Does the LTTE really believe in peace through
negotiations?

By M.S. Shah Jahan

A huge euphoria, ‘eureka’ like, is created with the announcement that the two
parties would be meeting in Geneva in mid February. Hope this breakthrough
would reduce the frequency of ambulances wailing along the Galle Road from
Ratmalana.

What is tactfully withdrawn from people’s attention here is, it is not peace talks
that are going to resume. "We will only talk of the smooth implementation of the
CFA," Mr. Balasingham has said adding that the talks would concentrate on the
implementation of the clauses in the February 2002 agreement.
According to Tamilnet, the news item they gave to the world was, LTTE and
GoSL are to hold talks on truce implementation in Geneva. The Liberation
Tigers said Wednesday that they have agreed to hold talks in Geneva with the
Government of Sri Lanka on "smooth implementation" of the February 2002
Cease Fire Agreement.

Chief Negotiator and Political Strategist of the Liberation Tigers, Mr. Anton
Balasingham, told reporters that the talks, expected to begin in mid-February,
would be limited to the implementation of the truce, which has come under
increasing strain recently. Talks on further matters could only take place after
complete cessation of the Sri Lankan military's violent repression of the
population in Government held areas of the Northeast, he said.

Having a dialogue –peace talks- is the first democratic step a sovereign state
elected by the people should undertake. Let us take it as a prelude to our
much anticipated and eagerly awaited peace talks which the south was
clamouring for while the LTTE behaved like a deaf girl who took no notice of
the lovelorn boy’s Shakespearean drama acts and speeches with butter
flyphrases.

First of all, we have to know the bonafides of the other party. The LTTE is not a
Gandhian unit but a gun-totting anti-democratic militant group born out of a
strong conviction from day one, that armed struggle, in the foot steps of
Subash Chandra Bose, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, [while Emperor
Napoleon reigned as the hero of the leader], was the only answer to their
plight. They are prepared to do anything or kill any body to achieve what their
seniors failed by peaceful methods. That is why they eliminated all the round
table loving democratic leaders who in LTTE’s opinion became irrelevant.

Even though the LTTE took part in a few peace talks before, there is no
evidence that they did it genuinely or with true hope but due to external
compulsion. In other words, the LTTE pretended to be a groom in the wedding
ceremony having no affection for the bride, thinking she is not a faithful woman.
No such marriage could succeed.

No one could blame them either because they have passed the stage of
trusting the south. In their opinion all sorts of such maneuvers were already
tried by their forefathers and ended up finally with nothing tangible. Therefore
they had no faith in that process. They believed and possibly continue to
believe that Colombo will never give them a honourable living within one
country.

Just imagine, instead of blocking Kofi Annan, if the ex-president had taken him
there under her wings, what amount of goodwill SL could have created with the
world community, in addition to endorsing her authority over that piece of land.
Not even a rat would have dared to touch her shadow in the presence of UN
head. The one who dares only gets rewarded.

In the recent Maveerar day’s speech Pirabhakaran boasted “ From Thimpu
talks, we have participated in several peace negotiations, at different times, at
different places.”

Yes, they did participate in the Thimpu talks. But the whole episode will be very
interesting to recall, for the benefit of all including the younger generation, at
this historical juncture where Sri Lanka wants to engage them in another
course of peace talks. I give below the extracts from ‘Inside an Elusive Mind
Pirabhakaran’ by M.R.Narayan Swamy, from page 124 to 131.

“In the summer of 1985, however, India was in no mood to give credence to
Prabhalkaran beyond a point. One day in Madras, RAW officials made it very
clear to Pirabhakaran that he had no choice but go to Bhutan. “Don’t forget
that our land and sea would not be available to you if you don’t go to Thimpu”,
one official had told the LTTE chief Prabhakaran, who was taken aback and
looked towards Balasingham with visible unease. Balasingham argued that the
TULF should be kept out of the dialogue as it had become irrelevant. One RAW
official then commented, “ Look, you go for talks. We are not asking you to give
up the struggle. But you must go to Thimpu”.

Although Prabhakaran yielded to India’s pressure and sent an LTTE delegation
to the Bhutan talks, he had decided to disengage himself from New Delhi’s
orbit. His way of sending a message of disenchantment was to abstain from
going personally or even sending his trusted aide Balasingham to the talks.
Instead he sent a relatively light-weight Lawrence Thilakar, a bespectacled
young man who later went on to head the LTTE’s Paris office.

It was clear to every one, even the Indian officials, that the LTTE chief was
upset with New Delhi for forcing the rebels to hold negotiations with Colombo.
What seemed to have particularly irked Prabhakaran was the RAW threat to
deny the LTTE sanctuary if he did not give up his intransigence on the talks.
His pique provoked an uncharacteristically indiscreet remark when he said
within ear shot of several fellow Tamils; “ I will teach a lesson to India before I
leave this country.”

He explained to members of other Tamil groups that LTTE cardres would think
that he has betrayed them by going to Bhutan. Yet he maintained his
composure when talking to Indian officials. When Indian Foreign Secretary
Romesh Bandari, who was close to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, explained to
Pirabhakaran and other militant leaders in Madras the import of the upcoming
Bhutan meeting, he listened patiently but made it clear that he had no faith in
negotiations.

“I have listened very carefully to what Bhandari had to say”. He told Indian
officials. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I do not trust the Sri Lankan government.
But since you have put in so much effort and Amma [Indira Gandhi] had done
so much for us, we will go to Thimpu”. When the Tamil delegation left Madras
for Bhutan, Prabhakaran came to the airport to send off his envoy Thilakar. He
told him; “Do not worry about Anna [Balasingham] not coming to Thimpu”.

Hector Jayewardene, the Sri Lankan president’s brother, led the country’s
delegation at the negotiations. The Gulf between the two sides was too
apparent. The Tamils regarded the entire process as an exercise in futility as
Sri Lanka was in no mood to offer any meaningful concession. Colombo was
still optimistic it would overcome the Tamil challenge one day. Indian
bureaucrats tried to save the situation but it was useless.

However, at the insistence of New Delhi both sides agreed to meet again.

Although the cease fire was still holding on in most parts of Sri Lanka’s
northern and eastern provinces, the LTTE warned that it would be forced to
retaliate if the security forces continued “hostile activities”. There were
skirmishes between the two sides. Tamil militant leaders were again called to
New Delhi for further discussion.

The impasse continued when Tamil leaders and the Sri Lankan side met again
in Bhutan for a second round. After a lull, violence erupted in Sri Lankan Tamil
areas, with most killings being blamed on unruly security forces.

As news reached Bhutan that army troops and Sinhalese thugs had massacred
a large number of Tamil civilians, the entire Tamil delegation marched out of
the conference hall leaving a stunned Sri Lankan government delegate calling
out after them; “One minute, where are you going?” The talks collapsed despite
Indian official’s desperate efforts to resurrect them.

When a large number of Tamils were massacred in Sri Lanka on August 17, a
fuming Prabhakaran immediately pressed the Tamil groups for some drastic
action. The decision to walk out of the talks was conveyed to the Tamil
representatives at Bhutan by Balasingham over a telephone hotline that was
being tapped by the Indian intelligence. Indian officials thought it was
Balasingham who had played the spoilsport.

In Tricomalee, in Sri Lanka’s east, the LTTE blew up an army jeep, killing four
soldiers. The next day, in Madras, LTTE’s Balasingham bellowed that as
Colombo was not observing the truce, “we reserve the right to retaliate”.

Balasingham’s comments provoked New Delhi to crack down on the Tamils. He
being a British national, was packed off to London. The LTTE chief promptly
went underground. He insisted he would have no more talks with India until
Balasingham’s deportation was cancelled. That ultimately happened.
Balasingham flew back to New Delhi. But the incident left a bitter taste in
Praphakaran’s mouth. He had been doubting for some time India’s continued
commitment to the Eelam cause. He was convinced New Delhi would never
allow Sri Lanka to break up. Prabhakaran spoke in a measured tone but
asserted – for the umpteenth time – that he had no faith in negotiations and
that he would never give up the struggle for an Eelam state.

“We are fighting in the hope that we will see Eelam in our life time”, he told
Anita Pratap, the Indian journalist to whom he had given his first media
interview the previous year. “We do not want to pass the burden of a liberation
struggle to the next generation; they must enjoy the fruits of our toil. But in case
we do not succeed in our life time, we have a vision to see that the struggle is
passed on to the next generation.” What would he do if India stopped
supporting the Tamils? His reply was revealing; “India’s sympathy is a morale-
booster, but should India withdraw support it would not mean the end of our
liberation struggle. After all we did not start our liberation movement with India’s
support or with the help of some other external forces.

We will fight till we die. When I die, some one else will take over…. If my
generation dies without attaining freedom, the next generation will carry on the
struggle”.

At a meeting, Pirabhakaran told Rajiv Gandhi “I do all the thinking and planning
in the LTTE. As I am bad in English, Balasingham articulates my views. He only
articulates. He does not influence me”. He said he was not against India’s
attempt to find a negotiated settlement but he reserved the right to keep his
options open”.

Well readers, though these events took place 20 years ago, they are not much
different from today’s situation. That means where the Tamil ethnic issue is
concerned time had stayed still, without any change, any progress what so ever
except aggravating the wound further and further with no end in sight.

Now Eric Solheim has emerged like another Kissinger taming the tiger. He has
been assigned with the job of leading the horse that refused to drink water, and
also the horse man who refused to bathe the horse, in the river, I mean
Geneva. For us to expectall will be fine in the Alps is futile. Once the Pandora’s
box is open only will we know the outcome. Let us be prepared for surprises
and disappointments.

This country cannot go on like this shedding blood forever. The last millennium
was all for ‘isms’ but this millennium is for better living and comfort. No body can
deny this very ethnic problem made SL stagnant in economic achievements
compared to many others. In the fifties Malaya, Singapore, Korea were behind
Ceylon in all aspects. Today where are they, where are we? Our girls and boys
today go to these places to work as domestic aides and unskilled labourers.

Many readers may not know it was the Ceylonese, especially from Jaffna, with
their English education, that ran the clerical service of Singapore and Malaya
that is today’s Malaysia, of whose number one billionaire Ananda Krishnan is a
son of a Ceylonese who migrated to serve the Malayan government.

The Railway was fully dominated by them. All the station masters there were
Tamils and all sign boards used to look exactly like those here in green colour
with yellow lines. Night travel between Singapore and Butterworth [Penang],
could give one the mistaken notion that this was part of Ceylon.

Lanka is at a very crucial stage. We are not only on the brink of war but a
break up. Pirabhakaran is dedicated towards a separate state and nothing
else. He has an unshakable in-built conviction that the South is cheating him
and it is not trustworthy. Though Colombo, as always, was quite philanthropic
with words, the acts of successive governments in the last two decades, except
the UPF to some extent, contributed nothing to build even a pint of mutual
confidence. Of course, trust can't be built overnight - but can be destroyed
overnight.

The regime that opened the economy could have doused the fire in the
beginning itself by creating more development projects in those regions,
providing employment to youths and better living conditions to the masses. Next
came the prophetic slogan ‘peace at any cost’.

The leader who openly acknowledged that the Tamil people have genuine
grievances also went home having done nothing. Alas! Instead of giving peace
with 62% support she helped destroy peace.

Now high hopes are attached to the Norwegian initiative. Norway can deliver the
love letter carefully to the right party like a little girl does. But the letter must
have substance. Therefore the talks must be meaningful and purposeful not a
get together meant for a mere photo session. As Prabhakaran said early he
believes in action not in idle fancies. Master Sun, in the book of ‘The Art of War’
by Sun Tzu said, ‘Those who come seeking peace without a treaty are plotting’.
This will apply to both sides. Is Master Sun wrong?

Arm-chair pundits should understand the real plight of the Tamil masses. How
many of them have travelled beyond Anuradhapura? Colombo folk, even for a
day would not put up with the suffering of Tamils of that Part of Sri Lanka.
Seeing is believing. How many of our peace negotiators, from Hector
Jayewardene to G.L.Peiris have studied the characteristic of the opponent in
the conflict, which is important in a game of war? How many of our defence
ministers have read the book ‘The Art of War’ where Wang Xi said “If you know
yourself but not the other, or if you know the other not yourself, in either case
you cannot be sure of victory. And even if you know both yourself and your
opponent and know you can fight, still you cannot overlook the question of the
advantage of the terrain. ” Wasn’t that “terrain” the main reason for their gain
and our pain?

During Thimpu times, the Indians who met the LTTE chief asked about the
disappearance of his trade mark moustache, he responded with a tinge of
sarcasm; “We sport a moustache only when we are fighting! If we are asked to
talk peace, we shave it off ”. Nowadays, even in the photos with Eric Solheim,
Pirabhakaran appears with a thick moustache. Is he preparing for war? No one
can deny this. But how are we to prevent it?

Certainly, the road to the top is tough, staying there is even tougher. ‘The
practical man’ has to go not only the extra mile, but few more miles to save the
country from anarchy. Even now it is not too late. Re-adjustments in electoral
promises basing on ground reality is not a sin. Look at China.

From whom did they receive the so-called mandate to change the course of the
ship? Of course they do not go before people but the one who leads decides
as per situation. After all every man/woman is ignorant of some subjects.
Rhetoric speeches and actions of the allies must not only be ignored, but also
they too should be educated, since the opponent’s present strength is
formidable. He cannot be taken lightly. Mind you he is a Clint Eastwood fan not
of Richard Burton / Elizabeth Taylor.

Basing on Jeffrey Lunstead’s and US Under Secretary for Political Affairs,
Nicholas Burns verbal support, considering Uncle Sam as a global policeman, if
we plan a war, it will be the greatest folly Lanka can commit in it’s political
history.

The 7th fleet that withdrew from the Mekong Delta of Vietnam in 1975, should
have entered Arrawady River of Burma 15 years ago to restore democracy. But
it was never sighted. Further we have no oil here. Minister Fowzie’s
announcement that we will have oil in 3 years’ time, may not induce them too.
After Vietnam Uncle Sam is not interested to do free jobs. Father Bush charged
a fee for attacking Iraq and protecting Saudi Arabia. Son Bush takes oil and
inflated reconstruction contracts to aides. If at all the US Eagles lands in SL, it
wouldn’t take much time for the eagle to grab the two warring kittens. Is that
what allies want ?

President Mahinda Rajapakse with his socialistic outlook would have been the
darling of Indian masses if properly projected. Unfortunately he became a victim
of the phrase, “Tell me your friends, I will tell you who you are.” My attempts to
explain Chennai’s Tamil media that he is not a hardliner, the ‘fatwa’ given by
Western media, was not successful.

Finally, now the question is, which of Pirabhakaran’s verbatim SL is going to
prove or disprove, “As long as the Singhala nation is buried in the mud of racist
policies, we can not expect a fair and reasonable solution from the Singhala
ruling classes.” Or “ One day, when our enemy knocks at our doors, we will
extend our hand of friendship”?
[Courtesy: Daily Mirror]

[The writer, with wide international exposure, is a CEO of a Gem Exporting firm and was a
personal consultant to President Ranasinghe Premadasa on Indian affairs.]
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