The Rajpal Abeynayake Column                     By Rajpal Abeynayake  

One day, the Sahibs went to talk in Sattahip
Though slightly anti cli- mactic in nature the talks between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE have arrived. When Anton Balasingham and G. L. Peiris see each other in that Naval base in Sattahip in Thailand, they will recognize the other not from the photographs but from the fact that they are as different as chalk is from cheese.

These are the technocrats' peace talks, what with lawyers and businessmen turned politicians scrumming down for sessions that are seen as being focused on the realities of development more than on the arcane considerations of constitutional politics.

Some may wonder whether there is an element of hijacking of the agenda in these talks. Those who were in the frontline of the confrontation have disappeared. In their places are new faces - fresh faces and yuppie faces barring a few, people who will be more at ease in the highways of New Jersey and California than they are in the by-ways of Sattahip or in the alleys and dirt tracks of Jaffna or Slave Island.

But, peace is a journey, say the spin doctors, that has to be traversed both on the highways and the bi-ways. 'Spin' is itself an American coinage, which really conveys a lot more that it says on the face of it. The UNF's spin is supposed to be very good, or so an expert on these matters told me over the weekend.

But what is amazing is that the UNF has been able to get the LTTE to synchronize with its moves with amazing consistency. Whether the government is synchronizing with the LTTE's moves or whether the LTTE is synchronizing with the government's moves also may be in question.

But, it is clear from the choice of delegates for the talks for instance that the two principal actors in this peace process are in agreement on the general trend of negotiations in Sattahip. They have all picked people who are far from the theatre of military conflict - and both sides have counted out personalities who are heavy on political rhetoric and short on getting things done. (One might be tempted to add, except for G. L. Peiris who is an academic has more of a theoretical streak in him but even he is expected to go against his grain here.)

These are also the negotiations which seem to peddle the economic theory which is that if economic issues are addressed, peace will look after itself as a matter of course. The stock exchanges seemed to have responded as if they are flesh and blood and alive. The business analyst types are in frenzy when they tell us that the indices in Colombo have hit a five year high.

It is not surprising under the circumstances that these are being called the talks of the boardroom. ( LTTE goes from battlefield to boardroom screamed the wire services copy.) The image of the boardroom about captures what the technocrats seem to expect from these talks - which is that the Northern economy will be jump started, resulting in the war becoming irrelevant.

The Sri Lankan entourage has been generally behaving as if the substance of the talks emanate from somewhere in the region of George Bush's kitchen. The US factor has been spoken of in the past few weeks before the talks as if the life of the talks depend on this issue alone.

Ranil Wickremesinghe will be joined by G. L. Peiris in Washington soon after the talks , and this about represents the Sri Lankan negotiators' entire predicament, or their 'situation'. Apparently Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee will meet Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe in Washington, which means that the big picture for the Sri Lankan side is about complete.

Ranil Wickremesinghe is caught between pleasing these two competing monsters - he will see them as monsters as long as they keep outdoing each other to leverage influence in Sri Lanka. The American presence or the Indian presence will not be felt in Sattahip, but the entire talks will be held under the shadow of these two powers.

The talks will gloss over issues such as cease-fire violations for the simple reason that these talks seem to have their agenda preconceived. These don't seem to be antagonists who are sitting down for a bout of arm wrestling.

It is not exactly something that has been hatched in smoke filled rooms by various political fixers - but if the talks seem to have a slightly anti climactic feel to them, it is due to the simple reason that the talks are between what seems to be two like minded partners . Who is fooling whom may be a legitimate question, but at least the facade of it is that these two sides are in total almost appalling synchrony with each other that the talks seem almost to be preconceived.

Prabhakaran in his habitat in the Wanni must be pleased with himself for causing such convulsion that has resulted in a peace effort - which was described the other day by the Norwegian ambassador while in his tight jeans outfit - the cowboy who looked after somebody else's prairie - as one which has 'reached the end of its beginning.' He didn't mean it - but that seems to add to the cynicism of the cynics. The Norwegians orchestrate these peace moves; it seems now if we watch the conductor that we are still in overture. This overture is so well rehearsed that one wonders 'why have this concert at all?' Since an interim administration cannot hang in the air ( the words are Bradman Weerakoon's ) the next best thing is to have a parallel administration in which one party - it is your guess which party that is - freezes itself in the administrative process after its own vital functions such as legally transferring development funds etc., are concluded.

How the Tigers will run the North and the East with funds accruing from the parallel Sri Lankan administration is what the Sahibs are going to presumably discuss in this first outing in Sattahip.

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