S Sathananthan

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) announced a unilateral Cessation Of Hostilities (COH) on 24 December 2000. The Peoples Alliance (PA) Coalition Government refused to reciprocate in kind and the LTTE terminated its COH four months later, on 24 April 2001. Anticipating the end of COH, the PA Government unleashed the Sinhalese military the day before. A political objective was to pre-empt a first strike by the LTTE, reminiscent of its attack on 19 April 1995 on ships in the Trincomalee harbour after withdrawing from the previous COH. Late on 23 April 2001, the armed forces launched Operation “Agni Khiela”, a name that evokes images of an all-consuming flame-thrower. Perhaps the semi-feudal Sinhalese leadership imagined a medieval dragon breathing fire.

The aims of the Operation are now academic. Within four days, the LTTE-led Tamil National Liberation Movement (NLM) inflicted a crushing defeat. It is a more convincing statement of the NLM’s military capabilities than a first- strike immediately after terminating the COH.

Almost simultaneously the Norwegian facilitator, Mr Erik Solheim, trudged the corridors of power in Colombo hoping to re-float the “peace process”. He sought the agreement of Sinhalese President Chandrika Kumaratunga to a compromise formula that would satisfy the Sinhala-led Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE-led Tamil NLM, and lead to the commencement of “talks” between the two parties to the armed conflict in the island. But the President refused to oblige. So Mr Solheim left empty-handed on 3 May and was compelled to cancel a scheduled meeting in London with LTTE’s political advisor Mr Anton Balasingam, since he had nothing to show by way of results.

Each side blamed the other for the continuing armed conflict. The PA Government dismissed the LTTE’s unilateral COH as a “unilateral effort at international deception” (Sunday Observer, 29/Apr/01). The LTTE replied: “it is now absolutely clear that Kumaratunga Government has not abandoned its notorious policy of ‘war for peace’ and therefore, [is] well entrenched in a strategy of military aggression and conquest of the Tamil homeland” (LTTE Response: 2/May/01).

Journalistic euphoria that erupted when Mr Solheim met the LTTE Leader Mr Veluppillai Prabhakaran in December 2000 has given way to political scavenging among “demands”, “pre-conditions”, “pre-requisites”, “limited de-proscription”, “temporary cease-fire”, “compromise formulations” and other verbiage since the much-vaunted “peace process” has reached an impasse.

Instead, as with every such dead-end, here too one must return to fundamentals to break new ground, to glean a fresh understanding of the scope and objectives of the “peace process”.

The impasse
It is axiomatic that Tamils can pursue their right to national self-determination only through their own unflinching struggle and sacrifice.

Neither the international community nor the Norwegian Government could or would strive on behalf of Tamils. Indeed, it is naïve in the extreme to assume that either foreign interest will altruistically endeavour to support Tamils; rather they have their own political agenda that reflect their geopolitical interests.

What, then, do the governments of United States, Canada, Norway, European Union and India, which constitute the international community relevant to the armed conflict, seek to achieve? They are intervening through the good offices of the Norwegian Government allegedly to help steer the conflict towards “peace” without altering the territorial boundary of Sri Lanka.

But, in concrete terms, what does this “peace” entail? Does it mean the Process of Devolution? 

The process of devolving power is open-ended and involves the continuous re-negotiation of the terms of power sharing. The ongoing debate over constitutional reform in India, with particular focus on reviewing Centre-State relations including the demarcation of new States, after half century of independence amply demonstrates this fact. Clearly the Norwegian’s brief in Sri Lanka cannot include overseeing the implementation of a programme of devolution over the next four or five decades.

Does the Norway-fronted international community expect the Government to implement an agreement on devolution hopefully reached between the parties to the armed conflict? If so, the pathologically anti-Tamil Sinhalese bureaucracy would control implementation. The result is obvious. Devolution of power will never see the light of day. This was conclusively demonstrated when the chauvinist bureaucracy viciously undermined the North East Provincial Council (NEPC) established for the Tamil-majority North East Province (NEP) under the 13th Amendment in 1989.

As a minimum objective, then, could the international community nudge the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE-led Tamil NLM to negotiate an accord on devolution?  

To achieve lasting peace such an accord must at the very least envisage a federal (if not a confederal) alternative, which will necessarily impose conditions on both parties to the armed conflict.

The LTTE would be required to abandon its goal of an independent State of Tamil Eelam. The head of LTTE’s political wing, Mr Tamilchelvan, reportedly agreed to a settlement short of an independent State, according to (British) Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin. In fact, Mr Balasingam had also indicated the same about seven years ago, in September 1994, immediately after Mr Prabhakaran invited the then Prime Minister Chandrika Kumaratunga for negotiations.

In contrast, the Sinhalese Government has not indicated its willingness to make three major changes that are indispensable to the success of a federal (if not a confederal) alternative:

  1. Confer equal status on all citizens by repealing the constitutional provision that Buddhism enjoys “foremost place”, which in effect enshrines Buddhism as the State Religion and elevates the Buddhist-Sinhalese to the political status of ‘sons of the soil’. The provision denigrates those of other religious communities as second-class citizens.

  2. Confer equal status on all communities by redesigning the national flag, which currently symbolises the domination of Sinhalese-Buddhists.

  3. Re-draw internal boundaries to create linguistic federal units along lines similar to the Indian model.

The inability of the Government to commit itself to these basic reforms is not surprising. For it champions myopic Sinhalese nationalism, which is reinforced by the centrality of the Sinhalese armed forces as a nationalist force and the implacable opposition of the Sinhalese-Buddhist clergy to any dilution of their power. In other words, no Sinhalese government, today or in the foreseeable future, is capable of voluntarily reaching an accord on devolution of power with the Tamil NLM.

Therefore the repeated claim made by President Kumaratunga that “the door to negotiations is open” is everything but the truth.

And, the draft constitution formulated in August 2000 is a concrete example of the disinformation. The President, the PA Government, Kumaratunga sycophants and motley groups of anti-LTTE “peaceniks” have cried themselves hoarse alleging that the draft constitution provides for extensive devolution, for “federalism in everything but name”.

On the contrary, the draft constitution strictly envisages a unitary State.

Article 91 (1) categorically states that:

“Parliament has exclusive power to make laws, for the whole or any part of the territory of the Republic”.

Article 92 explicitly precludes the devolution of legislative power:

“92 (1) Parliament shall not abdicate or in any manner alienate its legislative power and shall not set up any authority with any such legislative power.

(2) It shall not be a contravention of the provisions of paragraph (1) of this Article for Parliament to make, in any law relating to public security, provision empowering the President to make emergency regulations in accordance with such law.

(3) It shall not be a contravention of the provisions of paragraph (1) of this Article for Parliament to make any law containing any provision empowering any person or body to make subordinate legislation for prescribed purposes, including the power –

(a) to appoint a date on which any law or any part thereof shall come into effect or cease to have effect;

(b) to make by order any law or any part thereof applicable to any locality or, to any class of persons; and

(c) to create a legal person, by an order or an act, and for the purposes of sub-paragraphs (a) and (b) of this paragraph, “law” includes existing law.”

Thus the claim of granting “federalism in everything but name” is a Goebellsian Lie.

And, the subordinate “Statutes” of the proposed Regional Councils (RCs) are hardly different from Municipal Ordinances. The RCs cannot be anything more than Local Government organisations utterly irrelevant to the resolution of the armed conflict.

Indeed, nothing has changed over the past three decades.

The above provisions are present word for word in the 1978 Constitution (Art 76) of the United National Party (UNP) Government. And they were first introduced in the 1972 Constitution (Art 45) crafted by the United Front (UF) Coalition Government, which was controlled by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) then led by President Kumaratunga’s mother, Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike. President Kumaratunga inherited the SLFP, which is the dominant member of the PA Coalition Government. And the 2000 draft constitution (Art 92) crafted by the SLFP faithfully reproduces the obstinate rejection of devolution of power and is an insurmountable barrier to resolving the armed conflict.

However, the credibility of the “peace process” touted by the Norway-fronted international community crucially depends on two assumptions. First, that the Sinhalese President and Government are ready and willing to negotiate a devolution of power and second, that the draft constitution is evidence of that intention. And these assumptions are implicit in the repeated calls made by the international community requesting the LTTE to “enter the political mainstream” and “sit at the negotiating table”.

Moreover, the international community has never raised the question of repealing Article 76 in the current Constitution; nor has it requested President Kumaratunga to remove Articles 91 and 92 from her draft constitution. Instead, the foreign governments have maintained a conspiratorial silence regarding these provisions in order to preserve President Kumaratunga’s mask as “peace-maker”.

The Sinhalese-dominated conflict resolution/human rights organisations in the Sinhalese-majority southwest too peddle the assumptions, either through ignorance or as an anti-LTTE knee-jerk reaction. At the same time, they too maintain a conspiratorial silence over the same constitutional provision and the two Articles in the draft constitution.

Kumaratunga sycophants explicitly uphold the assumptions by enthusiastically testifying to her “sincerity”, as if they are consummate mind readers. And they are blissfully oblivious to the fact that “interests”, not “sincerity”, govern political actions.

Most civil society organisations of Tamils in the NEP also subscribe to the assumptions either as an adjustment to survive under the Sinhalese army of occupation or out of emotional desperation or political naiveté.

The collaborationist Tamil political parties, well versed in running-with-the-hare-and-hunting-with-the-hound, exploit the assumptions to sharpen their treachery against the LTTE-led Tamil NLM.

The recent statement by a senior member of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) is a typical manoeuvre. He said: “There are two views among the Tamil people. One view is that until the UNP comes out with a proposal acceptable to the Tamil people we cannot align with the UNP to topple the government or to take any action against the government. On the other hand, another section of the Tamil people feel that this government should be toppled and that the TULF should help every effort taken by the UNP to topple the government. But as far as the TULF is concerned, since we are convinced that it is only the joint efforts of both the government and the opposition that can find a solution to the ethnic question, we have to watch the situation closely” (Sunday Leader, 6/May/01).

It is evident from the foregoing that the TULF deliberately ignores the “third” view of the overwhelming majority of Tamils who unreservedly support the LTTE-led Tamil NLM.

Moreover, the TULF purveys a Big Lie, that “the joint efforts of both the government and the opposition” could resolve the armed conflict. The Lie exploits the fallacy that when either a UNP or SLFP Government seeks to negotiate a settlement, the other party in Opposition sabotages the initiative to gain political mileage that translates into votes at election time. But neither party ever attempted to negotiate a settlement with the Tamil NLM. Rather each time one party adopted a pro-Tamil posture for short-term political gain or to spruce up its image as peacemaker, the other accused it of betraying the birthright of the Sinhalese people and neutralised the ploy.

As a matter of fact, from 1979 onwards, both parties when in government have prosecuted the war against the Tamil NLM with equal ferocity. Indeed each party when in Opposition has bitterly condemned the party in Government for being “soft” on the LTTE and failing to wage war ruthlessly.

The TULF repeats the Big Lie, the possibility of a Government-Opposition consensus in Parliament, to conjure up the prospect of a negotiated settlement for two important reasons.

First, the TULF uses the Big Lie to justify its collaboration with either of the two political parties against the LTTE-led Tamil NLM; second, it hopes to politically marginalise the LTTE as a violent, extra-parliamentary force that endangers the imminent prospect of peace.

In a variation of this counter-revolutionary ploy, unnamed Tamil politicians schemed to portray the LTTE as an anti-democratic force. They reportedly requested the delegation of Catholic clergymen who visited the Vanni in April 2001 “to talk to the Tiger leaders, a create a situation with the LTTE where they would no longer consider Tamil political leaders of other parties as traitors and consider them as a political force that encourages their struggle” (Divaina, 26/Apr/01). One objective is to draw attention away from two Tamil parties, whose cadres are openly collaborating with the Sinhalese armed forces.

Significantly, neither the TULF nor any other collaborating Tamil party has raised the issue of constitutional provisions, in the current Constitution (Art 76) and in the draft constitution (Art 91 and 92).

At the same time, the Tamil politicians attempt to cover their counter-revolutionary tracks. They dishonestly repeat insincere calls for negotiations between the Government and the LTTE, knowing full well that the Sinhalese political leaders have no intention whatsoever to negotiate a political settlement.

A “peace” process?
The so-called “peace process”, therefore, is an euphemism for the manoeuvres of forces ranged against the LTTE-led Tamil NLM.

They have not exposed the agenda of a military solution pursued by the Government in Colombo. Indeed, they have done their best to preserve the Government’s image as a peacemaker.

For instance, when US Ambassador E Ashley Wills spoke in Jaffna on 7 March 2001, he did not express concern that President Kumaratunga and her PA Government failed to reciprocate LTTE’s unilateral COH. He did not condemn the President or Government for carrying out indiscriminate aerial bombardment and artillery shelling of Tamil cities and villages during LTTE’s COH period.

Instead, the US Ambassador cunningly drew attention away from the President and Government who stood exposed as warmongers by focusing upon the political aim of the Tamil NLM. He did this by sabre rattling against the LTTE; he declared:“If the LTTE is still fighting for Tamil Eelam, please accept that that goal cannot be achieved” (The Island, 9/Mar/01). He thus avoided showing any appreciation of the organisation’s willingness to negotiate a settlement. Rather, he continued to demonise the LTTE in order to cover up the diabolical intentions of the PA Government.

The Ambassador went further to warn the Tamil people: “If the LTTE really cares about the Tamil people and about assuring their rights, giving up violence and negotiating are the way to go.” In other words, if the Tamil NLM continues its armed resistance then the international community will do nothing to protect Tamils from the onslaught of the Sinhalese armed forces.

The implication is that the international community will condone even genocide of Tamils in order to defeat the LTTE.

Clearly the so-called “peace process” cannot and will not deliver a negotiated settlement to resolve the armed conflict. It cannot do so also because it ignores two other national liberation movements, those of the Upcountry Tamils and the Muslims. The Upcountry Peoples Front (UPF) has demanded that the Tamil-majority areas in the central highlands must be demarcated into an autonomous Tamil region. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) similarly wants a Muslim-majority South Eastern Province (SEP) carved out as an autonomous Muslim region.

The so-called “peace process” is, to use military jargon, a “counter-insurgency strategy” to arrest the LTTE-led Tamil NLM, disarm the LTTE and prevent the independence of Tamil Eelam.

The North American and European Governments have a vested interest in preventing new States emerging in Asia and Africa. For with each new State, the balance of international political power shifts against the West. The expulsion, for example, of the US from the Human Rights Commission (HRC) and International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) of the United Nations on 3 May 2001 are consequences the West is striving to avoid.

Within the island, the collaborationist Tamil parties, Sinhalese “liberals” and assorted “peaceniks” want the LTTE disarmed for their own short-sighted, selfish reasons.

Tamil people both inside and outside Sri Lanka must therefore redouble their efforts now to ensure the victory of the LTTE-led Tamil National Liberation Movement.

9 May 2001

The Author Dr Sachithanandam Sathananthan is the Founder-Secretary of The Action Group Of Tamils (TAGOT) in Sri Lanka. Email: tagotsl@hotmail.com