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Midweek Review

Annihilation of UNP et al rips apart civil society project



UNP leader Wickremesinghe with civil society activist Saman Rathnapriya while Ven. Dambara Amila thera and MP A.H.M. Fowzie look on, at a candlelight vigil held at Independence Square in Oct 2019 to mark the failed bid to oust the UNP government in late Oct 2018.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

A stunning SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) victory, at the Aug 5, 2020, general election, dealt a debilitating blow to a high profile civil society project meant to challenge President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The project, undertaken by ‘Freedom: People’s Collective,’ with the backing of some political elements, was aimed at thwarting a bid, by the SLPP, to secure a two-thirds majority at the poll.

The success of the scheme, unveiled on July 8, 2020, at the New Town Hall, largely hinged on the UNP, its breakaway faction SJB (Samagi Jana Balavegaya), the JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna) and the TNA (Tamil National Alliance) winning well over 75 seats, at the recently- concluded general election.

Two-thirds hadn’t been achieved by any political party/coalition, since the introduction of the Proportional Representation (PR) system, way back in 1989, by the JRJ government. The UNP that had won the previous general election with a 5/6 majority in 1977 held under the first-past-post system, put off the parliamentary poll, scheduled for Aug 1983, by way of a sham national referendum, conducted on Dec 22, 1982. Today, the UNP is left with just a solitary National List seat.

‘Forward, Nor Backward’ at a standstill

The latest civil society project, titled ‘Forward, Not Backward,’ was intended to prevent the SLPP from either doing away with the 19th Amendment to the Constitution or amending it.

Newcomer to parliamentary politics, Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC, has been placed in charge of the ‘operation’ to bring in required constitutional changes. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s move to place the high profile mission under Sabry caused quite a stir. Some members of the SLPP were much more surprised than the depleted Opposition. Sabry’s appointment should be examined against the backdrop of ‘Freedom: People’s Collective’ appeal to the voting public. Let me reproduce verbatim the appeal made by the civil society grouping. “…the most crucial political responsibility of the voters of our country at the parliamentary election, on the 5th of August, is to make sure that it will not mark the beginning of the end of Sri Lanka’s parliamentary democracy.”

Former SLFP and then UNP heavyweight Mangala Samaraweera was to play a crucial role in the whole operation. The launch of Samaraweera’s campaign coincided with the releasing of results the day following the election. The Island announced Samaraweera’s project on its front page on Aug 6, 2020 (Mangala launches new initiative to rally masses against SLPP, with the strap line, Radical Centre claims to follow centrist path). The story was placed next to the lead story ‘SLPP confident of securing majority.’

Former editor of Ravaya Victor Ivan dealt with Samaraweera’s role, in a news piece carried on June 21, 2020, in the wake of Samaraweera jeopardizing the SJB’s campaign. Having handed over nominations from the SJB for the Matara district, on March 19, 2020, the former minister quit the contest on June 9, 2020.

There had never been any doubt about the SLPP’s victory, though two-thirds seemed impossible. The SLPP however never expected as many as 145 seats, one more than its 2010 achievement, under war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The civil society grouping, too, clearly realized a comfortable victory for the SLPP, though the level of accomplishment quite stunned them. The Opposition grouping, consisting of the UNP, the SJB, the JVP and the TNA – expected to work with the civil society grouping, post-general election – suffered an irreversible setback.

From 106 seats to 01

The UNP was reduced to just one National List MP, the TNA to 10 (one National List slot) and the JVP to three (one National List MP). The civil society project is now in tatters, with the Sajith Premadasa-led SJB very much unlikely to get involved in such an operation. The SJB is likely to follow a policy, quite contrary to that of the UNP, in respect of the civil society.

In the previous parliament, the UNP had 106 seats (13 National List slots), the TNA 16 (two National List slots) and the JVP six (two National List slots). The SLMC (Sri Lanka Muslim Congress), the ACMC (All Ceylon Makkal Congress), the JHU (Jathika Hela Urumaya) and the TPA (Tamil Progressive Alliance) were among the 106. Today, all four represented the SJB.

The UNP, now reduced to a solitary lawmaker, is no longer a viable political force. The status quo is unlikely to change for years to come. The heavily depleted TNA, ripped by internal crisis, is unlikely to get involved in the civil society project, though MP elect M.A. Sumanthiran participated at the July 8 launch, at the New Town Hall. President’s Counsel Sumanthiran, too, is struggling on the political front with Raviraj Sasikala, who contested the Jaffna electoral district unsuccessfully, causing quite a stir there. Sasikala is the wife of slain TNA lawmaker

Nadarajah Raviraj. The attorney-at-law was gunned down along with his police bodyguard in Colombo in Nov 2006. The killing was blamed on the then government.

The civil society, too, is struggling to cope up with the situation, against the backdrop of the SLPP securing a near two-thirds majority. The SLPP can easily secure two-thirds with the backing of the sole SLFP MP (Angajan Ramanathan) elected from the Jaffna electoral district, two from the Eelam People’s Democratic Party, led by Douglas Devananda, one from the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) of Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan and one from the National Congress of A L M Athaullah. Pilleyan is still in custody over the assassination of TNA MP Joseph Pararajasingham on Dec 25, 2005, inside a church in Batticaloa, during Christmas mass.

A visit to East

Mahinda Rajapaksa visited Pilleyan, held in the Batticaloa prison, on Oct 27, 2019, a few weeks before the Nov 16, 2019 presidential poll, to reach consensus on an arrangement. The TMVP backed Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the presidential poll. Pilleyan is still in prison having being arrested on Oct 11, 2015. The SLPP is now in a position to repeal the 19th Amendment. However, if the ruling party and those who back it abuse their overwhelming power in the parliament for the benefit of selected individuals, the coalition would have to face serious consequences.

Nothing can be as damaging as manipulating the parliamentary process, regardless of the power enjoyed by the SLPP at the moment. In other words, the SLPP will lose public confidence very quickly, if the government resorted to political trickery, in the aftermath of such an overwhelming victory.

Let me put it this way, the SLPP’s real enemy, or Opposition, would be its own power that can cause quite a rapid deterioration of the government, if abuses are allowed to go unchecked. Therefore, it would be the responsibility of the top SLPP leadership to act responsibly, regardless of its superiority in parliament. Those opposed to the new administration would be eagerly awaiting the top SLPP leadership taking a wrong turn.

The National Joint Committee (NJC) issued a statement on Sunday (16) expressing concern over the new government strategy as regards constitutional changes. The Island carried the NJC statement in its Aug 17 edition.

The civil society, and other interested parties, wouldn’t easily give up their efforts to undermine Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s administration. The event at the New Town Hall underscored their strategy.

Govt. again faulted over alleged Swiss Embassy abduction

Addressing the gathering, convener of the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) Prof. Sarath Wijesooriya, of the Sinhala Department of the Colombo University, was like a mercenary in his attack on the interim administration over three incidents. Wijesooriya raked up the alleged abduction of Swiss Embassy employee, Garnier Banister Francis, within days after Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election, as the President, at the Nov 16, 2019 election. The academic conveniently refrained from making reference to the current status of the high profile judicial inquiry into Garnier’s abduction. Many an eyebrow has been raised over the alleged involvement of journalist Dharisha Bastian in the Swiss case. The case was last heard on July 21, 2020. It will come up again on Sept 8, 2020. Perhaps, if Prof. Wijesooriya has any decency left in him will he explain why Garnier, portrayed by them as an angel nastily dealt by government operatives, ended up being a suspect in making a false accusation, knowingly. All, including the police, seem to have also forgotten renegade Inspector Nishantha Silva’s sordid involvement in the Swiss matter, and the despicable bid made by the Swiss embassy in Colombo to evacuate Garnier in an air ambulance. The former CID officer took refuge, in Switzerland, soon after Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s victory.

Prof. Wijesooriya also blamed the killing of the Chairman of the National Three-Wheeler Federation (NTWF), Sunil Jayawardena, at Mirihana, on June 10, 2020, also on the Rajapaksa government, in addition to the suicide of Rajeewa Jayaweera (64) whose body was found at Independence Square, on June 12, 2020. Prof. Wijesooriya totally ignored Rajeewa’s brother Sanjeewa Jayaweera’s assertion that there was no doubt as regards his brother committing suicide leaving behind a plethora of clear cut evidence.

Prof. Wijesooriya, and several other speakers, at the event, urged the electorate to thwart the SLPP’s plans. Among the speakers was attorney-at-law Javid Yusuf, one of the three civil society representatives at the Constitutional Council, chaired by then Speaker Karunaratne Jayasuriya. One-time Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Riyadh, Yusuf had the guts to stand his ground, in spite of criticism over him taking a political stand. Interestingly, except The Island, no other print, or electronic media, took up this issue.

The unexpected outcome of the August 5 poll has dealt a heavy blow to the civil society grouping, opposed to the Rajapaksas’ way of governance. In addition to the NMSJ, Purawesi Balaya, spearheaded by Gamini Viyangoda, campaigned hard for Maithripala Sirisena at the 2015 presidential election. They played a significant role in the overall political strategy, during that period. It would be pertinent to mention that the yahapalana project went awry from the word go due to sinister objectives, wrong decisions, and lapses, on the part of their political leadership.

Beginning of the end

The yahapalana setup suffered a debilitating setback, in late Feb 2015, within 50 days after the presidential election. The first Treasury bond scam, involving the Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL), carried out by Singaporean Arjuna Mahendran, handpicked for the top Central Bank job by Ranil Wickremesinghe began the downfall of that government. Then, the second and much bigger Treasury bond scam was perpetrated, in late March 2016. The then President Sirisena delayed the appointment of a Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) till late January 2017. The civil society largely remained silent on the issue thereby giving away their sinister motives. The P CoI that probed the unprecedented scams comprised Supreme Court Judges Kankani Tantri Chitrasiri, Prasanna Sujeewa Jayawardena and retired deputy Auditor General Velupillai Kandasamy.

In a way, the UNP paid a huge price for strategic miscalculations and mistakes. The UNP would never have suffered an irreversible humiliating defeat, it experienced at the August 5 general election, if not for those wrongful miscalculations on their audaciousness to think that they could get away with anything by pretending to be the clean guys backed by the ‘democratic’ West to the hilt. Thereby, the UNP allowed the unprecedented rapid growth of an Opposition movement, led by twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s intervention, in 2016, by way of his own civil society grouping Viyathmaga, initially unsettled some sections in the Opposition grouping. But gradually, the wartime Defence Secretary brought the situation under his control and by early 2019 was in a strong position to secure the Opposition candidature.

A section of the civil society grouping, affiliated with the UNP et al pushed for the then Speaker Karu Jayasuriya nomination as their presidential candidate. They also tried to disqualify SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa by moving court against him claiming highly contentious citizenship issue. They almost succeed. If not for the last minute Supreme Court decision, in Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s favour,

Chamal Rajapaksa would have contested the 2019 presidential poll. The threat was so high; the SLPP had no option but to field Chamal Rajapaksa, in his capacity as a sitting lawmaker.

The NGO cabal played a high profile role in the government strategy. So much so, the government accommodated civil society members, even in the Geneva-led accountability process. Many an eyebrow was raised when Executive Director of the National Peace Council (NPC) Dr. Jehan Perera accompanied the government delegation to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council sessions.

The then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe packed the Consultations Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CRFRM) with prominent civil society activists. Executive Director of Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, functioned as its Secretary. In its report, the CTFRM, headed by Manouri Muttetuwegama, recommended the inclusion of foreign judges in war crimes courts to be established in terms of the 30/1 Geneva Resolution, co-sponsored by Sri Lanka, in Oct 2015. The CTFRM included Gamini Viyangoda, Visaka Dharmadasa, Shantha Abhimanasingham, PC, Prof. Sitralega Maunaguru, K.W. Janaranjana, Prof. Daya Somasundaram, Dr. Farzana Haniffa, Prof. Gameela Samarasinha and Mirak Raheem.

The writer in the same breath strongly believes that inclusion of foreign judges, as well as participation of foreign personnel, in the accountability process, is a prerequisite for successful reconciliation process.

However, in addition to those unsubstantiated allegations, on which Geneva adopted accountability resolution, subsequently revealed British wartime dispatches from its Colombo High Commission, too, should be examined. Lord Naseby, in Oct 2017, disclosed the hitherto confidential dispatches which disputed the very basis of the Geneva resolution.

Most of those who had been involved in various civil society initiatives, over the years, worked overtime to thwart the Rajapaksas. Sometimes, they contradicted themselves. Many an eyebrow was raised when some members of the civil society, on behalf of the UNP, demanded that Field Marshal Fonseka be appointed the Law and Order Minister. Among them were Ven. Dambara Amila and Saman Ratnapriya Silva, who was lucky to enter parliament several weeks before the dissolution, on March 2, 2020. They quite conveniently and shamelessly forgot how they and those near and dear to them accused Fonseka’s army of war crimes.

UNP down to 249,435 countrywide votes

Whatever the setbacks, the civil society sustained its project. However, the outcome of the general election, close on the heels of presidential election debacle, ripped apart the UNP. The party’s failure to at least do better than the JVP-led Jathika Jana Balavegaya (JJB), and the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK), in countrywide rankings, reflected the actual ground situation. Reduced to just one National List Member of Parliament, the UNP lacked even a basic strategy to address the crisis. The UNP at least couldn’t quickly reach a consensus on whom to appoint to its National List slot. The move to bring back former Speaker, 80-year- old Karu Jayasuriya, highlighted the absence of a cohesive strategy. The UNP continued its silly games, with some proposing to continue with Wickremesinghe for six months, pending determination on its new Leader.

Would anyone really want to take over the UNP at this moment? Having lost the presidential, by a staggering 1.4 mn votes, the UNP ended up in fifth position at the Aug 5, 2020 general election. The overwhelming SLPP victory is not really an achievement on its own. The UNP did everything possible to inflict the worst ever defeat on itself. The UNP’s destructive strategy seemed quite deliberate and fashioned to cause maximum possible damage. Shall we call it Divine retribution?

The SLPP should understand why the voting public handed it such a massive victory. The SLPP polled 6,853,693 (59.89%), the SJB 2,771,984 (23.98%), JJB 445,958 (3.84 %), ITAK 327,168 (2.82%), UNP 249,435 (2.15%) and Ahila Illankai Thamil Congress 67,786 (0.58%). There were altogether 353 registered political parties, and independent groups, in the fray. The independent group 9 that contested Trincomalee was placed last in terms of the number of votes obtained. It received just 15 votes.

The new government and political parties need to overhaul the entire political system soon. Outside assistance is not required at all. Quite corrupt continuing practice of fielding proxies by way of independent groups and privilege status enjoyed by former lawmakers to contest presidential poll without hindrance should be done away with. The Election Commission should take the lead in this project. Having repeatedly said that unnecessary large number of presidential candidates, as well as extraordinarily high number of contesting parties and independent groups, increased the burden on taxpayers, the EC should take tangible remedial measures. Thirty-five candidates contested the last presidential election. Of them, 15 were former members of parliament.

Over the years, the number of contestants, at presidential elections, gradually increased as all sorts of people joined the fray. Sri Lanka cannot continue to squander public funds on foolish endeavours. The national economy is in such a mess, unless tangible measures are taken to stop waste, corruption and irregularities, there’ll be far reaching consequences. Hence the annihilation of the political Opposition certainly shouldn’t be a reason for the SLPP to be reckless, under any circumstances. Let us hope the SLPP conducts affairs of the State prudently and attend to the grievances of the public without delay.

Perhaps, the SLPP should be cautious that it wouldn’t do anything to warrant a Presidential Commission of Inquiry in the future. That’ll be a challenge as big as securing a two-thirds majority in parliament. Hope all concerned keep in mind that the SLPP fell short of five seats to reach the magical two-thirds majority, and the target had to be achieved with the support of four parties.


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Midweek Review

Eelam conflict: In memory of fallen combatants



Prabhakaran, 54, at 'Lieutenant' Shankar commemoration on Nov 27, 2008 at an undisclosed location in the Vanni east. It was the last such event before the Army brought the war to a successful conclusion six months later (pic courtesy Tamilnet)

Sri Lanka’s economy is in shambles. The recent Supreme Court ruling set the record straight though silly attempts are being made to divert public attention. Regardless of the continuing economic crisis despite going to the IMF on the advice of pundits, the government and the Opposition should at the same time pay close attention to unresolved accountability issues as Lankan Tamil Diaspora with the subtle backing of the West will step up pressure with an eye on the outcome of the next Geneva session early next year. Perhaps, they should be reminded that Tamils here cleared the military by overwhelmingly voting for Fonseka at the 2010 presidential poll though he lost the contest by a staggering 1.8 mn votes.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Fifteen years after the successful conclusion of the war against separatist terrorism, Sri Lanka is still embroiled in a simmering controversy over how to remember fallen members of the armed forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), despite the latter resorting to raw terror tactics virtually throughout the conflict, especially with the wide use of brainwashed suicide cadres to mount senseless attacks in pursuit of their dream.

Recently retired IGP C.D. Wickremeratne, who had received three extensions in spite of the steadfast refusal of the Constitutional Council to endorse President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s repeated recommendation to grant him extensions and the Director of the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) last Friday (24) assured the Court of Appeal that action would be taken in terms of the Criminal Procedure Code against LTTE supporters who celebrated what they called ‘Great Heroes Day’ (Maveerar Naal). But events were underway in the North regardless of previous rulings issued by courts over there against such commemorations.

The assurance was given by Senior State Counsel Shaminda Wickrema, on behalf of the IGP and the Attorney General, in respect of a petition filed by a retired Warrant Officer of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI).

Maveerar Naal events are celebrated both here and abroad with the participation of politicians even after the LTTE’s total military defeat.

Fallen members of the Indian military, too, are remembered in annual events at Palaly, in the Jaffna peninsula, though there hadn’t been memorial events whatsoever for members of other Tamil groups killed during the conflict. Some of them died while fighting for the Tamil National Army (TNA) formed by New Delhi ahead of the withdrawal of the so-called Indian Peace Keeping Force from the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka after they were asked to leave unceremoniously by the late President Ranasinghe Premadasa.

Event in London

Front organizations of the LTTE on Nov 27, 2008 celebrated their leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s (VP) birthday in London while a relentless combined security forces offensive against the group was underway in the Vanni east.

Fifty-four-year-old VP had been in command of sufficient fighting cadre to sustain offensive action, though the area under his control was shrinking rapidly on the Vanni east front. By then, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s Army had taken the upper hand and was gradually advancing on the enemy held territory in one-time LTTE bastion Mullaitivu, under his personal supervision, as he directly gave fighting orders to his individual field commanders, down to the rank of lieutenant colonel, from Colombo using CDMA phones almost on a daily basis.

With the capturing of Pooneryn on Nov 15, 2008 – 12 days before VP’s birthday, the Army turned eastwards and Paranthan was regained on January 01, 2009, Kilinochchi on January 02 and Elephant Pass on January 09. That brought the entire Vanni west back under military control.

Regardless of the LTTE being in a much disadvantaged position by late 2008, Diaspora Tamils still felt confident that the group could still turn around the situation, as they had done on countless occasions previously, hence the celebration in London, where the LTTE operated its so-called International Secretariat years ago even after they had assassinated former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi as he campaigned in Tamil Nadu in May 1991.

Three weeks after the London celebrations, Canada-based columnist D.B.S. Jeyaraj claimed that the LTTE had the wherewithal to defeat the Army on the Vanni front. Close on the heels of DBS’s declaration, the LTTE suffered successive battlefield defeats and four months after the London celebrations, the LTTE received an unprecedented reversal at Anandapuram, Mullaithivu. The five-day Anandapuram battle (March 31-April 04, 2009) sealed the fate of the group, once considered invincible. Over 600 LTTE cadres, the majority from its elite units, along with senior commanders, were killed. Hundreds of others suffered injuries.

Let us discuss the situation then and the developments against the backdrop of wartime Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama (January 2007 to April 2010) recently assuming responsibilities as our High Commissioner in London.

The Sri Lankan mission in London failed, in 2008, to thwart Prabhakaran’s birthday celebrations in spite of the then High Commissioner, retired Supreme Court Justice Nihal Jayasinghe (May 2008-Dec 2010) efforts to prevent the event. Jayasinghe succeeded top career diplomat Kshenuka Senewiratne, as our next High Commissioner designate in New Delhi.

On the instructions of the then Foreign Minister Bogollagama, the mission in London unsuccessfully asked for the UK’s intervention to stop it. But, Diaspora Tamils were allowed to organize a public event at ExCeL London, 1, Western Gateway, Royal Victoria Dock, London E16 1XL. The UK permitted the event in spite of the LTTE being a proscribed terrorist organization under the UK Terrorism Act. That is how London fights terrorism with their double standards as can be clearly seen from what is happening in Gaza now.

Five months later, Prabhakaran was dead. On May 19, 2009, a pro-LTTE website denied the death. “I wish to inform the global Tamil community distressed witnessing the final events of the war that our beloved leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran is alive and safe”, quoted LTTE Selvarajah Pathmanathan aka KP as having said. A few months later KP ended up in Sri Lankan custody, thanks to Malaysia.

Reappraisal of strategy necessary

The government shouldn’t interfere with Maveerar Naal commemorative events held in honour of the fallen members of the LTTE though originally it was meant to remember the first cadre to die in Tamil Nadu on Nov 27, 1982 following a confrontation with Sri Lanka Army. Sathiyanathan alias Shankar also known as Suresh was his name. The LTTE had moved the wounded Shankar across the sea to Tamil Nadu for treatment.

Later the LTTE combined its leader’s birthday with Maveerar Naal to declare a week of ‘celebrations’ and commemorative events. It was part of their strategy meant to attract public attention, whip up the fighting spirit of its cadres and also win international recognition. VP used to declare his policy speech on his birthday on Nov 26. Since the death of VP in May 2009, the event has lost much of its significance and today bankrupt politicians sought to take advantage of these events.

The government and the Opposition should reach a consensus on the issue at hand to prevent those who supported and tolerated terrorism from exploiting the gullible Tamil population. Why should organizers of politically-motivated Maveerar Naal events be allowed to exploit the deaths of fallen LTTE cadres? Both politicians and law enforcement authorities should realize that unnecessary interference in Maveerar Naal events would be counterproductive and only facilitate Diaspora propaganda. Let them recollect the failed murderous Eelam project and how well over 200,000 civilians were held hostage as a human shield by the LTTE for its survival when it was well and truly cornered. Even the much maligned Hamas that has been ruling the West Bank after being democratically elected has done no such thing though they continue to be vilified by the West, while forgetting the fact that Israel kept the Palestinian territories like open concentration camps as pointed out by many independent observers.

The government should launch an initiative to remind the people of the use of child soldiers. The despicable practice of using children as cannon fodder continued until the military brought the war to an end in May 2009. Even during the last few months of the conflict, the LTTE made desperate efforts to recruit children from among the civilians they held as a shield.

Cancellation of Victory Day parade

In the aftermath of Maithripala Sirisena winning the January 2015 presidential election, Sri Lanka cancelled the annual Victory Day parade. President Sirisena, who also served as the Defence Minister, in addition to being the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, made the decision in agreement with its coalition partner, the UNP.

The government declared that May 19, which was marked as the Victory Day will be celebrated as the ‘Remembrance Day’ instead, to commemorate all who died in the war.

This should be examined against the backdrop of Western governments criticizing the Victory Day parade. On behalf of all those who had been pursuing war crimes allegations since the conclusion of the war against the Sri Lankan military, Canada in 2014 demanded the cancellation of the parade.

Sri Lanka quite rightly rejected that blatant Canadian interference declaring that the issue is purely a domestic matter. In the run-up to the 2014 Victory Day parade, in Matara, Canada publicly declared that it wouldn’t be represented. It was the fifth Victory Day parade held amidst stepped up international pressure.

Several years later Canada accused Sri Lanka of perpetrating genocide, whereas in actual fact it was the white colonisers of North and South America who committed numerous acts of genocide often to grab natives’ lands in the new world. Acts of genocide were even committed in Church-run schools for native children where they were kept by force often against the wishes of their parents and communities even up to mid-1990s, more than two thousand unmarked graves of those children were discovered on grounds of those schools recently. And what about dozens of native women there who have disappeared without a trace in recent years and have the Canadian law enforcers made any genuine effort to trace their fate? Despite all that, the Ottawa government has the temerity to level genocide accusations against Sri Lanka and those accusations conveniently surfaced a few months before a public protests campaign allegedly backed by the US forced the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to quit office. In spite of Sri Lanka’s outright rejection of unsubstantiated allegation, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continued to reiterate genocide took place, hence May 18 declared as ‘Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day.’

However, the Canadian Foreign Affairs Ministry has acknowledged that they never made such a finding. When the writer sought a clarification regarding Trudeau’s claim, the Canadian HC in Colombo reiterated that the Premier’s stand remained the same. However, Kelum Bandara in an exclusive Daily Mirror report headlined ‘Canada informs SL that no genocide took place in SL, Trudeau says otherwise for political ends’ posted on June 16,2023, exposed the Canadian lie.

Bandara pointed out that Canada’s official position contradicted the allegations pertaining to genocide propagated by some of its leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as such belated accusations does not hold water. According to the DM report, the Canadian Foreign Ministry had responded to the Sri Lanka regarding concerns raised on March 21, 2021 by Brampton’s City Council’s reference to genocide.

Having pointed out that municipal and provincial governments enjoyed independence from the federal government of Canada, the Canadian Foreign Affairs Ministry acknowledged “the Government of Canada has not made a finding that there was genocide in Sri Lanka.”

But even after that, the Canadian Prime Minister repeated genocide allegations on May 18, 2023, a day prior to the 14th anniversary of Sri Lanka’s war victory against the LTTE.

Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion when LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was shot through his head on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon. That finally ended the scourge of terrorism.

Undeniable truth

On May 18, Tamils mark Mullivaikkal Memorial Day, in remembrance of those who died in the final phase of the fighting.

Actually how many civilians died as more than 200,000 were held as a human shield by the retreating LTTE? Would it be possible ever to identify the number of civilian and LTTE deaths as it was also not unusual to find Tigers who fought in civilian clothes, unless the Tamil community accepted the status of the dead?

If those who had been genuinely concerned about accountability issues and wanted to establish the number of dead, wounded, disappeared and those who secured foreign citizenship under assumed names, a proper census should be conducted with the assistance of the international community. Diaspora groups can play a significant role in carrying out an accurate survey. The census of the LTTE dead should begin with Sathiyanathan alias Shankar also known as Suresh (the first Great Hero in their parlance).

The census should be able to establish the number of ex-LTTE personnel living abroad to ensure they are not categorized here as war dead or disappeared. Perhaps South African Yasmin Sooka, a member of the UN Secretary General’s panel of experts on Sri Lanka accountability issues, can help conduct the survey as she, a Tamil of Indian origin, already had done a limited survey in the West.

The writer dealt with this issue in a report headlined ‘Sooka’s latest report to UNHRC: Glaring omissions’ posted on June 29, 2016.

The expensive survey had been carried out by the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP), affiliated to the Foundation of Human Rights in South Africa. Based on that survey ITJP released ‘Forgotten Sri Lanka’s exiled victims.’ The release of the report coincided with the commencement of the 32 sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2016. The report unintentionally revealed the existence of clandestine networks, facilitating Sri Lankans of Tamil origin, including former members of the LTTE, reaching Europe, through illegal means.

The Sooka study disclosed that LTTE personnel, including those who had been with Shanmugalingam Sivashankar alias Pottu Amman’s dreaded intelligence service, had secured citizenship in European countries, including the UK. Obviously, the report was meant to intensify pressure on Sri Lanka on the Geneva front, and justify the demand for a hybrid war crimes court on the basis of exaggerated and unsubstantiated accusations directed at the Sri Lankan military.

The report dealt with information obtained from 75 Tamils, living in the UK, France, Switzerland and Norway. Almost all of them had fled Sri Lanka after the conclusion of the war, in May, 2009 often after bribing local officials both civilian and military as alleged by some.

Sooka functions as the executive director of the foundation as well as ITJP. The report: “She is a former member of the South African & the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commissions and was a legal advisor to Ban Ki-moon on Sri Lanka. She was the Soros inaugural Chair at the School of Public Policy and recently sat on the Panel investigating sexual violence by French peacekeeping troops in the Central African Republic.”

The writer sought a clarification from UNSG’s deputy spokesperson, Farhan Haq, regarding Sooka’s tenure as a Legal Advisor to UNSG on Sri Lanka. The Island received the following response from Haq: “Yasmin Sooka has been on high level panels, including on Sri Lanka, but she has not been the legal adviser to the Secretary-General.”

A proper survey cannot be carried out unless stakeholders pay attention to the following matters: (1) Combatants and civilians killed before July 23, 1983, killing of 13 soldiers at Thinnavely, Jaffna, that triggered attacks on the Tamil community. (2) Combatants and civilians killed between August 1983 to July 29, 1987 (3) Combatants (Indian Army included) and civilians killed during July 29, 1987 to March 1990, when India ceased its military presence here. Accountability issues cannot be addressed unless India’s role is fully investigated and (4) combatants and civilians killed during June 1990 to May 2009.

The survey should also focus on (1) number of Indian and locally trained Tamils killed in clashes among groups (2) those killed during weapons training in India and hunted down and eliminated by Indian police and security forces after the LTTE assassinated former Indian Premier Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991, PLOTE cadres killed during Nov 1988 raid on the Maldives and those killed by the Indian Navy while they were fleeing the Maldives in a commandeered merchant vessel (3) Sri Lankan Tamils given refuge in India after the collapse of the North-East Provincial administration 1989/1990, and finally (4) Members of political parties and Provincial Council killed during the conflict. At least few of them had been killed by Tamil groups at the behest of Indian intelligence. Current MP Dharmalingham Siddharthan (TNA/PLOTE) is on record as having said that TELO killed his father, a then MP in Sept 1985 on the orders of the Indian intelligence.

The late Jayantha Dhanapala, the much respected diplomat raised the accountability on the part of the international community. Dhanapala did so when he appeared before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in Aug 2010 but successive governments conveniently ignored his submissions. They never did until the great man passed away.

Finally, it must be asked why there is no proper accounting by the UN types to illegal wars fought by the West and its proxies in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Palestine, Syria, etc., often on false pretexts that have caused millions of deaths, injuries, destruction and also millions of refugees since 1948.

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Midweek Review

Who Are We?



by Geewananda Gunawardana,

Years ago, at an international gathering held in New York, someone asked me where I came from. I was living in Chicago at the time, and I told him so. “No, I meant before that,” he insisted. Before that I studied in Australia, and I told him so. Seeing him preparing his next question, my American colleague who witnessed this exchange, shot back “How far back do you want him to go? I am sure that his ancestors migrated out of Africa, just like yours and mine.” The interrogator backed down.

Back then, I thought it was funny, but from a hindsight, I realise that my friend sensed the racist undercurrents of that line of questioning and put a stop to it by stating the obvious. A recent event made me think of the reality of what my friend said and its implications, that is if we can understand what it really means. My Wife and I, both brought up to be proud of our pristine ethnicity that goes back thousands of years, submitted ourselves for genetic testing.

There are not many genetic studies on Sri Lankans, and as a result, conclusions made based on limited data sets can be unreliable, we concluded. We wanted additional information. Unfortunately, authors of history books have inserted their nationalistic, linguistic, and religious biases into their writings. Or, the records reflect only the views of the victorious side and not those of the vanquished or displaced. There is plenty of archeological and anthropological information out there, but to get closer to reality, one must remove the coloured glasses put on us at birth.

The first archaic human species, meaning the first to display the human body type including bipedalism (Homo erectus), evolved in East Africa about two million years ago. Fossil records show that they emigrated out of Africa and populated most of Asia and Europe. Modern humans (Homo sapiens) emerged, also in East Africa, about 300,000 years ago. Sapiens have migrated out of Africa in two waves: the first around 130 to 100 thousand years ago taking a northern route and the second around 70 to 60 thousand years ago taking a southern route, hugging the coastline. These later migrants have both interbred with and or displaced the earlier arrivals while settling in different corners of the globe. For example, there have been several other Homo species, like Neanderthals and Denisovans; while non-existent today some human populations carry Neanderthal genes.

Peopling of the Indian subcontinent, the meeting ground of settlers from several adjoining regions, has been a complex one. Following are the main population groups involved in this process: a) Aboriginal Indians. These are the members of the second wave of humans that left Africa and settled around fifty thousand years ago; b) Iranian farmers; c) Farmers from Central Asian Steppes; and d) East Asian rice farmers. The farmers from Iran and steppes were mainly wheat and barley growers, and their East- Southeast migration had been slowed for some time as their crops were not ideally suited for tropical climate. While rice farming was adopted by all populations, the East Asian farmers have not made much of an impact in populating the country, except in the Northeast corner.

The generally accepted migration pattern of these populations is as follows. Iranian farmers who have arrived in the Indus valley around nine to seven thousand years ago crossed into India, mixed with the aboriginal Indians, and moved southward around four thousand years ago. The resulting population is referred to as Ancestral South Indians. Farmers from the steppes moved to Indus valley, mixed with the Iranian farmers. The Steppes farmers, referred to as Europeans but different from the Germanic Europeans, introduced horses and wheels. This Iranian-Steppes mix moved Eastwards towards the Gangetic valley and mixed with the earlier arrivals. This population is referred to as Indo-Europeans. Their southward migration has been slowed for several reasons. It is generally accepted that it was this latest group that introduced the precursor to Sanskrit language, Vedic literature, and the four-tier caste system.

Some argue that it was the strict caste system that prevented further mixing and southward spread of this Indo-European group. These classifications and nomenclature have created much controversy and debate. The use of terms like Ancient Northern Indians and Ancient Southern Indians are disputed as their origins are outside of India. The use of Aryans and Dravidians is equally controversial, and arbitrary.

Now, let us see what happened in Sri Lanka. The maximum depth of the 48 km long Adams Bridge is about 10 meters while most of the shoals are less than 1 metre underwater. During the height of the ice age, between 80 to 20 thousand years ago, the sea levels stood about 120 meters below the current level. Therefore, Sri Lanka had been part of the Indian landmass, allowing for the southward migrations to reach the island, until the sea level rose about six thousand years ago.

Archaeological evidence indicates that some of the early migrations reached the island as early as 125,000 years ago. Modern human fossils found in Sri Lanka have been dated back to 36,000 years (Deraniyagala 1992). Remarkably, these are the only reports of that antiquity in Southeast Asia. They were hunter gatherers using tools belonging to the middle stone age. They thrived until people skilled in agriculture and cattle breeding arrived around 2,800 years ago.

Then the narration of the great chronicles takes over, which describes migrations from Northern India along the maritime routes. The arrival of North Indian prince Vijaya, with his retinue of 700 men, and ruling the country from 543 to 505 BCE is the cornerstone of this narration. There are many associated legends that cannot be verified. Vijaya’s campaign to eliminate the natives, who belonged to Yaksha and Naga tribes, is one. Some report Vijaya being from the Northeast coast of India while the others suggest a Northwest origin. However, linguists and historians see a connection between Sinhala and the languages spoken along the Konkani coast, favouring a Northwest origin. Realistically, there are no reasons to rule out continuous exchanges between India and Sri Lanka along the east and west maritime routs as well as through the shallow seas in the Palk Strait throughout the history.

Let us turn to genetic studies. Humans are a genetically homogeneous species; this suggests a population collapse in relatively recent times, leaving a small number of females of reproductive age. Modern technologies developed in the field of genetics can use a type of markers known as mutations to track the genealogy of an individual or a population despite this homogeneity. When a cell divides, its genetic material or DNA is duplicated and distributed equally among the two daughter cells. During this copying process some errors are made. Genes or DNA is a set of instructions written in a language that has five letters: A, T, G, C, and U. The words in this language are made up of three letters. It has its own punctuation and sentence structure. Most of the copying errors are misspellings, typos as we say. These errors, known as mutations, can do three things: a) does not alter the meaning, so nothing happens, b) makes the instructions indecipherable rendering cells non-viable, and c) provides instructions to do something new. This third function is the all-important mechanism of evolution. This is how the Europeans became light skinned to make vitamin D in the limited sunlight. In any case, these errors are known as single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), and these are the most common markers used in genetic studies to trace genetic history. To be accurate, there are other types of mutations, but this is not the place to discuss them.

There are several small-scale genetic studies conducted on Sri Lankans. The most recent open access publication by Singh and others provides references to these studies (Singh et al., iScience 26, 102797 October 20, 2023). I am using the set of data reported by Ranaweera (2014) and graphically represented by Chaubey (2014) for this discussion, as these data are representative of the overall findings. I will not describe the technical details involved in this type of study here, except to say that data represent mitochondrial DNA haplogroup analysis that allows tracing the maternal ancestry. (See Fig.)

These are the most striking facts that emerge from these data: the major ancestral share of all Sri Lankans, i.e. those identify as upcountry, low country, and mixed Sinhala; Sri Lankan and Indian Tamil; and Adivasi population, is the Ancient South Indian genotype, which is considered as consisting of 75% Ancient Ancestral South Indian and 25% Iranian Farmer genotypes. All Sri Lankans have over 60% of this type. At the same time all Sri Lankans, except the Indian Tamils, also carry more than 20% Indo-European genotype. Not surprisingly, considering the island’s geographical location in the East-West maritime route and 500 years of European occupation, Sri Lankans also carry anywhere from 6 to 14% of other genotypes, which are not identified in this study. Sri Lankan Moors are not included in this data set, but they too carry a high percentage of Ancient South Indian genotype indicating mixing with the other types (Perera 2021).

This genetic homogeneity of different “races” should not come as a surprise. Our ancestors have been living on this island for nearly three millennia through war, peace, and famine. As can be seen all over the world, interbreeding can happen under any condition, for better or for worse. In more recent history, mercenaries have been brought into the country. They did not become monastics after the war ended or go back to where they came from. They settled down in the south and assimilated without trace. Not only genes, but words, customs, beliefs, and food were exchanged. The boundaries between so-called Adivasis, Aryans, Dravidians, Moors, or others are porous and have no meaning in the big picture. They have the same origins, and as a result they all have the same equal rights.

Now you may be wondering about my ancestry. I am a low country Sinhala, and my wife is upcountry Sinhala, and we both fit into the respective profiles that the data suggest. But we differ in the unspecified segment. I have some Dutch and a little East Asian ancestry. She has Anglo genes. It came as a shock, but who knows what else Robert Knox was up to in addition to observing Kandyan life during those nineteen years!

The loud and clear message these data send us is that genetically we Sri Lankans are the same. Attempt to put labels based on who came first or what language is superior is an utterly meaningless but quite successful technique that those seeking power have employed throughout history. It is called divide and conquer, and examples are there all over the world for everyone to see. Despite these manmade divisions, for which we have been tricked to commit atrocities on each other, we have common origins, we were born on this land, and share a common destiny. We must open our minds and think of the nation first and avoid falling to sectarian trickeries of hideous power seekers with dubious intentions. We are Sri Lankas, that is the truth, and that is what matters.

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Midweek Review

North-South Bridge-Builder



By Lynn Ockersz

When spirited PC Krishnamurthi,

Plunged into that swirling deep,

In hot pursuit of a miscreant,

He was not bitterly weighed-down,

By the infamous historical luggage,

Which trips many of his compatriots,

For, he cared not for any identity badges,

Which have opened a North-South rift,

But sought to tell the feuding halves,

That selfless service for one’s fellow men,

Lays the basis for enduring peace.

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