support evaporates at Pongu Thamil
shy: Schoolchildren covering their faces with posters of Prabhakaran
presence of female LTTE cadres. Pix by Lakshman Gunathillake
of the TNA Parliamentarians appeared to be uncomfortable
when the organisers asked the participants to pledge support
for the resolution which called for the withdrawal of the
security forces from high security zones. Some of the MPs
were seen stretching their hands half-heartedly and another
pretending to scratch his ear. Here one of the LTTE photographers
in civvies awaits an MP to stretch his hand before she clicks.
Chris Kamalendran in Vavuniya
Since the government entered into the cease-fire agreement with
the Tamil guerrillas nearly 20 months back, the guerrillas have
kept their communication lines open with the civilian population
living in government controlled areas in the north and east.
, presented as a 'cultural reawakening' programme to promote Tamil
culture has been one of the strategies used by the guerrillas to
reach out to the public who otherwise have close access to government
information and live in areas where the military is present.
The fifth 'Pongu
Thamil' celebration was held this week at the Vavuniya Urban Council
grounds. But as we witnessed the celebration, what struck us was
whether the LTTE has been successful in maintaining the same momentum
of previous 'Pongu Thamil' celebrations as this time the crowds
comprised mainly students. The public interest in the Pongu Thamil
may have dropped because of the LTTE's apparent lack of interest
in resuming the peace talks.
ruling by the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) and a request
by the military in the area, for students not to take part in political
activities in the area, schoolchildren headed the processions from
four directions with school bands playing a prominent role.
were followed by the teachers -all of them carrying placards with
Velupillai Prabhakaran's picture on them. The slogans that were
paraded, either called for the withdrawal of the security forces
from the High Security Zones or for an Interim Administration for
the north and east. Most of the banners and placards were politically
motivated and had little to do with the protection of Tamil culture.
Openly the participants comprising students, teachers, government
servants or civilians would say they were there at their 'own will',
but privately they would admit there had been lots of persuasion
for them to attend the event.
activities got underway last month with the appointment of a committee
comprising government servants, teachers and businessmen. Although
the LTTE distances itself from organisational activities, in the
forefront of the event are those who follow instructions given to
them by the LTTE. Among these are University students who play an
active role in organising the event.
Lots of money
is spent on the event and many businessmen step into organise the
event. They undertake various activities including the construction
of the stage, and the supply of sound systems costumes and decorations.
LTTE played a backstage role when organising the event, its presence
as it was in other Pongu Thamil celebrations, was felt in a big
way when the event got underway at the UC grounds in Vavuniya. Women
cadres wearing their black waist belts were present in large numbers,
while LTTE video units recorded not only the event but all those
who attended the ceremony, including local and foreign media personnel.
In one incident
four people from a government intelligence wing video unit were
apprehended and their cameras were taken over before they were released.
But it was obvious to us that there was a deliberate attempt to
downplay LTTE involvement. Only one LTTE speech was allowed and
that by the area's political wing leader Ezhilin. But all the remaining
speeches, resolutions and cultural activities carried with them
the the views expressed by the LTTE in the past few weeks.
Among the key
issues brought up during the celebrations were the call for the
withdrawal of the security forces from the High Security Zones (HSZ)
and the implementation of the proposed Interim Administration. The
resolution called on the LTTE not to accept an Interim Administration
that did not offer sufficient powers to the LTTE. It also called
on the international community to recognise that the LTTE should
have the powers to handle the interim administration.
significant move the resolution also called on the international
community to lift the ban on the LTTE. Although most shops in Vavuniya
town closed on Wedensday noon to facilitate the 'Pongu Thamil' celebrations,
not all of them closed shop voluntarily.
months have passed since the signing of the ceasefire agreement
but neither the government nor the LTTE have been able to bring
about a significant change in the lives of the people in Vavuniya.
Therefore we are not clear whether we should cooperate. But on the
otherhand we cannot wait without closing our shops," said a
businessman who did not want to be named.
a politically motivated struggle
More than Rs. one million was spent on the celebrations in Vavuniya
this week, with businessmen in the area called to foot the bill.
Some of the funding was done voluntarily while others had no option.
had been made including the construction of pandals and colourful
street decorations. Timber had been used to construct the main platform.
Defeated TULF candidate and popular businessman S.Kulathevaraja,
one of the main sponsors of 'Pongu Thamil said he had lost faith
in moderate politics and decided to show his support by helping
to organise Pongu Thamil.
who owns agricultural land and other businesses including a liquor
shop said all previous governments had failed not only to solve
the problems of the Tamils but also that of the Sinhalese.
is not between the LTTE and the Sinhalese. It i a purely politically
motivated struggle. Today, even after 20 months of the ceasefire
agreement, the farmers in Vavuniya cannot return to their lands
to carry out their farming as some areas come under the High Security
zone and some are heavily mined.
way we can find a solution to the problem is through dialogue with
the LTTE. The Pongu Thamil celebrations are a part of the Tamil
people's struggle for rights. In the south the JVP carried out similar
programmes in the late 1990's where they held anti-government street
dramas and other cultural activities," Mr. Kulathevaraja said.
events had been organised by the Fine Arts faculty Dean, S. Sithamparanathan.