Fire beneath the ceasefire

Very valid questions have been raised about the legal validity of the much-celebrated Ceasefire Agreement signed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran on Friday.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga has protested that she was shown a copy of the agreement only after the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran had signed it and presumably she has not placed her signature on it till the time of writing these comments. It may seem ironic that she resorts to powers of the executive presidency that she has time and again reviled and proclaimed her abhorrence for. But she points out that under the powers of the executive presidency she is the commander - in - chief of the armed forces and she alone has the powers to declare war and peace. All this implies that any ceasefire agreement needs her consent.

Prabhakaran has obviously accomplished a fait accompli by signing the agreement first. But is this of any legal relevance? Prime Minister Wickremasinghe had shown her the final text of the agreement on Thursday, but President Kumaratunga has refused to sign it because Prabhakaran had already placed his signature on it.

Whether there is any protocol on the timing of placing signatures on letters of exchange of this nature we are not aware. Usually all the parties involved sign them at the same venue and at the same time.

Prime Minister Wickremasinghe had pointed out that the president was a party to the negotiations – with the Norwegians constantly consulting and briefing her – and was well aware of the contents of the agreement. Besides, the ceasefire agreement reached by her with Velupillai Prabhakaran in 1994 is no different to what Prabhakaran and the Prime Minister had signed.

Clearly the timing of the signing of the agreement is the responsibility of the Norwegian facilitator. Perhaps, he was not aware that Prabhakaran would have upstaged all of them.

While this agreement has been manna from heaven to the JVP rebels in search of a cause – like the 1987 Indo-Lanka Agreement which was their launching pad for second bloody JVP insurrection—it has not been viewed in that light by President Kumaratunga’s People’s Alliance. The president has not declared that she will oppose the agreement.

Mr. Wickremasinghe, however, has his own reasons for pursuing the ceasefire and beyond because he did declare his intentions of negotiating with the LTTE for peace during the election campaign and emerged the winner despite President Kumaratunga’s allegations of a secret agreement between the UNF and the LTTE.

There is also the other side of the issue that we pointed out yesterday. The state of the economy has never been worse with the growth rate of - 0.6 and the government is dependent on external assistance particularly the IMF and western donors to keep the bare amenities going and even providing the basic requirements of the people. And the IMF as well as western donors are insistent that the government goes in for a negotiated settlement.

While there appears to be no option right now other than negotiations both for the PA and the UNF, in the adjoining article in this page, the President of the Sinhala Jatika Sangamaya, S.L. Gunasekera, makes a devastating criticism of the Ceasefire Agreement—criticisms that would be hard to rebut.

The LTTE too has been suing for peace for over a year not because of Prabhakaran’s sudden desire for peace but because of internal and external conditions – particularly the hostile attitude towards all forms of terrorism by western nations from which the terrorists draw their sustenance in funds and arms.

If peace can be achieved through negotiations it will be welcomed by all Sri Lankans, but events in the past 20 years have clearly shown that if a sovereign state is to exist it must have the ability to crush terrorism and insurrections, if they arise, within a short period.

If our armed services are weak and even inferior to that of the terrorists in certain aspects, as conceded by the prime minister even while preparing to talk peace, these forces must be built up to meet any conceivable threat.

Hands off the TRI

A story about the dawn of the Age of the Common Man in 1956, often regaled, is about a surgeon of the Colombo General Hospital who was being disturbed by a trade unionist holding a meeting outside the operating theatre. When the surgeon walked out and demanded that the cacophony be stopped, he was informed by the trade unionist that a ‘People’s Government’ was in power and it was a ‘People’s hospital’. Thereupon the surgeon walked out suggesting that the trade unionist perform a ‘People’s operation’.

Demagogues and even politicians of lesser evil fail to appreciate the problems of professionals such as medical men and scientists — that they need to work in an environment free of politics.

A news report published last Saturday said that the Tea Research Institute which is regarded not only as the best agricultural research institute of this country but one that ranks among the best in the world is under pressure of some ruling party politicians to provide employment for their political supporters.

The TRI is an institute comprising a relatively small staff of highly specialised scientists and technicians carrying out assignments of a highly specialised nature. On them, to a very great extent, depend the survival of the tea industry and its future progress as well. Introducing untrained political cohorts into the TRI will be tantamount to introducing a bull into a china shop. Reports say that demands are being even made on the institute’s vehicles for electioneering for the forthcoming local government elections.

Such interference and demands could only lead to demoralisation of the scientific staff as well as wrecking the institute. Undoubtedly some politically ambitious panjandrums within see this as fertile grounds for politicking. Plantations Minister Lakshman Kiriellla is an enlightened politician who should stop the rot before it spreads further. He should take as an example, his predecessor, Mr. Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, whom scientists say, let the institution be free of political influence.

Prime Minister Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe should tell his politicians to keep scientific research free of political interference.

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