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Ven Rathana's Address to the Aid Group

Victor Gunasekara

The unscheduled address of Ven Athureliye Rathana to the Aid Consortium at the much-heralded Kandy meeting is important in several respects. The Venerable monk spoke on matters which must surely have been in the minds of many although they were afraid or reluctant to articulate them. This was the positive part of his speech and he must be commended for saying what he said in this regard. At the same time the speech also highlighted the helplessness of those who share the venerable monk's views and this is the negative aspect. I hope to comment on both aspects. The photo that accompanied press reports of the Venerable monk presenting his petition to a stony-faced President who was prepared yet again to sell out the vital interests of the nation, flanked by her Prime Minister who looked like a stunned mullet, summarized graphically the dilemma facing the nation.

What Venerable Rathana pointed out were two uncontestable facts: (1) the LTTE is a terrorist group guilty of horrendous crimes, and (2) the proposed Joint Mechanism (JM) is another step in conferring legitimacy to the LTTE and an irretrievable step in the march to the separate state of Eelaam. These matters are so self-evident that it is unlikely that anyone at that conference, including the representatives of the aid donors, were not aware of them. The reasons why the aid donors ignore these facts is not that they are unaware of them but because their agenda is to promote the division of the country and to favour the separatist Tamils against the Helas of SL. It is more their anti-hela sentiment that drives them than their pro-LTTE sentiment. This fact is not understood by the Helas and they think that paying puja to the aid donors, and making extravagant claims about the humanity, compassion and the wisdom of the Boduhelas, will make them change their mind. They do not realize that the price they have to pay for the aid they get is selling out the birth-right of the nation.

So it is more useful to see where the speech failed rather than the obvious truths it contained. A lot of these related to the myths with which the neo-Sinhalas have comforted themselves even though they have not yielded them much in return.

There was the usual appeal to Hela pride ("We are a proud people") a matter on which I had commented in an earlier post. Perhaps the Venerable monk should be advised to study what the Buddha said about the perils of pride (maana). But the most surprising statement is that "we were never and we will never be a nation of mendicants". Of course Sri Lanka was never a nation of mendicants until independence. Since then we have developed such an addiction to mendicancy over such a long period of time that there are few parallels that we can think of. It is ironical that the statement itself was made to a meeting whose sole purpose was to beg for more aid. Foreign aid had become such a regular element in balancing the budget that the Tsunami disaster put the aid requirement over the top. The "international community" allocated several billions of dollars to Tsunami aid of which 2.25 billion was to be Sri Lanka's share. It was the disbursement of this aid that was at the centre of the meeting addressed by Ven Rathana.

In my essay on the Religious and Political Consequences of the Tsunami (see Cursory Comments No. 17) I had said that the Tsunami will shift the balance of power towards the LTTE and towards the Christians. Both seem to have happened. The so-called JM to share the promised aid bonanza with the LTTE will mean that the LTTE will be the official recipient of international aid. Hitherto such aid had come to it in secret and surreptitiously. With the JM it will get it with the imprimatur of the "international community" as well as of GOSL (which it has already received). Of course the "Joint" part of the JM will be a farce. What it will mean in practice is that GOSL will simply hand over the LTTE share (said to be about 40 percent of the total aid promised) to do as they please. Whatever formal agreement the two parties may sign the LTTE will treat it with the contempt it deserves. Helas and GOSL should know by now that you cannot come to agreements with the LTTE and expect them to keep their part of the bargain.

While Ven Rathana was denouncing the JM he was not considering why the JM has become such a necessity. This is because of the MOU which gave the LTTE for the first time a piece territory to rule as they thought fit. It has been claimed that the JHU, which Ven Rathana heads, as well as other Helas, have not denounced the MOU. Certainly they have not demanded its revocation with anything like the vigour they reserve for other things. If the MOU is considered valid then the JM is a logical necessity for under the MOU only the LTTE has the power for administration in the territory conceded to it. So Ven Rathana will logically have to start by demanding the revocation of the MOU before he can demand the abandonment of the JM as he did at the Donors' Conference. Indeed it is the very "peace process" itself that has to be abandoned. This logic appears to escape him, hence the sheer futility of his action. If it was to please his Hela supporters he may have succeeded but if it was a serious attempt to halt the drift to Eelaam it is likely to fail.

GOSL, as well as the loyal opposition of the UNP, support not only the MOU but also the ISGA and now the JM, both of which are necessary steps in the "peace process". The President and her opposition counterpart are keen on negotiating the JM. They claim that a majority of the people will support it. In this they may well be right. The Government can only reflect what the public think. The neo-Sinhalas are so enticed by the smell of easy money that they will trade anything for it. The the hard nosed international consortium arranging aid knows this too well. They can surely draw the conclusion from Ven Rathana's statement that the JHU has only 9 seats in Parliament. So why should they heed the advice of Ven Rathana?

The rest of Ven Rathana's address is another plea to the "ladies and gentlemen" of the aid group to part with their money, provided none of it is given to the LTTE. He drew the totally irrelevant example of the "Al Sharqawi" group in Iraq. A more relevant example is the case of the separatist group BAM in the Aceh province of Indonesia (see my Cursory Comments No. 17). They too suffered even more than the people in the LTTE controlled territory in the Tsunami. Indonesia is the recipient of much greater aid than Sri Lanka yet there is no requirement that the Indonesian government should enter into a "joint mechanism" with BAM. This is because the international community knows that the Indonesians have a backbone while the Helas have none. Such plaintive pleading by Ven Rathana will confirm them in this opinion.

But the tragedy is that even if the international community does not require a joint mechanism with the LTTE those who rule Sri Lanka will be more than prepared to hand over the LTTE share unconditionally just have they have handed part of the territory of Sri Lanka!



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