By: Dr. Rajasingham Narendran
“Blessed are the peacemakers”- The Bible
[TamilWeek.com] The ceasefire agreement (CFA) signed between the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) in February’2002 will be the subject of discussions in Geneva in the third week of February. The LTTE has re-iterated that it will not brook any discussions on changes to the CFA and on subjects beyond it. It is interested in only discussing the so-called Tamil paramilitary groups operating under government protection or sponsorship and the issue of the high security zones occupied by the Sri Lankan armed forces. The GOSL is seeking a wider ranging review of the CFA, possible changes to it and talks on possible permanent solutions. The international community and the United States in particular have called for a complete revision of the CFA and expressed a preference for extensive devolution of power to the Tamils. Mahinda Rajapakse, the new President of Sri Lanka, has in a recent interview said that he is ready to devolve power under the present unitary constitution and indicated his interest in how power was devolved by Britain to Scotland and Wales. The Indian constitution that was touted by Mahinda Rajapakse and the JVP-JHU combine as a possible model for Sri Lanka to devolve power to the Tamils prior to the president’s visit to India has been quitely shelved now, for reasons that could be easily guessed- the devolution in India is far more extensive than the Sinhala governments are prepared to concede in Sri Lanka. The federal model of devolution accepted by the government of former president Chandrika Kumaratunge and the opposition leader Ranil Wickramasinghe as a possible solution has been relegated to the annals of history. The apparent lack of coherence, consistency and continuity in the policies of the GOSL is a political ploy to continue engaging in petty semantics and delay permanent solutions. The lack of progress towards substantive discussions on permanent solutions over the past four years is a subject of much concern to the Tamil people.
The recent Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) report on the violations of the CFR by both parties to the agreement and the much higher percentage of proven violations (95.5%) attributed to the LTTE should be a matter of concern to the Tamils in particular. While the SLMM attributes a majority of the LTTE violations (51.7%) to recruitment of children (also confirmed by the UNICEF), other violations such as the harassment and kidnapping of civilians and, extortion committed by the LTTE have not been reported to the SLMM. What has been reported is very likely to be the tip of an iceberg, while the large mass of violations is not in the public domain. The CFA is an agreement that had to be operated in a spirit of honesty and good intentions, more than in the letter, as envisaged in the preamble. Both sides have violated the spirit of the CFA, the LTTE more so, contrary to early expectations of the long-suffering Tamils. The LTTE, as an organization claiming to be the sole representative of the Tamil people, who have borne the brunt of the evil machinations of the GOSL and the brutality of the civil war, bore a greater responsibility to ensure that the CFA was implemented fully in both letter and spirit. It has not only failed to do so, but has blatantly and unconscionably exploited and violated it. This has provided the government and its armed forces the excuse to explain away their omissions and commissions.
The preamble to the CFR has listed the following objectives:
1. To find a negotiated solution to the on-going ethnic conflict.
2. Establishing a positive atmosphere in which further steps towards a lasting solution can be taken.
3. Provide security to civilians and their property (applies to all inhabitants of the Island, including the Muslims).
4. Refrain from conduct that would undermine the good intentions or violate the spirit of the agreement.
How far have these objectives been furthered? No sustained and meaningful attempt has been made to find a negotiated settlement. The LTTE has refused to participate in any meetings since early 2004. The GOSL had also failed to implement several preliminary agreements reached with the LTTE at the six meetings held in the two years following the CFA. The LTTE submitted the ‘Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA)’ proposals in response to the meaningless interim proposals made by the GOSL. These were seen by many, both Tamils and Sinhalese, as an attempt by the LTTE to pave the way to an independent state of Tamil Ealam. These proposals were also an attempt by the LTTE to legalize and perpetuate its rule in the Northern and Eastern provinces, and thwart democratic pluralism. The ISGA proposals yet considered to be on the table by the LTTE, are long dead, though not buried. The agreement on handling Tsunami related aid, relief and re-building operations, which would have gone a long way towards establishing a positive atmosphere, became non-operative following a Supreme Court decision. The growing distrust in the LTTE and its glaring venality, paved the way for the resistance to the Tsunami agreement and its subsequent abandonment. The role played by both the JVP and the JHU on this issue were distasteful, disgraceful, visionless, unpardonable and amounted political expediency of the worst kind.
The security of civilians and property as envisaged in the preamble to the CFA has not been assured at all. The on-going cold war between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan armed forces since the CFA, which led to the Karuna rebellion within the LTTE and break away of the Karuna- led faction in the East has progressively escalated and became an overt war in November-December’2005. The Tamils have borne the brunt of this cold war, while both the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE have lost senior operatives. The members of the so-called Tamil paramilitary groups, suspected to be affiliated to the Sri Lankan armed forces, have been the targets of the LTTE killing squads, regardless of whether they were active in their organizations or not and armed or not. The cowardly assassination of foreign minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, was the best-known incident in the LTTE killing spree. The Tamils have been subject to coercive illegal taxation, extortion, kidnapping, torture and other illegal measures by the LTTE, with increasing regularity and absolute impunity since the CFA, in contravention of article 2:1 of the CFA. Government employees and teachers in government run schools were also forced to follow LTTE directives under the threat of death, contravening the rules and procedures followed elsewhere in Sri Lanka. These were also serious violations of the accepted norms of human rights. Article 2.1 of the CFA states that, “The parties shall in accordance with international law abstain from hostile acts against the civilian population including such acts as torture, intimidation, abduction, extortion and harassment”. The fear instilled by the LTTE has left the Tamils- resident and expatriate alike, helpless and with no recourse to due process and justice. The Sri Lankan armed forces have been largely above board, if not exemplary in this matter, until forced to retaliate by the overt violence initiated by the LTTE towards the end of 2005.
The attempts to establish the instruments and trappings of a functional independent government in the Vanni by the LTTE does not fall within the objectives of the CFA , which emphasizes a negotiated solution in its preamble, everyone understood to be within a sovereign, united Sri Lanka. Article 1.3 of the CFA explicitly states that the, “ Sri Lankan armed forces shall continue to perform their legitimate task of safeguarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka without engaging in offensive operations against the LTTE”. The Sri Lankan armed forces are prevented from pursuing offensive operations while being called upon to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. This is the most ridiculous clause in the CFA and has been unscrupulously taken advantage of by the LTTE, in its single-minded pursuit of Tamil Ealam. I wonder whether the GOSL expected the armed forces to engage in political activities and non-violent resistance (Satyagraha) to counter LTTE threats to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, during the operative phase of the CFA!
The institutionalization of immigration and customs protocols by the LTTE at the various crossing points (from government controlled to the LTTE controlled areas and vice-versa), which were established under the CFA with mutual security considerations in mind, are also a serious violation and are not sanctioned even implicitly there in. According to article 2.5,” The parties shall review security measures and the set-up of checkpoints, particularly in densely populated cities and towns, in order to introduce systems that will prevent harassment of the civilian population”. The LTTE checkpoints have assumed the role of international borders and have become points for civilian harassment. These check points also do not ‘Facilitate the flow of goods and movement of civilians’ as envisaged in article 2.7 of the CFA, but do the opposite. The CFA has been without doubt subverted by the LTTE to impede the flow of goods and movement of civilians, subject civilians to harassment, duress and illegal taxation and, as a launching pad to further its long-term objective of an independent Tamil Ealam.
Article 1.7 of the CFA also states that, “The parties shall not move munitions, explosives or military equipment into the area controlled by the other party”. It also permitted, “All unarmed LTTE members freedom of movement in the North and East” to principally carry out political work. The recent events in the North have clearly shown that explosives and military equipment were moved into government controlled areas by the LTTE and in the name of political work, civilians of its choice were armed to carry out acts of war against the GOSL armed forces and violence against Tamils labeled traitors. In the name of political work tax collection and extortion activities were carried out and offices were established for these purposes in government-controlled areas. Civilians in the government-controlled areas were also given weapons and explosives handling training in areas under its control by the LTTE. These acts were serious acts of violations of the CFA by the LTTE. While the Sri Lankan armed forces have also engaged in covert activities against the LTTE, they were subtler and largely enacted through Tamil paramilitaries. However, during most of the period the CFA has been in operation Tamil civilians have been dealt with reasonably well by the GOSL armed forces. The Tamil paramilitary forces working against it are a cause for complaints by the LTTE and are a major topic for discussions at Geneva. The LTTE grouse while legitimate is absolutely hypocritical, as it has been to my knowledge the bigger offender.
Article 1.8 of the CFA required that,” Tamil paramilitary groups shall be disarmed by the GOSL—-“. These paramilitary groups have continued to operate at low key and have targeted the LTTE and its supporters occasionally, until towards the middle of 2005 when the LTTE and its supporters were actively pursued. The unarmed and inactive cadres of these Tamil paramilitary groups have been also hunted down relentlessly and mercilessly by the LTTE throughout the post-CFA period. The emergence of the Karuna faction following internal turmoil in the LTTE in the post-CFA period and the tacit support lent to it by the GOSL has been a thorn in the flesh for the LTTE with serious implications for its future. While the Karuna faction technically does not come under the definition of paramilitary groups alluded to in the CFA, because it was spun off the LTTE in the post-CFA period, yet in reality it is one. The weakness of the CFA lies in its failure to define and identify the paramilitary groups referred to. In 2005 these paramilitary forces have become increasingly active in the North and East, obviously under the protection of the GOSL armed forces, in response to the manner in which the LTTE was openly flouting the CFA. The Tamils living in these areas were caught in a vise as a result. The Tamil militancy has historically had a multitude of militant groups operating under various names centered on the words Ealam and liberation, with the LTTE being one amongst them, although stronger. The LTTE has also opportunistically aligned with the Sri Lankan armed forces, when it suited its designs. It yet utilizes the services of the Sri Lankan armed forces, when it suits its purposes. The various paramilitary Pongum Thamilar groups (Boiling/erupting Tamils), Ellalan Padai (Armed force), Sangiliyan Padai, etc., set up by the LTTE in the North and East and armed by them are also in contravention of the spirit of the CFA.
The question of the so-called Tamil paramilitaries is the first and the foremost that the LTTE wants to discuss in Geneva, as these groups pose a serious threat to its claim to be the sole representative of the Tamil people and its imperious reign. It is a topic that is bound to be controversial and very likely be the subject of an outwardly opportunistic and unfair decision by the GOSL in order to appease LTTE. In all likelihood the GOSL will restrain these groups, but as in the past will keep these groups in reserve to be let loose (hounds of war) when necessary, as has happened in the latter half of 2005. Expediency and appeasement now can lead to grave results down the road, both to the Tamils and Sri Lanka in general. The so-called paramilitaries should not become the hunted under cover of the CFA, as the LTTE does not permit legitimate political activities by the disarmed cadres of these groups and guarantee their safety. If the LTTE would guarantee these and also disarms the paramilitary forces created by it, the GOSL is duty bound to sever its links with the paramilitary groups in its pay.
Article 1.10 of the CFA states that, “Unarmed GOSL troops shall as of D-day + 60 days, be permitted unlimited passage between Jaffna and Vavuniya using the Jaffna-Kandy road (A9)”. Article 1.11 states that, “Individuals combatants shall be permitted, unarmed and in plain clothes, to visit family and friends residing in areas under the control of the other party—– and the LTTE shall facilitate the use of the Jaffna –Kandy road for this purpose and that the parties reserve the right to deny entry to specific military areas”. The GOSL armed forces, to the best of my knowledge, have not exercised these rights under the provisions of the CFA and have in the process undermined the reciprocity built into the CFA, and paved the way for the LTTE to consider areas under its control an ‘Almost’ sovereign state.
The continuation of the high security zones proclaimed by the GOSL armed forces in the pre-CFA period, with considerable hardship to the residents of these zones and resulting in the forced displacement of large numbers of people, remains another grievance of the LTTE and will be the second major topic that it wants to discuss in Geneva. Given the history and nature of the LTTE, it will be foolish to assume that this grievance is altruistic. While the hardship caused to the people as a result of extensive areas being declared high security zones by the GOSL is a cause for concern and is a major human rights violation, the LTTE interest in this matter centers around its pursuit of an independent Tamil Ealam and the desire to drive out the GOSL forces out of particularly the Jaffna peninsula as a prelude to that goal. Article 2.2 of the CFA states, “—–places of worship which are situated in their respective’ High security zones’ shall be vacated by all armed personnel and maintained in good order by civilian workers, even when they are not made accessible to the public”. How far this article of the CFA has been implemented should be investigated. However, there is no provision in the CFA to vacate the high security zones established by either party in the pre-CFA period. GOSL armed forces have proclaimed several new areas high security zones in the post- CFA period. Article 1.11 which permits either party to deny right of access to specified military areas, may be construed to permit this. The LTTE too may have done so in areas under its control. However, the system operative in the LTTE controlled areas make it extremely difficult to identify the high security zones established there; and given the lack of interest in the GOSL of the plight of the Tamils in general and those living in the LTTE controlled areas in particular, this aspect of the issue will not be taken up for discussions in Geneva.
Article 1.2 of the CFA states that, “Neither Party shall engage in any offensive military operation. This requires the total cessation of all military action and includes, but is not limited to such acts as:
1. The firing of direct and indirect weapons, armed raids, ambushes, assassinations, abductions, destruction of civilian or military property, sabotage, suicide missions and activities of deep penetration units;
2. Aerial bombardment;
3. Offensive naval operations”.
With the exception of aerial bombardment by the GOSL air force, all other offensive activities have been carried out by both parties to some extent or other during most of the post-CFA period and with increasing intensity and frequency towards the end of 2005. The LTTE has also organized a fledgling air force during the ceasefire period and is threatening to use it in the event of a new outbreak of war, which it has been actively fomenting. There is no doubt that once again the LTTE is the major offender, despite its routine and unbelievable denials. This has given cause and justification for the negative GOSL responses. During the ceasefire period, LTTE cadres have penetrated even Colombo and other Southern cities to carry out missions against the GOSL forces and other targets, mostly Tamils, considered traitors.
The GOSL has no doubt tried to use the ceasefire period as an opportunity to undermine the Tamil demand for greater autonomy and extensive devolution. The hunger for peace amongst the vast majority of the Tamils and their disappointment with the LTTE and its ways, were misconstrued by the GOSL as an opportunity to further delay solutions to their problems. The LTTE in pursuit of its self-interest and other objectives that have little to do with the Tamil grievances has also exploited the predilections of the GOSL, at the expense of the Tamil people. Both the GOSL and the LTTE have failed the Tamil people and the GOSL has in addition failed all the other peoples of Sri Lanka. The CFA has exposed the true face of the LTTE to the majority- mostly silent, of the Tamil people and the world at large. GOSL has also been exposed to the Tamil people and the world, for its lack of interest in resolving a long-standing and debilitating problem in a just, fair and humane manner. Words such as homeland, self determination, sovereignty, territorial integrity, unitary and federal have been made bones of contention by both parties and the larger objective of resolving a problem that has lingered on for fifty or more years and has blighted the Tamil people in a manner that defies all civilized norms has been conveniently relegated to the background. The Geneva meetings will not address the issues that are of concern to the Tamil people, but will be centered on the problems of the LTTE and the GOSL. In all likelihood the problems of the Tamils will linger unaddressed for fifty more years, and the Tamils subjected to the worst imaginable as a people, until they become non-entities in Sri Lanka. A sad plight indeed for a once proud people, with a history that is lost in the mists of time! It is also a sad indictment of the civilized world and its many institutions that profess to champion the cause of helpless and hapless peoples.
I hope more voices will be raised around the world to focus attention on the plight of the Tamils in Sri Lanka and on seeking permanent solutions to their problems. These voices should be heard loud and clear at the time of the forthcoming meetings in Geneva and thereafter. The Tamils cannot any longer delegate the fight for their birthrights to any political party or militant group and have to come forward to struggle for their rights from the front, through every democratic tool available at their disposal. They should demand that the SLMM be given more powers to enforce the ceasefire agreement and to protect them from the high handedness of the LTTE and the shenanigans of the GOSL. The international community should come forward to help us achieve a permanent peace as soon as possible, within the context of a united and sovereign Sri Lanka. The Geneva talks should be a prelude to a better future for the Tamils of Sri Lanka and not end up as one more disappointment in the long series that have preceded it.