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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Sri Lanka's Broken Pacts & Evasive Proposals > Chandrika - LTTE Talks: 1994/95 >The Failed Peace Process - the Reasons - Rajan Sriskandarajah
15 November 1995
The peace talks between the Sri Lanka government and the LTTE broke down on April 19, 1995. Since October '94, there were four rounds of direct talks, and more than 40 letters exchanged between the negotiating parties.
During the initial phase, there were promising gestures of goodwill from both sides. The LTTE unilaterally declared a cease-fire and invited the newly elected government for direct talks. The government in turn, announced a partial lifting of the economic embargo (imposed on the Tamil homelands by the previous government), agreed to the cessation of hostilities, and sent its emissaries to meet with the LTTE. In March, however, the events began to turn sour, and the fighting resumed in April.
The mere fact that the LTTE was the first to disengage from the process, has caused many outsiders to empathize with the government and blame the LTTE for the breakdown. This response on the part of some of these foreign observers, disregards the complex nature of the situation. The fact that, there must be a reason why this problem has eluded resolution for forty years has escaped many of these observers. Regardless, this attitude prevails in some international circles, and also in the western media, which keeps repeating - "LTTE broke the truce."
This viewpoint, which is quite annoying to the Tamil people, is based on a faulty assumption that in this struggle the players are equal, and that the field is level, when in fact both are not. The mere fact that the Sri Lankan government is an accredited "state," endows it with an enormous amount power, something that the LTTE simply does not have. The advantage of the legitimacy of statehood, and the consequent power to exercise virtually unlimited authority within its territory, the co-operation and assistance it receives from other governments, the access to world media, its network of embassies (to do lobbying and propaganda), etc., etc. are incomparable. The players are not equal, and the field is certainly not level!
Sri Lanka's lack of sincerity
This unmatched dominance would have been of no consequence if the talks took place with honesty of purpose and intent to secure a just peace, but the government (under pressure from its army and extremist elements from within) did not pursue this effort with the degree of sincerity it deserved. It was easier for the Sri Lankan government to exploit the advantage of its "state power" against the LTTE, than to fight its own ranks. It may have had its reasons, such as its slim majority in the Parliament, or its inability to control the army or the militant clergy, etc. but none of these reasons make it right or moral.
The lack of sincerity in its negotiations with the LTTE was manifest at a number of levels, and the following is a partial list.
- The government's efforts to have a dialogue with the LTTE have been perfunctory at best. The government negotiating team consisted of individuals with no official status, and the composition of the team changed repeatedly. A Political columnist in Sri Lanka wrote,
- "The President had two senior ministers beside her in her discussions with the Tamil groups who were voting with her in Parliament, (whereas) she sent as delegates to negotiate an end to a war that has cost 30,000 lives, her architect, her banker and her clerk. The only person she forgot to send was her cook!"
- The teams flew into Jaffna once in two months or so, and that too in the mornings for a few hours of talks with the LTTE, and returned before sundown; an effort that one would hardly consider as serious. Mr. M.Vasantha Raja, ex-chairman of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, said,
- "If the government was seriously trying to establish trust and avoid misunderstandings there were many measures it could have taken. For example as a part of a formal cease-fire, a "video link" between the LTTE headquarters and the Presidential secretariat facilitating regular talks, would have been of enormous value...
- ...In my estimation, the Sri Lankan government betrayed the sincere intentions of the Sinhala people who put them in power - people who pleaded for, and deserved, a wholly genuine peace effort. "
The government team, by virtue of their lack of official standing, could not implement its agreements with the LTTE.
The initial talks centered around the restoration of civilian life in the Tamil areas, which had disintegrated tremendously over the last 15 years. The people in the Tamil areas have been living in sub-human conditions; without basic amenities such as fuel, electricity, adequate nutrition, clean water, rudimentary sanitation, basic healthcare, etc. They were deprived of their right to earn a livelihood and their freedom to travel.
- Fishing (a major occupation of Tamils) has been totally banned; agriculture in their homelands has been brought to a standstill due to the embargo on seeds, fuel, fertilizers, pesticides, etc.; and most industrial ventures were regularly bombed and destroyed by the Sri Lankan army.
- Many of the Tamil areas are surrounded by the more than two hundred Army Camps, and people traveling even short distances were harassed, taken into custody without cause, and sometimes killed. Tamils venturing to travel from the Jaffna peninsula were regularly subjected to aerial bombardment.
It was nothing but right that, the every day suffering of the Tamil people had to be lessened as an immediate priority. President Kumaratunga herself, soon after the elections, announced this to be her chief task.
The LTTE asked that all of the economic embargo imposed on the Tamil people be lifted. The government agreed to only a partial lifting of the embargo, and that too was not fully implemented. It is now well known that, although the government made publicity capital out of this (partial) lifting of the embargo, it was not fulfilled enough to help the Tamil people. The army stationed at the borders saw to it that even the officially released items didn't get through. The Proceedings of Friends For Peace In Sri Lanka observed
"For although the Government has declared that it has lifted the sanctions on most of the banned items, people from within Jaffna Peninsula reported that the lifting of the embargo, although given wide publicity in the south, in fact had not really been given effect."(Proceedings of Friends For Peace In Sri Lanka, Hong Kong consultation - Eminent Persons Group with Sri Lankan representatives 11 -14 April 1995).
Thus, the embargo in one form or another continued, in spite of the worldwide publicity that "the blockade has been lifted." The ban on fishing, although officially lifted, was continued by the Navy. The fishermen who ventured out were harassed and shot at by the naval personnel, and many fishermen in the north were injured and/or killed.
Similarly, the restriction on travel also continued. In the East travelers venturing out of their immediate locality, were harassed, arrested by the army, and many disappeared; and in the north the government refused to remove Poonakari camp (one out of 200) to make travel for the Tamil people a little easier. The large army camp in Poonakari is located at the center of the main throughway from the Jaffna peninsula into the mainland. The troops from this camp regularly harass travelers.
- The army assisted Sinhala colonization of the Tamil homelands continued during the talks. The Tamil villagers were forcibly evicted from their homes and replaced with Sinhala colonists, assisted by the Sri Lankan army. The Proceedings of Friends For Peace In Sri Lanka, commented,
- "The fourth important issue which continued to be a serious irritant to the smooth progress of the peace talks is the issue of colonization. In spite of several protests for a long time the present Government also has taken no steps to stop colonizing the Tamil areas with Sinhalese settlements and surround them with army posts to protect them. The demography of the Eastern province is sought to be altered and also the plan is to break the contiguity between the north and the eastern provinces to avert the demand of the Tamil people for a contiguous homeland"
While the negotiations for peace continued, the government continued to build up its armed forces. If peace was the ultimate aim, the prevalent efforts should have been to reduce, rather than increase, the size of the armed forces.
Instead, the newly elected Sri Lankan government increased, the already bloated budget for the armed forces by twenty seven percent (27%). The government was already spending US$500 million (30% of Sri Lanka's Budget) annually on this war, and this was a further increase. Sophisticated weaponry were imported, and new recruitment drives were launched. The Deputy Defense Minister, Col. Anuradha Ratwatte, went around the Sri Lankan Army Camps, giving well publicized talks to the soldiers about the next war.
Mr. Vasantha Raja observed,
- "Launching a new military recruitment campaign and ceremoniously opening up new settlements in Trincomalee did much to further undermine the trust that was imperative to any successful outcome of the talks."
- One cannot fault the LTTE for interpreting these events as signals for preparation for war, rather than as groundwork for peace.
- The government failed to present a common theme. While the President was making conciliatory statements, other members of the Kumaratunga Cabinet were contradicting her. eg: The Prime Minister, Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranayake, stated that the island belongs to the Sinhala Buddhists, and that the "minorites" have to learn to live with this "fact"; Another Cabinet Minister stated that LTTE should be "crushed first" and a settlement reached on "our terms."
The government procrastinated on their proposals, until the hostilities resumed. The reality over the last forty years has been that, the successive governments in Sri Lanka, while performing political maneuvers. have not made any serious efforts at resolving the conflict in any meaningful way.
The abrogation of pacts with the Tamil leadership (Bandranayake-Chelvanayakam Pact, Dudley-Chelvanayakam Pact, Sirimavo-Amirthalingam Pact) and unilateral law making pretending to resolve the conflict (District Councils Bill, XIII Amendment to Sri Lanka Constitution) etc. have made the Tamil people intuitively mistrustful of the Sinhala leaders' promises. The government should have taken extra efforts to allay these justifiable anxieties, but instead it actually perpetuated them by this vacillation.
Requests and Appeals by LTTE persistently ignored
Requests and appeals by the LTTE were persistently ignored. The indifference and disregard on the part of the government were interpreted by the LTTE as arrogance, and/or as attempts to denigrate the LTTE. Mr. Vasantha Raja observed,
- "Moreover, the government's behaviour gave the impression that it was quite deliberately ignoring the LTTE's constant request to arrange a formal cease-fire in place of the fragile "cessation of hostilities," so that clear terms of agreement in writing could be reached, particularly in relation to the controversial east.
- Even the so-called reconstruction projects, the President admitted, were aimed at hiring Tamil labour on a mass scale, getting them directly onto the government's payroll in the hope of changing their loyalties. This explains why the government was not especially keen to accept the LTTE's proposal to establish an Independent Authority with representation from all sides to handle reconstruction work.
- Finally, the unilateral opening up of the government controlled section of the Sangupitty Road - without consulting the LTTE - must have dashed any remaining hopes of establishing trust between the two sides. "
The government certainly had the motive to weaken and to render the LTTE more pliable, so that it can give less to the Tamil people. If such was the aim it not only failed, but it also derailed the entire process. Many impartial observers have commented on the fact that the LTTE took part in the negotiations in good faith. The LTTE made a number of goodwill gestures, and worked hard towards a peaceful settlement. Here is a partial list.
At the very outset, LTTE publicly announced its willingness to give up the demand for a separate state and to settle for a federal solution. According to political observers across the world, this was a major concession.
- The LTTE unilaterally and unconditionally released prisoners of war in its custody.
- The LTTE repeatedly requested a formal permanent cease-fire in place of cessation of hostilities. The government ignored this request.
- The LTTE agreed to the functioning of six international observer missions, each consisting of an foreign chairperson. These missions were to function after discussing the objectives and modalities with the LTTE leadership. After the meetings between the LTTE and the observers took place, the government reneged.
- The LTTE agreed to review the proposals for a political solution at any time. However, it requested discussions on such proposals be delayed until the day-to-day needs of the Tamils were addressed.
- The government used this against the LTTE, and kept accusing the LTTE of not wanting to discuss the political solution. However, it never presented its own proposals for a settlement until the hostilities resumed.
- The LTTE agreed to cooperate with the reconstruction and rehabilitation activities proposed by the government. Initially this project (budgeted at $ 800 million) was to reconstruct the entire north, was later watered down to the area of the Jaffna municipality first, and then to a few buildings in Jaffna town.
- The LTTE adhered to the rules of the peace process both in letter and spirit. Even on the discontinuation of the peace talks, they gave five weeks notice, when in fact the agreement called for only 72 hours notice.
The foregoing analysis proves how serious and committed the LTTE was towards seeking a negotiated solution. However, as the talks dragged on without any results or commitments, in conjunction with the offhand approach of the Government, LTTE officially informed the government of their intention to withdraw from the cessation of hostilities as provided for in the agreement. The first ultimatum was ignored by the government.
The Government was carefully implementing a strategy where it could take credit from the international community for engaging in negotiations, and exploiting every opportunity to frustrate the LTTE. Finally the LTTE was pushed to a corner, where they extended the ultimatum once more so that the SL government could re-think their position. In the absence of any positive response, the LTTE lost faith in peace talks. LTTE was compelled to withdraw from negotiations as well as cessation of hostilities.