WAPS' activities expose Sri Lankan government's duplicity vis-à-vis the peace process

by Dr. Victor Rajakulendran, Sydney, Australia

After the Sri Lankan Security Forces (SLSF) experienced major setbacks in their efforts to crush the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)in the ‘War for Peace’ strategy of President Chandrika Kumaratunge, both the President and the LTTE realised that the 20-year long conflict cannot be resolved militarily. Although the LTTE declared a unilateral cease-fire immediately after it routed the SLSF from major strategic positions in 2000 and requested the government to negotiate a political settlement to the conflict, President Chandrika insisted on fighting while talking. This resulted in further suffering to civilian population in the North of the country.

At this stage the International Community (IC) stepped in and started to put pressure on the President’s government to negotiate with the LTTE with the help of Norway as a facilitator. Although the President and the LTTE accepted Norway as the facilitator and the President officially invited Norway to be the facilitator, she failed to reciprocate the cease-fire declared by the LTTE. The President concentrated on her campaign of portraying the LTTE as a terrorist organisation and sent her Foreign Minister, Laxman Kathirgamar, to foreign capitals to lobby the IC to proscribe the LTTE in their countries. She even succeeded in convincing a few countries to do so. However, these proscriptions did not help to reverse the military balance at all.

During this government, a few ‘front organisations’ were created overseas among the Sinhalese expatriates to continue the campaign of portraying the LTTE's armed struggle for liberation of the Tamil community as a mere act of terrorism. These activities were carried out from Melbourne, Australia by an organisation called Society for Peace, Unity and Human Rights in Sri Lanka (SPUR). The director of this organisation created another ‘front organisation’ called WAPS - World Alliance for Peace in Sri Lanka. In other words, a handful of extremists who are opposed to a ‘just peace’ (they want peace but only with a unitary constitution, i.e. on their terms) in Sri Lanka are creating organisations to work against the peace that people are yearning for in Sri Lanka. They use attractive names for these ‘front organisations,’ even using the word peace in them.

When President Chandrika's government lost its majority in parliament and elections were held in December 2001 the then opposition came into power. Mr. Ranil Wickramasinge became the Prime Minister and he immediately declared a cease-fire, signed a cease-fire agreement with the LTTE, and held several rounds of negotiations with the LTTE for 2 years, with the help of the Norwegians. During this time the President and her present ally, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), who were in the opposition, were very critical of the role the Norwegians were playing in the peace process. The President went to the extent of even describing the Norwegians as "a salmon-eating, busy-bodied bunch." The JVP held protest rallies against Norwegian participation and even burnt the Norwegian flag in front of the Norwegian embassy in Colombo. During the time the Wickramasinge's government was holding peace talks, the ‘front organisations’ SPUR and WAPS were dormant, as they did not have their political masters in government in Sri Lanka. These organisations could not do much during this time because the LTTE was negotiating with the Sri Lankan Government (SLG) as an equal partner and the IC was behind both the SLG and the LTTE.

When this peace process got stalled on the issue of setting up an interim administration for the NorthEast, the LTTE submitted a draft proposal for an Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) to be established in the region. When Wickramasinge's government was about to re-start the stalled negotiations to examine this proposal, the President struck a blow to peace by sacking Wickramasinge's government, 4 years prematurely. In the elections that followed, the President formed an alliance with the anti-LTTE, anti-federal JVP, although she knew very well that the JVP would not support any peace negotiations with the LTTE. The JVP wants to annihilate the LTTE militarily first and then negotiate (impose) a final solution. The President's alliance won the elections, but could only form a minority government and even 4 months after the election still remains a minority government unable to pass any legislation in parliament.

Although the President is compelled now to re-start the stalled peace process by the need to start receiving the aid money pledged ($4.5 B) in the Tokyo conference (the disbursement of this money is linked to the progress of the peace process) she is unable to do so because of the JVP.The JVP is opposed to the government re-starting the negotiations with the LTTE, based on the ISGA proposal LTTE submitted to Wickramasinghe's government. They want the government to negotiate a final settlement to the conflict parallel to negotiating the ISGA proposal. The LTTE wants to establish the ISGA and then negotiate a final settlement. They argue that they agreed in Oslo to explore the possibility of finding a final solution within a federal arrangement that recognises the rights of internal self-determination of the Tamils. They argue that this involves sharing power at the regional level as well as at the centre. The ISGA will take care of the power-sharing at the regional level and, once that is established, the immediate humanitarian needs of the Tamils can start to be taken care of. They argue that the negotiations could then proceed about how to share power at the centre to complete the final settlement. The President, whether genuine or not, seems to have changed her original stand, which was similar to that of the JVP and has said publicly that she is prepared to start negotiations based on the LTTE's proposal for an ISGA. However, she will not be able to carry this out because her ally, the JVP, is still insisting on their old stand.

President Chandrika has asked her advisers to draft proposal for an ISGA so that both the government’s and the LTTE's proposals can be the basis for new negotiations. The LTTE is insisting that they will not accept this because their ISGA proposal is the one designed to fulfill the aspirations of the Tamil people and the government can suggest modifications to it at the negotiating table. The LTTE also points out that the Tamil people have given an overwhelming mandate at the last general elections (21 members for and 1 member against were elected) for the government to implement the ISGA proposed by the LTTE. Therefore, this attempt by the President seems to be to make the IC believe that the LTTE is the one that is shying away from the negotiating table. It seems to be a plan to propose something that they already know that the LTTE is not going to accept and then, when the LTTE fails to accept it, to put the blame on the LTTE.

At the same time, the President and her government are trying hard to make a defence pact with India. There is no threat from any other sources for Sri Lanka to make such a pact in a hurry, unless the SLG is contemplating fighting another war with the LTTE. In addition, the President's government has renewed the arms supply agreement her earlier government had with China, which expired during Wickramasinge’s government as his government felt no need for it. President Chandrika’s government has also received delivery of a large, used naval ship from the US. Also, within the last two weeks, the commander of the US Pacific regional armed forces paid a visit to the important military installations in the North of the island and had consultations with local commanders. All these actions have cast suspicion on President Chandrika’s sudden peace overtures to the LTTE and the Norwegians. Political analysts in Sri Lanka have already started to speculate that the President is trying to hoodwink the IC by re-starting the negotiations, persuading the IC to open the money pipeline to Sri Lanka, getting the economy of the country going, pushing the LTTE to exit negotiations, and blaming the LTTE for the break-down in the peace process to justify a military solution that she has already prepared for.

When WAPS announced the conference they are holding in Oslo on the 20th of August 2004 on "The Roadmap for Peace in Sri Lanka," at first glance it looked as if WAPS was going to help the government in finding a ‘just peace’ in Sri Lanka. However, when one goes through the list of speakers, the subjects on which these speakers are going to talk and the promotional materials the conference organisers have put out, it becomes very clear that the conference is just a part of the strategy discussed above to appeal to the IC to join Sinhalese nationalists in their so-called ‘fight against LTTE terrorism in Sri Lanka’ and to persuade Norway not to act as a genuine facilitator. Therefore, after a lapse of 2 years, it looks like the government’s same old machinery has been oiled and put back to do the same familiar function – to demonize its enemies – not to negotiate peace between two equal parties.

Therefore it is imperative for those who attend this conference to listen to what is being said with a very large pinch of salt.

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Posted August 18, 2004