September 22, 2005
The first step in the peace process in Sri Lanka, in what was agreed to be a step by step process, commenced with the signing of a ceasefire agreement (CFA) between the then United National Front (UNF) government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and the Liberation Tigers of tamil Eelam (LTTE) on the 22nd of February 2002. A cessation of hostilities coupled with the imperative need to create conditions of normalcy was the corner stones of the CFA. In this regard the preamble to the CFA states as follows:
"The GOSL and LTTE recognize the importance of bringing an end to the hostilities and improving the living conditions for all inhabitants affected by the conflict."
Under Article 2 of the agreement captioned "Measures to restore normalcy," the GOSL agreed to several important conditions. Namely, to vacate all school buildings and return them for the intended use; the return of all other public buildings to their intended use; to review the security measures and set-up of checkpoints, particularly in densely populated cities and towns, in order to introduce systems that will prevent harassment of the civilian population; to lift all restrictions on day and night fishing except in certain designated areas.
To date, the GOSL is yet to comply with these provisions despite three and a half years having lapsed since the signing of the CFA. As a result, hundreds of thousands of civilians are unable to resettle and continue to languish as refugees in camps under miserable condition, and are unable to freely pursue their livelihood.
Despite the parties agreeing to a step-by-step process of which the CFA being the first, the LTTE agreed to proceed to the next step of face-to-face talks, even though the GOSL had failed to fully implement these crucial provisions of the CFA regarding the restoration of conditions of normalcy to the war affected inhabitants.
Even when formal talks were to commence, it was agreed to set up an interim administration for the war-affected NorthEast as a forerunner to negotiations on a final lasting solution to the conflict. The envisaged interim administration was to find solutions to the burning day-to-day existential problems faced by the hundreds of thousands of suffering people of the NorthEast, and addresses the enormous task of resettlement, rehabilitation, reconstruction and development. However despite this understanding, on a suggestion made by the then UNF government citing certain political difficulties that it faced, the LTTE agreed to a compromise formula of setting up of Joint Task Forces, which eventually gave way to Sub-Committees instead of the original interim administration.
Despite these Sub-Committees functioning for several months, the GOSL failed to expeditiously implement the decisions that were taken, and on some occasions took up positions that effectively made them defunct.
This unsatisfactory state of affairs coupled with the GOSL organizing in Washington DC, USA a donor conference that marginalized the Tamil people by the exclusion of the LTTE, led to the LTTE in April 2003, without withdrawing from the negotiation process, to suspend its participation in the peace talks. The LTTE continued to be in contact with the facilitator, the Government of Norway, and through the facilitator with the UNF government.
In consequence thereof, the LTTE put forward proposals in writing for the setting up of an Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA). On 31 October 2003 simultaneously, the LTTE requested that dates be fixed for the commencement of talks on these said proposals. It should be noted that this was the first time the LTTE had submitted written proposals in the course of a peace process.
On 4 November 2003, within four days of the LTTE's ISGA proposals, the President who did not belong to the UNF government, took over from the UNF government which enjoyed a majority in parliament, the Ministries of Defense, Interior and Media, which were directly linked to the peace process, and assigned the said portfolios either to herself or to her nominees from within her own party.
The action of the President resulted in the facilitator, the Norwegian Government suspending its role in November 2003 in view of lack of clarity in regard to who was responsible for the peace process. The ensuing stalemate resulted in the dismissal of the UNF government, the dissolution of parliament and the installation of a new Government after the General Elections held in April 2004. President Kumaratunge headed the new United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) government which was an alliance of the President's own People's Alliance (PA) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). That the JVP campaigned and continues to campaign against the peace process in well known.
The alliance resulted in the hardening of the position against the LTTE's ISGA proposals and against the peace process. The inability to take the peace process forward was clearly attributable to this situation. It is significant to note that the main opposition party, the United National Party (UNP), had urged the government to commence talks on the ISGA proposals and had publicly stated that it will support any agreement that was arrived at between the government and the LTTE after such discussion.
The LTTE had repeatedly stated that it was eagerly awaiting the recommencement of talks on the basis of the ISGA proposals, and that when the talks commence, any proposals the government may bring to the negotiating table in regard to the ISGA could also be discussed.
The lack of clarity, the contradictions within the government coalition partners, and the government's inability apart from making pious pronouncements to take definite action to commence talks were the main stumbling blocks to the recommencement of the peace process. It is pertinent to point out that, in the context of the LTTE's request for dates to be fixed to commence talks when it submitted its ISGA proposals on 31 October 2003, talks would have recommenced in November 2003 itself but for the actions taken by the President on 4 November. This most unsatisfactory stalemate continues to date.
In the meantime, the disarming of paramilitary forces as mandated by the Article 1.8 of the CFA by the GOSL did not take place. On the contrary, the Sri Lankan armed forces have been protecting and promoting new paramilitary forces. This has resulted in killings and grave incidents that are seriously jeopardizing the CFA. These incidents continue to date.
It was at a time where there seemed very little hope of the resumption of negotiations, and the CFA itself becoming increasingly unstable that the tsunami struck with approximately two-thirds of the total casualties and over 60% of the destruction being sustained in the NorthEast. The result was a serious humanitarian crisis for a people which had suffered immensely during the last two decades of war that had already destroyed the entire infrastructure and economy of the NorthEast.
Despite the tremendous human tragedy that the tsunami created, it was hoped that something positive would come out of the catastrophe. The international community correctly recognized that the tsunami had created some space for the GOSL and the LTTE to work together - space that previously did not exist.
The international community proposed that a joint mechanism involving the GOSL and the LTTE be created for the NorthEast, which would contribute to the creation of conducive environment for the resumption of the peace process. After much procrastination the GOSL agreed to conclude the Post-Tsunami Operations Management Structure (P-TOMS) agreement, which had the explicit backing of the international community.
The concluding of the P-TOMS, which was a simple administrative mechanism with very limited powers to handle relief work in a 2 km area from the seacoast, resulted in the JVP leaving the UPFA government. Consequently, the JVP resorted to petitioning the Supreme Court, which by granting a preliminary injunction against some key provisions of the P-TOMS agreement has effectively made it defunct. It has been nearly nine months since the tsunami struck the NorthEast, and the suffering of the affected people continues unabated. It must be seriously noted that the P-TOMS agreement has no significance as far as the Tamil people's political aspirations vis-vis a solution to the Tamil national question is concerned.
Recently, since the announcement that presidential elections will be held before the end of 2005, the ruling party has elected Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse as its candidate. In a bid to rally support for his candidature the Prime Minister has concluded memoranda of understandings with the JVP and the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU). These memoranda of understandings have received wide publicity. The crux of these understandings has been on the basis of the following, amongst others:
There can be no doubt in anyone's mind that the cumulative effect of these policies will be to shut the door on any possibility of finding a negotiated solution to the Tamil national question.
Political events since the commencement of the peace process have amply demonstrated yet again that the Sri Lankan State neither has the will nor the ability to engage the Tamils in a collaborate effort, whether it is to address the urgent humanitarian needs of the Tamil people or the larger peace process. Instead of negotiating with the LTTE in good faith, the Sri Lankan State continues to undermine the collective will of the Tamil people.
This situation places the Tamil people in a state of utter desperation. The Tamil people earnestly desire a peaceful resolution of the Tamil national question in a manner commensurate with the suffering they have long endured, and which satisfies their legitimate aspirations in a just and durable manner.
The Tamil people earnestly appeal to the international community to use their good offices to ensure such a solution. If the Sri Lankan State continues to be intransigent regarding the resolution of the Tamil national question, the Tamil people will have no other alternative but to urge the international community to explicitly endorse the Tamil people's struggle for self-determination.
Posted September 23, 2005