President's catch 22 over CFA
and local poll blues
While the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were gearing for the make or break talks in Geneva.....
> Make or break week
issue: renewed hope
President's catch 22 over CFA and local poll blues
While the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were gearing for the make or break talks in Geneva scheduled to get underway in 72 hours on the implementation of the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA), the focus in the south shifted to the upcoming local authority polls where the JVP for the first time in five years was pitting its strength against the SLFP.
The government and the LTTE of course will be taking contrasting positions to the negotiating table at the Chateau de Bossey in Celigny, the international study and conference centre owned by the World Council of Churches, with the only certainty being that the CFA will be the subject of discussion.
Tilvin Silva, Mahinda Rajapakse,
Nimal Siripala de Silva and G.L. Peiris
For its part, the government hopes to move for the amendment of the CFA with the UPFA having got elected on that platform while the LTTE is firmly of the view, only the implementation is up for discussion and there lies the rub.
Amending the CFA
The fact of the matter is there can be no amendment to the CFA in terms of Article 4.3 unless both parties consent and the LTTE is not about to. Article 4.3 states, "this agreement may be amended and modified by mutual agreement of both parties. Such amendments shall be notified in writing to the Royal Norwegian government."
Upto Friday however, the government had not given any such amendments in writing to Norway as required by the CFA but was in the process of drafting a document for presentation at the table in consultation with the security forces.
It is this provision that has now become a thorn in the flesh of the government given the pre election rhetoric of President Mahinda Rajapakse that the CFA will be amended comprehensively on the basis it promoted separatism in its present form.
The President in his Mahinda Chinthana on page 35 making specific reference to the CFA had this to say: "The Cease Fire Agreement will be amended so as to ensure that acts of terrorism would not be permitted in anyway. The ceasefire monitoring mechanism would also be reviewed and new steps taken. In doing so, we shall endeavour to obtain regional cooperation as well."
Furthermore, in his agreement with the JVP the President was even more hardline, having this to say in Clause 4: "It is agreed hereby that in considering the harmful and prejudicial effects and other serious implications of the Cease Fire Agreement that was entered and signed by the then Prime Minister, Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe and LTTE on February 22, 2002, the said agreement SHALL (our emphasis) be reviewed
and revised fully and the said agreement SHALL (our emphasis) be completely redone on removing and eliminating all the clauses which are prejudicial and harmful to the national security and foster and nurture separatism and are inconsistent with the constitution of Sri Lanka."
That the word "shall" is used in two places in the same article makes it clear, there is no compromise on the issue.
Categorical in this written agreement signed by Mahinda Rajapakse and JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva are the assertions that there are provisions in the CFA which are unconstitutional, harmful and prejudicial to national security and nurturing separatism and which will therefore be revised.
Having signed this agreement with the JVP, any attempts by the President to now allow his self-appointed delegation headed by Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva to negotiate the implementation of the CFA in Geneva without its complete revision would tantamount to his intentional violation of the constitution as well as promoting separation. Indeed grounds for impeachment by his own admission.
For, that is exactly what Rajapakse has said the CFA in its present form tantamounts to as per the agreement with the JVP. It is also the platform on which he was elected President and has a moral obligation by the electorate to uphold.
Thus, the President has painted himself into such a corner that he has to in Geneva get his delegation to walk out if the LTTE refuses a complete revision of the CFA and court war or intentionally violate the constitution and promote separatism to use Rajapakse's own words by negotiating the implementation on the CFA in its current form.
Negotiating the implementation of the CFA in Geneva would also mean the JVP having to decide whether it will continue to support a government that is effectively in its assessment promoting separatism and endangering national security, a position Tilvin Silva will find hard to extricate himself from if that be the case considering him having signed the deal on behalf of the Marxists with Rajapakse.
That is leaving aside the position of the JHU which was even more extreme, not wanting any deal with the LTTE on the ceasefire.
Mind you, all that is forgetting the provisions of the agreements signed by Rajapakse with the JHU and JVP with regard to the role of Norway and the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), both of which also form part of the CFA.
And the JVP, fully alive to the damage that would visit the party if the government proceeds to negotiate the implementation of the CFA in the teeth of their agreement with President Rajapakse decided on a pre-emptive strike last week by insisting on getting the CFA amended in Geneva.
Drawing the attention of the government to the Mahinda Chinthana and the deal signed with the party, JVP Leader Somawansa Amarasinghe insisted the agreements be complied with in Geneva lest the reds be compelled to take drastic action.
Faced with this dilemma, the President agreed he will approach the talks in Geneva on the basis of the Mahinda Chinthana and get the CFA completely revised as pledged in Clause 4 of the Agreement with the JVP.
To indicate his seriousness on the matter, the President said he was sending legal experts H.L. De Silva, Gomin Dayasri and Palitha Kohona to argue the government's case with Balasingham.
But that is not going to happen in Geneva by any stretch of the imagination given the LTTE's position it will stick to the letter and spirit of the CFA and not allow any deviation thereof.
It is to overcome this catch 22 situation the government decided, it will use the disbanding of the Karuna group as a carrot to get the LTTE's agreement to amend the CFA.
The government position is that the Karuna group was not in existence when the CFA was signed in February 2002 and therefore the provision dealing with disbanding paramilitary groups was not applicable to it.
However, the government is to tell the LTTE it is prepared to amend the CFA to bring the Karuna group within its scope provided the Tigers too agree on amending certain provisions in the agreement.
But that is one carrot the LTTE has decided not to bite, with the Tigers deciding the CFA specifically provides for disbanding all paramilitary groups irrespective of the time they were formed as long as the agreement is in force.
This aspect, LTTE Supremo Velupillai Pirapaharan specifically discussed with Chief Negotiator Anton Balasingham both during his recent visit to Wanni as well as via satellite phone and particular reference was made to the final paragraph in the preamble to the CFA when dealing with the need to disband all paramilitary groups.
That final paragraph in the preamble to the CFA states, "With reference to the above, the parties have agreed to enter into a ceasefire, refrain from conduct that could undermine the good intentions or violate the spirit of this agreement and implement confidence building measures as indicated in the articles below."
And Article 1.8 below states Tamil paramilitary groups shall be disarmed by the government and offer to integrate individuals in these units under the security forces outside the north and east.
These provisions Balasingham was to cite and indicate the CFA itself provides that the 'spirit of this agreement' shall not be violated by either party but should instead implement confidence building measures as indicated in Article 1.8.
Balasingham was to also point out that Article 1.8 does not specifically state only Tamil paramilitary groups operating at the time the CFA was signed should be disarmed and read with the preamble on the 'spirit of the agreement,' it was clear all paramilitary groups operating in the north east should be disbanded as long as the deal is in force.
Thus as far as the LTTE is concerned, there is no question of amending the CFA to disband the Karuna group since it is already provided for in the agreement.
In fact the LTTE has also decided to oppose any move by the government to raise the issue of recruiting child soldiers claiming there is no such provision in the CFA except articles 1.2 and 2.1 which is of a more general nature applicable to both parties.
Article 1.2 states "neither party shall engage in any offensive military operation. This requires the total cessation of all military action and includes, but is not limited to such acts as:
(a) The firing of direct and indirect weapon, armed raids, ambushing, assassinations, abductions, destruction of civilian or military property, sabotage, suicide missions and activities by deep penetration units;
(b) Aerial bombardment; (c) offensive naval operations."
And Article 2.1 states "the parties shall in accordance with international law abstain from hostile acts against the civilian population, including such acts as torture, intimidation, abduction, extortion and harassment."
The position the LTTE is to take is that there is no mention of child recruitment in the CFA save for a reference to abductions and for it to apply the government must prove children have been abducted.
As a counter strike, the LTTE is taking to the table documented evidence including affidavits of children who were allegedly forcibly conscripted by the Karuna group and trained in government military camps in the east.
In addition, the LTTE is also preparing a dossier on civilian harassment, abduction, torture, rape and assassinations by the military and the Karuna group including those of TNA MP Joseph Pararajasingham, the five Trincomalee students and Ilayathamby Tharshini.
It is thus evident, the LTTE with its wily Chief Negotiator Balasingham is planning an offensive strategy at the table and the question is whether the government will be equal to the task with its own material other than those documented by the SLMM.
No doubt the government will depend on the likes of H. L. de Silva and Gomin Dayasri to argue its case and push for the complete revision of the CFA with Norway playing monitor.
In that there is also a sweet irony given H.L. De Silva's contempt for the international community as articulated in his address at the convocation of the outgoing BASL President, Desmond Fernando last year.
In that speech, the President's Counsel spoke of the dangers the CFA posed to the country's unity and by the international community.
How he will now argue his case before the Norwegians of course would be interesting to watch, having blamed the very international community of force feeding the CFA on the country. It is the same H.L. De Silva who walked out of the Thimpu talks in the 1980s after a fight with the Tiger delegation.
In any event, the crucial issue is whether the government in the face of this LTTE strategy will continue to negotiate the implementation of the CFA given the certainty no amendments will be considered or call it a day and ready for battle.
Pirapaharan has given specific instructions to his delegation that no amendment or revision should be considered and there is no question of the Tiger team even considering such an option having obviously decided not to open the Pandora's box.
Therefore, the ball will be firmly in the government's court to decide whether it proposes to proceed with the implementation of an agreement President Rajapakse has termed unconstitutional, promoting separatism and compromises national security or refuse to do so and call off the CFA.
That for now appear to be the options available to the government given the LTTE's stand it will not in any way agree to amend the internationally brokered CFA. And either way it is the LTTE that will come out smelling of roses in the eyes of the international community, a position they are in only because Rajapakse has limited his options due to the pre-election agreements.
At the same time, President Rajapakse opened another flank of attack by stating in an interview to Reuters he will not agree to a Tamil homeland but allow the LTTE a police force. Going further, Rajapakse said any solution to the ethnic problem should be within a unitary state, thus rejecting by implication the Oslo Communiqu‚ which provided for a solution based on federalism.
And in a bid to appease the LTTE he also pledged to disband all paramilitary groups including the Karuna faction.
But if the President believed he would have the LTTE applauding, he could not be more wrong.
The Tigers, while no doubt planning to hold Rajapakse to his word on disbanding the Karuna group and acceding to the LTTE's police force, came out all cylinders firing on the homeland issue, accusing the President of not understanding the Tamil struggle for autonomy.
No sooner Rajapakse's statement hit the wire, the LTTE hierarchy in the Wanni went into discussion on the viability of the entire peace process and Pirapaharan spoke with Balasingham via satellite and wanted an appropriate response made.
Accordingly, on Wednesday, February 15 the LTTE made its position clear, the stand taken by Rajapakse will not only make the peace process meaningless but compel the organisation to renew their struggle for self rule.
"The Tamil people are shocked over President Mahinda Rajapakse's rejection of their basic political aspirations in an interview with Reuters on February 13, 2006," the LTTE statement drafted by Balasingham read.
Said the LTTE, "The Sinhala rulers are in a dream psychosis that makes them wrongly perceive that their success in rejecting the Tamil homeland concept would invariably nullify the concepts of Tamil nationhood and self rule."
Dismissing Rajapakse's proposal for a solution within a unitary state, the LTTE also said it is a concept that has lost credibility and adaptability almost 50 years ago.
Added the Tigers - "President Mahinda Rajapakse, hastily going to town without knowing correctly the deep contradictions and complexities of the Tamil-Sinhala racial conflict, would seriously impact the current efforts for talks. If the Mahinda regime adopts a political stand ruling out the Tamil homeland concept and insists on a resolution of the racial conflict within the unitary constitution, the LTTE would
be left with no alternative other than to endeavour hard to respond effectively to the Tamil call for self rule."
And the LTTE in taking the moral high ground with the international community drives home the advantage by not ruling out a settlement within a federal framework as per the Oslo Communiqu‚ and has this to say in the same statement - "The Tamil people opted for a separate state only because their call for resolution of their national problem on the basis of federation was rejected. Tamil call for federalism has
seen the passage of 50 years and their option for secession dates back to 30 years."
Using the subtlety of the English language to the maximum, the LTTE statement quite clearly states the "option" for secession dates back to 30 years whereas the call for federalism has stood for 50 years, the inherent message being that the "option" of secession will have to be persisted with if a solution based on federalism as agreed in Oslo is not pursued.
Thus in the run up to the Geneva talks, where only the implementation of the CFA is on the table, the LTTE has already got a commitment from Rajapakse on disbanding the Karuna group and allowing them a police force, without the Tigers even having to open their mouths.
Commitment from Rajapakse
Balasingham no doubt will be taking Rajapakse's interview to the negotiating table and informing Nimal Siripala de Silva and Co. to put the President's words into practise within a given time frame without talking of the need for amendments to bring the Karuna group within the ambit of the CFA.
It is this no lose situation which prompted the Tigers to agree for talks in the first place, fully realising, the effective implementation of the CFA would help strengthen their hands when it came to the political issues. And the LTTE has already laid the ground work for that if the talks go so far by putting Rajapakse on the spot in regard to the issue of federalism, with the President at that stage having to
decide yet again on jettisoning the unitary state concept to keep the Tigers at the table.
In the midst of these developments come the local authority polls with the JVP and SLFP going their separate ways.
While the election is a test for the JVP on its popularity as a stand alone party after five years, it is equally crucial for the President to decide his future course of action.
A strong showing by the SLFP, the President believes, will enable him to go for an early general election and consolidate his position in parliament with or without the JVP.
The President has told confidants, if the SLFP routs the JVP at the poll, he can get them to contest the general election on his terms whereas a strong showing by the Marxists would compel him to play by their rules.
This election is equally crucial for the UNP, which suffered an initial setback over its Colombo list and that too by trying to play honest John.
When the nomination board of the party met, there was one candidate, a sitting MMC from the Colombo North constituency, Roy Bogahawatte who was objected to by Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya on the basis of a criminal case against him.
It later transpired, the MMC had been acquitted in the case not on its merits but because the witnesses had not shown up and the decision to deprive him of nomination was maintained.
Accordingly, a last minute inclusion was to be made and with Colombo North Organiser Lilantha Perera claiming he did not have another nominee under 35 years of age, it was decided by the party headquarters without any reference to the Party Leader or its Deputy to ask MP Maharoof for a candidate.
UNP list kicked out
This Maharoof did by apparently forwarding five names of which one was selected, a 19-year-old youth. But with the applicable electoral list being 2004, he was only 17 years old at the time and thus not eligible to contest.
The UNP legal team at the relevant time had also not been at Sirikotha to check the application.
It is on this basis, the UNP Colombo list was kicked out, which the party is to canvass in court today given Section 69 of the Local Authority Election Law, which states the disqualification of one candidate does not rule out the entire list.
In any event, the UNP which had fielded two independent lists in the city - one of which was given to the SLMC - will, if all else fails, contest under one of those lists, it was decided.
The thinking on Friday was that they will get a majority of the candidates in the SLMC list to resign and substitute it with the names of UNPers headed by Sirisena Cooray and contest together.
Thus, the UNP team will contest the CMC if it succeeds in court under the elephant symbol or as an independent group in alliance with the SLMC if the court action fails, and Cooray launched his campaign accordingly on Friday.
In this overall context the coming weeks will be crucial for Sri Lanka.
Make or break week
Parents of the five students killed lighting the flame of sacrifice and Photographs of the students
By Amantha Perera
It is a historic week indeed. Not only is the ceasefire entering its fourth year, but the Tigers and the government delegates would be sitting down for face-to-face talks for the first time since 2003, later this week.
It would be totally different from the last time the two sides met, though. The euphoria of 2002 is but a distant memory now. There are no peace caravans that are crossing the A9 from the south, instead there is trepidation all over on how close the two sides have cometo all out war.
Only Anton Balasingham, S.P. Tamilselvan and Balasingham's wife Adele have survived from both sides who met for the first five rounds between 2002 and 2003. There would not be a lot of camaraderie as well. Most certainly there would not be joint tree planting sessions.
The Tigers say they only want to talk of the implementation of the truce agreement and have listed out what they want to discuss. On top would be the Karuna factor. The Karuna group has however said they cannot be slotted within the framework of the CFA, arguing that they were not in existence when it was signed and thus it is not applicable to them.
War reaches Middle East
In the meantime, the internecine warfare within the LTTE, between the Karuna faction and the main group spilled out of Sri Lanka to the Middle East.
Manoharan, alias Kuruvi, a 26-year-old Karuna supporter succumbed to head injuries received during an assault on February 13 at the Ahamed Hospital in Doha, Qatar. The TMVP, Karuna's political arm, said last week that Kuruvi had been attacked by a group of Tiger intelligence operatives with a steel crowbar while he was asleep on February 6. The TMVP said the Qatari police had arrested three of the attackers last week
and were hunting for others as well.
The TMVP added there were hundreds of Karuna supporters who had fled the east following the rebellion and are now in the Middle East. Most are working as labourers. More than 1,000 are working in Qatar itself, according to the TMVP.
Kuruvi who worked as a cleaner at the International Cleaning Company had been living at a camp located at Sanya in Doha when he was attacked. According to the little information that was filtering out of Qatar, the two camps appear to be hotbeds of supporters of both Karuna and the main LTTE group.
Kuruvi who hails from Sithandy in Batticaloa had been a member of the Jayanthan Brigade, an elite fighting unit formerly based in the east before the split, and had taken part in several major operations including against Operation Jayasikuru.
He had also been injured in fighting. TMVP said that he had left for Qatar in May 2004 after Karuna dismantled the military arm of the TMVP.
With hundreds of Karuna cadres fleeing to the Gulf states, Karuna sources said the Tigers had dispatched their own intelligence operatives to persuade them to return.
"The intelligencesquad from the LTTE group, headed byMathan of Palukamam,metwith the members of the Karuna group in the two ICC camps.
Their mission was to persuade the members of the Karuna group to abandonCol. Karuna and return to Batticaloa to fight the final battle against the Sri Lanka government withtheLTTE," the TMVP said in a statement soon after Kuruvi was assaulted.
Aggressive campaign launched
However, Mathan had failed to convince the former Tigers to rejoin and had left for Sri Lanka. He had been sent to Qatar by Keerthi, an intelligence leader in Batticaloa, according to Karuna sources. Thereafter, another LTTE cadre based in Qatar, Sukasan had launched an aggressive campaign to persuade Kuruvi and others.
Three days before Kuruvi was assaulted, the TMVP said that Sukasan had led a group that had torn photographs of Karuna that had been put up in parts of the camp.
The TMVP also said that Sukasan and two others, Ranjan and Sarangan all hailing from Palukamam in Batticaloa had been arrested on suspicion of carrying out the attack. They had been employed at another cleaning company. The TMVP said Sukasan was in charge of extorting money from Tamils working in Doha.
The group had been motivated by another LTTEer named Manoranjan who had arrived in Qatar after Mathan's failed visit. "Police is combingthe areato arrest Manoranjan alias Kandeepan, the LTTE intelligence agentwho arrived from Batticaloa on the orders of Keerthi on a temporary visitor's visa to Qatar.
It is learnt that already the police are in possession of thepassports of Manoranjan and of other intelligence agents who were in Qatar to harass Karuna's loyalists," the TMVP said last week.
NGO, INGO issue
In the meantime, evidence surfaced last week that the LTTE too has been gathering information on NGOs and INGOs working in the north east. Parliament recently set up a select committee to look into the actions of the nongovernmental agencies and it appears that the Tigers too have similar concerns.
In January the LTTE Planning and Development Secretariat sent out a questionnaire to NGOs in the Batticaloa District. It listed 10 questions that required detailed answers. Among the questions were a request for details of projects, financial strength of the organisations and allocation of funds, details of employees including permanent addresses and contact details, details of vehicles and details of technicians and
other professionals working with the organisations.
The military too has been gathering the same information for a database being developed by them. There have been various problems that have cropped up when dealing with the NGOs.
Soon after the tsunami, they flooded the country without any proper supervision. In Batticaloa alone the estimate is that more than 100 NGOs are at work. Recently regulations were introduced that only officials who had fulfilled registration requirements with the Social Affairs Ministry would be allowed access into LTTE held areas.
However, when the rule was put to practice, many NGOs said that individual employees did not carry any letters from the Ministry and that the registration was only carried out for the organisation as a whole, leaving security forces officials manning entry points in a quandary.
Hopes of peace in the Wanni
By Arthur Wamanan
When the LTTE delegation for this week's talks in Geneva left Tiger controlled Wanni, there was only hope that was resonating among the civilians - hope for peace.
Many of the civiliansfelt that the Geneva peace talks were the last chance Sri Lanka had to bring an end to the long standing war.
"This problem has plagued the country for over 20 years and still no solution has been reached by the relevant parties," said N. Subramaniam from the Wanni. He said that every Tamil in the country knew the seriousness of the problem even though the extent of the troubles faced by them differed.
"All Tamils would have undergone some sort of a problem during the war time, but a Tamil in Colombo would have faced different problems than a Tamil living in Jaffna," he said.
He said that even though the war had affected the whole country, the Tamils were directly affected.
He said that the people in the south got to know the impact of the war only due to the bomb blasts in some places. "Ask the Sinhalese to come to the war affected places, then they will know how much we have suffered," he said.
Impact of war
"We faced a lot of problems. The fighting went on in the north where Tamils are the majority, and many were displaced and some still live in camps. They have to go back to their old places and live a normal life without any fear. That is what we want," he added.
A sign of how disruptivehostilities could be was evident when more than 16,000 fled government areas in Jaffna and Trincomalee to the safety of Tiger held areas when violence erupted in December and January. Ironically the refugees felt safer in the war ravaged Wanni than in any other area.
Speaking on the current situation Subramaniam said the people in the Wanni were always safe and very rarely had problems. "I have been living here all my life and the situation here was calm even when there was violence in Jaffna," he added.
Most of the civilians also agreed that the Wanni was the safest place to live in. "The situation will be different if war breaks. We don't want that to happen," said T. Kularasa. He said that the people were happy in Wanni and wished that it remained the same.
"We have no problem now. We earn money by farming and we are content. We only hope that the peace talks would be fruitful as we cannot face another war," he said.
While most Tamils said that they had no problems in the Wanni, some said they face problems when travelling.
Freedom to speak Tamil
"We know only Tamil and most of us understand Sinhala but speak it poorly," said Subramaniam. He added that the army often harassed Tamil people for they could not convey their message in Sinhala.
"This is why we took up arms. We have the freedom to speak in our language and we should not be harassed for not knowing the other language and we expect some sort of respect from them," he added.
Most of the Tamils have not travelled out of Wanni, and therefore are not aware of the situation in other parts of the country, but those who have, have a fair knowledge of the situation. "I have travelled to Colombo many times after the ceasefire and the people there are not bad as I thought. They are broad minded and they respect us," said V. Naman. However, he said there were some groups of people
"There are only a few of them, but this issue has grown and we have to find a solution at least now, and I feel that this is our very last chance for a permanent peace," he said.
Some Tamils however were not sure as to how they should get their rights. "We had to take up arms to win our rights and it seemed to go on and thankfully it ended with the Cease Fire Agreement," said S. Arputhan. He added that he felt that war was not the solution to any problem, especially considering the present situation, and the only way out was for both parties to sit down and talk.
"It is the only way. We have lost all our possessions and we have no hope except the future. We just cannot face another war and we may have to start our lives all over again," he added.
Possibility of war
He said that war was possible if the talks were not successful. "No one wants war, including the soldiers. We have lost many lives, those of soldiers as well as civilians and many families are separated. We want everyone to unite. But I feel that war would break out if this does not work out," he added.
The civilians felt that the war would definitely destroythe future of the younger generation who had just started to settle down.
"The youngsters have almost settled down and it would be a pity if war starts as they may have to leave the country, sometimes for good," Kularasa added.
Subramaniam also admitted that the youngsters would be affected and also stated the country would face economic problems. "The Wanni is doing fine as far as business is concerned and most of our businesses run on profits. The war would not only affect us but the whole country and the people know it very well," he said.
"We don't want peace that lets us move freely inside our own territory. We want a peace that will let us move freely around the country without the fear of not knowing another language," he added.
Ethnic issue: renewed hope
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
our lobby correspondent
There was renewed hope of settling the ethnic issue when the House gathered on Tuesday (14) to debate the Anti Dumping Bill.
In fact, Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake sounded so pleased with the recent developments that he felt obliged to avoid referring to the LTTE by name and diplomatically called it "a banned organisation."
Even peace team leader Nimal Siripala de Silva had quickness to his step and Muslim representative, Minister Ferial Ashraff sported a broader smile than usual. It even had the ever-critical JVP Group Leader, Wimal Weerawansa lauding the many successes of the new government in not giving in to Tiger tactics.
Debate over emergency
Athuraliye Rathana Thero, Wimal Weerawansa, Ratnasiri Wickremanayake and T.Maheswaran
It is everyone's fervent wish that they truly find a reason for this nation to be happy when they take wing to Geneva this week.
The unconcealed hope was evident as Premier Wickremanayake opened a brief two-and-a-half hour debate on the extension of the state of emergency - a debate previously scheduled for Thursday (16) but taken up in advance to facilitate the electioneering process that has once more gripped this nation of elections.
There was no grumbling as all wanted to return to electorates and government members probably wished to think over the big event that is to unfold in Geneva soon.
Wickremanayake said the emergency was necessary for the maintenance of law and order and to prevent destruction of public property, particularly during poll time. He also provided the House with some vital information on the atrocities committed by a 'banned organisation,' which had killed 36 persons, made attempts on the lives of 104 as well as 38 shooting and grenade throwing incidents that were recorded during the
He was full of praise for the President for pursuing 'honourable peace' and said nothing would be done by the government to thwart the attempt to bring about a solution. Wickremanayake emphasised the emergency was not being extended to curtail personal freedom of citizens but with the intention of maintaining law and order.
But the debate had been quickly advanced to Tuesday and poor Ravi Karunanayake, a few minutes late to raise his oral query, found himself suddenly thrown into the ring to speak on the extension of the emergency.
Caught by surprise, he recovered swiftly to speak about the economic war that is driving people to the brink of despair and said, the economic war largely stemmed from the ethnic war.
Karunanayake found it amusing that those who demanded the "salmon eating busy bodies" should not be involved in peace negotiations, the CFA be abrogated and effectively war waged against the LTTE to militarily crush them, have now come around to hold talks in one of the most liberal cities in the world, Geneva.
"You have a historic opportunity. Use it well. Despite all your criticisms, it is the CFA and the backdrop that we created for talks that paved the way for fresh negotiations. You are using the same facilitator and having almost the same agenda. Much has been achieved during the three years of the truce and ensure that you take more positive steps," Karunanayake invited.
As for JHU Group Leader, Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thero, the LTTE had agreed to hold talks but not to laying down arms, which he considered unacceptable and a ploy by the Tigers to outwit the unsuspecting Sinhalese. What was more, they were still fortifying their cadres, training them and demanding that other paramilitary organisations be disarmed prior to talks, the Thero alleged.
Recalling history, he said that the LTTE had always used talks as an opportunity to enhance training and gather arms.
Rathana Thero's views
"Talks have always been opportunities to consolidate the LTTE's military might. Talks held during different regimes show that the government had always lost thousands of troops during talks and soon afterwards. This is a ploy. Demand from the Tigers that they cease to kill as a prerequisite to negotiations, to stop abductions and harassment of civilians. The LTTE is part of an international Mafia to terrorise
this world. Negotiate from a position of strength," the monk demanded passionately.
It would have been natural for Wimal Weerawansa to continue on similar lines. But he differed, and paid tribute to the government for prudently stepping into the "talks ring."
Weerawansa reminded the House of Ranil Wickremesinghe's international safety net and Chandrika Kumaratunga's P-TOMS that could not hold the Tigers.
Recalling history, the JVP spokesman said that several Tamil political parties participated in the Thimpu talks, but by the time President Ranasinghe Premadasa held the infamous Hilton talks, these parties had reduced to merely the LTTE.
"That was a historical mistake. We forgot that there were other Tamil political groups committed to a separate Tamil state," he noted.
But the UNP's Thyagaraja Maheswaran saw the extension of the state of emergency as a step that would be used to suppress and harass the Tamil community - a claim rejected by the government.
For oft repeating this claim, Maheswaran used to get pulled up by former Party Whip Mahinda Samarasinghe. This time around, there was nobody to censure him for violating the party position.
In the meantime, much hope rides on the peace negotiations that are scheduled to commence this week. It would be worthy if this chapter in peace talks lead, to new beginnings - ending nearly three decades of bloodshed and heartache. Hope afterall springs eternal in the human breast.
A call to reactivate Police Commission
UNP Parliamentarian Dayasiri Jayasekera in parliament last week alleged that the true Mahinda Chinthana has been to politicise and take control of the police service.
Moving an adjournment motion urging the immediate appointment of the Constitutional Council thereby reactivating the independent commissions like the National Police Commission (NPC), he said on December 1, 2005 one D.M. Gankanda from the President's Office had written to SLFP electoral organisers calling for information with regard to all police stations within their electorates, with specific details on who needs
to be transferred out, prompted, and other details like malpractices committed.
He alleged that Deputy Minister D.M. Dassanayake had blatantly interfered with the functions of the police force and has written to Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapakse requesting that OIC Saliyawewa be transferred immediately and be replaced by OIC Kebithigollewa. "This is what happens when the President takes control over the police,"
In response, JVP's Bimal Ratnayake blasted the NPC as a political tool that acted at the behest of the UNP and consequently lost its credibility. He said that while some sections were clamouring for an extension of the NPC, there was no public outcry as it had failed public aspirations.
Ratnayake said while politicians were required to go before the people at least once in five years, there was no such duty cast upon certain officials. "They ended up being a
part of John's Police, which was what the UNP ran," he critiqued, adding that these officials should necessarily be made answerable to the people through the legislature.
Queries for nothing
On Tuesday, some 13 questions were included in the Order Book for oral answer, and as is customary, the relevant members were absent during question time, making Chief Government Whip, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle table
The only MP who felt that he owed it to his electors to be present in the House was JVP's Jinadasa Kitulegoda. The pertinent question would be to question these legislators as to why they have these questions listed for answering if they can't be present at the
time of raising them in the House?
Election overrules sessions
The forthcoming local government election had a crippling effect on the legislature last week - not only due to high levels of absenteeism, but also because the poll was used to cut short sessions.
Parliament originally had a full four-day session scheduled and the Standing Orders require the House to meet eight days a week. All that may be so, but both the government and the
opposition were in obvious agreement as they took up the extension of the emergency for debating on Tuesday (14), two days ahead, and put the scheduled bills on hold as members gleefully went back to electorates for
TNA boycott futile
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has been agitating against violence against Tamils allegedly by the security forces, and the last straw was the abduction of TRO personnel. This led to the announcement of a parliament boycott by the TNA. With sessions being
reduced to half a day, the boycott proved futile as nobody noticed the absence of the protesting members.
Renuka on speaker's panel
Newly-elected Nuwara Eliya MP Renuka Herath has been included in the speaker's panel, and on Tuesday she had the opportunity to chair sessions as well as make two speeches - on the extension of the emergency and the adjournment debate on the need to reappoint
the constitutional council.
Herath was greeted with a "aiyo pau SB," but Wimal Weerawansa cheekily added that he was doubly pleased to see her in parliament as a member who played an active role in bringing her into the House, all of which was taken with a quiet smile.