Saturday, 9 October 2004  
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A strong commitment to consultation

Despite all the obstacles placed in its way, the Government did go ahead with launching the National Advisory Committee on Peace and reconciliation (NACPR), with President Kumaratunga and the Government's commitment to resolve the ethnic conflict and separatist demand through peaceful means.

The UNP kept out of the inaugural sessions insisting there is no purpose in Southern consultation or consensus building, until the talks are first resumed on the basis of the LTTE's ISGA. This is a position more understandable from the TNA. Yet, when it comes to critical issues, the UNP it appears is ready to be more pro-LTTE than even the TNA.

In the face of wide-ranging criticism that the President was ready to make more concessions to the LTTE, to persuade them to resume talks, she was firm in the position that her Government was ready to negotiate an interim administration as demanded by the LTTE, but that these should be linked to parallel talks on a final peace deal.

The message is simple there no question of implementing the ISGA in whole or in parts, and any consideration of an interim administration should be linked to a final solution.

No departure

This has been the President's unwavering position from the time that the UNP began its negotiations with the LTTE; when the interim administration idea was first mooted, and when the LTTE unveiled its ISGA proposals after unilaterally walking away from the talks with the UNP Government.

She emphasized the Government was now going further, not in the direction of her political critics accused her of, but with a keen eye on the international community when she said: "...We require a commitment from the LTTE that the interim administration as well as the final solution would be based on the 'Oslo declaration' ... which declared that a federal solution should be sought within a united Sri Lanka."

The ball is now with those who promoted the Oslo Talks and the subsequent Tokyo Declaration, to get the LTTE to abide by those agreements. Very significantly the President's use of the terms "federal solution" and the "level and extent of devolution" showed that she had not caved into forces within and outside the UPFA that have been strongly opposed to this.

UNP's isolation

The fact that the UNP had painted itself into a green corner, from which it would be difficult to come out was clear from the number of political parties, concerned NGOs and others who were present at the inauguration of the NACPR. Challenging the credibility of the pro-UNP media, the UPFA's new ally the CWC was present and its leader Arumugan Thondaman chose to speak on the occasion too. He was very much supportive of the idea of consensus seeking.

The absence of the UNP was a matter of concern for many. This included those who participated in the event, and a large number of others including keen political analysts, journalists and community leaders with actual contact with the people. They observed that the UNP had isolated itself by this move.

They thought that in the long run the UNP's position would not be acceptable to the people, although it may satisfy some of its more strident members today. The majority of the people, who wanted peace, would not accept the arguments of the UNP for keeping out of this process of wider consultation to bring about peace.

In another blow to the UNP-led forces, the SLMC too decided not to participate at the last moment.

Yet, one of its leading members did participate, and will now possibly face disciplinary action for his action, which appeared to be in the larger interests of the Muslims as part of the Sri Lankan nation.

What this means is that the SLMC will be faced with yet another rift, which is no good indication of the leadership qualities of Rauff Hakeem.

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