LTTE's Campaign to Eliminate Dissidents Must Be Stopped

Sri Lanka Democracy Forum

The situation in the North and East of Sri Lanka is growing steadily worse. The Sri Lanka Democracy Forum (SLDF) is now receiving information of new killings, attacks and abductions of the LTTE・s suspected opponents on an almost daily basis. Since April there have been more than 40 such murders. It is essential that the government of Sri Lanka and the international community act now to prevent further bloodshed and protect the lives of Tamil political activists now hunted by LTTE death squads.

We must also act. Sri Lankans of all communities bear a special responsibility to reject leadership that condones violence, and to refuse our support and cooperation to forces intent on destroying democracy. We must demand an end to the LTTE・s! violent oppression.

The LTTE has launched a major campaign to discredit and attack its opponents. Its strategy has been to label all dissenting Tamil political parties as :paramilitaries,; suggesting their involvement in violence and thus attempting to justify them as targets for elimination. All the killings are clearly violations of the cease-fire agreement the LTTE signed with the Sri Lankan government in February 2002, but the LTTE has been able to kill with impunity. By lumping together its primary armed opponent, dissident LTTE leader Karuna and his loyalists, with political parties such as the EPDP, EPRLF(V) and PLOTE, which under the ceasefire agreement have been disarmed, the LTTE has discouraged sympathy for its victims and deflected international attention from its murderous campaign. The assassination attempt against EPDP head Douglas Devananda on 7 July was one highly publicized example. Other attacks ! such as the murder of 52-year old mother, Velliayan Chitra of Sittandy near Eravur have received less attention. She was shot on 6 August, at about 11:30 pm by members of LTTE for having helped her son to escape.

July and August have proved to be a particularly deadly time for LTTE・s opponents and those who are critical of the LTTE・s repressive politics and terror tactics. The three recent murders below point to the frequency of killings that have paralyzed civil society in the East.

h EPDP member A. Ramanee Thirugnanam, alias :Pandiyan;, aged 39 was shot and killed by a suspected LTTE gunman in Trincomalee town on the evening of 10 August. The next day on August 11th a grenade was thrown near his house to discourage people from participating in his funeral

h On the same night, on 10 August in Kalawanchikudy, LTTE cadres shot and killed a thirty-nine year old farmer, Sinnathamby Yogarasa, a former member of EPRLF. ! ; He was the father of four children.

h A few hours later, at about 1:45 am on 11 August, Sivrajah Sivaseelan, of Vembu colony, Kalmadu, age 28 and manager of the Kiran Multi Purpose Cooperative Society was found shot to death in Kiran. He was taken for questioning by armed LTTE cadres on the previous day.

In the absence of any significant pressure to stop such killings, the killers have become very bold. The murder of eight key Karuna supporters in a residential suburb of Colombo on 24 July demonstrated the LTTE・s ability to reach even their most protected opponents. On 31 July Kandiah Yogarasa (Mohan), a former PLOTE member was assassinated in broad daylight on a busy street in the heart of Colombo. These attacks have greatly increased the prevailing climate of fear in the Tamil community and further crippled dissent.

The LTTE has also revived its practice of holding public executions. On 8 July, the LTTE execute! d two men, Thillaiampalam Sunthararajan and Balasundaram Sritharan. Their bodies were found blindfolded and shackled. The LTTE acknowledged responsibility for these public executions, saying that the two men had been sentenced to death as :traitors; aligned with Karuna, and asking members of the Tamil community to identify others in their midst.

To date there has been no serious response from the Sri Lankan government or the international community, which remain almost solely focused on the possibility of renewed peace talks. But fortunately, opinion is beginning to shift as more informed observers in Sri Lanka recognize the terrible trajectory of violence, and reject the notion that the LTTE・s Tamil on Tamil killings can be written off as an .internal affair・. SLDF welcomes the recent statement by the Colombo-based Peace Support Group (PSG) expressing deep concern over cycle of killings underway. Killings that it concludes :constitute a gr! oss violation of the right of all Sri Lankans to hold and express a political opinion, and to live free of violence and intimidation.;

These murders are also violations of the cease-fire agreement, as the PSG points out. The CFA was intended to promote an environment conducive to peace by :bringing an end to the hostilities and improving the living conditions for all inhabitants affected by the conflict.; It prohibits all military action by the LTTE and government forces, including (but not limited to) such acts as: :the firing of direct and indirect weapons, armed raids, ambushes, assassinations, abductions, destruction of civilian or military property, sabotage, suicide missions and activities by deep penetration units.; As a :confidence-building measure; aimed at :restoring normalcy; for Sri Lanka・s inhabitants, the agreement also prohibits hostile acts against the civilian population, including such acts as torture, intimidation, abduction, extortion and harassment.

Given the escalation of violence and the lack of responsible action by those in power, it is not surprising that public confidence is waning. Long before LTTE・s eastern commander Karuna launched his rebellion, the LTTE・s violent campaign against political opponents was well underway. More than a year ago, on 8 August 2003, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued a strong warning that the LTTE was :taking advantage of the ceasefire with the Sri Lankan government to murder political opponents.; The groups noted :a systematic campaign by the LTTE to silence opposition voices,; and called for aggressive efforts to investigate cases of alleged political violence and prosecute perpetrators. The organisations demanded that the LTTE put an immediate stop to the killings and ensure that its members fully abide by human rights provisi! ons in the ceasefire agreement. They also called on the LTTE to fully cooperate in any investigations conducted by the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM). None of this has happened. The killings continued as the LTTE attempted to eliminate all opposition and dissent to its quest for sole representation. Only its justification for the killings changed as it now invoked shadowy :paramilitaries; with alleged links to its rebel leader Karuna.

While the LTTE has taken advantage of the ceasefire agreement to strengthen itself throughout the North and East superimposing its authority and reach even in government controlled areas, it has displayed callous disregard to the provisions relating to human rights and humanitarian aspects of the ceasefire agreement. Furthermore, it has become clear that the SLMM is not capable of stopping the LTTE・s campaign of killings and abductions. Nor has it shown any willingness to investigate them as they occurred.

SLDF supports calls for a high-level human rights observer or fact-finding team backed by the international community. This should be seen as a first step towards a more permanent presence of international human rights monitors in Sri Lanka. The safety and security of all civilians, and in the current context particularly members of political parties opposed to the LTTE should be the priority of the Sri Lankan government and the international community.

Sri Lanka Democracy Forum

Sri Lanka Democracy Forum is a community that shares a commitment to a democratic and pluralistic vision of Sri Lanka. We recognize that in addition to the loss of lives, the costs of war also entailed the erosion of democracy, the demobilization of pluralistic and independent social movements, and the further victimization of marg! inalized communities. In that context, we believe that movement towards a just and sustainable peace must be accompanied by the reconstruction of a democratic community that protects and promotes social justice, and the individual and collective rights and freedoms of all communities in Sri Lanka. We are in solidarity with, and have a commitment to support the efforts of marginalized communities to address past injustices, whether such injustice was based on the suppression of dissent, economic disempowerment, and/or on ethnic, gender or caste discrimination at the national or regional level. Among other efforts, we seek to proactively support grass roots movements that seek to expand and revitalize conditions for a vibrant, pluralistic and independent civil society that nurtures freedom of conscience, diverse political affiliations and an independent media. Thus, we believe that the terrain for engagement is not ! merely macro-political policy, but also economic decision-making, cultural production, and diverse local struggles furthering democratization in all spheres of life.

The Sri Lanka Democracy Forum had its inaugural meeting in Toronto,
Canada in 2002.

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