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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Conflict Resolution - Sri Lanka - Tamil Eelam: Getting to Yes  > Institute of Commonwealth Studies - Workshop on Peace Process

Institute of Commonwealth Studies
Workshop on Peace Process

- 28 March 2000

"In the wake of the Norwegian peace initiative, Dr.Helena Whyall of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICS) organised a workshop in London to discuss the Sri Lankan Presidential election and the future of the peace process.

It was held at the Menzies Room, at 28 Russel Square in London and was well attended.

Among the speakers were Helena Whall from the ICS, Liz Philipson from the LSE, Alan J. Bullion from the Open University and the author of "India, Sri Lanka and the Tamil Crisis 1976-1994: An International Perspective".

The event was Chaired by Richard Bourne of the Commonwealth Policy Studies Unit.

The participants and observers included Dr.Nihal Jayawickrema, a Sri Lankan lawyer, Satbir Singh the Counsellor at the High Commission of India in London, Rolf Baltzersen a Minister at the Royal Norwegian Embassy in London, Mrs.Sitara Khan from Sri Lankan High Commission in London, Douglas Wickremeratne a leading Sinhala activist, S.Sivanayagam editor of the pro-LTTE English magazine "Hot Spring", Vairamuttu Varadakumar who runs Tamil Information Centre form 720 Romford Road, Manor Park, Ingrid Massage of Amensty International, Martin Wilcox of the Guardian newspaper published in London, Sivasambu who is said to hold the key to Sri Lankan high culture in London and several others.

Helena Whall gave a brief introduction to past peace initiatives, UNP support for the latest initiative, Liam Foxes bi-partisan approach, the lack of 2/3rd majority, the withdrawing of the cross over bill, abolition of the Presidency and Pirabaharan's speech referring to 3rd party mediation and ended by questioning if the present peace moves by the government is a rouse to gain time to prepare for a new military offensive?

There was a similar re-tracing of past ground by Alan Bullion referring to Indian involvement, French initiative, Liam Fox, Derek Fatchet, Commonwealth initiatives, Anton Balasingham approaching the Norwegians and he ended on an optimistic note about the Norwegian initiative.

Rolf Baltzersen a Minister at the Royal Norwegian Embassy in London refused to be drawn in to give any information about the Norwegian initiative, by stating that it was conducted by a close knit group in Oslo and that he was not privy to any information and a comment was made that the success of the peace talks will depend on them being conducted behind the scene and away from the public lime light to prevent it being shot down, before it got off the ground.

Liz Philipson questioned if anyone in Colombo had sat down and thought out the reasons behind the failure of the 1995 talks. Referring to a publication ("Breaking recurring themes in the cycles of war and peace in Sri Lanka") authored by her and published by the Centre for the Study of Global Governance, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). She highlighted the importance of "process".

She went on to state that in Sri Lanka the norm seems to be to start at the end rather than the beginning and that this deprives both the UNP and the LTTE of political space to contribute, as the PA has already determined the outcome and presented it as the "PA's"answer to the problems.

She said the present four stage "process" (PA, PA and the Tamil parties, PA and the UNP and finally PA and the LTTE) is an improvement on the last attempt, but that she still had reservations on the linear process of negotiations.

"In comparison to consecutive Sri Lankan governments, the LTTE have consistently had a better grasp of political and military realities."

She explained that the government's analysis is frequently based on hearsay, telling powerful people what they want to hear and that everything was out of date.

She emphasised the need for a long term framework and explained that Sri Lanka was plagued with "reactive policy" which takes one towards war, rather than peace.

Liz Philipson questioned the capabilities of those who are sent by the government as "negotiators". While she acknowledged that Chandrika's negotiating team comprised of educated liberals, she pointed out that they were not trained in the art of "negotiation" and as a result may have failed to engage the opposition effectively.

Philipson highlighted that great skill was needed to lock the opposition in the negotiating process. She mentioned that she had met the negotiating team in 1995 a few hours before they had left for Jaffna and while they were all educated liberals in her opinion, lacked clarity of purpose, skills in negotiation, understanding and training needed for such a delicate task.

Philipson commented on the wider perspective and went on to say that the Colombo newspapers do not care, or highlight human issues in the North and East and that there is a de-facto political divide, which goes against the governments assertion that it is one country.

"The whole dynamic of community polarisation has to be addressed".

She concluded on a pessimistic note pointing out that the outstanding battlefield successes of the LTTE in the last 12 months may have resulted in them losing sight of the political agenda.

Douglas Wickremeratne, a Sinhala activist said that Norway was not a neutral party as it had a large number of Tamil immigrants and went on to highlight acts of terrorism by the LTTE, child soldiers and the recent civilian casualties as a result of bus bombs.

At this stage Richard Bourne of the Commonwealth Policy Studies Unit emphasised the need to move on and look forward, if peace is to be the objective. Looking at the past was not going to help at this stage.

Kanaka, a female activistst in her early 30's took the opportunity to raise the bogy of Sinhala nationalism and warned of its dangers. She is the present "Sri Lanka programme officer" at International Alert in London.

Martin Wilcox of the Guardian newspaper questioned on the impact on the south of returning body bags and if there is realisation in the south that victory is not possible and that another way has to be sought. Liz Philipson replied by stating that in some villages in the south, income from war dead now exceed "middle-east maid" income and that as a result there is no anti-war pressure. She hoped that the LTTE is positioning for negotiations rather than war.

Ingrid Massage of Amnesty International stated that she inclined to agree with Helena Whall's argument that the current peace initiative is political positioning. She argued that the peace process is unrealistic because of August general elections. She pondered on JR's famous referendum and the possibility of the PA government not holding a general election in August.

Nihal Jayawickrema was very optimistic and pointed to the UNP support of the peace process as being significant. Satbir Singh the Counsellor at the High Commision of India in London had no comment. The pro-LTTE contingent in the form of S.Sivanayagam and Vairamuttu Varadakumar were also conspicuous in their silence."

(from a report in the Sinhala owned Sri Lanka Island appearing in the Center for Justice and Peace in South Asia [CJPsa] newsgroup on 28 March 2000)



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