Why is the TULF silent?

Vintage rhetoric dating back to the fifties was sounded on UNP and SLFP platforms on May Day. President Chandrika Kumaratunga performed exactly like leaders of political parties out of power in the past had done. She would not permit the country to be divided and handed over, she vowed and warned the party leader in power, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe, not to betray the country.

Since the 1950s almost the same rhetoric had been sounded by those in the Opposition parties — after the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact, Dudley- Chelvanayagam Agreement and the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe sounded the sentiments expressed by those who had been in power and had been attempting to negotiate with Tamil political leaders and reach an agreement. ‘The country needs peace for development. Every citizen got equal rights and should be able to live in any part of the country. I will not permit the division of the country,’ he pledged.

Tamil political leaders will nod their heads sagely and say this is history repeating itself. What the UNP proposes the SLFP disposes and vice versa, they will say. And if history runs true to course and negotiations fail, they will want something more to be added to their future demands.

While President Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Wickremasinghe have reiterated their standard party positions depending on the state of play — as they say in cricketing terms — what have the elected representatives of the Tamils, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) — Tiger Nominated Appeasers, a Tamil wag observes — to say on the ongoing peace process. Apparently they have little to add other than to say that the LTTE that has brutally killed the best of their leaders are the sole representatives of the Sri Lankan Tamils. The TULF, that comprises almost 90 per cent of the TNA and claims that they received a mandate from the Tamil people in 1977 to form a separate state, is keeping mum on the ongoing peace process and the conduct of the LTTE that is threatening to wreck the Ceasefire Agreement.

The Ceasefire Agreement had drawn fire from certain Sinhalese parties on the basis that it was flawed and the manner in which it was adopted, but after it came into force the main objections have been the flagrant violations of the agreement by the LTTE, many of which have been upheld by the Norwegian monitors. The forcible abduction of Tamil youth for conscription in the LTTE terrorist forces, abduction of adults for extortion — even a 87-year old being abducted for non- payment of ‘taxes’, smuggling of arms and violation of provisions in the agreement itself, such as the use of the A9 highway have drawn no criticism from the TULF, which still has some erudite lawyers left. Even though the TULF has been very enthusiastic about the Ceasefire Agreement and the peace process, they have not given any guidance or leadership to the LTTE that comprise mainly of juvenile cadres.

It is very unlikely that President Kumaratunga’s accusation that Mr. Wickremasinghe is planning to divide the country and commit treason will go down with the people. This accusation has been repeated ad nauseam for long years against those Sinhalese leaders conducting negotiations and the predictions have not come true. It will be political hara kiri for any politician to attempt divide the country. But it has to be noted that there is much resentment in the country about the manner in which the LTTE is conducting itself. The provocative statements made at their rallies, the arrogance of Prabhakaran and his translator at the Kilinochchi press conference, the violation of the Ceasefire Agreement in many ways, the latest being the detection of boats carrying arms off Vakarai, kidnapping of children, abduction of adults for collection of ‘taxes’ are by no means helpful to the peace process.

Firm action has to be taken by the government and the Ceasefire monitors must be forthright and not pull their punches. Some peace activists, who are mostly apologists for the LTTE, claim that exposure and criticism of these violations, are directed against peace. This ostrich-like attitude can only help Prabhakaran to realise his dream without firing a shot.

Mr. Wickremasinghe wants the LTTE at the negotiating table. That should be given all the assistance but the LTTE should be made to realise that they cannot blackmail the government and the people on the threat of sabotaging the talks if they are not permitted to have their way. The Tamils, particularly, the TULF should speak up.

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