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Approximating normalcy

By Ajit Kumar Singh

(December 04, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) After 26 years of full-scale civil war, the island nation is returning to the state of normalcy. On May 20, 2009, the Army, having entered the garrison town of Paranthan and captured Kilinochchi, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s (LTTE) political and administrative headquarters, on the New Year’s Day, officially ended the Eelam War IV. This followed an official announcement made in the afternoon of May 18, over Rupavahini, the main Government-controlled TV channel, that the LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran, LTTE intelligence unit chief Pottu Amman and Sea Tigers’ (sea wing of the LTTE) chief Soosai, had been killed in the course of an Army attack earlier that morning. The Government had announced its ‘humanitarian mission’, launched to liberate civilians held hostage in a human shield by the LTTE for months, had been brought to an end in the afternoon of May 17 in Mullaitivu.

On May 22, the United Nations disclosed that between 80,000 – 100,000 people had been killed in the war since 1983 – including unofficial and unverified tallies suggesting 7,000 civilian deaths since January 2009. On the same day, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse stated that 6,261 Security Force (SF) personnel, Policemen and paramilitary troopers had been killed and 29,551 wounded, in the offensive that commenced in August 2006 and concluded on May 17, 2009. He also revealed that, since 1981, 23,790 SF personnel had been killed in the war. Though the Defence Secretary did not give casualty figures for the LTTE, military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara was quoted as saying that the troops had killed 22,000 LTTE militants during Eelam War IV. In November 2008, the LTTE had revealed that the rebels had lost more than 22,000 cadres since the first guerrilla death in November 1982.

Since the end of war in May, the country has seen another 17 killings, including three civilians, three SF personnel and 11 militants, Though the number clearly suggests that the LTTE, which, at one time, controlled over 15,000 square kilometres, nearly one-fourth of the 65,332 square kilometres territory of the island nation, is decimated, it fails to correctly reflect the threat of the remnants of the LTTE – both inside and outside the country.

According to a November 20 report, the Police uncovered a fresh plot by the Tamil Diaspora to carry out a massive bomb attack in the capital, Colombo. The arrest of Ananda Varnan, a top LTTE militant, in Vavuniya by a special Police team on an unspecified date, revealed the planned attack. The Police also recovered a powerful bomb, which was to be used in the attack. Varnan had received SLR 30,000 from his leaders, based in Malaysia, to carry out the operation. Under interrogation, the suspect had led investigators to a seven kilograms claymore mine and a remote controller in an LTTE hideout. The Police said that the suspect had planned to trigger a claymore attack in the city over the succeeding days. Varnan admitted that he had obtained the remote controller from a shop in Vavuniya. He had earlier escaped from an Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camp in the Vavuniya area after he was brought to the Vavuniya Hospital to receive medical treatment. Investigators disclosed that Varnan had been involved in a series of bomb attacks in the city and its suburbs over a period of time. Earlier, an August 10 report, quoting Defence sources, indicated that key LTTE cadres and others who had infiltrated into Colombo and other areas on suicide missions targeting VIPs and top military personnel, had been mingling with the local population. Further, arrested LTTE leader Kumaran Pathmanathan alias KP reportedly revealed the presence of a large cache of arms and ammunition hidden by the outfit in Colombo, Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake disclosed on August 13.

On May 24, top military officials had stated that over 10,000 LTTE militants had surrendered to the military. Out of these, 202 hardcore elements of the LTTE were identified by the military and separated from the refugees in the welfare camps. Further, a senior Police officer disclosed that some 350 LTTE cadres, who had taken refuge among ordinary IDPs in the camps, had been arrested by the Police, including about 50 female cadres. Among those arrested were those who had been trained in handling explosives, guerrilla warfare and in handling heavy weapons. Prison Commissioner General, Major General V.R. De Silva, on November 16, disclosed further that nearly 600 LTTE suspects were still in custody. According to the Government, 11,000 LTTE child soldiers were also under the protection of the troops. A September 28 media report, however, quoted Senior Superintendent of Police Ranjith Kasturiratna as stating that at least 20,000 of the nearly 300,000 IDPs in the Vavuniya camps had escaped. These were believed to be LTTE cadres.

Reports of the escape of LTTE cadres certainly do not augur well for the security of the island nation. Despite being militarily defeated at the home front, the LTTE remains very politically active in the Tamil Diaspora beyond the country’s borders. Radical expatriate groups can be expected to restore their linkages with surviving LTTE elements within Sri Lanka to work future mischief.

The LTTE international wing has three surviving factions, with the USA-based Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran heading its political affairs; Oslo (Norway) based Perinpanayagam Sivaparan aka Nediyawan, who has declared himself in favour of continuing the LTTE armed struggle, leads a second faction. "The more significant threat to Sri Lanka will come from the Nediyawan factor," analyst Rohan Gunaratna warns. Nediyawan succeeded Kumaran Pathmanathan as the new LTTE leader, following KP’s arrest on August 7. According to Gunaratna, the most secretive faction of the LTTE is headed by Ponnaiah Anandarajah alias Ayyar, who is a US citizen and a double Accountant [an accountant who knows double-entry accounting which is a method of record-keeping that lets people track just where the money comes from and where it goes].

Both Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse and the Minister of Export Development and International Trade, G. L. Peiris, have confirmed that the LTTE’s communication system was still functioning and continuing to plan actions against the country. On August 11, President Mahinda Rajapakse had urged the international community to help the nation crack down on the LTTE’s international financing arm. He said the LTTE was still active in some countries, especially in South-East Asia and Europe. Unsurprisingly, Canada, which was one of the top sources of funding for the LTTE, providing up to USD 12 million a year, admitted on November 4 that the defeat of the LTTE had ended the insurgency, but they remained a terrorist group that "could potentially have a significant impact on Canada".

Nevertheless, in a Press statement issued on November 4, the LTTE welcomed all current democratic moves in the Diaspora, such as a referendum on the Vaddukoddai Resolution [unanimously Adopted at the 1st National Convention of the Tamil United Liberation Front, held at Pannakam (Vaddukoddai Constituency) on May 15, 1976. The TULF went to polls in 1977 with this and received an overwhelming mandate from the Tamil electorate. This was the last time Tamils of Eelam were able to express their wish freely at a democratically conducted poll], Country Councils and Provisional Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (PTGTE). Accordingly, the Norway based LTTE leaders decided to hold the first phase of PTGTE election in that country. However, only 2,667 out of a total of 27,000 Tamils in Norway voted. The LTTE candidate lost and Vijaya Shankar, an Indian Tamil from Chennai – capital of the southern Indian State of Tamil Nadu – secured the largest support, with 1,864 votes. Nevertheless, since the election was an LTTE initiative, it is expected to keep the movement alive.

Meanwhile, under the Government's process of restoring peace and harmony in the country, 45 new Police Stations have been established in the Northern and Eastern provinces, after the two provinces were liberated from the LTTE. 37 of these new Police Stations have been set up in the East and eight in the North. Similarly, the Sri Lankan Army, on May 25, stated that it would boost its manpower by more than 100, 000 troops to prevent a resurgence of the LTTE or any other such group. The troop build up, which will increase the number of Sri Lankan forces from 200,000 to 300,000, was announced by the then Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka. Also, implementing its troop deployment plan for the fully liberated Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu Districts, the Sri Lanka Army established two Headquarters in Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi to oversee the overall security plan for the two Districts. These two Headquarters are in addition to the Headquarters at Wanni in the north.

Stating that the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka witnessed virtually no development or growth while under the control of the LTTE, Home Affairs Minister Sarath Amunugama, on November 9, declared that a large chunk of 2009-10 budgets would be allocated to these regions to give a major impetus to developmental activities: "The Government has taken a policy decision to invest largely in the Northern and Eastern provinces. It is only fair that we do that, because there has been no growth there for three decades."

On a positive note, the country has made major gains following the end of war. The Government on November 6 informed that it has already re-settled 119,687 IDPs in their own villages. The exact figure of remain IDPs to be resettled was 143,534. The Government stressed that it would complete the re-settlement process on or before the January 1, 2010. Andrej Mahecic, spokesman for the office of the UNHCR, confirmed that that the re-settlement of IDPs was continuing at a rapid pace and about a third of those displaced during the conflict in Sri Lanka had returned home over the past three months. The Government, however, is apprehensive of widely reported LTTE attempts to revive the organisation amid efforts by the outfit to rescue hardcore cadres housed in Government-run refugees camps for Tamil civilians in the Vavuniya District, according to Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse, and has consequently established a systematic screening process, slowing down the rehabilitation programme.

On the political front, elections for the Uva Provincial Council and Southern Provincial Council were successfully held, with the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance emerging the winner in both. More significantly, elections for the Jaffna Municipal Council and Vavuniya Urban Council were also held. Elections for all the Provinces have now been completed, with the exception of the Northeast Province.

Meanwhile, Election Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake announced, on November 27, that Presidential Elections would be held on January 26, 2010. Nominations would be accepted from 9.00am (SLST) to 11.00am on December 17. This will be the country’s fifth Presidential poll to elect the sixth Executive President. The 2008 electoral register will be used for the election, with a total number of 14,088,500 persons eligible to vote. On November 23, President Mahinda Rajapakse had ordered a fresh Presidential election, two years ahead of his tenure, in order to "seek a fresh mandate". Under the Constitution, the President can call a Presidential election once the incumbent completes four years of the six-year term. President Mahinda Rajapakse had stated, on July 6, that the ‘political solution’ to the ethnic conflict would come after the presidential elections.

In the upcoming Presidential poll the buoyant President Rajapakse, who has no lost a single election, barring Vavuniya Urban Council election, since coming to power in November 2005, faces a serious challenge for the first time as the opposition led by United National Party is to declare the former Army chief General Sarath Fonseka as unanimous candidate. On November 29, Fonseka himself announced that he will be the unanimous candidate from the opposition.

With the LTTE defeated, Prabhakaran and all top rung LTTE leaders killed, and the stage set to secure a political solution, it is time for Colombo to look for a political consensus, which remains elusive, to finally end the ethnic conflict in the Emerald Isle. However, the future discourses will depend upon who emerges as the winner of the Presidential poll.
-Sri Lanka Guardian

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