COLOMBO: Factionalism within the multi-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has been at the root of the on-going agitations in Kepapilavu and Puthukudiyiruppu in Mullaitivu district and the just concluded stir on the issue of disappearances in Vavuniya, sources in the TNA told Express on Sunday.
The Vavuniya agitation was directed by the Eelam People Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) led by Suresh Premachandran and Sivasakthi Anandan against the current leaders of the TNA, especially M.A.Sumanthiran and Charles Nirmalanathan of the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK), and Selvam Adaikalanathan of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO).
Within the ITAK itself there is a cleavage between the radicals and the moderates, with the former challenging the leadership of the latter. The leader of the Puthukudiyiruppu agitation is T.Ravikaran, a radical TNA member of the Northern Provincial Council (NPC).
The EPRLF, which is a junior partner in the TNA, has been of the view that the ITAK-led TNA has not been effective in putting forward the Tamils’ case in regard to burning issues like land release by the military; the tracing of war-time missing persons; and the release of political prisoners or LTTE cadres from detention.
The EPRLF accuses the ITAK-led TNA of becoming a “loyal opposition” of the Sri Lankan government and not using its position in parliament and its influence over the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government to solve the Tamils’ problems. While the ITAK believes in the long term efficacy of the politics of cooperation, the EPRLF, long with radicals within the ITAK, still believes in the politics of confrontation.
The organizers of the agitations in Vavuniya and Kepapilavu, propped up by the dissidents, had kept out the TNA’s leaders on the plea that the affected people should engage the government independently, without the mediation of political parties.
However it was Charles Nirmalanathan and M.A.Sumanthiran of the ITAK who had spoken to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremsinghe and got the State Minister of Defense, Ruwan Wijewardene, to visit Vavuniya to talk to the women who were fasting on the disappearance issue. He got them an appointment to meet key ministers at the Prime Minister’ office in Colombo on February 9.
But the representatives of the fasting women, instigated by the EPRLF and the radicals, did not allow TNA MPs to participate in the meeting.
The meeting took place without the TNA MPs but there was no result other than another assurance from the ministers that they will talk to the Prime Minister when he returns from Australia.
In the case of the non-return of lands in Puthukudiyiruppu, TNA MP Sumanthiran was able to get the Prime Minister to ask the Forest Department to vacate some lands for the resettlement of the displaced. When the people said that they would not stop the agitation till they actually set foot on the released lands, the Prime Minister understood their sentiments and suggested that they sit on a relay fast and not a continuous fast.
In the case of Kepapilavu, however, the government said that land cannot be released because the people have no the necessary deeds or permits. During the war, the LTTE had taken over the lands to be used as an airfield by its air force called Air Tigers. When the war ended, the Sri Lankan Air Force confiscated the lands saying that they were LTTE assets. When the original civilian owners demanded their lands, the Air Force asked for their deeds or permits. But the people did not have them (because of the war).
However, due to the intervention of the TNA’s leadership, the Air Force agreed to release some lands which are not necessary for the maintenance of the airfield. Others would be compensated by the grant of lands elsewhere it said. But the people would have none of this.
TNA MP Sumanthiran thinks that people should get their lands back even if they do not have deeds or permits. These could be provided by the government as they might have got lost or were not renewed because of the war. This can be achieved by engaging the government. Sumanthiran pointed out that the Air Force has already removed the notice at the airbase’s entrance which had warned that trespassers would be “shot”.
However, the radicals are expanding the agitation. A TNA member of the Northern Provincial Council, T.Ravikaran, has appealed to students of the 57 schools in Mullaitivu district to agitate in their schools on Monday. The agitation has now spread to Kilinochchi district also.