Sri Lanka: Testing Times

campEarly this month in capital Colombo, the Sri Lankan military showcased its finest hardware at a ceremonial parade, apparently to mark its May victory against the LTTE. But, alongside were hundreds of disabled soldiers also, in gleaming wheelchairs, reminding us of the price the island nation has paid for its 30-year-long war with the rebels.

I am informed there are at least 5,000 permanently disabled Lankan army veterans whose rehabilitation would now be a difficult assignment amid fiscal constraints. Plus, there are thousands of seriously-affected families which are yet to be supported and paid benefits. Just the last three years’ battles have left 6,261 soldiers killed and 29,551 wounded in this South Asian country. [A total of 23,000 troops have died since the first casualties in October 1981.] On the rebels’ side, the loss of lives is estimated to be 20,000 during the corresponding period.

Prabhakan: Early Times
Prabhakaran: Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright

How will Lanka then cope with the post-conflict difficulties? Yes, guerilla chief V. Prabhakaran is dead. Much of the army he built is also dead. But does that bury the Tamil question in Sri Lanka for ever? Is the notion of a Tamil homeland going to perish with Prabhakaran? It appears so, for the moment as no one is talking about the conditions prevailing in the wretched refugee camps where about 200,000 internally displaced people are languishing. Those innocent Tamils are believed to fear a nationwide crackdown on anyone suspected to have had links with the LTTE. There are already reports of pro-government Tamil militiamen hunting for Tiger sympathisers among them.

Only if the Indian Government could speak on the political and social mess that Sri Lankan Tamils are in today. Even if we’re to ignore the rising Chinese influence in Lanka, we should not shut our eyes when our brothers and sisters in the Lankan refugee camps can neither expect justice from the law of the country nor be hopeful of any intervention by the international community. It’s testing time for India too. The Palk Strait separates India from Sri Lanka. This true-color image is taken from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer. The overall Commander of the Indian Peace Keeping Force Depinder Singh, in whose presence Prabhakaran accepted (and then refused) the peace-cum-autonomy deal in September 1987, giving Tamils everything they wanted, less independence, had said that peace in Sri Lanka was not possible while Prabhakaran lived. Now that this domineering force is no more, now that the tribulations of Tamils are multiplying, why should we fail, once again, to see the changed environment? Doesn’t a great opportunity present itself with Prabhakaran’s death? India can certainly help heal the wounds the Tigers inflicted on both sides of the Palk Strait. PRABHAKARAN’S OBITUARY

28 comments

  1. FONSEKA: Govt. ordered surrendering LTTE killed.

    By Frances Bulathsinghala
    Monday, 14 Dec, 2009

    COLOMBO: In what is seen as a shocking revelation, former army chief and the opposition presidential candidate, Gen Sarath Fonseka, said on Sunday that Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa had ordered army troops to kill three top LTTE leaders who were coming to surrender.

    In an extensive interview to The Sunday Leader, Gen Fonseka said that Gotabaya, who is the brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, had asked the commander of the 58 Division, Col Shavendra Silva, to kill Seevaratnam Puleedevan (the head of the LTTE’s Peace Secretariat), Balasingham Nandesan (head of the political wing) and Ramesh (a top military commander) and their families, if they came to the army lines to surrender holding up white flags.

    Gen Fonseka said the three men and their families were shot dead as they came showing white flags. Just prior to their attempted surrender, the three Tiger leaders had made desperate appeals to the international community, especially Norway, to intervene and enable them and the other LTTE members to surrender to the Sri Lankan forces in an orderly way and end the fighting.

    A flurry of e-mails and phone calls resulted in the Sri Lankan government agreeing to accept the surrender of the three leaders and their families, The Sunday Leader said.

    Gen Fonseka said that Basil Rajapaksa, the Sri Lankan president’s brother and senior adviser; and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, another brother and defence secretary, had agreed to the surrender. The three Tiger leaders were asked to approach the lines of the 58 Division in a non-threatening manner, holding high pieces of white cloth.

    ‘This was their (the Rajapaksa brothers’) idea,’ Gen Fonseka said.

    Foreign Secretary Dr Palitha Kohona, who was negotiating with the international community and Norway on the issue, had said on three occasions that the men could surrender in the way combatants surrendered in war.

    The three LTTE leaders and their families did what they were asked to do on the night of May 17, but they were shot dead, Gen Fonseka said.

    When The Sunday Leader asked Col (now Maj-Gen) Shavendra Silva, the Commander of the 58 Division, whether Gen Fonseka was telling the truth about the incident, the officer said it was for the military spokesman, Brig Udaya Nanayakkara, to answer the question.

    Brig Nanayakkara contacted the Army Commander, Gen Jagath Jayasuriya, and Gen Shavendra Silva and came back to say that neither of them would comment.

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  2. UPDATE 16.10.2009

    Australia PM unmoved by refugees
    By Nick Bryant
    BBC News, Sydney

    The Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has said he will not be moved by any actions from a group of more than 250 Sri Lankan asylum seekers.

    They are moored in a port in West Java, Indonesia, and are staging a hunger strike to highlight their plight.

    Emotional appeals from some of the asylum seekers have been broadcast on Australian television.

    But Mr Rudd said that their individual cases should be processed by the United Nations.

    Angry debate

    Kevin Rudd has said his government will not be swayed by what he described as “any tactics deployed by any particular person”.

    This was a reference to the hunger strike launched by Sri Lankan asylum seekers who had set out to reach his country.

    They were intercepted over the weekend by the Indonesian navy, following a personal plea from Mr Rudd to Indonesia’s president, and are now being held in a port in West Java.

    There they have been interviewed by Australian journalists and their desperate appeals for help from Mr Rudd have been broadcast and re-broadcast.

    “Sri Lanka refugees, we have lived in forest for one month. Please, sir, please take us to a country. It’s OK if it is not Australia. It’s better if any other country trades us. We can’t live in Sri Lanka,” said a nine-year-old girl, Brinda.

    “We’re just people without a country to live in,” said Alex, the leader of the group of ethnic Tamils.

    “But the situation in our country right now, I’m telling you, Tamils do not have an opportunity to survive in Sri Lanka,” he said.

    The voices have cut through what is becoming an increasingly angry political debate over the Rudd government’s border protection policies.

    There has been a tenfold increase this year in the number of asylum seekers reaching Australian waters, and the opposition blames the government for relaxing its refugee laws.

    The Australian government, which does not want to be outflanked on the issue, claims its policies are tough but humane.

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  3. Update:

    Lanka says it will release 58,000 Tamils

    [M Gunasekaran, TNN 15 October 2009]

    CHENNAI: As a 10-member delegation of Tamil Nadu MPs returned from a five-day visit to Sri Lanka after reviewing the condition of over 2.53 lakh war-displaced Tamils there, DMK president and chief minister M Karunanidhi said on Wednesday that the island nation had agreed to release 58,000 people from camps within a fortnight.

    Describing it as a piece of “consoling news” and as one immediate outcome of the delegation’s visit, Karunanidhi told reporters at the DMK headquarters that Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa had agreed to begin the process of rehabilitating these 58,000 people from Thursday itself.

    As a 10-member delegation of DMK-Congress-VCK MPs from Tamil Nadu returned from a five-day visit
    to Sri Lanka to inspect the condition of over 2.53 lakh war-displaced Tamils there, DMK president and chief minister M Karunanidhi on Wednesday said that the island nation has agreed to release 58,000 people from camps within a fortnight.

    Describing this as a piece of “consoling news” and an immediate outcome of the delegation’s visit, Karunanidhi told reporters at the DMK headquarters, in the presence of the MPs who were part of the delegation, that Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa has agreed to begin the process of rehabilitating 58,000 people from Thursday itself.

    The resettlement of others will take place in a phased manner, Karunanidhi said. Answering a volley of questions whether any deadline was fixed for the completion of the rehabilitation process, the DMK leader said, “We will have to wait and see.”

    The octogenarian, who was highly critical of the Rajapaksa regime during the last phase of the Eelam war, appeared to have mellowed down and even expressed hope that Colombo would honour its promise of early rehabilitation of Tamils. “We should focus on the task at hand,” he said, declining to get into any blame game. Underscoring that the living conditions in the camps involved some discomfort, Karunanidhi, quoting famous Dravidian poet Bharathidasan’s lines ‘A golden cage is still a cage for the parrot’, said it was a matter of free movement rather than comfort.

    When he was asked whether the Rajapaksa regime was using the ongoing demining operations as a pretext to delay the resettlement of Tamils in their homeland, Karunanidhi pointed out that the government there had
    come forward to expedite the rehabilitation process before the onset of the monsoon. “I am also acutely aware of their sufferings, but it is only enthusiasts like you who are confusing the issue,” he told reporters.

    Noting that Colombo had sought more help from India to expedite demining, Karunanidhi said the issue
    would be taken up with the Centre. While expressing satisfaction with the MPs’ trip, he rejected PMK leader S Ramadoss’ charge that it was a conducted tour. On political solution, he said it could be taken up in next phase. He said there were no complaints of inmates being abducted from camps.

    Earlier, Karunanidhi himself drove down to the airport to receive the team led by former Union minister TR Baalu. It comprised five DMK MPs, four from the Congress and Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi leader Thol Thirumavalavan.

    In a nine-page report on the visit, the delegation called for immediate rehabilitation of all displaced Tamil people and expressed great sorrow and anguish at their condition in the camps. It warned that the people
    faced indescribable hardship, which would worsen once the monsoon sets in, and that they were vulnerable to disease.

    “The suffering they are going through is too complex to comprehend,” said Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi.
    “They are suffering from deep psychological agony. For any meaningful political settlement to be found, the first step should be their rehabilitation.”

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  4. UPDATE: Sri Lanka’s government resisted new calls for an international inquiry into the conduct of its troops in the last months of its victorious war over the Tamil Tiger rebels earlier this year. Video pictures emerged apparently showing Sri Lankan soldiers killing unarmed, bound and naked prisoners. The government said the pictures were fabricated.

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  5. President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s military victory over LTTE has given the President unprecedented political power to shape Sri Lanka’s post conflict future. But there are serious questions over the credibility of the so-called reconciliation process.

    Sri Lanka continues to detain about 300,000 IDPs in deplorable conditions. Despite the evidence, the government continues to insist that there is no humanitarian crisis. Thousands of Tamils are being held incommunicado and being subjected to torture and other human rights violations.

    On 29 June 2009, President Mahinda Rajapaksa constituted the All Party Committee of Development and Reconciliation under his chairmanship to undertake the devolution and reconciliation process. President Rajapaksa appears to have ended the mandate of the All Party Representative Committee because in its final report (yet to be released) it advocates the implementation of the 13th Amendment of the Sri Lankan Constitution. Even Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, H.E. Dayan Jayatilake who staunchly opposed the LTTE and prevented any international censure at the UN Human Rights Council too has been removed for writing in favour of the13th Amendment.

    There are further fears that President Rajapaksa may seek an amendment of the 13th Amendment to strip the provincial councils of Northern and Eastern parts of Sri Lanka of police powers and issues relating to land. There are also unsubstantiated rumours that the President is planning to implant Sinhalese in Northern and Eastern provinces on a pretext of promoting communal harmony and ethnic co-existence.

    If the war was against the LTTE and not the Tamil minority then the seactions are unlikely to serve the cause of reconciliation. Finally, the government of Sri Lanka has treated the UN and its concern over the conduct of Sri Lankan troops with little more than contempt. The government has moved to obstruct any independent investigation. Until such investigations are allowed, the UN must continue to be concerned. Aside from the issue of Sri Lankan contempt for the institution of the United Nations, a question arises: in the light of these unresolved concerns can the UN credibly continue to deploy Sri Lankan forces in peace-keeping missions?

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  6. As per a press release by the Ministry of Defence, Government of India –

    Indian Armed Forces Medical aid to Sri-Lankan Tamils extended by two months

    The tenure of the Indian Armed Forces Field Hospital Unit providing succour and relief to the Internally displaced Tamil civilians in Manikfarms Camp in Sri Lanka since March 9, 2009 has been extended by another two months on the request of Sri Lankan Government. This is the third extension granted to the field hospital unit.

    The field hospital unit has a 60-member medical team comprising Surgeons, Pediatrician, Medical Specialist and Lady Medical Officer. The team so far has already treated over 21,000 internally displaced Tamil civilians including cases of gunshot wounds, trauma, head injuries and those related to general surgery and orthopedics at Manikfarms camp at Vavuniya. The medical camp was first set up at Pulmodai.

    A 30-member Armed Forces medical team has been sent on July 23, from Delhi to relieve the medical personnel already there since March, this year. The Indian field hospital unit is carrying out yeomen service by providing urgent medical aid to the war ravaged Tamil Civilians.

    The tales of some of the treated casualties at the Indian Armed Forces Field Hospital Unit give a gripping account of the extent of the treatment provided by the team that has made a difference to those affected.

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  7. I sincerely believe that instead of requesting indian help in solving their cause, the Sri Lankan Tamils should request the UK or US or Canadain Government to intervene on their behalf.

    Expecting any Indian help is just like mirage. It seems like coming but never comes. Forget about Sri Lanka becoming and acting like Pakistan / Nepal or Bangladesh, that in either way will not affect us much. But it certainly affects the Srin Lankaln Tamils by not gettign their dues in their country.

    If the Sri Lankan government is allowing Karuna group to terrorise the Tamil people in the name of links to LTTE, it is very bad. Look how the Sri Lankan Government is able to divide the Tamil people based upon the fact – pro and anti LTTE.

    IT is extremely sad that 200,000 and more people are starving and living as refugees in their own land and cannnot expect any kind of solution to their liking.

    The Sri Lankan Government which pretends to take care of them is just buying time before it makes the Tamil people leave the Island on their own or will create such a situation by which the Tamils will leave the island. Then The Sri Lankan government will heave sigh of relief.

    Imagine the traitors of Tamils like Karuna, Douglous Devananda and others. They have become pawn of the the Government. What kind of double life they are living in the name of pro-government allies; shame upon them and they should withdraw from public life if they are unable to contribute anything towards their own kith and kin.

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  8. It is high time the Indian Govt. should intervene and create a separate Tamil State within the federal structure as in India and rehabilitate the displaced Tamils to their original positions as early as possible.

    If India fails, China and Pakistan are at our door step to create problems with Indian security.

    India should take the initiative right earnestly without any room for other external agencies to intervene jeoparadising the India’s as well as Sri Lanka’s security.

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  9. No matter what India does, Sinhalese will side only with Pakistan, Iran and China. This is definitely an unholy alliance. Tamils in EELAM must be helped.

    1. Force Lanka to release the civilians, which it has taken in camps without their liking – that means hostage taking by the government.

    2 Settle them in their lands.

    3. No Sinhalese settlements in Tamil area.

    Don’t talk about Pakistan and China without doing this first.

    Put India’s economical and political interest in the back and FIRST HELP THE TAMILS.

    No excuses for India or else face shame for being complicit in the GENOCIDE.

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  10. I am particularly surprised and also angry with the media coverage (or the non-coverage) of the Lanka battle. Where can I find the real picture? Or are there any!

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  11. The question as to how the sri lankan army turned the tide is still intriguing me. The truth and all related facts and correct news are yet to come out. All these must be revealing. I will wait, so u too.

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  12. Has the Sri Lankan problem been solved with the killing of Prabhakaran! The Tigers may be down, or drowned, but they are definitely not out.

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  13. The Sri Lankan Army is feeling rejuvenated. So is the Congress Party in India. Who has the time to think about the Tamils (either in India or Sri Lanka)?

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  14. We, in India, will not have to wait for too long to see the results. First of all Sri Lankans will be having firmer relationship with China and will be obliged to them for ever. Like Pakistan and lately Nepal, China will be friend of Sri Lanka and enemy of India. With this master stroke in Sri Lanka, China has achieved encircling of India and turning all neighbours of India into enemy of India. Thanks for Indian (non existant) diplomacy. Secondly, Sri Lankans, with covert support of China, will not hesitate to throw the Tamils our of Sri Lanka. Thus India will have to face the flood of Tamil refugees. Pakistan and Bangladesh have already successfully carried out ethnik cleansing. Sri Lanka and Nepal will be next. Because now they know how meek and foolish are Indians and reactions of Indian Govenment. At best we will send strong notes of Protest. Thank you, we are proud of India !

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  15. I was wondering why the government is not listening to the cries of the Tamils in the neighbourhood while it was election season in India. Perhaps, now we should heal the wounds.

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