The Seething East
by Ajit Kumar Singh
(October 30, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) Amidst the rhetoric of Government troop’s on the verge of capturing the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s (LTTE’s) Headquarters in Kilinochchi, the Eastern Province is witnessing increasing violence. The simmering intra party rivalry in the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) alliance partner Tamileela Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP), meanwhile, poses serious challenges to the re-established ‘model democratic institution’ which President Mahinda Rajapakse promises to set up in the soon-to-be liberated Northern Province.
Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan aka Pillayan was appointed as the Chief Minister of the Eastern Province on May 16, 2008. Since then, as many as 22 civilians, 20 security force (SF) personnel and 33 militants, including 24 LTTE militants and nine TMVP cadres, have been killed in more than 158 militancy-related incidents in the Eastern Province, according to data complied by the Institute for Conflict Management.
Some of the significant incidents of violence carried out by the LTTE in the Eastern Province since May 16, 2008, include:
October 16: Police recovered four dead bodies of farmers in the Kanchkudichchiaru area of Ampara District. The farmers were allegedly shot dead by LTTE militants.
September 21: The chief priest at the Trincomalee Koneshwaran Temple, Thivathunaraja Kurukkal, who maintained close relations with the SFs, was killed by ‘pistol gang’ militants of the LTTE while he was riding a motorcycle on Pathima Street in Trincomalee.
September 19: The Eravur area leader of the TMVP, identified as Parathawaran Udayan, was shot dead by LTTE militants near the TMVP area office located in the Thalawai area of Eravur in the Batticaloa District.
September 17: A female Assistant Engineer, Lokeshwaran Premalatha, attached with the Ministry of Nation Building and actively engaged in the eastern development programme, Negenahira Navodaya (Resurrection of the East), was shot dead by two ‘pistol gang’ militants of the LTTE at her residence at Thihativu in the Kalawanchikudi area of Batticaloa District.
August 26: Using a small aircraft, the LTTE dropped two improvised bombs on the Trincomalee Naval Base. The LTTE launched the air raid on the naval camp at about 9:15 pm (SLST). While one of the two bombs failed to explode, 10 sailors were injured in the attack.
August 15: An Eelam People’s Democratic Party member was shot dead by LTTE militants in the Kaththankudy area of Batticaloa District.
July 10: Three civilians, identified as Surendra Kumara, Wasantha Premakumara and Asanka Namal Buddhika from the Wattegama area of Kurunegala District, were shot dead by a ‘pistol gang’ militant of the LTTE in the Kalmunai area of Ampara District.
June 23: Three Policemen were killed and another injured when suspected LTTE militants carried out a bomb explosion near the Aiyththamalai Police Post in Batticaloa District.
June 2: The TMVP Eravurpattu Pradeshiya Sabha Deputy Chairman, Aiyathurai Pushpanadan alias Kattan, and his bodyguard, Arsakoon Pullai Mohandas alias Amburaj, were shot dead by suspected ‘pistol gang’ militants of the LTTE at Eravur in the Kalawanchikudi area of Batticaloa District.
May 22: Two members of the TMVP and three civilians were killed and four other people were wounded by suspected militants in two separate incidents in the Batticaloa District. Two TMVP cadres, including the party's chief organiser for Katankudi, were shot dead by suspected LTTE militants. In a separate incident, also at Arayampathi in Katankudi area, three Muslim civilians were killed by suspected militants.
On the other hand, the SFs have killed several LTTE militants, including some top leaders, and have also neutralised many of the outfit’s plans by recovering large hauls of arms and ammunition, undermining the LTTE’s efforts to re-establish its stronghold in the East, an objective the LTTE leadership had articulated when it lost its citadel in July 2007. On October 3, 2008, three LTTE militants were killed after a confrontation with a combined Army-Air Force foot patrol in the eastern village of Kattikulam in the Trincomalee District. Separately, two LTTE cadres were killed and their bodies found subsequently by the SFs at Vellankulam in the Trincomalee District on August 27, 2008. The slain militants were identified as Viniden, the Trincomalee North area leader, and Kanthan. The SFs also killed LTTE’s intelligence wing leader for Trincomalee, Soundrarajan alias Thangan, during a clearing operation at Manachchena in the east of Neelapola on June 19, 2008. He had been entrusted with the clandestine operation since January 2008, after his predecessor, Ari Chelvam was killed by the Army. Earlier, on June 10, 2008, three ‘pistol gang’ militants of the LTTE were killed during a Police and Army combined cordon and search operation at Pallikudiruppu in the Akkaraipattu area of Ampara District. In another significant incident on July 17, 2008, the SFs recovered a powerful three-kilogram Claymore mine and two hand grenades from the Valaichchenai Railway Station premises in the Batticaloa District following a tip-off given by a civilian, thus averting a major bloodbath, since a train from Polonnaruwa was expected at the station just a few minutes after the recoveries were made. The claymore, two hand grenades, two 9-V batteries and the 120-m long detonator wire had been kept covered, in close proximity to the main entrance of the Railway Station.
Meanwhile, according to an October 21, 2008, report, the Sri Lankan Government has disclosed that the de-mining process in the Eastern Province is almost finished. M.S Jayasinghe, senior consultant to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights indicated that 95 percent of the de-mining had been finished, adding, "Thoppigala in Batticaloa District is the only area still to de-mine." He also said that once the full de-mining process is completed, the Government would take measures to resettle the people in Thoppigala area. Earlier, on September 19, 2008, Secretary to the Resettlement Ministry, A.C.M. Razik, had said the resettlement of the Eastern Province is almost finished under the region's development project and that 51,851 families have been resettled. The Government has reportedly allocated a total of SLR 2 billion for the development of infrastructure and de-mining operations in the Eastern Province.
But the simmering intra party rivalry in the TMVP since the return of its founder Vinayagamoorthy Muraleetharan aka ‘Colonel’ Karuna Amman on July 3 is the worrisome factor which seems to undo all that the Government has achieved so far. Karuna has returned to Sri Lanka after completing his prison term in Britain on charges of violation of immigration laws. At this juncture, there appears to be no end of clashes between the two factions of the TMVP – led respectively by Pillayan and Karuna. In one such incident, cadres of the two factions clashed over the party's printing press in the Batticaloa town on October 17, 2008. According to the Police, the Karuna faction of the TMVP raided the printing office, "Thenagama", run by the Pillayan faction and took the control, detaining 13 members of the Pillayan group. No one was, however, reported injured in the incident.
Colombo, though, has tried to pacify the two factions. Karuna was sworn in as a Member of Parliament, representing the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA), on October 6, 2008, even as Pillayan retains his control of the Eastern Province. But the fight for dominance between the two factions is far from over. An October 21 report stated that, in a meeting with the heads and editors of media at the presidential secretariat, Karuna had argued that Police powers should not be devolved to Provincial Councils, a provision under the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. "We do not need police powers at the moment because of the current security situation," he had said at the meeting chaired by President Mahinda Rajapakse. Distancing itself from Karuna’s stand, the TMVP leadership, according to an October 23 report, has demanded full Police powers in the Eastern province. Kumarasamy Nandagopan aka Raghu stated that the TMVP is for the full devolution of powers, including Police powers, to the regions, contrary to views expressed by Karuna. Stressing his authority as President of the party according to the registration documents, he argued that Karuna’s opinion did not reflect that of the party. He added that a formal letter had been sent by the TMVP General Secretary demanding an explanation from Karuna in this regard.
The internal rivalries between the factions have escalated as a result of the security scenario in the province. US Ambassador Robert Blake, while addressing the inauguration ceremony of the Kalawanchikudi Vocational Training Centre in the Batticaloa District on September 23, 2008, noted that abductions, extra-judicial killings and other security challenges must end in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka to attract private sector investments to develop the region. The International Crisis Group, in its report of October 15, 2008, has noted that Muslims, Tamils and Sinhalese all feel weak and under threat, and recent ethnic violence could easily worsen. The Province witnessed large scale communal tension after the abductions of a Muslim youth from Eravur in the Batticaloa District on May 22, 2008, compelling the Government to impose curfew, and still suffers under the scourge of militancy.
‘Operation Watershed’, which commenced on July 22, 2006, with the closure of the Mavil Aru anicut by the LTTE, depriving over 30,000 people of water, ended successfully on August 11, 2007, culminated in the re-establishment of democratic institutions in the Eastern Province. The province is ethnically the most complex region of the country and has been the epicentre of post-independence conflicts. As the LTTE comes under increasing pressure in the North, it will seek greater destabilisation of the East, and the objectives of democratisation and normalisation in the province are bound to be jeopardised further. It is imperative, consequently, for the Rajapakse Government to urgently address the problems of the ‘Eastern Cauldron’, notwithstanding the more pressing engagement in the war in the north. - Sri Lanka Guardian