In action: End of the gory, now the glory
Peace groups on war path for personal credit
Though the battles on the war front may have ended, a battle has now erupted
between the two main groups which went to Wanni on a peace mission to obtain
the release of prisoners.
The association of families of servicemen missing in action and the
association of war affected women are now firing charges at each other
creating confusion over who released whom to whom.
Adding to the confusion The International Committee for the Red Cross
(ICRC) is claiming that the prisoners were handed over to the ICRC whose
representatives in turn handed over the prisoners to their families in
Friday E.P. Nanayakkara who heads the association of families of missing
servicemen told The Sunday Times his group had built a bridge of trust
with the LTTE and no other group could claim credit for the release of
the prisoners. But Visaka Dharmadasa who heads the association of war widows
hit back at Mr. Nanayakkara saying no one should take the credit as the
release was made to the government.
But an angry Mr. Nanayakkara said:
"I have built a bridge of trust between the LTTE, it is because of this
that they handed over the POW's to me. This is not my first visit and it
won't be the last."
He said he was sad that others were trying to capitalise on such sensitive
"I had made all the arrangements and we had got an invitation from the
LTTE some months ago. But when we moved into the uncleared area, we found
that Visaka Dharmadasa was also there with the help of top officials, armed
with a letter from the Norwegian Embassy asking that the ten PoW's be handed
over to her," he said.
" Thamil Selvam refused to hand them over to her. He stated that they
will hand over the POWs only to me. I was disgusted to learn that people
can do such things."
"Our organisation did not want to do this alone . We wanted to show
the LTTE that the people in the south also want peace and that is why we
invited peace groups to join us. But certain groups tried to create problems,"
The dispute which arose in the Wanni blew up in Colombo.
While Mr. Nanayakkara's group had scheduled a media briefing for Tuesday
(29) with the participation of the PoWs, Mrs. Dharmadasa'a group had organised
a media briefing yesterday. However a last minute change was made by Mr.
Nanayakkara and he held a media briefing on Friday.
Ms. Dharamadasa dismissed Mr. Nanayakkara charges and said her group
went to the uncleared areas on the invitation of the LTTE.
"We had gone in September last year and met the LTTE. It was there that
we told them whenever they are realising PoWs to have at least two of our
members present as witness. We were also planning to visit the area on
January 25. We had got a mass petition from mothers and handed it over
to the Norwegian Embassy," she said.
Ms. Dharmadasa said while arrangements were made to travel on January
25, the Association had been informed to come on the 21st instead..
"At first I thought someone was pulling our leg, finally it was confirmed
that it was the LTTE. We once again got Defence Ministry clearance and
went to the Wanni on Monday the LTTE did not hand over the PoWs to any
Association but to the Government. They delayed the handing over for two
days until we came and that was not for our Association but as an act of
respect to all mothers," she said.
Peaceful House turns into usual verbal battleground
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti, Our Lobby Correspondent
To a country that is ravaged by war and torn asunder by conflict, any hope
of a peaceful resolution of the conflict generates much hype, but experience
and prudence demand that the path be trod with mindfulness of its many
pitfalls. Hence it was natural for Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe
to sound cautious while sounding determined to pursue the path of a political
solution when making his policy statement on Tuesday.
Referring to what he termed "the last and the best chance" for peace,
the Premier's statement was cautious and thought provoking. He explained
that the country was facing a crisis economically, socially and in every
He noted that over 60,000 lives have been devoured by the war and rendered
thousands disabled. His observation that 'the LTTE had failed in its claim
for a separate state similar to the failure of successive governments to
successfully pursue a military option' was not lost on the legislators
who sat listening intently.
The Premier sounded preoccupied with the international community as
he lay emphasis on the need for international support while pursuing peace.
He also stressed whatever the solution may be, it should be one that was
acceptable to all sections of the population and one that protected the
sovereignty and territorial integrity of the land.
He also stressed that the LTTE's demand for de proscription needed deep
thought. Stressing that much would be expected from the LTTE too for the
successful resolution of the conflict, he noted that a common framework
needed to be worked out to reap the benefits from the ceasefire.
The solemnity continued as former foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar
endorsed the Prime Minister's statement when he opened the debate the following
day. He paid a glowing tribute to Mr. Wickremesinghe for his prudent approach
to a complex problem.
Praising President Kumaratunga for launching a courageous campaign to
change the mindset of the people into accepting a political solution upon
assuming office in 1994, he said that though it later got derailed, the
true peace initiative began when the PA initiated talks and relaxed the
embargo on 88 items- excluding just seven items-as a trust building exercise.
"We built the momentum by giving serious thought to humanitarian issues
and though the peace process later collapsed, much preparatory work was
done by us."
His contention was that all parties should resign to the fact that the
process cannot be pushed without third party intervention, however emotional
the topic may be to some.
Referring to the excercise as a 'political gamble' that needed to be
taken, he lauded the Premier for the careful statement he made that the
issue of de-proscription demanded 'deep thought' sans spelling out the
But the sobriety of the moment did not last long, as our legislators
threw caution to the winds as they got embroiled in political duels.
The thrust of the debate was forgotten as the government sustained a
campaign through Minister Rajitha Senaratne aided by young turk Gayantha
Karunathilake while the opposition too, seemed hell-bent on pinning blame
on the UNF government for alleged post election violence.
Strangely, interior minister John Amaratunge felt that despite the opposition's
misgivings, it was possible to trust the LTTE and move forward. His contention
was that the LTTE's refusal to co-operate earlier largely stemmed from
their inability to trust President Kumaratunga.
If Amaratunge was in a conciliatory mood towards the LTTE PA's burly
Nimal Siripala de Silva was in no such mood. It was obvious from the very
start of his speech that the PA wished to distance itself from the continuing
debate as he took on alleged post-poll violence against PA supporters.
The furious member thundered that the Premier's quotes form the Ratana
Sutta had no effect on the likes of Ranga Bandara who unleashed violence
against innocent PA supporters. He charged that Anamaduwa had turned into
a graveyard since Bandara became the UNP representative.
While Ranga Bandara's response was inaudible amidst the din, an angry
opposition walked out on Wednesday afternoon, leaving an equally furious
chief government whip Mahinda Samarasinghe demanding that the PA's debating
time should be immediately struck off.
It was JVP's Anura Dissanayake who critiqued the UNP's initiative to
set-up District Development Councils in the North during President Jayewardene's
regime, which he called a 'political gimmick to subvert the political will
of Tamils'. Dissanayake argued that the central government lost a golden
opportunity to prove to Tamils that they were genuine about solving their
grievances by an honest power sharing exercise, instead of which the polls
were shamelessly rigged.
TULF secretary R. Sampanthan, while endorsing the Premier's view that
this perhaps was the last chance for peace cautioned that the failure of
the process this time would spell doom resulting in turmoil, heartache,
disaster and tragic separations.
The lawyer turned legislator said that the verdict of the Tamil people
when they gave an overwhelming mandate to the TNA should not be overlooked.
He said all Tamil parties had come to a common agreement regarding third
party intervention in talks, negotiating only with the LTTE and that the
LTTE should be de-proscribed before talks began.
Things hotted up on Thursday when Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, an arch critic
of the JVP decided to tear JVP policies asunder. Making full use of the
absence of the PA members and the availability of more time, he lambasted
the Marxist party as a crying shame to the hallowed leftist principles.
Listing atrocities committed over 30 years of "bloody political history";
the lands minister thundered that nowhere in the world did a Marxist party
sacrifice its ideals for political opportunism. "Your leader Rohana Wijeweera
recognized the right to self-determination, but you conveniently forgot
it so that you may perpetuate the understanding reached with the PA," he
The JVP bashing began earlier during the day when youngster Gayantha
Karunathilake decided to turn his guns on them making references to the
party being remote controlled with the battery charger being imported from
Stressing on the opportunity for peace, the Galle legislator said that
politicians had no right to prolong the conflict for their parochial political
gains. Unusually fiery for a man of quiet demeanour, Karunathilake's contention
was that the JVP's politics was confined to protests at the Lipton Circus
and under Bo trees. "They have no responsibility as they know that power
eludes them, hence the gay abandon with which they play with our body politic,"
critiqued the MP earning the immediate wrath of JVPers.
Concluding the debate and riding his hobbyhorse of negotiated peace
was Prof. G.L Peiris who noted that the walkout by the PA only proved the
divisions in Sri Lankan politics and demonstrated the lack of honest commitment
among politicians to resolve the conflict.
The minister waxed eloquent on the efforts undertaken by the government
to create confidence in the minds of the Tamil people such as the lifting
of the embargoes, relaxing the restrictions placed on fishing and simplifying
the process of issuing passes.