MonitorsPublished on Apr 27, 2009
With the Sri Lankan security forces continuing their advance into north-eastern Mulaithivu district, the last stronghold of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the international community has again raised its concern over the safety of trapped Tamil civilians.
South Asia Weekly Report 69

Sri Lanka
< class="maroontitle">Sri Lankan army continues its last push against LTTE

With the Sri Lankan security forces continuing their advance into north-eastern Mulaithivu district, the last stronghold of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the international community has again raised its concern over the safety of trapped Tamil civilians. Media reports said the civilians were forced at the gunpoint not to leave the battle zone by the LTTE. Though the Lankan government had asked the armed forces not to use heavy weaponry in order to prevent civilian deaths, the soldiers have been using big calibre weapons as they close in on the LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran. The British and French foreign ministers also failed to secure a truce during their brief visit to the island nation. The President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, once again repeated his amnesty offer to secure surrender from the remaining LTTE cadres. Meanwhile in India, the political temperature rose one more notch over the plight of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees. All Dravidian political parties, in a bid to outdo each other, are trying to present themselves as the sole saviour of the Sri Lanka Tamils. While former Tamil Nadu chief minister and All India Anna Dravida Munnetram Kazhagam (AIADMK) chief J Jayalalitha considered Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader M Karunanidhi’s fast over the Tamil issue a farce, Karunanidhi termed Jayalalitha’s advocacy of a separate Tamil Eelam as anti-national and heretical.        

< class="maroontitle">Prachanda sacks army chief and then calls it quits himself

In a dramatic development on Monday (May 4), Nepali Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, ‘Prachanda’, announced his resignation in a nation-wide television address after his move to sack Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) General Rookmangud Katawal was opposed by a section of the Nepali political leadership, most prominently by the Nepal President, Dr Ram Baran Yadav. Prachanda said he is stepping down in order to “protect democracy and peace” in the country. He also accused Yadav of acting in an unconstitutional manner. “The move by the President is an attack on this infant democracy and the peace process. The interim constitution does not give any right to the president to act as a parallel power,” he said in his nation-wide televised address. The tussle between Prachanda and General Katawal came to a head recently after the army chief refused to integrate former Maoist fighters into the army ranks.

Earlier, under immense political pressure to forge consensus, the three major political parties, Unified-Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) and Nepali Congress (NC) held a meeting to diffuse the situation but failed to reach a consensus. The Maoists think the army chief has undermined and challenged the authority of civilian government whereas the other parties believe that the Maoists are trying to weaken democracy by establishing an autocratic regime. With the UML, MJF and Sadbhawana Party (coalition partners in the present government) tilting against the government’s move, the Maoists went ahead alone with their decision to sack the Army Chief.

< class="maroontitle">Laws discriminatory to minorities to be repealed

Bangladesh Prime Minster Sheikh Hasina Wazed declared that laws that are discriminatory towards minorities will be repealed. Hasina said her government will ensure religious freedom and freedom of expression for all its minorities. Awami League had promised a repeal of discriminatory laws during its election campaign. The announcement evoked mixed reactions. By and large people called it a welcome step, but expressed reservations over the implementation of the Vested Property Act, which was repealed in 2001. The Act allowed the government to confiscate property of individuals it deemed as enemy of the state. Even today, many of the victims are waiting to get their land back. Sheikh Hasina’s declaration also made the United States of America to remove Bangladesh’s name from the list of countries that Violate religious freedom. In another development, the home ministry said that 33 militant organisations are active in Bangladesh. It, however, did not furnish details about these organisations. The ministry is preparing a comprehensive report on these groups, which will have information about their activities leadership, ideology, cadre base, source of funding and linkages.

< class="maroontitle">Nasheed earns sobriquet of ‘Asia’s Mugabe’

Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed’s speech delivered earlier this month has earned him the sobriquet of “Asia’s Mugabe”. His warning to opposition members to fall in line and threatening them with dire consequences created a stir among his detractors. During the entire speech, the President’s inclination towards his own partymen at the cost of his coalition partners was all too obvious. Later on, however, Mohammed Zuhair, press secretary at the President’s office, tried to clear the air by saying that the President’s comments were blown out of proportion. There is no denying the fact that the widespread circulation of the recorded speech has provided an opportunity for the opposition parties to launch a campaign against the President and his party in forthcoming parliamentary elections.             

< class="maroontitle">Security forces launch operations in Buner and Dir

Frontier Corps (FC) and Pakistan Army troops launched combined operations in the Lower Dir and Buner districts of North West Frontier Province (NWFP), leading to speculation about Taliban’s next move in Washington and Islamabad. Troops launched Operation Toar Tander-I (Black Thunderstorm-I) in Lower Dir and killed around 40 ‘Taliban’ militants in fierce firefights on April 26-27. Earlier, militants had closed roads to military traffic and killed local administrators.  Troops launched another offensive in Buner on Tuesday (April 28) and claimed to have killed more than 100 militants. Pakistan continues to engage the insurgents in set-piece battles and is still resisting from establishing a permanent presence in the region. While the tactical objective of pushing the militants back to Swat was met, Pakistan is yet to make up its mind on whether to treat the Taliban as a strategic entity or an ‘existential’ threat.

< class="maroontitle">Contributors:

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