Isolation blamed for Kumaratunga’s CHOGM absence

[TamilNet, Friday, 01 March 2002, 18:11 GMT]
(News Feature) Increasing international isolation rather than government persecution of her supporters compelled Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga to abort her participation at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting this weekend, government sources said Friday. Dismissing the President’s accusations that the newly elected United National Front (UNF) was harassing supporters of her opposition People's Alliance (PA), the sources said Kumaratunga “was unable to face” the Commonwealth’s other leaders due to her opposition to the ceasefire accord between the government and the Tamil Tigers.

The UNF Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando is instead leading Sri Lanka’s team at the meeting in Australia which is scheduled from March 2 – 5.

Kumaratunga Friday condemned the Norwegian-facilitated permanent ceasefire agreement between the government and the Liberation Tigers which began last weekend. In a letter to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, her first formal comment on the landmark truce which has been hailed by the international community, Kumaratunga said the agreement jeopardised Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and national security.

Also Friday, Kumaratunga’s office said in a statement “The president has written to the secretary general of the CHOGM saying she cannot be present because of harassment of her party members by the government.”

Kumaratunga also lashed out at the UNF government for according Norway what she felt were undue powers in monitoring the ceasefire. “I was not aware that the nature of the Norwegian Government's mandate had changed to such an extent as to make it incompatible with the sovereign status of Sri Lanka,” she said.

However, the international community, including the Commonwealth, has enthusiastically welcomed the truce. India, the United States, Britain and Japan issued statements hailing the accord within hours of its unveiling by Norway last Friday. Pakistan, Canada, and Australia followed later, as did the European Union.

Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon last weekend said the truce represented “an opportunity for lasting peace”. In a statement issued in London, McKinnon said: “This breakthrough represents an opportunity for lasting peace that all in Sri Lanka will welcome, after years of suffering and many lives lost.”

“I am sure I speak for all in the Commonwealth in paying tribute to the courage and leadership shown by those who have brought this agreement about. I hope it will be implemented in good faith and become an example to all those who seek to resolve differences peacefully,” he said.

“Kumaratunga is [swimming] against the tide of international support,” government officials said Friday, citing fresh expressions of support from the US issued in the wake of Kumaratunga’s formal criticism of the permanent truce raised in a letter to Premier Wickremesinghe. The American Embassy in Colombo said US Secretary of State Colin Powell had Friday reiterated his strong support for the accord and Wickremesinghe's peace strategy.

Earlier this week the European Union said it “trusts that the cease-fire agreement will shortly be followed by measures aimed at national reconciliation and, in particular, at allowing the reunion of the many relatives separated by the conflict and the further improvement of security conditions across the whole country for the benefit of the civil population.”

Kumaratunga has not concealed her opposition to the truce, but her comments at a local government meeting early this week where she threatened to annul the ceasefire “with just one letter to the Army commander,” triggered a storm, and according to a government minister, international pressure on her, resulting in a subsequent denial.

“We know she made those remarks, but she was forced to retract because of pressure from the U.S., Britain, Canada, Japan, Norway and India,” Agriculture Minister S. B. Dissanayake was quoted as saying Friday. “She may be waiting to scuttle the peace process, but the international pressure on her is too much for her to cause too much damage.”

 

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