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Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)
The Government has to talk to the LTTE at Some Point of Time
Sri Lanka Sunday Island, 9 June 1991
The government has to talk to the LTTE at some point in time, although no one can predict who will be blown up next. Despite the continuing hostilities this is now a premise fundamental to the government's approach to the Tamil problem.
A spokesman of the Tigers told the press in Jaffna some time after the assassination of Gandhi, that they (the LTTE) have been in touch with the government through the good offices of some concerned parties. The spokesman even mentioned the name of a senior government official, as the person who would arrive in Jaffna to begin negotiations.
These stories aside, there are some questions that would have to be countenanced by the government in holding talks with the LTTE. In such a dialogue does it accept the Tigers with their military assets intact?
Would the thirteenth amendment, which provides for the Provincial Council system, be relevant in the envisaged dialogue in view of the LTTE's position on theNortheastern Provincial Council?
Would the preliminary agenda include the question of the merger of the north and eastern Provinces, colonisation and district boundaries?
Would it also include the status of the other groups and political parties both Tamil and Sinhalese in the north and east if and when any agreement on the prospect of holding elections is reached?
And finally does the state, if it is earnest about holding talks, have an idea worth placing before the general public as to how a mechanism for supervising and/or inducing the inevitable process of disarming could be worked out?
These questions beg to be answered and answered in detail. The essence of any possible settlement to the Tamil question is the future of the LTTE's military assets. It has become integral to the Tamil problem. The failure of the IPKF'S effort to disarm the LTTE and the unprecedented military build up before the war began in June have brought a new and perhaps confounding factor into the idea of finding a solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.
This has also given rise to the notion of finding an 'alternative' system of security in the north and east. The military assets of the LTTE cannot be ignored for too long in the event of there being any talks between the government and the Tigers, for the status of the other groups and political parties, including the UNP will figure crucially, may presume even in the preliminary stages.
This time the political and military leadership of the country cannot but address the dual problem of alternative security and the mechanism of supervising and/or inducing the process of disarming.
This can be the critical area in which theintractabledifficultiesofdealing
with the Tamil question now will arise. If the desired method on the part of the government is a peaceful one then it has to inevitably countenance the constitutional and
politically sensitive problem of setting up a system of security in the north and east which would be a sufficient incentive for the staggered dismantling of the LTTE's military organisation.
The government it appears is thinking in terms of a system of security which would be 'indigenous'. But again the question is, in the context of a 'peaceful dialogue' envisaged, can this idea of indigenous security-which means that law and order would predominantly be in the h ands of the Tamils in the north and east - be a sufficient incentive to convince the LTTE to agree to voluntary and real disarmament?
The crux of the matter however is this: that when everything has been said and done, it would transpire that the LTTE would not allow anyone else to be part of an indigenous security arrangement and that inducing disarmament would mean in that case, another protracted war. Thevery essence of LTTE's argument for physically eliminating the other groups is that they cannot be entrusted with the security of the Tamils. They have systematically and frantically endeavoured over the years to arrogate the right of ensuring the safety and security of the Tamils from Sri Lanka, India and the other groups. Hence any solution envisaged by thegovemmenthas to consider the LTTE and its military assets and potential as comprising the law and older system proposed to be set up under the terms of that solution.
If not, it means war. The whole thing has taken on the nature of a pointless conundrum. If the government ruthlessly pursues the war while uselessly dragging on the
APC then it stands in danger of losing the other groups and ultimately being left only with the LTTE to hold talks; an LTTE which would still retain its potential to reestablish a better organised and resourceful military system to wage a more successful war.
On the oth erhand if the government talks to the LTTE now and earnestly pursues the process of drawing and setting up a suitable form of autonomy including a security arrangement which would be indigenous it would be again faced with the LTTE as the sole political and military reality in the north and east, because even if the LTTE agrees in principle even at a later stage to the idea of holding elections in the north and east it would be a stage in which the government accepts them as they are; with their m ilitary assets, which in turn would mean that other groups will be nonentities in the LTTE dominated areas.
These seem to be the reasons why the Tigers feel that it is easier to advance towards their goal through the studied and calculated alternation of war and peace. The front page comment by the Editor in the latest issue of the pro LTTE `Tamil Nation' will throw some light on these matters that inform the Tigers' approach to the military and political methods for achieving their goal.
It must be said to the credit of President Premadasa, that unlike his predecessor, he is a politician with his ears to the ground; and hence has the perspicacity to understand and respect the nature of the new Tamil phenomenon. This is what perhaps gave him the courage in May 1989 to admit armed Tigers into the city of Colombo and host them in 5-star haels,over which his Sinhala critics have not stopped taunting him. If his recent convincing win in the local bodies election has given him the confidence to go back to his original track. He now has the added benefits of two experiences -a on year old pointless dialogue between May 1989 and May 1990 that came to nothing, and the one year old fruitless war betwee n June 1990 and now, which had come to nothing either, but had left the country weaker economically, and more exposed to strong-arm pressures from western donor countries. In fact, he has few options now than what he had in May 1989.
President Pre madasa is reported to have told a Singhala audience recently, - in a bilingual flourish -that while he was not prepared to concede Eelam but short of it he was prepared to give "ellam" (all, in Tamil). Thai we think is a good beginning. Afterall one should be pragmatic enough to understand that no ruler anywhere can concede anything that is not in his power to give. New nation states are never given, they are always taken. The General Yahya Khans and Bhuttos could not have given Bangladesh it was taken from them.