| by Rajasingham Jayadevan
( January 13, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) My planned visit to Sri Lanka took place between 27th December 2011 and 8 January 2012.
My visit came under mixed reaction from my family members, relatives and friends. My relatives in Sri Lanka wholeheartedly welcomed the visit, but unfortunately, the response from my wife, relatives and friends overseas was generally very negative. Those who objected to my visit had every reasons to fear as my encounter with the LTTE in Vanni in 2004/05 justified their fear. The fear resulted in only my son accompanying me and extensive advise was received from close quarters on the issues that could put me into trouble.
My critical stand against the government
Based upon reasons that I am an ardent critic of the government on a wide range of issues, in particular, on post war matters and extremism of the right wing Sinhala groups in the Sri Lankan Diaspora and in Sri Lanka and about the Tamil paramilitary groups, was the issues that worried the concerned. Flying on the 26th December was another worrying issue as what I faced after I flew to Sri Lanka on 26th December 2004 with the LTTE was a real worry that inflicted my family members.
Then my contributions to the Sri Lanka Guardian that was banned lately by the Sri Lanka government fuelled the worry further. The pressure was such that anyone in a similar situation would have given up the visit but my sheer determination desisted the pressures.
My meeting with the Sri Lanka High Commissioner
Coincidently, I was approached by the Deputy High Commissioner of the Sri Lanka High Commission Mr P M Amsa a week before my travel, who raised an issue relating to a write up which appeared in the Sri Lanka Guardian. The discussion that followed led to a meeting with the High Commissioner Dr Chris Nonis at the High Commission. The meeting was attended by my colleague and the Chairman of Alliance for Peace and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka (APRSL), Mr M Marzook. We discussed a wide range of issues and importantly about the LLRC report released on 16 December 2011.
Though I and my colleagues were critical of the composition of the LLRC committee and limitation of its mandate in our campaign work, we expressed our satisfaction on aspects of the report and were able to point out the deficiencies on the accountability issue at the meeting. Our position was that the LLRC report must be fully implemented and the issues that were inadequately dealt with must be handled separately.
At the meeting, I confirmed to the High Commissioner of my planned visit to Sri Lanka.
We were asked by the High Commissioner to attend a public meeting at the High Commission soon after our meeting on the subject matter of the LLRC report. The meeting was attended by a cross section of the Sri Lankan community and a dozen of them represented the minority Tamil and Muslim communities. The High Commissioner went into greater length to highlight the pertinent issues in the report. Following his presentation, the attendees were asked to express their views and we were surprised there was general consensus that the report must be fully implemented to end the stalemate in Sri Lanka. The consensus was such that even those who traditionally opposed any accommodation of Tamils under the pretext of the LTTE, on the whole, supported the report.
Arrival in Colombo and thereafter
I did not encounter any difficulties with the immigration or the Intelligence Service on arrival at the Bandaranayake International Airport as feared by my relatives. I did not engage in any political meetings and limited my visit to meeting my relatives, friends and occasional chats with people whom I met during my travel.
Soon after my arrival, it was brought to my attention that a Tamil website run by an activist of the EPDP paramilitary outfit operating from France gave a provocative twist to my visit to Sri Lanka. It stated that I have had gone to Sri Lanka to take on an official position with the government. The write up gave all the indications that it was the work of a frustrated self driven Muslim member contributing to this gutter website who in fact attended the High Commission public meeting. He was one of the members taken by me in a delegation to meet the government in early 2008. This particular gutter website (I do not wish to name herein to avoid giving undue publicity) is fulfilling the vacuum created by the degrading and lethargic pro-LTTE Nitharsanam.com and its associate websites operated from Norway by a maverick provocateur who has now changed his coats to sing for his supper for pittance to cover up his dastardly deeds.
However, I kept my eyes wide open and my ears to the ground during my visit to understand the situation in Sri Lanka.
I stayed in Colombo until the News Years Day and travelled around without any hindrances. I did not see any military check points nor I was I stopped at any point to check my identity. Colombo enjoyed the calm but I found the situation is eerie as it has still not woken up to the level of brief peace prevailed with the LTTE with the peace agreement. The Colombo transport network is better organised and the city is clean. All the street corner rubbish dumps have disappeared.
Travel to Jaffna
I travelled to Jaffna with my brother, son and a nephew in a hired van on the 2nd January. I had the opportunity to verify some of the issues debated during my long drive to Jaffna and return on the 5th January.
Though peace is prevailing in the north and people are moving about freely on the roads, there are many military camps and sentry points on both sides of the road. Such presence confirm a feeling of military rule of the north.
At the main army check point at Omanthai, the process of vetting was simple and friendly.
The military had closed down its retailing outlets in the north from 1st January. They are also vacating the camps in the private lands and was told they are moving them to government lands or will be absorbed by the existing military barracks in the government lands. The military has informed that they will be vacating the property I own in Navatkuli by end of this month. This change of stance was said to be a result of the government attempting to implement the recommendations of the LLRCe.
It was quite evident that the government is investing heavily on infrastructural development work to the/in the north. Beyond Vavuniya on the A9 road, there is extensive road work being undertaken and one could see workers were proactively engaged which is unprecedented to the lethargic and lazy work force I have seen before I migrated to the UK.
The road is widened on both sides and concreted before being tarred. Even the culverts and bridges were concreted. The trucks used in hundreds were of the TATA and Asok Leyland makes. I also witnessed Chinese engineers in some points supervising the work.
I also recalled the road work on the A9 road beyond Omanthai during LTTE control. The road was redone with the funds of Asian Development Bank. The scandal involving the LTTE and a company associated with a government minister of the then UNP government only made the development short lived. I was told a chunk of the fund was siphoned off by both the parties that resulted in the tidy road I saw in June 2004 infested with massive potholes in December 2004 following Monsoon rain.
Emergence of Buddha Statues on the A9 road
There were at least 10 Buddha statues and a small Dagoba erected in the road sides north of Vavuniya. A small Buddhist Dogoba has been built in the Mankulam town. The emergence of the these have earned the criticism of the Tamil parties and it is clearly the work of the military. When the country has to go through the reconciliation process, erection of Buddhist shrines have caused concerns, as Hindu and Christian Tamils do not worship Buddha.
An argument was put across that there were Hindu deities placed in the majority Sinhala areas which is visibly seen in the Anuradhapura area. These are surely placed by the Buddhist as part of worshipping as they too worship Hindu deities. If the erection of the Buddhist worshiping places in the Tamil areas was local civilian effort, it would not have been an issue. In the un-reconciled political climate, such moves are seen threatening and I too found it uncomfortable and unhelpful.
On the A9 road north of Vavuniya I was able to see construction of Hindu temples. These are civilian efforts had the support of the people.
To be continued…………