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India should be a part of Lankan peace bid: Study

An international study wants India to become a member of the co-chairs group that includes the US, Japan, Norway and EU.

india Updated: Feb 02, 2006 11:51 IST

An international study on Sri Lanka's faltering peace process wants India to become a member of the co-chairs group that also includes the US, Norway, Japan and the European Union.

The study, "Aid, Conflict and Peace Building in Sri Lanka, 2000 - 2005", however notes that New Delhi may not be keen in view of its past disastrous experience in the island nation.

The co-chairs oversee the peace process.

"Given the sensitivities around excessive international involvement and the current level of domestic support (in Sri Lanka) for India, now would seem to be an opportune moment for India to consider the role as an additional co-chair," said the report prepared last year but released only this week.

The 105-page document said: "It is recognised that India, given past experiences in Sri Lanka, is wary of taking on the role of peacemaker."

Authored among others by Jonathan Goodhand of the University of London and Bart Klem from the Clingendael Institute, the Strategic Conflict Assessment has dwelt at length on the internationalisation of the ethnic conflict.

The report has the backing of the governments of Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden as well as the World Bank and the Asia Foundation.

India sent troops to Sri Lanka's north and east in 1987 for peacekeeping.

But the troops ended up fighting a costly war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), losing nearly 1,200 men. Indian troops returned home in 1990.

The study came out ahead of the LTTE-Colombo decision to meet in Geneva this month and even before the visit to New Delhi in December by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

India then made it clear to the president that it supported Norway's role as facilitator in the island nation.

India, which outlawed the LTTE following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, has said it would not get directly involved in the peace process, about which Oslo keeps New Delhi informed.

The study urged international actors to be cognizant of Sri Lanka's regional context.

"This has a number of implications including listening to what Asian actors have to say about the conflict, incorporating their concerns into emergent strategy and analysis and in so doing 'de-Westernizing' international peace building."

In the section on "International Engagement", the study noted: "The optimism, even bullishness of Western governments in 2003-4 had been replaced by a more skeptical, wait-and-see attitude (vis-à-vis the peace process).

"Some talk about 'principled exit'; while many feel that the prospects of durable peace are slim. Particularly since the tsunami and the influx of financial assistance, there is a feeling that international actors can have limited leverage on domestic decision makers."

In its reference to Japan, the study remarked: "India probably has concerns about another Asian power attempting to flex its political as well as its economic muscles in Sri Lanka."

On the issue of multilateral actors, the study added: "India and the two parties to the conflict (Colombo and LTTE) have historically resisted offers of UN mediation."

The study, however, noted that the Nordic Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), whose members are deployed in Sri Lanka's northeast, "has been more successful than" the Indian military in achieving its core mandate of helping support the ceasefire arrangements of 2002.

"Nevertheless, there have been numerous flaws, many of which are inherent to the ceasefire arrangements."

The study said the Norway-brokered 2002 ceasefire had led to a 'no war, no peace' situation, creating "a permissive environment for human rights abuses and criminality...

"It is not the role of the SLMM to act as a policeman for the northeast, but arguably a stronger mandate to carry out investigations could have played a role in counteracting the culture of impunity."

The study went on: "Perhaps the most common criticism of the peace process and by extension the Norwegian's role is that it was based on a bi-polar model of the conflict..."

"In many respects the earlier dynamics of the Indo-Sri Lanka accord repeated themselves. There was a feeling that domestic actors no longer had control of the process, leading to a backlash in the south as well as a reaction from the LTTE.

"Furthermore India, particularly with Japan beginning to flex its political as well as economic muscles, felt that their influence had become increasingly diluted.

Some have argued that India should have been more integral to the architecture of the peace process, for instance as one of the co-chairs."

First Published: Feb 02, 2006 11:51 IST