|The Naďveté of the National Peace Council|
|Monday, 18 August 2008|
Sri Lanka’s Peace chief writes to the NPC
The Peace Secretariat is surprised by a recent release of the National Peace Council in which it seems to suggest firstly that there are insuperable difficulties for citizens in the areas in the North that used to be under the control of the LTTE, and secondly that these are the responsibility of the Sri Lankan government. The statement is replete with misrepresentations, though the tone has a naïveté that suggests its author had no idea he would lend support to the current campaign of the LTTE and other opponents of the elected government of Sri Lanka, to build up the type of verbal assault on that government that seems to be the last string left in the LTTE bow.
To deal with some particulars –
The NPC calls for the establishment of a humanitarian corridor so that ‘people who wish to leave the areas of combat are permitted by both the government and the LTTE to do so’. NPC knows perfectly well that the government is keen that people leave areas under the control of the LTTE and move into already cleared areas. It knows perfectly well that the people of those areas want to get away from where fighting is taking place and will take place (i.e. areas under LTTE control). It knows perfectly well that the LTTE is not permitting this to happen. If the NPC really wanted the people to be safe, it would have worded its appeal directly to the LTTE, basically to let our people go. But it knows perfectly well that the LTTE will not agree, and so it takes the easy path of pretending to hold a balance, which will lead to nothing productive. Such interventions allow the LTTE to pretend that the problems of people held against their will in the LTTE controlled areas are somehow the fault of the government.
Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretary GeneralSecretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process
The NPC claims that ‘Reports from humanitarian agencies working in the north indicate that they cannot cope with the demand for emergency shelter, water and sanitation’. Firstly, it is not the business of unnamed humanitarian agencies to cope with such matter. That is the business of the government, using the assistance of such agencies. Secondly, the NPC should cite its sources. They should explain why they think these unnamed sources are preferable to the UN, the head of which in Sri Lanka said, ‘So far, aid groups have been able to get food and needed supplies to the displaced families’. Certainly Mr. Buhne has mentioned the possibility of the situation getting worse, but we all know that, and the government therefore continuously monitors the situation and takes remedial action as necessary, and will direct the UN and other agencies as appropriate.
Much as we appreciate the naïve sentimentality of the NPC, and while we would always welcome advice and assistance, we must point out that statements assuming the government does not care, and only the NPC and what it recognizes as humanitarian agencies understand and care, only play into the hands of terrorists and others opposed to government. The greatest humanitarian agency in the north, in terms of the work done and funds expended, is the government. This is an obligation the government has been happy to fulfil for the last several decades even though the LTTE has been in control of territory. Basic services such as health and education have been supplied, and all emergency aid has also been provided as possible, despite the difficulties presented by Tigers, as when, for instance, they held up the opening of the A9 northward from Omanthai, restricting it to just three days a week when government wanted to open it continuously.
To cite simply an example of a process that has been continuous, at the meeting on August 15th of the Consultative Committee on Humanitarian Assistance, the position in the affected districts was put clearly by the Government Agents, who continue to do an admirable job there for the government, despite the rigours of LTTE control. They reported that food was available, that refugees were all now housed – though they had been in the open for a day or two sometimes when on the move – and that the hospitals were still functioning effectively.
Then, NPC claims that there are restrictions on supplies because government thinks ‘the LTTE will take a part or most of the supplies brought in by the humanitarian organizations for its own use, and to further strengthen its war machine’. This is sleight of hand. The government has never restricted food supplies on such grounds. It knows the LTTE will eat, and eat as well as possible. However, though it is sad that the LTTE restricts food to ordinary citizens and stuffs its cadres, government will not attempt to prevent this since any such endeavour would lead to ordinary citizens suffering even more.
However, the government does restrict supplies that can be used for military purposes, supplies such as cement and batteries. This causes problems, but it has nothing to do with the problems of humanitarian assistance which is the subject of the NPC statement. The incapacity to understand the distinction may be a failure of intelligence, but even stupidity, if it helps terrorist activity, becomes culpable when taken to excess.
Related to this is the NPC assertion that the ‘government has been producing evidence to show that equipment and relief items sent in by humanitarian organizations have ended up in LTTE camps’. The wording is designed to suggest that it is wrong of the government to do this. What NPC does not mention is that it is not government that produced such evidence, it is the humanitarian organization in question that reported to the government – some time after the incident occurred – that the LTTE had taken over several of its vehicles. The original report mentioned eight, it has later been admitted that 38 have been taken.
38 vehicles that can be used for terrorist purposes is not a laughing matter, but the NPC, without admitting that these are now in LTTE hands, immediately claims ‘However, the National Peace Council believes that the welfare of Sri Lankan citizens ought not to be subordinated to military necessities’. The effrontery of that ‘however’ surpasses even the indulgence that may be permitted to rank stupidity. Does the NPC not understand that the LTTE is using those 38 vehicles for military purposes? Does it believe that there is an abstract called military necessity, without understanding that the actions of the Sri Lankan government are in fulfillment of its obligation to all Sri Lankan citizens to save them from terrorist activity? Successive governments have tried, whilst increasing security measures throughout Sri Lanka, to negotiate with the LTTE in the hope that they would abandon terrorism, abandon the authoritarianism with which they rule people under their control, abandon the cult of suicidal vengeance that has become their raison d’etre. Successive governments failed in these efforts, not through their own fault but because of LTTE intransigence. This government will, on behalf of all its citizens, defeat terror, whilst striving for a pluralistic democratic solution to the political problems that must be settled politically, and that could have been settled politically three decades ago had not vicious elements in government and outside stifled efforts at compromise.
There is room for further criticism of the NPC’s preposterous statement, on the grounds of substance and language and logic, but for the moment let it suffice to urge them to strive towards real peace through knowledge, precision and understanding. I gave some examples of a more mature approach to our problems at a recent lecture I gave at the NPC to staff of Jaffna University trying to develop a curriculum on Social Harmony. It struck me then that our fellow citizens of Jaffna understood reality much better than the impractical sentimentalists in Colombo. I hope then that our discussion was of use to the NPC, and that future statements will benefit from the principles we discussed.
Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process
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