A roadblock to peace

The resumption of bus service on the Jaffna-Kandy highway was in the balance at the time of writing due to intransigence of the LTTE. The government according to reports had made all arrangements to send buses to Jaffna and was awaiting the green light from the LTTE.

The LTTE is reported to have said that the buses from Colombo or Jaffna will not be permitted to go through the areas under its control. It is reported to have said that either those who travel to Jaffna or Colombo have to break journey at LTTE check points and take its shuttle service, or the buses that run straight will be taxed by the LTTE and the commuters subjected to checks.

This is in blatant violation of the MoU, which says, "The parties shall open the Kandy-Jaffna road (A9) to non-military traffic of goods and passengers. Specific modalities shall be worked out by the parties with the assistance of the Royal Norwegian Government by D-day + 30 at the latest."

The LTTE cannot be allowed to have its own ways with the implementation of the MoU. What have the Norwegian monitors got to say to this and what action will they take to make the LTTE respect the MoU? No delays must be permitted in opening this road to ‘non military traffic of goods and passengers." Reviving public transport along this highway is sure to solve many problems of the people such as the exorbitant cost of travel between Jaffna and Colombo and protracted delays involved.

The LTTE obviously has a problem. Free movement of vehicles through the areas under its control will not only deprive it of the revenue it earlier raked in as taxes on travellers, but make it difficult for the LTTE to prevent people under its ‘rule’ from leaving those areas. Above all, vehicular traffic on this vital road will be tantamount to the state having re-established its writ at least symbolically along that stretch of land. It should be recalled that the previous government launched a costly offensive to open up this road, which backfired in the end. The road is being reopened without a shot being fired and if public transport commences, not only credit for it but a great deal of political mileage as well will accrue to the government. All this is of course too much for the LTTE to swallow.

But the LTTE cannot have it both ways. Compromises on its part are of paramount importance if the MoU is not to come a cropper. The government has done so much like doing away with road blocks, surveillance systems, pass systems, raids and arrests of LTTE suspects. It has allowed LTTE cadres to enter areas under its control ‘for political work’ in keeping with the MoU and even granted permission for propaganda blitzkriegs of the LTTE called Pongu Tamil where separatism is openly advocated. All this the government has done in the face of bitter criticism from many quarters to ‘give peace another chance.’

The LTTE must do likewise. And if it doesn’t, it must be made to abide by the MoU. Apart from supporting the ceasefire, no powerful country has spelt out what action will be taken to make the LTTE fall in line if it violates the MoU.

Violations by the LTTE of the MoU are being blacked out by the government much to the consternation of the public and the independent media. The question being asked is whether there is an unofficial censorship on MoU-related news.

It looks as if the LTTE were getting emboldened by the failure of the government to expose its violations of the ceasefire agreement and inaction on the part of the monitors with regard to such violations.

The MoU must apply equally to both sides - the government and the LTTE. The LTTE must be told that it is not ‘more equal.’

Resumption of the bus service on the A9 road is an acid test for the bona fides of the LTTE as regards the MoU and would be peace talks. It behoves the government to step up pressure on the LTTE to ensure hassle-free and tax-free travel for civilians between Jaffna and Colombo as is the case in all other parts of the country. Similarly, it is incumbent upon the Norwegian monitors (or RNG) to make the LTTE respect the MoU to which non other than Prabhakaran himself is a signatory.

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