Saturday, April 26, 2008

Sri Lanka: Democracy vs terrorism

by Bernard Goonetilleke

As far as the Western world is concerned, the history of democracy begins during the times of ancient Greeks and Romans. However, coming as I do from the East, we are aware that a form of democracy existed in ancient India, long before Athenians even began to practice democracy.

The system of governance in ancient Sri Lanka also goes back several centuries before the Christian era, and many of you may be aware, that the history and culture of our island is intertwined with India's. That being the case, it is safe to assume, that some form of participatory democracy existed in ancient Sri Lanka as well.


Going ahead with development work in the Eastern Province after its liberation. Pictures by Chaminda Hittatiya

Despite its sheer size and diversity, India remains a stalwart of democracy, and Sri Lanka, despite the challenges it has had to face over the past several decades, with a bloody armed conflict that consumed over 60,000 lives, continues its democratic traditions and is currently engaged in a process of consolidation.

A little known fact is that in Sri Lanka, the seeds of democracy were sown long before its independence in 1948.

In fact, universal adult suffrage, an essential ingredient of democracy, was introduced to Sri Lanka in 1931; a mere 14 years after the U.S. afforded that facility to its people. Thus, Sri Lanka became the first country in Asia, where its people enjoyed the opportunity to vote without any distinction.

Addressing the Indian parliament on January 2, 1978, President Jimmy Carter said, "Democracy is like the experience of life itself - always changing, infinite in its variety, sometimes turbulent and all the more valuable for having been tested for adversity."

Strength of democracy

Taken in the context of Sri Lanka, this compelling description of democracy by President Carter, involuntarily moves to a more powerful echelon of thought, for, democracy in Sri Lanka has indeed been tested more than once, for adversity. And, it is an achievement of considerable significance, that despite the challenges it had to face over the years, the democratic fabric of our country yet remains intact.

In fact, it ought to be said that, the strength of democracy in any country should be assessed, not when those countries are enjoying relative peace, security and prosperity, but when they are compelled to face adversity, and challenges, which threaten the very sinews of freedom and democracy.

This is the case of Sri Lanka: a country that has endured untrammelled terrorism for several decades, which has violently pulled apart the country and its people, as never before in history.

Despite the magnitude of the challenge and the death and destruction that spewed because of unmitigated acts terrorism, Sri Lanka, has no choice but to respond to such threats appropriately, in keeping with norms expected of democracies.

This, I must say, is not an easy task, and am confident that there will be no disagreement on that score.

History of Terrorism

The 20th century saw terrorism being practised widely when it became the hallmark of subversive movements, representing the extreme right to the extreme left of the political spectrum.

Technological advances, the spread of small arms and light weapons, deadly explosive devices that can be electrically or electronically detonated, and the ability to purchase air tickets on the internet, with freely available credit cards, and circle the globe, thanks to rapid air transportation, have given terrorists a new lethality and mobility.

The Baader-Meinhof gang of West Germany, the Japanese Red Army, Italy's Red Brigade, the Puerto Rican FALN, the Shining Path of Peru, PKK claiming to represent the Kurds, the universally dreaded Al Qaeda and the LTTE of Sri Lanka, to name a few, were among the most feared terrorist groups of the latter part of the 20th century.

The increasing use of terrorism to achieve political objectives, is a relatively new phenomenon that developed in the second half of the 20th century. At first, the world witnessed a spate of hijackings of civilian aircraft by Palestinian organisations.

Gradually it began to witness other acts of terrorism, such as the attack against the US embassy in Beirut in 1983, followed by another truck bombing against US Marine Corps headquarters in Beirut six month later, together causing more than 300 deaths. On the heels of these attacks, civilian airliners became targets.

Over the years, we have heard the LTTE, and similar organisations in many parts of the world, express their view, that their acts of terrorism can be justified, in exercising their right to self-determination.

However, it must be pointed out, that although the universal right to self-determination is enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, and embodied in the International Covenants on Human Rights and in the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, contained in General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960, none of those international instruments encourage or condone terrorism in pursuit of that objective.

Indeed, some groups tend to bolster their case by making reference, to the 1970 Declaration on Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States, albeit partially.

However, it is pertinent to point out that in 1993, having deliberated on the matter extensively, UN member States, while recognising that all peoples have the right to self-determination, declared, and I quote, "Taking into account the particular situation of peoples under colonial or other forms of alien domination or foreign occupation, the World Conference on Human Rights recognizes the right of peoples to take any legitimate action, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations." End of quote.

The crucial point made in the Vienna Declaration is that, those who seek to exercise the right to self-determination should take "legitimate action," and such action should be "in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations."

Unbridled terrorism

I need not emphasize here that acts of unbridled terrorism are wholly illegitimate and such actions are not condoned, or encouraged in the UN Charter.

The International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Relations, state that, "All peoples have the right of self determination and by virtue of that right, they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic social and cultural development."

However, both these conventions also make it clear that those rights can only be promoted, "in conformity of the Charter of the United Nations."

Focusing on the Sri Lankan conflict, language and standardization in university admissions, are among the major issues highlighted by the Sri Lankan Tamil community, to establish that their community was discriminated against, by successive administrations, thus, prompting them to demand a separate state.

To buttress their claim for a separate state, they also claim that the North and the East had been the traditional homeland of Tamils since time immemorial.

However, the fact remains that at no time in the history of the island was there a 'Tamil Eelam,' encompassing the North and the East.

Furthermore, when a separate sub-kingdom did exist in the North, it never encompassed the east of the island. Even the so called Jaffna kingdom came to a partial end in 1561 A.D. and to a complete end in 1621 A.D., when Cankili the Second, a usurper to the throne, was removed by the Portuguese to Goa, and was promptly hanged.

Therefore, the vain attempt made by the TULF in 1976, to claim statehood on historical basis, relying on an erroneous minute made by the first British colonial secretary Hugh Cleghorn, can be put to rest.

However, when the allegation of discrimination relating to the language issue is discussed, one can understand why the newly independent Ceylon decided to introduce the Official Languages Act (33) of 1956, with a view to making Sinhala the official language of the country.

Ceylon was emerging from colonial rule that had lasted several centuries, where English had been the language of administration, irrespective of the fact that over 70 per cent of the population spoke Sinhala.

From a Tamil viewpoint, the Official Language Act, while giving prominence to the Sinhala language, ignored the fact that Tamils comprised approximately 23 per cent of the population.

Even though the administration of that time attempted to address this lacuna, two years later, through the The Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Act of 1958, it must be admitted that, the measure did not fully remedy the situation.

Standardization was also a contentious issue, as the Tamils saw it as a measure to admit Sinhalese to the universities at the expense of Tamils.

However, the Sinhalese saw it as a corrective measure, to give the Sinhala youth their dues in university admissions, particularly to the medical and engineering faculties, which had a much higher percentage of Tamil students in comparison to their ethnic ratio.

Sympathise

While one can sympathise with the Sri Lankan Tamils, for losing the privileged position they enjoyed during the colonial era, it must be pointed out that even before independence, Tamil politicians made it a practice to make submissions to the colonial administration that their community was subjected to discrimination on several areas.

However, having examined the alleged discriminatory practices, the colonial administration said "a careful review of the evidence submitted to us provides no substantial indication of a general policy on the part of the government of Ceylon of discrimination against minority communities."

Similarly, responding to another complaint made by the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC), that there was discrimination with regard to public appointments affecting their community, the Soulbury Commission said, "we received from the All-Ceylon Tamil Congress, complaints of discrimination against the members of their community in regard to appointments in the Public Services.

Grievances

Apart from real or perceived grievances, such as those relating to discrimination, Sri Lankan Tamils have other issues that make them feel they have been short changed by respective governments, over the decades.

Take for example, the pacts, the leader of the Federal Party, Chelvanayakam, signed in 1957, with then Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike representing the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and in 1965, with Dudley Senanayake, representing the United National Party (UNP).

In both instances, two agreements signed with two different administrations in two different decades by Chelvanayakam, failed to see the light of day, due to protests, primarily from the opposition parties in Parliament.

First, it was the UNP, which opposed the Chelvanayakam /Bandaranaike Pact, and hit the streets with massive protests.

Eight years later, the SLFP returned the favour to the UNP. While Sri Lankan Tamils can fault the southern polity for reneging agreements signed in good faith, and for their inability to make concessions to the Tamils, there have been inherent weaknesses, not only in the manner in which agreements were negotiated, but also in the content.

One of the major drawbacks was, the administrations of the time, not understanding the importance of taking the electorate into confidence, and briefing them on the need for reaching accommodation with a substantial group of citizens, and getting their consent, which is part and parcel of participatory democracy.

Thus, both Bandaranaike and Senanayake, failed to make good of their understanding with the Sri Lankan Tamil leadership, and succumbed to political pressure exerted by opposition political parties of the day, whose interest was not to accommodate the Tamil leadership, but to use the opportunity provided to weaken the administration, in the hope of grabbing power.

The LTTE too, had no intention of reaching a political arrangement, in place of a separate state.

In the first instance, in its quest for power and unadulterated supremacy over other Tamil political parties, and the numerous Tamil armed groups that emerged in the late 70s, the LTTE systematically decimated leaders of other Tamil political parties and armed groups, until it succeeded in emerging as the single most powerful organization.

In this process of elimination, the LTTE assassinated the TULF leadership, including its party leader, A. Amirthalingam, along with politburo member, V. Yogeswaran, in 1989.

It can be safely said that the LTTE believed the goal of a separate state could be realized, not democratically, but only through violence.

The role of the LTTE in the ensuing years in decimating the Tamil intelligentsia, and in coercing the TULF to step aside and make way, was described by the current leader of the party, V. Anandasangaree, whose lone voice of reasoning is still heard from time to time.

CFA

The Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) signed between the LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) in February 2002, was a watershed for the LTTE, as that event facilitated the LTTE to climb on to the world stage.

Moreover, thanks to the Norwegian insistence, the LTTE was received and recognized as an equal to the government of Sri Lanka.

The leader of the LTTE delegation was addressed by the Norwegian facilitator as, "Excellency Anton Balasingham."

Even though the CFA provided an ideal opportunity for both sides to reach an understanding, the LTTE was not prepared to negotiate in any real sense, for one good reason.

That was, that they had not hit the peace alley with a view to giving up their demand for a separate state, but took that path with the intention of taking a short cut to a separate state.

If they failed, they would yet use the opportunity provided by the CFA, to remove the debilitating blockade of the North imposed by the Government, and use the relatively peaceful period to arm themselves, so that they could once again challenge the Government militarily, at an opportune time.

Negotiations

In fairness, it must be said that the LTTE entertained the idea of engaging in negotiations with the Government, with a certain amount of trepidation, not being certain as to which way the water would flow.

I remember accompanying a minister of the administration of that time to Oslo in August 2002, meeting with late Anton Balasingham, and giving him an assurance that the government would not try to gain undue advantage, or pressure the LTTE, as they gingerly ventured into negotiations with the Government, for the first time since 1990.

That was how Balasingham obtained the concurrence of the LTTE leadership to begin negotiations.

Oslo

When the going was good, the international media described the Sri Lanka peace process as ‘the fastest forward moving peace process,’ at that time.

However, the enthusiasm of Sri Lankans and the world was to be dampened soon, and it became evident that LTTE chief negotiator Balasingham was pressed against a rock and a hard place, as the Sri Lankan Government wanted to engage in real negotiations, and the LTTE leadership did not see any reason to comply, as it would have adversely impacted on its claim for a separate state.

However much the Government delegation pushed, and the Norwegian facilitators prodded, the LTTE stubbornly refused to budge, until negotiations virtually came to a standstill one chilly evening of December 2002, in Oslo.

To be fair by the Norwegian facilitators, they persisted until Balasingham yielded, and came up with a draft on the following morning, later known as the Oslo Declaration.

It said, “Responding to a proposal by the leadership of the LTTE, the parties agreed to explore a solution founded on the principle of internal self-determination in areas of historical habitation of the Tamil-speaking peoples, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka. The parties acknowledged that the solution has to be acceptable to all communities.”

Landmark decision

Which ever way one looks at the understanding reached in Oslo, it can be taken as a landmark decision. First, it was a decision to look for internal self-determination in place of external self-determination.

Second, it was a decision to look for a solution on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka and third, there was an agreement that the solution had to be acceptable to all communities.

In essence, the LTTE had moved away from its demand for a separate state, and returned to the original demand of the Tamils for a federal state, first made in 1949, and the Sri Lanka Government had moved away from its long standing opposition to a federal arrangement.

It soon became apparent, that either Balasingham had exceeded his authority, or the LTTE leadership realized they were speeding down the wrong track, which would rob them of their quest for statehood.

What followed was an apparent disagreement between the LTTE leadership and Balasingham, and this time around, ‘federalism’ became a dirty word, not for the Southern politicians, but for the LTTE.

Soon thereafter, Balasingham retreated from the “Proposal by the LTTE leadership,” as the Oslo understanding stated, for internal self determination, based on a federal structure, thus, providing an opportunity for some parties in the South to insist on a ‘unitary state’.

I went to great lengths to explain what happened in the spring of 2003, in order to demonstrate that the LTTE was primarily responsible for derailing the peace process. Having agreed to explore a federal solution, the LTTE pulled out of negotiations, describing it as suspension of “its participation in the negotiations for the time being.”

That the LTTE hijacked the Tamil demand for a separate State in the North and East of Sri Lanka, and systematically used violence and acts of terrorism, to achieve that objective, are undeniable facts. Also, nobody can disprove that several attempts were made by different administrations to bring the conflict to an end through negotiations.

LTTE strategy

The strategy employed by the LTTE was to walk away from the Thimpu talks, the Indo Lanka agreement etc., following it up with the assassinations of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and President R. Premadasa, and attempting to take the life of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, employing suicide bombers.

Among the long line of government leaders assassinated by the LTTE, while the CFA was still operative, was Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar.

Against this background, it is ironical that organizations such as Amnesty International, and even some friendly countries, should have expressed the view that the so-called unilateral abrogation of the CFA by the Sri Lanka Government in January this year, resulted in increasing the incidence of violence in the island.

Violations

They fail to see and refuse to acknowledge, that the CFA in fact did provide for one of the parties to the agreement, to withdraw from it, if it became necessary to do so.

It was the repeated violations of the CFA by the LTTE, on a massive scale, which compelled the Government to see the futility of hanging on to the CFA, which had practically become defunct due to LTTE intransigence.

Just for record purposes, by April 2007, the LTTE had violated the CFA 3830 times as against 351 times by the government.

Against such a number to its credit, it is ironical that the LTTE had to wait until the government issued notice of termination of the CFA in keeping with Article 4.4 of the agreement, to assure 100 per cent compliance of the CFA from thereon.

The resumption of the conflict in 2006 was no accident. Events that unfolded since early December 2005 indicate that the LTTE was moving in the direction of provoking the Government, and using the Government response to justify a thrust to capture Jaffna. The Government was cautious at the beginning, and practically ignored many grave provocations.

However, when the LTTE employed a suicide bomber in the attempted assassination of the Army Commander, in April 2006, and followed it by cutting off vital water supplies to some 60,000 farmers in the east several months later, the government reacted firmly, and with resolve.

The LTTE’s folly ended, with their losing of the Eastern Province to the Government, where steps have been taken toward democratic elections on May 10, after a lapse of 14 long years.

The Government’s response to the challenges seems to have caused concern, not only the LTTE, but also some friendly governments, who believe that the current military operations in the Northern Province, is aimed at seeking a military solution to the conflict.

These sources repeat themselves, every now and then, by proclaiming, “There is no military solution to the conflict, and a solution must be found through negotiations,” as if they are privy to a formula, of which the Government is unaware.

Devolution

What is being said by them is a mere repetition of the government position, and there is no fundamental difference between the Government position and that of some countries, which are engaged in the situation in Sri Lanka.

The irony is that, such views continue to be expressed despite repeated assurances given by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, that his desire is to grant maximum possible devolution within one country. The Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka has made his position clear as well.

The government’s position is clear. While it believes in a political solution to resolve the issues faced by the minorities, it has no choice but to act firmly and decisively against the LTTE’s armed incursions within and outside the North and the East, so that, that organisation will entertain no illusion that it could achieve its political objectives by resorting to acts of violence and terrorism. The message is loud and clear for all interested parties to hear.

Eventually, there will have to be a negotiated settlement to the conflict, and the LTTE should realise that resorting to terrorism will not achieve for them a separate state.

A democratic solution

This brings us to the most important issue concerning the conflict in Sri Lanka. That is, the solution to the conflict, or issues affecting the minorities, must first be discussed and negotiated, with the involvement of all interested parties in the island.

That is the only way, a sustainable solution that is fair and reasonable to all, can be arrived at. It is also crucially important that the final agreement should be democratically approved by the people.

The question we have to answer is, what should be a fair and lasting solution ? How do we reach that goal ? What process should be employed to reach that goal ? Needless to say, whatever shape of the solution, it will have to be arrived at through a democratic process.

The irony is that, the LTTE in its current form, cannot be a party to a democratic process.

If the past provides us with a guideline, then we know, that throughout its existence, the LTTE has done its best to stifle democracy. Assassinating moderate Tamil political leaders such as A. Amirthalingam and Neelan Thiruchelvam, and preventing Tamil people in the North and the East from voting at the 2005 presidential election, are but two examples of how alien democratic practices are to the LTTE.

If the demand for a separate state is a non-negotiable issue to the LTTE, one cannot expect that organisation to engage in negotiations in good faith, for a political settlement.

In such a backdrop, the Government will have the unenviable task of deciding how to proceed.

One way to address the issue is to consult the Tamil people in the North and the East.

And such an opportunity has arisen at least in the East, as a result of the bold decision taken by President Rajapaksa, to go ahead with provincial council elections in the Eastern Province in May, which was preceded by the peaceful and successful local election held in Batticaloa District last March.

At least, there are signs of the long standing logjam being gradually broken. The first is, the decision to hold provincial council elections in the Eastern Province, consisting of three districts, and a mixed population of Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese. In fact, this exercise will be a test bed for turning the Eastern Province around.

The second important aspect is, the decision taken by none other than the LTTE, to field candidates under its political party, the People’s Front of Liberation Tigers (PFLT), which was registered by them, many years ago.

TMVP

The third and equally important issue, is the TMVP, the breakaway Eastern group of the LTTE, which participated in the local elections in the Batticaloa District in March, which has also fielded candidates at the forthcoming provincial election.

All in all, the governing party, the opposition party, the parties representing the LTTE and its breakaway group, the TMVP, the SLMC and many others, will join the hustings, seeking the vote of the long-suffering people of the Eastern Province, a feat that would not have been predicted, even by the most confident soothsayers.

To say the least, it is a near miracle, how democracy triumphed in the Eastern Province, while the people in some part of the Northern Province are still under the jackboots of the LTTE.

Opportunity

President Rajapaksa has accomplished the impossible task, of providing an opportunity for the people in the East, to elect their representatives through the ballot, in place of those who have, for so long, imposed their will on a long-suffering people, through the barrel of their guns.

Rarely has the world seen such a feat of democratization of a region held to ransom by terrorists, for such a long time. The people of the East now have to move on, from democratic elections to ensuring their personal security, development and prosperity.

It is here that the international community, including the U.S., has a role to play. In this context, Sri Lanka welcomes the stand taken in the U.S. Department of State Budget for the Financial Year 2009, where it is stated: “The liberation of the East from the LTTE control in July 2007, presents strategically important opportunities for the United States to advance human rights by promoting economic, political and social development.”

The international community, with its concern for stability in Sri Lanka, should move in and assist generously, in developing the Eastern Province, and wean the youth away from the culture of violence, by providing them with employment opportunities. Now is the time to act decisively, and to allow the process of healing to begin.

The writer is Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the US

Friday, April 25, 2008

Tamil Tiger terrorists bomb another civilian bus in Piliyandala; 24 killed and over 40 wounded

LTTE terrorists have carried out a cowardly bomb attack targeting innocent civilians who were returning home after office hours at Pliyandala, Sri Lanka this evening. According to the police sources, the bomb has been exploded inside a Ceylon Transport Board bus at Piliyandala public bus stand. 24 people have been killed and over 40 people have suffered injuries, the sources added.

Most of the victims received injuries were admitted to the teaching hospital at Kalubowila while other were rushed to the Piliyandala hospital, sources added.

The explosion occurred when the bus just taken out from the stand for moving its destination, Kahapola, sources further said.

LTTE is a ruthless terrorist outfit notorious for committing crimes against innocent civilians. In its pursuit for a mono ethnic separate homeland for Tamils, the outfit has killed and maimed over tens and innocent people in routine bus bombing , train bombing, village massacres and etc.

Defence.lk

Buddhist Temple in Oslo...

According to media reports, United National Party (UNP) parliamentarian Dr. Jayalath Jayewardena has requested the assistance of the Royal Norwegian Government to establish a Buddhist temple in Oslo, Norway, for the benefit of Sri Lankan Buddhists living in Norway.

In addition to the above proposal of Dr Jayawardanena, let us rush through some of his involvements for the ‘upliftment’ of Buddha Sasana, both in Sri Lanka and India, during the last few years.

1. Sacred “Chudamanike” from Kelaniya Viharaya was taken to Jaffna soon after the treacherous CFA was signed by the UNP leader Ranil Wickramasinghe. According to the photographs published in media, Dr Jayawardena was seen carrying the “Chudamanike” on his head while there were hundreds of Buddhists devotees in the procession.

2. A Bo-sapling was taken from Sri Lanka to India to mark 2550th Buddha Jayanthi Celebration probably for the benefit of Sri Lankan Buddhists living in India.

The request of Dr Jayewardene should be taken ‘seriously’ since Norway is the ‘Vatican’ of Evangelical-Lutheran religion as seen from the following facts.

The constitutional basis for the relationship between church and state in Norway:

  • Article 2 of the constitution of the Kingdom of Norway declares that:
    The Evangelical-Lutheran religion shall remain the official religion of the State.
  • The King is the constitutional head of the Church of Norway.
  • The King exercises his authority through the Government Council of State (those representatives who are baptised Church members).
  • The King has delegated the rest of the authority linked to liturgy to the Church of Norway National Council.
  • Legislation and finances concerning the Church are passed by the Parliament (Stortinget).
  • The King’s Ministry of Culture and Church Affairs:
    • provides an organizational and financial framework for Church of Norway,
    • is responsible for the administration of comprehensive church legislation and regulations.
    • The Department also has administrative responsibility for the clergy, bishops, diocesan councils, the Church of Norway National Council.
      Governing bodies within the Church of Norway
  • Within the state–church-system, the Church of Norway has been granted more autonomy through a process of reforms
    • The 1996 church-law.
    • Elected governing bodies (consisting of both lay church members and clergy) at three levels has been established: local, regional and national
      - The local parish councils.
      - The diocesan councils.
      - The General Synod and The National Council, The Council on Ecumenical and International Relations, The Sami Church Council.

Economy:

  • Financial responsibility for salaries and the maintenance of buildings is shared by the State and municipal authorities.
  • Additional parish activity largely depends on offertory money (250 mill NKR) and voluntary activities.
  • The economic support from the state and the municipals were 3,2 billion NKR in 2005 (appr. 0,5 billion USD), or 800 NKR for each Church-member (appr. 126 USD) (1 USD = 6,32 NKR).

Basic statistics:

  • Approximately 82,7 % of the Norwegian population are members of the Church of Norway.
  • In 2005 almost 75,7% of all infants were baptized in the Church of Norway.
  • 1285 parishes, served by 9100 elected council members, 1250 clergy and more than 6300 employed lay people.

Hence, at the rate this controversial UNP parliamentarian is promoting Buddhism; the day is not that far for him to request the assistance of the Holy Father Benedict XVI, to establish a Buddhist Temple in Vatican!

The MP’s above proposal should also be taken ‘seriously’ since he has made this request under the following circumstances.

Dr Jayawardena flew to Oslo few days ago to participate in a conference arranged for the benefit of the LTTE under the title, "Peace and Reconciliation in Southeast Asia". The LTTE frontline activist Vaiko addressed the conference which was said to be mainly attended by the Tamil Tiger sympathisers. As per the reports, he had facilitated the visit of two Buddhist monks to participate at the Conference. (Apart from the promises made by the ‘man of all religion’ to setup a Buddhist Temple in Oslo under the patronage of Royal Norwegian Government, the monks who participated must have had their own personal reasons to visit Oslo since the two monks in question are no longer considered as influential figures in the political arena).

After meeting the LTTE men in Oslo, it was reported, Dr Jayalath Jayawardena had secret meetings with the LTTE men in London too.

Incidentally, Dr Jayawardena’s alleged meetings with LTTE men in Norway and UK are taking place at a time when the outfit and their front organisations throughout the world are using issues arising out of places of religious worship, statues and death of a priest due to claymore mine to their maximum advantage to retard (or to stop if possible) the operation against the LTTE.

We, as ordinary citizens, are fully aware of the role Dr Jayawardena is playing while extending his one hand to Buddhism and extending the other to the LTTE. We are also aware, that the parliamentarian had been invited to attend the midnight Christmas Pontifical Mass celebrated by the Holy Father Benedict XVI on 24th December 2006 at the Vatican. It is said that such invitations are not given to any and every Catholic merely because he/she is a Catholic. Such invitations are given to devotees, as an appreciation of their services and loyalty to the Catholic Church.

We can understand the politician’s behaviour towards religions since we have seen many political leaders in Sri Lanka behaving in that fashion, although not to the same extent as Dr Jayawardena. However, his honesty and sincerity is in question when we see an ardent Catholic pretends to show-off as an ardent Buddhist while having secret meetings with ardent Terrorists.

Ironically, the LTTE is a banned organisation in some countries and not in Sri Lanka. The government of Sri Lanka and those who opposed to terrorism request all the other countries, where there are people engaged in supporting activities to the outfit, to ban the LTTE and to take actions against respective criminal codes. On the other hand, we read about politicians, parliamentarians including ministers of the government, servicemen, NGO personal, academics and journalists in Sri Lanka, who have various links with the outfit, are serving the LTTE in various ways. Activities such as participating in secret meetings and having various links with Terrorists etc in Sri Lanka are not appeared to be punishable offences.

As a result, while the security forces are advancing to rescue Wanni from Prabhakaran, we see several others fronts, who are unarmed, moving freely to rescue Prbahakaran from advancing troops.

It is very unfortunate that the Sri Lankan security forces were made to fight its enemy while opening all doors and avenues to the enemy’s frontlines without any restrictions.

by S. Akurugoda

Video: Wanni Operation - 23 April 2008


Sri Lanka military liberation of Wanni (in the North) from the Tamil Tigers (LTTE). 23 April 2008.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Madhu church captured

The Sri Lanka Army (SLA) formations deployed in the Mannar district captured the Madhu Church today evening. The holy shrine and the surrounding area are now under the complete control of the army. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fighters who had camped inside the no-war-zone departed the area in face of the army advance. It was initially feared that the tigers would blow the church before the army captured it. According to our sources the church has not been seriously damaged in the countless artillery duels which took place in the past several months.

Search operations are still continuing. These will continue till the army verifies the area is free of booby traps and IEDs placed by the fleeing tigers.

Latest milestone in the ongoing Wanni operation comes only a day after the Sri Lanka Army suffered a setback in the northern front. Pro LTTE media elated by LTTE's success yesterday, published news stories which claimed that tigers inflicted heavy casualties on SLA in the Mannar front. These stories are false. Although it is true that the army suffered heavy casualties in the northern front, the situation on Mannar, Vavuniya and Weli Oya remain the same. 57, 58 and 59 division which are leading the offensives into Wanni have the tigers under pressure.

With the capture of Madhu, army is now focusing on Palampiddi where the rebels maintain a base which is sometimes used as an artillery launchpad.

Meanwhile fresh intelligence information from the north indicated that the actual number of LTTE deaths in yesterday's battle is around 80. A further 200 are said to be injured.

Courtesy: DefenceNet

Rice shortage worldwide: Wal-Mart-owned Sam's Club limits rice purchases

BENTONVILLE, Ark. - Sam's Club, the membership warehouse division of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., is limiting how much rice customers can buy because of what it calls "recent supply and demand trends."

The broader chain of Wal-Mart stores has no plans to limit food purchases, however.

Sam's Club says it will limit customers to four bags at a time of Jasmine, Basmati and long grain white rice. Rice prices have been hitting record highs recently on worries about tight supplies.

Sam's Club's restriction is effective immediately at all locations where quantity restrictions are allowed by law. It does not apply to other staples such as flour or oil.

Associated Press

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Bureaucracy's victim: 50 years for a crime that never was

HIPAUWA, Sri Lanka — Age may have slowed him, but P.P. James wakes up early every day to head into the fields and harvest rice.

The short, wiry 84-year-old pulls a worn red baseball cap over his tousled gray hair, hikes up his sarong and, with quiet determination, swings his scythe through the stalks, methodically cutting his way across the field. While those far younger rest in the shade, he plods on, insistent that no more time be wasted _ he has already had a half century stolen from him.

Arrested for killing his father late one night in 1958, James was ruled mentally ill by a judge, sent to an asylum for the criminally insane _ and forgotten.

Decades after his doctors pronounced him cured, he remained trapped in a criminal justice nightmare. The hospital could only release him to the prisons authority. The prisons authority could only pick him up under a court order. The courts never called for him because they couldn't find his file.

Most of his relatives abandoned him, believing he was crazy.

James never stood trial, never even had a bail hearing, yet he spent 50 years of his life a prisoner.

He was only saved by an illness, set free into a world he barely recognized.

James has become a hero on the Indian Ocean island of Sri Lanka, and his ordeal a source of deep embarrassment over the bloated, inefficient bureaucracies it has revealed.

While President Mahinda Rajapaksa gave him $5,000 to make up for his troubles, a psychiatrist at the asylum where James was held says others are trapped in the same legal limbo, including one man who has been there even longer than James.

Longing for some of his lost years, James wishes he had been convicted of murdering his father. At least then, he would have been freed after only 15 or 20 years in prison.

But a conviction would have been unlikely.

His father was still alive.
___

As a child in Hipauwa, a village 55 miles) east of Colombo, James seemed destined for a blessed life.

His grandfather was the local government representative, giving him far greater wealth, power and land than his neighbors. James remembers harvests so bountiful his grandfather needed elephants to haul in the rice.

James expected to inherit much of his family's land and live a comfortable life tending his fields.

An errant coconut changed all that when he was 12.

He says the falling fruit hit his head so hard that his nose bled for a week. It hurt to speak, he was plagued by headaches and became forgetful.

He began acting erratically and would disappear for months at a time.

At 15, he joined the railroad and got the tattoos of a mermaid and a cobra coiled around a dagger that still adorn his arms. But he quit after a few months and says he became a Buddhist monk, but left the temple after a close call with a wild elephant.

Sometimes, he says, he would go into a trance and start walking, for hours or even days. He once hiked to Sri Lanka's northernmost village, Point Pedro, a rugged trek of more than 140 miles.

At 18 he lost his beloved grandfather. The death plunged him into despair.

His relatives came to think of him as a madman. They tried to marry him off to a disgraced cousin, but he refused. The spurned woman's parents never forgave him.

James' mother ran away when he was a child, and his father was a notorious drinker and moonshiner who, after remarrying, shunned his old family.

One night in 1958, James, now 34, walked past his father's house and thought he saw blood on the grass. He says he looked up and saw a man, presumably a customer of his father's coconut and honey liquor, flashing a knife.

Fearing his father had been stabbed, he ran to the nearest home _ which belonged to the father of the spurned daughter _ and alerted the police, but the officers did not find any blood. The father, still bitter over the failed marriage attempt, told police that James was insane. The officers beat James and arrested him, James said.

The details of what happened next are lost to hazy memories and the mists of time. James' father really had been stabbed by an unknown assailant, but police accused James of doing it and didn't wait to see if anyone had actually died.

Before James could even be charged, a judge ruled him mentally ill and sent him for treatment to Angoda Hospital in Colombo.

He would not emerge for 50 years.
___

The criminals in his ward were so violent that some had to be chained to their beds, James said. To avoid attack, James became a hunter, beating up inmates just to look tough.

He was given injections, pills and electroshock therapy, he says, and spent his days eating, playing board games and sleeping off the effects of the medication.

After a few years, the doctors said James was better and moved him to a less harsh ward with other recovered patients.

He began working, weaving chairs, then scaling fish in the kitchen, tending the hospital's vegetable garden and rice paddies.

His only visitors over the years were his uncle and another relative. He says they began questioning why he wasn't freed. Hospital officials said they needed the prisons authority to collect him, the prisons authority said it needed a request from the court. The court appeared to have lost the case file.

His father, perhaps the only one who might have cleared up the confusion, never came. He died in 1981, 23 years after James' arrest for his murder. The uncle who occasionally visited died 15 years ago.

Dr. Neil Fernando, a psychiatrist who inherited James' case at the hospital, said the patient had recovered long ago and the courts were informed but never replied.

There are at least a half-dozen other patients at the hospital's criminal ward in the same situation, Fernando said, including one who has spent 55 or 56 years in the asylum even though he recovered decades ago.

"This is part and parcel of our system here, not only in the legal side but on the civilian side as well, patients who have been brought in and forgotten about," he said.

As the years passed, James grew to accept his fate: He would never again be free.

Then, late last year, he contracted an eye ailment and decades after disappearing into a legal black hole he suddenly reappeared in the justice system.

Prison officials, forced to transfer him to another hospital for treatment, began questioning who this prisoner was. He was given a date for his long-delayed day in court and assigned lawyers.

His legal team discovered his old case file, but it contained only two documents _ the court order sending him to the asylum and a 30-year-old doctor's report saying he was cured, said lawyer Rohan Premaratne. There was no police report explaining his arrest and none of the nearly 600 monthly status reports the hospital should have filed, he said.

One day a prison guard overheard James telling his story to fellow inmates. The guard turned out to be the son of the man who had accompanied James' uncle on his visits.

The guard relayed the story to other stunned relatives.

"We had never heard of him," said P.P. Jayawardane, his uncle's son.

In a show of support, his family came to his bail hearing, bringing James' father's death certificate. James was released on bail in January and moved in with Jayawardane, in Hipauwa, his boyhood village.

A month later, 50 years after his arrest, his case was dismissed.

James was finally free.
___

In Hipauwa, the footpaths are now roads. The 100 houses of mud walls and thatch roofs have grown to 350 homes of brick and concrete. Villagers who once rode oxcarts, now have cars and motorcycles.

Everyone has cell phones, which James, barely familiar with the invention, refers to as "calls."

He says he is not too shocked by the changes. He would watch the world evolving on the hospital's TV.

With its farmers, grazing cows and palm orchards bordered by overgrown forests, the village still feels familiar. But now it is filled with loss.

Nearly everyone James knew has died. His uncle's house, where he spent so many years, has been abandoned.

Soon after his release, James visited his land _ his rice paddies, coconut groves and a patch of forest filled with valuable timber _ and discovered it had been stolen decades ago by his extended family, who forged his name and sold it off, he said.

His dream of working his own fields was over.

So he obsesses over Jayawardane's paddies, instead.

After a morning of harvesting, he watches the sky turn gray and frets about the rice stalks lying in the field to dry.

"It's a shame that the rain comes down just on the day we harvest," he says. His cousin laughs and tells him not to worry.

Craving privacy after years in a dorm, he has moved into a mud and thatch hut behind Jayawardane's house as he waits for a small two-room brick cottage to be completed.

Now he is famous in his village, and admired across the country.

For now, he just wants to spend his last years in peace, working the fields, this time as a free man.

He says he is not bitter, that half a century in jail was simply his fate. He doesn't blame the government, the hospital or even his father for his ordeal. In the end, he says, he has only himself to blame.

"I should have fought harder to get myself out," he said.

By Ravi Nessman, Associated Press

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Video: The true story of Tamil civilians escaped from LTTE clutches

India aiding English-language teaching in Sri Lanka

COLOMBO: India has begun aiding English-language teaching in Sri Lanka in a major way to enable young Sri Lankans get jobs in the corporate sector, especially in the burgeoning services businesses where English-language skills are a key requirement.

The “English as a Life Skill” programme, started by the Mahinda Rajapaksa government, aims to train at least 50,000 persons between the ages of 18 and 24 in the use of the language with assistance from the High Commission of India and the English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU) in Hyderabad.

The course will be short-term in order to get quick results. Sri Lanka hopes to be a BPO centre in the near future, and also attract other foreign investments which it has denied itself for half a century, thanks to a short-sighted “no-English” language policy since 1956.

Between April 23 and 25, Colombo will host an “English Teaching Business Mela” in which the EFLU, the Sri Lankan government, and Indian and Sri Lankan investors would discuss the possibility of joint ventures to teach job-oriented English-language skills.

A key component of the government programme is to “teach the teacher.” It is estimated that Sri Lanka has about 21,000 largely untrained English teachers in government-run and private schools. In addition, there are those who teach in the nation’s 1,690 private tutorial colleges. The EFLU will help set up a Centre for English Language Teaching (CELT) in Sri Lanka to train these teachers.

The Government of India will give 30 scholarships to Sri Lankan teachers to travel to the EFLU in Hyderabad for a three-month crash course in English for professional use.

by P.K. Balachandran

Monday, April 21, 2008

Railway to get 20 new power-sets for long distance travel

For the first time in the country’s railway history, the Ceylon Government Railway (CGR) will purchase 20 new power sets from India for long distance travel.

The new power sets will be purchased under the Indian Credit Line facility. The Indian Credit facility will also be used to renovate the Fort Railway Station, Southern Rail Track and the Signal System of the Southern Railway.

The new power sets purchased from China will arrive in the island by August this year. The Government has taken several speedy measures to upgrade the railway system in order to provide a better transportation system which is the backbone of the public transport service in the country.

Ceylon Government Railway, now known as Sri Lankan Government Railway is a key department of Sri Lankan Government under the Ministry of Transportation. Presently Sri Lankan Railway network consists of around 1500 kilometers with broad gauge (5 feet 6 inches).

Courtesy: Government Information Department

Sri Lanka is neither fool’s paradise or fool’s hell

Are states under threat supposed to show the white flag and surrender? Are governments facing insurrection and terrorist attacks by parties that are a) not able to cite any grievance fortified with substance warranting insurrection, b) not able to present aspirations that make any sense in terms of geography, demography and history, c) not willing to discuss the above in a meaningful and sincere manner, and d) repeatedly engage in the most horrendous crimes against humanity, supposed to hold their fire and put the population under threat?

As for the people who know that external involvement can come in the form of ‘neutrals’ and chest-beating humanitarians and who know that history is replete with such interventions actually exacerbating problems (Norwegian ‘facilitation’ and its consequences are all too recent for anyone to forget) are they supposed to run naked en masse into the streets screaming ‘Eureka!’?

Perspective. Proportion. These constitute the bedrock of politics and policy-making. They can be footnoted or brushed away from the relevant prerogative-calculus by a) idiots, b) mercenaries, c) agents of the enemy and d) wooly-headed do-gooders, none of who are answerable to anyone else but themselves. Much of our self-styled ‘civil society’ falls into one or more of these categories, sadly.

Some people live in a fool’s paradise. I am persuaded to believe that our ‘civil society’ friend fry themselves alive in the antithesis, the proverbial fool’s hell. Like those morons who equated Batticaloa to ‘hell’ during the run up to the local government elections, only to whimper ‘there’s a climate of fear’ and to find all the fear-mongers falling over themselves to contest the PC election just a few weeks later.

There is, similarly, a general lie regarding the status of human rights in Sri Lanka, the capacities of institutions and legislation to uphold the same and the now boring call for international monitoring of human rights, which of course references the same prerogatives, the same ‘facts’, same processes outlined above, which, on the ground, amounts to little more than some subjective assessment of environment as in ‘climate of fear’.

Let’s get specific here. ‘Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict’, recently presented its latest report ‘No Safety No Escape: Children and the Escalating Armed Conflict in Sri Lanka’ at the UN headquarters in New York.

Bhavani Fonseka, a senior researcher at the Center for Policy Alternatives, an organization that has been heavily referenced in the document, speaking at the launch, has made done her duty by CPA, the NGO do-gooders and the general mafia that seeks to undermine the integrity of the Sri Lankan state, bawling out the usual litany of woes. To paraphrase, ‘there are horrific human rights violations, human rights workers are threatened, abducted and killed, denied work permits and not given access to certain areas, total collapse in investigation and reporting, relevant national bodies are not independent and are not credible.’

ACF, right? IIGEP, right? I don’t know who killed the 17 aid workers, but the investigations and commission proceedings have revealed some interesting facts. First, ACF sent those workers to their death! Second, the IIGEP was obviously corralled by the CPA and other ‘civil society’ gurus and led astray. Third, the Devanesan Nesiah, for all his experience and learning, was found to be utterly ignorant of the notion of ‘conflict of interest’. Fourthly, Desmond De Silva put his foot in his mouth. Talk about the ‘credibility’ of ‘civil society’!

The LTTE, TMVP and the Government are lumped together. Bhavani like Watchlist clearly lives on another planet. They clearly have not heard of the phrase ‘sense of proportion’! ‘The Government has been complicity in the large-scale recruitment and abduction of children by the TMVP,’ she says. How large, the scale? How about comparing some numbers, TMVP vs. LTTE? Yes, children are always victims in any conflict and not only in conflict-areas. Children lose their parents; children die in bomb attacks, are deprived of education, access to basic health facilities; and in the case of child soldiers, denied their childhood.

How can any independent, international monitoring mechanism, as called for by Bhavani, CPA and other fraternal and incestuous NGO outfits prevent all this? Nothing short of the elimination of threat can stop it. Until such time, children and adults will continue to suffer. Any move to stop what is clearly a decisive battle to corner and destroy the LTTE will only prolong their suffering.

As for ‘access’ to certain areas, let’s just say that the CPA and Bhavani and, ok, some na├»ve member of an ‘international mechanism’ goes to the conflict zone. What happens if the LTTE shoots them? Who is blamed? The LTTE and/or the Government. The LTTE does not care, for it doesn’t suffer any consequences more serious than it already does. It is a huge price for a government to pay. Look what happened with the ACF killings. And we note, with more than a little suspicion, the fact that Bhavani has not breathed a word about specific instances where NGOs and other ‘humanitarian’ activists (including employees of UN agencies and INGOs) have been caught helping out the LTTE by providing material and other support.

While the Watchlist advocates the setting up of an international monitoring mission, which is a targeted measure if there ever was one, the Jo Becker of Human Rights Watch and Watchlist becomes suddenly very ‘understanding’ and ‘sensitive’ when it comes to taking action against the LTTE: ‘with respect to punitive action against the LTTE, the issue of targeted measures was very political and sensitive’. Where does the crap end, I wonder.

Am I saying that all is fine, that there is no chance of anyone’s human rights being violated in Sri Lanka, that people do not live in fear? No. As someone who has been illegally detained, beaten up and harassed in other ways in Sri Lankan police stations, as someone who has seen violence, has known friends who were drawn and quartered after abduction and torture, has, like all citizens in this country, known of bombs and assassinations, I know that this is not the proverbial Garden of Eden.

There are certainly holes in the law, there are times when the law is made to be silent, and of course not all acts that provoke outrage, despair, bewilderment and horror are not attributable to the state. By and large however, given that we are a people living under the real threat of attack by the world’s most ruthless terrorist and given the track record of other ‘respectable’ nations with respect to countering terrorism, I would say we are doing ok.

I say ‘enough’. If the CPA and Bhavani are all about good governance, accountability and transparency, let them come clean now. We want to know who funds them, for what, and how the money is spent. Put all your audited accounts on your website. We want the details. We want every cent spent from day one to now accounted for. We want the project proposals, the mid-project reviews and final monitoring and evaluation reports.

The ICES was found to be a veritable den of thieves. Going through the CPA website I find there are individuals who are associated with the ICES and/or supportive of people who are currently in the dock for mismanagement of funds, ethical impropriety, machinations that compromise the organization’s integrity and independence and other malpractices, not to mention of course a long history of white-washing the LTTE.

The people at CPA I have no doubt are familiar with the Holy Bible. There is something written in that interesting book about casting stones. Let the holier-than-thou start proving purity. Or shut up.

By Malinda Seneviratne