One of the jokes that did the rounds during the
bad old days of the Cold War was how a young Russian guide showing
off the splendour of the marble statues and chandeliers of a Moscow
underground train station to a group of visiting Congressmen was
asked by one of the American Senators, "But where are the trains?"
Infuriated, he retorted; "Ok, but how do
you treat blacks in Alabama?"
One was reminded of this yarn -- and the idiom
- on hearing that the LTTE had cut off the water supply from the
Mavil Aru anicut feeding some 30,000 acres of paddy lands in the
country's Eastern Province -- because the European Union banned
No doubt the LTTE is seething after the EU slapped
them with the "terrorist organisation" tag, lumping them
with the likes of Al-Qaeda. But why take it out on the poor people
of the Eastern Province?
The EU first imposed a travel ban on the LTTE
soon after the rebels assassinated Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister
Lakshman Kadirgamar -- and then went on to kill more than 150 servicemen
in almost daily attacks since the beginning of this year. And yet,
they feel slighted when the EU categorises them as a terrorist organisation.
Our approach to dealing with the IC (International
Community) or more aptly the DC (Donors Club) has gone staggeringly
awry since of late.
With the murder of Mr. Kadirgamar last August,
it was the officials of the Foreign Office -- honed in their skills
by their Minister -- who were largely responsible for arguing the
case for an LTTE ban in the corridors of power in Europe.
Recently, they were engaged in a mass evacuation
of Lankan citizens trapped in Lebanon following Israel's military
assault on that country -- a contingency the Ministry of Labour
had not worked out.
Now, with SCOPP (the Peace Secretariat) making
forays into foreign policy issues, another can of worms, that of
conflicting positions and contradictory views of the Government
of Sri Lanka, was opened.
Minister Kadirgamar was extremely careful about
protocol, subtle nuances, timing and the gamut of detail that went
into dealing with the IC - or DC - especially to maintain Sri Lanka's
self-respect despite its shortcomings, muscle-wise, in international
Only last week we cautioned this Government about
talking in different voices. We were referring to a whole host of
issues ranging from the fuel strike to the peace process to military
offensives. We said that if it is the Government's intention to
confuse the enemy, then that is fine, but what is happening is that
even their friends are getting confused.
Take this week's example of the (un-signed) statement
by SCOPP on the Mavil Aru water issue that quoted the Geneva Convention
to show that the LTTE has committed a "war crime" by depriving
the people of that area of their livelihood and their food.
By doing so, the Government agency has, surely
inadvertently, equated the LTTE with the State, for the Geneva Convention
is a document that is primarily between States -- and only the Common
Article 3 thereof refers to "Internal Conflicts". But
there is no requirement to have to quote from this Convention to
show that the LTTE has violated international law.
Was the Foreign Ministry consulted on this statement?
Our bet is that it was not, because the officials there know all
too well, how Minister Kadirgamar was so careful about avoiding
such equations. He did not even like any reference to a "civil
war" because it had other connotations - of a conflict between
two ethnic communities, which is what the LTTE is trying to make
it out to be -- that was how far he went.
One would have noticed that incumbent Foreign
Minister Mangala Samaraweera made no reference to the Geneva Convention
when he addressed the Colombo-based ambassadors soon after the SCOPP
statement. He simply referred to the justification for a sovereign
Government using "legitimate force" to provide a means
of livelihood to her own people against rebel-instigated violence.
It is high time the Government and the President
co-ordinated the efforts of the State machinery -- be it in settling
a strike, talking peace or making war.
Our Defence Correspondent gives a detailed account
of the battleground in the Eastern Province this week, and our news
pages are full of the resultant human catastrophe.
This is a separatist insurgency where some unwritten
rules of common decency prevailed all these years. The Government,
for instance, never stopped food supplies to the LTTE even at the
height of this insurgency. Civilians caught in the conflict were
kept fed, even though the Government knew that much of the supplies
would filter to the fighting cadres of the LTTE.
The LTTE depriving the farmers of the Mavil Aru area of water, is
akin to depriving a human being of oxygen. Are we then, getting
into a no-holds-barred clash to a finish? One can only hope and
pray that reason will prevail -- if any reason is possible.