twists and turns
- 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
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
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
Prostitutes better than rogue ministers: Somawansa
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:
THAT THE UNP IS SEEKING A DIALOGUE:
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.
WILL JVP ALSO NAME A COMMITTEE TO TALK
Let the UNP write to us first. Then the politiburo
of our party will take a decision.
STATUS OF JVP-SLFP TALKS:
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
The political situation of this country has
changed fast and is changing fast. That demands
a new programme.
ON CALLING THE SLFP A WOMAN OF EASY
VIRTUE OR PROSTITUTE:
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 AGREEMENT:
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
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.
ON THE COUNTRYWIDE JVP AGITATION AGAINST
THE CEASEFIRE AGREEMENT:
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.