1. Introduction:


        The Chandrika - Pirabakaran Talks will go down in history as one which evoked the greatest hope for Peace among all sections of the people in the country and at the same time as one which failed  most  miserably   and  gave   rise to the most destructive war of history. This fall from a hopeful to a hopeless situation has undoubtedly many lessons for the future.


2. Whose Interest guided the peace talks?


        All wanted peace and many of them cried out loud for a lasting peace. But not all meant the same peace nor cried out for the same peace. Depending on their varied interest in Sri Lanka, foreign governments showed their concern for peace in the country. For them Sri Lanka was either a holiday paradise or a profitable zone for their market economy or investment on cheap labour. They wished themselves a peace that would protect and prosper their interests. For many Sri Lankans in the South peace was a necessary condition for their own life and work - so that they could continue undisturbed with their good and comfortable life. There was nothing wrong in such aspirations for peace. In fact it was natural to be so. But such aspirations for peace were surely insufficient to be a motive force for peace-makers. Hence the majority outside the war zone were surely lovers of peace, but were not the most ardent    peace-makers.


         Within the war-zone on the other hand, the thirst for peace and the motive of the peace-talks were of a different  nature. Because the large majority of Tamils, were under constant threat of death, starvation, sickness and homelessness, they wished peace as the only hope for survival. For those who sat in darkness and displacement for years, Chandrika’s promise of “no more war, but peace” was the brightest  silver lining for survival. It was another chance for the already suffering and wailing population to be free of threats to their lives from bombs and economic strangulation, to return to their broken homes, to get the basic necessities of life, to enjoy human dignity in their land of birth, in short, to breathe normally once again, and to begin a trek towards a lasting peace. It meant only a question of time and few means to get back to normal human life. Their hopes spurred them to kiss even the helicopter that brought the government delegates for the peace-talks. But all disappeared like a dream. 


        Hence as far as the Tamils were concerned, the brief period of the talks was like the brief respite between the frying pan and the fire. They hoped for peace and jumped in joy at the promise of peace made by Chandrika but fell miserably into the depths of a more destructive war. They are bound to think a thousand times before they take in another promise of peace.


        The government failed to recognise the sincere thirst for peace on the part of the Tamils. It was seriously concerned about the desire for peace expressed by the prospective investors from foreign countries and by the southern constituency in order to win still more political support, but not that of the Tamils directly affected by the prolonged war. At best the government’s approach  to the peace-talks appeared to be more from a self-centred interest and less from the interest of those suffering the war. Thus it under-valued or even suspected the peace-aspirations of the Tamils. The worst that a powerful partner could do is to underestimate the partner’s dire need for survival and play politics with it. Hence the question: Were the talks intended to bring peace more for those outside the war zone or for those inside the war zone?


3. To Which LTTE was the government talking?  Military or Political ?


        The war was going on between the State Forces and the LTTE. The talks were held between the government delegation and the LTTE. Forgetting the fact that the same LTTE was involved in the fighting as well as in the talking, the government failed to recognise the political face of the LTTE and talked to them only as  a militant, if not a terrorist, group. This is a misapprehension[1]. The government will do well, even concurrent to the understanding of a militant leadership, to clearly recognise not only the peace-aspirations of the Tamil people but also that of their de facto leadership Here arises the important question for the government :


        Were they having peace-talks with the LTTE, taking them only as a terrorist group divorced from the people, and hell bent on destroying the country? Or were they talking to a de facto militant leadership that carried forward the basic aspirations of a people for peace with justice? Does the government  usurp the idea that only those outside the war zone, namely the South and the foreigners, are genuinely interested in peace while those dying in war want more war?


        As long as the government remains deeply rooted in the idea that the LTTE is only a terrorist group and not capable of any political talks  or peace-talks or not capable of representing the aspirations of the Tamil people, no meaningful talks are possible.


4. Except for the Euphoria, Expectations and Gestures was there any serious Preparation  for the Talks?


        There was understandably a massive euphoria in the country aroused by the election of a new Prime Minister and then a new President whose  promises of peace and a new political solution to the long-standing Tamil problem  raised expectations from all sides. There were gestures too of good will from both sides.


        “When Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunga became Prime Minister the LTTE made an unprecedented gesture in welcoming a Sri Lankan leader’s election for the first time. On her assumption of office as President the LTTE declared a unilateral cease-fire and called for peace-talks.”[2]


        The government too made a meaningful, though insufficient, gesture with regard to the economic embargo on the Tamil people. Except for the euphoria,  mounting of expectations and the limited gesture, there was very little attention given to more serious matters like the composition of the team to lead the talks, the creating of a condition among the Tamil people free of threat  and conducive to the talks, the setting up of priorities etc. Many things were left open. As correspondence shows[3], talks on issues considered serious by the Tamils really didn’t take off the ground!


5. Was there a mutual recognition and respect of leadership maintained during the talks?


        Although the partners have emerged to power in different ways, it is important not to push this difference to give an air of superiority  to one of the partners. No partner is to threaten the other or talk down to the other. During the talks there should be an equality across the table. There were instances when the government reacted in a supercilious manner[4]

         Secondly the Tamils are not pleased in the way  the parliamentary democracy of the Sinhala majority handles the fundamental human rights of the Tamils[5]. Because  in history they have suffered so much by the blunders and corrupt practices and oppressive arms of a Sri Lankan brand of parliamentary  democracy, that they have temporarily sought refuge, survival and self-respect through a militant leadership.


        Hence the government in talking to the LTTE must recognise it as another leadership, born as a necessary response to the blunders  and discriminations of “a Sri Lankan brand of democracy”.  Hence the government has a responsibility to talk to the LTTE as a de facto leadership and pave the way back to a democracy free of any majority-threat or military-threat.


6. The understanding of and attitude to the LTTE - a fundamental block! 


        The government did not understand  the LTTE  as the representatives of an aggrieved and oppressed people. Nor did they recognise the LTTE  demands  as the demands of the people.


        Consequently  they saw any agreement with the LTTE as concessions or privileges given to a group that does not deserve or merit their actions. The Government was blind to the fact that what they were agreeing to implement were rights due to the citizens of the country. The government overlooked the fact that in talking to the LTTE, they were actually talking to the people they represent.


        “ describe the granting of basic human rights of life and livelihood to a section of the country’s own citizens as “concessions” and “privileges” is surely to hark back to the same attitude adopted by the Sinhalese governments in the past.  In going further to say that “enough concessions and privileges have already been given to the Tamils and that further giving of anything will endanger the national security”, as President Kumaratunge did in her letter to LTTE leader Pirabaharan clearly shows that she equates even such “concessions” with military interests.”[6]


7. Gestures and promises  not sufficiently conducive to real talks


        Creating a conducive atmosphere of mutual trust and good-will is the duty of both sides. At the election of Chandrika to power, Mr. Pirabakaran released many prisoners of war and shown signs of hope at her assumption to power.  Chandrika coming to power on a crest of good will from all sections of the people including the vast majority of the Tamils in the south, did act well in calling for talks. She lifted partially the economic embargo on twenty of the fifty items. But gestures alone are not enough.


        For a people  who have suffered long under this ban, it was some relief. but it does not make the rest of the ban justified nor sufficient to return to normal human life. The continuation of the ban amounted to holding the economic embargo and even the implementation of things agreed as threats to pressurise the Tamils into  talking.


        Hence a more generous lifting of the embargo and a closer supervision of the implementation could have created a better atmosphere for the talks.


8. Five major hurdles of the Talks.


        From the correspondence it is evident that the Talks did not make any substantial progress even in overcoming the initial five hurdles. They are  1) Reluctance to move from a Cessation of Hostilities to a Cease Fire 2) Delay  in the functioning  of the Monitoring Committees  3) Reluctance to further lifting of the economic embargo and the ban on fishing 4) Reluctance in opening a military-free passage at Pooneryn and 5)  Reluctance of the Military in implementing the agreements reached. 


8.1 Reluctance to move from Cessation to Cease-fire?


        “When  Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunga became Prime Minister the LTTE made an unprecedented gesture in welcoming a Sri Lankan leader’s election for the first time. On her assumption of office as President the LTTE declared a unilateral cease-fire and called for peace talks.”


        “The LTTE had from the very inception, called for a mutual declaration of a cease-fire. This is on record. To prolong the cessation of hostilities without moving into the next step of a permanent cease-fire, is obviously a way of keeping the military threat alive. Since the cessation of hostilities does not denote the end of a state of war, the LTTE cannot afford to drop its guard at any given time.”[7]


        Even though a cessation of hostilities was declared unilaterally by the LTTE for one week from the 12th. of November - the day Chandrika took oaths as President, the Government overlooked it as unofficial and still raised the question a month later, on the 7th. of December, “ Whether the LTTE agreed in principle to a cessation of hostilities”[8] and went on to explain at length the cessation of hostilities as “less formal and binding” and only a prelude to a cease fire.


        But the reluctance of the government to move further from a mere cessation of hostilities ( a frozening of the positions, as explained by Ratwatte[9]) to a stronger and stable cease-fire as demanded by the LTTE evoked suspicions in the minds of the latter about a hidden agenda of the former.


8.2 Delay in the functioning of the Monitoring Committees


        Although six monitoring committees were agreed, the government unilaterally arranged only for four.  

        “You are aware that the declaration of cessation of hostilities allows for six monitoring committees to function ....But the government has opted for four committees without consulting us. We insist that there should be six monitoring committees.. ”[10]


8.3 Reluctance in further lifting the economic embargo and ban on fishing


        The government undertook its peace-mission to the North on the basis that a partial lifting or relaxation of the economic blockade was all that was required to ease the day to day life of the Tamil people. Although a relaxation of that nature was a welcome relief, it was not sufficient to help the people to return a normalcy in respect of the basic needs for life. Nor did the partial lifting help justify or reduce the unjust nature of the still remaining embargo.


        The correspondence clearly show that from the very start, there has been a basic misunderstanding as to whether giving to the Tamil people their basic necessities  and livelihood should be a pre-condition for talks or form part of the talks. The government took the position  that  by their partial lifting of the economic embargo they have done their best to ease the sufferings of the people and that talks could straight away deal with reconstruction of Jaffna and with plans for a political settlement. But the LTTE, while globally accepting the offer of reconstruction of Jaffna and political discussion towards a political solution, kept on insisting that the partial lifting of the economic embargo which is further reduced by the military, are not sufficient. They were not ready to talk further without making sure that the unjust burden on the life of the people are lifted.


        “while a propaganda blitz was launched from the Colombo and international media, and directed at donor countries, that the economic embargo was fully lifted, not even a fraction of what was agreed and gazetted, has been reaching the Tamil people in the North. The military authorities at the Vavuniya check points have been  seeing to that! In Biblical language, it was like the voice of Jacob and the hand of Esau!


        Count Two: The government has been using the relaxing of the embargo and fishing ban as a bargaining chip; as was proved even by the recent acts of the government in re-imposing the economic embargo and the ban on fishing, soon after the LTTE withdrew from the peace process.”[11]  


        The government delegation presumed too much in thinking that they could rehabilitate the Tamil population by a quick reconstruction of the war-zone and a comprehensive political solution for the conflict. Both of these are unquestionably real needs of the Tamil people and the international community will support and help these efforts of the government. But for the LTTE the immediate and urgent problems faced by the people they represent have to be met before they proceeded to reconstruction and political settlement. The Tamils needed both -  survival as human beings and survival as a people, but food was evidently more urgent than political solution


8.4 Reluctance in opening a military-free passage at Pooneryn


        In addition to the check-point at Vavuniya which controls Tamils proceeding to the south, there were five military bases surrounding the Jaffna peninsula. The LTTE requested that the people should move at least between the peninsula and the Wanni without a military check and that Pooneryn camp be dismantled. The government was not willing to dismantle the camp, but willing to move the sentries at check-point by 500 meters.


8.5 Reluctance of the Military  in implementing decisions taken


        The assumption about the partial lifting was a serious error and it became more serious when the military showed reluctance in implementing even that  relaxation.


        Even at the last stage of the Talks when diesel and petrol that was so essential for farmers, fishermen and public transport was allowed by a Government’s Gazette notification, the military was unwilling to allow these items except in very small quantities. The Sri Lankan armed forces, which has grown for many decades as an anti-Tamil institution, was not co-operating even with its own government.


        “...the armed forces at Vavuniya check point prevent even those items on which the embargo has been lifted from reaching the people in any appreciable quantity. This then is the reality on the ground and the people are surely aware of this.”[12]


        “We are pleased to note that you have arrived at positive decisions with regard to lifting of the economic embargo including fuel  and the removal of restrictions on fishing. While we welcome your positive decisions on the above stated issues we should insist that urgent and immediate action should be taken to implement these decisions without delay. I need not emphasise that decisions, pledges and promises are of little or no relevance until and unless they are put into concrete practical implementation. It is to ensure that the implementation process should proceed without delay, we have set a deadline.  I hope you will understand our apprehensions on this matter. In this context we wish to point out that one of your earlier decisions i.e. relaxation on the embargo on certain items has not been properly implemented because of the obstructions caused by the military.”[13]


9. A Cold-War situation within Peace-talks:- Food  or Political-Talks ?


        The cold war  situation on whether to provide the Tamil people first food, clothing and shelter for their immediate survival (as  demanded by their prolonged suffering in war) or to give the Tamils a reconstruction and a political system for their future survival was  present throughout the talks..


        “You will appreciate that from the outset the LTTE has been insisting that the initial stages of the negotiations should give primacy to the immediate and urgent problems faced by our people.”[14]


        There was a lot of delays caused in the talks because of a lack of commitment to an agreed agenda and format for the talks. The government was intent on a quick success  to prove to the south and to the world that it has achieved  the near impossible and needed political support in the South as well as financial support from the international community. But the ground realities were that the Tamil population and its de facto leadership, which had suffered massive death, destruction and displacement for years needed urgently the basic needs for survival.


        The LTTE leadership had rightly insisted   that the talks cannot be held on comprehensive political solution while the people for whom the talks were intended were unjustly held to ransom by depravation of basic necessities for such a long time. The limited relaxing of the embargo, the reluctance of the Colombo bureaucracy and the Vavuniya military in  implementing even that, the depravation of the livelihood for thousands of farmers and fisherfolk and other hand-workers,[15] the undue delays caused in functioning the monitoring committees, and the grumbling of a misinformed South that the Tamils were demanding too much of bread - all these left the Tamils wondering how can a government so reluctant to give sufficient food and medicine and other basic requirements for life could give us political rights and freedom.


10. Growth of mutual suspicion  paves the way for the break-down


        Even though  the aerial bombing and artillery shelling ceased, the Tamils were  still suspicious about the economic embargo and denial of a military-free passage being used by the government as weapons to force the Tamils to their knees.


        Not realising the importance of food over politics, the southern constituency led by an unhelpful media went ahead  with its anti-LTTE lobby to accuse the latter that they were not prepared for political talks and that they were making new demands etc. Asking food before political talks was misunderstood as asking too much and a refusal to talk politics. This attitude of the south strengthened the Tamil suspicion about imposing political solution or making political gains under the threat of the embargo.


        There has been an accusation made against the LTTE that they were not prepared for talks on a political settlement. This is not true. What was constantly emphasised was that while talks towards a political settlement could take a long period of time, the immediate day to day problems of the people had to be resolved here and now, as was agreed to on the agenda.


11. How did  the talks actually break?


        Though an uninformed public expressed shock and anger at the break down of talks, it was not so for those who closely followed it in Jaffna. Nor was it a complete surprise to the government who knew the dangerous but true developments as a consequence of their ignoring the letters of the LTTE.


        LTTE realising that it was an unproductive exercise to prolong the talks without promoting the interests of the people had written a letter giving a deadline for the implementation of agreements already reached


        “Therefore we urge you once again to reconsider your decision for the cause of peace. If a favourable reply is not received from you before the 28th.March 1995 we will be compelled to make a painful decision as to whether to continue with the peace process or not.”[16]


        This unfortunately was misunderstood by the government as a high-handed ultimatum of a guerrilla group to a democratically elected government. Hence the LTTE explained that they as partners in dialogue reserve the right to terminate talks if they were unproductive in serving the interests of the people.


        “In your letter you have raised objections to the fixing of deadlines which you call ultimatum. This is unavoidable since we have our own compulsions to ensure that the peace process should be a productive exercise that promotes the interests of our people. furthermore as a party in conflict involved in the negotiating process we reserve the right to set a deadline to terminate the peace talks if we are of the opinion that the negotiations have reached a stalemate without producing  a constructive result. We were compelled to set a deadline since the negotiating process reached  an impasse without achieving any substantial result, on certain urgent  issues that seriously affected the conditions of our people.” [17]


        Even after that ultimatum, on a promise made by the president to lift the ban on fuel and the restriction on fishing, the LTTE extended the deadline by another three weeks to ensure implementation.


        “Since you have made conciliatory gestures on certain issues , we have  extended the deadline to 19th,April with the  anticipation that you will take immediate steps to implement your decisions and resolve other outstanding issues without delay.”[18]


        “ The LTTE announcement of its withdrawal from the Peace process was not unexpected as is being made out. As early as March 16th. in releasing 14 prisoners of war, LTTE leader Pirabaharan sent a letter to President Kumaratunga specifically stating that if the outstanding issues between the two parties were not resolved before March 28, they would be compelled to take a decision to withdraw from the peace process. The government chose to ignore the deadline. Realising that the time frame might be too short, and particularly because of what the LTTE noted to be “a positive response” from the President indicating the lifting on the ban on fuel and fishing rights, the LTTE put off the deadline by three weeks for April 19.


        On April 10, when the fourth round of talks ended without any positive results, head of the LTTE delegation Thamilchelvan reiterated the LTTE position that under the circumstances, they would be compelled to withdraw from the peace process.”[19]


12. The Composition of the Team for the talks  left much desired.


        It was clear that Chandrika coming to power on the wave of a people’s wish for “peace and no more war “ select people in whom she has maximum confidence and at the same time people of no-controversy for the Tigers. But when these people  turn out to be   strangers to the political scene, strangers to the Tamil side and mere messengers without any decisive power, then talks become difficult, decisions are delayed  and more room for misunderstanding.


        Mrs.Kumaratunga’s hesitation in sending officially accredited representatives of the government for these talks, and instead in sending personal emissaries who have neither political authority nor government status, has itself made the peace process spurious. Apart from revealing lack of serious intent, it frees the Sri Lankan government, in the print or in the future, of a committal towards whatever political settlement that is reached. A case in point was Thimpu talks in 1985 when the then President J.R.Jayawardene sent his brother H.W.Jayawardene, a lawyer who held no position in the government.”[20]


        The need was for senior politicians who enjoyed the confidence of Chandrika as well as of the Tamil side - people well versed with the political developments of the country as well as with the Tamil problem . Such people were available and well within her own party - just to think of two people -


        the Speaker of the House Mr.K.B Ratnayake who is fluent in all three languages and has had his education in Jaffna winning the confidence of the Tamils as well as of the southern parties as the  senior politician unanimously elected Speaker. 


        A second person is Mr.Mangala Munasinghe who was a senior   SLFP member,  who pioneered the inter-parliamentary group for the ethnic crisis and served as its chairman.


        The members for the first round of talks included a respected  and appreciated one in the person of the former GA, but unfortunately he backed out of the group for difficulties created by the government.


        Though the team was claimed to be close confidante of the President, there were signs of disregard and lack of seriousness on the part of the Secretary  heading the government delegation.


        “It is regrettable that in his very brief letter, Mr.Balapatabendi failed to respond to any of the vital matters we raised. His letter was silent on issues such as the modalities in implementing the agreement, on the cessation of hostilities; the functioning of the monitoring committee and the continuation of  the talks.


        He appears to have marginalised the many issues we raised by merely saying that the government had taken various steps to solve the living problem of the Tamil people.”[21]


13. War for Peace? International support needed only for war but not for peace!


        The war as conducted by the Chandrika regime added a new horror element to the ethnic war  - internationalising her efforts  of war through powerful propaganda machinery to make it appear as a justified “war for peace”, as a war against terrorism, and at the same time conducting it on the ground as a “war behind closed-doors”  closed to all local or international media, amounts to nothing less than a “genocide with international licence”!.


        While retaining her old international credential and accolade  which  she received as she came to power with promises to end the war and create peace, she has turned 180 degrees to conduct the worst of wars in the name of peace!


        After calling the LTTE to the Table, more importance was given to the international propaganda that the new government was negotiating peace and that it needed international support on a large scale for reconstruction and rehabilitation of the war zone etc. but little was done towards  ameliorating the critical conditions in the war zone or resolving delays in having meetings, effecting monitoring committees, checking about military and bureaucratic implementation of  decisions taken.


14. Prospects and Possibilities regarding Future Talks


        Even after the resumption of hostilities, the LTTE has reiterated its stance by declaring through the press and through international conferences that the doors are open for future peace-talks. Going by its experience of   Talks both with President Premadasa and with   President Chandrika, they are insisting on a Third Party Mediation.


        Tamils have experienced as the aggrieved partner long decades of deception  death and destruction. Pacts have been unilaterally torn and promises repeatedly unfulfilled by the government. With President Chandrika, they hoped for a better future. But  that hope has proved to be the worst of deceptions!


        The Tamils cannot understand how a government of Sri Lanka, with a long history of unjust aggressions and deceptions, even if angered by the de facto Tamil leadership walking away in disgust from the Talks,  can resort to such a criminal war against its own citizens - the Tamils. Is not this “war against the Tamils behind closed doors” though proclaimed to be a “war for peace and against terrorism “ not a deception of the whole world and a travesty of truth?


        Only a sincere search for the truth of what has happened during the last five decades, especially in the North East of the country, with the help of a fact-finding mission as well as with some facilitators or Mediators can help pull us all out of this falsehood and deception and leas us to a peace based on truth and justice.


[1]As the Talks were in progress, the President went on a visit to India. This visit raised much speculation and suspicion in the minds of the Tamils. Later in an interview, in which she referred to her predecessors with degrading names, she referred to Mr. Prabaharan as a megalomaniac. This pointed to a lack of political seriousness in holding talks with the LTTE.

[2]Press Release  of a Statement made by the Political Section of the LTTE in Jaffna on 23rd. April 1995 (PS-LTTE/23.4.95) 

[3] Much time was spent after the first round of talks in correspondence and in the subsequent meetings about priorities, cessation of hostilities, implementation of views agreed etc. The military representative in the government team overplayed his role.

[4]When the implementation of even the partial lifting of the economic embargo  was very poor in spite of repeated reminders, Mr.Prabahran wrote to Mrs.Kumaratunga, expressing fears about the futility of continuing unproductive talks and set a period for implementation. To this the government retorted saying how can the LTTE give ultimatum or set deadline during the talks and disregarded  the deadline.

 [5]The  militant group emerged  to contain the military excess of the army, defended the people and their land  against the onslaughts of the Sri Lankan army and has consistently carried forward the Tamil consensus of 1976 for a separate state with  determination and military might. The Sri Lankan government that caused such a leadership to emerge has to deal with this de facto leadership of the Tamils.



[8]Letter of Minister Ratwatte to Leader Prabaharan on 7.12.1994(RP/7.12.94)


[10]Letter of Tamilselvan to Balapatabendi on 13.2.1995(TB/13.2.95)

[11] PS-LTTE/23.4.95

[12] Letter of Prabaharan to Chandrika on 28.02.1995 (PC/28.2.95)

[13] Letter of Prabaharan to Chandrika on 28.3.1995 (PC/28.3.95)

[14] Reply of Prabaharan to Ratwatte on 8.12.1994 (PR/8.12.94)

[15] One cannot imagine the amount of unemployment and consequently loss of livelihood for farmers( without fuel for water pumps), fishermen( ban on fishing around the North and East coast), masons(without cement and building materials) etc.


[17] PC/28.3.95

[18] PC/6.4.95


[20] PS-LTTE/23.4.95

[21] PC/28.2.95