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17th December, 2006  Volume 13, Issue  23

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

Bala Annai  was the voice of the Tamil Eelam nation

By D.B.S.jeyaraj

Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ideologue Anton Stanislaus Balasingham passed away peacefully in his South London residence at
1. 45 pm (British time) on Thursday, December 14. His loving and devoted Australia
...

More....


More Issues

 > Attanagalla meeting that raised heckles at Temple Trees (....Pot Shots)

 > Communities cry out for safety


Bala Annai  was the voice of the Tamil Eelam nation

LTTE Leader Pirapaharan with Anton  Balasingham

By D.B.S.jeyaraj

Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ideologue Anton Stanislaus Balasingham passed away peacefully in his South London residence at 1. 45 pm (British time) on Thursday, December 14. His loving and devoted Australia - born wife Adele Anne was by his side as the 68 year old Tamil leader breathed his last.

Tiger supremo Velupillai Pirapaharan has honoured Balasingham by bestowing the title "Voice Of The Nation" posthumously on him. His death was not unexpected ever since it was known, the doctors had given him four  to six weeks to live. Balasingham or Bala 'Annai' (elder brother) as he was generally known among Tamils was diagnosed with bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma), a rare and aggressive malignancy of the biliary system. The cancer was in an advanced stage and spread to his liver, lungs, abdomen and bones.

Sick man

Bala Annai was a sick man even before cancer afflicted him. He was suffering from diabetes for 35 years and in the late '90s developed renal disease, for which he underwent a kidney transplant in 1999.

When diagnosed as having cancer Balasingham made the following comment to the media on November 22  this year. "It is an unfortunate personal tragedy. However, when compared to the vast ocean of the collective tragedy faced by my people, my illness is merely a pebble. I am deeply sad that I am crippled by this illness, unable to contribute anything substantial towards the alleviation of the immense suffering and oppression of my people."

LTTE  Chief Velupillai Pirapaharan issued a special statement after Balasingham's death. In that statement Pirapaharan announced that Bala annai had been conferred the "Thesathin Kural" or "Voice Of The Nation" title. Usually the LTTE confers "Naattup Patraalar" (patriot) or 'Maamanithar' (great human) titles on departed civilian supporters. Cadres dying in combat are made 'Maaveerar' or "great heroes." In the case of Balasingham whose 'status' was special in the Tiger hierarchy a new honour has been created.

Praba observed in his statement thus - " I was deeply fond of Bala Annai. In the great family that is our movement he was its eldest son and its guiding star for three decades. That is how I looked up to him. During the time we lived together as one family, I came to realise that he was no ordinary human being. He was strong and unshakable even during the illness that threatened to take his life and the severe pain that illness brought him. The strength of his soul was inspirational. I grieve for him."

Permanent  place

He further observed " Bala Annai has a permanent historic place in the growth and the spread of our movement. He was its elder member, its ideologue, its philosopher and, above all, my best friend who gave me encouragement and energy. He shared my sorrows, my anxieties and my travails. He was with me from the very beginning of our movement, sharing its challenges and hardships. He was the central figure in all our diplomatic efforts."

"Saluting the immeasurable service he rendered to our nation in the political and diplomatic arenas and the efforts by which he put our national freedom movement on the world stage, allowing our nation to stand with dignity, I am proud to bestow the title of 'Voice Of The Nation' on Bala Annai." Said the LTTE chief. He went on to say "Bala Annai has not left us. He will live permanently in our thoughts. "

The life and times of Balasingham is an interesting one. He was a colourful yet controversial figure. He was admired by some and despised by others. This writer's relationship with Balasingham too has had its up's and down's. I have both criticised and praised him depending of course on the issue at hand. There is much to be written about this man and his role in Tamil affairs. I shall however abide by the dictum De mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est (of the dead nothing is to be said except good!) while writing about him at this point of time.

A rationalist and agnostic

Balasingham born in 1938 was a blend of many strands. His father was from the east and mother from the north. His mother was a Christian and father a Hindu. His parents were also of different castes. Though raised as a Catholic Balasingham soon became a rationalist and agnostic. Yet he was deeply moved and inspired by the teachings of Lord Buddha. Balasingham's first wife was a Jaffna Tamil protestant. His second wife was an Australian woman of Anglo - Saxon extraction. He was a British citizen but yearned for his homeland - Tamil Eelam - which he believed was a state in formation.

Balasingham's grandfather was a "saiva kurukkal" (non - Brahmin priest) from Mandur in Batticaloa District. His father was an electrical foreman at the Batticaloa hospital. Bala Annai's mother was from Jaffna town and a former resident of Martins Road. She was a midwife by profession and was working at the Batticaloa hospital when she met. Loved and married Bala Annai's father.

Moved to north

She was later separated and then widowed at an early age. Balasingham along with mother and elder sister moved to the north as a child. They settled down at Karaveddy in the Vadamaratchy sector. Bala Annai's mother worked as a midwife at the "Ambam clinic" in Karaveddy near the Athulu water tank. They rented out a house near the clinic which belonged to former Palaly Training College Principal , Kandasamy.

In his childhood and early youth Balasingham was known as A.B. Stanislaus. He attended Sacred Heart College in Karaveddy and Nelliaddy Central College (later MMV) in Nelliaddy. Karaveddy - Nelliaddy was a leftist bastion those days. The legendary Pon. Kandiah and many other 'communists' hailed from there. Young Stanny as he was known then  also subscribed to leftist ideologies. Another of his favourite pastimes was to sip tea and play cards at the tea boutique at Nelliaddy junction run by 'Sangunni' who was a Malayalee from India.

Appointed sub- editor

One man who profoundly influenced Stanislaus those days was the doyen of Tamil cartoonists Sivagnanasundaram who ran the reputed magazine Sirithiran later. Cartoonist 'Sundar' as he was known was famous for his "Savari Thambar" strip. He too was from Karaveddy. It was due to Sivagnasundaram's efforts that Stanislaus was appointed sub - editor at the Colombo Tamil newspaper Virakesari in the early '60s.

Stanny stayed in a Grandpass chummery close to the Virakesari during  those days. Former colleagues at the Virakesari speak of him as a man engrossed in reading most of the time. He was not concerned about his appearance and not very particular about clothes. Meals too were not at regular times. At the Virakesari Stanislaus was soon put in charge of foreign news. This entailed translation of Reuters copy and other articles on foreign affairs. Balasingham however was keenly interested in philosophy and psychology. He also dabbled in hypnotism. Ex - colleagues describe him as spiritual but not religious.

Things changed soon as Stanislaus got a job as translator at the British High Commission. There was a transformation in his appearance as he opted for smart clothes now. This was not entirely due to the new job alone. Cupid too had struck. He was enamoured of a beautiful Tamil woman at the British Council adjacent then to the HC. There was a romance . They married .

Higher studies in England

But their happiness was a short - lived test when his first wife became extremely ill requiring advanced treatment abroad. British authorities were very sympathetic and generous . Both were allowed to go to England. Balasingham continued his higher education in England. But his wife's condition deteriorated. She had chronic renal failure, ending with her requiring life sustaining haemodialysis. Balasingham discovered in London that he too had diabetes.

It was a life of hardship and sacrifice then with Balasingham having to work, study and care for his ailing wife. After six years she died. By this time Balasingham had become acquainted with a trained hospital staff nurse who also a 'stranger' in Britain as she was from Australia. A second romance flourished between the young widower Anton and the nurse Adele Anne. They married very simply at the registrar's office in Brixton , South London on September 1, 1978.

MA dissertation

Balasingham's MA dissertation at the South Bank London Polytechnic was on the psychology of marxism. Later he began reading for his PhD on alienation under John Taylor. He never completed his Ph D. But the media generally refer to him as Dr. Balasingham. Why did he not complete his Ph D? Adele says in her book " But the demands of the revolutionary politics of the national liberation struggle of his (Balasingham's) people constantly intervened in his research and teaching. A time came when he was compelled to choose between an academic life and revolutionary politics. He chose the latter for he viewed the cause of his people as just and to serve that cause was meaningful."

Balasingham began dabbling in politics in London. He was essentially a marxist then and identified with progressive causes like anti - apartheid activism. The Tamil Eelam cause was becoming fashionable among Tamil youths and students in London then. Balasingham was initially involved with the Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students (EROS) founder Eliyathamby Ratnasabapathy. Who also passed away on December 12 in London. Bala Annai also interacted with Padmanabha, the EPRLF leader then a student in London.

Bala joins LTTE

It was the Tiger representative in London, Krishnan who enticed Balasingham into the LTTE. The Pirapaharan - Uma Maheswaran clash leading to the LTTE split resulting in the formation of the PLOTE. Initially Balasingham was commissioned to write tracts, leaflets, pamphlets etc. for the LTTE in English and Tamil. Later he did a lot of translation for the Tigers. The Balasinghams  made frequent trips to Tamil Nadu where they met LTTE leaders like Uma and Pirapha.

Balasingham and Pirapha drew close. When the LTTE split occurred Balasingham was requested initially to reconcile the factions. He failed to do so. After the split became permanent Balasingham threw in his lot with Pirapaharan though the Pirapha loyalists were very few when compared to the Uma group. The marxist made the transition into Eelam Tamil nationalism.

The 1983 July anti - Tamil pogrom was a watershed. The Tamil guerillas backed by New Delhi became a visible presence in Tamil Nadu. The Balasinghams relocated to Chennai. "Dr. A. S. Balasingham" became the LTTE's theoretician, chief propagandist and premier spokesperson. The Balasinghams stayed in Pattinapakkam, Thiruvanmiyoor and later at Adaiyar.

Militant groups in background

The Tamil militant groups were kept in the background by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who relied on the TULF for negotiations with Colombo. Rajiv Gandhi changed all that by compelling five Tamil groups including the LTTE to participate in the Thimpu talks in Bhutan in 1985. Sections of the media including the LTTE's own Tamilnet are erroneously stating that Balasingham was at the Thimpu talks. This is incorrect. The LTTE representatives were Lawrence Thilagar and Anton Sivakumar. Balasingham was in constant communication and directed them.

Rajiv Gandhi orders

The refusal of the Tamil militants in toeing New Delhi's new line made Rajiv Gandhi angry. He ordered the removal of Anton Balasingham and S.C. Chandrahasan from India. Balasingham was sent to London. Subsequently Tamil Nadu pressure made Rajiv relent. Balasingham returned to India triumphantly. There was also an assassination attempt on Balasingham's life allegedly masterminded by Sri Lanka intelligence. Former policeman and up country Tamil politician Kandasamy Naidu was arrested on suspicion of planting an explosive device in Balasingham's house.

Balasingham described as Tiger ideologue accompanied Pirapaharan for important meetings in his dual capacity as translator /interpreter and political adviser. He was present with Pirapa at the Bangalore meeting with Rajiv Gandhi in 1986. The year 1987 saw Pirapa moving to Jaffna leaving Bala annai to oversee political work in Chennai. In July Pirapa himself was brought to India by helicopter. Together with Balasingham, Yogi, and Thilagar, Pirapaharan went to New Delhi. Despite the LTTE's refusal  India decided to go ahead with the Indo - Lanka accord.

War erupts in Jaffna

The Balasinghams now went to Jaffna. Balasingham himself was in the Thirunelvely office organising political work. But war erupted soon. Both husband and wife were targets of the Indian army. Adele being a white woman would have been conspicuous in Jaffna. Yet they eluded capture being constantly on the move and staying with different people at different times. There was a time when both lay flat on their faces for hours in a paddy field. At one stage they had to go to the 'toilet' in the dark and in the open. Balasingham would stand guard over his wife. Adele B writes of these experiences vividly in her book The Will To Freedom.

The Balasinghams made their way back to India and from there to Britain. But Balasingham was back in Colombo again for talks with Ranasinghe Premadasa. The Govt - LTTE talks started and Balasingham led the Tiger delegation. An understanding was arrived at and soon the Indian army was forced to withdraw from Sri Lanka. Once the Indians left the Colombo - Jaffna relationship collapsed. War broke out again.

Residents in Jaffna

The Balasinghams were now resident in Jaffna with the greater part of the north being under LTTE control. While Adele Anne helped out with the medical unit and the women's wing Balasingham attended to political matters. The Jaffna media too came under his indirect control. Old acquaintances and friends were entertained well by Balasingham who had a nostalgic yearning for re - living the past. He also wrote extensively . Among these were many metaphysical articles under the pseudonym "Brahma Gnani" for the Velicham journal.

It was during this period that Deputy - Leader Mahathaya was removed from office by Pirapaharan for alleged treason. Potu Amman "interrogated" him and obtained a 'confession. 'Yogi the political wing head was also removed. The LTTE chief wanted to appoint trusted confidant  Sornalingam alias Shankar as political chief. Balasingham had deep differences with Shankar and discouraged Pirapa. Instead of Shankar Balasingham got Suppiah Paramu Tamilselvan as political commissar. Tamilselvan known as Dinesh earlier had been injured in the Pooneryn battle and needed a walking stick.

Advent of Chandrika

The advent of Chandrika Kumaratunga saw peace talks on the horizon again. The team led by Chandrika's Secretary Balapatabendi met the LTTE delegation led by Tamilselvan for talks at Chundikuli. Balasingham himself was in another room monitoring and advising Tamilselvan. A flurry of notes were exchanged between 'visible' Tamilselvan and 'invisible' Balasingham. The game was given away when 'Jimmy' the Balasingham's pet dog emerged from the 'control' room. But the very same Tamilselvan 'grew' with the years and in a later development backstabbed Balasingham. But that's another story.

Once again war broke out in April 1995. Operation Riviresa  saw the LTTE withdrawing from Jaffna peninsula into the northern mainland Wanni. Anton and Adele too re- located. They stayed at Thiruvaiyaaru near Kilinochchi town initially. Later they moved to a house in Puthukudiyiruppu with a large compound of shady trees. It was like blissful retirement for Balasingham. But soon a fresh problem surfaced.

Years of diabetes and an unorthodox life- style had taken their toll. Balasingham was suffering from acute renal afflictions. Medical doctors in the Wanni felt that he had to go abroad for advanced treatment. Otherwise he was a goner they said. LTTE leader Pirapaharan thereafter initiated an uncharacteristic move. He enlisted the services of the ICRC, sections of the Catholic clergy and Norway to make a direct appeal to his arch enemy Chandrika Kumaratunga on humanitarian grounds. She was requested to grant permission for Balasingham to travel abroad through Colombo for medical treatment.

Situation gets worse

Kumaratunga's initial response was positive. The course of events altered drastically after former Foreign Affairs Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was also consulted by Kumaratunga on the issue. While the LTTE awaited a favourable response from Kumaratunga, Balasingham's situation got worse.

Finally, Norway informed the LTTE that the Kumaratunga - Kadirgamar duo had worked out a list of demands titled "significant reciprocal humanitarian gestures" that were to be fulfilled by the LTTE if Balasingham was to be sent abroad with Sri Lankan governmental assistance. These conditions were of a military nature.

It was clear that Kumaratunga was seeking to exploit Balasingham's vulnerability and trying to extract major concessions in return. The Balasinghams told Pirapaharan to reject the demands outright. Balasingham reportedly stated that he was "prepared to die with honour and self-respect rather than acceding to these humiliating demands." Pirapaharan was furious at the demands stipulated by Kumaratunga and Kadirgamar.

Pirapaharan's assurance

Pirapaharan assured Adele Balasingham that he would do everything possible to send Balasingham abroad for medical treatment. A new option was pursued.

Balasingham and wife were taken on January 23, 1999 by a Sea Tiger boat personally captained by Sea Tiger Commander Soosai to a LTTE ship at mid sea. Thereafter, the ship proceeded to Phukhet in Thailand. After recovering from the strenuous journey that itself could have been fatal, Balasingham was admitted to a hospital in Bangkok for examination and treatment. This indicated that an enlarged kidney had to be removed soon.

They moved to Singapore and proceeded to London. After interacting with Norwegian officials, Balasingham relocated to Oslo for surgery and kidney transplant.

Promoting peace process

A young Sri Lankan Tamil in Norway 'Donald' volunteered to donate one. After recuperation and recovery Balasingham plunged in zestfully into promoting the peace process. His first public appearance in London was on December 2 ,1999 , at the Arena in London Docklands of the Maaveerar Naal observances. He represented the LTTE in all discussions with Norway while communicating regularly with Pirapaharan.

The LTTE political adviser established very good relations with Erik Solheim. Balasingham was primarily responsible on the LTTE side for getting the ceasefire adopted. It came into force from February 23, 2002. The ceasefire was very much to the favour of the LTTE and afforded much scope for resolving the national question.

Balasingham then made a triumphant re- entry into the Wanni by travelling on a sea plane from Maldives that landed on the Iranaimadhu tank. He was at Pirapa's side in meetings with the Muslim Congress, Up Country People's Front and Ceylon Workers Congress. Balasingham was also at the press conference where he said that he and the LTTE Chief were of the "same mind " and "spoke with the same voice."

Unforeseen development

An unforeseen development was the Karuna revolt. Once again Balasingham tried hard to patch up the split as he realised the long - term consequences of a north - east divide and an alignment of Karuna with the state. A temporary truce was effected and Karuna was prepared to quit the Country. But the mainstream LTTE adopted a hard - line thereby driving Karuna into the arms of the state. The rest is recent history.

Due to health conditions Balasingham could not stay for prolonged periods in the Wanni but he made occasional visits for consultations. He also led the LTTE delegation at talks with the Government in Thailand, Norway, Germany and Japan. With the LTTE adopting a change of course in the talks Balasingham began adopting a low profile. Deteriorating health also contributed to this state of affairs.

Presidential polls saw Mahinda Rajapakse win mainly due to the LTTE enforced boycott. Yet Balasingham was back  to lead the LTTE again at talks in Geneva early this year. Once again Balasingham obtained a major concession from Colombo when the Government agreed to disarm' paramilitaries'. But the assurance was not honoured. The situation got worse and there is a war going on right now.

Meanwhile Balasingham's condition got worse. He was diagnosed with cancer and given four to six weeks to live. Despite the terminal illness he wrote the "Great Heroes Day" speech for Pirapa this year. That was his swansong. He got worse day by day. Still he met people personally and also talked on the telephone to people. He renewed his friendships and made his peace with those old but estranged friends of his. He waited quietly for Yaman the god of death. On December 14 he died.

Wife sums up

The person most appropriate to sum up Balasingham is none other than his wife. This is what she wrote earlier- " Bala was, when I met him, most things I hoped the man I married would be; mature, wise, mentally strong and most importantly, caring. By wise I did not mean an intellectual and by mentally strong I did not mean 'macho', overbearing or aggressive. I was hoping to meet that exceptional human being who is humble but not weak: who is simple but yet deep; who is assertive but not egoistic; who is confident but not arrogant; who was generous; who is proud but not vain; a person who is not selfish and thoughtless. That was the man I met all those years ago, and I knew Balasingham was for me within a few weeks of our first meeting."

And what better epitaph than what she wrote about her 'new' life in her book " It all began when I married a Tamil man, Anton Balasingham, from the island of Sri Lanka, in 1978. In that union, I married the collective consciousness and history of a people: a man who embodied the Tamil psyche with all its strengths and weaknesses greatness and failings."

 


Attanagalla meeting that raised 
heckles at Temple Trees

That the Bandaranaikes in SLFP and Sri Lankan politics are a breed that cannot be sidelined by anyone has been proven time and again.

Chandrika Kumaratunga and Anura Bandaranaike at Horagolla

No matter how hard anyone tries to push the Bandaranaikes out of the local political scene, it results in them coming out even stronger.

With President Mahinda Rajapakse elected Head of State and then leader of the SLFP, many believed that it was the end of the road for the Bandaranaikes. In fact those close to the Rajapakses made it no secret that the Bandaranaikes would be cast aside from the political arena.

However, just as Rajapakse celebrated one year in office, the Bandaranaikes - Anura Bandaranaike and his sister former President Chandrika Kumaratunga - were once again raising their heads within the SLFP.

Irony

The irony was that the Bandaranaikes were thrust into the limelight once again due to a sense of insecurity felt by the Rajapakse brothers and their loyalists who rather than adopt a policy of live and let live started a campaign of vilification against the founder family of the SLFP using the media and played right into their hands.

Rather than invite the Bandaranaikes to be an integral part of government, a campaign to sideline them started from day one, thereby creating a division within the SLFP from the outset and providing a platform for those members disgruntled with the goings-on in government to turn to.

 And predictably, the campaign intensified following Kumaratunga's interview on men and matters, thereby creating the perception she was still a force to reckon with as far as the Rajapakse family was concerned.

However, until last week, there was no indication of Kumaratunga returning to active politics. In fact Kumaratunga had made it clear she had no intention of doing so despite the reservations entertained by the Rajapakse family.

It is this sense of fear especially in the backdrop of the government's mounting failures in the economic, security and political fronts that prompted President Rajapakse to act hastily following a routine meeting summoned in Attanagalla by Tourism Minister Anura Bandaranaike in his capacity as the president of the SLFP Bala Mandalaya.

The SLFP constitution deems it necessary for the Bala Mandalaya to be convened at least once a year and with Kumaratunga who is secretary of the central organisation not having been in the country for a long period, a meeting had not taken place for a while.

But with her having returned to the country and the Attanagalla organisers and supporters wanting to meet with her, a decision was taken to have a Bala Mandalaya meeting and also for Kumaratunga to host the members for lunch.

Kumaratunga, who usually invited the media to cover her speeches, decided to keep the meeting a closed-door affair because she did not want to be seen as making a political comeback.

But true to form, the powers that be at Temple Trees panicked on hearing of the meeting and launched a media campaign against it, thereby once again not only drawing attention to the Bandaranaikes but also in the process stirring a hornets' nest.

Here are the facts.

The meeting

The party representatives who attended the meeting were welcomed warmly to Horagolla.

When everyone had gathered at Horagolla, Bandaranaike and Kumaratunga entered the hall and the party members stood to greet them.

At the commencement of the meeting, Kumaratunga greeted all the members and gave them the reasons for calling the meeting. She also asked for the party members to put forward proposals to strengthen the party organisation in Attanagalla.

The former President was careful in her choice of words and made no reference to President Rajapakse during her entire speech.

Although several proposals were presented on the reforms to be introduced to the Attanagalla Bala Mandalaya, the meeting took a different turn with the comments made by one member on Rajapakse.

"Madam President, we are finished now. Our SLFP is coming to an end. From last November 19, this Attanagalla electorate, which started the SLFP, has been attacked. These people do not only want to destroy the Bandaranaikes from the SLFP, they also want to erase the Attanagalla electorate from the map. They have started to victimise the senior members in the party in the electorate," he said.

Complaints

"A man who was an UNPer until the last presidential election has now been appointed as a presidential coordinator. He has now become the decision maker in this electorate. Everything in the Attanagalla electorate is done according to his wishes. It is a well-planned move, so much so that after the last Bandaranaike commemoration, the President had tea at this UNPers' house. Is he not trying to send the message that the Bandaranaikes' days in Attanagalla are over?" the member asked.

Another member also posed a question. The question was directed at Kumaratunga.

Unfair treatment

"Madam President, the President won the last presidential election by receiving 28,000 more votes than 50%. He got only 28,000 more votes. The people of Attanagalla got him 20,000 votes of that 28,000. He received only an 8,000 majority from Beliatta. But the people of Attanagalla are not treated properly. Thirty-six persons who were working at the Presidential Secretariat have been sacked and the only two appointed from Attanagalla are UNPers. The cost of living is soaring. SLFP supporters cannot go to the house of any other supporter now. If Attanagalla is like this, imagine the rest of the country? Please send a letter outlining these issues together with Mr. Bandaranaike," he said.

With this comment, those gathered started to bring forth their sentiments. They started to highlight the unfair treatment meted out to them. So emotional were the words exchanged that some started to shout, "Why are you keeping silent, are the Bandaranaikes really over? Are you retiring from politics? Why are you trying to leave us? Madam President, please save the SLFP."

Kumaratunga who stood at that moment said, "Please don't get excited. I have called you here to give you that message. If you look at history, you will see that there have been many attempts to destroy the Bandaranaikes. Some so-called intelligent people even brought laws to parliament to destroy the Bandaranaikes. Were they destroyed? No.

"This party was formed by my father. He was killed. They thought that killing the main Bandaranaike would destroy them. Did it happen? No. My mother Sirimavo Bandaranaike saved the party without letting it whither. When she continued, her civic rights were taken away. They thought they could then destroy the Bandaranaikes and the SLFP. Did it happen? No.

Ready to fight

"My husband was killed before my eyes and my children. Then they were trying to kill me. Then they thought the SLFP and the Bandaranaikes were destroyed. Did it happen? No. Please don't worry. No one can destroy these Bandaranaikes. We won't allow the SLFP that was formed by my father to be destroyed. If someone tries to destroy the SLFP, then I will come to fight on the streets to save it no matter where I am. Be ready to take to the streets with me to fight and protect the SLFP."

Kumaratunga's words were greeted by loud applause.

"You are asking if I have retired from politics. No I haven't. I will inform you in future what I plan to do. Some in the party are saying that I'm going to form a new party. They must be waiting to get rid of us from the SLFP like that. That won't do. I will not leave the SLFP," Kumaratunga said once again, and the hall erupted in applause once more.

"This is not a party for people to destroy the way they want. If they are trying to erase Attanagalla from the map, then it will only be a dream. The SLFP was born in Attanagalla. No one will be allowed to remove it from the map. If anyone tries to do so, then we will see what steps need to be taken. My friends, I usually speak for about 40-50 minutes at these meetings, but I cannot do so today because I fear reprisals more than me for Anura and the people of Attanagalla. They would have to face difficulties.

Dangerous times

"Today the country is facing an uncertain period. The economy, the security situation and the political climate have all deteriorated. There are abductions and disappearances all over the island. Human rights are violated everywhere. If people are not careful then Sinhalese too would disappear. That is the danger in the return of the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

"Bringing back the PTA means we have gone back to the '88-'89 period. Remember the terror that took place then, that was what we made our main platform. We must not turn the clock back because it will affect the SLFP. We cannot let that happen," Kumaratunga said and ended her speech amidst much applause.

Although the meeting ended, the members left with the hope that all was not lost. There were initially about 80 members at the meeting, but by the time it ended there were between 150 and 200 members.

Kumaratunga organised a lunch for all the members. She even posed for a photograph with all the members. Kumaratunga is now in the process of sending copies of the picture to the members.

President calls for Anura's eviction from Visumpaya

President Mahinda Rajapakse was rather restless after hearing of the Attanagalla Bala Mandalaya meeting in the Attanagalla electorate - the Bandaranaike bastion, last week.

The meeting was to have quite a bearing on Rajapakse's future plans. Rajapakse together with his brother Basil put in place a plan to find out the goings-on at Horagolla Walawwa.

Several hours after the meeting ended, Rajapakse and Basil heard of the moving speech made by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga at the meeting. Angered upon hearing the news, Rajapakse decided to teach the Bandaranaikes a lesson.

The lesson was to evict Minister Anura Bandaranaike from his official residence, Visumpaya. Accordingly Rajapakse called his Secretary Lalith Weeratunga and ordered him to immediately call Bandaranaike and direct him to vacate Visumpaya.

Order to vacate Visumpaya

Weeratunga who realised that the President was acting on impulse called him back in a few minutes and said, "Mr. President, why did you take such a decision in a hurry? Isn't it a little bad? I feel that it would be good if you can make a decision after thinking about it. This could have a negative impact on you."

The President, however, told Weeratunga that he would not change his mind. Rajapakse repeated his order to Weeratunga asking him to inform Bandaranaike to immediately vacate Visumpaya.

Weeratunga tried in vain to change the President's mind and finally called Bandaranaike and informed him to vacate Visumpaya as the President needed the place.

Bandaranaike was disturbed by the message as his life was already under threat. It was Bandaranaike who supported the President's proposal to ban the LTTE at the emergency cabinet meeting held following the suicide attack on Defence Secretary and the President's brother Gotabhaya Rajapakse.

The comments made by Bandaranaike at the cabinet meeting were given much coverage in the Sunday newspapers that weekend. Soon after the news reports appeared in the media, Bandaranaike's security informed him of threats to his life. He was advised by his security to avoid attending public events.

Threat

Due to this development, Bandaranaike made a special statement at the next cabinet meeting. He said that the comments made by him at the previous cabinet meeting about the LTTE were leaked to the media by someone and that his life was now under threat.

Bandaranaike also noted that leaking details of cabinet meetings to the media contravened all cabinet traditions. He went on to cast doubts as to the real motives by whoever who revealed to the media comments made by him at the cabinet.

It was in this backdrop that Bandaranaike was informed of the Presidential order for him to vacate his official residence, Visumpaya. Bandaranaike started to receive advice from all corners.

He was advised not to leave Visumpaya at a time his life was under threat and that he should not be deterred by attacks targeted at the Bandaranaikes.

Bandaranaike thereafter called the President's Additional Secretary Gamini Senarath and said that he was not prepared to vacate Visumpaya and said that he did not think that the President would stoop down to such low levels.

Bandaranaike also asked Senarath to inform the President that he was leaving for the US that night. Finally he told the Additional Secretary that the President would now have to forcefully evict him from Visumpaya.

Bandaranaike also pointed out that the widow of former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was in occupation of the official residence for over one year and asked what justification there was to ask him to vacate Visumpaya when he was under threat.

Change in stance

He went on to say that after the election of Rajapakse as President, he offered to vacate Visumpaya but that it was the President who wanted him to stay on.

"I told the President I would vacate Visumpaya but he said it would be safer for me to stay here. He said I was under threat and it was easier to provide security at Visumpaya and for me to stay on. On several other occasions too he told me that the LTTE was following me according to reports received and for me to curtail my movements and to stay at Visumpaya. Now why am I asked to vacate the place within a couple of hours?" Bandaranaike asked.

"Please say I will not be vacating the premises," Bandaranaike added.

Soon after challenging the President in this manner, Bandaranaike left for the US via Singapore.

Through this incident, the battle between the Bandaranaikes and the Rajapakses has once again come to the open with the President increasingly looking like a potty dictator who would even stoop to using the personal security of a cabinet minister as a political tool.

It is this tendency of Rajapakse to act on impulse that has raised questions over his suitability to handle affairs of state at a critical juncture where a cool head is called for, with a case in point being the hasty introduction of new emergency regulations and the reintroduction of the PTA.

Although it appears the Rajapakses are at an advantage since they hold executive power as well as the government, the battle could take a different turn if it is backed by Kumaratunga.

It is nothing new for Kumaratunga to fight and win over the powers that be by fighting on the streets. The question is, will she? At the moment she seems reluctant but if pushed to a corner by the Rajapakse brothers, who knows?

UNP woes continue

The conflicts within the UNP continue with several members pursuing the coup attempt against the party leadership.

Although party loyalists have criticised these moves, the members concerned continue with the agitation against the party leadership.

Apart from agitating against the party leadership, members of the ginger group are now trying to win back the party loyalists who have turned away from them due to their recent actions.

The booklet

Three of the party members decided to send a leaflet to all the party's provincial and pradeshiya sabha members. The leaflet in fact was a little booklet. However, contents of the booklet have made it look more of a confession than anything else.

The booklet has been compiled by S.B. Dissanayake, M.H. Mohomed and Gamini Lokuge. Unable to win their demands, these members have written in detail their plight in the booklet.

The request made through the booklet is that reforms are needed to be made in the party in order to ensure its victory in the future.

The booklet was also received by loyalists of Party Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and their opinion was that sending out a booklet by one side was unfair by the others. They decided to rectify the situation.

"You cannot allow members to send booklets highlighting their opinions and misleading information to others in the party. Over 60% of the reforms highlighted by these people have already been done. You can do 20% more, but not 100% as they have called for. You cannot allow them to dance the way they want," said most members in the party.

Response

Vajira Abeywardena observed that other parliamentarians in the party should send a response to the booklet circulated by Dissanayake and Co.

They have already drawn out a plan in this regard. This would have a direct impact on the party's working committee meeting scheduled for tomorrow (18).

Interesting details behind the booklet sent by Dissanayake, Mohomed and Lokuge are already doing the rounds.

The booklet has actually been compiled by former UNP Minister, Imtiyaz Bakeer Marker. He earlier failed in his attempt to cancel the party's convention by going to courts.

Marker is also the person who proposed the named of Kamil Kuthubdeen, the man behind the great VAT fraud, for the party's executive committee.

It was Lokuge who first signed the booklet compiled by Marker, followed by Mohomed and Dissanayake.

Weerawansa seeks state patronage for political survival

While the SLFP was involved in a power struggle of Rajapakse's own making, coalition partner of the government, the JVP too is involved in a power battle of its own.

The battle in the JVP is between the Wimal Weerawansa group, which is agitating for changes and the Anura Kumara Dissanayake group, which is resisting changes.

The Weerawansa group is now at a disadvantage due to the bad publicity received by Weerawansa. With real details of Weerawansa's character coming to light in the media, he has become so helpless that he has to now depend on government patronage for protests organised by him. Details of how Weerawansa was supported by the government in organising the protest march calling for the ban on the LTTE have now been revealed.

Street fights

With details of him allegedly sexually harassing a young girl also being revealed in the media, Weerawansa's only raison d'etre now is to minimise the damage caused to him through the bad publicity by organising street fights.

For this purpose, Weerawansa sought the help of President Mahinda Rajapakse and his brother Basil Rajapakse. It is for this very purpose that Weerawansa sought government patronage in organising the protest march for the Patriotic National Movement (PNM).

Weerawansa informed the President and Basil that he would be forever grateful for any favour granted at this time. He then requested the President and Basil to create the necessary environment to organise the protest march. The request was to create the necessary environment for the protesters to march to Temple Trees and for an official like the President's Secretary to accept the letter from the protestors.

After some time, Weerawansa also called the heads of several media institutions and asked them to publish the photographs of the protest on the front page.

The faction for the protection of party policies vehemently opposed Weerawansa's move to seek state patronage for the protests and called on the party not to allow its leaders to attend the protest march.

They told the party that the JVP should not be part of Weerawansa's acts, especially if it is to cater to the needs of the President.

Finally, the decision of the faction for the protection of party policies prevailed and the JVP leaders decided not to take part in the protest. Instead, the party decided to withdraw from the All Party Representative Committee (APRC).

Media briefing

The party thereafter held a media briefing with the participation of party heavyweights to inform of its decision to quit the APRC. However, an interesting story surrounds the media briefing itself. That of course revolves around Weerawansa.

Weerawansa decided not to attend the media briefing as a mark of protest against the party's decision not to allow its leaders to participate at the protest march organised by him. Weerawansa also ignored several requests made by the party to change his decision, but that was until he received a stern message from Party Leader Somawansa Amarasinghe.

The message was that if he did not attend the media briefing, he would be stripped of his position in the party as Propaganda Secretary and also be called before the disciplinary committee to inquire into the allegations leveled against him.

Disturbed by the news, Weerawansa informed the party leadership that he is not supported by the party. Amarasinghe observed that before discussing such issues, he should first attend the media briefing organised by the party. This was enough for Weerawansa to change his mind and attend the media briefing.


Communities cry out for safety 

By Jamila Najmuddin

Jaffna's return to a town stricken with terror is complete. Within a year since the murders of two Tamils on December 1, 2005, followed by the deaths of 16 soldiers within the next five days, fear stalks the streets of Jaffna.

Unfortunately the deteriorating trend shows no signs of any improvement with subsequent killings, harassment of civilians and the white van abductions increasing during the year. Growing number of disappearances engender terror among the general community and people are afraid to speak in public about the real situation.

White van abductions

Other areas in the north east have not been spared as well. The increasing white van abductions have not only spread fear amongst the people of Jaffna but in districts such as Ampara, Batticaloa and Trincomalee too, people are afraid to step out of their homes, fearing the sight of a white vehicle.

Civilians say that men with covered, dark faces emerge from inside the vehicle and within seconds drag the victim into the vehicle, never to be seen again.

Despite  government assurances  that law and order was being maintained in the northeast, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka reported recently that there were 61 complaints recorded with regards to missing persons in Jaffna alone during the month of October and the number of complaints recorded during the month of September was 54. In the Ampara District, people are alarmed over the rapid increase of armed groups, especially in the coastal areas, increasing the number of abductions and killings significantly over the last month.

In the month of November alone, 15 children were abducted in Kalmunai. A similar situation prevailed in Karathivu, Alayadivembu, Thirrukovil and Potuvil areas. The movement of a white van abducting children has been noticed by many and parents living in these areas are reluctant to send their children for tuition classes and schools under such circumstances.

Abductions common feature

According to the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA), abductions also continue to be the common feature in the Tamil areas of Ampara. Further, it was reported that an unidentified group had abducted three Sinhala civilians at Hulannuge while they were travelling through a forest area. As a result, Sinhalese people living in the surrounding villages of Hulannuge village live in terror. The CHA says that if the current trend continues, there will be more tension in this multi ethnic district.

"A single armed group will not survive or operate in the district since several armed actors exist in the area. In a recent incident, neither LTTE nor other groups claimed responsibility of distributing expulsion notices to the Muslims. In this context, these groups also blame each other for such conduct," the CHA said in its recent assessment report.  

Education in the northeast has also come to a standstill as parents fear to send their children to schools. "Many white vans roam around in the area. How can we let our children out of our sight in such a situation?" a civilian from Jaffna, K. Nandasamy said. 

Normalcy shattered

Firing and grenade throwing targeting security forces have also become a frequent occurrence in Jaffna and unidentified gunmen and armed groups have completely shattered normalcy in the district compelling civilians to move away from the district. "How can we live in a district where we do not know if our children will return back alive or in a coffin? Who are these people who go about in white vans, abducting us? Where are the security forces when such abductions take place?" Nandasamy cried.

According to the CHA, human rights violations in the districts of the northeast have increased significantly in the past few months and urgent steps need to be taken by both the government and the LTTE to return back to the negotiating tables if law and order is to be maintained.

Meanwhile the closure of the A9 Highway on August 12 has also led to dreadful economic conditions, crippling the living status of the people in the peninsula. The CHA reports that while both parties debate on the road issue by submitting various facts/reasons, people in the district suffer numerous difficulties. "The LTTE turned down the alternative supply route suggested by the government and stated that they oppose the food convoy too. To address the humanitarian issue, the government has sought India's help to rush urgent supplies of food, medicine and other essential consumer items to the Jaffna peninsula where food shortages have led to a humanitarian crisis," the CHA said in a report titled Rapid Peace and Conflict Assessment.

Ban on fishing

Ban on fishing imposed by the security forces across the shores of the peninsula and islets, has driven fisher families into economic difficulties, and forced many families into near starvation. The fishing ban is active in Vadamaratchy shores for the last six months and the ban was extended to the rest of the peninsula after fighting broke out with the LTTE recently.

While there is a need for immediate relief items in the district, food and medicine are essential. According to the CHA, the dry food rations provided by the government are not sufficient for  the entire population. Sources said that some people are selling their valuables to meet their daily needs.

"The authorities should take immediate action to ensure human security in the area. The perpetrators should be brought to justice and the police need to be on alert and take immediate and adequate measures to ensure safety of the civilians. Furthermore, it is vital to ensure the normalcy of life of people with economic stability. The opening of the A9 will largely help the above need, as any other transportation is not a feasible idea in the given context," the CHA said.

Trapped inside war zones

Aid agencies have also said that the trauma of being trapped inside a war zone should be erased from the minds of the people. This can be gained through reducing the presence of the military forces. However the army feels that the military cannot be withdrawn from certain parts of the peninsula unless peace talks begin, which is the need of the hour, the CHA said.

In the Batticaloa District killings and displacements also continue to increase as there is very little human security. The people in many parts of the district live under tragic situations and Batticaloa is increasingly becoming the battle ground as an indirect war prevails in the district in various forms.

Emergency rescue workers in Vakarai say scores of civilians were killed on November 9, around 11.35 a.m. when Sri Lanka Army fired Multi-Barrel Rockets and artillery shells targeting Kathiraveli, a coastal hamlet 15 km north of Vakarai, hit a school where 5000 Internally Displaced People had sought refuge. According to the CHA, 40 dead bodies had been recovered and six babies below six-months were killed,  medical sources said stating that 30 dead bodies had been brought to Vakarai Hospital.

SLMM officials and the ICRC visited the area where more than 120 houses were severely damaged. An area with a 2 km perimeter was indiscriminately bombed. Sixty severely wounded civilians were brought to Valaichenai hospital.

All communication and transportation facilities towards Vakarai had also been cut off and even the small amount of humanitarian supplies reaching the region twice a week, had been blocked. NGOs and the SLMM too had difficulties in reaching these particular areas.

No benefits from talks

"As the Geneva talks did not yield benefits and the 'Heroes Day' speech of the LTTE leader has not given hope for the people, the situation in Batticaloa is becoming  unsteady. The people are moving in large numbers from the LTTE controlled areas to the government-controlled areas seeking protection and livelihood. The uncertainty of life, killings, abductions and the high cost of living are prevailing and could continue in the future too," the CHA said in its report.

According to CHA figures, there are 12,000 Tamil families in Vaharai that comprise of around 38,000 persons - men, women and children. Of these families, around 3,500 families are permanent residents of Vakarai and Kathiravelli, and the other 8,500 families are internally displaced people from the villages in the south, southeast and southwest of the adjoining Trincomalee District.

According to aid agencies, these persons are facing malnutrition, disease and starvation and a grave humanitarian disaster is imminent. "Therefore, the need of the hour is to establish a proper mechanism through the government structures to ensure that food and medicine facilities are provided for those who are in need," the CHA said.

Aid agencies further added that the imminent increase of IDPs and the challenge of welcoming them with hospitality remain without many plans in advance. The resettlement of IDPs needs to be considered as the return is far beyond prediction. The Government Agent's attention is sought in these circumstances, as this particular office could be the best place of operation for the relevant ministries.

Meanwhile in the Ampara District, the recently introduced vehicle pass system had brought about certain difficulties for the commuters/public. A sorry sight of long queue of vehicles, waiting for hours in the street to obtain passes can be observed daily. Consequently, routine activities are affected and private vehicles for hire are experiencing problems as they are often stuck at checkpoints.

Protest against killings

Tamil areas and some Muslims areas also come to a standstill due to 'hartals' organised to protest against the killings of Tamil people in Batticaloa by aerial bombing and the killing of TNA parliamentarian, N. Raviraj. "Such frequent hartals/protests have a negative impact on the people, especially on daily wage earners," the CHA said.

In the Mannar District, the CHA reported that the people in the area have requested for authorities to remove the security checkpoints away from populated areas. Establishing and maintaining checkpoints in highly populated areas generate a negative impact on the public. However the people are yet to receive a positive answer to their request from the authorities.

Mannar has experienced an escalation of violence in the middle of November with increased air traffic. Escalation of violence began with K- fir attacks on LTTE targets by the middle of November. Several aerial bombings had taken place in the sea and LTTE controlled areas, during last month. Casualties remain unknown; however, face-to-face fighting is taking place only in the sea.

In addition, isolated attacks also took place in several locations in the district killing security personnel and civilians. Fighting in the sea causes a direct impact to the fisheries industry, which is the main source of income for the district, the CHA said.

CHA added that public transport system in the LTTE held villages of Mannar has also almost come to a standstill due to the fuel shortage. Further, as said by agricultural sources, farmers in the villages held by the LTTE are unable to plough their fields due to lack of fuel.

Paddy fields affected

"90% of paddy fields will remain uncultivated unless the Sri Lankan Army lifts the ban on transport of petrol and diesel to the LTTE held agricultural villages through Uyilankulam checkpoint. It is also reported that the prices of essential food items and fuel had gone up in the LTTE controlled area owing to limited supply," the CHA said.

In addition to overwhelming existing IDP populations, the district has to put up with the new community that is fleeing for protection from the LTTE areas. It was observed that people in the LTTE controlled areas are willing to come to the government-controlled area. "This can be vividly seen by considering the number of people that pass across the checkpoint. The reasons for this  can be the difficulties they face in these areas due to aerial bombing, lack of food and starvation," the CHA said.

The recent incidents, which took place in the sea, will also lead to further crippling of the fishermen's economy as well as the fisheries industry. Furthermore, a large number of paddy farmers are reluctant to cultivate during this season because of the growing uncertainty in the area.

Immediate relif needed

Immediate relief items are also required for the people in the Mannar District who come from the LTTE controlled area. Besides, the living standards of the people is reduced because of economic hardships, mainly due to security conditions. "The security forces should take immediate actions to ensure normalcy in the day-to-day life of people in the area," the CHA said.

Meanwhile in Trincomalee, with shooting incidents happening too often, tension and fear continue  to envelope the district.

For the last one year, the district experienced rising violence and extreme lack of normalcy and the lapse of security for many, especially for the Tamil people of the district.

According to the CHA, the town shows little life and very little mobility. Many continue to leave the district especially young men and women.

The immediate tendency for many is to flee to Tamil Nadu, the rest move towards other districts. Muttur, Thoppur areas are beginning to show a curiously calm mobility compared to the previous months, although a  sense of insecurity prevails in people's day to day activities. Fear is if they would be banished again from their native places.

The security forces have tightened security measures in many areas of the district especially in the naval base areas. The fishing ban is imposed in the areas surrounding the town, owing to an alleged impending suicide bomb attack of the LTTE, at the naval base, the CHA said.

There was heightened security search operations and stricter vigil of the strategically import  town during the last two weeks.

Aid agencies said that  currently, the most affected group of people are Tamils who were displaced in the aftermath of the August 6 Muttur-Sampur attacks especially from Eechilampattu and who still remain in Trincomalee town unable to return owing to non assurance of safety.

Tension high in Trincomalee

The CHA said that tension is also very likely to prevail and continue at the same level in Trincomalee. "The usual trigger factors remain to be the sporadic attacks on the army or navy targets by allegedly the LTTE and the armed forces' retaliation attacks. Clashes continue to irk the civilians especially around the Mawilaru, Mahindapura areas in and around the military camps," the CHA said.

Aid agencies said that a perennial, crying need of the district is security and return to normalcy. The Sinhalese want to ensure safety and security from the LTTE and the Tamils in general want to be safe in the presence of the armed forces and feel extremely insecure. The Muslims too live in fear of being displaced time and again, either owing to getting caught in the crossfire or as a result of expulsion notices sent out allegedly by the LTTE, aid agencies said.

Confidence needed

Confidence building measures at the community level between the armed forces and the Tamil civilians are a crying need. The Tamil community need to be relieved of living in constant fear. There is also a need for intense inter community confidence building measures that need to be promoted as a long-term measure.

Meanwhile continuous atrocities between government forces and LTTE have led to many hartal's in Vavuniya during the past weeks. Various forms of mortar attacks towards the military and police, the killing of five agricultural students, a Sinhalese businessman and many other attacks on civilians have completely shattered day to day life.

In addition, the economic drawbacks have created many social hazards including the challenges to pursue education and enhancement of mental trauma.

According to CHA, security and safety remain alien to all communities alike with the perpetrators being unidentified and there is continuous pointing of fingers at each other by the LTTE and the military. "People of the area and eyewitnesses hold contradicting views. Though a court ruling has been sent for perpetrators to be brought to justice, question remains for how long. On the contrary the number of abductions carried out by unidentified groups have significantly decreased," the CHA said.

Aid agencies said that further tension and possible increase in violence is foreseen in Vavuniya. If the confidence of the civilians is not regained by the law enforcement agencies, unreliability among the community may continue to be fostered.

Attempts by the international community asking government and LTTE for an immediate cessation of violence have only increased hostilities. The civilians' problems are gone unheard replaced by other political dilemmas of the district.

While perpetrators continue to be brought to justice, the police, and specially the military should be on alert and take immediate and adequate measures to ensure safety of civilians. "Furthermore, it is vital to introduce good military/civilian confidence building measures  to keep the confidence of the different communities in the district. The escalation of violence leaves people helpless and open to traumatic experiences with losses of loved ones," the CHA said.

Religious leaders and other influential civil groups should take up an active role in introducing counseling programmes that help and make a positive lifestyle. This would eliminate the possibility of civilians being immune to atrocities and relate to the  situation as "normal" or "life goes on."


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