Raising the ante

Raising the ante is the name of the game that is now being played by some of the world’s most powerful nations as Sri Lanka’s armed forces engage in the task of finishing off the LTTE in the current phase of the long drawn war. On Friday, India sent two top officials, National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon for talks with President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Colombo. The Defence Secretary and Mr. Lalith Weeratunga, Secretary to the President, were in attendance at this meeting at Temple Trees officially described a ``friendly and conducted in a cordial atmosphere.’’ By all accounts there was no fist shaking by Big Brother and no promise of parippu drops to come as in 1987 when India stopped the annihilation of the LTTE at Vadamarachchi by Generals Denzil Kobbekaduwa, Vijaya Wimalaratne and their troops and twisted President J.R. Jayewardene’s arm to sign what was called the Indo – Sri Lanka Accord of that year – a treaty of peace, friendship and cooperation.

In the event, the LTTE did not lay down their arms as envisaged in that agreement but went through a charade of surrendering some old and rusted weapons that were ceremonially received. The Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) which originally did not envisage a military operation was soon embroiled in a war with the LTTE and in the event lost more men in Sri Lanka’s North and East than it had in two wars with Pakistan before it was, to borrow the parlance of the Indian military of that time, ``de-inducted’’ and went back to India at the behest of President Premadasa. What followed is contemporary history whose last chapter, hopefully, will be written this week. Before Messrs. Narayanan and Menon came here for their 90-minute meeting with the president, Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee made some noises in New Delhi saying that the Indian government was ``very unhappy about the continued killing of innocent Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka.’’ He lectured that ``these killings must stop’’ and that it was the Sri Lankan government’s responsibility to protect its own citizens. To give Mukherjee his due, he also said that ``the LTTE must stop its barbaric attempt to hold civilians hostage.’’

While such rhetoric was absent at Friday’s Indo-Lanka meeting at `Temple Trees’ with India explaining her own problems – remember a Lok Sabha election is now on and Sri Lanka has long been a card in the Tamil Nadu pack – President Rajapaksa took the opportunity of making clear that his administration was most concerned about the wellbeing of the civilians. Nobody can or will dispute that tens of thousands of innocents have been subject to untold suffering as the military moves to get them out of Prabhakaran’s clutches. This country and all its people owe a duty to their fellow-citizen to look after them as best we can and we make bold to say that all Lankans must, if need be, pay a special tax to raise the wherewithal to care for these unfortunate people. Over a 100,000 of them are now out of LTTE-controlled areas, having fled the terror often against gunfire with some paying with their lives. According to the last count, Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama told the Colombo based diplomatic corps, that 15,000 to 20,000 more civilians are still corralled in less than five kilometers of Tiger-held territory in the Vanni – the human shield that Prabhakaran retains. Hopefully the world outside our shores will also help care for the refugees as some countries and organizations are already doing.

The White House has also got into the act urging an ``immediate ceasefire’’ and voicing ``deep concern’’ over alleged violation of international humanitarian law. This was the first statement by the Obama White House on the Sri Lanka problem, analysts noted. The statement, among other things, expressed deep concern about the plight of innocent civilians caught up in the conflict, asked both sides to stop fighting immediately and allow civilians to leave the combat zone. It also asked that aid groups and journalists be given access to civilians who have escaped. Such access has already been granted to facilities set up in Vavuniya and some VIP international visitors have publicly expressed satisfaction about what is in place. Those just getting out of the Vanni are in very poor shape as visuals publicized by the military starkly portray. Interviewing them will no doubt elicit hear-wrenching stories to which LTTE propaganda mills will undoubtedly give the necessary spin for their own purposes. The US, including the White House, was less balanced than India which had the grace to label the use of a civilian human shield as ``barbaric’’ in their public professions on our problem. But then we must not forget that Secretary of State Clinton accepted a campaign contribution from an LTTE front which she subsequently returned after the whistle was blown. The reality is that the LTTE is able to use Diaspora muscle to influence particularly western nations in which large numbers of voters of Tamil descent now live. A well researched paper produced by the reputed Mackenzie Institute of Canada on the way the LTTE functions published on this page today will give the reader many revealing insights on how these things are done.

The Diaspora circus will not end with the war. We will see many more demonstrations, statements and pressure moves as the drama unwinds further. The pity is that Sri Lanka’s counter to these developments in many places is sadly constrained by the abilities of those conferred sinecures at public expense in many of our missions abroad. To the credit of President Rajapaksa, we have stood up to international pressure while the military, albeit at a great cost of servicemen killed and maimed the full extent of which the country does not yet know, has performed a task that many believed was undoable. While the worst of the long haul may soon be over, there will yet be many miles more to go finding a just political solution to the National Question, resettling the displaced in their original homes, rebuilding shattered infrastructure and, indeed, even rehabilitating misguided LTTE cadres.

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