Govt. will negotiate with Tigers on Colombo’s terms

For some time now there has been pressure on the government to commit towards a political solution to the ethnic crisis, more so in the wake of the military thrust towards strongholds held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the North.
This week, President Mahinda Rajapaksa had the opportunity to showcase his opinion to the world at the 63rd session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, and he did so quite unequivocally: Colombo will talk to the Tigers only when the LTTE commits itself to decommissioning its weapons.

There will no doubt be those who will question this stance and brand it as being stubborn and intransigent. The only instance where the LTTE came close to handing over weapons was under the Indo-Lanka Accord, when Indian Premier Rajiv Gandhi arm twisted them into a token surrender of arms. But soon afterwards, the Tigers were waging war with the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF).

Therefore, does the President’s pronouncement imply that the door has been shut on negotiations with the Tigers? Or, is there a different message here that the LTTE needs to comprehend in the context of its dwindling capabilities?
One can hardly blame the Rajapaksa regime for being once bitten twice shy. Colombo’s past experience with talking to the Tigers–under successive governments and leaders-have been disastrous. As a result of negotiating with the LTTE, J.R. Jayewardene lost his credibility, R.Premadasa lost his life, Chandrika Kumaratunge lost an eye and Ranil Wickremesinghe lost an election.

On each occasion, the terrorists reneged on solemn pledges and used and abused the lull in fighting during the period of negotiations to regroup, re-arm and rejuvenate. Then they struck back with a vengeance on some pretext or the other, often resorting to making impossible demands at the negotiating table, and then returning to the battlefield.

What President Rajapaksa and his Government has enunciated is, that it will not negotiate with a LTTE that has been weakened considerably in recent months, so that it will provide the Tigers with some breathing space to get their act together again. If the terrorists want to negotiate, so be it: but it would have to be on Colombo’s terms.

Given the past record of the LTTE at the negotiating table–whether it was at Thimpu, Colombo, Sattahip, Berlin, Hakone or Geneva–such a strong stance from Colombo is justifiable. Of course, it does make the possibility of negotiations with the Tigers rather remote in the near future.

President Rajapaksa has staked his political future on the war with the LTTE. His Government has not been the most efficient of administrations, and economic hardships have risen exponentially in recent times. But the masses have kept faith, largely because they believe that Colombo is now in a position to ram home the advantage in the war against the Tigers.

Therefore, the President cannot be expected to throw away all that goodwill which he currently enjoys in the south of the country, in one roll of the dice by talking to the LTTE without any pre-conditions. That would amount to political suicide, and Rajapaksa is too much a veteran in this game to fall for that.

Nevertheless, it is also important that the rest of the world does not misinterpret President Rajapaksa’s stance as implying that Colombo is not for a political solution to the ethnic issue of devolution of power. That is what the LTTE’s propaganda machine will be trying to imply now.

That would be the President’s next task: convincing the international community that while he does not negotiate out of fear, he does not also fear to negotiate.
DB, not for rough and tumble of politics

The nation bid farewell this week to Dingiri Banda Wijetunge, former Member of Parliament, Minister, Governor, Prime Minister and third Executive President of Sri Lanka.
Much has been written in recent days on the short span of his leadership, brought about by the sudden assassination of Ranasinghe Premadasa on May Day, 1993, but we would wish to dwell on one aspect of the man and his personality.

Dingiri Banda Wijetunge belonged to a different era, an era when leaders indulged in politics sincerely to serve others and not themselves. He was not for the rough and tumble or the hurly burly of politics; he was more the Good Samaritan than the street fighter.

He nursed his constituency, Udunuwara, for the United National Party, spent his wealth on party activities and didn’t make a fortune when in office. He never aspired for plum posts or portfolios, nor did he conspire within the party to get ahead of others in the pecking order.
Of Wijetunge it could truly be said that he was the only Executive President who did not wish to become President. The job was thrust on him by the actions of a suicide bomber and indeed, many questioned his ability to rise to the occasion.
But rise he did and in a manner that earned him the respect of friend and political foe alike. But more importantly, he knew that his party’s time was up and he had the good grace to go, when others asked him why he was leaving instead of waiting until they asked him why he wasn’t going.

It is an important lesson that Presidents before and after him-men and women with far more stature than the humble peasant from Pilimatalawa–did not appear to have learnt.  And for that alone we must salute Dingiri Banda Wijetunge.