ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, December 3, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 27
Columns - Political Column

Not bon-bons but bombs
Govt. considers tough measures as war clouds gather
By Our Political Editor
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. Jayasundera.

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 Rajapaksa.

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 Oslo Statement.

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 process;

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 deaths".

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 administrations.

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 complicated matters.

"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 Ceasefire Agreement.
"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 freedom struggle".

"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 by saying;
"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 December.

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 objectives.

"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 between them.
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 the LTTE.

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Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.