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Wednesday 18 April 2001




LTTE must allow tamils freedom of expression
A group of LTTE cadres from the Wanni, who have infiltrated the Jaffna University with orders to carry out acts of sabotage and disrupt the normal life of the people of Jaffna, are now engaged in a campaign to deprive the reading public of Jaffna of quality literature and up to date news.

On April 12 these saboteurs of the LTTE stepped out of the Jaffna Campus and forcibly removed from shops and other outlets copies of the popular Tamil magazine Amudhu published by the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited and burnt them in a bonfire.

Amudhu is the first full colour monthly Tamil magazine published in this country. Its sales in Jaffna are the highest of any publication distributed in the peninsula.

Although critical of the LTTE, it is a pro-Tamil magazine, which projects the problems and achievements of the Tamils, their culture, their literature, their language and their rich heritage. Amudhu makes no bones about the fact that it opposes the LTTE, for what it is plainly and simply a terrorist organisation. Amudhu has categorically stated that the LTTE has weakened the Tamils and destroyed the democratic political practices of Tamil society.

However, in keeping with its fair representation of views, it devotes space to letters and articles supportive of the LTTE.

All sales outlets have been warned by the LTTE cadres who forcibly removed the copies of Amudhu magazines, which have pictures showing the LTTE leaders in a bad light.

We recall that this same group of LTTE infiltrators, styled as the Wanni group in the Jaffna University Campus had earlier created a rumpus demanding that the PA Government accept the LTTE ceasefire etc.

In 1981, a mob of Police goons from the South who were stationed in Jaffna, led by senior UNPers burnt the Jaffna library and in doing so destroyed thousands of books, the proud heritage of the Tamils, their culture and their literature.

Today, the LTTE is playing the role of those goons who destroyed the Jaffna library and its invaluable treasure of literature.

While the LTTE is trying to stifle the freedom of expression of the Tamils, the PA Government has allowed the Amudhu the full freedom of expression to comment on controversial issues such as the Bindunuwewa massacre, the Mirusuvil murder and the Chemmani mass graves.

The LTTE does not tolerate criticism due to the fact that it has so much to hide. It has always stifled criticism and silenced hundreds nay thousands who have dared to criticise it.

We well remember that when the LTTE was in control of Jaffna, the Northern Peninsula was starved of any kind of reading material.

There were only old faded copies of a few newspapers in a handful of shops. Today there is a surfeit of books, magazines and newspapers in Jaffna. The LTTE must allow the Amudhu to be freely circulated in Jaffna, for the benefit of the people of the Northern Peninsula.





The great game
Yesterday’s article published in the leader page titled, Negotiations between the PA and LTTE: reading the smoke signals, by a former Sri Lankan Ambassador, Mr. John Gooneratne should be a guiding light to all Sri Lankans who keep asking: Where are we heading, but are not receiving any positive answer.

Ambassador Gooneratne was attempting to answer a question posed by his barber: ‘Solheim comes. Solheim goes. What the hell he does, God only knows’. Barbers are a well-informed profession. Brave would be those – even diplomats – who dare to bluff these tonsorial artistes with sharp razors and scissors in hand while they are in the chair.

Ambassador Gooneratne has scanned the political, diplomatic and intellectual horizons for an answer but not being successful says he will advise his barber to seek the advice of a soothsayer or Anjanam Eliya for an answer. Today, even those in the holiest of holies, the kitchen cabinet or are members of the palace guard cannot truthfully answer the simple questions: Where are we heading or what’s happening?

However, in his meanderings trying to read smoke signals in a country ‘that produces smoke without fire’, Mr. Gooneratne has stumbled on a political fact that has been staring at our faces right along but only few have been able recognise it.

What is priority No. 1 in the political game? he asks and replies that it is the ‘Great Game’ that has been played between the UNP and the SLFP (now the PA). When in power the government tries to screw up the opposition and the opposition tries to screw up the government. That has been the top political priority – the Great Game played for long.

Call it the ‘ethnic conflict’, ‘North-East conflict’ etc. in reality its not the nation’s top priority. Is it language, religion, unitary federal constitutions that’s top priority? They may have been decisive factors in the mid fifties and sixties but today, the Sinhala electorate is deeply polarised into the UNP and PA factions to the extent that politically incendiary issues take a back seat. The PA supporters cannot afford to lose an election and fall out of power while UNPers having been at the battering end now for the seventh successive year want to win at all costs. Race, language, religion, the economy, constitution and national interests, only minuscule minorities are concerned. The main thing is to win the next election.

Ambassador Gooneratne may not go so far with our postulations but results of Presidential and General Elections indicate that party loyalties take precedence over all other matters.

In the 1994 Presidential Election even after the UNP leadership was practically eliminated and non-existent, Mrs. Srima Dissanayake who was nominated as presidential candidate of the party a few days before, collected 36 per cent of the votes. The UNP vote banks stayed with the party. Even though that it was made out that Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga was elected on a mandate for peace, peace was not an issue among the Sinhala electorate. About 10 to 15 per cent Tamils who voted PA certainly were influenced by Ms. Kumaratunga’s posture on peace.

The recent Presidential Elections as well as General Elections did not appear to have been influenced by the six-year devolution debate that had preceded it. Both parties retained their vote banks and only enticements of minority parties and goon squads helped to forge the PA government.

Whatever happened to the Sihala Urumaya which appeared to receive the approval of the vast majority of Sinhalese? They agreed with what the Sihala Urumaya stood for but when it came to casting their votes the UNPers and SLFPers could not sever their party bonds.

PA and UNP leaderships are well aware of this polarisation that enable the Great Game to be played at the cost of national interests. 

The strategy of both sides appears to be to hold on to the vote banks, play up to the minorities and even the LTTE to get that decisive edge at the polls plus of course the contributions made by the goon squads of some of our honourable gentlemen who will be amply rewarded for their performances as before.





Italian job scandal
More than 120 Sri Lankans most of them from the poverty-stricken class mortgaged their lands and pawned or sold other property to raise up to Rs. 400,000 for an illegal boat voyage from Negombo to Italy.

The Mafia style mastermind of this modern slave trade or people smuggling operation was a job agent-perhaps flaunting a licence from the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment along with other bogus connections and credentials.

With bag and baggage the Sri Lankans had set off on April 9 apparently hoping that the New Year would herald a new dawn for them across the horizon. Instead they lost virtually everything in a horrible nightmare when the slave trade ship reportedly sprang a leak after a collision with an Indian trawler.

This dreadful and disregardful incident brings to focus a trend where since 1977 the lack of proper co-ordination, guidance and monitoring by responsible state authorities has turned blessings into curses or calamities.

The opening up of the foreign job market or opportunities for Sri Lankans especially in oil-rich Gulf States and other countries was a big break mainly for the rural people. The social repercussions and side effects were many, but the minuses did not far outweigh the pluses. Poor families were raised to a better standard of living while the gap between the rich and the poor was reduced at least marginally.

But now it seems that matters are going to extremes or out of control as in so many other areas like trade. Up to 1977 vital areas like trade were under strict centralised state control, producing negatives such as excessive queues and widespread corruption in quota allocation together with bureaucratic bungling, lethargy and mediocrity.

After the so-called opening of the market or liberalisation of 1977 appear to have slipped out of control to the other extreme. Private traders motivated largely or solely by personal profit were allowed to do whatever they wanted. The spirit of public service was shelved.

Advocates of the so-called free market policy insisted that free competition would bring about fair prices and a better deal for the people. But traders are traders and the acquisitive instinct invariably drives them to become rich fools. Instead of free competition we saw the evolution of a process where the traders of a particular product ganged up in a corporate monopoly to plunder the consumer and make maximum profit.

The Government had set up fair trading commissions and consumer protection authorities but they turned out to be little more than the paper they were written on and most traders treated them like cheap jokes.

A similar calamity has arisen in the foreign job market. The Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment like so many similar institutions promised much but produced little. We acknowledge that Labour Minister Alavi Moulana is a dynamic action-oriented man. But down the line political influence appears to have crept in with the attendant bribery, corruption and related evils like cover-ups.

We would like to see Minister Moulana acting fast and decisively in this scandal over the Italian jobs. Besides the cancellation of the licence these are instances where emergency regulations could be used justifiably to seize the assets or property of the offender and compensate the victims. If drastic action is taken it could prove to be a deterrent for the hoards of other bogus job agents operating in cities and even villages.

This could also be an occasion for reviewing the whole process of licensing, monitoring and control of job agencies. As usual party political influence is likely to be used to undermine any crackdown. The Italian job racketeer is alleged to have raked in about Rs. 10 million from this single operation. So they are apparently ready and able to throw lakhs or millions of rupees as bribes to keep their dirty ships or schemes afloat. But to carry big rats would mean exposing the whole job market to the perils of a sinking ship.





Industrial peace vital
There have been recurrent reports of severe unrest and disruptions in the national industrial sector in the recent past.  Heads of some leading industries have indicated they would shift their manufacturing and processing to India or China if work continues to be disrupted by unfair trade unions.  Investors and industrialists quite naturally expect profit as well as a conducive and industrially peaceful atmosphere to carry out their business.

Production houses should also realize the importance of giving a fair deal for workers by way of correct wages, EPF dues and proper service facilities. Some factories even deny fresh air and basic facilities to workers.  Trade unions too should be fair and  just in their demands to ensure peaceful employer-employee relations.





Curb fake documents racket
The highly organized and widespread racket of producing fake birth certificates, personal identity cards, educational certificates and visas has become even a greater threat than printing forged currency notes.  Nearly 200 suspects who tried to go abroad using such false documents are held without bail in Negombo prisons.

This social menace must be eradicated without delay.  To do this, kingpins of this racket should be arrested and severely punished by the law.  But these racketeers seem to be enjoying protection from powerful individuals to carry out their illegal trade without interference.  Furthermore, they continue to transgress the law with impunity and flog their ware openly. They have gone hi-tech using most modern equipment and technology to perfect their deadly trade.

The long arm of the law should be more active against them.  Those who pussyfoot stern action in this connection should themselves be punished.





National immunization programme
The Health Department has launched the national immunization programme with changes in the ages at which children should be immunized.  This is due to changes in the patterns of most common infectious diseases as noted by our epidemiologists.

Recent advances in the production of novel immunizing drugs and schemes have also necessitated this change.  T.B, Pertussis, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Polio, Rubella and  measles are the infections against which children are immunized.  Earlier, polio vaccine was given to children at 3, 5 and 7 months of age.  But according to the new scheme, it is to be given at 2,4 and 6 months.  All parents should give maximum  help to make the national immunization programme a success.





Re-appearing tiger stripes
Tigers have once more displayed their true stripes by violating the self-declared ceasefire in the Chalai sea battle.  But of course, this is no surprise since we always held the falsity of their ceasefire.  That was only a ploy to trade for concessions on banned items as a laid-down condition for peace talks to begin.

The singular aim of the Tigers is to win whatever winnable demands and not engage in meaningful discussions in search of a peaceful solution.  Their strategy is to air their grievances to the international community and not strive genuinely for peace.  The recent attack on the navy shows their hell bent confrontational style.  As LTTE Theoretician Anton Balasingham had told 'Tamil Guardian' last July their intentions are clear to capture the rest 1/3 of the NorthEast.





Sudden fuel price hike
The government has stealthily put up fuel prices by 12% during Sinhala and Tamil New Year celebrations.  These increases in the prices of diesel and kerosene will add to the sufferings of the people.  Fuel prices were increased by 12.9% last November.  This led to an increase in bus and other transport fares and caused increases in the prices of several commodities as well.

The present increase in the price of diesel is sure to cause a corresponding increase in production costs of the Ceylon Electricity Board resulting in electricity charges going up substantially.  A chain reaction of increases in prices of other commodities will also have to be expected. In the end, all these price increases have to be borne by the people.  They will also be required to bear more so long as this needless war continues.





Information technology in schools
Our country is enjoying a very high percentage of literacy, compared to other third world countries. It is a matter for pride.  This high rate has been achieved through free education from Year 1 upto the University level.  Now, the concept of learning has changed in Western countries and pride of place is being given to Information Technology.

The Ministry of Education has decided to include Information Technology in the school curriculum for Year 6 upwards beginning next year.  The government proposes to distribute 10 computers each to 1,500 selected schools, funded by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.  The Ministry of Education should be praised for giving pride of place to Information Technology in the educational plan to meet future challenges.




Don't disappoint the people
Snags are cropping up suddenly in the peace process.  Although recent happenings have indicated that there is a wide gap between words of mouth and deeds on the government side Norway is steadfast in its peace efforts.  The people are beginning to feel that the various responses by the government and the Tigers in the process of solving the ethnic issue have merely been exercises in rhetoric and formal.  The government has lost its strength to stand up to the three new demands made by the Tigers, due to a weakening caused by a desire to accommodate majority chauvinists.

We have now reached a stage where we cannot afford to evade peace talks.

It is incumbent on the government to declare but progress has been made so far in finding a political solution.  It will help to build confidence in the people.  The government and the Tigers should not continue to go on talking about peace and make preparations for the war all the time. Successive governments are guilty of allowing violence to continue while blaming the Tigers for the continued war.  The LTTE should realize that nothing has so far been achieved by the war and nothing can also be hoped for in the future.  The two parties should not be preoccupied with tactics to win the war. They should instead think of ushering in peace.



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