Opposition big guns fire at govt. soft targets
By Chandani Kirinde, Our Lobby Correspondent
The much anticipated statement by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to Parliament on Tuesday was followed by a day long debate on it and other issues relating to the security of the country, on Thursday.

But despite a concerted effort by the Opposition to get across their concerns regarding the ongoing peace process, all they got was a half hearted reply from the government side.

The list of government speakers on the day of the debate was dismal, with two of the main peace negotiators Professor G.L.Peiris and Milinda Moragoda choosing not to speak and the third negotiator Minister Rauff Hakeem being shouted down by the PA and JVP legislators when he attempted to speak.

The government chose Lands Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne- who has become the main apologist for all the government's mistakes, both in Parliament as well as on most weekly television political discussions- to open the debate, while Justice Minister W.J.M. Lokubandara was chosen to wind up the debate.

The Opposition on the other hand had a much more impressive line up, with former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar opening the debate.

In his speech, Mr. Kadirgamar expressed some of the major concerns surrounding the peace process warning that since the signing of the ceasefire agreement in February last year, the sovereignty of Sri Lanka was being visibly and steadily eroded to the point where "Sri Lanka is in danger of being reduced to a nominal sovereign state."

Mr. Wickremesinghe in his statement on Tuesday said although the LTTE had decided to suspend its participation in the negotiations, the organization's chief negotiator Dr. Anton Balasingham had made several statements that the suspension was not an indication of the resumption of war and that the LTTE was committed to seeking a political settlement.

The Prime Minister also spoke about the forthcoming financial assistance from donor countries since the signing of the ceasefire agreement.

"I am optimistic that the international community both through bilateral and multilateral means will make available an amount of around one billion dollars a year for the next three years, which is our estimated requirement to attain the national development goals," he said. Mr.Wickreme- singhe also said the normalization of civilian life in the North was an issue of priority and one that involved the High Security Zones (HSZs).

"As the security situation improves, the military presence will be less needed. When normalcy returns the large presence of troops in Jaffna will not be necessary and the stationing of troops will be like in the rest of the country. National security concerns will of course be taken into consideration at every stage,” he said.

The PM also made a passing reference to the controversial proposal put forward by the Norwegian facilitators to carve out a separate sea enclave for the LTTE and the recognition of the Sea Tigers.

Lands Minister Dr. Senaratne said there were no short cuts to peace and cited South Africa and Ireland as examples and said if the PA felt there were flaws in the ceasefire they should have raised them more than a year ago.

"The LTTE has said this is not a breakdown of the peace process. We have international support but what was the support you got when talks collapsed in 1985? Did anyone come to help you? JVP group leader Wimal Weerawansa said the government was continuing with its great betrayal of the people by giving into all the demands of the LTTE.

"The Prime Minister said the important thing was that there was no going back to war. Does that mean he will fulfill every demand of the LTTE to stop the resumption of war?" he asked.

There was the usual clash of views between Highways Minister A.L.M. Athaullah and Mr. Hakeem. Mr. Athaullah said it was the merger of the North-East, that had reduced the Muslims to a minority and thus compromised their security. However Mr. Hakeem had a different view. He said he believed that the Muslims could win a unit of devolution within a merged North-East and thus fulfill their aspirations.

"We know how to achieve justice for the Muslims. Those in the opposition who are now shedding crocodile tears for the Muslims did not say a word when our community was attacked in Mawanella," he charged. However, Mr. Hakeem was interrupted throughout his entire speech by angry JVP and PA members who accused him of selling out the rights of the Muslims and being silent in the wake of the attacks in Mutur. "How many dollars were you paid to sell out the cause of your people."? Mr. Weerwansa asked.
PA Colombo district MP Dinesh Gunawardena said the PM's statement lacked any substance.

“All that the Prime Minister said was that he accepts the need to address the concerns of the Muslim community in the North-East Is this sufficient repose from a Prime Minister after all that has happened in Mutur?

PA Gampaha district MP Anura Bandaranaike wound up the debate on behalf of the Opposition. He said he would paraphrase what Shakespeare wrote in Macbeath to describe the Prime Minister's statement," a tale told by a Prime Minister, under siege, signifying nothing." He warned that President Chandrika Kumaratunge would not hesitate to use all the powers bestowed on her under the Constitution to prevent any division of the country.

When Justice Minister W.J.M. Lokubandara got up to speak, the JVP and PA staged a walk- out in protest at the Prime Minister's failure to wind up the debate on a statement made by him to Parliament.

However one lone PA member remained. Mr. Kadirgamar who was to leave was prompted by Mr. Lokubandara to sit and listen to his response, which he did for about 15 minutes and then excused himself saying he had an appointment with the visiting Japanese dignitary Yashushi Akashi.

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