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26th April 1998

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It's time for ceasefire and talks - ex-IPKF Chief

Special to The Sunday Times

Describing the military scenario in Sri Lanka as a "no win" situation, Gen. A.S. Kalkat, who was the Chief of the IPKF in Sri Lanka, urges the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE to immediately put a stop to the "bleeding war" and resume talks in a spirit of give and take for the very survival of the Tamils and indeed the entire country.
Here are excerpts from a telephonic interview given to The Sunday Times to mark the anniversary of the controversial Operation Jayasikurui.

Q: Operation Jayasikurui, aimed at capturing the strategic Vavuniya Kilinochchi, Main Supply Route (MSR), has been on for a year now. But the troops are bogged down half way down the 75km road with little prospect of an early breakthrough. How do you see the campaign so far?

Gen Kalkat: The army will win some battles, and so will the LTTE. But neither side can win the war. There would, at best, be a politico-strategic stalemate.

This is of no use to either party. In fact, there is no military solution to the ethnic conflict.

Q: Would you say that the MSR will be captured?

The SLA would, over time, capture the road. But it will be a pyrrhic victory. The crucial question is, can it hold the 75 km stretch everyday of the year and assure the safety of civilian traffic?

Remember, there is a railway running alongside the road and both have to be made serviceable and safe for civilian movement.

Further, it is not enough to hold this road. All the latteral roads which criss-cross it, connecting it to places in West and East Wanni must be secured and held in the same manner. The forces are suffering 6,000 to 7,000 lives per year. I foresee only a bleeding war!

Q: What is the scenario as regards the LTTE? Is it not true that it is fighting with its back to the wall?

Indeed it is, and the rate of attrition is high with casualties 2,000 to 3,000 fighters per year. But there is no immediate prospect of it getting demoralised, leave alone capitulating. The LTTE has gone through similar crises in 1988 and 1989 and has tided over them ingeniously, by striking a strategic alliance with the Premadasa regime to take on the IPKF militarily. They will probably survive the present crisis too. But they would have some long term problems to face.

Q: They also have a manpower problem. don't they?

The LTTE will continue to get young recruits. But a stage will come when it will have to induct very young children. Soon Tamil society in the island may have no youth at all. So in the long term, it's a no win situation for them too.

Q: As the current Chairman of the International Council for Conflict Resolution, and believing as you do that there is no military solution, how do you think peace can be brought to Sri Lanka?

It is time the government and the LTTE buried the hatchet. Didn't the US make peace with Japan and the French make up with the Germans for the benefit of both, and of civilisation itself.

The Sri Lankan government should go beyond making promises to the Tamils, and make definitive moves to meet their basic aspirations.

So far all governments have been only making promises. Even the present devolution is only a promise. It will make a world of difference to the Tamils, if the package is concretised in the form of a parliamentary bill.

There should be a constitutional guarantee that the Tamils' right would be protected against manipulations by a brute ethnic majority in Parliament.

Sri Lankan government seems to have adopted the strategy of clubbing together the Tamils and the LTTE and treating them alike. The aims and objectives of the two may coincide at some points but also vary crucially.

Because of the clubbing together by successive governments, even the Tamils have begun to see themselves as having the same interests as the LTTE.

There is yet another danger that awaits the country if the current drift is allowed to continue. If too much is committed to the war, economic activity in the South will receive a setback and that will trigger another insurrection there. Sri Lanka may get back to square one.

The entire country might be sucked into a vortex of self destruction.

Q: Do you think India has a role to play in the resolution of the ethnic conflict?

India cannot turn a blind eye to what is happening in Sri Lanka, when it has 50 million Tamils in Tamil Nadu. We have to take into account the feelings of the Tamils there.

Also if there is peace in Sri Lanka the Tamils of Tamil Nadu will be one of the main beneficiaries because most of the trade will be between that part of India and Sri Lanka.

Q: Is there scope for a military intervention a la IPKF?

There should be no overt or covert military intervention.

Q: You have fought the LTTE bitterly. Do you harbour any animosity towards your foe now ten years down the line? Many Indians are implacably opposed to the LTTE because it fought the IPKF and killed Rajiv Gandhi.

A soldier fights for his flag. It's a job he has to do. The job is now over. As for others, the past must not be allowed to stand in the way of search for peace and understanding. The world over, arch enemies have buried the hatchet for the common good.

They are doing it now

From the blue corner

By Paakshikaya

Viruddha Paakshikaya, writing last week, has paid me a compliment. Well, Viruddha Paakshikaya, I do know how to accept a compliment, so thank you very much for "conceding" that my previous column was "good reading," but it must have been good reading simply because it made simple common sense.

A compliment probably deserves another, so may I - though not quite agreeing with Viruddha Paakshikaya's writings and arguments being good reading - at least agree with you that there are divisions within parties all over the democratic world.

Yes, Viruddha Paakshikaya, I agree cross-overs are not the preserve of some. (I must confess I didn't know Ronald Reagan was first a Democrat before becoming a Republican. I did check on that and found you were correct.) But let's stop our patting- ourselves-on-the-back there, shall we?

Viruddha Paakshikaya says I distracted our debate on corruption using the Anura-Ronnie dispute as an excuse. Far from doing so, I would have loved to continue in the same vein, but the Anura vs. Ronnie (limited overs?) match was too irresistible to go unnoticed, I admit but then, it was Viruddha Paakshikaya who took up cudgels and went on a binge about divisions within the PA. My! How touchy! The truth hurts, doesn't it, Viruddha Paakshikaya?

But now you want to revert to the subject of corruption. Of course I will, anytime. It is my pleasure.

You talk of how we purchased "trains with ship engines". That is typical distortion of fact, like that green-worded Wijeyapala Mendis advertisement we see these days in the newspapers.

It is not that the Government of Sri Lanka purchased trains that had ship engines, but those locomotives had engines that could also be used on ships. So, what's wrong with that? What does it matter if the locomotives had engines that could be used even in rockets to Mars - as long as people went safely in a train from Colombo to Matara.

If you have any expertise in government, Viruddha Paakshikaya, you would know that you cannot leave such technical matters to so called Technical Evaluation Committees. You must know - from experience, perhaps! - how corrupt they can be, and how local agents have a price for such "Technical" people: how specifications are drafted on the "specific" instructions of the manufacturer.

We have read evidence of the "technical" men in Commissions of Inquiry on how they have drafted Tender Board papers for Government Departments. When the Commissioners ask if that was not improper, they say "we were only helping". Helping indeed, helping themselves in the process!

So, as far as the locomotives tender went, it was finally approved by four senior Cabinet Ministers - Lakshman Kadirgamar, Lakshman Jayakody, Kingsley Wickremeratne and Ratnasiri Wickramanayake.

Surely, you will agree that at least these four ministers, though they may not know much about pistons and Horse Power, are not corrupt.

The President over-ruled the Cabinet sub-committee on the Tender probably because her official on the Committee did not agree with the others. You make acid comments about the French and British tenderers merely because our President made a remark to the Time correspondent that her dream is to walk the streets of London and Paris.

Are you, Viruddha Paakshikaya, seriously suggesting that merely because the President studied in a French University she will sell Sri Lanka to a French locomotive manufacturer for a mess of pottage? Sir, by your same twisted logic you might even say D. S., Sir John, J.R., Premadasa, D.B, and Ranil didn't favour any foreign contractors, because they never went to an overseas university?

Then Viruddha Paakshikaya, you talk of Airbuses. Frankly I do not wish to enter into sa debate on this. It is not that Viruddha Paakshikaya has shed any light on the matter except to say, "what about the Airbuses?"

To me, at first glance, it appears PERC had not come to grips with why AirLanka should purchase six Airbuses as a pre-condition to the sale of a stake to Emirates. That is indeed a vague issue, I agree.

But imagine, Viruddha Paakshikaya, now the UNP's unofficial spokesman (How's that, Karunasena?) saying "what about the Airbuses?"

Yes, what about the Airbuses purchased during the UNP's rule? We know the degree of transparency in that deal. You just intimidated the media (which is now free enough to howl about the Emirates and Airbus deals) and went ahead with the purchases.

Who dreamt of walking the streets of London and Paris at that time? Probably those who did are doing it now. Ask no more, they are basking in the glory of their ill-gotten wealth, behind the mask of a "self-imposed" exile, at the expense of the people whom they were supposed to serve.

Then, what about AirLanka's tie-up with Royal Jordanian Airlines - of all the Airlines in the world.

At least, Emirates won the Airline of the Year award in 1997. But what about Royal Jordanian Airlines? Who, by the way, was the local agent of this Airline?

These are the very people who now cry saying we are bringing trains with ship engines purely because they can no longer have their say, nor their way. So, they can only cry how "corrupt" the system is.

So, Viruddha Paakshikaya, let's elevate this debate. Some of our readers say we too are going at each other in a very pedestrian fashion, just like the politicians who blame each other (Anura, Ronnie take note) saying "What did you do during your time? Instead of answering the issues at hand. What they say is that both our parties have got together and messed up our country, which reminds me of this story:

" A group of US senators were visiting Moscow. There, they were shown many of Moscow's impressive sites, the Kremlin, St. Peter's Square etc. Then they were taken to the next showpiece, their underground railway (tube) station. Those who have seen these stations may recall the grand marble statues and the ornate chandeliers etc.). It is very impressive.

There, one Senator turned around and asked the Russian guide, "All this is wonderful, but where are the trains? I don't see trains". As everyone knows, the old, dilapidated Russian system was collapsing but the Russian guide was quick to defend his country. Rather than answer the Senator's question, he asked, "But what about the treatment of black Americans in Harlem?"

Our UNP-PA clashes are also like that. So, (Mr. or Ms.) Viruddha Paakshikaya, let's take up issues rather than indulge in parochial politics. That is if you can rise above the murky politics - or politricks - of today in this country.

After all, if someone asks us, we don't have even an underground railway station to show off - only a few trains running on "Ship" engines, as Viruddha Paakshikaya claims!

MPs of the House unite, for once

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti, Our Lobby Corr.

It is rare in the House of Perma nent Interests (Another name for our House of Parliament) to see consensus in real form. But last week was an exception with memories of rag victim Varapragash being rekindled and a PA-UNP consolidated effort on to ban the menace of ragging.

At the commencement of the day's business it was Minister of Aviation and Tourism Dharmasiri Senanayake making a belated statement on what he termed the partial privatization of AirLanka.

The usually unruffled Minister striving to dilute the enormity of the issue, responded curtly when UNP members raised queries, saying that the deal surpassed the government valuation of US $ 86 million and many matters, including refleeting, closure of un-viable routes and finding new routes and upgrading of existing services were among the benefits.

Moving the controversial anti-ragging bill was Minister of Education and Higher Education Richard Pathirana who prayed that the Varapragash episode should not be repeated.

Making a passionate speech, the Minister said that parents would often deny themselves the basic necessities and educate their offspring. Thushara Kelum's wattle and daub house showed me the extent of parental sacrifice, the only glimmer of hope in their poverty stricken lives. A female undergraduate once jumped off the balcony to save her chastity.

"Do we want to send our children to slaughter houses?" he thundered, adding that sanity must return to universities.

Students had the right to education sans hindrance, but here was a situation where fellow students devoured lives, denying the country the future services of brilliant persons and making the institutions of education "killing fields"

Students were interfering with administration and threatened the VCs and Deans of Faculties. Scholars of the calibreof Patuwathawitana and Stanley Wijesundera were brutally killed, he said, pledging to uproot sadism from all universities.

Acting Opposition Leader A.C.S.Hameed who was next, said that the UNP endorsed the view that ragging should be eliminated. Expressing his reservations over the precipitately presented bill, he said that an issue of such magnitude deserved thorough examination prior to debate.

"This is hasty and ill-prepared legislation for which the Legal Draftsman's Department should accept blame. A-16 page court determination certainly deserved some thinking, but the government was in a hurry," he said.

Warning that the universities were once more on the boil, the former education minister said that it would be disastrous to close them again. Similarly, it was important that seats of learning should be what they are meant to be and not become torture chambers denying students the opportunity of education.

Displaying his customary eloquence and profundity was one time Colombo University's Vice Chancellor Prof.G.L.Peiris who recounted his personal experiences on university violence.

"I have seen it all when serving as VC when my own predecessor Wijesundera was gunned down. Places of learning have never gone down to this level before. Killing students was a new phenomenon which caused an entire breakdown in university discipline. No longer do people desire university education. Not at all, for it threatened their very existence. Bigotry and intimidation must cease.'

"When students forcibly occupied buildings, threatened and harmed students and lecturers, the authorities were pressurized into taking extreme action, against their better instincts," he said.

Speaking on the tougher provisions that were being introduced, he said that laws were not sacred cows, which was why departures were allowed by way of exceptions, and tougher laws were required to prevent inhuman ragging.

Intervening at this point, the UNP's Tyronne Fernando said the legislation would create a bad precedent by allowing evidence culled at a different investigation to over-rule judicial proceedings.

"What is more sacred than sworn testimony before a court of law? After all, how could a statement to the police be more acceptable?" he asked. To which the learned professor said that a departure from normal procedure was justified since what it sought to do was to ensure the safety of the lives of students and scholars and remove the blemishes that have come on the university system once and for all.

Dr. Karunasena Kodituwakku, another former VC now in politician's garb said the UNP aimed to dilute the proposed legislation by moving various amendments.

"University dons should have more autonomy, and not be like other heads of government departments. After all, they are a separate entity and should be able to function independently" he said.

Dr. Kodituwakku, shedding his customary gentle demeanour said that institutions of learning should not become camps for certain political groups where those with opposing views were harassed and intimidated.

Pledging solidarity was TULF's Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam. The legal luminary sought to explain the reasons for defining ragging as severely punishable. "Ragging caused suffering, pain and distress and was an offence coming under a separate law. It was cruel and degrading- a form of torture," he said.

Speaking of the total collapse of discipline in institutions of learning was UNP's burly MP Dr. Sarath Amunugama. "Until this need is addressed, the problem will persist. Reinforce the discipline, or we all shall perish. The reasons must be found for breakdown of order, and anti social behaviour should be countered wisely" he said.

The lone member opposing the legislation, was SLPF's Nihal Galappatty who was ready to lock horns with the government.

"If the Inter University Federation did not challenge this, you would have legalized this anti-Constitutional Bill without batting an eyelid," he thundered.

"The bill was anti-democratic and detrimental student life. This indicated the government's desire to curb student life using drastic legislation. A ban on ragging was called for by the leftist unions first, and others jumped the bandwagon. My grouse is that you want to imprison students for the putting up of posters and holding meetings. Is this democracy?" Minister Richard Pathirana them asked him whether he was willing to be bound by his party's decision.

Mr. Ariya Bulegoda, the leader of your party has sent me a letter pledging his support, he said amidst laughter.

Former university Don, Prof. A.V. Suraweera wished for the "ideal" universities be back again, when students behaved as civilized adults instead of as cannibals.

Recalling the days of yore when universities were pleasant places where divergent opinions were expressed and tolerated, he said "discipline was then the core of education, barometer of one's learning.

"I have served the universities for 30 years, and I was denied the right to enter a university merely because I hold political office today. I am only sorry that once places of prestige and learning have fallen to degrading levels," he said.

UNP's Badulla District member R.M. Ratnayake. "Institutions of learning were a reflection of what was happening in society. The country's upheaval was being reflected in the minds of youths, hence the breakdown in order," he said.

"It is easier to pile blame on students, unleashing our pent-up feelings. on then but the truth was that students lacked facilities. They barely survived and every day was a struggle. Without understanding this truth, resolution of the problem was impossible," he averred.

Taking a divot the left parties, he said "they feared the very monster they created was now threatening their existence. Bureaucratic bungling has vastly contributed to the dissatisfaction amongst students.

Trying to define "enawaka wadaya" was UNP's W.J.M. Lokubandara who said "wadaya" meant conduct unbecoming of humans. He said that all governments must accept blame for the flawed approach which has made the situation next to impossible today.

"The government failed to make Prof. Savitri Goonesekara's report on the matter to the Consultative Committee on Education, hence members had to look up the sky and speak. There was no basis for all these arguments. Could amendments e moved within a day?," he said: A government must learn from its past mistakes." After the infamous Broadcasting Authority Bill, you should have been careful, but not so. A government resembling a mere flickering light about to go out, should realize that haste made waste, he said.

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