Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Geneva Talks

A turning point?

by S Sathananthan, February 26, 2006

They are using the politico-military strategy of “talks” to buttress the Agreement and the Patrols and paramilitaries to emasculate the LTTE’s military capability. Their central aim is to dismantle the independent structures of a fledgling Tamil State. Their central problem is that Prabhakaran’s deft political and diplomatic moves drove their strategy into the ground.

The question is: what will they try next?

“Good” Lion, “Bad” Tiger

The signatories to the Cease-Fire Agreement – the Sinhala Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) – delivered their opening statements at the Geneva Talks on 22nd February 2006. The contents of the statements brought into sharp relief the political gulf between the two sides on the Agreement. That was of course evident well before Geneva.

The LTTE Leader Veluppillai Prabhakaran had unveiled the Organisation’s one-point agenda for Geneva, to “discuss only the full and speedy implementation of the Agreement”  (Viduthalai Puligal, jan/06). The underlying logic is simple. The Sinhala government and LTTE could fully implement the Agreement in letter and spirit. If progress cannot be made to achieve that limited task, prospects are very slim that further “talks” could grapple with the complexities of a political solution to the Tamil National Question. LTTE’s Anton Balasingam reiterated the point in the organisation’s opening statement: "consolidating the Ceasefire Agreement is the only practical way open to the parties in conflict to stabilise the conditions of peace and normalcy, which are essential and crucial to take the peace process forward" (LTTE Peace Secretariat, 22/feb/06).

The Sinhala President Mahinda Rajapakse had at first brought into play the pledge in his 2005 election manifesto: "The ceasefire agreement will be amended so as to ensure that acts of terrorism would not be permitted in any way." But later he drifted towards a vague “soft line”; his United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) coalition government, he said, ought “not push too hard for the amendments since it would likely to have a negative impact on the peace process” (Daily Mirror, 8/feb/06). His Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva alleged in the government’s opening statement in Geneva that the Agreement “is contrary to our Constitution and law” (Daily News, 23/feb/06); but he could not cite a judicial ruling to back up his claim.

The Government’s opening statement metaphorically placed a white hat on Rajapakse and a black hat on Prabhakaran. Balasingam regretted this grossly simplistic and ultimately misleading good-guy-bad-guy caricature and suggested “it would be prudent to engage in a constructive discussion, exploring ways and means to stabilise and strengthen the Ceasefire Agreement” (LTTE Peace Secretariat, 22/feb/06).

The government cobbled together its position based on exchanges at a workshop the President arranged on 8 February for the 25-member advisory committee he appointed to brainstorm on the government’s strategy for Geneva. He invited two consultants from the Harvard Negotiation Project to help build a “knowledge base” for his negotiating team. The American consultants committed the heinous crime – in Sinhala eyes – of suggesting the government ought to review LTTE’s position constructively. Predictably Sinhala participants at the workshop warned the negotiating team to beware of the consultants’ “pros and cons” approach and rejected it as “too liberal”. They also alleged the consultants are “too pro Tiger” and insinuated the two Americans could be LTTE spies: “We run the risk”, they said, “of the Tigers knowing what the Sri Lankan strategy is, even before we reach the negotiating table.” To counter the consultants’ advice, these Sinhala chauvinists “made literature and reading material available to the peace team that mapped out some of the possible sharp practices of the LTTE that might be expected at the talks” (Sunday Observer, 12/feb/06).

To brief the advisory committee President Rajapakse also invited Prof GL Peiris, who headed the previous United National Party (UNP) government’s delegation to the Norway-sponsored “talks” with the LTTE in 2002/03. Prof Peiris’ counsel to the committee no doubt included the advice he offered myopic Sinhala chauvinists more than a decade ago. They had opposed drafting political proposals while the Sinhala army was barrelling towards the mirage of military victory in Jaffna. Peiris was then a Minister in the Peoples Alliance (PA) Government; a hawk who was also mesmerised by the mirage. So he had happily explained in 1995 how political proposals help the Sinhala government to divide and rule the Tamils. He said: “We do expect that the military effort will have the effect of diminishing the strength of the LTTE. But the political proposals will also have a role in that regard because they will go a long way towards convincing the Tamil people that the Government should be supported and that will alienate the Tamil people from the LTTE. So there is a connection between the two things” (The Island, 6/aug/95).

How could the “connection” turn mirage into reality? He helpfully explained how “political proposals” would legitimise and strengthen the government’s military solution to the Tamil National Question: “some want to know the necessity for a political solution when a war is raging. True, what we need to win the war is armaments not a political solution. But we have been able to procure military hardware because we have presented a political solution… Therefore, we experience no difficulty to get our arms requirements…The President [Chandrika Kumaratunga] and the [PA] Government have succeeded in convincing the world community that restoration of peace is possible through the political package. We cannot expect the co-operation of the international community [to wage the military campaign] without seeking a political solution”(Daily News, 15/aug/95; emphasis added).

Decommissioning LTTE’s weapons

This strategy continues to underpin the not-so-hidden agenda of the Sinhala government, four Co-Chairs (Norway, US, EU and Japan) of the Sri Lanka donor consortium and India to neutralise the military capability of the LTTE-led Tamil National Movement. The ground reality in the Tamil-majority North East Province (NEP) is that the Movement has built up and administers independent structures of a fledgling Tamil State under the protection of LTTE’s armed power in the territory it controls. It is blindingly clear the Movement will not trust either the Sinhala army or the Sinhala bureaucracy; that is, the Movement will neither demobilise its Tamil forces nor disown its Tamil administration. It follows a political solution must inevitably recognise two armies and two States; the government would have to concede a confederal structure in Sri Lanka.

The Sinhala government, Co-Chairs and India are terrified of this prospect. They are engaged in calibrated manoeuvres to decommission LTTE’s weapons, to bring the LTTE to heel and dismantle the independent State structures in the NEP. On the other hand, the LTTE-led Tamil National Movement determinedly maintains and strengthens its military capability to defend and expand its parallel State structures. This dialectic is the core of the ongoing political power struggle (deceptively called the “peace process”).

The Co-Chairs, represented by Norway, got the LTTE to commit to a “federal structure” in the Oslo round (Oslo Statement, 5/dec/02). Their next move was going to be the demand that the LTTE decommissions weapons to allow government to introduce federalism. The glib subtext is that a federal system cannot accommodate two armies. Of course the LTTE would naturally refuse to disarm until after a political settlement, if any, is reached. In this way the government and its foreign backers schemed to mislead Tamils to believe that, after the Oslo round, the government is ready to work towards federalism and achieve “peace”; that the LTTE’s parallel armed forces are the primary stumbling block. The diabolical intention is the same as ever: “convincing the Tamil people that the Government should be supported and that will alienate the Tamil people from the LTTE”, as Peiris had cleverly explained.

But the LTTE Leader comprehensively outmanoeuvred the government, Co-Chairs and India to bring the duplicitous “talks” to a shuddering halt in 2003.

Dismantling Tamil State structures

The Geneva Talks are the most recent Machiavellian twist in the political power struggle. President Rajapakse hopes for success, as he generously spelled out at a press briefing a week before the Geneva Talks. He declared: "One day there must be one country, one nation and one army…there cannot be two armies, two air forces, two navies". Obviously emboldened by US military assistance, Rajapakse arrogantly threatened war. “You must never put a government, a leader, and corner him”, he added; and he warned, “if I am pushed to the wall..." and paused melodramatically (Daily Mirror, 14/feb/06).

So President Rajapakse brusquely jettisoned two solemn, written commitments the government made in the Oslo round more than three years ago. The government accepted a Tamil traditional homeland or “areas of historical habitation of the Tamil-speaking peoples”; and it agreed “to explore a solution…based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka” (Oslo Statement, 5/dec/02). But Rajapakse reneged; he mischievously interpreted ‘traditional homeland’ and ‘federal structure’ as tantamount to a Tamil “separate state” and insisted on salvaging the moribund unitary State. “I won't allow the country to be divided,” and added, “you have to give up the concept of having two nations, or two countries” (Daily Mirror, 14/feb/06).

LTTE Leader Prabhakaran has stood by his commitment to the Agreement and to the Oslo Statement.

President Rajapakse’s Sinhala advisors recommended he build his own “international safety net”. But they are victims of the government’s propaganda that the Co-Chairs compelled the LTTE to come to Geneva. For instance, a Sinhala analyst enthusiastically noted that at the first meeting between Balasingam and de Silva, “it was apparent from the LTTE Theoretician’s forced smile and his disinclination to look at his counterpart that the last place on earth the LTTE wanted to be was in Geneva” (Daily Mirror, 25/feb/06). The government’s team assumed the Norwegians – and by extension the Co-Chairs – would support its moves to amend the Agreement and increase the Sinhala government’s powers vis-à-vis the LTTE. The negotiating team prepared an extensive brief to prove the Agreement has “certain grave anomalies arising from the agreement” (Daily News, 23/feb/06); and to argue that it cannot be implemented unless the LTTE cooperates to amend the Agreement.

But the government failed to grasp the perspective of the Co-Chairs and India, who realise President Rajapakse must sustain the cease-fire because the Sinhala armed forces are ill equipped and lack morale; and if war restarts now the LTTE would make important military gains. So they are striving every nerve to shore up the tottering Agreement – and keep the LTTE talking – in the name of “peace” (what else?). And, as before, they are working towards two inter-related objectives. First, they have to help Rajapakse capture the moral high ground by seeming to protect the Agreement and, by implication, malign the LTTE as the threat to the Agreement and “peace.” That, they hope, would secure the second objective: to alienate Tamils from the LTTE by deceiving them into blaming the LTTE for the tragic consequences of continued conflict. 

Consequently the government’s shortsighted rejection of the Agreement and its confrontation with the LTTE alarmed the Norwegians, who feared the LTTE may be provoked into abandoning the Agreement. So they forced the government’s negotiating team to climb down and reiterate its support for the Agreement.

Soon it dawned on the government’s team that the Co-Chairs and LTTE are on the same page, that they want to retain the Agreement as originally formulated. This was dramatically demonstrated when government attempted to use the words “Cease Fire” when referring to the Agreement in the final Joint Statement. The government’s team insisted on excluding the word “Agreement” in order to withdraw recognition for the Agreement; and thereby to implicitly abrogate the Agreement. But the LTTE and Norwegians together resolutely rejected the government’s subterfuge.

The Co-Chairs and the LTTE converged on the need to sustain the Agreement, but for different reasons. The idea of the Co-Chairs is to enforce the Agreement and prevent the LTTE returning to formal armed conflict while the Sinhala government and India bleed the organisation through the subversive, shadow war using army death squads and Tamil paramilitaries. The LTTE sees the Agreement as an instrument to rein in the covert armed operations carried out by government and India against the Tamil National Movement. The Agreement specifies that “neither Party shall engage in any offensive military operation”, which “includes, but is not limited to…the firing of direct and indirect weapons, armed raids, ambushes, assassinations, abductions, destruction of civilian or military property, sabotage, suicide missions and activities by deep penetration units” (Art 1.2a); and that “Tamil paramilitary groups shall be disarmed by the GOSL” (Art 1.8). So the LTTE insists it will observe the cease-fire only if the Agreement is implemented in full.

To keep the LTTE talking the Norwegians had to induce the government team in Geneva to agree to full implementation. The LTTE Leader Prabhakaran’s nimble footwork caught President Rajapakse in the proverbial Catch 22. If he implements the Agreement in letter and spirit, then the LTTE’s military assets are safe. If he does not, then Rajapakse would have to shoulder responsibility for undermining “peace” and escalating conflict.

The Co-Chairs, India and the “shadow war”

The Co-Chairs – led by Norway – have either actively encouraged or turned a blind eye to the government’s shadow war against the LTTE in violation of the Agreement. United States Ambassador Jeffrey Lunstead emboldened Sinhala hardliners and armed forces by publicly declaring the Tigers now face a stronger US-trained Sri Lankan military. "We want it to be clear, they [LTTE] will face a stronger, more capable and more determined Sri Lankan military…we want the cost of a return to war to be high" (Reuters, 11/jan/06). “High”, for the Tamil people of course!!

Oslo did not disagree. And the Norwegian-backed Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission enthusiastically accepted at face value the government’s transparent denial that paramilitaries – including the Karuna Group that defected from the LTTE in March 2004 – are not financed and armed by the Sinhala army. The Mission subscribes to the political fiction that paramilitaries are independent of government: “there are alternative armed elements that operate in government-controlled areas. But…there is no evidence of active collaboration between the Sri Lankan security forces and these armed elements” (Daily Mirror, 21/feb/06), although evidence that prove close collaboration is readily available. Moreover, the Mission has attributed to the LTTE numerous cease-fire violations on grounds that the organisation is responsible for infringements committed in areas under its control irrespective of whether or not it is culpable. In contrast, in government-controlled areas the Monitoring Mission counted as government’s cease-fire violations only those breaches that could be directly linked to government personnel. The actions of the so-called “alternative armed elements” or paramilitaries sponsored by government and India are not taken as cease-fire violations of the government. The result of this extreme bias is a grotesquely lopsided Mission score sheet in which LTTE’s violations (3,519) are 2,158% higher that those (163) of the government!!! This dishonestly projects the LTTE as the principal violator. The Missions “creative” application of the Agreement lets the paramilitaries off the hook and minimises obstacles to the shadow war. Consequently, the government has waged the shadow war with impunity using paramilitaries as proxies against the Tamil National Movement.

India’s contribution to the shadow war is the Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front (ENDLF). Indian intelligence had cobbled together the ENDLF out of Tamil refugees and remnants of other non-LTTE Tamil groups in Chennai; and shipped it off to the NEP in 1987. “The entry of the India-based ENDLF…into the ‘shadow war’”, observed Taraki, “raised questions in the media as well as in Tamil political circles whether India was getting involved covertly in a project - either jointly with the Sri Lankan government or separately - to build up a viable armed opposition to the Tigers. The questions were not too unfounded. ENDLF has often stated that it is the only Tamil group that has remained totally loyal to India. It continues to maintain cadres in several refugee camps in India. And above all, the group has been trying to reactivate old contacts in the east by claiming that it was doing so with the backing of Indian intelligence. On top of this we have been hearing a string of statements from Karuna that Norway should leave and India should step in as the ‘rightful’ mediator to end Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict.” (Daily Mirror, 20/apr/05).

But New Delhi maintains its formal “hands off” posture, which no one outside northern India takes seriously. Not surprisingly a hapless Tamil academic from India (attached to the Jawaharlal Nehru University) did flatfooted rounds at “peace” meetings in Colombo in early February. He unimaginatively tried to convince Tamils that “India has no interest in the Sri Lankan conflict”! And he seriously expects Tamils to swallow that bilge!!

The LTTE complained especially about the “deep penetration units”, which are the Sinhala army’s Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols. They are essentially death squads trained with US assistance. They are modelled on the notorious Phoenix Programme the Central Intelligence Agency unleashed during the Vietnam War to eliminate senior members of the Vietnamese National Liberation Movement as well as its sympathisers and intellectuals. In Sri Lanka the Patrols work hand in glove with paramilitaries and have carried out covert strikes against LTTE’s senior leaders, Tamil nationalists, journalists and activists with often devastating effect both inside and outside the NEP.  

In this “shadow war” the LTTE has retaliated against the army with equal lethal force.

More recently in the NEP – long after the Agreement was signed – the army recruited a further 600 Sinhala and Muslim youths and trained them as so-called “home guards.” There are credible reports that Muslim youths in eastern Amparai and Trincomalee districts have been armed and are being used as “unacknowledged paramilitaries” against the LTTE and Tamil civilians (Sunday Leader, 12/feb/06).

After President Rajapakse took office, the army sharply intensified the “shadow war” through December 2005 and January 2006. The LTTE responded with an effective deterrent - armed force.

Year 5: political power struggle continues

The core issue for the government and its foreign backers is the de-facto Tamil State in the NEP. Determining its fate is the essence of the political power struggle. The central challenge for the government, Co-Chairs and India is how to hold the LTTE to the Agreement and simultaneously wage the shadow war against the organisation. They are using the politico-military strategy of “talks” to buttress the Agreement and the Patrols and paramilitaries to emasculate the LTTE’s military capability. Their central aim is to dismantle the independent structures of a fledgling Tamil State. Their central problem is that Prabhakaran’s deft political and diplomatic moves drove their strategy into the ground.

The question is: what will they try next?

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