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Self-proclaimed gangster appointed Jaffna's UNP organiser

(Image courtesy: Yarltheepan)

The United National Party (UNP) has appointed self-proclaimed Ava gang senior member and former Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) member Arun Siddharthan as its Jaffna organiser ahead of Sri Lanka's presidential polls which are set to take place this year. 

Siddharthan was present alongside Ravi Karunanayake, the UNP's assistant leader, at the UNP's first election campaign event in Jaffna last week.  

During an interview with Ada Derana on 8 February 2019, Arun Siddharthan publicly admitted to being a member of the Ava gang. The ‘Ava’ gang, a crime syndicate with reported links to the Sri Lankan military is notorious for extortion and violent crimes throughout Jaffna.

Tens of thousands of Sri Lankan troops remain stationed across the North-East, which has seen flare-ups of gang violence and criminal activity in recent years. Amidst the heavy militarisation of the region, the Ava gang operated with reported close links to the Sri Lankan military intelligence and senior military officials, including the former State Intelligence Service (SIS) Brigadier Suresh Salley. Salley was Sri Lanka’s former Director of Military Intelligence (DMI) when a wave of unrest swept through the Jaffna peninsula in 2016, which authorities blamed on the ‘Ava gang’.

Speaking at the campaign event in Jaffna, Siddharthan claimed that the Sinhala people have not objected to needs and human rights of the Tamils living in the North.  

“They are even willing to give you whatever they have in their pockets,” he said. “For the last five years, we did what we could, but now we don't know. So we need political leadership. The Sinhalese people are ready and willing to help, and so is the government. But the people’s representatives have held back the opportunities due to you.” 

Siddharthan positioned himself as being the right candidate to help Tamils in the North seek opportunities. He also hailed the UNP and Ranil Wickremesinghe as the political party that can unify the country. “If we go back in history, we must not forget that the ceasefire agreement was signed by Wickremesinghe who was then the prime minister in 2002,” he told the audience. 

Wickremesinghe has a lengthy history in Sri Lankan politics serving as Prime Minister of Sri Lanka from 1993 to 1994, 2001 to 2004, 2015 to 2015, 2015 to 2018, 2018 to 2019 and then being reappointed to the position by Gotabaya Rajapaksa in May 2022.

Throughout his tenure, Wickremesinghe has remained a staunch Sinhala Buddhist nationalist and has consistently maintained his opposition to any international accountability mechanism for violations of international humanitarian law and vowed to protect Sri Lanka's security forces which stand credibly accused of human rights abuses. 

In a brief titled "Student killings, Ava gang and the Securitisation of Jaffna", the Adayaalam Centre for Policy Research (ACPR) raised alarm at the Sri Lankan government's "failure to meaningfully confront systemic policing and military intelligence issues that have once again been brought to the forefront by the recent killings of two Jaffna University students by police."

ACPR expressed concern that the "“Ava” gang resurgence is being inter alia used by the military in the North to crackdown on Tamil activism and mobilization by creating a climate of fear that is conveniently timed for the lead-up to Maveerar Naal, which annually sees a more visible military presence in the North-East."

"ACPR believes that how the Ava gang issue is being handled by the Government seeks to further strengthen the national security apparatus in the Tamil majority areas of Sri Lanka.  Either the Government is actively allowing the security apparatus to further this agenda of securitisation or lacks the political will to contain the security apparatus," the situation brief states.

Although Siddharthan is now seen on stages under the UNP ticket, during Maithripala Sirisena’s presidency he was the Jaffna district organiser for the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. At the time, he issued  death threats against leading Tamil politicians for paying tribute to Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leader, V. Prabhakaran, and fallen freedom fighters, during a press conference. 

“We stand against people, such as [Kanagaratnam] Sugash, [Gajen] Ponnambalam, Ananthy Sasitharan, Wigneswaran and Shanakiyan, who outspokenly honour Prabhakaran and LTTE fighters as ‘Maaveerar Gods’,” said Siddharthan. “It is against these people whom we will need to point our guns at,” he added aggressively.

Siddharthan, who was a candidate under the Angajan Ramanathan-led SLFP for the August 2020 parliamentary election, presided over SLFP’s ‘Independence Day’ rally which protested against a separate state whilst the ‘Pottuvil to Polikandi’ (P2P) were taking place in February 2021.

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