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8th January, 2006  Volume 12, Issue  26

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

Benign parliamentarian from Batticaloa - II

By D. B. S. Jeyaraj

Continued from last week

I had written last week that Joseph quit government service in the late '60s. That was incorrect. Joseph gave up.......

More...


 Top Issues Stories

   > President scoffs at JVP threat (....Pot Shots)

   > Need for media sovereignty

   > Playing pandu with the Independent Commissions

   > Tourism sector braces for the worst

   > Civilians suffer as security situation changes in Jaffna


Benign parliamentarian from Batticaloa - II

Late MP Joseph Pararajasingham

By D. B. S. Jeyaraj

Continued from last week

I had written last week that Joseph quit government service in the late '60s. That was incorrect. Joseph gave up government service in the early '70s. This again was due to an interesting reason. As stated earlier, former Batticaloa MP Rajan Selvanayagam was a first cousin of Sugunam. Her mother was the sister of Rajan's father S. A. Selvanayagam, a very rich Batticaloa businessman. Rajan contested Batticaloa as an independent in 1970.

Joseph however was a staunch follower of S. J. V. Chelvanayagam and therefore a federalist. The FP candidate was Chelliah Rajadurai. Despite the close relationship with Rajan Joseph backed Rajadurai. In spite of strong familial pressures Sugunam too supported her husband against her cousin. Rajan a very controversial and colourful personality in his own right was very angry at this "filial betrayal." 1970 saw both Rajadurai and Rajan being elected as first and second MPs of Batticaloa.

Soon Rajan aligned with the government of Mrs. Bandaranaike and became politically powerful. One of his earliest acts of political revenge was to transfer Joseph out from Batticaloa Kachcheri to Nuwara Eliya. Instead of going to Nuwara - Eliya Joseph opted to retire from government service. He then tried his hand at many businesses ranging from mineral water manufacture to wholesale paper sales.

Joseph became the manager of Rajeswara theatre. Thereafter he bought the old Imperial movie theatre and re- christened it after his departed son Subaraj. Incidently Joseph was an avid filmgoer and was interested in talking about films. He also started the Subaraj tourist Lodge and the Subaraj shopping complex.

The early '90s was a very difficult period for Tamils in Batticaloa and Amparai Districts. The LTTE was restricted mainly to the jungles and some areas of the western hinterland known as Paduvankarai or shore of the setting sun. The Tigers did not have a permanent presence in the littoral to the east of the Batticaloa lagoon known as Eluvankarai or shore of the rising sun. Tigers used to infiltrate this area for certain purposes at times.The littoral was better developed and had the bulk of the population. It was also heterogenous with interspersed Tamil and Muslim villages adjacent to each other.

The state unleashed a scorched earth policy on eastern Tamils in order to subdue them. Apart from the army and police the Special Task Force was deployed almost exclusively in Batticaloa - Amparai. Sections of the air force were also used here. Sinhala and Muslim homeguards were used as auxiliary troops. Some Muslim groups were armed by the state and used against Tamils. Tamil - Muslim enmity was encouraged. Disappearances and civilian massacres were very much on the increase. As a result of these measures helpless eastern Tamils were cushed underfoot beneath the military jackboot.

Became MP

It was during such a bleak and dark period of the eastern Tamils that Joseph Pararajasingham became an MP from the district. The other two Tamil MPs were former Batticaloa Central College Principal, Prince Casinader and ex-TELO military commander Karunakaran alias Jana. The Muslim MPs were Hizbulla of the SLMC and Basheer Segu Dawood.

Basheer is now the chairperson of the Muslim Congress. At that time he was in the EROS backed independent list. Alagu Gunaseelan was elected first on the list but forfeited the seat due to a LTTE inspired boycott of parliament. Basheer next on the list became MP just as Joseph became MP due to Sam Thambimuthu's death.

Joseph Pararajasingham despite his physical stature was not an aggressive personality. He was a very powerful orator in Tamil on political platforms but soft spoken and mild-mannered in everyday life. While his wife Sugunam is of a fiery temperament at times, Joseph was generally quiet and gentle. He avoided arguments of any type.

Joseph was very much like a gentleman of the old school type who does not like to offend or cause controversy. Becoming Batticaloa MP in the '90s however thrust him into an entirely new role. Joseph was compelled to take on the powers that be in his role as representative of the Tamil people.

Though the role of a Batticaloa parliamentarian was thrust on Joseph due to the deaths of Amirthalingam and Thambimu- thu the benign Pararajasingham was of the view that it was in his destiny to be so. The stars had already ordained such a role for him he felt. He had always been interested in politics but never had any lofty ambitions of entering parliament. His attitude however changed in the late '60s while working under former GA Kathirgamanathan.

A "Kandam" reading astrologer from India read the Ola leaves and predicted that Pararajasingham will one day enter parliament. Old friends recall him being excited by it and even telling his boss the GA about it. He was subject to some teasing as "our future MP" by friends for a while due to this. Fate however decreed that he be an MP representing Batticaloa.

The affected Tamil people turned to Joseph, the new MP with their problems and grievances. In the old days the problems were about jobs, transfers, etc. Now it was literally and metaphorically existential issues. Disappearances, arrests, torture. assaults, killings, shelling, bombing, firing, detentions etc. were the problems. Joseph telephoned military STF and police officials; he wrote letters and faxed them to the president, defence secretary, defence service chiefs and ministers; he visited places where state terror had been unleashed and spoke reassuringly to victims and next of kin; he ensured that medical treatment was afforded to injured people.

Cordial relations

Being generally an amiable person with good inter - personal skills Joseph maintained cordial relations with the serving police and defence service officials of the district. Sugunam who functioned as his secretary would get the people on the telephone and Joseph would speak. At times he would go personally to meet them. The late General Lucky Algama was very hostile to Joseph initially. After some interaction they became quite friendly to each other.

This does not mean that Joseph was able to remedy the grievances of the people at all times. That could not be so given the fact that a war was going on. But where Joseph succeeded was in providing solace and limited succour to affected people. He provided a ray of hope for the beleaguered ordinary people of Batticaloa. They felt that there was one man at least to whom they could turn to in their troubles. He and Sugunam listened intently. Sugunam would provide refreshments and at times meals to the poor people who had travelled from far. She had a good rapport with the womenfolk.

C. P. Chandraprema in his interesting series of articles in The Island on the state of the UNP writes of the "Manushakama" provided by Vijaya and Chandrika Kumaratunga to aggrieved people during the dark days of the J.R. Jayewardene regime. They lent a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on for the people. It was this empathy and humanity that endeared them to the people at that time. Joseph and Sugunam too provided this same "Manushathanmai" or "manithabimanam" to the afflicted people of Batticaloa who sought their help. I must emphasise here that these attributes of the Pararajasinghams were not necessitated by politics alone. It was inherent in their nature to be so.

Personal link

Let me digress slightly and refer to my personal links with the couple. I first met Joseph and Sugunam in 1977 in Batticaloa. Though only a cub reporter at the Virakesari I had been transferred to Batticaloa as staff correspondent. As mentioned earlier in these columns the 1977 elections had seen a bitter division within TULF ranks. Rajadurai and Kasi Anandan were contesting each other. The Kasi Anandan lobby accused the Batticaloa correspondent, veteran journalist V. S. Kathirgamathamby of being partial to Rajadurai. They demanded an impartial reporter and so Kathirgamathamby was called to Colombo and I was sent to Batticaloa.

Joseph and Sugunam like Sam and Kala Thambimuthu were supportive of Rajadurai. The Rajadurai camp viewed me suspiciously as being pro - Kasi Anandan. Joseph, Sugunam, Sam and Kala however were exceedingly nice towards me. Joseph in particular was a 'competitor' since he worked for Dinapathy then.Yet he was always helpful and hospitable. He would often provide transport to attend election meetings.

It was Joseph who briefed me vividly of the prevailing political situation in the east. Their house then was on Central Road only a few yards away from the Virakesari office. I would often drop in or be asked to drop in for a chat. I called them "Annan" and "Akka" then and continued to do so.

Kept in touch

Later on I returned to Colombo but Joseph remained in touch just like Sam. Both of them were very useful and important news sources from Batticaloa for me while working on The Island and later as Colombo correspondent of The Hindu. I myself put him in touch with a few foreign journalists who were also impressed by his contacts and information. Soon Joseph was very much in demand as a news contact from Batticaloa to many foreign journalists. After coming to Canada I was editing two Tamil weeklies the Senthamarai and Muncharie. Once again Joseph provided a lot of information from Batticaloa.

With two of their children and other close relatives being in Toronto the Parajasinghams often visited Canada. I used to meet them very often here. Initially the TULF was treated as enemies by the LTTE in Canada.The local LTTE media blacked out the TULF and even Kumar Ponnambalam then. The only Canadian Tamil journals giving Joseph and Kumar positive publicity were the ones edited by me. I used to do a radio programme then and interviewed both much against the wishes of those running it.

The situation changed later on. The LTTE was angry for my reporting the facts about Operation Riviresa and conducted a campaign against me. The shop owners selling the paper and advertisers were intimidated. I had to shut my paper. The Tigers however got close to people like Joseph and Kumar. Both were lionised by them in Canada. Despite the close links I had had with Kumar he began avoiding me in order to curry favour with the local Tigers. But Joseph was different.

Pressure by LTTE

In spite of pressure applied by the LTTE in Canada Joseph never cut off links. He would always meet me in Canada as in the past. I continued to visit them at their daughter's place and Sugunam would always be extra hospitable just as in her own house.

Joseph was also troubled by my estrangement with the LTTE. He would often advise me that an antagonistic relationship was not helpful to either. Joseph even tried to mend fences and gave up his efforts only because I asked him to.

Our relationship became slightly strained after the Anandasangaree episode. I was critical of the TNA for surrendering their independence to the LTTE and attempting to oust Sangaree according to their diktat. Joseph was initially soft on the issue and tried to make Sangaree withdraw on his own. The LTTE however increased pressure on him . Joseph then was compelled to take a very strident role in ousting Sangaree.

I was extremely critical. Joseph explained that he had no choice in the matter as Tamilselvan demanded it. Though we lost contact thereafter Joseph would always inquire after me from mutual friends or acquaintances. I have no doubt that he would have spoken to me amiably if I had called but then I did not. Who knew then that his life was going to be snuffed out so soon?

Not a follower of LTTE

One thing I learnt from his own lips was that Joseph was no blind follower of the LTTE. He was unhappy about many of the acts of omission and commission by the LTTE. I am sure that he would have made his views known gently and unobtrusively to the Tigers. But he was a genuine Tamil nationalist at heart. Joseph was of the firm view that despite the flaws the Tamil people had to back the LTTE unitedly.

"Nammadai aatkaluku ithu vilanguthillai" ( Our people don't understand this) he would often say. I realised that this was what drove him in his politics and made him take up certain stances. I of course do not subscribe to the view that one has to submit one's independence and reason to the LTTE in the name of Tamil nationalism. Whether one accepts or rejects this view it was a genuine conviction for Joseph. He was not an opportunist. One must respect those views. He had every right to his political opinion and course of action.

What is tragic however is that none of the principal Tamil militant groups had ever respected this right. The tendency of killing those with different political views is very much prevalent in the LTTE. But other groups were not very different either.

The current tragedy undergone by eastern Tamils is the targeting of civilians by both the mainstream LTTE and its renegade faction led by "Col" Karuna. Both sides kill people on the basis that those who are not with us are against us. Sadly all those being killed are eastern Tamils regardless of their political opinion. Joseph is one more victim in this vicious cycle. In spite of the red herring of "Sennan Padai" or Sennan force the finger of suspicion clearly points to those of the Karuna faction as being responsible.

To be continued next week


Sunday Missive By Sonali Samarasinghe

Need for media sovereignty

Junius that enigmatic author of numerous letters to the press was to write in 1769 that 'the liberty of the press is the Palladium of all the civil, political and religious rights of an Englishman.'

The words may not seem familiar to the likes of Government Spokesperson Nimal Siripala de Silva who could not desist from taking a series of jabs at the private media at last Thursday's cabinet press briefing when he was asked a question on the status of the inquiry into the alleged plot to murder the Maharaja boss.

But if the freedom of the media is unfamiliar to the politician in this country it alas sits ill upon the shoulders of many of the journalists themselves.

It was a senior politician who was once to tell a senior journalist, "Unfortunately if one were to give the media in this country the freedom they deserve many would not know what to do with it and would still look to the politician for guidance." Indeed it is a malady pervading our society.

May be because for thousands of years before, Sri Lankans were told what to do by a ruthless monarchy. May be because as a colony for the last 400 years we were told what to do by various colonial powers. In our vast historical annals the concept of freedom of thought, of spirit, of religion , of conviction has had only a short span of 56 years to nurture itself and come into full bloom. Fifty six years ago the public may have yearned to be free but alas no sooner they were un-caged, than they immediately chained themselves everywhere by force of habit.

A different breed

But journalists are meant to be different. They are free, liberal beings, street savvy and bright souls, non conformists who are well read and well travelled. They champion causes and revolutionise society, they act as catalysts for change and fight for the rights of the individual. At least that's what all the novels said.

However like the identity of the 18th century writer Junius, freedom of the media is elusive in this country. The 2005 Press Freedom Index of Reporters Sans Frontieres puts Sri Lanka at a low 115 well in amongst such black holes for news as Haiti, Swaziland, Rwanda and Afghanistan.

While North Korea ranks last in the RSF  Fourth Annual World Press Freedom Index it is closely preceded by Eritrea (166th) and Turkmenistan (165th), countries where the privately-owned media is non-existent and there is no freedom of expression. Journalists working for the "official" media in these countries are  reprotedly no more than mouthpieces for government propaganda. In fact according to the RSF report anyone stepping out of line is harshly dealt with - and the author may be thrown in prison, and or mischievous cases filed against him/her or they may incur the wrath of those in power. Harassment, psychological pressure, intimidation and 24-hour surveillance are routine.

Sound familiar? I bet it does. One is compelled to observe that while Sri Lanka cannot seem to establish true democracy in 56 years of independence, other countries that have recently won their independence or have recovered it have done very well on the scale. Nine states that have had independence or recovered it within the past 15 years are among the top 60 countries - Slovenia (9th), Estonia (11th), Latvia (16th), Lithuania (21st), Namibia (25th), Bosnia-Herzegovina (33rd), Macedonia (43rd), Croatia (56th) and East Timor (58th). Believe it or not they are all doing better than we are.

Rich and poor both

Neither has economic development anything to do with it. For the top of the index is dominated not only by rich European countries but also by several poor ones such as Benin (25th), Mali (37th), Bolivia (45th), Mozambique (49th), Mongolia (53rd), Niger (57th) and East Timor (58th).

Nimal Siripala de Silva last Thursday spoke of mischievous elements in the private media who published many articles in the run up to last year's presidential poll. He promised a full investigation after which he would take the media institution that published the article to task if the allegations were found to be false. He said this while the shiny Media Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa sat beside him bright as a new penny.

One hopes that Minister Silva is a man of his word. For he also promised to hold a free and transparent investigation into the alleged plot to murder the chairman of the Maharaja Organisation irrespective of the class or rank of the persons who may be involved.

We also hope that Nimal Siripala de Silva and his ilk will not mischievously have any of these investigations suddenly stopped for reasons best known to themselves.  

In the meantime, may be what the country needs more than anything else is a sort of modern Peace of Westphalia in relation to media freedom. In 1648 The Peace of Westphalia also known as the Treaties of Mnster and Osnabrck ended the 30 Year War and officially recognised the United Provinces and the Swiss Federation. While this treaty had its faults an important result was said to be the birth of the modern concept of the nation state which ended the idea of the Holy Roman Empire as having secular dominion over the entire Christian world.

What we need is for politicians to recognise the sovereignty of the media as a separate entity. An entity that would work independently without interference from government yet be integrated in society for the good of the whole.


Playing pandu with the Independent Commissions

President Mahinda Rajapakse Ranjith Abeysuriya and Chandra Fernando

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti 

Pussyfooting continues while the Constitutional Council stands defunct rendering the three independent commissions also redundant as the government prepares itself to announce local government elections.

Hasty with the political issues, the UPFA government is quick to blame the opposition for not nominating their representatives to activate the independent commissions which derive their authority through the Constitutional Council. In contrast, the main opposition UNP is alleging police transfers of a political nature taking place following the presidential election in November 2005.

Whatever the detractors may say, it is an established fact that the independent commissions have contributed significantly to the restoration of public faith in vital public institutions following the introduction of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution.

While all three commissions stand dissolved, political leaders are simply dragging their feet and blaming each other for their collective failure to activate the system by reappointing the Constitution Council (CC).

The incumbent government has two main criticisms on the entire issue. President Mahinda Rajapakse has candidly declared that the Independent National Police Commission (NPC) has bungled operations by promoting unsuitable persons. While attacking the NPC's credibility, the President wants the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to be included in the NPC as an afterthought despite lack of provision in the law for doing so.

17th Amendment

The second criticism is that the 17th Amendment per se is flawed. "It was rushed through parliament for political expediency. Now everyone has to bear the brunt of it. Even future governments are burdened by the imprudence, not of the action but of the haste with which it was passed," critiques Minister of Constitutional Reforms, D. E. W. Gunasekera.

He assures that the government has no hesitation in appointing the Constitutional Council but accuses the opposition of delaying its nominees. "What has happened now is that there is no CC and that means, there are no independent commissions as well.  It is 'system failure' due to legislation rushed through in an indecent hurry," says Gunasekera, insisting that before anything else, an amendment is necessary to the original enactment.

But, UNP Deputy Leader, Karu Jayasuriya who had been advocating the establishment of the independent commissions disagrees that it was a mistake to have established the commissions through an amendment to the Constitution.

"That was done to strengthen the democratic institutions and ensure transparency. Instead of blaming the opposition, the President, the Prime Minister, Opposition Leader and Speaker should sit together to approve the necessary names to reconstitute the CC.  I hope they do so when parliament resumes on January 17," he said.

According to Convener, Free Media Movement, Sunanda Deshapriya, it is important to bear in mind that the principle behind the enactment, unlike in previous occasions which stemmed from political needs, was to de-politicise public institutions. "It does not augur well for a society when issues like this are swept under the carpet. In fact, these are the issues that should not be delayed," adds Deshapriya.

Urgent reactivation

Given the impending local government elections, Karu Jayasuriya is of the view that the Constitutional Council should be urgently reactivated to breathe life back to the independent commissions which would have crucial roles to play at a time of any election.

"As for the reported transfers of police officers, the UNP has referred the matter to party lawyers to study the possibility of filing action. We have verified information about 150 police officers having been transferred out in Anuradhapura and reports are now coming in about similar transfers of a political nature," he added.

The crisis concerning the CC has deepened with President Mahinda Rajapakse insisting that the IGP should be included in the NCP to streamline operations and to prevent the commission from taking decisions which are conversely ' at war' with the IGP's directives.

However, the NPC maintains that though the IGP is not a member, he has at all times by the virtue of the office he holds has been consulted on all decisions taken by the NPC with regard to the police force. "Though not included in the NPC, he or his nominated representative has always been consulted," said the NPC member.

On September 25, 2002, when parliament adopted the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, it was seen as a reflection of the collective political will to ensure good and transparent governance. Mooted by the then opposition, the bill received overwhelming support which transcended the required two-thirds majority which was seen as a vital step in the right direction in de-politicising vital public institutions as well as constitutional appointments.

"Just take the 2004 election. It was largely free and fair with minimum malpractices. This was naturally due to the NPC," observes Deshapriya. 

For the present crisis, former President Chandrika Kumaratunga should accept the blame for blatantly failing in her duty by finding fault with the proposed names and delaying the reconstitution of the Constitutional Council. This rendered the Elections Commission to simply lapse leaving Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake to shoulder the entire responsibility of holding the recently concluded presidential poll with no support. As a result, if he erred, there was also no one who could have rectified the mistake as well.

Since then, the complaint has been that about 400,000 voters were disenfranchised during the said election - and this charge, calls for immediate rectification before holding any kind of election.

The National Bribery Commission was reactivated after months of agitation only seven months ago. The National Police Commission expired on November 24, 2005 barely a week after the conclusion of the presidential election and the Public Service Commission also expired on December  2, 2005.

The body that is responsible for extending their terms, which is the least that could be done until the appointments to the Constitutional Council are sorted out- has not been offered an extension.

Terms of the five appointed members to the CC expired 10 months ago, on March 4, 2005 and for nearly one year, those responsible for making the appointments have been too busy to sit down and agree on the nominees. In between, there has been a change in the country's chief executive as well.

An extension

The CC now requires an extension or fresh members to resume office.  As per the 17th Amendment, five members of the Constitutional Council should represent the three ethnic groups, two each from the Sinhala and Tamil groups and one Muslim representative.

Tamil political parties have sent in their nominations months ago and finally the Muslim groups have also announced their choice, former ambassador Javid Usuf.

President Kumaratunga's disinterest is a thing of the past. She is significantly responsible for making the Constitutional Council coming to a grinding halt by picking holes in the nominations submitted. She ignored the CC's nominees to the National Elections Commission.

It is certainly not the same path that President Mahinda Rajapakse should take by declaring war on the NPC simply because he has strong feelings about including the IGP in the Commission.

Before the conducting of the presidential poll, Chairman, NPC, Ranjit Abeysuriya called for the reconstitution of the Constitutional Council so that the NPC could be given an extension. The vital Commission expired on November 24 and since then things are not in limbo as political transfers are allegedly taking place islandwide.

Abeysuriya in an interview prior to the presidential poll assured that the NPC would prevent any police officer duly executing his duty from being penalised through the political machinery. The active role played by the police in ensuring a free and fair poll in November was proof of the fact that the existence of the NPC allowed them to discharge their duty with the confidence that they would not be penalised, in turn, earning public respect for a job well done.

Not only has the NPC come to a grinding halt. The same fate befell the Public Service Commission on December 2, 2005 as its term expired. In its absence, all appointments, promotions, transfers and disciplinary actions of public servants have come to a halt.

UNP Deputy Leader, Karu Jayasuriya told The Sunday Leader that it was much regretted that the government was still delaying the appointments to the Constitutional Council and the independent commissions. " The crisis in our view, stems from a delay in making fresh appointments to the Council of which the first term has lapsed."

He further said that the ideal behind the independent commissions was to ensure a salutary change in the public institutions.  "It was a reflection of the public aspiration for a depoliticised system that was responsive, transparent and accountable. It is sad that both the PSC and NPC which are responsible for the appointments, transfers and disciplinary matters in both services have become totally defunct resulting in causing difficulties to a large number of public servants. If this trend continues, there would be a severe erosion of public faith," Jayasuriya warned.

Former Police Commission Chairman, President's Council Ranjit Abeysuriya told The Sunday Leader  that the NPC is extremely necessary for the country. "When the 17th Amendment was passed, it was decided that a NPC was necessary. It could be changed only if the amendment is amended which requires two-thirds majority in the House," Abeysuriya said.

Abeysuriya further explained that the legislation included a precluding clause that prevented the IP from being included, though it was mandatory to consult him with regard to transfers, promotions, disciplinary control and other connected matters.

Plea to President

"According to Article 155A (3) , upon being appointed to such a body, a public servant or judicial officer would cease to hold such public office," he added. Similarly, Article 155 G (1) (A) makes it mandatory for the NPC to consult the IGP on transfers, promotions and disciplinary matters.

Meanwhile Executive Director, People's Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL), Kingsley Rodrigo says that he intends meeting President Mahinda Rajapakse to discuss the 17th Amendment.

He says that the commissions should not be scrapped as proposed by President Mahinda Rajapakse but strengthened. He attributed the violence free conduct of the recent presidential poll to the existence of the NPC and insisted on its continuance.

According to Rodrigo, his call for an Independent Election Commission fell on deaf ears prior to the poll. Names were thrice proposed by the Constitutional Council, but were rejected by the former President citing various reasons.

" We cannot go on this way. In the absence of a Constitutional Council, the independent commissions have no mandate as they seek and receive efficacy through the CC,"  he added.

While the political plot thickens with leaders sidestepping the issue, the real crisis deepens, which is social. The need is a national one - a system that could cleanse public institutions of the previous politicisation efforts. The absence of the independent commissions would ensure the immediate seeping in of politics to all public institutions once more.

This does not mean that the commissions are fool proof. But the fact is that they have managed to achieve something - paving the path for depoliticisation of government institutions is also a hard fact that cannot be ignored.

Certainly President Kumaratunga has contributed significantly to the prevailing crisis. And the incumbent should take a cue and simply address the issue without making sweeping statements about reverting to the previous system or sweeping the matter under the carpet. It is his duty as much as those of others who have the appointing authority to ensure that democracy thrives.


Tourism sector braces for the worst

By Shezna Shums

The escalation of violence in the north east is likely to affect the tourist trade which is yet to fully recover from the December 26 tsunami. This would mean drastic consequences to the tourist industry as well as the dollar starved economy.

While controversy surrounds Udaya Nanayakkara retaining his post as chairman, Sri Lanka Tourist Board (SLTB), speculation was rife that former MP, Bennet Cooray was to be appointed to the post. However, no letter of appointment has been released to Cooray by the Tourism Ministry.

Criticism

The controversy comes at a time when Nanayakkara is facing severe criticism from the private sector for not implementing the new Tourism Act. According to statistics released by the SLTB, from January to November 2004 a total of 500,043 tourists arrived in the island and in 2005 during this period there were 498,137 tourists, showing an overall -0.4 decline.

It should also be noted that a substantial percentage of this figure constitutes tsunami aid workers who rushed here in their thousands in the aftermath of the tsunami.

Many of the traditional markets, especially from the Western and European markets, have shown negative figures for 2005; however North America, Middle East and south Asia have shown positive figures.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader Nanayakkara said there are drops in some markets while other markets have picked up and the number of days they stay in the island varies according to the market.

Speaking about cancellations in view of the escalating violence, Nanayakkara said, "The only thing that has happened so far is that travel advisories were issued by some countries. Now they are telling tourists not to visit the north and the east. In any case in the east coast the tourism industry has still not fully recovered. In the event the problems worsen, the industry will face problems."

"Now they have imposed a travel advisory on the east coast. Our main problem is how to bounce back after the tsunami. That was, and it continues to be, our main complication," he asserted.

Nanayakkara noted that Sri Lanka is promoted predominantly as a beach destination. "We are now going beyond that. While the beach component is present, we are highlighting that beyond the beaches, Sri Lanka also boasts nature, culture, adventure and the Colombo experience. The private sector must think beyond the problems and market this country in its correct perspective," he added.

Speaking about the issues concerning the implementation of the new Tourism Act, Nanayakkara said implementation of the Act is the responsibility of the government.

There is also criticism that the expenditure budget of SLTB is not being utilised as envisaged in the Tourism Act. Private sector hoteliers charge they too contribute to the SLTB by way of taxes.

Nanayakkara says these taxes are paid by the consumers and it is a misconception when the industry says it is contributing one percent to the board, when the tax is in fact borne by the consumers. However, hotels pay a further one percent of profits to the SLTB.

"The industry is only a conduit, similar to how VAT is collected by the government from all sectors," the Chairman added.

Tax issues

The embarkation tax received by the board is also from travellers, both local and foreign. "Of course unlike in the past the Tourist Board is not willing to part with its money to subsidise tour operators to the degree they are requesting. We do subsidise but not to the degree they are demanding," he explained.

Vice President, Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka, Srilal Miththapala told The Sunday Leader that tourists, even if they hear of problems in the north and east, now are aware it would not affect the tourist spots elsewhere in the island.

"These sporadic problems have so far not affected tourism but if things happen in Colombo or other major cities there might be a problem," he said. He confirmed that travel advisories for the north and east may not pose a problem but a blanket cover advisory will be a huge problem.

Presently the tourism sector is said to be lukewarm, with the anticipated peak season traffic yet not upto the expected levels. "The resorts are about 40 to 50 percent occupied but the number of nights spent in the island has reduced. If they usually spent 13 nights, now on average they may spend 11 nights," he said.

In the aftermath of the tsunami, Miththapala said the main problem is that the country has not fully recovered tourism wise even after one year and there are issues over the slow recovery.

"People have not stamped Sri Lanka out, but they are postponing their visit to the island," he pointed out, adding the tsunami did more damage to the country's tourism industry than even the BIA bombing in 2001.

As for Nanayakkara continuing as chairman, SLTB, Miththapala said the industry as a whole wants to see the speedy implementation of the new Tourism Act. "We want to see this implemented," said Miththapala.

The Act envisages the setting up of a new Tourism Development Authority to deal with tourism promotions and running of the hotel school among others.

Tourism Bill

"The private sector is very interested in the promotion aspect of the act," said Miththapala.

Meanwhile, Chairman, Sri Lanka Hoteliers Association, Hiran Cooray said, "Letters regarding the distress of the hoteliers have been sent to the President as well as the Tourism Minister, however no appointment with the Tourism Minister has yet been provided." He stressed they need a chairman who will implement the Tourism Act for the benefit of the industry.

For 2004, SLTB had approximately Rs. 1.2 billion for tourism promotion. These monies are collected in the form of one percent turnover development levy as well as departure tax collected from tourists, and hoteliers complain that Nanayakkara is working against the very act he helped draft.


President scoffs at JVP threat

The Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) signed between the then UNF government and the LTTE will notch up its fourth year come February 22. However, the prevailing situation has sent clear signals of it coming apart at the seams.

With the transformation of the north east conflict into a full blownbattle, successive governments have tried in vain to reach a consensus and have even tried signing agreements to cease hostilities. These periods of cessation of hostilities were limited to several months, with the maximum period being one year.

However, the CFA signed between Wickremesinghe and the LTTE has so far been in place for close to four years. The fact that the CFA held on for so long sent positive signals there really was hope in finding a lasting solution to the ethnic conflict.

Return to war

However, in a terrible twist of fate, since November 17, 2005, all signs indicate a possible return to war.

It was in this background that newly appointed President Mahinda Rajapakse decided to make his first state visit to India hoping he will receive some support from the giant neighbour.

Big brother India has throughout history played a pivotal role in the country's ethnic conflict and hence the views of neighbouring India were always sought with regard to the resolution of the ethnic conflict by successive Sri Lankan leaders.

Following the usual tradition, Rajapakse decided to make his first state visit to India with the hope of receiving its consent to either go to war or follow the existing peace process.

Rajapakse, who is still new in the game, is yet to learn a thing or two about diplomatic niceties, for before his visit to India, he was hopeful of receiving its fullest support to declare war against the LTTE.

With such hopes in mind, he decided to travel with a large delegation without limiting it to himself and Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera.

Rajapakse's modus operandi was to create an impression against the LTTE with the Indian government and to help him with his plan, the President took with him representatives from the opposition parties as well.

Although invitations were forwarded to opposition parties, the President took every possible measure to ensure that no such invitation reached the main opposition, the UNP. However, he did invite a member of the party, UNP Parliamentarian T. Maheswaran independently.

Historicc event

The hidden agenda of extending an invitation to Maheswaran was only revealed at the end of the tour. several political parties nominated representatives for the President's Indian tour.

Rajapakse's Indian tour was also a historic event - it was the first time that a president of Sri Lanka had travelled with such a large delegation - no less than 66 delegates.

The President's plan of taking with him a large delegation representing different political hues was to create an impact with the Indian government, but the plan backfired from the beginning as problems appeared with regard to choosing the delegation among the potential delegates. The biggest controversy was seen between the JHU and the JVP.

Controversy

As soon as the President's invitation was sent to the JVP, the party nominated the names of Propaganda Secretary Wimal Weerawansa and Parliamentarian Anura Kumara Dissanayake.

The JVP, which realised the hidden agenda behind the tour withdrew from the delegation days before the scheduled visit. Citing political reasons, the JVP backed out. This resulted in the JHU, which was earlier hesitant over joining the President's delegation, changing its original stance and agreeing to nominate a representative.

Rajapakse requested the JHU to inform the media that their decision was based on the difficulty faced by the President due to the lowly act of the JVP. Accordingly, the JHU informed the media its decision to participate in the delegation, not forgetting to heap scorn on the JVP for backing out at the last minute.

Within a few hours, Rajapakse realised that his plan had worked as planned. It was Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera who paid him a visit to inform the President that the JVP was not pleased with the JHU's media campaign and that the JVP wanted Rajapakse to remove the names of the JHU representatives from the delegation.

Rajapakse, who did not pay much attention to Samaraweera, said, "Mangala, I can't do anything about it. I invited all the parties. The JVP first agreed to participate and backed out at the last minute. I can't force parties who do not wish to come to join me. Also, tell the JVP that they cannot threaten me into doing anything."

JVP threat

Samaraweera, who understood the President's response thought it wise not to pursue the matter any further, but he did not forget to communicate the message to bosom buddy Weerawansa.

Weerawansa in turn resorted to his usual method of sending messages to the President via several ministers of the government. The messages indicated that the JVP would be forced into deciding on withdrawing its support to the government.

Several ministers, including Sripathi Sooriyaarachchi, who believed Weerawansa's threat were greatly disturbed and requested the President to drop the JHU from his Indian delegation.

Although Samaraweera received a rather pleasant response from Rajapakse, Sooriayaarachchi and the others were not so lucky.

"If the JVP wants to come, ask them to come or else they can do whatever they want. I don't care," was the President's response.

Rajapakse's stern response put a stop to the JVP threats as well as the endless requests made by government ministers supportive of the JVP.

Mahinda's plea to Indian PM on 'united' Sri Lanka

Overcoming the threat posed by the JVP, Rajapakse made his way to India. Once in India, the President had to face some rather unpleasant situations, which were never experienced by any other Sri Lankan leader before.

After landing at the New Delhi international airport, Rajapakse was welcomed by India's Deputy Foreign Minister I. Ahamed.

According to accepted protocol, a president of a country is always welcomed by the president, prime minister or foreign minister of the home country. If not, a minister appointed by cabinet is expected to welcome the visiting president.

Be that as it may, Rajapakse was welcomed by a deputy minister and to add insult to injury, the Indian government unwittingly made another blunder.

That was in making introductions. The usual practice is for the president or prime minister of the respective country to introduce the visiting president, but in Rajapakse's case, he was introduced by Sri Lanka's High Commissioner to India, Romesh Jayasinghe.

Rajapakse, who landed in India with great expectations, was given step motherly treatment from the very beginning of his visit.

All attention during the Indian tour was focused at the scheduled meeting between the two leaders - Rajapakse and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It was to be a decisive discussion.

However, at the outset of the discussion, the President gave Singh a lengthy speech, which included topics that should have and should not have been included in the discussion in the first place.

The only response Singh managed to give Rajapakse during his monologue was, "Yes."

Private meeting

This prompted Rajapakse to request for a private meeting with Singh at the end of the official discussion saying he had some matters that needed to be discussed personally.

Singh, who was taken aback by Rajapakse's request, politely told him that it was time for Rajapakse to keep his other appointments.

However, after a while, Singh said that he could meet Rajapakse privately for a short meeting.

Once representatives of both parties vacated the room, Singh and Rajapakse held a private discussion.

Prime Minister Singh's staff who knew of such 'unofficial' meetings kept interrupting the discussion to remind Singh of his next appointment. Singh then requested Rajapakse to end the discussion.

This meeting aroused interest in the media which wanted to know more about the secret discussion between the two state leaders. It took the Indian journalists several minutes to find out what was discussed at the meeting.

It was revealed that Rajapakse during the secret discussion had urged Singh not to include the words 'devolution of power within a united framework' in the joint statement released by the two state leaders at the end of the state visit.

Singh had responded that a 'united framework' was the Indian policy.

However, Singh after much persuasion agreed to use the word 'undivided' in place of the word united.

Rajapakse had also made another request. That is for the Indian government to send a peace keeping force to Sri Lanka if war breaks out in the country once again.

The Indian media also found out that Singh had refused to do any such thing and asked Rajapakse to refrain from going back to war. The Indian Premier had advised Rajapakse to work closely with the UNP to arrive at a consensus on the form of devolution.

Singh had explained to Rajapakse that if war was to break out in Sri Lanka, India would not be in a position to get involved as the environment in India was not conducive for such a course of action.

Conflicting media reports

The Indian media, which found out details of the 15 minute secret discussion, the following day reported that the Indian government had rejected several requests made by Rajapakse.

However, the reports in the local media, especially the state media understandably was to the contrary. The local media reported that the President's visit to India was a success.

Although the people of Sri Lanka were not in a position to know the real outcome of the President's Indian tour, the people of India and for that matter the world knew of the real outcome of Rajapakse's state visit to India.

After concluding his trip to New Delhi, the President was to proceed to Chennai for another decisive discussion with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha Jeyaram.

Rajapakse decided to meet with Jayalalitha, who has recently been portrayed as anti-LTTE, in a bid to send a warning to the LTTE.

Once again Rajapakse's hopes were shattered. Jayalalitha decided not to meet Rajapakse.

The President banked heavily on his visit to Tamil Nadu as he hoped that his failures in New Delhi could be overcome with his discussions with Jayalalitha.

Had Rajapakse decided to go to Chennai, he would have had to face a large scale protest carried out by a newly formed organisation called the Liberation Cheetahs. The organisation was backed by a large number of political groups including parties affiliated to Karunanidhi and Vaiko.

Anti-Rajapakse sentiment

With Jayalalitha changing her mind, an anti-Rajapakse sentiment was building up in Tamil Nadu.

Rajapakse then made his way to the final destination of his tour.

The secret agenda with regard to UNP's T. Maheswaran being part of his delegation came into play during the last stage of Rajapakse's tour.

The reason for this was the President's scheduled visit to the Hindu kovil, Niruvaur, where Lord Shiva was said to have spent some time during his childhood, for a special pooja.

This special pooja organised by Maheswaran at the Niruvaur kovil took over three hours. Late President Ranasinghe Premadasa had also held poojas at this kovil.

A unique feature in the kovil is that males who enter the kovil have to be bare chested and wear a vetti. As a result, Rajapakse had to surrender his kurahan saatakaya for a vetti. This pooja was out of bounds to the media.

Before leaving the island, Rajapakse briefed SLRC Chairman Newton Gunaratne and Media Secretary Chandrapala Liyanage not to allow the media into the kovil and asked them to keep the media personnel in the hotel.

Even though the pooja was organised by Maheswaran, he did not attend it and cancelling his trip to India, he made his way to Bangkok instead.

Rajapakse's only wish during the pooja, at the end of a failed state visit, was for the help of the gods to either win the predicted war or commence the stalled peace process.

JVP's grand design for a patriotic force

As President Mahinda Rajapakse concluded his first state visit to India, the government's main ally, the JVP, also held several rounds of discussions and arrived at some key decisions.

At the last politburo meeting, it was decided to appoint a special committee. Outlining that a war was inevitable given the present situation in the county, JVP Leader Somawansa Amarasinghe said the party had to decide how to continue with its operations under such circumstances.

UNP issue

He observed that once the coffins startcoming to the south on a larger scale, the UNP would speak to the people of peace, the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) and blame the war on the JVP.

Citing the present crisis within the UNP and its inability to carry out any campaign given the present status quo, Amarasinghe pointed out the JVP should take advantage of it and start on an action plan as soon as possible.

He said that based on the Patriotic National Movement (Desha Hithaishi Movement), a patriotic national force has to be built with the help of the masses to give courage to the security forces.

The importantrole played by the media was also highlighted by Amarasinghe. He said that measures should be taken to prevent articles or programmes supportive of the LTTE in any way from being published or telecast in the media. The JVP Leader was also confident that every media institution will support the patriotic force.

Committee appointed

Accordingly, a committee headed by Amarasinghe was appointed. The committee also included Wimal Weerawansa, Tilvin Silva, K. D. Lalkantha and Anura Kumara Dissanayake.

The JVP decided to inform Rajapakse of its politburo decision and ask him to decide on whether the SLFP too would join hands with them to form this great patriotic force.

After his return, a JVP delegation met with Rajapakse and informed him of the party's decision. Rajapakse informed the JVP delegation that India was not willing to get involved in the ethnic conflict if war breaks out once again and added returning to war in such an event would be detrimental to the country.

Grand patriotic force

After blaming the Indian government, Amarasinghe said it was time that Sri Lanka stopped making decisions based on Indian sentiments and started making independent decisions.

Amarasinghe went on to say that if war breaks out and when bodies of forces personnel start coming to the south, it should be portrayed as heroic acts and prevent the UNP from carrying out an anti-war campaign in the country.

He then asked the President to join hands with the JVP to bring forth the grand patriotic force planned by it.

Rajapakse, who did not give a firm response asked for some time to think about the matter. However, the JVP decided to go ahead with its plan with or without the support of the SLFP.

Mangala's move to woo Bush

Since assuming duties as Foreign Minister, Mangala Samaraweera has been unable to carry out any successful diplomatic mission. Most of the blame for President Mahinda Rajapakse's unsuccessful Indian visit was also directed at him.

Rajapakse's advisors have now pointed out that Samaraweera who was not highly accepted by the Indian government during his visit to plan the agenda for the President's scheduled tour had created a negative impact for Rajapakse's visit.

Miraculous act

Samaraweera who understood that the President was none too pleased with the Foreign Ministry decided to overcome all with one miraculous act. That was to be done through another foreign visit.

The irony of ironies is that this trip was planned to the United States.

When the United States attacked Iraq, Samaraweera, following his buddies in the JVP headed protests against the United States within the SLFP. He also laughed at then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for meeting with American President George Bush.

Be that as it may, just two years later, Samaraweera has made his way to the United States to show Rajapaksehe can still pull a rabbit out of his hat.

His reason to visit the United States is to meet with US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice and seek an appointment for Rajapakse with President Bush.

Meeting Bush

Before his visit to the United States, Samaraweera speaking to the President said, "The biggest challenge faced by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga was her inability to meet with a president of the United States and that is the biggest strength, Ranil Wickremesinghe has. So, if we get an appointment with Bush, it would be a great strength for us and the LTTE and the international community will have to think twice about it."

Samaraweera then made his way to the United States and is expected back in the island tomorrow (9).

The country will have to wait and see if Samaraweera will indeed perform a miracle and bring back a date for a Rajapakse-Bush meeting.


Civilians suffer as security situation changes in Jaffna

Velupillai Pirapaharan and Army Commander Sarath Fonseka

By D.B.S.Jeyaraj 

"Even when the elephants make love the grasshopper gets crushed," is an African saying. If that is the fate for a grasshopper when jumbos make love then it does not need much imagination to gauge their position in a time of war. This then is the tragic plight of the Tamil civilians caught up in a cycle of violence they have no control of or ever wanted.

The Tamil civilians have suffered for long during times of war. Today there is no formal or de jure war but there is for all practical purposes a de facto war.

An undeclared and unacknowledged war has been declared by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam against what is termed as an army of occupation in Jaffna. It is supposedly a Makkal Yuddam or people's war. LTTE political Commissar Suppiah Paramu Tamilselvan says that it is the people who are resisting army occupation.

15,000 LTTE cadres

It is however an open secret that the war in the name of the people is being conducted by the Makkal Padai or People's Force. It is primarily a civilian militia.  It is estimated that the LTTE has given arms training to over 15,000 people of all ages in the north. These are not full- fledged Tigers. It is believed that some of these people described in some circles as a 'third force' are currently engaged in the ongoing attacks on the armed forces and police in Jaffna.

Landmine attacks, firing of RPGs, grenade throwing, bomb throwing, shooting etc., are but part of these attacks. The violence is scattered and sporadic but continues with regularity. Security personnel have been killed and injured. Though the LTTE claims to have had no hand in this violent spree it is well known that the Tigers are backing this so called people's war. They are providing centralised authority, guidance, moral and logistical support etc., to those engaged in these attacks.

Sadly for the Tamil people demanding that their inherent right of self-determination be recognised by the Sinhala dominated state, another dominant entity is imposing decisions on them. In the presidential election an 'enforced boycott' was imposed on the people. Again the LTTE said that the people were freely and fearlessly exercising their freedom of choice. Now a war is being conducted in the name of the people. Again the LTTE says that all this violence is as a result of the spontaneous resistance of the people.

40,000 soldiers

This stealth or shadow war poses a fresh and somewhat new challenge to the 40,000 plus soldiers occupying Jaffna soil for decades in the name of sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity. Actually this particular cycle of violence was begun by the state when its Tamil henchmen described in Tiger jargon as 'paramilitary' started targeting perceived civilian supporters of the LTTE in Neervely on November 30. Some more killings of LTTE civilian supporters have continued.

As stated in these columns earlier the new security challenge in Jaffna  requires much restraint, understanding, tact and political wisdom on the part of the state and its armed forces. This is particularly so if the Tamils and Jaffna is still considered as being an integral component of Sri Lanka and not some alien entity. The state and its security forces have seldom displayed political maturity in handling these problems in the past. The three-and-a-half-year of ceasefire seems to have not done much good either. Like the French bourbons nothing has been learnt or forgotten. It is a case of a clenched fist response all over again.

Steering  the ship of state

Besides we have a new helmsman steering the ship of state. His chinthana has no appreciation of the complex national question. His right and left hands are national socialists and religious chauvinists. His Prime Minister is a well-known hawk who wanted the majority community to reject birth control so that more and more lion cubs to fight would be born. His defence secretary is his own brother, a retired army officer whose greatest exploit was overseeing the evacuation of the Jaffna fort. His army commander is a hardliner who refused to comply with the ceasefire provisions and who was responsible for destroying Thenmaratchy after the LTTE went away. His defence adviser is a man notoriously known for his mass arrests and is an office bearer of an organisation believing in the supremacy of one community over others.

Against this backdrop it is certainly no matter for surprise that the response to the 'peoples war' violence is equally or even more violent. State terror is being unleashed in doses. As in the past the victims of state terror are inevitably the hapless Tamil civilians. Their position has been made worse by the LTTE's irresponsible and inhuman conduct. The LTTE boasts that they have nothing to do with this violence and that it is the 'people' who are reacting makes the ordinary people vulnerable. The stupid and false claim that the people are the Tigers and that the Tigers are the people adds to this vulnerability

Targeting ordinary people

Except for rare exceptions the armed forces have not displayed particular concern for the Tamil people during times of war. Any goodwill that the armed forces may have accumulated in the hearts and minds of the Jaffna Tamil people in the past years of ceasefire is rapidly evaporating now. Predictably the armed forces are responding to the new threat by targeting the ordinary people. The LTTE claim that the people are taking on the army in Jaffna provides the soldiers an opportunity to justify their anti- people actions. It is also much easier now to target an innocent civilan and then blame the victim as being a Tiger in civilian garb.

One pathetic consequence of LTTE inspired and state sponsored violence is that Jaffna has returned to the days of a war situation again. Hartals are very regular. Shops are closed by evening. People do not venture out after dark. Soldiers manning checkposts wear intimidating black masks. The army-people bonhomie is gone. The area goes to 'sleep' by nightfall.

One recent example of the fearful situation was the death of an asthma patient at Mudamaavadi in Thirunelvely. The woman was afraid to go to the hospital after a serious heart attack at night because of army hostilities and died early morning at home. Some people call Jaffna an open air prison again.

Apart from those killed by the Tamil paramilitaries at least a dozen civilians have been killed by soldiers during the past few weeks. The most serious one being the shooting and arrests incident in Jaffna town along Muniappar Road. Two including the Jaffna Central College security guard were killed in the firing. Three others including a 45-year-old woman were allegedly arrested and then shot. It was claimed that all five were Tiger terorists attacking the army. Needless to say 'evidence' in the form of firearms and grenades was placed by the bodies as in the '80s. That was a time when civilians killed by the forces became 'terrorists' in official versions with 'proof' provided in the form of captured weapons.

Among other incidents were the killing of three civilans in Punnalaikadduvan. Two youths were answering a call of nature in the bushes and were killed.  An elderly bakery employee loitering on the street was shot. Two other youths detained at the Jaffna Muthirai Santhi  checkpost were shot dead when one of them reached into his pocket to take a cellular phone out. The soldiers are very harsh on those carrying cell phones thinking they are passing information to the LTTE. So people generaly leave their mobiles at home now. In another case soldiers broke into the house at Kodikamam and killed a17-year-old youth. Apparently they came in search of a well-known Tiger sympathiser and shot his innocent brother instead.

Apart from trigger happy soldiers killing civilians under the pretext of being suspected Tigers there have been many 'disappearances' too. At least 16 complaints have been registered at the offices of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission and Human Rights Commission. The latest being 29-year-old Rasaratnam Thevachandran who runs a tutory at Nelliaddy. The complaint was registered on Thursday, January 5.  In some cases the young people who went 'missing' were arrested by the forces at their residences. Agitated parents were told that there was no record of arrest.

Mass  disappearances

Many people fear that if this pattern continues Jaffna would once again be a major area of mass disappearances. It was estimated that around 500-600 youths 'disappeared' in Jaffna during 1996- 97. It was later alleged that there was a mass grave in the plains of Chemmani. Given the fact that most of the commanding officers in Jaffna are 'hardliners' of the Sarath Fonseka mould, the spectre of Chemmani is sending shivers again. There is also the fear of rape as illustrated by the Pungudutheevu incident.

There is also the regular practice of assaulting civilians. There have been many instances of civilians being assaulted by fists, rifle butts, belts, rods, clubs and sticks in a brutal and humiliating manner. Young men and women are very often the targets.  Assaults now are part of everyday life according to Jaffna residents. Most of the injured resort to native medicine. Some of the serious cases go to hospital. While these attacks go on at check posts there was also the armed repression on undergraduates at the Jaffna University. The varsity has resumed work but the checkposts in the vicinity remain. Once again there is much tension rippling underneath the seemingly calm exterior.

Sense of deja vu

There is a sense of deja vu in all this. This was exactly how the armed forces behaved in the early '80s. By doing so they alienated the bulk of the Tamil people. Now the same thing is happening. The armed forces are treating every civilian as a potential Tiger and venting their spleen on them.  If the armed forces were equally brave and forceful on the real Tigers as they are on the innocent civilians the situation would have been entirely different. The situation could be much worse if open war resumed.

What is currently going on in Jaffna cannot bring satisfaction to anyone other than the LTTE. The imposition of state terror and brutality is driving the people into the hands of the Tigers once again. The contradiction between the LTTE and the people become 'lesser' while the contradiction between the security forces and the people become 'greater.'  The Tamil civilians should not be made to suffer for no fault of their own. Their basic human rights and safety should be safeguarded. Sadly for the Tamil people their so called sole representatives have disturbed the bees' hive and recklessly exposed them to the wrath of the enraged bees.

The violations of the ceasefire, unleashing of violence and excesses of emergency regulations are not restricted to Jaffna alone. There are many different developments in different places. In Colombo the rights of the Tamil people are being violated collectively through racist operations like 'Strangers Night.'  In Trincomalee five students were killed and two seriously injured by 'men in uniform' who shot them dead in cold blood.

In Mannar people in a village settlement were rounded up and assaulted after a landmine explosion in the vicinity. The menfolk were humiliated through degrading punishment while many women were sexually harassed. In Batticaloa a Tamil parliamentarian was shot dead in the Cathedral during Christmas mass after partaking Holy  Communion from the Catholic Bishop.

The scale and scope of these human rights violations are massive. The SLMM and Human Rights Commission are being inundated with complaints. The HRC has responded to this situation by appointing a special rapporteur on the protection of human rights in the context of emergency power and ceasefire violations. Retired Judge Suntharalingam will be the special rapporteur. He will be assisted by a multi -ethnic team of officials.

Judge Suntharalingam with the assistance of the HRC regional officers will inquire into matters like the disappearances, mass detentions, rapes, executions etc. It remains to be seen how quickly and efficiently the HRC will act in these matters in the future.

Human rights violations

Meanwhile it is incumbent on the part of human rights groups like HRW, ICJ, AI etc., that have highlighted the human rights violations of the LTTE to condemn the state terror too. The various diplomatic missions including that of India which took over the responsibility of protecting Tamils in terms of the Indo-Lanka accord too must focus attention on the situation. Unless these organisations and countries exert pressure on the government the situation could deteriorate dangerously. Another Chemmani or something even worse could happen.

This does not necessarily mean that the LTTE be absolved of blame but it is the democratically elected government that should bear responsibility to ensure the human rights of all people and guarantee equal protection under the law.

The fact that Tamils did not vote for Mahinda or the fact that Rajapakse won due to  an enforced boycott does not mean that Tamils should be victimised cruelly or that the world should sit watching idly. Time is of the essence.


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