US Ambassador says 'honoured' to meet paramilitary leader

[TamilNet, Sunday, 28 September 2008, 05:23 GMT]
US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Robert O' Blake says he was honoured to meet the leader of the Army-backed paramilitary group TMVP (Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal) which Human Rights Watch has condemend for widespread human rights abuses in the eastern province - of which Pillayan was appointed chief minister. Mr. Blake said he is "pleased that [Pillayan] assured me he too is committed to demobilizing the paramilitaries" the Sunday Times reported. The same column in the paper reported that TMVP cadres are once again being used to support the Sri Lankan security forces' counter-insurgency in the east.

Mr. Blake's comments last Monday were made at the inauguration ceremony of the Ka'luvaagnchikkudi Vocational Training, a US Government funded project.

"I had the honour of meeting the Chief Minister (Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan) this morning to discuss these important issues. I was pleased that he assured me that he too is committed to demobilizing the paramilitaries and ending the gun culture that has prevailed in many parts of eastern Sri Lanka," he said.

"...the central Government and the elected Chief Minister must assert responsibility for security, end the abductions and extra-judicial killings and other security challenges that continue, and demobilize paramilitaries, including all child soldiers. Only then will we see the Eastern Province attract significant private sector investment and realize its great potential," he added.

Pillayan was appointed Chief Minister after the TMVP, which is also registered as a political party, partnered with President Mahinda Rajapaksa's ruling UPFA alliance and won the heavily rigged Eastern Provincial Council (EPC) election on May 10 this year.

In June 2007, Human Rights Watch warned against the consequences of the "violent forces that have been unleashed" by the Colombo government "including the TMVP, other Tamil paramilitaries and criminal elements."

"The nature of the campaign against the LTTE has spawned a rise in general lawlessness," HRW said.

The TMVP-UPFA secured 18 seats and 2 bonus seats in the May 10 election which was denounced by the main opposition UNP and its SLMC ally as well as independent election observers.

The Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) said that the Eastern Provincial election "was not at all 'free and fair'".

"Armed groups were seen in areas around Batticaloa and Kalmunai carrying out election activities. They were observed to immediately withdraw from polling booth areas when they noticed election observers approaching, they were then seen to return to polling booths once they perceived that the elections monitors had left," CaFFE said.

SLMC leader Rauf Hakeem told AFP: "we don't accept the results. In Batticaloa and Ampara, the government with the TMVP rigged the votes, especially in Tamil-dominated areas."

Interestingly, the UNP-SLMC alliance was widely reported to be heavily backed by the US and other Western states, something that later drew sneering comments from Sri Lanka's environment minister, the firebrand Champika Ranawaka.

"The government victory at the eastern polls has shattered the wild dreams of the West-backed Eelamists," Ranawaka mockingly noted, referring to a common conspiracy theory that the Tamil liberation struggle is a Western plot to divide Sri Lanka and arguing that the UNP is a stooge of Western interests.

Pillayan, once the number 2 in the TMVP unseated its leader Karuna and took over the paramilitary group last year.

Karuna, the former Tamil Tiger Eastern commander who defected to the Sri Lankan armed forces in 2004 and thereafter set up the TMVP, last year fled to Britain.

However, he was arrested there and sentenced to nine months in prison for entering the UK on a Sri Lankan passport under a different name.

Pleading guilty, Karuna implicated the government of Sri Lanka and the defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa of providing the travel documents including the diplomatic passport for him to enter the United Kingdom.

Karuna returned to Sri Lanka two months ago having completed his sentence and in recent weeks there have been a number of attacks on the TMVP's offices in the east.

The Sunday Times this week also reported that Pillayan and Karuna are to meet soon in an effort aimed at what they called restructuring their party and 'ironing out differences".


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