TamilWeek Mar 5, 2006
Geneva Talks — a small  yet giant step

by A. Kandappah

Erik Solheim, that ubiquitous Norwegian charmer who
shares more than a love-hate confetti-rotten eggs outburst
from the LTTE and the GoSL respectively, demonstrated he
knows the jaundiced mind of both sides when he warned:
"not to entertain raised hopes in these talks, just yet’. And
so it was. Look at the diametrically opposed
pronouncements of both leaders. Said Minister Nimal
Siripala de, Silva: "it (CFA) is contrary to our Constitution
and law. Furthermore, it is prejudicial to the sovereignty and
the territorial integrity of the Republic of Sri Lanka."

As if he was in a different confab, in a different subject and
in a totally different planet Anton Balasingham opened his
innings, "The CFA is the most constructive achievement of
the Norwegian felicitated peace process signed between the
GoSL and the LTTE exactly 4 years ago today".

But mercifully, all’s well that ends well. And so it did in
Geneva February 22-23, 2006 when both sides agreed to
meet again in April - tacit acknowledgement things were
mutually satisfactory. Despite the pithy and shrill post-
Geneva comments that the media carries disproportionately
speculating, "is an amendment not a different agreement?"
and so on, I think in fairness to the leaders and the
delegations of both sides, it might be in order to use cricket
parlance and say, "the talks and the issue gained and won".

Although Nimal Siripala de Silva was slammed from many
sides questioning his leadership quality, eventually his
babyish smile and friendliness won over and he made even
the glum Anton Balasingham not only smile but shake hands
warmly as well. As to the results of Round 1, in tiny
reckoning, it was 1-1.

While GoSL and the LTTE had reason to feel happy about
Geneva February 22-23, the man responsible for laying the
turf for these talks and future possible talks that may take
both sides to the road to victory - remained in the
background - Ranil Wickremesinghe. And he too had
reason to smile although others were basking in the
sunshine that he helped usher in. Let me quote Minister
Siripala de Silva again, "We acknowledge that certain
benefits flowed to the people from the Ceasefire. We
consider the Ceasefire as a first step to arrive at a
negotiated settlement to the ongoing conflict".

Ranil and his party, the UNP, introduced a new and welcome
culture to Sri Lanka - they declared they were content if
peace returned to the land no matter through whom. If
Lankans can at last join hands and build a conflict-free,
united and prosperous nation Ranil needs to be
remembered. For this lofty stand Ranil and the UNP deserve
national praise. They have placed the country and its future
ahead of parochial party politics - and may Mahinda
Rajapakse and the people of Sri Lanka remember that.

I know of many people whose eyes were moist to see Sri
Lankans light candles and join hands on February 22 in the
desperate hope that peace and unity will return to their
shattered land. The Norwegians, who patiently took so much
flak, abuse and insult - not excluding a stream of hearse-
coffins visiting their embassy in Colombo - had their reward
in plenty for Minister de Silva - whose coalition partners
slammed the Nords in acerbic language during the
November Presidential elections - openly acknowledged,
"We are therefore thankful to the international community
for their steadfast encouragement for the commencement of
these discussions."

And what of the future? There is much hope because,
among many others, I have also called for and spelt out
tangible action from the GoSL to show Geneva and the
world they have done their share of "confidence building
measures" to entice the estranged Tamils back to the
national fold.

Minister de Silva assures Geneva and the world "GoSL has
demonstrated its unwavering commitment to achieve
substantial and sustainable economic development in all
parts of the country. GoSL has invested heavily in provincial
development. The North-East should be accorded special
attention so as to enable these areas to expeditiously
recover from the devastation of the conflict and the tsunami."

If this wisdom, transgressing the forces of racial, linguistic
prejudice, very much alive and active on the government
side prevails then there will be no need for future Genevas,
Norwegians or even the LTTE. Signalling to the farmers and
fisherfolk of the North-East their appeals are being
addressed, the Communique observed, "certain violations of
the Ceasefire have resulted in serious economic hardships
being caused to farmers, fishermen and others involved in
economic pursuit in the North-East".

Visible action and relief should be given to those in the
Tamil areas whom the tsunami did not spare and yet who
are condemned to suffer for over an year so far by a
government who have been deaf to their pathetic pleas so
far. President CBK did come forward to offer relief until the
forces of reaction moved the Courts and still the misery of
these unfortunate people continues.

If GoSL keeps to their promises and cause relief to those
Tamils whose 28,830 houses, 35 prominent schools, 201
places of worship, numerous public buildings and 13,000
acres of farming land (Jaffna only) were appropriated under
the guise of HSZ, then we have good reason to look at the
April talks with increased optimism.

Defending the CFA from those in the extreme fringe who
prejudiced voters’ minds that the Agreement is a sell-out of
Sinhala interests, Balasingham claimed, "the CFA was not
formulated in haste to the advantage of one party, as some
have argued, but rather given careful and meticulous
scrutiny in all aspects - terms, conditions and obligations - of
the truce by both parties. The CFA is a well-crafted valid
instrument of peace, devised for the purpose of bringing an
end to the hostilities and to create a positive environment
conducive for meaningful negotiations".

What better example, as a result, than the February Geneva
talks itself. There has to be much give-and-take from the
LTTE side as well and it is best in April they have their list of
confidence-building measures to show GoSL and the world
‘that they are now ready to lay down the gun for the plough.

The several hundreds of thousands of Tamils languishing
as IDP’s and in refugee camps must be helped to get back
to their homes and assisted by the government to re-build
their torn lives. If satisfactory progress is to flow from the
April talks in Geneva the 60,000 armed men now in the
North-East may return to the South and help arrest a far
more deadly national peril - the deteriorating law and order
situation exacerbated by ‘increasing major crimes planned
and executed under the direction of organized underworld
Dons - many of whom demobilised men in uniform with
specialised weapons training.

Many social scientists feel unless the rapid decline of the
many disciplines that holds society together harmed as a
consequence is arrested there can be a total break-down of
society - as seen in some parts of Africa and the Caribbean
where the law and order machinery has completely broken

Offering hope for the future, Balasingham is ready to look
into a new relationship with the South and is ready to forget
the past. To use his words, "Instead of engaging in
acrimonious bickering that might poison the atmosphere of
goodwill, it is prudent to engage in constructive discussion,
exploring ways and means to stability."

The language of the GoSL and Minister Siripala de Silva
appears to bear equal sincerity and hope.
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