by Ana Pararajasingham
A truce is not enough
Despite the occasional violations, the truce between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil rebels has held for almost two years. The long awaited proposal by the Tamil Tigers for an interim governing authority had revived hopes of talks resuming between the adversaries. But these hopes were dashed when Sri Lanka's President sacked three of her cabinet ministers and deemed the proposals unacceptable. However, within days, bowing to international pressure, the President announced that she would maintain the truce. But, a truce is not enough.
On September 13, 1991, Asiaweek wrote an editorial on Sri Lanka titled just that - "A Truce Is not Enough." It was a prophetic piece written 12 years ago advocating a novel solution to retain Sri Lanka as one country while permitting the Tamil people their right to self determination. In the words of Asiaweek: "There are alternatives from 'one country, two systems' to the 'confederal union of sovereign Soviet republics.' Autonomy," said the editorial, "comes in many shades."
The view expressed by Dr Sumantra Bose, the Indian author of States, Nations, Sovereignty (Sage Publications New Delhi, 1994) echoed the same thinking. According to Bose, "The challenge is to devise and implement innovative and imaginative associative structures whereby the Sinhalese and Tamil people can peacefully coexist and freely associate and cooperate in certain vital spheres of common concerns."
The proposal by the LTTE for an interim governing authority offers a unique opportunity for the Sinhala political establishment to maintain the territorial integrity of the island while enabling the Tamil people to exercise their right of self-determination. A solution that can truly be described as a win-win solution.
Furthermore, the LTTE's eight-page proposals contain the potential to address concerns raised about human rights, independence of the judiciary and, most importantly, the safety and security of minorities living in the north east, the Tamil homeland or Tamil Eelam.
Unfortunately, the response by the Sinhala political establishment to the LTTE's proposal has been far from positive. The ruling UNP, even while welcoming the proposal, has pointed to fundamental differences. The SLFP, the main opposition party, has rejected the proposals outright. The JVP, the third largest party in parliament, will have no truck with any form of negotiated solution. The President, meanwhile, having used her powers to sack cabinet ministers, has asserted that too many concessions have been granted to the Tamils. The only concession granted to the Tamils, if one might call it that, is an uneasy truce and a lifting of the decade-long ban on food and medicines. Ominously, just last week H. L. de Silva, the eminent Sinhala lawyer, confidant and legal adviser to President Kumaratunga, called for the retaking of territory taken by the Liberation Tigers as a perquisite to a political solution!
The decidedly less than enthusiastic approach of the Sinhala political establishment to the LTTE's proposal is a cause for concern for all those who seek a lasting solution to the several decade-long conflict.
In this context the recent statement by Prof. Chris Smith, Director of the Centre for South Asia Studies at the International Policy Institute, King's College, throws some light.
"The proposals may have alarmed some in the south, but this is not surprising. Majority of the Sinhalese viewed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) as the beginning of the end of conflict, whereas the Tamils viewed the MoU as political space to engage in a broader discourse towards finding a negotiated solution. Basically, the majority Sinhalese public had a simplistic view of the MoU and did not comprehend the complexities involved." (Interview reported in Tamilnet.com).
However, there is a small group of Sinhalese intellectuals who support a political solution, realising that leaving it to the politicians alone can result in disaster for everyone. The international community needs to back such efforts by these Sinhalese if the truce is to be transformed into a lasting peace.
It is only appropriate that this piece should end with the rhetoric question posed by that editorial of Asiaweek 12 years ago: "In the end it is the Sinhalese, not the Tamils, who must answer the question: Is Tamil Eelam worth dying for?"
The Sunday Leader, Colombo
November 23, 2003
Posted November 24, 2003