31st August 1997


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The Tigers of Yala: who are they?

By Frederica Jansz

Comfortable relationship with the armed group: posing for photographs:

Comfortable relationship with the armed group: posing for photographs

The controversy at the Yala Wildlife Sanctu ary continues as no visible evidence of the alleged group of LTTE rebels have been found by government troops. Meanwhile allegations are being flung between officials of the Wildlife Department, security force personnel and hoteliers of the area.

The popular belief is that the armed group responsible for at least six hold-ups and the abduction of three employees from the Wild Life Department are the LTTE men. No government official however seems able to clarify this fact.

Wildlife Department Director N.W. Dissanayake says he too is puzzled and does not know for certain if this group are the rebels. Dissanayake asserts that it is the lack of an enforced security arrangement that continues to shroud the incidents at Yala in mystery. He alleges government troops should be better mobilized.

"You have to meet the enemy not at our door-step, but at their door-step," he said, adding if the LTTE are entering the sanctuary they could only do so from Kumana and Pottuvil.

Yet, another shooting incident which took place on March 31 this year at the park entrance, was later found to have been instigated by some Sinhala youths from Hambantota. The fully armed, three youths apprehended by park officials had later been handed over to the police.

Angry department officials say Yala sanctuary has today become a holiday camp for the Army. It is a hold-off point to prevent being sent to fight the war in the north. "An excuse," said an irate park official.

A senior Dept. official said the LTTE have infiltrated into Yala block 11 and Kumana. The LTTE uses this area as a transit point to the East. However, every Tamil-speaking youth is not a Tiger, he said. The estimated damage cost at Patanangala bungalow when it was torched was a mere Rs. 10,000/= while the out-board engines and fuel of the fishing boats burnt at Patanangala had not been removed. If it is the handiwork of the LTTE, department officials say the damage would have been extensive and the Tigers would surely have removed engines and fuel for consumption. Neither of which took place at the incident at Patanangala.

Dhammika Gunasekara, Manager, Yala Safari Beach Hotel, when visited, claimed he too had been the victim of a hold-up when returning from Colombo to Yala late at night. His vehicle had been stopped at a midway point between the Salt Corporation and the offices of the Wildlife Department, by armed youth clad in casual attire.

The group he says had on recognition of himself, allowed him to proceed. Gunasekara said he later made a complaint to the previous park warden Rupesinghe, who had allegedly admitted the youth were 'his men' and that he had 'set the ambush.' Gunasekara alleges this incident took place outside the park, and the men concerned had not been in uniform.

Meanwhile, hoteliers of the area assert that visitors patronizing the park has dropped by 60%. The Wildlife Department earned a daily revenue of Rs. 1 lakh from visitors to the park which has since been seriously affected due to fear of LTTE presence at the park.

Forces personnel met at Patanangala, say they are wasting their time, adding there are no LTTEers within the sanctuary. Troops from the 1st Gemunu Watch however said a major conflict exists within the Wildlife Department itself and this issue should be duly addressed.

Another senior Wildlife Department official who did not wish to be identified, says the department has received strict instructions to not to speak with the press with regard to incidents taking place at Yala. Maladministration and bungling within the department continues while the morale of Yala park employees is at an all time low. Promotions have been stopped and within a space of one year the Park Warden has been changed four times. Wildlife Department staff today remain at Palatupahana while Beat Stations remain unmanned. A mere Range Assistant has at present been appointed as Acting Park Warden in place of Mr. A.H. Sumanasena. The post of Park Warden is a highly responsible designation whereby experience and park capabilities is a must, in order to manage the park.

Contrary to claims made no army camp exists at the border of block 2. Instead government troops carry out a routine patrol in the Patanangala area. Park trackers and drivers taking visitors to the sanctuary refuse to drive down to the river, afraid of a possible hold-up. Furthermore no attempts are made to cross over to block 2 as fears of being abducted by Tamil rebels remain high.

Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, under who's purview the Wildlife Department is, says the incidents at Yala remain a mystery. The fact that it is not the LTTE he says, he has maintained from the very inception of the said incidents. Wickremanayake however asserts that it remains a puzzle as to who the armed group are. He said he sympathizes with the opinion expressed by government troops who maintain their presence within the sanctuary is a waste of time.

Against this backdrop, a family held up by the supposed rebels late last year seemed to have established a comfortable relationship with the armed group as they posed for photographs and allegedly exchanged familiarities.

Ven. Unawatune Ratanajothi Nayaka Thera of Sithulpahuwa said all incidents of violence in Yala including the torching of an entire fishing village at Patanangala last month is the work of the LTTE. However there remains a serious security lapse as no concrete measures have been adopted to prevent yet another attack in Yala. On the road to Sithulpahuwa, a haphazard police checkpoint manned by three guards is the only barrier to the LTTE or other marauders traversing this route. Last week on being stopped at this barrier, a beetle-chewing police officer in shorts and camouflage T-shirt, brandishing an AK47, literally forced himself in the front seat of the jeep and insisted he be driven to Sithulpahuwa in order that he may purchase cigarettes. Providing security to travellers on this route was the least of worry to this guardian of law and order.

Major Santanam overlooking operations in Yala when contacted said he has received strict instructions to not to speak with the press regarding the incidents at Yala. Any information he said can be gathered from the Media Unit of the Army in Colombo. He however admitted it was difficult to ascertain if such incidents was the handiwork of the LTTE or some other group.

"We have not seen them yet to be able to discern their identity," he said. When told there had been no visible sight of either the Tigers or security force personnel in the sanctuary last week, Santanam said the army are requested to remain out of sight.

The Acting Warden at present in Yala said he too had been told by the security forces that it was doubtful if the LTTE are the perpetrators of these incidents of violence. The military are reported to have claimed it could be poachers, behind the incidents of arson and theft. The conflict continues with officials from the Wildlife Department accusing government troops of incompetence and the latter accusing the former of a conspiracy within.

Meanwhile the wild animals also suffer due to the incompetence and lack of professional expertise of the Wildlife Department. Huge sums of money allocated to fill water holes in the Park during the drought is not utilized but instead returned to the Treasury claiming profit for the Dept.

Animals walk miles in search of water while human bungling has made Yala anything but a sanctuary to protect the wild.

Open letter to MPs from the National Joint Committee

Following are extracts from an Open Letter to the MPs by the Secretary of National Joint Committee Dr.Piyasena Dissanayake,

A comprehensive analysis and as sessment of the proposals and the subsequent legal draft put forward by the P. A. Government in regard to the devolution of power is not possible as the unit of devolution constituting a Regional Council has yet to be specified in the First Schedule.

This is intimately connected with the rest of the provisions in the Draft. This omission is a big void in the proposals and a discussion of these proposals in these circumstances is futile. The Government has thus mischievously concealed the most fundamental items of the proposals. It appears that the government has not disclosed its hand in this regard even before the Parliamentary Select Committee (P.S.C.)!

It has also to be pointed out that the proposals contained in the legal draft do not have the approval of the P. S. C. because the United National Party, the main opposition element in the P.S.C. has recently stated (to the press) that the UNP members of the P.S.C. do not have the power to finally approve any proposal that are placed before the P.S.C. The UNP's position is that their members on the P.S.C. have to first report these proposals to the party and, the party in turn has to place them before their working committee which alone has the power to approve any proposal. Thus, it is clear that the proposals that the government has put out in the legal draft are not yet approved by the P.S.C. as a whole.

When one peruses the draft one must keep in mind the historical background against which it came into being. The Tamil chauvinists have devised a cleverly crafted strategy designed to exaggerate communal tensions, and pressurise the government to provide a framework for their dream of Eelam. To a great extent, the PA and UNP leadership have fallen into this trap. They have shown themselves to be, lacking in statesmanship and are prepared to sacrifice the interest of Sinhala people and National interest in their greed for power. They have progressively conceded even baseless Tamil demands, step by step, strengthening the agitation of the Tamils to ask for more and more.

Constitutional safeguards

It must be emphasised even at this stage that the Tamils are not at any disadvantage merely because they are Tamils, as much as that the Sinhalese are not privileged because they are Sinhalese. Any complaint of Tamils if there be, lies in the inability of the 12.6% minority of Tamils to come to terms with reality. In all spheres of activity, social, civil and economic, there is absolute freedom and equality among all citizens of this country, be they Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim. For this purpose there are adequate constitutional safeguards guaranteed which are enforceable by the independent judiciary.

The Sinhalese have always been tolerant by nature and have at all times been of the view that all communities should be justly and fairly treated.

Upon a very careful study of the agitations of the Tamils, we find that the Tamil community does not suffer any specific grievances beyond that suffered by other communities. The real problem of the Tamils seems to be their unwillingness to live with the Sinhalese and their futile attempt in demanding a separate Tamil state by the force of arms, in the North and East of the country, where only half the Tamil population live and the rest of the Tamils live among the Sinhala Majority areas in the South. In the first instance, it must be said that there is no need for the proposed amendments to the Constitution as they seek to solve a non-existing ethnic problem which is based on imaginary suffering by the Tamil people. On this note, we proceed to analyse some of the main proposals in the following paragraphs:-

Devolution Proposals

The present proposals for devolution of power are based substantially on the document presented by the TULF to Rajiv Gandhi at the time of Thimpu talks. This document was preferred by him to President J. R. Jayewardene. President Jayewardene's observations thereon, namely, that to concede to these demands would be tantamount to the granting of Eelam is a convenient reference point for further discussions of the present proposals that are almost identical.

One of the basic features of these proposals is the dismemberment of the Unitary State of Sri Lanka and its replacement with a Federal structure, referred to as "an indissoluble Union of Regions". This "Union of Regions" is what will become "the United and Sovereign Republic" of Sri Lanka. We have heard of different disparate states merging in a Federation for their common good. But this seems to be the first time that a Unitary State is to be dismembered and a show is being made to put back the pieces, in a legerdemain act where the results can be made out that our state will not undergo any change by reason of this alteration. To seal this arrangement forever, the structure is declared "indissoluble" meaning that the people of the country would for all time hereafter be deprived of their constituent power of altering the Constitution and repairing this damage.

The Executive power is to be parcelled among the Central Government and the Regional Governments. The Executive power of the Regional Governments is vested in their Chief Ministers. He is supreme in his own region. Even the governor has to act under his advice. This amounts to a Westminster Parliamentary System operating in every region. The Cabinet of Ministers who are now responsible for and charged with the governance of the whole country will have most of their powers taken away. This exercise is sought to be done surreptitiously without highlighting the issue. The effect of the change will be to deprive the Cabinet of 60-70% of their present powers and to empower 8 or 9 Chief Ministers with equal authority in the so-called Regions.

Separate State

A sovereign unitary state must ultimately have the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial power respectively to be able to make laws, execute its orders, decide controversies and enforce its will throughout the length and breadth of the country. It is unfortunate, however, that it is this very plenitude of power which these proposals have been designed to negate.

There is on the one hand, the abdication of power by the Central Government, on the other, a panoply of powers vested in the Regions which are adequate for them to assert an independent and separate existence or for them to make a claim for self-determination. Let us bear in mind, in this connection, the "non-negotiable demand" by the Tamils for the linkage of Northern and Eastern provinces and their intention of ultimately creating a separate state.

Powerless Centre

Apart from the Executive, Legislative and Judicial powers to be conceded to Regional Councils, they are also to be given exclusive power for total control of such vital items as state land, police, law and order, energy, transport, minor ports and harbours, local taxes and revenue, domestic and international borrowing and broadcasting and media.

As against this, there will be a powerless Central Government, emasculated by self infliction, denied of about 70% of its existing powers and confined regionally to a dozen or so square miles around Colombo. No doubt there exists a Reserved List (List No. 1). However, no reserved powers are specified as in all other Federal Constitutions vested in the Central Government the power to take care of matters not falling expressly within either list. This omission will constitute a source of much contention in the future.

The sinister attempt is to slice the majority Sinhala community into unviable units and render it impotent and ineffectual.

As would be seen the proposals for the devolution of power have formulated in response to a demand of racist political parties representing a segment of the Tamils alone. No party representing the Sinhalese who comprise 74% of the population has ever demanded the devolution of power or the carving out the country into several, self governing Regions.

The purported reasons advanced by the Government for seeking to implement these 'proposals' are that their implementation would serve to:

(a) restore peace,

(b) restore ethnic harmony; and,

(c) redress the grievances of the Tamils.

Not one of the said purported reasons bear examination.

No restoration of peace

The LTTE does not accept the 'proposals' and has made it abundantly clear that it will settle for nothing short of a separate state.

Thus, the enactment of legislation in terms of the 'proposals' will be incapable of restoring peace.

Ethnic peace and harmony already exists in all areas except those under the LTTE control. Thus, the question of restoring ethnic harmony is one that does not and cannot arise from the proposals.

The dreadful consequences that would flow from the creation of a Regional Council for the Northern and Eastern provinces apart, what possible benefit can this country of 65,000 square kilometres hope to gain by the creation of eight or more Regional Administrations in addition to the Government of the Republic? If it is necessary to even merge two provinces or the entirety of one and most of the other in order to bring these parts of the country where the Tamils comprise the majority of the population under the rule of a single Regional Council, why is it necessary to do the converse with the rest of the country where the Sinhalese are in the majority and divide such parts into seven Regions governed by seven different Regional Councils? Is not the country, the area of which is less than the average area of an Indian State (including Union Territories) which is about 100,000 square kilometres, small enough to be ruled by a single Government? It is worthy of note that if there was a devolution of power on the lines of the 'proposals' in India, that country of about 3,200,000 square kilometres would have about 394 different states."

Cost prohibitive

The cost of maintaining in our little country eight or more Regional Governments in addition to the Central Government with eight or more Governors, Chief Ministers, Boards of Ministers, Judiciaries, Public Services and Armed Police Forces will be prohibitive.

In view of the above mentioned facts alone, we urge all right thinking Members of Parliament to reject the proposals in toto.

Harbour tug o'war rages

By Roshan Peiris and Chamintha Thilakarathna

The storm in the Colombo Port has intensified with a tough minister undermining last Thursday's strike as a flop but union leaders claiming success and warning that international action would be taken if the alleged suppression of labour rights continued.

Ports and Shipping Minister M. H. M. Ashraff told The Sunday Times only about 300 of the 18,000 Colombo Port workers had participated in Thursday's protest and as far as he was concerned there was virtually no strike.

Underlining his tough line, Mr. Ashraff warned he would not tolerate political strikes or sabotage at the port because he felt a disciplined and trouble-free port was essential to maintain a country's economy on an even keel. He charged that the union members who were interdicted or transferred from the Colombo Port recently had been involved in politically-motivated sabotage. last Thursday's walkout and public demonstration was called by the independent Ceylon Mercantile Union in protest against the interdiction or transfer of union members and other acts of suppression against the trade union.

This came in the aftermath of the prolonged dispute over plans to hand over the port's Queen Elizabeth Quay to the multinational P&O consortium.

Countering the minister's claims and hitting back sharply at him, CMU officials told The Sunday Times that the strike was a big success with some 5,000 workers participating.

They said that instead of coming to an accommodation the minister appeared to be hardlining and the union would now intensify its action. As part of this, at the request of the CMU, the International Transport Workers' Federation has called on workers in some 124 countries to boycott Sri Lanka-bound ships.

Meanwhile other leading trade unions in Sri Lanka are throwing their weight behind the CMU in the port battle.

Mr. Ashraff has said he is not ready for a dialogue because he feels that the current action in the port is politically motivated. Several other public service trade unions and associations of professionals extended support to the CMU.

Amidst the tumult, political sources said labour Minister John Seneviratne is intervening to bring about a dialogue between the rival parties in the raging port dispute.

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