SPECIAL REPORT : Part 168May 9, 2017, 8:30 pm
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Former members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) recently launched an unprecedented campaign to discourage yahapalana government from handing over military managed agricultural farms and pre-schools in the Northern Province to the Northern Provincial Council (NPC).
Hundreds of ex- LTTE cadres demonstrated in former LTTE stronghold Kilinochchi, demanding that agricultural farms and pre-schools be kept under military supervision.
The military liberated Kilinochchi in early January 2009 following months long campaign involving several fighting formations.
The protest surely embarrassed the NPC administration hell-bent on restricting military activity.
Although, the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) led Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has been sharply divided over post-war policy, with Northern Province Chief Minister former Supreme Court judge C.V. Wigneswaran pursuing a strategy of his own, the grouping is working overtime to reduce the military presence in the Northern Province to the barest minimum.
The Colombo based foreign funded NGO community, too, has thrown its weight behind the TNA project for obvious reasons.
The TNA has never been successful in attracting former LTTE cadres to the grouping as they knew its despicable role during the war. The TNA steadfastly refused to at least urge the LTTE to give up human shields and let the fighting cadre to surrender to the Sri Lanka Army. Regardless of LTTE directives to fight to the last man and last woman, well over 10,000 surrendered to the Army, advancing on the Vanni east front.
Former LTTE cadres, both men and women, gathered at the Kilinochchi SLTB depot junction, on the Kandy-Jaffna A 9 road, on the morning of April 25, 2017. Carrying placards and chanting slogans, LTTE cadres went in procession from the depot junction to the Kilinochchi District Secretariat where they handed over a petition. They requested that they be allowed to serve as members of the Civil Defence Force (CDF) assigned to work at military managed agricultural farms and pre-schools.
Former LTTE combatants alleged that their livelihoods would be at stake if the NPC took over agricultural farms and pre-schools. They expressed concern that thousands of families would be affected and a major crisis caused due to mismanagement under NPC.
Since the conclusion of the war, in May 2009, the TNA, Western powers, the NGO community or the civil society, as they prefer to identify themselves, as well as the pro-LTTE Tamil Diaspora have been campaigning for the reduction of military presence in the Northern Province, restrict contact between the military and Northern population and propagate unsubstantiated war crimes allegations against the war-winning Army. The Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and Western embassies have repeatedly issued statements backing the TNA. But, obviously those who had fought for the LTTE believed in efficient military managed set up-regardless of the lies propagated by interested parties.
There had never been a demonstration in the Northern Province by former LTTE cadres demanding that they be managed by the military. In fact, the TNA never anticipated the previous Rajapaksa administration recruiting former LTTE members to the CDF. The then administration went out of its way to accommodate those who had fought against the government in accordance with its overall strategy to ensure lasting peace. That strategy thwarted TNA attempts to cause turmoil and use the defeated LTTE to cause political turmoil in the Northern Province. The TNA seemed to have believed that the defeated LTTE would accept its post-war strategy and agree to work, in unison, to undermine government rule in the Northern Province. Had the TNA succeeded it would have had a catastrophic effect on the Eastern Province and undermine post-war national reconciliation process.
The Kilinochchi protest dealt a devastating blow to those who had been propagating unsubstantiated war crimes allegations.
The military earned the respect of the former LTTE fighting cadre for efficient post-war rehabilitation project. The successful project paved the way for thousands of men and women to return to their families, within a couple of years, though, at the onset of the programme, interested parties alleged former LTTE personnel faced long term detention. The recent Kilinochchi protest proved in no uncertain terms that members of the defeated organizations had been treated humanely and they believed in the apparatus created by the military for their benefit.
The TNA obviously cannot stomach the former LTTE cadre having faith in the military.
Close on the heels of former LTTE cadres’ Kilinochchi protest, the TNA organized one day hartal, in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, demanding an explanation from yahapalana government regarding those reported missing during the war and post-conflict period. Some northern residents have launched protests at the behest of the TNA against disappearances. Colombo based The Hindu correspondent Meena Srinivasan quoted Wigneswaran as having said: "Protesters demonstrated for over 50 days. Out of sheer frustration, they have asked the public to support them by staging a hartal. We have obliged."
During April 27, 2017 hartal, still unidentified persons pelted troops carrying ‘Liberty’ bus with stones at Mulliyaweli at 7.30 pm. Off duty personnel were on their way from Vavuniya on the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road to Mullaitivu on the east coast. The government played down the incident though the Army confirmed the first such case since the conclusion of the war.
Yahapalana leaders refrained from commenting on TNA led hartal backed by an influential section of Muslim politicians.
In the run up to late April hartal, Wigneswaran took up the contentious issue of disappearances with President Maithripala Sirisena. Wigneswarn claimed that many missing persons were somewhere ascertainable thereby suggesting over two years after Maithripala Sirisena’s victory at January 2015 presidential poll, the government is running secret detention camps.
No less a person than Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has declared that those who had been categorized as missing were either living overseas or killed fighting for the LTTE. Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, too, has echoed Wickremesinghe on many occasions though interested parties, including a section of the media, propagate existence of secret detention camps.
For want of an efficient strategy, the previous government failed pathetically to counter lies. The Rajapaksa administration’s failure facilitated Western powers to haul Sri Lanka up before the UNHRC and then help oust Mahinda Rajapaksa at the January 2015 presidential poll.
The Joint Opposition, loyal to former President Rajapaksa, has failed to examine various developments taking place. The Kilinochchi demonstration and Mulliyaweli incident should be examined against the backdrop of the TNA split. The TNA has no option but to go all out against Wigneswaran publicly challenging the top party leadership.
TNA crisis deteriorates
Recently, the TNA ridiculed Wigneswaran over a statement he had made in respect of Sri Lankan child rapist Swamy Premananda who died at the age of 59 in an Indian prison in 2011. The TNA cleverly used Wigneswaran remarks to humiliate him and cause a rift between him and the Catholic community. Wigneswaran was ridiculed for allegedly comparing Premananda with Jesus. The TNA and an influential section of Tamil Diaspora targeted Wigneswaran though they remained silent when he intervened on behalf of Premananda’s accomplices in 2015.
Wigneswaran has requested Modi to release three life convicts in the sensational Swamy Premananda case. Sri Lankans namely Kamalananda, Balan alias Balendiran and Sathis alias Sathishkumar were convicted and sentenced along with Premananda for raping 13 Sri Lankan Tamil girls, including minors, and conspiring to murder an inmate in the godman’s ashram at Fathima Nagar near Trichy.
They were sentenced to double life imprisonment, and the punishment was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2005. While Premananda died in Cuddalore prison in 2011, the other three are in prison.
In his letter, Wigneswaran, said Kamalananda and the others were falsely implicated in the case. "Premananda’s ashram and its properties have to be maintained. No one is there to take care of them. Please immediately release them as they are innocent," Wignswaran said.
Premananda had set up the ashram in the 1980s at the onset of India backed terrorism campaign in Sri Lanka. In 1994, Premananda was charged with raping the 13 inmates. Horrific crime came to light after one of the girls escaped from the ashram. Another victim became pregnant and a DNA test established that Premananda was the culprit. On August 21, 1997, the then Pudukottai district and sessions court judge R Banumathi sentenced Premananda to double life imprisonment and a cumulative fine of Rs 66.4 lakh.
Controversy surrounds the interview conducted on April 14th, 2017 by a Tamil website called "Thinappuyal." When asked about the Chief Minister being a devotee of a convicted criminal by the courts, Wigneswaran has said Jesus Christ was convicted 2000 years ago but people were worshiping him now as God. The website has deleted extremely controversial section of the interview on Wigneswaran’s request as the latter obviously feared it would cause outrage among Catholics.
Many an eyebrow was raised over Wigneswaran comparing Premananda with Jesus as well as the TNA’s reaction. Instead choosing to remain silent, the TNA exploited Wigneswaran’s blunder to ruin the Chief Minister’s image. The TNA ensured Wigneswaran’s comments on Premananda received wide coverage in both print media and on the internet/social media. With Wigneswaran indicating he has absolutely no intention to be guided by the TNA and intended to deal with the government on his own, the TNA will go on the offensive. Wigneswaran is believed to have obtained an opportunity to meet President Maithripala Sirisena soon to discuss contentious issues.
Wigneswaran’s moves should be studied taking into consideration obvious battle between the TNA and UNP Minister D. M. Swaminathan over efforts to regain military held civilian property in the Northern Province.
Would it be possible for Wigneswaran to retain the support of TELO, PLOTE and EPRLF in the NPC? What would be the reaction of Western embassies seeking a consensus among all Tamil political parties and groups, both here and overseas, to secure maximum possible concessions from the government to the ongoing TNA vs Wigneswaran? The top TNA leadership would never have expected Wigneswaran to cause turmoil in the coalition in a bid to secure a bigger role at the time he was brought in as their Northern Province Chief Ministerial candidate.
There’ll be bigger and far worse intra-party battles as major TNA factions flex their muscles.