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"LTTE should have sent out 'positive signal' to 48-hour ceasefire"

By Nilantha Ilangamuwa

(February 07, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) Despite various speculation to the contrary, I presume that President Rajapaksa is as keen as anyone else to usher in peace and prosperity, based on power-devolution that derives from a political solution. I guess he is alive to the political possibilities and even electoral necessities deriving from the Tamil constituency, said N. Sathiya Moorthy, Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer research Foundation, a well known Think Tank in Indian in an Interview with Sri Lanka Guardian.

Here full text of the Interview;

1) The Co-Chairs and many other nations have called upon the LTTE to lay down arms, and the Sri Lankan Government to end hostilities. Neither has obliged. What is your comment?

Disappointing as it maybe, the reaction of the two sides was not wholly unexpected. Clearly, the LTTE’s ranks are dwindling. Minus the civilian population, which they seem to use as ‘human shields’ in whatever form, they may have to give in to the superior force of the Sri Lankan armed forces, both in terms of men and material. The Government, at the instance of the Indian neighbour, announced a 48-hour informal ceasefire, couching the announcement more as a warning to satisfy the local constituency. The LTTE did not respond favourably. Obviously, the LTTE was concerned about the post-evacuation scenario, where it would have become indefensible. A ‘positive signal’ at that stage might have helped the international community to try and prevail upon the Sri Lankan Government to look beyond civilian evacuation. It is anybody’s guess how the Government would have reacted under the circumstances. Yet, there was no harm in the LTTE sending out a positive signal that it was ready to consider a ceasefire of sorts, if modalities could be worked out through mutual exchanges, or through facilitators. It would not have changed the ground situation for either – whatever the final outcome of such a strategy. In the absence of any such an initiative on the part of the LTTE, the Government might have decided that enough was enough – and that the LTTE was using the civilians as a fodder in their defensive war on the battle-front and propaganda war, overseas.

2) Do you think an end to the LTTE is the end to the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka?

No. Any end of the LTTE on the conventional battlefront could still leave behind remnants that could become a thorn in the flesh for the Sri Lankan State in the form of guerrilla warfare. I think the security forces would have thought about strategies to nullify such possibilities. However, we need to remember that all Tamil militant groups, starting with the LTTE, had started off only as guerrilla groups and had excelled in the art and craft of the same. The Government also needs to remember that apart from incidents like ‘Pogorm-83’, it was the search-and-destroy operations targeting the Tamil militants in the North and the East that ended up alienating the local population so very completely, through the late Seventies and the Eighties. Unlike in the conventional war, the security forces would be fighting ghosts at best and shadows otherwise, if and when the current phase of war reverts into a guerrilla affair.

We also need to remember that many of the LTTE cadres now would be in the 30-minus age-group. They would have been born after the early incidents of the Seventies and the Eighties. They are as much the victims of the hate-campaign that the LTTE would have indoctrinated them in vis a vis the Sri Lankan State apparatus as they are the progenies of the early victims of the ethnic issue. They need to be convinced that there is life beyond this hate-campaign, and the Sri Lankan State is not a single-agenda institution. They also need time to readjust themselves to the changing situation, which alone would teach them that all may not be as bad as has been told to them. Only a honest political process and sincere implementation would help extinguish Sri Lankan Tamil militancy from within. Military measures are but only the first step – to facilitate such a process, by ensuring that the LTTE does not continue to be a hurdle, with its monopolist views, enforced by a monolithic leadership.

3) How early do you think is peace possible in Sri Lanka?

In physical terms, early signs to an early peace are already visible, but it all depends on what we see as peace. If one is talking only about a peace of the graveyard, enforced through a military victory, it might already be here. I hope, neither the Sri Lankan Government, nor the security forces are not looking at it that way – as some observers would like to believe. Real peace would have arrived only when the political processes are set in motion – and a permanent solution is found on the power devolution front, preferably through the inclusive process of negotiations.

4) What do you think is President Mahinda Rajapakse’s doctrine as far as the future phase of the current situation is concerned?

Despite various speculation to the contrary, I presume that President Rajapaksa is as keen as anyone else to usher in peace and prosperity, based on power-devolution that derives from a political solution. I guess he is alive to the political possibilities and even electoral necessities deriving from the Tamil constituency. The Government seems to have concluded, and not without reason, that for a political process to be set in motion and a power-devolution plan to be implemented on the ground, the LTTE needed to be de-fanged. There are going to be hitches and hurdles, interpretations and imputations. I expect President Rajapaksa to raise above petty political considerations and appeal to the entire Sri Lankan nation, and not just a section thereof, as is being made out by some. After all, he had the strategy to win the war. I think he has a strategy to win peace, as well.

5) What is your assessment of the post-war era of Sri Lanka and the Tamil political power in the island-nation?

Rather than assessment, I would outline my expectation. For anything to be achieved, the Tamil polity has to remain united. They cannot remain divided and keep complaining about the Sinhala polity or the Sri Lankan State alone – not that the divisions within them is a justification or excuse for the other two to run rough shod over their legitimate aspirations. Not many people would have noticed it, but there are over 45 Tamil-speaking members in the 225-seat Parliament. They are divided under three broad categories – of Sri Lankan Tamils, Muslims and the Indian Tamils, but the political divisions are countless. There are no great ideological divisions among any or all of them, unlike in the case of the majority Sinhala polity. If only they remain united and put their societal demands ahead of personal perceptions of the self and their own groupings, they could command the respect not only of the larger Tamil-speaking population but also of the Sri Lankan nation as a whole. I hope the post-war scenario provides the environment and creates the mood for such a turn.

6) Former LTTE militant leader ‘Col’ Karuna has joined the ruling SLFP. How do you view this development?

Independent of the internal squabbles within the LTTE first, and the ruling Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP) in his native Eastern Province, the cross-over by ‘Col’ Karuna to the SLFP should be a welcome sign of sorts. His reasons and explanations might not be acceptable to all Tamils – but then it has opened up the possibilities. After all, there were and are also other Tamil members of Parliament in the two Sinhala political majors, namely, the UNP and the SLFP. Until his assassination last year, you had Jeyaraj Fernadopulle, a Tamil who had been winning parliamentary elections from a traditional ‘Sinhala majority’ electorate. He was a Minister, Government Chief Whip in Parliament and also the treasurer of the ruling party. Even very few Sinhala leaders had reached that stage. It’s easy to dismiss elevations like this, of Tamil-speaking leaders even in the Sinhala polity. Why, you even have Tamil-speaking members of Parliament in the JVP, which is dubbed the ‘Sinhala nationalist’ party from deep South.

7) There is a lot of political action in Tamil Nadu over the ethnic issue. How do you think it will play out?

I think things are slowly evening out. DMK Chief Minister Karunanidhi has taken the initiative to put the position of larger Tamil Nadu in perspective. He has even publicly invited the Opposition AIADMK to join hands with the DMK parent and the State Government to move forward together on the ‘Sri Lankan Tamil issue’. More than ever he has since clarified that the LTTE issue and the larger Sri Lankan Tamil cause are distinctively different. This has been the position of the two Dravidian majors, namely, the DMK and the AIADMK, all along, but the clarification has helped. It also gels with the overall position of successive Indian Governments, particularly after the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, and more so after the ‘Rajiv Gandhi assassination’. As is known, the Congress, the BJP and the CPM, from among the national parties have always maintained such a stance. Minus the minor aberrations in the State CPI, overall, the party holds a near-similar line on the issue at the national-level.

8) At the national-level in India, BJP Opposition Leader and former Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani has criticised the Congress-led UPA Government for its handling of the Sri Lankan situation? How do you view this?

The differences, if any, between the Congress-UPA and the BJP-NDA pertain only to details. They have all drawn the distinction between the LTTE’s needs and demands on the one hand, and the larger Tamil concerns and cause, on the other. There is overall agreement among all major political parties at the national-level that there can be no military solution to the Sri Lankan issue and that a permanent political solution should address the legitimate concerns of all communities within a united Sri Lanka. This has also been the position of the Indian Central Government all along, and whichever party is in power, there is no reason to believe that this position would undergo any drastic change. Whichever party or alliance comes to power after the upcoming parliamentary polls, they would pursue a political course to find a permanent solution to the ethnic process, without interfering with the schemes and systems of a sovereign nation that Sri Lanka is. To them all, a permanent solution does not flow either from the barrel of the gun or the military neutralisation of the LTTE.

-Sri Lanka Guardian

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