Open up "Heart of Darkness"

Some parts of the Jaffna-Colombo highway running through the conflict zone, according to reports, are being demined. However, it is not yet known whether it will be reopened completely to enable vehicular movement between Colombo and Jaffna. The closure of this vital artery has thrust upon the people of the north many a hardship. Scarcity of essential commodities, exorbitant cost of transport, restriction of movement between Jaffna and Colombo have resulted from the closure of this road.

It this road can be opened, it will also pave the way for better relations between those trapped in the north and their counterparts in the south.

Opening up roads has come as a dividend of the on-going truce. Roadblocks in the city and towns have all come down except for a few at nerve centres. There are no raids in the city in search of terrorist suspects. Opening up of Colombo and other urban centres is a gamble the government has taken at a tremendous risk of LTTE stepping up infiltration.

The need for goodwill gestures, reciprocity, bridge building etc. is repeated ad nauseam by the peace lobby. They are, of course, essential in making peace provided the intentions of the LTTE are genuine.

But is it only the areas under the government control that should be opened up? Apart from conducted tours the LTTE offers to foreign and local journalists and others of its choice, the areas under the LTTE control are still hidden from the public eye. Take for example, the Wanni, the Heart of Darkness as one NGO activist once described it. It continues to be terra incognita for all except the LTTE and the people trapped in there.

The government’s goodwill gesture of opening areas under its control must be reciprocated by the LTTE. In negotiating peace it has to be give-and-take. The LTTE must be asked to open up the Wanni and other areas under its control so that the media personnel and human rights activists will have access there without let or hindrance to see for themselves what is happening in those parts.

Security of LTTE leaders should not be cited as an excuse for not doing so. For the Prime Minister himself has opened up the roads around his residence. Anyone can also use roads that are only a stone’s throw away from the President’s residence. Terrorist leaders cannot be ‘more equal’ than the democratically elected.

Mission of the Bishops

The government-controlled Sunday Observer yesterday carried a news item, where the Bishop of Mannar, Rt. Rev. Rayappu Joseph, says that the Catholic Church will vehemently condemn any attempt by the LTTE to recruit children below 16 years of age.

In this news item, the Bishop goes on to say, "... at times allegations were exaggerated and the truth of such rumours should be reviewed and authenticity ascertained."

It is surprising why the good Bishop has chosen words like, "attempts" and "exaggerated." The LTTE is not just attempting to recruit children. Forcible conscription by the LTTE of children has been going on for two decades. Where has the Bishop been?

The Bishop couldn’t be unaware of the reports filed by Olara Otunu, the special envoy of the UN Secretary General, on LTTE child combatants and the very existence of the Baby Brigade of the LTTE. The large number of LTTE child combatants captured by the security forces and rehabilitated will also enlighten the Bishop on this matter.

If the Bishop cares to browse through LTTE publications full of pictures of child combatants or read the reports by the University Teachers for Human Rights (J) and the plethora of press reports on LTTE forcing children to enrol, he will see how the LTTE is destroying lives of thousands of children. The latest UTHR(J) report we serialised recently sheds much light on how the LTTE is using the on-going truce to forcibly conscript children. It provides the names and other relevant details of these children.

The Bishop has said that armies need new recruitment. There is no argument that legitimate armies need recruitment. But the same cannot be said of a death-dealing narco-terrorist outfit that is the LTTE.

The bishops have a vital role to play in saving children from the claws of Tigers. It is hoped that the bishops will make use of the deference that the LTTE has for the Church to exert pressure on the LTTE leadership to steer clear of children and to eschew violence.

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