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12th November, 2006  Volume 13, Issue  18

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

TNA's rising star is silenced

By D. B. S. Jeyaraj

Nadarajah Raviraj , one of the bright young stars in the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) political firmament is no more. The 43 year old....

More....


More Issues

 > Massacre of innocent civilians at Kathiraveli  

 > Return of CBK that stirred a hornet's nest (....Pot Shots)

 > UN escorts out  


TNA's rising star is silenced

Nadarajah Raviraj

More Pic..... 

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Nadarajah Raviraj , one of the bright young stars in the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) political firmament is no more. The 43 year old Tamil parliamentarian was brutally shot dead on Friday, November 10, while seated in his vehicle and trying to start it. 

Two assassins on a motorcycle rode up to him and fired away. Both Raviraj and his bodyguard Lakshman were gunned down.The shooting occurred close to Raviraj's residence in Manning Town, Narahenpita, at about 8. 40 a.m.

Both victims were taken to the Colombo National Hospital, where the bodyguard was pronounced dead upon admission. Raviraj too was 'clinically dead,' according to informed sources. According to Hospital Director Dr. Hector Weerasinghe, the Tamil parliamentarian passed away at 9. 20 a.m.

Fellow Parliamentarian and TNA colleague, M.K. Sivajilingam told the AP news agency that Raviraj, an attorney-at-law by profession, was on his way to courts, when he was shot. He had just returned after a panel discussion on a TV programme.

Second TNA death under MR

Raviraj is the second TNA MP to be assassinated after Mahinda Rajapakse became President. Veteran Eastern Province Parliamentarian, Joseph Pararajasingham was shot dead last year at St. Mary's Cathedral in Batticaloa, during midnight mass on Christmas eve. Joseph was returning to his pew, after partaking of Holy Communion from Batticaloa Catholic Bishop, Rt. Rev Kingsley Swamipillai, when the assassins came from near the altar and shot him dead in full view of the terrified congregation.

Nadarajah Raviraj is a native of Chavakachcheri in the Thenmaratchy sector of Jaffna. His father was a schoolmaster at Chavakachcheri Hindu College in Sangathanai. Friends recall nostalgically that Nadarajah Master's nickname among students was Kilangu, meaning potato. Soon Raviraj too was called Kilangu in his student days, due to this.

Early years and politics

An old boy of Chavakachcheri Hindu College, Driebergs College, Chavakachcheri and St. Johns College, Jaffna, Raviraj passed out as a lawyer and soon joined the Attorney General's (AGs) Department.

He quit the AG's Department after some time and became a human rights lawyer attached to the Home for Human Rights . After a while he began private practice and soon set up his own law office.

Raviraj became enamoured of democratic politics at a time when most Tamils of a younger generation were aligning with militant groups. He joined the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and worked actively for the party, along with other young Tamil lawyers like former Jaffna Mayor Pon Sivapalan and ex - Batticaloa MP Thurairajasingham.

Raviraj owed his rise in politics to TULF stalwart Veerasingham Anandasangari, who regarded his younger colleague as a protegee. Sangaree who was senior vice president of the TULF then, promoted Raviraj within the party.

The TULF era

The TULF of that era faced great danger at the hands of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Other militant Tamil groups now functioning as 'democratic' parties were also not well - disposed towards the grand old democratic party of Sri Lankan Tamils.

It was amidst great physical danger that the TULF contested the Jaffna Municipality in 1998. Raviraj too was on the list. The TULF with its slogan of "unarmed democracy" (Aayuthamatra Jananayagam), topped the polls in Jaffna, despite not having resources like other parties such as EPDP, PLOTE , TELO and EPRLF. Raviraj became a municipal councillor.

Continuous assasinations

Sarojini Yogeswaran then became mayor and was shot dead by the LTTE. Pon Sivapalan succeeded her. Sivapalan along with Jaffna Military Commander, Brigadier Mendis and several others were killed, when the LTTE exploded a claymore mine concealed in the ceiling. The mayoral aspirant Pon     Mathimugarajah was assassinated by the LTTE in front of the Nallur Kandaswamy temple.

No looking behind

In spite of the danger involved, Raviraj backed by Anandasangari came forward to don the mayoral mantle. Instead of becoming mayor directly, Raviraj was appointed deputy mayor. Instead of becoming mayor , Raviraj functioned as acting mayor. He was the de - facto and not de- jure mayor.

Raviraj adopted this razor's edge stance and managed to survive . In October 2000, Raviraj contested the parliamentary elections on the TULF ticket, but failed to win a seat.

By 2001, there was a sea change in Tamil "moderate" politics. The TULF, Tamil Congress, EPRLF and TELO joined hands and formed a loose alliance known as the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). They started moving close to the LTTE and began toeing the Tiger line.

The TULF then faced danger at the hands of Douglas Devananda's EPDP, which treated the new political formation as potential danger. When the TULF went into the Islands to do propaganda, the EPDP saw it as an affront and challenge. The EPDP had, for long regarded the Kayts division as its fiefdom.

A gang of EPDP goons led by Napoleon and masterminded by Mano, accosted the TULF in Thambatty in Naranthanai and launched a brutal assault. Raviraj driving up in the front vehicle displayed great physical courage in combatting the challenge. Two TULF activists were killed and people like Mavai Senathirajah and Sivajilingam sustained injuries. It was this incident, which turned the tide against the EPDP then.

Raviraj too won and entered parliament for the first time in December 2001. There was however, a split in the TULF during this time, when the old warhorse Anandasangari fell foul of the LTTE, which wanted him ousted. The TNA was now fast becoming a puppet of the LTTE. Sangaree resisted LTTE domination and payed the price, as most of his colleagues and followers deserted him and paid pooja to the Tigers.

The unkindest cut for Sangaree was the "turnabout" of Raviraj. The young MP had initially backed his political mentor, but gradually parted ways with his senior colleague.

The rising star

In April 2004, Raviraj was re- elected as Jaffna District MP, but Anandasangari was defeated in an "undemocratic" poll, conducted under dubious means. Raviraj soon became a rising star in the TNA, which contested under the house symbol of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK).

One of Raviraj's strong points was his fluency in Tamil, English and Sinhala. This enabled him to participate fully in parliament debates, media discussions and interviews as well as public meetings. He was a forceful speaker and conveyed his views precisely and clearly. He was capable of quick repartees and often made pithy and pungent comments.He also participated in demonstrations, particularly those concerning freedom of expression.

Overseas gatherings

Raviraj was in Canada some years ago and I heard him speak at a public seminar on the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka. Raviraj was the last speaker. There were a couple of Canadian mainstream MPs at the meeting. As it is usual among Western politicians who 'grace' minority community occasions, just to keep up 'appearances,' the two gentlemen began moving out as Raviraj was on the rostrum.

The young Tamil MP was not fazed, and made a public appeal that both MPs should not leave, but sit and listen to his speech. Taken aback, both men promptly returned to their seats, tuned in, and after it was over, engaged in a long discussion with the Sri Lankan Parliamentarian.

I also recall that Raviraj could not have dinner with me as arranged earlier, because his departure from Toronto had to be expedited, due to an urgent matter. I was not at home when he called to inform me of the sudden change of plan. After returning to Colombo, Raviraj was courteous enough to telephone me and apologise profusely.

Deteriorating situation

The situation in Sri Lanka began deteriorating after Mahinda Rajapakse became President. An undeclared war is being conducted against the Tamil people. The basic human rights of the Tamil people are being violated with impunity.

Raviraj was in the forefront of those, resisting this creeping state terror. He joined hands with those of different political beliefs and ethnicities to fight for common causes. A case in point, was his active involvement in the Civil Monitoring Committee (CMC) set up to monitor extra - judicial executions, disappearances and abductions. Raviraj worked with people like Siritunga Jayasuriya, Mano Ganesan MP (Colombo District), Vasudeva Nanayakara (MMC),   Dr.W ickramabahu Karunaratne,  Appapillai Winayagamoorthy and many more in this regard.

I also know for a fact that Raviraj was one of the few Tamil MP's, who interacted closely with diplomats, human rights activists and media persons, about issues affecting the Tamil people. Though he did not hog the limelight in this, Raviraj worked quietly behind the scenes, in keeping the world informed about what was happening in the island.

Raviraj, along with a few other MPs, was the livewire of the TNA. The TNA is being forced to adopt a more militant, yet non-violent stance in espousing the Tamil cause. After many non-violent demonstrations in parliament, the TNA began taking to the streets to articulate Tamil grievances. The demonstration opposite the UNHCR office in Colombo 7 was the beginning of a new series of envisaged protests.

An effective 'voice'

Once again, Raviraj played a crucial role in organising and conducting the demonstration. Eighteen of the 22 TNA parliamentarians participated. Apart from handling logistics, Raviraj's voice could be heard shouting slogans and demands loudly, in all three languages.

Given the prevailing political culture, where all Tamil dissent is ruthlessly suppressed, a voice such as that of Raviraj's too, had to be silenced from the viewpoint of those wielding power in the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. There is a coordinated campaign going on in the northeast, where all Tamils with leadership potential are being killed, disappearing, leaving the country or simply becoming invisible.This trend spills over to Colombo frequently.

Silencing a leader with potential

Raviraj was one such Tamil who had to be silenced.The brutal murder of Raviraj is a calculated attempt to terrify and intimidate the Tamil people and their representatives in parliament. His fellow Parliamentarian Selvam Adaikkalanathan of the TNA expressed this viewpoint succintly.

"A democratic voice of Tamils has been silenced in Sri Lanka's capital today.

Resourceful Tamil politicians, journalists and activists are being systematically killed in Sri Lanka. Raviraj tirelessly worked to improve the conditions of the people, living under an economic embargo, to relieve the humanitarian catastrophy. He had a convincing way of dealing with even the crude bureaucracy of this failed state," Adaikalanathan said.

"He fought from their platform. His voice in the Sri Lankan Parliament, and in the south, where injustice and oppression originate, was much feared. By silencing the democratic voices of the Tamils, the Sri Lankan military and its paramilitaries, such as the EPDP will not be able to silence the Tamil struggle," Adaikalanathan further said.

Nadarajah Raviraj leaves behind his wife and two children. My condolences to the family. May Ravi's soul attain eternal peace and solace.


Massacre of innocent civilians at Kathiraveli  

Internally displaced people wounded in the army artillery attack on IDPs at Kathiraveli Vigneswara School

By D. B. S. Jeyaraj

The coastal village of Kathiraveli in the eastern district of Batticaloa was the scene of Sri Lanka's latest massacre of innocents in its on going ethnic conflict. At least 47 people were killed and 136 injured in an appalling incident where the Sri Lankan armed forces fired artillery shells and MBRL rockets indiscriminately at an Internal Displaced Persons (IDP) camp and its environs. The majority of the innocent victims were displaced Tamil civilians.  

Kathiraveli is a coastal village in the Koralaipattu Division in Batticaloa North. It is quite close to the Verugal river which demarcates the Trincomalee and Batticaloa District border. Kathiraveli is situated along the Batticaloa - Trincomalee road and is about 83 km to the north of Batticaloa town.

Under LTTE control

The Eechilampatru - Verugal areas of Trincomalee South and the Kathiraveli - Vaharai - Panichankerny areas of Batticaloa North are under the control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The continuous aerial bombardment and artillery shelling of Trincomalee Tamil villages in Muttur East and Eechilampatru divisions resulted in much destruction and displacement. The bulk of those displaced moved into the Vaharai - Kathiraveli region and are housed in makeshift refugee camps.

One such camp for IDPs was located at the Vigneshwara Vidyalayam school in Kathiraveli. It is reported that 6068 people from 1680 families were staying at the school camp and its environs at the time of the attack. Apart from the school buildings a large number of huts and tents had been put up in the school vicinity to temporarily accommodate the displaced people.

The IDP numbers at Kathiraveli had swollen in the last few days as many people from Paalsenai, Panichankerni and Ooriyankattu had moved in due to constant shelling and bombing by the GOSL security forces. Moving from place to place in fear of artillery shelling and aerial bombardment had become almost routine for these wretched of the Eastern earth. It was this camp and its pathetic occupants who suffered the worst on that fateful day.The backdrop against which this tragedy unfolded needs to be explained briefly.

Long range artillery

Earlier the LTTE had its Trincomalee District headquarters in Sampur in Muttur East division. The LTTE also had a battery of long range artillery stationed there. After the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) had re- taken Sampur the LTTE relocated these artillery pieces to the Verugal - Vaharai region. The security forces have been accusing the LTTE of firing artillery from this region against security force camps in Batticaloa North and Trincomalee South. The security forces in turn have been bombing and shelling the Verugal - Vaharai region consistently and constantly.

According to Defence Ministry sources the LTTE had fired 81 mm mortars from the jungle areas of Kathiraveli at the Trincomalee District army camps in Serunuwara, Mahindapura and Kallar on Wednesday, November 8. The firing commenced at 7. 15 a.m. and went on for 20 minutes. This had resulted in one soldier getting killed and six others (five soldiers and a civilian employee) getting injured. The artillery fire had then become sporadic with a shell or two being fired every 45 minutes.

The GOSL had recently received some sophisticated radar equipment that was supposedly capable of pinpointing the location of enemy artillery and mortar fire. The mortar locating radars were switched on.The security forces also sent an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to monitor the target area. The spy plane scoured the skies above Vaharai and Kathiraveli and returned to China Bay.

With the pooling of acquired data the LTTE artillery positions were located as being stationed at a point two kilometres north - west of the jungle areas in Kathiraveli. Observation and retaliatory points were set up by the field commanders attached to the Kallar base camp. Ground commanders were instructed to 'precisely' identify the LTTE gun positions if and when they fired. According to Defence Ministry sources the LTTE fired two shells at 11. 25 a.m.

Locating radars

The locating radars which were operational then reconfirmed LTTE artillery positions. At 11. 35 p.m. the army launched its barrage.

Two Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers fired two salvoes each at the 'target.' Two 130 mm artillery guns supplemented the MBRL rocket fire. The firing was intense from 11.35 to 12. 10 p.m. Thereafter intermittent firing continued till 1. 00 p.m. Despite the assertion that LTTE positions away from Kathiraveli were being targetted the actuality on ground was totally and cruelly different.

The GOSL artillery shells and MBRL rockets certainly rained on Kathiraveli but they didn't hit any LTTE cannons or mortars. Instead they fell somewhat in the centre of Kathiraveli on the IDP camp at Vikneshwara Vidyalayam school and its environs housing makeshift refugee dwellings.

Buildings destroyed

Around 120 bulidings, huts and tents were destroyed or damaged. Some shells fell on the Sonobo Children's Centre in Kathiraveli run by the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation. Twelve children were injured. A few shells fell even within the vicinity of the hospital in Vaharai about 15 km away from Kathiraveli.

" We suddenly heard artillery reports and saw a house nearby exploding and going up in flames. Before we realised what was happening another shell fell on our house" said a victim.  The shells started falling rapidly on the school and nearby places." Everything exploded and burnt. We ran screaming everywhere carrying our children" said another.

The human toll was massive. Members of the public, Sea Tiger cadres and TRO volunteers were engaged in rescue operations from 1 .00 p.m. to 3. 00 p.m. The LTTE's Thileepan field medical unit administered first aid to victims who were then taken by sea Tiger vehicles to the rural hospital in Vaharai. Severe restrictions imposed by the GOSL had resulted in an acute fuel shortage in the region. Only LTTE vehicles were running.

The Vaharai hospital is the only one of its kind in the region. It is hopelessly understaffed and lacks resources. The hospital catering to about 50, 000 people was managed by the Italian Red Cross after the  tsunami. With the security situation worsening and further official restrictions only one Italian national and another Sri Lankan Tamil displaced from Eechilampatru hospital function as doctors. The lack of fuel and electricity has hampered the hospital further. There is also a woeful lack of medicine.

Bodies recovered

According to informed Tamil sources 30 dead bodies -  many with mangled limbs - were recovered from the rubble and debris after the shelling spree. A number of injured persons were also brought to the Vaharai hospital. Of the injured another 15 died at the vaharai hospital. Apart from these  45 dead people another 136 persons were treated for injuries both major and minor.

Meanwhile the ICRC and SLMM had been contacted. The army personnel at the Mankerni camp entry point refused to let them in. The ambulances were also not permitted in. After much pressure and a three hour delay the ICRC and SLMM were allowed in. The ICRC also took a convoy of six ambulances, three cars, one bus and one truck into Vaharai. The ICRC brought 69 of the more seriously injured out of Vaharai to the Valaichenai and Batticaloa hospitals.

47 civilians killed

Two of those brought in died at the Batticaloa and Valaichenai hospitals respectively. Initially more people were admitted to Valaichenai hospital. Gradually they were transferred to Batticaloa. At the time that this article is being written 60 of the surviving 67 parients are in Batticaloa. Only seven are at Valaichenai hospital. The condition of 17 injured people is said to be critical. 16 of the injured 62 are children below the age of 10.

The number of those killed is 47 at this point of time. 45 of these bodies are in Vaharai while there is one each in Batticaloa  and Valaichenai. The 47 dead comprise 28 males, nine females and 10 children. Six of the dead children were infants.

The SLMM which undertook a hurried count of bodies at Vaharai said that they had counted only 23 bodies. The SLMM however said that there could be more bodies. Monitors also confirmed that the firing had come from the army.

Most of the victims in the attack were displaced persons from the Muttur East and Eechilampattru divisions in Trincomalee District. 31, 903 displaced people from 8441 families of Trincomalee are currently in the Vaharai - Verugal region.Some victims were native residents of  Kadiraveli and Vaharai.There are about 10, 000 such people living in the Koralaipattu North AGA division. There are reportedly 60, 646 displaced people in the Batticaloa  District as of October 23.

Regular bombing

Many of the people and IDPs in the region had been moving from place to place in recent times as the Sri Lankan security forces had been shelling and bombing the area regularly during the past week.This column has been spotlighting the pathetic predicament of these people regularly in the past. The Rajapakse regime has been shelling and bombing the people of Muttur East and Eechilampatru from April 25  this year. They have been driven from place to place and finally housed at a IDP camp. Even there these people have no safety or refuge.

The reputed human rights organisation Amnesty International has issued a statement on the incident. A paragraph excerpted from the AI statement reads thus - "Amnesty International is appalled that the military should attack a camp for displaced people - these were civilians who had already been forced from their homes because of the conflict. Amnesty International condemns all attacks on civilians and is particularly saddened and shocked to see such a large-scale attack on civilians just days after the government's announcement of its Commission of Inquiry into human rights abuses."

After the usual diversionary tactics the GOSL has finally admitted to its 'guilt' in the matter. For the first time since he assumed Presidential office Mahinda Rajapakse has expressed regret over Tamil civilians getting killed. Keheliya Ramukwella too has not been his usual abrasive self and has acknowledged responsibility on behalf of the security forces.

Blaming the LTTE

Both however are trying to exonerate the army of responsibility for this massacre by blaming the LTTE for using the civilians as human shields. The various army, defence and national security websites also accuse the LTTE of being indirectly responsible for the deaths as they were allegedly using the IDP's as human shields. While boasting on the one hand that the sophisticated radars in their possession could pinpoint the exact location of enemy artillery the "national security media" also tries to wriggle out of culpability by accusing the LTTE of rapidly shifting its artillery elsewhere.

These purile attempts to apportion blame elsewhere has few takers among discerning observers. The Island newspaper which is usually "patriotic" and "pro - national security" has in a hard - hitting editorial (November 10) called for a probe. Here are some excerpts:

" The army cannot trot out any excuses in extenuation of the civilian deaths on Wednesday. The LTTE never hesitates to achieve its military objectives at the expense of civilians, be they Tamils, Sinhalese or Muslims. A professional military must be different from a group of terrorists, if it is to be worthy of its name."

Army should protect citizens

" The army must always be mindful of its mission; it has been deployed to protect citizenry and defend the country. A hunt for terrorists must end where the safety of civilians begins. Even if hundred terrorists were to escape, the army must hold its fire if there is the slightest doubt that it will harm civilians. There is no alternative!"

The ground reality also casts doubts on the GOSL attempt to charge the LTTE of using civilians as a human shield.. The SLMM questioned people in Vaharai and Kathiraveli whether there were any LTTE artillery guns or positions in the vicinity of the school camp when it was attacked. The people replied in the negative.

"Our monitors saw there were no military installations in the camp area, so we would certainly like some answers from the military regarding the nature and reasons of this attack," said Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission Spokeswoman Helen Olafsdottir to Reuters.

Another Tamil woman told Reuters  There were a lot of explosions, and so many people dead and wounded; "A lot of children died,"  I  jumped into a bunker with my daughter she said, clutching two bags containing clothes and a bottle of soda. "My husband stayed behind to protect our belongings. There are thousands of people trying to leave."

Even though the LTTE may not be guilty of using civilians as a shield in firing artillery at the armed forces the Tigers are guilty of restricting civilian movement. The people living in the Vaharai region are undergoing much difficulty and many have tried to cross over into GOSL controlled territory. This desire to relocate is not necessarily an indictment of the LTTE or an endorsement of the GOSL. It is merely a natural human yearning to seek safety and relative comfort.

Prevented from leaving

The LTTE however has forcibly prevented Tamil civilians from leaving. One reason for this is LTTE vulnerability if civilians leave en masse. Despite its vintage and the modern guerilla warfare techniques the old dictum of Mao Ze Dong of guerillas being like fish in an ocean of people still remains valid. So if the people vacate an area it is like the ocean being drained. The GOSL campaign of driving the people out of Sampur through systematic violence resulted in the weakening of the LTTE in that area. The Tigers do not want that to be repeated here.

So the LTTE has been preventing people from leaving. But some have been quietly trickling out. 568 people had fled in recent times from Kirimichai and Kattumurivukulam to GOSL areas. The artillery shelling of Kathiraveli  has had a deep impact on the people's psyche. Unable to face hardship and danger indefnitely more than 2000 people from Vaaharai - Kathiraveli tried to walk en masse to GOSL areas through the Mankerni entry/exit point. The Tigers blocked them at Panichankerny and fired in the air to scare them away. Despite this 283 persons from 61 families have managed to defy the LTTE and come out.

They have harrowing tales of experiences at the hands of the LTTE.

UN statement

A statement issued by the UN has drawn attention to this aspect. Jan Egeland, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs has observed," However, there have been equally disturbing reports that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) prevented some 2,000 civilians from fleeing to safety. Shelling between the two parties has continued in Vaharai over the last few days."

"The people trapped in this camp are terrified and feel that they are completely at the mercy of others," said Allan Rock, Special Adviser on Sri Lanka to the United Nations Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict. "The time has come for all parties to respect the basic human rights of these people, which are simply not being observed at the moment," he added. After his visit to the camp today, Rock described it as a "shocking sight."

Displaced leave

Many inhabitants of the Vaharai - Panichankerny, Kathiraveli region as well as the new influx of displaced people from Muttur East and Eechilampatru - Verugal are living amidst great hardship and grave danger. The aerial bombardment and artillery shelling take a regular toll. There is practically no economy there. Most people are displaced living in makeshift camps. There is no health, education or sanitary facilities. NGOs are not allowed access.

Adding to their problems has been the callous and cruel attitude of the GOSL. Only a restricted amount of food has been allowed in under the UN World Food Programme. This has been grossly inadequate. Even this distribution has been suspended from October 20. From November 1 all movement to and from the region has been stopped. Even the ICRC was not allowed for more than a week till the Kathiraveli massacre of innocents. The army has made it known to the people that it expects them to vacate the region as soon as possible.

The objective is well - known. The security forces want the people to leave the region as it was done in Sampur and Muttur East. The armed forces commanded by Mahinda Rajapakse want to take full control of the Koralaipattu division. They want the area de- populated as in the case of Sampur  befire moving in. In order to expedite this de - populating process the army camps of Valaichenai paper factory, Karadikulam, Kadjuwatte and Mankerni have been regularly shelling the region. K-firs have also been dropping bombs. Additional security personnel have been stationed at Kadjuwatte and Mankerni in readiness for a ground based offensive.

The writing is on the wall then for the people - both old and new inhabitants  of the region. It is this deprivation, fear, insecurity and frustrating agony that impels these people into seeking safety and relatve comfort elsewhere. The GOSL for its own military reasons wants the people to leave. The LTTE for its own military imperatives do not want the people to leave. The people most of them displaced persons are caught in the middle. It is sheer hell.

In that context the shelling of Kathiraveli IDP camp does not appear to be an error or miscalculation. It seems a deliberate, merciless exercise to instil terror into the people through massive destruction. The idea apparently is to compel the people to flee the area. This then is state terror at its worst.

Violation of ceasefire

If there is a valid ceasefire,  the Kathiraveli attack is a crime against humanity. If there is no ceasefire on then it is a war crime. From another perspective it amounts to ethnic cleansing. Whatever the definition there is little doubt that the massacre of innocents in Kathiraveli was a deliberate and despicable act. Let me end this article with the concluding paragraph of the AI statement -

" Amnesty International calls on the Government of Sri Lanka to initiate an immediate inquiry by international and independent human rights experts into this incident and all serious violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law. Amnesty International reiterates the urgent need for the Government of Sri Lanka to establish a strong and effective international human rights monitoring operation as a matter of urgency to respond to the dramatic deterioration of the human rights and humanitarian situation. Such a mechanism must have the full co-operation of both the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE and the support of the United Nations and its member states."


UN escorts out

Damage at the Kathiraveli camp (inset) Cells on the UN to act on Sri Lanka

By Amantha Perera

It was an emphatic no. To all the alternate offers put forward by the government, to supply the Jaffna Peninsula, the answer from Kilinochchi was 'no.'

With the failure of Geneva II, the government had put forward three alternatives to move supplies to Jaffna - the movement by ship with UN escort, supplies from India and the an alternate land route (on the A9 up to Kilinochchi, then a left diversion and Pooneryn to Jaffna through a ferry). All three were summarily dismissed by the Tigers.  

"Our leadership has decided, that we want the A9 open, that is what the truce agreement says," LTTE military spokesperson Rasiah Ilanthirayan said.  

Discussions with UN

As Ilanthirayan spoke,  Disaster Management and Human Rights  Minister,Mahinda Samarasinghe was holding discussions with the visiting UN team, on the possibility of the UN escorting food ships.

Though the Minister appeared confidant of a UN role, the UN office in Colombo had remained more skeptical. When reports first appeared of the possible UN role, three weeks ago, the UN officially declined to make any comments. However, officials told The Sunday Leader that the four-member-team, now in town, was a routine mission and that the possible UN role in supplying Jaffna had only come up in discussions. They also said that the UN agencies had been involved in the humanitarian relief effort and there were always discussions on the role of the UN agencies.

Minister Samarasinghe nevertheless told The Sunday Leader last week, that the UN had agreed to escort ships and that the visiting delegation would decide on the logistics. He met the delegation in the morning of November 9.

Increased anxiety

The plan, of which details have been sketchy, was to have UN officials on board the ships, though the Minister himself told The Sunday Leader that there was also an idea to fly the UN flag on ships. That idea has now been shelved, and with the two attacks in the northeastern seas last week, there would be more anxiety than ever.

The initiative to bring in the UN had been mooted by the government side, with President Mahinda Rajapakse taking the lead. It came about soon after UN Under Secretary General for Humanitrain Affairs, Jan Egeland raised  concerns on the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka last month.

In October, Rajapakse had initiated a consultive committee, chaired by Samarasinghe, including officials from the Defence Ministry, Foreign Ministry, Commissioner General of Essential Services and the Peace Secretariat to meet with representatives from the UN and other relief agencies.

UN flag - a by-product of meetings

It was at these meetings that UN agencies and others were able to seek more access to areas under Tiger control.

The story of the UN flag on ships to Jaffna, appear to have been a by product of these meetings. It had first been suggested by Samarasinghe himself, in a letter he sent to Egeland.

The UN in Colombo indicated that the security concerns that were preventing the ICRC from resuming escorting ships, would be taken seriously by them as well. What has now transpired is that the movement of food would be under the aegis of the World Food Programme (WFP), which is the UN agency tasked with supplying food.

UN officials in Colombo said that it was the WFP's role, that was on the cards right along, during the discussions and not a larger UN role or a presence as suggested by some reports.

Insisting on A9

WFP nevertheless has been supplying food to the conflict areas. The Tigers were never involved in the discussions on any possible UN role and had no input into a possible UN role at anytime. But the feeling from the beginning was that they would not be agreeable to any move, as long as the highway remains closed. Those fears proved true, when the likes of Ilanthirayan and Daya Master said that they were still insisting on the A9.

 WFP has been moving food to the uncleared areas with relative ease compared to a month back, but Jaffna still remains a problem. If the sea option is not taken by the WFP, then only government supplies would be moving to Jaffna. Unless and until the A9 reopens, no supplies in satisfactory quantities can move to Jaffna as the situation stands.

Jaffna civilians remain helpless

The Tigers have shot down the alternate land route and if there is no green light from them to allow supplies from India, that option too might end up being limited to paper. In the midst of all the talking, the civilians in Jaffna were left to look on helplessly.

However, there was a reaction from the UN, but not along the lines that government ministers had indicated. A day after the attack in Vaharai, the TNA handed over a letter to the UN office in Colombo, addressed to the Secretary General. It sought UN pressure to stop government attacks and to reopen the A9.

"There is slow genocide of the Tamil people taking place in Sri Lanka," TNA Leader R. Sampanthan said, after delivering the letter. Several hours later, the UN reacted.

UN condemns  attacks on civilians

"Yesterday's massive attack on civilians shows that force continues to be used indiscriminately in the conflict in Sri Lanka," Egeland said in a statement. The statement said that Tigers too had prevented 2,000 civilians from fleeing to government areas.

"The United Nations condemns in the strongest possible terms, the shelling by the security forces of the Government of Sri Lanka, on defenceless civilians, sheltering in Kathiravelli School in Vaharai yesterday. The killing and wounding of displaced persons is unjustifiable and a violation of the most basic humanitarian norms," the UN said in another statement.

"The people trapped in this camp are terrified and feel that they are completely at the mercy of others," said Allan Rock, Special Advisor on Sri Lanka to the United Nations Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, who was in the area on November 9. "The time has come for all parties to respect the basic human rights of these people, which are simply not being observed at the moment," Rock added. After his visit to the camp, Rock described it as a "shocking sight."

Condemnation by ICRC

The ICRC also condemned the attack and called upon both parties to respect interntional humanitarian laws. "With fighting continuing between the Sri Lankan security forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), in the eastern district of Batticaloa, the ICRC reminds the parties to the conflict of their obligation to comply with international humanitarian law. In particular, it urgently calls on the parties to ensure that the civilian population is respected and protected in all circumstances, in accordance with the principle of distinction between civilian and military targets and thus, avoiding indiscriminate attacks. They must also take all feasible precautions to protect civilians under their control against the effects of attacks by the other side. Finally, the ICRC urges the parties to respect the freedom of movement of internally displaced people," it said.

The latest figures maintained by the UNHCR said that there were over 36,000 IDP north of Mankerni in Tiger held areas, when the aerial bombardment took place.

Against humaniarian laws

The issue of international humanitarian law and the prevention of supplies to civilians by both sides,  has been in the air for a while. Interntional agencies, including the ICRC have been airing this opinion. ICRC regional legal advisor Larry Maybee said two weeks ago that denial of supplies was against international humanitarian norms.

But once again, what is evident is that violence is on the  rise and with the assassination of TNA MP Nadaraja Raviraj on Friday (10), it would only be decisive international action that might hold both sides back.

Time running out - Asian Human Rights Commission

These deaths are just part of a continuous situation of assassinations done by all parties to the conflict, which are the state, LTTE and other militant groups. The area of political discourse has shifted towards nothing other than direct assassinations. The parties to the conflict claim justification for the deaths they cause and there is no regret in any quarter about what is taking place.

The death of the legislator took place in Colombo, the capital which has received international attention in recent months for a series of abductions and disappearances that happen, despite  the many heavily guarded check points within the city. The crisis of the capital is just one more indication of the crisis within the country that is facing a situation that seems to have gone out of control.

As the rule of law machinery has been in a state of collapse now for a long time, it is no surprise that things have gone out of control. With the two leading parties in political agreement at the moment there should have been a strategy developed to deal with the basic rule of law situation, without which the degeneration into a situation that produces more and more tragic events cannot be brought under control. However, it does not appear from reports that a strategy to strike a balance and to keep law and order intact is taking place in any way.

Meawhile, an international debate on assistance to restore basic order within the country has been stalled due to disagreements with the government and others who are interested in the situation from outside the country, such as the Co-Chairs, as well as many others. The discussion about monitoring by an international body has been trivialised with all sorts of suggestions about local monitoring. If there was such a possibility of local monitoring, the situation of continuous killings could not have happened.

The international community seems to be confused about the situation and has been unable to come out with any practical scheme to investigate these violations through any credible investigating unit. The state has not been able to offer anything more than just fact finding inquiries. Such fact finding inquiries, by their very nature are unable to stop the continuing violence.

UN agencies have repeatedly called for the international monitoring of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. Human rights organisations in Sri Lanka and many outside the country have also supported this call. It is quite obvious that without such an opening from the outside, through such human rights monitoring, this situation will not only continue, but degenerate further. Will Sri Lanka be added to the list of countries in which the international community and the United Nations intervenes to help if only rather belatedly?

 - Asian Human Rights Commission  

Politics forces jaffna to the brink

By Jamila Najmuddin

More than half a million civilians in Jaffna have become pawns in a political power game between the government and the Tigers, international agencies said last week.  

Three months since the closure of the A9 Highway, the humanitarian crisis in Jaffna has reached alarming levels with the international community now voicing serious concerns over the government's decision in keeping the highway closed and Tiger insistence that nothing moves by sea or air, until the road is open.

"The humanitarian situation in Jaffna continues to become increasingly more difficult. The supplies coming by ship cannot substitute the quantities that used to come along the A9. Access to livelihood has been significantly reduced, inflicting even more suffering to the civilian population," the SLMM said in its last situation report for October, the month relief agencies said was the worst since the 2002 February truce in Jaffna.

"The A 9 road is still closed, tension is building up again in the Wanni area. The humanitarian situation has deteriorated during the last week with less than 40% coverage of food distributed to people in need," they said a week later.

International human rights watchdogs have  urged both parties to concentrate on providing urgently needed assistance to the civilians, than allowing them to suffer further, due to a political deadlock.

"Neither the government nor the LTTE is taking sufficient steps to address the humanitarian situation. While the LTTE insists on opening the A9, the government insists on sending food via sea. This has become a highly political issue. Both parties have to realise that the needs of the civilians come first," Senior Legal Advisor, Human Rights Watch (HRW) James Ross told The Sunday Leader.

Maintaining positions

However, despite mounting pressure and criticism leveled against both the government and the LTTE  by the international community, both parties continue to maintain their positions. The Tigers insisting on the A9 and the government insisting on sea.

LTTE Military Spokesperson, Rasiah Illanthirayan told The Sunday Leader that the LTTE would not accept any other route other than the A9, in transporting food and insisted that the government should open the A9 without further delay. "It's the A9 or nothing," he said.

However, Illanthirayan also accepted that the humanitarian crisis in Jaffna had reached an alarming level and held the government responsible for the  crisis. "The food situation in Jaffna is terrible. Although the government sends some food, it is not sufficient. The food situation in Jaffna is deteriorating by the week," the LTTE Spokesperson said.

Ironically a letter sent to the UN Secretary General's office by the TNA called on the UN body to pressure the government to reopen the A9, but nothing was said of possible moves to supply Jaffna through ship with UN facilitation.

"We urge your good selves to take immediate action regarding this matter and take steps to safeguard internally displaced Tamil speaking people and other civilians. Also to call upon the Government of Sri Lanka to cease these attacks and provide human security to the Tamil speaking people in Sri Lanka," the letter said.

"We don't want any flags or any officials here, we want them to get the A9 open," late MP Nadaraja Raviraj said.

On the other hand, the government also maintained its original position by saying that the A9 would remain closed and food would be transported via sea. The government said that it had purchased two new ships to accommodate and accelerate the sea transportation of food and essential items to Jaffna.

 Obstacles

Defence Spokesperson Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said that the two new ships will join the fleet of vessels supplying goods to the north.

According to the government, the charter vessels - Mercs Ruhunu and Mercs Ruhunupura- were loaded with   food items under the supervision of the navy last week. The Naval Officer In Charge of the Operation, Command Operations Officer (West) Captain Sudarman Silva said that they loaded the Mercs Ruhunu with 3600 Metric Tonnes of food items. "The obstacle was the     rain. Because when it rains, the hatch doors of the vessel have to be closed, or else, the food items will get wet and be damaged," the Captain said.

The lack of fuel also being another major concern in Jaffna, the government said that the Ceylon Petroleum Cooperation (CPC) had shipped approximately 300,000 litres (1500 drums) of petrol to the north in naval vessels last week. The government added that more would be shipped to the peninsula this week.

Government's commitment

Meanwhile, Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, responding to the UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland's letter to the government on the humanitarian crisis in Jaffna, said that the government had extended its cooperation in facilitating the UN, to provide relief items to Jaffna by sea. He reiterated that the government was fully committed to providing humanitarian assistance to people living in all areas of the north and east.

The Minister stated that Egeland's concerns with regard to the provision of humanitarian relief are being addressed by President Mahinda Rajapakse, through the appointment of the consultative committee, which consists of key government and UN agencies, the ICRC and the EU.

Commissioner General of Essential Services, S.B. Divarathna stated that although there are many obstacles in transporting supplies, such as bad weather and the security concerns of vessel operators due to LTTE threats, the government is committed to providing essential services to the people of Jaffna. The Commissioner informed representatives from the UN, ICRC and the EU of the two ships which were being loaded with over 10,500 MT of essential supplies to Jaffna. He further stated that 2800 MT of wheat flour, amounting to supplies for two months will be transported on another ship from Trincomalee to Jaffna. A fourth ship carrying 2200 MT of supplies will be arranged during the course of the following week.

Rosy picture

However, despite a rosy picture maintained by the government, government officials in Jaffna however think otherwise. Jaffna Government Agent K. Ganesh said that food sent by the government was not sufficient and the peninsula currently had food only for a month. "There are half a million civilians that need to be fed in Jaffna. By transporting food via sea, the process is only delayed further," he said.

He added that due to the lack of food, there was a continuous threat of starvation in the Peninsula and many women and children were also suffering from malnutrition.

Meanwhile, civilians in Jaffna said that families were still having  one meal a day, as food was arriving in small quantities in the peninsula.

Thirty-two-year old R. Shivakumar said that while the civilians were now handed ration cards by the grama niladharis, little food reached them as most of it is sold to the traders. "We stand for hours in the queues. End of it all, we only get dhal, rice and a stale loaf of bread," he said.

He added that the civilians in Jaffna were  losing  patience  as the civilians have being on the brink of starvation for nearly three months.

Watchdogs call for international HR monitors

By Jamila Najmuddin

Less than a week after it was formed, the Presidential Commission to inquire into human rights violations came under criticism from international human rights organisations.

"Our perspective is that we would have liked to see a genuine international inquiry. The government has said that it (international inquiry) was not possible for legal reasons, but we do not know what they are," Senior Legal Advisor, Human Rights Watch (HRW) James Ross told The Sunday Leader.

HRW has been supporting calls for the setting up of an international mission in the country. Ross said that violations were taking place  almost  daily  that monitors on the ground were needed.

Need for international monitors

"The commission is looking at past incidents, but there are continuous violations that there is a need for interntional monitors under UN auspices," he said. HRW official added that given the prevalent situation, it was highly unlikely that witnesses would come forward to give evidence.

Action Contre le Faim, the French aid agency said that international observers who are also part of the initiative, should be in a position to give their opinion and observations publicly and not be limited to a mandate of mere observers.

Government's view

The government said that the international observers do not have the mandate to carry out their own investigations running parallel to inquiries of the commission. "They will have access to information, material and witnesses in a manner parallel to such access commissioners have. The International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) will have the liberty of making public announcements, containing their views regarding the manner in which the commission is conducting its investigations and inquiries. They also have the capacity to provide advice, when such advice is sought by the commission. The IIGEP will have the liberty of commenting on the findings of the commission and on the follow-up action taken by the relevant competent authorities, based on recommendations of the Commission," the government said.

"The Muttur massacre should be at the top of the list of this mission," ACF said last week. It also called upon the international community, to take all  action possible to bring out the truth behind the massacre.

"The bottom line is that, this is able to investigate without letting things drag on," Ross observed.

Amnesty International too joined the chorus. "Amnesty International calls on the Government of Sri Lanka to initiate an immediate inquiry by international and independent human rights experts into this incident and all serious violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law. Amnesty International reiterates the urgent need for the Government of Sri Lanka to establish a strong and effective international human rights monitoring operation, as a matter of urgency to respond to the dramatic deterioration of the human rights and humanitarian situation," AI said in a statement soon after the 65 refugees were killed in Kathiraveli, Vaharai.

Further concern

The UN Human Rights Commission, that the government said it was working with too aired its concerns. "The High Commissioner expressed concern over several shortcomings in the national legal system that could potentially hamper the effectiveness of the Commission of Inquiry, particularly the absence of any legal tradition of establishing command responsibility for human rights violations. She also noted that many recommendations of past commissions of inquiry, including into disappearances, had not yet been fully implemented," the High Commission said quoting UN Human Rights Commissioner Louis Arbour.

"It will be critically important for the commission to establish not only individual responsibility for crimes, but the broader patterns and context in which they occur," Arbour said.

Philip Alston, UN Secretrary General's special representative on extra judicial, arbitrary and summary killings had earlier said that local commissions and other mechanisms, allowed parties to stimulate respecting human rights and created the environment of total deniability.

Sri Lanka is likely to feature prominently in the up coming sessions of the UN Human Rights Council.

Mandate of the Presidentail commission

On November 3, 2006 President Mahinda Rajapakse appointed a Commission of Inquiry. The task of Commission is to:

Investigate Inquire into and

Report to the President on alleged serious violations of human rights occurring since August 1, 2005.

Commission will be chaired by Supreme Court Justice Nissanka Udalagama. The other members of the Commission are Upawansa Yapa, Manori Muttettuwegama, S.S. Wijeratne, Dr. Devanesan Nessiah,  Jesima Ismail, K.C. Logeswaran, and Javid Yusuf.

The specific mandate vested on commission is to inquire into 15 stipulated incidents amounting to serious violations of human rights. This includes:

          The assassination of former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadiragamar

          Murder of Member of Parliament  Joseph Parajasingham

          Killing of five youths in Trincomalee on January 2, 2006

          Killing of 17 workers of Action Contre le Faim in early August

          Murder of Deputy Director General of the Peace Secretariat Ketheesh Loganathan on August 12, 2006

          Killing of 13 persons in Kayts on  May 13, 2006

            Disappearance of Rev. Nihal Jim Brown on August 28, 2006,

          Death of 51 persons in Sencholai in August 2006

          Killing of 68 persons in Kebithigollewa, and

          Killing of 98 security forces personnel in Digampathana on October 16,  2006.

The commission will also have the mandate to investigate and inquire into other incidents, which in the opinion of commission, amount to serious violation of human rights.

The commission has been mandated to inter-alia report and recommend to the President on the facts and circumstances relevant to each of the incidents, descriptions of persons who have directly suffered death, injury or other harm, identities of persons responsible for the commission of the incidents, action to be taken against those responsible for the commission of incidents inquired into, and measures to be taken to prevent such incidents occurring in the future.

The Commission of Inquiry has been given a period of one year to conduct its investigations and inquiries and present the report to the President.

In the Presidential warrant appointing the commission, the President has directed all government officials, including the police and the security forces to provide all necessary assistance and cooperation to the commission, including necessary resources and protection.    The President has also declared his intention to publish the Report of the Commission in the Gazette and table it in parliament after submitting the report to the Attorney General and to other competent authorities for the implementation of the recommendations of the commission.

Source - Media Centre for National Security  

Bodies replace peace moves

There was all the indication that something was brewing north of Mankerni, as soon as the talks concluded in Geneva.

The army, and Tigers traded charges that each side was building up, and there was the possibility of confrontations in the region, south of the Mauilaru sluice gates and north of Mankerni.

"After the peace talks in Geneva, the Tigers escalated their mortar and artillery attacks on the Kadjuwatte and Mankerni Army camps from their positions in Kadiraweli. These sporadic artillery and mortar attacks intensified, but were repulsed successfully by the security forces. These Tiger attacks reached its peak on Tuesday (31) and on Wednesday (01)," the Media Center for National Security said two weeks back. The Tigers said they feared a fresh offensive by the military into their areas from the newly captured Sampur.

More tension built up

The SLMM too voiced its concern of the buildup of tension and troops along the forward defence lines. "An air strike was conducted in Vakarai. About 35,000 IDPs in Vakarai area are directly affected by these attacks. Shelling continues every night and morning and also during the daytime, making it very difficult for NGOs and SLMM to enter the area. SLMM had to cancel a trip up there once this week, and both ICRC and UN have cancelled their convoys to the area on numerous occasions over the last few days," the monitors said in the their weekly report for November 6.

In fact, the military said that they could not allow supply convoys through Mankerni, due to Tiger shelling. No convoys had been allowed through, between October 30 and November 6, due to security fears.

The military has said that the air strikes were carried out to preempt any attack by the Tigers. It was following this build up that on November 8 artillery and multi barrel shells landed in a refugee camp in Kathiraveli, north of Vaharai, where refugees who had fled the fighting in Sampur, Muttur in early August had languished.

The SLMM, which visited the area, said that there was no indication of military installations in the area and civilians had vouched for that as well. The Tigers called it an unprovoked attack on the civilians. "Today's mindless killing (on November 8) by shelling directly into a school turned refugee camp, housing 1000 people, only the Sri Lankan military can have the audacity to then claim that they were only retaliating to LTTE fire," they said.

The military said that it had taken all the precautions and accused the Tigers of using the refugees as a human shield.

More firing by the LTTE

"Yesterday around 7.15 a.m. the Tigers directed artillery and mortar fire towards the Mahindapura army camp (located north of Kathiraveli) and the village. According to the Field Commanders, the Mortar Locating Radars (MLRs) were switched on and security forces' observation points located the Tiger gun positions at two kilometers northwest of Kadiraweli jungle area. Vital information received by the MLRs was fed to the field commanders, but they did not retaliate, as they needed confirmation from the radar.

"Ground commanders who positioned observation points in the vicinity gave specific instructions to troops to precisely identify the Tiger gun positions, if they fire again. Two shots, around 11.25 a.m. were fired from the same location, where they earlier fired from in the morning. Troops didn't suffer injuries since they were under cover, expecting the attack. Radars were operational at that time and it confirmed the target position," said field commanders.

According to Field commanders, security forces' artillery guns countered Tiger bombardment, following confirmation from the radar and reconfirmation from the observation points, which were in the vicinity of tiger gun positions.

"Two MBRL salvos and 130 mm artillery guns of the security forces engaged the target. Security forces believe that the LTTE had relocated their gun positions closer to the civilian settlements, which the security forces never expected," the Media Centre for National Security said.

Fresh fighting 

A day after the attack in Kathiraveli, fresh fighting broke out between the Sea Tigers and the navy at sea between Nagar Kovil and Point Pedro. The Tigers said that the naval crafts had moved into areas where the Sea Tigers were engaged in training and the confrontations ensued thereafter.

They said that they destroyed and sank two Dvora crafts P416 and P461 after capturing five sailors and arms from the crafts. The Tigers also said that 25 sailors were killed.

The navy said that the Tigers had tried to attack the ship Green Ocean, with 300 civilians on board traveling to Trincomalee. The MCNS said that eight out of the 16 Sea Tiger boats that had tried to engage the navy were destroyed four nautical miles north east of Point Pedro.

Denials

The Tigers denied that they had tried to attack the ship and said that the Sea Tigers involved in the engagement had said that there was no such ship in sight. The captured sailors and some of the weapons had been put on display at the LTTE political office in Kilinochchi.

On Friday morning  there was another confrontation off the seas of Nilaveli, north of Trincomalee. While civlians on the shore and the Tigers said that a Dvora was sunk, the military said two of the three suicide boats that tried to attack the crafts in the guise of fishing boats were destroyed in the confronation that took place around 5.30am.


Thondaman rattles Mahinda

CWC Leader Arumugam Thondaman is a man with a reputaton, that of a pole-vaulter.

Thondaman is also known to threaten the leader of the government he is representing at an opportune time in order to achieve his goals. He has always emerged the victor on such occasions.

However, Thondaman made a miscalculation during the last presidential election when he decided to back the candidature of UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. Supporters like the JVP and the JHU, who were supporting President Mahinda Rajapakse publicly, said that they did not need Thondaman to win the election. Rajapakse won  and Thondaman was left to eat humble pie and later join the government.

When joining the government, Thondaman presented a list of conditions  one of which was to establish his Ministry at Saumya Bhavan, the building where the CWC headquarters is situated.

Several years ago, Thondaman had taken a loan from a bank against the building and had defaulted  payment. The building was to be acquired by the bank and Thondaman believed that if the government acquired the building to house his ministry, the state could pay his loan and the building could be saved.

The President however agreed to this condition laid down by Thondaman and for the first time in the country's history, a state ministry was established at a party headquarters.

Another condition laid down by Thondaman three months after joining the government was for the allocation of a large sum of money to his ministry. The President agreed to it as well.

Wins demands

Winning all his demands, Thondaman joined the government, but old habits die hard and last week he started to threaten his leader.

Thondaman who was on a tour of Vietnam returned to the island last Monday midnight to find that Vadivel Suresh, a defector from his party, who is a deputy minister in the government was asked to commence several projects in the Nuwara Eliya District.

Vadivel had also written to Basil Rajapakse complaining that nothing was happening in the Nation-Building Ministry after Thondaman took over and that the MPs in the respective areas were not even consulted.

Following the receipt of this letter, Basil forwarded it to the President who in turn asked Secretary Lalith Weeratunga to take follow up action.

This Weeratunge did and told Thondaman to get his act together and work in consultation with the MPs in the respective areas. 

Livid, Thondaman asked his ministry to prepare his letter of resignation and send it to the President wherein it was also said Vadivel's complaint was an insult to Rajapakse since he was the Minister for Nation-building.

Uncontactable

After sending the letter, Thondaman switched off his mobile phone and went to sleep and at around 7 p.m he attended a function at The Library at the Trans Asia Hotel along with several friends.

By then, the media had heard about  the letter, but Thondaman was not contactable. He switched on his phone only at 9 p.m. and calls started to pour in. All the callers asked him about the letter.

"Yes, I sent my letter of resignation. The President has still not honoured several promises given to me. He is trying to take me for a ride. I know how to get Mahinda Rajapakse to me. That is why I sent my letter of resignation," he told his friends.

As expected, Thondaman received a call from the President the following day.

The President requested Thondaman to withdraw his letter of resignation, but he refused stating that there was no need of his Ministry as the Treasury was yet to allocate the promised money for his Ministry.

Win-win situation

The President then responded saying that he had already requested Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga to look into the matter and allocate the money to Thondaman's Ministry.

With the budget round the corner, Thondaman knew when to strike and was preening like a peacock when President Rajapakse caved in.

A few minutes later, Weeratunga called Thondaman. He asked Thondaman to state the amount he needed to be allocated to his ministry.

Weeratunga also asked Thondaman to send another letter withdrawing his letter of resignation.

Realising he had won again, Thondaman sent another letter withdrawing his letter of resignation.

Ranil's victory and how the Greens closed ranks

The UNP working committee meeting was scheduled for 5 p.m on Wednesday at Sirikotha and the two factions arrived with unresolved issues.

Both factions were out to strengthen themselves, but it was apparent Party Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe's faction  was gaining momentum.

Both parties had been allocated specific  times to meet at Sirikotha and it was the Wickremesinghe supporters who entered the headquarters earlier than planned.

A group comprising MPs Johnston Fernando, Lakshman Seneviratne, Tissa Attanayake and A.R.M. Cader arrived at 2 p.m. By 3.30 p.m all working committee members supporting Wickremesinghe were present at Sirikotha.

Over 50 members were cramped inside Attanayake's room and they all discussed  how to protect the party and its leader.

A separate room was used for discussions by those supportive of Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya. The members present there were very few and S. B. Dissanayake continued with his efforts to push for a negotiated settlement to the crisis.

By 5 p.m all parties were once again engaged in a discussion ably facilitated by Joseph Michael Perera.

He said that no one should challenge Attanayake's appointment and that if someone was planning to oppose it, the discussions should be stopped immediately.

Peiris reiterates his stance

G. L. Peiris reiterated his stance and said that his proposals had to be accepted and said that he would participate at the discussions based on that agreement.

Lakshman Seneviratne responding, said  that they were there for discussions and not to accept anyone's proposals.

Peiris and Rajitha Senaratne also had an exchange of words as each tried to outdo the other. With Peiris  not wanting to compromise, the street smart Senaratne had to on one occasion ask Peiris to keep quiet and allow them to sort out the issue.

John Amaratunga observed that if matters could not be resolved, then a vote should be called for at the working committee meeting.

Jayasuriya's faction opposed this  and both parties walked out of the discussion without arriving at a decision.

However, the  parties met once again for a discussion and it was then that they arrived at a decision with Ravi Karunanayake also moving to mediate.

The Jayasuriya faction agreed to Attanayake's appointment and the Wickremesinghe faction agreed to consider the proposals forwarded by the Jayasuriya faction that were consistent with the party constitution.

Several decisions

The party's working committee then met after having arrived at several decisions.

Although not a working committee member, Navin Dissanayake had also arrived at Sirikotha. A lone Navin was seen smoking away at Sirikotha and no one knew the purpose of his visit. A few hours later he made his way out.

Meanwhile, Vajira Abeywardena met with Dissanayake.

"Vajira, will you support the 10 proposals forwarded by me?" Dissanayake asked Abeywardena.

"What madness, I'm against it. Here, this is the leaflet I'm distributing stating that I'm against your proposals; but I don't have any in Sinhala," Abeywardena said.

At the working committee meeting, Wickremesinghe spoke of the party convention and presented several proposals.

No one opposed him.

He then spoke of party reforms and no one spoke up and the meeting ended peacefully.

When Attanayake and Rukman Senanayake came out of the meeting, they were greeted by the lighting of firecrackers.

The unanimous approval at the party's working committee meeting has thus further strengthened Wickremesinghe's powers in the party and the sulking face of Peiris leaving Siri kotha that Wednesday said it all.

The changing tunes of UNP's ginger group

UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, like the feline species, is now known to have nine lives, at least in his political life.

Whenever all hope is lost and Wickremesinghe seems  near the end of his political career, he somehow manages to rise to the top once again. The name Mercurial One might be an apt definition of Wickremesinghe.

This time around, Wickremesinghe  had to face a coup unleashed by the party's deputy leader, Karu Jayasuriya and his loyalists like G. L. Peiris, S.B.Dissanayake, Rajitha Senaratne and Hemakumara Nanayakkara who publicly formed an anti-Wickremesinghe faction.

It was in this backdrop that the party's working committee met for a crucial meeting last Wednesday. All eyes were focused on the meeting as the outcome was expected to be the end of Wickremesinghe's political career.

However, none of that happened. On the contrary, every proposal presented by Wickremesinghe at the meeting was unanimously passed and those agitating against him did not know what finally transpired. They were quite content they had won the day; but Wickremesinghe's smiling face said it all - that he had overcome yet another conspiracy.

The appointments of Rukman Senanayake as the party's chairman and Tissa Attanayake as the general secretary were also approved at the meeting. A committee was also appointed to expedite the party reforms and a secretary was appointed to overlook the work.

Controversial meeting

The much looked forward to  controversial working committee meeting actually lasted only 20 minutes. According to political analysts, the outcome of the meeting had further strengthened Wickremesinghe's stature within the party.

However, the days that led to the meeting were very eventful as various individuals started to broker for bothWickremesinghe and Jayasuriya. It also included many a betrayal.

The two factions within the UNP, amidst the  controversies needed one thing, the immediate resolution of issues before the party  disintegrated.

In order to solve the issues, members from both factions met at John Amaratunga's residence last Sunday.

The UNP proper of Wickremesinghe  was represented by Amaratunga, Attanayake, Lakshman Seneviratne, Joseph Michael Perera and Bodhi Ranasinghe while Jayasuriya's ginger group was represented by Gamini Lokuge, Dharmadasa Banda, P. Dayaratne and Gamini Jayawickrema Perera.

The main intention of the meeting was to form a basis to resolve the conflicts that had arisen in the party after Wickremesinghe did not jump at the offer of accepting portfolios in the Rajapakse government.

At the end of the meeting, the participants decided to meet the following day, Monday, at Dayaratne's residence.

New members

When everyone gathered at Dayaratne's residence, there were three new members to Jayasuriya's faction who were not present the day before - S. B. Dissanayake, G.L. Peiris and Mano Wijeratne.

The main issue to be discussed at the meeting was Attanayake's appointment as the party's general secretary.

Perera observed that the matter should be resolved without hurting the feelings of any party member.

Although representing the Jayasuriya faction, Dissanayake also agreed with Perera and said that the matter should be resolved without undermining the Leader's authority.

He also said that all issues faced by the party should be resolved through discussion and that it should not be taken before court.

"I need to say something about Tissa. There is a story carried by the media that I'm against Tissa's appointment. That is not true. I like Tissa and I have told him that openly. I am not against Tissa's appointment. I said that at Ravi's house. I'm just trying to help someone out here," Dissanayake said.

Dissanayake's statement made everyone present realise his plight.

It was Amaratunga who spoke next. "Are you alone now? Do you understand the reality at least now. Besides, if a party leader cannot appoint his general secretary , then what's the point of his leadership?" he asked Dissanayake.

The two parties then agreed to Attanayake's appointment.

Peiris however, was not satisfied with the outcome of the meeting and said that his proposals needed to be accepted. Peiris was taking a tough line which many of Wickremesinghe's loyalists believed was for the purpose of splitting the party and crossing over to take ministries.

"No lectures please"

Seneviratne responding to Peiris' statement said, "Mr. Professor, we did not come here to accept your proposals or to listen to one of your lectures. We came to discuss all the issues and arrive at a common agreement. Even SB spoke of resolving the issues. So please think before you speak."

By then most of the issues had been resolved, but the two groups decided to meet the same evening at 5 p.m. at Dharmadasa Banda's residence after consulting Wickremesinghe on issues such as the composition of the working committee, the political affairs committee etc.

However, when they met at 5 p.m, things had changed a great deal. Those who agreed to Attanayake's appointment in the morning were once again against it.

Another unexpected guest arrived at the meeting - Rajitha Senaratne.

Senaratne started to speak and Seneviratne stopped him halfway as the members who met for the discussion had previously arrived at a decision not to have Senaratne and Hemakumara Nanayakkara involved in the discussions.

"Rajitha, we have already taken a decision. That is not to allow you to participate at the meeting because you have no end to your speeches and don't pay attention to what others have to say. So we cannot discuss with you," Seneviratne said.

Senaratne was silenced by it.

The Jayasuriya faction however had gone back on their word by this time and once again opposed Attanayake's appointment making an angry Joseph Michael Perera walk out of the meeting saying that he cannot speak with people who did not honour their word.

On his way out, Perera called Dissanayake aside and spoke to him in private.

Peiris could not bear it any longer and said, "We came here to discuss. You two are having a separate discussion. What is the meaning of this SB?"

Peiris inquired from the rest as to what was being discussed between Perera and Dissanayake and the response he received was that he should ask that from Dissanayake.

Vajira campaigns against SB's proposal

Amidst all the chaos, the UNP parliamentary group also met before the crucial working committee meeting.

At the meeting, Party Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe made a long speech on the behaviour of opposition parties at a time of war. All members present listened silently.

At the meeting, UNP MP Vajira Abeywardena decided to list the negative impact the party would have to face if the proposals forwarded by S. B. Dissanayake were adopted.

Abeywardena had printed these out and distributed it amongst all the MPs. He even gave a copy to G. L. Peiris. "Professor, read this well. Please read and try to protect the party," he said.

Following are the contents of the leaflet distributed by Abeywardena:

With regard to UNP's National Organising Secretary, S. B. Dissanayake's letter dated 2006.10.14, addressed to the party's general secretary on several proposals he wished to be taken up at the party's convention.

What will happen if these proposals are adopted?

The main features of the proposals presented by Dissanayake;

1. The appointment of the leader, deputy leader, general secretary, treasurer, administrative secretary, propaganda secretary and seven vice presidents at the party's annual convention.

2. The appointments to be made for a period of one year and the appointment of a new set of office bearers at the next party convention.

3. The appointment of the party leader, deputy leader, chairman, general secretary, treasurer, national organising secretary and the vice president at the forthcoming convention and the rest of the posts to be filled after introducing amendments to the existing constitution.

4. The cancellation of the appointment of Tissa Attanayake to the post of general secretary, which was proposed by the party leader at the working committee meeting.

Negative impacts

Following are the negative impacts that would come out if Dissanayake's proposals are adopted.

1. Disharmony would prevail in the party due to the race for votes.

2. Power hunger and personal issues would come to the forefront.

3. Due to the preferential voting system the party would experience further confrontations amongst its membership.

4. Team spirit would be replaced by distrust.

5. Feeling of insecurity in the party leadership.

6. The party convention would be transformed into a battlefield.

7. Limiting the term of office of the party leadership to just one year would prevent them from adopting long term visions for the party.

8. Due to the quick change of party leaders, people would lose confidence on the pledges made by respective party leaders.

9. Party leaders would not be able to enter into long-term agreements.

10. Even the appointments to board authorities at village level would also have to be made through an election.

11. The party convention would be messed up as several names would be proposed for one appointment.

12. The mess would be further intensified due to the election of office bearers at a venue with  thousands of people.

13. Dissanayake proposing his name for the post of national organising secretary is a bad example for the rest to follow.

The appointment of office bearers through elections was changed by the UNP in 1991 due to the controversies that surrounded the appointment of rural candidates to the provincial council nominations lists, as the candidates were chosen by an election.

Dissanayake has said that he warned the party leader, but he was silent at the party's politburo meeting and the working committee meeting. Is it right for him to oppose the appointment of a village boy to the post of general secretary? It is wrong. Tissa Attanayake who joined politics through the party's United Student's Front, has come up the hard way. So any challenges made against the appointment must be defeated.  

Since these proposals would harm the party's unity and create an air of uncertainty, we have decided to oppose these proposals.

The battle in the UNP also saw Colombo District rivals Milinda Moragoda and Ravi Karunanayake closing ranks and burying the political hatchet.  Following Wednesday's working committee meeting Karunanayake was to invite Moragoda to join other members of the committee for a celebratory dinner at his residence on Thursday.  Photo shows Moragoda and Karunanayake all smiles at the dinner

 

 

Neville and Rajpal on 'clowns and side shows in Geneva'

Following the article titled "Of clowns and side shows in Geneva" published in The Sunday Leader issue of November 5 detailing the goings on during the recent peace talks, two persons whose names transpired in the article - Neville de Silva and Rajpal Abeynaike, have sent us their responses which we publish below:  

A friend of mine in New York drew my attention to the above mentioned column in your paper last Sunday as my name had been mentioned.

I noticed that Daily News Editor Bandula Jayasekera has accused me of lying with regard to what transpired when I met Media Minister Priyadarshana Yapa last January at the request of President Rajapakse. This was in reply to your remarks about Rajpal Abeynaike's removal from The Sunday Observer editorial chair.

While this response would only dignify Jayasekera's pretentions to omniscience (or should I write in an argot comprehensible to him?) I might point out that only three persons were present - the minister, an official who was never introduced to me and I. So if 'everybody knows' the contents of the conversation, as Jayasekera claims, it has to have been conveyed by the minister or the official. Who did he hear it from-the Minister?

Curiously neither of them has denied when I wrote in one of my columns nearly a month ago that I said that if The Sunday Observer is to be made credible and readable I need a fairly free hand to run it. I insist that I said so - and the Minister said they too wanted it to be so - and that I never raised the question of salary, wanting him to come back to me on this fundamental issue.

Now that Sri Lanka is out of the Cricket World Cup in the Caribean Muttiah Muralidtharan would possibly retire earlier. At least we can rest assured that we have an even more vicious spinner than Murali in Jayasekera. Of course he has a suspect action which no amount of prevarication could hide.

Neville de Silva  

It goes without saying that the reasons purportedly adduced by the editor Daily News for my removal as editor Sunday Observer are laughably baseless. I would normally not dignify his comments with any response, but I am compelled to send this clarification for the purposes of record.

If he did utter those sentences quoted last week in your newspaper - his utterances are not just baseless, but are also malicious in the extreme and grossly defamatory.

I reiterate what I have said to other newspapers on this issue, which is that I was asked to resign for only one reason by the Chairman of Lake House, being that I had written an article in The Sunday Observer of October 8 which in his opinion 'was critical of the President.' This position has been reaffirmed by local journalists' unions and international organisations such as the International Federation of Journalists, and Reporters Without Borders.

I dismiss with contempt any other interpretation for my removal. I say categorically and for the record that I have never been 'warned' or upbraided on any matter whatsoever at ANCL and that in any event it's not for a third party to adduce reasons for my removal, as that task is strictly a matter for ANCL (Lake House) management. Anybody can ascertain easily that the absolute piffle that has purportedly been uttered about me (.. .for the first time almost one month after my removal .) is just that - piffle.

Rajpal Abeynaike

How UNP's inner battle ended

The Karu Jayasuriya faction was uncertain about the outcome of the UNP working committee meeting as all signs indicated an imminent defeat for them.

After the final discussion with the  Wickremesinghe group was held at Dharmadasa Banda's residence, the Jayasuriya faction met again that night at the Deputy Leader's residence.

That discussion was to be a  decisive one, but the turnout  was very poor.

This was a clear indication of the imminent defeat the Jayasuriya faction was to experience at the working committee meeting.

Instead of arriving at a decision, everyone present at the discussion ended up listening to the opinions of a few people - Jayasuriya, Rajitha Senaratne , S. B. Dissanayake and a few others. Given the state of confusion, Moragoda left the venue before the liquor started flowing.

Different opinions were put forward by those present at the discussion about a meeting several members had earlier  with the Wickremesinghe group.

Dissanayake said that without the support of a majority of the members in the working committee, they should not proceed with the plan. He said that since they did not have the numbers, they should discuss and solve the issues with the party leader.

Jayasuriya, Peiris and a few others did not agree with Dissanayake. They believed that discussions would not help them in the long run and said that they should push their agenda forward.

G. L. Peiris said that he had even sought legal advise on the issue. He said that he had got legal advise on taking the party to court if their proposals were defeated at the party's working committee meeting.

No agreement

Dissanayake and Senaratne did not agree with the idea of taking the party to court. Dissanayake said that the party should not be taken before court for any reason and added that they ran the risk of earning the wrath of UNP members if they did so.

"The fact the Jayasuriya faction was planning to go before court was made public in the media and we have received the response of many party members. None of the members are in favour of taking the party to court. If that happens they will hate us," Dissanayake said.

However, Jayasuriya and Peiris were adament to take the matter before court.

Jayasuriya and Company also decided that if  Wickremesinghe moved for a vote at the meeting, they would somehow disrupt the proceedings. It was also decided to transport  their loyalists in buses  to  Sirikotha that day.

Dissanayake continued to say that the matter should be resolved through discussion.

While Jayasuriya and Company were hard at work, Wickremesinghe's office at Cambridge Place was also a hive of activity. Vehicles surrounded the place giving the impression of many supporters visiting the Leader the day before the decisive party meeting.

Out of the 87 members of the party's working committee, over 50 members were present at Cambridge Place.

Johnston Fernando, Vajira Abeywardena, Lakshman Seneviratne, Renuka Herath and Sajith Premadasa met the Leader and pledged their support to him.

Bandula Gunewardena, who was silent till then, also asked Wickremesinghe to assign him a task to follow.

All members present said that if any counter proposal was presented at the working committee meeting, Wickremesinghe should call for an open vote.

The discussions ended with everyone present pledging their support to Wickremesinghe.

Wickremesinghe was aware that another discussion was  being held at Jayasuriya's residence at the same time.

Although the numbers were less at the meeting, he wanted to know what exactly was going on at the meeting.

Wickremesinghe cornered three members present at Cambridge Place and said something to them in confidence. The trio then immediately left for the discussion at Jayasuriya's residence.

One member in the trio acted well at Jayasuriya's meeting. He told Jayasuriya not to take Wickremesinghe's powers too lightly.

Apart from the trio, there were only five members at Jayasuriya's residence at the time and a lawyer friend who was there also asked Jayasuriya to resolve  matters through discussion.

A highly perturbed Jayasuriya did not know what to do and the following day, when the working committee was scheduled to meet, matters were still unresolved.

The only difference was that the Wickremesinghe group was getting stronger by the minute.

On Wednesday morning Abeywardena, Johnston Fernando, Earl Gunasekera and Sajith Premadasa met with Wickremesinghe and asked him to go for a vote at the meeting.

"Sir go for a vote without any hesitation. No UNPer approves of Karu's work. There is a two-thirds majority in favour of you. UNPers are angry with them," they said, and made a secret plan.

Even Wickremesinghe was not privy to it. The plan was to air several tape recordings if anyone in the Jayasuriya faction decided to oppose Wickremesinghe at the meeting.

Only a few knew the contents of the tape recordings and they decided to hide them safely.

Another plan was to propose the abolishing of the party's deputy leadership if Wickremesinghe was pushed to a tight spot.

JVP  maps out strategy to take on government

The JVP called a special politburo meeting early last week at its party headquarters to discuss several  issues.

The meeting was also to discuss the progress made at the 10,000 public meetings held during the last two weeks.

First on its agenda was the MoU signed between the SLFP and the UNP.

The Marxists who discussed the negative impact the MoU would have on the JVP and discussed means to overcome the fall out.

Majority of the members said that they should somehow sabotage the MoU signed between the two main parties in the country. It was decided to indirectly support the UNP MPs agitating for ministerial portfolios in the government and help them achieve their goals that would in turn bring about the breakdown of the MoU.

First step to be taken in this regard was to withdraw the party's opposition against the granting of a ministerial portfolio to G. L. Peiris. The members decided to communicate to the President the party's revised stance on the matter.

Scamper for ministerial portfolios

The JVPers decided that pushing UNP MPs to get ministerial portfolios would indeed bring about the breakdown of the MoU. However, in case the initial plan does not work out, the Marxists also decided to then garner the support of several MPs from within the SLFP and the UNP who are against President Mahinda Rajapakse and UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to create an unhealthy environment for the MoU to be implemented.

The next issue to be discussed at the meeting was the protest campaign launched by the JVP against the President and the government.

A special committee was appointed at the meeting to dig up more issues against the President and the government to be included in the party's protest campaign.

It was also decided to gradually expose corrupt activities that take place within the government and by high ranking officials at the Presidential Secretariat.

Propaganda campaign

Another propaganda campaign is to be launched against the unfulfilled  pledges made by Rajapakse in the Mahinda Chinthana.

The next decision arrived at the meeting was to hold a massive protest campaign by the party's trade union wing against the President's promises that have not been honoured with regard to the public sector employees.

Another protest campaign is to be launched soon after the budget against the rising cost of living.

However, an important decision with regard to the discipline of the party members was also arrived at at this meeting.

That was to strengthen the party's disciplinary committee and to ensure that its members followed the party's code of ethics.

The disciplinary committee was granted the power to sack any member from the party, irrespective of the posts held by the member, if  found guilty of violating the party's code of ethics and has brought disrepute to the party in any way.

On that score the JVP is about to see the break out of a massive scandal in the coming weeks which will  by comparison make the Battaramulla brothel drama seem like a tea party. So watch out!


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