East – from military to a political battle ground

Military East

By Amantha Perera

It was June 20, 2001. Rauf Hakeem had just walked across the aisle in parliament into opposition ranks and dealt a death blow to the second Chandrika Kumaratunga administration.

He sat among journalists in one of the parliament dining rooms and mused aloud of the crossover of the seven SLMC parliamentarians. “My neck is on the line,” he said.

His neck is once again on the line – last week he upped the stakes in next month’s Eastern Provincial Council election by resigning from his parliament seat, along with two of his close associates, to run in the polls.

It is only apt that the Mahinda Rajapakse administration faces it first stiff political test in the east. The east, from Kumana in the south to Kokillai in the north, is where it fought its first major military battles with the Tigers, and won.

Eventual fall

Five years, one month and two days after Hakeem sat in the opposition triggering the eventual fall of the Kumaratunga Government, on the afternoon of July 22, 2006, the water ran dry under the Kallar anicut in Somapura, north of the now famous Mawilaru sluice gates.

The Tigers said that civilians angry at unofficial restrictions placed by the government forces closed the gates. Whoever closed the gates, the incident was the first fall in the domino action that would end with the Tigers losing all their real estate holdings in the east.

Just a week shy of the anniversary of the Mawilaru closure, on July 15 last year, government forces gained Toppigala in the Batticaloa District, a symbolic event that signalled the culmination of what began with Mawilaru.

By July 27, 2006 water flowed once again under Kallar, but by then the government had already ordered troops to march towards the sluice gates.

As battles raged near the dirt track that was the access road to Mawilaru from the Somapura Road, the Tigers attacked government held western parts of Muttur town, about 20 km north of Somapura.

Fighting spreads

The Tigers held western and southern parts of Muttur while the government maintained its hold on the north-eastern parts where the important jetty was located. Fighting spread like wild fire in the northern edges of the province in the first 10 days of August 2006.

On August 11, the Tigers upped the ante yet again, when they shelled the Palaly base using long range artillery and also launched an assault on the government defence line at Muhamalai. They even said that Tiger aircraft had flown over Palaly during the fighting.

The August 11 fighting closed the A9 and it has remained closed since. The Tigers also launched artillery attacks on the Trincomalee Naval Base, targeting a naval troop carrier convoy that was in the bay area.

But the tide quickly turned in favour of the government forces. The government gained lost ground and even moved a half kilometre into Tiger held areas in Muhamalai two weeks after the August 11, 2006 debacle.

By September 1, 2006, troops had broken out of their encampments in Kattaparichchan, west of Sampur after the camp had been besieged. Three days later on September 4, 2006, the security forces reported that troops had entered the Tiger stronghold of Sampur, and the Tigers said they had made a tactical withdrawal from the town. Sampur was the main Tiger political/military enclave in areas south of the Trincomalee bay and Tiger big guns had been positioned there.

On the march

By December 2006, troops had began moving up the A 15 that links Muttur and Valachchenai from the southern tip of the highway in the Batticaloa District.

January 21, 2007, government announced that the key coastal town of Vaharai had fallen into government hands.

On February 28, the Tigers committed yet another inexplicable act. They started shelling the Weber Stadium on the western edges of Batticaloa town as helicopters carrying several key Western ambassadors and Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe landed on the grounds.

A week later troops had launched into the only areas held by the Tigers in the Batticaloa District, around Toppigala, Karadiyanaru and Vavunathivu.

By July 15 last year it was all over and Toppigala had fallen. While the northern parts of the province were being cleared of the Tigers, the STF had succeeded in a similar effort in the Kanchikudichiaru areas in the Ampara District.

Hundreds die

The fighting did not go as a chess game as some media reports would indicate. Hundreds of combatants and civilians died, and hundreds of thousands fled for their lives. Between last year and this March the government had resettled over 104,000 in the Batticaloa District alone.

Seven months after Toppigala was gained, the Batticaloa local government elections were held, and the TMVP led Pillayan crowned in glory.

Now the entire province is heading into a provincial council poll. As the local government campaigning reached fever pitch last month, Hakeem felt the direction of the political winds in the east – that the LC polls was a launching pad for larger struggles.

Now that the sixth sense of the seasoned politician has come true, he has no option but to do battle himself.

Ampara Muslims want TMVP out

By Mandana Ismail Abeyawickrema

The Muslim factor in the east cannot be undermined in the forthcoming Eastern Provincial Council elections due to the large number of Muslims in the province.

The biggest Muslim bloc in the province is in Digamadulla (Ampara) District, which is to also elect the highest number of provincial councilors to the Eastern Provincial Council. A total number of 35 provincial councilors are to be elected at the elections (Digamadulla District 14, Batticaloa District 11 and Trincomalee District 10).

Over 50% of the 409,360 voters in the Digamadulla District are Muslims with Kalmunai, Samanthurai, Ampara and Pottuvil being the areas with the highest Muslim concentration.

However, the way in which the Muslim vote would sway depends mainly on one issue – the Pillayan factor and the support given to it by the government.

According to Muslims in the Digamadulla District, the results of the Eastern Provincial Council election would also play a key role in the future survival of Muslims and also the Sinhalese in the province.

The friction between the Muslim and the Tamil communities following the activities of the Pillayan Group in the area would push the Muslims to exercise their franchise against any group representing the Tiger breakaway.

The growing dissention against the Pillayan Group intensified last week when an act of intimidation by several members of the group in Kalmunai resulted in a hartal launched by the Muslims in the area.

Although the hartal ended by Tuesday, April 2 afternoon, the impact the incident had on the Muslims have made them more vocal on the need to safeguard their rights at the forthcoming elections.

According to residents in Kalmunai, being under Pillayan would be like being under the LTTE.

“The election results would show if the Muslims and for that matter even the Sinhalese would be able to survive in the east,” Mohideen Ajeemal, a resident from Kalmunai said.

He said that although Kalmunai was calm at the moment, there was growing dissention against the Pillayan Group.

Pillayan’s affiliation with the government has made the Muslims think twice about the UPFA and supporting it.

“Muslims and the Sinhalese have no issues and they can co-exist. The problem is with the Pillayan group,” Ajeemal said.

He added that Pillayan’s group was trying to intimidate people in the east just after winning the local government polls in the Batticaloa District. “The Pillayan Group does not have a huge presence in Digamadulla like in Batticaloa, but still they try to intimidate the Muslims. Imagine the plight of the people if Pillayan or any faction supportive of them wins the elections?” he pondered.

Muslim big guns enter the fray

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

What does prometrium cost

The closure of nominations for the Eastern Provincial Council (EPC) ended on Thursday (3) on a dramatic note. The government, requiring significant Muslim political support managed to clinch a last minute deal with SLMC Executive member, M.L.M. Hizbullah, the SLMC’s driving force behind the recently concluded Batticaloa local authority election.

It is well known that Presidential Advisor and MP Basil Rajapakse struck the crucial deal with Hizbullah, splitting the SLMC further in a bid to strengthen the government’s Muslim representation at the May 10 poll. Strangely, it was Hizbullah, whilst spearheading the SLMC election battle in Batticaloa last month that proved the most vociferous critic against the Pillayan Group, highlighting instances of violence and intimidation against Muslims.

Hizbullah’s explanation was, “Either Pillayan or I will be appointed chief minister, depending on how we fare at provincial level. One has to work with the government to become the chief minister.”

A political failure

Hizbullah who has twice defected from the SLMC was also critical of the SLMC Leader. “He has proved himself a political failure. The Muslims need to be heard. That’s why I am here together with other Muslim leaders who advocate a massive eastern voice for the Muslim community.”

Irked by the defection, Party Leader Rauf Hakeem claimed that some party members have been conspiring to destroy the party but expressed confidence in the unwavering loyalty of SLMC supporters.

Matching words with action, Hakeem struck a deal with the UNP and promptly resigned from his seat together with Party General Secretary, Hasan Ali and Basheer Segu Dawood to contest the polls. As things stand, the three SLMC members will provide leadership to the three districts in the UNP-SLMC joint campaign to capture political power in the east.

The SLMC’s massive entry will work in their favour, opines UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake.

“We are to contest in a province that is multi ethnic and multi lingual. Besides, the SLMC has a significant presence given that it is essentially, eastern based. We will ensure a formidable political contest,” he said.

No such pledge

At least one government minister, Digamadulla-based UNP defector P. Dayaratne has broken the UPFA chief ministerial theory claiming that no such pledge had been made to either Pillayan or Hizbullah despite their much-publicised ambitions to run the provincial administration.

“That post is currently open. It has not been pledged to either Hizbullah or Pillayan” Dayaratne said.

The quicksand political dynamics in the east is not confined to the Muslims. The Tamil community too has added to the sense of drama.

Last week, the TNA officially announced its decision to boycott the eastern PC poll giving historic reasons for doing so.

Amaryllis sales research heiloo The TNA’s position is that the government spent Rs. 250 million on a poll together with a Tamil breakaway militant group to deny the political rights of a community. “What are the credentials of the Pillayan Group? What ideology do they represent, having given into the Sinhala dominance and becoming a pawn in the hands of President Mahinda Rajapakse,” demands TNA Jaffna District MP, K Shivajilingam.

Tiger political arm

In the meantime, a political arm of the LTTE, the People’s Front of Liberation Tigers (PFLT) has submitted its nominations at the Ampara Kachcheri for the forthcoming poll. It is an interesting development to find one time Tiger Political big-wig Yogaratnam Yogi’s signature on the party nomination list. The PFLT is fielding 17 candidates including two women.

But the TNA remains unflinching, claiming that whoever who participates in this ‘farce’ goes against Tamil ideology.

“President Rajapakse has bifurcated north-east as opposed to the original merged north-east which were merged following an 1987 international treaty between India and Sri Lanka. The merged territory existed for 18 years and was accepted by four successive presidents of Sri Lanka,” adds TNA General Secretary, Mavai Senadhiraja.

‘Having destroyed the east through military offensives since July 2006, the government has caused immense damage to crops and livelihood, property including houses, plantations and fishing equipment. Over 500,000 Tamil civilians were displaced and extra judicial killings and enforced disappearances completed the picture,’ he charged.

“Hurriedly holding an election in the bifurcated east is a diabolical step. It is a smokescreen for all its misdeeds against the Tamil people,” he alleged.

Rightfully belong to a Tamil

Meanwhile, staking a claim for the top post in the region is Pillayan himself. “The post should rightfully belong to a Tamil. By working with the government, we can ensure development,” he told the media April 3 midday, as nominations closed.

The JVP that has vowed to ‘destroy the PC system from within’ has nominated a former teacher and Pradeshiya Sabha Member, Wimal Piyatissa as the party’s chief ministerial candidate.

Piyatissa will head the JVP in the Trincomalee District with Ibrahim Lebbe and Krishantha Priyadarshana heading the Batticaloa and Digamadulla Districts.

Adding a fresh twist, two PA constituent parties, the CP and the LSSP too entered the fray as the Left Front, staking a separate claim in the eastern political battle.

Like the terrain and the ethnography of the east, the political battle is proving to be interesting, as it prepares for a poll after 14 years.


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