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24th March 2002

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HEIL PRABHAKARAN: A section of the crowd attending the 'Pongu Thamil' rally in Trincomalee expressing their support for a resolution, calling for the lifting of the ban on the LTTE, recognising the self determination of the Tamils and holding of talks with the LTTE. An estimated 25,000 attended the event held on Monday.

Militarism, personality cult at Trinco rally

By Our Correspondent in Trincomalee
The "Pongu Thamil" or "Tamil upsurge" rallies held in quick succession in Batticaloa, Vavuniya and Trincomalee by the LTTE recently marked a watershed in the history of political mobilisation in Sri Lanka.

In contrast to the traditional political rallies in the island, the "Pongu" series combined the militarism of rallies in pre-war Germany with a display of the personality cult and neo-religious fervour of the "MGR-Jayalalitha" rallies in neighbouring Tamil Nadu. 

Cutouts of the LTTE leader Prabhakaran in his striped Tiger military uniform dominated the skyline. The crowds raised their right arm 45 degrees in a "Heil Hitler" type of salute as they full throatedly endorsed pre-determined resolutions calling for self determination for the Tamils and the recognition of the LTTE as their sole representative. Huge cutouts of the putative Tamil Eelam, stretching in an arch from Puttalam in the West coast to Pottuvil in the east coast through Jaffna in the north, representing the Tigers' demand for a larger "lebensraum" for the Tamils, stood at key junctions.

As in the MGR-Jayalalitha rallies in Tamil Nadu religious fervour was sought to be infused to sanctify the occasion. In Trincomalee, dozens of young men rolled on the scorching tar road over a four and a half kilometer stretch in the Hindu devotional act of "Anga Pradakshanam", ahead of a 12 ft mobile cutout of the Tiger chieftain. Leaders of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) walked the length in solemn silence and in submission to the might of the Tigers. 

Many men were in the ritually pure golden yellow silk vertis and sported red kumkumams and holy ash on their foreheads. During the Pongu, all liquor sales were banned. There was an incipient attempt to deify Prabhakaran with at least one speaker hailing him as an "avatara purusha."

In both Trincomalee and Batticaloa, all shops and schools were ordered shut. All transports were ordered off the roads. Every commercial establishment, school and government office had to ensure the participation of the staff. 

In Trinco young men went around sternly asking individual householders and shop keepers if they were going to attend. In Batticaloa, middle aged school teachers were ordered out of the covered part of the stadium and made to sit in the open under the scorching sun. TNA MPs also had to sit under the hot sun for three hours.

Most Tamils were quite obviously willing participants or contributors, for to them, Prabhakaran is an icon, but the Sinhalese and Muslims were not. 

In Trinco, they stayed indoors, nervously peering through window grills.

The MOU with the government prescribes the number of unarmed Tigers who can enter the cleared areas, but in Batticaloa as well as Trincomalee hundreds of LTTE cadres had poured in. The police and army were aware of this but chose to do nothing as they were told not to upset the peace apple cart through any confrontation.

In Batticaloa, some of the Tiger infiltrators were on the platform. 

In Trinco, a Tiger cadre in a striped military uniform was haranguing a crowd from a van about the need to join the rally to "save the face of Trincomalee" which he said was the capital of Tamil Eelam.

Indeed the list of demands read out at the end of the Trinco Pongu opened with the statement that they were being made "from the capital of Tamil Eelam". 

Almost every speaker referred to Trincomalee being the capital of a putative Tamil Eelam and said the Trinco Pongu's importance stemmed from the fact that it was being held in the future capital.

The demands made in the various Pongus were more or less the same. There was a demand for the acceptance of the Thimpu principles embodying the need for self determination, for a homeland and for recognition as a separate nationality. 

The demand that the LTTE be recognised as the sole representative of the Tamils and that the ban on it be lifted both at home and abroad was also a constant refrain.

Many speakers said that if the government did not offer a solution to their satisfaction of the Tamils, the armed struggle would be resumed and the "emergence of Tamil Eelam could not be stopped by any force."

According to a leading Tamil daily in Vavuniya, there was a demand for the removal of the army and state-sponsored Sinhala colonies in the Tamil homeland. And cabinet minister P. Chandrasekharan said that a Pongu should be held in Nuwara Eliya also for the benefit of the 1.5 million Indian Tamils.

The resolutions adopted in Trinco were milder as the accent was on telling the Americans that the LTTE is not a bunch of trigger-happy fascists but one which is fighting for the restoration of the democratic rights of the Tamils.

Past arms deals to be probed

The Government will probe controversial multi-million dollar procurements by the Army, Navy, Air Force and Police, Defence Minister Tilak Marapana said yesterday.

"The initial task of the probe committee will be to identify irregularities in tender procedures or services rendered and ascertain whether a prima facie case exists against persons who have amassed illegal wealth," he told The Sunday Times.

The committee will be headed by attorney Dulindra Weerasuriya. Other members are to be named in the coming week.

The appointment of this committee coincided with the complaint by Finance Minister, K. N. Choksy during Friday's budget that defence expenditure had been a constant area of doubt. 

He said the office of a Controller General in the Defence Ministry would be created immediately so as to regulate defence expenditure. This officer will function in consultation with the Ministries of Defence and Finance and an Arms Procurement Advisory Committee.

The Sunday Times learns that the appointment of a Committee to probe military procurements is the first step in a move to probe rampant corruption in military deals. 

The findings of the Committee are to be followed by detailed Criminal Investigation Department (CID) investigations . This will be on specific deals and actions by individuals. 

Mr. Marapana said the committee had the authority to call for any files within the Defence Ministry and all institutions within its purview, and will have the powers to question any official with the concurrence of the ministry secretary.

Earlier Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told The Sunday Times that the Government was still paying for expensive emergency weapons ordered during April-May 2000 when the Northern Jaffna peninsula was under siege by the LTTE where commissions to dealers were in the millions in dollar terms.

AG cracks down on case-fixing

By Laila Nasry
Attorney General K. C. Kamalasabayson has initiated an immediate probe on allegations of corruption against senior department officers accused of colluding with private lawyers in 'fixing' cases.

He has called for all the case files pertaining to immigration and emigration matters, which have been questioned for its "peculiar" manner in which they were handled, and is personally looking into them, The Sunday Times learns. 

Last week The Sunday Times reported a complaint brought to the notice of the Attorney General from within the ranks of the department itself, reiterating prior complaints sent by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), how immigration and emigration cases have been discharged citing 'lack of evidence".

Certain measures have also been taken to place restrictions on the granting of appointments to Attorneys-at-law who have unlimited access to the Attorney-General's Department. 

This follows allegations that there has been collusion between certain members of the Attorney-General's Department and private lawyers in these 'human smuggling' cases. 

One of the complaints made has been that certain lawyers charge astronomical fees ranging from Rs. 500,000 to 800,000 for a case. At least one lawyer from the private bar has purchased a Mercedes Benz car within a year of practice, it is alleged. In one of the more recent cases, all the accused detected by the Police with forged passports, were discharged from the Colombo Magistrate's Court on grounds of no evidence, in spite of foreign immigration authorities contacting the CID and agreeing to come to give evidence.

The CID has made two formal complaints to the Attorney General about these cases being dropped after police had detected these human smuggling king-pins. 

IMF says good riddance to free pension

The International Monetary Fund which has been pushing for reforms in the state pension scheme has welcomed the new budget proposal whereby free pensions are scrapped and new recruits to the state sector will need to contribute eight percent of their salary towards a contributory pension scheme

IMF Senior Resident Representative Nadeem Ul Haque, who was personally present in parliament to hear the budget proposals, said they were happy with the scrapping of the free pensions, but more reforms were needed to further reduce the burden on the government. "This is just the beginning," Dr. Haque said.

Dushni Weerakoon, an economist at the think tank, the Institute of Policy Studies, said she saw the shift to a contributory pension scheme as an improvement over the present scheme but she had doubts whether it would significantly reduce current expenditure.. 

Under the reforms announced by Finance Minister K.N. Choksy on Friday, new recruits to the public service will contribute eight percent of their monthly income to a pension fund while the government will contribute 12 percent.

Ms. Weerakoon said it was not clear if the new scheme would actually reduce government spending because the budget also provided for unspecified adjustments to the salaries of some state employees and their salaries might be raised to compensate for the compulsory pension deductions.

"It is good that we're moving to a funded pension scheme but whether it will lead to a significant cut down in current expenditure I'm not so sure," she said. 

Public Service Trade Union Federation leader W.H. Piyadasa said the new scheme was not clear since it did not refer to the Widows and Orphans Pension.

"The Salaries Commission recommended that the W&OP and the pension scheme should be joined. That would be good. But if the new scheme requires a percentage from both the W&OP and the pension, we are against it. At the same time if it covers both schemes it will be beneficial to the public servant," he said. 

Meanwhile, the IMF is considering releasing more funds under the $253 million stand-by loan facility that was suspended last year when the previous government failed to meet performance targets. The IMF expects to complete a review of the stand-by facility and take a decision on releasing more funds "in the next few days," Dr. Haque said.

"We have said If the budget was good we would complete the review of the stand-by facility. The budget appears to be good. A lot of good things structural reforms, tax reforms have been promised. We're now looking at how seriously they will be implemented," he said.

Once the review is done, the IMF might release two tranches amounting to $60 million shortly, he said.

Bala flies straight to the Wanni

LTTE's Chief Negotiator Anton Balasingham will arrive in the Wanni tomorrow.

A twin Otter seaplane bringing him from neighbouring Maldives is due to land in the Iranamadu tank south of Kilinochchi. See full story Seaplane will bring Balasingham to Iranamadu tank tomorrow

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