The National Bhikku Front (NBF) has given the government twenty four hours to abrogate the CFA. Else, they are going to stage a hunger strike, they have said. The NBF demand evokes memories of the fate that befell the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam pact, which the late Prime Minister Bandaranaike had to tear up under pressure from Buddhist monks. The Dudley-Chelvanayagam pact went the same way due to resistance from the nationalist forces. (Recently, we had another Senanayake?Rukman is his first name? tearing up the MoU between the SLFP and the UNP!)
Let there be no argument about the glaring bias that the CFA has towards the LTTE and how it has helped further the interests of the outfit. But, it has today become a fait accompli. The UNP is challenging the government to do away with the CFA if it doesn`t want it. Chutzpah at its worst!
The CFA, as our staffer C. A. Chandraprema points out in his comment below, was a godsend for the LTTE vis-à-vis the sea change that the policies of the world powers towards terrorism underwent after 9/11 attacks. It was desperate for a political boost for its separatist project besides a respite to prepare for the next phase of war. The newly elected UNF government swallowed the LTTE`s offer of a truce hook, line, sinker and, so to speak, the rod as well.
Ironically, Opposition and UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe asked Acting Minister Chandrasiri Gajadeera in Parliament on Tuesday what right he had to answer questions on behalf of Minister of Public Administration Karu Jayasuriya. Mr. Wickremesinghe, no doubt, has a right to raise such a question in Parliament but the question is what right he had to sign the CFA in his capacity as Prime Minister at least without consulting the then Head of State President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who was also the Commander-in-Chief of Armed Forces.
At the inauguration of the much hyped yet abortive peace talks between the UNF government and the LTTE in Thailand, Mr. Wickremesinghe`s chief negotiator quoted Shakespeare thus:
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
(On such a full sea are we now afloat;
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.)
But, it is not the government or the peace loving people who were able to take the tide at the flood but the LTTE. It took the `current` when it served without losing its military `ventures`. How it benefited from the signing of the CFA is evident from the large quantities of explosives and arms it smuggled into the northern peninsula, consolidation of its power in the East and the unprecedented infiltration of Colombo. EPDP Leader Douglas Devananda in an interview with this newspaper placed the number of LTTE suicide bombers, who had entered the city between the signing of the CFA and June 2003, at 50! The recent detection by the army of a large haul of high explosives weighing over 690 kg in Jaffna is ample proof of how the LTTE abused the CFA to transport lethal cargo through the Muhamalai entry point on the A-9 road.
The CFA was a carte blanche for the LTTE, which used it to make a mockery of even the law of the land. When the police arrested a group of LTTE combatants with weapons in the East under the UNF government, the LTTE secured their release by abducting a group of soldiers and making their release conditional to the bailing out of its cadres! It is not only via the A-9 road that the LTTE smuggled warlike material but the Katunayake Airport as well. Huge pieces of baggage that its negotiating team brought on their return were never checked because of the obsequiousness of the UNF government to the LTTE. Containerloads of communication equipment were sent to Kilinochchi through the Colombo port sans any checks.
In the so-called cleared areas, the outfit was given unbridled freedom of movement, which it abused to abduct children, kidnap adults and extract protection money. On the A-9 road alone, it collected millions of rupees daily by way of illegal taxes.
Besides the material gains and the military advantages that the LTTE has got from the truce, the CFA is said to be fraught with the danger of leading to a situation like in Sudan, where a CFA has stood the separatist guerrillas in good stead politically. (Not so subtle attempts are being made in some quarters to have the world believe that Vakarai has become Sri Lanka`s Darfur!) That is said to be the reason why the LTTE has not officially withdrawn from the CFA in spite of all its truce violations.
These fears mustn`t be taken lightly because the CFA is the brainchild of the Norwegians who make no bones about their partiality to the LTTE. (Mr. Eric Solheim was photographed against the backdrop of an Eelam map at Anton Balasingham`s funeral, where he made an emotional speech.)
But, the fact remains that aid dependent small nations cannot act like a bull in a China shop. They must be mindful of the world opinion, whether they like it or not. It is only the powerful nations like the US and the UK that can afford to look for their enemies even in other countries and bomb them into the Stone Age.
It is not that the ground reality is unknown to those who want the government to withdraw from the CFA. JVP Propaganda Secretary Wimal Weerawansa, commenting on the CFA, the peace processes and Norwegian involvement, told this newspaper in 2004: Sri Lanka finds itself in a trap. When one gets caught in a trap, one cannot be pulled out of it suddenly. If such an attempt is made, one runs the risk of losing even a limb. It is a task that requires a great deal of caution and care and has to be performed step by step.
Why the JVP has suddenly decided to go hell for leather to get the CFA abrogated at this particular juncture defies comprehension. It appears to be fishing in troubled waters.
If the government succumbs to pressure and tears up the CFA, it will have to face a lot international opprobrium, which the LTTE will exploit to extricate itself from the proscription trap. Therefore, it is advisable for Mahinda Aiya to do as Wimal Malli has said?to act carefully without hurting himself and the country unnecessarily.
On the other hand, brain-dead, the CFA is on a life supporting machine. What the protesting monks are asking the government to do is to pull the plug. Why should it be made to sully its hands? As our staffer cogently argues, that should be left to the LTTE.
Festina lente! Or, make haste slowly!