Calling a spade a spade

Yesterday’s good news was the US re-designating the LTTE a "Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO)" because that is what it is notwithstanding the presently stalled but hopefully to be soon revived peace process. There is no doubt that many of the Western countries that have branded the Tigers as terrorists are softening their stance vis-a-vis the LTTE. This is not the best way of keeping in line a fanatical group, pointedly increasing its military capability and making things as difficult as it can for the UNF government that has staked its future on peace. That is why all Lanka owes a debt of gratitude to the US for the position it has taken and its public condemnation of post-cease-fire killings by the Tigers who have with impunity been bumping off their Tamil political opponents as well as military intelligence personnel.

The Sri Lanka government in its desire to keep the peace process on track, which is undoubtedly the predominant national priority, has in many ways appeased the LTTE which, as we have said before in these columns, now institutionalized its ‘all take and no give’ approach to the ongoing process. The Tigers have seized this opportunity to try and get the terrorist label off their backs with recent successes even giving them the brass to try to receive UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in the Wanni. Thankfully the government did what it should on this score and Annan is not making the visit originally planned for this week although he is reported to have told the prime minister that he would reconsider the decision. That looks very much like a diplomatic ‘No.’ But the fact that he is not coming would also be a victory of sorts for the LTTE in the context of their Wanni googly.

As reported yesterday, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has told Minister Milinda Moragoda in Washington that the US can at any time revoke the FTO designation provided "we are satisfied the organization no longer meets the statutory criteria for designation as an FTO." Armitage has said the US will consider stripping off the label and deal with the Tigers as a legitimate political entity in Sri Lanka only after it renounced terrorism and ceases terrorist acts. The LTTE, of course, brazenly denies that they are terrorists and claims to be "freedom fighters." Although some countries of the world together with some of our own peaceniks and peacemakers tend to forget the glaring reality, with many diplomats now regularly trekking to the Wanni for meetings with the Tiger leadership despite bans on the LTTE in their own countries, it is necessary that a spade is called a spade and terrorists are treated as terrorists until the Tiger changes its stripes.

The US has of course not gone as far as many of us might have wished. It would have been better if Armitage added the decommissioning of arms and the renouncing of the separate state demand to the conditions required for the US recognizing the LTTE’s legitimacy. But then who are we to demand these of others when we ourselves de-proscribed the Tigers nearly two years ago (admittedly to get the peace process started), don’t even whisper about decommissioning of arms (admittedly an impossible at least at this stage of negotiations) and continue to offer (quite unnecessarily) helicopter rides to the LTTE leadership to get about their business which includes de-stabilizing this country in many ways. Although the US has taken a commendable line, let us not forget that the LTTE were sufficiently confident of themselves to even make a pitch at getting Nelson Mandela to Ireland for their latest round of internal discussions. If that attempt succeeded, who knows we might even have seen pictures of the South African leader throwing a friendly arm around Tamilchelvan!

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe knows the difficulties he faces and well understands that a sizable section of the country is not enthusiastic about the government’s appeasing approach to the Tigers. Perhaps his UN speech about the US invasion of Iraq is part of the price that Sri Lanka must pay to have officials like Armitage say what he did. There is no reason for sensible people to panic at "yellow" marches organized by the JVP and sections of the SLFP intent on retrieving the perks of office as quickly as possible. While there is no doubt that many are unhappy about too much being too easily given to the LTTE thus far, those who marched last week are largely elements that would have marched anyway against the government – whatever the cause. But after a long time we have seen one of our leaders doing what was best for the country rather than what was politically opportune for herself when President Kumaratunga refused to cave in to extremist JVP demands which would surely have scuttled all prospects of a negotiated peace. But she is under pressure from elements within her party more motivated by greed for office than the patriotism they profess and whether she will hold her line remains to be seen.

Meanwhile the economic indicators, assisted by the weather gods on the agricultural front, are satisfactory and the stock market is riding a 9-year high. Optimists believe that the peace process is irreversible although the LTTE will not necessarily fall in with that point of view. The Tigers undoubtedly will pitch their demands very high when they present them in the next few weeks and it will be the job of government negotiators to whittle them down to acceptable proportions. Our foreign friends can undoubtedly play a role in helping this by keeping up the pressure on the LTTE. While separation remains a No No, generous devolution is a sine qua non and there must be a willingness on the part of us all to concede even more than seems possible. Even at the cost of repeating ourselves, we say that unity is the best way of presenting a national front towards the resolution of the National Question. But our leaders, sadly, are far from that utopia.

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