MonitorsPublished on Apr 20, 2009
The two-day ceasefire call given by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa failed to produce any tangible results after it was rejected by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The 24-hour ultimatum issued to the LTTE chief, Velupillai Prabhakaran,
South Asia Weekly Report 68

Sri Lanka
< class="maroontitle">Violence increases in Sri Lanka

The two-day ceasefire call given by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa failed to produce any tangible results after it was rejected by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The 24-hour ultimatum issued to the LTTE chief, Velupillai Prabhakaran, to surrender to the Sri Lankan Army was also ignored by the separatists who are now confined within eight square kilometres in the coastal area of Puttumatalan in Mulaithivu. During this two-day period, however, nearly 100,000 trapped civilians braved LTTE suicide bombers and indiscriminate shelling to reach government controlled areas. Although Sri Lanka claimed that there are only 15000-20000 civilians being held hostage by the LTTE in the no-fire zone, independent estimates put the figure at 80,000. .

In the run-up to the parliamentary election in India, the issue of Sri Lankan Tamils has become a debating point among politicians, especially from South India. Buckling under the pressure of coalition politics, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre has focused its attention on the deteriorating humanitarian situation of Tamil refugees in Sri Lanka. India sent its Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and National Security Adviser M.K Narayanan to mount pressure on the Sri Lankan government to ease its offensive against the LTTE. India is also planning to dispatch aid for the millions of displaced Tamils. Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government appealed for humanitarian assistance from the international community. The Lankan government, however, rejected the appeal of the United Nations and the United Kingdom for placing a team of humanitarian observers in the country.             

< class="maroontitle">Row between Maoists and Nepal Army deepens

The tussle between the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and Nepal Army (NA) came to the fore after Prime Minister Prachanda threatened to sack the Chief of Army Staff (CoAS), General Rookmangud Katawal, for defying the government’s order. The government sought an explanation from the Army Chief on recruiting officials in the army, extending the retirement period of eight Army Generals and boycotting the National Games. The Army Chief, however, defended himself by expressing his firm commitment towards the civilian government, democracy, the rule of law and human rights in the country.

The government’s contentious decision to sack the Army Chief drew lot of criticism. The issue not only triggered unwanted political controversy but also deeply divided the Nepal’s polity. The Nepali Congress, along with 16 other political parties, termed it ‘politically motivated’. The CPN-UML (Communist Party of Nepal – Unified Marxist Leninist) and Madheshi Janaadhikar Forum (MJF) are divided over the issue. The Nepali President, Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, said the government cannot take any sweeping decisions on the army unless it brings in an amendment in the present Army Act. While expressing grave concerns over the issue, the international community, including India, suggested to the prime minister to avoid taking any controversial decision that could hamper the ongoing peace process in Nepal.

Amidst mounting pressure, Prachanda had to defer the sacking of the Army Chief and called for a cabinet meeting to study the details of Katawal’s response. On the whole, the new controversy is likely to impact the PLA integration issue and create obstacles in the Constitution drafting and peace process.

< class="maroontitle">Militants threaten UN Staff

Security has been tightened this week in Bangladesh after banned Islamic militant organisation Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) threatened to kill the local staff of United Nations Fund for Children (UNICEF), International Federation of Red Crescent (IFRC) and World Food Programme (WFP), if these organizations did not close down their operations. Subsequently, massive police and army operations were launched all across the country and a large number of militants arrested. This threat indicates that Islamic militancy has managed to survive in Bangladesh despite the stringent anti-militancy drive undertaken by the previous military-backed caretaker government.
Surge in militant activities has forced the government to look at new ways of tackling it. The government is planning to frame policies that will enhance motivation and participation of people in fighting terrorism. To take this end, a high level committee has been formed on April 20.
In a related development, the government is thinking of recognising ‘Kawmi Madrasa’ (educational institution that imparts Islamic religious education and are mostly affiliated to Deobandi faith) education and bringing it within the purview of the mainstream general educational system. The government feels that this measure will lead to a better monitoring of such Madrasas, as these are perceived to be breeding ground of militants.

< class="maroontitle">Coalition woes in Maldives

Cracks within the six-month old coalition government of Maldives headed by President Mohamed Nasheed became wider when Attorney General Dhiyana Saeed accused the government of threatening her with dismissal. She had questioned the intentions of the current regime in introducing seven provincial councils in place of the 21 atoll councils. Ms. Saeed criticised the move as being contrary to the new Constitution. This is not the first time that Ms Saeed is at loggerheads with the government. Last week, she alleged that supporters of Maldivian Democratic Party, President Nasheed’s party, were indulging in violence in the run-up to the parliamentary elections to be held on May 7. She also advised the President to appoint a full-time Home Minister ‘without delay’, when the President was away on an official visit to the United Kingdom. On his return, however, President Nasheed dismissed her comments as ‘politically motivated’.

Ms. Saeed belongs to the Republican Party, a coalition partner in the MDP-led government. Earlier, the head of the Republican Party, Gasim Ibrahim, had resigned from his post of the country’s Home Minister barely two weeks after the new government took over. Though at that time some of the Republican Party members refused to resign along with Gasim, problem remains the same as these members continue to create obstacles in the smooth functioning of the government.

< class="maroontitle">Tehrik-e-Taliban militants tighten their control over Malakand
Militants aligned to Baitullah Mehsud’s Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) swiftly extended their control over most of the districts adjoining Swat. Pakistan government recently agreed to introduce Shariah law in the Malakand Division in an effort to pacify the local militants and isolate the more irreconcilable elements led by Baitullah Mehsud.
Militants entered Buner in truckloads, occupied mosques and erected checkpoints. In Shangla, more than 70 militants took control of the Gojaro emerald mines and soon employed more than 1000 locals there to entrench themselves in a place which, till now, fiercely rejected Taliban incursions. The garrison town of Nowshera also came under the grip of the militants, who in the past few months have coerced the local merchants to quit selling music and video CDs.
As expected, differences have already emerged over the interpretation of Shariah between the State and Mullah Fazlullah who leads the Swat chapter of the TTP. Emboldened by the deal, Mullah Fazlullah now intends to expand militant activity to other parts of the country till his stated goal of introducing Shariah in Pakistan is met. It is worth noting that al-Qaeda’s second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri criticised the deal which, if it works, will significantly erode al-Qaeda’s influence among the local militants. In the coming weeks, al-Qaeda’s surrogates in Pakistan might step up the violence against security forces in order to sabotage the peace deal.

< class="maroontitle">Contributors:

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