Saturday, March 29, 2008

A New Life!

While the Sri Lanka cricketers are going great guns in the Caribbean, this youth enthusiastically waving a bat has begun a life-changing journey. In place of the bat, he earlier had a gun. A hardcore LTTE cadre who had turned himself in, he is now being rehabilitated along with nearly 60 other former Tiger cadres in Jaffna. They learn life skills, vocational activities and sports.
Courtesy: Lake House

Friday, March 28, 2008

Sri Lanka GDP Growth Unexpectedly Accelerates to 7.6%

March 28 --Sri Lanka's economic growth unexpectedly accelerated as increased exports of tea and rubber offset restraints on spending from five-year high interest rates and renewed violence in the island's civil war.

Gross domestic product expanded 7.6 percent in the three months ended Dec. 31 from a year earlier, compared with 7 percent in the third quarter, the Department of Census & Statistics said today. Economists expected a 6.6 percent gain.

Growth in the South Asian island economy has been boosted by record commodity prices, which has pushed up export earnings for rubber and tea. That's made up for weaker domestic demand as the central bank holds interest rates at the highest level since 2002 to rein in inflation, now running above 20 percent.

``Agriculture exports are holding up but manufacturing and services are affected by inflation,'' said Geeth Balasuriya, analyst at HNB Stockbrokers Pvt in Colombo. ``This year will be tough given high rates.''

The Sri Lankan rupee was little changed at 107.81 to the dollar at 11:55 a.m. in Colombo, according to First Capital Treasuries Ltd. The yield on the 7.5 percent bond due in March 2009 was holding at 18.5 percent, according to First Capital.

Consumer prices in the capital Colombo rose 21.6 percent in February from a year earlier, after increasing 20.8 percent in January. February's inflation was the fastest since 2004, according to data compiled by the statistics department for a new index going back to that year.

`Tight' Policy

Sri Lanka's central bank has kept its benchmark repurchase rate unchanged at 10.5 percent for 13 straight meetings. Governor Nivard Cabraal said in a March 22 interview that ``tight monetary policy'' will be maintained through the end of this year on concern surging oil prices may fan inflation.

The $27 billion economy expanded 6.8 percent last year, from 7.7 percent in 2006, the statistics bureau said today. The Washington-based IMF expects growth of 6 percent in 2008, the slowest pace in three years.

The government on Jan. 16 formally ended its 2002 cease- fire with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam saying the rebels had used the accord to rearm and prepare for further attacks. Sri Lanka is seeking $1.8 billion in aid and investment to help rebuild the eastern province captured from the rebels in July.

Services, which represent about 60 percent of the economy, expanded 7.4 percent in the fourth quarter, matching the gain of the previous three months, according to today's report.

U.S. Slowdown

Industry, which accounts for about a third of GDP, gained 8.5 percent from 7.5 percent in the third quarter. Farm output grew 6.7 percent from 3.7 percent previously.

``Public expenditure on power and road projects may have boosted industry,'' said Vajira Premawardhana, head of research at Lanka Orix Securities Pvt. in Colombo. ``Inflation is hurting consumer demand and a U.S. recession will slow trade and growth going forward.''

Overseas sales from Sri Lanka, mainly garments for brands such as Victoria's Secret and Gap, have become less vulnerable to a U.S. slowdown as the island has secured more European markets, Cabraal said in a Jan. 31 interview.

Sri Lanka, the world's second-biggest supplier of black tea, exported a record $1 billion worth of the commodity in 2007 on higher prices, and may earn more this year as violence disrupted supplies from Kenya, according to the Sri Lanka Tea Board.

Exports climbed 22.7 percent to a record $863 million in December from $704 million a year earlier, the central bank said on Feb. 15.

by Anusha Ondaatjie, Bloomberg

New frequent flyer programme for Sri Lankan Airlines

Sri Lankan Airlines has announced the launch of a new frequent flyer programme called ‘SmiLes’.

The new programme will start on April 1, 2008. The airline’s previous frequent flyer programme, Skywards, will end on March 31, 2008, when the airline’s management changes hands.

“SmiLes will introduce a number of partner airlines and other companies which will offer members a choice to both earn and burn miles for a variety of goods and services,” said Manoj Gunawardena, head of worldwide passenger sales.

“These will range from hotel stays to bank services, retailers, and especially Sri Lankan Holidays - the airline’s leisure arm.”

“SmiLes will be positioned as ‘the Frequent Flyer Programme that Rewards and Delights.’ It will open the door to a world of rewards for our passengers.”

Three tiers of membership will be available – Gold, Silver, and Blue – according to how many miles are accrued. Silver membership will be for those who earn over 25,000 miles, and gold membership will be for those with more than 50,000 miles.

All members will be able exchange their miles for rewards such as free air tickets to in Europe, the Middle East, South Asia and the Far East; and upgrades.

Other benefits will include pre-assigned seating and priority wait-listing.

Mr. Gunawardena said: “Sri Lankan’s smiling airline staff, both in the air and on the ground, have given the airline a global reputation for warmth, caring and friendliness. Hence the name SmiLes.”

Existing Skywards members have a choice of transferring their Skywards Miles to SmiLes in full or in part.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Sri Lanka offers Rs. 10 million and a new life overseas to would-be Tamil Tiger suicide bombers

COLOMBO, March 27 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka has launched a mystery poster campaign inviting would-be Tamil Tiger suicide bombers to phone a government helpline in exchange for 10 million rupees ($92,000) and a new life overseas.

"Why should you die with a scattered body?" the red-and-yellow posters, placed in Tamil-dominated areas of the capital, Colombo, asked readers contemplating becoming members of what the rebels call elite "Black Tiger" suicide squads.

"You also were born to live. Why should you carry bombs?" the posters said alongside a fuzzy black-and-white photograph of a suicide bomber's severed head.

Sri Lanka's capital and other districts have increasingly been targeted by suicide attacks as the government and military vow to defeat the Tigers by December, pressing home an offensive against northern rebel strongholds.

The military, perhaps wary of scaring off genuine callers with rebel sympathies, said it was unaware of the posters, which invited readers to phone a government-operated 118 line that went unanswered when called by Reuters on Thursday.

Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanyakkara said he did not want to comment on whether the failure to answer was a fatal campaign flaw or whether the line could be swamped by the poor in a nation where average yearly salaries are $2,230.

Police, who with the military man most road corners and major buildings in Colombo, said they were also unaware who placed the posters, which make no mention of a backer other than relying on a government number.

"We do not know who pasted up the poster," said Mangala Dehideniya, in charge of Wellawatta Police where many of the posters were placed.

The posters said Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran should sacrifice his own son before asking others to become suicide bombers.

"Your life is precious and you have only one. Do not die for the brave words of an illusion," the poster read, promising 10 million rupees for genuine callers to build a new life at home or overseas if necessary.

The Tigers are regularly hitting back at the government's offensive with bloody suicide strikes and roadside bombs increasingly aimed at civilians, escalating a conflict in which an estimated 70,000 people have died since 1983.

In February, a suicide bomber blew themselves up near Colombo's main port, wounding seven others and spreading body parts around a house in the Modhara quarter during a search and cordon operation by police. ($1=107.79 rupees)

Sri Lankan real estate holds up in tense times

By Jon Gorvett

COLOMBO: 'Resilient" is the word that almost everyone is using to describe Sri Lanka's housing market - and its economy in general.

Despite a long-running armed conflict and the 2004 tsunami, "Sri Lanka is one of the best countries around in which to have real estate," said Lalitha Saleem, senior manager of Ceylinco Housing & Real Estate, which is developing one of the Sri Lankan capital's largest new developments. "The market can go up very fast, showing high returns."

Specialists say sales have slowed in the last year, but there continues to be widespread optimism that real estate on this island of 65,740 square kilometers, or 25,380 square miles, will be a good investment in the middle to long range.

Many Sri Lankans living abroad have been putting their money back into the country through real estate purchases, and overseas buyers from India, Japan, China and Europe, particularly Britain, also have been taking an interest.

Since the 1980s, Sri Lanka has been torn by fighting between government security forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a group fighting for a separate homeland for the island's ethnic Tamil minority. Most islanders are ethnic Sinhalese and mainly Buddhist; the Tamils are mainly Hindu - although both communities also have strong Christian minorities.

Most of the violence has been in the country's eastern and northern areas, although there are occasional attacks within the capital. Foreigners have never been targets, however.

"After a cease-fire in the conflict started back in 2002, you had a great wave of people from the diaspora investing here," said Chanaka Wickramasuriya, country head for Fitch Ratings, the international credit rating agency. "The Colombo district of Wellawatta, for example, saw a boom in apartment building, with 75 percent of all the new apartments in Colombo going up there because the Tamil diaspora was returning."

With a population of about 700,000, Colombo sprawls along the island's southwestern coast, with a long, sandy beach fronting the Indian Ocean. The city has a long history, too, with Portuguese, Dutch and British influences in the architecture of its old quarter.

Spreading out from there, the city takes on a more modern character heading south into more prosperous suburbs like Mount Lavinia.

The interest from expatriates who had left the country during the most intense fighting happened just as Colombo's housing supply was at its most scarce, pushing up prices and, eventually, the city skyline.

"Traditionally, Colombo had been a city of bungalows and houses," said Remaz Ghouse, chief operating officer for Overseas Realty (Ceylon). "But this surge in demand and the shortage of land pushed everything upwards."

At the same time, foreigners began taking an interest in beach properties on the stretch of coast south of the capital.

"Many foreigners wanted a piece of paradise," said John Wilson, a Colombo lawyer specializing in real estate law. "Business really boomed."

Prices - and profits - rose rapidly, too. "In its heyday, you were seeing 80 to 100 percent annual profit margins," Wickramasuriya said.

In 2006, the cease-fire collapsed. The conflict has escalated and, while the market has lost its spectacular momentum, values have remained high.

A new government in 2005 also re-introduced a stiff tax on foreigners buying property.

"Before then, there had been this window of opportunity," Wilson said. "But then it closed, and now foreigners must pay a 100 percent tax at the time of transfer of the property."

There are notable exceptions, however. If an apartment is on the fourth or higher floor in a building, the tax is waived - and certain major projects have been granted tax exemptions.

The tax predominantly applies to houses and bungalows, with the levy effectively preventing foreign ownership of land. As a result, the southern coastal strip has seen little new activity.

Yet, as an indicator of the market's resilience, specialists note that demand is still strong and returns are still high.

"We have three-bedroom apartments in Colombo at the high end going for around 60 million Sri Lankan rupees this year, when last year they were going for 50 million to 55 million," Saleem said, or the current price of $557,000, compared to the range last year of $464,000 to $511,000.

"Middle-range three-bedroom apartments are going for 30 million to 35 million rupees, when a year ago they were 20 million to 25 million rupees," she said.

Ceylinco is developing the luxury Trillium Residences in Colombo 8, one of the city's 15 numbered districts. The first stage of the three-part project is finished, with furnished three-bedroom apartments going for 30 million to 40 million rupees.

"Prices never go down," Ghouse said, describing sales in terms of U.S. dollars. "For a 1,000-square-foot condo apartment, you are looking at a starting price of $200,000, while two years ago it would have been $140,000 to $160,000."

"For four bedrooms, say 2,500 square feet, you start at a half-million now; two years ago, maybe $350,000. With many units now completing, those who bought off plan a few years ago have made a killing," he said.

Many say the market now is about investment, rather than buying homes, with the slower pace of sales still pushing up prices and forcing developments further out from central Colombo.

At the same time, other projects are trying to bring suburbanites back into the center, with luxury apartment complexes like Overseas Realty's Havelock City, incorporating 9 acres, or 3.6 hectares, of parkland to bring a suburban feel to the city's heart. The project, like Trillium Residences, has an exemption to the foreign sales tax.

"We take the longer view," said Overseas Realty's chief executive, Robert Dover. "This is a country that managed 6.7 percent economic growth last year despite all its problems. If those problems get resolved, growth will be extremely rapid. With Havelock City, we're already planning Phase 2. That shows our faith in this country's future."

With most observers saying the conflict will likely escalate this year though, it may be a while before those problems are resolved. Nonetheless, there is a mood of optimism in the sector.

"People are hoping there will be a permanent solution to the conflict here," said Roshan Madawela of the Research Intelligence Unit, a group of economic analysts based in Colombo and known for real estate expertise.

"Things are moving toward this, so I think prices will continue to increase. People are confident of a long-term shift, and calculate that on that basis, you can't really lose out."

Courtesy: International Herald Tribune

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

'We are better off without the LTTE' - Son of a Tamil leader known as Mahatma Gandhi

S C Chandrahasan is the son of Samuvel Selvnayagam, a Tamil leader who was known as the Mahatma Gandhi [Images] of Sri Lanka [Images]. After the island-nation's ethnic conflict began in 1983, Chandrahasan founded the Organisation For Eelam Refugees' Rehabilitation.

OFERR works in Sri Lanka and India, and has offices in all the 104 refugee camps in Tamil Nadu. It also works in the north and east of Sri Lanka, two regions badly affected in the conflict.

The soft-spoken leader slams both the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam for the mess in the island state.

He spoke at length to's Special Correspondent A Ganesh Nadar.

What was the position on the ground at the time of the ceasefire and peace talks in 2002?

At the time of the ceasefire some areas were controlled by the Sri Lankan government and others were under the control of the LTTE. There were some hazy areas where both the LTTE and government troops moved around.

What is the position now?

Currently the LTTE s presence in the east has been cleared.

Why did Colonel Karuna go against the LTTE?

The people in the east did not appreciate the way the LTTE leadership shared the facilities that came by because of the ceasefire. There was a committee to oversee development activities. Not a single person from the east was on that committee. They did not give enough positions in the administration to the people in the east. That hurt them. Karuna objected to this.

What is the composition of the people in the east?

In the east, the majority are Tamilians, then Muslims and Sinhalese. The Muslims speak Tamil but of late they want to be classified separately and not be bunched with the Tamils. So they are being classified that way. But they are Tamil speaking and culturally Tamil. The Tamils and Muslims did have a good rapport, but with the ethnic conflict, and the divide and rule policy of the government, there has been some friction.

Do you work in the east too?

We are working in the east and we work with all three communities. We like our work to be balanced. Our work in the peaceful area is easy. On the battlefront it is difficult. There both sides (the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Army) are armed, and the hapless people are caught in between.

What is happening in the east now?

After the talks broke down, the army has moved forward slowly. In the east they have cleared the area and the LTTE is not visible there anymore in a meaningful way. They are moving around there but no longer in command.

Which areas have been cleared?

Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara districts have been cleared. Mannar and Vavuniya and some places in the north are still under the LTTE's control.

The LTTE's seeds of discontent

With the increase in fighting there, why has there not been an influx of refugees to India?

There are places where civilians can still move around and find alternative residence. But people usually move as a last resort after the fighting starts and it becomes dangerous. It is also difficult to get boats to India and therefore there has been no heavy influx of refugees.

There is a belief that when you have to move it is still better to remain within the country than cross the border -- then you lose everything. We work in Mannar too. We advise people to remain there. Only as a last resort do they cross over to India.

Also the climatic conditions are not conducive to crossing. Also the navies of India and Sri Lanka and the Coast Guard are patrolling the sea.

Any other reason?

Another thing that has changed now is the approach of the army. Earlier, in the eighties, they used to attack Tamil civilians. Now civilians are not attacked.

But human rights violations are occurring. When they suspect that you are connected to the LTTE or an informer or you give wrong information, you are in trouble. People have been summarily executed. People continue to disappear. The number of deaths and disappearances are unacceptably high. According to latest reports the highest number of disappearances are in the government-controlled area in the north.

How can that be stopped?

Enough public opinion has to be built up to stop that. Once people are taken we do not know what happens to them. The government has to correct that.

What game is Prabhakaran playing?

What is the difference between life in a government area and an LTTE area?

In the LTTE areas, civilians were secure. Their only fear was forceful recruitment and taxes. The LTTE's taxation was highly arbitrary.

When fighting breaks out civilians are in great danger. After the fighting, life does not get better in the liberated area. There is a screening process and the army keeps an eye on the people. Commodities are not allowed to come in as the army fears that it will fall into LTTE hands. So the civilian population is put to great hardship even after the government gets back control.

Has the LTTE helped in getting justice for the Tamil people?

The LTTE coming into the picture has two phases. Earlier they were not killing innocent people. Then they started internecine fighting and started killing innocent people and other Tamil leaders. They have become a problem rather than the solution.

What is the alternative?

Some of us who believe in the non-violent process know that the struggle will go on until justice is achieved. It will go on much more effectively if the LTTE is not in the picture.

Tell us about your father's role in the struggle?

My father S A V Selvanayagam was the leader of the Tamil people from 1948 to 1983. He was the leader of a federal party. He believed that a federal solution was possible. If people would have accepted that solution there would have been no problem now. It was a non-violent struggle. He was very firm that we must not use violence, that we must convince people. It was Gandhi's method that he adopted. Then the militants went and hijacked the process and could not sustain it.

The problem started in 1948. They brought in an act in Parliament whereby half the Tamil population lost its citizenship. The act took away the citizenship of all Tamils of Indian origin who were working in the plantations. That was the basic cause.

At that time my father said, 'What is now happening to the Indian Tamils will happen to us tomorrow'. People did not believe him and in the 1952 elections he lost. In 1956 people realised that what he had said was right.

The war in Sri Lanka

People who returned to India at that time say that the Sri Lankan Tamils supported the government in chasing out the Indian Tamils?

One Tamil leader did go along with the Sinhala government and that gave us all a bad name. My father said that any act that is discriminatory should be opposed. They began the struggle at that time. Only one percent of the Tamils driven out at that time were business people. Most of them were in the plantations.

Then began the process of colonisation. The majority Sinhala people were sent into the Tamil areas with free land, money and equipment. The locals did not get anything. Then came the language act. That was the last straw. They said anybody seeking government employment had to be fluent in Sinhalese.

What happened to the non-violent movement for justice?

The movement gathered strength and in 1960 we paralysed the entire government machinery in the northeast without any violence. Unfortunately with violence spreading in the south in the seventies infecting other areas, the Tamil youth started reacting.

What did the government do next?

The violence on the Sinhala side increased. They first started recruiting more Sinhalese in government service. If you take the police in 1977, 99 percent were Sinhalese. The army is still worse. When you have two large ethnic communities and you fill the security forces with one side, it is a big mistake. Now it is a bit late to do anything about it.

What about the influence of the LTTE on the Tamils?

The LTTE has a hold on about 10 percent of the Tamils. That also is the fault of the government. When someone in your family disappears in a white van, there is bitterness and a desire to support the LTTE. The activities of the Sinhala government and its troops have been encouraging militancy. Tamil militancy is reactive.

Otherwise people would have gone the non-violent way. The influence of the Gandhian movement in India had a tremendous effect on the island. The actions of the army, including indiscriminate firing on civilians in the eighties, encouraged militancy.

You feel that it has changed now?

Now that has changed. There is no indiscriminate firing. Also there is a sizable population among the Sinhalese who say 'We must live together'. That is a qualitative change.

What is the position of the LTTE today?

Unfortunately, the LTTE factor is a problem. The LTTE not being in the picture will strengthen the Tamil side. It will facilitate India coming in a very meaningful way.

We had a two-day discussion in Tamil Nadu among representatives of the refugees. Everyone agreed that we should not take an LTTE-centric view of everything. The LTTE view will show everything going wrong. But if you don't look it at that way, there are other means. The struggle will go on till justice is achieved.

If the non-violent movement had continued after 1977 we would have got our rights by now.

Courtesy: Rediff

"International pressure on LTTE required" - V. Anandasangaree

The Leader of Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), V. Anandasangaree stressed the necessity of international pressure to prevent LTTE targeting innocent civilians in pursuit of their unrealistic dream. He said that India should play a major role in this regard.

In a Press Statement to the Press Trust of India the TULF chief said, "the time has now come for India to step in and tell the LTTE to keephands off civilians".

"The LTTE's only hope now is to unleash fresh violence for which the Sinhalese are not prepared," he said in the statement form London.

"I condemn every killing; I believe that no one has any right to take the life of another," he said.

"It (the killing) will not take them (LTTE) anywhere. Instead they lose their credibility day by day. It is high time that the international community warns the LTTE to refrain from causing the deaths of innocent civilians," he said.

Expressing his dissatisfaction over the role played by the Tamil media particularly, the TULF leader said that Tamil media in Sri Lanka is not categorically blaming the LTTE for the killings of civilians in the country.

"I reiterate that the Tamil media, both print and electronic, should bear part of the blame. Their failure to condemn these killings in one voice, gives some encouragement to the LTTE terrorists."

Given that they have a good network of reporters, they can easily assist the authorities to detect the real culprits.

Without doing their duty they find fault with others," he observed.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Video: Kelaniya fly over opened by President Mahinda Rajapaksa

President Mahinda Rajapaksa opened the Kelani fly over ahead of schedule at 7 am today (25th March 2008) at Thorana junction, Peliyagoda. The President was to open the fly over at 10.30 am

It will go into the world record book as the first iron flyover to be built within a limited number 60 days breaking the record set by the Malos flyover in the Philippines constructed within 66 days. This flyover is the first to be constructed under the bridges programme of the Mahinda Chintana. It is 325 metres long. There are two lanes under the first stage, while another two will come up under the second stage. Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle said work on the second stage will begin next month. It will cost 2.1 billion rupees. The Minister revealed of plans to build 20 flyovers and 218 iron bridges under the Mahinda Chintana. The next flyover will come up in Panadura. Its work is scheduled to begin on the 31st of this month.

Video: Nedumaran and 164 LTTE supporters arrested in Tamil Nadu

(24/03/2008) Indian Tamil Nationalist leader Pazha Nedumaran and at least 164 members of the outfit are in custody. They were arrested for staging a demonstration in support of the LTTE.

They were also demonstrating against the Sri Lankan and Indian governments. The Tamil Nadu Police had nabbed at them. International reports said they were taken into custody for demanding the Indian government not to sell arms to Sri Lanka. They had even raised slogans in favour of the proscribed LTTE. The Indian military arrested Nedumaran several months ago for attempting to forcibly transport food to Jaffna.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Flooding hits S.Lanka, slows civil war pace

COLOMBO, March 23 (Reuters) - Heavy rains in Sri Lanka have killed eight people and affected more than 340,000 others while restricting military gains over rebels in the country's worsening civil war, the military said on Sunday.

Unusually heavy torrential rains have caused widespread flooding and landslides in eastern agricultural and rice-growing areas, as well as in the north where the military has launched a fresh offensive against Tamil Tiger rebels.

"Around seven percent of the harvest in major paddy producing areas has been destroyed," said Agriculture Department Director General C. Kudagamage on Sunday.

Disaster Relief Services Minister M.S.S Ameer Ali told local media that food rations would be distributed to tens of thousands of families in the worst affected "food bowl" province of Ampara and other areas.

Flooding and mass displacement of people are common in Sri Lanka, but northeast monsoon rains usually start in May. Flooding had also hit more than 41,000 people in the conflict-torn northeastern district of Mannar, where fighting is continuing between the Tigers and government forces after a truce in the country's 25-year civil war ended in January.

The military on Sunday said its forces had taken control of small but strategically vital areas around Parayakulam and Andillanthaven in Mannar, with 25 Tigers killed and another 25 injured, according to intercepted rebel radio reports.

But heavy rains have prevented the army using helicopter gunships against the rebels, who were digging new fortifications along the frontlines of their northern strongholds.

Ground forces pushing north on two fronts were also held up by knee-high floodwaters and marshlands, with only sporadic artillery and mortar fire, an unidentified army major told the local Sunday Times newspaper.

Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanyakkara said the offensive against the Tigers was continuing, but flooding had caused supply bottlenecks.

"Rain has created problems with some of the bunkers filled with water," Nanyakkara told Reuters. "The movement of vehicles and supplies are restricted to main roads, although much of the fighting relies on ground troops," he said.

A Tiger spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment on the latest fighting, although the pro-Tamil Web site claimed 55 troops had been killed and 120 wounded in fighting on Saturday.

Liberation for people in North soon - TMVP

The Thamil Makkal Viduthalai Pukkikal (TMVP) said that the people of the East were thankful to the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government and the military for ending the fearful era under the clutches of the LTTE terrorists.

The first woman Mayor of the Batticaloa district, Sivageetha Prabakharan of the TMVP told the 'Sunday Observer' that the TMVP hopes the Government would liberate the people in the North from the LTTE terrorists soon.

"We wish that our people in the North too will breathe the air of freedom soon," she said.

Agreeing that the TMVP still shelters children, she said that after the split, the LTTE tortured the younger brothers of the TMVP carders.

Mayor Prabhakaran, who seeks Government assistance to develop the district, assured that public money allocated for development would not be allowed to be misused under her administration.

Here are the excerpts of the interview:

Q: How do you feel now with your new position as the first woman Mayor of the Batticaloa Municipal Council?

A: I am very happy about this victory, personally and more than that, this is a victory for democracy. This victory reveals the trust that the people have on our party and us. As a whole it is a victory of the whole Tamil community in the East. For years the Tamil people in this region were left as political orphans. But now people have given us the power. What I can say is that now they are not political orphans. They have a new identity.

People of Batticaloa and the whole Eastern region had suffered immensely for over two decades from the war and also from several natural disasters. There are many needs to be fulfilled and we have high hopes that the Government will do more for our people.

The TMVP also hopes that we will be able to fulfil the aspirations of the people. I think this is a remarkable victory for our party.

Q: Now at this important moment you will be definitely remembering your late father, the TNA candidate Rajan Sathiyamoorthy. How do you see his political career?

A: Since the 1990s my father was involved in social service. Being a good social worker he entered politics. He served the people and from my childhood I was with my father. I learnt the needs of the people while working with my father.

In 1994 he contested from the UNP. He lost the election and then again in 2000 he contested from the UNP but he could not get a Seat. Finally he was ready to contest under the TNA in 2004 but just two days before the election he was brutally murdered by the LTTE terrorists.

After the peace agreement was signed many development projects took place in the East as well as in the North. My father played a key role with Karuna Amman, who was the Leader of the East. He was engaged in several development activities in the East.

After the split with the outfit Karuna Amman decided to enter into the democratic mainstream. So after the split Prabhakaran's hatred with my father grew gradually and he did not want my father playing a key role.

Prabhakaran was a man with regionalist ideas, so he did not want to see development projects taking place in the East too. My father, whose ideas were not same as that of Prabhakaran, worked for the betterment of the people of both regions.

Q: Is it true that your father was one of the pioneers who planned the split?

A: No. Not at all. His service was not restricted only to the East but to the North as well. He visited the North and work hard for the benefit of Tamils in both regions. Karuna Amman broke away from the outfit mainly because Prabhakaran did not want peace.

According to Karuna Amman he attended a meeting with Prabhakaran in Vanni before they were going for peace talks. There he had told that "we must use the peace talk period to strengthen our weaponry and the cadres". Karuna Ammam found Prabhakaran did not want peace any more and decided to leave the terrorist organisation.

Q: You said that Prabhakaran has regionalism ideas. Is this resulted in treating the LTTE carders in East and North differently?

A: Yes. As I mentioned earlier he is a man with regionalist ideas. This made him to treat carders in different ways. Though he started his struggle with an objective later it turned into a struggle of selfishness. Most of the members were not satisfied with that situation. The LTTE terrorists are fascists.

Q: You named the LTTE as a fascist outfit. How does the TMVP differ from fascism?

A: No. There is no room for diverse opinions within the LTTE. Only one voice and those who express their views differently will be killed the next day. The TMVP is totally different from this. People have different ideologies.

Q: Prabhakaran's militancy began with gunning down the former Jaffna Mayor Alfred Dorraiappa. Later several members of local bodies in the North and East like former Mayor of Batticaloa Chelian Perimahanayam, Sivapalan, Jaffna first woman Mayor Sarojini were assassinated by the LTTE. In this background how safe are you in this hot seat?

A: Well, the LTTE is a terrorist outfit. They do not believe in democracy. Prabhakaran does not believe and accept in diverse opinions. The history tells that all. I am ready to face anything for the betterment of my people.

I want to keep the trust that they keep in my party and me to serve them. So I am prepared to face any challenge and the LTTE cannot stop me. But I am happy to say that the Sri Lanka Police has provided me enough security.

Q: With the recent Local Government election democracy is rekindled in the Eastern province. How do you describe the days when the region was under the grip of the LTTE?

A: When the East was under the clutches of the LTTE, they wanted every thing to happen at gunpoint. People suffered immensely. There was a rigid rule at that time.

People did not have the opportunity of expressing their views freely. The situation during that time was really dangerous. I believe now people of the Eastern region breath fresh air, which was a golden result of this election.

Q: Your father was a TNA candidate. Why did you decide to join the new political party TMVP?

A: After my father's death I too had death threats. This situation compelled me to flee the Batticaloa district. Meanwhile I heard that Karuna Amman was going to form a political party. Then I returned to Batticaloa and joined them.

I wanted to serve my father's people. Even after my father was assassinated, over 24,000 people voted for him. So I thought it was my duty to serve them. That is why I joined the TMVP and worked as its General Secretary for some years.

Q: The TMVP is accused by international human rights organisations for child conscription. You were a teacher. Did you support children to join the TMVP or were you helpless?

A: No. We actually did not want children to join our group because using children as soldiers is a great human rights violation. We had discussed this issue with the UNICEF and other relevant organisations several times. The truth is that we had many children who had joined our organisation at the beginning because of the split in the outfit.

What had happened was when the elder brother joined the TMVP, the young ones of that family were tortured by the LTTE. So they came running to us seeking protection.

We were helpless and we could not do any thing other than sheltering them. When the situation had improved, we, with the help of the UNICEF and other organisations, handed over most of the children to their parents.

Q: So are you saying that there are no child soldiers with the TMVP now?

A: There are some children with us even now. Most of them do not have parents and they are orphans. We do not like to have children as soldiers. If any social welfare group or an NGO come forward to put them in a home, we are prepared to handover them. Then these children will start their education or vocational training.

Until then we have to protect these children. We strongly believe that today's children are tomorrow's leaders. I will shortly discuss with the relevant NGOs and we will make some arrangements to address this issue.

Q: Do you know how many child soldiers are there with the TMVP now?

A: No. I cannot exactly give the figures but there are some children with us as I mentioned earlier. .

Q: You said that as the Mayor you want to give priority to develop the Batticaloa district. Are you satisfied with the development work done under the Negenahira Navodaya?

A: This is a welcome move and especially Vakarai is a big achievement under the Negenhira Navodaya. People of the East are happy and they appreciate the project. But the need for more projects to develop the region is there. I think in the near future we can fulfil other requirements of the people.

As soon as the TMVP entered into the democratic political mainstream, we identified the people's needs and submitted their requests for the Government. I have met MP Basil Rajapaksa several times.

And then I have met Minister Karu Jayasuriya and even Governor Mohan Wijewickrama. Through them we have submitted the needs of the people to President Mahinda Rajapaksa. We have much hope under Negenahira Navodaya project.

We have collected data from various departments like fisheries and agriculture. Then we have already submitted our proposals to the relevant miniseries to develop the Batticaloa district under the Negenahira Navodaya.

Q: What are your priorities and how do you think that you could develop the Batticaloa district?

A: The first priority should go for developing roads and then the drainage systems. There are many problems to be addressed in this district, which suffered heavily.

The problems of the Internally Displaced People (IDPs) will also be looked into. The IDPs are willing to go back to their own villages and we have requested the relevant ministeries to speed the programs for the resettlement programs.

Q: However, the TMVP was accused for committing murder, carrying arms and abductions and also demanding ransoms. What is your comment?

A: From the day that Karuna Ammam entered into the political mainstream we asked protection from the then President Chandrika Bandaranike Kumaratunga. But the then government did not provide us protection.

With the spilt, the LTTE started killing our members. We were helpless and we were compelled to retain arms for self-defence. We carried arms not to kill anyone but to fight against the LTTE to protect our carders. We are prepared to lay down arms as soon as our security is fully ensured.

Q: The main accusation for the TMVP is that you won the election at gunpoint. Can you deny this allegation?

A: Yes. I deny this allegation. We request those who make this claim to visit us or contact us and make clarifications.

Q: But the TMVP armed carders had threatened the Jaffna people in Batticaloa and demanded their support to the TMVP at the election and threatened them to leave their villages if they cannot do so. Is this a proof that the TMVP is still similar to the LTTE, which is fascist as you claimed? How do you ensure their safety now?

A: We did not threaten Jaffna people at the election and it is wrong. And we will not do that in the future either. While canversing I had visited their houses. Because, though these families are from Jaffna they have been living in the Batticaloa district for many years.

They are with us and the TMVP does not treat them indifferently. I want to reiterate that the TMVP is not fascist like the LTTE. Therefore I refute these allegations.

Q: It is reported that the TMVP bought polling cards and in some instances your carders had taken the polling cards forcibly from the residents. What is your comment?

A: I refuse these allegations because this election was a free and fair election. We believe in democracy and we did not do any illegal activity as such. What I see in these allegations is that these are by those who do not wish to see the TMVP as a political party and our victory too. These are malicious allegations.

Q: The President has pledged Rs. 6,000 million to develop the Eastern region. To what extent can the TMVP assure that the allocation for the Batticaloa district will not be misused under your tenure?

A: All the elected members will get together and discuss how to use this money for the betterment of the people. I can assure that this money will not be misused.

Q: What is your comment about liberating the Eastern region from the LTTE?

A: We should really be thankful to the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government, the three forces and the Police for liberating the East from the clutches of the LTTE. During that period people in the East lived in constant fear.

No one could go against the LTTE and if somebody raised his or her voice against the LTTE's views or criticised their activities, they would have been killed by the LTTE the next day. Now we are free from all terror. We breathe fresh air of freedom.

We lost lots of valuable lives during the last two decades. They died for an unworthy cause. The Eelam of the LTTE is a mirage.

Q: How supportive was the Government for your party to enter into politics?

A: Yes, we appreciate the support that the government extended to us. As soon as we entered democracy we joined hands with the Government to work for the people. As a result people of the East are free of terrorism.

We think that our sisters and brothers and their parents in the North under the clutches of the LTTE terrorists should be liberated soon. They should also breathe the same air of freedom as in the Eastern region.

The need of the hour is to join with the Government and work for the people. It is not the time to be in the Opposition and accusing each other.

Courtesy: Sunday Observer