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The road from Batticaloa town to Ayithiyamalai junction is a nightmare. The meagre remains of several vacated army camps and sentry posts can still be seen on the way.
The LTTE does not use the road because the army controls its eastern approach near the Valaiyiravu bridge which serves as a lifeline between the town and the paddy producing western hinterlands of the district - hence the disrepair.
However, this being the shortest route from Batticaloa to the LTTE's office at Iluppadichenai, one had no option but to risk the tires of an old motorbike to be on time to witness the first official meeting between representatives of the Batticaloa Muslims and the LTTE after 1990. This had been arranged by the ICRC on a request by Federation of Kalkudah Electorate Mosques and Muslim Institutions to establish peace in the Oddamavadi - Valaichenai area. The federation represents the eighteen mosques of the region. S.L.M Hanifa and M. Adambawa came on behalf of the local Muslims. The President of the Federation Moulavi A.L.M. Ismail who was also expected to attend the meeting could not make it due to some confusion in the programme.
Mr. Hanifa was a founder members of the SLMC and is a well known Tamil short story writer. He was a member of the northeastern provincial council in '88-'90. He fell out with Mr. Ashraff many years ago but did not refuse when the SLMC sought his tacit assistance at the last general elections. (A Tiger who heard me addressing Hanifa as Machinan looked a bit baffled. I had to explain to him that SLM has been a friend for almost two decades.)
The LTTE leadership, aware of the political import of the occasion, sent a powerful team for the discussions comprising Ram, the recently appointed military commander for the Batticaloa and Ampara districts, Marshall, who was introduced as a very senior member of the organization, Visu, the regional head of the TEEDOR and a close confidante of Karuna Amman and Keethan, the new political wing leader for the Batticaloa and Ampara districts who has replaced Thurai. (Ram is considered one of the ablest military commanders of the LTTE now. He is from Vellaveli and was in charge of the 'Jeyanthan Brigade' in the Vanni until late last year.) Marshall belongs to the military wing and speaks English fluently. (He had the authority correct the statement made by the political wing leader after the meeting.)
The meeting lasted for almost two hours over lunch. Although both parties were desirous of discussing many issues apart from the question of establishing peace in the Oddamavadi-Valaichenai area, the ICRC was insistent that nothing outside the agenda on which the meeting was arranged should be taken up. The Muslim delegation had wanted a firm undertaking from the LTTE that in the event of any violence between the two communities the organization will issue strict order to the Tamils that no Muslim passing through or resident in their areas should be harmed, while they (the Muslims) would ensure safety of Tamils among them or who happen to be passing through their villages. The Muslim delegation said that they were not completely satisfied by the LTTE's response to this.
The Tigers had told them that they will speak to local Tamil community leaders about this and facilitate a dialogue. The LTTE's position regarding the issues taken up by them was put down in writing - "All those who take up arms against us are our enemies whether they be Tamils or Muslims or Sinhalese (this is in connection with the killing of Muslim home guards). It is necessary to enlighten the Muslims about our struggle and to resolve contradictions between the two communities which have been created by outside forces."
The Tigers categorically denied that they had anything to do with the shelling of the crowded Muslim villages in the area - which in fact was the main reason for this meeting. The Oddamavadi Muslims claim that the shelling was from Saraveli, which lies to the south of the Valaichenai Paper Mills across the lagoon which is dominated by the LTTE. Two Muslims were killed, nineteen wounded and eighteen houses damaged in the shelling between Feb 10 and 14. But there are some who allege that it was from the army camp in the paper factory. Many local Tamils are of the view that this was done to instigate the Muslims against the Tamils by the state which is uneasy about Muslim collaboration with the LTTE. They say that this is what the area MP, Alisahir Moulana implied when he spoke on the situation after visiting the affected areas. (A shell was fired on the house where Moulana was staying that day. The army denied any involvement.) They point out that shelling from the same Saraveli area on Feb 10 hit the Tamil village of Peythalai which lies to the northeast of Oddamavadi, killing one and damaging several houses. It is stated, in this connection that the army has a firing base near the paper mills. The troubles began on Feb 9 which was Ramzan when the Tigers shot dead a Muslim home guard in his house near the Valaichenai Police station.
Three Tamils were chopped dead and set on fire. It was complained at the peace conference which followed that the Tamils were killed near a police bunker. Later in the evening three Muslims who were traveling to Oddamavadi in a milk container lorry from Polannaruwa were hacked to death in the Tamil village of Karuvakerni - the Sinhala driver was unharmed. Moulana and the Deputy Minister M. L M. Hisbullah visited the place the next day and a peace conference was organized on Feb 11. The Muslims were concerned that the only Tamils at the meeting were the Govt. Agent A.K Pathmanathan, the Vakarai Divisional Secretary and the Paper mills manager - none of the local Tamil community leaders turned up. This still worries the Oddamavadi spokesmen. Fishing came to a halt from the tenth. The losses sustained by the Muslims as a result has been heavy. A few boats have put out to sea after the talks on Wednesday.
Recently the nation witnessed yet another killing of a young politician shortly af ter President Chandrika Kumaratunga's announcement at a rally in Anuradhapura that her govt. had at last put an end to killings and massacres as promised at the 1994 general election.
Every political party in Sri Lanka takes advantage of such brutal killings. In fact such funerals are often dragged on for many days before conducting the last rites. Statements are made by the leaders of political parties about the horror of such killings and various people are blamed. We have seen how private and state properties are deliberately damaged by the so-called mourners who are unaware that they are paving the way for many more political funerals in the long run.
To add insult to the dead all these events are shown over television at prime times, thus stirring the emotional feelings of the masses.
Most regretfully no party or party leader seriously attempts to find out the reasons for such animal-like behaviour and following it up with proper treatment as eminent doctors do with their patients. Instead our politicians create fast breeding germs and spread the deadly disease to the whole nation.
49 years after gaining independence, it is time for politicians and political parties, to put an end to this type of criminal political activities and adopt more civilized norms on coming to office.
The real cause for this state of affairs is the horrible pattern of how the party candidates for elections (parliament and local bodies) are selected.
Men who have become millionaires, even by underhand means, uneducated local capitalists, popular film actors with questionable records, wives, sons and daughters and even blood relations of ex-politicians, long standing party supporters and blind followers are all regularly nominated to local bodies on party tickets.
Hence the tragic untimely death of young Nalanda Ellawala is no doubt due to the results of such selection. All political parties must take equal blame for carrying out this dirty political game to win elections since independence.
We must not forget that killings of Heads of States and politicians began with the killing of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in 1959 when the SLFP was in office. Communal troubles cropped up in 1958 when the S.L.F.P was in office. Terrorism and state terrorism also took place in 1970-77 period when the S.L.F.P was in office.
So it is unfair to put the whole blame on the UNP for the cult of killer politics. Terrorism and killings of politicians have spread like a plague not only in Sri Lanka and Asia, but all over so-called developed and civilized countries at an alarming rate. Nobody in this world could stop it, although the President claims to have stopped it after coming to office in 1994. Even Lord Buddha and other religious leaders could not stop vices from this world that are spreading like wildfires. People will have to live with it like living with cancer.
Thinking that everything turns out for the best in the end, the party leaders must make use of this opportunity to turn over a new leaf for the greater good of our country.
Therefore let all political parties turn adversities into blessings and nominate fit and proper persons as party candidates for future elections at least in the 21st century keeping in mind how during the good old days, British rulers selected civil servants and even police constables after going through their applicants' antecedents character, knowledge and even upbringing.
Our political leaders must now rise to the occasion and show their party colours gracefully.
You reap what you sow. You cannot plant wild rice and expect Basmathi. Of course even the best trees produce rotten apples and the finest flock the inevitable "black sheep" as Oscar Wilde said, but it happens only once in a blue moon.
Economics in command and globalism.... And American leadership. President Clinton's first State of the Union address in his second term focused on both issues. And he spoke with the authority of the popularly elected leader of the sole superpower. ''We must be the shapers of events, not observers''. In the absence of a Soviet Union or any comparable competitor, Clinton's America can certainly see the next century as No.1.
And yet the world is not likely to be all that neat. Already ''regionalism'' contests ''globalism'' and individual nations stand up to the United States on some important issues, and occasions. Consider for instance Canada on the Cuban question. Or and Indonesia on human rights. And course there is China which is not ready to anybody's commands.
More interesting though is the strong trend towards regionalism. While within the nation-state, the ''nation'' threatens the State, groups of countries find that the logic of geography recommends a common pursuit of shared interests, primarily economic. Thus a phenomenon of regionalism.
The dramatic Soviet implosion left the United States the sole superpower. Understandably, America is tempted to create a ''new world order''. Private enterprise and democracy would be the common ideals of this grand enterprise. Though post-world war scholars were ready to describe the 20th century as the 'American century', it is in fact the 21st century that American visionaries as well as hard-nosed realists see as the century ''made in America''.
It is increasingly clear however that Washington's grand design will be resisted by other nations, and more crucially, by new organised groups of countries. The European Union (EU) is one such group, a fairly new collective identity of nations that have waged war against each other for centuries. It is not always these groups of course that stand up to the sole superpower or openly defy the USA, Canada, the large neighbour, did so over Cuba, the tiny Caribbean country that has stood up to Washington, particularly after the revolution led by Fidel Castro.
Though Cuba in the Caribbean could not claim the attention and support of the European Union, Sir Leon Brittan, the EU Trade Commissioner justified the EU's decision to postpone its proposed move to appoint a panel to report on its complaint to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) against the anti-Cuba Helms-Burton Law. Mr. Stuart Eizenstat, Mr. Clinton's special envoy on Cuba, welcomed the decision, reported Guy de Jonquieres. ''We appreciate the additional time to see if we can come up with an amicable resolution of this matter." the US had argued that the WTO, had no jurisdiction. The question thus had far more serious implications than the US-Cuba ''war'', an old issue. One could argue that it involved national sovereignty, American sovereignty. In fact, Washington argued that it involved ''national security'', not just trade. Does it? If the United States had its way, ''the entire dispute settlement procedure of the WTO would be immeasurably damaged,'' observed Sir Leon.
Since the US is now the sole superpower, the more far-reaching question concerns of course the sovereignty of all nations. Can the US Congress pass laws or ignore existing international law or freely ''violate'' the laws of another country? Would that automatically compel the US President to respect Congress? Uncertain over practical consequences, all countries, including America's partners, have decided to discuss these issues with countries that do not belong to US-dominated alliances.
One such encounter saw the foreign ministers of the 15-member EU meet their ASEAN counterparts in Singapore, the most economically successful South-east Asian country, in an area recognised as the fastest growing region. The controversial issue was ''Human rights''. The most aggressive speaker on this controversial issue was also the state (city-state or not) which could claim the finest performance, Singapore. The EU-ASEAN dialogue could be a total success only if the EU participants were permitted to discuss ''East Timor'', the former Portuguese colony, now governed by Djakarta. The "human rights'' issue also turns the spotlight on Burma, more sharply on one person..... Aung San Sui Kyi who has launched a courageous campaign for human rights and democracy. Besides, Burma is run by a military junta.
Economically, this fast-growing region has become more important with the increasing interest in South-east Asia of Japan, China and South Korea, the 'tigers' that have more than matched the European Union in economic performance. Democracy and human rights..... or investment and profit? With each decade, the capacity of the US and its EU allies to base East-West relations on western terms has visibly diminished.
A second term President has a much wider area for manoeuvre than a President with an eye on elections. Yes, Mr. Clinton can move more freely. But there are obvious limits...... Congress. The Republican- dominated Congress has already moved against Iran, Burma, Cuba and Libya. But it is Indonesia that the State Dept's current ''Human rights report" described as "one of the worst violators of human rights among the over 100 countries''. A new development in the US is the increasing interest in this issue of state governments, Massachusetts for example. But then there are counter-trends. ''Although these measures of noble intentions, they will not achieve their ultimate goal,'' says Mr. Will Berry, President of the European- American Chamber of Commerce. This raises a large, complicated question.... about values and interests, and the connected issue of effectiveness. Besides, it was an American President, Calvin Coolidge who said, ''the business of America is business''.Return to the News/Comment contents page
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