MR-Ranil discuss war and peace as LTTE vows
to shatter southern dreams
G.L. Peiris and Velupillai Pirapaharan
President says no political solution
till LTTE is defeated
Mahinda-Ranil in telephone discussions
on war and peace
President tells Ranil to be careful of
attacks in coming days
GL tells cabinet hedging deal with banks
must be honoured
UNP, SLMC, SLFP (M) and WPPF fine
tune alliance constitution
While LTTE Leader Velupillai Pirapaharan
made it clear in his annual 'Heroes Day'
speech that more bloodshed and mayhem can be
expected in Sri Lanka as the war
intensifies, President Mahinda Rajapakse was
busy last week grappling the nightmare
economic scenario confronting the country in
the backdrop of the oil hedging disaster
even as the opposition moved swiftly to put
an alliance together believing an election
will come sooner than later.
That the LTTE Leader will fight to the end
was made abundantly clear in his speech
which was laced with the usual crumbs thrown
in of the organisation's willingness for
talks, and the government missing the
underlying message seized on that as a sign
of weakness, once again lulling the public
into a false sense of complacency.
Having held out an olive branch to India
with references made to the overwhelming
support from Tamil Nadu, Pirapaharan also
made the point that the Tigers entered
negotiations to prove to the world the
Sinhala nation was not sincere in addressing
the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil
people. Such comments may not attract
credibility given the enforced boycott at
the presidential election of 2005 that paved
the way for a hard-line administration, but
it draws attention to the fact the LTTE
itself is looking at negotiations as a
tactical ploy rather than a genuine effort
to reach a peaceful settlement.
And that more bloody battles are in
store were captured in the following words
of the LTTE Leader: "Our heroes died for
this land and are at rest in its bosom. The
land where they are embedded belongs to us.
It is our own land. But an arrogant Sinhala
nation stands adamant and is determined to
occupy and conquer this historic land. All
human suffering springs from unbridled
desire. Unless one extricates oneself from
the clutch of greed, one will not free
himself from the fetters of sorrow. With its
greed for land, Sinhalam has entered a
militaristic path of destruction. It has
sought to build the support of the world to
confront us. It is living in a dreamland of
military victory. It is a dream from which
it will awake. That is certain."
With those words, Pirapaharan has indicated
he will not lay down arms or agree to a
conditional ceasefire, but will battle on,
assuring the Tamil people in the process the
government's military campaign will be
defeated, and whether those words are
rhetorical or not, it drives home the point,
the war will rage on for months to come with
the resultant economic consequences.
What is significant however is the support
the LTTE Leader is looking for from Tamil
Nadu, going so far as to state, "The dormant
voices in support of our struggle are
re-emerging aloud again. There are also
indications of our struggle becoming
accepted there. The positive change in
environment gives us courage to seek renewal
of our relationship with the Indian
Of course the President can take the bottom
off Pirapaharan's hopes of greater Indian
support by putting forward a viable
political package and isolating the Tiger
supremo but Rajapakse's hard-line agenda
leading upto an election precludes him from
doing so, thereby giving the LTTE the
opportunity of appealing to Tamil Nadu.
Thus, for President Rajapakse, it was not
just the economic nightmare that was giving
him sleepless nights but also the pressure
mounted from Tamil Nadu for a ceasefire
which was creating its own ripples further
to the stiff resistance mounted by the LTTE
in the Wanni.
Indeed the government was hoping to capture
Kilinochchi and make a show of it before
Pirapaharan's speech on Thursday, November
27, going so far as to make arrangements to
fly the media for the grand show followed by
a Presidential address but it was not to be
in the face of stiff Tiger resistance.
Later as a face-saving measure, Environment
Minister Champika Ranawaka was to tell
Resettlement Minister Reshad Bathiudeen from
the Wanni it was best to wait for the
dissolution of parliament to announce the
liberation of Kilinochchi.
That to the President only underscored the
enormity of the task ahead in the backdrop
of mounting Indian pressure for a political
package including force-feeding parippu
through the ICRC, an overall challenge not
made any easier with a plummeting economy
threatening to take its toll on the
It is to ride these political, military and
economic storms by marketing the war, that
the President looked at a snap general
election but even that decision is now being
swayed by astrologers who are advising it
will be disastrous to do so before September
2009 and urging Rajapakse to go for
provincial polls instead.
That of course is in addition to the
internal conflicts in the government over
the timing of the election with Basil
Rajapakse and Dulles Alahapperuma on the one
hand and Ministers Maithripala Sirisena and
Susil Premajayanth on the other pulling in
different directions (See Potshots on page
To make matters worse, the President was to
receive intelligence reports indicating
there maybe high profile Tiger attacks in
the city in the days ahead, which could well
open another front for the government to
deal with at a time the Eastern Province is
already on the boil.
It is in this backdrop, news from Tamil Nadu
reached the President of Chief Minister
Muttuvel Karunanidhi convening an all party
meeting for Tuesday, November 25 to consider
the Sri Lankan situation further to
Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe being
given a tough time in the state and he
decided to find out first hand what the
ground situation was in India.
Thus, on the morning of Sunday, November 23,
President Rajapakse was to telephone
Opposition Leader Wickremesinghe for a
discussion on the developments in New Delhi
in general and Tamil Nadu in particular with
emphasis on the security situation.
At the outset, the President was to ask
Wickremesinghe about the protest he ran into
in Tamil Nadu, whether there were any
security threats involved and as to who was
behind the campaign and the UNP Leader
explained at length what had transpired.
The UNP Leader told the President after the
initial flurry the security brought the
situation under control and that there was
no real danger. Wickremesinghe said the
temple he visited was in an area where the
Communist Party of India was strong and that
they had organised the protest.
Asked the President: "What were they
Replied the UNP Leader: "They were shouting
slogans to stop the killing of Tamil
civilians and for Rajapakse to go home." The
President chuckled by way of a response.
Wickremesinghe went on to explain to the
President that the protest campaign in Tamil
Nadu appears to be spreading with even
Karunanidhi not in a position to control it
anymore following film stars also joining
Having listened to what transpired, the
President inquired from Wickremesinghe whom
he met with in India and what their thinking
was and once again the UNP Leader gave a
full briefing including the talks with
Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee and the
BJP duo, Yashwant Singh and Jaswant Singh.
On being probed for specifics,
Wickremesinghe told the President their
thinking was that he should open a dialogue
with the Tamil National Alliance and arrive
at a political solution though there was no
push for a ceasefire in New Delhi as opposed
to Tamil Nadu.
Responded Rajapakse: "But I invited the TNA
for talks. They did not accept my invitation
but let's see again."
Having said that the President asked whether
there were any specific concerns on the part
of New Delhi which were communicated, and
the UNP Leader replied in the affirmative.
Wickremesinghe said Mukherjee in particular
was keen to ensure protection for the
refugees and stressed the importance of
creating humanitarian space.
Replied the President: "That is no problem.
Now we have a no-war zone for refugees."
With that out of the way, Wickremesinghe
briefed the President on the call for a
ceasefire in Tamil Nadu and said such
thinking was not reflected in New Delhi with
the BJP in particular of the view a
ceasefire would not be feasible at this
point, more so until one side established
its superiority on the ground.
"I too do not think a ceasefire is practical
at this time," Wickremesinghe added.
Responded Rajapakse: "What ceasefire now. We
must now surround and hammer them and finish
However Wickremesinghe was to point out
that the Communist Party of India which was
strong in several areas in the outskirts of
Tamil Nadu was pushing hard for a ceasefire
and creating ripples in the state.
Thereafter, the President discussed the
overall security situation and asked
Wickremesinghe to take extra precautions and
curtail his movements in the coming weeks
given the reports received of LTTE activity.
"Is your security OK? Is there anything that
needs to be done?" the President inquired
and the UNP Leader replied stating his
security was under control with necessary
precautions taken to tighten all gaps.
And while the President and the Opposition
Leader were discussing the futility of a
ceasefire at this time, the JHU was of a
different mindset and discussed the issue
with Indian High Commissioner Alok Prasad
last week and was amenable to the idea
subject to guarantees given by New Delhi.
Indeed a high-powered delegation of the JHU
including Ven. Ellawela Medhananda Thero and
Udaya Gammanpila attended the discussion
after which a statement was made though
spokesman Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe to the
Lanka Dissent website, wherein he indicated
the party as willing to consider supporting
a ceasefire provided it came with an Indian
"The Central Government is under intense
pressure today over the war in northern Sri
Lanka. India will have a general election
early next year. To gain political mileage
various parties have included Sri Lanka in
their agendas," Warnasinghe was quoted as
"The JHU Spokesman noted that previously
only pro-Tiger TN parties had pressurised
New Delhi, while now the CPI has entered and
changed the situation qualitatively," it was
also reported. And then Warnasinghe adds,
"We should accept that reality. The pressure
on the Indian Centre has increased."
Within 24 hours of this statement being made
public, the UNP went to town and challenged
the JHU in parliament prompting Minister
Ranawaka to concede a party delegation did
meet the Indian High Commissioner but
insisting there can be no ceasefire until
such time the LTTE lays down arms.
Of course in its original statement issued
to Lanka Dissent, which was read over to
Wanasinghe and approved by him, there was no
mention of the LTTE laying down arms but
under pressure from the UNP Ranawaka was to
state the JHU insists on the LTTE
surrendering their weapons, but by this time
the danger was done.
It was while this debate was going on in
parliament that Karunanidhi was having his
meeting in Chennai where an agreement was
reached to travel to New Delhi on December 4
and push the Central Government to intervene
in the Sri Lanka conflict and ensure a
How that eventually plays out, given the
developments in Mumbai remains to be seen
but there were many others who wanted to
jump the bandwagon on this issue with offers
to even carry messages between the
President, LTTE and the UNP Leader.
Towards this end a delegation from the
Congress of Religions including amongst
others William Vendley, Ven. Tep Wong from
Cambodia, Ven Sobitha Thero, Jehan Perera
and Kingsley Rodrigo met with the UNP Leader
on Monday, November 24 but found little
support with Wickremesinghe stating that if
he needed to convey a message to Rajapakse
he would do so directly.
"Even yesterday the two of us spoke,"
The delegation was basically seeking the
support of the President and the UNP Leader
to establish a human corridor and safety
zone for the people trapped in the Wanni in
addition to getting the authority to deal
with the LTTE.
Wickremesinghe however dismissed the
initiative as impractical and said NGOs
should not engage in such practices but
added if they wanted to help, they could
support the Indian initiative of setting up
humanitarian space for the refugees.
The following day, Tuesday, November 25,
this delegation was to meet President
Rajapakse, who once again deflected the
offer to deal with the LTTE stating he will
speak to "the others" and revert.
But more importantly, the President made his
position clear, that there will be no
dealing with the LTTE until such time the
organisation lays down weapons.
Said the President: "This is a terrorist
problem. For any negotiations, they must lay
down weapons. For the last 25 years various
governments have tried to negotiate and
failed. I too tried and sent delegations
three times to Europe. They used the
ceasefire to strengthen themselves.
Therefore, until they are defeated or lay
down their weapons, there will be no
discussions. I will introduce a practical
political solution once terrorism is
What that solution is going to be and the
need for any negotiations with the LTTE
after they are militarily defeated, the
President did not vouchsafe in the
delegation and the message not just to the
Congress of Religions but also the Indians
was loud and clear - no political solution
until the LTTE is decimated.
And such a tough stand leading up to a snap
election be it general or provincial will be
bread and butter for the UPFA and is the
cause the President wants to push hard
notwithstanding Indian pressure and no doubt
will hold the UPFA in good stead provided
there are no military setbacks or the
economy does not hit ground zero.
That the economic factor in this respect is
of serious concern to the President,
especially given the credit crunch was
reflected at Wednesday's cabinet meeting
with lengthy discussions on the oil hedging
disaster taking centre stage.
The initial estimates are that the
government will lose somewhere in the region
of US$400 million due to the hedging deals
with the banks and though last week
President Rajapakse took the view the
responsibility should be pinned on the
banks, saner counsel prevailed on Wednesday.
It was Minister G. L. Peiris fresh after his
failure on the GSP Plus issue that took a
more practical view on dealing with the
international community and international
banks this time round, advising the
government to tread with caution.
Explaining at length the law of contracts
and the legality of agreements signed with
international banks, Peiris said it would be
ill-advised to renege on the contractual
agreements since it would lead to serious
The International Trade Minister said while
technical and legal issues can be raised
with the banks, the credit worthiness of the
country must be maintained at all times.
While Minister Susil Premajayanth maintained
silence on Wednesday, having the previous
week called for the cancellation of the
contracts, President Rajapakse who too
wanted the responsibility pinned on the
banks last week sang from a different hymn
sheet on Wednesday.
The President said while various arguments
can be put forward on the legality of the
contracts, the government must ensure it
does not lose the confidence of the
Striking a somewhat different chord was
Minister Ranawaka who saw those responsible
for hedging on the government side
blundering big time. Ranawaka said there
must be an investigation into the mistakes
made and those responsible taken to task.
Retorted Minister Fowzie - "Yes but at the
same time, if the hedging operation
succeeded, no one would have said anything."
Finally, while deferring a cabinet paper by
Fowzie on the issue for next week, the
President appointed a committee comprising
Ministers Fowzie, Peiris, Sarath Amunugama
and Nimal Siripala de Silva to come up with
recommendations to overcome the problem
including negotiating with the banks. The
committee is to also speak with the Central
Bank Governor Nivard Cabraal, a key player
in the hedging disaster, who has now taken a
backseat quite content to allow CPC Chairman
Asantha De Mel take sole responsibility much
to Fowzie's ire.
And while the government was grappling with
these issues, the UNP, SLFP (M), the Sri
Lanka Muslim Congress and Mano Ganesan's
Western Province People's Front were busy
thrashing out details of a broad alliance.
Towards this end, these party's had a series
of discussions last week, fine tuning a
draft constitution for the new alliance with
Ranil Wickremesinghe, Tissa Attanayake,
Joseph Michael Perera, John Amaratunge, Rauf
Hakeem, and Mano Ganesan, all weighing in
with their suggestions.
The draft constitution and the broad
principles of the alliance which were put
forward by UNP General Secretary Attanayake
found agreement with the SLMC, WPPF and the
SLMC and went to the lawyers for approval
Friday with plans afoot to register a party
before December 9.
It is to take this campaign forward that
under Defence Watch, both Samaraweera and
Attanayake gave a joint press conference on
Thursday, with further action to follow
under Corruption Watch and Development
Further, on Wednesday, the Muslim Congress
was to also discuss possible seat
allocations in the event of a general
election and it appears all systems are go
for the new alliance.
At the same time negotiations are underway
with several UNP defectors to return to the
fold with the UNP Leader expected to make an
important announcement at the party
convention on Saturday, December 6.
In this respect, the key for the UNP is to
attract former Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya
back to the fold but whether he is ready to
make the trek back remains to be seen.
Whatever Jayasuriya decides, he is becoming
increasingly uncomfortable within the
government having repeatedly told the
President in private the credibility of the
government is at stake and with it his, over
the failure to appoint the Constitutional
It is Jayasuriya who fathered the 17th
Amendment to the Constitution and the
failure on the part of the government to
implement the 17th Amendment, the Public
Administration Minister has said makes his
position and that of the UNP defectors
Further, the President has also needled
Jayasuriya on many fronts including
appointing Basil Rajapakse to head the
development drive in the Gampaha District
and just last week blocked the Public
Administration Minister's recommendation for
the appointment of the Gampaha government
agent based on merit.
Instead, the President insisted on a
compromise choice, not giving the Minister
so much as an opportunity to pick a
government agent based on merit and
ironically many of his fellow defectors
enjoying the perks of office had not risen
to their leader's defence.
How much further Jayasuriya who is pushing
for a meritocracy and good governance in the
administration can stomach the status quo
remains to be seen but for sure there will
be interesting political, economic and
military developments in the weeks to come.