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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Sri Lanka's Broken Pacts & Evasive Proposals > Chandrika - LTTE Talks: 1994/95 > Tamil Eelam Newsletter, April 1995
Tamil Eelam News Letter April 1995
Government propaganda and international public opinion
A liberation movement necessarily suffers from a major disability. With scant
resources, it has yet to make its voice heard, cutting through the mammoth
weight of a governments propaganda machinery. But should international opinion
therefore listen only to one side of the story? Should truth get submerged on
the basis that the voice that is louder has the greater credence?
The events that led to the LTTE withdrawing from the peace process have to be seen in dispassionate, clinical light. The withdrawal was not a precipitate move. It was not a provocative gesture. it was no gesture at all. It was a hard decision, a painful one, as LTTE leader Velupillai Pirabakaran said in his letter to President Kumaratunga. It was in fact the only practicable step in the circumstances, given the fact that the LTTE had to continue its struggle to win back the right of the Tamils for self determination. The Tamil people are the ones who have been hit immeasurably by the war, and they are the ones who need peace most. The LTTE itself has sacrificed thousands of its youths in fighting the war. The Tamils therefore have a greater stake in the peace process than President Kumaratunga or the Sinhalese people; or the international community for that matter.
But the word peace denotes different things to different people. TO some, it is only the word. But peace is not just a word: not a mantram to chant around to harvest votes and come to power, certainly not to the LTTE. The Tamils, it should be remembered, had never had continuous peace ever since the British left the island in 1948 and handed over power on a silver plate to the numerically strong Sinhalese people. Mob riots against the Tamils, State sponsored riots, state terrorism, have been the regular pattern of Sri Lanka history, until ten years ago when these gave place to a regular war against them. Paradoxical as it might sound, war became the only option left to the Tamils if they had to begin the long journey to peace! Is the world cynical enough to legitimise peace even if it is brought about at the expense of the Tamils? For example, there is the peace of the graveyard . Perhaps the most peaceful place in Jaffna today is the vista of rows and rows of tombs where the Tiger martyrs are laid to rest! It is to ensure that there is durable peace that the LTTE had been pressing the government, ever since the talks began, that there should be a mutual declaration of cease fire. If the Chandrika government was genuinely interested in peace, why the hesitation in accepting the LTTE offer? By refusing to take the peace process forward beyond a mere cessation of hostilities, the government was only revealing a hidden agenda, which was becoming more and more evident when it began to duck the various issues affecting the vital needs of the people.
If the LTTE announcement of the withdrawal from the peace process came as a surprise to anyone, they have only their faulty memory to blame, or their lack of interest in what the LTTE has been saying. As early as March 17, while releasing fourteen prisoners, the LTTE leader sent a letter to the Sri Lankan President. In that letter he specifically stated that if the outstanding issues between the two parties were not resolved through negotiations before March 28, they would be compelled to make a painful decision as to whether or not to continue with the peace process.
Realising the time frame might be too short for the government, and particularly because of what they noted to be a "positive response" from the President indicating the lifting on the ban on fuel and concessions regarding fishing rights, the LTTE put off the deadline by three weeks for April 19.
On April 10, the fourth round of talks took place in Jaffna. It was expected that following what seemed to be a positive response from the President, further progress could be made on some of the outstanding issues. But Presidential Secretary Balapatabendi who led the government delegation was in no position to offer anything new except that the government was prepared to make some concessions with regard to some areas for permitting fishing.
When asked whether the further lifting of the economic ban as indicated by the President would be brought into implementation, before the deadline of April 19, Mr. Balapatabendi explained that it might not be possible, and gave the curious reason that many of the officials would be on long leave for the Sinhala New Year holidays! At the end of the talks, the head of the LTTE delegation Mr.Thamilchelvan expressed disappointment over the negative outcome of the talks and reiterated the LTTE position that under the circumstances the LTTE had no option but to withdraw from the peace talks.
Two days later, President Kumaratunga sent a long letter to the LTTE leader, which sounded conciliatory but gave away nothing. She suggested that the talks resume on any day between May 5 and 10. Realising that the government was in no way inclined even to implement what the President "proposed" within the time frame, the LTTE was pushed into taking the decision that has now changed the complexion of the northeast scenario.
Among the many charges laid at the door of the LTTE is the criticism that it is not interested 'in a political settlement. These critics fail to notice one important fact. While the government has been repeatedly saying that the political package for a settlement was ready, no one knows, certainly not the Tigers, what that package contains. The meeting of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional Reforms which was to be held on April 18, had been postponed for May 11, in view of the forthcoming Paris Aid Group it, seems. One does not see the connection, but it would certainly seem that even the much acclaimed peace process had all along had a bearing on the Paris rendezvous ! Despite the reluctance of the government to come out with whatever scheme of devolution it had in its pocket, the LTTE had already stated in public, (even through interviews with Colombo newspapers) the four basic principles of a political solution that would be acceptable to them: the recognition of Tamils as a distinct people, the acceptance of a Tamil homeland, the Tamil people's right to self determination, and power sharing within a Federal framework. As for the government it has yet to announce even the basic principles on which a dialogue could be initiated.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the Chandrika government did well in relaxing the economic embargo on the north imposed by its predecessor. That was certainly welcomed by the Tamils who had suffered years of suffering and hardship. Providing on the one hand the basic necessities of life to people whom it publicly proclaimed as also citizens of the country, the government cannot on the other hand claim that these were "concessions" granted by a benevolent government. What was worse, the government tried to use the relaxation of the embargo as a bargaining point in peace talks. This was proved by the recent act of the government in re-imposing the economic embargo and denying fishing rights soon after the LTTE withdrew from the peace talks. While an armed struggle has its legitimacy, the economic throttling of a civilian population cannot be justified on any count, either on humanitarian grounds, or on perverse military terms.
International opinion cannot dismiss the fact that what brought the Chandrika government to the conference table with the LTTE in the first place, was the realisation of two ground realities: one, the failure of the Sri Lankan government forces during the previous ten years in gaining the upper hand militarily; two, the establishment of a de facto government in the north that cannot be wished away, except through a negotiated settlement acceptable to the Tigers. That negotiated settlement is still possible, despite the end of the cessation of hostilities. The responsibility of rescuing the country from Eelam War 3, and putting the peace process on track again rests entirely with the government.