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War chorus reaches a crescendo


Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, Sunil Handunnetti and Lakshman Seneviratne

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti Our Lobby Correspondent

There are a few things that unify parliamentarians such as perks and privileges. On all other matters, they stand divided and hell bent on keeping the unsuspecting plebeians divided. That's their vocation.

Debates on even the mildest of topics tend to draw blood and there is hardly any agreement. If consensus were possible, the country's ethnic strife would have long since ended. But that is akin to expecting parliamentary conduct from Labour Minister Mervyn Silva. Some things can never happen.

The same golden rule applies to bringing the government and the opposition to agree on how to end the conflict, and it does not matter which party in power, they would oppose each other. That's sheer force of habit.

The brainwashing that had taken place is so complete that it excludes all dissenting voices in society and the legislature which was once a forum for diversity, now has all legislators readily nodding and competing with each other, excluding the TNA, to shower their blessings upon the armed forces in their forward march.

Broadsides

Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake who opened the debate on the extension of the state of emergency on Thursday did not even try to conceal that his heart was swelling at the very thought of capturing territory in the north with the possibility of vanquishing the LTTE.

Generally a charitable soul, but this time he took broadsides at 'some who aided and abetted terrorism and some NGOs that simply worked against the government motive' and said, the betrayals should not be forgotten.

Passionately wishing the army well, he referred to Pirapaharan as a 'pirate now in hiding' and said the days are numbered for the megalomaniac who killed his own people in pursuit of an illusive dream.

"The big Tiger is prowling around in a small forest area. His final movements will be painful," he predicted.

Wickremanayake declared next: "The LTTE must acknowledge that their militancy has failed, not fared well against the strong Sri Lankan army, and not only is the Tiger outfit defeated, it has also failed the Tamils people."

UNP's Lakshman Seneviratne was never one to conceal his appreciation for the armed forces, even when the UNP's political stance was opposed to a military solution. Thus Seneviratne did not have to conceal his feelings as he hailed the military successes and called for an end to terrorism -- but importantly, in all in its forms.

He went to the extent of pledging support to a settlement that could accommodate the political concerns of minorities after crushing the LTTE, and pledging the two thirds majority that the present day hung parliaments can only dream of.

War on media

Moving swiftly from the war against terrorism to the war against the media, Seneviratne demanded to know why the government felt compelled to suppress dissenting voices using the military situation.

"Lasantha Wickrematunge was assassinated exactly a month ago. What happened to the investigation? Or should that question be raised at all?  There is a discrepancy about the JMO's report. Was he stabbed as well as shot? Why aren't there any direct answers and why isn't there a final medical forensic report on it?" he demanded to know.

Looking up at the media gallery, he said all his sympathies remained with the journalists who were working in a combat zone taking immense risks with each story they wrote or aired.

"The Sunday Leader Editor was killed. A year ago, there was an arson attack on the newspaper's printing press within a high security zone.  Chairman of the company, Lal Wickrematunge has written to the IGP requesting security for the office premises, but so far, there had not been even an acknowledgement," he noted.

"What is your innate fear that those who report independent views are eliminated? Why must everyone hold identical views? Why this pettiness?" thundered Seneviratne.

And he noted, that the future was indeed bleak for a country that now sees an end to the war but there is another war in the south that targeted the media.

'Historic'

The tone of Seneviratne's speech spurred on the next, Wimal Weerawansa. The MP, speaking from the government benches for the first time said it was historic to find the likes of Ranil Wickremesinghe who openly scoffed at military solutions to finally concede that the soldiers were indeed professional and executed the war to the satisfaction of an entire nation.

He recalled the time when great betrayals were planned out with Norwegian facilitation, and how now the truce had been abandoned and consigned to the dustbin of history.

Taking broad swipes at former ally Managala Samaraweera, he said every attempt was made to undermine the military effort and listed among them, the Defence Watch.

He noted that during the past few months, the opposition parliamentarians have been seeking to divert attention from the battlefront. 'But these tactics and changes in stances did not fool people. They decided to support the troops and seize the last opportunity to end the bloodshed. To achieve this, they also made other sacrifices such as bearing the brunt of the economic hardship with a smile.'

In his element as he waxed eloquent about the successes of the military forces, Weerawansa sniped that when Kilinochchi fell, the Opposition Leader could not find it in his heart to celebrate the victories of the armed faces. This he waited till Mullaithivu fell and with the greatest difficulty, he finally forced himself to demonstrate that the UNP was also supportive of the ongoing military actions.

Argument

Launching a blistering attack on the UNP, Weerawnasa said that the party was politically and conceptually dead.

"Their oft repeated argument was that the LTTE was invincible and indestructible. The same peaceniks were later heard to be hailing the armed forces. Two things have been achieved. One is the defeat of the LTTE and the other is the defeating of imperialists like the UNP who fuelled the flames of terror by going soft on them," Weerawansa said.

The JVP pole vaulter's contention was that the army commenced its journey at a time when there was very little conviction that they could record such successes.  "There were too many who claimed that a military solution was unacceptable especially because the Sri Lankan armed forces could not strongly oppose the LTTE guerilla tactics. That ideology too has been now defeated," he noted.

Everyone appeared interested in taking credit for the success of the armed forces. No exception was Sunil Handunnetti who reminded the house that some of the important decisions taken by the JVP have prevented the Sri Lankan state from subjugating itself.

Handunnetti, despite the military successes, was not convinced about the political leadership of the UPFA. He sniped that the SLFP was led by a politician who did not have the strength to challenge President Kumaratunga when the P-TOMS agreement was signed.

Silence   

"There was deafening silence when the P-TOMS was proposed. When we realised that others who could have and should have remedied the situation maintained silence to retain their political positions we got activated.

"It was an unpopular move when everyone was clamoring for a negotiated solution and the implementation of the P-TOMS agreement. The situation compelled us to seek judicial intervention and that is how the JVP prevented the P-TOMS from becoming law and subsequent implementation of the same."

Next he said the demerger of the northeast was also achieved through court action while others were happy to ignore these issues.

Next he faulted the government for using the military successes to drum up crucial support. "We all know that your heart was not in it. It is now horrifying to hear all these government politicians speak of demergers and an ethnic conflict."

Amidst speculation that TNA legislators were either fleeing the country or settling on foreign soil, spoke EPRLF Secretary General Suresh Premachandran.

He argued that a humanitarian corridor was said to be in existence but in reality there was no such. Also, routes are permanently kept close with them being opened only for fourth hours a week despite the humanitarian concerns, he noted.

"This zone comes under serious aerial attack. The routes are not clear and there is no proper mechanism to assist the civilians to leave the areas under LTTE control."

Ceasefire

As for the 48-hour ceasefire unilaterally called for by the government, he said there was no proper understanding as to when exactly this period commenced as well as it ended. He called this temporary no fire period as a reaction to the Indian government, announced at the behest of India. "This happened soon after Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee visited Colombo," he noted.

Importantly, Premachandran sought to remind the House that by eliminating people, nowhere in the world had anyone succeeded in defeating an idea. And that's the part of the debate that nobody wishes to discuss these days.

And so the emergency extension was carried in the House with little dissent, as is customary, with only the TNA voting against. And those who dissented appeared to have lost their voice or preferred to maintain silence than go against the trend when the war hype in the country appears to be at an all time high.

Changing times

Interesting times are ahead it appears for the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). Making an important political transition, Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna Amman is now said to become a fully-fledged SLFP member in view of the parliamentary elections.

The parliament lobby was agog with the news that the nominated legislator is now ready to be inducted as a party member. There were no guesses made as to the outcome of this elevation, with Pillayan and Vinayagamoorthy now set to fight each other with more ferocity.

Canteen concerns

The food prices at the public canteen have been raised by a fraction, 'in keeping with the current prices.'

But insiders have two concerns. Firstly, the enormous wastage of food and secondly, that for certain functions how top officials get parliament to supply fruits and vegetables.

Information suppression policy

The government's doublespeak was evident yet again, when Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake told parliament that it was natural to have battle casualties in an intensified war like the one that was being waged.

But true to the government's policy of suppressing information, despite all the gloating, the battle casualties were not revealed, neither the dead nor the injured. And the same applied to civilian casualties as well.


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