Sri Lanka's East turns into another Iraq and Afghanistan
By Satheesan Kumaaran
Wednesday, May 14, 2008

After the recently concluded Eastern Provincial Council (EPC) elections that shut out the LTTE, a key stakeholder in the fight for the liberation of the Tamils for the last 32 years, the people in eastern Sri Lanka anticipate the deterioration of their territory along lines similar to Iraq and Afghanistan in the aftermath of the U.S.-led coalition's war on terror. Whether Pillayan, Devananda, Anandasangaree or Chandrahasan agree or not, there is no getting beyond the fact that the Tamils in the east and the north believe in the LTTE as their sole representative, and that no-one other than the LTTE can obtain their freedom.

Lessons from Afghanistan and Iraq
The U.S. sent its armed forces into Afghanistan, as part of a NATO-supported response to the destruction of New York's World Trade Centre by al-Qaeda on September 11, 2001. Their reason to capture Osama bin Laden, destroy al-Qaeda, and remove the Taliban regime which had provided support and a safe haven for al-Qaeda.

Following the fall of the Taliban government, the U.S.-led coalition helped organize presidential and parliamentary elections in 2004 and 2005 respectively resulting in the election of Hamid Karzai as president and a multi-party system to participate in the 2005 parliamentary elections and, eventually, form a coalition government. The U.S. wanted a coalition government in Afghanistan because, if the majority party antagonized the U.S., it could influence the fractional parties to withdraw their support, leading to new elections.

With the Afghani situation somewhat stabilized with a new leader vowing to bring peace and stability to the country by ridding the country of the Taliban, the U.S. turned its attention to the weapons of mass destruction said to have been in Iraq that ostensibly posed a greater danger to international peace. Eventually, Saddam was captured, tried and hanged along with some of his senior advisors.

An interim government was established to include representatives from all Iraqi ethnic and religious communities. This interim government held elections in 2005 to begin the process of making a constitution. Coerced by the U.S., the majority of Shiites and Kurds expressed their satisfaction over the elections saying that they were the first genuinely free elections in Iraq's history, with fair representation of all ethnic groups. The Sunnis disagreed, claiming that the elections were not genuinely free and fair, and pointed out several flaws in the process.

Nearly seven years have passed since U.S.-coalition forces went into Afghanistan and nearly five years since going into Iraq and the political situation in these two countries still remains uncertain. The elections in these two countries have become a showcase to the world as to how not to establish good governance, and thereby destabilizing the countries for decades to come. The people of these countries are still victims. These people do not enjoy the real freedom that they wanted under their newly elected governments because the security situation has not improved with the attempted establishment of a kind of democracy. It will take years for these citizens to rebuild their lives who continue to live under the constant threat of attack by insurgents.

Message for Sri Lanka
Similarly, the GoSL led by Mahinda Rajapaksa took control of the East by claiming his government's determination to wipe out the LTTE. However, Rajapaksa failed to recognize that, on the ground, this situation would create many more factions within the East resulting in infighting and further loss of human life in the East.

The paramilitary TMVP group, led by Pillayan, backed the ruling of the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) while the Opposition United National Party (UNP) and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) contested the elections. Colombo considers the election of the newly-established EPC a stepping stone and validation of the separation of the North and the East in 2006 by the Supreme Court.

This conflict-stricken region will pay a high price similar to what the Afghanis and Iraqis face in the aftermath in their respective ethnic battles. However, unlike Iraq or Afghanistan, the LTTE has the military prowess to bring the East under their control, again, once they defeat the Sri Lankan armed forces in the North. The lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan should be examples for the Sri Lankan rulers who, to ensure their political survival, believe in shedding the blood of innocents regardless of ethnic groupings.

Elections intensify violence a typical phenomenon of the lack of democracy

It is quite possible that the Tamil rebels have inaugurated their attacks in the East by bombing and causing heavy damage to civilians, as is evidenced by the attack at the City Café Hotel near the Amparai clock tower the night of Friday, May 9 (the blast occurred some hours prior to the commencement of voting on Saturday). Twelve people died, thirty-six were injured, and many of the victims were Sinhalese.

Some hours before the commencement of the elections on Saturday morning - around 2:20 a.m. - the LTTE's Sea Tigers' commando unit blew up a Sri Lankan troop carrier and supply ship in Trincomalee harbour. The LTTE's goal is to use modern technologies to target its enemy in the sea while trying to minimize their casualties.

The UPFA's paramilitary partner, the Karuna group led by Pillayan, took and order into their own hands. They threatened voters into voting for them and sent their supporters to vote again and again for them after erasing the ink. A statement by the Centre of Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) claimed that it had recorded 64 major offenses - murder, attempted murder, assault, threat and intimidation, impersonation and ballot stuffing. The majority of these major offences happened in Batticaloa district, 12 in Amparai, and 8 in Trincomalee. It also urged the Sri Lankan Election Commissioner to annul the poll in the stations it had identified. There was also a report of a mortar attack close to polling stations wounding four civilians.

The EPC will not bring peace and economic development to the East. Rather, it will only create clashes between communities. The only good thing to come out of the EPC elections is for the government in Colombo because they can stay in power with political and economic stability, and regain some of the lost faith of the people of the south following heavy casualties on the northern fronts at the hands of the LTTE. The GoSL needed a quick political or military victory. That came in the form of winning the EPC elections turning the focus of the people of the south on the eastern election victory and away from their losing war effort. The victims in this election are the eastern people and the paramilitaries who will face great resistance from the LTTE in the weeks or months to come.

Eastern election results
A total of 982,721 registered voters were eligible to vote to elect 37 members out of a total of 1342 candidates in the East comprising- three districts namely, Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Amparai or Digamadulla in Sinhala. Eastern Sri Lanka is a complicated region as compared to the North because Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese all reside therein. The demography in the East is as follows: Trincomalee district - population 340,188 (Tamil 48 percent, Muslim 28.2 percent, and Sinhala 23.4 percent); Batticaloa district - population 485,447 (Tamil 74.3 percent, Muslim 23.5 percent, and Sinhala 1.3 percent); and, Amparai district - population 592,997 (Muslim 41.3 percent, Sinhala 39.9 percent, and Tamil 18.4 percent). Tamil population in Trincomalee and Amparai districts have shrunk considerably after systematic colonization and forced evacuation of Tamils from their ancestral homeland by paramilitaries sponsored by the Sri Lankan State, for example Sampur and Muttur areas.

Voting for the EPC election commenced around 7:00 a.m. Saturday morning with 1,070 polling stations in the three districts, and concluded at 4:00 p. m. with a reported 60 percent voter turn-out registered across the three districts. The polling was high in Sinhalese and Muslim areas while an average of 45-50 percent votes were registered in Tamil areas.

Tamils feel that the East is the resource region of their homeland. The GoSL wanted to control the East for various reasons, including its harbour in Trincomalee. The East is made up of 9,965 square kilometres covering around 16 percent of the total land mass of Sri Lanka, with a maximum length of 286 kilometres from Kumana in the South to Pulmoddai in the Northeast. The maximum breadth is 89 kilometres from Ulhitiya in the West to Kirankulam in the East.

The election results were officially announced Sunday morning and, as predicted, came out in favour of the UPFA-TMVP coalition with 52 percent of the vote and a total of 20 seats on the 37-member council. The opposition UNP - which ran in coalition with SLMC - won 42 percent of the vote and 15 seats, while People's Liberation Front and Tamil Democratic National Alliance won a seat each.

President Rajapaksa claimed the TMVP - UPFA victory, a mandate by the eastern people to crush the LTTE and a victory for democracy and permanent peace in the East. This peace would not come by partnering with a real terrorist group - the TMVP - responsible for the mass murders and abductions of people of all ethnic groups. The people in the East know the real perpetrators of these crimes. These paramilitaries under the patronage of Rajapaksa, puerile as they are, have neither the vision nor the conceptions as to the aspirations of the Tamils. They are just upstarts. By allying himself with the TMVP, Rajapaksa has handed over the people's affairs to a bunch of criminals. The day will come when the TMVP will turn their guns on its partners. The LTTE has vowed to break Rajapaksa's hold on the East by breaking its political and military fronts.

Karuna - Pillayan factor
In addition, Karuna, who was once the LTTE's eastern commander and the founder of the TMVP, has been released from a British jail where he was incarcerated. Karuna was moved from Wormwood Scrubs prison to a detention centre in Harmondsworth having served less than four months of his nine-month sentence. Apparently the 32 days he spent in custody awaiting trial were taken into consideration and he was granted early release for good behaviour. Usually the detainees held at detention centres are deported back to their home countries either during the holidays or on weekends so that they are not able to contact their lawyers.

It is believed that he went to the U.K. with the support of Sri Lankan government. He obtained a diplomatic passport through Sri Lanka's Defense Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa, brother of the Sri Lankan president. The British police caught him while residing in London last year. His wife and three children also went to England prior to Karuna. Their asylum claims are still pending.

Karuna will be greeted with a red carpet upon his arrival in Colombo. This man with a massive human rights abuse record will take control of the new Eastern Council and be a VVIP in the East. The GoSL will have their work cut out for them in trying to establish deal between Pillayan and Karuna. These two individuals were fighting each other before Karuna left the island over the TMVP leadership. In Karuna's absence, Pillayan has had full control of the TMVP. The GoSL is eager to work out a deal between Pillayan and Karuna so they will not fight each other. However, it is unlikely to happen because the UPFA will be working towards peace between the two individuals for their own sake.

However, human rights organisations are calling for Karuna to be investigated for war crimes. Amnesty International has expressed disappointment that, despite six months of investigation, the British authorities haven't found enough evidence to charge him.

LTTE's 'Jayanthan Brigade' comes out
The LTTE's most-feared "Jayanthan Brigade" celebrated its 16th establishment anniversary on May 4 with a speech by Special Commander Keerthy announcing that the brigade is ready to liberate the East from paramilitaries and Sri Lankan armed forces. He said his brigade has sacrificed 1580 fighters, making it the fiercest brigade in the LTTE. Until this time, Tamils around the world had been asking whether the Jayanthan Brigade had been completely wiped out after Karuna broke away from the LTTE. The Jayanthan Brigade had not undertaken any military operations since Karuna's expulsion from the LTTE. The recent gathering of the brigade shows that the LTTE leadership has put the Jayanthan Brigade on display to the public.

Brigade Special Commander Keerthy, who once the head of Batticaloa-Amparai Intelligence wing of the LTTE, said: "The LTTE leadership has not yet given us the instruction to deploy our cadres in the battlegrounds. Whenever such green signal will be given, the Jayanthan Brigade will start giving birth to success stories in the battlegrounds one after another...Jayanthan Brigade is totally ready to liberate the East from the so-called Pillayan group and Sri Lankan armed forces." He described Pillayan as a child without knowledge of LTTE strategies, and asserted that he and his associates would pay a heavy price soon.

The message from the Jayanthan Brigade is a reminder to many people that it will not allow the East to remain in the hands of Karuna or Pillayan's group or the GoSL for long. And, the people living in the East are caught in the middle. The GoSL should have learned from the situations in Afghanistan and Iraq before committing such a blunder in Sri Lanka. Because of this ignorance, people in the East have to pay the price, becoming victims of power-hungry politicians and paramilitaries.

Peace is still not out of reach. However, permanent peace can only be achieved when the parties concerned enter into meaningful dialogue, and the paramilitaries are disarmed. The elections in the North and East will never bring peace to the deeply rooted national question, as demonstrated by Afghanistan and Iraq.

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Source: The Bottom Line (