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This is my Nation


Atrocious not auspicious heralding of the New Year!

The New Year has, quite literally, begun with a bang: the killing of Parliamentarian Thiagarajah Maheswaran on January 1, followed by claymore mine explosions in Colombo and Kebithigollewa in the next two days. And, to cap it all, the government’s intention of withdrawing from the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), in a surprise announcement

The New Year has, quite literally, begun with a bang: the killing of Parliamentarian Thiagarajah Maheswaran on January 1, followed by claymore mine explosions in Colombo and Kebithigollewa in the next two days. And, to cap it all, the government’s intention of withdrawing from the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), in a surprise announcement.

The latter decision was a surprise for several reasons: there was no indication that such a decision would be reached at this juncture, when the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration was quite content to pay lip service to the CFA; there is also no tangible benefit in unilaterally abrogating the agreement and, in fact, the opposite seems to be the case.

The manner in which the announcement was made of the government’s intention to annul the CFA was not very convincing. The official reason given was that Cabinet approved a proposal by Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wikremanayake to abrogate the CFA, taking into consideration the recent acts of terror committed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

It is common knowledge that the able Prime Minister does not initiate such drastic policy shifts in the government; it is therefore obvious that he was only doing someone else’s bidding. And it is also evident that the recent acts of terror could not have been the only reason for the abrogation, because the Rajapaksa regime has tolerated worse atrocities over the past two years.

If so, what does the government gain by cancelling the CFA? Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama, tasked with explaining the government decision, wasn’t very enlightening either. There was no purpose in continuing to adhere to an agreement that was a dead letter for all intents and purposes, Bogollagama said. Sure it was, but then, why go that extra mile and annul it?

Already, Colombo is taking a lot of flak for the decision. Norway, the mediators of the CFA have expressed their ‘regrets.’ The United States has said it is ‘troubled’ by the cancellation. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is ‘deeply worried’ about the withdrawal from the accord and the advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has reiterated its call for a permanent body to monitor human rights abuses in Sri Lanka.

Clearly, the intention of the government was not to get in to the good books of the international community. Indeed, Colombo seems to be hell bent on telling the world that it would deal with the crisis in its own way, regardless of what the superpowers and other world bodies want it to do.

And, if at all the government is getting into the good books of anyone, it would be its erstwhile ally, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the nationalistic southern electorate it represents. The JVP is now caught in a terrible bind: it was mercilessly critical of the government for continuing the CFA after President Rajapaksa’s election; now it would to have to hold its fire.
For the JVP to withdraw support to the government in Parliament is now unthinkable. In fact, when the vote on the budget debate first loomed on the horizon and the leftist party submitted their ‘demands’ to the government, abrogating the CFA was foremost among them. Now, the President has done just that and the JVP would have no choice but to sing his praises.

Even so, is the Parliamentary support of the JVP such a crucial issue for President Rajapaksa to risk condemnation from the international community? Surely, if he so desperately needed stability for his government in Parliament, he could have called for a general election that would have eliminated the JVP threat anyway. If this is not the only reason for annulling the CFA, what are the other factors?

What is annulling the CFA would allow the President to do would be to pursue a military option against the LTTE without any hindrance and hassle and, without having to explain himself at every turn to the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, about the targets that were hit and the casualties that were sustained. The Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces would have a free hand.

This underscores the assumption that the top rungers in the defence establishment genuinely believe that a military victory against the Tigers is now an achievable goal. They believe they can replicate the success in the East in the North. This is a moot point and will be hotly disputed in other quarters but nevertheless, it appears to be the government’s current line of thinking.

There is certainly truth in the government’s claim that the LTTE, especially its supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran, will not agree to a peaceful and negotiated settlement of the crisis. There is also substantive evidence to support the claim that the Tigers only used the CFA to rearm and regroup. Hence, Colombo’s justification of its decision.

Yet, for all the military exercises that will inevitably follow in the Wanni, there has to be political collateral in Colombo and an attempt has to be made to devolve powers to the minorities. This is where the Rajapaksa regime is found severely wanting. Now, apart from the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) which is as dormant as the CFA, there is nothing to support this effort.

If the President intends to deal with the LTTE militarily and for that he needs to abrogate the CFA, he surely can; but in so doing he must take extra care to make sure that a poltical settlement is pursued with even greater zeal. And that is where the world at large will ultimately judge the Rajapaksa administration and is likely to find him guilty - not for merely abrogating the CFA. 

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