The nexus among the anti-peace elements of the Sri Lankan conflict


Dr. Victor Rajakulendran




As soon as the announcement of the first ever consultative meeting between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and Tamil legal and constitutional experts, mainly from the Tamil Diaspora, to be held in the French Capital, Paris was made, the anti-peace elements of the Sri Lankan conflict got a knee jerk reaction.  Although their usual reaction would have been to try and stop this meeting by shouting "Terrorist slogans", realising that there was full international support for this meeting they safely avoided this path.  However, all these anti-peace elements that wish the current peace process to fail, for various selfish reasons, went into action in a sequence, raising eyebrows among the observers as to whether all these elements are acting in nexus.


The current peace process between the Sri Lankan Government (SLG) and the LTTE has been stalled for sometime now on the issue of setting up a Provisional Interim Administration (PIA) for the predominantly Tamil speaking North-East region of the island.  Although the International Community (IC), on whose generosity only the economy of the country depends, has unanimously supported and insisted on establishing a PIA for the North-East, these anti-peace elements decided to throw their spanners into the works of the SLG trying to establish a PIA.


President Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumarathunga (CBK) initiated the game of throwing spanners.  Knowing that the easiest way to scuttle the peace process is to spoil the chances of establishing the PIA, the President - grabbing the opportunity that has arisen in the East - has shed crocodile tears for the safety of Muslims first.  Then she threatened to use her Executive powers to divide the North-East in order to provide security to the Muslims.  The Northern and Eastern Provinces were merged as a single administrative unit under the Indo-Sri Lanka pact, through the 13th amendment to the constitution.  A de-merger of this unit could be effected, by holding a referendum in the Eastern Province.  This referendum can be postponed by a presidential proclamation to extend the merger by a year at a time.  This is how from 1988, Presidents Jayawardana, Premadasa, Wijeyathunga and even CBK have been able to postpone the referendum.  The last such proclamation expires on November 17th.  Therefore, if President CBK fails to gazette a proclamation extending the merger by another year by November 16, the election commissioner will be forced to call for a referendum.  Therefore, not that the President has the power to de-merge the North-East - people of the East only have that power - she could only pave the way for a referendum to de-merge.  If a referendum is held in the East for the de-merger, the outcome depends on how the Muslims are going to perceive this issue.  This is why President is using the ostensible reason of providing security to the Muslims from the Tamils as the excuse to her threat, although the real reasons are two completely different ones.  The immediate reason is to scuttle the creation of the PIA and the long-term goal is to look after the interests of the Singhalese living in the Eastern Province.


While President CBK was making rhetoric within the country, her adviser and former Foreign Minister Kadirgamar, as usual, went on a LTTE scare mongering trip, this time to India.  He chose only India this time because he knows very well that all the other nations are for the peace process to succeed.  Although India has from time to time reiterated that she will remain supportive of the peace process, she has failed to play any tangible supportive role so far.  Kadirgamar decided to make use of this ambiguous stand of India to his advantage and paid a hurried visit to New Delhi.  He met with External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha and National Security Adviser Brijesh Mishra.  After these meetings he told journalists at the Foreign Correspondents Club in New Delhi that he had appraised them that the ground situation in Eastern Trincomalee is "deceptively grave" which could affect Indian interests.  He also has told them that the LTTE has established 13 new positions around the Trincomalee Naval Base including a 122mm artillery position and naval bases after the 2002 February Cease-Fire Agreement.  He has also tried to scare India by saying that six suicide crafts and 3 attack crafts have been spotted in the area.  Kadirgamar also has questioned, how can any government propose a PIA outside the Sri Lankan Constitution when there have been no talks on the core issues relating to the ethnic dispute.  Kadirgamar does not seem to realise that the Indians know very well that President CBK, to whom he gives advice, offered to give the administration of the North-East to LTTE leader Velupillai Prabakaran for 10 years when she was negotiating with the LTTE in 1994, which definitely would have been outside the consitution.


JVP, the Marxist Singhalese party, which has emerged as the third Singhalese political force in the country with whom CBK is trying to make an alliance to rout out the present government, went into tangible action.  After declaring that the PIA is the first step to the division of the country, they vowed to mobilise the people against the government's decision on this.  They decided to carry out a protest march from down South to Colombo over several days.  When the Banadaranayaka-Chelvanayakam Pact was signed to give limited autonomy to the Tamils, the then opposition leader, the late President Jayawardana, led a protest march from Colombo to Kandy and, while the march was half way through, Prime Minister Banadaranayaka abrogated the pact out of fear of political fall out.  It looks like the JVP believes that if they walk more distance in a protest March they could exert more political pressure on the incumbent government.


The National Biku Front (NBF), a militant organisation of Buddhist priests also distributed leaflets asking the people to oppose the creation of a PIA.  They also spoke against the PIA during their National convention held this week at the Bandaranayaka Memorial Hall.


The Muslim politicians also, for their own political gains, seem to be helping these anti-peace elements.  The three factions of the original Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) were supposed to have merged under the banner of North-East Muslim Parliamentarians Front (NEMPF).  NEMPF is demanding a separate unit for the Muslims in the East under the PIA, which is being considered by the SLG and the LTTE.  This demand will not be acceptable to the LTTE because, if the 1/3 of the Muslims living in the east want a separate unit to protect themselves from the Tamils, Muslims should also demand an even bigger unit in the rest of the country where 2/3 of the Muslims live.  Therefore, their demand is also like throwing another spanner into the peace process.  However, when 4 Muslim youths were killed and two others were abducted in the East, these factions started releasing separate statements that could fuel further tension between Muslims and Tamils.  Although the LTTE was blamed for these killings and abductions initially, not only did the LTTE deny any involvement in these, now police investigations also point to the fact that these are not LTTE-related, but purposely blamed on the LTTE to arouse communal feelings among the two communities in the East.  In the aftermath of these incidents, the SLMC leader and Minister Rauf Hakeem made a dashing trip to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and on return announced that he has briefed leaders of these countries about the plight of Muslims in the East.  However at least Pakistan President Musharaf declared after meeting Minister Hakeem that his country will support the peace process in Sri Lanka.  President Musharaf did not come out and declare that the Muslims are under threat by the Tamils and Pakistan will help to look after the security of the Muslims.  The behaviour of the Sri Lankan Muslim politicians during the past few weeks clearly indicates that, even if they are not anti-peace, by letting themselves be used by the anti-peace elements they are helping these anti-peace elements to achieve their ends.         


J.N. Dixit was the Indian High Commissioner in Colombo during the Indo-Lanka Accord and later became a Foreign Secretary.  Dixit, in an article to the "Hindustan Times" recently, has repeated all the threats Kadirgamar made when he was in New Delhi; in order to scare Indian officials about the LTTE, like a parrot can be made to repeat what is taught to it.  Dixit also has cautioned the Indian government about Japan's involvement in the Sri Lankan peace process.  However he has recommended that India should remain supportive of the peace process, but India should also strengthen the Sri Lankan government in political and logistical terms so that it can negotiate with the LTTE from a position of strength in the coming weeks.  Dixit has demonstrated here that he is not for an equitable solution to the conflict, but supports imposing one on the Tamils by a politically and militarily stronger SLG.


As a response to Dixit's suggestion, the firebrand Subramaniam Swamy, a former Indian Justice Minister, has requested openly that the Indian government should not support the peace process because of the LTTE's involvement in it.


Whether one could see a nexus among these various anti-peace elements or not, one thing is certain.  That is, this time around, their efforts do not seem to be paying off.  This is well expressed in what Kadirgamar had to say to the foreign correspondents in Colombo, on his return from his recent Indian trip.  He has told them that the LTTE is worried "only about India" and is "not afraid of taking on" any international player in the island's latest peace process.  Kadirgamar let his frustration come out when he said that, "though the SLG was talking to the Indians a lot I am concerned that India may go into a somewhat sleepy mood".  Kadirgamar knows very well that the whole international community (IC) supports the entire peace process and, as part of it, the establishment of the PIA.  He is also well aware that only by convincing the Indian administration that what LTTE is going to come up with is something India cannot live with, anyone could scuttle the establishment of the PIA and thereby the whole peace process.  This is why he has stopped wasting time with other countries and is concentrating on India only.


Whatever these anti-peace elements do, as long as the LTTE, the SLG and the IC are genuinely committed to a just peace in Sri Lanka, the peace process will proceed to a successful conclusion.