Sri Lanka: Troubled Normalcy
On January 13, 2013, Sri Lanka Minister of Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms, Chandrasiri Gajadeera, disclosed that, of 11,500 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) cadres who were arrested or surrendered at the end of the war in 2009, and who were sent to rehabilitation camps thereafter, a total of 11,375 cadres had been 'reintegrated' into society. This left just 125 'un-integrated; LTTE cadres in the camps or under detention.
Earlier, on September 25, 2012, the Menik Farm camp in Vavuniya District, one of the largest camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), had been shut down. A total of 1,186 people from 361 families - the last of a group of more than 280,000 civilians displaced during the war in the north - left the camp for their original places of residence in the Mullaitivu District. According to Security Forces' Commander Boniface Perera, the competent authority for IDPs in the northern region, "There will be no more IDPs in the country from today."
Colombo has evidently met its commitments towards resettlement of civilians and rehabilitation and reintegration of the LTTE cadres.
Meanwhile, the Government continued its developmental program in the regions once devastated by insurgency. According to a June 17, 2012, report the Government allocated LKR 46,211 million for infrastructure development in Vavuniya, Mannar and Mullaitivu Districts. Under the development programme LKR 14,479 million has been allocated for Vavuniya District, LKR 11,584 million for Mannar District and LKR 20,148 million for Mullaitivu District. Further, the President Mahinda Rajapaksa on August 17, 2012, claimed that progress of academic activities and development projects in the conflict-affected Wanni region was at a higher level, as compared to other Districts of the country.
These claims have been validated by international agencies. On August 3, 2012, after a three-day visit to the country, the Director of Operations of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), John Ging, had observed, "The scale of what Sri Lanka has accomplished over the past three years, the pace of resettlement and the development of infrastructure, is remarkable and very clearly visible."
There have, however, been voices of contention on the domestic front. The leader of the main opposition United National Party (UNP), Ranil Wickremasinghe claimed, in March 2012, that the Government had not provided adequate relief to the resettled IDPs in the North. The main Tamil party, Tamil National Alliance (TNA), moreover, contested the claims of total resettlement. TNA Member of Parliament M. A. Sumanthiran alleged that the Government, in order to please the international community, had closed down the Menik Farm IDP camp and dropped the remaining refugees who lived there in a forest at Seeniyamotai: "And now these people weep while looking at their hereditary lands, which are less than one kilometre away. Now what they have is just barren land. Does resettling them mean dumping them on empty lands?"
Nevertheless, in an attempt to instill confidence in Tamil civilians, the Government, according to an October 2012 report, recruited 2,000 former LTTE combatants from the Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi Districts to the country's Civil Security Department (CSD). The Government has stated that it will recruit 5,000 former LTTE combatants to the CSD.
In the meantime, provincial council elections have been conducted in the Eastern, Sabaragamuwa and North Central Provinces, on September 8, 2012. Expectedly, the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa won all three provincial councils.
On July 11, 2012, President Mahinda Rajapaksa had committed to elections for the Northern Provincial Council in 'just over a year', stating, "We want to hold elections in September 2013. We are working towards it [the elections] in a systematic manner."
Nevertheless, Sri Lanka through year 2012, continued to face the daunting challenge of fashioning a reconciliation between the Sinhalese majority and the alienated Tamil minority. Indeed, the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), which was set up by the Sri Lankan Parliament on November 23, 2011, to formulate a political solution to the country's ethnic issue, failed to deliver. The principal reason for this was the TNA's refusal to join the PSC, despite the Government's insistence that this was the best forum to resolve the ethnic issue. The TNA consequently, continues to remain outside the PSC, and all talks with the TNA have stalled since January 15, 2012. The TNA opposes the PSC claiming that it is another "time-buying tactic" of the Government. TNA leader R. Sampanthan told India's then External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna in New Delhi (India) in October 2012, "If the PSC has the intention of thrashing out a solution and has an agenda for (arriving at a political solution), we are ready to consider it. But, we are not ready to get cheated again."
Adding to the complexities was the continued skepticism over the implementation of the much-hyped Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC, appointed on May 15, 2010) report submitted on November 15, 2011. Despite Lalith Weeratunga, Secretary to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, claiming on June 13, 2012, that the task force appointed to oversee the implementation of the recommendations made by the LLRC was making progress, the task force had, on his own admission, selected only 33 recommendations out of the 135 listed by the LLRC, for implementation at the national level. Moreover, Weeratunga stated that only some of the shortlisted recommendations would be implemented in 2012, while others were scheduled for 2013, after the finalization of the annual budget, since 2012 budget allocations had already been finalized before the release of the LLRC report.
There are problems, of course, arising out of a strident politics of Sinhala triumphalism and President Rajapaksa's growing authoritarianism, his personalized vendettas against critics and opponents, and the progressive undermining of institutional governance. These proclivities have undermined the natural legitimacy that would have accrued to the regime as a result of the no doubt extraordinary record of reconstruction and rehabilitation of the war torn regions of the country.
The Government's international legitimacy also continues to be compromised by a vicious, motivated and one-sided campaign of disinformation on the question of human rights violations during the terminal phases of the conflict with the LTTE. Various European interlocutors have threatened Sri Lanka with international prosecution for 'war crimes' and 'human rights violations', and have managed to orchestrate a feckless intervention by the United States resulting in a gratuitous resolution in the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) on March 22, 2012, demanding the 'expeditious implementation' of the LLRC's recommendations. If anything, the prejudiced international discourse on the subject has resulted in greater polarization in the ethnic politics of Sri Lanka, and contributed to competitive intransigence on the part, both, of the state and of the principal Tamil formations.
Another source of disquiet for Sri Lanka through 2012 were reports of the activities of cadres and sympathizers of the LTTE, within and outside Sri Lanka. According to an October 28, 2012, Australian report, former LTTE combatants wanted for crimes in Sri Lanka were being funded to migrate to Australia as asylum seekers by the former members of the group already domiciled in Australia. Another report, datelined December 20, 2012, noted that Sri Lanka's Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) had arrested 43 people, since November 27, 2012, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Summing up the situation on January 18, 2013, Construction, Engineering Services Housing and Common Amenities Minister Wimal Weerawansa observed, "Though the LTTE was defeated, we still have external and internal enemies. All Sri Lankans should recognize these enemies and support the government to defeat these enemies." Earlier, on October 28, 2012, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa had said,
Most of the hierarchy of the LTTE was killed at the final stages. Only a few low rung cadres have managed to escape and are now engaged in false propaganda operations in order to collect funds from the Diaspora. They were engaged in illegal operations like gun running and human smuggling using their shipping fleet, various organizations and front offices in many parts of the world. The Government is looking at seeking legal means of stopping existing illegal operation of the LTTE rump.
Though there is no impending threat to Sri Lanka's security, the real challenge since the comprehensive defeat of the LTTE has been to secure a substantive resolution of the political confrontation between the majority Sinhala and the minority Tamil community. Unless such a reconciliation is engineered, Sri Lankan politics will remain fraught with the extreme ethnic tensions that, four decades ago, gave rise to protracted terrorism in the country. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka's political leadership - across the ethnic divide - has failed to demonstrate the political sagacity necessary for the settlement of long-standing disputes over the structural inequities of the prevailing order in the country.
(The writer S. Binodkumar Singh is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management)
(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not India Blooms News Service)