TamilWeek Feb 26, 2006
How Bala checkmated the
government in Geneva

by Sonali Samarasinghe
Last week the LTTE won the first round of talks in Geneva
with the government agreeing to uphold the Cease Fire
Agreement (CFA) without any amendments being made to
the document.

Having fought for three hours over one word included in the
joint closing statement drafted by the Norwegian facilitators,
the government finally buckled under and agreed to the
validity of the CFA, thereby conceding yet another victory to
the Wanni.

It was clear the Tigers held the baton all along despite the
government storming the Chateau de Bossey with large
numbers of delegates, advisors, a Jim band of jingoistic
media faithfuls and government sponsored demonstrators.

Strategy

The government strategy was obvious and old. It tried a
multi-pronged approach of speaking peace in the
conference room while trying to apply pressure through
hard-line lobby groups, carefully orchestrated
demonstrations, and hawkish partisan media coverage by
the government press.

The LTTE however are hardened campaigners and these
clumsy efforts on the part of hard-line elements did not bear
fruit, at least at the end of the first round of talks.

Joint statement

After the second day of talks concluded last Thursday (23),
the Norwegian facilitators set about drafting a joint
statement, which they distributed to the two delegations for
approval.

The government delegation immediately called Temple
Trees on its direct link communication network and held
discussions with President Mahinda Rajapakse. The
opening paragraph of the statement seemed simple enough.

"The government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam (LTTE) met in Geneva on 22-23 February
2006 for talks on the Cease Fire Agreement."

However, the implications were deadly serious and
President Rajapakse who had advisors at hand including
brother Basil Rajapakse and brother Gothabaya
immediately took umbrage and refused to give his stamp of
approval. It was to the word 'agreement' that Rajapakse took
offence.

The President's and the JVP's thinking was that if he agreed
to the word 'agreement,' which necessarily meant the 2002
signed agreement, he would be automatically accepting the
validity of the said document and the clauses therein.

Furthermore, the third paragraph in the statement was even
more anathema to the President wherein it said the
government was committed to upholding the CFA. That was
to effectively seal his claims that the CFA was not only
unconstitutional, but also compromised national sovereignty.

Rajapakse wanted to use the word ceasefire by itself without
linking the word 'agreement' which would then refer to a
particular document whilst the word 'ceasefire' would only
refer to a state of affairs. The word agreement, he said,
cannot find a place in the joint statement.

Therefore, while this one word was causing a great deal of
angst to Rajapakse in Colombo and to his delegation in
Geneva, the matter was taken up earlier that day
(Thursday) at the negotiating table as well.

Leader of the government delegation, Nimal Siripala de
Silva stated the government would be seeking to amend the
CFA on two grounds. The first, that it was unconstitutional
and the second, it was not signed by the competent
authority at the time - President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

The Norwegians however intervened at this point and said
the agreement was in fact valid, as then Prime Minister Ranil
Wickremesinghe had signed it in his official capacity as
head of government. In any event, Kumaratunga and a new
government came into power in April 2004 but did not
abrogate the agreement, Solheim pointed out. That was an
endorsement of the agreement the government delegation
was told.

Implied consent

The clear implication here was that if Rajapakse does not
abrogate the agreement he too would be deemed to have
accepted its validity. And that he has now done so by
subscribing to the joint statement.

Nonetheless, having discussed this point for over three
hours, Rajapakse caved in and gave his delegates the
green light to go ahead with the joint statement as is. This
he was compelled to do after the LTTE refused to budge as
did the Norwegians. The LTTE in fact said if the word
'agreement' were not included in the statement, they would
not subscribe to it in addition to not agreeing for further
talks.

Thus in one fell stroke the wily Balasingham got the
government committed to the LTTE agenda of negotiating
the implementation of the CFA to the exclusion of any
amendment.

What is also ironic is that the old fox outsmarted the
government delegation despite the fact that the government
delegates had actually studied hard for the talks. A high
level Harvard negotiation project had been undertaken and
international experts had given lectures on negotiations and
conflict resolution while many in the government had even
undertaken study tours on the subject of peace.

Nonetheless, the joint statement further stated, "The parties
discussed issues related to the ceasefire including the
concerns of Muslim, Sinhalese and Tamil civilians."

It included a paragraph on the government and the LTTE's
commitment to upholding the CFA and reconfirming their
commitment to the ruling of the monitors. It stated the LTTE
agreed to desist from violence against the Sri Lanka police
and the security forces.

The statement also dealt with child recruitment and stated
the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission would report on the
implementation of the several issues mentioned in the joint
statement at the next round of talks.

The next round of talks was fixed for April 19-21.

Paramilitaries

Interestingly enough, with regard to the issue of
paramilitaries the joint statement read, "The government of
Sri Lanka is committed to taking all necessary measures in
accordance with the Cease Fire Agreement to ensure that
no armed group other than security forces will carry arms or
conduct armed operations."

Therefore, the government committed itself to act according
to the CFA on the subject of paramilitaries.

Clause 1.8 dealing with paramilitaries in the CFA states;
"Tamil paramilitary groups shall be disarmed by the GOSL
by D-day + 30 days at the latest. The GOSL shall offer to
integrate individuals in these units under the command and
disciplinary structure of the GOSL armed forces for service
away from the Northern and Eastern Province."

Therefore, the LTTE has achieved its primary objective to
get the government to disband the paramilitaries, which they
allege are being supported by government security forces.

In fact, while the phrase 'no armed group other than the
security forces' was obviously well crafted into the joint
statement of February 23 as a face saving device for the
government, that too backfired with the preceding qualifying
sentence referring to the CFA.

But if Thursday's joint statement was brought forth kicking
and screaming after long and arduous labour, an initial
brouhaha over Wednesday's opening statements nearly
created an early abortion of the peace talks.

Opening statement

On Wednesday (22), the Tigers stole a march on the
Rajapakse team when they immediately released Chief
Negotiator Anton Balasingham's opening statement to the
media forcing the GOSL team to do the same and reveal its
duplicitous approach to the talks.

Thus checkmated early in the talks drama, the government
delegation having now shown its hand to the public and then
backed down and conceded to the LTTE on all points
discussed, was not only made to look weak and incompetent
within the conference room but also in the eyes of the world
at large.

Head of the government delegation, Nimal Siripala Silva in
his opening eight page statement stated, "Our delegation
affirms and emphasises the position of the government of
Sri Lanka that the Ceasefire Agreement entered into
between the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and
Mr. V. Pirapaharan, the leader of the LTTE on February 22,
2002 is contrary to our constitution and law. We hope to
rectify certain grave anomalies arising from the agreement."

Silva further stated that the number of ruled violations by
the LTTE as determined by the Sri Lanka Monitoring
Mission (SLMM) since the beginning of the ceasefire up to
the end of last month was a massive 3,519. In comparison,
the SLMM has determined that the government violations
stand at 163.

This figure Balasingham countered immediately by saying it
was highly exaggerated and that they would not accept
those figures.

Anton's statement

In sharp contrast, LTTE Chief Negotiator Anton
Balasingham in a lengthy 12-page statement said that
consolidating the CFA was the only practical way open to
both parties in the conflict to stabilise the conditions of
peace and normalcy.

"The most constructive achievement of the Norwegian
facilitated peace process has been the signing of the Cease
Fire Agreement between the government of Sri Lanka and
the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)." he stated.

Balasingham also said it was the truce agreement that had
helped avert the outbreak of an all out war and had created
the present environment where both the parties could
engage in a dialogue to enhance the conditions of peace
and normalcy in the war affected north and east.

He reminded that the "Cease Fire Agreement was not
formulated in haste to the advantage of one party, as some
critics have argued, but rather, given careful and meticulous
scrutiny to all aspects, terms, conditions and obligations of
the truce by both parties, with the skilled assistance of the
Norwegian facilitators."

Calling the ceasefire document a well crafted valid
instrument of peace, the LTTE ideologue said that it would
be the foundation upon which the peace process has to be
built and should be viewed as an effective mechanism that
can facilitate and promote the peace process.

Hostile body language

In fact, the hostile body language emanating during the
handshake immediately before the opening statements were
made was surely a harbinger of things to come. The obvious
distrust with which a grimacing Balasingham shook Silva's
out stretched hand as the tubby Minister clad in a brown suit
smiled like a Cheshire cat set the tone for the talks proper
that would ensue.

The government team proved to be immature, even silly at
times, blinded by its own self-importance and unbelievably
pretentious. In the end, it laboured much and brought forth
merely a mouse. Like the air force rugby team on a bad day,
they too seemed to be all air and no force.

So, early in the day, the two protagonists had drawn the
fault lines and readied for battle with their deeply divided
and conflicting opening statements. Certainly unless one
side caved in there would be no common ground to work on.
It was another psychological victory the Tigers were hoping
to gain and they finally did that with consummate ease.

Earlier on Monday (21) the government delegation, LTTE
delegation and the Norwegians arrived at the Chateau de
Bossey. Some of the support staff of the government and
the media personnel sponsored by the government were
housed at Beau de Rivage in Nyon about five minutes from
the meeting venue.

Shuttling

Before the talks began on Wednesday, on Tuesday the
Norwegians were shuttling to and fro to set the programme
for the talks between the two delegations.

But even before that on Tuesday morning, the parties were
to run into each other in the corridors of the Chateau.
Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, Ferial Ashraff, Rohitha Bogollagama
and Palitha Kohona met with Anton Balasingham and S.P.
Tamilselvan and exchanged very brief pleasantries. At the
time Nimal Siripala de Silva was not present.

However later Silva was also to bump into Balasingham on
the corridors of de Bossey. After exchanging courtesies,
Balasingham engaging in some psychological warfare told
Silva, "Let's meet on the battlefield tomorrow." Taken aback
Silva said, "No no, let's make it a peace field."

On the morning of February 22 it was the government
delegation that first walked in to the venue, which was an
adjacent building next to the Chateau.

De Silva clad in brown suit, his face a brown study walked in
first and mistakenly went towards the tables set for the LTTE
delegation. He was followed by Bogollagama, Ashraff and
Fernandopulle. But it was not only he who was confused.
Balasingham too was to try to sit on a seat allocated to the
Tiger advisory team.

At the government head table were Nimal Siripala de Silva,
Rohitha Bogollagama, Ferial Ashraff, Jeyaraj
Fernandopulle, H.L. De Silva, special advisor to the
President Palitha Kohona and IGP Chandra Fernando.

Seated at the back were the advisors to the government
delegation - Dr. John Gunaratne, Chanaka Jayasekera,
Navy Commander Vice Admiral W.J. Karannagoda, Brig M.C.
M.P. Samarasinghe, Ajit Nivard Cabraal, Gomin Dayasiri and
Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva,
Serala Fernando.

Sneaking in

This then was the list of delegates as per the official
document. However, creeping in from the side was a
Mahinda Rajapakse confidant, Vaas Gunawardena. He
snuck into a back row seat on the strength of a personal
letter he carried from the Executive himself and sat at the
table as a back-up staff member even though his name was
not on the original list.

The support staff for the government was listed as Shenuka
De Silva, Chulani Kodikara and Nirosha Nimalasuriya.

Cocking a snook

But before that, there was an issue with regard to the
delegates as the government had seven delegates sitting at
the head table and at least another seven as support staff
and advisors whereas the LTTE originally had only six at the
head table and two support staff.

Thus on the previous day (Tuesday) when the programme
was being finalised by the Norwegians, the LTTE wanted the
government to whittle down the numbers to keep in with the
LTTE because of the equal status situation that was the
basis for the talks.

The government however refused to reduce their numbers
and said the LTTE could increase their numbers to match
the government numbers. But the LTTE did not have those
numbers in Geneva and instead used their ingenuity to cock
a snook at the government.

The LTTE head table consisted of six persons. That is
Anton Balasingham, Adele Balasingham, Paramu
Tamilselvan, Balasingham Mahendran (Nadesan), LTTE
Police Chief, Col. Jeyam and Marshall.

Their back-up team - apart from LTTE Peace Secretariat
Head Puleedevan and Tamilselvan's translator George -
consisted of Seevaratnam Prabagaran, Balaguru
Suventhiran, Rasiah Punitharuban, Maheswaran
Thivakaran, Karthikeyan Suvaitha, and Velupillai Kumaru
Pancharatnam and Muthukumaru Shavundrakrisnan.

Numbers issue

In order to make up the numbers to match the government
delegation the LTTE included to their back-up team all
others who had come in as gophers to the six main
delegates. This included photographers and even the man
who had been brought to help the limping Tamilselvan carry
his bags.

The LTTE support staff was listed as Krishantha Kumar,
Sudha Nadarajah and Rasadurai Gunatheepan. In addition
they listed as photographers Balasubramanium Yogarajah
and Thambiah Sakitharan.

Irritable

It was in this backdrop of irritability that the talks commenced
on Wednesday. Norwegian International Development
Minister and Special Peace Envoy Erik Solheim made an
initial statement that a realistic view of the talks must be
taken.

He observed the relations between the government and the
LTTE were not good. He said that on a note of realism,
there is very little confidence between the two sides and
there should not be high expectations but it was a positive
development that they could even sit and talk.

He also reiterated the country was on the brink of war when
it was agreed to start talks on the strengthening the
implementation of the CFA.

When the talks started, first to make a brief comment was
the host country. Political Affairs Director, Swiss Federal
Department of Foreign Affairs, Urs Ziswiler. In his statement,
first welcomed the government and LTTE to hold talks on
strengthening the implementation of the CFA.

He said that at a moment when violence in Sri Lanka had
been putting the CFA under great strain this was a positive
sign. He spoke briefly on the subject and was of course
followed by Solheim who made his address.

So, in the minds of the host as well as the facilitator and as
far as the LTTE was concerned, the agenda for the talks
was clearly the strengthening of the implementation of the
CFA.

H.L. De Silva

In the meantime on the previous day, President's Counsel H.
L. De Silva was busily burning the midnight oil drafting and
redrafting the government statement insisting that
amendments should be accommodated.

But while the government was trying to amend the 2002
agreement, another development was taking place on the
sidelines. Ere the talks started Wednesday a change in the
SLMM leadership was announced by Norway. The SLMM
Head, Norwegian Hagrup Haukland was to be replaced by a
Swedish national.

SLMM Head

The government immediately tried to make out that this
change was the result of a request made by them that there
must be change as Norway should not both be facilitator
and also head the SLMM. But this was not necessarily the
case.

In fact, when Pirapaharan met Solheim in January during
which time he agreed to the talks in Geneva, the Tiger
Supremo was to bring up another matter of concern to him.
That was Haukland. The Tiger Head insisted that Haukland
be removed, as the LTTE was not happy with the manner in
which he was making statements critical of the LTTE
especially with regard to child soldiers, CFA violations and
child recruitment.

Thus the removal of Haukland was more a moral victory for
the LTTE though the government tried to claim credit for it.

A pattern of buckling under

Be that as it may, the end of the first round of talks resulted
in a big victory for the north. This is exactly what Rajapakse
and his advisors have done since his election campaign last
year. He has set boundaries for himself, fixed himself and
his team to many hard-line positions and then systematically
backed down from every one of them from the choice of
venue and facilitator to the amendment of the ceasefire and
beyond.

Another notch

Meanwhile the LTTE adds another notch to its belt and
continues to raise its profile as sharp and intelligent
negotiators, gain ground internationally, boost its morale
within its own ranks, and most importantly increase its
legitimacy as the sole and most competent representative of
the Tamil people vis-…-vis the community itself.

Therefore, the two parties sat down to talks with the
government taking the initial position it would vehemently
call for an amendment of the CFA, which it termed was
unconstitutional and against national security, while the
LTTE was adamant to uphold the CFA in its entirety and
begin negotiations on the strengthening of the
implementation of the CFA.

Who goes first?

But even before Wednesday (22) when the parties sat down
to talk, on Tuesday evening, already the bickering had
begun. One of the first issues to crop up was who would be
the first to speak. The programme already drawn up had a
member of the Swiss government political affairs division
making an opening statement, followed by Erik Solheim after
which the parties would make their statement.

The question arose as to who should make the first
statement - the government or the LTTE. The government
delegation insisted it should be them since they were a
legitimately elected government. But the LTTE held firm and
said no way could it allow that to happen.

Finally as a compromise, Solheim negotiated with the two
parties and came up with a solution that had Nimal Siripala
de Silva making a very brief statement lasting two minutes
and then inviting Anton Balasingham to make his detailed
statement. After Balasingham concluded his statement then
the government would make its detailed statement. So that
was the atmosphere in which the talks were set to start and
clearly the road ahead was rocky.

The talks then got underway with Silva making a very short
statement and inviting Balasingham to make his detailed
statement after which the government would make its
detailed statement.

Balasingham's statement, which ran into 12 pages, made
serious allegations against the government with regard to
civilian murders and abductions. He accused the
government of carrying out a subversive war since late last
year and in January this year.

The violent phenomenon he said was characterised by
arbitrary killings, abductions and disappearances of Tamil
civilians. He alleged that 109 Tamil civilians had been
arbitrarily killed by the armed forces helped by the
paramilitaries. Forty-eight have disappeared after being
arrested or abducted by the Sri Lankan military.

The LTTE delegation was armed with detailed information,
documentation and reports on the nature of the violence
perpetrated against Tamil civilians, (as The Sunday Leader
Suranimala column warned it would last week), since the
government took office in November  2005.

Referring to the government released statistics of 5,464
LTTE violations of the CFA, Balasingham said the LTTE
could not accept such exaggerated figures as authentic acts
of ceasefire violations. He said many of the figures were
attributed to child recruitment without taking into
consideration the complex child rights issues in the
northeast and the number of children released by the LTTE.

Child recruitment

Careful to call the government 'your' government at all times
as opposed to 'the' government which would connote an
implied acceptance of its authority by the LTTE,
Balasingham continued, "your government and the SLMM
have accused the LTTE of underage child recruitment
without taking into consideration the complex child rights
issues in the north east and the number of children released
by the LTTE under the Action Plan for the War Affected
Children undertaken in association with the UNICEF."

Balasingham said that Tamilselvan would give a briefing
later on the child rights situation in the north east.

Balasingham also pointed out that the government as well
as the SLMM have conveniently ignored the vast number of
ceasefire violations committed by the Tamil paramilitaries in
the form of arbitrary killings of civilians, political
assassinations, abductions, harassment, extortion,
intimidation, assault, torture and forced conscription of
children.

He alleged that most of these atrocities committed by the
paramilitaries were blamed on the LTTE.

Balasingham specifically drew attention to several clauses in
the CFA including Clause 1.8 regarding paramilitaries. He
said there were five major paramilitary groups operating in
the north east and in Colombo. He alleged they were the
Karuna group, EPDP group, PLOTE group, EPRLF
(Varaithar) group and a Muslim paramilitary group called the
Jihad group.

Paramilitaries also in Colombo

He also said their report has detailed information about
each group, its leaders and area operational commanders
functioning in various districts and in the capital.

He said he was certain "that the Sri Lankan military
hierarchy, particularly the Sri Lankan military intelligence, is
well aware of the existence and activities of the Tamil armed
paramilitaries. Nevertheless we are also providing you with
detailed factual information to reinforce our argument."

In fact, the Suranimala column last Sunday was to warn the
government that the LTTE would in fact be armed with
detailed reports and documentation with regard to
paramilitaries and civilian abductions, torture and murders.

LTTE pitch

So it was clear the LTTE, by calling the signing of the CFA
the most constructive achievement of the Norwegian
facilitator in the peace process and a document that brought
the bloody ethnic war, which lasted more than two decades
causing massive scale of death and destruction to a halt,
was keen to base their talks on the CFA.

Balasingham by also stating the CFA was not formulated in
haste to the advantage of one party, as some critics have
argued, but rather given careful and meticulous thought into
all aspects, was reiterating the importance of the document
to their participation at the talks. So they were pitching it at a
level where they would not agree to any amendment of the
CFA.

As our newspaper group has repeatedly said in its political
columns, the obsession of the LTTE and the driving force
behind its desire to talk is the issue of the paramilitaries
operating in the north east. This is a thorn in the LTTE's
side, especially as the groups are all off shoots of the Tiger
group, some first hijacked by the IPKF and later as they
allege by the Sri Lankan government.

Government pitch

However, Nimal Siripala de Silva and the government
delegation in its opening statement while stating rhetorically
they would express views in a frank and forthright manner
and not make vague and ambiguous statements decided to
completely ignore the paramilitary issue and instead refer
with ill conceived ambivalence to armed groups, underworld
gangs, organised criminals and narcotic dealers under the
heading 'law and order.'

The government also made a lengthy statement on the
killing of late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, and
included short statements on the 3,519 LTTE ceasefire
violations, child recruitment, disenfranchisement of voters in
the northeast and providing relief to the tsunami affected in
the north east.

Unconstitutional

The government called the CFA unconstitutional, against
the law of the land and a violation of national security. Thus
the government wanted to pitch the talks at a level where
the CFA would be totally abrogated.

Released to media

What happened in the end as mentioned above was that the
government was totally outsmarted by the LTTE within a
period of two days, backed down on every one of their
earlier positions and yesterday left Geneva with nothing.

Be that as it may, soon after Anton Balasingham made his
opening statement on Wednesday it was released to the
media unbeknownst to the government side.

In the meantime, Nimal Siripala de Silva arose and made his
statement calling the CFA an unconstitutional document
which was against the law and which they proposed to
revise.

In doing so the government immediately confined itself to a
position and limited themselves by stating the CFA was
unconstitutional.

Of course they did not know at the time that Balasingham
had already released his statement to the media and neither
did they think that he would so release it.

After the two opening statements the parties broke for lunch
only to start fresh bickering. The moment the government
delegation heard that Balasingham's statement had been
released to the press they hit the ceiling because now the
two respective and sharply contrasting positions must
necessarily become public domain.

Crying foul

The government strenuously complained to the Norwegians
on the matter and accused Balasingham of violating the
agreement that media access would be limited and of
releasing his statement, which was part of the talks proper
to the press, in violation of such agreement.

Balasingham retorted saying, "I have not violated any
agreement. There was no such agreement not to release
the statement. It was the government that violated the
agreement if any with Rohitha Bogollagama giving a press
conference to the entire media on the previous day
(Tuesday) even before the talks started."

The government delegates responded that Bogollagama
only talked about the Norwegian statement that was
released regarding the change of SLMM head at this press
briefing. However, this in fact was not correct as Rohitha
Bogollagama gave a lengthy interview to the media, which
question and answer session is published elsewhere in this
newspaper.

Therefore, following the LTTE's action, the government was
now compelled to release its opening statement to the
media. Unfortunately, their position at the negotiating table,
which they were hoping to keep a secret, was now out, and
it became public knowledge that the government had
labeled the CFA unconstitutional.

Then the question was whether they were going to negotiate
the implementation of a document they themselves say was
unconstitutional and compromising national security.

Grounds for impeachment

If they were to do so then by their own admission the action
would be grounds for impeachment and may even
tantamount to treason. A charge that should be leveled
against the entire team of government delegates and
supporting staff who were present and agreed to uphold this
'heinous' document.

Chinthana

In fact the Mahinda Chinthana on page 35 specifically
states, "The Cease Fire Agreement will be amended so as
to ensure that acts of terrorism would not be permitted in
anyway. The ceasefire monitoring mechanism would also be
reviewed and new steps taken. In doing so we shall
endeavour to obtain regional cooperation as well."

JVP argument

In his agreement with the JVP, the President took an even
more hard-line stance. In Clause 4 which states, "It is
agreed hereby that in considering the harmful and
prejudicial effects and other serious implications of the
Cease Fire Agreement that was entered and signed by the
then Prime Minister, Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe and LTTE on
February 22, 2002 the said agreement shall be reviewed
and revised fully and the said agreement shall be
completely redone on removing and eliminating all the
clauses which are prejudicial and harmful to the national
security and foster and nurture separatism and are
inconsistent with the constitution of Sri Lanka."

Mandatory

As pointed out in the Suranimala column last week, the use
of the mandatory word 'shall' leaves no room for
compromise in this regard.

Thus if the government delegation were to uphold the 2002
agreement which we now know they have done, without its
complete revision would tantamount to intentional violation
of the constitution of Sri Lanka. Thus on their own
admission, Rajapakse and his entire government is guilty of
treason and should be impeached.

Be that as it may, what now dogged the government
delegation was the realisation that they had been in too
much of a hurry to start talks in order for their President
Mahinda Rajapakse to look rosy in the eyes of his vote base.

Rajapakse ever since his ascendancy into power was
preoccupied with two things on the peace process. Getting
the venue changed and attempting a change of facilitator.
He was foiled in his latter plan, but was eager to score
brownie points with his extremists allies the JVP and JHU by
at least concentrating on the former, and getting the venue
changed from Norway to even Vladivostok if possible.

Mahinda's preoccupation

At the early stages therefore, Solheim shuttled between
Colombo and Wanni and was told by Rajapakse to only get
the venue changed. However, the LTTE's Pirapaharan is a
man who has seen the wood, the trees, the shrubs and
even the thuthiri plants. He immediately recognised
Rajapakse's preoccupation and was to eagerly seize this
chance and agree to Geneva as a compromise venue
stating they would be willing to start talks as soon as
possible on 'the strengthening of the implementation of the
Cease Fire Agreement.' To demonstrate their sincerity they
immediately named the official peace delegation.

Small-minded

Mahinda Rajapakse, small-minded man that he is, thought
he had won a great victory by getting the LTTE to agree to
a change of venue. Pirapaharan meanwhile was possibly
laughing uncontrollably at the pettiness of this man who
would be king.

The agenda for the talks was set then at that time, way back
in January this year and it was Rajapakse who effectively
agreed to this. Now the government cannot extricate itself
from this position and get it amended. Indeed, by making a
joint statement upholding the CFA, it is now only getting
itself deeper and deeper into LTTE clutches.

In any event, pettiness was to inform the approach of the
government delegation to the entire talks. Thus from who
would make the opening statement to who would release
media documentation, the government fought the petty
battles and felt they won the day when the LTTE with larger
objectives in mind conceded slightly on extraneous matters.

The outcome of this first round of talks is ample evidence of
the strategic prowess of the LTTE team and the
inexperience and puerility of the government delegation.

Be that as it may, ere the two protagonists could lock verbal
horns at Celigny on Wednesday, Solheim who made some
opening remarks set the agenda for the talks by saying it
would be based on the strengthening of the implementation
of the CFA and that is how the two parties to the conflict
should proceed.

Afternoon session

After lunch on Wednesday having thrashed out the issue of
Balasingham releasing his statement to the media, the
afternoon session commenced. It began with the teams
taking up the CFA for discussion clause by clause and
seeing how it should be strengthened.

So the government having made a bombastic opening
statement now conceded to the LTTE with regard to the
CFA on every single issue and upheld the document from
stem to stern right throughout the two day talks.

The government delegation sat down and discussed the
strengthening and the implementation of a document they
said was unconstitutional and in violation of the sovereignty
of the country.

Nonetheless after this brouhaha on Wednesday, Rohitha
Bogollagama the official spokesman for the government
delegation reneged on a pre arranged media briefing he
was to have given at the Beau de Rivage Hotel in Nyon.
Bogollagama was supposed to come and brief the media at
the hotel later in the day on Wednesday.

No show

In fact, his own son Dakshitha who was also in Switzerland
with the father, was waiting at the hotel for him to arrive.
Afternoon talks at the Chateau were scheduled to
recommence at 3:30 p.m. but due to the chaos that ensued
as described above and the on going conflict, they started
much later.

Thus even though earlier scheduled to finish at 5 p.m., the
talks went on until 6: 30 p.m. and Bogollagama was not in a
position to come over and brief the media given the
controversy about speaking to the press.

Therefore he did not go to the hotel as promised the
previous day, but merely sent a vehicle to pick up his son
and sent a message saying he will not be coming for the
briefing.

The sessions on Wednesday also proved further
interesting. The LTTE delegation was to distribute to the
government delegation, two books. One authored by Anton
Balasingham, War And Peace and another authored by his
wife Adele Balasingham, Will To Freedom.

Autograph sessions

"Read these two books to understand the problems the
Tamils are facing," Balasingham urged the government
team. The government delegates were thrilled to receive the
books and many rushed over to Balasingham to have them
autographed by the author himself.

When the talks commenced on the second day H.L. De Silva
who was acting as main spokesperson at the table
commenced a lengthy legal argument about the
paramilitaries.

According to H.L. De Silva, the paramilitary groups born
after the CFA or as a result of the CFA did not come within
the ambit of Clause 1.8 and therefore could not be
discussed at the talks.

Balasingham then said, "We have not accepted the legal
authority of the government of Sri Lanka so your
interpretations do not matter to us. The paramilitaries are off
shoots of the LTTE and we know how they operate. Earlier it
was the IPKF that used them and now the government is
using them. Under the CFA and according to the spirit of the
CFA you cannot have paramilitaries and no timeframe can
be imposed as to when they were formed."

Balasingham said, "We are an extra parliamentary liberation
movement and this is a forum to settle issues on a political
basis not a legal basis. If not there cannot be any chance of
these talks proceeding and we are ready to walk out."

Balasingham also brought up the issue of the murder of
LTTE Eastern Political Wing Leader Kausalyan, at which
point IGP Chandra Fernando said there are many killings
that are unresolved. "Even the Alfred Duraiappah murder is
not resolved."

Balasingham shot back, "No, no, have you not read our
history? We said it was our organisation that did that."

After some time Balasingham said that he was the only one
speaking and he was tired and would like to stop for the day.

Child soldiers

In the afternoon Tamilselvan dealt with the issue of child
soldiers. Speaking in Tamil he took up the issue of UNICEF
and said the LTTE was working with the organisation to
improve the situation. He said that one must understand the
plight of these children and the living conditions and why
they come to the LTTE for help. "We are training them not in
military warfare but survival skills," he said.

Balasingham too got into the conversation and was to have
an argument with SLMM Head Hagrup Haukland over child
soldiers. "Under what section," he inquired, "of the CFA
have you categorised child soldiers as a CFA violation?"

When the discussion about child soldiers was going on
Housing Minister Ferial Ashraff said, "As a mother of a child I
know what a big problem it must be when children are
forcibly recruited."

Tamilselvan was immediately to retort, "As a father of two I
also know the suffering our children are going through
under an oppressive atmosphere."

On Thursday morning, therefore, the talks were almost at
breaking point over the issue of paramilitaries and child
soldiers.

Firebrand Jeyaraj Fernandopulle was surprisingly pliable in
Geneva and quite willing to negotiate in a calm manner and
immediately got through to President Rajapakse on the
direct communication link. "We must resolve this issue," he
said. "Otherwise the talks will break down."

Therefore, Fernandopulle wanted to meet with Balasingham
for a one on one session in private. However, Balasingham
was by now not even willing or inclined to do that.

More demands from the Marxists

In the meantime, the very day the talks were to commence,
that is on Wednesday the JVP sent a memorandum to the
press where they stated, "Norway is an accomplice to the
Liberation Tigers in the LTTE's national struggle and fight
for secession. We demand the Sri Lanka government to
relieve Norway from facilitator role," the JVP said in its
release.

The JVP also approved the appointing of Swedish Brigadier
Ulf Henricsson to head the SLMM and stated that Norway
had not demonstrated any sincerity in working towards a
sustainable peace in Sri Lanka. "Instead Norway is bent on
strengthening the separatist motives of the Liberation
Tigers."

The JVP press release also said that it agreed to work with
Rajapakse only on condition Norway was removed as
facilitator and demanded that the government take steps to
remove them.

But while there is mounting pressure from the extremists
within Rajapakse's camp to toe the hard-line at the talks,
there is equal pressure from the international community to
be flexible.

Co-Chairs' statement

The Co-Chairs in a statement on Tuesday (21) just prior to
the talks welcomed the negotiations and urged both parties
to be flexible.

"The European Union and the governments of Japan,
Norway and the United States, the Co-Chairs, welcome the
February 22-23 discussions between the government of Sri
Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in
Geneva as an opportunity to restore confidence in the
Cease Fire Agreement and move forward towards a
peaceful future.

"We urge both parties to approach the opportunity with an
open and flexible attitude. The Co-Chairs commend the
invaluable assistance provided by the government of
Norway in its continued role as facilitator. We stand ready to
assist Norway in its continued efforts to bring about a
durable peace in Sri Lanka."

Scylla and Charybdis

The Co-Chairs have already given their stamp of approval
to the Norwegians even as the extremists are agitating to
have them removed as facilitators. Rajapakse has to now
decide whether he will put himself or his country first.

Will the desire to hold on to power and safeguard himself
politically cloud his judgment in the national interest?

Rajapakse is between Scylla and Charybdis. He has to give
in to the demands of the hardliners and hawks for his short-
term political survival and on the other hand, he must
secure a lasting peace and be able to maintain a viable
relationship with international donors and the larger
international community in order to keep the economy afloat
and for his long-term survival.

No one envies the President and the many juggling tricks he
has to perform. Little did Rajapakse think when he
scrambled into office last year that the burden of power and
the responsibility of governance would weigh so heavily
upon his shoulders.
[Sunday Leader]