The GoSL-LTTE negotiations for peace
31 October 2002
The public discourse on the Sinhala side about the forthcoming
meeting in Bangkok seems to be clouded by a lack of a clear
understanding of its nature. The cause of peace will be furthered
if, even at this late stage, there is clarity as to what is
The common object of the GoSL and the LTTE is to end the war between
them and establish a secure peace on the island. This object is to
be attained by negotiation between the two parties which precludes
any form of dictation by one party to the other. They have met as
equals on the field of battle and now they meet as equals at the
The negotiation is about peace for all the peoples of the island. It
is not about a constitutional reform of the existing state because
no constitution can secure peace between peoples who have differing
conceptions of their rights and the exercise of those rights. Sri
Lanka's own experience is the best proof of this. There have been
three constitutions and many amendments of them none of which has
averted one of the longest wars in Asia.
Peace needs not a constitution but a treaty between the two parties
to the negotiation which will bind each party to its agreed
obligations. The performance of treaty obligations necessitates the
existence within each party of the powers necessary to fulfil its
obligations, powers which are independent of the other and which are
not derived from the other.
It is very important that these implications of what negotiation
means are clearly understood by the Sinhala people and their leaders
who have spoken so far in the vaguest terms of a constitutional
exercise in which they will be playing a dominant role. Nothing
could be further from reality.
On the Sinhala side the constant refrain has been the securing of
peace within the single all-island state. There is a nationwide,
multi-partisan consensus on this. Peace has been inextricably linked
to the single all-island state. For the last 18 years the single
all-island state has been the arena in which peace has proved to be
impossible of attainment and in which war has prevailed.
Even prior to that the single all-island state was the arena for
recurring physical violence against the Tamil people and their
elected leaders with a view to browbeating them into abandoning
their political demands which were unpalatable to us. If peace is
de-linked from the single all-island state there arises the prospect
of peace within a two-state island.
To reject that possibility means that peace is not what we want and
to make clear that what we want is the single all-island state
despite the proven impossibility of securing peace within it.
Peace requires a re-examination of the nexus between peace and the
single all-island state which has been for so long an article of
faith among the Sinhala people.
Persistence in it will jeopardise a successful outcome at the
On the side of the LTTE the emphasis has been consistently on the
national rights of the Tamil nation in the separate area of its
domicile on the island and on the autonomous exercise of those
rights. There is now an overwhelming Tamil consensus on this behind
The issue of Tamil national rights has bedevilled all three previous
discussions with the LTTE. Now, however, the time for discussion is
past and, instead, we are embarked upon a negotiation for peace
between equal parties in which the issue is no longer the existence
of Tamil national rights but how to reconcile their realisation with
peace on the island for both nations.
The negotiation will be greatly helped by a clear, rational
conception of what can be changed and what cannot be changed. The
island is a physical entity which cannot be changed even by the
agreement of both sides. On that unchangeable platform, however,
kingdoms have arisen and fallen, imperial conquests have waxed and
waned, and monarchy has been replaced by a republic.