Archive for August, 2006


UNHCR demands access to war-affected civilians By Easwaran Rutnam

August 19, 2006

Travel restrictions strictly enforced as fighting continues

UNHCR has called on both the government and the LTTE to permit urgent freedom of access to humanitarian aid workers to reach all affected populations from the ongoing fighting between the government troops and the LTTE.

The relief agency estimates more than 162,200 people had fled their homes since fighting erupted in April but remain within the country, while another 6,672 had crossed the Palk Strait to become refugees in India’s Tamil Nadu state.

“We and our partners are now seriously concerned about the welfare of civilians in areas inaccessible to humanitarian agencies because of strictly enforced travel restrictions, as fighting continues in the north and east of Sri Lanka,” UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told the press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva yesterday.

UNHCR notes that with the closure of the A9 access road to the Jaffna peninsula through the LTTE-controlled Kilinochchi District, supplies of food and water have fallen to alarmingly low levels in many locations and as a result, people are hoarding food,while merchants sharply hike prices in local markets.

The Daily Mirror learns however that the government, through the government agent in Jaffna, has warned of taking serious action against traders in Jaffna who sell their goods at exorbitant rates owing to the lack of stocks created by the fierce fighting in the area.

Pagonis meanwhile says the situation in Point Pedro, in the north of the Jaffna peninsula, is even more fluid and unpredictable than in the Jaffna town, as people in the town have sought refuge in large communal buildings while displaced civilians in Point Pedro are staying in vacant homes and with host families, creating electricity, water and sanitation problems.

Eastern districts face a similar crisis. Thousands of displaced families in Muttur, Eachchilampattu Divisions of Trincomalee District, and the Vaharai Division in Batticaloa District, are in desperate need of sustained humanitarian relief, UNHCR said.

Some 15,000 to 20,000 people are now said to be displaced in LTTE-controlled Kilinochchi District as a result of repeated artillery shelling and air strikes. Humanitarian agencies are targeting their help to those displaced people – some 9,500 individuals – living outdoors or in communal buildings.

Around 500 families have reportedly moved to the grounds of the Madhu Church in Mannar District, a previous displacement site during the 1983-2002 civil war. All permanent houses around the church are now fully occupied by displaced people, and nearly 75 families have erected tents in the surrounding area .-Daily Mirror


Mahinda – JVP consultations continue

August 6, 2006

President Mahinda Rajapakse continues to be in intense consultation with the JVP which he would very much like to take into the government. But whether his red ally who helped elect him would agree to tone down its hard line on the approach to the peace process and push for a military solution if the LTTE remains recalcitrant is the big question.

The JVP’s entry into the government will help Rajapakse to resolve his problem of parliamentary numbers and stabilize the government. Also, the government would be much less exposed to a possible war on the trade union front if the JVP is in the government.

But it is a moot point on whether the JVP will be willing to adapt its stance to suit the exigencies of government. However helpful the hierarchy may want to be to Rajapakse, a Marxist party working on the tenets of democratic centralism will have to follow what the majority of its members want. A harsher approach to Norway, not appeasing the LTTE and going to war if that is the clear option appears to be all part of the current majority view of the JVP. This was reflected in a party meeting last week when the government’s militaristic tilt in the east won approving nods.

Doing what it now does from the opposition will be a “no, no’’ if it does join the government and such restrictions will not be an attractive proposition. But the JVP has to balance that with the reality that if it forces Rajapakse’s hand to dissolve parliament and go for an election, its parliamentary strength will drop to half the present number. That too cannot be an attractive proposition. Whether last week’s events on the security front will be a sweetener for a possible JVP entry to the government remains to be seen.

Ranil mending fences

The UNP anticipates the possibility of an election and Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has been passing this word down the line. Hence the appointment of new electoral organizers where they are considered needed. The green party is also trying to overcome the in-fighting within the leadership and the fact that Prof. G.L. Pieris, suspected as a prime candidate for defection to the government, last week made a statement on behalf of the party suggests that some fence mending has begun. “We have to use the resources we have,’’ a party senior said. “It is futile for us to keep fighting each other and let personal likes and dislikes prevent us using capable people to good effect.’’

Fighting for Muttur

The fighting in Muttur last week held the national center stage. Despite the lives lost and the flood of refugees forced to flee their homes, neither side has been able to notch-up a victory. The plain-speaking head of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, Major General (Rtd) Ulf Henricsson, has made the point that the Mavilaru anicut remains closed. All hell broke out in Muttur once again focusing on the importance of the Trincomalee district to the LTTE.

Both sides have been throwing around figures of who lost how many to demonstrate that their opponent has been second-bested. Most people do not take these numbers seriously but know very well that both the government and LTTE sides have suffered considerable losses. On top of that, the fighting has heaped heavy burdens on the backs of people whose lives were already difficult.

Once again the strategic importance of Trincomalee was underlined by the intensity of the fighting. The LTTE’s push for Muttur was very much a part of getting within striking distance of the eastern harbour town where the Sri Lanka Navy’s main base is located. Hopefully, as Minister Sarath Amunugama has publicly said, “the stupid CPC unions’’ trying to dislodge the Indians from Trincomalee should at least now understand the security implications.

BBC analysis

In a news analysis from Colombo last week, the BBC’s Dumeetha Luthra noted that the dispute that began over the closing of the Mavilaru anicut has now grown into something larger and more dangerous with the potential to trigger a wider conflict. “The paradox is both sides insist they want to abide by the ceasefire signed in 2002, but are doing nothing to show that,’’ her report said.

The conflict escalated into a situation where the government threw in its air power to neutralize the LTTE behind its lines and the Tigers demonstrated an ability to target the vital naval base with its long range artillery. Hopefully the SLAF neutralized that capability, given that there was no repeat attempt.

According to Luthra’s analysis, “elements of the military have been desperate to have a go at the Tigers arguing that a short sharp war was a viable option. Perhaps the water dispute was perceived as the ideal opportunity.’’

“But what’s in it for the Tigers?’’ she asks. Replying this question, Luthra says that since the Karuna breakaway, the LTTE faces the same guerilla tactics from Karuna’s forces that the Tigers use against the army. “Adding to their woes is the fact Col. Karuna has been receiving tacit support from parts of the military.’’ She quotes some analysts expressing the view that what the LTTE has been doing has been an attempt to show that it has not been militarily weakened in the east.

New Rata Perata draft

The JVP has prepared a revised draft of the Rata Perata policy program which the party’s general secretary, Tilvin Silva, presented to President Rajapakse last week. The draft was discussed by a group including Messrs. Somawansa Amarasinghe, Wimal Weerawansa and K.D. Lal Kantha on the JVP side and ministers Nimal Siripala de Silva, Susil Premajayanth and Anura Priyadharsana Yapa representing the SLFP. Further discussions will take place in a week’s time.

Disturbed by telephone threats on his life, Western Province Governor Alavi Moulana accompanied by Minister Dinesh Gunewardena complained to Rajapakse about the calls he was receiving. The president placated Moulana saying, "What nonsense Alavi, no one will kill you. This is somebody’s joke. So don’t think too much about it.’’

He added that the veteran SLFP trade unionist should be in his cabinet rather than doing his present provincial council related job. So saying Rajapakse deftly diverted Moulana from his death threat preoccupation and got on to other pressing business that included conferring a deputy ministry on yet another UNP defector.

Facing South for luck

The SLFP’s Galle District leaders, Amarasiri Dodangoda, Piyasena Gamage and Gunaratne Weerakoon were waiting to see the president at `Temple Trees’. They had brought along UNP MP Lionel Premasiri, one time SLFP Mayor of Galle who was now defecting to the government.

Rajapakse banteringly asked Premasiri who was being sworn as Deputy Minister of Social Services, "So Lionel, which direction should you face when I administer the oath?"

"The South is good Sir, and the auspicious time 9.30," Premasiri said.

"Yes, the South is the best," agreed Southerner Rajapakse saying “let’s get this work done now’’ and duly swore Premasiri as deputy minister and gave him the relevant papers of appointment.

Once the swearing-in was completed, the president in a conversation with those present complained about some ministers not doing their jobs. Paddy from the last harvest remained piled up in warehouses with no plan to distribute it to the people. While urgent pubic work remained to be done, too much attention was focused on gaining more privileges. It is essential that everybody should be more focused on the work they must do, Rajapakse stressed.

President cautions some TV channels

With the war situation in the East worsening with fighting between the LTTE and the security forces in Muttur, the president summoned an emergency meeting of the National Security Council where some of the service commanders complained about irresponsible reporting by some private TV channels beaming programs helpful to the LTTE.

Rajapakse summoned a meeting of media heads to Temple Trees and asked them to give the national interest priority. "We may have political differences but helping a terrorist group is not in the national interest," he said. "I can use tough measures but I am only making a request."

Once the work in hand was done, the president invited the media heads for tea and exchanged pleasantries with them with no reference to the subject on which the meeting had been summoned.

Plaudits for Mahinda S

Disaster Management & Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe received an urgent message from the president that food was urgently needed in Kantalai, Somapura, Seruwawila and Muttur. Samarasinghe moved quickly to contact UNICEF, ICRC and the World Food Program who agreed to organize supplies. NGOs volunteered to ensure that food stocks reached Trincomalee by Thursday morning. Samarasinghe stressed that the supplies should reach not only government controlled areas but also rebel held areas. The NGOs praised the minister for his liberal and proper approach.

Reginald’s jest

Western Provincial Councilor Prasanna Ranatunge hosted a party at his Udugampola home last week. The event was attended by Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, Chief Minister Reginald Cooray and several other Gampaha District Provincial Councilors.

The occasion provided an opportunity to discuss matters relating to the SLFP’s Gampaha District organization as well as the Western Provincial Council.

While the discussion was going on, the telephone rang in the Ranatunge home and President Rajapakse came on the line. "What’s happening there Prasanna?," the president asked. "I am told that there is a group getting `set’ there."

"No Sir, there is nothing special happening. A group of us have got together to map out a political course for the future and strengthen our organization."

"Oh, I wondered where there was a conspiracy," Rajapakse said. "Never mind. Tell the others that I also extended my good wishes."

Given that there are rumours of CBK looking at a comeback and Gampaha is her home base, Rajapakse may have wondered whether anything was brewing, an analyst said. This could be especially so given the guest list which included loyalists like Fernandopulle and Reginald Cooray. The president, cannily, would have wanted to pas on the message that he had his ear to the ground.

Once the preliminary business was completed, a rollicking good time was had by all. Ranatunge wined and dined his guests and Chief Minister Reginald Cooray demonstrated his singing prowess in the sing song that followed. His rendition of some golden Sinhala oldies attracted applause particularly from the ladies and a wag chuckled "You are getting support from the opposition!"

"Yes, I have always been getting support from the opposition side," countered Cooray referring to his current predicament in the WPC. "That’s the scene in the Provincial Council even now.’’ -The Sunday Island