Will Ranil’s strategy work?

President and Commander- in- Chief of the armed forces and police Chandrika Kumaratunga says that Trincomalee Harbour, which holds the key to our naval defence strategy, is in imminent danger, being ringed by 17 armed camps of the LTTE. She thundered about this threat to the security of the nation at a party political rally held at Bandaragama during the weekend, which received wide coverage on TV. The president’s accusations came two days after the reply made by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe to a letter sent by President Kumaratunga on the same issue. While critics of President Kumaratunga said that Mr. Wickremasinghe’s reply was a stunning retort where he traced the successive military debacles of her regime, President Kumaratunga, undaunted, reiterated her charges.

Prime Minister Wickremasinghe while pointing out to the president’s ‘sorry track record’ went on to assure the president that the government had been taking all necessary steps to ensure that ‘the armed forces have been improving their preparedness to meet any security threat’.

Referring to the report of the US Pacific Command Assessment (PACOM)team about the threat posed by LTTE camps located around the South of Trincomalee Harbour, the prime minister while pointing out that the team was commissioned on a request made by him to President Bush, said that the recommendations made by PACOM have been carefully considered and are being followed up in consultation with US authorities. It would not be appropriate to reveal details of the measures adopted he said. Mr. Wickremasinghe also said that along with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, they had ‘set in motion a series of steps in defence co-operation’. He defined his strategy saying:.... ‘the best prospects for the peace process lie in our ability to combine an effective national security strategy with commitment to political negotiations with the support of the international community’

This is the first occasion on which the prime minister has gone to this length to reassure the public of his defence strategy. The criticism levelled at him— particularly by this paper— was that he maintained a strict silence in the face of mounting criticisms.

The revelation that he had ‘ set in motion a series of defence strategies’ with the Indian Prime Minister though of vital importance has not caught the attention of the media as yet. What the Indian involvement is it’s hard to guess but we certainly do hope it would be much more positive than what was offered’ - humanitarian assistance’ - when the Sri Lankan forces were facing a very grave threat after the fall of Elephant Pass.

‘Combination of an effective national security strategy with commitment to political negotiations with the support of the international community’ is indeed quite a mouthful.

So far the international community, while being quite vociferous about peace has not said a word about a national security strategy. Combination of a national security strategy with the peace process, in the face of blatant acts of terrorism which the international community so far has looked upon with much indulgence, does appear to be a near impossible task, unless the prime minister has received commitments hitherto not disclosed.

Whatever the prime minister’s defence strategies may amount to, the hard fact is that the defences built up by the LTTE seem to be irreversible – peace process or no such process. Since the signing of the Cease-fire Agreement, the LTTE build up of its armed cadres, smuggling of arms and setting up of strategic camps have gone on unabated even in the face of condemnation by the so called peace monitors of Norway. The explanation given by LTTE spokesmen last week for the camps ringing the Trincomalee camp was that they had existed before the Cease-fire Agreement. Sources indicate that such make shift structures did exist before the agreement but what has now come up is quite different - strongly manned and well equipped with armaments such as artillery guns. Whether the LTTE will use these camps as a spring board to capture the harbour in the event of the outbreak of hostilities or whether the prime minister’s security strategy will hold is moot point.

So far the prime minister’s strategy has held but why this continuous build up, if peace is the objective of the LTTE?

Your comments to the Editor