Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Power without Responsibility

by V Gunaratnam

Dark forces are at work, emboldened by Rajapakse's failures, to derail the peace process or what remains of it, and achieve their own sectarian ends through violence.

[This article subscribes to the idea that Pres. Rajapakse has good intentions, but has been hijacked by other political forces and/or is ineffective. The editor is not convinced.]

President Mahinda Rajapakse preaches restraint, and talks peace, but is now sitting atop a volcano of violence and bloodshed, unable or unwilling to stem the cascading carnage from driving the country towards a full-scale war.

The guns are roaring again and by the time they fall silent it might be too late for Sri Lanka, because Rajapakse seems to have lost control of events taking place in the country, and abdicated his responsibility for maintaining law and order.

Rajapakse acts more like a Sinhala politician than the president of the country and he keeps pandering to a virulent kind of Sinhala expectation typified by the extremists of the JVP/JHU combine. This might be good politics for him, but to hold ordinary Sri Lankans, including the Tamils who are the most affected, hostage to extremist politics is sheer lunacy. And the tragedy is that it is costing innocent lives every day.

As one wag put it, “Raja is only the president of Colombo!” He’s allowed himself to be reduced to an ineffectual president, content to let events to take their own course while he enjoys the trappings of office. A string of gruesome and at times strange but true recent happenings have cast a shadow over his presidency, and has the international community ready to turn the heat on him as their preoccupation with the Lebanon crisis starts abating.

The string of events begins with the JVP. Despite being Rajapakse’s coalition partner, the JVP continues to thumb its nose at him and bedevil the search for a political settlement. Questions are being asked as to how the JVP’s Propaganda Secretary Wimal Weerawanse, while not in government, was allowed into army camps to spit out the JVP's Marxist poison to soldiers. Unbelievably, Rajapakse denies any knowledge about this breach of military security, but it is an ominous sign of the deepening and dangerous involvement of the JVP with the armed forces, behind his back.

Next, there is the recurring theme of how Tamils are being targeted in Colombo. The city is riddled with security zones, soldiers, police, secret service agents and security checkpoints, but how then are the Tamil civilians being killed, and their businesses robbed and burnt down, right under Rajapakse’s nose?

But perhaps the most troubling of all is how the SLA is increasingly seen to be operating outside the president’s control. When 17 NGOs, all Tamils except one, were locked up in a room and brutally murdered in Muthur, everyone knew who had committed the dastardly crime. Rajapakse has nothing to say about it, but the French connection has made a cover-up difficult, and had Foreign Minister Samaraweera defying credibility trying to deflect allegation of SLA complicity in the killings when questioned on the BBC World News on August 30. But SLA gun-fire continues to kill and maim regardless.

The nightmare for the Tamils keeps returning. More horrendous killings followed when the SLA, in another cowardly act of brutality, killed 55 Tamil schoolchildren, and staff of the Sencholai campus in the Mullaithivu district, by aerial bombardment, in a heartless act of cruelty. It has left Tamils in no doubt about why they want what they want.

Amidst all this there was the farcical episode enacted at Maavilaru, in the waterway shut-down. Again it seemed Rajapakse was not in command of what was happening. One cabinet minister agreed to the LTTE opening the sluice gates, while another sent in the army. The ‘intrepid’ SLA launched an all-out assault to ‘capture’ and assert their ‘sovereignty’ over the area, in a sort of Viagra-induced military virility. But their bravado was short-lived, and they soon gave up. By that time, the LTTE had the life-giving water flowing downstream again to the farmers.

Finally, in the latest news, damning evidence of Sri Lanka’s duplicity has emerged. The turncoat Karuna, who is working hand-in-glove with the SLA, is reportedly recruiting child soldiers forcibly, without even a squeak from the government about human rights violations.

This is just a passing look at the Sri Lanka scene today, where Tamil lives have been expendable, cannon fodder for the SLA, ever since JR Jeyawardene’s presidency. No longer are the Tamils able to look up to the Sri Lanka state for security of person and property guaranteed to all citizens. Those days are long gone. The genocidal assault on the Tamils has cost a hundred thousand Tamil civilian lives, well over a million IDPs and refugees, and the wanton and colossal destruction of their properties, which continues with even more ferocity today.

It’s against this forbidding background that the Tamil’s fate has to be viewed, judged and resolved. There is no clearer proof needed as to why the Tamils vitally need to have their homeland and the autonomy to manage their own affairs. Only the nature of the relationship with the rest of Sri Lanka is a matter for resolution, to be freely decided by negotiations, if necessary with international assistance.

But Rajapakse vacillates, and continues to indulge in empty rhetoric. Up to now he has failed to deliver on any front, or to show the firm resolve needed to curb the violence and lawlessness in the country, where death by SLA gunfire has become so commonplace for ordinary Tamils. Dark forces are at work, emboldened by Rajapakse's failures, to derail the peace process or what remains of it, and achieve their own sectarian ends through violence.

As the president Rajapakse has an obligation to overcome the stalemate that has set in. But he wastes time trying to manage the symptoms of the problem, the violence, as it threatens to escalate rapidly into an open war, while the political solution cries out for attention. His coalition with extremists has him tied up in knots and unable to make any political moves in search of peace and an accord with the LTTE.

The JVP is the joker in the coalition pack. After suffering a stunning reversal at the last local polls, its strategy seems to have changed back to subversive politics. But Rajapakse cannot remain a captive to their pre-election agreement which militates against even the most basic issues of the Tamil question. It’s sheer lunacy to be tied down in this manner and do nothing.

JVP politics has always been about nothing but doom and gloom, conjuring up images of a North Korean type of future for Sri Lankans: brain-washing, intimidation, violence, enslavement, poverty, starvation, and suffering. It is something that is totally at odds with another side of the Sinhalese people: their potential for a sunny disposition, a liberalised way of life within a democracy, and their Buddhist heritage.

Rajapakse must end his dalliance with such a Machiavellian power-hungry entity, break out of its stranglehold, and free himself to work constructively for a political solution that accords with the democratic values of the civilized world.

A way out for Rajapakse would be to seek common ground with the UNP, and build that elusive political consensus which would allow him to put a stop to the bloodshed, return to the CFA, and make realistic moves to end the ethnic conflict permanently. Only such a powerful and calming political entity would be able to command the confidence of the people, inject sanity into the political process, and save the country from self-destruction.

There are also other factors that must be acknowledged that impinge directly on the issues.

President Rajapakse was elected by default when the Tamils, who could have voted for UNP’s Ranil Wicremesinghe, and easily steered him to victory, did not vote in protest. Thus, paradoxically, he was elected by the Tamils even though they did not vote except in driblets.

There is also this basic fact of the Tamil struggle that is often conveniently overlooked. The LTTE’s position is that it is only fighting in defence of the Tamil people, and it’s never been the case that they are trying to overrun the country and subjugate the Sinhalese. That’s an absurdity in any case, considering the enormous disparity in military power between the two sides.

It is also now a fact of life that the northeast are firmly joined together, in the political sense, under the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement of 1987, and despite its many deficiencies, the Agreement still forms a bulwark against moves to de-merge, annex, or displace Tamils from their lands. Getting the courts to rule on its validity or otherwise would also be futile, because they would have to contend with India before such an iniquitous act could render it a dead letter.

Let Sri Lanka also understand that sovereignty does not mean the license to kill with impunity.

Killing Tamils without end is not going to ever lead to a solution. The Sinhalese, too, know in their heart of hearts that it is wrong. India and the world, too, are also not going to be silent witnesses to the atrocities being committed against Tamils much longer.

The great divide that separates the Tamils and the Sinhalese is equality, in its widest sense. Tamils want it, but the Sinhalese are unable to concede what is universally recognized as a democratic right in the civilized world. But equality it must be.

There is no other way!

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