‘The Sri Lanka Peace Process: Dead end or is there hope?’
Forum organised by
Centre for Strategic and International Studies
in association with
4 November 2005
Audio of Proceedings & Speeches]
Summary of Forum Discussions issued by the Centre for Strategic
and International Studies [also
A panel of consisting of Bernard A.B. Goonetilleke, Sri Lankan
Ambassador to the United States, Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, Member
of the Sri Lankan Parliament, and Dayan Jayatilleka, Adjunct
Professor at The Johns Hopkins University discussed the future of
the Sri Lankan peace process on November 4, 2005.
Ambassador Goonetilleke provided a recent history of the initiation
of the peace process, which began in December 2001. He stressed that
the calls for a ceasefire took place in the backdrop of two events:
the July 2001 suicide attacks by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam (LTTE) at Colombo’s international airport and the September 11
attacks in the United States. He believes that this forced the
government to realize that the military option was not plausible
anymore and the LTTE to realize that the tolerance of the
international community for terrorism after the 9/11 attacks was
very limited. The formal ceasefire agreement, which went into effect
in February 2002, had caused many to believe a final settlement
would finally be reached. However, this brief period of hope came to
a dead end in April 2003, when the LTTE unilaterally pulled out
after six rounds of talks. He stated that this was very
characteristic of the LTTE, which had a history of pulling out from
peace talks, having done so in 1987, 1990 and most recently in 1995
during the first administration of President Kumaratunga.
The Ambassador gave four reasons why he thought the stalemate came
about. First, there were limitations in the ceasefire agreement
itself. It was concluded, he argued, in undue haste, and included
several unrealistic provisions. Second, the LTTE has shifted its
“goal posts.” The LTTE has been making political maneuvers without
having the goal to reach a final agreement to end the conflict.
Third, there are severe limitations on the monitoring of breaches of
the ceasefire agreement by the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM)
and its enforcement capacity. Finally, the LTTE has not ended its
violent tactics. The assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman
Kadirgamar in August 2005 is stark example of LTTE’s “scant regard”
for the agreement. The Ambassador ended by saying that the
continuation of the peace process and final solution of the conflict
will depend on “new thinking” initiated by both sides.
Mr. Ponnambalam stated that it is important to understand that the
conflict in Sri Lanka is more than 50 years old. The LTTE is the
product of the evolution of the conflict. As the conflict has
evolved to its current state, so has the LTTE. He argued that before
engaging in a peace process it is important to answer two questions.
Is the Sinhalese community going to share power? Do they want to
still continue with a unitary government that has a monopoly over
power? He believed that the Sinhalese community does not want to
share power and wants to have a monopoly over power. He asserted
that the Sri Lankan government had for the past 50 years
marginalized Tamil aspirations. Since 2001, the Sri Lankan
government had tried to “militarily vanquish” Tamil aspirations. The
ceasefire that went into effect in December 2001 provided the people
with a hope that an agreement to end the conflict lay in the very
near future. He stated further that a change in course by the LTTE
can only take place if the Sri Lankan government can demonstrate
that it is willing to share power.
The past five years have not seen such a demonstration and on the
contrary has seen an increase in extremism on the part of the
Sinhalese to undermine and divide the Tamil people. He concluded by
saying that the international community has for too long focused on
the “containment” of the LTTE and has disregarded the central issue
of the Sri Lankan government’s unwillingness to share power. The
third panelist, Professor Dayan Jayatilleka, began by stating that
he was not an “optimist” when it came to the continuation and
eventual success of the peace process. However, he believed that in
order for the peace process to achieve a successful end, the
international community, namely India and the United States, needed
to make it clear to the LTTE that a military solution is not an
option. He agreed with Mr. Ponnambalam’s assessment that the state
had fallen short when it came to power sharing. However, he argued
that no cause however justified may warrant terrorism that targets
non-combatants. He stated that the LTTE is a terrorist group and
does not believe that it is a form of armed resistance. Armed
resistance does not target ordinary citizens and non-combatants. He
concluded by saying that the international community cannot continue
appeasing the LTTE because it sends the wrong message to similar
terrorist organizations around the world.
Before the question and answer session, the floor was given to the
Norwegian Ambassador to the United States, Knut Vollebaek, who had
been Norway’s foreign minister at the time Norway began its
facilitating role in Sri Lanka. He stated that the Norwegian
government took up the responsibility of mediating the Sri Lankan
conflict because it shared the view of the Sri Lankan government
that the military option was not a viable way of ending the conflict
in Sri Lanka. The government of Norway felt it had a moral
obligation to help, and as a major donor to Sri Lanka wanted to
ensure that its money was not going to be “spoiled and ruined” by
the internal conflict. He stated to the panelists that it is not the
time for “political-sociological theory” but it was time to start to
see how to move forward in the peace process. In spite of the
historical differences and past violence, it is important to
recognize that the ceasefire agreement was an achievement in itself.
The peace process was initiated and created by both parties involved
and the only thing the international community can do is to hold
both parties responsible and accountable for adhering and continuing
Sri Lanka peace process :
What lies ahead in Sri Lanka? - Bernard A. B. Goonetilleke,
Ambassador of Sri Lanka in US - Address made at the forum on
"The Sri Lanka Peace Process: Dead end or is there hope?" held on 4
November 2005, in Washington DC, organized by CSIS in collaboration
with the East-West Center.
I. The current Sri Lanka peace process commenced with the change of
administration in December 2001. However, it is important to note
that in essence it was built upon the foundation laid by the
Kumaratunga administration, most importantly- the recognition of the
importance of the LTTE to such a process and the involvement of
third party facilitation by Norway.
We must also remain conscious of the fact that the peace process
took place in the backdrop of particularly two dramatic events.
These were the July 2001 attack by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam (LTTE) on the international airport and the adjacent Air Force
Base and the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the USA six weeks later.
If the attack on the airport created a realization for the
Government of Sri Lanka of the limits of 'the military option', the
mood of the international community against international terrorism
in the aftermath of 9/11 was an equally forceful reminder to the
LTTE of the limits of international tolerance.
Thus, by December that year both sides were ready for a respite, and
when the LTTE offered a unilateral ceasefire on December 23, the new
government responded swiftly, which led to a formal CFA in February
A year later, the Sri Lanka peace process was touted by the
international community as the most successful peace process against
the backdrop of the simmering middle-east conflict and other
conflicts such as those in Southern Sudan and Aceh, Indonesia.
However, it was a short-lived euphoria as in April 2003, after going
through six rounds of negotiations, the LTTE unilaterally withdrew
from the peace talks. Not being satisfied with that step, the LTTE
suspended other mechanisms painstakingly put together during the
negotiating process, including the Sub-Committee on Immediate
Humanitarian Rehabilitation Needs in the North and the East (SIHRN).
This abrupt change of mind was characteristic of the Organization's
previous terminations of negotiating processes viz. the 1987 round
of negotiations involving India, 1990 round with the late President
Premadasa and the termination of the talks during President
Kumaratunga's first administration in April 1995.
Those who have witnessed the erratic behaviour of the LTTE since mid
1980s cannot be faulted for believing that the peace process had
indeed reached a dead-end by April 2003. But the reality is that
notwithstanding its limitations and possibly being one of the
ceasefires that might have had the largest violations, three and a
half years later, it continues to survive with neither party willing
to abandon it.
II. Learning Lessons from the Past
If we are genuinely interested in the future progress of the peace
process, it is necessary to examine how and why we reached a dead
end in April 2003, when the going was so promising at the beginning.
Unless we identify the errors we have made and the wrong turns
taken, which took the parties to the conflict in a direction away
from the target, we will not make use of new opportunities, when we
come across them. In the time allocated to me, I can allude to four
factors that brought us to a dead end.
(i) Limitations in the CFA
Mr. Anton Balasingham, the chief negotiator of the LTTE has gone on
record by pointing out that "the only substantial achievement of the
entire peace process was the Ceasefire Agreement...." However, in my
opinion, one of the first judgemental errors made by both parties
was the undue haste in which the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) was
negotiated leading to expectations that cannot be implemented.
Having been associated with the peace process from the inception, I
vividly recall the initial discussion on the first draft with the
Norwegian facilitators. Their priority was to sign the formal
agreement by February 2002, before the end of the third monthly
extension of the informal ceasefire. In that process, the swift
signing of the CFA was given the priority over the substance of the
The armed forces were not given an opportunity to study the text
fully and come up with their observations. Moreover, the Norwegian
side insisted that their text, which had the benefit of inputs from
the LTTE, had the best chances of being accepted by that
organisation, meaning that they did not wish to see any tinkering
with the text.
Consequently, the Government and the armed forces had to accept
conditions and targets, such as vacating places of religious
worship, public buildings occupied by the armed forces etc., within
the given time frames, which were difficult to implement.
This not only caught the armed forces unprepared to meet the time
frames, but also gave an opportunity for the LTTE to complain
against non implementation of commitments made by the government
incessantly. In my opinion, both sides could have taken little a
more time to scrutinize the draft and come up with a more realistic
text acceptable. But that was not to be.
(ii) Shifting of goal posts by the LTTE
From the very beginning, the primary motive of the LTTE was
expansion of their domination over the areas in the north and the
east controlled by the government, and in that process to get rid of
the government forces from the Jaffna peninsula and elsewhere, well
in advance of a negotiated settlement.
The rationale advanced to achieve this objective was to highlight
the need to address "existential problems" faced by the Tamil people
and to demand the removal of restrictions imposed by the government
in the movement of certain strategic goods to the North and the East
that could have been used by the LTTE to strengthen their position.
As the new administration kept removing those restrictions, like
Oliver Twist, the LTTE made additional demands such as that the
armed forces should vacate the HSZ on the ground that those lands
were needed to resettle the displaced persons, ignoring the fact
that until there was an understanding with regard to the security of
the armed forces, total dismantling of the HSZ was not a tenable
However, when a plan was drawn up jointly by the representatives of
the Government, LTTE and the UNHCR, to release the lands occupied by
the armed forces stage by stage, the LTTE insisted that unless the
lands within the were HSZ also included for resettlement, they could
not allow that process to begin.
When the LTTE realised that, that demand could not be met due to
justifiable security concerns, they mobilised civilians to
demonstrate in front of the army camps and even enter some camps
The entire exercise was a political manoeuvre designed to move the
armed forces out of the Jaffna peninsula, without first reaching an
agreement on the final solution to the conflict, and not with a view
to addressing the "existential problems" of the civilian population.
(iii) Limitations in monitoring the breaches of the ceasefire
From the outset, the LTTE paid scant regard to the authority and the
impartiality of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) consisting
of approximately 50 representatives, as well as there rulings, at
the time the peace process reached the dead-end.
The SLMM was a monitoring body, and it had no mandate or capacity to
enforce implementation of its decisions on either party. That was
good so long as both parties were ready to abide by the rulings of
However, from day one, the LTTE paid scant regard to the rulings of
the monitors and in one instance, when one of their boats, while
allegedly transporting weapons in contravention of the CFA, was
boarded by the SLMM for inspection, the LTTE cadres on board
forcibly restrained a male and a female monitor from leaving the
boat and using them as human shields, and sped away to safety thus
avoiding retaliatory action by the Navy.
To this day, the LTTE continues with child abductions, ignoring the
agreement reached with the UNICEF, thereby earning the ire of the UN
Security Council. They abduct civilians for ransom and assassinate
political opponents and civilians in utter disregard of the
Consequently, by 30 September 2005, the LTTE had amassed 3186
ceasefire violations, whereas the violations on the part of the
armed forces were a mere 144 for the same period. The most high
profile of these violations, no doubt, has been the assassination of
Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar on August 12, 2005.
(iv) Policy of appeasement adopted by sections of the international
Notwithstanding the CFA and the peace process, there appears to have
been no corresponding qualitative shift in the outlook and psyche on
the part of the LTTE.
The policy of appeasement adopted by sections of the international
community since 2002, including rewarding the organization in
expectation of good behaviour in the future, did not persuade the
LTTE to sufficiently feel that such a change was necessary. In fact,
such a policy seems to have emboldened the LTTE to continue on with
its policies and practices.
As they had done in the case of previous assassinations including
that of Rajiv Gandhi, the LTTE denied their involvement in the
Kadirgamar assassination, which act shocked the international
community. This appears to have led to a re-evaluation of the policy
of many governments toward the organisation.
- On September 19, 2005 the Co-Chairs of the Tokyo Donor Conference
in support of the Peace Process in Sri Lanka, unequivocally
condemned the assassination of the Foreign Minister and noted that
"this unconscionable act of terrorism casts profound doubt on the
commitment of those responsible to a peaceful and political
resolution of the conflict".
They "called on the LTTE to take immediate public steps to
demonstrate their commitment to the peace process and their
willingness to change", and pointed out that "an immediate end to
political assassinations by the LTTE and an end to LTTE recruitment
of child soldiers are two such steps." -On September 26, the EU in
an extraordinary statement said "the European Union is actively
considering the formal listing of the LTTE as a terrorist
organization" and that "in the meantime, the European Union has
agreed that with immediate effect, delegations from the LTTE will no
longer be received in any of the EU Member States until further
The statement repeats "it's serious concern at the continuing
recruitment and retention of child soldier cadres by the LTTE and
reminds them that there can be no excuse whatsoever for this
abhorrent practice to continue".
III. The future
Whether there is hope for the future, will depend mainly on the
capacity and the willingness of the respective actors to respond to
these and other challenges, that emanate from both the domestic and
international circumstances we are placed in. One thing is crystal
clear. That is, if the parties to the conflict are to move in the
direction of peace and avoid once again ending at a dead-end, there
will have to be new thinking on the part of both parties,
particularly the LTTE.
Sri Lanka is a multi ethnic, multi-religious and a multi-cultural
society. People of Sri Lanka, irrespective of their individual
uniqueness, have coexisted peacefully for over two thousand years
except for brief periods of conflict, imposed upon them by those
driven by political compulsions.
Consequently, the yearning of the people of Sri Lanka, irrespective
of their differences, would be to live peacefully, in security and
pursue their individual goals, whether they are economic, cultural,
or religious, without let or hindrance by others. This yearning of
the populace will be the driving force that would encourage all
political parties concerned to seek a negotiated solution to the
conflict in Sri Lanka.
It is clear that both main candidates in the forthcoming
presidential election recognize this imperative. Notwithstanding the
variations and the emphasis they each lay, concerning the modus
operandi they propose to adopt in resolving the conflict, both are
of the view that arriving at a peaceful political settlement is a
They also agree that arriving at a bi-partisan agreement is a
pre-requisite towards a settlement. Both candidates are also aware
that whatever settlement reached, to have legitimacy, must be
ratified through a referendum by the people of Sri Lanka.
As for the LTTE, for the peace process to succeed, there are several
important steps that need to be taken by them. There should be a
clear understanding that they will strictly abide by the rulings of
They should adopt a more principled approach toward the peace
process this time around and allow the negotiators to address both
humanitarian as well as core issues without avoiding the latter, as
they did earlier.
There should be a genuine effort "to explore a solution founded on
the principle of internal self-determination" based on a federal
structure within a united Sri Lanka in keeping with the decision
reached in Oslo in December 2002. More importantly, the LTTE has to
accept the fact that such a solution should be an inclusive one
acceptable to all communities, particularly the Muslims.
The organisation has to come to terms with the evolving situation in
the Eastern theatre and find a solution to the issues confronting
the Eastern Province, without passing on the blame to the
Equally important is the human rights issues of the people living in
the areas under their domination, which the LTTE has failed to
address, even after the visit of Mr. Ian Martin, the international
Advisor on Human Rights to Sri Lanka, last month.
Space should be provided for political parties to function without
hindrance or intimidation, so that democracy would take root in the
LTTE dominated areas in the North and the East. The LTTE has to
acknowledge the fact that the interests of the Muslim and Sinhala
communities living in the North and the East should not be
overlooked and they should not be oppressed.
The world has changed considerably since the mid 1970s, when the
LTTE decided to engage in an armed conflict for the cause of the Sri
Lankan Tamils. Consequently, the organization has to go through an
internal change in the policies, practices and tactics they deploy
to achieve their objectives. Such measures will have to be in
keeping with the changed international circumstances.
The LTTE has to acknowledge the fact that several countries have
already proscribed the organization, and others are threatening to
do so with good reason.
The fact that in the past two and a half months since the Kadirgamar
assassination, despite the many strictures and sanctions against
them, there have been 44 further killings by the LTTE, does not help
the LTTE's quest to seek respectability in the eyes of the world.
These actions of the LTTE clearly runs counter to the spirit of the
Tokyo Declaration on Sri Lanka, endorsed by some 51 countries in
June 2003 that pledged assistance to the reconstruction of the
country, particularly the North and the East, which insisted that
the LTTE remain committed to the bench marks enunciated in that
document, among which was the adherence to the ceasefire, to permit
democratic dissent, prevent violation of human rights, ensure the
interests of the Muslims and eventual disarmament.
It is ironic that at a time when militant separatist groups such as
those in Sudan, Northern Ireland and Banda Aceh have willingly
sought to give up terrorism and separatism and to resort to
political means to achieve their goals, the LTTE stubbornly seeks to
deceive the international community.
Given its significant capacity for terrorism, including having
conducted the largest number of suicide bombing operations in recent
times, the LTTE also continues to pose a serious threat to
international security in the post 9/11 era.
It has been a long road for both parties to the conflict, and indeed
a difficult road for the people of Sri Lanka, across the ethnic
divide. The country has a vast potential as demonstrated by the
economic growth each year, despite the destructive conflict.
A negotiated settlement would unleash the full potential of all
people of the country and permit all to live in peace, harmony and
prosperity. And it is our hope that, that day will dawn upon us
sooner than later.