Monitors must meet the press

A Sri Lankan lawyer in Canada, Mr. Kumar S. Sriskanda has in a letter (published in The Island yesterday) addressed to Trond Furhovde, the Head of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission sought the help of the Mission to secure the release of his 82-year old father whom the LTTE has abducted. What Mr. Sriskanda reveals is shocking. The LTTE had been extracting protection money from his family. The LTTE had also seized their tractor. Finally his father had stopped paying money to the LTTE in defiance of repeated ‘orders’ from the latter.

His father had been safe, Mr. Sriskanda says, as he had lived in an area in Batticaloa under the control of the Security Forces. But, on April 15, seven LTTEers had come, bundled him into a van and sped away. The LTTE had later contacted Mr. Sriskanda’s mother and told her that her husband was safe and well and to come to the place where he was being kept. He has pleaded with his mother not to walk into that trap because obviously the LTTE is trying to extort money and her safety is also at stake. But for the love of her husband she is determined to go.

Of the deterioration of the security situation in the east after the MoU was signed, Mr. Sriskanda says, "Things changed after the Norway facilitated ceasefire came into operation. The LTTE moves openly in Batticaloa town and has opened an office in the vicinity of our house."

This plea brings to light the dastardly manner in which the LTTE is continuing its sordid operation in flagrant violation of the MoU. Worse, this has happened under the very nose of the monitors in the area.

Mr. Sriskanda’s family members have made a complaint to the police. But the police are helpless as they have no presence in the area where his father is kept. Even if the police do act, such action could be misconstrued as an act of provocation - a raid - by the LTTE.

This is only one of the many abductions that have come to be the order of the day in the areas where the LTTE is active. Most of them go unreported either for fear of the LTTE or the voicelessness of the families of the victims. Mr. Sriskanda by virtue of his social position as an expatriate lawyer having access to the monitors has had his voice heard.

It is alleged that the Monitors often absolve themselves of the responsibility of looking into complaints of abductions etc. claiming that they are criminal offences and not ceasefire violations, and therefore they don’t come within their purview. True, they are crimes and must be treated as such. But one of the objectives of the ceasefire, as claimed by its proponents, is the prevention of these crimes against civilians which could not be stopped otherwise. If the monitors try to spurn the responsibility of investigating complaints of these crimes by the LTTE, then their raison d’tre stands challenged. What have they come all the way here for?

Now that the troops and the police are prevented from conducting operations, the LTTE is ruling the roost perpetrating crimes of all sorts on the populace. They do this with impunity. No action is taken. How can one describe this situation except in terms of anarchy?

Meanwhile, the Tigers are sitting pretty on the A-9 highway. The monitors need more time to sort it out, we are told. The government is mum, to say the least. So are all others who went overboard about the MoU. There are allegations of members of the Monitoring Mission ceremonially opening LTTE ‘political’ offices. Tigers are provoking the security forces. One such incident was reported in The Island on April 11. The report said that a group of ‘political cadres’ of the LTTE had tried to enter an army camp in the Jaffna area claiming that they wanted to worship a statue located inside. As our Defence Correspondent points out today, it is common knowledge that the LTTE is stockpiling arms and ammunition smuggled in through the east. All this leads to serious doubts about the LTTE’s intentions of peace and the workings of the MoU.

Former Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremenayake addressing a media conference in Colombo on Friday has levelled a serious charge against Norway. He has accused it of trying to ‘control Sri Lanka’s destiny.’ Mr. Wickremenayake’s statement and the parliamentarians’ organisation being formed to look after the interests of the Sinhalese in the north and east, who have become a forgotten lot, are signs of growing dissatisfaction among people about the way the peace process is going.

The allegations of the Monitors pussy footing violations by the LTTE of the Ceasefire agreement and the view fast gaining currency that the MoU has benefited only the LTTE augur ill for the peace efforts vis a vis the nascent resistance campaign which appears to be gathering in momentum.

The peace process needs to be made transparent with all parties reaching out to the public so as to, if possible, allay doubts and fears in their minds. Since monitors have come under fire for their alleged partiality, the press must be given an opportunity to meet them and raise these matters. The Monitors have a spokesman who answers questions from individual journalists. This is not enough. They must meet the press regularly and answer the pressing questions openly. The cabinet spokesman meets the press regularly. Even the elusive Prabhakaran has given a media conference. So, why not the monitors?

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