Concessions and Responsibilities

by Arvalan

The great thought, the great concern, the great anxiety of men is to restrict, as much as possible, the limits of their own responsibility - Giosue

 Concession and Responsibility are the two commonly used terms in the current Sri Lankan peace negotiation.  Who is responsible for the current impasse? Who has conceded more ground? Whose turn is it to concede? are some of the issues that have been raised.

Responsibility means  "to have control and authority over something or someone and the duty of taking care of it or them" and to concede is  "to allow someone to have something, even though you do not want to" or "to admit, often unwillingly, that something is true" (Thanks: Cambridge English Dictionary)

The current impasse in the negotiation is entirely over the issue of establishing an efficient and effective mechanism to address the immediate humanitarian and development needs of the North-East. It is a Political, Administrative as well as, more importantly, Humanitarian issue.  In his letter to the Prime Minister on 21 April 2003 stating that the LTTE has suspended its participation in the negotiations, the LTTE's Chief Negotiator Mr. Anton Balasingham, has given the following reasons for the suspension,

1. the exclusion of the LTTE from a critical aid conference in Washington,

2. the non-implementation of the terms and conditions enunciated in the truce document,

3. the continuous suffering and hardship experienced by hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Tamils,

4. the aggressive Singhala military occupation of Tamil cities and civilian settlements

The LTTE has uncategorically stated that they will not return to the negotiating table until the above concerns are addressed meaningfully.  In effect, they are not demanding concessions from the Government and its International Safety Net, but urging action on the commitments made and execution of responsibilities undertaken.

International Ban on LTTE

There was tacit acknowledgement from the US and the other International players that it was a mistake to leave the LTTE out of the Washington conference.  US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage addressing the Tokyo conference stated that "I am aware that there is a certain irony in my urging the LTTE back to the table, given that I did not allow them a seat at my table back at the pre-conference in April”.  The EU, Japan and Norway also tacitly acknowledged the mistake by their hectic visits to Wanni to pacify the LTTE just before the Tokyo conference.

However, the International community is yet to acknowledge explicitly the underlying cause of the LTTE's frustration in this regard, which is the ban on the organization in the UK, Canada, the USA, and Australia. The LTTE is not a direct threat to any of these countries. There is no proof of evidence of links between the LTTE and Al-Qaeda, Iraq, Iran or North America. These democracy-loving countries have banned the organization because of the LTTE's use of "violence" to achieve political goals in a country "friendly" to them.  The LTTE has been in peace mode for the last two years and is holding onto the ceasefire agreement despite provocations from the Sri Lankan government, thus nullifying the above justification of “using violence to advocate a political cause”.

The International forces that are backing the peace negotiations can give a boost to the process and encouragement to the LTTE by removing the ban in their respective countries and treating the LTTE as equal partners to peace in Sri Lanka, both in word and deed. The ban could be removed for the duration of the peace talks and could be re-imposed at any time if the LTTE returns to the war. There is no harm in removing the ban, at least temporarily, and giving the peace process a shot in the arm. The International community, by removing the ban, are not giving Concessions to the LTTE, but fulfilling their Responsibility towards lasting peace in the Island.

Non-implementation of the terms and conditions enunciated in the truce document

The LTTE Peace Secretariat website,,  provides the list of terms and conditions which have not been implemented by the government on a district-by-district basis.  There are no such details on the Sri Lankan government’s website ( ) concerning LTTE’s breaches and non-compliance. The LTTE's recruitment drive and enhancement of its armory does not amount to a breach of the Ceasefire agreement.  The agreement does not prohibit any such activities. Any responsible and right-minded liberation movement will not rest on its past laurels until it achieves its final goal.  Further, the Sri Lankan government is also doing its part to boost its security forces' capability with the explicit support of its allies. 

Henry Kissinger, in his epic book Diplomacy, describes how the concept of Balance of Power failed to prevent conflicts.  He argues that it was the superiority of the USA's economic, military and social system that prevented a direct confrontation with the USSR during the Cold War era and not the Balance of Power. Kissinger calls the Cold War success of the US “a victory without war.”  He goes on to state that at no time in history has America participated in the Balance of Power system.  In Sri Lanka, it was LTTE's military superiority and the near collapse of the Sri Lanaka's security apparatus that brought about the peace process, not the balance of power between the two forces.  Therefore, there is a need for the LTTE to maintain its superiority even during peacetime for the sake of the peace process.  If the LTTE lose its superiority by not arming itself or not recruiting, then there is a very good possibility that the government will resort to war. The LTTE’s military strength has become the main deterrent to keep the government from embarking on a war strategy.  TheLTTE is following in the footsteps of the US towards a victory without war, by maintaining and strengthen its military capabilities.

"It's better to have a gun and not need it, than to need a gun and not have it." – Unknown

Demanding the implementation of an agreement does not amount to asking for concessions; it is asking for the fulfillment of the agreed responsibilities.

Continuous suffering and hardship experienced by Tamils

Sri Lanka's Lands Minister Rajitha Senaratne, who made a two-day visit to Jaffna a couple of weeks ago, gave a shock to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his Cabinet colleagues when he said that little or no development work had been carried out in the Jaffna peninsula for the past 15 months after the ceasefire. Dr. Senaratne told a Cabinet meeting that lakhs [hundreds of thousands] of internally displaced people were living in horribly un-hygienic conditions and that Jaffna was as bad, if not worse, than Ethiopia with some people living in virtual kennels. "These people have no proper drinking water, no roofing sheets, no proper place to sleep, and to make a long story short they really have little or nothing", he bluntly told the Cabinet. (Daily Mirror 6/6/2003)

World Bank and ADB officials backed the LTTE's claim of lack progress in SIHRN. Even Prof. Peiris, who proposed the SIHRN, has himself admitted at the recent press conference that it has been a failure.  Therefore there is a vacuum for an effective and efficient mechanism to address the humanitarian needs of the Tamils in the NorthEast.

The International community needs to understand that what the LTTE is demanding at the moment is what has already been promised to them, both directly and indirectly.  Mr. Anton Balasingham reiterates this point in his letter to the Norwegian Foreign Minister. "Originally the idea of an interim administrative structure for the Northeast was mooted by the LTTE months before the last general elections. The UNP leadership endorsed the proposal and the Prime Minister, Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe, openly campaigned in support of an interim administrative structure with the active participation of the LTTE," he states. The formation of an Interim Administration is the fulfilment of the Prime Minister's election pledge. It is an execution of responsibility on his part; not a concession to the LTTE.

In his response to the Prime Minister's address to the nation, Mr. Anton Balasingham observes, "Operating within the confines of an entrenched constitution and facing a hostile President, Ranil’s administration is resistant to offer anything substantial in the form of an interim administration. Instead, the government is calling upon the LTTE to come up with a practical solution to draw up a mechanism. It is not prudent on the part of the LTTE to present a structure or a mechanism for an interim administrative set-up without any idea of the scope and extent to which the government could offer politico-administrative powers to the LTTE. It is precisely for this reason we are calling upon the government to come out with its ideas."

Mr. Balasingham is not trying to evade responsibility or be non-committal.  The reluctance on the part of the LTTE to come up with a proposal for an Interim Administration, having fought and sacrificed 17,500 of its cadres for the cause of Tamil Eelam, is perfectly understandable  They have made their goal loud and clear: A solution, which fulfils the core ideologies of Self-determination, Tamil Homeland and Tamil Nationhood or the right to secede.

Therefore, it is the responsibility of the Government to come up with the alternative solutions, not the responsibility of the LTTE.  The onus of providing a solution is on the Government, which does not want separation.  In fact, if LTTE offers a proposal it would amount to a concession of its core ideologies.  The request by the Government for a counter proposal may be a trap set for the LTTE, which Mr. Balasingham has cleverly dodged.

Further, the concept of Responsibility goes hand in hand with Control and Authority.  It is the Sri Lankan government, which has control over its constitution, and as a sovereign state has the authority to establish an Interim Administration. DBS Jeyaraj, in his Political Column in the Sunday Leader issue of 30 March 2003, quoted Mr. Anton Balasingham from a report in Uthayan, "Neelan Tiruchelvam presented in 1995 a draft amending the constitution. That was a correct draft. That was acceptable. But later in 2000 Chandrika submitted an amended version based on that draft. This one was only a half-baked version of the earlier draft by Neelan Tiruchelvam".

Reading between the above paragraphs one could assume that if the government offers an Interim Administration structure similar to Neelan Tiruchelvam's draft (which was co-authored by Prof.G.L. Peiris) there is a possibility that the LTTE might accept it. This is in no way to suggest that the Neelan proposals are the final solution, but it is good starting point for the Interim Administration and a stepping-stone in the right direction towards achieving a lasting peace.

The LTTE has demonstrated its maturity in the peace negotiations by requesting a legal conceptual draft, not mere verbal commitments concerning the Interim Administration structure.  It has become a recurring event in the last fortnight for the Prime Minister to make a verbal statement in a forum (declaring his willness to set up a provisional or an interim structure) and the LTTE to issue statements rejecting it and requesting something in writing.

Requesting written commitments is something the movement has learned from their experiences and global practices.  The LTTE learned hard lessons during the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord by accepting Rajiv Gandhi’s verbal assurances.  In the Middle East peace talks, Israel employs this strategy to a vast extent. 

The legislative translation of the agreed commitments is vital to sustain the negotiating process and is the cornerstone of any final settlement.  It should be remembered that Israel had an excellent legal expert in Joel Singer in its negotiating team with the Palestinians during the Oslo rounds of talks in the early 1990’s, who played the role of verifying and giving legal effect to the agreed commitments with the Palestinians.

Singhala military occupation of Tamil cities and civilian settlements

Once again let me highlight Dr. Rajitha Senratne's observation on the military occupation of civilian areas.  Dr. Senaratne said "politicians and pundits were discussing the HSZs at air conditioned rooms in Colombo while for lakhs of people in the north the living crisis had reached boiling point". The security apparatus and the HSZ in and around Colombo have been relaxed and people are moving around freely. However, the situation in Jaffna has not changed.  Internally Displaced People (IDPs) are unable to return to their homes; worshipers cannot go to the temples; students cannot go to their schools and businessmen are unable to operate their business, in the name of preserving the HSZs.

Is it a concession to allow people to return to their homes, worship at their temples and conduct businesses on their own land? It is the responsibility of the government to grant this basic human right, which is endorsed by the UN Charters?

LTTE’s Concession Myth

An alarming trend in the recent Peace negotiations with the UNP Government is the LTTE’s failure to be overly critical of the Ranil Wickramasinghe regime. From Prabakaran’s Press conference, to his Heroes Day message, to the statements about the ceasefire violations in the sea, one would find compliments for the regime, but not much criticism.

The Political Headquarters of the LTTE in Kilinochchi, issued a press statement in the aftermath of the sinking of the second LTTE ship in three months. The release accused the Sri Lankan Navy, not the Government, of a gross violation of the ceasefire agreement and the pinned sole responsibility for the events on the Sri Lanka Navy.  Further, the statement warned that this incident would have very grave consequences.

Contrast this with the statement issued by the same Political Headquarters on the 2nd of July 2001 in the aftermath of intense aerial and artillery bombardment against the LTTE positions in Jaffna. Describing the air strikes as 'provocative aggression and calculated escalation', the LTTE accused the Kumaratunga regime of seeking desperate measures to mobilise the support of Sinhala nationalist forces with the purpose of overcoming the crisis brought by the no-confidence motion”.

It was the acting President and then Prime Minister, Mr. Ratnasiri Wickramanayake, who made the executive decision to sanction the bombardment, whilst President Chandrika Kumaratunga was on one of her sojourns overseas.

The LTTE statement concluded by warning that the 'Sri Lanka government should bear total responsibility for the adverse consequences that might arise from its misplaced strategy of escalating the conditions of war in the Tamil homeland.'  Exactly three weeks after the warning was issued the Katunayake International Airport was attacked with precision accuracy, with no civilian casualties. 

It should be noted that the LTTE elected to accuse the Kumaratunga government, not the Air Force in 2001.  It makes one wonder why the LTTE elected to accuse the Sri Lankan Navy in 2003 and not the Wickramasinghe government.  Why are they attempting to segregate the actions of the Navy from the Government? It is the Government’s responsibility to keep the Navy under check. Why did the LTTE sign a Ceasefire Agreement with an incapacitated Government, which cannot keep its forces under its control? One of the Government peace negotiators, Milinda Morogoda, accepted the sea craft from the US Navy when he went to the Washington conclave. Where was the segregation between Ranil Wickramasinghe and the Sri Lankan Navy in that instance? Ranil Wickramasinghe government rejected the proposals made by the SLMM, which gave legitimacy to the Sea Tigers and contained arrangements to prevent clashes in the sea, based on the Navy’s advice. LTTE’s current strategy attempts to separate the Singhala Nation into two camps: Chandrika and Ranil. This is a total fallacy.  Whether it is Chandrika or Ranil, both of them are from the same camp.  ('Oru Kuttayil Oorina Mattaihal')

Ranil Wickramasinghe would have been equally happy about the sinking of the LTTE ship, even though he would not say that in public.  The Singhala nation is trying to play the 'Bad cop, Good cop' ploy. In Western movies, an arrested criminal will be first tortured in the name of inquiry by the bad cop.  When he leaves the good cop will enter the cell, offer the criminal a cigarette and will get the confession out of him.  It is a similar play both Ranil and Chandrika are trying to perfect. It was rumoured that Ranil Wickramasinghe tipped Chandrika Kumaratunga of a possible military coup in 1994 after the UNP lost the general election to the PA, engineered by the late Gamini Dissanayake. This resulted in the UNP losing power and Chandrika Kumaratunga becoming the Prime Minister.

The Sunday Leader Editorial of 3rd June 2003 gives a full account of Ranil’s failure to curb Chandrika’s actions.  The editorial concludes by stating, "The UNF will rue this day if it persuades itself that Kumaratunga does not need to be confronted head on. She should not just be exposed, but crippled politically so that she cannot continue to sabotage the country for her own personal greed. The nation has tolerated the antics of this malevolent piece of mischief far too long. It is time to show her up and make her account for her sins. This is not a question of settling political scores; it is a question of doing what the government was elected to do - serve the people, not the President. Who is afraid of CBK? Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNF, that's who”.

There are many unanswered questions, even amongst the Singhala public, as to why Ranil is still tolerating Chandrika’s antics.  One may also argue that it is an intentional tactic to be the good cop to the LTTE and reap concessions.  This has been effective in the past, given that the LTTE did not bargain hard on the Interim Administration in the first few rounds of the talks. The LTTE leader articulated clearly during his press conference that they are going to Thailand to discuss the Interim Administration. In conceding the Interim Administration and accepting SIHRN as an alternative, Anton Balasingham cited the political conditions in the South (meaning a hostile President) as the reason.

The LTTE’s failure to criticise the government is not a concession it has offered: but a total fallacy.  The singling out of the Sri Lankan Navy is conveying the wrong impression to the world at large, that two faces (the Peace-loving Ranil and War-mongering Chandrika) rule the Singhala Government.  Let us be clear - they are both the same face of Singhala Chauvinism.  Let us also not forget that the International Community believed, to some extent, Chandrika’s War for Peace slogan. 

According to an Arab proverb, “A compliment from your enemy equals a thousand accolades from your friends”. The  LTTE’s failure to criticise the Ranil Wickramasinghe regime will have far-reaching consequences in the International Community if Eealam War IV breaks out.

In conclusion, the Peace process’s success, both at present and in the future, hinges on the respective parties executing their responsibilities and not perceiving them as concessions made to the other party. Fulfillment of responsibilities does not amount to Concessions to the other side.

“Well done is better than well said." Benjamin Franklin