Editorial

17th March 2002

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A postscript to the Jaffna tour

Prime Minister Ranil Wickreme-singhe visited Jaffna last week in what was seen as a very significant move, not least for the fact that it was the first time in 20 years that a de facto head of government was visiting the peninsula. The media hype gave a picture of a tumultuous welcome being given to the conquering hero.

Mr. Wickremesinghe seemed to be virtually carried through the streets of Jaffna, on the collective drooping shoulders of the peninsula's battered populace. Certainly, it was a public relations dream come true for the Prime Minister's office.

But, that does not mean that the leadership in Colombo should get carried away by the imagery and the symbolism.

Mrs. Bandarnaike got a similar rapturous welcome in Jaffna in 1975, and not very long thereafter, the first shot in the long insurrection against the state was fired by the radical youth of Jaffna to signal the launch of the campaign for separatism. It's noted that this first shot was fired at Jaffna mayor Alfred Duraiappah who organized the Bandaranaike visit.

More recently, in the early halcyon days of 1994 and early 1995, we saw the apotheosis of the Chandrika Bandaranaike image in Jaffna, with "Chandrika bangles" and pendants being sold all over but all that euphoria was to go up in smoke by April 1995.

What seems to be clear is that though Jaffna's long suffering public want peace and are crying out to build bridges with the South, there are other forces which think otherwise.

There is a compelling and discernible tide of events that is now in motion. The post 9/11 factor, the bombings in the US and a surge of a popular desire to end this "bloody war", have enveloped the principal players in the drama and their financial backers, and rudely shaken all their hitherto comfortable realities. But, it is still naïve and utterly wishful to think that an organization of the LTTE's nature is going to take all that's happening with a stoic grin of resignation. The Prime Minister is one person who knows this reality only too well. But with the smokescreen created by all the media hype, and some performing monkeys singing unadulterated hosannas, his vision too may be getting rather cloudy.

When he first launched this crusade to unite the country he said correctly that he will not allow his flanks to be left vulnerable in the process. His strategy, he said, was three pronged. It was to contain the elements of the peace option ( negotiations), an alternative option which planned for the eventuality of the peace option failing, and finally a military option, if everything else failed. 

It is still imperative that he organizes the think-tanks for the second and third options, if all else fails with regard to the peace process which is on over - drive. The LTTE is certainly not content to be a passive observer in all of this. The LTTE has already set up political offices, and it is obvious that the Tigers want to ride this peace wave rather than fight it. They are marking time as they always have, to strike when it is opportune. They too will have three options - to stirike politically, diplomatically or militarily. The Prime Minister will certainly cut a pathetic figure if the house of cards he is carefully building in response to the will of the people collapses, with one fell stroke, and he is not prepared for it. 


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