Muttur explosion blows open SLMC cracks
By Prof. M.L.A. Cader

Displaced residents of Muttur

"Why I feel so happy about my SLMC is because I have prevented my people from taking to arms; I have made them to become a political force. Thereby, they can express their ideas and get relief through a democratic process." These were the words of the late Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) leader M.H.M. Ashraff.

The SLMC was born as a mass movement. Its very spirit was in creating a mass mobility to instill political thinking in the people so that they could see for themselves the path they were taking. This became necessary, to deal with the continuous attack they faced during the ethnic troubles - the constant killings and atrocities. This mobilisation was necessary because the Muslims were not wielding the gun and the only way they could deal with those who were holding the gun was to band themselves together and think together; to form a political force to deal with that kind of a situation. When there is no mobilization and others have the gun, you become easy targets.

The Muttur incident took place one year after the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). Several such incidents have taken place in the Muslim areas before. The Valaichenai incident was one such where there was a serious breakdown of law and order. Minister Rauff Hakeem called attention to the fact that this kind of treatment of the Muslims by an armed group must stop and the government must give adequate protection to the Muslims. However, that died down and there was a process of patching up. There were sporadic problems but there were no open abductions or taxations. Muslims were allowed to get on with their lives without much disruption.

Several Ministers and MPs visited Muttur in the wake of the violence there. The political bickering on whether the SLMC should be within the government or should it break away and become independent continued while the incidents were taking place. Those who had the authority did not mean a thing. The three armed forces - the army, the navy and the police didn't stop the growing violence. Their guns were silent. What were the Sri Lankan armed forces doing when the commotion was taking place? Why couldn't they stop the violence and bring order? Why did it continue for days?

This brings up the question of the MoU and the issue of cleared and uncleared areas. In the uncleared areas you're not supposed to fight the LTTE but in the cleared areas you are supposed to keep order. So when you do not maintain order in the cleared areas, doesn't it mean you have conceded that area also to be an uncleared area and under the rule of the LTTE? That's a dangerous situation. So who's keeping the order? Where's the authority? Where's the legally constituted government? These are the questions that arise.

The problem appears to be that those who are talking - the Government and the LTTE - do not consider the Muslims as a factor to be taken seriously. They are not considering the Muslims as a third party to be dealt with in the peace process. The parties feel the Muslims can be kept out of the peace process for a length of time and be brought in when they are wanted. That is what Anton Balasingham has been saying continuously. He has said that this war was between the government and the LTTE and they have to settle their issues and others don't have an interest in this process.

In the event the LTTE achieves Eelam, it is not going to have the Muslims as part of its composition. No constituted government will give Eelam and the LTTE cannot achieve Eelam unless through war. Yet, if they do achieve Eelam they will consider Muslims as a factor and will remove them from the area. Even in the peace process, they are willing to tolerate the Muslims but not recognize them. That's their position. Muslims don't want toleration. They want their position recognized. Muslims, like the Tamils have been living in the North and East for centuries. The Muslims are also asking for political autonomy.

The SLMC has to put its house in order and sort out its own problems as to how they would deal with such issues in the future. All this time the Muslim political party and the Muslim parliamentarians have been focussing on sorting out their own problems and not so much on how to protect the Muslims in the North and East. That took a secondary position.They were not thinking, organizing, mobilizing people nor gathering intelligence. They were not in the field. They were oblivious to what was going on in the North East while the people were demanding attention. They wanted the political leaders to listen to them. But the party was preoccupied with the leadership problem.

The Muslim community also did not know how to put this political leadership in order. Whereas those who wanted to divide the political leadership were very much at work.
The Muslim leadership must emerge as one solid piece. When it is divided it is easier to negotiate directly with the LTTE, whereas when it is fully organized, it becomes a factor to be reckoned with. This is not happening now. The Muslim leadership should deal with the government and not the LTTE, to sort out its position because the power holder is the government. What the Muslims would be getting, how they would be treated, the kind of position they would be given in the ongoing peace process or the settlement of it, has to be negotiatedwith the government.

If the leadership does not come into the scene, study the situation and keep the government under pressure to do things, if they cannot bring justice to the people. The Muttur incident could happen again . The political leadership must play a meaningful role here. The Muslims want Rauff Hakeem to play a much more committed role. The Muslims feel their problems are not being properly addressed at the peace talks. The Muttur incidents proves this and the leadership has to play a greater role in identifying issues.

How can the government take serious note of the Muslim interest, when the Muslim leadership itself is not taking up those interests with the government? While the Valaichenai incident took place, they talked about it and sorted matters out. But the leadership issue dominated the political leaders’ thinking so much so that they had little or no time to pay attention to what was really happening in the North East territory itself.

The Muttur incident will not break up the peace process but it has certainly made things clear to the Muslim leadership. It has opened up the real issues. The leadership has to take the Muttur incident as an opportunity to rethink its own position, and rebuild its own programme to a point where it can deliver the goods when the next round of peace talks begin. -The writer is the Vice Chancellor of the South Eastern University.

Peace deal brings back normalcy
By Sinniah Gurunathan, in Trincomalee

LTTE ‘s S.Thilak, Muslim group leader Alhaj M.M. Kareem Moulavi, R. Sampanthan and SLMM’s Abdel Burkan are seen here with other members of the peace team soon after signing the 6 point agreement.

As Muttur limps back to normalcy, one week after the area was rocked by violence, most displaced people are still living in camps and welfare centres and the night curfew still continues, police said. Government officials are now collecting details of the damage to property during the rioting, the Divisional Secretariat said.

The entire Muttur area is without electricity supply since the disturbances broke out as the main cable supplying electricity had been damaged during the riots.
Normalcy began to return to the area after the LTTE and representatives of Muslim religious and lay leaders reached a six-point agreement in the presence of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission.

The agreement was signed after four hours of closed-door discussions at the SLMM Trincomalee office. Both parties reached agreement whereby both communities would avoid violence and live without fear or suspicion. They requested secuirty forces in government-controlled areas to enforce law and order impartially while the LTTE agreed to take responsibility for the security of the Muslims in areas controlled by the Tigers.

While the LTTE was represented by its Trincomalee political head S.Thilak, the Majlis Al-Shura of the Muttur Division was represented by M.A.G.M. Sabeer, M.M. Kareem, S.M. Javabdeen, A. Rasik Fareed, K.A. Rahuman and M.P.M. Mustapha. TULF General secretary R. Sampanthan was also present at the signing.The agreement was signed in the presence of SLMM acting Trincomalee head Abdel Burkan.

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