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The Importance of Jehan Perera

By Nalin Swaris

(January 30, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Jehan Perera remains an unrepentant advocate of the LTTE’s cause - even of LTTE post mortem. Perera seems to have undergone a make-over and become an unbiased political commentator. Consider his painless, noiseless move to The Island newspaper from The Daily Mirror. However, a discerning reader will be quick to see that though his writings have become subtler, his heart is still in the den. Many have not forgotten that until sometime in 2002, he was an Island columnist. It is not known whether this peace pigeon was shooed off or not, but it found a perch in The Daily Mirror where it was given a free hand until it apparently had fallen from grace.

In 2003, Prof. Johan Galtung renowned peace activist came to Sri Lanka to conduct a 3 day workshop at Sarvodaya Headquarters and to give a public lecture at the Nagarodaya auditorium in Borella. I urged my friend, then sub editor of the Island to attend this lecture because Galtung was a strong opponent of territorial devolution of power on an ethnic basis for Sri Lanka. He said the Lankan situation is unique; there are indeed areas where Sinhalese were in the majority and other areas where Tamils are in the majority. But holding up his arms wrapped around each other he said, in the rest of the country Sinhalese and Tamil people live “around each other”. Unraveling this to create distinct ethnically concentrated areas would create violent conflict for further generations to come comparable to what happened in Bosnia.

Jehan Perera chaired the meeting and his discomfiture was written all over his face. This was an invitee of Sarvodaya, PAFFREL and The National Peace Council, disagreeing with conventional wisdom! During question time, the Professor took an unnecessary swipe. He said a solution to the ethnic problem was hindered by Sinhala chauvinist newspapers like The Island. My friend came for the meeting on my recommendation. I felt mortified. I turned around and gave him an apologetic look. Obviously someone had enlightened the Professor about Lankan newspapers. I myself have been derided for writing to that “Sinhala chauvinist rag’. Many of us who have taken a public stand against the Norwegian pseudo peace process have experienced a strange phenomenon. Foreign journalists, academics, who come to Sri Lanka ‘to find out’ - and leave before they are ‘found out’ take the beaten path to the certain Colombo NGOs. They avoided us like the plague. I soon learned they are briefed about whom they should meet and they should shun – the enlightened cosmopolitans and the reactionary tribalists. Some foreign peace workers have met me on occasions unrelated to the peace process. Considering what they were told, they said they were amazed by the well grounded positions I took, based on irrefutable conflict resolution principles. These days people are warned that a foreign journalist, who has not joined the pro LTTE NGO chorus, is a government agent!

The Importance of Ranil Wickremesinghe

The heading of this section is borrowed from the title of Jehan Perera’s column in The Island of 12/01/09. It has become relevant in the light of Sarath Fonseka’s Presidential candidacy. In this column Perera makes no secret about who his preferred candidate is. His opening sentence makes this amply clear: “The decision of the Tamil National Alliance to endorse one of the two leading candidates with a real chance (sic) of winning the forthcoming presidential election has a significance that goes beyond those elections.” Real chance? Perera must be sulking in a corner with a lot of scrambled ‘muttai’ (egg) on his face. But he will bounce back, because the result must be giving him some small comfort. The Daily Mirror (28/01/09) carried a map of The Island showing the respective areas won by the two candidates; Blue for President Rajapakse and Green for Citizen Sarath Fonseka. With the exception of a relatively small green patch in the central highlands, the entire land mass was awash in Blue. The Northern Province, the North Western and North Eastern coastlands were Green – exactly corresponding to territory claimed for the State of Eelam. Johan Perera will no doubt write in his next column: “The presidential election results have a significance that goes beyond those elections”.

Let’s look at more symptoms of Eelam Pereritis. In the 12/01/09 column, he pays tribute to his ‘appeacement’ hero RW: “During his brief tenure as Prime Minister in the period 2002 - 4, Ranil Wickremesinghe had signed the Ceasefire Agreement with the LTTE. Although the LTTE withdrew from the peace talks that accompanied that ceasefire, Mr Wickremesinghe promised to restart them if he was elected President. This was a promise he could have fulfilled had he won the elections. The peace process he championed was backed by the international community and he would have been armed with the full complement of executive powers that he had lacked as Prime Minister”. Ah, the pity of it Iago,

More sighing. “If the Tamil boycott had not taken place and Mr Wickremesinghe had won those elections with Tamil votes, the Tamil people might have been spared the destruction of war.” Meaning what? Wickremsinghe would have used his executive powers to give Prabhakaran what the latter wanted? But, the Gospel of Peace According Jehan was undermined by Sinhala Buddhists. The observation “If Wickremesinghe won, the Tamil people might have been spared the destruction of war”, is a gem of Jesuitry. Perera shifts responsibility for “the destruction of war” to the election of Mahinda Rajapakse by Sinhalese chauvinists.

Perera has conveniently forgotten the humanitarian crisis created by the shutting of the Mavil Aru sluice. The Norwegian facilitators and peaceniks like Perera were urging the GOSL to settle the matter through peaceful negotiation. This was an insidious proposal calculated to play into the LTTE’s hands. In the ISGA proposal, the LTTE wanted to negotiate about the sharing of lower valley waters with the GOSL. The LTTE presented the government with a fait accompli - armed appropriation. Possession is nine tenths of the law, ”Negotiate if you will - leave it or take it. Our friends will facilitate us”. Such treaties are signed after protracted negotiation between two sovereign states. Negotiation would imply that the GOSL recognized that the LTTE’s de facto control of the Mavil Aru waters was the exercise of a de jure right. The government correctly decided to fight and end the LTTE’s armed usurpation of the Mavil Aru. An example will clarify this. Someone violently occupies my backyard. Friendly mediators urge me, “Don’t fight, come to a peaceful settlement.” I‘d take the first thing that I can grab and chase away the rascal peacemakers, who have no doubt been heavily bribed by the other side. Talk? I’d shout angrily. “Get the hell off my property first.”

Perera conveniently forgets the “destruction of war’ came because Prabhakaran presented the GOSL with a casus belli. Velupillai Prabhakaran overplayed his hand and Mahinda Rajapakse called his bluff. That provocation was the beginning of the Tiger chief’s successive miscalculations.

Perera concludes his propaganda piece (12/01/09) thus, “But the commitment he [RW] demonstrated at that time [RW ‘peace’ process] gave him and his party credibility, that is helping General Sarath Fonseka’s election campaign as the common opposition presidential candidate amongst the ethnic minorities today.” The LTTE’s defeat has given the lie to an oft repeated Perera contention calculated to demoralize the Sinhalayas: the LTTE cannot be militarily defeated. Therefore they must be ‘appeaced ‘. Consider what Perera wrote when Sarath Fonseka was appointed Army Chief. “All previous Army Chiefs had stated that ultimately there could be no military solution to the conflict. Sarath Fonseka is the first Army Chief that said the LTTE can be militarily defeated.”

But with Ranil Wickremesinghe backing the so called sole architect of the defeat of the LTTE, now sponsored by the Sole Representatives of the LTTE, the dwindling hope in Perera’s breast has risen again. Fonseka according to Perera has apparently seen the light on the road to President’s House and has become a born again. Gentle Wicremesinghe will take the General’s hand and lead him on.

Let My Leaders go, or else…

By April last year it was evident that the LTTE’s days were numbered. The donor countries, foreign INGOs and local peacenik NGOs were pressurising the GOSL to declare a ceasefire to save the lives of Tamil civilians caught in the crossfire. What they failed to demand was that the LTTE must stop using civilians as human shields (a war crime) and let them go. The use of civilians was very much apart of LTTE’s war strategy. The civilians were the bargaining chip. As DBS Jeyraj has pointed out, Prabhakaran had pinned his hopes on the Tamil Nadu protest factor and on Western intervention. The civilians were the pawns in his war game. Indian pressure and Western blackmail would force Rajapakse to agree to a ceasefire. Both these cards were played and failed. In this context, just two weeks before the war ended, Jehan Perera made a desperate bid on behalf of the LTTE. In the middle of April, acting US State Depart spokesman Robert Wood called on the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE Tigers to end hostilities saying: "We urge the Tamil Tigers to lay down arms to a neutral third party. We further urge the Government of Sri Lanka to offer amnesty to most Tamil Tigers and to devise a clear resettlement plan and to open the way for a political dialogue,"

Either Perera is extraordinarily prescient or he has an Eelam angel whispering in his ear and guiding his hand, when he writes policy recommendations. He hastened to cheer Robert Wood’s recommendation in his column in the Daily Mirror (29/04/09) titled “Advantages of US proposal to end the war”. Perera must be living in another planet, but others in this Island are not. He does not seem to have heard of Iraq and Afghanistan. Millions displaced, hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths. Nevertheless Perera sanctimoniously writes: “As a responsible world power (sic!), the United States will not be making internationally publicized proposals on matters that mean life and death to thousands without working through the possible implications of those proposals.”

Perera goes further than Robert Wood and adds a fistful of dollars from his largesse, “The Sri Lankan government needs to consider requesting the United States to spell out the modalities of its proposal, which could include safe passage abroad for the LTTE leadership! (emphasis mine)

Perera may have even offered to accompany the LTTE to a safe haven in Norway where Prabhakaran would have set up a government in exile. He could have been asked to succeed Pulidevan as Head of LTTE’s Peace Secretariate. He has the experience and news speak skills.
In spelling out the advantages in Robert Wood’s proposal, Perera also issued a warning as a potent persuader. Again he is either prescient or an Eelam angel had been whispering in his ear.

“A [second] important reason to consider the US-led proposal is to ward off possible legal challenges in international courts that stem from the civilian casualties in the recent military operations. Already the UN Human Rights Commissioner Navineethan Pillai has accused the Sri Lankan government and LTTE of engaging in actions that could be construed as war crime.” Unfortunately for Perera, Pillai’s gambit at the Human Rights Council failed
Perera’s column was shrewdly erected. He began by referring g to a recent electoral victory of the government,

“The government’s [huge margin] of victory at the Western Provincial Council election would add to its confidence that it is proceeding on the popular path with regard to the war in the north. With this latest manifestation of electoral popularity, the government may believe it is well positioned to carry on with its military offensive designed to retake the last remaining LTTE controlled territory in the north.”

Then came the dire warning: “The international experience of leaders who were popular with the majority section of their own people, but were judged harshly by the courts of international justice, would serve as a caution that winning elections is not always a protection.” President Mahinda Rajapakse had better look out. He could be hauled before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, like Charles Taylor, the former Liberian President.

The Presidential elections hugely reconfirmed Rajapakse’s popularity among the Sinhalese. Perera’s snide remark about popularity was directed at them: “You may be Somebodys on this Island but Nobodys in the eyes of the West.”

Credible Change?

Resettlement and Rehabilitation are humane priorities. But, does Jehan Perera’ re-settlement in a journal that is branded a Sinhala nationalist rag by the peaceniks, a sign of ‘credible change’ - to use his candidate’s election slogan? Hardly. Behind the veneer of lamb’s wool, discern in his writings, the scratches of the Tiger. Fonseka’s mixum-gatherum coalition has given artificial respiration to the Eelam cause. The ideology and the affluent and influential international support network of the LTTE remains intact. One must beware of Tigers in sheep’s clothing.

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