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8th August1999

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Guest Column - by Victor Ivan

Politics behind Neelan's martyrdom

TULF: Ants eating icing off PA cake

Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam of the TULF- who may be considered one of the main authors of the government's package of proposals for devolution of power, was assassinated at a time when action was being taken to bring before Parliament the constitutional amendment incorporating those proposals prior to a snap presidential election. It was due to pressure on the part of the national parties and also the left parties in the PA that the government was compelled to bring forward in a hurry this package of proposals which had been set aside for some time.

It is quite clear that the LTTE is responsible for this inhuman assassination. The main message that the LTTE wants to convey through this assassination maybe that the Tamil political parties should refrain from being involved in this package of proposals which comes as a trump card at the presidential election; that those political parties should refrain from any political activity in the North-East and that the LTTE would not permit any solution being implemented without its own participation. The LTTE might also have intended to effect some change in the political composition of the TULF through this assassination. Neelan was the main figure who represented the pro-PA faction in the TULF. He had a closer relationship with the President than anybody else in the TULF.

Putting forward a package of proposals incorporating the government's own solutions to the the ethnic problem might be an utterly futile exercise. The package cannot be considered as one that was prepared with the honest intention of bringing about an early solution to the ethnic problem. At a time when a military solution is no longer acceptable internationally, the government seems to have been compelled to bring forward the package to justify and seek international help for the war and also get the support from the Tamil political parties without whose support it cannot survive.

The government seems to have wanted to have the package as a document rather than to implement it. That must be why it has followed a policy of rejecting the support of the LTTE which is its main adversary in the war and of the UNP which is the main opposition in the country.

In a situation in which the Sinhala majority of the country is grouped around two main parties, no party in government can solve such a ramified and complicated problem as this without the support of the main opposition party. It is for this reason that it has not been possible to put into practice any solution so far evolved for the purpose.

It is impossible that the government was unaware that, if it wanted to implement its political solution, the support of the UNP was indispensable. But from the beginning the President did not appear to make any genuine attempts to win that support. It is true that discussions were conducted with the UNP at party level through PA leaders of the second rank. But if the genuine agreement of the UNP was expected, a policy should have been followed of bringing about understanding- and that between the leaders of the two parties - before such discussions. The agreement of the opposition should have been secured through the leader of that party himself. The President, for the sake of appearances, held talks with the UNP through second rank leaders of the PA but made no effort whatever to establish trust and agreement with the leader of that party.

She did not even make use of the help given by Liam Fox's intention for this purpose. Instead of building the atmosphere necessary for establishing a relationship of trust with the leader of the opposition, she through a policy of attacking him continually pushed him to a position of not supporting an agreement.

It appeared that the President thought from the very beginning that, rather than receiving the co-operation of the UNP through establishing a relationship of trust with the leader of the UNP, it was more fruitful to have some secret agreement with a selected group of UNP MPs at whatever price for the purpose of getting the support of the 17 additional MPs required for the purpose of ensuring a two thirds majority when necessary. This attempt at seizing a group of MPs from his party in a conspiratorial manner instead of establishing a consensus through him, pushed Ranil Wickremesinghe to a more hostile position and made him obstruct steps taken by the government.

Although the aim of a political solution was to settle the ethnic crisis which has developed into a war, the government's attempt at a solution reckoned without the LTTE which is the other main party to the war. Thereby the government turned the LTTE into a force which acts with all its might against that political solution.

The manner in which the government treated the Sinhala nationalist forces too was extremely infantile. The Buddhist clergy is the motive force of the Sinhala nationalist constituency. Although there may be limitations in the way that the Buddhist clergy see the ethnic problem - a Sinhala Buddhist perspective instead of from the perspective of a Sri Lankan nation which consists of the Sinhala and other communities, it would be dangerous to push the Buddhist clergy to a position where they oppose with their full strength a programme that seeks a solution to the Tamil grievances.

Although it is unlikely that the Buddhist clergy would follow a policy supportive of the government's programme of devolution of power, they might have been prevented from taking a position of total opposition if the government sought to explain matters to them patiently and respectfully. By following a policy of merciless criticism of the Buddhist clergy the government turned the Buddhist clergy into a force that fought against it angrily with its full power.

It must be stated that in this process the Tamil political parties which are represented in Parliament, too, are following an extremely opportunistic and self-seeking role. The number of seats that the Tamil political parties represent in the Parliament is 22. In a context in which the difference between the number of seats that the PA and the UNP have is very small, these 22 MPs are a decisive factor in the parliamentary power of the PA.

The Tamil MPs appear to have got into the merry-go-round of the PA government and spent their time joyfully instead of using their decisive strength to press the PA to effect a practical solution. When the government, in its political package, reckoned without the LTTE, then MPs had a duty and obligation to oppose it in a decisive manner. When the PA government was disregarding the fact that an agreement with the UNP was an essential condition for a solution to the ethnic problem, then Tamil MPs had a duty and an obligation to protest strongly.

In all these instances those MPs followed a policy of non-involvement and indifference instead of using their decisive power to correct those mistakes. They just watched while the PA government was playing with the fundamental problems of their people. In that sense , their activity whether in the time of the PA or in the UNP is no different from the activity of a group of insects eating the icing on the cake of the PA government.

Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam, as a scholar and intellectual, was the most outstanding figure among these Tamil representatives in Parliament. As a representative of the Tamil elite he had a close relationship with the former UNP administration as well as with the present President. However it must be said that, in spite of all these qualifications, he was not different from other Tamil representatives in Parliament. He appeared to be satisfied with his close relationship with the President and did not try to use that closeness to correct the mistakes that were being made. Finally the crisis devoured his valuable life too.

That does not justify that cruel act of homicide. However, Tamil leaders like Neelan Tiruchelvam, as well as Sinhala leaders, must be held responsible for creating a background advantageous to the LTTE's barbarism.

If the Tamil representatives in Parliament like Dr. Neelan Tiruchlvam used their decisive position in Parliament to correct the mistakes that were being made and ensured a solution to the ethnic issue, instead of acting like ants on the icing of a cake, they might have been able to bring about an effective change in the opportunistic conduct of the PA government and of the UNP. If that had happened, the life of a person like Neelan Tiruchelvam might not have been lost in this manner. There is no doubt that if that had happened and even if the LTTE had taken such a life as it did in that preporterous fashion, it would have acted as an incident that would have aroused an active and powerful protest against the LTTE, not only among Tamil but also other communities.

Neelan Tiruchelvam: A tribute from a colleague

Busy man who always had time for others

"The deep pain that is felt at the death of every friendly soul arises from the deep feeling that there is in every individual something which is inexpressible, peculiar to him alone, and is, therefore, absolutely and irretrievably lost" - Schopenhauer

On July 15,1989 two Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) Members of Parliament, including its leader Appapillai Amirthalingam were shot dead by an LTTE assassination squad. S Sivasithamparam, the deputy leader escaped with severe injuries. Neelan Tiruchelvam was expected to be there on that occasion but was either late for the meeting or had decided not to go, and thus narrowly missed an encounter with the LTTE's assassins. Now just over 10 years later the LTTE assassinated him, using a human bomb for that purpose, a technique of eliminating intended victims that they had perfected, since the early 1990s, and the use of which has become their grisly trade mark, locally and regionally. We in this little island have grown accustomed to violent deaths, including those of close friends. The photographs I saw of the mangled remains of Neelan Tiruchelvam's car are among the saddest memories of my life. He had been a very close friend for over 20 years, a very generous and compassionate human being.

At the time of his assassination Neelan Tiruchelvam was a distinguished public figure, in the prime of his life. He was a respected Member of Parliament. He first entered Parliament in 1982, and was there till the latter half of 1983; thereafter he returned to Parliament in 1989 and remained a MP till the time of his death. The pages of Hansard will show that his speeches were consistently among the most thoughtful delivered in Parliament over that period. He was a director of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) since 1982. There were other institutions of which he was either the head or the live wire, such as the Law and Society Trust located close to the Colombo office of the ICES. On the international scene he was a regular participant at the conferences held in Aspen, Colorado, by a distinguished group of public figures, mainly of the western world; he had been a member of the London based Minority Rights Group for many years, and was chosen Chairman of its board of directors less than a year ago.

Locally he was one of the key figures in the preparation of the draft constitution which the current government has endeavoured to introduce to Parliament since 1995.

This present tribute to his memory is not meant to be an assessment of Neelan Tiruchelvam's role as a politician. That will be done at some later date. My concern is principally with some aspects of his creative role in the intellectual life of Sri Lanka. When I first met Neelan just over 20 years ago he was an earnest young lawyer intent on combining his law practice with the work of a senior researcher at the Marga Institute in Colombo, specialising in the impact of law on society and vice versa. His years at Harvard had left him profoundly unhappy about the teaching of law in the University of Colombo and at the Law College. Even at that stage Neelan Tiruchelvam had his links with the TULF. His father, a Federal Party and later TULF lawyer-politician, was the only member of that party and of the TULF ever to hold Cabinet office in a Sri Lankan government (1965-1968). The elder Tiruchelvam had died in 1976 and did not live to see his son's career in public life blossom as it did from the late 1970s to the time of his death on 28 July 1999. What brought us together for the first time was our work on the Presidential Commission on Development Councils of which we were appointed members in 1979, he as a nominee of his party and I as a nominee of the President.

In 1981 we were both invitees to a Ford Foundation sponsored conference held in a game park some 200 kilometres or so from Nairobi to look at the problems of ethnic conflict in the world. This conference eventually provided us with an unexpected opportunity to build a research institution; one of its by-products was a decision taken to establish a research institute for the study of ethnic conflict with funds provided by the Ford Foundation. After much discussion it was decided to look at Sri Lanka as the possible location for such an institute. The Sri Lankans at the conference worked as a team to convince others at the conference that we could build a world class research institute.

Among the preliminaries to the establishment of such an institute was to secure the support of the then government to locate it in the island, a task that was assigned to me, while the legal issues involved including discussions with the Ford Foundation in Delhi, were handled by Neelan with his customary thoroughness. At a meeting held in Trincomalee later that year, the decision to establish the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) in Sri Lanka was confirmed. Neelan Tiruchelvam was one of those who persuaded me to accept the position of Executive Director of the ICES and Chairman of its Board of Directors and with that began twenty years of close and friendly association. He and I were the two Sri Lankan directors at the foundation of the ICES, the others being from the US, Nigeria and India. The peculiar feature of the ICES is that it has two units, one in Kandy and one in Colombo, a convenient division of labour which accommodated the wishes of the two Sri Lankan directors.

Our work at the ICES, since its establishment in 1982 was conducted against an unpropitious background of a worsening of Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict - the riots of 1983 among other episodes - the Indian intervention and its unintended and unforeseen consequences and the second JVP insurrection, all of which brought in their wake pressures and tensions that could have torn the institution apart. Dealing as we did with topics and issues which were intrinsically controversial and divisive one could have expected sharp differences of opinion to develop into equally sharp divisions within the management committee that ran the ICES under the general direction of our international Board of Directors. There were, of course differences of opinion stemming from differences of outlook and approach but all of us took care, not to allow these differences to undermine the institution which we were in the process of building. But all our efforts at restraint would have been to no avail if Neelan had been an abrasive personality.

Neelan Tiruchelvam was an extraordinarily busy person whose work and business took him to all parts of the world. However busy he was he always had time for his colleagues in the ICES and in the discussion of their problems.

Neelan's untimely death is a grievous loss to me, personally, and to our institution. Throughout the two decades of my association with him I found him a colleague whose judgement could be trusted, and an unfailing source of encouragement during periods of trouble, national, institutional and personal. Nationally, the process of peaceful negotiated termination of the current war in the north and east will become even more difficult than they are now. There is no one in the Tamil community in Sri Lanka, either living in the island, or abroad, with the same combination of qualities - physical and moral courage, strong convictions expressed in soft tones, personal integrity of a very high order and a sense of fairness in all his dealings - that made him such a convincing voice in the despairing search for national reconciliation.

At the time of his death he was, without a doubt, the most distinguished public figure of his generation in Sri Lanka's Tamil community. His loss is not something that can be confined to the Tamil community-the whole country; the whole country is diminished by his assassination.

-Professor K. M. de Silva, Executive Director, ICES

After Kargil, Pakistan misadventure in Kabul

By Adrian D'Melo, Our South Asia correspondent

No sooner than its guns fell silent and the war cries of its men ceased over the barren heights of Kargil bowing to international censure, than Pakistan seems to have got embroiled in another misadventure, this time in Afghanistan.

Over there, Pakistanis, some fresh from the bunker lines of Kargil, are fighting shoulder to shoulder with the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban, which itself is trained and funded by Pakistan.

As the leading Indian defense analyst, K.Subrahmanyam, said, "Taliban in Pakistan". And as in Kargil, in Afghanistan too, Pakistan has run into trouble with the United States.

The US, which accuses the Taliban of harbouring Osama bin Laden, is yet to openly censure the Pakistan government on this issue, but it must be exerting subtle pressure on Nawaz Sharif to stop propping up the Taliban and its regime in Kabul, and rein in its volatile fundamentalist supporters in his country.

The UN Security Council, over which the US has a firm grip, on Thursday passed a resolution condemning the Taliban. Council President Martin Andjaba of Namibia issued a statement saying that the council condemned the latest military offensive against the opposition forces and agreed to consider additional steps to influence the situation in Afghanistan, including the imposition of measures with the aim of achieving the full implementation of relevant Council resolutions.

The Council called for an immediate stop to external interference and appealed to those states whose territories were reportedly being used by Afghan parties to take measures to prevent such acts. Given the delicate role the US had undertaken to effect a Pakistani pull out from Kargil and to get it to sign the CTBT by September this year, the Council resolution did not name Pakistan. But its role was implied.

The Council also condemned the Taliban acts of violence against civilians and demanded that it respect human rights.

Concern was expressed at the forced displacement of civilians and the separation of women and children from their menfolk. The Council specifically called for respect for the rights of women and girls.

That the US takes the Taliban very seriously, is reflected in the reported move to close down as many as 68 of its missions overseas in the light of the Taliban penchant for terrorist bombings.

Pakistan hand in the Afghan crisis has been brought out by the ousted Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who in a letter to the UN Security Council on Thursday said that it could be "attested with clear evidence" that these wars were staged by the "short-sighted and injudicious" leaders of Pakistan. He called upon the Council to name Pakistan as the "aggressor" pointing out that " members of the so called Islamic extremist groups are continuously recruited, trained, armed and dispatched along with Pakistan military personnel into Afghanistan." Meanwhile, it has been reported that the opposition army of Ahmad Shah Masood, which had recaptured the Bagram airbase and other key towns by Thursday, had taken many Pakistanis as prisoner. Over 1000 Taliban were killed in the latest fighting and one wonders how many of these were Pakistanis. But the forces in Pakistan supporting the Taliban are unfazed. Maulana Fazlur Rahman, chief of the Jamiat-I-Ulema-Islam (JIU), told an US embassy official that the US was using the Osama bin Laden/Taliban issue only to destroy an Islamic government in Afghanistan.

He told the official who had appealed to him not to harm American citizens in Pakistan, that it was the US which had to abjure violence.

"You cannot hold talks under the cover of cruise missiles," the Muslim leader said.

He warned that any bid to destroy Islamic Afghanistan would only spell trouble for the US. "If the US does not attack Afghanistan, its citizens would be safe in Pakistan," the Maulana assured.

Another fundamentalist leader, Maulana Gul Nasib Khan, of the North West Frontier Province unit of JIU, told the Americans that the Pakistani nation was fully behind the Taliban.

"We will never allow anyone to harm our Muslim brother. America will face the revenge of the Muslims all over the world," Khan warned.

Inside the glass house


Challenge from down under

NEW YORK— The Asian countries, including Sri Lanka, vying for the highest ranking job in UNESCO have been joined by a newcomer from outside the continent: Australia.

Australia's former foreign minister Gareth Evans has thrown his hat in the ring as a 11th hour candidate for the job of director-general of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) which falls vacant at the end of the year.

Australia's candidacy comes at a time when it is increasingly seeking recognition as a country which has more in common with Asia and the Pacific than the industrialised countries of Western Europe.

But still its voting record at the UN belies its new pro-Asian stance: it is really more inclined towards the Western world than the Third World.

Australia is also an active member, not of the Asian Group, but of the Western European Group, from which it has derived political benefits over the years.

As one Asian diplomat snickered: "We are willing to accept Australia into our ranks— as long as it wants to remain a follower, not a leader."

Asian delegates at the UN point out that the UNESCO job always has gone to nationals of Europe, Africa and Latin America. It is now Asia's turn to rightfully claim the job of director-general.

Of the seven declared candidates, four are from Asia: Ambassador Matsuuara Koichiro of Japan, Under-Secretary Rosario Gonzales Manalo of the Philippines, Ambassador Senake Bandaranayake of Sri Lanka and Ambassador M. Makagiansar of Indonesia, most of whom are based in Paris— the site of UNESCO headquarters.

Besides Evans, the other contenders are Ismail Serageldin of Egypt and Ghazi Algosaibi of Saudi Arabia. Egypt is a member of the African Group while Saudi Arabia is a member of the Asian Group, as are all of the Arab Gulf states, who consider themselves part of West Asia reflecting a broader geographical limit for the continent.

According to tradition, the new director-general should come from an Asian developing country which has never held the job since UNESCO was created 53 years ago. Australia, Japan and Egypt do not measure upto this geographical qualification.

Since 1946, the director-general's job has been held by John Huxley (Britain), Jaime Bodet (Mexico), John Taylor and Luther Evans (United States), V. Veronese (Italy), Rene Maheu (France), Amadou M'Bow (Senegal) and the current incumbent Federico Mayor (Spain) who was elected in 1987.

Sri Lanka has already sent a clutch of special emissaries to Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America to solicit votes for Ambassador Senake Bandaranayake, currently based in Paris.

At the UN, Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative Ambassador John de Saram has also launched an active campaign promoting Bandaranayake's candidature.

''Ours is a very serious endeavour. We have a strong candidate with equally strong credentials,'' de Saram said last week.

The Sri Lanka envoy also said that Bandaranayake was one of the few contenders who is a recognised authority on education and archeology, and is also a member of the Eminent Persons Group drafting an agenda for SAARC for the next millennium.

"I believe the multiplicty of candidates will slowly reduce leaving only those with excellent qualifications. Sri Lanka should stand to gain,'' he added.

Meanwhile, a new development in the UNESCO race has split the Arab world - and the Saudi royal family.

According to Arabic newspapers, Saudi Arabia's King Fahd has personally phoned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to seek support for Algosaibi.

As a result, the Egyptian government is not publicly supporting its own national despite the fact that Serageldin has been endorsed as the sole African candidate for the job by the 52-member Organisation of African Unity (OAU), of which Egypt is a member and Saudi Arabia is not.

On the other hand, the 22-member League of Arab States - which includes both Egypt and Saudi Arabia - has endorsed Algosaibi by consensus, but Egypt and Iraq nevertheless have expressed reservations.

Although King Fahd is fully supportive of his countryman, there has been a dissenting voice from within the Saudi royal family over Algosaibi's candidature.

Addressing a recent conference of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Cairo, Prince Talal bin Abdel Aziz, a brother of King Fahd and a longtime supporter of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), publicly declared his support for Serageldin.

When he was reminded that there was a Saudi candidate for the job, Talal was quoted in the Al Quds al Arabi newspaper as saying it was not in Saudi Arabia's interest to expose itself to politically sensitive issues.

These include human rights, press freedom and the advancement of women - all of which are part of UNESCO's mandate.

The 58-member UNESCO Executive Board, which is empowered to elect the new director-general, will meet Sept. 10. The seven candidates are expected to submit to the Board a 2,000-word paper each, in English and French, setting out their own visions for UNESCO.

The Executive Board will meet again in October for an in-depth interview of the candidates. The Board will submit either a short list of candidates or recommend a single candidate. The recommendation will go before the 186-member UNESCO General Conference in late October for final approval.

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