The issue of the deteriorating security situation in Jaffna was first raised in Parliament in early January by none other than the Minister of Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise Development Douglas Devananda.
At the time it seemed like he wanted to seize the initiative from the members of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) by beating them at raising the issue that was important for people of his electorate as well as for many TNA MPs. But his interest in the matter seems to have died down in less than two weeks as he was a notable absentee when a day long debate on the Jaffna situation was taken up in Parliament on Thursday.
It was following Mr. Devananda’s special statement to the House on January 5 that Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe called for a joint Government-Opposition delegation of MPs to visit Jaffna to assess the situation first hand. However, his written request to Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa to lead such a visit seems to have gone into cold storage with the Government silent on the issue.
So, while a first hand information-gathering tour seems off the cards for the moment at least, members of the UNP and the JVP extended their support to the adjournment motion moved by TNA National List MP M.A.Sumanthiram on the security situation in Jaffna, of which he painted a bleak picture. “There is a complete breakdown in the law and order situation in the North resulting in murders, kidnappings, extortion and other crimes,” he said. Opposition Leader Wickremesinghe too disclosed statistics of several violent crimes, all of which were flatly denied by the Government.
Leader of the House Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva in his characteristic manner accused the UNP, JVP and the TNA of jointly dramatizing the events in Jaffna and tabled in the House the details of incidents that are alleged to have taken place in the peninsula which he said were not a result of any organized acts of violence but random incidents, some due to personal rivalries, some due to natural causes and others imaginary.
While Minister De Silva made some sense by addressing the incidents raised specifically, Prime Minister D.M.Jayaratne who opened the debate for the government used an odd metaphor to interpret the Jaffna situation. “These incidents are like a single hair on an animal as big as an elephant. We are now in the process of uprooting that hair,” he said.
The Jaffna debate aside, the “mathata Thitha” programme of the government too came into focus in parliament when UNP Colombo district MP Ravi Karunanayaka raised a question. According to statistics placed before the House, the consumption of beer had gone up from 51.9 million litres in 2006 to 52.4 million in 2009 while the consumption of hard liquor shot up from 71.2 million litres in 2006 to 75.1 in 2009. This was in spite of the fact that "mathata thith", the government's programme to discourage alcohol was launched in November, 2005.Deputy Finance Minister Geetanjana Gunawardena who answered on behalf of the Government said that consumer patterns since the end of the north and east war, may have changed hinting that it maybe one of reasons for the increase, while tourism could be another.
Of course he wasn’t going to allow the UNP MP to get away by asking such a question and reminded him that it was the UNP in 2003, that allowed the sale of alcohol at supermarkets. “You opened the floodgates by allowing people to buy alcohol when they went marketing,” he said.
On Friday parliament took the unprecedented step of taking the vote on the extension of the emergency without debating it. This is due to the statutory need for it to be approved within ten days of it being notified via a gazette by the President. The gazette was issued by President Mahinda Rajapaksa on January 18, the day before he left for a private visit to the US. The debate will be held when Parliament meets again in February.
Debate on Jaffna
Excerpts from speeches made during the debate on the adjournment motion relating to the deteriorating security
situation in Jaffna.
TNA National List MP M.A. Sumanthiran: There is a complete breakdown in the law and order situation in the North resulting in murders, kidnappings, extortion and other crimes. None of the perpetrators of these crimes has been brought to book. A government Minister from Jaffna himself raised the issue in the House but no reply was given to him.
Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe: Ten killings have been reported in Jaffna between December 27, 2010 and January 3. This is a serious development. The government can’t say these are “usual” incidents and ignore them. The Tamil media is under threats as they report these incidents.
The Sinhala media is not reporting them, maybe out of fear. There are 60,000 troops in Jaffna and thirty per cent of the area is under High security Zones. I have suggested that an all party delegation go to Jaffna but the government has turned it down. They want us to go alone but if we do that and come back and report the incidents, we will be accused of spreading falsehoods.
Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne: Both the TNA and the UNP have dramatized the situation in Jaffna. These are not unusual incidents. Such incidents happenin other parts of the country as well as in other parts of the world. For us even a single human life is valuable so we will not try to undermine the incidents of violence. We are recovering after a 30-year-old war. These incidents are like a single hair on a huge animal like an elephant. We are in the process of uprooting that hair.
DNA Gampaha district MP Vijitha Herath: There have been several violent incidents in Jaffna including the murder of a Deputy Director of Education but none of the culprits have been arrested. If we ignore the incidents now, 20 years form now we will have a terrorist problem again. The reason we had a violent conflict was because we ignored the small incidents that were taking place before they erupted. After the end of the war, people want to live in peace but such incidents are causing a fear psychosis. Even those who come before the Lessons Learnt and reconciliation Commission (LLRC) are being threatened and intimidated in the north.
TNA JAffna district MP E. Saravanapavan: We expected the Prime Minister to address the issued raised by us in the House but they were ignored. We are hurt by his speech. The Government has chosen to turn a blind eye to these incidents.
Housing and Common Amenities Minister Wimal Weerawansa: The arguments brought here are to show the Tamil Diaspora and through them foreign nations that people are being victimized in the north. These are all being done according to an agenda to suit those persons living aboard. Very soon we will reveal who is behind these incidents along with witness accounts. These are incidents which are results of personal problems. I can imagine the UNP joining the TNA and speaking on this debate, but the JVP too has joined in now. They have lost their vote base in the south so maybe they think they can win some support in the north now. I want to make an appeal to the TNA parliamentarians not to mislead the Tamil people any more. Because of your politics of hate, you caused years of suffering for your people by making them believe that they can win liberation through violence. Please stop that at least now and let the people live in peace.
TNA Jaffan distrct MP Suresh Premachandran: We want the government to stop this fear psychosis that is gripping people ion the north. We are not here to please the Diaspora but we are only telling you what the people in the area are telling us. We don’t talk to the gallery. If ten people get together and talk in Jaffna, then the intelligence people will come and question them. People in the area are being denied employment as workers from the south are engaged in work in the north. It’s an unfortunate situation.
Leader of the House Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva:Today because we liberated the people in the north and east the TNA MPs are able to come here and speak of the incidents in Jaffna. They did not have the courage to speak of crimes committed by the LTTE. When TULF leader Amirthalingam was shot dead, none of the Tamil MPs asked for a debate. They were too afraid. Today they have been given the right to express their views without fear. Some TNA MPs have pointed the finger at the EPDP led by Minister Douglas devananda for being behind these incidents. We know the TNA has had a long standing grudge against the EPDP. It was the EPDP, despite threats from the LTTE who joined the democratic process along with TMVP leader Vinyagamoorthy Muralitharan and others.
I have a list of the incidents in Jaffna and I will table them in the House. There are certain instances of natural deaths which the TNA has blamed on the government as well as some caused due to personal rivalries
There was an incident where a person suffering from epilepsy fell into the sea and drowned and this too has been termed a murder.
There were reports that a girl had been abducted. Witnesses have told Police that she had been seen engaged in a friendly chat with a boy somewhere on a road. Later it was revealed that she had eloped with him. Later she had confessed she had gone on her own free will.