Pararajasing- hamswereto celebrate theirgolden wedding anniversary in 2006. Sugunam still receiving treatment for her injuries had only been told on the day of the funeral that her husband of 49 years was no more. Their daughter and two sons now living abroad along with other relatives were trying to console the grieving widow.

Joseph Pararajasingham was of Jaffna origin, having been born in Manipay on November 26, 1934. Incidentally November 26 is the birthday of Velupillai Pirapaharan and the late Lalith Athulathmudali. The family moved to Batticaloa when Joseph was three years old. Joseph therefore grew up in Batticaloa and lived there as a "Mannin Mainthan of Mattakkalappu" (son of the Batticaloa soil).

He had his education at St. Michael's College under the benevolent guidance of many American and European missionaries. He was a lanky youth who played soccer and basketball and also was an athlete. A particular favourite of the sports crazy Fr. Weber after whom the Batticaloa stadium is named, Joseph excelled in the high jump event and represented St. Michael's at the public schools.

Joseph's wife Sugunam nee David, studying at St. Cecilia's Convent was also good in sports during her schooldays. According to old friends they were attracted to each other because of this. Sugunam whose family was also of Jaffna origin with roots in Thondamanaru had two first cousins who were also parliamentarians from Batticaloa.

One was Rajan Selvanayagam who was second MP for Batticaloa from 1970 to 1977. He was elected as an independent but crossed over to the SLFP later. The other cousin was Nimalan Soundaranayagam who was elected on the TULF ticketas Batticaloa District MP on October 10, 2000. He was shot dead by the LTTE then commanded in the east by "Col." Karuna within a few weeks of the poll.

Journalist

Joseph worked as a technical draughtsman at the Batticaloa Kachcheri from the mid '50s. He retired under Official Languages Act provisions in the late '60s and became a freelance journalist. Joseph cut his teeth in journalism on the Suthanthiran owned by S.J.V. Chelvanayagam and edited by S.T. Sivanayagam of Batticaloa. Later Sivanayagam fell out with Chelvanayagam andwent on to edit the Dinapathy and Chinthamani published by the Dawasa group of newspapers.

Joseph became the Batticaloa correspondent for both papers. Since he was a government servant then the stories and articles from Batticaloa in Tamil appeared under his wife's name. The byline was Sugunam Joseph. Since Joseph was proficient in English he also became the Sun and Weekend correspondent. After he retired from government service he wrote under his own name as P. Joseph.

It was as P. Joseph that he was known for most of his life. It was only after he entered full-time politics that he gave emphasis to the Tamil name Pararajasingham in preference to the Biblical Joseph. He is still known to old friends as "Joe."

Though Joseph was offered a staff reporter post at the editorial department in Colombo he declined it as he wanted to live in Batticaloa, his homeland. It was indeed tragic that he had to leave the comparative safety of Colombo and return to his native soil for Christmas and meet death in the Batticaloa Cathedral.

Manager

Joseph also worked as manager for many years of the Rajeswara theatre in Batticaloa owned by the businessman Eeswaran. In later years Joseph went on to buy the Imperial and rename it Subaraj after his son who died in the '80s. He also became a successful entrepreneur and owned a tourist inn and shopping complex in Batticaloa.

These too were named Subaraj after the departed son. Their only daughter Subodini and one son Subakanth live in Canada now. The other son Subajith is in Britain. All three are now in Sri Lanka for the funeral.

Joseph was an ardent Tamil nationalist from his student days. He joined the Federal Party led by the "Gandhi of Eelam" S.J.V. Chelvanayagam in 1954. Joseph and Sugunam who got married in 1956 participated in a massive political demonstration on the day of their wedding. It was a protest over Sinhala being made the sole official language.

Disciple of S. J. V.

Due to his government job and journalism Joseph kept a low profile as far as active politics was concerned. He played a prominent behind the scenes role in Federal Party politics in Batticaloa. He was a devout disciple of Chelvanayagam and fervently believed in non - violence as a political creed.

Tamil unity was the need of the hour in the '70s. The FP became an integral component of the Tamil United Front (TUF) in 1972. This became the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in 1976. With Chelvanayagam dying on April 26, 1977 the leadership mantle fell on the shoulders of Amirthalingam and Sivasithamparam. One post-Chelvanayagamproblem that arose was the sidelining of Chelliah Rajadurai.

Rajadurai, a blue-eyed boy of Chelvanayagam had been the first MP for Batticaloa since 1956. In 1977 the TULF nominated him as the official party candidate and also nominated the fiery Tamil poet Kasi Anandhan as the FP candidate for Batticaloa. Rajadurai had the sun and Kasi Anandhan the house as their respective symbols. With Kasi Anandhan riding a wave of popular support on account of his long period of incarceration under the Sirima Bandaranaike regime, he was expected to de-throne Rajadurai.

It was obvious that the TULF hierarchy was using Kasi Anandhan to oust Rajadurai from centre stage in Batticaloa. The FP old guard in Batticaloa including Joseph rallied firmly around Rajadurai. They took up the position that they had to support the "official" TULF candidate. Rajadurai won but went over to the UNP in 1979. Staunch Tamil nationalists like Joseph did not follow suit but remained TULF loyalists.

It was in the late '80s that Joseph came into his own. The TULF, TELO and EPRLF came under the TULF umbrella and contested the 1989 elections. Joseph encouraged Amirthalingam to contest in Batticaloa. Amirthalingam was put up by Joseph and Sugunam at their own house during the polls campaign. Joseph now an independent entrepreneur also contested.

Since Amirthalingam was a "Jaffna man" who had parachuted into Batticaloa, a malicious campaign on regional lines was undertaken against him as an outsider. Joseph however remained steadfastly loyal and backed him firmly. By doing so Joseph proved that his position on Rajadurai in 1977 was a principle-based stand and not due to personal bias for Rajadurai or against Amirthalingam.

Initially both Amirthalingam and Pararajasingham lost in 1989 due to the IPKF inspired manipulation of votes. Amir however entered parliament on the national list. After his assassination Mavai Senathirajah was nominated to the post. Meanwhile Batticaloa MP Sam Thambimuthu and his wife Kala were gunned down by the LTTE opposite the Canadian High Commission in Colombo in 1990.

Joseph's turn

With Amirthalingam being dead it was now the turn of Joseph - next on the list -to become MP. He did so. But before taking up office he checked with the LTTE. Nagarajah a lawyer cum journalist in Batticaloa clarified matters with the eastern Tiger hierarchy and obtained the green light. It was only after that Joseph took his oaths.

Joseph then was president and Nagarajah secretary, Eastern Province Journalists Association. Nagaraja is now in Australia writing under the pseudonym 'Eluvankaraiyan.'

The Indian army had left Sri Lankan shores in March 1990. War had broken out between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in June 1990. The situation was tense and fraught with violence and danger. As ordinary Tamils the Pararajasinghams too were not immune in this situation.

The well-known Indian journalist Anita Pratap in her Island Of Blood relates an anecdote pertaining to the Pararajasinghams. She writes of how their son Subajith, an undergraduate abroad had come for a vacation and got trapped in the war situation. Joseph had requested and Sugunam pleaded that the son be escorted safely to Colombo by Anita so that he could return to the USA.

Anita had obliged because as the mother of a son herself she had been immensely moved by the plight of Sugunam. It was with great difficulty and considerable danger to herself that Anita succeeded in providing safe passage to the Pararajasingham scion. It was a few months after this that Joseph became an MP.

It was against such a dangerous backdrop that Joseph Pararajasingham became Batticaloa MP. The east was under severe strain. Violence had been directed against innocent civilians in a number of places. Movement of people was severely restricted. The safety of Pararajasingham and his wife who accompanied him almost everywhere was under threat.

Despite these difficulties and the dangers involved Joseph and Sugunam were bold and dedicated enough to stay in Batticaloa and do what they could for their people. I include Sugunam along with or on par with Joe because they were indeed inseparable in their personal and political life. Joe and Sugunam were like the Tamil political couples like Amir - Mangai or Sam - Kala.

It was due to the dedicated service of the Pararajasinghams in Batticaloa that the TULF once again established itself in the district. They were indeed a beacon of hope to the beleaguered Tamils of Batticaloa then. A distinctresult of their commitment and conduct was the immense gratitude of the people. This was reflected clearly in the elections of 1994 where three TULF members were returned to parliament as MPs from the district. Joseph himself won an unprecedented majority and was hailed as the "Mudisooda Manan" (uncrowned king) of Batticaloa. He also became the TULF parliamentary groupleader.

To be continued next week


The dead end peace process

In the run up to the presidential election in November, President Mahinda Rajapakse stood firm on taking a whole new approach to the peace process and its implementation mechanism. He even went to the extent of saying that the current Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) needed to be reviewed and that he would then bring about 'a peace with dignity' where people of all communities could live in peace.

Rajapakse's allies, the JVP and the JHU also adopted this stance, and even went a step further by criticising the role played by the facilitators of the peace process.

Party leaders of the JVP and JHU shouted hoarse on election platforms saying that the CFA signed between the LTTE and the then UNF government needed to be revised. They also pledged that Rajapakse when elected president would indeed bring about a peace with dignity to the country.

The Marxists and the Sinhala extremist JHU also blamed the UNF for the killings carried out at the time by the LTTE's pistol gang.

The bottom-line of all the speeches made by Rajapakse, the JVP and the JHU was that a new government under President Rajapakse would take a firm stand with the LTTE, without bowing down to the whims and fancies of the Tigers.

Apart from blaming the UNF government, the JVP and the JHU together also blamed Ranil Wickremesinghe who signed the CFA. They charged that not only was Wickremesinghe responsible for the current state of the peace process, but also referred to him as a puppet of the Tigers.

Making all these allegations, the JVP's strategy was to speak to the people's hearts, and that they did. Political analysts observed that the speeches made by the JVP, JHU and several SLFP seniors were nothing but racist speeches.

Be that as it may, the LTTE had its own plan for the election and their decision was nothing short of shocking.The Tigers first prevented government servants from casting their postal votes at the presidential election. Not stopping at that, on November 17, the day of the election, they openly stopped people from exercising their franchise. By preventing the people in uncontrolled areas from exercising their franchise, the LTTE forcefully took away their democratic right.

Wickremesinghe had to bear the brunt of the LTTE's strategy. He lost thousands of north east Tamil voteswhere people were eagerly waiting to cast their votes for him. With Wickremesinghe losing thousands of votes in the north, it was Rajapakse who reaped the benefit and became the country's new  president.

The LTTE's bona fides were clear, they did not want Wickremesinghe as president of the country.

However, after assuming office, Rajapakse did not give any new life to the current peace process nor did he make any new requests to get the process rolling.

It was the LTTE that called the shots. After almost four years, the LTTE unleashed a series of killings. Their target was forces personnel.  Since the presidential election just one and a half months ago, the LTTE has killed 50 forces personnel - 32 army personnel, 16 navy personnel and two police officers. Apart from the forces personnel, civilians have also paid the price. So far, 23 civilians have been killed .

A President's request

Most of the politicians spent their Christmas vacation overseas.  Apart from several government MPs and ministers, several opposition MPs also opted to spend their vacation in overseas destinations.  President Mahinda Rajapakse's first official visit was also scheduled during the Christmas holidays and he was accompanied by no less than seven ministers.

Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe decided to spend some time in Vietnam, but the day prior to his departure, 13 naval officers were killed in the north. Upon hearing the news, Wickremesinghe immediately made a telephone call to Rajapakse. Wickremesinghe told Rajapakse that it was a matter that needed serious attention and requested Rajapakse to bring the LTTE to the negotiating table as soon as possible.

"Mahinda, this is a big problem. You have to begin peace talks as soon as possible. Some people will try to use this opportunity to rouse nationalist sentiments among people to create ethnic disharmony. Don't let that happen. If there is anything wrong look at strict law enforcement. The UNP and I will fully support the government to maintain law and order," he said.

Rajapakse was glad to hear that Wickremesinghe would support the government's peace process and he thanked Wickremesinghe for calling him.  Rajapaske then asked Wickremesinghe for a favour. Naming several newspapers, he asked Wickremesinghe to request the editors in chief of the respective newspapers to report the situation in the north with restraint and in a manner that would not cause a problem in the south. The President was under the impression that if the newspapers did not report the situation in the north with caution, it would rouse various nationalist elements.

The Opposition Leader after agreeing to the President's request made several calls to the respective editors in chief and informed them of Rajapakse's request and asked the editors for their cooperation on the matter.

Not stopping at that, Wickremesinghe also requested his party seniors to support the government in maintaining peace in the country, even in his absence.

JVP's dilemma over killing spree

The current situation also disturbed the JVP leaders immensely and their biggest issue was dealing with the protests that were rising at the village level. People in villages had begun to charge that if the country was pushed into yet another war, the JVP would have to bear the responsibility for it. The party leaders were accused of pushing the country to the brink of war by their hard-line stance on the peace process, the ceasefire agreement (CFA) and the LTTE.

In a bid to bring the situation under control, several JVP party leaders held a secret meeting last Monday. This meeting however was not the party's politburo meeting.

Party Leader Somawansa Amarasinghe, Secretary, Tilvin Silva, Propaganda Secretary Wimal Weerawansa, Anura Dissanayake, K. D. Lalkantha and 10 others attended this meeting. The main topic was the situation in the north. Silva informed the gathering at the outset of the meeting that the government and the JVP have been blamed for the recent killings of forces personnel carried out by the LTTE in the north.

"Before the election we spoke of  amending the CFA and we even questioned them if there was peace in the country if the LTTE was continuing with its killing spree. We also said that under the Mahinda Chinthana the country would be given a peace with dignity. But now the LTTE is going on a killing spree in the north and people are talking about it. We have to decide what we have to do," he said.

Everyone gathered agreed with Silva's statement. The JVP Leader also observed that they could no longer keep quiet about the killings in the north by merely releasing a statement. "We are now like the government, whenever the LTTE kills one of our soldiers we release a statement and that's it. We cannot do that for long. We can do it only for a period of time," he said.

The others present agreed with Amarasinghe and said that it was time they adopted a stance on the matter as a party.  However, some of the members at the meeting were of the view that before adopting a stance, the matter should also be discussed with President Mahinda Rajapakse.

They pointed out that since the JVP in the run up to the election openly accepted Rajapakse's action plan, it was only appropriate that the matter is discussed with him before arriving at the party's final stance.

It was decided at this secret discussion that once Rajapakse returns to the island from his visit to India, the party would seek a discussion with him.

The party leaders also decided that they needed to question Rajapakse on his action plan with regard to the present situation in the north.  Some party seniors believed that it would be wise to wait and see the President's reactions after his visit to India as he would have received some advice on the matter from his Indian counterpart.  However, the final outcome of the meeting was that the JVP would seek an immediate discussion with the President upon his arrival from India. 

UNP's love in Bangkok

Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who decided to spend some days in Vietnam, thought of stopping over in Bangkok for several days.  Controversial UNP Parliamentarians, Rajitha Senaratne and Ravi Karunanayake were also in Bangkok on holiday with their families.  Senaratne and Karunanayake were already spending their vacation in Bangkok when Wickremesinghe decided to stop over there and on hearing that Senaratne and Karunanayake were also in Bangkok, the Opposition Leader decided it was an opportune moment to dine with the duo.

However, Wickremesinghe was informed that the two parliamentarians had on that day decided to leave for Pataya. On hearing of their plans, Wickremesinghe decided he would meet them the following day, December 25 for dinner.

Accordingly, Senaratne and Karunanayake met Wickremesinghe on Christmas Day for dinner. They were accompanied by their spouses and children.

As usual, the first topic was the country's political scenario.

Senaratne explained to Wickremesinghe the current status of the government. He explained the dilemma faced by President Mahinda Rajapakse and the problems created by his political allies.

In the run up to the election, Senaratne had openly stated that Rajapakse's action plan was not practical.  He noted that the President was now facing much difficulty as he could not keep the promises made during the election.

Wickremesinghe agreed with Senaratne, but added that the UNP should support the peace process no matter what the situation was  which position Sena-ratne also agreed with.

However, the opposition Leader observed that although the UNP should support the process, the party should not forget its stance on the matter.  "Peace is different from politics. No matter how much you help the government on the peace front, we should not forget that we too are a separate political party," Wickremesinghe said.

It was Senaratne who spoke next. The MP said he was not interested in changing one leader in the party with another but that he only pushed for the much needed party reforms to establish a UNP government soon.  Senaratne then went on to explain to the UNP Leader  the necessary party reforms and also  his sentiments on the party's working committee. After giving a keen ear to Senaratne's comments, Wickremesinghe briefed him on the party's planned reforms to be introduced before the 30th of this month.

He explained the roles that would be played by the party's working committee and the political affairs committee after the reforms are introduced.  Senaratne agreed to most of the reforms proposed by Wickremesinghe.

Senaratne who had played a controversial role since the conclusion of the presidential election continued to converse with Wickremesinghe in a friendly manner, with the key topic being  party reforms.  They came to an agreement to put what has happened  behind them and spoke of how best to avoid any such situation in the future.  Wickremesinghe for his part explained to Senaratne how he plans to avoid history from repeating itself.

Two days after the meeting, Wickremesinghe left for Vietnam while Senaratne   returned to the island last Thursday and Karunanayake proceeded to Singapore.

War and SLFP's woes

While the peace process was hanging on a thread , President Mahinda Rajapakse made his first state visit after assuming office, to India.  Rajapakse was accompanied by Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, Highways, Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, Railways and Petroleum Resources Minister A. H. M. Fowzie, Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Minister Felix Perera, Housing and Construction Minister Ferial Ashraff, Enterprise Development Minister Rohitha Bogollagama, Deputy Health and Nutrition Minister Suresh Vadivel and representative of the JHU, Udaya Gammanpila.

President's Secretary, Lalith Weeratunga, Additional Secretary Gamini Senarath and secretaries of seven ministries also joined Rajapkse on his first state visit.

At the time of departure, Rajapakse was not at all in a happy mood. The escalation of violence in the north was troubling him.  The killing of 13 naval personnel by the LTTE, three days prior to his departure to India and the killing of 12 army personnel hours before his departure troubled him immensely.

Upon hearing the news, Rajapakse called his younger brother and Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapakse and informed him that at least five seniors of the SLFP should visit the houses of the army personnel killed in the north. He opined that if the SLFP did not attend the funerals, the UNP would stand to gain from it as they would send party representatives to all the funerals.  Accordingly, Rajapakse's decision was conveyed to several party seniors and ministers through the Defence Ministry's coordinating secretary.

However, the response received by the Ministry was shocking.  "Are you mad, we will get hammered by the people if we go to these houses. We were not the ones who called for war, it was the JVP and the JHU. Ask them to go to the funeral houses," was the response given.  The final conclusion was that visiting the funeral houses would be asking for trouble at a time when the country was on the brink of war.  


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