ELLIPALLAI, 19 June 2015 (IRIN) – As a young girl, Kasthuri Udayakumaran’s grandmother would tell her of a house where birds chirped as the morning sunlight streamed through the thick foliage of a peaceful village. It seemed like a fantasy, a world away from her home in the northern city of Jaffna where soldiers manned checkpoints and claymore mines exploded on dusty streets.
“The report initially examines Thatcher’s policy on Sri Lanka during her decade in power. Her opening salvo was to dispatch former MI5 director (Jack Morton), a veteran of Malaya and Ireland. He reported back on ‘the depressing picture of apparatus and morale in the security forces tackling the Tamil problem’, at a time when the Tamil armed struggle for independence was just beginning.
Then, from 1983-1987, KMS Ltd, a British mercenary company comprised of ex-SAS soldiers (many of them Dhofar veterans), trained Sri Lankan police commandos, army officers and helicopter gunship pilots in counter-insurgency techniques. KMS became infamous in the late 1980s when its boss, David Walker, was implicated in the Iran-Contra scandal. It is now one of Britain’s oldest private military contractors, trading under the name of Saladin Security.
The 1990s were no different; UK military training continued unabated. The Defence Attaché at the British High Commission even described himself as a protégé of General Frank Kitson, godfather of Britain’s colonial counter-insurgency campaigns. Then in 1997, almost 50 years after Sri Lanka became independent from the Empire, the British Army helped establish a military academy on the island for senior officers.
The Ministry of Defence attached a British Colonel to the college, where he held one of the highest positions. His first batch of students included a young Kamal Gunaratne, who would go on to command the Sri Lankan Army’s 53rd Division in the killing fields during 2009. His unit is alleged to have executed the Tamil female journalist Isaipriya. The twisted irony is that the college’s motto was, ‘To war with wisdom and knowledge’.”
“The vote is an indication that the campaign for democracy, reconciliation and demilitarisation has emerged victorious. But we have a tremendous challenge. I am compelled to say that the North has voted for change. It is our duty to deliver the freedom for the people. The women in the North who are tillers of the land want their rights. Their faces and tears once again reminded me of the difference between my reality and their life experiences. The massive difference of votes between the swan and the beetle leaf in the Tamil homeland has to be understood properly. Sinhala political leader who are going to lead this country towards changhe has been trusted by them to take them towards this new future. I hope and pray we will not let them down.
I salute the citizen’s of Sri Lanka for igniting their conscience after several years.”
A monitoring group expressed concerns Tuesday that the military presence in the former war zone of northern Sri Lanka may lower voter turnout in the presidential election Thursday.
For many, myself included, it is difficult to imagine the Rajapaksas relinquishing office on the 9th of January consequent to a defeat at the polls. Therefore the genuine concern and speculation as to what could happen. I expect the use of the military to ensure a low turn -out in areas where there is a concentration of Tamil, Muslim and non- Sinhala Buddhist votes, especially in the North and East. We know what was done in the 2013 Northern Provincial Council election and in previous national elections. In particular, 2005.
The United States led Western criticism of Sri Lanka on Tuesday after pro-government activists broke up a meeting of US diplomats and ethnic Tamils who lost loved ones in the island’s separatist war.
“I would invite the members of the international community to come to Kanniya in Trincomalee and see for themselves what is happening; see for themselves the situation. We do not want these types of things to happen. But, you are compellingus to make such an appeal to the international community. I wrote to the President; I wrote to the Hon. Basil Rajapaksa. I have raised this matter in Parliament. You do not reply. You do not respond. But, you quietly carry on with your programme of work and your programme of work is being completed. Why is all this being done?. All this is being done because you want to change the demographic composition of the North and the East and you want to change the cultural and linguistic identity of the districts in the North and the East.”
Last year we ran a campaign around the Government of Sri Lanka’s seizure of land belonging to Tamil families forced from their homes by the civil war. Over 7,000 acres of land – potentially up to $2 billion worth at current prices – was seized in the Northern and Eastern provinces using land acquisition notices which gave little justification for the seizures. The vast majority of this land, 6,381 acres of it, is contained within the Valikamam High Security Zone in the northern Jaffna peninsula.
“From contributing to changing the landscapes of the Colombo city with its rapid remodeling and ‘beautification’ to growing vegetables in the North and East, Sri Lanka’s military is systematically increasing its grip on the economy and business activities.”
Five years after Sri Lanka’s war with the Tamil Tigers ended, the group’s former members say that cultural insensitivity from the government is still an issue.
The Government has suspended plans by the military to acquire 25 different plots of land in the Northern Province.The Land Commissioner General’s Department has issued a directive to the Northern Provincial Land Commissioner not to go ahead with the proposed acquisition of lands in the Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Mullativu districts.
Concerns over the large military presence in the north are compounded by the government’s continuing efforts to mislead domestic and international audiences. Even accounting for an element of exaggeration concerning its own development footprint, there is no doubt that the military continues to exercise a high degree of control over all aspects of people’s lives in the north. Reconciliation and lasting peace are made harder as a result.
Meanwhile, northern Sri Lanka continues to feel like a land under occupation, with an all-pervasive military intelligence snooping on Tamils deemed to be suspicious. The government says it is cutting by nearly a third the large numbers of soldiers stationed in the north since the war. A successful provincial election in September produced a local government led by a Tamil opposition party. Though it enjoys only grudging co-operation from Mr Rajapaksa, progress towards reconciliation is still possible. But the country’s bloody past has still to be accounted for.
“The real question in the debate over India’s Sri Lanka policy isn’t whether it is pragmatic or ethical. It goes, instead, to the heart of the ethics of the wars our country fights, and will fight in years to come”
The prospect of ‘Gaza’ of the Sri Lankan kind emerging in the Northern territories is beginning to appear increasingly inevitable. The government’s decision to acquire well over 6,000 acres of privately owned land in the Jaffna peninsula has only made it look even more plausible an event in the aftermath of the 30-year-old war.
The seriousness of situation was reflected in a report and a statement released by two of the leading civil society organizations in the country, earlier this week. The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) in its Field Report on the Jaffna and Kilinochchi Districts, warned that the persistence of land problems, recently compounded by policy directives, may lead to the dispossession of land of thousands, and called upon the government to take urgent steps to address this situation and to institute processes that are transparent, participatory and just.
Sources: www.theindependent.lk and Groundviews