Join the peace process and see the world

News reports suggest that Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando has hopes of replacing Kofi Annan as secretary-general of the United Nations. Those who scoff at such vaulting ambition will no doubt draw strength from Mark Antony's words on his slain friend Julius Caesar.

"Ambition", said Antony, "should be made of sterner stuff".

Speaking at the London School of Economics on Sri Lanka's peace process as Minister Fernando is scheduled to do on February 5, might boost his ego as many prominent persons from around the world have addressed this prestigious institution. But whether it will enhance Minister Fernando's chances of landing the top job must remain a matter of speculation.

Having attended several previous lectures at the LSE by well- known politicians and academics, one must admit that it hardly affords the occasion to question speakers closely.

If one is lucky one might squeeze in one question. But to follow a line of questioning is virtually impossible and so the format is generally to the advantage of the speaker. And since Foreign Minister Fernando seems to avoid meeting Sri Lankan journalists in London, except to convey his thoughts to some innocuous weekly produced for the Sri Lankan community here, he seems well protected against any bouncers and beamers that might be directed at him by persons far better informed than he suspects.

One wonders how many of those who will attend the LSE lecture would have read, for instance, the latest report of the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) Sri Lanka.

Information Bulletin 31 of the UTHR(J) which consists largely of persons of Tamil origin and from a university in Jaffna, the cultural heartland of the Tamil people, is a severe indictment of the LTTE which purports to be the sole representative of the Tamil people, and exposes the cant, calumny and casuistry that surrounds the peace process.

It is not only the LTTE and its blatant lies that are exposed to the world. The Sri Lanka government's nonchalance at the continued killing and harassment of the LTTE's political opponents, its abduction of people especially children and conscription of youth in their early teens and even younger are catalogued with care and an accuracy that is as much an indictment of the government and officialdom as it is of the Tamil Tiger leadership.

But they are not the only culprits in this sorry saga of the Tamil people and the eastern province Muslims. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) set up to ensure the implementation of the ceasefire agreement and the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has not been spared either.

It is not surprising that the SLMM, consisting principally of persons from the Nordic countries since Norway is playing the central role of facilitator/mediator, should try desperately to smoothen ruffles and portray developments in a far better light than they actually are.

It is in the interest of Norway- some of whose NGOs were suspected in the very early days of Tamil militancy in the north of helping that cause- to show the world that the peace process which it has midwifed, is proceeding with speed and purpose and that the hiccups exposed by the media are inevitable in such an exercise.

Norway, once portrayed to the world as the silent and competent peacemaker because of the Oslo accord between the Israelis and the Palestinians, does not want the world community to see the Sri Lankan talks also go down the tube.

Accords can be produced at a dime a dozen. Their ultimate success rests on whether such accords and the commitments accompanying them are kept, not thrown to the four winds when one or more party feels it time to do so.

So Norway wants a success. So does the Sri Lanka government that has put all its eggs, so to say, into one basket hoping that success on this front will cure all the country's ills-and there are many indeed.

The LTTE wants a respite from war so that it may use the time to marshal all its forces while plucking from the hand of the government every bit of power and resources to strengthen its de facto state until such time that it can confidently present a case for independence.

Only such a scenario can account for the continuing accumulation of power within the LTTE-held areas by eliminating political opponents or dissent, on the one hand, and by forcible recruitment to its cadres and the accretion of its arsenals.

The mistake the government makes is in accepting without demur the LTTE's claim to be the sole authentic voice of the Tamil people. If it appears to be so it is only because the Tiger leadership has from its inception eliminated physically or wiped out by intimidation, thuggery and coercion any dissenting voice.

This is what UTHR (J) says in its latest release titled 'Gathering storm in the East' dated January 13, just two weeks back.

"Bulletin 13 concentrates on the LTTE's suppression of dissent among ordinary people and rival political groups, its child conscription programme in the East and the growing Tamil-Muslim tensions in the East".

"We ask why is the LTTE able to abduct, torture and murder members of opposition groups with the apparent complicity of the State police forces who are not investigating these crimes.

The LTTE continues to refuse to accept any political or civil identity independent of them. Civil society by its refusal to speak out about human rights violations and the present situation in the North and East is made an accomplice in the LTTE's programme of terror. The UTHR (J) once again tries to highlight how a totalitarian political ethos is being consolidated with callous disregard for human life and human rights". And whose human life and human rights do the LTTE disregard?. Those of the people of the North and East, predominantly Tamil and Muslim people who are scared of the LTTE’s tyrannical overlordship. One wonders whether Minister Fernando in his LSE speech will find any significance in the fact that two days later the peace process, like a travelling circus, would have moved to Berlin.It is LTTE's chief spokesman Anton Balasingham-who a Reuter reporter mistakenly called an academic-who wanted the venue changed to Europe. Whether he specifically asked for Berlin is not known. But then the Norwegians decided to have it in Berlin anyway.

Balasingham in Berlin, deliberately or fortuitously, has more meaning than most would suspect. In Berlin, Balasingham will find its cultural and political roots. If the LTTE has a historical equivalent it is Hitler's fascist ideology that bred a condescending disregard for political opponents and their elimination but also the more horrible philosophy and practice of ethnic cleansing. Jaffna is the cultural heartland of the Tamil people. But Hitler's Berlin is the true home of the LTTE. One hopes that Balasingham, emotionally overcome by the return to his spiritual fatherland will not be tempted to set fire to the Reichstag as he instructs his German cadres on the need for lebensraum.

But there is some solace for the rest of Sri Lanka. When Minister Tyronne Fernando turns up in London ahead of the Berlin talks, he will not be armed with a Munich Agreement like Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.

But he is bound to promise peace in our time, as Chamberlain did with dangerous consequences for the rest of the world.

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