A transparent and democratic approach to negotiations
Diplomats are averse to negotiations in the open on most issues, save for the very innocuous. They object to what is called megaphone diplomacy and prefer to work out deals in backrooms with their opposite numbers, isolated from the people. They are supposed to keep their minister briefed but would prefer to keep him ignorant and carry him along with their proposals on the presumption that politicians know little of the subjects they are entrusted with. Quite often, they are correct in their presumption of ministerial ignorance but vital agreements concerning the people have to surface in public at some stage and then events erupt which neither the striped pants brigade nor their political bosses can control. The 1987 Indo-Lanka Agreement hatched in secrecy and sprung on the people is an excellent example of how agreements worked out secretly can blow up in the faces of diplomats and their political bosses.
The peace negotiations commenced in this typical cloak and dagger environment of diplomacy where a Memorandum of Understanding was not only sprung on the people but also on the president and parliament of the country. The Sri Lankans who participated in the drafting of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Norwegians and who agreed to it remain unknown. The Norwegians took it first to Prabakaran for his signature and then brought it to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe. Whether the prime minister was involved in the drafting of the MoU or not, he signed it and then it was presented to President Kumaratunga as a fait accompli. She refused to be bamboozled with this bulldozing Norwegian diplomacy and did not sign the MoU.
The negotiations that followed between the government and the LTTE have been covered in an impenetrable veil of secrecy. A few carrots are offered to satisfy inquisitive and gullible journalists and after the end of a round of talks, Prof. G. L. Peiris and Anton Balasingham put on a Jeff and Mutt show to indicate that everything is hunky-dory. Whether the main issues raised by the people and the media such as: Abduction and conscription of children to the LTTE armed cadres; smuggling of arms by the LTTE; extortion from innocent civilians in the name of taxation; blatant violation of the MoU regarding travel on the A- 4 Highway; establishment of police stations and kangaroo courts, dispensation of this kangaroo justice and incursion into areas under the control of the government were even touched upon remains unknown. These topics remain untouched and unanswered by Prof. Peiris and Dr. Balasingham, while the two are engaged in mutual admiration of each other, such as Prof. Peiris taking upon himself the powers of a university to make Anton Balasingham, Dr. Balasingham. It was even announced that the issue of the High Security Zones was solved whereas it was clear to any political neophyte that the issue had been shelved. Thus, if certain section of the media and the people entertain grave doubts about this Peace Process, are they to be blamed?
President Kumaratunga in her Independence Day address yesterday, congratulated Prime Minister and his team for achieving positive results. What these positive results were, she unfortunately did not spell out to enlighten the public. Her call for a deep study of the setbacks and failures and in the last year as well as a transparent and democratic approach to the peace process are matters that the prime minister should respond to immediately. Whether President Kumaratunga would have responded to such requests, had she held the reins of power, is another matter but if the peace process is to gain credibility, the blanket secrecy around it should be removed. Reports of many concessions that are being granted to the LTTE including the Customs Department being by-passed for unidentified cargo destined for the LTTE, should be explained to the public.
Despite the many efforts made to stifle public opinion generated against the peace process with the offer of incentives tantamount to bribes to opinion makers in the media and elsewhere, much suspicion and resentment are being built up against this peace process. Ultimately the solution will have to surface before the public and what happened in 1987 could easily be repeated. The JVP that was banned and went underground in 1987, seized the opportunity then and now the democratic JVP is teaming up with the PA to oppose what comes out of this Peace Process.
Prime Minister Wickremasinghe should heed the call for a transparent and democratic approach by adopting a process such as the formation of a committee of parliamentarians comprising those of the PA and UNP to brief them on the discussions taking place with the LTTE. Even senior UNP ministers say that they are not aware of what is happening in the exclusive preserve of G. L Peiris, Milinda Moragoda, Bradman Weerakoon and a few select bureaucrats.
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