Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Reconciliation mechanisms: A glaring omission




By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTFRM) has accepted the requirement to have additional mechanism/mechanisms to deal with conflict related issues.

The Sri Lankan military brought the war against the LTTE to a successful conclusion in May, 2009.

At a packed media briefing, given by the CTFRM, headed by Manouri Muttetuwegama in early January, at the Information Department, the outfit dealt with four mechanisms; an Office of Missing Persons, a Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Non-Recurrence Commission, a Judicial Mechanism with Special Counsel, and an Office of Reparations. Having dealt with four mechanisms set up/or in the process of being established, the CTFRM queried the possible requirement for any other mechanism to address post-war issues.

The 11-member CTFRM comprised attorney-at-law Manouri Muttetuwegama, Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, leading civil society activist Gamini Viyangoda, Chairperson of the Association of War Affected Women Visaka Dharmadasa, President’s Counsel Shantha Abhimanasingham, Prof. Sitralega Maunaguru, Ravaya editor K.W. Janaranjana, Prof. Daya Somasundaram, Dr Farzana Haniffa, Prof. Gameela Samarasinghe and researcher Mirak Raheem also with the CPA.

Muttetuwegama handed over CTFRM report the to Yahapalana government on January 3, 2015. Chairman of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga accepted the report at the Presidential Secretariat on behalf of President Maithripala Sirisena.

The CTFRM requested for, what it called, tangible measures to address accountability issues. The civil society grouping underscored the importance of setting up of judicial mechanism comprising both local and foreign personnel, including judges.

The government is yet to officially make its position on the CTFRM report known.

Last week’s column, titled ‘A deeply divided community’, dealt with the pivotal importance of having a special mechanism to resolve conflicts within the Tamil community. The writer argued that conflict ridden Tamil community shouldn’t be left out of costly foreign funded projects meant to promote post-war national reconciliation. In fact, the Tamil community had never been subjected to foreign funded propaganda whereas the Sinhalese majority received heavy dose of advice over the years.

The majority community had been also subjected to propaganda meant to promote peace among them. The Sudu Nelum project, launched during Kumaratunga’s administration, is a case in point.

Now that the CTFRM had asked whether any mechanism was required in addition to those four outfits proposed in accordance with Geneva Resolution 30/1, 2015, it would be pertinent to examine conflicts among the Tamil community. The recurring conflicts among Tamil political parties and the diaspora undermine post-war national reconciliation process. The damage caused by Tamil politicians is bad as the failure on the part of the major political parties and groups affiliated to them to reach consensus on the national issue.

Unfortunately, Western powers haven’t realized the need to settle differences among Tamils though the majority community was being influenced in various ways.

The CTFRM, too, never recognized nor suggested a special mechanism to explore ways and means to address issues affecting the Tamil community. The government funded CTFRM should have tackled the issue in spite of it not being within the outfit’s mandate.

The urgent requirement to examine the crises among Tamils should be examined against the backdrop of an alleged attempt to assassinate Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran, in January 2017. The alleged involvement of the Tamil diaspora in the abortive operation planned by members of the defeated LTTE revealed growing dangers of conflicts within the community.

Conflicts within the TNA

Arumugam Kandaiah Premachandran (better known as Suresh Premachandran) attacked the top TNA leadership recently in Jaffna. Premachandran targeted TNA leader R. Sampanthan (Trincomalee District MP) and MP Sumanthiran over their failure to pressure the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government to address accountability issues in line with the Geneva Resolution. Premachandran held Sampanthan and Sumanthiran responsible for the current state of affairs. Premachandran alleged that the TNA leadership had been supportive of the on-going government’s bid to delay the implementation of the Geneva proposals. Premachandran is of the opinion that the accountability process shouldn’t be delayed under any circumstances.

Having lost his bid to retain the Jaffna District seat, at the August, 2015, parliamentary election, Premachandran stepped up pressure on the TNA leadership. Perhaps, Premachandran could have succeeded if not for Inuvil born Sumanthiran joining the fray in Jaffna. Attorney -at-law Sumanthiran, who had been previously in parliament (2010-2015) through the National List, successfully contested the Jaffna electoral district. Obviously, Premachandran is not the only TNA heavyweight who despised Sumanthiran’s entry into Jaffna politics. Former Supreme Court judge and Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran sought to ridicule Sumanthiran in the eyes of the Tamil speaking people in the wake of the alleged assassination attempt. Wigneswaran declared that there was no basis for the allegation. The ex-justice called the alleged conspiracy as a ruse to retain excessive military presence in the Northern Province. TULF General Secretary V. Andasangaree had no qualms in agreeing with Wigneswaran.

Those who had been demanding accountability on the part of the government and the military refrained from discussing their past. Let me briefly discuss Premachandran’s direct involvement in terrorism at the onset of the conflict caused by India for geopolitical reasons as well as a solution for her own domestic security-related problem. Those really wanting to know the truth should peruse the 15-page Chapter titled ‘An Indocentric Practitioner of Realpolitik’ in former Indian Foreign Secretary J.N. Dixit’s memoirs, Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun Roy to Yashwant Sinha. It would be interesting to know whether Sri Lanka parliament had obtained the publication released in early 2004.The possibility of any of the sitting members of parliament having examined the relevant section is remote. In fact, those who had been in parliament before them, too, wouldn’t have examined Dixit’s book. The writer is certain that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his successor Maithripala Sirisena lacked understanding.

For want of a thorough examination of the conflict even seven years after the end of the war, the vast majority of people still believe that the Indian intervention in Sri Lanka, was purely due to discriminatory policies adopted by successive governments here. Major political parties here lacked the foresight to examine the conflict. Unfortunately, the Foreign Ministry, as well as the Defence Ministry, hadn’t realized the failure on their part. Perhaps, the Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka (INSSSL), established by the yahapalana government can take the initiative. The Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute, established during the previous Rajapaksa administration, pathetically failed in its duty. Let INSSSL engage in a meaningful effort to establish the truth.

Premachandra’s story

Sixty-year-old Suresh Premachandran is the current leader of the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), a constituent of the TNA headed by Sampanthan.

Having joined the Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students (EROS) in the 70s, Premachandran subsequently joined K. Padmanabha in the wake of the latter forming the EPRLF. Premachandran is one of those who had received weapons training in Palestine. Premachandran took over the EPRLF leadership immediately after the LTTE assassinated its top leadership, including Padmanabha, at their Zackaria colony office apartment in Chennai. Having launched Eelam War II, in the second week of June, 1990, the LTTE struck in India. The then Indian administration lacked interest in probing the EPRLF’s massacre. It felt the requirement to look into the Chennai massacre only after the assassination of one-time Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

The dead included Padmanabha, nine other members of the EPRLF and four bystanders. The incident sent shock waves through the Indian establishment. The massacre of the Sri Lankans also contributed to the dismissal of the then DMK administration later 1990. The Indian police never made a genuine effort to apprehend those responsible for the massacre. The first arrest, in respect of the June, 1990 massacre, was made in August, 1991, by Special Investigating Team (SIT) probing the assassination of Gandhi, in May, 1991.

The arrest of Chinna Santhan led to the establishment of the LTTE’s direct responsibility for both the Madras massacre and the suicide bombing of Gandhi, in June 1990, and May, 1991 respectively. There is no doubt that some of those top LTTE operatives who had been assigned for overseas missions, were involved in both the EPRLF massacre and Gandhi’s assassination.

Did Premachandran want the massacre of his colleagues investigated?

Elimination of Padmanabha paved the way for Premachandran to take over the outfit. Premachandran hadn’t been with Padmanabha when gunmen pounced on EPRLF members.

One-eyed Sivarasan, who masterminded the Gandhi assassination, is widely believed to have carried out the EPRLF massacre. In hindsight, had India moved swiftly and decisively to dismantle LTTE networks in her territory, after the massacre of the EPRLF leadership, in June 1990, perhaps Gandhi’s life could have been saved. India never sought to eradicate the LTTE networks, on her soil, even after Prabhakaran humiliated the Indian Army by killing thousands of officers and men. In fact the LTTE networks functioned in India even during the war between the Indian Army and the LTTE. Indian Army quit Sri Lanka in March 1990. The Eelam War II erupted in June, 1990.

It would be pertinent to mention that the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s government had been in a state of confusion with the LTTE executing hundreds of police officers in the eastern Batticaloa and Ampara districts. In the Vanni, isolated Army bases along the Kandy-Jaffna A 9 road were under massive attack. The fate of Sri Lankan terrorists taking refuge in India hadn’t been in the minds of the leaders.

At the time Premachandran took over the EPRLF leadership, he had been an elected member of parliament. Premachandran represented the Jaffna electoral district. Having entered parliament, on the EPRLF ticket, at the 1989 general election, Premachandran had fled to India in the wake of the Indian Army pull out from Sri Lanka. The Indian Army installed EPRLF administration with a rag tag militia called Tamil National Army, headed by Premachandran, crumpled swiftly as India changed its Sri Lanka policy thanks to change of government in New Delhi. EPRLF leaders, including Padmanabha had been among those who were evacuated by the Indian Air Force as the Indian Army withdrew. During the Indian Army deployment here, those groups, opposed to the LTTE, ran riot in the Northern and Eastern Province. The EPRLF and other Indian sponsored groups, including the TELO and PLOTE, had been responsible for a spate of atrocities. Their actions hadn’t been scrutinized by India or Sri Lanka. Tamil speaking people had been at the receiving end with those operating under Indian command causing mayhem. They functioned as para-military groups in accordance with overall Indian strategy in Sri Lanka. The CTFRM should have also paid special attention to those who had suffered in the hands of para-military groups.

Formation of Tamil National Army

During the deployment of the Indian Army, in Sri Lanka (July 1987-March 1990), the EPRLF had been the darling of the Indians. Having installed EPRLF administration, the Indian Army brought all groups, opposed to the LTTE, under its command and towards the tail end of its deployment here formed a militia called the Tamil National Army (TNA). India asserted the TNA could face the LTTE though the Indian Army top brass knew the outfit was no match for the LTTE.

Perhaps, ONUR and those NGOs engaged in expensive post-war reconciliation efforts should make an effort to identify those who died fighting for TNA. The LTTE massacred hundreds of TNA personnel in a series of well-coordinated strikes. The LTTE had the tactical support of the Sri Lankan military and millions worth arm, ammunition and equipment provided by President Premadasa. The LTTE decimated the TNA forces causing heavy loss of life. Hundreds of Batticaloa youth died in the hands of the LTTE. The Premadasa administration turned a blind eye to what was happening on the ground. The police declined to record statements of the families of those massacred. It would be pertinent to mention that the TNA included cadres of PLOTE and the TELO, in addition to the EPRLF.

Premachandran, who had been clamouring for accelerated UN-led probe into accountability issues, could shed light on the EPRLF operations since its inception. As a former member of Indian formed terrorist group now an integral part of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Premachandran is in a position to facilitate investigations. Post-war national reconciliation cannot be achieved by inquiring into the eelam war IV. Kumaratunga, who in her capacity as the ONUR Chairperson manages the post-war national reconciliation process, she herself had been accused of committing atrocities. Rev. Father Emmanuel, President of the UK based Global Tamil Forum (GTF), had called her mother of all battles in the wake of the Eelam War III (April 1995 to Dec 2001). During her administration, those Tamil groups, namely EPRLF, TELO and PLOTE that had been once under Indian command, threw their weight behind her.

TNA Vanni District MP Dharmalingham Siddarthan though was not involved in ‘military operations’ can help establish the truth. Siddarthan can discuss Indian-led initiatives aimed at resolving the crisis created by India primarily for geo-political reasons. Siddarthan recently played a significant role as the Chairman of Centre-Periphery Relations parliamentary subcommittee that made a series of controversial recommendations in line with overall proposed constitutional reforms. Obviously, constitutional and electoral reforms as well as war crimes inquiry in accordance with Geneva Resolution 30/1 are vigorously pursued. Unfortunately, those at the helm of these projects are only interested in probing the Rajapaksa administration. They are not even bothered to establish the primary cause of war in Sri Lanka and the accountability on the part of India, constituents of the TNA et al.

CBK irks army

A recent statement attributed to Kumaratunga, who had been one-time Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and widely credited with bringing in Jaffna peninsula under state control, underscored the challenges faced by the country in the run up to the next Geneva session. Kumaratunga alleged sexual exploitation of Tamil women by the security forces in former war zones. Colombo based Foreign Correspondents Association (FCA) quoted Kumaratunga as having also said that those who had survived war now faced widespread sexual exploitation by officials in their own community as well as from the army. Army headquarters promptly contradicted Kumaratunga’s statement, the first occasion the military challenged former Commander-in-Chief.

One-time US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Sri Lanka of using rape as a weapon to suppress the Tamil community. The US retracted the statement when the then government strongly objected to Clinton unsubstantiated allegation. Accusations in respect of sexual exploitation of Tamil women even in the post-war era are meant to pressure Sri Lanka over the issue of reconciliation. Sri Lanka is being subjected to a massive propaganda project to facilitate a settlement in line with the Geneva Resolution, co-sponsored by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government.