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Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)
EPDP goes on offensive
29 September 1996
The government recently requested all Tamil groups and parties to begin political and “other” work in Jaffna. The response, predictably, was negative. Instead, the Tamil leaders took up with the government what they consider the deteriorating relationship between the army and the people in the peninsula. At the last meeting he had with the President the EPDP leader Douglas Devananda took strong exception to a report that his party”s name had been implicated in the abduction and disappearance of people in the army controlled areas of the peninsula.
The “Uthyan”, the only daily published in Jaffna today, carried a story recently that the EPDP was involved in the “white van” abductions in some places where the army is in charge. (Incidentally, this paper”s ability to survive in the face of all seemingly unsurmountable adversity is truly astonishing. It came out when all the groups were active in the north, and later managed to continue in business despite occassional problems with the IPKF. Then, when the LTTE ran Jaffna, it survived as the only privately owned daily in the peninsula. )
Devananda”s point was that the story was a deliberate “plant” in the Uthayan to bring disrepute to his party and to cover up the covert activities of some para military groups operating with the army. The Uthayan cannot publish anything today without the direct or tacit approval of the military or intelligence authorities in the peninsula. This was evident in July when the paper wrote stories based on BBC and Veritas reports about the fall of Maullaithivu. The Uthayan, according to some Tamil party sources, was warned, and since then the paper quotes only the SLBC and the military communiques .
Last week the Thinamurasu, a popular Tamil weekly which is generally believed to be backed by Douglas, wrote that the much feared Mohan group is active in the peninsula under the army”s patronage - the implication being that this group, the name of which once drove terror into the hearts of civilians in Batticaloa, is behind the “white van abductions” in the peninsula.
Douglas says “ it is true that in the begining we were extremely keen to work in Jaffna. But the government created some indirect hinderances. Today, however, the situation has changed. The people ( of Jaffna) are facing a lot of difficulties. Our name has been abused by some elements there, which are engaged in anti- people activities. If we go there ( in this situation), the blame for the injustices perpetrated on the Jaffna people might be passed on us”
The “ Thinamurasu” was more emphatic. It stated, concluding a report on abductions in Jaffna, “the government is unable to prevent the situation (in the peninsula) from changing to a point which makes the people feel that it is better to live with the Tigers than stay in areas where they are not present”.
The paper, in the same issue also noted “ the people of Jaffna are loosing the little faith they had had in the government”.
The EROS was also, in the begining as keen as the EPDP to begin work in Jaffna. The group was counting on the considerable number of members and supporters who had managed to survive the LTTE”s “rule”. The EROS also assumed, on the basis of its experience under the IPKF, that it would be more acceptable to the people of Jaffna than the other ex-militants. Now, however, it has a different story to tell. Sudha Master, the EROS leader in Colombo, said “ The relationship between the army and the people has worsened. The LTTE is able to widely engage in military activities because there are many areas in the peninsula into which the army has not entered. The people are turning towards the Tigers”.
He rules out the possibilty of his group going to Jaffna under such circumstances. The PLOTE, EPRLF and TELO are similarly reluctant despite the army”s concern about specific problems which are seen to be developing in the peninsula . If one were to go by the experience of the Indian army and the SriLankan security forces in the cleared areas of the northeast between 1988 and 1994, these can be seen as problems requiring some form and some degree of direct input from anti- LTTE Tamil groups.
The President, apparently carried away by the assertions of assorted Tamil intellectuals, peaceniks and Sudu Nelum types and, of course, by the belief in her own power over the Tamil masses, bungled the whole thing at the very begining when the Tamil militants were eagerly clamouring to land in Jaffna . The army, also, which expected things to go much more smoothly in peninsula, did not press the government too hard at that time to have the non LTTE groups to ease the strain on troops.
Today, the ex-Tamil militants are not too keen to rush to the aid of the government because they feel
a) that the invitation to work in Jaffna at this juncture is to arrest what they see as the “growing contradiction between the army and the people”.
b) that the peninsula is fast becoming a theatre where keeping down LTTE operations to a mangeable level is poltically and militarily has become much tougher than in the east or in the cleared areas of the Vanni.
c) that with the onset of the monsoons in the coming months, the LTTE will go for more widespread and bigger attacks on army positions in the peninsula.
d) that infilteration into the most secure areas cannot be prevented even by them as the Tigers consolidate their position further in the uncleared sectors.
True, the army is not going to fall apart if these groups continue to decline “the invitation to work in the peninsula.
But then, the ground situation in Jaffna today is such that regular counter-guerrilla operations deep into the uncleared areas are necessary to ease the increasing pressure on military”s vital link routes and defended zones.
This in turn requires some measure of political and social influence over the large population living in the uncleared areas like Valigamam or the Thalayadi- Sempiyanpattu coast and hinterland east of the Kandy road or in the numerous villages beyond Sarasalai, the last army position north of the defended zone of Chavakacheri. Without such influence and rapport with the population, precise, preemptive and persistent action against the systematic LTTE build up in these areas is not possible. The political - military role of the non-LTTE groups which know the people, their mindset and the complex local terrain is crucial for this. This is why the army and the government want the groups to go now.
But the PA leadership has neither their unconditional backing nor the number of troops which may be required to manage the situation without aid of the non LTTE groups in Colombo.
The peninsula therefore is no more a laurel but a quagmire - though it might be a bit too late when the government realises that it is so.