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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Sri Lanka's Broken Pacts & Evasive Proposals > Chandrika - LTTE Talks: 1994/95 > The Chandrika - LTTE Talks: Dr.S.Sathananthan, July 1995

Chandrika - LTTE Talks: 1994/95

  The Peace Trap
Dr. S. Sathananthan
July 1995

"The notion that "innocent" Mrs. Kumaratunga was caught unawares by "wily" Mr. Pirabaharan is embedded in the belief that the Sinhalese are simple, honest people who are deceived and exploited by crafty Tamils (and others). This is a dangerous illusion. It has provided ideological justification for anti-Tamil pogroms ("Tamils deserve it") and social and economic discrimination of Tamils and Muslims ("Sinhalese are third class citizens in their own country"). An early articulation of these chauvinist, late 19th century, views could be found in the writings of Anagarika Dharmapala. It is necessary to go well beyond these base prejudices if we are to comprehend political realities in the late 20th century. At the very least we must recognize that a Sinhalese politician could be as devious (or honest) as a politician from any other community."

On 19 April the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ended the cessation of hostilities. The LTTE had first set March 28th as the deadline for the Government to satisfy three conditions: closure of the Pooneryn Army camp, lifting the economic embargo on the Jaffna peninsula and eliminating restrictions on fishing. The fourth condition - freedom of movement for armed LTTE cadre in the East - was not emphasized. It was hoped that the Government's pledges to remove the economic embargo and fishing restrictions would in turn induce the LTTE to compromise on the closure of Pooneryn camp. On the 27th LTTE extended the deadline to 19 April.

Despite the Government's failure to implement its pledges, many political analysts in Colombo expressed shock and dismay at LTTE's withdrawal from the "Peace Process".

The immediate response of these analysts was to condemn the LTTE for not giving the Government the 72 hour notice of termination as required under the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement. This legalistic apology masked the Government's crass neglect of the March 28th deadline, which was announced more than three weeks (23 days) earlier.

It was followed by considerable breast-beating that President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga had unwisely placed her trust in Mr. Velupillai Pirabaharan. A newspaper columnist argued that Mrs. Kumaratunga's mistake was "not preparing for war while preparing for peace (Sunday Times May 21, 1995) Dr. Jehan Perera lamented that, "President Kumaratunga trusted the LTTE. The LTTE in turn took advantage of the situation. Sri Lankans know this and the world knows it" (The Island May 21, 1995)

The notion that "innocent" Mrs. Kumaratunga was caught unawares by "wily" Mr. Pirabaharan is embedded in the belief that the Sinhalese are simple, honest people who are deceived and exploited by crafty Tamils (and others). This is a dangerous illusion. It has provided ideological justification for anti-Tamil pogroms ("Tamils deserve it") and social and economic discrimination of Tamils and Muslims ("Sinhalese are third class citizens in their own country"). An early articulation of these chauvinist, late 19th century, views could be found in the writings of Anagarika Dharmapala.

It is necessary to go well beyond these base prejudices if we are to comprehend political realities in the late 20th century. At the very least we must recognize that a Sinhalese politician could be as devious (or honest) as a politician from any other community.

Background to the 'Peace Process' - Chandrika Kumaratunga's election stance

The Peoples Alliance (PA), led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), defeated the United National Party (UNP) to capture power in the August 1994 parliamentary elections. Prime Minister Kumaratunga, the PA's candidate and a leading member of the SLFP, won the November 1994 presidential election to become the fourth President of Sri Lanka. One of the promises she made during the campaign was to negotiate a political solution to the Tamil Question.

Before and during the campaign for the parliamentary elections, Mrs. Kumaratunga adopted an apparently conciliatory stance towards Tamils and Muslims. But when influential Sinhalese lobbies raised doubts whether her primary loyalty was to Sinhalese interests, she was quick to reassure them. For instance the "Mid Week Review"(The Island April 28, 1994) noted the misgivings expressed by some Buddhist monks with regard to the PA's reported intention to negotiate a federal solution to the Tamil Question.

The monks opposed any solution based on the Indian model; they also rejected making permanent the temporary merger of the northern and eastern provinces into the North-East Province (NEP). The monks were alarmed that the proposed solution is "likely to lead to the ultimate division of the country"; and they cautioned that "if their concerns are not taken into account, they will be compelled to take the issue to the country at the appropriate time".

Within three days Mrs. Kumaratunga, speaking at the 1994 May Day rally, "solemnly promised to foster Buddhist rights in the event of her coming to power." It was explained further that she was responding to "some members of the Sangha (who) had misgivings about her interest in and concern over the place of Buddhism in a future SLFP government." As regards rights of other communities, "Mrs. Kumaratunga hastened to add that the rights of other religionists will be guaranteed." (The Island May 5, 1994) She placated Tamil and Muslim voters by avoiding an outright rejection of the Indian model, inclusive of the merged NEP.

If the assertions of Mrs. Kumaratunga are to be taken seriously by Tamils, she firstly should have begun a nation-wide campaign of perception building among Sinhalese to make a federal system of government acceptable to them. Secondly, she should have lobbied within the SLFP to incorporate the fundamental concepts and principles of the new proposals into the official party policy. She has done neither, although similar inclusion was effected, for example, with respect to economic issues.

Destruction of LTTE seen as immediate objective of 'peace process'

But Colombo-based Tamil political parties promoted Mrs. Kumaratunga as a peacemaker. Her statements in an interview to a Tamil newspaper, published coincidentally on May Day, were widely quoted by these parties to justify their electoral support for her. She was being projected as "New and Improved." "New," because she is the new generation; "Improved," because SLFP acquired a liberal sheen after a few Sinhalese intellectuals began working with the party recently. All of which made a Tamil academic in Colombo speak breathlessly of a "new dispensation" under future SLFP rule.

Most Colombo-based Tamil parties had urged first the UNP and then the PA Governments to put forward a peace package. They argued that political negotiations for, and movement towards, the resolution of the Tamil Question will marginalise the LTTE. For instance Mr. D. Sithardthan of the Peoples Liberation organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) advised the UNP Government to work towards a political solution; because "then only the LTTE can be alienated from the masses and then only LTTE can be defeated or weakened." Few Tamil parties formally declared that any negotiated solution should include the LTTE. In fact, most Tamil parties, except All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC), saw the destruction of LTTE as the immediate objective of the "peace process".

First concrete step to initiate the 'peace process' was taken by the LTTE

As predicted no political proposal for the resolution of the Tamil Question, or the peace package, was ever presented to the country in either the parliamentary or the presidential elections. The first concrete step to initiate the "peace process" was taken by the LTTE in September 1994, two months before the presidential election. Mr. Pirabaharan personally wrote to the PA Government "calling for peace talks".

The Deputy Defence Minister Colonel Anuradha Ratwatte recalled that "the government.... is prepared to enter into a process of negotiation to evolve a solution to the North-East conflict." (The Island September 8,1994) In turn the LTTE announced that it is "prepared to accept a 'substantial [devolution] package' as an alternative to its demand for a separate State."(The Island September 22, 1994)

A series of reciprocal actions followed between the LTTE and PA Government. Fighting however continued on the ground, including the Army operation in - Achchuveli and the sinking of the naval vessel "Sagarawardena" by the LTTE. Nevertheless TULF's Dr. Thiruchelvam emphasized that "a strong political process must be set in action, hoping [for] a successful conclusion".

The widespread belief among anti LTTE forces in the South was that the LTTE, being a guerrilla organization, would naturally be reluctant to participate in political processes. So when the LTTE invited peace talks and took the unprecedented step of dropping the demand for a separate State, it was mistakenly assumed that the LTTE was being pushed into negotiations with Government by the overwhelming desire for peace among the Tamil people, as explained by the Information Minister Dharmasiri Senanayake: "The LTTE also surely feels the craving for peace" and "does not want to be seen as opposing that kind of movement" (The Island September 30, 1994)

The Peace Trap

The Government's strategy was to keep the "peace process" alive, to lure the LTTE into the "Peace Trap". One objective was not to let the LTTE escape from the "peace trap" by resorting to violence, as it supposedly had done in June 1990.

The first round of talks was held on 13 October. The LTTE nominated ranking members Messers Karikalan, Ilamparithi, Ravi and Dominic. Prime Minister Kumaratunga's delegation consisted of Messers K P Balapatabendi (Private Secretary to President), Lionel Fernando (former Government Agent, Jaffna), and Rajan Asirwatham and Navin Gunaratne from the private sector.

The Prime Minister's team contained neither ranking members of the SLFP nor members of the Cabinet. The delegation was seen as Mrs. Kumaratunga's personal team, with no official standing in Government. The suspicion arose whether the talks were window dressing with a view to attracting Tamil voters at the coming presidential elections.

And doubts about the Government's stated commitment to peace were reinforced when "authoritative sources" explained that "it was..... decided to keep any ministerial-level discussion until after the presidential elections." Mrs. Kumaratunga's sincerity was in question especially because she avoided presenting a peace package. In contrast the UNP presidential candidate Mr. Gamini Dissanayake (who was assassinated before the election) did formulate a Scheme for Devolution of power in his "Gamini's Vision of the 21st Century." (The Island November 2, 1994)

However, most Tamil parties, with the exception of the ACTC, supported Mrs. Kumaratunga for the presidency. The EPRLF called on "all peace loving people and democratic forces to rally behind the initiatives taken by the Prime Minister and to ensure that she wins the forthcoming presidential election." (Ceylon Daily News November 1994) TULF's Mr. R. Sambandan appeared on national television on the evening of 7 November to exhort Tamils to vote for Mrs. Kumaratunga, to "Strengthen her hand". Tamils were assured that the Government will put forward a peace package after the presidential election.

Mrs. Kumaratunga's position, of unconditional peace, began to shift

Mrs. Kumaratunga's position, of unconditional peace, began to shift three days before voting took place. At a campaign meeting in Nittambuwa on 7 November, she declared that "concessions, if any, will be granted to the LTTE only if it subscribed to peace." (Ceylon Daily News November 8, 1994) And she specified the PA Government's official policy on the approach to the "peace process" at the inauguration of the presidency on 12 November: "We will ensure that our approach to peace will fully address, the necessity to safeguard and strengthen the rights of the Sinhala people, while recognizing the dignity, self respect and equality in treatment for all communities." (Sunday Times November 13, 1994)

In the face of this chauvinistic policy, the "left-wing" partners of SLFP within the PA and many "progressive" supporters outside Government were opportunistically silent. In the view of critical Tamil analysts the "peace process" died with the November 12th statement.

The PA Government announced that its peace package will be submitted to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional Reform in late November. But the November 24th working paper submitted by Government to the Committee dealt with the abolition of executive presidency, strengthening fundamental rights and judicial review of legislation.(Ceylon Daily News November 26, 1994)

Cessation of Hostilities Agreement in January 1995

No mention whatsoever was made of the peace package, which would form basis for negotiations with the LTTE. In mid-December the Government announced that it had "begun drafting its own proposals for a political solution to the ethnic conflict." (Sunday Observer December 18, 1994) Meanwhile the second round of talks took place in Jaffna on January 3rd 1995; and a cessation of hostilities was declared on January 8th.

After the second round of talks the Government began to lay greater stress on reconstruction of the NEP. The formulation of a peace package declined in importance. In the cocktail circuit in Colombo pro-Government Tamils began gleefully to describe the Government's tactic as the "entrapment of the Tiger". The "peace process" stood revealed as the Government's ruse to create divisions between the LTTE and Tamil people and thereby weaken the LTTE.

The Action Group of Tamils in Colombo (AGOTIC) has critically examined this futile approach in its article "Conflict Resolution or Counter Insurgency." (The Island April 28, 1994) Sadly most "progressives" and "left-wing" parties tacitly accepted the counter-insurgency approach. They opportunistically accommodated the delay in the formulation of the peace package until the "peace process" effectively weakened the LTTE.

Government delayed presenting the political package

The third round of talks was held on January 14th and ended inconclusively. In mid-February the Government announced that the peace package will be submitted at the next round of talks. (Sunday Leader February 12, 1995) In early March the LTTE reiterated its readiness to abandon the demand for a separate State and accept an alternative solution based on "nationality, motherland and self-rule". And the LTTE enumerated four issues which must be covered by the Government's peace package: (The Island March 6, 1995)

This was followed by the LTTE demand that the Government should send a ministerial level team for talks. (Sunday Leader March 26, 1995) The Government did not present a peace package at the fourth round of talks held on April 10th. Nor was the delegation upgraded to an official political level; it remained non-official, consisting merely of private individuals and military officers . (The Island April 10, 1995). Thereafter it was a matter of time before the cessation of hostilities would end.

TULF and the Peace Trap

In retrospect it is evident that anti-LTTE (Tamil) forces in the South based their calculations on the assumption that a cessation of hostilities and peace talks will go against the LTTE. This is generally correct but only where a guerrilla organization is fighting in the bush. This was the case with the LTTE at the time of the Indo-Lanka Accord.

In contrast, where a guerrilla organization controlled liberated territory it can effectively engage a cessation of hostilities and constructively participate in political negotiations. Today the LTTE controls and administers territory and therefore has the political strength to initiate and participate in peace talks. Consequently AGOTIC repeatedly urged the Government to announce its peace package and negotiate with the LTTE precisely because the LTTE was strong enough to make peace.

But, in their unholy rush to "Trap the Tiger", anti-LTTE forces forgot that the LTTE is not in the bushes; that it administers territory, and is politically powerful to be able to negotiate a solution to the Tamil Question. In their haste, anti-LTTE forces misread the LTTE's invitation to Government for talks, the concession to drop the demand for a separate State and its unilateral offer of a cessation of hostilities, as signs of weakness. They naively believed that the LTTE was being pushed into the "peace process" against its will, by the popular demand for peace.

The fact that the LTTE now is in a position of sufficient strength to negotiate registered in the minds of anti-LTTE forces in the South only after the second round of talks. And it came as a great shock to Colombo-based Tamil parties and Government that they were the ones caught in the "Peace Trap" designed for the LTTE. The LTTE became an even greater enemy precisely because it could successfully sue for peace. By then it also became obvious that the Government would not put forward a peace package for negotiations with the LTTE. Not surprisingly there was an almost audible sigh of relief among anti-LTTE forces when the LTTE ended the cessation of hostilities.

Government jettisons the 'Peace Trap' - because it failed to entrap the Tiger

The Government took measures to ensure that it does not fall into a "Peace Trap" again. Thus the decision to ban the LTTE. (The Island July 1, 1995) to deny the LTTE the opportunity to initiate conflict resolution processes or respond to the Government's initiatives for the duration of the ban. It also legitimates the Government's resort to the military option to resolve the Tamil Question.

Among Tamil parties the TULF was quick to grasp the new reality: that if negotiations begin on the basis of a peace package the LTTE has the capacity to negotiate a solution to the conflict; that the TULF and other Colombo-based Tamil parties will then be all but consigned to political oblivion. Thus TULFs Mr. A. Thangathurai conceded that "if the LTTE accepts a political package of a federal system and is willing to implement it, then the TULF will give way to them." (Sunday Observer May 7, 1995) Elementary knowledge of politics and power relations tells us that the TULF will diligently work against such an eventuality.

After 19 April, the TULF is the first Tamil party to reject the call for a peace package. Dr. Thiruchelvam argued that it is not appropriate to publish the peace package in the present unsettled conditions. Almost in the next breadth he declared that the TULF does not believe that a permanent solution and peace can be found without the cooperation of the LTTE.(Thinakaran May 7, 1995)

And another TULF member Mr. V Anandasankari informed that the devolution package must be announced in conjunction with the abolition of the executive presidency .(Virakesari June 28, 1995) Reading between the lines it is evident that the TULF was against the publication of a peace package. Indeed a senior TULF member castigated a peace group for insisting on the publication of a peace package. He accused the peace group of "attempting to bring the Government down". Arguably the TULF prefers the Sri Lankan Army to destroy the LTTE before a peace package is made public.

Thus Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu found it "curiouser and curiouser" that the TULF is opposed to the Government publishing a peace package and instead it preferred a return to the talks interrupted on 19 April. The effect of TULF's position, he lamented, "is support by default for the current status quo and that as we all know, even if the TULF cannot, is preparation for all out war." (Sunday Leader June 25, 1995)

But here Dr. Saravanamuttu unfortunately missed the point. The TULF does know. The TULF knows and is happy that it is virtually impossible to return to the talks. The TULF knows and fears that if a peace package is presented, the LTTE has the capacity to negotiate peace. The TULF knows and welcomes that in the absence of a peace package war is inevitable. The TULF hopes that a renewed war will destroy the LTTE once and for all, precisely because the LTTE has the capacity to sue for peace. Here the TULF has joined forces with the Government and Sinhalese chauvinism. This is a high water mark in the TULF's sordid history of treachery against the Tamil national struggle.



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