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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
the North-East Muslims which remained latent until then, witnessed
an explosive exacerbation the moment the following became unequivocally
i. The talks
in Thailand will be bi-lateral between the Government and the LTTE
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