‘Like a burning log snatched from a fire…’ –I

By Nalin Swaris

(April 27, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) "Like a burning log … like a burning log"… The words kept pounding inside my head in the days and week that followed the regaining of Kilinocchi. It was as if the beloved country has been saved from a frightening apocalypse – the sheer magnitude of weaponry the LTTE had possessed; the enormous stockpiles of ammunition, assault rifles, landmines, claymore bombs, surface to air missiles, anti-air craft guns, submarines, underwater scooters, the underground military and luxury bunkers. And on and on the discoveries went as LTTE strongholds fell to the army.

"Like a burning log, like a burning …" I knew it was from the Biblical Old Testament, but the exact source eluded me. On a whim, I Googled the words and several web sites carried the full text. It was from the Book of the Prophet Amos 4:11. Yahweh speaking through the prophet Amos reminds the people of Israel how they had been saved from the fire and brimstone of Sodom and Gomorrah, "You were like a burning log snatched from a fire." Though the context is different the simile is most apt. The country had been on the brink of an unthinkable disaster. It had been saved like a burning log snatched from a fire. No wonder the words came back from a distant memory.

A young naval officer told me, "If the cease fire agreement had lasted another two years, coastal areas from Yala in the South up through Jaffna and down the west coast as far as Chilaw, might have fallen into the hands of the Tigers."

The Wickremesinghe–Westborg–Prabhakaran Ceasefire Agreement set in motion what was preposterously called a ‘Peace Process’. With the full blessings of the Wickremesinghe government the LTTE agents could fan out to any part of the country, set up shop, organize its safe houses to store their weapons and ammunition and lodgings for their suicide killers and claymore bombers. Under the mantle of the ceasefire killings of anti LTTE paramilitaries who had surrendered under the terms of the CFA were hunted down and killed From February 2002 till March there were 142 killings of anti LTTE Tamils (96 EPDP; 37 EPRKF: 9 PLOTE). Intelligence officers of the army were stalked and killed. The Wickremesinghe displayed an ostrich like attitude in the face of these political killings. Initially, the Norwegian monitors maintained that these were law and order problems which fall within the purview of the Sri Lankan police and not the Ceasefire Agreement. They kept the body counted and did nothing.

Heyday of Meretricious Mendacity

That was the hey day of the LTTE sympathizing Colombo TRIAD; Jehan Perera’s National ’Peace’ Council (NPC), Kumar Rupasinghe’s Foundation for Co-existence (FCE), Pakiasothy Saravanmuttu’s, Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA). Self appointed peace specialists were shuttling back and forth from one directorate to another. They were raking in money like hay while the Sun God shone. The directors of these organizations had no serious credentials to become oracles on conflict resolution or peace making, except for the fact that they nominated themselves to this position and were maintained by foreign funds. The only one who could make some claim to be an expert was Kumar Rupasinghe. He had acquired experience in the business(sic)first at the Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO) and later at the London based International Alert, a Rupasinghe initiative while he was still at PRIO. The first Secretary General was Rupasinghe’s friend Martin Ennals who kept the chair warm till Kumar was ready to take over. Rupasinghe’s term as Secretary General (SG) of IA was troubled with controversy. The Dutch NGO, NOVIB was one of IA’s big funders and my good friend Jan Ruysssenaars, head of NOVIB’s Africa Desk, was sent to IA. Jan was involved with founding IA and it was Kumar who initially invited him to join IA. "But NOVIB also wanted me to keep an eye on the way IA was managed", Jan told me. Now back in the Netherlands, Jan gave me a dossier of copies of important IA documents. "Use it as you like", he said, "the statutory limitation period has passed". These include a letter (22 October 1997), in point form, sent by Jan to Frank Judd then UK Minister of Overseas Cooperation, expressing concern about Rupasinghe management of IA. Among other things, Jan Ruysssenaars wrote, Para 4. "Kumar is a lousy manager. He knows it, you know it, we all know it". Among reasons Jan gives for this are: - "he is faster and more complete in his overview of situations than most of the people he has to deal with. This makes him impatient, makes him think he knows better and makes him a poor and self-focused listener to advice ..". Jan lists facets of Kumar’s self image, Para 5. "He is Lion King, he is Sisyphus, he is Dadelus, he is Icarus, and he is the anxious little boy wondering whether it is he himself who is the emperor without clothes". "Sometimes he scolds his staff and sometimes he wants them to love him as he loves them, at that moment and in that mood. He surrounds himself, like many people of the type, with mediocre courtesans who either flatter him or don’t have the personal power to stand against him and tell him honestly and fearlessly the truth." "He skillfully manipulates one against another: his play is power play". "He lacks any feeling for money given by tax payers and donors."

Kumar’s dealings with African leaders are criticized: "Kumar most probably not knowing it himself, has offended African leaders by not showing culturally prescribed respect for them. This happened in Ruwanda, in Addis Ababa, in West Africa. This has damaged our reputation in Africa. He has utterly irritated nice people like Jan Pronk. I am serious here."

Ruyssenaars mentions rebellion among senior staff members against Kumar’s management style Para 11. "I know quite some staff want him to go today indeed. Which I would not be enthusiastic about… he can honourably serve out his contract and find a new job". With regard to that ‘emotional farewell’, Kumar loves to speak of, it was Jan Ruysssenaar who delivered the farewell speech. It was very flattering to Rupasinghe, but some of it was tongue in the cheek, Jan said. In that speech Jan returns to Kumar’s notions of grandeur. "I remember Kumar telling me at the height of the happenings in both Burindi and another African country, I was begged not to mention, Kumar said ‘Jan, now we are really playing a part in history’ in a way and intonation that one of his big dreams [history making] was about to be realized". The African country Kumar had begged not to mention in the speech was of course Sierra Leone, Jan told me. Kumar, says Jan, was in a bit of a limbo after he left IA, until he heard Kumar that had parachuted into Sri Lanka. "With loads and loads of money", - I added. Kumar set up shop in Colombo, lives in a posh bungalow villa in Colombo 7. The honourary Viking became the Mahaguru of the Norwegian ‘peace process’.

After Rajapaksa’s victory, in a one to one TV debate with Wimal Weerawansa, Rupasinghe admitted when challenged by Weerawansa that the need to oppose Rajapaksa’s presidential candidacy was discussed at a FCE staff meeting He taunted the then JVP spokesman,

on his support for the President. "Why don’t you people agitate now for the scrapping of the CFA and expulsion of the Norwegians? After all, you people carried assassinated EPDP-ers and threatened to burn the coffins in front of the Norwegian Embassy. Recently Rupasinghe has gone Gandhian. A bemused observer quipped. "It takes lots of money to keep the man in Gandhian simplicity." Rupasinghe to be fair, has wide ranging experience in the field as he has worked with human rights and conflict resolution organizations like HURIDOCS, PRIO, ICON, IPRA and the UN University. But his intervention in Sri Lanka is badly skewed, because of bias. For example, he recommended that Article 1.8 of the CFA be applied to Karuna’s and that "Auxiliary forces (sic) from either side should be disbanded or disarmed." When a serious conflict resolution specialist makes such recommendations, they cannot be vicarious but responsible. "Auxiliaries from both sides" is facetious as the LTTE does not have any. He obviously was targetting Karuna and his cadres. Disarmimg them would have involved military action if Karuna refused. Secondly, Rupasinghe cannot be ignorant of what happened to EPDP, EPRLF and PLOT cadres who were disarmed according to Art.1.8. Since he was/is not in any position to give the disarmed cadres any protection, his recommendation was tantamount to inviting the LTTE to physically liquidate them. Rupasinghe’s high profile interventions seem to be motivated by an old ambition, to be a big player in Lankan politics. There is a reason for suggesting this. Rupasinghe’s Foundation has a prequel. When was Kumar was Secretary General of IA, he made a proposal for IA to establish a Peace Foundation in Sri Lanka. It was approved by the Board of trustees abut after an evaluation of IA’s (Kumar’) work in Sri Lanka, the evaluators in their final recommendations advised against it. "It seems unwise to increase the already high profile of IA in Sri Lanka by establishing a Foundation which is bound to be controversial … because of the controversial position of position of Kumar Rupesinghe" .The evaluators in the body of the Report had clarified why it could be controversial. Rupasinghe was former Lankan politician, "IA would be suspected of including personal political ambitions of the SG (p.48e and p. 48f). The dream of a Foundation has been realized - and the ambitions?

A bunch of pro western opportunists with little else but unlimited access to foreign funds began to dominate and lay down the higher truth about peacemaking. Anyone who raised a voice of protest against the LTTE was promptly decried as a Sinhala Chauvinist. Anti-LTTE Tamils were treated with contempt. When UTHR(J) reports about LTTE atrocities were brought up during a TV debate, a well known Free Media mogul said they have no sadhacarya ayithiya – no moral right to add ‘Jaffna’ to their name while hiding in Colombo. "These people are waiting with Green cards ready to scoot out of the country if their lives are threatened", he sneered. This man’s own sadhacaraya has since been exposed – from a humble rural abode to a luxury condominium apartment in Colombo security reasons’ has been a remarkable instance of rapid upward mobility indeed.

Whitey ‘specialists’ were called in to dissect the primordial defect in the Sinhala Buddhist psyche. Gareth Evans, Chairman International Crisis Group was invited by ICES to explain the UN’s R2P concept and to discuss whether it could be applicable to Sri Lanka. The Big Three and their hirelings uncritically backed the ISGA and the PTOMs, even though a US Undersecretary of State said it was a step short of separatism and Johan Galtung declared that the PTOMs was even worse than the ISGA.

The Colombo NGOs shout themselves hoarse about ‘civil society’ in the ’South’. But, they have never agitated against the lack of anything remotely resembling a civil society in Prabharan’s Eelam. The Tamil people have hugely migrated to Colombo and its suburbs and live peacefully among Sinhalese and Muslims. They are free to earn their living by occupations of their choosing, send their children to schools of their choosing, and worship the gods of their choosing. The peaceniks would tell the world if Tamils were harassed at check points or predominantly Tamil areas were subjected to cordon and search operations. The protests should have been against highhanded behviour of some police officers or against arbitrary arrests. But there has been no criticism of what in the fist place, makes this vigilance necessary. No criticism of the LTTE for criminally abusing the civic right of Tamils to live work and travel freely as citizens, by hiding among unsuspecting Tamil citizens to carry out their terrorist attacks. No protest even by Mano Ganeshan, ‘the sole representative’, of Colombo Tamils, even though the LTTE was in fact holding the Tamil people hostage. Despite repeated terrorist attacks, the Sinhala people have not turned on their Tamil neighbours. Unlike the peaceniks, the TNA and Mano Ganeshan, the ordinary Sinhalese do not equate the LTTE with the Tamil people.

The peaceniks did not organize protest demonstrations against LTTE atrocities like the bus bombings at Kebithgollewa, Buttala, Piliyandala and Katubedde. Was it because these poor people were ‘intransigent’ Sinhalese Buddhists?

(to be continued)
-Sri Lanka Guardian