“Sleeping Tigers”

While right-thinking Muslim leaders, not succumbing to this pressure, have tried to get the frustrated youth to involve themselves in politics instead, others have made use of them A?a??a?? and continue to do so even today A?a??a?? for crimes. This is an open secret in the east.

In a worrisome development, amid violence and threats in the east, there are confirmed reports that say Muslim extremists are abandoning their previously quiet lifestyle for armed resistance.

Several attempts by a few Muslim leaders in the east to conceal this fact has failed as the extremists, mostly youth, who have been ignored by society, are insistent on carrying arms and fighting for their lost rights.

It is known that the creation of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) itself was in order to prevent Muslim youth from embracing arms. This is a clear indication that the Muslim youth have been longing to embrace militancy, similar to Tamil militancy, with a view to protecting their interests.

The majority of Sri LankaA?a??a??s 1.3 million Muslims live in the east and a section of the community has been overtly exerting pressure on Muslim politicians and leaders to deal with the LTTE militarily.

Open secret
While right-thinking Muslim leaders, not succumbing to this pressure, have tried to get the frustrated youth to involve themselves in politics instead, others have made use of them A?a??a?? and continue to do so even today A?a??a?? for crimes. This is an open secret in the east.

The Muslim community has always been under threat from both the Sinhala community and the Tamil community. One cannot simply forget the expulsion of the Muslims from the north in 1990 by the LTTE.

Similarly, it is also hard to forget the manner in which the present government has grabbed lands from wealthy Muslims in the east in the name of development.

Continuous harassment and failure of the Muslim leaders to deliver on what they promised prior to elections to the masses have annoyed a group of youth who have decided to carry arms, which have been provided to them by the state.

The Muslim militants today are not visible. They are widely described as A?a??E?Sleeping Tigers.A?a??a??
Informed sources have confirmed that militants have not obtained any serious weapons training at the bases so far but are well equipped to strike, given a chance.

Cheap apcalis The cause
The rebels justify their causes for the creation of militancy in the east. They point out that it is due to insecurity and the failure of political leaders to deliver the goods.

They also state it is because of manipulation by the armed forces who today administer the Eastern Province and that their groups were born out of compulsion.

Most of the youth who are armed are the ones who have no access to political patronage or employment. They are isolated and feel rejected in society. However, they have had firsthand experience in fighting under different Tamil militant groups in the past.

According to confirmed reports, the government has facilitated the causes for the birth of the militant groups, which some intellectuals say could turn out to be A?a??A?dangerousA?a??A? if ignored.

Most of the youth who had received military training from ex-Tamil militant groups have also been used by government forces to fight the LTTE in 2000.

They were provided with arms and given a free hand to shoot anyone they suspected of being a Tiger, without realising this exercise would boomerang one day.

Muslim militancy
Though Muslim youth have had extensive military training under various Tamil militant groups since 1987, the Muslim militancy per se was created only in 2002 after the United National Front (UNF) signed the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA).

The initial leadership was given by one Suresh Cassim who deserted the Army and later started training Muslim youth in Kinniya. Later he was killed in Dehiwala by the LTTE.

Initially, the militant training was not for the same cause the LTTE is fighting for at present, but for self protection A?a??a?? to fight against human rights violations and deprivation of their basic rights and privileges.

However, it is now learnt that these small groups, mostly wielding AK 47s and other small arms, are being used by local politicians for their own motives.

It is also learnt that these groups are also prepared to demand the inclusion of Muslim representation in any future peace talks and a separate Muslim council in the east to look into the interests of the Muslim community.

These groups are at present operating in some of the villages of Eravur, Kinniya, Muttur, Oddamavadi and Batticaloa.

These youth were mainly allowed to mingle with Karuna cadres to identify LTTE Tigers and attack them. This situation prevailed only until Karuna was accepted as the leader of the Tamil Makkal Vidudalai Puligal (TMVP).

But no sooner the relationship between Karuna and his Deputy Pillaiyan became acidic, came the problems between the government forces and the Muslim militants.

The militants could no longer be the undercover agents of the government as virulent attacks started between Karuna and Pillaiyan factions, and the Muslim militants were left in the lurch.

Once the Muslim militants were left alone, the LTTE started picking them out and killing them. This was evident during the 2001/02 period in Kinniya and Muttur when scores of Muslim youth were massacred by the LTTE. A similar scenario also existed in Batticaloa during this period.

Today these small armed groups are being used by local politicians, especially in order to meet their aspirations during the local polls.

The structure
These armed groups donA?a??a??t have a specific structure or any objectives. Though well trained by Cassim, they are not led by any particular individual. They are scattered but well armed. These groups are isolated and not in a contiguous terrain.

They are certain about the danger they face from the state, the LTTE and even others. Hence they are in hiding, in places where access is difficult for Police or civilians. They demand protection and welfare, which nobody is willing to offer. They are not fundamentalist groups. Nor do they fight for land or space. But they prefer to be called A?a??E?Jihad.A?a??a??

However, should there be an all out war in the east, it cannot be ruled out these groups would come out together as a powerful force to strike at their enemies. While this cannot be comprehended at present, several individuals who have extensively studied their movements and moods have confirmed that there is a possibility of this taking place.

According to these sources the number is growing and the help they receive from outside villagers is also on the rise.
It is also alleged that some of the Muslim religious leaders have expressed their support as Muslims in general have become the latest victims of the ethnic war.

A?a??A?This is certainly an indication that more and more Muslim youth are interested in joining these groups but are not willing to reveal their identity at present,A?a??A? these sources from the east explained.

Move to mitigate
Concerned by the growing development, some senior Muslims are also trying to eliminate these groups. Some are even willing to meet these youth to talk to them to understand them better and provide them with whatever help they could offer.

As a preliminary step, some politicians are also planning to hold discussions in Colombo to find out how the Tamils and Muslims could be united so that they could be perceived as one voice by the outside world.

Meanwhile, complaints have also been lodged with the Human Rights Commission and with the local Police that Muslim militants are plundering the properties of the Tamils in Sampur.

In the run up to the local government election, there have been several incidents of grenade attacks against the supporters of the SLMC in Valachchennai. It is strongly believed that most of the attacks were spearheaded by the militants on the direction of some powerful local politicians.
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PoliticiansA?a??a?? stance

Meanwhile, SLMC Secretary General, Parliamentarian Hassan Ali denied any existence of Muslim militants in the east. He said even underworld elements were classified as militants and therefore it was incorrect to use the term A?a??E?Muslim militants.

However, he maintained that the creation of SLMC was to prevent youth from taking to arms.

A?a??A?We realised that the ethnic war was turning against the Muslims in general and our youth were getting really frustrated. It was after having felt their pulse that the SLMC was created, and the youth are now under our control,A?a??A? he added.

He admitted that Muslim youth joined various militant groups in 1987 but said that they subsequently gave up arms and joined the democratic process.

However, former SLMC high command member and present UNP Eastern Convener A.M.M. Naushad said one must view this phenomenon in the context of what the Muslim community has been going through as a result of the ethnic war.

A?a??A?Right from the inception, successive governments have used sections of the Muslim community to drive a wedge between the Tamils and the Muslims. This has taken many forms and in the current context there are groups, I mean small groups, of Muslim youth who are being manipulated by the security forces in their bid to keep the balance. This is unfortunate but it is a fact,A?a??A? he added.

Joining the Army
Meanwhile SLMC high command member and Eastern Election Campaign Manager M.L.A.M. Hisbullah said the Muslim youth did take to arms in the past but that they later returned their weapons.

He added that a few may not have returned their weapons and that the government had subsequently absorbed such youth into the Sri Lanka Army. He also said that the recruitment of these youth into the Army was not very clear.

A?a??A?We believe these youth were not given any professional training, such as the training given to others. We also feel that these youth have not been absorbed according to normal procedures. They are the ones who are being used by the government ministers today for violence. They are paid by the Army but work for government ministers,A?a??A? he said.

He admitted that the Muslim youth were compelled to take up arms in the past due to frustration. A?a??A?But now they are controlled,A?a??A? he asserted.

Muslims have never clamoured for regional powerA?A?A?A? A?a??a??Naushad

Only a few are chosen as power players to mould and make political parties from behind the screen in politics. They may not be popular in politics but certainly make others popular through their skills and expertise. One such person who has been active in the Sri Lankan politics is A. M. M. Naushad, son of former Member of Parliament (MP) for Ninthavur M. I. M. Majeed and son – in – law of also former MP for Ampara M. A. Abdul Majeed. He is today the UNPA?a??a??s convener for Eastern Province and Chairman of the Eastern province Political Affairs Committee. He is also a member of the UNPA?a??a??s working committee.

Naushad who was one time a High Command member of Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) says if the TMVP was not armed today, the UNP would have participated at tomorrowA?a??a??s election in Batticaloa. Accusing the TMVPA?a??a??s alliance with the government, Naushad told The Nation that the non participation of the UNP at tomorrowA?a??a??s election was to protest against the governmentA?a??a??s efforts to legitimise the TMVP through a working arrangement both parties have arrived at. He also declared that the UNP in the future will not align with smaller parties to contest election, but instead, added, if smaller parties desired to contest with the UNP, they should do so under the UNP symbol

Q: How would you describe the support to the UNP by the Muslims in the East at present?

A: The UNPA?a??a??s support per se in the East among the Muslims is not something that can be quantified from what has happened since 2001. Up to the year 2000, the UNP had Muslim elected representation in Trincomalee and Batticaloa while in Ampara there was a National list MP. Thereafter with the electoral arrangements made with the SLMC, there has been no UNP organisation at electoral level, even though Ali Sahir Moulana and thereafter Myown Mustapha, were nominated on the National list. This has been due to the fact that the SLMC has always aligned with the governing party, and this has basically kept the people with them for want of political patronage. The SLMC will admit that their success at the 2001 and 2004 general elections in the East was as a result of them being able to rope in the UNP vote base.

Q: The UNP on your recommendation is not contesting the local polls scheduled for tomorrow. Why?
A: The assumption that the UNP decided not to contest in Batticaloa on my recommendation is incorrect. I as the Provincial Convener, having assessed the ground situation and the happenings in the district, was of the opinion that a free and fair election cannot be held in the Batticaloa district, with one contesting group being armed and working along with government forces. I am of the opinion that the UNP contesting at Batticaloa would only legitimise an illegal exercise. There was a lot of discussion in the party over this, and the final decision was taken by the party that it should stay out as a protest against the actions of the government.

Q: Had the TMVP contested the election unarmed conditionally, would the UNP have contested the election?
A: If the TMVP sheds its arms and enters the democratic stream of politics I would definitely be spearheading a move to work with them for the benefit of the Tamil speaking people of the area, because the TMVP comprises Tamil youth of the Eastern Province who have an important role to play in deciding our future.

Q: But the people who have been used to vote for the elephant symbol are being deprived. They say the UNP should have contested the election.
A: This decision was not taken just by the hierarchy of the party, but also on the feed back given to the party by the organisers of the district, after having consulted their supporters. In fact during the run up to the nominations, there were many reports of former UNP candidates and prominent supporters being coerced by the TMVP cadres to either contest on their list or stay away. It was a decision based on the sentiments of the people and the position of the party with regard to the activity of another wing of the LTTE in the district.

Q: Would this lead to the erosion of the UNP vote base in the East?
A: The UNP vote bank in the East has been of recent past based on the position the party faces vis a vis the national issues. The UNP is the only party that has a clear position with regard to the rights of the minorities in a negotiated settlement to the national issues. Therefore it cannot be said that decisions taken in the interest of democracy and the rights of people would erode the vote base of the UNP.

Q: What is the UNPA?a??a??s position regarding the governmentA?a??a??s plan to hold Provincial Council elections?
A: The party has just initiated discussions on this issue, and there will be a series of meetings during the course of next week with organisers of the area, after which the Political Affairs Committee of the party would take a decision.

Q: Do you think a Provincial Council election is necessary at present given the escalation of violence in these areas?
A: Any attempt at giving power to the people in the regions is welcome, provided a level playing field can be assured by the government in power, so that the people of the area can freely make their choice of who should govern them.

Q: The UNP is accused of involving in, A?a??E?patch work politicsA?a??a?? in the East by the SLMC. How do you view this accusation?
A: I am really amused at this accusation if there is any. Because today the SLMC is holding seats in the East only because of the UNP not nominating Muslim candidates of their own, at elections at the request of the SLMC. And in fact, the UNP not contesting the local poll in Batticaloa, is also to the advantage of the SLMC, which the SLMC will be reluctant to concede. This has actually damaged the support of the UNP. The UNP has now realised that patch work agreements with smaller parties does not help in the long run. Hence the decision to reorganise and revitalise its vote base among the minorities in the North and East.

Q: Does it mean that the future elections will be contested by the UNP without aligning with smaller parties?
A: The UNP has taken a decision that it is open to alliances with like thinking parties for an election, or for the formation of the government without surrendering its identity in the regions. This would effectively mean that any like thinking party wanting to align with the UNP would have to contest under the UNPA?a??a??s symbol, without restricting the UNPA?a??a??s need to field its own candidates as well.

Q: But is it possible under the existing electoral system to win an election without aligning with smaller parties?
A: If you go back to 1989, with the emergence of the SLMC in the East with its founder leader at the helm and at the height of its popularity, the UNP still won the Ampara and the Trincomalee districts which formed the backbone of the SLMC support at that time. So alliances with parties with a view to come into power compromising the founding principles of national parties has cost them dearly and lessons learnt are what is now the compelling factor.

Q: Has the UNP identified the needs of the people in the East and if so what are they?
A: Basically the primary need of the people in the East is peace. With peace coming in, mobility, access to their livelihood, investments in infrastructure, and maximising the resources of that area which has remained untapped for the last 30 years, would also come in automatically.

Q: What are the measures taken by the UNP to deliver this to the Muslims?
A: The UNP has very clearly in its election manifesto spelled out how it would address these issues. If you look at the manifesto of the 2005 Presidential election, 2001 and 2004 General elections the development of the East and bringing peace to the area has been given the highest priority. And once the UNP assumes power it will definitely be working on swiftly implementing its plans. But for all this to happen, honorable peace within all communities has to come.

Q: You were one time SLMC High Command Member. How do you see the performance of the SLMC now?
A: My joining the SLMC was a result of the persuasion of the Ampara district Mosque Federation that declared all Muslim political forces in the district should contest under one banner. At a meeting held at the Ranmuthu hotel subsequently, I was the first to get up and declare that I would unconditionally agree to work with the SLMC, which I was doing even at that time as a member of their Constitutional Council in an independent capacity. I was even willing to contest the election if the party requested me to do so. This was a need of the day as we had to make an effort to consolidate the Muslim voice to strengthen the communityA?a??a??s demand for independent participation at the peace process.

But this did not work out. Thereafter having joined the SLMC, I worked to ensure that the party realised the mood of the people and in keeping with reality take up positions that could eventually ensure that the community had its fair share in any negotiated settlement to the ethnic issue. Unfortunately the power politics of the current proportional representation system and the fact that the SLMC had been corrupted by power and absolute power during the 1994 to 2000 period, I realised it was difficult for the party to work towards the basic founding principles of the party. This is why the SLMC, even after having received a majority of the Muslim votes at every election, has not been able to hold on to its representatives who were elected on a mandate which is very dear to the Muslims of the North East. So the end result has been that today the party support if analysed statistically will show a very sharp decline in the North and the East. The latest episode of the SLMC deciding to join the government to save the party and thereafter leaving the government, dividing the party, proves that the party is now drifting, and unable to basically work towards maintaining its vote base among the people of the North East, who have continuously hoped that the party would deliver on its promises.

Q: Does the UNP recognise the SLMC demand for a separate administrative council for the Muslims in the East?
A: The cry for a separate council by the SLMC or for that matter Muslims of the East should be seen as a part of the whole problem because it is more a reactionary call than something that has evolved over time. The Muslims have in the history of the country never clamoured for regional power. This has come about by the non-inclusion of their aspirations by both the majority communities; that is the Sinhalese and the Tamils, though the Tamil leadership has been pointing a finger at the Sinhala majority. They have not turned that finger towards themselves and seen that they were repeating that same behaviour towards their minority, that is the Muslims of the North and East. The very same reasons attributed by them for autonomy is what is echoed by the Muslims. So this cry will not be sustained if an inclusive process evolved, which is just and equitable to all communities. The UNPA?a??a??s position is that we have to build a national identity. And it is on record that should the resolution of the North East conflict be conditional to the merger of the North and East, then the just demand of the Muslims and Sinhalese should also be met.

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