Holding a brief?

Defence Minister Mr. Tilak Marapane is reported to have defended the LTTE against charges of violation of the ceasefire in an interview given to the BBC’s Sinhala Service. He has been quoted saying that he had not heard of any adverse reports against the LTTE after the ceasefire had been agreed upon. Allegations of child abductions, conscription of children and extortion by the LTTE were made on unconfirmed reports, he is reported to have said.

However, since the ceasefire had been agreed upon, there have been regular reports, almost daily, of ceasefire violations in press communiquŽs released by the Defence Ministry itself. On Page 3 of The Island yesterday, under the heading " LTTE extortion goes unabated", a report of the Operational Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence said that a trader of Kalkudah, Yusuf Hajiyar, had complained to the police that a group of LTTE members had on Sunday demanded Rs 100,000 for the use of their organisation.

The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, a constituent party of the UNF government, had lodged strong protests about many such incidents of extortion by LTTE cadres, while Amnesty International, the human rights watchdog that had been severely critical of the successive Sri Lankan governments, on Tuesday, published a list of 18 children conscripted by the LTTE. The United States government on Monday in a statement said that there was credible evidence of the LTTE violating the ceasefire agreement and warned that these actions could jeopardise the agreement.

It is indeed ironic that Amnesty International and the United States government that have been constantly accusing the Sri Lanka government of violation of human rights should be accusing the LTTE of ceasefire violations, while the Defence Minister of Sri Lanka should say that the government had no evidence of the said violations. If there is no evidence of ceasefire violations, why should the Operational Headquarters of Mr. Marapana’s own Defence Ministry issue communications alleging such violations?

Mr. Marapana is one of the most erudite and urbane of cabinet ministers with excellent academic qualifications and has been an outstanding Attorney General. If he has been reported correctly, his statement is inexplicable.

Perhaps, being a lawyer, he wants judicial proof -evidence that a court would accept. But Mr. Marapana knows well that such absolute proof cannot be produced where terrorists are concerned. Terrorists don’t leave fingerprints or such evidence around at the scenes of their bestial behaviour. Indeed, there is no proof of their horrendous attacks on the Central Bank, oil storage tanks, the Dalada Maligawa or massacre of pilgrims under the Sacred Bo Tree at Anuradhapura. Mr. Marapone knows well that it is the reason why legislation such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act was enacted.

The Memorandum of Understanding has come under severe attacks from leading lawyers such as Messrs H.L. de Silva and S.L. Gunasekera and many organisations, particularly of the bhikkus. Hiding LTTE violations of the ceasefire will not save the agreement, if such violations continue. And defence of such violations will only induce the LTTE to commit further offences with a view of strengthening their position militarily. The chief prong of attack of the critics of the ceasefire agreement is that the terrorists are exploiting it to their advantage, while the UNF government is looking the other way in the fear that the agreement may be scuttled.

Perhaps, Mr. Marapana, is holding a brief for Prime Minister Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe. By denying LTTE violations he is trying to ward off the main prong of attack and save the MOU.

But the ostrich-like attitude of burying the head in the sand and refusing to see reality can only lead to disaster. Even the United States government realised this and issued the warning to the LTTE about ceasfire violations.

The Ceasefire Agreement is flawed in many respects, but it cannot be scrapped at this stage because of the solid international backing for it. Sri Lanka’s tottering economy and vulnerable military position do not enable it to take a firm and bold stand now. Perhaps, it is the LTTE that can scuttle the agreement by flagrant violations.

What can be done now is to make the LTTE to stick to the agreement with the help of the Scandinavian monitors. But where or where are these monitors? They are still coming, we are told, and are still getting ready to get down to business. Meanwhile, the LTTE is said to have conscripted 2,000 children to their ranks!

Mr. Marapana’s obligations as the defence minister is not to await for concrete evidence to be produced before him, but to investigate the allegations made, and when they are found to be correct tell the monitors and the world of the treachery of the LTTE.

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