Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Facing defeat for want of strategy

Geneva genocide charge gathers momentum:



by Shamindra Ferdinando

Retired Supreme Court judge and Northern Province Chief Minister, C.V. Wigneswaran’s call for a wider UN investigation, targeting Sri Lanka for genocide of Tamils, since 1948, received the backing of 15 overseas Tamil organizations.

Wigneswaran made his appeal on Feb 10, 2015, whereas overseas Tamils wrote to Jordanian UN rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, on Feb. 14, 2015.

The four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) strongly supports the ongoing Geneva project, though the grouping backed Maithripala Sirisena at the Jan.8, 2015 presidential poll. Wigneswaran went to the extent of blaming President Maithripala Sirisena for war crimes on the basis of him being Acting Defence Minister for two days, during the last week of fighting.

On behalf of those who had been demanding Sri Lanka’s accountability, during the conflict, CM Wigneswaran has explained the circumstances under which successive governments subjected the Tamil community to genocide.

The Island dealt with CM Wigneswaran’s 11-page missive, partly, last Wednesday (Wigneswaran’s resolution alleging genocide of Tamils and President’s visit to New Delhi, The Island, Feb.18, 2015).

The writer pointed out CM Wigneswaran conveniently leaving out crucial issues/events for obvious reasons. Last week’s article couldn’t deal with all issues, hence this piece.

*The TNA comprised the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) and former Indian trained terrorist the groups namely the PLOTE, TELO and EPRLF recognized the LTTE as the sole representative of Tamil speaking people. The TNA-LTTE deal was made in the run-up to the general election in 2001. The LTTE retained that privileged status until the Sri Lankan military eradicated their conventional military power. Over 11,000 LTTE cadres surrendered to the military during fighting on the Vanni east front. The TNA leadership never accepted the responsibility for strengthening the hands of Velupillai Prabhakaran, whose despicable Eelam project received a turbo-boost courtesy the Tamil political leadership. The alliance came into operation in 2001. It was meant to strengthen the LTTE’s interests, both here and abroad in keeping with its battlefield strategy. The TNA played its part well. There had never been such an alliance here during the conflict. Unfortunately, both the UNP and the SLFP failed to ignore the need to take on the TNA over its alliance with the LTTE. The UPFA’s failure to take up the TNA accountability with the international community was both shocking and surprising. Sri Lanka’s failure had allowed the TNA to humiliate the country both here and overseas forums to their hearts content. The UPFA leadership should accept responsibility for this pathetic situation.

*Sri Lanka’s failure to take to task the TNA even after a high profile European Election Observer Mission revealed its murderous partnership with the LTTE was surprising. The UPFA lacked the interest to pursue the matter though The Island on several occasions pushed the former government on this issue.

A statement, issued by the TNA, in the run-up to the April 2, 2004, general election, highlighted its alliance with the LTTE. Unfortunately, the UPFA failed to exploit the environment to its political advantage. The TNA declared: "Accepting the LTTE’s leadership as the national leadership of ‘Tamil Eelam’ Tamils and the Liberation Tigers as the sole and authentic representative of the Tamil people, let us devote our full cooperation for the ideals of the Liberation Tigers’ struggle with honesty and steadfastness. Let us endeavor determinedly, collectively as one group, one nation, one country, transcending race and religious differences, under the leadership of the LTTE, for a life of liberty, honour and justice for the Tamil people."

The UPFA and UNP didn’t even respond to the TNA’s statement. The readiness on the major parties to accept the TNA as the mouthpiece of the LTTE was nothing but a national crime.

*The EU Election Observation Mission report, released on Jun 17, 2004, described the LTTE as the primary source of violence at the April 2 general election. The EU monitoring mission’s head, John Cushnahan, didn’t mince his words when he declared that the LTTE’s primary aim had been to garner a huge majority for its proxy, the TNA, to project the group (the LTTE) as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people. The UNP refused at least to condemn the LTTE for making an attempt on the life of T. Maheswaran, Jaffna District candidate, in the run-up to the election. TULF chief, V. Anandasangaree, strongly urged the government and the Opposition not to accept the TNA. His appeal had been in vain (TULF leader applauds EU for unmasking LTTE proxy––The Island of June 23, 2004).

The EU said: "Firstly, the LTTE intended that no other rival Tamil party (or Tamil candidate from the mainstream political alliances) to the TNA would be able to claim to represent Tamil interests. A chilling message to this effect was sent early in the campaign when a UNP candidate and an EPDP activist were murdered. Incidents such as this seriously restricted the right of the parties other than the TNA to campaign freely in the Northern and Eastern Districts. During the 2004 elections, the major incidences of violence was perpetrated by the LTTE, whereas at the earlier elections, the primary source of the violence (although not all), were the two largest political parties."

*Having blamed both the SLFP and the UNP for depriving the Tamil community of its political rights, CM Wigneswaran left out a courageous bid made by one-time President Ranasinghe Premadasa to accommodate the LTTE in the political mainstream. Premadasa made his bid in Dec., 1989. At the behest of President Premadasa, the then Elections Commissioner, Chandrananda de Silva, recognized the LTTE’s political wing, the People’s Front of Liberation Tigers (PFLT). The Island revealed political recognition for the terrorists, even though the polls chief declined to confirm (LTTE recognized as a political party-The Island, Dec 20, 1989). President Premadasa bent backwards to appease the LTTE. The then LTTE ideologue, Anton Balasingham, made the announcement in Colombo. The writer was one of the few journalists present on the occasion (LTTE turned PFLT spells out aims and objectives-The Island, Dec 21, 1989). President Premadasa’s attempt to reach an understanding with the LTTE had been in vain. The LTTE resumed war on the night of June 10, 1990, with the massacre of over 400 surrendered police officers. The Premadasa-Prabhakaran honeymoon lasted for 14 months (May 1989-June 1990).

*Those who had been accusing successive Sri Lankan governments of genocide of Tamils are always remained mum on lives claimed due to fighting among the various Indian trained Tamil terrorist groups, fighting between the LTTE and the Indian Army, fighting between the LTTE and the Indian trained Tamil National Army (TNA), civilian killings carried out by the Indian Army as well as Indian intelligence services causing mayhem in Sri Lanka. CM Wigneswaran had also avoided political killings carried out by the Tamil terrorists, particularly the LTTE, with all communities suffering. The learned judge avoided reference to high profile political killings, such as the assassination of the then TULF chief, Appapillai Amirthalingam, on July 13, 1989, during the Premadasa-Prabhakaran honeymoon. He was assassinated  by the LTTE. The political veteran was killed along with former TULF Jaffna MP Vettivelu Yogeswaran. Vettivelu’s wife, Sarojini, was shot five times at her Jaffna home, on May 17, 1998. At the time of her assassination, she was the Mayor of Jaffna. The LTTE assassinated Sarojini’s successor, Pon Sivapalan, on Sept 11, 1998, in Jaffna. For the first time, the LTTE used a claymore mine inside a building to carry out multiple killings. The then Jaffna town commandant, Colonel Susantha Mendis, had been among the dead. An LTTE suicide cadre blew up lawmaker, Neelam Tiruchelvam, on the morning of July 29, 1999. Perhaps, the NPC should initiate a study to identify the perpetrators of civilian killings. In fact, it can facilitate the post-war national reconciliation process. The Governor of the Northern Province, respected retired career foreign service officer, H.M.G.S. Palihakkara, and CM Wigneswaran can explore this possibility.

*The NPC resolution also avoided a substantial number of LTTE cadres killed during internal conflicts. One-time LTTE Deputy Leader, Gopalswamy Mahendraraja, alias Mahattaya, and a large group of cadres loyal to him, had been arrested and executed, during the 1993-1994 period.

*The NPC should also take into consideration those LTTE and PLOTE cadres who had perished, fighting the Indian navy.

*Both the LTTE rump and the TNA should be asked to explain their decision to deprive a large segment of Tamil speaking people, living in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, of their right to exercise there franchise, at the Nov 17, 2005 presidential poll. The allegation that the then UPFA presidential candidate, Mahinda Rajapaksa, bribed the LTTE to order the polls boycott, should be investigated. The TNA leadership too, should be probed as the polls boycott order had been announced in Kilinochchi by none other than R. Sampanthan, MP, on behalf of the LTTE. The Trincomalee district political veteran would be able to enlighten the country as regards the LTTE/TNA polls boycott order. Every effort should be made to establish whether the UPFA bribed the LTTE to engineer UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe’s defeat. The UNPer lost by less than 200,000 votes. Had he received the Tamil vote, he could have easily won the presidential election and Eelam war IV wouldn’t have taken place.

*It would be pertinent to investigate whether the LTTE engineered Wickremesinghe’s defeat in the belief that it felt confident in dealing with Rajapaksa. Prabhakaran’s successor, Kumaran Pathmanathan, alias ‘KP’, in his first interview with the writer, since his arrest in Malaysia, and extradition to Sri Lanka, in early August, 2009, revealed that Rajapaksa could be overwhelmed in just two years. KP asserted that Rajapaksa lacked the expertise to tackle the LTTE, hence Prabhakaran felt comfortable having the SLFP leader at the helm.

*CM Wigneswaran completely ignored international efforts to end the conflict here. International efforts, particularly a determined bid made by the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and the Norwegians in Feb 2002, failed, primarily due to the lack of TNA support. Instead of supporting the Wickremesinghe-Norway peace initiative, the TNA chose to throw its weight behind the LTTE. The TNA steadfastly backed the LTTE, quitting the negotiating table during the fourth week of April, 2003. CM Wigneswaran should consider having ‘Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka, 1997 to 2009’ translated into Tamil for the benefit of members of the council, as well as the TNA parliamentary group. The study, released in Sept. 2011, dealt with complex issues, such as the circumstances under which the LTTE launched Eelam war IV after having engineered Wickremesinghe’s defeat. The Norwegian study said: "Although the LTTE never explained its decision to prevent Tamils from voting, one possible explanation is Prabhakaran’s fear of Wickremesinghe’s international safety net. The Norwegian report: "Prabhakaran was obsessed with the so-called safety net... he felt that Rajapaksa was less Western oriented than Wickremesinghe and would be less able to build up an international framework.

*Both the Norwegians, as well as CM Wigneswaran seemed to have ignored that President Rajapaksa and his indefatigable younger brother, Gotabhaya having the support of world’s solitary superpower. Even over five years after the conclusion of the war, the NPC had chosen to ignore the US factor in the eradication of the LTTE, though Obama’s administration seemed hell-bent on hauling Sri Lanka up before an international war crimes tribunal. In fact, the US provided vital intelligence leading to the destruction of four floating LTTE warehouses during 2007. The US also enhanced Sri Lanka’s naval capability by replacing 23 mm twin barrel main armament on Fast Attack Craft (FACs) with 30 mm Bushmaster, also during Eelam war IV. Sri Lanka deployed an ex-US Coast Guard vessel, Courageous, to hunt down LTTE ships on high seas. In a series of operations, US agents thwarted LTTE attempts to procure a range of arms, ammunition and equipment during Eelam war IV. The US saved the day for Sri Lanka from an ambitious LTTE project to acquire missiles meant to annihilate Sri Lanka’s precious jet squadrons. Sri Lankan troops also had the benefit of training with US Special Forces. Hence, the attempt to portray that Sri Lanka had to entirely depend on China should be resisted.

*During Eelam war IV, India also supported Sri Lanka’s efforts. Perhaps, enhancing Sri Lanka capability to conduct operations on the high seas by making available three Off shore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) at the crucial juncture was the most significant Indian help.

*CM Wigneswaran had also failed to take into consideration that successive governments had to gradually strengthen the military to meet the threat posed by the LTTE. Those blaming the Rajapaksas for accommodating the Chinese, had ignored that the then President JRJ had no option but to secure assistance from Pakistan, Israel, China, South Africa, as well as British mercenaries, in the 80s.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Wigneswaran's resolution alleging genocide of Tamils and President's visit to New Delhi



by Shamindra Ferdinando

One-time Supreme Court judge and first Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) C.V. Wigneswaran, on Feb. 10, 2015, tabled a resolution alleging genocide of Sri Lankan Tamils, since 1948.

Having overwhelmingly endorsed the resolution, the NPC requested the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) to inquire into genocide allegations and submit a report at the March session of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and refer its findings to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for further action.

The NPC demanded that the UN Security Council should refer accountability issues in Sri Lanka to the ICC for prosecutions, based on war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Alternatively, or concurrently, domestic courts in countries that may exercise universal jurisdiction over the alleged events and perpetrators, including but not limited to the United States, should prosecute these crimes, the NPC declared.

The four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) comfortably won the first NPC poll, held in Sept. 2013, five years after the conclusion of the conflict. The Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK - led) bagged 30 seats, including two bonus seats in the 38-seat council. The SLFP-led UPFA (seven seats) and SLMC (one) hold the remaining seats.

Wigneswaran launched TNA’s latest initiative amidst Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s first official visit to the US, where he had an opportunity to meet Secretary of State, John Kerry. The NPC project was meant to thwart President Maithripala Sirisena-Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s coalition government from reaching an understanding with the US, ahead of the next Geneva session.

The controversial resolution condemned former Presidents JRJ and Mahinda Rajapaksa, as well as President Maithripala Sirisena. The NPC pointed out that the then SLFP General Secretary, Maithripala Sirisena, had been acting Defense Minister, in May 2009, during the peak of the government’s attacks against Tamils. It would be pertinent to mention that Maithripala Sirisena had functioned as the acting Defence Secretary for just two days (May 15, 16, 2009) during the then President Rajapaksa’s visit to Jordan.

New govt taken aback

The NPC move surprised the government. In the run-up to the Jan.8, 2015, presidential poll, two lawmakers, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha as well as Wijeyadasa Rajapaske, PC, declared that the Geneva issue could be successfully tackled once the country got rid of the authoritarian Rajapaksa regime. Prof. Wijesinha made the declaration on a live discussion on Al Jazeera even before Maithripala Sirisena quit the government, whereas PC Rajapakshe made his assertion at a media briefing in Colombo during the campaign.

Obviously, the new government had miscalculated the TNA/NPC’s intentions and therefore it couldn’t ignore the urgent need to re-examine its position. The TNA/NPC also timed the resolution for President Maithripala Sirisena’s first official visit to New Delhi.

The then President Mahinda Rajapaksa had to pay a very heavy price for failing to take tangible action to counter TNA propaganda. In spite of glaring shortcomings being brought to the notice of the then government, those responsible for Sri Lanka’s defence ignored the threat. Instead of a change of strategy, the previous government outsourced Sri Lanka’s defence to expensive US public relation firms which did nothing to improve the situation. The government never realized that it couldn’t bribe the US through PR firms. The idiotic leadership went to the extent of paying a colossal amount of money even to US - based middleman, Imad Zuberi, to influence the US policy through PR firms. Zuberi is believed to have received $ 4.5 mn for his services. Had the previous administration at least closely studied the enemy’s strategy, it could have taken counter measures. But, unfortunately, the government wasn’t bothered. Instead of addressing existing accountability issues, it created fresh issues, such as the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS). The previous government also hired a group of international experts. That project, too, had been a failure, though a massive amount was paid. The Sunday Times political column last week revealed that four international experts had been a staggering Rs 400 million for their services during seven months. The previous government should be investigated as regards these payments.

NPC right to move int’l court

The NPC’s right to call for UN intervention should never be challenged. Let, the learned retired Supreme Court judge Wigneswaran move the international community against Sri Lanka over the injustices caused to his people by successive Sri Lankan governments. It would be a great mistake on Sri Lanka’s part to deprive him of an opportunity to seek justice. The new government should request Wigneswaran, as well as those having whatever information/evidence to prove genocide, to make them available to the UN and the new government. President Maithripala Sirisena on Friday (Feb.13) reiterated his commitment to a new domestic inquiry mechanism. The assurance was given at his first formal meeting with Colombo - based representatives of diplomatic missions.

The TNA/NPC resolution was meant to bring maximum possible pressure on the new government ahead of President Maithripala Sirisena’s first official visit to New Delhi, and the next Geneva session in March. However, the resolution conveniently left out several issues, which the writer believes should be raised by the government. The government should seriously consider making counter submissions to the UN. The previous government never realized the requirement to counter specific allegations propagated by the TNA/NPC or point out what was left out. The UN call for an external investigation into accountability issues had been based on allegations made by faceless Sri Lankans.

Let me examine contentious issues which hadn’t been mentioned in the 11-page resolution.

*Sri Lanka wouldn’t have been in this predicament if not for Indian military intervention here in the 80s. India recruited, trained and armed thousands of terrorists in training facilities, both in India and Sri Lanka. India also provided funds. No less a person than one-time Foreign Secretary, J.N.Dixit, in his memoirs ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun Roy to Yashwant Sinha’ launched in 2004, admitted India’s guilt. Sri Lankan politicians had never referred to ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun Roy to Yashwant Sinha’ by HarperCollins Publishers though it was undoubtedly the most authoritative statement as regards the Indian intervention here. Perhaps, our politicians and officials are busy in enjoying perks and privileges of office, they couldn’t be bothered with what the former Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka revealed. Dixit’s statement was nothing but an indictment of India. Dixit alleged that Sri Lanka’s relationship with the US, Israel and Pakistan prompted New Delhi’s intervention. But Dixit faulted the then Premier Indira Gandhi for giving active support to Sri Lankan Tamil terrorists.

Perhaps Wigneswaran should urge the UN to inquire into India’s accountability, particularly in the backdrop of an international war crimes tribunal sentencing one-time Liberian President Charles Taylor for a 50-year jail term for sponsoring terrorism in neighbouring Sierra Leone. Taylor is now held in a British prison.

The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), appointed by former President Rajapaksa failed to examine the origins of the war.

*The NPC accused the JRJ government of overseeing the massacre of over 3,000 Tamils, rape of 500 women, destruction of 8,000 houses and 5,000 businesses in July, 1983. The NP also alleged that about 500,000 Tamils fled the country. The government also allowed Sinhala prisoners to slaughter 37 Tamil political prisoners, detained at Welikada Prison, the NPC alleged, though no reference was made to the circumstances leading to the attack on Tamil civilians.

Attacks on civilians cannot be condone under any circumstances. Having said that it would be pertinent to stress that the July, 1983, massacre wouldn’t have happened if not for Indian intervention. The LTTE provoked the unprecedented violence by wiping out an army patrol in Jaffna, on the night of July 23, 1983. The army went on the rampage in Jaffna after hearing of the death of 13 personnel, the first major attack on the army. Sinhala mobs caused massive death and destruction in the South. Both the army and Sinhalese should be accountable for atrocities committed during July 1983. But, India’s despicable role in giving wherewith to Tamil terrorists to take on the Sri Lankan army, too, should be examined. The NPC should be asked to make its position clear on the Indian involvement.

*The resolution ignored the atrocities committed by the Indian Army during its deployment in Sri Lanka during July, 1987-March, 1990. The Indian Army was also accused of wanton killings, rape of women as well as running death squads. NPC member, Dharmalingham Siddarthan, is on record as having said that Indian trained terrorists at the behest of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), killed two Jaffna District members of parliament, including his father at that time. Perhaps, Wigneswaran can ask an explanation from Siddarthan, whom the writer associated with since 1989. The Indian Army, too, lost over 1,500 men in the hands of the LTTE, while double that number received injuries.

*Indian destabilization project aimed at Sri Lanka caused mayhem in the Maldives, in Nov, 1988. Sea-borne Indian trained terrorists, from Mannar, Sri Lanka, raided the Maldives at the behest of a Maldivian based in Colombo. Swift Indian military intervention thwarted their plan, with the Indian navy intercepting a ship commandeered by Sri Lankan mercenaries. The Indian navy sent that ship to the bottom of the sea. Some Sri Lankan terrorists perished in that confrontation, while some were rescued, along with the Maldivian leader of the coup, and handed over to authorities in Male.

* The NPC listed several atrocities committed by government forces during the conflict. Among the listed cases were disappearance of 332 Tamils, including 38 children from the Vantharamoolai refugee camp, as well as three villages, including Sathurukkondaan, in Sept, 1990. However, the NPC avoided referring to any of the civilian massacres carried out by Tamil terrorists and execution of prisoners of the conflict, particularly the massacre of several hundred policemen who surrendered to terrorists in June 1990. The NPC also ignored cleansing the Northern Province of the Muslim community in Oct/Nov 1990. The LTTE killed hundreds of Muslims in attacks on Mosques in the Eastern Province.

A Norwegian, sentenced for the murder of nearly 80 men, women and children, in 2011, declared that he followed the Sri Lankan example of driving the Muslims out from the Northern Sri Lanka.

*Although the NPC referred to one Wiki Leaks cable pertaining to war crimes, perhaps one of the most important US diplomatic cables pertaining to Sri Lanka was left out.

The cable, dated July 15, 2009 signed by the then Geneva - based US ambassador, Clint Williamson, cleared the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) of crimes against humanity during the offensive. The cable addressed to the US State Department was based on a confidential conversation Ambassador Williamson had with the then ICRC head of operations for South Asia, Jacque de Maio, on July 9, 2009.

Ambassador Williamson wrote: "The army was determined not to let the LTTE escape from its shrinking territory, even though this meant the civilians being kept hostage by the LTTE were at an increasing risk. So, de Maio said, while one could safely say that there were ‘serious, widespread violations of international humanitarian law,’ by the Sri Lankan forces, it didn’t amount to genocide. He could cite examples of where the army had stopped shelling when the ICRC informed them it was killing civilians. In fact, the army actually could have won the military battle faster with higher civilian casualties, yet they chose a slower approach which led to a greater number of Sri Lankan military deaths. He concluded, however, by asserting that the GoSL failed to recognize its obligation to protect civilians, despite the approach leading to higher military casualties."

Wouldn’t it be interesting to know whether this particular cable had been examined by a Norwegian - funded inquiry conducted by the CMI (Christian Michelsen Institute) and SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies). The Ambassador also quoted de Maio as having said that the Sri Lankan military was somehow responsive to accusations of violations of international humanitarian law. The Sri Lankan military was also open to adapting its actions to reduce casualties, but only to the extent that it wouldn’t undermine its overriding military objective to destroy the LTTE, de Maio was quoted in the secret US cable. Now that Norway had accepted US diplomatic cables could help establish the situation in war-time Sri Lanka, perhaps the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) inquiring into alleged atrocities committed here, too, should examine the US diplomatic cables.

The previous government never made a real effort to study Wiki Leaks, though ‘The Island’, on numerous occasions, stressed the pivotal importance of exploring every avenue. In fact, the situation wouldn’t have deteriorated to such an extent if the government paid attention to what was going on. The government also ignored the then US Defence Advisor Lt. Colonel Lawrence Smith’s declaration MADE IN JUNE 2011, TWO YEARS AFTER THE CONCLUSION OF THE CONFLICT that there was no basis for allegations made against the SLA during the final phase of the assault. The External Affairs Ministry simply sat on it. Although the GoSL often issued lengthy statements in response to various allegations directed at the country, vital and contentious issues were left out.

The GoSL never bothered to take up TNA backing war winning Army Chief, Gen. Sarath Fonseka at Jan, 2010 presidential election after having accused his army of killing thousands of people, with the international community. Had the TNA really believed the SLA intentionally killed Tamil civilians on the Vanni front, the grouping would never have urged Tamils to exercise their franchise in support of Gen. Fonseka, who bagged all five electoral districts in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Having backed Gen. Fonseka’s and Maithripala Sirisena’s candidate (Fonseka also backed Maithripala) in 2010 and 2015, respectively, the TNA has again raised accountability issue pertaining to Democratic Party (DP) leader Sarath Fonseka.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Prez poll: Muttur result signifies Muslims’ mood




by Shamindra Ferdinando

Former army commander and Opposition candidate, Gen. Sarath Fonseka, comfortably secured the Muttur polling division, in the Trincomalee district, at the Jan. 26, 2010 presidential poll. Fonseka polled 32,631 votes (59.09 %), whereas UPFA candidate, Mahinda Rajapaksa, obtained 21,002 (38.03 %).

Fonseka couldn’t have bagged the predominately Muttur electorate, without the support of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC). SLMC leader, Rauff Hakeem, threw his full weight behind Fonseka in accordance with an overall Opposition plan meant to deprive Rajapaksa of a second presidential term. Although the SLMC delivered Muttur, as well as several other predominantly Muslim electorates, the margin of victory in those areas weren’t adequate for the war - winning army chief to take the lead. Rajapaksa easily set off his losses in the Northern and Eastern electoral districts, with super gains made in other districts.

At the recently concluded presidential poll, the SLMC delivered Muttur to Opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena with the former SLFP General Secretary obtaining a staggering 57,532 votes (87.54%), whereas Rajapaksa secured 7,132 (10.85%).

Rajapaksa’s heavy defeat at Muttur reflected the general mood of the entire Muslim electorate. An overwhelming majority of the Muslim electorate exercised their franchise against Rajapaksa. They felt the overriding need to deliver a knockout blow to the then President, seeking a third term.

The failure on the part of the previous government to rein in Bodu Bala Sena, even after the organization went on the rampage in Alutgama and Beruwela, in June, last year, paved the way for a consensus among registered Muslim political parties and other organizations. The SLMC and Commerce and Industry Minister Rishard Bathiudeen’s All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) led the campaign. The the then President’s refusal to take tangible measures against those propagating hate among communities facilitated the SLMC’s move.

In fact, the SLMC fully exploited the President’s weaknesses to lure more Muslims to Maithripala’s camp. Had the government acted swiftly, and decisively, in the wake of atrocities committed by the BBS, even if the SLMC switched its allegiance to Maithripala Sirisena, Muslims would still have voted for Rajapaksa. SLMC leader Hakeem discussed ways and means of tackling the situation with the then Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, over a week after the Aluthgama mayhem.

BBS activists caused massive damages to property owned by Muslims during during rioting on, June 15, 2014.

Rauff meets Gotabhaya

Minister Hakeem suggested to Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, that an institutionalized mechanism be established to prevent recurrence of religious violence.

Hakeem met the Defence Secretary, at the Defence Ministry, on June 24, 2014.

Having briefed the party of his meeting with Defence Secretary Rajapaksa, Justice Minister Hakeem told The Island that he had got an opportunity to discuss the entire gamut of issues, relating to recent violence at Alutgama and Beruwela with the Defence Secretary (Curbing racial violence: Hakeem informs Gotabhaya of need for institutionalized mechanism-The Island, June 25, 2014), asserting that nothing could be as important as having an institutionalized mechanism to meet any eventuality.

Hakeem warned that in the wake of the Alutgama mayhem, the government shouldn’t resort to ad hoc measures to prevent another bout of violence.

Hakeem reiterated the allegation that the BBS was responsible for attacks on the Muslim community. The Minister quoted the Defence Secretary as having pointed out that there were other groups, beside the BBS, under scrutiny.

Hakeem said that they had also discussed the need to take tangible measures to prevent hate speech as well as inflammatory statements.

Hakeem said recent violence pointed to the need for an ‘early warning system’ to ensure the government could act swiftly and decisively before disaster struck. The Minister said that he had informed Defence Secretary Rajapaksa of that need and pointed some shortcomings in security set-up during the recent disturbances.

The then US ambassador in Colombo, Michele J. Sison, as well as British High Commissioner, John Rankin, gently pushed Hakeem to take a stronger against the government over its failure to rein in the BBS. Although, both the US and the British missions asserted that the US and the British representatives meeting government personnel was routine, they obviously exploited the situation. The previous government did nothing to arrest the situation. In fact, an influential section of the government believed that the deteriorating situation could help Rajapaksa to attract the Sinhala Buddhist vote. The SLFP leadership refused to heed dire warnings.

SLMC Chairman Cegudawood warns

Among those who had demanded immediate government intervention was SLMC Chairman and the then Productivity Promotion Minister, Basheer Cegudawood, who warned President Rajapaksa of dire consequences unless he stepped in (Rein in violent elements or face the consequences’: Vast majority of Sinhalese won’t tolerate extremist sentiments -SLMC Chairman-The Island, June 26, 2014).

The following is The Island front-page lead story: "SLMC Chairman and Productivity Promotion Minister Basheer Cegudawood (Batticaloa District MP) has warned that the ruling coalition will have to face catastrophic consequences unless tangible action is taken immediately to rein in extremist Sinhala organizations.

Parliamentarian Cegudawood has asserted that President Mahinda Rajapaksa will lose the support of the vast majority of the Sinhala Buddhist electorate, which abhorred sentiments propagated by organizations such as the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) and Ravana Balaya (RB), besides losing the backing of the Muslims, as well as other minorities.

The SLMC Chairman made these observations while addressing the 64th Annual General Meeting of the Young Men’s Muslim Association (YMMA) at the auditorium of Madeena National School, at Madawala.

Referring to recent violence against Muslims living in Alutgama, Beruwela, and some adjoining areas, Cegudawood emphasized that failure to neutralize the threat posed by extremists would render President Mahinda Rajapaksa vulnerable at the next national level election.

Cegudawood urged the Muslim community to join hands with those among the Sinhalese community, opposed to extremism, as well as Tamils genuinely interested in peace, to face the challenge posed by the BBS, Ravana Balaya, as well as the Sihala Urumaya. In the face of growing extremist challenge, the Muslim community couldn’t ignore the pivotal importance of having close rapport with the majority community, Cegudawood said.

The YMMA should intervene and work closely with civil society organizations, which represented the Buddhists, Hindus, as well as Catholics, he said.

Pointing out the growing use of social media by all communities, MP Cegudawood said that they couldn’t be emotional in handling the crisis. The SLMC senior said that whatever the challenges and threats faced by the Muslims, the community would have to depend on existing state institutions to resolve the crisis. Cegudawood strongly opposed to the Muslim community acting in isolation, at a time they should work with those who have been opposed to extremism.

Recollecting the struggle waged by the Tamils against successive governments, Cegudawood asserted that their campaign could have taken a different path had there been a genuine effort to inform the majority community of the injustices caused to them. Having realized the need to win the confidence of the majority community, the LTTE launched a Sinhala newspaper, the MP said. However, the LTTE action would have made a difference had the group acted much earlier, he said.

Referring to atrocities committed by the LTTE against the Muslim community during the Eelam conflict, Cegudawood vowed that whatever the challenges faced by them they would never flee the country. Cegudawood said: "We will not seek refuge in Europe, Middle East or any other country, including India. Neither will we allow anyone to exploit us."

The president ignored Cegudawood’s sound advice.

BBS attacks SLMC

Having allowed the BBS to run riot, the government directed the armed forces to rebuild shops and houses, belonging to Muslims. The government conveniently ignored the need to punish those responsible for the massive damages caused to civilian property. Instead of rounding up the perpetrators, the government spent taxpayers’ money to rebuild Alutgama and Beruwela. Both President Rajapaksa and his government had to pay a heavy price for playing politics with an extremely sensitive issue.

Having caused irrevocable damage to the relationship between the Sinhalese and Muslims, the General Secretary of the BBS, Ven Galabodatta Gnanasara, declared, on July 2, 2014, that the SLMC could be behind religious violence. The allegation was made outside police headquarters after having given a statement to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) as regards his alleged involvement in the Alutgama violence (BBS leader alleges SLMC responsible for ethnic strife-The Island, July 3, 2014).

For some strange reason, the previous government simply ignored the need to conduct, at least, a background check on the BBS. The revelation made, in July last year, that the British government had refused to issue a visa to Ven Galagodaatte Gnanasara thero surprised many.

British Parliament was told that visa application from Ven Gnanasara Thera would be considered in accordance with immigration rules. Asked whether the government planned to ban Ven. Gnanasara Thera from entering the United Kingdom, Minister of State for Crime Prevention and Antisocial Behaviour Reduction, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, said though the Home Office did not routinely comment on individual cases, he could confirm that any visa application from Ven. Gnanasara Thera would be considered, in accordance with the Immigration Rules.

He also said: "Under the Prevent strategy, the Unacceptable Behaviours policy has prevented a cross section of extremists from entering the UK.

This includes individuals for public speaking or publishing material that foments, justifies or glorifies terrorist violence or fosters hatred which might lead to inter-communal violence in the UK or otherwise can be demonstrated as providing support for extremists."

"Coming to the UK is a privilege we refuse to extend to those who would subvert our shared values," the official added.

Ven. Gnanasara acknowledged that the issue had been raised in British parliament in the wake of the US State Department withdrawing a five - year multiple entry visa granted to him.

Ven Gnanasara visited both Norway and the US before the formation of BBS. According to the Norwegian Embassy, the visit to Oslo took place before the Ven Thero’s affiliation to BBS was known, actually, before the Embassy was even aware of its mere existence. "The trip to Oslo was organized by an organization called Norwegian Peace Building Resource Centre (NOREF), which invited a group of eight Sinhalese from Sri Lanka, among them five prominent Buddhist priests, to meet a group of Tamil Diaspora, in Norway, from 20-26 October 2011. The delegation consisted of the following members: Ven. Galagodaatte Gnanasara Thera, Ven. Aluthwewa Ananda Thera, Ven. Dapane Sumanawansa Thera, Ven. Welimada Shantha Thera, Ven. Witharandeniye Nanda Thera, Dilanthe Withanage, Pujitha Wijesinghe and Mark Antony Perera." The Norwegian Embassy said that the Worldview International Foundation (WIF) facilitated the project (Gnanasara Thero: I didn’t seek UK visa’-The Island, July 8, 2014).

The BBS caused irreparable damage to the previous government. The former President may not want to accept the responsibility for the situation. The former SLFP leader should realize that the sentiments of the Muslim community remained hostile towards his in spite of him giving up the leadership consequent to the presidential poll defeat. The SLFP shouldn’t forget that remedial measures should be taken in the run-up to the next parliamentary poll, likely to take place in June this year.

The SLFP may not like to admit that the party hadn’t done absolutely nothing to mend its relationship with the Muslim community since the conclusion of the presidential poll. Perhaps, the SLFP should inquire into its humiliating defeat in the background that it was the SLFP and the UPFA, at the behest of the then President, as well as the SLFP leader that called for a national level poll, two years ahead of schedule. Such an inquiry would help the SLFP to establish the circumstances leading to the unprecedented defeat of an incumbent President. A proper investigation would establish that violence, unleashed on the Muslims, in June, last year, as well as a spate of attacks both before and after the Alutgama mayhem had deprived Rajapaksa of the Muslims’ crucial support. The Muslim factor could be one of the major reasons for Rajapaksa’s debacle. The deterioration of the SLFP’s relationship with the Muslims community automatically strengthened Maithripala Sirisena’s camp.

Overwhelming support, received by Maithripala Sirisena from the Tamil speaking electorate, prompted the UPFA to claim he was rejected by the Sinhalese, a claim strongly denied by the new government. Maithripala Sirisena narrowly won the predominantly Sinhala Buddhist Panadura electorate though many believed Mahinda Rajapaksa could bag with a big majority. That belief was propagated by those who believed that hardline approach towards the Muslims could prompt overzealous response from the Sinhalese. Obviously a wrong assumption, as proved on January 8, 2015, when Maithripala Sirisena proved all surveys, conducted by the previous government, wrong.

To be continued on Feb.18

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

MR pays heavy price for Aluthgama mayhem




N.K. Illangakoon, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), received a timely warning on a planned Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) protest at Aluthgama, on the morning of June 15, 2014. The warning was given by National Unity Alliance (NUA) leader, M. Azath S. Salley, a strong critic of the previous administration. Salley sent a letter warning of BBS plans to go on the rampage, to the IGP, with a copy to senior DIG, in charge of the Western Province, Anura Senanayake.

The police had ample time to thwart the BBS protest. Police could have easily deployed the elite Special Task Force (STF), in addition to the police strength available there. In spite of having the wherewithal to disperse the BBS, the then government allowed the situation, in the Aluthgama electorate, to develop. The local police turned a blind eye, believing the BBS, had the backing of the then government. In fact, a section of law enforcement authorities went to the extent of backing the BBS much to the anger of the Muslim community.

Colombo Mayor, A.J.M. Muzammil, reacted angrily to the UPFA’s failure to rein in the BBS. Reacting to the rapidly deteriorating situation in Aluthgama, Muzammil told the writer, on the afternoon of June 15, 2014, that the UPFA had caused irreparable damage to its relationship with the Muslim community. The Rajapaksa government would have to face the consequences, the veteran politician thundered, alleging that the BBS was pursuing an agenda extremely hostile to the UPFA, though it pretended otherwise. The Colombo Mayor alleged that the BBS had been specifically created to cause the downfall of the Rajapaksa administration. Muzammil was proved six months later.

The writer received a copy of Salley’s letter to Illangakoon. UNP Central Provincial Councillor, Salley, emphasized that the Aluthgama mayhem could have been easily thwarted had Police Headquarters promptly responded to his request. The then senior minister and General Secretary of the Communist Party, D.E.W. Gunasekera, lambasted the government for being a blind to what was happening under its supervision (DEW questions failure to take pre-emptive action with two strap lines, IGP received letter from Azath Salley warning of violence and Two drunken monks among 47 arrested-The Island, June 19, 2014).

The government’s failure to adopt pre-emptive security measures at Alutgama and Beruwala should be thoroughly investigated, Dew Gunasekera said.

Expressing shock and anger over the government’s inaction, the senior minister stressed the need to establish the circumstances leading to the Aluthgama mayhem. Violence claimed the lives of two Muslims and caused injuries to over 80 persons, the vast majority of them residents of Alutgama and Beruwela. The police said that the deceased had many cut injuries, though there were no gunshot wounds.

The clashes left seven policemen, including an STF sergeant, injured. The police commando suffered gunshot injuries.

Among the arrested were two armed Buddhist monks, the police said. Both had been under the influence of liquor at the time of their arrest, the police confirmed.

Senior Minister Gunasekera said the actions of some of the extremist elements were essentially terrorist in nature. Referring to a group of activists, from the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), storming the Trade and Commerce Ministry, in late April 2013, Minister Gunasekera said that he couldn’t understand why the government had remained silent. Trade and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, developed a special relationship with a section of the Buddhist clergy to counter the threat posed by the BBS. Bathiudeen played an extremely dangerous game, though he realized the very existence of his relationship with the SLFP was at stake.

The BBS was looking for Ven. Watareka Vijitha Thera that Jathika Bala Sena Secretary/ UPFA Mahiyangana Pradeshiya Sabha member, who, it claimed, was hiding in that ministry.

Minister Gunasekera claimed that those Muslim countries supportive of Sri Lanka had come under intense pressure at the March 2014 sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to abandon Sri Lanka due to violence perpetrated by extremist elements. The terror campaign had caused an irreparable setback to post-war national reconciliation efforts and brought the government into disrepute, the minister said.

National Unity Alliance (NUA) leader and UNP Central Provincial Councilor, Azath S. Salley, told ‘The Island’ that the Alutgama violence could have been prevented if the police had heeded his plea to prevent a gathering of extremists at Alutgama. Unfortunately, the police, obviously acting at the behest of the government, allowed the gathering, leading to unprovoked attacks on the Muslim community. Responding to a query, Salley said that having urged Senior DIG Anura Senanayake to prevent the gathering, the situation was also brought to the notice of IGP N. K. Illangakoon. Asked whether he identified those planning to gather in Alutgama, Salley released a copy of his letter, addressed to the IGP, in which he accused the BBS, as well as Sihala Ravaya, of planning to go on the rampage. Salley warned the IGP that the gathering in Alutgama was nothing but a planned attempt to cause mayhem.

Police headquarters acknowledged the IGP had received a letter from Salley, warning of an impending attack.

There had been several other incidents outside Alutgama and Beruwela, on June 16. Among those incidents were throwing petrol bombs and distribution of inflammatory leaflets in Horana, damaging a Buddha statue, in Kotiyakumbura, and an arson attack on a shop belonging to a Sinhalese, at Darga Town by another group of Sinhalese. Sources said that a group of persons had thrown burning tyres into a mosque and a house in Horana. The police detained four Muslim youth trying to set some tyres ablaze at Pallimunai. Stones were also thrown at two SLTB buses, at Saindamarudhu, in the Ampara District, damaging them. Police seized petrol bombs and knives from a Buddhist temple and a Muslim shop in Darga Town.

Although ordinary Muslims reacted angrily to the developing situation, the then government had been obviously lulled into a false sense of complacency, due to Muslim politicians, including SLMC leader and the then Justice Minister, Rauff Hakeem, All Ceylon Makkal Congress leader and Commerce and Industry, Rishad Bathiudeen, as well as the then Local Government and Provincial Council Minister, A.L.M. Shaula, assuring the government they would remain (Hakeem won’t quit UPFA over Aluthgama mayhem-The Island, June 20, 2014).

One-time Sri Lanka’s ambassador in Teheran and ex - PA MP, M.M.Zuhair, too, strongly condemned the government’s failure to curb the unprovoked violence, directed at the Muslim community. Zuhair alleged that the previous government was using the BBS as a tool to advance its political strategy. The top SLFP leadership was not in a mood, at least to take remedial action. Instead, it shielded the BBS until the very end when, in January, 2015, the Muslims overwhelmingly voted for Opposition presidential candidate Maithripala Sirisena. In fact, the Muslim community would have thrown its weight behind Maithripala Sirisena even if the SLMC and ACMC and the likes of Minister Faizer Musthapha had remained with the then President. It would be pertinent to stress they had no option but to switch allegiance to Maithripala Sirisena or perish at the next parliamentary poll. Surprisingly, the then President Rajapaksa ignored the urgent need to arrest further deterioration of his government’s relationship with the Muslim community, though he was going ahead with plans for presidential poll.

The overwhelming Muslim vote, at the January 8, 2015, presidential poll, ensured Maithripala Sirisena’s victory. A sizable section of the Sinhala Catholics, too, voted against the then President Rajapaksa for atrocities committed by the BBS.

The Aluthgama mayhem had caused tension in other parts of the country, particularly in the Eastern Province. Azath Salley spearheaded the offensive against the then government, though he assured the Muslim community wouldn’t cause disturbances, especially on the first Friday after the Aluthgama mayhem. Salley gave his assurance amidst fears of massive Muslim protests after Friday prayers on June 20, 2014. The Central Provincial Councillor lambasted the government for suppressing protests organized by the community. Salley had been furious over police commandos assaulting the Chairman of the Addalachchenai Pradeshiya Sabha. Salley alleged that the local politician was leading a protest against the Aluthgama mayhem when commandos pounced on the protesting group.

The then government’s relationship with the Muslim community rapidly deteriorated, though the SLMC and ACMC still struggled to reach an understanding with the SLFP. They obviously believed the situation could be improved by punishing the BBS. In fact, they genuinely believed the President would take act to save his government. Unfortunately, the President refused to act. Perhaps, he could no longer control extremist forces that had been set in motion by the administration.

‘The Island’, in an exclusive lead story, headlined MR rejects call for banning groups over Aluthgama mayhem, in the June 21, 2014, edition, revealed the failure, on the part of the President, to at least take some corrective measures. The President’s position further strengthened the hands of the extremists. The President revealed his position, on June 19, 2014, at a cabinet meeting. The President declared that proscription of extremist organizations wouldn’t guarantee there wouldn’t be further religious strife. The President indicated that he wasn’t prepared to proscribe the BBS.

The President was responding to ACMC leader, Rishad Bathiudeen, at a UPFA party leaders’ meeting on June 19, 2014, at Temple Trees.

Among those present at the party leaders’ meeting were Ministers, Basil Rajapaksa, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Dinesh Gunawardena, Rauff Hakeem, Wimal Weerawansa, Champika Ranawaka, Dallas Alahapperuma, Susil Premjayantha, Dew Gunasekera, Tissa Vitharana and Prabha Ganeshan.

Minister Weerawansa participated in a Cabinet meeting after having skipped five in a bid to pressure the government to accept the NFF’s 12-point plan to change the direction of the ruling coalition. Weerawansa was obviously trying to exploit the situation.

Referring to a statement made by Weerawansa, at the weekly cabinet meeting earlier in the day, Minister Bathiudeen urged the president to proscribe all extremist groups regardless of their ethnicity. Minister Bathiudeen insisted that extremist organizations should be banned as all agreed to the need for drastic action.

Minister Weerawansa alleged that Sinhala and Muslim extremists were responsible for the Alutgama violence. The NFF leader said that the problem could be solved only if both parties took remedial measures in the wake of the latest bout of violence.

President Rajapaksa pointed out that extremist actions couldn’t be tackled by arresting those violating laws.

The President alleged that there had been some serious violations of the Constitution by some members of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). Although they could be arrested, such activities couldn’t be stopped, the President said, adding that those undermining the constitution would seek political gains in case the government arrested them. The President was seeking a way out of the crisis.

When the cabinet took up the Alutgama issue, SLMC leader, Hakeem, directly accused the BBS of carrying out the attack. The president pointed out that there were several other matters which contributed to this situation and all parties should act responsibly to defuse the crisis.

Minister Bathiudeen, who had been at logger heads with the BBS leadership for some time, alleged that members of the BBS weren’t behaving like monks. Their actions were an embarrassment to the Buddhist clergy, the minister said. The President stressed the need to settle the issue, while recalling the circumstances under which a certain Muslim religious leader made a disparaging remark about Lord Buddha. Such a statement could hurt feelings, the President said.

Minister Bathiudeen said that Muslim religious leader had been punished by the judiciary and the sect he belonged to also advised him against such talk.

The President said that the government wasn’t responsible for the Alutgama mayhem, prompting Minister Hakeem to say the Muslims held the police accountable for the situation.

Amidst fiery words, Minister Weerawansa proposed a religious conference to iron out differences.

However, Minister Bathiudeen asserted that trouble erupted because the BBS launched a demonstration in Alutgama.

Minister Hakeem blamed the police for failing to take remedial action though posters appeared three days before the June 15, 2014 protest, urging people to join the campaign.

Minister Ranawaka reacted angrily when Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara alleged that the JHU was shielding the BBS.

Minister Bathiudeen reiterated that the BBS demonstration caused mayhem.

Minister Weerawansa pointed out that trouble started after missiles were thrown from a nearby mosque at BBS members as they were leaving after the meeting.

The President said that action would be taken against all those responsible for violence, irrespective of ethnicity. But unfortunately, the government continued to protect extremist elements. For some strange reason, the government never bothered to inquire into Colombo Mayor Muzammil’s claim that the BBS was in fact undermining the government while pretending the organization represented the interests of the government, as well as the Sinhala Buddhists. Muzammil was one of the few Muslim politicians who strongly advised the community not to react to provocations by the BBS. The veteran politician pointed out that the BBS thrived on their protests. The BBS effectively used an influential section of the media, as well as the social media, to propagate an increasingly derogatory message. The Muslim community was depicted as a threat to the Sinhalese. The BBS propagated the deadly message. The previous government flourished on BBS strategy. The despicable strategy was meant to attract Sinhala Buddhist voters, in such large numbers, so as to set off the Tamil speaking vote going Maithripala Sirisena’s way.