TamilWeek Mar 5, 2006
Caution during LG polls needed for
second round of peace talks

By Darisha Bastians

Government peace negotiators last week successfully
negated any confidence-building measures put in place at
the Geneva talks the previous week, by sparking off a war of
words with the LTTE delegation about an “alleged”
amendment to the ceasefire agreement.

President’s Counsel H.L. De Silva’s insistence that the
original memorandum of understanding signed between the
Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE in February 2002
was amended in Geneva, and the reiteration of his
statements by the rest of the delegation provoked an angry
response from the Tigers who threatened to pull out of talks
scheduled for April if Colombo continued to manipulate facts
about what happened in the Swiss capital.

The government delegation, having overcome its apparent
lack of expertise and experience to win public confidence by
making headway in Geneva, showed its immaturity in
dealing with the crucial ethnic issue by attempting to pacify
the southern electorate ahead of the local government polls.

Taking their cue, the LTTE, having attended the Geneva
talks under heavy pressure from the international
community, complained bitterly to the Norwegian
government about the conduct of the government
delegation. The LTTE delegation is still in Europe, on an
“awareness raising” mission.

Dismissing Mr. De Silva’s theory as a “fabulous theory” and
his arguments as “ludicrous and feeble” head of the LTTE
negotiating team, Anton Balasingham charged that the
government delegation was misinterpreting facts and
warned that it would seriously jeopardize the peace process.

The LTTE delegation, sans Balasingham, who returned to
London soon after the Geneva talks concluded were to
meet with the Norwegian Foreign Minister in Oslo yesterday
to discuss the implementation of the proposals mooted at
the talks, where they are also expected to lodge their
complaints about the government’s statements upon the
delegation’s return to Colombo.

With the Jathika Hela Urumaya digging in its heels and
calling the gains in Geneva a farce and the UNP scoffing at
the UPFA for having endorsed a document they threatened
to tear up in the run-up to the polls, the government
delegation, in its media conference last week, was
attempting to save face and was desperate to prove that it
adhered to the Mahinda Chinthanaya when it was talking
peace in the Swiss capital.

But the fact of the matter is that the government may, in
fact, have reacted impulsively for no reason. On the political
debate Thulawa telecast over state media channels on
Thursday night, JHU Spokesman Udaya Gammanpila said
that while the party would oppose any deviation from the
Chinthanaya when it comes to the peace process, it would
not make any moves to destabilize the current regime in any
way either.

Basically, Gammanpila, while exchanging pleasantries on air
with Deputy Minister Sripathi Sooriyaarachi was giving
President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his government the
assurance that the Bhikku-led JHU would limit its opposition
only to words. The JVP too has decided to adopt the path of
least resistance despite what fiery rhetoric and
demonstrations would have ensued if the Opposition United
National Party had been in power. In which case, the
government delegation on Monday provoked a crisis for the
fragile peace process for no apparent reason.

That this administration is seriously lacking in tact when
dealing with the sensitive issues of the peace process and
the CFA was also apparent when Army Commander Sarath
Fonseka and Military Spokesman Brigadier Prasad
Samarasinghe told the media last week that there were no
armed groups operating in the north and the east. The
statements provoked a strong reaction from SLMM outgoing
Chief Hangrup Haukland who scoffed at the remarks as
being blatantly false. He said that anyone with any idea
about the ground situation, especially in the East, knew full
well that there were at least five armed groups operational in
the area, and charged that the military should stick to the
facts when making public statements.

Why the government is attempting to play with words and
bring politics into the mix at this stage when hopes for peace
have only just been renewed with the agreement for a
second round of discussions reached in Geneva is anyone’s
guess.

No doubt, the President and his advisors realise that this
kind of discord and petty politics in the south only
strengthens the hand of the Tigers which make full use of
the situation.

As recently as yesterday, a Tamil website reported a
statement by senior Member of the LTTE, V. Balakumaran
in Kilinochchi, in which he claimed the Tiger delegation had
made maximum use of the volatile political situation in the
south to get the Geneva talks to go in their favour.

Both Colombo and Kilinochchi have insisted since the
conclusion of the talks in Switzerland that they managed to
outfox the other.

The government claims to have stuck to its guns while the
LTTE propaganda machinery has also been at work
overtime to prove that Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva and
his team were practically begging Balasingham not to walk
out of the closed door negotiations.

Meanwhile, much of what went on behind the scenes in
Geneva are only just starting to come to light, since the
government delegation has now returned to Colombo. The
much commented on tense handshake between Minister de
Silva and LTTE Chief Negotiator Anton Balasingham, for
instance, had an unique story behind it.

It appears that Balasingham’s grumpy mood when he
offered his hand to the head of the government delegation
resulted from his inability to have a hot shower before
arriving for the talks.

According to reports, the Chateau De Bossey is structured
much like a Christian seminary and facilities at the centre
are minimal. Hot water, for instance, even though it is winter
in Switzerland, is only available at a certain time of the
morning and the evening. Balasingham, not being in the
best of health, resented the lack of facilities at the venue
and complained bitterly to the Norwegian facilitators
immediately.

He was however forced to have a cold shower since hot
water was not available at the time. That, it appears, to be
the reason for the LTTE theoretician’s grouse when he
walked in to shake hands with Minister de Silva on the first
day of talks.

Meanwhile, with the onset of March, the local government
polls loom closer even though the mini election has had
more than its share of controversy.

Both the UNP and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress managed
small victories in their respective court cases last week, with
the Court of Appeal issuing a stay order on the Colombo
Municipal Council poll after the main opposition sought legal
action claiming that the rejection of its entire nominations list
on the basis of one discrepancy was illegal.

Meanwhile, with the onset of March, the local government
polls loom closer even though the mini election has had
more than its share of controversy.

Now with the polls round the corner and the talks scheduled
for two weeks afterwards, it will be most interesting to
observe the election platform on which the UPFA and its
coalition partners contest the mini election, without
threatening the second round of negotiations in anyway.

In deciding that, President Rajapaksa and his men would do
well to exercise caution and ensure that the prospects for a
real peace are not undermined by expeditious electoral
rhetoric and ideologies.
[Daily Mirror]
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