Not bon-bons but bombs
Govt. considers tough measures
as war clouds gather
Back in Colombo after a five-day private visit to India, President
Mahinda Rajapaksa was busy at Temple Trees last Friday morning.
He was with his personal staff attending to correspondence and related
matters. With that over he was looking forward to chairing an unscheduled
meeting of the National Security Council.
Defence Secretary Gotabhaya being rushed into Temple Trees by
his security officers after Friday's attempt on his life.
He wanted to hear from service
chiefs about the ground situation in the battle areas. That was
particularly after Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leader
Velupillai Prabhakaran's "Maveerar (Great Heroes) Day"
speech last Monday. Suddenly he was jolted by vibrations in the
room where he was. He had also heard a loud explosion and gunfire.
A lady official told him it appeared to be some explosion in the
roof. But President Rajapaksa did not agree. He said it was some
distance away and asked security staff to immediately check it out.
One thing struck him instinctively. He knew his brother and Defence
Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, was on his way to the National Security
Council meeting. He asked aides to check immediately whether he
was alright. Tense moments followed.
Gotabhaya, with a shirt-sleeve
blotted with blood patches turned up. President Rajapaksa hugged
him and declared "I feel greatly relieved now." He obtained
a debrief of what happened. Gotabhaya said he had left a little
late from home and therefore would not have arrived at Temple Trees
at the regular time. That was because a doctor had come home to
check on his blood pressure. He told the President that he had wanted
to inform him that the meeting of the National Security Council
would have to start late. Both the Air Force Commander Air Marshal
Roshan Goonetilleke and Navy Commander Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda
were out of Colombo and would be back a bit late.
Later, the President told his
brother to proceed to Army Hospital and get a thorough examination
done. This was carried out and Gotabhbaya felt relieved there was
nothing wrong. By then, his other brother Basil Rajapaksa and Major
General (retd.) M.D. Fernando had arrived at the Army Hospital to
see soldiers injured in the assassination attempt.
At Temple Trees, there was
a stream of callers after news spread that Gotabhaya had survived
an attempt by a suicide bomber to blast his motorcade. They included
Ministers Mangala Samaraweera, Dinesh Gunawardena, Anura Bandaranaike,
Felix Perera, JVP's Parliamentary Group leader Wimal Weerawansa,
President's Secretary Lalith Weeratunga and Treasury Secretary P.B.
President Rajapaksa was to
repeat the story of his brother Gotabhaya's encounter to the visitors.
He said being a military man it was not too much of a shock. In
fact, he had remained calm after the attack and complained that
his security men had pulled him too soon from his wrecked vehicle.
He had wanted to remain inside for a while presumably feeling that
a standby group would target him in a second attempt. But his security
men had forced opened his damaged car door, extricated him and driven
him straight to Temple Trees in another vehicle.
President Rajapaksa turned
to Foreign Minister Samaraweera to advise Norway's Special Envoy
to the peace process, Jon Hanssen Bauer, not to travel to Wanni.
After talks with Government leaders, he had planned to go to Wanni
next week, possibly Tuesday. He then asked Samaraweera what he thought
of a re-imposition of a ban on the LTTE. In fact, some western diplomats
who got in touch with Rajapaksa or his close aides had asked whether
the Government would not take any immediate action to deal with
the LTTE. This was particularly after it became clear that the ceasefire
was no longer in place. Samaraweera was non committal. He said all
aspects of the matter would have to be first studied before such
a decision was arrived at.
President Rajapaksa had scheduled
a Cabinet meeting for Friday since he was away on the regular day,
Wednesday. There he consulted his Ministers on their views about
the measures necessary. As a follow up, officials of the Attorney
General's Department, the Legal Draughtsman's Department, senior
Ministers and other officials met with President Rajapaksa yesterday.
They examined some tough measures.
Besides a re-imposition of
the ban on the LTTE, such measures included an abrogation of the
Ceasefire Agreement since the LTTE had declared it was dead. Another
was the activation of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. This act
was not put into effect in keeping with the Ceasefire Agreement
of February 2002.
President Rajapaksa told visitors
that his wife, Shiranthi, had passed the Flower Road-Turret Road
junction where the incident occurred on Friday morning. Shortly
thereafter, even Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa's wife had
driven past that spot. It was less than an hour thereafter that
the suicide bomber had made the attempt.
Later in the afternoon the
switchboard at Temple Trees continued to remain clogged. Many callers
were ringing from all parts of the country to ascertain what had
happened. Britain's Prime Minister, Tony Blair had tried to call
through but the lines were busy. British High Commissioner Dominique
Chilcott later telephoned Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa.
He had to get in touch with Temple Trees to clear telephone lines
to enable Premier Blair to get through and speak with President
During a chat with Minister
Anura Bandaranaike, President Rajapaksa mentioned conditions that
prevailed at the Janadipathi Mandiraya (President's House) where
he had moved in. On one occasion, when his wife Shiranthi had touched
the wall, she received an electric shock. The power supply was leaking
and Rajapaksa felt it had remained that way for a long time. Anura
murmured he would ask his sister Chandrika Kumaratunga whether it
was so when she occupied the place.
On Thursday, the Defence Secretary
had planned to travel to Minneriya. However, an upset stomach had
prompted him to remain home the whole day. He had then proceeded
on Friday morning to Temple Trees and was due to travel thereafter
to the Ministry of Defence when the incident occurred. The event
has raised very serious security issues. Our Defence Correspondent
deals with this aspect in the Situation Report on the opposite page.
The Opposition UNP was quick
to issue a statement condemning the assassination bid on Defence
Secretary Rajapaksa, but still refuses to name and shame the LTTE
for such attacks. The party also took the opportunity to take a
swipe at the ruling party for what it called "an anarchical
and unprotected State", and to take a practical course of action
to check this "terrorist barbarism and separatism" instead
of merely issuing statements.
The point now will be whether
this "practical course of action" the party talks about
will tally with current Government thinking which is to adopt a
still harder line against the LTTE. The UNP statement said the party
was prepared to provide unconditional support to the Rajapaksa Presidency
to find a solution to the northern insurgency (which the party opts
to call the North East conflict), but very clearly what it means
is to provide support to a negotiated settlement via peace talks
and those talks to revolve around the Tokyo Declaration and the
But what did LTTE leader Prabhakaran
have to say about the UNP Leader and his approach to the 'North-East
conflict/northern insurgency' during the course of his Mahaveer
Address on Monday. It was the first time that Prabhakaran conceded
that he backed Mahinda Rajapaksa to be the President of the country
over Ranil Wickremesinghe when he said;
"The Wickremesinghe government
that refused to solve the humanitarian problems facing our people,
secretly worked to marginalise our movement on the world stage.
Even before setting up a working administrative structure in the
Tamil homeland, it conducted donor conferences to obtain aid for
the south. By failing to facilitate our participation in the donor
conferences held in Washington, it marginalized and humiliated our
movement. As a result we were forced to stay away from the Tokyo
conference. The Wickremesinghe regime did not stop with this. It
plotted to trap our freedom movement in an 'international safety
net' and destroy us ".
One wonders why the Sri Lankan
Sinhalese electorate then rejected Wickremesinghe at the last Presidential
election; they should have carried him on their shoulders to Janadipathi
Mandiraya and put the Presidential crown on his head. In a sense,
if this what Prabhakaran thinks Wickremesinghe was trying to do
to the LTTE, it must be credited that Wickremesinghe was not the
traitor he was made to look by those campaigning for Rajapaksa in
November last year. Prabhakaran preferred the unknown devil Rajapaksa
to the known devil Wickremesinghe.
This week, Wickremesinghe
was in Indore, India where he gave a lecture appropriately titled
' Peace - putting the pieces together '. He said;
"In December 2001, my party, the United National Party (UNP)
formed a five party Government with an electoral mandate to commence
talks with the LTTE. Our approach was a step-by-step process where
each step, though standing on its own, was sequentially connected
to the next. The Government and the LTTE came to an agreement on
the following issues:
- To negotiate a ceasefire agreement through
the facilitator - the Norwegian Government,
- then, to prioritise the humanitarian issues
affecting the people in the North East.
- To lift the ban on the LTTE
- To commence peace talks between the two
parties - facilitated by the Norwegian Government
- To establish an Interim Council for the
North East, and thereafter, to negotiate a final settlement.
"Throughout these negotiations,
the Government emphasized that any solution must safeguard the territorial
integrity of Sri Lanka; and, furthermore, must be acceptable to
the Government of India.
"In February 2002, the Government and the LTTE signed the Ceasefire
Agreement. In response to the signing of the agreement, the Government:
- Lifted the economic embargo on the LTTE
controlled area, including the ban on the transportation of goods
- Disarmed paramilitary forces
"Further to these actions,
the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE also opened the jointly-held
main highway - the A 9 - connecting Colombo and Jaffna. "By
this time, the LTTE had developed a formidable expertise in implementing
military strategies but they had limited expertise on negotiating
political settlements. Acknowledging the LTTE's lack of expertise
in discussing legal and constitutional issues, the Government decided
to allow time for the LTTE to build its experience.
"The LTTE was encouraged
to interact with the International Community to acquaint themselves
with other peace processes and federal systems of government. The
South African Government and the Forum of Federations played constructive
roles in this regard.
"There were six rounds
of peace talks held in Thailand, Norway, Germany, and Japan. During
these talks, the following resolutions were agreed upon: 1. to establish
a sub-committee on immediate humanitarian and rehabilitation needs
in the North East (SIRHAN);
2. to explore a solution,
acceptable to all communities, founded on the principle of internal
self-determination in areas of the historical habitation of the
Tamil speaking people, based on a federal structure, within a
united Sri Lanka;
3. to establish a sub-committee
to ensure the effective inclusion of gender issues into the peace
4. to ensure that Human Rights
would constitute an important element of the final declaration.
"Subsequently, two international
conferences were held to support the Peace Process in Sri Lanka.
The first was the Oslo Conference held in December 2002, which summoned
a donor conference in Tokyo to focus on long term financial assistance.
"The Tokyo Donor Conference was held in June 2003. There, a
Comprehensive Declaration on the Peace Process was issued. The Declaration
stated that in view of the linkage between donor support and progress
in the peace process, the international community will monitor and
review progress in the peace process. Moreover, it established the
Donor Co-chairs - United States, European Union, Japan, and Norway.
The Co-chairs would undertake this task on behalf of the Donors.
The LTTE did not participate in the Donor Conference.
"In April 2003, the LTTE
requested the Government to submit proposals to establish an innovative
administrative structure stating that the SIRHAN - the mechanism
that delivered humanitarian assistance - was ineffective. The Government
proposed the establishment of an Interim Administrative Council
for the North East. The LTTE submitted a counter-proposal - the
Interim Self-Governing Authority for the North East (ISGA). The
Government responded on 01 November 2003 by stating that,
"both documents contain proposals in respect of which no agreement
has been reached thus far. While disparities between positions of
the parties are evident, the government is convinced that the way
forward is in direct discussion of the issues arising from both
sets of proposal."
However, before we could take
the issue further, President Kumaratunga suddenly dissolved Parliament
and designated April 2004 for Parliament elections. This election
was won by a new coalition called the United People's Freedom Alliance
(UPFA) consisting of Kumaratunga's People's Alliance and the Janatha
Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) People's Liberation Front. Meanwhile, in
March 2004, Karuna, the LTTE commander in the East, broke away from
the LTTE. During the formation of the UPFA government, the LTTE
attacked the Karuna faction, leading Karuna to leave the East and
form a new paramilitary organization."
Wickremesinghe then goes on
to say how President Chandrika Kumaratunga dissolved Parliament,
and how the then Opposition of the People's Alliance and the JVP
(UPFA) came to office. He then goes on to refer to the Presidential
elections of November, 2005.
"Mahinda Rajapaksa, the UPFA candidate, was elected in the
backdrop of an LTTE enforced boycott of the elections in the North
- East. The vast majority of Tamils in the North East were supportive
of the UNP and this enforced boycott was aimed at the UNP. The UPFA
electoral platform included amending the Ceasefire Agreement, and
a rejection of the federal system. These were demands made by the
JVP claiming that,
(a) the Ceasefire Agreement
was a sell out, and
(b) a federal system will lead to a separate state.
"After the elections,
the LTTE started an Intifada type uprising in Jaffna protesting
that the Government was going back on its undertakings. Karuna's
paramilitary group re-commenced the killing of LTTE supporters.
In retaliation, the LTTE started laying claymore mines and a number
of military vehicles were blown up resulting in large numbers of
Wickramasinghe then goes on
to narrate the cycle of violence that followed with the events in
Trincomalee, Kebbetogollawa, Jaffna, Vaharai etc., Then, he referst
to the MOU signed between him and President Rajapaksa;
"Despite the divisive nature of Sri Lankan politics and the
acrimonious climate between Party cadre, we responded positively.
Talks took place between the two political parties. As a result
on 23rd October 2006, the United National Party and the Sri Lanka
Freedom Party signed a Memorandum of Understanding to cooperate
on key issues vital for the nation's well being.
"To me, the success of
the recent MOU depends on the ability of both sides and more so,
between the two of us - the President and myself to establish a
working relationship. This is easier said than done in politics.
In a multi-party system where there are two leading parties, the
main contenders compete for power, either by themselves or as coalitions.
It is very rarely that they work together. Nevertheless, in some
countries the main parties have worked together in times of war
- usually, through coalition governments.
"Yet, this MOU is not
one to form a coalition government. The MOU is an understanding
to collaborate - one party being the government and the other party
being the main opposition to prepare a political solution to the
North East conflict.
"Under the MOU a viable resolution of the ethnic issue will
be based on the following elements:
i. The eventual solution
to the ethnic issue has to be political in character. The cornerstone
of the political solution is power-sharing within the country
on a basis acceptable to the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim communities.
ii. Emphasis will be placed
on the principle that power sharing is for the benefit - not of
any particular group or party - but for the people at large.
iii. The basic assumption
underlying an equitable framework for power-sharing is that the
central government would be invested with all powers, functions
and responsibilities essential for the effective conduct of national
policy, while other matters will fall within the purview of regional
iv. Priority will be given
to the prompt and effective action to rehabilitate all persons
who have been displaced, or whose lives have been disrupted.
The UNP and Opposition Leader
then talks of the North-East Merger issue;
"Returning to the Peace Process, under the Indo-Lanka Agreement,
the Northern and Eastern Provinces were combined as one administrative
unit. President J R Jayewardene issued the relevant Gazette notifications
under the Provincial Council Act 1987 merging the two provinces
and establishing a Provincial Council. However, on 16 October this
year, the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka held that President Jayewardene
did not have the authority to issue such Gazette notifications,
as the LTTE had not surrendered all the arms in accordance with
that law. The Court further stated that the Parliament could, by
legislation, merge the two provinces. The Government is yet to announce
its position on the merger of the North and East. This has further
"And a second round of
talks between the Government and the LTTE held in Geneva on 28th
and 29th October 2006, ended inconclusively. "The Ceasefire
Agreement is the main achievement of the 2001 peace initiative.
It enabled the commencement of a substantive dialogue through a
series of well-structured meetings to discuss both confidence-building
measures and a negotiated political solution.
"The agreements arrived
at during the six rounds of peace talks, the statement by the Government
of Sri Lanka, and the Oslo and Tokyo Declarations established the
parameters of a political solution.
"Nevertheless, it has
become necessary to review the monitoring mechanism first established
under the Ceasefire Agreement. At that time, no one foresaw the
present escalation of violence. Hence, it has become necessary to
make the Monitoring Mission more effective. But a monitoring mission
will succeed only if both parties are committed to upholding the
"While the Ceasefire Agreement still stands, it is observed
in the breach by both parties. Neither party is willing to formerly
abrogate the Agreement.
Wickramasinghe then gets down
to commenting on Prabhakaran's speech on Mahaveer Day;
"Speaking at the Hero's Day Commemoration on 27th November
2006, the LTTE Leader Vellupillai Pirapaharan accused the Government
of making the Ceasefire Agreement defunct by following what he calls
- "a war and peace approach". He stated that the LTTE
have "no other option but an independent state for the people
of Tamil Eelam". Nonetheless, he has not formerly declared
a separate state. Neither has he given notice of termination to
the Norwegian Government in accordance with the Ceasefire Agreement.
But, he has announced that the LTTE is not prepared to "walk
along the same futile path", and will re-commence "the
"It is clear then, that
the LTTE is ready to intensify the war. The LTTE objective is a
decisive military victory which will give them a significant advantage
at the negotiating table when Peace Talks resume. The Government
has responded by announcing their readiness for war. But, no one
can control the outcome of escalating violence. Therefore, the Co-Chairs
and India must determine how to respond to this urgent situation;
otherwise, it will be difficult to get the parties back to negotiations.
"Today, the future of
a long-term peace hinges on these two agreements - the Ceasefire
Agreement and the MOU. The implementation of the provisions of the
MOU will result in formulating a proposal for a political solution,
which will form the base for discussion between the Government and
the LTTE. This proposal will re-activate the Ceasefire Agreement
leading to simultaneous negotiations on all three tracks of the
peace process - the ceasefire, humanitarian relief and political
discussions. Today, the emphasis has shifted to the MOU as a means
of kick-starting the Peace Process - by putting forward a political
solution. This is a radical departure from the step-by- step approach
based on the Ceasefire Agreement advocated by us in 2002. A lot
of water has passed under the bridge in the last five years. The
LTTE itself has gained experience in negotiations and acquired knowledge
on different systems of government. Time is of essence, and it is
important that the peace process be finalized with the least delay.
The Nepalese peace process which started last year has already been
concluded and the parties have signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
Wickremesinghe then sums up
"Under this approach, the onus is thrown on the two main political
parties - the United National Party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.
It is a challenge we must take up. If we fail, the peace process
will fail. Therefore, it is imperative that the Committee of Experts
(appointed by this Government) conclude their tasks by making their
recommendations on the political solution. Their Report should be
made available to the All Party Conference by the first week of
Then, our two Parties - the
United National Party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party can commence
bilateral discussions based on this Report. If we build on the parameters
established by the MOU, the Tokyo Declaration, the six rounds of
peace talks and draw on the Indian model - the final result will
be a credible power sharing proposal that will form the basis for
a viable negotiated settlement. We do not require a UNP solution,
a SLFP solution, an LTTE solution or a JVP solution. We require
a Sri Lankan settlement acceptable to all the communities. The other
political parties must support our two parties to achieve these
"The Ceasefire Agreement and the peace process are sufficiently
flexible to adapt to changing circumstances. What is required is
the will to make it work. That is provided by the MOU. The fate
of the nation depends on us. We cannot and should not fail the people
of Sri Lanka..
Both issues Wickremesinghe
has referred to in India may now change, i.e. the Ceasefire Agreement
with the LTTE, and if the Government decides to adopt a hardline
approach on the military front, the MoU itself between the UNP and
the Rajapaksa Presidency.
The UNP leader is due to meet
President Rajapaksa on Tuesday shortly after his return from India
and prior to his departure on a 10-day visit to the US. The high-level
UNP-SLFP Committee will meet thereafter to carry forward the MoU
In the meantime, this week otherwise saw a significant and unprecedented
thing happen. The UNP and the JVP got together and moved a joint
resolution against the Government. This came in the form of a joint
resolution proposed by UNP's Kotte MP Ravi Karunanayake and JVP's
Kurunegala MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake asking the Government who
was funding the new airline Mihin Lanka and whether Cabinet approval
has been obtained.
This takes one back to the
time when the UNP and the Old Left LSSP joined hands in 1975 to
bring about a vote of no-confidence on Sirima Bandaranaike. But
in this see-saw of events, one wonders whether the hardline approach
President Rajapaksa is likely to take after an attack on the life
of his brother, Defence Secretary Rajapaksa, will bring him now
closer to the JVP than the UNP with whom he thought till probably
this week, that he could still pursue a negotiated settlement with