Poisoned Chalice: Two Goblets on Lanka served up by BBC’s Justin Rowlatt

WINE GLASS  ONE: Luxury Sri Lanka resort can’t hide country’s divisions,” by Justin Rowlatt, 14 August 2015, ….http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-33937051

Sri Lanka has everything a holidaymaker could want: a wonderful climate, friendly people, delicious food and beautiful beaches. But some of its resorts hide dark secrets. The fact that you have to go through a military checkpoint is a warning that the Thalsevana Resort is no ordinary hotel. The troops want to see passports and check the car for cameras. I don’t mention that I am a journalist, I know they are not welcome here.

We are waved through security and onto a large military base. There are canteen buildings, long blocks of barracks and mechanical workshops with military vehicles parked in the yard. And armed soldiers milling around everywhere.

Then, after a short drive, a bizarre sight: a large, luxury hotel. Children splash in the generous pool. A few yards away stretches a perfect arc of white sand – the hotel’s private beach.Thalsevana

Although they don’t wear uniforms, many of the staff at the resort are soldiers I find a free table in the cafe and lean back in the large, comfortable chairs. As the sunlight scissors off the ocean an unusually clean-cut, but slightly uncertain waiter sidles up to the table to take my order. There’s a good reason the waiters have perfect buzz cuts – and appear a little unclear about their role. It is because they – and many of the other staff in the hotel – are actually soldiers.

This dream destination is evidence of the legacy of misery and division that still remains six years after Sri Lanka’s civil war ended. The hotel is owned and run by the Sri Lankan army and the military base it is in is on land seized from Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority during the civil war.

SLUMResidents of a slum not far away from the resort claim the land it is on belongs to them Just a few miles down the road, but a world away from the luxury of the hotel, is the slum where some of the people who claim to be the real owners of the land now live. There are more than 200 people – 58 families – there, but just two water points and a couple of shared latrine buildings.

‘Like living in hell’

I met Julius Selvamalar outside her cramped corrugated iron shack. She tells me Sri Lankan troops drove her family from their beachside home on a plot right next to where the Thalsevana now stands.

“We are forced to live like refugees in this slum. It is like living in hell. I had to bring up my children here,” she complained. She told me the land is now very valuable but she doesn’t hold out any hope of getting it back.

The army insists, however, that the land was bare when it showed up and erected the hotel. “It is a welfare project of the army for the army personnel,” Brig Jayanath Jayaweera tells us. He says no one has tried to claim ownership of the land. But if they did? “I will have to speak to the commander,” he says.

The visible scars of Sri Lanka’s civil war may have almost vanished, but deep divisions still remain. Julius Selvamalar says she has been forced to live in a slum after being evicted fro

Even in Kilinochchi, once the headquarters of the rebel Tamil Tiger army, there are few signs of the terrible conflict that raged here for more than two decades. There are new roads and the so-called “Northern Line” railway has been rebuilt.

Yet many human rights abuses have yet to be addressed. Tens of thousands of Sri Lankans are, like Julius, still displaced.

Rajapaksa returns

Finding a long-term solution is a key issue in next week’s parliamentary elections. The current government, under President Maithripala Sirisena, says it wants to devolve power to Tamil regions. That’s the option most Tamils support. But the former president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, is warning that would be a disaster.

I met him in the kitchen of his large home in a suburb of Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital. He lost power in January, but now he’s back, standing as an MP and trying to rally the Sinhalese majority behind his bid to become prime minister.

Sri Lanka's former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is contesting in the upcoming general election, speaks during the launch ceremony of his manifesto, in Colombo July 28, 2015. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte - RTX1M2TK

Sri Lanka’s former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is contesting in the upcoming general election, speaks during the launch ceremony of his manifesto, in Colombo July 28, 2015. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte – RTX1M2TK

Tamils are worried what will happen if Mahinda Rajapaksa does well in next week’s elections Mr Rajapaksa told me he was convinced that devolving power could lead to Sri Lanka splitting in two. He said he would do everything in his power to stop that happening. But he is not popular in Tamil regions. He led the country in the last years of the war, when both sides committed appalling violations of human rights.

Tamil leaders say he did little to address their concerns once the war ended. They are worried what will happen if he does well in next week’s elections.

Could conflict resume?

The Tamil National Alliance expects to get the lion’s share of the Tamil communities’ vote. I spoke to the party’s spokesman, Suresh Premachandran, in the pretty little garden outside one of the party’s offices in Jaffna, the largest city in the predominantly Tamil north of the island. He told me he thought a return to armed struggle was a real possibility. “Who knows what might happen if Tamils aren’t accorded the same rights as other citizens?” he asked.

Is that a threat? “It is not a threat,” he said calmly. “Maybe in the future it might be a reality.”

That is a frightening thought for a country that is only just beginning to recover from a 26-year-long civil war.

lLAGOON'S EDGE

Sri Lankan military’s tourist portfolio

The Lagoon’s Edge Hotel is one of many holiday resorts owned by the Sri Lankan

If the Thalsevana doesn’t appeal, Sri Lanka’s military runs a number of other tourist businesses, including:

  • The exclusive Lagoon’s Edge Hotel, reserved for senior military personnel and their families. It offers guests the questionable pleasure of enjoying a cocktail as they look out over a stretch of water where thousands of Tamil civilians and soldiers died in the last days of Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war
  • A number of roadside restaurants along the A9 highway that runs to the north of the island
  • A travel agency, Air Travel Services, which boasts on its website that it is “the latest sphere” of activity for the Sri Lanka army, “after the military victory over the terrorism in North and East”
  • A whale-watching venture run by the navy and offering tourists the opportunity of an encounter with “the largest living mammals and spinning dolphins in luxury and comfort”. But you’ll have to wait to get a booking – the service is suspended while the navy’s passenger vessel is in dock for maintenance.

**   **  **

WINE GOBLET TWO:  “Is this the last battle for Sri Lanka’s ‘warrior king’?” by Justin Rowlatt South Asia correspondent, 10 August 2015

From the section AsiaHe has faced a dizzying reversal in his fortunes.The country’s Tamil minority paid a terrible price for his “victory”. One UN report estimates that 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the last few weeks of the war.  “This is all political tricks,” he insisted when we spoke. “Politically they want to attack us so they will do that.”I asked about the allegations that billions of dollars had been stolen during his time in power. “So why don’t you help us find this money?” he barked angrily, as his entourage swept the visibly irritated former president out of the house and into a waiting Mercedes.He was more forthcoming at a huge rally just outside Colombo. Mr Rajapaksa’s rallies have drawn large crowds His effort to become an MP is being run as if he was still a presidential candidate. Before he takes to the platform there are endless speeches by fawning supporters, songs extolling his many virtues, and swooping cameras to project images of his cheering fans onto vast television screens.He told the crowd the real corruption is in the new government, citing an alleged scam involving the sale of government bonds.He also warns that the current government’s plans to devolve power to the Tamil north will split the nation in two.But it isn’t clear he has the attention of some of his key supporters. During his speech I watched as one of the dignitaries on the podium behind him slumped forward gently and nodded off.

Nevertheless it would be wrong to write the old warhorse off quite yet. The fact that he is standing at all is testament to this veteran politician’s tenacity, and the huge turnout at his rallies shows he still has some passionate supporters.

And his arguments seem to be falling on deaf ears amongst the public too. He’s expected to win his parliamentary seat comfortably but a recent opinion poll suggests his party is trailing significantly behind the government.

Meanwhile Mr Rajapaksa, the self-styled father of the new Sri Lankan nation, is alleged to have been involved in corruption on an epic scale. He told me he was a victim of smears put about by his opponents

That may be so, but there are other compelling reasons for Mr Rajapaksa to want to return to power. Mr Rajapaksa (centre) is contesting to be an MP in the Kurunegala district in north west Sri Lanka Since he lost the presidency, his reputation has come under attack. Members of his inner circle have been accused of graft, abuse of power and even murder. They deny the allegations.

When I spoke to him in the kitchen of his huge house in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, he told me he was only running by popular demand. “They want me,” he said. “I thought I’d retired but when I went back to my village, you should have seen the queues! There were over 100,000 people.”

But Mr Rajapaksa is back, now standing not for president, but to be a humble MP – although he says he expects his party to do well enough to ensure he will become prime minister.

That all changed in January when, in a betrayal worthy of a Shakespearean drama, Mr Rajapaksa was unseated. His uncharismatic health minister Maithripala Sirisena unexpectedly won a narrow majority in the presidential elections, standing against his former political master. Mr Sirisena’s win was seen as a major change in Sri Lankan politics.

But finally putting an end to years of conflict proved hugely popular with the majority Sinhalese population and Mr Rajapaksa and his family seemed set to run Sri Lanka for decades to come. He ended the two-term limit for president and appeared to be grooming his eldest son for power.This is the man who presents himself as the warrior king who, in 2009, ended the island nation’s 26-year-long civil war.

As Sri Lanka prepares to go to the polls next week, the country’s controversial former president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, is fighting a battle for his political life.

***  ***

                     EDITORIAL ADDITIONS

THELSAVANA RESORT = is located at Kankesanturai [and was therefore part of the coastal area occupied by the security forces between 1996 and 2009 in order to prevent LTTE incursions from India or its Sea Tiger forces … and indeed much of the coast was military occupied when I travelled to Vadamarachchi from VVT in November 2004] and the web advertisement, with considerable hyperbole, is as follows: “This Resort is the only holiday destination in Jaffna where you can sit on the beach and bask in sensational sea breeze in a clean and tidy environment. You are welcome to air conditioned comfortable rooms with best form of hospitality.” SEE http://www.thalsevanaresort.com ….                      

See http://www.tripadvisor.com.au/Hotel_Review-g304135-d3445025-Reviews-Thalsevana_Holiday_Resort-Jaffna_Northern_Province.html for some negative customer reviews

LAGOON’S EDGE HOTEL: was declared open by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2012 and is located at the western edge of Nandikadal Lagoon.  Mr opens Ledge

L-Edge location

SEE http://www.tamilguardian.com/article.asp?articleid=6668 for a critical comment

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Filed under accountability, atrocities, British imperialism, disparagement, historical interpretation, Indian Ocean politics, island economy, landscape wondrous, life stories, LTTE, parliamentary elections, politIcal discourse, propaganda, Rajapaksa regime, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, slanted reportage, sri lankan society, tourism, truth as casualty of war, war reportage, world events & processes

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