In Parliament on Tuesday
Debate on the MoU between the Government and the LTTE
LTTE preparing for war — Anura

By Sumadhu Weerawarne and Kesara Abeywardena

The debate concluded with Anura Bandaranaike pumping in life to a lacklustre exchange that prevailed in the House for the last two days. Bandaranaike, replying Minister G. L. Peiri’s request that the agreement be viewed in an "objective and dispassionate" manner, said that the LTTE is preparing for war. Minister Peiris, commenting on President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s letter outlining the shortcomings of the agreement, pointed out in detail that the present deal was not different from the 1995 document signed between the People’s Alliance government and the LTTE. He criticised the President for resorting to opportunistic politics.

Slamming the MoU Anura Bandaranaike (PA Gampaha District) pronounced that the LTTE was preparing for war and said this was why the agreement was unacceptable. He said there was ample evidence to prove that the LTTE is heading for war.

"They are abducting 10-18 year old children. Muslim and Tamil businessmen are forced to give money. Huge arms caches are being brought in." He asked why the LTTE should engage in forceful conscription while there was a ceasefire. "Do you think they are getting ready for a Christmas party? They are preparing for war. Those who do not have dust in their eyes should clearly see it."

He charged that the LTTE is given freedom to engage in political work in the areas controlled by the government while other political parties are not allowed to do so in the areas held by the LTTE. "They are allowed to hold cultural events where videos of LTTE cadres massacring soldiers are sold to the public. They are preparing to have similar events in other parts of the country as well. In these events, they have displayed maps of an Eelam stretching from Puttalam to Hambantota."

Referring to Norwegian involvement, he said they had graduated from facilitators to mediators and are now arbiters. "Who thought that the latest gentleman from Norway will become the virtual viceroy of Sri Lanka?"

He commended the Prime Minister for saying that the final solution will be put before the people in a referendum. "But will he be allowed to do so? President J. R. Jayewardene committed himself that the North and the East will not be merged and it would be put before the people while he himself would campaign against the idea in a referendum. But what happened finally?"

He warned the Prime Minister not to forget the past and to be prepared for when the LTTE starts its attack from Colombo. "All parts of Colombo and the suburbs are being stockpiled by the LTTE. Hundreds of lorries are passing through the Kelaniya bridge unchecked. They will launch all their attacks from Colombo this time. President J. R. Jayawardene and President Premadasa did not listen to what I said then and they had to pay the price. I warn my good friend the Prime Minister to be careful. Whatever you do I hope you are not manipulated by organisations with other interests."

Prof. G L Peiris, Minister of Industrial Development and Constitutional Affairs commented that the President’s letter to the Prime Minister on the truce agreement contained some completely erroneous statements and that it was generally emotional with the intention of whipping up the basest feelings in people. He contended that the current agreement was no different to the one signed by the President in 1995.

Dealing with the President’s assertion that two provisions of the agreement on a combined reading would give the impression that the navy could not intercept LTTE boats carrying arms, Prof. Peiris said that the President’s own agreement signed in 1995 had the same formation of words. That agreement said the air force and navy could engage in legitimate tasks to safeguard the territorial integrity of the country without engaging in offensive action. "Why did the President not change it if there had been an inconsistency?" he said.

On the President’s contention that the agreement allowed the Norwegians to draw the demarcating lines between areas of control which were disputed, he said that the provisions merely read that the monitors could assist the two parties in drawing the lines.

He also rejected the view that demarcation would result in a Kashmir-like situation, on the basis that it did not constitute a marking of borders between two sovereign states. He added that without lines of control being determined there would also not be the possibility of a cessation of hostilities. Again, he compared the agreement drafted by the PA in 1995 and said that the talks fell through because the government was unable to determine the lines of control. "There was also provision for monitoring by Norwegians, Canadians and Dutch. The Canadians spent three months at the Hilton waiting for the government to agree on the line of control to begin monitoring," he said.

On the criticism that there was no date specified for the commencement of substantive talks, Prof. Peiris said that the agreement was purely for the cessation of hostilities. He said past experience had indicated that attempting to negotiate all features at the beginning broke down the process. "We want to give the country the benefit of peace, and then we will seek agreement on political issues. We will do things step by step," he said. Peiris said that there was already evidence of the benefits of the cease-fire in that the government hoped to hold an international meet in the near future and also that Asian Development Bank President Tad Chino is on a first visit to Sri Lanka.

He read out part of the letters exchanged between the LTTE and PA government as proof to counter the charge that the UNF had not taken sufficient precautions to ensure the country’s interest. "We have indicated that LTTE cadres cannot come to government controlled areas carrying arms, while the PA had accommodated a request by the LTTE to take measures to enable their armed cadres to move in the East without hindrance," he said.

He asserted that it was possible to pick holes in any agreement, and appealed to all political parties to recognise the current "respite" as special situation.

Ven. Baddegama Samitha (PA-Galle District) said that the war was the result of many regretful events. "We have a history of agreements, which were opposed time and time again. As Buddhist clergy we have a duty to study the ongoing process and the agreement and support the process for peace", he said.

Noting that the UNP had behaved irresponsibly in opposing the constitutional proposals presented by the PA, he urged all concerned not to take the same path.

"We must support this agreement which has stopped bloodshed. We may have our opinions and doubts, but we must look at the agreement positively," he said.

He also exhorted the concept long espoused by his party! "One language; two countries, but two languages; one country".

He added that there were concerns about the line of control, but noted that this should not cause undue upset. The current process he said was one that had been started by the last government and need not he viewed with trepidation.

Noting that the people had given a mandate to the UNP to take the current steps, he said that no one had the right to breach this faith.

Commenting on the President’s role, he said that it was necessary to heed her concerns. "There is provision for making amendments to the agreement within a fortnight of its signing, so there must be discussions between the parties and the changes made on consensus," he said.

He also called for a Parliamentary Select Committee and even a National Commission to enable open discussion of the process. "There is no need for secrecy", he said.

He concluded with the word, "There are no victors in war, we are all victims".

Commending the previous speaker W. J. M. Lokubandara (Leader of the House) quoted the "Vasetta Sutta" where the Buddha had said that humanity cannot be divided into races. He said that the language problem was solved in an unsatisfactory manner after independence. "I love my language. In the same manner others too love their language", he said.

He said that the agreement had not come into being all of a sudden. "This was a long process. The Prime Minister has said he will go for a referendum when final solution is reached."

He added that it was an easy thing to come up with hair splitting arguments on minor sections of an agreement.

He pointed out that the present reality had made it a need to talk with the LTTE. "The LTTE had killed a large number of our leaders. They have killed TULF leaders. But today the TULF had accepted the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil people. This is the present reality."

He asserted that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is not too optimistic or too pessimistic about the peace process. "He is treading a cautious path. He is taking the middle path."

Vijitha Herath (JVP) said that the problems faced by the Tamil people are common problems faced by all other people in this country. He blamed all previous governments in the country for creating distrust between the two communities. "We remember how the UNP government in 1978 brought laws to oppress all the people in this country".

He said that Tamil racism should be defeated. "All Tamil people are not racists but certain elements within the Tamil community are nurturing racism."

Appealing to political parties not to destroy the peace process R. Sampanthan (TULF - Trincomalee district) said that the Sinhala people had given a mandate to the UNF to engage in peace. "This was despite allegations that there was a UNF-LTTE nexus", he said.

Noting that it was unclear whether the truce-agreement of peace process was under attack, he said that it had been a practice of the JVP to oppose and attack any process.

"Is it that the JVP does not recognise that there is a Tamil nation question? Does the JVP persist in the belief that there is no Tamil national question?", he asked.

He described JVP criticism as being strident and somewhat immature, which seeks not to find a solution. "They have been able to deceive some part of the population", he said, but added that a vast majority remained unconvinced.

On the agreement he said that it was no different from the one that had been signed between President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the LTTE leader in 1995. "There is nothing duplicitous about it", he said.

He extended the support of his group to any process that would bring a "genuine solution" to the problem. He also contended that the Tamil people had voted for talks with the LTTE, and in fact only with the LTTE.

Reminding the atrocities of the LTTE Richard Pathirana (PA - Galle district) said that the LTTE had killed a large number of Sinhala and Tamil leaders. He said that the UNP when in opposition had opposed the constitutional reforms. He charged that the government had not shown the agreement to the President before it was signed.

He added that any solution to the conflict should be acceptable to the Sinhala community and should not lead to the division of the country.

Welcoming the agreement signed by LTTE leader Douglas Devananda (EPDP - Jaffna district) expressed hope that it would be successful to end the suffering of the people.

He said that the LTTE based on past experiences would indicate that they have no real faith in a peaceful solution. "They have been forced to come to the table after the September 11 bombing", he said.

He recalled that those who had tried to negotiate with the LTTE Rajiv Gandhi, Presidents R. Premadasa and Chandrika Kumaratunga had paid a heavy price.

"But we will not obstruct the peace process", he said.

Attacking the LTTE as sole representative concept he gave the example of post-apartheid South Africa where all parties were brought in to determine a solution.

He accused the TNA of hypocritical politics in supporting steps that would effectively end the political activity of the EPDP.

"Did we kill political leaders? Who killed Mr. Amirthalingam, who shot Mr. Sivasithamparam?" he asked of TNA MPs.

He said that while the LTTE had killed many students, political leaders, etc. his own party had sought a political solution within a united Sri Lanka. "We have called for a federal solution", he said.

He asked why LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran could not come into the democratic mainstream and engage in elections as the EPDP had done.

"It is undemocratic to seize our arms. We have created the necessary conditions for democratic politics", he said.

He said that it would have been possible to save thousands of lives and much money and property, if Prabhakaran had decided earlier to take the path of peace. "I pray the peace process works. If it fails I ask the LTTE not to kill people", he said.

M. L. A. M. Hisbullah (PA - Batticaloa district) said that all people in the war zone be they Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim have a hard life.

"We are ready to sacrifice to give our fullest co-operation", he said.

He added that he hoped all people would be able to enjoy peace when it comes.

He said the Muslims in the North and East feel that they do not constitute a separate community. "This brings us great pain of heart. The government must take steps to ensure their future and political rights," he said.

Noting that there was no mentioning of the future of the Muslims in the pact between the Prime Minister and Velupillai Prabhakaran, he called on Minister Rauff Hakeem to call on all Muslim Parliamentarians together to discuss the issue.

Lakshman Kiriella (Minister of Plantation Industries) said that the participation of the Norwegians should not be something to be scared of. He said that international opinion was important to find a solution. Going back in history he said that the Kandyan leaders as far back as 1920 had proposed a federal system of government to the Donoughmore Commission. He said that the Kandyan leaders had always been in favour of devolution of power.

He asserted that when an honourable solution is found there should not be a victor and a vanquished. "If there is a vanquished the next generation of the vanquished will take on the victors.

He said that a solution to the North-East conflict should be found for the development of the country. "Today the best minds are leaving the country. The best time of their lives are given to other countries. For the future of the country we should find a solution fast."

Invoking the despair of war Milinda Moragoda, Minister for Economic Reform, Science and Technology said; "This debate is about a ceasefire. Not peace but merely the crossroads at which point we choose a road to peace.

Down one turn lies further conflict, more deaths and even greater hardship. It is the road to continued conflict in which lies the hope that sheer military force will prevail. It is not an option that requires deep thought. Keep building up the military, keep giving them more and more bullets, send them onto the battlefield and hope that we kill enough of the others before they kill all of us."

Speaking of the military option he said, "many other nations in far flung countries have tried the same way. The Americans in Vietnam. The Russians in Afghanistan. Both superpowers failed despite their superiority in weapons and manpower".

And yet we do not have that luxury. If the truth be told we have been sending young men and women to the front with little or no training and armed with inferior weapons. If the truth be told the LTTE has a better trained and equipped force with greater determination and a cause to fight. If the truth be told our 200,000 conventionally armed forces and police struggle to match the warfare by attrition that has been the style of the LTTE.

If the truth be told large areas of the north and the east are no longer in the control of the Sri Lankan government.

If the truth be told politicising the armed forces has created chaos, inconsistency and poor morale.

No wonder this cancer in our society has created 30,000 deserters. People who were sent by the politicians to the front, badly trained and low on morale, I cannot forgive them for deserting their comrades but I find it hard in my heart to criticise their weakness.

Let me tell you. From all my discussions with our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and police — they want peace too."

He spoke of his experiences in the war front. "Until recently I had no real idea. Then I faced reality in the eyes of the frightened soldiers and the despairing civilians, tired people with few tears left to shed. I urge every one of you here today who wishes to continue the armed struggle to go north and east and see what war really means.

The families of over sixty thousand people can tell you. It means the horror and despair of realising that the person who once pressed closely to your side, the heart that beat next to yours, the growing years and the childish laughter will never be felt again. For those families it is too late. For them the war has done its worst.

Then visit the soldier in the demarcation zone. For this is no conventional war with clear cut lines. The bullet could as easily come from the back as from the front. The fear as a bush rustles or a startled bird rises into the sky. Is it my turn next? Where will the bullet strike my body? How long before darkness overcomes the pain? Will they give a second thought for me in that air conditioned chamber as my body cools and my life drains away?

Or the mother in the Vanni who caresses her child as he slowly dies from lack of food and proper medicines. With hatred in their hearts some in this Chamber would ignore that innocent child simply because he is a Tamil. By an accident of birth he is condemned to die young through disease or malnutrition. Perhaps much worse, if he survives his early years, he may be forcibly recruited to fight and die as a Tiger".He also described the hopelessness that had permeates even the South. "The pain isn’t restricted to the North and the East and those who fight there. War strikes everywhere within our nation. Deep in the heart of Colombo in the slums of Narahenpita a young man takes drugs. For him the war brings little hope of a job or self respect. For him the future lies in the haze that comes from the drifting smoke of cannabis. A brief escape from reality then back again to despair if life will ever change". Peace and dialogue are the answers according to him. "We should seek to re-build the values of our own culture where tolerance comes from the heart and where we look for the good in others rather than the bad. The spirit of Sri Lanka lies in a self interest that embraces the communal interest where what unites us is our spirit of understanding and our readiness to nurture others. For in the West they talk of rights and duties whilst we in Asia prefer to talk of obligations."

Commending negotiations as the wisest option quoting Sun Tzu, the renown Chinese strategist, he said, "The side that knows when to fight and when not will take the victory. There are roadways not to be travelled, armies not to be attacked, walled cities not to be assaulted."

So we must learn from these lessons. To those who say that the Permanent Ceasefire Agreement is not a perfect document I say - yes - you are right. How can it be? It is not a road map to where we want to go.

He agreed that the ceasefire agreement was not a perfect document, a road map to the desired destination. "It is a breathing space where we can put aside our weapons and look beyond the smoke of the battlefield. It doesn’t tie our hands like a hostage. Rather it frees us to think the impossible. To move beyond the rhetoric and start to re-build our future."

He added that even while the peace process got under way the government would not let our guard drop. "This is a chance for us to strengthen our intelligence forces and to train our soldiers. To create a really professional force should things go wrong. For only in a position of strength can we hope to see peace. Neither he nor the Government will let our soldiers down."

"Join us as we pursue peace vigorously, not blindly but as Kim Dae Jung, the President of Korea said ‘with a warm heart and a cool head’," he urged.

"Whatever your choice, remember, the silent eyes of 60,000 victims will be watching you from beyond the grave."

Asserting that the TNA and 90 percent of Sri Lankans want peace, A. Vinayagamoorthy TNA - Jaffna district said that the Thimpu principles could be the basis for a permanent solution.

Describing the signing of the agreement as a bold step for peace he said that the Prime Minister should be awarded the Nobel Prize for peace.

He said that all quarters including the international community had commended the agreement.

He said that people in both the North and East had mandated the UNF and TNA to talk peace.

"People did not have faith in the utterances of the President and the PA leadership when they talked about peace. It was President Chandrika and Luxman Kairgamar who told the LTTE a few weeks before the last General Election that they were prepared to talk to them to have a negotiated settlement but LTTE did not want to talk to the PA Government." He described the seven year PA rule as being the darkest period for Tamils.

He made the point that there was no possibility of a solution without the LTTE. "Is the JVP trying to set fire only to a piece of document or to entire Sri Lanka? Let them behave like responsible citizens in this country. Do Sihala Urumaya, JVP and the President think that they can bring peace to this country by marginalizing the LTTE and without the participation of the LTTE? On behalf of my party and the Alliance I humbly request the President to act like the president at least for sometime and not as a leader of a political party and support the peace efforts and try to bring in peace in this country."