TNA – Rejected in the North, Attempts to Entice East
By a Special Correspondent
A collection of organisations, under the banner of ‘North and East Civil Society Organisations’ conducted a three-day walk from 3 to 6 February, from Pottuvil in the Ampara District to Polihandi in the Jaffna District, completely disregarding the fast-spreading COVID-19 pandemic in the country and in violation of a number of health guidelines put in place to control the virus spread and to safeguard the people.
Every single day, the frontline workers including healthcare professionals as well as Security Forces and Police, engage in a battle with a silent enemy, at an enormous risk to their lives and the lives of their loved ones, simply to protect all the people of this country.
Yet, the organisers of this walk seemed determined to put the lives of those who participated in this walk, as well as those who came into their contact at risk, while wilfully flouting the law of this country, simply for the reason of creating a rift between the communities inhabiting this country and to prevent any chances this country may have towards reaching post-war reconciliation.
Their agenda is more than apparent by the list of reasons mentioned in a letter, which they had curiously addressed to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief and the Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights. Some of them are as follows:
1) Continuing land grab in Tamil areas and converting Tamils’ traditional and historical places into Sinhalese areas by establishing Buddhist temples after destroying Hindu temples. As of now around 200 Hindu temples were affected;
2) Muslims who died due to COVID are cremated against the wishes of the families and against Islamic teachings;
3) Tamils in the Upcountry have been urging for pay raise of Rs 1,000, but the Government is not responding to their demands;
4) Since the war ended 10 years ago, militarisation of Tamil areas is continuing and Tamils’ historical identity is destroyed with the aim to change demography in favour of Sinhalese, using different Government Departments, especially Archaeological Department. Also, Government sponsored Sinhalese settlements are continuing;
5) Tamil cattle owners are facing numerous problems, where their gracing areas are being occupied by Sinhalese and their cows killed.
6) PTA which has been used to imprison Tamil youths without charge or trial for over 40 years, are now being used against Muslims.
7) Tamil political prisoners have been imprisoned for years without trial. The Government has pardoned Sinhalese on a regular basis, but none of the Tamil political prisoners were pardoned.
8) Families of the enforced disappeared have been protesting to find their loved ones, but the Government refuses to give them an answer.
9) Tamils have been denied the Right to ‘Remember’ their war dead, as demonstrated by denying remembrance events, destruction of cemeteries of the war dead and demolition of memorials.
10) Government is targeting Tamil journalists who cover these abuses and Tamil Civil Society activists who protest these abuses.
The walk was supposedly organised by a collection of ‘civil society’ organisations, which are based in both North and East.
However, it is no secret that the foremost hand behind this protest is the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), whose past has been tainted by its unflinching support of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the terrorist outfit that committed untold atrocities on Sri Lankan soil and irreparably damaged its social fabric for three long decades.
Despite the LTTE leadership was wiped out some 12 years ago, the TNA is still carrying forward its sordid campaign, with no regard for the people who suffered the most during the war – the people of the North – for their petty political gain.
It is a well-known fact that the TNA initiated its political journey as the proxy political wing of the LTTE. The LTTE felt the need for a political wing, following decade of militant activity to win a separate State within Sri Lanka, in order to gain international backing and to mislead and misinform the people.
The LTTE first founded a political party as far back as in 1989, under a top-rung LTTE leader, who was known by the nom de guerre Mahaththaya Yogaratnum or Yogi and was the Secretary of the party. The Ranasinghe Premadasa Government of the time sanctioned the political party and they even had a press conference in a Colombo hotel. With the end the Premadasa era, the LTTE political party too faded away. It was again in 2002 that LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran established the TNA.
The foremost task handled by the TNA since then, was to sing hosannas for the LTTE. They received millions of dollars as funds for this task. After the obliteration of the LTTE, the TNA solely survived on the support of the LTTE sympathisers scattered around the world. The TNA has two main objectives – taking bogus claims of human rights violations against Sri Lanka to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in order to pocket some dollars and then to misinform and mislead the people of the North. Every year, without fail, the TNA gets ready in time for UNHRC sessions. They start this by stirring the sentiments of the people in the otherwise tranquil North, by organising harthals and protests.
So far, the UNHRC has conducted 45 sessions. From 22 February until 19 March the Council will conduct its 46th session. Sri Lanka has already rejected the allegations listed by the HR High Commissioner. It is expected that this year’s session will be heated when it comes to the report prepared by the Office of UN High Commissioner on Human Rights.
In the previous years, the TNA’s sole focus had been the North of Sri Lanka. However, this year, it seems they have roped in a number of organisations in the East, in order to bring in more allegations against Sri Lanka. There is an underlying reason why the TNA had been compelled to reach out to some Non-Governmental organisations in the East.
It is no secret that TNA’s popularity in the North has been dwindling over the past few years. The best example for this is the recently concluded General Election. In the election, TNA General Secretary and the Leader of Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi, Mavai Senthirajah was defeated. The TNA would have realised that in the face of their losing popularity in the North, if they had organised protests there, they would not have been able to muster the necessary public support. Hence, the Alliance had reached out to some organisations in the East, to at least show numbers.
The TNA’s octogenarian leader is presently rendered incapacitated by his age to attend to the Alliance’s activities. Hence, it is currently helmed by defeated member, Mavai Senthirajah. However, the puppet-master behind all of these anti-Sri Lanka activities is none other than, TNA National List MP, M.A. Sumanthiran.
His objective was to gather all the Tamil speaking people of the North and the East, including the Muslims, and upcountry Tamils, for the walk, to show that they were united for a cause common to them all.
He made this call, while knowing fully-well the Court had issued an Order preventing a large gathering of people given the health crisis currently prevailing in the country. Wasn’t Sumanthiran, being an Attorney-at-Law, wilfully neglecting a Court Order? Was he not acting in contempt of Court?
This is a well-timed walk: Their aim is to taint the 73rd Independence Day celebrations, which was celebrated on 4 February by people across the nation. The second is to get the attention of the UNHRC.
However, on 1 February Kaluwanchikudy Magistrate’s Court issued an Order preventing this walk, on the request of Kaluwanchikudy Police OIC, CI Upul Gunawardena. The Court Order says the walk had the potential to aggravate the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and was intended to spread discord among the people of this country. Followed by this, the Mannar Magistrate, M. Ganesharaja issued an Order preventing the procession from entering the Mannar District on 3 February, after considering a B report submitted by the Mannar Police against ITAK Leader Mavai Senthirajah, TNA MP Sumanthiran, Jaffna Mayor V. Manivannan and 14 others, on the basis that the walk would threaten the harmony between communities and disrupt Independence Day celebrations. Then, Akkaraipattu Magistrate’s Court also issued an Order preventing the walk. This was followed by a similar Order issued by the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court as well as Mullaitivu Magistrate’s Court.
Unfortunately, the protesters walked-on, disregarding all these Court Orders. Their plan was to make the Police prevent their walk and highlight it in Geneva as another incident of human rights violations.
The most interesting aspect of this protest is the crocodile tears shed by the organisers for the Muslim community and upcountry Tamils. The Muslim community is currently discussing the issue of mandatory cremation prescribed by the health authorities, which has become an issue for the Muslim community. However, why they had to drag this issue into their agenda, makes one wonder whether they had lost sufficient support from the Tamil community, for their traditional rallying calls.
On the other hand, the LTTE’s political proxy TNA has no right to discuss the issues of the Muslim community in this country. It is still fresh in the memories of many Muslims, how the LTTE ordered the Muslim community living in the North in 1990, to leave their homes and livelihoods within 24 hours, some of whom had to leave with only the clothes on their backs.
Following the exodus, their lands and businesses were taken over by the LTTE. Thousands of Muslims, some even carrying newborn babies, had to flee to the Mannar region and the South, in search of safety.
It is nothing short of comical that those who did not raise their voices against the injustices committed by the LTTE against these people have today woken up to talk about their burial rights. It was seen that several Muslim leaders had joined the walk in Addalaichenai. Were they not betraying the thousands of Muslims who had to suffer at the hands of the LTTE, by joining hands with a group that unquestioningly supported the LTTE throughout the war?
The protesters also wanted to mislead the upcountry Tamils by saying that the Government did not pay any heed to the calls by the plantation workers to increase their daily wages to Rs 1,000. Years ago, when LTTE Leader Prabhakaran was talking about the rights of the plantation workers, the Ceylon Workers Congress Leader, Savumiamoorthy Thondaman, unequivocally said, “You concentrate on the Tamils in the North, stay away from the upcountry. I will take care of the upcountry people.”
Interestingly, it was the politicians from the North who coined the derogatory term, ‘Kallathoni’ to refer to the people of upcountry. Even after the upcountry Tamils were granted citizenship of this country, it was the Tamils from the North who refused to refer to these people as ‘Sri Lankan Tamils’ but instead insisted on calling them ‘Tamils of Indian Origin’. Throughout history, they never raised their voices on behalf of the upcountry Tamils. It is ironic, nay insulting, that they decided to drag the upcountry Tamils to fulfil their selfish agendas.
Issuing a statement on the activities of the TNA, veteran politician and TULF Leader V. Anandasangaree, has questioned what the TNA had achieved in the last 10 years, in terms of the rights of the Tamil people. Year-after- year, they go to Geneva to protest against Sri Lanka, and this year too they were giving false hope to the people, promising to get results for a cause which they had failed to fulfil over the decade.
Anadasangaree also states that as the TNA now works closely with the former Army Commander Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, who claims that he single-handedly ended the war, they can easily get the answers to what happened to the LTTE cadres they claimed had surrendered at the end of the war. What is the need to go to Geneva to find out, they can easily ask Fonseka, he says.
He also states the TNA is only enacting a drama when the UNHRC sessions near. He claims that in 2010, the TNA went from door-to-door canvassing votes for Sarath Fonseka, the Commander of the Army during the last phase of the war. This brings to question, whose interests are they trying to safeguard? The interests of the Tamil people or their own selfish interests?
It is clear that what the TNA is trying to do is supplementing their dwindling support in the North with a few organisations from the East. The last thing that the TNA as well as all the LTTE sympathisers around the world want to see in Sri Lanka is the communities in this country living in peace and unity.
Although they call for reconciliation, it is they who drive a wedge between the communities, in order to fill their pockets with dollars. Year after year, they betray the people who vote them to power and play with their sentiments, in order to fulfil their agendas.
However, it is said that you cannot fool all the people all the time. The best example is the growing disenchantment with the TNA’s antics by the people of Jaffna. A vast number of people were seen participating in the Independence Day celebrations organised by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party in Jaffna on Thursday, giving a testimony to the fact that people in the North are ready to live under the Sri Lankan flag, as one nation and one people.
The most interesting fact to observe during the TNA’s so-called P2P walk was the protest organised by the civil society organisations in the North, urging the international community and the UNHRC to wake up to the duplicitous actions of the TNA.
Convener of the Jaffna Civil Society Centre, Arulanandan Arul Siddharth said during a protest in Jaffna, “We urge the international community to not to buy any crap from this Tamil National Alliance. These people are not concerned about our human rights. These people never talked about our human rights before 2009. We were denied our freedom, liberty and democracy, especially democracy, before 2009. We never had democracy. These people don’t have a right to talk about democracy now. Under the LTTE control nobody had democracy. We never had liberty. We never had freedom. We never had freedom of expression. We even couldn’t talk. That was the actual problem for us. These movements, EPRLF, PLOTE, TELO, LTTE, have crime rates. They all tortured us. They all robbed us. They all kidnapped us. They all killed us. These things are not talked in Geneva. They don’t have any concern about human rights. They just do politics in Geneva. Now it has already been 11 years after 2009. But, there is no outcome, and no solution for this issue. So, we urge the international community to talk about these things from the grassroots level, and please invite us to talk about these actual facts from Tamil people. Our aspirations and grievances are not addressed by Tamil politicians yet.”
Meanwhile, in response to the TNA’s protest, a civil society collective comprising 31 civil organisations in the South handed a letter to the UNHRC, urging them to take action against the LTTE and pro-LTTE elements overseas, who are attempting to disrupt reconciliation, peace and stability of the country.
Issuing a statement on the occasion, they say, “For 30 years, successive Governments tried to bring the LTTE to the negotiation table, whose efforts were not successful as the LTTE insisted on a separate State in Sri Lanka. The war that killed Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims in this country was finally ended in 2009.
“It is known by the people in this country that the war was not against any ethnic community in the country but against the LTTE terrorists. Those who benefited mostly from the end of the war were the Tamil people of this country”.
“Only those who live in Sri Lanka know the level of economic and infrastructure development that took place in the North and the East and other parts of the country over the last 12 years.
“It is more than apparent that certain countries and organisations based overseas, try to interpret the situation in Sri Lanka without even visiting this country, only to serve their geopolitical interests by disrupting peace, reconciliation and development in Sri Lanka. This is clear to see in a number of human right reports compiled by such organisations in the past. There is a world of difference between what is mentioned in a report compiled in Geneva and the ground realities of Sri Lanka. It is the same with the recent report issued by the High Commissioner of Human Rights.
“This is what 31 civil organisations highlight in a letter sent to the UN and its member countries. We urge them to stop bringing human rights violations allegations against small countries, in order to fulfil their vested geopolitical agendas.
“We urge them to talk to the common people living in the districts of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu, without going after the funds given to them by the Tamil diaspora. What the people in this country need is to secure their future, not harp of what happened in the past.
“The terror unleashed in this country by the LTTE ended in 2009. People do not need to go through that phase as a result of political and geopolitical agendas of some. As civil society organisations we urge to let us find solutions for our problems without interfering in our sovereignty and unity.
“We are now fed up with the advice given to us by foreigners. What we need now is genuine reconciliation and development.”
Meanwhile, in his speech to the United Nations Security Council’s Arria Formula Meeting on Children and Armed Conflict held in New York recently, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN, Mohan Peiris, said although Sri Lanka rehabilitated all 594 child soldiers recruited by the LTTE without prosecuting them, it is deeply regrettable that certain sectors of the international community and even certain entities of the United Nations refuse to acknowledge such success stories.
He said the plight of children is worsened by the prolonged effects of poverty, all forms of violence and conflict.
“Sadly, as most of us present today would know, my country – Sri Lanka – experienced the phenomenon of child soldiers at the hands of a group of non-State actors.
“This group used intimidation and terror tactics to pressurise families of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka to give their sons and daughters for their military purposes. When families refused, the children were abducted from schools or taken forcibly from their homes. Parents who resisted such recruitment faced violence, detention and even death. We are all too aware of what happens to children in the hands of such groups.
“As such, following the neutralisation of this group in 2009, the Government of Sri Lanka had a substantial task in relation to rehabilitation and reconciliation. One of the first priorities of the Government was to look after these children who had been forced to adorn the cyanide capsule around their necks – to rehabilitate them, reunite them with their families, restore normalcy in their lives and help them become productive and proud citizens.
“All these child soldiers – 594 of them were rehabilitated and reunited with their families. Special attention was given to those whose education had been disrupted due to conscription and who were desiring to complete their formal education.
“As a result, a number of former child soldiers participated in the national examinations. 11 children took up the University Entrance Examination and 03 went on to gain admission to university and university education. Many others underwent vocational training and are now in meaningful employment.
“I’m just going to show you a little photograph, of a child soldier holding up the cyanide capsule. Here is another soldier, with one of her handlers, who is now actually living in the United Kingdom without any sanction whatsoever. Here is another picture of the child soldiers in the back of a tractor. Now these are things that we don’t want to see hereafter.
“It is well recognised that involvement in violent conflict and loss of loved ones cause trauma and other psychological effects that affect a child’s growth and education. These children were provided with professional counselling. Those that were disabled, injured and required medical intervention were well looked after. National identity cards were provided to them, giving them a sense of belongingness.
“As a matter of policy, no child solider was prosecuted, with priority being accorded to their investigations, and speedy disposal of their cases. This was done with the assistance of the United Nations agencies, the ICRC and civil society organisations. Sri Lanka had a success story to share with the world – unfortunately this is now a forgotten story.
“It is deeply regrettable that certain sectors of the international community and even certain entities of the United Nations refuse to acknowledge such success stories. We continue to be hounded for defeating terrorism.
“They continue to be misled by the misinformation being spread by the remnant elements of this group of non-State actors that had brought such misery to their own community and children.
“They continue to remain hostage to the political benefits accrued with such double standards. If we are serious about sustainably dealing with the issues arising out of conflict, including that of children, we need to remove the wool over our eyes.
“We need to work on common ground and face the reality – if we are to make any real progress for humanity.
“Sri Lanka will continue to look after our own children and ensure that everyone will have a success story to tell and I wish that the other children suffering in the rest of the world would someday be emancipated from these miseries and would be free to live as members of a happy human family,” Peiris said.
(Inputs by T. Chandrasekara)