Neutral Position

 by Tamil Guardian editorial


Neutral Position - The LTTE remains neutral on Sinhala rivalry

When Mr. Vellupillai Pirapaharan, leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, prepared to deliver his annual Heroes' Day address last week, he must have been struck by the stark contrast with prevailing sentiments last year. Of course, in November 2002, Norwegian facilitated direct negotiations between his organisation and the government of Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe were in full swing ending seven years of bitter war. The limited but discernable progress in the first two rounds had raised hopes in the Tamil north, the Sinhala south and in capitals around the world that one of South Asia's bloodiest conflicts could indeed be ended peaceably. For its part, Mr. Wickremesinghe's administration was still enjoying its honeymoon, the peace he had promised the electorate seemingly realisable. Mean-while his arch-rival, President Chandrika Kumaratunga, whilst seething, could apparently only watch helplessly as the rapport between the LTTE and the United National Front (UNF) government grew and international donors prepared to open their purse strings for Mr. Wickremesinghe - having shut them firmly in the twilight of her own People's Alliance (PA) administration.

But now, in the wake of Mrs. Kumaratunga's seizure in early November of three key ministries and the UNF's inability to fend her off, the peace process has been utterly derailed. As Mr. Pirapaharan pointed out, "Wickremasinghe's administration is severely weakened and paralysed; the power struggle between the two leaders has resulted in the de-stabilisation of the state and, frustrated by the confused situation, Norway has suspended its facilitatory role." Many observers have noted that the LTTE leader was scathing in his criticism of President Kumaratunga, rejecting outright her 'security concerns' rationale for her constitutional 'coup' and accusing her of deliberately "trying to create fear [of the LTTE's intentions] among the Sinhala people." But a careful reading of Mr. Pirapaharan's speech reveals a deeper dissatisfaction. The peace talks with Mr. Wickremesinghe's government "have failed to make any concrete progress," he bluntly said. "Resolutions and decisions taken during the six rounds of talks were not implemented," he pointing out, adding that "our efforts to negotiate with the government to resolve the monumental problems faced by our people [have thus] became futile." The point is that, whilst Mrs. Kumaratunga is clearly to blame for the damage inflicted on the peace process in the past month, the Norwegian initiative had already been severely weakened by Mr. Wickremasinghe's duplicitous approach to it.

Mr. Pirapaharan went out of his way last week to underscore his movement's "deep and sincere" commitment to both the negotiated solution and the cease-fire agreement signed in February 2002. "Our organisation, as well as our people do not want war," he said, pointing out despite the numerous attacks on its vessels and the killings of two dozen cadres, the LTTE remained rigidly committed to the truce. But the LTTE's commitment does not mean the movement is happy with the peace process. As Mr. Pirapaharan also pointed out, "having ignored the more serious, critical existential issues of resettlement of the displaced, reconstruction of the war damaged infrastructure and the reestablishment of normalcy in the Tamil homeland under military occupation, the Sri Lankan government as well as the facilitators devoted their main attention to human values and norms and on guidelines and roadmaps towards a final solution." As a consequence,

"the negotiating process moved in a different direction circumventing the problems and aspirations of our people," he said.

Therein lies the rub. It is not merely the resumption of direct negotiations that the LTTE now wants. It seeks a radical transformation of the peace process itself. The reasons, from the LTTE's perspective, are inescapable. After two years of ceasefire, "while the Sinhala nation enjoys the positive benefits, the tragic oppressive conditions of the Tamils continue." Meanwhile, rather than address the enormous suffering in the Tamil areas, the Sri Lankan government "was only interested in projecting the peace process as an ideal model to attract aid and loans from donor countries to build up the [southern] economy that collapsed as a consequence of war." In the meantime, the government sought the coercive involvement of an international safety net to curtail the LTTE's ability to (re)shape the peace process. Mr. Pirapaharan did not conceal his irritation with Mr. Wickremesinghe's duplicity, noting "some countries have even stipulated parameters within which the Tamil national question has to be resolved." Ultimately, as close observers of Sri Lanka's conflict know full well, the resulting diversion of the peace process was the cause for the LTTE's temporary suspension of its participation in it. Amid the curious assumption that international strategic interests, rather than Tamil aspirations, ought to shape a negotiated solution, the bona fides of the Norwegian initiative were severely undermined. Thus, Mr. Pirapaharan noticeably avoided taking a position on the feud between Premier Wickremesinghe and President Kumaratunga last week. But the writing is on the wall: irrespective of who triumphs in the south, Mr. Pirapaharan pointed out, "we cannot allow the life and potential of our people to be systematically destroyed in the spider web of Sinhala chauvinism."

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Posted December 4, 2003