Tigers seek more control of donor funds

An LTTE photo sent to The Sunday Times shows guerilla leader Velupillai Prabhakaran greeting Japanese special envoy Yashushi Akashi at their political office in Kilinochchi. On the right is Anton Balasingham.

Suave and astute international diplomat that he is, Japan's Yashushi Akashi, did his home work meticulously for many days before boarding a Sri Lanka Air Force helicopter last Wednesday to meet Tiger guerrilla leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, in Kilinochchi.

He did not want to miss out on the finer nuances of what Mr. Prabhakaran would or would not say. He had watched a video of the guerrilla leader's press conference in the Wanni on April 10, last year. He saw how the LTTE Chief Negotiator, Anton Balasingham, translated the words of Mr. Prabhakaran. That task was former's forte having served a long stint earlier as official translator at the British High Commission in Colombo.

But, on that occasion not all what Mr. Prabhakaran said in Tamil was translated in the most accurate form in English to the vast gathering of local and foreign journalists who had no knowledge of Tamil. That was understandable. Mr. Balasingham had to project some of the remarks made by his leader, couching them in sugary diplomatic parlance. The meaning or the nuances of the message thus conveyed became somewhat different to what was said. As "Ambassador" and "ideologue" for his leader, Mr. Balasingham knew what was good for him.

A GIFT FOR MR. AKASHI- LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran presents a map of “Tamil Eelam” with the LTTE insignia.

The weeks that followed saw those in the Colombo based diplomatic community, the media and academics scurrying for the full Tamil text. They did their own translation to read between the lines and the meanings behind them.

One of them who did this was N. Ram, a former Editor of the Madras based English newspaper, The Hindu and now Editor of Frontline, the group's weekly news magazine. During an interview with Mr. Akashi, Mr. Ram had shared his experience.

Hence, Mr. Akashi wanted the Tamil translator at the Japanese Embassy in Colombo, Stanislaus Devotta, in his official entourage. When the talks began at the conference room of the Political Office of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), he translated Mr. Akashi's remarks in English into Tamil. Doing just that when Mr. Prabhakaran spoke was Mr. Balasingham.

Most of the two and half hour discussion centred on two critical issues Mr Akashi raised - the LTTE's return to peace talks and their presence at next month's aid donors meeting in Tokyo.

Mr Prabhakaran complained about the workings of two organisations - the NERF or North-East Rehabilitation Fund and the SIHRN - Sub Committee for Immediate Humanitarian Relief.

Whilst Mr. Balasingham remained an onlooker besides playing translator, his leader, a Japanese source said, did all the talking. The NERF, he had pointed out, should be properly constituted to overcome what were described as bottle-necks and legal barriers. He had felt that there was a Government conspiracy over this matter.

It is the NERF that is to receive all donor assistance, including pledges at the upcoming Tokyo meet. Legally such funds are to be committed to the Government of Sri Lanka. In the eyes of the donor agencies, like the World Bank and foreign governments, the LTTE still has no legal status to be a recipient of such funds.

oreover, Attorney General K.C. Kamalasabeyson, holds the view that there is no legal or constitutional provision for an authority other than the Government of Sri Lanka to manage funds entrusted to it. Similarly, even in the case of SIHRN, Mr. Prabhakaran had expressed the view that it should be made more effective.

In other words, what the LTTE leader was seeking is a direct control for his organisation to disburse funds reaching both the NERF and the SIHRN. Mr Prabhakaran did not mince his words when he said these were among positive steps he wanted the Government of Sri Lanka to take if Mr. Akashi's requests were to be considered.

The Japanese source also said Mr. Akashi took the opportunity to raise issue with Mr. Prabhakaran over a variety of other matters including human rights, recruitment of child soldiers and increased ceasefire violations by the LTTE than the Government. "He remained unmoved and made no comments except to listen," said the source commenting on Mr. Prabhakaran's response.

Mr Akashi politely turned down a request that the aid donors meeting be put off. He said Japan was like a huge tanker at sea and it was not easy for it to suddenly change course. He told the LTTE leader to let him know within a week whether they would take part.

The talks were not without its informal moments. Mr Prabhakaran spoke about his son Charles Anthony. He had just earned his black belt in karate. It turned out that he had something common with Japanese Ambassador Seichiro Otsuka. The two were from the same school of karate.

If Mr Prabhakaran focused considerable attention on matters relating to a "Tamil nation," he gifted Mr. Akashi with a map of "Tamil Eelam" with the LTTE insignia.

The duo, together with members of their main entourage, sat down for lunch at the Political Office. Waiters in black trousers, long sleeved white shirts and black bow ties served them a variety of dishes including lobsters. With that over, Mr Akashi, a former UN under secretary General who over saw UN-run elections in Cambodia and the UN presence in Bosnia and party flew back to Colombo.

Barely two hours later, Mr Akashi was locked in conference with Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremasinghe at "Temple Trees."

The continuing paucity in the flow of information relating to ongoing peace talks and related matters may have kept most Sri Lankans in the dark. Contrary to all expectations, the LTTE which pulled out of the peace talks on April 21, as a temporary measure, was still not inclined to return to peace talks or attend the aid donors meeting in Tokyo. Not until the Government took what the LTTE called "positive" measures.

These "positive" measures, it turned out, extended to many issues and was spelt out by Mr. Balasingham, soon after Akashi-Prabhakaran talks. A credible account of how it occurred is reflected in two separate reports in the Colombo based Tamil daily Sudar Oli last Thursday. The newspaper is known to be accurate on its reportage of the LTTE. See box story for English translations of these reports.

Besides the issues connected with SIHRN and NERF, in essence the other demands the LTTE wants "positive action" from the Government include the recent controversial proposals by the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) calling upon the Government to recognize the Sea Tigers as a "de facto naval unit," demarcate for them areas at sea for training and live firing exercises.

The proposals were first contained in an Initial Discussion Paper dated April 3 forwarded by Head of SLMM, retired Norwegian Major General Tryggve Tellefsen (Situation Report - April 20). They were further amplified in Adjusted Proposals he issued on April 24 (Situation Report - May 4).

Though the LTTE has not explicitly asked for "positive action" from the Government over the SLMM proposals to return to peace talks, the demand still persists. It is reflected through their complaint that decisions made at the sixth round of peace talks in Hakone (Japan) - the joint call for SLMM to adopt measures to prevent clashes between the Sri Lanka Navy and the LTTE at sea - have not been implemented.

The Sunday Times learnt that this LTTE demand was further re-iterated when Norwegian Special Envoy, Erik Solheim also held talks with LTTE Chief Negotiator, Anton Balasingham, in Kilinochchi on Thursday. Mr Solheim also handed him a copy of the Nambiar report sent by the Government and had a discussion on it.

Other members of the Norwegian team were their Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Hans Brattskar, Head of SLMM Tryggve Teleffsen, Adviser in the Foreign Ministry Ms Lisa Golden and Second Secretary Tomas Stangeland.

Associated with Mr. Balasingham were S.P. Tamilselvan, head of LTTE Political Wing, Dr. Jay Maheswaran, economic advisor to the LTTE, LTTE "Commanders" Theepan, Soosai and Banu.

Although the Government and the LTTE delegations were to meet in Omanthai on May 7 to discuss SLMM's Adjusted Proposals, the meeting was cancelled. Whilst maintaining complete silence on the issue with no official statements issued so far, the Government has sought the help of retired Indian Navy Vice Admiral P.J. Jacob to study and report on the matter, much the same way retired Indian Lt. Gen. Satish Nambiar was called upon to do with the High Security Zones (HSZ) in the Jaffna peninsula.

Vice Admiral (retd.) Jacob and Lt. Gen. Nambiar received a briefing from Defence Secretary, Austin Fernando at a conference last Thursday at the Ministry of Defence. Service Commanders and top officers of the Army, Navy and Air Force were among those present to witness comical moments when Mr. Fernando, somewhat nervously, pleaded with them not to speak to the media about the discussions. He said they should remain secret.

His concerns, however, are understandable. Media exposures of the Defence Secretary's forwarding to LTTE of a "secret" report sent to him by Jaffna Security Forces Commander, Maj. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, without sanitising it, generated a controversy and caused acute embarrassment to the Government. The fall out still continues.

Until Vice Admiral (retd) Jacob forwards his report to the Government, the SLMM proposals regarding Sea Tigers will obviously remain on hold. Hence no Government action on the matter is likely until his report is received.

The other thorny issue is the LTTE demand that Security Forces withdraw from High Security Zones (HSZ) in the Jaffna peninsula to facilitate the return of displaced persons, part of the normalisation process spelt out in the Ceasefire Agreement. An immediate demand was their withdrawal from Jaffna town area, particularly Hotels Gnanams, Subash and 80 houses.

At least on two occasions, the Army's efforts to shift these camps were unsuccessful. The first was a Rs 55 million rupee project to re-locate to State/Provincial Council lands near the old Town Hall area. This was abandoned after work began following protests from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). (Situation Report - April 13). An alternative land suggested was found unsuitable. Later another location, near the Police Station premises was chosen but the LTTE opposed the move.

Joining in the MoD conference mid way last Thursday was Defence Minister, Tilak Marapana. The subject turned to troop withdrawals from HSZ. He discussed with service chiefs and other top brass, clause by clause, the recommendations made by Lt. Gen. Nambiar in an eight page report. Before the conference ended, Vice Adm. (retd) Jacob, excused himself and departed. He said he was leaving for India and hoped to submit his report in a week. He said he would address not only the concerns of the Government and LTTE but also others who may be affected.

Copies of the Nambiar report were not given to the service commanders and others reportedly over fears that it would reach The Sunday Times though ironically this very report was sent to the LTTE through Mr. Solheim. The question is whether the Government cannot trust its own Security Forces Commanders whilst having full faith in the LTTE. However, on Thursday night, in a hurried move, the full report was made available to the media by Government's Chief Spokesman and Chairman of Independent Television Network (ITN), Gyrika Perusinghe.,

Here are some of the highlights of recommendations made by Lt. Gen. Nambiar with regard to "dismantling of High Security Zones and reduction in size of others:"
"In the Jaffna peninsula the HSZs set up around the forward deployment of forces in areas like Muhamalai, Nagarkovil, the promontories South of Chavakkachheri, along the beach road South of Jaffna and along the coastal areas, may be considered for dismantling in appropriate stages in the first phase of the process.

"In the second phase, the HSZs around Palaly airfield, KKS Harbour and Point Pedro harbour should be considered for reduction in size to the extent of perimeter security as for any other vital defence installation. Together with this, HSZs in other sectors could also be considered for dismantling or reduction in size taking into account the ethnic sensitivities.

"However in my view, the suggestions regarding dismantling of HSZs and reducing the size of others, can only be effected provided certain measures are put in place to address:

  • The legitimate professional concerns of SLDF commander at the operational level and,
  • The aspect of mutual lack of trust and the consequent need for institution of confidence building measures (CBMs)."

Lt. Gen. Nambiar has noted that "any dismantling of HSZs or forward defences of the SLDF will have to be matched by simultaneous dismantling of LTTE operational military positions. There will therefore need to be agreement to this effect at the peace talks. To this end, both sides will need to endorse the setting up of appropriate observers and monitoring mechanisms that can oversee actual implementation at the ground level to mutual satisfaction".

He has also recommended "supplementing the Nordic component of the SLMM with military and police observers from some other countries who may be encouraged to participate".

He adds: " If the SLMM is to be reconstituted with additional responsibilities as suggested in the preceding paragraph, the mission head should desirably report to a joint commission set up under the authority of the current negotiating mechanism. In addition to the Norweigian representative, this joint commission could have representatives from the major countries that agree to provide the additional observers/ monitors, and from some of the major aid donors. This would possibly give the mission greater credibility, acceptance and authority.

"The reach of LTTE long-range weaponry and the organisation's perceived capability to launch surprise attacks, are major aspects that disturb SLDF commanders. These have apparently occasioned the need for delineation of large areas that now constitute the HSZs. If LTTE long-range weaponry can be placed in designated areas under international monitoring, a degree of confidence could be assured.

"If the LTTE finds this unacceptable, placing its long-range weaponry under international monitoring even in existing deployed areas may well meet the requirement of confidence building. In my view the LTTE is not likely to agree to such an agreement unilaterally. Hence the SLDF will also need to subject itself to such an arrangement. SLDF commanders did not seem to have any reservations about this possible requirement.

"Another measure that would contribute greatly towards confidence building on both sides and one that I would strongly advocate is that of "challenge inspections". A "Challenge inspection" would be an inspection initiated at the instance of one party on suspicion that the other is violating the provisions of the CFA in an area under its own control. Given the reluctance of SLDF commanders to accept LTTE representation on teams that may be required to inspect SLDF weapon deployment and troop dispositions, 'joint inspection teams' comprising international monitors and representatives from both sides does not appear to be a feasible proposition. That being so, it would appear best that monitoring teams for "challenge inspections" be constituted from among international observers/monitors only."

On Friday, Mr. Akashi declared May 14 as the deadline by when he expects a response from the Government and the LTTE. As for the Government, they are learnt to be wanting to take part. The billion dollar question now remains whether the LTTE would.

The LTTE stance comes at a time when their military preparedness is at peak level. Their strength which stood at around 7500 during the February 22, 2002 ceasefire has now risen to a staggering 18,500.

They have not only acquired new military hardware but have also distributed them to various points in the north and east. Their training and recruitment programmes still continue.

What of the Security Forces? Government leaders, soon after the ceasefire, embarked on programmes to down size the security forces. At the same time a controversial committee was also established for defence reforms. It was only in the past several weeks that the need to ensure a degree of preparedness has dawned. Funds have been belatedly set apart for emergency procurements needed for at least three months.

But there is a sad tale at the Ministry of Defence - a complaint that files are being stuck or held up somewhere. As one source said, "no one seems to be powerful enough to push them. The result - it will be several months before decisions are made to procure. It will be further several months before the items arrive in the country."
That, to say the least, is the sordid state of the nation's security preparedness. To say more would be to jeopardise national security.

Tamil paper on Akashi visit
The Colombo based Tamil daily Sudar Oli published two separate reports in its issue last Thursday on the talks Japanese Special Envoy Yashushi Akashi had with LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran in Kilinochchi.

Here are the English translations of the two reports under different headlines. They clearly reflect the present mood of the LTTE vis-a-vis the peace talks.

PRABHAKARAN's message to Premier through Japanese peace emissary.
Japanese peace messenger Yashushi Akashi had talks with the LTTE national leader Velupillai Pirabhakaran yesterday in Kilinochchi and insisted that the LTTE should take part once again in talks. In his reply Pirabhakaran emphasised the fact that the government should come forward to solve the problems of the people who have been suffering for quite a long time. Concrete action should be taken first for talks to continue. If that is done they will consider about taking part in the talks. Pirabhakaran requested Akashi to carry his message to the Prime Minister.

Akashi was received by the Deputy Political Wing leader Thangan and the LTTE media spokesman Daya Master at the Central Playgrounds in Kilinochchi when he alighted from his specially chartered helicopter yesterday forenoon. Later on he was accompanied by LTTE cadres to LTTE Headquarters. Pirabhakaran welcomed Akashi by shaking hands at the Headquarters.

At the talks Pirabhakaran took the leading part. Anton Balasingham, Tamilselvan, LTTE Economic Advisor Jay Maheshwaran and Mrs. Adele Balasingham were also present at the talks.

Envoy Akashi had with him, his Japanese Ambassador to Colombo Otsuka and the Japanese officers attached to the Asia-Pacific Division of the Japanese Ministry of External Affairs. Before leaving Kilinochchi, Akashi inspected the Kilinochchi hospital and the proposed Mobile Medical Scheme.

Pirabhakaran presented to Akashi a relief map of Tamil Eelam with LTTE insignia inscribed in it. Akashi responded with a memento to Pirabhakaran. Akashi returned to Colombo at 1530 yesterday and had talks with Prime Minister immediately afterwards.

None of the governments have taken concrete steps to solve the problems of our people. We are not prepared to be cheated once again. - Prabhakaran -
When the Japanese Peace Envoy Akashi met Pirabhakaran in Kilinochchi yesterday, Pirabhakaran lamented as above. He further said that:

For the last 50 years Tamil people had numerous talks with various governments in power. No single government took any substantial measures of action to solve the problems faced by our people.

We are not prepared to be cheated once again. This government should put forward concrete proposals for the solution of problems. No purpose will be served by continuing talks and adopting new resolutions unless the government took positive steps to implement the resolutions already adopted. The government has not taken any such step so far. We had to suspend our participation in the peace talks because we do not want to be under constant delusion.

We wanted to give the government time to pause and consider its real position. This is an interval for the government to ponder its future plans for our people. Special attention needs to be paid to the thousands of displaced people of the North and East who are unable to return to their homes. No action has so far been taken to resettle these miserable people.

What our people face is humanitarian problem. The government and its military command confuse this problem with their own security. They have not approached this problem from an appropriate angle.

This government has carried forward the debate of this country to the judgement of foreign generals and is expectantly waiting for their verdict and recommendations. This only exposes the inherent weakness of the government. The government is not bold enough to face its internal problem squarely. This is most regrettable.

There is a Sub Committee for Immediate Humanitarian Rehabilitation Work (SIHRN). This Sub Committee has still not started functioning properly. This Sub Committee has not executed any substantial plan of work for our people. A fund was created for this committee as a North-East Rehabilitation Fund. This fund has not been approved by the government. Legal implications are claimed to be an obstacle to its establishment.
In this way, the government is dragging on without any tangible performance.

Now the government is so insistent on Tokyo Aid Conference. They are in need of economic assistance. They want to display to the international community a show of peace talks with the LTTE. This is a stark propaganda in action exercise. They want to develop the South by obtaining economic aid from international aid agencies. They have no concern about our problems.

Please carry this urgent message to the PM and government authorities and obtain their immediate response to it. If they fail to respond immediately we shall not take part in peace talks. If they take positive steps, we shall consider taking part in future talks.

-Dr Balasingham replies to media

After the meeting of Akashi with Priabhakaran yesterday(07-05-2003) in Kilinochhi, Dr. Balasingham met media personnel and replied to their questions.

His replies reflected frustration when he said that if the talks were to bear fruit concrete attempts must be made (by the government) to implement the decisions already taken. Otherwise no purpose would be survived in future talks.

Question: The Prime Minister has directed that the 15 schemes sanctioned by SIHRN should be implemented forthwith. Is there any relevance to this order and the scheme of SIHRN?

Schemes would not materialise automatically by merely saying they would be done. They need funds. The fund has not been legally created. The Attorney General has stated that legal impediments had to be overcome.

There are difficulties in implementing the 15 schemes. They cannot be allocated to various ministries for implementation. The Ministers are not free of corruption. They will not implement the scheme. The Ministers would appropriate the money to various corrupt elements or the funds would ultimately go to line the pockets of various Ministers or administrative officials.

The stand and tradition in Sri Lanka is that plans would be formulated, decisions would be adopted, funds would be duly allocated, the funds would reach the specific Ministries, but finally nothing would be performed. The funds would go to line the pockets of various Ministers and high officials. But it will not reach the people to whom it was meant.

We cannot subscribe to this practice. What we want is concrete performance and positive action. They should be honourably done and the people should benefit from it.
We have no intention to run away from talks. Nor is our organisation anxious to go to war again. We would stick to the peace process determinedly, but would continue to exert pressure on the government and the international community to get the needful funds allocated and spend appropriately. We want to make sure the people reap the benefits. The people have waited long enough. They are fed up and they have begun to have doubts on our talks. If the talks are to be of any use they should be practical and produce positive results.

Question: Could you dwell on the talks between Akashi an Pirabhakaran?
Akashi insisted that the talks between the LTTE and the government should be re-opened and the Tigers should definitely participate in the Tokyo donor conference. We assured him that we would seriously consider the matter.

At the same time we told Akashi that the decisions made in previous talks should be implemented by the government and that Akakshi too exert pressure on the government to implement those decisions.

We further stressed that the SIHRN should be expanded and legalised so that it utilise the funds granted to it by the international donors. The reported legal implications with regard SIHRN should be regularised without further delay.

Our people have been displaced for over ten years and they are leading a miserable life. Their plight should be viewed humanely and not be confused with the security of the armed forces.

The urgent humanitarian problem of the displaced people should be attended to first for any peace talks to be of any use. At this stage, we are unable to come to any conclusion to take part in talks.

Question: The government has decided to vacate the Army from Gnanam Hotel and station them in some other place. Why the Tigers are against it? They decided to transfer the troops from the hotels situated in the centre of the town. But again they have decided to station them in another place within the town. This is nothing but re-occupation of the town.

Transferring troops from our part of the town to another part is not a proper solution. What our people expect is that the troops should be stationed away from densely populated areas.

Tamil parliamentarians also have proposed that troops should be stationed outside the City limits. But the Army is adamant they should stay within Municipal limits.
Question: Are there possibilities of your taking part in future negotiations, if the government satisfies your demand?

Yes of course, but millions of people have been displaced. A very few of them have been re-settled. Vacating two hotels will not solve the problem. That is only a small sign of goodwill. We cannot settle these people in these two hotels.

There are 42 Grama Niladari divisions in Valikamam North alone which are under occupation by the Army. The Army has to make a very important decision. They are awaiting Nambiar's report. We don't know what Nambiar's recommendations are going to be.

If Nambiar's recommendations involved our disarmament or shifting our artillery positions we cannot agree to that proposal. Our artillery positions are very far from the Army positions. There is no threat to them from us.

Humanitarian problems should not be confused with security problems. We have participated in the sixth round of talks. But no solution has been found.

Question: Would you continue to have a relationship with the government negotiators?
We are ready to meet anybody. Our door is open to any Minister or any officer. Now we convey our message to the Japanese and the Norwegians. If the government comes to some decision and contacts us we are ready to meet and talk.


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