Monthly Archives: July 2006
Former diplomat and outspoken political analyst K. Godage has continued to express strong views on the path subsequent governments have taken on respective peace process. He remains skeptical of the LTTE’s commitment to a peaceful and negotiated settlement. Holding that Indian support is crucial to resolving the conflict he maintains India to be the only country with a permanent interest in the issue.
Last week with the reports of a Parliamentary Select Committee probe on the Milinda Moragoda Humanitarian De-mining group,Mr. Godage who was the Chairman of the group was in the news again, strongly defending his outfit.
HARD TALK Shakuntala Perera
Q :Why is your de-mining group being probed by the Parliamentary Select Committee?
A:I have asked myself the same question too. This came as a surprise.
We know of no strictures passed on us by anybody nor has anyone raised any question in the past three years – so why now? I can only surmise – it is probably because Milinda Moragoda has in recent days been the subject of some controversy in his party; It has all the hallmarks of it being politically motivated .
The Project may have been the initiative of Mr. Moragoda but we are an independent apolitical organization involved in humanitarian dc-mining in the North and East. It has been alleged that “some volunteer organization involved in de-mining also engaged in other activities such as conducting workshops on Federalism and power devolution”. I wish to state quite emphatically that the MMIPE has neither conducted nor is it involved in any such workshops. Since we are the only Sri Lanka organization involved in de-mining I am inclined to think that this is a deliberate instance of vicious mischief calculated to bring our organization into disrepute.
Q :What is your opinion about the Parliamentary Select Committee inquiries into NGO activities in general?
A: I certainly think that it is absolutely necessary for there to be transparency and accountability; a permanent NGO Commission should be appointed under the Amended 17 Amendment; I also support the enactment of legislation to monitor the work of all NGOs.
Q :You have been very vocal on the international community’s role in the peace process. Despite an EU ban against the LTTE, the LTTE held very elaborate commemorations for Black July in the UK for instance, last week. Is this as far as international bans on terrorist groups go?
A: The UK has no economic interest in this country. We are a small country with no resources of value to them. They have no strategic interest here either. They are just not interested. That is the bottom line. Our problem has become a nuisance to them now. They have 60,000 Tamils in the UK. None of those countries are interested. This is our problem which we have to solve.
Q : There has been a lot of criticism against the government’s own representatives in those countries and their failure to do enough to counter the misconceptions spread by the LTTE in those countries. How fair is that?
A: What is enough? Embassies only do counter propaganda and PR. Do you think that the ban that came, the first time around, would have come around if they had not lobbied for it? Do you think that resolutions that came in the UN or even in the US congress against the LTTE would’ve come through if we had not canvassed it? There have been many resolutions against human rights violations against the Sri Lankan governments, where our representatives have worked to remedy them. It’s just that preventive work is never publicized! They have been doing quiet work. These High Commissioners have been able to push through despite the government being termed hard line Sinhala Buddhist or with Marxist elements. There have been many elements working against the ban. There had been a Tamil Diaspora against it, despite which they were able to pull through. Much of the time these countries are just not interested in Sri Lanka.
Q :Isn’t the mid-east crisis going to further take the global concentration away from Sri Lanka?
A: Of course, but even if Lebanon didn’t happen the international community is tired because nothing is happening. They don’t see the will on the part of the Sri Lankan government.
Q : Do you feel that it is our delay in looking for a viable solution that is shifting international focus away?
A: Certainly, because they don’t see the will on the part of the government. This is making them lose interest. The Japanese for instance have consistently held that this is a government and a non state actor using terrorism to achieve political gain. But they too have lost interest because they don’t see real commitment. Because they see the history of the situation but not where it is going. How they proceed depends largely on how the government moves and if the government and the President want to solve this issue.
Q : You have been critical of India staying away from the Sri Lankan crisis this time around. Is there a political reality for that decision or are other circumstances keeping them away?
A: India has more than enough on its plate. I don’t expect them to be involved. Even at the Vadamarachchi debacle they intervened because they had the interests of 50 million Tamil constituencies in their South. Then on the Provincial Councils too, no attempt has been made to make it work. The Tamils have not accepted it and in the South too it doesn’t work well. And we made no real move to work at devolution after that. They took 1272 casualties with another 2000 maimed for the security of Sri Lanka. And they were chased out. They did wait for us to get our house in order and pass legislation and make reality of the devolution. There may have been a handful within Indian Foreign Ministry with certain imperialist tendencies who wanted to bring us within their orbit. I don’t really blame them for not getting involved. What I say is that they are only people with a permanent interest in what happens to Sri Lanka. They tried to work with the Norwegians. The Norwegians are here by leave of India. They have been reporting to India. This is why Opposition politicians have been running to India. But now India has other preoccupations. They have their own problems, the insurgencies. The government is weak in the coalition. They are dependent on the Southern vote. Because of that they are reluctant to come and get involved. But they can come in as co-chairs. I don’t expect them to come in any capacity other than that.
Q :In this scenario how difficult would it be for a Sri Lankan government to go on its own without Indian support?
A: Well, without India the LTTE will only get stronger. India’s political and strategic interest, and even the law and order situation in Southern India, is all involved where they are concerned. But the path we go today with no change in the unitary constitution will not help the situation.
Q : But isn’t the stalemate in the peace process also affecting faith and confidence building measures?
A: The aspect of the talks apart, other aspects of rebuilding or improving restructure facilities, are the real part of the process where the people are concerned. And the LTTE realized that with the international funds pledged for development if we had gone ahead with the plans planned for, the people would no longer be interested in militancy. And even the talks had reached core issues, so the LTTE pulled out of that too. They didn’t want to go to Tokyo either because they felt they would be cornered further. Of course the Ceasefire Agreement remained, because it was in their interest to keep it going. They were able to strengthen themselves as they have done with every previous ceasefire. In fact the late Indian Premier Rajiv Gandhi (Indian intelligence) once told us that the LTTE were building bunkers and were not interested in peace. But late President Premadasa didn’t believe it. All the signs were there but no preventive measures were taken. Then President Chandrika exchanged letters with them, of course with goodwill, but it didn’t work out. The CFA this time again gave them time under political work; which was a naïve expectation, to infiltrate in to government controlled areas without our soldiers being able to do the same thing. The CFA was crafted with Norwegian help and we didn’t have a say in it. Our military didn’t know anything about it. President Chandrika should’ve been shown that, but wasn’t. So it was formulated and signed secretively. The intention was to appease the LTTE. The government let their guard down. Nothing was done to prepare the forces so we were left in a severe state of unpreparedness when Mahinda Rajapaksa became President. And in the midst of this there are some elements saying we should go to war.
Q : Then we are looking at a process where every successive government’s ‘commitment’ to peace has followed a clear pattern of appeasing the LTTE, who were never interested in peace?
A: There is no doubt their agenda was something else. This time around too they are no different. They are not interested in a peaceful solution. If we think that they are then we are foolish. That is why we have to build confidence among the Tamil people. We need to reach out to them. The Tamil language is still not an administrative language in this country.
Q : Is nothing being done to win the Tamil people?
A: No, nothing. We can prepare for talks and have various political committees but we need a plan that talks to the Tamil people and their needs. There must be political will to do that and to let power go from the centre for a viable solution.
Q : You don’t believe the All Party Conference has the capacity to fulfill that?
A: No. They are talking of devolution. But at what level? We have the Provincial Councils where there are Ministers with all the necessary infrastructure, but what have they really achieved? So we have missed a number of opportunities and lost out. This time we have an opportunity because the President wants a negotiated settlement. The question is whether he understands the implications downstream?
At least 15 coffins were seen lying at the Illapadichenai LTTE political office, which would be used to bury the rebel cadres killed in the airstrikes on the Thenagam camp on Saturday, Batticaloa, sources said.
The LTTE claims only eight rebels, including two top cadres, were killed and 4 injured, following the airstrikes on the key LTTE camp, where the area’s military wing leader Banu was said to be handing over powers to Jeyam, at a packed ceremony.
Sources in Batticaloa said that Banu was hit from the rear by shrapnel, caused by the aerial bombing and was receiving treatment with nearly 40 other cadres. The Daily Mirror also learns that several vehicles, military equipment and weapons were damaged in the raid, which the Government says was part of the operation to force open the Mawilaru anicut.
Meanwhile, the LTTE peace secretariat says a total of 15 LTTE cadres were killed as of Saturday, following four days of airstrikes in the North and East, which began on July 26, in Mawilaru, Trincomalee.
“Seven LTTE cadres were killed in airstrikes in Kathiraveli, Trincomalee, on Thursday, July 27, around 3.30 pm, while eight were injured, including three civilians and five LTTE cadres. Eight LTTE cadres were killed on the fourth day of airstrikes in Karadiyanaru, Batticaloa, on Saturday, July 29, between 11.30 am and 12.00 noon,” it said. -Daily Mirror
Batticaloa leader says Govt. has declared war
Israeli-built Kfir jets of the Sri Lanka Air Force yesterday bombed a major base of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Karadiyanaru, 23 kilometres west of Batticaloa, where a meeting of guerrilla cadres was in progress.
The attack that followed accurate intelligence, military sources told The Sunday Times last night, left at least 40 guerrilla cadres dead. Among those wounded was LTTE’s Military Wing leader for the Batticaloa district, Banu.
Armed LTTE groups cordoned off the area and played down the incident. Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were refused entry to the scene for some three hours after the attack. LTTE’s Batticaloa political leader Daya Mohan claimed that Banu was not present at the time of the bombing that left eight dead and four wounded. However, intelligence sources who spoke on grounds of anonymity told The Sunday Times that the Air Force had targeted the LTTE office accurately and confirmed Banu was among the injured.
The air attack at 11 a.m. yesterday came during the fourth successive day of bombing on LTTE targets. It began last Wednesday afternoon after Tiger guerrillas placed a water blockade shutting down the Mavil Aru anicut. The move deprived water to some 30,000 acres of paddy that is ready for harvest and large extents of farmland. This anicut is located on the Trincomalee side of the border that separates it from the Batticaloa district. The border is defined by the Verugal river. Water from the Mavil Aru anicut flows to paddy lands in villages north of the Batticaloa district and is said to benefit some 15,000 families.
The four-day-long bombing raids have focused on an LTTE camp in Verugal where 16 guerrillas were killed and nearly 40 injured. Yesterday’s air attack was the first in the Batticaloa district. The previous targets including an airstrip now taking shape were in the Mullaitivu and Trincomalee districts.
LTTE’s Daya Mohan charged that the air raids were a violation of the ceasefire and claimed the action showed the Government had declared war. At the time of the incident, LTTE cadres have been meeting to discuss plans for a passing out parade of civilians who formed a Civilian Militia. They had completed military training. However, military sources said the air attacks backed by ground action were prompted by the LTTE’s refusal to lift the water blockade and thus alleviate the suffering of farmers. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) members refrained from visiting the scene of the air attack in Karadiyanaru on the grounds that they had nosecurity guarantees either from the Government or the LTTE.
On Friday, the head of the SLMM, retired Swedish Major General Ulf Henricsson held talks with Trincomalee LTTE Political Wing leader S. Elilan in a bid to lift the water blockade. Elilan said at that time an Air Force bomb had fallen some 750 metres away from the area where talks were held. But SLMM spokesman Thofinner Omarsson declined to confirm the incident saying he was not present.
Troops were advancing towards the Mavil Aru anicut as Air Force bombers pounded the vicinity. Additional Government Agent for Mutur Division, Mohamed Niyas said fighting was still going on. Hence Irrigation engineers were waiting to be escorted by the Seruwila Police to the scene. The anicut was closed on July 20.
Government defence spokesman and Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told The Sunday Times that until last evening they could not get the sluice gates at Mavil Aru opened. “We can discuss other issues later. The immediate need is to open the sluice gates,” he said. He rejected any conditions placed by the LTTE and said water is not an issue that could entail any demands. He denied the Air Force had bombed a location close to where Mr. Henricsson was holding talks with Mr. Elilan. -Sunday Times
Sri Lanka’s candidate for the powerful post of United Nations Secretary General vowed yesterday he would continue his campaign despite reportedly poor showing in the so-called straw poll conducted among Security Council members last week.
Dr. Jayantha Dhanapala, former UN Undersecretary General in charge of disarmament, told the Sunday Times that he considered the straw poll as only a preliminary indication process and not a sign of any definitive trend.According to reports from New York, Dr. Dhanapala was placed fourth in the so-called straw poll on Monday after South Korea’s Ban Ki-Moon, India’s Shashi Tharoor and Thailand’s Surakiart Sathirathai.
Dr. Dhanapala who only got five votes of encouragement in the straw polls said the race and the process were continuing and he with the support of his country would intensify the campaign. Diplomatic sources in New York were making an educated guess on how the 15 countries in the Security Council could have voted in the straw poll for Sri Lanka’s candidate.
They said the five encouragements for Dr. Dhanapala were from China, Congo, Ghana, Qatar and Tanzania while those who gave a vote of discouragement were Argentina, Denmark, France, Greece, Slovakia and the UK – with Japan, Peru, Russia and US remaining neutral.
Argentina has for long not voted with Sri Lanka, especially after Sri Lanka’s vote with Britain over the Falklands invasion in the 1980s when the entire Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) bloc voted with Argentina.
Peru had thought to play safe, while Russia appears to have adopted a wait-and-see approach. Japan and the US have opted to stay clear for the time-being, according to these sources.
Under UN Charter rules, the secretary-general is elected by the 192-member General Assembly under recommendation from the Security Council, with the five permanent members – the US, China, France, Britain and Russia – having veto powers on the issue.
Diplomatic sources said the council hoped to have the appointment wrapped up by October.
The Destruction of Lebanon
We have been seeing some horrendous scenes on our television screens over the past couple of weeks. Lebanon, just recovering after a fifteen year civil war and a painstaking reconstruction process over the next fifteen years, is being destroyed before our eyes. It is a tragedy that this violence is being inflicted upon a whole people by a country whose founding fathers were themselves victims of the holocaust. The mass genocide in Rwanda, in the former Yugoslavia and in Congo disturbed the conscience of the world over the past couple of decades. It is true that this present destruction of Lebanon has also horrified the people in all parts of the world. But what is disturbing is that some major powers, notably USA and UK, are unwilling to condemn the actions of Israel. This justifiably lends credence to the charge of double standards made by Muslim states and peoples. Hundreds of men, women and children have been killed and thousands maimed, residences and office buildings bombed out and the civil infrastructure of Lebanon deliberately destroyed. And yet the Bush and Blair governments are unwilling to condemn or to act.
From Prosperity to Decline
Lebanon received independence from French colonial rule in 1943. At independence it had a mixed Muslim (Sunni and Shia) and Maronite Christian population. There was co-existence and goodwill resulted in prosperity. Lebanon soon became the centre for finance and trade in the region. But prosperity was not to last long.
In 1947, Palestinians evicted in their thousands from their homeland in the newly created state of Israel, poured into Lebanon. The number increased after the 1967 war. Lebanon was now ripe for those seeking to engage in terrorism and for those responding with counter-terrorism. Opportunist political leaders both in the region and in other parts of the world fuelled the growing violence. A civil war began around 1974 along religious lines but was nurtured and controlled by neighbouring countries. It took fifteen years and over 100,000 deaths to end the war.
A Facilitated Peace
The Arab League successfully brokered an end to the civil war in 1989. The Ta’if agreement re-inforced the willingness of the different faith groups to work together in power-sharing at parliamentary level. The President was again to be a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni and the Speaker a Shia Muslim.
There appeared to be genuine co-operation amongst the parties and a massive reconstruction programme got under way. There were hiccups but Lebanon was once again on the road to prosperity. Last year, the Syrian troops were persuaded to withdraw leaving the country in the hands of a government democratically elected at a parliamentary election.
Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism
Of course, Hezbollah, a organisation designated as terrorist by the USA, Israel and some other countries operated from within south Lebanese territory and continued with attacks on military and civilian targets across the border into northern Israel. Israel responded with equal or greater counter-attacks. Indeed, five human rights organisations within Israel have stated that, since October 2000, out of 1647 Palestinians killed by the Israeli military, more than half were civilians not engaged in any militant activity.
Of those killed, 704 were under the age of 18. The trigger for the present Israeli offensive in Lebanon was the killing of a couple of Israeli soldiers and the kidnapping of one. In Gaza, it was similar. The continuing destruction of the civil infrastructure, of homes and the killing of hundreds is the utterly disproportionate response by Israel.
Ehud Olmert has just been elected the Prime Minister of Israel. He probably wants to prove that he is a tough leader. It is perhaps this domestic agenda that has made him embark on this military adventure. There are many even within Israel who view this action as flawed. But Olmert will now find it difficult to extricate himself from the mess that he has landed his country. World opinion, despite Bush and Blair, is horrified at the Israeli response.
Olmert will now have to depend on Bush (with Blair yapping support) to come up with a formula for Israel to back down from the crime which has been committed against a hapless people just beginning to re-build their lives.
Lesson for Sri Lanka
All this has a lesson for us in Sri Lanka as well. Those who think it possible to inflict a military solution to our ethnic problem must realise that military adventures do not solve political problems. They only cause massive destruction of the infrastructure and the loss of lives and property without solving any thing. They will cause hatred, disgust and distrust not only among the "the enemy" but equally or more among the non-combatant civilian population on both sides. Militarism only leads a country to economic and political ruin. The sooner the LTTE and the ‘hawks’ among the Sinhalas realise this, the better it will be for the people of all ethnic groups in our country.
President Rajapakse, unlike Ehud Olmert, has been pragmatic enough to resist calls for a military adventure. But time is fast running out. If the LTTE does not want to engage in civilised dialogue to bring about a peaceful settlement, then President Rajapakse has to move forward leaving them behind. He has to take this to the Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and all other people who will no doubt respond positively. We are not talking of a General Election that will almost certainly prove counter-productive.
A political settlement born out of consensus and which meets the legitimate concerns of all communities must be placed before our people soon. Delay can only result in some parties fishing in troubled waters. There are already ominous signs of that happening. -The Island