Geneva: context, challenges and consequences

by Dr. Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu

The decision by the GOSL and the LTTE to meet in Geneva in February to
discuss the CFA under Norwegian facilitation is to be welcomed. It provides at
the very least a respite from the heightened tension of the last month and holds
out at best a better protected and further strengthened CFA which can also
provide the spring board for a resumption of peace talks on a final settlement.

The latter is the most desirable outcome of these talks and accordingly the
collapse of such talks could lead to a worse situation than has hitherto existed.
Hopes would have been raised yet again and yet again to be dashed. The
inability of the two parties to agree on the CFA would constitute an intractable, if
not insuperable obstacle in moving forward towards negotiations on core
political questions.

It could be a situation once more of resorting to heightened tensions and
hostilities to effect a change in the balance of power on the ground to break the
deadlock in negotiations on core political issues.

Therefore the ability and willingness of the two sides to move forward on the
CFA is going to be crucial. And this of course depends on the issues within the
agreement that pose as challenges to its effective implementation as well as the
reasons that have led the two parties to the table at this point.

This column has consistently pointed out that the two critical issues in respect of
the CFA are contained in Articles 1.8 and 2.1 dealing with paramilitaries and
with human rights and the treatment of civilians. Each side will no doubt present
its stock positions on these issues. The question is as to whether a compromise
which is seen by each side as being in its interests is possible.

The win /win dimension of any outcome of the talks is fundamental, if they are to
have a positive and constructive impact on the peace process. In any event
there will probably be a period in which the agreements made at the table on
the CFA are to be implemented before the peace process distinguished by
political negotiations can recommence. It is a long road ahead and with
stumbling blocks from the outset.

Clever positions and debating points are no doubt unavoidable for each side in
respect of the two articles identified above – Karuna came after the CFA was
signed and therefore does not constitute a paramilitary group as intended in the
agreement on the one hand and child conscription, political killings and extortion
versus high security zones, harassment of civilians and the countering of civil
and political rights with collective ones on the other.

Certain Collapse

Proceeding article by article may well ensure early deadlock and certain
collapse. The CFA was constructed on the basis of a certain empirical reality. Its
operation has influenced and changed that reality. Consequently, effective
implementation of the agreement in the present context must take account of
the current reality. Failure to do this will stamp these talks with an air of fatal
unreality and lead to the dangerous disappointment alluded to at the outset of
this column and the consequence of hostilities in its wake.

It must also be borne in mind that there will be ‘spoilers’ with a vested interest in
sabotaging the Geneva meeting. This relates directly to paramilitaries who may
conclude that success at Geneva can only be attained at their expense and
therefore must be prevented at all costs. There are already signs of ‘spoiler’
activity — the killing of an LTTE military leader after the announcement of the
Geneva meeting. The earlier explosions in Colombo too can be seen in this
light. Karuna has to be addressed, likewise the range of atrocities impacting on
article 2.1, if the CFA is to be the sound basis for a peace process and
negotiations.

Talks in Geneva will require canny management of the domestic political context
of Sri Lanka in which they are to be conducted and of the ground situation in
the north and east in particular. Early indications are that the President is
demonstrating his political skills in creating a strong and supportive political
environment for his position.

The UNP crossovers which will strengthen his hand vis-a vis the JVP and the
JHU and his interview to Sudar Oli are two examples. However, they need to be
augmented by a long term strategic vision for a peace process which in turn
entails negotiating positions on 1.8 and 2.1, awareness of the danger of
destroying any bipartisan consensus with the UNP because of the crossovers,
command control and communication of, and to the security forces, with regard
to government policy and continued fidelity to the unitary state.

To begin with, early identification of a negotiating team and diligent preparation
for negotiations, especially on the challenges of 1.8 and 2.1 are immediate
priorities. The LTTE, after all, has negotiated with the Sri Lankan state
stretching back over a decade and a half.

Reason for talking

With regard to the LTTE, the question arises as to why they agreed to come to
the table after a series of provocations and a period of heightened tension
which they primarily choreographed. This column mooted the possibility that the
LTTE had ‘lost the plot’ in that they were relying on the Sri Lankan state to raise
the stakes in retaliation for every act of provocation. In this respect it was a
position that depended crucially on the other side playing its part as scripted by
the LTTE. This column also raised the point that the civilian population of the
north and east could come to the point of realisation that there was a clear
divergence between their interests in peace and the LTTE’s in power.
Moreover, human rights violations in the north and east by the security forces,
other groups and the LTTE itself has reinforced the civilian aversion to war
which will always be a key option as far as the LTTE is concerned.

Finally, the tougher positions adopted by the international community towards
the LTTE post Kadirgamar assassination and enforced election boycott could
have also been a consideration. Whatever the precise interpretation of the
statement, the US Ambassador did make the point that the costs of a return to
war for the LTTE would be ‘high.’

All of the above or a combination thereof could have influenced the LTTE
decision. There is no discounting either, a calculation on their part that the talks
will fail because from their perspective the government is unwilling and unable to
come up with constructive positions on 1.8 and 2.1. This needs to be
demonstrated to all and sundry to legitimise drastic action in the future. There
may well be logistical factors affecting the movement of equipment and cadres
that have determined the reprieve from war.

No support for war

Whatever the precise and determining factor on either side, there is no
gainsaying the simple fact that there is no support for a return to war on either
side of the main ethnic divide. The LTTE could profit by considering the
Northern Irish and Palestinian situations in which organisations similar to them
have jettisoned violence for politics with popular support and without detriment
to their organisational interests in power.

It is time, the LTTE emphasised the local government elections in the north and
east present an opportunity, and local government elections in the north and
east with international and local monitoring, even supervision, could be a
constructive element in the movement towards a democratic peace and political
solution.

A necessary but not sufficient condition for the latter is the success of the
Geneva talks. There has to be more than a respite from a more terrible war and
tragedy that could await us. They have to yield a solid base from which we can
move forward, from a situation of ‘NO War’ to one of Peace with democracy and
justice.
[Courtesy: TheMorningLeader]
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