Political Column  

A Peace Secretariat for the Sinhalese?
By Our Political Editor
For the thousands who adorned the ill-fated Shahrukh Khan's mega show at Colombo's former Race Course, his super hit kutch kutch hota hai or something is happening, kindled their hearts.

The number has been an all time favourite long before the Indian superstar and his troupe set foot on Sri Lankan soil. Not surprisingly, the audience joined in chorus with glee and grandeur.

Two weeks have now gone after the memorable event. For the thousands who were there, and the many more thousands who were not, are all now disappointed. Not even something is happening in the Police bid to nail down the conspirators behind the grenade attack that night. Not even the offer of a two million rupees reward by Police Chief Chandra Fernando has so far helped to solve the 'Whodunit' mystery.

Theories abound in a nation where the imaginative mind works overtime -a thriving industry without either foreign or local investment. With the precision of Sherlock Holmes who cracks many a convoluted crime case, his local counterparts have found answers to the most complex issues. Some blame it on the LTTE. Others accuse the CIA (Americans), and still others the ISI (Pakistanis). Yet others, on the UPFA Government itself on the basis that they wanted to embarrass the monks of the JHU. Among those spared this time round have been President Premadasa.

In this backdrop, a person who identified himself as Ranjith Sooriyaarachchi went to a private communications agency. He shot off a fax to Deshamanya Lalith Kotelawala, chairman of the conglomerate Ceylinco Consolidated, for financing the Sharukh Khan show. He alleged that about 18 Buddhist organisations are attempting to involve the business magnate cum philanthropist. Was he fishing in troubled waters, or pouring oil over a heated politico-religious issue? The answer will be known only if someone responds positively to the Police Chief's two million rupee offer. Only that, arguably, will give the all-important lead to unravel the fuller mystery.

But this event brought forth what seems a paradigm shift in how some of Sri Lanka's professionals are retiring from the state sector only to continue the same trade in the corporate world. In other words, yesterday's top investigator for the Government's investigative arm is today's top investigator for a corporate body. Similarly, yesterday's spy boss for the Government is today's spy boss for a corporate body in the private sector.

One man who encapsulates all these elements is retired Deputy Inspector General of Police, Punya de Silva. He retired from service last month at the age of 60. He was a former DIG in charge of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID). He was also the Director of the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB).

Last week he took up a new job, a job in the private sector - General Manager - Intelligence Unit of the Chairman's Division of Ceylino Consolidated which has its offices located at 13, Dickman's Lane (R.A. de Mel Mawatha).

Days before his retirement, de Silva telephoned the Janadipathi Mandiraya to speak to an official there. He said he wanted to bid farewell to President Kumaratunga in his service uniform before quitting service. He asked for an appointment but that never came. The official explained that the President's schedule was so heavy that she had no time for farewell calls. Moreover, it was the service chiefs and the Police Chief, who in terms of protocol, were allowed such calls prior to retirement.

Down civvie street, the ex-cop seems to have taken time to familiarise himself with life in retirement. One of his first tasks as GM (IU) was to shoot off a letter to the Director of the CID, Sisira Mendis. Dated December 16, this is what ex-DIG now GM Punya de Silva said;

" I make reference to the conversation I had with you today concerning the above noted subject.

Annexed, please, find a photostat of a letter sent by one Ranjith Sooriyaarachchi (telephone number given) to Deshamanya Dr. Lalith Kotelawala, Chairman of Ceylinco Consolidated alleging that about eighteen Buddhist organizations are attempting to involve Deshmanya Dr. Lalith Kotelawala, Chairman of Ceylinco Consolidated for financing the Sharukh Khan musical show.

"I would be most grateful if necessary inquiries are conducted having contacted the writer as this is a very serious allegation made against the entire Ceylinco Group.

"Your co-operation in this regard would be greatly appreciated, please." The letter, no doubt, is identical in content and format to those Punya de Silva wrote as DIG (CID) to his subordinate staff including the Director. The only difference, however, is that this time he is urging that inquiries be conducted over serious allegations levelled against the Ceylinco Group. This is at a time when the investigators are perplexed over who was responsible for the attack and are flexing all their muscle to find out.

The fact that Ceylinco's high-profile Chairman was at the epicentre of the conspiracy theories that were afoot in the immediate aftermath of the death of the populist televangical monk Ven. Gangodawila Soma around this time last year, is no secret. Chairman Kotelawela was himself experiencing the jitter-bugs as angry followers of the late Ven. Soma accused the Born-Again Christian of masterminding the monk's death in far away Russia.

What instigated this conspiracy theory was the fact that the man who had invited Ven. Soma to an unknown University in Russia - in the middle of its biting cold winter - was an ex-employee of the Ceylinco Group, and someone who had edited a newsletter for the company.

Suspicious circumstances behind Ven. Soma's untimely death, there were aplenty. The Government failed to ascertain the truth either way. To find suspects, or to nail any canards. The result was a spree of burning churches, by angry arsonists owing their allegiance to the Ven. Soma. For the Government, its sheer inaction resulted in the formation of the JHU (Jathika Hela Urumaya ), an off-shoot of the SU (Sihala Urumaya), and a potent political force to reckon with, when President Chandrika Kumaratunga called for early elections in April 2 this year.

Since April, the JHU has experienced overt and covert operations to cripple it. In the initial stages, it was the JVP that went for them - seething as they were, that the JHU ran away with their votes. The rough and tumble of parliamentary politics was literally taught to the newly elected monks very early.

They were not only hospitalised for what happened to them in the august assembly, but they also had grenades thrown at their Viharas, and their members 'kidnapped'.

In a hung-Parliament they were asked to take sides on purely parochial political issues. They were wooed and they were booed. Then, they had their own internal differences on which way they should proceed. The lay arm of the JHU - the SU - began to disintegrate with divisions, the familiar though not necessarily exclusive trait of the majority Sinhalese.

Today, the JHU has lost its gloss, but remains a somewhat organised branch of the Maha Sangha (Buddhist Clergy) that could stand as a bulwark against attempts to divide the country by mainstream political parties bending backwards to appease the international community - and the LTTE.

The divided Muslim political leadership of Sri Lanka is today showing some signs of unification. The Rauff Hakeem led Muslim Congress and the Feriel Ashraff led NUA have signed at least an MoU to establish a Muslim Peace Secretariat that will be tasked with the assignment of articulating the Muslim point-of-view in the peace process.

The MoU was a significant step in the fratricidal politics of the Muslims of Sri Lanka. The hope is that the proposed Peace Secretariat will very soon invite the M.H, Mohameds (UNP), A.H.M. Fowzies (SLFP), Athaullahs and even the Faizer Mustaphas (CWC) into its orbit. The Secretariat will act as a think-tank for the Muslims, many of whom in the eastern province are facing the brunt of the LTTE's fascist dictates from which they had some reprieve when the Karuna faction of the LTTE split the rebel organisation.

When former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe launched the peace process with the LTTE in 2002, and set up a Peace Secretariat, he did appoint a Muslim division under his watchful eye. He appointed Dr. M.S.A. Cader, a leading academic from the Eastern University, to watch the interests of the Muslims, but due to the fact that it was under the Prime Minister's Office, there was little credibility among the wider Muslim community.

It was known in circles close to the then Prime Minister, that as the peace process progressed, he was going to confront the LTTE with the Muslim issues of the day. That day never came because his negotiators and the LTTE could not even get through the preliminaries, and the process came to a grinding halt.

Though they will not admit it, the fact that the Muslims have opted for a separate Peace Secretariat is because they have no ultimate faith in either the Government's Peace Secretariat or in the Advisory Committee on Peace and Reconciliation to look after their specific interests.

The Peace and Reconciliation Advisory Committee has now divided itself into three sub-committees viz. political, religious and civil society. The civil society sub-committee divided itself into three sub-commitees, and so it goes on.

The question that arises then is what happens to Sinhalese representation. When a group of Sinhalese organisations went to meet the then chief negotiator of the Government, G.L. Peiris and asked that he looks after their interests, he had told them that he could not do so because he represented the Government, which represented all communities. When asked whether these organisations could represent the Sinhalese, he said that might not be possible. When asked then who would represent the Sinhalese, Peiris, the usually eloquent professor was stuck for an answer.

It is in this context that the latest political skit in town - the 'Jeff and Tilvin Show', or the exchange of fan-mail between Jeff Lunstead, the US Ambassador in Colombo, and Tilvin Silva, the JVP General Secretary, has some significance.

Not showing any signs of intimidation by the sole super-power in the world, the JVP has stuck to its position, as much as the LTTE has to its. The JVP has indicated that it will not permit the UPFA Government to talk on ISGA, the LTTE's demand for a self-rule authority. The JVP is espousing the views of the majority Sinhalese, but it has the backing of at least some Tamil groups in this stance. For instance, the Tamil EPDP agrees with the JVP that ISGA is the stepping-stone to a separate state of Eelam a few years ahead.

But behind their back, President Kumaratunga is trying desperately to appease the international community and the LTTE. The Peace Secretariat head Jayantha Dhanapala has sent signals to the LTTE that the UPFA Government is still willing to talk, and talk with a great sense of flexibility.

My colleague, The Sunday Times Defence Correspondent, deals with this aspect on the opposite page, but suffice to say here, that Dhanapala's intervention has been seen by political analysts here as a move by the President to involve him more in the negotiating process with the LTTE.

Hitherto, this has been the virtual exclusive preserve of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. However, given Kadirgamar's hard-line approach to the LTTE, and his sympathies with the JVP, especially on these issues, President Kumaratunga appears to have relied more and more on Dhanapala to bell the cat.

Dhanapala has made an official announcement ironically through the mouth of Kadirgamar that he (Dhanapala) would like to be the next Secretary-General of the United Nations.

That seems to be his ultimate goal, and what priorities he has towards the peace process, and viz-a-viz the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka now comes into focus.

Not long ago, Dhanapala's remarks to the press in Jaffna earned him the wrath of the JVP. Now, the JVP will need to keep a tab on Dhanapala merely to ensure that he is not the cat's paw of President Kumaratunga for a sell-out with the LTTE simply because of his grandiose plans for his own future.

It probably is time, therefore, for a separate Sinhalese Peace Secretariat to look after the interests of the Sinhalese to add to the LTTE Peace Secretariat and the proposed Muslim Peace Secretariat. And a Burgher Peace Secretariat might not be out of place either. That is not to mention a demand for a Malainadu Peace Secretariat for the plantation sector Tamils.

Back to Top
 Back to Columns  

Copyright © 2001 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.