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Archive for April 30th, 2008

For the second time in less than two years, an over-confident Sri Lankan Army (SLA) has walked into a deadly trap laid by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the Muhamalai area near Jaffna in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka on April 23 ,2008, and faced a rout. It not only  lost  over 150 soldiers, who were killed by the LTTE, but also possibly enabled the LTTE to seize a large quantity of arms and ammunition from the battle scene. The LTTE has not had such a bonanza of recovered arms and ammunition  since the earlier SLA rout in the same area on October 11, 2006.

After the rout of October 11,2006, the SLA, as is its wont, had played down the fatalities suffered by it and  played up the fatalities which it claimed to have inflicted on the LTTE. Only after the LTTE disseminated details of the fatalities inflicted by it on the SLA, did the latter admit  that 139 soldiers were killed by the LTTE.

A few weeks later, Lt.Gen.Sarath Fonseka, the chief of the SLA, had gone to the US, inter alia, for a medical check-up in connection with the injuries suffered by him in an unsuccessful attempt by the LTTE to kill him through a woman suicide bomber.

After the battle of April 23,2008,the SLA claimed that it suffered 43 fatalities with 33 more soldiers missing in action, but the correspondent of the CNN TV channel and the Agence France Press (AFP) have reported that the fatalities suffered by the SLA were more than 100. Reliable Sri Lankan Police sources estimate the SLA fatalities at about 150. The SLA has claimed to have killed over 100 LTTE soldiers, but the LTTE has admitted only 16 fatalities.

In an analysis of the casualty figures, the AFP has pointed out that in the beginning of this year, the SLA had given the total strength of the LTTE as about 3000, but the total number of  fatalities which the SLA has claimed to have inflicted on the LTTE since January 1,2008, is 3105, when one adds up all the figures given in the SLA’s statements.

Since the beginning of this year, the SLA and the Defence Ministry have embarked on a campaign of disinformation regarding the ground situation in the Northern Province. As part of this disinformation campaign, not a day has passed without their reporting some operation or the other resulting in large fatalities inflicted on the LTTE.

The purpose of this campaign was to buttress the morale of the soldiers of the SLA and the Sinhalese people, to give themselves in public perception an aura of legendary military prowess and weaken the morale of the LTTE and its Sri Lankan Tamil supporters.

According to some critics of the Government, many of the so-called battles reported as part of this disinformation campaign allegedly existed only in the figment of the SLA’s imagination.

Many tall claims were made as part of this disinformation campaign such as:pin-point intelligence has started flowing from human sources in the Northern Province; many precision air strikes had been made on the LTTE’s political and operational nerve-centres with the help of such pin-point information; the LTTE’s Navy had been practically wiped out; the LTTE’s hold in the North was weakening and the SLA would be able to rout it and re-establish its control over the North before the end of this year.

One of the basic principles of counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism is that you don’t indulge in disinformation in your own territory and directed at your own people. It could prove counter-productive and dangerous by creating a sense of over-confidence in your own troops and people. When the troops realise that they had been sent into battles on the basis of false information and assessments, the credibility of the political and military leadership in the eyes of the people and the soldiers would suffer. The LTTE and its Sri Lankan Tamil supporters know well the ground situation in their territory. They will not be deceived by such a disinformation campaign. It is the Sinhalese public and the soldiers, who will be deceived by it.

This is what happened in October,2006, and this is what has happened now. The LTTE did on April 23 ,2008, exactly what it did on October 11,2006.  After fighting for some time in the face of an SLA offensive, it pretended to withdraw and vacate a small part of the territory under its control. Thinking in their euphoria that they have defeated the LTTE and forced its retreat, the SLA soldiers rushed into the area vacated by the LTTE  and found themselves surrounded by it on all sides. It mowed down the soldiers before they could recover from their surprise.

The rout inflicted by the LTTE on the SLA would serve as a morale-booster for its leaders and cadres. It shows that its capability for conventional-style battles is intact and strong in the Northern Province, where the leadership remains united.

It had weakened in the Eastern Province following the desertion in March,2004, of Karuna, a capable officer of the LTTE, who looked after its conventional style operations. It was this weakening, which had enabled the SLA to wrest control of the Eastern Province with the help of the Eastern Tamil deserters from the LTTE’s army.  Overall, despite the success on April 23,2008, the LTTE’s position is still weak for want of an air cover and due to depletion in its arms and ammunition holdings.

The battle of April 23 has replenished its holdings to some extent, but not adequately enough. The dilution of the support and sympathy of the international community has been another handicap. However, the motivation and  the determination of its cadres are still strong.

Any expectations of an easy walk-over in the North nursed by the SLA are likely to be belied unless its air strikes succeed in eliminating Prabakaran, the leader of the LTTE.  While continuing with  their confrontations on the ground, the Sri Lankan Air Force is trying frantically to eliminate Prabakran through an air strike and the LTTE is trying frantically to destroy  the SLAF aircraft on the ground. Neither has succeeded so far. Whoever succeeds first is likely to turn the tide of the war in his favour.

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  • Another human rights balancing act!
  • Priyanka-Nalini meeting given new twist
  • COL index reaches unattainable heights

The government is once again caught up in a human rights web with the decision of the Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) to quit Sri Lanka.

The decision to quit was announced on Tuesday after the Chairman of the IIGEP former Chief Justice of India P.N. Bhagawati addressed the media and said that the government had no political will to get to the bottom of the human rights violations in the country.

However, Justice Bhagawati’s claims were countered and contradicted by Attorney General C.R. De Silva, who claimed that the IIGEP members did not attend the Commission of Inquiry sessions properly and therefore were not in a position to make statements at regular intervals.

The attendance of the IIGEP members was on a 10% average and, in most cases, some members have not attended a single session.

The Human Rights and Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe also came out strongly against the IIGEP, stating that it would be ridiculous for them to issue statements when they have not attended the Commission of Inquiry sessions properly.
The government’s view is that the IIGEP is making statements to coincide with international events so that Sri Lanka would be castigated at international human rights forums. They also view the IIGEP agenda as a part of a conspiracy against the state.

However, at the same time, it appears that the government is also not going into the full picture of human rights violations due to other constraints faced by them, mainly political.

Besides these, the French Humanitarian Organisation Action Contre la-Faim (ACF) has reiterated its commitment to seek justice for the 17 ACF workers who were killed in Muttur in 2006.
The ACF has said that it has lost confidence in the Sri Lankan judicial system and would seek justice at a higher forum in a world court.

Amidst all this, there have been reports of several disappearances from Colombo and the white van emerging once again within the city.
All these things will not augur well for the government with the Western world, which expects Sri Lanka to have a clean human rights record for any kind of Western aid to flow into Sri Lanka.

Chief among them is the Generalised System of Preference Plus (GSP+) on apparel quotas, which gives Sri Lanka an edge over other apparel exporting countries to the West and the EU.

If Sri Lanka loses this benefit, it will affect employment of nearly one million people who are dependent on direct and indirect employment connected to the apparel industry.

The main demand by the EU is that Sri Lanka should fall in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which means that Sri Lanka will have to adopt nearly 25 protocols of the United Nations (UN).

Though the President had sought clarification from the Supreme Court under the provisions of the Constitution, as to whether we have adequate legislation to meet with the demands of the UN and the Supreme Court had replied in a positive manner, legal luminaries are expressing their doubts as to whether the existing legislation is adequate to fulfill this requirement.

Senior legal experts, such as Rohan Edirisinha of the Colombo University, are of the view that Sri Lanka needs a Constitutional amendment if it is to adopt the ICCPR requirements.

The opposition UNP too has extended its cooperation to effect any amendments needed if the government was willing to do so, purely to secure the employment of nearly one million people.

However, the government appears to be adamant that the existing legislation is sufficient to meet with the ICCPR requirements.
An ambiguous situation has arisen now as to whether Sri Lanka actually needs a Constitutional amendment to meet this requirement since there are two schools of thought on the matter.

It is up to the government now to carefully consider the EU demands and determine how far they could go along to fulfill this requirement.

It is obvious that protecting human rights to the expectations of the West is a difficult task for the Government of Sri Lanka under the prevailing circumstances when the government is waging a war with a ruthless militia, the LTTE.
The LTTE is also responsible for many a violation in the south as well as in the north and the east. The east is more dominated by a breakaway group of the LTTE headed by Pillaiyan.

Though the military and the Police are given human rights lessons and the requirement to abide by the law, there may be excesses at times owing to the prevailing uncertainty in the north and the east.

Under these circumstances, it is best for the government to protect human rights as much as possible, giving more teeth to the existing laws and preventing unidentified gangs roaming about in Colombo and elsewhere, picking up people at random.
This can be curtailed by vigilant security forces and Police and if there is a will, from the administration to put an end to such violations.

Human rights are an essential ingredient in the modern world and are enshrined in our own Constitution and the people and the Judiciary are nowadays more concerned about human rights.
Though the West blatantly violated human rights in the past when it extended its writ in the east in its colonies in Africa and Asia, it has come to realise after World War II, that human rights was an essential ingredient for the world to go forward.

Against this backdrop, Sri Lanka is not an exception. We have to fall in line and respect the rule of law and the rights of the people, even though the country is fighting a civil war with separatist elements.

A little concern for human rights will save us from international condemnation and smear campaigns carried out by parties with vested interests. The ball is in the government’s court to decide as to what they should do to improve the Human Rights record, it is essential, whether the government likes it or not, to make a positive stride in this direction to save the country from disastrous consequences internationally.

Besides this, the Tamil Nadu State Assembly, for the first time after the assassination of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, has passed a resolution urging the Centre to get involved in the Sri Lankan conflict and initiate a dialogue in a bid to resolve the same. The resolution was presented by Chief Minister Karunanidhi. He has also referred to the meeting between Gandhi’s daughter Priyanka and Nalini. The latter is serving a life sentence in a prison in Vellore, after her death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by the Indian government following an appeal by Gandhi’s widow Sonia.

Though the Gandhi family made out to believe that the meeting between Priyanka and Nalini was purely a personal matter, which doesn’t have any political connotations, it now appears that some interested parties are making use of the situation to make it a more politically motivated meeting. Lawyers who appeared for Nalini had already asked for a pardon from the Indian government on the basis of the emotional meeting between Priyanka and Nalini, which may give a new political twist to the personal meeting, if Nalini is released on that basis.

The meeting which took place somewhere in mid March, came to light after an interested individual who was privy to initial information of the meeting applied to the Indian government under the freedom of the information act, asking for more details about the meeting. The government which considered the request released information since it has not been classified as something sensitive or information relating to national security.

The meeting between Priyanka and Nalini also gave rise to a dispute between the latter and her husband who is imprisoned in the same jail, the two of them had refused to see each other in the once a month reunion allowed by the authorities. The authorities are reportedly awaiting the arrival of their daughter to sort out the problem between them. However, it appears that the Priyanka-Nalini episode will re-appear before the people during the election for the Indian lower house the Lok-Sabbah.

It is premature at this stage to determine as to how the Priyanka-Nalini meeting will affect the Sri Lankan political landscape. It appears that there is no adverse effect right now, but all that depends on how the Indian Congress maps out its strategy at the next General Election to woo the Tamil Nadu vote.

Be that as it may, the Sri Lankan populace is in for desperate times due to many a reason, though the government troops claim that they had entered Madhu without much resistance, the resistance put up by the LTTE in the northern most front in Muhamalai was something comprehensive which left hundreds dead on both sides, on top of all that the rice crisis looms large on the Sri Lankans with an additional burden coming on their way, electricity price hikes and impending fuel price hikes which would send the Cost-of –Living index to unbearable heights.

Meanwhile, the respective election campaigns in the East are being carried out with much enthusiasm and are in full gear with both the UPFA and the SLMC backed UNP making an impact among the Eastern population. UPFA General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena is spearheading the campaign for the government along with key ministers, while the UNP mantle has fallen on Ravi Karunannanyake and Rukman Senanayake, while Sajit Premadasa has been going round mainly in the Sinhala areas, convincing the people as to why they should reject the government and elect the UNP instead.

UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe is also scheduled to address the UNP election meetings in Trincomalee in support of the candidature of SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem. The SLMC is apparently perturbed over the decision of some Policemen to raid their headquarters at Slave Island on the pretext of searching for some underworld elements. The SLMC believes that such acts amount to sheer intimidation of their party loyalists who are working in the headquarters in Colombo, while coordinating with the field staff in the East, the tactics employed by the government to create a fear psychosis among their party men were deplored not only by the UNP-SLMC coalition but by all democratic forces who are yearning for a free and fair election. It was noted that during the week, the office of the UNP‘s Ampara district Chairman Daya Gamage at Pepiliyana also came under attack by a group of unidentified armed men, causing much anxiety among the people who doubt very much as to whether the Eastern election would be a free one.

These incidents had prompted UNP’s media spokesman Gayantha Karunatilleke to state that the Eastern election should not be another Wayamba.

The notorious Provincial Council election of the North Western Province held under the political regime of former President Chandrika Kumaratunga may have been haunting the mind of Karunatilleke, where the entire election was rigged by the then PA government of which the main constituent party was the SLFP. Will there be a repetition of Wayamba with the heavy presence of the armed personnel is the question posed by the opposition?

However, the election is likely to be somewhat volatile with the TMVP headed by ex-militant Pillaiyan and the government Muslim ministers claiming Chief Ministerial stakes in the event of a government victory in the East. The TMVP is contesting under the UPFA banner, while the governments Muslim Ministers are backing the candidature of the key SLMC member Hisbullah who has been chosen to contest under the UPFA.

It is in this backdrop that the JVP is claiming that India was behind the marriage between the UPFA and the TMVP headed by Pillaiyan.

There were two schools of thought in the JVP as regards the disarming of the Pillaiyan group. While the JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva maintained that all groups contesting the election should be disarmed, the JVP’s breakaway leader Wimal Weerawansa who was still in the JVP at the time this question arose; said that it was a crime to do so in the face of LTTE threats on the Pillaiyan group. It clearly shows how Weerawansa toed the government line even before he made a heart rendering outburst in Parliament as the JVP main politburo sought explanation from him on several charges leveled against him by the party.

The rift appeared to have been made into a gaping hole over the past few weeks. There are no signs of healing, no signs of reconciliation, but a verbal war is being waged instead with dirty linen being washed in the open and at times coupled with violence which bears all the hallmarks of the Deshapremi Janatha Viyaparaya of the late eighties.

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