offer in war of presidents
By Our Political Editor
More than three months in office as President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda
Rajapaksa, is now learning the niceties of statecraft which his
predecessor Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga never exposed him
to. As Prime Minister then, he was more a figurehead basking in
the glory of the ceremonial trappings of his office.
was neither a party to nor kept informed of the peace process Ms
Kumaratunga then executed. He was not privy to matters of national
security and was never invited to sit in the Security Council. He
was not among the inner coterie of close advisors nor sounded out
on crucial issues.
Friday, the man whom Ms Kumaratunga shut out from political exposure
except make him Prime Minister under pressure, was earning plaudits
over his handling of the Geneva talks with the Liberation Tigers
of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). His selection of a delegation, meticulous
planning with a series of orientation seminars and personally monitoring
the talks from an Operations Room at Temple Trees in Colombo had
paid dividends. In essence, whilst making what is a significant
gain, no quarter was given to the LTTE.
eight-paragraph statement released by Norway, the peace facilitator,
after two days of talks, gave the crux of the issues discussed and
decisions reached in just two sentences. The first - "The LTTE
is committed to taking all necessary measures to ensure that there
will be no acts of violence against the security forces and the
second - The GOSL (Government of Sri Lanka) is committed to taking
all necessary measures in accordance with the Ceasefire Agreement
to ensure that no armed group or person other than Government security
forces will carry arms or conduct armed operations."
other words the LTTE has assured before the Government of Sri Lanka,
Norway and the international community there would be no more acts
of violence against the security forces and the police. Until Norway's
International Development Minister Erik Solheim clinched a deal
for the Government and Tiger guerrillas to talk in Geneva; the LTTE
had blamed attacks on armed forces and police on the civilian public.
But after the formal announcement in January, this year, that Geneva
would be the venue, all such attacks stopped. So it became clear
it was the LTTE which was carrying out the attacks masquerading
as civilians. And now, it has pledged not to do so.
return the Government of Sri Lanka has declared it is "committed
to taking all necessary measures in accordance with the Ceasefire
Agreement to ensure there is no armed group or person other than
Government security forces will carry arms or conduct armed operations."
One need hardly say that any sovereign Government feels it is incumbent
upon itself to ensure no armed group or persons other than those
authorised to carry arms or conduct operations.
is whether a ceasefire is in operation or not. That has been the
policy of successive Governments during four years of ceasefire.
This is notwithstanding reports that some paramilitary groups have
been at work though the Government has not been accused of any collusion
with them. Hence, this sentence is a mere reiteration of a formal
position of the Government.
is in marked contrast to the hype and hyperbole in the days before
the talks. The Government delegation was told ad nauseum that the
LTTE's total thrust would be to demand that paramilitary groups
be disbanded. Another was that the LTTE wanted the High Security
Zones (HSZ) around military installations withdrawn on the grounds
that civilians could return to their homesteads. In fact the head
of the LTTE delegation, Anton Balasingham raised issue over these
two matters. But contrary to all the expectations, the Government
did not budge.
On Wednesday night, after the first round of talks had ended, Norwegian
facilitators had cautioned Sri Lanka delegation leader, Nimal Siripala
de Silva there were indications of a possible LTTE walkout. That
is if their demands were not accommodated or the issues they raised
addressed satisfactorily. The news reached President Rajapaksa at
the Operations Room. "If they want to walk out, it is their
business. We will then tell the whole world our side of the story
and get back to Colombo," he instructed the delegation. There
was no bending forward to appease the LTTE like during previous
rounds of peace talks by the then United National Front Government.
were, however, a few minor snags and some disappointments too. But,
President Rajapaksa and Sri Lanka Freedom Party stalwarts now campaigning
for the local government elections seem to have won a bonanza. They
are preparing to say that the policies enunciated in Mahinda Chinthanaya
were clearly spelt out at Geneva and the LTTE did not win any concessions.
want to say this was not the case when the United National Party
was in power when concessions, some of them endangering even national
security interests, were granted both at the negotiating table and
outside it. Our Defence Correspondent gives a detailed account of
the two days of talks on the opposite page.
the week was not devoid of other preoccupations for President Rajapaksa.
My revelations last week about former President Chandrika Bandaranaike
Kumaratunga's telephone conversation with President Rajapaksa were
to have its sequel. That was the conversation in which, among other
matters, Ms Kumaratunga wanted a shortfall of less than ten persons
in her large security detail filled. She was advised by President
Rajapaksa to get her Secretary to write to the President's Secretary
and have the matter sorted out. An irritated Kumaratunga hit back
and a verbal duel began.
hours of The Sunday Times hitting the streets last week, another
conversation ensued between Mr. Rajapaksa and Ms Kumaratunga. It
was last Sunday morning. The call had been made by Mr Rajapaksa
over a different matter. A furious Ms Kumaratunga locked horns on
a number of issues. Unlike the earlier conversation, most of the
exchanges, for obvious reasons, cannot be printed. But Ms. Kumaratunga
did not stop at that.
telephoned our sister newspaper, Daily Mirror to make some hard
hitting remarks about Mr. Rajapaksa. She pledged not to give up
the leadership of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and lamented she was
not asked to give advice to the Sri Lanka delegation to Geneva talks.
She denied allegations of corruption against her but asserted that
President Rajapaksa must "come clean" about allegations
against him in the Helping Hambantota project. She branded the Rajapaksa
Government as a "family incorporated company" and claimed
all decisions were being made by them.
that she had no intention of quitting politics, Ms Kumaratunga said
she had a bigger role to play for Sri Lanka. Last Monday, aides
told President Rajapaksa about Ms Kumaratunga's tirade against him.
"I will not get into a public mud-slinging match like her,"
he told one of them. But the next day, an emissary, whose identity
Rajapaksa advisors want to keep a secret, wanted to see the President.
He gave an appointment and met him. The man described as a close
confidant of Ms Kumaratunga had a lengthy conversation. He left
no doubt he had arrived at Temple Trees to broker a truce between
President Rajapaksa and Ms Kumaratunga.
peace offering - he could have the leadership of the Sri Lanka Freedom
Party (SLFP) in return for patching up differences. The visitor
said she may have said things at the heat of the moment but did
not mean them. "I have no greed for the party leadership. I
am the President of Sri Lanka. I am not going to snatch it from
anyone. If she wants to keep it that is left to her," Mr. Rajapaksa
told the visitor. He pleaded for a compromise but Mr. Rajapaksa
President Rajapaksa had taken serious note of Ms Kumaratunga's request
for a probe into allegations of corruption against her. Senior officials
in the Presidential Secretariat say the President is giving serious
consideration to a possible probe into some of the allegations since
Ms Kumaratunga herself wants it now. What form such a probe would
take is yet to be determined but officials were formulating the
issues that should be gone into.
the opposition UNP camp, there was a minor victory they received
from the courts, which granted a stay order on the Colombo Municipal
Council election, and a finding that the Elections Department Returning
Officer had overreached his authority in some aspects of rejecting
the entirety of the UNP list.
party was questioning why the learned Solicitor General had to appear
on behalf of the Elections Commissioner. Their twin argument on
this point is that a) previously in such cases only a senior state
counsellor appeared, and b) that the Commissioner is an independent
party in these cases, and should rely on a private lawyer to represent
Attorney General's Department argued back saying that this was an
important point of law in relation to the Local Government Law,
and that it did not affect only the UNP, but even the PA (at Gampaha
and Gampola where their lists were rejected).
any event, the AG is now going to appeal to the Supreme Court on
the Court of Appeal interim-order in favour of the UNP, and the
legal battle will now take place up there.
as the party struggles to fight another day, the internal conflicts
continue. Much of the week was spent with the Mahinda Haradasa-Milroy
Perera Committee probing the fiasco of how a supposedly underage
candidate was included in the list, and even worse still, how the
name of a veteran Municipal Councillor, T.M. Sanghadasa, was tippexed
and the name of Colombo Central MP Mohamed Maharoof's secretary
It is now known that the list had been handed over by a senior lady
staffer at 'Siri Kotha', the party headquarters, to a group that
included the secretary of Colombo East MP Milinda Moragoda. The
group had borrowed some tippex from a security guard, taken the
list to a nearby temple - and then handed it over to the party's
authorised agent M.H. Mohamed for his signature.
as the list contained some patch of oil on the top of the sheet
of paper, believed to have been from some small clay pots at the
temple, Mohamed had refused to touch it, thinking it was some mumbo
jumbo oils with which he is probably familiar because it figured
in the President Premadasa impeachment motion when he was Speaker.
That's another story though.
Moragoda-Maharoof power-play in the UNP's CMC list saga is at the
centre of the UNP's present troubles. The Haradasa-Perera report,
The Sunday Times learns has put the blame squarely on the two Colombo
MPs and in view of the adverse findings against them, a formidable
section is clamouring for drastic disciplinary action against them.
section is also blaming the party leadership of succumbing to pressure
by the "big bad boys of Colombo". Thilanga Sumtahipala,
who also vied unsuccessfully for the Colombo Mayoral slot met party
leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in Anuradhapura on Monday and asked
him why he was deprived of a chance to serve Colombo's rate-payers.
who telephoned The Sunday Times this week, to deny that he ever
met President Mahinda Rajapaksa's brother, Basil in the company
of Colombo's Deputy Mayor Azath Salley (as reported in these columns)on
the eve of nomination day to discuss a deal with the government
- a matter Azath Salley also vehemently denied - asked Wickremesinghe
why the party leadership decided to name a Mayoral candidate only
for Colombo, and asked what vision the 72-year-old ex-Mayor Sirisena
Cooray had for the city of Colombo.
the UNP has appointed a Campaign Committee headed by deputy leader
Karu Jayasuriya, and inclusive of P.Dayaratna, Gamini Jayawickrama
Perera, S.B.Dissanayake, Gamini Lokuge, Hamakumara Nanayakkara,
Amara Piyaseeli Ratnayake, N.V.K.K.Weragoda and Tissa Attanayake.
party, which controls the bulk of the local councils following its
victory in 2002 soon after its parliamentary election triumph in
December, 2001 is facing a serious challenge to retain them.
fact that the JVP is contesting separately may be the only redeeming
factor for an otherwise uphill task for the party. And the manthram
oil notwithstanding, the draw of S.B. Dissanayake might just give
them that edge to push them over the threshold.