Seeking a negotiated settlement with LTTE

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sun Jun 25 12:59:26 UTC 2006

>>From TamilWeek

Seeking a negotiated settlement with LTTE
June 24, 2006 at 12:10 am

By S. Sellathurai

The world has not realized the true nature of the ongoing armed conflict
in Sri Lanka. The assumption that it is essentially political, as a result
of racial discrimination and denial of equal sovereign rights to minority
Tamils since independence, has led to the belief that it could be settled
through negotiations. The LTTE is not at all concerned about the rights,
privileges, safety and security of the people in different communities and
regions, let alone those of the Tamils living outside the Northern and
Eastern Provinces. About 54 percent of Sri Lankan Tamils (excluding the
upcountry Tamils) live outside the North-East region with the Sinhalese
and Muslims. Any settlement for lasting peace must not ignore this fact.

It is true that the problem that started with the Sinhala Only language
policy intensified later as a result of other discriminatory policies such
as the admission to universities based on media-wise standardization of
marks and preferences to Sinhalese in the recruitment and promotion in the
government service. There was discrimination with regard to development
policies too with regions occupied largely by the minority ethnic
communities receiving less attention. Thus the ethnic problem was created
by the discriminatory ways governments controlled by the majority
Sinhalese under a unitary system functioned. The system itself ignored the
islands diverse ethnic and regional features.

Failure to settle the ethnic problem since the late 1950s and the arrogant
thoughtless perception that the minorities could be sidelined and silenced
by intimidation resulted in the uprising of organised Tamil youth. When
the revolt against the State started, there were some 30 different
militant Tamil groups and the LTTE came to prominence after eliminating or
marginalizing others. As the only dominant force fighting against the
State, the Tamil Tigers have claimed themselves to be the sole
representatives of the Tamil people. Their assertive role in the armed
conflict increased after the Indian government in 1987 intervened to stop
the violence in Sri Lanka. The basis for the political settlement to the
conflict was specified in the 1987 Indo-Lanka Agreement. The rejection of
this Agreement and the elimination of moderate Tamil leaders, who took a
conciliatory and pragmatic line to conflict resolution considering the
importance of sustaining the resulting peace for future generations,
signalled the ideological shift from Tamil nationalism to cultism.

Cult mentality

The LTTE leaders' belief in a separate Tamil state (Eelam) has remained
unshaken despite the huge losses and immense sufferings incurred since the
beginning of the war. He is also determined to achieve the devout
objective notwithstanding the opposition of the powerful foreign
countries, notably neighbouring India. The world has not taken seriously
the command he has given to his followers to shoot him dead, if he departs
from his Eelam goal. He reaffirmed the decree at a media conference in
April 2002 at Kilinochchi. The Cease-Fire Agreement (CFA) was reached on
22 February 2002. The contradiction between the LTTEs real aim and the
declared CFAs final aim, namely, negotiated political settlement was
overlooked by the government and others who believed the CFA would lead to
permanent peace. To the LTTE, the negotiations were intended for settling
other matters and not the final Eelam aim.

The various gruesome acts despite the strong condemnation by the United
Nations, human rights organizations and foreign governments carried out in
pursuit of the cherished goal also showed that the principle the end
justifies the means was influencing LTTEs ways of operation. Political
killings and other violent activities that caused considerable civilian
losses, suffering and fear have induced some powerful countries to label
the LTTE as a terrorist organization. Sizeable numbers of Sri Lankan
Tamils are settled in Canada, Great Britain, European Union and the U.S.A
where the LTTE is banned.

Regardless of the extensive opposition to the unacceptable methods used in
the struggle for separate Eelam, these continued to be used in view of the
sacred nature of the goal. To the LTTE, Eelam is not just a political goal
that parties seek by persuasion; it is their vision of the way of living.
Although the single-mindedness of the leader has been clearly evident,
both the SL government and the world chose to ignore it. Cultism is
generally identified with a religious sect considered to be extremist or
fictitious. The followers accept faithfully the speeches, advices and
directives of an assertive charismatic leader. It could also exist in a
non-religious form when there is obsessive, especially faddish devotion to
or veneration for a principle or aim and/or a person propagating it
devotedly. After the emergence, subsequent spread of devotion to the aim
depends on the conditions prevailing in the region. In Sri Lankas case,
the Eelam aim arose because of the failure to solve the ethnic problem in
the early stages and even now the absence of a sense of urgency to
restructure the State as desired by moderate Sri Lankans and the
international community, especially India is lending support to the Eelam
idea. This is what the Sri Lankan government and many others seeking
genuine peace have ignored. They still continue to ignore the causes
without realising the implications. The more the cult mentality
strengthens, the more difficult it will be to bring ethnic harmony,
national unity and country-wide peace.

Cult followers

Like followers of particular religion, the Sri Lankan Tamil cult followers
regardless of their education and occupation believe blindly the leaders
aim. They are blind to the economy, resources, demography, regional
setting, internal and external relations and a host of other factors that
will determine the practicability of the desired aim. It has to be
promising to sustain peace and lay the foundations for a better future
from political, social, cultural, economic and human rights
considerations. The cult followers not surprisingly seem to be concerned
only about their sects aim. They are not interested in considering factors
that hinder the peace efforts and settlement of the twin conflicts Tamil
grievances and the separatist conflict. They will talk about the
atrocities committed against the Tamils but not those committed by their
fellow members against innocent Sinhalese civilians. Planned attacks
against the opponents are not crimes but any retaliatory attacks are
serious offences. An inhuman act allegedly carried out by a member is
ignored when he remains in the movement but after he has deserted it, he
is accused of being responsible for the same punishable act. One has to be
seen as a follower of the faith to be considered as a Tamil. In short,
they cannot look at the happenings with an open mind. There is good reason
to believe the proportion of cult followers is high amongst the Diaspora.
People who are enduring the agony of no peace and no freedom in the mother
land will want a pragmatic solution to the problem.

According to Shanie (The Island Columnist), the Tamil Diaspora's readiness
to believe disinformation is due to two reasons. One is that they have no
access or are not willing to obtain access to alternate sources of
information. Another reason is the indiscriminate and inappropriate
response of the security forces to LTTE brutality. Indiscriminate bombing
and shelling is a godsend to the LTTE. There are in fact other reasons too
which the columnist has failed to mention. Additionally, in many cases
ingrained prejudice from past experiences is compelling them to think the
Sinhalese and not the Tamils are responsible for all the dastardly acts!
Generalization based on few bad cases is also evident. The imagined or
self-satisfying thinking is also contributing to the wrong conclusion.

Cultism encouraged by default

Despite the known problems in negotiating with the LTTE on the main issue
of a separate independent state, which as mentioned earlier is an article
of faith founded on hate, distrust and prejudice promoted by the repeated
failures of governments to implement policies for uniting the divided
communities and sharing power with the minority communities. This required
significant changes to the present constitution. Attempts made by former
President Chandrika Kumaratunga between 1995 and 2000 to devolve powers to
the regions failed because of the damaging competitive party politics. The
bipartisan approach to the resolution of national problems is alien to Sri
Lankas political culture. The mutual support for the extreme positions of
the Sinhala and Tamil nationalists has increased recently. This
development helps the extremists to obstruct any sensible political
settlement that is inconsistent with their rigid positions.

The present confusion seen from the utterances of government leaders on
their approach to conflict resolution is due to either their reluctance to
accept the true nature of the armed conflict or knowing the difficulties
in negotiating with the Tigers, they still want to negotiate in order to
dodge making any bold moves to settle the ethnic problem. This national
problem is not the chief concern of the Tigers but a valuable tool for
achieving their goal. Thus, the effective way for the government to stop
encouraging cultism is to get rid of the conditions that led to its
emergence. Constitutional reform for maximum devolution as promised by the
President is no doubt necessary but the actions to convince the people of
a better future in a united Sri Lanka need not wait until such time.

Unable or unwilling to take quick action to change the present structure
of the State, the government is trying to mark time by making utterances
about its intended efforts to settle the conflict peacefully. The
appointment of the Advisory Committee to assist the All Party Conference
(APC) is also intended to demonstrate the governments commitment to
political settlement. Since it has not disclosed its road map to peace and
the nature of the political system being sought to secure lasting peace,
there is the feeling the present government too is going to make the same
mistakes of past governments. This will certainly strengthen the reason
currently being advanced by the LTTE supporters for separation.

A recent statement from the government Peace Secretariat said it wants to
engage the LTTE in talks so as to address the root causes of the conflict
that may have contributed to it to take to arms and the path of terrorism.
The lack of understanding of the cultic nature of the conflict is clearly
evident. Independent Tamil Eelam is an article of faith and what happened
in the past is history to the advocates. The head of the Peace
Secretariat, Dr. Palitha Kohona was even certain that the government would
get the LTTE involved in the process of drafting a new constitution. It is
difficult to believe such statements are made because of the failure to
understand fully the nature of the armed conflict against the State. On
the other hand if these are made for tactical reasons, then the
effectiveness is zero.

The following statements made recently by ministers indicate the
prevailing confusion over the approach to political settlement and lasting
peace. Leader of the House and Senior Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva
told Parliament on June 21 that a final solution to the national question
has to be reached between the two parties at the negotiation table and
therefore it is still premature for them to lay down the structure of it.
With regard to devolution Minister de Silva said that the final solution
would be a power devolution arrangement to be agreed upon by the parties
involved in the conflict, depending on the deciding factors such as the
degree of power to be devolved, and the geographical location etc. It is,
therefore, premature to reveal it right now. The government was being
asked what its solution was going to be when peace talks resumed but the
LTTE itself had not so far informed the government what they seek as a
solution to the conflict, he told Parliament! This clearly shows that the
government is waiting for the LTTE to negotiate with the government a
political settlement on the basis of what they want as a basis for final
settlement. LTTEs ISGA proposal gives an idea of their preferred basis for
negotiations. If this is the approach to end the conflict, the people
longing for peace will have to wait for many more years. In the mean time
the cult movement would have grown and its aim would have got firmly fixed
in the minds of the followers.

Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, addressing the Standing Committee on
Foreign Affairs in Norway, during his recent visit to the country touched
on the key issues relating to final settlement of the protracted conflict
in Sri Lanka. His visit to Norway came after the June 8th fiasco when the
LTTE delegation refused to sit with Sri Lanka delegation to discuss issues
that concern the monitoring work of the SLMM. By the way, the Government
delegation went for the talks at the invitation of the Royal Norwegian
government and had every right to be present at the scheduled meeting.

Although the contents of the speech indicated a clear understanding of the
inherent difficulties in seeking a negotiated settlement with the
intransigent LTTE, the main reason being their firm belief in separation,
the Minister repeated the call for a negotiated political settlement. If
the Governments strategy is to put the blame on the Tigers for delaying
the long overdue settlement, then this ignores the difference between a
lawfully elected government of a country responsible for the present and
future welfare of all the people and the LTTE a rebel organization
concerned mainly about its aim. The LTTE has not failed to blame the
government for the continuing deaths and suffering of the people, though
they too are responsible for the tragedy. It is the government that will
pay a heavy price for allowing the present stalemate in the peace process
to continue.

Mahinda Samarasinghe, Minister of Disaster Management and Human rights at
the inaugural session of the UN Human Rights Council held in Geneva said:
The Government is of the firm conviction that solutions to the issues at
hand have to be sought only through political means and not through
military means. As articulated by President Rajapaksa, I wish to assure
you that the Government of Sri Lanka will continue to press ahead with its
search for a political solution to the conflict, based on democracy,
pluralism and human rights that meet the aspirations of all communities in
Sri Lanka. This is a very sound principle but has no practical value in
certain cases if it cannot be applied to settle problems. The peaceful
approach cannot be the same in all cases. It has to take note of the
prevailing conditions and the ideological differences between the parties
to the conflict.

The Minister also hoped the international community will encourage all
parties to the conflict to engage in a sincere dialogue towards finding a
political solution acceptable to all communities in Sri Lanka. The LTTE
which has now become known as an illiberal movement committed to an
ideology that is at odds with democracy, pluralism and human rights, the
peaceful approach has to be indirect. The support of the international
community would help in realizing the objective.

No Tamil will deny the fact that the LTTE played a significant role in
regaining the dignity of Tamils and ending the fear of living in Sinhalese
areas. But now the very same LTTE is keen on recreating the hostile
conditions for its advantage! Enormous damage will be caused to the
peaceful co-existence of different ethnic communities in Sri Lanka if
there is widespread backlash. Tamils in the Diaspora have nothing to worry
but those in Sri Lanka will have a terrible life. If the Tamils want to
prosper, some will have to live in other regions as well.

Alternative approach

Many rational Sri Lankans as well as India the closest neighbour deeply
concerned about the developments in the island has suggested the approach
that requires the government to take the initiative for devolving powers.
This will give confidence to the people in the different communities that
they can live without the fear of discrimination, ethnic cleansing and
oppression by the majority community. There have to be inbuilt safeguards
to prevent any manipulation of the system for performing such disturbing
acts. India has repeatedly urged Sri Lanka to prepare a devolution package
that has the support of the southern polity. This was conveyed to Sri
Lankas Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera when he visited New Delhi
earlier. But this time for some reason the Indian Prime Minister Dr.
Manmohan Singh had told the visiting Minister June 22, the two sides
should work towards a devolution package that could command a consensus
among major political parties and restore ethnic harmony. Does India
really think Prabhakaran will agree to devolution of powers as an
alternative to his sacred Eelam goal? Will India, unlike in 1987 succeed
in forcing him to accept a regionalized administrative system?

This time too the general statements such as the Prime Minister affirmed
Indias commitment to the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of
that country and that the legitimate aspirations of all sections of the
Sri Lankan society need to be addressed expeditiously, were repeated. It
is unclear whether India wants this to be done before or after the
constitutional change incorporating the agreed devolution package. It
seems not only Sri Lanka; India too is confused over the realistic
approach to a final political settlement. Their dilemma is in finding ways
to convert words into matching deeds!

Professor Mahinda Werake in his timely article  Its time for a solution
has said: It appears that the present circumstances favour a move by the
Sri Lankan government to come up with a proposal that could eventually
pave the way for a final solution to the NE problem.  the government needs
to act quickly and come up with a blueprint to solve the NE problem
acceptable to the democratically minded Tamils and to India whose support
is critical. The onerous task for President Rajapaksa is to rise to the
occasion and propose a formula acceptable to democratic parties in the
North and the South that aims at solving the NE problem.

The veteran politician and TULF leader V. Anandasangaree reiterated on
June 20 in Colombo that the Government should propose a solution that
would be endorsed by the international community which the LTTE would be
unable to reject. This approach has a better chance of succeeding,
provided the proposed solution is not cosmetic but fundamentally different
as to eliminate lingering doubts that the Sinhalese political leaders will
not implement fully what they have promised or will manipulate the system
later to the disadvantage of the Tamils. This distrust should be dispelled
by confidence building deeds that will confirm the sincerity of the
proposed changes.

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