Eye of the storm?
[TamilNet, November 26, 2005]
"...Within hours of the Sri Lanka’s election commission
announcing Mr. Rajapakse’s vote tally had surpassed the requisite 50%, the
new Norwegian government extended its congratulations and extended a clear
offer to resume peace facilitation. But President-elect Rajapakse did not
respond. Indeed, he did not even acknowledge Oslo’s extended hand either at
his swearing in speech or in the days afterwards... "
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse’s first address to his
Parliament had been keenly, albeit warily, anticipated by those concerned about
the peace process. Elected on a hardline nationalist platform (and having easily
drawn the majority of Sinhala votes), Rajapakse’s speech curiously received the
press coverage of a pro-peace candidate: that he wanted to hold "direct" talks
with the Liberation Tigers. But peace advocates paying close attention to his
policy statement would have been thoroughly alarmed.
Not only does Rajapakse seem to have foreclosed negotiations with the LTTE by
ruling out discussion on the immediate and ‘core’ issues in Sri Lanka’s peace
process, he is proposing the dismantling of its foundations: the February 2002
ceasefire and Norwegian facilitation.
Within hours of the Sri Lanka’s election commission announcing Mr. Rajapakse’s
vote tally had surpassed the requisite 50%, the new Norwegian government
extended its congratulations and extended a clear offer to resume peace
facilitation. But President-elect Rajapakse did not respond. Indeed, he did not
even acknowledge Oslo’s extended hand either at his swearing in speech or in the
Through the furore over the boycott and the horsetrading for cabinet posts which
gripped Colombo last week, his deafening silence has been unsettling the
optimists who had hoped the practicalities of power would prevail over rash
campaign promises. Their growing anxieties were confirmed Friday.
Whilst the Lankan President has called for ‘direct’ talks – which, in the
context of a marginalized Oslo, means something less promising than many of
Friday’s press reports have assumed – he has rejected both the immediate and
strategic agendas that the Tamils might have expected the LTTE to put on the
With regards a permanent solution, Rajapakse bluntly rejected the concept of a
Tamil homeland and the notion of self-determination. That has effectively put
paid to the notions of power-sharing, federalism etc, given that these are
underpinned by both the homeland concept and the ‘internal’ self-determination
With regards immediate issues that talks might have focussed on, Rajapakse has,
firstly, rejected the idea of sharing tsunami related aid pledged by
international donors with the LTTE.
Dismissing the Post Tsunami Operational Management Structure (PTOMS), the
internationally-backed joint mechanism signed by his predecessor, Rajapakse has
said only the Jaya Lanka" (Victory to Lanka) reconstruction programme run by the
government will handle tsunami funds.
Given that aid has been used by the international community as an inducement to
both sides for talks – a sweetner or, more realistically, a cold conditionality
– Rajapakse’s refusal to share aid with the Tigers severely reduces the draw of
peace talks for them.
More important is his refusal to countenance an interim administration. Whilst
the matter did not even merit comment – and given President Rajapakse’s well
known hardline positions, no one really expected it to – it would undoubtedly
have been a strong draw for the LTTE.
In effect, whilst there is, in principle, an offer for the LTTE to come for
negotiations, both the short term and long term matters the LTTE might have been
tabled have already been ruled out. What, the Tigers might ask, are we to talk
Given this, President Rajapakse pointedly did not put forward an alternative
agenda. He repeated the abstract declaration of his election campaign – “the
political solution to a lasting peace should be based on a consensus reached
through discussions among all parties linked to the problem and it should
receive the approval of majority of the people of this country.”
The latter simply means the Sinhala majority must endorse the solution, but it
is not clear who are to come to the consensus. It is also not clear what – if
self-determination and territory-linked power sharing are ruled out – what the
consensus is to be reached on.
Amid these confusions are, of course, the sweeping structural changes to the
peace process that President Rajapakse has proposed - and which he seems
determined to unilaterally carry out.
To begin with, he seems to have ruled out a major role for the Norwegians.
Without a single reference to Oslo, he cryptically declared to Parliament: “the
facilitation and mediation extended by the United Nations and other such
organisations that support peace in Sri Lanka, all friendly countries, the
international community, India and other regional states will be properly
organised and utilized to strengthen the peace process.”
What this means is open to interpretation, but clearly Norway is not welcome – a
point made more explicit by the bitter tirade against Oslo unleashed by
Rajapakse’s campaign partners, the Janatha Vimukthi Perumana (JVP).
Seasoned observers of Sri Lanka’s conflict are well aware of the difficulties of
finding a mutually acceptable peace broker who would also be prepared to stake
their reputation on resolving it. In the light of the past week, that might now
include Norway also.
The LTTE has not made any comment this week and undoubtedly the Heroes Day
address on Sunday by the movement’s leader, Vellupillai Pirapaharan, will shed
considerable light on the movement's stance on the peace process.
But what is clear is that Sri Lanka’s new leadership is tossing out the
remaining struts of the peace process one by one.
The most dangerous of these is Rajapakse’s declaration “the current ceasefire
Agreement will be revised to … safeguard national security, prevent terrorist
acts, … and introduce an open and transparent ceasefire monitoring machinery.”
What this means is unsettlingly unclear. The agreement, as might be expected by
definition, was reached between the two protagonists by a process of
negotiation. The February 2002 bilateral truce, moreover, replaced two parallel,
but unilateral ceasefires being observed by the LTTE and the United National
Front (UNF) government.
As a signatory, Sri Lanka is locked into the internationally monitored truce.
Any revision requires the consent of the LTTE – and that includes any changes to
the structure or makeup of the supervision – the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission
The LTTE has refused to countenance a revision of the agreement or the
monitoring mission, but has agreed to discuss implementation of the truce.
The question then is whether the Lankan President going to take Sri Lanka out of
the agreement. It doesn’t take much imagination to envisage what might happen.