The government of Sri Lanka has been saying for years that they are unable to negotiate with the LTTE because of the latter's intransigence.
All through this period the LTTE has been calling for negotiations with 'third party assistance', and has been ignored.
Harry Gunetilleke, retired Air-Vice Marshall of the Sri Lanka's own Air Force had this to say on 20 November, 1997, at the International Conference - The Political, Economic and Social Reconstruction of Sri Lanka conducted by the World Peace Foundation and sponsored by the Harvard University in Boston, USA [Excerpts]



...The question that arises here is, if all previous attempts at dialogues have been a failures because of allegations against chief actors as acting mala fide, then what is wrong in obtaining the assistance of a third party to facilitate or negotiate discussions, when our local leaders have been unsuccessful for 13 years.

In this connection, it is interesting to record some of the bona fide thoughts and hopes of eminent personalities aboard in their desire to help us.

In reply to letters and an appeal sent by Tamils in Switzerland to the head of the Federal Foreign Department there, he said,

"We have repeatedly offered our good services in the search for a peaceful solution of the conflict to the government of Sri Lanka, but as you know, it wants to solve the conflict without foreign assistance. Our offer, however, still stands... We do not only maintain our offer of good services but would also like to contribute the Swiss experience concerning the coexistence of various cultures, federalism and democracy to the peace process in Sri Lanka."

This was said early last year.

Then in mid-June last year, at an international conference on the conflict in Sri Lanka conducted in Canberra, Australia, sponsored by the Tamil community, Senator Vichi Bourne in a message stated, amongst other things,

"The Australian democrats call upon the Sri Lankan government to invite the UN and its agencies into the country so that work and comments on finding a peaceful and permanent solution to be conflict. The Australian democrats call upon the Australian government to see that this matter is dealt with and that pressure is brought upon the Sri Lankan government, which would lead to an immediate cease fire followed by UN sponsored negotiations."

In another message to this conference from the patron of the Australian Human Rights Foundation, Sir Ronald Wilson, stated,

"The future of all Sri Lankans is rightly a matter not only of international concern but also of international responsibility".

President Nelson Mandela in his message stated,

"It is our fervent wish and hope that the efforts of organizations, such as Australian Human Rights Foundations and all other endeavours to bring peace and a climate for negotiated solutions to the conflict in Sri Lanka will achieve this goal."

About this time, in another country in Asia and totally unrelated to the Australian conference, the Executive Director of the Centre for Peace Initiatives (CEN PEACE) in Malaysia, in a press statement had this to say:

"It seems the British, Norwegian, Canadian and Australian governments have indicated their readiness to meditate in Sri Lanka, but now the Sri Lankan government has rejected the offers, arguing that the conflict was an internal affair... if every humanitarian issue is an internal affair, then apartheid in South Africa would be still alive and kicking and genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina would be unresolved... She (President Kumaratunga) must have the courage to give peace a chance and not be a prisoner to the demands and ill advice of the generals and the Buddhist clergy surrounding her."

Another offer was made by the British Under Secretary of State, Dr. Liam Fox, when asked at a press briefing in Colombo in September, 1996 during his visit to Sri Lanka, whether Britain would act as a third party in resolving the North-East issue said, they "would be happy to mediate but only if both parties to the conflict want settlement... the Northern Ireland situation was similar to the Sri Lankan conflict and they have been trying hard to find a solution."

The first silver lining that appeared as a follow up to all the rhetoric up to this time was the brokering of a bipartisan accord by Dr. Fox just before the British elections, somewhere in early April, whereby a memorandum of understanding was signed by our Chief Executive and the Opposition Leader "not to renege or undermine any discussions or decisions between the party in government and any other party, group or person, including the LTTE, aimed at resolving the ethnic conflict."

Barring a section of the majority community who have come out in protest against this accord, a great many others from all communities, more particularly the Tamils, have welcomed this new initiative. When questioned about this mediation effort by a hard line English daily he said, "I don’t use the word mediation, I use words advise and conciliation... all through this entire process of discussion, I made it perfectly clear that mediation was not what we sought. As I have said, we stand willing as a friend to help, if requested, but that’s all."

To most Sri Lankan’s, this was the most essential first step that was required to promote a dialogue which was absent in the past, but alas, despite the sincerity and sagacity of both leaders to get to grips with this problem, after years of mistrust, that silver lining is fast disappearing through vacillation, perhaps, as has happened time and again, because of the intransigence of the diehards.

There was yet a future offer of negotiation before the Dr. Fox initiative, this time, by the President of Palestine on an official visit to Sri Lanka in March this year. Despite his earnest and sincere proposal, repeated twice during the course of his speech, the reply he got from our Foreign Minister at a press conference the day following was that the gesture was much appreciated but there was little scope for such mediation when the LTTE was so uncompromising. "In any event President Arafat has not made any special offer," he said.

The world community must be wondering with all this fund of goodwill and offers of help, what really is bedeviling meaningful negotiations for a lasting peace...

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