Business Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Tuesday, Aug 08, 2006
Government - Politics
Industry & Economy - Terrorism
`LTTE certainly wants peace'
recently in Colombo
A full-fledged war can still be averted in Sri Lanka if the government learns a lesson from the present bout of military engagement with the LTTE in Trincomalee district, Mr Jehan Perera, Media Director of the National Peace Council, Colombo, told Business Line.
Excerpts from the interview:
In the context of the current hostilities, would you say the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) is dead?
The framework of the CFA has not yet been renounced by either side. In principle, they have not rejected the Norwegian facilitation.
But the Nordic mission has already lost three members...
But still the principle of international monitoring has been accepted by both sides. So though in practice the ceasefire has not been honoured by both sides, it still holds in principle, giving the hope that we can once again revitalise it.
Do you think new players will come on board, such as India? Should India play a more active role?
I think an Indian role is important and also inevitable given Sri Lanka's geographic proximity to India, its various economic and political ties with India. An Indian role is essential and important. However, I do not think international support and intervention is adequate substitute for domestic political will and leadership,
On both sides...
Yes, but primarily the government side because only it can change the Constitution.
Why did the LTTE get disenchanted with Ranil (former Prime Minister, Mr Ranil Weickremesinghe)? In the beginning there was a lot of bonhomie and hope. What went wrong?
I think the LTTE made a big mistake in rejecting Ranil Wickremesinghe's government and hoping his successors would be more willing and able to deliver what they wanted. I met the LTTE leaders after Ranil was defeated and Chandrika (former President, Mrs Chandrika Kumaratunga) came to power and when Rajapakse (now President, Mr Mahinda Rajapakse) came to power. On both occasions the LTTE leaders expressed great optimism that these new leaders would deliver what they want. The disillusionment with Ranil was on two fronts: One, his inability to deliver what he had promised. He was unable to do it because of his political weakness, of not being in control of the full government including the executive presidency, and his inability to get the support of the Sinhala ethnic majority. There were actually street protests against Ranil.
Two, what upset them about Ranil was the belief that he was very much supported by the international community and along with its support had a strategy to restrict what the LTTE would get out of the peace process. So Ranil's very close ties with the international community particularly India and the US came in the way.
How do you read the present impasse in Tricomalee district vis-à-vis the water blockade?
The government launched a military attack believing it had the moral upper hand and, therefore, international legitimacy to take action against the LTTE. It also thought in Trinco the LTTE would be at its weakest, because there are big military camps there, and the Karuna forces would be strong. It thought this is the best opportunity to teach the LTTE a lesson.
Well, my hope is the government will learn a lesson that using the military is not the way to sort problems.
What role is Karuna playing in this fighting?
Hardly any role; this battle reveals the limitations of Karuna's role. I hope the government will realise his limitations, that he cannot deploy sufficient forces to engage the LTTE in a frontal combat.
Where do you see the present conflict heading? The roadblocks and armed men are back on the streets of Colombo. Tourism doesn't exactly flourish under such conditions...
The country could take two paths: Continue with more intensity on the present path, which is possible because of the Sinhala nationalist component in the government the JVP and the JHU, which are very active and vociferous and widen the area of confrontation. Or, the government learns a lesson from what has happened and changes course to try and work more closely with the moderate forces, particularly the UNP, and steer the country back to the path of negotiation.
Do you think the LTTE is interested in peace at all?
Yes, the LTTE is interested in a peace where people under its control and the larger population in the North-East benefit economically from the ceasefire. This it certainly wants. The question is how much it is willing to compromise politically in terms of the power it wields. That has to be negotiated, and it is possible to do that. That the LTTE agreed in 2001 to the Norwegian facilitators when they specifically said they would facilitate within the framework of a united Sri Lanka, is convincing evidence that the LTTE is prepared to compromise.
What is the general feeling here about India? India has progressed economically but Sri Lanka has failed to leverage India's booming economy, a vision that Ranil had. Is there a feeling of hostility, suspicion towards the big neighbour?
No. The Sinhala people look to India largely with hope that India will somehow help to strengthen the government's hand against the LTTE. Overall, their feelings are positive. However, at various levels of the polity, there are deep suspicions also about India. From both within the Government and the Opposition side, I hear of suspicions about India's secret agencies supporting Karuna, keeping his family in India to leverage Karuna in some way, etc. That India wants Sri Lanka to restrict its relations with other foreign powers such as China, Japan and the US. That till Sri Lanka falls in line, India will continue to surreptitiously undermine Sri Lanka. One top government advisor told me that unlike Western countries that use their massive power in a very subtle way, India is blatant about using its economic and political clout.
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