Goods toll heavy
on A-9 route
Will the ceasefire between the govern ment of
Sri Lanka and the LTTE hold?
This is the question raised by peace-loving people and sceptics alike
in the face of recent developments, especially the Balasingham's seaplane
incident and Wednesday's clash between the Navy and the LTTE in Vakarai.
The debate that
dominated political circles early this week was the flight of the
seaplane carrying LTTE Chief Negotiator Anton Balasingham across
Trinco seas while the Navy and Sea Tigers were locked in a standoff.
Questions were raised as to whether Balasingham wanted the pilot
of the Maldivian sea-plane to fly over Trincomalee to have a glimpse
of what was going on or was it a decision taken by the Canadian
pilot who wanted to change the course of the flight.
people on board, including a Norwegian diplomat, were not aware
of the impending danger when they were flying over the Trincomalee
The plane could have been shot down, triggering a major international
controversy. Who should take the blame for deviating from the approved
air path without proper authority?
had apparently directed aircraft flying from Jaffna to Colombo to
keep off the path of the Balasingham seaplane during a certain time
period. The Colombo-Jaffna flights normally take the Western coast
route and had to keep off to avoid the particular "time corridor"
to facilitate Mr. Balasingham's flight to the Maldives.
the Sri Lankan Air Force and the Navy spotted the flight over Trincomalee
they immediately contacted Colombo for clarification, it was only
then they were told that Mr. Balasingham was flying out of Sri Lanka.
are puzzled as to why Mr. Balasingham was reluctant to take the
normal air passage via Colombo airport. But this reluctance could
be justified in terms of security risk. But there appears to be
hardly any justification for flying over Trincomalee.
seem to think that it was done not at the instance of the LTTE,
but was an additional security measure taken by the pilot. Whatever
it is, the drama has certainly made a dent in the UNF government's
peace process. It will be interesting to note how the Scandinavian
ceasefire monitors, who are the final authority on truce disputes,
will respond to the Trinco incident. Under the terms of reference,
the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission could only say that a party had
violated the agreement and the matter stops at that.
say the monitors and the international community should apply pressure
on the LTTE to abide by the agreement in the event of truce violations.
It appears that the LTTE is stretching provisions in the agreement
to the breaking point to its advantage. Such a scenario has provoked
heavy criticism on the Norwegians and virtually compelled the government
to request for more monitors from the Norwegian government.
among many people is that the Norwegians are soft peddling LTTE
violations. An example cited by President Kumaratunga and others
is the release of three gun-laden LTTE boats by Norwegian monitors.
Expressing concern over the incident, President Kumaratunga told
the National Security Council meeting last week that she would lodge
an official protest with the Norwegian Prime Minister over the manner
in which the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission conducted itself in dealing
with the issue.
was of the view that the Navy could have acted under the normal
law of the country though the Prevention of Terrorism Act was inapplicable
under MoU signed between the government and the LTTE.
She called for
a full report of the incident. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe
could not attend the meeting since it was hurriedly convened even
without consulting the premier - a usual practice under the unwritten
cohabitation rules. But Defence Minister Tilak Marapana, Defence
Secretary Austin Fernando and all service chiefs were present.
The Trinco standoff
near the military base has triggered another controversy over reports
that LTTE intelligence chief Pottu Amman was in one of the boats.
The government promptly denied the report, and military intelligence
reports,maintained that there was no independent confirmation as
to whether Pottu Amman was there.
is a theory that the government denial came as a discreet move against
any diplomatic repercussions involving India which is seeking the
extradition of Pottu Amman along with Prabhakaran for the murder
of Rajiv Gandhi. Had it acknowledged that Pottu Amman may have been
on board, this could prompt India to intensify surveillance in the
mid seas looking for this prime suspect.
is playing safe and it obviously has to do so when talking peace
with a terrorist outfit. It has also to be mindful of India's concern.
Already there is an official request for the extradition of Prabhakaran
and Pottu Amman. But on the positive side, India has expressed fullest
support to the peace process. Extradition is a judicial process.
It has little to do with politics. New Delhi knows well that capturing
Prabhakaran or Pottu Amman is a near impossible task though Tamil
Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha insists on the extradition of Prabhakaran.
terms it would be difficult for New Delhi to facilitate talks in
India as the LTTE is a banned organisation there. Minister G.L.
Peiris was in India during the same time the President was there
to deliver the first Madav Rao Scindia memorial lecture. Minister
Peiris' mission was to brief the Indian leaders on the progress
the Sri Lankan government made on the road to peace. He undertook
a similar mission in 1994 on behalf of the PA government but his
mission remains the same. Both President Kumaratunga and Minister
Peiris stayed in the same hotel but were miles apart in their political
to the ceasefire issue, the Monitoring Mission holds the view that
it should not be held responsible for the implementation of the
law and order in the government controlled areas in the North and
East. Accordingly strict orders have been issued to the law enforcement
authorities to implement the law as far as possible. The government's
view point is that since the LTTE had not fully adhered to the truce
provisions, it should step up law enforcement measures to force
the LTTE realise the limits to which it could stretch the ceasefire
agreement.. According to reports, the government is gradually taking
into control areas where there was no proper law and order situation.
these problems, the government is also reviewing the LTTE condition
that the ban on it should be lifted before talks scheduled to be
held in Thailand begin.
"Time is running out" according to the government thinking
and its main objective is to bring the LTTE to the negotiating table
before the government loses the support of the international community.
The government has to show its sincerity by words and deeds and
has to move forward as fast as possible, a senior minister told
How best could
the government lift the ban imposed on the LTTE without creating
a major political crisis in the south? The issue is being addressed
by Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, Ministers G.L. Peiris and Milinda
Moragoda and others involved in the peace process.
was in Washington along with Minister Ravi Karunanayake to meet
State Department Officials. However, Secretary to the state Colin
Powell was not available to meet the Sri Lankan ministers. Instead
they met with Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage who backed the Sri
Lankan government's stand on the matter.
The position taken up by the US officials was that the US ban on
the LTTE has been imposed for different reasons and it has nothing
to do with the Sri Lankan position.
They categorically stated that if Sri Lanka was yearning for political
settlement there should not be a ban on the LTTE.
The US State
Department issued an official statement outlining its stand while
the two ministers were in Washington. The re-union of these two
ministers was ironical since they were not only opposing each other
during the past regime, but also when both of them were in the same
For the Sri
Lankan government the US statement was encouraging and back in Colombo
the ministers were dissecting it to find the actual meaning and
objective behind the US statement. The government now expects the
other Western powers such as the United Kingdom and Canada to follow
the US example.
If one concludes
that the September 11 incidents have influenced the whole world
to take a tough stance against terrorism, there is some truth in
it. The LTTE's main objective is to achieve recognition internationally
not as a terrorist outfit but as an organisation fighting for political
emancipation of Tamils. With the lifting of the ban in Sri Lanka
the LTTE lobbies in the west would hope to work towards lifting
the ban imposed by the US, UK, Canada, Australia and other countries
without which the LTTE is unable to raise funds or transfer them.
Such a revocation of the ban in other counties would not now, necessarily
fallow. The LTTE's inability to do so had compelled it to levy heavy
taxes from the ordinary people living in the LTTE-controlled areas.
Users of the A-9 Jaffna-Kandy route beyond Omanthai have been called
upon to pay a heavy toll if they are transporting goods.
a shirt with packing if transported beyond Omanthai will cost Rs.
50 more than the original price. The people are now complaining
that the taxes are unbearable. The LTTE has also set up an entry
office at its line of control and is charging an entry fee from
new entrants. All this shows that the ban imposed by the west has
yielded some results.