Daily Archives: October 21, 2006
By Tisaranee Gunasekara
The week belonged to the ‘Children of ’56’. The legally begotten Sinhala offspring of 1956 scored a remarkable victory with the (not quite unexpected) Supreme Court decision against the merger. The illegally begotten Tamil offspring of 1956 scored a no less remarkable victory with two terrorists strikes – the suicide bombing of a Naval convoy, followed by the Black Sea Tiger attack on the Navy’s “Dhakshina” base in Galle. That second attack, though not a great success in military terms, achieved much for the Tiger cause in the politico-propaganda realm – the resultant micro-mini-riot by Sinhala mobsters is being exploited to the maximum by the LTTE. All told, it was a profitable week for the symbiotic twins of Sinhala supremacism and Tiger fascism.
The JVP’s decision to go to the Supreme Court against the merger and the reactive mob violence in Galle demonstrate the unwillingness of Southern extremists to differentiate between Tiger fascism and Tamil nationalism. Tamil nationalism must be comprehended, won over and accommodated through democratic devolution; this is a necessary precondition for its eventual transcendence (together with Sinhala nationalism) into a Sri Lankan identity. Tiger fascism has to be comprehended, combated and defeated politically and militarily. These two separate but interrelated tasks must be undertaken simultaneously. The de-merger is a blow to Tamil nationalism which hopes for autonomy within an undivided Sri Lanka; but it is an undisguised blessing for Tiger fascism, a welcome politico-propaganda weapon to justify anew its separatist project.
V. Anandasangaree has said that recommencing negotiations with the LTTE is pointless, if the government has no political package to take to Geneva. The Tigers will reject any proposal we put forward. And this rejection can expose the LTTE for what it is and enable us to get out of the negotiations trap without losing vital international support – providing our proposal is a generous one which goes beyond the 13th Amendment. If the best we can offer is de-merger and the Panchayat system (or something akin to that) the world will keep on compelling us to negotiate with the LTTE, despite its unrelenting terrorism and unreconstructed separatism.
The Deadly Sin of Triumphalism
The last few months saw the emergence of the idea of a short, sharp and victorious war against a weakened Tiger, a beguiling illusion cultivated by government propaganda and adorned with the shrill cries of Southern hardliners. We did not understand the specific condition which made possible the victories against the Tigers in the Eastern theatre – the presence of an ally who knew the enemy inside out. The Karuna rebellion strategically weakened the Tigers in the East; and by the time Eelam War IV commenced, many parts of the East had become no-go areas for the LTTE due to the activities of Col. Karuna’s TMVP. This favourable condition did not obtain in the North. And though the Tigers are indubitably fascists and terrorists, this does not mean that they are strangers to qualities such as bravery and commitment. The Muhamalai debacle could have been avoided if we did face up to the reality of a wounded but still determined Tiger, instead of believing our own propaganda about a cowardly Tiger on the run. Read the rest of this entry
A Traumatic Week
It has been a traumatic week for the country. First, we had the military debacle in Muhamalai which was extremely costly to the Sri Lanka Army both in terms of men and material. Then we had the cowardly suicide attack on the Naval convoy resulting in the death of over a hundred personnel. The same day, the Air Force lost a Kfir fighter jet when it crashed at Negombo shortly after take off. This has soon been followed by the daring attack on the Naval base in the Galle Harbour. Within a week, we had over six hundred security forces personnel either killed or injured and several combat tanks and a fighter jet lost. This loss of men and material was not quite the best preparation for peace talks. While military men will no doubt analyse as to what went wrong, let us hope that good sense will prevail from now until the talks begin.
The temptation would be to engage in revenge attacks. Indeed, this appears to have happened on a low key. An Air Force reportedly dropped bombs near Puthukudiyiruppu and killed two children and even the jet that crashed near Negombo was believed to have been on a bombing mission. But let us hope that it was only a knee jerk reaction and that from now on, until the talks end hopefully on a positive note, both sides will observe a cease-fire. This is not the time for post mortems; both sides took a big gamble in trying to escalate violence and obtain military advantage. The gamble has failed and it is time to face reality and prepare for talks. The hopeful sign is both parties have reiterated their commitment to the talks.
It is important that over the next couple of weeks, both sides not only reiterate their commitment to dialogue but they reiterate their commitment to bringing about peace in the country. The people of this country, on both sides of the ethnic divide, are tired of war and tired of people who espouse war. Most independent analysts have repeatedly pointed out that the war strategy will lead the country nowhere. Trying to maintain that it was only a defensive strategy and that the security forces were only reacting in defence lacks conviction. Political adventurers claimed credit for the capture of Sampur and persuaded the nation that the North was equally capturable. The security forces clearly took the initiative at Muhamalai. Military strategists can perhaps learn lessons from the misadventure. But it is now time for President Rajapakse to obtain the advice and support of senior apolitical civil society persons in working out a consensus political solution to the National Question. Winning numbers in Parliament may be necessary but it must go hand in hand with earning the trust and confidence of the people of this country, people of all ethnic, linguistic and religious groups. A total consensus in evolving a devolution package may or may not be possible. But so long as a political package enjoys the support of a wide cross-section of all communities, then the extremist opponents on both sides of the divide will necessarily have to accept it. Read the rest of this entry
by Dayan Jayatilleka
A month before his birthday, Mr Prabhakaran has shown flashes of his old form, though he has not been able, so far, to return to the form of the 1990s when his Tigers overran military bases, causing hundreds of casualties overnight.
Though the fortunes of war have shown a see-saw rhythm (Mavil Aru/Muhamalai), the overall strategic balance has reasserted itself as one of essential equivalence, with victories by either side being of a tactical nature, however important and dramatic.
The fundamental problem is this: how do we wrench the strategic initiative and sustain it, going on the strategic – not merely tactical – offensive, leading onto victory?
The basic realities remain:
A. So long as we do not defeat the Tigers, they will bring the war to us, attacking us in our own home territories.
B. The strategic balance can be changed decisively and sustainedly in favour of the Sri Lankan side by only one means: a set of political reforms that enables us to solicit the external military assistance – material, not manpower – that would qualitatively strengthen our armed forces, thereby virtually guaranteeing victory.
The chances for a reform package that could open the doors for greater military assistance and cooperation are evenly poised. On the one hand the JVP-JHU, on the other, the new d`E9tente between the two major democratic parties, the SLFP and UNP.
The LankaPage and later the Sunday Standard carried the segment of the draft MoU between the SLFP-UNP which concerns the ethnic problem:
"`85Both parties agreed that while terrorism requires a military response, the problems of minority communities call for a solution at the political level`85
The cornerstone of the political solution is power-sharing within the country on a basis acceptable to the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim communities and reflecting the experience of our country over the last few decades.
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 in all fields (principally including but not limited to defence and security, foreign relations, national budget, monetary policy, elections, immigration and emigration, national planning, shipping and navigation and related matters), while other matters will fall within the purview of regional administrators.
The demarcation between central and regional functions will be worked out in detail between the parties on the basis of the fundamental principles stated above, and in consultation with all relevant groups and interests"… (Sunday Standard Oct 15th)
Although little noticed and hardly commented upon, this draft document contains an excellent formulation on the Tamil ethnic issue; perhaps the best I have seen so far; transcending the polarisation of unitary vs. federal. It is a platform for regional autonomy, and a solution which is both adequate and feasible.
That’s the potential good news. But what if the UNP-SLFP cohabitation fails, with Ranil Wickremesinghe giving a nod and a wink to the recalcitrants within his own party, and at a time deemed most suitable by Prabhakaran, politically ‘suicide bombing’ the Rajapakse administration? Then his party will split, with a larger or smaller faction of talented and constructive elements joining the president. If the resultant coalition cannot command sufficient numbers in this parliament to fend off the UNP and JVP – which may cooperate as in 2000 – its new profile and Mahinda’s popularity can see it through at an election.
JVP Slip Shows
The basic problem or obstacle to addressing the realities I listed earlier and wrenching the strategic initiative remains: Sinhala myopia and obduracy, which prevents the implementation of such reforms. In today’s Sri Lanka this takes the form of the JVP and JHU, and their front organisations.
According to a report in the pro-JVP Lanka Truth website of Oct 18th, Mr Weerawansa has said at a media briefing in Colombo that "If an attempt is made to merge the two provinces the people would make a bigger effort than that was taken in 1987 to defeat such an attempt".
Now that’s a political Freudian slip on the part of Mr. Weerawansa. As we all know, the people made no such effort in 1987; the JVP did, and it was an ultra-violent one. Thus instead of promising a peaceful, legal and democratic protest against any move to restore the merger, the JVP’s propaganda secretary has in fact, uttered a coded and veiled threat of armed violence. The attempt to influence sections of the armed forces through the Manel Mal Movement, and to split the army – men from officer corps; junior officers from senior officers; senior officers from one another; military from government – through its propaganda ( for instance in the paper Lanka) must be read in this context.
Supreme Court and Merger
I find most of the comment, for and against the judgement of the Supreme Court on the issue of the merger, to be misleading, or rather, to reflect a misunderstanding. The court found that the merger, as performed in 1987 and maintained since, was illegal, and unconstitutional and therefore null and void.
It did not rule against any future merger performed in the right manner. In short it was not a verdict against the idea of a single Northern and eastern region. This again must not be misunderstood: I do not mean that such an idea is a good thing; still less that the courts ruled in favour of it! My point is that there is still room for a compromise on the issue, provided there is due process and proper procedure.
Alternative to the Alternatives
The crisis not only requires a search for alternatives, it requires, as former Secretary of state under President Bush Sr., James Baker 111 said recently about the Iraqi quagmire, "an alternative to the existing alternatives"! An alternative has to be found to the respectively unsustainable and unachievable alternatives of unitary and federal. It is present in the bi-partisan formula for power sharing and regional administrations, i.e. regional autonomy. Similarly it is now most apposite to search for an alternative to both the permanent merger and permanent de-merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces as they are currently configured and empowered by the 13th amendment.
At least five such options have cropped up in the devolution debate over the decades
1. Enhanced devolution to de-merged councils ( Mangala Moonesinghe select committee)
2. Re-demarcation (trifurcation of the east, Nov 1986; excision of Ampara, Dec 19th 1986 proposals)
3. Non-contiguous devolution ( ‘Danzig corridor’, Pondicherry model, MHM Ashraff’s ideas)
4. Linkage/apex council (GL Pieris, Sirisena Cooray).
5. Amalgamation of contiguous Tamil ethnic majority Pradesheeya Sabha so as to form a single region or enlarged province ( ACS Hameed and President Premadasa, APC 1990)
These must be re-examined for the answer surely resides in some combination.
By Subash Wickramasinghe
The Tigers have made it a habit to attend peace talks according to their own secret plans but not on mutually acceptable terms to settle any problems in a mutually agreeable way. The sudden withdrawal from peace talks during the Wickremasinghe regime was a case in point. Whenever the situation is not "conducive" for them to attend talks or continue on-going talks, they simply refuse to attend or refuse to meet anybody and simply walk away or show callous disregard towards such attempts at talks. On the other hand when the situation is acceptable for them they plead to attend talks unconditionally. It is a clear indication of the existence of hidden plans and their ability to use talks as an opportunity to achieve their goals. Even though fully aware of it, as a democratically elected government it cannot act or react to Tiger ploys in a haphazard manner. Utilizing the predicament the government is in, to their advantage, the Tigers use all sorts of inhuman acts and heinous crimes to push the government further to the wall.
Unlike in any other instance elsewhere in the world the Sri Lankan episode is such that more the massacres the Tigers carry out, the more the respect and recognition the Tigers earn from their sympathizers within the country and outside. These sympathizers and peace advocates within the country make such innocent massacres an issue for them to agitate for one sided peace. For them peace means governmental silence in the face of attacks by the Tigers. When the Tigers use their killer weapons to massacre innocent and unarmed security service personnel these peace advocates use the word peace as a weapon against the government to prevent reprisals against Tiger positions to protect Tiger fire power.
n When the Tigers use their killer weapons to massacre innocent and unarmed security service personnel some peace advocates use the word peace as a weapon against the government to prevent reprisals against Tiger positions to protect Tiger fire power
When the Tigers use their killer weapons to massacre innocent and unarmed security service personnel some peace advocates use the word peace as a weapon against the government to prevent reprisals against Tiger positions to protect Tiger fire power
With the Tigers, any sort of temporary peace is beneficial to them only. With the Tigers, the only way to peace is peace sans Tiger fire power. That is why Rajapaksa said that he wants to usher a honourable peace and he embarked on that journey for peace and was ready to meet Prabhakaran as well
On the other hand, ever present foreign peace supporters also turn a blind eye to what the Tigers do right under their noses. Recently a high ranking German ministry official announced that German aid for Sri Lanka is to be frozen if peace talks were not held. This is highly unfair by the Sri Lankan government as any group of terrorists can resort to armed struggle and the government would be compelled to hold peace talks to placate foreign aid donors. Knowingly or unknowingly these peace preachers and foreign aid donors are creating a very dangerous precedent that would entice ideological hardliners or extremist political parties to take to arms and demand "homeland" "motherland" or "comrade land" for them to rule. Luckily ideological extremism is now a thing of the past in this country otherwise a precedent has already been created for the acceptance of illegal violent acts as legitimate rights for an armed group to carve out areas for them.
The irony of it is that in all these instances peace is held as ‘hostage’ till the ‘ransom’ of landmass is granted. This is the other side or the darker side of peace hidden from the masses. In fact the darker side of peace is hidden from the masses by the preachers of peace for their own wellbeing. This is a unique occasion where peace is used as a weapon by advocates of peace.
True, the country needs peace. That is why Mahinda Rajapaksa in his manifesto enunciated the real value of honourable peace. Past history has ample evidences to show that unless handled properly peace will become a trap. A trap laid by the interested parties. President J.R.Jayewardene agreed to sign the Indo-Lanka agreement and merged the North and East expecting such act would bring in much needed peace. President Premadasa supplied arms to Tigers to fight the IPKF. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinge signed the flawed CFA expecting all violence would end and peace will prevail in the country. Wickremesinghe’s Defence Minister openly said that on some occasions they had to turn a blind eye in the name of peace. President Kumaratunge changed Wickremesinghe’s defence minister over the Manirasakulam matter but did not do anything to recapture Manirasakulam as she would not have wanted to upset the apple cart of peace.
All these acts, one may say have brought some kind of peace at least for some time. Yes, but one must understand who the enemy is. Depending on the nature of the enemy, obtaining peace at least for some time is acceptable. If the sovereignty of the country is not at risk, if innocent civilians are not at risk, if the future of the country is not at risk that means the enemy is a rat but not a tiger. Then some sort of peace for some time is acceptable. But if the enemy is a ferocious man eater no one should risk anything. The problem with previous governments was that they have failed to size up the enemy and act accordingly. With the Tigers, any sort of temporary peace is beneficial to them only. With the Tigers, the only way to peace is peace sans Tiger fire power. That is why Rajapaksa said that he wants to usher honourable peace and he embarked on that journey for peace and was ready to meet Prabhakaran as well.
But since President Rajapaksa came to power the Tigers have been behaving in a manner completely different to the way they behaved during the Wickremesinghe regime. May be because it was during Wickremesinghe’s Premiership the Tigers got what they wanted. The dismantling of barriers and implementation of the one-way barrier the CFA immensely helped the Tigers. Even though some say that Tigers defeated Wickremesinghe at presidential polls by enforcing a polls boycott in Wanni, the real reason of the boycott would have been to prevent population figures going public. The same reason can be adduced to their threats to prevent holding a census from 1980s. The Tigers agreed to have P-TOMS implemented because the P-TOMS allowed a free hand for them without outside interference including dredging the jetties to recover boats and armaments in the sea bed. As a side effect of preventing population figures going out the Tigers had to defeat Wickremesinghe. In that spirit the well-planned non-stop attacks since the advent of the Rajapaksa regime indicate the Tigers’ desire to effect a regime change at the earliest. That is why Tigers never ever attempted any conciliatory terms with Rajapaksa or responded to Rajapaksa’s attempts at conciliatory restraint in the face of heavy Tiger attacks from the day he came to power.
In a way President Rajapaksa was the only president who had maintained absolute restraint in the face of absolute fire power. As a result during the period of Rajapaksa’s presidency the casualty figures have sky rocketed uncontrollably. Finally the President had to say enough is enough and used the fire power to bring the Tiger under control. As usual it is at this stage the local and foreign sympathizers reactivated their act to drum up sympathy for the Tigers by weeping over the Tiger massacres. The irony of it is they never urge or appeal to the Tigers to stop massacring the innocents. But wait till such massacres are carried out by the Tigers to weep over the massacres to demand the government to stop "further" killings. This act is to protect the Tigers and their armoury after the civilian massacres. This is the other side of the peace the Colombo based peace brigade preaches.
Under cover of such "peaceful" atmosphere Tigers carry out their heinous crimes to achieve what is called the upper hand to demand various conditions before going to Geneva talks. The Habarana massacre and some hours later the attack at Dhakshina Naval Base in Galle are well arranged acts to gain that upper hand. The hundred odd deaths at Habarana had been subdued by the noon attack at Galle. The proposed peace talks in Geneva on 28th and 29th have thrown both these attacks into the dustbin of history but the Tigers feel that they have gained some recognition prior to the Geneva talks.
Believing they have the upper hand the Tigers have by now submitted new conditions to the earlier unconditional talks. The government has specifically mentioned that they wish to discuss core issues during a specified period. At that time the Tigers agreed as they had been subdued by the security forces at Muhamalai, Mutur and Sampur. But with the higher death toll at the Muhamalai second attack and the Habarana and Galle attacks the Tigers believe they have gained an upper hand. Utilizing the boost they gained by killing hundreds and the government’s desire to have talks the Tigers have raised their ugly strategy of avoiding discussing core issues at a negotiating table. The Tigers have suggested that core issues should not be discussed at the talks and only the prevailing attacks should be the topic. Subdued after Sampur the Tigers have made an about turn with the Habarana massacre of hundreds to dictate terms to the government concerning the talks. Believing that they have the upper hand and are in a position to demand anything they want the Tigers have come back to square one. This is the crucial point President Rajapaksa has to understand before sending his team to Geneva. In the absence of a condition to lay down arms, negotiating even to bring solace to Tamil population according to their agenda, would be suicidal for a government. If a government believes peace can be achieved without negotiating core issues and without laying down arms that would be a miracle. But some believe miracles do happen. -Daily Mirror