T h e

K a s h m i r

T  e  l  e  g  r  a  p  h

Fourth Edition

A Kashmir Bachao Andolan Publication

August 2002

I N S I D E


Spotlight               S H Zaidi

Top of Page        KPS Gill

Special Report     S Roughneen

Fundamentals     Praveen Swami

Periscope            B Raman

InsideTrack          H Bashani

Himalayan Blunder                 W Hussain

In Black & White G Peiris

Statecraft             B Raman

Bottomline           N Kaushik

 

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A b o u t  U s

F e e d b a c k

D i s c l a i m er

C o p y r i g h t s

 

 IN BLACK & WHITE

 

Negotiating to Negotiate

G. H. Peiris


The Norwegian brokered Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE/Tigers) on February 22, 2002, brought about a formal suspension of the campaign of war and terrorism conducted by the LTTE since the mid-1980s with the declared objective of establishing a sovereign Tamil nation state in the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka.

There could be no doubt whatever that the LTTE’s principal impulse in entering into a cease-fire was the global tide against terrorism that arose in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in the US. In a dramatically changed political milieu, the LTTE’s international operations suffered a major setback. In USA, where the LTTE had already been proscribed, enforcement agencies intensified vigilance over LTTE front organisations, especially after disclosures of LTTE links with Islamic militant groups such as the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen of Pakistan and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front of the Philippines. Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, important operational bases of the LTTE, imposed a similar, albeit less effective, ban. There was also a concurrent hardening of the Indian government’s stance towards the Tigers.

To the LTTE, these external changes meant, apart from all else, a drastic reduction in the inflow of funds – a curtailment of clandestine income-generating operations including revenue derived through extortion from Tamil expatriates. The LTTE had also incurred substantial losses of fighting cadres and weaponry in its 1999-2001 military offensives. The recovery from these setbacks needed respite – time for the memory of its past atrocities to fade, time for transformation of its image, time for its new propaganda onslaught to take effect, and, above all, time for rebuilding its military strength.

To the government and the people of Sri Lanka, the need for a respite from war and terrorism was even more intense. The country was reeling under the impact of several military setbacks and terrorist attacks. In most parts of the ‘north-east’, even basic social services had been disrupted or destroyed. Foreign investment had been reduced to a trickle, and conditions attached to aid were becoming increasingly stringent. With the seemingly ineffective war effort absorbing well over 40 per cent of total government revenue, economic progress had virtually ceased, resulting in both inflation and increasing unemployment. The only redemption, it appeared, lay in a peace settlement with the LTTE.

The current cease-fire is not the first of its kind. There have been three earlier episodes – the cease-fire of mid-1985, a prelude to the ‘Thimpu Talks’ sponsored by the Government of India; 1989-90, which accompanied a direct dialogue between the government of President Premadasa and the LTTE; and the negotiations of 1994-95, when Chandrika Bandaranaike assumed office, first as Prime Minister and then as the President of Sri Lanka. All these negotiations failed primarily because of the intransigent centrality of ‘Eelam’ as the eventual goal of the Tamil demands. This left little space for manoeuvre towards a compromise that could be acceptable to the country’s ethnic majority – the Sinhalese (75 per cent of the population). Significantly, all these episodes enabled the LTTE to emerge as a much stronger force than before, both in its capacity to mobilise support from outside Sri Lanka, and to wage war and engage in terrorism within the country. Past experience demonstrates, above all else, that the LTTE has nothing to lose, but potentially much to gain, in periodic ‘peace negotiations.’

Since the signing of the current agreement there have been many reported violations of its terms. By July 1, 2002, there were about 174 complaints against the government, and 340 complaints against the LTTE, lodged with the Scandinavian Monitoring Mission that is supervising the peace. The main allegation against the government was that its armed forces continue to occupy public buildings in the northern and eastern areas, which were to have been evacuated. Complaints also occasionally include allegations of misdeeds by the Army directed against LTTE cadres and Tamil civilians. Charges of violations against the LTTE include fund-raising through extortion and kidnapping, forced conscription of children into fighting cadre’s attacks on activists of other Tamil political groups, and persistent efforts to increase military strength. Large-scale military training by the LTTE is still being conducted. There has also been at least one major operation of clandestine arms procurement from overseas sources. Perhaps the most outrageous among these violations was the abduction, by the LTTE, of two Norwegian peace monitors on July 14, 2002.

There are other ominous developments, including the sharply escalated rivalry and tension between Tamils and Muslims of the Eastern Province over the past months. These two groups constitute, respectively, about 40 and 35 per cent of the population of the province. There is a history of clashes here, and there was a massive conflagration of communal violence in June-July 2000 in the East after attempts by the LTTE to eliminate resistance to its authority in Muslim-majority areas. The Muslim political leadership has now become more vehement in its demands for the political rights of their community, which have been marginalised in the government’s preoccupation with negotiations.

Under the terms of the MOU, the LTTE has been permitted to engage in political activities outside its area of military control in ‘Vanni’, the northern interior. This has been utilised by LTTE cadres to organise spectacular pro-Eelam political rallies in several townships of the north-east as part of a Pongu Thamil movement, which draws its inspiration from the vision of ‘Tamil awakening’ embodied in certain poetic works written during the heyday of Tamil cultural nationalism in India. The LTTE-directed Pongu Thamil demonstrations have been characterised by nationalist rhetoric and ritualistic associations with belligerence, such as the mass performance of the ‘Nazi salute’ to Prabhakaran’s cardboard icons.

The LTTE has also established an almost total hegemony over Tamil politics with the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), the foremost Tamil political party of the past, announcing that the government should regard the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamils in the impending peace negotiations. Leaders of various Tamil political groups have often been summoned to LTTE headquarters in Vanni to issue political directions or to castigate them for failures to fulfil demands, and intimidation is employed to curb the political activities of these groups in Tamil majority areas.

Despite the MOU stipulation that direct negotiations between the government and the LTTE must begin by August 2, 2002, there are no signs yet of this deadline being kept. The Government of Thailand has evidently indicated its willingness to provide a negotiation venue. The Sri Lanka government has met some of the demands made by the LTTE as preconditions for negotiations, including recognition de facto of the LTTE as the sole political representative of the Tamils, the total lifting of all restrictions on the movement of non-military goods to the LTTE-held areas, and the tacit acceptance of the principle of an interim administration for the north-east headed by the LTTE. The government has also indicated that the existing proscription of the LTTE would be lifted as soon as a definite date is set for negotiations. Mainly in order to avert a derailment of the ‘peace process’, spokesmen for the government have been trivialising the MOU violations by the LTTE. The LTTE, on the other hand has remained evasive with regard to the fixing of a preliminary time-schedule for negotiation on the grounds that the government is yet to fulfil its MOU pledges.

Meanwhile, on April 10, 2002, the LTTE leader Prabhakaran, accompanied by Anton Balasingham (ideologue and international spokesman for the Tigers), Thamil Chelvam (the leader of the LTTE ‘political wing’), and two of his senior military commanders (Karuna and Pathuman), staged a much publicised press conference in the presence of an estimated 400 journalists from Sri Lanka and abroad – Prabhakaran’s first appearance at a press conference after 12 years. This became the venue for the re-statement of the LTTE’s ‘core demands’: the recognition of a Tamil homeland comprising the Northern and Eastern provinces; the acceptance of the Tamils as a distinct nationality; and the recognition of the Tamils’ right to self-determination. These, of course, are the ‘core demands’ against which negotiations foundered at Thimpu seventeen years ago, and at several negotiations thereafter. If formal negotiations take place at all, it seems that the response of the Government of Sri Lanka will also be the same as on earlier occasions. At Thimpu, in 1985, the head of the government delegation stated that, if these demands "are to be taken at their face value and given accepted legal meaning, they are wholly unacceptable to the government, because they constitute the negation of sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka, they are detrimental to the unity of Sri Lanka, and are inimical to the interests of the several communities, ethnic and religious, in our country." This was obviously the only possible response then. It still so remains.

The authour is Senior Professor, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, and Senior Fellow, International Centre for Ethnic Studies.

By special arrangement with Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi. (South Asia Intelligence Review)

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