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All or nothing for the renegades


 JVP's double take on the 13th Amendment


Somawansa Amarasinghe 
and Rohana Wijeweera

Millions raked through the PCs they oppose

Duty free vehicles taken from councils

Occupies ruling party benches in most PCs

Threatens to topple govt. if PCs given due powers

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti and Ranjith Jayasundera

Groping in the dark, a politically pressurised President Mahinda Rajapakse has suddenly stumbled upon the 13th Amendment, and found it to be the most desirable premise to work on to achieve peace in this country.

Rajapakse, once a staunch detractor of the constitutional amendment has stood his ground despite the move taking both the local and international community by surprise.

Although the 13th Amendment - an offshoot of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord of 1987, has now been reduced to a dusty, orphaned document, it remains the only agreement that binds the LTTE as much as it does the Sri Lankan government to devolve power from the centre.

At the time of its introduction, it was rejected as being flawed by Tamil political parties, the main opposition SLFP and the JVP. Once again, the 13th Amendment has risen from the ashes to the cry of a resounding 'nay' from the Tamil political parties, who refuse to accept it even as a basis for talks.

It is strange however that the JVP too rejects it, having weaseled their way into the provincial councils through the mid 1990s, where they currently bear the fruits of the council's mere existence. The JVP in fact has threatened to topple the government if the President proceeds to implement the 13th Amendment.

Amnesia

President Rajapakse himself appears a victim of amnesia, as it was he who stood under the famous Pettah Bo tree in 1987 to breathe furious epithets and personify the 13th as the 'devil incarnate:' an attempt to separate the motherland and subvert Sri Lanka's sovereignty.

An equal exhibition of sweet irony is that despite holding their role as the chief antagonist of the 13th Amendment, the JVP has chosen to profit from it, possibly illegally, by diverting all the perks and privileges of the provincial councilors to the party infrastructure and then not paying taxes on the income received.

There is a distinctly worrying - though barely cited possibility that the Marxists will go back to their roots, dragging Sri Lanka further down the path of racially divisive and bloody carnage, as they did less than 20 years ago.

Back in the early '90s the SLFP and the JVP were 'partners in crime,' doing everything in their power to scuttle the implementation of the 13th Amendment and the role of the IPKF in eliminating the LTTE. The SLFP as the main opposition party, and the JVP as a Marxist outfit struggling desperately at the time to shed their militant image, ultimately elicited an election promise from President Premadasa to drive out the IPKF and bid the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord good riddance.

The 1988-89 insurrection - produced, directed and enacted by the JVP - had much to do with the Indo Lanka Peace Accord, the 13th Amendment and the establishment of provincial councils.

The protests were vast and ruthless, led by fire-breathing radicals who caused the country to grind to a standstill. President Premadasa suffered the pains of having to steer an ungovernable country in his unenviable post at a time in history when his efforts were being opposed, and those who carried out his orders butchered by the JVP's vicious rebel movement. He caved in and sent the IPKF packing home.

Shivers down the spine

The same hand of the JVP intervenes today, ironically when President Rajapakse is at the helm of affairs, to denounce the 13th Amendment and calling for its rejection once more. The prospect of being on the receiving end of the coups he helped orchestrate against Presidents Jayewardene and Premadasa at the hands of the JVP no doubt sends shivers down the spine of our macho President.

Despite his political differences with President J.R. Jayewardene, the founding leader of the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party (SLMP), Vijaya Kumaratunga too was assassinated for his open support of the UNP engineered provincial council system.

The JVP issued warnings against anyone contesting the provincial polls, and those who advocated power devolution or expressed support for the new system were declared traitors. The PCs, as far as the JVP was concerned was a blatant Indian expansionism operation, and had no place in Sri Lanka.

It is important to recognise that the JVP remained militantly opposed to any form of power sharing at the time and viewed devolution as a derogation of power, putting political theoreticians like Marxism founder Carl Marx to shame with their own 'superior' knowledge.

Killings begin

JVP founder Rohana Wijeweera, whose dream was to create a Marxist state via popular revolution, utilised the 13th Amendment controversy to maximum effect. Seizing the opportunity to cause the administration system of the country to collapse, Wijeweera ditched his earlier support of India to capitalise on the chaos.

When the killings began, the UNP government had to struggle to maintain order in the country. During the two-year JVP insurgency, some 6,577 persons were butchered out of which over 500 were police and armed forces personnel. The vast bulk of those who suffered the wrath of the Red brigade in the south were innocent civilians.

A glance at the box on this page of the JVP's victims will reveal to readers a frightening truth when the calibre and position of those killed is taken into account. Not even the LTTE in its decades long war has managed to rack up such a combined total of southern school principals, doctors, Buddhist monks, politicians, intellectuals and public service officers. Even if the LTTE figures are comparable to those of the JVP, remember that the LTTE have been at it for over 30 years - the JVP accomplished comparable butchery in just under five years.

Slaughtered

The slaughtered Buddhist monks included Ven. Pohaddaramulle Premaloka Thero, Ven. Kotikawatte Saddhatissa Thero, Ven. Wewaltotha Pannadassi Thero, Ven. Thiranagama Ratanasara Thero and Welimada School Principal, Ven. Indrasumana Thero.

Among the UNP legislators brutally wiped out were Keerthi Abeywickrama (Deniyaya), Jinadasa Weerasinghe (Tangalle), G. V. S. de Silva (Habaraduwa), Lionel Jayathileke (Kuliyapitiya), W. M. P. G. Banda (Welagedara), Merrill Kariyawasam (Agalawatte), Daya Sepali Senadhira (Karandeniya) and Lesley Ranagala (Borella).

Two UNP Party Chairmen, Harsha Abeywardene and Nandalal Fernando were also killed in quick succession.

Among politicians representing other parties, the JVP elimination list includes SLMP Leader, Vijaya Kumaratunga, S. B. Yalegama (Matale), Indrapala Abeyweera (Kalutara), Devabandara Senadheera and Hector Jayasinghe (Deraniyagala).

Distinguished scholars put to death by the JVP violence include Vice Chancellor, Colombo University, Prof. Stanley Wijesundera and Prof. Patuwatawithana, their sin being their dedication to make the institution run despite the raging violence outside.

Top police officials assassinated in the line of duty include DIG Terence Perera and DIG Bennet Perera. Public servants were not spared. Pharmaceutical Corporation Chairperson, Gladys Jayawardena was executed by the JVP for importing Indian medicine for sale to the public.

Artistes were not spared either. Veteran broadcaster and pioneer Chairman of ITN, Thevis Guruge, popular broadcaster, Premakeerthi de Alwis, presenter/singer, Sagarika Gomes and several others were given JVP death sentences for reasons best known to them.

The JVP's current leading role on workers' rights and trade unions is almost hysterical. Trade union leaders such as L.W. Panditha, Gamini Medaragedera and several other labour activists were either shot, cut to pieces or burnt alive in the JVP's "revolution."

PCs - manna

Twenty years on, the JVP is well settled into the provincial council system in which name they committed their butchery. In fact some of the government controlled councils survive on the basis of JVP support of the SLFP led councils. Not only does the JVP help protect the council system, which they not long ago denounced as an Indian white elephant, their relationship is largely symbiotic.

For the JVP, a militia cum political party that survived in the jungles and whose education lay more with bullets than books, the provincial council system served as a threshing ground. It was in the councils that several senior JVP members began their political careers before elevating themselves to the national arena.

Wimal Weerawansa, Sunil Handunnetti, Bimal Ratnayake and Vijitha Herath form part of the pack that cut their political teeth at the provincial level.

That's why the doublespeak does not fit. Given the fragile power balance in the provincial bodies, today it is the JVP that sustains the SLFP led provincial administrations by functioning as the UPFA except in the Western Province.

What is most interesting is that while sustaining the system today and making their own party richer for the experience, both politically and materially, the Marxists also speak against the PCs and call for the rejection of the same when the President now goes through the motions of implementing the 13th Amendment which gave birth to the councils.

Looking at the JVP antics of attempting to fool all the people all the time one can't but also remember how the party helped the government survive the third reading of the  budget and soon thereafter launched street protests over the high cost of living.

To the party

The JVP has publicly stated that its provincial councillors do not personally draw any perks or privileges from the councils, a move that sounds very benevolent and noble if one fails to read the fine print. They state that all such privileges and moneys are utilised for the benefit of the party.

Every provincial councillor is entitled to a salary of Rs. 29,000, a fuel allowance of Rs.7,000, a duty free vehicle permit for vehicles upto a value of US$16,000, an entertainment allowance of Rs.500, a land telephone line allowance of Rs.10,000 and the services of a secretary, driver and peon at government expense.

The provincial councils in which the JVP is represented were hesitant to discuss any one party specifically, but confirmed to The Sunday Leader that all JVP provincial councillors do take all the benefits they are entitled to.

Given that the JVP has 72 provincial councillors, the tax payers provide 72 secretaries, drivers, phone lines and peons to serve a political party of equal barbarity to the LTTE. Having collected the money and the perks the JVP has now come out publicly and warned the President that they will topple the government if the 13th Amendment is implemented. Now is that confusing or laughable? 

The JVP's opposition to the 13th Amendment would have attracted much more credence if they were to renounce these perks and privileges, and return the money contributed to the party in the 31 months since the 2004 Provincial Council elections at which their current members were elected.

Staggering amount

If we were to do the math, 72 councillors sending their salaries and allowances to the party would contribute a monthly sum of Rs. 3.348 million to the JVP coffers. Over 31 months, this amounts to a round sum of over Rs.103 million that the 13th Amendment has made for the JVP.

The JVP's 72 vehicle permits from the provincial councils valued at US$16,000 each, grant them a tax concession for vehicles of a value up to US$ 1.152 million. In terms of lost state revenue, the double cabs sported by most JVP members are liable for a duty of 200%. The total tax saving to the JVP for the vehicles they have imported with their permits lies in the ballpark of over Rs. 253.4 million.

So including tax concessions and hard cash, the JVP has raked in a total of over Rs.356 million from the amendment they are swearing to destroy.

Mockery

The JVP's sudden anti-India stance and anti-13th Amendment stance comes at a time when President Rajapakse is making almost flirty overtures towards India inviting the giant neighbour to play a powerful role in ending the ethnic conflict.

The JVP's opposition to the implementation of the active constitutional amendment makes a mockery of the oath sworn by all their parliamentarians to uphold the constitution, and lands the nationalist party in bed with their arch-rival the LTTE, in opposing the 13th Amendment and the provincial councils that have brought it such profit.

Somawansa 'tears' 13th Amendment apart

JVP Leader Somawansa Amarasinghe lashed out at the 13 Amendment in the aftermath of President Mahinda Rajapakse hailing it as a credible solution to the ethnic conflict.

At a media conference, Amarasinghe was quoted as having said that the patriotic masses including the SLFP had together rejected the Indian force-fed 13th Amendment way back in 1987.

Amarasinghe said, "JR was forced to sign the Indo-Lanka Agreement. There was no legitimate parliament then to adopt the 13th Amendment. What was present then was the parliament that had extended its period by an illegal referendum held in 1982.

The 13th Amendment was adopted as a solution for the northeast question. The question has not been resolved. Provincial councils have been in existence for 20 years. But the question remains. Hence, this is not a solution. It is a new question."

He further said, "Today the security forces are resolving the problem. In such a background attempting to activate the 13th Amendment won't be successful. India violated sovereignty of this country and got the Indo-Lanka Agreement signed under emergency regulations murdering 147 people who demonstrated against it."

He recalled that the then SLFP Leader, Sirima Bandaranaike sat with the patriotic forces under the Bo Tree at Pettah for a sathyagraha against the Indo-Lanka Pact and claimed that the SLFP existed in the present context because it took the correct stand of opposing the pact.

He called upon President Mahinda Rajapakse to act according to Mahinda Chinthana policies without bringing in devolution proposals which are against the mandate given.

Speaking further the leader of the JVP said, "A totally peaceful and democratic atmosphere is necessary to adopt a constitution. The masses should be able to express their grievances. At present there is no such atmosphere. To resolve this question we, as the JVP, put forward democratic centralisation. Arbitrary centralisation or arbitrary division can never resolve this problem. What these proposals try to do is to arbitrarily divide. We have a road map to solve this question," he added.

Amarasinghe added, "The devolution proposals that have been presented don't resolve any issues of the Tamil people. What happens is a few leaders would enjoy power and privileges. The ordinary masses will receive nothing. Hence, the JVP will take measures in all fields including economic, political and legal spheres to defeat these proposals."

Killings by the JVP during 1987-1992 over the

13th Amendment

Buddhist monks                                             30

Catholic priests                                              02

Police officers                                               342

Army personnel                                            209

Public servants                                    -           487

School principals                                    -           50

Lawyers                                                 -           10

Engineers                                               -           03

University professors                              -           02

Media personnel                                      -           04

Doctors                                                    -           04

Family members of army personnel         -           69

Family members of police personnel        -           93

Gramarakshakas                                      -           98

Estate superintendents                           -           18

Suspected as government informants   -           260

UNP supporters                                   -           1,735

SLFP supporters                                               102

United Socialist Front supporters                       64

Politicians                                                           06

Reputed business persons                                 06

Elected representatives                                      64

Trade union leaders                                  -           27

Other political killings                           -           2,892

Total                                                    -           6,577

(Source: Government Intelligence Reports)

Property destroyed by the JVP

CTB buses                                   613

CTB depots                                   16

Trains                                            16

Railway stations                            24

Tea factories                                 73

Grama Niladhari offices      -           294

District Secretariat offices    -           79

Post offices                        -           680

Agriculture service centres -           103

Schools                                           08

Co-operative shops              -           16

(Source: Government Intelligence Reports)


All or nothing for the renegades


A policeman stands guard at the
EPDP compound in Valachchenai

By Amantha Perera

Two weeks into campaigning for the local government polls in Batticaloa, the violence is infact down, at least in some parts of the district.

A recent fact finding mission by PAFFREL said that violence had recorded a decline since nominations closed on January 25.

"There was general agreement that the security situation had improved, particularly with reference to the levels of violence. The opening of shops in the town till past 8 p.m. suggested that the people felt secure enough to move about at night. The presence of armed groups on the streets had been reduced," PAFFREL said in its report.

The drop is relative, there are still killings and other abuse that are reported but on a lower level than a fortnight back. The violence and intimidation of a fortnight back hang over the coastal town like gloomy clouds on the horizon ready to explode anytime with thunder and lighting.

By default

"Violence was up just before nominations and now there is a lull. It is probably a good development," Manoranjan Rajasingham, the PAFFREL district coordinator for Batticaloa told The Sunday Leader.

The drop however has been effected by default, mainly due to the absence of any major rivalry among Tamil parties. The TNA having pulled out, the Pillayan led TMVP appears to be having it easy.

"The TNA's absence is a major factor for the lack of violence, especially in the Tamil areas. I think there was a lot of pressure on them just before nominations," Rajasingham said.

But the relative peace in Tamil dominated areas like Batticaloa may be undone by the violence that has appeared in Muslim dominated areas, especially, Valachchenai, south of Batticaloa. The SLMC did not bail out of contesting the polls like the TNA or the UNP, and is now having to face the fire of Muslim politicians with government backing like Minister Ameer Ali in Valachchenai.

According to M. L. M. Hisbullah, Ali has flexed his muscles to manoeuvre the trusties of the Ottamavadi mosque. The committee has been dissolved and an  interim committee is in place now. The reason behind the move is one Lebbe Hajiar, who headed the dissolved body and who had shifted support  from the UPFA to the SLMC. He is also the chairman of the Ottamavadi Pradeshiya Sabha.

"The Muslim parties is where the contest is high and you can see that from the violence," Rajasingham said.

No guarantee

There is also no guarantee that the lull in violence in Tamil areas will hold till elections on March 10. The main fear that has remained is the presence of armed Karuna cadres.

"The presence of armed TMVP cadres in particular has been a serious threat to the prospects of free and fair elections," the PAFFREL report said.

And no one has forgotten what it was like just prior to nominations.  "Even a few weeks ago, there were reports of virtual anarchy in the district, with armed groups openly on the prowl, most of them allegedly in league with the government, but with the LTTE also capable of infiltrating back into the district from which they were so recently evicted."

Calm before the storm?

For the time being at least armed members of the TMVP have been kept indoors, especially in the town areas. "We don't see them any more, not in the towns, but we have no idea how the situation is in the interior," Rajasingham said.

"It is possible that violence and election malpractices will surface as the election campaign gathers momentum, as the armed groups have not been disarmed, and this possibility needs to be guarded against," the PAFFREL report warned.

The elections are a valuable staging point for the TMVP in its quest to gain legitimacy. It knows that very well and with the absence of the TNA it also knows that it has the best shot ever.

"The TMVP officials, on the other hand, pledged to give their fullest support to the conduct of free and fair elections. They argued that the elections were important to them as they hoped to gain democratic legitimacy through them. But they expressed apprehension that other parties might seek to disrupt the elections," the PAFFREL report said.

It is just a month to go for the elections and there is so much riding on it, especially for the TMVP.

TMVP says it is now vulnerable

The TMVP, contesting in its first elections since it was formed by LTTE renegade Karuna Amman, has had a history of controversies prior to contesting the polls in the east.

The Pillayan-led group has been and is still being accused of carrying arms in the east and of abductions and extortions.

The party last month said that its high rankers had decided not to allow its military cadres into the civilian areas until the polls are over.

Restricted

TMVP media spokesperson, Azad Moulana told The Sunday Leader that the decision to restrict its armed cadres to the jungles had made them vulnerable to attacks.

However, he said that all 134 candidates had been provided security by the police.

"Each candidate has been provided with two policemen. Those who believed that their lives were in danger had requested for more security. I believe that their security has been increased. I do not know as to how many have been appointed additionally to the candidates," Moulana said.

However, the TMVP is satisfied with the security provided to its members and to the areas where it would contest.

The LTTE has been and still is the main threat to the TMVP.

Moulana said that so far, the situation has been calm and there were no signs of the elections being postponed.

However, the possibility of attacks by the LTTE was not completely ruled out by Moulana.

"There are several other groups who do not want a free and fair election. The situation now is conducive to hold elections. However, the LTTE and the other groups may try to sabotage the polls," he said.

Possibilities minimal

Moulana also said that the possibility of clashes between the parties contesting the local government polls were very minimal due to the heavy security measures taken by the forces in the area.

"I do not think that there would be clashes, mainly because of the security measures taken in the area. The forces are present in each and every road. Therefore, the chances are very minimal," he said.

 - Arthur Wamanan

 

Without us there is no contest - SLMC

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

For the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) contesting the Batticaloa local election on March 10, it is much more than a mere election. It is a matter of pride. In fact, they feel it is the SLMC's presence that confers some legitimacy upon the government's exercise to cloth the TMVP in democratic garb and adds an element of credibility.

"If we abstain at a time when the UNP and the TNA have opted out, this becomes a one horse race. Not that it isn't already. It is not only because the TMVP works in alliance with the government and keeps every other political outfit at bay. It is because of the TMVP being also allowed to brazenly carry arms making all other contestants ineffective before their armed state. But some local bodies are in predominantly Muslim areas and we would not allow anyone to bulldoze their way in. We will contest," said a determined SLMC Leader, Rauf Hakeem.

Worst affected

Given the spate of abductions that marred the pre-nomination phase, with some 63 abductions being reported in three months, the SLMC believes that their candidates are the worst affected.

Since the calling of nominations, Batticaloa has experienced 28 more abductions, and 12 of them are candidates. "Ten of them are Muslims. Doesn't that say something," said M. L. M. Hisbullah, a SLMC strongman who makes Kathankudi his base.

According to him, there are SLMC defectors having a 'free for all' thanks to the government's blessings. "True, our candidates are intimidated and harassed by the TMVP and others. But our own party men who stayed behind with the government are now active in a violent way," adds Hisbullah.

Government's response

With PAFFREL calling upon the government to make a credible demonstration of its capacity and commitment to control violence and dispel fears among the people regarding the possible use of arms by some contesting parties, the government's response had been only to declare its willingness to keep the doors open for former militant outfits to enter mainstream politics.

"We have done it with a host of Tamil political parties and with the JVP. The doors need to be kept open this time as well," notes UPFA Secretary, Minister Susil Premjayanth.

But SLMC's Rauf Hakeem disagrees. "What the government does is not to keep any doors open for such transitions but allow various warlords to operate."

Does the election augur much hope for the SLMC, given the conditions that prevail? Not really. Hakeem is clear on that.

But at the same time, allowing warlords to capture political power in local bodies without even a fight is not something the SLMC wants to contribute to. "Things have been made easy for paramilitary groups posing off as political outfits by the decision taken by the UNP and the TNA. It is only the SLMC's presence that adds some credibility to an exercise which is otherwise designed to cloth the TMVP with political power," opines Hakeem.

Special mechanisms

But Minister of Resettlement, Rishad Bathiudeen feels things are not as bad as they are made out to be. "There is enhanced security for candidates. Moves are afoot to given more security to political offices in the area," he says.

As for his main concern, the refugees who are eligible to vote on March 10, he believes special mechanisms will be put in place.

"All this impatience is useless. This is an area that is being resettled. There may be some loopholes but the government will ensure a mechanism that provides the refugees with an opportunity to cast their vote," adds Bathiudeen.

As for the violence predicted, he believes it is part of the experience of a district that is yet to completely resettle. But he does not believe that polls should have to be postponed until normalcy is restored. "Normalcy becomes a possibility when elections are duly held and power is transferred to the local people. It is a sad mistake to stay away from the contest," he notes.  


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