Attempts made to resolve the Sri Lankan conflict over the past 20 years between the various parties involved can be well described as a dialogue of the deaf.
The latest development was the statement issued by visiting United States Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia and Central Asia, Donald Camp, who was sharply critical of atrocities committed by the LTTE and called upon the Sri Lankan government to uphold law and order and address legitimate Tamil grievances.
Will the LTTE admit to committing such ‘atrocities’ or the Sri Lankan government even identify what these ‘legitimate Tamil grievances’ are? The LTTE during its 20-year orgy of murder and mayhem has never admitted to committing such ‘atrocities’ and successive Sri Lankan governments have said that whatever the grievances cited by the Tamil people have been righted. The Co-Chairs in the peace process very rarely
pinpoint the said incidents of murder and violence committed by either side while Sri Lankan governments and the LTTE trade accusations against each other.
Whatever the objectives and motives of the LTTE were, Sri Lankan governments have floundered, and especially the six-month-old government of President Mahinda Rajapakse, it is plain to see, has no clear strategy to bring about a settlement.
The UPFA rejected the peace process of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe lock, stock and barrel but had no clear conception of what it would do, if it were elected to power. From the reactions of the government to the current situation, it does appear that the government is following the same strategy as that of Ranil Wickremesinghe rather reluctantly, having no other option. It is however elementary that if a strategy is
being followed on so vital a national issue, there should be full commitment to it.
The strategy of Wickremesinghe was to seek a peaceful solution with the assistance of the four Co-Chairs — US, EU, Japan and Norway — and this was almost successful when LTTE Spokesman Anton Balasingham accepted a solution based on ‘federal lines.’ The LTTE was trapped and walked out of the talks. Later LTTE Leader Velupillai Pirapaharan reneged and instead of a federal solution proposed and Interim Self Governing
Authority (ISGA), and when it was about to be negotiated, three ministries were removed from the then UNF government and parliament dissolved.
Rajapakse, in very strong terms, at the commencement of the presidential election campaign itself, driven by the JVP and JHU , rejected Wickremesinghe’s strategy which by and large held, avoiding a direct military conflict and reduced the death rate to just double digits .
Now the challenge before President Rajapakse is to de-escalate the conflict and for this he has to use the mechanism of the Co-Chairs and abide by the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA). Whatever he does, it must be in consonance with the views of the Co-Chairs for the reason that the only authority that could hold back the LTTE is them. If not, he has to plunge into a full-scale military conflict. That is why the latest advice of
Deputy Assistant Secretary Donald Camp has to be taken very seriously.
Following the attempted assassination of Army Commander Sarath Fonseka, the government was compelled to retaliate militarily by aerial bombing of LTTE camps. This the government would have known would lead to accusations of attacks by the military on civilians and it did happen. Reports indicate that later events resulted in more Tamil civilians coming under attack. Internationally, this could cause a severe backlash
against Sri Lanka.
It will be recalled that after the 1983 riots and the active propaganda conducted by India and pro- terrorist NGOs, Sri Lanka’s name was daubed with mud as a nation that violated human rights of its minorities. The popular slogan against the Sinhala-Buddhists at the time was, ‘udeta kill, reta pansil.’
The LTTE by its own barbaric actions such as the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lanka President Ranasinghe Premadasa crowned itself as the most dangerous and bestial group of terrorists. The hard work put in by former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, a Tamil himself, retrieved the good name of Sri Lanka. That was made possible because great care was taken to avoid civilian casualties during
The gradual escalation of violence since the installation of the Rajapakse government resulted in severe pressure being put on the government to retaliate. And that is what the LTTE wanted: for the government to discard the peace process and go into a full-scale war in the belief that the LTTE is militarily superior to government forces.
The LTTE’s long-term objective has never been in doubt: it wants a separate Tamil state under its undisputed leader. The recent statements of the LTTE’s Political Wing Head S.P. Tamilselvan that when they signed the CFA they did so to be treated as being equal with the Sri Lankan state and that they have territorial rights to the sea is an indication of the extent of their ambitions.
International laws such as the right of access and use of seas apply only to sovereign states and not to small bands of rebels having temporary possession of a block of land.
President Rajapakse should deal with the situation with utmost diplomacy. Firstly, he should not succumb to amateurish advisers around him who think this conflict in terms of a schoolboy rugby encounter. After the attempt on the life of the Army Commander, the morale of the government was at a low ebb but the counter attack with aerial bombings sent spirits soaring. A UNPer was greeted by one such advisor after the aerial
bombings: ‘kohomada appe return eka’ (what do you think of the return match?). The UNPer’s warning to beware of a ‘re-return’ was not too pleasing.
What the President needs is not a coterie of self-serving ‘advisors’ near and dear to him and personal friends but diplomats of proven ability and experience, renowned political scientists, military advisors of repute, international lawyers and the like to guide him. Advisors who think with their heads and not just their hearts.
He should realise the chink in his armour is our military acumen. Is it sufficient to meet the challenge we are facing? The military has to be built up, not to wage war, but in accordance with the wisdom of military strategists down the ages: when seeking peace, prepare for war. One cannot negotiate with an enemy who is militarily stronger than you. Building up the military can in no way be an obstacle on the road to peace.
His strategy to peace should be with the four Co-Chairs that include some of the strongest military and economic powers. Right now he should follow the advice of Donald Camp. That is the world reality, and if you want international support, then you’ve got to play by the rules of international law and not live by the law of the jungle.