Bishop of Jaffna Rt. Rev. Dr. Thomas Savundaranayagam has, in a letter to President Mahinda Rajapakse, endorsed the government decision to replenish supplies in Jaffna via the A-9 highway. He wants it done expeditiously in view of the inclement weather thwarting sea transport. He thanks the President for his `bold decision`, pledges `support for the success of the venture` while hoping that the President would eventually consent to the re-opening of the road. The Bishop`s letter is indicative of a change of heart on the part of the Christian clergy who recently solicited the intervention of the Indian government to bring the situation in Jaffna under control.
Strangely, those who were vigorously campaigning for humanitarian assistance to the people of Jaffna a week or two ago have become less vocal, if not silent. (The plethora of e-mail messages by various groups condemning the government for the food shortage in the North has dwindled to a bare minimum.) Mum`s the word on their part as regards the government offer. Is it that they are wary of welcoming it for fear of incurring the wrath of the LTTE, which has got into hot water over its refusal to cooperate with the government?
The LTTE can on no grounds justify its non-cooperation. It wants the road fully re-opened. Yes, that must be done, as the good Bishop says, but, first of all, the urgent needs of the Jaffna people must be addressed. If it is out of a genuine concern for the people that the LTTE is demanding that the road be reopened, then it has to allow essential supplies to reach Jaffna via A-9 without further delay and let that be the first step towards the complete reopening of the road. The issues that have led to the road closure at the Muhamalai entry point are so contentious and intractable that they cannot be sorted out overnight. The reasons given by the government are illegal taxes imposed by the LTTE on road users, arms smuggling and security threats. The people cannot wait till the government and the LTTE reach middle ground on those issues. They might even take an aeon!
It is a matter for happiness that an influential Bishop has spoken, albeit belatedly. Those who are desirous of ameliorating the suffering of the northern populace ought to support him and campaign for using A-9 to keep Jaffna supplied. It is not a matter of who is right or who is wrong: It is a matter of what is right.
Although the LTTE has no way of avoiding the blame for not helping facilitate relief to the North, it may consider it infra dig to cooperate with the government, which has apparently checkmated it on the A-9 issue. The outfit is between a rock and a hard place. However, now that the Bishop has called for opening the road, the LTTE has a way out. It can respond positively to his call so that the credit won`t accrue to the government for the initiative. On the other hand, there is no harm in an organisation, which claims to be a liberation movement, eating some humble pie once in a way for the sake of the people who have had to skip many a meal for want of supplies. A letter, Parcels to Jaffna, we publish today on the opposite page is a testament to the deteriorating situation in that part of the country and the concern of the right thinking people for a suffering populace. Isn`t it a crime to create a situation where food has to be sent by post?
When the government announced its decision to send food convoys on A-9 road, its detractors and LTTE sympathisers claimed that its offer was meant for the consumption of the Co-chairs, who were meeting in Washington to discuss the situation in Sri Lanka. They cannot be completely wrong. Governments consist of politicians and politicians are by nature a cunning lot. They abundantly possess skills and acumen even to sell deep freezers to Eskimos or boomerangs to Aboriginals. (The LTTE is equally adept: It will have the world believe that Allen Rock is no supporter of its cause!) However, even if deception is the real intention of the government, that shouldn`t be reason for the LTTE to reject the offer in question, which, if accepted, will be beneficial to the people.
Bishop Savundar-anayagam says in his letter: `We don`t want to believe that this proposal of GOSL [to send supplies to Jaffna on A-9 road] was done as a propaganda ploy to satisfy the Co-chairs before their important meeting but we see it as a humble and good gesture on the part of the government to build trust and confidence with the Tamil people.` As much as the LTTE must heed the Bishop`s appeal and soften its stand on the road for the benefit of the people, it is incumbent upon the government to live up to the expectations of the northern populace, which find expression in the Bishop`s words.