Sunday, September 28, 2008


Muttur Massacre and the Izeth Hussain
The article, A new approach to the management of our foreign relations, by my former colleague and friend K. Godage (published in The Island of September 19 and also in the Lakbima News of September 21) had the following : "In this regard, I wish to refer to two particular incidents, both in Trincomalee, where our armed forces were NOT involved but as a result of the police not arresting the perpetrators who, according to the respected Jaffna University Teachers for Human Rights, were Muslim Home Guards (in the incident involving the French NGO) and a small group of armed men (NOT members of the regular Armed Forces) in the second incident where a group of students were killed, the good name of the brave men of our Armed Forces, to whom this country owes a deep debt of gratitude, has been tarnished."

In an earlier article (The Island of September 2) also Godage made the point that the French NGO aid workers were said to have been killed by Muslim homeguards, and he continued, "There has been deep hatred between the Muslims living in Muttur and the Tamils who were working for the French NGO and this is common knowledge in Muttur." In that connection he referred the reader to the "report of the respected UTHR of Jaffna." He proceeded to make the point that as a result of the stupid act of trying to cover up those two crimes the GSP+ facility might be lost and three hundred thousand jobs and a million livelihoods might be in jeopardy.

There have also been more than one article by Chris Lankathileke making the point about Muslim involvement in the Muttur massacre, and Rajiva Wijesinha also referred to it in an article. In the course of the weeks it has become apparent that the notion of Muslim responsibility for the Muttur massacre has become established as the unchallenged truth. As soon as the Wijesinha article appeared I made enquiries among Muslim friends and found that the unanimous reaction was one of stunned surprise that such a notion has gained currency. It had been widely assumed for many months that only one of the three persons who carried out the massacre was a Muslim home guard.

According to my contacts there certainly was ill-feeling among Muttur Muslims towards the aid workers of the French NGO Action Contre le Faim because of a perception that the latter were sympathetic to the LTTE. It may be that those aid workers believed that they had to reach compromises with the LTTE to function effectively in areas where there was a significant LTTE presence, and that was misunderstood by the Muslims. Or it may be that those aid workers were indeed overly sympathetic to the LTTE. However, all that does not mean that the Muslims actually carried out that massacre. To carry out a massacre on that scale, more particularly when it was obvious that the victims had powerful foreign backing, the perpetrators had to have a high degree of confidence that they could get away with it. It is impossible – or at least extremely difficult - to believe that members of the Muslim community, a marginalized group, could have had such confidence.

What has been most perplexing for myself and my Muslim friends is that we have not been able to unearth any UTHR report that casts responsibility for the massacre on the Muslims. Certainly over the years the UTHR has earned a high reputation for its responsible and scrupulously researched reports, on which a high degree of credibility can be placed. Consequently any UTHR report assigning Muslim responsibility for the massacre has to be taken very seriously indeed. But as far as we can gather, there has been no such report.

All that we have been able to unearth is UTHR Special Report No. 30 of 1st April this year, a detailed and lengthy report which I have read carefully. I will cite here no more than just a few details that are essential for the purposes of this article. It alleges that over the massacre there has been a "blatant cover up by the Sri Lankan authorities, their experts, Attorney General and diplomats overseas." It alleges that the killers included a Muslim Home Guard (Jehangir) and two police constables (Susantha and Nilanka), and that the massacre was carried out in the presence of the SL Naval Special Forces. According to the Report the evidence suggests that the killers had the prior approval of the ASP and the OIC (names given in the Report), but that it was highly unlikely that the latter made their decisions on their own, and that they may have received an instruction that the aid workers should be killed from their superiors in Trinco (a DIG and SSP whose names are also given in the Report). There is absolutely nothing in the Report that can be read as assigning exclusive Muslim responsibility for the massacre.

However, there may indeed be a UTHR report or some sort of a document assigning Muslim responsibility for the massacre. In that case there can be not the slightest doubt whatever about the Muslim reaction. There will be Muslim unanimity, not just a broad consensus, that the Government act forthwith to bring the killers to book, because the Islamic conception of Justice requires no less. Our Muslims will then hold that all that the Muttur massacre means is that the Muslims, like every other ethnic group in the world, can produce its quota of brutal murderers. In the alternative, that is if no punitive action is taken, it will be held that our Muslims are being treated with special indulgence by the Government, as a consequence of which our heroic armed forces are disgraced, Sri Lanka will be subjected to more bullying by human rights lobbyists, GSP+ will not be renewed, and the livelihood of a million Sri Lankans will be jeopardized. The Government’s responsibilities are quite clear.

But what if there is no such UTHR report or document and falsity about it has somehow been made to prevail, taking in people like Wijesinha, Lankathileke, Godage, and doubtless many others? It would mean that what might appropriately be regarded as a crypto-fascist racist gang has been at work to foment hatred against our Muslims. It was that kind of gang that ran riot under the 1977 Government, which was quite easy for them because J. R. Jayewardene was himself a fascist of the obnoxious Nazi kind. Fortunately, in 1994 democracy was restored, and we still have a vigorous democracy though it may be flawed in several ways. But the Government has to be wary over the possibility that crypto-fascist racists can try again to get the upper hand, destroying democracy in the process. I hope therefore that the President will take tough action over what looks like an attempt to foment anti-Muslim racist hatred.

courtesy: www

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Communal disturbances in S. Thambyrajah

Many articles have appeared in the media during the past weeks on Black July 1983. But it took 18 years for the government to appoint a Truth Commission to probe the 1983 riots, inter alia ‘to ensure that there would be no repetition of such brutal communal violence in the future’.

Whereas the Commission of Inquiry under section 2 of the Commissions of Inquiry Act (Cap 393) appointed on November 9, 1977, almost immediately following the incidents which occurred during 13.8.77 - 15.9.77, had wider terms of reference, including above, among others," to recommend such measures as may be necessary 3(a) to rehabilitate or assist in any other manner the persons affected by such acts; and (b) to ensure the safely of the public and to prevent the recurrence of such Incidents". Chapter VI and V of the Report , pages 260 to 273, (Sessional Paper No VII of 1980) deal with these terms at length . The under noted are reproduced from these two chapters:-

(p 262) "Whatever may be the rule in this Island under normal conditions, the incidents which occurred during the specified period were of such an extreme nature and so widespread , that an exception should be made as regards the payment of compensation to all those persons who were adversely affected. I suggest that full compensation for all losses sustained should be paid to all such persons by the Government.

"I recommend that all persons who suffered damages arising out of the incidents which occurred during the period 13th August 1977 to 15th September 1977 be paid full compensation to the extent of such damages. Any sums already received from the Government or payable by reason of insurance policies in their favour should of course he deducted"

(N.B. IN 1982 THE MINISTER OF SOCIAL SERVICES APPOINTED A COMMITTEE WITH THE APPROVAL OF THE PRESIDENT TO MAKE RECOMMENDATIONS in’ REGARD TO THE PAYMENT OF COMPENSATION FOR LOSS AND DAMAGE TO PRIVATE PROPERTY AND INJURIES CAUSED TO PRIVATE PERSONS DURING THE PERIOD 13.8.77 TO 15.8.77, AS, RECOMMENDED BY THE SANSONI COMMISSION. This Committee never sat. Thus it will be clearly seen that Government not only defaulted in this matter but deliberately gave false hopes and cheated the victims. A large number of our family members including myself were victims Of daylight looting, while a 36 hours curfew was on. The hooligans brought lorries and tractors and transported the loot. We were left only with our houses completely/partly damaged and /or burnt. When the Commission of Inquiry sat in Kandy, victims feared to give evidence but I volunteered and gave evidence first and thereafter there was such a rush to give evidence., that the Commission stopped it at one stage and wanted the others to submit affidavits.

(p269) "I would also refer, while I am on this subject, to the considerable turmoil that existed in certain tea plantation areas in the first half of 1977, after the nationalization of estates particularly in the Gampola, Pussellawa and Kotmale districts. Tamil citizens by descent or registration were ignored, and Sinhalese peasants were preferred when estate land was alienated and re-allocated. The Tamil estate workers in several estates were thrown out of them. Their displacement in a heartless manner was followed by the shooting of workers on Devon Estate., and looting and arson and physical violence on Sanquhar and Delta Estates, in a wave of communal terrorism."

(P269) "Another regrettable feature of those tragic days was the long delays that occurred both in the launching of prosecutions and the hearing of cases in the courts. A case was filed on July, 1977 over the incidents on Delta estate against 42 accused, was still pending on 12th July, 1978. No case was filed over the incidents on Sanquhar estate until 25th July, 1978 and that too only after pointed attention had been drawn to the omission by lawyers who appeared before the Commission".

(p270) " The lessons to be learnt from the facts I have mentioned are that (1) if lawlessness is not immediately nipped in the bud, it can grow fast and spread over a large area; (2) if the law is not enforced both by the Police and the Courts with all speed, it will cease to exercise the essential discipline over the lives of lawbreakers, which is a guarantee of peace and order in the country.

I would attribute the callous and criminal behaviour of villagers and colonists towards the many thousands of estate workers living near them in August 1977, to the success which attended their incursions in March and May, 1977.

It is deplorable that as Mr. Jayasinghe stated (reference is to the Secy-Min/Defence) some Members of Parliament aided and abetted or instigated the wrong doers. He also said that a Member of Parliament was responsible for selecting and settling villagers on estates around Gampola and ousting the estate workers from there.

The tragedy was heightened by the failure of the Police, who had been warned, to take preventive action at once."

The Sansoni Commission Report runs into 277 pages; 952 victims have given evidence and another 275 persons have filed affidavits. A large number of organisations led by eminent counsel have also given evidence. So much of valuable material, prepared in detail after hearing victims as well as public spirited men and organisations concerned with the welfare of the people and the country should have been debated in Parliament. The leader of the Opposition in Parliament was the late A. Amirthalingam. This was not done. Why? The Commission was critical of both Sinhala and Tamil communal and violence -rousing elements in and outside Parliament. Therefore there was common ground among both Sinhala and Tamil politicians to shelve the Report. They failed even to note the recommendations under the terms of reference (3) (b.) to ensure the safety of the public and to prevent the recurrence of such incidents. Had meaningful and pragmatic steps been taken on this, Black July 1983 would have been a non event. There is no useful purpose served by recapitulating all the events relating to looting, arson, raping, killing etc which went on in waves like the Tsunami for a period of one month. What is quoted above would be useful and have relevance even today.

The under noted elsewhere in the Report are reproduced for purposes of building unity, which the country is in dire need of:-

(p 54 para 277) "I want to make it quite clear, that what is objectionable and worthy of condemnation in the speeches from which I have quoted, is the expression of views which encourage and instigate the use of violence and weapons in a bid to obtain a separate state. So far as the population of the whole Island is concerned, the claim to a separate state is unpopular and will he resisted by the majority community. Intolerance and persecution of those who hold minority opinions, is wrong. So also the killing of those who obstruct the achievement of the aims which a minority desires to achieve. It must be remembered that violence or the advocacy of it begets violence and that is one lesson which the disturbances of August and September 1977 should have taught us all".

(p 67) ‘He cited the story In the Mahavamsa that "Soon after Elara’s death at his hands, Dutugemunu caused the drums to he beaten, and having summoned the people, he himself celebrated the funeral rites for King Elara at the spot where, he had fallen. Dutugemunu burnt the body, built a monument, and ordained worship. Even in his day the princes of Lanka, when they drew near to the place of Elara’s tomb, were wont to silence their music because of the continuous worship of the tomb". The Mahavamsa accepts Elara as a great and righteous king, respected by his subjects. Rains were said to come in due season owing to him. It was only in the 20th Century that this story was used as communal propaganda.

(P68-69). "He (reference is to Dr. Wijesundera, Consultant Physician General Hospital, Kandy, President Sri Lanka Paediatric Association) referred to some aspects of an ethnic study he had made of the Sinhalese and the Tamils and their relationship to South India. I shall refer to them now.

(!) He pointed out a close identity, between Sinhalese, Ceylon Tamil, and South Indian names

(2) The Sinhalese find it easy to learn Tamil and the Tamils Sinhala. There are basic similarities between the languages.

(3) There is the same custom between South Indians and Sinhalese in regard to marriages between the children of a brother and sister. New year customs, marriage customs, superstitions, the konde of the older generation, the simple dignified national dress are all the same among the Sinhalese and the South Indians.

(4) There is an equal prevalence of Hb, D and E in Sinhalese and Tamils. ABO blood group distinction also shows no statistically significant difference.

The conclusion he has come to is that if the Sinhalese are Aryan, the Tamils are as Aryan as the Sinhalese. If the Tamils are Dravidian, then the Sinhalese are as Dravidian as the Tamils. But he thinks it would he more accurate to call the Tamils, the Tamil- speaking Sinhalese and the Sinhalese the Sinhala- speaking Sinhalese.

I wish to quote, the following paragraphs before 1 pass on to his observations on religion:- ‘We Sinhalese should be proud of our Dravidian ancestry" (In his evidence he mentioned that the Dravidians belong to a civilisation going back as far as 3000 BC.) ‘The great longing shown by some of our countrymen to be a little more Aryan, to be a little more North Indian, a little more fair, is pathetic and degrading. Some of the greatest patriots and Buddhist leaders of recent times have been from the more recent additions from South India to the Sinhala peoples: Puran Appu, Megettuwatte Gunananda and Munidasa Kumaratunga.

"Dr. Wijesundera said: ‘ In the context of today’s international politics which is still one of national tribalistic competition, it is necessary to encourage a separate tribalism common to the whole Island. It is fortunate that we Buddhists are in practice Hindu Buddhists, so that we, kneel side by side with our Tamil brethren in the same kovil, in the same temple.’ He concluded his address with these words: "If what 1 have said today causes even a minor storm, I will he gratified. I could then say with Rabindranath Tagore, ‘Truth raises against itself the storm that scatters its seed broadcast".

"There is much to be learnt from Dr. Wijesundera’s contribution to the subject of inter-communal relations. If I may add another saying of Rabrindranath Tagore, it is this: ‘The deepest source of calamity in history is misunderstanding. For where we do not understand, we can never be just".


SL: Justice,Fairness,Tolerance...make Peace ...!

Only justice and fairness could deliver ‘real peace’–
Sec. Gen. International Lynn Ockersz

One of the biggest challenges which would confront the Sri Lankan government and Sri Lankan society as a whole, once the ‘violent phase’ in the country’s ethnic conflict is over, is to build a ‘real peace’ based on justice, fairness towards all communities and tolerance among peoples, Secretary General, International Alert, Dan Smith said.

Speaking to ’The Sunday Island’ in an exclusive interview, while in Sri Lanka on a brief visit, Smith said that there is no avoiding the need to negotiate a settlement to this country’s conflict, once the current military operations are over. ‘The vast majority of armed conflicts in the modern era have ended by agreement and therefore by using the techniques of one kind or another from the field of conflict-resolution’, he explained. Even on those few occasions where conflicts of the kind in Sri Lanka seem to have been resolved militarily, the ‘armed conflicts have come back a couple of years on’, thereby underscoring the need for peace agreements among the parties to the conflict, once military action has been concluded.

Explaining the rationale for International Alert’s current involvement with Sri Lanka’s business sector, Smith said that the building of a strong economy, through the fostering of entrepreneurial development, particularly among local youth, could lay the basis for sustained peace and stability, for, youth unemployment ‘carries a severe economic risk with a conflict potential built into it’.

Excerpts of interview:

Q: What are International Alert’s priorities in Sri Lanka at present?

A: We are working with the business communities, both in Colombo and in the provinces, looking at business opportunities and at conflict-sensitive development in the business sector; looking at how this could support peaceful development in Sri Lanka. We are also working on the issues of youth unemployment and potential marginalization of young people, which we see as not just in Sri Lanka but in several other countries too. They carry a severe economic risk with a conflict potential built into it. These are our main areas of priority.

Q: What is the relationship between business development and peace-building?

A: Everybody who has looked at peace-building agrees that there is no way of building peace without building an economy with strong foundations. A crucial component in the strong foundations of the economy is the business sector. The economic policy of the government needs to be right and the revenue base needs to be strong and the spending priorities needs to be on target, but a good, strong role for the business sector is also important.

Q: What are the issue areas in which International Alert advises the Lankan state? Would you describe this relationship as constructive?

A: I think we do have a constructive relationship with the Lankan state and I think that in part is based on the recognition that the work we do with the business sector is important. I would not want to depict ourselves as being in a position where we are giving the Lankan state advice as if from on high, telling them what to do. But, for example, we have been part of the process of working out the Youth Employment Action Plan and we hope to continue having good co-operation with the Lankan state on aspects of the work we are doing with the private sector, like the ‘Learn and Lead’ programme, which is about educational opportunities. I think it is both constructive and rather quiet but it is working out.

Q: Right now the Lankan state seems to be giving priority to a military solution over a political solution to the conflict here. Do you see this policy decision as contributing towards conflict-resolution?

A: The vast majority of armed conflicts in the modern era have ended by agreement and therefore by using the techniques of one kind or another from the field of conflict-resolution. There are very few conflicts which have ended through military victories. There have been occasions where there have been apparent military victories but a couple of years on, the armed conflict has come back. Also, there are very many peace agreements which have failed, and the armed conflict has returned afterwards. Now, I think the Sri Lankan government has made its decision about how to resolve the conflict and the reports seem to show that on the military front it is having success. What remains to be seen, what is going to be a very big challenge for the Lankan government and for Sri Lankan society as a whole, is how to build peace when the immediate violence of the war is over. That is a challenge which a government and a society face whether the fighting comes to an end through an apparent military victory or through what seems to be a peace agreement. However you get to the end of the violent phase of the conflict you still have the challenge of building a real peace; because peace is more than the absence of violence. Peace is also about justice , about fairness, about people tolerating each other and getting on with their lives in a constructive way., in relationship to each other crossing caste lines, class lines, ethnic lines and other sorts of lines and traditions. That is a big challenge which will face this country as it did in the case of my own country, Northern Ireland.

Q: Currently, there are sections in Sri Lanka which see the involvement of organizations, such as International Alert, in conflict-resolution, as more destructive rather than constructive. What are your observations on this issue?

A: I hear and understand those points of view when expressed but I think that when you look at what we actually do, and if you look at it without ideological blinkers, you could see that it is aimed towards working with constructive groups in society, especially in business sector, with the aim of building a peaceful, prosperous, democratic Sri Lanka. If there are people who object to those aims, well, then, there is a principled argument in politics to have - a principled argument of political values. If people are simply suspicious about just what we do, we say, look closely at what we do now, and you will not find in it those things which people seem to fear. Whether there are other organizations on which people have had different views from time to time, that is not really for me to comment on. I can stand for what International Alert does and am proud of the contribution we have made to peace-building in over 20 countries around the world, including Sri Lanka.

Q: Coming to your native land of Northern Ireland, what do you think has contributed towards strengthening the peace process there?

A: I think there has been good statesmanship on both sides. Alongside of that you had propitious conditions; prosperity in Ireland itself. This meant that in Ireland itself, it seemed to be less important to unite the island of Ireland. The result of that was that there was more talk about reaching a pragmatic solution. And the pragmatic solution which was reached was sharing of power and the sharing of responsibility. I think that the majority of people in Northern Ireland and even in the whole of Ireland were simply tired of this war. But one thing, perhaps, what people don’t understand when they see it from afar is that by the 1980s this was really on a world scale; it was a very small problem – 30, 40 or 50 people were being killed each year and those people should not have been killed and it was a tragedy they were. But compared to the scale of violence in Sri Lanka, let alone in Iraq or Afghanistan or Sudan, this was really a small armed conflict. And it was one that seemed to a lot of people to have lost its purpose and when they got an opportunity to vote for peace, they did so with a massive majority. In the final analysis, you got good leadership, propitious economic conditions and the will of the people.

Q: How would you assess the impact of the US-led ‘war on terror’ on peace-building world-wide?

A: I think what has been called ‘the war on terror’, when it has been placed in this global context, risks treating all sorts of groups as if they were the same and seriously risks overlooking the real social grievances of these societies. I don’t think it is really useful to spray this label of terror all over the world arbitrarily and blindly on different groups. One could see that in the Middle East, for example, it is highly counter-productive. In the Philippines it risks being seen as counter-productive. I am struck by the fact that Nelson Mandela has just come off the lists of ‘terrorists’ and that to me captures the dilemma completely. I think there are some places where what has been done under the label of the ‘war on terror’, at least in terms of its objectives, one could agree with, but if it is carried out in some way to justify the invasion of Iraq, which I regard as a complete violation of International Law, that I regard as misleading as to the motives to go into Iraq, and generally suggest that the war on terror is as much as anything only a rhetorical device and rhetorical devices could always mislead as to their intentions.
courtesy: www

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


About those poor African-Americans…In the US, various insidious legal and constitutional means were used to prevent African Americans from exercising their right to vote for a long time. In the South, in states such as the great state of Alabama where the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka comes from, the poll tax was used to disenfranchise mostly black people and very poor people until the1960s.

As it happens, in the deep south of the USA, there are to this day more poor African Americans compared to other groups, because of the history of discrimination and lack of opportunities.

While the 15th Amendment to the US Constitution in the late 1800s was supposed to guarantee the rights of black Americans (after the civil war) to vote, that right was stolen from them in the deep South where the Confederate states lie.

A poll tax, in the sense was a discrimination tax which was a pre-condition of the exercise of the right to vote. It was created in some US states in the late 19th century. After the right to vote was extended to all races by the enactment of the Fifteenth Amendment, many Southern states enacted poll tax laws which often included a grandfather clause that allowed any adult male whose father or grandfather had voted in a specific year prior to the abolition of slavery to vote without paying the tax. These laws were designed to disfranchise African and Native Americans as well as poor whites.

Even demanding equal rights was met with repressive local and state government measures, including terrorism in the Deep South: and specially in Alabama which still has laws banning interracial marriages supported by over 45% of their people! (despite the Supreme Court declaring such unchristian laws unconstitutional in 1967).

It was only after the 24th Amendment was ratified in 1964 that the poll tax was done away with as a pre-condition in voting in Federal elections. In a two month period in the spring of 1966, the last four states to still charge a poll tax laws had those laws declared unconstitutional by Federal Courts; Texas, Alabama, Virginia and Mississippi.

Therefore, if you compare a nation that was over 200 plus years old with Sri Lanka which is only 60 years old, we can proudly say that Sri Lanka has never discriminated on the basis of race on who has a right to vote.

During this election, Obama is now being hounded by propaganda that suggests he is a Moslem, he is not American, he is not "one of us" and even campaigns to suggest he was not born in America. He is now trailing in the polls as the Republican attack machinery has moved into top gear with attacks. They will use the race card closer to November 4, to drive fear into people about him because he is "not like us" despite being born to a white mother and Kenyan father.

It will be good for polls monitors to watch the election here. Last time, polling machines "Failed" in predominantly African American neighbourhoods in Ohio, polling cards "ran out" in predominantly democratic neighbourhoods, false directions to polling booths were given in poor neighbourhoods, email campaigns were spread to say Hispanics cannot vote etc.

What will happen this year? When Americans like to lecture to Sri Lankans on democracy and universal franchise, I wish the self-styled intellectuals call their bluff when it is necessary.

Mano Ratwatte, www

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Govt. policy discriminates against Tamils

Rasiah Yogarajan

Govt. must negotiate with LTTE

National ID demand impacted on CWC

No Tamil recruitment to CPC and Ports Authority

A 25% minority have only 8% Govt. jobs

While the APRC is set to deliver yet another report, now with the JHU, JVP, MEP withdrawing from the committee and replaced by the TMVP, minorities continue to suffer from discrimination in Sri Lanka and the war rides on with no end in sight. In this light, The Sunday Leader interviewed Rasiah Yogarajan, the national organiser of Sri Lanka's once-upon-a-time king making political party, the CWC.

Despite having the power to raise governments - and bring others to their knees - the CWC has managed to gain very little from its membership in the present UPFA government. Apart from his insight on the APRC deliberations, Yogarajan expanded on why the CWC stays with the government, disenfranchisement of Tamils at the provincial council elections, and issues facing the Tamils. He said that it is government policy to "discriminate against Tamils" and deny them employment in several segments of the state sector and asserted that the LTTE cannot be destroyed without addressing the grievances of the north-east people.

By Ruan Pethiyagoda

Q: The APRC is continuing its deliberations without the inclusion of the UNP, JVP or TNA, all of whom have refused to participate for their own reasons. Does the CWC feel that the APRC is a meaningful exercise with such poor representation?

A: If you look at the representative character of the members of the APRC, I feel all sections are represented. The Sinhala people are fairly well represented. The leftists who are representative of the Sinhala people but also receptive to minority opinion, are in the process. Up to 95% of the work has been completed. During that process, the Sinhala parties were represented by parties such as the SLFP, the UNP (D) group. The extremist parties such as the MEP and the JHU were represented through 90% of the process. The people of Indian origin are represented by the CWC and Upcountry People's Front. The people of the north are represented by the EPDP. The people of the east are now represented by the TMVP.

We as the CWC have sat not only as a representative of the people of the plantations but also as a spokesperson for minorities in general. So I think opinions have been represented quite fairly. The Muslims have also been well represented with the four Muslim parties - which are all offshoots of the SLMC - being in the process.

Q: The JHU and the MEP have now pulled out of the APRC. What impact will it have on the legitimacy of your final report?

A: I do not think it will have any serious impact on the legitimacy of the final report. Because they have agreed to many of the issues except a few core issues which are being discussed. Even on those their opinions were heard and are available. We would take into consideration some of these opinions before we make a decision.

This has been a process of negotiation, through which we have achieved consensus. All opinions will merge into a final, acceptable solution on 90% of the issues we have already dealt with. I don't think anyone should have any reason to pull themselves away from the final report.

Q: At the last session, it was reported that the APRC discussed financial devolution and units for Muslims and Tamils of Indian origin. How extensive is the financial devolution that is under consideration?

A: We discussed the principles of financial devolution. We had a meeting with the Finance Commission chairman. We also studied a lot of documents on fiscal devolution. It was more of us considering the different principles involved in financial devolution. We have not concluded our discussion.

Both reports of the Experts Committee, the majority and minority reports recognised the need to address the special needs of the people of Indian origin. There should be some sort of constitutional mechanism that can deal with this issue.

We are not insisting on a territorial solution. The CWC has proposed a system like the Belgian system of community parliaments, where each community sits separately to deal with issues of that particular community. In Belgium it is people who speak different languages. In Sri Lanka it is people of different languages and cultures.

It is a system where they are able to deal with issues of education, culture and personal development. Today the grievance of the Indian Tamil people is that they live amongst the Sinhalese, administration is run by the Sinhalese, and we have very little say in how the administration is run and how the government services such as Samurdhi, land allocation and scholarships apply to individuals.

We feel that the decision makers are all Sinhalese and they don't take into consideration the needs of the Tamil people who live among them. In Samurdhi a lot of Tamil people who are equally poor are not considered. They can't speak to the officials and the officials themselves are people who have been appointed through political decision making. They are not concerned about these people. We feel that the Tamil people do not get a fair deal on issues of a personal nature.

Like in Belgium, personal development should be an issue for the community. We need a similar set up in Sri Lanka where provincial council members form into a council given allocations proportional to the population of the community, for education that is unique to them, and their own cultures. This is the principle that I am pursuing in the APRC and I have already submitted papers on this issue.

Q: What areas will the units for the Muslims and Tamils of Indian origin cover in terms of what is discussed ?

A: It will not be a territorial unit. It will be a unit beyond territory where these people can be served wherever they live. We have an experiment on that. The Estate Infrastructure Ministry deals with the issues of people of Indian origin. This allows us to develop those areas from the centre. A similar unit of devolution can allow it to look after those people wherever they live. It will not be a territorial division.

The whole issue of the ethnic problem is that the minorities do not get a fair share. An example is the employment in the state sector, which has 8% representation of all three minorities, whereas their population is 25%. They believe they have been sidelined, I believe, due to political appointments.

Q: Despite being a member of the UPFA government and holding cabinet office, the CWC chose to contest the recent provincial council elections independently. Why?

A: This is not a new thing. In the 2004 provincial council election we were with the UNP, not with this government. When we get into a major party we have to fight for the preference votes.

Q: The CWC always has been a king maker in 21st century Sri Lankan politics, and its support or lack thereof has led governments to rise and fall. Why is it that the CWC could only secure 10,000 votes and not even one seat in last week's Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council elections?

A: We are ourselves probing why it happened. It is a matter of concern to the CWC. We will soon analyse the reasons behind it and take corrective action.

Q: Several election monitoring groups cited disenfranchisement due to the ID card issue as having been a bigger problem on election day than violence and intimidation, especially for estate workers. How did this issue affect your vote base?

A: It is a very important factor but I do not want to say that is the cause for this failure. This was however one contributing factor. Whenever the issue of making ID cards compulsory for elections came up, we have insisted that you cannot disenfranchise somebody on the grounds that they do not have a national identity card.

Our demand was that until every person has been issued an NIC, making it compulsory is indirect disenfranchisement. When the government passed the bill they gave us an assurance that within one year everyone will be issued NICs. But this has not been done. They have just said that they will issue temporary ID cards for the purpose of the election.

But today the voter is not going to spend 200 rupees for the photographs and two days running behind the grama sevaka or some other official, just to cast a vote. Expecting people to do that is unreasonable. Another issue that came up on August 22 was that some people snatched away NICs to prevent people from voting.

Then even those who had NICs were scared to go to the polling booth because they might lose their identity card, which they obtained with great difficulty. If someone wants to vote, and a polling agent from the area objects, then you can prevent impersonation. Not having an ID card shouldn't prevent someone who is well known to all the polling agents from being able to vote.

It happened this time. The polling agents said "I know him," but the senior presiding officer prevented them from voting because they didn't have an ID card. The NIC should be an enabling document for voting, not a bar to vote. Unless this is looked after at any future election, it will be unfair to the people of Indian origin. Especially if we have provincial council elections in the Central Province, where in the Nuwara Eliya District 54% of the voters are people of Indian origin. So the whole decision in that province can vary with 30% of the people of Indian origin not being able to vote because they don't have identity cards. 30% of the people will be disenfranchised, which is totally unfair and against democracy.

Impersonation is not the real issue of concern. It is the rigging and stuffing, which is due to a wrong political culture that this is happening. There are polling booths that are being hijacked. People are coming in and stuffing. That is what must stop. Individual impersonation is a very small percentage of abuse. That political culture must be stopped; it is not the ID card that is the issue.

Q: What action did the CWC take in advance of the election to prevent this from happening, and what action is the party taking to protect its supporters at future elections?

A: One of the reasons I granted this interview today is to educate those who are thinking in one track about ID cards being compulsory. We haven't yet thought of any legal action, but in the Sabaragamuwa Province, in two months, before nominations were done, we held 18 mobile services for issuing NICs. A lot of people came and applied and were given the receipt for the application with the photograph. Some of them took those receipts to the polling booths but they were not accepted as valid identity.

If the Registrar of Persons Department was serious or concerned, they could have issued those ID cards in the two month period, which would have enabled another 5,000 people to cast their votes.

One main shortcoming in issuing ID cards is that our people don't have birth certificates. In the past, maybe 20 years ago, a lot of children were born in the estates. It was the superintendent's duty to register the births but this was not done. Those people don't have their birth registered. This problem has to be solved somehow.

Some special action is required immediately to overcome this problem. Today the young people sitting for the GCE O/Level or A/Level are able to get their ID cards through the school. Only those who drop out are unable to get the NIC through other sources.

Now most births take place in hospitals and the hospitals register the births in a proper manner. It is those births that were not taking place in the hospitals that were not registered properly.

Q: Has this government done enough to ensure the rights of the up-country Tamils? What more can be done?

A: The public sector has only 8% Tamil speaking people. In the plantations, among the Indian origin Tamil people, their share of public sector employment is 0.2% So when they go to an office and try to deal with the government, they have to do it in Sinhala, which they don't understand. Or they have to take a middle man to translate, which is another cost for them. The middle man also becomes a broker for various nefarious payments.

One of the most important things to do is to have a sufficient number of Tamil speaking officers who can deal with these people in their language. In 2003 the Public Administration Ministry wrote to the Attorney General asking how this can be rectified in terms of the 1995 Supreme Court ruling.

It can be done. If it is an affirmative action towards these people, then recruitment on ethnic ratio can be done. This process started in 2003 but unfortunately it has not progressed further.

State sector employment should be shared by all communities. Today the people of Indian origin are a backward community as far as education is concerned. So some affirmative action is necessary to bring them on par with the rest of the country.

Maybe in another 30 years time we will all be equal in education. Then maybe it won't be necessary to have a special arrangement for people of Indian origin. But until we become equally empowered with education and capacity to compete, we have to be given a special arrangement. I'm sure everyone would consider it a fair thing.

If we are to compete equally with the rest of the people, our schools and teachers have to improve. So many things have to be improved and that cannot be done overnight. It will take another generation to improve. It was only in 2006 that we got a teacher student ratio in plantation schools, equivalent to the national ratio, when 3,179 teachers were appointed. This process has to go on for us to come on par.

Q: If this government is not supporting the up country Tamils, why are you supporting them?

A: The citizenship issue was there from 1948 to 1988. Every government we have dealt with we keep urging, and even this government we are urging. It doesn't happen overnight. My Leader, Sauramoorthy Thondaman was with the UNP government from 1978 but only in 1988 he was able to achieve citizenship rights for our people. You don't get everything before you go in. When you are in you keep fighting.

In 2001 we joined the UNP government. After two years we were able to achieve citizenship rights for those persons who had asked to be repatriated. During those two years we dealt with the government and got citizenship granted to about 300,000 people.

Q: Does the party see a problem with the limited Tamil representation in the police forces of the Central Province?

A: During the last two years we (Tamils) have been offered opportunities to join the police service. But we did not have enough applicants to join. They are reluctant to join due to fear of working in the police force. There is some social problem that makes them not willing to serve in the police force. One reason we thought was that they were afraid of going to the north east, which they do not want to do.

There is a need for Tamil speaking police officers around the country, and there is an assurance that they will not be posted to the north east. Still there aren't enough applicants. We advertised and called people for meetings and advised them. But when the Police Department tried to hold interviews only 25 people showed up.

Q: If there is no will amongst the Tamils to join the police force how can you complain about them not being represented adequately in the public service?

A: There is a reluctance and resistance to join the police force. There are enough people willing to join the civilian services as clerks, officers and any other capacity. Take the CPC and Ports Authority, Tamils are banned from recruitment, which is totally unfair. It is government policy.

Even to get a pass as a wharf clerk to enter the port, for a Tamil person entering this field, it is impossible. The police are asked to give police reports, which are not given. This is definitely discrimination.

Q: You're saying that the government deliberately discriminates against Tamils here?

A: The security system, or the defence system in the country is discriminating against Tamils. They cannot join the Petroleum Corporation or the Ports Authority. There may be other institutions as well, but these two institutions do not recruit any Tamils.

Q: Is the CWC in agreement with the government that the Tigers must be wiped out before looking to implement a political solution?

A: No I do not think the Tigers can be destroyed. They are not individuals or persons. It is a movement. Until the needs of the people of the north east are met, the LTTE will not be destroyed. That movement will exist.

Q: The UNP has highlighted the need for the entire government to speak with one voice with regards to solving the ethnic conflict via the APRC. Does the CWC see the diversity of requirements from various parties as a stumbling block to this process?

A: That is their opinion. If they were willing to participate in creating that consensus it would have been better. But at least they have openly stated that they are willing to consider a federal solution. We appreciate that. Today they are saying that if there is a consensus within the government parties they will support it.

The chairman of the APRC has announced that he is going to forward them a document which represents the 95% consensus that we have reached.

That is progress. If the UNP looks at it and comes back with their suggestions, that will be very welcome, and I hope they will do it. In this process everyone has to be sincere.

Q: There is a perception especially in Colombo that the CWC is taking advantage of its influence over the Indian Tamils and politically manipulating them for its own benefit, but joining every government but not confronting governments head on about issues facing their people. What is your response to this?

A: The CWC is doing everything possible towards the needs of the people of Indian origin, and no one can say it is not being done. We are taking up our issues in the appropriate forum. It doesn't mean that we get on the streets and hold placards just for public consumption.

We are working in a different, more effective way. We talk to the government, we convince them and get them to do the right thing. That is more productive than coming out on stage and making statements that do not help anybody. You might have seen people were mass arrested and taken to Boossa. We could have had a picketing in some place and made noisy statements to come in the media and press.

We did a more practical thing. We went and met the people who were arrested. We got the needed information and went to the Supreme Court, and got the court to order the government to release them. We effectively served these people in a better way than making noise for public propaganda to build up a political base. That's not how we do it.

One thing is we are not running behind publicity, but we're doing a lot of work.

Q: What are the CWC's goals and milestones for its remaining years under this government?

A: We don't have goals for two years. We have goals for our people, for them to be equal like any other community in this country. Our target is to make it happen as quickly as possible, and we are working towards that. All our demands are to achieve equality for our people.

Q: What impact has the lack of land ownership had on the Indian-origin Tamils? What has the CWC done to address this?

A: Until 1988 we didn't have the right to own property. The people existed in the line rooms given by the estate managements. So they don't have any rights to those houses even today. In 1994 the UNP said they were giving us deeds for the line rooms and the accompanying lands. Up to today it has not become reality. This is something that we have been fighting for.

We are also asking that these dwellings, that are just line rooms today become proper individual houses. That is the greatest need of our people today. Towards this goal we want 20,000 houses to be built per year, for the next 10 years so we will achieve housing for our people in 10 years' time.

In 2005, 4,500 houses were started but even those have not been completed. Holding land for cultivation is a bigger thing, but at least they must have a house to live in, as their homestead. We are not demanding this, but when others are given land we must also be considered. This is why we need that power to devolve a council for the people of Indian origin.

Q: If the CWC were able to walk into the President's House today and have Mahinda Rajapakse grant any single wish, with no limit or restriction and guaranteed delivery, what would it be?

A: If he will give us immediately an assurance that he will provide enough funds to build 200,000 houses for the landless families of Indian origin, that would be a great milestone for the CWC in bringing equality for our people.

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