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4th December, 2005  Volume 12, Issue 21

First with the news and free with its views                                     First with the news and free with its views                             First with the news and free with its views                                    

Politics

President and LTTE get set to talk while
preparing for eventual war

Mahinda Rajapakse, Anton Balasingham, Erik Solheim and Ranil Wickremesinghe

Inside Politics By Suranimala

It’s back to a war timetable and no amount of sugar coating the ‘Heroes Day’ statement of LTTE Supremo Velupillai Pirapaharan delivered in the Wanni or the elucidation of it by Chief Negotiator Anton Balasingham in London will detract from that reality.

To ignore the unmistakable message of Pirapaharan and Balasingham therefore will be criminal and the government has no option but to prepare for war whilst talking peace since it is no longer a case of ‘if’ but ‘when.’

That the LTTE worked to a war agenda and wanted Mahinda Rajapakse elected President to further its objective is also plain to see in the statements of both Pirapaharan and Balasingham with the latter more forthcoming.

Defeating the UNP

In Wickremesinghe, the LTTE saw the danger of being trapped in a peace process which was internationally driven and wanted to avoid getting sucked into it at all costs and for that, the defeat of the UNP candidate was a must.

The LTTE was also confident the JVP and JHU would push the Sinhala Buddhist line to the extreme and bring the ethnic issue to the forefront of the campaign, making Wickremesinghe appear to be the Tiger proxy, thereby ensuring a victory margin in favour of Rajapakse in the south.

The Tigers believed a majority of the Sinhala Buddhists will act true to form and they were not wrong in their calculations.

All the LTTE had to then do was block the Tamil people from voting in the north and east, effectively depriving Wickremesinghe of over 300,000 votes and their job was done.

In that plan, the LTTE succeeded beautifully and has now bared their plans for war, gloating over the fact the Sinhala Buddhists have played right into the Tigers’ paws by voting for the JVP-JHU driven candidate.

And Balasingham should know best since it is he who drafts Pirapaharan’s speeches and as is the usual practice, the following day makes an explanation of what the LTTE Leader meant. This time was no different.

With Pirapaharan delivering his ‘Heroes Day’ message on November 27, Balasingham the following day in London proceeded to explain what the Tiger Supremo meant and where the movement was heading in the coming months; not hiding the fact international ramifications were no longer relevant.

That is so, he says, because the Sinhala Buddhists have shown the world through the abrogation of the P-TOMS agreement and the election of the hard-line Sinhala Buddhist candidate standing for an unitary state that the Tamils will not be given their due rights. (See full speech on page 16)

"Ranil is a dangerous fox"

Interestingly, Balasingham speaking in Tamil is quite candid about the dangers a Wickremesinghe victory would have posed for the Tigers in the context of peace talks.

Says Balasingham, "Talks means dragging it out and getting the international community to disarm us. Many of us are angry. If we voted for Ranil we could have gone for talks with Ranil but Ranil is a dangerous fox. Why I say this is because I am tired of talks."

Further on, Balasingham has this to say, "Mahinda Rajapakse is a pure Sinhala Buddhist. He was chosen by the Sinhala Buddhist votes, voted by the majority to elect him. Ranil got up country, Muslim and Sinhala votes but if our people voted, he would have won. But a Sinhala Buddhist has been elected; he has 27 parties with him, yellow robes and red shirts are all with him and a Buddhist hierarchy has established itself. Ok, what happened in Tamil Eelam? Here the cry for statehood has arisen."

With these words, Balasingham has succinctly explained why the LTTE wanted Wickremesinghe defeated and is almost mocking the Sinhala Buddhists for playing into Tiger hands by electing a leader that fits into their agenda.

He then proceeds to spell out the future plans of the Tigers given the policy platform of President Rajapakse, once again gleeful the new administration even after the election victory has decided to continue with the extremist line.

What the LTTE did not want was for the Sinhala Buddhists to send a message at the election they were a tolerant race prepared to elect a candidate who will give the Tamils their due rights through a federal form of self government since that would have brought in more international pressure on the movement and Balasingham adverts to such fears entertained by the Tigers as well.

And in that context, Balasingham has this to say about the agreements Rajapakse signed with the JVP and JHU: "He signed an agreement with the JHU and the JVP. He also says it is the Mahinda Chinthana. Pirapaharan says that the difference between the Mahinda Chinthana and the Tiger position is vast. Let us look at Mahinda’s policy. He mentioned in parliament last Friday that there will be a settlement only under an unitary state and nothing else. We say, you keep your unitary state and we will also establish our unitary state. You keep your unitary state with your Buddhist priests; we will keep our unitary state with the Tigers. There is no problem for us and we will not dispute your unitary state."

Inevitability of war

And then comes the message on the inevitability of war: "We have now taken a decision; we will take care of our fate ourselves. We will watch what you are going to do. The Tamil people have decided that they do not want your governance. They have told you (Mahinda) they will go their own way. There is no meaning in your saying that there will be no federalism, no self governance and no traditional homeland because the path we travel will be different. We will win our rights."

It is given these pronouncements first by Pirapaharan followed by Balasingham that war becomes inevitable especially after the LTTE Leader also said he will give President Rajapakse a short period to come up with his solution.

What the LTTE has decided in the Wanni and subsequently communicated to Balasingham as a guide for drafting the speech is a February 22 deadline on the ceasefire agreement unless President Rajapakse forwards a firm agenda to resume talks based on the ISGA.

Knowing fully well the President will be hard put to agree to the resumption of talks from where it stopped given his announcement that it will be an altogether new peace process, the LTTE view was Rajapakse should be given a three month grace period to get his act together.

The rationale was the Mahinda Chinthana which said Rajapakse if elected president will develop a southern consensus within three months and take it to the LTTE.

That three month period for the Tigers commenced on November 19 when Rajapakse assumed office and expires on February 19, just three days before the fourth anniversary of the ceasefire agreement.

The LTTE’s decision is to wait until such time and then renew the struggle for Eelam claiming to the world, Rajapakse too has reneged on his promise.

For Rajapakse the chances of even making a start towards bridging the differences in the south is a near impossible task given the hard-line positions of and the agreements signed with the JVP and JHU, which the LTTE knows only too well.

It is having taken these factors into consideration, the LTTE Leader spoke about renewing the struggle for Eelam next year, though not giving a specific time table.

The LTTE is working on the premise, President Rajapakse will stick to the JVP-JHU driven agenda, providing in their minds a justification for the resumption of war.

The question remains whether the LTTE will succeed in its strategy considering the international condemnation the organisation received following the poll boycott, but a close look at the statements by Pirapaharan and Balasingham leads to the conclusion, the organisation no longer cares.

In such a situation, what can President Rajapakse do is the million dollar question.

On the one hand, he knows only too well a war will be a disaster for the country, whilst on the other, negotiations based on the ISGA will also for him be equally disastrous politically with the JVP and JHU breathing down his neck.

Unsure how to proceed in this climate of uncertainty, the President has looked towards India for help and has sought her blessings to continue with Norway as facilitator.

The Rajapakse strategy is to buy time to prepare for war if it is thrust on the government and to do so by engaging in a dialogue with the LTTE through the Norwegians.

To that point, as a tactical move, both the JVP and JHU have agreed not to upset the apple cart with regard to keeping Norway as facilitator and the President told his Foreign Minister Mangala Minister to sound out India on the subject of Norway during his visit.

India’s role

The President, himself scheduled to visit India on December 8, is to take up the issue of continuing with Norway as facilitator but with a more direct role for India as well.

Whether or not India will get directly involved in the peace process remains to be seen given the LTTE’s proscription in the country but already signals have emanated from Delhi she has no objection to Norway continuing as facilitator.

Whilst this process is on, the President has moved quickly to organise the defence establishment in the best way he knows how by calling for the resignation of Army Commander Shantha Kottegoda and appointing his brother, retired Lt. Col. Gothabaya Rajapakse as defence secretary.

Furthermore, Rajapakse has appointed Major General Sarath Fonseka, a pet hate of the LTTE, as army commander and is to bring in retired Major General Janaka Perera as senior defence advisor to the President.

Perera, who is currently ambassador in Indonesia, met with Rajapakse before the election and briefed him on the defence requirements to meet the LTTE threat.

With that, Rajapakse is sending a signal to the LTTE he too can play hard ball if the organisation does not return to the table on his terms.

Interestingly, no sooner President Rajapakse took office, the Karuna group too surfaced from their lairs in the east and started establishing their camps, particularly in Ampara District.

Fully armed, the Karuna group has started establishing camps in the Pannalgana-Manthattuna area in the Damana police zone causing concern among the Sinhala inhabitants in the locality.

In fact complaints were lodged with the police by residents but they were told nothing could be done since orders have come from the top to allow Karuna cadres to set up camp.

Worried an outbreak of hostilities or an attack on the camps by the LTTE will compromise their security, the residents are now planning a demonstration for tomorrow opposite the assistant government agent’s office in the area.

But the bottom line is, the new administration is sending a signal to the LTTE it is prepared to meet fire with fire, if no agreement is reached on amending the ceasefire and commencing talks based on devolution of power within an unitary state.

Quick to learn

At the same time, the President is also quick to learn on the job, gradually shifting his hard-line stance to a more moderate position in a bid for international support as was evident from the statement made to the diplomatic community on Monday.

In that statement, the President shed the Mahinda Chinthana position articulated in his throne speech and appeared more conciliatory towards the LTTE, choosing to ignore the ultimatums issued by the Tiger Supremo.

The President in addressing the diplomats no longer spoke of unilaterally amending the ceasefire agreement but spoke of reviewing it with the LTTE and reiterated his invitation for talks to Pirapaharan.

What Rajapakse did by that move was show the international community he was ready to engage the LTTE in meaningful dialogue hoping thereby pressure would be mounted on the Tigers to reciprocate.

That in turn, the President hoped would buy him valuable time to reorganise the defence establishment and prepare for battle in the event a war is thrust on him by the LTTE.

And alive to the Tiger game plan following Pirapaharan’s ultimatum, Rajapakse also decided to call their bluff by pushing for talks on the ceasefire agreement as an initial step through the Norwegians so that the Tigers will be lured to the table given its own acceptance to do so during President Kumaratunga’s tenure. This was after the Kadirgamar assassination and the failure to start that process was a dispute over the venue.

Thus he set the ball rolling towards this end and directed his officials to immediately engage the Tigers on this issue whilst he negotiates with the southern political parties for a consensus formula to place before Pirapaharan.

What the President proposed in this respect is keep the Tigers talking on the ceasefire agreement until such time he develops a southern consensus and then takes it to the LTTE for the resumption of talks.

This the President hoped would avert if not delay the outbreak of hostilities and establish his bona fides with the international community, putting that much more pressure on the Tigers too to abide by the ceasefire agreement. If this strategy failed, the President was hopeful, he would have at least bought invaluable time to prepare for a strike by the LTTE.

And in a continuous show of strength, whilst Foreign Minister Samaraweera was sent to India to lobby support, the G.O.C. in Chief, Southern Command of the Indian Army, Lieutenant General B.S. Takhar was given a grand tour of Vavuniya including a visit to the Omanthai border.

At the same time, in a joint statement issued after Samaraweera’s visit, the clear message was that President Rajapakse was no longer sticking to his guns on a unitary state or the amendment of the ceasefire agreement but would rather go with the "united" Sri Lanka concept as well as "reviewing" the CFA.

The idea was to show the world at large Rajapakse was a pragmatist who can be flexible when it comes even to entrenched positions.

India’s message

"The Indian side thanked the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister for outlining the approach of President Rajapakse and his administration towards the peace process. India believes that an enduring solution can only emerge essentially through internal political processes. India supports the process of seeking a negotiated settlement acceptable to all sections of Sri Lankan society within the framework of a united Sri Lanka and consistent with democracy, pluralism and respect for human rights," the joint statement read.

And then came the message to the LTTE, India will not tolerate any moves towards separation.

"India continues to maintain an abiding interest in the security of Sri Lanka and remains committed to its sovereignty and territorial integrity," is how the joint statement read on that point.

Takhar’s visit has also to be seen in that light was the unwritten message to the LTTE.

India thus sent two important messages following the Samaraweera visit, those being the solution should be on the basis of a "united Sri Lanka" as opposed to an unitary state and that it had an abiding interest in the territorial integrity of the country.

The first message was obviously for the government and understandably so given India’s own intervention in 1987 resulting in an agreement which provided for a quasi federal solution vis-a-vis the 13th Amendment to the Constitution with the latter message for the LTTE.

It is also significant to note that nowhere in the statement is there a reference to a unitary state as the basis for the envisaged solution of President Rajapakse, clearly indicating there is a gradual policy shift in the new administration.

To move this process forward, Norway’s point man Erik Solheim also flew into Delhi for follow up talks to move the peace process forward.

And even as these developments were taking place between the government and India on Thursday, Head, Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, Hagrup Haukland visited Kilinochchi to meet with LTTE Political Wing Chief, S.P. Tamilselvan to discuss the continuity of the ceasefire agreement.

Ironically, just as much as President Rajapakse was slowly shifting positions to woo the international community, so were the Tigers, though the unmistakable signs that there was a lot of play acting going on was plain to see.

LTTE stance

Taking the moral high ground, Tamilselvan completely down playing the statements of Pirapaharan and Balasingham, saying the LTTE had no intention of resuming the war and was looking forward to the implementation of the ceasefire agreement.

And therein lies the crunch though the SLMM and the media sought to give a positive spin on the talks and ensure there is no breakdown of the CFA.

What the LTTE is effectively saying is the organisation was ready to talk on the implementation of the ceasefire agreement but not its amendment as contemplated by the government.

The LTTE is planning to use the opportunity to push the government for the disbanding of the paramilitary groups such as the Karuna faction whereas President Rajapakse is hoping to amend it to crackdown on child recruitment and the killing of intelligence officers.

Thus for all purposes, though some sort of dialogue may start on the CFA, it will go no further unless the government agrees not to amend it but simply ensure its full implementation as sought by the Tigers.

But even that for President Rajapakse will be valuable time gained, knowing fully well the LTTE will sooner than later precipitate the collapse of the talks or the CFA and then give notice of withdrawal in keeping with Pirapaharan’s agenda.

And when that happens, Rajapakse will need all the support he can get from the south and that is where it becomes important for him to woo the UNP as well.

The UNP is committed to a federal solution and lest it be forgotten, polled 48.3% of the vote having taken that stand and unless President Rajapakse shifts his position, the southern consensus will never be a reality.

But that in today’s context is immaterial given the LTTE’s rejection of federalism and the all party talks President Rajapakse hopes to engage in too will only help create the impression internationally he is serious about the process.

What Rajapakse needs to do in such a situation given the inevitability of war is have the south back him fully despite the polarisation the election has brought about and for that he has to deal with the UNP notwithstanding the JVP and JHU.

Opportunists

In this respect, Rajapakse has to be particularly careful in not playing into the hands of opportunists and politicians who are waiting to jump ship in order to get a portfolio in government.

For, if he was to pick individual MPs from the UNP, it would permanently damage his chances of working with the UNP in the future and exacerbate the crisis in the south at a time the LTTE is gearing for war.

To his credit Rajapakse has hitherto resisted overtures by several UNP MPs who are moving for Ranil Wickremesinghe’s ouster from making the jump.

In fact Ratnapura District MP Susantha Punchinilame together with former JEDB Chairman Dharshan Jayanetti met with the President last week and explored the possibility of jumping ship but did not receive a positive response.

The President informed the duo he had to put his own house in order first before taking on more battles and that the UNP must sort out its own problems.

A few other UNP MPs too have approached the President and he had the same message for them indicating he prefers to deal with the party rather than with individual MPs when it came to matters of state.

The President no doubt has his work cut out and for now appears to be treading the right path by slowly but surely shifting gear from the campaign rhetoric to a more moderate line.


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