Glory and warts of peace

The full contents of the letters of exchange on a formal ceasefire between Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and the LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabakaran have not been made public at the time of writing these comments. Prime Minister Wickremasinghe, however, on Thursday night, briefing editors of the national press, said that the letters of exchange will pertain only to the ceasefire agreement and not other issues involved in the resolution of the conflict. The LTTE demand for deproscription before negotiations will be a subject to be taken up later on he said.

A formal ceasefire agreement binding either side to specific conditions was indeed called for after the government accepted the LTTE proposal for a ceasefire but with no binding agreement. Despite the LTTE’s consistent call for peace for over a year, once the ceasefire was agreed upon, the LTTE conducted themslves in a very provocative manner that was certainly not in keeping with a party desirous of negotiating a peace. The abduction of school children for conscription and continued smuggling of arms belied their peace loving intentions. Even as the signing of the ceasefire agreement was announced on Thursday, the LTTE attempted to smuggle arms off the coast of Mulaitivu and engaged the navy in a gun battle in which three navy personnel were killed.

Thus, there is an urgent need to set up a system of monitoring the ceasefire. The agreement envisages the deployment of Scandinavian, Sri Lankan government and LTTE monitors.

Monitoring will largely depend on the complaints made. This is an arduous and challenging task for the government. While monitoring the activites of the Sri Lankan forces will be easy for the LTTE, it will be extremely difficult to monitor the activities of the LTTE in the thick jungles which remain under their control. The LTTE is quite unlikely to let Sri Lankan government monitors roam the areas controlled by them. Nor will the well meaning Scandinavians from the cool salubrious climes of the North Pole find it easy in the hot impenetrable jungles of the Wanni and elsewhere. But intense monitoring of the agreement is essential because on it the agreement would stand or fail. During the last ceasefire declared by President Kumaratunga and the LTTE, the Scandinavian monitors appear to have gone to sleep while the LTTE made merry and struck viciously sinking ships and downing planes.

The government forces face grave risks with this ceasefire becoming operative. In some areas they will be separated from the LTTE by less than a mere 600 meters. While the government is bound to abide by the ceasefire, Prabakaran like bin Laden is known for his ‘lateral thinking’— doing the unexpected. Who would have thought he would assassinate a former prime minister of India or bomb Colombo’s Twin Towers and the Hilton Hotel a few days after the United States proscribed the LTTE? If he does make suicidal charges and takes over areas controlled by government while tearing up the ceasefire agreement, what will those in the west who advised us to hold negotiations, to make peace, do? Can they ask him to retreat and if so will Prabakaran abide? If he doesn’t what action can they take against him other than to freeze LTTE accounts? They are already obliged by their own anti terrorist laws and UN resolutions to do so, but have they acted thus?

On the other hand, apologists for the UNF claim that the UNF government had no option but to follow this course of action. The economy is in shambles and assistance of the IMF and western donors are immediately needed. And they want to negotiate for peace.

On the positive side, international opinion against all forms of terrorism has peaked. And terrorism by the LTTE will not and cannot be tolerated by western nations. Thus, Mr Wickremasinghe without much options left had decided on a pragmatic course.

Today’s tendency to safeguard the ceasefire, ignoring provocative actions by terrorists could have grave implications. It has been said that violations of ceasefire agreements occur in every ceasefire and thus the gun battle between the LTTE and Navy on Thursday is no cause to scuttle the agreement. Certainly, yes but this indulgent attitude cannot and should not continue. The Sri Lanka government has to talk and act tough. Violations of the agreement have to be taken up and acted upon. Tolerance will be interpreted as a sign of weakness.

Acceptance of the ceasefire agreement and the decision to negotiate have resulted in peace lobbies once again attempting to convince the people that the LTTE is invincible and we have to negotiate a peaceful settlement. Negotiating for peace is one matter but for a sovereign government to concede that a band of youth comprising 5000 or more cannot be wiped out and the nation has to go down on its knees to them, is to admit the end of the existence of the Sri Lankan nation.

This conflict had reached this stage because of our own corrupt and inefficient political leaders and some leading military officers-the bloated parasites of this conflict. Poetic justice is already visiting on some of them.

Whether peace is restored through negotiations or not the armed services - as that of any other country-should be able to put down any force that threatens the existence of a sovereign state. If not the nation is doomed.

Let us co-operate with the government in its search for peace but not relax against the wiles of terrorists.

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