A 26-year civil war in Sri Lanka left at least 100,000 people dead on both sides of the conflict. In 1987, India sent a peacekeeping force, but it ended up getting drawn into the fighting. Thirty years on, BBC Hindi’s Vineet Khare revisits the former battlefields of Sri Lanka with a retired Indian major-general who served there.
The main hospital in the northern city of Jaffna is a clean, white building, bustling with activity. At first glance there is little to suggest that it was the site of a terrible human rights tragedy in October 1987.
But inside it is a different story.
I enter with retired Major General Sheonan Singh, who served with the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) that was sent to Sri Lanka to oversee a ceasefire with separatist militants from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who were fighting for a homeland for minority Tamils in the north.
We see a wall lined with photographs. They are to commemorate nearly 60 people who died when soldiers, allegedly from the IPKF, fired at the hospital with heavy artillery, reportedly to flush out LTTE militants.
We meet A Devendram, a former employee of the hospital who was working there that day.
“I ran and shut myself in that room for 24 hours,” he says, pointing across a narrow corridor.
“I could hear gunfire and staff shouting as they were being shot dead. I saw the men. They were Sikhs, wearing turbans and Indian army uniforms.”
Tamil rights activists in Jaffna say Indian troops were first fired at by four to five LTTE men from inside the hospital.
India has always denied killing non-combatants but many say that Indian troops struggled to identify LTTE militants, who would mix among locals after carrying out attacks.
Dr Ganeshmoorthy, who had been working there as an anaesthetist, reached the hospital three days after the incident.
“When I walked in, it smelled of stale blood,” he said.
Surviving doctors told him that some of them had had to lie under corpses to avoid detection. If they moved or made any sound, they risked being shot, they told him.
Mr Singh quietly listens to these accounts.
“I was unaware of this incident. It seems information about it got suppressed and people (further up in the chain of command) didn’t know of it,” he says, as he stands in front of the pictures of the dead men and women.
“I can only say what happened was bad. When the IPKF were being fired at, they didn’t care who they were firing at. It is unfortunate but wherever military operations occur, these things happen,” he says.
This was one of a number of incidents that led to the eventual withdrawal of the IPKF, their image with the local population tarnished, and having lost 1,200 men.
The nature of their departure was a far cry from that of their arrival in Jaffna in July 1987.
When they arrived, many of the Indian soldiers were convinced that their mission would help Sri Lanka’s Tamils. War was not on their minds.
Stories abound of them going on shopping sprees for cheaper foreign electronic items – something many Indians craved back home.
“Many of our units including artillery units landed without ammunition as they thought they were not needed on a peace mission,” says Mr Singh.
The IPKF, he says, had received no briefing about the dangers ahead, had no grid maps or any advance intelligence.
But the Indian troops had landed in the middle of a particularly volatile environment.
“When the IPKF arrived, Sri Lankan Tamils thought of them as saviours. They were welcomed. People felt they were being liberated from the Sri Lankan army,” N Parameswaran, who was a university student in Jaffna in 1987, tells us.
But many Sri Lankans, including members of the government, were unhappy with what they saw as a bigger country interfering in the internal affairs of a smaller neighbour.
Things took a particularly sour turn when the LTTE refused to disarm. They eventually turned against the Indian forces.
The relationship between the two sides was initially very good.
“Many of the LTTE cadres were known (to us) since they had been trained by our agencies. They would visit our military posts, which later helped them understand the layout of our presence while launching attacks against us,” says Mr Singh.
“Their weapons were also far superior. In fact we would hide ours so that they would not laugh.
The IPKF was gradually drawn into a guerrilla war against the LTTE and ultimately launched a mission to capture their Jaffna stronghold in October 1987.
The assault was to begin at the Jaffna University grounds – a few kilometres from the IPKF headquarters at the Palali airbase. The ground today is a large expanse of green studded with multiple sports facilities.
“Thirty years ago, it looked a jungle. This place has been cleared of bushes, thickets and a tree that stood here,” he says.
Major Singh and his men were tasked with clearing space for assault forces.
But the LTTE had prior information of the IPKF assault and they opened fire on them from three sides.
“We were being fired at from that building behind the water tank,” he says, pointing at a building in the distance.
The LTTE firing intensified as more Indian reinforcements arrived.
The battle raged for the next 24 hours. The IPKF lost 36 men that day.
But 30 years on, Mr Singh says he is happy that peace has finally returned to Jaffna.
As we drive around the city, one can’t help but marvel at his memory.
The geography of the region, the names of his contacts in other Tamil armed groups and conversations with LTTE leaders are still fresh in his mind.
He is elated to see signs of development as he took pictures and videos to share with his former colleagues.
“This was what we should have focused on 30 years ago.”
(Lanka-e-News – 18.Oct.2017, 11.00PM) The Tamil people of North and East elected a government with the hope that it will fulfill their just aspirations and hopes , and if that government is not resolving their issues , it is a big mistake on the part of the leader of that government to come before the Tamil people to meet them , TNA and opposition leader R. Sampanthan M.P. revealed to an Indian media Institution on the 16 th.
Sampanthan made this revelation when the Indian media inquired from him why the TNA boycotted president Maithripala’s tour of Jaffna. The president had the opportunity to visit the North with some answers somehow on behalf of the Tamil people , he added.
Neither the Tamil people nor the TNA had any necessity at all to welcome the president who arrived in Jaffna empty handed after destroying the hopes and aspirations of the Tamil people, declared Sampanthan .When every leader who emerges from the South is a Satan the Tamil people will continue to fall prey to the ‘Maraya’ (Dark God of death), he pointed out .
This government must have a just and earnest desire to solve the disasters faced by the Tamil people , and until that solution is found the Tamil people will continue to be prey to the demons , Sampanthan lamented.
Nothing has concluded with a single incident in this world , nor had it come to an end with just that incident . The Tamil people cannot be silenced till their aspirations are fulfilled , and they are prepared to continue with their struggle until then , Sampanthan emphasized during the discussion.
by Sanja De Silva Jayatilleka-October 18, 2017, 8:20 pm
UN Special Rapporteur Pablo de Greiff, currently on a two week visit to Sri Lanka, announced before his visit that he intends to “review the progress made thus far, to identify obstacles and bottlenecks in the implementation of the transitional justice and reform process”.
The Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry for its part issued a media release insisting that “Governments are not bound by the advice or recommendations of Special Rapporteurs” and that it was upto the Government of Sri Lanka to decide whether it will “draw on his knowledge, expertise and advice and consult him further in any manner.”
This sudden assertion of autonomy provoked a critical Editorial from a leading Sunday newspaper which alleged that the Ministry was “straining to allay growing public concern that this Government will capitulate before continuing international pressure”.
The Ministry claimed that the government can make its decision on his findings once Mr. Pablo de Greiff presents his report to the UNHRC “in September 2018”. However, it is unlikely that the Special Rapporteur would hold off presenting at least some of his conclusions until September next year, with the High Level Segment of the Human Rights Council,where all Special Rapporteurs make presentations, just a few months away in March 2018. Besides, Mr. de Greiff is scheduled to have the customary media briefing at the end of his visit on the 23rd of this month at which he is likely to indicate at least some of his impressions.
A Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council commands considerable influence especially on the state representatives at the Council itself. Furthermore, when the world order today is no longer confined to sovereign states, and in fact contains influential civil society actors and other networks of experts which in turn impact the opinions of citizens and thereby the conduct of states, it is hardly the case that a country can be wholly independent of world public opinion.
Ensuring that Sri Lanka actively participates in the process of the visit of the Special Rapporteur so that as accurate a picture as possible is established by its full engagement, is the government’s responsibility. As was seen recently at the Human Rights Council, not countering false allegations by civil society participants hardly helped to promote a realistic picture of the conditions in Sri Lanka.
Since the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur will be informed by what he learns here, awaiting his report in September 2018 to evaluate his conclusions and recommendations for its benefit to Sri Lanka may be a less effective strategy than helping him reach them in a way that is of optimum use to Sri Lanka by affording him all possible assistance and access to the credible, substantive information that is already available in the state system.
The case for serious engagement with the Special Rapporteur while he is in Sri Lanka is enhanced when the subject deals with ‘massive or systematic human rights abuses’, which is what Transitional Justice (TJ) responds to. Since the government invited Mr. de Greiff to evaluate its progress in this area, it seems to have conceded that such abuse had in fact taken place. If it has not, it should then provide Mr. de Greiff with the material necessary in order for him to make an informed analysis, so as to better advise us on the course of action which “the Government considers beneficial to the people of Sri Lanka” as the Foreign Ministry has claimed.
In this effort, it is hoped that he has been given the Report of an official Commission which deals with the issue relevant to the mandate of the Special Rapporteur,and was tabled in parliament by the present Prime Minister himself.
That report, the 2nd Mandate Report of the Paranagama Commission, was compiled with the advice of legal luminaries of international stature. It included a legal Advisory Council made up of Sir Desmond de Silva, QC (UK) as Chairman, with Professor Sir Geoffrey Nice, QC (UK), and Professor David M. Crane (USA).
The Advisory Council was supported by experts from around the world such as Mr. Rodney Dixon, QC (UK/ South Africa), Professor Michael Newton (USA, Vanderbilt University) who formerly served as the Senior Advisor to the United States Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes, Commander William Fenrick (Canada), Professor Nina Jorgensen (Harvard and The Chinese University of Hong Kong) and Major General John Holmes DSO, OBE, MC (UK, former Commanding Officer of the SAS) who provided an independent Military Report on the conflict.
The mandate of that Commission was extended by Government Gazette to include “facts and circumstances surrounding civilian loss of life and the question of the responsibility of any individual, group or institution for violations of international law during the conflict that ended in May 2009”.
When the Resolutions of the Human Rights Council and the statements of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights rely heavily on the UN Secy-Gen’s PoE Report–the Darusman Report– and quote it as a source for their opinions, it is imperative that the Paranagama Commission 2nd Mandate Report is made available by the Foreign Ministry to visiting experts from Geneva. The Paranagama report states that it aimed to analyze “the complex legal standards applicable to military operations such as those that occurred in the final phase of the Sri Lankan conflict and to apply them to the unique set of factual circumstances that presented itself during the relevant time period” and that “This exercise has not been adequately carried out in the existing report of the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts (Darusman Report)”.
It can confidently make such an evaluation, given the impressive legal expertise it had at its disposal in contrast to the Darusman panel which was not able to adhere to appropriate evidentiary standards.
While the Special Rapporteur on Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Recurrence is concerned with all post-conflict situations with a victim-centered focus, it is the emphasis on Transitional Justice that is at issue. It is critical that the solutions fit the problem, as Pablo de Greiff himself has declared in his report on Transitional Justice to the Human Rights Council. The Paranagama Commission, after many months of investigations and serious engagement with the top legal experts has concluded that:”On the basis of the evidence available to this Commission and the prevailing law, the suggestion that the crime of genocide was or may have been committed during the final phase of the war is without foundation. While there may have been long standing practices of religious and racial discrimination carried out by various governments toward minorities, targeting such groups even if for discriminatory reasons is not sufficient to constitute genocide.”
Since the Special Rapporteur’s mandate according to the Foreign Ministry, seeks to promote “healing and reconciliation”, and is designed for “ALL victims of a situation of conflict and not one group or one community”, it is important that in his task of advising on policies of reconciliation, he is not misled on the conduct of one group or the other.
The value of the Paranagama Commission report is that for its 2nd Mandate it has reviewed a great deal of material already in the public domain. According to the report, “These sources have been both primary and secondary, including highly relevant reports such as the ‘Darusman Report’ (2011), the ‘LLRC Report’ (2011), the Report of the Secretary General’s Internal Review Panel on United Nations Action in Sri Lanka – 2012 (Petrie Report), the Sooka Report (2014) ‘An Unfinished War: Torture and Sexual Violence in Sri Lanka 2009—2014’, the Reports to Congress by the US State Department (2009), reports by the International Crisis Group, Amnesty International, the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), Human Rights Watch, and many others.” It is unlikely that a more comprehensive and authoritative examination of the last phase of the war has been compiled thus far.
An indispensable critical inquiry by civil society into the last phase of the war pertinent to the Special Rapporteur’s mandate would be “The Third Narrative: Issues of Truth and Accountability” jointly published by Marga Institute and the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA), the primary author of which is Dr. Godfrey Gunatilleke, distinguished civil servant and founder of the Marga Institute, which re-examined material available in the public domain including of satellite imagery of the conflict zone and contains detailed accounts of the movement of food and medicines to the conflict areas. The publication says it “attempts to grapple with issues of truth and accountability during the final stage of the war in Sri Lanka”.
It is important that in order to fulfill UN Special Rapporteur Pablo de Greiff’s mandate, the “Truth” dimension of it should be established as far as possible in order for the rest of the mandate of “Justice, Reparation and Non-Recurrence” to be effectively addressed. Sri Lanka’s war had its specificities. However, its many lessons are of enormous relevance to the world which is increasingly forced to deal with fanatical global terrorist militias and networks imposing sudden and apocalyptic suffering on innocent civilian populations around the globe. Princeton’s Emeritus Professor of International Law, Richard Falk, calls this phenomenon ‘Apocalyptic Globalization’, to describe its radical programme “for restructuring political life on the basis of religious orthodoxy…which can also be interpreted as an approach to global governance” (Falk: 2004), an unpleasant reality with which all States have to contend.
Assessing Sri Lanka’s situation carefully in order to design an appropriate response to its current concerns while taking into account its progress and also being mindful of the danger of overstating the violations of international law as amounting to ‘massive or systematic abuse of human rights’, is likely to be the only guarantee of the successful implementation of the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur. Enabling him to do so is the task of the Government, the Opposition and all others who are able to contribute.
JVP MP Bimal Rathnayake spoke about the much looked forward to provincial council elections, the SAITM issue, the Rajapakse’s and how the party he represents hopes to move forward in the political scene in an interview with our sister paper Deshaya. following are excerpts of the interview.
The JVP is always in the forefront regarding the issues faced by the country, but there seems to be no solution to these problems.What are your comments?
Solutions couldn’t be found regarding some issues. Take for instance the 19th Amendment. We are the ones who were responsible for initiating a major part of the amendments. When it came to the Local Council Elections Act, we played an important role during this debate and were able to establish what is more suitable for the country. When elections were being postponed repeatedly, it was we who insisted in January to have two days for the debate and take a vote in Parliament. The abolition of the Executive Presidency and the Bond issue aren’t over yet. The SAITM issue is also connected to this. The reasons for the delay in moving forward on these issues is of concern to the JVP as well.
It’s quite apparent that the Joint Opposition is taking to the streets and launching stiff opposition against the Government, but the JVP has confined itself to stages and seems content in expressing opinions.What have you got to say?
Tell me whether the JO staged any protest before the Mattala Airport issue? They haven’t done anything. We gave leadership to the recent strike staged by the Electricity Board employees. The Joint Opposition didn’t offer support to the Peoples’ Front which protested against SATM. Only the JVP and the trade unions featured in these protests. We fought for the farmers’ rights. We were the ones who filed charges against Lalith Weeratunga, who was sent to jail. Therefore it’s proven that the JVP is forceful not only on the road, but also within the Parliament. We aren’t like the Rajapakse clan, which is trying to cover up. Members of this clan have got round President Sirisena and and Premier Wickremesinghe and are attempting to cover up their misdeeds.
The Government is accusing the JVP of disrupting the society by engaging in protests and strikes and creating issues.
Not only this Government if any other Government does something good for the people we will offer support and assistance. The best example for this came when we offered support for the Local Council Act and the Provincial Councils Act to be passed. Now we have no dealings with the Government. Our dealings are with the country and its people. We have opposed what will go against the people. Just consider what we have done. We are ready to stop them not only by pulling them by their legs, but we might go to the extent of grabbing them by their necks.
The JO maintains that the JVP is the protective wall of this Government.Your comments?
We are very clear on our stand. Due to the faults of the Government of Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe, the corrupt and murderous Rajapakse clan have got further opportunities to continue with their acts. We have no dealings with this Government nor the Rajapakse clan. Tell those who point fingers at us to show when and where we have protected this Government. We observed recently that after Lalith Weeratunga was taken into custody Mahinda Rajapakse met Ranil Wickremesinghe the same evening and was able to obtain bail for Weeratunga. Namal Rajapakse’s Secretary was wanted by Interpol, but she moves freely. A child who robbed eight coconuts was sent to jail. What is this law? That is why we are saying that the Rajapakses are being provided bail by Ranil Wickremesinghe. We reiterate that we have not taken anything from anyone.
“A country can’t be developed if there is no discipline. Our main strength is our trade unions, which aren’t hell-bent on enriching themselves. Next come the farmers’ organizations. Therefore as a party we have done much for our members”
The Joint Opposition states that the JVP is offering support to the Government through the Provincial Council Act in order to postpone the elections. Your response?
We have only 06 MPs who voted in favour of it. Seventeen of their members weren’t present to cast their votes. That is the vital point. Even Mahinda Rajapakse wasn’t present at the time of voting. What is your answer to that? The truth is that when the Local Council Elections are being held, you can’t hold the Provincial Council Elections at the same time. If elections were held for the three Provincial Councils they would have been held under the earlier Preferential System. Our strategy is to oppose the system where all elections are held on a single day. This system was adopted by Mahinda Rajapakse. We put an end to it. Isn’t it good? What we did was change the chaotic situation created by Rajapakses. According to this act the Government has to hold the elections six months from now.
Critics point out that the Government has created a chaotic situation within the Parliament and has an opposition group which is supporting them, which in a way helps the regime do as it wishes.What do you say?
We have answered this question on several occasions. According to the Constitution only six parties are recognized within the Parliament. These people contested from the UPFA accepting the leadership given by Maithripala Sirisena. They have one more opportunity to leave the SLFP and contest. But instead of doing that they are now switching alliances with Mahinda and Sirisena to their advantage. They should come clean on this issue. We are clear on the issue regarding being against the Government. We don’t want to bring in new rogues replacing the old rogues, or bring in old rogues in place of new rogues. Our Parliament is always like this. When the UNP was in the opposition they referred to the Rajapakses as rogues while enjoying privileges. That is what is happening even now. During all times there are two factions; an opposition full of rogues and an opposition who are people friendly. We belong to the latter group.
Why is a so-called people friendly party like the JVP now being referred to as ‘Red Elephant Calves’?
When considering the number of votes that are gained ours is the largest political force. But when considering our ideologies they are either rated first or second. Regardless of that the country considers the JVP as a powerful force. Therefore claims made to label us as a party supporting the Government doesn’t have any substance. When we revealed the Bond Scam the Government said we were pro-Rajapakse. Now when we inquired into the ‘Sil Cloth’ issue which involves Lalith and the Rajapakse loyalists, critics say that we are supporting the Government. These type of stories are being said about us since the1970s. It’s the people who are to blame.
When it came to the Local Council Elections Act, we played an important role during this debate
Tell me whether the JO staged any protest before the Mattala Airport issue?
We were the ones who filed charges against Lalith Weeratunga, who was sent to jail
Though you maintain that the JVP is a people friendly party, how come the people haven’t recognized you yet?
There are many reasons. Up to 2010 the people desired to have someone who could stop this 30-year-war that threatened to divide the country. They didn’t mind who was capable of doing that, even if it was a rogue. It was only after 2010 that the people realized that they should have someone more suitable to govern the country. What happened in 2015 was that people threw away the Rajapakses. This proved that the people weren’t fools.
The JVP also formed the Government at one time. How are the people going to trust you?
It isn’t an issue. Our party is formed for the good of the people and not to obtain Ministerial posts. Ours is a well disciplined party. A country can’t be developed if there is no discipline. Our main strength is our trade unions, which aren’t hell-bent on enriching themselves. Next come the farmers’ organizations. Therefore as a party we have done much for our members. All these activities are operated outside the election procedure. These are our strategies. However high the position is if someone is found guilty we would never hesitate to pull him by the ear and throw him out. That is how Wimal Weerawansa was thrown out. No one is big in our party, and therefore any amount of mudslinging won’t affect us.
Like your party the Government is also taking corrective measures by removing minister who are guilty.Your comments?
We see that removing Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe was a very good thing. But this type of an act wasn’t followed up thereafter. At the inception of the Bond inquiry Ravi Karunanayake was alleged to have moved into a house belonging to Aloysius, and later it was found that he (Karunanayake) had given instructions to heads of state Banks. Karunanayake should not only be removed from his ministerial position, but also from the party as well. Take the case of State Minister of Child Affairs Vijayakala Maheswaran. It was revealed during the trial of Vidya (Sivaloganathan) that she had helped the convicts. But what is the punishment given to her?
we are saying that the Rajapakses are being provided bail by Ranil Wickremesinghe
Our strategy is to oppose the system where all elections are held on a single day
What happened in 2015 was that people threw away the Rajapakses. This proved that the people weren’t fools
We see that removing Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe was a very good thing
The Government appointed a commission regarding the Bond Scam which helped reveal many areas. Have you any suspicions about the investigations carried out by the Government?
Judging by the actions taken with regard to Lalith Weeratunga we have no faith. We don’t believe that the commission would punish the perpetrators.
Do you infer that the Government is meddling in the affairs of the court?
Not the courts. It is clear that the Government is directing the Attorney General. We reiterate and state with responsibility that the President and the Prime Minister are interfering with the work of the Attorney General in order to protect the rogues.
Ministers of this Government accuse the attorneys of our courts as being corrupt. In such a circumstance can the public have any confidence in the laws of the country?
Politics in our country is corrupt. The face of bureaucracy is corrupt. The face of religious institutions is corrupt. The face of Media institutions is corrupt. The face of our judicial sector is corrupt. The faces of the people at the top of the business sector are corrupt. Therefore the country as a society is fully corrupt. But one thing, the officers of the Legal Department and the Police officers serving the Presidential Commission are performing commendably. This has proved that despite there being corrupt individuals there are still some who are exemplary. For these individuals conducting investigations on the Rajapakses’ misdeeds is simple, but they are prevented from doing so. It is very apparent as to how the law is being bent.
Are you saying that this Government is involved in suppressing and acting in a dictatorial manner?
The Government’s suppressing acts mainly target students. No action is taken against the Rajapakses. Student leaders are kept in jails for months, but the rogues are getting away scot-free.
The Government states that the JVP is responsible for not allowing the authorities to find a settlement to the SATM issue and also accuses the party of demotivating the students. What is your reply?
There is no point in replying this question. The parents of SATM students have already agreed with our stand.
Why is the Government not considering this issue as crucial?
It’s because of the existing deal between Rajitha Senarathne and businessman Neville Fernando. The President having received the support of Rajitha Senarathne, during the presidential elections, looks the other way.
“Our dealings are with the country and its people. We have opposed what will go against the people. Just consider what we have done. We are ready to stop them not only by pulling them by their legs, but we might go to the extent of grabbing them by their necks”
The combined opposition says that the New Constitution would pave the way for Federalism in the country. Does the JVP support this move?
These are views expressed by Rajapaksa loyalists who are now politically destitute. I don’t wish to form a reply to what they have said. The JVP loves this country more than anyone else. Whenever there were moves to divide the country we risked our lives There is no Federalism in the proposed new Constitution, and it (Federalism) will never become a reality. People would never approve it. Even the TNA is against it. We are saying that a new Constitution is the need of the hour. This wont solve all the issues that the country is facing. Consider the fact that for 2500 years we have never had a Constitution that was approved by the people. Using the new Constitution we expect to abolition the Executive Presidency and establish a system that would empower the Parliament. Secondly a new electoral system should be introduced. This way the country’s unitary status would remain. The issue is about the Tamil word describing unitary state. It is also included, but what will be given recognition is the Sinhala term (meaning).
They say that it is going beyond the 13th Amendment and powers are to be devolved.
No one had made such requests. Only Wigneshwaran had done so. It was a proposal by the Northern Provincial Council which was sent to the Parliament. The TNA refused to accept it. Therefore there is no possibility that it would go beyond the 13th Amendment. The true position about the 13th Amendment is that only police powers had not been given.
Then do you see nothing wrong in this new Constitution.
No there are. The abolition of the Executive Presidency, as promised by Maithripala Sirisena, hasn’t been done. His party wants it to be continued with, but Maithripala asumed power by promising that it would be abolished. In such an event it is apparent that President Sirisena would re-contest the post of President again.
( October 18, 2017, Sydney, Sri Lanka Guardian) Reforms in political parties are necessary in the process of democratisation of any country, however on the condition that those are progressive and democratic, and not regressive or authoritarian. In the history of political parties in Sri Lanka there have been many splits, famously in the Left parties, and formation of new parties, but very few attempts at reforming parties within and in the democratic direction.
The political party system is not something adequately studied in Sri Lanka especially in recent times. When Howard Wriggins wrote his nearly 500 page book, ‘Ceylon: Dilemmas of a New Nation’ (1960), he had a chapter on political parties and noted the importance of the formation of the SLFP in 1951, breaking away from the UNP, for the evolution of a competitive and possibly two party system.
More comprehensive and a focused study came from Calvin A. Woodward in 1969 titled ‘The Growth of a Party System in Ceylon,’ with whom I associated very closely at the University of New Brunswick. James Jupp also focused on the political party system, in a critical manner, in his ‘Sri Lanka: Third World Democracy’ in 1978. K. M. De Silva, as a foremost modern historian, and A. J. Wilson, as a leading political scientist, also paid attention on the subject in many of their books.
Wiswa Warnapala wrote two books on the SLFP, one after the other, ‘Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the Political Change in 1956’ in 2004, and ‘Sri Lanka Freedom Party: A Political Profile’ in 2005. He himself was a SLFP member/leader. There is no such a profile or a book to my knowledge on the UNP, by an outsider or an insider. The Federal Party (FP) was fairly covered in A. J. Wilson’s ‘Sri Lankan Nationalism’ (2000).
The Left movement or rather the LSSP was studied by G. J. Lerski in his ‘Origins of Trotskyism in Ceylon’ (1968), followed by Ranjith Amarasinghe in his ‘Revolutionary Idealism and Parliamentary Politics: A Study of Trotskyism in Sri Lanka’ (1998). All above are just a memory outline and not a complete catalogue.
The SLFP in Context
In the whole vortex of political ideologies, party formations, splits and party rivalries or competitions, what is the general position of the SLFP? Has it played a significant role in the political and socio-economic development in the country?
All academics and analysts have agreed that the formation of the SLFP in 1951 was a significant landmark in the democratic development in the country as it supplied an alternative to the UNP. It contributed to the evolution of a two-main-party system. Unfortunately, the Left was not in a position to supply that alternative due to many ideological and bickering splits.
What was the main reason for its formation? The main reason given was that the UNP was not representing the majority of rural masses. The UNP was considered an urban and an elitist party, of course with a rural base. This was the genesis of the SLFP’s Pancha Maha Balavegaya (great five forces), whether that is valid in the same way today or not. The Marxists gave another interpretation to this difference, naming the UNP as representing the ‘comprador bourgeoise’ and the SLFP, the ‘national bourgeoise.’ The ‘national’ label to the SLFP had a validity in other respects as well. It wanted to breakaway from all vestiges of colonialism or neo-colonialism. Whether right or wrong, the policies followed by the SLFP governments had this angle until recently. On the other hand, there is much reason today to consider the world situation not merely as neo-colonialism but globalization. Even China is promoting a form of globalization.
There was no strict ideology for the SLFP, until of course the Mahinda Chinthana invention, as it appeared a pragmatic party with nationalist orientation. SWRD Bandaranaike was a declared ‘rationalist’ at the beginning. He embraced Buddhism and then he embraced nationalism while in his initial writings cautioning about extreme nationalism. He had a vision, as he said, to unite the Sinhalese first and then unite the Tamils and the Muslims for a long journey for national rejuvenation. But he blundered in his language policy and many others and the vision of uniting all communities got lost, during his time and thereafter.
Whether that vision can be implemented or resurrected under the new party reforms and changes is the question now. The present leaders might tread in that direction cautiously, given the sensitivities attached. The President’s recent visit to Jaffna and Governor Reginald Cooray’s initiatives give the impression that the government and the party are in that direction.
November 2014 Split
There had been several splits within the SLFP in the past. In 1964, C. P. de Silva left the party and brought down the SLFP government and then joined the UNP. In 1984, Chandrika Kumaratunga left the party and joined her husband’s Sri Lanka Mahajana Party, but returned back to the fold in 1991. Even Anura Bandaranaike left the party in 1993 and joined the UNP. Most of the splits those days were going in the UNP direction.
However, during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s time, many people broke away from the UNP and joined the SLFP. He was extremely smart in that sense. Some people argued that the new comers got more prominence and control than the traditional SLFP members. This is something that gave extremely an upper hand to MR and another accusation was that the SLFP became more of a family and a group party than a membership organization. CBK was side lined or she distanced herself from the party. Corruption apparently underlined these developments during particularly the second term of Mahinda Rajapaksa. Under his yoke, the traditional SLFP leaders were quite meek and ‘obedient.’ That is apparently what he expected and the present author had many occasions to observe this dynamic.
Then how could we explain the last minute break (after eating hoppers together!) of a small group of people with Maithripala Sirisena in November 2014 and contesting the presidential elections backed by the UNP and the TNA? Was it like C. P. de Silva’s break in 1964? It was possible that the split going that way, if not for MR’s handing over the SLFP leadership to Sirisena in 2005. Then why did he do that? There can be three or four explanations. (1) MR was so confident in winning the election, but got completely demoralized after the defeat. (2) He was just following the party constitution, although uncharacteristic of him. (3) He rationally realized that otherwise, the party might rebel against him. (4) Sirisena’s pressure was so overwhelming, he didn’t have any other option.
Whatever the reason, handing over the party was a significant landmark not only in the SLFP history, but also the party system in the country. Because it has opened up the opportunity to reorganize the SLFP as a modern and a membership based party. This was not the case before, and particularly under MR. He excessively believed in personal Charisma mixed with voodoo type practices and encouraged faithful followers, but not policy based members. The best explanation for the downfall of such personalities or regimes come from none other than the Chinese President, Xi Jinping.
“In recent years, long-pent-up problems in some countries have led to resentment among the people, unrest in society and the downfall of governments, with corruption being a major culprit. Facts prove that if corruption is allowed to spread, it will eventually lead to the destruction of a party and the fall of government.”
This is of course said in November 2012 in respect of countries like Thailand, the Philippines and South Korea (‘The Governance of China,’ p. 17). However, it equally applies to Sri Lanka, not only to the last government, but also to the present one, if the dubious corruption trends continue.
An agenda for party reforms were set in motion first in September 2015 at the 64th Anniversary of the SLFP. The main guiding personality was Maithripala Sirisena. He had almost fifty years of experience in the party, beginning at the grassroots level. Having been the general secretary of the party between 2001 and 2014, for 13 years, he was quite familiar with the party branches and activists all over the country. He was supported by several old and young leaders, Duminda Dissanayake among the latter as the General Secretary.
In addressing the party members at the conference, he was justifying the national unity government with the UNP on the basis of national urgency, stability and national reforms. He was of the opinion that the SLFP has weakened through personality cults. Therefore, he said, “I offer the hands of brotherhood to all of you to join with me to build a strong Sri Lanka Freedom Party.” Of course, building a strong party is not necessarily of building a reformed party. But regarding reforms, the following was what he categorically said.
“Therefore, as the SLFP, all of you have the responsibility to reform the party completely within the coming period after the 64th anniversary. This party should be built as the main populist political party which is accepted by Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Malay, Burgher, Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu and Islam. Everybody should work for that end with utmost commitment.”
Other points he outlined were ending violence, including post-election violence, elimination of hate politics and giving priority to policies before personalities. He also said, “I am a person who is on a slow journey. But I am not ready to turn back in that slow journey.”
Whatever his efforts, unity within the party, within the parliamentary group or the UPFA was difficult to maintain. Perhaps it was not necessary. First, the Joint Opposition was formed, the former President as the inspirer, and some other parties in the UPFA also taking a leading role. That was in late 2015. The main reasons appeared to be the policy differences or antagonisms with the UNP. Then a new party, the Sri Lanka People’s Front (SLPF), was formed in November 2016 as a counter organization to the SLFP. Some of the reasons were related to the corruption charges levelled against those who were close to the former President, and side lining of them and some others within the SLFP. The corruption charges were considered political victimization.
When the SLFP annual conference (66th Anniversary) was held last month (2 September), a split within the party was very clear. Those who were loyal to Mahinda Rajapaksa or the SLPF did not attend the anniversary. However, the conference can be considered a major success, a strong young contingent with women participating. It was one of the well-attended and well-organized party conferences in the whole party history. The party reforms appeared to have worked within the last two years.
New Trends and Lessons
The 66th Anniversary Conference deserves separate attention some other time in discussing party politics and the SLFP in Sri Lanka. However, the emergence of the SLPF cannot also be underestimated, considering MR’s still remaining popularity, perhaps money and networking.
The policy line that the President has taken in his speech at the conference was against ‘Corruption, Fraud, Irregularities and Waste.’ He reverberated the Sinhala words for them ‘Dushanaya, Wanchawa, Akramikatha and Nasthiya.’ He might not be a shrewd social networker like MR, but he is one of the best political speakers perhaps after SWRD Bandaranaike. Those slogans can still be an election winning platform for the SLFP, among other things, although that was the same platform that MS won the presidency in January 2015. Yet, those may have a cutting edge against both the SLPF personalities and the UNP, while some of the tainted characters are still with the SLFP.
It appears that Sri Lanka is moving towards a three-party competitive system in most of the electoral constituencies in the near future. While the SLFP is still in the national unity government with the UNP, and has very closely worked in addressing some of the key national and international issues, there are areas where there are failures particularly in economic policy and performance. On some of these socio-economic maters, the traditional differences between the UNP and the SLFP have surfaced again and again.
Therefore, if the SLFP is not to leave the government and disprove what MR has predicted in breaking the national unity government this year, the UNP may have to listen more and more to the SLFP in addressing economic development issues and socio-economic grievances of the people. In analysing the history, policies, leaders and organizations of the two parties, one may observe that the SLFP is more closer to the people and their aspirations than the UNP.
P K Balachandran, Elections to the Sri Lankan local bodies and Provincial Councils are due in 2018. But President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe heading the Yahapalanaya or Good Governance regime in Colombo, not prepared for it.
The lack of preparedness is seen in the way they had been trying every trick in the book to get the elections postponed until it became politically impossible to continue to do so.
The main reason for the reluctance is the lackluster performance of the “National Unity” government which is basically an uneasy alliance between the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led by Sirisena and the United National Party (UNP) led by Wickremesinghe.
Promising Start To give the devil its due, the Yahapalanaya government can boast of making peace with the UN, the West and India, all powerful forces which had been alienated by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The government enacted the 19th. Constitutional Amendment to make it impossible for anyone to be President more than twice and had established Independent Commissions to oversee the working of key arms of the State.
But all other problems facing the war-torn developing country have remained unattended, leading to a steady erosion of popular support.
Job opportunities have not increased for the hoi polloi given the absence of adequate, large scale public and private investments. Much money has been pumped into the private construction sector, but this is a bubble which can burst given the shortage of labor due to the political reluctance to recruit foreign labor.
Although the Yahapalanaya government promised to end high level corruption and set up new institutions to investigate thousands of cases against the predecessor regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa, progress on this has been slow.
The different parts of the government have been blaming each other for this with the President himself once openly accusing the Prime Minister of having a secret deal with Rajapaksa. Earlier, the Prime Minister’s party, UNP, was blaming the President saying that he was going slow to keep the pro-Rajapaksa faction in the SLFP with him.
Lack of unity in the government grievously affected policy making, policy consistency and policy implementation. Decisions taken by the UNP or the Prime Minister would be nullified by the President, which had caused frustration among major foreign investors like China and India.
Constitutional Conundrum During the honeymoon period when the government was enjoying goodwill all around, the government promised to re-draft the country’s constitution to end the 70 year old ethnic problem involving the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils. But the ardor has dimmed over time, as both the communities feared the worst about the attempt to change the constitution and hardened their stand.
The Sinhalese began to feel that the constitution will give too much to the Tamils, and the Tamils felt that government was backing out of its commitments to them for fear of losing its Sinhalese voter base.
Based on the content of the Interim Report on the new constitution, the Sinhalese led by nationalists such as Rajapaksa and the top rungs of the Buddhist clergy, alleged that Sri Lanka will cease to be a “unitary” State and become “federal” which, according to them, will be a stepping stone to the secession of the Tamil areas of the North and East.
Fearing rejection and loss of power, government leaders from the President downwards, pledged that they will not do away with the “unitary” State and will not bring about a constitution which does not pass muster with the top Buddhist clergy.
Alienation of Tamils The stance of the government annoyed the Tamil leaders and dismayed the Tamil masses, who had overwhelmingly supported Sirisena in the January 2015 Presidential election in the hope that they he will give them a political solution based on regional autonomy.
While disappointing the Tamils in regard to constitution making, the government also failed to deliver on other promises made to them and the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
The Office of Missing Persons (OMP) is yet to start functioning. A credible Sri Lankan-led Judicial Mechanism to investigate and try cases of alleged war crimes is yet to be set up. There has been commendable progress in the return of seized lands to Tamil civilians .But the military’s overbearing presence in the Northern Province is still an irritant.
Apart from the fate of thousands of missing persons, the continued detention of about 132 Tamil prisoners is a major emotional issue among the Tamils.
While the Tamils consider these to be “political prisoners” who ought to have been released after the war ended in May 2009, the State considers them to be hardcore cadres of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). some of whom have serious cases against them. Three of them had allegedly massacred 38 Sri Lankan soldier-prisoners towards the end of the war.
TNA Forced To Choose Side The leaders of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), who support the Sirisena government have been wanting to speed up the investigations and trials, but the government has been too slow, partly on account of the tardy judicial process and partly out of a fear that releasing detainees of this sort will cost it Sinhlese-nationalist votes.
In the meanwhile, anger has been brewing in the Tamil community, which has begun to accuse of the TNA of not doing enough, given its “influence” as the government’s “loyal opposition.”
Sensing the Tamils’ mood, the TNA supported the total shut down in the Northern Province last Friday and boycotted Sirisena’s visit to Jaffna on Saturday. Read this in Bengali
Sirisena boldly met the demonstrators led by the firebrand M.K.Shivajilingam and warned them frankly that if the Tamils stop supporting his efforts to render justice, the “devil” (Rajapasa) is waiting to step into his shoes.
The government has failed to help Tamils on the economic front too. Steps to promote the economic advancement of the Tamil hoi polloi are yet to be taken. The accent has been on improvement of infrastructure like arterial roads and railways which do not address the day to day problems of the people who are yet to recover from the war and stand on their own feet.
Will Party Purge Help? Sirisena is struggling to retain his hold on the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) which could break up in December 31 if the deadline set by the President for setting the house in order is not met.
Though the house that has to be set in order is the government and not the party as such, Sirisena appears to have done precious little to get the government moving.
On the contrary, he has turned his attention to the SLFP, purging it of Rajapaksa loyalists. Seeing that offering carrots like ministerial portfolios has not worked, Sirisena is now sacking pro-Rajapaksa elements from organizational positions and replacing them by hand picked loyalists.
He hopes that the Rajapaksa camp will get the tired old warhorses and that his camp will spring to life with the injection of new blood. But even new blood cannot deliver votes if the performance of his government continues to be below par.
The Attorney General yesterday assured that the investigation into the alleged killing of 27 inmates of the Welikada Prison in December 2012 would be conducted in a transparent manner, following which a progress report will be submitted.
Senior State Counsel Madhava Tennekoon, appearing for the Attorney General, informed Court that there were inquiries conducted by teams from the Special Task Force, Army and prison officers.
He said that a fresh investigation is being conducted by a team of police officers appointed by the IGP and 75% of the investigation has been completed and sought permission for another four to six weeks to complete the entire investigation.
Counsel K.S. Ratnavale, appearing for the petitioner, pleaded that the investigation should be conducted in a transparent manner and its progress should be conveyed to Court.
The bench, comprising Justices L.T.B. Dehideniya (CA President) and K.K. Wickramasinghe, yesterday fixed the matter for support on 6 December.
The writ petition was filed by W.S. Nandimal Silva seeking an investigation into the alleged killing of 27 inmates of Welikada Prison in December 2012 where it is alleged that the Army, STF, TID and Prison Intelligence stormed the prison and opened fire.
The petitioner, claiming that he was a direct eyewitness to the incidents which occurred on 9 and 10 November 2012, cited the Commissioner General of Prisons, CID Director, IGP, Minister of Prison Reforms, Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Religious Affairs and the Attorney General as respondents.
The petitioner is 45 years old and was an employee of the Railway Department from 1994-2007. On 25 June 2007 he was arrested and charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and was in remand custody at Welikada Prison from 2009. As the confessions were rejected by the High Court, the indictments were withdrawn by the Attorney General consequent to which the petitioner was released from prison on 19 September 2013.
While in remand custody, he claims he saw the incidents which occurred on 9 and 10 November 2012 during which 27 inmates of the Welikada Prison were killed.
The petitioner states that on 9 November 2012 at about 1.00 p.m., he and other prisoners at Welikada Prison received information that personnel from the Army and STF were about to enter the prison to conduct a search operation.
He stated that there was an argument between prison officials and a contingent of Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) and Special Task Force (STF) personnel waiting at the gates of the prison on the procedure related to search operations.
The prison officials had objected to the entry of TID and STF personnel armed with firearms without prior permission being sought.
The TID and STF officials insisted that this was an order issued by the Secretary of Defence and therefore such protocols were not necessary.
However, at this stage, Chief Jailor Indika Sampath, who was attached to the Intelligence and Security Division and is presently an Assistant Superintendent of Prisons, intervened and stated that he would take responsibility and asked to allow the TID and STF personnel inside while the prison officials on duty had lodged a log entry regarding this irregular entrance into the prison by outsiders.
He states that soon after gaining entry into Welikada Prison, the STF, TID and prison Intelligence unit personnel had gone into ‘L’ hall and assaulted the prison inmates with the intention of provoking them.
As the prisoners had not retaliated, they moved into Chapel Hall, where the convicted prisoners were kept.
At this stage, the STF and Prison Intelligence, carrying weapons and tear gas canisters, surrounded the building. As tear gas was directed even close to cells, several inmates fell unconscious. Other inmates were rounded up and assaulted. This went on for a few hours.
He states that at around midnight the STF, TID and Prison Intelligence stormed the prison and started shooting. The petitioner, who was in L Hall, saw a prisoner named T.H. Lesely De Silva shot dead. The petitioner and other prisoners got to know that inmates Jothipala, Kapila, Manjusri and Marlon were brought in from Chapel Ward to M Ward and shot. These prisoners were heard screaming and shouting before they were shot dead. TID and Intelligence units gave updates of what was happening with the purpose of intimidating the prisoners, he reveals.
The petitioner had seen an officer in a yellow T-shirt whom he later got to know as one Rangajeewa, a former member of the Narcotics Division of the Police, armed with a pistol. He had asked for one Thushara alias Kalu Thushara. There were several prison officers, including the Commissioner General of Prisons P.W. Kodippili, inside the prison at that time, together with the said police Narcotics Unit officer Rangajeewa, he alleges.
The petitioner saw Thushara being dragged to the floor and shot near the gate. The petitioner had personally seen the body of Thushara the next morning and it had gunshot injuries to the neck. At about 6.00 a.m. the petitioner and other prisoners saw Amila Malik Perera, alias Konda Amila, being taken away in handcuffs and subsequently the petitioner got to know that Amila had also been killed.
He states that the prison was in the control of the Army until 10.00 a.m. on 10 November 2012. By that time 27 of the prison inmates had been killed by STF, Army, TID and Prison Intelligence officers, he says. The petition made a complaint to the Criminal Investigation Department on 2 February 2015 over the incident.
It had also been reported that a store which contained prisoners’ belongings, including jewellery, that were to be returned to them upon their release, had also been ransacked along with many valuable items during this planned attack by the STF, TID and Prison Intelligence.
He states that there had been an inquest held in the Magistrate’s Court of Colombo, however, these proceedings have yet to conclude.
There have been several commissions that had been appointed to inquire into the deaths in prison, however, none of these commissions had the mandate to investigate and prosecute perpetrators.
He complains that although four years have lapsed since the brutal killings of these prisoners, no action has yet been taken by the Police or the Attorney General to conduct an investigation and prosecute the offenders.
The petitioner states that the dead prisoners were kept in prison in fiscal custody on the orders of the Judiciary. He contends that it is the Judiciary which has the supreme duty to supervise, oversee and be in control of the affair pertaining to the prisoners.
He laments that often their application for bail is rejected by the Judiciary and consequently their remand is extended. He underlines that when the lives of prisoners are endangered, the Judiciary is under obligation to call for an investigation into such incidents and make appropriate directions.
He states that the report recently issued by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has cited the Welikada Prison massacre among other cases in Sri Lanka and has drawn the attention of the Government to the fact that no justice has been provided for the victims.
He alleges that the Criminal Investigation Department and the Police Department have neglected to perform their duties according to the law and have failed to even launch basic investigations leading to the prosecution of the offenders.
The conduct of the prison authorities in failing to prevent outsiders from entering the prison and committing the alleged atrocities should be made the subject of a credible investigation by the CID, he asserts.
He is petitioning court to issue a Writ of Mandamus on the second and third respondents commanding them to commence legal investigations into the incidents. State Counsel Maithri Amarasinghe appeared for the State.
By Shamindra Ferdinando-October 18, 2017, 10:49 pm
Doubling of the number of members of local authorities from current 4,000 to 8,000 in accordance with the newly introduced hybrid electoral system would be a massive burden on the taxpayer, civil society grouping, the ‘March 12 Movement’ said yesterday.
People’s Action for Free and Fair Election (PAFFREL) spokesperson Rohana Hettiarachchi said the very purpose of the new system would be lost if electors failed to choose honest candidates who hadn’t been jailed, received suspended sentences, embroiled in corruption or abuse of political power.
The ‘March 12 Movement’ came into being within weeks of the change of government in January 2015.
Manjula Gajanayake of the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) also affiliated to the March 12 Movement said the number of local government members could be as many as 8,300.
Gajanayake emphasised the urgent need to examine future requirement in respect of infrastructure as well as funding to meet the 100 per cent increase in the strength of local government representatives.
The civil society activist said that once the local government elections were held those elected would agitate for several months demanding facilities. Both Gajanayake and Hettiarachchi pointed out Provincial Council and Local Government Ministry wasn’t geared to cater to more than 4,000 additional councillors in the absence of a proper system now.
Gajanayake urged the ministry to conduct an immediate survey to identify the needs.
Asked by The Island whether the March 12 Movement’s call made to political parties to field honest politicians at the forthcoming local government polls applied to Provincial Council and parliamentary polls as well, Hettiarachchi said “Yes.”
When The Island asked him whether he realized the impracticability of their effort against the backdrop of Central Bank-Perpetual Treasuries bond scams perpetrated weeks before the setting up of the March 12 Movement,
Hettiarachchi emphasized their resolve to fight for a better system.
Hettiarachchi claimed that due to efforts made by the civil society, the two major political parties had deprived several undesirable elements nominations to contest parliamentary polls in 2015 August. Challenged by The Island to name at least one such rejected politician, Hettiarachchi said that it wouldn’t be right.
Hettiarachchi strongly criticized those members of parliament as well as Provincial Councils who acted irresponsibly. The PAFFREL chief expressed concern over members routinely skipping parliament at the expense of the multi-party democratic system.
Hettiarachchi, Gajanayake, Nisantha Prithiraj (Sarvodaya), Shashee de Mel (Transparency International), Athavuda Jayawardena (OPA), Hemanthi Gunasekera and Saman Hamangoda urged political parties to field suitable candidates. They said that political parties should accept the responsibility for fielding the best as the voters no longer enjoyed the right to choose one from three candidates as in the previous system but one candidate picked by the party.
Alleging that the country had been overwhelmed by unbridled corruption Athavuda Jayawardena said the electorate for some strange reason continued to vote for corrupt politicians. Jayawardena said waste, corruption and irregularities had deprived those struggling to make ends meet even basic facilities.
The civil activist urged the media to step up attacks on those engaged in corruption and facilitate their efforts to create a cleaner political environment.
Jayawardena explained how the growing black market economy ruined the country with those responsible for the wellbeing of the masses causing irreparable damage to the national economy.
India and Sri Lanka are close to finalizing a joint venture to manage and expand facilities at the Mattala Airport, which is situated near the Hambantota Seaport, a key port in China’s multi-trillion dollar Belt and Road Initiative.
New Delhi (Sputnik) — Sri Lanka had been scouting for alternate investors for the Chinese-built airport, which began operations in 2013.The airport can handle a million passengers but has not been able to use even 5 percent of its passenger handling capacity. The cargo service has also been extremely under-utilized, with just 69 metric tons moved in 2016 despite an annual capacity of 45,000 tons.
China invested $230 million in the airport, built at a total cost of $253 million. China had reportedly bid to operate the airport, but couldn’t reach an agreement over financial conditions set by the Sri Lankan government.
“It was during this time that India came up with a proposal. They were ready for a joint venture with the Airport and Aviation Services,” Reuters quoted Sri Lankan Civil Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala as saying.
India’s revival plan for the Mattala Airport includes a plan to start a flight school and a maintenance hub at the airport to boost revenues while it builds up traffic. The size of the joint India-Sri Lanka investment in the airport is estimated to be around $293 million initially, of which India will cough up around 70% for a 40-year lease. India’s multi-conglomerate GMR has shown interest in the airport’s operations.
China, however, may not like to lag behind as the nearby Hambantota Seaport is part of the country’s multi-trillion dollar infrastructure-related Belt and Road Initiative. China has a 99-year lease of the seaport. Beijing also plans to build an investment zone and a refinery, the largest in Sri Lanka.
China is struggling with the local opposition as residents face eviction to make way for the projects. Indian experts say Chinese projects, which are backed by the financial support of its government, have pushed Sri Lanka into a vicious long-term debt trap.
New Delhi had pointed to this major weakness in China’s model of development when it declined to join the Belt and Road Initiative.
“Our government took a principled stand when it declined China’s offer to join the Belt and Road Initiative. We also pointed at the long-term sustainability of many of these projects from both a financial and environmental point of view. Sri Lanka is already facing many of the issues which we feared are part and parcel of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative,” Smruti Pattanaik, Research Fellow at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, told Sputnik.
India has reportedly given very flexible options to Sri Lanka to determine New Delhi’s size of the stake and decide on a partner company for operating the Mattala Airport.
-Ex president Chandrika during special discussion with LeN
(Lanka-e-News – 18.Oct.2017, 11.00PM) When the president handed over the letter appointing her as the Attanagala organizer , she felt ashamed , but now she does not consider that as something derogatory , because the Bandaranaikes by having been organizers of Attanagala for the last 90 years have created a world record , said Mrs. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge a former president of the country.
The proposal of the SLFP to continue with the executive presidency is contradictory to the promise made by the president , and the latter is hence caught between two worlds . It was she for the first time proposed that the executive presidency shall be abolished unconditionally , Chandrika asserted.
During the recent discussion with the editor, Lanka e news , Chandrika in relation to her appointment as organizer for Atanagalla , the abolition of executive presidency and the current political situation explained as follows :
Chandrika Bandaranaike who explained at length about her Atanagalla organizer post went on to comment thus :
”It was the first time in history, SLFP lost in the Gampaha district at the last two elections. After the founding of the SLFP in 1952, for the first time the SLFP lost was on 2015-01-08 , and that was because of my moves- we wanted to defeat the squalid era at that time , and because of that we did it.
It was Arjuna Ranatunge who was appointed as the organizer for Attanagalla at that time. We worked for him even providing my staff . At the August elections , a large group including myself opposed nominations being given to Mahinda Rajapakse yet the president gave him nomination . Even until today I do not know the reason for that.
When nominations were granted to Mahinda , Arjuna and I kept away from the SLFP campaign. After defeating Mahinda 7 months ago , how could we work with him again? Arjuna contested under the UNF. During that time , under the laws governing the SLFP, when contesting under another party , the contestant loses not only the membership but even the electoral organizer post .
Accordingly , Arjuna lost the membership and the electoral organizer post. At that time I accepted the post of Attanagalla organizer temporarily. Since August 2015 I have been the Attanagalla organizer.
Recently , we had a meeting to discuss the future political affairs of the party. I also participated in it. The president on that occasion issued fresh letters under his signature to the party organizers . When my name was also announced and a letter appointing me as Attanagalla organizer was handed over to me, I felt rather ashamed when my name was mentioned.
Yet I do not think that was a deliberate effort to degrade me. My father , mother , Anura and I have continuously been Attanagalla electorate organizers. This year , we have completed 90 years as Attanagalla organizers. I think that is a world record.”
Upon inquiries made by Lanka e news from Ms. Chandrika Bandaranaike regarding the proposals made by the SLFP and should the executive presidency be continued ? She gave the following answer …
”According to the agreement signed with the UNP and Civil Organizations on 2015-01-08 , the president promised to abolish the executive presidency .Now the SLFP says that should be continued. As far as I am concerned the pledge we made should be honored.
Because I am insisting on that , from the top to the bottom , all of them are angry with me. Now some are claiming it is we who first removed the executive powers. In 2000, when I proposed a constitution I consented to totally abolish the executive powers unconditionally, and a new chapter too was introduced. That constitution had provisions to grant sweeping powers to the Tamil people. It was I who did that. Yet it was Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP that foiled it. But that was what should have been done.
Now I hope the president would fulfill the promises. It is my view the president is between two worlds – caught between the opinion of the party and president’s own. However it is my view that the president will finally honor his promise made to the people that he would abolish the executive power .”
Commenting further on the proposals made by the SLFP to retain the executive presidency , Chandrika a former president had this to say …
”Some of those in the SLFP , after being in power again and again , and robbing again and again , have descended to a state in which they cannot be without power. It is only these individuals who bring proposals which will eventually destroy the present president , the party and the country .”