How to get rid of or decrease the presence of the Army from the North is our biggest problem

wigneswaran     Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran has already had to face many challenges within the short period since he was appointed to his new post. Meeting the expectations of the Tamils who gave him a mandate at the last Northern Provincial Council elections is without a doubt his biggest challenge. Wigneswaran has a long and certainly rough road ahead of him but he says he will take that road to meet the expectations of the people. But as for the future, only time will tell

Excerpts of the interview by the Sunday Leader.

Q. How would you describe your term in office so far as the Chief Minister of the North?
A. Challenging! I had been used to a regularized contented life since I became a Judge. It was no doubt hectic when I practiced for 15 years before I became a Judge. The present stage is akin to my lawyer days 35 years ago. Though the body is old the challenges are manageable!

Q. What are the most complex issues the new Council and you have had to face?
A. How to get rid of or decrease the presence of the Army from the North is our biggest problem. Thankfully our people understood the dangers of backing certain candidates and they were routed. Fortunately the President too has understood the dangers in keeping certain officers for too long and has changed the officers in command. We welcome that. But there is a deliberate statement that has emanated from powers that be. That is under no circumstances would the Army be withdrawn. This is unfortunate. Five years have passed and the same Army that fought the War continues to be amongst our people. Does the Government ever intend to withdraw the Army from the North and East at some stage or never?

Our people have not experienced democracy for so long and if the Government does not intend to change the state of affairs in the North soon, it would mean it has certain hidden agendas to be implemented. Is it the changing of the demographic pattern in the North? They managed to do so in the East. Now the Army, Buddhist priests and certain interest groups are being used to obtain such ends. If the Government is genuine I have suggested a way out. I have said, divide your numbers in the Army by nine. Leave one ninth in each province unless you want a greater number in Colombo. To that extent the numbers in the Provinces would then dwindle and that is to be welcomed. If you need more in the North, increase the Police presence.

Our fertile lands are taken over by the Army and they are cultivating them and selling the produce to the owners of such lands! Fishing is in their hands. IDPs have not been allowed to get back to their residences. These are information trickling in to us. As Chief Minister I was not allowed to go and visit the area where two temples and a school had been purportedly razed to the ground. Our women specially single heads of families and widows are not safe at all. Recently three young girls had been raped and put into wells. No investigations of any sort seem to take place. But I must state there have been improvements visible since certain changes in the Police hierarchy were undertaken recently.

Q. Following your recent meeting with President Mahinda Rajapaksa there were both criticism and a sense of hope for the future on the part of the Tamils here and abroad. Would you say that by meeting the President you will be able to deliver what the Tamils expect from you?
A. Certainly not. But he could help us in the day to day functioning of the Provincial Council. What the Tamils want is a permanent solution to their problems.

Q. How much of funding does the Council need from the Government to administer the North more effectively?
A. Ours is an area coming out of a terrible war. The Army that fought the War is still there. It is not possible to say how much without understanding the enormity of the problems involved. For that the Army must leave so that we would make an assessment without interference. In principle we need to carry out a proper needs’ assessment of all the sectors with the help of multilateral agencies as done during the Peace Accord period 2003/2004 to determine what should be done, reconstruct and rebuild Northern Province effectively to overcome the negative impact of war. Only a proper and effective sector wise needs’ assessment will enable us to determine the amount of funds required to administer Northern Province effectively in the post war context.

It should be borne in mind to effectively rebuild a war torn society and region, you need to formulate and adopt specific polices as done in other war affected regions. The current national policies are woefully inadequate for the purpose intended. Besides, what the Government is trying to do is aggressively push for policies which were rejected by our people of NP at the Provincial Council elections. Moreover, the Presidential Task Force which was set up in 2009 and the subsequent Joint Actions Plans etc were not carried out in consultation with the elected representatives of TNA nor with war affected communities of the NP. It was basically a programme implemented by the victor in the war disregarding the wishes of the war affected Tamil People – the vanquished, to further their political agenda. Everything has to be redone. How could I truthfully answer your question?

Q. What steps are you taking to address the land issue in the North?
A. We are making a survey of many problem areas. But the biggest problem is the Army again. They control land and the Government is denying us the rights given under the 13th Amendment even. Could we fight the Army? If a Chief Minister cannot go to a place where an offence has taken place within his jurisdiction you think anybody else could? That is why we are asking for the removal of the Army.

Q. As the Chief Minister do you see the need to be more independent or still work according to the agenda of the TNA?
A. There is no difference between TNA and us. We are TNA. In fact there is no difference between majority of our people and the TNA and us. We are quite certain as to what we want. Our Manifesto set it out clearly. Please do not try to drive a wedge between the NPC and our people!

Q. The Tamils Diaspora had recently said it will work with the TNA on highlighting the human rights issue internationally. Do you feel there is a bigger and wider role the diaspora can play in the North?
A. That depends on the extent to which the Government would allow our brethren abroad to help us. I must say the President recently was very accommodative saying if we contact Mr. P. B. Jayasundera in time we could work out such help without problems. We look forward to working with Mr. Jayasundera.

Q. Muslims feel they are the forgotten community in the North. As the Chief Minister what assurance can you give them for them to feel accepted?
A. We have already shown our willingness to work as two communities speaking the same language. We have brought in a Muslim brother in as a nominated Provincial Council Member and we have agreed to set up a Commission to look into their problems. Only we are hampered by legal issues as to how such Committee or Commission could function. We should get over it soon. But please remember the Muslims through Minister Rishard Bathurdeen is doing fine in the North specially in the Vanni and even in Jaffna Peninsula where he unilaterally through his hand-picked officials use central government resources for the benefit of Muslims often creating conflict with the people of the area.

Q. Do you see yourself going further in Sri Lankan politics in a few years from now?
A. I am not a politician. I am a simple ordinary man. May be I have had the fortune to adorn the highest judicial office next to the Chief Justice. What on earth do I need further political positions for? I am doing what I could to assist in the regeneration of our unfortunate people. If I could do even a little in the direction of their amelioration, that should suffice. I need no extra money, no position, no pomp and pageantry nor fame nor kudos. The future is not ours to say. Whatever will be will be!-Que sera sera!  (Sunday Leader)

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