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Lanka says truce pact was 'amended' at Geneva

Lankan Govt's contention is bound to raise the hackles and invite sharp reaction from the LTTE, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Feb 27, 2006 12:06 IST
PK Balachandran
PK Balachandran

A fresh conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE is in the offing, with the government saying here on Sunday, that the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) of 2002 was "amended" at the talks held in Geneva on February 22 and 23.

The government's contention that the CFA was amended is bound to raise the hackles in the LTTE, and invite a sharp reaction from it, because the LTTE had refused to entertain any amendments to the CFA.

When the amendments were mooted, it had threatened to walk out.

In the first place, the LTTE had come to the negotiating table on the express understanding that the existing CFA would not be amended and that the talks would be only on the "smooth implementation of the existing CFA."

There was an informal understanding on this between the two parties and the peace facilitator, Norway.

Despite this, the leader of the government delegation, Nimal Sripala de Silva, said at a media briefing in Colombo, that the "new obligations" mentioned in the Geneva Agreement of February 23, could be "construed as amendments to the CFA."

A fellow delegate and leading attorney, HL De Silva, went a step further and said that the new obligations or changes were indeed amendments in the eyes of the law.

Referring to the inclusion of the subject of child recruitment by the LTTE in the February 23 Geneva statement, HL De Silva pointed out that this was not mentioned in the 2002 CFA.

Its finding mention in the February 23 Agreement was a change, and therefore an amendment, he argued.

"Any change in legal terms is an amendment," the eminent lawyer said.

De Silva also pointed out that the LTTE had agreed to prevent any form of violence, as indeed the government had done. This meant that the LTTE could not put the blame on "civilians" for the violence and get away from responsibility. It was now its bounden duty to put an end to all violence, he said.

He considered this to be a new obligation introduced in Geneva, and therefore a "change" or an "amendment" to the 2002 CFA.

When a reporter asked whether these changes would be written into the CFA as amendments, De Silva said that one could not look at these things purely in legalistic terms.

Original CFA still invalid in law

Reiterating the Sri Lankan delegation's stand at the Geneva talks that the 2002 CFA was an assault on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka, De Silva said the 2002 CFA was unconstitutional and invalid in law.

"There were many infirmities in it. For example, it was not signed by the constitutional authority, the President of Sri Lanka, but by the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe," he pointed out.

But despite these "infirmities" the CFA was a reality and the present government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa had given "de facto" recognition to it, he said.

Amendments a "great advance"

De Silva hailed the Geneva talks as a success from the point of view of the Sri Lankan government because the changes or amendments to the CFA that were effected, had cast new obligations on the LTTE.

He described the amendments as a "great advance."

Victory for both sides

The leader of the government delegation Nimal Sripala de Silva said that the Geneva talks were a "victory for both the sides."

He admitted that the negotiations were "very difficult". The two sides had very different stand points; they had not met for three years; and there was a lack of mutual confidence, he said.

"But ultimately, we ended on a positive note. Some amount of confidence was restored, and we agreed to meet again," Nimal Sripala de Silva said.

"The Joint Statement was a victory for the people of Sri Lanka because the two parties agreed to put to a stop to violence," he averred.

He castigated the media for trying to figure out who won and who lost.

"This was not a cricket match to talk about who scored more," he quipped.

On how government proposes to rein in Karuna

On the ticklish question of how the government proposed to rein in Karuna, the leader of a breakaway group of the LTTE who is fighting against the LTTE, allegedly in collaboration with a section of the Sri Lankan armed forces, Nimal Sripala de Silva said that as per the law of the land, no group, other than the armed forces and the police, could carry weapons.

Action could be taken under this law.

As per the Geneva Agreement, the government would disarm the armed groups in the North East, including the Karuna group. And the LTTE would stop the killing of armed forces and police personnel.

Muslim delegate came to understand LTTE better

The Muslim member of the government delegation, Ferial Ashraff, said that though the talks did not come to any conclusion on the problems of the Muslims in the North Eastern Province, she got an opportunity to have informal interactions with the members of the LTTE delegation.

" I came to know how they viewed the Muslims, and I could express the Muslim point of view. The interactions were very cordial and I was very satisfied, " Ashraff said.

On the question of fielding a separate Muslim delegation, which has been a long standing demand of the Muslims, she said that she was also for a separate delegation, but talks could not be boycotted simply because the Muslims had no separate delegation.

"If we don't go, we will not know what is happening in the talks," she quipped.

At any rate, the question of a separate Muslim delegation would have to have the agreement of both the parties to the CFA, the government and the LTTE.

The LTTE's stand has been that the CFA is between the government and the LTTE, two fighting forces as it were. But a separate Muslim delegation could be entertained when the Muslims' issues are taken up.

The government is ready to allow a separate Muslim delegation provided the LTTE also agrees. It has put the ball in the LTTE's court.

Ashraff's political opponent, Rauff Hakeem of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), had said that his party would not participate in any talks with the LTTE if the Muslims were not allowed separate representation.

First Published: Feb 26, 2006 16:44 IST