Talk tough at Brisbane

The Australian government at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting that commences today at Brisbane will urge participating heads of state for joint action to block financing of cross-border terrorism, as reported in The Island yesterday. This is a move that Sri Lanka has been supporting for long years and should back to the hilt.

Powerful developed nations, particularly those of the west, were in the past strong on international terrorist organisations that were a threat to their national security and not so much the security of smaller countries like Sri Lanka. The events of September 11 have changed all that and now all nations are obliged to implement the UN Security Council resolution against international terrorism.

The recent ceasefire agreement between the Sri Lankan government and the terrorist organisation, the LTTE may result in some politicians urging the government to go soft on the LTTE because it may jeopardise the ceasefire agreement. While the government should endeavour to keep this agreement going, it has to be pointed out that the ultimate objective is to persuade the LTTE to give up terrorism and their call for a separate state. So far the LTTE had not disavowed terrorism nor resorting to terrorist violence to achieve their objectives. Thus, it is incumbent on the government of Sri Lanka not only to take all steps to prevent terrorism being unleashed on its citizens but also to abide by their commitment to implement UN laws against terrorism.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga who was a dove, adopting a very soft line towards the LTTE on assuming office in 1994, has been compelled by the terror unleashed by the LTTE to change her stance and has adopted a very tough line since they attempted to assassinate her. The UNF led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe has adopted a softer line. But at Brisbane Sri Lanka has  to take a line in the national interests of the country. Whatever their political differences between the PA and the UNF may be, they have to play together for their country.

President Kumaratunga, in a statement issued on Thursday on the ceasefire, has made many cogent criticisms which the government will have to take cognisance of. The government, has so far, adopted an ostrich-like attitude on the blatant acts of terrorism committed by the LTTE. They have, at least on four occasions since the cease-fire was on, smuggled in arms and are continuing with the forcible conscription of children into their cadres. Meanwhile, the security forces in the North-East are looking the other way, probably on the instructions of the government. On Thursday we published a heart-rending cry of a citizen of Batticaloa appealing to the government to prevent forcible conscription of his children and extortion by LTTE cadres while the security forces are staying put.

Arms smuggling and conscription of children go not only against the ceasefire agreement but are also violations of international law - UN resolutions. The government is obliged to take action - cease-fire agreement withstanding or not.

It is now time for the government to tell the Norwegian monitors to move in as quickly as possible and monitor the transgressions. The LTTE has been making merry for two months smuggling in arms and conscripting children. This exploitation of the cease-fire agreement obviously cannot go on.

Not only have the Norwegian monitors to be called in immediately but it may also be necessary to have Sri Lankan monitors to monitor the Norwegians. President Kumaratunga in her letter to Prime Minister Wickremasinghe says that according to her understanding, Sri Lankan monitors from the government and the LTTE will play no part in inquiring into complaints made and assisting in settlement of disputes. She has said: ‘I observe the powers and functions which by this agreement are vested in the Norwegian government, travel far beyond the role of a facilitator...... The Norwegian government has now been cast in the role of a mediator or arbitrator in the resolution of disputes...... I was not aware that the nature of the Norwegian government’s mandate had changed to such an extent as to make it incompatible with the sovereign status of Sri Lanka’.

How this situation came about is hard to comprehend because the impression created was that the Norwegian facilitators were not only keeping the government, President Kumaratunga and the LTTE informed, but also other foreign powers like India.

The UNF government. obviously got to adopt a much more firm stand towards the LTTE than it has done so far. While stressing that the safeguarding of the ceasefire agreement will be of interest to both parties, there should be no indications given that the government has gone lukewarm to terrorism and is prepared to sacrifice the interests of the nation as a whole.

The reason for the LTTE’s decision to call a ceasfire with the objective of having a negotiated settlement, is well known. It is because of the fast changing attitude of the developed world towards the kind of terrorism practised by the LTTE. Any latitude shown by Sri Lanka is likely to be interpreted as a sign of weakness.

Sri Lanka should, as a nation plagued by terrorism for 19 years, lead world opinion against all forms of international terrorism. Sri Lanka should talk tough at Brisbane.

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