Oslo debate: War of words ends in walkout

By Chandani Kirinde, Our Lobby Correspondent
Although 225 legislators sit in Parliament, it is the same group of members who speak on almost every debate, so when it was time to debate Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe's statement on the Oslo donor conference made to the legislature in early December, 2002, much of what they said was repetitive.

The debate was much sought for by the Opposition but on the first day of the debate on Thursday, there were less then 20 members present on the opposition side with an equally poor showing by government members.

If someone knows how not to start off an important debate, then the Leader of the Opposition Mahinda Rajapakse seems to know it best. As has happened with several important opposition initiated debates where Mr.Rajapakse had to open the debate, this too got off on the usual lacklustre note. Reading off a pre written text, Mr.Rajapakse touched on the subject of conscriptions, extortion and levying of taxes by the LTTE and their continuing preparation for war despite the peace talks, but the lack of enthusiasm he showed in speaking on these vital matters would help little to bolster the public's belief that the opposition was serious about putting pressure on the government to put an end to such happenings.

Former Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake who seconded the debate was far more forceful in pointing out what he thought was wrong about the entire peace process.

He accused the government of lacking in transparency and of alienating India in its handling of the peace process. He also accused the Norwegians of no longer being neutral facilitators but showing a distinct bias in favour of the LTTE.

"The LTTE continues to illegally import weapons, recruit cadres and extort money. The government must stop bending backwards to please the LTTE," Mr.Wickremanayake said.

The surprise choice by the government side to open the debate was Agriculture, Livestock and Samurdhi Minister S.B.Dissanayake who went onto make a philosophical analysis of the ethnic conflict but had few answers to the charges levelled at the government's handling of the peace process.

"All parties have bungled when it came to this issue be it the UNP, the SLFP, the leftist parties, the JVP or the Tamil parties. From these we have leant a great lesson. This is the last opportunity we will get to solve this issue within a united country," Mr.Dissanayake pointed out.

JVP Colombo district Parliamentarian Wimal Weerawansa said the government was paving the way for the creation of a fascist state by the LTTE in the north and east by legitimizing all their illegal activities.

"When we asked a visiting Japanese government representative if the LTTE members would be present at the up coming donor conference in Japan he said yes. They consider the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE as equal partners. How can a legitimately elected government and a world renowned terror organization be equal partners?" he asked.

Accusing a large segment of government ministers of being pawns in the hands of western powers or "Anglo-Saxon animals", Mr.Weerawansa said the government was paving the way for the creation of an Israel in South Asia which was a sure recipe for continuous blood letting in the years to come.

He accused the government of trying to cover up the actual reasons for the crash of an unmanned surveillance aircraft in Palaly saying that it had been brought down using the radio transmission equipment sent to the LTTE recently.

Port development and Shipping Minister Rauff Hakeem used his time to speak on the grievances of the Muslims stating that for the survival of the peace process, it was important for members of all three communities to have confidence in it.

Another member of the peace negotiating team, Economic Reforms Minister Milinda Moragoda started off with a quote from Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore - someone he quotes frequently in his speeches.

The Minister also addressed many of the matters raised by opposition legislators such as conscription by the LTTE, decommissioning of weapons etc and admitted that unfortunately most of the ceasefire violations were by the LTTE. "The SLMM has done a commendable job of monitoring but the time has come to see where the violations occur. The international community too has begun to put pressure on the LTTE in this regard. The Prime Minister's international safety net means that we no longer have to face these challenges alone," he said.

Child conscription by the LTTE was one of the most talked about topics and Trincomalee district TNA MP R.Sampanthan too expressed his party's displeasure over the issue." "We are not happy about it. We have taken this up with the LTTE and they have given the assurance that no one under 18 would be recruited," he said.

However he defended the levying of taxes and collection of monies from expatriate Tamils by the organization saying that the LTTE had to maintain its cadres. "You cannot assume they are preparing for war just because they are maintaining cadres," he said.

One of the few eastern province Sinhalese voices to be raised in the House was that of Trincomalee district PA legislator M.K.D.S.Gunawardena who stuck to his prediction of the coming of the next "Dutugemumu" to save the Sinhala race.

Lands Minister Dr.Rajitha Senaratne who has become the government's main crusader in support of the peace process repeated his oft repeated interpretations of the speeches and interviews given by the LTTE's hierarchy that made it clear the organization had backed down from its demand for a separate state and was ready to accept a form of internal self determination.

" When the Prime Minister is moving in the right direction, there are people pulling him back. The same thing is happening to Prabhakaran. But they are committed to the peace process," he said.

Gampaha disirtct PA MP Anura Bandaranaike was pessimistic of the future of the peace process going by the past track record of the LTTE. "The LTTE can never be trusted and nothing they say can be believed. They say different things at different times but their main aim is a separate state," he said.

Mr.Bandaranaike also quoted extensively from the Sunday Times news reports of the operation of the LTTE court houses as well as police stations and praised the newspaper for having the courage to write on the actual situation in LTTE controlled areas. "The owner of the paper was called up and warned to stop such articles from appearing. But the Editor had the courage to defy those warnings and speak up against these happenings. They didn't give into pressure and took an independent stand, "Mr.Bandaranaike said.

Mr.Bandaranaike also tabled several of the Sunday Times news reports that detailed the workings of the LTTE court system.

He warned the government that in the future the President would not fail to act as the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces if the LTTE blatantly continued to violate the terms of the MOU and the government did not act to stop them.

Norway's ambassador in Sri Lanka Jon Westborg too was at the receiving end of Mr.Bandaranaike's criticisms mainly for his involvement in getting down high frequency radio equipment for the LTTE. 

"His (Ambassador Westborg's) action is a serious breach of protocol and an interference in the internal affairs of the country. In my opinion he must be declared persona non grata and kicked out of the country. The President doesn't want to act now as it could upset the peace process," he said.

He also revealed to the House that the LTTE was smuggling parts of aircraft in parcels through the Katunayake airport with the assistance from a senior official there and working towards building their air wing.

He said this was happening under the instructions of the Defense Minister and the Opposition was seeking an early date to debate a no -confidence motion against him." This calls for serious action against the Defense Minister as he is endangering the national security of the country," he said.

Chief Opposition Whip Mangala Samaraweera tabled in the House a CD ROM which he said contained a speech by LTTE eastern province leader Karuna in which he mocked the government negotiators. Mr. Samaraweera wanted it translated and given to all MPs. He also brought three copies (Sinhala, Tamil and English) of the draft constitution that had been presented to Parliament in 2000 and said that they be sent to the LTTE as they contained a form of self rule that would ensure the unitary status of the country.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the government was looking at this draft constitution as a starting point. "I cannot make peace alone, nor can the government or the cabinet. We need the support of everyone. We need the opposition to be involved in the peace process," he said. The government chief negotiator Professor G.L.Peiris was to wind up the debate but PA and JVP legislators had other ideas. They walked out shouting in protest saying that when a statement made by the Prime Minister was being debated, the final speaker had to be the Premier. Professor Peiris was left with only a few minutes to say what he wanted to say and a couple of TNA members in the opposition benches to hear him.


Back to Top
 Back to Columns  

Copyright © 2001 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.