Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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'Peace Package': The PA's Political Mirage

by Action Group of Tamils, The Sunday Leader and The Island, Colombo, August 24, 1997

After Mrs Kumaratunga was elected President, she pledged to present "devolution proposals" to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on Constitutional Reform on the 24th of November 1994. Nothing happened.

[The PA is the main constituent of today's SLFP coalition.]

President Chandrika Kumaratunga announced that her Peoples Alliance (PA) Government’s "devolution proposals" will be made public in November 1997. This is nothing new. She has made the same claim many times before.

In May 1994, more than three years ago, Mrs Kumaratunga began the campaign for the August 1994 parliamentary elections. At that time she promised to publish the PA’s "devolution proposals" in its election manifesto. Nothing happened.

As PA’s presidential candidate, she promised to release "devolution proposals" before the November presidential election. Nothing happened.

After Mrs Kumaratunga was elected President, she pledged to present "devolution proposals" to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on Constitutional Reform on the 24th of November 1994. Nothing happened.

No attempt was made by the President to publish a conflict resolution proposal after the Cessation of Hostilities (COH) in January 1995 between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)..

On the 3rd of August 1995, "President Kumaratunga’s Devolution Proposals" were made public. The country and Tamils and Muslims in particular thirsting for peace assumed that they were the Government’s conflict resolution proposal. But within four days the Minister for Law and Constitutional Affairs, Prof G L Peiris, backtracked: he qualified the President’s Proposals as merely her own "Basic Ideas’. So the President’s Proposals were NOT the Government’s proposal. The Tamil and Muslim people watched in disbelief.

Prof. Peiris glibly explained that the President’s Proposals will be the basis of PA Government’s conflict resolution proposal, to be unveiled before the end of that year (1995). When he released the Draft Provisions on the 16th of January 1996, they appeared to be the Government’s proposal. But again hopes were shattered.

In the Draft Provisions, which superseded the "Basic Ideas", Prof Peiris diluted or altogether eliminated key provisions of the 1995 President’s Proposals which are indispensable for conflict resolution. Simultaneously he informed a shocked people that the Draft Provisions again are in fact NOT the Government’s proposal. The Draft Provisions, he said, would be deliberated by the PSC on Constitutional Reform. After the PSC reached a consensus, the Government’s proposal would be finalised incorporating the PSC’s opinion. The people and Tamils and Muslims in particular suspected the inclusion of the PSC to be a delaying tactic and they were fast losing confidence in the President’s so-called "peace process".

While the PSC was deliberating the Draft Provisions, Prof Peiris unilaterally and arbitrarily by-passed the PSC and released the Draft Constitution to the press in April 1997. He also declared that if the PSC failed to conclude its deliberations by the stipulated date he would table the Draft Constitution in Parliament by the end of May 1997. He evidently aimed to convince the Sri Lankans and the international community that the PA Government is sincere in its quest for a negotiated solution to the Tamil Question. However Prof Peiris must surely know that his political arm-twisting and provocative goading of the PSC will only antagonise the Opposition parties represented in the PSC. Predictably the United National Party (UNP) leader, Mr Ranil Wickremasinghe, reacted by stating that his party will not support the Draft Constitution in Parliament.

So Minister Peiris in effect made the proceedings of the PSC irrelevant and politically torpedoed the Draft Provisions while maintaining deniability.

Meanwhile, the Draft Constitution is incomplete. It does not contain most of the provisions relating to "devolution" which, Prof Peiris said, would be published by the end of May. This did not happen. So the Draft Constitution is also NOT the Government’s conflict resolution proposal. Although the PA held a two-day seminar three years too late in July to educate the government members about a "peace package", provisions on "devolution" which are alleged to exist were not taken up for discussion. Therefore the PA parliamentarians are still ignorant of any conflict resolution proposal. Now the President has again postponed the release of the provisions, if any, to November 1997.

The PA Government, then, has dodged putting forward a conflict resolution proposal for three long years.

Indeed if the recent instance of blatant dishonesty is any indication, a sincere and viable conflict resolution proposal will not see the light of day. A document, titled "Devolution of Power and Powers Over Land", explaining the devolution of power over land in the Draft Constitution was published by the Constitutional Reform and Information Section of the Ministry of Law and Constitutional Affairs. The Tamil and Sinhala versions of the same document are vastly different from one another. The Sinhala version categorically stated that the central government will retain all powers; but the Tamil version proclaimed extensive devolution. Surely the PA Government is no longer entitled to the benefit of doubt.

During the past three years, the Government used the allegedly impending release of the "peace package" as a political fig-leaf to justify the war against the Tamil people.

The collaborating Tamil parties reinforced the justification and propped up the war against Tamils by alleging that the PA has a credible conflict resolution proposal when in fact none existed. The PA mined Tamil collaboration, and Tamil parties deliberately colluded with the PA, to create the misleading impression that most Tamils are on the side of the Government and thereby to politically marginalise the LTTE as a group of "extremists".

Moreover the PA skillfully exploited the nonsensical opposition generated by Sinhalese nationalists against a non-existent "devolution proposals" as evidence to assert the alleged existence of a "peace package".

The PA is beginning the second half of its 6-year term of office. It has begun preparing for the next parliamentary elections and so it is opportunistically fostering the illusion of conflict resolution also to satisfy the general demand for peace among the people.

Simultaneously the PA is devising a cunning campaign to demonstrate that the UNP and most other parties in the parliamentary Opposition are undermining peace, that they are obstructing the formulation of "devolution proposals". The PA made the first major tactical move in this politically bankrupt campaign when Prof Peiris provoked the UNP by unilaterally releasing the Draft Constitution. The second move was to issue empty threats about holding a farcical "non-binding" referendum if the UNP opposes the adoption of the hitherto unseen "devolution proposals" in Parliament. In short, the PA is looking for political scapegoats in order to win back the support of Tamil and Muslim voters.

The Government is urgently preparing for the elections because the PA coalition is crumbling - the leader of the Democratic United National Front (DUNF) (Lalith) was expelled from the Cabinet. Moreover, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), both PA coalition members, have signaled their displeasure. Chandrika sycophants are rapidly distancing themselves from the President: the editors of Pravada, for example, lamented that "the PA regime does not have a single positive achievement to its credit in terms or promised reforms" (vol 5/2). The supine Tamil parties which opportunistically collaborated with the PA are now making what they think are threatening noises about withdrawing their support in Parliament. The political rats are deserting the sinking PA ship!

It is now crystal clear that the PA Government never had nor does it now have any intention to resolve the Tamil Question politically. Its aim is to militarily crush Tamil resistance. The ongoing genocidal war unleashed by the Government against the Tamil people in the North-East Province (NEP) seeks to achieve precisely this aim.

The so-called "peace lobbies" in Colombo cynically urged and supported the war. Before the occupation of Jaffna, they claimed the war was necessary to "weaken" the LTTE in order to force it to come to the negotiating table. After Jaffna they claim that the LTTE will not negotiate from a position of weakness and that the war must be fought until the LTTE is totally eliminated. This fact cannot be masked by their token and essentially insincere calls for an immediate end to the war and for negotiations between the Government and the LTTE. Thus the "peace lobbies", and their West-European donors and conflict resolution partners, have a major and direct share in the death and destruction heaped upon the Tamil people. The editors of Pravada in particular were members of the PA’s informal think tank which formulated this "kill, burn, slay" policy. They were also key members of President Kumaratunga’s team, which was sent supposedly to "negotiate" with the LTTE but in fact bought time to perfect this draconian policy. So they, and their sponsors, have made a lasting contribution to the unprecedented tragedy that stalks the NEP.

Finally, the Action Group of Tamils in Colombo (AGOTIC) has no hesitation whatsoever in concluding as follows. The LTTE’s decision to resume military action on the 19th of April 1995 is fully vindicated by the dishonesty of the PA Government, the obstinate refusal of the Government to commit itself to a conflict resolution proposal for the past three years, and by the duplicity of the "peace lobbies".

What lessons has the UNP learnt from the events of the past three years?

Dr K Velauthapillai, President

Dr S Sathananthan, General Secretary

Action Group of Tamils

18 August 1997

Originally posted on the Sangam website here.