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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Withdraw army, put them in barracks – Anandasangaree

Veerasingham Anandasangaree, the TULF president and  a long standing Tamil politician  was perhaps the most vocal critic of the LTTE,  among the old school Tamil political leadership, even during the hey days of the LTTE. Anandasangaree, once hailed by the government, as a ‘moderate’ Tamil voice, now cautions that the frequent military excesses in Jaffna would sow seeds of a future conflict.
  In an interview with Ranga Jayasuriya, he alleged that the heavy military presence in the Wanni  was intended to keep the  Tamil people under  continued subjugation. “If we want real peace, take the army and  put them in barracks,” he quips .


You along with Mr Sritharan and Siddarthan met the  Indian delegation and told them that this  government is treating Tamils as aborigines…

Wasn’t it true? You take any place in the south, say for instance the development of  Hambantotata. Are there any Tamils or any Muslims ?  But,  take the North East, where everything is decided  by the people appointed from Colombo.  Now, there is a president appointed committee for the North East development. There are 18 members. All the members are Sinhalese, except one Muslim. I am not a communal man, I am not an anti Buddhist. But, the government seems to think that Tamils can’t do anything.  See me…I know every nook and corner in Kilinochchi. I have been in politics for the  last 56 years. But see… the government has not consulted me for anything. Now they have earmarked a market in Kilinochchi, two kilometers from the Railway Station.

But, you were close to the President during the war. Weren’t you?

Being close to the president doesn’t mean supporting everything the government does. I supported the progressive measures of the government. But, now, how many good things does the government do ?
Now, people, who have no credibility among Tamil people, have been appointed as the organizers of the party. The president should be neutral. He can’t go around and campaign for those people.

It appears that the government wants to sideline the old school Tamil political leadership and Tamil intellectual elite. Instead, it prefers to work with a new set of people who would toe the government line without question.

Yes , the government is more comfortable with  people like Karuna, KP, etc.
Who is Karuna? He is the one who massacred 600 policemen in cold blood.  If   the government thinks that they can win the support of the Tamils only through him, let the country to go to hell.  Who is KP? Within hours after Prabakaran’s death, he declared that he was the leader of the LTTE and the successor of Prabhakaran.  Now, he runs his own NGO .  He is freer than me to move around the city. If this is the government thinking, it would destroy this country.  The government should let people  decide on their leaders. In the south, people chose their leaders. But what happens in Jaffna? The government appoints “various  catchers”   and  forces  people to accept them as leaders.

But there were local government elections in Jaffna…

What happened during those elections? . Votes were bought. All the food reserved for the IDPs was given to voters a day before the election. The government leaders handed over money to people from their election platforms. Where are they getting money?   Now in the north east, people are selling their power of vote for money due to poverty. People in the Wanni  are starving. Come and stay in my house in Kilinochchi, one day, I will show you how miserable the lives of these people are. Then, how could the government ministers distribute food parcels on election platforms. What that meant was they were depriving IDPs of their due quota of food rations. Those donations from various countries were hoarded and used for electioneering.

Where would Tamil politics go from here?

Poor Tamil people are not in a mood to sit down and think. Just imagine that, in your home town, Galle, if all the people in the entire district are moved out to Matara? And after about a year, you come back to see all the roofs, windows, furniture and doors of your houses are gone. Funny thing is that if a roof is lost, it could be found somewhere in another house, But, here roofs are gone in all the houses.  Imagine, in Galle, people, who  are  living comfortably in big houses, are also herded to IDP camps? People left behind everything. Assume that you are one of them, who were forced to leave with the entire population, who left behind everything and went only with a small bag, which may contain a few clothes and jewelry? When you come back, there is nothing left. Now the government is giving you 20,000 rupees or  ten thousand rupees. It is a joke. No?…  and six months food ration  is given by the world food program . And a single Sinhalese was not allowed to go and help those  IDPs.
Why didn’t the government allow Sinhalese to go and help these people. They were brothers and sisters.  Government basically  said, “ You are JVP,  so you can’t go”…”You are UNP, so you can’t go.” And all the NGOs were forced out from the area…

Again, my question. Where would Tamil politics go from here? 

What I am telling this government is  view the  Eastern politics and Jaffna politics, separately. Don’t mix it up with  the SLFP politics, UNP politics or LSSP politics.  If you can’t help these  people,   to be fair by  them,  leave them alone. Let them die. Don’t bring catchers from Colombo. Some of these government catchers are real rogues.

What do people in Jaffna need urgently right now?

What people in Jaffna  urgently need right now  is peace . They want to breathe the freedom. We want freedom of speech.  Now people in Jaffna can’t even have a temple meeting. The army goes and chases them away. This is what happened 30 years back. Some youth who were not happy with the government  didn’t take up arms overnight. They went around painting graffiti on the walls against the government and against their MPs as well. One fine day,  President Jayawardene sent a senior cop who was a his relative to Jaffna. Within two days, 29 youth were shot dead and they were looking for the other youth as well.  All of a sudden you could find a mass exodus of youth to the underground. Now see what happened last week. They have gone to a meeting and taken pictures of participants. What right does the Army have to do that?
I predict —though I may not live to see that-but,   knowing the situation in the area and the level of military interference and having witnessed  how the previous  conflict  evolved, I can say , there would be no peace in the North East.

What you suggest  is that there is a systematic campaign to suppress the political mobilization  of people in Jaffna…

There is a systematic presence to keep Tamil people under subjugation.

Have those military actions  been authorized by the top  political and military leadership?. Or is  the army acting on its own?

That I don’t know. If top people  don’t have a hand in this   they can arrest and court martial the errant soldiers. That would send a message to the rest. But, now the army  goes and disturbs a meeting, break the loudspeakers and threaten the participants and at the same times, the government  says it wants to conduct an election next month. Now, people would not attend the meeting. It is all clear that the government does not want to have free and fair elections in Jaffna.

What did you tell the Indians (the Indian delegation) last week?

I told the Indians what I told you now.  The Army is going to be a problem for us. Of course I know that army people were engaged in a lot of humanitarian activities.I told the President  you tell the UN we will find the culprits and punish. Then as the defence minister, you defend them. Hire good lawyers. But, instead of showing accountability, the president is saying: “I will not let down the army”. When you say  that and  when the army acts with impunity, he will  have to look the other way.  Now, what action is he going to take against the officers who disrupted the meeting in Jaffna, last night     ( Thursday ).

Is there any  political solution to Tamil grievances  in sight? 

Yes, there is. This is the 2600 anniversary of Buddha. Arahat Mahinda came here  some 2300 years ago and convinced the king to convert to Buddhism and live by five precepts. Why can’t another Mahinda convince his people to give a suitable political solution to Tamil people in this country? The president can go and tell the country, “ my people, I am your president. Let me discuss with Tamil political parties and formulate a political solution.”  I am sure; all the Sinhalese people would consent.  No one wants to receive special treatment because he is a Sinhalese. The president, instead, says he want the consensus of all the people. That would never happen. President should tell the country that we — every one — is equal.

What should be the minimum standard for a political solution. What powers should be devolved to provinces?

I have always said the Indian model is the most appropriate. Because, we have to address the concerns of 60 million people in Tamil Nadu. Whether it is Sinhalese or Tamils, we all came from India. Your mother and my mother originated from India, God knows whether they were sisters. We are brothers. Why should we fight?  Why I propose   the Indian model is that when we say that  we would implement the Indian model, no one can object. Jayalalitha can’t demand to take the president to the international criminal court. Vaiko can’t demand economic  sanctions.  

That means your ideal solution should  go beyond the 13th amendment…

I am not bothered about the 13th amendment. A future government can alter it. Indian model is neither federal, nor unitary.

What do you think about  land and police powers?

We have enough land.  Why should you want to go and grab the land belonging to Muslims or Tamils. If land is granted to these people, what can they do? They can’t sell it to foreigners. They will keep it for the future generations. Now the risk (pertaining to the abuse of land alienation)  is more due  the central government   doling out land to people of their choice,  without a proper procedure.
As for the police powers, if the police acted properly during 1983, so many people would not have died.  If the government is reluctant to devolve police powers, give police powers minus arms to the provinces and keep a central police under the control of the central government. 

Are you optimistic about the future?

If the president implements at least some of what I said just now, by the end of this year,  we would have peace. Withdraw the army. Let the police  handle civilian affairs. Army creates trouble. This is the beginning. This is how this started in 80s and we all have seen its repercussions. Now, there are check points at every junction. If we want real peace, take the army and  place them in barracks.
Lakbima English


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