Weekly Review

Sri Lanka Scene

14 July 2004

War Fear Returns to Sri Lanka

By: T. Sabaratnam

Around noon on Tuesday traffic braked to a sudden halt along busy Dickman’s Road in Bambalapitiya when someone said that there was a parcel bomb on the pavement. Crowd gathered at both ends of the road and prevented even pedestrians walking along it.

Police was called as panic spread and the policemen summoned the bomb disposal unit. A pick up vehicle with helmeted policemen screeched through while policemen cordoned off the area.

"It was only a parcel of waste paper," declared the bomb disposal after careful inspection. "That was the work of some mischief maker."

This incident portrays the return of the fear complex and the sense of insecurity among Colombo populace.

Kollupitiya blast was not the only reason. It triggered the fear that the country is sliding back to war which was building up over the weeks. The main opposition United National Front (UNF) had hammered into the minds of the people that President Chandrika Kumaratunga was taking the country back to war for the past four months.

"The country is slipping back to war," Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe told the country even last week.

Opposition spokesman Prof. G. L. Peiris was telling the country day in and day out that President Kumaratunga was "messing up the peace process"

Though Kumaratunga periodically says that she is for peace, that her government is committed to implement the ceasefire agreement and that she was prepared to talk to the Tigers on the basis of their demand of Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA) her words are not matched by deeds.

The Presidential Secretariat issued a statement on Monday saying that President Kumaratunga considered the victory in Saturday’s provincial council election an endorsement of her policy of taking forward the peace process and start talks with the LTTE on the setting up of the interim administration and finding a final political solution.

And on that very morning the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, Kumaratunga’s vital partner in the government, launched a poster campaign against the LTTE and its ISGA demand.

The attractive red and black posters plastered over Colombo walls read, "Denounce the deceitful scheme of Vanni Tigers who deploy suicide Bombers, while talking of peace," and "Defeat the designs of the Vanni Tigers to win interim administration that will pave the way for Eelam by creating fear in the country."

When asked by journalists on Tuesday JVP propaganda secretary Wimal Weerawansa said that through the posters they only exposed the duplicity of the Tigers.

He said, "The LTTE is constantly accusing the government of duplicity. Through the posters we exposed the duplicity of the Tigers. We told the people the Tigers are talking peace and sending suicide bombers."

"JVP has always maintained the ISGA is not acceptable," he said but toned down the JVP position by adding, "That is the stand of our party. But that would not be a roadblock to the peace process."

The confusion in the government ranks was highlighted by government spokesman Mangala Samaraweera during Tuesday’s media briefing. When asked whether Monday’s Presidential Secretariat statement reflected President Kumaratunga’s thinking that Saturday’s election victory was an endorsement for the setting up of the interim administration, he said after initial hesitation, "The victory is only an endorsement of the peace process."

Tigers, who are carefully following all this confusion, the government’s attempt to gain from the Karuna factor and its attempt to delay the peace process with the hope of weakening them, have toughened their stand.

UNI Story

The Tiger reading of Kumaratunga’s strategy and their accusation about her duplicity were strengthened by the Washington datelined UNI (United Press of India) story which said Karuna's defection was supported at the highest levels of the Sri Lankan government with tacit US approval.

Washington based UNI correspondent has quoted US geopolitical analysts at Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor) as saying, "The plan is to destabilize the Tigers, bait the group into confrontation and ultimately launch an offensive aimed at destroying the fractured Tamil movement once and for all."

The Stratfor analysts have quoted unnamed sources inside the Sri Lankan government to support their story.

Stratfor analysts say government’s strategy is first to delay the talks and drag it and promote anti Tiger Tamil forces to weaken it. They said the Sri Lankan government is still is in regular contact with Karuna. It adds that although Karuna says support was never offered, numerous figures within the Sri Lankan government have hinted that Colombo is supporting Karuna.

The UNI story also says that Kumaratunga government is not willing to grant LTTE’s ISGA demand and the LTTE would not return to the bargaining table until the government is prepared to discuss its demand. It said the Norwegian facilitators would have to toil hard to bring the government and the LTTE to sit at a table.

Kumaratunga held a session to discuss the peace process on Tuesday night in which Wimal Weerawansa, and ministers Ferial Ash raff and Douglas Devananda participated. The strategy worked out was to appoint an all party committee to which all parties would be invited. It was also decided that Kumaratunga should have discussions with Ranil Wickremesinghe about the peace process.

ISGA proposal was also extensively discussed at the meeting. The decision reached was that the ISGA arrangement should be part of the final solution.

UNF spokesman Prof. Peiris said, "We would always give our utmost support for a genuine peace process but would not support the illegal change of the constitution through a constituent assembly."

Peiris’s reference to the ‘illegal change of the constitution’ was to the reported move by Kumaratunga to link the peace process to the establishment of a constituent assembly. Kumaratunga is trying to extend her political life by doing away the present constitution which limits the president’s term of office to two terms. If the current constitution is not altered she would have to retire from office at the second term which ends next year.

Kumaratunga’s effort to change the constitution to suit her political future had been torpedoed by Ranil Wickremesinghe for over five years and he is not going to give in now.

 

Political analysts expressed the fear that Kumaratunga, frustrated so long by Ranil Wickrmesinghe’s opposition, may do something drastic. One option she might adopt is to summon the constituent assembly to enact a new constitution claiming that she has obtained the mandate to do so from their people. She has said though she failed to obtain a majority in parliament she had obtained the mandate from the people at the April 2 parliamentary election and July 10 provincial council election.

UNF is contesting both these claims. It says at the parliamentary election Kumaratunga’s United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) failed to poll 50% of the votes. On Saturday 51 percent of the voters kept away from voting. Of those who voted only half voted for the UPFA.

"People did not give the government a mandate. Instead they had strongly signified their rejection of Kumaratunga’s plea for a mandate,’ Peiris said.

Kumaratunga may opt to go to war as a means of achieving her ambition of extending her stay in politics, analysts fear. She would like to rally the Sinhala people around her through a war, they say.

Encouragement given to Douglas Devananda and the promotion of Karuna are limbs of that strategy,

"Let the Tamils weaken the Tigers. Then the army can pounce on the Tigers and finish them off," is the general sentiment expressed by Sinhala chauvinism (A clever "Fox Hunting" strategy? ). They are now openly expressing in the Sinhala print and electronic media.

Tigers are no spring chicken. They too have hardened their stand. Anton Balasingham told Erick Solheim who met him in London last week that ceasefire agreement should be fully implemented before talks begin. He pointed out the disarming of the armed groups was one of the vital element in the ceasefire agreement.

Thamilchelvan repeated that to Norwegian envoy Hans Brattskar who met him in Kilinochchi on Tuesday. He told him the government instead of disarming the armed groups was creating arming a new group. He pointed that to Brattskar and to the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM).

"The peace process is in great crisis. The Sri Lankan government should take constructive steps to stabilize the cease fire," Thamilchelvan warned Brattskar. He also pointed out that a government minister was openly supporting Karuna. By government minister he meant Douglas Devananda who told a press briefing that he was in contact with Karuna.

To prove his claim he called Karuna in his hand phone and spoke to him in the presence of reporters.

Brattskar reported to Jayantha Danapala, director, government peace secretariat, the points raised by Thamilchelvan.

Norway and the SLMM are worried about the present situation. Norway has told the government and the LTTE its view that the ceasefire is in great crisis. SLMM has also written a letter to the government and the LTTE that it considered the arming of the Karuna group, the killings in Batticaloa and the suicide bombing were ceasefire violations.

SLMM has warned both parties that they have been put under great strain. They warned both parties to observe the ceasefire agreement. They said they were in talks with both sides to ensure that violence in the east and suicide bombing would not lead to a complete breakdown of the ceasefire.

Norwegian envoys said they would shuttle between the government and the Tigers in a bid to revive talks. Solheim is expected to arrive before the end of the month.

Meanwhile Tigers have begun fighting back. Last week they executed two young men they accused of being collaborators. They killed a key associate of Karuna and injured and captured another in an ambush on Wednesday near Punanai.

In a daring attack a gunman shot dead Satchi Master, who was acting as Karuna’s spokesman in the early hours of the morning Thursday inside the Batticaloa prison.

Tigers have charged that Satchi Master, Kanapathipillai Mahendran, was acting as Karuna's spokesman from his prison cell under the name 'Maran' with connivance of the Sri Lankan military intelligence.

Satchi Master who was sacked by the Tigers from their military in 2002 for embezzling funds entrusted to him for purchasing supplies for their camps in the Kanjikudichcha Aaru jungles was recalled by Karuna and appointed military commander for the Amparai District. Police arrested him for possession of arms and was in the jail on remand.

Tigers are also carrying a search for weapons in the areas under their control.

The LTTE is currently engaged in eradicating the forces of destabilization from the east.

Then the question arises: Will there be talks in the immediate future?

I will quote the reply Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarian from Jaffna district, gave when TamilNet asked a similar question:

Not under the present circumstances. The Government has to first establish its credibility with the Tamil people. The Tamil people are fully aware of the Government’s involvement in destabilization campaign in the east. Tamils are being regularly targeted. There is a terror campaign being unleashed on our people under the guise of Karuna. So, how can you expect any self respecting Tamil to expect the LTTE to sit and negotiate with a duplicitous Government under the present circumstances. It is the view of the TNA, that even if the government agrees to start negotiations solely on the basis of the ISGA proposals, no dates for future negotiations should be fixed until the eastern situation is brought under control. On the contrary, I would even go as far as to say that if the present situation is allowed to continue, I believe that it will only be a matter of time until the ceasefire agreement itself becomes irrelevant.

 

 


 

 

###

Posted July 15, 2004