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Pranab on Mission Colombo


East: Anything but 'liberated'


Felix Perera

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 'liberated east.'

Deepening tension

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 as Pillayan.

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 development programmes.

Changes

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 assistance programmes.

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 crises.

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 government.

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 people."

Governance

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 LTTE.

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 society.

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 control. 

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 displacement.

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.

Pattern

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 critically.

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 be Sinhalese?

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?

Under siege

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 of strength.

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.

'Colonial' Development

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 with them.

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.

Militarising education

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 and students.

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.

Outside force

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 the university.

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 Colombo


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 Delhi dailies.

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 breaking news.'

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 yet' mission.

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 to observers.

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. Colombo 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.

Second 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 how.

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 Delhi 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.

Pertinent question

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 of Colombo's war effort.

Critics and India 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 tribal belt.

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.

Tamil voice

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.

India 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 issues.

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 Colombo, 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 the region.


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