7th September 1997


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Thawalama propels along, to isolate LTTE

By Frederica Jansz

The original Thawalama

The original Thawalama

Sri Lanka - One Country - One Peo ple, is the Government’s political answer to the LTTE as it wheels forth a peace caravan that is aimed to woo the masses in support of the devolution proposals and elicit a positive response.

Fighting the LTTE on three fronts, the military, economic and political, the government is firm in its belief that the rebels will finally be defeated or eradicated if a political solution to the ethnic crisis is complementary of its military option and rehabilitation initiatives in the Jaffna peninsula.

The Constitutional Reforms will be presented to Parliament before November, according to Minister G.L. Peiris who continues to agitate for consensus among all political parties on the proposals.

The government’s solution to the ethnic conflict is now before the people with a massive propaganda effort being launched to educate them on a union of regions that will, to a large extent, be independent of the centre. President Chandrika Kumaratunga impatient with the UNP’s lack of a positive response to the package has indicated the government cannot wait, and will instead push for a non-binding referendum with or without the support of the main opposition party.

However, this support will not be forthcoming without the usual strings attached. The UNP enjoy a minimum of a 35% block vote. Its supporters will not vote in favour of the devolution proposals unless the UNP makes its position on the matter clear. Some say the government’s ‘Saama Thawalama’ initiative is merely a political exercise to get the support for the PA before the next election. This, however, again could prove counter-productive as such a process could also be the downfall of the government, unless the road from Vavuniya to Kilinochchi is cleared of LTTE presence and the LTTE sufficiently subdued.

Some Sinhala elements in the south maintain there is no need for a wider devolution of power, instead they say the 13th Amendment should be resurrected lending more power to the existing provincial councils. Yet another section of this spectrum claims if this is a solution purely to resolve the ethnic crisis, then such an option should cater exclusively to the needs of the Tamil population in the north and east. The fear also exists among some that a merger of the north and east would only serve to legalise the concept of Eelam.

The viability of the devolution proposals will depend on the government’s ability to convince the electorate into voting for the proposed constitution. Apart from the common man, several PA alliance members have voiced discontent over the package being pushed despite overwhelming odds, including reticence already expressed by the UNP. Political analysts claim apart from accommodating the voice of the Tamil and Muslim political parties calling for devolution of power, the opinions of the Sinhala parties should also be addressed as this too will play a focal point in the future of the package.

Controversial opinions expressed by NGOs and others to halt the war and negotiate with the LTTE are being steadfastly ignored by a government which believes it should use its present resources to destroy the LTTE. The LTTE in turn has displayed a commitment to die for the call of Eelam rather than negotiate a solution to the crisis. However, analysts say such popular beliefs cannot be taken as undisputed facts but should be tested and an offer made to the rebel group that would meet with its aspirations within a united and cohesive Sri Lanka.

The Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional Reforms meanwhile seems to have receded into slumber as contentious issues remain unsolved without any consensus being reached between the government and the UNP. “Saama Thawalama” it appears, has shoved the PSC into the background while it moves across the country seeking a consensus among the nation which remains largely confused on the final outcome of the package and what exactly it would entail.

Tamil political parties too seem equally confused as a call for a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society is continuously countered with a demand to include the LTTE in a formal negotiating process. The TULF continues to maintain this position, with its General Secretary R Sampanthan reiterating that public education of the package is certainly a worthwhile exercise but the LTTE must be included in a negotiated settlement. Asserting that the government’s efforts are primarily directed towards achieving peace in the country, Mr. Sampanthan said that in the larger context the PA should go beyond party politics. Nevertheless people tend to be influenced by their respective political parties, whereby consensus with the UNP is a relevant factor to achieve reality. Mr. Sampanthan sounded hopeful when he said government efforts to educate the public could finally elicit a favourable response from the UNP.

Joe Seneviratne, Media Advisor for the Sudu Nelum Movement said “‘Peace Caravan’ was a huge success as a street drama, a float and videos all contributed to an interesting search for humanity which he said had been lost during all these years of war. Conceptually the idea needs to be mooted that we are one country - one people,” he said, adding it was possible for two ethnic groups to live in harmony in one country.

The street drama and videos all concentrate on the package and the constitution, lending space for discussion on the destruction caused by war and other moral issues. “We are all responsible for the ethnic crisis”, Seneviratne said, claiming even after 50 years of independence Sri Lanka cannot boast of a collective identity for its people.

The float depicts the burning of the Jaffna Library and the Central Bank bomb blast. Nine films on the destruction of war are screened simultaneously, which Mr. Seneviratne said, had served to initiate a moving emotional response from the people. Whether the final objective of the government will be reached via the route of the ‘Peace Caravan’ will be a task for those attempting to restructure Sri Lanka into nine separate regions of power sharing with the Centre.

Thawalama hijacked?

As the government’s Thawalama programme takes the message of ‘one-country, one-people’ across Sri Lanka, an organisation has accused the PA of using the name of its programme of helping villagers of LTTE affected areas to propagate the devolution proposals.

Lt. Col. A. S. Amarasekera, the Director Operations of Thawalama Development Foundation in a statement says the basic aim of the group is to preserve the unitary nature of the country and it had been working for several years in the border villages. The government’s Thawalama runs contrary to this with an idea of union of regions.

Therefore the group says it is immoral and unjust for the government to use the Thawalama name.

Excerpts from the statement:

I was the commanding officer of the 2nd Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment from November 1990 to June 1992. It was during this period that I organized several projects to improve the living conditions of villages subjected to LTTE terrorism in my area of responsibility. The Vijayabahu Social Services Fund commenced by me was later converted to the Vijayabahu Trust Fund at the request of the late Kudakongaskada Wimalagnana Thero the Sanganayake for the North and East. The patriotic work implemented by this Trust Fund is held in high esteem by many who know of its activities.

It was also during my command that the B Company of the 2nd Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment had to make a tactical withdrawal from the Mankulam Army Camp which was attacked and destroyed by LTTE terrorists on 23rd of November 1990. Thirty nine soldiers sacrificed their lives during this withdrawal. During my period of command, one officer and sixty-three soldiers had sacrificed their lives and another two officers and many other soldiers had been disabled to defend the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka for posterity.

I could see no light at the end of the tunnel with regard to the eradication of LTTE terrorism as the government was not working towards a concept to defeat the terrorists. Disillusioned as I was with the loss of so many of my soldiers and also realizing that the insurrection would continue unabated with the loss of many more valuable lives of soldiers since there was a lack of political will to completely eradicate LTTE terrorism, I forwarded a letter to my Divisional Commander Maj. General Denzil Kobbekaduwa requesting that I be released from service without pay to return to my civil life, as I was only a volunteer Officer of the Sri Lanka Army. General Kobbekaduwa however had a vision to eradicate LTTE terrorism by the 31st of March 1992 and therefore requested me to remain in service until that date. If LTTE terrorism was not eradicated by this date he agreed to heed my request. In April 1992 I submitted my second letter requesting a release from service without pay and was granted this facility on 30th June, 1992.

My release from service however did not last long. The Thanthirimale basin was destabilized as a result of the assassination of the late Kudakongaskada Wimalagnana Nayaka Thero. Since I was one of the closest associates of this assassinated Nayaka Thero, I knew his plans for stabilizing the Thanthirimale area. The then Secretary of Defence General S. C. Ranatunga who knew this fact requested me to get re-mobilized to continue with the good work commenced by the late Nayaka Thero to stabilize the Thanthirimale area. Accordingly I took up an appointment as a Civil Affairs Officer at the Joint Operations Command, which subsequently became the Operational Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence.

Having completed the task of stabilizing the Thanthirimale basin, I started work to stabilize the Yan Oya basin which in effect is the gateway to Eelam. The LTTE terrorists were applying pressure on the Sinhala villages with a view to drive them away from this strategic area so that they could link up the North with the Trincomalee District through a continuous land mass devoid of Sinhala villages. In my work to stabilize the Yan Oya basin, I worked very closely with many social service and non-governmental organizations.

The Sarvodaya District Coordinator at Sri Tissapura, Manel Kulatunga assisted me to implement a successful programme of work towards the achievement of my objective to stabilize this strategic area. The Thawalama concept was a brainchild of Mr. Kulatunga, which he discussed with me in December 1993. His original ideas were improved by me and a project was formulated by the name of Thawalama. This was submitted to the Secretary of Defence for approval through the Vijayabahu Trust Fund. It was approved by the Secretary of Defence on the 12th of January 1994 and accordingly the first Thawalama Project was conducted at Athawatunuwewa in Weli Oya on the 17th of February 1994, with the assistance of the Divisional Secretariat in my home town of Horana.

Ninety Grama Sevakas from the Horana Divisional Secretariat, informed their respective villages of the plight of these people at Athawetunuwewa and they organized adequate dry rations to provide assistance to all the families in Athawatunuwewa.

Since this first Thawalama Project similar Thawalama Projects were organized and bus loads of representatives from towns and villages in the Matara, Galle, Kalutara, Ratnapura, Colombo, Gampaha, Kurunegala, Kegalle and Kandy districts moved to affected villages in the North and the East to assist their brethren who were under LTTE threats and attacks. All the villages in the Weli Oya settlements and many affected villages in the Divisional Secretariat area of Sripura in the Trincomalee district and Divisional Secretariat areas of Padaviya, Kebbithigollewa, Horopatana, Madawachchiya and Pemaduwa in the Anuradhapura district received assistance to improve their living conditions.

The devolution proposals were first announced to the public by the ruling party in August 1995. I was not in agreement with some of these devolution proposals and accordingly submitted a letter to the then commander of the Army dated 21st October 1995 requesting to be released from service without pay so as to enable me to educate the masses of this country with regard to the ill effects of the devolution proposals. Accordingly I was granted this facility on the 18th of December 1995.

I also maintain that in a democratic country every citizen has the democratic right to criticize proposals put forward by the ruling party before they become policy by legislation enacted in parliament. The advantages and disadvantages of such proposals must be thoroughly analyzed by the people before legislation is enacted. The people therefore need to be educated not only with regard to the advantages but also with regard to the disadvantages. If the arguments put forward by those who oppose the proposals are accepted by the masses and a public opinion created against the implementation of these proposals they will have to be rejected and not enacted as legislation.

Prior to my obtaining leave from service without pay, to continue the Thawalama programme of work without interruption on the 26th of April 1995 the Thawalama Development Foundation was established with Bengamuwe Nalaka Thero acting as Chairman for this inaugural meeting which was held at the Sarvodaya Vishva Lekha office in Ratmalana. As I was appointed the Director of Operations of this new foundation on this date, I prepared a leaflet to obtain assistance from potential donors. The contents of this leaflet are reproduced herewith.

‘Padaviya which is situated in the Yan oya basin is a part of the ancient Nuwarakalaviya Sinhala Buddhist civilization. This basin had fallen into decay with only a few ancient Sinhala villages left in 1952, while vast stretches of fertile land were overgrown with jungle. This land was reclaimed and the agricultural development commenced with the restoration of the ancient Padaviya tank by the Father of the Nation, D. S. Senanayake.

The Yan Oya basin now has over 300 Sinhala villages. The separatist terrorists whose objective is to link the North and Eastern parts of Sri Lanka require to remove these Sinhala villages with a view to gain access to the East where the strategic harbour of Trincomalee is situated. This basin could therefore be rightly termed “the gateway to Eelam” which is the separate state the Northern terrorists intend to establish. To achieve their objective the northern terrorists have embarked on a campaign of ethnic cleansing which involves driving away all races other than that of their own, from this basin. It is due to this reason that the Sinhala population living in this area have been subjected to numerous terrorist threats and attacks resulting in immense destruction to life and property.

As a result of these developments an exodus of the Sinhala population, southwards from the basin has been observed in recent times. The area thus affected which lies partly in the Northern, North Central and Eastern Provinces in the districts of Mullaitivu, Vavuniya, Anuradhapura and Trincomalee could be identified as Weli Oya, Padaviya, Wahalkada, Kebbethigollewa, Horopatana and Sripura. The untold suffering and the recent exodus of the Sinhala population from this basin have caused much concern among Sri Lankans in the southern parts of the country.

With the intention of alleviating the miserable plight of these affected people and with a view to prevent a further exodus of the population which would be detrimental to the unity and territorial integrity of the motherland the people in the South are being mobilized through project Thawalama to assist their brethren in the Yan Oya basin.

The Sarvodaya movement, Lions clubs, the Vijayabahu Trust Fund, the Siddhartha Padanama, the Jathika Weera Padanama, the Young Men’s Buddhist Association, the Mahabodhi Society of Sri Lanka, the Sri Lanka Association for the Rehabilitation of Villages, Lakwasi Peramuna, Patriotic Bhikkhu Association and many other national minded non-governmental organizations which have come forward to assist in this national project were coordinated by me first as a civil affairs officer of the Operational Headquarters, Ministry of Defence, then as Officer Commanding Troops Anuradhapura and finally as the manpower Mobilization and Disaster Relief Coordinator for Vavuniya and Anuradhapura districts under the second Division of the Sri Lanka Army. Since the formation of the Thawalama Development Foundation I have conducted the Thawalama projects through this Foundation as its Director of Operations.

These national minded non governmental organisations collect dry rations, clothing, building materials, school books, sports equipment and agricultural implements etc in the South and systematically distribute the collected items in affected villages after organizing shramadana or volunteer work for the development of these villages. No free distribution of donations are encouraged with every gift being made a reward for sweat and toil.

The shramadana or volunteer work programmes include the construction of houses, community centres, places of worship and roadways etc. Volunteer work for the renovation and restoration of existing schools and other public buildings, wevas or reservoirs and agricultural canals is also organized. These Thawalama projects have been conducted in over fifty affected villages after its inaugural project on 17th February 1994 at Athawatunuwawa, Weli Oya. The total value of all these projects conducted during two years amount close to a staggering Rs 20 million. The second anniversary was celebrated on 17th February 1996 with the construction of an Irrigation feeder canal to divert water from the Yan Oya to the Thirappankadawala wewa. Over one thousand laymen and twenty Buddhist monks participated at this shramadana. The Irrigation Department estimated the value of the work done by shramadana on this day to construct one kilometre of the irrigation canal at Rs. 800.000/=.

We therefore invite you to join hands with us to implement future Thawalama projects in affected villages of the Yan Oya basin with a view to bring relief to suffering people by ushering prosperity through poverty alleviation. The implementation of Thawalama Projects will reverse the present exodus of population living in this strategic area to the Southern parts of the country and thus contribute to preserve the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. As a result of this invaluable service to the suffering masses in terrorist affected areas, the Thawalama name has gained much popularity and is spoken of with very high regard by the people of this country. The Armed Forces and Police personnel in the forward areas also hold the Thawalama Development Foundation in high esteem due to the gifts and assistance given to them to improve their morale.

It is after the Thawalama name had received such popularity that the ruling party decided to use this very name to disburse the foreign funding made available to it to propagate the devolution proposals. The basic aim of the Thawalama Development Foundation is to preserve the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka for posterity and all its projects organized thus far was to achieve this aim while the Thawalama of the ruling party runs contrary to this concept with an aim to convert a unitary nation to a union of regions. Therefore by using the name Thawalama for their programme of work the ruling party has caused a grave moral injustice to the Thawalama Development Foundation which will be condemned by all right thinking people of this country. The proposals of the ruling party to convert a unitary country to a union of regions are vehemently opposed by the Thawalama Development Foundation which is a member of the National Joint Committee working relentlessly to defeat the devolution proposals of the ruling party. If implemented the proposals will spell disaster to our motherland. I am submitting the above facts to the people of this country so as to prevent them from being hoodwinked by the ruling party by the use of the name Thawalama for a programme it has sponsored with much publicity. Its programme has absolutely no connection with the good work done so far by the Thawalama Development foundation towards alleviating poverty in the LTTE affected villages of the North, North Central and Eastern parts of the country or with the gifts and assistance given to our brave Armed Services and Police personnel in the front lines to boost their morale. The Thawalama development Foundation hereby strongly condemns this despicable act of the ruling party in using the Thawalama name to implement a programme of work which is directly opposed to the basic aims and objectives of the said Foundation.”

My trips my business

Minister Ashraff flowers at the Chaitiya: "not against Islam"

Minister Ashraff flowers at the Chaitiya: "not against Islam"

Minister M.H.M. Ashraff, in controversy again over his act of offering flowers at a Buddhist Chaitiya and kissing the hand of Premier Sirimavo Bandaranaike, says the Islam he practises is a religion of tolerance, understanding and respect for other religions.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Mr. Ashraff said his puritanical or narrow-minded critics were probably not aware that he often held the hand of the elderly Ms. Bandaranaike to help her at cabinet meetings and once even helped her get her feet into the car.

On hard politics, Mr. Ashraff strongly defended his concept of a separate Muslim majority council in the South-East saying he felt it would help unite the country rather than further divide.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: You seem to have a penchant to be in trouble. There is Minister Fowzie on one side, the Muslim League’s chief A.L.M. Hashim and M.H. Mohamed on the other. They are all critical of your plan to have a regional council for the Muslims in the South-East?

A: I have never been in trouble. It is those others who are in trouble and I don’t know why.

Q: Why do you say they are in trouble?

A: Otherwise they won’t be making statements like this.

Q: Why are you pushing so hard for a regional council in the South-East?

A: Look at it this way. The regional council system is doubtless going to benefit every part of this country. Why should not the South-East also benefit? It is surprising that those who are opposed to a special regional council for the South-East are not opposing regional councils for the other areas of this country. If they are genuine in their opposition they should oppose the regional councils system as a whole.

Q: Are you not trying to make the ethnic issue more complex? We are having enough trouble between two communities. Now it might be three. See what’s happening in Bosnia. Do you want the same situation here too?

A: The trouble is that some sections are approaching the concept of a separate unit of devolution for the South-East as if this unit is meant for the Muslims only. That is not the case. The proposed council will have a Muslim majority of 53 percent. The rest will be composed of Tamils and Sinhalese.

The other councils except the North-East will have a seventy percent Sinhala majority. Why aren’t my critics also opposed to the creation of those councils?

If it is reasonable to have six or seven Sinhala majority councils and, one or two Tamil majority councils, is it not reasonable to have one Muslim majority council? If the creation of seven Sinhala majority councils are not going to deepen further the ethnic issue, why should one Muslim majority council complicate it?

Why compare with Bosnia? If so the seven Sinhala Chief Ministers and the two Tamil Chief Ministers can create a Bosnia like situation.

The trouble is that there is communalism in the heads of my critics.

I think that my proposals will help ease ethnic tension. Take the Cabinet for example. Do we have only Sinhala Ministers?

No, there are Tamils and Muslims. Is it a Bosnia-type situation? So is it with statutory boards and other bodies. So why not fill all vacancies with Sinhala people and argue that the inclusion of minority members will intensify the ethnic problem.

Q: There are less than 300,000 of Muslim people in the South-East compared to 1.7 million Muslims in the country, so why do you want a Muslim council for the South-East?

A: The regional council for Muslims is meant for the area consisting of Kalmunai, Sammanthurai and Pottuvil. It is most certainly not for the entire country. I am sorry and regret that some don’t seem to understand the basics in devolution of power. That is why they are making fools of themselves.

Q: Mr. Fowzie describes the proposed Muslim council as your kingdom and other critics say you want to be the king of the Muslims?

A: I think my good brother Fowzie has too many irons in the fire as it were. It would be better for him to speak for himself only. I have not authorised him to be my spokesman.

Q: I presume the SLMC supports the ‘Sama Thawalama’?

A: Of course, we do, otherwise would we have been at Anuradhapura for its launching?

Q: There is the Deegavapi affair where you offered flowers at the Chaitiya and attended a Buddhist ceremony on Friday, the day of the Jummah prayers. Then you have been criticised for kissing the hand of Premier Bandaranaike. You have been accused of violating Islamic laws.

A: The question whether I violated the rules of Shariah is being debated mainly in the Tamil papers. I am not involved in this debate, but watching it with concern. There are two allegations about Deegavapi affair. First, is that I did not participate in the Friday Jummah prayers and the second, is that I kept a tray of flowers in front of the Chaitiya.

It is true that I did not attend the Jummah prayers as they were not compulsory for me on that day because I was a traveller.

Secondly, had I left the meeting for Jummah prayers the sanctity of the occasion would have been violated. I did not want to disturb a sacred occasion.

However with some of the Mowlavis I decided to have normal prayers at Deegavapi itself which is a sacred place for the Buddhists. It must be recorded that the incumbent of the Deegavapi temple gave us special permission to hold congregational prayers at the temple premises itself.

I am sorry that no one speaks about this gracious gesture and the sense of tolerance demonstrated by the Buddhists and the mutual respect by the Muslims. This seems to be of no significance to my critics.

Now about the flowers. When the religious ceremonies were going on suddenly a tray of flowers was handed to me in the presence of a large gathering of Buddhists from all parts of the country. In any event there were no statues. They expected me to receive the tray and place it at the Chaitiya. I had two alternatives, to receive it graciously with a smile and make all feel comfortable, which I did or return the tray. If I had returned the tray, it would have been a churlish act on my part. It would have hurt the feelings of millions of Buddhists.

In any event the Islam that I know, and I believe and practise is the Islam of understanding, tolerance and respect for other religions. My acts did not repudiate in anyway my beliefs as a Muslim. Can my critics produce evidence that I intentionally violated the tenets of my faith?

As for this kissing business. How petty can people get. Kissing in the first place is not anti Islam. Kissing a wife, mother, a child, sister or an old lady is permitted.

Ms. Bandaranaike is older than my mother and I hold her in high esteem. What the newspapers showed was only my kissing her hand.

There have been several occasions where I held her gently and helped her walk when she attended Cabinet meetings.

There are occasions when I have lifted her feet and helped her into the car. As a Muslim it is my duty to do such acts of kindness to an elderly person.

Q: Are you making overtures to Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP?

A: I keep my distance with all parties. With the PA, of course it is different, because we are part of the coalition.

Ranil is a good friend and I also know his family members. Let not people mix up my personal friendship with Ranil and his family with any politics.

Q: There are new rules for Ministers travelling abroad. You are known to frequently visit Libya. What will happen now?

A: Nobody can prevent me from travelling to any part of the world. It is my right as a citizen of this country. None of my private trips is a burden to the state cofffers. Nor is it anybody else’s business.

Q: Are you not jeopardising Sri Lanka’s national interests vis-a-vis the US by your flirtations with Libya?

A: The question sounds like that of a US agent. The US is very well aware that Sri Lanka maintains excellent relations with Libya.

Q: Why did not the President, the Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister attend the opening of the World Muslim Conference?

A: I did not invite the President. So why should she come? The Prime Minister accepted but fell sick and Lakshman Kadirgamar was invited to come as a guest of honour but he said he had other commitments. That is all.

Q: Is it correct that you are giving most of the jobs at the Galle Port to Muslims from Ampara?

A: Nonsense. I recruit from Galle, Matara, Hambantota and from other parts of the country. This is a canard I have heard before.

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