20th August, 2006  Volume 13, Issue 6

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                                    


President Must Produce A Plan For Peace

Velupillai Pirapaharan would have guffawed had he seen on TV the display of free style wrestling and Thai style kick- boxing at Vihara Maha Devi Park (VMD) on Thursday evening when anti- war marchers were taken on by a group of Buddhist monks who were protesting against this rally of ‘demonstrators for peace.’ To most Buddhists it was a painful scene to witness monks whom they respect and revere getting involved in such a fracas. There was also much irony in the event because it was virtually a ‘war’ between the protestors against the ‘war’ and those against the protestors.

The fracas itself was representative of the confused state of the country. There were government MPs, UNP MPs, Marxist politicians, and NGO representatives all crying out aloud against the so called ‘war’ with the LTTE. But to whom were they addressing their protests? To President Mahinda Rajapakse, the commander- in- chief of the armed forces who was taking on the LTTE? Or were they calling on the LTTE Leader Pirapaharan to stop the ‘war’? The slogans did not seem to be addressed to any one and was merely being aired for the spectators and the television cameras.

President Rajapakse despite the conflict on land, air and sea is denying that the country is at war. This is merely ‘defensive action’ against terrorism has been his contention. According to reports the President had told the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs of the US State Department, Steven Mann that the combined security forces operations were defensive in nature and would cease immediately, if the LTTE stops its aggression. Whether this argument that the government’s action is merely ‘retaliatory’ and not an act of war will cut any ice with the international community is indeed doubtful given the massive humanitarian crisis in the conflict zone. This argument is being made to impress upon the international community that the government is sticking to the peace process and standing by the Ceasefire Agreement but these foreigners are indeed hard nuts to crack and not as gullible as some of the state media propagandists are.

Besides, it will be a very funny way to be engaged in any military conflict where the government stays put and reacts only when attacked. How long can this comedy go on?

The protestors against the pilgrims of peace at the VMD Park had a point when they asked ‘peace leaders’ such as Kumar Rupesinghe, one time secretary general of International Alert to demonstrate at Kilinochchi and Vavuniya as well. Pirapaharan who believes that all Sinhalese are rabid communalists and chauvinists must be informed that there are peace lovers as well among the Sinhalese and told that his slaughter of innocents must stop as well. This we understand they propose to do and build a massive movement for peace across the political divide thereby isolating the warmongers of the JVP and JHU.

There is much uncertainty in the minds of the people about vital issues. Is there a ‘war’ or not — quite apart from semantics? President Rajapakse keeps parroting that he is for a negotiated settlement. All concerned say the same thing. Who is not for a political solution? But how do we get about it?

It is apparent that the peace process initiated by Ranil Wickremesinghe has been blown sky high. The Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) is in tatters. We have to go beyond the stalled peace process and the CFA and initiate new moves. For this there must be political leadership and that can come only from the government. President Rajapakse must provide the leadership and produce the framework of a plan for negotiations.

Professor G.L. Peiris who was at the forefront of peace initiatives of the Chandrika Kumaratunga government as well as the UNP government of Ranil Wickremesinghe has been pin pointing the fact that the lack of a political initiative by this government was the greatest drawback in getting the peace process going. He has said that a new government is obliged to take the initiative, make fresh moves and provide at least the skeleton of a peace plan that could be negotiated on.

This is what President Rajapakse has been avoiding to do for various reasons including threats issued by the JVP and it is this very fact that has become Rajapakse’s biggest liability with the international community. Firstly in his march to power he pledged to damn the peace process of Wickremesinghe and send the Norwegian peace facilitators home. On assuming the presidency he finds that these are near impossible tasks. But his political allies, the JVP and JHU are breathing down his neck about promises not kept and he is dependent on them to maintain a parliamentary majority. Now they want him to keep the military action going against the LTTE.

Meanwhile, the international community too is breathing down his neck to stop military action and get down to negotiations. The US State Department official Steven Mann who was in Colombo last week has called for the immediate cessation of hostilities and a return to negotiations. The international community is well and truly entrenched in the resolution of the Sri Lankan conflict and the government cannot afford to ignore their request. Under these circumstances President Rajapakse is dilly-dallying and no significant progress is being made towards negotiations or in the battlefield.

Nine months of the Rajapakse administration have elapsed and a full scale war — whatever the name the President may call it — has broken out. A very heavy death toll has resulted. The toll from last week’s battle is reported to be 150 LTTE cadres and 106 security personnel. This state of affairs cannot be tolerated for long by the people. The civilian catastrophe does not even figure in these estimates.

President Rajapakse’s duty now is to provide a framework for another peace initiative and push through with it. His party has rejected the extremist proposals made by the JVP and JHU. The alternative is to co-operate with the UNP instead of antagonising them by getting UNP MPs to cross- over for a mess of pottage. His All Party Representatives Conference (APRC) is a farce because it is being boycotted by the UNP as well as the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MPs who are proxies for the LTTE.

Rajapakse should then produce an acceptable solution, even going back on some of his main election pledges such as a unitary state and rejection of a federal form of government.

It is most likely that the LTTE will accept an invitation for negotiations but as usual pull back from accepting a reasonable solution like they did with the peace negotiations with the Ranil Wickremesinghe administration and even before. But they will stand exposed before the world as never before if they do that since the international community itself has brokered a basis for settlement in Osla on the lines of federalism.

If the President does heed the call for a dramatic political change as called for by the international community and nearly 50 per cent of the Sri Lankan electorate going by even the distorted results of the 2005 presidential poll, then his hand would be strengthened even to go to war if the LTTE spurns the offer to talk on that agreed basis.

Meanwhile, the government must build up its military to meet any internal threat. A government that takes weeks to take control of an irrigation anicut is certainly not in a position to solve this conflict militarily, however unpalatable that may sound to the extremists hollering for war. The government’s bases in the north including the main base at Palaly are being shelled by LTTE artillery for days but the air force seems to be unable to take out those artillery guns. Strengthening the military to meet its defence requirements is not preparing for war and for a military solution. President Rajapakse can tell the international community that it is for ‘defensive action’ but in doing so he must offer a viable solution to the problems of the minorities in this country.

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