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"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Home > International Tamil Conferences on Tamil Eelam Freedom Struggle > > Peace with Justice, Australia > Peace Possibilities & Obstacles

International Conference on the Conflict in Sri Lanka:
Peace with Justice, Canberra, Australia, 1996


Dr. Sunil Ratnapriya
Politburo member of the Nava Sama Samaja Party (NSSP) in Sri Lanka

Today the situation with regard to the N-E conflict has changed 1800 from the time People's Alliance[PA] government was elected in 1994. The most significant development that has taken place is the occupation of the Jaffna peninsula by the Sri Lankan Armed forces. The militaristic-chauvinistic camp within the government has strengthened themselves by this action. The communal forces which were outside the Peoples Alliance government have now joined with them. They are even optimistic that not only Jaffna but even Madras could be captured. They are not interested in a genuine devolution of power. They would like to present some arrangement of power sharing for the Tamil people once their back is broken and subjugated. The Tamil people have lost the confidence they had in the PA government and President Chandrika. It has pushed the LTTE into a position from which it cannot negotiate. The government does not even carry on a proper dialogue with the Tamil parties who are operating in the South. It has quarreled with the CWC, the organisation representing the Plantation Tamales.

The government has antagonised the working class and the trade union movement too. Their support would have been crucial in implementing a viable package of devolution. The government has done so by their treacherous policy of privatisation and repression of trade union rights. Industrial workers have launched several trade union struggles during the past few months. These have been related to their basic rights and working conditions. Most of these struggles have been crushed and suppressed through police action. Several key sectors of the economy are to be privatised and the unions in these sectors have clashed with the government on several occasions. The campaign against privatisation has always included slogans against the war in the North and East. The picketing campaigns launched against privatisation too included slogans against the war. Any trade union action that was launched recently, the government charged as being against the war. The government charged that the recent Electricity Board Employees Strike was carried out unmindful of the fact that it jeopardises governments war efforts. They were therefore accused of being the agents of the LTTE. Health sector employees too went on strike recently and similarly they were accused of resorting to strike action against the national interests.

However all these sectors of workers were not prepared to accept this argument put forward by the government. The Electricity Board strike was very decisive. It was a very serious strike which threatened the very existence of the government. Significantly it was launched by the workers of an institution which was directly under the control of General Anuradha Ratwatte who is the prime mover of the war in the North. This clearly showed that the government has seriously antagonised and attacked the working class and its organisations. These organisation would have been an important factor in helping to implement any package for devolution. On the last May day the police with clear instructions from the government brutally attacked the only May day procession which campaigned against privatisation and the War in the North and East.

In addition to the working class it has also antagonised and suppressed the alternate media and the mass organisations which has always stood for the devolution of power. A press censorship has been imposed and various other harassments are meted out to the national media and to the alternate press. The RAVAYA and YUKTHIYA papers have been accused of publishing anti government articles in order to boost up their falling sales. The participants of the NGO forum meeting which was held in September 1995 in Colombo were physically attacked by chauvinistic groups and local politicians of the PA. Before the attack all national newspapers, mainly the government media published a news item stating that the NGO forum meeting is being held to campaign against the War and helped LTTE. This was a clear indication that it has been manipulated by the government. Such is the situation that exists today in the country. A situation that is not at all conducive for the implementation of a political solution to the N-E conflict. In order to identify the obstacles and possibilities that exists for the peace process in Sri Lanka it is essential that we look at the developments that have taken place since the election of the PA government to office. It would then be possible to recognise the forces and factors that has been responsible for changing the situation in such proportions from that existed in 1994 to what is there today.


When People's Alliance(PA) government headed by Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumartunge was elected to power in 1994 it received a very clear mandate from the people to resolve the North/East conflict and end the War through a political solution.

The people have come to this realisation having gone through much experience and failed promises by successive United National Party(UNP) governments of Jayawardana, Premadasa and D B Wijetunge. The PA government received a very clear mandate not only from the people in the South but also from the North and East. That too not only once but on three occasions. First the peoples alliance contested the Southern provincial council and won a resounding victory. The Southern electorate is said to be chauvinistic. President Wijetunga of the UNP who led the campaign of the then ruling party for this election campaigned solely on the promise that he would wage a proper war to defeat the LTTE in the North. People in the Southern province completely rejected his call and gave a clear mandate to Chandirka Bandaranayaka Kumaratunge who led the People's Alliance campaign to implement a political solution to the N-E conflict. Then came the General elections in 1994. All left oriented candidates who campaigned for a political solution won easily. Vasudeva Nanayakkara member of parliament formerly of the NSSP came 1st in the list of candidates for the Ratnapura district beating even the Sri Lanka Freedom Party(SLFP) candidates to the second place. Ratnapura is an interior district with a significant Sinhala Buddhist electorate. He has been earlier identified as an elamist. While being in the NSSP he campaigned consistently for the right of self determination and autonomy for the Tamil speaking people.

In the 1994 August General elections the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna(MEP) and Bhumiputhra Party were totally rejected by the people. These were two parties that were totally opposed to any type of devolution of power. MEP had 3 members in the parliament and all 3 lost. Following their victory in the general elections Chandrika government started bilateral negotiations with the LTTE in mid October. A four member delegation visited Jaffna and met a delegation of the LTTE. This was widely publicised. It was the first formal contact between the LTTE and the Sri Lanka government after the resumption of hostilities in 1990. Chandrika was criticised by the communal forces and accused of selling the country to the LTTE.

Having started negotiations with the LTTE Chandrika contested the Presidential elections. The communal forces charged that a vote for Chandrika was a vote for the LTTE. In spite of all these campaigning Chandriaka received 62% of the total votes cast and won the presidential election. Her majority was 2 million. The votes came from all the communities North, South, and from the East. A historic opportunity has been created which made the implementation of a lasting solution to the N-E conflict possible. For some time the LTTE looked isolated from the Tamil people. There was euphoria in Jaffna about the victory of Chandrika. Her photographers appeared in Jaffna. Women wore Chandrika bangles.


How did this situation come about. Several organisations have been responsible for building this up. They have launched a relentless campaign to woo the working class and the other sectors in the society, away from the chauvinistic policies practiced by the two main capitalist parties. The party which I represent the Nava Sama Samaja Party(NSSP) from its inception in 1977 has campaigned for the right of self determination and autonomy for the Tamil speaking people. Dr. Vicramabahu, leader of the NSSP presented this position as far back as 1975 in Left Samasmajist paper. In his book titled, LSSP and the Tamil Speaking People and published as far back as 1979 he again explained this position. At every election, at every workers conference the NSSP presented this view to the working class and other section. It has defended this right and explained it in practical terms. In the parliament and in every other forum NSSP has consistently campaigned for this stand. "HARAYA" a, weekly which publishes similar views to the NSSP has campaigned for these views for the last 10-12 years. Several trade unions too came to take up a similar stand on the N- E issue. The joint council of Trade Unions which is the main trade union center bringing together the largest number of trade unions in the country adopted a similar stand. Government Clerical Services Union(GCSU), Central Bank Employees Union(CBEU), Ceylon Teachers Union(CTU) are the other unions that are not included in the Joint Council of Trade Unions(JCTU), but who have taken a similar stand. A debate has taken place in the Student movement too. This was the power base of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna(JVP). The JVP adopted a anti Tamil line in 1991 and a strong anti devolution line during the 1987-1989 period. But a discussion took place since 1992 in all national universities to reevaluate their position on the N-E issue. Students were divided in to two camps. Those who advocated a Marxist approach to the problem and those who proposed a Nationalist solution. The discussion also took the form of a debate between Dr. Vickrambahu, leader of my party and Dr. Nalin Silva, Chief Protagonist of the Nationalist thought, a fundamentalist group campaigning for the supremacy of Sinhalese, over the Island. The theme of the debate was whether there is a Marxist solution or a Nationalist solution to the ethnic conflict.

The "HIRU"(Sun) paper a weekly published by sections close to the JVP started taking a stand against the war mainly as a result of this debate. At the time it was taking a stand a opposing the war the circulation of the HIRU paper was around 30000. Several non governmental organisations engaged in activities in various fields and the alternate media all campaigned for an end to the costly war and promotion of a political solution. Ravaya and Yukthiya papers should be specially mentioned in this regard. Situation among the Buddhists clergy also changed. Several young scholarly Buddhist monks have challenged the thesis that Sri Lanka belonged to Sinhala Buddhists. Thus the working class parties, the trade union movement, progressive student movement and progressive sections of the Buddhist clergy have come forward to make political solution a possibility. Most of these forces campaigned for the victory of the PA as the PA clearly declared in their manifesto that they would seek a mandate for a political solution.


The possibility for a solution can be considered only on the acceptance of right of self determination for Tamil speaking people and their right to autonomy. Devolution of power as a solution to the N-E conflict has been accepted by a majority of people as shown by the mandate received by the PA government who campaigned for such a solution. This has been achieved at a tremendous cost to lives both in the North and the South. Many left activists including the husband of the present president who was then a leader of the United Socialist Alliance laid their lives to establish this principle. Devolution of power for a merged N-E provincial unit is a key a factor for a political solution. Various proposals have been made how the N-E unit is to be demarcated and what powers should be devolved to such a unit. The LTTE, and most of the other Tamil parties have take up the position that there will be no solution without the merger.

The Nava Sama Samaja Party(NSSP) has put forward that a unity can be preserved on the basis of the following principles.

1. Equality of all citizens (all racial, religious and communal discrimination should stop.) Full citizenship to all permanent residents.

2. Autonomy for regions(every distinct set of people have the right to govern themselves)

3. Right of self determination(acceptance of the right of every nation on its own destiny, unity should be entirely on a voluntary basis).

On this basis we have put forward the following programme to resolve the N-E conflict.

1. Right of secession be included in the constitution in order to make it absolutely clear that unity is based on voluntary decision of both parties. That will express very clearly the in alienate right of Sri

Lankan Tamales to a homeland in this country. Also, it means no one dominates and that there is unenforced uncoaxed and ungrudging unity.

2. Equality and end of discrimination in citizenship, jobs, education, land allocation, etc. and particularly in the national armed forces. Granting of citizenship to all Kandyan Tamales.

3. Autonomy for Tamil speaking areas with powers over regional security or police functions, colonisation and education etc. Home Guards or defence militias for minorities in other areas.

4. Right to use Tamil in dealing with the central government.

5. Fare share of national income to develop Tamil areas.


The Peoples Alliance led by Chandrika Kumaratunge stated in its manifesto that a necessary constitutional changes would be made to resolve the N-E conflict. They also declared that a constituent assembly would be summoned to effect the necessary changes. Her government however choose not to use this provision. When asked by the Hindu corespondent Jayanath about this matter President Kumarathunge told him that she could have done it if she received a clear mandate. Since there was no such mandate she said that she would start with a process of consultation first. The announcement that this consultation would be done through the presentation of a political package was made by the president on 09th of February at a meeting with the foreign news paper correspondents. Many discussions have taken place regarding the contents of the package and the subsequent legal draft that was presented. I will not go into those details. In the current context no political solution is worthy of discussion unless it is implementable. This is all what we have to say about the package and the legal draft that was submitted later. What is the course of action that was proposed for its implementation. First the proposals contained in the package were to be discussed among the political parties and organisations. Then it was to be debated in a parliamentary select committee. Having made necessary changes at select committee level, it was supposed to be presented for a parliamentary debate. Once approved by the parliament it was to be presented for a referendum. When you analyse this process it is clear to anybody that this process would ensure that the package die a natural death. This is exactly what has happened now.

While whole heatedly supporting any proposal for devolution and defending it unconditionally the NSSP criticised the political package presented in February 1996 on the following grounds. It appreciated the fact that the package has recognised the concept of a Tamil homeland. The NSSP criticised the long elaborate procedure through which the package would be taken so that ultimately it will be reduced to nothing. It also criticised the government for seeking the support of the UNP which the people has rejected as a failure. NSSP also took up the position that there is no point in seeking a mandate from the Sinhala people whether North and East should be merged.

NSSP proposed that instead of seeking the support of the UNP the Government should take a radical approach and call for a constituent assembly and invite all political parties and mass organisations both in the North as well as in the South for a discussion. The NSSP through its press releases and Dr. Vickramabhu through number of interviews clarified this position. I myself had the opportunity of putting forward these views on two occasions and following were the responses. One was a seminar organised by the Christian Church and held in Colombo, Mr. Rajan Asirwathan, Present Chairman, of Public Enterprises Reform Commission(PERC) presided. Mr. A Sivasithamparam, President of the Tamil United Liberation Front, Dr. J Uyangoda, Political Analyst, and myself were the speakers. I represented the NSSP. When I proposed that the government without going behind the UNP should seek a mandate through a constituent assembly Dr. Uyangoda who was then a close adviser of President Kumartunge gave the following response. He said that "this Government is caught up in a Constitutional dilemma.

The package, envisages constitutional amendments - particularly the 13th amendment which requires a 2/3rd majority. The 1978 Constitution laid down the entrenched clauses, which require both a 2/3rd majority, and a referendum for the amendment. Therefore however democratic the constitution we want to establish for the future, we cannot use extra- constitutional means to do it. We have to therefore recognize this dilemma, and work towards overcoming it." However the manifesto stated clearly that the new constitution would be based on the mandate given by the people at the election.

The second occasion was a seminar organised by the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute(SLFI). The panel included Mr. Bradmen Weerakoon former secretary to number of Prime Ministers of Sri Lanka, Mr. Rauf Hakeem, Member of Parliament of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and Mr. Jayampathi Wickramaratna a constitutional expert and a lawyer of the LSSP. When the NSSP proposal was put to the panel Mr. Jayampathi Wickramaratne said that he agree with the proposal. He said that there is a clear mandate to summon a constituent assembly. He said that he cannot understand why the government is not taking this approach. This was a turning point for the peace process. It demonstrated that Chandrika was not prepared to take the initiative historically presented to her. How can she?. However much one try to glorify her past her present base is the SLFP membership. A party which vehemently opposed the Indo-Lanka accord and the devolution of power, was not a good launching pad for an initiative for devolution.

What did she do to prepare the party to take such an initiative after taking power. Practically nothing. So from the announcement of a framework of a package Chandrika and the leadership of the SLFP did practically nothing to educate their party in this regard. The finalised political package it took time till July for its presentation. By April 1995, Shrimani Athulathmudali, Leader of the DUNF(L) and M H Ashraff, Leader of Muslim Congress have spoken out strongly against the N-E merger. Srimani took up a position of totally opposing the merger, She even said she would leave the government if merger is included in a package. Obviously the UNP and its leader Ranil Wickramasighe was behind this stand. Ashraff's position was that Muslim interests would be jeopardised if a merged N-E province is handed over to the LTTE.

The LTTE announced that they are withdrawing from the peace process on 21st of April. Vacillation of President Chandrika allowed the Militaristic and Chauvinistic elements within the government to strengthen themselves. Deputy Minister of Defence General Anurudha Ratwatte was a nucleus for such elements to gather around. In spite of the governments announcement of a political package and a political solution, to the N-E conflict he continued to visit military camps, encourage the armed forces to launch a war and consistently carried out a militaristic line. He spoke about a liberation war for Tamales and what he meant was a war by a predominantly Sinhalese army to free Tamales of LTTE control. Reactionary elements like Minister C V Gunaratna and Ratnasiri Wickramanayaka, Minister of Plantation Industrial too joined the band wagon.

Once the government appeared divided chauvinistic elements too became active. "Janatha Mithuro" of Champika Ranawaka, Jathika Chinthanaya of Dr. Nalin De Silva, MEP of Dinesh Gunawardana all started putting up posters and holding seminars. There demand was that the government should immediately launch a real war to crush the LTTE. Buddhist clergy represented by the Mahanayaka's too became vociferous against any attempt to devolve power. Upali group of Newspapers, which publishes Divayina and The Island started the usual campaign against devolution of power. Divayina and The Island has been very silent on the N-E issue since the victory of the PA. Their circulation has come down significantly. However along with the rising chauvinism the Upali newspapers resorted to anti devolution propaganda of a significant scale.

A debate started taking place within the JVP. This revolved around whether they should take up the stand adopted by Lenin or Rosa Luxemberg on Right of self determination for minorities. Rosa Luxembourg has taken up the position that assertion of right of self determination by minorities should not lead to the break up of countries. It was evident that JVP was trying to change their stand under the pressure of communal groups.

The national congress of the JVP was held on 15th of May in the Southern town of Tangalle. The NSSP was invited to send a delegation and Dr. Vickramabahu, myself and comrade Ajantha Kumara from the NSSP youth section attended this congress. NSSP was the only left party invited to attend and Dr. Vickrambahu gave a speech opposing the war and the privatisation policy of the government and advocating autonomy for a merged North-Eastern province as a solution.

The speakers at this congress all spoke against the war and said that Left is the only force who could offer a solution to the N-E conflict. This was the last time that the JVP was heard taking a stand against the war. Along with the announcement of the political package JVP started adopting a different line. Their slogan was "Reject the package which devide the country". The JVP was silent about the war. At this stage the HIRU paper and the group around it broke away from the JVP. This was a very significant development in the history of the JVP. HIRU now comes out as a monthly magazine.

On the 8th of July the government announced the launching of the Sudu Neluma Movement[White Lotus Campaign]. It was termed as a Movement for Peace against the Terrorist Movement in the North. Its objectives were:

1. To educate the people about the political solution presented by the government

2. To help the border villages affected by the War

3. To mobilise public support for the armed forces who are fighting to protect the people

However it ultimately turned out to be a movement to mobilise people to support the War. This movement held meetings, public demonstrations and collected clothes and other items to sent for the armed forces fighting in the North and East. The Operation Leap Forward where armed forces moving out of the Palaly camp captured areas held by the LTTE was launched on the 10th of July. It was obvious that the Sudu Neluma movement launched at such a time would perpetuate the War psychosis. On the other hand the operation Leap Forward was launched when the communal forces have built up their propaganda to a maximum level. The operation according to the government sources demonstrated to the country that through a conventional type of military operation the armed forces could overrun areas controlled by the LTTE. Therefore when the political package was announced people had little interest in a political solution. The government argued that the LTTE has not responded to negotiations and it should first be crushed to pave the way for the settlement of the problem.

The Political Package was announced on the 26th of July. The government having announced it did not campaign for the package except for various speeches made by Prof. G L Peris in closed door seminars. It was clear that the government has not discussed and debated the political package among the cabinet of ministers, members of the SLFP, or within the peoples alliance before presenting it to the public. This is a serious lapse since the SLFP is a party which has been oriented to oppose devolution from the time of the Indo Lanka Accord. Instead of launching a Sudu Neluma movement the government should have educated its main power base the SLFP membership towards accepting devolution of power as a solution to the N-E conflict. Otherwise how do you expect a party membership who even aligned with the JVP in opposing the Indo Lanka Accord five years ago to back a serious attempt to devolve power. At times the SLFP leaders openly said that political package is being presented to win the International opinion. This they said is being done to attract more funding and purchase modern weapons to match the LTTE. The legal draft which was presented later was a step backwards and did not interest even the Tamil parties operating in the South. It was in this background that the political package died a natural death and paved the way for operation Rivirasa.

Speculation has been made whether the Sri Lankan military has acted as an obstacle to the peace process in Sri Lanka. My view is that the military was confused by changing stands adopted by the ruling parties. They have been worried that some times they, are requested to fight and then to relax when a peace process is started. They were have worried that the abortive peace processes expose them to face military onslaught by the LTTE when they are unprepared. In that sense there was pressure building up within the army that government should adopt a clear cut policy. Once the government decided to launch an operation to free Jaffna and requested Major General A M U Seneviratne and Gemunu Kulatunge to launch an operation in May. At that time Major General A M U Seneviratne functioned as the Commanding officer of the Joint Operations Command. When refused to do so they were immediately removed from their positions and shifted to elsewhere.

Some comments should be made about the approach of the LTTE in this whole exercise. When the government started wavering on the peace process the LTTE did not resort to a political campaign in the North and in the South to expose the hidden intentions of the government. Instead they resorted to military attacks on the government targets too soon. Thus the government was able to consolidate its action internationally and particularly among the Sinhalese people and show that the LTTE is not interested in the peace process.

The LTTE in facing up to the Military-chauvinistic campaign of the government relied too much on the support of western countries and international capitalism. The LTTE has not taken into account the changed international situation in which the US government has decided to crush the movements that they considered as fundamentalist. Thus the LTTE overestimated the opposition by the western countries to a military operation like Operation Riviresa and underestimated the opposition by movements in the South of Sri Lanka. The attitude of the LTTE towards the workers movement and other sections supporting a genuine devolution of power and the right of self determination for Tamales in the south has not helped the peace process very much. The events that have unfolded since the election of the PA government to office up to now clearly shows that the vacillation of the government was the main obstacle to the peace process. It allowed the communal forces and chauvinistic elements to rally round again.

Thus the Chandrika government lost a historic and crucial opportunity to take the entire country through a process by which a substantial devolution of power to the Tamil speaking people have been effected. As a result of government wavering on the political solution the historical obstacles for peace in Sri Lanka has raised its head again.


In the circumstances the present PA government has no credibility or capability to implement a political solution to the N-E conflict in Sri Lanka. This government will go down in history as a government which has turned a historic opportunity, full of possibilities to resolve the N-E conflict upside down. We have demanded that the government take immediate steps to withdraw the Sri Lankan armed forces from the North and East and implement a political solution acceptable to the Tamil people. We have no alternative but to campaign for the removal of this government as a first step in order to bring about a solution to the N-E conflict. It is through the strengthening of the left movement, trade union movement and the other mass organisations campaigning for a genuine devolution of power that a solution could be found for the N-E conflict.



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