Political Column
By a special correspondent
10th March 2002
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CBK laments smear effort

Despite minor hiccups, the ceasefire agreement between the government and the LTTE appears to be holding. LTTE leader Prabhakaran hailed the truce agreement as a historical achievement that laid a strong foundation for the peace process and negotiated political settlement. His statement, which he made during his meeting with the ceasefire monitoring mission chief, Trond Furuhovede, offered a bright spark in what has been a murky horizon.

The Ranil Wickremesinghe government is working hard ensuring that the present truce will lead to lasting peace. It reacts promptly whenever it sees a simmering issue that threatens to torpedo the peace process.

Last week had Rehabilitation and Refugee Resettlement Minister Jayalath Jayawardena rushing to the Kalutara Prisons where LTTE suspects had launched a fast-unto-death, demanding that they be produced before a court or be released. The death fast received little media attention and even some Tamil politicians thought it was just another protest campaign.

But Minister Jayawardena looked at the issue within the context of the ceasefire agreement and the peace process. 

On Wednesday, he telephoned Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and said that he feared that the situation could go out of control unless the government intervened to end the fast.

The Prime Minister instructed him to do whatever he could to end the fast. Armed with Prime Ministerial backing, Mr. Jayawardena then spoke to Attorney General K. C. Kamalasabeyson. The AG said the suspects were being detained under the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act but admitted that their prolonged detention was due to no legal action being initiated against them. 

Dr. Jayawardena told him that suspects against whom there were no cases should be released while those against whom there was evidence should be produced in courts and their cases expedited.

The AG said certain cases against those who were being held under the PTA could be withdrawn at the next hearing and those against whom there was no evidence could be released while other cases could be considered depending on the confessions they made.

The minister then requested that the AG give him a written assurance. Accordingly, the AG faxed him the position with regard to the detainees. 

Dr. Jayawardena showed the fax to Mr. Wickremesinghe at his parliamentary complex office and asked whether he could go to Kalutara with that. The Prime Minister gave the go ahead. 

Dr. Jayawardena along with several Tamil MPs visited the protesting suspects and showed them the AG's fax, thus persuading them to abandon their death fast.

Though the Government-LTTE détente is holding, there is an urgent need for a ceasefire between the President and the Wickremesinghe administration. The PA-UNF relationship takes different shapes at different levels. The Kumaratunga-Wickremesinghe relationship is relatively cordial but the relationship between the President and some UNF ministers is conflict prone, while there are also ministers who have earned presidential respect. At party politics level, the PA and the UNF are at times adversaries and at times appear to be indifferent towards each other. However, the overall picture of the relationship is one of conflict. Hence the need for a further ceasefire.

At Monday's cabinet meeting, the Prime Minister suggested to the President that a ceasefire agreement between them should be signed to ensure the smooth operation of the PA-UNF cohabitation government.

The prime minister's suggestion came in the aftermath of a verbal battle between President Kumaratunga and some cabinet ministers at Monday's meeting when papers were presented to approve bank guarantees for purchases made by the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation and the State Pharmaceutical Corporation.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe opposed moves by independent institutions to rely on state funds.

At this juncture President Kumaratunga said that state banks had lent large sums of money to a few people who had not paid them back. She said Yashodha Enterprises owed Rs. 8 billion to state banks and she herself had looked into the matter and ordered the transfer of seven bank managers who had approved loans for the company without proper security.

Defence Minister Tilak Marapana, who was the former legal adviser for the company, however, did not take the President's remarks kindly. He said that as far as he knew the company had paid back all its loans and he knew it paid Rs. 4 million even recently.

The President said Rs. 4 million was an insignificant amount compared to the staggering Rs. 8 billion and reiterated that Yashodha Enterprises had defaulted.

Minister Rajitha Senaratne also intervened to back Mr. Marapana's claim though the President ignored him, indicating the strained relationship between the two.

Later, when Health Minister P. Dayaratne presented a revision of a tender awarded for a construction company, the President fired another salvo, againt doctors. Whether this was aimed at Dr. Senaratne was not clear. But the minister shot back by saying the President's remarks were unfair and asked whether she was referring to all doctors. But the President continued to ignore him and moved to discuss the peace process.

At an earlier meeting, Economic Reforms Minister Milinda Moragoda hailed the cohabitation governance system and said it would augur well for the well being of Sri Lankans. This prompted the President to pour out her grievances. She said that she had done everything possible to bring peace to this country and she had even sacrificed one of her eyes as a price for her efforts to bring a peaceful solution to the ethnic issue.

On Monday, she lamented that certain sections of the media were carrying out a smear campaign to project her as an opponent of the peace process. She said she was prepared to work in a spirit of cohabitation to achieve peace but accused the UNF government of not taking her into their confidence an obvious reference to her earlier allegation that the Prime Minister showed her the ceasefire agreement only after it was signed by the LTTE leader. The President said that despite adverse media reports, she had resolved to back the peace process.

The President's outburst prompted Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe to say in a lighter vein that a workshop on cohabitation should be conducted for Ministers and MPs. His proposal made the President smile. 

The Prime Minister Mr. Wickremesinghe who remained silent while all this was happening then proposed that a ceasefire agreement between the President and his ministers should be signed. The President and the ministers welcomed the proposal with a burst of laughter.

Jokes apart, peace-starved people of this country will keep the President, the Prime Minister and their teams on the highest pedestal if they work together for peace. 

The dividends of peace are beginning to trickle in - Last week, the President of the Asian Development Bank, Tadao Chino, was hosted to a gala dinner reception at Temple Trees. 

The ADB chief opening the bank's new resident's mission said that though there were many challenges ahead the bank was encouraged by the progress made by Sri Lanka in bringing an end to the ethnic problem. "We at ADB are encouraged by the progress made recently toward bringing an end to the conflict, although we recognise that there are many challenges ahead," he said. 

The ADB chief pledged enhanced assistance for the country's economy in general and the north-east reconstruction in particular.

At the dinner at Temple Trees, too, the ADB chief pledged the bank's fullest support for the peace process, which he identified as one of the most important factor in Sri Lanka's economic recovery. 

The International Monetary Fund is also backing the government's peace process. The IMF's resident representative Nadeen-ul Haque had a meeting with Prime Minister Wickremesinghe with Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe and opposition leader Mahinda Rajapakse attending. They discussed the peace process at length. The IMF representative agreed to sponsor a peace workshop for all MPs. 

Though the international community and donor agencies are throwing their full weight behind the peace process, certain Sinhala groups see the ceasefire pact as an instrument that paves the way for the division of the country. 

On Monday, the ceasefire agreement was torn apart by the central committee of the Sihala Urumaya, which suffered a humiliating rout at the December elections as opposed to the UNF which rode to office on the platform of peace.

The SU has filed two petitions in the Court of Appeal, challenging the legality of the ceasefire pact. 

Party leader Tilak Karunaratne explained the progress of the two cases. He said the party faced a problem in sending notice to LTTE leader Prabhakaran, as it did not know his address. The letter was then sent to Temple Trees with the address reading, 'Velupillai Prabhakaran, c/o Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Temple Trees, Galle Road, Kollupitiya, Colombo 3.' But Temple Trees officials declined to receive the letter. It was returned to the sender. 

Mr. Karunaratne said that he assumed the Prime Minister knew where Mr. Prabhakaran lived because the duo had signed the ceasefire pact.

At this juncture, central committee member Padmasiri Kumara suggested that the letter be sent to the Norwegian embassy, asking it to deliver it to Mr. Prabhakaran.

The SU also decided to petition the Prime Minister, urging him to stop moves by the LTTE to hold its 'Pongu Thamil' cultural shows in Colombo and in estate areas.

The SU said that if the LTTE was allowed to hold such festivals in the south of the country, it would be an invitation for a bloodbath. 

Groups like Sihala Urumaya by opposing the peace moves could paint a hawkish picture of the majority Sinhalese in the minds of the international community. But these groups represent as yet, a minority voice among the majority Sinhalese. The fact that the two main political parties in the south, the UNP and the PA, have professed peace and this should project the Sinhala people, in a better light and move towards Buddha's doctrine of non-violence, as standard bearers of peace.

In this context, the statement made by Ven. Baddegama Samitha Thera in parliament during the ceasefire debate this week is significant. 

The first Buddhist monk to enter Parliament, Ven. Samitha called on opponents of the peace agreement to stop playing to the gallery and playing with lives of people.

The monk, a member of the LSSP which is fully backing the peace process, said some opposition critics were nit-picking minor flaws in the ceasefire agreement when such flaws could be rectified through dialogue.

He said the fact that the agreement was allegedly not shown to President Kumaratunga was a matter which had been blown out of proportion.

"We should be more interested in providing the future generations with education and good health instead of spending money on destroying ourselves."

The monk said it was futile and irrelevant for parties to systematically oppose legitimate quests for peace. Repeating a famous warning by socialist stalwart Colvin R. De Silva the monk said that if one language was to prevail over the other then two countries would be necessary. 

He said that for the past 50 years successive oppositions had tragically played to the gallery and opposed the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam pact in 1957 and the Dudley Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Pact in 1966. He said there were very unfortunate developments in the past and heavy military expenditure could have been avoided if the opportunities for a political solution had been seized then.

The monk warned that when one race tried to impose itself on the other, such a race would never be able to enjoy the fruits of a real democracy.

The monk said the PA had never betrayed its principles on peace. However the "nit picking" by the opposition now was unfair as it was the Kumaratunga administration that invited Norway in the first place and it was now unfair to question the role Oslo was playing.

"We should not play games with the people. In 1994, the President was elected with a mandate to work out an agenda to usher in peace. She did her best without much support from the Opposition but could not achieve what she set out for. The people today have given the UNF a mandate and the President has been vested with the power to safeguard the security and territorial integrity of the country.

"Why do we have to spend on destroying ourselves. Today with miracles in technology the world is believed to be advanced. But what is progress worth if we continue to kill each other in its name?" he asked.

The monk said the Buddha did not condone killing and added, "Religious leaders should come together to make a collective contribution to the peace effort." - Courtesy Sunday Lankadeepa

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