The unfair attack on Allan Rock
By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
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The unfair attack on Allan Rock
By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Allan Rock, former Canadian cabinet minister and envoy to the United Nations, has been at the receiving end of a vicious campaign of vilification in Sri Lanka.
The 'patriotic hawks' are attacking him in parliament and from political platforms. In typical Lankan style his effigy is being taken out in procession and burnt. One was seen hanging from a tree in front of a UN office in Colombo.Everybody who is somebody in the Sinhala
far right love to hate him.
The crimsonian national socialists and saffron clad ethno - fascists are systematically demonising him.
White Tiger target
Charging the suddha or white man of conspiring to harm Sri Lanka and help the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is nothing new. Norwegian Special Peace Envoy Erik Solheim who is now a cabinet minister was and still remains the favourite vellaip puli (white Tiger target).
If Solheim's fault was trying to facilitate a peaceful negotiated settlement the daggers are drawn against, Allan Rock for a different reason. The 59-year-old lawyer undertook a special mission for the UN to investigate the condition of children in an armed conflict situation. Rock held a press conference
prior to his departure and placed the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL), Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the LTTE breakaway Karuna faction known as Tamil Makkal Viduthalaip Puligal (TMVP) in the dock.
The UN mission's initial findings revealed that the LTTE has not complied with its commitments to stop child recruitment and to release all children within its ranks. The mission also found that the Karuna faction, a group that broke away from the LTTE, is continuing to abduct and forcibly recruit children
in government-controlled areas in eastern Sri Lanka.
Furthermore, the mission found disturbing but credible evidence that certain elements of the government security forces are supporting and sometimes participating in those abductions.
Rock, who spent 10 days in Sri Lanka from November 8 to 14, stated that he will be submitting his final report to the UN Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict in January next year. Rock had visited Sri Lanka in the capacity of Special Adviser to the SRSG or Special Representative of
the UN Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC).
In recent times the UN has been taking up the question of child soldiers very seriously. Acting on the recommendation of the SRSG, strictures have been issued and even sanctions implemented against offending parties.
The issue of the LTTE conscripting minors was nothing new and it was well-known that the Tigers would be criticised. It was also common knowledge that the Karuna faction was also forcibly recruiting children and that sections of the armed forces were aiding and abetting some cases.
But when Rock wearing the stamp of UN legitimate credibility came out openly with the charge that security forces were allegedly guilty of helping Karuna faction conscription, the media went to town.
The LTTE was forgotten in the media frenzywith focus on the government's role in conscription. The excreta really collided with the oscillator. The armed forces took umbrage over the charges being leveled. The government found itself in a precarious situation and was forced to defend itself and the armed
Instead of responding to the UN charges in a responsible manner and conducting an open inquiry into the allegations, the government sought to place the onus on Rock. It wanted him to supply the evidence to conduct an inquiry. The government could have unilaterally utilised the opportunity to prove its bona
fides if it was really innocent. That it did not do so was by itself significant.
Government green light
The government itself gave the green light in tacitly declaring open season on Rock. Defence Spokesperson Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told The Morning Leader that President Mahinda Rajapakse had initiated an inquiry through the Foreign Ministry to ascertain whether Rock exceeded his mandate by accusing
"The President has instructed the Foreign Ministry to inform all relevant authorities for a strong explanation into Rock's statement. The President has also called for an immediate inquiry into the allegations. However, such a serious statement accusing the government, was totally beyond Rock's
mandate," Minister Rambukwella said.
Minister Rambukwella also criticised Rock by saying that if the UN official could make such a statement within hours of visiting the affected areas, then the government would willingly hand over the Raviraj investigation to the UN, rather than calling the Scotland Yard.
"If Rock is such an expert who could make these comments within hours of visiting the northeast, then he could solve the Raviraj assassination within days. We do not need the Scotland Yard then," Rambukwella said.
Raking up muck
As the campaign against Rock gathered steam, efforts were underway as usual to rake up muck against him. His Canadian political career was scrutinised. Either through ill-informed error or deliberate design, Rock was depicted as an LTTE supporter. He had been a liberal party MP and minister. The Canadian
Liberals were accused of being soft on the LTTE. Rock was accused of being one too. There was a mad rush to accuse Rock of having attended a controversial fund-raiser dinner for the LTTE.
The facts however do not bear out the charges against Rock in this respect. The dinner in question was organised by the now defunct LTTE front, the Federation of Associations of Canadian Tamils (FACT). The only two Liberal party MPs who attended it were Paul Martin and Maria Minna. Rock was nowhere near
There is also no record of him having ever attended a pro-Tiger meeting or demonstration in Canada. In fact Rock was justice minister when Suresh Manickavasagam, the alleged head of the LTTE in Canada, was issued a national security certificate in 1995.
There is also no known evidence of Rock having played a part in the Liberal Party decision to put a proposed LTTE proscription on hold in Canada. In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attack on the New York twin towers there was an upsurge of anti-terrorism feelings in the West. Canada passed a harsh
Anti Terrorism Law known as C-36 and began banning foreign terrorist organisations on a staggered basis.
When South Asia's turn came, only five organisations (two Sikh and two Kashmiri) were proscribed. The LTTE was let off the hook. The reason for this was that the LTTE was engaged in a peace process with the government. It was felt that an early proscription could affect the process.
Canada is home to the largest Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora. Later when the Conservatives under Stephen Harper - described as being a George Bush sycophant - came to power the LTTE was banned.
Accusations are being made now that Rock was responsible for the Liberals soft-pedaling the LTTE proscription. Again the facts are contrary. Media reports of the time indicated that it was then Foreign Minister Bill Graham who pressed for a freeze on the proposed ban. The entire cabinet was reportedly
guided by Graham on this as he was easily the most knowledgeable minister on Sri Lanka. He was also foreign minister.
In fairness to Graham the decision to put the Tiger ban on hold was a sound one at that time. It must be noted however that the Liberal government "barred" many people suspected of links to the LTTE (including MPs) from entering Canada though the LTTE was not banned.
Interestingly enough Paul Martin as prime minister visited Sri Lanka after the tsunami. Bill Graham visited Sri Lanka as foreign minister. Maria Minna who lost her ministerial portfolio for reasons unconnected with Sri Lanka has also visited Sri Lanka twice in her capacity as head of the Canada-Sri Lanka
Committee in the House of Commons. She led a trade delegation and a parliamentary delegation. She also visited Kilinochchi.
The very same patriotic hawks screaming out for Rock's blood were docile kittens when all these trips by these Canadian MPs took place. I am certainly not saying that demonstrations should have been held against them. I am only pointing out the irony of demonstrations protesting Rock being held now whereas
those personalities made trips to Sri Lanka without any problem.
Though Rock has clean hands vis-…-vis the LTTE, he is being tarnished as a Tiger supporter while others were exempt. This shows that the Tiger stick is only a convenient device used when suited and really carries no conviction.
Rock is being demonised and vilified not because of any real or imaginary Tiger link. His 'offence' in the eyes of the patriotic hawks is that of bringing disrepute to the armed forces through his disclosures. No effort is being made to ascertain the merits or otherwise of these charges. Rock is being
beaten with the Tiger stick unjustly and unfairly.
Rock was born in 1947 and raised in Ottawa, Canada's capital. He practised law in Toronto for about 20 years. After entering politics he served for many years in former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien's cabinet. Rock has been justice minister and attorney general, health minister and industries
minister during different periods under Chretien. When Chretien was retiring, Rock too announced his candidacy in the inner-party race to replace the outgoing PM.
Rock changed his mind and opted out of the race. He also decided not to contest elections again after being MP for 10 years. He was then appointed as Canada's ambassador to the UN and went to New York in early 2004.After the Conservatives took office, Rock tendered his resignation in February this year. He
was asked by Prime Minister Harper to remain in office until June 30 this year.
After winding up his UN career in New York , Allan Rock had reportedly decided to relocate to Windsor City bordering Detroit river instead of Ottawa or Toronto. His intention apparently is to practice law with an old friend, Harvey Strosberg. Rock's lawyer wife Debora Hanscombe has already joined
Strosberg's firm, it is said. Rock is widely tipped to head the Windsor University soon.
Meanwhile he is ready, able and willing to undertake special assignments like the one he did in Sri Lanka for the UN. Rock excels at mediation and arbitration. One of his final acts as ambassador was being instrumental in negotiating a peace treaty between the Sudanese government and the main rebel group
During his UN stint as Canada's Envoy, Rock worked extensively on human rights issues and was actively involved in the establishment of the UN Human Rights Council and the Peace-building Commission. Peace and Human rights have been his passion from his youth.
While an undergraduate in 1970 he was host in Ottawa to John Lennon of the Beatles just after the famous Montreal 'bed in.' Rock also served as chair of the Group of Friends of the Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.
It was this which led to his Sri Lanka assignment. The UN Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict is Radhika Coomaraswamy, a Sri Lankan national herself. It is usual procedure in the UN for an official to refrain from getting directly involved in matters concerning his or her native country.
Since Sri Lanka was way up on the radar on the question of children in armed conflict, a fact-finding mission had to be sent. Coomaraswamy's choice of Rock as her special adviser on Sri Lanka was widely hailed.
The choice of Rock was duly conveyed to Colombo through the Lankan mission to the UN. There was no objection. Coomaraswamy also met President Mahinda Rajapakse when he was in New York for the General Assembly meeting. He was very receptive to the idea of Rock being sent on a UN mission to Sri Lanka. In
fairness to Rajapakse, the Sri Lankan President did provide required access and assistance to Ambassador Rock while in Sri Lanka.
Rock met Rajapakse and told him of his findings. He also told him of his impending press conference. It is usual practice for UN representatives on such missions to hold a press conference prior to their departure. Transparency and openness is the reason. The report will be sent directly to the UN. Copies
would be provided to all parties concerned in the report.
Rajapakse reportedly told Rock that action would be initiated if the charges were found to be true. Yet with the defence establishment and the ultra-right reacting harshly, the President's office too issued a convoluted press release. The UN coming out with a report indicting the Rajapakse regime of
complicity in child soldier conscription is politically damning for the government. Hence the orchestrated response to Rock.
A man of Rock's background and stature would not rush hastily into making controversial disclosures. According to informed sources in diplomatic and human rights circles, the man had been preparing his brief earnestly. He had spent weeks prior to his Sri Lankan trip meeting knowledgeable people and reading
material on the issue. He was also in possession of information gathered by reputed NGOs and HR agencies.
Above all he directly met family members of victims and in some cases a few escaped conscripts. The Sri Lankan government has asked for proof. According to informed sources Rock has incontrovertible evidence in the form of sworn affidavits numbering over 50.
By all accounts Rock may send that 'evidence' to the government after 'sanitising' them. Given the tyranny of the Karuna faction and aligned security personnel people suspected of having provided information to Rock, they will certainly be victimised. So names. dates, places, etc., will have to be
Furthermore, other agencies and institutions too have backed up Rock's findings. The University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) issued a special report on June 7, which has details of Karuna faction conscription and security forces complicity. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) endorsed Rock's
statement. UNICEF has issued a statement confirming it.
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) too has issued a preliminary statement on child conscription which tallies with Rock. The HRW final report will be out early January.
Given the overwhelming evidence about conscriptions and state complicity there seems to be no way in which the government can deny the charges. Yet there is a stubborn defiance and tendency to shoot the messenger.
Rock is no stranger to controversy having been the eye of many a storm as cabinet minister. It does seem unfair however for the man to be slandered so badly when he does not deserve to be attacked or seem to be at fault.
The final report to be submitted by Rock to the UN Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict will no doubt seal the lips of most critics. The government will lose face internationally. The only way out is to exit the state of denial and do effective damage control.
Bashing Rock may seem an easy way out for an insular political and military class and their acolytes. In the final analysis this will turn counter-productive. Those who knock their heads against a rock will bleed but the rock will stand firm.
A country at cross roads
Blood shed reaches Defense Secretary Secretary Gothabaya Rajapakse
By Amantha Perera
Sri Lanka faces a monumental task of getting itself out of a very serious rot that has set in during the last 12 months. Within that year more 3500 have died in violence that appear to be on the rise once again.
"The hardliners are in the ascendancy on both sides. Until a way is found of altering political attitudes on both sides, the conflict is likely only to worsen," the International Crisis Group said the day after LTTE leader Vellupilai Prabhakaran delivered his Heroes' Day Speech with the grim
warning that the almost five year old ceasefire was defunct.
As the country braced itself for the nasty predicament, observers poured into the speech, attempting to decipher the message. LTTE middle rungers in Kilinochchi said that the Tigers had not pulled out of the ceasefire but that it was at risk. They told The Sunday Leader that the A9 was the crucial issue,
its continuing closure would prompt the Tigers to pull out.
It seems the message of the Tiger leader had been garbled in the interpretation, what Prabhakaran meant was that the government had broken the ceasefire and thus the ceasefire was defunct. According two LTTE spokesperson S Pulidevan and Rasiah Illantharoyan the LTTE leader had clearly laid it out in the
Tamil text, the government had conducted the last rites on the CFA.
What lay next was clear four days after the speech, when the dreaded suicide bomber stuck again. This time it was at Greenpath when the convoy carrying Defence secretary Gothabaya Rajapakse was hit by a suicide cadre in a three wheeler. The Defence Secretary escaped unscathed. He drove straight to Temple
Trees immediately after the attack and was greeted by a relieved President Mahinda Rajapakse.
President Rajapakse had immediately inquired after his brother when he heard the loud noise of the blast. The Defence Secretary was heading for the Security Council meeting when the attack took place.
Last week was the lowest ebb, what had started off an year ago with skirmishes and the occasional grenade attack has blown out to pre-2002 days.
Ironically it was exactly an year before the failed attempt on the Defence Secretary that the bloodshed began. On December 1, 2005, two Tamils heavily involved in organizing pro-LTTE events in Jaffna were killed. On December 4 and 6, 16 soldiers were killed in claymore attacks. On December 22 and 23 16
sailors were killed.
The list thereafter is littered with attacks, confrontations and bloodshed.
"A new twin-track process emerged, in which a more hard-line military strategy mixed uncomfortably with a political strategy attempting to build a southern alliance, develop a
consensus around a political settlement and renew peace talks. But the political strategy seemed for the most part to be subordinate to the new military strategists, who were apparently convinced that a harsh counter-terrorist campaign, combined with aerial supremacy and conventional ground forces, could
seriously weaken the LTTE," ICG said of the government strategy.
The Tigers fueled the fire, "The LTTE seemed intent on provoking the military into resuming the war. The army, which had been forced to show restraint in the face of LTTE provocations over the past three years, began to respond, often brutally. On December 25,
2005 unknown assassins - presumed to be linked to the state - killed Joseph Parajasingham, a parliamentarian from the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance in a church in Batticaloa. This was followed in January 2006 by the killings of five Tamil students on the beach in Trincomalee. A new round of extrajudicial killings had begun. This low-intensity conflict, in which
paramilitary forces, soldiers in civilian
clothing and sometimes simply criminals are involved, has continued throughout the year. Its characteristics are the brutality of mutual killings, the frequency with which civilians with little apparent connection to the conflict are targeted and the routine failure of any investigations."
After a year of bloodshed the civilians have paid dearly, over a million are depending on depleted supply lines to Jaffna. Approximately 200,000 still remain as refugees, of that more than 30,000 in Vaharai received food only last week after a three week absence.
The peace talks were destined to fail according to ICG report. Both sides showed reluctance to head into substantive issues and as the situation deteriorated, the truce itself became limited to paper. The ICG said that it was now upto the international community
to salvage the situation. Ironically, the same report admitted that Sri Lanka lacks the geo-political power to attract international interest.
"The international community has a key role to play in restraining both sides and pushing for serious discussion of a political settlement. However, rather than engendering a new level of engagement, the resumed fighting has led to frustration, with some donors and key players more reluctant to become
involved. Sri Lanka more than ever before needs international engagement that is critical and sustained, focusing above all on immediate human rights and humanitarian concerns but with a longer-term political view that seeks to renew a peace process taking into account the full complexity of the conflict."
Sri Lanka facing the music in UN fora
Sri Lanka's human rights record is under scrutiny in two UN fora currently in session. The UN Human Rights Council resumed its sittings in Geneva last week and human rights abuses here kept popping up in the discussions. The government for the time being has been successful in staving off a proposal by the
European Union till March, but those advocating for interntional participation in monitoring the abuses here kept the pressure up.
The UN Security Council's Working Committee on Children in Armed conflict also was in session in New York and Sri Lanka was among the countries listed for discussion. "Six country reports are to be examined in 2006 by the Security Council Working Group
namely Burundi, Cote D'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Sri Lanka and Nepal. For the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan, recommendations of concrete actions the Security Council can take to protect children have already been made to the Council," the Council said on the session that commenced on November 28 and would end on December 7.
However, the much-awaited report of Special Advisor to the UN General Secretary's Special
Rapporteur for Children in Armed Conflict Allan Rock is unlikely to be presented to the ongoing sessions. Rock's conclusion at the end of the 10-day trip early last month have opened up can of worms that the government and its allies are trying their best to close up as fast as possible.
UN sources indicated that report was likely to be forwarded to Special Rapportteur Radhika Coomaraswamy in December and thereafter to the working group in January. In the report that has been presented to the on going session, there is no mention on complicity of government troops in recruiting underage
children. Rock made the allegation just before departing Colombo and the government has reacted by seeking evidence from the UN. UN sources said that the Colombo office was yet to receive any communication from New York on whether there would a be response to the government before the Rock report is handed in.
Given the attention on the child recruitment and especially Rock's visit, the sessions and their conclusions are likely to set the tone for the near future. "The recommendations of the Security Council Working Group and the follow up action of the parties concerned are crucial," the Council said.
The government has tried to stem the rising tide of criticism on the human rights record by establishing the Special Presidential Commission with interntional observers. The setting up of the Commission, that would investigate 16 cases has been welcomed.
"I am pleased to note that fruitful corporation between the Government (of Sri Lanka) and my office with regard to the initiative and welcome the incorporation of the majority of High Commissioner's suggestions into the terms of reference. I hope the Commission of Inquiry will prove effective in
bringing the perpetrators of serious human rights violations to justice," UN Human Rights Commissioner Louis Arbour said at the opening of the sessions. The comments were given wide publicity in the government media here.
But the other side of the story is that while welcoming the commission, Arbour and others have voiced concerns on its limitations and more importantly have not gone silent on calls for interntional human rights monitors.
"There is an urgent need for the international community to monitor the unfolding human rights situation as these are not merely ceasefire violations but grave breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law," she said.
As sessions continued the tone was set. The commission was welcomed but thereafter the criticism flowed.
Vesa Himaanen of the European Union raised issues on the violators behaving with impunity. Interestingly Philip Alston, UN Secretary General's Special Rapportuer on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions had raised the same concern in October when he
remarked - ""The parties feel that they are able to violate human rights and humanitarian law without losing international legitimacy so long as they commit abuses in a manner that permits them maximum deniability. Monitoring could foreclose the strategy of deniability and push the parties to show actual respect rather that simulated respect for human rights."
Sri Lanka's envoy Sarala Fernando to the Commission was left to fend off questions on government complicity in child recruiting, blocking aid and continuing violations. As seen during the past three months she chose the recently set up Commission as her best
And pressure was mounting on the Council to act on Sri Lanka. US based advocacy group Human Rights Watch, that has been on Sri Lanka's case for awhile wrote the Council before sessions got underway urging action.
"Human Rights Watch is writing to urge you to act at the Third Session of the Human Rights Council to help reverse the worsening human rights situation in Sri Lanka. Specifically, we hope that you and other concerned states will raise Sri Lanka during the session and work with the Sri Lankan
government towards establishing a United Nations human rights monitoring mission in Sri Lanka," it said in the letter.
The Rock comments formed the basis of HRW's call for more assertive action in Sri Lanka. The interntional Commission of Jurists also lent its support for calls for wider interntional participation.
"There is little neutral space left in Sri Lanka. Civilians are suffering the human rights and humanitarian consequences of a deepening conflict and unaccountable armed forces on all sides", said the ICJ.
"The Human Rights Council must not turn away. It can and should play a constructive role in helping to prevent and stop the continuing serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law in Sri Lanka and in helping to tackle systemic impunity", it said and blamed both sides for using
civilians for political gains.
"The humanitarian crisis is being politicised by both sides to the conflict, with little consideration of the rights of the civilian population", said the ICJ.
"Experience around the world has shown that in such acute situations as in Sri Lanka, a professional, impartial and international human rights field presence can play a significant role in helping to protect lives and create a space in which diplomatic initiatives can take shape", said the ICJ.
"We believe discussions should be stepped up with the Sri Lanka Government about how to establish a suitable human rights operation in the country" it said.
The Council will meet again in March and by then the breathing space the government now has might turn into a suffocation box. Only action in the coming months can stave off more interntional scrutiny. - Amantha Perera
Urgent need for international HR monitors - UN
In Sri Lanka conflict has flared up again. In the past six months, the country has descended further into violence with the death toll climbing to include an increasing number of civilians. As the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary killings will
report to this session, scores of extrajudicial and political killings, allegedly committed by Government security forces, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and other armed elements, continued. At present, several cases of killings and disappearances are reported each day in the Jaffna area. Since April 2006, some 240,000 people have been newly displaced from their homes,
in addition to the hundreds of thousands who were forced to flee during earlier stages of the conflict as well as by the tsunami. Restrictions on humanitarian access have been imposed by both sides, worsening the vulnerability of these populations. The LTTE's persisting record of forced military recruitment, including children, is a major concern.
While LTTE abuses continue on a large scale, human rights violations by State security forces, and the failure of the Government to provide the protection of the rule of law to all its citizens also generate serious concerns. The Government's public commitment to
investigate these crimes, including the killings of 17 humanitarian workers of Action Contre la Faim, is welcome. In too many cases, however, investigations have failed to produce results and victims have been denied justice and redress.
There is an urgent need for the international community to monitor the unfolding human rights situation as these are not merely ceasefire violations but grave breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law.
- Louise Arbour, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Tigers say no to 400 food lorries to Jaffna
By Jamila Najmuddin
The Tigers last week rejected a fresh proposal by the government to transport 400 lorries carrying 4000 metric tonnes of food and essential items to the north through the A9.
The proposal which was conveyed to the LTTE last week by the SLMM, saw a dead reaction as the Tigers continued to maintain their hardline stance of not negotiating on any issue than that of opening the A9 permanently.
The proposal to transport the 400 lorries was conveyed to President Mahinda Rajapakse by the Essential Services Commissioner and Department early last week after which it was conveyed to the government Peace Secretariat. The latter had in turn informed the monitors who had conveyed the proposal to the LTTE.
Defence Spokesperson Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told The Sunday Leader that President Rajapakse had also approved to call for international donors and agencies to assist in transporting the lorries to the north and local companies willing to volunteer would also be granted permission. "There are
many international donors who are talking about hunger affecting the civilians in the Peninsula. All these groups can now come forward in assisting the government to pressurise the LTTE and transport the lorries to the Peninsula," Minister Rambukwella said.
The Minister added that the Tigers rejection of the government proposal clearly proved that the LTTE was not concerned about the plight of the civilians and continued to use civilians as human shields. "If they were concerned about the plight of the
civilians they would have let the government move the lorries through the A9," said Minister Rambukwella.
The SLMM which conveyed the government proposal to the LTTE last week said that the monitors would continue to hold discussions with both the government and the LTTE till such time sufficient quantities of food was transported to the starving civilians in the Peninsula.
SLMM Spokesperson Thorfinnur Omarsson told The Sunday Leader they would continue to monitor the situation till such time a solution was reached by both parties. "While the government insists on transporting food convoys only through the A9, the LTTE continues to insist for the A9 to be open permanently. A solution has to be sought soon," Omarsson said.
He added that the SLMM had also met LTTE Political Wing Head S.P. Tamilselvan in Killinochchi earlier last week where the Tiger Political Head had maintained a firm position in maintaining that the A9 would not be open for one off convoys. "If the A9 is open, it should be open for all,"
Tamilselvan had told the monitors during the discussion.
LTTE Spokesperson Daya Master confirmed that the SLMM had verbally conveyed the government proposal to the Tigers. However he said the LTTE had maintained that the A9 should be open for all as they would not grant permission for one off convoys only. "There are half a million people trapped in the
Peninsula prison. We cannot open the A9 only for convoys. What about the civilians then? asked Daya Master.
Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said last week that the government would be willing to open the A9 without conditions if four serious concerns are eased by the LTTE through guarantees from the donor community.
The four proposals according to Minister Rambukwella are that the LTTE should refrain from using civilians as human shields and building bunkers upto the Muhamalai Forward Defence Line, guarantee security to the civilians on the A9, extortion and refrain from training university students to create violence
in the Peninsula. "Only if the Tigers and the co-Chairs give us this guarantee will we open the A9. We get no pleasure in keeping the A9 closed," Minister Rambukwella said.
The Tigers had also rejected a similar proposal by the government to allow a one off convoy of supplies to Jaffna three weeks ago. That proposal came straight from President Rajapakse who said that bad weather hampering sea transport and appeals by civic and humanitarian groups had influenced him to make
The SLMM had come forward to negotiate with the Tigers to reopen the Highway in order to allow the one off convoy through but the Tigers said that they had not heard of any such proposal from the monitors and said they were made aware of the government's intentions
only through the media.
The Tigers also maintained that the government was fooling itself by opening the A9 to transport only one convoy when a larger quantity was needed for the civilians. "We will not open the A9 at any cost, even if we are approached by the UN,' the Tigers said.
However while both the government and the LTTE continue to bicker and remain wilful in their stance, aid agencies warned last week that the humanitarian crisis in the Peninsula had only heightened in the past month. " On one side we have the worsening
situation in Vaharai and on the other side we have starving civilians in Jaffna. It is the civilians who are suffering," aid agencies said.
Meanwhile according to the International Crisis Group (ICG), the closure of the A9 road and the refusal of the LTTE to ensure security for shipping and flights into Jaffna have made life extremely difficult for the 600,000 residents of the Peninsula.
In a report titled Sri Lanka: The Failure of The Peace Process it stated that government shipments of food and fuel remain vulnerable to attack and the vagaries of the monsoon season. "Supplies to LTTE-controlled areas have been limited, as the government has restricted access along key routes. Both
sides are cynically exploiting the situation. The LTTE uses civilians as a fundamental part of its guerrilla strategy; the government seems to be using humanitarian aid to limit supplies to the LTTE and persuade people to move from LTTE positions," the report said.
It added that the LTTE's Jaffna offensive brought a serious worsening of the humanitarian situation as Jaffna was cut off by land and air and became reliant on ships from Trincomalee for food.
"The LTTE refused to guarantee security for shipping or aircraft and tried to force the government to reopen the A9 Highway. The government refused, citing security concerns and the illegal taxation on vehicles collected by the LTTE. The closure of the A9 made access to LTTE controlled areas difficult
for NGOs and international aid organisations," the report said.
The report further said that the government needs to begin a serious hearts and minds campaign among Tamils, but this requires promoting a serious political solution and a new approach to counter terrorism by the military.
"An embittered, impoverished population in the north-east has little power over its destiny in this conflict. Until the government makes a meaningful devolution proposal, the LTTE can argue it is not committed to a political solution," the report said.
Aid reaches Vaharai
By Jamila Najmuddin
More than 30,000 refugees stuck in Vaharai received two weeks worth of supplies last week after a lapse of almost three weeks.
However, even as aid agencies tried to negotiate to get in more convoys, the military and the Tigers traded charges that each side was blocking supplies.
Relief agencies refrained from commenting on who was responsible for the blockade but said that they could only move into Vaharai if security guarantees were forthcoming from both sides. "If one party does not give us the security guarantee we will not go into the area. Security guarantees by both
parties are a must." aid agencies said.
However, as violence continues to surround Vaharai, a glimmer of hope spread amongst the civilians last week as a convoy of 85 trucks reached the Vaharai town. The convoy brought in 250 metric tonnes of food, water and items such as tents, hygiene kits and medicines for distribution to more than 30,000 displaced civilians who have fled the fighting in the northern part of the Batticaloa District. "Many difficulties had to be overcome to organise this convoy but thanks to a meticulous preparation and the security guarantees provided by both parties to the conflict and the active involvement of many people, we finally
succeeded in reaching the thousands of displaced people who are primarily in urgent need of food,"_ Head of the ICRC Delegation in Colombo, Toon Vandenhove said.
Tension between government forces and the Tigers was clear when soon after the convoy returned, the government said that three Tigers had tried to infiltrate government areas with the convoy. The Media Centre for National Security said that one was apprehended and the remaining two had escaped. A radio set
and a list of secret codes too had been recovered, which according to MCNS confirmed the person was a Tiger cadre. However, sources with knowledge of the convoy said that one person who had tried to get into one of the vehicles that was returning had been handed over to the army.
Those who went with the convoy also dismissed fears of severe mining in the area and movement ofLTTE cadres as the convoy travelled through.
However aid agencies said that they were unsure when the next food convoy would be allowed to go into Vaharai and discussions with the government to allow access into the area were ongoing. "Although a convoy of 35 trucks has got in, we are unsure when we can send another convoy. We only hope it will
be soon as there is an urgent need of food in Vaharai,"_ aid agencies said.
The UN and ICRC will also continue to negotiate with the government to get in another convoy this week. "We are hopeful that more convoys would go in and till such time we will continue to negotiate," UN Spokesperson in Colombo, Orla Clinton said.
The UN office in Colombo also reiterated its concern for all displaced persons in the Vaharai area and in particular for the health and nutritional status of children and pregnant women. "We urge the parties to ensure freedom of movement and to facilitate unimpeded and secure access for international
humanitarian actors to this vulnerable population,"_ the UN office in Colombo said.
According to the UNHCR's Global Appeal for 2007: "With serious breaches of a four year old ceasefire, Sri Lanka has descended into conflict, resulting in over 217,000 internally displaced people, an unstable security situation for staff and by September,
more than 15,000 new refugees arriving in the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. UNHCR is reinforcing its response capacity particularly in the north and east, and is appealing for some US$5 million to join the inter emergency response in protection and assistance."
A journalist's agony at the hands of the law makers...
By Ranee Mohamed
The Sunday Leader photo-journalist Asoka Fernando, a Buddhist, a vegetarian, with photography as the sole means of earning a livelihood was mercilessly assaulted allegedly by the Maharagama police on November 28. Fernando's body and limbs bear witness to gross police brutality and the question that is
being asked is, if a journalist is kicked, baton-whacked and boxed this way, then what of the common man who has no ready access to the print and electronic media?
Fernando was on an assignment, poised with his camera waiting for the Fiscal authorities who were scheduled to arrive at the Depanama Anularamaya in Weera Mawatha, of which he was also a committee member. A telephone call from a priest on the previous day alerted him to cover this event, which comes as
'big news' in a country which professes to be an essentially Buddhist nation. Together with him stood Sirasa cameraman Imam.
Root of the issue
The root of the controversy goes back to 17 years when a villager named Atapattu had donated the premises to a temple. Thereafter, Atapattu with the help of the people of the village, had built the temple and brought a respected priest whom he was close to him to live in this temple. Investigations also
revealed that thereafter Atapattu had fallen out with the Buddhist priest and that the priest had left the temple. Thereafter, in the temple lived Buddhist monks who imparted knowledge and education to the youth of the village. They were respected as much as the temple was revered.
But Atapattu seeking legal means had regained ownership of the temple premises and the day Fernando was waiting was the third day of the arrival of the Fiscal authorities to evict the Buddhist priests. "I learnt that the temple was to be bull-dozed and razed to the ground and early morning on November
28, I went there. There were about 400 people at the temple. The Sirasa cameraman received an urgent telephone call and had to leave, but he managed to get some shots of the crowd. He told me that he would be back and left," said Fernando.
Police storm premises
Very soon, the villagers saw a police team of about 250 to 300 in uniform storm their way to the temple premises. "As they reached the temple premises and towards the crowd, one officer said 'let us do this calmly, the ASP of Nugegoda also will be coming,'" said Fernando.
But when the ASP of Nugegoda arrived, things changed. "The ASP said that it was a court order and whoever went against the court order had to be dealt with. Then the Fiscal officers came in with the police. I was atop the bana maduwa. What was happening was indeed big news. The police officers were
hitting out at the people, kicking them and shoving them violently aside. Everyone was mercilessly beaten, including Buddhist monks who tried to block their path," he said.
"Just as I was filming, the ASP saw me and gestured not to take photos. I saw that the police officers were getting ready to break the padlock of the temple and I went towards them to take the exclusive photographs. The ASP saw me again and asked me not to take photographs. I showed him my media
accreditation card and was shocked when he snatched it and ordered his officers to grab my camera. He was surrounded by his men in uniform and they surrounded me on his orders and grabed my camera. Then the OIC of the Maharagama Police and OIC Crimes Soysa hit me in a way that I have never been beaten before," said Fernando who had earlier been assaulted in 1997 during the coverage of a protest involving the
demand to abolish the executive presidency. There too Fernando was assaulted and his camera wrecked.
But this encounter with the police in the temple was sans all compassion, as police brutality in its worst form arose under the bo tree. "Then IP Piyadarshana, IP Ekanayake, and another policeman called Ramesh said 'mey inney moo thamai ona miniha' and they started kicking me with their heavy shoes
and hitting my head, face neck and the side of my spine. The force of all these blows threw me to the ground. But they did not leave me alone, bending forward they baton charged me as I tried to cover my face with my injured arm. Thereafter, they began to pull me along the gravel, the dust rising, the gravel tearing my clothes and my skin," said Fernando in tears.
A frequent visitor to the temple on seeing the violence and the abuse that this honest journalist was being subjected to had shouted, "Don't hit him, he is a journalist," but it had been of no avail. "In desperation, he threw himself over me and covered me and we were both beaten. Thereafter
the Maharagama police took us and put us in a cell," recalled Fernando, speaking about the agony he suffered at the hands of the law makers.
On the morning of November 29, the brutal assault on The Sunday Leader photo journalist was in every newspaper. But Fernando, locked up in the police cell by the Maharagama police, was far away from all news - the news of his assault and the police version of the assault.
"I was shocked to find out from people visiting me that the police were charging me with attempted murder of a Buddhist priest by pouring petrol over him and aiding him to set fire to himself. I also got subtle messages from the police officers and through my visitors that if I were to admit to this,
and did not want an official recording of the case, then I would be released and the whole episode shoved under the carpet," said Fernando.
The bruises were hurting, every bone in his body seemed broken and even his organs seem to be gnawing into him, but Asoka Fernando, being the staunch Buddhist that he is, opted to remain in his cell and clear his name before getting out after accepting the fabricated charge that he had tried to set fire to
a Buddhist priest.
"On that same morning at 11 a.m., I was taken into a room and a policeman told me there was a serious charge against me. He asked me whether I accepted it and I replied in the negative. He wrote down something and took me to the DMO and I showed my injuries. They dragged it all and it at 2 p.m. when
they finished everything, court was almost adjourned," said Fernando.
Lawyers who spoke on behalf of photojournalist Asoka Fernando told court that Fernando was a journalist doing his job at the premises of the temple. Fernando left for the temple premises after recording this assignment in the photographer's assignment book. Fernando is a professional photographer and a
multi-talented photographer who was almost paralysed by police brutality. Today, Fernando is not only bruised, but hurt and sans his Canon digital camera, worth over Rs.170,000 which is in the possession of the Maharagama police.
Fernando has to also sign a book at the Maharagama police on Sundays and Wednesday between 9 a.m. and 12 p. m. He has been prohibited from going near the temple where he has down the years taken part in bodhi poojas and other homages to the Buddha.
Fernando has suffered many misfortunes this year. About a month ago there had been two repeated robberies at his house. "The first time they took our clothes away, the second time they took my handphone, jewellery and few other valuables that I possessed. I made a complaint to the Mahargama police.
When the burglar was caught and he admitted to the robberies, the police did nothing. The burglar offered to take me to the place where he sold my valuables, yet the police were not interested. I do not know what happened to my things and what happened to the burglar either. I brought the acts of omission and commission to the notice of the higher police authorities and ever since they have been angry with me,"
With over 400 people at the temple premises, what Fernando wonders is why only a journalist who was merely doing his duty and the man who tried to save him were kicked, baton charged and dragged through the dust and dirt and arrested, while everyone else remains free? The question is specially directed at
the ASP and OIC of the Maharagama Police, Manoj Rupasinghe.
OIC Manoj Rupasinghe on holiday
When The Sunday Leader telephoned the Maharagama police to get their side of the story, we were told that OIC Manoj Rupasinghe was on leave from work for five days. ASP Liyanarachchi was not available for comment.
Sajin - the Rs. 3616 billion man
Mangala reveals there is no cabinet approval
Advertiser says government making payments
BOI approval obtained in 24 hours
President does not disclose new airline in budget speech
By Sonali Samarasinghe
More shocking evidence of the government's total disregard for public money has come to light with Sajin de Vass Gunawardena's Budget airline Mihin Lanka Ltd. again taking centre stage.
Letter of approval from the BOI
More alarming is that the government has in writing stated to the Board of Investment in their application for BOI approval that there would be a Rs.3616 billion investment for the budget airline.
Given the pledge made by Sajin to get BOI approval within 24 hours, the question arises from where he is going to raise this money. Is it from next year's budget? Is it from some foreign borrowing or is the government going to print money to do so?
Funnily enough President Mahinda Rajapakse under whose authority Sajin de Vass Gunawardena lives and breathes did not think it fit to mention this huge investment in his budget speech of 2007. Not only that he did not deem it fit to mention that the government would be commencing a budget airline even
though he did mention the Weerawila airport project and other aviation details.
This is even more curious as Mihin Lanka has commenced heavy advertising calling for logo designs that would encapsulate the spirit of the Mahinda Chinthana. Whether the spirit of the Chinthana is to bamboozle the people into using public funds for a private airline headed by Mahinda's man Friday is the
question that begs an answer.
Sajin has even erected flags at the airport itself advertising Mihin Lanka which is due to commence operations on independence day February 4, 2007.
However while on October 27 the company was in fact incorporated, no approvals have yet been obtained from the Aviation Authority.
On November 7 Sajin wrote to CAA Director General C. Nimalasiri and sought the Authority's full cooperation for Mihin Lanka Private Limited stating that it was a government owned venture. On Novermber 21 Sajin had a a pre-application meeting with the Civil Aviation Authority.
Nimalasiri told The Sunday Leader Mihin Lanka must make a formal application with all necessary documentation to be considered for a provisional certificate.
However Sajin has conned his way into setting up offices at the BMICH and has already started recruiting personnel and even offering huge salaries and perks.
Approval to operate
Meanwhile earlier on October 12, 2006 Sajin Vass Gunawardena as coordinating secretary to the President personally sent an application to the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka to obtain BOI approval to operate an international and local airline/ cargo service in collaboration with the Secretary Ministry of
Defence, Commander Sri Lanka Air Force and the Secretary Ministry of Finance.
Chairman and Director General BOI Lakshaman Watawala as quickly as the next day that is on October 13 sends Sajin a letter approving the application subject to certain terms and conditions as follows:
A tax holiday for a period of 15 years subject to the following conditions
i) A minimum capital investment of US$ 100 Mn or its rupee equivalent should be invested in the project within a period of two years from the date of signing the agreement.
"However the board has noted that you will be investing a sum of Rs. 3616 Bn as represented in the investment application," Watawala states.
ii) at least 70% of the inocme enterprise should be received in convertible foreign currency.
iii)A statement certified by the auditors of the enterprise should be submitted to the board for the purpose of ascertaining export income indicated in (ii) above. ...
4 (a) The shares of the enterprise may be allotted or transferred to residents or non residents with prior approval of the board.
(5) An annual fee of Sri Lanka rupee equivalent to US$ 2,000 is payable in respect of the enterprise.
However in clause 10 the letter of approval from the BOI states that the enterprise should obtain prior approval from the Civil Aviation Authority, Ministry of Defence and the Airport and Aviation Services (Sri Lanka) Ltd. And it also states that the airline is permitted to operate from Bandaranaike
International airport with the approval of the Airport and Aviation Services.
However both Chairman of the Airport and Aviation Services Tiran Alles and Director Shalitha Wijesundera told The Sunday Leader last week that no approach has been made to them on this matter.
Fraud Bureau investigations
Be that as it may, for Sajin Vass whose only claim to fame is a string of Fraud Bureau investigations, the idea of heading a national budget airline would be particularly thrilling. Last week Minister of Aviation Mangala Samaraweera confirmed in parliament that no cabinet approval has been obtained for the
government owned airline and admitted that neither he nor his Ministry were aware of even who the directors of the company were or whether it had been incorporated.
Responding to a series of questions put to him by UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake last Thursday (November 30), Samaraweera obviously in a face saving exercise said that eventually there was a plan to put forward a cabinet memorandum jointly together with the Ministry of Finance and his own ministry.
On November 28 Karunanayake informed the Secretary General of Parliament he would be bringing an adjournment motion to get an explanation from the Minister of Aviation on the present aviation policy.
"Today the aviation industry is not only turbulent but very competitive and profitability is a big question mark. Sri Lankan airlines was privatised by the People's Alliance administration on March 30, 1998. With that today the 10 year exclusive period is coming to an end on March 30, 2008. The
government has not confirmed the way forward for Sri Lankan airlines.
In the meantime we are informed that a second budget airline in the name of Mihin Lanka has been incorporated. Is this with state funds. If so is this with cabinet approval? If not how has the government expenditure (sic) been expended without cabinet approval. Would the Minister of Aviation please inform
this house on that and aviation policy that is being implemented at this moment."
Advertising and refurbishment
While Sajin Vass has by passed Minister Samaraweera, he has also started to splash money