27th January 2002

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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 Vavuniya.

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 issues.

"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," he said.

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 other respect.

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 position yet.

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 scoffed.

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 London recently.

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.

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