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29th August 1999

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Thondaman will pave the way, then Prabhakaran will enter

By Kumbakarana

There is a new phase in the conflict between Thondaman and the Sinhala organisations. This is evident by the fact that in the Nuwara Eliya district, where there are Tamil majorities separate Divisional Secretary's offices and police stations are to be established.

The Sinhala organisations charge that government servants are silent, while this communal division is being implemented.

The story of Thondaman and his father Karuppiah is quite unusual. They hail from Manapuder in South India and Thondaman's first name is Mathavan. Thus he is known as Ina Kana Runa Sauyamurthy Thondaman. Thondaman's father Karuppiah came to Sri Lanka in 1890 as an immigrant labourer. In 1892 the British giving into Congress demands banned the emigration of Indian labour abroad. Thus the sale of immigrant labour became an illegal racket. Karuppiah was one of the people who became rich by bringing in Indian labour.

By 1910 he had become so rich that he had bought Wawenden Estate. In 1924 be brought his youngest child Thondaman to Sri Lanka. As a result of Nehru's visit to Sri Lanka in 1939 the Ceylon Indian Congress (CIC) was formed. On August 13 1939 a CIC branch was opened in Nuwara Eliya and Thondaman became its President. Its branch for labour was established on May 1 1940. Thondaman took up the cause of the Indian workers because it was there that the votes lay.

By exploiting racist feelings he rescued Indian labour from the Marxist parties. Then he organised strikes, hartals and played musical chairs between the UNP and the SLFP and became the astute politician that he is.

In his autobiography Thondaman declares that he did not take Chelvanayakam's politics as a model; instead followed the courageous policies of Marcan Markar who co-operated with the Sinhalese. In a note of self-criticism he says because of the arrogant attitude of the Jaffna leaders the Jaffna Tamils lost their rights and faced disaster. He believes that the Muslims without any confrontation with the Sinhalese have developed both economically and socially.

He therefore believes that the plantation Tamils, though they should retain their identity, should co-operate with the government if they are to advance. Commentators also say that had it not been for Thondaman Nuwara Eliya too would have become another Jaffna. Prabhakaran was unable to pull in the plantation Tamils because of the CWC, they say.

It this the correct situation?

It is not entirely due to Thondaman that the plantation Tamils did not come under the sway of Prabhakaran. Among other causes, the first is that the Tamil racist movement arose among eminent Jaffna Tamils. In that early phase they would not tolerate in their movement even Batticaloa Tamils, much less plantation Tamils.

This happened even around 1952 when Chelvanayakam started his semi-violent separatist movement. He had little impact on the plantation Tamils. This happened again recently when several lakhs of plantation Tamils colonised parts of Mullaitivu, Vavuniya and Kilinochchi. To this day their recent Indian origin remains a problem for Prabhakaran.

Another cause was the fact the they were not permanent citizens of this country. They generally resided here for 3-6 months and spoke languages belonging to the Dravidian group such as Tamil, Telegu, Kannadi, and Malayalam. The same kind of immigrant situation prevailed in Jaffna in the 13th and 14th centuries.

But under British imperialism the Tamils of Jaffna became rich, influential, professionally qualified and aspired to be the leading community in Sri Lanka. There is nothing to be surprised at the fact that Thondaman did not achieve as much in 50 years as the Jaffna Tamils did in 400 years. But Thondaman being close to the corridors of power was able to win considerable concessions in the past 50 years.

Thondaman had the maturity to realise that the Indian Tamils did not have the power to break away. But he has continued to advance in strength. This is why he left the TULF in 1976, co-operated with the UNP and then shifted to the PA.

Besides, to launch an insurrection, especially a racist one certain conditions have to be fulfilled. First there has to be educated, unemployed youth with foreign connections. Second, the rebellion should be led by a strong, educated technologically qualified class. Such an insurrection should receive the blessing of a strong, rich and powerful class. The plantation Tamils could not fulfill any of these conditions. So however strong the separatist movement would have been in other areas, it did not take root in the hill country.

Nevertheless, it has to be noted that this situation is changing rapidly, due to Indian influence. A strong educated class is emerging in the plantations in the form of CWC officials who are educated. Thondaman's role is to fulfil these conditions. Then Prabhakaran will enter the plantations.

However it could be that Thondaman may distance himself from violent separatism. He is no fool and he may not like to become a victim of the very organisation which he himself set up, like Amirthalingam, Yogeswaran, and Tiruchelvam. He knows the first targets of the LTTE would be the Thondaman family.

Thus we can see that the fact the plantations have not been swallowed up by separatism is not entirely due to Thondaman. But the conditions are changing rapidly and Thondaman is the kingpin in that process.

Thondaman appears to be incorporating politics into Hindu fundamentalism. What Chelvanayagam sowed, Amirthalingam and Tiruchelvam reaped. Who will reap Thondaman's racist fields? Arumugam? Chandrasekran? or Sathasivam?

Inside the glass house

UN's in crisis over poisoning of 30 million people in Bangladesh

NEW YORK— The United Nations is embroiled in a dispute over the mass poisoning of some 30 million people in one of the world's poorest nations: Bangladesh.

A petition was recently filed in Dhaka for a possible class action suit against the World Bank and three UN agencies — the UNICEF, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) seeking compensation on behalf of some of the victims.

Of the four, UNICEF is facing the brunt of the attack because it took a lead role, along with the government of Bangladesh, in digging tube-wells which were later found to be contaminated with arsenic.

The New York-based children's agency said last week that it was unfair to blame UNICEF in a collaborative effort of shared responsibility.

''UNICEF was part of a coalition that dug the wells,'' UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy admitted.

She stressed that everyone who participated in funding the project - Swiss, Swedes and British donors - did so with the best of intentions, as they always do in development projects in Third World nations.

''Some people are now blaming UNICEF'' for the tragedy, Bellamy said, ''while other people are blaming others.'' In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) last month, Babar Kabir, who is leading the World Bank's arsenic mitigation effort, described the contamination as ''perhaps the largest case of mass poisoning in the history of mankind.''

''What we term as potentially at risk— because this information database does not exist— could be anywhere between 70 to 75 million people,'' he said.

According to Bellamy, ''the fact is that, arsenic has been discovered in some of the wells dug over the last 25 years in Bangladesh.

''We dug the wells at the behest of the Bangladesh government,'' she said. ''The majority of the wells have been put up by the government but UNICEF has been part of the programme and a key partner of the government.''

According to Bellamy, UNICEF's primary object was to provide better water— to the villages in Bangaldesh— than the existing ground water.

''But now arsenic has been found and no water can be used.'' Bellamy revealed there was ''a major effort''in Bangladesh to stop people from using these tube wells where people had been drinking the water for the last 25 years.

But ''they are not going to stop drinking even if there is a big X on the well,'' she said. Nevertheless, UNICEF was working with the World Bank and the World Health Organisation (WHO) to provide alternate supplies of water.

Ambassador Anwarul Karim Chowdhury of Bangladesh, himself a former high-ranking UNICEF official, says the UN agency should be more actively involved in a public information campaign to publicise the danger.

The arsenic contaminated water doesn't have an unusual taste, smell or colour.

''There is no way to detect it and that is why people continue drinking the water,'' Chowdhury said.

He pointed out that about 30 million people reportedly have been affected by the poisoning and more than a thousand have died due to complications arising from arsenic contamination.

According to the BBC, aid agencies have put huge efforts into installing tube wells over the last two decades.

Currently, there are about 4.5 million tube wells in Bangladesh - a country with a population of about 126 million people.

Asked how much of the blame should be placed on UN agencies, David Lockwood, the UN spokesman in Dhaka, said the whole issue should be put in its right perspective.

"The programmes are in fact government programmes, with UN assistance,'' he said. ''So that's why I come back to the responsibility of the State, for its citizens. I don't believe that the UN has a direct responsibility for the citizens of member states.''

Mozambique: some lessons for Lanka

By Ameen Izzadeen
Exclusive to The Sunday Times

There is more to gain in peace than in war, says Mozambique's Foreign Minister Leonardo Santos Simao who was in Sri Lanka to deliver the third golden jubilee lecture organised by the Foreign Ministry.

In an exclusive interview to The Sunday Times, Dr. Simao, a medical doctor by profession, says that like peace was possible in Mozambique, it is possible in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. While assuring Mozambique's fullest support for a peaceful end to Sri Lanka's war against separatism, he urged all Sri Lankans to do everything possible to bring about peace in this beloved country.

Dr. Simao is a leading member of the Mozambique's ruling party Frelimo (the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique) which fought the Portuguese from 1960s till independence in 1975 and then got embroiled in a civil war for ten years against right wing Renamo rebels who were helped by the western nations in the cold war context. The fighting was brought to an end in 1992 through third party mediation with church groups in Italy and Mozambique playing a lead role. The objective of this interview is to highlight Mozambique's experience in the peace process and lessons Sri Lanka could learn from it.


Q: Your country since independence in 1975 had been caught up in a devastating civil war which was brought to an end through what was called the 'Rome Process' in 1992. In other words, it's mediation by outside parties. What made Italy, a European power, to get involved in the peace process? After all it was Portugal, not Italy, which was ruling Mozambique for 469 years.

A: Initially, Italy had no role in the peace process. But the process was set in motion by a small but influential Italian Church group called Saint Egidio Community. The Rome government entered the scene to give larger legitimacy and greater confidence to the whole process. The Frelimo government also made use of the good offices of several African countries, Mozambican church leaders and all those who offered help to bring parties to the conflict together. The role of the mediator is difficult. A mediator should understand the motives and the extent to which each party can compromise their standpoint.

Q: How successful were the efforts and how did you get over the problem of mistrust and suspicion?

A: In addition to commitment to peace, a peace process requires all the virtues of patience. For, negotiations are continuation of the conflict by other means. We felt we had to be extremely tolerant, especially during the transition period after the peace agreement. For instance, when rebels violated the law of the land, the government did not take them to courts. The government in the interest of peace was also tolerant when there were minor ceasefire violations.

As regards suspicions and mistrust, such feelings were mutual. But the government made its intention for and commitment to peace clear with a series of confidence building measures. For Renamo rebels, peace posed a challenge — a challenge of facing a new situation. Suspicion and caution were evident in its entry to the peace process.

The government expected the civil society and all its institutions, especially the media, to play a positive role in highlighting the need for peace. Thus we kept on taking confidence building measures which eventually brought the rebels to the negotiating table and brought about a peaceful end to the civil war in Mozambique. One should not forget that even members of rebel groups are keen to lead a normal life with their families. So we offered the rebels help to build houses, schools and to gain professional skills. These measures gave them additional confidence and made the national integration a not so difficult task. Another measure we took was the integration of rebel forces into the regular army.

Q: Mozambique is said to be rich in natural resources. Recent news reports said your country had struck large titanium deposits. In this light, do you think Italy and other western countries which are adopting neo-colonial policy vis-à-vis the developing countries had an ulterior motive in supporting the peace process and favouring the Renamo rebels during the peace process?

A: No. We don't encourage neo-colonial exploitation. Mozambique has a clear policy of promoting foreign investment. The country's investment laws do not show discrimination. Promoting foreign investment is part of our development strategy.

The answer to the second part of the question is that it is quite natural for any mediator to be lenient towards the rebels. This is because the rebels need to be convinced that they stand to gain in peace.

Q: African analysts said the Mozambican government was not so happy about what it saw as the bias of the mediators.

A: Yes. But we have to be tolerant and sacrificial if peace is to be achieved.

Q: What lessons could Sri Lanka gain from the Mozambican peace experience?

A: The two situations are different. But our experience is available to Sri Lanka because there are certain similarities in armed conflicts and peace processes. Conflicts can end only when the commitment to and desire for peace become evident. The Mozambican peace process is a success story largely because the government was careful not to cause any damage to it, especially during the transition period. A time lag between the signing of the deal and its implementation is necessary because if any problem not foreseen during the talks, is to crop up, the parties to the agreement could take steps to find a solution. It is during this time lag that perceptions and attitudes change.

Q: Mozambique is playing a peacemaker role within the Southern African Development Community, to bring a political settlement to the crisis in Laurent Kabila's Republic of Congo. Can you elaborate on your country's role?

A: The Congo peace initiative is started by Zambia with the auspices of SADC. We are also playing a major role, driving a point we learnt from our experience to the parties to the crisis, though the situation in Congo is different from that of ours. Our stand point is that there is more gain in peace than in war. Today wars are not seen as a means to solve problems. This realisation — along with respect for democratic values through which the participation of all citizens in governance is assured — is necessary for peace.

Q: How do you see the role of a powerful South Africa in SADC? Is South Africa dominating it?

A: Socio-economically, South Africans can be divided into two — the rich white South Africans and the poor black South Africans who are the majority. Crime, poverty and under-development are common problems SADC members face. Objectives of the black South Africa are similar to those of other southern African countries. Even South African President Tabo Mbeki said that South Africa could not develop without developing the southern Africa. The SADC is an outcome of a recognition that there is a socio-economic inter-link among members.

Q: Your outward looking economic policy suggests that Frelimo, very much a Marxist party during the independent struggle and after that, has given up its socialist ideals. Your comments.

A: We have not given up socialism. We are still part of International Socialism. Our prime objective — upgrading the living standards of our people and the struggle against poverty — is very much a socialist goal. The only difference today is that we try to achieve this goal through the greater participation of the private sector and through foreign investments.

Q: How is Frelimo positioned for the upcoming national elections?

A: Generally, a ruling party goes to elections with several disadvantages and liabilities. We are successful in implementing a five-year plan, bringing in foreign investments and generating more jobs, but still they might fall short of people's aspirations. On the other hand, the main opposition Renamo could capitalise on what people have not got so far. However, one positive aspect of the Mozambican elections is that unlike in Angola where the UNITA did not accept the results and resorted to fighting again, the Renamo bowed to the will of the people and remained in the democratic mainstream.

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