Dealing with Karuna Amman

By Sumanasiri Liyanage and Nimanthi Perera-Rajasingham

Since the split in the LTTE in the early part of 2003, many observers of the peace process have been continuously concerned with the role of Karuna Amman. His actions immediately after the military confrontation with the LTTE in April 2005 were quite positive, in spite of the fact that some peace analysts were worried about the presence of another actor that would disrupt the so-called bi-laterality of the conflict. A large number of child soldiers in the LTTE rank were immediately released (as a consequence of the political struggles between the LTTE and the Karuna group) and allowed to go back to their parents. This action had revitalized political society in the Eastern Province, especially in Batticaloa and Amaparai districts. Malathi de Alwis has made the following observations on these developments.

“What I consider to be the most crucial outcome of Karuna’s rebellion, an outcome that has been most consistently ignored by those in the South unfortunately, is that it also provided an unexpected space for parents to vent their anger against both LTTE factions, and reclaim their children. On April 10th, parents who had got word that Karuna was considering releasing most of his child combatants (prior to a possible battle with the Vanni group), went to the Meenaham training camp to claim their children. When Karuna’s middle-level cadre started stalling, a large group of parents, and most significantly many mothers, became incensed. They set up a road block outside the camp and proceeded to beat up some of the LTTE cadre with bicycles and whatever else they could get their hands on until their children were released.

It is this collective act of resistance that catalyzed the mass release of children from the rest of Karuna’s training camps, on April 11th. Children poured out of these camps in their hundreds and thousands, throwing their rifles into the jungle, laughing and joking, jumping onto buses and cadging lifts from whatever vehicles they could stop so that they could get home as soon as possible.” (Sunday Island, July 18, 2004)

Karuna Amman also expressed a strong desire to join mainstream democratic politics by denouncing the military politics that he and his colleagues used in the past. The political group of the Karuna faction, the TMVP was formed thereafter. However, he has changed, either wittingly or unwittingly, his course of action and his organization has once again become another menace in the Eastern political scene. Of course one may argue that he was forced to go back to old types of politics because of the operation of multiple factors. The LTTE was not ready to accept a strong rival political presence in the Easter Province. Hence, it began a witch hunt, not only in the Eastern Province, but also in other parts of the country against the supporters of Karuna Amman. His brother, Reggie, was killed. There was no guarantee of safety for his party supporters, and it can be argued that this led him to continue to use arms for self-defense. Furthermore, the presence of the Karuna group that knew well the terrain and the militaristic strategies of the LTTE has become a great advantage for the Sri Lankan security forces. Finally, the maintenance of young cadres was a serious problem for the TMVP when it broke away from the LTTE. Thus, the leadership of the TMVP has to ensure a continuous flow of substantial funds in order to meet the necessary expenses of the organization. Furthermore, those cadres who associated with the TMVP were often gunned down and killed by the LTTE. Having faced this dilemma, the TMVP reentered militaristic politics after a short period of time. Subsequently, its tactics have mirrored those of the LTTE. They continue to bully, harass and forcibly recruit civilians and children.

The TMVP has played a very significant role in the recent battle of the Sri Lankan security forces to capture Vaharai from the hands of the LTTE. As B. Raman has pointed out, the TMVP’s link with the security forces was one of the crucial factors that lead to the defeat of the LTTE in the East. He writes:

“The strength of an insurgent organization comes from the unpredictability of its moves on the ground, which keeps its adversary constantly off balance. In the past, the LTTE earned a legendary reputation as an insurgent organisation because of its unpredictable operational tactics. These have now been blunted– after the desertion of Karuna– and this is coming in the way of the effectiveness of its actions.”

The TMVP was able to consolidate its power and position in the Eastern Province, especially in the Batticaloa district, since last October by increasing its cadres, offices, resources and fire power. It has become a force to be recognized in any peace negotiations in the future. However, the emergence of the TMVP as a political and military power in the Eastern Province and its activities in Colombo raise serious questions that may have disastrous outcomes in the future. The Multi-Ethnic Collective for Child Security was the first to raise these issues in their report entitled “Between Three Devils and the Deep Blue Sea” (Daily Mirror, May 6, 2006). Some of the issues raised in the report are as follows:

1.The internecine killings have increased insecurity of the people in Batticaloa;

2.Harassment of people asking them to support exclusively the TMVP;

3.Intimidation of civilians;

4.Illegal taxing and extortions imposed on businessmen, and ordinary people;

5.Forceful recruitment and recruitment of children.

These issues have been raised many a time by international observers including Alan Rock of the United Nations, Human Rights Watch and very recently, Dr Kim Howells, British Minister for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. Dr Howells had these words to say:

“I think they recognize that they have to handle the Karuna Group very, very carefully because they have got a very very bad name with people. Simply because they have broken with the LTTE and they oppose the LTTE does not mean they should be allowed to behave like the LTTE” (Daily Mirror, February 17, 2007).

Alan Rock in his reports to the UN Security Council working committee on February 8, 2007 revealed the following.

“The Karuna faction abducts and recruits children into its forces. It does so exclusively in the eastern districts of Sri Lanka. The Secretary-General’s Report disclosed that from November 2005 to October 2006, there were 164 reports of children having been abducted by the Karuna faction, 142 of whom still remain in its ranks. Since May 2006, the number of abductions has increased sharply. In the space of one week in mid-June 2006 alone, UNICEF received 30 reports alleging that children had been abducted by the Karuna faction in the areas of Santhiveli, Kiran, Mankerni, Valachchenai and Iruthayapuram (Manmunai North) of Batticaloa district.”

One may find it easier to say that no verifiable substantial evidence has been provided to support this contention, but the people who are familiar with the Eastern Province developments know what the result would be to families if evidence with names had been provided. TMVP actions are not confined to child recruitment. There are reports that when people go to police stations to get small disputes settled, the police advice them to go to TMVP offices. Citizens have to pay very large amounts of money to the TMVP to get these disputes settled.

The Government of Sri Lanka, in our opinion, should take immediate action to stop the violation of human rights by the Karuna Group in the Batticaloa and Amparai districts. These actions should include:

1.all adult armed cadres who belonged to the TMVP should be integrated into the Sri Lankan security forces if they wish to continue with arms;

2.under-aged soldiers or trainees among those cadres should be immediately released;

3.TMVP offices should be given GoSL protection and CMVP members should be given full government protection to engage in their lawful political activities;

4.The GoSL should order the TMVP to stop extortion, abduction and other unlawful activities and those who engage in those activities should be legally dealt with;

It is clear that the GoSL security forces receive support and assistance from the TMVP. If the GOSL thinks that it needs the continuous assistance from the TMVP in the form of intelligence and information, the GoSL can pay for the services provided by the TMVP.

At the moment it is clear that the GoSL is concerned only with state security. But there is another dimension of security, namely human security. This is equally, if not more, important to state security in democratic governance. The President and state politicians often say that the military operation in the East was carried out in order to liberate civilians from the LTTE. However, there is another question to be asked. Are the GoSL or its security forces successful in making the lives of the people in the East more secure and safe? Unfortunately the answer is still negative in spite of the claim by the President that the Tamils in the Eastern Province can now enjoy democratic rights of citizens. What kind of rights is the government allowing them to enjoy? These are vital questions that need to be addressed without delay.

Contact: Prof: Sumanasiri Liyanage: sumane_l@yahoo.com

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