Political Column  

House probe on CJ runs into storm
By Our Political Editor
Hardly had The Sunday Times hit the streets or been thrown on to the front door-steps of homes last week, when sleeping residents were rudely woken up by a telephone caller.

Doing the rounds, waking up politicians, journalists and lawyers was an early riser - Prof. Dr. G.L. Peiris who had seen in his favourite Sunday, the front-page lead story proclaiming that the government and the opposition had done a back-door horse (or ass) deal in suppressing the call for a parliamentary select committee to probe the conduct (or mis-conduct) of the Chief Justice in return for tit-for-tat select committee to probe Rauf Hakeem and Ravi Karunanayake.

" It's not true ". " What is not true?" " This Sunday Times story " " what story? " " That front page story about the Chief Justice" was basically how the conversations went between the learned professori and the sleepy-eyed taking advantage of the Sabbath holiday to get some extra sleep.

By mid-morning, the whole United National Party leadership was calling each other to find out what has happened. Chief Opposition Whip Mahinda Samarasinghe was in the eye of the storm. The story revolved around him having a discussion with the government where the quid-pro-quo was discussed.

The story also said that now that the Select Committee against the CJ had been called for, the opposition, as part of their deal, will not pursue it, nor withdraw it, but simply allow it get into the Order Book and stay there till kingdom come.

Adding fuel to the fire was a side story in the same newspaper saying that both the government and the opposition had also discussed how to pass an allowance to the left hand of MPs (from all parties) to compensate for what they were taking away from their right hand by way of discounted meals in Parliament.

The wrath however was aimed at the opposition more than the government. For some reason, people expected the opposition not to engage in this double-dealing. It was not as if this is what they expect from the government anyway, but that the opposition was having its majority in Parliament, they were the ones who should be on the offensive.

But in this case, the opposition was batting on a tricky wicket. The maitri-manthris of the JHU had signed the motion calling for the select committee and then done a somersault the next day, robes and all, to withdraw from it. One of the monk-MP's, Ven. Ratana there added to the confusion by saying that even though his party, the JHU, withdrew from signing the motion, they would support the probe.

Rauff Hakeem's Muslim Congress was caught in a trap. He was opting out of supporting a probe on the CJ. The CWC was not particularly hot, so there was no joint opposition support for the motion.

So, was the story wrong ? Up to date, no one has denied that the government and the opposition were working towards a compromise. The UNP's Political Affairs Committee met the next day, Monday and issued a statement saying that the party welcomes the Ravi Karunanayake selct committee and would pursue with the select committee on the CJ, the motion now standing with a solitary signatory - Tissa Attanayake (UNP-Kandy).

Of course, Chief Opposition Whip Mahinda Samarasinghe wrote to the Editor of The Sunday Times.
This is what he had to say; (extracts)
“I wish to state categorically that a reporter identifying himself as Santush Fernando called me on my telephone and first spoke to me about the issue concerning subsidized meals for Parliamentarians. No sooner this telephone call finished, he called me a second time and asked me "what about the Select Committee on the Chief Justice ?" to which I replied that I don't know anything about it and ended the call. To say anything beyond this is misleading and not correct.

Nary a word though, about whether there was a deal discussed, or not. Meanwhile, our reporters had this to say; According to our information, soon after, in fact about 15 minutes after Deputy Minister Sripathi Sooriyarachchi handed over a proposal to the Secretary General of Parliament Ms. Priyani Wijesekera calling for the appointment of a select committee to investigate corruption charges against Ravi Karunanayake, Mahinda Samarasinghe had come and met Sripathi Sooriyarachchi and asked him whether a proposal to appoint a select committee against Ravi Karunanayake had been handed over. Sripathii Sooriyarachchi had confirmed this, and handed over a copy of the proposal to Mahinda Samarasinghe.

Mahinda Samarasinghe had then asked whether the UPFA government would pursue it and Sooriyarachchi had said " not only this, but we would bring other politically motivated motions on appointing select committeess, if the UNP brings proposals like the CJ's issue ".

At this stage Mahinda Samarasinghe and Sripathi Sooriyarachchi had begun a discussion on how to defuse these tit-for-tat motions, the UPFA withdrawing those against former UNP Ministers in return for the withdrawal of the motion against the Chief Justice.

As The Sunday Times said, a compromise formula was being worked out between the two sides. The matter was to be discussed at the UNP's Political Affairs Committee last Monday, and apart from a statement from Tissa Attanayake there was no major noise coming from the Green Corner. However on Thursday, Prof. Dr. G.L.Peiris, one-time globe-trotting friend of the Chief Justice told a press conference that the call for the appointment of the Select Committee was not for the impeachment of the Chief Justice, or to probe the conduct of the Chief Justice ( which requires 75 MPs to sign ), but all they wanted was to ensure that the truth is revealed about the complaint made by the CJ himself. Even Prof. Peiris who was busy denying the story with his round of telephone calls on Sunday morning, denied there was a compromise being worked out between the government and opposition. So, now it is not a select committee to probe the conduct of the CJ, but to probe his own complaint against the Police!!! Such a select committee, it was argued, does not require 75 signatures, but the Speaker can agree to it even if one MP signs the motion.

But evidently, the bigger issue is not all that. Thirty months after two successive Governments talked peace, another war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Security Forces seems increasingly inevitable or so it seems.

To put it in the words of a Norwegian peace facilitator, Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen, "what we are seeing is a frozen war starting to melt on the edges." Ruling out any hope for resurrecting the deteriorating situation he declared this week it was because of the deep mistrust on both sides. He warned of a resumption of war.

That Mr. Helgesen chose the Barefoot Cafe last Wednesday to bare his (and perhaps his Government's) heart out is significant enough. To the Norwegians, the nosedive in Government-LTTE relations has been cause for alarm in the past several weeks. That it has reached a flash point, akin to the proverbial last straw on a loaded camel's back, was no longer a matter they could keep secret. They had to tell Sri Lankans and the outside world that the marriage they had been brokering for over three months has not worked. And that was for no fault of theirs. In doing so, they had to equally make sure Norway's role as a key player remains lest the whole world concluded Norway has admitted defeat.

If what Helgesen said is explosive enough, what he did not say is equally chilling. That part of his troubled thoughts were shared with the Colombo based diplomatic community, particularly the donor Co-chairs - United States, Japan and the European Union.

Since pleading with Norway to resume peace talks, President Kumaratunga has "continued" her "commitment" through a metamorphosis that has been progressively conciliatory,one more pleasing, if not enticing, than the other. At first, she agreed to discuss the Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA) proposal only if the LTTE agreed to simultaneously discuss a final settlement, in other words the core issues. Last week, she had changed her tune. She was now willing to discuss an Interim Authority for the North-East within a united Sri Lanka. She had told this to Helgesen as well, with something more - that she will get the JVP to support the cause.

This seems to be not so easy judging by the emotional speech made at Kegalle by the JVP's Propaganda Secretary Wimal Weerawansa, the very day the Presidential announcement about her willingness to discuss the ISGA proposals were published. His message was short, and terse; " The first day this government starts talking about ISGA is the last day of the 'Sandanaya' (Alliance)".

For her part, the President seemed to have even melted down further. She apologised to the Tamil community for the pogrom of July 1987 and paid out Rs 70 million from state coffers as compensation. She ordered the Army to accommodate requests from Tamil civilians who want to re-settle in their former homes in some parts of the High Security Zone (HSZ) which do not pose a security threat. She ordered the state run Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) to suspend links with the London based Tamil Broadcasting Corporation (TBC). It was the TBC, whose bulletins were simultaneously broadcast through SLBC channels in Sri Lanka, that poured scorn and invective on the LTTE leadership in Wanni over the Karuna episode.

Helgesen however lamented that all these confidence building measures failed to convince the LTTE. In other words, they appear to have lost confidence in President Kumaratunga. The reason - the Karuna factor and the resultant security concerns for the LTTE in the east, particularly the Batticaloa district. If she and some ministers in her Cabinet were swearing they had no knowledge of Karuna, there was at least one Cabinet Minister in the form of Douglas Devananda who proclaimed to the whole world that he was in touch with Karuna. Here was one part of the Government denying any knowledge of Karuna and another part doing business with him.

The UPFA Government may even argue that the Karuna factor is no more an issue and claim that the renegade eastern leader is no more in Sri Lanka. That may even be true. But will that win back the trust and credibility for President Kumaratunga who has remained deeply consistent about her inconsistency on burning issues affecting the country. That ad hocism has come to be the hallmark, is all too well known.

Helgesen ruled out any progress in the peace process in the next three to four months. However, he wants to pop by in Sri Lanka mid next month to take stock of the situation or to use his own phrase how much more a frozen war has melted at the edges. If the heat generated is hotter, he may find the frozen war all thawed out by then. Alas, as Helgesen warned that the issue will neither figure at the UN Security Council nor see foreign troops parachuting into Sri Lanka.

That naturally brings us to the question of war. How prepared are the Security Forces and the Police? The answer to the question came not just last Sunday, but last morning as well. It highlighted not only how the LTTE has improved its strike capability in the City but also showed the whole world it could attack a target and get away without so much as the security establishment in Colombo knowing about it.

In the early hours of last Sunday morning, the Police Special Task Force (STF) routinely monitoring Tiger guerrilla radio transmissions stumbled on a message. A group that had reportedly carried out an attack in a suburb of Colombo had returned to Batticaloa via Kandy. They were reporting to Tiger guerrilla leader, Ramesh that the mission had been accomplished in Kottawa. Hours later the pro LTTE Tamilnet website had posted a story about an attack carried out on renegade leader Karuna's faction killing some six cadres. In the wake of the July 7 suicide bombing at the Kollupitiya Police Station where four policemen were killed, media interest in the story was at its peak. By Sunday morning high ranking officials of the Police in charge of the Kottawa area were swearing no such incident had taken place.

A foreign correspondent with connections to the LTTE was tipped off. She rang Kilinochchi and asked for details. She was told the incident was correct, and to check with the Kottawa Police. Thereafter, she spoke to an Inspector in the Kottawa Police and told him to check out what had gone on in a green painted house. She gave him the address. The Inspector sent a Police party and soon found eight dead bodies on the upper floor.

Embarrassed by the Tamilnet disclosure, officials blamed the pro-LTTE network. Without doubt, its closeness to the LTTE hierarchy has helped the website to obtain the story first. One cannot fault them for this though some of the website's contributors are knowalls who pour scorn on all other scribes for any view or comment expressed. Fortunately Carl Von Clausewitz is dead and gone. Otherwise, he would have known that many of his military theories, like old wines in new bottles, are being re-invented by these multi role busy bodies who don many hats.

The Kottawa incident makes clear one thing - it is not the tight security in Colombo that prevents any incidents from taking place. It is just that no one is triggering off one. When they do, it has now come to a point where those responsible for law and order are blissfully unaware it had taken place. Of the eight dead bodies, seven have already been identified and claimed by the next of kin. Besides six who are from the Karuna group, one body was that of Samarakoon Mudiyansalege Dilip Kumar Herath alias Neil Dhammika of Nelumpura, Aralaganwila in the Polonnaruwa district.

Neil, as he was called, had been a backhoe driver and had been hired years ago by the Karuna faction for land clearing activity. Since then he had developed a relationship with the renegade leader's group. When 14 members of the Karuna faction were arrested by the Hingurakgoda Police, Neil is said to have fled the area.

Recently, Velupillai Prabhakaran was entertaining a visiting confidante from the US for a meal. The conversation naturally turned to the peace process. Alluding to a Tamil saying. he said that when the dog is there, a stone was not available. When the stone is in the hand, the dog is missing. That was his analogy of dealing with the UPFA government.

He said when the government wanted to talk he didn't have the stone (military strength). Now when he has the stone, the government is missing.

When an LTTE conveyed this to LTTE's chief negotiator Anton Balasingham in London during a telephone call from the Wanni, the exiled Tiger added his own account. He said that his leader had actually given him the task of holding on to the dog, until he went looking for the stones. There is a moral to the story, one should imagine.

Oil crisis impacts on Lanka
By Harinda Ranura Vidanage
President Chandrika Kumaratunga has officially stated her government's position on the future direction of the stalled peace process. She clearly stated that her government will accept the notion of "Interim Authority" provided that the negotiations commence with a definite frame work intended for a final solution.

This was in response to the LTTE claim that the government wasn't clear enough. Perhaps Tiger political wing leader S.P. Thamilchelvan made this observation to Norway's Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen in Killinochchi.

The government statement was earlier misinterpreted by the JVP hence Wimal Weerawansa openly attacked this ambiguity. But in fairness to the President it must be said that she has not agreed to the ISGA proposals of the LTTE.

Contradictions appear between statement from the Presidential secretariat and the UPFA hierarchy. A new and dynamic team seems to have emerged replacing the old guard.

Press releases from the Presidential Secretariat are an indicator of this. As these clearly demonstrate the vision of Jayantha Danapala and Ram Manikkalingam the top two members in the above mentioned high profile team assembled by the President to tackle the peace process from design to its implementation. This also signifies the rekindling of an old feud among various parties.

Meanwhile President Kumaratunga’s trip to Thailand involves a secret meeting with a key individual who may play a vital role in the future of the county's peace process. Thailand is of strategic importance to the Tiger rebels especially as a trading point in its global arms procurement process. This meeting has been prearranged by both Lakshman Kadiragmar and President’s point man minister Sripathi Sooriyarachchi who was in Bangkok three days prior to her arrival.

The government is keen to rid itself of the minority government tag in parliament by luring the CWC into its fold. But astrology appears to be the stumbling block. Hence its request for time till August for a decision.

A special team under Minister Mangala Samaraweera is spearheading a campaign using unprecedented leverage to split the JHU and bag four monks to the UPFA side. This special effort includes a multimillionaire business tycoon and there have been significant progress made by this team as well.

The international oil crisis has meanwhile hit the government badly forcing its hand to hike prices. The government still gives diesel at twelve rupee per litre. Top officials are baffled over what to do if fuel prices keep soaring. A national strategy to cope with this crisis along with methods of rationalizing fuel may be a wise choice even for a brief stint till the crisis is blown away internationally.

The JVP also neds to change gear over peace. Demagogic orations may not be the solution for the moment. The reds are also trying to use its front organization the DJV (Desha Hiteshi Jathika Viyaparaya) which comprises diverse elements with different agendas. The state needs a national integration at least in conscience for the people to realize the looming dangers and respond as one unit. Thus the state desperately needs civil coherence amidst political fragmentation.

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