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SRI LANKA: Current Situation: the broad picture- Update 70.

   Note no. 245      30. 10. 2004

by Dr. S. Chandrasekharan

Despite several visits of special envoys of both Norway and Japan, the peace process continues to be stalled. The Japanese special representative Yasushi Akashi has just visited Colombo after meeting the officials and the political leaders in an effort to restart the process. He also completed the usual task of briefing the Indian officials at Delhi on his return! And nothing more!

The Tokyo meet and the expectations:

The Tokyo Donors meet between 9 and 10 June, 2003 besides officially bringing Japan into an active role into the peace process naively thought that in pledging a large amount, the political settlement will be quickened. We had mentioned then that in our opinion the assessment of donor countries including USA represented by Richard Armitage may go wrong. (Update 48). The absence of LTTE in that conference and their quick denunciation of the declaration as not binding on them were not understood by the donors then and even now.

We had also pointed out that the donors had probably assessed that with the reconstruction in place in the north and east, the LTTE will be more amenable to a softer approach towards a political settlement and that the people themselves may demand of LTTE to do so. We had said that the people are in no position to influence LTTE to give up any of their avowed political goals. It may be out of fear or admiration but the fact remains that the LTTE is uni focussed on their goals. There is no other agenda for them whereas the Sri Lankan government, various political parties, the clergy and the non LTTE groups have multiple agenda and they are lost in their own internal contradictions

Balasingham in one of his letters before the Tokyo declaration had said that a permanent political solution through a radical transformation, is not possible under the then unstable political environment created by the "dual ferociously opposed power centres in Colombo." Now a third party, the JVP has emerged after the general elections and the recent provincial elections ( Note 231- update 66) give an indication that the party is on the rise. Now the contradictions have multiplied.

The Ground Realities:

Recently a seminar was held in Delhi where a fair representation of political leaders, journalists, analysts and ex army officers of Sri Lanka were present. There were many Indian analysts too. What struck us was the failure of most of those present to come to grips with the ground realities in Sri Lanka. There were many scholarly formulations and nuances to take the peace process forward, but that did not take into account that-

* The LTTE is in total control of two of the districts, Killinochi and Mullaithivu and the Sri Lankan government has been shut out totally in the two districts. They have their own policemen, courts, customs, judiciary sections, their own banks and taxation systems. This is the reality. Any move towards a political solution will have to take into account this reality and it will take a long time. That is why we had said repeatedly (updates 67 & 69) that the Sri Lankan government should start the talks on the ISGA proposals and sooner the better.

* Another point which has failed to come to the notice of the analysts is that the LTTE is in no position to begin talks on political issues. Instead of bringing them out to talk on ISGA which has certain inbuilt core issues, the Sri Lankan side is delaying the talks on one issue or other. The latest we hear is that they have a counter proposal.

* Similarly the GOSL ( Government of Sri Lanka) is unable to forge a consensus of the south ( or in whatever name one may call it- call it the Sinhala majority) on the political package they are willing to give to meet the just aspirations of the Tamils after taking into account the ground realities. This, the Sri Lankan side will never be able to do, not withstanding the pious understanding reached in the third Oslo meeting that the parties "agreed to explore a solution founded on the principle of internal self- determination of the Tamil-speaking peoples based on a federal structure within a United Sri Lanka." This understanding would have been enough to discuss the ISGA, but the opportunity is being lost.

* The LTTE’s goal is Eelam. They have also assessed that the majority community would get bogged down due to internal squabbles and would never be united in providing any meaningful autonomy. All the Tamil groups are aware of this position. Now the LTTE’s position is getting hardened and Balasingham is said to have declared that there was no "unconditional abandonment of the right to secession." in the Oslo talks!

* Now there is peace with violence. This may look a contradiction, but it is so. No one is safe in the east and even in Colombo one finds leaders and party workers of non LTTE groups unable to venture out freely without proper precautions. The Karuna affair on which we would discuss later also added to the tense atmosphere. There are mutual killings in the east and the LTTE has been boldly announcing executions of Karuna’s men. There have been heavy casualties on the LTTE side also that are unreported. Surprisingly the SLMM ( Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission) has taken the stand that it is an internal matter of LTTE.

* Unfortunately the cease fire agreement itself was heavily loaded in favour of the LTTE. By disarming other non LTTE Tamil groups and the absence of mention of Killinochi and Mullaithivu districts in the agreement and by giving a sense of parity or balance of power between the opposing parties, the LTTE has been provided full legitimacy. It is too late in the day to redraft the agreement as some people suggest, but the killings in Colombo and elsewhere in non LTTE areas will have to stop. The Sri Lankan security forces will have to be more vigilant. It was not surprising that the LTTE team which went to Geneva and later to Austria and Netherlands were told in clear terms of their human rights violations and recruitment of child soldiers.

The Karuna Affair and its impact:

Going back to the Delhi meet, it looked that there was expectation all round that the Karuna affair would weaken the LTTE to such an extent that the LTTE’s position vis a vis the peace talks would weaken and it would be more amenable. On the other hand, the official circles in Sri Lanka have claimed that the LTTE would never come for talks until they gain supremacy in the east. In fact we felt that it was one of the reasons why the GOSL was dragging its feet to re start the negotiations.

On Karuna’s breakup with the LTTE, we have the following observations:

* The LTTE was never strong in the east until the nineties. It was Karuna who built up the LTTE forces in the east and there is extensive sympathy for Karuna.

* Politically it will take quite sometime for the LTTE to build up its presence in the east. The removal of Rajesh an easterner with a northerner has not gone down well. Reports indicate that in fresh recruitment, the LTTE has been rejecting a large number of people from the east!

* This does not mean that the LTTE will be militarily weakened and the expectation that the Karuna affair would bring around the LTTE in the peace talks is misplaced.

* Another wishful thinking is that the Tamils will be satisfied with a separate north and east with Karuna breaking away from the LTTE.

* Having given up arms and the 5000 and odd cadres he had, if Karuna is still fighting and causing casualties to the LTTE, he cannot do on his own. Who is helping him? Karuna is also aware that it was the Sri Lankan Army which permitted the LTTE forces in the first place to cross through the GOSL lines to attack Karuna’s front line fighters at Verugal. Karuna cannot therefore be used beyond a certain point.

Conclusion:

With known positions of both GOSL and the LTTE it will take a long time for the peace talks to find a solution acceptable to all communities as the Oslo meeting said. What is important now is to ensure that the cease fire is carried on despite the hiccups and an interim administration is in place soon. ISGA is not the final word and it can never be. But it has to be discussed.

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