By Ranjit J. Perera
There is unanimity about the need for peace in Sri Lanka. There is also a relief across the country; a mute acknowledgement of the silent guns.
Yet, with the UNF having completed almost one year in office, the peace train seems to be losing steam. The euphoria built up with the expectation of quick success has fast diminished. This is despite a Ceasefire Agreement between the Government and the LTTE holding firm and into its ninth month; two rounds of direct talks between the two sides in Thailand and the start of Committee level discussions between Government Officials and LTTE Representatives.
The Norwegian facilitation and the Scandinavian Ceasefire Monitoring Mission are crucial elements of the ongoing ‘no war’ situation.
Ordinary citizens – the silent spectators of unfolding events – have however had much to be concerned about. ‘The Sunday Times’ newspaper drew attention to the opening of Police Stations in the East by the LTTE and the Government’s apparent silence in this regard.
The report said, ‘The first such "Police Station" was opened in Palugamam, 30 kilometres southwest of Batticaloa, last Tuesday (November 5). The second followed in Sampur, south east of Trincomalee on Wednesday (November 6) and more are to follow.
Two female "police" constables at the LTTE's Palugamam "Police Station" (Courtesy Sunday Times)
This is the first time the LTTE has embarked on a programme to open a string of "Police Stations" in the East in a bid to extend their own "law and order" machinery from the uncontrolled areas in the Wanni to that of the East. That is not all. From next Friday (November 15), LTTE "Courts of Law" will commence functioning in the East. The Sunday Times learns that confirmation of this move has even reached the head office of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission in Colombo. Initially, these "courts" will be in the areas where "Police Stations" have already been set up.
The UNF Government has continued to maintain a stoic silence over this matter although the LTTE's plans to open a network of "Police Stations" and "Courts of Law" have been known for many months. In fact, the LTTE has embarked on this exercise quite openly fuelling speculation, particularly in opposition People's Alliance circles, whether the move has had some form of acquiescence from the Government.
More so, since preparations for the opening of these "Police Stations" had been high on the list of LTTE priorities even whilst the Government and Tiger guerrillas were locked in peace talks at the Rose Garden Resort in Thailand's Nakorn Pathom, in the suburbs of the capital, Bangkok. However, there have been no official pronouncements by the Government so far.’
Whilst the UNF Government remains silent, the opening of the LTTE "Police Stations" has received world-wide publicity through the widely accessed Tamilnet website. Interesting enough, when the first "Police Station" in the East was opened in Palugamam, it was V. Shanmugam, the Additional Government Agent for Batticaloa, who unveiled the name board of the "Police Station."
It seems significant that the Government seems to be allowing the LTTE some concessions including the establishment of ‘Police Stations’, which are not a consequence of the formal negotiations. Kept in the dark about these developments, the public naturally perceives them as results of the ‘Peace Process’.
The public perception and approval of the ‘Peace Process’ is undoubtedly based on the expectation of a democratic result. A result which would be acceptable to all sections of the population irrespective of ethnic, religious, political or other consideration.
It seems difficult to reconcile LTTE controlled ‘Police Stations’ and other administrative organs being acceptable to other Tamil political parties which have migrated from militancy to democracy earlier and have been helping the Government forces fight the LTTE.
The apprehensions seem greater among the moderate civilian Tamil population who are used to democracy in other parts of the country. The relaxation of travel restrictions with the ceasefire have also allowed residents of LTTE held areas to experience once more the freedom enjoyed in the rest of the country.
It appears that some Tamil and even Muslim groups feel that an LTTE dominated administration resulting from the current ‘Peace Process’ would lead to ‘further anarchy and systemic lawlessness’ in the north and east of the country.
The University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) – A Tamil Rights Group – in a report published after the initial round of talks between the Government and the LTTE in Sattahip, Thailand said, ‘On the contrary, the Government thinks it is being clever in seeking a US-sponsored 'safety net' as a substitute for sound intellectual labour and organisational effort. Does that mean repression in the South and typically American press-button destruction in the North-East in the event of the LTTE not playing by Oslo rules?’
‘As we have repeatedly stressed, a heavy responsibility falls on civil society to raise the issues that the Government will not raise, so as to make the prospects for permanent peace real. Efforts in this direction have been feeble.’
‘While welcoming the outcome of the first round of talks at Sattahip, both the National Peace Council and the Peace Support Group have drawn attention to issues not addressed in the communiqué. They have pointed to the silence on human rights, democracy and pluralism and arrangements to protect these. Leaving aside the public sentiments expressed by the two sides and Norway, the direction on the ground is clear. The Norwegians are predicting the talks going on for several years and what was agreed at the first round was in effect a transfer of power. It is simply an endorsement of what is already taking place on the ground in a context where the SLMM has done very little to check the burgeoning anarchy and systemic lawlessness.’
It is a popular belief that the LTTE continues to be in a state of preparedness for war and may go on the offensive at short notice while the forces belonging to the Government of Sri Lanka have been confined to barracks and their effectiveness curtailed and constricted by various measures agreed to and conceded under the Ceasefire Agreement.
The recent arrest of an LTTE boat with several claymore mines and other war materials has brought back to mind the brutal methods used by the LTTE resulting in death and injury to hundreds of civilians in different parts of the country over the past several years.
The protests organized in the north against the verdict of the High Court against LTTE leader Prabhakaran are both contradictory and premature. Contradictory because the LTTE has committed itself to law and order by establishing Police Stations and Judicial Systems of its own while it seems to want to ignore the law and order system established in Sri Lanka in its present form for over a century. Premature because any Presidential pardon would have to be considered only as a consequence of the negotiations.
There should be no doubt in the minds of the general public about the sincerity of either party in the commitment to a democratic conclusion of the ‘Peace Process’.
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