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Tamilnation > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Conflict Resolution - Tamil Eelam - Sri Lanka > Norwegian Peace Initiative > Third Session of Peace Talks in Oslo & Aftermath > LTTE settles for Federalism comments Sri Lanka Sunday Leader

Norwegian Peace Initiative

LTTE settles for Federalism
Sri Lanka Sunday Leader, 8 December 2002

While the much touted December 5 deadline for the dissolution of parliament passed without much ado, the peace process gathered momentum last week in Oslo with both the government and the LTTE focusing on the basis for a political settlement.

In a major breakthrough, the LTTE delegation said it was prepared to discuss power sharing under a federal system, the surest sign yet that the war will be a thing of the past and peace is at hand.

The third round of peace talks itself got off to an auspicious start in the wake of LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran for the first time publicly announcing his decision to compromise for a negotiated settlement within a united Sri Lanka, provided the government was prepared to consider regional autonomy on the basis of internal self determination for the Tamils.

With the LTTE position thus laid on the table, intense behind the scenes negotiations got underway in Oslo between Head of the government delegation, Professor G.L. Peiris and LTTE's Chief Negotiator, Anton Balasingham in the lead upto Monday's talks.

At hand to help in the deliberations was a team of experts from the Forum of Federation based in Ontario, Canada. That team comprised the former Premier of Ontario and Chairman of the Federation, Bob Rae, Professor of Political Science and Former Constitutional Affairs Minister of Ontario, David Cameron and Karl Norenberg.

LTTE courts and police stations

However, there was one issue which the government delegation wanted sorted out before the talks proper commenced on Monday, that issue being the LTTE's establishment of courts and police stations in the north east, which were used to whip up public emotions in the south. Though the government knew only too wellLTTE courts have been in existence since 1993, it did not countenance the LTTE continuing to establish courts at a time the peace process was gathering momentum especially due to the currency it would provide to those opposing the current initiative.

Accordingly, Minister Peiris who arrived in Oslo Sunday morning following a meeting in London the previous day with the former Head of Amnesty International, Ian Martin met with Balasingham for a meeting the very Sunday, where the issue of the courts and police stationswas broached.

Minister Peiris pointed out there was a perception created in the south by those opposing the peace process that the LTTE was making use of the ceasefire agreement to consolidate and extend its sphere of authority in the north east with a view to establishing a de facto state of Eelam.

The Minister said such a perception being created was harmful to the peace process and the LTTE should take steps to allay such fears from the public's mind.

It was further pointed out to Balasingham there were stories to the effect that the LTTE was issuing summons to people in cleared areas to attend courts in uncleared areas which also tantamounted to a violation of the ceasefire agreement.

Having listened to the Minister, Balasingham said the LTTE will not in anyway interfere with the government administration in cleared areas and was unaware of the issuance of summons in cleared areas.

"If such a thing is happening, it is without the knowledge of the LTTE hierarchy and an immediate stop would be put," Balasingham said.

The LTTE theoretician went on to tell the Minister the court houses and police stations in LTTE areas have been in existence since 1993 and was simply formed to ensure there was some system in place where the government machinery was not operational.

"Otherwise, there will be anarchy in these areas. In any event, we will not do anything to undermine the peace process and will curtail all such activity. It must be also pointed out that there is not a single court house or police station in government controlled areas and as for opposition agitation, these court houses and police stations were in existence even when we held discussions with the Chandrika government in 1994," he pointed out.

With the ground work thus laid, when the talks commenced on Monday, December 2, both Ministers G.L. Peiris and Milinda Moragoda formally raised the issue of the court houses and Balasingham once again gave a formal assurance nothing would be done to undermine the peace process and that the LTTE would ensure the government administration will in no way be disrupted.

And with that issue out of the way, the talks focused on strengthening the ceasefire agreement and moving forward the work of the Sub Committee on De-escalation and Normalisation with a briefing given by Defence Secretary Austin Fernando on the current status in the north east, particularly in relation to the high security zones.

On that issue, LTTE's Eastern  Military Wing Leader, Karuna said he was particularly happy with the work carried out in the east with no cause for complaint through the issue was far from satisfactory in the north.

In the north, the LTTE said, Commander Sarath Fonseka was not cooperative in restoring normalcy and that the government should take cognizance of it, a matter Austin Fernando said he would discuss with Major General Fonseka.

That apart, the government delegation explored the possibility of reconstructing a temple in Kilinochchi, which is an uncleared area and the LTTE responded positively.

Balasingham said he was not in principle opposed to the proposal but would like the government to identify the temple in question since some temples were built by the army during times those areas were under army control. The government agreed to furnish the necessary details to enable the reconstruction of the temple.

Not stopping at that, the government delegation also broached the issue of Delft Island, which Minister Peiris too raised in his informal talks and the EPDP's right to engage in political activity.

Once again the LTTE said the EPDP was an instrument of Chandrika Kumaratunga, which ran a dictatorial administration in the island and that the LTTE has no objection to any party indulging in political activity provideda conducive climate can first becreated in the islands under EPDP control to remove the fear psychosis of the people.

The LTTE agreed accordingly to forward a proposal in terms of the ceasefire agreement to settle the dispute in the Delft Island which too came to be incorporated in the final document released by the Norwegian government at the conclusion of the talks. (See box)

It was the following day, Tuesday, the political issues came to be taken up for discussion with the Canadian team standing by for informal consultations which got underway at 8:30 a.m.

Canadian Model

At this meeting, Minister Peiris was assisted by Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke, while the LTTE team included Balasingham and Thamilchelvan and the Canadian team gave an insight into how the Canadian model worked in the overall context of the Quebec situation.

Having gone through the various constitutional arrangements, Minister Peiris and Ambassador Goonetilleke left the briefing, allowing the LTTE duo to discuss at length with the Canadian experts on the systems of government.

It was after this briefing that the formal talks on the political issues were to be taken up but both Ministers Peiris and Moragoda who were at breakfast prior to the commencement of the talks received information of another LTTE court being established in the Trincomalee District and which had been given ample coverage in the Tamilnet website. The ministerial duo realised this report would lead to emotion being aroused once again in the south and moved swiftly to nip the issue in the bud.

Obtaining a print out of that report, both Peiris and Moragoda strode into the King's Suite conference room and showed it to Balasingham no sooner the talks commenced.

Moragoda said a certain understanding was reached the previous day on the issue of courts and having the Tamilnet highlight the establishment of another court albeit in the uncleared area was not helpful.

Responding to this query, Balasingham said he was unaware of the report in question but that it was possibly due to a lack of communication of the decisions reached the previous day at ground level.

He said Karuna had some time back requested the LTTE Leader to establish a court house each in the districts of Batticaloa and Trincomalee and it was possibly that proposal being implemented belatedly.

Clarifying matters

Balasingham, however, said he wants to redress the issue sooner than later and both Peiris and Moragoda requested the LTTE theoretician to clarify matters to the media the very day, lest it be used once again to whip up public emotions .

Balasingham agreed to do so and no sooner the morning session was concluded, he called a press conference where the issue was clarified and a public assurance given that the LTTE will in no way hamper the government administration.

With that out of the way, the talks focused on the political issues with the LTTE quite candidly stating they need to consult many experts on the systems of government.

Balasingham pointed out the LTTE was not happy with the term 'devolution of power' but was agreeable to a suggestion by Minister Peiris that it could be described as 'power sharing.'

Explaining at length the difficult path that lay ahead for the LTTE to reorient its cadres to accept a political settlement within a united Sri Lanka, Balasingham appealed for patience from the government delegation.

Balasingham said he has pushed Prabhakaran to the maximum leading to his statement agreeing for substantial regional autonomy within one Sri Lanka and he cannot push him any further without having anything to show for it.

Striking a practical note, Balasingham said the movement was nurtured on the basis that the Tamils cannot live in one country with the Sinhalese, hence the need for a separate state.

Time consuming

"It is not easy to now tell the Tamil people of whom 17,000 have sacrificed their lives that we have given up that goal and are now prepared to live with the Sinhalese in one country. In order to convince our people to accept such a position, we have to give them a viable alternative and that cannot be done overnight. It is a time-consuming process and I seek your patience," Balasingham said.

That burden, Balasingham said, LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran has placed on his shoulders and that he has to now return to Wanni and start convincing their people of the new thinking.

The LTTE ideologue further said as much as there are extremists in the south, there are extremists in the north as well who have to be convinced a settlement within a united Sri Lanka is feasible and as such there can be no quick fix solutions but what was called for was patience and tact.

Balasingham added that in the given circumstances expert opinion needs to be obtained to arrive at the best system of government and also assured the delegation that a final format would be arrived at having consulted Muslim opinion as well.

Acknowledging the difficulties to be overcome by all parties to the conflict, Minister Peiris agreed the talks on the political issues will be long and arduous and only the naive would expect overnight solutions.

"We have made substantial progress so far, and let us build on it by consolidating the ceasefire agreement. I agree we should not raise public expectations of an overnight solution since negotiations on complex issues on the structure of the state, systems of government are only just beginning," Minister Peiris said.

The following day, Wednesday, the LTTE had a further round of discussions with the Canadian team of experts, where once again the discussions centered on the system of government.

Genuine problem

In this respect, the LTTE has a genuine problem in making its demands for regional autonomy into a practical reality and hence the request for patience to consult experts not only from Canada but also elsewhere.

And by Wednesday, when the third day's talks commenced, once again the political issues were taken up following the meeting with the Canadians and the LTTE announced it was prepared to discuss a settlement on the basis of federalism within a united Sri Lanka with the principle of internal self determination accepted.

Balasingham also said it should be a "power sharing" arrangement as opposed to devolution of power and he would also consider issuing a statement acknowledging this position in what was to be a major breakthrough.

The groundwork for this major breakthrough of course was done the previous night of Tuesday, December 3, where the Norwegians burnt the midnight oil with the LTTE delegation, stressing the importance of sending clear signals to both the local as well as the international community that the organisation was ready to move forward on the commitment made by the LTTE supremo, that a settlement based on regional autonomy would be acceptable as an alternative to a separate state.

Convinced that was the way to go, Balasingham said he would himself make the proposal at Wednesday's session when the political issues come up for discussion.

Thus, when the subject on the agenda was taken up, almost on cue, Minister Milinda Moragoda inquired whether Balasingham had any specific ideas or a specific formula and the LTTE ideologue then moved his proposal for federalism.

With the broad framework agreed on following this announcement by Balasingham, Minister Moragoda went out of the room and telephoned Prime Minister Wickremesinghe in Tokyo where the time was 2 a.m. and broke the good news.

Minister Moragoda told the Prime Minister the LTTE has agreed to work a power sharing agreement based on the federal model and that if the Prime Minister is prepared to give the greenlight, a joint statement could be issued on Thursday, December 5.


Not about to miss such a golden opportunity of giving the peace process a huge boost and realising it would be the surest guarantee of the war being a thing of the past paving the way for huge economic development, the Prime Minister told Moragoda to proceed with the announcement without delay.

Moragoda, who told the Prime Minister the announcement will be made at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday was told to advance it to 10:30 a.m. Thursday morning to ensure maximum media coverage at the earliest opportunity.

The Prime Minister told Moragoda when the timein Oslo is 3:30 p.m., the time in Colombo would be 8:30 p.m. and that it was too late to get maximum coverage both in the electronic media as well as print, particularly in the provinces and to accordingly advance the announcement. Moragoda also told the Prime Minister the LTTE had agreed to use the language of the Indo-Lanka agreement when reference is made to areas of habitation. They had also dropped the use of the wording 'traditional homeland,' it was said.

Wickremesinghe also realised that the draft constitutions forwarded by President Kumaratunga too were federal in character albeit couched in other terminology such as a 'union of regions,' etc., and that even the PA would be hard put to oppose a settlement based on federalism with the alternative being war.

Furthermore, constituent parties of the PA such as the LSSP and CP have advocated federalism and even the MEP endorsed President Kumaratunga's draft constitution of 2000 by contesting together with the PA at the general election that year.

And in the final analysis, the public too will be given an opportunity of expressing their views on the final settlement with the issue placed before the people at a referendum.

Thus, the government seems to have finally hit the jackpot on putting an end to the war that has crippled the country for 20 years but it will do well to remember, the long and winding road towards nation building and forging national unity has only just begun and Wickremesinghe will have to trek ever so slowly if he is to reach the final destination given the landmines which will undoubtedly be placed on his path by those for whom the war is not just a livelihood but a lucrative industry.

And that is the only way the Prime Minister can not just for himself, but for all the people of the country, regain Sri Lanka.


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