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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2734

Monstrous Mistakes

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

Is it a case of the gods driving insane, those they wish to destroy? Is there any other possible explanation for such inexplicable errors?

The pro-Tiger Tamilnet accorded it much prominence – and little wonder. A Tiger propagandist could not have done a better job for the LTTE than Gotabhaya Rajapakse, Defence Secretary and Presidential sibling, did, with his recent BBC interview. In it Mr. Rajapakse justified the expulsion of North-East Tamils from Colombo, told the non-Asian world we can do without it and did his best to sound belligerent and unaccommodating, not only towards the Tigers but also towards Lankan Tamils and the international community. The contents and the tone of his outpouring is so obviously counterproductive, it is hard to believe that a senior and responsible official could have been so devoid of commonsense and prudence, so lost to really existing realities.

The PM, with his contrite words, helped diffuse the crisis created by the regime’s shameful expulsion of 376 Tamils from Colombo lodges. His remarks created hopes about the regime’s capacity to acknowledge and learn from its mistakes – an area in which Sri Lanka has been ahead of the LTTE (which cannot acknowledge any mistakes as that will be tantamount to admitting Mr. Pirapaharan’s fallibility). This capacity for self-correction is a fundamental characteristic of any democratic and rational regime. The outburst from the Presidential sibling totally negated whatever good the PM had achieved with his moderate stance. Soon two more ministers entered the fray; Jeyaraj Fernandopulle took a line similar to that of the Defence Secretary while Anura Priyadharshana Yapa maintained that the PM did express the government’s stance.

Now there seems to be a new twist to the tale. With his ILO speech in Geneva, the President himself entered the lists: “Recently, there was much concern when we cleared some lodging houses in Colombo. On average 20,000 persons occupy these lodges and only 302 persons were the subject of this evacuation. In fact many left voluntarily. Please do not forget that over sixty per cent living in Colombo are Tamils and Muslims. Almost all suicide bombers have operated from these lodging houses, and therefore, we have had to keep an extra vigil over them. As our government declared, if any inconvenience was caused to innocent persons, we regret it very much”. The President is in effect backing his brother by blaming not the decision to expel but its manner of implementation. He has regretted not the injustice of the policy but any excess in implementation (inconvenience is not quite the term to be used to describe the horror experienced by the victims; the use of the term ‘inconvenience’ indicate that for President Rajapakse, as for his brother, these Tamils are not ‘worthy victims’).

For President Rajapakse, as for his brother, the decision to expel is just because “almost all suicide bombers have operated from these lodging houses…” He also reiterated the lie that many of those expelled left voluntarily; true some chose not come back to Colombo when offered the chance to do so and who can blame them? Why should they come back after they were treated like enemy aliens there, with hostility and contempt, by their own government? And the numbers – 376 to be accurate – are comparatively small because the Supreme Court injunction forced the government to stop the expulsions. The government did not stop the expulsions voluntarily; it was compelled to do so, because of the democratic nature of the Lankan system.

The aliens amidst us

A remark made by Defence Secretary Rajapakse warrants close attention, given the above stance of President Rajapakse: “Everyone knows the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) is infiltrating ... We can’t arrest 300 people and detain them. What is the best option? So you can tell them, if you don’t have any legal business in Colombo ... we don’t want to detain you, you go back to your homes. In fact this operation was much better. We could have put all of them in detention” (Khaleej Times – 12.6.2007; emphasis mine). This question cannot but obtrude whether there was any reason to suspect these 376 Tamils of supporting the LTTE other than their ethnicity? If not, then on what grounds can they be detained? The assumption is a worrying one – any Tamil who is in Colombo on a matter the regime does not consider ‘legal’ is a suspected Tiger, simply because he is a Tamil; and as such he can be detained with impunity. This, in effect, is a justification of treating North-Eastern Tamils differently from other communities – since Sinhalese and Muslims can loiter in Colombo as long as they like, with or without any legal business. Obviously the regime – or at least a powerful faction of it led by the Defence Secretary – will continue to operate on the basis that any Tamil can be a Tiger, simply because of his or her ethnicity.

Instead of allowing the PM to have the last – healing - word, why did the Defence Secretary reopen the can of worms, and at a time when Sri Lanka is facing unprecedented problems internationally? Is Mr. Rajapakse incapable of understanding that with such intemperate remarks he is playing right into the hands of the Tigers? Surely he is able to comprehend that we cannot fight the war and run the economy with Asian support alone (incidentally that would be sans India)? The regime has presented to the parliament a supplementary estimate to the extent of Rs. 65,756,100 (Rs. 65.76 million) - not to fight the war or to feed the people but to maintain the UNP defectors in their new ministries (what better proof that the defectors were motivated not by any concern for the country but by self-interest and self-gain alone?). Obviously the regime is unwilling to reduce its own expenditure and expects the people to bear the costs of war and of financial mismanagement on their own. If all non-Asian countries pick up the gauntlet Mr. Rajapakse has so carelessly and thoughtlessly thrown, then the country’s financial situation will become even more precarious and the people will have to bear even greater burdens. Is that the kind of disaster Mr. Rajapakse wants to precipitate?

Recently the Island reported about the hardships faced by the soldiers stationed in Jaffna, when they are on leave. Sometimes they have to spend days in transit camps due to inadequate transport facilities – as we lack the financial wherewithal to purchase troop carrier aircrafts. If this critical bottleneck is removed, then both the soldiers and the country would benefit. Even after the Island highlighted the issue with a front page lead story and an editorial, nothing seems to be happening. Instead of alleviating such critical problems the defence authorities are preoccupied with such harebrained activities as the expulsion of North-Eastern Tamils and throwing ‘Chandi Malli’ type challenges to the non-Asian world. Is this the conduct of a sensible regime or one that is a victim of dangerous delusions?

The King and the Monkey

Usually when there are road blocks and other security measures crime rate goes down; in the last one year we have experienced the obverse of this. Crime rate has gone up because of the proliferation of Mafia type kidnappings. According to the media several Muslim businessmen have been abducted; they had reportedly saved themselves by paying huge ransoms. Given the high levels of security in and around Colombo, it is hard to believe abductions on a mass scale can happen, unless the perpetrators have official sanction. One incident or two, or even a handful can happen without official blessings, but a whole series of incidents, some of them involving leading businessmen? The obvious conclusion is either that the government is unbelievably incompetent and its security measures are totally ineffective or it is some complicity.

A recent gathering of top religious leaders belonging to all faiths (including the highly respected and erudite monk, Ven. Bellanwila Wimalaratne Thero) stated, “The Congress of Religions is deeply perturbed and disturbed by the displacements, abductions and murder of innocent civilians. We condemn such irreligious and inhuman actions…. The government should not only accept total responsibility but also immediately take all measures to identify and punish the perpetrators according to the laws of our country” (The Island – 16.6.2007). Tigers are terrorists of the worst order and it is in their very nature to abduct, murder and conscript. One expects a democratic government to act differently. The regime cannot use Tiger depredations as excuse for its own misconduct. Doing so would be tantamount to placing itself in the same category as the LTTE.

In this context the comments about abductions by Defence Secretary Rajapakse is a matter for concern: “I’m talking about terrorists. Anything is fair. When the US does operations, they say covert operations. When something is (done) in Sri Lanka, they call it abductions…This is playing with the words” (Khaleej Times – 12.6.2007). The Americans indeed abduct and incarcerate people illegally in the name of the war against terrorism. The Guantanamo prison camp, other secret CIA installations incarcerating people illegally, abducting suspects and the secret flights transferring such people from one location to another are all done by Americans (these have been strongly criticised by the same international human rights groups which criticise the LTTE and the government of Sri Lanka, such as the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International). So when the US criticises our actions, there is a strong element of hypocrisy in it. Such American actions are morally wrong and politically counterproductive; nor have they enabled the US to win or even gain the upper hand in its war against terror. Unfortunately instead of learning from these errors, the Defence Secretary is invoking American misdeeds to justify the use of use similar methods by us.

The Defence Secretary is correct. Abductions are abductions by whatever name you call them. To call American abductions covert operations and to call Sri Lankan abductions, abductions is unfair. Both are abductions; both are illegal and stupid; and both deserve to be condemned. What is worrying is that Mr. Rajapakse is implicitly admitting government’s complicity in at least some of the abductions, and he is justifying them by calling them American style covert operations. His comments serve to strengthen the charge that the regime is either directly or indirectly responsible for some of the abductions. It is one thing to take a tough stand against the LTTE; that is necessary given the nature of the Tiger. But it is quite another thing to take a tough stand against the Tamil people; that is neither warranted nor wise.

Defence Secretary Rajapakse in his interview opined that Sri Lanka is getting a bad name internationally because of the activities of Tiger infiltrators in UN agencies: “’For 30 years or so, this LTTE planned this, they infiltrated the UN’ Rajapaksa said. ‘The problem is the UN organisations, they took a lot of locals (on)’” (ibid). Had Mr. Rajapakse not been the President’s brother, one may have wondered whether he was not infiltrated into the Lankan system by the Tigers. Mahinda Rajapakse who complains about conspiracies to discredit him should, if he is serious in this belief, look closer home for the culprits; his problem is the same as that of the King whose devoted pet monkey used a sword to deal with flies buzzing round the royal head.

- Asian Tribune -

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