Static drowns story of LTTE acrobatics
By Our Political Editor
It is called static. The static that had been generated by the President's
almost feisty sounding yet attacking letter to the Prime Minister,
and the reply of the Minister of Defense Tilak Marapana saying that
the "Tigers have indeed doubled their troop strength during
the ceasefire,'' has deflected - or indeed buried -- some of the
more detailed attacks on the LTTE.
come of course from an old adversary. The University Teachers for
Human Rights, in its 17th report titled 'Rewarding tyranny: Undermining
the Democratic Potential for Peace' documents the LTTE's sabotaging
of the peace process, while an official process of appeasing the
same LTTE goes on. The international community comes in for direct
when the LTTE conducted one of its major propaganda drives for the
release of child soldiers, the UTHR was just about releasing its
report with some telling comments.
"The UNICEF's sacrifice of principle in the name of realpolitik
has parodied the effort to bring relief to child soldiers. Contrary
to all expectations of the agreement with UNICEF, the LTTE has once
again intensified its conscription programme, renewing its demand
for one child per family in several Eastern districts, while making
aggressive intrusions upon school children in the North.''
But the Norwegians come in for some direct artillery fire. Says
the UTHR that "the Norwegian interlocutors, the Japanese, who
are mustering the financial incentives, and the international community,
together with the Government, have shown a dangerous ineptitude
in their stark failure to hold the LTTE to international norms,
which it repeatedly acknowledged. Were the LTTE's perception of
interest in a federal solution, it had at its disposal international
goodwill and war wariness and a desire for peace in this country
as cardinal assets. In the Guatemalan case, even a militarily weak
rebel group became a key partner in the peace process through the
agency of the Assembly of Civil Society.''
an attack on Colombo civil society, which takes up the view that
civil society organizations have consistently been incapable of
mustering international opinion against this trend of appeasement
of the LTTE. Perhaps here the UTHR neglects to mention that non-governmental
organizations in Colombo have by and large not been credible, because
they have consistently followed the agenda that has been handed
down by their international donors.
details the persecution of political opponents by the LTTE, and
refers to the conscription by the LTTE over the weekend of 4th -5th
October, "of over 40 persons in the area including Valaichchenai,
Peththalai and Kalkudah, of whom 17 were from Nahammal School, Kalkudah;
Peththalai School and Valaichchenai Hindu College (VHC).''
The political fallout from the Marapana-Kumaratunga affair had all
but put the LTTE's human rights violations, and its undermining
of the peace from the background, off the radar. This is the subtlety
that has been spoken about this week by the UTHR.
It is the LTTE's uncanny ability to pursue an agenda of peace on
the one track, and then pursue a politics of intimidation, violence
and direct sabotage of the peace on the other while in fact not
sabotaging the peace to a breaking point that is on focus.
The press conference this week for instance underlined this aspect.
The LTTE held a press conference to diffuse the static that has
been building up over the Kanchirankudah camp.
In this instance,
the LTTE was cleverly able to muster an international press corps.
The kind of adverse questioning that was characteristic in Prabhakaran's
April l press conference in the Wanni last year was absent. Instead
the LTTE was able to project an image of complete innocence, when
its Trincomalee leaders claimed that in the camp premises were several
gravesites where martyred LTTE cadres lay at rest.
Even if the LTTE was correct on that matter, it is a measure of
the LTTE's adroit handling of the situation that it is able to deflect
some of the issues such as ongoing conscription, by calling a press
conference to diffuse another issue -- which has been made more
important by the media.
delights of having business as usual
The President's authority over the country appreciated last week
with her hard hitting letter to the Prime Minister, and what appeared
to be a 'concession' of sorts later by Minister of Defence Tilak
is a certain duality in the way the President's own authority is
seen. Within her party, she was trying to assert the same kind of
power that she seemed to be asserting over the politics of the nation.
SLFP Members of Parliament and gave them a dressing down for being
willing pawns and participants at the JVP dominated '' Jathi Hithaishee
Sangvidanaya'' rally which was a protest march that focused on the
government's peace initiative.
near and dear to her, such as Anura Bandaranaike and Mangala Samaraweera
were almost spoiling for a fight. Anura Bandaranaike told a party
meeting in Kalutara that if MPs are barred from a protest march
that was after all aimed at bringing down the UNF government "it
is not a political party, it is a joke''. He also said that all
Ministries that the JVP is asking for in a future government, should
be handed to them, as previous SLFP coalitions with the old left
for instance were built on a similar basis.
But Mangala Samaraweera was on a different gear. He said in Kalutara
that the JVP was willing to talk to the Tigers - something that
was first quoted in this column several weeks ago. With that, a
new complexion was being given to the entire JVP coalition matter.
If the JVP was willing to talk to the Tigers, what was all the fuss
about? If the JVP was willing to talk to the Tigers, what was the
JVP doing protesting about the government talking to the Tigers?
The JVP has
always been plain about that. The JVP says the government is talking
to the Tigers while caving in to them. The JVP claims its modus
operandi on talks will be different.
main effort, however, was to ensure the fall of the UNF government
with the budget. The President was making special plans for this
operation, but the fact is that her frontliners had additional plans
among which was to ally with the JVP on the effort. But the President
reiterates that her stand on the JVP issue will not change.
situation is not entirely clear for the Opposition; while the rank
and file want to go ahead with a decisive move for power, there
is preparation for various pincer moves. It is a typical opposition
that is getting a vague idea that perhaps its time has come - -
but then again not quite.
The other cross
currents however that add some measure of intrigue to this situation
stem from the state of -bipartisanship. Is the any bipartisanship
at all - -- any room for a consensus government?
On the one hand the discussions between Minister Milinda Moragoda
and the President indicated that bi-partisanship may be dead - -
- but the President is willing to go ahead with maintaining the
appearance of bi-partisanship.
One issue that
was fiercely opposed by the President in last week's Moragoda pow-wow
was the proposed privatizing of the State Pharmaceuticals Corporation.
That was quite probably a serious issue for the President. One of
the key platforms on which the United Front Government of her mother
based its self-sufficiency drive at that time was on the matter
of providing cheap and effective drugs. On this issue the State
Pharmaceuticals Corporation displayed some very impressive gains.
No doubt this is an emotive issue -- which the President considers
her very own.
This was also
perhaps one of the very good examples of how cohabitation can work
positively despite the ratings of political commentators against
cohabitation. In the Pharmaceuticals issue, Minister Moragoda agreed
to incorporate some of the President's suggestions to ensure that
future drug prices do not overwhelm the consumer. Minister Moragoda's
tendency of playing to the politics of the international market
place was very effectively checked here by the President.
But, bi-partisanship is not what she is after. On the one hand she
is not being Machiavellian. She is on one track -- which is to dislodge
the UNF government. But, while she does that, she needs to fulfill
the needs of the Presidential office.
In that sense
it is understandable that she acts with a certain amount of uncertainty.
She is both in opposition and in government - she is both outsider
This duality has placed her at odds not just with the government
(her government technically) but also with her party stalwarts.
about the JVP is old hat now; but her plan is also to win over the
numbers. She needs several UNF members to join her if she plans
to install her government at the end of the Budget.
To this end,
the petty quarrels in the UNF were curious. Minister Mahinda Wijesekera,
who loves his brackish water, was again getting into a pitched battle,
this time with a fellow UNF parliamentary group Member Lakshman
This was at
the working Committee meeting of the UNF. Wijesekera seemed to throw
an open challenge to the party hierarchy. He asked "what have
you done for me lately?'' which seemed hilarious considering the
troubles that he has caused for his party lately.
True , he did
sugar coat it a bit by saying that he respected the Prime Minister
and that he will never switch over to the PA. But behind that face
was the dare. "What has the UNF done for me lately,'' he asked,
and said that Minister Lakshman Seneviratne for instance has been
bad mouthing him in public.
This led to
a shouting match that is not quite worthy of repetition in these
But, it is enough to say that this discontent in the UNF will be
closely watched by the opposition. It is politics as usual - and
though there is ambiguity and uncertainty in all spheres of activity,
there is also a remarkable consistency within the chaos. All actors,
JVP, UNF, PA and LTTE are acting precisely as they always do - and
it is business as usual.