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Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Tsunami Disaster & Tamil Eelam

Sinhala owned Sri Lanka Sunday Times on
Kofi Annan's Failure to Visit Tamil Areas

"Annan visit: The Agenda within Agenda"

16 January 2005

The Foreign Ministry made an unnecessary hash of things with its initial statement, and then its attempt at clarifying things during last week's whistle-stop visit to the country by the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. An Annan visit had its precursor some years ago when the UN SG wanted to make a scheduled visit to Sri Lanka and the rebel LTTE lobby was quick on the draw inviting him to meet their leader V. Prabhakaran. Those plans were shot down by Colombo and Dr. Annan himself cancelled the visit for different reasons. This time, it was an unscheduled visit in that it was the tsunami disaster that brought him to our shores after the ASEAN tsunami summit in Indonesia.

Again the LTTE lobby was quick to react, sending an invitation neatly worded to visit "Tamil areas" of Sri Lanka that have been ravaged by the tsunami. The invitation was also addressed to the UN Resident Representative in Colombo rather than the Colombo government.

No doubt, the UN Resident Representative in Sri Lanka would have liked a feather in his cap had he been able to get his boss to visit the LTTE areas. His predecessor also bent backwards to please the LTTE, giving the organisation all the oxygen and respectability it craved for.

But should the Foreign Ministry, or the government have "blocked" the UN Secretary General from visiting the 'Tamil areas', a euphemism the LTTE was using for "LTTE-held areas"? Of course, it should have. The reason being that the visit of such a high-profile international civil servant has more than 'humanitarian concerns' involved. Any student of diplomacy would have known that. This is not to say that Dr. Annan should not have visited Mullaitivu if he was to be accompanied by Sri Lankan government officials, nor to say that UN agencies, their workers and volunteers should not be allowed into LTTE-held areas. They should certainly be given all assistance to go into areas of distress especially in a calamity of this nature.

The fact of the matter is that the LTTE has been playing games with the relief aid but hardly anyone has chided it for putting at risk the lives of the people it holds hostage in the Mullaitivu district, which received a body blow from the tsunami. So why did the Foreign Ministry feel shy about having to say that they did not 'block' the UN SG's visit? The UN Resident Representative's request for Dr. Annan to visit to 'Tamil areas' alias 'LTTE areas' was an unreasonable one. Our London correspondent and senior diplomatic commentator details the Colombo government's conflicting stance on the issue, when President Chandrika Kumaratunga told CNN this week that she had "no second-thoughts" in asking Dr. Annan not to visit LTTE-held areas, a tacit acknowledgement that her government had indeed "blocked" the UN SG from going there.

The Colombo Government had reason to believe - amidst the swirling rumours of the LTTE supremo's purported death in the tsunami - that he was to make a grand appearance to shake Dr. Annan's hand if he did eventually set foot on LTTE-held territory. The UN Office has yet to clarify that this was not on the agenda. Such a statement would have allayed some apprehensions at least, and the LTTE chief would not have chanced a snub.

On the other hand, what if Dr. Annan had met with him? The track record of the UN chief in such matters is also worth scrutiny. Our columnist at the UN headquarters in New York, another senior diplomatic commentator, tells us that Dr. Annan has never met any rebel leader, not in Northern Ireland, Chechnya, Afghanistan or Iraq or even in Columbia or Kashmir. On the other hand he has met with rebel leaders in the Western Sahara and in pre-independent East Timor where there has been some UN role like peace-keeping troops. So, where do the 'LTTE-controlled' areas in Sri Lanka fit in under this criteria?
The Italian government has already justified giving direct aid to the LTTE areas. UN agency chiefs have meanwhile made it a practice to visit the Tiger den and sup with the rebels while engaging their officers in these areas. UN and other aid agency workers get a kick out of having visited rebel areas without understanding the repercussions thereof. They are all out there on 'humanitarian missions' working with the LTTE.

The words of EPDP Minister Douglas Devananda quoted by our Political Editor some months ago where he reiterates that the LTTE is working towards an East Timor situation - creating a virtual State environment by gaining international recognition, including that of the UN prior to Independence should ring in the ears of those who have been carried away by the belief that the government ought to have allowed the UN chief to visit the Tigers' lair



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