the verge of a disaster
after meeting after meeting is not a new thing in Sri Lanka. Even
for the frivolous of matters, there is a meeting. Last week was
one like that, one of useless jabbering, like what took place in
parliament and others with ominous messages, like the few in
sounds may be drowned here in Colombo amidst the deafening din of
politicians and talking-heads screaming over each other, but the
war drums were beating at a constant rhythm up in the north.
cadre takes aim in the Wanni
Political Wing Leader, S. P. Tamilselvan chaired a meeting of top LTTE
area commanders in Kilinochchi on Tuesday morning.
40 leaders attended the meeting including the Jaffna head Illambarandi,
Eastern commanders Ramesh and Kaushalyan. Tamilselvan told the leaders
that the country was on the brink of war and that if the government
pushed the Tigers back to resuming hostilities, then they were ready.
"The repercussions would be severe," Tamilselvan warned. The
LTTE area leaders have been meeting regularly since of late, partly due
to the situation created by the Karuna defection and the worsening
impasse between them and the government.
Tigers have upped the ante on making sure that Colombo as well as the
international community gets the message that they are prepared for war.
"Time is fast running out. The LTTE is prepared to wait patiently
to negotiate and resolve the Tamil national question. But if the
government has a hidden agenda to protract the peace process and restage
a game of deception again, the Tamil people are not prepared to bear it
anymore. This thinking pattern of the Tamil people, a most reasonable
one at that, should be understood in the right perspective by the
government and the international community," said the editorial of
the Liberation Tigers, the official organ of the Tigers published in
it is no secret that the LTTE has been oiling the war machine to meet
any exigency. Soon after the Wanni command took over control of the east
in April, it moved in double quick time to replenish the lost cadres. As
detailed in The Sunday Leader of July 18, the Tigers are hellbent on
getting the numbers one way or the other.
situation was still tense, especially in the east. Last week too
killings continued around Batticaloa. On July 20 night unidentified
gunmen walked into a house and shot two men,
Kananathan (35) and Selvarajan (34) in the legs after ordering
them at gun point to lie in the garden, in Earvur, north of Batticaloa.
Military sources in Batticaloa said the injured were Karuna supporters.
However, there was no reaction from the LTTE. A day later, an insurance
broker was shot dead in Batticaloa. Tamilnet said that the murder may
have been a case of mistaken identity where the victim was mistaken for
a LTTE supporter. The shooting happened in an area under the control of
the LTTE raising the issue of infiltrations by Karuna supporters.
monitors said that the situation in the east had not deteriorated from
two weeks ago, but remained tense. When Head, Sri Lanka Monitoring
Mission (SLMM), Trond Furuhovde had his regular meeting with the eight
district heads of the SLMM last week it was a similar sentiment that was
expressed. Furuhovde said that despite the problems in the east and
elsewhere he was still confident that the two parties were committed to
meeting however produced stories in the Tamil press that SLMM had been
discussing proposing amendments to the ceasefire agreement and that they
would be handed over to the Norwegians during the weekend. However, SLMM
Spokesperson Disa Finnboga said that there was no such discussion.
Sources from the government Peace Secretariat too confirmed that there
were no moves underway to amend the ceasefire agreement that was signed
between then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and LTTE Leader
Velupillai Pirapaharan, without the endorsement of the President.
met with Tamilselvan on Thursday morning. The meeting commenced at 9
a.m., but did not produce any fireworks. The LTTE reiterated their
concerns about the situation in the east. Tamilselvan told the SLMM head
that the LTTE wanted all armed groups in the Eastern Province disarmed
as per Article 1.8 of the ceasefire agreement. Norwegian Deputy Foreign
Minister, Vidar Helgessen is due in Sri Lanka this weekend and will meet
the Tigers tomorrow in yet another effort to get the process moving.
question though is what hope can there be of the peace process resuming
under these circumstances. Is the LTTE seriously expected to negotiate
in good faith with a government waging a war of attrition against it?
This week President Chandrika Kumaratunga declared that her government
was waiting for a response from the LTTE on its latest offer on the
agenda. Unless she has agreed to negotiate and implement an interim
administration for the north and east before discussing a permanent
political solution, we can safely predict what the response from
Kilinochchi will be.
to the gallery
Kumaratunga's posturing is for public consumption. Even as she plays to
the international gallery, her parliamentary ally, the Janatha Vimukthi
Peramuna is campaigning amongst the Sinhala people denouncing the notion
of an LTTE-run administration for the north-east. The chauvinist logic
is inescapable: the Sinhalese in the south are being mobilised to oppose
a governing body for the Tamils in the north and east. And this by the
government itself. It is apparent President Kumaratunga has no intention
of striking a deal with the Tigers. And unless the international
community is able to curtail her efforts to provoke the Tigers, it is
only a matter of time before war is re-ignited," was how the London
based Tamil Guardian described the circumstances surrounding Helgessen's
visit in its editorial.
was yet another meeting in Colombo on Monday, July 19 when Head, LTTE
Peace Secretariat, S. Puleedevan paid an unexpected courtesy call on
Jayantha Dhanapala who heads the government Peace Secretariat. The
meeting was not preplanned. Puleedevan called Dhanapala on Monday
morning and inquired whether he could drop by as he was in town.
Dhanapala said ok and within 10 minutes the LTTE member was at the
two had not discussed any substantive issues and it was just a courtesy
call. There are no follow-up meetings on the cards as well between the
two. However, news stories called the meeting an icebreaker. Even close
associates of Dhanapala admit that considering the fact that the LTTE
has stopped attending meetings with the
army in the east, it was a good confidence building measure.
"At least the two got to meet each other," they said.
sides have been using the media to create the impression that things
were moving along lines advantageous to them. Soon after Tamilselvan met
with World Bank Country Head, Peter Harrold in Kilinochchi early last
week on July 19, reports came out of Kilinochchi that Harrold had
'endorsed' the ISGA proposals. However, the World Bank office in Colombo
told The Sunday Leader that Harrold had endorsed the view that
negotiations should be recommenced as soon as possible to enable a
discussion on the ISGA proposal by both parties.
(Harrold) referred to the Tokyo Declaration which states that
'assistance' by the donor community will be closely linked to
substantial and parallel progress in the peace process," the World
Bank Colombo office said.
government had also expected some sort of relief or at least a positive
message during the visit of World Bank Vice President, Praful Patel to
Sri Lanka two weeks ago. However, there was no extraordinary
announcement during the visit or during talks between Patel and
officials including President Kumaratunga.
economy nevertheless would need very urgent tending. Last week in
parliament Finance Minister Sarath Amunugama presented the mid-year
fiscal position report for 2004 and some of the statistics speak for
trade deficit jumped by almost US$ 200 million during the first quarter
of this year compared to the same time period in 2003. "Due to the
higher increases in imports arising mainly due to the increased cost of
petroleum imports, the trade deficit in the first four months of 2004,
increased to US$ 724 million from US$ 566 million in the previous
year," the report said. The government has continued to absorb the
rise in cost of fuel prices.
country's total reserves have risen to US$ 3,324 million (5.7 months
imports) at the end of April, 2004 from US$ 3, 218 million, at the end
of 2003. During the same period, gross official reserves have declined
to US$ 2,242 million from US$ 2,329 million. The rupee had depreciated
by around 2% against the dollar at the end of April 2004," the
indicate that the government is also falling short on revenue collection
- the first quarter witnessed a drop of 3%, the drop was primarily due
to shortfalls in non-tax revenue collection. Given the precarious nature
of the economy, the country cannot withstand another breakout of
hostilities. Like what transpired soon after the Katunayake Airport
attack, the economy will nosedive.
government will soon have to face up to the internal complexities
inherent with the UPFA coalition. On the economic front, the JVP has
steadfastly maintained that they want the state sector to play a vital
role in running the country. But the country is dependent on aid coming
through agencies like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Even during her discussions with Patel the same issue had come up with
the World Bank official inquiring from Kumaratunga whether the
government's economic policies would vary from agreements entered into
with the IMF. The answer had been ambivalent.
same pressures would be felt at the negotiating table as well.
"Making confusion confounded is the stance of the President's
constituent partners in the government, the JVP, that a referendum be
held in the Sinhalese electorates. These do not augur well for the peace
process and not at all conducive for the recommencement of the peace
talks. On the contrary, they tend to reflect the reluctance of the
government and ground reality that the government is not strong enough
to take forward the peace process with sincerity and commitment.
one meeting the President proclaims a certain view on the peace process
and strange enough she refutes it in another meeting. The President's
partner, JVP proclaims still another view and goes at length to say that
the President has accepted the JVP view. A JVP leader goes on record
that the TNA legislators should be chased out of the assembly, an
expression of naked racism and supremacist thinking," the
Liberation Tigers editorial said.
JVP for its part is getting ready to take Kumaratunga to task on another
angle while not budging an inch from the tough stance adopted regarding
negotiations. During a recent meeting of high rankers, it was decided to
apply pressure on government appointments. Soon after the meeting, when
General Secretary Tilvin Silva, MPs Wimal Weerawansa and Nandana
Gunathileke met Kumaratunga they informed her that all appointments to
government corporations and boards should be done through a committee
comprising of the coalition partners. The JVP said that if the committee
takes a decision to remove an official, that decision should be
respected. Before the meeting, the JVP had referred to the SLFP led
unions as a mafia. The JVP has been annoyed by the appointments made to
the transport depots.
can confuse reality. For the LTTE war is a very real option now. The
question is has Colombo realised this, and if so is it ready to dance
the war dance? The verbal sabre-rattling would soon have to give way to
the real thing, be it peace or war.
at a glance
Ministerial faux pas
Minister Mahinda Rajapakse's office received an odd letter from
the Independent Television Network (ITN) dated July 19. The letter
signed by Mahinda Abesundera (media consultant), Sudarman
Radaliyagoda (manager news) and Kusum Chandra Arangala (manager
news Lakhada) was critical of the composition of the media
entourage that accompanied the Prime Minister to India.
three said that it was a painful
effort on the part of Rupavahini, ITN and Lakhada to forget
that Rajapakse had taken along media crews from Sirasa and
Swarnavahini to India, leaving the three state institutions to
cool their heels in Colombo.
letter said that it was a serious issue that the two media
institutions that accompanied Rajapakse's predecessors Ranil
Wickremesinghe on his foreign trips would accompany the Prime
Minister of the UPFA. The three however felt that it was comical
that the state institutions had to claim cassettes of the trip
from Sirasa. They said that they would have had no problems if
Rupavahini had accompanied Rajapakse instead of the two private
a consequence of this great 'faux pas,' the three informed that
they would not be attending the banquet held by Rajapakse.
However, despite the 'pain' caused the three assured their full
support to Rajapakse and more importantly coverage as long as he
remains Prime Minister, a minister or even a mere member.