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Sri Lanka crisis draws global media attention

[TamilNet, Thursday, 06 November 2003, 00:10 GMT]
Tuesday’s sacking of key ministers of defense, interior and information by Sri Lanka’s President, Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga, and her prorogation of parliament and subsequent declaration of emergency have elicited concerns from several Western governments and prompted global coverage in leading newspapers.

The Boston Globe in its editorial today urges the United States to engage more directlly in the peace process. "The chance to end Sri Lanka's devastating 20-year civil war should not be missed because of political gamesmanship or personal petulance. President Bush, whose spokesman reiterated US support for the peace process in Sri Lanka yesterday, should engage more directly in that process. He could do so by inviting Kumaratunga for a White House visit. Under the Sri Lankan Constitution, she has more power than her prime minister, and she resents his upstaging her in Washington or at the United Nations," the Globe editorial said.

In a strongly worded editorial titled ‘Kumaratunga jeopardises peace talks,’ The Times of London Wednesday criticized the President’s actions.

“Alarmed by the Tigers’ draft constitution which proposed considerable regional autonomy for Sir Lanka’s 3.5 million Tamils, she was determined to halt the talks … Her dismissal of the Ministers and her suspension of parliament reflects far more her enduring personal rivalry with Mr. Wickremasinghe than any imminent danger to the country’s sovereignty, even though it was that which she cited in her announcement,” the Times said.

“Unwilling to accept any deal negotiated by her bitter rival, she has also accused the patient Norwegian mediators of bias towards the Tigers, and now appears ready to pull her country out of the talks. That would be a fatal error.”

“To undermine [Mr. Wickremasinghe thus] by presidential decree is to throw away the Government’s greatest asset: democratic legitimacy. It should not be so cavalierly sacrificed for personal gain,” The Times editorial concluded.

The Hindu, the newspaper based in Madras, India, however, placed the blame for the crisis on Mr. Wickremesinghe and rationalized President Kumaratunga’s actions and urged both leaders to work together.

“President Kumaratunga was reacting in the main to an offensive launched by the UNF to get her out of the way against the grim backdrop of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam unfurling proposals for a de facto separate state,” The Hindu said in an editorial Thursday.

Noting that “from here on, cohabitation no longer seems a viable option,” The Hindu argued “there appears to be no serious option except the dissolution of Parliament and a third election in four years.”

The paper felt, however, “with the public mood all for the negative peace that the UNF-engineered ceasefire has ushered in and at the same time appreciative of the President's wariness of the LTTE, another election may not result in any substantive change in Sri Lanka's political landscape.”

The Hindu argued that Wickremesinghe’s landslide election victory in December 2001 was not a vote against Kumaratunga’s governance but “a verdict to force both sides of the divided polity to work together.”

“The moves by President Chandrika Kumaratunga touched off a political crisis and fueled fears that a 20-month cease-fire between government forces and ethnic Tamil rebels would collapse,” said The New York Times in an article by its New Delhi-based South Asia correspondent, David Rohde.

“Kumaratunga's moves have already created unease among Tamils, who fear arbitrary arrests and a return to war,” Reuters said in a report carried by The Washington Post.

The Globe and Mail, Canada’s leading national newspaper, gave extensive coverage of the Sri Lankan crisis Wednesday. In an editorial, the newspaper said, “Ms. Kumaratunga's coup looks more like a straight power grab than an attempt to guard the nation.”

The newspaper added, “In a move worthy of a tinpot dictator, [the President] struck while the Prime Minister was in Washington for talks with George W. Bush. Mr. Wickremesinghe called her actions yesterday ‘irresponsible’ and ‘opportunistic.’ That summed it up nicely.”

Paul Knox, The Globe and Mail’s noted Worldbeat columnist, in a column titled “Tamil homeland a fait accompli,” mentioned the rise of Sinhala nationalism under the current President’s parents, the late Mr. S.W.R.D. Banadaranaike and Mrs. Srima Bandaranaike, who both were Prime Ministers of the country. “ For better or worse, life under the [Banadaranaike] dynasty convinced many Tamils that equal opportunity in a unitary state would always be vulnerable to the whims of the majority. They concluded that political autonomy within a well-defined territory was the best way to assure their rights and their prospects.

"[T]he Tigers fought the Sri Lankan government to a stalemate, and Vanni has been a de facto self-governing state for years. Any enduring peace settlement will have to recognize what's there.

“Given [the President’s] background, many will suspect that yesterday's extraordinary move is a desperate attempt to stave off the prospect of an autonomous Tamil homeland.

“If so, it's doomed,” concluded Mr. Knox.

“Sri Lanka urged to uphold peace with Tamils,” said a story in The Financial Times (FT) of London, UK, by its New Delhi-based correspondent, Edward Luce, Wednesday.

The FT story quoted a senior official of the Wickremesinghe government as saying “the president's declaration of emergency, which can last for only 10 days without parliamentary approval, had nothing to do with her apparent objections to the peace process,” and that Kumaratunga, who is not permitted to run again when her term expires in 2005, “is terrified of what might happen after she stands down.”

The Guardian, another UK-based newspaper, said that Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, had urged the Sri Lankan government not to allow the current crisis to hold up the peace process.

In its story based on Agency reports, the Guardian said, "Sri Lanka's minority Tamil population suffered most during the country's last state of emergency, often enduring brutal treatment by security forces."

“Colombo clampdown threatens truce,” said the headline of a Sydney Morning Herald story from the newspaper’s Colombo correspondent, Mark Baker. “The order [declaring emergency] gives the military sweeping powers to search, arrest and detain, and enables the President to impose strict censorship on the media,” the story said.

The Strait Times of Singapore said in its editorial Wednesday, “Disarray in Sri Lanka,” that the “falling out between the nation's co-ranking executives is unforgivable for the pall it casts on the one issue that ought to draw inspiration from both leaders, not bile and sulkiness. Sri Lanka has never been this close to a settlement [of the ethnic question]. This is make-or-break.”

"Now many political observers say the turmoil inside the Sri Lankan government leaves open the question as to who is really in charge, and whether this peace process can indeed go forward," said the Christian Science Monitor (CSM) in its Thursday issue posted at its website.

The CSM says, "Tamil claims of being second-class citizens under Sinhalese rule led the Tigers to seek independence through violence. Meanwhile, powerful Buddhist monks, who view Sri Lanka as a religious refuge and bulwark against Hindu India, have been loath to give ground to the Hindu Tamils."

“The move [by the President] has thrown doubts on a peace process with Tamil rebels that had sown the seeds for an economic boom. [T]ourism and investment officials said the clash between President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would hit the island's economy by spreading uncertainty over a 20-month ceasefire with the Tamil Tigers,” said Aljzeera.net, the website of the Qatar based Al Jazeera news, which came to prominence after 9/11.

 

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