RANIL WICKREMESINGHE'S POLITICAL CAREER DIRECTLY ON A COLLISION COURSE WITH THE POWERFUL BUDDHIST PRELATES
By Walter Jayawardhana reporting from Los Angeles
For the first time since the formation of the UNF government Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's political career got on a collision course with all the powerful Buddhist prelates of the country when his media office brought a mostly successful pressure campaign on the editors of the newspapers and broadcasting stations to completely blackout a statement issued by the prelates condemning his "peace plan".
The statement appealing to the President ,Prime Minister ,Ministers, Leader of Opposition and Members of Parliament to reject the recently signed MOU with the Tamil terrorist leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was signed by the six most important Buddhist prelates of the country and warned about the terrorist group, LTTE's intentions.
Only the Island newspaper of the Upali group carried the full text of the statement of the Mahanayakas . All newspapers and broadcasting stations owned by the government refused to carry the statement of the Mahanayakas of the Malwatte and Asgiriya of the Siamese Sect that controls the majority of Buddhist temples in the island . The other sects of the Buddhist faith, the Kotte sect of the Siamese Sect, the Amarapura Sect and the Ramanna Sect also joined the major sects, Malwatte and Asgiriya in this protest.
While the provincial editions of the Sunday Island led with the story, due to tremendous pressure brought on the newspaper, the story was removed from the Colombo edition , an editor said.
A statement issued by a spokesman of the National joint committee, one of the signatories of the Buddhist prelate statement said, "In a step of unprecedented repression reminiscent of Portugese times , the state clamped down heavily Sunday on the dissemination of a statement issued by all senior Buddhist monks and leading Buddhist laity."
The statement said, "Even under British colonial rule monks statements were allowed in the press"
The Ranil Wickremesinghe government did not allow any other newspaper to publish it. All broadcasting stations also dropped the story under heavy pressure from the government.
But the state owned Rupavahini daily carry news of the banned liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Prabhakaran's interview was repeated three times.
Some leading members of the cabinet reportedly made several attempts to make some prelates withdraw their signatures from the damaging statement after it was issued to the newspaper offices. But most part of the pressure was used on the editors of the newspapers and the broadcasting stations not to publish the statement of the Mahanayakas.
Some alleged that the government also used their pressure on local correspondents representing foreign news agencies. None of the agencies has so far carried the news story, which may have strong political repercussions in the coming months in the country.
This is the first time in the island nation that all Buddhist prelates of different sects chose to issue a common statement regarding any national problem.
The statement came only two days after the Times magazine's Asia edition published a statement of the Prime Minister himself admitting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam was stockpiling large amounts of arms and explosives and recruiting even child soldiers to their guerilla army in violation of the MOU reached between the Prime Minister and the terrorist leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. Sixteen LTTE ships, ever since the ceasefire was signed between the parties, were regularly bringing arms and ammunition to the Tamil Tiger stockpiles from Cambodia and Thailand, the Time report said. But the Prime Minister wanted to continue the peace plan, believed heavily connected to his ambitious program of becoming the country's next executive President with the help of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
Ever since the UNF government came to power, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's government brought pressure on editors through the owners of newspapers and broadcasting stations who are believed to be under obligations to him. Many of them are his relatives or party businessmen under financial obligations like loans from state banks. Due to this no open dialogue has taken place among the citizens about Ranil Wickremesinghe's peace plans. What was published was material carefully prepared by the Prime Minister's propaganda office. Under this plan several writers have been completely censored. This is the first time in Sri Lanka that a press censorship has been successfully implemented with the consent of the newspaper owners.
The statement of the Buddhist prelates said, "For the first time in our history , ominous signs threatening the break up of the 2500 year long unitary character of our motherland are already visible". Many heads of several civil societies joined the prelates in the statement.
The Buddhist prelates charged that from the press conference held by terrorist leader Velupillai Prabhakaran on April 10 it was amply clear the MOU was not aimed at achieving peace but at achieving a separate state carved out of Sri Lanka. The Buddhist prelates said, the creation of a powerful Tamil state would result in the subjugation of the majority race by the minority Tamils and the extermination of the Sinhala race and the Buddhasasana from the island.
They demanded from the government the existing ban on the LTTE as the most ruthless terrorist organization in the world should not be lifted under any circumstances. The prelates said the Eastern Province, which was part of the Kandyan kingdom should not be merged with the Northern province.
They said that police stations and security forces should not be withdrawn from the Northern and Eastern provinces.
Completely rejecting federal, quasi federal or a confederate government the prelates and civil organizations said the unitary character of the constitution should be strengthened.
The statement completely rejected Ranil's proposal to establish an interim administration of the country and said it did not have any legal base or justification.
The statement finally appealed to all citizens to protect our national sovereignty and the territorial integrity of the country.
The signatories of the statement were :
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