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Sri Lanka: Army blocks demo convoy

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A convoy of buses travelling from Colombo to Jaffna to protest against the abduction of 2 members of the Movement for People's Struggle (MPS, which recently split from the JVP) has been repeatedly stopped and harassed and eventually prevented from reaching its destination by the army that still holds the north of the island in its grip.

Palihenage Don Saranapala, the General Secretary of the Joint Health Workers' Union and member of the Socialist Party of Sri Lanka, was on the convoy and gave us this eyewitness account:

 “There were about 1000 of us in the convoy of buses and trucks. As well as members of the MPS, there were delegations from lawyers' associations, civil rights groups, trade unions and political organisations including the SPSL and the NSSP. As well as protesting against the abduction of Lalith Kumar and Kugan Muruganandan and the continued detention of hundreds of Tamils seized at the end of the Civil War, the purpose of the convoy was also to give a practical demonstration of the need to re-establish links between the South and the North of the island and, symbolically, between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities.

"We set out from Colombo on the evening of Monday, 16th January 20. Early next morning, when we were about 4 km from Vavuniya, the convoy was stopped by police with the excuse that the road ahead was impassable because of the destruction of Murukandi Bridge. After an hour, the convoy was allowed to leave but then was stopped again for over an hour at Joseph Camp, 2 km from Vavuniya, and then again at the police HQ, 1 km from Vavuniya.

When the convoy was finally allowed to proceed, it was stopped again just a few kilometres further on at Thaandikulam. The soldiers claimed they had intelligence that explosives were being carried – as if anyone would be so stupid! Everybody was forced off the buses, supposedly to allow a search for explosives which, obviously, were not found. After 3 hours, we set off again - only to be stopped a further 2 km ahead, supposedly because bombs had been found in a lorry ahead of us which had to be neutralised. Finally, even after all these stoppages, the convoy was forced by the army to take a “new road", which then turned out to lead nowhere.

"Meanwhile, in Jaffna itself, the Thinakural Hotel, which had been booked for a press conference to mark the end of the proposed demonstration, was attacked and ransacked by a gang of thugs who were not recognised by local people and we assume were actually soldiers.

"Eventually, we held an impromptu rally to protest at the abductions but also at the actions of the Army in denying us the basic human rights to travel, to demonstrate and to hold meetings.

"We finally got back to Colombo early on the morning of Wednesday, 18 January where we held a press conference to publicise this practical illustration of Rajapaksa's denial of democratic rights."
At the press conference, Mahinda Devege spoke on behalf the Socialist Party. He emphasised that the demonstration was not only to support those who had been abducted but also to show the importance of establishing connections between North and South, Tamil and Sinhala. That was what Rajapakse feared most and that was why the convoy was attacked. He stressed that, in the aftermath of the civil war, many were placing their hopes for a better future for the Tamil speaking community on a deal between Rajapaksa and the Indian government. This, he said, would be a fatal delusion, just as it had been in the 1990s.

The only lasting solution to the divisions which had begun under the British but had been exploited by all Sri Lankan governments, he said, lay in bringing together the working class of both communities in the struggle for their common interests. The old parties of the left, both the Communist Party and the Lanka Sama Samaaj Party, originally a section of the Fourth International, had failed to do this , even worse, they had collaborated with the governing parties. He finished by saying, “As Trotskyists and Internationalists, the Socialist Party calls on all progressive and working class organisations, especially the political parties and trade unions and the new MPS, to work together to build a new workers' party that will respect the rights of all communities but will fight for the interests of all workers against all exploiters and for a Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.”