Monday, Feb 25, 2002
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By Nirupama Subramanian
COLOMBO, Feb. 24. The Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, today admitted to have been taken by surprise when the LTTE signed the truce agreement earlier than expected and said this had prevented him from giving the President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, time to examine the final document before signing it himself. Mr. Wickremesinghe told a news conference that the signing was scheduled for February 22, and that the Norwegian envoy, Jon Westborg, had taken the document to the LTTE in northern Sri Lanka a day before for a final once-over by the LTTE leadership. Instead, Mr. Westborg returned from Killinochchi with the document, duly signed and accepted by the LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran.
``I think even the Norwegians were surprised,'' he said. Mr Wickremesinghe's admission to being taken by surprise by the LTTE followed an accusation by Ms. Kumaratunga that she was not consulted properly on the final agreement. She reportedly complained to the Prime Minister that by showing her the document after it was signed by Mr. Prabhakaran, the Government had in effect presented her with a fait accompli.
``The President asked me for more time to study the agreement, but as the LTTE leader had already signed the agreement, I told her it cannot be delayed as I do not want to give the LTTE a handle to say the Government is fighting over the matter,'' Mr. Wickremesinghe said. When asked if he thought the LTTE had rushed the Government into signing the document, he said he would put it differently.
``Their signature limited our scope of action,'' he said, but added that did not make much of a difference as all the major issues had already been resolved, and that the document had been informally discussed with the Cabinet at its meeting on February 20. He was to show the final document to the Cabinet and President for approval on February 21, when he learnt that it had already been signed by the LTTE. The truce document has provoked strong protest not just from the President, with whom the Government is in political co-habitation, but also the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) which has described it as an "agreement of surrender''.
Specifically pointing to the demarcation of forward defence lines between the two sides and areas held by each, the JVP has said this was an agreement between "two countries'' and not by two constituents of the same State. It said there was nothing in the document that prevented it from pursuing its separatist politics and described it as a "betrayal of the Sri Lankan state, its people and the sovereignty and integrity of the motherland by a servile and meek leader''.
The JVP called on Sri Lankans to "turn their backs'' on the agreement and "defeat'' it. Defending the agreement, the Prime Minister said today there was nothing in it that compromised national security or Sri Lanka's territorial integrity. Responding to the specific charge that the agreement envisaged a troop withdrawal from the north-east, he clarified that Army camps were only to be relocated to different places from schools, temples and public buildings that they were occupying at the present moment.
``The security forces were in the north-east before 1983 and they will continue to be there after a settlement is reached,'' he stated. Mr Wickremesinghe reiterated that the Sri Lanka Navy retained the right to intercept suspicious vessels to prevent gun-running
Responding to another charge, he explained that monitors were being stationed only in areas of conflict, which is why there would be none in Mullaithivu and Killinochchi, which fell inside LTTE-controlled territory.
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