By Sugeeswara Senadhira
Amidst positive and negative signals emanating from different sources in the North for the efforts for reconciliation, President Maithripala Sirisena is in the North today (Monday 18). This visit to Kilinochchi is to provide assistance to Kilinochchi schools and children’s homes under the programme themed ‘Let us protect our children’.
While these positive activities towards reconciliation, peace and communal co-existence are taking place, it is also necessary to recall two news reports that appeared last week about two different incidents in the North.
One was the fond farewell given to Civil Security Department’s (CSD) Commanding Officer in Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi and Jaffna, Colonel Rathnapriya Bandu, by area residents and rehabilitated former LTTE cadres. This emotional farewell was held when he was transferred to Vishwamadu.
Colonel Rathnapriya served as the CSD’s Commanding Officer in these areas for the past five and a half years and had initiated a programme which recruited rehabilitated former LTTE cadres into the CSD and integrated them back to society. A farewell for the departing officer was organized at the Kilinochchi Cooperative premises. Many residents of the area and former LTTE members were seen in tears on the occasion, as they paid an emotional farewell to Colonel Rathnapriya.
As this emotional farewell was taking place in Kilinochchi, Northern Province Chief Minister C V Wigneswaran and Army Commander Lt Gen Mahesh Senanayake attended a tree-planting event to mark the World Environment Day in Jaffna. The Chief Minister made a surprising and undiplomatic – though not uncharacteristic – statement that if the Provincial administration headed by him had organized the event he would not have invited the Army Commander to the function.”It appears our amiable Army Commander Lt Gen Mahesh Senanayake is acting strategically to ensure the continuance of the Army in this region,” Wigneswaran said in a hard hitting speech.
After this, tongue-in-cheek reference to the genial Military Chief, the learned former Supreme Court Judge, made a scathing attack on the presence of security forces in the North. “After the end of the war, the Sri Lankan Army has long been occupying Tamil homelands by seizing the lands of our people. Our people are conducting mass struggles to reduce the size of the Army in the North to restore our people’s lands. There are a number of reasons why the Sinhalese chauvinist State has been consistent in continuing to keep the Army in the Tamil areas. Their steps are being made to mobilize the Army into civil society. Recently, the Army is seen to be involved in many civil societal acts. If anyone thinks that this is the development of our community, then the Sinhala State must be successful in its programme. Be aware of military intervention when there are civil structures to carry out civil proceedings,” said Wigneswaran.
It is unfortunate that the leading Tamil politician in the North expressing doubts about the intentions of the Government and the military, without any basis, when there is very effective work being carried out to promote reconciliation and foster communal harmony. Despite, his utterances, Wigneswaran has acknowledged the success of Gen Mahesh Senanayake’s mission of promoting reconciliation, though he has given a left-handed compliment to the Army Commander.
Although, Wigneswaran tries to level accusations at the Government about “occupying Tamil lands,” the facts speak for themselves. The good Chief Minister is aware that as much as 22,381 acres of land area acquired by the security forces in Jaffna have already been released to the original owners. This is out of the total land of 25,202 acres that was under the military prior to 2009.
Jaffna Commander Maj Gen Dharshana Hettiarachchi said 88.8 per cent of the land under the military has been released already. Furthermore, the military has identified another 522 acres that could be released to the original owners shortly, of which 62 acres will be handed over to original owners by President Sirisena when he visits the North today.
When these positive steps towards reconciliation are taken with utmost commitment, it is unfortunate that Tamil politicians try to raise baseless allegations of an imaginary “Sinhala military hegemony”. Northern Provincial Councillor, K. Sivajilingam said that the expression of gratitude to Col Rathnapriya by rehabilitated ex-LTTE cadres was an “insult to the Tigers who sacrificed their lives”.
Last year, when President Sirisena visited North, Sivajilingam held a protest. President approached the handful of protestors and pointed out to Sivajilingam that, “If you weaken me, the devil will become stronger”. The President emphasized the need for amicable discussions rather than protests and pointed out both parties can get a clear idea through discussions about the issues.
Restoration of normalcy in the Jaffna Peninsula was a slow process, but over the years, since May 2009, one could notice a vast improvement in the situation. In the post-January 2015 period, there was a giant leap forward and Jaffna today is a town of brisk trade and business, with people rushing about on day-to-day business without any fear or apprehension.
Although the TNA captured the majority of seats in the North and East at the General Elections of August 2015, the elected Tamil representatives also displayed an interest in a tussle with the Government than solving the problems of the people. For example, while Jaffna fishermen continue to suffer due to encroachment of Northern seas by Indian vessels, resorting to illegal practices such as bottom trawling, TNA politicians failed to raise their voices as they give priority to personal relations with India than to the interests of Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen.
Today, Jaffna fishermen use the Myliddy and Urani fishing harbours free of any threat or intimidation; after a long period of three decades. In these circumstances, instead of appreciating the resettlement work, Mr Sivajilingam, who was rejected by the Tamil people at the last General Election, seems to be more interested in the black-flag demonstrations than to enter into a meaningful dialogue with the authorities to seek solutions to remaining issues.