running out, warns Akashi
Special Envoy to Sri Lanka, Ambassador Yasushi Akashi says it is clear
the peace process has not made any headway in the last few months but
hopes the parties to the conflict will resume negotiations at the
In an exclusive
interview with The Sunday Leader, Ambassador Akashi also pointed out the
international community does not have unlimited time for Sri Lanka and
that it was important for the parties to act with a sense of urgency in
resuming peace negotiations.
He also said the
international community expects both parties to honour the Oslo
Declaration where the basis of the final solution should be Federal
in nature, recognising the right of the Tamil people for internal
self-determination within a united Sri Lanka.
Following are excerpts:
have been involved in Sri Lanka’s peace process for quite sometime
now. As of today, how would you assess the status of the peace process?
think the peace process has made some tangible gains already. Thanks to
the very competent, dedicated work of the Norwegians, the ceasefire
agreement was reached and this in effect is monitored by the SLMM and
General Furuhovde. I think it is very important to recognise these
the recent troubles in the east have created a complexity in the
relationship between the government and the LTTE. The LTTE seems to be
deeply suspicious of the intentions of the government, especially of the
armed forces with regard to the so called Karuna factor. I very much
hope that these problems can be resolved in a mutually satisfactory
manner so that open negotiations can be resumed on the basis of full
preparation by both sides in a spirit of give and take. Therefore, we in
Japan are basically supportive of the peace process wishing all the best
to the parties in the negotiations. Our position has not altered
since the Tokyo conference with regard to the rehabilitation and
reconstruction of Sri Lanka. We intend to be a forceful, helpful and
interested supporter of the peace process without interfering in the
negotiations as such which belongs to the Sri Lankan people and nobody
your view has the peace process progressed or retarded since the April 2
I think it is clear that progress has not been made in these months
because on the side of the government, after the April 2 election, they
have to put the house in order. They have to constitute the cabinet, it
is a coalition of different political parties and they have to agree on
apportionment of cabinet seats. They have to also find agreed areas for
negotiations with the LTTE and even before the elections some difference
of views between the government’s two coalition parties were not
quite clear. But I hope that the policy differences between them can be
resolved to the satisfaction of both so that the government can
pursue negotiations with a unified viewpoint.
were reports that just prior to the dissolution of Parliament,when you
met the President she had indicated she did not intend dissolving
parliament but subsequently she did dissolve. At the subsequent meeting
you had, did the President indicate why she dissolved parliament at the
time she did?
We did not touch on that particular question.
had a co chairs meeting in Brussels in June and a fairly strong
statement was issued with regard to the need for progress in the peace
talks with an indication the international community might go elsewhere
with the aid pledged for reconstruction since there are other countries
too which need urgent attention. Now, since making that statement what
follow up action has been taken, if any?
That statement made by the four co-chairs in Brussels is as you say
pretty strong. Its message is very clear, we are all deeply concerned
and the question of negotiations is so far at a standstill. The term
used in that statement was ‘drift’ but we know that both the
government and the LTTE are aware of the urgency of resuming the talks
and are preparing the ground for the resumption with the help of the
Norwegians and we have to wait till some of the preliminary obstacles
can be cleared up, including the troubles in the east.
long is the international community prepared to wait till the government
and the LTTE sort out these problems and start showing movement in the
I cannot tell you definitely as to how long.
your statement then be confined to mere words with no real action
contemplated and the two sides not compelled to take the statement
seriously since there is no follow up action planned for failure to
You see we say we are ready to make a positive contribution to peace
through our economic assistance and cooperation. These additional
contributions can be expected if prospects for peace become brighter. So
we hope to present a brighter future for all Sri Lankans if substantial
progress can be achieved for peace and we are in close touch with other
governments and international financial institutions like the World
Bank, IMF and ADB. I think all Sri Lankans, both the government and the
LTTE as well as others are aware of this clear attitude on the part of
the international community. We are in close touch with each other and
the parties to the conflict so that positions can be prepared and that
fruitful negotiations can be resumed as soon as possible.
Q: Do you
accept the position that the peace talks should start from where
it stopped at the time the LTTE pulled out of the talks? Now the LTTE
says it stopped. Do you agree or do you think that with the advent of a
new government it should be a new process that should start?
think that I differentiate between the peace process and the peace
negotiations. The peace process is there with very important
achievements such as the ceasefire agreement, presence of the SLMM, and
the statements of principle as enunciated in Oslo and Tokyo. These are
the gains. So when negotiations resume they will not start from zero but
they will be based on gains already achieved. The final peace still
eludes us and therefore renewed efforts have to be made to reach
agreement in the remaining new areas like the interim self-governing
Ambassador, would you not say the LTTE is justified in calling for the
resumption of talks based on the ISGA proposals because that is the
point at which the talks stalled and the former government and the LTTE
started to approach the recommencement of the talks by submitting
proposals for an interim administration?
Mr Wickrematunge, I do not want to go into the details of the
negotiations as you know the preparation of the agenda has
caused some discussion. I am confident a commonly acceptable agenda can
be adopted by both sides. It is not the agenda but the common meeting
ground which is important.
would you say is the major stumbling block now to restart the peace
developments in the east stemming from the Karuna revolt is a major
problem that has to be resolved by both sides. The resumption of suicide
bombings in Colombo also casts a cloud over the process and I very
much hope both sides renew their commitment to the ceasefire both in
spirit and letter so that an atmosphere for genuine negotiations will be
created. I know that solving the remaining problems will not be easy. It
will take time but as they say a journey of 1000 miles must start with a
first step. And already several first steps have been taken and so I
hope the present government will be able to pursue fruitful peace talks
with the LTTE and be able to solve the problems existing in the east.
mentioned the situation with regard to Karuna and the suicide bombing in
Colombo. In the eyes of the international community given the
allegations made by the LTTE that the government is assisting Karuna to
destabilise the east and the counter allegations against the LTTE
that it continues to recruit child soldiers and use suicide bombers, are
both sides responsible for violating the ceasefire and is it in danger
We are very apprehensive of the implications of the recent incidents. I
believe the ceasefire agreement is still in tact but I am afraid
the spirit of that agreement has been contested, challenged. But I still
like to believe the ceasefire agreement is still valid and constitute
the foundation on which the negotiations should commence.
Q: As a
key player in the peace process, whilst not commenting on the internal
politics of Sri Lanka, would you say one of the reasons that has seen
the peace process being stalled is due to the internal contradictions
within the United People’s Freedom Alliance government and its
inability to come up with a unified position for the resumption of the
I do not wish to comment on the internal politics of Sri Lanka. We have
to maintain our impartiality. With regard to the government’s
relationship with the opposition via relationship with the parties in
the government, whatever we say may be misconstrued and I have had
unfortunate experiences already of my remarks misconstrued in some, not
all Sri Lankan press. Our effectiveness depends very much on our
you say, the government must come up with a set of concrete proposals
for negotiations with the LTTE? The previous government submitted a set
of proposals and the LTTE submitted its response and that was to be the
basis of negotiations. Would it then not help the resumption of talks if
the new government also submits its proposals and the two sets — the
LTTE’s and that of the new government could form the basis of resuming
I am sure the very competent and very efficient Peace Secretariat
constituted by President Kumaratunga has been doing a lot of
preparations vis a vis the LTTE proposals on the ISGA. As I said,
I know my friend Jayantha Dhanapala, I have the highest regard for his
ability to analyse the situation and come up with suggestions. I think
what complicates the matter is politics rather than a lack of ideas and
suggestions. I am sure President Kumaratunga and all those concerned in
government will pursue the question of peace with a sense of urgency,
which is absolutely necessary.
was a meeting of UPFA constituent party leaders the previous week
to discuss the ISGA and due to divergent views of the alliance, it was
decided to invite all parties to ascertain their views including that of
Opposition Leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe and ask them what should be
included in the agenda. Do you think it is a positive step looking to
the opposition for the agenda given the divergent views of some parties
including the monks? Will a consensus ever be possible in such a
If you are asking the question about the possibility of consensus it is
highly desirable that such a consensus will emerge. When I met Mr
Wickremesinghe during his term as prime minister, I said it will be
highly desirable to agree with the President on the outline of the
basic position to be taken at the negotiations with the LTTE. I think
there are some elements common to both forces.
the government, the JVP represents a different view. Here for the past
several weeks of the new government we have seen a rapprochement of the
positions taken by the leaders in the government and we hope this will
be made concrete as the negotiating position of the government. But I
think all the major political groupings should continue their dialogue
in a true spirit of give and take for the future of Sri Lanka.
continue this petty bickering, it is possible the international
community might feel that Sri Lankans are not mindful of their vital
stakes on the question of peace and national unity.
Considering what you have said, would you say internal politics and the
clash of personalities is what is standing in the way of a breakthrough
in the peace process and stability in the country?
I would put it in a different way. I would say genuine peace in Sri
Lanka can always be built on the basis of consensus and agreement for
the future of the country by all those concerned who are interested in
the peace in Sri Lanka, with the values and
the objectives and principles which were enunciated in
the Oslo and Tokyo Declarations. As to how to achieve the peace and
through what means, it is for the Sri Lankan leaders to decide. Our wish
is that the day of final agreement will come very soon rather than
taking weeks and months while precious time is being lost.
mentioned the Oslo and Tokyo Declarations. The Oslo Declaration spoke of
a federal solution recognising the rights of the Tamil people for
internal self-determination. The Tokyo Declaration set out certain
conditions to be honoured by both the government and the LTTE for the
disbursement of funds amongst other matters. Is the international
community and the co-chairs still firmly of the view that the parties to
the conflict must abide by the principles enunciated in those
declarations for your continued support?
Absolutely. We are very clear that the principles enunciated in Oslo as
well as Tokyo are very important and have to be kept in mind by the
negotiators of the peace in Sri Lanka. We are confident it will be
honoured. These are well thought out principles taking fully into
account the interests and aspirations of the Sri Lankan people as a
Q: So the
contours of a final settlement will be a federal structure recognising
the rights of the Tamil people and right to internal self-determination
as per the Oslo Declaration, and the international community would
expect the government to honour it?
Q: In the
backdrop of the strongly worded statement issued by the co-chairs
in Brussels, no dates were fixed for a follow up meeting of the co
chairs. Is that significant and is that a signal to both parties, the
government and the LTTE, that the international community is losing
patience and if they do not get their act together you will walk away
from Sri Lanka?
I simply like to say that the co-chairs of the Tokyo conference are
watching the situation closely, analysing and evaluating everything that
is going on. Do not think we have lost patience. We are patient and
persevering but none of us have unlimited time at our disposal. We have
a number of other urgent international issues which call for our
attention. Sri Lanka and its peace, its welfare is very close to our
hearts, especially to the Japanese heart, but those of us who are
fighting to bring aid to Sri Lanka, I have been worried about difficult
times to persuade our own people to support and continue to honour our
comitment to your country.
the present impasse, how long will the international community wait, six
months, one year, two?
I cannot quantify precise times but I have described in qualitative
terms our feelings and our concerns and our expectations.
it correct then that the two parties will have no compelling reasons to
get back to the table but continue with the cold war since there is no
threat of the international community withdrawing its support?
I hope that is not the case. I hope everybody will understand our sense
of urgency in this matter which is very real and which is very clear.