27th January 2002

The Sunday Times on the Web















Peace at crossroads

International opinion or national consensus?
By Kethesh Loganathan
The policy statement by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe made in parliament on Tuesday is a forthright admission of the reality that the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE are under close scrutiny by the international community in how they work out a solution to the on-going war. 

He says, "International opinion compels us in this direction. This compulsion is not only limited to the Government of Sri Lanka but is also compelling on the LTTE." He has pointed out that "the concern of India as well as donor countries has been drawn towards this problem today more than ever before. They steadfastly advocate a political solution to the war. In this context the centre of attention is international opinion. A solution to the North East problem will be through international opinion."

If the Sri Lankan State and the LTTE have come under considerable international pressure, it is primarily because of the failure of our national polity and society in shaping a just and equitable solution to the Tamil question. Far too many opportunities were squandered and far too many wrong turns were taken at critical crossroads due to narrow partisan politics and rank chauvinism. 

The LTTE also failed to subordinate its immediate organisational interests to the wider interests of the people that it represents. The protracted ethnic conflict had its ramifications across the Palk Strait and internationally in the form of refugees, and came to be reflected in an increasing international concern over violations of human rights and international humanitarian norms by both parties to the conflict. The international opinion and close scrutiny that soon came to prevail on the Sri Lankan State and the LTTE were, hence, inevitable.

However, what is of concern to this writer is that an excessive sensitivity to international opinion could manifest itself in both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Government playing to the international "gallery", rather than addressing each other on substantive issues. The Premier's policy statement is totally silent regarding the identification of the causes that led to the ethnic conflict. There is no reference to an ethnic question. There is only reference to the North-East war and the stalemate. To quote: "The objective of the LTTE in setting up a separate state in the North East by chasing away the security forces has not succeeded. Likewise we have not been successful in completely eliminating the LTTE through a military solution. This is the present status of the war".

The war, however, is only a manifestation of a deep-rooted problem. The policy statement does not give any indication as regards the broad contours of a political solution that the Government is prepared to give the people of the North-East. All that it says is that the "majority of the people's wish is to work towards a solution through devolution of power democratically, ensuring the territorial integrity of the country and preserving the rights of all sections of the people". 

Perhaps, it is premature at the present stage of the peace process to get into substantive issues. There could also be a legitimate fear that the process itself may get derailed by getting into contentious areas. Yet, this writer is of the opinion that a policy statement should have given some indication of the recognition of an unresolved Tamil question.

There is also a real danger that the peace process could end up as a contest between the Government and the LTTE for international support for their respective cause or project. In other words, the Government and the LTTE may well formulate a negotiating strategy aimed at exposing the bad faith of the "other' to ensure that it has international opinion on its side when talks collapse and fighting begins. This, in fact, has been the mindset of successive governments and the LTTE in the past when it comes to negotiations.

The Premier's policy statement could well be an unfortunate manifestation of the mindset of his advisors who may be confusing negotiations skills with outwitting the "other" and playing to the international gallery. Or, it could well be a brilliant move to mobilise domestic support for de-proscription and talks with the LTTE,. Or, maybe both.

But, in the final analysis, international opinion without a corresponding national consensus and reconciliation cannot be a basis for a durable solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. While the international community should continue to exert maximum pressure on the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE to observe international humanitarian norms and human rights and arrive at a negotiated settlement to the ethnic question, the burden lies with forces within Sri Lanka in shaping the contours and content of such an agreement. Failing which, any solution may have to be imposed and guaranteed from the outside. It is for us to choose.

* The writer is attached to the Centre for Policy Alternatives, a private thinktank.

Tiger ploy, legitimacy and equality 

By S. L. Gunasekara 
There was a young lady of Riga, 
Who smiled as she rode on a Tiger, 
They returned from the ride with the lady inside, 
And the smile on the face of the Tiger. 
- Ancient Limerick 

The LTTE has proved once again that the term 'unconditional talks" to it, means 'unconditional' as far as the Government is concerned and 'conditional' as far as the LTTE is concerned, just as much as 'give and take' to the LTTE means that the Government must 'give' and that the LTTE must 'take'. 

The leader of the political wing of the LTTE S. P. Thamil Selvam has now demanded the de-proscription of the LTTE, the recognition of the LTTE as a legitimate organisation and the conferment of equality with the Government upon the LTTE as pre-conditions for the start of the proposed 'peace talks'. The feeble response of the Government to these patently impudent demands has been that de-proscription could be considered once 'talks' begin. 

'Proscription' is not like a tap that can be turned 'on' and 'off' according to one's whims and fancies. The reasons for the proscription of the LTTE lie, among other things, in the facts that the LTTE is a terrorist organisation which was founded and exists in order to achieve the manifestly illegal objective of robbing this country of a part of its sovereign territory and establishing a separate state therein, and that it has committed, is committing and will continue to commit the most heinous of crimes known to mankind. 

How then can this terrorist organisation be de-proscribed and accorded legitimacy as demanded by the LTTE and its 'hangers on' like the TULF merely because it has expressed a conditional willingness to talk with the Government? Talk is cheap. Anybody with a mouth and a functional tongue within it can talk. Any gang of rogues, criminals, cut-throats, thugs, perverts or psychopaths are perfectly capable of talking or entering into 'talks'. The willingness of such gangs to talk, or even the fact of their entering into 'talks' would not render such gangs legitimate. Thus, an expressed willingness whether genuine or not to enter into meaningful 'talks' or even genuinely entering into such 'talks' is not, and cannot be, a reason for de-proscription or the conferment of legitimacy upon the LTTE, so long as the reasons for its proscription remain. 

The LTTE's objective to rob the country of a part of its sovereign territory and establish a separate state therein remains unchanged and constitutes the basis and/or essential reason for the existence of that criminal organisation. The LTTE has usurped power in and continues to rule illegally about 15-20 percent of the country's territory; it continues to maintain an illegal armed force and to be in the illegal possession of an awesome arsenal of weapons and explosives; it continues to keep thousands of our citizens in illegal captivity; and despite the ceasefire, it continues to engage in crimes of murder, theft, robbery, extortion, kidnapping and smuggling and continues to prepare to wage war against the State once the ceasefire is over or abrogated. 

There has, thus, been no change whatsoever in the inherently, essentially and the wholly illegal nature of the LTTE. What basis then is there for de-proscription or the conferment of legitimacy? 

An organisation which was proscribed because of its illegality can only be de-proscribed if it publicly gives up its illegal objectives and its illegal activities and treads the path of the legality. Accordingly, the necessary and unavoidable result of the de-proscription to the LTTE in the absence of the LTTE so giving up its illegal objectives and activities would be an implicit recognition by the Government of the Sovereign Republic of Sri Lanka that those patently illegal objectives and activities of the LTTE are entirely legal. 

This in turn would mean that the Government recognises the present illegal rule by the LTTE of about 15-20 percent of this country's territory as being legitimate; that the maintenance by the LTTE of an armed force and the possession by the LTTE of its arsenal of modern weapons and explosives are legitimate; that the thousands of citizens now in the illegal captivity of the LTTE are in the lawful custody of LTTE; that all murders committed by the LTTE including the several murders of unweaned infants were lawful executions; and that the LTTE is not a terrorist organisation but a legitimate organisation with legitimate objectives. 

Can any responsible Government even dream of conceding any of these demands? Indeed it would not be an exaggeration to state that conceding any of these demands would be an intentional act of treason. 

Not content with not 'seeking' but 'demanding' de-proscription and the conferment of legitimacy, the LTTE also has the temerity to demand that it be treated as equals with the Government at any negotiations that may follow. 

The very fact that the LTTE has even ventured to make such a patently ridiculous and insolent demand constitutes eloquent testimony to the utter, total and absolute contempt in which it holds the Government. 

The Government of Sri Lanka whether we like it or not is the lawful Government of a sovereign state. The LTTE, on the other hand, is indisputably a gang of criminals led by a convicted murderer named Velupillai Prabhakaran.

It is only another Government of a sovereign state that could be accorded equality with the Government of Sri Lanka. Thus, the LTTE could be accorded equality with the Government of Sri Lanka if and only if it is recognised as being the Government of a sovereign state -i.e. if the Government of Sri Lanka recognises those parts of the Wanni and the Eastern Province which are now ruled illegally by the LTTE as constituting a separate sovereign state and the LTTE as being the lawful Government of that separate state. 

The demand for de-proscription, legitimacy and equality is, therefore, not a demand put forward to enable 'talks' to begin. It is self evident that 'talks' could begin and continue without any of the conditions put forward by the LTTE being satisfied. These demands have clearly been put forward with the ulterior objective of causing the Government to concede the non-existent right of the LTTE to set up a separate sovereign state in a substantial part of the territory of the Sovereign Republic of Sri Lanka even before the 'talks' begin, so that the only matters left to be discussed at the proposed 'talks' will be the boundaries of the Republic of Sri Lanka and of the proposed state of Tamil Eelam, and the relations between those two states!! 

The LTTE together with the TULF, PLOTE, EPRLF,TELO and the EROS which took part in the Thimpu 'talks' attempted a similar gimmick by putting forward those 'talks', four patently nonsensical demands which they termed the 'Thimpu principles' as non-negotiable demand and pre-conditions for the continuance of those 'talks'. The acceptance of those so-called 'Thimpu principles' would necessarily have amounted to conceding the non-existent right of the Tamils to establish a separate state of Tamil Elam in the Northern and Eastern provinces. 

The Government delegation to those 'talks' rejected those so-called Thimpu principles. The Tigers are now seeking to achieve the same end by putting forward similar but more extreme demands as preconditions for the proposed 'talks'. Let not the Government fall into the trap of the LTTE. 

It is evident that despite all the evidence to the contrary, the Government and the PA believe that peace could result from the proposed 'talks' with the LTTE. The very fact of the making of these impudent demands by the LTTE should, even now, open the eyes of the Government and the PA to the self evident fact that 'talks' with the LTTE are doomed to failure even before they begin, and that the only result of such 'talks' would be to prolong the war and bring down more deaths, more suffering, more destruction and more impoverishment among the long suffering citizens of our land. 

* The writer is an ex-MP and is the President of the Sinhala Jathika Sangamaya.

More News/Comment
Return to News/Comment
News/Comment Archives


Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to
The Sunday Times or to Information Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.