Competing Views on Thoppigala

August 27, 2007

By Sumanasiri Liyanage 

In his Mahaweera Day speech in 2005, Vellupillai Pirapaharan, the LTTE leader,
depicted Ranil Wickremesinghe as a calculating fox who tried to deceive everyone by
entering into a ceasefire agreement with the LTTE. Ranil Wickremesinghe has once
again shown his foxy behaviour in his comments on the capture of Thoppigala by the
security forces of the Government of Sri Lanka. His initial position was that capturing
Thoppigala would be a useless exercise as it is worthy only for collectors of fire-wood.
However, at the signing of a MoU with the SLFP (M), Ranil Wickremesinghe claimed that
under the Wijetunga-Wickremesinghe regime, Thoppigala was captured by the security
forces. Did he mean that Thoppigala was strategically important then but not now? As I
have no knowledge in military strategy and I have no idea to get an access to that
sphere of knowledge, I do not wish to comment on his current position on the strategic
importance of Thoppigala.

The UNP leader has said repeatedly that the security forces allowed the LTTE leaders
including Ramesh and its cadres to escape from Thoppigala with military hardware that
includes multi-barrel rocket launchers. Wickremesinghe told the press that this order
that the LTTE leaders and cadres should be allowed to escape through an arranged
route came directly from Colombo, allegedly from the political leadership of the Mahinda
Rajapaksa government. In other words, the UNP leader is worried that the security
forces failed to “annihilate the enemy” so that the victory became uncompleted and
unfinished. It appeared that Ranil Wickremesinghe was highly worried because
Thoppigala and its surrounding areas were not adequately littered by the dead corpses
of LTTE cadres. He may recollect his memories about the operations by the security
forces in the South in the dark days of the late 1980s and may be sad that it did not
recur this time around Thoppigala. One may also pose the question: was the victory
under the Wijetunga-Wickremesinghe regime a complete and finished affair?

On the other hand, the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime organized a big ‘thamasha’ to mark the military victory over the LTTE in the Eastern Province although there was no great
enthusiasm among ordinary folks. The developments in the last few weeks have shown
that his government’s parliamentary majority may dwindle in the immediate future as
there is a possibility of SLMC and CWC changing their allegiance. The SLMC leader has
already expressed his dissatisfaction about the way in which things are being handled in the Eastern Province. Thoppigala poses Mahinda Rajapaksa two options:

The first option is an extension of the Military victory beyond the Eastern Province to the
Northern Province by attacking tiger strongholds there. Such a policy would please the
JVP and JHU. It would also please, for different reasons, the UNP and SLFP (M). IF
Mahinda Rajapaksa refuses to follow this option, Ranil Wickremesinghe would say that it
proves their allegation that there is a secret deal between the GoSL and the LTTE.

The second option is focus on socio-economic and political reconstruction of the Eastern
Province thus delaying the military campaign against the LTTE in the North even with or
without a deal with the LTTE. This policy package includes inter alia holding of
Provincial Council election, handing over the reconstruction and development efforts to
newly elected PC, addressing human right issues. Reconstruction effort would face two
main contradictions. As the event in Mavil Aru shows, the government politicians and
their bureaucratic allies would engage in corrupt practices so that the people in the area
will not be allowed to reap the benefits of the process. Secondly, there is a possibility of
grabbing the control and the ownership of the process by the Colombo-centred
government and its line ministries, I/NGOs and Colombo-based NGOs. These two
problems can be avoided if the sole responsibility of the process is handed over to an
elected Provincial Council or to an interim authority that comprises the Parliamentarians
of the Province.

If Mahinda Rajapaksa goes for the first option, his government will be made unpopular in
the South and it will be rejected as a legitimate government by Tamils especially in the
North and East thus allowing new alliances to emerge and to topple the government.
Increasing war expenditure would have adverse effects on the living standard, inflation
and economic growth. So it is a trap. The UNP, SLFP (M), JVP and JHU intentionally or
unintentionally are seeking to place the government in this trap. And all the indication
suggests that Mahinda Rajapaksa would fall into it for multiple reasons. First, his own
chauvinistic thinking would not allow him to develop an amicable solution to the national
question as shown in the recent SLFP proposals that are regressive and backward.
Secondly, as the concept of entrapment in conflict literature suggests that parties who
have made investment in fomenting violence incur certain ‘sunk costs’ so that they are
forced to continue in order to “make good” on prior investments.

If MR prefers the second option because of the pressure of the economy or the
international community, he would be able to get a breathing space and use that respite
to reorganize the economy, the international stature of the country, and to receive
foreign assistance for Eastern development. So it has, as I call it, an instrumental rational basis, but it at the same time transcends instrumental rationality because it gives new space for Tamils to negotiate with the government and Sinhala politics. So it would be a best confidence-building measure to win over the Tamils.
Mahinda Rajapakse can either choose the path of destruction or the path of reconstruction


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