A tale of two Disasters and the Fickleness of Terror Politics



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University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna)


Sri Lanka

UTHR(J)*
Information Bulletin No. 37

Date of Release: 10th January 2005

A Tale of two Disasters and the Fickleness of Terror Politics

Contents:



Summary of Concerns

1. Introduction

2. A Sea of Change: The Untold Story of the Tidal Wave

3. 26th November – 25th December: War Fever



4. Nature Strikes: The LTTE’s response
5. Delivery is subject to weather conditions and availability of transport.

6. Hints of the Mullaitivu Scene




7. Traces of Sanity in Killinochi



8. LTTE abroad: The TRO-Pottu Amman Nexus
9. Behind the Apparent Somersault: Burning of the Refugee Camp
10. TRO -Cats Paw of LTTE Terror on the Ground
11. Wrecking of Trincomalee: Incompatibility of Sole Representation with Peace
12. Strengthening the Humanitarian Space and Ending Conflict

Summary of Concerns

In the aftermath of the Tsunami aid has poured into Sri Lanka from people and governments around the world. Sri Lanka’s North and East witnessed a spontaneous outpouring of generosity that defied communal boundaries. A schoolmistress in Batticaloa-Amparai described the impact it created, “At the bottom of their heart all Sri Lankans want to live in peace with one another. This is what the Tidal Wave taught us. What we saw is the people eager to help each other, forgetting all differences. Whatever community we belong to, there is something called Sri Lankan hospitality. The politicians should remember that when they get back to negotiations.” It was a natural human response to a massive disaster that had no political context. This help is desperately needed and gratefully welcomed. With relief and reconstruction efforts underway it is essential the process be open, transparent and accountable. We must not squander the good will of those who have so generously come to our assistance.

Both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE have an unquestionable moral responsibility to ensure that disaster victims receive prompt and appropriate assistance and should dedicate resources and infrastructure to help them. This requires setting aside political differences, overcoming decades of neglect and bureaucratic dysfunction and allowing every available and potential source of support and assistance to contribute to the effort of rebuilding our communities. As important as anything else is the need to give hope to the people, rather than contribute to their trauma and despair.
Giving hope means a readiness to work with each other and being generous in acknowledging the good done by others. Testimonies given to us by witnesses in Batticaloa-Amparai, Trincomalee and Vadamaratchy tell the same story: personnel from the country’s armed forces – the STF, Army and Navy – in the wake of the Tsunami, left their weapons and threw themselves into the dangerous waters to rescue civilians, in some instances losing their lives. In the aftermath, neighbouring Sinhalese and Muslim communities and the armed forces stretched themselves in caring for those affected, and are still doing so.

Much of these highly remarkable developments have gone unreported or pushed to the sidelines of the news concerning the North-East. A part of the answer is the incompetence of the state media, indifference of the Colombo media and LTTE propaganda networks having established a firm foothold, at least to confuse the international media. The LTTE, and the Tamil media controlled by it, largely ignored this non-partisan outpouring of humanity and from day-one started attacking the armed forces and, contrary to authentic reports from the ground, accused them of harassment, blocking rations, stopping a Russian medical team and burning a refugee camp among other violations. It accused the Government of discrimination in the distribution of relief and waxed loud that no one was helping the Tamils. By the time the foreign media came in large numbers, they lost sight of the one-sidedness of these claims and provocations, and started talking about deep hatreds and the ethnic conflict.

This in short was how the LTTE positioned itself to make political capital of a humanitarian crisis lacking political content and to position its agency, the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation, to act as the sole body dispensing relief in areas it controls and throughout the North-East. The troubling political implications need not be spelt out. We are concerned that the international community may forfeit this opportunity for permanent peace, a political settlement and reconciliation, by allowing their misjudgments (which have amply been in evidence these last three years), the LTTE’s ploys, and the Southern polity’s incompetence and opportunism, dictate the agenda.
The LTTE established the TRO, which became increasingly visible in the early 1990s, as a mechanism to raise money for refugee relief and has long solicited donations from Sri Lanka’s large expatriate Tamil community and is institutionally bound to the leadership of the LTTE. It has a history of discouraging independent initiatives both in Sri Lanka and abroad, and there have long been informed allegations that money the TRO collects for reconstruction has been diverted to other purposes, principally military. These allegations have been supported by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (‘CSIS warned Ottawa of terror fronts…’, National Post, 9th December 2000), and by the LTTE’s former Eastern strongman and leading insider, Karuna.

International donors and all concerned individuals seeking effective ways to assist survivors of this disaster should demand accountability and transparency from the TRO and all other partner agencies as a condition of cooperation. This should only be for purposes of urgent relief, avoiding measures that confer legitimacy on the LTTE’s terror machine by the back door. They should at the same time encourage and support the development of social coping mechanisms that do not rely on the LTTE, including especially independent civil society organisations and initiatives, and should continue to press the LTTE to stop threatening others who are trying to do humanitarian work. The TRO’s present demand that all major relief and reconstruction work should be entrusted to it and it alone is totally unacceptable, and has upset many donors who came to help and to work, leaving them with little alternative but to go back. We shall expand on these concerns in the sequel.




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