To the island of Sri Lanka – (North)
(This brief report is an addendum to our report of July 2003)
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Tamil Centre for Human Rights - TCHR
Centre Tamoul pour les droits de l'Homme - CTDH
Centro Tamil para los Derechos Humanos
(Established in 1990)
Tamil Centre for Human Rights - TCHR
Soon after the serious cohabitation crisis between the Sri Lankan Prime Minister (UNF) and the President (PA) commenced in early November in Sri Lanka, one of our TCHR representatives made a brief visit to the island to witness events. It is to be noted that TCHR representatives visited the island on a study mission last April-May and released a report in July 2003.
This brief report is an addendum to the TCHR report of July 2003.
The Sri Lanka Army has launched a massive recruitment drive to enlist about 4000 soldiers. State controlled media reported in a news items on recruiting that interviews were conducted in many locations islandwide (Daily News –15 August 2003).
Recruitment continues and newly enlisted soldiers are given a fourteen-weeks training in army centres located in Boosa, Panagoda, Diyatalawa, Kandy, Embilipitya, Colombo and Saliyapura in the south and in Ampara in the eastern province.
Those who travel by vehicle in the early morning towards the North may well witness the training given to the new recruits taking place in army camps in Mathvatchi, Vavuniya, Muhamalai and many other places.
This is the first time the army has carried out large scale recruitment since the United National Front government signed the ceasefire agreement with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – LTTE in February 2002.
In August 2003 more than 2000 persons were recruited by the Sri Lanka Police Department from Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Amparai, Kalmunai, Akkaraipattu, Muttur and Pottuvil. According to a police spokesperson the highest number of youths attending the interviews were from the Sinhalese community and the Muslim community.
Political analysts have questioned this recruiting, which depends fully on foreign aid ear-marked for Sri Lanka!
Protests against Peace Process
Sinhala political parties, the Sri Lankan Freedom Party of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, Peoples' Liberation Front (or JVP), Sinhala Urumaya and Sri Lanka's powerful Buddhist clergy organizations have held many protest marches against the present peace process. Protest marches are organized to highlight, in Sinhala extreme nationalists' term, the so-called ''danger'' to the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.
On 18 September, Sri Lankan media reported that ex-Defence Minister of Sri Lanka, Mr.Tilak Marapone said, "No permanent peace has been reached. Only a temporary ceasefire is currently in force in the country. Hence the government has been forced to strengthen the security of the country and as such there is no room for any compromise regarding the removal of HSZ, (High Security Zones)"!
ISGA Proposal and Presidents' reaction
On 1 November 2003, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – LTTE submitted a proposal to the Sri Lankan government for an Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA) for the governance of the Northeast, including plenary powers in relation to resettlement, rehabilitation, reconstruction and development, the raising of revenue, law and order, and over land.
The European Union, the USA and many other countries welcomed the LTTE's ISGA proposal and urged both parties to build on this step by resuming negotiations in a timely manner.
According to political analysts and academics in Sri Lanka, as a consequence of the LTTE's ISGA proposal, on 4 November 2003 the Sri Lanka President Chandrika Kumaratunga sacked three important Ministers, of defence, the interior and the media. This posed a serious dilemma in the cohabitation. The President also removed the permanent secretaries of the three Ministries in Colombo.
This action by President Chandrika Kumaratunga appeared to be taken to avoid further peace negotiations between the government and the LTTE.
On 4 November 2003, the European Union, the United Nations, the United States expressed concern over the action of the Sri Lanka President.
Visit by EU Commissioner to Vanni
On 26th November 2003, Mr. Chris Patten, Commissioner in charge of External Relations and the European Union met with the LTTE Leader Mr. V. Pirabaharan at the LTTE head quarters in Kilinochchi. Protesting against his meeting with the LTTE, Sinhala nationalists in Colombo burnt an effigy of Chris Patten.
This protest was organized by the Peoples' Liberation Front (or JVP), and President Kumaratunga’s People’s Alliance.
In October 2003, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan had put on hold a planned visit to Sri Lanka amid opposition to his arranged meeting with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – LTTE in the LTTE administrated war torn areas.
According to media in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan government objected to Kofi Annan visiting the LTTE administrated areas.
It is common talk in Colombo that "President Chandrika has already decided to stop the peace negotiations with the LTTE. In order to achieve this she has a military agenda to antagonise the LTTE".
New Land-mines planted
TCHR representatives also visited Jaffna.
During the first week of December, it was reported in the local media that the Sri Lanka army was laying a new minefield near the village of Manalkaadu on the South-eastern coast of Jaffna peninsula. When this news was published, a group of top Army officials visited Manalkadu and demanded the residents make statements saying that the Sri Lanka Army had not laid any new mines in their area and the mines the villagers have found had been laid earlier; before the cease-fire.
The civilians insisted that they had seen army soldiers laying new mines and that the soldiers had ordered them not to enter the area where the mines had been laid. The Sri Lankan Army prevented villagers from going near the Casuarina plantation when it started laying mines there.
The people from Manalkaadu lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka in Jaffna on 9th December 2003. TCHR representatives could not visit the Casuarina plantation in Manalkaadu due to Army restrictions preventing visits to this area!
According to a government official, several parts of the Jaffna peninsula still remain unsuitable for resettlement and human habitation due to landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO). Nearly 1179953 square metres in Jaffna are considered infested with landmines and UXOs. Only 260168 sq. metres have been cleared todate. According to government statistics, nearly 973785 sq. metres in Jaffna are infested with lethal landmines and UXOs.
One of the reasons for the delay in removing landmines and UXOs in the Jaffna peninsula is the difficulty in obtaining the locations of minefields from the Sri Lanka army!.
In November the Sri Lankan army objected to the work of a Danish de-mining group in the coastal village of Katkovalam in Jaffna peninsula and the demining operation in this area was stopped.
In Jaffna; the US army backed RONCO, UNDP assisted MineTech, the Halo Trust, an international NGO and the Danish demining group are working in different locations.
Sri Lanka is one of the countries that has not signed the Ottawa Convention on banning the use of landmines.
In our last report we mentioned the huge cut-out of Eelam Peoples Democratic Party – EPDP’s leader’s photo and his declaration at Muhamalai check-point. It still remains untouched! The bypassers do not consider this as a peace message either from President Chandrika or from Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe.
We noted in our previous report that the EPDP cut-out at Muhamalai could be brought down in 10 minutes by a telephone call by the Minister of Defence to the Army chief in Jaffna. This has not been done, and therefore is disturbing evidence of the level of seriousness of the present government, said many people in Jaffna. This cut-out will certainly earn more enmity.
On Tuesday 9th December 2003, TCHR representatives who were in Jaffna town personally witnessed that members of the Eelam People Democratic Party (EPDP) were distributing anti-LTTE leaflets. While doing so, the EPDP members were guarded by the Sri Lankan army and Police.
This is typical proof of President Chandrika's open backing of EPDP cadres who work against the peace process. Many onlookers asserted that this incident also clearly proves that the EPDP does not enjoy the people's support in Jaffna.
Shooting in Jaffna
On the same day (9 December 2003), a Sri Lanka army soldier at the sentry point near the main bus station opened fire on a paper seller in Jaffna town in the after noon around 5:00pm. The paper seller and a commuter in a bus were seriously wounded
The shooting followed an argument between a person who was selling copiers of 'Eelanatham' newspaper near the sentry point and the soldier who ordered the paper seller to leave that place. When the disturbed paper seller refused to obey the order the soldier had opened fire. The paper seller suffered an injury and ran away and a commuter who was in a parked bus was also injured. TCHR representatives had been at the same bus stand a few minutes before the incident took place.
In July a one-man committee was appointed by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka to probe into complaints of hundreds of disappearances of persons between 1996 and 1997, under the occupation of Sri Lanka security forces, in Jaffna peninsula. People disappeared after being arrested by security forces in Jaffna district. Sittings were held for two days at Chunnakam, Chavakachcheri, Kodikamam, Chankanai and Jaffna.
Since our visit to the island earlier in the year, many incidents of harassment of fishermen by the Sri Lanka Navy have been reported in the Jaffna peninsula. In a gross violation of the Ceasefire Agreement, the Sri Lanka Navy attacked and sunk an LTTE merchant vessel, oil tanker, on June 14 in international waters off Mullaitivu coast and arrested twelve LTTE crew members.
Human remains have been found in many places.
On 23 June 2003, human skeletons and other remains were recovered in the Nedunkulam junction area in Ariyalai, Jaffna, by members of a group engaged in mine clearing operations along the Jaffna-Kandy (A9) road. An important Army camp which master-minded hundreds of disappearances in the Jaffna peninsula in 1996-97 was situated in Ariyalai.
On 30 September 2003, human skeletons were also found under the damaged Kilinochchi provincial health services building during its reconstruction.
The Sri Lanka Army occupied the Kilinochchi town area in 1996, and the occupation lasted until 1998. During this period in Kilinochchi, 184 civilians who visited the area to inspect their lands and homes were reported as disappeared.
In the East, on 12 October 2003 human remains were found in a pit near the Periyathambiran Temple in Thiruaikerni in Pottuvil-Batticaloa.
Since 1998, many human skeletons have been found. Skeletons, bones and other evidence have been unearthed in toilet pits and recovered from wells, sewage pits, shallow waters, abandoned sentries and riverbeds.
Skeletons belonging to 71 persons have been recovered from wells, sewage pits or in shallow waters.
Condemnation by UN Human Rights Committee
Recently, Sri Lanka was severely criticised by one of the highest bodies in the United Nations. In the concluding observations of its meeting held from 31 October to 3 November 2003 (CCPR/CO/79/LKA – 01/12/03) the Human Rights Committee demonstrated its displeasure by calling on the government to respond within one year to four of its concerns. The Chairman pointed out that human rights are not something futuristic; rather people must be protected here and now.
The four concerns relate to 1) the limits of emergency powers and retroactive legislation, 2) the need to take effective action to prosecute perpetrators of torture, 3) the recommendations of the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances and 4) the need to take action against harassment of media and to promptly investigate and prosecute perpetrators in such cases.
At the beginning of December the Colombo media were criticising President Chandrika for Sri Lanka's huge defeat in the Commonwealth. Sri Lanka's head of state had stunned many engaged in international diplomacy by nominating her international affairs advisor and former minister of Foreign affairs Lakshman Kadirgamar for the top Commonwealth post of Secretary General. His defeat and the last minute rushed candidacy was seen as an acute embarrassment to Sri Lanka and President Chandrika Kumaratunga who already faces international criticism over her power struggle with the prime minister.
Shortage of medicine and hospital staff
TCHR representatives visited Puthukudirrupu hospital and met with the hospital staff unofficially. The hospital still faces massive shortages of medicines and staff. It is supposed to have nine doctors whereas it has only three. They all work long hours and there are no doctors quarters.
There is a huge shortage of other staff too and many volunteers have been working in the hospital for years on an allowance paid by an NGO. Shortage of water is also a serious issue causing problems including poor sanitation. According to one doctor, there are at least two cases daily of snake bites and the shortage of medicine prevents doctors from treating the patients.
The government health service in Colombo consistently ignores the needs of hospitals in Killinochchi, Puthukudiruppu, Mullaithivu and other places in the NorthEast.
In our last report we mentioned the road conditions in most of the places in Vanni. In fact, this situation has improved in many areas, except Mullaitivu district. However, roads which have been mended are not of good quality. For the time being vehicles are moving.
The Assembly of God, Pentecostal Church, Jehovah's Witness and some other Christian sects are functioning in the LTTE administrated areas. When we questioned some of the local people they said here there is no restriction on practising religion and every religion is treated equally. This is evident in the LTTE - submitted ISGA under provision five : "Secularism – No religion shall be given the foremost place in the North East".
Food prices soar
In a local newspaper published in Kilinochchi - "Vellinatham" of 12 December 2003, the columnist 'Nilanthan', wrote that the people within the LTTE administrated areas feel that the cease-fire has made their life more miserable than before! One of the reasons given is that food items in the local market have gone up in price. This is because since the cease-fire has been in operation, the produce from the LTTE administrated areas is going to many other markets all over Sri Lanka. This has alarmed local people who have to pay more for food items than before! For example :
Item Before Now
Fish 80.00 140.00
Prawns 100.00 300.00
Cuttlefish 70.00 120 to 140.00
Beef 50.00 100.00
Mutton 100.00 125.00
Mango 3.00 30.00
Bananas 20.00 50.00
We kindly appeal to the International community to urgently consider the grave and serious situation prevailing in the North East of the island of Sri Lanka.
We thank all those individuals who made our short trip successful and useful.
Tamil Centre for Human Rights - TCHR/CTDH
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Tamil Centre for Human Rights - TCHR/CTDH
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Tamil Centrum voor Mensenrechten- TCHR
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