Japan kicked in the pants by the LTTE

By H. L. D. Mahindapala

Yashushi Akashi, one of the four Co-chairs (Norway, EU. USA being the other three), represents Japan's diplomatic arm extended across Asia to make its presence felt in the region as a significant player. Japan's role was made more explicit in the latest editorial of Japan Times (May 9, 2006). In a rather assertive tone it editorialized: "Japan has a central role to play in Sri Lanka. It is the largest single donor to the country, providing 45 percent of all external aid. Former U.N. Undersecretary General Yasushi Akashi has been appointed Japan's representative for peace building and reconstruction." Clearly, Akashi comes highly recommended to play Japan's "central role". In fact, the Japan Times, added: "Mr. Akashi has a long record of work on peace building and can, with real support, help bring the sides together.

"He already has the incentives he needs. Now, he and the other peace negotiators need sticks. If the violence continues and the talks remain blocked, other governments should declare the LTTE a terrorist group, refuse to have contact with the group, and block remittances from Tamils overseas that can be used to support its activities.

The government too must be isolated and sent a clear message that it must end its support of militias that fight the Tamils and halt the violence against civilians. Enough is enough," it concluded, quoting President Mahinda Rajapakse's words.

It is reasonable to assume that this reflects Japan official policy. Akashi's actions so far too confirm this. Two main issues arise from this statement: 1) the validity of Akashi's role since there are no visible gains on the ground to prove his expertise in conflict resolution in Sri Lanka and (2) Japan's intention of using "sticks" to the worsening situation caused by the LTTE tactics of increasing its demands (accompanied by violence) each time the Government moves to accommodate them. The second aspect has to be dealt separately. But first it is important deal with the role of Akashi's "long record of peace building" in Sri Lanka and his "help to bring both sides together," as lauded by the Japan Times.

Akashi, no doubt, has a long record of going on pilgrimages to the Vanni shrine and returning empty handed. Oftentimes, he is not even received by the decision-making Vanniar. Without the Vanniar's consent no peace-builder can get both sides together. Apart from the Vanniar's declaration made in his last annual speech to go to war (there is no ambiguity about that!) his sign language alone is sufficient for Japanese readers of Sri Lankan politics to understand the extent to which the Vanni leadership is committed to negotiate peace. But Akashi never fails to visit the Vanni shrine despite his repeated failure to persuade the LTTE to either meet him or come to talks.

To all intents and purpose the Vanni shrine is similar to the infamous Yakusuni Shrine in Japan. It is a military burial ground that contains the remains of the top Japanese war criminals responsible for atrocities in China and Korea in the 1930s and '40s. The right-wing Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi's defiant visits to this shrine repeatedly to pay tribute to the Japanese war criminals have invariably outraged international opinion. Ichida Tadayoshi, head of the Japanese Communist Party, condemned this tendency to commemorate the imperialist horrors of Japan, saying: "Far from expressing remorse for the war of aggression, the current prime minister visits the Yakasuni Shrine [with] some exhibitions actually glorifying the war." He added: "To resolve the differences between Japan and China, it is necessary to put an end to the
arrogant and belligerent attitude of the Koizumi cabinet."

Asian neighbors too who have been victims of the atrocities committed by the invading Japanese forces view these visits as a sure sign of the resurgence of Japanese militarism. So is there a difference in Koizumi's visits to a shrine of war criminals in Japan and Akashi's visits to the Vanni shrine?

It seems that the Japanese Foreign Ministry is yet to advise Akashi that Amnesty International, in its latest report on Sri Lanka (February 3, 2006), has listed the war crimes and the crimes committed against humanity by the Vanni leadership. As the leader of the banned terrorist organisation the finger points directly to Prabhakaran as a war criminal for (1) forcibly abducting children and (2) abducting adults and torturing them. Does Akashi care? On the odd occasion he met Prabhakaran he came out grinning to praise the crab curry he shared with him.

Of course, he would argue that he does it in fulfilling the role of a "peace builder with a long record." But what have his visits to the Vanni shrine achieved other than Akashi sharing crab curry once with Prabhakaran? So far the public has only seen the unmistakable footprints of the Vanniar in the seat of his pants each time he comes out of Vanni. So why does Akashi keep on going back to Vanni when he knows
beforehand that nothing is going to come out of it?

With his long record of peace building he could not even persuade the Vanniar to visit Tokyo (no obstacles there of Government providing transport!) to get a share of $4.5 aid for the Tamils.

If Akashi could not get the Vanniar to visit international donors in Tokyo distributing goodies for the welfare of the Tamils what chances has he of bringing him to Geneva to talk about peace? His last visit last week was the same as his futile visits before. Will his future visits make a difference?

Why then does he keep on going to the Vanni shrine? Is it an exercise in sado-masochism where he enjoys the kicks in the pants? Or is it an exercise to lengthen his futile record in peace-building? Does he realise that each time the Vanni leadership kicks Akashi they do it to humiliate not only him but also the pride and dignity of Japan?

But does Akashi care? Why should he? After all, if the history books of Japan are wiping out the shame of the infamous "rape of Nanking" in 1937, in which up to 300,000 Chinese were systematically slaughtered by Japanese imperial troops on the orders of Emperor Hirohito why should Akashi have any shame about visiting Prabhakaran? The Japanese can always rewrite their history to cover up their shame.

The stark facts of the so-called peace process are staring in the face of both Akashi and Solheim -- the two key players involved in direct negotitions with the state and the non-state players. After all their failed attempts to convince the Vanniar to abandon violence this pair should know by now who is for peace and who is not.

Their consistent appeasing has even emboldened the Vanniar to demand that the Truce Monitors should not board the Naval vessels. After receving this diktat and after the latest naval clash off the coast of Jaffna Truce Monitors came out saying:

"This sort of reckless behaviour can only lead to a dangerous escalation resulting in growing hostilities and jeopardising any possibility for future peace talks."

So what have the two experts done to curtail "the reckless behaviour jeopardising any future peace talks? Neither the international community nor the general public - both in Sri Lanka and the diaspora - believe that the LTTE has been genuine about pursuing peace through negotiations. The opinion poll of the Asian Tribune concluded lst week with 83.23% saying that the LTTE is NOT genuine in achieving peace through negotiations. Simultaneously, 75.99% agreed that the Sri Lankan government is genuine about achieving peace through negotiations. Indian media too reported that Delhi had told Mangala Samaraweera, during his visit to the Indian capital last week, that the LTTE is not genuine about peace talks.

Unable to face this reality Akashi, like Erik Solheim, has washed his hands off saying that the "ownership of making peace is with both parties" and not with the intermediaries who came with boastful claims of possessing excellent expertise in conflict resolution.

Each time they hit a stumbling block in the Vanni both Akashi and Solheim back off palming the blame to the Sri Lankan government. In other words, their success depends not on pushing the Vanniar to advance towards peace but in forcing the Sri Lankan government to make concession after concession to make them look good. If the Sri Lankan government has been as intrasignet as the Vanniar they would have ended with eggs on their faces. So far they have managaed to look good because the Sri Lankan government has accommodated them with a genuine interest in restoring peace and normalcy to the nation.

When they stepped into the Sri Lankan crisis they came as equal stake holders in the business of making peace. But they shed all responsibility when they fail to persuade the Vanniar to compromise even on minor technicalities like the mode of transporting their commanders to a central committee meeting.

To begin with, a meetng of military commanders is totally rrelevant to a purely political decision of going or not going to peace talks. In any case, the responsibility of the making the decision to attend the Geneva lies entirely with the head of state, President Mahinda Rajapakse and the head of the non-state rebel group, Velupillair Prabhkaran. Given these hard realities, what should be the role of the Solheim and Akashi? Is their role to repeat the excuses trotted out by the Vanni leadership or to say enough is enough?

There is, no doubt, that they have to handle controversial issues that bog down both parties gingerly. They must be sensitive to the claims of the both sides. But that doesn't mean that they must cover-up for one side or the other. One way of breaking down the intransigence is to call a spade a spade.

When 83.23% of a global survey of public opinion say that the LTTE is NOT geuniune about peace it shoud send a clear singal to Solheim and Akashi that they can no longer hide the belligerecne and intrasigence of the man presiding over the Yakusuni Shrine in the Vanni. Public opinion indicts these two experts for not exercising their legitimate moral authority to bring the LTTE to the negotiating table.

After all, they were brought in do precisely that job. Instead of which Akashi comes out saying that (hold you breath readers!) that it is the duty of the Government to bring the LTTE to the negotiating table.

If that is so why doesn't Akashi pack up and go home and let the Sri Lankan government handle the issue the way it sees fit? No, they don't want to that either.

They want to be in it, get the credit for any successes and when they fail put the blame on the Sri Lankan government. Will not their moral authority be enhanced and will not their role be more effective if they, even at this late stage, put their cards on the table for all to see? Hasn't the sitution deteriorated to the prevailing scenario because of the incompetence of the Solheim and Akashi to deal with the realities facing them? What earthly purpose do they serve if they come out of Vanni blaming the Sri Lankan government?

There is a mood of despondency and weariness not only about the whole peace proces that has gone awry but also about the roles played by Solheim and Akashi who had jointly steered this peace process into a miserable dead-end.

Consequently, it is legitimate to ask whether Sri Lanka needs experts like Akashi and Solheim to repeat the Vanni excuses when they can get it less expensively from the local media. Both are in the habit of imitating Pontius Pilate when things go wrong, or when things don't go their way. Both say that they are there only as a go-between and they are not responsible for failures arising out of the intransigence of the LTTE.

But whenever there is a dubious success (notorious example: the failed Ceasefire Agreement) they and the countries they represent crow claiming respectability for their expertise in conflict resolution. Solheim and Akashi came with highly advertised claims of knowing the art and science of negotiating peace. They even go around the world touting for jobs in peace-making. Now Solheim has moved into Nepal. Has he moved into Nepal to play a constructive role in peace-making or to lie back passively, at the foothills of Himalayas, for both parties to get together and talk?

And how many more times will Akashi visit Sri Lanka to pay pooja at the local Yakusuni Shrine in the Vanni?

- Asian Tribune -

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