Ranil:”Government’s contradictory policy demands an explanation”

“The LTTE air raid raises fundamental questions of the strategy employed by the Government. While publicly proclaiming that a politically negotiated settlement is the objective – and putting forward the CFA and the APRC process as evidence of this – the Government has clearly chosen the military option with the avowed aim of annihilating the LTTE. It is this option which is being seriously challenged by the Katunayake air attack”, said Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sri Lanka’s leader of the opposition in the parliament today.

He called “the Government’s contradictory policy demands an explanation”.

He also emphasized that it is absolutely essential for the peace process to recommence.

Full Text of Speech made by Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe – Leader of the Opposition in Parliament on Tuesday 3 Apr, 2007

[Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe – Leader of the Opposition – File Photo]

Mr Speaker,

I take the floor today to express our grave concern at the unprecedented turn of events in the early hours of 26th March, and the Prime Minister’s refusal to summon Parliament last week to discuss this matter. This was a matter of urgent public importance. For the first time the LTTE has carried out an air attack. This means, the LTTE now possess the capability to select a target anywhere in the country – access it by air – unopposed, and destroy it. This is not the time to hide facts and gloss over the incident stating that the LTTE failed to destroy the MIGs and Kafir aircraft. The security implications of the air attack is best described in an Editorial in the Hindu newspaper:

“The first-ever air raid by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam targeting the main Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) base near the Colombo International Airport is a dangerous development for the strife-torn country. It not only worsens the prevailing volatile security environment but also poses a new challenge in the fight against terrorism. Clearly, with the daring midnight attack, the ongoing undeclared war between the Sri Lanka military and the LTTE seems to have entered a perilous phase.” The Editorial goes on to say “The more alarming dimension is that the dramatic raid by the Tigers speaks poorly of the defence preparedness of Colombo particularly at a juncture when it is engaged in an intensive campaign against the conventional and guerrilla strike capabilities of the LTTE. The fact that an aircraft or two — their make and capabilities would remain a matter of conjecture pending the outcome of the investigation ordered by the government — could take off from the jungles of Vanni in the North, travel 400 kilometres, drop bombs on the SLAF main base and, after being in the air for at least two hours, return unchallenged to the so-called Tiger Air Force base is disturbing to say the least. It is in this context that the world needs to pay attention to the changing military dynamics of the conflict in Sri Lanka”.

I think the Hindu Editorial says it all. It reflects very accurately what the people of Sri Lanka are thinking about during this time of fear and anxiety. Monday’s attack took place at a time when the Government claims daily military victories, and the Defence Secretary has stated that the LTTE has been cleared from the East and the LTTE war machine put out of action. The government has also proclaimed that it knew about the LTTE’s Air Force and air strips since 2005. Then how was it possible that such an attack was allowed to take place? Who is responsible for this state of affairs and accountable to the country for this breach in security?

It makes nonsense of the Government’s claims of defending the integrity of our country and protecting its people – the primary duty of any government of Sri Lanka.

So far there has not been a single admission of responsibility from any one in authority, from the Minister of Defence to the Air Force Commander, for this gross dereliction of public duty. Apparently there is no body to take responsibility for this national crime. The Defence Secretary who several weeks back claimed that he was responsible for the security of the Katunayake Airport is silent today and has not owned up to his inability to protect the airport. In any other country, a senior politician, officials and military officers would have lost their offices. In Sri Lanka, few unfortunate airmen lost their lives due to friendly fire.

Our people have made tremendous personal sacrifices and endure very high costs of living in order that the necessary military equipment is supplied to our soldiers. It is ludicrous then to be told that the two LTTE bomber planes were able to get through unscathed because the radar system was out of order. In other words, the country’s principal air base and airport from which regular bombing raids are carried out was left unprotected at a time when you know that your adversary had air planes. Members of Parliament will remember that the annual Defence vote was virtually doubled in last October’s Budget. The existing radar system was a gift from India. Given the situation of war why did we not expand the existing radar system with the money allocated in the Budget? Instead of spending money in expanding the radar system the government invested the money in a second national airline. Today, we are paying the price for this foolish self-serving action.

Mr Speaker

As Leader of the Opposition I called for Parliament to be summoned so that our people could get to know who is directly responsible for this state of affairs? There are many questions to be asked and many explanations to be given. That is the least the Government can do in the interests of transparency and good governance.

The LTTE air raid also raises fundamental questions of the strategy employed by the Government. While publicly proclaiming that a politically negotiated settlement is the objective – and putting forward the CFA and the APRC process as evidence of this – the Government has clearly chosen the military option with the avowed aim of annihilating the LTTE. It is this option which is being seriously challenged by the Katunayake air attack. The Government’s contradictory policy demands an explanation. You should account for the repercussions of such duplicity, not only to our own people but to the international community too.

We have all been consistent on the need for a politically negotiated settlement. The long awaited and much desired consensus of the major political parties namely the MOU between the SLFP and the UNP was an important milestone in this process. It is possible to conjecture that the dramatic air raid on Katunayake and the myriad consequences for our economy – tourism, the foreign investment picture and the stock market being the major sufferers – could have been avoided if the MOU had been proceeded with as planned with an agreed agenda of action. Regrettably, the Government let go of this opportunity for the short term advantage of increasing its majority. But to what purpose? The nation is now at a decisive crossroad. And in this perilous situation – political and economic for this nation and the wider world the Government must provide some answers. It cannot hide its head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich.

Mr Speaker

After this air attack, the Government has not received the envisaged support of the international community to prosecute the military option. Last week the Secretary General of the United Nations Mr. Ban Ki-moon said that he “deeply regrets the air raids, military confrontations on the ground, and suicide bombings which have become a daily occurrence prompting massive displacement and suffering for civilians”. He called for both the Government and the LTTE to return to the negotiating table. Many friendly countries all of whom are opposed to terrorism and support human rights have issued statements similar to this.

It is clear that the Government has lost the support of the international community. We are being treated as a pariah nation because the Government has failed to protect its people. Now the government has been brought before the Human Rights Council in Geneva to answer charges of Human Rights violations.

The Government acting outside the law is stifling dissent. As a result today, civil society is cowed and silenced, human rights violations occur daily with abductions and disappearances going on unchecked; in the East over 150,000 displaced people continue to suffer silently without shelter or food. The Private Media is shackled and made voiceless. People live in fear of white vans; institutions are harassed with non existent Inland Revenue violations, and visits by the CID. The Rajapaksa Government does not care.

What can we do to get ourselves out of the present crisis that the Government forced the people to? We the elected representatives of the people have a collective responsibility to work together to overcome this situation. The only way of getting out of this mess requires us to be transparent and take the people into confidence. After all, safeguarding human rights by putting a stop to abductions and disappearances, and preventing the suppression of the media benefits our people. We as a country are living in an interdependent world respecting human rights that are globally accepted. We can’t do without the international community as some think. We must win back the support of the international community. We have to convince them that we are serious on rectifying the violations of human rights and recommencing the peace process. Not only using it as a manthra merely to please them.

It is absolutely essential that the peace process is recommenced. The Government continues to pass-off that it is always ready to “resolve the North–East conflict through negotiations and that its doors are always open” etc. etc., but does absolutely nothing to follow up with concrete actions through its Peace Secretariat. As regards the APRC, the people are tired of the constant delay and postponement of dates for the final proposals. We have had the Expert panels Majority Report and the Minority Report, and even the Chairman’s consensus document. We have been told that the final report will be out on the 15 th of March, then the end of March and now in two months time. It is always a shifting ever moving deadline. Is it that the Government has really no intention of resolving this complex question through a politically negotiated settlement?

We have endured this conflict for over 25 years. It cannot be resolved by military operations. Then we would have done so much earlier. The Government’s action have divided the people – not united them. Only a negotiated political settlement can bring peace to our country. After all the people of Sri Lanka – whether they be Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim or Burgher, all accept that the territorial integrity of the country must be safeguarded. Let us commit ourselves to a negotiated political solution acceptable to all communities based on democracy. By doing so, we can mobilise our people and the international community to safeguard the unity of Sri Lanka.

Finally, until we reach a politically negotiated settlement, the nation’s security must be ensured by having competent people in charge of national defence. The changes in personnel have to be made if we are to avoid further military disasters and weaken ourselves at the negotiating table.

It is indeed our responsibility as elected representatives of the people to stop the insane slide into chaos.

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