Presidential Election & Tamil Politics: A Bundle Of Blunders – A Response
S.I. Keethaponcalan has written an article captioned “Presidential Election & Tamil Politics: A Bundle of Blunders” that appeared in the online website Colombo Telegraph datelined 27 November 2019 ((https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/presidential-election-tamil-politics-a-bundle-of-blunders/)
While I generally agree with his analysis though mostly with the benefit of hindsight, I disagree with him for the unwarranted criticism levelled at the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) decision to support Sajith Premadasa, New Democratic Front presidential candidate.
In the first place did this writer predict that Gotabaya will romp home with 1. 3 million votes majority? I very much doubt whether he did.
Who are the Tamils who said that the UNP, in the last five years, failed miserably to deliver on the promises made to the Tamil voters in 2015? And who said that the last-minute actions, such as the opening of the Jaffna Airport, were seen as political gimmicks? What is the source and who told him? It is not only the Jaffna Airport; the first stage of the Myliddy Fisheries Harbour was developed at a cost of Rs.150 million. It was ceremoniously handed over to the fisherfolk on August 15, 2019, by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Another Rs. 250 will be spent on the second stage unless the Rajapaksa government derails the project for political reasons.
The KKS harbour is being developed at a cost of US 47.5 million dollars financed by India. The government built around 50,000 houses for war victims with Indian government help. Under Gamperiliya and other projects, Northeast was allocated Rs.25, 000 million. Ranil Wickremesinghe took extra efforts and interest to develop the war-torn Northeast that will improve the livelihoods of people affected by war.
A total of 5 base hospitals are constructed/or existing hospitals renovated at a cost of Euro 69 million (Rs.12,000 million) funded by the Netherlands.
Land to the extent of 47,604 acres (75.48%) of land both state and private under occupation by the armed forces as at January 2015 has been released to the rightful owners. Still, 28,991 acres (24. 52%) of remain unreleased. The table below shows the details of land released so far and land still occupied by the Armed forces.
January 2015 – March 2019 details of lands released to owners
May 2009 – January 2015 land occupied by the armed forces
January 2015 to March 2019 land released to owners
Percentage of land released to owners by the armed forces
Land not released
Percentage of lands not yet released
During Rajapaksa’s dispensation, not a SINGLE house was built for the war victims. Basil Rajapaksa the then Minister of Economic Affairs arrogantly claimed that his government has no money even to repair one house.
The Yahapayana government would have done better if not for the tugger-war between President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe(RW) that culminated in the October 26th 2018 counter-revolution. Another ‘victim’ of Sirisena’s treachery was the constitutional process. With SLFP faction pulling out, the government lost the 2/3 majority to push through the draft constitution.
Tamil people voted with both hands to Sajith Premadasa (SP) not out of fear of Gotabaya Rajapaksa(GR). It is a vote to take revenge for alleged war crimes committed during the closing of the war. There were execution-style summary killings of LTTE cadres who surrendered at
(1) Vadduvakal with white flags on the morning of May 18. 2009. The surrendees were led by B. Nadesan (Chief of LTTE Political Department) and his wife, Puliththevan (Head of the Peace Secretariat) and Col. Ramesh (Police Chief). LTTE fighters and civilians totalling about 300 people were among those found dead. Nadesan and few others were carrying white flags.
(2) Vadduvakal on the same day but in the evening more than 50 middle -rung cadres surrendered to the 58 Division, and
(3) Omanthai military camp an unspecified number of LTTE cadres were handed over to the army.
There is credible evidence (eyewitnesses, photos, videos etc) to prove that those who surrendered at Vadduvakal, some with white flags, and at Vavuniya were summarily executed probably on the orders of GR the then Defence Secretary. It is not “fear” that determined the way Tamils voted. It will be more correct to say the Tamils made use of the opportunity to take revenge against GR who is accused of committing war crimes during the war. The Tamils did not like the Rajapaksas celebrating the war victory with much pomp and fanfare in Colombo. Additionally, in the North war memorials, Buddhist viharas, Buddha’s statues sprouted all over. They are still there to remind the Tamil people that they are vanquished race.
The writer is absolutely wrong when he says they were rejected by the major parties. The SLPP rejected outright, but not the NDF. It is obvious the writer has not read the manifesto released by Sajith Premadasa. Directly and indirectly, SP accepted 9 out of the 13 demands. Maximum devolution to Provincial Councils, taking forward the stalled constitutional process, the release of political prisoners, to support more strongly the Commissions related to missing persons, withdrawal of PTA, release of all land under armed forces occupation barring lands required for national security, no state-sponsored colonization that will alter the existing demography. So it is absolute nonsense to claim SP rejected the 13 demands.
It is rubbish to claim that TNA did not extract concessions. It is equally stupid to claim leaders of the TNA were firmly under UNP influence. On the other hand, MR was protesting that the government is caving into TNA’s demand for power-sharing. The draft constitution he claimed will divide Sri Lanka into 9 separate independent federal states!
The TNA has been consistent in its support to democratic values as opposed to authoritarian and family dictatorship. It is easy to deal with RW a confirmed democrat and pacifist, whatever may be his other failings as the Prime Minister and leader of the UNP. TNA choice was SP right from the word go. TNA did not bother about GR eventually winning the election. Even if the TNA knew 100% that SP will lose it would have still asked the people to support SP. TNA is not an opportunistic party like the Muslim parties, except the one just concluded.
Did the writer who now brags that SP did not have a chance in the 2019 election say so before the election? He did not. As mentioned at the beginning he is writing from hindsight that is after the event.
Here again, the writer says the Tamil parties should not have presented the 13-point proposals to the candidates. What was presented was nothing new, absolutely not. What was presented as 13-point proposals are what was stated in the TNA manifesto right from 2009?
The writer suggests that next time the Tamil party should field its candidate and then negotiate. The TNA has never involved itself in political gerrymandering or behind the scene clandestine deals. At the 2015 presidential ejection when Sirisena and Chandrika offered to write a written agreement, Sampanthan said no. Such agreements will be used by the other party to carry on a vilification campaign claiming there is a SECRET pact that will concede a separate state to the Tamils.
Finally, the TNA will not engage itself in cut-throat/clandestine politics. It does not matter whether the TNA backed candidate will win or lose. The TNA believes in principled and ethical politics, not political expediency. Right from the beginning, the ITAK MPs have not accepted portfolios. In 2015 the TNA was offered portfolios, but it rejected them. The ITAK/TNA has remained faithful to the founder of ITAK that MPs should not accept ministerial portfolios and join the cabinet till a reasonable solution has been found to the National Question. This was SJV Chelvanayakam’ s stand because of the bitter memory left by GG Ponnambalam who betrayed the Tamils by becoming a Minister in DS Senanayake’ s cabinet within 9 months of independence and passage of the Citizenship Act 28 of 1948!
Will, not the Tears, Shed by the Oppressed Become Sharp Instruments to Wear the Monarch’s wealth away?
Recently organizations representing the mothers and relatives of those who involuntarily (forced) disappeared, after the war, marked the thousandth day of their demonstration, rallies, road-side campaign etc. During this long period, the mothers have demanded the government to produce their sons and daughters handed over to the army at Omanthai military camp during rounding up of suspected militants as well as those who surrendered on May 18, 2009. They sought answers to the nagging questions “What happened to our loved ones., in most cases, we ourselves handed them to the armed forces” from the government, UNHRC and foreign diplomats.
Amnesty International defines Victims of enforced disappearance are people who have literally disappeared; from their loved ones and their community. They go missing when state officials (or someone acting with state consent) grab them from the street or from their homes and then deny it, or refuse to say where they are. Sometimes disappearances may be committed by armed non-state actors, like armed opposition groups. And it is always a crime under international law.
Enforced disappearance is frequently used as a strategy to spread terror among people. The feeling of insecurity and fear it generates is not limited to the close relatives of the disappeared but also affects communities as a whole.
The affected persons strongly believe, perhaps naively, that their beloved ones are still alive and they are kept in clandestine military detention cells/centres/camps.
The Office of the Missing Persons (OMP) estimates that at least 21,000 have disappeared from the predominantly Tamil north and east during the war.
When ex-Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was confronted by angry parents who wanted to know the whereabouts of their loved ones, he was truthful about the disappeared. In his answer, Ranil said that the government had made every effort to trace the missing detainees in army custody but found none.
He then said the missing persons must be presumed dead. This answer only helped to worsen the already highly charged emotive atmosphere.
Today, Gotabaya Rajapaksa who was the Defence Secretary during the war had won the presidential race on the SLPP platform with an impressive majority. This has raked up those awful and nightmarish memories about the enforced missing persons. For years since 2009 May, the relatives of the missing persons are pointing fingers at Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the person responsible for execution-style murders of LTTE leaders/cadres/civilians who surrendered to the army some with white flags. The White flag surrender was facilitated by President Mahinda and Basil Rajapaksa. Those who surrendered with white flags were advised to hold the flags high so that the soldiers can see them at a distance.
So far, despite the promise by the previous Government, no one has been held accountable for extrajudicial killings during the war. But the mothers and relatives of the missing persons hold Gotabaya Rajapaksa accountable in his capacity as the Defence Secretary. Those he is only the Defence Secretary, he was virtually the Defence Minister as well. He alone took decisions regarding the overall war strategy against the LTTE. Mahinda Rajapaksa was Defence Minister in name only.
As Defence Secretary Gotabaya directed all military operations and gave orders to the Commanders in the field bypassing the Army Commander. This was disclosed by Sarath Fonseka many times. As the person who directed the entire war machinery, Gotabaya Rajapaksa is accused of ordering torture, rape and abductions and murders of thousands of Tamils.
When Rajapaksas (Gotabaya, Mahinda and Namal) went to the North for election campaign relatives of involuntarily disappeared persons held a protest rally before the Nallur Murugan temple. They have also been protesting against the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) for not doing anything about the missing persons. They are displaying US and EU flags in the hope of drawing enlisting support of those countries.
During his election campaign, Gotabaya Rajapaksa has studiously avoided giving interviews to the press knowing well that many upsetting questions will be fired at him about missing persons, extra-judicial killings and LTTE surrendees who went missing after the surrender.
At the first press conference held at Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo on 16 October 2019, a grinning Gotabaya Rajapaksa dodged questions about enforced disappearances and missing surrendees. He struggled to answer tough questions thrown by journalists and forced to acknowledge the military leadership of Sarath Fonseka. He denied Paranagama Commission findings of ‘missing’ persons.
Challenged repeatedly about those LTTE cadres who went missing after surrender to the 58 Division, President Gotabaya who had previously claimed credit for the military victory denied any role in the management of the victory and its outcome and tried to pass the blame on to the Army Commanding officers in the field!
When pressed further about a large number of detainees and missing persons, Gotabaya Rajapaksa claimed credit for the rehabilitation of all of them.
His manifesto launched on 25 October 2019, inter-alia, said “Even though we took steps to pardon, rehabilitate and release 13,784 Tiger members who surrendered with arms, such steps were not taken in relation to soldiers who faced different accusations related to the wartime. It further said steps were taken to “systematically rehabilitate and reintegrate” into society not only soldiers but also members of the Tamil Tigers who are facing different accusations related to the war. But the affected families say they saw their relatives taken away in buses by soldiers but never seen again.
Sri Lanka’s government ordered Tamil rebels and any civilians with remote relations to the rebel group to surrender after they were boxed inside a narrow strip of land in the final days of the war on May 18. 2009.
While Gotabaya Rajapksa claims the government released 13,784 LTTE surrendees, his manifesto does not talk about the missing. He told reporters that no one had disappeared other than those who participated in active combat, and that included thousands of soldiers. He urged people to forget the past and move on.
Here is how the questions and answers went during the press meet according to the Daily News dated October 16, 2019 –
Q: What happened to the people who surrendered to the security forces since you were leading the military at that time? Could you please tell us what happened to the people who surrendered? Where are they?
A: You are mistaken I think, I was not leading the Army.
Q: Your brother was?
A: No! No! The Army was led by the Army commander
Q: You were the defence secretary, what will you tell the people who ask that question?
A: About 13,784 surrendered and they were rehabilitated and reintegrated into society. They were given employment in the Civil Security Force and some of them were recruited in the military as well. We had one of the most successful rehabilitation programmes. Even foreign observers commended our programmes.
Q: Does that mean that there are no missing persons?
A: Even in the military, over 4,000 officers and soldiers went missing during the war in the battlefield. Once, I went to Jaffna Fort and even we couldn’t recover the bodies of the military personnel. People are missing. Similarly, a number of soldiers are missing.
Q: Some say those who surrendered did not return? So are they lying?
A: No! Somebody can say that but that is an allegation. We had a commission on this. There were no cases like that.
Q: Even the Paranagama Commission of your time said there were such cases
A: I don’t think so.
Q: It was said that various census and statistical surveys were conducted which came out with numbers. What was the process that you had in mind to carry this forward?
A: You are talking all the time about the past. Ask about the future. If you concentrate on the future, it is better I think.
Q: But can you move on without addressing the past?
A: Yeah sure, can move on.
Questioned about the UN Human Rights Council resolutions, especially 30/1 of 2015, Gotabaya Rajapaksa repeatedly described the UNHCR resolutions as “illegal”, but said that if elected to power he would work with the UN and human rights organisations in resolving contentious issues.
On 01 December 2014, the Government Information Department said that 12,030 rehabilitated former LTTE cadres have already been reintegrated into society. It also stated that a majority of the rehabilitated ex-cadres have been granted employment in both the public and private sectors. (https://www.newsfirst.lk/2014/12/01/government-information-department-says-12030-rehabilitated-former-ltte-cadres/ )
The then Minister of Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms Minister D E W Gunasekera had said the number put through rehabilitation is 11,969 LTTE cadres who surrendered to the Security Forces. He expressed these views at the meeting held in the Sri Lanka Leftists’ Movement Batticaloa District Office. (https://www.army.lk/news/rehabilitated-ltte-cadres-released)
Ignoring the minor discrepancies in the figures given out by different sources, it will appear about 12,000 LTTE cadres surrendered to the army after the war came to an end on May 19, 2009. However, there is a significant difference between Ministry of Rehabilitation 12,000 and the figure 13,784 given by President Rajapaksa in his manifesto.
In 2018 two former Ministers from the Rajapaksa administration acknowledged that those who surrendered to the military had been killed while in protected custody. OMP chair Saliya Peiris has said that he requested the list of surrendees from the authorities, but he never received any list. In 2016, a senior military commander revealed in courts that the 58 Division, which is accused of committing war crimes, is in possession of a list of those who surrendered to the security forces. The General Officer Commanding (GOC), 58 Division of the Sri Lanka Army, Major General Kavinda Chanakya Gunawardena told Mullaitivu Magistrate Court that his division holds a list of all the LTTE cadres who surrendered to the military.
In an explosive interview with The Sunday Leader General Fonseka, the then Army Commander said he had no information communicated to him in the final days of the war that three key LTTE leaders had opted to surrender to Sri Lanka’s armed forces as the battle drew to a bloody finish. He told Frederica Jansz that Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa instructed a key ground commander in the north that all LTTE leaders must be killed and not allowed to surrender. Later, under pressure, Sarath Fonseka retracted his statement. (http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2009/12/13/%E2%80%9Cgota-ordered-them-to-be-shot%E2%80%9D-%E2%80%93-general-sarath-fonseka/)
The 30/1 UN resolution titled, ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’ was co-sponsored by the present Sri Lankan government.
“We will work with UN and Human Rights organisations as well in solving issues but the resolution is not something we signed,” presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa said.
When asked about the rights of ethnic minorities, however, the presidential candidate emphasised the need for the economic upliftment of minority areas. (https://www.dailynews.lk/2019/10/16/political/200010/gota-denies-paranagama-commission-findings-%E2%80%98missing%E2%80%99-persons)
The controversy surrounding the exact number of cadres of the LTTE who surrendered to the Sri Lanka Army during the final stages of the war, has resurfaced with the claim by Sri Lanka Army that LTTE cadres had not surrendered to them while families of missing LTTE cadres insist they handed over their sons and daughters to the Army camp at Omanthai.
The Army had made this claim in response to a Right to Information (RTI) application submitted by a journalist seeking information on LTTE cadres who reportedly surrendered to the military during the final stages of the war.
The blatantly false response has stirred emotions among the families of missing persons, former LTTE cadres as well as Tamil politicians. A former LTTE cadre Chandralingam alias Thulasi who surrendered to the Army and underwent rehabilitation told the weekly English newspaper The Sunday Morning that there was no doubt LTTE cadres did surrender directly to the army. (https://english.theleader.lk/news/343-army-claims-ltte-cadres-did-not-surrender-to-military)
The OMP appointed by the President has acknowledged that a vast number of those who surrendered to the military had disappeared. “Families and civil society representatives in the districts made a number of recommendations that the OMP will take forward, including the use of mobile offices for more remote areas, prioritisation of the cases of persons who have reported to have surrendered to the military in May 2009 and then disappeared and the need for immediate relief,” OMP stated in its interim report in August 2018.
OMP chair Saliya Peiris has said that he requested the list of surrendees from the authorities. In 2016, a senior military commander revealed in courts that the 58 Division, which is accused of committing war crimes, is in possession of a list of those who surrendered to the security forces.
The General Officer Commanding (GOC), 58 Division of the Sri Lanka Army, Major General Kavinda Chanakya Gunawardena told Mullaitivu Magistrate Court that his division holds a list of all the Tamil Tiger rebels who surrendered to the military. However, the commander failed to provide the document in court.
An Army Court of Inquiry (COI) established by post-war military commander Jagath Jayasuriya in 2012 also acknowledged that the military did indeed capture LTTE cadres.
“The Sri Lanka Army had acted in a very professional manner taking very elaborate measures to avoid civilian casualties and all persons, including captured/surrendered LTTE cadres,” said the COI report.
The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) appointed by Sri Lanka’s wartime president registered in 2011 a total of 53 LTTE cadres who surrendered during the final days of the war and were alleged to have disappeared.
The OMP estimates that at least 21,000 have disappeared from the predominantly Tamil north and east. (http://www.jdslanka.org/index.php/news-features/politics-a-current-affairs/898-sri-lanka-military-tries-to-evade-responsibility-for-captured-tamil-rebels)
I have written articles on the extra-judicial murder of those LTTE leaders who surrendered with White flags. The surrender was facilitated by Mahinda Rajapaksa and Basil Rajapaksa. They were told to hold the flag high so that the soldiers can see them. On the morning of May 18, 2009, when B. Nadesan Head of the LTTE Political Wing, Seevaratnam Pulithevan of the LTTE Peace Secretariat and Col. Ramesh (Ilango) Head of the LTTE Police Force approached the 58 division at Vadduvaakal along with about 300 LTTE cadres and civilians they were gun down! Some of them like Nadesan, Pulithevan and Col. Ramesh (Ilango) were tortured before being killed. ing them. Their bullet-ridden and tortured bodies were seen lying on the ground.
On the same day in the evening middle-ranking LTTE cadres (some of them non-combatants) like Elilan, Yogi, Balakumar. Poet Rathnathurai, Thilakar and others surrendered to the army. They were taken in CTB buses for a ‘short inquiry’ in the presence of their spouses and friends. Fr. Joseph Francis, a Catholic Priest, took down the names of the surrendees and then seen boarding a bus. After that fateful day, they all went missing. A photograph showing Balakumar and his son seated what seems to be a military camp appeared in the media.
I have given more details and list of surrendees in the articles I wrote and published previously by Colombo Telegraph.
(1)11th July 2019 – LTTE Cadres Surrender – Army Brigadier Atapattu Is Lying Through His Teeth (https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/ltte-cadres-surrender-army-brigadier-atapattu-is-lying-through-his-teeth/)
(2) LTTE Cadres Who Surrendered To The Army: Where Are They? (https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/ltte-cadres-who-surrendered-to-the-army-where-are-they/)
(3) Notwithstanding Denial by Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, Thousands of Missing Persons Could Not Have Vanished into Thin Air (https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/notwithstanding-denials-thousands-of-missing-persons-could-not-have-vanished-into-thin-air/)
In the face of overwhelming evidence, it is an exercise in futility for the Army to deny that no LTTE cadre surrendered to the army. Or the Army only facilitated in handing over the LTTE cadres to the Officials of the Ministry of Rehabilitation.
At least four individuals are privy to the truth. They are Gotabaya Rajapaksa then Defence Secretary, Mythripala Sirisena then Acting Defence Minister, Shavendra Silva and Kamal Gunaratne Commanding officers of the 53rd and 58 Army Division that took part in the last stages of the war. Interestingly Gotabaya Rajapaksa is now the President, Shavendra Silva promoted as Army Commander by the previous government and Kamal Gunaratne appointed as Secretary to the Defence Ministry. All of them together can solve the riddle and put at rest the thousands of relatives of the missing persons who continue to be engaged in roadside protests.
Though President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has said called UNHRC Resolution 30/1 which called for the establishment of a credible justice process that includes the establishment of a special ‘hybrid court’ to investigate war crimes committed by those responsible had said he won’t recognize the agreement the government co-sponsored to investigate alleged war crimes during the nation’s civil war. “We will always work with the United Nations, but I can’t recognize what they have signed” with past Sri Lankan governments, Rajapaksa said at a news conference held on October 15, 2019. (https://apnews.com/b27e1bbb45cc42488b5e6d67415110de).
Newly appointed Foreign Minister, Dinesh Gunawardena had said that the new government will review Resolution 30/1 entitled ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka.’ President Gotabaaya is reported to have instructed his ministers to review all agreements signed during the UNF government and renegotiate them if they violate the constitution. When in opposition the SLPP attacked Resolution 30/1 as a sellout.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) spokesperson said the government’s plan to review United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Resolution 30/1, ‘for promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights’ in Sri Lanka would have serious repercussions for the country at the international level.
Defying UNHRC’s demands for accountability, justice and rule of law are bound to set Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government on a collision course with the Western countries who sponsored Resolution 30/1. No wonder these countries have not extended the customary pleasantries following Rajapksa Gotabaya’s assumption of office as President. He has earned a name for him for his autocratic leadership style in the past.
Will, not the tears, shed by the oppressed become
Sharp instruments to wear the monarch’s wealth away? (Kural 555 – Chapter The Cruel Sceptre)
Your observation “He has earned it. More importantly, he is changing his ways as the new President, staying firm and committed to doing the right thing” is not supported by ground reality. Already there are signs that President Rajapaksa has acted like a little Hitler. The minorities by and large are holding their breath. Police and army personnel accused of human rights violations and war crimes have been set free. His Defence Secretary Kamal Gunratne is facing accusations of committing war crimes during the closing stage of the war.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s moves are exactly what his predators thought he will do.
Director of State Intelligence Service CID Sharmie Abeysekera has to be sent on punishment transfer to Galle as Assistant to DIG Galle. He is the official investigation high profile cases during the previous administration like murders of Lasantha, Wasim Thajudeen, the 11 Tamil youths abducted and murdered during 2006/2007. These are ominous signs that Rajapaksas are back in business. Signs of authoritarianism is raising its head once again? Tamils in Yatiyantota have been attacked by SLPP goons according to the Police.
President Gotabaya has given back police powers to the Army which used those powers to harass and intimidate people from the North. They behaved like petty kings lording over their subjects.
Name boards in Tamil are vanishing.
Douglas Devanada accused of killing Thiyagarajah Mahenswaran, 6 employees of the Uthayan newspapers, two ITAK supporters is back as Minister. He has an arrest warrant by the court in Chennai, Tamil Nadu.