Ripples of the Nambiar report

Lt. Gen. Satish Nambiar, the retired former Deputy Chief of Staff of the Indian Army, tasked both by the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to report on re-settlement of displaced persons in the High Security Zones (HSZ) of the Jaffna peninsula arrived in Colombo yesterday on a week-long visit.

Last evening he met India's High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Nirupam Sen. Today, he is expected to meet Minister Milinda Moragoda, Defence Secretary Austin Fernando and later confer with the three service commanders - Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle (Army), Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri (Navy), Air Marshal Donald Perera (Air Force) - and the Inspector General of Police, T.E. Anandarajah.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Defence Minister Tilak Marapana at tea after addressing top rung Army officers. The event took place on Friday at the Army’s 21 Division Headquarters in Anuradhapura.

Tomorrow, he flies to the northern capital where he will spend the next few days meeting Security Forces Commander, Major General Sarath Fonseka, other senior military and civilian officials.

Lt. Gen. Nambiar's assignment over the HSZ has assumed much greater significance in view of a number of reasons. Firstly, the Sub Committee on De-escalation and Normalisation (SDN), one of the instruments agreed upon by the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the ongoing peace process becoming defunct - the result of Maj. Gen. Fonseka's five-page document titled "De-escalation Plan" being forwarded to the LTTE, as the UNF Government now admits, without being "sanitized."

In this secret document, the Army called for the disarming of Tiger guerrillas and de-commissioning of their long-range weapons in return for re-settlement of displaced persons in the HSZ.

At the last round of peace talks in the Thai tourist resort at Nakorn Pathom, where the LTTE ruled out any future participation in the Sub Committee on De-escalation and Normalisation, both the Government and the LTTE agreed to seek the help of a neutral international advisor. That was in the form of Lt. Gen. Nambiar.

As reported in these columns (Situation Report - January 19), Lt. Gen. Nambiar made two previous visits to Sri Lanka, one in September and the other in December, last year, both at the invitation of Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe.

UNF Government sources who spoke on grounds of anonymity told The Sunday Times following these visits, Lt. Gen. Nambiar, handed over a ten-page report encompassing three different aspects. They related to the role of officer level cadres in the Army (under the proposed defence reforms), the working of High Security Zones and how their existing structure could be reviewed to facilitate the peace process and a possible long term incorporation of Tiger guerrilla cadres in the military/police when a fuller peace settlement is arrived at.

After a leading Sunday newspaper published highlights of Lt. Gen. Nambiar's recommendations last week, the LTTE appears to have not only reacted with an angry response but also formulated a string of other measures thus further heightening the significance of the HSZ issue and Lt. Gen. Nambiar's own role.

Commenting on reports on the observations made by Lt. Gen. Nambiar, LTTE Chief Negotiator Anton Balasingham, has declared they will not accept recommendations linking what he calls the "critical humanitarian issue" of resettling displaced persons to disarming of guerrilla cadres. "Some elements of his (Lt. Gen. Nambiar's) assessment were based on false premises and therefore totally unacceptable," he told the London based Tamil Guardian of January 27.

Pointing out that the LTTE is "not demanding demilitarisation or dismantling of camps or reduction of troops," Dr. Balasingham says "what we are asking the Government of Sri Lanka is to allow our people to return to their homes.

It is the unconditional right of our people. The denial by the state of the right of refugees and IDPs to return to their homes under conditions of peace constitutes a gross violation of human rights."

He has observed that "It is interesting to note that General Nambiar's attempt to link the humanitarian problem of resettling the refugees to a militaristic issue of balance of forces giving over-riding precedence to an imaginary security vulnerability of the Government troops is clearly reflected in the statements by Jaffna military commander General Sarath Fonseka and SLMM's chief, General Furuhovde."

Despite Dr. Balasingham's assertions, Lt. Gen. Nambiar's report in question is only a reflection of his views to the Government of Sri Lanka. As UNF Government sources explained, "it is only an input that we obtained to help us as we continue the peace process." Hence, these sources explained, his (Lt. Gen. Nambiar's) thoughts are neither "specific recommendations" nor a "bargaining position" for the Government. "Therefore, Lt. Gen. Nambiar's study this week will look at all aspects bearing in mind the peace process and the important need for both sides to resolve the thorny issue," the sources added.

Fears that Lt. Gen. Nambiar may raise what he calls "tough terms and conditions" for relaxation of the HSZ has prompted Dr. Balasingham to tell The Tamil Guardian that they would be rejected. The LTTE has not stopped at that.

They organised campaigns this week through various citizens organisations in the Jaffna peninsula.

One was a planned protest by a "Jaffna District People's Forum" (JDPF) against a scheduled visit to the northern capital by Jayalath Jayawardena, Minister of Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Resettlement last Friday.

The Tamilnet website said on Friday that Dr. Jayawardena cancelled his visit "as residents and members of people's organisations announced in advance to hold black band demonstrations to protest his visit." However, military officials in Jaffna, who were co-ordinating Dr. Jayawardena's visit, had been informed that he would not arrive in view of Parliament sittings on Friday. In his absence, his Secretary A. Jeyaratnam, presided over at a conference at the Jaffna district secretariat where re-settlement of displaced persons was the topic.

Not to be outdone, Dr. Jayawardena flew to Jaffna yesterday to meet Government officials. The move appears to have caught the citizen's group and the LTTE by surprise. He chaired a conference at the district secretariat yesterday where re-settlement issues were discussed.

There were, however, no protests by any civilian groups yesterday.

On Friday, in addition to a demonstration by groups wearing black arm-bands, Tamilnet said residents held a protest campaign "demanding that the displaced should be allowed to settle in the high security zones." It added "JDPF sources said they reject Indian defence expert Nambiar's report on the HSZ issue, as it was one sided in favour of Sri Lanka security forces."

Another LTTE backed citizens group that has come out strongly in favour of re-settling displaced persons in the high security zones is a Vadamaratchi People's Forum (VPF). This "Forum" has declared it would launch protest campaigns against Government Ministers, Opposition leaders and members of the diplomatic community visiting the peninsula.

According to Tamilnet, among the demands listed by this VPF is a call for urgent action on State forces occupying residential places and agricultural lands of displaced people in the name of HSZs. Demanding that they quit the area, the VPF has said armed forces should vacate houses and other public buildings in areas that are not declared as HSZs.

Ensuring formation of civilian organisations and formulating agitational campaigns over the HSZ issue through them when Lt. Gen. Nambiar is to undertake his assignment is significant indeed.

The pressure moves are clearly intended to highlight the LTTE's consistent demand that HSZs should make way, sooner than later, for the re-settlement programmes that are under-way.

Even if the issue is currently on hold, negotiators will undoubtedly have to clear the HSZ hurdle to talk about core issues.

If it is going to be a challenging task for Lt. Gen. Nambiar this week, his findings will be equally challenging for the UNF government. Later, next week Lt. Gen. Nambiar is expected to call on Premier Wickremesinghe before his return to India where he is Director of the United Services Institute. His report is to be forwarded thereafter.

On Friday, a day ahead of Lt. Gen. Nambiar's visit, Premier Wickremesinghe, addressed a group of nearly 100 top rung Army officers at the Officer's Mess of the Army's 21 Division Headquarters in Anuradhapura.

He flew there from Colombo after taking part in the concluding day's debate in Parliament on the peace process. The Army officers came from the former battle areas of the North and East.

Premier Wickremesinghe explained the peace process his UNF government has embarked on during the past one year. He said there were several difficult areas but asserted his Government was determined to go through with the process.

Defence Minister Tilak Marapana, who also addressed the closed door meeting paid tribute to the sacrifices made by the Security Forces.

He said it was because of their contribution that it has been possible for the government to indulge in the ongoing peace process.

However, he asserted the need for the Security Forces to be prepared at all times to meet any threats to national security or if anything were to go wrong. Such steps had to include training to maintain a high level of preparedness.

On hand at the meeting were the Commanders of the Army, Navy, Air Force and the Navy. Security Forces Commander in the North, Wanni, General Officers Commanding the Army's 22 Division (Trincomalee), 23 Divi-sion (Batticaloa), Brigade Commanders and Senior Staff Officers. It was the first high level meeting addressed both by Premier Wickremesinghe and Defence Minister Marapana since the Ceasefire Agreement of February 22, last year.Meanwhile the LTTE delegation to the next round of peace talks in the Norwegian Embassy compound in Berlin, Germany, will arrive in Colombo tomorrow and depart the same day for Germany.

The six-member team is led by the leader of its Political Wing, S.P. Tamilselvan and include S. Prabakharan alias Pulithevan and Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna.

The team is to be joined in Berlin by chief negotiator Anton Balasingham.

Both Gen. Nambiar's study of HSZs in the Jaffna peninsula this week and the upcoming talks in Berlin will no doubt be very crucial events in the search for peace.


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