TamilWeek Feb 12, 2006
Tigers consolidate while MR loses lifeline

By Sonali Samarasinghe

The peace talks scheduled to recommence this month are not
expected to record a smooth take off given LTTE dissatisfaction over
alleged government sponsored civilian killings in the north and east
and the abduction of 10 Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO)
members recently.

The government likewise which is accusing the LTTE of flagrantly
violating the CFA is also set to play hard-ball given the internal
dynamics of the UPFA, making the talks a dodgy one at best.

However Monday (6) morning Norwegian International Development
Minister Erik Solheim met LTTE ideologue Anton Balasingham at his
London residence to discuss the dates and arrive at a compromise
given the announcement already made by the government the talks
will commence on February 15.

Bad Faith

The LTTE, which earlier rejected February 15 on the basis the date
had been unilaterally decided by the government, has now agreed to
meet in Geneva on February 22 and 23. The Tigers said the
government had acted in bad faith on every issue in the run up to the
talks.

The dates, they said, should have been fixed in consultation with
them according to diplomatic norms. Kilinochchi also pointed out that
paramilitaries were continuing their streak of violence and that one of
the conditions to recommencement of the talks was a halt in violence
by both parties.

The date change was therefore initiated by the Tigers to demonstrate
its power position within the negotiating process and to record
displeasure at unilateral decisions made by the government of Sri
Lanka.

Earlier the government had been forced to agree to every one of the
Tiger demands despite Rajapakse and his extremist allies pledging to
kick out the Norwegians, amend and or abrogate the Cease Fire
Agreement (CFA) and to hold talks in an Asian capital.

For the Tigers, given the travel ban slapped on them by the
European Union, Geneva was a sweet victory as well. The EU
immediately announced it would provide all logistical support to
facilitate the talks in Geneva. With no direct flights to Geneva from
Colombo, the question is whether the LTTE delegation will now transit
through one of the European countries which has imposed a travel
ban on the organisation.

Meanwhile, the Norwegian Foreign Ministry on Monday evening
officially announced the new dates following the discussion and after
Solheim had obtained consent for the new dates from the government.

Peace talks

The protagonists will meet on the fourth anniversary of the signing of
the CFA on February 22, 2002. And it would be the first time in three
years they would meet face to face. The discussions will be confined
as per the LTTE agenda to the strengthening and implementation of
the CFA.

While the LTTE delegation will be lead by experienced strategist
Anton Balasingham, the fledgling Sri Lankan delegation will be led by
Health Minister and official Government Spokesperson, Nimal Siripala
Silva. The government delegation though not officially finalised is said
to possibly include Rohitha Bogollagama and Jeyaraj Fernandopulle.
The Norwegian delegation will be led by Erik Solheim and will include
Ambassador Hans Brattskar and Vidar Helgessen. Head of the civilian
Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), Hagrup Haukland will also be
present.

Forty-eight hours before the announcement of the new dates, on
Saturday at 11 a.m. LTTE Political Wing Leader S.P. Tamilselvan was
to meet 18 TNA MPs in Kilinochchi. With Tamilselvan were Peace
Secretariat Director, S. Puleedevan, member of the LTTE talks
delegation, Ilanthirayan (Marshall), Sudar Master and several district
heads of the LTTE political section.

Tamilselvan was first to open discussions saying the government was
unilaterally making decisions. "It first said it would hold talks only in Sri
Lanka and now the situation does not lend itself to holding talks here.
We are still ready for a political solution but if the government thinks it
can take unilateral decisions and marginalise us, they are sadly
mistaken. We will not give in," the LTTE Political Wing Leader was to
say.

Threat

He also reminded the TNA parliamentarians, "One condition for
agreeing to talks in Geneva was a cessation of hostilities on both
sides. The government was to control the violent activities of the
paramilitary groups and ensure that civilian killings stopped."

"Immediately following this agreement one LTTE cadre and two
civilians were killed and now TRO members have been kidnapped,"
he was to say angrily. "This is a total act of bad faith on the part of the
government."

Visibly annoyed Tamilselvan said, "If this trend continues there is no
point in engaging with a government whose words do not translate
into action. That is why we could not agree to the government
proffered date of February 15."

The TNA delegation was then to advise Tamilselvan, "If the TRO
members are not released, the LTTE should seriously reconsider the
decision to go to Geneva or it will send a wrong signal to government
that they can get away with such actions."

Tamilselvan who knows the importance of the talks for the LTTE was
to then say, "No, we will go to the talks but we have no confidence in
this government because even after agreeing to do so with Solheim, it
is not cutting down but increasing recruitment of paramilitary cadres
and promoting war." The paramilitaries, he alleged, are being trained
in government military camps.

Paramilitary issue

Bringing in a new dimension he also alleged that the LTTE has
information even Muslims are being recruited and trained by the
paramilitaries with the assistance of the forces.

"We not only do not have confidence in the process we have doubts
on the sincerity of the Rajapakse government. This is underscored by
the fact the government is now trying to implicate the LTTE on the
TRO abductions while not taking any steps to stop the violence
perpetrated by the paramilitaries. This is gross insincerity on their
part in the run up to the talks," he told the TNA MPs.

Tamilselvan was to make another vital point to the TNA
parliamentarians. He said the three TRO abductees now released
were from the east whereas the northerners have not yet been
released. This is an attempt to destabilise the east and drive a wedge
between the north and east was his charge.

However, the LTTE despite all its grand standing on the one hand
and its talk of the government’s duplicitous approach to the talks and
its international portrayal as a wronged party on the other, knows it is
to their advantage to engage in talks. Its portrayal of the government
as a mala fide party to the talks and its highlighting of killings,
abductions and paramilitary groups is also part of a strategy. A
strategy one hopes such rookies as Minister Nimal Siripala Silva and
President Mahinda Rajapakse will be able to comprehend.

In the end Balasingham having built up sufficient hype on government
bad faith, agreed to the talks on the new dates in order to establish
Tiger bona fides in the negotiations and raise their stock in the eyes
of the international community.

Inexperienced team

Be that as it may the government seems to be convinced of the
fatality of the peace talks. It is for this reason it was set to name a
delegation of hard-liners inexperienced in conflict resolution to the
team.

A crash course in peace negotiations may not help a coterie of
extremists, especially when they are to be lectured to by such well
known Sinhala hawks such as S.L. Gunasekera and H.L. De Silva who
have been against the CFA in any event and termed it a betrayal of
the nation.

It is also ironic that such persons are to lecture a delegation whose
only brief as per LTTE decree last month is to strengthen and
implement the CFA they so violently oppose. Thus it is clear, talks will
be a matter of both parties reiterating their hard-line positions as
opposed to looking for a compromise.

Furthermore, the LTTE allegation that Muslims are being trained
militarily comes at a time SLMC Head Rauf Hakeem is agitating for a
separate delegation to participate in the peace talks while the
government has resisted these moves preferring to confine Muslim
representation to one member from the Muslim community in the
government delegation.

The truth or falsity of the LTTE allegations aside, the government
must draw lessons from local and international politics. Osama bin
Laden, now the greatest enemy of the United States, was created by
them to fight an erstwhile enemy. The LTTE has often said the largest
supplier of arms to the organisation is the Sri Lanka military forces in
the field of battle. The government must be careful not to create
Frankenstein’s monsters.

Meanwhile, the government was also to make another hawkish
statement on Independence Day. Its celebrations held at Galle Face
was a parade of military strength for the benefit of diplomats. It was
rather like a show put on by the Soviet Union at the height of the cold
war.

Neither is Rajapakse’s impassioned Independence Day speech
peppered with rhetoric to have any real impact on the talks.
Rajapakse’s rhetorical pledge to hold transparent talks where nothing
will be hidden to the public sounds rather foolish with Foreign Minister
Mangala Samaraweera already indicating the talks will be held in a
secluded location and the government will not extend to the media the
same access or facilities as provided in earlier rounds of peace
negotiations during Wickremesinghe’s regime.

This also belies the government position before the November
election that peace negotiations were held in secret by the UNF.

Crisis

However, if Rajapakse was facing a crisis in Geneva, he was facing
another in Colombo.

Two weeks ago, on Tuesday (January 24) as this column wrote, the
JVP politburo met President Mahinda Rajapakse who almost pleaded
with them to join him. "I need your support," he told the JVP team led
by Somawansa Amarasinghe. The JVP puppet masters know how
important they are to Rajapakse personally.

Last Wednesday (1) the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) held its
executive committee meeting at Temple Trees. President Chandrika
Kumaratunga, the Leader of the SLFP who had earlier been excluded
from the proceedings by Rajapakse’s office but managed to be
present at the last moment, immediately spoke. She reminded the
members that the SLFP was not tainted with blood.

Alluding to the JVP she pointed out that parties with blood dripping
from their hands were trying to take over the SLFP. "We must not let
this happen," she warned.

Rajapakse however was adamant. Having two weeks ago pleaded
with the JVP to support him, he now attempted to justify his personal
political dependence on them. He admitted the bedrock of the SLFP
were its local government organisations, but in the surest sign that
Rajapakse was more concerned with his own success than in his party’
s political survival was to pay veiled tribute to the JVP.

"When some in my own party were against my candidature it was the
support extended to me by outside parties working hard for my victory
that pulled me through," he reminisced with emotion, looking pointedly
at Kumaratunga.

Rajapakse knows how important the JVP is to him personally if not to
the SLFP. The JVP in turn is equally aware that to Rajapakse they are
his political life-line. In fact JVP Union Head and Kalutara District MP
Piyasiri Wijenayake was to on January 28 say at a meeting that if not
for the JVP, President Rajapakse would not be President.

JVP strength

He was to point out that the whole country was being governed by the
JVP. "If not for the JVP there would be no President Mahinda
Rajapakse," he said. "We carried out a campaign to defeat Ranil
Wickremesinghe and bring in Rajapakse. There are those in the
cabinet itself who are opposed to the Mahinda Chinthana."

Despite speculation that the JVP at the last moment will join forces
with the government, the JVP for the moment has decided to contest
the forthcoming local government elections alone. The extremists are
well aware of their own strengths and the extent of their influence over
the flip-flopping Rajapakse.

The JVP met President Rajapakse last Friday (3) to discuss the
resumption of peace talks later this month. Following this meeting a
JVP delegation led by Somawansa Amarasinghe, General Secretary
Tilvin Silva and Propaganda Secretary Wimal Weerawansa met
Education Minister Susil Premajayanth with regard to the local
government polls.

Premajayanth met with the delegation in his capacity as the Joint
Secretary of the UPFA and the JVP-PA front that backed President
Rajapakse. The JVP was demanding a 50-50 allocation of candidates
and had also suggested an early announcement on leadership
appointments to the local authorities. The JVP was adamant they
would head an adequate number of local authorities thus giving them
control over the grass-root level organisations and giving them an
opportunity to expand their vote base.

Another thorny issue was the list of authorised agents for the polls
that was due to be handed over last Sunday (5). Both the UNP and
the JVP duly handed in their lists while Susil Premajayanth handed in
a list under the UPFA banner. The JVP has now called upon
Premajayanth to withdraw this list stating it did not have their sanction.

Therefore, the JVP while sticking to their demands has now decided
to go it alone. This may be merely a threatening tactic to force the
SLFP members to relent. The JVP knows well however that in
President Rajapakse they have a fine advocate for their cause given
his dependency on them.

Minister Premajayanth told this newspaper yesterday there would be
no electoral pact with the JVP and the parties would contest
separately. The polls are scheduled to take place in March subject to
a court decision on the matter.

However, the JVP too while aiming to destroy the SLFP from within
and take control over the party has also tasted blood. It is aware that
their party is a lot more in control than it was and is now confident
enough as a party in its own right to contest on its own. This fillip it
received after the recent slim victory of Rajapakse for which the JVP
took sole credit.

Split

Thus, while the current news of a JVP break in links with the SLFP will
be welcomed by SLFP party stalwarts and Kumaratunga loyalists,
such a split may only be temporary and an attempt to create a
political hype before the elections.

However, as much as President Rajapakse sees the JVP as his
political life-line so do some other senior SLFP politicians. They see
the JVP’s formidable vote base and public appeal as the only way to
hold on to their own positions and to power.

Meanwhile, lower rung SLFP politicians and the grass-root organisers
continue to be wary. They see an alliance with the JVP as an attempt
to stifle their progress within the party and weaken the SLFP at its
very foundations. A JVP takeover of the SLFP at local level would be
disastrous to the future of the blues.

But while President Rajapakse will be looking to dilute the UNP’s
control of local government come what may, the UNP will probably
welcome a JVP break from the SLFP.

Firstly the UNP which has over 90 percent control of the local
authorities will be seeking to retain that edge over Rajapakse.

Nonetheless while Rajapakse and the SLFP were facing its own
problems with regard to local government elections, the UNP was
having its own share of internal squabbles on a selection of a
candidate for the plum position of mayor of Colombo.

Earlier the People’s Alliance had named its mayoral candidate, the
firebrand leftist Vasudeva Nanayakkara. The JHU has decided to go it
alone and field its own candidate. Front runner as a mayoral
candidate for the UNP was none other than former President, late R.
Premadasa’s right hand man Sirisena Cooray, himself a former mayor
of Colombo.

Other names such as Omar Kamil, Azath Sally, Hemasiri Fernando
and Thilanga Sumathipala had also been floated as possible
candidates.

UNP mayoral candidate

On Monday UNP Colombo District MPs and organisers met with Party
Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to finalise the candidates. Present at
the meeting were Milinda Moragoda, M. Mahroof and T. Maheswaran.
By the time the trio met the UNP Leader at Cambridge Terrace, M.H.
Mohamed had already met Wickremesinghe and left.

Both Moragoda and Mahroof were adamant on Sirisena Cooray.
Having already spoken on this matter two weeks ago to
Wickremesinghe as reported in this column last week, Moragoda took
up where he left off in support of Cooray. "We need Sirisena Cooray
to run for mayoralty. That is the only way we can get maximum benefit
for the party."

While Mahroof nodded in agreement Moragoda went on, "There will
be a serious rift within the party if Cooray is not appointed and it is the
UPFA which will benefit."

Then Wickremesinghe was to tell Moragoda, "but M.H. Mohamed who
was here earlier told me there is no great appeal in Cooray."

While Mohamed was down-playing Cooray to the UNP Leader he was
privately telling Moragoda, "Let’s do this fast and come to a
conclusion on the matter."

It was Maheswaran’s turn to pipe in. He mooted the candidature of
Sumathipala as the best choice. Mahroof hearing this was visibly
irritated. He retorted, "We did not serve this party and this city for so
long only to make a bookie the mayor."

Wickremesinghe watched this exchange of words in characteristic
silence while Maheswaran shot back at Mahroof, "You all have ruined
the city." Then Mahroof was to tell Maheswaran he was "talking
nonsense," adding "we will not allow a bookie to run for mayor."

Maheswaran then said the matter should be put to the party working
committee for a decision. Later however it was agreed it was Party
Leader Wickremesinghe who should make the decision on the
candidate.

Balancing act

While Wickremesinghe was called to walk a tight rope over the
mayoralty issue, President Rajapakse had to balance the fragile
Geneva talks on the one hand and the volatile local government
elections on the other.

On the LTTE side, with several blows to their credibility received
during the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime, the Tigers know the
international community has not forgotten. The Tigers need to do a
lot of damage control and they are using the hard-line Sinhala
government to achieve this master plan. Rajapakse must now get
wise to the big picture and proceed with the peace process by taking
back the initiative from the LTTE.

The question is whether he is able to do this given the inexperience of
his government and those he has chosen to man his delegation.
[The Morning Leader]