Political Column  

Master-student and the trouble in the East
By Our Political Editor
The Sri Lankan Government's Chief peace negotiator Professor G. L. Peiris's guru (mentor) and student are both members of the LTTE professional legal team that are evolving a set of proposals in reply to the government's Interim Administration proposals of last month.

It is a thoroughly professional job that the LTTE hopes to do - - and with the student and the guru both in the team -- there is no way that the Sri Lankan government's evaluators of the proposals can dismiss them without giving them total absolute and earnest scrutiny. (The guru by the way is Dr Sonrajah, of the Singapore University, and the student is V. T. Thamilmaran, who is a Senior lecturer attached to the Law Faculty Colombo University Sri Lanka - a man who has evinced substantial interest in Tamil political affairs in recent times, contributing heavily to the discourse on the conflict resolution process.)

There was no news from Paris however from those who are huddled there now for a seven day pow-wow. But, in the meanwhile, there was plenty of drama and angst in this part of the world. The on-the-ground minutiae of the developing situation in the Eastern province is reported elsewhere in the op-ed pages of this newspaper, and there is also an Editorial comment.

But the political scenarios that emerge from the situation in the East, and how these should be analysed is entirely another matter. There are several political scenarios that any political analyst or commentator should consider -- and at least some of them can be set out here.

One is that there is definitely a great deal of pressure on Minister Rauff Hakeem. This is a definite point of fact. For example, when the Prime Minister made his appearance at Professor G. L. Peiris's considerably attended birthday party (that's another story) this Monday at Visumpaya, he was more than a little late at the party proper because he was in urgent consultation with Minister Hakeem of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress on matters concerning the rapidly deteriorating situation in the East of the country.

Now, in examining the possible scenarios, one question that can be asked is "who will benefit from de-stabilising Hakeem?''. Obviously there are many parties and entities (including, some say, the PA and the EPDP) that possibly can gain from destabilising Hakeem's position by undermining Muslim support for him in his core constituency of the Eastern province. If the Muslims in the East prevail upon him to take drastic steps with regard to the murder of Muslims in various pockets in the East, then Hakeem would even have to consider leaving the UNF coalition.

The other possible scenario is the spoiler element. Destabilising Hakeem is also part of the spoiler element, but there are other actors who may or may not be spoilers for various reasons. Though it cannot be discussed here in detail, there can be various spoiler elements with some interest in possibly spoiling the scenario for the UNF government, which now is in a determined engagement with the LTTE to evolve an Interim Administrative apparatus in the North and the East of the country.

Spoiler element
It is useful in discussing the spoiler element, to hark back to the Akkaraipattu scenario which was familiar to all political analysts a couple of months back.
A hartal was called on October 21 2002 in the Southeastern town of Akkaraipattu by supporters of the local Sri Lanka Muslim Congress MP, A. L. M Athaullah who claimed the Liberation Tigers had abducted the Muslim youth, Abdul Wajid on October 15.

Abdul Wajid was the brother of the paramilitary group cadre S. M Azmeer. Police sources in Akkaraipattu said that a group of paramilitary cadres had arrived in the town the weekend before and had conferred with the supporters of Mr. Athaullah the night before the abduction of Wajid. The following are some of the excerpts from what our sister paper the Daily Mirror had to say at that time of the Wajid kidnap incident:
"In a strange twist of events the Akkaraipattu police on Saturday arrested the abductee following evidence that he had staged the whole abduction drama together with his friend to obtain ransom money to escape to the Middle East, police said yesterday.

The officer conducting the investigations told the Daily Mirror that following investigations conducted by the CID it was proven that the abductee and his friend had staged the whole abduction drama in order to obtain money to go to the Middle East.

"These two youths were to go for a Middle East job and wanted to collect money and decided to stage this incident; and the boy said to be the abductee’s brother was with the EPDP and so he believed that through his brother he could get the money," investigator Clement De Silva said.''

That Daily Mirror story reveals details of a possible EPDP spoiler connection -- and in any event, there was some spoiler element in that whole Akkaraipattu abduction scenario.

Those close to events say that there could be such a spoiler scenario in the recent killings of Muslim men that led to the deteriorating situation in the East, which led to Muslim led unrest which resulted in a clamping down of curfew amid increasing tension between the Muslims and Tamils.

Though this column can neither confirm nor deny that such a scenario does exist, all that can be said is that such a spoiler scenario is distinctly possible. According to sources who indicate to such a spoiler scenario, the murders of two Muslim farmers which led to the violence has taken place in Muttur in a certain pathway leading to a paddy field that has been used by LTTE functionaries previously.

But more recently LTTE functionaries had ceased to use this pathway, and were using the main road. But those who wanted to pin the whole issue on the LTTE had said that the murders were clear LTTE jobs, as the bodies were found on a pathway that used to be frequented by the LTTE. The LTTE however had refused this time to rise to the bait unlike in Akkaraipattu, and though there were murder accusations on them and Muslim reaction to it, the LTTE did not to whip up the Tamil populace to counter-react thus causing a snowballing scenario.

Of course the other possible scenario is that the LTTE itself really caused these assassinations, which is the story by which most people seemed to be going, particularly after the media coverage that associated LTTE with the killings. Without confirmation there is no way this column can speculate on who really killed -- but at least it can be said that several independent scenarios were being considered at the time of going to press.

In the Presidential front, though there was unrest and dissatisfaction, especially over the impending arrest of PA MP Janaka Bandara Tennakoon, the fact was that there were -- depending on the way one sees it -- signs of accommodation and adjustment, as well as signs of dissent. For example, even though the President has said that she even wants to take the drastic step of de-merging the North and the East, and launching a real resistance to the governments' peace moves aimed at a federal solution, the PA last week hosted a former Finnish President who is an expert on federalism and other matters and had been associated with conflicts in Namibia and Kosovo etc.,

Along with Lakshman Kadirgamar he will be involved in a discussion at the old Parliamentary Complex probably early next week. As for the President's talk of de-merging the North East, it all started when the President's own spin doctor (Ari Fletcher, he takes after) made an announcement earlier in the week that the President is considering the de-merger. Leave alone de-merger, the Sudaroli is speculating that the LTTE is now going for a confederal Quebecois type of solution, and that such a momentum will be difficult to arrest.

Thamilchelvan in response to the President's de-merger claim has plainly deadpanned "she is daydreaming.'' Daydreams or dreams, how the reality will pan out it is still too early to tell anyhow, even though it must be said that a North East de-merger now seems to be the remotest of possibilities.

The brighter side?
Minister G. L. Peiris's birthday bash on Monday was a 200 invitee affair, which saw the Visumpaya (former Ackland house) lawn expanse almost packed to capacity with Ministers and Members of Parliament, state officials, media-persons and almost everybody who was somebody in today's political whirl.

Minister G. L. Peiris himself was heard to be complaining that there was some problem about the lighting -- there was a lack of light in the lawn (an eventuality that nobody had really thought of) resulting in the fact that some of the invitees couldn't quite recognise each other.

But even in the coolness of the dark but silent night, some banter regarding affairs of state was exchanged, and there was a considerable amount of gossip no doubt that was let down the grapevine, to the accompaniment of some good wine and refreshments.

What was exciting to some was the fact that there were people of various colourations -- old friends, new bedfellows, bedfellows now estranged, and so on and so forth. For example, there was Charitha Ratwatte, the Treasury Secretary now embroiled in a running controversy involving Treasury policy with some key Ministers - - and so was S. B. Dissanayake the catalyst in that controversy, who was dressed in bright red gear to boot, which could have been spotted in any kind of bad light.

Though Ratwatte and Dissanayake were not seen speaking at any time, there were others such as Tyronne Fernando who light-heartedly chided Ratwatte about Treasury matters, and his big pruning knife which he hoped "would not keep the funds coming for the Foreign Ministry.''

Others such as Milinda Moragoda, Victor Ivan and Ambassador to the United Kingdom Mr Faiz Musthapha were some o f those present from various fields of endeavour, and Moragoda for instance, was talkative on everything except things that really mattered. When asked whether he is taking a back seat in the negotiation process as rumoured, he said ''no comment.''

Asked whether he was happy with the process and the way it was going he said "no comment.'' It was only when asked about Indian involvement and his trip to India recently to meet some Indian political dignitaries that he said something of relevance allowing "I will try to be helpful at least in some way.'' Incidentally, there was another birthday celebration, this one on Thursday when Ferial Ashraff the MP and wife of the late SLMC leader M.H.M. Ahraff celebrated by distributing cake in the parliamentary complex MPs lounge. Later, a birthday tribute was made in parliament by one of the MPs, UNF Minister Azwer.

So let there be light. Minister Milinda Moragoda had occasion to defend himself, at the pre-Cabinet meeting, with regard to the Moragoda Foundation which according to Minister Ravi Karunanayake (who raised the issue at the last pre-Cabinet meeting) was receiving funds direct form foreign sources hence contravening principles on foreign aid.

Minister Moragoda said that landmines were being removed in the Eastern province though funds that were received as grants for the Foundation, and that this was quite in order as the anti. landmine drive was vital and was a service to the people of the area and was part and parcel of war rehabilitation.

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