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The Real Reasons Behind Murder in the Cathedral

by a Staff Correspondent, The Northeastern Monthly, January 2006

Pararajasingham’s ability to converse with fluency both in Tamil and English earned him an almost permanent place in TNA delegations that regularly met with foreign diplomats or visiting dignitaries from overseas... Not only was he a recognised supporter of the Tiger leadership, he was also an indefatigable proponent of a merged northeast. And that was the second reason why his enemies thought he had to be killed.

 

Joseph Parajasingham, the TNA parliamentarian for the Batticaloa District, was gunned down in church on Christmas morning. There has been some confusion as to the identity of Pararajasingham’s killers. The state media went out on a limb claiming that it was an LTTE job, citing the fatuous reason that Pararajasingham had wanted the Batticaloa voters to cast their ballots at the recent presidential election, while the LTTE advocated a boycott of the polls.

Joseph PararajasingamTo others, Pararajasingham was killed either by Tamil paramilitaries or the army (or both) because he was one of the few eastern TNA members who expressed total and unwavering loyalty to the LTTE leadership, when fellow-easterner Karuna was trying to rally Tamils of the east beneath his standard against ‘northern’ Tiger hegemony.

Though these explanations have a degree of merit, as does that which says the assassination is a warning to Pararajasingham’s colleagues in the TNA who support the LTTE, they do not suffice. There are at least two other reasons for which the government and the paramilitaries feared him and needed to have him eliminated.

With the TNA’s consolidation a few months after the general elections of April 2004, it was decided that it would have to play a lead role in various political forums if the peace process were to be taken forward by the LTTE successfully. Among these was planning out an effective strategy in parliament, networking with other political parties based in Sri Lanka’s south, carrying out an effective campaign within Sri Lanka and overseas to apprise the international community of developments from a Tamil point of view, etc. It was important that the TNA carried out this campaign because its MPs were elected, thereby establishing the credibility of what was said.

Among the TNA parliamentarians used to internationalise the Tamil problem was Pararajasingham. Though he was one of the senior members of a team of MPs detailed to carry out this task, he was unique because despite his eastern origins he was loyal to the LTTE leadership. His contributions at these discussions served as a counterpoint to the rhetoric emanating from the Batticaloa nationalists behind Karuna, who were blaming the LTTE for north-centrism.

As the peace process got going, the LTTE and the Tamil diaspora realised it was vital that an effective, no-holds-barred campaign be carried out because the Sri Lankan state was using the international safety net woven by the UNP, and later exploited by the UPFA, to carry out propaganda to undermine the LTTE by taking advantage of the fact the rebels were already banned in certain countries and the dim view governments took of ‘international terrorism.’

This was the main reason for the Tigers, followed by the TNA, to visit the capitals of the world and engage with influential people and tell them the Tamil point of view. It helped a great deal in neutralising and dispelling the government propaganda on issues such as ceasefire violations, the ground situation in the northeast such as the existence of HSZs and, of course, political developments in general such as the ISGA, elections, tsunami recovery, etc. The lobbying also helped in legitimising the LTTE in the eyes of international community.

Pararajasingham’s ability to converse with fluency both in Tamil and English earned him an almost permanent place in TNA delegations that regularly met with foreign diplomats or visiting dignitaries from overseas. Further, he was in the group of TNA MPs who went overseas to speak at rallies and meetings organised by the LTTE and Tamil diasporas to put forward the Tamil point of view.

The value of the LTTE / TNA lobby overseas was enhanced perceptibly when the Tigers withdrew from negotiations in April 2003 and thereby put themselves in opposition to the regime in Colombo. Due to constant lobbying and engagement with the international community, the LTTE was able to neutralise the government’s diplomatic initiatives carried out from its missions overseas. The success of their advocacy even brought the Tigers a degree of reprieve from the stringent legal requirements on rebel movements imposed by foreign governments following 9/11.

This led the government to argue that as long as the LTTE had access to the international community, could travel freely overseas, meet foreign officials, etc. it would be very difficult for it (government) to win the propaganda war. To defeat this, the government embarked on two strategies: (1) placing obstacles in providing the Tigers transport between Kilinochchi and Colombo (which was needed for them to travel overseas) and (2) lobbying against the LTTE to make it persona non grata in foreign capitals.

In pursuit of the first objective the government used various means to try denying the LTTE leadership helicopter rides between Kilinochchi and the Katunayake International Airport. However, due to pressure applied through the facilitators, there was no total breakdown of the link. But earlier this year, following clashes between the military and the Tigers, Colombo flatly refused to provide transport to the LTTE, both its cadres who wanted safe passage when travelling through government territory, as well as the Tiger hierarchy intending to travel overseas.

The second aspect of the strategy was to use western governments to ban the LTTE so that it does not lobby in those countries. These attempts, which were afoot from the time the CFA was signed, culminated after the assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, when sustained propaganda by the government, mostly through the well-seasoned head of the peace secretariat Dr. Jayantha Dhanapala, resulted in travel restrictions being imposed on the Tigers by countries of the EU.

Within Sri Lanka, too, the government imposed restrictions on foreign dignitaries visiting Kilinochchi except in the case of Norway which acts as a facilitator to the peace process. All foreigners visiting Kilinochchi are required to be given permission by the Sri Lankan government. This move has further isolated the LTTE.

While the government and the international community were busy imposing restrictions on travel and meeting with foreign officials, people like Pararajasingham, whose TNA credentials insulated him from the ban, lobbied those who had no opportunity to meet the LTTE leadership on matters affecting the Tamils. It should be said, however, that being a TNA MP did not automatically qualify for travel overseas. For instance, Pararajasingham could not obtain a visa to Canada to address a Tamil rally there because the Canadian government refused to give him one.

Realising that the ban on the Tigers would be largely ineffective as long as people like Pararajasingham were free to travel overseas on advocacy missions, the government made moves to ‘seal’ that aperture and scare away others who were carrying out similar campaigns: hence Pararajasingham’s murder.

The second reason for the assassination of Pararajasingham is of a more general nature, though its ramifications are perhaps graver and more sinister. It is the consequence of a number of factors that have been observed to be at play since the peace process began, but especially so since the last presidential election.

In the past few years governments have had to grapple with recruitment problems to the military. Whatever might be catchphrase or incentive offered, young boys and girls are not joining up – at least not to the extent the government would want them to in the event war resumes, and the north, east and Colombo become concurrently active theatres of conflict. The government, therefore, feels it has to prioritise the areas that have politico-military advantage and need to be held, rather than trying to defend swathes of land without exercising any real control.

As such, Colombo finds it a source of encouragement that, following the Karuna episode, it has been relatively successful in keeping the insurgency in the Batticaloa-Amparai areas alive for the past almost two years. The success here is somewhat offset by the grip the LTTE has secured in the north, demonstrated conclusively by Jaffna’s boycott of the last elections, and during the violent confrontations that succeeded it. This has led to thinking in Colombo that it would be better to concentrate on the east (including Trincomalee) in future politico-military campaigns, rather than expend enormous amount of time and money to hold the north.

In view of this, or so the theory runs, the government wants to concentrate its energies and what precious little it has of its troops, in securing the east. This would mean using Karuna loyalists, the regular army and other paramilitaries to engage in a military pacification of the area, till it is completely brought under the control of the government. The project would include flushing out the LTTE even from the areas now under the Tigers’ total control such as on the Paduvankarai part of Batticaloa (west of the lagoon).

As of now, the military’s presence in Batticaloa is spread fairly thin – only 23 Division is stationed in Batticaloa-Amparai, while 22 Division covers the Trincomalee-Weli Oya areas. On the other hand, there are six divisions in the north (including 53 Division, which is Special Forces). The programme that is envisaged would mean re-deploying troops now serving in the north to the east. In other words, from the holding operation they have not been conducting too successfully – especially in the past one-and-a-half months – in the north, the security forces would actively clear the east and consolidate themselves there.

Any such move, however, cannot be done by the military alone. After years of failure in the northeast the government realises that any pacification has to be accompanied by installing a political regime with which Colombo is comfortable – rather like what the US is doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moves to install a political puppet in the east would mean first doing a mopping up operation of groups and individuals that are seen as politically powerful, but sympathetic to the LTTE. Pararajasingham was one such person. And as far as the TNA goes, one can be sure he is not the last.

There are also moves to see whether the east could be de-merged from the north. This would, however, mean obtaining India’s sanction, because it underwrote the merger through the Indo-Lanka Accord. A de-merger would strengthen the forces that have only an eastern presence – Karuna, the militant sections of the eastern Muslims under Minister Athaullah, etc. Once this is complete the government will attempt to politically legitimise its presence in the east by working through its proxies – the EPDP, Karuna, the EPRLF’s Vartharajaperumal group and sections of the Muslims.

Part of the legitimisation is to be done by reviving the Northeastern Provincial Council (NPC), which has been administered by the central government since around 1990. Though it might not function effectively in the north, it is expected to work with a degree of efficiency in the east (hence the need for the de-merger). The NPC will both provide political representation to the multiethnic population in the area, as well as deliver benefits of rehabilitation and development. The provincial council system also dovetails neatly with Rajapakse’s vision of maximum devolution within a unitary state and wins the support of the EPDP, too.

In this scheme of things Pararajasingham was a stumbling block. Not only was he a recognised supporter of the Tiger leadership, he was also an indefatigable proponent of a merged northeast. And that was the second reason why his enemies thought he had to be killed.

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