The choice: Sovereignty of the nation or the Peace Process
The press conference held by Defence Minister Tilak Marapone with Indian Lt. Gen. (Rtd.) Sathis Nambiar in attendance on Wednesday indicates that the LTTE blackmail of suspension of talks and boycotting the Tokyo meeting is working.
Though the LTTE was peeved at not having been invited to the Washington meeting and cited it as a main reason for its suspension of negotiations and the boycott of the Tokyo talks, the main objective was to get the armed forces out of the High Security Zones in Jaffna. And that appears to be working.
Mr. Marapone was reported saying that while there was no request by the public or even the LTTE to removal of High Security Zones, the only request is to downsize the area of the HSZ for civilians to be resettled in their lands. Indeed the glib LTTE spokesman Anton Balasingham has been at pains many a time to explain that no one wants the Army to leave the HSZs or the security establishments in the North to be removed and all what the LTTE wants is for civilians to be resettled in their homes. Mr. Marapone the suave former Attorney General and a former leading light of the private bar would have seen right through this sugary rhetoric of Balasingham directed towards the gullible. Once civilians are resettled in the HSZ, with inevitable infiltration of LTTE cadres, the HSZs cease to be HSZs and the security camps themselves become sitting ducks for the LTTE militia. But Mr. Marapone has been given a brief by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe to defend the government and save the Peace Process. So, he says: We are not ready to endanger national security by removing all these camps and have sought the advice from Indian experts to do the relocation without affecting national security.
Two Indian experts have been called in, one for land demarcation, Lt. Gen. Nambiar and another for maritime demarcations. Lt. Gen. Nambiar was called in his private capacity, probably as a consultant on the LTTE demand for resettlement in HSZs. The need to bring in a foreigner despite a detailed report of the Northern Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka on the need to retain such zones was to satisfy the LTTE. But Lt. Gen. Nambiar fully concurred with Lt. Gen. Fonsekas recommendations. For reasons unknown, Gen. Nambiar was asked to make a second report which he presented to the government on Wednesday. It is probable that Gen. Nambiars second report would have been more accommodative of the LTTEs demands and Mr. Marapone was sounding out the recommendations when he spoke of downsizing the HSZ.
Whatever the Indian consultant may have recommended, the government cannot ignore the report of Lt. Gen.Fonseka. He has said: As the existence and strength of HSZ is utmost and vital for success of defences and security of Jaffna peninsula and islands, no risks or chances should be taken to weaken security by making HSZ vulnerable. As the present dimensions of the HSZ are to face the present threat, weakening of HSZs should be done in relation to reduction of LTTE military options ranging from major conventional attacks to asymmetric attacks. Any normalisation plan should go hand in glove with reduction of military options available to the LTTE.
He has stressed that resettling civilians in the HSZ should go hand in glove with a de-escalation process agreed both by the government and the LTTE. Even the Norwegian peace monitors who rarely differ from the views of the LTTE are for retaining the HSZs.
Mr. Marapone and other government spokesman do not utter word about the a de escalation process called for by our own military leaders and it does appear to be sacrilegious to speak of the LTTE High Security Zone which our soldiers cannot set foot on and where even Norwegian peace monitors are not present.
President Kumaratunga, the opposition and the people cannot permit the government to cave into the demands of the terrorists and endanger the lives of about 50,000 soldiers in the north as well as the existence of the security establishments. Yesterday, in parliament former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar made a scathing attack on the government and pointed out in detail to the steady erosion of the sovereignty of the country since the signing of the Ceasefire Agreement. He showed how the government had caved in and surrendered the sovereign rights of the nation to this terrorist group.
The government has unwillingly given in to these demands to save the peace negotiations and now the critical point has been reached. The LTTE has suspended negotiations and is blackmailing the government over the HSZ.
The point has now been reached for the government to choose between safeguarding the sovereignty of the nation and saving the Peace Process. Prime Minister Wickremasinghe, President Kumaratunga, the parliament and the people have no choice because the 'peace Process is in the interests of the nation and the nation cannot be sacrificed for what ever cause. The government has to stand firm on this issue because this issue itself is the litmus test of the LTTEs sincerity and commitment to peace. If they are not committed to peace, all this is a massive futile exercise.
Representatives of mighty nations now pushing the government on the HSZ must be firmly told that protection of the sovereignty of the Sri Lankan nation supersedes all other interests.
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