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Reply to Frederica Jansz's article 'Balasingham - a wielder of influence' * -

By V. Thangavelu, Canada

E.V.K.Periyar used to say that you must really start worrying if a Brahmin suddenly starts praising a non-Brahmin Thamil leader. Because such praise has a sinister motive- divide and rule. Likewise when Frederica Jansz pays compliments to Anton Balasingham I should really start worrying! Frederica Jansz writes with a passion of a full-blooded JVPer though her name suggests a different nationality.

I don't understand the difference between the arrest of the Sinhalese Policemen in uniform at Muhamaalai, the armed soldier who trespassed into LTTE controlled territory and the arrest of the 6 LTTE cadres who were "carrying claymore mines and other ammunition within government territory. " I thought when LTTE's Eastern Military Leader, Karuna attempted to negotiate a prisoner swap between the LTTE cadres and the policeman and the soldier, it was a reasonable and sensible proposition. But according to The Sunday Leader columnist Frederica Jansz " His demand was shot down at the first instance when he made the suggestion in Berlin, and was later condemned by the SLMM. Karuna had told government negotiators that if the state would release these six cadres, the LTTE would release the one soldier and policeman in their custody. Austin Fernando was later heard to describe this suggestion as "ludicrous and absurd."

It is really baffling why Karuna's proposal was "ludicrous and absurd" to Austin Fernando. The implication is that Austin Fernando does not consider the LTTE as a party negotiating with the government on equal terms.

But the problem was compounded by the SLMM demanding the release of the government detainees and insisting that there is no linkage between the two (arrest of LTTE cadres).

But it is the same SLMM, which is turning a blind eye to numerous cease-fire violations by the armed forces. It is looking the other way when Navy constructs new camps at Neduntheevu, occupies the Pradeshya Sabha office and declares the whole of Neduntheevu as a HSZ! Neduntheevu like the other islands was a no-gone zone for the Navy and Army when it was under the fiefdom of the mercenary group EPDP.

The SLMM is unable to prevent the assault of fishermen at Neduntheevu, the harassment of fishermen at Gurunagar, Mailady etc. Perhaps the SLMM also suffers from the same mentality as that displayed by Austin Fernando.

Now back to Frederick Jansz, she like Columbus has discovered "Civilians in Jaffna and the east in fact have been heard to complain that they are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. At the butt end of the LTTE's excessive system of extortion and child conscription, these people are neither here nor there. Their trust and confidence in the military is also shaky. "

Now when did the Thamil people had "trust and confidence in the military?" And from where and how this enterprising correspondent living in Colombo had come to the conclusion that " Civilians in Jaffna and the east in fact have been heard to complain that they are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea....... these people are neither here nor there."

One charitable explanation is that this correspondent is keeping good company with Quisling groups like the EPDP and the PLOTE. They must have told these yarns to her. But she should then reflect why the Thamil people are solidly behind the extortionists and child conscriptors? Is that not a totally irrational behaviour on the part of the Thamil people?

Frederica Jansz should understand that the LTTE is running a de facto parallel government. They are running homes for destitute children, war widows, wounded and disabled cadres, not to speak of police, judiciary, courts, banks etc. LTTE needs funds to run these institutions.

Frederica Jansz says "The LTTE meanwhile has raised concerns about the build-up of the military during a time of negotiations. The government for its part has also objected to the LTTE transporting weapons during the peace talks."

Is the government build up of the military is the same as transporting a single anti-aircraft gun and some ammunitions? Does a solitary anti-aircraft gun found in a trawler causes earth shaking repercussions? That it will torpedo the peace process? No one in his/her right mind will say so. But Frederica Jansz does!

Since the signing of the MoU, the government has recruited men to the army, the police and the STF. The GOSL has beefed up the Lankan air force as well as the navy's offensive capability. The Sri Lanka Air force bought 3 K-8 planes from China costing 25 million dollars last year. This is in addition to buying Kfir training aircrafts from Israel to replace those lost during the attack on Katunayake military air base. The Navy too has acquired several Dvora type fast attack boats from Israel. This is what got leaked in the Colombo press. One does not know the details of all the military hardware acquired by the government during 2002.

Columnists like Frederica Jansz should strike a balance when commenting on political affairs. She should not manufacture myths and half-truths. If she acts like the mouthpiece of the government like Iqbal Athas of The Sunday Times then she will lose credibility, unless she says she does not care.

The war was fought in the Northeast and it is the Thamil people who bore the brunt of Sinhalese government's war machine! Not Frederica Jansz sitting inher air-conditioned office in Colombo and sermonizing on the virtues of LTTE disarming itself!


* Balasingham - a wielder of influence - By Frederica Jansz

Sri Lanka's staggering peace process, which shook to its very foundation as a result of recent confrontations between the government and the LTTE, is once more back on track following the arrival of Anton Balasingham in Wanni.

How great Balasingham's influence has been in placing the peace process back on an even keel no-one, at least at this end, will probably ever know. The fact remains however that Balasingham wields great influence over the LTTE, both at the negotiating table and with the cadres in Wanni. His authority with Velupillai Prabhakaran, other than being a translator for the Tiger Supremo when he meets with foreign delegates and Sri Lanka's southern based public, is obviously more than that of a mere messenger or interpreter. He is their idealogue. We are often told that the LTTE and Velupillai Prabhakaran are one and the same. In this context it is then patently clear that Balasingham is in the hot seat in ensuring or even deciding if the LTTE should maintain its credibility in the peace process or don its jacket of martyrdom and pursue with a bloody struggle for Tamil Eelam.

In a move that had the government and international observers heave a sigh of relief, the LTTE last Wednesday finally released from custody Lance Corporal Nimal Kumara from the army and Reserve Police Constable Philip Anandasekara. At another historic meeting in Kilinochchi on Wednesday, March 5, Velupillai Prabhakaran consented to the release when he met with outgoing Head, Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), Trond Furuhovde and his successor Major General Tryggve Tellefssen. The meeting lasted for three hours from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The process was doubtless facilitated by Balasingham whose part in the present peace process is emerging to be more and more of a frontline player and decision maker for the LTTE. The controversy over the two government security forces personnel began when the LTTE took Nimal Kumara into custody on December 24, 2002. The Tigers charged that Kumara had - while carrying his weapon - trespassed into their area at Manal Aaru. He was later tried by the Tamil Eelam courts inKilinochchi where the judge ordered that he be remanded indefinitely.

Storm of protest Philip Anandasekara was arrested by the LTTE on February 20, 2003. The Tigers maintained that Anandasekara had violated the ceasefire agreement by entering an LTTE checkpoint at Muhamalai while wearing his uniform. He too was produced in the Kilinochchi courts and remanded. The two arrests caused a storm of protest from the government. The government claimed that the LTTE was behaving in a manner that was unjust and seriously compromised the peace process.

Repeated references to the two arrests in Berlin at the last round of talks drew a blank. Both Milinda Moragoda and Defence Secretary Austin Fernando attempted to convince Balasingham that the LTTE was acting in a manner that jeopardised the Tigers' credibility and commitment to the peace process. The arguments and counter debate in Berlin - on the surface at least - drew no positive response from Balasingham. He in fact at one stage abruptly halted the discussions citing his weak health as an excuse, and that he had to break for lunch.

Meanwhile, the LTTE's Eastern Military Leader, Karuna attempted to negotiate a prisoner swap. His demand was shot down at the first instance when he made the suggestion in Berlin, and was later condemned by the SLMM. Karuna proposed that the government release six Tiger cadres who had been arrested in the east for carrying claymore mines and other ammunition within government territory.

Karuna had told government negotiators that if the state would release these six cadres, the LTTE would release the one soldier and policeman in their custody. Austin Fernando was later heard to describe this suggestion as "ludicrous and absurd." The tension that erupted as a result of this incident ended the last round of talks in an atmosphere of dissent and even anger. It appears however that Balasingham has managed to stifle smouldering emotions and 'iron out' a knotty problem as the two men were released unconditionally.

The SLMM later said the LTTE had reacted positively to a proposal that both sides would resort to a release mechanism to prevent prolonged detainment of government security forces or LTTE cadres. The LTTE meanwhile has raised concerns about the build-up of the military during a time of negotiations. The government for its part has also objected to the LTTE transporting weapons during the peace talks.

The wrangling and discord has been stemmed or even 'nipped in the bud' in some instances as the by-word in this entire process - federalism - a
solution which the LTTE and the government are cautiously toying with as they approach a compromise solution. That a final model will be unique to Sri Lanka there is little doubt. In the meantime however the practicalities and logistics of such a process is arduous, prompting the SLMM to note that a wide range of people from both sides, who are better qualified must now be included in talks at the negotiating table in order to ensure a working mechanism.

A federal solution has been hailed as commendable by the international
community. In a statement issued at the conclusion of a two-day official visit to Sri Lanka, Indian Foreign Secretary, Kanwar Sibal said "India supports a peaceful, negotiated settlement that meets the just aspirations of all elements of Sri Lankan society besides ensuring that the principles of democracy, pluralism and human rights are respected."
General Secretary, Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), R. Sampanthan has been quoted repeatedly saying the war-weary Sinhala public want a peaceful settlement and would accept a federal form of autonomy granted to the Tamils. Sri Lanka's former southern rebels, the Sinhala nationalist JVP, suffering from a dose of amnesia, disagree and have rejected the government's move to share power with the northern Tamil rebels. They are joined in their dissent by the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress.

System of devolved power
A federal model when suggested was doubtless done with the idea of dispelling the fears of the Sinhalese that Sri Lanka will be divided. Whether the final compromise will tilt towards a Tamil Eelam state is still
uncertain as the LTTE prevaricates and titillates the Tamil masses on this issue.

This is certainly not the first time federalism has been mooted as a corner stone to bridging the ethnic differences in Sri Lanka. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, Chelvanayagam and later Chandrika Kumaratunga, all proposed a federal solution.

The Indian model has been cited as being the most conducive to Sri Lanka, while the German, Canadian and Swiss models are all being studiously evaluated for example.

A federal constitution would fundamentally alter the extent of political leverage between the different ethnic communities in the island. It will mean that the LTTE would give up its call for a separate state and is willing to share a system of devolved power with the central government, including the Muslim political parties. The present constitutional framework would of course undergo a drastic change.

There are two sides and a flip side to this coin. One being that LTTE Chief Velupillai Prabhakaran in his Hero's Day message in November last year told his cadres, "the thirst of the Tiger is the nation of Tamil Eelam." The flip side of this coin is of course that any federal solution would need the support of the opposition. The joint opposition last Thursday were threatening to put the government out of office, if it failed to halt the peace process which the opposition reiterates it sees as dangerous.

Anura Bandaranaike told a press conference last week that the opposition would force the government out of office if it did not stop the peace   process, which he maintained is farcical and has seriously compromised the integrity of Sri Lanka. He based his accusations on the many ceasefire violations committed by the LTTE and the Tigers' continuance in conscripting child soldiers.

The adoption of a federal constitution would require a two-thirds majority in parliament and at present this support appears to be a catch 22 situation. On one hand the entire country is crying for a peaceful resolution while on the other, it cannot be a peace at any cost or merely one that would satisfy the military and the LTTE. Civilians in Jaffna and the east in fact have been heard to complain that they are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. At the butt end of the LTTE's excessive system of extortion and child conscription, these people are neither here nor there. Their trust and confidence in the military is also shaky.

Lent credibility
This is where Anton Balasingham figures. His consistent utterances that a reversion to war would be impossible under the current status of the peace process has helped lend the LTTE a degree of credibility and commitment at the negotiating table.

It is clear that Balasingham is more than just a messenger for Prabhakaran. His positive influence over the LTTE chief has been displayed on more than one occasion, since the talks began last year. Balasingham has even gone so far as to say that he and Prabhakaran speak with one voice - one tongue. That Balasingham has this time around effectively managed to dispel a lot of the rancour and bitterness at the negotiating table is commendable. On previous occasions both the LTTE and the government found it hard to approach negotiations with maturity and an open mind, willing to listen to each other - caught as they are in a whirlpool of blood and guts, following decades of violence and mistrust.

"Balasingham has a superior say over the LTTE" - Austin Fernando Defence Secretary, Austin Fernando, reiterated that the government does not yet know if the two security forces personnel in LTTE custody were released as a direct result of Anton Balasingham's intervention or because of Trond Furuhovde's hard-line with Velupillai Prabhakaran.

"My information is that Trond Furuhovde having adopted a very hard-line approach on this matter resulted in Prabhakaran responding," Fernando said. Fernando noted that the peace process was certainly shaken over these last few weeks as repeated confrontations with the LTTE shook the morale and commitment of even government negotiators. The intervention of the SLMM over the Thiriyaya incident however, Fernando asserted "definitely upgraded the process and helped create a better environment of understanding."

The Defence Secretary is of the view that Anton Balasingham wields "very high influence over the LTTE...I don't know to what extent this extends to Prabhakaran but as they say, the LTTE and Velupillai Prabhakaran are one and the same," Fernando said, adding it is obvious both at the negotiation table and at ground level in Sri Lanka, that Anton Balasingham "has a superior say over the LTTE."