Ceasefire agreement: Realism and circumspection called for– not joy and euphoria

While the news was breaking that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and LTTE terrorist leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran were to sign a memorandum of understanding on a ceasefire in the north-east conflict today at Vavuniya, reports from Mullaitivu said that the navy had detected the LTTE smuggling arms into the country, but were reluctant to engage the terrorists in the fear of jeopardising the on -going ceasefire. However, being attacked, the navy returned fire and summoned the air force to its assistance.

Despite the ceasefire coming into effect on December 24, there have been continuous reports of the conduct of LTTE cadres that do not indicate that they are willing to bring about a peaceful settlement to the conflict. The Island was the first to report on forcible conscription of Tamil children in the Eastern Province by the LTTE. This was followed by a detailed report made by the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) that spelt out names and places of kidnappings. UNICEF and Amnesty International have protested against these kidnappings but the UNF government appears to be turning a blind eye to it all.

Defence Ministry reports, too, detail kidnappings and abduction of people by the LTTE. Yesterday, a report said that Subasena Rajapakse, a lorry driver, had been kidnapped by the LTTE and released on the payment of a ransom of Rs. 300,000. In Trincomalee, armed LTTE cadres had seized national identity cards of Muslims and asked them to pay Rs. 1000 each for the return of cards, while ten fishing boats had been stolen from Kalkudah and Batticaloa and released after Rs. 100,000 had been paid. On Tuesday The Island reported that two boys and four girls had escaped from LTTE camps and sought protection of the police at Kiran.

These are only a few instances of the LTTE on the rampage not giving a damn to the so-called ceasefire agreement, which the government, politicians of the TNA and some peace lobbies in Colombo hold as sacrosanct. The thinking appears to be that the ceasefire is all important and these incidents can be overlooked in the interests of the ceasefire and greater cause of peace.

There is an upbeat mood among the peace lobbies in Colombo. Joy and hope is being expressed for the dawning of peace.

All that is well and good, but what is called for now - considering such false hopes for peace raised before - is realism and much greater circumspection.

The obvious question to be asked is: Why is the LTTE preparing for war - forcible conscription and smuggling of arms - if they are desirous of peace? Since they have been mooting a ceasefire more than one year for which the government of President Kumaratunga steadfastly refused, aren’t they now concerned that they are jeopardising the chances for peace by their actions? Aren’t they as concerned as the Sri Lanka government is about the ceasefire not breaking down?

Some armchair strategists in Colombo believe that the LTTE is deeply divided about peace moves. The bloodhound Prabhakaran, they say, is willing to come down from the demand for a separate state to something less, a viable alternative, which they have been mouthing before to appease western nations while there are harder hardliners than Prabhakaran who do not want to budge an inch from their demand for a separate state.

Whether such speculation is justified or not, Sri Lankans have had the sickening experiences of peace talks and the fallouts of their breakdown. Former President Ranasinghe Premadasa sacrificed 600 to 750 policemen stationed in the east in a futile attempt to save his peace negotiations with the LTTE. Some LTTE expatriates keep writing to us why we hark back on these policemen when the Sri Lankan armed forces too have been guilty of killing Tamils.

Why we keep repeating this horrendous and regrettable incident is because there has not been a massacre of such a scale since World War II till the September 11 incident in which the number of deaths is now estimated to be over 2000. While the Americans declared another World War following this incident, who remembers the massacred Sri Lankan policemen? Has even a memorial been put up for them by the Sri Lanka police? It has been left to The Island to keep in Sri Lankan memory the dead policemen who obeyed orders of their president and surrendered to the LTTE, only to be lined up at mass graves and machined gunned into them. That was just one sacrifice made to save President Premadasa’s ceasefire.

Thus, when the ceasefire is signed tomorrow what is called for is not joy and euphoria but realism and a great deal of cicumspection.

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