Development will not solve ethnic issues
BY Mirudhula Thambiah
Jaffna District Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Parliamentarian Sivagnanam Sritharan said that both governments in the post war period have failed to identify the actual problems of the war affected.
“Development will not solve ethnic issues. The war affected Tamil people have been neglected,” he said.
Following are excerpts:
?How do you assess the security situation in the North and East? People in certain parts of the region claim they are living in fear. Is that true?
A: Security situation in the North has increased fear in people. The recent arrest of former LTTE commanders in the North and East has caused fear and panic among the nearly 10,000 former LTTE combatants who have been released. Also those who supported the struggle are living in fear. Also, they feel people will be slaves under the government.
There is no decrease in the number of Army camps in the North. None of the Army camps have been shut down even after the Good Governance Government took over power. Around 150,000 military personnel have been deployed in the Northern and Eastern regions. People in the North and East did not experience any major changes, as there is no difference in the military presence.
Even recently the current Northern Governor attended a function at a school built by the Army in Pooneryn and he urged all civilians to be in good terms with the military rather than insisting to expel them from the North. From the Governor to politicians no efforts have been carried out to reduce military presence in the North.
Also international communities have supported the change in government only for their own selfish agendas. They have not taken any suitable stand pressurizing a political solution in support of the affected people.
?There are rumours of a resurgence of the LTTE as the security forces in the North have found explosives and suicide jackets. How do you assess the situation? Is it just an exaggeration?
A: Even seven years in the post war period none of the governments have so far attempted to bring in suitable political solution to the ethnic issue. Tamil people have been mainly affected, they are still struggling. Their rights are denied and a political solution for them in a merged North-East is a must and so far the current government has not come forward to consider their demands. Tamil people have faced many losses. When federal ideas are shared at the Constitution Assembly (Parliament) on the basis of a political solution some racists are opposing it. Those who are against federal ideas have created rumours of a revival of the LTTE. They just want to ignore the demands of the affected Tamil people and trying to create negative opinions against their demands by diverting the concentration towards LTTE rumours. Therefore, a situation is created to show that there are attempts being carried out to revive the LTTE. As a result, explosives and suicide jackets are being detected in various places in the North. Only the Tamil people are panicking as a result of these fake stories. We have shown our support to the current government expecting a suitable solution to the ethnic issue; however, our compromises are mistaken as weaknesses.
?Your Leader Sampanthan’s visit to Paravipanchan in Kilinochchi was thoroughly criticized by the politicians in the South. We understand that he visited to Paravipanchan from your office in Kilinochchi accompanied by you. What exactly happened?
A: Paravipanchan is people’s land. There are land deeds available proving their ownership. Owners of these lands have for the past seven years been requesting the government to allow resettlement. Lands have been released only to resettle 40 families, the balance is still under the High Security Zone. Various offices and the Peace Secretariat of the LTTE were situated in a corner of these lands in Paravipanchan even then it was in the lands of a private owner. The LTTE took over sum of these lands in Paravipanchan to have their offices as owners were abroad or they lived in Colombo. None of these lands belonged to the LTTE. Nearly 40 per cent of the lands in Kilinochchi are under the custody of the military, accordingly they are just maintaining the lands in Paravipanchan along with the other lands that are under their control. There is no office or building in the Paravipanchan area that belonged to the Army. There seems to be no practical necessity to get hold of these lands in Paravipanchan. These lands belong to many residents and it was a colonized area where many people lived. Also Paravipanchan is situated in the heart of Kilinochchi.
We held a meeting in my office with land owners of Paravipanchan. Following the request of land owners, Opposition Leader Sampanthan agreed to visit the lands that were released to settle 40 families and 92 families are yet to resettle. As we entered the land there was a soldier near the barricade. The squad Police, who travelled with the Opposition Leader, spoke to the Army personnel at the sentry point. As the Army personnel allowed entry to the lands we went int. We did not step into any Army camp or to the High Security Zone. Leader Sampanthan did not even walk into the released lands. From the roads he viewed the lands and promised the owners that he will speak to the President for the release of the remaining lands. There were around 10 Army personnel around us and there were Police personnel too. Sampanthan is the Opposition Leader of this country. He did not have the necessity to obtain permission; he did not previously have any plans to enter the lands. He went there due to the request by the people. He did not commit any crime!
I kindly request all leaders and politicians in the South to join me and I shall take them to Paravipanchan and let them examine the situation, as to whether it is an Army camp or the lands of people. So far in history Leader Sampanthan has not encroached anywhere or violated any law. I’m ready to direct those from the South to view the real situation.
?Why do you think people have suddenly begun to protest against land acquisition in the North?
A: As I said, 40 per cent of the lands are under the control of security forces in Kilinochchi. Owners of these 40 per cent lands are living in alternative places, such as IDP camps, temporary shelters, with relatives and friends. It had been seven years after the war, people believed at least the government of good governance would allow them to resettle in these lands but they were disappointed. Failing their attempts recently people have begun to stage fast unto death protests thinking they will at least gain their lands back in such a situation. If you see in Mullaitivu the Kepapilavu Village is still under the custody of the military. It is a massive village, we have raised our voices in Parliament urging to release the entire village but it never happened. The Army did not acquire lands in the South for any of their affairs. But why do they target the lands of the affected Tamil people? Why do you still think the Tamil people should be IDPs even today? They have no lands, no shelter and therefore, they decided to stage hunger protests. They are only asking for their lands, right to ownership is fundamental. If this government cannot attend to these problems, what else can they achieve?
Just imagine the pathetic lifestyle of these affected people, it is seven years since the end of war but they did not gain anything. I will definitely take those from the South to the areas where the affected people are sheltered. They should examine the situation of the IDPs. Every Sinhalese should understand the situation of the people in the North and East. They must visit the affected Tamil people. I invite all politicians, intellectuals and others from the South to go witness the problems in the North and East.
?Most IDPs were from Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu. What is their situation in the current scenario?
A: Most of the war affected are still IDPs, some are still sheltered at Sabapathypillai camp and Kannagi camp. They are still living in camps and have not yet returned to their own places. Mainly in Kilinochchi people are living in temporary shelters and huts in some other people’s lands as they were not permitted to return back. They have no livelihood facilities and they do not have housing schemes. They have no relief to cope up with their daily expenses.
The government is just collecting information about the IDPs but there is no improvement.
?18 May will fall next week and how do you assess the situation of people in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu, who have experienced the last phases of war in Mullivaikkal?
A: War affected Tamil people have been neglected. People have been cheated under the delusion of development. Development alone will not improve the situation of the war affected. Both governments in the post war period failed to identify the actual problems of the war affected, they have failed to address their issues. Development will not solve ethnic issues.
Housing schemes implemented in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu have failed to include 100 per cent of the war affected families. Only 50 per cent of them have been provided with houses. Houses were provided under a points system, this had neglected many of the affected. Development has also turned to be an eye wash.
?Do you think it is possible to provide water supply to the Jaffna Peninsula from the Iranamadu Tank in Kilinochchi?
A: A water project was initiated with the assistance of the Asian Development Bank and a French Organization. A development project was initiated with the investment of Rs 2,300 million. Iranamadu Tank is the only water supply unit in the Northern and Eastern region. Agriculture in the Northern and Eastern regions is mainly dependent on the Iranamadu Tank.
Nearly 60 per cent of agrarian land in Kilinochchi belong to landowners in Jaffna. If the water supply project is implemented it will thoroughly affect the paddy cultivation. Already during the war many economic sanctions were imposed from the South and other countries. This affected the economy in the North that had led to a 37-year setback.
It is true that the water in Jaffna is polluted there were many tanks in the Jaffna Peninsula. However, a certain number of tanks were closed down to put up buildings. There are other methods to provide water supply to the Jaffna Peninsula, but many have spotted the Iranamadu Tank because of political agendas.