World Affairs








Two billion U.S. dollars and 100,000 jobs at stake

The refusal by the Rajapakse government to heed to the request of a top level European Union (EU) delegation to visit the Wanni last week was yet another illustration of the entrapment of the government in LTTE snares. The Troika of the EU delegation wanted to visit the Wanni to meet the LTTE to deliver what they said were key messages including the resumption of the peace process, provide humanitarian access to LTTE- controlled areas and observation of human rights in the region. The plight of the government was such that even if it wanted to grant the request made, it could not have been possible to do so because it would have resulted in the destruction of their principal strategy in eliminating the LTTE.

If the peace process is to be resumed it would result in the government's military offensive with which it intends crushing LTTE forces being called off. This is not only the strategy for a military victory but the strategy to win elections to provincial councils and a general election later on. With the momentum gained from driving out the LTTE from the eastern province President Rajapakse is beating his war drums in the electorates where the Sinhalese are in the majority. On the other hand the EU which has a stranglehold in Sri Lanka's exports to Europe is mincing no words in expressing their concern about this country's human rights record which would worsen considerably if another military operation is launched.

Janez Premoze Asia Director in the Slovenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs who represented the current EU presidency told a press conference in Colombo last week that the EU had grave concerns about continuing human rights abuses in this country and also expressed concerns that the  Independent International Group of Eminent  Persons (IIGEP) had decided to terminate their work with the Presidential Commission of Inquiry  going into abuse of human rights because of concerns about its compliance with international standards and the lack of institutional support for the work of the commission. He also had complaints about the lack of access to the Wanni to NGOs, UN and ICRC so that they can reach the people in need.

President Rajapakse and his brother Gotabhaya, the Defence Secretary has been treating the concerns expressed by the EU and other western nations in a cavalier fashion. The reports of the UNHCR High Commissioner Louise Arbour, UN Special Representative Novak and of Alan Rock another UN representative has not been responded to. But can this country take up this attitude in the context of the consequences that may follow? On June 10 this year the Sri-Lanka-European Commission meets where the EU'S   GSP+ Special incentive arrangements will come up for review. This arrangement is linked to human rights. And Sri Lanka stands to lose a whopping $ US 2 billion a year if the concessions are withdrawn, Besides, the jobs of over 100,000 garment workers will be at stake. There will be tens and thousands of jobs lost in associated industries.

The LTTE, which was in the bad books of the international community-mainly US, EU and Japan with Norway- are now playing the role of being good boys. "We did not abrogate the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), the government did that unilaterally," they point out. Besides they are willing for resumption of the peace process but there has to be a ceasefire they say. This will be music in the years of these powerful western nations because that is what they have been demanding from the government. The government cannot  give in because it is tied up to the commitment of a military victory. Obviously they are playing for de-proscription as a terrorist organisation in the west and with it all the sanctions that are being imposed on them. What is worse is that the government is now bogged down in the north, unable to penetrate the Wanni despite a very high casualty rate but is nevertheless unable to seize the offer to negotiate for fear of losing the support of the extremists and the war platform that has been built up. 

Now the dilemma for the Rajapakse brothers is protecting the national sovereignty, keeping on with their braggadocio and asking these powerful nations to keep off our grass or face the consequences of being deprived of the GSP+ and with it 2 billion (US) dollars and losing more than 100,000 jobs at home!  It is the position, which the Rajapakse brothers have worked themselves into and also being cleverly ensnared by the Tigers. The Rajapakse Brothers have messed up their foreign relations like the Hollywood comedians of the first half of the Twentieth Century, the Marx Brothers- Groucho, Chiko and Harpo.

The United States have already imposed sanctions on the sale of armaments to Sri Lanka save those for fighting crime while Britain too had imposed some economic sanctions and Japan too have threatened to reconsider their assistance.

Such foreign aid is also tied to good governance but good governance is not only a matter to win favours of foreign nations. It is needed for the survival of any nation. The proud boast of President Rajapakse last week was that he had resurrected democracy in the Eastern Province and that he had won world acclaim for it. So far only one nation had done it but western nations have been severely critical of the TMVP whom Rajapakse's government allied with to contest and win elections to six local government bodies in the Batticaloa District. TMVP is a breakaway group of the LTTE and has been accused by these western nations and the UNHCR of violation of human rights, particularly for the  abduction of children to be used as child soldiers. Thus the Rajapakse government appears to be embracing a Frankenstein monster. And there is little credibility attached to claims of democracy when you contest in alliance with an armed group that stands internationally condemned for child recruitment and abductions.

Now it appears that the SLFP will come together with the TMVP to contest the election to the Eastern Provincial Council scheduled for May 10.  The TMVP won the elections to the six local government bodies because both major parties the UNP and TNA abstained from contesting the elections. Furthermore, the TMVP contested the poll as a heavily armed group and appeals that their arms should be decommissioned before elections fell on deaf ears.  On Thursday it was reported that the government was pulling out the Special Task Force (STF) of the police from the eastern province. The STF had been in the eastern province for 20 years fighting the LTTE. Political analysts were speculating that this move will leave the eastern province entirely for the armed TMVP cadres to hold sway over other political parties and intimidate voters during the election campaign as well as on election day and that appears to be the Rajapakse flavour for a free and fair election which would necessarily strengthen LTTE's propaganda claims internationally that the elections are a farce forced on the Tamil people..

President Rajapakse is proving himself to be a rare politician who violates the basic law of the land, the constitution, by not making the Constitutional Council functional. It is causing chaos in the country because he has taken over appointments to key posts in the executive branch of government such as that of the police chief who should be appointed through the Constitutional Council, which comprises impartial and outstanding citizens of the country. The recent fiasco that resulted when the Labour Minister Mervyn Silva stormed the headquarters of the government's main propaganda TV channel with thugs and assaulted a journalist leading to a chaotic situation and the subsequent assaults on employees of the institution is the inability of top police officials to apprehend the master schemer behind the assaults even though the whole country knows his identity.

All this is happening while inflation is galloping at record level a 25 per cent now, the highest ever in the country. The comedians Marx Brothers who messed up every thing they attempted on the screen did better than the Rajapakse Brothers in seats of power. And the only guarantee for the months ahead is more of the same.

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