24th December 2000

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The battle for peace

Fifty one years after independence, it seems we are still being ruled from London. Not by our Colonial masters anymore but by our own President, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, for a month a record by a head of State in the nation's history.

From far away London, she rejected the offer of a month-long unilateral cease-fire by LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. By her very action she not only cleared the confusion caused by her own Ministerial colleagues, but more importantly, contradicted her own Media Minister, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa. Twenty four hours after the LTTE's offer was made known, Mr. Yapa rushed to crown the official view to a babble of opinions expressed by many of his Ministerial colleagues. "It would appear that the declaration of a ceasefire by the LTTE could be a productive exercise," he declared.

That this is just one of many comedies of governance from afar, from London, is to say it mildly. But the confusion and the damage it causes to national interest, when the nation is facing a crucial phase in its history, is so ominous. That is to those who see it.

Velupillai Prabhakaran, the warlord of the Wanni, who for nearly two decades has not wavered from his avowed commitment to fight for "Thamil Eelam", has overnight metamorphosed into an angel of peace. His offer of a unilateral ceasefire raises more issues than it seeks to solve in the hindsight of the LTTE's known track record. This is particularly in view of the duplicitous lead up to this time, to his seraphic posturing, manifests the undercurrent of a well calculated strategic gamble.

When peace broker Erik Solheim wanted to meet him in April, this year, he was busy waging war. He drove the military out of the Wanni, Elephant Pass, parts of the Jaffna peninsula and seized control of chunks of territory. With that over, he found time for Mr. Solheim in November.

A Government, deeply embarrassed by the worst military reversals, found it difficult to hide its predicament even under a total media censorship that prevails up to date. Notwithstanding that, it went on to pour millions of dollars or billions of rupees to further modernise the Security Forces. Fresh recruitments were made and troops were re-trained.

The fact that the LTTE's latest peace posturing is linked to Norway's international community backed role as a facilitator is no secret. The LTTE feels it important to restore its international image which has been getting a beating lately. This very international community is now seemingly arm-twisting the Government by, in effect refusing aid till the war ends. Notwithstanding this Government's terrible track record in good governance, we disagree with the pressure tactics of the aid donors on how to conduct war and peace in Sri Lanka. Here lies the major reason for Mr. Prabhakaran's peace posturing. In doing so, he must feel comfortable that he is militarily in a strong position. To some extent that is correct, since he has control of major parts of the Wanni, the Jaffna peninsula and shares a balance of power in the east. Moreover, that the LTTE has a capability to exert an influence on the southern electorate is also a matter for recognition. And now, the international community is breathing down Colombo's neck. As against the political balance, militarily the plain fact is that the LTTE cannot hope to defeat the Security Forces. The fact is that the Security Forces cannot lose the war whereas the LTTE cannot hope to win the war. The collateral damage to the nation is another matter.

However, no country can abdicate its responsibility to defend her sovereignty and Sri Lanka has no other option but to do so until a peaceful solution could be negotiated.

The very fact that Mr. Prabhakaran's offer was made to the "international community," and not to the Government of Sri Lanka, against the background of its politico-military situation raises questions of sincerity.

Ambiguity in Government responses not only confuses the public, but much more importantly, confuses the Security Forces, who are waging war. No war can be fought on a "stop-start" basis. That has been the single most tragedy of the history of this war. All Governments are answerable for this .

Ambivalence in defence thinking and planning has been one of the reasons why this war has dragged on for so long. Positive thinking leads to positive action, whether it be for war or peace.

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