|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
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
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.