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LTTE help for emergency debate

The soft spoken and largely ceremonial Prime Minister DM Jayaratne was quick to retract the statement but not before it left a trail of questions and denials. Last week, he confidently read out from "intelligence reports" in Parliament that new Tamil Tiger recruits were being trained in three Tamil Nadu camps. Sutirtho Patranobis reports.

world Updated: Mar 16, 2011 01:41 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

The soft spoken and largely ceremonial Prime Minister DM Jayaratne was quick to retract the statement but not before it left a trail of questions and denials. Last week, he confidently read out from "intelligence reports" in Parliament that new Tamil Tiger recruits were being trained in three Tamil Nadu camps.

Jayaratne belatedly realised that the facile piece of paper in his hand was not a confidential intelligence report leaked by whistleblowers but a report published in newspapers.

But why was Jayaratne desperate enough to quote from unsubstantiated news reports that the LTTE were regrouping? Clearly, he wanted to bolster his argument to extend the provision of Emergency regulations in Sri Lanka – a set of rules institutionalised during the decades-old civil war and still in practice nearly two years after the end of war; a set of rules that Parliament extends every month with the blind consent of government law makers; and a set of rules which many say are still exercised only to smother dissent.

"The emergency laws grant state authorities sweeping powers of detention and permit the use of secret prisons, a practice that encourages human rights abuses like enforced disappearances, torture and death in custody, which could constitute crimes under international law," Amnesty International (AI) said in a report last year while asking for the laws to be repealed. Last May some of the regulations, like curbs on meetings, were diluted but the main framework including the power to detain without trial remains.

It's odd that the government continues to extend the laws even after repeatedly proclaiming how it had rooted out the "most ruthless terrorist organisation in the world."

In post-war Colombo, for one, changes are visible on the road: most military check posts have been withdrawn, roads around government offices are now open after years, and, as a journalist friend pointed out, security checks at the cricket world cup venues are minimal compared to India. The once LTTE-controlled North now remains out of bounds only for foreigners.

In February, Jayaratne argued in Parliament that it was important to extend the Emergency partly because remnants of the LTTE were active among the Tamil diaspora. This month, he brought LTTE cadres to Tamil Nadu, a lot closer. What could be the argument next month?