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Tamilnation > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Conflict Resolution - Tamil Eelam - Sri Lanka > Norwegian Peace Initiative > Geneva Talks & After > Sri Lanka Sunday Leader on LTTE Agreement for Talks in Geneva

Sri Lanka Sunday Leader on
LTTE Agreement for Talks in Geneva

29 January 2006

"...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..."

"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 hard-line positions 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 their impartiality.

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 matter.

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 on Tuesday.

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 agreements reached.

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 Minister.

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 houses.

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 smooth implementation."

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 Balasingham.

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..."



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