the peace talks
back on track
a stormy week which led to panic reactions that the peace talks were
heading for a breakdown with the prospect of war, backroom diplomacy and
cool heads saw the government and the LTTE by week's end moving towards
a compromise for the resumption of early negotiations.
the very commencement of the peace process, Prime Minister Ranil
Wickremesinghe warned the nation not to be complacent since there will
be many ups and downs during negotiations including breakdowns and that
it was of paramount importance to work towards peace through difficult
times with a warm heart and a cool head.
with the ceasefire holding for over one year and progress made in the
talks despite stiff opposition from the JVP and PA, the people soon
forgot the years that had passed by with roadblocks, bomb explosions and
the regularity with which both soldiers and civilians were killed in and
out of the battlefield.
the sudden announcement by the LTTE of its decision to suspend
participation in the peace talks came as a bolt from the blue with a
stark reminder to the people that it was in everybody's interest to sue
for peace and avoid the horrors of war and its devastating consequences
to the nation.
decision by the LTTE was in the works for a while due to the
government's failure to honour agreements reached at the negotiating
table largely as a result of pressures exerted in the south by the
opposition as well as sections of the security forces.
the LTTE, having renounced violence and agreeing to accept a federal
solution based on internal self determination, the lack of progress on
the ground after 14 months of a ceasefire was making it increasingly
difficult to justify their position to the cadres and the families of
over 17,000 of their cadres who died for the creation of a separate
of the thorny issues in this respect was the internally displaced people
being allowed to return to their homes in the High Security Zones (HSZ).
at every round of talks, the LTTE delegation pressed their case and the
government in turn bought time citing various reasons including the
much-anticipated Nambiar report.
with pressure mounting on the LTTE as well for failure to restore
normalcy, Velupillai Prabhakaran was getting restless and finally
directed Political Wing Leader S.P. Tamilchelvan to inform Defence
Minister Tilak Marapone in writing the urgency of the situation,
particularly in view of a government decision to relocate the brigade
headquarters to a vast stretch of territory covering the Jaffna
to the LTTE making its feelings known on the subject, MPs of the Tamil
National Alliance (TNA) informed the government of their opposition on
the shift, forcing the government to consider alternate locations in
consultation with the security forces.
is in this backdrop that Tamilchelvan came to write to Defence Minister
Marapone on March 31, referring to civil unrest in Jaffna due to the
is the full text of Tamilchelvan's letter:
Minister of Defence,
very grave situation of civil unrest is gaining momentum in Jaffna
following your government's decision to relocate the present brigade
headquarters located at the Gnanam and Subash Hotels to a vast stretch
of territory in the Jaffna municipal area consisting of lands belonging
to the former town hall, Jaffna municipal council offices, rest house,
police department incorporating the Jaffna fort and surrounding areas.
The civil and political organisations of Jaffna are alarmed and
concerned over the scale and magnitude of the relocation programme in
the heart of old Jaffna city in close proximity of two important
reputable schools, Jaffna public library, Thiriappah stadium and the new
court complex to be constructed in that area.
we appreciate the decision of the Sri Lanka Army to vacate the Subash
and Gnanam Hotels, we are totally opposed to the reoccupation of lands
in the Jaffna municipal area and the setting up of a large military
complex in the heart of the city. Our delegation at the Hakone talks
registered its displeasure and warned the government of massive public
protests. On behalf of the people of Jaffna, we urge you to reconsider
your decision and find an alternative location outside the Jaffna
municipal environment in consultation with the LTTE.
Head of the Political Section,
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
government, however, was slow to react possibly due to opposition in the
south and allowed the issue to ride until such time it was given a rude
awakening by the LTTE with the announcement of suspending their
participation from the talks.
is thereafter that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe summoned Army
Commander Lionel Balagalle and discussed an alternate location, which
the Army Chief came up with, stating it will not in any way compromise
that done, the Prime Minister, Defence Minister Tilak Marapone, Economic
Reforms Minister Milinda Moragoda and UNP Chairman Malik Samarawickrema
took wing to Trincomalee on Thursday, April 24, where discussions were
also held with Navy Commander Daya Sandagiri and Jaffna Commander Sarath
Fonseka, where once again the location of the brigade headquarters was
discussed and a consensus reached.
following day, Friday, Army Commander Balagalle, Major General Chula
Seneviratne, Sarath Fonseka and IGP T. Anandarajah met with Defence
Secretary Austin Fernando where a final consensus was reached on where
the brigade headquarters was to be located.
consensus thus received, almost a month after the receipt of
Tamilchelvan's letter, the defence secretary was asked to respond with
the alternate arrangement which he proceeded to do.
prepared the letter in consultation with the Army Commander and the
Defence Minister, Fernando handed over the letter April 27 to the
Norwegian Embassy for delivery to Tamilchelvan on Monday, April 28.
full text of Fernando's letter, to which was annexed a map outlining the
new locations, is reproduced below.
Leader, Political Wing,
Royal Norwegian Embassy
of the High Security Zone (HSZ) of Jaffna city
wish to draw your kind attention to the decisions taken on the above at
the fourth session of peace talks held in Thailand and sixth session of
peace talks held in Hakone in Japan.
the government identified the lands marked in purple numbers in the
enclosed map for the relocation of the 51 division and 512 brigade
headquarters in Jaffna against which decision you expressed certain
concerns by your letter addressed to the Minister of Defence, dated
reviewing the site, the government now intends to shift the above
establishments to the area marked as 1-6 in purple and 24, 30, 31, 32,
35 and 1/G in yellow.
for your kind information, please.
Ministry of Defence
the meantime, Tamilchelvan had written a separate letter to the Director
General, Peace Secretariat, Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke calling for
a postponement of the sub committee meeting on immediate humanitarian
relief which was scheduled for April 25, once again citing the lack of
progress on the ground. The full text of that letter was published
exclusively in this column last week.
LTTE, it thus appeared, was turning on the heat.
the Prime Minister laid the groundwork for his reply to Balasingham by
following up Austin Fernando's letter with one by Ambassador
Goonetilleke, whereby he showed steps already taken by the government to
address the issues raised by the LTTE particularly in relation to funds
for rehabilitation work.
on Monday, April 28, Ambassador Goonetilleke responded to Tamilchelvan's
letter on the progress made by SIHRN and the status of the funding.
letter of Ambassador Goonetilleke was personally delivered to
Tamilchelvan by the new Norwegian Ambassador Hans Brattskar on
Wednesday, April 30, when he visited Kilinochchi to pay a courtesy call
on the LTTE leadership and stress the importance of resuming the peace
talks and also the LTTE's participation at the Tokyo donor conference.
below is the full text of Goonetilleke's letter.
Head of the LTTE delegation to SIHRN
letter dated April 23 reached us while the government delegation was
preparing itself to attend the meeting of the Sub committee on Immediate
Humanitarian and Rehabilitation Needs (SIHRN) scheduled on April 25 and
fact, the key issues highlighted in your letter had been included in the
proposed agenda for the scheduled meeting. The government delegation,
which met for a pre sub committee meeting had already decided to propose
alternative approaches to overcome the temporary constraints facing
SIHRN. We were expecting to discuss these approaches with your
delegation during the scheduled meeting.
am confident that you are fully aware of the reasons for the delay in
finalising the agreement with the World Bank relating to the North East
Reconstruction Fund (NERF), and that the government is in no way
responsible for that delay.
the last few weeks the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP)
had been in contact with the World Bank office in Colombo on a regular
basis with a view to expediting the resolution of outstanding issues.
The World Bank has assured us that all agreements pertaining to the
establishment and operation of the North East Reconstruction Fund (NERF)
would be completed within several weeks.
government shares the sentiments expressed by the LTTE in this regard
and is sensitive to the fact that donor contributions already committed
to the NERF cannot be disbursed for projects approved by the sub
committee. In regard to this, the government delegation after extensive
deliberation had formulated an interim measure to enable the
commencement of approved projects. These measures were to be discussed
with you at the sub committee meeting, which has been postponed. In
light of this situation, we have requested the facilitator, the Royal
Norwegian government, to brief you on this proposal.
would appreciate the fact that a considerable number of projects would
have been approved by SIHRN, had the meeting taken place as scheduled.
As the meeting has now been postponed, may I suggest that we jointly
request Director, SIHRN to go ahead with the preparation of estimates,
etc., in respect of those projects, so that all preliminary arrangements
would be in place for them to take off the ground no sooner receiving
the approval of the sub committee.
relation to your comments regarding urgent action on resettlement of
internally displaced persons and refugees, may I point out that the
formulation of the accelerated resettlement programme for the Jaffna
District and the resettlement programme for the Mannar District by the
SIHRN secretariat in collaboration with UNHCR, have been completed and
was awaiting a decision at the next sub committee meeting.
the pledges made by donor community at the Oslo donor conference in
November 2002, the Director General, Department of External Resources
has contacted the relevant donor countries to ascertain specific
information on the quantum of funds they wish to provide to NERF.
However, the postponement of the sub committee meeting has caused the
donor community to raise questions about the resolve of SIHRN to pursue
rehabilitation activity, which is likely to cause further delays in
securing funds. The government, while regretting this development, will
do everything in its power to persuade the donor community to make
available resources already committed by them to SIHRN to continue its
humanitarian and rehabilitation work.
Head of the government delegation to SIHRN
the groundwork thus done, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe on Wednesday,
April 30, put the finishing touches to his draft and despatched his
response to LTTE's Chief Negotiator Anton Balasingham, wherein having
addressed the issues raised by the LTTE, called upon the organisation to
continue with the peace process without interruption.
out the positive developments in the peace process, Wickremesinghe said,
"In the face of these very positive developments, albeit not at the
pace which we might have desired, it is extremely unfortunate that the
LTTE leadership has decided to suspend its participation in the
negotiations for the time being."
am, however, encouraged by the reiteration of your commitment to seek a
political solution to the question, and in furtherance of this hope that
you would at this decisive time review your present stance and continue
a partnership which as you have conceded, already achieved considerable
the meantime, while international pressure came to be mounted on the
LTTE to return for negotiations, the Norwegians were doing their own
shuttle diplomacy impressing upon Balasingham the steps already taken on
the issues raised in his letter.
Special Envoy, Erik Solheim and Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgessen
were working one track while new in Colombo Ambassador Hans Brattskar
and former Ambassador Jon Westborg another, regularly communicating
developments with both parties to the conflict.
the midst of these developments came another thunderbolt in the form of
a threat by government negotiator Milinda Moragoda to pull out of the
peace talks following remarks made to this newspaper by LTTE's Political
Wing Leader Tamilchelvan with regard to the Washington seminar.
was reported as stating Moragoda gave an undertaking in Hakone, Japan
that the LTTE would be invited for the Washington seminar, thus implying
his failure to do so had contributed to the current impasse.
fact of the matter was no such undertaking had been given and Moragoda
was livid, hence his threat to pull out of the talks until such time the
LTTE withdraws the allegation.
LTTE's response to Minister Moragoda's threat made Monday, April 28; was
the first real sign that the LTTE was planning a return to the table at
that very Monday night telephoned Moragoda and profusely apologised for
Tamilchelvan's comments stating it was all due to a misunderstanding
apologise for the statement attributed to Mr. Tamilchelvan. I can vouch
for the fact you gave no assurance to ensure our participation at the
Washington seminar. I know that you can't work miracles in view of the
legal constraints attached to the LTTE proscription in America," he
went on to say there was a misplaced view among Tamil circles that
Moragoda had powerful influence in the US and that he could do wonders.
the same time, language problems give rise to unintended
misunderstanding. You are an asset to the peace process and we find you
progressive and creative. It will be a disaster if you do not
participate in the talks," Balasingham added.
statement of Balasingham was the clearest indication upto that time the
LTTE intended returning to the table.
also went on to tell Moragoda he would be coming to Wanni over the
weekend and would like to meet him on arrival and personally tender his
approach of the LTTE to go so far as tendering an apology was indeed a
first and a clear indication of the organisation's commitment to the
peace process and Moragoda briefed Prime Minister Wickremesinghe that
very night of the development.
went one step further and in a letter to The Sunday Leader editor too
said the organisation had the highest regard for the newspaper and the
clarification issued on the issue was not a reflection of the newspaper,
acknowledging at the same time the mistake was of the LTTE due to an
unintended language misunderstanding on what happened in Hakone. The
editor of the newspaper and Journalist Frederica Jansz were held in the
highest esteem by the LTTE he said in writing.
again, the very fact Balasingham was interacting with the media in
Colombo was an indication of the LTTE wanting to continue with the
process, no sooner the government addressed the issues raised in
that as it may, Balasingham will on arrival in Wanni meet with LTTE
Leader Prabhakaran and take stock of the situation, following which a
positive statement indicating the organisation's return to the table and
the donor conference in Hakone, Japan is expected.
that happens, the shock therapy administered to the peace process will
see a rejuvenation with even the south realising how important it is to
continue with the process to avert a war with all its devastating
all however will be happy, with the opposition already flexing muscles
claiming the government has succumbed to LTTE pressure, completely
ignoring the pathetic conditions in which the people of the north were
living in due to 20 years of war and that the only steps now being taken
are to restore normalcy to the affected people.
fact, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was quite disturbed last week
following information that President Kumaratunga could be the source of
a possible leak of sensitive documents to the media in a bid to whip up
emotions in the south to derail the fragile peace process.
followed a Sunday newspaper publishing a document purported to be from
the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), which was described as their
second draft on naval operations.
document came to be published in the defence column of that newspaper
last week and was viewed by the government in the backdrop of the
publication of an earlier discussion paper submitted by the SLMM wherein
a recommendation was made for the LTTE naval arm to be given equal
the SLMM document was only a paper for discussion and the government had
already submitted its counter to those proposals, only the SLMM document
came to be first published, leading to howls of protest by the
opposition including the President.
Minister Wickremesinghe was visibly angry at this development and
inquired of Defence Secretary Austin Fernando as to who had access to
the SLMM discussion paper whilst also asking his spokesman and ITN
Chairman Gyrika Perusinghe why the fact the government had already
submitted counter proposals was not notified to the media thereby making
the SLMM paper a non issue.
informed the Premier he had in fact informed the media of the counter
proposals on Saturday, April 19, after the Hindu newspaper first broke
the story on the SLMM proposals. At the same time Defence Secretary
Fernando told the Prime Minister copies of the SLMM proposals were only
available with the Navy Commander Daya Sandagiri, Ambassador Bernard
Goonetilleke, Defence Minister Tilak Marapone and himself.
also said that Sandagiri indicated he had given copies of the document
to three of his senior officers.
the media cannot be faulted for publishing the document, the Prime
Minister was furious for two reasons, namely the failure to mention at
the time of the publication the government had already submitted its
counter proposals which would have effectively diluted any impact the
SLMM proposals may have had, as well as due to a suspected selective
leak with the intention of sabotaging the peace process.
when the following week on Sunday, April 27, the same newspaper
published in the defence column what was described as the second draft
of the SLMM, the Prime Minister blew his top since he himself saw the
report for the first time in this Sunday newspaper. And the following
morning, Monday, April 28, after the central advisory committee meeting
at Temple Trees, the Prime Minister inquired from Fernando how the
second draft of the SLMM came to be published in the media even before
he saw it.
Fernando - "The newspaper has made a grave error. The published
document is not the SLMM second draft as described but the government's
the Prime Minister - "How did they make a blunder like that?"
Fernando - "The government's revision was done by myself, Bernard
Goonetilleke, Daya Sandagiri and Rohan Perera. Only the four of us had
copies and we all knew it was the government's revision. But at the
national security council meeting last week the President asked me
whether I had the revised proposals of the SLMM draft and I said yes.
Then she wanted a copy for herself. I gave the copy in my possession. I
thought she was referring to our revision when I gave it, but later
realised she was under the impression it was the second draft of the
SLMM. By that time I had already given the second document to her."
inference of Fernando's statement that the President could have
therefore been the source of the leak was not lost on the Prime
Minister, who simply said, "Now it all falls into place," and
walked out of the room.
such cloak and dagger politics, with the return of Anton Balasingham to
the Wanni this week where he is expected to be for two weeks in
consultation with LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabakaran, there will be an
announcement by the LTTE on the withdrawal of their suspension of the
having given the public a scare of a possible return to war following
the LTTE's earlier decision, the country will no doubt heave a
collective sigh of relief barring of course those hoping for a breakdown
of the process as a means of returning to power with the process itself
getting a much needed shot in the arm.