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De-merger of NE unconstitutional -S. P. Thamilselvan

LTTE Political Wing Leader S. P. Thamilselvan in his opening address in Geneva on Saturday declared that the recent Supreme Court declaration that the merger of the Eastern Province with the Northern Province under the Indo-Lanka Accord of July 29 1987 was invalid, null and void is unconstitutional. He accused the judiciary of facilitating the government strategy.

Thamilselvan said, "Five years ago, on 24 December 2001, we unilaterally declared a one-month long cease-fire. The government remained indifferent to our peace gestures. The Norwegian facilitators made a concerted effort that resulted in the drafting of the CFA. It was the only agreement signed by the two parties with the full backing of the international community. We hoped that this agreement which was based on the balance of power between the parties would bring an end to the ethnic conflict."

"Six sessions of direct talks were held during which many proposals were made to bring normalcy to the lives of the people in the Tamil homeland. In order to enable the fruits of the CFA reach our people, we asked for an interim administration. Citing the Constitution, that was opposed. Then the promised Sub-committee for Immediate Rehabilitation of Northeast (SIHRN) as the main body for creating normalcy was made ineffective. The actions of the government were focused on disturbing the existing balance of power. The hope for reduction in the militarization of the Tamil homeland and normalcy in people’s lives remain elusive."

Following the failure of SIHRN and the stalling of the peace talks, mindful of the urgent need for improving living conditions in the war torn Tamil homeland, we formulated and submitted the Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA) proposal. To prevent the resumption of the peace talks based on this ISGA proposal, Parliament was dissolved by the then president. Elections were called. Tamil people voted in 22 representatives from the Tamil homeland, who contested the election seeking a mandate for the ISGA proposal. This represents more than 9 per cent of the Tamil people in our homeland. But the government, rejecting the voice of the people, refused even to discuss the ISGA.

It was at this time that our homeland was visited by the unimaginable tsunami tragedy in December 2004. It was our military and civil institutions, local and international non-governmental organizations, and the Tamil Diaspora who came to the aid of our people. The Tamil homeland, in spite of bearing the biggest share of the tsunami tragedy, received only a meager assistance from the international community, despite its pledge of huge tsunami assistance. Promoted by bilateral and multilateral donors and facilitated by Norway, the Post Tsunami Operational Management Structure (PTOMS) agreement was reached six months after the tsunami devastation. This agreement would have channelled aid from the international community to the people in the Tamil homeland and also would have enhanced the peace process. Yet, PTOMS was also rejected citing the Constitution.

The recent ruling by the Supreme Court that the merger of North and East is unconstitutional. It must be seen as part of this ongoing saga of the judicial system coming to the aid of Sinhala majoritarianism. Northeast is the ancient Tamil homeland. It has remained so for centuries. The latest ruling by the SC adds to the mounting evidence that a solution to the ethnic conflict cannot be found within the current Sri Lankan constitution.

In 2005 Mahinda Rajapakse, portraying himself as a pragmatist, became president. At the beginning of 2006, President Rajapakse agreed to hold talks about the implementation of the CFA. Around this time the SLMM investigated and issued its report on the existence of paramilitary groups and possible collaboration between them and the military. From December 2005 until the agreement was reached in January 2006 to hold talks in Geneva, violence rose sharply. The SLMM report failed to make even the slightest reduction in the escalating violence. A shadow war took hold throughout the island. We notified the international community about the developing alarming situation that was weakening the CFA.

At the Geneva talks, we published the uncontestable and ample evidence of paramilitary and army collaboration which was pushing the country away from the CFA. We warned of the excessive militarization of the Tamil homeland; the excessive use of civilian areas by the military including farmland, fishing shores, schools, places of worship and homes. We pointed out that through this collaboration our members and supporters were killed. Our political work in Tamil homeland permitted under clause 1.13 of the CFA had to come to an abrupt end as a result of this violence. With this evidence we requested the implementation of clauses 1.8 and 1.13 of the CFA.

Geneva talks ended with the agreement that the CFA must be implemented fully in order to take forward the peace process. The date for the next round of talks was decided. We emphasized that the fate of the next round of talks will depend on the actions taken to implement the agreement reached at Geneva I talks. For the sake of our people, we expected from the government, sincere implementation of the CFA.

Sadly, none of the agreements reached in Geneva were implemented by the government. On the contrary, the conduct of the government continued to worsen the situation in the Tamil homeland pushing us and the Tamil people to extreme frustration. Some spectacularly blatant massacres by the Sri Lankan military of young people and babies in the Tamil homeland chilled the Tamil mind within and outside the Tamil homeland. The international community too began to express its horror on such barbaric activities. The Sri Lankan military, in view of the criticism of the international community, graduated from face to face massacre to artillery shelling and aerial bombing committing even larger scale atrocities against civilians. In Trincomalee and Batticaloa, civilians were targeted from land, sea and air. The government has now entered into an undeclared war. Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands have been forced to become displaced.

The EU ban on the LTTE arising from persistent pressure from the government has allowed the government and its armed forces to commit such acts with impunity. We warned on several occasions that such a ban will affect the peace process and the functioning of the SLMM. We pointed out this unfortunate situation and the SLMM understood. The government’s insistence on this ban and the demonization of the LTTE demonstrates its disinterest in implementing the CFA and the peace process.

With the Geneva agreements unimplemented, the Norwegian facilitators invited us to Oslo for a discussion about the work of the SLMM. We respected the work of the SLMM and valued its importance for implementing the CFA. We therefore accepted the invitation. In Oslo, direct talks with the government delegation was made impossible because of the down-graded composition of the delegation and in view of all agreements reached during all the previous direct talks remaining unimplemented. We said that we will not take part in any talks that do not result in normalcy in the lives of our people. We still held talks with Norway and the SLMM about the work of the SLMM. However, the government, disregarding the importance of the work of the SLMM, left without holding constructive discussions. On their return to the island, the violence by the Sri Lankan military continued with greater intensity and carried on its undeclared war.

It was at this time, following the co-chairs meeting held in Tokyo, the co-chairs called on the government to end the paramilitary violence and increase security for the people throughout the island. They welcomed our keen interest in the peace efforts. Supporting our efforts, the Tamil Diaspora living in 15 countries together staged "The voice of Tamil rights" events recognizing us as the representative of the Tamils to fulfil their yearnings and aspirations.

The intensity of the undeclared war in the Tamil homeland continued to increase. The EU ban on our organization, sadly, contributed towards this intensification. Our people are facing the kind of misery they have not faced during the four years of the CFA period. The military attacks in Trincomalee and Vakarai were targeting our military bases. The situation dented the patience we have exercised. We were forced to take defensive actions. Our attacks were solely intended to halt the attacks of the military.

The Mavilaru issue in Trincomalee was a continuation of this government stance. The issue began as a dispute in the access to water between the Tamil and Sinhala communities. Tamil people of the area accused discriminatory practices in water supply and development. In order to draw attention, they protested by closing the Mavilaru sluice gate. Since this sluice gate was in the area under our administration we tried to resolve it through negotiations. The issue could easily have been resolved by a civil service official by approaching the people to find out their problems and addressing them. The government ignored this civil approach for a civil dispute and attempted to open the gate through military means. Several fronts for military offensives were opened. It began firing artillery shells into our areas. We were forced to take action to stop this military offensive. Since the Sri Lankan military artillery firing and movements were made mostly from the Muthur area it controls, we took action against military positions in Muttur. Sri Lankan military accused us for the civilians killed by its artillery fire. In this situation we returned back to our original positions.

During this time we discussed the issue with the Norwegian special envoy, Jon Hanssen-Bauer, who was in Kilinochchi at that time. Following his advice it was decided to open the sluice gates in our areas that were closed, accompanied by the SLMM. We went to the location with the head of mission of the SLMM. Knowing very well that we were going there for this purpose, the military fired artillery shells at us. The lives of the head of mission and of the other monitors of the SLMM were put in danger. They returned without completing the mission. The next day we opened the sluice gates.

The approach adopted by the government to handle the civil dispute created is part of government’s hidden military agenda. Its approach, using 10,000 troops for this attack was intended to remove our presence from Sampur in Trincomalee. The SLMM commented: "This attack is not for water but appears to be something else". True to the suspicions of many, the government took over areas that were under our control and by that action effectively withdrew from the CFA.

Where ever the military offensives were launched we took the SLMM to the site for investigations. In particular, the SLMM has accepted that the offensives in the east were started by the Sri Lankan military. The offensive that was going on in Trincomalee and Amparai shifted its theatre to the Muhamalai Forward Defence Lines (FDL) in Jaffna. The military closed many of the 16 routes that the parties agreed to keep open in clause 2.7 of the CFA. The A9 route, the only land route to Jaffna, was also closed. Supply to Jaffna was completely cut off. The Muhamalai offensive continued and non-stop curfew was imposed in Jaffna. The daily lives of the people have been seriously affected. The government maintained that the offensive was started by us.

We have repeatedly requested the SLMM to visit the FDL and conduct its investigations. We gave the SLMM security assurance and freedom of movement according to CFA clauses 3.8 and 3.9. The Sri Lankan military has continued to refuse to let the SLMM monitors visit the site to make their determination. As a result, the work of the SLMM is weakened. Exploiting this, the military is continuing with its offensives.

It was in this dire situation and context, we agreed for unconditional direct talks as a good will gesture, on request from the Norwegians and the co-chairs. The government, while agreeing for unconditional talks after dragging its feet, has continued with its military offensives and aerial bombardments. It attempted to force an all out war on us prior to the talks. It’s offensives continued in Vaharai area. We warned that if the government attempts another large-scale offensive on some false pretext we will be forced to re-examine our decision to attend direct talks.

We persisted with our request to reopen the A9 route in view of the civilian misery caused by the closure and assured our full cooperation. The government ignored our goodwill gestures and launched a new offensive at Muhamalai. We were forced to take defensive action from our military positions. The Sri Lankan military was forced to halt its offensive after facing huge losses. It continues to pay scant regard to the misery of the people in Jaffna.

Humanitarian workers are prevented from accessing the 50,000 refugees in Vakarai. Even the plight of the tsunami affected people fails to move the government. Several humanitarian agencies assisting the tsunami affected people were forced to halt their work because the government restricted fuel and building material coming into these areas. Four specialist doctors belonging to MSF working in a hospital in Jaffna were evicted. The services provided by these four medical specialists were paramount to the hospital. Another team of medical specialists brought by the ICRC to work in the Kilinochchi hospital were also denied permission. The Kilinochchi hospital presently has no medical specialists.

The killing, disappearance, abduction and displacement of civilians by the Sri Lankan military are continuing while an internationally backed CFA is in force. Since Geneva I talks, the Sri Lankan military, using the paramilitary as cover, has killed 870 civilians and has caused disappearances of 408 civilians. Among them 98 are children. People complain of inability to sleep when dogs bark at night as military goes past. The atmosphere is particularly frightening in Jaffna. Two young toddlers sleeping between the parents were killed with the parents in Allaipiddy; a two-year-old toddler was shot dead with her father as he was holding his daughter; 17 employees of Action Against Hunger NGO were murdered in Trincomalee after they were told to lie on the floor. At least 100 and perhaps more than 300 children have been abducted by the paramilitary with assistance from the Sri Lankan military in Batticaloa and Ampara.

At the Geneva talks, the government delegation leader said that investigations were continuing about the abductions of the TRO workers, the murder of five university students and the murder of Member of Parliament Joseph Pararajasingam and the culprits will be brought before the courts, he said. What has happened to these investigations?

The indiscriminate bombing and shelling has taken away equal number of civilian lives. Fifty-three school girls were killed when they were at a school camp in Mullaithivu; two babies were among the dead in another bombing in Puthukkudiyiruppi; and a near-term foetus in mother’s womb died as shrapnel from shelling pierced the mother’s stomach in Batticaloa.

181,643 people are displaced in the Tamil homeland. Many of the displaced in Trincomalee are denied assistance from INGOs and NGOs who have been barred from entering these areas; many are living under trees in rain; mothers are giving birth to babies in the rain; parents get up at night when it rains to hold something over the heads of young children; people left behind crops which they grew with borrowed money and they can no longer repay the debt. Eighty-one schools were either destroyed or not functioning due to displacement. This is in addition to 68 schools that were already not functioning due to take over of land for military purposes.

The closure of the A9 route and the resulting near starvation are cruel and deliberate actions. Babies are not getting the milk they need which could permanently affect their development; fishermen have lost their livelihood by the night-time curfew; farmers are unable to grow crops due to curfew, tense situation, lack of fuel and denial of seed import. Daily wage earners are unable to earn a living, their families facing near starvation.

The ban imposed by the military on import of fuel into our areas and fuel shortages in Jaffna has restricted the functioning of major hospitals in these areas. It is not hard to imagine the effect of fuel shortage on the functioning of hospitals in areas where even the electricity is generated using fuel.

The list of miseries of our people at the hands of the Sri Lankan military and its paramilitary is very long indeed. The best we can hope for from the current talks is therefore, the strengthening of the CFA agreement that has the potential to lead to a permanent, just peace in this island.

This CFA has the unique distinction of lessening the threat of resumption of the three decades-long war. The international community has an important role in ensuring its implementation. The international community has the capacity to bring pressure on the government, stop lending support to the government for its ethnically motivated killings and end its assistance to the government for its military offensives.

We request the international community, the co-chairs and the Norwegian facilitators to act to ensure one hundred per cent the implementation of the CFA and the strengthening the role of the SLMM. We are confident that such actions will bring normalcy in the lives of our people, and help in taking forward the peace process towards a satisfactory conclusion. The Island

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October 31, 2006 - Posted by | News and politics, South Asia

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