Sri Lankans face uncertain future

Sri Lankans are uncertain of the future and uneasy about the present as the government and Tamil rebels grapple with what many observers see as a ‘minor’ irritant. After overcoming many issues and hurdles in the past two weeks — a period in which more than 60 people, mostly soldiers, have died — both sides are struggling to come to terms with the kind of helicopter to be used to transport guerrilla leaders for a meeting.

The Tigers are insisting on a military aircraft while the government says they have no objection to Norwegian peace facilitators hiring a private helicopter to transport 30 top rebels to northern Killinochchi from the east for a rebel discussion likely to be led by LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran ahead of the Geneva peace talks. The peace talks were postponed indefinitely from its April 24 date.

Though the ceasefire agreement between then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Prabhakaran in 2002 provides for the air transportation of rebels from north to east, President Mahinda Rajapakse’s five-month old administration thinks otherwise. This air facility was also suspended last year after the rebels became chief suspects in the assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. The government now says that it is prepared to provide military helicopters only for the transportation of the LTTE delegation to the airport from Killinochchi and back while sea or road transport will be provided for other trips involving rebel leaders.

The to-and-fro battle of wits and negotiation has increased in the past few days after failed discussions between Norwegian Special Envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer, Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission Chief Ulf Henricsson and the Norwegian ambassador with LTTE representatives led by S P Thamilchelvam.

However much everyone barring the Tamils hate the Tigers they seem to have a valid point here. Their insistence on a military aircraft is based on fears that a private helicopter could be subject to attack. Imagine a helicopter carrying 30-odd rebel leaders being wiped out in one shot? That would be a severe blow to the Tigers and weaken their grip in the east where they are under attack by a guerrilla group led by Karuna.

Thus the blow to business and the private sector by virtue of living through uncertain times has been enormous. Will we ever able to separate business and the economy from politics and the security situation? Very unlikely since Sri Lanka is a small island and anything that happens outside Colombo affects us.

Changing the clocks to revert to the old time was bizarre enough. Now there is even more strange news — the government is considering a proposal to change the times of schools and government offices to start at 7.30 am instead of 8 am. This seems strange because it will nullify the decision to turn back the clock by 30 minutes. Changing the clock changes our lives. No one gave that right to the government to decide on an important issue like this. Given the debate over transparency and governance these days, one hopes that the government will open the issue of changing office and school times to debate and discussion.

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