Dr. H. M. Mauroof

The Muslim factor and the JTF
The peace proc ess is, perhaps, at a most crucial juncture. Therefore for the sake of peace, it is opportune to highlight two major flaws in the present approach. The chances of success of the present process will upgrade itself many folds if the two flaws, that are eminently correctable, are disposed of. These flaws are largely due to the failure to include all the major stake-holders in the peace talks.

It appears that the Norwegian peace brokers have not learnt a lesson from a major miss they made in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process; if they had included the Likud of Israel, now in Government then in Opposition, and, the Palestinian group Hamas originally, the chances of success of the process they helped initiate, which is now in tatters, would have been much greater. In the Sri Lanka context, I refer to the omissions of the Opposition ("Government in waiting") and that of the Muslims in the Thailand talks.

One has to recognize the importance of the peace process, which the Prime Minister has successfully put into 'fast' gear. The UNF Government was elected in the December 2001 election on a peace platform, although only months earlier the UNF in Opposition sabotaged in Parliament the President's efforts to achieve peace within the framework of a carefully crafted Constitution.

It is absolutely necessary to realise that the ethnic tangle in the country is a trilateral one, involving the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim communities. It is opportune that the North-East Tamil community, has come under one public umbrella, namely, the LTTE. It can be safely assumed that the Sinhala community will be speaking in one voice if the UNF Government and the Opposition are represented in the talks by their respective delegations.

A UNP-SLFP combined effort would ensure that no party would attempt, overtly or covertly, to sabotage the process. It is now time that the once high profile business community re-invigorate itself and assist achieve this combination.

A more obvious flaw on the part of the Government and the Norwegians was the glaring failure to include the Muslims as a partner to the talks in Sattahip in September. Conducting bilateral talks for a trilateral problem is an open invitation to failure; it will lay the foundation for the start of another conflict, with the East as its epicentre, which will complement the wasteful destruction in the North.

Also an equally obvious, but whose relevance is immediate is the failure of the Government and the Norwegians to include Muslim representation in the Joint Task Force. The setting up of the JTF is claimed to be one of two major achievements of the Sattahip Conference.

It is not by coincidence that during the last week the LTTE has been stridently demanding immediate action on rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Humanitarian and Reconstruction activities involve the resettlement of the more than 700,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), providing them relief for the consequences of their displacement. The more than 700,000 IDPs, belonging to the three communities, have suffered in respect of the quality and the quantity of the food available to them, quality of education available to their children, level of health services, housing and the types of housing available to them, and the types of employment available. Some of the violations they suffer indicate harassment, arrests, abductions, rapes, torture, execution exploitation and imprisonment.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are expected to come into the country for the purpose of reconstruction and resettlement. The Prime Minister is due to travel to Oslo on November 25 for a 'mini' donor conference to be held in the near future. It was only last week that the World Bank offered US$43 million immediately (Rs. 4000 million) for the rehabilitation of the North East.

The LTTE, displaying its mature wisdom, is pressing hard for the immediate implementation of this aspect of the deal even putting the interim administration matter on the back burner.

What are the details of the IDPs in the country? There are 733,000 IDPs. Between the Cease-fire Agreement in February and now, 180,000 IDPs had voluntarily returned to the North-East for resettlement; it can be safely assumed that almost all of them must be Tamils resulting from their new found and well deserved confidence. That would leave 553,000 people still displaced. It is estimated that together with about 100,000 Muslims IDPs from the North including the 70,000 'ethnically cleansed" from Jaffna and the numbers from the East, the total of the Muslim IDPs will be around 200,000. This number is a very large proportion of the total number of IDPs in the country that will come under the preview of the JTF.

The JTF will ensure resettling people in their original locations by getting their lawfully owned places restored to them, assisting in the reconstruction of their homes, business and farming, providing roads, water supply, electricity, schools and other basic amenities. Going by past experiences, what justice could the Muslim IDPs expect when their representatives are absent in the powerful JTF?

Anxieties of the North-East Muslims which remained latent until then, witnessed an explosive exacerbation the moment the following became unequivocally clear.

i. The talks in Thailand will be bi-lateral between the Government and the LTTE only.
ii. The JTF will give representation only to the LTTE and the Government.

It did not help when the Government took a Muslim leader to Sattahip as part of its delegation; he remained symbolic and stoically silent. However Muslim disappointment remained subdued after the leader of the Government delegation referred in his inaugural speech to a separate Muslim delegation in the forthcoming talks despite the fact that many remained unimpressed by the sophistry of the Professor's words; the Muslim delegation to the second Thailand Talks have failed to materialise, and these Talks are to finalize matters concerning the JTF.

There is no doubt that the greatest stake holders in the establishment of a just peace in the country are the Tamils of the North-East; every aspect of their lives have been damaged, dislocated or diminished. It would therefore be statesmanlike, and indeed eminently wise, particularly in view of the circumstances currently unfolding in the country for the LTTE to propose that the two sidelined stakeholders - the Muslims and the main opposition - be brought into the negotiations. This is the way the LTTE can ensure the success of the peace process, and, more importantly, make it permanent

On the other hand, it needs no repetition that the Prime Minister owes it to the Muslims not to place them in any jeopardy. The Muslims in December 2001 voted 80 to 90% for the UNP and their partner the SLMC to help enthrone the UNF Government; it believes the leader, the Prime Minister, not to sacrifice the interests of the Muslims in the North-East who harbour a collective feeling of being let down and cornered. Cornered beings can react in most unexpected ways. This is the experience within the country and internationally.

o The writer is the President of National Muslim Movement

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