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13th August, 2006  Volume 13, Issue 5

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                                    

Editorial

Re-do the Mahinda Chinthana?

Government Spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella’s predictions about government troops getting closer and closer by the minute to the Mawilaru Anicut but not reaching it for days was hard to explain in terms of simple mathematics until we were reminded of the principle of progress of the Mahinda Chinthana on all matters: One step forward two steps back.

As we have stated in two previous editorials some vital decisions made by President Rajapakse’s administration such as on the peace process, Petroleum Corporation and the Electricity Board have been put back on hold or even eliminated by subsequent decisions, making matters much worse than before.

It happened again last week on the explosive issue of the Mawilaru irrigation channel which nearly set the country aflame and still does not appear to be completely resolved. Indeed it has now set the stage for Eelam War IV. On Sunday Norwegian government’s Special Envoy Jon Hanssen- Bauer had held talks with the LTTE and the LTTE had agreed to open the sluice gates unconditionally the same afternoon. This decision had been conveyed by Hanssen- Bauer to Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and the SLMM Chief Ulf Henricsson with some LTTE leaders had been nearing the Mawilaru Anicut to open the sluice gates when a barrage of artillery guns had been fired at them by the Sri Lanka Army. Henricsson and his companions had hurriedly turned back. All concerned had been furious over the incident because the Foreign Minister himself had been informed of the decision.

Apparently the message had not been conveyed to those that mattered (or so it was conveniently said) and the army instructed to hold their guns. It took another two days for the sluice gates to be opened and that too by the LTTE. Had the artillery shells injured Henricsson and his party the consequences would have been incalculable. And mind you it was a government which said it was a war crime to prevent the supply of water to the people that stopped the opening of the sluice gates on Sunday.

However, after the sluice gates were opened, there was a childish display by claimants on who opened the sluices first. The LTTE is claiming that they did it first for ‘humanitarian reasons’ and the Government is saying that they along with their engineers did it first, also for‘humanitarian reasons.’ Sadly, the government’s announcement came only a day after LTTE’s claim and without any proof to show they have entered the LTTE controlled territory and consolidated their position. It was obvious the government was once again trying to cater to the gallery without taking the high ground that the LTTE were forced to open the gates due to international condemnation. What it did instead was convert the issue to a prestige battle and coming out second best.

This incident is indeed a pathetic display of administrative co- ordination at the highest possible levels. Having said all it wanted was for the LTTE to restore the water supply by way of an official communiqué on July 26 and solicited Norway’s good offices to achieve that objective, there was a complete reversal of policy by the government when the Vikings clinched the deal simply because the JVP wanted the use of military force to achieve the same. With that, the government which had the LTTE on the run over the issue with the international community overnight lost the moral high ground to the Tigers.

President Rajapakse’s officials and advisors must now realise that the government and the LTTE are certainly at ‘war’ and it cannot be described in any other way. On Thursday it was reported that aerial bombardment of the Mawilaru area was continuing further to the fighting in Kallar with TamilNet reporting that 41 civilians had been killed.

It does appear that this so called peace process is nearing its end or has already ended and a ‘war’ has commenced. President Rajapakse now has to decide which way to go and take decisive action.

Since he assumed office as President, Rajapakse has shown a marked inclination to please everyone and not take bold decisions. But in matters of peace and war he has to decide on the options quickly. A decision to go into a military conflict does not mean he should forsake the ultimate objective of peace. But in any kind of military conflict, however vast or limited, the aim should be to achieve the objective. In simple terms he can’t have the cake and eat it as well.

The military operations in the environs of the Mawilaru anicut have been described as ‘humanitarian operations’— to protect the supply of water to thousands of farmers. But the LTTE is very likely to deploy a counter’ humanitarian operation’ and soon there would be a full sale ‘humanitarian war.’ The LTTE is already setting the stage for it by claiming large scale civilian casualties and describing the government’s actions as a declaration of war.

Eight months in office, Rajapakse must make a reappraisal of both the country’s foreign and defence policies. In foreign policy he does not differ very much from his predecessors, Chandrika Kumaratunga or Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. But their personalities, credibility, history and contacts with the outside world matter. Ranil Wickremesinghe who was obviously backed very strongly by the United States and other Western nations pushed through the Ceasefire Agreement and proceeded with the peace process. Perhaps it was this backing that went against him. Pirapaharan pulling the rug under his feet days before the election due to the confidence this so called international community had in him was the surest sign of this fact. George Bush at the Oval Office put his arm around Wickremesinghe, a thing which Bush has not done with a Third World leader, perhaps sending signals to those that matter both in the north and the south.

The signal was so well received here by Chandrika Kumaratunga and the JVP that Wickremesinghe on his way from Washington had a political coup staged against him.

Wickremesinghe if he continued in power could have pulled off the peace process with the support of Western nations. Tempestuous, radical Chandrika was not able to do it and certainly Mahinda Rajapakse started on the wrong foot. Having joined hands with the JVP, declared his opposition to the Ceasefire Agreement and intention of terminating the services of the Norwegians as facilitators, he received no support from the powerful nations of the occident.

Instead he rushed to India to pay pooja to the Indian leaders. But India by then had changed. Firstly after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, India has been keeping aloof of developments here. Secondly, Indians were now hand in glove with America. They were in no mood to replace the four Co Chairs — America, European Union, Japan and Norway.

Rajapakse had also rejected a federal solution for Sri Lanka which India had risked a war and over 1000 soldiers to implement and it was also the solution suggested by the Co- Chairs.

Now Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, a neophyte on foreign affairs is making visits to New Delhi and is being sent from pillar to post. During his visit in May all his key proposals had not been accepted. Matters such as defence co-operation between Delhi and Colombo which Indians warmed up to during Wickremesinghe’s time had been politely ignored. Some reports say that Rajapakse had hinted to India that he now would support a federal form of government and could carry his political allies with him. But it seems all too late.

A few days back the central government decided to send back 40 Sri Lankan policemen who were being trained in Chennai following protests made by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi and fanatical supporters like Vaiko and Nedumaran. Ten years after the Rajiv Gandhi assassination that wheel has taken a full turn and those like Karunanidhi who had called Pirapaharan long years ago, his foster son, appears to be listening once again to the Thambi. This the LTTE has succeeded in achieving because of the ill conceived aerial bombardment in the north-east which has led to Tamil refugees fleeing to India.

Meanwhile Rajapakse’s political ally, the JVP, wants to go to war. Does Rajapakse have the men and material to do it? Mahinda Rajapakse must also decide whether he wants to be the President or allow his younger brother Basil to act the part. It has now become a joke in government that be it determining economic, political or military strategy Basil is the man taking the decisions.

The time has come for President Rajapakse therefore to re- think his solution to the Tamil problem as well as his foreign and defence policies and indeed his role as President. The people voted, albeit with a narrow margin, Mahinda Rajapakse as President, not his brother Basil whose ‘access’ to key places is now legendary. That means re-doing the Mahinda Chinthana but caught in the JVP – Basil trap, he appears content to drag the country down rather than lose the support of his Marxist ally and the thinker in the family.


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