Lankan peace talks back on track

When peace talks get underway today in Geneva at the Château de Bossey or the conference centre owned by the World Council of Churches, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse would undoubtedly be pleased with himself. Rajapakse has not only got the peace talks back on track but also secured support from the two most difficult anti-LTTE proponents. The Marxist JVP and the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), a political party led by Buddhist monks, are in the forefront of warnings against talking peace with Tamil Tigers guerrillas.

The two-day meeting will centre on making the ceasefire effective. The government wants the Tigers to stop violating the ceasefire while the rebels want a breakaway faction of the LTTE led by Karuna, a former LTTE commander, to be disbanded, and the military to stop search operations. It is unlikely to result in any major breakthrough on ceasefire agreement but it would anyway be a breakthrough of sorts because the two sides are meeting more than three years after talks broke down. Rajapakse saw his main opponents — the United National Party (UNP) and its beleaguered leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, virtually crumble last week. Ever since Wickremesinghe lost the presidential poll, the UNP has been in a shambles with calls for the leader to quit. However, the UNP leader has another problem — too many contestants as the candidate for mayor at the March 30 polls of the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) and other bodies.

When the UNP filed its list of candidates for the CMC last week, the list was rejected because one candidate who was below 18 years at the time the voting lists were prepared in mid-2004. The ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) also found its list of nominees rejected for the Gampaha Municipal Council on the same grounds.

The UNP rejection was a stunning culmination to the bitter squabbles and back-stabbing in the party since the party’s defeat at the last November poll and the inexcusable, indecision-like approach of Wickremesinghe in deciding the candidate for Colombo mayor. The opposition leader has sadly lacked leadership and decision-making and led the party to the current rot because he doesn’t want to disappoint any candidate. Finally, pressured by one powerful section of the party, he agrees to the candidature of the ageing Sirisena Cooray, a former mayor and powerful minister under slain president Ranasinghe Premadasa, as candidate.

Cooray is past his prime and has been living in Australia for many years. That selection led to what many thought was sabotage. The name of the below 18-year old youth was inserted at the last minute without many senior party members knowing and led to the rejection of the list. The UNP has filed another list of candidates under an independent name and plans to use this group to campaign under the party banner and hopefully pull off victory. That leaves a bigger bet for the ruling UPFA led by Colombo candidate for mayor and veteran leftist politician, Vasudeva Nanay-akara to scent victory even before the election is held.

Samath, a freelancer, wri-tes for THT from Colombo