Savour a bit of peace
There's justifiable euphoria that the LTTE has agreed to talk to the Government and that the country and its people who were teetering on the precipice have just taken a step back from another bloody round of civil war.
Already, 90 soldiers, sailors and policemen have died together with scores of civilians in the brinkmanship leading up to the announcement this week - that peace talks will be held in Geneva.

Geneva follows several previous attempts, starting from Thimpu in the Kingdom of Bhutan under Indian Government sponsorship, then the Hyderabad meeting in 1988, Colombo Hilton in 1990 and Bangkok and Hakone thereafter.
There is celebration in some quarters that the Government's insistence that the first round of talks not be in Oslo prevailed, and that the LTTE yielding to this demand was a moral victory for the new President.

But to many, including ourselves, there's a sense of déjà vu. We've seen this all before. Clearly, the Norwegians have told the LTTE that Oslo would like the heat taken off them to host talks under circumstances where they need to build trust with the southern Sri Lankan polity big-time. And in the process, the LTTE - for its part in yielding to President Rajapakse's demand - has won the bid to suggest the agenda as the inevitable quid-pro-quo for their seeming flexibility.

The agenda for Geneva is going to be the one or two matters very high on the LTTE's priority list - the dismantling of the High Security Zone(HSZ) in Jaffna, and the implementation of the wobbly 2002 Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) with special reference to the disarming of the breakaway Karuna faction, that is more than just a spot of bother to the LTTE's military capacity. That seems to be the trade-off for agreeing to Geneva.

Now, the question is whether that is a fair exchange; and whether the Government really needed to up the ante on the venue in exchange for having to find answers to how to disarm Karuna and his renegade army that is fighting the LTTE but has been branded as "an illegal armed group" by the Government's Information Department in a bid to placate the LTTE.

Arguably, the new President rode to office on the promise and the premise that the Norwegians would be ousted as the broker in the peace process, and having Oslo rejected as the venue for the talks was a consolation prize.
But at this stage, there is no need to keep a ledger marking credit and debit - the issue at hand is to go for talks with a well-prepared brief, and have someone to advocate it. For both sides, a peace trap is always more deadly than fighting in the battlefield, and neither side would want to get caught in it.

For now, at least, there's a sense of hope that this country could turn in the right direction and join the rest of the world, which we left sometime back, in bringing about a better life for all its peoples. Let us all, savour the moment, at least.

A leaf from Hamas
For those following current world events, the elections in Palestine, and the victory of a hardline, militant group - Hamas - is of some significance for us in Sri Lanka to take note of.

Hamas is more hardline than even the LTTE, however ruthless the latter is known to be. As our deputy editor points out in a special feature on the subject on page 13, Hamas has wowed to destroy the "Zionist state of Israel", something the LTTE has not said about Sri Lanka, though the latter's call for a separate state, may in effect, mean the destruction of the Sri Lankan state in different words.

But the point that needs to be made here is a different one. That is, the point that even a group as extreme as Hamas, great exponents of suicide-bombings themselves, have entered the democratic process, and contested elections. They have won the vote of the people they say they represent, and there's no complaints about electoral rigging or coercion, because their opponents, the Fatah, were in office supervising the elctions.

At the end of the day, one cannot claim to be the 'sole representatives of a people' unless you have won that title through a democratic election.
The final solution to the LTTE's demand for a separate state is inevitably going to include democracy, elections, pluralism etc., and the LTTE might just consider its democratic options as well at a time it has said it would negotiate to end the 20 year civil war in this country.

The LTTE’s political wing is a recognised political party with the Commissioner of Elections, and the upcoming Local Government elections may well be an opportune moment to launch its democratic campaign for the rights of the people it represents.

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