Dung and milk

There is inadequate appreciation in the country that the biggest dividend that Sri Lanka has received from the current cease-fire agreement with the LTTE is that this island of ours will be spared terrorist incidents while the truce holds. This happy situation is already reflected in the tourism industry and other areas like shipping and aviation with the war risk surcharges slapped down after the Katunayake airport attack last year either lifted or in the process of being removed. There is undoubtedly a good feeling among people that Tiger bombs will not go off at anytime anywhere and for a country that had long lived with LTTE terror, this is no small relief.

Undoubtedly, what happened in New York and Washington on September 11 has forced the LTTE to adopt new strategies and tactics. But the bottom line is that the world will not tolerate terrorist acts and Prabhakaran and the LTTE understands this very well. That is all to the good. Yet we must live with the reality of the LTTE’s sorry track record. What the Tigers have done over the years during previous peace efforts, has given little reason for the majority of the people of Sri Lanka to trust them. And embarking on any kind of negotiations in an atmosphere of mistrust is a daunting task by any standard.

Our columns have carried many articles in recent weeks, and we do so today too, about the dangers that face the nation under the terms of truce. We have published these points of view, written by patriotic Lankans who like the vast majority of the people of this country, thirst for an honourable peace. It is necessary that the dangers inherent in the path ahead are pointed out and that the peacemakers set off on what will be a difficult journey with their eyes wide open. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is not unaware of the difficulties ahead. One reason why it was necessary to have the cease-fire in place on terms agreed by both sides is because it must be made to hold even if talks break down as they well may, given the complexity of the problem.

Although lip service is being paid by the SLFP which dominates the People’s Alliance to the need for peace, and its commitment to the process that has now begun, elements within the PA are attracted for political reasons to the much more hawkish line of the JVP. Let us not forget that the opposition to the Indo - Lankan Accord assumed its violent hue with the JVP leaping on board an SLFP organized protest bandwagon. There are those who sincerely believe that Sri Lanka would have been better placed today if the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) which was immensely better equipped in terms of both men and arms was allowed to subdue the LTTE. But India, which must forever carry a substantial share of the blame for giving the Tigers much of their tooth and claw, was at that time busy creating another monster named the Tamil National Army when President Premadasa and Prabhakaran made common cause to get the IPKF out.

The economic price that the country and all its people have had to pay for mistakes of the past for which all post-Independence governments in and out of office are responsible in varying degree, no less than the blood that has been shed has undoubtedly propelled Sri Lanka to seek the elusive peace that is now being desperately sought. A perfect solution will never be possible and there must be give and take on both sides. Much of what we have recently published suggests that as far as the present cease-fire goes, the trade-off has been tilted in favour of the LTTE. That may well be the case and it is to be hoped that the Norwegians play honest broker and hold the scales evenly as the process advances. Most importantly, unnecessary hurdles that can only make the journey more difficult must not be thrown along the way by both sides.

But that has already begun happening. Prabhakaran’s Vavuniya show and other "Pongu Thamil" celebrations planned to be held in other parts of the country will not be helpful. Rightly or wrongly, hidden agendas are feared. Speeches have been made by ministers of the government representing the estate Tamil constituencies that have aroused latent fears of a renewed attempt by Prabhakaran to form an axis with upcountry Tamils. The maps displayed at such meetings are incendiary. Whatever apologists may say, the evidence is hard that that at least during the earlier stage of the cease-fire, when it was unilateral in the sense that it was not based on an agreement as after February 22, the LTTE was engaging in child recruitment and extortion.

Just as much as the country as a whole today has the confidence that there will be no acts of LTTE terrorism at least in the short-term, and hopefully in the medium term, ordinary Tamil people have found the various restrictions that had long been imposed on them, out of fear of the Tigers and what they might do under cover of a civilian shield, are now no more. The flow of goods to the LTTE-held areas have begun and produce from the war zone is now reaching the rest of the country even in small volumes. Hopefully, this will increase as time goes on. It is necessary that Tamil people try to get the message across to the LTTE which claims to represent them all that dollops of dung must not pollute the milk. Given the Tigers totalitarian ways, this will be as difficult as getting some southern politicians not to subjugate the national interest for their own immediate advantage.

The road ahead is going to be very hard, as the prime minister has said. There must be the will to overcome the difficulties and, most importantly, there must be an end to throwing obstacles along the way. But that is not to say that the dangers must be ignored as no journey can be undertaken with eyes tightly closed.

Your comments to the Editor