Geneva talks - undoubtedly a success,
but what next?
by Kethesh Loganathan
The country and the peoples across the ethnic divide
heaved a sigh of relief when the Norwegian Facilitator Erik
Solheim announced at the conclusion of the "Geneva Talks"
that the Government and the LTTE had not only reaffirmed
their commitment to the Ceasefire Agreement, by "taking all
necessary measures to ensure that there will be no
intimidation, acts of violence, abductions or killings", but had
gone further and signed an agreement which in essence is a
"No Violence" Pact.
The LTTE by committing itself "to taking all necessary
measures to ensure that there will be no acts of violence
against the security forces and police" have in effect
conceded that the spate of claymore mine explosions and
grenade attacks that preceded the "Geneva Talks" was not a
case of a spontaneous "people's uprising" as the LTTE had
maintained, but a carefully planned and executed campaign
by the LTTE.
The Government by committing itself "to taking all necessary
measures in accordance with the Ceasefire Agreement to
ensure that no armed group or person other than the
Government security forces will carry arms or conduct armed
operations", has implicitly or tacitly acknowledged that the
LTTE is not the sole perpetrator of the spate of killings and
abductions in Government controlled areas and that the
Government has to take the responsibility in ensuring that
violence of this nature stops.
What made the talks a success, in terms of the decision of
the parties to commit themselves to a "No Violence"
agreement of sorts, not to mention the agreement on a date
for the next round of talks, is the clear statement that
emanated from both parties as regards their respective
positions at the commencement of the negotiations.
The Statement by the Government's Chief Negotiator Nimal
Siripala de Silva in particular impressed on the need for the
parties to be mindful of their respective interests and to
articulate them in a principled, but a firm manner.
To quote: "We should keep in mind that no issue is
insurmountable, if the interests of the people and the country
are kept uppermost in our minds. Accordingly it is our desire
to express our views in a frank and forthright manner, rather
than to make vague and ambiguous statements that would
serve no useful purpose, although they may appear more
acceptable on the surface".
In short, to use the words of the late Lakshman Kadirgamar,
there was not going to be any "pussyfooting" or
Of course, having stated their respective positions it was
imperative that the parties should , in the words of the Chief
Negotiator of the LTTE Anton Balasingham in his own
opening statement, " instead of engaging in acrimonious
bickering that might poison the atmosphere of goodwill, it
would be prudent to engage in a constructive discussion,
exploring ways and means to stabilise and strengthen the
Although, this writer is not privy to what transpired at the
Geneva Talks, other than the Statement read out by Erik
Solheim, it appears that there was considerable give and
take. It may not be an exaggeration to state that the
Statement read out at the culmination of the talks is a
The issue now of course is what next?
Firstly, considerable burden now lies with the SLMM to go
beyond being, in the words of Philip Alston, the UN Special
Rapporteur on Extra-judicial killings and Arbitrary and
Summary executions, a mere "recording agency" with an
"excessively narrow interpretation of its mandate".
The Statement read out at the end of the "Geneva Talks"
clearly states that the SLMM "will report on implementation
on the above agreements at the next session of talks."
In this regard, it is imperative that the SLMM has unhindered
access to LTTE controlled areas, including the Districts of
Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu which are not mentioned in the
It is also imperative that this report should be brought to the
public domain so that "naming and shaming" would act as a
deterrence, in the absence of powers of enforcement.
It is also important that the Report of the SLMM should be
transmitted to the Donor Co-Chairs, so that if "naming and
shaming" does not act as a deterrence, then the option of
sanctions is exercised with the dual objective of not only
keeping the parties at the table, but in ensuring that the talks
do not lead to a situation where the parties are content only
with not using violence against each other, but decide to look
the other way when violence is perpetrated against civilians
and other stakeholders.
This happened after the signing of the Ceasefire Agreement
in February 2002 based on the misplaced notion of
"partnership" between the UNF Government and the LTTE,
to the exclusion of other legitimate actors and stakeholders.
This takes us to the issue of inclusivity. The Mahinda
Rajapakse Government which should be commended for
introducing a high degree of inclusivity and transparency to
the process should continue to remain committed to the
further deepening and widening of this process.
It is imperative that the spirit of partnership with the LTTE is
not allowed to degenerate into the practice of "sole
proprietorship", where the LTTE functions as the "sole
proprietor" of the Tamil people and the
Government-of-the-day the "sole proprietor" of the Sinhala
people, leaving other legitimate actors and stakeholders in
Thirdly, it must be recognised that the "full implementation"
of the CFA as posited by the LTTE is not possible without a
comprehensive "review" of the CFA.
And, where the review of the CFA exposes the fragility or the
irrelevance of certain clauses, then it is incumbent on the
parties as well as Norway as the facilitator which played a
key role in the architecture of the CFA, to use Clause 4.3 of
the CFA that provides for the amendment or modification of
the ceasefire agreement. Perhaps, the term "modify" may be
less contentious than the term "amend".
In any event to posit the argument that after 4 years since
the signing of the CFA and a period which witnessed
rampant violations as well as altered politico-military
situations that the CFA remains inviolable and sacred is a
recipe for disaster.
In fact, for the ceasefire to be "stabilised and strengthened"
(to use the words of Anton Balasingham) , it inevitably
requires a comprehensive review of the CFA as well as
modifications. It cannot be otherwise and the LTTE should
concede this point, unless one is engaged in the politics of
duplicity in order to conceal a "war agenda".
And, finally it must be recognised that the CFA cannot
remain in a vacuum. The peace process is more than a mere
"absence of war".
It is imperative that the parties, once the ceasefire had been
"stabilised and strengthened", should speedily move towards
addressing, in addition to the humanitarian and existential
problems of the people of the North-East (i.e Tamils, Muslims
and Sinhalese), the root causes of the ethnic conflict and the
just and equitable resolution of the National Question.
Kethesh Loganathan, A Director of The Centre for Policy
Alternatives, Colombo, Sri Lanka; CPA was formed in the
firm belief that there is an urgent need to strengthen
institution- and capacity-building for good governance and
conflict transformation in Sri Lanka and that non-partisan
civil society groups have an important and constructive
contribution to make to this process.