Independence - a crucial juncture

As independence day dawns, hope is invested in the talks to begin soon in Berlin. Last week The Sunday Times published a story -- dated (December 2002) but relevant nevertheless - of a speech by Karuna, the LTTE Eastern military wing leader and participant at the ongoing peace talks. Karuna articulated his vision for the LTTE and made a resounding appeal to the Tamil Diaspora to send money to continue arming and sustaining the military machine of the LTTE.

This newspaper also carried a story about the Japanese granting Rs 35 million aid to the LTTE, which they insisted was for projects in the North and the East. It is also now famously known that the government of Sri Lanka and the Norwegian government together gave the LTTE a duty free radio station.

The World Bank has meanwhile agreed to give of its largesse, and so have other donor countries. The Chinese government, not to be left out of this aid circus, has dangled the promise of future aid.

While everyone is therefore for the economic development of the North and the East, Karuna says "we can achieve whatever we want in the battlefield. We can do it now but we need to strengthen our military capabilities… … we need to modernise our forces. There are a lot of commanders in waiting,'' he said.

With reference to the peace talks, he is confident that things are going the way of the LTTE because the Sri Lankan delegation is 'running here and there having to discuss everything with the Prime Minister every ten minutes, not allowing him to grab any sleep.''

So who is worried about what Karuna has to say? The Sri Lankan negotiators were unaware of this speech when they met him for talks in Bangkok, and they are not going to question him on this when they meet him in Berlin next week.

But Karuna in essence is saying very clearly that while the world community will look after the economic aspects of the North and the East, the Diaspora must look after the military strength, which even the government has admitted has risen after the MoU, by conscription and otherwise.

Where then are the talks headed? On the one hand, all the monies that are given as aid needs to be re- paid by the people in the South too, even though the money is for the development of the North and the East. This entiles them to a voice at least if the government is not yet heeding their concerns. The LTTE is simultaneously building up its military strength, and to what end?

The forthcoming talks are also focussed on rehabilitation and possibly on human rights issues. The Prime Minister in his briefing of the President has made it amply clear that the so-called core issues have not been approached, even though the government is studying several federal models with a view to a final settlement.

But with the guns being silenced, there is priority accorded to economic and other related issues, while the core issues of a political settlement are on hold, and the net result is that there is a gigantic shift in political and military balance.

Politically speaking the LTTE is growing in legitimacy, and using the new-found leverage to drive home an image of a clean liberation group, backed by the people and engaged in resolving people's problems. This message will now be heavily parleyed in Europe. As we celebrate 55 years of independece from the colonial yoke next Tuesday, we do so at a very crucial juncture indeed.


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