All in the name of peace

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe addressing a public rally at Panduwasnuwara on Wednesday reiterated his earlier contention that if President Chandrika Kumaratunga wanted to hold on to the three ministries she took over, particularly the Defence Ministry, she should take responsibility for negotiating the ‘Peace Process’.

The prime minister points out that the ‘Peace Process’ is dependent on the Cease-fire Agreement which prevents hostilities breaking out between the government armed forces and that of the LTTE and without control of the armed forces it would not be possible to conduct peace negotiations.

An obvious question that springs up is: Why is President Kumaratunga not taking over the all-important ‘Peace Process’ since she was the leading light of the peace movement in 1994 when campaigning for presidency? The reason may be that she may not want to sit across the table with those who attempted to assassinate her. The other is that these killers do not have much faith in her now and would want to eliminate her rather then sit down for negotiations. Thus, it does appear that the chances of her negotiating peace with the LTTE are non-existent right now.

President Kumaratunga, however, should have well realised her negative potential as a negotiator when she made her moves in November. Thus, did she imagine that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe would be willing to play second fiddle to her in these circumstances? That would have been extreme political naivet`E9 on her part.

She now argues that this ‘Peace Process’ was stalled much before she seized the ministries in November because the LTTE called off talks in April. But now the LTTE has come up with their own ‘proposals’ and say they are willing to negotiate with either the UNF or the PA. This may be a ploy to dupe the ‘international community’ that the LTTE is willing to go ahead with the ‘Peace Process’ but that the squabbling between the two Sinhala leaders is stalling it. But it is a challenge to the president, that she can't ignore.

The president argues that she was against this ‘Peace Process’ reached between the UNF and LTTE and that she had refused to sign the Cease-fire Agreement that was presented to her as a fait accompli.

But Ranil Wickremesinghe throws back that argument saying that she could renegotiate another agreement with the LTTE and commence the ‘Peace Process’. She does appear to have boxed herself into a corner.

The past 20 years have shown that negotiating peace with the terrorists has been an arduous and unpopular exercise particularly where the Sinhala electorate is concerned. President Kumaratunga should know about it very well. Ranil Wickremesinghe took up this task having pledged to do so at the hustings and soon became very unpopular among the Sinhala electorate. He was subjected to very harsh criticisms including that of President Kumaratunga. Now wittingly or unwittingly President Kumaratunga has taken the burden off Mr. Wickremesinghe's shoulders but is not willing it to carry it.

Of course, all keep repeating their commitment to the ‘Peace Process’ as Mr. Wickremesinghe did at Panduwasnuwara, but the paradox of it is that all these worshippers at the altar of the ‘Peace Process’ have walked away from it! The LTTE was the first to call off the "peace Process" in April this year. Then, the president who also speaks loudly, clearly and consistently for peace put a huge spoke in the wheel by precipitating the November political crisis. This was followed by the Norwegians, the peacemakers, who walked out and now Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe who was carrying the cross of peace very devoutly is trying to hand it over to Chandrika who has no inclination to accept the offer. All this raises the question: Who is now actively pursuing the peace process? Is it only the ‘international community’?

Meanwhile, war or peace, Velupillai Prabhakaran is sitting pretty. He is consolidating the infrastructure for his de facto state without any opposition. It was reported yesterday, that the LTTE was forcibly distributing its own textbooks on social science and history in schools in the north and east—schools run by the government. The textbooks naturally will be on history and social sciences as Prabhakaran thinks it should be.

In the politically amnesiac South, where memories rarely last over two weeks, Prabhakaran is not foremost in the minds now. Today, it is legislation against ‘unethical conversions’. This is quite a hot political potato for both the president and prime minister to handle. Such legislation would incur the wrath of the ‘international community’ and even of the mighty George Bush, a leading evangelist, but avoiding such legislation may incur the wrath of indigenous fundamentalists.

The solution could be the provincial councils elections followed by parliamentary elections, which would help dampen these incendiary issues till the next government emerges.

Your comments to the Editor