Another Blow to Sri Lanka’s Battered Peace Process

COLOMBO – A Sri Lankan parliamentarian’s admission that he helped breakaway Tamil Tiger leader Karuna is the latest setback to the country’s fragmented peace process, already reeling under charges that the government is stoking unrest among the rebels

The opposition United National Party (UNP), the main partner in the government ruling Sri Lanka prior to the April 2 polls, was perceived as more sympathetic to the cause of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) than the present leadership.

Which is why Tuesday’s admission by UNP parliamentarian Ali Zahir Moulana that he helped Karuna has come as a shock, with the party quickly moving to disassociate itself from his action.

UNP leader and former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe Wednesday issued a statement emphasizing that it was party policy not to interfere in the LTTE’s internal conflict.

Elaborates UNP strongman and former minister Ravi Karunanayake, “We are inquiring into the matter. Personal decisions taken without consulting the leadership cannot be viewed as party decisions. The UNP will continue to maintain the policy of non interference in the internal conflicts of the LTTE.”

In the former government, Moulana was an adviser to Wickremesinghe on eastern affairs. Hailing from the strife torn eastern district of Batticaloa, he was known to have an easy rapport with the LTTE.

Moulana tendered his resignation Wednesday and left for Britain, saying he helped Karuna on humanitarian grounds without informing Wickremesinghe.

Significantly, Karuna also hails from the east and had left the LTTE along with his followers in February on the grounds that cadres from the east were being sidelined in favor of those from the north.

Earlier, it was believed that a member of the ruling coalition had provided Karuna safe passage to the capital Colombo after his cadres lost a battle with the Vellupillai Prabhakaran-led LTTE on Good Friday in April.

But a female guerrilla who initially defected with Karuna and later returned to Prabhakaran revealed that Moulana had accompanied them to Colombo.

The ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) is making the most of the latest twist in the tale.

Gloats Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera, “The UNP was accusing us of exploiting the rift within the LTTE and jeopardizing the peace process. Now see who is doing that.”

Moulana’s confession has evoked mixed reactions among Sri Lankans, depending on which side of the fence they are.

For instance, political analyst and convener of the Free Media Movement Sunanda Deshapriya feels that, “capitalizing on the internal conflicts of the LTTE has its own risks and prime among them is losing the confidence of the [Prabhakaran-led] LTTE.” But he immediately adds that there is “absolutely nothing wrong in helping Karuna on humanitarian grounds.”

But a Tamil political analyst lashes out, “Karuna has been named a a traitor for betraying the nationalist struggle of the Tamils. He even engineered the killings of some intellectuals just because they opposed his revolt.”

Adds the analyst, who fled to Colombo from the East following the killing of a Tamil journalist there last month, allegedly by Karuna’s cadres, “Anybody who helps Karuna will be considered an enemy of Tamils. The involvement of a UNP member has shocked many since Tamils were under the impression that the UNP was more genuine than the present government.”

The latest revelations notwithstanding, the LTTE continues to charge the government with aiding Karuna.

It accused the state media of boosting Karuna’s image by publishing stories last week saying Karuna’s loyalists had defeated Prabhakaran’s men.

There were also reports that the LTTE’s special commander for the east, Ramesh, and intelligence chief and key suspect in former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, Pottu Amman, were killed.

The reports were revealed as false when Ramesh held a press conference, accusing the state media of spreading propaganda. When questioned about these charges, minister Samaraweera replies, “We are investigating these.”

At the press conference, Ramesh also accused government forces of helping Karuna carry out attacks on Prabhakaran’s men.

“We have confirmed reports that the Sri Lanka Army is giving shelter to Karuna and trying to use him against the Liberation Tigers,” Ramesh charged.

The LTTE Wednesday announced it was pulling out from monthly discussions with the army because of the alleged support provided to Karuna.

The talks were a tradition started during the tenure of the previous UNP led government, after the signing of a ceasefire agreement in February 2002.

Ramesh has also warned that, “If the Sri Lanka government tries to wage war against us with the help of Karuna, there will be serious repercussions and we will not hesitate to take appropriate action.”

These are not empty threats, considering they come from a group that has waged a bloody insurgency for around two decades, believed to have claimed the lives of at least 60,000 people and displaced thousands.

And as long as the internal conflict continues, the chances for much needed peace appear bleak.

Sums up senior Tamil politician Veerasingham Anandasangaree, “Everybody is confused. We have lost track of what our priorities should be. Whatever is happening now will only further delay the resumption of peace talks.”

The LTTE broke off from Norwegian monitored peace talks with the government early last year.

Says Deshapriya, “At the rate things are unfolding, we do not know where we are heading. Everything is one big mess and peace appears to be the last thing on politicians’ minds.”