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Towards a Just Peace or Just a Peace Offensive?
The Sri Lanka government delegation led by Prime Minister Chandrika Kumaratunga's Secretary, Mr.Kumarasiri Balapatabendi arrived in Jaffna on 12 October 1994 for talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
The other members of the four member Government delegation were Mr.Lionel Fernando, one time Jaffna Government Agent, Mr. Navin Gooneratne and Mr.Rajan Asirvatham. None of them were Sri Lanka Ministers or members of the Sri Lanka Parliament.
The LTTE delegation to the talks was led by Mr. K. Karikalan, Deputy Head of the Political Section of the Liberation Tigers. The LTTE delegation included Mr.S.Elamparuthy, Political Organiser, Jaffna District, Mr.A.Ravi, Head of the Department of Economic Research and Development and Mr.S. Dominique, Head of the Department of Public Administration.
Mr.Karikalan told a press briefing after the first round of talks that the LTTE would participate in the talks with an 'open mind'. He said that this was the message of Tamil Eelam leader, Velupillai Pirabaharan and added that the LTTE was prepared to go on with the talks even without a ceasefire.
A Reuter report added that officials in Colombo have indicated that the Sri Lanka government delegation for the second round of talks may not be the same as those who went for the first round.
Sardar K.M.Pannikar, Indian Ambassador to China from 1948 to 1952, and later Vice Chancellor, Mysore University, wrote in Principles and Practice of Diplomacy in 1956:
The desire to tell the Tamil people that sunshine had moved into their lives may be understandable…
Sri Lanka helicopters which rained down bombs on the Tamil people have now taken to dropping leaflets. It appears that some of President Chandrika Kumaratunga's advisers believe that where bombs failed to quell Tamil resistance, leaflets may succeed in advancing the peace process.
In the days before the Sri Lanka government delegation's visit to Jaffna for the first round of talks on October 14, tens of thousands of leaflets, in English and Tamil, were dropped by Sri Lanka army helicopters all over the peninsula. The leaflets proclaimed that 'sunshine had moved into the lives of the Tamil people'' in the form of 28 items that had been taken out of the banned list, including foreign soaps, audio cassettes and medicine.
The leaflet ended by giving some seemingly 'altruistic' advice to the Tamil people: 'However dear brothers and sisters, we must not forget that if peace negotiations fail to take place or take place and then fails, it is you who would suffer most. So what you have to do is to prevail upon the LTTE to keep negotiating with the government, until peace is achieved soon.'
The desire of some of President Chandrika Kumaratunga's advisers to tell the Tamil people that sunshine had moved into their lives in the form of foreign soaps, audio cassettes and medicine may be understandable. But many Tamils may well have wondered at the veiled threat that it was they who would suffer most if negotiations break down. After all it was not as if the war had not taken its toll of Sinhala lives and of the Sinhala economy. Prime Minister Chandrika Kumaratunga herself told the Sinhala people during her Presidential TV campaign speech in early November:
The veiled threat may have even led Tamils in the peninsula to reflect that though 'gift' horses should not be looked in the mouth, there may be a need to be wary of Greeks when they come bearing gifts. In October 1987, the IPKF too resorted to the tactic of dropping thousands of leaflets, telling the Tamil people about the goodwill mission on which they had come. Future events will reveal the extent of RAW's influence within President Chandrika Kumaratunga's circle of advisers.
Some of President Kumaratunga's advisers seem to believe that the peace process will be advanced by separating the Tamil people from the Liberation Tigers…
Meanwhile, it seems that some, at least, of President Chandrika Kumaratunga's current advisers believe that the peace process will be advanced by efforts to separate the Tamil people from the Liberation Tigers. Deputy Defence Minister Anuraddha Ratwatte speaking to the Sinhala Sri Lanka Army at Palaly camp in Jaffna during the week ending 9 September declared:
Two weeks later, Deputy Defence Minister, Anuraddha Ratwatte, added, with unconscious humour:
The Defence Correspondent of the Sinhala owned Sri Lanka Sunday Times writing on 13 November 1994, after Chandrika Kumaratunga's victory in the Presidential polls, was somewhat more explicit:
Further, RTF writing his Security Report in the Sri Lanka State Controlled Sunday Observer on 13 November 1993 was at pains to emphasise the 'consultative' role of the armed services and the importance of the new President maintaining close links with them:
The peace process is simply a continuation of war by other means, with the objective remaining the same - the annihilation of the LTTE…
It appears therefore that to some of President Chandrika Kumaratunga's advisers, the peace process is simply a continuation of war by other means, with the objective remaining the same - the annihilation of the LTTE. Their blinkered vision prevents them from seeing that the Liberation Tigers are not separate from the Tamil people. They refuse to understand that, in fact, the Liberation Tigers simply embody the determined spirit of Tamil resistance to decades of oppressive Sinhala rule. They refuse to understand the political reality that Sunmantra Bose spelt out in the Lanka Guardian of 15 October 1994:
Peace, like everything else, comes in different sizes and shapes…but what does justice mean?
Peace, like everything else, comes in different sizes and shapes. There is the peace of the graveyard and the peace of servile surrender. There is the peace of appeasement and peace with honour. There is also lasting peace - lasting because it is just. But what does justice mean? An empty platitude devoid of meaning? A meaningless cliche meaning anything and everything? A useful weapon in the politician's armoury of rhetoric? High sounding morality which serves to cloak the pursuit of mean political advantage?
What does justice mean ?
Was it just that in 1958, peaceful Tamil protest at these actions of a Sinhala dominated government was met with physical assault, rape and killings of hundreds of Tamils ?
Was it just that the coalition government led by Mrs.Srimavo Bandaranaike rejected the proposals for federalism submitted by the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi leader, Mr.S.J.V.Chevanayagam in 1971?…
Was it just to impose on the Tamil people the 1987 Indo Sri Lanka Accord, entered into behind their backs?…
If all this was just, then justice would be an empty platitude devoid of meaning…
If all this was just, then justice would be an empty platitude devoid of meaning. So much so that it would be pointless entertaining hopes of securing a just peace by talking with those who continue to insist that all this was just - because to them, justice means everything and nothing.
But justice is not an empty platitude. It is the cry for justice that led thousands of young Tamils to give their lives, and continue to give their lives, in a struggle for freedom from oppression.
It will be idle and wrong to dismiss the cyanide capsule in the hands of the Liberation Tigers as a simple minded willingness of a suicide to die. As the late Sathasivam Krishnakumar once remarked, a liberation fighter values his life even more than an ordinary civilian - certainly not less. But his willingness to give up that which he values so highly is but a measure of a fierce determination that cries out: 'I will not lose my freedom except with my life.'
It is the willingness to suffer to bring about change which has made Velupillai Pirabaharan and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam the undying symbols of the Tamil struggle for justice…
It is this determination and this cry which has found an answering response in the hearts and minds of the Tamil people living in Tamil Eelam. It is this determination and this cry which has found an answering response in the hearts and minds of thousands upon thousands of Tamils living as refugees and wandering nomads without a land, in many lands across the globe.
It is this thyagam, it is this willingness to suffer to bring about change which has made Velupillai Pirabaharan and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam not simply the leaders of the Tamil people but also the undying symbols of the Tamil struggle for justice.
A meaningful peace process cannot begin without understanding not only the Tamil mind but also the Tamil heart. It will be futile for any of President Chandrika Kumaratunga's advisers to believe that the peace process will be advanced by demonising the LTTE or by trying to isolate the LTTE from the Tamil people.
And here, let it be said that it is not enough to simply tell the Sinhala people that the war in the North-East cannot be continued without conscription. It is not enough to tell them that the war in the North-East is draining economic resources and hampering development.
It is not enough to tell them that the war is unwinnable. It is necessary to tell them that the war against the Tamil people is not only unwinnable but also that it is unjust - and that it is unwinnable, BECAUSE it is unjust.
That it is unwinnable not because the Sinhala security forces lack the requisite resources or for that matter the necessary skills but because the spirit of a people resisting alien rule of their homeland cannot be suppressed.
'Sinhala thesam should understand that a solution to the Tamil question cannot be found by resort to war'…
In the words of Tamil Eelam Leader, Velupillai Pirabaharan, 'Sinhala thesam should understand that a solution to the Tamil question cannot be found by resort to war and by military suppression of the Tamil people.' (BBC interview, September 1994)
That, then is the bottom line.
So long as the Sinhala people believe that a military solution remains an option should talks fail, so long as they believe that they can conquer the Tamil homeland and rule a people against their will (perhaps through quislings and collaborators), so long will they fail to see the need to talk to the Tamil people on equal terms.
So long also will they fail to see the need to recognise the existence of the Tamil people, as a people, with a homeland and with the right to freely choose their political status.
So long also will they fail to see the need to structure a polity where two peoples may associate with each other in freedom. So long also will they fail to see the force of reason in that which 17 non governmental organisations told the UN Commission on Human Rights at its 50th Sessions in February this year:
It is said that those who do not learn from history are condemned to relive it. The peace process in the island of Sri Lanka will be furthered only by learning the lessons of the past. Justice is not an empty platitude devoid of meaning.