Bombs, ballots and some baloney too
When the woman suicide bomber blew herself up at the Kollupitiya police station earlier this month I was in Colombo. News of the drama at high noon spread like wild fire, as the cliché experts say.

Within hours Colombo's cocktail society was all agog and worried. Ordinary people who live and work in the city were terrified. Had the dreaded moment come? Had the Wanni warlord decided to flex his muscles and missiles after all? Had all that toing and froing to the Wanni raja by politicians and diplomats from West and East eager for peace and a piece of the economic cake, finally come to so much water down the Mahaweli that flows into the sea in Prabhakaran's traditional homeland.

Actually his traditional homeland is Velvettithurai, better known as VVT, the habitual homeland of smugglers. Understandably a feeling of helplessness, of gloom and doom descended at the prospect of terror on the streets again. After two years or more of what seemed like peace a fear that was always lurking below the surface returned.

Nobody -- certainly not a single person I spoke to in Colombo or elsewhere in the country -- had any doubts who was responsible for that day's events that started with an abortive assassination attempt and culminated in the explosion that killed the would-be assassin and at least four others.

The modus operandi, the target, the use of sleepers, all pointed clearly and unmistakably to the LTTE. One did not need an intelligence agency to tell you that. Anyway, intelligence agencies have been found to be woefully lacking in intelligence as recent official inquiries in the US and UK have established. And these agencies are reputedly highly professional and sophisticated. As it later emerged, a person who had got within a couple of yards, if not feet, of the intended target, who refused to allow herself to be body searched was then taken to a police station a 100 meters or more away without being restrained in some way, especially when it is well-known that the LTTE does use women suicide bombers. The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and the attempted assassination of President Chandrika Kumaratunga are cases in point.

If these were lapses in security, and they surely were, what angered the people was the weak-kneed response of the government and the main opposition party to the attempted assassination of a cabinet minister and the blatant use of terrorism by a garrulous group making dubious claims to be committed to peaceful negotiations.

The State-owned and government-run newspaper the Daily News reported that President Kumaratunga "did not foresee any damage caused to the peace process". If that did not annoy the people sufficiently, other remarks by the president did.

"The President observed that the peace process fell into a much broader process to be derailed by a mere incident," the newspaper said. A "mere incident" indeed. Here is an act of terrorism in which the intended victim is one of her ministers. If the attempted killing of an elected member of parliament who has been elevated to the status of a cabinet minister in her government can be summarily dismissed as a "mere incident", it not only reflects the esteem in which she holds her ministers but is also a sign of her mindset, many people said.

They pointed out to me that when the LTTE tried to kill her, Chandrika Kumaratunga made political capital of it. Check contemporary records, they said.

But now, when another political leader and one of her ministers escapes yet another attempt on his life, it is brushed aside as a matter of little consequence. Since the suicide bomber blew herself up ( or "exploded herself" according to some reports) I have heard people in and out of Colombo including those who voted for the Alliance at the last general election, ask whether President Kumaratunga is now following in the footsteps of the Ranil Wickremesinghe government whose craven accommodation of the LTTE emboldened that organisation sufficiently to project itself on the world stage as the legitimate ruler of an independent entity.

Apparently according to information available to the President the LTTE had denied any hand in the attempt on Douglas Devananda and the subsequent killings. So what was the reaction of the UNP, the party that played a pivotal role in the appeasement of the LTTE, that shook like leaves in the wind and caved in when the LTTE raised its voice a few decibels? Listen to the words of the UNP spokesman Ravindra Randeniya, film star turned politician. The poor chap did not want to "blame the LTTE or any other party or group."

Then who would he blame? The UNP-led government that, in a simple-minded and naïve hope of taming the Tigers, allowed them to roam the country all in the name of confidence-building and political edification?

If the UNP spokesman does not want to blame the LTTE and President Kumaratunga seems to absolve them of any blame because the LTTE denied it was involved, who is to blame for the tragic happening?

These were the questions Sri Lankan people who a few months ago placed their faith in Kumaratunga's Alliance having been diddled and misled by the Wickremesinghe administration, kept asking time and again.

How quickly that faith is being eroded could be seen from the provincial council election results, despite attempts by the Alliance to make them seem like another milestone in its triumphal march to the promised land. The comment of a Muslim merchant in Badulla seems to echo the thoughts of hundreds of persons I spoke to over a range of issues from the so-called peace process to unsupervised mushrooming of foreign funded non-governmental organisations all seemingly interested in peace and conflict resolution and the free movement of foreign politicians and diplomats to the Wanni without even a by your leave.

Since it was election-day I asked him whether he would cast his vote. He looked at me with some surprise."Sir what is the use of our voting and electing these fellows. The last time we voted and sent some people to parliament. But all they do there is fight. Every party is the same. There are too many corrupt people and hooligans in them. I will not vote for anybody and most people here think like me."

There is a perceptible disillusionment with politics and politicians and it is growing. This is especially so because people see in both major southern political camps a reluctance to take the tiger by the tail, to remain silent while the LTTE brazenly violates the ceasefire agreement as clearly stated by international watchdog and UN organisations. If the UNP says it cannot blame the LTTE and President Kumaratunga says the LTTE has denied the act of terrorism, who do they think did it, al Qaeda? Or maybe they should join hands with President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair and lay the blame squarely on Saddam Hussein, the Houdini of the disappearing weapons of mass destruction.

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