Thursday, December 16, 2010

Peace in Pieces in Sri Lanka

(Following is a slightly different version of what the Frontline magazine of 1st February, 2008 carried under the title ‘Requiem for truce’)

“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal”- Martin Luther King

Sri Lanka holds a record for its failed peace talks and ceasefire agreements! We have had so many since the Tamil national liberation struggle became militarised in 1983.

The first was signed prior to the talks in Thimpu in 1985. Then came the infamous Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord in July 1987. Thereafter came the rather carelessly worked out ceasefire in February 1990. Yet another one in January 1995, and the last- the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) of February 2002 which is now dead. Not that it matters, because it was brain dead any way!

There are many of us who regarded the CFA as born to the incompatible parentage of the LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and ‘mid-wifed’ by the ‘peace’ facilitator Norway. The CFA was used by the LTTE for their own gain, and it maligned and abused all of us Sri Lankan Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese. I’m amongst many who believe, that it was the most damaging of all Ceasefire Agreements foisted upon this country.

The Norwegian brokered CFA was intended to be a platform for a negotiated political solution which did not achieve its goal, but seemed to have suited the LTTE objectives to a tee. Norway appears to have tutored the LTTE to carve out Eelam just how Norway carved out Norway!
Take a look at the map of Norway and compare it with the LTTE’s map of its hypothetical Eelam! Almost every part of Norway is adjoining the sea, so is ‘Eelam’! Why are the Norwegians so supportive of the LTTE? It was very obvious to those of us at SCOPP who had to interact with them as they were the facilitators on a regular basis, that their sympathies were with the LTTE. What does Norway stand to gain?

The Norwegians already had with them a draft Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) from the time they were invited to be facilitators in 1999. It was this MOU that was rapidly converted into a CFA after it was shown to the LTTE first. Pressure from Norway to have the CFA signed in such haste, led to totally disregarding whatever the GOSL may have wanted included. Not even the then Executive President of Sri Lanka Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga knew what it contained!

Some of the suggestions that the GOSL wanted to incorporate were
left out- such as the specific mention of conducting discussions for a political solution within a time frame, banning the import of arms and ammunition by the LTTE, disarming the LTTE’s paramilitary groups, refraining from suicide bombings, assassinations, forcible recruitment and other such activities by the LTTE.

The imbalance in the obligations that the two sides- the GOSL and the LTTE had to discharge according to the terms and conditions of the CFA was an utter farce!

The CFA document was supposed to have been authored by the Norwegians and the LTTE. However, we now know, their were two different CFA documents signed. Did the GOSL sign one and LTTE the other? Only the Norwegians and the LTTE will have the answer to this. The CFA document was a closely guarded secret of the then 'first row' of Peace Talkers.

The CFA of 2002, proved to be the most productive period for the LTTE terrorists, because they had all the freedom to arm themselves to their teeth! It was also the most elaborately drawn up CFA so far, and lasted however imperfectly, for the longest period of time - almost six years. The six rounds of so-called Peace Talks between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) only provided a joy ride for the participants at the expense of the tax payer.
However, the government at the time was caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, with the country having suffered enormous military setbacks and the economy in the doldrums. The CFA was seen by many as the last straw for an ever elusive negotiated settlement to the ongoing conflict. However the euphoria was short lived and the rest is history.

The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) was set up along with the signing of the CFA and was meant to be an impartial, civilian mission. Members of the SLMM comprised the five Nordic countries- Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.
Their task was to monitor the implementation of the CFA by the Sri Lanka Government and the LTTE. Up until the end of 2005, LTTE violations ruled by the SLMM was as high as 3168 as compared to 144 by the Government.

There was also a sharp difference in the gravity of the violations, with killings, abductions and child recruitment being the common LTTE violations while harassment of civilians at checkpoints cited as the major Government violation.
The abrogation of the CFA automatically terminated the functioning of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) tasked to monitor violations of the CFA by both signatories to the agreement.
With the signing of the CFA, there was also a need to ‘institutionalise’ the Peace Process, therefore the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) was established on 06 February 2002, with the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Government of Sri Lanka.

April 2004 to November 2005 was a period of the UPFA government under President Chandrika Kumaratunga. There was some hope of negotiations with the LTTE, through the Post-Tsunami Reconstruction & Rehabilitation (P-TOMS) - a joint mechanism to attend to post-tsunami reconstruction and rehabilitation in the affected areas in the North and East of Sri Lanka.

The early drafts of the P-TOMS document were prepared by the Economics division of SCOPP headed by Seneka Abeyratne, an eminent Economist. The document was then taken over by the Legal Division, headed By Prof. Lakshman Marasinghe, put into a cohesive legal framework, and revised several times to accommodate periodic changes recommended by both parties. After several negotiations between the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE, P-TOMS was signed and sealed by both parties. This was the first time an agreement of its kind was signed on a functional subject by both parties to the conflict. But the Supreme Court put paid to it.

Post -November 2005 Presidential elections saw a sharp escalation in violence, with both signatories to the CFA violating it at will. The Norwegian facilitators got into panic mode and organised yet another round of Peace Talks between the GOSL and the LTTE held in February 2006 in Geneva, Switzerland, which produced the same results of the previous rounds of Peace Talks- nothing

It is more difficult to organise a peace than to win a war; but the fruits of victory will be lost if the peace is not organized.”- Aristotle
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