Transformation, not just reform of the
state is the need of the hour
By Rohan Canagasabey
Transformation, not just reform of the state is the means to
find a solution to the ethnic conflict, said a delegate at a
symposium on Peace Processes organised by the
Foundation for Co-Existence (FCE) on February 22 and 23
at the Ceylon Continental Hotel.
It was attended by distinguished Sri Lankan academics and
others concerned with conflict resolution in Sri Lanka and
foreign academics involved in, or with knowledge of, peace
processes in other countries, hoping that their experiences
and/or knowledge will be of positive benefit to those
commenting and involved in the Sri Lankan peace process.
The welcoming address was given by Public Administration
and Home Affairs Minister Sarath Amunugama. The
symposium in Colombo was coincidentally — or not as the
case may be — beginning a few hours before the
Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and LTTE delegations
were to meet each other for face-to-face discussions for the
first time since the LTTE broke off negotiations in April 2003.
Amunugama argued in his address that "the LTTE’s
decision to enforce a Tamil boycott of the presidential
election has freed the (GoSL) negotiators of a southern
political sub-text, as during the last decades the two main
political parties opposed each other’s efforts at a resolution
to the ethnic conflict."
However, the subsequent different interpretations on the
GoSL-LTTE joint statement issued at the end of the talks in
Switzerland is indicative of the rivalry in the Sinhala polity
taking precedence over focusing on achieving a resolution
to the ethnic conflict.
The former head of the UNF GoSL delegation, Prof. G.L.
Peiris, during his address revealed that they had agreed
with the LTTE not to reveal details of their negotiations as it
could damage the process, but Peiris pointed out that had
they done so, it would have illustrated that the previous UNF
government was not leaning over backwards to
accommodate the LTTE’s wishes.
A false perception that contributed to Ranil Wickremesinghe’
s defeat at the presidential election, rather than the unitary /
federal issue, irrespective of what those who insist on the
present centralised unitary state might say. Therefore, the
issues raised at the symposium are very relevant in taking
forward the peace process.
"Peace processes of the future will need to take account of
past lessons and develop a structure to provide a checklist
to assist negotiators," said Chairman, FCE, Kumar
To this end, FCE launched two volumes of a book titled
Negotiating Peace In Sri Lanka: Efforts, Failures And
Lessons Learnt a day before the symposium. The first
volume deals with the period from the Thimpu talks to the
PA government’s time, while the second volume deals with
the UNF government-LTTE negotiations.
Rupesinghe added that, "Sri Lanka is fortunate that for a
small country a lot of international attention is directed
towards assisting a resolution to the conflict."
However, Founder and Chairman, Africa Centre for the
Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD), Vasu
Gounden, with an intimate knowledge of the peace process
in his home country of South Africa as well as in Sudan,
cautioned that "this international interest will not be
indefinite, and therefore all Sri Lankans will need to cast
aside their narrow-mindedness, or else you will be left
behind as the world moves on."
Adjunct Professor, John Hopkins University, Washington DC,
Dayan Jayatilleke, who has been involved in an academic
manner in the Sri Lankan conflict for decades, argued that
there is a misunderstanding of the LTTE in media and
academic circles as the LTTE will accept nothing less that a
separate Tamil Eelam ruled by it, also highlighting that many
Tamil parliamentarians had been assassinated by the LTTE.
In response, TNA MP N. Raviraj, countered that the failure
of the Sinhala polity to resolve the ethnic issue had resulted
in the birth of the LTTE.
"The Tamil politicians were politically killed by the Sinhala
polity, before they were physically killed by the LTTE," said
K. Balakrishnan of the FCE, during a brief conversation with
this writer during lunch.
Balakrishnan, who has knowledge of all the Tamil players in
the conflict, cited as an example the complete frustration
that Neelan Tiruchelvam — the architect of the severely
watered down ‘Union of Regions’ proposals of a previous PA
government — felt towards the Sinhala polity, that led him to
make arrangements to leave the country for an academic
post in the USA.
Essentially the watering down over the years of his original
proposals contributed to his death at the hands of the
LTTE, as well as Pirapaharan’s wish to ensure he remained
the only point of reference on the Tamil issue.
"We in the African National Congress (ANC) had the same
staunch positions that you now have," said Vasu Gounden
of ACCORD, glancing towards Jayatilleke, adding, "but
unless you understand the perspective of the other side you
will not be able to make the necessary compromises to
achieve a solution."
This included dealing "with everybody’s fears and not just
your own" said Gounden. Gounden highlighted that the
solution was reached through transforming the state
structure rather than merely reforming it.
Reform of the state structure
Reform of the state structure, and it must be remembered,
one inherited from British colonialism, is all that independent
Ceylon / Sri Lanka has thus far achieved with the 1972 and
1978 constitutions. These constitutions in turn exacerbated
the marginalisation of the Tamil community.
"The Sinhala people think that giving self-rule to the Tamil
majority areas would mean that the Sinhala people are
losing something, which is an incorrect perception," said a
well-known Sinhala human rights activist at another forum
Transformation of the state structure also enabled the
transformation of the ANC from being seen as a terrorist
organisation, to one that now governs South Africa. In this
regard, Head, Department of Political Science and History,
University of Colombo, Professor Jayadeva Uyangoda said
he was of the school of thought that felt the LTTE is
ultimately capable of transforming itself and does not
subscribe to the view that it is a fascist organisation and will
always be so.
While structurally the South African situation was different,
in that a white settler minority was ruling over the majority
native population, the issues of understanding and
compromise in achieving conflict resolution remain relevant
argued Gounden, in his presentation that was commended
by the symposium convener as being inspirational.
Gounden also stressed the economic benefits that emerged
as result of peace in South Africa, such as a high GDP
growth rate with a strong and stable currency. A peace that
was possible because the solution enabled all South
Africans to feel that they had a stake in the new South Africa
and an equal chance to make a better life. A new South
While President Mahinda Rajapakse promised a new Sri
Lanka in his election campaign, only radical transformation
of the state structures combined with good governance is
likely to deliver that.
Professor Edmund Garcia first spoke on the experience of
the Philippines in dealing with the issue of the rebellion in
the Muslim majority province of Mindanao in a Catholic
majority country. But the example of Aceh is probably more
The Indonesian province of Aceh, in northern Sumatra, was
the worst affected by the tsunami that struck on December
26, 2004, with over 100,000 lives lost. It also had a long-
running conflict between the GAM rebels seeking
independence and troops brought in by the Indonesian
Peace talks arranged by Finland produced an agreement
whereby all Indonesian troops will withdraw in exchange for
disarmament by the rebels, with only Acehnese personnel in
the local police and army units within Aceh. Subsequently
the constitution is expected to be changed to allow a
regional political party to form, contest elections and form a
local government with Aceh given a great deal of autonomy.
Unfortunately in Sri Lanka, the initial cooperation in the
aftermath of the tsunami evaporated over the haggling for
control over the foreign rehabilitation and reconstruction
"A historic opportunity for cooperation between the GoSL
and the LTTE was lost when the P-TOMS agreement was
not implemented and with it a chance to progress towards
an interim structure in the north east," said former General
Officer commanding the IPKF from 1988 until their departure
in 1991, General Ashok K. Mehta, to this writer.
"Any interim structure needs to be clearly linked to a
permanent solution and there needs to be a logical and
coherent trajectory from interim to final settlement," said G.
L. Peiris, during a question and answer session.
But with priority given to politically driven posturing over the
different interpretations of the GoSL-LTTE joint statement at
the conclusion of the talks in Geneva, an interim structure or
even serious discussions on a political resolution to the
ethnic conflict seem as difficult to reach as water in a desert.
But not impossible, if the lessons from South Africa and
Aceh are kept in mind. [MorningLeader]