Getting back to Geneva: still a lot to do
By Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu
It is now three weeks since the conclusion of the talks in
Geneva and almost a month to the next round of talks there.
The question therefore arises as to whether any of what was
agreed at the first round of talks needs to be demonstrably
implemented before one gets to the next round.
Is there any effort in this direction that has been initiated or
evidence that it is to happen or that it is being contemplated?
The first round of Geneva talks was hailed as a success
because there was agreement to meet again and a
statement reaffirming the commitment of both sides to
uphold the cease-fire.
Reading between the lines, some argued, was implicit
admission of responsibility for cease-fire violations –
furthermore it was also evident that once agreement to meet
in Geneva was reached the level of violence reduced,
The talks in Geneva it is now revealed were no tea party,
either. There were some very tense and delicate moments
where collapse of the talks could have become a reality.
The issue here seems to have been largely the GOSL
position re the agenda of the talks – full implementation of
the CFA as the LTTE and the facilitators understood it to be
or amendment as the GOSL seemed determined to achieve,
at the talks and after. Added to this was the GOSL
insistence that the CFA was unconstitutional, putting it in a
situation at the end of the day of pledging to uphold an
unconstitutional agreement with an organization a sizeable
chunk of its negotiating team still considers to be "terrorist."
That the first round in Geneva was pulled off is attributable,
according to subsequent media reportage, to the second
track diplomacy of Basil Rajapakse giving the green light for
the final statement, whilst at the same time assuring the
GOSL negotiators that their political backs were covered
from the JVP/JHU axis.
This round in Geneva has reinforced the importance of the
Track Two dimension and of back channels in a situation in
which trust and confidence have to be built up anew.
Geneva also did reinforce the major difference in
perspective between the two sides – the GOSL taking a
largely legalistic view and the LTTE insisting on a political
This continues to be the case as evinced by Anton
Balasingham’s response to the renewed JVP demand that
the services of the Norwegian facilitator be dispensed with,
forthwith. Balasingham points to the need for the facilitator
to ensure that the asymmetry between state and non-state
actor does not impede the negotiating process. The
facilitator’s efforts in this respect should not be construed as
partial and biased, but "facilitating."
The guarantee of the next round in Geneva taking place or
at least without the tension and uncertainty as to whether it
will, depends in large measure on demonstrable political
commitment on the ground rather than legalistic hair splitting
In this respect, the GOSL is caught in somewhat of a bind
having to implement in letter and spirit a CFA it believes is
unconstitutional and unfavour-able. The issue of
paramilitaries is probably the one that best illustrates this,
but it is not the only one. And the difficulties with regard to
implementing the provisions of the Geneva statement
dealing with paramilitaries has been illustrated by the killing
of LTTE cadres since the conclusion of the talks.
As this column pointed out earlier, the GOSL has to be clear
as to what its strategic objective is. Is it to be a new
ceasefire agreement which in turn will serve as the basis for
negotiations towards a political settlement or is it content to
work with the existing one for the same purpose? Were it to
be the former, it should be understood that a new CFA will
probably be only attainable consequent to a fresh resort to
The LTTE for sure has not been getting it all its way. Was
the real objective of everything it did from presidential
election day in November onwards, to ensure that there
would be talks on the CFA through which the pressure they
have been subjected to from the para militaries, would be
eased if not eliminated for good?
This columnist does not believe that Geneva was part of
their original plan. However there did come a point at which
there was a perverse congruence of strategic interest
between the GOSL and them on the benefits of buying time.
But not indefinitely. No war /No peace hurts the LTTE. Their
first and last resort to break its bonds is a return to
hostilities, armed with alibis and justifications about GOSL
bad faith, inability and unwillingness to deliver as promised.
In the next four weeks there will have to be progress on the
ground if at the end of this period there is to be another
round of talks and certainly another thereafter. Inability to
do so will make clear to the rest of us as to what the
strategic priority of each side is – a new ceasefire
agreement on the one hand and a fait accompli on the
ground that will ratchet up the baseline for political
negotiations, on the other. Were this to be the case, the sad
and sorry observation is that violence is the factor common
Whilst some distance yet from going beyond the no peace
situation, we are still in the business of entrenching the no
war situation, the fate of the current CFA notwithstanding.