The sangha showdown
Protest in Colombo and fast in Kandy as JM crisis reaches flashpoint
By Santhush Fernando
After weeks of uncertainty and conflict, confusion and contradiction, the national controversy over the Joint Mechanism reached a dramatic and decisive stage this week with dual flashpoints at the Mahamaluwa of the Dalada Maligawa and President's House in Colombo.

While the fasting JHU General Secretary Ven. Omalpe Sobhitha Thera lay virtually unconscious supported and surrounded by thousands of increasingly militant people, hundreds of monks accompanied by lay people tried to break through barriers and march to President's House.

The Presidential Security Division and riot police reportedly got tough by using teargas, water cannon and rubber bullets to turn back the monks and protesters, leaving at least three of them injured. The Jathika Sangha Sammelanaya (JSS), the Bhikku front arm of the JHU, led Friday's protest march.

They had heard that the four Mahanayake Theras were in Colombo and they wanted to hand over a petition to the prelates asking them to intervene and save the fasting monk's life by getting assurances from the President regarding the JM.

About 300 monks of the JSS accompanied by about 1,000 lay people at Viharamahadevi Park left around 2 p.m. to meet the four Prelates at their official residence Vivekaramaya at Wijerama Road.

Having learnt that the Mahanayakes were at President's House for crisis talks with Ms. Kumaratunga, the crowd diverted their vehicle procession to the high security zones around President's House in the Fort.

The protesters got down close to Lake House as no vehicles were allowed to pass beyond that point. The monks and the laity then proceeded towards President's House but had to stop at the Sambodhi Viharaya as all roads leading to President's House were barricaded. PSD and Riot Control Unit personnel were called in to take charge of the situation.

The demonstrators led by the vociferous JSS Secretary Ven. Galagodatte Gnanasara Thera then overturned one of the barriers and proceeded towards Chatham Street, seeking a meeting with the Mahanayakes, Presidential Spokesman Harim Peiris or Presidential Secretary W.J.S. Karunaratne. DIG Pujith Jayasundara who was in charge of security appealed to the monks to remain calm while he went to deliver their message.

Presidential Secretary Karunaratne then came to the scene and was given the petition. While the crowd waited for his response, tension grew. Some in the crowd started jeering at the Police, showing bottles of petrol and threatening to pour it on themselves.

While some monks were chanting pirith, others including Ven. Galagodatte Gnanasara Thera, Kamburupitiye Pannasara Thera and another monk were reportedly preparing for self-immolation.

Suddenly, some of the protesters tried to break through the barricades and Police started firing rubber bullets and tear gas, with baton charges to push back the demonstrators towards the Fort Railway Station and Lake House. Eyewitnesses said PSD personnel in civvies were seen attacking the protesters and a number of people were taken into custody.

Three monks, Ven. Ranpathwila Wimalarathana, Mawarawila Bhaddhiya and Thalagune Buddharakkitha Thera ,were injured and admitted to the National Hospital.

Meanwhile in Kandy, the condition of the fasting Sobitha Thera was critical and crowds were reportedly getting restive with the JHU asking shops to close in solidarity with the cause. At the Mahamaluwa too, disputes arose between the JHU monks and the Police over the use of loudspeakers without permission and the flying of the National Flag at half mast. But the dispute did not lead to clashes though the tension was intense.

While the fast continued, around 300 JSS monks led by firebrand JHU MP Ven. Athureliye Rathana Thera had on Tuesday forced themselves into the residence of the Ven. Thibbotuwawe Sri Sumangala Mahanayake Thera of the Malwatte Chapter and requested him to intervene.

Another scenario with political undertones developed around midnight when Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse who was a personal friend of the fasting monk came to the Mahamaluwa with Central Province Governor Monty Gopallawa.

The premier reportedly claimed he had not come in his official capacity but as a personal friend of the fasting monk and this apparently provoked an outburst from JHU firebrand Ven. Athureliye Rathana Thera, who accused Mr. Rajapakse of being a pseudo-Buddhist.

But Mr. Rajapakse reportedly shot back, accusing the monk of being a pseudo patriot. The Prime minister however did not make a statement on the JM as requested by the ailing Ven. Sobitha Thera.

On Thursday, the crisis took a historic turn, when the four Mahanayakes in a rare and toughly-worded joint statement to the President expressed their strong opposition to the JM and asked the President to issue a statement regarding the crisis.

The Mahanayakes warned that if the President did not respond positively to end the death fast of the monk, they would issue a decisive Sangha edict to call the Maha Sangha and the people to gather at a particular place to decide on a course of action.

The statement from the Mahanayakes drew an immediate response from the President. A message was apparently drafted immediately and she sent two emissaries -- Minister Rohitha Bogollagama and advisor Wijedasa Rajapakse -- to Kandy early on Friday morning for an urgent meeting with the Malwatte Mahanayake.

The President reportedly assured him she would not take a final decision on the JM without consulting the Mahanayakes and getting their approval. Following this the Mahanayakes of Malwatte, the Ramanna and Amarapura Nikayas came to Colombo for the crucial meeting with the President. In the wake of this, the JHU and the fasting monk decided yesterday to call off the fast and the Ven. Sobitha Thera was admitted to hospital.

The Ven. Athureliye Rathana Thera said the fast was called off on assurances given by the President and the Mahanayakes. He warned that they would resume the fast, if the JM was introduced again.

Joint Mechanism: Chronology
March 09 - Norwegian Peace Envoy Erik Solheim relates to the LTTE Chief Negotiator Anton Balasingham that Oslo was optimistic that a Joint Mechanism (JM) for aid distribution could be set up "soon" between the LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka.

March 14 - The JVP inquires from President Kumaratunga about the JM. President replies that Norway has put forward the proposals and that no final decision has yet been taken.

April 19 - The JVP warns that the JM will mean the end of the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) government and threatens that its ministers would immediately quit their portfolios if it is set up.

May 06 - The President holds discussions with the JVP over JM. But no agreement was reached. The JVP demands that it be shown the document.

May 06 - The UNP rejects the President's invitation to discuss the JM stating that the UNP has already set out a document entitled "Making Rehabilitation Programs People Centred" which was handed over to the President on January 25.

May 06 - President Kumaratunga expresses her "surprise and regret" at the UNP's rejection of her invitation and further stresses that the proposals are not a part of the peace process.

May 19 - the JVP puts forward compromise proposals and suggests that the Joint Mechanism should include Tamil National Alliance Parliamentarians instead of the LTTE.

June 06 - Jathika Hela Urumaya General Secretary Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thera begins a fast unto death demanding that the JM be withdrawn. June 06 - UPFA constituent party leaders are briefed for the first time about the JM by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse.

June 07 - Norwegian Ambassador Hans Brattskar along with SLMM Acting Chief Wagn Winkel meet LTTE Political Wing leader S. P. Thamilselvan in Kilinochchi to hand over the document.

June 08 - The JVP-affiliated National Bhikku Front begins a death fast outside Fort Railway Station. June 10 - The JVP issues ultimatum to the Government, saying if the JM is not withdrawn by June 15 midnight, it will quit the coalition.

June 10 - The four Mahanayakes meet the President to discuss the JM. June 11 - The President declares that the JM will be set up before the end of June.

NBF monk takes up death fast
The JVP-backed National Bhikku Front (NBF) opposite the Fort Railway Station yesterday upgraded their protest campaign against the Joint Mechanism to a fast-unto-death.

NBF president Ven. Dambara Amila Thera, a lecturer at the Sri Jayawardenapura University joined the fast unto death in its third day yesterday.

PTOMS an abdication of power, says JVP
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in a letter to President Chandrika Kumaratunga on Friday issued an ultimatum demanding the abrogation of the Post Tsunami Operational Management Structure (PTOMS) proposals before June 15.

JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva claimed in the letter that with the JM the government was awarding an unlawful, terrorist organisation like the LTTE the capability to be on par with and execute duties of a lawfully elected government.

This he pointed out was an abdication of power, vested in the government by the people as per the Constitution, to another organisation and also was the recognition of the North and the East as the homeland of the Tamil people.

The proposals subject the whole of the North and the East to the murderous, dictatorial, terrorist and unlawful authority of the LTTE surpassing the rebel-controlled areas recognised by the unlawful pact of Ranil Wickremesinghe and thereby denying the people its democratic rights. It also confirmed that the LTTE was the sole representative of the Tamil people.

The letter stated that the PTOMS proposals disregarded adequate Muslim representation, they being the majority affected by the tsunami, awarded a stake hold in governance to the LTTE when it had not made any indication of joining the democratic mainstream, was a gross violation of Finance Regulations, Administrative Regulations and Establishment Code, relegated powers of elected representatives of the North and the East to the rebels, awarded validity to the separate administration of the LTTE, violated the Independence, Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity of Sri Lanka.

Why JHU opposes JM
The Jathika Hela Urumaya says it rejects the Joint Mechanism because there is no acceptable rationale for the establishment of such a setup. It says relief and rehabilitation work in the Government-controlled and the LTTE-controlled areas in the North-East has been going on smoothly without any joint mechanisms.

Allowing the LTTE to take control of rehabilitation work in all 319 tsunami-affected Grama Niladari divisions in the North and East through the JM gives room for the LTTE to consolidate power even in areas under the control of the Government, the JHU says pointing out that only 49 tsunami-affected Grama Niladhari divisions fall within the LTTE-controlled area.

The party says if the government is keen on a mechanism, it should be set up at divisional secretariat level and its composition should reflect the population strength of the communities of the area.

The JHU also suggests that a monitoring commission comprising members from SAARC countries should be set up to identify LTTE-controlled areas to be placed under such mechanism.

The commission should be empowered to supervise the finances so as to ensure the financial independence of the state and prevent any misuse of funds by the LTTE for military purposes.

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