Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Talks, Talks and More Talks

by Brian Senewiratne, MA (Cantab), MBBChir (Cantab), MBBS(Hons) (Lond) MD (Lond), FRCP(Lond) FRACP, Physician, Brisbane, Australia

Based on an article in a booklet sent to the Geneva Cease-fire Talks on February 22, 2006

With the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) failing to implement the normalization aspects of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) of 23 February 2002, and subsequent Agreements reached at half a dozen ‘Peace Talks’, in May 2003, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE - Tamil Tigers) understandably declined to take part in any further talks “for the time being”.

The strength of the 2002 CFA

It is crucial to appreciate that the CFA negotiated between the Ranil Wickremesinghe United National Front (UNF[2]) Government and the LTTE was one of the most comprehensive and far-reaching Agreements ever to be negotiated between the GOSL and the Tamils in the past 50 years of ‘disagreements’ between the Sinhalese and the Tamils.  One reason for this was that it was becoming clear to both sides that this was an unwinnable war where the casualties were the civilians (overwhelmingly Tamil civilians in the NorthEast), to say nothing of the physical destruction of the NorthEast, and the complete (economic) destruction of the country, including the Sinhala South.

Another reason for such a strong agreement was that the Wickremesinghe Government, unlike the Chandrika Kumaratunga Government from the other side of the Sinhala political divide, sent highly competent and able people as the negotiating team (see reference 3) The failure of the CFA, with a near return to war, was due to its non-implementation, rather than to an inherent weakness in the agreement.

With a breakdown in the fragile peace a distinct possibility, in September 2003, I published a detailed analysis, “The Peace cannot be abandoned” [3]. I set out the factors responsible for the serious problem of non-implementation of the CFA:-

1)  The activities of the ‘saboteurs of peace’ – essentially the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP - People’s Liberation Front), a reactionary mix of Sinhala communalism and populist demagogy, and some sections of the Buddhist clergy who are virulent anti-Tamil ethnic chauvinists whose declared objective is to make Sri Lanka solely a Sinhala-Buddhist nation.

2)  The failure of the GOSL to address the fundamental problem facing the Tamil ‘minority’ – basically a centralization of developmental power in the Sinhala South with a neglect of the Tamil areas, and the serious violation of human rights of those who live in these areas.

3)  The weakness of the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe (United National Party - UNP) who was unable or unprepared to do what had to be done, especially to take control of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces which had an agenda of their own which was anything but peaceful.   (Soon after the Government was elected, I dealt with the problems facing the new (Wickremesinghe) government in ‘Problems for the new Sri Lankan Government’ [4].)

4)  The unfettered Executive powers of the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga who was determined to see that Ranil Wickremesinghe (UNP), her longstanding political opponent from the other side of the Sinhala political divide (the Sri Lanka Freedom Party - SLFP), did not achieve what she could not.

5)   The unseen disruptive activities of international powers [5] who had their own geopolitical and economic agenda.           

I pointed out the obvious dangers of a breakdown in the peace process –

“A breakdown of the peace process is the biggest problem that Sri Lanka is ever likely to face.  What is at stake is not the future of the Tamil NorthEast, but the future of the whole country.  A breach of the current Peace cannot be compared with the breakdown of earlier Talks e.g. 1994 – 1995.  The degree and sophistication of the militarisation on both sides is such that if war breaks out again, the blood-shed and destruction will be much more serious.

“A further problem is that the chance of another negotiated settlement will be most unlikely.  A restart of hostilities will probably be the end of Sri Lanka.  By ‘the end’ I do not necessarily mean the physical destruction of the country (although it might mean the destruction of the Tamil NorthEast) but the complete destruction of the economy which will set the country back 50 years (or more).”

The peace dividend

While the CFA brought significant peace dividends to the Sinhalese in the South by way of a marked increase in foreign tourists and a boost in economic activity, there were no dividends for the people living in the Tamil NorthEast, who continued in abject poverty with more than 75% of them living below the poverty line.

With the GOSL virtually opting out of administering the NorthEast, the LTTE put forward an Interim Administration proposal – the Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) [6]. This attempt to restore some degree of normalcy was blocked by powerful anti-Tamil Sinhala chauvinists in the South, with the GOSL caving in to these extremists. It was also attacked even by the Indian military, based on supposed Indian military concerns. 

The negative reaction to the ISGA emphasizes yet again the difficulty of finding a solution to the Sri Lankan ethnic problem, with any proposal that is likely to work, being shot down by Sinhala chauvinists in Sri Lanka, who see any ‘concessions’ to the Tamils as a sell-out of a Sinhala-Buddhist country, and by the Indians, who are unprepared to give their minorities any significant devolution of power.

A further problem is that whatever the Indian Government may think, the Indian secret service, RAW [7] (like the Sri Lanka Army), has its own agenda. The Indian RAW has a lot to answer for in what they are doing ‘behind the scenes’ in Sri Lanka. Getting the Indian Government ‘on side’ in any peace deal in Sri Lanka is one problem, getting RAW to stop sabotaging it is a much greater problem. 

The Tsunami and discrimination

The Government’s longstanding administrative neglect of the Tamil areas was compounded by the December 2004 Tsunami, the major impact of which was in the Tamil North-East. Faced with an unprecedented humanitarian disaster, one would have expected the GOSL to rise above petty ethnic chauvinism and prioritise the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Tamil areas, which suffered extensive damage. In addition to humanitarian reasons, it was a golden opportunity to show the Tamils (and the world) that the Sinhala Government cared about the Tamil people. What was shown in the most convincing way, was the opposite – that the welfare of the Tamil people was of no importance to the Sinhala Government even in the face of a monumental natural disaster.

The Government efforts at rehabilitation and reconstruction in the Tamil areas were minimal, even obstructive – imposing an import duty even on donations for tsunami relief from the outside world.  To compound all the discrimination (in the use of their language, education, job opportunities, employment, etc) that the Tamils have suffered at the hands of a succession of Sinhala governments for the past 50 years, the clearest recent evidence of anti-Tamil discrimination has been the post-Tsunami reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Tamil areas. 

Were it not for the NGOs, in particular the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO), and international humanitarian organizations, there would have been essentially no reconstructive activity in the Tamil areas. I dealt with some of this in “The Tsunami and Sri Lanka: Emerging Realities” [8]

Political opportunism of President Mahinda Rajapakse

The anti-Tamil stance of the GOSL has hardened markedly with the recent election of Mahinda Rajapakse as President. Taking political opportunism to a dangerous level, the then Prime Minister and SLFP Presidential candidate Mahinda Rajapakse took his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) into coalition with the openly anti-Tamil JVP. It is the JVP that brought Sri Lanka to its knees in 1971 and again in 1988, with mass murder (including the murder of the visionary husband of President Chandrika Kumaratunga) and extensive destruction in the Sinhala South [9][10]. Having failed to get any political mileage from revolutionary Marxism, the JVP decided to go down the well-trodden Sinhala political path of ethno-religious chauvinism as a short-cut to power. As I have said, the JVP is a reactionary mix of Sinhala communalism and populist demagogy and the current champions of anti-Tamil ethnic chauvinism, aimed at increasing its power base in the Sinhala South, especially among the rural poor.

Going further down the road of political opportunism, in September 2005, weeks before the Presidential election, Rajapakse signed an election deal with the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), a political party of Buddhist monks who insist that Sri Lanka becomes a theocratic State that entrenches the supremacy of Buddhism and the Sinhala majority.  I drew attention to the destructive activity of politically active Buddhist monks in Sinhala Buddhist Chauvinism and the Buddhist Clergy [11]. The reactionary outlook of the Buddhist clergy is no different from the right wing Christian fundamentalists in the USA, the Hindu supremacists like the RSS [12] in India, or the Islamic extremists of Al Qaeda.

In return for JHU backing, Rajapakse agreed to JHU demands for a more aggressive stance against the LTTE, a revision of the CFA, the abrogation of the Government-LTTE Agreement for the joint administration of tsunami aid (P-TOMS), and the rejection of Federalism as a basis for a peace deal with the LTTE.  A similar agreement was entered into with the JVP.

Sinhala political ideology – anti-Tamil

In an article published before the Presidential election, I pointed out the potential danger if Rajapakse was elected in Mahinda Rajapakse. A Road to Disaster.  [13] This is not to say that the alternative, former Prime Minister and UNP Presidential candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe, would have been any better.  It was, after all, during Wickremesinghe’s watch that the post-CFA Peace Talks came to a halt.  The stark reality is that, although there are several political parties in the Sinhala South, the political ideology common to all of them is anti-Tamil. It is only a difference in openness. While some, eg the JHU and JVP are openly and proudly anti-Tamil (which they equate with patriotism), others such as the UNP and SLFP are covertly, but to no less extent, anti-Tamil. This is the political platform that every Sinhala party uses, and has used, to get the votes of the majority (74%) Sinhalese to get into power. I have expanded on this in Sinhala political ideology – Anti-Tamil [14]

It is this disastrous anti-Tamil chauvinism used for electoral advantage that makes it so difficult for the Tamils to negotiate with the Sinhala government of whatever political complexion or to ensure that whatever Agreements they enter into will be honoured by the Sinhala Government. Rajapakse is just one of a long line of Sinhala ‘leaders’ since Independence in 1948 that have gone down this disastrous path.

The international community, especially the crucial aid-donors, must recognise this political fact, rather than be charmed by the Sri Lankan leaders' smiles or by how genuine they appear to be in their attempts to solve the ethnic problem.

In passing, it is worth noting that the ethnic problem is often referred to as “The Tamil Problem.” It is not a ‘Tamil problem’ but a ‘Sinhalese problem’ – of refusing to accept the Tamils as people with equal rights to the Sinhalese. Indeed, it is now almost axiomatic that to be ‘patriotic’ one has to support the concept that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala-Buddhist nation, where the Tamils are second-class citizens, if that. [15]  

The Tamils, the LTTE in particular, are being criticised for boycotting the recent Presidential Election. This exercise (the Election) was to choose between a covertly anti-Tamil Wickremesinghe and an overtly anti-Tamil Rajapakse. Why should the Tamils help the Sinhalese in this choice? It was to elect a Sinhala President. That is a problem for the Sinhalese. If the Sinhalese want as their President someone who has just signed an electoral pact with two blatantly anti-Tamil parties, the JVP and the JHU, and who has agreed to some outrageous demands by these Sinhala extremists, that is a Sinhala decision which, at best, should be ‘noted’ by the Tamils. At least they can have no illusions as to what the Sinhalese, the 51% who voted for Rajapakse, feel.

Rajapakse’s hardline Sinhala appointments

President Rajapakse has appointed some extreme Sinhala hardliners (and some with a highly questionable military record) to key positions in the Sri Lankan Army and even in parliament.  These appointments are a clear indication of where he stands vis a vis the Tamils and his strategy for settling the ethnic problem.  It is a more worrying list of appointments than has ever been made by any previous Head of State. It is blatantly anti-Tamil.

Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka was appointed the new Army Commander.  Fonseka was the Commanding Officer in Jaffna when some 900 Tamil civilians in army custody “disappeared,” their bodies being later found in mass graves in Chemmani and elsewhere.  The Army Officer directly in charge of the Chemmani area was Brigadier Janaka Perera, about whom international Human Rights groups, in particular Amnesty International, have raised some serious questions.  Janaka Perera, appointed by former President Kumaratunga as Ambassador to Australia and later Malaysia, was recalled by President Rajapakse and appointed Senior Defence Adviser to his government.

Another Defence Ministry adviser appointed by Rajapakse was the former Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police H.N.E.B. Kotakadeniya, now an active leader of the extremist JHU.  In June 2005, Kotakadeniya led a JHU demonstration against the Post-tsunami relief arrangement between the Government and the LTTE (P-TOMS) [16]. On 2 January 2006, five Tamil schoolboys having a picnic in Trincomalee were executed by the Police Special Task Force (STF) commandos who normally function in Batticaloa.  The President said that he did not know on whose orders the commandos were in Trincomalee. It has now been reported that the order came from Kotakadeniya.

Brigadier Zizvy Zack, who has adopted a Sinhala hardline attitude, has been appointed a Brigadier General (Intelligence) to the Army Headquarters in Jaffna.

President Rajapakse’s brother, Gothabaya, an army major, was brought back from his retirement in California and made Defence Secretary.  Soon after his appointment, he requested assistance from the Ambassadors of the USA, India, Pakistan and China to fight the LTTE.

President Rajapakse’s hardline stance extends to the political arena.  Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, a well-known Sinhala hardliner who spoke against the Peace Process, Norwegian facilitation and the CFA, was appointed Prime Minister, bypassing Kumaratunga’s brother Anura Bandaranaike, who was Prime Minister Rajapakse’s “running mate” when he ran for the Presidency.  

It is important to appreciate that it is with such a President that the LTTE is about to restart ‘Peace Talks.’ There is no reason for optimism. This is not unfounded pessimism but realism.

Before the parties to the impending Peace Talks go over the same ground, make the same mistakes and come to the same meaningless Agreements, it is worthwhile revisiting the February 2002 CFA.  Moreover, the impending Peace Talks in Geneva (22 February 2006) are about implementing the existing CFA not, as the Rajapakse Government wanted, a renegotiation of the CFA i.e. a new CFA on different terms.  As I have said, the 2002 CFA is one of the strongest Agreements entered into between the Sinhala Government and the Tamils. There is no reason to renegotiate it. It must simply be implemented.

The February 2002 CFA

The Preamble sets out the overall objectives – some of which are

1.    To find “a negotiated settlement to the ongoing ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.”

2.   “Bring an end to the hostilities.”

3    “Improving the living conditions of all inhabitants affected by the ethnic conflict”.

4.    The “Tamil paramilitary groups shall be disarmed by the GOSL”.

1.  A negotiated settlement to the ethnic conflict

A negotiated settlement can only be arrived at if the cause of the problem is identified and addressed. The basic problems which caused the ethnic problem are:

      A) A centralisation of power in Colombo in the Sinhala South – a direct consequence of the Colebrooke-Cameron “reforms” introduced by the British in 1833 for colonial administrative convenience.  It resulted, among other things, in the developmental neglect of the periphery, which included the entire Tamil NorthEast (and also the Sinhala periphery.  It is not a coincidence that the Sinhalese militant uprising by the JVP in 1971 arose in this neglected Sinhala area).

After Independence in 1948, power passed into the hands of Sinhala politicians who neglected the development of the Tamil areas even more.

It is this developmental neglect which necessitated the Tamils in the North coming to Colombo (and the South), and competing, often successfully, with the Sinhalese for jobs in a shrinking job market.

In such a situation, it is easy for irresponsible politicians to go down the path of populist politics by discriminating against the Tamils to woo Sinhala votes (74% of the population).  This scapegoating started in 1956 and has continued apace to this very day (in language, education, job opportunities and employment). 

Many (Sinhalese) dismiss this as something that happened years ago and is not relevant today.  This is nonsense.  Discrimination against Tamils is very much alive and well.  For example, the Sri Lankan Armed Forces are nearly 100% Sinhalese. In the Sri Lankan Police, with 36,031 employees, only 231 (6%) are Tamils. (18% of the country are Tamils).  Of 900,000 in the Public services (once the forte of the Tamils) only 8.3% are Tamil-speaking.  The Tamil-speaking population comprises the Sri Lankan Tamils, Plantation Tamils of Indian origin and Muslims.  Together, they constitute 26% of the population.

     B) The Sinhalese belief that multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious, multi-cultural Sri Lanka is solely a Sinhala Buddhist nation.  This is the ‘Mahavamsa mind-set’ based on two Sinhala chronicles, the Dipavamsa (Story of the Island) and Mahavamsa [17] (The Great Chronicle) written in the 3rd and 5th century AD by Buddhist monks with the same anti-Tamil mind-set as their present day brethren in the JHU.  This destructive concept is even enshrined in the 1972 and subsequent Constitutions. Belief in absurdities (that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala-Buddhist nation), results in atrocities (the civil war that has occurred).

If Sri Lanka is to be a Sinhala-Buddhist nation (and of that there is no doubt) then there is no option to the establishment of a Tamil nation, Eelam. The concept of a Separate Tamil nation is not the making of Tamils, but the product of Sinhalese chauvinism.

Any “negotiated settlement” must recognise this ground reality that the centralisation of power in Sinhala hands has failed and that the keys to the development (and survival) of the Tamil areas must be taken out of the hands of Sinhala politicians in the South and placed in the hands of the Tamil-speaking population in the NorthEast.  Any “settlement” short of this will fail. 

The power sharing arrangement could be a Separate Tamil (and a Separate Sinhala) State or a Confederal set-up.  Whatever the name, the functional situation has to be a complete separation of the administration of the Sinhala area from the Tamil area.  Sinhala politicians in the South should not have the power to wreck the administration in the Tamil area.   The time for a Federal set-up is gone.  There is too much distrust and animosity between the ethnic groups for such an arrangement to work today. 

What the Tamils are asking for, and have asked for since 1977 (as evidenced by the overwhelming vote at the 1977 General Election) is for a Separate State, Eelam). Put simply, what the Tamils want is a reversal of the British Colebrooke-Cameron reforms which have demonstrably failed in Sri Lanka, as similar arrangements have in colonial Malaysia (hence the split into Malaysia and Singapore) and in colonial India (which split into India and Pakistan at Independence). The Tamils are not trying to ‘divide and destroy’ the country, but to divide and develop each area.

‘Splitting time’ in Sri Lanka is overdue by at least 20 years (if not longer).  It makes more sense to dismantle a British Colonial construct that has clearly failed and for the components to develop separately than to continue with a failed construct and destroy the whole country. It is not something that can be “negotiated.”  It simply must be done if the country is to be saved from ruin.  To claim that Sri Lanka is far too small to be split is arrant nonsense.  There are scores of countries smaller than the Sinhalese area and Tamil area. [18]  This includes the newest nation – East Timor, which is smaller than the Tamil NorthEast in both area and population.  

2.   An end to hostilities

Here again, the historic evolution of ethnic hostilities must be looked at.  With increasing discrimination, domination and the developmental neglect of the area they live in, the Tamils embarked on a series of peaceful protests which started with the passing of the Official Language Act in 1956. This highly divisive Act replaced English, the official language under the colonial British, with Sinhalese – to the exclusion of the Tamil language. Non-violent protests by the Tamils were met by Sinhala hoodlum violence which was supported, indeed engineered, by a succession of Sinhala-dominated governments. More discrimination was to follow, in University entrance requirements for Tamil students, employment and job selection. Peaceful Tamil protests were met by Sinhala hoodlum violence supplemented, and often replaced, by the violence of the all-Sinhalese Sri Lankan Armed Forces.

With the documented failure of non-violent campaigns by a succession of Tamil leaders, in 1972, the Tamil youths decided on an armed struggle.

When a government is not responsive to persistent, reasonable, closely argued, non-violent dissent, and peaceful change is not given a chance, violent change becomes inevitable. Experience in many theatres of conflict across the world has shown that if one seeks to air and redress a public grievance, violence is more effective than non-violence.  It is a disturbing message. 

To claim that the Tamil Tigers are the cause of the violence in Sri Lanka is arrant nonsense.  The Tigers are not the cause of the problem but the result.  The cause is Sinhala-Buddhist ethno-religious chauvinism and the irresponsible, populist politics of a succession of Sinhala ‘leaders.’

Whether one loves the LTTE or hates them, whether one bans them or excludes them, one thing is certain – they will not go away.  As for the stupidity of “banning” them, it is of interest that Sri Lanka, the country most affected by the LTTE has, in fact, ‘de-banned’ them, realising that it is not possible to sit down and negotiate with a banned organization.  The United Kingdom discovered just that when dealing with the IRA, which was banned and then de-banned!

It is not clear to me what the EU hopes to achieve by its 26 September 2005 Declaration and decision that the LTTE would not be received in EU capitals ‘until further notice.’ This Declaration raised resounding applause among Sinhala extremists both in and out of Sri Lanka, but I cannot see that it makes any sense. The EU has enthusiastically welcomed the Peace Talks (as they should), but bans one of the essential participants to these Talks! It is incomprehensible.  I pointed this out in  ‘EU credibility on the line’ [19].

As for disarming the LTTE, it is an exercise in futility.  In 1987, the Indian Army, the 4th largest in the world, sent some 100,000 Indian soldiers to disarm the LTTE. They failed and had to return to India, with more than 1,000 Indian soldiers in ‘body-bags.’ All that was achieved was the humiliation of a great country which had embarked on a military adventure based on unbelievable stupidity. Within hours of the signing of the Accord, I submitted a paper to the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi setting out the flaws in the Accord, “The 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord. Main Concerns” and why it would fail. It was pathetic to see the young and inexperienced Indian Leader being sucked into the mess in Sri Lanka by its crafty President, J.R.Jayawardene. Be that as it may, the fact is that the mighty Indian Army with more than a million people in uniform was unable to disarm the LTTE. There is not the remotest possibility that the Sri Lankan Army, even with maximum support from Western countries, can do what India could not. A series of disastrous defeats of the Sri Lankan Forces at the hands of the LTTE is testament to this.

If the Tamil Tigers are disarmed (a most unlikely possibility), the Tamils will not be at the Conference table in Geneva but under the table, as they have been for half a century, waiting for the crumbs that fall from their Sinhalese masters at the table. To clarify my ethnicity, I am a Sinhalese.

If the object of the CFA is “to bring an end to the hostilities,” then the answer lies with the Sinhala government – of withdrawing its Armed Forces, essentially an Army of Occupation, from the Tamil areas and handing the running of this area to the people in the area.  As long as the Sinhala government has a Sinhala Army of Occupation in the Tamil areas, the violence will continue.  It is as simple as that.    

3.   Improving the living conditions of the inhabitants in the area of conflict i.e. the Tamil North and East.

If the living conditions of the population in the war torn Tamil NorthEast are to be improved, then there must be a return to normalcy. I cannot see how this could happen if the GOSL blocks the production of food in Jaffna by taking over the most productive lands under the guise of “High Security Zones,” which are no-go areas for civilians.  The owners of these lands have been denied their livelihood since 1995. Some of the most fertile lands in Jaffna are in the High Security Zones, which are estimated at some 30% of the landmass of Jaffna.

These so-called “High Security Zones” are a major problem in returning civilian life to normalcy in the densely populated Jaffna Peninsula in particular.  Thousands of Tamil families have been evicted from their homes to accommodate an absurd number of troops (estimated at some 50,000).  Nearly 30,000 homeowners in Jaffna have been evicted and some 20,000 families have had to seek shelter in refugee camps and welfare centres for more than a decade.

This is a serious, avoidable humanitarian disaster which is perhaps unknown to the international community.  If this continues, as it surely will if the international community does not act, it will be a reflection of our failure to apprise the international community of this outrageous situation.

Fishing is another major occupation in the Tamil areas and is so important that it was referred to specifically in Clause 2.11 of the 2002 Agreement - “A gradual easing of fishing restrictions shall take place starting from D-day [20].  In complete violation of this clause, fishing has been effectively blocked since fishermen are only allowed to go to sea during daytime and that, too, within a two-mile limit where there is the least likelihood of catching fish.  Part of the catch is lost to the Navy which keeps a close watch on the fishing boats (under the guise of coastal surveillance) and removes part of the catch for its private consumption. 

Coming as they do, from an arid part of the country, the Jaffna Tamils have, for centuries, seen their future in educational excellence.  This is why they welcomed the American missionaries in British colonial times and encouraged them to set up schools. Jaffna has some of the finest schools in the island.  I cannot see how people with a deep commitment to education can return to normalcy if the GOSL Armed Forces continue to occupy schools.  I gather that, in Jaffna alone, some 30 prominent schools (possibly more) have been forced to close down.

As strong as the Tamils' commitment to education is their commitment to religion.  Anyone who has been to Hindu festivals in Jaffna will testify to the hundreds of thousands of people who participate in these impressive events.  The same is true of the Christian churches that are packed to capacity on Sundays.  I cannot see how the area can return to normalcy if some 200 Hindu and Christian places of worship are made inaccessible to civilians by the Armed Forces declaring that they are High Security Zones.

I cannot see how blocking even tsunami-relief from reaching the Tamil areas and abducting volunteer workers in the TRO, a major government-accepted NGO working in the Tamil areas, can return the area to normalcy.

I cannot see how the virtual absence of governance in the Jaffna peninsula will improve the living conditions of the people in this area.

It is not enough to sing songs about “giving peace a chance” and “improving the living conditions of inhabitants in the conflict zone”: positive action is needed.  What we have seen is a great deal of talk (with more to follow) and very little action.

Disarming the paramilitary groups by the GOSL

Clause 1.8 states that “Tamil paramilitary groups shall be disarmed by the GOSL by D-day (22 February 2002) + 30 at the latest.  The GOSL shall offer to integrate individuals in these units under the command and disciplinary structure of the GOSL armed forces for service away from the Northern and Eastern Province.”

It is worth noting that this is not just what the LTTE wanted, but what the GOSL agreed to.  Let alone “disarming the Tamil paramilitary groups,” they have been markedly strengthened and supported, and do the ‘dirty work’ for the Government forces.  They are the main cause of the highly volatile situation in the East and are now becoming more active in the Jaffna Peninsula. 

The Sri Lankan government talking peace while the Sri Lanka Armed Forces arms Tamil paramilitary forces to destabilise the peace, is something that will not ensure the continuation of peace.  Either the Government should abandon peace and declare all out war on the LTTE or it must disarm the paramilitary groups as per Clause 1.8.  Even the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), composed of unarmed men and women from Norway, Sweden,  Denmark, Finland and Iceland, have warned that the peace environment is seriously threatened by the violence of these Tamil armed groups.                                                            

The Geneva Talks

With the so-called Peace Talks about to commence in Geneva (22-23 February 2006), the greatest problem facing the LTTE is not only the difficulty of getting the Sinhala Government (and its backers in the international community) to recognise and address the fundamental problems facing the Tamils (which I have already detailed), but of not knowing how much to trust the Sinhala Government in general, and President Mahinda Rajapakse in particular. Recent events do not generate trust.

In December 2002, in Oslo, in the presence of a Norwegian Government representative, Sri Lanka agreed  “…to explore a political solution founded on the principle of internal self-determination in areas of historical habitation of the Tamil-speaking people, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka….”  (The ‘2002 Oslo Declaration’).

However, on 25 November 2005, in his inaugural Presidential speech, President Rajapakse reneged on both the Sri Lankan recognition of “areas of historical habitation of the Tamil-speaking people” and the promise to explore a political solution “based on a federal structure”.

Here is what he said:

“Instead of traditional homelands and self-determination that allow an ethnic group to breakaway from the Republic of Sri Lanka, steps will be taken to ensure for all communities, including Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher and Malay the freedom to exercise all the rights enshrined in the constitution, including the right to live in any part of Sri Lanka on the grounds that the entire territory is the homeland of all communities.”

What this means is that even with an international presence, the GOSL will think nothing of dishonouring an Agreement.

This inability to honour pledges even extends to the humanitarian arena.  Following the devastation of the Tamil areas in the December 2004 tsunami and the glaring failure of the GOSL to repair damage to property or rehabilitate the refugees, Sri Lanka (with Mahinda Rajapakse as Prime Minister) signed a Tsunami aid-sharing deal, the Post-Tsunami Operational Structure (P-TOMS), with the LTTE on 24 June 2005.

Yet, in his Presidential inaugural address just a few months later (25th November 2005), he reneged on it, stating:

“A new tsunami reconstruction administrative infrastructure that will coordinate with the Central Government, provincial councils, pradeshiya sabhas, political parties and voluntary organisations will be introduced in place of the controversial P-TOMS which are now before the courts. This new setup will be linked to "Jaya Lanka" – the Government’s overall tsunami reconstruction and rehabilitation program…..”

With that sort of track record, would it be surprising if the LTTE is wary of trusting the GOSL or its President, to deliver on any agreements entered into in Geneva or anywhere else, now or in the foreseeable future? It will be an exercise in stupidity if they do.

Of equal concern is that President Rajapakse is reported to have instructed his team to the Geneva Talks that they are not to finalise any Agreement until it has been sanctioned by him.  In practical terms, it means, “Until he has had it sanctioned by the JVP and the JHU.”  Knowing the virulent anti-Tamil stance adopted by these groups, one cannot be optimistic about any Agreement which will address the problems faced by the Tamils. Rajapakse’s caution is probably unnecessary since the Sinhala extremism of the JHU and JVP will be very well protected by Silva, a “resource contributor” to the GOSL team.

In his recent address to mark the 50th Anniversary of his call to the Bar, H.L. de Silva beat the reactionary drums more furiously than even the JHU (which he so admires) and the JVP. Indeed, the extreme Sinhala ethno-religious chauvinism of both these groups probably comes from this source. For de Silva, ‘Nation’ equals ‘Sinhala Nation,’‘Sri Lankan Sovereignty’ equals ‘Sinhala hegemony over the Tamils,’ and ‘Peace in Sri Lanka’ seems to mean, “Crushing the Tamils, for Peace for the Sinhalese.”  President Rajapakse picking de Silva to assist his negotiating team certainly spells disaster. Rajapakse might as well have sent the entire leadership of the JHU and JVP for the Talks. It would not have been any worse.

President Rajapakse has instructed his team to be representative of the whole of the Nation. Why then have the LTTE there at all? Why have Talks at all? The President, with due respects, does talk some arrant nonsense. Here is the same man who recently asked Rauf Hakeem, the Muslim leader, whether he had ever attended Peace Talks (Hakeem had, in fact, attended all the 2002 Talks) and whether any Talks had been held in Japan (clearly unaware that Hakone is in Japan). The President’s ignorance is worrying.

The GOSL team can best be described as a “B Grade” team composed of people who have no experience in this field. To be fair by them, they have never claimed that they are experts in this field. The responsibility for appointing a ‘B-Grade’ team rests with President Rajapakse. Their experience (or the lack of it) is so abysmally poor that at the last minute, before leaving for Geneva, they had to be ‘tutored’!  Two members of a US ‘think tank,’ the Harvard Negotiation Project were flown to Sri Lanka.  Seeking further help, two members of the current Sri Lankan Opposition who had taken part in the 2002 Talks were invited to tutor the would-be GOSL negotiators. The apparent difficulty of the GOSL to get together an experienced group is a reflection of the general incompetence of the Sinhala Government. A sceptic would say that a ‘B Grade’ President can only think up a ‘B Grade’ team. This leads to the question as to why the Sinhala people would want to elect a ‘B Grade’ President. Despite being a Sinhalese, I just do not know.

The murder of a Tamil Peace activist

The outrageous murder of the internationally respected Tamil politician, Joseph Pararajasingham on Christmas Day 2005 nearly derailed the Peace Talks. This was carried out by the Armed Forces and one of the Tamil paramilitary outfits which are shadowy parts of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces.  When President Rajapakse was questioned about this, he said that the Sri Lankan Armed Forces (of which he is the Commander in Chief) were trying to embarrass him! There were opinions expressed that the murder of Pararajasingham, who was deeply committed to the Peace process and could articulate the problems faced by his people, was a murder of the Peace process itself.  The murder of this quiet soft-spoken man, committed to the upholding of human rights, drew international condemnation. He is a man I knew well and I outlined his commitment to Peace and human rights in ‘The murder of Pararajasingham’ [21]. He discussed his murder with me when I last met him a few months ago in Brisbane. The GOSL is “looking into it”! We have heard that before, many times.

The LTTE at the Talks

The continuing presence of the LTTE at the Peace Talks has to be carefully monitored (by the LTTE). Not only has Rajapakse sent a completely inexperienced team for the Talks, but equally worrying are his instructions to his team to ‘be soft’ with the LTTE to keep them talking. So, the purpose of this exercise is not to find a solution to the ethnic problem, but to keep talking.

The importance of this is that the GOSL game seems to be to drag out this talk-fest for as long as possible. I am certain that the LTTE, who have experience in these GOSL delaying tactics, are fully aware of this. The question is whether the international community, especially the aid-donors for whose benefit this talk-fest is being staged, realise it. If they do not, then it is our business to draw their attention to it.

The LTTE does not need advice from me but I think that if they see that delaying tactics are being adopted by the GOSL, they will, and should, decline to continue to be part of the Talk-fest and inform the international community why they have decided to do so.

The destructive role of countries outside Sri Lanka

Other countries, with the exception of Norway, instead of being part of the solution, have become part of the problem.  Leading this group is the USA. The US has provided about US$500,000 to Sri Lanka every year as military grants under the International Military Education and Training Program (IMET). Washington has increased its military credits under its Foreign Military Finances (FMF) program from $496,000 in 2005 to an estimated $1 million in 2006.  These credits could be used by Sri Lanka to buy US weapons or “counter- terrorism” equipment.

As we have seen, on 23 February 2002, the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe signed a Ceasefire Agreement with the LTTE. The duplicitous nature of Sinhala politicians was shown yet again when, with the guns silenced after 18 years of war, some 64,000 dead and over a million refugees, one of Wickremesinghe’s first acts was to set off to Washington to seek (more) funds for his military! The US Military Sales Program had specifically excluded Sri Lanka because of an abysmally poor human rights record. However after the Bush --Wickremesinghe meeting in 2003, this restriction was withdrawn.

The US Ambassador in Colombo, Jeffrey Lunstead, explained the withdrawal of the restriction with some bizarre reasoning. Addressing the American Chamber of Commerce on 9 January 2006, he said that “The purpose of this program (of US Government’s military assistance) is not to encourage a return to war but to make a return to peace by making it clear that war will be more costly and unsuccessful.” This is incomprehensible and dangerous nonsense because thousands of lives are at stake. I guess it should cause no surprise, coming, as it does, from the Ambassador of a country that decimated Afghanistan, one of the poorest, most ravaged, war-torn countries in the world, with President Bush declaring, “We’re a peaceful nation” and his Ambassador in Britain, Tony Blair, who doubles as Britain’s Prime Minister, adding, “We’re a peaceful people.” Sri Lanka’s own President Chandrika Kumaratunga is part of this club. Unleashing one of the most irresponsible onslaughts on the Tamil civilian population in Jaffna in 1995, she said that it was “A war for Peace.”  

A succession of American Ambassadors in Colombo have left their diplomatic confines and got destructively involved in the ethnic conflict, adding fuel to fire and strengthening the repressive hand of the GOSL.  I have dealt with this in an open letter to Jeffrey Lunstead which will shortly be on the net. I will briefly deal with this here because of its relevance.

On 27 September 2000, Ashley Wills took up his appointment as American Ambassador in Colombo.  On 7 March 2001, he was telling the Tamils in Jaffna  “…the goal of Tamil Eelam cannot be achieved” and “the United States rejects the idea of an Independent Tamil State.”  The Tamil people did not ask the US for an opinion of what solution to their problem is acceptable to the US.  Let us look at this objectively.  Here is a man who has just arrived in the country and in less than six months, has the answer to an ethnic problem that has gone on for half a century.  It is breathtaking arrogance.

Encouraged by the Ambassador’s words, the Sri Lankan Armed Forces in Jaffna, already in destructive mode, stepped up their destruction of Tamil civilian lives and property.  The Tamil civilians paid the price for an irresponsible foreign Ambassador’s comment.

Ambassador Wills was succeeded by Jeffrey Lunstead, who continued in the same vein in what is becoming a popular diplomatic sport.  In the 9 January 2006 address I have referred to, Ambassador Lunstead went on to “congratulate the Government (of Sri Lanka) on its continued restraint…”, a view not supported by any credible human rights organization in the world.

Lunstead went on to question the leadership of the Tamil people – “The LTTE  current action call into question it’s “leadership of the Tamil people.”  It is not the role of the US Ambassador to decide who the leaders of the Tamils should or should not be.

Lunstead referred to the aspirations of the Tamil people being “bottled up.”  He is clearly unaware that at the last credible General Elections in 1977, the Tamils in the NorthEast voted overwhelmingly for their elected representatives to establish a Separate State, Eelam.  It is not the Tamil Tigers who want a Separate Tamil State, it is the Tamil people in the NorthEast.

Ambassador Lunstead’s lack of knowledge of Sri Lanka or its past is not surprising.  He was not even on this planet when the Tamils started experiencing the full force of Sinhala ethnic chauvinism.  We were.

Adopting a more threatening attitude, Ambassador Lunstead went on, “If the LTTE chooses to abandon peace, however, we want it to be clear, they will face a stronger, more capable and more determined Sri Lanka military.”  If this is not a declaration of support for an already hardline Sinhala regime to militarily crush the Tamils, I do not know what is.

The most recent ‘visitor’ was Nicholas Burns, US Undersecretary for Political Affairs, who just ‘dropped in’ to pledge some US$ 500 million from the Millennium Account. By a happy coincidence, there happens to be a US-backed resolution against Iran on its nuclear programme before the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which it is considering referring to the UN Security Council. Sri Lanka has to make a decision on its position. The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister reminded his cabinet colleagues and his President that the US was helping the government economically and in the ‘fight against terrorism’ and that a decision on Iran should not antagonise the US. This is nothing but ‘cheque-book diplomacy’ of the worst kind. While it will help a Government looking for funds to fight the LTTE, it is likely to do serious long term damage since Iran is the largest buyer of Sri Lankan tea, which, of course, is of no concern to the US.

The point I make here is that it is this irresponsible outside support from countries with their own geopolitical agenda which is preventing the GOSL from coming up with any meaningful proposals to enable a negotiated solution to the ethnic problem.  On the contrary, it strengthens the hand of an already hardline and repressive regime and is the type of destructive activity that makes Peace Talks such a farce.

The US is not alone in this irresponsible activity.  There are many countries such as Israel, Britain, Singapore and China that are playing a duplicitous role in advocating peace in Sri Lanka, but supply the GOSL with military hardware or financial assistance to purchase this in the international arms market (often for their own economic gain), and what is worse, moral support to a very repressive hardline regime.

Western governments do not give military aid to Sri Lanka and its Armed Forces unaware of the fact that this will be used to kill a section of its population (the Tamils).  It is not ignorance but irresponsibility, committed with an eye on the incoming dollar and with no concern for the humanitarian disaster it will cause.

India is not an honest broker, sabotaging every effort made by the GOSL to give the Tamils the necessary devolution of power which India will not give its own minorities.  The Indian Ambassador in Colombo has, for several years, strayed from his/her diplomatic activity to get involved in the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict in a most destructive way.  This is not what diplomats are supposed to be doing in foreign countries.

It is of interest that the two countries most opposed to a Separate Tamil State, the US and India, have, when advantageous for them, been the cause of the break-up of countries, eg Panama from Colombia and East Bengal from Pakistan. It is breathtaking hypocrisy.

These are problems that the international community will have to recognise and address.  A Peace Conference in Geneva is no answer.

Foreign Aid

During the past 25 years (and more) foreign aid to Sri Lanka has financed the increasing military expenditure.  Without foreign aid, Sri Lanka will not be able to continue its war against its Tamil people – and may well be faced with the need to come up with some realistic proposals to address the problems faced by the Tamils.

The irony is that whilst Sri Lanka has rejected foreign offers of mediation to resolve the conflict, claiming that it is an “internal matter,” it continues to seek aid from these very sources to further its (internal) military adventure.

The ‘Benefits of War’ to the GOSL

Absurd though it may seem, there are positive benefits for the GOSL in continuing this destructive war.  The importance of appreciating this is that, unless the benefits are addressed, the GOSL will never come up with any reasonable proposals at this upcoming peace conference or any other.

While the war has caused devastation to the lives, property, and future of the Tamils in the NorthEast, there have been benefits for the Sinhalese in the South, in particular, the rural Sinhalese.

The bulk of the recruitment for the Sri Lankan (read Sinhala) Armed Forces (nearly 100% Sinhalese) comes from the Sinhalese rural areas.  Large numbers of rural Sinhala youths have enlisted in the military and their remittances have been sent back to their villages.  40% of the Defence Bill goes towards their salaries, most of which ends up in the villages, bringing prosperity to the village.  The economy of the rural poor in the Sinhalese South is three times more dependent on military remittances than on poverty alleviation programs. Successive Sri Lankan governments have been using military employment as a youth employment and poverty alleviation program!

There is no question about the short-term benefits to a government trying to solve the unemployment problem in the South, but the long-term negative impact on economic growth is disastrous.  Economic development will not occur without peace, and peace will not occur without justice.  Justice is unlikely to come from the Sinhalese Government unless it is subjected to intense international economic pressure.

Sri Lanka’s Financial and Defence Expenditure

Sri Lanka’s financial situation is critical.  For 2006, the budget deficit (presented by President Rajapakse, no less) is a staggering Rs197 billion, an increase from Rs168 billion in 2005.

The allocation for Defence has seen a spectacular increase, most notably in the recent budget. 

In 1977, Sri Lanka’s Defence allocation was Rs 750 million.  By 1996, it had risen to Rs 46 billion – about 6% of the Gross Domestic Product and 22% of total government spending.  In contrast, the allocation for Health was a mere Rs 14 billion.

By 2004, the Defence allocation had risen to Rs 52 billion and, despite a supposed ‘peace,’ climbed to Rs 56.6 billion in 2005 and now to a staggering Rs 91.6 billion in 2006.  The actual expenditure will probably be much greater since defence spending has always overshot the budget estimate by 20-25%.  With total government expenditure for 2006 estimated at Rs.568 billion, the allocation for “Defence” is enormous.  Sri Lanka is a country with no external enemies, and “Defence” essentially means fighting its own people.  Sri Lanka has an army which is much larger than that of Malaysia, the Philippines and Australia despite having a significantly smaller area and population.

With the Sri Lankan rupee depreciating at an alarming rate, the government has resisted devaluation because of its impact on military expenditure which would rise astronomically, since almost all the military equipment is imported.

In conclusion, the message that must go out to the international community, especially to the crucial aid-donors, is that so-called ‘Peace-talks’ in Geneva could be meaningless. Unless firm pressure is exerted on the GOSL to come up with some realistic solutions that will address the basic problems faced by the Tamils, and then see that they are implemented, the Talks will only provide breathing space for the Sri Lankan Government to militarily equip its Armed Forces to destroy a part of its own population.

The undeclared strategy of the GOSL is blindingly obvious - “We talk when we must (a shortage of men and weapons), we fight when we can (when these are replenished).” If the international community cannot see this, they are not in the realm of reality.

In an unguarded moment President Rajapakse said just that. When questioned by the Sinhala extremists as to why he was talking with the Tigers (instead of ‘smashing’ them), he said, with disarming honesty, that he was doing so only till his Armed Forces are properly equipped (courtesy of Western countries). Let us be clear about this. The Geneva Talks are merely a side-show to keep the crucial aid-donors happy. This is not paranoid pessimism, but realism which is something that has been conspicuously absent in previous ‘Peace Talks’ – hence their failure.


Soon after I finished this paper, I had a call from someone in Sri Lanka who clearly had ‘inside information.’ I have no way of checking the accuracy of this extraordinary claim. I am reluctant to even mention it here because I find it so unbelievable.

I was told that the thrust of the GOSL case is that the Cease Fire Agreement of 22 February 2002 was contrary to the Sri Lanka Constitution and law. I just cannot believe this since to adopt such an attitude is monumental folly.  This Conference is to see how the CFA can be implemented.  If the GOSL thinks that the CFA is an unconstitutional and illegal Agreement, to implement it is clearly uncalled for, even inappropriate. 

I will make one simple point. This Conference has not been set up to discuss the Constitution of Sri Lanka.  It is to try and prevent what could turn out to be a bloodbath and a destruction of the country.  If the GOSL has not got this straight, they are just wasting everyone’s time in proceeding with this Conference.


1. Based on an article in a booklet sent to the Geneva Peace Talks on 22.2.2006

2. The dominant party in this coalition was Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP)


 Note: All the articles written by me and referred to in this paper will be found in one of three sites, often in all three:-


5. In particular the United States and India

6. The details of this discrimination will be found in my ‘The Peace cannot be abandoned’ (Ref 1).

7. So-called Research and Analysis Wing of the Indian Military


9. Insurgency 1971 A.C.Alles The Colombo Apothecaries Co Ltd, 125, Glennie St, Colombo 2

10. Fred Halliday The 1971 Ceylon Insurrection. Originally in The New Left Review No 69 Sept-Oct 1971, pp51-91. Also on the web jvp_sri lanka/history/71st1.html


12. Rasftriya Swayamsevak Sangh


14. ‘Sinhala Political Ideology – anti Tamil’- Political_Ideology_in_Sri_Lanka_AntiTamil.php?uid=1309

15. This came out very clearly some years ago at a press conference in Toronto when President J.R.Jayawardene was presented with the political structure in Canada, with French Canadians and  British Canadians. Jayawardene said “It is easy for Canada to settle its problems, because all your people are Canadians”.  Can we realistically expect a negotiated settlement to come from people with this mind-set which is now even more entrenched?

16. P-TOMS (Post Tsunami Operational Structure) – GOSL-LTTE Tsunami aid-sharing deal signed on 24 June 2005.

17. ‘ The Mahavamsa’ translated from Pali in 1912 by Wilhelm Geiger. The book is available in Colombo. A web-modified version is also on the web.

18. The booklet Self-determination for the Tamils, which will soon be on the web, gives a list of countries much smaller in size and population than the Sinhala or Tamil areas of Sri Lanka.

19. ‘EU Credibility on the Line’ 2005/10-25_EU_Credibility_on_the_Line.php?uid=1267

20. D-day was the date of the signing i.e. 22 February 2002.

21. 01-02_Pararajasingham_Murder_the_Fallout.php?uid=1417

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