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Tamilnation > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Conflict Resolution - Tamil Eelam - Sri Lanka > Norwegian Peace Initiative > LTTE's Military Victories & the International Response > Confederation move divides Sri Lanka says Hindustan Times

Norwegian Peace Initiative

Confederation move divides Sri Lanka
Hindustan Times, 3 June 2000

Sri Lankans are divided on ethnic lines over an American suggestion to replace the present unitary Sri Lanka by a “loose confederation” comprising two autonomous units, one a predominantly Tamil unit and the other a predominantly Sinhala unit, to bring an end to the war and the ethnic conflict.

While the majority Sinhalas vehemently oppose the idea, the minority Tamils warmly welcome it.

The idea of a confederation was thrown up by a former US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Ms Teresita Schaffer, in an article in the latest issue of the South Asia Monitor, a publication of the Washington think-tank, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Though Ms Schaffer told The Hindustan Times over the phone that she had only spoken for herself and not for the US Government, her utterances are taken seriously here because the CSIS, where she heads the South Asia programme, is seen as being influential with the US State Department.

“Confederation is not possible at all. Confederations have been tried out before and have never worked. Libya and Egypt broke off. So did Malaya and Singapore,” argued Mr Tilak Karunaratne of the Sinhala Urumaya — which voices the Sinhala interest. “I would like Ms Schaffer to tell us why the US refused to yield to the demand for a confederation and fought a civil war in the 1860s. Has she been bought over by the LTTE lobby, which had tossed the confederation concept earlier?” asked Mr Karunaratne.

Mr Karunaratne said that the LTTE would see a confederation only as a stepping stone to an independent Eelam, its final goal. According to Dr Piyasena Dissanayake of the National Joint Council of Sinhala Organisations, experience shows that separatism is in the very womb of confederations, whether they are “loose” or “tight”. Neutral diplomatic sources also felt that the Sri Lankan state and polity would not accept a confederation. “When they can’t accept federation, how can they accept a confederation?” asked a senior S. Asian diplomat.

But Tamil analysts think that a confederation is not only a good idea but practicable too. According to Mr Kethesh Loganathan of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), a system of substantial devolution to the Tamil North East coupled with a significant minority representation with veto power in a bicameral legislature at the Centre, may be described as a loose confederation. “This could be justifiably seen as an alternative to Eelam,” Mr Loganathan said.

Dr P. Saravanamuttu, the Director of CPA, thought a confederation might come within the realm of possibility when the military ground situation forced both the warring parties to realise that they would have to give in politically. The LTTE might have to give up its demand for separation and the Sri Lankan state its opposition to federalism/ confederalism. “Changed circumstances could bring about radical changes in thinking,” the CPA scholars said.

“The 13th Amendment introduced in the wake of the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 might have been rejected if it was proposed at the 1984 All-Party Conference,” pointed out Mr Loganathan.

Ms Schaffer had painted a grim scenario if the war continued. She feared that the current uneasy military stalemate could be short-lived. Something had to be done quickly to stem a deterioration in the military/ political situation and avoid a bloodbath leading to separation.


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