Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Cease-Fire Talks

by K.Mylvaganam, Vanni

The main factor is that both the parties, namely the Sri Lanka Government (GoSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) should go with an open mind and with a willingness for compromise. There should be no room for adamancy and rigidity. It is very vital not to go with a decision already enshrined in their minds.

Everyone’s mind is focused on the Cease-Fire Talks that are to take place in Geneva on the 22nd of February 2006. The question that arises is whether the talks will be a success or a failure. The answer is not an easy one.

There are several factors that contribute to the outcome of the Talks. The main factor is that both the parties, namely the Sri Lanka Government (GoSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) should go with an open mind and with a willingness for compromise. There should be no room for adamancy and rigidity. It is very vital not to go with a decision already enshrined in their minds. For example if the GoSL goes with the decision that there shall be only a Unitary State or the LTTE with the determination of only Tamil Eelam then there is no point going for talks as there is nothing to talk about either Unitary State as it exists already or Tamil Eelam which means a complete separation.

The recent statement by the President to the press states that the talks should be according to the Mahinda Chinthana and that he would not accept the concept of a Tamil Homeland. Rajapakse has also reiterated his stand on the “Unitary State.”  By thesestatements he has already put a spoke in the wheel of the Talks. Even though he subsequently denied his statement about the Tamil Homeland, yet Reuters has reconfirmed that he did say that the JVP and JHU, two constituent parties in the government, are making disturbing and detrimental statements that can adversely affect the Peace Talks. It is very vital the Teams that participate in the talks be given a free hand to conduct the Talks and take decisions.

One of the reasons, if not the main one, that contributed of the failure of the first rounds of Talks in 1994 was that the delegates who constituted the team had no authority to take decisions. There was not a single minister in that delegation. Luckily, this time there are three ministers already named, but the GoSL team is still incomplete. A Muslim delegate who was nominated has resigned and he has still not been officially replaced at the time of writing. The LTTE, to their credit, handed over the list of their delegates within two days to Mr.Erik Solheim.

We all are aware that the GoSL team is being given an orientation as to how the discussions should be conducted. Even foreign experts and local people like Prof. G.L.Peris, and Mr. Milinda Moragoda, who participated in the earlier rounds of talks, have been invited to impart their knowledge and experience. More than the teaching of the techniques involved, it is extremely vital that the teams should be apprised in detail of the problems faced by the minorities both in the past 58 years and at present.

Even after the 25th of January when the both the GoSL and the LTTE agreed for talks in Geneva there have been several atrocities committed by the GoSL forces with the help of paramilitary elements. To mention a few I may cite the abduction of ten employees from the NGO the Tamil Rehabilitaion Organisation (TRO), of whom three have since been released. A girl named Anusha was abducted in broad daylight while she was returning from school on February 10, 2006. Employees of the TRO are getting threatening telephone calls. Even the chief of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) has stated that their lives and properties are at stake. The SLMM are not only getting threatening calls, but their vehicles and offices have been attacked. His latest statement was “We have come here NOT TO DIE, but to do a service." What will happen if the SLMM were to pack up and leave?  How will the Western countries, the UN and the EU view this? The army barging into private houses suddely in the night with weapons in hand is still going on. More and more road-blocks are being erected. People are being harassed by conducting lengthy search and questioning at these checkpoints. Such provocations are not either healthy or conducive for the Peace Talks.

Though the President Mahinda Rajapaksha has stated to the press that the paramilitary forces will be done away with, yet it is very apparent that they are still very active. Armed robbery is very profound in the army-controlled Tamil areas. White vans without number plates are still roaming around terrorizing the people. Jaffna town is virtually dead after 6.00 p.m. as if there were a curfew.

The President, as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, should ensure that all these unpleasant things are stopped forthwith to create a peaceful atmosphere for the Peace Talks to succeed.

Another spoke in the wheel is the decision by the government to conduct the local government elections in the NorthEast.  The atmosphere prevailing in the Tamil areas is neither ideal nor acceptable for holding elections. Trigger-trotting elements are around and the free movement of the people is extremely restricted. Under these circumstances, it is very unwise to hold an election. The LTTE and the President should ensure peace to prevail in Sri Lanka if the Talks are to succeed.

To the credit of the government, I should say that it is making an effort to train its delegates to face the Talks. Even though it is an irony that the UPFA and the former President Chandrika Kumaratunga ousted the former UNF government for betraying the nation through negotiations with the LTTE, yet it is now asking the same UNF for tips and advice on how to conduct the Talks. However, one should accept it as a positive and bold step by the President.

The Talks are going to center around the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA). Prior to the Presidential elections, Mahinda Rajapaksha, the JVP and the JHU repeatedly made rhetoric to the effect that the CFA was a sellout of the nation to the LTTE by the former government and that it has to be torn to pieces. If that were to be true, the UPFA that is in power could have simply abrogated the CFA by giving two weeks notice and be done with it. They also said that the CFA should be amended. But now it is clearly stated that the Talks will be strictly confined only for the swift and proper implementation of the CFA, which was signed four years ago. It is interesting to note that the date of the signing of the CFA viz 22.02.02 and the date for the Talks 22.02.06 are coinciding. It is food for thought for the numerologists to decipher the effects or to make predictions, if any.

As a matter of fact, it was a sheer waste of four years that the CFA was not properly implemented. If it had been done directly after signing, the need for the present talks would not have arisen and so many lives could have been saved.

There is a strong rumour that the government is taking a stand that the Karuna group came into existence after the signing of the CFA, and therefore it cannot cannot be included among the paramilitary groups that have to be disarmed. If the Karuna group were to be included, then the government is of opinion that the CFA should be amended accordingly. By this the government believes an opening will be made to make other amendments as well.

This is a very undeveloped argument and point of view. The CFA does not specify the names of paramilitary groups. It refers to all such groups in general. If the CFA were to be amended on 22.02.06 to include the Karuna group then, when another new group were to prop up later then the CFA has to be amended again and there will never be an end to it. Already it is said that the GoSL is aiding and abetting the formation of an armed Muslim group. Hence, one has to accept that the term Paramilitary Groups will refer to both the ones in the past, present and future. Even though the President has recently made a statement that the paramilitary groups have to be disarmed, he has cleverly avoided mentioning the Karuna factor.

The next obstacle will be the High Security Zones (HSZ). The GoSL forces are occupying vast areas of public and private properties under the guise of HSZs. Many schools, temples, government buildings and private houses are occupied by the forces. According to the CFA, they should have vacated these within the days stipulated in the agreement. Not only vacating from these premises, the LTTE will also insist that the forces diminish the area of the HSZs.

The other important factor that will be taken up in the Talks will be the conducting of political activities in the army-controlled areas by unarmed LTTE cadres. The LTTE had to call back their cadre from the army-controlled areas as they and their offices were subject to bombings.

In short, normalcy has to be brought to the people living in the army-controlled areas. The most important factor will be not in arriving at an agreement, but the immediate implementation of the same. As said earlier, the CFA is four years old and has still not been implemented properly. Hence, I am certain that the LTTE will urge on stipulating a definite date for the strict implementation of the decisions to be arrived at this “Talks.”

Now everybody is pondering what the JVP and the JHU would do in the event that an agreement that is unpalatable to them is reached on the 23rd of February 2006. Will they pull out their support and topple the government? If so, there will have to be fresh elections, which will be the fifth within four years. Can the government afford it? In those circumstances will the local government elections be postponed?

If the agreement is not implemented within the dates stipulated, what will the LTTE do? How will the Peoples' Force or the Makkal Padai react? How will the world react?

The answers are floating in the air.

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