Time to say: Go to hell!

The LTTE is indignant over the sinking of a rogue ship , which has been described as a ‘merchant vessel’, off the eastern coast of Sri Lanka. Effusing righteous indignation, terrorist spokesman, Tamil Chelvam, had warned: ‘This grave incident will have far reaching implications for the peace process’. Expressing ‘deep displeasure’, he has claimed that the sinking of the ship was ‘a grave violation of the Ceasefire Agreement’ by the Sri Lanka Navy, and said that the vessel was not involved in any illegal action. He had further charged that the incident had occurred in international waters over which the Sri Lankan Navy had no jurisdiction and that it was intercepted and attacked without any provocation.

Tamil Chelvam could have served his masters and organisation better had he explained how a vessel belonging to the LTTE happened to be sailing 185 nautical miles away from the eastern coast. The LTTE, as far as we are aware, has never officially said that they possessed merchant vessels that sailed international waters. Thus, a simple question arises about what this vessel, which as the LTTE says, ‘was not engaged in illegal activities’ doing on high seas at that time? There are other questions such as: Was this vessel registered in accordance with international maritime laws and was it flying any flag? If not it is plainly and simply a ‘rogue ship’ and not a merchant vessel. And does the LTTE have a legal shipping agency? Had Tamil Chelvam provided these answers and the vital question of the cargo that was being carried, he would have convinced the ‘international community’ and the Norwegian monitors of the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission of their innocence and legality of whatever they were engaged in. Tamil Chelvam quotes the new head of the monitoring mission Maj. Gen. Trygve Tellefessen saying that the authority of the Sri Lanka Navy does not extend to international waters. The Maj. Gen. should also ask the LTTE the questions we have raised to establish the legality and innocence claimed by the terrorist organisation. Both the Sri Lanka government with the Norwegian monitors should attempt to recover from the sunken ship, samples of the cargo that were being carried to make a final and decisive determination.

In this context it will be in the interests of the Navy to have a third party, too, investigating the incident because the role played by the Norwegians has been highly suspect and is considered to be pro-LTTE. We are aware that moves are being made in some government circles to have an effective international peace keeping force because of the reluctance of the Norwegian monitors to find the LTTE guilty of thousands of violations of the Ceasefire Agreement during the past year.

The Sri Lankan public, who having been assured all the while that the peace boat was sailing safely on smooth seas by the government, LTTE negotiators and the peace monitors, will be wondering how this confrontation that threatens the safety of the peace boat came about. Surely, LTTE chief negotiator Balasingham could have told government chief negotiator Prof. G.L. Peiris after those lingering handshakes across the negotiating table that they are involved in merchant shipping and will be sending commodities directly to the east coast? Prof. Peiris could then have got the Sri Lankan Navy to provide an armed escort for the LTTE ships to sail into Trincomalee Harbour or whatever port of choice of the LTTE. Or on the other hand, these goods could have come through the port of Colombo or even by air through Katunayake airport and cleared even without customs inspections - as is already happening to some LTTE cargo - we are informed.

Now, the LTTE is charging the government of violating the Ceasefire Agreement, never mind how many thousands of times there have been grave violations on their part. But what provision of the agreement has been violated by the Navy? Even if the incident occurred in international waters, does not the Navy have the right of self-defence to fire back when attacked as the Navy claims? And how come, the LTTE ‘merchant vessel’ did possess guns on board to attack a naval vessel?

As expected, the LTTE spokesmen will say that the Navy had cooked up this story of being attacked and that they did not possess weapons on board. On the last occasion, too, when the Navy apprehended a LTTE boat, they claimed that there were no arms on board, but on the second time when the vessel was searched by the peace monitors hidden arms were found. Finally, the LTTE cadres blew themselves up as well as the boat and the Norwegian monitors had to seek refuge in the deep blue sea and save themselves!

This barefaced lying by the LTTE is only to be expected in the context of the way the Sri Lankan government has been molly-coddling the terrorists because of the fear of the terrorists walking out of the peace talks. Chief peace negotiator Prof. G.L.Peiris attempts to ward of criticism by asking what other alternative is there than to negotiate. We, too, say negotiate but make it a hard bargain and not give into every conceivable demand of the terrorists. This kind of mendicant attitude at the negotiating table can explain the cocky stance of the terrorists who when caught with their pants down - a ship load of arms - accuses the Navy of violating the Ceasefire Agreement for firing on the ship in retaliation and sinking their ship. Quite obviously the LTTE considers this Ceasefire Agreement as an instrument for the abdication of power of the sovereign state of Sri Lanka to a bunch of terrorists. Most probably they will demand compensation and an apology!

It is time to say : Go to hell.

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