MR was worried about Muslim rights when LTTE held sway

| by Upul Joseph Fernando

( June 25, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) "Do you think the Muslims in the Eastern Province may never support Prabhakaran?" Late President R. Premadasa once asked Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) founder late M.H.M. Ashraff.

President J.R. Jayewardene also shared this fear that the Muslims in the Eastern Province might support the LTTE. But Muslims never supported the LTTE. Prabhakaran did not trust the Muslims. In the initial stage of his insurgency, Prabhakaran needed the support of the Muslims to infiltrate the Eastern Province. Farook, a resident of Akkaraipattu, joined the LTTE as its first Muslim member. He was soon promoted to Captain. Hasan of Trincomalee and Anna of Jaffna were two more Muslims who were in the LTTE. Farook was killed when the LTTE attacked the telecommunication office of Jaffna. But Prabhakaran began to ignore the Muslims when he understood that they would not join the LTTE wholesale. He did not trust Muslims.

In 1986, to win the support for Eelam, Prabhakaran thought of granting the Muslims 'something.' He knew that the Muslims would not like the Eastern Province (EP) to be merged with the Northern Province. In the EP, Muslims comprise 33% of its population. However, in a joint North-East Provincial Council, their number will go down to a mere 17%.

Therefore, Prabhakaran understood that the Muslims would be the main enemy of the LTTE's Eelam dream.

Land rights

In this backdrop, Prabhakaran said to his confidant Kittu to sign an agreement with Muslim Liberation Front Leader M.I.M. Mohideen who was in Madras. He agreed to grant 33% of land rights of Eelam to Muslims. Badurdeen Mohamed, Former Education Minister of the Sirima Bandaranaike Government was also present when the agreement was signed.

But Prabhakaran did not trust the Muslims even after signing the agreement. He chased away the Muslims from Jaffna and attacked Muslim villages in the EP. He knew too well that Muslims were with the Sri Lankan Government in the Eelam war.

Muslims shouldered a huge responsibility in the destruction of the LTTE. Most of the Tamil speaking officials in military intelligence were Muslims. They questioned the arrested LTTE cadres and exposed their plans. Some of these Muslim officers in the Army were brutally killed by LTTE. Assassination of Major Muthalif was one example.

After Ranil Wickremesinghe signed the ceasefire agreement with the LTTE, the latter tried to spread its dominance in the EP. Muslims resisted and it developed into a Tamil-Muslim clash. President Mahinda Rajapaksa was in the opposition then and the present rulers supported Muslims. The united opposition brought a proposal in Parliament calling for safeguarding Muslims amidst the ceasefire. 

Following is the text of the proposal.

"A terrible situation is being built in the EP after the ceasefire was signed. Large number of lives was taken by terrorist acts in the EP after the ceasefire agreement was signed between the government and the LTTE. A large number of people were injured too. A lot of houses, businesses and other property were damaged. The situation in the EP is graver than before the ceasefire. Violence can ignite again at any moment. As a result of the government's failure to control the situation, all the communities that live in the EP have been pushed into a great security risk. If the situation prevails, it may affect other areas too. Therefore, we propose to the government to control the situation immediately and take steps to establish peace.

The proposal was signed by Mahinda Rajapaksa, Dinesh Gunawardena, Wimal Weerawansa, Baddegama Samitha Thera, Fariel Ashroff and Raja Kollure.

Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa wrote a letter to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe about the situation. 

Following is that letter:

Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe
Prime Minister
Temple Trees
Colombo 3
Dear Prime Minister,
I have noted with interest your opening statement to the Tokyo aid conference. It contains certain statements which have the potential to mislead our country's friends abroad. They need to be corrected.

However, I welcome your statement that "A Muslim delegation should participate in the peace talks to articulate the concerns of the Muslims." The absence of a Muslim delegation is a weakness in the current peace process which should be rectified. This is especially necessary in the context of the LTTE's threats, harassments and attacks on the Muslim community in the Eastern Province since the ceasefire became operational. Nine attacks were carried out on Muslim villages by the LTTE during your peace process, which the UNF was unable to contain.

The President suggested to you in writing that if you did not wish to have her nominee on the negotiating team, nominees of Sinhala and Muslim political parties representing the Northern and Eastern Provinces should be nominated to the Committee of Reconstruction and one nominee each of the Head of State should be appointed to the two committees on demilitarisation and political reforms. You did not even bother to reply these letters nor discuss it with the President.

I am also surprised at your statement that you seek to consult with the President as widely as possible. The reality is that there has been no prior consultation whatsoever with the President with regard to the peace process. There have only been a few briefings on events which have already been publicised in the press.

When Her Excellency the President suggested a presidential nominee on the negotiation team and a joint steering committee for the peace process comprising the President, Prime Minister and two nominees each, you did not implement either suggestion. It is therefore highly misleading for you to state that you seek to consult with the President as widely as possible.

You claim a mandate to 'recapture lost opportunities.' It is necessary at the outset to lay on record that your mandate was received after de-stabilizing and toppling, largely through dubious means, the previous government which was duly elected and lawfully constituted, barely a year prior to that. In any event your party has a majority of only two seats in parliament and is kept in office by the votes of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). This is hardly the kind of mandate that allows you to recapture lost opportunities, whatever they may be.

You also claim that a challenge you face is to rebuild an economy which was on its knees. Even after providing for poetic liberty and licence, such a statement is blatantly false as evidenced by the World Bank report on Sri Lanka in 2000 which states: "Despite the acceleration of the civil conflict in the 1990s, economic growth has been healthy due to good macroeconomic management and progress in trade liberalization, privatization and financial sector reform. Sri Lanka is today South Asia's most open economy and has a relatively well developed capital market infrastructure. Its per capita income of (US$ 820) remains the highest in the region after Maldives. Unemployment and inflation have fallen to historical lows, the external current affairs account has been strengthened, exports have diversified and expanded and foreign direct investment has risen." (World Bank Country Report – Sri Lanka, May 2000, Executive Summary Page I). The most open economy in South Asia with a per capita income of US$820 in 2000 is hardly on its knees.

I also not that you have dealt with the issue of elections becoming increasingly violent and discordant. It is a pity that you have done nothing to change that state of affairs. I am constrained to point out that the government has failed to investigate, arrest or file charges against a single suspect regarding the approximately 50 opposition activists murdered during the last election and the more than 3,000 opposition activists who were victims of post election violence after your party won the last parliamentary elections. Moreover, the vicious post election violence subsequent to your election victory in December 2001, continued unabated as part of the pre-election violence in the lead up to the local government elections of 2002 and was seemingly a strategic plan of your political party to destroy the democratic political opposition.

It is indeed appropriate that you state, "Political promises always outweigh the ability to deliver." I note that according to the correspondence between you and the LTTE, the promise of an interim administration exclusively to the LTTE and outside the parameters of the laws of the land, seems to have been the key election promise on which you are now unable to deliver.

I also find it quite ludicrous that you state, "Good professional people have been thrown out of jobs to make way for political appointees. Not so with this government."

The government has made some of the most appalling appointments including to bring back people who had to flee the country when your previous government was defeated and appoint such persons of dubious integrity and questionable ability to responsible positions. Unprincipled and disgraceful appointments in the Ministry of Plan Implementation held by you and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for instance have been made.

You also go on to state that the opposition should be responsible and oppose the government on matters of principle and policy. I would suggest that it is the duty of the government of the day to allow the public to know such things through the media.

I am also surprised that you claim that any instability of the current government is detrimental to the peace process. If there is any such instability it is because your conduct of the peace process is seriously flawed. In any event, the search for a negotiated solution to the ethnic problem must continue whether the government of the day is unstable or not.

Finally, your appeal to "Politicians to put aside their differences on this one matter and so support the government in finding a way forward to a lasting peace" would have some credibility if you had practised what you now advocate by supporting devolution of power and the granting of minority rights through the constitution of August 2000. It is widely known that when in opposition your party did its utmost to sabotage the efforts made by the PA Government to seek a negotiated settlement of the ethnic problem."


The opposition led by Mahinda Rajapaksa manipulated the Muslim issue to mobilize people against the ceasefire agreement. Prabhakaran had to send hardliner Karuna for peace talks to control his anti-Muslim sentiments. Karuna actually broke away from Prabhakaran at the negotiation table. When the Prabhakaran-Karuna clash surfaced, Chandrika Kumaratunga was the President. As Karuna was fleeing for life, neither Chandrika nor Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa volunteered to save him. Karuna was rescued by Batticaloa District's former Muslim MP Ali Saheer Mowlana. But Mowlana had to flee the country later in fear of his own life.

The government and the racist elements that are in the government have now forgotten the service rendered by Muslims in the fight against LTTE. That is why they have become ungrateful to the Muslims. The government which conducted a full probe immediately regarding the alleged abduction of Watareka Vijitha Thera, is not in a hurry to find out those who are responsible for the communal violence in Dharga Town. That clearly reflects the stance of the government before the Muslim issue.

Prabhakaran himself once said that the Sinhalese have short memories. They have forgotten the service the Muslims rendered in the operations to annihilate Prabhakaran.

( The writer is a senior journalist and the editor of Mawbima, a sister newspaper of Ceylon Today, where this piece was originally appeared.)