Plight of EP Tamils

Who governs the Amparai and Batticaloa districts today? What kind of law is enforced in these areas? Does the writ of the government of Sri Lanka run in these areas? Are they the laws of Sri Lanka, enacted by an elected legislature and enforced by the police, that are supreme or are they the laws of the jungle that are enforced by juvenile terrorists and kangaroo courts?

Such questions will come to the minds of the public on reading The Island report on the front page about extortion in the Eastern Province.

In this 20 -year old conflict, in areas that were under the terrorists the law of the jungle applied, kangaroo courts existed and lamp post killings and more cruel ways were the ‘judicial’ forms of execution. With the Ceasefire Agreement and Velupillai Prabhakaran in a safari suit, it would have been expected for things to change. But it is not so today.

Quite clearly, it is the law of the jungle that still prevails in the areas under LTTE control. And even in areas under government control, the LTTE extortion squads are operating freely and the juvenile ‘Inland Revenue Officers’ are enforcing rather crude and primitive methods of ‘tax collection’ by abducting those whom they claim have not paid their ‘taxes’ to the LTTE. Prominent citizens, professionals and business people are being forced to pay up or are taken into LTTE camps and held there until the demands are met. The de facto ‘Commissioner of Inland Revenue’- a euphemism for Extortion Chief- has been identified as an LTTE leader, Athiyman. At least Rs. 30 million is reported to have been collected so far.

Our report says that the helpless civilians of Batticaloa and Amparai have banded themselves together into an organisation titled Batticaloa-Amparai Civil Liberties Organisation (BACLA) in an attempt to save themselves. These helpless Sri Lankans have jumped from the frying pan to the fire - having suffered immensely on being caught in the crossfire between the government forces and the LTTE - are now being left to the tender mercies of LTTE terrorism.

Ironically, this new turn of events have come about with the Ceasefire Agreement coming into force - said to be the harbinger of peace after 20 years of bloody conflict. But nowhere in the Ceasefire Agreement has the power of taxation been vested in the LTTE - either in areas under their control or government-controlled areas. This is yet another example of the LTTE not giving a damn about legal niceties, the Ceasefire Agreement or the Rule of Law and going ahead in building up the infrastructure to set up their own fascist separate state. This is a foretaste of things that are to come in the envisaged state of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the ‘Liberator’.

The apparent reluctance of the government to call a halt to this brazen terrorism because of the fear of endangering pending peace negotiations has given a free rein to the LTTE to undertake more tasks for the creation of a separate state. Abductions, extortion, smuggling of armaments, instilling fear into the minds of the people to accept them as their saviours and future rulers and the setting up of LTTE offices (though still proscribed) in areas way out of LTTE-controlled areas) are the visible preparations. Both President Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe must realise that there is a rising tide of resentment at this uncontrolled terrorism.

What should be of immediate concern to them is the plight of the people in the Eastern Province, particularly the Tamils. The Sinhalese apparently have made no complaints as yet. Prabhakaran has made peace with the Muslims for very strategic reasons. But the Tamils have been left destitute to the mercy of terrorists without laws or law enforcement officials to protect them. It is the prime duty of this government to protect its citizens and not abandon them to the laws of the jungle and those with bestial instincts.

Another supreme irony is that apparently the newly formed association, BACLA, had no authority to appeal other than to Norway’s Ambassador in Colombo Jon Westborg and the Norwegian Head of the Ceasefire Monitoring Mission, Major General Trond Furhovde. But what can these Norwegians, who have been elevated to the status of a Sri Lankan Raja, do?

Many complaints have already been made to them and they have held that so far there has been only one violation: LTTE’s refusal to permit buses from Colombo to proceed directly to Jaffna. And even in this instance, they have appealed to ‘both parties’ to resolve the issue. That is all they can do on the terms provided by the Ceasefire Agreement.

But what happens to those Tamils in the Eastern Province who are abducted and have been asked to cough up millions in the form of taxes? According to the Ceasefire Agreement one of the ‘two parties’ must lodge the complaint. But the government has shown no inclination to take up complaints made against the LTTE! What a plight to be placed in!

Neither President Kumaratunga nor Prime Minister Wickremasinghe can avoid taking responsibility to protect these citizens. Powerful western nations, who can really call the shots in the current situation and have shown consistent interest in protecting human rights of the Tamil minority, should now move into action.

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