Where are we headed?
The Island Editorial

Courtesy The Island 24-04-2005

TULF leader, V. Anandasangaree, in an impassioned appeal to Norwegian Special Envoy Erik Solheim and US Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca last week asked the international community not to think only in terms of bringing back peace to Sri Lanka by merely satisfying the LTTE "whose track record has no parallel" anywhere in the world. The Tigers have found by experience that digging their heels in and biding their time, they can exploit the overwhelming desire for peace both at home and abroad to get much more than is their just due. That is exactly what they are doing right now over the joint mechanism for tsunami relief that Solheim has said is 99% ready and which the government, but for JVP resistance, will "jump and sign" if we may be pardoned the colloquialism.

This mechanism, which the Tigers are extracting by holding the tsunami victims in the areas they control as hostage and exploiting the cash-strapped plight of the Chandrika government which came into office making extravagant and economically unaffordable promises, will be a great leap forward in the LTTE’s drive for winning legitimacy for themselves in the eyes of the world. Granting Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar’s premise that the government is confronted with the reality of dealing with a party with which it would normally disdain doing business, the signs are that the Norwegian draft the LTTE has accepted and is awaiting the government’s agreement is very much in the Tigers’ favour. The foreign minister’s honeyed words that no "vast powers" will be conceded to the LTTE may sound reassuring to those who want to see the bright side, but pictures of Mr. Thamilchelvan on his return from an extended tour of Europe and South Africa had him looking rather like the cat that has swallowed the canary.

The country now is like the proverbial arecanut caught between the blades of the girey. On one side is the need to get the relief effort going and the joint mechanism is a sine quo non to get the aid flows pumping. On the other side is the LTTE playing its usual game of trying to extract every possible ounce of advantage to strengthen its hand and to hell with the tsunami-battered people in their tents dreading the advent of the monsoon. The president, in her New Year message, says that making the joint mechanism for providing relief to the tsunami victims of the northeast a success work will be "a fine foundation for finding a lasting solution to the national problem." God knows that Sri Lanka needs that solution. But is it going to be at any price? If that is the case, then what is to stop us from conceding the de facto separate state by whatever name it is called granting the Tigers suzerainty over one third of the territory of this country and two thirds of its coast? There is no debate that the vast majority of Lankans desperately desire peace, a just and honorable peace; no more, no less.

In his letter to Solheim and Rocca, Anandasangaree said that he was not trying to disturb the peace process, nor was he anybody’s agent. Unlike the TNA, he could have added but did not. Hopefully the world knows that given the propensity of the Tigers to bump off anybody who does not toe their line, most so Tamils, Anandasangaree’s life hangs by a very slender thread. Yet he has the spunk to speak out. In remarks he had made in New Delhi last week he had called upon India to play a pro-active role to end the "growing stranglehold" of the Tigers in Sri Lanka. And he told our international visitors here at home that the Tamils did not want to negotiate peace by subjugating themselves to the LTTE. He’s socked into the Indians that the kind of international mediation that was going on here now was only helping the Tigers who have a stranglehold in the areas they control to get a foothold even in the government-held areas of the northeast.

His words will surely have resonance here. "This is the time for India to say ‘no’ to the ISGA and `no’ to any joint mechanism on tsunami relief. Once such mechanism comes up, then the Government of Sri Lanka will be caught in a trap from which it will not be able to withdraw." The joint mechanism, let us remember, is for the whole of the northeast and not just the Tiger-held areas which is less than what the government holds in the claimed "homeland.". As Mr. Rauf Hakeem has pointed out, the Muslims have not been consulted on the substance of this mechanism although Mr. Solheim has been talking to him (though after the proposal was 99% ready) and also visiting the Muslims in refugee camps in Puttalam.

As Anandasangaree has pointed out, Norway in particular and the western countries in general are underestimating the dangers posed by the LTTE, not realizing that ordinary Tamil people are sick and tired of living under the Tiger jackboot. He is firmly on record saying that what the Tamils need is the kind of devolution that prevails in India and nothing more. The federal solution that the LTTE agreed to explore in Oslo is the ideal solution but given the Tigers’ success in getting their own way from both major southern parties whose predominant interest is gaining power or perpetuating their rule, it makes sense for Prabhakaran to play it the way he is now doing. If Ranil Wickremesinghe was appeasing him then, Chandrika Kumaratunga is appeasing him now and the JVP is trying to pull her back. Where exactly the country is headed remains unclear as different players make their moves on the political chessboard.



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