Saturday, March 12, 2005

TNA criticises motives of Kadir by Sajeewan Wijewardane and Gihan de Chickera

The TNA in parliament yesterday criticized the motives of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar in attempting to involve India in the peace process in order to hold the LTTE in check.

Making a statement in the House yesterday TNA group leader R. Sambandan said that it was necessary to question the motives of the Foreign Minister and his officials in attempting to befriend India and give it an all important role in the peace process because of their perception that India has the potential to contain the Tigers.

"Such manipulations need to be roundly condemned", said Sambandan adding, "We have not the slightest doubt that India would become prey to such manipulations. But we are greatly concerned about the immensely harmful impact that could be caused to the credibility of the peace process by such manipulations".

Mr. Sambandan made these accusations while quoting media reports from the Daily Mirror and Island newspapers on statements made by the Minister on India's role in the peace process during a recent visit to India and also views expressed by delegates from the Bandaranaike Center for International Studies (BCIS) of which Mr. Kadirgamar is the president, on the signing of a defence agreement between Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

Quoting an article from the Daily Mirror of March 2, Mr. Sambandan said the Sri Lankan delegation in Pakistan were attempting to forge a defence pact with Pakistan "to strike a calculated balance in relations between India and Pakistan given India's potential in containing the Tigers".

According to Mr. Sambandan, Minister Kadirgamar had told the Island in an interview on March 3: "We would like to see India taking more than an academic interest, to begin to indicate what kind of solution, India would like to see in Sri Lanka". Sambandan added that the Foreign Minister said in the interview, "if India suggested federalism type of solution, all parties in Sri Lanka would agree on it".

However, Mr. Sambandan charged that the Minister had not stated this view in his meeting with the Indian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, and also noted that this view was not contained in the statement issued following President Chandrika Kumaratunga's visit to India in November 2004.

Quoting the Daily Mirror of February 25, Mr. Sambandan added that Pakistan had expressed its willingness to go ahead with the signing of a defence agreement with Sri Lanka in discussions with former army chief Gerry de Silva, "despite whatever reservations others might have". Mr. Sambandan further said, "There is no doubt that the visit and the contents of the discussions had the fullest approval of the Foreign Minister," while also reasoning that the 'others' referred to in the statement are India and the Tamil people.

Mr. Sambandan also questioned whether the Foreign Minister was acting in a manner contrary to the views of the government and carrying out the dictates of the JVP and the National Patriotic Front. He said the government does not speak with one voice on the continuance of the peace process and that 'no tangible progress' had been made in the past eleven months by the government on the commencement of peace talks.

Mr. Sambandan also requested for a parliamentary debate to be fixed in the first week of April to debate the current state of the peace process.

Vakarai LTTE camp attacked?

A group of suspected Karuna fraction cadres attacked an LTTE camp near Vakarai, off Batticaloa in the uncleared area, unconfirmed reports said last night. They said the clash that started late in the evening had continued till night.


International community working to counter terrorism and its causes by Keith Noyahr

The standard adage that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter may not hold good any longer. The Club of Madrid, an independent association of 56 democratically elected former heads-of-state and government and some 200 experts on terrorism were set to come to an agreement on a global definition on terrorism and recommend measures on how to fight it.

And this comes in the wake of the first anniversary of the train blast in Madrid yesterday and two months after the UN experts on terrorism came up with a definition.

Incidentally or rather coincidentally, the London-based Tamil Guardian has a foreign story as its second lead on Page 1 of its current issue dated March 9. The story, though of seeming irrelevance to its Sri Lankan readers or for that matter, its British audience, is at the soul of the organization. At best it would have otherwise ended up in the foreign news pages.

"Chechen rebels vowed Wednesday to carry on their independence fight against Russia despite the death of their leader,” read the opening paragraph of a wire service story.

The story continued: Russian legislators hailed Maskhadov's killing as a sign that Russia was on the right track in its anti-terrorist campaign, as they call the fight against Islamic militants in Chechnya and neighbouring regions.

But in the first harsh foreign reaction, Polish Foreign Minister Adam Rotfeld called Maskhadov's killing "a crime" and "a political mistake because ... Maskhadov was the only partner with whom an agreement could be sought," according to the news report.

Despite the efforts to counter terrorism, the Tamil Guardian, which accurately reflects the opinion of the LTTE was certainly trying to convey a message.

More messages are in store.

The lead or main story was headlined: "EU pressure on Sri Lanka to share aid with LTTE." The main picture was captioned: "Child monks lay flowers at the feet of Ven. Wariyapola Sumangala's statue depicting him trampling Britain's flag as part of the Sinhala nationalist rallies organized by Sri Lanka's ruling parties."

Below the picture is the story headlined, "Tamil-Muslim amity spurs violence." Just below that story you have another headlined, "Sailors rape, rob refugees" and next to the story is a picture of Norwegian Ambassador Hans Brattskar shaking hands with the "Head of the Tamil Eelam police Mr. G. Nadesan." Just below the lead is the story headlined "Norway 'optimistic' on joint aid mechanism."

In fact Erik Solheim who met the LTTE idealogue and chief negotiator in London Anton Balasingham was quite confident that a joint mechanism was possible.

Besides the stories, the picture conveys more than a thousand words to the British audience and government, but the caption is deceptive when it says the rallies were organized by the ruling parties even at a time when President Chandrika Kumaratunga on behalf of the SLFP, the dominant party in the alliance government is trying to distance herself from the JVP and other nationalist forces. The editorial page cartoon is also interesting. It depicts the Sri Lankan Presidential race between Mahinda Rajapakse (No. 4) and Ranil Wickremesinghe (No. 7) with the former supported by Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and the latter by US President George W. Bush.

Most local newspapers are no exception. In violation of standard healthy journalistic practice, selection of stories, positioning and prominence are determined or coloured by the viewpoints of those in charge or according to predetermined policies which should be restricted to the editorial and other opinion articles.

If all goes well we will have a definition on terrorism and no longer have diffrent yardsticks on organizations on the subject.

Secretary General Kofi Annan was expected to deliver a speech on global strategy of anti-terrorism at the closing ceremony of the Club of Madrid.

Separately, United Nations experts on the subject last December came up with the following definition of terrorism: "Any action that is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants, when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or compel a government or an international organisation to do or to abstain from doing any act."

Javier Rupérez, the head of the U.N. Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate has reportedly said continued progress in the fight against terror would not be blocked by any failure to reach an agreement on the definition.

The conference would be more resolute after a suicide bombing in Iraq that killed 47 people on the very anniversary of the Madrid train bombing that killed 192 people and injured thousands of others.

Besides the definition, the UN specialists report last December deals with "Better counter-terrorism instruments" and "Assisting States in Confronting Terrorism" as separate sections.

So, the LTTE will be forced to abandon the use of suicide bombings, bomb blasts or any other form of terror on civilians as a means to intimidate any population or compel the government to concede rights or abstain from doing an act. All the infiltration into Colombo during the ceasefire would be of no avail.

It however will hunt down the Karuna faction in the internecine war between the feuding sides for control in the East. The LTTE strongly believes that the Sri Lankan Army is behind the Karuna group but may not go for all-out war in the East just now. It strongly suspects he is in the sprawling Minneriya camp and continues to gather intelligence of his whereabouts. Earlier it was believed he had left for an overseas destination and the Army and other interested parties in the region were causing the mayhem in his name. But, for any local support Karuna had to be around inspiring his men into action.

Fighting two enemies would be suicidal for even a seasoned outfit like the LTTE, particularly when one of them comprises the breakaway group of the organization.

Hence, the organization was likely to restrict itself to the fight for the political rights of the Tamil people of the North and the East at least at this juncture.

No wonder then its Political Wing Leader S.P. Thamilselvan and his team set off for Europe on a diplomatic assignment. The last time he toured Europe he was not all that successful.

Pushing for the Joint Mechanism with the Government for foreign aid, in the post tsunami disaster, the LTTE is making out editorially in the Tamil Guardian that the Government was not willing to even distribute aid equally and its junior partner was blocking it.

Under the headline, "Equitable Aid: A litmus test for making peace," the editorial said: "The JVP has vowed to bring down the government rather than permit a joint mechanism with the LTTE to emerge. Many believe them, but others, not least the international community, seem prepared to call their bluff. The issue here, in any case, is not the longevity of President Kumaratunga's government, but the suffering of millions of ordinary people."

True, enough the JVP and a few other ultra-nationalists are providing the cannon fodder for the LTTE which was running out of powder. How could the JVP continue to be so myopic and parochial in its march towards state power?

Don't forget that the experts who submitted their report to the UN on December 2, 2004 not only came up with a definition of terrorism but also spoke of the causes of terrorism that need to be addressed.

It talks of the "imperative to develop a global strategy of fighting terrorism that addresses root causes and strengthens responsible States and the rule of law and fundamental human rights. What is required is a comprehensive strategy that incorporates but is broader than coercive measures. The United Nations, with the Secretary-General taking a leading role, should promote such a comprehensive strategy, which includes:

Dissuasion, working to reverse the causes or facilitators of terrorism, including through promoting social and political rights, the rule of law and democratic reform; working to end occupation and address major political grievances; combating organized crime; reducing poverty and unemployment; and stopping State collapse. All of the strategies discussed above for preventing other threats have secondary benefits in working to remove some of the causes or facilitators of terrorism."

Mr. Annan, in Madrid, called for global cooperation in the fight against terror. "We live in one world and the issue of terrorism affects us all," said Annan noting that the United Nations always backs multilateral efforts to prevent the creation of "breeding grounds for terrorism."

President Chandrika Kumaratunga who has been meeting a number of foreign dignitaries during the past several weeks has rightly fathomed the current international thinking and hence the Tuesday announcement that devolution of power courtesy Federalism was the answer to the national question.

Addressing the Sri Lanka Freedom Party Women's Conference at the Viharamahadevi Open Air Theatre, President Kumaratunga said, "I am ready to bet my Presidency. More than 80 per cent of the people will agree to the devolution of power if we go for a referendum."

"I will do it, whatever the opposition towards this, if the people want to solve this problem through devolution of power. I need the strength of the people for it," she said.

This announcement was an attempt to demonstrate to the world at large that a considerable portion of the South - the followers of the SLFP and the UNP - would back a political solution based on Federalism and nationalists like the JVP and others would manage less than 20 per cent of the country's vote.

She also said her Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the People's Alliance have decided to solve this problem through devolution of power and added that only the consent of 51 per cent of the people was needed to go for such a solution in a democratic manner.

President Kumaratunga, who is uncertain of the unstinted cooperation of the UNP to join her in forming a national government, on her terms, to solve the ethnic conflict however was certain that the followers of the UNP could not be told by the Grand Old Party to vote against Federalism as a solution to the ethnic conflict. This is given the Oslo Declaration envisaging Federalism entered into during the previous UNP regime.

President Kumaratunga said a historic moment has arrived with the two major political parties coming to a consensus that the ethnic problem should be solved through devolution of power.

"At the 2001 election three fourths of the country's population voted for these two parties. So we can easily solve this problem through devolution of power", the President added. "Those who have obtained 15 to 20 per cent votes may have a bigger number in the Parliament. But they cannot oppose if people of this country agree to solve this through devolution of power," the President stressed.

"The mere opposition from 15 to 20 per cent people cannot stop solving this problem through devolution of power," she said adding that, "To do a revolution in society we cannot get a 100 per cent consent."

Of course in her equation (80 %) she had in mind support from the CWC, the TNA and the SLMC. Like the JVP, she is not willing to test the strength of the SLFP alone after a year of bickering with her coalition partner and little progress. And this is on top of dismissing the UNP arbitrarily.

If a referendum is held and 80 % of the people support a federal solution, then the LTTE would in no way be able to make out that the South was against a reasonable political solution. President Kumaratunga would kill two birds with one stone as it would silence both the LTTE and the JVP which has tried to undermine her in recent times using the chauvinistic card.

But if the intended revolution included the abolition of the Executive Presidency by having the twin issues incorporated in the referendum, then the UNP would campaign against it.

While the idea to have a referendum was a good way out of the political/ethnic conflict impasse, it may be pertinent to question how practical it would be to hold an election with so many people displaced.