GL not certain about LTTE military training and arms procurement

by Kesara Abeywardena
Government’s chief peace negotiator Minister G. L. Peiris yesterday said he "cannot say with all sincerity" that military training and arms procurement by the LTTE had stopped.

Answering a question at the Commonwealth Press Union Biennial Conference at the Trans Asia Hotel, Minister Peiris said there was international pressure on the LTTE to stop these activities. Minister Peiris answering a query by the former Editor of the Times of India Dileep Padgoankar also said the government of India was fully supportive of the peace process in Sri Lanka because militarisation of Sri Lanka was not good for India. He said that India would help the peace process but would not get involved because of past experience that resulted in the assassination of former Indian Premier Rajiv Gandhi. He said that India’s single contribution of aid to Sri Lanka was double the amount that was raised at the Oslo donor conference and it was a sign that India was supporting the peace process in Sri Lanka.

Minister Peiris addressed representatives of the press from Commonwealth countries about the peace process in Sri Lanka. Speaking about criticism of the peace process he said that "opponents" of the process said this was a mistake, "that this is giving legitimacy to the LTTE in the eyes of the world, that they are travelling to various capitals of the world, and there are continuous violations of the ceasefire by the LTTE."

He "profoundly and sincerely" rejected such criticism and said that the LTTE had "embarked on a metamorphosis, a painful transformation into a political party," he said. "Definitely there will be ups and downs. Before the ceasefire agreement was signed it was the law of the jungle. There were no values. The ceasefire agreement carries certain parameters by which both parties have agreed to abide. The rule of law is not completely enforced anywhere in the world. Whether it is Colombo or New York or anywhere else there are lapses in enforcement. But there is a certain regime in force."

He said that the LTTE was now feeling the pressure of the international community with regard to human rights issues and child soldiers. He said that the strong language by US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage had an impact on the LTTE. "Anton Balasingham is continuously questioned by the international media," he said.

He was of the view that the LTTE was being gradually exposed to many realities hitherto unknown to it that are not possible within a democratic framework. "Many industrialists from the south had told the Prime Minister that they were willing to begin industries and open up factories in the North but they were not willing to pay illegal taxes to the LTTE. The government Co-operative Wholesale Establishment has also said that being a government organisation it could not pay illegal taxes to the LTTE. So these are fresh problems the LTTE has to grapple with," he said.

He said that similar processes in the world such as the Northern Ireland process and the negotiations in South Africa had ups and downs where the entire process had broken down but regained their momentum again. "This is not a single event but a process. When it is a process there will be problems," he said.

Former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar who was a moderator in a discussion in a later session on the "War on Terrorism and its impact on the region," said that violence for any cause or struggle was now held unacceptable through many resolutions that had been passed in the UN much long before September 11.

He said wherever there was a conflict the only way out was for the two disputing parties to sit down and talk. "There is no alternative other than somehow or other to sit down and talk. Because the cause for a conflict is too deep. It might be the lack of understanding, deprivation or sheer poverty but the only way out is to sit down at a table and talk. You can bomb a problem to submission but not out of existence," he said.

The Biennial Conference of the Commonwealth Press Union is attended by Editors, journalists and publishers from 35 countries. The conference which will conclude on Friday will be addressed by prominent personalities from a number of countries.