MonitorsPublished on Mar 02, 2008
In Sri Lanka, everybody is uncertain about the future. Nobody knows what happens next. Take for instance, the victory march of Sri Lankan Army (SLA) which was once again bogged down by the LTTE's resurgence. Though the week started with the forward march of the Sri Lanka defence forces after the killing of the three senior female LTTE leaders at sea including Lt. Colonel Kalai Arasi,
South Asia South Asia Weekly 8

Sri Lanka
< class="maroontitle">A renewed LTTE resurfaces

In Sri Lanka, everybody is uncertain about the future. Nobody knows what happens next. Take for instance, the victory march of Sri Lankan Army (SLA) which was once again bogged down by the LTTE’s resurgence. Though the week started with the forward march of the Sri Lanka defence forces after the killing of the three senior female LTTE leaders at sea including Lt. Colonel Kalai Arasi, who is the Sea Tiger instructor and also the custodian of Sea Tiger fighter craft ‘Surali’, Major Thuwarika and Lt. Senthamani in the area declared by the LTTE as the high security zone, the tables soon turn towards the LTTE as the week progresses.

11 soldiers were reportedly killed when the LTTE recaptured the position at Pandivirichchaan from the Army and confronted Sri Lankan Deep Penetration Unit (DPU) in Mullikkulam. In fact, the soldiers launching attacks on Mannar, Vavuniya and Weli Oya areas have once again experienced intensified attacks from the Tamil Tigers. Intelligence reports suggested that recently, the LTTE has procured 122 mm, 60 mm and 81 mm artillery shells from Tamil Nadu using fishing boats to smuggle them through the Vedithalthivu area in the western sea belt. The reports have also claimed that the LTTE still have arms deals with Burma, Indonesia and Eritrea which are re-selling the arms manufactured in the third country to the LTTE.

The reason for intensified attacks by the LTTE is quite obvious. The fighting is now taking place in the North of Janakpura beyond which there is a thick jungle which is an ideal area to operate small teams by the military. The area is strategically important for both as there is a road leading to the Alampil (Sea Tiger base) from Kokkuthuduwai. From Kokkuthuduwai to Kalmunai, there is again a road through Navuru lagoon leading to the second last important town controlled by the LTTE – Mullaithivu. With the cut off from their main sea supply route, LTTE has also developed a capability to indigenously manufacture 60 mm, 81 mm and 82 mm artillery shells which enable it to be more liberal in its use of artillery shells while confronting government forces.

As Tamil Nadu has emerged as a main supply base for the LTTE in recent times, India has decided to adopt new stringent measures to tighten noose around the rebel forces. Government has put in place a three-tier system of coastal patrolling and protection by the Indian Navy, Coast Guard and the Coastal Security Group of Tamil Nadu to check the infiltration and smuggling activities of the LTTE. While international community has lamented the limited role of India in stemming the rising tide of violence in Sri Lanka, the ultra-leftist Janata Vimukti Peramuna has publicly announced the boycott of the Indian goods in case it continue to intervene in its ‘internal affair’. 

< class="maroontitle">General Moeen Ahmed’s India visit to develop military ties

India Bangladesh relations were further strengthened following Bangladesh Army Chief General Moeen Ahmed the visit to India this week. General Ahmed on his week long visit to India reached New Delhi on February 24.  The focus of his visit was to develop political and military ties with India. Indian army on February 25 organised a spectacular welcome ceremony in honour of General Ahmed where he received six horses as a gift from the Indian Army to the Bangladesh Army as a token of friendship. Commenting on his visit General Ahmed on February 25 said that his tour will enhance relationship between the two countries in general and military in particular.

In course of the visit General Ahmed met top Indian leaders and officials. This included the Chief of Indian Army General Deepak Kapoor, Chief of Indian Air Force Air Chief Marshal F H Major, Vice Chief of Indian Navy Vice Admiral Nirmal Verma. He called on the External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherji, Minister of State for Commerce Jairam Ramesh and Minister of State for Defence M M Pallam Raju. General Moeen expressed his interest in finding out specific ways through which bilateral relationship could be strengthened and cooperation could be carried out that will be beneficial to both side. He also held discussion with Pranab Mukherji and Jairam Ramesh on various possibilities to improve trade and commerce between the both the countries, growth oriented trade and trade creating investment.

Most significant event of this visit was General Ahmed’s meeting with Pallam Raju where they discussed about the possibilities of defence cooperation mainly in areas of training, disaster management, medical issues etc. This is important considering the fact that Bangladesh Army had always maintained reservations in developing relationship with India. This is a new phenomenon in the bilateral relations.

This visit received lot of attention in India primarily because of the fact that Bangladesh Army Chief is considered to be the key person in the affairs of state in Bangladesh, since his force is backing the caretaker government in Bangladesh that came to power on January 2007. Analysts viewed this visit to be Bangladesh’s keen interest to improve bilateral relations with India.

Meanwhile, another milestone was also attained in the history of Indo Bangladesh relation, as Bangladesh government on February 24 agreed to India’s proposal for construction of temporary fence on the no man’s land between the two countries along the railway line that will connect Dhaka and Kolkata. With this, a hurdle was removed in the running of the passenger train from Dhaka to Kolkata. Earlier, Bangladesh expressed its restrictions on this issue, which delayed the beginning of the train service that was scheduled to be inaugurated in August 2007.

However, politics in the country took a new turn, as fresh cases of corruption were filed against Khaleda Zia, Jamaat Chief Motiur Rahman Nizami and Saifur Rahman the leader of the breakaway faction of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Anti Corruption Commission on February 26 filed fresh cases against former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and ten of her cabinet colleagues, which includes Nizami and Saifur, on charges of corruption in awarding contact a Chinese firm for operating a coal mine. ACC accused them of causing a loss of public exchequer by awarding this contract though abuse of power. Saifur led faction of BNP was said to have enjoyed the support of the country’s army backed caretaker government. In an another development Election Commission keeping its promise of holding Municipal Corporation elections in four major cities prior to  Parliamentary election declared that dates for holding Municipal Corporation will be  announced in March.

< class="maroontitle">Strife ends in Nepal’s Terai region

With signing of an eight-point agreement reached between the government and leaders of United Madhesi Democratic Front (UDMF), an alliance of three Terai parties, Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum (MJF), Terai-Madhesh Loktantrik Party (TMLP) and Nepal Sadbhawana Party (NSP), the year long strife in Teria has partially come to an end. The UDMF also announced to withdraw its 16 day long agitation. The prevailing confusion and apprehension over holding of timely elections to the Constituent Assembly (CA) has also disappeared.

On February 28, 2008, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and UDMF leaders Mahanta Thakur, Rajendra Mahato and Upendra Yadav signed a pact in the presence of members from civil society, human rights and media. In addition, the government also signed a four-point agreement on March 1 with the Federal Republican National Front (FRNF), an alliance of nine ethnic groups. However, some affiliates of the FRNF, including Madhesi Jaanaadhikar Forum–Madhes (MJF-M) and Republican Madhesi Front (RMF) are dissatisfied with the agreement. The two Madhesi groups have further warned to intensify their agitation.

Apparently, the government has been able to address key demands of Madhesis which they have been deprived for over more than five decades. According to the pact, the government agreed to recognise Madhes and other federal states as autonomous region, provide equal representation to Madhesis in all sectors, proportional representation of Madheis in army, implement previous pact with MJF, compensate and provide medical treatment to people injured during Terai agitation and give martyr’s status to those killed and has agreed to talk to armed outfits from Terai. The cabinet meeting endorsed the agreement and asked the Election Commission (EC) to extend the deadline for election procedures.

In fact, the Terai problem seems to be resolved but this is only partially. In central Terai, security situation is fast improving and gradually returning to normalcy but agitations in eastern Terai remains a challenge. Similarly, the armed factions from Terai have not shown much inclination to participate in elections. Though, the government is trying hard to reach out to these groups but their response has been lukewarm. Eventually, if talks do not materialize with these groups it is certain that they will try to impede the election process. There are also few elements hatching conspiring against the elections and trying to derail the peace process. Likewise, security scenario in some parts of Teria still remains a matter of grave concern. The EC has also requested the government to tighten up security in some eastern hilly districts. However, despite all these hurdles and stumbling blocks, the government and parties look determined to hold the elections. The political parties have intensified campaign and mobilizing support for their respective parties. It is expected that this time the elections would not be deferred rather it would be held to provide a future roadmap for new Nepal. 

< class="maroontitle">A referendum that was flawed

Six months after the Maldives voted for the Presidential system, Election Commission finally admitted that irregularities did happen during the referendum. Assistant Director General at the Election Commissioners’ office, Mohammed Tholal accepted that the voter’s list in the referendum was not updated and contained the names of many dead and underage people. A hotline for the purpose of updating the National Registry’s database was proposed but had not been set up nine days before the actual vote. Even the indelible ink which was the only means to prevent dual vote could be washed off easily.

In this context, the fears of the opposition alliance regarding the rigging of the forthcoming multi-party elections hold the ground. Added to this is the failure of the Maldivian Government to use Electronic Voting Machines in the elections on the pretext that “it would take a long time to convince the people that the system is good”. Though earlier the main opposition party MDP has left no stone unturned in criticizing the outcome of the Presidential elections, this time the unity of the opposition is itself questionable. In fact, the struggle for power within its ranks has not only weakened their resolve to fight against the dictatorial regime but also makes the outcome of the election quite predictable.                             

< class="maroontitle">Contributors:

Anjali Sharma – Sri Lanka, Maldives
Joyeeta Bhattacharjee – Bangladesh
Paul Soren – Nepal, Bhutan

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