Weekly Review

Ceasefire Under Severe Strain

by T. Sabaratnam, 25 August 2004

The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), the target of severe government criticism, is currently striving hard to save the 28-month ceasefire, which is under serious strain, from collapsing.

Its chief Trond Furuhovde met with Defence Secretary Cyril Herath in Colombo yesterday (Tuesday) and LTTE Political Wing chief S. P. Thamilchelvan at Kilinochchi today (Wednesday) to sort out some of the pressing issues that threaten to endanger the fragile ceasefire.

"The cease-fire is already in jeopardy ... if the violence continues it can lead to a total collapse,'' Hagrup Haukland, SLMM deputy head, who attend the meetings with his chief Furuhovde, said after their meeting with Herath and the heads of the three armed forces.

Herath conveyed the government’s displeasure over the recent spate of killings in the east and in Colombo and asked Furuhovde to take up the matter with the LTTE.  Furuhovde told Herath that the killings are taking place inside the government-controlled areas and asked him to tighten security.

Herath denied the LTTE accusation that the army had a hand in the killings of Tiger men.  Acting Defence Minister Ratnasiri Wickremenayake also denied publicly the LTTE charge.  He said today that the killings of LTTE cadres was an internal matter that they should settle themselves.  The LTTE should not point an accusing finger at the army and attack their men.  "The army is not involved," he said.  President Chandrika Kumaratunga went to London early last week on a holiday with her children after swearing Wickremenayake in as the acting Defence Minister.

Furuhovde conveyed Herath’s denial to Thamilchelvan.  Thamilchelvan refused to accept it.  He told Furuhovde that they have enough proof to establish the connivance of the army in those murders.  He said Bawa and Yoga were killed near the Mankerni Army checkpoint.

The SLMM monitors then conveyed to Thamilchelvan Herath’s complaint that the LTTE was responsible for the slaying of the members of Karuna’s group and the EPDP men.  Thamilchelvan denied that accusation.  He said, "Factional struggle is going on inside both groups.  The killings are the result of this struggle."

While the Nordic monitors were puzzled by this riddle, Wickremenayake accused the SLMM of inaction.  He told the soldiers in the Vanni Army Complex on Mondaythat the SLMM had failed to act when the LTTE breached the ceasefire agreement.

Implying that the SLMM is partial towards the LTTE, Wickremenayake said the government is thinking of getting another country to monitor the ceasefire.

The SLMM rejected the charge of inaction.  Haukland said, "We are fed up of being blamed and we have been wrongly blamed.  The authorities should look into what they are doing regarding the security and should enhance it."

He added, "We are not here to police the country.  We are here on the invitation of the two parties based on the Ceasefire Agreement.  We are working in accordance to the mandate granted by the government and the LTTE.  We are here to inquire into incidents and try to find ways and means of ensuring that they don’t recur."

Despite Haukland’s clarification of yesterday, Wickremenayake repeated his accusation against the SLMM today also.  He blamed the SLMM for not taking positive action regarding complaints of violations of the ceasefire agreement.

Wickremenayake said, "The SLMM just sits in a room and issues statements without inquiring or taking action to prevent the recurrence of such violations in the future.  The public should know who is breaching the Ceasefire Agreement, but although we have complained about the LTTE violations, the SLMM does not come forward to tell whether it is a violation or not.  The people should be made aware of these things."

The SLMM is having a tough task since Karuna’s revolt of 2 March.  The LTTE has accused the army intelligence of complicity and boycotted the LTTE - Army meetings in the east.  That affected the mechanism the SLMM had put in place for sorting out disputes and to work out agreements that prevent the repetition of ceasefire violations. The Tigers have stopped meeting the army for over two months.

The SLMM’s main effort at the Kilinochchi meeting today was to get the LTTE to end that boycott. The LTTE agreed that Army - LTTE dialogue is vital and asked the SLMM to take action to bring the two sides together.

"Today’s meeting is a major breakthrough as both sides have come forward with proposals to break the ice and start talks," SLMM spokesman Oskar Solnes said.

Agreement was also reached on three matters of dispute: LTTE fortifications around Trincomalee harbour, Forward Defence Lines at Nagarkovil and release of detainees. These were matters raised by Sri Lanka government as ceasefire violations.

Stock-Taking

The Government complained that the LTTE had built new fortifications south of Trincomalee harbour in the Sampur area.  LTTE Sea Tiger Special Commander Soosai explained to the SLMM delegation the structure and locations of the LTTE fortifications and camps and promised to give details about them.  The SLMM will make a ruling after studying those details.

At Nagarkovil the army complained that the LTTE had built a new bunker very close to its forward defence line in violation of the ceasefire agreement.  The SLMM has ruled that the forward defence lines of the army and the LTTE are dangerously close and has asked both sides to pull back.  They have agreed, Solnes said.

Arrest and detention of LTTE cadres inside the government-controlled areas has been an irritant for some time.  Police arrest the cadres and produce them before the courts.  They are usually remanded. The LTTE recently arrersted two home guards who were found inside their territory and produced before their courts.  They were remanded.  The government raised that matter with the SLMM.  Now the defence ministry and the Tigers have agreed that a suitable mechanism for the release of detainees must be worked out.

On two important matters the SLMM has indicated its ruling to Thamilchelvan.  The navy complained to the SLMM against the practice on sea warfare the Sea Tigers held last week off the Chalai coast.  The SLMM has ruled that that was not a breach of the ceasefire agreement. Similarly, it has also ruled that the purchase of arms by the Tigers does not violate the ceasefire.

Thamilchelvan took up the matter of disarming the paramilitary outfits, including the EPDP, working with the armed forces.  The ceasefire agreement stipulates that the government should disarm them.  The LTTE will press this matter hard.

The government has been saying for some time that the ceasefire agreement has to be renegotiated.  On Monday Wickremenayake charged the ceasefire agreement has divided the country into two states.  He said two countries cannot exist within a country.  He added two armies, two police organizations, two judicial and two banking systems cannot exist within a country.  He hinted that the ceasefire agreement should be renegotiated.

Thamilchelvan seemed to agree that a look should be taken about the ceasefire agreement.  But he spoke only about ‘stock-taking.’

Tamilchelvan told the media today after his meeting with the SLMM delegation that the LTTE is for a 'stock-taking' of the ceasefire agreement on how it has fared since it was signed in February 2002.

The SLMM head also agreed on the need for stock-taking.  But it would not amount to the renegotiation Wickremesinghe desires.  Furuhovde’s intention was to take stock of the "dividends and the lack of it."  He said he would forward to Oslo his analysis and recommendations which would pave the way for the active involvement of the facilitators, taking into account the ground realities and the expectations.

Stock-taking itself is going to be an intricate and confrontational affair which would sharpen the conflict within the government and bring the government and the LTTE into sharper conflict.

The conflict within the government is becoming deeper.  Kumaratunga, since her resignation from the leadership of the United People’s Freedom Alliance, has repeatedly snubbed the JVP leadership.  She did not attend the massive show put on by the JVP on 19 August at Yapahuwa for their Thousand Tank Restoration Project.  She had scolded her party members who participated in that show.  She had also repeatedly declined to give an appointment to the JVP leaders to meet her for a discussion.

Kumaratunge also turned down a request made by the JVP-led trade unions not to hand over another 100 gas stations to the Indian Bharat Petroleum Corporation. A first 100 gas stations had been handed over to Indian Oil Corporation earlier.

The main opposition party, the UNP, has started a campaign charging that internal differences within the ruling coalition has brought about a drift and dimmed prospects of reviving the Norwegian-backed negotiations with the Tigers.

"The tragic reality is that the country is being pushed to the brink of war," said Opposition spokesman G. L.Peiris. "It is happening because of the lack of a clear policy of the government.  It is like a rudder-less ship.  An aircraft without a pilot."

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Posted August 26, 2004