2007: The year in review

[TamilNet, Thursday, 03 January 2008, 07:34 GMT]
For the people of the NorthEast, 2007 was a grim year. Sri Lanka’s security forces and allied paramilitaries intensified their campaign of abductions (‘white van’ abductions), torture, and murder of Tamil civilians. Tamil civil society leaders bore the brunt of the counter-insurgency campaign. Jaffna remained an open prison with shortage of essential items, east falling under the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) control with thousands displaced as Colombo concocts colonization schemes to make east a Sinhala majority province.

2007 Year in Review
In the North, the paramilitary EPDP, which has been implicated over the last several years in abductions, murders and rapes, continued its campaign in 2007 with active collaboration from the Sri Lanka Army (SLA). The group’s leader, Mr. Douglas Devananda, who serves as a minister in the Cabinet, continued his close relationship with President Rajapaksa and his brother--the Defense Secretary, Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

In the East, the paramilitary Karuna group held sway, continuing its brutal campaign of abductions and murders. The group also split, with Pillaiyan taking over the leadership from Karuna.

Karuna was smuggled into the UK by intelligence agencies of the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) under a diplomatic passport but was later arrested by the British immigration authorities and police. He remains under British custody.

The SL armed forces claimed that they had ‘liberated’ the East from the Tigers, and conducted a continuing campaign of attacks on the Forward Defense Lines of the LTTE as well as attacks by deep penetration units that targeted civilian and medical personnel in the Vanni and Mannar.

The LTTE claimed that it made a tactical withdrawal in the East. The LTTE also claimed, for the most part, that it put up stiff resistance and thwarted the military campaign of the GoSL to intrude into its territory in the Vanni FDLs.

The decapitated bodies of many Tamil youths from the North-East as well from the up-country, abducted by the SL military and paramilitary groups, turned up in many locations in both the North and the South.

The LTTE unveiled its Air Wing, the Air Tigers, consisting of modified light planes, with air attacks in the South. The Air Tigers said they conducted successful attacks on the Katunayake Air Force base, on targets in Colombo city, the Palaly military base and the Anuradhapura Air Force base.

The air attacks led to restrictions in flights into and out of the Katunayake International Airport and a drastic drop in tourism.

Many human rights activists alleged that the international community, including the U.S., U.K, India, Japan and Norway, while calling for respect for Human Rights from all sides, failed to challenge the SL state for its campaign of abductions and murders. Indeed, reports surfaced throughout 2007 of more support to the State from countries such as Pakistan, Iran, China, India, UK and the U.S.

Many Tamil journalists who wrote critically of the Rajapaksa administration were arrested, intimidated into silence or murdered. Sri Lanka was ranked third by a Geneva-based media watchdog in the number of journalists killed.

The abduction of the Eastern University Vice Chancellor, Prof. M. Raveendranath, by state-backed paramilitaries in the heart of the high security zone in Colombo remained unresolved. Media reports later indicated that the Vice Chancellor had been abducted and killed by the Karuna group, which had the support of the GoSL.

Despite announcements by the GoSL that Scotland Yard would be invited to do a forensic examination and help solve the earlier murder of Jaffna MP, Mr. Nadarajah Raviraj, no progress was made in apprehending and prosecuting his killers. Nor was any progress made in investigating the murder of Sivaram (Taraki), who was an editor of TamilNet.

The Commission of Inquiry (CoI) that SL President Rajapaksa formed to reassure the international community in response to the massacre of 17 Action Action Contre la Faim (ACF) workers in Mutur as well as the murder by Sri Lanka’s Special Task Force of 5 Tamils youths in Trincomalee, made no progress. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, after talking to a cross section of the people and witnesses, determined that the SL armed forces committed the Mutur massacre.

The International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) appointed by Sri Lanka’s President Rajapaksa to observe the inquiry by the CoI repeatedly complained about the inquiry being compromised—including the absence of transparency, interference from the Attorney General’s department and the Office of the President, and failure to protect witnesses. The IIGEP said the CoI’s process fell far short of international norms.

The group said that the “persistent disregard of [its] observations and recommendations, by the Government of Sri Lanka and the Commission of Inquiry, tends to render the IIGEP’s continued role irrelevant.”

Month-by-month summary of the highlights of 2007 follows:

January

The year began with a call by the Bishop of Jaffna, the Rt. Rev. Thomas Saundaranayagam, for active international and Indian participation to ensure justice for the Tamil people of Sri Lanka.

Ms. Paremesawary Munusamy, a journalist for the Sinhala-language Mawbima newspaper was arrested and held in detention for several weeks. She filed a Fundamental Rights petition with the Supreme Court.

A large number of Tamil civilians were arrested in various areas of the South. Sri Lanka Army’s operations in Batticaloa caused 7500 families to flee their homes and become refugees.

The seven TRO staffers abducted by the Karuna paramilitary groups a year before were remembered; they were presumed murdered by the abductors.

February

White van abductions of Tamils, forced disappearances and murders of abducted youths by the SLA and allied paramilitaries increased.

Journalists in Jaffna were in fear of their lives after threats and abductions. Subramaniam Ramachandran a reporter for Tamil dailies went missing.

Indiscriminate arrests of Tamil civilians on a massive scale in Colombo and its suburbs were greeted with outrage by Tamils as well as rights groups.

Sri Lanka’s military helicopters carrying foreign ambassadors and UN officials to Batticaloa district came under Mortar attack when the helicopters landed in an Airfield in Batticaloa, causing minor injuries to the US and Italian Ambassadors to Sri Lanka. The LTTE said they were unaware of the diplomat’s presence in the SL military helicopters—that the customary procedure for informing them of diplomat’s presence in the war zone was not followed by the GoSL, and apologized. The GoSL said that the LTTE had tried to target the diplomats, but the US ambassador, Mr. Robert Blake, insisted that they were not the target.

March

Mr. Managala Samaraweera, the dissident SLFP parliamentarian who became an independent, said at a press conference that the United States should monitor the activities of Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the Defense Secretary and brother of the SL President Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa, as the Defense Secretary was in the forefront of denying the freedom of the press and harassing journalists.

Civilians numbering 40,000 were displaced within two days by SLA operations in the East.

Ms. Paremesawary Munusamy was released after Supreme Court heard her fundamental rights petition and ordered her release.

The SLA’s heavy use of Multi-Barrel Rocket Launchers paralyzed the Batticaloa district.

The Airwing of the Tigers attacked the Katunayake Airforce base, causing loss of many aircraft to the Sri Lankan Airforce.

The TNA urged the SL President to prevent the SLA from looting IDP’s houses in the Batticaloa district.

Human Rights Watch criticized the GoSL for its sponsorship of the paramilitary Karuna group: “The Karuna group’s use of child soldiers with state complicity is more blatant today than ever before, ” the HRW said. “The Karuna group is doing the government’s dirty work. It’s time for authorities in Colombo to stop this group from using children in its forces…armed Karuna members regularly walk or ride throughout Batticaloa district in plain view of government forces.”

April

Citing the State’s continued sponsorship of the Karuna group and its forced recruitment of child soldiers (abductions), the HRW called for ban on military aid to Sri Lanka.

Artillery duals along the FDLs in the North between the SL armed forces and the GoSL continued. And in Batticaloa, Multi-Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRL) fire displaced people on a mass scale.

Selvarajah Rajivarman, 25, a young journalist working at Jaffna's Uthayan newspaper was shot dead by gunmen believed to be from the EPDP paramilitary.

Air Tigers attacked two targets in Colombo, said to be oil storage tanks in Muthurajawela and Kolonnawa.

May

The SLFP submitted it proposals to the All Party Representative Committee(APRC). The proposals to solve the conflict in the island, based on “Mahinda Chinthana” were widely condemned as going back to the failed district council proposals of the 1980s, and as outrageously inadequate.

Following the Air Tigers’ attack in Colombo, the Katunayake Airport was shut down at nights.

Tamils living in lodges in Colombo were ordered to vacate their lodges within 24 hours and go back to their native places.

June

Sri Lanka’s police, on orders from the Defense Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, ordered lodge owners in Colombo to evict Tamils living in their lodges. More than 500 Tamils, including many old men and women in their 70’s were forcibly sent by bus to Vavuniya.

The action brought condemnation from NGOs, who said the expulsion was a disgrace to humanity, and the international community, including the U.S.

Responding to the international criticism, including the United Nations and the UK, the SL Prime Minister, Mr. Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, apologized in parliament. But within 24 hours, Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa defended the expulsions, saying “anything is fair when fighting the LTTE.”

July

Fifty US Congressmen, led by Rep. David Price and Rep. Rush Holt, wrote to President Bush, asking the US to increase diplomatic involvement in Sri Lanka “to promote strong human rights protections for civilians [and] urge the Government of Sri Lanka to take active measures to end extrajudicial killings and disappearances in government-controlled areas.”

An elderly Tamil lady living close to the University of Jaffna was tortured by Sri Lanka Armed forces.

Sri Lanka Navy and the Sea Tigers clashed heavily in the Pulmoddai seas.

The deep penetration unit of the Sri Lanka army targeted a health service vehicle in Mangku'lam, killing 5 civilians.

Two Canadian MPs raised concerns about the gross human rights violations in Sri Lanka, and asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper to open a Canadian consulate in Jaffna that could provide immigration services and monitor human rights violations there.

Thousands of British Tamils gathered in London to protest the human rights abuses by the GoSL and called for the British government to take measures to halt the abuses and to recognize the right to self-determination of the Tamil people. The event, held at Trafalgar square, was attended by many British parliamentarians.

In an event organized by the SLFP dissident group, led by Mr. Mangala Samaraweera, and the United National party, thousands of Sri Lankan citizens from various parts of the South congregated in Colombo to protest the Rajapaksa administration’s policies and to accuse the Rajapaksa government of having secret pacts with the LTTE to win the last general elections.

The Bishop of Jaffna, the Rt. Rev. Thomas Saundaranayagam, speaking at a function of the Catholic charity, Caritas, said: “It is extremely difficult for the people to enjoy their rights and dignity as equal citizens of a country as long as Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism prevails " in the country. “Only when Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism [accepts] the reality and prepares itself to come forward to accept there are other people with whom it should co-exist, peace and prosperity would prevail in this country," the Bishop said.

The Sri Lankan government celebrated what it called the ‘liberation’ of the East and the ‘Dawn of the East’ with fanfare in Colombo.

August

Sahathevan Deluxshan, 22, a young media student at Jaffna University, was shot dead by paramilitary gunmen. The youth was allegedly targeted for participating in the second death anniversary of Sivaram. The same paramilitary had previously murdered another young journalist, Mr. Varman, for participating in Sivaram’s first death anniversary.

The Ceylon Worker Congress, the Tamil party supported the Rajapaksa government, decided to walk out of the cabinet, saying Mr. Basil Rajapaksa, the brother of SL president, had insulted a senior CWC leader by calling him, among other things, ‘Para Demala.’

Mr. John Holmes, United Nations Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Relief Co-ordination, visited Colombo, and in an interview said that Sri Lanka has one of the worst records in the world for safety of humanitarian aid workers. Stung by that criticism, Mr. Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, the Chief Government Whip in parliament, called Mr. Holmes a terrorist who had taken bribes from the LTTE. “I would say Holmes is completely a terrorist, a terrorist who supports terrorism. We consider people who support terrorists also terrorists,” he said.

The UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban-Ki-Moon, called the reaction of the GoSL “unacceptable’ and “unwarranted.” But Mr. Fernandopulle responded, “I don’t give a damn about what this UN boss has to tell me or Sri Lanka. He can say whatever he wants, but I will still go by what I said and that is, John Homes is a terrorist who takes bribes from the LTTE.”

The Human Rights Watch came out with strong criticism of the GoSL, saying that impunity reigned in Sri Lanka and rights record had severely deteriorated. The HRW called on the EU to “establish a human rights monitoring mission under United Nations auspices to investigate abuses by all parties, report publicly on abuses to enable prosecutions, and facilitate efforts to improve human rights at the local level."

Reporters without borders said that the Jaffna media is in the grip of terror and that murders, torture, censorship, threats and kidnappings had made Jaffna one of the world’s most dangerous places to work for journalists.

September

Deep Penetration Units of the SLA killed 9 civilians fleeing an SLA offensive in Mannar. The food crisis in Jaffna worsened. 4500 civilians in Mannar becamse internally displaced.

The phenomenon of Tamil youths and civilians seeking protection from the local Human Rights Commission (HRC), and those seeking to be inside prisons rather than be abducted by paramilitaries and murdered, became much more common in Jaffna.

The Amnesty International called for international investigations into Human Rights abuses in Sri lanka.

Rev. Fr. Nicholaspillai Packiyaranjith, of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) was killed when Sri Lanka Army Deep Penetration Unit attackers launched a Claymore attack.

Sea Tigers and the Sri Lanka Navy clashed in Eastern waters.

October

A team of ‘commandos’ from the LTTE attacked the Anuradhapura Airforce base, destroying Aircraft on the ground. The losses were reportedly more than US $ 30 million. The LTTE claimed the attack was a success.

Manfred Nowak, the UN’s Special Rapporteaur against Torture, and Ms. Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, visited Sri lanka.

Mr. Nowak said after the visit that torture is widespread in Sri Lanka and prone to become routine in the context of counter-terrorism operations in Sri lanka.

Ms. Arbour said that prevalence of impunity and weakness of the law in Sri Lanka was a grave concern. "In the absence of more vigorous investigations, prosecutions and convictions, it is hard to see how this will come to and end," she warned.

Murders and abductions by the Sri lankan military and paramilitary forces in Jaffna escalated, especially in the Vadamaradchi region.

Subsequently in press interviews, Ms. Arbour called for a permanent UN monitoring mission in Sri Lanka.

November

On November 2, the LTTE’s political wing leader, S.P. Thamilchelvan and some other members of the political wing were killed in an aerial bombing attack on them by the Sri Lankan Air Force. The killing of the political leader prompted widespread condemnation in Tamil Nadu. The chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Mr. M. Karunanidhi, published a condolence message in the form of a Tamil poem praising the services of Mr. Tamilchelvan. Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora the mourned the loss of Tamilchelvan. Mr. Vaiko and Mr. Nedumaran of Tamil Nadu conducted a protest march and were arrested and detained by the state police.

The LTTE appointed Mr. B. Nadesan, the chief of the Tamil Eelam Police Service, as the new political wing leader.

In the United States Senate, Senator Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the judiciary committee, said in early November that reports of International Human Rights organizations “contain specific, documented, consistent information indicating a steady increase in serious human rights violations by both Sri Lankan government forces and the LTTE since the collapse of the ceasefire.

Senator Leahy added that, "while the first acts of aggression were attributed to the LTTE, these reports also implicate government forces in attacks on civilians, extra-judicial executions, torture, and forced disappearances.

"There is also evidence that Sri Lankan government forces have stood by while allied paramilitary organizations have carried out abuses, including forcibly recruiting child soldiers. With few exceptions, the Sri Lankan government has yet to bring the perpetrators, including members of government security forces, to justice."

The United States’ Ambassador to Sri Lanka supplied radars and dinghies to the SL Navy to fight the LTTE. The U.S. froze TRO-USA’s accounts in the U.S. The TRO-USA’ president insisted that the charity diligently complied with all U.S. laws, and the action to freeze the funds would only hurt innocent Tamil people in the North-East who relied on it for assistance.

The SLAF bombed the Voice of Tigers (VOT) Radio station in Kilinochchi. The attack on this media service was condemned by the Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF) as a war crime. The local Free Media Movement(FMM) as well as the Director-General of UNESCO, Koďchiro Matsuura, also condemned the attack as unjustified. UNESCO’s remarks prompted the GoSL and hard line Sinhala nationalists to protest the statement and demand a retraction, but the UN body stood by its statement.

The LTTE leader, V. Pirapaharan, delivered his annual Heroes’ Day speech and said, “None of the Southern parties are ready to accept the core principles for a lasting peace: the Tamil homeland, the Tamil nation and the Tamil Right to self determination. The ruling party is adamant on unitary rule; the red and yellow parties are calling for no solution at all; and the main opposition party, somersaulting from its earlier position, is, on the one hand, saying nothing concrete and using evasive language to support the military actions of the government and, on the other hand, saying it supports peace efforts. All this clearly clarifies our point and proves beyond doubt that all the Sinhala political parties are essentially chauvinistic and anti-Tamil. To expect a political solution from any of these Southern parties is political naivety.”

The LTTE leader also said that the”propping up of the genocidal Sinhala State by the international community through economic aid, military aid and subtle diplomatic efforts will be counterproductive.”

A bomb explosion in Nugegoda killed 18 , includinga policeman and wounded over 40.

December

Sri Lankan forces conducted mass arrests of Tamils, herding more than 1500 Tamils in the South into overcrowded detention camps with facilities. Rights groups condemned this ‘collective punishment” of Tamils.

India and the EU reiterated their positions that there can be no military solution to the conflict in the island.

A claymore attack in Kebitigollawe killed 14 civiliands and 2 SLA personnel.

Mano Ganesan, the Colombo district parliamentarian representing the Western Province People’s Front (WPPF), was selected as first runner up for the Freedom Defenders Award from the U.S. Mr. Ganesan “founded the Civil Monitoring Commission on Extra-Judicial Killings and Disappearances (CMC), based in Colombo, and continues to serve as the CMC Convener. He has shown enormous personal courage and dedication in exposing crimes against Sri Lanka’s several minority communities, including the country’s Muslims. Relatives of those abducted, “disappeared” and killed often turn first to the CMC to try to obtain information on their loved ones or secure their release,” said the press release from the U.S. embassy in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka’s ruling SLFP government, in order to pass its budget and prevent a collapse of its hold in parliament, conducted a campaign of secret deals with opposition and JVP parliamentarians as well as intimidation of TNA MPs. The state used its allied paramilitaries (the Pillaiyan group) in the East to abduct relatives of the eastern TNA MPs and thus prevent them from voting. In the end, despite the resignation of some SLMC MPs led by Rauff Hakeem, and the crossing over of Mr. Anura Bandaranaike, the JVP’s decision to abstain from voting helped the SLFP pass its budget.

Immediately after the budget passed, however, the SLFP government started a campaign of minimizing the security provided to many MP’s including Mr. T. Maheswaran of the UNP, Mr. Mano Ganesan of the WPPF as well as the TNA MPs. Maheswaran was assassinated on the New years day.

 

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