27th May 2001
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LTTE's bluff

A now familiar sense of political sensitisation, something between panic and a state of heightened excitedness, greeted the news last week that the government was prepared to de-proscribe the LTTE.

The government's own information czar, Ariya Rubesinghe, was quoted as saying that the government was indeed considering the de-banning, fuelling the speculation that Sinhala nationalist parties were preparing to retort with a thunderclap of protest.

What comes to us via the grapevine now is that nothing of this sort was happening. President Chandrika Kum-aratunga chaired a special meeting of selected Cabinet Ministers on Tuesday, at which it was reiterated that there will be no de-proscription of the LTTE. As the week wore on and the Cabinet formally met on Thursday, the issue was not even discussed or given cursory consideration. 

Over the week, however, one national newspaper had editorially taken up the view that if the LTTE is demanding its de-proscription, it can only do so legitimately if it correspondingly gave up the demand for a separate state of Eelam. 

The jack-in-the–box demand for a de-banning by the LTTE, it is very transparently clear even to the most naive and untrained of minds, is a ploy for delaying or otherwise obstructing the peace talks which were becoming too imminent for the LTTE's comfort.

Once the LTTE had elicited the concession of the de-banning from the government, they will follow in short order to demand a truce, and then ask for the complete withdrawal of the armed forces from the Northern peninsula and so on and so forth. 

But, while the LTTE thus practices its trademark brand of political contortion, we hear from the diplomatic channels that the Norwegian facilitator Erik Solheim's visit to US this week was not for purposes of a peaceful walkabout in Washington. Solheim was apparently in the United States for the express purpose of getting Washington to apply some pressure on the Sri Lankan government to accede to the new set of demands put forward by the LTTE.

Even if this was not the case, it is quite clear that Solheim is being made into a simpleton by the LTTE. It seems like they have him wrapped round the little finger, so to say.

Solheim, if he has any role as a neutral facilitator in this whole domestic contretemps, should have told the LTTE firmly that there is no place for this set of new demands which were not mentioned at the outset, when the involved parties set out on the road to prepare for talks. He should make it clear than any set of fresh issues that call for any reciprocal action by the negotiating partner should come only after substantive progress had been made after talks have begun.

Sri Lankan's hope would be that the international community of nations, which repeatedly calls for the two parties involved in this country's conflict to arrive at a negotiated settlement, gets smarter to the LTTE's bluff regarding talks. If these countries can see this chicanery for what it is, they would take the lead from Britain and the USA in banning the LTTE. At least that should send a clear signal that the LTTE is clearly in dissonance with the thinking of the rest of the world on substantial matters pertaining to the Sri Lankan conflict. Talking of international reactions, we understand that the Swiss and German governments are now on the verge of banning terrorist organisations, even though EU compatriot France with which President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga claims a special relationship, is lagging far behind on catching up on this issue.

For the Sri Lankan Government which has given the lead in the world-wide banning of the LTTE, to lift the ban at home would have been ludicrous if not preposterous.

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