Kumaratunga claims authority “on all actions regarding war and peace”

[TamilNet, Sunday, 20 January 2002, 00:30 GMT]
(News Feature) Sri Lanka’s President Chandrika Kumaratunga this weekend warned that key decisions related to efforts to end the island’s protracted ethnic conflict would ultimately rest in her hands and not with the Parliamentary government. In an interview published in the Daily Mirror newspaper Saturday, she also questioned the competence of the newly elected United National Front (UNF) government to handle the ethnic question, while at the same time paradoxically saying that her Peoples’ Alliance (PA) - which was crushed at the last elections by the UNF - would support its efforts to find a peaceful solution.

However Kumaratunga, who is also the commander of Sri Lanka’s armed forces, warned that “constitutionally it is exclusively the President's right to take all actions regarding war and peace.”

She also told Reuters last Thursday that “I have not been informed by the government, but anything to do with the ceasefire final decision must be taken by the president.”

The Sri Lankan government and the LTTE are, through the Norwegian facilitators, presently discussing details of a permanent, stable ceasefire to replace their unilateral and separate cessations of hostilities.

Kumaratunga also pointed out in her interview to the Daily Mirror that as the President, she would not only have the final say regarding any solution, but that she would have to be represented in the peace talks: “Constitutionally, I have to be there whether or not I insist on it.” When pushed on whether she would in fact insist on this, she refused to commit: “I would have to decide later.”

The President said she would provide her “fullest support” to the UNF, on the proviso that the government keeps her informed, but stated that she has “every reason in the world not to trust them [UNF].”

“I will go to any limit as long as I don't see that the government is trying to betray the country and the people,” the President said when queried as what extent she would co-operate with the government’s peace efforts. However in the same interview, exacerbating the government’s dilemma over the de-proscription of the Liberation Tigers, she stressed her opposition to lifting the ban.

“Lifting the ban before [the LTTE sits at the negotiating table] would be very dangerous and end up in nought,” the President said.

“I believe the ban is a very important advantage the government can use [to force concessions out of the LTTE],” Kumaratunga said. Not to do so “is not a very professional way of doing it, as far as the government is concerned.”

Mrs Kumaratunga’s comments came soon after the Liberation Tigers earlier in the week reiterated their position that they could not negotiate as an outlawed organisation.

“Legitimacy is very important for the LTTE,” Thamil Chelvan, the head of the LTTE’s political section told reporters who met him in Mallavi last Wednesday. “The de-proscription will allow us to enter negotiations as a legitimate entity.”

Responding on the government’s behalf, cabinet Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris told reporters that the issue of de-proscription was not an immediate concern and would be discussed later. “The process has not reached that stage yet. No official request has been sent to the government along that lines,” he said.

“Such matters have to be discussed at the time of substantial political discussions,” the Minister said.

Kumaratunga disagreed. “I strongly believe that any further conditions should be conceded to the LTTE only after they come to the negotiating table,” she told the Daily Mirror, implicitly criticising the UNF government’s decision to ease the economic embargo on the Tamil areas not controlled by the Sri Lanka Army.

Kumaratunga was quick to dismiss the opinions of both the international community and the Tamil people with regards to how her actions could disrupt the UNP’s strategy.

“My concern is not to get some extra votes from the Tamil people on this or get a clap or applause from abroad. I don't give a hoot about those things,” said Mrs Kumaratunga, implying that these were the reasons for the government to consider lift the ban on the LTTE.

When the Daily Mirror queried the President as to whether she saw the cohabitation between the UNF and the PA President as working, Mrs Kumaratunga cast the responsibility onto the United National Party (UNP), the main constituent of the UNF.

“Well, it is up to them. I have done my best to make it work; it is up to them now to ensure they don't do certain things.” Referring to former members of the PA who had crossed over to the UNP, Kumaratunga said “Some ministers who went for various material benefits to the UNP are made to abuse me on television stations. So, it is up to the UNP to do their bit for co-habitation I have done more than my bit.”

“They can't make any changes as long as I am the President and Head of the Armed forces,” she said, responding to a question on her personal security arrangements being altered by the UNF. But she added “… don't forget that Indira Gandhi was killed by one of her security people and they [UNF] have the Ministry of Defence.”

But former PA stalwart and current Agriculture, Livestock and Welfare Minister, S B Dissanayake warned two weeks ago that the President was a disruptive influence. “The President is a serious threat to the government and the peace process as she is planning to dissolve the parliament minutes after the current parliament completes one year,” he told the annual convention of the UNP.


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