ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, October 01, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 18
Front Page Columns
Political Column

New political twists and turns

By Our Political Editor

  • Defence Ministry wants one story for Lanka, another for the world
  • Move for UNP-JVP talks throws some UNPers off balance
  • As Norway comes in again, JVP may move away from Govt.

It came within minutes after President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared at the United Nations General Assembly in New York that his Government remained fully committed to talking with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) either directly or through the facilitator.

An influential Government official telephoned a higher up in a state run television network and made a plea - play down those references altogether when they report on the New York speech. He preferred if that was not used at all. The reason - those remarks would be bad for the morale of troops now engaged in heightened anti-terrorist operations. Or so he believed.

President Rajapaksa's remarks and his official's response highlight the dichotomous paradox, if not the duplicity, of the ongoing ethnic conflict. On the one hand, successive Governments have to echo, particularly for those outside Sri Lanka, their continued commitment to seek a political settlement whilst engaging in a war locally. Not because it is just fashionable. That hallmark of "good governance" is necessary for international goodwill, acceptability, continued aid and assistance of the donor community. They help in no small way to bankroll the economy.

But locally, it may be a different story, one which clearly highlights an entirely different reality -- Sri Lankans need not know what the outside world is told. What for? This modern doctrine seems to be gaining ground as more official muscle and Governmental authority is thrust vigorously to establish a new regime in this regard. The Ministry of Defence this week requested all heads of media institutions, both print and electronic, in a tacit way, to submit all news related to national security to the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS). If they say "yes," the reports would be true and a "no" would only mean a palpable lie. That in effect seemed the objective.

A letter to all heads of media outlets signed by Lt. Col. (retd.) Gothabaya Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary, inter alia, said "please be advised that any news gathered by your institution through your own sources with regard to national security and defence should be subjected to clarification and confirmation from the MCNS in order to ensure that correct information is published, telecast or broadcast." Whether such a directive from a senior and powerful official of a Government, which has declared its firm commitment to a free media, or whether such a request has any legal or logical basis, is another matter.

But it is a known fact that a greater part of the separatist war in Sri Lanka for nearly two decades has been fought under a State of Emergency. It has been accompanied by prolonged periods of censorship. During the early stages, statistics of those killed in action put out by state media apparatus, if added together, would have wiped out the population of Jaffna twice over. Similarly, claims by the LTTE then of having killed hundreds of soldiers would have deprived the Army of many battalions. So once again, in respect of military news the MoD now wants the media to take what the MCNS says as gospel, the truth and nothing but the whole truth.

It is none other than an erstwhile comrade-in-arms of the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and now his arch rival, Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna who reiterated this week that "truth is the first casualty of war." The renegade former LTTE eastern leader said this in a conversation with our Defence Correspondent who has returned to his Situation Report (on the opposite page) after a vacation. A senior military official claimed credit on Monday at a top level security conference saying our correspondent had quit writing after he had successfully plugged the sources that gave him information. But that failed to convince President Rajapaksa. The discussion later shifted to issues on how to deal with the media. Some are upset that they receive only brickbats and not kudos. Like in the past, even today, an independent observer finds it difficult to discern the credibility of claims made by the protagonists to the ongoing Eelam War IV. More so when it came to casualty counts.

Reacting to the latest MoD request, the Free Media Movement (FMM) declared that coming from state defence authorities or rebel leaders they "are usually directives that are detrimental to the inviolable right of the public to impartial, accurate information on the conflict, and also an infringement of media freedoms."

Pointing out that "in a situation of heightened violent conflict, killings and disappearances on a daily basis, and where parties to the violence and conflict are accused of the gross misuse of power and acts of violence against civilians," the FMM said "the request that every news item must be clarified from the MCNS is impractical, unnecessary and tantamount to Government censorship." It added "The Defence Ministry letter implies that only the MCNS will have the accurate and impartial news of atrocities and violence…"

Why is a two tier duplicitous approach, one abroad and another in Sri Lanka, to what is easily the most crucial issue faced by the Rajapaksa administration so necessary? Is it just one of these odd aberrations that occur during the tenure of any Government or part of a cohesive strategy by the present one? One need not be a soothsayer or claim access to confidential behind-the-scenes goings on to find answers. A focus on the current political developments and what they portend makes it all too clear.

If one is to sum up the essence of President Rajapaksa's talks with world leaders during his visit to Cuba (Non Aligned Summit Conference) and New York (UN General Assembly), it was their urging that he returns to the negotiating table to talk peace with Tiger guerrillas. Against this backdrop, Norway's Special Envoy to the peace process, Jon Hanssen Bauer, arrives in Colombo today. He will hold talks with Government and LTTE leaders in Colombo and Kilinochchi respectively.

The visit is hard on the heels of Norway's Ambassador Hans Brattskar visiting Wanni a week ago for talks with LTTE Political Wing leader S.P. Thamilselvan. The latter had said his group was willing to hold talks with the Government "unconditionally" but warned that any future military offensive may compel them to back out of this offer. According to a high-ranking Government source, Brattskar was asked whether the offer of talks emanated from the LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. He answered in the affirmative. However, Defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella told this to media personnel only after he had concluded a news conference on Wednesday. The media personnel were leaving when he made the announcement that Prabhakaran wanted "unconditional talks." Even if Prabhakaran has per se not offered to talk peace unconditionally, and made the request through Thamilselvan, the news hit world headlines that the LTTE leader wants it. That no doubt was a propaganda coup. How could Prabhakaran deny? If he does, the LTTE would look fools.

Bauer will begin talks with Government leaders tomorrow before proceeding to Kilinochchi. Yet, he will have a long, long way to go before he succeeds in getting the two sides to sit down at a table under one roof. It will be a step by step process. The first priority will be to decide on a venue and date or dates. Then comes the question of how to get the LTTE delegation to arrive in Colombo and board flights to a foreign venue. Though not publicly known, the LTTE delegation that passed through Colombo after the failed talks in Geneva were dismayed over the treatment afforded to them at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA). Thamilselvan and his colleagues had vowed not to take the same route after some personal difficulties they encountered and the reported humiliation they were subjected to.

Those are initial formalities that have to be overcome. Other critical issues follow thereafter when the "unconditional talks" get under way. As for the Government, it will want to get down to the core issues. In the interim, it would want to seek guarantees from the LTTE not to engage in offensive military activity. In a bid to lay more emphasis on core issues, the Government has already asked the panel of experts to expedite the formulation of draft proposals to end the ethnic conflict. Signs that it may incorporate at least some features of an Indian model, if not a federal system, came when one of New Delhi's Cabinet Ministers Mani Shankar Aiyar, who was in Colombo for the S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike memorial oration spoke to the team on the Panchayat System in India. As for the LTTE, there is no doubt, it would want the security forces to return to their original defence lines (before the CFA) at Muhamalai and vacate captured areas in Sampur. Thus, a prolonged process that awaits the Norwegians will put their diplomacy and skills to a more difficult test in the coming weeks.

Even before the resumption of the latest Norwegian initiatives, the Government's partner, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) is in deep anger. They were incensed by President Rajapaksa's talks in New York with Norway's Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg. The former had called for an expansion of Norway-Sri Lanka ties by extending co-operation to other fields beyond peace making. This was whilst the JVP was seeking Norway's expulsion from the peace process. This is one among 20 demands it wants President Rajapaksa to accede to join the Government.

A furious JVP leader Somawansa Amerasinghe publicly lashed out at the Government. He likened them to women of easy virtue or more pointedly prostitutes. That was because they were waiting to be picked up by any political party - a reference to a developing rapprochement believed to be emerging between the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the United National Party (UNP). Such an alliance was to pave the way for a greater role for Norway, which the JVP alleges, would endanger Sri Lanka's sovereignty.

Equally incensed by the Amerasinghe remarks was the General Secretary of the SLFP, Maithripala Sirisena. He telephoned President Rajapaksa overseas to complain over what the JVP leader had said and sought permission to counter them. He said he could not remain silent as General Secretary when such degrading remarks were being made. Permission was granted and he hit back at the JVP.

Yet, Rajapaksa will meet a JVP delegation tomorrow though it is still not clear what they will talk. Even the JVP is not certain whether there would be any further talks on their 20 point demand and whether tomorrow's meeting was more an exercise in public relations. Now that the Norwegian initiatives have resumed, a further distancing of Rajapaksa and the JVP becomes inevitable. They have already launched a countrywide campaign asking Rajapaksa to implement the promises in Mahinda Chinthanaya.

Against this backdrop comes another important poser. How will the JVP, now the sheet anchor for the Government in Parliament, react at the draft proposals that will be formulated by the panel of experts for the all-party conference? There is a dilemma. In the unlikely event of it being deemed favourable to the LTTE, it would meet with opposition from not only the JVP but also from the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU). On the other hand, if it meets with favour from the two political parties, now the props of the Government, it is certain to be rejected by the LTTE and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) backed by them.

It is in such a scenario that President Rajapaksa sought the support of UNP leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe. He responded positively. Both an informal and a formal dialogue between the SLFP and UNP leadership are now under way. But the apple cart seems to have been upset with a new development.

Early this week, soon after a meeting of the UNP parliamentary group, their Jaffna MP T. Maheswaran approached leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. Talking with him about an earlier remark he made that the Government would be out of office in three months, Maheswaran asked how it was possible. He asked why the JVP kept criticizing him, and whether he was against the JVP. Wickremesinghe said he could handle the barbs from the red shirts, but that he was not opposed to any dialogue with them on common issues. Maheswaran then mooted the idea that the UNP too should talk with the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna to see whether common agreement could be reached on national issues. He suggested that four party stalwarts, Bandula Gunawardena, Vajira Abeywardena, Gamini Jayawickrema Perera together with himself enter into a dialogue. Wickremesinghe gave the green light.

In a significant development, JVP leader Somawansa Amerasinghe did not rule out a dialogue with the party they have loved to hate, the United National Party. He told The Sunday Times: "We are a democratic political party. We agree to disagree. Please do not forget that the JVP was successful to bring the SLFP and the UNP together to push through the amendments to the Constitution to strengthen democracy. Let the UNP write to us. Our Politburo will take a decision." (See Box story on page 10 for his response).

One of the first to face the discomfort of the move to talk with the JVP was former Minister G.L. Peiris, who has long wanted the UNP to back the Rajapaksa Administration. It is a known fact that the JVP stood against any moves of Rajapaksa inducting Peiris into this Government. Their main objection was the fact that Peiris was a pro-federal advocate and was too much under the influence of foreign NGOs. Peiris asked Wickremesinghe why the party should have any dialogue with the JVP. He argued that talking to the JVP would upset the new relationship between the SLFP and the UNP.

UNP MPs said that Peiris had told them that they stood a better chance of getting portfolios through the SLFP than the JVP, but Maheswaran countered saying the UNP can get Ministries with the JVP as well.

The headline in Friday's Lankadeepa had caused a storm within sections of the UNP. The headline said that the UNP was prepared to come into an agreement with the JVP. UNP MPs opposed to such a link-up started questioning Wickremesi-nghe in Parliament, some saying they were going to resign, but the UNP Leader told them that this was only a first step in opening a dialogue with the JVP to discuss common issues.

Two common issues foremost in this new dialogue were to get the 17th Amendment to the Constitution re-activated - both these parties joined hands in 2001 to introduce this commendable piece of legislation-- and to implement Electoral reforms.

Peiris was at it again in Parliament. Wickremesinghe brushed him aside saying that there was no harm in the UNP having a dialogue with the JVP, the same way they were having a dialogue with the SLFP. Dharmadasa Banda was also quite agitated. Bandula Gunawardene, who was picked to be in the committee to talk with the JVP, also protested after Peiris had spoken to him.

The talk was current when President Rajapaksa visited Parliament on Thursday. Even some of his MPs wanted to know what it was all about. Remarked one SLFPer to another: "we will not allow a political party defeated by the people to form a Government with support from others. We will rather face an election." Interestingly, a major talking point in Parliament was another issue - is the Government, despite denials from its leaders, getting prepared for a snap General Election? Speculation began to mount that this would be the case after the November budget. Added to that were reports that a formidable group of UNP parliamentarians would join the Government as a prelude.

At a wedding this week, Basil Rajapaksa, the President's chief political adviser asked Maheswaran "why are you talking to the JVP - several UNPers are wanting to resign". Significantly, Wickremesi-nghe met President Rajapaksa at the same wedding, but neither of them raised the issue. All Wickremaesinghe asked was "where is Mangala?" - the Foreign Minister - because he was supposed to co-ordinate with Peiris on the SLFP-UNP talks.

In the meantime, Jayawickrama Perera is to be asked to co-ordinate the JVP-UNP talks especially with the party's deputy leader Karu Jayasuriya in London, and with Wickremesinghe off to Sydney and Singapore next week. John Amaratunge is to keep tab on proposed electoral reforms, which is now faced with a new proposal; not just a mix of the proportional representation (PR) system with the old first-past-the post system as has been discussed all along; but the introduction of a complicated proposal by which the number of the votes of defeated candidates from all parties are counted and seats apportioned to parties, accordingly - as many as 65 seats - or a quarter of the House, in proportion to those number of votes for defeated candidates. So, a 'Best Loser' can also enter Parliament in the future if this proposal goes through.

According to one Government source, a "people's budget" is in store, something that will offer a string of concessions to lower income groups is already in the making. So are plans to make and consolidate more military gains. Many "people friendly" programmes have been launched. The latest is Dahasak Magamawatha, a programme to rehabilitate rural roads, creating new jobs for the un-employed youth.

All these make it very important for the Government to ensure that the climate of "success" and "progress" remains intact in the public, or more importantly, the voter's mind. Only then could a victory be assured. Hence, the perceived need for a brand new rigidly controlled media regime appears to have become a sine qua non. The more matters continue to remain successful, with only "progress" highlighted, the more the euphoria and the more they translate into votes.

But a lethal question still remains. Between now and then, will Prabhakarann, once again choose to divert the course of political events. He did this last November to deprive Ranil Wickremesinghe of the presidency. That is by ensuring no one turned up at polling booths. Though battered, his cadres still retain a military capability. Will he use that in desperation? That seems the thin line that divides euphoria from reality.

Prostitutes better than rogue ministers: Somawansa

The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) would consider a dialogue with the United National Party (UNP) if a written request is made, its leader Somawansa Amerasinghe told The Sunday Times. Here are answers to questions posed to him:

The JVP, as you are well aware, does not have the tradition of taking political decisions believing media reports. The UNP or any other democratic political party should not have any objection to write to us, the JVP, the third largest democratic political party in Sri Lanka.

At this decisive moment we have already started a dialogue with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). There was a formal invitation to us from the SLFP. Likewise the UNP may send us a formal invitation in writing indicating what they need to discuss with us and to achieve what.

We are a democratic political party. We agree to disagree on issues. Please do not forget that the JVP was successful in bringing the SLFP and the UNP together to push through amendments to the Constitution. That strengthened democracy. We are a responsible political party.


Let the UNP write to us first. Then the politiburo of our party will take a decision.

The talks are going on. There are ups and downs. Fingers cross for an outcome that will be best for the country. It is too early to say whether there will be an agreement or not between the two parties. The country has entered a new era. That is why we are insisting on acceptance and implementation of the programme based on 20 resolutions or demands.

The political situation of this country has changed fast and is changing fast. That demands a new programme.


The SLFP is vacillating. They are inconsistent. This is a trying time. The country needs a strong, consistent leadership. The SLFP has no right whatsoever to deviate from the mandate it received at the Presidential Election and the Agreement signed between the JVP and then Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa. We are also responsible to ensure the contents of Mahinda Chinthanaya are implemented.

I want to explain what I meant. We do not tolerate vacillation. My criticism does not aim at anyone other than the vacillation of the SLFP. Some people have taken my remarks personally. I think this is not the time to speak nonsense and waste time. The country needs a serious political dialogue, then action, dynamism etc: not "bamboo gaseema."

Some others think that making false allegations against my own sister (yes, my own sister who supported me from the day I was born) is also relevant. I am so sorry that she has to face this inconvenient situation because I am the leader of a democratic political party opposed to separatism and attempts to isolate different ethnic communities living in this country. She is completely innocent until she is found guilty of running a brothel.

Even if she is found guilty, she is my sister and I will visit her in prison, the same way she did when I was in detention after April 5, 1971. I do not condemn the males and females who are engaged in that profession. This profession is better than becoming a Minister and then a rogue to rob public money.


The ceasefire has miserably failed and is dead. Norway could not bring peace to this country. The shift of military power in favour of the LTTE will ultimately silence guns and finally pave the way for the surrender of the legitimate Government of Sri Lanka. This will create a favourable climate for Eelam. Then Norway is capable of exploiting our petroleum resources with their friends, the LTTE.

Now that the so-called CFA and the so-called facilitator have failed, this is the golden opportunity to get rid of all those foreigners who are degrading our sovereignty and independence. We should rectify the terrible mistakes the successive governments have committed since the 1980s.


President Rajapaksa invited us to join the Government. We explained to him and the SLFP the political situation prevailing in the country just now and why we need an agreement to implement the proposed programme. If there is an agreement on this, without any hesitation, we will join the Government. Otherwise we will continue to support the Government, if and only if it implements the Mahinda Chinthanaya.

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Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.