need for division - Bala
chief negotiator, Dr. Anton Balasingham said in Thailand - just hours
before the second round of peace talks with the government commenced -
that the Sinhala people need not worry that the LTTE is going to divide
the country or that they are separatists or secessionists. In a wide
ranging exclusive interview with The Sunday Leader Editor, Lasantha
Wickrematunge, Balasingham said the LTTE is opting for some radical
solutions where Tamil demands can be accommodated without the division
of the country. Claiming that President Chandrika Kumaratunga and her
Advisor, Lakshman Kadirgamar were not seriously concerned either about
peace or economic development, Balasingham said their whole strategy was
to create difficulties for Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his
programme of peace and economic emancipation of the people. Balasingham
further said they advocate fresh elections to enable the people to give
the government a strong mandate to resolve the ethnic question and
implement the radical economic reforms in light of the Supreme Court
judgement on the 19th Amendment.
Q: WHAT do
you expect to come out of the second round of talks?
issues are being focused on in the second round of talks. The main and
cardinal issue is the formation and finalisation of the Joint Task Force
(JTF). We are going to discuss the terms and conditions about functional
modalities and we hope that this institute, organisation or framework
will be structured and finalised at this particular round of talks.
It is crucial
because several donor countries have come forward with assistance. They
want a structured organisation committed to the task of rehabilitation
and reconstruction to the war damaged economy of the north east. So the
main focus will be the formation and finalisation of the JTF.
are also going to discuss the High Security Zones (HSZ), with issues
concerned with the HSZ because this has created a lot of problems in the
north and east. As far as Jaffna is concerned, about 30% of the
territory is occupied by the armed forces. And several civilian areas -
villages of Tamil people have been taken over by the armed forces as
HSZs, for example Walikamam. As a result, there has been a lot of
agitation and demands by the general public that the armed forces should
be relocated - withdrawn to specific areas so that the internally
displaced persons can be resettled in these villages. These people have
been reduced to the condition of refugees as a result of military
occupation for the last 10 years. These people have been suffering, so
we will say normalcy could not be properly established. These people
have been uprooted. Our people have the right to resettle in their
Of course, we
also appreciate the concerns of the armed forces about their security
situation in Jaffna. At the same time we are not demanding the
withdrawal of the armed forces from the north and east at this stage.
But at the same time, by the consent of both parties, as a measure of
goodwill, both the government and LTTE or the armed forces and LTTE can
work out an arrangement without endangering the security concerns of the
armed forces. Accordingly, some adjustments can be made to facilitate
the resettlement of the displaced persons. Thirdly we are going to
discuss the situation in the east.
to the reservations that you mentioned, are you satisfied with the
progress made so far and the implementation of the Ceasefire agreement
I should be very honest with you. There is general satisfaction the
truce agreement is working very well without any major outbreak of
violence or conditions in the ceasefire. At the same time, there are
still areas which have to be implemented, that is terms and conditions.
For example, fishermen are allowed fishing in certain areas in the day
time but if they get lost they are not allowed to come back. It is an
unfortunate situation. As a result , there are complaints from the
fishing community. They have suffered a lot in the past.
Then there is
the HSZs. These areas have to be looked at too. Generally, I would say
the CFA is holding for the last seven months. That is one of the most
important aspects of the entire process of peace. For the first time, a
ceasefire arrangement has worked successfully and international
monitoring forces are encouraging the process.
Q: But there
is tension in the east with Muslims complaining of abductions and
harassment. This has led to a crisis within the Muslim Congress itself
with the SLMC leader also coming under pressure from his own MPs. This
could seriously impact on the peace process. How do you see this issue
have given serious concern to these complaints of harassment by the
Muslim people in the east. That is one of the main reasons why we called
the leader of the Muslim Congress to the Wanni and had extensive
discussions with him regarding the problems in the east.
Our leader, Mr.
Prabhakaran and Mr. Hakeem jointly signed a Memorandum of Understanding
where we pledged that these accusations of harassment, extortion and
abductions would be stopped and that we will encourage friendly
relations between the Tamils and the Muslims. Ever since the signing of
the MoU, I would say almost all these complaints have stopped apart from
one or two incidents, which have taken place without the knowledge of
the leadership of the LTTE, at a local level. And ever since, we have
given strict instructions to our cadres to see that the Muslim people
are not in any way harassed. We have taken firm action against some
leaders who have not carried out the instructions of the leadership. I
don't want to go into the details, you know it.
Then a couple
of incidents have taken place, particularly in Muttur and Valachchenai
and apart from those incidents there have not been any major outbreaks
of violence. And these two incidents have also now been brought under
control Now, the current unrest in the SLMC should not be confused with
the situation in the east because, for us the problem of the Muslim
people should be addressed at the negotiating table. It is precisely for
that reason this peace process was mooted. We have impressed upon Mr.
Hakeem that when the issues facing the Muslim people are taken up for
discussion or core issues are taken up for discussion, the Muslims will
be allowed to articulate their views with the participation of the
Muslim representatives and a framework worked out. So, not only the LTTE
and the government of Sri Lanka but also the Norwegians have given an
undertaking that the problems of the Muslim people will be discussed at
the negotiating table.
there have been some demands on the Prime Minister that some Muslim MPs
are demanding assurances and commitments at this early stage. We have
just started the peace process and only the first round has taken place.
We are to start the second round. The most important aspect at the early
stages is to establish conditions of normalcy in the north east. That is
working very well apart from a few incidents of violence, which compared
to the brutal violence that was exploding in Sri Lanka, is nothing.
would suggest, the Muslim leaders or Muslim MPs should be patient, and
to wait for the opportunity to participate at the negotiating process
when their matters are taken up for discussion. That is the way out.
Otherwise, it is unfair and unacceptable to make certain demands either
from the Prime Minister or from the LTTE, using the very fragile
political situation in Colombo.
Q: The Joint
Task Force is up for discussion when the talks commence and the Muslim
MPs are agitating for the rights of the Muslim majority areas also to be
taken up for discussion in the same context. There is also a claim by
the Muslims to be represented at the talks not as part of the government
delegation but as a separate entity. Do you see a role for a team of
Muslim representatives at this stage of the talks where the JTF is also
slated in the agenda or from your point of view should they be coming in
at a later stage?
Already a Muslim representative, Mr. Hakeem, not just as a government
representative but as leader of the Muslim Congress participated at the
first round of talks where a decision was taken by three parties. That
is the government, the Muslim leadership and the LTTE to formulate or
establish a joint task force where a decision is also being made to have
a Muslim member in the committee. As you know the committee comprises of
six people, of which three will be from the LTTE and three from the
government, of which one will be a Muslim representative appointed by
What we are now
discussing are the terms and conditions. The original decision to have a
committee is already made. So now it is the terms and conditions which
have to be formulated and Mr. Hakeem will also be there. This JTF is not
going to address all the problems of the Tamils and Muslims. This is
primarily concerned with the humanitarian and resettlement of the
of the refugees are Tamils. You must also understand that the government
has already given very responsible ministries for rehabilitation to the
Muslims. North east rehabilitation to Hakeem and Wanni rehabilitation to
another Muslim, where there is no Tamil representation. You must
understand that the Tamil people have been fighting for their rights for
20 years and now, the parties engaged in the armed conflict must have
the opportunity to sit, talk and sort out the Tamil questions.
the plight of the Muslim people. We are prepared to address their
grievances and we will support full Muslim participation when the
settlement of the problem is discussed. The Muslim question should be
discussed and resolved within the totality of the Tamil national
question. So, when the time comes, where issues pertaining to the
Muslims are to be taken up for discussion, we will have their full
participation. As I told you before, the JTF is primarily concerned
about the particular issues of humanitarian, resettlement and de-mining,
which are issues primarily concerning the north.
Q: You spoke
positively about the current peace process subject to certain
reservations. If you take this process with that of the last seven
years, what do you see as the failures which led to the breakdown of
that process in comparison to the success so far of this process?
A: I can
give you several reasons, one main reason is, for the first time, we
have a very strong will and determination on the part of the Tamil
leadership, I mean the LTTE leadership as well as the leadership of the
present government, that is Ranil's administration. And both the
leaderships are sincerely and seriously committed to peace. This
phenomenon had never arisen in the past. Even though there were peace
initiatives the leaderships were not attuned to it. That is one aspect.
This is also
the first time a third party has offered facilitation. That we think is
crucial, given their international experience in resolving conflicts and
they don't have any security interest or political interest in this
region. They did their best to bring the parties to the conference table
and still they are doing a wonderful job. That aspect is also there.
There is also
an international team of monitors looking after the terms and conditions
of the ceasefire, which had not happened in the past. There have been
ceasefires in the past, which have immediately broken down. Now,
whenever there are some minor problems, there is intervention by the
international monitors and the problems are resolved.
Then, of the
team that Ranil operates - like G.L. Peiris, Milinda Moragoda and others
- are men of an outstanding calibre, people with serious commitment to
peace and the welfare of the country. These people, who have a vision
transcending petty politics and squabbles, have been instrumental in
promoting this peace process. When there are two parties with serious
people committed to peace, then the peace process become smooth and
importantly, this is the first time the entire international community
is focusing on Sri Lanka for various reasons. Because of the global
situation, the war against terror and the situation in South Asia as
such. This conflict is focused internationally because if it succeeds it
will be a great triumph for the forces of peace. This is not an ordinary
situation in Sri Lanka today - this is a kind of a brutal war that has
been going on for the last 20 years.
If this war can
be restrained and the peace process is advanced and a solution is
reached, then it can be a fine global example for all conflicts in the
world. That is why the international community is focusing on this
Q: In this
context, President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the former Foreign Minister
Lakshman Kadirgamar are insisting on the formation of a joint committee
to review the progress of the talks with them and calling for a
discussion on the core issues at this stage. Do you see this as a
positive development to consolidate the peace process?
is precisely what Chandrika and Kadirgamar insisted seven years ago,
which led to the breakdown of the peace process. What we feel is that
Chandrika and Kadirgamar have no vision of what they assume to be the
core issues or the fundamental issue.
For them, some
kind of devolution to the north and east or north separately and east
separately, I don't know what they have in mind, is to them a solution
to the problem. They think if some concessions are given to the Tamil
people, they could alienate the LTTE and the problem can be resolved.
That is why they have been insisting on these so-called core issues.
First of all,
we want to raise this question as to what they mean by core issues. We
have explained to the people and the world at large what we mean by
fundamental issues. We have suggested that it entails a radical,
structural transformation of the Sri Lankan polity. We have to bring
about a new constitution. This constitution is not going to resolve the
problem permanently. Even the present political crisis in Colombo is due
to this constitution, which gives extraordinary executive powers to the
President. As far as the Tamils are concerned, it is a manifestation of
a chauvinistic ideology or an institutionalisation of a chauvinistic
ideology giving primacy to a particular religion, language and so on.
So to resolve
the Tamil ethnic question, we have always advocated a radical
transformation of the Sri Lankan polity so that a new constitution can
be brought up and the Tamil question can be addressed satisfactorily and
we have advocated regional autonomy for the Tamils as a form of internal
self-determination. Chandrika and Kadirgamar are not in favour of those
ideas. For them, their primary task is to create difficulties for Ranil.
They are not
sincere when they make these unnecessary demands from him. Ranil has
taken the right direction by addressing the immediate problems faced by
the Tamil people. That is precisely what the Tamil people also want:
they want to be resettled; some funds to build up their homes; there is
a need to rebuild a civilian infrastructure destroyed by war. These are
the urgent existing problems of the Tamil people that need to be
addressed. He is doing that and we support it. Stage by stage we will
discuss the problems of the Tamil people. When we reach a particular
stage we will address the core issues.
Q: You spoke
of the need for a new constitution. Now the government suffered a
setback given the Supreme Court ruling on the 19th Amendment. In that
context, do you see it as a serious setback to the peace process
particularly when the government will require a two third majority in
parliament to implement agreements reached during the peace process?
course it is a serious setback. What Sri Lanka needs now is peace and
economic revival. That everybody knows. Not only the Sinhalese, but also
the Tamils and the Muslims want a permanent stable peace and economic
revival because the entire economy is devastated due to the ethnic war.
It is only
Ranil's administration that has tackled these twin issues, peace and
economic development and they are negotiating with the LTTE. To a great
extent they have established peace and are now concentrating on how to
build up the economy. They are going on the correct path. But then to
advance further, to build up the economy and resolve the ethnic problem,
a stable government is necessary.
unfortunately, there are two centres of power and as you know since
Chandrika is not seriously concerned with peace or economic development
of the country, her whole aim is to disrupt Ranil's programme to bring
about the economic emancipation of the people. So they are creating
difficulties and to overcome it, they need a two third majority or her
executive powers have to be restrained. Otherwise, it is going to be
very difficult for Ranil to proceed with the peace process.
determination of the 19th Amendment is a serious setback and will make
the government weak and after December 5, Ranil's administration will
perpetually be under the mercy of a reckless President.
Q: How do
you see this issue being resolved? Would a fresh election and a fresh
mandate from the people for the ongoing process be the answer?
always advocated new elections so that the people can give the new
administration a clear, strong mandate so that the question of resolving
the ethnic question and radical economic reforms can be advanced.
Unfortunately, the decision by the Supreme Court has become an obstacle
as far as the present situation is concerned. I don't think the
government can dissolve parliament without the consent of the President.
I don't know the exact implications and the President will not go for
elections because she knows her party will be defeated. Therefore, if
Ranil can't have elections, the other alternative is to continue with
the present situation.
The only thing
that Ranil has is a popular mandate from the people. So he can continue
in government with the majority he has in parliament, he
can get the support of the Muslim MPs and the Tamil MPs and carry on
with the government, and if and when Chandrika dissolves parliament, he
can go for an election and return with an adequate majority.
In the meantime, if agreements are reached during the talks which
require a two third majority for implementation, how do you see the
peace process moving forward in the absence of an election?
That is going to be a serious problem but I donít think we are
going to need a two third majority immediately. The JTF is not a
political issue or framework that will need a two third majority. Even
without a statute or the intervention of parliament, the JTF can be
mooted between a state and non-state entity. An agreement between a
state entity and a non-state entity can give legitimacy to the JTF.
the ceasefire agreement is one between a state entity and a non-state
entity which has nothing to do with the constitution. This is a
framework primarily concerned only with the humanitarian task.
How about the time you get to the question of an interim administration?
That is a difficult problem. I donít think an interim
administration is going to come now because we have to do a lot of
discussion, when we work out a formula or framework for an interim set
up, the government has to go for elections, and a fresh mandate obtained
from the people. I donít know when that will be. At that time, the
government must be stable enough to go through with an interim set up.
LTTE leaders in the north and east have been in a state of perpetual war
for the last 20 years. How are they adopting to the new ground situation
of a relative peace for a prolonged period?
We have a military structure that is confined to the barracks.
Unlike the Sri Lankan armed forces occupying the Tamil areas, they are
confined to barracks in the jungle areas. This military structure will
be there until a permanent solution to the ethnic question is resolved.
Even after, we have to think of arranging a security system for the
Tamil people in a federal system or regional autonomy. Therefore, this
military force will be there to protect life and interest of our people.
formation may be structurally changed. There is a practice where
national liberation movements have been converted to national guards in
the interest of the community they were fighting for. These matters can
be discussed later on. But we are not a threat to the Sinhalese in
You spoke of internal self determination, regional autonomy, federalism
and so on. In that context, would it be correct to say you are looking
for a settlement within a united Sri Lanka and that it would be
acceptable to the LTTE?
When you use the categories unitary state and united, there should not
be any parameters or paradigms before you enter into discussions. We
never say that. For the LTTE a separate state is our paradigm. Similarly
the Sri Lankans should not say that the unitary structure should not be
disrupted. When we say a permanent solution is necessary and that there
should be a structural transformation, it involves a new constitution, a
new policy and an entirely new system of government to accommodate the
aspirations of the Tamil people. Therefore whether it should be within a
united Sri Lanka or a unitary structure should not be an issue at this
If I am to put it in another way, would ylkdsjlfkdsjlfkou say a
settlement would be on the basis of one Sri Lanka?
(Laughs). Yes, Sri Lanka will be there. It wonít disappear into thin
air. But there will be two systems of government, where both the
Sinhalese and the Tamils can co-exist. But it will be imprudent on my
part at this stage to spell out the nature and structure of that final
settlement which is envisaged. But the Sinhalese need not worry that the
LTTE is going to divide the country, that we are separatists or
secessionists. But we are opting for some radical solutions and that
Tamilsí demands can be accommodated without the division of the
country. That is what we are saying. The real model, system or structure
can be discussed between the parties at a later stage.
What are the responses you are getting from the south following the
ceasefire agreement and the current process getting underway. You
arrived in Thailand via Colombo having even travelled in the city by
road. Did you have any security concerns?
That is a good question. We had security concerns to come through
Colombo, particularly through the Katunayake airport because of what had
happened at the airport a couple of years back. Anyhow, I came through
Maldives and there were plans to bring me through Kerala as well during
the first round. But now, we have decided to come through Colombo for
a start, the talks have reached such a stage, where we have built up
mutual trust. Therefore, our decision to come through Colombo clearly
demonstrates our trust in the security system and the government. When
the Sri Lankan leaders and our leaders can sit together and talk
cordially, I donít think there will be any difficulties. There have
been occasions where the military leaders have sat and discussed in the
north east. So slowly and systematically, mutual trust and confidence in
the parties to the conflict have developed.
the LTTE delegation coming through Colombo is a clear signal that the
peace process is advancing, the mutual trust between the parties is
developing and it is a positive sign.
Given the political uncertainty in the south and the overall context of
the peace process, what message do you have as LTTEís chief negotiator
to the Sinhala people in particular and the country in general?
I would appeal to the Sinhala people to strengthen the forces of
peace and this is crystalised in the present government. I would say
that their mandate given by the people is the main factor for the
current process moving smoothly.
is the people who create the objective conditions for peace and ethnic
harmony in the island. It is crucial for the economic resurgence and
revival of the country. My appeal to the Sinhala people is to support
the forces of peace and also to support the current peace process. And
if an eventuality arises and a referendum is demanded or an election, I
appeal to the people for an endorsement so that all the people in Sri
Lanka can live in peace and harmony and work together to achieve this.