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Sri Lanka: interview with Dr Muthukrishna Sarvanathan November 11, 2010

Posted by sandygordon in : DeSilva-Ranasinghe, Serge, Future Directions International, Sri Lanka , trackback

Serge DeSilva Ranasinghe

Editor’s note: this is a short extract from a longer interview by Serge DeSilva with Dr Sarvanathan.  The full interview may be viewed here.  Dr Sarvanathan is the principal researcher at the Point Pedro Institute, which is a not-for-profit think tank that provides analysis and advocacy on political and economic issues afflicting the Sri Lankan Tamil population in the north.

DeSilva: Tell us about the general situation facing Tamils in Sri Lanka since the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009.  What has been achieved in terms of restoration of normality? What’s the general sentiment of the civilian population towards the LTTE and to the GoSL?

Dr Muthukrishna Sarvananthan: A great deal of normalcy has been established gradually since the end of the war; e.g. (i) several hitherto closed roads have been opened-up for public use (A9 highway being the prime example), (ii) security check points have been drastically reduced both in the North and rest of the country, (iii) areas under high security zones have been cut back, (iv) security restrictions on certain vocations such as fishing have been lifted, (v) although the restriction on travel to Colombo (and rest of the country) from Jaffna (by way of obtaining a pass from the army) has been done away with, the registration of household members at the local police station has been re-instituted in Colombo since May 2010 (after the general elections).

Dr Muthukrishna Sarvanathan

Despite the positive trend noted above, certain negative aspects of the LTTE-era stubbornly persist in the North (particularly in Jaffna) with a new role-player, albeit at a much smaller scale than that of the LTTE. The Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), a pro-government militia cum political party headed by a cabinet minister Mr. Douglas Devananda, has filled the boots of the LTTE in certain illegal activities such as extortion, kidnapping for ransom, poaching Hindu temples, and monopolising the supply of sand for construction purposes. The Maheshwari Nithiyam (Maheshwari Foundation – NGO arm of the EPDP ala Tamils’ Rehabilitation Organisation of the LTTE) monopolises the supply of sand for construction purposes within the peninsula (one customer who asked for refund due to unexplained delay in the supply of sand was threatened with death by the “pulanaivuthurai” – intelligence wing – of the EPDP). Cable television service providers in the peninsula are illegally taxed by the EPDP. Few school children were kidnapped for ransom in the run-up to the parliamentary elections, which were suspected to be by the EPDP but has ceased since then. In the same way the LTTE took over the management of several Hindu temples in the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia through proxies to extort the financial resources of those temples (Kanaka Thurkkai Amman Temple in Ealing, West London, being one such temple where Sockalingam Karunalingam was/is the proxy), the EPDP is currently attempting to take over the management of certain temples in the peninsula that have high revenue. My hunch is that EPDP’s illegal tax collection amounts to about 10% of what LTTE used to collect during the ceasefire time.

Besides, foreigners (including Sri Lankan diaspora) visiting the North beyond Omanthai require Ministry of Defence pass, which is antithetical to normalcy. Permissions are usually granted for air travel only (costing LKR.18,600 or USD.175 for an adult round-trip ticket) thereby unfairly taxing visitors to the North from abroad in the same way the LTTE levied a special tax on diaspora people travelling through the A9 highway during the time of ceasefire.

There is deep resentment towards the LTTE, among significant share of the population, due to their callous disregard for human life, recruitment of children, and the immense misery that befell the general population during the final stages of the war. However, the bitterness towards the LTTE unfortunately has not translated into goodwill towards the government, partly due to pampering of terrorists turned criminals such as Douglas Devananda, and the remnants of the LTTE hierarchy such as Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan (alias Karuna Amman), Kumaran Pathmanathan (alias KP), Velautham Thayanithi (alias Thaya Master), et al, by the government.

Thaya Master is apparently working as a news compiler for DAN TV (satellite television network of the EPDP) and is building a brand new home reportedly worth over LKR.5 Million (USD.50,000) in his native Thambasetty village, Point Pedro. “Where did he get this money?” is the question asked by his fellow villagers. Most likely this money is part of the loot from Tamil civilians by the LTTE in the Vanni before its extinction. Thaya Master’s wife, a graduate teacher, is teaching at a nearby girls’ school called Vadamarachchi Hindu Girls’ College and positioning herself to become the Principal not due to merit but through the newfound political influence of her husband by aligning with Douglas Devananda and the government. While bulk of the IDP returnees live in squalor and some are expected to be given LKR.500,000 at the most under the World Bank’s North East Housing Reconstruction Project (NEHRP) or the Indian Government’s 50,000 houses project, those who were complicit in crimes against humanity (such as recruitment of child soldiers, forcible displacement of civilians and conscription, killing of civilians attempting to flee the clutches of the LTTE, etc) are pampered and living in relative luxury. “What justice is this?” is the thought lingering in the minds of the population.

Foregoing are some of the main reasons for the civilian population’s negative feeling towards the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL). In many respects the journey is “continuing” rather than “beginning” (as claimed by an EPDP election campaign poster).


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