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Lankan peace process grinds to a halt

The peace process has come to a grinding halt with the concerned parties making serious charges against one or the other, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Jun 11, 2006 19:12 IST

The Sri Lankan peace process has come to a grinding halt with the concerned parties, including the peace facilitators and the truce monitors, making serious charges against one or the other.

Barring the Norwegian facilitators and the Nordic truce monitors, who trust each other, others are at daggers drawn.

The Norwegian peace brokers have said that they, along with the Nordic truce monitors, are withdrawing from all activities till the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE satisfactorily answer five critical questions relating to the maintenance of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), especially those clauses relating to the status and safety of the monitors.

The truce monitors, on their part, have said in a communiqué, that both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE have been violating the CFA and that scant respect is being shown to them.

The monitors have not been given access to places they should have access to.

The Sri Lankan government, in turn, has accused the monitors of being unprofessional, besides being brazenly pro-LTTE.

The LTTE, on its part, has charged the truce monitors of a pro-government bias; warned them not to be on board Sri Lankan naval vessels; and has even fired on vessels, which had monitors on board.

The LTTE had refused to meet the Sri Lankan delegation at the June 8 Oslo talks on truce monitoring, saying that the delegation did not have a political representation.

It objected to the continued membership of Sweden, Denmark and Finland in the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), when these countries had banned the LTTE following the European Union's decision to ban it.

The LTTE is livid with the EU for listing it as a terrorist organization. The Oslo conference was wrecked because of this.

And to crown it all, the LTTE said in a communiqué issued on June 9, that it had no option but to fight for the self-determination of the Tamils of North East Sri Lanka outside the framework of the state of Sri Lanka.

The LTTE said that the Sri Lankan state was 25th in the list of 'Failed States' and that it had manifestly shown a lack of will and ability to solve the Tamil question peacefully within a united Sri Lanka.

The LTTE argued that the international community could not 'insist' that the Tamils should secure a settlement within a united Sri Lanka.

Insisting on this, while arming the Sri Lankan state would only encourage the latter to be more belligerent in its approach to the Tamil question, the LTTE said.

The Oslo meeting was a failure. Meetings took place only on one day. The Sri Lankan government team and the LTTE's team met the Norwegians and the SLMM separately and not together.

And nothing worthwhile could have happened in these separate meetings.

The SLMM's troubles stem basically from the endless quarrel between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. Solution to the SLMM's problems lies in a solution to the problems between the government and the LTTE.

But these two parties are still at daggers drawn, with no possible solution in sight, or even under consideration.

Karuna issue

Given the feelings that the Sri Lankan government has regarding the attitude of the SLMM, it is very unlikely that it will take the SLMM's suggestions to improve the status of the monitors, or accept its requirements and rulings.

The government will certainly not agree to disarm or re-locate the Karuna group, a break away group of the LTTE now allegedly supported by the State.

The government's case, as stated again and again, is that it has nothing to do with the Karuna group since that group is but a 'faction' of the LTTE.

But the disarming or relocation of the Karuna group is critical for the LTTE's survival.

It will keep insisting on this requirement, which it says, is written into the CFA. But the government's case is that internal factions of the LTTE are not the government's responsibility. Nor does the government have any Tamil 'paramilitary' groups as alleged by the LTTE.

Sea movement

The other issue on which there is a wide gulf is LTTE's demand for freedom of movement in the sea for its navy along the coastline controlled by it.

The LTTE demands control of the sea, as if it is a sovereign entity.

The Norwegian facilitators and the SLMM may like a solution to the sea issue, which takes care of the LTTE's security needs as well as the government's right to sovereignty.

But the government cannot be seen to be giving in on the issue of sovereignty to what is but a rogue navy under international law.

The issue of the sea is therefore destined to be a running sore for a long time.

The issue is expected to get blown up especially now, when the LTTE has signalled its lack of faith in the internationally-backed peace process, and has said that it has reasons to keep open the option of seeking a solution outside the confines of a single, united, Sri Lanka.

Shadow war may continue

Seasoned Sri Lanka watchers say that while the two sides will avoid an open war, they will continue to attack each other, either directly or indirectly.

The ugly shadow war that is now on will continue, perhaps increasing in intensity.

The LTTE is likely to continue its strikes. There could be claymore mine attacks, blasts, killings, and assassinations.

The Karuna group and other shadowy groups will conduct their operations brazenly.

The LTTE will continue to blame the Karuna group, the other paramilitaries and even the Sri Lankan armed forces, of indulging in killings. The state will be accused of backing these groups.

And the state will continue to deny and ridicule these allegations.

The LTTE will continue to complain of fishing restrictions and economic embargoes in the North East. And refugees may continue to flee to India.

Need for political steps

But this dangerous trend can be arrested if the Sri Lankan government were to work out a devolution package under a federal system, replacing the present highly centralized unitary constitution.

Since the term 'federalism' is anathema in Sinhala-dominated Southern Sri Lanka, the least that the Mahinda Rajapaksa government can do is to speed up the existing project to draft a devolution package based on a consensus, although this package may well be only within a unitary state.

But Rajapaksa's idea of 'maximum devolution within a unitary state' will, in all likelihood, be rejected by the LTTE.

However, the exercise per se, will win for the Rajapaksa government greater support from the non-LTTE or moderate Tamils as well as the international community.

The international community, including neighbouring India, is definitely against war, and is urging the two sides to strive for a negotiated and peaceful settlement of the ethnic conflict in the island.

But only time will tell how much the international community will be interested in bringing peace to Sri Lanka, and what instruments it will use to get the political process going.