SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
At least 130 persons (including 77 civilians) were killed in escalating violence in Sri Lanka over the week of June 12-18, 2006. Despite the ceasefire that is still nominally in place, at least 783 persons have already been killed since January this year (till June 18, 2006) , as against 330 fatalities through the whole of 2005, 108 in 2004, 59 in 2003, and just 15 in 2002, the year the Sri Lankan peace process commenced. It is clear that Sri Lanka is descending rapidly into war.
The rising tide of violence in Sri Lanka, and prospects of worse to follow, are triggering an exodus from the worst affected areas, and this has resulted in a significant and increasing spillover into the neighbouring southern Indian State of Tamil Nadu.
A trickle of Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka into Tamil Nadu had commenced in January 2006, and arrivals are now a daily affair. A batch of 24 Tamil refugees from Talaimannar in the Mannar District of Sri Lanka arrived near Dhanushkodi on the Rameswaram coast the closest point in India to Mannar in Tamil Nadu closely followed the January 7-hostilities between the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) and LTTE. The influx swelled after the assassination attempt on Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka on April 25. The subsequent attempt by a cluster of the LTTEs suicide boats to destroy a heavy troop-carrying vessel the 'Pearl Cruiser' - with 710 troops on board off the coast of Vettilaikerni, on May 11, in which at least 17 Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) sailors and 50 LTTE cadres were killed, further vitiated conditions, and, according to reports till June 15, some 3,000 Tamil refugees had arrived in Rameswaram and nearby coastal areas of Tamil Nadu. 234 Tamils fleeing the violence in their home country arrived on the Rameswaram coast, 600 kilometres south of the Tamil Nadu capital, Chennai, on May 23, followed by 140 the following day.
Most of the refugees are coming from the Trincomalee District, where 190 people have died since January 2006 , the highest number of fatalities among Sri Lankas 25 Districts . The escalating violence in the east, where a turf war between the LTTE and the Karuna faction is also underway, is also provoking a flight from that region. Police sources in Chennai assert that the refugees are being told by the LTTE to either get into the Wanni region or set off to India.
This latest exodus is a reversal of what had been happening over the past years. In 2005 the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees helped 1,173 Sri Lankan refugees to return home from India by air. Since 2002, over 5,000 refugees have returned to Sri Lanka. Since the beginning of April 2006, however, when violence increased sharply, some 31,000 people have reportedly been internally displaced in Trincomalee District alone. With a ‘war-like’ situation now prevailing, the influx of refugees into Tamil Nadu is, regrettably, expected to increase in the foreseeable future. A new politcal formation in the State, the Desiya Murpokku Dravidar Kazhagam (DMDK), has, indeeed, urged New Delhi to send ships to evacuate refugees from violence affected areas in Sri Lanka.
The absolute number of refugees that are expected to make their way into Tamil Nadu may not be a matter of extraordinary concern to authorities there. It is, however, the infiltration of active LTTE cadres, and the establishment of networks of criminal activities, subversion and political manipulation that have been a problem in the past – particularly through the 1980s and early 1990s – and that could create problems of internal security for India again.
Since the outbreak of ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka in 1983 a large of number of Tamil refugees have taken shelter in India. As on January 31, 2005, there were 103 refugee camps in the various Districts of Tamil Nadu. 14,031 families consisting of 52,322 members were accommodated there. At the peak of violence in Sri Lanka, and before Indian authorities took a hard line against the LTTE after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, the number of Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu and Orissa was estimated at over 210,193 (113,772 in refugee camps, and another 96,421 outside the camps). At this stage, LTTE cadres masquerading as refugees had taken to criminal and subversive activities along the coastal belt in the Thanjavur, Pudukottai and Ramanathapuram Districts, and had established a widespread network of extortion, smuggling and organized criminal activities. They reportedly operated petrol bunks along the coast, a grenade manufacturing factory in Coimbatore, a military uniform stitching tailors syndicate in Erode, two communication centres in Tiruchi and Chennai, a fleet of vehicles as well as safe houses across many places in Tamil Nadu. Intelligence reports for this period suggest that, after the outbreak of violence in Sri Lanka in June 1990, the LTTE increased its activities in Tamil Nadu, and also established links with a number of Indian terrorist and insurgent groups, including the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the Communist Party of India – Marxist-Leninist People’s War (the Peoples’ War Group, now the Communist Party of India – Maoist). The LTTE also smuggled gold and electronic items for sale into Tamil Nadu and took back essential items like fuel, medicines, grains, pulses and other goods for its fighters and supporters in Sri Lanka.
Tamil Nadu has been exposed to the bomb and gun culture since the influx of Tamil refugees in 1983. A bomb explosion at the Meenambakkam airport in Chennai in which at least 30 persons died on August 2, 1984, was the first of its kind in India. The highpoint of LTTE terrorism on Indian soil was, of course, the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi at Sriperumbudur near Chennai on May 21, 1991, by an LTTE woman suicide bomber.
Given the past trajectory, the renewed influx of Tamil refugees into Tamil Nadu could be a matter of grave concern for internal security in Tamil Nadu in particular and for India in general.
It needs to be reiterated here that genuine refugees constitute no threat whatsoever, and it is the infiltration of LTTE cadres that is the source of an elevated risk assessment. The Government of India has consistently maintained that the LTTE continues to pose a threat to India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. A Union Ministry of Home Affairs Gazette notification announcing the extension of the ban on the LTTE on May 14, 2006, stated, "The LTTE continues to be an extremely potent, most lethal and well-organised terrorist force in Sri Lanka and has strong connections in Tamil Nadu and certain pockets of southern India. The LTTE continues to use the State of Tamil Nadu as the base for carrying out smuggling of essential items like petrol and diesel, besides drugs to Sri Lanka."
In May 2006, Indian intelligence agencies consequently expressed sharp concern over the increase in the influx of refugees to Tamil Nadu. Security agencies have a trying time distinguishing between genuine refugees and LTTE cadres. A security official disclosed to the media: "We need at least four to five hours to speak to each refugee. But we are in a position to handle an average of 60 refugees daily." In the process, the security official said, interviewers may miss vital information regarding links to the LTTE. Even optimally, however, a significant number of LTTE cadres can be expected to pass through the filtration process.
There is also a residual risk of even genuine refugees vitiating the socio-economic and political matrix within Tamil Nadu, since the LTTE demand for a Tamil Eelam has always been an emotive issue in local politics. Although public opinion in Tamil Nadu has little sympathy for the LTTE, Tamil nationalist groups in the State still vigorously advocate the ‘LTTE cause’. The Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) leader V. Gopalswamy alias Vaiko, for instance, said at a demonstration organised by the Tamil Eelam Liberation Supporters Coordination Council in Madurai on June 16, "The Indian Government should extend support to them (Tamils) as they were blood brothers. We should sympathise with their cause." He argued that that the Union Government should send an all-party delegation of Parliamentarians to Sri Lanka to assess the situation prevailing in the war-torn areas, where the Tamil population had been affected. Vaiko, was once jailed for openly supporting the banned LTTE.
The present Government in Tamil Nadu, headed by Chief Minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi, whose party the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) is an ally in the Union coalition, has clearly indicated that there is no divergence between the State and Union Government on the issue. “The central Government's policy will be the State Government's policy,” he told reporters at New Delhi after meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on June 5, 2006.
On the larger front, the recent influx of refugees may also warrant a closer scrutiny by the Indian Government, considering the fact that India will be the most affected by any eruption of hostilities in Sri Lanka. At present it is playing a more sedate role and there is a broad unanimity that “there will be no Indian military intervention.” On May 10, Japan's Special Envoy, Yasushi Akashi, invited India to attend the May 30 Tokyo Conference on the Reconstruction and Development of Sri Lanka. However, India did not participate in the meeting maintaining its position of no direct role, adopted since the pullout of the Indian Peace Keeping Force and the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.
It is clear, however, that the spike in violence in Sri Lanka, as one Indian officials expressed it, "will inevitably become an element of domestic politics in Tamil Nadu." While sporadic demonstrations in support of the LTTE have been reported in a few parts of Tamil Nadu, the situation, at present, is far from alarming. However, sources indicate that the LTTE is in contact with some groups and individuals who could act as fronts in case of a worsening scenario vis-à-vis the refugee issue. Sri Lankan Minister and military spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella has said refugees are being sent by the LTTE “so that they could make an issue within their political arena.”
After the great battle of Kalinga (circa 265 BC) in which over 100,000 were slaughtered, a bloodthirsty Emperor Ashoka, whose armies had rampaged across most of South Asia, from the hinterlands of Persia in the West to Assam in the East, and Mahisur (what is now Mysore) in the South, converted abruptly to Buddhism. His admirers believed this was prompted by his disgust at the sheer scale and wastefulness of bloodshed in this, his last battle; his detractors would have us believe this was a tactical shift, intended to secure an ideological consolidation of an Empire that could go no farther militarily.
After a decade of bloodshed, Pushpa Kamal Dahal @ ‘Prachanda’ – the ‘fierce one’ – leader of the Communist Party of Nepal–Maoist (CPN-Maoist), if he is to be believed, appears also to have undergone a similar transmogrification, abandoning the pathways of carnage and Maoist protracted war, to embrace Buddha’s gospel of peace. Coming ‘over-ground’ after nearly 20 years – the last 10 dedicated to a relentless guerrilla war against Kathmandu – Prachanda declared at the Prime Minister’s residence at Baluwatar after ‘summit level’ talks with the Government, on June 16, 2006, “Some 2500 years ago, Lord Buddha led a revolution and gave a message of peace in this land. Today we are going to make another history.”
There is, of course, significant ambiguity in the promise of ‘another history’, but the ‘Eight-Point Agreement’ signed by the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) Government and the Maoists certainly suggests a ‘peace process’ that is on track. The Agreement, in brief, comprehends the following:
Many have seized upon the historical summit of June 16 as an augur of a final end to the violence and political turmoil that have tormented Nepal for over a decade, with one Nepali commentator breathlessly declaring that the current détente “heralded a new beginning for peace by ending a decade-long violent insurgency.” The far more conservative International Crisis Group, while emphasising the fragility of the present regime and the infirmity of its administrative capacities in the Districts, nevertheless urges the international community to “assist both armed parties with a gradual demobilisation and demilitarisation process” (emphasis added), immediately placing the rebel war machine at a position of moral and political parity with the state’s forces, and conferring an absolute legitimacy on the Maoists that will prove immensely difficult to retract in case the process eventually breaks down again.
So rapidly has the ‘peace process’ in Nepal progressed in the weeks since King Gyanendra restored Parliament on April 24, 2006, that it is easy to forget how close the country had come to the edge of the abyss, and how little has, in fact, changed in the structures, the distribution and the equation of power between the contesting parties. Faint, but nevertheless crude, reminders did manifest themselves during the June 16 summit, over which Prachanda virtually presided, and there was little doubt who was the victor, and who the vanquished. Flanked by senior leaders of the SPA, Prachanda left little doubt, as one commentator noted, that he was “the uncontested ruler” of the day, as he rebuked “the Government” for the poor management of the event, and its many administrative failures. “I did not want the event of my coming overground in such a poorly managed situation. This shows how pathetically this Government has been running the country,” he declared, and senior SPA leaders, including the Deputy Prime Minister and the Home Minister, nodded submissively. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala had displayed the good sense of keeping away from the collective negotiations, evidently aware of the potential for embarrassment, if not humiliation.
Outside the high-security venue, triumphant Maoist cadres, carrying ominous bags in which many believed they carried weapons, ruled the roost, even as the police stood idly by. Maoist activities, in the weeks succeeding the restoration of Parliament and preceding Prachanda’s summit with SPA leaders, also suggest that, while the form appears to have undergone some changes, the substance of power has been altered only slightly. Extortion and intimidation remain endemic, and reports of the targeting of security forces, political rivals and ‘renegades’ by the Maoists continue to trickle in from different parts of the country, suggesting a quiet process of consolidation. It is useful to take a quick review of some of these incidents since April 24, 2006.
In the meanwhile, the renamed Nepali Army, appears to be trying to make itself as invisible, as inconspicuous and as compliant as possible. On June 14, the Army formed a committee to probe the alleged custodial killing of 49 Maoists in secret detention camps. Headed by Brigadier Sharad Kumar Neupane, the five-member committee will investigate allegations that a large number of people ‘disappeared’ around December 2003 after being held in these camps inside an Army barracks. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had made public its report in May on arbitrary detention, torture and disappearances in camps run by the Royal Nepalese Army’s Bhairabnath Battalion. The report stated that at least 49 detainees ‘disappeared’ from the camps. Maoists claim they have evidence that the prisoners, including women, were taken to the Shivapuri Forest on the outskirts of Kathmandu, where they were extra-judicially executed and buried. The Army has also clarified that it was in full favour of the proposal to absorb the Maoist armed cadre into its ranks.
Prachanda’s declaration in favour of peace and the substantial suspension of Maoist and state violence in the country are, of course, cause for enormous celebration. The unending and purposeless loss of life, the destruction of properties, and the waste of vast opportunities for development have, for the moment, evidently been stemmed. But events in nearby Sri Lanka are urgent and immediate reminders that a peace process can, and often is, used by insurgent groups as an instrument for consolidation and to further the very agenda that was pursued through violence and war. Nepal’s own history and the doctrines of Maoist protracted war are further evidence to this danger. Over the past weeks, much has been conceded to the Maoists in exchange for no more than bare assurances of good intent. On June 13, the Government freed 240 Maoists, including several top leaders, detained in various jails across the country. While Prachanda has been repeating the formula that he was committed to a “politics of competitive parliamentary democracy”, there have been repeated instances that suggest that he places rigid limits on the nature of such ‘competitive democracy’, and that there is much that he will not accept, irrespective of emerging circumstances. Thus, when Prime Minister Koirala suggested that there was a strong public sentiment in favour of “continuity to the monarchy” and that in the “sensitive period” through which the country was going, making the King “totally powerless” could fuel another insurgency, Prachanda responded curtly that “monarchy in any form would not be acceptable”. He has declared himself in favour of a heavy reduction in the standing strength of the Nepali Army, and the possibility of raising and supporting a large Nepali ‘militia’ which could confront any security threat to the country – while the establishment and international opinion has largely expressed itself in favour of disarming the Maoist armed cadres and their eventual absorption into the Nepali Army. When the Government suggested the revival of Local governing bodies (dissolved in 2002) the Maoists threatened that the peace process “may collapse altogether”. The true test will, of course, come at the time of the dissolution of the present Government and Parliament and formation of the interim Government, and thereafter, when the processes of disarming the Maoists commence.
As things stand, however, it is clear that every constituency that was opposed to the Maoists in the past has been substantially disempowered, marginalized or co-opted into servile collaboration. All hope is now vested in Maoist good faith and the blind expectation that Prachanda will remain committed to the agreements that he has reached with the feeble SPA. On the other hand, Maoist cadres have gone on record to state unambiguously that they will reject any settlement that dilutes their principal agenda. It is useful, in this context, to recall that, as recently as September 1, 2005, Prachanda and the head of India’s Maoists, Muppala Lakshmana Rao @ ‘Ganapathy’ (‘General Secretary’ of the Communist Party of India – Maoist), had issued a joint declaration, proclaiming, inter alia, their determination to “fight unitedly till the entire conspiracies hatched by the imperialists and reactionaries are crushed and the people’s cause of Socialism and Communism are established in Nepal, India and all over the world.”
To keep faith with the SPA, Prachanda will have to break faith with his Maoist comrades in Nepal, in India, and all over the world.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
June 12 - 18, 2006
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Ten NLFT militants killed in Rangamati: Ten militants reportedly belonging to the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) were killed in an hour-long gun battle with a joint force of Army and the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) at Sajek border area under Baghaichhari sub-district in the Rangamati District on June 12. According to Army sources, an estimated 60 to 70 NLFT militants, staying in the Sajek border area for the last few days were confronted by a joint team of Army and RAB-7 led by Lieutenant Colonel Anisur Reza and Major Mahiuddin. Following the gun battle, the NLFT militants managed to escape leaving behind ten dead bodies of their colleagues. The identity of the killed militants could not be known immediately and their bodies were kept in Army custody. The joint force also recovered an unspecified quantity of arms and ammunition from the NLFT hideout. The Independent, June 13, 2006.
Union Government rejects ULFA’s plea for releasing jailed leaders: The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has rejected ULFA’s plea to release five of its jailed leaders. The outfit has been demanding their release as a pre-condition for beginning a process of dialogue with the Government. The Cabinet Committee on Security, which discussed the issue on June 16 at New Delhi was of the view that the outfit should give up violence, surrender arms and should adopt an honest approach to peace before such a step could be taken. The Pioneer, June 17, 2006.
Assam Police reported that, following the formation of the ULFA-backed People’s Consultative Group on September 8, 2005, ULFA militants have triggered off as many as 52 blasts, a majority of which were in late January and early February, and again, between June 8 and 12 in 2006. At least 41 civilians were killed and 135 injured in ULFA’s violence since September 8, 2005. During the same period, the outfit attacked security force personnel on 15 occasions, resulting in six personnel killed and 41 injured. During the same period, the security forces were engaged in encounters with ULFA cadres on 20 occasions, in which 21 militants were killed and 48 were arrested. Police sources further pointed out that, in the first five and a half months of 2006, as many as 29 civilians were killed, as compared to the death of 20 civilians and injury of 78 in the year 2005. The fatality figure among security personnel in ULFA’s violence in the year 2005 was six. The Assam Tribune, June 16, 2006.
Terrorists kill Nepalese and Bihari labourers and a security force personnel in Jammu and Kashmir: Unidentified terrorists in combat uniform shot dead nine Nepalese and Bihari labourers and a soldier in broad daylight near Yaripora in the Kulgam area of Anantnag District on June 12. A group of eight terrorists abducted a newly-recruited Kashmiri soldier, Mushtaq Ahmed Sheikh, along with 13 Nepalese and Bihari labourers working on the construction of his house. According to residents, Sheikh and the labourers were taken to Darshalina where the gunmen and all the abducted persons boarded vehicles and finally reached Budora. After physical torture, the gunmen beheaded Sheikh and also subsequently shot dead nine labourers and injured four others. Out of the nine slain labourers, one was from Bihar and all others hailed from Nepal. After the massacre, the terrorists looted at least two weapons from the police post at Mujmarg. No group has claimed responsibility for the massacre. Daily Excelsior, June 13, 2006.
Eight-Point agreement signed after Summit-level Talks: The "Summit level talks" between the ruling Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist) concluded in Kathmandu on June 16. Both the sides agreed to an eight-point agenda. The agenda includes framing an interim statute, an interim government, declaring the date for an election to a constituent assembly and dissolving the revived House of Representatives and the Maoists’ People’s Governments. Both the sides also agreed to request the United Nations for management and monitoring of the armed forces of both sides to ensure a free and fair election to a Constituent Assembly. If required, international observers could also be invited to monitor the constituent assembly election.
Talking to reporters for the first time in Kathmandu on June 16, the Maoist leader, Prachanda, said his party would like to see a new interim constitution and interim government within a month and elections to be held for the Constituent Assembly by April-May, next year. He further said that the agreement proved that they could go together to fulfill the Nepali people’s desire of peace and prosperity braving enormous pressure from “powerful countries” and “big revolutionaries” against the idea of both sides reaching an understanding to topple autocracy.
Meanwhile, the Government, on June 16, announced the names of the team to draft the interim Constitution. Former Justice of the Supreme Court, Laxman Prasad Aryal, heads the team. The other members include: Shambhu Thapa, Harihar Dahal, Mahadev Yadav, Sindhu Nath Pyakurel, and Khimlal Devkota. The team has been given 15 days to complete its job. Nepal News, June 17, 2006
The summit followed a second round of peace talks in Kathmandu on June 15 which had decided to constitute a 31-member Ceasefire and Code of Conduct National Monitoring Committee, headed by human rights activist, Dr. Devendra Raj Pandey, for the implementation and monitoring of the 12-point understanding between the SPA and the Maoists and also the 25-point Ceasefire Code of Conduct. Both the sides also agreed to request the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights-Nepal (OHCHR-N) to provide assistance to the Ceasefire and Code of Conduct National Monitoring Committee on issues related to human rights and their observance. The Himalayan Times, June 16, 2006.
Government releases 240 Maoist detainees: Government released 240 Maoists detained in various jails across the country on June 13. According to Home Ministry spokesperson Baman Prasad Neupane, the 240 detainees include 61 from Nakkhu Jail at Lalitpur, 53 from District Jail, Kaski, 23 from District Jail, Banke, 39 from District Jail, Morang, and 20 from District Jail, Kanchanpur. The Himalayan Times, June 14, 2006.
Government withdraws Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Control and Punishment) Ordinance: The Government decided to withdraw all cases filed under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Control and Punishment) Ordinance (TADO) as part of the concessions being made to the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist) and aimed at fostering the peace process. The decision to withdraw TADO was tabled by the Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula at the Cabinet meeting held on June 12. This development follows the talks between Sitaula and CPN-M leaders Prachanda and Dr. Baburam Bhattarai at Siklesh on June 11 in which both the sides agreed to take the peace process forward. Nepal News, June 13, 2006.
42 persons including 30 LTTE cadres killed in Talaimannar: Heavy fighting broke out between security forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka's north-western Talaimannar islet on June 17 morning. According to official figures, 30 Sea Tigers, six sailors and six civilians were killed in the Talaimannar battle. Further, eight sailors are missing in action. One civilian among those who sought refuge in a church in the aftermath of the sudden flare-up was killed and several others were injured. According to official claims, eight of the 12 boats used by the LTTE in the offensive were destroyed and three were damaged. The Army has described the situation on the islet as "under control".
The LTTE, however, claimed that 12 sailors and two of its cadres were killed in the offensive. The outfit further said that three ‘Blue Star’ boats of the Sri Lankan Navy (SLN) were sunk and another one was damaged in the attack. The LTTE Sea Tigers also claimed to have recovered two PKLMG guns, three AK 47 rifles, one MP5, two communication sets and ammunition from the SLN boats. The Hindu, TamilNet, June 18, 2006.
64 civilians killed in claymore mine explosion in Anuradhapura district: At least sixty-four civilians, including 15 children, were killed and eighty-six others were injured when a state-run passenger bus carrying 150 passengers was destroyed in a twin side-charger claymore mine explosion in the Anuradhapura District on June 15. The Government's spokesperson on security issues, Keheliya Rambukwella, blamed the LTTE for the attack saying, "There is no iota of doubt that it is the LTTE." He also said, "There is no declaration of War, the peace agreement is on, but, we have to look at it very seriously", adding that the Government would not hesitate to take military action if needed, to safeguard the civilians. Subsequent to the attack, security forces carried out an aerial attack in the LTTE-held Sampoor and Maullativu area and dropped bombs near the outfit headquarters at Kilinochchi on June 16. However, no casualties were reported in these incidents. Meanwhile, the LTTE denied its involvement and blamed the Government for the attack. Reacting to the aerial attack, head of the outfit’s peace secretariat, S. Puleedevan, said "If they are attacking Kilinochchi, they are showing they are ready for war." The Hindu, June 16, 2006.
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