What is Happening in Sri Lanka

rebuilding infrastructure in the northThe Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse, is well noted for broken promises.  Soon after the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, he promised Indian leaders and  the world community, that he would bring about reconciliation with the Tamil minority by implementing Amendment 13 and by improving on it. Amendment 13 was a consequence of the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement signed in 1987.

He held election in all the Singhalese provinces and in the bifurcated Eastern Province, but delayed holding elections in the Tamil dominated Northern province . He orchestrated extremist Singhalese organizations like Budhu Bala Sena, Ravana Balaya, Jathika Hela Urumaya, National Patriotic Front,  etc. to agitate against holding elections for the Northern Provincial Council.  His brother Gothabaya Rajapakse holds the non elected post of Defense Secretary, and is a patron of the extremist Singhala Buddhist organizations.  He is a power hungry megalomaniac doing the dirty work  for his President brother.

The Sri Lankan government is under the full control of the Rajapakse brothers and  family.  Basil Rajapajase is a Minister, Chamal Rajapakse is the Speaker, and Mahinda’s son Namal Rajapakse  is a member of Parliament.  Many other members of his extended family hold posts in the government.  The opposition has alleged that 70 % of the country’s budget is controlled by Rajapase family.  Gohtabaya had immigrated to USA , and returned to Sri Lanka when Mahinda was elected President. Gothabaya is accused of serious war crimes, and cannot return to the US for fear of arrest for war crimes.

President Mahinda Rajapakse has a big Singhalese  majority in the Parliament and has been planning to abolish Provincial Councils or dilute the Amendment 13, so as to deny any governmental powers to the Northern Province Tamils.  Amendment 13 was introduced by the Sri Lankan government under the Indo-Sri Lankan Agreement of 1987  signed by Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi and  Sri Lanka President J.R. Jayawardene.  Under the agreement, Provinces were to be  granted land and police powers and the Tamil provinces of North and East amalgamated.

Indian PM Mannohan Singh this year came to the rescue of the helpless Sri Lankan Tamils by sending the then Indian Defence Secretary Shivashankar Menon to warn the Sri Lankan government that the Amendment 13 cannot be diluted, as it was enacted under the bilateral Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement.  President Mahinda Rajapakse was forced under Indian pressure to hold the Northern Province elections for the first time after the Indo-Sri Lanka government, on September 21, 2013.  The Singhalese army and police and the Singhalese military  Governor Gen Chandrasiri tried all they could to get pro government politicians elected.

The result stunned Rajapakse.  Tamil National Alliance won a land slide victory capturing 30 out of 38 seats in the Northern Provincial Council (NPC), while the pro government opposition was able to secure 8 seats.  C.V. Wigneswaran, a retired Supreme Court judge became Chief Minister, and 4 TNA members were appointed provincial ministers.  TNA,  in its manifesto wanted the Singhalese army of occupation removed, NPC to be given land and police powers, and Tamil political prisoners – held for many years without trial – to be released unconditionally, among many other conditions. There is today a tug of war going on between President Rajapakse and the TNA over these issues.  However, with a  thumping Singhalese majority in Parliament, President Rajapakse is intransigent.

After the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, the Singhalese have behaved like victors, and used the all Singhala army and police to oppress the Tamil minority.  Tamil lands and houses have been grabbed by the army and Singhalese from the South. Tamil widows and young girls are harassed and raped by the Singhalese army and intelligence.  Tamils are forced to do business in Singhala, which is alien to them. Tamil activists and journalists are kidnapped in white vans and are never heard of after that. In a terrible act of revenge, the Singhalese army kept 300,000 Tamil civilians who surrendered to them in concentration camps surrounded by barbed wire and Singhalese armed guards for two years without outside supervision.

On November 15, 2013 came the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting of previous British colonies, a voluntary organization, which was held in Colombo.  Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Miniter, refused to attend because of Sri Lanka ’s bad human rights record and treatment of Tamil minority.  For the same reason and under pressure from Tamil Nadu, Indian PM Manmohan Singh also backed out, followed by Prime Minister of Mauritius, Navi Ramgoolam.  There was pressure on many countries to boycott, but 23 heads of states attended out of 53.

British Prime Minister, David Cameron, a handsome young Oxford educated member of the British elite, had to attend CHOGM despite heavy pressure, as Queen Elizabeth was the head of the Commonwealth.  As queen is ageing, she was represented by her son and heir, Prince Charles and his wife.  David Cameron is a knowledgeable intellectual and knew the happenings in Sri Lanka and the persecution of the Tamil minority.   Along with him, came British reporters to report on Sri Lanka during the CHOGM conference, including BBC and Channel 4, which had exposed Sri Lanka’s war crimes against Tamils.

President Rajapakse had told David Cameron and reporters that they were free to go to any part of Sri Lanka, see for themselves and report.  Just before CHOGM started,  Channel 4 reporters embarked in  the train to travel to Jaffna from Colombo.  They were constantly under surveillance by the army intelligence, and information was conveyed to Singhalese government supporters to block the train at the ancient Singhalese city of  Anuradhapura .  Singhalese demonstrators prevented the train from proceeding and refused to let them go.  The police, as arranged, forced the  British reporters  to disembark and put them into a van and sent them back to Colombo unceremoniously.  The Sri Lankan government had banned all flights to Jaffna during the Conference week to prevent foreign reporters from reaching   Jaffna.

The Rajapakses’ joy was short lived.  After the Conference started the British Prime Minister David Cameron decided to fly to Jaffna with British reporters to see conditions in Jaffna for himself.   He met the Chief Minister Wigneswaran and TNA leaders, Sambanthan and Sumanthiran  at the Jaffna Library,  which had been burnt by Singhalese mobs in 1983 and rebuilt since. The army transported some Singhalese living in Jaffna with placards to stand in front of the library to embarrass Cameron. At the same time the Singhalese  police blocked hundreds of Tamils, largely widows and mothers of disappeared Tamils from seeing Cameron.  There was a prolonged scuffle, and finally the brave and desperate Tamil women led by Ananthi Sasitharan, a widow and NPC member, broke through the police cordon and reached Cameron’s car, all carrying photos of their disappeared loved ones and weeping emotionally.

The Singhalese police on this occasion could not use armed force on the Tamil women as foreign reporters were watching, but used their hands.  Cameron and the foreign reporters were aghast at the sight.  Ananthi broke through the police cordon and managed to drop a message  into Cameron’s car.  One group of Tamil women surrounded and embraced Channel 4 reporter Jon Snow in desperation asking him to persuade Cameron to get their loved ones back.  There are over 89,000  Tamil widows struggling for existence and trying to support their impoverished children.

Cameron next visited a Tamil daily UTHAYAN newspaper office, which has been repeatedly attacked and destroyed by army intelligence and supporting para military units.  The Managing Director and MP Saravanabavan showed him the damages and photos of six reporters killed by the Singhalese army intelligence.  Cameron also visited a refugee camp in Chunnaham, which is in an appalling condition, with no toilets or running water. The children were bare footed and the shanties dilapidated. Cameron was appalled by the sorry sight.  The army was transporting Singhalese pro government demonstrators where ever Cameron went, while police were obstructing Tamils.

David Cameron was visibly upset and disturbed when he saw the plight of Tamils. He spoke very emotionally to reporters and stated that unless Sri Lanka took steps to hold credible investigation into war crimes by March 2014, he would  use his position in the UNO to hold an independent  international investigation.  The British Prime Minister  was furious.

Rajapakse was trying to score a propaganda victory by holding the CHOGM in Colombo and showcasing Sri Lanka as a wonder of Asia under his regime.  Political commentators consider it  a public relations disaster.

by Mak S. Makenthiran, BA, FCCA(UK), December 2, 2013

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