Sunday, October 31, 2004

BOOK REVIEW by Carlo Fonseka

Discovering Freedom : A Collection of Essays by Nalini Ellawala

Nalini Ellawala’s middle name should be "Sumithrayo". She was the first volunteer Director of the Friend-in-Emotional-Need Organization, so appropriately named "Sumithrayo". She also has been its self-styled midwife. Sumithrayo was Joan de Mel’s brain-child. It was founded as a branch of "Befrienders International" in 1974. NE has been associated with Sumithrayo for some 30 years, the first 10 years as its Director. By her own account her association with that Organization has transformed her own life from a state of mere "existence" to one of "meaningful living". Which is proof, if further proof were needed, that it is really better to give than to receive. NE has given generously of her time – perhaps the only thing that money cannot buy – to the lonely, the depressed and the suicidal of this country. Apart from the emotional satisfaction that comes from such disinterested kindness, she has also been rewarded with a broader and deeper understanding of human suffering. The 19 essays that comprise this book have been written at various times over the years, mainly to promote the advancement of Sumithrayo. They embody the knowledge, understanding and wisdom she has gained in the process of working for free for that Organization.


Having graduated as a lawyer from the University of Peradeniya, Nalini Jayesinghe married Tom Ellawala. They begot and nurtured three robust, worthy progeny to whom NE has dedicated her book. (Having been a teacher of the eldest of them in the Colombo Medical School, I believe that if the only thing that NE ever did in her whole life was to gift that child to the world, her existence would have been a meaningful one). NE, however, has done much more. Says she "I find that I have spent a greater part of my life (when I was not engaged, in personal commitments to my family) helping the distressed to cope with their difficulties". Thank heaven for NE!


The book is divided into five sections. The first is concerned with suicide prevention. The second sets out the philosophy and praxis of Sumithrayo. The third is devoted to drug use and, let it be said at once that to NE, alcohol and tobacco are simply legalised drugs of addiction. The fourth section elaborates NE’s perceptions on life in our time. The five essays in this section reveal NE’s good sense, good character and good will towards her fellow beings. According to Aristotle, those are the three qualities that carry conviction. I found NE’s book very convincing.


The book opens with a one-page statement which goes like this: "We are born into this world with many inherited psychosocial attributes such as caste, language, class, religion, race, and culture. These are the divisive influences on which many of us are nurtured and resultantly build personal fences, sometimes hiding behind the phrase, "the traditions of our forefathers". As we grow in wisdom and in stature and we develop our own decision-making and coping skills, enabling ourselves to climb over these inherited fences, we begin to enjoy psychological freedom `85.." If the foregoing is NE’s credo, I say "Amen".

Suicide Prevention

Everybody knows that the main business of Sumithrayo is the prevention of suicide and the first few essays are devoted to that subject. These are somewhat technical but they have been written in a popular style. Helpfully the essays have been dated, which enables the reader to orientate them in time. The first essay has been written in February 1995. It is titled "Containing and Controlling Increasing Suicide Rates". The next essay documents some facts and trends on suicide in our country. The third essay written in February 2003 reports the good news. During the seven year period from 1995 to 2001 suicide rates have fallen significantly. I remember campaigning for Ms. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga for President in 1994 after she had been elected Prime Minister. I pointed out that after she became Prime Minister even the suicide rate had begun to decline. I predicted that it will continue to fall if she became President. On that election platform, I was, of course, indulging in pure election propaganda and not in scientific prediction. But I am glad to note from NE’s essay that even on the election platform, I had not been guilty of spreading false propaganda. For the seven years from 1995 to 2001 the figures for total suicides have been respectively: 8519; 7367; 6228; 5869; 5907; 5412 and 4995. During that period Sumithrayo received some support from the President’s Fund. All will agree that the Presidential support had not been in vain.


The essays dealing with the philosophy and praxis of Sumithrayo identify the factors which contributed to the prevalent high rate of suicide in our country. Sumithrayo’s strategy of dealing with it is by training volunteers who can help people to cope with what NE calls "negative feelings" i.e. fear, anger, hurt, grief, anxiety, resentment, jealousy and so on. The technique involves a great deal of patient listening to affected people instead of vigorously advising them. Ideally trained Sumithrayos avoid giving advice; are non-judgemental; help distressed callers to explore options and choose their own ways of coping; and support them with empathy. According to NE "training a volunteer to undo the habit of giving advice is as difficult as keeping a duck away from water". If so, non-psychiatrist medics must be the worst preventers of suicide.


The seven essays on drug use are the most challenging ones in the book. To NE the difference between alcohol and heroin is that the use of alcohol is legal and the use of heroin is illegal. The principal insight she offers in this section is that drug addiction is a family disease rather than an affliction of a particular member of a given family. It follows that the successful rehabilitation of an addict requires the involvement of the whole family in the therapy. Under the influence of our brilliant psychiatry professor Diyanath Samarasinghe, to whom she makes grateful acknowledgement, she seems to be convinced that the enjoyment of alcoholic beverage by humankind is nothing but the outcome of perverse social conditioning. This is implicit in the title of one essay which declares that : "Real Lions Need Only Water".

Fathers and Sons

NE alludes to the common finding of an alcoholic father complaining about his son’s addiction to heroin. To her that scenario is no less ridiculous than the one in which a father with a pipe in his mouth beats his little son for smoking a cigarette butt which he has picked up. She is a passionate advocate of non-judgemental acceptance of people. But when she encounters a mother caught up between an alcoholic father complaining about a heroin-addicted son, she cannot help exclaiming: "The mother is caught up between two devils". For once, NE’s capacity for non-judgemental acceptance of unfortunates seems to have been strained to breaking point.


The penultimate section of the book contains its most provocative essays. Here she writes with no holds barred, on a variety of controversial subjects. Here is a sampling of her views.

`95 On religion: "For many religion is big business`85 Income generation has promoted religion onto the level of yet another gigantic industry".

`95 On local politics: "Today poverty and unemployment are used as weapons to gain political advantage".

`95 On international politics: "That 6% of the world’s population (American) is known to enjoy 45% of the material resources of the world is a sad reflection on human sensitivity".

`95 On advertising: "People need to become aware that the wishes of the consumer are manipulated by the producer".

`95 On alcohol: "We have been conditioned heavily to believe that social interaction is not conceivable without an alcoholic beverage".

`95 On tobacco: "`85 as many as 99% of all heroin users in Sri Lanka have begun their habit of drug use through the legal channel of tobacco".

`95 On education: "Education should bring enlightenment to every woman that the role of the mother within the family could be the most rewarding and yet the most demanding job that a woman can undertake".

Although, I am myself in agreement with most of NE’s views cited above, there will be many people who will take issue with her on one or more of those matters. The important thing is that in NE we have a writer who does not hesitate to write exactly what is on her mind on some topics which even the Royal Society of London avoids as a matter of policy. In 1663, Robert Hooke, one of its founders said of the Royal Society, that it will not meddle with religion, morals, politics and so on.


NE emerges from the book as a well educated woman combining a university-trained legal mind, a liberal outlook, a rational perspective on life and human concern. She has also cultivated the ability to write with clarity, persuasiveness and moral sensitivity. The final section of the book gives an account of NE’s personal voyage of discovery. It is an inspiring statement. The last essay in the book is titled "The Circle of Freedom". In her credo she set forth her quest for psychological freedom. She seems to have attained that happy state.

More power to her elbow!

Carlo Fonseka

Lankan hostage in Iraq: No relatives found yet by Harischandra Gunaratna

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday said that efforts are being made to ascertain whether a Sri Lankan was among two truck drivers taken hostage by an Islamic group called "Ansarul Sunnah" in Baghdad last Thursday.

"We are in touch with the Sri Lankan missions in Lebonon and Quatar in this regard, but so far no person who claimed to be a relative of the presumed Sri Lankan driver reportedly held captive has contacted the ministry," a ministry spokesperson said.

Quoting Al-Jazeera television, news agencies on Friday reported that two drivers, a Sri Lankan and a Bangladeshi have been abducted enroute to a US base in Iraq. But it was not clear whether the drivers taken hostage were working in Iraq or had entered Baghdad through a neighbouring country.

Al-Jazeera also reported that a video grab released by the abductors showed the Kuwaiti driving licence of a Sri Lankan bearing the name Dinesh Rajaratnam.

The Sri Lankan missions in Lebanon and Kuwait are trying to verify whether the person called "Dinesh Dharmendra" could be linked to the missing Sri Lankan or whether he is someone else, the Ministry of Foreing Affairs said.

Bangladesh appeals to kidnappers for release of hostage

DHAKA, Oct 30 (AFP) - Dhaka has appealed for the release of a Bangladeshi truck driver taken hostage in Iraq, saying the Muslim-majority South Asian nation is not involved in the ongoing strife there, a report said.

"Bangladesh is a peace-loving nation; we are not involved in any conflict," Foreign Minister M Morshed Khan told the private UNB news agency late Friday.

"I make an appeal on behalf of 140 million Muslims to the hostage takers to release the poor Bangladeshi driver," he said.

Khan pledged an "all out" effort by the government to secure the driver’s release and said senior Bangladeshi diplomats in countries neighbouring Iraq were doing all they could.

The government identified the captured man as 42-year-old Abul Kashem, whom it said had been working for a Kuwaiti company for about five years before he was abducted. It is not known from which part of Bangladesh he came.

Al-Jazeera television said Thursday that two drivers, a Bangladeshi and a Sri Lankan, had been captured on their way to a US base in Iraq.

"The Bangladeshi who was abducted in Iraq was working for a Kuwaiti company called Al-Jashem and now we are checking how he ended up there," Bangladesh minister for overseas employment Mohammad Quamrul Islam told AFP.

"We have asked the International Red Crescent Society and International Organisation for Migration to help us to locate and rescue that person," Islam said.

Al-Jazeera showed footage late Thursday of the drivers in captivity and said they were being held by a group called the Islamic Army in Iraq.

Bangladesh, the world’s third largest Muslim-majority nation, opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq and has repeatedly said it would only send troops to Iraq under UN auspices.

Polls suggest the public views Washington with suspicion.

Truckers have been a favourite target of militant groups in Iraq, with many being taken hostage over the past few months in a bid to force their companies out of Iraq.

In some cases, ransoms have been paid to secure their release.

Bangladesh is one of the world’s poorest nations. Some 200,000 Bangladeshis, driven by desperate poverty and unemployment at home, go abroad in search of work each year.

Remittances by the migrant workforce are Bangladesh’s second main source of foreign exchange earnings.

The Islamic Army in Iraq is also holding two French journalists who were abducted south of Baghdad on August 20 with their Syrian driver.

It also kidnapped and executed an Italian journalist.

Foreign Ministry seeks details of Lankan hostage in Iraq

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has requested the Sri Lanka mission in Lebanon to obtain further details on the report that a Sri Lankan was among two persons taken hostage by the Islamic Army in Iraq.

When contacted, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry said the were awaiting a report from Lebanon as Sri Lanka did not have a mission in Iraq since the war broke out there.

However, an AFP frame grab from a video tape aired on October 28 by Arabic satellite network Al-Jazeera shows Sri Lankan driver and his Kuwaiti driving license in the name of Dinesh Rajaratnam.

AFP quoting Al-Jazeera television reported yesterday that the Islamic Army in Iraq had abducted a driver from Sri Lanka and another from Bangladesh who work for a Kuwaiti company.

The AFP report added: "Al-Jazeera quoted a statement from the group saying "the two hostages were abducted before driving their trucks into a US base in Iraq."

They were being interrogated "in the religious (Islamic) court," it added.

A video bearing the name of the extremist group showed each of the presumed hostages separately and a number of identification documents, including a Kuwaiti driving license.

However, Sri Lankan officials said the footage was insufficient for them to make a positive identification of the man.

The Islamic Army in Iraq kidnapped French journalists Christian Chesnot of Radio France Internationale and Georges Malbrunot of Le Figaro newspaper south of Baghdad on August 20 along with their Syrian driver, Mohammed al-Jundi.

It also kidnapped and executed an Italian journalist.

Drivers have been a favourite target of extremist groups in Iraq, who have taken many truckers hostage in a bid to force their companies out of Iraq, accusing them of ferrying supplies to US forces. In some cases, ransoms have been paid to secure the release of hostages."

The National Advisory Council as a Mechanism for Conflict Transformation by Kumar Rupesinghe

Monday October 4th was the inaugural meeting of the National Advisory Council for Peace and Reconstruction (NAPCR), a much heralded, much awaited consultative process. We now must consider whether this creates a viable framework for taking the peace process forward. There have been many attempts to create consultative frameworks throughout the protracted civil war in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, all have failed so far, because they were neither consultative nor succeeded in obtaining the support of significant representatives of the political parties in Sri Lanka.

The NACPR has been formulated to function as a national forum for consultation on the Peace Process between the Government and the citizenry, mainly through elected representatives, religious leaders, and leaders of civil society.

The government position on the ISGA is well framed and bold in its scope. It accepts the concept of setting up an Interim Administration while a permanent solution is being negotiated, with the requisite commitment from the LTTE that the Interim Administration and permanent solution would be based on the Oslo Declaration – that a federal solution should be sought within the framework of a united Sri Lanka. Discussions between the LTTE and NACPR would workout the extent of devolution and other details.

A consultative mechanism is essential for the peace process. It is too early to say whether this current initiative will be successful or not. The President failed to obtain the support of the Leader of the Opposition and the Tamil National Alliance, and it is not clear whether the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress actually participated. It is as if the bridegroom and the best man had not turned up for the party! This failure to obtain the consensus of the main opposition party and others reflects the tragic nature of our political culture and the vituperative and zero-sum politics conducted by our political leaders. Gaining consensus on significant national issues requires qualities of leadership, which are unfortunately in deficit in Sri Lanka.

The All Party Conference of 1977 and Beyond

Previous attempts include President Jayawardena, who stated in his election manifesto that the needs and aspirations of the Tamil peoples would be addressed and resolved through an All Party Conference. But in 1977 when he came to power instead of convening one he said, in the first parliamentary session when the TULF surprisingly became the leader of the opposition: "If you want war, we will give you war. If you want peace, we will give you peace;" a speech much relayed through the national radio and resulting in attacks on Tamils all over the country. It was only in 1984 after the ethnic pogrom of ‘83, itself inspired by Jayawardena, that he decided to convene the All Party Conference. That process lasted until December of 1984; but ended with the Tamils rejecting all that had taken place and with the President making the startling announcement: "The Tamils want regional councils and nothing else and the Sinhalese agree to District councils and nothing else."

Other attempts include the 1985 Political Parties Conference, which failed after its first sitting, and President Premadasa’s attempt to convene another All Party Conference in 1990, to which the LTTE sent observers from their newly created political wing, Peoples Front of Liberation Tigers.

The UNF Consultative Committees

During the talks in 2002, three sub-committees were established to form a consultative mechanism: the Sub-committee on De-escalation and Normalisation, which broke down after several meetings; the Sub-committee on Immediate Humanitarian and Rehabilitation Needs in the North-East, which met several times but failed in implementation; and the Sub-Committee on Political Matters, which did not meet at all. There were no efforts by the UNF government to involve the opposition or the President in the negotiations process. No member of the opposition was invited to participate in the work of the subcommittees.

An Examination of the South African National Peace Accord

A key lesson that has been learnt from international experience in conflict resolution is that a successful peace process must be participatory and inclusive. The example of South Africa’s National Peace Accord shows this; it was well designed and involved all stakeholders. Most believed that the dismantling of the apartheid regime and the transition would result in bloodshed and mayhem. Distinctively characteristic of the South African experience was the extraordinary leadership shown by Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress and also the leadership shown by De Klerk, leader of the National Party, which steered the country into a smooth transition through a moderate course of action.

The mechanism set up in South Africa in the early 1990s as the parties finally came together to negotiate a transformation for the South African conflict, was the National Peace Accord. The National Peace Accord was deliberately established as a national structure involving diverse elements of civil society and the full range of political opinion in the country. The strategic thinking behind this mechanism was the recognition that agreements and negotiations between just the two adversarial parties were proving fragile. It was felt that a broad-based multilateral approach to the peace initiative would have the advantages of forcing the negotiating parties into the initiative, forcing the antagonistic police into a role that required them to maintain law and order, and protect communities, and of compelling the parties to adhere to their obligations, if only to appease civil society expectations and avoid broader public condemnation. In other words, a body comprised of diverse elements of civil society plus a wide range of political parties was more likely to guarantee peace than a bilateral engagement. The agreement specified implementation mechanisms creating a structure based on national, regional and local committees to facilitate violence prevention and specialized committees to address key themes.

National-level Structures included the 60-person National Peace Committee (NPC), composed of representatives from all the signatory parties and members of the preparatory committee, with the role to oversee the implementation of the agreement as a whole, to resolve any political obstacles to its smooth functioning, and to monitor compliance with the codes of conduct for political groups. The NPC was supported by an independent National Peace Secretariat (NPS), which implemented its orders and was responsible for establishing and coordinating the regional committees. Also established were the independent, five-person Commission of Inquiry (the Goldstone Commission) to investigate the nature and causes of political violence and intimidation, identify those responsible and suggest remedies; and a Police Board to make recommendations for more effective policing, improved police-community relations and policy changes.

Eleven Regional Peace Committees (RPCs) were established around the country. Each comprised representatives of political and religious organizations, unions, business and industry groups, local authorities, security forces and other relevant organizations. They were charged with preventing violence in their region by using a number of approaches, including mediation, monitoring, and facilitating preventive action. They reported to the national structures on the causes of violence, coordinated activities in the region and established networks of local committees. They made decisions by consensus. In particular, they established Socio-Economic Reconstruction and Development (SERD) committees to broker development projects aimed at preventing or reducing violence.

In each region, a number of Local Peace Committees (LPCs) were established, eventually totalling more than 260 across the country. Membership was intended to reflect the composition of each community and involve representatives of key stakeholder groups. Their function was to promote trust and reconciliation at the grassroots, mediate conflicts, facilitate agreements on the operation of local public political events, promote compliance with the agreements reached and liaise with the local police and judiciary, and implement national and regional initiatives.

The NPA demonstrated the importance of providing space for civil society to operate freely and autonomously, and thereby to play a constructive and non-partisan role in the peace process. The essential element of the success of the NPA was the building of grassroots support and extensive participation by individual citizens in the peace process. Lessons learnt include:

`95 Political will and commitment within both civil society and government are essential to success

`95 Such initiatives must be led by an authority viewed as legitimate by as many stakeholders as possible

`95 When government, political parties and civil society commit to any such accord, their rhetoric must be matched by their actions

`95 The negotiation and implementation of the NPA showed it is possible to break down historical barriers and move from largely oppositional relationships to co-operative ones

`95 The provision of space for civil society to operate freely and autonomously is an essential part of negotiations

These structures constituted comprehensive and deliberate measures to maintain consultation and inclusion as a high priority in South Africa’s transition. Sri Lanka has a long way to go and many lessons to learn before we can approximate the grandeur and logic of the South African model. For the Sri Lankan process to succeed principled negotiations with all parties, respect and dignity for all stakeholders is a categorical imperative. It is not too late. Even now our leaders can save the country from the disaster to which it is heading.

UNP sticks by ‘Oslo Declaration’ by Shamindra Ferdinando

The UNP considers the Oslo Declaration as the basis for resumption of the proposed Norway-facilitated negotiations with the LTTE.

UNP Deputy General Secretary Tissa Attanayake yesterday said LTTE chief negotiator Anton Balasingham’s statement in his new book that the LTTE had not reached a specific agreement in Oslo, would not result a change in the UNP’s stand. The agreement was the base for many claims of the Tigers’ abandonment of the right to secession.

Attanayake who is also a member of the party’s political affairs committee said, "We firmly believe the talks should resume on the basis of the Oslo Declaration and the LTTE’s ISGA proposals. President Chandrika Kumaratunga agrees with our stand. There is a consensus between the UNP and the president."

Responding to questions, he emphasised that the UNP would go by a statement issued by the Norwegian government at the end of the third session of the negotiations in Oslo on December 5, 2002.

The statement said, "the parties agreed to a proposal by the LTTE leadership to explore a solution based on the principle of internal self-determination in areas of historical habitation of Tamil speaking people, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka."

"This is the position of the international community," Attanayake said, while expressing the belief that the Oslo Declaration would remain in force unless the Norwegian government says otherwise. He expressed confidence that the Oslo Declaration would be the basis for any future face-to-face ‘contact’ between the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE.

Although Attanayake sounded confident about the Oslo Declaration, his colleagues wanted the top party leadership to raise the issue with the Norwegians and the LTTE. "We should not ignore Balasingham’s statement. He would not have dismissed the Oslo agreement without Prabhakaran’s approval," an MP said, acknowledging the fact that Balasingham’s statement undermined the UNP. "It paved the way for the JVP and nationalist groups to target us," he said.

JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva on Thursday rapped UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe for misleading the country. He endorsed Balasingham’s claim while asserting that there was only a secret agreement between the UNP and the LTTE under which the latter would help Wickremesinghe to win the forthcoming presidential election.

He rapped the top UNP leadership for trying to lead the UPFA government into the LTTE’s trap by demanding the revival of talks on the basis of a non-existent Oslo Declaration.

Attanayake said he was not surprised that the JVP was trying to take advantage of the situation. The JVP, he said, wanted hostilities to resume and the bloodshed to begin.

In a critical analysis of the peace process in his new book ‘War and Peace,’ Balasingham calls into question the concept of the ‘Oslo Declaration.’

He points out that there was no specific proclamation titled the ‘Oslo Declaration’ on which many claims of the Tigers’ unconditional abandonment of the right to secession—i.e. external self-determination—are based.

Pointing out that their decision to explore a federal solution "has been projected as a major political break through, a ‘paradigm shift’, and has become known as the ‘Oslo Declaration’, with interpretors claiming that the LTTE has abandoned the right to external self-determination and secession." Balasingham states: "I feel it necessary to clarify our position on this controversial issue."

"Firstly, it must be stated that there was not any specific proclamation titled the ‘Oslo Declaration’. The decision to explore federalism was included in the record of decisions at the Oslo talks and signed by the chief negotiators of both delegations and the head of the Norwegian facilitating team."

"Secondly, the decision was made in accordance with the proposal outlined by the LTTE leader in his Heroes’ Day speech. Pirapaharan operates his concepts and categories within the over-all framework of the right to self-determination, with its internal and external aspects," Balasingham writes.

Anandasangaree calls for federal constitution by Shamindra Ferdinando

TULF leader V. Anandasangaree wants the government to start formulating a draft constitution based on a federal structure.

"This should be done on a priority basis," he told the Sunday Island, emphasising the need to prepare the blueprint on the expert advice of expatriates.

Responding to questions, he asserted that it was important to prepare the blueprint with the concurrence of the international community. Then, the LTTE wouldn’t be able to reject the blueprint on the pretext of it being one-sided, he said.

A reasonable and practical solution based on a federal structure would silence them and its proxy, the TNA. It would also force them to abandon their bid to justify their demand for institutionalisation of the LTTE’s ISGA proposals to facilitate the resumption of direct negotiations suspended in April 2003. The ISGA envisages an LTTE-run interim administration in the north-east.

The TULF leader said that the draft constitution should specify an interim arrangement that did not necessarily have to be in the hands of the LTTE.

The veteran politician pointed out that a statement issued by the Norwegian government at the end of the third session of the peace negotiations on December 5, 2002 revealed that parties to the Oslo-facilitated peace process agreed to a proposal by the LTTE leadership to explore a solution based on the principle of internal self-determination in areas of historical habitation of Tamil speaking people, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka.

"Don’t forget the fact that the proposal was made by the LTTE. The government, the opposition and the international community should not allow them to go back on their word," the former Jaffna District MP said.

The likes of Balasingham and Thamilchelvam should not be allowed to deceive the people, Anandasangaree said, adding that the government’s effort to draft a new constitution should get underway immediately.

"It should not be for the benefit of any organisation or any individual but for the good of the entire country," he declared.

Anandasangaree emphasised that it should protect the interests of the majority and the minorities. The government, he stressed, should not hesitate to involve the opposition in this process. But the most important thing is to prepare the document under international expert supervision.

"We can secure help from countries which have constitutions based on federal structures. Unfortunately we are not doing what we should do. Instead, we are wasting time on futile exercises."

Anandasangaree said there was no point discussing the LTTE’s ISGA proposals. "No sensible government would discuss these proposals. They would also not meet the aspirations of the Tamil speaking people." The ISGA proposals go beyond any reasonable solution based on a federal set-up. The ISGA, he said, was a blueprint for dividing this country on ethnic lines that would lead to further problems.

He also dismissed the LTTE claim that the last parliamentary elections in April endorsed the LTTE as the sole representatives of the Tamil speaking people. Don’t forget what the European Union Election Observer Mission headed by John Cushnahan said about the LTTE and its TNA representatives, Anandasangaree said. He said the LTTE inspired violence was due to two factors. "Firstly, the LTTE intended that no Tamil party (or Tamil candidates from mainstream political alliances) other than the TNA would be able to claim to represent Tamil interests. A chilling message to this effect was sent early in the campaign when a UNP candidate and an EPDP activist were murdered. Secondly, the split between LTTE factions exacerbated the situation resulting in more bloodshed."

Fundamentalist outfit busted

CUDDALORE, OCT. 28. The Cuddalore police claim to have busted a fundamentalist outfit ‘Manitha Neethi Pasarai’ (MNP) located at Nellikuppam `F3 which has been allegedly converting Dalits into Islam and imparting training to them in handling weapons and martial arts.

The police have rounded up 15 persons, including three women - Pashira, Fatima Beevi and Chithira Rahina - and seized from them long sickles, foreign-made daggers, cellphones (one having Arabic names and numerals), audio and video cassettes, an amplifier, a binocular, a camera, digital diaries, incriminating documents and Rs. 85,000 (in the denomination of Rs. 500).

But the masterminds, Khaja Mohideen (45) of Neyveli and Abdul Khani alias Pichaikhani of Keezhakarai have escaped. According to the police sources, the MNP was said to be having a nationwide network and was suspected to have links with the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front of Yasin Malik and acted as a recruiting agency to beef up the terrorist forces in Jammu and Kashmir.

Funded from Riyadh

The MNP, which came into being a few months ago, had well-formulated syllabi and the trainees were indoctrinated with "hate literature" and compact discs showing the demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya, the Coimbatore serial bomb blasts, the Godhra carnage and the Gujarat riots. The MNP received foreign funding, the sources said.

Already, one batch of 40 persons passed out, and a section of the second batch, undergoing training, fell into the police net. The MNP was part of an institution, "Arivagam" at Muthudevanpatti in Theni district, and had contacts with the Tamil Nadu Development Foundation Trust at Periyapet in Chennai. While the former was training cadres in combat tactics, the latter was teaching the tenets of Islam to the converts, the sources said.

After preliminary training at Nellikuppam, advanced training would be given at Muthudevanpatti and Ernakulam before the cadres were despatched to Kashmir. The MNP, suspected to be a resurrection of the proscribed Students Islamic Movement of India, was having nexus some other outfits also.

The Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Sanjay Arora, told presspersons here today that the MNP had a militant orientation and there was prima facie evidence of its running a training camp. But no explosives were found there, he said.

The Cuddalore Superintendent of Police, K. Prem Kumar, said the National Security Act would be invoked against the arrested. The MNP came to light when the police probed a gang attack on Arokiyaraj of Thirukkulam who prevented the kidnap of his friend, Sirajudeen’s daughter by one Osai Mani alias Sultan with the help of Vidiyal Velli, another MNP wing.

The Hindu

Tight Indian security stops fishing flotilla's 'invasion'of Lanka

COLOMBO, Oct 28 (AFP) - India’s coastguard and navy stepped up a blockade Thursday to stop Indian fishermen from leading a flotilla to neighbouring Sri Lanka to protest at frequent arrests, navy officials here said.

Hundreds of fishermen from the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu had planned to enter Sri Lankan territorial waters Thursday to protest at the impounding of their trawlers straying into the island’s waters.

"The Indian navy and the coastguard had stepped up patrols and set up an effective blockade," Sri Lankan navy spokesman Jayantha Perera said. "We were also ready with our own arrangements but the protest did not materialise."

Indian fishermen are frequently detained by the Sri Lankan navy as well as by local fishermen who accuse their Indian counterparts of trawling in the rich prawn grounds off the island’s northwestern coast.

The two neighbours have had several high-level meetings to address the issue of fishermen crossing the international boundary but the problem persists.

Govt. mum on Anton’s unpublished book by Zacki Jabber

The government on Thursday refrained from commenting on an unpublished book by LTTE theoretician Anton Balasingham where he says that the LTTE has not given up the right to secede.

Cabinet spokesman and Minister Mangala Samaraweera questioned about the LTTE’s position at the Cabinet press briefing, said that he cannot comment until such time the book entitled "War and Peace", is read.

"I presume he is talking about the situation that prevailed at that time".

The pro-LTTE website Tamilnet which has reproduced Balasingham’s book comments, quotes him as saying that a joint statement after a round of talks between the LTTE and government in Oslo in December 2002, had been misunderstood and misinterpreted as the LTTE abandoning the right to break away.

"The LTTE’s decision to explore federalism does not entail an unconditional abandonment of the Tamils right to external self-determination and secession", he says.

Asked about the LTTE’s rejection of the government’s counter proposals on the ISGA, Samaraweera said that all proposals have to be ready when negotiations commence.

"We can discuss both the ISGA and government proposals. This could be the starting point. The UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has spoken of a third set of proposals. So all of this can be looked at when talks commence", he added.

...SL protests to Canada by Zacki Jabbar

The government has formally protested to Canada over the treatment meted out to three buddhist monks when they went to the Canadian High Commission in Colombo, to obtain visas on Monday.

Cabinet spokesman Mangala Samaraweera said that Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar has sent a protest note to the Canadians.

"We are very concerned about the incident and do not like our venerable clergy being treated in such a manner", he said.

Canadian diplomats disrobed the three Buddhist monks one Sri Lankan and two Thais and made them shower during an anthrax scare at the embassy.

"Talcum powder in one passport caused diplomats to panic and seize all three of them", police said.

LTTE delegation meets German Foreign Ministry Officials

The LTTE delegation led by Head of Political Wing, S. P. Thamilchelvan met with State Secretary, German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Erich Stather, and Minister of State, Federal Foreign Office Ms. Kerstin Muller in meetings last Thursday and Friday in Berlin, LTTE sources in Germany said. The delegation flew from Stockholm, Sweden, in a special airacraft to Berlin.

Head of Battialoa-Ampara LTTE Poltical Wing, Kauslayan, Head of LTTE Police, Mr. Nadesan, Head of TamilEelam Justice Department Para, Director General of LTTE Peace Secreatariat, M. Pulidevan, Deputy Director of Peace Secretariat, Ms Selvy Karthikeyan, and Deputy Head of Women’s Political Wing, Ms. Geetha accompanied Thamilchelvan to the meetings. Stather and Ms Muller while expressing German Government’s concern over the stalled peace process and escalating violence in the east, encouraged the LTTE to maintain its commitment to the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA).

`95 Thamilchelvan briefed the German officials on the prevaililng political climate in Sri Lanka, and explained to the officials the following issues affecting the Tamils in Northeast: Tamil people are loosing hope in the peace process as even after two years of the signing of CFA even basic humanitarian needs of the people in Northeast are not yet met.

`95 Sri Lanka Army (SLA) is still occupying residences and fertile fields belonging to Tamils inside High Security Zones, displacing thousands of Tamils to languish in welfare centers and refugee camps.

`95 SLA, in violation of clause 1.8 of the CFA which prohibits armed paramilitaries in NorthEast, is collaborating with paramilitaries to promote internecine violence in the east.

The Sri Lanka Government appears to believe in a military solution as it continues to ignore expression of support from the opposition parties given first time in the historoy of acrimonious Southern politics.

The LTTE delegation urged the German officials to work closely with International Community to pressure the Government of Sri Lanka to immediately resume peace talks on tha basis of LTTE’s Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) proposals so that the much needed humanitarian assistance to North East can be delivered.

The LTTE delegation is expected to visit Switzerland before leaving for Colombo on Sunday.


Peace and its discontents

A report by the Multi Ethnic Collective For Child Security

The situation in the districts of both Batticaloa and Amparai is frightening and depressing. Any time spent with the local community there only confirms what has already been mentioned elsewhere that "that peace has passed by the east, leaving its people out. Batticaloa is in the thrall of the peace process, but there is no peacefulness; definitely not for the struggling and working families and people of Batticaloa" and Amparai. If anything, times are far worse now than in April when the Karuna faction split with the LTTE. At that time the LTTE system of taxation had stopped temporarily and approximately 3,000 children had returned to their parents and there was hope that some positive changes might come about. Attempts at resistance documented by some activists at that time have very little space now. Mothers have been systematically silenced, and the little resistance they still show condemned.

The security of families is an important issue and children feel doubly vulnerable in a climate of daily political killings. Communities live in extraordinary fear now. Muslims and Tamil are divided because of the growing tension there, extreme forms of taxation especially for the Muslims have resumed, and children are being recruited with little respite.

Political killings and violence in the East

Killings in the East are a daily occurrence, whereas in the south only a few of those instances are reported. They continue unabated. The cross-fires between the two LTTE factions have increased the climate of fear to unbearable levels. The list of political killings, shootings and people getting caught in the cross-fire between LTTE and Karuna factions is long and tortuous to go through. The killings are reportedly carried out by "unidentified gunmen" especially when the perpetrators are perceived to be cadres of the LTTE. This increases the level of fear and uncertainty among the people there who do not know how to react to an incident of this nature, whom to sympathise with, and frighteningly, what and whom to mourn for. Mourning for the dead too has become a lonely event as funerals are sparsely attended. Even places of refuge like hospitals are not safe for victims as very little security is provided for them. This daily grind of killings gives shape to people’s responses to important issues like child recruitment, Muslim-Tamil relations, the peace process and democracy in general.

Muslim-Tamil relations continue to be a thorn on the side of peace initiatives. Violence targeting the Muslims community does little to mend matters. Efforts are being made to bring the two communities and sometimes all three communities, Muslim, Sinhala and Tamil, together, into a reconciliation process. Yet, as long as these communities are held hostage to a gun culture that stifles open discussion, where grievances are attended to and rectified, there will be little improvement in the existing situation.

Forced recruitment of children and young adults

According to UNICEF figures 488 children had been recruited in the first six months of the year. Local sources claim that there are times when between 16-20 children are abducted in one week. If 10 children are abducted at any given time, about 2 or 3 may be released to the UNICEF by the LTTE. This is one of the strategies of appeasement employed by the LTTE to defuse public protest. What of the plans set in motion when these children were released in April 2004?

In the months of September-October, there had been a temporary lull in the recruitment drive in the Batticaloa district. As one person told us "the two factions are too busy killing each other and so have no time to recruit children for the moment." But even as we were contemplating this new trend, reports of new incidents of recruitment in the Batticaloa district trickled in.

Meanwhile in Akkaraipattu, Kalmunai, Samanthurai, Kopalapuram and Trincomalee recruitment drives continue unchecked. This phenomenon is not confined purely to the East for there are also recent reports of increased recruitment in Killinochchi. The issue becomes far worse in uncleared areas where there is very little monitoring and reporting of abductions. There are approximately 200 returned children in the Akkaraipattu division hiding in their homes while the LTTE is pressurising these children to rejoin. In Mallumale, close to Kiran in the Batticaloa district, there has been an intense recruitment drive. Many of the uncleared areas see an increase in recruitment with families having no option but to give up their children to the LTTE. In the area of Samanthurai which falls into the Ampara division, children and parents have been warned not to resist and to rejoin the movement before they are asked again.

One morning a few months ago on the Vaharai road, in Pannichankerny, a girl between the age of 15-17 was apprehended on a bus. The mother who had heard about it went after her and took her back. Then later while they were walking back the mother was beaten up and the girl was abducted again. The girl is one of the returnees. She had started to go back to school and was placed in Grade 7. The beating was carried out by LTTE women.

That very evening LTTE women, who had rejoined the movement after having been released, had gone to a house of a child in Vaharai who had returned and beaten up the mother and had taken her child, a daughter, away. They had threatened an older brother who was there.

The LTTE went to the place of another girl who was not there; beat up the mother and had said that the next time they came the girl should be there. This was in Vaharai again.

Again in Vaharai, the LTTE had visited the home of a young adult returnee who was recovering from injuries she had sustained in some confrontation. The LTTE had said that she could stay home and recover for now but they would come back for her later.

Recruitment has not been confined to the underaged returnees only as, since August, there have been many new recruits as well. In the first week of August itself 20-25 children under the age of 18 were abducted in Kathiraveli in the Veruhal Area of northern Batticaloa district. Mothers who protested and wanted to go public with their protest were threatened with death if they did so. In the town of Kopalapuram in Trincomalee alone, the LTTE has recruited 20 children recently. They are all fresh recruits. In one family they have recruited both brother and sister. This has been through the screening of propaganda material in the kovil and through intimidating parents and children.

In Valathapitiya in the Ampara district we heard that there were 20 under-aged returnees children of whom 6 are young girls. They have been told to come back; they have no prospects such as going to school or obtaining a job; and extreme poverty at home has made them think that re-joining is the only choice open to them.

Bedtime stories

The stories that we narrate are of two children and their families who were released in April by the Karuna faction, who are but two among the 2-3,000 children estimated to have been released at that point. Both these boys are fifteen years old and have remained with their parents for six months. They were both recruited when they were 12 or 13 years of age. One when he was out playing in the neighbourhood, the other when he had been on his way to school. How have they passed their time in these last six months, after having been released? How have the Sri Lankan state and the myriad of International organizations that zoom past the areas in their large vehicles waving big flags paved the way for these children to be secure?

Both these children have been confined to their homes for most of the last six months. One of them attempted to attend a vocational training programme. He attended this programme for perhaps a month or two. Returning to school seemed impossible as he had missed so much, and schools, children and parents of other children were suspicious of these children. Perhaps he thought that through this special programme he would now have a chance of interacting with other children, learn some skills he could use to earn some money for his very poor family. Whatever his dreams may have been, they exist no longer. Two months after he started the programme two other children who were also ‘returnees’ were abducted on their way home by bus from the training programme. His parents immediately stopped him attending for fear of his being re-recruited. Such vocational training programmes have become the means of monitoring children’s movements for the LTTE. For girls this problem remains acute as their still shoulder-length hair gives them away. Many of these girls who are in residential programmes where they have been offered some safety are learning skills such as needle work.

The other child has stayed at home for six months, locked in his room, without going out. He was initially abducted when he was twelve and out playing. His parents do not want to take that risk again.

Both these children have been asked to come back to the LTTE. On Friday, the 15th of October, the LTTE asked all the mothers and children of the returnee children and youth to report to its office in Akkaraipattu. Many of the mothers did not take their children along with them at that point whereas some even refused to attend. Despite intimidations, they showed enormous courage. It is hard to imagine that they have the energy to resist in a climate of daily cross killings, coercion and bullying by the LTTE that pays no heed to pleas of respecting human rights and child rights of Tamils and Muslims in the East. These mothers had been told to bringtheir children for a meeting on the 17th of October to the LTTE office. They had been warned that if they did not bring their children, they would be branded as partisan to the Karuna faction and would pay the consequences of such resistance. If any of them refused to bring his or her child or took that child away to a safer place in the south, their other children would suffer. Many children and mothers went on the 17th out of fear. Apparently a group of over 100 people had gathered at this meeting. One of the LTTE leaders had told them to forget about leaving the movement and to forget about staying at home. According to reports, parents had been weeping at the office, scared, not knowing how to let go of their children, not knowing how to resist. At the end of the day, letters had been given to the children and parents stating that the children must join soon, when they are called upon. Unconfirmed reports say that UNICEF officials were present at the meeting. This may have stopped the LTTE from recruiting children on that same day.

The grandfather of the two young boys we spent some time with told us "my daughter will die if they take her son again. She spent so much money during the three years he was with the LTTE to try to find him. We never even got a chance to visit him. She was miserable during this time. Now she has him back, we would rather die than give him up again."

Shifting these children to safer places remains dogged with numerous problems. If any of these children are taken to safer places, then the LTTE will harass the parents, beat them, and furthermore take one of the other children as compensation. One of the children we spoke to had one brother who was 16 years old and a sister who is 14 years old. These other children live in fear of being recruited by the LTTE.

Such pressures on the whole family may make the under-aged returnee child feel that his staying with his family is a liability to all and that the only way to ease his family’s burden is to rejoin the LTTE.

Measures of Peace

What of the vocational training programmes, and of catch up classes for these children? The abduction of children while returning from these training programmes suggests that such programmes offer no security for these children at all. Hence, these children have very few means of re-integrating into society. They are isolated and alone. Furthermore, recent abductions suggest that more and more children fear attending these programmes and being caught out in public. Many families had married their young daughters off in the hope that this will stop their being re-recruited. However, families confirm that this has not been successful. We spoke to some children and asked them what they wanted to do. They wanted to stay at home with their mothers, to learn some skills and to try to earn some money.

There are very few places in Sri Lanka that can accommodate these children. Accommodating them needs to be accompanied with sufficient measures of security for these children. One local NGO leader told us that whatever action they could take to re-integrate these children would be totally disrupted by the intervention of the "boys."

Very few children have recourse to the numerous INGOs and other organizations working there. These institutions often repeat that the security of these children is not their mandate. Only UNICEF seems to have a mandate to look into the issue of protecting under-aged children. They have thus far not done what it takes to guarantee the security of these children. Their agreement with the TRO has made a mockery of child safety and rights. Many people fear that any information given to the UNICEF will only help the LTTE keep better track of the returnee children.

The government and human rights organizations have not reacted or organized themselves sufficiently to help these children. Six months have passed since these children have returned home. Yet, very little has been done. What has been done is insufficient and larger better organized efforts need to be made.

The continuous down playing of the issue of protection of these children has meant that the LTTE has now little regard for criticisms of its recruitment drives made by the international community. These condemnations seem more attempts at lip service to issues of human rights than really a sincere attempt to safeguard these children. Only a few people from the local community have attempted to safeguard these children at great risk to their own lives. The continuous and daily political killings has meant that even these activists feel the space around them rapidly closing up.

The public’s response to child recruitment and forced conscription is the touchstone of this society’s will to achieve peace and justice. We make a clarion call to all concerned to rally around this issue.

Balasingham’s googly

So we have Anton Balasingham, upstaged in recent months by S. P. Thamilselvan, saying that there’s no such thing as an Oslo Declaration. He’s taken a long time to say so and has, as usual, indulged in his usual verbal polemics to back out of the previously stated position that the Tigers were willing to work towards a federal solution. In his newest book, War and Peace, where he has borrowed the title of Tolstoy’s masterpiece, Balasingham has felt the need to clarify what he has called "this controversial issue" declaring that there was "not any specific proclamation called the ‘Oslo Declaration’."

He admits that the decision to explore federalism was included in the record of decisions at the Oslo talks and signed by the chief negotiators of both delegations, that is the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE, as well as the head of the Norwegian facilitating team. But he maintains that the Tigers still operated within the "overall framework of the right to self-determination, with its internal and external aspects" meaning a right to secede. If their demand for regional self-rule is rejected, they have no alternative but to secede and form an independent state, he has said. Whatever Balasingham may now say, what the Norwegian foreign ministry had to say at the conclusions of the Oslo talks is firmly on record. We quote: "The parties agreed to explore a solution founded on the principle of internal self-determination in areas of historical habitation of Tamil-speaking peoples, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka."

At the end of the talks in Oslo two years ago, an LTTE agreement at least to "explore" a federal solution was hailed as a breakthrough and a great deal was said about that. "Oslo Declaration" was a frequently used label embracing the decisions reached at those talks. But during the many months that passed between December 2002 and the publication of his book, Balasingham did not feel the need to say what he has now done. He did not merely bury this position deep within the pages of his book where it might have passed unnoticed but ensured that TamilNet, the pro-LTTE web site posted the relevant excerpt to ensure that it would attract the attention it now has. The timing is significant as the Tigers are currently under international pressure to resume the negotiations that have remained stalled since April last year. They have adopted an iron-clad stance that the talks can only begin on the basis of their Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) proposals and the current effort of both the Sri Lanka government and the international community is to get round this obstacle.

President Kumaratunga who had much to say about the ISGA and what the Ranil Wickremesinghe government was going to do to the country by caving in on that issue is now confronted with the self-same dilemma. She can only play it the way that Wickremesinghe might have – on the basis of the Oslo Declaration. That is why Balasingham now says that there is no such declaration. Cabinet Spokesman Mangala Samaraweera was guarded in his response to Balasingham’s statements at his press conference last week saying he did not want to comment without reading the book. That’s fair enough and nobody will quarrel with him on that score. But he did go on record saying that not only Norway, but also some other European nations in contact with the LTTE, have told Colombo that the Tigers will stay with the Oslo position. "What we know is that the facilitator (Norway) has told us and what the LTTE has said in Europe and that is that the LTTE accepts the Oslo Declaration," Samaraweera said.

Given that Thamilselvan, who led a ranking LTTE delegation to several European countries will be back this week for talks with Japan’s Yasushi Akashi, it is to be hoped that he does not follow Balasingham’s tack. A federal solution appears to be Sri Lanka’s best option now and both India as well as the wider international community will go along with that. How the LTTE’s political wing chief playing his hand will reveal whether Balasingham is on a trip of his own. If otherwise, and what he has said reflects Prabhakaran’s intentions, it will be a clear signal that only lip service had been paid to federalism in Oslo. As TULF leader V. Anandasangaree has advocated in our front page today, perhaps it is time for the country to begin work on drafting a constitution that will address the national problems rather than the political fortunes of individuals or parties. Generous autonomy is a right of the Tamil people who were short changed with Sinhala Only and other unfair laws. Those plus communal riots climaxing in July 1983 not only created a genuine sense of grievance but also resulted in the country losing some of the best and the brightest of its people.

Depressingly, the LTTE has up to now acted in a way that suggests that separation is their goal. The posts may be changed from time to time depending on ground conditions and the global climate. The international community must use its muscle to bring the LTTE into line. But if southern politics is only concerned with the contest for office with the national problem always a second priority, support from abroad will be necessarily eroded. In recent months, despite the anti-terror sentiments that followed 9/11, the LTTE has been able to improve its global image. Diplomats from countries where the Tigers are banned or non grata routinely travel to Kilinochchi for talks with the hierarchy. LTTE leaders are warmly received in many countries as honoured guests. The advantages that Colombo had are slowly but surely being lost as the southern parties keep shooting the country in the foot. This must change and the sooner both the government and opposition realize this, the better for Sri Lanka.