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Politics


Government in need of saner counsel

Clearly, the Thursday raids were the worst in terms of state bungling in recent times. The act smacked of apartheid and racial discrimination. They heaped humiliation and suffering upon the Tamil community. What little hope Tamil civilians had in the Rajapaksa regime would have evaporated as they took that bus journey from Colombo to Vavuniya

The Mahinda Rajapaksa regime (or the Rajapaksas’ regime, as his critics would call it) can never be faulted for being dull and monotonous; it seems to thrive on making news as if believing that any publicity is good publicity.
If businessman turned newspaper publisher turned alleged terrorist conduit Tiran Alles grabbed the headlines last week for his arrest and detention by the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID), he was unceremoniously pushed out of the front pages this week.
The shocking abduction and murder of the two Red Cross volunteers, Shanmugalingam Kandiah and Mahadevan Chandramohan sent the government into a spin. The volunteers were abducted publicly – at the Fort Railway Station – by persons in civil clothing who claimed they were needed for interrogation. Their bodies were found in Kiriella the following day.
This incident earned wrath of the international community and President Mahinda Rajapaksa no less went on record stating these incidents were designed to embarrass him on the international stage. A probe was ordered with a deadline given to the police to nab the perpetrators.
As that furore was about to subside news filtered that hundreds of Tamils residing in Colombo’s lodges had been put on buses bound for Vavuniya and despatched to the north. The police raided the lodges at dawn and carried out the exercise, described by Minister Keheliya Rambukwella merely as a means of assisting those wishing to return to the north!
Understandably, there was a strident reaction to the move. For once political parties as diverse as the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), the United National Party (UNP) and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) saw eye to eye on the issue. The very next day, the Supreme Court intervened, halted the raids and ordered that those sent to the north be offered return transport to Colombo.
Who was responsible for this fiasco, is the question now. This incident did not materialise out of the blue. A few days ago, lodges in Pettah were raided and lodge owners were warned against providing shelter to those from the north. Even that move drew criticism but apparently the defence establishment didn’t take note.
The raids were simultaneous and carried out in different police divisions in the city: Wellawatte, Maradana, Pettah, Kotahena and Keselwatte. Therefore, they would have been co-ordinated as it is unlikely that that officers in charge of all these police stations thought of this brilliant idea, all at the same time. And it is also unthinkable that the police top brass acted on their own in this manner, without political blessings. If they did, they should be punished pronto by the government, even if it is only to show that their own hands are clean.
Clearly, the Thursday raids were the worst in terms of state bungling in recent times. The act smacked of apartheid and racial discrimination. They heaped humiliation and suffering upon the Tamil community. What little hope Tamil civilians had in the Rajapaksa regime would have evaporated as they took that bus journey from Colombo to Vavuniya.
That is very unfortunate indeed, simply because the Rajapaksa regime has been, in recent times, the only government which realised the importance of crushing the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militarily in order to frog march them to negotiating table.
However, this regime appears to lack the sagacity to realise that any such attempt must necessarily be accompanied by a strategy of wooing the average Tamil citizen away from the LTTE, instead of pushing them into the waiting clutches of the Tigers.
And that is exactly what happened on Thursday. Citizens of this country were told that could not reside in Colombo, simply because they happened to be Tamil. And what more could Velupillai Prabhakaran need in terms of state assistance?
With a few dawn raids, the Police (or the government, if they masterminded the operation), has succeeded in alienating the minority in a manner which was described by Muslim Congress Leader Rauff Hakeem, as being worse than that of July 1983 because of direct state involvement in the exercise.
Security concerns of course, will always be paramount, especially when two mine explosions hit Colombo and Ratmalana a week ago and another claymore mine was discovered at Maligawatte. It is also a fact that terrorists would have used the Colombo lodges as a safe haven.
If this was the issue, the prudent course of action would have been to detain those who were found to be resident in lodges, under suspicious circumstances until their bona fides were verified, not to transport them en masse to Vavuniya, like condemned criminals. And in any event, if the justification for this ‘ethnic cleansing’ (for that is what it was) was that terrorists may be have been taking refuge in lodges, what earthly purpose would it serve to transport them to Vavuniya and unleash them there?
With this incident, the government got egg on its face. Even parties such as the JVP –known for their hardline stance on the ethnic issue – have got goose pimples at what the government is trying to do. The corridors of power are badly in need of saner counsel –counsel of the kind that Lakshman Kadirgamar provided Chandrika Kumaratunga.
At present, with the opposition, the international community and the Supreme Court breathing fire, President Mahinda Rajapaksa is in damage control mode. But for his credibility to emerge untarnished after this sorry episode, it would take a lot of transparency in the investigation into the incident that the Commander in Chief has promised.
But then, just as the government is wiping all that egg off its collective face, comes the news that nine more bodies have been recovered in Dummaladeniya in Wennappuwa. So, it seems as if the human rights saga of this regime will continue for some time to come!

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