1st February 1998


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Vote for an unarmed democracy

By. Frederica Jansz in Jaffna

That the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) the only unarmed group to contest the Jaffna polls won the Jaffna municipal council seat and Valigamam north, is significant. The people of Jaffna have voted for an unarmed democracy, that will possibly bring a long term solution to the conflict.

Mrs. Sarojini Yogeswaran who won the municipal council seat in Jaffna city said, “ I do not want to be part of an armed democracy.” Adding however that the armed forces have conducted themselves in an exemplary manner, she said it is important to be one of the people and be cherished by them. It is important she added, that the people of the northern peninsula be no longer intimidated or threatened.

Speaking from her home in Jaffna, Mrs. Yogeswaran said she too received many a threat to refrain from contesting the northern polls. She said the fear among people was so great that she had difficulty in getting people onto the nominations list.

Vowing to work for the people and with the people, she said ‘ I have no wish to be surrounded by armed guards. I want to be close to the people and not be shielded by an armed human wall.”

The Jaffna polls were certainly not perfect and were in fact very flawed, but this was not an un-natural scenario, as elections held in the South have provoked and held far more serious allegations and implications. It would be unfair to expect the elections in the north to be different, or one that would pose a serious controversy.

It was fairly certain before January the 29th that there would be a poor voter turn-out as many civilians voiced fear of the LTTE, armed forces and the political groups contesting the elections. “We have suffered” they said, adding the time was not right for elections. “We are not interested in politics. Instead, we need food, water, electricity and transport” they appealed. Afraid there would be another repeat as in 1989 when the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) forced people out of their homes and into polling centers, many voiced fear that a similar scenario would evolve this time too.

Cyril Sandaradas (47) who lives in uncleared territory in Mirusuvil North, said he had faced no intimidation from the LTTE to not vote. “I will vote” he said inspite of the fact that whoever was elected would have no real significant effect on his daily life. It was felt unlikely that people from uncleared areas would cast their vote.

The LTTE clashing with security forces in Jaffna town, on the eve of elections certainly added to speculation that there would be little or no voter turn out at all. A nearly five hour gun battle between the LTTE and the security forces did not however deter some 112,000 people, who finally mustered the courage to vote.

TULF President S. Sivasithambaram, speaking the day after elections said, a large section of the Tamils are in favour of the return to normalcy. By and large the Tamil community wants a democratic framework in the north, he added.

While many in Jaffna have no idea what the government proposed devolution package entails, they did however perceive that the local polls were an initial step towards establishing normalcy in the area. Further, that this would in the long term relieve civilians from a constant military presence. Strangely many said they preferred the presence of the military to any other political party. They were of the view that it is then only one force and not many different factions vying for power.

Meanwhile the government ban on the LTTE seems to have had little or no effect on the people in Jaffna. Many were aware the ban has not been gazetted and remains merely an announcement, that can be retracted or cancelled overnight.

Some civilians responded angrily to the government ban on the LTTE, saying that some 25 places of worship have been bombd in the Jaffna Peninsula during the long drawn out war. The bombing of St. James’s Church in Main Street Jaffna, St. Peter’s Church, Navaly and Tellipallai Hindu Kovil near Kankesanthurai are a few that received publicity.

Bishop Saundaranayagam while condemning the attack on the Sri Dalada Maligawa said however that nobody resigned when intentional and accidental attacks were carried out on places of worship in the Jaffna peninsula. Many people who sought refuge in these places were killed as a result, he said. St. Anne’s Cathedral in Jaffna, one of the largest cathedrals in Asia, has been repeatedly damaged due to heavy artillery fire. He said armed attacks on places of worship of any religion is an uncivilized and barbaric act. This, he said applies both to the LTTE and the military.

It is interesing to note that what dominates conversation in Jaffna is not the elections but the exodus in 1995 during ‘Operation Riviresa.’ The ethnic war has clearly not only created divisions between the Sinhalese and the Tamils but have caused a fragmentation to occur even among the Tamil community in Jaffna. Many of those who have returned to government held territory do not share concern for those left behind in the Wanni. Instead it is the damage to personal property and the loss of material goods that dominates conversation. The fact that they were driven out of their homes by the LTTE and underwent immense suffering returning to find many of their homes occupied by the armed forces, are bitter memories that the people of Jaffna will seemingly not forget.

The humiliation suffered at checkpoints is yet another thorn endured by the people of Jaffna. While the military do seem to make a genuine effort to be humane, it does not compensate for the humiliation the civilians undergo.

For a civilian to travel from Pallai to Jaffna city it takes 6 hours. They would need to be checked 19 times in and out of Jaffna. The distance is 25 miles.

Many expressed hope that the government will provide a long term solution to restoring peace in Jaffna. The fact that 43% of an estimated 250,000 eligible voters have called for a democratic framework is a clear message to the LTTE, that the people in Jaffna are tired of violence and seek only a peaceful resolution to a conflict that has gone on for too long.

Batty endorses FR case

By Imran Vittachi

Batty Weerakoon, LSSP leader and newest member of the Cabinet, is endorsing a Supreme Court petition filed this month against state agencies and officials linked with a $425mn foreign investment deal to mine the Eppawala phosphate reserves, ‘The Sunday Times’ learns.

Petitioner D.W. Herath Banda, a resident of that north central town and president of the Eppawala Farmers Association, was granted leave to proceed on Jan.21 with his fundamental rights case.

Mr.Banda has named Industrial Development Minister C.V. Gooneratne and Attorney-General Sarath N.Silva, among four respondents, according to a copy of the petition.

Mr.Gooneratne and Mr.Silva, along with Lanka Phosphate Ltd. and the Public Enterprises Reform Commissission, have until Feb. 28 to respond, and a Supreme Court hearing has been set for May 26, the court registry has confirmed.

To Mr.Weerakoon, the newly-appointed Minister of Science and Technology, who is also an attorney, this is the first step to protecting, not only Mr.Banda’s most basic rights as a Sri Lankan citizen, but those of thousands of other paddy farmers living in Zone-H of the Mahaveli.

“We have gone to Fundamental Rights, so that if one or more of these agreements (foreign investments) an, in effect, an infringement of Fundamental Rights, or there is a likelihood of that infringement, then that agreement cannot be a valid legal agreement protected by the Constitution,’’ Mr. Weerakoon told ‘The Sunday Times.’

The General-Secretary of the LSSP sees steering the Eppawala issue through the highest court in the land, rather than through Cabinet level discussions, as a more effective way to secure rights to land and water for those settlers, whose welfare has consistently been part of LSSP policy.

Asked if he would be taking up their cause with the other members of the Cabinet, Mr.Weerakoon replied:

“No, I think now the courts will decide. Right, I have paved the way for the courts to decide. And, if it does come to the Cabinet, I will make my contribution.’’

On the face of it, the legal arguments being developed in Mr. Banda’s petition reflect Mr. Weerakoon’s earlier stated stance on Eppawala.

The government should carefully weigh strategic implications for Sri Lanka before signing away and guranteeing two foreign companies - U.S. - based IMC Agrico/Freeport McMoran Resource Partners and Tomen Corporation of Japan - a virtual monopoly over the nation’s phosphate reserves, Mr. Weerakoon said in a separate interview before accepting his new portfolio.

In his opinion, the nation could be deprived of a vital source for fertiliser to meet burgeoning food security needs, and its economy, people, and environment may suffer disastrous effects, should the government, now on the verge of concluding the deal, fail to examine its wider and far-reaching impact.

“This is different from other foreign investment deals signed in the past,’’ he told ‘The Sunday Times’. “Here we are losing a whole area of land which will become uninhabitable’’.

Without a proper plan and protective measures in place, Weerakoon added, the project threatens to uproot thousands of settlers in Zone-H of the Mahaveli Scheme, located in-and-around Eppawala, by allowing the foreign companies to mine and export upto 3.6mn metric tons of phospahte, in rock form, over the first 12 years.

“Now, in the H Area there is absolutely no room,’’ he said. “In the other areas.... 96 percent of the scheme is completely filled up. Only the balance, four percent, is in the troubled areas.’’

Meanwhile, according to environmentalists, the Committee for the Protection of Phosphate Deposits at Eppawala, headed by Ven. Mahamannakadawata Piyarathana Thero, will launch a day-long protest on Tuesday, demonstrating in-and-around Anuradhapura against the largest foreign investment struck to date in Sri Lanka’s manufacturing sector.

Big nadagam over the show

By Shelani De Silva and Chamintha Thilakarathna

A cultural show prepared for the Independence Day celebrations has run into a political storm, with strong opposition from the UNP which claims the script-writer has projected only the bad side of the former regime.

The cultural show will be staged in Colombo on February 21.

The script on various eras of the country’s history had been allotted to several artistes and dramatist Somalatha Subesinghe had been entrusted the period from 1977 to date.

However the UNP’s contribution to the development of the country had been left out and a period of terror had been projected, according to the UNP.

“The play starts with ‘Vijaya and Kuweni’ and ends with ‘Vijaya and Chandrika.’

There is no reference to the late President R. Premadasa or his service. Although artistes have the freedom to be creative they can’t distort facts,” said V.J.M. Lokubandara, former Cultural Affairs Minister.

The 148 page script has also left out the services of the late Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali as well, he said.

However, according to Somalatha Subesinghe she had tried to depict the events from 1977.

“I had even included a chapter on the Executive Presidency. She did not object to that. The President also wanted more emphasis on the work of Dudley Senanayake,” Ms. Subesinghe said.

Meanwhile, The Sunday Times learns that the main actor who was to play four different roles will not be available on the day of the show as he will be out of the country.

With the main actor not available, the pageant is facing a crisis, sources said.

Continue to the News/Comment page 3 * Monks pull up govt. * LTTE ban: yes, no, yes... * What it costs for celebrations * UNP reform proposals * Former Wesley principal dead

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