11th June 2000
Morning gloom gives way to cutting words
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti, Our Lobby Correspondent
In the pall of gloom, parliamentarians trooped in on Friday to discuss the extension of emergency with the memory of Minister C.V. Gooneratne's slaying still fresh in their minds
Divisions apart, their unity in grief was manifest in the calm manner in which they spoke. Minister Gooneratne was truly a delightful member, known for his wit and sartorial elegance complete with the trade mark red handkerchief and during the emergency debate when all big guns were being fired, CV's boom was missed.
An early jarring note was struck when Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte while making his customary five minute delivery did not make a passing reference to the slain minister.
The discord continued as UNP chief whip W.J.M. Lokubandara alleged that Deputy Media Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa had single handedly and high handedly censored Tilak Karunaratne's farewell speech without consulting the opposition.
"Do not allow one person to decide when there is a committee of four.
This is a bad precedent," he said as his party leader stood up to open the debate for the opposition.
Ranil Wickremesinghe was in a strange mood as he spoke about collective action to combat terrorism and in the same breath warned the government to treat the UNP with respect.
" It is the first time that the PA had sacrificed a cabinet member.
Look at us, see the countless leaders, secretaries, parliamentarians and supporters we have lost? We have paid a massive price and have been the main LTTE target for years. Now they are extracting payment from the government" he cautioned.
While condemning the dastardly killing, Mr. Wickremesinghe opined that a continuous undermining of the enemy only brought negative results. He appeared to be tickled by some utterances made by Minister Ratwatte regarding his travails during a recent visit to Palaly to boost troop morale.
Mr. Wickremesinghe compared Ratwatte's exploits to that of a modern day Tarzan who jumped off the helicopter in Palaly amidst artillery fire.
His mirth knew no bounds as he explained the theatrics of the Ratwatte exploits, congratulating the general for his art of exaggeration. And a chorus of "Sapumal Kumaraya" reverberated in the House..
And then he took on the entire government and whacked its policies. "The UNP has never bungled financial allocation for defence. We have disagreed and agreed but never bungled it.
The question was not expenditure but why crucial purchases were never made," he charged.
Lambasting the PA, he accused the government of giving Rs. 50 million to finance the Shell gas terminal though the same was not available to purchase urgent spares for the SLAF.
This reduced our air power and contributed heavily to the present mess" he charged,
With his literary streak in full steam, Mr. Wickremesinghe rephrased an old poem much to the amusement of the entire House:
"For the want of spares, planes were lost
For the want of planes, Elephant Pass was lost".
At the receiving end of government wrath over an interview given to the BBC, he breathed fire for painting him as the wolf in sheep's clothing- a true LTTE sympathizer.
"I was accused of unpardonable sins and was labelled a traitor overnight. The PA is still playing petty, divided politics. For argument's sake, take Minister Ratwatte's recent statement that officers requested for permission to withdraw from Jaffna, while he took a 'political decision' to stay put.
Openly challenging, he asked the PA to hammer the UNP as it was an obsession and a habit of any poor government.
But the UNP was different and was conscious of its duty to act in national interest at a time when the country was facing a crisis.
" We have always put country before party and would hate to live by the SLFP example of dissension. If we did the same when you lost Elephant Pass, the PA would have been history Let's have our debates when all this is over" he said.
Critiquing the government, he noted that the peace effort and dialogue offers have been overnight changed into a war for peace.
Now the country has been put on a war footing and a draconian legislation was in operation.
"But we are continuing our dialogue with the govt. because national interest should come first. We are not doing it because we are weak and unable to fight back or because we suffer from amnesia about the PA's previous treatment of the UNP.
Your bonafides are being questioned by the entire world" he sniped.
He next took on the Competent Authority whom he charged of playing a dual role of political stooge plus censor. "This man was beyond law, religion or any other thing as he liberally whetted sermons by the Sangha, all UNP statements and even advertisements by the postal unions calling for a discussion!,"
Leading the defence team and doing a thankless job over the Shell price hike was Science and Technology Minister Batty Weerakoon.
A lone figure in this battle he brought a fresh argument which was drowned in a zealous chorus of 'samajawade boruwakda' ' duppathage arakshaka ada yakekda'.
Brushing aside the barbs, the pint size legislator sought to exculpate the government of further burdening the masses.
"Shell didn't obtain permission from Sri Lanka when it decided to reduce the weight of cylinders. Having arbitrarily done that, they still refused to explain its decision to the consumers. The only explanation was that their product was in uniformity with international standards, a blatant distortion of facts.
So don't believe their utterances or undertakings" he appealed.
Minister Weerakoon, denied that the government had spent Rs.50 million for Shell Gas to put up a terminal.
Drawing attention to Minister Gooneratne's killing, he opined that it was the misfortune of the House to be struck by repeated losses at the hands of an organisation run by a megalomaniac, and listed many who had died in similar circumstances.
Following him and delighting the House with his thrust and parry was UNP's W.J.M. Lokubandara, gently ridiculing the government.
He wanted to know whether Minister Mangala Samaraweera was running the government and whether no one else counted.
He charged that the UNP and the free media were receiving a bellyful from the minister who relied on Machiavellian tactics to man the media.
"To such a man, draconian emergency regulations were a political springboard," he said.
Displaying his skills as a raconteur, he compared the fashion designer turned politician to the faithful monkey who killed its master.
To an enthralled House, he related the story of the loyal monkey who dealt a deadly blow to his master- just to protect him from a persistent fly.
"You mean the 'wandura killed the master" querried the equally humorous Lands Minister D.M. Jayaratne and W.J.M.readily agreed, adding that when a chopping knife was handed over to a tactless butcher everything was turned into meat.
The afternoon was suddenly livened up, when the UNP General Secretary Gamini Athukorale like a bolt of lightening barged into the chamber and hit out at the government.
Lodging his protest over the acting censor's arbitrary decision to remove chunks off the Opposition Leader's speech made the same morning in Parliament, Mr. Athukorale's furious remarks were greeted by a UNP chorus and total apathy of the governing side.
"How can outsiders take such liberties with the proceedings of the House", he asked, as the entire opposition suddenly began a verbal attack on the censor, shouting themselves hoarse.
"Give a ruling on this now" thundered an angry Mr. Athukorale, and presiding chairman U.L.M. Mohideen quite at a loss amidst pandemonium bid for time and wanted the House to wait for a ruling by the Speaker.
Amidst loud protests, Mr. Mohideen consented that outsiders had no business with parliamentary proceedings and that it amounted to a breach of privilege.
Once again the government and the opposition are getting ready to ring the bell of 'political solution'. As the battle in Jaffna is turning in favour of the armed forces, the cry for peace is being uttered loud and clear in certain quarters. LTTE has called for a temporary lull in their 'unceasing wave III'. What would be their next move? Would the conditions offered for talks be acceptable to them and Norway? Or would they resume the offensive reinforced and fortified? Clearly this has been the means with which they have boosted the morale of their cadres time and again. History has given us ample evidence to this. Each bloody episode has been used to gain the upper hand and vital ground.
In 1981, LTTE a small group in the formative stages, with limited armed power opened fire on a meeting of TULF and set fire to the vehicle of Amirthalingam to make clear their stand on TULF participating in the 'all party conference' and participation of District Councils.
This was the time TULF was recognised as legitimate representatives of Tamils.
Undeterred, they called for a ban on TULF and on the upcoming elections.
By 1985 LTTE had gained in strength, thanks to the support of India and at Thimpu Talks in the same year, was successful in not only rejecting the proposal of the Sri Lankan government for District Councils with enhanced powers but also in reducing the presence of the Sri Lankan army in the Jaffna peninsula to Palaly and Elephant Pass. Thereafter by banishing TELO, PLOTE and EPRLF from the north cleared the ground to consolidate their rule in the peninsula.
By December 1986 the Indo-Lanka Treaty was on the table with the offer of a merged north-east Provincial Councils LTTE rejected the offer agreeing only to an Interim Council the members of which could be named by them. By 1987 they were strong enough to push forward the proposal on the Interim Committee comprising 12 members of which 9 would be Tamils, 2 Muslims and 1 Sinhalese. Next came the question of the 9 Tamil members of which 5 were to be LTTE members, 2 from TULF and 2 from other Tamil parties. Since 'other' Tamil parties were in exile by this time members from LTTE rose to 7. The question then were the 2 TULF members. By now Thileepan had begun his fast unto death, Jaffna reverberated with marches and protests.
The slogans were simple - "we have sacrificed the lives of 674 Tamil brothers and sisters, let us not give up till we achieve our goal". Thileepan died and the slogan changed to 'death cannot be avoided but death can avoid things'. In paving the way for the 2 TULF places also to be filled by the LTTE. By 1987 the LTTE was getting stronger by the day but even so they were no match for the Sri Lankan army. With the presence of the Indian army LTTE was in a weak position. Their ability to manipulate any situation and the weakness of the opponent were their strength. Censored the argument was about the number of years whether it be 10 or 2 years. In his election campaign Ranil Wickremesinghe pledged that if elected he would appoint the Interim Council as requested by the LTTE.
Censored It is clear that the LTTE is not looking for a long term solution, their goal is short term - a ceasefire or an Interim Council, which will give them the wherewithal to get the reigns in hand. What they were unsuccessful in getting through they may gain through other means.
The slogans are even more convincing - 'we have sacrificed the lives of 15,000 Tamil brethren - let us achieve our goal of Eelam and nothing but Eelam'. Successive governments of Sri Lanka have been weak, 1987 is a case in point where the government could not defeat a weak. LTTE either militarily or politically. Censored
Neither India nor United States will intervene positively in ending the war. The only counter is a radical movement from the south which can give direction to affect a clear and lasting solution in eliminating the separatist cancer from our society.
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