Centre for Policy Alternatives on 22 June, 2016

Reconciliation and Unity: Warnings

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Reconciliation and Unity: Warnings

 Dr.Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

Recent developments in the north and east have raised concerns on the one hand of a purported LTTE revival and on the other about the continued use of the PTA to arrest Tamil citizens and of the modalities of the arrests being reminiscent of the Rajapaksa era.  Some 23 Tamil civilians have been arrested in connection with the discovery of explosives and the suicide jacket in Chavakachcheri.  Three arrests, in particular, by the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) of former LTTE cadre of ranking who have undergone rehabilitation after 2009, namely Ram, Nagulan and Thalayan, have aroused media attention. Sivakaran, who was Secretary of the Youth Wing of the ITAK and suspended from that post in the run-up to the 2015 Presidential election on account of his public opposition to the TNA’s support for the Sirisena candidacy, has been released on bail.  He was arrested for allegedly assisting the others to leave the country.

Media reports further state that the Police Media Spokesman, ASP Ruwan Gunasekera acknowledged that the three were the most senior LTTE cadres arrested at the end of the war in May 2009. ASP Gunasekera has also stated that the three were not rehabilitated for the minimum stipulated period of a year and that they have been working with military intelligence.  In the Nation newspaper of 30th April 2016, he is quoted as saying:

We do not know why they were released prior to serving one year minimum in rehabilitation. They have been working together with Army intelligence.

Serious questions invariably arise from this.

The Prime Minister has announced that the PTA will be replaced with legislation along the lines of the British anti-terrorism legislation.  The pros and cons of that model aside, the issue of the continued use of the PTA for mass arrests of Tamil citizens in the meanwhile, raises serious concerns about either the change of heart of the government in respect of demonstrating its commitment to governance and reconciliation on the ground, or, with regard to its ability to communicate effectively and thereby ensure the implementation of policy and attitudinal change at the ground level.  Perceptions, as has repeatedly been pointed out, matter in politics.  The arrests impact them, with at least one person making the point to this columnist that the objective of the arrests is to deter people from engaging in commemorative activities in the week marking the anniversary of the end of the war.  Fear is once again being seen as the key in a renewed interest in keeping a population in check, to assuage the fears and prejudices abroad in the politics of the south.

Questions also arise into the stated association with military intelligence of some of those arrested. What is the nature of the association?  Was it voluntary, did they have a choice?  Is this what was meant by “rehabilitation?  Why were they released before they served the minimum period of one year in rehabilitation? Whilst the national security argument in matters of military intelligence can be acknowledged, so too must the public interest in practices employed that risk undermining both.

Importantly, this begs the question about the discovery of explosives and the suicide jacket in Chavakachcheri.  Does the available information in the public realm, not provide the basis for asking the question as to whether the whole thing was manufactured to embarrass the government and to redound to the political benefit of other actors?

All should be revealed and Tamil civilians should not have to worry anymore about being used as hapless pawns in any sordid political power struggle, largely in the south.

The Northern Provincial Council’s passage of a resolution on constitutional reform, embodying the proposals of the Tamil Political Council, has also aroused a debate about the reemergence of secessionist political claims, the real import of an argument for federalism and the merger of the northern and eastern provinces.  Clearly, putting the political and constitutional settlement of the ethnic conflict on the back burner in the January 2015 Presidential election was politic from the point of view of winning majority community votes.  The fear of the “F” word seems to be back again.   Any mention of it is being labeled at best as an unnecessary and at worst, suspect effort to disturb the political peace and societal comfort delivered unto us by that election result.  The issue however will, cannot and must not go away.  The Federal Party or ITAK espousing federalism is surely unsurprising; they have been doing so since their inception.  As to why it should give rise to such concern, real or imagined, is to this columnist, the real concern.

Were the next four to five months to constitute the unique, indispensable opportunity for a new constitution, they also constitute the unique, indispensable opportunity to resolve this question.  The nature of politics being such, all sides will have to recognize that this cannot be done without honourable compromise in terms of optimal demands or by delegitimizing core  proposals of key stakeholders.  Whilst political rhetoric may well hold political constituencies as intended, the process will require debate and discussion of details, of substantive, meaningful power- sharing, with labels in mind no doubt, but not predominating.

The most recent survey of public opinion by the Centre for Policy Alternatives indicates that there is still a politically significant segment of the population, which is undecided on the issues of a constitutional settlement of the ethnic conflict and transitional justice.  In terms of winning public opinion, there is much to play for – easily accessible information and argument and government championing of the reform agenda.

The President has been quoted as having promised major decisions and action in the national interest after May Day.  No better place to start than on issues such as these.