The question was obviously rhetorical when Prof. G. L. Pieris last week asked "Do we want to go back to war?" He stressed that will be the obvious result if the government tore up the Cease-fire Agreement or Memorandum of Understanding with the LTTE signed in February last year and asked the Norwegian peace brokers to go home as a section of the community is loudly demanding. As President Premadasa was fond of repeatedly saying, there are no winners in any war. Everybody is the loser. Obviously nobody in his right mind will want to go back to war, except perhaps the LTTE which has shown many signs of preparing for war by acquiring armaments and strengthening its fighting forces.
But neither Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe nor his government can close their collective eyes and plug their collective ears against the growing public perception that the Tigers are taking not just them but the whole country for one vast ride. No day passes without a new display of LTTE arrogance and the meek submission of the government in response. Take Pulidevan’s demand for an airforce helicopter to take himself and his party back to Kilinochchi when they returned from Switzerland. A chopper was provided at the expense of the taxpayer. Why? Who owes Pulidevan or other LTTE leaders these free rides? Nobody would reasonably deny them an escort to come to Katunayake for their outward journey as was provided. The group could have gone back the way they came but they seem to know that all they need do is to demand and they will secure prompt delivery.
Colombo clearly misjudged the LTTE’s hard-to-get strategy before the Tokyo Donor Conference last June. The general feeling among the leaders who should know best was that they would eventually attend. They did not and do not appear to have suffered any consequences as a result. Given that they did not attend the primary event in June, it was predictable that they will keep off the review meeting Japanese Peace Envoy Yasushi Akashi chaired in Colombo on Friday. True to form, the Japanese Embassy in Colombo was informed of the non-attendance only at the eleventh hour. Although there was one report saying that the Akashi visit will be cancelled as a result, that thankfully did not happen and the review meeting has been concluded in the absence of the Tigers.
The statement released at the end of the meeting was couched in the usual diplomatic language hailing the "commitment of both parties to the peace process and their continued efforts to resume peace talks." It was the LTTE that broke off the talks after six rounds last April and it is the LTTE that is delaying getting those negotiations started once again. Although Akashi has said he is "cautiously optimistic" about the prospects, he has candidly expressed the frustration of the global community about the Tiger’s foot-dragging. Unfortunately nobody, least of all the Sri Lanka government, has rapped the LTTE hard for doing what it does. It may have been useful if Akashi cancelled his visit to Kilinochchi given the non-co-operation that has been encountered thus far. If the LTTE does not want to tell the donors-in-waiting – and they are still largely that – what their problems are at a formal meeting attended by representatives of the government, why should they be given the opportunity of making bilateral representations on their home turf?
It is true that Sri Lanka’s capacity to get the relief and rehabilitation effort properly going falls far short of what is required. A gentle rebuke on this score was part of the concluding statement with the government urged to make "further effort to improve its capacity." One way in which this can be done is to get rid of some of the clowns responsible for the political direction of this work. But the chief disability is the lack of the needed funds to get cracking. But here we are in a Catch 22 situation. Disbursement of donor funds is conditional to what has been called the "substantial and parallel progress of the peace process." And that’s what has not been happening. So no funds are forthcoming.
Given the notorious snail’s pace at which any public work in this country proceeds quite apart from the accompanying corruption, the LTTE would probably have been able to convince the donors that they are more capable of getting the rehabilitation and reconstruction work going in the northeast than the government. Given their summary methods including execution of those falling out of line, that is not surprising. Whether they can be trusted to utilize donor funds only for the agreed purposes is another matter altogether and the necessary checks and balances will have to be imposed if that route is going to be taken. But to do anything, funds are required and these will not be forthcoming without that "substantial and parallel progress" the donors stress.
If the LTTE wants to make life better for the Tamil people they claim to represent, they can certainly co-operate with the ever willing international community and get the aid flows started. But the strategy they have been adopting following increasingly accommodating stances taken by countries who paint themselves as anti-terrorist hard-liners seems more than ever to be a push towards their original stated objective separate statehood. All else, they appear to believe, can follow.
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