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 Post subject: Sri Lanka’s east on the boil
 Post Posted: Tue Mar 15, 2005 5:21 am 
Sri Lanka’s east on the boil

@ Hindustan Times
PK Balachandran

Colombo, March 14, 2005|15:37 IST

Sri Lanka's Tamil-speaking eastern districts are on the boil because of a series of killings and counter killings by rival factions of the LTTE.

But resumption of war between the mainstream LTTE led by Velupillai Prabhakaran, and the Sri Lankan armed forces, is not on the cards, knowledgeable residents say.

Trouble began on February 7, when the mainstream LTTE's Batticaloa-Amparai district political chief, Kousalyan, was killed by the Tamil National Army, a military outfit formed by the dissident LTTE leader, Karuna.

A statement issued by Karuna's political party, the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (Tamil Peoples' Liberation Tigers) said that the killing was a retaliation for the killing of Karuna's brother and top-most field commander, Reggie.

The Karuna group had declared that by March 2005, the first anniversary of its revolt against the mainstream group led by Velupillai Prabhakaran, it would re-establish its hegemony over the districts of Batticaloa and Amparai, its putative pocket borough.

According to The Sunday Leader (March 6), five units of the Karuna group led by Mangalan Master, Sinnathamby, Markan, Iniyabarathy and Pillaiyan respectively, had been deployed to take on LTTE targets as part of this grand plan.

However, strange as it may seem, the LTTE did not go on a killing spree after the very high profile assassination of Kousalyan, in which a former Member of Parliament, Chandra Nehru, was also killed.

Nor did it attack the Sri Lankan armed forces, though it went to town saying that the so-called "Karuna group" was only an appendage of government forces.

The explanation for this restraint was that the LTTE had a vested interest in the continuation of the peace process, and in cultivating the international community, whose money was needed for the reconstruction and development of the Tamil-speaking North Eastern Province (NEP), which was the worst affected by the tsunami of December 26, 2004.

The government too was keen on fighting the fire. President Chandrika Kumaratunga set up a three-member commission of high court judges to investigate the incident and report within a month.

The LTTE declared that it had no faith in the commission, but did little to scuttle the probe.

However, small time killings became almost a daily feature. To give an example, on February 19, 26-year-old Villiasingham Manoharan, a Karuna supporter, was ambushed and killed in the Muthukkal-Karappalai part of Welikanda, on the border between the Tamil-speaking district of Batticaloa and the Sinhala-speaking district of Polonnaruwa.

Welikanda subsequently became a very troubled area, because the LTTE led by Prabhakaran came to believe that the Karuna group was using this Sinhala dominated and government-controlled border area to hide.

It was being used as a staging post for carrying out strikes in Batticaloa.

But what happened on February 28 was a bit too much for the LTTE to bear.

On that day, the Batticaloa-Amparai womens' political wing leader, Kuveni, was shot at and grievously wounded by the Karuna group in the Thirukovil area of Amparai district while she was on her way to do tsunami relief work.

On March 5, four Muslims, two Sinhalas and one Tamil were killed in Kolakanawadiya in the Welikanda area.

While the army blamed the LTTE for this, the LTTE said that it was the handiwork of the Karuna group. Both groups said that slain were their supporters!

On the same day, a Karuna supporter was shot down in Kaluwankerni in Batticaloa, while a LTTE supporter was killed in Kirimichchi in Valaichenai.

On March 6, the LTTE killed S Kamaladasan, the provincial correspondent of an anti-LTTE Tamil magazine Thinamurasu in the Aaraiyampattu-Kathankudy area in Batticaloa district. Last Friday, the offices of the Peoples' Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) at Batticaloa, came under grenade attack. Four PLOTE cadres were injured.

All in all, according to The Sunday Times (March 13) the LTTE had killed 14 opponents since the assassination of Kousalyan, a little more than a month earlier.

Muslim factor

The killings of Muslims by one or the other of the two LTTE factions have agitated the community, which is a significant part of Batticaloa and Amparai districts.

Both the Prabhakaran and Karuna groups swear that they stand for the rights of the Muslims as a fellow Tamil-speaking community, "discriminated" against by the Sinhala-majoritarian Sri Lankan state.

But the Muslims generally tend to be sympathetic to the Karuna, though they will not help him openly for fear of reprisals by the Prabhakaran group.

The Muslims lean towards Karuna, even though it was under his stewardship that the united LTTE committed atrocities against them.

Mass murders, land grabbing, abduction for ransom and heavy and arbitrary taxation were the order of the day under Karuna.

The main, and perhaps the only reason, why the Muslims are now leaning towards Karuna, is that he represents the "Eastern sentiment" as against the "Northern sentiment", represented by the mainstream LTTE led by Prabhakaran.

After he revolted against Prabhakaran in March 2004, Karuna had spoken of the East as being separate from the North, though he has now backed out of this theory.

Karuna's earlier pro-East utterances had given the Muslims hope that the merger of the North and East, brought about the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987, would be undone, and that the Muslims would become a major force in an East de-linked from an overwhelmingly Tamil North.

Though the practical-minded Muslims will actually do nothing to antagonise the Prabhakaran group, knowing only too well its awesome power to wreak vengeance, they will continue to be suspected as being pro-Karuna.

And this is precisely what is happening in the East to the dismay of the Muslims.

Some elements in the Sri Lankan state and the Sinhala political system would certainly like the Tamil-Muslim cleavage to widen.

The Sinhala-nationalist press has welcomed the emergence of Karuna and rifts between the Tamils and the Muslims or between the LTTE and the Muslims.

The pro-LTTE Tamils feel that all the attacks on the Muslims are conducted by the armed forces or their auxiliary groups, and the blame is put on the LTTE, only to create a Muslim-LTTE or a Muslim-Tamil rift.

To add the current problems, many old Tamil-Muslim problems still remain unresolved, irritating the two communities. The principal questions relate to land and access of Muslims to LTTE-controlled areas.

The LTTE has still not given back to the Muslims most of the lands, which it had grabbed in the 1990s during the years of conflict and war.

If the Muslims venture into the LTTE-controlled areas for trade or firewood collection, they may be detained or even killed for suspected spying for Karuna or the Sri Lankan armed forces.

"The Muslims are also paying for their earlier policy of carving out separate administrative units for Muslim majority areas, forgetting that for the cultivation of their lands, and trading, they need to be part of Tamil majority administrative units. Their lands and markets are in the Tamil-majority areas. By asking for and getting separate administrative units, the Muslims have alienated the Tamils," said a Tamil of Batticaloa district


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