|The devious self-righteousness of Bobby Rae|
|Monday, 09 February 2009|
The last couple of weeks have seen much attention to Sri Lanka on the part of politicians in the Western world. This attention is based on what they claim to be concern for suffering civilians in the North, and such concern is welcome. However, it would have been more convincing, and thus more effective, had it not followed on months of neglect, and had it not been accompanied by gross misrepresentations of the situation.
Typical of what amounts to mistaken indulgence of terrorism were the sanctimonious pronouncement of Bobby Rae, a former provincial Premier I believe in Canada, and now what is described as ‘foreign affairs critic for the Liberal party’. Rae also has some experience of Sri Lanka, dating from the Ceasefire period, since as he puts ‘As chairman of the Forum of Federations, I attended most of the negotiating sessions of the so-called peace talks, and met with the leaders of government, opposition, civil society and the LTTE, known as the Tamil Tigers. I have been back many times since.’
Rae then goes on to lay the blame for the current problems foursquare of what he calls the ‘Sinhalese community - the majority population’ which he claims ‘took power after the departure of the British in 1949 and over a long period made a series of disastrous decisions’. He has obviously failed to realize that Sri Lanka had a constitution bestowed by the British which, as in Britain, gave political power to those who won elections. The main Tamil party held office in the first three governments, and there were Tamil ministers even during the period of greatest violence against Tamils, namely during the government of President J R Jayewardene.
Rae fails to note that the policies of several governments also led to violent agitation by Sinhalese youngsters. He does not record that the declaration that Sinhala be the only official language of the country was remedied in 1987, after the Indo-Lankan Accord, which was opposed by the Tigers alone amongst Tamil political or terrorist organizations.
Rae does record that the ‘Tigers were ruthless at killing their opponents in the community’ and that they ‘use suicide bombers against civilians and recruit children into their army’, but he promptly goes on to claim some sort of justification for them in terms of their ‘support around the world’. He privileges this by talking about ‘the sense of the Tamil people that they have never been able to find justice inside a failed state’ as though to uphold himself the idea that Sri Lanka is a failed state.
Then, while claiming that this ‘does not justify or excuse suicide bombings and the recruitment of children’, he does precisely that by suggesting that those who oppose the Tigers make the claim that "they're terrorists and that explains everything".
Rae says that this latter claim is inadequate, and of course it is, which is why it is stupid of him to make it as though it were made by others. The Sri Lankan government has consistently made it clear that, while it had even been prepared to talk to terrorists, and did so over several years, continuing terrorism and the rejection of negotiations could not be tolerated. It is precisely because Tiger terrorism is something apart from the political question that the Government has continued negotiations with non-terrorist Tamils (whom Rae ignores, perhaps believing that they have now all been killed by the Tigers, since he well knew the Sri Lankan Tamil Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgarmar who was murdered back in 2005 when the Tigers still claimed to be adhering to the Ceasefire Agreement).
Rae indeed is totally disingenuous in his depiction of what happened during the peace talks. He claims that ‘even during the peace talks it was impossible to get the government to lay out a new approach to governance that is essential to get to a durable peace’. This is a total lie, and Rae knows it. Obsessed as he is with federalism, he must know that the Wickremesinghe government thought a breakthrough had been made when the Tiger delegation agreed in 2002 to base discussions on a Federal model; and he must know that it was the Tiger leader who went back on that agreement and then unilaterally withdrew from talks in 2003.
But Rae, in what can only be described as disgusting sleight of hand, simply refers to the ‘collapse of the peace talks in 2003’ without saying who walked out. He ignores the fact that the present government managed to persuade the Tigers to finally come back to talks in 2006, only to find them walk out again, and meanwhile launch two massive offensives against government forces whilst still claiming to be adhering to the Ceasefire Agreement.
He knows well that the Scandinavian monitors found the Tigers guilty of nearly 4000 violations of the CFA, the government guilty of less than a tenth of that number. He knows that the Tigers continued to recruit children during this period, and tried to persuade the Norwegian facilitators not to allow this to figure on the agenda of the talks. He knows that the Tigers were buying and bringing in arms throughout the CFA period, even blowing up a ship on which the monitors had discovered arms, with risk of life and limb to the poor Scandinavians who had found the secret compartment in which arms were hidden.
Bob Rae is not a fool. So many lies and half truths cannot be attributed to folly in a former Provincial Premier. What then is he trying to achieve?
Something of what he wants is clear when he talks about the Sri Lankan military tightening ‘its noose on what had been officially recognized as "Tamil territory" during the ceasefire’. The man may not understand English, but even he must realize firstly that the agreement referred to areas under LTTE control, and secondly that the terms LTTE and Tamil are not synonymous. There can be no question in Sri Lanka of ‘Tamil territory’ or ‘Sinhalese territory’, because the whole land belongs to all its people – as the Tamils well know, over half their number living in the seven of the nine provinces that are majority Sinhalese.
He also says that something should be done for the ‘300,000 Tamils trapped in the northeast’, without mentioning that they are trapped there by the LTTE. The Sri Lankan government is horrified that no one cared about these people for six months and more, and that there was no support for its call to the LTTE to let these people go. The UN, the NGOs, knew very well that the LTTE was not allowing those who wanted to to leave, but even when people trying to get away were shot, there was no squeak from anyone. The UN justified its silence on the grounds that it was concerned about its workers and their families who were amongst those forcibly kept back, but it realized that this silence would lead nowhere when attempts to bring them out with a recent convoy failed even though they had been led to believe that egress would be permitted.
Rae ignores this, and with the ebullience of Little Jack Horner pulling out a plum he declares that these ‘hundreds of thousands are not terrorists’. Does he not understand that this is what the Sri Lankan government has been pointing out for months? Does he not appreciate that this is why the government continued to send in food and provide education and health facilities for these our people, to the extent that the UN Resident Coordinator remarked after the last UN monitoring visit that Sri Lankan officials in these two departments deserved a prize
Rae must know that even the LTTE cadres have survived thus long on the food we have been sending in. Rae knows perfectly well that at least some of the ‘support’ the Tigers enjoy internationally is due to intimidation and extortion. Rae knows that pronouncements such as his only give strength to a terrorist movement that would otherwise be destroyed.
Rae is most welcome to speak on behalf of Tamils, and he should also welcome the approach of the first government since independence to specifically recruit Tamils to the police, to introduce regulations with regard to the need for officials to be bilingual, to promote durable solutions to the many Sri Lankans expelled from the North by the Tigers when they engaged in ethnic cleansing there and drove out the Muslims. None of this may mean much to Rae, swept away by his dream of federalism, with himself as the arbiter of all excellence. But it is the lives of people he is playing with, and he really should grow up and learn to deal in truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process
|Last Updated ( Friday, 09 October 2009 )|
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