By Col R Hariharan
- Indian National Security Advisor Shiv Shankara Menon’s one-day visit triggered media speculation as it came after President Mahinda Rajapaksa met with Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh on the sidelines at the Rio+20 summit in Brazil in the third week of the month.
- Political confrontation between ruling coalition and opposition was triggered after ten goons armed with T-56 rifles, riding motorcycles carried out brazen daylight attack on a JVP meeting in Southern Sri Lanka killing two persons.
- Provincial councils of Eastern, North Central and Sabaragamuwa provinces have been dissolved preparatory to the elections to be held for them in September 2012. The election commission has called for filing of nominations from July 12 to 19; the elections will be held on a Saturday falling on 1st, 8th or 15th September 2012. Opposition parties have castigated the government for not announcing the Northern Provincial Council elections, which are long overdue.
Indo-Sri Lanka relations
India’s National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon made a one-day trip to Colombo on June 29, 2012 and met with President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brothers Basil and Gotabhay, apparently to discuss about their government’s future plans for political reconciliation within specified time-frame. During his visit he also met with External Affairs Minister GL Peiris and Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader R Sampanthan. The visit evoked media interest because India-Sri Lanka relations had AAbeen strained ever since India voted for the UNHRC resolution asking Sri Lanka to implement recom-mendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.
Moreover, India along with Benin and Spain will be reviewing Sri Lanka’s report on Human Rights to present it at the UNHRC’s four-yearly meeting to review human rights of UN members in November. Sri Lanka has also been concerned at the lead taken by Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam (DMK) leader M Karunanidhi, an important member of the ruling coalition in New Delhi, to organise Tamil Eelam Supporters Conference (TESO) in Tamil Nadu on August 5, 2012. Another partner of the coalition - Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi (VCK) – known for its pro-LTTE leanings is also an important participant in the conference.
Talking to the media in Colombo, Menon reiterated India stood for a united Sri Lanka. He said "I discussed recent developments, bilateral relations and areas of common concern. I was also briefed about steps being taken by the Government of Sri Lanka on political reconciliation and settlement. While this is a Sri Lankan issue and something that Sri Lanka has to do, we will continue to remain engaged with all concerned and offer any support required in this regard." He refused to say if India was satisfied with Sri Lanka’s peace and reconciliation process. This would indicate there was no substantial outcome at the end of the meetings.
R Sampanthan indicated the issue of Northern Provincial Council elections and the concerns on his party’s concern on army’s land appropriation were also discussed with the Indian visitor, apart from the lack of progress on the political reconciliation process.
Close on the heels of the visit – coincidentally or otherwise - Sri Lanka announced that it had turned down India’s offer to develop the Palali airport. According the Minister for Civil Aviation, the Ministry would undertake the project to expand the airport to be operated for commercial activities and for the use of the Air Force. “We are planning to operate the airport jointly with the Air Force,” he added. As Sri Lanka is strapped for cash at present the Palali airport project is likely to be deferred till some funding arrangement is made.
At the same time Sri Lanka signed $4 billion foreign direct investment (FDI) deal with an Indian company - Gateway Industries. The company will oversee operation and management of a special industrial zone for heavy industries in Trincomalee district. The project comprises a series of infrastructure facilities including a deep water jetty, a bulk commodities terminal, a power plant, and a host of other heavy industries and complementary industries. The project is expected to create more than 5,000 jobs and over 20,000 opportunities for indirect employment. The project has sparked a mild protest among local Tamils as they fear their land might be acquired for the project.
Collectively these developments would indicate no significant movement forward in India-Sri Lanka relations; perhaps both the countries are prepared to take it in their stride at least for the time being. However, Sri Lanka is likely to come under increasing pressure at many international events coming up one after the other in the coming months. India’s help would be imperative for Sri Lanka on such occasions. Similarly, India would come under pressure from Dravidian parties as Sri Lanka Tamil Diaspora involvement in Tamil Nadu is poised for increase.
Political violence: Both the opposition parties – the United National Party (UNP) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) – were up in arms after police failed to vigorously respond to arrest the culprits after ten goons armed with T-56 rifles, riding motorcycles, carried out a brazen daylight attack on a JVP meeting in Southern Sri Lanka on June 15, killing two persons. Although JVP identified the main culprit as Amarasri, a wanted criminal who had been seen at the ruling UPFA meetings, police failed to arrest him.
However, he voluntarily surrendered in the court five days after incident. Both the parties said the attack was politically motivated. The incident has once again highlighted the growing nexus between politicians and criminals as well as increasing crimininalization of politics.
Elections: Provincial councils of Eastern, North Central and Sabaragamuwa provinces have been dissolved preparatory to the elections to be held for them in September 2012. The election commission has called for filing of nominations from July 12 to 19; the elections will be held on a Saturday in the first half of September 2012. Opposition parties have castigated the government for not announcing the overdue elections for Northern Provincial Council elections. Douglas Devananda, Tamil minister in Rajapaksa’s government is reported to have claimed the President had assured him it would be held in September 2012. However, this appears unlikely as the Northern Province does not figure in the election commission’s call for nominations. Tamil public and political parties have expressed their concern at the delay.
Lashkar training in Colombo: Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad has revealed that Mirza Himayat Baig, who was arrested for his alleged role in 2010 Pune German bakery blast, was trained at a camp in Colombo. In March 2008 suspected Lashkar-e-Taiba operative Faiyaz Kagzi, formerly belonging to the banned terror outfit Student Islamic Movement of India, called Baig for training in making bombs at Colombo. There was one more person at the camp. The police said "the three had chosen Colombo as they thought it was a safe place and no security agency would have any doubt about their bomb-making activities.” Kagzi is wanted in 2006 Aurangabad arms haul case for training in making bombs. This highlights the potential use of Colombo not only as a training base but as an infiltration route for Jihadi terrorists for carrying out their activities in India.
Written on June 30, 2012 Courtesy: South Asia Security Trends, Vol 6 No 6 - July 2012 www.security-risks.com