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Sri Lanka's War Secretariat?

[TamilNet, Thursday, 22 November 2007, 13:02 GMT]
Sri Lanka's Secretariat for Co-ordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP), in a 2000-word press release issued Thursday, took exceptions to the labelling of SCOPP as "the government’s War Secretariat," by Prof. Uyangoda, and as "Secretariat for Coordinating the War Process" by Sunday Times which highlighted SCOPP's "angrily incessant verbosity," in its story. Head of SCOPP adds, "our counterpart in Kilinochchi had shown itself indeed a War Secretariat, in celebrating the Black Tigers who had attacked the airbase at Anuradhapura," drawing moral equivalence between the 'behavior' of the two Secretatriats as part of SCOPP's rationale for defending Sri Lanka's rights abuses, among other accusations.

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Prof Uyangoda, in his Daily Mirror article which was the subject of SCOPP Head's rebuttal, had earlier pointed out "Mirror-imaging the LTTE particularly in the area of human rights and humanitarian issues is self-defeating and self-destructive for the government."

Rajiva Wijesinghe, permanent secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights
Rajiva Wijesinghe, permanent secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights
Prof Wijesinghe responds: "he [Prof Uyangoda] must assume that we, bearded or suit-clad or both, are all idiots. Worse, he assumes we have no moral sense, for we at least realize not only that such mirror-imaging is self-defeating, we also know it is morally wrong."

Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha is a former Senior Professor of Languages at Sabaragamuwa university, and known for his "creative writing," was appointed the Secretary-General of SCOPP in June 2007. He has edited several collections of poetry and short stories by Sri Lankan writers in English. Since being appointed as the Head of SCOPP, Prof Wijesinha has produced voluminous material defending the human rights record of Colombo.

Full text of the article published in Sri Lanka's Peace Secretariat site follows:

Peace, Polemics and Prose without Prevarication

I was startled last week to read a reference by Prof Uyangoda to what he described as ‘the government’s War Secretariat’. I assume he meant the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process, which I head, since it was in the context of his feeling the comments he was making did not warrant ‘a five page polemical response’. But I should not have been surprised that the metaphorical adjective ‘polemical’ should have translated into a much more categorical epithet for the Secretariat itself. The stage had after all been set by Kishali Pinto Jayawardene, in the Mirror’s sister paper the ‘Sunday Times’. She had, a few weeks earlier, wondered whether SCOPP should be renamed the 'Secretariat for Coordinating the War Process' because of its ‘angrily incessant verbosity’.

Prof Uyangoda was slightly kinder in talking of ‘bearded as well as suit-clad defenders of the regime, who can speak fairly good combative English.’ I suspect however that he intended to stress the second adjective, to point out again that I headed a War Secretariat. Ironically, these criticisms in two of the Wijeya Group newspapers sandwiched a period in which our counterpart in Kilinochchi had shown itself indeed a War Secretariat, in celebrating the Black Tigers who had attacked the airbase at Anuradhapura. That Peace Secretariat had proudly circulated photographs of the suicide squad as well as ‘the LTTE Air force that supported the attack from air, posing with the Tamil National leader V Prabakaran.’ In such a context I can only feel pride in the fact that those darling dodoes of Civil Society, as Angus Wilson might affectionately have called them, could only refer to the language I use to justify their epithet.

This Peace Secretariat does not circulate pictures of servicemen involved even in defensive operations, nor does the Ministry of Defence send it posed photographs of assault teams for worldwide circulation. When Kethesh Loganathan was killed there were no children dressed in military uniform at his funeral, indeed there were no soldiers. But I suspect our Sri Lankan commentators will never understand the distinction, not even Prof Uyangoda, who was part of President Kumaratunga’s negotiating team way back in 1994, who knows the suddenness with which the LTTE struck, militarily, to put a halt to that negotiating process.

Given how idealistic the dear man is, it is possible that he was dreaming then of yet another trip to Jaffna when his transparent sincerity would have won over the Tigers to peace. He is still dreaming of that untrodden world now, as his latest article makes clear, when he equates the approach of the LTTE and the government, and hopes that the international community will ‘provide disincentives for war’. He clearly refuses to believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that this government has been wanting the LTTE to return to negotiations, and to abide seriously by the Ceasefire without engaging in the guerilla attacks and then the full frontal assaults that necessitated retaliation last year.

Sadly, though I suppose inevitably, he has reached the stage where he believes only he himself is sincere. In so graciously asking us to realize that ‘mirror-imaging the LTTE particularly in the area of human rights and humanitarian issues is self-defeating and self-destructive for the government’ he must assume that we, bearded or suit-clad or both, are all idiots. Worse, he assumes we have no moral sense, for we at least realize not only that such mirror-imaging is self-defeating, we also know it is morally wrong. Then again, he obviously assumes that Prof Vitharna is a hypocrite and only people like himself ‘keep the argument and conversation for a negotiated political solution alive’. Whether what Prof Vitharna and his dedicated team of negotiators, representing so many elements in the political spectrum, produce will be acceptable to Parliament I do not know, but it is the height of arrogance to assume that they are incapable – and they it should be noted work through practice rather than pontification – of understanding the importance of negotiation and a political solution for our political problems.

Terrorist problems are however different, and need to be dealt with militarily unless the terrorists are willing to negotiate or at least to abide by a ceasefire. Given his own transformation, from 1971 terrorist to peace-loving academic, forgetting perhaps the history of that transformation, Prof Uynagoda doubtless believes that transforming the LTTE would be a simple matter. He ignores what happened to President Premadasa’s negotiations in 1990, when the sudden withdrawal of the LTTE led to so many policemen being slaughtered. But perhaps on that issue he sides with the LTTE, who claimed that President Premadasa was not sincere, and they were forced to resort once again to arms.

Does he think the same of what happened in 1994/95, when he himself was initially part of President Kumaratunga’s negotiating team? Does he believe that in the end she turned hypocritical, and the LTTE was therefore justified in its sudden naval attack? Does he believe that Mr Wickremesinghe was insincere, in his indulgence of the LTTE, and the LTTE was therefore justified in withdrawing from talks in April 2003, and in building up its arsenal, its troops and its military installations throughout the period of the Wickremesinghe government – and in killing Tamils opposed to it as well as the army’s intelligence operatives?

His recent articles suggest that he does so believe, that for him the LTTE are lambs and it is people like me, who only have words to use, who are warmongers. Fortunately the international community is I think now more sensible. The Sri Lankan peace industry simply cannot understand the significance of the way the LTTE Peace Secretariat celebrated the suicide attack on Anuradhapura, but one of its principal funders took my point immediately. I don’t suppose the adulatory pictures will be removed from its website, funded with the full agreement of the Sri Lankan government by many foreign sources, but I believe the world at large will be more cautious now about the way it has been flinging money at the LTTE.

As a distinguished British academic put it, the IRA at least strenuously maintained the fiction of a sharp distinction between its political and its military wings. That splendidly typical British characterization said it all: the British belief that there was in fact no such distinction, but the awareness that there were certain rules that one needed to observe to ensure acceptance within the political process, and which the IRA abided by. Therefore it was able to engage politically when the time seemed ripe to it.

The LTTE never worried about such a distinction, as the actual polemics of its Peace Secretariat indicate, as was made clear by the military uniform Mr Thamilselvam sported so often last year, against his will we hope even though he was so prominent in the attack on Muhumalai in August. On the one hand this may have been due to a belief that there was really no need for it to engage politically. That was what its absolute refusal ever to contemplate elections suggested. But beyond this was the fact that it had no reason to bother, because people like Prof Uyangoda would hardly notice the fact. In short, the failure of the LTTE to bother at all about keeping its ostensibly political wing distinct from its military activities shows a contempt for the international community and previous Sri Lankan governments which the initial attitude of those bodies did much to encourage – and which Prof Uyangoda’s flawed understanding of what constitutes war will further justify.

I believe all that will change now, if the LTTE and its ilk do not succeed in upsetting the present government. The international community has begun to recognize the importance of other Tamils, and the decision of the new Norwegian ambassador to at least meet with former Tamil militants shows that there is understanding now of the realities of the Sri Lankan situation. That involves both a political problem which must be resolved politically (through negotiations primarily with minorities), and a terrorist problem that must be resolved through the abandonment of terrorism, to be accomplished we hope peacefully if the LTTE is made to see that terrorism will gain it nothing. In this respect the American decision to freeze TRO funds, the greater attention I hope Europe will pay to prosecuting illegal fund-raising and deployment, the determination of India to make clear its abhorrence of LTTE practices, should help. That all these should be accompanied by support for political reform should not be a problem for Sri Lanka, provided advocates of such reform do not think that upsetting the government is the means to this end.

There may be one or two exceptions, but I believe that the international community, at least at the relevant senior levels, is not interested in the regime change which some Sri Lankans hanker for. Sadly their principal instrument in this campaign is the international community, and some elements within this are sublimely ignorant of the use made of them. Indeed it is because of the efforts of this Secretariat to counter such stratagems that we were first accused of making War, though I believe Prof Uyangoda jumping on this bandwagon is due more to his impressionability rather than design.

But it was not I think a coincidence that allegations within the Sri Lankan elite, as sympathetically reported to me initially by the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, sprang up in the week in which we refuted the confident assertion that Louise Arbour had recommended a UN Monitoring Mission for Sri Lanka. Interestingly, the Sunday Times on October 14th declared as the headline of its lead story ‘Showdown on key HR issues: Arbour insists on direct UN monitoring; Lanka says no way.’ It was necessary to point out that this was false, as was another claim that four leading Human Rights activists had resigned from the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission in high dudgeon, or another that the government had prevented Louise Arbour from visiting the East, all these made much of in the international media. That alas is not so easy to correct, though fortunately, even if our ‘polemical …. Incessant verbosity’ had nothing to do with it, on the 21st the Times editorial referred to ‘Ms. Arbour's veiled suggestion of a larger presence of the UNHRC in Sri Lanka, what has been interpreted as that of a 'permanent mission' in the country’, thus effectively giving the lie to its banner headline of the previous week.

And that, I believe, explains the otherwise inexplicable hostility caused by my simple use of English prose, the anguish caused by the fact that some of us who speak for the Sri Lankan state can use ‘fairly good … English’ even by Prof Uyangoda’s standards. This after all seemed previously to be the preserve of the anti-government Human Rights industry, assiduously pursuing its ostensibly peaceful course, permitting itself to say the most diabolical things about the government and its armed forces – dirty war, evidence of tampering, genocide, ethnic cleansing – without expecting any reasoned reply. What they want is someone who will attack them personally, not someone who will expose their illogicality and their lack of evidence for the sweeping generalizations they make, and their not so uncommon prevarications.

I have no doubt that in my writings too there will be errors, but I believe there will be none of the above. And so far certainly there have been no identifications of errors, though unlike my interlocutors I will certainly correct any that are found, as I have promptly corrected any I found myself. But such an approach is probably more worrying to those who, as Prof Uyangoda implies, thought they had a monopoly of the ‘moral high ground’. And so, for these apostles of peace, we have to be warmongers, the LTTE Peace Secretariat with its grisly pictures poor misunderstood creatures, anxious for peace were it not for our polemics.

Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretary General
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process


Related Articles:
14.11.07   Colombo losing political war- Uyangoda


External Links:
SCOPP: SCOPP Takes Issue with ICJ Report and Addendum on Muttur Incident
SCOPP: Baseless Allegations of Abductions and Disappearances
DM: War and its other Victims by Jeyadeva Uyangoda
SCOPP: Peace, Polemics and Prose without Prevarication
SCOPP: Amnesty International’s campaign and LTTE’s expectations fail
SCOPP: Why Sri Lanka is NO R2P Situation
SCOPP: Media coverage on eviction of Tamils from Colombo lodges
ST: Blind refusal to see the realities for what they are

 

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