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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Conflict Resolution: Tamil Eelam - Sri Lanka > Broken Pacts & Evasive Proposals > Chandrika's 'Devolution' Proposals:1995/2001 > Sri Lanka neutralises Nelson Mandela, 1999
Sri Lanka neutralises Mandela
The Action Group Of Tamils, (TAGOT) in Sri
Founder-Secretary - Dr.S.Sathananthan
Telephone: [+ 94 1] 877220, 869257
16 January 1999
A senior member of the political wing of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Mr Thamilchelvan, invited President Chandrika Kumaratunga (a Sinhalese) in early September 1998 to re-commence negotiations with the LTTE to resolve the ongoing armed conflict between the Peoples Alliance (PA) Coalition Government and the LTTE-led Tamil National Movement in Sri Lanka.
He also underlined the indispensable role of a mediator, who possessed no vested interest in the conflict, in commencing and conducting the proposed negotiations (Sunday Leader, 6/Sep/98). The LTTE leader, Mr Velupillai Pirabaharan, repeated the invitation about eleven weeks later, during his Heroes Day Address on 27 November.
The LTTE did not stop with verbal exhortations. The organisation actively lobbied neutral foreign governments to intervene in the armed conflict. It is well known that the LTTE invested considerable effort to induce South African President Nelson Mandela to offer his services as mediator.
Indeed President Nelson Mandela, while speaking in the UN General Assembly on 21 September, recommended third party intervention to resolve Sri Lanka’s armed conflict. The Sri Lankan Government would have found it extremely difficult to refuse a direct offer from President Mandela, given his unrivalled international political stature. Consequently, his involvement as a mediator and the re-commencement of negotiations toward a democratic political solution to the Tamil Question appeared very likely.
There was nothing new in Mr Thamilchelvan’s invitation. The LTTE had extended the same on many occasions after the termination of the Cessation of Hostilities (COH) on 19 April 1995. President Kumaratunga and her Foreign Minister Mr Lakshman Kadirgamar (a Tamil) responded to Mr Thamilchelvan’s invitation in the same contemptuous way they had dismissed earlier overtures, by rejecting mediation but expressing willingness to consider facilitation. They blatantly dodged negotiations by stipulating pre-conditions well known to be unacceptable to the LTTE: that the organisation should lay down arms and must disavow the goal of an independent Tamil Eelam.
In contrast, gallons ink flowed over reams of paper to comment and criticise Mr Pirabaharan’s invitation extended on 27 November 1998. The President and her Foreign Minister, whilst rejecting the invitation, have gone to great lengths in domestic and international fora to stress the irrelevance of a mediator and to question the sincerity of Mr Pirabaharan’s overture.
The immediate reason for the unprecedented agitation in Colombo is the virtual collapse of the Government’s war strategy, demonstrated by two major events in September 1998. On the 11th in Jaffna, a remote controlled explosive device detonated by the LTTE killed Mayor Pon Sivapalan (a Tamil) and Brigade Commander Brigadier Susantha Mendis (a Sinhalese), together with most of the senior members of the military hierarchy in Jaffna.
The attack all but neutralised the Government’s subterfuge of "re-establishing normalcy", in order to politically marginalise the LTTE, by cobbling together a Vichy-type collaborationist Tamil administration in the Jaffna peninsula. On the 27th in Kilinochchi, Operation Jayasikurui (Sure Victory) came to a grinding halt when the LTTE inflicted the worst military debacle upon the armed forces by over-running key fortified army camps and killing about 1,800 soldiers. The Government was compelled to abort the eighteen-month long Operation Jayasikurui at the end of November and the much-trumpeted military victory over the LTTE-led Tamil National Movement in the North-Eastern Province (NEP) turned to ashes.
The shift in the balance of power in favour of the LTTE was underlined when its air wing, the Air Tigers, took to the skies on 27 November.
Popular disenchantment over the war deepened among the Sinhalese and the PA came under increasing political pressure to genuinely negotiate with the LTTE.
Sensing the mood of the Sinhalese electorate, the Opposition United National Party (UNP) leader Mr Ranil Wickremasinghe (a Sinhalese) voiced again his earlier demand (Uthayan, 29/Aug/98), more confidently after the Kilinochchi debacle, that President Kumaratunga should negotiate with the LTTE without setting pre-conditions.
Later, he also repeated the allegation he had made in Parliament on 20 August that the Government is using food as a weapon of war against the Tamil people. Mr Wickremasinghe urged that "war and talk can go on together, but it also means that the Government must ensure adequate food and medicine is made available to the people in the Wanni" (The Island, 22/Dec/98).
However, the manoeuvres of the PA Government to counteract the political pressure have confirmed again the assessment made by The Action Group Of Tamils (TAGOT). We have for long maintained that the Sinhalese-dominated Government is enforcing a draconian military solution to the Tamil Question in Sri Lanka, that its alleged commitment to a negotiated settlement is a political fig leaf to dignify the military onslaught. The reactions of the Government to the events, which unfolded between 6 September and 27 November, amply substantiate our position.
To avoid negotiations, the Government moved swiftly to pre-empt the potential mediatory role of President Mandela. The Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry alleged in October that the LTTE was about to shift its international headquarters from Britain to South Africa. Rumours were spread that the organisation is operating training camps in South Africa and that the African National Congress (ANC) is partial towards the LTTE.
On 14 November, about two weeks before Mr Pirabaharan’s Heroes Day Address, Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar flew to Pretoria supposedly "to block Tigers’ move" (Indian Express, 15/Nov/98). At a news briefing on the 19th in Pretoria, Mr Kadirgamar explained: "I have not come here to make any accusations, but to forewarn the South African Government and ask for its help" to prevent the LTTE establishing a base in that country. Whilst speaking at the Centre for Policy Studies in Johannesburg, Mr Kadirgamar reiterated that the Sri Lankan Government will not entertain a mediator (Reuters News Service, 19/Nov/98).
In short, the PA resorted to the cynical ruse of throwing enough mud knowing that some of it is bound to stick. It insinuated that the South African Government is not a neutral party in the armed conflict in Sri Lanka and thereby damaged President Mandela’s standing as an impartial mediator.
To discredit the Mr Pirabaharan’s 27 November invitation, barely a week later the Defence Ministry enacted hilarious theatre. The Ministry staged – some would say concocted – a mortar attack on the Deputy Minister of Defence Anuruddha Ratwatte (a Sinhalese) and the Heads of the Army, Navy and Air Force (all Sinhalese) when they visited newly captured Oddusuddan on 5 December. All four officials allegedly narrowly escaped death. (Sunday Times, 6/Dec/98). The Government would prefer the world to believe that the LTTE helpfully exposed the insincerity of the invitation through its own ill-timed attack!
Thus the PA Government deliberately sabotaged another opportunity to commence negotiations toward a political settlement to the armed conflict. To mask the ploy, a pro-government newspaper disgorged the canard that President Kumaratunga has accepted an offer from President Mandela to mediate in the conflict (The Independent, 14/Jan/99).
Others pitched in to help the Government out of the feared "peace trap". Maj Gen Prasanna Dahanayake (a Sinhalese) rejected the LTTE’s invitation to negotiate as a "warning order" (Sunday Leader, 13/Dec/98). Mr DBS Jeyaraj (a Tamil) heroically bolstered the sagging morale of Sinhalese nationalists. "Those Sinhala sections feeling dejected over the progress [sic] of Jayasikurui", he implored, "do not realise that the groundwork for effectively negating the demand for Eelam in the long run and a North-East merger in the short run has been laid as a result of Jayasikurui" (The Island, 16/Dec/98).
Dr Jayadeva Uyangoda (a Sinhalese), who had been a member of the so-called "negotiating team" that visited Jaffna between October 1994 and April 1995, again apologised for the Government. "In the current atmosphere of Sri Lanka's politics," he defended glibly, "there is no political space for the Chandrika Kumaratunga Government to resume talks with the LTTE. To begin with, there is no political compulsion for the Government to change its present military approach to the LTTE. And no government in Colombo, approaching the end of its term and facing crucial elections within the span of a year, would want to burn its hands again with the LTTE."
And Dr Uyangoda callously explained why war is preferable to peace thus: "positions are now hardened. Amidst severe setbacks on the battlefront, the Government cannot even appear to be relaxing its military campaign against the LTTE. In the current political thinking in Colombo, negotiations with the LTTE will represent a trap and the continuation of the war is the logical option" (Frontline, 19/Dec/98).
In other words, it is politically inconvenient for the PA Government to stop the war and roll back the Sinhalese military domination over the Tamil people. By justifying the continuation of the war, those forces ranged against the Tamil National Movement accept the death and mutilation of many thousands more Tamil men, women and children with an abysmal amorality that staggers the mind.
Therefore, TAGOT has no intention whatsoever of indulging in pedestrian appeals to the Government to "respond positively" to the LTTE’s invitation. Instead we repeat that the PA Government is unwilling and incapable of negotiating and implementing a political solution to the Tamil Question within a united Sri Lanka.