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Ranil has Abdicated to Prabhakaran

Opinion

By Hassina Leelarathna From Sri Lanka Express ([email protected])

"To let him continue in a seat of power that he is not capable of protecting in the service of a nation he has no intention of defending will be totally ruinous. In short, Ranil is a liability the nation can ill afford. He must go."

At the 'historic' press conference held by Vellupillai Prabhakaran, there was unsuppressed mirth when someone asked if the LTTE supremo accepted Ranil Wickremasinghe as his 'leader.' The answer given by the LTTE leaders was: "Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasighe is the prime minister of only those who elected him Here in Tamil Eelam our President and Prime Minister is Prabhakaran."

That statement, short hand for "we are two nations," went unchallenged by Wickremasinghe. Not that there could be any doubt on that score: the LTTE have even set their clocks to 'Eelam time' as opposed to Sri Lanka time which is 30 minutes ahead.

Despite being placed on notice so publicly that the LTTE is shoring up its own nation, and despite scores of foreign journalists who were at the press conference sounding the alarm that the Tigers have not changed their stripes, the prime minister continues to reiterate his faith in the terrorist leader and his commitment to 'peace.'

Undeniably, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe has been totally upstaged, outrun, and outwitted by the wily LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran, and not just in the north and east. Since the signing of the MoU between Wickremasinghe and Prabhakaran in February, the Sri Lankan Prime Minister's presence in the 'peace process', if not in the nation, has been fast diminishing. The press conference, which commanded world attention, was the symbolic point of obliteration when Wickremasinghe was officially and very publicly written off by the LTTE as being no more than a very nice guy and the leader of just a part of the island.

With each passing day it becomes increasingly clear that Wickremasinghe has abdicated to Prabhakaran, who, backed by the Norwegians, is calling all the shots on crucial matters that affect the security and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.

No 'newsworthy' reports about the Prime Minister have appeared in the local press in the past few weeks while the local dailies have been crowded with reports about the LTTE leader and the Norwegian envoys making crucial decisions that affect the peace process as well as the future of the nation. While Wickremasinghe is barely visible, the LTTE supremo is dominating the scene, openly running a parallel seat of power, holding discussions with foreign envoys, making numerous decisions, and cutting deals with local power groups.

In the latest example of his ascendancy over the Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Prabhakaran has cut his own deal with the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress after inviting its leader to the Vanni for direct talks concerning Muslim grievances. Prabhakaran assisted by his top aide Anton Balasingham met the Muslim leaders at Prabharkaran's Vanni headquarters to discuss various issues affecting the Muslim community in the northeast.

"Mr.Pirapaharan and myself have signed a joint statement regarding the return of the displaced Muslims. It has been agreed to appoint a joint committee consisting LTTE and SLMC representatives to facilitate the process of resettling the displaced Muslims," Hakeem announced.

Again, Wickremasinghe and the Sri Lankan government are out of the picture.

In another development that shows where the action is, Prabhakaran has faxed notices to all Tamil parliamentary members, many of whom are in the government, summoning them for a meeting on April 11 in the Vanni. According to one Tamil parliamentarian, Prabhakaran has asked that all Tamil parliamentarians be present at the meeting where the main agenda will be the appointment of members to the proposed northeast interim council.

With regard to the opening of the A-9 to traffic, again the LTTE leader is taking an offensive role. The Tigers want to retain full control of the stretch previously under their control and are demanding that the Tamil Eelam Bus Service be the sole bus operator on this stretch. Despite the ceremonial opening of the road, the matter remains unresolved and the Tigers continue to demand that they want total control of the road leading to Jaffna, in total contravention the MOU.

Prabhakaran has summoned Gemunu Wijerathne, head of the Private Bus Operators' Association (PBOA) to meet with him in the Vanni to resolve the matter.

Meanwhile, nary a word from Wickremasinghe on this crucial issue as well.

Similarly discussions are being held by the LTTE with the Norwegian 'peace brokers' on a continuing basis. Recently, Norway's ambassador to Sri Lanka, Jon Westborg, traveled to the Vanni to meet Balasingham. Norway's Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen is also expected to go north for discussions with Prabhakaran.

As for Wickremasinghe';s top ministers such as G.L. Peiris, they too have become very sorry figures in the 'peace process." They give the appearance of being no more than lackeys eager to run and fetch for the LTTE instead of working honestly and objectively to protect the interests of the nation. Commenting on the press conference, Peiris could only say he found it 'refreshing' and 'positive.'

As bad as his silence is Wickremasinghe's cavalier attitude when he does open his mouth,. He seems capable of only mouthing platitudes when confronted with evidence that behind the shield of 'peace' Prabhakaran is continuing to build Eelam, at a very hectic and frenzied pace.

When a Time magazine journalist in the course of a recent interview told Wickremasinghe "Our reporting shows that the Tigers' arms smuggling network is still up and running. It's still business as usual," the prime minister responded: "It doesn't surprise me. Our intelligence also shows that the network is still functioning. My government and the LTTE are discussing how to go about holding [peace] talks, while at the same time not having full confidence in each other. This is natural at this stage of the process. Originally the thinking was to have the talks while the fighting was going on. This situation is certainly an improvement on that. If there are any clashes, they will be confined to the sea where civilians are not involved." Pages can be written on the obvious asininity and hollowness of Mr. Wickremasinghe's thinking (or the lack of it).

Wickremasinghe has never had a reputation for being a strong leader. On the contrary, mention his name and Sri Lankans are bound to come up with unkindly epithets that connote ineffectuality. It is therefore not surprising that from the get-go he has been caving in to every one of Prabharan's demands. Even if we were to take the MoU and the LTTE's avowals of peace at face value, Wickremasinghe would have to be out there flexing muscle, carrying a long stick to make sure that Prabhakaran doesn't run off with the store. On the contrary, the impression we get is that Wickremasinghe is a mere spectator at his own show. As a result, with each day that passes, Eelam grows, Sri Lanka shrinks.

To let him continue in a seat of power that he is not capable of protecting in the service of a nation he has no intention of defending will be totally ruinous.

In short, Ranil is a liability the nation can ill afford. He must go.


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