"Letter to the Editor - The Sunday Leader" - 16 June 2008
Mr Lasantha Wickramatunga
Editor, The Sunday Leader
I was duly entertained by your weekly political column on June 15th, though disappointed that you had not published my response to the previous effluence in which too I had featured. I had suggested there that you publish in full the statement to which you had referred, but cherry-picking - to use a term I have gathered from Ms Radhika Coomaraswamy, meaning selecting from a text only what suits you - seems essential to your purposes and has occurred this week too.
This time such selectivity is in connection with your claim that the Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and I ‘contradict each other over disarming para militaries’. This is nonsense, and you know it is, since my letter last week, which you failed to publish, said very clearly ‘your readers may have appreciated the assertion that I am totally in favour of the desire that all groups ”including the LTTE stop functioning as paramilitary groups, and enter a democratic political process”, which is in accord with the government position that arms should not be borne in public by anyone but members of the armed forces.’
To further state what you must know already, several months ago, after the clearing of the East, the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence made it clear that he saw no reason why anyone but members of the Security Forces should bear arms in public. This is precisely what the Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated, and which I too have said frequently before this. I am sure you are aware of this, since you clearly read and understand and refer to my press releases, even though you never carry them since they would not be helpful to your editorial and political purposes.
On this occasion too I made clear that position, though I concentrated on the words of the Religious Superiors to make my point, in talking of the desirability of ensuring that no one functioned as paramilitaries. Calling a halt to such functioning would mean stopping also the use of arms in offence. However I had previously, in reiterating the principle laid down by the Secretaries to senior departments of state, also pointed out that this did not entail disarming such forces.
There are two reasons for this. The first is moral, and despite your other predilections I am sure you at least understand this though you cannot subscribe to it yourself. To take away the means of self defence from those under threat from a fully armed LTTE would be wickedness. This government is not wicked. I do not think the government of President Kumaratunga was wicked either, which is why she tried to repair the damage done to former militants such as the EPDP and PLOTE which had taken the democratic path, but which had been disarmed after 2002 and then found themselves decimated.
It is possible that the government of Mr Wickremesinghe was not inherently wicked, and he simply did not understand the danger into which he was putting such groups when he blindly followed the dictates of the Tigers in disarming them. You know him better than I do, and I am sure you can decide for yourself whether it was ignorance of what the Tigers planned, or even more culpable connivance in their strategies, in the need to ensure that he emerged as the sole representative of the Tamils of the North and East in the next Presidential election, that motivated him. But the fact remains that Tamils died in their hundreds, and had no one to protect them.
When discussing with Mr Sidharthan of PLOTE the list he has of those who were destroyed, I asked why he had not gone to the SLMM, which was supposed to monitor the Ceasefire. They were useless, he said, which surprised me because I have felt that in general the SLMM tried to do its duty. But, as it happened, the CFA had laid down that the SLMM could entertain complaints only from the government and from the LTTE. Mr Wickremesinghe’s government was not interested in Tamils apart from the LTTE, nor was the LTTE. As you are aware, there were no Tamil monitors for the government in several districts in those days, because they belonged in Mr Wickremesinghe’s book to the LTTE.
Those were days in which your newspaper suggested that he was being too hard on the LTTE, so I suppose you shared his views, and to even greater extent, about the proper provenance of all Tamils. These are not the views of the people of Sri Lanka, of the government they have elected, and not even of the majority of Tamils, as is apparent from the fear of the LTTE to face democratic elections. It is certainly not the view of the various Tamil groups whom you seem so anxious to lead like lambs to slaughter.
These groups are not lambs, they will not submit themselves meekly to slaughter. Hence indeed the second reason for not disarming them, a practical one, which is very simply that they will then exercise their right of self-defence against the government, which will lead to further bloodshed, from which the LTTE alone will benefit. As you may remember, when the surrender of arms commenced under the Indo-Lankan Accord, all militants began to comply, but when the LTTE proved intransigent, the Indians did not continue to demand the others to continue. Instead as you know they helped with the establishment of what was termed the TNA, a very different group in every respect from the present TNA. I cannot remember which side you were on in those days, but if it was still the Anura Bandaranaike wing of the SLFP you would doubtless not have disapproved of that strategy.
The position then is very clear, and there is no inconsistency between the statements of various government officials. No one should bear arms in public or use them in offence, but there can be no question of the government forcibly disarming any particular group until all groups from which there are threats give up the use of arms altogether. Till then groups under particular threat cannot be expected to defend themselves by prayer alone, nor can the government guarantee their safety, given how hard pressed they are by continuing LTTE attacks – you will recall that when there were no such attacks on government forces, in 2002 & 2003, the government still failed to keep them secure.
It is therefore ridiculous of well-meaning but ignorant outsiders to ask the government to disarm such groups. Asking the government to disarm all paramilitaries would not be ridiculous, but it is redundant, because that is what the government is already trying to do. However, it must begin with those, the LTTE, who are the greatest danger, secure in the knowledge that, once they are disarmed, the others can safely be asked to disarm too. The other way round would not work, as we saw under the Wickremesinghe government.
The sensible thing for all well-meaning outsiders to do therefore is to ask all such groups to stop functioning as paramilitaries and enter the democratic process. If the LTTE stopped its attacks – and I refer you to the fact that the only fatalities amongst candidates seeking election in the East were from the TMVP – then the others could decommission their arms voluntarily. Even better would be if the LTTE followed the example of all other terrorist groups that have successfully concluded a peace process, whether it be Aceh or Northern Ireland or Nepal, and decommissioned their arms themselves.
As mentioned, given that your newspaper in the bad old days was more Catholic than the Pope, more supportive of the LTTE even than Mr Wickremesinghe, it will be difficult for you to change. But practicality demands this, and I know you understand practicality, even though morality may be more difficult. Your wonderful account of Mrs Kumaratunga’s ‘entry’ into politics now, to defend the country against all the vices you attributed to her for over a decade, suggests that anything is possible. Perhaps whatever influence you have with the LTTE might now be exercised in the interests of the Tamil people and this country as a whole.
Prof Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process