Failed diplomacy and other happenings
Incredible as it might seem the LTTE is running rings round the Sri Lanka government on the international stage. Not many in the South of the country, that arbitrary line that is said to separate the majority Sinhala community from the Tamil minority, would publicly admit it because of embarrassment or chauvinistic pride.

But it is true and no amount burying one's head in the sand like an ostrich is going to obscure the truth. It would be reasonable to assume that a sovereign nation with a legitimately elected government would be able to command more influence internationally than an organisation with a history of armed violence, terrorism and the violation of international conventions including one on the recruitment of child soldiers.

That should be the case unless, of course, it is a country that is seen internationally as a pariah state like Myanmar because of the illegitimacy of its ruling military junta. Sri Lanka is not Myanmar, though if it continues the way it does it might end up being called a failed state.

But right now what should concern Sri Lanka's southern political establishment is not whether it might be labelled a failed state but the state of its failing diplomacy. In recent times LTTE delegations have taken to the air, criss-crossing the globe and meeting ministers of foreign governments. At times they have met even more senior politicians.

Take the recent visit by a four-member LTTE delegation led by the leader of its political committee, S.Thamilselvan. It visited several European countries and also South Africa.

Now that the genie has been let out of the bottle, thanks to the craftily drafted Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that the Norwegians foisted on a group of woolly-heads or over- zealous simpletons in the previous administration, the LTTE has been able to traverse the globe saying how eager it is to learn about devolution, federalism and conflict management.

That exercise, conducted in between rounds of peace talks, was not just to gather air miles and learn all about power sharing and democratic governance as some foolishly believed. Some promoted these so-called "educational tours" because it nicely suited their own agendas as facilitators or peaceniks.

Before the MoU and the peace process, Colombo's diplomatic efforts were directed at bringing the criminal activities of the LTTE to the attention of foreign governments in the hope that they would crack down on the Tigers and their supporters in the international Tamil Diaspora, particularly in the West.

As long as the LTTE remained politically and diplomatically isolated and its leadership restricted to the Wanni, it had to depend largely on its supporters in the Tamil diaspora and foreign sympathisers abroad to espouse the LTTE cause.

The diplomatic task therefore was much easier- demonise the LTTE in the eyes of foreign governments, a task made simpler by the Tigers' irascible actions and condemnatory conduct.

But the Ranil Wickremesinghe government changed all that. In the name of peace, the administration accepted most things the Norwegians laid on the table and agreed to allow the hitherto isolated LTTE to leap frog into the international scene, deceitfully helped by the Norwegians who had their own prospectus for creating a lackey in this part of the world. This is not surprising given the Norway's historical background and traditions.

The ceasefire and the MoU allowed the LTTE to roam around the country in the name of doing political work and also travel abroad freely with the Sri Lanka Government playing nursemaid and escorting them to and from the Katunayake airport.

The stalled peace talks did not in anyway constrain the LTTE from foreign excursions, now that it had broken through the cadjan curtain of diplomatic isolation.

Now LTTE leaders could talk directly to officials of foreign government not just in the Wanni but in their very capitals and meet with their political leaders. Having officially sanctioned this diplomatic breakthrough, Colombo was left with little room to manoeuvre, particularly with India deciding to watch from the sidelines instead of being on the field.

Whereas previously the Sri Lanka government had launched a diplomatic offensive against the LTTE, now the Tigers have turned the tables on Colombo.

They are taking the offensive telling the world that while they are ready to talk peace, it is the divided Sinhala south and even more importantly, a fractious ruling coalition, that are blocking the resumption of talks.

Colombo thought it had many friends in the international community. Ranil Wickremesinghe built a so-called "safety net" of powerful states to keep the LTTE corralled. But that was penetrated by the Tigers who are now meeting high-level foreign government representatives.

Colombo's reaction has been to appeal to its so-called friends in the international community to keep official contact with the LTTE not higher than deputy minister level, preferably at the level of officials.

Proof of the failure of those diplomatic efforts is the meetings the LTTE delegation led by its political leader S.Thamilselvan had during the recent visit to Europe and South Africa.

It is to be expected that the LTTE would meet Norway's foreign minister. But in many other European countries the Tiger delegation visited, it had discussions with ministers.

In Ireland the LTTE met with the same minister of state who it had met previously. But here too, it was Norwegian pressure on the Dublin government that brought about this meeting.

It is proof enough that Norway is not the independent, objective facilitator that both President Kumaratunga and later Ranil Wickremesinghe believed it would be. Both were too naïve to see through the duplicitous nature of Oslo's involvement. That self-inflicted wound that is still oozing blood.

It was the Norwegian-drafted MoU, which Wickremesinghe and his advisers blithely accepted, that created the vital opening for the LTTE to launch its international bid for respectability, if not acceptance. It is Norway that is speaking to governments near and far to arrange high-level meetings for the LTTE.

In this game of winning friends and influencing governments Colombo is no match for Oslo and the money to do so, backed by a Scandinavian community that would generally go along with it as long as their interests are not compromised.

But the biggest setback to Sri Lanka's diplomatic clout came when South Africa's deputy president Jacob Zuma met the LTTE. The African National Congress (ANC) led South African Government suffers from amnesia. Sri Lanka was consistently a strong critic of South Africa's apartheid regime and supported the dismantling of that obnoxious system.

There are reasons why the ANC government is taking this line. But had the efforts I made in the early 1990s while working in Hong Kong to facilitate contacts between Colombo and South Africa at a time that majority rule was clearly on the cards, had been taken more seriously by the Foreign Ministry and Colombo, Sri Lanka might not have found itself in this situation. That story would have to be told another time.

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