MonitorsPublished on Jan 26, 2009
The week began with the worsening of humanitarian situation in the areas under LTTE control. Nearly 250,000 people were reportedly trapped in crossfire between the LTTE and the state armed forces in a cramped area of around 30 sq. km in thick jungles
South Asia South Asia Weekly 56

Sri Lanka
< class="maroontitle">Sri Lanka announced 48-hour ceasefire

The week began with the worsening of humanitarian situation in the areas under LTTE control. Nearly 250,000 people were reportedly trapped in crossfire between the LTTE and the state armed forces in a cramped area of around 30 sq. km in thick jungles of Mullaithivu with no proper arrangements of food and sanitation whatsoever. Some of them were kept by LTTE in a small town called Dharmapuram infested with deadly poisonous snakes. It was also reported that hundreds of civilians, especially children, were in dire need of immediate medical care.

The issue of civilian safety had also been raised and discussed at length during a visit by  Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee with President Rajapaksa. Following their meeting, the Sri Lankan government announced a 48-hour ceasefire to allow safe passage for the civilians from the unclear areas. This gesture on the part of the Rajapaksa government earned global praise while LTTE was slammed for not responding positively to the ceasefire call, even from its die-hard supporters like the ruling DMK in Tamil Nadu. Later, a change of hearts was seen when during an interview to the popular Tamil daily Tamilnet, LTTE political chief B Nadesan recognized the right of the trapped civilians to move to safer places of their choice.         

< class="maroontitle">Terai security worrisome 
Following a year-long lull, the Terai region is once again experiencing incidents of violence During the week, a series of bomb blasts took place in Rautahat and Saptari districts including Birgunj city in Terai, killing one people and injuring several others. Little- known groups-- Terai Army and Great Madhes Revolutionary Party-- took responsibilities for the blasts.. Though, very few people have been killed in the incidents but the series of bomb blasts, and bloody clashes between youth forces and student wings of the major political parties have instilled fear among the people. Apart from the major underground armed groups the JTMM (the two factions) and few others, there are also reports of emergence of new underground armed groups, who have restored to violence means to attain their objectives. As a result the security situation in Terai continues to remain fragile.
Though Prime Minister Prachanda has directed security officials to take stern actions to curb rising violence and lawlessness in Terai, he has failed to get to the root of the problems. Rather than taking up the challenge seriously, he is accusing international forces of fomenting trouble in Terai by supporting several armed factions and sub-factions against the state. Analysing the situation, it appears that the government has completely failed to contain the violent incidents and has restored to blame game. It continues to fail to engage with the various armed groups and hold meaningful dialogue and find a political solution to the problems.

< class="maroontitle">Trial of the 1971 war criminals

< class="maroontitle">In January 29 Bangladesh Parliament unanimously approved a resolution favouring speedy prosecution of the 1971 war criminals. With this decision the prospect for the trial of the collaborators of 1971 war has brightened. The prosecution of the war criminals had been a long-standing demand of the people of Bangladesh which gained momentum during the rule of the caretaker government (2007-08). The term war criminals are used for the members of groups like Al Badars and Rajakars who collaborated with the Pakistan Army and were involved in the oppression of the people of East Pakistan who supported the freedom struggle. The present development has important implication for the country’s politics because it was Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) which sided with Pakistan Army during the 1971 war. The Sector Commanders Forum, a platform for 71 war veterans, listed Jamaat chief Motiur Rahman Nizami and its general secretary Ali Hasan Mohammad Mujaheed as war criminals in its fact-finding report published on November 4 2008. Meanwhile, the government has alerted the security agencies about the possibility of suspected war criminals fleeing the country. The government has also sought UN’s help in putting the war criminals on trial.

< class="maroontitle">Social welfare measures

To attract maximum number of voters to their side, Maldivian Democratic Party-led coalition government has introduced several welfare measures which include changed timings for civil servants on the pattern of the Japanese working hours (from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) to enable Maldivian women to spend more time with their families. It will also enable Maldivian men to assist in household chores with their wives. President Anni announced a raise of 25-30 % in the salaries of those working in the government departments. The government has also initiated steps for providing monthly pension of Rf 2000 for those above 65 years of age. President’s Special Advisor Ibrahim Hussein Zaki told the media persons that it is not a pension but special allowance for the elderly to lead their lives with dignity.

However, the move to change the working hours has met with strong resistance, especially from women workers demanding flexibility in timings after lunch instead of fixed hours. The Opposition also criticised the move by saying that these populist measures were aimed to attract voters in the forthcoming parliamentary elections and the measures itself were unrealistic as the government does not have enough money in its treasury to fund the freshly-increased salaries of the civil servants.        

< class="maroontitle">Operation Rah-e-Haq III  in Swat

< class="maroontitle">The third phase of military operations began in Swat last week with more than 15,000 security personnel mounting assaults to secure communication links along the main highway. The past week saw intensive aerial and artillery bombing of the region. The district capital, Mingora is reported to be back in government’s control. According to internal security czar Rehman Malik, government’s writ will be established in Swat in "three to four weeks".
The operation follows increased saber rattling by the leader of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)-Swat, Mullah Fazlullah. The past month witnessed Fazlullah, known as FM Mullah, increase summary executions, issue a ban on female education, gain control of Mingora and summon 43 officials and parliamentarians to his Sharia court. According to the Pakistan Human Rights Commission, 80% of the scenic district fell to the TTP. 800 policemen, more than half of the sanctioned police force deserted their posts. The administration crippled after a systematic intimidation prevented the ruling Awami National Party from carrying out its tasks. Rah-e-Haq III follows military operations in November 2007 and July 2008. On both the occasions, the failure of the security forces to hold territory after seizing it from the Taliban led to the latter simply walking back to reclaim lost ground. Over time, the Taliban began to emerge as a parallel government in most parts of Swat.

< class="maroontitle">Contributors:

      • Anjali Sharma                                          – Sri Lanka, Maldives
      • Joyeeta Bhattacharjee                          – Bangladesh
      • Paul Soren                                                – Nepal, Bhutan
      • Kaustav Chakrabarti, Aashti Salman – Pakistan
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