|An Open Letter to President Kumaratunge
Her Excellency President Chandrika Kumaratunge
February 3, 2001
When I arrived in Kilinochchi, I found that there was no transport for me to move about or extra typewriters for my use. You probably don't know that the typewriter and even carbon paper are banned items. Even your Ministry of Education does not have any authority to send items such as radios, televisions or VCRs to schools in the LTTE controlled areas. For me to get a bicycle I had to get approval from the University and the Government Agent. To get an 80cc Motorbike I had to get a letter of Need from the University. It was then approved and recommended by the GA Kilinochchi. Then it had to be approved by the Commissioner of Essential Services in Colombo for clearance. Final approval has to be given by the Joint Operations Command (JOC).
Since 1990, the North has been deprived of electricity, petrol and diesel. Kerosene is restricted and rationed. There are no cement or building materials and tools of any kind. Fertilizers and other agricultural chemicals are banned also. Books, sports materials, and other such items cannot be sent to schools unless prior permission is taken from the Military office in Vavuniya. To get permission for books, copies of titles need to be submitted for the JOC to review before approval. Physical and medical sciences books are not permitted to be taken to LTTE controlled areas. The government departments, including the hospitals, were not given the cars, vans and lorries their counterparts were given in the South. Roads have degraded to lanes of potholes. Repairs of the bunds of the Tanks were not made because of the embargo of materials and equipment needed for the repair. If you check with the irrigation department you will be informed that only about 10% of the repair estimate is approved each year. The funds allocated by the World Bank to repair and maintain the Tanks in the North are not used. Enough evidence has accumulated as to the conditions of civilian life in the North. If I started listing the items that are either embargoed, or restricted essential items, this letter will never end. I shall give you one of my experiences of your much publicised "lifting of the embargo" through the Gazette notifications in February and March 1995.
During my 13-month assignment with the University of Jaffna beginning in April 1994 I traveled between Colombo and Jaffna through Kilinochchi 9 times. My visits to Colombo were to get permission from the JOC for items such as textbooks, food science and soil laboratory materials including, building materials to continue repair work and building of the faculty of agriculture buildings which was approved and monies allocated before 1990. For chemicals to be taken, the permission process includes giving the chemicals to the JOC who will in turn give it to the laboratory of the University of Colombo to give a report on whether any of the chemicals can be used to make bombs. The bottles of approved chemicals are then to be sealed and transported under guard to Thandikulam or Point Pedro. The University of Colombo does not have the resources or the time to test all the chemicals that would be required to teach chemistry at the high school and university levels in the North. The restrictions in effect are a procedural and logistical embargo. Tamil students study at night with the help of kerosene lanterns. They do not have the use of any laboratories. The lecture halls and academic departments are sheds with mud floors and thatched roofs.
I met with Prime Minister Bandaranaike twice at Rosemead Place for an hour each time. I first met her on the day the peace talks began on October 13, 1994 about completing the buildings at University of Jaffna and permission for teaching and sports materials to be taken to Kilinochchi. The second time was after the Exodus from Jaffna for shelters, food and medicines to displaced families. She promised that she would look into it. But if there were any actions she took, they bore no fruit. You kept the media out of the North and ensured that the news of the suffering of the Tamils was kept away from the international community. But witnesses like me appealed to the Australian Council for Overseas Aid, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on February 20, 1996 and others which brought assistance through UNICEF for shelters, temporary school buildings and provisions for the displaced children. The Tamil Diaspora lobbied the international community to bring help to the 700,000 displaced Tamils.
Diversion of the UK High Commission's Assistance to the University of Jaffna to the University of Jayawardenapura
While waiting at the general office to get all the paper work done, I was told about the computers that were waiting at the docks for clearance by the High Commission and the Ministry of Higher Education. However, the Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Higher Education had indicated to the Essential Services that these items were among the prohibited items, therefore it cannot be transported to Jaffna, and that he would like it to be given to a University in the South selected by the University Grants Commission (UGC). I was advised to get permission if we wanted the UK computers to be transported to Jaffna. General Wannasinghe approved computers for Kilinochchi and wanted more information on the UK computers to Jaffna. We also discussed the question of starting the construction of the Faculty of Agriculture buildings. He said that the building materials for the Faculty of Agriculture could be approved stage by stage on a periodic basis if the LTTE will agree to allow supervision of the use of the materials by a UN organization such as the UNDP.
I went to Jaffna and briefed Vice Chancellor Prof. Kunaratnam of the situation and asked for him to appeal to the UK High Commission and the JOC. He then gave me a file with correspondence between former Vice Chancellor Prof. Thurairajah, the UGC, the UK High Commission, Essential Services, and the Rehabilitation Unit. The UK High Commission offered to replace many of the equipment such as computers, laboratory equipment, and books that were destroyed by the Indian forces during their occupation of Jaffna. When the first half of the shipment arrived, the University Grants Commission, the Ministry of Higher Education, and the Reconstruction, and Rehabilitation Unit, under the assumption that such items come under the embargo of the North, transferred all of the items to the University of Jeyawardenapura without consultation with the Vice Chancellor in Jaffna. When Prof. Thurairajah came to know of it he took the matter up with the UK High Commission and the University Grants Commission who then promised in writing that the next half of the donation will be sent to the University of Jaffna with appropriate permission from the JOC. The UGC agreed to provide the funds to replace the items that were redirected to the University of Jayawardenapura.
I collected all the documents necessary with the amounts of building materials that are needed every three months. I informed one of the LTTE leaders about the offer by the JOC. A week later permission was given by the LTTE for me to proceed with the arrangements necessary and that they will sign the necessary documents. In February 1995, Prof. Kunaratnam met and convinced the UK High Commission that the second shipment should be sent to Jaffna. The High Commission then took the initiative to get permission from the government to ship the consignment to Jaffna.
By this time Chandrananda de Silva was appointed to replace Defence Secretary, General Wannasinghe. In the interim Mr. Balapatapendi was acting Defence Secretary. We met with Mr. Balapatapendi at Temple Trees on the night of February 13, 1995. We presented the proposal for permission to transport the building materials, and told him about the arrangement made with the UK High Commission and the permission required for transporting the equipment to Jaffna. After an hour of discussions, Mr. Balapatapendi said that we should seek approval from the new Defence Secretary and he promised to brief him. On February 17, I called the Additional Secretary and Personal Assistant to the Defence Secretary. He advised me to call him in a few days. I did so on February 21. He then asked me to see Col. Goonetilleke at the JOC. I went to see Col. Goonetilleke on February 24. He said that only the Defence Secretary could give approval for the items that the University requested. He then took me upstairs to Brigadier Jayakody (later Major General, who died of a heart attack recently).
Brigadier Jayakody said that the University would not be able to take anything to Jaffna or Kilinochchi anymore irrespective of the permission we already have for transporting computers. I asked the Brigadier whether he has seen the Gazette notification that lifted the restriction on many items including electrical and electronic items. He said that he had not seen it. I then gave him a photocopy of the notification. He smiled and read it, or pretended to do so. He said the gazette notification did not apply to the areas where the Emergency Regulation is in force. I told him that according to the Gazette notification I could take the computers and peripherals in a lorry through Thandikulam without permission. He advised me not to take the computers as Brigadier Balgalle who was in charge in Vavuniya will not allow it. I then asked him, "Who is in charge of governance in Sri Lanka, the President or the Armed Forces?" and "Does Brigadier Balgalle have the authority to disobey a gazette notification?" He smiled and told me politely that he hoped I would not try to take any item other than my personal effects through Thandikulam. As I left, Col. Goonetilleke, apologised that he was not able to help me and advised me not to try to take banned items to Kilinochchi. It was not until recently when I read in Anton Balasingam's book, "The Politics of Duplicity," the communiqué issued by Brigadier J. K. N. Jayakody, on January 21, 1995, announcing the removal of restrictions on some items.
When I informed the Vice Chancellor about the response of Brigadier Jayakody, he said he no longer wants to beg the military for small favours for education. He is going to leave the permission process with the UGC. I told him that such approach is not going to bring any results. He said it is a more dignified than begging politicians and the military. He knew that neither process would work. I now realise that my approach for short-term relief is not the right approach. Deep-seated problems between our two communities need a more intense and creative approach for a permanent and just solution based on individual and community dignity, equality and right to self-determination. The LTTE has known the reality since the seventies, but many Tamils including myself came to realise it only after first hand experience with the embargo, the war, and the exodus of Tamils from Jaffna and its aftermath.
The UK High Commission and Mr. Balapatapendi must have convinced you to transport the UK donation to replace in part the equipment destroyed by the Indian forces. It was amusing to me to read in the newspapers in early April 1995 about your public announcement that you are donating computers to the University of Jaffna to prove that you have lifted the embargo on civilian goods. I also laughed at the subsequent gazette notification listing only eight military items that were banned. The reality is that the computers to Kilinochchi campus, building materials and educational materials were not allowed to be taken across Thandikulam. The computers and peripherals donated by the Canadian High Commission to the Kilinochchi Campus were, by arrangement with the Canadian High Commission and the University of Jaffna, transferred to the Affiliated College of the University of Jaffna in Vavuniya town, a government controlled area, in September 1995.
Madame President, you talked much about the Gazette notification permitting everything to be taken to the North except military hardware. By the end of March 1995, it is common knowledge among the Tamil people in the North that you were not in charge of making decisions about the embargo or to find a solution to the conflict. If you were, you were not sincere about either. I am sure you are aware that you and your armed forces have violated the Geneva Protocols I and II. Also, the restrictions on food, medicines, destruction of educational facilities, houses, rape, mass graves, extrajudicial killings and disappearances of detainees caused by your armed forces to coerce the Tamil people to accept your views on their rights is state terrorism.
I would like to appeal to you to declare a ceasefire, permit free movement of food and medicines, and begin the negotiating process that would help the LTTE to begin the reconstruction and rehabilitation, and begin the process of political negotiation. It is important for you to consult the Parliament to ratify every stage of the political agreement you make with the LTTE, because in the end it is the Parliament and the people who have to ratify the outcome of any political solution. Norway's offer to help us find a solution to our problem is the best thing that has happened to us. It is also our last chance for peace. I hope you will not end your twelve-year reign with a legacy of war, destruction of life and property and hatred with no prospect of peace.
N. Ethirveerasingam, Ph.D.