The serious lack of normalcy in the Tamil areas due to continuing military occupation and restrictions on civilians’ livelihoods, even three years after the mutual ceasefire agreement was signed, is leading to severe frustrations amongst the people, the head of the Liberation Tiger’s political wing, Mr. S. P. Thamilchelvan told Norwegian diplomats Friday. The extraordinary focus on a post-tsunami aid management mechanism is masking the severity of the obstructions to rehabilitation work and the day-to-day difficulties faced by ordinary people, Mr. Thamilchelvan told Norwegian Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Mr. Hans Brattskar, when they met in Kilinochchi.
Sri Lanka’s military forces were operating an “undeclared embargo on movement of essential goods and materials” and thereby undermining the developmental activities of local and international NGOs, Mr. Thamilchelvan was quoted by LTTE Peace Secretariat sources, as telling Mr. Brattskar.
Mr. Thamilchelvan was referring to arbitrary restrictions imposed by Sri Lankan forces on the movement of cement and other reconstruction materials into areas devastated by decades long conflict as well as the December 26 Indian Ocean tsunami.
The continuing inaction on the part of the Sri Lankan government to implement its obligations under the ceasefire agreement of February 2002 has led to deep frustration and resentment amongst the people, he said, referring to the recent spate of violent protests by the public in Jaffna and Batticaloa in front of military positions and checkpoints.
“The international community should recognise the causes of these tensions and take steps to ensure that the public’s confidence in the peace process isn’t further eroded by the Sri Lankan government’s tardy approach to restoring normalcy in the Tamil areas,” Mr. Thamilchelvan said.
After waiting for their peace dividend for over three years, the Tamil people are reaching the limits of their patience, Mr. Thamilchelvan said.
Moreover, the recent furore over the post-tsunami aid management joint mechanism had overshadowed the severe lack of normalcy in the Tamil areas, he said.
“All of us are making a mistake in blowing out of proportion the impact the Joint Mechanism for post-tsunami management will have on people’s lives,” he said.
“This is not to undermine the necessity for such a aid-sharing structure,” Mr. Thamilchelvan stressed, however.
“But the necessity for such an exercise arose because of the devastation inflicted by the tsunami on a population that has already suffered the ravages of a war for two decades.”
This necessity to share tsunami-related aid cannot relegate to the back burner the urgent day-to-day difficulties of the Tamil people [that the ceasefire agreement was meant to address],” Mr. Thamilchelvan said.
“Sri Lanka had ample opportunities to restore normalcy in the war -ravaged areas during the last three years. Indeed, there were strict time frames stipulated in the agreement,” he said. Article 2 of the February 2002 ceasefire agreement - titled “Measures to restore normalcy” - imposes a strict timetable on the withdrawal of military forces from public buildings and private homes and for the lifting of restrictions on fishing and farming.
The document says that from the day the truce is signed, “school buildings occupied by either Party shall be vacated and returned to their intended use. This activity shall be completed by D-day + 160 at the latest. Places of worship (temples, churches, mosques and other holy sites, etc.) currently held by the forces of either of the Parties shall be vacated by D-day + 30 and made accessible to the public”
It also says: “[both] parties shall review the security measures and the set-up of checkpoints, particularly in densely populated cities and towns, in order to introduce systems that will prevent harassment of the civilian population. Such systems shall be in place from D-day + 60.”
It adds: “the Parties agree to ensure the unimpeded flow of non-military goods to and from the LTTE-dominated areas with the exception of certain items [listed in Annex A.] Quantities shall be determined by market demand. The GOSL shall regularly review the matter with the aim of gradually removing any remaining restrictions on non-military goods.”
It also says: “a gradual easing of the fishing restrictions shall take place starting from D-day. As of D-day + 90, all restrictions on day and night fishing shall be removed.”
But very few of these measures have been implemented, with Sri Lankan military forces arbitrarily reimposing restrictions even when these have officially been declared lifted. And since 2002, in many areas of the east, the Sri Lankan military has extended its presence, with new checkpoints and camps, taking advantage of communal violence and rising tensions amid a shadow war waged by Army-backed paramilitaries against the LTTE.
Mr. Thamilchelvan pointed out that the Tamil people had overwhelmingly backed, through the April 2004 elections, the restoration of normalcy by backing the LTTE’s proposals for an interim administration for the Northeast capable of ensuring the ending of military occupation and undertaking of rehabilitation and reconstruction.
“The people cannot be expected to wait silently when their mandate is not respected,” Mr. Thamilchelvan said.
“The international community and all those interested in restoring peace to this island must ensure the effective implementation of the ceasefire agreement, as this is fundamental to alleviating the difficulties faced by our people today,” he said.
Mr. Thamilchelvan dismissed President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s claimed readiness to share aid with the LTTE, if it were not for the opposition of her ultra-nationalist Parliamentary ally, the Janatha Vimukthi Perumana (JVP) as an effort to mollify the international donor community.
“An attitudinal shift is needed in Colombo, not placating positive statements that are politically expedient,” he said.
“Apportioning the blame [for the problems with the joint mechanism] on the JVP is not helpful because the President was aware of the JVP’s opposition to the peace process when she invited them to be a partner in her coalition,” he said.
“It is regrettable to find that the post-tsunami management mechanism is being blown out of proportion, particularly in comparison to the ceasefire agreement,” Mr. Thamilchelvan said.
Associated with Mr. Thamilchelvan in the meeting with the Norwegian Ambassador were Mr. P. Nadesan, head of Tamileelam police and Mr. S. Puleedevan, head of the LTTE’s Peace Secretariat.
Mr. Brattskar was in Kilinochchi as part of a visit to the Jaffna peninsula and Mullaitivu district where the Norwegian government is funding fishing boat construction and school rehabilitation projects.
LTTE Peace Secretariat officials said Mr. Brattskar had asked about the numerous incidents of violence which have occurred recently in the Batticaloa-Amparai area. They had also discussed the abduction and murder in Colombo on April 28 of Tamil columnist Dharmaratnam Sivaram, with the Norwegian envoy expressing his dismay over the killing, they said.
(from TamilNet, May 13, 2005)
Posted May 14, 2005