by Tamil Guardian editorial, September 21 2005
The international community’s sentiments over the ongoing violence are understandable. Their reiterated call for Sri Lanka to honour the CFA clauses pertaining to the disarming of Tamil paramilitaries is particularly welcome. This is a crucial step towards breaking the cycle and the process of stabilising the truce. The LTTE has reiterated this week that it is prepared to hold immediate talks with the Sri Lankan government. But it insists the discussions must be held either in its controlled areas or a neutral foreign territory. The LTTE’s security concerns were underscored by the Co-Chairs themselves, when they deplored the activities of Army-backed paramilitaries this week. Sri Lanka’s excuse that talks in a foreign location would give the LTTE legitimacy is both puerile and duplicitous. To begin with, it is questionable what this ‘legitimacy’ might entail beyond recognition of the simple truth that the LTTE is a party to the conflict. Secondly, if Sri Lanka is so preoccupied by dubious questions of legitimacy that it is prepared to allow the disintegration of the CFA (the ‘essential anchor’ to the peace process as the Co-Chairs put it), then what hope is there for negotiations on a political solution?
Meanwhile, the imbroglio over the talks - and the debate over the validity or otherwise of the LTTE position - has clouded a more fundamental issue: the cycle of violence will simply not stop until the paramilitaries no longer operate in the Northeast. In other words, even if both sides were to sit across a table, as long as Sri Lanka continues to deny its covert role in fuelling the shadow war, negotiations will achieve nothing. Both sides are expected to meet next month with the former head of the truce monitors, Major General Tronde Furuhovde, who returns as a Norwegian envoy. But given Colombo’s emphatic denial that its military is sponsoring the Karuna Group and other paramilitaries, there is little room for optimism. The impasse over the venue is an effort by Sri Lanka to avoid the engaging with the issue of its covert support. The international community must therefore back its call for Sri Lanka to disarm the paramilitary groups with pressure to ensure it is followed through.
Political events in Sri Lanka are meanwhile overtaking the international peace initiative. Inevitably, there are varying opinions as to which of the two candidates will win November’s election. But it is quite clear that in any case, Sinhala ultra-nationalists have become a powerful political force that, as we have argued before, both Sri Lanka’s minorities and the international community will be compelled to confront them on the road to peace. The battle lines can already be discerned. The Co-Chairs have reiterated their commitment to a federal solution to end Sri Lanka’s protracted conflict. But Mahinda Rajapakse’s campaign hinges on his opposition to any ‘division of the country.’ Whereas to the international community and the island’s minorities, federalism is not division, to the Sinhala ultra-nationalists bearing him aloft, it most certainly is. Even if Ranil Wickremesinghe wins – an increasingly unlikely proposition – the Sinhala nationalists will yet undermine the peace process. The ignominious fate of the Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure (P-TOMS) is likely to befall every advance in the peace process.
The international community has played an unwitting role in the ascendancy of the Sinhala nationalist forces in Sri Lanka. There is no compelling reason for these extremists to heed international sentiment, even when in power. In the recent past, donors have unilaterally and collectively breached the aid conditionality they themselves imposed. And whereas little aid has reached the hundreds of thousands of displaced people in the Northeast, the south continues to benefit substantially, not only from aid flows but indirect benefits such as investment flows. In other words, with their political constituency reaping the substantial benefits of peace already, why should Sinhala leaders compromise on the ethnic question?
This week the hardline monks of the JHU – now reversing the argument the Tigers have been expanding their military during the ceasefire – declared that southern leaders are over-estimating the potency of the LTTE. A new war could be won in short order they argue. The Tamils – and we suggest the international community, too – should brace themselves. It is inevitable that Sri Lanka will attempt a military solution again.
Posted September 23, 2005