The Sri Lankan Peace Process



                                                        By M. Nadarajan, USA


The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was signed on the basis that both parties will have parity of status in discussing and resolving issues and will jointly approach the international community on aid needs. The peace process in Sri Lanka has temporarily stalled due to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) suspending peace talks, and refusing to participate in the proposed the Donors Conference in Tokyo. The legitimate and justifiable reasons given by the LTTE are related to the Sri Lankan Government’s (GoSL) failure to take meaningful steps to address the serious concerns the LTTE had repeatedly brought to the attention of GoSL. 

They are:

1) Non- compliance with several clauses of the MoU signed on February 24, 2002, following the LTTE’s unilateral declaration of ceasefire. 

 2) Non- fulfillment of agreements reached and undertakings given by GoSL during the six rounds of peace talks already held over more than12 months. 

3) Continued harassment by Sri Lankan armed forces in the Tamil areas; imposition of new restrictions on the movement of civilians and their economic activities; construction of new army camps and naval bases in heavily populated localities; establishment of new Sinhala villages and building of several Buddhist temples in Tamil areas; aerial surveillance of Tamil areas deploying unmanned aircraft; introduction of special identification cards in some areas; intensified intelligence gathering; non co-operation  in identifying  mined areas; and refusal to move the army from so called “High Security Zones” have all prevented the resettlement of hundreds of thousands of displaced families and refugees and have created a sense of fear and frustration amongst the Tamil people on the futility of the peace process, and the impossibility of reaching normalcy in the Northeast. 

4) Denying LTTE any involvement or participation in the “Pre-Aid Conference” in Washington arranged by the US. 

5) Entering into new treaties and arrangements with foreign governments involving joint exercises, training of armed forces; continued importation of modern weapons; purchasing aircraft and naval vessels, all of which run counter to maintaining status quo ante. 

6) Seeking unilaterally the advice of retired top Indian army and navy persons on matters like the shifting of High Security Zones and passage in the northern seas, knowing fully well the anti- LTTE stance of the Indian Government which has proscribed the LTTE. 

7) The main focus of the “ Regaining Sri Lanka” policy paper prepared by GoSL for submission at the forthcoming Donors Conference in Tokyo is “Poverty Alleviation” in the South of Sri Lanka. No attention is paid in it to the dire situation in the war-torn areas of the Northeast, which have been subjected to over two decades of destruction and devastation, and over five and a half decades of total neglect and non-development. The incidence of poverty in the South is the result many years of bad governance and corruption of ministers, politicians and bureaucrats. The crying need for dealing with the desperate situation in the Northeast to bring it at least to level with the South has been totally ignored.

 An ‘Assessment of Needs” document was prepared by three independent multilateral financial institutions (Word Bank, Asian Development Bank and UNDP) at the request of the Sub-committee for Immediate Humanitarian and Rehabilitation Needs (SIHRN), a body specially set up jointly by GoSL and LTTE.  The preparation team also obtained the required input from SIHRN as well as the GoSL before finalizing its findings and recommendations. Yet, GoSL has no intention of presenting this Assessment of Needs document at the Tokyo Donors conference. 


8)      The history of successive Sri Lankan governments has been under-utilization of donor funds; surrendering of unspent international aid, undue delays in project implementation and completion; and corruption and inefficiencies.  SIHRN established some time back for taking action on immediate needs of the Northeast lacks autonomy, authority, funds, and specialized manpower resources. Even the small amount of money pledged at the Oslo Donors’ Conference has not yet reached SIRHN.


The LTTE has therefore been driven to insist on the need to establish financially and operationally autonomous legal bodies, which can operate under its auspices, so that immediate rehabilitation, reconstruction and development activities in the Northeast could be carried out efficiently and expeditiously using monies released to it through the already established custodian of donor funds –Northeast Reconstruction Fund (NERF).


Unless such arrangements are made immediately, no amount of coercion by countries, particularly those that have backed the Sri Lankan government openly, morally and materially to the hilt in various ways, will persuade the LTTE to resume peace talks or to participate in the Donors Conference in Tokyo. 

The UNF, the party in power, mentioned the creation of an Interim Administration in its election manifesto and discussed it during the earlier sessions of the peace talks. When the previous government was in power, the current President who is now the leader of the opposition had offered an Interim Administration for ten years to the LTTE. Prime Minister Wickramasinghe on taking office said, “this is the last chance for peace, and everything other than separation is on the table”. But having won a major concession from the LTTE of giving up its demand for a separate state, probably prematurely, seems disinclined to carry out the corresponding concession of meeting the aspirations of the Tamil-speaking People. These aspirations were clearly spelt out at the Thimpu talks of 1985 arranged by the Government of India and are widely known. They have not changed since, and remain the quid pro quo for giving up the demand for a separate state. Tamils represented by the LTTE are not prepared to be deceived one more time.


(Note: For the benefit of those who are not fully aware of the background of the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka an annexure follows.)

Annexure to 'The Peace Process' 

Since independence from the UK in 1948 the Sinhalese who make up 74 % of the population of Sri Lanka have treated Tamils as second-class citizens. Tamils have been discriminated against in every sphere of life, oppressed, subjected to communal attacks, their property destroyed, and driven from some of their villages which were renamed with Sinhalese names and Buddhist temples built in them.

The actions of Sinhalese majority governments, which are listed below, caused some of the problems faced by Tamils: -

1.Disenfranchisement of over a million Tamils of recent Indian origin working in the plantations, and as result, reducing Tamil representation in Parliament by over 45%.

2. Colonization using taxpayers' money of Sinhalese in Tamil areas, in many cases driving away    Tamils from their villages. This resulted in the percentage of Sinhalese in the Tamil Eastern province to increase from 4.2% in 1924, to 9.4% in 1947,and to a current over 32%. Lands taken away from Tamils and Muslims were given to Sinhalese and river diversion and irrigation facilities given predominantly to Sinhalese.

Having achieved this ‘fait accompli’, the government now calls the erstwhile Eastern province a multiethnic one, divided almost equally amongst Tamils, Muslims (who also speak Tamil) and Sinhalese!    


3.Introduction of Sinhalese as the only official language of the country. This adversely affected non-Sinhalese. Although much later, Tamil was also declared a national language, that law remains largely unimplemented.


4.Discrimination in education and job opportunities


5.Repeated communal pogroms against Tamils, the worst being the genocidal attacks of 1983. The government’s armed forces and police generally joined in the attacks.


6.Signing of a pact between the Sinhalese Prime Minister with the leader of Tamils in 1958 and tearing it up following protests by Buddhist monks and the opposition political party.


7.Signing of another pact by the Prime Minister of the new government (previously opposition) with the leader of Tamils in 1965. This too was abrogated due to protests by the other party (previous government).


8.Introducion of new constitutions in 1972 and in 1978 against the wishes of Tamils, and in the process, eliminating the protection provided for minority rights in the very first Constitution of 1948, and making Buddhism the foremost religion with several privileges.


9.Burning down in 1981 of the Jaffna (Tamil) Library, one of the prime libraries in Asia, which had several rare manuscripts and over 90,000 books, by the police and rowdies brought down from Sinhalese areas in the presence of two government Ministers.


 Tamils tried to obtain redress through democratic (parliamentary) and Satyaghaha (non-violent) methods.  After failing in these methods, they requested a federal type of government. Peace talks were held to solve the problems faced by Tamils twice as mentioned above with the Sinhalese governments in power and pacts were signed. However, they were abrogated both times due to protests by the Buddhist priests and the then opposition party which had itself signed a similar pact earlier. Following this, in desperation, as a last resort, Tamils gave a mandate to their representatives in Parliament to ask for a separate state. Tamils were beaten up and their elected parliamentary representatives expelled. Following this the youth took up arms to fulfill the mandate given to Tamil representatives and started a war of liberation 


`The government’s armed forces and paramilitary units called home guards attacked Tamils, indulging in killing of civilians and destruction in Tamil areas. A law called the Prevention of Terrorism Act was passed which gave power to members of the armed services and police to arrest without warrant, kill and dispose bodies without inquests.


Peace talks arranged by the Government of India in Thimpu in 1985 failed due to GoSL’s obstinacy to not even look at the Tamils’ condition for giving up the demand for a separate state.


In 1987 the Indian government signed an Accord with GoSL (only one party to the conflict) and sent an army called the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to enforce it. The IPKF took on the task of disarming the militants, and this resulted in a war between the IPKF and LTTE. IPKF withdrew in March 1990 and President Premadasa’s government entered into talks with the LTTE. These went on for several months, but broke down because of duplicity by the government and refusal to implement agreed matters.


The GoSL imposed an economic blockade of Tamil areas banning or restricting food, medicines, and several items of daily necessities


A ferocious war recommenced with indiscriminate arrests, torture, rapes and indiscriminate killings as well as indiscriminate bombing, shelling from army camps and the seas, and aerial strafing of Tamil areas. According to pre-election speeches of Mrs. Kumaratunga in 1994 over 800,000 Tamils left the country as refugees, and over a million became internally displaced. She promised to end the war at any cost and her party was elected to power. The LTTE immediately declared a unilateral ceasefire and eventually talks took place. Over 40 letters were exchanged between the Prime Minister and the leader of the LTTE. Talks of a few hours each time took place on four occasions. The government delegates were inexperienced bureaucrats who could not take decisions, and even if they did, they had to get them confirmed by GoSL. Because agreements reached were either not implemented, or were turned down by the government, the LTTE gave three weeks of notice of abrogation of the cessation of hostilities agreement, although the agreement provided only a 72-hour notice. At the request of GoSL this notice was extended by a further two weeks but eventually talks were abandoned and war resumed.


 Mrs. Kumaratunga called it illogically, “War For Peace” and said she wanted to liberate the Tamil people from the “clutches of the LTTE.” War was fought with unprecedented ferocity. More deaths and destruction took place.


At the elections held in December 2001 the current government and Prime minister were elected to power. Mr. Wickramasinghe sought a mandate for peace, which he got. The election manifesto mentioned that he would introduce an Interim Administration in the Northeast controlled by the LTTE. The LTTE declared a unilateral ceasefire and a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the GoSL and the LTTE. Current talks are being held based on that   Unfortunately he had to cohabit with the President, who is the leader of the opposition party in Parliament. She is opposed to various actions of the government. She has threatened several times to dissolve the Parliament and call for new elections. As an Executive President she has the power to do so. Her term of office expires in 2005.Small wonder that with this background the LTTE does not trust the government.