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Military Matters


 

Govt. suing for peace while pursuing war

As far as the international community, including the Indian establishment, is concerned, it is clear that the Government is pursuing a military solution.

They feel that the current administration is not sincere in its pursuit for peace and is actually pursuing a war agenda. But, the Government claims that only by weakening the LTTE that it could force it to the negotiating table.
It is in this backdrop that the Indian Government wants to engage the Sri Lankan Government, to prevent the situation from further deteriorating.

Reporting to big brother
Hence, the high level meeting in Delhi between the two sides on Monday and Tuesday. Those who participated included: President’s Secretary, Lalith Weeratunga, Defence Secretary Gothabhaya Rajapaksa and Senior Advisor to the President, Basil Rajapaksa on the Sri Lankan side, with Defence Secretary Shri Vijay Singh, External Affairs Secretary Shivshankar Menon and National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan for the Indians.
Following this meeting, the Policy Research and Information Unit (PRIU) of the Presidential Secretariat, issued a statement saying:

“An Indo–Lanka committee of high officials on defence related matters, was established, following the visit of a high level delegation of officials to Delhi this week.” The statement quoting unnamed diplomatic sources said that the two Secretaries of Defence and External Affairs of India and her National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister, were on this joint Defence Committee (DC).

The Indian External Affairs Ministry on Friday denied knowledge of the setting up of an India-Sri Lanka DC comprising senior officials. Foreign Office spokesman Navtej Sarna had reportedly said that the interaction was part of a regular exchange of visits between officials of both countries.

A top Sri Lankan official on the visit, denied the setting up of such a DC, while echoing the Indian stance. He, in fact, said that a decision was taken by officials on both sides, at the outset of the meeting, not to divulge any details to the media.
Successive Sri Lankan governments have been pursuing the establishment of Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) with India, ever since the October 2003 joint statement by the then Indian Premier A.B. Vajpayee and then Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, mooting a DCA between the two countries.

“The two Prime Ministers discussed the ongoing cooperation in training and supply of equipment to the Sri Lankan defence forces and agreed that the two sides will commence discussions with a view to concluding a DCA, at the earliest,” states the Joint Statement in October 2003.

The matter was, however, not pursued to its logical conclusion by the then BJP government and the subsequent Congress-led coalition government, given the sensitivity in Tamilnadu.
In the backdrop of the government currently pursuing a military approach, it was highly unlikely that the Indian Government, which gave only non lethal arms such as radars to Sri Lanka, would agree to the setting up of an India-Sri Lanka DC. The Sri Lankan delegation did query about spare parts and other material earlier pledged by India and discussed the matter.

“A wide range of issues of mutual concern figured in the course of the interaction. Matters related to the ongoing defence cooperation between the two countries were part of the discussion but no new committee was constituted,” the Hindu reported, quoting an unnamed Indian High Commission official.

India is yet to respond to a suggestion for joint patrolling of the Palk Straits to check the activities of the LTTE. But, on its part, the Indian establishment has done much to prevent the Tigers from bringing shiploads of arms and ammunition via the Indian Ocean. This was in terms of passing on intelligence information and stepped up surveillance at that end.

The current military situation in Sri Lanka, development of the Eastern Province, and humanitarian operations were among the issues discussed, while a discussion on combating terrorism and devolving power, as a means of finding a solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka, were also discussed.

The Indian side did reiterate New Delhi’s commitment to the island’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as in the past, but expressed the hope that a solution would be urgently found to the just grievances of Sri Lankan Tamils, through extensive devolution of power.

In fact, the Sri Lankan side briefed the Indians that there was agreement by majority of the parties that the province be made the unit of devolution. It would be recalled that the President’s Secretary, Lalith Weeratunga, who carried the SLFP proposals for the resolution of the ethnic conflict, to Delhi, a few months back, was told in no uncertain terms, at that time, that the proposals were impractical and regressive. The district, as the unit of devolution, was rejected by the Tamils, as far back as the early eighties.

APRC reaches consensus
That the Government had expedited the work of the All Party Representative Conference (APRC) to find a lasting solution to the conflict, was shared by the Sri Lankan side.
So far 85% of the Discussion Paper, based on the experts’ group findings, has been agreed upon by 14 recognised political parties. The Government hopes to finalise the matter in the next fortnight. President Mahinda Rajapaksa was likely to announce a political package, when he addresses the United Nations General Assembly Sessions on September 24. But, this announcement would only be after dealing with global terrorism and LTTE’s contribution to it and the government’s efforts to curb the menace
.
The two main proposals rejected from the Experts panel in the APRC findings, contained in the Majority Report this week are, the Constitutional Council and Concurrent List. The 75-member Senate has been accepted by the parties, which, however, have insisted that the Chief Ministers of the Provincial Councils (PC) be members of this upper house. Three members are to represent the unrepresented groups like the Burghers, Malays and others.

The contentious issue of language was also resolved with Sinhala and Tamil being made official languages and the language of administration being English or one of the official languages according to the needs.
The issues of land, water and policing have also been agreed upon. Gazetted officers from ASPs above are to be part of the all island police service, like the All India Police Service, while others are to be recruited from local regions.

Weaknesses in the public service have been noted and to rectify same in keeping with the true spirit of devolution of power, the Government Agent (GA) is to come under the Chief Secretary of the province. The Divisional Secretary (DS) will come under the GA and the Gramaka Sevaka under the DS.

In terms of devolution of power, structurally, what has been agreed upon is far more progressive than even what was proposed by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga. President Rajapksa, however, has insisted that in nomenclature it should be a unitary Constitution, as it cannot go against the President’s election manifesto, the Mahinda Chinthana.

The basic difference between a unitary and federal Constitution is that the centre can take back what it gives, in the former, and cannot do so, in the latter. The fear Tamil parties have is that a future administration could do just that as in the case of President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s administration deliberately undermining the North and East PC, until it was completely dissolved and placed under Governor’s rule.

On the North-East merger, India has maintained that that was a basis for any political solution, as almost all Tamil parties in Sri Lanka have demanded a merged North and East. On the merger, the Sri Lankan Government has maintained it could be discussed with the LTTE. Even though the North-East province was de-merged after the Supreme Court ruling, it could be re-merged.
Will the international community be able to prevail on the chief opposition UNP to accept the findings of the APRC and finalise matters in the All Party Conference, is left to be seen. The UNP, before it pulled out of the APRC, had originally submitted that it stood by the Oslo Declaration, that a federal solution within a united Sri Lanka would be the answer.

Some have remarked that the difference between the previous Ranil Wickremesinghe government and the incumbent Rajapaksa administration is that the former put all its eggs in one peace basket and when that basket crashed it had nothing in terms of peace or war to boast of. This government is working towards establishing a political package while pursuing military action.

Two prong strategy
From the beginning, while it was entreating the LTTE to come for peace talks- Geneva and all that- this government was preparing for war.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga was more akin to Wicremesinghe; she first pursued peace and when that failed, she pushed as hard as she could for war, while keeping the doors open for peace.

But, her war efforts, eventually, proved futile and militarily, she was routed, and all she bequeathed to Wickremesinghe was a negative economic growth, which the latter turned around by the sheer absence of war and with development.
However, his administration unable to pass on the peace dividends to the masses, was dismissed arbitrarily. The voters, at least those in the South, turned his government out. The allegations of giving into the Tigers too much, also worked towards his detriment.

This government, in contrast, is pursuing both a political package and for a military weakening of the LTTE.
Some contend that even if the Rajapaksa government were to crash tomorrow, it has achieved militarily by taking control of the entire east. But, the question is, at what cost to the economy?

Can the economy sustain the war, if the price of oil goes up further, as expected, should anarchy rule Iraq, when US troops leave? This could spread to Iran, and the Middle East could be the flashpoint of further war.

Tigers play it safe
The LTTE, which has retreated to fight another day, as before, is not in a hurry to strike back and would do so only when the government is utterly weak. In the recent Silavatturai operation, there were no casualties on the LTTE side. Some analysts say the Tigers have retreated to the Wilpattu jungles, while others say they escaped into the Wanni, where they are well entrenched and waiting for the forces.

The LTTE, this week, dared the military to come to the Wanni, instead of taking on a place like Silavatturai. Will the army charge in like an enraged bull? Will it rush in where angels fear to tread?
In the alternative, is the LTTE’s challenge, part of the Psy-operations it used before and during the military operations in the east? As we said before, in the Wanni, the use of artillery would greatly determine part of the success. By extension, this applies to the northern battles contemplated by the LTTE.

The Government too prefers the low intensity warfare to high intensity war to minimize its losses and enable the military’s deep penetration teams to slowly penetrate and decimate the Tigers. The military also continues to weaken the LTTE by the air force taking on and destroying Tiger assets.

But the LTTE, too, is in no hurry, as it waits till the Government is weakened economically and politically, to strike as hard as it can. It is likely to do so after the LTTE leader’s Heroes’ Day message on November 27, where he was likely to entreat the international community to support the cause of separation.

Survey on war and peace
A survey done by Marga Institute’s Dr. Godfrey Gunatilleke and Myrtle Perera, in association with the National Peace Council, has come up with interesting findings.
Of the 1,800 people interviewed, from 18 administrative districts outside the North and East, with the exception of Amparai, the deliberative poll sought to find whether the people were better informed and had a better understanding of the issues.
According to the poll, which largely reflects the thinking of Sinhalese and Muslims, 84% of the respondents thought that the government was forced to act militarily, to defeat the LTTE, given that the LTTE would not give up their ultimate aim of an independent State. This endorses the government’s current strategy of recapturing territory controlled by the LTTE.

But, the reality, that the LTTE would continue as a guerilla force and be a threat to peace and security, even after suffering a comprehensive military defeat, was endorsed by 89% of the respondents.
But, most respondents did not want the war to continue, with 99% of them agreeing that the prevailing state of war should be ended as early as possible.

The efficacy of a military solution was denied by 72% of the respondents, who concluded that the best guarantee of lasting peace is a political solution acceptable to all communities but, involving the LTTE as well.
This also implies that the people expect the government to put forward a political package to resolve the ethnic conflict. And just 10%, rejected any form of devolution.

The incumbent government appears to have retained the favour of the masses, despite the escalating cost of living. It has, however, lost the backing of the international community and would try to undo the damage at the General Assembly of the world body. In the end, will it succeed?

****

EPDP plays Jekyll and Hyde

The Criminal Investigations Department (CID) was closing in on two top LTTE operatives, but, to its dismay, it found that the two had slipped out of the country.
The Anti- Human Smuggling Unit of the CID was informed by the airport unit that the duo had slipped out. This was discovered when the departure list was scanned by the CID a few days later.
Shocking news was to follow.

Former EPDP National List MP and political spokesman of the party S. Thavarasa is reportedly learnt to have assisted the two LTTE operatives in their great escape, according to sleuths. Twelve other wanted men have escaped through the airport and the CID is probing these cases as well.

Investigators obtained a warrant for the arrest of Minister Douglas Devananda’s Secretary, Thavarasa. They informed the Minister of it, and later, to their astonishment, they discovered that Thavarasa, too, had fled the country, on medical grounds, to a European destination.

Minister Devananda maintains that the one who has slipped out of the country, is not his Secretary but some other Thavarasa, while his Secretary had gone for medical attention.
The Nation made an attempt to speak to S. Thavarasa on his land line, only to be told that he could be contacted on his mobile. No mention was made of the fact that he had gone overseas for medical attention. When The Nation called his mobile, the recording indicated that the phone had been disconnected.

EPDP sobs to EU
Hardly three months back, Thavarasa led a special EPDP delegation to Brussels, where he had discussions with European Union (EU) representatives, including former Prime Minister of Netharalands, Wim Kok, Socialist MEP and Chairman of the Constitutional Committee of the European Parliament from Germany, Jo Leinen, and Sandra Hartner from Austria.
“The EPDP delegation had a historical meeting with the EU representatives responsible for Asian Affairs at the EU meeting centre in Brussels on June 14, at 10:00 a.m.,” according to the EPDP website.

The EPDP delegation, that also included Ashok Chandrakumar, coordinators M. Mithran, Martin Jeya and Bernd Finke, explained to the EU representatives the current situation in the country and the difficulties faced by Tamils in Sri Lanka. The delegation also portrayed that opposition parties crippled whatever political solution that was put forward by successive governments.

Having painted a bleak future vis-à-vis the minorities, as far as a solution is concerned, the EPDP delegation expressed concern about Human Rights (HR) violations, abductions and killings within the country.
The delegation appealed to the EU to help end the war and find a political solution through peace negotiations. The EU representatives said that they would take into consideration all that was said at the meeting and do whatever they could, when they visit Sri Lanka in September.

While Thavarasa was raising HR violations in Brussels, Minister Devananda (who was also invited to Brussels) accompanied President Mahinda Rajapaksa to Geneva to defend the government’s HR record.
In fact, Minister Devanandan got into a heated argument with one Kirubakaran from an NGO, who questioned him on the EPDP’s HR violations, including abductions.

Subsequently, the EPDP delegation, including Thavarasa and members of the Tamil Diaspora, met President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Geneva on June 15. EPDP representatives from Switzerland, Germany, Britain and Canada discussed with the President, problems faced by Tamils and HR violations in Sri Lanka. They requested the President to take constructive measures to control the situation.

They also appealed to the President to find an amicable solution to the ethnic problem, by giving Tamils their rights and political freedom without further delay.
The President responded that he does not like war, and added that it was thrust upon his government by the Tigers by closing the Mavil Aru anicut.

No war, only battles
However, the war continues unabated, even after the entire East was brought under government control and the government plans to hold elections later this year.
Has the proposed elections in the East seen a new allegiance of forces? The ‘Karuna’ Group has ordered the EPDP and northern LTTE cadres out of the East. The LTTE is gunning for ‘Karuna’ cadres and the EPDP, which first supported Karuna, is now at loggerheads with him. The military is also busy trying to disarm ‘Karuna’ cadres, who would then become sitting ducks for the LTTE’s pistol gang, in a manner similar to the elimination of disarmed EPDP cadres in terms of the Cease-Fire Agreement.
Three months after the EPDP delegation made representations to the EU, the EU is expected to vote against Sri Lanka, if a vote were to be taken at the 18-day 6th sessions of the HR Council that opens tomorrow (10).

The Sri Lankan Government is confident it has the numbers in the 47-member Council, to defeat the resolution that has been hanging over its head for sometime. A statement on the deteriorating security situation, HR violations, including abductions and killings, was to be made from the chair. Sri Lanka has, so far, successfully lobbied against it, while some NGOs have been pushing hard for it.

The Government hopes a vote would not be taken, as it does not want a confrontation with members of the EU.
The Sri Lankan Government has accepted the reality that it depends on the EU for aid and would hence, prefer the diplomatic approach, than confrontation.

Human Rights and Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, Attorney General C.R. De Silva and Peace Secretariat Director General, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha returned to the country on Friday, while Deputy Solicitors General Shavindra Fernando and Yasantha Kodgoda were expected to leave for Geneva, for the sessions, yesterday.

The administration’s change of gear, after a gung ho approach, was seen in Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama’s response in Paris on Wednesday (5), to a strong protest by ACF President Denis Metzger and ACF Executive Director Francois Danel about Prof. Wijesinha’s comments on the group.

When clarification was sought on the matter, Minister Bogollogama said it was not within the ambit of the Peace Secretariat Secretary General to make any comments on the matter. He advised the ACF to disregard the comments and to go by the position taken by the Government of Sri Lanka, through the Foreign Ministry.

It was only last week that the Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister Bogollogama made contradictory statements on the war. Rajapaksa says the military is determined to liberate the remainder of the uncleared areas in the Wanni, while Bogollogama says that there are no plans for major offensive in the north.

The Silavatturai operation dealt with in the facing page, proved that Rajapaksa’s statement reflected the government’s thinking more accurately. In fact, a very senior Army Officer was to announce on Tuesday that the Army Commander was no Alladin and wresting control of the Wanni was likely to take a couple of years.

****