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Tigers put down tough terms for talks

Political observers say it is not easy to meet the conditions put down by the Tigers, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Apr 20, 2006 16:02 IST

The LTTE on Sunday formally suspended its participation in the Geneva talks, saying that its short term and long term demands would have to be met first, to create a "conducive environment" for the talks.

But the conditions that it has laid for coming back to the negotiating table cannot be met easily, political observers say.

The rebel group's political wing leader, SP Tamilsevan, had said on Sunday that his organisation would not be able to attend the peace talks in Geneva until the Sri Lankan government had cleared the hurdles put on the way and implemented the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) and the decisions taken at Geneva I in February, in letter and spirit, to create a more conducive environment for talks.

The current hurdles relate to the transportation of senior LTTE commanders from one sector to another. Everyone agrees that these hurdles can be overcome easily.

The devil, however, lies in the second stipulation, which is the implementation of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) and the decisions taken at Geneva I in "letter and spirit".

These are the basic issues. Being broadly stated, they may include long-standing and tricky issues too.

The CFA itself is a complex document bristling with controversies.

As for the decisions taken at Geneva I, they also bristle with controversies and are by no means easily implemented.

At Geneva I, the LTTE had promised to stop child recruitment and avoid violence. The government had said that it would curb and disarm the "Tamil paramilitaries" which were allegedly working with it or under it in covert operations against the LTTE.

The LTTE had said that the "Tamil paramilitaries" included the breakaway Karuna group and a shadowy Muslim group called Jehad.

Further, it suspected the Sri Lankan army's involvement in every attack staged by the "Tamil paramilitaries".

Of the paramilitaries, the most important, from the point of view of the LTTE, is the Karuna group, because this group knows the LTTE and the terrain in which the LTTE operates, being a chip of the old block.

The LTTE alleges that the government has done precious little to curb the "Tamil paramilitaries" since Geneva I.

The government, on its part, continues to deny that it has any Tamil paramilitaries.

The government takes strong objection whenever the members of the international community mention the need to disarm these groups or keep them in check as per the Ceasefire Agreement of February 2002.

For the government, the fight between the mainstream LTTE and the Karuna group is nothing but an internal LTTE faction fight in which it has no role to play.

Thus, the promises made at Geneva I seem to be a dead letter.

"Conducive environment" is all inclusive

The term "conducive environment" seen in the context of the CFA is an all-inclusive one. Anything can be included in it, depending on the need of the hour.

Political observers believe that the LTTE has used the term advisedly, with a view to including anything that can further its cause, whether immediate or long term.

In the current context, the rubric includes issues like the re-settlement of people in the High Security Zones in the Jaffna peninsula, the removal of army check points from various places, the return of buildings now under the control of the security forces to their former civilian owners, and the removal of the restrictions on fishing.

The LTTE could keep adding to this list saying that the demands are of the "people". Being the "sole representative" of the Tamils of the North East, it does not allow the voicing of contrary demands.

Need to tackle political issues

One of the main reasons for the stalemate in the ethnic issue in Sri Lanka is the political vacuum in which the actors operate.

The Mahinda Rajapaksa government has no concrete political plan or strategy to address the core issues of the ethnic conflict.

All it has said so far, is that it is for decentralisation of power within a "unitary state" and that a solution will have to be found in consultation with and with the approval of, all the political parties of Sri Lanka.

Except for holding a few all-party meetings, there has been no move to formulate a political package.

There is also no strategy to tackle the Tamils' main demand, which is devolution of power in a federal system.

No institutions have been set up to help bridge the huge gulf between the positions of the government and the LTTE/Tamils on the core political issue.

There is thus a political vacuum, which the LTTE is exploiting to the hilt.

It finds the ground, ideal to push the separatist and military envelop.

Role of the international community

Both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE are banking on the international community to help them out.

But ironically, neither side would follow any advise given by the international community.

The government wants the international community to ban the LTTE and put diplomatic and military pressure on it across the globe. It wants military aid to tackle the LTTE.

But it will not implement any suggestions put forward by the international community.

The LTTE, on the other hand, wants the world to appreciate its argument that the regimes in Colombo have never been serious about addressing the humanitarian and political issues agitating the Tamil minority since independence in 1948.

It wants the world to recognise that the Tamils had had to resort to an armed struggle only because of the government's insensitivity and stubborn attitude.

But the LTTE will not listen to the international community when the latter asks it stop its killings, assassinations, and other violations of human rights like child recruitment for use in its combat units.

As recently as April 13, UNICEF had found that a 17 year old member of the LTTE, a child in UN's terms, was killed in a claymore mine blast. It called upon the LTTE, once again, to stop recruiting and using children for combat.

The international community, however, has had a major achievement, which is the Ceasefire Agreement of 2002.

Though the CFA has not stopped sporadic killings and limited military actions described as a "shadow war", it has stopped "open war".

But the international community has done precious little on the political front.

No efforts have been made by the powers-that-be like the US, EU, UK and Japan, to get the two parties to think of a political solution or move towards one, however tentatively.

Norway, the peace broker, is busy maintaining the fragile ceasefire and preventing the two sides from launching a full-scale war. This is the first and foremost task. Apparently, Oslo has little time for broader issues.

India's role is limited

It is only India, which has been urging the Sri Lankan government to think of a federal solution, and also to bridge the gulf between the ruling party and the main opposition party, namely, the United National Party, so that the two can work out a basic framework for a political solution and push it through parliament, if necessary, circumventing the hard line elements in it.

But there is only so much India can do. Given its bitter experience of direct political and military intervention in the late 1980s, New Delhi has no plan to go beyond tendering advise from the outside.

First Published: Apr 17, 2006 11:34 IST