Sri Lanka truce may collapse: Study

Published on Jan 31, 2006 11:26 AM IST

The 105-page Strategic Conflict Assessment said: "The ceasefire in its current form may not survive."

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None | ByMR Narayan Swamy (IANS), New Delhi

Sri Lanka's ceasefire between the Tamil Tiger guerrillas and the government can collapse and trigger renewed fighting, a path-breaking international study on the peace process has cautioned.

At the same time, it is "too early to talk of success or failure" of the Norwegian-mediated peace process between Colombo and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), said the report, "Aid, Conflict and Peace Building in Sri Lanka, 2000-2005".

The 105-page Strategic Conflict Assessment said: "The ceasefire in its current form may not survive given the level of pressure being placed upon it.

"There may be a need therefore to consider extending the scope of the CFA (ceasefire agreement) to cover the full range of military actors and to strengthen its human rights component."

It added: "The potential for a return to war is inherent in the current situation. A possible trigger for this could be the growing 'shadow war' in the (country's) east (between the LTTE and its breakaway faction)."

Authored by Jonathan Goodhand, a lecturer in the University of London, and Bart Klem, a researcher at the Conflict Research Unit of the Clingendael Institute, the study followed the initiative of the governments of Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden besides the World Bank and The Asia Foundation.

The sweeping study, made public Monday, covers all aspects of the Sri Lankan conflict which has claimed over 60,000 lives since the LTTE began waging an armed campaign in 1983 for a Tamil homeland in the island's north and east.

It also extends to all aspects of the faltering and blood-soaked peace process.

The authors say the "key to peace" lies in southern Sri Lanka, home to the country's majority Sinhalese community that has been accused of trying to crush the aspirations of the Tamil minority.

"The southern polity holds the key to peace in Sri Lanka... A bipartisan approach (involving the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the United National Party) is therefore a sine qua non for peace making.

"The two parties command the confidence of 60 per cent of the electorate, potentially a formidable constituency for peace."

The study says the "legitimate concerns" of radical Sinhalese parties such as the JVP and the JHU needed to be addressed and called for "an adequate formula for including the Muslim representatives in the peace process".

The report pointed out shortcomings in the peace process and underlined the need to understand the LTTE's apprehensions as well as character.

It referred to the high levels of political violence since the truce came into being in 2002 and the growth of insecurity in the east following the 2004 split in the LTTE engineered by its former regional commander, V Muraleedharan alias Karuna.

"The step-by-step approach was based on the assumption that a limited peace could ultimately lead to a transformative peace.

However, with hindsight there could never be complete 'normalisation' until the core political issues were addressed.

"Moreover, without a clear roadmap for peace talks, the nature of the end goal was always unclear, which created anxieties among external and internal stakeholders."

The peace process "also brought out in sharp relief the LTTE's Janus-headed character and the tensions between its military and political 'faces'.

"In parallel with brutal repression of internal dissent, continued re-armament and repeated ceasefire violations, there has been a new 'offensive' in pursuit of international and domestic legitimacy.

"'No war-no peace' has enabled the LTTE to extend its control. But it has also brought new challenges to its hegemony, namely, the re-emergence of eastern regionalism, the growing radicalisation of Muslims and the demands that it conform to international norms on human rights and democracy, associated with the internationalisation of the peace process."

The study added: "Sri Lanka's current situation may be characterised as a 'pause in conflict'... A negative equilibrium has developed in which it is about managing the ceasefire rather than advancing the peace process...

"Under the guise of a ceasefire, the permissive conditions have been created for pervasive human rights abuses and criminality... The credibility of the ceasefire agreement and its monitors has become increasingly tenuous, as the number and intensity of the violations increase...

"The perception that the international community (was) prepared to soft pedal on human rights issues, particularly in relation to the LTTE, played a role in undermining the credibility of the (previous) UNF government in the eyes of India and the southern electorate."

The study has called for "a more inclusive approach to conflict resolution" and said there were scope and need to substantially scale up assistance in the northeast, the war zone, to build a viable peace dividend.

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