"While the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) seized
the initiative from the government on the peace process by forcing it to go
to Europe for talks on strengthening the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) last
week, President Mahinda Rajapakse faced the prospect of losing the UNP’s
support in the south following the swearing in of two MPs as ministers.
New to the game of international power politics, President Rajapakse started
his tenure on the wrong foot, thanks mainly to JVP pressure by insisting on
amending the CFA, cutting off Norway as facilitator, emphasising that any
solution will be within a unitary state and rejecting the concepts of
internal self-determination and traditional homeland for the Tamil people.
And obviously on a high after the presidential election victory, the
President went on to say talks with the LTTE will only be in an Asian
capital and no longer would the Tigers be afforded helicopter facilities
courtesy the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF), comments which saw the JVP and JHU
cheer squads applaud lustily.
Confident the President can be held to the letter and spirit of the
agreements reached with the two parties prior to the election, both the JVP
and JHU too went public on the new approach to the peace process, stating
the government will honour the mandate received by the people.
The President too did not disappoint, going so far as to reiterate his
in the policy statement made to parliament soon after the election. The
statement of course had the prior blessings of both the JVP and JHU and
signalled who was really calling the shots in the new dispensation.
And all pep and ginger, newly appointed Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera
hopped on a plane and went to India hoping to get the blessings of New Delhi
for the new agenda set by President Rajapakse, only to see him receive a
lesson in international relations. With Co-Chairs USA, EU and Japan firmly
placing their faith in the fourth Co-Chair, Norway as facilitator, India
followed suit and told Samaraweera not only to use the good offices of the
Vikings but also approach a solution based on a "united Sri Lanka," as
opposed to the much trumpeted "unitary state." President Rajapakse who
followed Samaraweera to India was given much the same message and was also
told by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to work in cooperation with the UNP.
Obviously not having done their homework, what both Rajapakse and
Samaraweera did not realise was the fact, the pro-LTTE DMK of Karunanidhi
and the likes of Vaiko were influential players in the central government
and with state elections in Tamil Nadu also due, the Congress Party was not
going to get their hands burnt in Sri Lanka.
While these home truths slowly but surely dawned on the President and his
UPFA administration, the LTTE turned the heat on with a series of claymore
mine attacks which took a heavy toll on security forces personnel. Faced
with the prospect of war and an ill-equipped military, the President
ran to the Norwegians and urged the once reviled "salmon-eating busy bodies"
to once again play the role of facilitator going so far as to acknowledge
No doubt realising the government was on the defensive, the LTTE upped the
stakes by insisting on Oslo or any other European capital as the venue for
possible talks in addition to confining any dialogue initially only to
strengthen the CFA. No way will the amendment of it be considered, the LTTE
announced. The LTTE thus challenged the government on the Asian venue as
well as on amending the CFA.
Then began a game of one-upmanship with the LTTE sticking to their positions
even as the body count of security forces personnel began to climb steadily
while the government likewise maintained its ground in the backdrop of
rising civilian casualties including the
murders of TNA MP, Joseph Pararajasingham and
five students in Trincomalee, which the President himself told the TNA
had military involvement.
The LTTE’s response to the civilian killings was swift and manoeuvered an
exodus of people from the government controlled areas into Tiger territory
as well as India, raising the prospect of imminent war.
And with the economy also reacting negatively to the unfolding scenario, the
government blinked and sent word to the Norwegians, an European capital can
be considered for talks with Geneva as the preferred choice.
But the choice of Geneva was to be projected as a Norwegian proposal to save
the government any embarrassment over the issue, little realising it was to
cause great discomfiture in JVP and JHU circles.
Moving quickly on the government’s softening attitude however, Norway’s
International Development Minister Erik Solheim telephoned LTTE Chief
Negotiator Anton Balasingham and required his presence in the Wanni to
clinch the deal.
Balasingham was receptive to the proposal,
fully realising Switzerland was far more politically significant for the
LTTE than even Norway with a heavy Tiger presence in the country and said he
would use his good offices with Supremo Velupillai Pirapaharan on the
There was however one problem that needed to be sorted out, namely the
security of Balasingham upon his arrival in Sri Lanka and transport to the
Wanni. This it was believed could pose a problem not only given the
hard-line position of the JVP and JHU over providing SLAF chopper facilities
to the LTTE leaders but more so at a time scores of security forces
personnel were being killed in the north east.
The fear was the JVP would agitate that the government was providing not
only security but SLAF facilities to the LTTE ideologue at a time members of
the very security forces were being killed by the Tigers — the stuff the JVP
made much of when the UNF government was conducting the peace process
although the numbers killed were nowhere near today’s figures.
But such worries were misplaced since the government and the JVP were
desperate to see a halt to the violence lest they be accused of
precipitating the war and readily agreed to provide not only security but an
SLAF chopper for the transport of Balasingham to the Wanni.
With the stage thus set, both Solheim and Balasingham timed their visits to
Sri Lanka for Monday, January 23, giving the LTTE ideologue two days to
soften Pirapaharan before the scheduled meeting with the Norwegian Minister
on Wednesday, January 25.
And even as Balasingham went into discussions with Pirapaharan, in Colombo
Solheim was having discussions with President Rajapakse where the issues of
venue and the agenda for talks came to be discussed. The President told
Solheim, while he had no objection to having talks in Oslo, it would be
helpful if at least the first round could be held in Geneva since it would
otherwise appear as if the government has completely capitulated under LTTE
pressure. He was to also inform Solheim at their meeting on Tuesday the
security forces were getting restless given the large number of personnel
killed and that it was important to call a halt to the violence lest the
situation gets out of hand.
By the time, Solheim met with Rajapakse, the Norwegian Minister had already
held two important discussions, one with TNA MPs R. Sampanthan and Gajan
Ponnambalam and another with Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. At the
meeting with the TNA, Solheim was told that there can be no meaningful peace
process unless talks are held in Europe since the government had under
pressure by the JVP and JHU unilaterally announced Asia as the venue. The
two MPs told Solheim, if President Rajapakse cannot even be flexible on the
venue due to JVP pressure, then there was no prospect of him being able to
carry his allies on the real issues that would surface at the talks, making
the entire exercise meaningless.
It is after meeting the two TNA MPs, Solheim was to call on UNP Leader Ranil
Wickremesinghe where he was in for more surprises, in the backdrop of
speculation there was an imminent cross-over of UNP MPs to government ranks.
By this time Wickremesinghe, who pledged unconditional support to Rajapakse
on the peace process at the all party conference on January 19, had sent
word to the President any move to hijack any MPs individually would see the
UNP withdrawing the support pledged. The UNP Leader had it also communicated
to the President, any such act after his message would tantamount to
Rajapakse stating he does not need the support of the main opposition party
with regard to the peace process. Thus, when Wickremesinghe met Solheim
Monday night, he was to reiterate the UNP position and indicated Rajapakse’s
attention be drawn to the party thinking, which the Norwegian Minister did
As far as Rajapakse was concerned, UNP’s support was of no consequence as
far as the stability of the government was concerned but crucial if he was
serious about taking the peace process forward to obtain the two third
majority in parliament for the implementation of any agreement reached. In
fact this was the very issue Balasingham raised when the UNF government was
negotiating, claiming there was little purpose in discussing a final
settlement unless there was a consensus in the south to implement any
And sensitive to the dynamics of southern
politics, Balasingham used it to his full advantage in convincing
Pirapaharan to settle for Geneva and seize the initiative given the
simmering discontent in the south. Balasingham told the Tiger Leader the
moment the government agrees to an European venue it would not only help
ease the pressure on the EU travel ban but also increase the LTTE’s standing
in the eyes of the international community.
He said if the talks are to focus on the strengthening of
the CFA, it would mean even the hard-line Sinhala south had accepted the
basic document, giving the LTTE legitimacy across the political divide in
the country. The LTTE idealogue was to also point out they would be able to
through the talks internationalise the civilian killings by the security
forces and also move for the disbanding of paramilitary groups operating in
the north east.
"We stand to gain through a dialogue and forcing the
implementation of the CFA including the resettlement of people in the
High Security Zones (HSZ). If the government does not agree to fully
implement the CFA, we will be on strong ground internationally,"
Balasingham pointed out.
The one concern Pirapaharan had in this context was whether
the LTTE could once again fall into the trap of an international safety net
put in place by Ranil Wickremesinghe but Balasingham assured there need not
be any such worry. Since the negotiations are going to be on the
implementation of the CFA, the burden will be on the government to honour
the provisions of the CFA, with the LTTE accountable only on a halt to the
violence, Balasingham pointed out. Convinced Balasingham was on the right
track, Pirapaharan discussed the strategic importance of resuming talks on
the implementation of the CFA with his military leaders including Sea Tiger
Chief Soosai and decided Geneva it was going to be.
By Tuesday, the decision was informally communicated to the Norwegians and
it was a buoyant Solheim who made his way to the Wanni Wednesday morning.
Once reviled as a "salmon eating busy body," the very UPFA was today looking
to him as their saviour and the irony was not lost on the Norwegian
And no sooner Solheim and his team including Ambassador Hans Brattskar
landed in the Wanni, they were whisked away for a meeting with officials of
the North East Secretariat on Human Rights and a team of priests from the
Jaffna and Mullaitivu Districts where they were told of the violent
conditions the people were subject to at the hands of the security forces.
It is thereafter that Solheim met with Pirapaharan where the LTTE’s
agreement to start talks on the implementation of the CFA was formally
communicated to the Norwegians. The LTTE Leader also accused the state of
working in concert with the paramilitary groups and creating a fear
psychosis in government controlled areas, forcing people to flee their
Significantly, Pirapaharan said what the LTTE was
prepared is to discuss the implementation of all provisions in the CFA
and not its amendment, thereby placing the burden on the government to
renege on an internationally facilitated agreement.
That the LTTE meant business was underscored by Balasingham
after the meeting when he said, "We will only talk of the smooth
implementation of the CFA." The modalities of the talks, limited to the
implementation of the existing CFA are to be finalised by both sides through
the Norwegian facilitators, Balasingham said.
"Talks on further matters could only take place after complete cessation of
the Sri Lanka military’s violent repression of the population in government
held areas of the north east," Balasingham added. Added he for effect —
"There is no question of amending the agreement. We will only talk of its
Going further Balasingham had this to say — "The present escalation of
violence arises as a consequence of the failure of the security forces to
implement the terms and conditions of the CFA. Only with the CFA, we can sit
peacefully for further negotiations."
The inference was to the HSZs and the people’s right to return to their
homes in terms of the CFA. And once again seizing the initiative and sending
a signal the Tigers mean business, the LTTE quickly announced their
negotiating team as well sensing the government was facing some difficulty
on this score too. The Tiger team for Geneva are Anton Balasingham,
Political Wing Leader S.P. Tamilselvan, Col. Jeyam, Police Chief B. Nadesan,
Batticaloa District Political Leader Ilanthirayan alias Marshall and Adele
Thus what the LTTE has cleverly done is not only take the government to
Europe but also fixed the talks to the implementation of the CFA and not its
amendment. That would tantamount to the PA-JVP-JHU alliance accepting the
CFA in toto with only its implementation to be discussed.
And once that route is taken, the government would have to honour the
provisions therein on issues ranging from the disbanding of the paramilitary
groups to the HSZ and failure to do so would make the UPFA government the
party that breaks the agreement justifying LTTE’s return to war. In such a
situation, the international condemnation currently focused on the LTTE for
CFA violations will be dulled and pressure shifted to the government.
In fact this was the very issue on which the JVP took cudgels at the all
party talks on January 19 when UNP national list MP, G.L. Peiris said there
was consensus that the talks should be on the strengthening of the CFA.
Objecting to such an inference, JVP Propaganda Secretary Wimal Weerawansa
said that was far from the case. "To say there is a consensus on
strengthening the CFA implies the document is good. That is not our
position. We want the talks to be on amending the CFA," Weerawansa said.
But if the government wants to start talks on amending the CFA, it will be a
nonstarter with the LTTE already ruling it out. Not only the LTTE, even
Norwegian Minister Erik Solheim has gone on record stating the talks will be
on the strengthening and implementation of the CFA and not its amendment.
Rubbing salt into the JVP wounds was the Norwegian announcement that it was
they who proposed Geneva, Switzerland as a compromise venue.
With the LTTE insisting on an European capital with Oslo their preferred
choice and the government not wanting to budge from Asia, the very fact the
Norwegians proposed an European capital and got both parties to agree was
rubbing the JVP’s face in the mud.
Now the JVP and JHU would be forced to accept the CFA and give their
blessings for talks in Europe and face humiliation before the people or
withdraw support to the government, the latter of course being unlikely. It
is in this overall context, the LTTE has seized the initiative on the peace
process placing the burden on the government to decide its fate..."