Fate of Geneva talks depends on
Government - LTTE sincerity
Two remarkable "U" turns by the chief actors have for the time being
helped prevent the Sri Lankan shadow war drama from escalating into
full scale war. The Norway facilitated joint decision by the Government of
Sri Lanka (GOSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to
commence talks in Geneva on February 22 nd has reduced greatly
the violence and resultant tensions prevailing very recently.
It is well - known that the agenda of the proposed Geneva parley will at
present be strictly confined to the ceasefire agreement and to that
alone. Several LTTE personalities as well as Erik Solheim have
reiterated this position again and again. Yet the Mahinda Rajapakse
regime continues to regale Sri Lankans with media reports about
elaborate preparations being made to "train" the Government
negotiating team in the finer points of federalism - confederation as well
as the differences between unitary and united. They will also be taught
The entire exercise seems an amusing charade at which the nation
could laugh if not for the fact that the future of the Country is at stake.
What is required in Geneva is not a debate about Constitutional reform
or power sharing formulae but a thorough focus on the prevailing
ceasefire. It is not a debating forum to blame each other or score
brownie points. How can the parties involved strengthen the ceasefire
and prevent a possible collapse? This is the most important question for
Geneva. Indeed the solitary question at this point of time. Yet the
Rajapakse regime spending its time on other details seems oblivious to
this aspect. This indicates either colossal ignorance or massive duplicity.
What is essential at Geneva is for both sides to commit themselves
sincerely to the preservation of the ceasefire. From an LTTE
perspective this requires solemn pledges cum implementation on the
part of the Government to dissolve the so called paramilitary groups in
the East and even more importantly in the North. It would also mean a
genuine commitment not to deploy the deep penetration squads
against LTTE leaders. Moreover the state would be required to abandon
its recent move to arm Muslim groups in the East. Apart from the
question of "alternative armed groups" issue the LTTE would also
expect the Government to commit itself about downsizing high security
zones in terms of the CFA. Ensuring security of tiger political cadres in
Govt controlled areas and reducing harassment of Tamil civilians are
also on the agenda.
The LTTE position would be that all these issues are clearly covered
under the existing ceasefire and that they have to be honoured fully for
the ceasefire to continue. The peace process rests on the ceasefire.
The Government on the other hand would be required to provide clear
cut guarantees with time frames on this. Sarath Fonseka the man who
refused to dismantle security zones in Jaffna is at the helm of the army
now. It does not require much clairvoyance to foresee the future on this
crucial issue.. Also having "scented blood" through the recent use of
alternate armed groups as well as deep penetration squads it remains a
moot point as to whether the state would be willing or is in a position to
adhere to LTTE requests on this issue.
Against this backdrp the chances of any meaningful breakthrough in
Geneva seem very slim. Yet the government in a blatant cosmetic
exercise tries to build up an euphoric image that can only explode in its
face. While these preparations go on there are media reports about Mr.
Tiran Alles maintaining regular contact with Kilinochchi. With Mr. Alles
running the RRDA there is speculation that some understanding has
been reached with the LTTE about disbursing funds for tsunami
rehabilitation in the North - East. If this is indeed correct then it is this
"deal" that would help preserve the fragile ceasefire and not the "boru
show" in Geneva.
This brings us to the 4.5 billion US $ question about why Geneva
became necessary at all. The Geneva conclave became a distinct
possibility due to positional shifts by the GOSL and LTTE. A brief re- run
of the recent past first.
Mahinda Rajapakse depicted in sections of the media as being
"hawkish" on the ethnic question was elected to office on a Sinhala
hardline platform. Furthermore his chief allies are the Janatha Vimukthi
Peramuna (JVP) and Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU). That both parties
espouse policies non - conducive to an Oslo facilitated negotiated
settlement on federal or quasi - federal lines was obvious.
The initial signs after Rajapakse's elevation pointed to a hardened
approach. From the Prime Minister to Defence Adviser most of
Rajapakse's appointees were Sinhala hardliners. It appeared that
Colombo was gearing up for war. Since Rajapakse envisaged a solution
within the Unitary state structure that rejected the concepts of
"homeland" and "Self - determination" there seemed very little common
ground with broad Tamil aspirations as opposed to those of the LTTE.
The turning point according to some observers was the Rajapakse trip
to India in late December last year. The new Sri Lankan president
realised that New Delhi was neither interested in replacing Norway as
facilitator nor keen to aid the war effort actively. It was also conveyed
that India would like Colombo to continue with Oslo facilitated efforts to
engage the LTTE in talks and arrive at a settlement moving away from
the unitary state.
Apart from India there was also much pressure from other International
players. The USA, EU and Japan backed Norway to the hilt and wanted
talks. This meant that Rajapakse who opposed Norway's role had to
reverse his stance. Even as Rajapakse showed signs of adhering to
International opinion there were doubts whether he could carry the JVP
and JHU with him. It appears that Rajapakse has succeeded to some
extent for now at least.. The JVP though unhappy remains silent for the
time being while the JHU is openly critical but has not specifically
opposed talks so far. Both parties have shown interest in participating at
the talks though that seems highly unlikely.
Thus the Rajapakse regime which wanted Norway out and any talks with
the LTTE to take place in Sri Lanka began back pedalling. It agreed first
to Oslo facilitated talks resuming and then agreed to Europe being a
venue from its earlier position that it should be in Asia. Colombo also
was compelled to accept Erik Solheim as the premier intermediary. It had
earlier attempted to get him replaced as a face saving measure.
It was against this backdrop that Solheim now the Norwegian minister of
Overseas Aid arrived in Sri Lanka on Jan 23rd. London based LTTE
political adviser and chief negotiator Anton Balasingham also arrived in
Colombo on the same day. After meeting with President Rajapakse
Solheim also went to Kilinochchi to meet LTTE leader Velupillai
Prabakharan on Jan 25th. It was then announced that the GOSL and
LTTE will hold direct talks in Geneva.
If on the one hand GOSL flexibility had aided this positive development ,
the LTTE too had softened its stance on the other. Though
Prabakharan had gone on record in his Great Heroes day address that
he was prepared to grant Rajapakse some time developments on
ground deemed otherwise. Incorporating elements of the Palestinian
Intifada and Iraqi resistance the LTTE launched a stealth war in the
LTTE front organizations demanded the withdrawal of security forces
from the North and downsizing of high security zones.Security personnel
were targeted . Attacks ranging from Claymore mines explosions to
pistol shooting resulted in 74 security personnel being killed in six
weeks.The tiger game plan seemed to be maintaining pressure until one
of two things happened. Either President Rajapakse called the ceasefire
off and declared open war or the security forces incensed by the attacks
engaged in a large scale civilian massacre. Then the LTTE citing it as
cause would declare war.
This did not happen mainly because President Rajapakse remained
remarkably patient and the security forces showed overt restraint. The
LTTE instead of continuing its course has now suspended its so called
"peoples war" and opted for talks. What made the LTTE revise its
stance? There is a consensus that International opinion caused it. From
India to the EU the pressure on both sides to talk was overwhelming. In a
significant show of words Lunstead the US envoy to Colombo as well as
State dept under - secretary Burns warned the LTTE harshly about
consequences of going to war.
Though International pressure played an important part in influencing
the LTTE decision there was another crucial additional factor too. What
has been glossed over or downplayed in this regard is the fact that tiger
plans went awry due to an unexpected factor. Instead of letting the LTTE
have a sole monopoly on violence other actors too got into the fray. For
the first time in many years many persons suspected of being LTTE or
supportive of the LTTE were targeted in the North.
It is an open secret that the LTTE faction led by former Eastern tiger
commander Vinayagamurthy Muraleetharan alias "Col" Karuna has
been conducting a campaign of violence against the mainstream LTTE
in the East. This had checked tiger activity to a great extent and
restricted functional ability and mobility in the East. Now the shadow war
began moving to the North also.
Groups of Tamil youths with logistical support provided by the security
forces and Police began targeting tiger supporters or suspected
supporters in the North. These allegedly comprised members from five
different Tamil groups as well as ex - members. The LTTE calls them
"paramilitary" but the Norway led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission calls them
"Alternative Armed Groups".
These elements began targeting "tiger" targets. From a Human Rights
perspective the campaign was deplorable but from a military strategy
viewpoint it was a very successful counter - terrorist strategy.Well -
Known tiger supporters as well as family members of dead or living
LTTE members were targeted. Some simply went "missing" with charges
of being abducted in vehicles with unlicensed number plates. Even
people involved in helping with LTTE ceremonial functions were killed.
This resulted in many Tamil civilians being killed. The Kilinochchi based
human rights organization NESOHR claims that 107 people were killed
in two months.There are registered complaints about another 33 being
missing. A climate of teror prevailed. Usually terror is inflicted by the
LTTE on those it regarded as the "enemy". Now the situation was
different. Those supportive of the LTTE were being terrorised. This
resulted in tiger supporters particularly those from families with LTTE
connections relocating hastily from Jaffna to the LTTE controlled Wanni
region for safety. It is estimated according to NESOHR that 16, 431
people have moved into LTTE areas within a six week period.
One important consequence of this forced migration was that the LTTE
support base in Jaffna was diminishing.. These families many of whom
moved to Jaffna from the Wanni after the ceasefire were suspected of
providing support in many ways to the tigers in the so called "peoples
war". Now these families were moving out of Jaffna. Others were made
"afraid" to render support. Besides the movement of many pro - tiger
elements were restricted. With the LTTE gradually losing its support
base the level of anti - security violence also began
decreasing.Reprehensible as it was the counter - insurgency strategy
proved a point that the LTTE understood only the language of violence!
The Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRP) forbidden by the
CFA were also revived.Earlier these LRRP groups had penetrated deep
into LTTE territory and ambushed senior tiger leaders. Among those
killed in this fashion were "Col" Shankar the head of the LTTE air wing,
Lt. Col Gangai Amaran the deputy commander of the sea tigers and
Major Nizam chief of Batticaloa - Amparai Intelligence. Other seniors like
Thamilselvan, Balraj, Karikalan, Jeyam etc had narrow escapes.
The revival of LRRP attacks resulted in a LTTE "major" being killed in
Iranaiiluppaikkulam in Vavuniya district and two "Captains" being killed in
Thambalagamam in Trincomalee district. It was also reported that LTTE
political Commissar SP Thamilselvan narrowly escaped death again
when an LRRP landmine ambush was set up in Pappamottai in Mannar.
These attacks forbidden by the ceasefire agreement increased pressure
on the LTTE.
In another development smacking of racial discrimination 600 Sinhala
and Muslim youths in Trincomalee were recruited and trained as
homeguards. Apart from this there are allegations that Muslim youths in
Amparai and Trincomalee districts have been armed and are being used
as "unacknowledged paramilitaries" against the LTTE and Tamil
civilians. Some recent killings of Tamils in Akkaraipattru and Mutur are
attributed to these Muslim groups by the LTTE. In two separate
meetings in Pavattai in Amparai and Sampur in Trincomalee senior tiger
leaders addressed a cross section of Muslim civil society and warned
them of this development.
With the net tightening the LTTE was being constricted slowly. It was in
this situation that the LTTE softened its stance and agreed to go for
talks in Geneva.In typical LTTE style the tigers projected an impression
that they were doing so in the interests of the Tamil people and to give
Mahinda Rajapakse another chance.Anton Balasingham stated explicitly
at the press conference after the Kilinochchi meeting with Erik Solheim
that the tigers were going for talks to prevent the relocation of the Tamil
people. He stated that is why Prabakharan had "climbed down"(Irangi
vanthu) from his earlier position.
It appears that the LTTE has agreed to talks at this stage to prevent
further targeting of tiger supporters and their forced relocation from
Jaffna. This support base is a potential fifth column if and when open
war erupts. The LTTE will not like to let this fifth column decrease in
numbers and lose its potency. The talks therefore will help freeze the
Already the killings and abductions by the anti - tiger elements have
virtually ceased in the North. The pro - tiger "civilian force" has
announced a moratorium on violence. It is interesting to note that the
tigers who denied any involvement in the Jaffna violence have
guaranteed an end to it if tiger supporters being targeted stops.
In the prevailing situation the LTTE will utilise the talks to press for
several demands. It will state that certain measures will have to be taken
or implemented to strengthen the ceasefire. One of these will be the
disbanding of "paramilitary" forces or alternative armed groups. The
media at large refers only to the Karuna led Eastern groups when taking
of paramilitaries. What is ignored is the paramilitaries operating in the
East. From a tiger perspective this phenomenon is far more serious as it
is essentially a state sponsored one whereas in the East it was originally
an internal split in tiger ranks.
Against this backdrop the tigers will insist that violence against its
supporters should cease and that the paramilitary issue be "firmly"
resolved. It has been LTTE practice to obtain through talks what it
cannot achieve through violence.
Anton Balasingham has also said that a climate of normalcy should
prevail in the N- E for the talks to commence in Geneva. This means that
a resurgence of anti - tiger violence could have resulted in the LTTE
refusing to participate in Geneva. The killing of the LTTE 's Major
Kapilan by the Karuna faction in the East as well as the alleged
abduction of civilian employees of the pro - tiger Tamil Rehabilitation
Organization in Batticaloa have posed a threat to the fragile situation.
Yet the LTTE has opted to go to Geneva.
Given this background it does seem clear that a compelling factor in the
LTTE decision to go to Geneva is the desire to prevent the anti - tiger
violence and bring about an end to the paramilitary "problem". On that
basis the tigers are likely to pull out of Geneva talks if their supporters
are targeted on a large scale again. Despite the current euphoria the
ground situation does not offer much hope since the Government too
cannot give in to possible LTTE demands at this juncture.
As far as the state is concerned there is no doubt - notwithstanding its
denial - that it is very much involved with the "alternative armed
groups". Sadly for Colombo its most effective "power" is not its armed
forces or Police but the "assassins" of these "paramilitaries" and "deep
penetration squads". Moreover it hopes to counter the LTTE in war
through the deployment of these groups particularly the Karuna faction.
With the bona fides of the LTTE being in doubt over its genuineness in
seeking a peaceful settlement the state simply cannot afford to disband
or hand over the other groups to the LTTE. Whereas the top priority for
the LTTE in Geneva will be this issue.
Under these circumstances the only "optimistic" silver lining in this dark
"pessimistic" cloud is the fact that both sides have at least agreed to
talk to each other directly in Geneva.This by itself is no cause for
complacent satisfaction. Though Mahinda Rajapakse seems to be
peering into the future of Geneva through rosy - tinted spectacles there
are three doubtful areas about the future direction of the proposed
One is whether the proposed Geneva talks will continue as scheduled
if serious violence erupts. While the LTTE has to keep the so called
civilian protests under check the state has to control the regular security
forces along with the paramilitaries, deep penetration squads,
homeguards and other alternative armed groups.
The next is about the outcome of these talks. Will there be satisfactory
decisions reached and more importantly will those be implemented? The
past in this respect does not offer much hope for the future.
The third is whether these talks will progress to a point where
substantive issues pertaining to a lasting political settlement will be
discussed?. The answer to all these questions lies in the sincerity and
willingness of both sides to honour the four year old Ceasefire in letter