Ground realities rock fragile truce
September 16 marked the first
anniversary of the peace talks between the Government and the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) - a historic milestone made possible
by the Ceasefire Agreement of February 22, 2002.
the sceptics who claimed the cease-fire would not last beyond a
few months. But it has held for 19 months. This in itself is the
qualitative difference between the earlier attempts at a cease-fire
and the current one.
This is the
longest surviving cease-fire. If it has come about with foreign
facilitators, it has served well to raise the limits of tolerance
towards the settlement of the long drawn ethnic conflict.
And that has
seen the peace talks survive a year, the longest period in the history
of Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict. This underscores the threshold of
tolerance, predicated on Sri Lanka remaining united and sovereign.
The firm belief is clearly that no settlement should result in the
vivisection of the country.
But there are
also the others, the discerning, to whom the cease-fire and the
year long peace talks, have posed many questions. More are being
added to the list as the days pass by.
of peace talks have already been held between the Government of
Sri Lanka (GOSL) and the LTTE. However, these talks have remained
suspended since April this year.
The LTTE sought
an Interim Administration with authority to administer work in the
North-East. The Government responded by forwarding three different
sets of proposals, one after another. The LTTE rejected the first
two but agreed to consider the third - the Government's offer of
a provisional interim administration sans the police, security,
land and revenue.
said that although the proposals do not meet "Tamil aspirations"
and contain very little powers, they would consider without rejecting
it outright. This has led to the LTTE busying itself to formulate
a comprehensive set of proposals - for the first time since the
ethnic conflict - for Government's consideration.
are on their way to Ireland. They want to put the finishing touches
to their response. That is in the glare of further international
attention, if not recognition.
The guerrillas have made it unequivocally clear that the future
of the Ceasefire Agreement and its survival will depend on the Government's
The LTTE proposals,
due later next month, will see the emergence, for the first time
of core issues - matters that would have to be resolved if permanent
peace is to dawn in Sri Lanka.
whilst in the Norwegian capital of Oslo, members of the facilitation
team told me "the upcoming talks would be the most difficult
phase of the negotiating process. We will have to face very tough
visit to Colombo just last week, Deputy Foreign Minister, Vidar
Helgesson and Special Envoy, Erik Solheim, The Sunday Times learnt,
focused considerable attention on how to "re design" their
facilitator role and thus the negotiating process. During their
talks with those in the main opposition People's Alliance as well
as moderate Tamil political parties, they raised this issue and
invited their proposals for this purpose.
It is clear
from their assertions and action that they are gearing themselves
for the tough times ahead. It would be logical to expect a plethora
of new knotty issues. New controversies between the Tamil polity
in the North and the Sinhala polity in the south will follow.
has lasted 19 months. The peace talks had, until they were suspended
in April, this year, focused on many peripheral issues. With crucial
talks on core issues now due, the coming weeks and months will see
the Government and the LTTE grapple with new challenges. It will
put to test the cease-fire and the truce itself.
It would be
unwise to speculate on the events that portend. Whatever may happen,
the 19 months of ceasefire, or a year of peace talks, have yielded
very little results substantively for a permanent peace. Yet, it
has helped prevent violence, seemingly spurred economic activity,
given rise to increased tourist arrivals - in short a climate of
normalcy has been created.
On the other
hand, the Cease-fire Agreement and the resultant period of truce
have also led to changing scenarios. Nowhere is its importance felt
more than in the sphere of security and defence related issues.
on 19 months of ceasefire and a year of peace talks, it is a suitable
moment to focus on these security aspects. This is by taking a closer
look at the fast changing ground realities since the cease-fire.
relating to these changing realities came to be highlighted in these
columns, there was strong criticism from sections of the UNF leadership.
They viewed such criticism to be coming from "spoilers"
who were all out to wreck the peace process. How valid were these
accusations when one looks back at 19 months after the ceasefire.
ceasefire is governed by a set of modalities which both the security
forces and the rebels are required to adhere to. Needless to say
the primary purpose is to ensure there are no hostilities.
But an equally
important aspect has been to ensure the "balance of power"
of both the security forces and the guerrillas remain at the level
that existed on February 22, 2002. In other words, the agreement
seeks to "freeze" the military balance until a negotiated
settlement was arrived at.
been no large scale hostilities during the ceasefire. However, has
the balance of power remained static? Let us examine some of the
most salient features of the Ceasefire Agreement and how the ground
realities have changed or are changing.
OPERATIONS 1.2 Neither Party shall engage in any offensive military
operations. This requires the total cessation of all military action
and includes, but is not limited to, such acts as:
a) The firing
of direct and indirect weapons, armed raids, ambushes, assassinations,
abductions, destruction of civilian or military property, sabotage,
suicide missions and activities by deep penetration units;
1.3 The Sri
Lankan armed forces shall continue to perform their legitimate task
of safeguarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri
Lanka without engaging in offensive operations against the LTTE."
REALITY: Assassinations and abductions have become a major irritant
in the enforcement of the Ceasefire Agreement. Both the Sri Lanka
Monitoring Mission (SLMM) and the Norwegian facilitators, have both
raised issue with the LTTE over the killings.
A wholly misguided
Police raid into an intelligence cell located in a city suburb led
to the discovery of weapons and explosives in January, 2002. The
Government was made to believe that this was a secret hide out from
which ruling United National Front leaders were to be assassinated
by a military group. In an unprecedented move the Army Commander,
the Director of Military Intelligence and his senior officers were
indicted in Courts for storing dangerous weapons and explosives.
Times (Situation Report - January 6, 2002) revealed for the first
time that the hide-out was in fact a forward operations cell of
the Army's Directorate of Military Intelligence from where assassinations
of rebel leaders in the East were directed before the ceasefire.
The case was withdrawn but the revelations caused outrage in the
An angry President
Kumaratunga appointed a Commission of Inquiry to probe the matter.
It is now in the process of concluding its findings. In retaliatory
attacks that have been going on in the 19 month long ceasefire,
the guerrillas killed 44, attempted to murder 31 and abducted 17.
This included five military intelligence operatives, nine other
service personnel and 13 civilian informants. Three soldiers and
a civilian escaped death but another soldier, a civilian and three
other servicemen were abducted.
also accused of killing 17 persons from rival Tamil political parties
and abducting nine. At least 26 attacks on them failed or only caused
The task of "safeguarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity
of Sri Lanka" became a contentious issue for the Navy. The
Navy is prohibited by the Ceasefire Agreement from engaging in "offensive
military operations against the LTTE."
In March and
June, this year, the Navy sank two LTTE vessels in the deep seas
off north east Sri Lanka. The Sri Lanka Navy said they were bringing
in military hardware and their gun boats opened fire after they
were attacked. Admitting for the first time that they were cargo
vessels of the LTTE heading for an Indian port, the rebels denied
A bizarre twist
to the incident came when Government and rebel leaders were talking
peace in the Japanese capital of Tokyo. They asked the Scandinavian
peace monitors to work out modalities to prevent future clashes
with two sides, the SLMM came out with a set of proposals.
The Sunday Times (Situation Report May 4, 2003) revealed how monitors
asked the Navy to confine their exercises, particularly live firing,
to specified areas at sea. The SLMM wanted to carve out separate
areas for Sea Tigers, the sea going arm of the rebels, for training
and live firing after repeating an earlier call to recognise them
as a "de facto naval unit."
or inspections of Sea Tiger vessels were to be permitted for the
Navy in these carved out areas without SLMM monitors. In effect,
for the Navy, these areas were to be "no go" zones unless
the monitors were with them.
The call to
restrict exercises by a sovereign nation's Navy, tasked to protect
the country's territorial integrity raised serious questions on
whether the SLMM has the mandate to make such a recommendation.
Such a call, in accordance with the Constitution and other laws
of the land.
It could be
made legally only by the President who is Commander-in-Chief, the
Minister of Defence, the Commander of the Navy or those in the subordinate
command authorised by them.
shocking enough, were accompanied by a map clearly marking out areas
in the western and eastern territorial waters where Sea Tigers,
the SLMM said, should be allowed to conduct exercises and live firing.
Times revelations of these sals generated a controversy in the security
establishment and among opposition political parties. There were
concerns in New Delhi too, for India was seeing signs of the emergence
of a third navy in the Palk Straits.
proposals have not been pursued since then. But the LTTE is determined
to seek formal recognition for its sea going arm, which has expanded
both in terms of men and material.
Now to another
provision in the Ceasefire Agreement.
"SEPARATION OF FORCES 1.4 Where forward defence localities
have been established, the GOSL's armed forces and the LTTE's fighting
formations shall hold their ground positions, maintaining a zone
of separation of a minimum of six hundred (600) metres. However,
each Party reserves the right of movement within one hundred (100)metres
of its own defence localities, keeping an absolute minimum distance
of four hundred (400) metres, no such right of movement applies
and the Parties agree to ensure the maximum possible distance between
areas where localities have not been clearly established, the status
quo as regards the areas controlled by the GOSL and the LTTE, respectively,
on 24 December 2001 shall continue to apply pending such demarcation
as it provided in article 1.6".
REALITY: In the north, security forces positions are clearly defined
by a bunker line and an obstacle belt with a fence. Accordingly,
demarcation of "cleared" (security forces held) and "uncleared"
areas have been established keeping the forward defence lines (FDLs)
as the guideline.
force held areas were declared High Security Zones (HSZ). During
the peace talks, the guerrillas have repeatedly demanded the security
forces withdrawal from the HSZ to enable refugees to re-settle and
for rehabilitation programme to re-commence. Northern Security Force
commanders steadfastly refused to pull out expressing fears they
would become vulnerable to attack. The concerns they expressed were
revealed for the first time by The Sunday Times.
With the concurrence
of the Government and the LTTE, the help of a retired Indian Army
officer was sought. Lt. Gen. Satish Nambiar, who has experience
in battles and peace keeping operations declared that if these zones
are dismantled without securing "reasonably foolproof assurances,"
the shortcomings of deployment and equipment (of the security forces)
would be evident to the rebels. He cautioned that re-capture of
area lost to LTTE "would entail much loss of life" and
the Army "is desperately short of state-of-the-art equipment.
In the East,
the security forces maintained independent military bases in tactically
important localities. They conducted operations in the jungles to
flush out the guerrillas. There were no FDLs defined on the ground
in these areas.
All this has
changed in the east, which includes the port city of Trincomalee,
which the guerrillas have repeatedly declared would be the capital
of their so-called state of Tamil Eelam. Recruitment of fresh cadres,
training camps, new rebel bases, police stations, court houses,
administrative systems, tax collection mechanisms have all fallen
in place. Revelations in these columns have irked many a UNF big
of Trincomalee continues after the ceasefire as both a naval, political
and economic centre. As revealed in these columns, it still remains
the life line for some 40,000 troops and policemen deployed in the
Jaffna peninsula. It is only a few hundreds who travel in and out
of the peninsula by aircraft daily.
Times (August 3, 2003)revealed how the guerrillas have opened up
new military camps, re-occupied ones they abandoned and set up a
string of satellite camps around the bases that existed. The map
on that page gave details of the changing environment. Newly recruited
cadres have been trained and moved in. New weaponry and communications
equipment have been widely distributed.
Times noted "this rapidly developing scenario in and around
Trincomalee is signalling a marked shift to the military balance.
The Tiger guerrillas are continuing to become stronger militarily
whilst the ground they dominate are expanding. This is in the backdrop
of the Security Forces being plagued with desertions, hit by lack
of resources and forced to maintain an inactive profile lest they
be accused of sabotaging the peace process.
added "They are yet to receive even the three months requirements
to replenish their dwindling stocks of ammunition and other items.
The long term impact of this change may lead to a virtual siege
of Trincomalee - a move that will threaten not only Sri Lanka's
but now India's own interests".
The main opposition
People's Alliance of President Kumaratunga raised issue. Her former
Foreign Minister and now senior international affairs advisor, Lakshman
Kadirgamar who was in New Delhi apprised Government and Opposition
In Colombo, the Government's chief peace negotiator and spokesman,
Cabinet Minister, G.L. Peiris, denied new camps had come up surrounding
Trincomalee. The only exception, he said, was one at Manirasakulam
(or Kuranku Paanchan Kulam) where the LTTE has constructed a camp
in a government controlled area after the ceasefire. The SLMM had
ruled this violated the cease-fire.
Even if the
shadow boxing between the Government and the Opposition over this
issue continued, last week Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremasinghe,
conferred with security chiefs over threats to Trincomalee. Contingency
measures to meet threats have been discussed and the need to further
strengthen the Navy decided upon.
placed a helicopter at the disposal of Opposition Leader, Mahinda
Rajapakse, to visit Trincomalee last Saturday (September 20). He
returned only to confirm that a threat exists.
There are many
other provisions in the Cease Fire Agreement that sought to ensure
the military balance that existed up to February 22 2002, both with
the security forces and the LTTE remained. However they are too
changing ground realities on matters arising out of the Ceasefire
Agreement there are several other important aspects too. If the
total strength of the guerrillas, according to local intelligence
sources stood at 9,390 before the ceasefire it has now increased.
Since the ceasefire and the truce the figure has risen to 19,750.
This is both in respect of the north and the east and include members
of the so called Eelapadai, a civilian militia.
officials say at least 30 per cent of the strength are child soldiers.
Japan's Special Envoy to the Sri Lankan Peace Process Yasushi Akashi
raised issues last week with guerrilla political Wing Leader S.P.
Tamilselvam. This was during a meeting in the guerrilla held northern
town of Kilinochchi.
reply was that the children were joining the rebel ranks out of
great enthusiasm and were not being forcibly conscripted. He had
said that even the UNICEF (United Nations Children's Educational
Fund) has been told of this position. In response to a query over
political killings, Mr. Thamilselvam had replied that such incidents
were taking place in government held areas. Hence it was a matter
for state agencies.
Sri Lankan intelligence more than 19 new camps have been set up
in the Eastern district of Trincomalee and Batticaloa since the
This is in marked contrast to the Sri Lankan security forces. Procurement
of military hardware remained frozen until the recent months. Ammunition
stocks dwindled due to use for training purposes. President Kumaratunga
went public at her party's annual sessions to declare that the Army
was left with only nine days of ammunition. However, when she made
the declaration stocks had been adequately replenished with emergency
assistance from India.
during the ceasefire have been higher than it had been during times
of war. In the year 2000 there were 4,972. The numbers increased
in the succeeding years: 2001 (6,018), 2002 (7,326) and 2003 (4337)
for the first five months.
Recruitment drives after the ceasefire, have fallen far short of
targets. In 2002 the Army launched a drive to recruit 10,000 new
soldiers but ended up listing only 2,503. Last month a drive to
recruit 5,000 have yielded only 2,300 so far. The security forces
top brass are asking the government to raise salaries and find placements
for troops in UN Peace Keeping Forces.
What do these
changing realities mean? Has not the LTTE become stronger than security
forces in the 19 months of ceasefire? Is this strength not growing?
That is even before the core issues are discussed.
How much more
will these ground realities change if there is a delay in discussing
the core issues? Would such delays, which will make the LTTE much
more stronger and thus down grade the core issues to items of low
priorities? Cannot a much stronger LTTE ask a government,that has
neglected its security forces and its security preparedness to take
it or leave it?
The time has
arrived for the UNF to reflect on these issues instead of branding
all and sundry as "spoilers" of the peace process.