By Prof. Susantha Goonatilake

Last week saw Colombo plastered with signboards that 77% of Sri Lankans supported LTTE talks. But this was Colombo, where a strong Tamil community the most effected by the war, lived. The percentage here would be nearly 100% and so a common attitude in almost every Colombo citizen. So, why the need to remind the convinced if everybody already supported talks? The strident advertising suggested that the advertisers had doubts.

The advertisers were an outfit "Impact". I heard an NGO hack on TV saying that Professor Hettige was behind this survey. I found from Professor Hettige that this was part of a survey whose partial results had already raised controversy during the last election.

This same survey had suggested that the PA was then ahead in the election with 35.2%; the UNF would get only 32% and the JVP 14.6%. The total for all other parties and those undecided amounted to 18.1 %. The latter also included 0.7% for Sihala Urumaya. The PA and JVP who campaigned saying that the Tigers were not to be trusted, together therefore got 49.8% - half - of those surveyed. A feature of the Parivasa agreement was not to revive any negotiations with the LTTE. (And, 51% said that this PA/JVP agreement was useful, and could not have been better). Yet, 77% (well actually it was 75.7) of the very same group was also wanting negotiations.

So clearly the results of the same survey were contradictory.

Professor Hettige's gut reaction was that answers to almost open questions like "do you want negotiations to end the war" would have every body voting for peace. His assistant who gave me a copy of the report had been embarrassed by the publicity on the Colombo walls.

Now, there is a growing body of knowledge that questions and answers are not neutral. This is broadly called stand-point theory in sociology. Some have pushed this perspective to relations between large social groups including between civilizations. Last year was UNESCO Year of dialog among civilizations which presumes standpoint aspects. If you go to their rich website you will see many descriptions of such broad issues (including references to my own contributions to this theoretical literature, I being one of the three key South Asian "dialogic thinkers" cited.)

So much for the theoretical aside. But what does this mean to us? What is the stand point of those who plastered the walls? Are there hidden agendas which even they may not be aware of?

Professor Hettige told me that it was one Tyrol Ferdinands who had approached him to do the study. Professor Hettige did not know the background of Ferdinands. So for the public interest and for Hettige here is a sketch of Ferdinands and his connections with Tiger positions and Tiger fronts.

Ferdinands has been very active in Christian organizations. He is also a key member of the National Peace Council (NPC). In a meeting in 1995 at Hong Kong, Ferdinands accepted as valid the traditional homelands of Tamils hoax (Tamil Voice). Another meeting at Hong Kong had also recommended that all those who had been settled in these empty lands be withdrawn. This was a clear call for the ethnic cleansing of the North and East of all Sinhalese which area Ferdinands had recognized as exclusive Tamil lands.

The NPC in which Ferdinands is a key member has taken many anti Sri Lanka stands. Its national organizer had marched in a rally supporting the Tigers of Geneva (Hot Spring). Its Media Director (read propaganda chief) Jehan Perera, had at the time of the Indian incursion threatened Sri Lanka with dire consequences (Daily News August 26, 1987). While campaigning for a future sovereignty of the separatists, he has also questioned the need for Sri Lankan sovereignty and has made the case for what he has called "shared sovereignty" (January 12, 1997, The Island) and for two near-states, one for the North East and one for the South West (Sunday Observer May 1998). He writes a column to the Island which first appears in the separatist site "Eelam Nation".

Tiger fronts must necessarily cloud the issues.

It is not personal ill will to respectively Tamils or Sinhalese that drags on the war. It is a political conflict which no amount of singing Solo Mio or ordering employees to hold hands can cover. There is one easy step to a permanent peace. Give the Tiger political objective of a separate state and you have immediate peace.

The TELO deputy leader mentioned last week that there is no addressing of basic issues under the present ceasefire. He echoes what Dr. John Gooneratne wrote that the LTTE in none of the earlier talk attempts had got to discuss the real political issues.

The Tamil separatist literature and Indian reporting on Rajiv Gnadhi's assassination show the ultimate political aim of the Tigers is to gain a Greater Eelam encompassing South India and Sri Lanka. The NGOs, the Christian lobby and the dead left ignore these facts. But if you think the foreign ministry or the interior ministry has read this literature, forget that too. Both our hidden decision makers and the official ones are unaware of the key issues.

The LTTE had effectively got itself partially unbanned in UK by its representative holding talks with Norway in London. It was trying hard to do the same in India by trying to have talks there. Indians seems to have rebuffed the LTTE because of fears of South Indian Tamil separatism being aroused once again. Tamil separatism in Sri Lanka is a direct outcome of a nexus going back to the 19th century between South Indian and Sri Lankan Tamils. Common efforts like opposition to the respective official languages of Hindi and Sinhala and the demand for separate states resulted. In these, the Church played a key role. Only in Sri Lanka is Tamil separatism alive today. Hence the fear of LTTE infection by the Indians.

In the meantime both sides are reminded of the real political conflict.

The Island reported this week that the Bambalapitiya police discovered a Tiger bomber. There is no doubt that a large number of Tigers and explosives would have already being planted during this cease fire. An arms ship had been unloaded. New Tiger networks would have been created, others strengthened. The obvious target would be apart from the already targeted President, the PM. So stakes for the government are literally life and death of its leaders.

The new Defense Minister Marapone at the Diyatalawa academy passing out parade said that the new government will provide the armed forces with "all the necessary assistance by way of weapons and other means to wipe out LTTE terrorism from this land". But a Sunday Leader journalist close to Tiger sources reported that the LTTE had objected strongly to these statements and were disturbed by reports of military preparations like recruitment, arms purchases, military constructions etc.

This is an unstable "peace". Enjoy the ceasefire and the no-barrier roads. (I do.) But prepare for war and ignore the mischievous Tiger front propaganda which deliberately clouds political reality. And ask Wickramasinghe-friendly media to accurately report ground political reality, not just the sunshine. His life may depend on understanding that reality.


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