27th January 2002

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Kadir: No mandate for peace "at any cost"

Mr. Speaker, it must be remembered, and it is good to remember on occasions like this, that good things in our public life are always worth cherishing. The Prime Minister in his statement yesterday spoke many times of honesty, directness, objectivity and sincerity. 

Mr. KadirgamarMr. Kadirgamar

I think those words were well chosen.

So much work was done and the momentum was being developed towards the solution of our problem. Then unfortunately that effort failed for reasons that it is not necessary to go into today. My view is let that part of the past be buried. Let us talk about the future and in that context what I would say is that the points to remember now, Mr. Speaker, are that certain things were done during that period which the present Government may well have to do themselves or certain things were done or not done at that time that present Government must take note of as to why something happened or something did not happen. 

It is the learning process. It is the process of benefiting from the experience of others and I am very happy indeed, Mr. Speaker, to see that the Hon. Prime Minister from the very inception of his tenure of office made it clear that in developing his own initiative towards solving the problem he was not going to wipe the slate clean, he was not going to start from the beginning, he was not going to reinvent the wheel. He made it very clear that he would try to take off from where the PA Government had to leave the matter before time ran out for them.

Now, Mr. Speaker, I have to say that right through the Year 1998, right through the Year 1999, right through the Year 2000, and up to the end of the first quarter of 2001 there was no reference, as far as I am aware, by the LTTE to the question of de-proscription.

I put it like this because had they taken up the matter with the Norwegians, it would most certainly have been conveyed to our Government and it would have been conveyed to me because I was in very close touch with the Norwegians at that time. So I am driven to the conclusion that there was no such demand made or seriously contemplated until something happened and in my view, what happened was that on the 28th of February, 2001, the British Government decided finally to proscribe the LTTE. That came, I think, as a shock, a considerable shock, to the LTTE which activated in their minds this question of de-proscription in Sri Lanka being presented virtually - by whatever word you describe it - as a precondition to talks.

Then, the Hon. Prime Minister talks about the question of de-proscription. Yesterday there was in some quarters an expectation which in my opinion was wholly unfounded that the Hon. Prime Minister was going to announce in his statement yesterday that the LTTE would be de-proscribed. I did not for one moment think that the Hon. Prime Minister would do that. In fact he has not done that. What the Prime Minister has done, and I say with respect wisely done, is to say that the whole question of de-proscription is a matter that requires deep thought. The expression "deep thought" is his own. I cannot agree more because any other view would be a view that would disregard, not take into account, dismiss what is rightly or wrongly, held at the moment a widely held perception in the country, that the question of de-proscription must be considered with great circumspection, care and caution. I would say, suffice it for the moment to leave it at that. That is why I am particularly pleased to see that the Hon. Prime Minister did not fall into the easy position of saying something which indicated in advance what the ultimate decision is going to be. Leaving it on the basis of "deep thought" is very much the best position for the moment. 

All peace initiatives, anywhere in the world, after long, bitter and acrimonious disputes, entail an element of a gamble. You will never know how it is going to work out. But it is insufficient to say. 'I do not know. Therefore I will not try.' We were in the same position in 1994. What we said was that it may be a wholly uncertain situation. We do not know. But we simply have to try. Why? Because it is so clear, and now made doubly and trebly clear, that the people of the country do want a solution to this problem that has plagued our lives for so long.

But, Mr. Speaker, I must say this as a footnote. I do not think that any party, neither the PA in 1994 nor the UNF in 2001, has obtained a mandate for peace at any cost. I do not think this question of 'at any cost' figures in the mandate at all. What the people are saying is Go for Peace. Try your best. Try to bring in a workable, just and durable solution. The question of the price is yet to be determined and that will be determined by the normal democratic means at our command. There will have to be legislative proposals brought before the House. At some stage there will have to be a referendum to test these matters. Therefore, I think the cautious approach - this I noticed is the one that the Prime Minister is adopting - is to talk about peace in the pragmatic context of 'let us step on the road, let us go down this road as far as we can with a will to reach the end of the road, go down this road; in the knowledge that it is full of pitfalls, traps and all kinds of unexpected problems that may arise, but let us not be deterred in going down the road, going down the road or not going down the road is a matter of political will and judgement.' So this Government is saying that in their judgement they must go down the road. Our Government also said the same thing in 1994.

There is also a question of the time frame for the talks. This is not without importance, Mr. Speaker, because as the Prime Minister rightly observed the post September 11 atmosphere has a certain bearing on the question of talks or no talks. Let us go on that assumption. If that is correct, and I think it is, then it follows that there should not be an indefinite time frame for the commencement and conclusion of the talks, because the atmosphere that was created by a traumatic and catastrophic event like the one that happened on the 11th of September last year is not something, given the nature of the human condition, that lasts forever. The human condition is such, we all know, that one tends to want to forget unpleasant things. Life has to pick up again. Life has to go on again. Tourists must go from place to place. The airlines must fly. The economy must be picked up, and as that happens the memories of the trauma begin to fade. This may be a cynical way of looking it at. Let us not fool ourselves that we are in an exercise that is determined solely by moral sentiments. We have to be very careful about how we look at the events of the world as they affect us.

Another point that the Prime Minister made is that there are many issues which have not yet surfaced, substantive issues. Those issues need not be taken up for discussion now. I agree with that, Mr. Speaker, because it is a very dangerous exercise to start hypothetical discussion on hypothetical questions. This is unnecessary. We do not know yet what the LTTE has in mind. The Prime Minister himself poses that question. What does the LTTE want? We do not know. Let us see. Therefore, many of us, I would say all of us, whatever political party we belong to will have to reserve our opinions and our judgments on those big substantive questions until they emerge, are identified and are clarified.

There again I would say let us take the pragmatic approach.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to summarize, before I conclude, the position of the People's Alliance on the matters that I have just spoken about. As I have said, I deliberately eschew any discussion on the hypothetical questions. I am not going at the moment into the pros and cons of de-proscription. I am now speaking about pragmatic day-to-day issues and the initiative launched by this Government and what our reaction is to those issues. Therefore, what I say is limited in scope.

But it is carefully and deliberately limited. Because I think wisdom lies in that direction and not in the direction of starting a major debate based on all kinds of hypotheses that may or may not occur. 

Therefore my summary is as follows: 1. The People's Alliance welcomes the Government's decision to organise the free flow of goods into the Wanni, and particularly welcomes the Prime Minister's acknowledgment that this was due to plans made by the PA Government during April last year.

2. The People's Alliance notes that once again, as in December 2000, the LTTE unilaterally declared a ceasefire without prior information to the Government of Sri Lanka or the Government of Norway. The People's Alliance would have welcomed a mutually agreed cessation of hostilities as occurred in 1994 but nevertheless welcomes and supports the Government's decision to respond by declaring a unilateral ceasefire of its own.

3. The People's Alliance urges the Government to work expeditiously on the conclusion of an agreement for a mutually agreed island wide permanent cessation of hostilities which should include in particular provision for international monitoring, the right of the Navy to interdict illegal arms shipments and the right of the Air Force to assist the Navy in such operations at sea, and an Article prohibiting sabotage, assassinations and other acts against civilian targets. It should be noted that a cessation of hostilities is wider and therefore more desirable than a ceasefire as it covers hostile operations throughout the country and not only on the battle field.

4. The People's Alliance welcomes the Prime Minister's statement that talks between the Government and the LTTE should be held within a definite time frame as this was also the intention of the PA Government.

5. The People's Alliance notes the Prime Minister's statement that since the September, 11th attack on New York, the LTTE is under pressure to give up terrorism and the armed struggle for a political solution. 

In the light of this statement a time frame for the talks should be fixed while the post September climate of opinion prevails.

6. While supporting all measures taken by the Government to get the proposed talks moving, the People's Alliance must of necessity reserve its opinion on the substantial issues that the talks would have to deal with until such issues are identified and clarified.

7. In this connection, the People's Alliance welcomes the Prime Minister's statement that action will be taken to brief the other political parties when these matters are clear. 

That is something that I would particularly commend in the Prime Minister's statement. Wide consultations, timely consultations are necessary when we come to deal with the big issues involved. This is an area in which perhaps the previous Government had not performed as successfully as they should have done.

8. On the basis of past experience the People's Alliance welcomes the Prime Minister's view that the security forces should be in a state of alertness. The People's Alliance urges the Government to implement this view in all seriousness so as to allay public apprehensions on that score.

9. Finally, on the question of de-proscription of the LTTE, the People's Alliance notes the Prime Minister's view that 'deep thought' is necessary over this matter. It urges the Prime Minister to bear in mind the international practice on the question of de-proscription in the face of impending talks and the widely held view throughout the country that precipitate action on the question should be avoided. 

In conclusion Mr. Speaker, what I wish to emphasis is this, that the Government can rest assured that the People's Alliance will extend to it on all matters concerned with starting the talks, moving the talks, and helping them to progress rapidly and as sensibly as possibly, its fullest co-operation.

The co-operation will be constructive and I wish to make it clear that the People's Alliance will not indulge in anything that might appear to be obstruction or purely political for the sake of being difficult. 

The People's Alliance will act with the utmost responsibility, not only because it is a major party in this country but because the duty that the People's Alliance and all of us, individually and collectively, owe is a duty that is far higher than the duty owed to a party; it is a duty owed to all the people of the country. We are aware of that and we would like to conduct our future responses to what the Government is doing in that spirit. But I must say that the People's Alliance will not be mute; they will not be totally silent if the necessity arises for the People's Alliance to speak out clearly and unmistakably on matters that concern it or are in its view important in the national interest. That, in my opinion, is what constructive co-operation means.

I am saying what I am saying this morning with the full authority of President Kumaratunga and the Parliamentary Group of the People's Alliance.

Hon. Speaker: The Hon. Kadirgamar expressed his views in a most commendable manner. All Hon. Members listened to him carefully. I feel that the people of this country would be happy of the manner in which the Hon. Member expressed his views and the manner in which the members listened to him attentively.

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