Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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Increasing Violence with Impunity in Jaffna

Posted by harimpeiris on January 27, 2011

The above heading was not one we expected to witness post the war victory in May 2009. Prior to that as the LTTE operated in the Wanni, spill over violence in Jaffna was a fact of life and while contained could not really be eliminated. However one and a half years after the end of the war, Jaffna suddenly sees a spurt in the level of violence and tension in that society. Late last week the issue was debated in the Parliament of Sri Lanka. There was not much interest evinced by the government side, though the opposition was well represented and led by the Leader of the Opposition. Leading the defense on the government side was the Honourable Prime Minister.

 The Facts of the Matter  

The facts of the matter are that there has been a sudden spike in violence in the recent past in Jaffna. During the debate in Parliament a list of twenty three incidents were tabled in the House. Prior to that Cabinet Minister Douglas Devananda had made a special statement that there was a growing sense of public fear or a fear psychosis in Jaffna. This spurt of violence also coincided with the announcement of the local government polls and accordingly new elections to the Jaffna Municipal Council. In the event of a reasonable turnout the TNA can be expected to win the poll comfortably. A very low poll is required for the EPDP led UPFA slate to prevail. The official response to this sudden spurt of violence has been fairly predictable. According to their standard script, senior state security officials denied the existence of any violence. However belying this contention, the Police distributed leaflets to the public asking them to protect themselves, to avoid travelling alone at night and other such precautions.

 

The Government Response

Entirely predictably the government response led by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House was to deny the existence of a problem, in defiance of the facts to the contrary and then claim that this was no different to the violence that existed in other parts of the country. However the significant difference between the rest of the country and the Jaffna peninsula is the presence of over sixty thousand security forces personnel in a proportion of one security forces personnel for every five adult civilians and a security regimen including high security zones not found elsewhere in the country. A typical case of the violence in Jaffna is as follows.

 

Markan Sivalingam, Deputy Zonal Education Director, Valligaman, Jaffna

Markan Sivalingam, Deputy Zonal Education Director of Valligaman, Jaffna was a respected government education services official, committed to his job and dedicated to the education of students in Valligaman, Jaffna. He was also outspoken and independent minded. He opposed the near forcible memorizing of the national anthem in Sinhala by mono lingual Tamil children in Jaffna, in preparation for the official government Pongal celebrations in Jaffna attended by both the President and the Prime Minister. He believed it should be sung in Tamil. Dispensing with the singing of the national anthem in Tamil was a knee jerk reaction of the regime after the President’s Oxford debacle. Markan Sivalingam believed that Tamil students should sing the national anthem in Tamil and made his views known. A few days later, he was assassinated by a highly trained and well armed assassin who broke into his home in the dead of night, murdered him and departed notwithstanding the security blanket.  There will no more proponents of singing the Sri Lankan national anthem in Tamil in Jaffna any more. The murder of Markan Sivalingam will ensure that. Reconciliation, Sri Lankan style.

 

A Structured Dialogue between the Government and the TNA

It was Indian Foreign Minister Krishana who articulated the need for what he calls a structured dialogue between the Government and the TNA. Pressed by the West on accountability and human rights and by India for dialogue with the dominant representatives of the Tamil people, the Rajapakse regime finally opted for the latter presumably as the lesser of two evils and commenced a low key but structured dialogue with the Tamil National Alliance earlier this month, to work towards reconciliation through a political settlement and to address the urgent humanitarian and reconstruction issues. There is much to discuss and a long way to go if a durable and just peace is to be achieved.

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