Geneva talks on CFA: To deal with paramilitaries
By Sumanasiri Liyanage
Following Eric Solheim’s visit, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
(LTTE) and the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) have decided finally
to meet once again and to recommence talks after an interval of 33
months (April 2003- January 2006). One of the positive aspects of the
Norwegian peace initiatives is that they are quite capable of arranging
meetings between two conflict partners who are not ready to talk to
each other. They were successful in doing this in many conflict
The LTTE has not only agreed to meet a delegation from the GoSL, but
also named its delegation and promised that it would abstain from any
violence, in the aftermath of Solheim’s meeting with them. Both parties
also demonstrated flexibility in selecting the venue, thus softening their
rigid initial positions. Therefore, the two parties have accepted Solheim’
s suggestion to hold talks in Geneva.
Of course, accepting the fact, that the Norwegians are quite successful
in bringing conflict parties to the table, does not preclude observations
of the many weaknesses of the Norwegian kind of interventions. Johan
Galtung’s interesting comments, on the Norwegian initiatives in the
Israel-Palestine conflict, highlight some of these flaws.
It is evident, that the main focus of talks will be on the Cease-Fire
Agreement (CFA), although, parties would have different perspectives
on how the CFA should be strengthened. Even two parties use different
terminologies in describing what would be necessary to be done for the
CFA. Nonetheless, it is imperative, to introduce some changes to the
CFA. In the last four years, there were many CFA violations. The
SLMM, in fact, has recently posed the question if the CFA still holds.
The SLMM has ruled that 3,633 out of 8,064 total complaints made to
the SLMM, between February 2002 and December 31, 2005, are CFA
violations. While the LTTE is responsible for 3,471 violations, the GoSL
is responsible for 162. The situation has changed significantly since
April 2004 and dramatically since December 2005. As I observed, in my
previous article, the Sri Lankan situation has transformed from a “no
war, no peace” situation to what is called “a low intensity conflict”.
The changes that occurred in December and in the first week of 2006,
indicate that the country is moving towards a second metamorphosis,
signifying, that the low intensity conflict would be gradually making way
for a high intensity conflict, if the parties fail to take necessary
corrective actions. Political killings, attacks on rival parties, rape and
other human rights violations, are the acts of three main actors, namely,
the LTTE, the security forces of the GoSL and other Tamil para-military
groups (especially the Karuna faction), with the LTTE being the main
violator of the CFA. (“The Second Metamorphosis” by Sumanasiri
Liyanage, Daily Mirror, January 14, 2006)
Of course, peace loving people would anticipate that at the Geneva
talks, the parties would develop a mechanism that would stop further
deterioration of the situation and agree to abide by the CFA. In dealing
with the CFA, the main focus would be on Para 1.8 and Para 2.1 of the
CFA. Para 1.8 states that ‘Tamil paramilitary groups shall be disarmed
by the GoSL by D-day + 30, 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’. On the other hand, Para 2.2 deals with a
seemingly different aspect. It says: “The parties shall, in accordance
with international law, abstain from hostile acts against the civilian
population, including such acts as torture, intimidation, abduction,
extortion and harassment”.
One may, with reasonable justification, argue that the two are linked
and a single mechanism should be designed to deal with the two issues.
However, it may be useful to discuss them separately, in order to
identify relevant issues that need to be addressed. So, in this article, I
discuss Para 1.8 related questions, while issues related to Para 2.2 will
be discussed in my next article.
According to the CFA, the GoSL should have disarmed para-military
groups by March 26, 2003, and integrated those individuals into the
security forces structure of the GoSL, to be deployed away from the
North and Eastern Provinces. This was done and the LTTE has not
come up with any queries regarding this process.
However, the question of disarming was raised once again, with the
emergence of new para military forces, the Karuna faction and small-
armed Muslim groups (not yet actively organized). Reports also indicate
that there are LTTE-backed new para military groups, like Pongu Ellim
Makkal Padai in the North and Marawara Padai in the East.
Rather than, simply focus on how to disarm newly emerging groups,
both parties should engage in questions of why and under what
conditions, these groups have emerged. For example, what has given
rise to the LTTE Karuna cross killings, over the last year-and-a-half?
Why has the LTTE found it impossible to accept separate
representations from the East and the Muslim communities? What
forces have, for example, pushed new groups to arm themselves, as a
means of protection?
Do the security forces of the GoSL and the LTTE themselves engage in
para-military or subterranean operations? Furthermore, why has the
State intervened, so actively, in supporting para-military groups in the
Eastern Province, is another useful question to ask. Over the last
months, I have repeatedly heard assertions of this from human rights
groups based in the East. I have often heard these individuals talk of
how the army houses, even, under-aged child recruits in their camps, to
be trained by the Karuna faction.
These questions are difficult questions but, necessary to ask. What is
immediately necessary is reciprocative actions by both sides. The LTTE
should stop using arms, except in situations of self-defence. It should
stop physically harming members of their political opponents and
Muslims. This demands a radical rethinking of the LTTE, one party, sole
representative claims, at least in the political sphere.
Furthermore, the GoSL should stop using/supporting para-military
groups and should only provide security for them, when certain para-
military individuals are under attack from the LTTE. The Army, the STF
and the police must stop opening fire on civilians, when they are
attacked. The recent months have seen an escalation on Tamil civilian
harassment , both in the South and the North East. The roundup of
Tamils in Colombo, in the past months, and the harassment of these
individuals, has been troubling and a sad reminder of a return to a past,
where Tamils felt constantly under threat from the Sri Lankan State.
This has, furthermore, been done under the ridiculous claims by the
State that, these increased arrests are really to stop drug trafficking.
One way of resolving this seemingly intractable conflict, is to have
round table talks between all the parties involved. However, this may
not be acceptable to the LTTE, since its talks with the Karuna faction
would negate its claim that it is the sole representative of the Tamils in
On the other hand, as some conflict resolution experts suggest, it may
not be realistic to posit that the Karuna factor is internal to the LTTE, so
that it should not be taken into consideration. Hence, the parties have
to think of a second-best alternative.
This may necessitate an overall strategy of the GoSL entering into
simultaneous two party agreements, namely, an agreement between
the GoSL and the LTTE and an agreement between the GoSL and the
para-military groups, particularly, with the Karuna faction.
Para 1.8 of the CFA would only be meaningful if this kind of mutual
understanding is possible.
Of course, this links with the basic human rights issue that will be the
subject of the next article.
The writer teaches political economy at the University of Peradeniya.