East: Anything but 'liberated'
By Frederica Jansz
The government says that the 'liberated'
east is an example of democracy in action
and a model for areas recaptured from the
LTTE. The reality is anything but. Killings
and abductions are rife, and there is total
impunity for horrific abuses.
On November 25, 18 people were killed within
24 hours in Batticaloa District alone.
Following a claymore mine attack which
killed two Sri Lankan military personnel in
Eruvil, three members from the same family
were killed (grandmother, father and a son)
in the village.
On the same day, in Kaluthawali, a village
close to Eruvil four members from another
family were shot dead (young parents with
their two kids). A vegetable vendor was
killed in Kurukalmadam and a young woman was
shot dead in Karuwakkerny.
A youth from Kimpankerney (Karadiannatu) was
shot and later declared as a LTTE suspect.
Another youth from Selvanagar Arayampathy
was shot by the road side. Later that day in
Manmunai West there were three incidents
reported: A youth killed in Monkeycattu (Vavunatheevu)
and three youth killed in Karravetti. A
farmer was shot dead in the paddy field in
Maheladditheevu. This - is a day in the
Reports of these killings and other abuses
come at a time of deepening tensions and
violent infighting within the TMVP,
particularly between factions loyal to
Karuna Amman, the founder, and
Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, better known
Instead of holding the group accountable,
the Rajapakse government has provided
unqualified support. No independent
investigations into all these serious human
rights violations have been opened nor
perpetrators held accountable.
While the government is on the one hand
announcing triumphantly an end to conflict
and strife, the war with its creation of
zones of 'liberation' and 'occupation' has
exacerbated the issue of landlessness,
narrowing down opportunities for recovery
and economic development in multiple ways
that include drastic curtailment of
cultivation, fishing, trade and
infrastructural and social and cultural
Of course there have been qualitative
changes that have taken place since the
military's capture of the east. With the
defeat of the LTTE in the east, the threat
of war has receded offering people the
possibility of rebuilding their lives from
the debris of war. Especially for
communities that lived under LTTE control
the sensational words of liberation and
development, do have some meaning; a new
road, banking facilities, and housing
But despite these dramatic changes, violence
and fear loom large, threatening to
aggravate old wounds and grievances, and in
many ways, producing new tensions and
The Coalition of Muslims and Tamils for
Peace and Coexistence (CMTPC) say they are
deeply concerned that short term military
imperatives of the central government and a
disregard for the principles of coexistence
and democracy are creating a situation of
worsening ethnic relations; increasing the
sense of insecurity felt by Tamil and Muslim
communities in the region.
Why? We are compelled to ask. The government
and its apologists, including people from
the left and some sections of civil society
to varying degrees, are largely silent on
the issue of escalating violence in the
east; citing it as a fall out of a time of
conflict, predicting better times ahead.
A pyrrhic victory
For the government, a military victory over
the LTTE is what matters most. Unfortunately
the government has not capitalised on the
moral victory it could have had over Tamil
nationalist sentiments by pushing the agenda
of peace and reconciliation in the east.
In the attempt to establish its control and
command over the east in the short term, it
has made politico-military alliances based
purely on the need to control the Tamil
people. So, we have the break-away LTTE
group, TMVP in an unholy alliance with the
The TMVP, despite breaking away from the
LTTE, is steeped in the violent culture of
the LTTE. Even though the TMVP inducted, and
even coerced, members of the general public
as candidates for local government polls and
to assist it in administration, the rank and
file behaves with scant respect for the
structures of democratic governance and are
a law unto themselves. In the direct words
of the people, "different name, same
At one level, there has been no fundamental
change in the form of governance since the
time of LTTE control, real or perceived.
'Taxation' has abated but kidnappings for
ransom, crude intimidation by armed youth,
and the spectre of abductions of children
and adults continue. Killings in homes,
paddy fields, by the road side or seaside,
near check points, by temples, mosques,
universities and hospitals continue.
Nor has there been any attempt at building
upon the goodwill of the people following
the elections on the part of the government.
On the contrary, the government to all
appearances has been actively promoting
violent groups and political forces and
alliances that are seeking to increase
hostility among people.
Instead of encouraging the TMVP to embrace
democratic politics and shed its LTTE
practices, the government is determined to
keep the TMVP as a paramilitary group.
It also appears the government is determined
to divide the TMVP by setting up Karuna as
an alternate eastern leader to Pillayan. As
the two factions battle it out for control
in the east, we can only expect the
fratricide in the Tamil community to worsen.
The killing of Pillayan's Secretary
Kumaraswamy Nandagopan, alias Ragu on
November 14 is perhaps the most telling
instance of this vicious struggle for power.
The government seems to fundamentally
distrust its own ally, which might end up
forcing the TMVP back into the arms of the
A region under siege
The LTTE in particular has been responsible
for decimating rivals in other militant
groups, political parties and allies of the
state, and independent Tamils. This
bloodbath has left a deep scar on Tamil
With the split in the LTTE in 2004, Eastern
Tamils found themselves under attack as the
two groups eliminated perceived enemies.
This state sponsored fratricide may get
worse as the internal struggle within the
TMVP is hitting a crisis point, particularly
with Karuna attempting to re-establish
The CMTPC maintains the violence following
the provincial council elections in May this
year demonstrated a possible trajectory that
ethnic relations could take. The killing of
two TMVP cadres in Kathankudi resulted in
the TMVP retaliating in a brutal manner
against Muslim civilians. The violence
rapidly escalated with both Tamils and
Muslims becoming subject to violence and
Some instances included attacks on Muslim
shops in Batticaloa Town; Tamils living in
Saukadu displacement camps were forced to
flee; a Muslim woman was shot dead in Eravur.
A day before Ramazan a grenade went off near
the mosque by the main road injuring 24
persons. A month later, on October 24,
another grenade set off near Hussainmiyah
Mosque near the Kathankudy-Manjanthoduvai
border injured about six persons, one
While the violence seems mindless, there is
an insidious pattern, logic, to its
ethnicised nature. The logic of violence
pivots on the logic of ethnic divide,
calculated to aggravate the fragile peace
that exists between communities.
In recent months there have been targeted
killings of Sinhalese in the east. On
October 20 three Sinhala youth involved in
construction work, part of the Negenahira
Navodaya programme were shot dead in
Kokkaddichcholia, Batticaloa. Why were they
killed? Was it just because they happened to
On October 16 two Muslim and two Tamil men
were killed in a paddy field in Waddamadu,
Akkaraipattu. It remains unclear as to who
killed them and why. Was it the LTTE, TMVP,
military or another interested party? Was it
because they had crossed an ethnic boundary
which prevents certain ethnic communities
from accessing lands which they claim?
The Eastern Province is under siege from all
sides. While the government is showcasing
the region as one that is returning to
normal, the people are still caught in a
vicious cycle of violence.
The harthal called by Karuna to protest
Indian intervention is part of the circus of
intimidation and a show put on by forces
allied to the government. In a throwback to
the Pongu Thamil events organised by the
LTTE in the north and east, the TMVP forced
large numbers of people from far flung areas
like Komari and Thirukovil into buses for a
rally in Batticaloa on October 26 as a show
This time though the state is backing the
intimidation of Tamil civilians - the buses
are state-owned and armed forces and police
watched as TMVP cadres forced people at gun
point to close shops. The state's connivance
in this abuse is absolute.
Within this context the idea of development
such as building roads, and rebuilding tanks
are critical for the rehabilitation and
development of the east. There are other
ambitious plans of constructing factories,
coal power stations and highways.
But where the local people fit into this
programme of Negenahira Navodaya is still
open to question. Concerned parties have
been told construction companies are from
the south, and bring their work force along
Add to this the proposals for providing land
for Sinhalese and the restoration of
Buddhist sites and the scene is set for
unnecessary tension. In two previous reports
the CMTPC focused on the fears of the local
communities of state sponsored colonisation
efforts in the militarised region.
The government website carries a page on its
programme for the next three years for
cultural and archaeological preservation
which is almost wholly of Buddhist sites.
The CMTPC says not a single Muslim site has
been earmarked for cultural preservation or
as a heritage site. Also, the omission of
Koneswaram Temple in Trincomalee, parts of
which ancient Pallava structure lie
destroyed in the nearby sea bed is telling.
Boundaries marked in blood
Boundaries are being marked in blood.
Individuals who have crossed ethnic borders
and administrative divisions to carry out
livelihoods as they have or had done for
years pay the ultimate price.
The identity of the killers and their
motives may remain unknown but it is
speculated that four farmers were killed in
Akkaraipattu, two Tamil and two Muslim for
trying to cultivate paddy land which had
been declared off bounds by one or other of
the Tamil militant groups.
A group of 26 Muslim wood collectors from
Pottuvil found themselves at the mercy of
the STF. There are rumours that they were
beaten up in the camp and were accused of
assisting the LTTE. On September 24, one of
the incarcerated Muslims died in jail.
On November 16 Palithakumara Pathmakumar, a
doctor serving in Naavatkaadu Hospital in
Vavunatheevu was killed within the hospital
premises. As a result the GMOA went on
strike demanding better protection for
doctors in the north and east.
This killing highlighted the crisis of
violence in the east. At the same time it
also showed how security is understood by
the various actors.
The Health Minister called for only Tamil
doctors to serve in the north and east while
the GMOA called for more security. The
presence of police officers or armed
military personnel or militant groups do not
result in greater confidence as each
community has fears and violent memories of
each of the armed actors.
Political violence permeates and controls
the actions of civil society. The Eastern
Province boasts two universities; one in the
Batticaloa District, located in
Vantharamullai and the other, South Eastern
University in Oluvil in the Ampara District.
Site of conflict
The Eastern University has been a site of
conflict and battleground for long years
now. Over the years various armed groups
attempted to establish their presence in the
university, with the LTTE taking extreme
measures to control the expression of staff
During the split in 2004 in the ranks of the
LTTE, academics and others came under
extreme scrutiny; academics, journalists and
others suspected of being loyal to this or
the other side were abducted, cautioned and
on occasion murdered.
With the establishment of control by the
army and police and TMVP, the university has
come under increased surveillance from these
quarters aligned to the state. In an effort
to establish control of the Eastern
University the TMVP abducted the Dean of the
Arts Faculty in late 2006. Then the Vice
Chancellor, Prof. V. Raveendranath
disappeared in broad daylight from the heart
of Colombo city, from an area marked for its
high security check points. The TMVP is
believed to be behind this abduction. The
Vice Chancellor is believed to be dead.
The South Eastern University is also facing
similar problems. The university has a 90%
Muslim majority student population. During
the Ramadan holiday in September, the
government placed a new security system in
the university, with many checkpoints and
over 60 police personnel guarding the
entrance alone in addition to STF and armed
military patrolling the surrounding area
round the clock.
It is within this situation, that on August
22 of this year Sucharitha Pasan
Samarasinghe, a fourth year Sinhalese
student at the Eastern University was
killed, purportedly by a force from outside
A Tamil student was taken in for questioning
after this incident and to date he is being
detained by the CID without any charges.
When the University Grants Commission
Chairman visited the Eastern University in
August this year he talked to the Sinhala
students and assured them of their safety.
He did not see the need to allay the fears
of the Tamils or Muslim students.
Hopes and fears
While we write, the war rages on in the
north. But none of the political forces,
none of the leading left wing activists who
support the war have voiced their concern
about the lack of political will on the part
of the government to devolve power to the
east and north.
Pranab on Mission
Pranab Mukherjee and Basil Rajapakse
By Malladi Rama Rao
Pranab Mukherjee on a 'Mission'
to Colombo is front page news on any day.
But when the decision was announced on
December 4, it did not find a mention in the
next day's front pages of
The Hindu reported the'visit' on Page 7, a
page it generally devotes to'news from the
states.' The Times of India, which has an
edition in Chennai also, did not give
the'news' front page treatment. For the
national TV channels too, it was not'big
Why this lack of media interest for 'Mission
Colombo'? Probably, it is because of
continued fixation with the 'Mumbai
attacks'; more so because of the shuttle
diplomacy of US Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice between India and Pakistan
and her much hyped effort to make Islamabad
take action against Professor Hafiz Mohammed
Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, which
is now aligned with the al Qaeda.
It is also possible that Pranab's
forthcoming visit to Colombo did not get the
front page mention because it is a 'no-date
Missed front page
Well, Pirapaharan's 'Heroes Day' speech also
missed the front pages, overshadowed by the
'Mumbai attacks.' That the speech lacked the
usual punch and thunder is a different
thing, though it did not come as a surprise
The reaction to the proposed Pranab Mission
in the Sinhala and Tamil press of Colombo,
even in Jaffna for that matter, is harsh,
indeed. He was invited to the island by none
other than Basil Rajapakse, who was in Delhi
on October 26, as an emissary of President
Rajapakse, to 'diffuse' simmering Indian
tensions and concerns.
Yet, the readers' comments posted in various
dailies have one message, loud and clear.
And it is that Pranab Mukherjee is not a
welcome visitor. Even before he decided on
the date of his journey across the Palk
Straits. This is not surprising.
sees Delhi through Chennai the prism.
And in the instant case, its consternation
was compounded by the fact that Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh's decision to send
his External Affairs Minister to Sri Lanka
was in response to a 'request' from Tamil
Nadu Chief Minister Muthavel Karunanidhi.
The decision was also announced by the DMK
supremo, after he met Singh at the head of
an 'all-party' delegation.
There is nothing wrong per se in a chief
minister announcing such a decision. That is
beside the point. What is germane to our
discussion is the fact that it was the
second delegation from Tamil Nadu mounted by
Karunanidhi in as many days to reward
himself with a talking point.
His compulsions are a matter of public
record. These need no quick recap. But this
much can be said. He has gifted an extra
stick to his detractors at home in Chennai,
whose number is swelling, and in Colombo ,
where he doesn't have a constituency, any
Tempting it is to conclude from the
foregoing that Karunanidhi sees his next
political nirvana tied to the Tigers. Such
an assessment may be doing injustice to the
grand old man of Dravidian politics, whether
we like him or not. Even at his advanced
age, he remains actively relevant on the
Tamil political theatre. And has an ace up
his sleeve to rattle his opponents. Also he
doesn't need a LTTE crutch, like, say Vaiko.
Agreed the 'all-party' conferences staged by
Karunanidhi and the 'all-party' delegations
sent by him to
are anything but 'all-party' affairs. The
only big party in the kitty is the Congress
at present, and the local biggie is the PMK,
which has no love lost for the 'Big
Brother.' The communist parties, his allies
in the last assembly election, have moved to
the Jayalalitha camp.
All this is good media copy but makes little
difference to the DMK as of now in a
predominantly two-leg race. The AIADMK
supremo is still pre-occupied with putting
her house in order with right caste
equations and combinations. The LTTE is not
figuring in her poll calculus either.
Neither Karunanidhi nor Jayalalitha stand
for Eelam. Just like Delhi. If that is the
case, it is natural to ask: why all this
hullabaloo over a ceasefire? Well, such a
question betrays an inability to understand
India , its concerns, its quite acquiescence
baiters, who harp upon LTTE's past, which
was unambiguously linked to India, are
hostages to the past. A historical
perspective is essential in any situation.
But dynamics of the present cannot be
ignored. Refusing to take cognizance of the
present and an inability to comprehend it,
needless to say, is neither fair nor proper,
certainly in the theatre of war.
As the front page headline in a leading
daily says, 'bailout' may be the word of the
year. But the talk of ceasefire and
humanitarian issues is not a smokescreen to
bail out the Tiger Chief. For India, he is
still a wanted fugitive. And for the world
his is a banned organisation which has
forged links with and benefitted from the
global jihad of al Qaeda variety that has
its roots in Pakistan and in its ungoverned
LTTE and the Tamils rights for an equal
stake in Sri Lanka are not one and the same;
these are two different issues. They need to
be dealt with accordingly.
Fact of the matter is that neither
Pirapaharan nor the TNA represent the
mainstream Tamil voice. In a sense, TNA has
had an opportunity to grow out of the LTTE
shadows and become the true political
leadership of the ethnic Tamils in the
island nation. By refusing to give up the
'proxy tag', it missed the bus, just as the
Tiger boss missed the bus by systematically
eliminating anyone who had stood in his way.
People will not miss their absence as and
when it happens. Reason? Dynamics of
democracy never leave a vacuum in the
political space. It always throws up a
leadership which is genuine in its moorings
and not at all fake or a puppet.
is concerned that the process of
facilitation of political dynamics has not
been set in motion in Sri Lanka. And that it
is allowed to be a hostage to the military
campaign. Both processes need to run
concurrently. When this doesn't happen, as
is the case with Sri Lanka as of today, it
throws up a host of new problems, first and
foremost being humanitarian concerns, which
is the case now in northern Sri Lanka.
Karunanidhi, whatever may be his brand of
local politics, is articulating these
concerns. And despite their pre-occupation
with the Mumbai fall-out, Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh and Congress Chief Sonia
Gandhi are willing to grapple with these
Pranab Mukherjee belongs to the old school
of Indian politics, which stands for
patience and understanding. This is probably
the reason why he has earned the sobriquet
of trusted and reliable trouble shooter for
Singh in the government and for Sonia in the
party affairs. Friends and admirers address
Pranab as 'Dada' (elder brother) and he is
always a caring elder brother and not an
overbearing senior to everyone who comes in
contact with him.
Secret of his success
In a sense, this is the secret of his
success in politics and in government where
he had handled almost all portfolios from
defence to finance and from commerce to
external affairs with aplomb.
So, when Pranab lands in
his local interlocutors can expect to have
an interesting discussion. He was defence
minister before he moved to the foreign
office. So he is familiar with the
nitty-gritty of Sri Lankan defences. And he
contributed no less to strengthening the
defences of Sri Lanka.
Well, no one can deny that India has
contributed in its own quiet way, far
removed from the headlines, to Colombo's
unifocal assault on Tigers' positions. What
it did was and is, policing the Palk Strait
to check 'smuggling', while the radars keep
the sky under a strict watch.
Since the Mumbai terror is still front page
news, it is bound to come up in the meetings
Pranab will have with the Sri Lankan
leaders. It will certainly be interesting
for them to hear first hand the 'progress'
of investigations, which have established
the 'proof' of ISI involvement. Also about
the commonality of interests and perceptions
between India and the United States on
growing threats to peace and stability in