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A balancing act in Srilanka



The interim restraint ordered by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka on key clauses of the Memorandum of Understanding to set up the Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure (P-TOMS) reflects a democratic and pluralistic state's quest for a delicate balance between veto and consent in dealing with an armed, Pol Potist insurgent that is in the front rank of the world's designated terrorist organisations. In rejecting the larger plea to annul the P-TOMS, the Court has encouraged the prospect of reworking the humanitarian agreement to reach out to hapless victims. If the 2004 tsunami was a cruel whiplash from nature on a nation poised problematically between war and peace, the noise and fury raised by opponents of the P-TOMS reflects the complexities in working a deal with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. That the group, known for shifting goalposts during parleys, shows neither a credible change in its secessionist endgame nor a move away from its blood-splattered past is one reason for the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna to seek legal redress. With predictable intransigence, the LTTE chose not to defend its signatory to the MoU through a counsel before the Court — a move that may even nominally imply a hesitant rebel stepping into the ambit of the Sri Lankan state. In effect, the July 15 interim stay leaves two gainers — the JVP and President Chandrika Kumaratunga. For the LTTE, the order vetoes critical elements that echo its clamour for international legitimacy and acceptance. It has also sustained President Kumaratunga's decade-long pursuit of genuine peace, though the endorsement is circumscribed by a sensitive legal balance. By observing that an executive residuary power rests with the head of state, the Court has added some legal muscle to her endeavour. \


The interim order sends a message of limited legal consent to a rebel, but only if it sticks to peace. The vetoes are valid. Kilinochchi, as a venue, undeniably restricts freedom of movement and the Regional Fund implies sidestepping sovereign fiscal management. Proactively, the Court suggests correctives for "illegalities" in the P-TOMS. Sans political interpretation, the interim order balances tragic but objective realities with passionate but subjective views that together impede ethnic reconciliation in the paradise that was. The delicate equilibrium that the Court now seeks to bring about could set the tone for a healthy future. This quest should be a critical continuum, as an enduring solution to the civil war requires a move away from an entrenched majoritarian status quo, with effective restraints on an unrepentant LTTE. The opposition to President Kumaratunga's plan that the state and the insurgent should work together on a humanitarian issue is now in the highest forum of reasoned domestic legal debate. It is imperative that intransigents on both sides of the ethnic divide realise that their ultimate responsibility is to the voiceless victims of Sri Lanka's twin tragedies of ethnic conflict and tsunami.