The Political Column

20th May 2000

Peace picture in pieces

By our Political Correspondent
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A PA-UNP dialogue on the peace efforts should continue side by side with talks between the government and the LTTE. But the UNP's plan to bring in a no-confidence motion next month to topple the government has caused some anxiety in the peace lobby which believes that the move could retard the peace process.
By Our Political Correspondent
Hopes that direct talks between the government and the LTTE will begin shortly dimmed on Friday when five-hours of talks between Norwegian peace envoy Erik Solheim and LTTE leaders ended abruptly with no apparent sign of any breakthrough being achieved.

Mr. Solheim held two days of talks with LTTE's political wing leader S. P. Thmilchelvam after he held extensive talks with President Kumaratunga, Opposition UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and leaders of minoirty parties such as the TULF and the SLMC to work out a broad consensus which is an essential pre-requisite to start talks.

A broad consensus is necessary, especially between the PA and the UNP if the peace process is to succeed. 

A PA-UNP dialogue on the peace efforts should continue side by side with talks between the government and the LTTE.

But the UNP's plan to bring in a no-confidence motion next month to topple the government has caused some anxiety in the peace lobby which believes that the move could retard the peace process.

Linking the peace process with the UNP's no-confidence motion, the TULF said that such a move might jeorpardise the peace process. But later it adopted a sitting-on-the-fence stance. Some say it was because it began doubting the government sincerity as regards the peace efforts, but others say it was due to pressure exerted on it by the LTTE.

A TULF delegation recently met with UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya and UNP Chairman Charitha Ratwatte to discuss political developments in the country.

At present the TULF is in a dilemma caught between the LTTE and the moderate Tamils who want to see a peaceful settlement to the ethnic problem. The party is stuck in a political quagmire unable to devise a strategy to face the situation. If it supports the UNP, then it will be accused of scuttling the peace moves and if it backs the government, it will earn the wrath of the LTTE.

The TULF's recent call to the government and the UNP to take every possible step to facilitate a constructive dialogue that would end the conflict is seen as a message to the UNP that the TULF may not support the motion. 

The statement provoked the pro-LTTE Tamilnet to say that "the TULF is in cahoots with the government to scuttle the UNP's no-confidence motion.

However, at the meeting with the UNP, the TULF leaders said they were facing a complex situation due to the current political turmoil in the country.

The TULF's present stance is a setback to the UNP, since there is pressure building up in the party against the leadership which is being accused of squandering a golden opportunity to defeat the government during the budget vote.

But the TULF has given repeated assurances to the UNP that if it is convinced that the government is not genuine in its peace efforts, it would help the UNP to muster the required support for the no-confidence motion.

Some UNPers, meanwhile, feel that the motion, expected to be tabled in parliament next month, will be a non-event in the face of other opposition parties taking no firm decision. Some analysts say a UNP attempt to topple the government could boomerang on the party because the government is likely to play the LTTE card, calling it a UNP-Tiger conspiracy and this could badly affect the party's chances of winning the election. 

The government may use its powerful electronic media for this purpose.

Whilst all this is taking place in one corner of the political theatre, the government is busy putting final touches to a memorandum of understanding it is expected to implement with the LTTE's consent. 

But on Thursday at talks with Mr. Solheim, the LTTE reiterated its demand that the government lifts the proscription on the rebel group before talks began.

The government was wary about it because of international implications. The Norwegian envoy, however, had made every effort not to make it a pre-requisite but to include it in the agenda, which would be the basis for talks.

It is also reported that the LTTE has rejected a timeframe within which the government wants to strike a deal, stating that everything depends on the ground situation. 

The ground situation was shaken when on Tuesday the pro-LTTE Tamilnet carried a story saying that a convoy carrying Mr. Thamilchelvam was blasted by a claymore mine planted by an army team. The Army, however, dismissed this claim, saying that it had nothing to do with the incident. It appears that the alleged incident was an attempt by the LTTE to project the government as hawkish and to prop up the waning international sympathy towards the rebel group. Thus political analysts in the south say they cannot rule out the possibility of a staged drama.

Whatever it may be, the underlying factor is that the peace process should get underway without any delay.

Mr. Solheim prior to his visit to the Wanni had talks with the President and Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar during which details of the MOU had been discussed. 

He also had talks with SLMC leader and Minister Rauf Hakeem. Mr Hakeem had said the two parties should begin talks, but what was more important was sustaining the talks throughout.

He also emphasised that both the government and the LTTE should be sincere in their disposition and stressed the need for an SLMC role in the peace process. 

Mr. Hakeem came to the peace picture apparently as part of a deal he reached with President Kumaratunga in the wake of UNP moves to bring in a no-confidence motion. The SLMC leader said the party should be accommodated by the government since they could not expect the LTTE to do so. He had also emphasised the fact that they should be put along with the Tamil parties lock, stock and barrel to consult when necessary.

Mr. Hakeem told Mr. Solheim that Muslims' point of view could not be articulated by anybody else other than a Muslim. He said that his party was flexible and would not find it politically uncomfortable if the government were to lift the ban on the LTTE.

Some of these sentiments expressed by Mr. Hakeem were also aired at Monday's meeting he had with President Kumaratunga.

Mr. Hakeem briefed his party high command of the outcome of the meeting with President Kumaratunga.

According to SLMC sources, the Kumaratunga-Hakeem meeting was cordial quite contrary to the atmosphere that prevailed at last week's government group meeting where the President took the SLMC leader to task over statements he made on the Mawanella violence. 

Some political analysts say the meeting was arranged after President Kumaratunga learnt about a long telephone conversation Mr. Hakeem had with UNP leader Mr. Wickremesinghe.

At the meeting with the President, Mr. Hakeem said the PA had not fully honoured the MoU it signed with the SLMC. The President immediately got in touch with her Secretary Kusumsiri Balapatabendi and Minister Richard Pathirana and directed them to act in accordance with the MoU.

The President also agreed to another SLMC demand that a separate administrative district be set up incorporating Kalmunai and nearby areas.

Mr. Hakeem also expressed reservations about the proposed local government reforms, saying that they would be disadvantageous to small parties such as the SLMC and the JVP. The SLMC leader said there should be uniformity in the electoral system when electing representatives to councils at different levels. If a change was necessary, it should come from the top to the bottom and not vice versa, he said.

Mr. Hakeem's telephone conversation with Mr. Wickremesinghe on Sunday was quite interesting.

The conversation centered around independent commissions to run elections, the police, the public service and the judiciary. Mr. Hakeem said the SLMC had taken an open stand on the matter and it would not slacken its attitude meaning the party would see to that these commissions are set up before the next election.

From there the discussions drifted towards the proposed no-confidence motion.

Mr. Hakeem kept his options open but explained that he did not want to scuttle the peace process. He was clever enough to keep the matter in suspense without committing himself.

He told friends, "I did not say yes or no. But I feel he got the message."

In another development, several members of the committee on Public Enterprises met with officials of the World Bank, the IMF and the ADB.

At this meeting, the COPE team that included chairman John Amaratunga, Ravi Karunanayake, Raja Collure and Sunil Handunnetti, wanted to know conditions put forward by these donor agencies for the government to qualify for aid.

The officials told the COPE team there were no conditions as such but as bankers, they advise the governments what they should do and what they should not do.

Accepting it or rejecting it entirely depended on the government, they said adding that there was no compulsion. 

The officials said they pointed out that they were keen to see good governance and wider discussion in Parliament concerning these matters.

They also pointed out that they try to be open as much as possible since the masses are looking at them as monsters who are trying to gulp down economies of the third world.

From politics one can easily slip into the cricketing scene politicised beyond its scope, but soccer is yet to be politicised. However, if one assumes that soccer, too, is on the verge of being politicised, it would not be an unfair assertion.

Cricket which is a more popular game with the Sri Lankans than any other game took a back seat last week when FIFA President Joseph Blatter arrived in the country to open Sri Lanka's football headquarters at the old Race Course complex on Reid Avenue.

Mr. Blatter was apparently flabbergasted by the reception and welcome accorded to him. 

He said that for a moment he thought that his parents should have lived to see how he was received by the Sri Lankan football fans, though Sri Lanka is not known for soccer in other parts of the world.

He himself was surprised, but was pleased and always wanted to help Sri Lanka to promote the game which is popular in more than 200 countries.

Mr. Blatter also had an opportunity to meet with President Kumaratunga and exchange pleasantries.

The President said that Manilal Fernando, the Vice-president of the Asian Football Confederation, had done a great job to promote the game in Sri Lanka.

Mr. Fernando was associated with Mr. Blatter at the meeting which was also attended by Sports Minister Lakshman Kiriella.

For a while Mr. Blatter and the President had a conversation in French and thereafter the President quipped, "I thought Colombo has turned into a football stadium." 

It was unusual for a cricket playing country where football has taken a back seat for years to wake up suddenly from a deep slumber.

Minister Kiriella, however, did not attend the banquet hosted by Manilal Fernando saying that he was, too, tired after a hectic programme, both in Kandy and Colombo, but Dr. P. Ramanujam was seen at the head table with guests. But, however, Mahinda Samarasinghe made it a point to inquire from others such as Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva as to where the sports boss Kiriella was.

Mr. Blatter having enjoyed Sri Lankan hospitality said Colombo was a good destination for tourists.

Though there was adverse propaganda about Sri Lanka in the international press, Mr. Blatter did not see any threat to tourists coming to Colombo.

He had a word of praise for Colombo Mayor Omar Kamil for the upkeep of the Colombo city.

The city was very clean, he told Mayor Kamil who had just returned to Colombo having won an award in Honolulu as the Mayor of the best kept city in the Asia-Pacific.

The World soccer chief also spoke to UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe over the phone during which the latter apologised his inability to meet him personally since he was away from Colombo attending to party matters.

But with hundreds of thousands of dollars being dumped on the local football body, questions are being asked whether football would face the same fate as cricket.

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