A mother and her two children walk along a long dusty road in the scorching sun as they make their way home.
The Korakankaddu village in Paranthan in the north has no carpeted roads; it has few shops around and a military camp close by.
This is a sharp contrast to parts of the North which was developed under the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration, mostly areas used by visitors from the South and overseas.
Located in the interior part of Paranthan, the Korakankaddu village has long been asking for proper roads and come August 17 the villagers say that will be their key demand.
Very few posters and banners promoting the candidates contesting the August 17 Parliamentary election can be seen in the North.
When speaking to the people, it is very clear that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is their clear choice, in some cases, since they have no proper alternative.
Most Tamils in the North want to experience real peace through economic recovery, development and full freedom.
A.R. Selvaraj a resident and community leader in the Korakankaddu village, which consists of mostly Indian origin Tamils, says the people in the area continue to suffer economically and through lack of proper infrastructure.
A vote for change
At the last Parliamentary election most of the residents of Korakankaddu village had voted for the Eelam People’s Democratic Party led by Douglas Devananda but this time they want a change.
“Most of the people here voted for the EPDP because they had done a lot for us then. But since then very little has happened. They hardly even come here now. So the people are considering backing the TNA. This is not to say that the TNA has done anything for the village, but we will speak to them and hope for the best,” Selvaraj said.
He also accused the TNA led Northern Provincial Council of not spending most of the funds it had received on the development of the North.
The most important requirement for the Korakankaddu village is a proper road since children in the village find it difficult to go to school, especially when it rains.
The gravel road connecting the village to the main Paranthan road has several deep holes which get filled with water and mud when it rains.
“The children here sometimes skip school when it rains as they need to walk a long way and get mud on their clothes. Even vehicles don’t use the road when it rains,” Selvaraj said.
He also said that a request for public transport along the road has also gone to deaf ears and this makes their day to day lives even more difficult.
“When there is an election politicians, as usual, come and seek our support but after that they virtually go missing. Even now I got calls seeking the support of our village for the election from a certain politician. But we will vote for those who really help us,” he said.
Apart from the infrastructure issues, most people living in the Korakankaddu village also do not have proper jobs and are suffering economically.
Selvaraj said that some young boys had gone to the Middle East seeking employment but returned after failing to make a proper living while others do odd jobs at well to do homes or are employed in the garment industry.
“We were living in the estates but we moved here after being provided land, expecting a better life but sadly that was not to be. If not Sri Lankan politicians then India must help us since we are of Indian origin,” he said.
The economic suffering of the people of the Korakankaddu village is not limited to just them. Even people in Mullaitivu are suffering economically.
A.W Rajan was studying at the South Eastern University, but he had to leave and return home to Mullaitivu to try and earn a living.
The 32-year-old lost his mother to the devastating tsunami in 2004 while one of his three brothers was abducted by the LTTE during the war in 2008 who is still missing.
Rajan sells vegetables at the Mullaitivu market but what he earns is not enough as most of it goes to pay the rent for the stall and for other basic necessities at home.
“I was in the IDP camp in 2009 when we had to flee our homes because of the war. After that in 2011 I joined the South Eastern University. But I was unable to continue with little money in hand plus I had to support my father. So, I left and started selling vegetables to try make a living,” he said.
Rajan says despite the peaceful environment in the North, the people have not been able to enjoy the economic benefits.
“Most of the people here will vote for the TNA just for the sake of voting for them. We don’t really expect jobs from them. We see the TNA like our own family, so it is almost like a duty for us now to back them,” he said.
Even fishermen in the area say they are also suffering economically owing to poor facilities and less fishing resources.
- Thurairasa, who manages some fishing boats in the area and pays a monthly income to 15 fishermen, said that so much had been promised for the fishermen but very little has been done.
He said that fuel concessions for fishermen had been reduced and that was affecting fishermen in the Mullaitivu area.
He also said that fishermen from the South often enter Northern waters and catch fish using sophisticated equipment, draining the fishing resources available for Northern fishermen.
“We have told the authorities to stop them from fishing in our areas but nothing has been done. As a result we are suffering. We hardly get a good catch and as a businessman I am affected since I need to pay the fishermen a monthly salary either way,” he said.
An officer attached to the USAID agency in Mullaitivu, who wished to remain anonymous, said that the education system in Mullaitivu also needs uplifting by the government which will come to power after August 17.
He said that most schools have a shortage of skilled teachers for specific subjects in schools and this is having an impact on the children in the area.
One other issue he noted is that the Mullaitivu town does not have a proper bus stand despite the rapid development seen in the area, six years after the war.
He also had a word or two for politicians in the North. “Do not create hatred among the communities”. The official said that Tamils get along well with the Sinhalese, including the army in the area.
In his opinion it is the politicians who incite hatred among the communities purely for political gain but on the ground the situation is normal.
The presence of the military in the North has for long been a sensitive issue with most Tamil politicians and the Tamil diaspora calling for a further reduction in the military camps in the North.
While hardly any soldier can be seen in the Jaffna town and its immediate surroundings, a large number of military camps can be seen in Mullaitivu.
The TNA, in its election manifesto said that there must be meaningful de-militarisation resulting in the return to the pre-war situation as it existed in 1983 before the commencement of hostilities by the removal of armed forces, military apparatuses and High Security/Restricted Zones from the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The TNA said that this is imperative in the prevailing calm and peaceful environment.
Apart from the army, several Civil Defence Force camps are also located in the border villages dividing the Tamil dominated areas and the areas with Sinhalese families.
The August 17 Parliamentary election will show if the security forces, police and Civil Defence Force is happy with what they saw over the past six months after the January 8 Presidential election.
One Civil Defence Force member who spoke to The Sunday Leader on conditions of anonymity said that while they had previously voted for the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), most of them are expected to back the United National Party (UNP) at the next election.
He said that after having secured the border villages during the war, one of their key demands was to make them permanent in their jobs and give them a better monthly income.
“We got what we expected from the UNP Government this year, so we will vote for them for sure,” he said. The Civil Defence Force member also expressed disappointment over what he termed was “step motherly treatment” meted out to them.
He said that while most facilities are given to the military, the Civil Defence Force is often overlooked.
From terrorists to politicians
The former Government continued to maintain a fairly strong military presence in the North after the war fearing the LTTE may attempt to raise its head once again.
Over 12,000 former LTTE cadres who were arrested after the war were rehabilitated and released back into society.
A few of those who were rehabilitated are now contesting the August election in an attempt to represent the Tamil people.
The Crusaders For Democracy, an independent group coordinated by journalist N. Vidyatharan, which is contesting the Parliamentary election, consists of former LTTE cadres.
Kanesalingham Santhiralingham alias Thulasi, the leader of the group and a candidate from the Jaffna District told The Sunday Leader that there is no chance the LTTE will return to war.
A former LTTE cadre, Thulasi said that some politicians are using the LTTE for political gain and are not in the best interest of the Nation.
“Six years after the war not a single LTTE cadre who was rehabilitated took arms again. In 2009 we were a strong rebel unit but now things are different. We have entered the democratic stream and we should be given that space to represent our people,” he said.
He said that the Crusaders For Democracy is contesting the election only from the Jaffna District since they did not want to break the Tamil votes in other areas where the TNA is contesting.
“The TNA has isolated us but if we win seats in Parliament we will look to invite the TNA to work with us in the best interest of the Tamils,” he said.
Thulasi said that the main focus of the Crusaders For Democracy at the election will be to obtain a political solution for the Tamils and also ensure that the obtain economic stability.
However concerns have been raised about the Crusaders For Democracy with some fearing that they may pose a threat to National security.
“Today we have kept faith in Parliament, so this shows we have entered the democratic process, so no one needs to have concerns over us,” Thulasi said.
The former LTTE cadre said that when looking for a permanent political solution for the Tamils the Crusaders For Democracy is ready to have talks with UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe or UPFA Prime Ministerial candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa, depending on who wins the August 17 Parliament election.
Thulasi and his group are not the first former LTTE cadres who are looking at entering active politics.
Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna and Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan were the two most notable former LTTE members to get involved in local politics.
However Thulasi said that Karuna and Pillayan did not genuinely work for the Tamil people and instead had other agendas.
“The people know who Pillayan and Karuna are. They did not have any interest in the people,” he said.
The Crusaders For Democracy is fielding 10 candidates for the election and most of them were fighters while others were involved in other LTTE activities during the war, including in the LTTE media unit.
Kanikutti Subramaniam alias Charles said that he was involved as a fighter for the LTTE but after being rehabilitated he decided to do some good for the people by contesting the election.
Veeran Sakthivel, another parliamentary candidate of the Crusaders For Democracy said that the high security zone is also an issue his party will look at if elected to Parliament.
A former member of the LTTE media unit, Sakthivel said that several war displaced Tamils are still in IDP camps and they need to be resettled soon.
Vinayagasuntharan Mohanasundrana alias Kangai Alahan said that he was a political prisoner for eight years and he wants to push for the release of all other political prisoners.
The TNA, meanwhile, created a stir through its election manifesto launched in Jaffna last weekend since it calls for self-determination for the Tamils.
TNA leader R. Sampanthan said that the present constitutional arrangements have proved to be inadequate and unsatisfactory as they favour the majority and impose majoritarian hegemony on the Tamil People.
“Democracy in a plural society cannot function effectively without a constitutional framework that provides for equity, equality, justice, peace and security. It is in this context that we face the forthcoming Parliamentary Election,” he said.
The TNA firmly believes that sovereignty lies with the People and not with the State. It is not the government in Colombo that holds the right to govern the Tamil People, but the People themselves. In this regard the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka is flawed in that power is concentrated at the Centre and its Agent, the Governor. Our political philosophy is rooted in a fundamental democratic challenge to the authoritarian state. We made a significant contribution towards the achievement of these objectives on January 8, 2015 in the whole country. Our political programme is therefore rooted in the needs and aspirations of all people including the Tamil speaking peoples for justice and equality.
The TNA, in its election manifesto, had said that since six years have elapsed after the conclusion of the war, all political and other prisoners held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in relation to war-related activities must be released. The TNA has been pressing for their release and for the abrogation of the PTA and will continue to strenuously pursue this objective.
TNA candidate Suresh Premachandran said that the election campaign of the TNA had gathered pace by last week and the crowd support was good.
He said that investigating the war is part of the agenda of the TNA and they will not accept anything below an international investigation.
The TNA says accountability and reconciliation are fundamental to genuine and permanent peace in Sri Lanka, so they will seek the fulfillment of the resolutions adopted at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in March 2012, March 2013, and March 2014 and the Report of the international investigation mandated by the March 2014 resolution to be released in September 2015. “We are strongly committed to the ascertainment of the truth which must be made public and known to all the peoples of this country, the Sinhalese, the Tamils, the Muslims and others Truth, justice, reparation and the guarantee of non-recurrence are fundamental to the national question being comprehensively addressed so as to ensure permanent and genuine reconciliation between the different peoples on the basis of justice and equality,” the TNA manifesto says.
As a matter of immediate concern, the TNA says Tamil People who have been displaced in the North and the East due to the conflict must be speedily resettled in their original places; housing provided and livelihoods restored in a manner that respects their dignity
The TNA also notes in its manifesto that after the defeat of the former regime in January 2015 and due to the persistent and indefatigable efforts of the TNA over the past several years and since January 2015, decisions have been taken by the new regime for the return of the lands to and the resettlement of the displaced Tamil People in Valikamam in the North and Sampur in the East which are being currently implemented and action will be expeditiously pursued to fulfill these objectives.
The TNA says there must be finality reached by the truth being ascertained with regard to thousands of missing persons who were largely bread-winners of their families and adequate multi-faceted relief provided to the said families so as to enable them to overcome their agony and recommence lives.
“It says the Tamils who fled the country must be permitted to return to their homes and a conducive atmosphere created for their return. In particular, expeditious steps must be taken for the return of over 100,000 refugees in South India. A comprehensive programme for the development of the North and the East including the creation of employment opportunities for the youth will be undertaken with the active support of the Sri Lankan State, the Tamil Diaspora and the International Community. It was not possible to implement such a programme during the term of the former regime due to its negative attitude and since January 2015 the country has not had a strong and stable government. The TNA would actively promote the accomplishment of such a programme when a new government is established,” the TNA said.
The TNA says it will initiate a programme to rehabilitate all minor tanks in the North-East so as to increase the water resources for our agricultural needs and will also take serious steps, with necessary expert help to solve the drinking water problem in the North.
“A comprehensive development programme will be undertaken in the North-East, including upgrading the Palali airport as an international airport, and developing sea ports and fisheries harbours. Relevant expertise and technologies will be obtained so as to modernise the utilisation of our palmyrah resources,” the TNA said in its manifesto.
Premachandran said that the US seems to have got involved with Sri Lanka ahead of the January 8 Presidential election to reduce the role China had in Sri Lanka.
“They may now prefer the current Government to remain in power,” Premachandran said.
He said that while some countries have other interests in Sri Lanka, the sole focus of the TNA is to ensure the Tamils are given the political solution they need and not one which satisfies others.
He said that Sri Lanka’s closest neighbour India has a responsibility to ensure the Tamils get an acceptable political solution.
The TNA, in its election manifesto, had noted that the 13th Amendment to the constitution, which was part of a deal signed between India and Sri Lanka in 1987, was flawed.
Premachandran said that India was informed by the TNA over and over again that the 13th Amendment to the constitution was not fully acceptable by the Tamils. He said that a permanent political solution for the Tamils will be good for India’s security and also for some other countries. The former TNA Parliamentarian who is contesting the August 17 Parliament election, said that the TNA is keen on a political solution for the Tamils within a united and undivided Sri Lanka. The TNA also feels the Tamil People have always worked with commitment towards a reasonable and acceptable resolution for the national ethnic question through domestic processes, but it is the Sri Lankan state which has spurned these opportunities and sought to suppress the Tamil People through repeated anti-Tamil pogroms.
“It was such conduct on the part of the Sri Lankan state that internationalised the national question and compelled the Sri Lankan state to accept an international role. Tamil militancy, which also was an inevitable consequence, has now ended. The former regime endeavoured to undo even the minimum progress achieved through international involvement,” the TNA said.
The TNA is firmly of the view that international auspices is inevitable to achieve permanent peace through genuine reconciliation thereby enabling all peoples living in Sri Lanka to live as equal citizens. (Courtesy The Sunday Leader)