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Home > Tamil National Forum > Selected Writings - Victor Rajakulendran > On the APRC, President Rajapakse & the International Community
Selected Writings - Dr. Victor Rajakulendran
On the APRC, President Rajapakse & the International Community
22 January 2008
All party conferences (APCs) have been common phenomena in the history of Sri Lankan politics in dealing with the burning issue of ethnic conflict. Successive Sri Lankan Singhalese dominated governments from both sides of politics have convened APCs to pretend to the International Community (IC) that the government in power at that time was genuinely trying to find a peaceful resolution to this longstanding ethnic conflict. All these governments followed this same path to guarantee the flaw of development aid from the IC and were also successful in cheating the IC, as all the APCs so far failed to produce any results towards solving the conflict.
Just before Mahinda Rajapksa (MR) became the President, the Peace Process (PP) of that time, facilitated by Norwegians under the auspices of the Co-Chairs; namely US, EU, Japan and Norway, had come to a standstill on the issue of an Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA) proposal submitted by one of the antagonists in this conflict, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), as an interim administration of the Tamil homeland - a merged North and East provinces - until a final political solution is reached.
At this stage, the Sri Lankan government was under pressure, irrespective of who leads it, by the IC to come up with a consensus amongst the Southern Singhalese political parties with regard to their willingness to share political power with the Tamil leadership, the LTTE.
Therefore to satisfy this demand from the IC, and keep the flaw of development aid from the same IC, MR followed the same footpath of his predecessors and appointed the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) and an expert committee to advice APRC.
This APRC was to be represented by equal number of representatives from each party represented in parliament except the Tamil national Alliance (TNA). This omission has been criticised by the British Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells in British parliament last week, as a “big Mistake” committed by the Rajapksa government.
APRC and its past
APRC has met more than 57 times so far. MR appointed the Science and Technology Minister in his cabinet, Prof. Tissa Vitharana, to chair the APRC. After meeting for a considerable length of period Prof. Tissa Vitharana submitted a report to President and in summary this report suggested that Sri Lankan post-colonial state be restructured based on the principles of shared and self rule and it proposes devolution of power and the formation of a second chamber.
Although Tamils did not have any hope in this report, many in Sri Lanka thought that this could be a good starting point to begin negotiations again. But to everyone’s disappointment and dismay, MR’s party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), submitted a set of proposals to counter Prof. Tissa Vitharana’s report. The SLFP proposals submitted in response to Prof. Tissa Vitharana’s report were designed to reverse the entire power-sharing ideas that have evolved prior to this time. The extreme Sinhala nationalists went a step further and asked Minister Prof. Tissa Vitharana to resign from the APRC chairmanship while the JVP asked to dissolve the APRC itself.
With all these moves happening in and around APRC, Prof. Tissa Vitharana became a lame duck and he was supposed to be chairing an All Party Representative Committee, but it was not to be.
Because, by that time JVP has already left the APRC and the major opposition party the United National Party (UNP) also was leaving the APRC as MR has lured some key UNP stalwarts to his side to maintain a parliamentary majority. After this, the APRC was meeting without the major opposition parties UNP, JVP and TNA.
Still President MR continued to promise to the IC, deadlines after deadlines for the release of the APRC proposals. Every time the IC, especially the Co-Chairs leading the peace process, insist on a proposal, President will promise a date before which the proposal will be released. That date will come and go quietly, MR would have pacified the IC that was threatening to withdraw development aid time to time and continued with his military agenda
MR’s dependence on JVP
Faced with the dilemma of maintaining a parliamentary majority to sustain his government, first MR tried to attract, some of the UNP parliamentarians to cross over to his side. As this became harder and harder he had to depend on JVP’s support to pass any legislation in parliament including the budget.
Realising MR’s dependency on their party, JVP started to impose conditions for their support to the government. They even threatened to topple MR’s government if MR fails to abrogate the cease-fire agreement (CFA) and eliminate Norway from its facilitatory role. Another demand by the JVP that the government should crush militarily the LTTE before any attempt at negotiations, MR was already doing it. First the security forces tried to clear the East from the Tigers and after accomplishing that now they have started military operations in the North.
However, MR was trying to tell the IC that he was upholding the CFA and his forces are only retaliating, any attacks carried out by the LTTE. This made the JVP to demand openly from MR to abrogate the CFA and he promptly did it on the 16th of January.
Reaction from the IC
IC openly expressed their shock and dismay at this unilateral withdrawal from the CFA. IC demanded that MR’s government should come up with a substantial devolution proposal as early as possible through the APRC process. While US, EU, Japan, Norway, Canada and Australia restricted their reaction to only statements Briton only has gone a step further and had a 1.5 hour debate in their house of commons.
Members from all the political parties in British parliament were unanimous in giving a stern warning to the Sri Lankan government. Without any exception all the governments and the UN Secretary General have insisted that there is no military solution to this conflict and the only way to solve this conflict is for the Sri Lankan government to come up with a devolution proposal immediately and start negotiations based on that devolution package.
MR’s response – Will the IC let him off the hook once again?
Although MR is pretending to his people and the JVP that he is not worried about the opinion of the West, in reality he seems to be worried. Otherwise he does not have to rush in and give 23rd of January as an ultimatum to APRC to come up with a proposal. It is not difficult for Prof. Tisaa Vitharana to come up with a proposal after deliberating for more than 57 times. The dilemma for him is how to satisfy both JVP as well as the IC.
This is why MR hurriedly convened a meeting of the representatives of the all party committee. In that meeting he has instructed them to come up with a proposal to fully implement the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution, which came into existence with the Indo-Lanka accord but to date not implemented even partially. This amendment only amalgamated both the northern and eastern provinces into one North-East province, the Tamil homeland. But this merger was recently made null and void by the Supreme Court in response to a case filed by the JVP on the grounds that the merger was carried out through wrong procedures.
Therefore, even if MR’s government tries to implement the 13th amendment fully now, it will provide much lesser devolution than it was intended to be. Therefore there is no doubt that it will be rejected by the Tamils.
This is why MR is trying to bluff now that the APRC should come up with an interim arrangement to implement the 13th amendment fully on the 23rd while continue to conduct deliberations to come up with a proper devolution proposal on a later date.
In other words MR is trying to play the same game of buying more time, by fooling the IC by pretending as he is delivering an interim devolution arrangement to the Tamils now and to carry out its military agenda. Whether he will be able to buy that time, this time, depends on how far the IC is prepared to go in taking punitive actions against the SL government.