Sri Lanka Scene: Kumaratunga’s Strategy Fails

by T. Sabaratnam; published May 12, 2004

Weekly Review

Kumaratunga’s Strategy Fails

LTTE leader Velupillai Pirapaharan has sent President Chandrika Kumaratunga the clear message that he is not prepared to help her overcome her problems in the guise of peace talks, political analysts say.

“He wants to watch her sincerity, her government’s stability and her capacity to deliver on her promises,” one analyst said.

Kilinochchi sources said the determination of her sincerity is of paramount importance to peace talks because of her past behavior, especially her deceptive ‘war for peace’ campaign and her effort to make LTTE an outcaste organization militarily, politically and internationally.

“In the current context, Kumaratunga needs urgent peace talks to stabilize her government, to get the much-needed foreign aid and to proceed with her pet obsession of continuing in power after second term as president ends next year,” the analyst said.

Norway’s envoy in Colombo, Hans Brattskar, told a group of Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarians last week that Kumaratunga counts on the 22-member strong group to back her government or to abstain from supporting the opposition after the commencement of the peace talks. She desperately needs the TNA’s support to sustain her government. She now has the support of only 108 MPs in the 225-member parliament.

With the election of Deputy Speaker and the Chairman of Committees due on May 18, Kumaratunga is in urgent need to neutralize the TNA through the commencement of the peace process before the election.

LTTE leader Velupillai Pirapaharan receiving Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen at Kilinochchi on Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Kumaratunga also needs to show progress in the peace efforts to obtain the urgently-needed foreign aid. International lending agencies and donor countries have pledged to continue their assistance only if advancement is made on the peace front.

The four co-chairs- the US, European Union, Japan and Norway- are due to meet in late June to review the peace progress and their aid pledges. They have securely tied progress in peace talks to the release of pledged funds. Kumaratunga wants to show the co-chairs that the ceasefire is holding and advancement being achieved in the resolution of the conflict.

Kumaratunga also needs talks with the LTTE to begin to carry forward her ambitious program to amend the constitution to enable her to be in politics after her second term as president ends next year. The current 1978 Constitution lay down that a person can hold office as president for two terms of six years each. Kumaratunga was elected for the first term in August 1994 and she held the election for her second term in December 1999, a year before her first term ended, thus forgoing one year of her first term. Her second term ends in December 2005.

She could continue to be in politics only if she amends the constitution, abolishes the presidential system and reintroduces the Westminster model of parliamentary government in which power resides with parliament and the cabinet. She needs a two-thirds majority in parliament to amend the constitution. Since she does not have that, she plans to convert the present parliament into a Constituent Assembly by passing a resolution with a simple majority. She does not have that either. To rake in a simple majority she must neutralize the TNA and rope in the 8-member group of the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC). Starting the peace talks would benefit her in this regard.

Kilinochchi Talks

Pirapaharan is not going to help Kumaratunga to do all these things without extracting the right price- the rights of the Tamil people, firstly, their right to lead a normal life and secondly, their political right to security and self-government.

Modalities for the commencement of talks and the agenda for the substantive talks were discussed during the mid-day meeting on Tuesday at Kilinochchi. On the first, partial progress had been made. But on the second, disagreement persists.

On the area of modalities, agreement was reached on three main matters: that Norway should continue to be the facilitator; that LTTE is the sole and authentic representatives of the Tamil people and that the government and the LTTE would talk as equal partners. Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen told Pirapaharan that President Kumaratunga, whom he met on Monday soon after his arrival in Colombo, had authorized him to tell Pirapaharan that Norway would be the facilitator; that the Sri Lankan Government had accepted the LTTE as the sole and authentic representatives of the Tamil people and that the LTTE would be treated as equal partners in the peace process.

Agreement was not reached about the venue of talks. Kumaratunga wanted the talks to be held in Sri Lanka. Pirapaharan rejected that request. He made it clear that the talks should be held in foreign countries and he suggested European countries to enable the LTTE’s chief negotiator, Anton Balasingham, to take part.

Pirapaharan told Petersen that Kumaratunga is trying localize the peace process and trying to take it away from international attention. He said Tamils needed the participation of the international community to win back the rights of the Tamil people.

Sources in Kilinochchi told this column of the lack of trust among the LTTE leadership in Kumaratunga and her Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar. Tiger leaders see a strategy behind Kumaratunga’s desire to hold the talks locally. They say she wants to withdraw the problem from the global limelight and repeat the history of dumping the agreements reached with the LTTE.

On the question of the agenda also no agreement has been reached. Kumaratunga had agreed to discuss the LTTE proposal of an Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA) as the basis for negotiation. She had also sent the suggestion that parallel talks aimed at finding a permanent settlement to the island’s ethnic conflict should be held. Pirapaharan rejected the suggestion of parallel talks.

He firmly told Petersen that their ISGA proposal should be discussed first. He told the Norwegian Foreign Minister that Kumaratunga had sent a similar proposal in 1994 when she commenced talks with them. Her insistence on the acceptance of that proposal was the main cause for the breakdown of the talks.

Balasingham gave two reasons why the form and content of the final solution could not be discussed now. Firstly, a proper climate for the discussion of a final solution does not exist among the Sinhalese. A final solution would involve major change to the constitution and need approval both by a two-thirds majority in parliament and by the people at a referendum. Secondly, a final solution should not be discussed with Kumaratunga’s minority government. It is not representative of the Sinhala people.

“We told the Norwegians that we want first the interim administrative structure established and the serious socio-economic problems – resettlement, rehabilitation, reconstruction and resettlement – addressed though it. It is only thereafter that negotiations for the permanent settlement can be held,” Balasingham told the media after Petersen left for Colombo to report to Kumaratunga about the outcome of his shuttle diplomacy.

Balasingham added, “We have suggested let us discuss the ISGA proposals immediately. And if she agrees, we will immediately resume negotiations. This message is conveyed to the President through the Norwegian Foreign Minister.”

Peterson, when he left Kilinochchi, said, “I am leaving here with more satisfaction than when I came here. We will find a settlement to the remaining problems.”

The Norwegian embassy in Colombo released the following statement after Peterson left Sri Lanka:

The text of the statement:

“Norwegian Foreign Minister Mr. Jan Petersen with Deputy Foreign Minister Mr. Vidar Helgessen and Norwegian ambassador in Sri Lanka Mr. Hans Brattskar met with the President Ms Chandrika Kumaratunga on May 10th and with the LTTE leadership on May 11th to discuss the possibilities of bringing the peace process forward.

“We have had constructive and positive meetings with both parties. There is a clear commitment from the GOSL and LTTE to resume direct negotiations,’ said Foreign Minister Mr. Petersen.

“Some issues need to be discussed further before negotiations can start. Norway will continue to consult with the GOSL and LTTE in the coming weeks.

“Both parties, GOSL and LTTE reaffirmed their request to Norway to act as a facilitator of the peace process.”

Apart from the disappointment caused by the delay in the talks, Kumaratunga will come under increased pressure from two diverse groups, the international community and Sinhala chauvinism. Kadirgamar, now in the US, will meet Secretary of State Colin Power in a day or two and is expected to be told to pursue the peace process with foresight. US Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca will be in Colombo on Thursday to meet with Kumaratunga and officials.

In Colombo, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) has launched a furious onslaught on Kumaratunga and JVP leadership. Calling the peace process ‘a peace farce,’ JHU spokesman Ven. Aturaliye Ratana Thera told a special media conference, “The monks now see little or no difference between the former government and the present one on the peace process.”

The JHU asked how the JVP, which criticized the Norwegian facilitation, is now accepting it. “President Kumaratunga and the JVP had betrayed the people who voted for it,” it said.

The JHU announced on Tuesday a campaign to expose the duplicity of Kumaratunga and the JVP leaders.

TNA MPs asked Brattskar during their discussion about the possibility of JHU’s opposition. He told them he himself raised that issue with Kumaratunga and she replied that she was confident in tackling it.

Kilinochchi sources said Pirapaharan did not raise the Karuna affair or the recent slayings in Batticoloa with the Norwegians. “Our leader is confident that he can deal with it effectively,” the source said. And with a puckish smile he said, “The Army is talking to us.”

The Army had denied any involvement with the recent Thannamunai and Ayithiyamalai killings and the LTTE denied killing army intelligence officer Lance Corporal Colomboge.

In a meeting on Tuesday both sides agreed to develop mechanisms to ensure information sharing and quick reaction procedures to prevent serious crimes and to ensure proper procedures to apprehend individuals perpetrating such crimes.

Batticaloa is now quiet.

LTTE leader Velupillai Pirapaharan receiving Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen at Kilinochchi on Tuesday

 

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