TamilWeek Apr 23, 2006
Realistic negotiations required at next Geneva
talks

The President has to make it clearly known to the rest of his
government, to his allies and to the people at large, that he will not
condone or turn a blind eye to violence. He needs to ensure that the
security forces protect all civilians at all times. He also needs to assure
the Tamil and other minority communities that he will seek to
implement a power sharing scheme, based on the principles of
devolution, human rights and pluralism, such as practised in other
democratic multi ethnic societies, such as Switzerland and India..

by Jehan Perera

P
resident Mahinda Rajapaksa's approach to the crisis in the peace
process has won him many plaudits, even from those who once
criticised his election-winning Sinhalese nationalist campaign for the
presidency.

He has been restrained in dealing with the LTTE and he has tried to
bring about as wide a Sinhalese consensus as possible on the ethnic
conflict.

It is believed that this restrained approach staved off war in January
2006 when the LTTE appeared bent on forcing a war on the country.

A series of landmine and hit and run attacks left nearly a hundred
military personnel dead in the two months following the President's
election in the previous November.

At that time President Rajapaksa gave orders to the military to practice
restraint and on no account to retaliate against the LTTE.

They followed orders. Although the military retaliated in some areas
against the civilian population, the fact that they did not openly
retaliate against the LTTE or attack their camps, focused both local
and international attention upon the LTTE's aggression.

The ban imposed by the Canadian government on the LTTE earlier
this month could be one of the many fall outs of the LTTE's aggressive
acts.

Media and international attention focused on the conduct of the LTTE
and not on the government.

However, the major weakness in the President's two-fold approach to
the ethnic conflict is becoming increasingly evident.

In his effort to be inclusive in the peace process and to include even
extremist nationalist sections of Sinhalese opinion, the President has
left spaces for the extremists to exploit.

Although their extremist nationalist campaigns at the recently
concluded local government elections in March were a failure, and
they were soundly defeated in the elections, they have succeeded in
obtaining positions in the governmental system.

As a result, the government is following ambivalent policies with
respect to dealing with the issues of violence and the LTTE.

One aspect of the government's ambivalence can be seen in its
response to the pledges made at the first round of peace talks that
were held in Geneva in February.

Both prior to and after the Geneva talks, the LTTE made it clear that
they only had a one-point agenda for the talks. This one point, as they
repeatedly described it, was the "disarming of Tamil paramilitaries".

The LTTE also denounced the government for utilising armed Tamil
groups to eliminate pro-LTTE civilian leaders in addition to their cadre.
Such means of achieving dominance had previously been the
monopoly of the LTTE, most glaringly during the Ceasefire period of
the UNP government.

Ambiguously worded

At the Geneva talks the LTTE reiterated their demand for the
disarmament of the Tamil paramilitaries. The government denied that
they were supporting any such paramilitary groups.

As a result the Geneva agreement of February contains an
ambiguously worded clause that both calls for the upholding of the
Ceasefire Agreement as well as specifying that the government will not
permit armed groups to operate in accordance with it.

The government's position is that they did not agree to the existence
of Tamil paramilitaries who had to be disarmed.

The LTTE's position is that by agreeing to uphold the Ceasefire
Agreement, the government also implicitly agreed to disarm the
paramilitary groups.

But the common agreement was that neither side would permit
violence to be visited upon the other.

However, within ten days of the signing of the Geneva agreement, two
LTTE cadre were shot dead in LTTE-controlled territory in the east.
This was followed by several other killings, including the high profile
killing of a pro-LTTE political activist, V Vigneswaran, in the
government-controlled stronghold of Trincomalee town.

These killings were in clear violation of the Geneva agreement that
outlawed all such killings. But the government and is security forces
failed to take effective action to identify the culprits or to apprehend
them. These are the train of events that have preceded the most
recent LTTE backlash.

The LTTE's landmines and other attacks that have taken place in April
have already taken a toll of over 30 military personnel. This appears
to have generated fierce resentment amongst the Sri Lankan security
personnel.

Reports indicate that they have failed in their duty to haltmob attacks
on Tamil owned businesses and even religious sites in Trincomalee in
the aftermath of a bomb blast in the market place of the town

A foreign NGO group reported that they had been assaulted by a
group of thugs at a security checkpoint, but the security forces on duty
at that checkpoint had stood and watched the incident without
intervening.

The government must do everything in its power to nip this type of
behaviour in the bud.

The east has become akin to a powder keg. The relations between the
Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim communities who inhabit the east have
plummeted in keeping with the deterioration in relations between the
government and LTTE.

There is a growing fear amongst the people of the possibility of acts of
violence that lead to ethnic cleansing. All three communities in the
east are vulnerable in different parts of the east. Such a course of
events will only help those who cannot achieve power through
democratic means.

Time and again the Sri Lankan electorate has rejected extremism in
favour of middle of the road political parties. The most recent example
was the local government elections in March this year.

Ambivalence exploited

One part of the solution is for President Mahinda Rajapaksa to decide
to commit himself fully to the peace process. The evidence of single
minded commitment will send a message right through society, and
including the security forces, that peace and inter-ethnic
confidence-building is the most important national priority. Sri Lanka
enjoyed such a period of single minded commitment in the early days
of the peace process in 2002, when former Prime Minister Ranil
Wickremesinghe issued orders to the security forces that were carried
out. The manner in which the economic embargo on the north east
and the roadblocks were removed demonstrated that when the
government leadership was of one mind, orders would be followed
right down to the level of the soldiers manning checkpoints.

President Rajapaksa needs to come to terms with the reality that his
policy of restraint and seeking an accommodation with extremist
Sinhalese hardliners do not fit together.

This policy opens the door to ambivalence that can be exploited by
those who do not wish the peace process to succeed. It is reported
that the President has argued with senior most members of the
defence establishment about the need for the international monitors of
the SLMM.

President Rajapaksa needs to draw upon the reservoir of trust and
goodwill he enjoys with the Sinhalese community and show single
minded commitment to the peace process.

The President has to make it clearly known to the rest of his
government, to his allies and to the people at large, that he will not
condone or turn a blind eye to violence. He needs to ensure that the
security forces protect all civilians at all times. He also needs to assure
the Tamil and other minority communities that he will seek to
implement a power sharing scheme, based on the principles of
devolution, human rights and pluralism, such as practised in other
democratic multi ethnic societies, such as Switzerland and India.

This may signal the parting of ways with the Sinhalese extremists. But
this is only one part of the solution.The other part of the solution has
to do with the LTTE. Their demand is the disarming of the Tamil armed
groups, as agreed at the Geneva talks.

Given their own reneging on the Geneva agreement, they need to
remember that they killed disarmed paramilitaries in the past,
especially during the period of the UNP government.

Obviously verbal guarantees from them will no longer suffice.
Together with the government and SLMM they need to come up with a
better solution so that those who are disarmed do not become their
easy prey as they were in the past. There is also a further problem
when it comes to disarming the Karuna group.

Karuna group

Until a mere two years ago, the Karuna group was part and parcel of
the LTTE. It can be believed that they are no different in their mental
make up from their mother organization from which they broke away,
which is the LTTE.

The LTTE have consistently refused to be disarmed. When they did
agree verbally to disarm at the behest of the Indian government in
1987, this was done only in a token manner. They went to war with the
Indian army to prevent themselves from being actually disarmed. They
waged a bitter war with the Indian army, although it had once trained
and armed them. It is going to be no different with the Karuna group,
for they were also once LTTE.

Further, the Karuna group has now set up its own political office in the
east. They have established a political party, the Tamil Eelam People's
Liberation Tigers. The LTTE cannot expect the government to block
the Karuna group's political activities or their existence as a political
organization simply because it is opposed to the LTTE.

But they can insist that any violence engaged in by that group is
stopped. The LTTE needs to be prepared to negotiate realistically with
the Sri Lankan government.
[Courtesy: Daily Mirror]