When will we ever learn?– Part 11

by S. L. Gunasekara

(Contd. from yesterday)

Until the Kumaratunga ‘Peace’ Talks of 1994-5 we had mastery over the skies, and Prabhakaran’s ‘Sea Tigers’ were by no means a formidable force. After the Kumaratunga "Peace’ Talks Prabhakaran was able to shoot down our aircraft and the ‘Sea Tigers’ had become such a formidable force that they succeeded in sending many, many our naval craft, with so many sailors to the bottom of the ocean. It is not surprising therefore, that Prabhakaran demands a cessation of hostilities as a necessary pre-condition to ‘Peace’ Talks.

A cease-fire or cessation of hostilities is manifestly a gold mine to Prabhakaran. Our troops being members of a regular army go about in uniform and are stationed in camps, the locations whereof are known to all. They cannot be hidden from public view. People of all communities inhabit those areas which are under Government control. The Tigers having engaged with considerable success in the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the North and East and more particularly of the North, there are no Sinhalese, Muslims, Burghers, or members of any race other than the Tamil race within those areas which are now controlled by the LTTE. Accordingly, the locations of the camps of the LTTE’s armed cadres are well within. Tiger Territory’ and none other than those approved by the Tigers have access to even the vicinity of those camps. On the other hand, the LTTE being an illegal guerilla force, their armed cadres do not go around in uniform but mingle with civilians in all parts of the country as civilians and have their caches of arms and explosives located throughout the land. When, therefore, there is a cessation of hostilities or a cease-fire, and our troops are confined to barracks, no cadres of the LTTE are so restrained. They have the freedom which our troops do not have.

Our troops in their camps have got to be alert and on the defensive for 24 hours of every day and seven days of every week for as long as it takes for the LTTE to break the cease-fire. The Tigers, on the other hand, have no such need. It is they who fix the place, the date and the time at which they are to break the cease-fire, and it is only at that time that their cadres who are to be engaged in breaking that cease-fire need to be on the alert. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that our forces have suffered tremendous losses on each occasion on which the Tigers broke the cease-fire.

Our troops are only human, and no human being can be alert and on the defensive indefinitely for 24 hours of every day on seven days of every week. The soldier in the bunker watching out for an attack has got to keep alert, watching the same ant hill, the same trees, the same rocks or the same paddy field every moment while he is on duty by night and by day, wondering when he will be under attack. While any soldier can be so alert for some time, it is only natural that as time goes on, his attention will wonder - he will think of home, of family, of loved ones and friends, and of things more pleasant than the Tigers. It is then that the Tigers attack.

Where the Tigers are concerned they have no such need to be on the defensive continuously, because when there is a cease-fire, they have no doubt that our troops will never break it or attack any of their camps. With even offensive patrolling being halted during a cease-fire, the Tigers receive the blessing of complete freedom to plan and execute surprise attacks on our forces at such time as they choose to break the cease-fire. A cease-fire, or a cessation of hostilities, is, therefore and has been, a suicidal step for our Country and particularly our troops, and manna from heaven to the Tigers. Is it any wonder then that Prabhakaran periodically seeks ‘Peace’ Talks with a cessation of hostilities as a pre-condition??

The foreigner who tells us that we must have peace through negotiation with the Tigers never tires of citing to us the examples of South Africa, Israel and Ireland. The fact that there is no parallel between the situation in those countries and that in ours has not dissuaded him from citing them. The difference between the situations in those three Countries and the situation in Sri Lanka apart, it is pertinent to note that the agreements reached after the Peace Talks in those countries, resulted in the Parties which were fighting the Governments of those Countries gaining from the ‘Peace’ Talks something more than they had before the commencement of those talks.

Even assuming, without conceding, that Prabhakaran would be satisfied with something less than a separate State in the entirety of the Northern and Eastern Provinces of our land, it is virtually impossible to conceive of even the most incurable of optimists even imagining that Prabhakaran would come to the ‘Peace Talks’ to give up anything that he already has. Clearly; he will come for such talks not to give up anything that he already has, but to gain through negotiation, what he could not gain through the force of arms.

What is it that Prabhakaran has today? Today, Prabhakaran rules, albeit illegally, almost the entirety of the Wanni and a significant portion of the Eastern Province. While lawful Governments and rulers have the metes and bounds of their powers, and the manner in which they may exercise them circumscribed by Constitutions, and must perforce act according to such Constitutions, and also have Courts and other institutions to ensure that they act according to such Constitutions, Prabhakaran’s illegal rule of part of our Country is not in any way ‘hampered’ by any such restrictions. The ‘law’ in those parts of the Country which are illegally ruled by Prabhakaran is what Prabhakaran wants and nothing else. There are no Courts and no institutions of whatever nature to control him in any way. There is no ruler; whether lawful or unlawful, anywhere in the world who enjoys within the territory which he so rules; the power that Prabhakaran enjoys within that portion of the country that is ruled by him.

Governments and rulers of all countries have not only power but duties as well. They have a duty to provide the people whom they rule with food, clothing, education, medical attention and the necessary administrative services.

Those Governments and rulers have got to find the money to provide those services and to pay the public servants who carry out the necessary administrative tasks. Prabhakaran has no such problems. The ever obliging Government of Sri Lanka [be it UNP or PA) always provided both him, his cadres and the people of those areas which he illegally rules with food, clothing and medical attention and pays the public servants who perform administrative functions therein and follow not the orders of the Government but the orders of the Tigers. Unlike other rulers therefore, Prabhakaran has only powers and not duties. He therefore does not have to ‘dissipate’ his attention or energy or resources on providing himself, his cadres and those whom he rules with the necessities of life - the ‘enemy’ whom he fights provides them all for him. Is it likely then, or even possible, that Prabhakaran would give up any of this?

If Prabhakaran is to agree to any political compromise short of a separate State, he must agree to abide by the Constitution of the Country and the rule of law. He must necessarily agree to giving up all the arms, ammunition, explosives, military equipment and hardware in his possession or control including artillery weapons, multi-barreled rocket launchers, armed boats, missiles, RPGs, machine guns and so on, to disband his armed cadres and have only those powers and privileges that are enjoyed by any other leader of a Political Party in this Country. He will, in addition, have to contest elections and go back home and live the life of an ordinary citizen in the event of defeat at the elections. If Prabhakaran wins a seat at the elections and becomes the Chief Minister of the Northern and Eastern Provinces, he will have to exercise only those powers that are afforded to him by the Constitution, to obey the summons of Court and abide by the law of the land. Can anybody in his wildest dreams imagine that Prabhakaran will exchange the position that he now enjoys for such a position whatever may be the power. The Government agrees to devolve even under a Federal Constitution?

It should be clear to even the meanest intelligence that if some agreement, be it just or otherwise, is to be arrived at consequent to any talks with the Tigers, while the overwhelming probabilities are that Prabhakaran would not agree to anything short of a separate state, the very barest minimum to which Prabhakaran could conceivably be expected to agree is the legitimization of his present rule in those portions of the country which he now rules as well as the legal right to rule entirety of the Jaffna Peninsula and surrounding islands and the renal right to continue to maintain his armed cadres together with their arms, ammunition, explosives and equipment. It would be less than moronic to even imagine that Prabhakaran would ever settle for less. For more than 15 years Prabhakaran has shown that he has no intention of sharing any power with anyone - had he been willing to share power, those such as Neelan Thirichelvam, Sarojini Yogeswaran, A. Amirthalingam, A Thangathurai and a myriad of other Tamil politicians would, today, be among the living.

Can this Government even contemplate giving the band of criminals called the LTTE, the legal right to rule any part of the territory of this Country or to continue to maintain its murderous armed cadres? This is the question to which the Government must give an unequivocal answer. If it cannot contemplate giving such powers to the LTTE why does it even contemplate having talks with them?