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Tamilnation > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Conflict Resolution - Tamil Eelam - Sri Lanka > Norwegian Peace Initiative > Ceasefire Agreement & Lifting of Ban on LTTE > Statement Sri Lanka Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremasinghe , March 2002

Norwegian Peace Initiative

Statement Sri Lanka Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremasinghe
- Special Debate in Parliament on the ceasefire agreement with the LTTE

4 March 2002

"...While the Sri Lanka Government is responsible for the civil administration throughout the country, we have no control over law and order on significant portions of land in the North and East. The armed units of the LTTE dominate these areas. The armed forces have so far been unable to regain control. We all know this is the reality but we do not want to speak about it. We have been fooling the people and in the process we have fooled ourselves..."

I thank you for having summoned this House to enable me to make a statement on the Ceasefire Agreement. It is the Government's policy to keep this House informed of each new development on our search for a political solution to the ethnic crisis. This is why I readily agreed with the request of the Leader of the Opposition for an adjournment debate.

All of us who are citizens of this country are stakeholders in the peace process. What we say and do here have an impact on 18 million people. It is the same people who gave this Government a mandate to bring a negotiated political solution to the ongoing North East conflict, while safeguarding the country's territorial integrity. It is a mandate to end the North East conflict.

Our approach to finding a political solution is based on the past experiences of negotiating with the LTTE. I have had the opportunity commencing from the Thimpu talks, to participate in or to observe all developments at close quarters either from the Government side or from the Opposition.

I have also had time to analyse and reflect on the mistakes we have all made. Therefore, this time, our approach is going to be a step-by-step process, where each step stands on its own, but in sequentially connected to the next.

The first step was to deal with humanitarian issues that concerned the Tamil people. The previous rounds of negotiations with the LTTE broke down on the humanitarian issue. We have tried a different approach. The UNF made a pledge to the electorate before the December elections to resolve the humanitarian issue. As the new UNF Government we gave priority to implementing this pledge.

Thus, when we relaxed the ban on the transportation of goods to the Vanni, there were two unilateral declarations of cessation of hostilities in place, one by the LTTE and the other by the Government. The two declarations whose terms and conditions were different have now been replaced by a mutually agreed and more stable ceasefire. The next step will be talks about talks which will lead to political negotiations. since there are crucial issues including the ban, to be addressed by both sides prior to the commencement of talks, the agreement on political negotiations has to follow a stable Ceasefire Agreement.

Otherwise, there would have been a further delay in arriving at the Ceasefire Agreement. This itself was an unhealthy situation since extending the two unilateral declarations on the cessation of hostilities created uncertainty especially in the East. In the Ceasefire Agreement, both parties have accepted as its overall objective the need to find a solution to the ongoing ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.

Furthermore, both parties have reiterated to the Government of Norway their commitment to commence talks as soon as possible. This is why a full implementation of the Ceasefire Agreement would take three months, the period we think necessary to commence talks.

What was signed on the 22nd of February was a Ceasefire Agreement. It was not aimed at arriving at a final political solution to this important national problem. But this Agreement takes us half way down the road to not only meeting the concerns of the LTTE but also towards addressing important issues raised by the Tamil population regarding discrimination.

Humanitarian issues associated with the Ceasefire Agreement address several day to- day problems faced by the Tamil people by ensuring free movement of people and goods throughout the country. This would present the people in the North and East with the opportunity of freely engaging in their livelihoods, be it, farming, fishing, Government service or business. This is a right that should be available to all Sri Lankans.

Therefore, we as a Government will ensure that all Sri Lankans are given access to the same quality of life regardless of race, sex, religion or where they live. When we achieved this and the people of this country believe that they can live in security without discrimination and harassment, we as a nation and society would have travelled half way down the road to peace.

What remains thereafter would be to determine a constitutional framework that would ensure equality of treatment and the extent to which powers should be devolved to the provinces so as to enable the people in these areas to determine their own social and economic future, and cultural advancement.

The Agreement is based on the recognition that civilians, who are not directly a party to the conflict, are also suffering and as such, require both parties to take confidence building measures with the aim of resorting normalcy to all inhabitants of Sri Lanka.

It also prohibits both parties from engaging in illegal and hostile actions such as abductions, extortion and harassment. This Agreement is wide enough to cover the unacceptable incidents that occurred during the period when the two unilateral declarations were in force. This includes extortion of moneys from traders - especially Muslims, and the abduction of people in the East.

The Agreement is also wide enough to cover forcible recruitment of children by the LTTE. The Police have to maintain law and order in all these areas. One of the groups who were most affected by the hostile acts against civilians, are the Muslims and this Agreement specifically refers to the Muslim population in this context. The Government is committed to ensuring that the Muslim population can live in safety and security in their villages in the North and East. Furthermore, we have taken steps to strengthen the Police in some of the trouble areas.

Under this Agreement the free movement of armed cadres of the LTTE is limited to the areas presently dominated by the LTTE. Outside these areas, the LTTE members have to be unarmed and are to be governed by the Agreement.

Though the Government is responsible for the civil administration throughout the country, we have no control over law and order on significant portions of land in the North and East. The armed units of the LTTE dominate these areas. The armed forces have so far been unable to regain control. We all know this is the reality but we do not want to speak about it. We have been fooling the people and in the process we have fooled ourselves.

The forward defence lines in the Northern province demarcate the areas, dominated by the armed units of the LTTE. The then Government for the first time admitted to the areas in which we have no control in the Eastern Province in the Report on Census of Population in 2001.

In the Districts of Trincomalee and Batticaloa, the census was fully carried out in 12 DS divisions, partially in 8 DS Divisions and could not be carried out in 3 DS divisions.

If the writ of the Government ran in all parts of the Eastern Province, we would have been able to carry out the census without excluding any DS Division. In these provinces the two parties have to draw up lines of demarcation by D Day + 30. The monitoring mission will assist the two parties in drawing up the demarcation lines. Without such an exercise, separation of combatants in the Eastern Province, where there are no bunker lines (as in the case of the Northern Province), will not be possible.

Therefore, it is incorrect to say that the Norwegian facilitators have been given the final responsibility for demarcating. Another important aspect of this Cease-fire Agreement is that there is provision for monitoring.

The Agreement for Cessation of Hostilities signed in 1995 also made provision for monitoring though circumstances did not allow this to be implemented. The Draft Agreement to permit free movement of goods to the Vanni prepared in April 2001 also contained provision for monitoring by the Norwegian Government and this is now included in this Agreement.

The monitoring provision is important to the Sri Lanka Government, which has always complained of the LTTE having violated the previous agreements. This is not the first time a foreign country is helping to bring the two parties together in this long drawn conflict. India did this in 1987. The Indo-Lanka Accord further provided for a Peace Keeping Force. We sent them away. What was said of India then, is now being said of Norway by the same detractors. I tell them, do not make the same mistake again.

This Agreement has been welcomed by a vast majority of people in this country. However, many are still concerned as to the true intentions and motivations of the LTTE.

Given the history of this conflict, it is not surprising that there is a high level of mistrust between the two parties. Therefore, while we go forward to implement this Agreement, we will continue to keep our armed forces on constant alert. Most Sri Lankans want us to move ahead with the peace process cautiously and a step at a time, while keeping our guard up at each stage.

With this in mind, I have spoken to our soldiers and our military leaders and explained to them our thinking and our approach. This dialogue has reaffirmed my belief, that all Sri Lankans want a lasting peace. While moving ahead on the peace process we will entrust our armed forces with the responsibility of safeguarding any threat to our national security. In this context, I will do what is necessary to strengthen, reform and re-train our armed forces.

I have already begun work on this important task. Through this process, on an incremental basis, we would be able to build confidence on a solid foundation based on mutual respect. Then we can correspondingly disengage military involvement as the ground situation improves.

I will not go into the technical details of the Agreement, the Ministers speaking after me will undertake this responsibility. However, I wish to assure the House that the best minds in this country and abroad have studied the text. In fact, the  

Agreement is a continuation of the process begun by the PA Government. It has since evolved into a much more comprehensive document. The Government has acted in a responsible and prudent manner in drafting the Agreement. It should be seen as a reasonable and practical foundation on which a political solution to this seemingly intractable problem can be built upon and not as an end in itself.

Often where one stands on an issue depends on where one sits at that particular time and this is especially the case in Sri Lankan politics, where parochial, opportunistic and divisive politics often overwhelm statesmanship and a united national outlook. Having engaged in politics for over two decades, I realise that this attitude is an intrinsic part of the Sri Lankan political process.

This has been the very reason why this conflict has become almost impossible to solve. My intention is to seek a viable consensus for this most critical national issue bearing in mind the fact that the Government has a clear mandate from the people to search for a political solution.

We have to be mindful of the fact that this is the first instance in which the LTTE has accepted the alternative of a negotiated political solution to the crisis. That position was amply reflected in the statement made by the leader of the LTTE on November 27, last year.

We also have to be mindful of the fact that the international community has fully backed the policy of my Government at every stage. They too have called for political negotiations with a view to resolving this crisis.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, I would like to warn this House and the nation, as it has been the case with other peace processes around the world, the road to peace will have more pitfalls and setbacks than successes.

Our collective character and resolve as a nation and society will be tested and challenged at every turn. Every setback will be criticised by our detractors, with an  "I told you so" and successes, more often than not, will be trivialised or ignored. But our people yearn for peace Mr. Speaker and they plead that we unite as a nation to address this important cause ignoring political and philosophical allegiances. Today, we are living in a fractured and a fragmented country. It is important to unite the country, which has been fragmented over the years and put it back. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, let me quote, "Let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds."



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