The Sunday TimesNews/Comment

5th, May 1996



Dialogue for peace that never was

The people's Alliance government as soon as it came to office with a promise to find a peaceful settlement to the North-East conflict launched a process of establishing correspondence with the LTTE. The peace process though promised success ended up in debacle when the LTTE unilaterally broke the cessation of hostilities agreement by blasting two Sri Lankan Navy ships at Trincomalee harbour.

Several letters were exchanged between the government and the LTTE and based on these letters, The Sunday Times today publishes a chronology of events during the peace process and the dialogue that continued between the government and the LTTE.

August 1994: People's Alliance government is elected to office with peaceful settlement to the Northeast conflict being one of its promises.

Nov. 19: Govt. writes to the LTTE proposing a two-week cease-fire. The peace process had ground to a halt after the assassination of Gamini Dissanayake, on the eve of a proposed visit of a government delegation to Jaffna. A delegation had previously visited Jaffna in October.

Nov. 22: LTTE replies to the government contain a request for an investigation into the killing of LTTE commander Arundan. The LTTE had alleged the army had violated a unilaterally declared cease- fire by the LTTE.

The Govt. replies on the same day, saying a court of inquiry has been appointed.

Nov. 26: The LTTE says it is satisfied with the move.

Dec. 7: Deputy Defense Minister writes to Prabhakaran on Presidential letterhead seeking clarification on several issues and says government was pressing ahead with talks at its own risk despite a massive effort to stir up racial hatred by the opposition, in the wake of the assassination of 53 persons during the run up to the Presidential election. Among others, Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte seeks clarification on whether LTTE would refrain from all political assassinations anywhere in the island during peace talks.

Dec. 8: The LTTE agrees to a two weeks cessation of hostilities, to be followed by a cease-fire but does not clarify all issues set out by the Minister. It requests immediate relief to the hardships suffered by the Tamil people.

Dec. 10: The President promises a cessation of hostilities and talks before Christmas at a news conference.

Dec. 13: Minister Ratwatte proposes a two week cease-fire starting January 1, 1995 and suggests December 21 and 22 as possible dates for a visit of a govt. delegation to Jaffna.

Dec. 15/16: The LTTE replies via ICRC and agrees to talks.

Dec. 19: Col. Ratwatte seeks clarification on issues not covered in Prabhakaran's letter of December 8 and suggests December 27 or 30 if a meeting is not held on Dec. 22. One of the points raised is the LTTE is prepared to enter negotiation aimed at 'ending the armed conflict and to arrive at a political solution for the problems which caused the war', immediately after the cessation of hostilities.

Dec. 21/22: Prabhakaran sends a strongly-worded four-page letter reiterating that first rounds of talks should be on alleviating the day-to-day problems of the Tamil people for which the government had pledged to give primacy. Any attempts to sidetrack these issues, the LTTE said would be considered an 'act of political bad faith'. Declares willingness to receive a delegation at any date set by the government.

Dec. 29: Col. Ratwatte expresses disappointment over the LTTE's attempt to misrepresent the government's stand and says such implications could prove harmful to the mutual understanding that was being built up. Proposes January 2 for talks and January 7 and 8 for the cessation of hostilities.

Dec. 28: Forces repulse attack at Thumpanaveli in the Batticaloa District. Eleven Tiger terrorist bodies and 14 automatic weapons recovered. Seven soldiers wounded.

Jan. 1: The LTTE agrees to talks on the 2nd, and wishes a happy peaceful and prosperous New Year.

Jan. 2: Presidential Secretariat announces the talks would begin on Jan 3.

Jan. 3: Presidential Secretary K. Balapatabendi announces at the Ratmalana airport a cessation of hostilities but gives no specific date.

Jan. 4: Government announces another round of talks on Jan. 14, but promises a cessation of hostilities earlier.

Jan. 6: President announces cessation of hostilities starting from Jan. 7 coinciding with former PM SWRD Bandaranaike's birthday.

Jan. 10: Minor violations of the cease-fire reported. In one incident three LTTE cadres throw grenades at a group of soldiers.

January: Two committees headed by Norwegians and comprising government and LTTE appointees are formed. President meets the Norwegian representatives.

Jan. 14: Govt. delegation leaves for Jaffna. Col. Ratwatte says they will ask a date for political talks to begin, in early February.

Jan. 14: Cessation of hostilities extended, but no date set for political talks. The issue of 50 minor violations taken up with the LTTE. In addition to the start of political talks, the opening of a land route to Jaffna and the total lifting of the political embargo remained unresolved. The LTTE demand for the dismantling of the Pooneryn army camp is reportedly resisted by the government.

Prabhakaran writes to government as suggested by govt. delegation seeking clarification on certain issues;

Jan. 23: Army seizes weapons and communications equipment along with seven LTTE cadres. The LTTErs were later released.

Jan. 27: Presidential Secretary K. Balapatabendi writes to the LTTE.

Feb. 3: Thamil Selvam responds to the points raised in the letter and denies that they attempted to prevent the functioning of the monitoring committees. He protests that the LTTE leadership was not given an opportunity to meet the foreign representatives before the committees were formed.

Feb. 5: Chairman of the Monitoring committees (2 Norwegians, 1 Canadian and 1 Dutch) meet Prabhakaran.

Feb. 8/9: Thamil Selvam writes, demanding the release of weapons and equipment seized by the army on Jan. 23. Peace Committees still not functioning. No date set for further talks.

Feb. 10: The President tells foreign correspondents that the peace package has been finalised. Presidential Secretary writes to the LTTE.

Feb. 13: Thamil Selvam writes to K. Balapatabendi saying the mobility of armed cadres, the movements on the coasta1 waters and fishing need to be discussed and accuses the government of delaying talks. He demands an annexture to the declaration of the cessation of hostilities and says the foreign head of monitoring committees agreed that the declaration did not have proper guidelines to the monitoring committees to function effectively. The letter also claims that the SL Army representatives present at the time also endorsed the suggestion and agreed to convey to the government that a fourth round of talks be held to discuss these issues.

The letter also insists six monitoring committees (as provided in the declaration on the cessation of hostilities) be set up (only four had been set up by the government). The letter suggests that the new committees contain two representatives each from Canada and the Netherlands. It raises the matter of the confiscated boat again and submits a list of violations allegedly made by the security forces. Unless the equipment is released immediately it will be regarded as 'an unfriendly gesture that will undermine the spirit' of the cessation of hostilities.

It denies that a person caught in Nittambuwa earlier alleged to be an LTTE spy is a member of the LTTE.

Feb. 14: Col. Ratwatte responds to Thamil Selvam saying the incident connected to the boat should be reported to the monitoring committee for investigation after which the weapons will be returned.

Feb. 13: Presidential task force announces its intention of commencing reconstruction of the North East in March.

Feb. 16: President writes to Prabhakaran expressing readiness to send a technical team to start reconstruction from Feb 20. A peace delegation leaves for north by train. Vasudeva Nanayakkara joins peace delegation at Vavuniya check point.

Feb. 17: The peace delegation accompanied by journalists welcomed by Jaffna residents.

Feb. 18: The peace delegation holds talks with Thamil Selvam and Karikalan. Mr. Nanayakkara addresses a rally.

Feb. 20: President writes to Prabhakaran suggesting that a dialogue on the political settlement should be started. She proposes the 'use of the good offices of a neutral and uncommitted person which would serve as an intermediary between our government and the LTTE to carry directly any ideas, proposals and explanations we might wish to convey to each other', concerning a solution. The person would be known to the President and a few others in govt. She says the French government has expressed the readiness to appoint former French ambassador to Haiti Francois Michel.

Feb. 22: Fourth round of talks may be held by the end of the month, Col. Ratwatte says.

Feb. 24: Presidential Secretariat announces a Rs. 40bn rehabilitation programme for the North.

Feb. 25: Prabhakaran does not agree to the suggestion and says that 'the negotiation process should be conducted by accredited representatives of the govt. and the LTTE. Further he says since the talks have evoked local and international interest the issues discussed and the progress made should be made public.

Feb. 27: Prabhakaran replies to President's letter of February 16 apologising for the delay, saying he has been expecting a reply from Mr. Balapatabendi for the letter written on February 13. He says matters outlined in this letter remained unresolved and protests against the unilateral announcement by Mr. Balapatabendi that a land route has been opened to the North. "This pronouncement might serve to propagate a disinformation campaign but will not in anyway serve to promote the peace process. Needless to say we are deeply disappointed. Such unilateral decisions demonstrate the fact that your government has given primacy to the strategic interest of the occupational army over and above the urgent needs of the Tamil civilian masses. He says the LTTE is perturbed over the government's lack of interest in turning the cessation of hostilities into a permanent cease-fire. He accuses the government of causing the delay in the activities of the monitoring committees by not taking up issues pertaining to the cease-fire. This is a serious matter and on the part of the government to resolve this issue will seriously undermine the conditions of peace," the letter says.

He reminds that the government delegation had agreed to the setting up of an appropriate authority comprising the LTTE and government representatives to implement rehabilitation projects. The letter urged the government to act according to the agreement made at the peace negotiations.

March 2: An AFP report quoted President denying LTTE accusations that the government is responsible for the deadlock.

March 3: Daily News quotes the President saying the LTTE is wavering on finalising dates for a political settlement. She says there will be no secret deals with the LTTE and the 'cease-fire' now in its second months was a major victory.

March 6: A group of diplomats leave for Jaffna. The Presidential Secretariat issues a 7-page statement charging the LTTE of slowing the peace process, says the LTTE was linking the removal of the Pooneryn Camp to the opening of the land route and the so called economic embargo, was only on goods that could be used for military purposes.

March 8: The LTTE statement in London says it will accept foreign mediation if direct talks with government fails.

March 9: The ICRC writes to Col. Ratwatte saying 16 prisoners held by the LTTE have started a hunger strike.

March 9: The President writes to Prabhakaran disputing the statement released in London which quoted from a letter purportedly written to the President by the LTTE leader. "I have received only one letter from the LTTE and the above stated paragraph from the communiqué does not appear in the said letter," she said.

March 17: The LTTE leader says regarding the discrepancy between the communiqué from London and the actual letter written to the President, "it would be appropriate to consider my personal communication to you as the point of reference on this matter".

March 17, Prabhakaran says the government is continuing with the restriction imposed by the military causing hardships to the people and is 'attempting to legitimise the constraints and sanctions imposed on the Tamil people as essential requirement for the maintenance of national security'.

This position, he says, is not only pure militarism but indicates hidden elements of chauvinism.

The LTTE leader denies that they refused to discuss political issues.

'The underlying cause for the current impasse in the peace process has nothing to do with the resumption of the political dialogue but rather the reluctance on the part of your government to deal with the immediate and urgent issues on the ground of military repercussions'

'If your government continues to adopt this hard-line attitude on issues that need urgent resolution and which could be resolved without difficulty if there is a genuine will, we have ground to suspect whether your government would be able to resolve the most complex and difficult issue, i.e., the national conflict therefore we urge you once again, to reconsider your decision for the cause of peace. If a favourable response is not received before March 28, 1995, we will be compelled to make a painful decision as to whether to continue with the peace process or not.

March 17: the LTTE releases two fasting prisoners from the Sri Lanka police.

March 18: The balance 13 policemen and a soldier are released by the LTTE. Expectations that 22 more soldiers held by the LTTE may be released. This followed a visit by Anglican Bishop Kenneth Fernando, Dr. Jayadewa Uyangoda and Charles Abeysekera.

March 19: A group of MPs led by Deputy Planning and Ethnic Affairs and National Integration Minister Jeyaraj Fernadopulle meet LTTE Mannar leader at Madhu.

March 21: The President tells Prabhakaran that there appears to be misunderstanding on several issues. "I believe that direct dialogue would help arrive at positive decisions".

She suggests that a delegation comprising Bishop Kenneth Fernando, K. Balapatabendi, Dr. Jayadeva Uyangoda and Charles Abeysekera meet the LTTE leader personally on March 23, 24 and 25.

March 22: The LTTE says as its position has been clarified and explained in the March 16th letter, it 'sincerely feels that the peace process will not serve any meaningful purpose if it is not aimed at the conditions of peace and resolving the most urgent and immediate problems faced by the Tamil people.' "In this context, we urge you to reconsider your position and take positive decisions before March 28, 1995," the LTTE leader says.

March 24: Dr. G.L. Peiris tells reporters that the peace process is very much on course and there is no question of the resumption of war.

March 25: The President says journalists in New Delhi that the peace process is progressing in a positive way.

March 26: Foreign Minister says the question of Prabhakaran's extradition was not raised by India.

March 28: The LTTE writes again.

April 1: The President writes to Prabhakaran asking for April 8 or 10 for talks.

April 6: The LTTE agrees to meet government peace delegation on April 10.

March 28: The LTTE writes again, stressing the importance of removing the army camp at Pooneryn.

April 6: Discussion will be limited to the specified issues such as lifting the embargo, removing the Pooneryn camp etc. Deadline extended to April 19.

April 8: Two soldiers shot in Palaly.

April 10: The peace delegation hold talks in Jaffna.

April 12: On the lifting of the embargo President says except for arms, ammunitions explosives, pyrotechnics, remote control devices, binoculars, telescopes, compasses, cloth material resembling army uniforms and penlight batteries, all other goods could be freely transported.

Restrictions on fishing which were relaxed earlier will be removed with three areas of exceptions.

The Pooneryn camp could not be removed at the present time but perimeter withdrawn by 600 metres.

Movement of armed LTTE cadres in the East to be negotiated within the context of the cessation of hostilities or as an annexure immediately.

Next round of talks proposed for May 5, 1995.

April 18: Prabhakaran writes to the President. The letter says:

"Having given careful and serious consideration to the contents of your communication, we regret to state that your responses and reactions to the urgent issues we raised fall short of our expectations and therefore, are unsatisfactory.

"After a great deal of persuasion and dialogue, which lasted for more than six months, we were able to elicit from you a positive decision with regard to the relaxation of the embargo on fuel and other items. Though a decision to this effect has been made earlier and intimated to us in your letter of 24th March 1995, we are disappointed to note that deliberate delays have been caused in the process of implementation with the aim to off-set our deadline.

"In so far as the other issues are concerned your responses are partial, elusive, non-committal and subjected to determinations of further dialogue.

"Apart from partial relaxation, the prohibition on large areas of fishing zones continues to operate, though you have pledged to remove all restrictions on fishing in your letter of 24th March".

The letter says the manner in which these critical issues have been sidetracked demonstrates the fact that your government is not acting in good faith to create genuine conditions of peace and normalcy but rather seeks to promote the interests of the military. Furthermore, we are convinced beyond doubt that your government is making every effort to strengthen and consolidate the military capability of the armed forces under the guise of the current cessation of hostilities, violating the very terms of the agreement that insists on the maintenance of the status quo.

"Since the above mentioned issues are not resolved to our satisfaction within the time-frame set out in our deadline of 19th April 1995, we are left with no choice other than to take a painful decision to discontinue our participation in the negotiating process and from the cessation of hostilities from the stipulated date as we have indicated to you earlier. We regret this unfortunate situation".

April 19: Tigers blow up two navy boats in Trincomalee in the early hours of the day killing 11 sailors.

Embargo on goods to the North and fishing restrictions re-imposed.

A government statement says the agreement on the cessation of hostilities stipulated a requirement of notice of 72 hours in the event of discontinuing the cessation of hostilities. "In this context not only is the discontinuance effected without prior notice but hostile action followed within hours resulting in damage to life and property of the state", the statement said.

Return to the News/Comment contents page

Go to the News/Comment Archive


Home Page Front Page OP/ED Plus Sports

Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to or to