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Indian delegation : extremely sad, and some IDPs outraged

[Lakbima News, Sunday, 18 October 2009 10:49 No Comment]

7-1 Amidst much media hype, the delegation comprising Tamil Nadu parliamentarians of India returned to their country last week. The members of the delegation had ostensibly been instructed to have no business with the media while in Sri Lanka. One of the members of the delegation and a known LTTE-sympathizer Thol Thirumavalavan who is also the leader of the Liberation Panthers in Tamil Nadu spoke from Tamil Nadu over the phone of his Lankan tour. Excerpts:

Could you tell us about your visit to the IDP camps in Sri Lanka?

We, the delegation of Indian parliamentarians visited the people housed in the IDP camps in Vavuniya on October 11. We spent fairly a long time at many of those camps including the ones named after Ramanathan, Kumaraswamy and Arunachalam and what is known as zone 4. We met with the people. They were hesitant to talk; they were afraid to talk. Though they had gathered in their large numbers, there was a noticeable sense of fear… They were disinclined to speak out. I took them to a side and had a private conversation in which I encouraged them to confide in me about their grievances without fear. “We are people who are willing to struggle for you,” I told them. Then they began to express their anxieties. There was a great deal of fury towards the Indian government among those people. ‘We trusted none else; we had faith in India and hoped that it would come to our rescue. But India too has been a party to our destruction’ they said. Some others said: “there were agitations in Tamil Nadu (against the war in Sri Lanka). But had Kalainjar (Chief Minister M. Karunanidhy) intervened, he could have saved the lives of our brethren. He too abandoned us’. Some were even more outraged: ‘why have you come here’ they asked me. There were people of all age groups: elders, children, women and men. All of them said one thing in unison: “all we ask from this government is one big thing: allow us go back to our native places. We don’t want you to do anything else. We will somehow find the means for our survival”.

“Isn’t this visit also an eyewash?” some people asked in real anger. I requested them to calm down and tell me what they had to say. A man cried out loud so that everybody else could hear him: “aiya, you are a Tiger supporter. The whole world knows that Thirumavalavan is a Tiger sympathizer. But we never supported the LTTE; we never assisted them in any way. Why are we being incarcerated like this?”

“There is no water to drink; to bathe. They provide 5 liters of water once a week. But that process too gets interrupted quite often. We have got water today because of your visit. Otherwise, we would have to wait and wait and wait with emptied bottles for long days..” they said. People are suffering from contagious diseases, I was told. They also requested me to ensure that their children get a good education. That brought tears to my eyes. And I didn’t know what to say. I could do nothing but listen to their stories in silence.

What do you intend to convey to the government of India with regard to this tour?

We submitted our report to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Kalainjar last evening. He told us to release it to the press. Our group leader T. R. Balu even suggested that the Chief Minister go through the report before we could release it to the press. The Chief Minister said: you tell the press what you have seen; that would be the correct thing to do. We had a briefing at Arivalayam where we gave the media our report.

We explained to the media about the tragic situation; the inhumane conditions prevailing in those camps.

When we met Sri Lankan President Rajapakse, he assured us that 50, 000 people would be released within two weeks and asked us to convey this to our leader and the Indian leader.

“We are bound by a UN treaty to first demine the areas where people are to be resettled. Without providing them with the infrastructure, we can’t just let them go” he told us. “To coincide with your visit, we will resettle 50, 000 people from Mannar and Jaffna in their home places within two weeks. In addition, there are about 8, 000 people who will be allowed to go and live with host families”.

We have recommended in our report to the Chief Minister that arrangements should be made to release all of them.

It has been reported that the Indian High Commissioner was present when you met with the opposition parties in Colombo and that he interrupted your discussion. Is that true?

He was there. But he did not take part in the discussion.

At this meeting, Mano Ganesan spoke at length about the situation. Many others also spoke. Finally Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe spoke. He said none of the opposition parliamentarians, including himself had been allowed to visit the camps. “We have filed a case in this regard,” he said.

He also said that the government was keeping those people in the camps in view of the future elections. They are planning to secure electoral victories by coercing the people with military force, he said. None of the people attached to the Indian High Commission interfered in the conversation.

Your delegation was significantly reluctant to talk to the media during the visit. What was the reason? Were you instructed not to speak to the press?

Well, there was a general guideline given to us. Our group leader T. R. Balu pointed out to me repeatedly about the possibility of what we say during the visit, being distorted and told me such misinterpretations could potentially affect the suffering of people in camps. We could submit a collective statement to Kalainjar and he would take care of the rest of the matters, he said. So, I directed the media personnel who contacted me during the visit to Mr. Balu.

As a person who has continuously talked about Lankan Tamils, what do you hope to do in the future regarding the situation here?

I will inform the Indian government of the true situation. We urged the Sri Lankan rulers not only to ensure the welfare of the war-affected people but also to find a political solution to the problem. When I spoke to President Rajapakse, I asked him about the All Party Representative Committee and the over 120 deliberations it has had, and the reports that the president was unwilling to accept the recommendations made by this committee. He said the final document was yet to be completed. He also said that the final proposal had to be endorsed by all the communities. The president expressed his commitment to find a political solution.

How optimistic are you about this assurance?

If one were to go by historical evidence, there is hardly anything that indicates the Sinhala rulers have lived up to their promises as far as finding a political solution to the minority problem is concerned. There have been several pacts signed but without any effect. Such an attitude is what led to the aggravation of the problem. They have once again given an assurance. And we would have to wait and see if they will fulfill it this time. We have been able to pressurize the Indian government to persuade its counterpart in Sri Lankan to release 50, 000 people from those camps. I am hopeful that all of those people could be sent back to their places with the help of the Indian government.

Why didn’t the members of opposition parties in India take part in this visit..?

I am not sure if they were invited for the meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh or not. Only the members from DMK, Congress and Viduthalai Chiruthaikal requested the prime minister and congress leader Sonia Gandhi to arrange such a visit to Sri Lanka. As far as the opposition parties in Tamil Nadu are concerned, they showed concern about the Eelam Tamils only when the elections were imminent. They did not bother to talk about the issue afterwards.

Are you planning to meet the Indian Prime Minister to discuss the upshot of the Sri Lankan tour..?

Right now, I think the first challenge is to ensure the freedom of movement of the people in the IDP camps. The next step would be rehabilitation. For that, India’s intervention or rather cooperation would be required. Therefore, the Indian government should extend its fullest assistance in the process of resettlement and rehabilitation of these people. We would emphasize this in our future discussions with the Indian government.

In my personal opinion, the next task would be to unite all the leaders and people from the Eelam homeland, diaspora, Tamils in the upcountry and the Muslims and forge a broad alliance. I would strive to achieve this. Unlike the people in Tamil Nadu, who remain shattered, these people should unite and there is a need for that. That’s because the Sinhala rulers have successfully divided these people into many groups. There are Douglas Devananda, Karuna, Pillayan and others, with differing stances. And there is the TNA on the other side. Even the upcountry leadership remains divided. Arumugan Thondaman, Chandrasekaran and Mano Ganesan: there is no unity among them. The Muslim Congress has also been fragmented. This has greatly weakened the minorities.

It is said that the Indian delegation was initially planning to visit the East, but that was later cancelled because you did not want to meet Minister Muralitharan… is this true..?

Visit to the East was not included in our agenda. We were planning to visit Jaffna, then the people in the refugee camps, meet the upcountry people and have meetings with the political parties in the South. But Pillayan came and met us in the hotel where we were staying and explained about the situation in the east. But none of us in the delegation had plans to meet Karuna alias Muralitharan. Nor did the Indian High Commission make arrangements for such a meeting. There was no special reason behind this.

Some local media reported that the Indian delegation – especially the members of the Congress party – was satisfied and happy with the situation in the IDP camps… What you have shared with us in this interview contradicts that viewpoint… what have you got to say..?

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