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Tamilnation > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Conflict Resolution - Tamil Eelam - Sri Lanka > Norwegian Peace Initiative > Sixth Session of Talks in Japan & Aftermath > Backroom diplomacy that propelled peace process in Hakone
Backroom diplomacy that
propelled peace process in Hakone
Suranimla, Sunday Leader - 23 March 2003
While tension prevailed in the run up to the sixth round of peace talks in Hakone, Japan following the Mullaitivu incident, backroom diplomacy and international pressure saw compromises reached and the talks ending on an optimistic note.
On the eve of the talks, speculation was rife that the LTTE would at least stage a token walkout as a mark of protest following the death of 11 cadres in the Mullaitivu incident and this saw both the Norwegian facilitators and Japan's Special Envoy to Sri Lanka, Yasushi Akashi working round the clock to ensure there were no unnecessary hiccups.
That the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) submitted a report stating no definitive finding could be made as to who was in violation of the ceasefire agreement also helped diffuse tension greatly and building on this were the Norwegians and Akashi during individual meetings with the Head of the LTTE delegation, Anton Balasingham and government Ministers G.L. Peiris, Milinda Moragoda and Rauf Hakeem.
With the formal sessions scheduled to commence in the afternoon of Tuesday, March 18, Akashi initially met Ministers G.L. Peiris and Milinda Moragoda separately the previous day and stressed the importance of averting clashes and making progress in the peace talks if substantial aid is to be forthcoming at the June donor conference.
It is no secret that both the government and the LTTE are dependent on a huge inflow of capital by the donor community for the reconstruction and redevelopment of the north east as well as the south and that leverage was used to the optimum by Akashi to stress the importance of keeping the peace process on an even keel.
On Tuesday, March 18, Akashi had a breakfast meeting with Anton and Adele Balasingham at the Prince Hotel in Hakone where once again he emphasised the importance of making progress in the talks if funding for the reconstruction of the north and east is to be forthcoming.
Akashi gave an insight to his thinking at the very outset, when he shook Balasingham's hand and asked whether he was satisfied with the accommodation in Hakone to which the LTTE ideologue responded in the affirmative.
"Good. We want the environment to be conducive for progress to be made in the talks," Akashi said.
Committed to peace
Akashi told Balasingham that unless progress is made in the talks and the international community is satisfied in that respect, the anticipated funding will not be pledged at the donor conference, a statement which saw Balasingham allaying the special envoy's concerns.
The Head of the LTTE delegation told Akashi despite the ups and downs in the process, the organisation was committed to it, had given up the armed struggle and would show its sincerity to the international community. He said soon after the breakfast meeting he would be meeting with the Head of the government delegation, Professor G.L. Peiris for informal talks with a view to sorting out contentious issues before the formal talks commenced in the afternoon.
And at the 10 a.m. meeting between Minister Peiris and Balasingham, where Norway's Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgessen and Special Envoy Erik Solheim were also present, it was agreed by both parties not to use the Mullaitivu incident for a slanging match, but to instead benefit from the experience and put in place a mechanism with a view to averting such incidents in the future.
Of course, at this meeting both Peiris and Balasingham stated their respective positions with the LTTE ideologue accusing the navy of using excessive force in international waters in violation of the ceasefire agreement and an equally insistent Peiris stating the navy was not in violation but that the LTTE was by neither flying a flag nor identifying the vessel.
Given the growing rapport between Peiris and Balasingham both parties finally agreed to disagree on whose fault it was and the decision was arrived at to strengthen the role of the SLMM not only in relation to sea movements but also on land.
With that backroom diplomacy done, the formal sessions commenced at 2.15 p.m. with what has now become a traditional handshake between Peiris and Balasingham.
And at the very outset of the formal talks, having already agreed to avoid confrontation over the Mullaitivu incident, Balasingham raised the issue in a muted manner and said he has to make a formal protest on behalf of LTTE Leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran.
"We lost 11 of our cadres. Some of them were close to our leader. This happened in international waters. You must see that the ceasefire agreement is abided by the security forces. I am not going to raise the issue of international waters but we must have a mechanism in place to avert such incidents," he said.
He also said senior cadres of the LTTE were angry and concerned at these developments and queried how their cadres came to be killed if a ceasefire is in place.
Balasingham went on to say that the security forces were modernising and strengthening themselves under the ceasefire agreement whereas the LTTE was put under pressure with the perception created through the media it was smuggling in weapons without a shred of evidence to back the strident claims.
This view point Balasingham had earlier stressed with both the SLMM and the Norwegians as well.
Balance of power
His argument was that if the balance of power was to be maintained under the ceasefire agreement then it should not be a one way street where the government is able to modernise and strengthen its armed forces while the LTTE maintains the status quo but was accused wrongly of smuggling in weapons.
Balasingham had also earlier said the ceasefire agreement should not work to the detriment of the LTTE especially when the President is threatening to dissolve parliament and the SLFP-JVP alliance was calling a halt to the peace process.
But Minister Moragoda downplayed the issue stating the government was not modernising the forces to battle the LTTE but to fulfil its own needs.
"We know certain things are happening. It is not against you. We must have the capability to even stop Indian fishermen coming and fishing in our waters," Moragoda said.
At the same time, Minister Peiris pointed out that a sovereign nation had a right to interdict a vessel in international waters if it failed to identify itself and was moving without a flag.
Responded Balasingham, "You can use minimum force to apprehend such a vessel rather than use maximum force. We have registered merchant vessels operating but we don't want to divulge names here. We also need money for administration purposes."
Not stopping at that, Balasingham said some of the senior commanders of the security forces have told the SLMM they are not bound by the ceasefire agreement because the President is not a signatory to it.
"Isn't there a possibility to get her also to be a signatory to it? Then we can avert such clashes which threaten the ceasefire agreement," Balasingham said.
That suggestion, however, found no resonance with the government delegation and Minister Peiris said as much. Said Peiris, "That is an exercise in futility. It was only recently the President gave a written pledge to the speaker she will not dissolve parliament. She has now said she is not bound by that written pledge. Therefore, even if she becomes a signatory to the CFA, there is no reliance that can be placed in her undertaking."
Subsequently, after further discussion on the subject, it was decided to strengthen the hand of the SLMM in a bid to avert volatile situations in the future in addition to increasing its numbers. In doing so however, the Norwegians asked for specific assurances on the security of its members and a commitment to abide by the SLMM rulings.
Thereafter, it was decided that a team of government representatives including the navy, a LTTE delegation including the Sea Tigers, the Norwegians and the SLMM would meet within three weeks to put in place a mechanism to settle not only disputes arising from sea movements but also on land.
With that volatile issue out of the way, both delegations decided to focus on the donor conference and financial arrangements, the following day, Wednesday, March 19, with Special Envoy Yasushi Akashi slotted to preside.
And at the very outset, Akashi made it clear to both parties there will be no international assistance forthcoming to Sri Lanka if substantial progress is not made in the peace talks.
Akashi said while both parties have agreed on a federal set up, the international community expects it to go beyond the mere concept and deal with the core issues such as the powers to be devolved.
"The donor community will make their pledges in June only if progress is shown. That is a very important factor for the donor community. Even if war breaks out in Iraq, there won't be a drop in aid for Sri Lanka but it is contingent on progress being made on the peace process," he stressed.
Akashi also said progress meant not only on the power sharing arrangements but also in respect of human rights of the people. At the same time he commended both parties for handling the Mullaitivu issue with wisdom.
During the course of this session, a report by Ven. Banagala Upatissa was read out which stated the Buddhist clergy in Japan were supportive of the current peace process and requesting a meeting with the LTTE to which Balasingham readily agreed and fixed a time for the following day. The LTTE delegation met with the Buddhist delegation on Thursday as scheduled and agreed to develop a closer rapport with the south.
Be that as it may, in discussing the financial aspects, the LTTE delegation requested that the powers of the sub committee dealing with immediate relief and humanitarian assistance be enhanced, which Peiris and Moragoda said can only be done when more progress is made on the talks though in principle they are in agreement with the proposal.
Likewise, Minister Peiris said while more power can be given at AGA division level, the time was not right to introduce legislation on this issue at present.
In this respect, LTTE's Political Wing Leader S.P. Thamilchelvan drew attention to the poor condition of the roads in the north and east and said nothing was being done to repair them.
Making his own contribution on this issue, LTTE's spokesman on rehabilitation and reconstruction, J. Maheswaran said while roads in the south were reconstructed, it was not the case in the north east.
"It is one country. So why can't some of these monies be used to reconstruct the roads in the north east?" he asked.
Interjecting at this point, Thamilchelvan also pointed out that the presence of security force camps was affecting the resettlement programme of the internally displaced persons.
It was Defence Secretary Austin Fernando who responded to Thamilchelvan stating the government has already earmarked certain camps to be reduced but needed assistance from the LTTE to implement it.
He said while there were only a limited number of government locations to shift these camps to, there were many unoccupied private properties which can be used.
However, that suggestion did not find favour with the LTTE, with Balasingham informing the government delegation most of those lands belonged to expatriates who are wanting to return.
"In any event, it would tantamount to re-occupation. Think of another way and expedite it," Balasingham said.
Responded Minister Moragoda. "There is no other place for these troops to go."
Replied Balasingham - "Already there are 40,000 troops. You can reduce the numbers. If there is a requirement for more troops later, you can bring them by air or sea by having a rapid deployment plan. It is a question of trust."
But Moragoda was not willing to concede and having consulted Major General Shantha Kottegoda said, "That is not practically possible. The government has no idea of reducing the numbers at this point. We must sort out the housing problem. The reduction of troops must be linked to the progress of the talks," he said.
Balasingham too did not relent and called for the early release of Lt. General Sathish Nambiar's report on the High Security Zones (HSZ), stating it should be ready at least before the next round of talks scheduled for end April.
And given the cordial atmosphere of the talks despite the divergence of views, Balasingham joked, "There was a famous villain in Tamil films called Nambiar."
Human rights issues
Jokes apart, the afternoon session took a more serious turn with the LTTE not totally receptive to the draft road map on human rights prepared by rights expert Ian Martin.
Titled "Human Rights Issues Relating To The Peace Process," Martin read out his six page report initially after which Balasingham was the first to respond picking on specific areas for comment.
Balasingham seized on the references to self determination, the Prevention of Terrorism Act and training of LTTE cadres in the report and called for prompt action but was non committal on areas where specific action was called for on the part of the Tigers such as pluralism, justice etc.
The LTTE ideologue was also not keen on foreign human rights activists getting involved in the monitoring aspects, wanting it instead handled by the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission, a suggestion Minister Peiris was also comfortable with.
However, Minister Hakeem had other ideas and said it was of paramount importance to have foreign monitors in the early stages. He also said the LTTE cannot pick and choose what areas of the human rights proposals it wants to adopt since human rights was not a negotiable subject.
But Balasingham was not ready to play ball stating they are not fully geared at this point of time to follow internationally accepted standards on human rights due to the difficult conditions they were placed in.
Referring to the issue of child conscription, Balasingham said while reference is made to it in the proposals, the rights of children on education, health, etc., have not found reference. He went on to say the LTTE police and court systems were still not fully geared to adopt international human rights standards but would be in a position to do so once these institutions are legitimised in a final settlement based on internal self determination and federalism.
This approach of the LTTE to human rights saw a strong reaction from the Norwegians, with Vidar Helgessen practically reading the riot act to Balasingham.
Helgessen said, as did Hakeem, human rights was not a negotiable subject and that issues such as pluralism cannot be swept under the carpet.
The Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister said if the LTTE does not accept the universal application of human rights, they will not be able to sell it to the donors and that the donors will not accept a situation where international monitors are kept out on the subject of human rights.
In a bid to compromise, Minister Peiris suggested the use of the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission with advise from international rights experts but that too did not find favour with Hakeem.
Possibly believing the LTTE was not prepared to accept the human rights report since it would prevent the subjugation of other political parties in the north east, Hakeem said, it is not just a case of giving confidence on the parties sincerity to the international community but more importantly the people of Sri Lanka.
"The people must have confidence in our deliberations and what better way to achieve that than by ensuring their human rights," Hakeem said.
Replied Balasingham, "We will ensure the full implementation of human rights by incorporating constitutional guarantees in a final settlement."
That proposal too did not meet with Hakeem's approval.
Said he, "It is during this transitional period respect for human rights is of paramount importance to ensure people's confidence in the process. When a final solution is achieved, there will be no need for international human rights experts. In El Salvadore, Guatamala and other such places, there were international players at the transition phase. They will assist in a progressive manner the improvement of human rights."
Helgessen too once again stressed the importance of accepting the monitoring of human rights. But Balasingham was equally adamant on his line of thinking.
Said Balasingham, "It is for the parties to the conflict to decide what we are going to do on the issue of human rights and the involvement of foreign monitors."
Shot back Helgessen, "You can certainly decide but then the donors will not come up with the money. If you are not prepared to abide by international norms in respect of human rights, the support of the international community will not be forthcoming."
Added Special Envoy Erik Solheim, "Why don't you call in civil society and experts on human rights and get their ideas as a preliminary step?"
Given the tough stance taken by the Norwegians, Balasingham said they were prepared to consult other Tamil political parties and MPs in addition to civil society with regard to the issue of human rights.
Finally it was decided to ask Ian Martin to present a fresh paper at the next round of talks scheduled from April 29 to May 2, where concerns of all parties will be incorporated, whereby a declaration by the parties can be adopted as an initial step towards a memorandum of understanding.
Martin, to his credit, worked overnight and prepared a brief second report and handed same to both Peiris and Balasingham on Thursday morning which found the acceptance of both parties.
By this time, more leg work was also being done to make the June donor conference a success despite the prospect of the war on Iraq continuing and Minister Milinda Moragoda on March 16 wrote to all the finance ministers of the donor nations seeking continued support for Sri Lanka. This is what Moragoda wrote:
Pre Tokyo Sri Lanka Seminar
April 14, 2003, Washington DC
The ongoing peace process in Sri Lanka with the facilitation of the Royal Norwegian government is making steady progress. The signing of the ceasefire agreement an year ago has changed the lives of our people and provides hope for the future.
As peace and economic growth are intractably intertwined, it is impossible to build lasting pace without significantly improving economic performance in Sri Lanka. In seeking to garner wide international political and economic support for the Tokyo conference on reconstruction and development of Sri Lanka, hosted by the government of Japan in June this year, Mr. Richard Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State will be hosting a pre-Tokyo Sri Lanka seminar in Washington DC, on April 14, 2003, from 10.00 a.m. to 12.00 p.m. at the State Department, following the G-24 development committee, IMF/World Bank spring meetings. The seminar will focus on the peace process and international support of the Tokyo conference.
Your attendance at the Pre-Tokyo Sri Lanka seminar hosted by the US government in Washington DC will send a strong signal that the international community stands united and ready to support the peace process in Sri Lanka.
Minister for Economic Reform, Science and Technology
Hardly 24 hours lapsed before Armitage himself wrote an equally supportive letter to the finance ministers of the donor nations. Following is what Armitage wrote:
Pre Tokyo Sri Lanka Seminar
April 14, 2003, Washington DC
As you know, the United States has been actively supporting the international effort led by Norway to facilitate the ongoing peace talks in Sri Lanka between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Anyone who has visited Sri Lanka since the ceasefire began can see clearly how the end of violence has transformed the lives of Sri Lankans and provided hope for their future.
On April 11 and 12, leaders from around the world will be in Washington DC, for meetings at the World Bank and the IMF. If at all possible, please stay in Washington and attend the seminar I am hosting at the State Department on Monday, April 14, from 10.00 a.m. to 12.00 p.m. The Sri Lanka seminar will focus on the peace process and international support for the Tokyo conference. Our discussion is designed to be a prelude to the Tokyo conference on reconstruction and development of Sri Lanka to be held in Japan from June 9-10.
Your attendance will demonstrate that the international community stands ready to support peace if the two parties are willing to make the tough choices necessary for the process to succeed.
To give a further impetus on the US front, Minister G.L. Peiris too is scheduled to meet with Armitage in Washington tomorrow, Monday, March 24, which itself is a signal on the importance the US is attaching to Sri Lanka considering Armitage's busy schedule due to the war on Iraq.
And in a bid to move on with the peace process, the fiscal aspects of federalism were taken up for discussion Thursday morning and a fair degree of progress made.
While the LTTE once again insisted on expanding the scope of the sub committee on immediate humanitarian relief on Thursday morning, the government while agreeing in principle reiterated its position that such legal expansion should be linked to the progress of the talks.
However, agreement was reached on providing for the regional units to raise their own finances while also maintaining a link with the center to ensure there are no disparities between different regional units in relation to financial resources. Towards this end, it was also decided to draw up two road maps, one on political issues for power sharing and the other on human rights.
In the final analysis, despite the initial hiccups, a fair degree of progress was made in Hakone, Japan and it remains to be seen whether both the government and the LTTE can build on it in the weeks to follow to maximise the benefits for Sri Lanka at the Tokyo donor conference.