I have received requests that my blog on The President – a mindless Bomber? be referred to The Guardian and Jonathan Steele. As written this blog is not suitable for this purpose. However I have sent an edited version to the newspaper, copy to Steele. It is reproduced below for the information of this forum.  It has also been posted in the ACSLU Blogs Page.

Letter to The Guardian

To: The Editor, The Guardian (UK), (for favour of publication)
cc: Jonathan Steele

Dear Editor,

Our organization is writing in connection with the report by your correspondent Jonathan Steele in your issue of 9 Feb 2007 "Sri Lanka's President seems as Mindless as any Bomber". No doubt you would have received many letters on this subject from groups interested in the Sri Lankan (SL) problem which you may or may not have published. We feel that the issues raised by Steele point to a widely entertained interpretation by the international media on this problem which needs correction. We hope that you will give publicity to this letter as it gives an alternative view.

The title given to the report comparing the SL President to a "mindless bomber" is extremely tendentious and quite inappropriate. In the first place bombers are not necessarily mindless as they have specific objectives to achieve (which they often do), and secondly whatever faults the President may have he has not been a "reckless bomber", instead he has been accommodative of terrorists of the caliber of the LTTE which no decent Government will tolerate. However Steele's arguments reveal the accepted views of the "international community" and the army of correspondents that it employs to project a wrong view of this problem.

It would be tedious to go through all of Steele's half-truths and downright falsehoods even though they repeat many of the misconceptions carried in reports by the Western media. The sad fact is that some of these misconceptions are perpetuated by SL Government spokespersons, but this does not make them correct. Amongst the errors in the report the following may be mentioned:

In his conclusion Steele warns President Rajapaksa not to separate the North from the East or to reject the federal solution. Both these are matters for the Sri Lankan people to decide through democratic means, not for the international community or foreign correspondents to dictate. Nominally the union of the North and the East has already been severed by a judicial decision but this is meaningless unless the LTTE is defeated as they hold sizable portions of territory in both the North and the East which are "no go" areas for the SL Govt. As for federalism we know that the President's cherished solution of "maximum devolution" is in fact some kind of racist federalism in all but name. The ACSLU solution is to abolish all the Provinces (which have outlived their usefulness) and treat existing districts as units conventional local government, is not even considered.

What is significant in Steele's article is not its factualness or its logic but that it represents the views of the "international community" as shown in its appearance in your prestigious newspaper. The dependence of SL on foreign largesse as a result of its failure to develop the economy for a variety of reasons has made it almost impossible for it to follow a truly independent policy. It is this weakness that is exploited by the international community.

Unfortunately there is some support for Steele's views from the peace lobby in SL. This lobby is tacitly supporting the objective of racial devolution of power. Even the present President has stated that the problem is an "ethnic problem", that he upholds the CFA, that he is committed for a peaceful solution, and that he is willing to "walk the extra mile" to talk to the terrorist leader. These too are incorrect positions, but it does not absolve the international media from presenting a correct analysis of the problem. Your Newspaper should apply to the SL problem the same standards that you apply to terrorism in the UK and other Western countries. Otherwise you will be guilty of double standards.

Steele seems to think that it is wrong to resort to war to eliminate terrorism. But would he (and your Newspaper) consider the war against terrorism conducted by the USA, UK and many other countries to be wrong? What may be wrong is to talk peace on the one hand and then resort to low-level war on the other. This is the contradictory position in which the SL Govt. is placed, and this contradiction is fully exploited by writers like Steele. The LTTE insurgency is a local terrorist insurgency and cannot be compared to Islamic terror which is organized on global lines. Some critics try to present the LTTE threat as a global threat but this is dismissed by the intelligence agencies of Western countries. Critics of Steele say that Bush and Blair are adopting a double standard when they engage in war to defeat the terrorism that confront them while they do not allow SL to use the same means. This ignores that there is a real difference between their anti-terror war which is a total war, while Sri Lanka's anti-terror war is something of a sham.

Steele's article is really a critique of the wrong policy of the SL Govt. adopted under foreign pressure. The President has two options: either wage all out war on terrorism (as Bush-Blair have done), or engage in negotiations and the peace process (with military action only to nudge the LTTE to the negotiating table). It is impossible to have war and peace at the same time with an organization of proven evil like the LTTE. Of these two options the only real option if GOSL is serious in eliminating terrorism is to declare the LTTE a terrorist group, outlaw it, revoke the CFA and foreign mediation, and mobilize the resources of the nation for an all-out war on terrorism and racist separatism.

Victor Gunasekara
Convener
Australian Centre for Sri Lankan Unity (ACSLU)