War or Peace, De-Proscription A Must

By: J. S. Tissainayagam

“I wish to very categorically refute the point Mr. Kadirgamar endeavoured to make out on the floor of this House yesterday that the LTTE played a dubious role during the course of negotiations with Norwegian involvement during the term of the last government. I think it is my duty on behalf of the Tamil people to state on the floor of this House that the role of the government itself at that point of time raised many questions, to which the government could not have given satisfactory answers.”

These words were uttered by R. Sampanthan, (TNA, Trincomalee District) and the general secretary of the TULF. It was perhaps the most categorical acknowledgment of the duplicitous role of the PA while in government when dealing with the LTTE through the Norwegian facilitator, and the disgraceful part played by the then foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar.

Further, coming as it does from Sampanthan, long considered an uncritical and compromising supporter of the PA and President Chandrika Kumaratunga, it is a statement that has to be taken, at least at the public level, as a former ally being driven to speak the truth.

Sampanthan went on to acknowledge that the alliance he represented in parliament - the TNA - had received an overwhelming mandate from the people based on three issues that had formed the base of its platform. These include that negotiations should take place between the government and the LTTE through a third party, that negotiations should only take place with the LTTE and not with any other Tamil party and that the ban on the LTTE should be lifted for it to participate in talks freely.

While Sampanthan had this to say about the PA, serious developments were taking place among the opposition parties to sabotage the peace process. The Sinhala extremist MEP, a constituent member of the PA, the JVP, which despite its Marxist trappings has displayed a strong ethnic chauvinism and the EPDP that is congenitally anti-LTTE, are expected to launch a campaign against the lifting of the LTTE ban.

This campaign is being supported by the Sinhala Joint Committee, which is an umbrella organisation casting its benign shade on almost 50 Sinhala organisations. It is reported that, even the Sihala Urumaya, an inveterate opponent of the JVP, seemed to be willing to suspend its antagonism in the larger interest of saving the nation. They are supported by sections of the media.

The Island newspapers reported the opposition was not willing to accept the TNA’s stance that the LTTE had to be the sole representative of the Tamil people at talks. The implication of this is interesting. It means there is a parallel entity representing the Tamil people with which the government should negotiate. Possibly it is the EPDP, which through fraud and intimidation managed to win two seats from the 31 it contested in the north-east!

On the other hand, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe stated the government’s position on the de-proscription when he said it had to be given deep thought. The LTTE’s spokesman Anton Balasingham in London and its political wing chief S. P. Thamilchelvam in the Wanni, welcomed the move.

While the lines between the principal Sinhala parties divided thus between government and opposition, the most influential lobby in civil society, the Maha Sangha, seemed uncertain in its responses. The Maha Nayake of the Asgiriya Chapter was first quoted as favouring de-proscription and handing over the north-east to the LTTE as part of an interim administration. But he then retracted from his earlier stance slightly through a clarification.

Finally, the United States ambassador to Sri Lanka added his bit to the confusion. In essence, he seemed to suggest that whoever de-proscribed the LTTE, the US would not. He defined an act of ‘terrorism’ as something where not only are civilians targeted deliberately, but even those where an operation is undertaken on a military installation where civilians are known to be present.

The ambassador’s statement indicates how partisan the US’s stance is on the conflict in Sri Lanka. Civilians are present in nearly all military installations of the security forces, either as human shields as in the north-east where camps are deliberately built around schools, hospitals etc., or as clerical hands, doctors or janitors employed in camps elsewhere. Secondly, if the same yardstick is applied by the US on successive Sri Lankan governments fighting the LTTE, the US would have to cease recognising the Sri Lankan state!

While this summarises the different views, an idea seems to have percolated down to the public that lifting the ban on the LTTE is tantamount to resolving the national question. This is totally wrong and to say the least, idiotic. It has come about through the intense feelings being aroused both for and against the de-proscription by the respective lobbies.

The public’s perception of lifting the ban on the LTTE is the same as that of lifting the ban on the economic embargo on the north-east. Last week this column dealt with the issue of sending food, medicine and fuel being wrongly construed as granting ‘concessions’ and ‘relief’ to the people of the Wanni.

It should be reiterated that for the state to impose a ban on such essentials going to the LTTE-controlled areas was a denial of the sovereignty of the Tamil people living there. The implications of this are obvious: the idea of a separate state has already formed in the minds of these people, though it might not have been declared de jure.

This week however, the story of ‘concessions’ hovers over the de-proscription of the LTTE. Balasingham put the issue succinctly when he was quoted by TamilNet as saying, “The de-proscription of the LTTE will be a recognition of the legitimacy of the Tamil people’s struggle. It is not a concession (by the government) but an acknowledgment of our position as the authentic representatives of the Tamil people.”

It is important that the Sri Lanka public is told categorically that the LTTE represents Tamils at the talks. The ambiguity over this matter in the last round of negotiations caused a grave problem. Photographs of the two negotiating parties with their pennants on the table brought about a furore in the south with outraged people questioning how the LTTE, a rebel group, dare arrogate to itself a position of equality with the Sri Lankan state.

This was to translate into other things too such as comparatively low level officials from the government meeting senior ranks of the Tigers. The exercise seemed more a demonstration of status rather than a genuine effort at negotiation.

This time however, the platform on which the TNA was elected, is sufficient proof that whether the south likes it or not, whether the international community is in favour or otherwise, the Tamil people of the north-east have voted for negotiations to be conducted only with the LTTE. Therefore, any talk that the Tigers are not the representatives of the Tamils is not only superfluous but patently false.

What is more, unlike the US, which includes names of rebel groups or strikes them off its list of terrorist organisations depending on whether it perceives them as ‘terrorist’ or not, the Sri Lanka government is in no position to follow suit.

Regardless of whether the government likes it or not and whether its constituency acknowledges it or otherwise, the government’s act of de-proscribing the LTTE is first and foremost a recognition of the aspirations of the Tamil people, which they (Tamils of the north-east) expressed through the ballot. As much as majority of the Sinhala people stated categorically that they were supporting a resolution of the war through negotiations by voting the UNF, the majority of the Tamils in the north-east said they wanted the de-proscription of the LTTE is part of getting the negotiations on course.

What is more, even if negotiations were to break down and war begins, the LTTE will remain the Tamil people’s choice of representatives for talks until they state otherwise at an election. Therefore, unlike in the case of the PA, which after bungling negotiations with the LTTE began flirting with the EPDP and the TULF, the same cannot be on be done now. The earlier this is understood and acknowledged the better it would be.


Courtesy: The Sunday Leader [27 January 2002]