The Sunday Times on the Web News/Comment
14th March 1999

Front Page|
Editorial/Opinion |
Business | Plus | Sports |
Mirror Magazine

Front Page
Mirror Magazine

Warring with words, not words about war

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti, Our Lobby Correspondent

The debates on the extension of emergency rarely if ever reflect on the situation of the war. As usual the members indulge in their ritual of verbally attacking each other with the common litany of insults-only our legislators appear to be capable of.

Hence, it is no wonder that the war situation, despite debacle after debacle, disaster upon disaster gets explained away in some brief statements by Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte, a man of few words.

But the UNP was obviously looking for some mischievous deviation, as burly lawyer John Amaratunge opening the debate proposed the lifting of emergency in the five provinces where polls are to be held.

"After all, this has been the tradition always. The arbitrary use of emergency powers lead to disruption of political campaigns, so it needed to be lifted he said. "At least relax it in certain areas," he urged while Minister Ratwatte smugly registered the protest note with a decisive shake of his head. No, he certainly wasn't going to have any of it.

Mr. Amaratunge then embarked on a subject close to his heart- the change of election date and the Catholic Church's pivotal role in it. But this enraged Parliamentary Affairs Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle who shot back venomously.

" How could the UNP having challenged the change of date in courts, defended the date fixed and overlooked the Catholic view point have John Amaratunges uttering falsehoods now," he thundered, breaking into a litany of heated accusations ranging from UNP misdeeds to insensitivity towards religious feelings.

But Mr. Amaratunge persisted that if not for the Supreme Court, people would not have any recourse and this bulldozing government, he said pausing for emphasis, was vilifying the judiciary calling them 'UNP stooges'.

" The election date was changed due to intense public pressure and the government could not risk another bout of international wrath. The President has taken the criticism personally and threatened ministers with drastic consequences. With the Wayamba fraud, the country's reputation has taken a steady plunge. The all party monitoring committee is only a salvage operation," he sniped.

Lessons learned from Wayamba were still fresh in everyone's minds and when dentist turned politician Dr. Rajitha Senaratne held the forte, it was apparent that he was armed with enough ammunition to go on a demolition course. So he read document after document- all alleged requests by the deputy media minister to release staff from Lake House and Printing Corporation to conduct the PA's campaign. "Where are the vociferous leftists who held sathyagrahas and pickets calling for the UNP government's resignation then? Where are the left's passionate activists and idealists? There was not even a whimper of protest over Wayamba" he lashed out.

Deviating from the Wayamba shame and sham and electing to ride his hobby horse of Tamil grievances was lawyer turned TULF legislator R. Sampanthan.

Speaking in the aftermath of a visit by experts to an alleged mass grave in Chemmani, the silver haired MP appealed to the government to ensure fair inquiries and fair trials.

"The tears and fears of Tamils were real and poignant. They have languished in prisons, being subjected to harassment and lastly denied their loved ones. They had a right to know where their men are," he said.

Following him in a more philosophical mood was Labour Minister John Seneviratne who gave the House a graphic description of the evolution of the electoral system in the country and how and when violence crept into the scene.

Elections, noted the lanky Minister have always been marred by incidents. There was some decency till 1977, when criminalisation of politics began with laws being openly flouted.

" This was when the downward trend began and it deserved a serious anthropological study, not a mere 20 minute marathon speech.In 1982, when the UNP Presidential candidate openly violated election laws by putting up banners and posters right in front of all polling booths, it left law abiding citizens wondering what the future held," he said. Despite the UNP's rhetoric, the 1994 elections were not incident- free, specially in Nivithigala the electorate, represented by him and the UNP General Secretary , he said.

But the icing on the cake came when the House fell from the sublime to the ridiculous. In this instance the aggrieved party was PA's Jinadasa Nandasena, obviously smarting under accusations of allegedly attacking a JVP office in Kelaniya.

"The whole thing was unfair," he lamented, openly criticising the decision to remove banners and posters as a preliminary to a free poll. "This election system itself is unfair. There is no way that an unknown first timer could campaign or publicize his candidature without the aid of posters. Remove them, and you are a lost cause before polling date. Does this mean only the affluent with enough money to throw about can campaign?' he asked.

With an air of sarcasm Mr. Nandasena said he was arrested unfairly especially when his own party was in office. He concluded that he was hurt by the treatment meted out to him. The heckling UNPers promptly asked: Didn't the self proclaimed innocent politician attack the JVP office.

No, he shot back in defiance.

While most indulged in digging up each others past, CWC's subdued member S. Rajaratnam in no mood to compromise-concentrated on the ethnic conflict, reminding a divided House that the day's debate was actually on that.

"If anyone should be blamed, the previous government must take the blame. It contributed heavily to the deterioration of the law and order situation and the escalation of violence, owing to the continuous arbitrary executive action," he said.

Next following the heated line of speakers was Education Minister Richard Pathirane. His voice at peak level, he thundered that certain unscrupulous UNPers had unleashed violence on innocent people in Gampola and Nawalapitiya. If the UNP wanted free polls, it should first get its house in order he said. "Where is your heroic leader who champions the rights of the people since he was thrust into the opposition at the drop of a hat? What is he doing about the rotten egg" he thundered.

Mervyn Silva in his concluding speech touched on subjects ranging from women's rights to a society free of stripping incidents. He criticised the Bandaranaikes and the Samaraweeras,just before the UNP en masse trooped out to participate in their ongoing sathyagraha - this time in Horana, leaving the government to conclude the vote without the customary opposition antics.

Refugees: where and who?

By Kumbakarna

The media is full of stories these days about the suffering of the Tamil people in the Wanni. Buddhist priests, bishops, politicians and people from NGOs go on 'pilgrimage to Madu', and there they happen to meet Tamil refugees. We hear about the tears shed by these refugees, and how the pilgrims' hearts melt with sorrow.

Meanwhile varying figures are given as to the number of these refugees. According to the National Peace Council, this number exceeds a million. Government officials in areas controlled by the terrorists also give a similar figure.

The Wanni has now become the base of terrorist operations. This is not just because of the nature of the terrain, with the dense forest providing cover for guerrilla warfare, but also because it has become the main source of recruitment for the terrorists. It is worth examining how this has come about, bearing in mind that it was one of the least populated areas of the country.

The commonly held belief is that these people came to the Wanni as refugees from the Jaffna peninsula, and that they subsequently joined the terrorists.

According to the Department of Census and Statistics, the Tamil population of Jaffna was 812,447 in 1981. With natural increase in numbers, it should have been about 1,000,000 by the beginning of 1998.

With the Riviresa operation in 1995, in which the forces regained control of Jaffna, the terrorists drove away the entire Tamil population into the Wanni. It is interesting to note that the only comparable event in recent history is the 'sacking' of Phnom Penh by Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge!

The Tamil people of Jaffna, however, began trickling back, and by the beginning of 1998 there were close to 500,000 according to a survey carried out by the military. What happened to the balance 500,000, of the 1,000,000 or so who should have been there by then? Are they still in the Wanni? The answer is, no. Of this number, 150,000-200,000 have emigrated to western countries and to East Asia. A further 30,000 are in India. It is unlikely that any significant number of these 'refugees' would return, as most of them have established themselves comfortably in those countries.

This still leaves a number close to 300,000 unaccounted for. Are they in the Wanni? Again, the answer is no. They have, in fact, moved into the area in which the majority of the Sinhala people live - the same Sinhala people who are supposed to "oppress" them and "discriminate against" them.

According to the census of 1981, the population within the Colombo Municipal limits was 585,776. Of this, 130,210 were Tamils. By July 1998, the number of Tamils had increased to almost 400,000. Where did this influx come from? The answer is obvious - from Jaffna. A further 75,000 have moved into the Kandy, Negombo, Wattala, Dehiwala-Mt. Lavinia and Kotte urban areas. So the overwhelming majority of Tamil 'refugees' live not in the Wanni but in Colombo, and in western cities like Toronto. How, then, do the terrorists get their supply of recruits from the Wanni?

For an answer one has to go back to 1978, to the Tamil colonisation schemes in the Mannar, Mullaitivu and Vavuniya districts. In 1971, the population of Mannar was 53,253. By 1981 it had increased to 68,178. Allowing for natural increase, this would indicate an external influx of at least 10,000. The combined population of the Vavuniya and Mullaitivu districts was 73,010 in 1971. By 1981, it had increased to 143,803! Again allowing for natural increase, at least

60,000 had been brought in. A further 30,000 were settled in the Kilinochchi district. Who were these Tamils, and where did they come from?

This lakh or so of Tamil people were from among those to be repatriated to India under the agreement between the two countries. They were illegally settled in the Wanni during 1978-87. It is this population that now provides the terrorists with their cadres and acts as their 'human shield'. And it is exactly for this purpose that they were settled there.

Who carried out this scheme? And who provided the financial resources? The Gandhian Movement of Rajasunderam, and the Tamil Relief and Rehabilitation Organisation led by Nityanathan and Kandasamy were principally responsible for carrying this out. Funds were provided by SEDEC, which is an organisation affiliated to the Catholic Church, and also by Sarvodaya and other NGOs like Red Barna.

Having established human resources necessary to launch the armed separatist campaign, these same organisations and others like them are today shedding tears over the plight of these people. This hypocrisy would be laughable, if the results were not so tragic for the people of this country.

inside the glass house

Annan : peacekeeping should be a regional effort

By thalif deen at the united nations

NEW YORK— UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan wants regional organisations — such as NATO, CIS, ASEAN and OAS— to collectively share the peacekeeping burdens of the United Nations.

The UN is not only strapped for cash, he points out, but also has far too much on its plate. Annan says the UN Charter gives regional organisations a role in settling conflicts— at least in their own backyards.

According to Annan's argument, if there is a conflict in Latin America, the Organisation of American States (OAS) should take the lead in resolving the problem. Or if there is trouble in Southeast Asia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should help keep the peace in the region. But are these regional organisations politically and militarily ready to take up the challenge?

A UN study says that "regional organisations should be the first port of call for the prevention and pacific settlement of local disputes." The study points out that there are 16 regional organisations which are cooperating or have shown interest in cooperating with the United Nations in peacekeeping or other peace-related activities.

But despite a growing new role for regional organisations, the UN says it is not fully abdicating its own leadership as a global peacemaker— even though some of its powers have recently been hijacked by the world's only superpower: the United States.

"UN peacekeeping is at a low point in terms of numbers," Annan said last week, "but it is alive and well— and will continue".

As he surveyed the horrible atrocities in the former Yugoslavia and the mutilations and random killings in sub-Saharan Africa, former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali remarked that the tragedy of all civil wars is that they are never civil.

Under the Boutros-Ghali administration during 1992-1996, the United Nations created a virtual global fire brigade rushing to put out fires breaking out in some of the world's trouble spots, including Bosnia, Somalia, Cambodia, Mozambique, Angola, and Western Sahara. In some, the UN got severely burnt, in others it succeeded in temporarily extinguishing the flames.

At the height of its political glory, the UN's peacekeeping operations peaked at 80,000 troops in 17 peace missions worldwide. The troops, which were provided voluntarily by member states, came from about 75 nations. The cost of the peacekeeing operations reached as high as $3.5 billion annually compared with the UN's regular annual budget of $1.2 billion.

The South Asians, with the exception of Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives, have played a key role in UN peacekeeping.

The major troop contributors to the UN included Nepal, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan— all of whom earned millions of dollars in hard currency by hiring out their soldiers and leasing their military equipment to the world body.

A country providing troops was paid a flat rate of about $1,000 per month for each soldier. Pakistan earned over $70 to $80 million, India about $60 million, Bangladesh about $40 million and Nepal over $10 million.

Sri Lanka argued that it could not afford to provide any of its battle-hardened troops — or even a token military contingent — on the ground that the military was too busy fighting a separatist war in the North.

The only occasion when Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) participated in a peacekeeping mission was the UN Operation in the Congo in 1960.

Faced with a shortage of troops, Annan was once offered a band of mercenaries to restore an ousted government to power. But he politely declined the offer. "The world may not be ready to privatize peace," he said. A proposal for a UN standing army was shot down by the United States last year.

As of last week, the number of UN troops had declined to a low of 14,000, down from 80,000 about four years ago. The decline was no indication that the world was at peace.

Since 1945, the UN has set up 42 peacekeeping operations. In 1988 it won the Nobel Peace Prize for its peacekeeping activities. Over 1,400 peacekeepers have died in the line of duty, and last week, the UN announced plans to build its first monument to its dead.

Presented on the World Wide Web by Infomation Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.

More News/Comments

Return to News/Comment Contents

News/Comments Archive

Front Page| Editorial/Opinion | Business | Plus | Sports | Mirror Magazine

Hosted By LAcNet

Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to

The Sunday Times or to Information Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.