Tuesday, 14 February 2017

A deeply divided community



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran has claimed that the yahapalana government cooked up an assassination attempt on Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP M.A. Sumanthiran by the LTTE rump to justify on-going efforts to retain existing military presence in the Northern Province.

Since becoming the Chief Minister in Sept 2013, Wigneswaran has been demanding the withdrawal of the armed forces from the Northern Province.

Retired Supreme Court judge Wigneswaran refrained from accusing Inuvil born Jaffna District MP and attorney-at-law Sumanthiran of collaborating with the government project. However, Wigneswaran cannot be unaware of MP Sumanthiran calling for a thorough inquiry into the alleged attempt believed to be spearheaded by a section of Tamil Diaspora.

Having first entered parliament through the National List, Sumanthiran contested the last parliamentary polls in Aug 2015.The senior lawyer secured a place among those elected from the Jaffna peninsula at the expense of a TNA senior who had been a member of parliament before.

Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka is on record as having accused Norway based diaspora elements of being behind the assassination plot. In addition to the Norwegian factor, reports suggested that diaspora elements based in Malaysia, France and Australia might have had a hand in the assassination plot.

The police and the TNA bared the assassination plot in the wake of Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanism (CTFRM) handing over comprehensive set of proposals to the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration. Former President and Chairperson of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) Chandrika Bandarnaike Kumaratunga received CTFRM report from senior attorney at law Manouri Muttetuwegama at the Presidential Secretariat on January 3, 2017.

The project undertaken by an 11-member team comprising the civil society headed by Muttetuwegama in line with the Geneva Resolution dealt with a range of issues. The alleged attempt to assassinate MP Sumanthiran should be examined against the backdrop of yahapalana leaders repeated assurances that post-war national reconciliation process would depend on truth, justice, reparations and non-recurrence.

Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, in his concluding remarks during the parliamentary debate on Geneva Resolution on Oct 23, 2015, declared that under that strategy, the government intended to create four separate institutions. Let me quote Minister Samaraweera verbatim: (A) A Commission for Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Non-recurrence to be evolved in consultation with the relevant authorities of South Africa. This mechanism is envisaged as having a dual structure. For many victims of human rights abuses, from whichever community, where the perpetrators are unclear for a judicial mechanism to handle, or where the practices of the state and society have resulted in discrimination, this Commission will allow them to discover the truth, understand what happened and help remedy any sense of injustice. A special feature of this will be a Compassionate Council, consisting of senior religious figures. (B) An Office on Missing Persons based on the principle of the families’ right to know, to be set up by Statute with expertise from the ICRC. (C) A Judicial Mechanism with a Special Counsel to be set up by Statute. This takes into account the right of victims to a fair remedy and aims to address the problem of impunity for human rights violations suffered by all communities. There have been previous instances as well in Sri Lanka when criminal justice mechanisms of different kinds have been set up. This, therefore, is not at all an alien concept. Neither is it aimed at a particular group of persons, but something that is essential in terms of upholding the rule of law, and creating a society that respects the rule of law. (D) An Office for Reparations to be set up by Statute to facilitate the implementation of recommendations relating to reparations made by the proposed Commission on Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Non-recurrence, the Office of the Missing Persons, the LLRC and any other entity; These bodies will be created after wide-ranging and deep consultations with all the stakeholders involved, including the victims, experts, political parties, the security forces and civil society.

Special reconciliation project

for Tamils needed

Does post-war Sri Lanka require a special mechanism to address issues involving Tamils? Muttetuwegama’s group hadn’t addressed the issue. In fact, Paranagama Commission as well as the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), too turned a blind eye to this aspect. All government and foreign funded projects are meant to resolve problems between the Sinhalese and Tamil speaking people. They conveniently have forgotten the requirement to settle differences among the Tamils, a deeply divided community that believed in LTTE triumphing over the military until the very end.

 Wigneswaran’s reaction to alleged attempt on MP Sumanthiran’s life again highlighted deep divisions among the Tamil speaking community. Obviously, Wigneswaran inferred that the Colombo-based lawyer had cooperated with the government to propagate a lie that former members of the LTTE at the behest of Tamil diaspora joined hands in first post-war assassination plot. A sharply divided TNA consisting of four parties is struggling to cope up with the Sumanthiran affair. Having accused the government and an influential section of the grouping of propagating lies, Wigneswaran led a protest march in the eastern Batticaloa district over the last weekend demanding the withdrawal of the military from ‘traditional Tamil homelands’ in the former war zone. Having won the confidence of the TNA leadership as well as Colombo-based diplomatic community, Wigneswaran secured the Chief Ministership with an overwhelming majority in Sept 2013. Since then he has adopted a strategy contrary to that of the TNA which nominated him as the Northern Province Chief Minister. Wigneswaran is no longer under TNA command. A TNA split is now inevitable at the next Northern Provincial Council poll. The writer raised the issue with Mrs Kumaratunga’s Office. 

The Island: Since the change of government in January 2015, ONUR has been spearheading post-war national reconciliation process. The projects undertaken by ONUR as well as other organizations, such as the National Peace Council and CPA (Centre for Policy Alternatives) are meant to reconcile the Sinhalese and Tamil speaking people. Against the backdrop of the alleged Sumanthiran assassination plot and views expressed by Wigneswaran and another TNA MP, don’t’ you think special projects are required to settle differences among Tamil speaking people, including diaspora.

Mrs Kumaratunga’s Office: The policies of the Government and programmes being carried out by ONUR are meant to restore Trust and promote Non-Recurrence of the conditions that led to the conflict. And these initiatives involve a wide range of stakeholders in this process. However, differences of opinion within any community, expressed in a respectful manner, are hallmark of a democracy and we have not identified a need to think of any special projects to intervene in cases of differences of opinion within elected officials. If a threat for national unity and reconciliation is perceived, we will address such with the respective stakeholders in a constructive manner.

The Island: Have you implemented projects to build friendship among Tamils and settle differences among various Tamil groups? If not, will you be considering special project meant for Tamils?

Mrs. Kumaratunga’s Office: "The ONUR respects people’s democratic right to expression and thus regardless of whether differences of opinions exist within Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims in general, we do not believe government intervention is a necessity,  provided such expressions of opinion are of a non-inflammatory nature and does not lead to hatred or violence. We do believe that reconciliation process needs to bring together as many Sri Lankans as possible across ethnic and religious lines to build a prosperous country for all of us.

The following response was received from Dr Jehan Perera on behalf of the National Peace Council (NPC): The government’s progress in meeting popular expectations has been limited in all sectors of society.  Many are disappointed and impatient.  This is also applicable to the Tamil polity.  This has eroded trust and threatens to damage the relationship with the government.  It also harms intra-Tamil relationships both local and diaspora.  It widens the rift between those Tamils who wish to work with the government in a spirit of partnership and those who seek a path of confrontation.

There are various theories about the assassination attempt.  This indicates we need to improve the level of trust in society.  Implementation of promises made by the government is of utmost importance in reducing the trust deficit and improving relations all round.  Among the most important of these is to ascertain the whereabouts of missing persons, restoration of military occupied lands to civilians, rebuilding of livelihoods and demilitarization of the North and East.  The use of violence to attain any of these objectives needs to be condemned.    

Organizations such as ONUR and NGOs can organize more dialogues and intellectual exchanges where problems are identified and mutually acceptable solutions are discussed.  These can feed into policy decisions.  At dialogues my organization conducts we discuss the contentious issues on which there is no single right answer.  We help the participants to understand the complexity of issues and the politics and competing visions that underlie them.  

We very much appreciate the space and freedom that has been opened up for us at this time to engage in public discussion of these issues.  This includes the media and The Island is a good example.  We find that most of those we engage with, from all ethnic and religious communities, are reasonable and show goodwill towards the others.  This includes the senior members of the security forces whom I teach at the University of Colombo’s post-graduate diploma and degree courses.  This gives me hope for the future."



The eradication of the LTTE in May 2009 automatically freed the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) led TNA. It would be pertinent to mention that V. Anandasangree’s TULF, too, had been constituent of the TNA at its inception in the run-up to eelam war IV (Aug 2006 to May 2009).

Interestingly, Anandasangaree has publicly backed Wigneswaran stand that the alleged attempt on MP Sumanthiran was nothing but a lie. Since he quit the TNA, Anandasangaree has been quite critical of the TNA. The veteran politician has been at logger heads with the TNA. For some reason, he has now taken a stand supportive of Wigneswaran vis-a-vis party leadership.

The likes of Wigneswaran and Anandasangaree will work overtime to discredit MP Sumanthiran, who has become the major TNA player in negotiations with the diplomatic community. Sumanthiran’s close relationship with the UK headquartered Global Tamil Forum (GTF); the most influential diaspora grouping has antagonized many.

The LTTE had been instrumental in setting up the TNA though its leaders are unlikely to discuss their sordid association with the Tigers. However, the TULF quit the outfit ahead of April 2004 general election and was routed in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The LTTE ensured the TNA secured the lion’s share of parliamentary seats in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The European Union polls observation mission in 2004 explained how the TNA benefited from the LTTE unleashed violence on political opponents. The TNA fully operated with the LTTE until the very end. In early Nov 2005, the top TNA leadership, having met senior LTTE representatives in Kilinochchi ordered Tamil speaking people not to exercise their franchise. The move was meant to deprive Tamil vote to UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. The LTTE-TNA combine helped UPFA candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa to win the presidency. Obviously, they believed a reckless Rakapaksa would be naive to take on the LTTE militarily. Their project went awry. Thanks to Sri Lanka’s triumph over the LTTE which wouldn’t have been possible without the then Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, the TNA regained legitimacy to engage in politics. Perhaps, TNA leader and veteran politician R. Sampanthan today cannot even remember today how he recognized Velupillai Prabhakaran as the sole representative of Tamil speaking people.

TNA manipulated

Having helped Rajapaksa to win presidency at Nov 2005 presidential poll, the TNA threw its weight behind the war winning Army Chief Fonseka at January 2010 presidential polls. The US embassy facilitated a clandestine project to bring all anti-Rajapaksa factions together to oust the war winning President. In spite of having accused Fonseka of committing war crimes by no less a person than then US ambassador in Colombo Patricia Butenis (Aug 2009-June 2012), the US worked overtime to help build a coalition against Rajapaksa. Butenis accused Rajapaksa brothers, Mahinda, Basil and Gotabhaya and Fonseka of war crimes in a classified diplomatic cable originating from Colombo in January 2010. But, secretly, US exerted pressure on political parties, including the TNA and the SLMC to back Fonseka. In fact, another leaked US diplomatic cable revealed how the TNA had changed its stance thereby helped Rajapaksa to win presidency. In other words, the TNA helped LTTE strategy to cause an all-out war finally leading to its own destruction.

Butenis’ predecessor Robert O Blake (Sept 2006-Aug 2009) pursued extremely hostile policy towards the then government since early 2009. The US drastically changed its stance in the wake of Rajapaksa’s refusal to call off the offensive to pave the way for the remaining LTTE forces trapped on the Vanni east front to surrender and the top leadership to secure refuge overseas.

The US project meant to deprive war winning president of a second term went awry in January 2010. The US adopted a similar strategy at January 2015 presidential poll. India, too, threw its weight behind the 2015 project to engineer the Rajapaksas ouster. Had they expected to end Sri Lanka’s relationship with Beijing through regime change? The current outcome has proved them wrong. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government has ended up with Chinese investments in the absence of any other tangible saviors. The much touted Volkswagen investment turned out to be a hoax with government leaders ending up with egg on their face.

India’s culpability

Those wanting proper post-war national reconciliation should also examine the atrocities committed by Tamil terrorists on their people. During 80s, the LTTE massacred rival Tamil groups formed by India to gain superiority while Delhi also used anti-LTTE groups to undermine the political set up here. Vanni District TNA MP MP Dharmalingjam Siddarthan can explain how Jaffna based TELO killed his father V. Dharmalingam at the behest of India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). TELO assassins executed much respected Jaffna District MPs V. Dharmalingam and his colleague M. Alalasundaram on Sept 2/3, 1985. Siddarthan told the writer years ago, the RAW planned to get rid of two more Jaffna District MPs at that time as it felt urgent requirement to dilute TULF influence in Jaffna politics.

 The world cannot forget how Indian trained PLOTE almost succeeded in changing the Maldivian regime in early Nov 1988. India had to send in air borne troops to crush the attempt to overthrow the dictatorial Gayoom administration.

Those wanting genuine post-war national reconciliation should examine the culpability of the Tamil community. A costly post-war Norwegian study revealed the massive amounts of funds made available to various NGOs and individuals in the run-up to the eelam War IV (Aug 2006-May 2009) to influence the decision making process as well as the electorate. During a three-year period, Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe of the Anti-War Front alone received USD 6 mn to promote Norwegian-style peace at the expense of Sri Lanka’s national interests. The Norwegians wouldn’t have exposed Dr, Rupesinghe if he remained committed to their cause. Dr Rupesinghe earned the wrath of the Norwegians and other western donors for offering his services to President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the onset of the eelam war IV. The issue here is that none of the Norwegian or various other foreign funded projects sought to convince the LTTE or the Tamil community the conflict couldn’t be resolved through military means. They pushed successive governments and the Sinhala community to believe the LTTE couldn’t be defeated. They believed in Prabhakaran’s invincibility even after the Army crushed the LTTE forces at Kilinochchi in the first week of January 2009. Current projects are meant to convince the people that Sri Lanka’s triumph over the LTTE had made reconciliation further problematic. The Yahapalana rulers seemed to have accepted that when it cancelled Victory Day celebrations to appease those who had turned a blind eye to LTTE atrocities, including the widespread use of children as cannon fodder in high intensity battles and suicide missions.

The Tamil media cannot absolve itself of the responsibility for the present situation. An influential section of the Tamil media believed in the LTTE’s capacity to bring the war to a successful conclusion in the north and elimination of political leaders, both Sinhalese and Tamils standing in their way was an integral part of the overall strategy. The writer still remember what Anandasangaree told him in the wake of the assassination of Mrs Sarojini Yogeswaran in May 1998 in Jaffna. A shaken Anandasangaree said "do you want me killed" when he was asked to name the LTTE as the perpetrator of the crime.