Norwegian government representatives, who facilitated the ceasefire agreement between Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the LTTE in February 2002, could appear before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), if they so wished. LLRC chairperson and former Attorney-General C. R. de Silva told the Sunday Times last Friday, "The Norwegian facilitators are also welcome to speak to the commission."
Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa is scheduled to appear before the commission on August 17 and commission officials have so far not indicated that Mr. Rajapaksa's statements would be recorded in camera. Although that option, according to the mandate of the LLRC, could be exercised at any time during Mr. Rajapaksa's deposition. Mr. de Silva had earlier told the Sunday Times that all hearings of the LLRC would be barred from public viewing. However, six individuals - questioned by the commission last week - preferred to speak in public.
|LLRC in progress. Pic by J. Weerasekera
The LLRC, according to Mr. de Silva, was keen to gauge the views of people from both sides of the ethnic divide so as to recommend steps for long-term reconciliation. "You cannot have any reconciliation if peoples' grievances exist," Mr. de Silva said, adding that the LLRC's decision to visit Vavuniya for hearings last weekend was necessary because war-displaced people in the north found it difficult to travel to Colombo.
The LLRC - formed by President Mahinda Rajapksa on May 15 - concluded its first three days of hearings at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies in Colombo last Friday. Between August 11 and 13, the eight-member panel questioned witnesses on two broad areas, ceasefire agreement and achieving reconciliation.
A few of the questions asked by LLRC members included: Why did the ceasefire agreement fail? Do you think the reported political disconnect between the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe may have been responsible for flaws in the ceasefire agreement or the process of formulating the agreement? Or, do you think that there was a unique political situation in Sri Lanka in 2002 when the ceasefire agreement may have worked? Suggest ways that reconciliation between communities in Sri Lanka could be achieved? What role could the Tamil diaspora play?
Bernard Goonatilleke, chairperson of the now defunct peace secretariat was the first to appear before the LLRC on August 11 when he said that the ceasefire agreement had numerous shortcomings and flaws since it was the "outcome of a sense of urgency that had existed at that time to have a signed document." He said, non-inclusion of the issue of child soldiers recruited by the LTTE was among the "flaws" in the agreement. He suggested that the Sri Lankan government engaged the Tamil diaspora and "convinced them about the changed situation in Sri Lanka," while adding that he feared a small group of people with hawkish views may also be present in the diaspora.
People displaced by the war in the island's north and east should be allowed to resettle in their places of origin with the "limited" presence of the armed forces, the former diplomat suggested.
V. Nallainayagam, a Sri Lankan expatriate living in Canada, also spoke to the commission last Wednesday. The following day, social scientist Godfrey Gunatilleke and former chairperson of the National Child Protection Authority Hiranthi Wijemanne appeared before the commission.
On August 13, the LLRC quizzed attorney-at-law S. L. Gunasekara and Tamil politician V Anandasangaree. Quoting Scottish poet Sri Walter Scott, Mr. Anandasangaree even said, "this is my own, my native land." He suggested that the armed forces be removed from the north and people be allowed freedom of movement. "Withdraw the army and let people live their lives in peace. We want our houses, our land," he added. He said, he was surprised at the way former LTTE arms procurer T. S. Pathmanathan or KP was being treated. "Why is KP being kept in five-star prisons and touring the north in the name of charity work?" he asked.
On his part, Mr. Gunasekara submitted a memorandum to the LLRC. According to him (as written in the memorandum), the ethnic conflict was a "myth" and that it had been "aggravated by the failure of the major political parties, namely the SLFP and the UNP and various satellite parties that had attached themselves to such parties which are not and/or do not purport to be communal parties but are purely and simply parties wedded to the acquisition and maintenance of power and the perquisites and privileges that such power brings with it, regardless of any considerations of race, caste or creed failing to debunk that myth."
In the next two weeks, almost 10 people mostly former diplomats are scheduled to appear before the LLRC.
Meanwhile, in its recent report to the US Congress, the Department of State, had said that it would "continue to evaluate whether the commission (LLRC) is acting consistent with other best practices derived from broad experience as well as utilizing its powers as described in the Special Presidential Commissions of Inquiry Law of 1978."