deadline to SLFP and LTTE's upper hand
D. Lalkantha, Maithripala Sirisena, Mahinda Rajapakse and
While talks between the government and
LTTE to work out a mechanism for the handling of tsunami
related funds remained deadlocked last week, the fallout of
the December 26 disaster was also threatening to tear the
SLFP-JVP alliance apart.
Slighted at President Chandrika
Kumaratunga's move to keep the JVP out of the government's
reconstruction effort, the Marxists have started breathing
fire, openly challenging the decisions made by the President
with a public ultimatum to be issued to the SLFP sooner than
later to stick with the UPFA manifesto or face the
There is no gainsaying, the JVP as a
political entity received a sucker punch with the tsunami and
considering the party's base in the south being practically
wiped out, it was of utmost importance for the Marxists to be
seeing as playing a pivotal role in the relief as well as
reconstruction efforts of the government.
But the President had her own ideas on
the matter and set about putting in motion a plan of action
which gave the JVP practically no role in the government's
rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts, compelling the
party thereby to be openly critical of the task forces formed
Plans by the government to proceed with
the privatisation of the power, oil and water sectors under
the name of 'restructuring' in the midst of the tsunami
operation only made matters worse with a severely embarrassed
JVP distancing itself from the decisions made following The
Sunday Leader and its sister paper Irudina exposes last week.
The President has in addition put the
final touches together with Finance Minister, Sarath Amunugama
for the restructuring of the People's Bank, Bank of Ceylon and
the National Savings Bank, which will undoubtedly add to the
With the decision thus taken to oppose
the President's action plan, the JVP started distancing itself
from the government on the issue with sharply critical
comments being made by the party leadership including
Somawansa Amarasinghe and Rural Economy Minister, K.D.
Minister Lalkantha while sitting in
cabinet went so far last week as to compare Kumaratunga to an
emperor without clothes in the handling of government and told
the people not to expect this administration to deliver the
Significantly, not a single member of
the SLFP rose in Kumaratunga's defence, a majority of them
also peeved the President was running the show with her
confidantes Tara de Mel and Mano Tittawela in addition to a
team of leading businessmen whom the members claim are out of
touch with grassroot realities.
The JVP too, sensing this discomfiture
of the SLFPers, upped the tempo by also publicly rejecting
moves the government was making to work out a mechanism with
the LTTE for the disbursement of tsunami aid to the north
Whilst large monies were pledged by the
donor community for the reconstruction of the tsunami
devastated areas, they not only wanted the LTTE brought into
the process but a workable mechanism put in place for that
purpose and the JVP's objection threw Kumaratunga into further
And the statement of the four cochairs
after the Brussels conference, Tuesday, January 25 did not
make matters any easier for the President where specific
reference was made to the peace process and the LTTE (see
box). Interestingly, with only reference made to the LTTE, the
Norwegians have also effectively distanced themselves from the
Karuna faction, which the government was banking on.
The co-chairs, USA, EU, Japan and
Norway went to far as to say the multi million dollar
international aid pledged as tsunami assistance should be
sensitive to and strengthen the peace process.
Thus on the one hand whilst the
government desperately needs the aid, it will necessarily have
to take on board the peace process and the LTTE as well and
that is exactly what the JVP is hell bent on preventing,
making their intentions clear publicly.
What the international community has
done by this statement albeit couched in diplomatic language
is also to tell the President it was time for her to bite the
bullet notwithstanding JVP opposition.
The message further puts a lid on
Kumaratunga's lone ranger approach, calling for the
participation of local and international civil society and all
political parties in the rebuilding effort.
The gravity of the message was not lost
on the government and Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar
whose dislike of the LTTE is all too well known, summed up the
reality brought home to the government at a press conference,
Wednesday, in these words, "We have to leave our likes
and dislikes aside. Sometimes you have to work with people you
dislike. Our discussions have to be realistic."
But the government is also realistic,
without the JVP it is history and is now hoping the
international community will bring sufficient pressure to bear
on the opposition UNP to work with the government if the JVP
The government on this score is in a
catch 22 position since refusal to take the LTTE on board
would mean funds drying up and funds are what the government
is desperately in need of with near riot situations in the
areas affected by the tsunami.
The LTTE for its part is now sitting
pretty and having agreed to work with the government is
waiting for the mechanism to be set up. And it is on this
issue, the JVP will be forced to stand up and be counted,
which the party has already said it will and that will not be
to the government's liking.
Be that as it may, Opposition Leader,
Ranil Wickremesinghe who is to meet the leaders of the
European Union and the Norwegian facilitators including Prime
Minister, Kjell Bondevik this week will be called upon for his
views on these crucial aspects and no doubt Wickremesinghe in
turn will clearly articulate his thinking, including the need
for the President to honour the letter and spirit of the
For now, however, it is the JVP that is
the government's biggest headache and the President made no
bones about her feelings when the SLFP central committee met,
Tuesday, January 25, just hours after news of the co chairs
meeting reached her.
Arriving at the meeting half way
through, the President quickly went through the remaining
items on the agenda relating to party reorganisation when
General Secretary and River Basin and Rajarata Development
Minister, Maithripala Sirisena broached the subject of the JVP.
Said Sirisena - "There is a
problem regarding the JVP. They are criticising the President
all over the country, including the plans to handle the
tsunami reconstruction. As a party we will have to take a
decision on how to respond."
That comment saw the President
launching a blistering attack on the JVP, warning the days of
her silence on the issues raised were numbered.
Said the President - "I was
waiting for this question to be raised. The JVP is now
resorting to going around the country scolding me in filth. It
is not that I did not see the statements made. I read all
their statements. They started this campaign with Wimal
Weerawansa giving me a disparaging name. I cannot remember it
Chipped in Prime Minister, Mahinda
Rajapakse helpfully, "Madam, the word used was 'bibikkama.'"
Responded Kumaratunga - "Yes, that
is the filth they started with."
Interjected Rajapakse - "It is not
a filthy word. It is something you eat. The problem was in
comparing you to it."
The comments made by Rajapakse saw the
President becoming even more livid, charging the word
bibikkama was used in an offensive manner by Weerawansa.
Said the President, "Un mata
bibikkama kewye kunuharapa vidihata (they used the word
bibikkama in a filthy way). What I am sad about is not that. I
have been in office for 10 years and governed without stealing
five cents. I have held several ministries, the prime
ministership and the presidency and no one has pointed a
finger at me accusing me of financial impropriety. But now the
JVP is saying I am trying to play out the tsunami funds. But
the saddest part is that when the JVP is going around the
country scolding me, and calling me a crook, not a single
member of the SLFP has risen to my defence."
No one to defend CBK
Added she, "Now took at S.B.
Dissanayake. Just within weeks of his sentence, the UNP
organised a march from Hanguranketha to Colombo and held a
rally. Whatever problems they had, they at least had a few
people to do that. When I saw it, I watched with sadness
because though the UNP could have done it for SB, the party I
have done so much for did not raise a finger to defend me. I
don't want marches organised but at least you should have
spoken up. As far as I am concerned now, I don't trust anyone
in this party any more. Even the people I thought can be
trusted are running behind the JVP today."
Trying to calm the proceedings down,
Minister Sirisena said the President's anger and feelings are
reasonable and it was important as a party for the SLFP to
"That is why I raised the issue.
But it must be done in a manner the unity of the alliance is
not ruptured. Nevertheless, I too think we were silent far too
long in the face of JVP criticism. They can scold us but not
our party leader," Sirisena said.
However Sirisena's comments did not
help ease the tension with the President once more firing a
series of missives at the SLFPers and the JVP. Said she to
Sirisena - "No, they accused you also of being a crook.
They said the rice prices were going up because of your
brother. At that time, only I fought for you. No one else in
the party did that."
Having said so, the President laid down
the law for any future rapport with the JVP, which no doubt is
going to be a hardsell unless the Marxists are prepared to eat
Said the President - "Any of you
can go and talk to the JVP to settle this problem but I have
taken a hard decision on the matter. There is no compromise
unless the JVP as a party or Somawansa Amarasinghe as the
party leader in writing tenders an apology to me for their
statements against me. That is my condition. You can talk to
them on any compromise but this has to be the final
The President went on to say she has
not started responding to the charges levelled by the JVP but
would start doing so shortly unless they apologise to her in
writing in the very near future.
With that out of the way, SLFP
Administrative Secretary, Cecil Bandara Senaratne raised a
pertinent issue, which went to the very heart of Kumaratunga's
He said, due to the tsunami the
political agenda drawn up by the government to amend the
constitution and conduct a referendum has been pushed to the
backburner, which he added was an unhealthy situation.
Senaratne said it was crucial for the
SLFP to ensure Chandrika Kumaratunga has a long stint as
leader of the country and towards this end, the government
must stick to the agenda that was planned pre tsunami, without
any change of dates.
Almost on cue came Kumaratunga,
pointing out she was now fully concentrating on the post
tsunami scenario and that it was up to those interested in
ensuring the agenda worked is implemented to take it forward.
"Others must know how to take it
forward without my involvement," the President added.
Interjecting at this stage was Labour
Minister, Athauda Seneviratne who warned of a sinister
campaign carried out by the UNP in the south which he said he
learnt of while touring the area.
Asked Kumaratunga - "What is it
that they are doing?"
Said Seneviratne - "They are going
around making inquiries of the requirements of the people and
informing them, they will be provided for after end March. I
asked them how the UNP plans to do it and they say there is
going to be a major planetary change end March. Is that
Replied the President - "I don't
know about a planetary change but I have a report of the
scientists who met in Kobe, Japan. They say there will be a
big earthquake in our region. I am planning on how to handle
Thereafter, the members focused on the
issues arising from the tsunami with special emphasis on the
100 metre buffer zone in coastal areas proposed by the
Several members told the President, the
100 metre rule was creating huge problems and there was a
trend developing against the government which needed to be
Responded the President - "I
checked out the reports myself. The UNP MPs are going around
campaigning against it. None of our MPs have gone into the
areas affected and countered the UNP strategy. They are
instead waiting to earn kutti, kutti from the disaster. Our
MPs must go and explain why the 100 metre zone is important.
People must be asked whether they want to die with the next
tsunami or go beyond the 100 metre buffer zone and live. My
view is it should be implemented strictly but let's discuss it
While the President and the SLFP were
thus gearing for battle with the JVP, the Marxists were
planning their own strategy with a two month deadline to be
given to Kumaratunga on the implementation of the SLFP-JVP MoU,
failing which they would exit from the government. (See Pot
Shots, page 17)
Thus, the President is on the horns of
a dilemma but is fast reaching a stage where she can no longer
dance to the tune of the JVP without losing the international
battle and with it the desperately needed funding.
With the battle lines clearly drawn, it
now remains to be seen who will blink first, the President or
the JVP and that will determine the future direction of this
Statement by the co chairs
The European Commission
Directorate General for External Relations
January 25, 2005
The Sri Lanka donor co chairs came together today
to express their support to Sri Lanka in the wake of the
tsunami disaster and
to evaluate how best to build confidence in and
The co chairs of the Tokyo Conference on
Development of Sri Lanka (the United States, the
Japan and Norway) met in Brussels on January 25,
2005 to further discuss their support for the peace
process following the tsunami disaster that hit the
north, the east and south coasts of Sri Lanka, on
The co chairs joined the international community
in expressing deep felt
sympathy and their support to the reconstruction of the
devastated areas in all parts of Sri Lanka. They further
expressed their gratitude to the people of Sri Lanka who
unselfishly and regardless of their own suffering caused
by the disaster helped rescue many foreign tourists hit
by the tidal wave.
They welcomed - as a sign of reconciliation - the
statements by the government of Sri Lanka and the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) in the wake of
the tsunami addressing all victims of the
disaster regardless of ethnic and religious
origin. They welcomed the overall well functioning
practical collaboration on the ground between
the two parties in the north and the east.
Co chairs welcomed the ongoing effective response
by them government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE in
distributing humanitarian aid to people of all ethnic
and religious communities and political affiliations.
They also welcomed the very effective and impressive
local and private response of the Sri Lankan people to
assist the victims of the tsunami disaster.
The co chairs support the government and the LTTE
efforts to strengthen cooperation on assistance for
relief, rehabilitation and development in the tsunami
affected areas of the north and east.
Co chairs emphasised that in the midst of this
tremendous natural disaster, renewed opportunities exist
to build confidence and to strengthen the peace process.
The co chairs support donors in their efforts to
ensure that the implementation of the tsunami assistance
is sensitive to and strengthens the peace process.
The co chairs called on donors and all parties to
ensure that tsunami assistance adheres to basic
principles of equity, transparency and accountability.
It should be focused on objective local needs and
priorities. The participation of local and international
civil society and all political parties will be crucial.
Co chairs called on international donors and aid
cooperate and coordinate their tsunami assistance
with each other and with all relevant parties in Sri
They called on the government and the LTTE to do
their utmost to continue to respect and observe the
ceasefire agreement as the basis for the peace process
and were pleased to note that, by and
large, the ceasefire has been upheld for almost
three years with the
very able assistance of the Nordic Sri Lanka
Monitoring Mission. The
ceasefire allows donors to continue to address
the needs of the poor
and conflict affected people in the whole of the
The co chairs also reassured their continued full
confidence in and support to Norway's challenging task
The co chairs noted again that a peace settlement
can only be sustained if it respects the legitimate
rights and involvement of all ethnic groups, preserves
the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and is based on
the principles of democracy and respect of human rights.
The co chairs agreed to meet again in the coming
months to further discuss the advancement of the peace