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Selected Writings - Dr. Adrian Wijemanne
The New Peace Making Initiative in Sri Lanka
12 March 2002
The last quarter of the twentieth century witnessed many, diverse, peacemaking efforts in many theatres of conflict. They ranged from direct bi-lateral talks in Paris between the protagonists in the VietNam War, through mediation by both regional and international bodies to the intervention of the sole superpower backed by its military muscle. United Nations peacekeeping forces have separated physically the warring sides in some cases. The original doctrine that the UN Charter permits it to intervene only in inter-state conflicts has been extended to bring within the UN's scope intra-state conflicts which have a manifest potential to involve neighbouring states in various ways such as refugee flows, arms smuggling by the supporters of one or both sides in the internal conflict etc. The UN has used regional bodies such as NATO to insert armed peacekeeping forces in theatres such as Bosnia and Kosovo and Australia in East Timor. In the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict which has many of the hallmarks of an inter-state conflict the USA has been the sole mediator.
The degree of success of the different strategies used has been variable. In Viet Nam peace came by the unilateral withdrawal from the conflict of one of the principal protagonists, the USA. In the Balkans (Bosnia and Kosovo) a long term commitment of armed international forces is in its early stages and the eventual outcome remains problematic. In East Timor the establishment of a sovereign state seems to presage a return to normal civilian government based on the consent of the governed. In the most fraught theatre, Israel-Palestine, an arrangement that satisfies neither side fully may have to be imposed by the wider international community under US leadership and backed with the threat or use of sanctions and in the last resort military intervention.
Predictably there have been many failures. In The Philippines, the twenty –year long mediation by the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) which produced an agreement in 1996 has fallen apart now by the replacement of one of the parties to the agreement, the Moro National Liberation Front, by a more radical group claiming to represent the Islamic fundamentalist interest demanding sovereign independence. In Sri Lanka, fifteen years ago , the Indian government's peacemaking effort based on an agreement with only one side in the conflict, namely, the Sri Lankan government, failed in a welter of conflict with the peacemaker falling foul of both sides and being unceremoniously ejected from the scene. The Rambouillet Talks between NATO and the Yugoslav government ended acrimoniously and was followed by 89 days of relentless aerial bombardment of Yugoslavia bringing its government to its knees followed by the thinly disguised impostion of a more amenable government and the trial of its former head of government for war crimes.
Despite these unpromising experiences peacemaking efforts have, by and large, ended some extremely bloody conflicts. In the Balkans peace though externally imposed is yet peace. Intransigent governments such as that of Macedonia have been persuaded to change course and compromise in the interests of peace. The long and extremely bloody struggle in East Timor is over. The UN has intervened successfully to end the resumption of hostilities between the new state of Eritrea and Ethiopia. Also one must not forget that from the failures great lessons have been learnt. The failure in Sri Lanka shows how absolutely imperative it is to involve both protagonists in a conflict in every effort towards its eventual resolution. Talking to just one side in the hope of eventually leaning so heavily on the other as to force it to concede is futile.
A New Departure in the new Century
It is no surprise that the first formal peacemaking effort of the new century and one that entails an unique new departure should come in Sri Lanka. It is not by any means the world's bloodiest conflict but it has lasted all of 18 years and it has produced international refugee flows of great magnitude and high significance. It has produced a flood of Tamil refugees into all the countries of the developed world. Uniquely they contain a significant element of highly educated middle-class persons who were able to adapt quickly to western life and acquire some economic and political influence in their countries of refuge. In addition, the conflict itself though characterised disingenously by the state as a purely terrorist conflict was soon perceived to be a war of independence waged by a nationalist secessionist movement backed overwhelmingly by the Tamil nation which had voted at the general election of 1977 for full, sovereign independence. The secessionist movement had solid democratic credentials and received the committed backing of the vast majority of the worldwide Tamil diaspora.
The other factor unique in the Sri Lankan case is the long series of military victories won by the secessionist movement against the forces of the state. The LTTE has evolved from a purely guerilla force into one with a capability for conventional warfare sufficient to overwhelm the state's forces in conventional engagements. In the last five and half years, from July 1996, the LTTE has won decisively every major battle with the state's forces and now controls around 60% of the area of the island which the Tamil nation claims as its homeland and in which it purports to set up its own state. In addition to its terrestrial successes the LTTE has built up a significant naval capability which has resulted not only in successes in naval engagements with the state's naval forces but has also enabled it to keep itself supplied with the imports of armaments needed to keep the struggle going. There can be little doubt now that the Sri Lankan state has more than met its match both on land and at sea.
As with all states in such a predicament the state of Sri Lanka has not been different in trying to deny to itself the parlous state in which it finds itself. It has tried and
now exhausted all the well worn lines of defence that states usually adopt. It started by denying the existence of a Tamil nation and asserting that there was only a "lawand-order" problem. Soon it had to concede that this was indeed a war but that it would not concede under any circumstances the Tamil demand for a separate state as that would split the island into two states. Accordingly it would not talk to the LTTE until it laid down its arms i.e. surrendered them to the Sri Lankan forces. Predictably that stand was eroded very quickly by the logic of the battlefield. The long-sustained assertion that the state could, and would, win the war is now no more. Once again reality has intruded to dispel the hollow triumphalism on which belligerence was based.
These developments were reinforced by the results of the general election in Sri Lanka on the 5th December 2001. The government which took the hardest line towards the LTTE was defeated and the opposition, which was accused of being willing to sell out to the LTTE was elected overwhelmingly and now has a stable majority in parliament with the support of the ethnic minority parties. It is not hobbled by delusions of triumphalism which have proved to be so hollow and has a far more realistic appreciation of the need for negotiating peace with the LTTE. The former government too had taken faltering steps in the same direction but took two steps backward for every step forward in response to the pressures of Sinhala extremism. It had taken the initiative to invite assistance from the Norwegian government but that too ran into the sand with recriminations against the chief Norwegian negotiatior accusing him of partiality to the LTTE.
The new initiative and its unique features
The new government lost no time in reviving the Norwegian connection. The LTTE was equally interested. An informal ceasefire unilaterally imposed by each side came into force in late December 2001. Both sides then sought the good offices of the Norwegian government to upgrade it to a formal, mutually agreed, open-ended ceasefire and cessation of hostilities. The Norwegians played a decisive role in this endeavour. The two protagonists were still not ready for face to face discussions so the Norwegian government undertook an arduous process of shuttle diplomacy which resulted finally in a memorandum of understanding signed separately before the Norwegian mediators on the 23rd of February 2002. The document was published by both sides and has been debated in the Sri Lankan parliament.
10. It has many unique features which together amount to a promising demarche in international peacemaking strategy.
First, it invests the Royal Norwegian Government with the responsibility of monitoring compliance by each side with the terms of the memorandum;
Secondly, it empowers the Royal Norwegian Government to engage staff from a consortium of all the Nordic countries, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Norway itself who will be stationed in the towns in the conflict zone on the island in order to carry out the monitoring function;
Thirdly, the monitoring function includes the power to settle at the local level disputes relating to the lines of control etc without appeal against its decisions;
Finally, the monitoring role is open-ended i.e. it is not limited by any time period.
11. Thus for the first time ever the Nordic countries are intervening in an Asian theatre of conflict with their own nationals on the ground in order to secure the separation of the combatants and reduce mutual hostility paving the way for formal peacemaking. There is no formal UN or NATO imprimatur though the initiative has received worldwide acclaim and approval.
12. The Nordic monitors have far-reaching powers in their limited role even though they have no means of enforcement which has to be sought by negotiation with the other two parties to the memorandum. However, the engagement is open-ended and could last for a very long time if the formal peacemaking negotiation drags on as many have been wont to do. Since the monitors are not a peacekeeping force backed by military forces they have to maintain a constant exhortative relationship with the two protagonists for the cessation of hostilities to hold. This means, inevitably, a deepening engagement with the internal dynamics of each side – itself an unique departure for any mediator or facilitator.
13. Since the eyes of the western world are upon such an unique new departure information as to the monitors' experiences will be disseminated to the world community thus internationalising both the elements of the conflict and the progress of the peace negotiations themselves. The whole exercise will then be related to the norms and values of modern international life where considerations of sovereignty enjoy a diminishing influence.
14. It is not too far fetched to suppose, therefore, that the resolution of the Sri Lankan conflict has yielded an important new strategy for international peacemaking. It is true that monitoring a ceasefire is not peacemaking. It only provides a context of calm and reason in which the two sides to the conflict can be quietly introduced to the realities of their respective situations and be encouraged to work out for themselves a viable modus vivendi regardless of the damage any such accommodation could do to the classical concept of the state in international jurisprudence. Peace in the new century could well be fundamentally different from the conventional concepts of previous ages and it is an openness to such innovation which serves the hankering after peace by both nations on the island of Sri Lanka.