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LTTE hoodwinked Sri Lanka on ceasefire

The LTTE hoodwinked the Sri Lankan Govt into signing the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) in 2002 and cleverly exploited it, reports PK Balachandran.
Hindustan Times | By PK Balachandran, Colombo
UPDATED ON OCT 13, 2007 05:06 PM IST

The LTTE hoodwinked the Sri Lankan government into signing the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) in 2002 and cleverly exploited it to expand its political, economic and military hold over the Tamil-speaking North Eastern Province, officials who took part in the 2002-2003 peace talks have said.

" From the very beginning, the primary motive of the LTTE was expansion of their domination over areas in the North and East controlled by the government, and in that process to get rid of the government forces from the Jaffna peninsula and elsewhere, well in advance of a negotiated settlement," writes Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke, in Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka, Vol:2, 2006 edited by Kumar Rupesinghe.

The LTTE used the CFA not to discuss a political solution of the ethnic conflict, but to get the security, strategic and economic restrictions operative in the North-East lifted for its benefit, and prepare for another phase of the war for an independent Tamil Eelam,
says John Gooneratne in his book, Negotiating with the Tigers (2002-2005).

Thanks to the CFA, the LTTE was able to get de facto recognition of its hold on large tracts of land. It acquired the right to tax. Exploiting the inactivity of the Sri Lankan armed forces, it went about brazenly recruiting children, smuggling in weapons, grabbing Muslims' lands, encroaching into government-held territory, eliminating its Tamil critics, including Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. While the LTTE got the right to indulge in political activity in the government-controlled areas of the North-East, there was no reciprocal facility for non-LTTE groups in areas under its control.

The LTTE persistently demanded the dismantling of the High Security Zones in Jaffna. The stated aim was to give displaced civilians access to their properties, but the real aim was to gain military access to the government's strategic installations by settling its own cadres there, charged Army Commander Lt.Gen.Sarath Fonseka. The LTTE wanted a sea corridor for its navy, under the guise of avoiding clashes with the Sri Lankan navy and endangering the CFA!

Govt led up the garden path

At the time the CFA was signed in February 2002, the LTTE had the upper hand militarily. The Sri Lankan Army's Operation Jayasikurui (1995-99) and Agni Kheila (2001) had floundered, as against the LTTE's Operations codenamed Oyatha Alaigal which were successful. The Sri Lankan economy had recorded zero growth in 2000 and negative growth in 2001 both because of the war. And yet, it was the LTTE which sought a ceasefire first. It even declared one unilaterally in December 21, 2000 and extended it, again unilaterally, from January 23 to April 24, 2001.

The LTTE's aim in seeking a ceasefire at that juncture was to make the best of the prevailing situation, in which it had the upper hand militarily, and the government was on a weak wicket and seemed to want peace at any cost.

The United National Front (UNF) government led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, which signed the CFA, was too weak and naïve to understand the real intentions of the LTTE.

Look before you leap

Gooneratne says that the Sri Lankan government should have examined why the LTTE was going in for a ceasefire and how it stood to gain by it before rushing to sign on the dotted line. In its anxiety to sign, the government had kept even the armed forces in the dark. If only they had been consulted, the CFA would not have been so much against the interests of the Sri Lankan forces, he contends.

In a warning to future negotiators, Gooneratne says: " Merely because one side calls for a ceasefire, it should not be taken as signal to rush and sign up on a CFA. There has to be some preliminary sounding out about the intentions of each other. What do they expect the ceasefire to lead to? Otherwise, we will be in a situation where one party violates the articles of the CFA with impunity, and may have called for ceasefire just as a breathing space in a war they plan to prosecute further."

He recalled that the previous government led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) had consistently rejected the LTTE's calls for a ceasefire, saying that a CFA could not precede a peace process, as demanded by the LTTE, but should follow peace talks, if these were proceeding successfully.

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