LTTE women cadres on their 20th anniversary

Tigers climb down for talks on truce
Norwegian facilitators have made the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) climb down from their rigid stance of not wanting to discuss the three-and-half-year-old Ceasefire Agreement (CFA).

They have now agreed to sit down with a Government delegation and examine how this agreement, signed in February 2002, could be better implemented. Earlier, LTTE Political Wing leader S.P. Thamilselvan insisted there could be no discussion on the CFA until its provisions were first implemented fully.

The move is the direct outcome of talks Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen and his deputy, Vidar Helgesen held with LTTE's chief peace negotiator, Anton Balasingham in London last Wednesday. They stopped over in the British capital en route to Oslo after attending the state funeral of Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar. They also had a round of talks with President Chandrika Band-aranaike Kumaratunga.

According to reports from London, the Norwegian duo handed over to Mr. Balasingham a written note addressed to the LTTE. In this, Norway had expressed concerns over reported ceasefire violations whilst the peace talks had remained in limbo for the past five years. The LTTE ideologue had made contact with the LTTE leadership in Wanni. Concerns had already been raised there over the hardening of Sinhala opinion in the south. This was after the death of Mr. Kadirgamar.

There had also been concerns among the LTTE hierarchy that the southern polity had joined hands to support the declaration of a State of Emergency. Hence there is a significant change in stance though a multitude of questions over the CFA still remain to be resolved. They are knotty and not going to be easy. Both the Government and the LTTE have equally serious concerns.

The Government has become hyper active only after the assassination of Foreign Minister Kadirgamar. As the Presidential Secretariat announced this week, the Government had asked the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) to arrange a meeting between senior level military personnel and senior guerrilla cadres "to devise ways and means of ending the political killings…"
But the matter gained higher priority after President Kumaratunga raised issue during talks with Messers Petersen and Helgesen. Norway's Ambassador Hans Brattskar was on hand. It is only thereafter that she wrote to Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik asking Norway to summon a meeting with the LTTE under the aegis of the facilitators and the SLMM.

Balasingham said the impending meeting is to review the "implementation of the Ceasefire Agreement in order to find practical ways of ensuring full compliance by both parties". Though in different words, this is exactly what President Kumaratunga also wants Norway to do. She says the meeting should be to "review the practical functioning of the Ceasefire Agreement with a view to preventing further killings and other violations."
According to Ambassador Brattskar the venue, date and times for the talks would be worked out only next week. Special Envoy Erik Solheim, now busy with elections in his country, believes there would be an open agenda for the talks. The LTTE is in favour of it being held abroad and has suggested the Norwegian capital of Oslo. But the Government is not averse to such talks taking place in Sri Lanka, even in a stretch of "no man's" land that divide Government held and guerrilla dominated territories. Modalities apart, there are some critical issues.

The Government has been propelled into an urgent mode by the assassination of Foreign Minister Kadirgamar after the LTTE violated the ceasefire agreement more than 6,000 times. A protest has already been lodged with the SLMM over this. Until June this year, the Government complaints of CFA violations totalled 5970 but the SLMM upheld only 3006 of them. Of the 1122 complaints from the LTTE, only 133 were upheld by the SLMM. The thrust of the Government is to prevent "further killings" by talking to the LTTE. The Government is armed with a catalogue of killings and evidence in the form of intelligence reports about impending attacks on a host of important political and other personalities.

Giving effect to a mechanism to prevent killings can be only through strengthening the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission. Writing in new provisions to the CFA would be of no avail if the implementation mechanism has no teeth. Former Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who signed the CFA with the LTTE, admitted during an oration in New Delhi last week that when the Monitoring Mission was set up, no one envisaged the present situation in the East where many factions operate. Pointing out that the monitoring mechanism had no power to police and was not a peace keeping mission, he said, "we would have to find ways and means of operation for the Monitoring Mission so as to make it effective."

Besides the East, the problem has now spilt over to other areas too. Any "effective measures" could only be agreed upon with the mutual consent of both the Government and the LTTE. What is good for one side may turn out to be bad for the other. This could lead to protracted delays. If the peace dialogue itself has remained deadlocked for nearly two years, accord on the P-TOMS (Post Tsunami Operational Management Structure) came six long months after the catastrophe. Like summoning the joint meeting, the onus would therefore be on the Norwegian facilitators and the SLMM to ensure quick decisions are made. If the past is an example to go by, it is a daunting task.

One of the biggest concerns for the LTTE remains the allegation that Military Intelligence was acting in collusion with the renegade Karuna faction and was responsible for killing of several guerrilla leaders. The LTTE wants the Government to invoke Article 1.8 of the CFA. This provision states: Tamil paramilitary groups shall be disarmed by the Government of Sri Lanka by D-Day plus 30 at the latest. The GOSL shall offer to integrate individuals in these units under the command and disciplinary structure of the GOSL armed forces and for service away from the Northern and Eastern Province."

The Government continues to disown any link or association with the Karuna faction. It has argued that this faction was not a paramilitary group and hence the need to disarm does not arise. For over 18 months the LTTE has documented actions of the Karuna faction and the Government side to the talks will no doubt face some tough questions to answer. These relate to the early days of Karuna and his group's exit from the LTTE. These relate to the early days of Karuna and his group's exit from the LTTE followed by a string of incidents including those in the City and suburbs. This is particularly in view of the Government's position repudiating the claims made by the LTTE. In such a situation, expediting the process to find quick decisions becomes difficult.

Undoubtedly the Kadirgamar assassination has made the issue of the CFA critical. But the question that begs answer is why the UPFA Government did not focus attention on strengthening the agreement and the monitoring mechanism after it was voted to power in April 2004. The question is being raised in the national interest for a number of reasons. The parliamentary general elections came months after then Government took over the defence, mass communication and interior portfolios from the then United National Front (UNF) Government. This was on grounds that national security interests were deteriorating. Some of the contributory factors for this situation arose from flawed or not properly defined provisions of the CFA.

Take for example Articles relating freedom of movement. Here are some:
Article 1.10: Unarmed GOSL troops shall, as of D-Day plus 60, be permitted unlimited passage between Jaffna and Vavuniya using the Jaffna-Kandy Road (A-9). The modalities are to be worked out by the Parties with the assistance of the SLMM.

During three and half years of the ceasefire, neither the previous UNF nor the ruling UPFA Government chose to avail itself of this position. No doubt, such passage would have been carried out under the supervision of the SLMM. But senior military officials felt that despite the CFA, this was a risky proposition. There was always a possibility of Tiger guerrillas taking a group of military personnel hostage.

Hence, the previous practice of air lifting them from the south to the Jaffna peninsula continues. Others are being ferried from the Trincomalee port by ships. This is why huge troop transport helicopters are being hired by the Air Force to move them when the Palaly airport closes for runway re-surfacing. This is why corrupt military officers and their cohorts play brokers to procure giant ships for troops and supplies transport and skim a fat commission. It is with such an enemy, on whom there are serious apprehensions that assurances are now to be sought not to kill.

1.11: The parties agree that as of D-Day individual combatants shall, on the recommendation of their area commander, be permitted, unarmed and in plain clothes, to visit family and friends residing in areas under the control of the other Party. Such visits shall be limited to six days every second month, not including the time of travel by the shortest applicable route. The LTTE shall facilitate the use of the Jaffna-Kandy road for this purpose. The Parties reserve the right to deny entry to specified military areas.

1.12 The Parties agree that as of D-day individual combatant shall, notwithstanding the two-month restriction, be permitted, unarmed and in plain clothes, to visit immediate family (i.e. spouses, children, grandparents, parents and siblings) in connection with weddings or funerals. The right to deny entry to specified military areas applies.
1.13: Fifty (50) unarmed LTTE members shall as of D-Day plus 30, for the purpose of political work, be permitted freedom of movement in the areas of the North and East dominated by the GOSL. Additional 100 unarmed LTTE members shall be permitted freedom of movement as of D-Day plus 60. As of D-Day plus 90, all unarmed LTTE members shall be permitted freedom of movement in the North and East. The LTTE members shall carry identity papers. The right of the GOSL to deny entry to specified military areas apply.

Now, the billion dollar question is who monitors them for the Government of Sri Lanka. The question is being raised not to fault any individual or political party but to highlight a serious situation in the national interest. Even at this late stage it could help take some corrective action.

The result of some of the above provisions was the LTTE's ability to expand and consolidate its positions in areas which were previously under total Government control. This is both politically and militanly. One of the biggest credits in favour of President Kumaratunga and even her former Deputy Defence Minister, Anuruddha Ratwatte, has been the re-capture of the Jaffna peninsula from LTTE control in 1995. By default neither she nor her party stalwarts drove home this point effectively in the years after the capture. Otherwise, for then Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe entering into a Ceasefire Agreement and holding peace talks with the LTTE would have been a hollow exercise. The LTTE would have found itself in a more dominant position holding the peninsula in addition to parts of Wanni and the East.

But what has happened in the Jaffna peninsula today? Government's own intelligence agencies admit that there are over 2,000 military and political cadres. Weapons are aplenty and their radio communication network well entrenched. Even if the Security Forces and Police are said to be in control of this area, the guerrillas have a free run.

This is how a conscientious police officer, Charles Wijewardena, SP who went to do his duty, was brutally assaulted until he died. This is why a team of detectives probing his death met with gunfire when they arrested a guerrilla cadre suspected to be the culprit in Kondavil. One is still critically ill. How did a so-called resurgence group encompassing several civilian front organisations become powerful in the peninsula?

The same fate has befallen the East. There is both a guerrilla military and political presence in the "controlled" areas of Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Amparai. This is in addition to territory dominated by the guerrillas in the first two districts. Both in the North and East, intelligence gathering activity has been badly hampered, or even stalled after operatives and their informants have been killed. It has come to a point where operatives have been officially advised not to venture out. This only means a lesser intelligence output than what was received.

Does one blame the Norwegian facilitators, the Ceasefire Agreement or the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission for this? On the other hand, can one continue to blame the former United National Front Government? It is because of some misdeeds, again by a few, that the people placed their full trust in a UPFA Government and voted them to power. What has been done to monitor some of the vital aspects of the CFA agreement since they came to power?

Did not the absence of such checks and balances lead to an unimpeded growth of the LTTE military machine? Overseas procurements of military hardware - mortars, artillery (122, 152 and 130 mm), arms and ammunition - have continued unabated. A Sea Tiger cadre who fell into security forces hands have given new details of how this has been continuing. Contrary to earlier reports that the guerrillas had hired Taiwanese ship operators to ferry military cargo to north eastern seas and ceased operating their own vessels, there is now evidence that they were using them too. The Sea Tigers have been transformed into a formidable unit with new boats. They have been built in an Asian country and towed by ships to international waters off the North East. Some of them have also been built in the Wanni.

During the ceasefire they have succeeded in establishing a 1.2 kilometre long runway and acquired light aircraft. Only two have been identified so far. It is known that at least one more light aircraft packed in knocked down condition in crates disappeared from an Asian port after Government got wind of the news. It was the late Lakshman Kadirgamar who spoke to the Defence Minister of that country to apprehend this consignment.
It is now a known fact that the LTTE is making war preparations. Last week pictures on this page showed how civilian militias were being trained to help in a future war. This week, they marked the 20th anniversary of their women's corps. See pictures on this page.

Last week, in the LTTE controlled East there was jubilation over the killing of Mr. Kadirgamar. Police say there were at lest two musical shows in guerrilla-controlled areas. Radio intercepts of communications between LTTE bases in the East spoke of the lessons the UPFA Government had learnt with men like Kadirgamar, one caller said. There were joyous and sarcastic remarks.

In the Wanni, the LTTE brought down flags flying at half mast in the United Nations offices there. This drew condemnation from the UN. But all this was done by the LTTE which declared it had nothing to do with the assassination of Mr. Kadirgamar.

Did they not say they had nothing to do with the assassination of former Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi on May 21, 1991. How many denials were issued? Didn't the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in India crack the case and indict Tiger guerrilla cadres for his murder? Why did LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, during his news conference on April 10, 2002 describe Rajiv Gandhi's slaying a sad event. Was it mea culpa?

On Friday, Police Chief Chandra Fernando spoke to investigators probing the Kadirgamar assassination. He said he hoped for a quick breakthrough. That no doubt would call a halt to the LTTE bluff.

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