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Sunday, 8 May 2005  
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Give joint mechanism a chance

Four and half months have elapsed since the fateful December 26, 2004 when the deadly tsunami struck our shores. While nearly 40,000 lost their lives nearly a million were displaced with their property destroyed instantaneously. It was the worst tragedy that befell our country in its entire history.

More than half the victims were from the North and the East, an area that was the theatre of a fratricidal war that went on for almost two decades. Hence, the people of the North East had undergone a double tragedy.

One would have hoped that a tragedy of such colossal magnitude would obliterate the deep scars of division and war and the combatants would unite in order to alleviate the suffering of the people on either side of the political and ethnic divide. Unfortunately the reality is not so. We are still groping in the dark for a mechanism to offer relief and reconstruction to the tsunami victims.

For a moment the people in the unaffected areas did actually unite to provide immediate relief, to save lives. Even this noble example had not been registered in the conscience of politicians that claim to lead the people.

The reality in the North East is the existence of a dual power. There is no point in wrangling over whether such power is de jure or not. The writ of the government does not extend to the entire North East. Nor does the LTTE have their writ throughout the area. Hence the need for an effective mechanism that takes into account the de facto existence of two powers.

Some argue that the existing structure of provincial and local authorities of the government could handle the task. How could it be when that machinery has shown its incompetence even in the South? The provincial authorities have been indifferent spectators even in the South.

A large hue and cry is made by certain political parties and organizations against a joint mechanism. They claim it would bifurcate the country. These claims are unfounded. The joint mechanism or JM for short is only a temporary device to administer tsunami relief and reconstruction. Nothing more. It does not grant the LTTE suzerainty over the entire North East.

The politics of intransigence practised by these forces, especially the JVP and the JHU really pose a threat to the sovereignty of the country in that it reinforces the demand for separation among the Tamil community. By refusing to accommodate the LTTE even in a JM for tsunami relief and reconstruction these forces are actually driving it towards the resumption of war.

This does not mean that the proposed JM would be without any risks. In politics, one has to take calculated risks. The President recently expressed her determination to take such a risk in the interests of the people and their desire for peace.

Opponents of the JM would consider it a humiliating step for the government in that it grants the LTTE a space for action. In the context of long-term benefits in avoiding another Eelam War, however, the positive gains of a JM would outweigh its negative consequences, if any.

One cannot be unmindful of the possible reactions of the international community whose goodwill and assistance has become a necessity in the present context. It would be naive to believe that they would sit with folded arms and wait till we settle our fight over a JM.

In the absence of such a mechanism they would be tempted by humanitarian considerations to grant assistance to the LTTE direct bypassing the Government. It would initiate a process that could end in the international recognition of the LTTE on a basis akin to what the PLO enjoyed prior to the establishment of the Palestine Authority. International NGOs are already granting the LTTTE direct aid.

The JVP and the JHU are naive not to read the writing on the wall. Clearly their policies are inconsistent with any policy that has the achievement of a negotiated peace as its aim. Their policy would be rational only in case it is directed at a military victory over the LTTE.

In reality, however, there is no such military alternative to the solution of the National Question. In that sense the only consequence of such a policy would be the bifurcation of Sri Lanka through intervention of international forces. of Relief Rehabilitation & Reconciliation)


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