13th April 1997

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Review the package

While most parties and the people have welcomed the PA-UNP agreement for a common approach in finding ways of ending the North-East conflict, few would say that the devolution package is the most prudent or popular way of tackling the virtual civil war. Many believe that peace through the package as it stands today is not much more than an elusive dream.

Opposition and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, who got a unanimous vote of approval from his policy making working committee for the agreement with the PA, has said in Parliament that he and his party would cooperate with the government in finding a way out of the conflict.

President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga has said at a recent Sudu Nelum meeting that the “winds of reconciliation” are blowing and that nothing now could stand in the way of a “beautiful dream”. She has reportedly said that this dream is to bring peace through the devolution package.

When the Sri Lanka Ekeeya Sanvidanaya issued a statement last week alleging the PA-UNP deal could turn out to be a joint betrayal of the country, many thought they were over-reacting and jumping to conclusions before giving the agreement a chance. But fears remain that the agreement might be a means through which the LTTE gets more concessions.

We would ask the PA and the UNP to see whether they have set about the agreement on the wrong footing. Do they virtually rule out the option of militarily weakening and possibly defeating the LTTE while finding a political solution also? It was good that Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, playing a key role in the new common approach, told the same Sudu Nelum meeting about the role played by the Army.

It is perhaps necessary now for the government and others including foreign diplomats to take a new look at the devolution proposals. Just saying peace, peace may be merely an indulgence in some words without practical steps to achieve it. The diplomats could take steps to prevent the largely economic Sri Lankan refugees from collecting huge amounts as funds for the LTTE. The bankrolling from the West provides the LTTE with the material to continue the war.

Take for instance the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987. It was meant to bring about devolution of power and peace. Ten years have gone. What has happened? In the North-East for which the proposals were specifically meant there is no provincial council, no devolution, virtually nothing. Provincial Councils exist only in the South and that too largely to provide posts, perks and privileges at enormous public expense for the relatives and friends of fortune building politicians. Many provincial politicos are busy buying Pajeros, hiring bodyguards and living it up for personal gain or glory. In addition it has brought greater confusion to civil administration by duplicating work with people being sent from one council to another even to get a drain cleaned or a street light fixed.

The devolution package has also been rejected by the LTTE. The TULF called upon Tamils to vote for the PA because of the package while Colombo group leader K. Ganeshalingam and CWC boss S. Thondaman made similar calls. But the local election results in Colombo and in the plantation districts indicate that most Tamils are not quite interested in the package. Why? Could one of the reasons be Prabhakaran’s rejection of the package?

Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte claimed recently that 75 per cent of the war was over. But our correspondent Taraki writing in ‘The Sunday Times’ recently said the LTTE felt it could win the war by wearing out the Army in the North and East. For whom then is the devolution package? And is it a means by which the LTTE could be marginalised? Facts and realities do not support that thinking. If the military option also is not used the LTTE would think it is winning and there is no need to talk. Prabhakaran, it should be remembered, has said that if he does not get Eelam and compromises with the government, as A. Amirthalingam and others did, the Tamils are entitled to kill him.

The unavoidable though unpalatable reality is that the LTTE is the key to peace in Sri Lanka. Without weakening or marginalising the LTTE militarily, we cannot marginalise it politically.

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