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World Affairs








ĎDefence establishment linked to abductionsí

Convenor, Civil Monitoring
Commission (CMC), Mano Ganesan

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

Western Peopleís Front (WPF) Leader and Convenor, Civil Monitoring Commission (CMC) Mano Ganesan calls for the commencement of peace talks and halting the war and insists that what applies to Darfur or to Iraq be applicable to Sri Lanka as well.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Sunday Leader, he said that the countryís abductions and extortions continue unabated, as there was a direct link to the government defence establishment and noted that the government was not serious about framing charges against Nishantha Gajanayake who was arrested in 2007 for allegedly masterminding an abduction for an extortion racket.

He added that the end to ethnic strife is possible only through power devolution and noted that the northeast should be merged on linguistic lines. Excerpts:

Q: The latest police records confirm that out of 1229 reported abductions and kidnappings, some 1195 incidents have been found to be true. What is the CMCís take on this?

A: The CMC covers Colombo and suburbs mostly. All our statistics are based on complaints made to our office in Colombo. The credibility we hold is that family members of victims make these complaints.

There were some 350 complaints recorded since the latter part of 2005. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Many incidents occur in the northeast. There are many incidents in the Northwestern Province, especially in Puttalam.

In the north, the east and in the Puttalam District, there are incidents of abductions and extra judicial killings reported almost on a daily basis. The government statistics you now quoted is an admission of the situation.

Q: Police also claim to have filed 227 cases while in 218 instances, the accused were unknown. How many complaints lodged by the CMC have been investigated?

A: The police have not made any serious effort to investigate any of the CMC initiated complaints. When we recorded complaints, we did it systematically with credibility intact.

We also handed over copies of the recorded complaints to the law enforcement authorities hoping for prompt action. I have handed over another list to the Prime Minister and the Controller of Immigration and Emigration as the government is of the view that some of the listed names belonged to those who have migrated. The verification about their immigrant status has not come from the government authorities.

I am yet to receive any response to the CMCís list of complaints.

Q: To digress, are some of these listed people actually away from Sri Lanka?

A: People are leaving the country all the time. There is a brain drain. But those listed have not fled the country but were victimised here.

The government later said 90% of the people have come back home. Then they said the remaining 10% had gone overseas. This is ridiculous by any standards and should not be the response of a government that wishes to be taken seriously.

There are social disappearances. Children migrate leaving their original homes. People run away from homes. These are social disappearances.

My concern is about the systematic and enforced disappearances and abductions. The government is deliberately mixing these two up to create confusion and to downplay the enormity of the issue. This is also an attempt to show the international community that there is no grave concern here in this regard.

We have given names, photographs, addresses, and authentic details of the incident, description of the location, police complaint numbers as well as Human Rights Commission references. There is no denying these incidents.

We challenge the government to provide us with a list of names and addresses of those who have gone overseas (and dispute our records). Such a response is not forthcoming.

Q: Compared with early 2006 when the CMC commenced work, how do you view the present situation? Is there a decline in incidents?

A: Not that the perpetrators have become saints. Many abducted who went missing are still missing.

The government should honestly come up with an account of the disappeared. Secondly, it is happening with new vigour and there should be some explanation.

At times it is high and at times, low. This saga of enforced abductions and extra judicial killings continue. The majority of the victims are members of the Tamil community.

Q: One aspect in the entire scheme was the abductions for extortion purposes. Is there a decline in this?

A: This interview you are conducting with me was interrupted by a telephone call. Thatís demonstrative of the prevailing situation. That call came from a businessman in Old Moor Street, Colomboís hardware hub. He told me that he just received a telephone call from a person who identified himself as a "Kalidas, representing Karuna Amman and was calling from the Ganemulla camp."

The caller has provided a mobile telephone number for the businessman to call back. I will give you that phone number at the end of this interview. It is nothing but an extortion attempt done openly. I do not know whether the said caller truly represents Karuna Amman or someone else. But the fact of the matter is that such calls are made openly with no respect for law and order. They donít fear arrests or prosecution. Who gave these extortionists the upper hand?

Q: Just last week alone, three persons were abducted and elsewhere seven were mysteriously killed. What is the information available to the CMC in this regard?

A: It had been a violent week. We have listed those incidents. This country has so many children with their fathers missing, wives with their husbands missing. There are unidentified bodies that are being recovered. Our society has become very violent.

I think people have adopted a violent attitude to deal with regular issues ranging from family disputes to land problems to political issues.

Q: With war intensifying, is there a ripple effect in Colombo with increased violence or do you treat it as a separate concern?

A: This is a situation that has continued for a long time. The violent incidents such as abductions, extra judicial killings, assaults and the renewed talk of sending people in busloads back to Jaffna is a reflection of the prevailing violence. They cannot be treated separately for they are two sides of the same coin.

Q: Some Tamil political parties such as the EPDP is against UN intervention to solve the humanitarian crisis. They feel this is a domestic issue and this is not Darfur?

A: In todayís context, nothing is local or exclusively domestic.

We live in a global village. No country can conduct business which in turn paves the way for the killings and abductions of one section of the same nation and call it local or domestic and demand the international community stay away.

What is applicable to Darfur is applicable to Sri Lanka. What is applicable to Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Iraq applies to Sri Lanka. Nothing is local and domestic anymore as we are a part of a global community.

Q: How many of the CMC lodged complaints have the police investigated in 2007?

A: They have not drawn satisfactory results. We need to understand that there is a hidden hand. As far as I can see, it is not hidden but a visible hand at work. It is the hand of the governmentís defence establishment. Many are the people gone missing in my district of Colombo and they have been taken away in white vans. They have strangely enough, often ended up in TID or CID cells.

How can the defence establishment deny any link or responsibility? The police are using white vans for criminal acts. We have so many recorded incidents where the modus operandi was the same. One man went missing in Matale but ended up in the TID. The police and the security forces have every right to arrest suspects and question them. I call upon the police to arrest suspects in an acceptable manner. Not treat them like cattle.

Q: Nishantha Gajanayake, a name strongly associated with the abduction for extortion saga was arrested in June 2007 and released in February 2008 due to lack of material evidence to prosecute him. Donít you feel that you and the CMC have failed?

A: I do. I am sad and disappointed that we could not make any headway in this particular case but even when Gajanayake was kept in CID custody, I learned that he was a very happy man there. He had been afforded facilities and comforts denied to other suspects. I strongly believe that the government was never serious in framing charges against Gajanayake. While he was in custody, the government waxed eloquent about the abductions decreasing purely for international consumption.

The government was under serious pressure to bring the situation under control. Whenever the heat increased in New York, Geneva, UNHRC or the UNGC, Gajanayakeís arrest was used as an example of state intervention. It was however, a knee jerk response to international criticism. When the heat reduced, the suspect was freed.

The very fact that people have gone missing, extorted or killed mysteriously proves a culture of impunity. The government canít deny their occurrence which is why they are included in the recently released police report.

Thatís why the CMC calls upon the government to behave like a government and not like an extension of a mafia organisation.

Q: You were recently questioned by the TID for allegedly communicating with the LTTE on behalf of President Kumaratunga while she was in power. What made you the chosen emissary?

A: I was never a messenger or an agent of anybody and please donít imply such. As the leader of the Western Peopleís Front (WPF) as a registered and respected political party, I was contacted. I have my political beliefs, an agenda and a publicly acknowledged stance on the national question.

I firmly believe that all political leaders should play their specific role to end ethnic strife. It has destroyed the unity of Sri Lankans. We can solve this only through power devolution.

As I represent that call for power sharing, I did what was asked of me because I felt that was the right thing to do. President Kumaratunga requested me to convey a message to LTTE Leader Pirapaharan and I did not hesitate a moment.

But I did it not as a Chandrika or Pirapaharan agent but as a Colombo politician elected by the people with a sense of responsibility.

At that time, Karuna Amman had broken away form the LTTE ranks. There was much talk that Karuna was to seek asylum from the GOSL. Therefore, President Kumaratunga wanted me to convey to the LTTE leadership the message that if Karuna were to request for asylum, she might consider it positively and not to treat her possible gesture negatively.

That also demonstrated that President Kumaratunga, though she disrupted the UNP administration, on the basis that the UNP negotiated peace with the LTTE, she herself wished to negotiate peace with the Tigers. She herself wished to continue with a dialogue process in a different way.

Thatís what she wanted conveyed and I brought back a response. Now my intervention is given various interpretations and all I can say is I did it in good faith. President Kumaratunga when she returns next month will speak more on this.

Q: Why would President entrust the task to you? Are you close to the LTTE leadership?

A: Why donít you think that I was close to President Kumaratunga?

Why she trusted me above other Tamil politicians, you will have to ask her. She had to select somebody. She herself cannot travel. She would not have wanted to send a Sinhala politician. She perhaps considered it better to send a Tamil politician with a neutral background. I donít hail from the northeast so I have no involvement.

I am given the works for this little job of mine. I have a lot of steel within me. I have taken many risks and I do what I think is right. Right now the TID is behind me. But I consider it yet another episode in my life. I have fought for many a cause and despite criticism, there is no way to stop me.

Q: The government has militarily cleared the east and is intent on clearing the north with a view to establishing a Northern Provincial Council. Is this feasible and is it the answer to the problem?

A: No. It is not the answer to both the north and the east. The PC system sprang from the 13th Amendment that is an offshoot of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord. Leaders of the present government including President Mahinda Rajapakse opposed it. Lots of demonstrations followed and this country was politically divided decisively then.

President Rajapakse now treats the 13th Amendment as a God given opportunity. It appears that the President has changed his stance from opposing the 13th Amendment to embracing it wholeheartedly.

It was the first devolution effort. While he is doing it, a good part of his alliance, the JHU, staunchly opposes land and police powers being devolved. The Jathika Nidahas Peramuna headed by Wimal Weerawansa also opposes the same. The JVP, though a part of the opposition opposes it too.

Chandrakanthan represents the east. He himself is clamouring for the same powers but the government is slow to respond.

This government cannot implement what is already law. Then, how can its agenda be acceptable to the northeast or to me, a Tamil representing the Western Province?

Q: Do you accept the 13th Amendment as a suitable basis for a future solution? Can its full implementation change the ground situation favorably?

A: The 13th Amendment or the provincial councils are not the answer to the aspirations of the Tamils of the northeast. It was vehemently rejected in 1989.

The government has taken 20 years to consider what was already rejected way back in 1989. The political process here is dead now. But the military aspect is going ahead with immense speed. While the military solution is being pushed, the political process is dead.

We call upon the government to stop the war, commence talks and place the proposals on the table. The hardliners in the government are holding the President a prisoner of war!

Q: Do you stand for a merged northeast?

A: I believe in a linguistic state in the areas we identify as the northeast at present.

When you take the northeast together, the Tamil speaking people are in the majority. We need to have a Tamil linguistic state in the northeastern region, very similar to the Indian states that are also demarcated on linguistic lines.

Tamil Nadu is Tamil speaking, Kerala is Malayalam speaking and Andhra is for Telungu speaking people. But it does not mean that only the dominant linguistic group lives in a particular state. In Tamil Nadu, you only find Tamilians. Thatís why India is a shining example of unity and political prudence.

I call for a merged Tamil linguistic state in which the Sinhalese and Muslims can also live. The regional council too should reflect this ethnic mosaic. That will preclude a pan Tamil only regional council. That will also effectively keep any Tamil nationalist or extremist forces at bay and make it inclusive.

When we fail to create that linguistic state within which other communities also find a voice only do we face a problem. Thatís the danger still to emerge. Thatís why I call for a province based on linguistic requirements. Look at me. I am a Tamil politician living in a Sinhala majority province.

I propounded the same theory at a recent talk show. JVP Parliamentarian Anura Kumara Dissanayake said the devolution of power as per the 13th Amendment made Sri Lanka subservient to India and that it would make us puppets in Indian hands.

Dissanayake referred to Varatharajah Perumal as an Indian puppet. Perumal is a political joke and a comedian who makes us not laugh but weep. His tragic intervention has made a bad case worse and aggravated the situation.

He had the guts to hoist the Eelam flag but then ran away. He should have stuck to it. Instead, he has now become a naturalised Indian. He is not even living in Tamil Nadu but in Madhya Pradesh. His children have married Indians.

No right thinking Tamil will welcome him here. He has betrayed the Tamil political aspirations, played cruel jokes with it and run away. My political cause is not that of the northeastern Tamils. But I donít play jokes with it.

It is sad that the JVP takes Perumal seriously and keeps looking for such pathetic examples to justify their reluctance to devolve power.

Q: You spoke of a linguistic state. Do you consider its absence to be among the key flaws in the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord?

A: It is a flaw but there are many flaws in the Accord.

It was indeed unwise to look at territory when the need is steeped in the linguistic identity.

Further, the agreement ignored the Muslim factor. The Accord should have paid due attention to this vital aspect. It denied and deprived another community their political rights and identity in the northeast.

We should not forget that they are also great stakeholders and have a role to play in northeastern politics. That should be so. I call upon all political leaders to recognise this fact. What is more, this blatant disregard for Muslim political aspirations will create further problems.

To end the conflict, the Tamil leadership should give Muslims in the northeast the same consideration they expect from the southern Sinhala community. There is no way out but this way.

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