Monday, September 29, 2008


UNP condemns army chief’s alleged
claim minorities have no rights by Zacki Jabbar

The UNP yesterday condemned comments allegedly made by Army Commander Sarath Fonseka, in Canadian weekly, that minorities did not have rights.

Kegalle District UNP MP Kabir Hashim, addressing a news conference in Colombo, said that all right thinking and peace loving people were shocked by Fonseka’s statement. "One can understand a politician making such stupid statements to gain political mileage, but its unacceptable when a soldier who has seen at first hand the suffering people of all communities have undergone over the last three decades, resorts to such cheap gimmicks."

He recalled that when Sri Lanka gained independence from the British in 1948 and the Muslims were asked what special Constitutional guarantees they wanted, Dr. T. B. Jaya speaking on behalf of the community had said that since Muslims trusted the Sinhalese, all powers could be handed over to them.

"The stance taken by Dr. Jaya was applauded by Sri Lanka’s first Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake, who said that all Sinhalese were indebted to the Muslims. But what is happening today is a betrayal of that trust Muslims placed in the Sinhalese," Hashim said.

The Muslims, first fought side by side with the Sinhala Kings to protect the territorial integrity of the country and continue to do so even today, Hashim said. "A large number of Muslims died fighting foreign invaders including the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British," he said.

It was ironic that the Army Commander had chosen to make his claim regarding minority rights, at a time when all communities had contributed in no small measure to defeating the LTTE. Communalistic statements should be nipped in the bud before matters got out of hand, he added.
courtesy: www

Sunday, September 28, 2008


A broad alliance is in the making

Mangala Samaraweera

SLFP (M) Wing Convener, Parliamentarian Mangala Samaraweera says that for the first time since independence, racism has become official government policy.

Samaraweera told The Sunday Leader in an interview that what is waged today is a political war in keeping with the political agenda of the present government and is being used as a smokescreen to divert attention from the inefficiencies and corruption of the present administration. He adds that the Rajapakse brothers are using the war and very cynically exploiting the blood, sweat and tears of the brave soldiers for their political benefit. Excerpts:

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

Q: You have spoken about the importance of setting up an alliance. Has any progress being made?

A: Yes, I think so. Since highlighting the immediate need for an alliance to defeat the Rajapakse regime, there has been a massive response from different sectors of the public, and politicians. I feel there is a sense of goodwill for such an alliance, and all those people who are distressed by the present direction the country has taken. Taking into consideration this, they are more or less in agreement with my call for a broad, grand alliance for democracy. Also, what is more important is that the rank and file in the UNP and its parliamentarians are coming around to realise an alliance of this nature is needed to defeat the Rajapakse brothers.

Q: You say the UNP must stop being parochial and look to an alliance. What sort of alliance are you looking at and whom should it include?

A: It certainly must not be an alliance only to defeat the disastrous presidency of Mahinda Rajapakse, but also an alliance based on principles. If we are to counter the trend towards extremism and intolerance of the present government, we must have an alliance which is committed to liberal values.

Within such a context, the UNP under the leadership of Ranil Wickremesinghe can certainly take the lead in such an alliance, which then can harness all like minded political parties, groups and individuals. The role of minority parties within this alliance will be of paramount importance because the three year period of President Mahinda Rajapakse has polarised Sri Lankan society as never before.

The Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims are being divided and set against each other because of the war mentality cultivated by the present regime. Therefore this alliance will have to have a clear vision on how to heal the wounded nation and to bring back all Sri Lankans of different communities to live again in harmony and understanding.

Q: There is a war euphoria gripping the country and the people believe the war will be over soon. Do you share that optimism and if not, why?

A: Absolutely not because the Rajapakse brothers are using the war and very cynically exploiting the blood, sweat and tears of the brave soldiers for their political benefit. What is waged today is a political war in keeping with the political agenda of the present government. The war is used as a smokescreen to divert attention from the inefficiencies and corruption of the Rajapakse administration.

In fact, when I say it is waged according to a political agenda, a good example would be how the war was used during the provincial council election when members of the government and its kept press had even the audacity to claim that Kilinochchi was in sight and may even fall before the election.

On the day of the election, most government newspapers and media even claimed that they were 12 km away from Kilinochchi. That statement itself was utterly misleading because it was like being in Panadura and claiming to be only a few kilometres away from Colombo. What was even more curious is that nothing was heard afterwards of the army that was 12 km away from Kilinochchi.

In order to win the election, the government had sacrificed dozens and dozens of lives and almost doubled the number injured. I heard that 60 soldiers were amputated in one day at the Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital.

The government, especially President Mahinda Rajapakse and the two Rajapakse brothers tried to claim that the military had no military victories until they took reigns of government. In fact, a few days ago I saw brother Basil claiming in Moneragala that they will capture Kilinochchi for the first time in history in the near future.

Perhaps, Basil and Gotabaya are displaying their sheer ignorance of the history of our country because they did not live in our country during the more difficult days of the conflict. These Sinha flag-waving patriots left our country in the early '90s and exchanged even their passports to that of foreign countries. I would therefore like to refresh their minds by reminding them that the armed forces during the course of the war laid down many lives to secure victories at many battles.

November 1993 was the first time the east was liberated under President D.B. Wijetunge's term in office. It was in 1996 that the Jaffna peninsula was again brought under the Sri Lankan government at a time Pirapaharan and the LTTE had their headquarters based in the Jaffna Kachcheri. Also, during Operation Jayasikurui, Kilinochchi was also taken and was under government control for just over a year.

Therefore, to forget all these past achievements is an insult to the memories of thousands of soldiers who laid down their lives to secure these victories. However, the most important lesson from the past is that despite many significant and important victories in battles over the years, the war still continues.

To me, what is obvious from the experiences of our recent history is that a conflict of this nature, which is between two fraternities within the country cannot be solved by military means alone. In fact, I object to the use of the word 'war.' A civilised, democratic country cannot wage a war against a section of its own citizens however misguided their cause might be. We have to address the root cause.

In that context, the most potent resolution is a political solution, which will meet the general aspirations of the Tamil people. A power sharing agreement with an extensive devolution of power is an absolute sine qua non to bring this war to an end. If not our country has a very bleak future. At a time most of our neighbours are developing rapidly, Sri Lanka will end up in the economic, social and cultural dustbin.

Q: Politically is it not unpopular to go against this developing mood in the country especially since the people's mindset is now clearly militarised?

A: Whether unpopular or not, if one is a responsible politician it is their duty to inform the people of the truth and tell what is happening. The war is being sold and exploited and if we are to keep silent we will be doing a great injustice to those waging war for the leaders. Those dying daily in the jungles of the north in order to keep the Rajapakse project afloat are the poor rural youth.

Today dying for one's country has been made to be the exclusive preserve of the rural youth. First, if the Rajapakse brothers are serious about the war against LTTE, they must set an example like in other countries. We saw the US vice president candidate's son going for the war in Iraq, the two sons of Prince Charles in the British forces in Iraq, whereas the able bodied sons of the present ruling class of Sri Lanka are too busy making a nuisance of themselves in Colombo, London and New York.

The President has three able bodied sons and even the one who supposedly joined the navy to serve the country is now hibernating in the UK serving the British Navy. The Defence Secretary's son should also join the war effort without touting projects for Boeing.

The plight of the soldier is extremely sad. In order to disguise the number of casualties, the bodies of many soldiers who die are not even handed over to their parents and are listed as missing in action or deserters, which deprives the next of kin from receiving the relevant allowances.

When soldiers are injured, they are being sent in old CTB buses and not in ambulances in order to hide the truth from the general public. The compensation paid for soldiers is still Rs. 75,000 or Rs.150,000 for those married with children. The sum has not changed since 1978. Even the free bus pass facility, which was extended to soldiers during President Chandrika Kumaratunga's tenure, has now been withdrawn.

The welfare situation of soldiers has deteriorated drastically. The government however continues with its frivolous expenditure to sustain themselves. The money spent on the Mihin Air misadventure could have been used to pay a special allowance to the armed forces and the police. The money we spent for SAARC recently could have been utilised to improve the lot of these people. While this is going on the Army Commander does not see anything wrong in purchasing a Mercedes Benz for millions of rupees, which he could later take with him upon retirement.

He had also recently withdrawn Rs.20 million from the welfare fund to put up a gold fence in a Buddhist temple because his horoscope is supposed to be very bad at the moment. This is why I say it is a political and wasteful war, which merely takes away valuable Sri Lankan lives on both sides of the divide.

When certain people gloat over the number of deaths during this conflict, let us not forget for a minute that those who are dying in defence of our country and those fighting for a goal however misguided, are all our sons and daughters. Just as the soldier who comes from the poor homes in the rural part of Sri Lanka is one of our boys, the Tamil youth, who with a cyanide capsule around his neck fights for a misguided dream, is also one of our sons.

I dream for a day when these young men will be playing and singing together instead of killing each other in order to prop up the two leaders who are the only beneficiaries of the war today - Velupillai Pirapaharan and Mahinda Rajapakse.

Q: Do you believe like the JHU and the UPFA of which you were a prime mover that this is a Sinhala-Buddhist country and people of all other communities and religions must accept this reality and make the best of the given situation?

A: No. I should also say that although I was a prime mover in forming the UPFA, I was most probably the only one to stand on stage with the JVP and say that the devolution of power was the way to meet the grievances of the Tamil people. I said so in 2002 and 2003. I am also proud to say that when negotiating with the JVP, the late Lakshman Kadirgamar and I managed to bring the JVP to accept that there is another version on how to meet the problem.

In the 2004 manifesto, the SLFP said it was for the devolution of power and the JVP said it was for a unitary state. However, both parties finally agreed that the final solution was for the people to decide at a referendum.

No, this problem cannot be solved by looking at it with a Sinhala Buddhist perspective. The Tamil and Muslim people have genuine grievances. For all communities to live with dignity and honour, all these aspirations must be met, or else we can speak of a Sinhala Buddhist nation and continue in this manner and destroy our country. But if we are ready to leave behind the tribal fears and ancient apprehensions based on myths with a forward sight, to unite within diversity, Sri Lanka can achieve so much.

After all, this was the country that was hailed at one time as a possible Switzerland of the East and Lee Kwan Yew considered Sri Lanka to be a model for another country to build on. Yet 60 years since independence, other countries are way ahead gaining economic prosperity while Sri Lanka is still trapped in a vicious cycle of violence based on ethnicity, religion and party politics. Let's forget slogans. All right minded people must forget petty differences and come together to give the next generation of Sri Lankans the future they richly deserve.

Q: The President has said at the UN if the LTTE lays down weapons he will negotiate. Is there a need to negotiate with the LTTE if they are militarily defeated?

A: That is a contradiction of his own position. His brothers, the Army Commander and he himself says that the LTTE would be militarily defeated by the end of the year. Earlier it was said the war would be over by last April. But thinking of a negotiated settlement even at this late stage is most welcome. There must be a genuine desire on the part of the government to be generous and magnanimous in forging a settlement if the negotiations are to be successful.

Looking at recent examples, having pre conditions to negotiate with the LTTE is not practical. It is important to trap the LTTE to the negotiating table. The LTTE may not want to see an end to the war and as a result might find excuses to step away. That is why a positive and generous government is needed to call the bluff of the LTTE.

The government must also win the trust of the international community, which has now become isolated with the new 'shoot the messenger' policy of the government. During the last three years, the country has made a platform of making enemies with long standing friends. If the government is sincere about a negotiated settlement, it can still harness the support of the international community to return to the negotiating table. However, the Rajapakses are not sincere about a negotiated settlement and believe the speech may have been written to keep the international community happy and at bay while the President is in New York.

Q: Don't you think the President captured the imagination of the world and the Tamil people by speaking a few words in Tamil at the UN?

A: If saying a few words in Tamil could solve this problem, the world won't have any problems. That shows the immature and superficial way they look at the problem. The problem is not about the President not speaking in Tamil, but the people whose mother tongue is Tamil having a problem in speaking their language.

The Defence Secretary keeps saying Tamils in Colombo without any business should go back to their homes, forgetting that access to any part of the land is a right of every Sri Lankan. Tamils and Muslims are abducted. Tamils whether in the north, east or Colombo live in fear. These are what needs to be addressed and cannot be done by such superficial attempts like saying a few words in Tamil. It is patronisation of the worst sort.

Q: How do you see the registration of Tamils from the north and east in Colombo last week?

A: I think that is frightening. That is why I compared the direction of the present government to that of Nazi Germany. For Hitler to come to power it was the Jews and for Rajapakse it is the Tamils. In fact, Hitler, after coming into power in 1933 was to bring a law to register all Jews living in Germany at the time. It was then followed by the abduction and killing of Jews and the systematic annihilation of thousands of Jews.

Is this the direction for our country? Especially at a time when the country knows the white van abductions are carried out by yet another arm of the defence establishment, information collected in this manner could be used against the people. Of course there is the problem of LTTE terrorism, which must be dealt with, but it must be done in such a way that we don't push more innocent Tamils to Pirapaharan's arms by these various laws. The defence establishment must know how to meet the threat of terrorism without inconveniencing the innocent Tamil people.

Q: The Sinhalese from the south were never registered in a similar manner during the height of the JVP insurrection even though the city was virtually brought to a standstill with unofficial curfews. Does this not indicate that all Tamils are being treated as terrorists?

A: Not by the Sinhalese, it is the Rajapakse administration that is treating Tamils as terrorists. I believe Sinhalese are not racists because of our Buddhist history and background. The average person is tolerant. It is the ruling class that is using Sinhala Buddhism to justify their agendas.

In 1983, it was not the Sinhalese who went on a rampage. History has now shown it to be a well-planned pogrom carried out by some sections of the government. But this shows the thinking of the Rajapakse administration and also proves my point that for the first time since independence, racism has become official government policy.

Q: How do you think the direction by the Supreme Court for all concerned parties to finalise and implement the Constitutional Council will evolve?

A: All democratic minded people must applaud the Supreme Court because at a time Rajapakse is working to push Sri Lanka towards an autocratic state, the Supreme Court has had the strength to uphold democracy and the rule of law. The 17th Amendment to the Constitution introduced on October 5, 2001 was a landmark in constitutional and political history of the country.

Constitutionally, the 17th Amendment sought to balance the executive presidency by creating the Constitutional Council. As a political milestone, it was the first time in recent history that all parties buried their differences to pass the legislation. However, since Mahinda Rajapakse took office, he has cynically tried to kill the Constitutional Council, as he sees it as an infringement of his powers.

If the Constitutional Council was properly activated, he would not have been able to manipulate the police, the civil service and the election process like now. Even after all the names were nominated, he continues to refuse to appoint the Constitutional Council despite the act clearly stating the President has to immediately appoint the committee as soon as all names have been received. Not doing so is a clear abuse of power and in any other country with a parliament and members of parliament with backbones, this would have been a clear case for impeachment. However, timely intervention of the Supreme Court is much welcome by all those who cherish the democratic traditions of the country and is now awaiting the outcome.

Q: The government has admitted Mihin Air was mismanaged. You were the minister that introduced the cabinet paper for the formation of this company. Do you feel responsible for this situation?

A: Not at all, from the very beginning I was unhappy with the concept. I told the President that although a budget airline was a good idea, for the government to go to such a venture would be disastrous and unprofitable. I suggested the right to operate budget airlines be given to private companies and during my period as Aviation Minister we had short-listed three companies to operate such budget airlines from Sri Lanka. The President wanted all those licences to be stopped, as he wanted Mihin set up at whatever cost.

Obviously aware of my unhappiness for this proposal, I was sent a pre-prepared cabinet paper for my signature. I deleted some lines and presented it as a concept paper for cabinet approval. Perhaps this was also a reason that led to my removal shortly afterwards. Mihin is a shocking national scandal that has wasted national resources on a monumental scale and any future administration must go into this scandalous affair deeply and make sure all those involved in siphoning money from the EPF, ETF, the Airport and Aviation Authority and the Lankaputhra Bank should be dealt with for the misappropriation of public funds. Since the government is still continuing with the project, we are looking at getting legal remedies to stop this folly.

Q: Do you see a role for former President Chandrika Kumaratunga in the new alliance?

A: Former President Kumaratunga has clearly stated privately and publicly that she does not intend to come back to public politics and as a person whom I closely associate, I know it is true. But being someone with experience and recognition, Kumaratunga cannot stay in the background as a patriot and a leader who has spearheaded one of the most dynamic economies since 1994 till 2000.

I still believe she should play an advisory role in the present context. Her international connections are extremely valuable and is admired and respected in almost every country. At a time Sri Lanka is facing near international isolation, she will have an important role in rebuilding Sri Lanka's battered image.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


A Thought for the Civilians of Vanni by Shanie
A group of academics, across the ethnic and political divide, have issued a statement calling for an immediate ceasefire and for a negotiated political settlement. At this juncture, it is unlikely that this call will receive any favourable response from those in authority. Even many ordinary citizens, with access only to our media, believe that the defeat of the LTTE and the end of the war is just round the corner and there would then be peace. They would consider the call from the academics as being inappropriate and therefore to be summarily dismissed. The more nationalist-minded among them will accuse the academics of being supporters who want to throw a lifeline to the LTTE.

But such an accusation would be totally unfair. Many in the group are well known figures in our public life with equally well known credentials as opponents of the terror politics of the LTTE. They have been in the forefront of the struggle for the rights of the oppressed and marginalised in our country. Their stance has been a consistent one, not changing with the politics of the times. That is why their cry from the heart needs to be heard with respect.

There is no doubt that there are tens of thousands of internally displaced civilians in the Vanni who are undergoing immense hardships. These hardships are not of their own seeking. They are the innocent victims of the ongoing war and they are caught in the cross-fire. The LTTE wants them to remain in the Vanni while the Government authorities want them to move to Vavuniya. They have legitimate fears in following one side or the other in this conflict. Perhaps only those who have been trapped in a civil insurgency situation will understand how real these fears could be. But even those who remember the southern insurgencies of the seventies and eighties will recall the fear it generated among ordinary citizens trying to get about their ordinary business. To defy the conflicting calls of one of the parties to the conflict entailed enormous risks. It meant being accused as a sympathiser, or worse, as a supporter of the ‘other side’. We know that many civilians, uninvolved in the insurgency or in counter-insurgency, lost their lives or were incarcerated for that reason.

So we must feel for the internally displaced in the Vanni who are now faced with a similar dilemma. They have nowhere to turn to and they are being targeted by all sides. We need to spare a thought for these thousands who are being reduced to homeless migrants. That is why the call of the academics needs to be heard.

It is recognised that our security forces have a duty to protect the territorial integrity of the country, without involvement in any political imperatives. It is their duty to engage those who seek to subvert the rule of law and the authority of the state throughout the country. But it is also their duty to protect the civilians and mitigate the effects of counter-insurgency measures and the collateral damage caused thereby. It is a delicate task to balance these twin duties but the nature of the training and discipline of the security forces will help in this. They should also not be time-bound. Chances of abuse occur only when counter-insurgency operations are worked to a tight deadline. It is also necessary for the security forces to acknowledge that non-military persons can understand security imperatives and listen to concerns regarding the rights of civilians. The point this column wishes to stress is that the rights of the civilians can be protected in counter-insurgency operations if there are no political deadlines to be met. That is why the statement of the Army Commander that he has no deadlines to crush the insurgency, but crush he will, is to be welcomed.

Tackling the root causes

This is where wise political leadership comes in. While the security forces combat the insurgents on the military front, it is the duty of the political leadership to tackle the root political causes of the insurgency. Both major parties have over the past several decades have stated that these grievances are genuine and have pledged to address them. It is only the Sinhala chauvinists who refuse to acknowledge that the minorities have legitimate grievances. Political leaders in the past, particularly during the Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga Presidency, have put forward various proposals to meet these grievances. All these proposals fell by the wayside because our political leaders did not act with responsibility. Political party interests superseded national interests.

President Mahinda Rajapakse has an opportunity now to heed the suggestion of the group of academics and present political proposals as his predecessor did. For this, he must change the political direction he has been following. President J R Jayewardene’s strategy of destroying his political opposition by extra-legal measures failed and exacerbated the crisis in our country. Let us not go down that road again. Peace cannot be established merely by defeating the LTTE militarily on the war front. Even if the lessons of counter-insurgency operations in other parts of the world are not recognised, we know from our own situation in the East that peace has not followed "liberation". As the Army Commander again rightly pointed out, the LTTE will continue to be active, engaging in guerrilla warfare. There is therefore no alternative to political action to address the root causes of the insurgency.

We have called upon President Rajapakse to change direction because we find no acknowledgement by him that he considers a deal to address minority grievances as being urgent. From past experience, we know that appointments of Commissions achieve very little. They serve as propaganda to state that issues are being addressed but are in fact excuses to not really address them. Any serious attempt to resolve this issue must come from a bipartisan approach involving the two major parties. President Rajapakse and Ranil Wickremesinghe can go down in history as statespersons who put country before party if they can work a political package to resolve this issue once and for all. They have the 2000 draft proposals before them to work on and to achieve a reasonable consensus. The minor parties need to be consulted but the hardliners on both sides may no doubt be unwilling to accept it. But these hardliners among all communities do so only at their peril. There is absolutely no doubt that the overwhelming majority of our people of all ethnic groups will accept a consensus proposal put forward by the two major parties. Such a proposal is the need of the hour: otherwise, we continue on the same slippery slope, whether or not the LTTE is pushed out of territory it controls and becomes a guerrilla force.

Human Rights as an issue

The issue of Human Rights has now become an area of concern throughout the world. That is why human rights have been incorporated by the European Union into its criteria for the grant of the GSP+ facility. But our concern for human rights must not just be to satisfy the international community or the EU. It must stem from our recognition that our people, irrespective of ethnicity, gender or religious and political persuasions, need to be treated with respect and dignity.

History has taught us that human rights can still be protected even during times of war or insurgency. To condone human rights abuses is to invite the non-observance of the rule of law on a widespread scale. It will create massive disgust among a people that cannot easily be erased.

Two weeks ago, this column quoted from a letter written by the late Bishop Lakshman Wickremesinghe to the then Government in 1973. We believe it is necessary to stress what the good Bishop said by re-quoting him: "When there is no vision among the leaders, the people remain apathetic and stagnant, When there is no self-sacrifice by those in power, the people grow cynical and rebellious under the burden of corruption. Where there is no mutual confidence, a People’s Government steadily deteriorates into a People’s Dictatorship. It is of advantage to those in power to remind themselves for whose benefit the people entrusted them with power."
courtesy: www



The most unforgettable thing about Dingiri Banda (DB) Wijetunga was his simple, disarming smile. Even the toughest of journalists warmed to that genial grin and thought twice about tossing a hostile question.
The toothy, beaming smile exuded warmth and friendliness. It was right from the heart, putting one at ease immediately. Even as news of his demise on Sep 21st reached me it was this smiling image etched in memory that recurred again and again.

I came to know this modest and moderate man when he was Minister of Posts and Telecommunications during the Junius Richard Jayewardene regime, while I as a journalist was covering that ministry.

Two things were remarkable at press conferences conducted by him (usually in the morning). One was his unusual practice of assembling almost all his key officials at the meeting.

While we the scribes sat at the main table those officials would sit around us forming an outer ring of sorts. When specific questions were asked Wijetunga would look at the official concerned and tell him to respond.

After the question was answered, Wijetunga would ask the reporter concerned whether he or she was satisfied. He would also urge them to contact the official concerned later on and get more details.

This practice deviated greatly from the usual one where ministers would answer questions directly. With the exception of a few like Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake, Anandatissa De Alwis etc most of these ministers did not have a grasp of the subject.

As a result they would bluff and bluster while officials who knew more than the minister would keep quiet , not daring to butt in when the boss was holding the floor. Wijetunga’s action on the other hand allowed journalists to get better information from the horse’s mouth directly.

The other aspect was the hospitality shown. Instead of a mere cup of tea, D.B. Wijetunga would have a lavish spread laid out for journalists and officials. A must on all such occasions was Kiribath and fresh fruit.

DBW as we referred to him among ourselves would walk from person to person with a benevolent smile repeating “Ganda! Ganda! “(take! take!) or “Kanda! Kanda!” (eat! eat!) He was the epitome of traditional rural Sinhala hospitality and his entreaties were authentically sincere.

One incident I remember vividly was when DBW admonished some of us gently for trying to eat a papaw slice with a spoon. “That is not the way to eat papaw. This is the way,” he said in Sinhala and proceeded to demonstrate by raising the slice to his lips and biting into it as we usually do in our homes.

He used to pay special attention to the Tamil media and always inquired whether they had obtained all the information required. With his customary benign smile he would emphasise about how important it was for the Tamil people to know and participate with equal rights in national life.

Which is why many Tamils like myself who knew him were upset and disappointed when he came out with his infamous observation about minority community ‘creepers’ being entwined around the majority community ‘tree’.

The DBW we knew and the D.B. Wijetunga who made this statement seemed to be two different persons. But then politics in this country has caused many people to be different and often contradictory in their thought, word and deed. With few exceptions, there is a hiatus between public posture and private conduct.

Wijetunga was not one who understood all the ramifications of the Tamil national question and did not advocate devolution of powers as a solution to the problem. At the same time he was not a rabid majoritarian chauvinist or Sinhala supremacist as portrayed by sections of the Tamil media on the basis of this provocative comment.

Another of his positions was that a terrorist and not ethnic problem prevailed in the country. In this belief he was wrong. There are many like DBW who think there is only a terrorist problem and that once the LTTE is no more the problem is over.

While admitting that the uncompromising intransigence and militaristic mindset of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has added much credence to this belief, the reality is that the LTTE is only a virulent symptom of an underlying malady.

A valid response to terrorism alone cannot be the answer. What is necessary is to address the causes also and not focus on the effect alone. D.B. Wijetunga like many others failed to distinguish between both. Still that does not make him or others holding similar views ‘communalists’.

In any case the ‘offensive’ observation made by DBW in 1993 pales into insignificance when compared to the flagrant acts of racism prevalent at many levels now.

If I recollect correctly D.B. Wijetunga made these comments during the election campaign to the Southern Provincial council in 1993. The political fall – out was drastic.

This was the time when Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was transforming the image of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) as a minority-friendly party. Wijetunga’s ill-advised pronouncement was the proverbial straw which broke the camel’s back.

There was a massive shift in the mood of the minority communities. Wijetunga’s comment was pinpointed as proof of Sinhala supremacist thought being dominant in the United National Party (UNP) government. The UNP began losing its traditional minority support.

Nowadays there is a tendency to equate former President Wijetunga with current President Rajapaksa. Some like to depict Wijetunga as the ideological forerunner of Rajapaksa. There are attempts to rationalise the present war conducted by the Rajapaksa regime as a continuation of Wijetunga’s policies.

Yes! There is a commonality between both in their simplistic understanding of the Tamil national question. There is also a similarity in opining that a militaristic response to the LTTE would suffice as a solution to this issue.

But what is lost sight of is the humane approach conditioned by the essence of Buddha Dharma that was displayed by Wijetunga on an important occasion. This was before the Parliamentary poll of August 1994.

A proposal was mooted that the armed forces be allowed to launch a massive, no-holds barred offensive in the Jaffna peninsula against the LTTE. A military success in Jaffna could swing votes in favour of the UNP in the South it was felt.

President Wijetunga then inquired from Gen “Lucky” Algama about the number of possible civilian casualties in such a military venture. ‘At least 15,000’ was the answer.

Wijetunga was aghast. He would not permit such harm to innocent human lives knowingly, he said. Algama remonstrated saying omeletts cannot be made without breaking eggs.

Wijetunga however refused to give the go ahead. It was better to lose elections rather than attaining power through causing harm to innocent civilians he said. There was no military onslaught. There was no UNP victory either.

This laudable yet little-known act by Wijetunga is one that requires praiseworthy mention. Yet it is being ignored or overlooked in the frenzy to depict DBW as a man of war.

This then is the crucial difference between Wijetunga’s humanitarian approach towards war and the mode in which fighting is conducted nowadays. There was and is a difference and as the French would say ‘Vive la difference’.

Apart from seeing D.B. Wijetunga in his official capacity as cabinet minister I also had the chance to have a first-hand view of the man as a Parliamentarian representing a rural/semi-urban constituency.

I once accompanied two friends who wanted to invite D.B. Wijetunga as chief guest for a cultural function. We went to his home early morning on a week-end. There were more than a hundred people there.

Wijetunga called in each person and patiently listened to his problem or request. He dictated letters to his typists about those. He granted appointments for some to see him at the Ministry in Colombo.

Once in a while he would go outside and address those waiting for a few minutes. He apologised for the delay and asked them to wait patiently saying he would definitely attend to each and every person. The people waiting were served plain tea regularly.

This was Dingiri Banda Wijetunga at his best. The simple, sincere man of the people whom the spoils of high office could not buy or alter. He was a man rooted among his people who in the words of Kipling ‘walked with kings yet retained the common touch’.

Wijetunga was an affable, unassuming man from the Kandyan rural gentry (Non-Radala) who was fortunate enough to hold high office of an assorted variety in life.

Ministerial private secretary, Parliamentarian, cabinet minister, Provincial Governor, Prime Minister and finally executive president were all distinguished posts he held. As Wijetunga himself once told Parliaent he was not one who was afraid of greatness.

It was this life philosophy which defined his approach to politics. His simple, mild-mannered demeanour made many underestimate his talents, fortitude and capability. He was the butt of many jokes based on his initials.

When D.B. Wijetunga was made Prime Minister by Ranasinghe Premadasa the joke was “Dunnoth Baragamu” Wijetunga; when he played second fiddle to the dictatorial Premadasa he was called derisively as “Deaf and Blind” Wijetunga.

After Premadasa’s tragic demise DBW was President. He was then called “Deela Balamu” Wijetunga. Later as Wijetunga discharged his Presidential duties exceptionally well and earned the admiration of friend and foe alike, he was described as “Doing Bloody Well”.

His worth was fully recognized after he stepped down earning him the sobriquet “Dearly Beloved” D.B. Wijetunga however took both praise and criticism in his stride and treated” both impostors” alike

In a farewell address to Parliament Wijetunga , invoked the immortal lines from the Bard of Avon ‘Some men are born great; some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them’.

In Wijetunga’s case he was not born great but he certainly did achieve a great deal of greatness like Parliamentary and ministerial office through his own efforts. But the highest offices of the land like the Premiership and Presidency were instances of greatness being thrust upon DBW.

Dingiri Banda Wijetunga was born in the Kandy district village of Polgahanga on February 15th 1916. He was the eldest of eleven children born to Mudianse Wijetunga and Manamperi Mudiyanselage Palingu Menike.

He received his primary education at Welihella C.M.S. Primary school and secondary education at St. Andrews College, Gampola. As for tertiary education Wijetunga passed his inter-arts for a London university external degree but never graduated.

He worked briefly for Kandy political stalwart George de Silva and then joined the co-operative movement. He was appointed co-operatives Inspector in 1942 and soon formed a trade union of which he was head.

When the U.N.P. was formed in 1946 Wijetunga was one of the pioneering members from Kandy district. The party under DS Senanayake formed the first government of independent Ceylon in 1947.

Abeyratne Ratnayake who contested from Wattegama was appointed as minister of Food and Co-operatives. D.B. Wijetunga in turn became his private secretary.

Ratnayake also served as Home Affairs minister from 1952 – 56. Wijetunga continued as Ratnayake’s private secretary.

This experience whetted Dingiri Banda’s political appetite. He sought nomination in 1956 as second UNP candidate for the multi – member Kadugannawa seat then held by E.A. Nugawela of the UNP and C.A.S. Marikkar of the SLFP.

The party gave it to L.S. Jinasena. An aggrieved Wijetunga displayed his rebellious streak of defiance by contesting as an Independent. He got only 5903 votes but made his mark in electoral politics.

Wijetunga returned to UNP folds and in March 1960 staked his claim for the newly carved electorate of Yatinuwara. Again his claim was rejected and the nomination given to Sunil Abeysundara. A chagrined Wijetunga turned rebel again and contested as Independent.

Abeysundara with 4352 votes squeaked ahead of the SLFP’s Hector Kobbekaduwe with a majority of just 193 votes. Wijetunga came third with 3156 votes.

A political rapprochement was effected by Dudley Senanayake and MD Banda ahead of the July 1960 poll. Thus Wijetunga moved to neighbouring Udunuwara electorate replacing the Radala T.B. Panabokke as UNP candidate.

He lost to T.B. Jayasundara of the SLFP by just 213 votes in July 1960. In March 1965 D.B. Wijetunga defeated Jayasundara by 3059 votes and entered Parliament for the first time as the MP for Udunuwara.

He made no waves and was content to remain as part of the 16 member ‘ginger group’ led by Festus Perera. This ginger group came to the fore in 1968 when it vehemently opposed the District Councils bill.

1970 saw D.B. Wijetunga with 13, 318 votes losing by 1068 votes To the SLFP’s T.B. Jayasundara. In 1977 DB Wijetunga riding the crest of a pro-UNP wave won comfortably with a majority of 10,750. He had 21,766 to the SLFP’s MPB Senanayake who got 11,013.

During J.R. Jayewardena’s regime Wijetunga held many portfolios including Information and Broadcasting, Posts and Telecommunications, Power and Highways and Agricultural Development.

When the provincial councils were set up JR wanted some senior UNP leaders to become Governors. D.B. Wijetunga obliged and was appointed North – Western Province governor.

After the election of R. Premadasa as president there was intense rivalry between Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali to be Premier. But Premadasa flummoxed all by recalling governor Wijetunga to active politics.

D.B. Wijetunga topped the preferential polls for Kandy district and was appointed Prime Minister and also Finance Minister. He was also minister of Labour and Vocational Training. Later Wijetunga was deputy Minister of Defence after Ranjan Wijeratne was killed by the LTTE.

The assassination of Premadasa by the LTTE on May 1st 1993 saw Wijetunga become acting President immediately. He was later elected unanimously by Parliament as President. He held Presidential office until November 12th 1994 when Chandrika Kumaratunga was sworn in as executive president.

Wijetunga’s assumption of presidential office was like a breath of fresh air after the rigid authoritarianism of Premadasa.

One of the first things done by DBW was the exorcising of State media when he chased away some evil spirits haunting Lake House. He ushered in a free, media culture that flourished during the Kumaratunga era.

Another of his acts was to dismantle the extra-constitutional security apparatus and doing away with wire-tapping. Ronnie Abeysinghe had died along with Premadasa but the sinister outfit headed by former Police DIG AC Lawrence still existed. This was dissolved.

In spite of these positive acts and his aversion to family bandyism and the politics of nepotism, DB Wijetunga was not without his faults. He permitted a cabal of corrupt racists to be formed around him.

Though Wijetunga himself was above corruption he did allow many wrongful acts of omission and commission like the granting of multi-crore ‘loans’ to dubious entrepreneurs.

He also permitted blatant abuses of power like the Fransiscu abduction affair during the Southern provincial polls.

It was during his Presidency that a mass defection from the SLFP to the UNP was engineered. Anura Bandaranaike deserted the party of his parents and crossed over to the arch – rival UNP with some of his supporters.

On the ethnic front Wijetunga was responsible for the clearing of the Eastern province enabling local authority elections to be held.

Later the emasculated Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) was able to raise its head again in B’caloa and Trinco during Parliamentary elections. Ironically the bulk of Tamil and Muslim votes in the east went to Kumaratunga during Presidential polls.

It was during Wijetunga’s presidency that the army launched “operation Yarl Devi” to take Kilaly. This was foiled by the Tigers. The LTTE also conducted two major operations. One was the attack codenamed “operation Thavalai (Frog)on Poonagary – Nagathevanthurai and the other on Janakapura in Weli – Oya/Manal aaru codenamed Operation Ithayabhoomi” (Heartland).

Realising his limitations as a populist mass figure, President Wijetunga engaged in a bold gamble before the Presidential elections scheduled for 1994.

Though the Parliamentary elections were due only in 1995, Wijetunga decided to hold it a year earlier. Given the UNP’s unshakeable vote bank, Wijetunga thought that the UNP would come out on top. Thereafter he thought that he could win the Presidency on the strength of a Parliamentary victory.

What he did not take into account was the positive impression made by Kumaratunga on the electorate and the yearning for peace in the country. Besides 17 years of UNP rule had had its toll and the nation was clamouring for change.

The Peoples Alliance was elected with a slender majority and there were moves afoot to do horse deals enabling the UNP to retain power. To their credit both President Wijetunga and Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe refused to go along with this.

The period between August – November 1994 saw D.B. Wijetunga reverting in practice to being a symbolic head of state. It was a brief period of political cohabitation where the President and Prime Minister were from different parties.

A constitutional crisis in the making was prevented by the statesmanlike conduct of D.B. Wijetunga. He simply behaved like a titular head of state acting solely on the advice and recommendation of the new Prime Minister.

He also declared himself out of the forthcoming Presidential stakes and encouraged Gamini Dissanayake (who had returned to UNP folds) to be Presidential candidate. Tragically, Dissanayake was killed by the LTTE and his widow became candidate. Kumaratunga swept the polls.

D.B. Wijetunga stepped down from office and retired from public life. He went back to his home in Pilimatalawa and resumed his traditional occupation of gentleman farmer cum dairy owner.

He lived in splendid isolation without any scandal or controversy.

His death after prolonged ailment removes from our midst a rare human being who was a fine embodiment of true Sinhala culture and Buddhist values.

It was Robert Knox who said that the ordinary Sinhala farmer was capable of discharging the duties of a King if placed upon the throne.

Dingiri Banda Wijetunga was such a (gentleman) farmer on whom the greatness of Prime ministerial and presidential duties were thrust upon by fate. He rose to the occasion and demonstrated in modern times, the validity of Knox’s ancient observation.

D.B.S. Jeyaraj can be reached at

Monday, September 15, 2008

TNA M.P. Gajen Ponnambalam's Views......!

'Govt. precipitating a humanitarian crisis'

Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam

TNA Parliamentarian Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam admits that the government forces have gained control over once LTTE held areas but states that it is not a solution to the political question that has plagued the country and driven a section of the Tamil community towards militancy.

Following are excerpts of an interview with The Sunday Leader:

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

Q: About how many civilians are likely to be trapped in the LTTE controlled areas due to the current military engagements? The Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC), estimates the figure to be around 238,831 in the entire northeast...

A: Our information is that there are about 500,000 civilians living in LTTE controlled areas purely in the Wanni. Of this figure, over 200,000 civilians are Internally Displaced Persons. Of these IDPs over 130,000 have been displaced several times over since early June due to the aerial bombardment and artillery fire conducted by the GOSL. These IDPs are living under trying conditions. There are some 50,000 individuals living under trees.

Q: Do you accept the notion that the LTTE is losing ground?

A: The fact is that when compared with the situation that prevailed in the northeast in 2002 when the CFA was signed, there is no denying that the government has gained territory and that the LTTE has lost territory.

The real question is whether that is a demonstration of one side's strength and the other side's weakness. I am not a military analyst. To try and understand what is happening now. I look at what happened over the past 30 years. There have been instances when one side lost and another side gained territory in the past too. In the late 1990s the GOSL had gained a lot of territory but that situation changed dramatically by the time the CFA was signed in 2002. I think it is a mistake to look at it as a territory debate.

One should not lose sight of the fact that the LTTE in the eyes of the Tamil people is a national liberation movement. That is what is most important. The Tamil people are more behind the LTTE today than they have ever been in the past.

If persons are assessing the situation based on gained and lost territory, my perception is that such people have not learned from the past and are likely to repeat some of the historical mistakes all over again.

Q: The government has set a year-end deadline for the capture of Kilinochchi and to eradicate terrorism. Is this feasible in your view?

A: In the first place, I don't accept there is a terrorist problem in this island. The Tamil people are fighting for national liberation against an oppressive state. The Tamil National Struggle commenced long before the advent of the LTTE. The truth is that the LTTE is a national liberation movement and is very much alive.

Why the LTTE's presence cannot be discounted is because it is built on popular support.

We have been told many times and by many governments of Sri Lanka that the war will be won and that the LTTE will be defeated. This is also not the first time that deadlines have been given by governments. From the little I know, I am yet to come across an instance when a national liberation movement in any part of the world has been militarily defeated.

Q: Unlike other Tamil political parties, the TNA has not called upon civilians to leave the LTTE held areas despite a worsening situation. Why?

A: It is clear that the government wants the Tamil civilians to leave LTTE controlled areas and to move to the government controlled areas.

The Tamil civilians in the Wanni know what is happening to the Tamils in the east despite over a year having lapsed. The Tamils continue to suffer immensely in the east. The situation is far from the so-called 'liberation' that the government claims. That does not make it easy for the civilians to enter government areas. On the contrary, they fear the fate that befell the Tamils in the east would now be theirs if they crossed over.

The Tamils have never felt a sense of belonging to the Sri Lankan State. The Tamils consider the state as hostile to their interests. As to where the Tamil civilians want to move to avoid the fighting is something that should be left to them to decide.

But I agree with my colleagues, I believe the civilians would not want to enter government held areas. Currently there are Tamils living in government-controlled areas. The whole world knows how hostile the government treats them.

Therefore the Tamil people in LTTE controlled areas will have natural fears about leaving.

I doubt the civilians in the Wanni think that they can trust a government that has been deliberately bombing civilian targets. I doubt the Tamil civilians in the Wanni are ready to trust a government that has been imposing embargoes and denying humanitarian aid to them and has been using food and medicine as a weapon of war.

Q: So your perception is that civilians would not leave LTTE held areas to enter government controlled areas on their own accord?

A: Yes. This is my understanding of the situation.

Q: Is the government likely to guarantee safe passage to the affected civilians?

A: Well the TNA has been meeting the UN and other humanitarian agencies recently. They inform us that the government has indicated that they are willing to agree on a 'humanitarian corridor' to facilitate the movement of the Tamil civilians from LTTE controlled areas to GOSL controlled areas.

The government is obviously giving a very narrow interpretation to the 'humanitarian corridor' concept. Since it is very unlikely that the Tamil civilians in the Wanni will want to leave LTTE controlled areas for the reasons that I mentioned earlier, our view is that the 'humanitarian corridor' concept should be given a more realistic interpretation, whereby the government should permit safe passage to all humanitarian assistance, that is, to all humanitarian workers and the aid they carry to where the affected civilian population is.

Q: Following the air attacks by the LTTE, the government claims that one of the aircraft were intercepted and attacked. What is the ground information you have in this regard?

A: I know only what I hear from the media and that is, that the government claims that an aircraft belonging to the LTTE was brought down, and the LTTE denying it. But really, I think what is more important is to understand, that the fact of the matter is that there cannot be a military solution to the conflict. This struggle is steeped in the deep political aspirations of the Tamil Nation to be a free people.

Everything that is happening should be viewed in this background. The LTTE has the support of the Tamil population. Besides the local civilian support, it enjoys tremendous diaspora support. The truth is that the LTTE has gone from strength to strength.

I find it difficult to believe that they have suddenly lost this strength, just due to the advent of the Mahinda Rajapakse regime.

Q: The LTTE is being accused of using civilians as a human shield. What are your views?

A: The LTTE has a lot to lose by using civilians as human shields. The last thing the LTTE would want is to deliberately put the civilians at risk and thereby jeopardise its own support base. The LTTE will not put the people in harm's way, knowing fully well that the people remain their strength. It is a movement built on the people's strength. It is a people's movement and derives strength from the people.

Why would it want to put civilians at risk and risk its own future? It is ridiculous even to suggest that.

Q: Is it your contention that the LTTE still enjoys massive mass support, despite 30 years of not being able to deliver to the Tamil people?

A: I strongly believe so. There is no disputing that the LTTE is strongly supported by the people.

Q: Do you feel that the current situation merits UN or international intervention? In fact the government has requested both NGOs and INGOs operating in the Wanni to move out.

A: The TNA has always maintained that the international community must come forward to provide humanitarian assistance to the affected people. We make this point to every foreign actor that we meet, whether it be foreign governments or INGOs.

We also tell them that the GOSL is deliberately precipitating a humanitarian crisis for precisely the reason of getting the Tamil civilian population to leave LTTE controlled areas. They did it in the east and now they are doing it in the north. In other words the creation of this humanitarian crisis is a part and parcel of the government's military strategy. This is obvious to everyone.

What we have been telling the international community is that, their not restraining the Government of Sri Lanka when Tamil civilians are being so blatantly targeted will have consequences with regards to their own credibility vis-…-vis the Tamil people. The Tamil people are watching closely as to who is doing what in the international community at this important time for us.

Q: The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is about to make a visit to India and meet Indian leaders. What's the purpose of this visit?

A: We would like to go to India. India is an important country. The Tamil people have always wanted good and strong ties with our neighbour. The Tamil homeland is a very short distance away from India. The Tamil people have viewed the people of India even more closely. A lot is happening here. We wish to keep India informed of our views.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

SL: 200,000 TAMIL IDP's VULNERABLITY!.........TNA/Leader:R.Sampanthan At Parliament!

Speech delivered by Parl. Group Leader, Tamil National Alliance, R. Sampanthan during Debate on Emergency in Parliament on September 10, 2008.

Around 200,000 non-combatant Tamil civilians have been compelled to flee from their homes in view of the intense military attacks, the frequent aerial bombardment and the heavy artillery fire being engaged in by the forces of the Sri Lankan State, both by day and by night, in these areas in the Vanni. A large number of civilians have been displaced more than once; many of them many times over and consequently, it is said that the ascertainment of the exact number of the displaced persons is difficult.

It is reliably estimated that around 100,000 Tamil civilians have moved into Kilinochchi in the past several days. Displacement and movement of people has also taken place in and into other areas. The intensity of the attack is unprecedented as far as Sri Lanka is concerned. Never before has such an intense attack ever occurred in this country and by international standards it is believed that the attacks presently being carried out are as bad, as the worst that has taken place at any time in any part of the world. The attacks have been ruthless and without compunction. Civilians, men, women and children have been killed, grievously injured and civilian owned properties both residential and occupational and other assets belonging to civilians have been destroyed or damaged.

The civilian population has been compelled to seek refuge in public buildings or with friends and relations and many have sought shelter in the open, under trees. The UN and its related agencies and international non-governmental organizations, to the extent possible in the prevailing situation, have rendered and continue to render relief and we are grateful to these organizations for the service they are rendering to these hapless people.

The Government, though it talks big about its concern for these people, does nothing more than make available to these people the meagre food items provided under the World Food Programme. The fear, Sir, is that the worst is yet to come. It is the general expectation that the fighting will intensify in the weeks to come and in that event, it is inevitable that there will be further displacement, death and destruction. The oncoming monsoonal rains would only make the pathetic plight of these civilians even much worse.

We are aware, Sir, that the UN and other international agencies are already experiencing considerable difficulties in providing relief to these people in the form of shelter, food, medicine and other essentials. Intensification in the fighting, resulting in relief workers being further hindered, or in access to these areas being cut off could result in a grave humanitarian crisis of much greater proportions than what exists at present, which could result in the displaced people being denied shelter, food, medicine, drinking water and other essentials and even institutions such as hospitals ceasing to function, all of which could have calamitous consequences in relation to the Tamil civilian population, the worst affected in this dire situation being women and children.

If the Sri Lankan State considers the Tamil civilian population resident in the Wanni as a segment of its own people, I submit, it is the bounden duty of the Sri Lankan State to ensure that the Tamil civilian population in the Wanni are not compelled to experience the ordeal of such a grave humanitarian crisis. If the Sri Lankan State compels the Tamil civilian population in the Wanni to face the ordeal of such a great humanitarian crisis with serious consequences, the conclusion would be inevitable that the Sri Lankan State does not look upon these Tamil people as part of its own populace.

These Tamil people have since Independence only requested the right to internal self-determination in the areas of their historical habitation. This is their most fundamental human right.

The Sri Lankan State has consistently denied the Tamil people this right though democratic verdicts over several decades in the areas of their historical habitation have overwhelmingly supported this demand. The Sri Lankan State cannot deny that this is the root cause of the conflict. Even today, the Sri Lankan State is not able to place on the table a set of proposals that would satisfy the legitimate political aspirations of the Tamil people.

All efforts to establish a monitoring mechanism under the auspices of the UN have not been successful in view of the refusal of the Sri Lankan State to accept such a mechanism. I submit that such a refusal on the part of the Sri Lankan State enhances the obligation of the Sri Lankan State to bring such violations to an end. The Sri Lankan State is not able to do this either. The Sri Lankan State pleads sovereignty of the Sri Lankan State as an excuse for its refusal to accept a mechanism under UN auspices ignoring the fact that sovereignty also includes fundamental rights.

While this is the actual situation, prevalent in the country, I do not see the Sri Lankan Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights in the House today.

He seems to be going to different parts of the world and he seems, however, to be quite pleased with his performance. While this country is facing a most atrocious situation in regard to human rights, the Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights talks as if everything is under control in this country.

Let us look at what is really happening in this country. We are aware that there was a Commission of Inquiry appointed to inquire into 16 grave human rights violations. We are aware that the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons, who were appointed to be of assistance to that Commission of Inquiry and to observe that the Commission was conducting investigations in keeping with international norms and standards, has withdrawn. When they withdrew, they publicly stated that the Sri Lankan Government did not have the political or institutional will to ascertain the truth. They stated that the Sri Lankan Government was not prepared to conduct investigations into human rights violations in keeping with international norms and standards.

There was the Assistance and Protection to Victims of Crime and Witnesses Bill brought to this Parliament as a matter of urgency and as an urgent Bill. It was brought to Parliament on June 17, and then it was taken up for debate again on June 19 and thereafter that Bill has not been listed for further debate in this Parliament. Suddenly it has gone into a state of paralysis. I do not know why this Bill has suddenly gone into cold storage.

The Commission of Inquiry recorded evidence by teleconferencing of several witnesses who had gone abroad, witnesses who are relations of the deceased persons, or who are closely connected with the deceased persons, who had been intimidated, who were afraid to live in this country and who consequently fled this country to other countries. Their evidence could only be recorded through teleconferencing. The International Independent Group of Eminent Persons who had been giving some assistance to the Commission of Inquiry, facilitated the recording of evidence of these witnesses through teleconferencing.

The Government did not provide the funds for this purpose. If the Government provided the funds there would have been no need for the Commission of Inquiry to seek funds from elsewhere. The fact of the matter was that the Government did not provide the funds.

After the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons left the country, the Commission of Inquiry was handicapped and funds were not available. Certain other countries, particularly the United States, Canada and the European Union were prepared to make the funds available. There would have been no need for these countries to come forward and offer to provide funds, if the Government was able to provide the funds itself which the Government did not do. The Government which claims - according to the Minister - to be interested in safeguarding human rights, in ascertaining the truth, a Government that claims to be committed not to conceal anything on which basis the Minister carries out his propaganda in various parts of the world including in Geneva. Recently in Geneva he also met with the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Madam Navanethem Pillay, and told her that the Sri Lankan State was genuinely attempting to improve the human rights situation. But, the Government is not providing funds to the Commission of Inquiry to enable it to record, by teleconferencing, evidence of witnesses who can provide valuable evidence in regard to those two major crimes; the murder of five students and the murder of 17 aid-workers in Trincomalee and Mutur respectively.........

Friday, September 12, 2008


Clearing ground for Vanni battle

The day before yesterday, the Government of Sri Lanka ordered all humanitarian organisations to cease all operations and remove all personnel (except Vanni residents) and assets from the LTTE controlled part of the Vanni. The question this observer wishes to explore is why the Government of Sri Lanka after ensuring the welfare of its citizens in the LTTE controlled Vanni for the last 18 years, appears to be renegading on its responsibilities, even on the verge of victory.
The Government of Sri Lanka, to its credit, has treated its people, many who are forcibly kept in LTTE controlled areas, as Sri Lankan citizens and have provided them with normal government services (education, healthcare) and also emergency aid (rations, non-food relief items). Furthermore, the government, realising that it could not ensure all services were adequately provided, requested humanitarian organizations to fill necessary gaps. These gaps were often created in emergency situations where the government did not have the immediate resources or capacity to ensure the continual well-being of its citizens. It is at these crises points that the neutrality, mobility and emergency response capabilities that humanitarian agencies possessed were most required and welcomed.

The current situation, even in the calamity familiarized eyes of the 200,000 trapped in the Vanni, can definitely be called a crisis. Many of these are IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) who fled their homes and are currently without livelihood trapped within a small strip of land. For many, the food aid and shelter provided by humanitarian agencies are the sole means of survival and often, foreign humanitarian agencies need to fulfill the government’s responsibilities.

As David Patreus, Commanding General, Multi-National Force in Iraq and the 82nd Airborne in Afghanistan have realized, conflicts of this nature cannot be solved by brute force alone. Government and humanitarian aid is now an integral component of the United States holistic anti-terrorist campaign. President George Bush, who once noted that the 82nd Airborne should “not be wasted on guarding school-children” now oversees an 82nd Airborne that builds wells, homes and roads.

The government’s reluctance to cite reasons for this dramatic change in policy, especially at this point in time, leaves one to speculate whether the government is making a short-term tactical trade-off between brutal force and hearts and minds. Generally neutral humanitarian agencies have often been successful in highlighting the plight of the suffering, often due to LTTE human rights abuses. However, in turn, they often publicize the government’s human rights violations. One opinion has it that the LTTE is contained in a small, dense thorn jungle, with 200,000 people. The final solution would be to launch massive artillery attacks against the LTTE. However, the LTTE is not below using human shields (actually the entrapment of the 200,000 can be considered a human shield).

Currently, the sole neutral observers in the LTTE controlled areas are international humanitarian agencies. They are the only credible reporters of events. LTTE propaganda is not taken as it is discredited.

Hence, for LTTE human rights abuses to be highlighted humanitarian agencies need to be on the ground in LTTE controlled areas. Furthermore, in order to back up its military successes the government must ensure the hearts and minds of the people in LTTE controlled areas do not turn against the government who they often prefer to the LTTE regime. The LTTE will also use the removal of humanitarian agencies as a propaganda tool to convince the people of the Vanni and the Tamil Diaspora that the Government of Sri Lanka does not consider Tamils as equal citizens and is preventing them from surviving. As the experience in Iraq and Afghanistan has proven it is much easier to capture than to hold territory when facing unconventional forces.

Finally, the government has promised to continue providing its own aid to the Vanni. Yet, the irony is that this aid will in the future be delivered right into the hands of the LTTE in the areas under their control.

As it is given under the supervision of the LTTE authorities the LTTE will gain credit from the average Vanni citizens and member of the Tamil Diaspora as the sole provider of relief in the Vanni. Hence, the government will hasten its rout in the battle for the hearts and minds of the people of the Vanni. Hence, in this observer’s opinion, the Government of Sri Lanka is providing the Tigers with a psychological and propaganda edge in the war.

By Banana Tree


Military harassment threatens Sri Lanka's oasis of peace
Anger at the military's heavy hand and land seizures rattles a year-old calm in the east, a rare success in a 25-year war.
By Jason Motlagh | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
from the September 12, 2008 edition

Batticaloa and Trincomalee, Sri Lanka - The chief minister of Sri Lanka's eastern province nodded with concern as a member of the provincial council described a security problem. It was a typical scene of government proceedings – except that the minister is a former Tamil rebel commander and enemy of the four Army generals seated to his left, taking notes.

This unlikely scenario is part of a turnaround the central government has hailed as the "dawn of the east," since its forces reclaimed the longtime Tamil Tiger stronghold last year.

Today, as the Sri Lankan government stands on the verge of overpowering the Tamil Tigers' last remaining territory in the north, observers say development of the east is equally crucial if the country is to break out of its 25-year civil war.

"The eastern province is a test case for the rest of Sri Lanka," says Harry Miller, a missionary who has lived in the coastal town of Batticaloa for more than 60 years.

One of two influential rebel leaders who broke away and helped the government win back this province, Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, known as Pillayan, was elected chief minister in May. His win underscored the government's pledge to extend greater political powers and economic prospects to the Tamil community in exchange for support.

But challenges persist. Although most of the 200,000 people internally displaced by violence have left makeshift camps, thousands are unable to return to villages and seaside areas now under military control. The resettled often find homes destroyed or looted. Checkpoints and guards are a fixture of daily life. Distrust of the central government persists.

Bombings and gun battles no longer convulse the streets. But military officials maintain that rebel spies prowl the area, making tight security a necessity for now.

Sporadic hit-and-run attacks continue to target government forces in the east. Late last month, a rare Tiger air assault on a Navy base near the eastern port city of Trincomalee wounded four soldiers.

Locals counter that the military's heavy-handed presence has made normal life impossible. Ethnic Tamils, who make up one-third of the province's population, claim they are singled out for harassment and summarily arrested, or worse, on suspicion of having links with the Tigers.

A March report by Human Rights Watch alleged that the government is responsible for hundreds of abductions and "disappearances" in the east. Militia linked to Pillayan's pro-government Tamil party were also implicated in some cases.

"The war is over here, and we don't have the freedoms we need," says K. Nageswaran, an activist who works on behalf of displaced Tamil families. "More psychological damage is done each day."

The military's hard-won victory over the Tigers last year cost hundreds of lives and emptied entire villages. It has since declared some strategic areas of Trincomalee district "high security zones," off limits to former residents.

Despite poor conditions, hundreds of Tamils refuse to leave relief camps until they can return to their homes there. "If we are to die, we want to die on our land, where our ancestors died," says Ganamunthi Jayanthi, at her tin-and-plywood shack at a camp outside Batticaloa.

Adding to the controversy is the government's creation of a "special economic zone" that will be open to foreign investors and closed to former residents. This land seizure is a violation of the Constitution and international humanitarian law, according to the Center for Policy Alternatives, an independent think tank in Colombo, the capital.

Thousands of Tamils who have been resettled now live in areas where electricity and clean water are almost nonexistent, the report adds.

Jens Hesemann, head of the UN refugee agency in the eastern province, says that, of the 17,000 still to be resettled, he expects only 7,000 will remain by year's end as new areas are confirmed to be free of land mines and unexploded shells.

Last year the government unveiled a three-year, $1.84 billion Eastern Revival Program, with just over half the funds to come from abroad. Critics say little money has come from the central government.

Pillayan attributes the current funding shortage to poor budgetary planning before he took office. Rural reconstruction will "accelerate" next year, he promises, ticking off a list of upcoming projects to improve agriculture and livelihoods. "We must be patient," he says. "Violence has no place anymore."

On a recent afternoon in Trincomalee, a gleaming $7.5 million bus station was christened by the US development agency, to be followed by a common market where Tamil and Sinhalese merchants will peddle wares side by side.

"If we can establish peace here, it will send a message to the whole country," says Mayor S.G. Mugundan, a Tamil.

• This story was reported with a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Man who lost family finds peace in helping othersStory Highlights
Robert Rogers' wife and four children died in flash flood five years ago

Rogers chose not to "wallow in pity" and became a minister with a message of hope

His mission is to establish five orphanages in five continents to honor his family

One named after his wife, Melissa, exists in Russia, another planned in Rwanda
(CNN) -- Five years ago, Robert Rogers was driving home with his family from a wedding when a flash flood took his wife and four children from him in an instant.

Robert and Melissa Rogers with their four children before they died in August 2003.

Rainfall from a torrential downpour swept the Rogers' minivan off a Kansas highway. As water filled the van, Rogers kicked out a window in a last-ditch effort to save his family. Instead, he and his wife, Melissa, and daughter, Makenah, were sucked out of the van. Hours later, the bodies of children Zachary, 5, Nicholas, 3, and Alenah, 1, still buckled in their car seats, were found inside the van.

Rogers survived. Instead of falling into despair, he became a minister dedicated to honoring his family by preaching messages of hope in the face of adversity.

"It was a huge choice of faith," Rogers told CNN. "It was a determination to live life to honor God, to honor my heavenly family, and to make something productive out of it and not just to wallow in my pity." Watch the story of the Rogers family tragedy »

Rogers' mission manifests itself in a variety of ways. In the past five years, he estimates he has told the story of his loss at least 400 times to more than 120,000 people. The message behind his story is to live life with no regrets by embracing your family and faith.

"People have responded to me that they want to change the way they live their life. They want to have a personal relationship with God and they want to get right with their spouse and children," he said.

In addition to his speaking tours, Rogers has established a ministry dedicated to serving orphans across the world. Rogers also traveled to Haiti and tsunami-ravaged parts of Asia to minister and deliver aid to orphans. Watch Rogers talk about his ministry »

His mission is to establish five orphanages in five continents to symbolize the five family members he lost. One, called Melissa's House, already exists in Russia, where eight orphan teens live with a married couple, and another is under construction in Rwanda.

"We dedicated it in honor of Melissa because she loved being a mom and I hope she is a role model to these girls," Rogers said.

Since that fateful day five years ago, Rogers has begun to heal. He is married with one child and another on the way. More than anything, he hopes his story will inspire others to live each day to its fullest.

"We are not guaranteed the next five seconds," Rogers said. "Life is very fragile and I hope my stories and inspirations are compelling people to live that life of no regrets."


Good Governance - The Need of the Hour
By Walter Rupesinghe/

The land mark judgment of the Supreme Court in the LMS case has highlighted once again the crying need for the restoration of good governance in this country. All right thinking people will agree that with the increasing politicization of every aspect of activity in this country, whether they be administrative, economic, financial, development or social, good governance has been reduced to a farce.

Having been a public servant myself for many years I make bold to say that by and large left to themselves public servants take .pride in doing an honest job of work. What is happening today is that a large number of public servants are wilting under the strain of inescapable political pressures and doing things against their conscience for survival.

All that does not absolve public servants from deviating from established rules, regulations and procedures. They must remember they are the servants of the people and not of politicians and are answerable to the people who pay their salaries and provide them with the other perks of office. This fact was recognized at colonial times when letters to the public ended with words "I am sir, your obedient servant''.

Politicians likewise are servants of the people who elect them - a fact which is often forgotten until the time comes to go around once again and beg for their vote. Once elected they behave as if the people are their servants and the politicians are a law unto themselves.

Secretaries of Ministries and heads of National Institutions must always remember the vital fact that under the financial regulations they are the Chief Accounting Officers of the departments under them and are vested with the sacred responsibility of ensuring that public funds and the assets of the people are prudently managed. I read in the newspapers the other day that after the LMS judgment Ministry Secretaries and Heads of Departments are reluctant to sit on Tender Boards which lack transparency and subscribe their signatures to irregular awards dictated by their political masters who watch and wait in the shadows while the public servants put their neck on the block. They have made representations to their respective associations and sought their guidance. At least now if they adopt a united and principled stand the political hierarchy will have to do something about it.

After the LMS judgment of the Supreme Court which exposed the sordid irregularities that had taken place politicians and public servants should remember that the national wealth of the country belongs to the people and cannot be the subject of questionable deals. The court has indicated that wrongs should be righted and that the wrongdoers should not be allowed to go scot free. Thanks to Wijedasa Rajapakshe who has been described as the knight in shining armour and the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and also the ever vigilant Vasudeva Nanayakkara several irregularities in some other institutions have been exposed. The people have a fundamental right to require the Government to take meaningful action, right the wrongs that have been committed and punish the wrongdoers. Any attempt to sweep them under the carpet would seriously damage the image of the government.

As a first step on the high road to Good Governance I would make a most fervent appeal to President R to implement the provisions of the Seventeenth Amendment without any further delay.

If he does this the people's faith in him will be enhanced. What is important to remember is that without good governance this country which has been hallowed by the visit of the Buddha, the noble and the enlightened one, will end up in anarchy and chaos from which we will never recover.

Let us remember the Chinese saying -

"Even a journey of a million miles begins with the first step"

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


By Jehan Perera /

There is a growing opinion that the last battle is being fought in the north. It was the LTTE that popularized this usage of language. This was in 2004, well before the present phase of war. At that time the Ceasefire Agreement was in existence. But it was coming under increasing stress. The government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe which had signed the agreement had been sacked by President Chandrika Kumaratunga and defeated in the general election that followed. Around this time the LTTE began a massive fund raising campaign internationally and recruitment drive locally. Their argument was that the ceasefire had brought no benefit to the Tamil people, and therefore they would fight the last battle to obtain independence.

The 2002 Ceasefire Agreement had given the LTTE the space to plan for war in conventional terms. The LTTE used that time to further transform its military structures, including a massive recruitment campaign. The CFA also ensured forward defence lines and demarcation of borders that separated government and LTTE controlled territory, and the legitimacy awarded by the peace process was used to build state-like structures with the support of expatriate and donor funds. Simultaneously this development reduced its flexibility to fight a guerrilla war. Further, the split in the LTTE with its Eastern Command, led by Colonel Karuna, weakened the organisation’s conventional strength.

The Asian tsunami of December 2004 led to a postponement of the last battle. The election of President Mahinda Rajapaksa in November 2005 on an anti-ceasefire platform, was facilitated by the LTTE by its imposed boycott of Tamil voters. With the new President in office, the open and visible preparation for the last battle commenced anew. The LTTE repeatedly provoked the new government within a month of President Rajapaksa’s election by ambushing government troops.

Ironically, it appears that the LTTE miscalculated its strength in relation to resolve of the government and the strength of the Sri Lankan state. The government forces have proved to be more capable in conventional warfare than the LTTE, with significantly more advanced firepower and much larger numbers. With no independent journalists in the field, the only sources of information are the media releases of the government and LTTE. But the weight of evidence is that the government has the upper hand. According to maps produced nearly one half of previously LTTE controlled territory in the north is now under government control.Every kilometre lost by the LTTE also brings the firepower of government artillery closer to key LTTE targets.

Government Advantages

The government forces have two major advantages over the LTTE for the control over territory. The first is that the LTTE is being forced to fight like a conventional army in its defence of territory including military bases, towns and buildings. The government forces are superior in numbers and firepower to fight a conventional war. The second advantage that the government has is that it is being backed by international powers, both in terms of military equipment and surveillance, whereas the LTTE is finding its members on the run internationally leaving it to rely largely on its internal resources.

In the face of these major disadvantages to itself, the only way that the LTTE can hold the government at bay would be by unconventional means. Over the decades the LTTE has shown itself capable of springing surprises.

Terrorist and suicide attacks in which the LTTE has specialized are meant for surprise. The development of an air wing is another example of a development that caught the world by surprise, although this has had only limited effectiveness as a military tool. In addition the LTTE is also using the civilian population as part of their defence strategy.

In recent weeks international humanitarian organizations have been reporting that the LTTE is not permitting civilians to leave the LTTE controlled areas. Even the family members of the local staff of international humanitarian organizations are being denied permission to leave. Instead, the entire population is being compelled to withdraw along with the LTTE ever deeper into the LTTE controlled territory. People are forced to live in temporary shelters or under trees. Repeated appeals by the UN and international humanitarian organisations to let the civilians leave the LTTE controlled areas, and to seek shelter in government controlled areas have been turned down or not responded to by the LTTE.

The appalling conditions of living of the civilian population are made much worse by the fact that the LTTE is compelling the people to join the combat. There are reports of brothers or sisters of wounded cadres now having to succeed them in the LTTE’s ranks. Civilians, including women and older people, are being given self-defence training and more members of each family are being pressed into semi-military service. If the government forces choose to attack LTTE targets with their long range artillery and air power, they risk making collateral attacks on the civilians.

Civil Society

The very term Last Battle suggests a fight to the finish regardless of the human costs. As the government and LTTE are in complete control of their respective war machines, there is little that either the international humanitarian community or local civil society can do to thwart them. Neither the government nor LTTE appear to believe in a political solution with the other. Civil society pleas for negotiations have gone unheeded, as each of the protagonists places its faith in its armed forces. But at the conclusion of the very costly battles for the north there will not be peace, even if more territory passes from one side to the other. This can be seen even today in the east. Peace is not only the absence of war, it is about creating the conditions for human rights and economic growth.

The government was able to militarily defeat the LTTE and retake the entirety of the territory in the east that the LTTE once controlled. The government has even held provincial elections in the east. However, any visitor to the east would not see any normalcy there, but a highly militarized environment in which there are soldiers all over. Periodically there are killings of soldiers, LTTE cadre and civilians. Tension is rife amongst the people and security forces.

Even if the government succeeds in capturing the entirety of the north, and driving the remnants of the LTTE into the jungles, the instability and tension will continue.

The fact is that eradicating a symptom cannot end the cause of the problem. Even if the government were to defeat the LTTE it will not be able to eradicate Tamil nationalism. The desire of Tamil people to enjoy equal rights and to have real decision making power in Sri Lanka is not limited to the LTTE-controlled Wanni. It exists in the same measure in other parts of the north and east, in Colombo and elsewhere in the country.

In addition, there is a reservoir of Tamil nationalism in the Tamil expatriate community that lives abroad, that no amount of military solutions in Sri Lanka can ever hope to subdue. There is only one answer to Tamil nationalism and that is a just political solution.

The danger also exists that military victory will be seen in ethnic terms that will be alienating and not unifying. When Jaffna was retaken from the LTTE in 1995, it was seen as a crushing defeat for the LTTE from which they would not recover. At that time Jaffna was the administrative capital of the LTTE.

The manner in which President Chandrika Kumaratunga formally received a scroll in Parliament from Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte informing her of the capture of Jaffna was like a replay of ancient history when the Sinhalese kings fought battles. This mistake must not be repeated. The symbols and agenda of the Sri Lankan state need to be multi ethnic and not mono ethnic if peace is to be the lasting outcome.

The Politics of Winning in the Vanni....!

The politics of winning in the Dayan Jayatilleka

Fascists launch a final surge before they lose wars. The Kamikaze pilots were a last card against the US fleet. The Nazis developed the Tiger tank, launched the V-1 and V-2 rockets and fought the Battle of the Bulge in the closing stages of the war, when they had already lost in the strategic sense. The battle of Iwo Jima is the classic model of a fanatical, suicidal, dug–in fighting force defending its home turf against a final onslaught. It was the toughest possible going but the US Marines won.

It is only to be expected that the Tigers would offer the stiffest possible resistance in their Ithayabhoomi or ‘heartland’. In their best case scenario they would turn Kilinochchi–Mullaitivu into a meat-grinder and then launch tactical counteroffensives which could develop into strategic ones, reversing their losses. In a more modest scenario, they would simply hold on until the combination of casualties, propaganda about IDPs, international and regional political developments (USA and India), and economic pressures would cumulate in Colombo agreeing to negotiations.

The Tigers strategy containing these two scenarios can be defeated by a combination of superior thinking and planning, strategy and tactics, resources and performance, and political and military will. Finally it comes down to a clash of wills: whose "will to power" shall prevail? That of the side that strives to re-unify the country, defeating those who want to divide it? Or that of those who seek to retain their shrinking tyranny, the despotic kingdom they have carved out on this island?

While the LTTE’s resistance and the ensuing SLA casualties are only to be expected, every single SLA casualty and every single day the Tigers gain, have four sources of causation. These are:

1. The LTTE’s own intrinsic motivation, efforts and strength. Some of this strength derives from collective emotions that are "pathological" to use Professor Richard Falk’s term to classify certain extremist insurgencies.

2. The policies of unilateral appeasement of the UNP administration during the CFA which permitted the Tiger buildup and accumulation of assets including their air arm, and enabled the LTTE to eliminate the SLA’s intelligence gathering Tamil assets in the Wanni.

3. The policies of the SLFP’s liberal Rightwing which cut into military recruitment by a unilateral peace drive at a time the war was on – the Sudu Nelum campaign. The plans for excessive devolution such as the "union of regions packages" of 1995 and 1997 provided the space for a Sinhala chauvinist backlash, which would otherwise not have taken off since the UF government was fighting the Tigers and had liberated Jaffna. The SLFP’s Rightwing liberals tilted against Karuna during the split, permitting the Tigers to make a sea landing in the rear of the Karuna rebels. They picked up where the UNP’s CFA and the LTTE’s ISGA left off and agreed on the PTOMS which was to be headquartered in Kilinochchi and gave the Tigers more representatives than the GOSL in its operationally vital second tier.

4. The Sinhala chauvinist caucuses which have prevented the reforms which would have secured the necessary military assistance for us from the regional power, and helped us avoid the soft sanctions on military equipment from other quarters. The Tigers’ Wanni resistance could be more swiftly overcome with force multipliers such as real time satellite intelligence and sophisticated firepower. The Sinhala racists have given and are giving the Sri Lankan state, government and worst of all our war effort, a certain profile, or to put it plainly, a bad name. Their policies bring no external support from any quarters or corner of the globe, but impede support from almost everywhere. Our soldiers in the waterlogged Wanni pay the ultimate – arguably avoidable—price.

We have been fighting this war for over a quarter century. It has been hampered by two opposing compulsions typified in two sets of lobbies. On the one hand, the liberals, NGOs, and INGOs who de-motivated the military through programmes such as Sudu Nelum, sustained policies of appeasement and provided the loopholes that enabled the Tigers to strengthen themselves with the support of the Tamil Diaspora. On the other hand the Sinhala cultural conservatives, religious fundamentalists and majoritarian chauvinists who have cost the Sri Lankan state and military a very considerable degree of external economic and material support.

Had the chauvinists (KMP Rajaratne’s JVP, LH Mettananda’s BJB and the EBP), not succeeded in imposing Sinhala Only in 1955-56 and frustrating the Bandaranaike –Chelvanayagam Pact of 1957, and their successors (VW Kularatne, Nath Amarakone and the Sinhala Tharuna Sanvidanaya) not succeeded in pushing for district and media-wise standardization at university entrance in the early 1970s, there would have been no powerful Tamil separatism, we would not be fighting for the Wanni today, and would instead be players, sharing in the Asian economic renaissance.

Had the Sinhala chauvinists in President Jayewardene’s Cabinet (Cyril Mathew) not contributed the ideological fuel for the conflagration of 1983 (see the SCOPP’s new book Lest We Forget: The Tragedy of July 83), India would not have tilted against us and the fanatical Tigers would not have greatly surpassed the more flexible and political groups such as the PLOTE and EPRLF.

Had the chauvinists not insisted on the inclusion of the religious lobbies in the All Parties Conference of 1984 and had those lobbies not objected to Annexure C proposed by Indira Gandhi’s Special envoy G Parthasarathy, we would not have had to pay the huge price three years down the road, of Indian intervention aborting Operation Liberation, the presence of 70,000 peacekeepers on Sri Lankan soil, and a Southern Civil war. (My 1982 lecture at Fr Balasuriya’s Centre for Society and Religion, published in the 1984 volume by the Committee for Rational Development [CRD] entitled ‘Sri Lanka’s Ethnic Conflict: Myths, Realities and Perspectives’ clearly predicted such an external intervention by the regional power).

Had the violent Southern chauvinists of the late 1980s, who are the leaders of today’s parliamentary chauvinist vanguards, not retarded the implementation of Indo-Lanka (the 13th amendment went before the legislature a year after the signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord), Delhi would have felt less constrained by the Tamil Nadu factor in unleashing the full power of the IPKF against the Tigers. That unleashing took place only in late 1988, precisely to create the environment for Provincial council and later the presidential elections.

After 9/11, Sri Lanka lost out because of both the ultra-liberals and their polar opposite the hard-line racists. President Kumaratunga opined to audiences in London and Delhi that terrorism cannot be dealt with by military means but that the root causes had to be addressed instead. She should of course have said "by military means alone" or "by purely military means", and argued for a twin track policy which addressed the root causes — but she didn’t. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesingha did worse, using platforms in Washington DC and New York to draw a distinction between "local terrorism" and "internationalism terrorism" and exempting the Tigers from the latter category and charge.

Similarly and simultaneously, had the Southern chauvinists not blocked President Chandrika’s Equal Opportunities Bill and the Draft Constitution of August 2000 (the latter was a great improvement on the ultraliberal 1995-97 packages), Sri Lanka’s international profile would have been infinitely better as we faced the LTTE.

In my 1995 book Sri Lanka – the Travails of a Democracy, pertinently subtitled Unfinished War, Protracted Crisis, I pointed out that the Tigers fight a total war while all their opponents —Sri Lanka and India—fight a limited war. That book was written out of the gratification and frustration of working for and with President Premadasa, in the worthy cause of his project of patriotism and growth with equity. The Tigers fight to win, while we, their enemies fought to drive the Tigers to the negotiating table. It is this asymmetry which was the principal reason that forestalled victory. (That book was culled out of a mountain of memoranda in which I had argued against such a strategy and in favor of a war-winning one).

Presidents Premadasa and Kumaratunga didn’t fight to win because they did not believe that victory was possible. That weakness of perspective damaged the credibility of the enlightened multiethnic multicultural discourse of the two presidents. President Jayewardene did want to win the war but could not have, because he had de-legitimized his government by holding a referendum instead of a parliamentary election, strengthened Tamil separatism by permitting the July ’83 pogrom to go unchecked, and isolated Sri Lanka by deviating from its Non-aligned foreign policy and alienating its great neighbor India.

We are fortunate in that today, at last, we have a President and a Prime Minister who are determined to win the war, to defeat the Tigers. A war however cannot be won by military means alone. Had the Sinhala chauvinist pressures not reinforced Tamil maximalist conspiracies, more countries would have got off the fence and helped us in this decisive battle for the Wanni.

Unfortunately we have been unable to capitalize on the LTTE’s dreadful reputation as one of the world’s worst terrorist organizations, and our own reality as a durable if flawed democracy and market economy of long standing. This is because our own image —not least in the neighboring capital— has been tarnished for decades, by the Sinhala chauvinist fringe. Our ethical and moral standing as a state and society have been damaged by the fundamentalists. The unfolding and outcome of the recent challenge to the higher judiciary may decide whether Sri Lanka will be perceived as a de-facto theocracy, in which activists or activist clergy of one religion enjoy impunity.

What will be the outcome of this war? What is the post war deal we are offering the Tamils? What are the guarantees against discrimination that we are willing to put in place? The best we can do for our military fighting in the Wanni is for our political leadership to be supported in maintaining the resolute political will need to push on to victory whatever the difficulties, and also be socially and politically permitted to answer the above questions in an enlightened manner, loud and clear, before regional and international audiences.

Had Abraham Lincoln not been determined to win the war against the secessionists—not propel them to the negotiating table — he would have been unable to push through the emancipation of the slaves. Conversely, it must be understood that had he not emancipated the slaves, he would not have been able to cut the ground from under the Southern confederacy and hasten the victory over secessionism. Sri Lanka has been unable to strike that balance and arrive at that dialectical synthesis.

Thus the cumulative efforts of the lobbies—the appeasers who facilitated the LTTE’s strengthening and those who forestalled the devolutionary and anti-discriminatory reforms which would have secured us more firepower from our friends and neighbors— are helping the Tigers in their lair and making our military’s job that much more difficult where it could have been made easier.

The strength of the opposing lobbies of unpatriotic appeasement on the one hand and chauvinism and fundamentalism on the other; the fact that these lobbies succeed in blackmailing or hijacking the mainstream parties and administrations, point to a basic weakness in our political system and underlying society. Ranil Wickremesinha organizationally affiliated his party with the global Right, the International Democratic Union headed by the US Republicans and UK Conservatives. The real question is why— given especially the moderate pragmatic nature of public opinion as reflected in polls – has our social and political mainstream been unable to produce a mass based liberal-democratic party such as the US Democrats? Why have we been unable to produce a mass based social democratic party such the British Labour Party? Why is there no progressive, secular-centrist mass party such as the Congress Party of India? Why is there no Marxist Left such as that on the subcontinent (India, Nepal) and why was there never such a Left?

Why are our modernist cosmopolitans unpatriotic and unconcerned about national security, while our patriots are parochial and chauvinist? In a recent book which he was kind enough to mail me, Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus at Princeton, draws a distinction between "tribal patriotism" – which he condemns— and "cosmopolitan patriotism"—which he commends. As our thoughts are with our troops on the dark night before the final bitter battles, we should commit ourselves to the construction of such a "cosmopolitan patriotism" or "internationalist nationalism" (as I prefer to call it), on the morning after victory.

(These are the personal views of the author).