The peace process initiated by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in 2002 came to a halt a long time ago and the Ceasefire Agreement on which the process was based was in tatters. An intense military conflict has been on in the north and east for about three weeks, even though various terms have been used
to deny its military objectives.
The government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE agreeing to re- commence negotiations to restore peace in the north and east is an acknowledgement that this peace initiative commenced by Ranil Wickremesinghe under the aegis of the four Co- Chairs — America, European Union, Japan and Norway— is the only modus operandi available in finding a way out of this 20 year old impasse.
Last week the four Co-Chairs issued a toughly worded statement after their meeting in Brussels calling upon both parties to show a ‘real political commitment to achieve a political solution based on the six rounds of negotiations.’ They hit the nail on the head in calling for ‘real political commitment’ by both sides because that is what is called for if this moribund peace process is to be resurrected and its
ultimate objective achieved.
Before attempts at resurrection of this process on which great hopes were placed are made, it would be prudent to examine the causes of the death of the process. Lack of political commitment by certain parties as well as marked hostility towards the agreement motivated by petty jealousies were some of the causes.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga was enraged by the Ceasefire Agreement because despite being the executive president, she was by- passed and the agreement was signed by the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and LTTE Leader Velupillai Pirapaharan. She said that the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) was being used as a cover by the LTTE to build up it defences around Trincomalee Harbour as well as fortifications outside the
region that was designated as areas not under the control of the LTTE.
The LTTE, though it did not wage war on the battlefield did violate the agreement in numerous ways — by smuggling of arms, recruitment of children for war, illegal taxation even for the use of highways, murder of intelligence agents of the armed services among many other violations. The government was not without responsibility either, contributing its own share to the violations. The entry of the Karuna faction which has
broken away from the LTTE worsened matters and with Mahinda Rajapakse ‘the Sinhala hardliner’ taking over office, matters worsened further. Finally over the blockage of the Mawilaru irrigation channel a full scale war on land, air and sea erupted.
If the ceasefire is to be restored and the peace process is to re-commence, mistakes of the past will have to be corrected and new processes begun. For that to happen the CFA may have to be amended. This will be a tough proposition. But to continue on the beaten track will lead us to the same dead end.
The biggest problem which will confront the negotiators is the disarming of ‘paramilitary forces’ which the government is obliged to do under the CFA. When the CFA was signed the paramilitary forces identified were those which had a working relationship with the government such as the EPDP and PLOTE. But the paramilitary force in question is the Karuna group which was with the LTTE when the CFA was signed and are now
attacking the LTTE.
The LTTE alleges that this group and government forces are working hand-in-glove. The government, for whatever reasons, agreed to disarm the Karuna forces at the last talks with the LTTE in Geneva. But realpolitik makes it very difficult for President Rajapakse to crackdown on the Karuna group which is very popular with the armed forces and also with the Sinhala electorate, especially the JVP and JHU. ‘Your enemy’s
enemy is your best friend’ is an acknowledged maxim of military strategists coming down from the times of Sun Tzu, Kautilya and Machiavelli. Even though President Rajapakse is obliged to crackdown on them, it is doubtful whether he will or could do so. But to the LTTE this is a very vital issue if they are to hold their fire. They are not of the Gandhian school to suffer injury or death in sublime poses for greater good such as peace.
The most important issue raised by the Co- Chairs is to end the ‘war’ that is going on between the two sides. At the moment the fortunes of the government forces seem to be on the ascendant and those of the LTTE declining. Whether this is a temporary feature or not only time will tell. But for the government forces to stop the offensive will not be to the gain of President Rajapakse and his party. He will once again run
into the fire of the hawks within his party and the Sinhala electorates. But if he is talking about peace, then he will obviously have to order his troops to spike their guns.
A way to circumvent these intractable problems could be to direct the peace process on a new track. A call should be made for the immediate cessation of hostilities by both sides and solemn undertakings given by the leaders not to re-commence violence at any cost. The public impression of the 2002 Ceasefire was that there would be a gradual de-escalation of violence but instead it stepped up.
The government cannot turn a blind eye to some of the admonitions of the Co-Chairs in their statement issued last week because even if it does not directly name the government, by implication it is the government that is being spoken to and not so much the LTTE. Concern is being expressed that even major cases of human rights abuses are not successfully investigated or prosecuted. As in any modern state the culture of
impunity must stop, the Co-Chairs said. Quite obviously they are not referring to the LTTE as a ‘modern state’ and are pointing the finger at Sri Lanka. Violation of human rights by the government must be punished but who will try out violations within the LTTE controlled areas? Extra judicial trials by kangaroo courts?
The Co- Chairs indirectly refer to the President’s statement of the appointment of international tribunals to probe alleged violations of human rights such as the bombing of a ‘school’ by the air force and the killing of 17 NGO workers. The government now appears to have dropped the idea of an international tribunal. ‘Failure to cease hostilities, pursue a political solution, respect human rights and protect
humanitarian space could lead to the international community to diminish its support’ they have warned. It is obvious that all these references are being made to the government unless the international community provides support to the LTTE.
There is no longer any point in flogging the dead horse of Norway bashing since the facilitator was invited by the government to do the honours and you might as well make best use of the opportunity presented given the vote of confidence on Norway by India in particular and the international community in general. Gallery politics of the JVP calling for Norway’s ouster or the abrogation of the CFA will just not fly and
sooner the President distances himself publicly from such rhetoric, the more credibility he will attract from the international community for his peace agenda.
The Co-Chairs have not pulled their punches. They are telling what President Rajapakse should do or face the consequences.