In Parliament on Monday
President aware of MoU only after Prabhakaran signed it —
Leader of Opposition

by Sumadhu Weerawarne and Kesara Abeywardena
Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapakse asserting that there were problems with how the agreement was signed with the LTTE sought clarification on how the line of control would be determined.

He also opined the effective shutting out of certain Tamil parties from engaging in politics in the region.

Noting that the opposition had problems with how the agreement was disclosed, Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapakse said that the President who is the head of the cabinet, state and government was only made aware of the agreement after LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran had signed it.

He added that it seemed that the cabinet too was unaware because the Leader of the House too seemed to not known that there was such an agreement despite its announcement that day at the post-cabinet press briefing.

He said that the President was very much for peace and the current agreement was the result of a process she commenced.

"But we are concerned by some of the clauses in the agreement," he said, noting that while there was provision to disarm Tamil parties that had entered the political mainstream, there were no such moves in respect of the LTTE.

He also pointed out that the MoU also raised questions on the space for Tamil political parties to engage in political work in the North and East.

Even while commending the relief that the agreement had brought for the people, he asserted that there were still problems about the line of control.

"Let us not create a Kashmir here" he said.

Commenting on the transformation of the Norwegians from facilitator to mediator, he said that giving the role to just our country would impede on the independence of the country." "Why could we not bring in India and intellectuals of this country", he said.

He also sought clarification on whether the monitoring committees would operate in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu which point had not been included in the MoU.

He concluded that while the opposition would support fair steps to solve the problem, it would in no way support moves that would impinge on the independence and territorial integrity of the country.

Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena said that the process was a continuation of the one initiated by the last government.

Tracing the sequence of the peace process in 1995, he sought to establish that the re-commencement of hostilities was not wholly the fault of the LTTE. He adduced letters that had been exchanged at the time.

Responding to opposition criticism that there was no provision enabling the military to launch operations to stem any acts, i.e. arms smuggling that would be a threat to the territorial integrity and unitary status of the country, he read out a provision of the MoU setting out this possibility.

He accused the JVP of using the agreement to make political gains. "Don’t resort to racism to increase your seats in Parliament," he said.

He also pointed out that the JVP unlike other left parties had failed to maintain one policy on the ethnic issue. "The JVP opposed everything, from the Indo-Lanka Agreement downwards, but failed to provide a viable alternative," he said.

He added that the JVP was ethno-centric in its composition and failed to represent the problems of Tamil and Muslim youths.

Responding to allegations that the President had not been informed of the agreement, he said that it was not one that had been signed between two countries.

On the people’s reaction, he said there was no opposition, but a certain doubt whether the agreement would hold. "We will educate the people within this year," he said.

Wimal Weerawansa (JVP, Colombo District) Conveyed his protest for not tabling the MoU and other related documents in Parliament by the Prime Minister. "As warned by us during election time the UNP has again taken to its devious methods. This agreement was not shown to anyone and the people of this country were unaware of its existence before it was signed by Prabhakaran."

He said that even the President who is the head of the executive branch of the government did not know about the agreement until it was signed by the LTTE leader.

He charged that through the agreement the government had accepted the existence of armed forces by the LTTE. "Also the MoU for the first time officially mentions that there are areas under the control of the LTTE.

He asserted that the area between the government and the LTTE are demarcated by the foreign monitors. "This is why we call this agreement as one that has betrayed the nation."

The agreement, he said has betrayed the Tamil community as well. "All those who were against the LTTE have been brought to their knees before the LTTE."

He pointed out that members of this proscribed organisation were free to roam anywhere in the country. "Therefore this agreement has automatically lifted the ban on the LTTE."

He said that Mullaitivu and Killinochchi had not been included in the agreement. "It is to Mullaitivu that the LTTE bring their arms and they operate their torture chambers in Killinochchi."

"In Vavuniya last week the LTTE organised a cultural event where maps of Tamil Eelam were displayed. Ministers of the present government spoke at this event under the flag of Eelam."

R. Sivasithamparam (TULF, National List) Praised the LTTE and Velupillai Prabhakaran for what he called their "moral devotion" to bring peace to the country.

"I am surprised that the President has raised concern about the agreement and had said she had not been consulted."

He questioned President Kumaratunga: "Do you want to sabotage this chance to reach a solution because you were not consulted?"

In referring to the JVP he said that they have been against the agreement even before it was signed.

He said that certain people had shed tears about the people in Mullaitivu and Killinochchi but had not done anything when they were suffering without food.

Referring to S. L. Gunasekera he said: "What a father and what a son. The father was a great judge who was not communal minded."

He said that the peace process should not be doubted because Prabhakaran has accepted it. And the LTTE is a disciplined force so that will accept it. "What is accepted by Prabhakaran will be accepted by the entire Tamil nation.

S. B. Dissanayake, Minister of Agriculture and Samurdhi said that the existence of a formalised cease-fire agreement was necessary to avoid problems faced by previous governments in negotiating peace.

"Peace is a must even to revive an economy that contracted last year," he said adding that the Prime Minister had first built confidence among the people, the minority parties and the international community.

The importance, he said of formalised agreement was that it dealt with issues not dealt with in previous ceasefire agreements, leaving little room for conflict and a breakdown of the process.

As for the LTTE he said that its aims may be to find a solution to the ethnic conflict within a united Sri Lanka or to strengthen itself during the ceasefire period and then launch an all out war to win Eelam.

Regarding the government he said that it too could negotiate for peace and usher in development, and strengthen the military and intelligence services to defeat the LTTE in war if the war resumes.

The suspicion of the other side is a historical one that goes far back as the time of the Anuradhapura kingdom. "The JVP articulates this fear," he said.

Dealing with the JVP’s own criticisms of an ethno-centric solution to the problem, Minister Dissanayake said that even in Marxist thinking there was ambiguity on the understanding of the term race.

He said that Leninist thinking saw a citizen as the state, while Stalinist thought laid emphasis on race, culture and language roots.

On the Norwegian involvement he said that the interest of the International Community was one motivated by self interest. "There are Sri Lankan refugees in these countries, which costs these states a lot for their upkeep. This is why they would wish to see an end to our problems," he said.

Responding to allegations that no observer committee was scheduled for Killinochchi and Mullaitivu, Minister Dissanayake said that even in the agreement signed in 1995 Kilinochchi was not included in the agreement. This is because there was an acceptance that it was under LTTE control. But Mullaitivu was included in the agreement because we had an army camp there. But today thanks to the President Mullaitivu is also under LTTE control. So there is no mention of either of these places in the MoU," he said.

Gajendra Kumar Ponnambalam (TNA - Jaffna District) said that it was tragic that a debate was taking place to question the MoU, when it was a step to stop the bloodshed taking place.

He added that the MoU was merely a statement of intent, the beginning of the process. "We have not even come close to substantive issues," he said, casting doubt as to whether the process would see its logical end given that the beginning is so distasteful to the Sinhalese.

Welcoming the agreement he expressed hope that the government would not take the path of previous governments and abrogate the agreement in response to pressure from certain groups.

Dinesh Gunawardena (PA Colombo District) said that certain TULF members who left parliament in 1983 pledging they would not come back without winning Eelam have come back hanging on to the Tigers tail. "Even with the backing of the LTTE they were able to get only 37% of the votes in the Eastern Province".

He said that the agreement does not have any binding that requires the LTTE to lay down arms. He charged that the agreement has given legitimacy to the LTTE.

Quoting from the latest issue of "The Economist" he said that the agreement had been prepared by the Norwegians in consultation with the LTTE and not with the Prime Minister. He said that although the Norwegians had wanted to bring Prabhakaran to sign the agreement at a common table it had failed.

"By giving the powers of interpretation and demarcation of boundaries to the Norwegians, we have surrendered the sovereignty of the country."

He asked the government to make a statement in parliament that they have cancelled the Indo-Lanka Agreement if they are taking another country for facilitation.

Rauff Hakeem (Minister of Ports and Muslim Affairs) said that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has a firm conviction that presenting constitutional reforms should be done after engaging the LTTE in talks. "Humanitarian issues should be answered first and the LTTE should be engaged in a constructive dialogue before presenting constitutional reforms."

He said that the Muslim community had a number of bitter experiences in the past with the ceasefire. He called Velupillai Prabhakaran to make an open invitation to the Muslims to come back to the North and to stop extortions and abductions. He asked the LTTE leader to give the same freedom provided to the LTTE cadres to the Muslims.

Citing the Northern Ireland experience he said that after people experience freedom they would not go back to fight.

He highlighted two issues: The first relating to the resettlement of the Muslims driven out of the North.

"I remember Mr. Sivasithambaram one of the most senior Tamil leaders living among us, who himself faced an assassination attempt speaking a few years ago, addressing our 12th Convention at Kalmunai said that he was ashamed of what happened to Muslims. He gave a promise in Kalmunai, that he will never step into Jaffna Peninsula until Muslims were settled with honour and dignity. We must thank him for those sentiments," he said.

He also pointed out that the Muslims must be free to go and cultivate their lands and go fishing without any hindrances with the same freedom the LTTE cadres enjoy.

"These issues must be given priority when the solution to the ethnic problem is taken up," he said.

Mangala Samar-aweera, Chief Opposition Whip said that the MoU was intended to hand over the North to fascist LTTE and to suppress voices in the South.

Accusing the PM of failing to aid the PA government in its efforts to bring peace, he added that he was being reduced to sign the current agreement to the detriment of the country.

He added that this PM despite his claims of transparency had failed to keep Parliament in the know of what was happening.

Commending the first draft constitution presented in 1995 as the best document so far. Samaraweera said that the UNP had opposed even a greatly modified version of it.

Speaking of the PA’s experience in negotiations, he said there had been a time-frame to move into discussion of substantive issues.

"But the UNF’s agreements make no mention of substantive talks," he said.

Asserting that the PA would be the first to muster support for an agreement to the benefit of the Tamil people, he said that the current agreement was one drafted to appease Prabhakaran.

He sought clarification on whether the security forces would be able to take effective action against the smuggling of arms.

He criticised the appointment of a Norwegian to head the observer mission and asked why an eminent Sri Lankan such as Justice G. C. Weeramantry had not been appointed to the post.