The Geneva Conclave and Sri Lanka ground realities – by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

[TamilWeek, Mar 5, 2006]

The Geneva conclave between the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) – facilitated by Norway with assistance by Switzerland – is over but the shouting is yet to subside.

If one were to ignore the diversionary post – Geneva cackle and focus only on the joint statement released by Oslo seven points are of relevant importance.

Firstly there is the joint renewal of an earlier commitment by the GOSL and LTTE to respect and uphold the ceasefire.” The government and the LTTE are committed to respecting and upholding the ceasefire agreement, “the statement says.

Secondly there is the joint affirmation of a commitment to cooperate with the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission.Both sides “ reconfirmed their commitment to fully cooperate with and respect the rulings of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission,” the statement emphasised.

Thirdly there is a joint reiteration of adhering to ceasefire agreement provisions. The statement notes “The government and the LTTE are committed to taking all necessary measures to ensure that there will be no intimidation, acts of violence, abductions or killings.”

Fourthly the tigers have guaranteed that there would be no violence against the security forces or police. “The LTTE is committed to taking all necessary measures to ensure that there will be no acts of violence against the security forces and the police” says the statement.

Fifthly the GOSL has guaranteed that no armed group other than security forces will carry arms or carry out security operations. “The government is committed to taking all necessary measures in accordance with the ceasefire agreement to ensure that no armed group or persons other than government security forces will carry arms or conduct armed operations.” the statement says.

Sixthly both sides have agreed to meet again at the same venue in two months.The Swiss government will again host the talks. “The parties requested the Swiss government to host the next round of talks in Geneva from April 19 to 21 this year.”

Seventhly the SLMM is required to monitor and report on the implementation of agreements reached at the next round of talks. “The SLMM will report on the implementation on these agreements at the next session of talks.” the statement observes.

There were discussions on various subjects including child combatants etc. But as far as the statement goes no new decision seems to have been arrived at on these matters.. Also there is an acrimonious debate going on about the status of the original ceasefire agreement. Were the decisions reached in Geneva amendments to the ceasefire or not? is the question.

Against the backdrop of earlier post – ceasefire decisions in Thailand, Norway and Japan not being incoroporated or recognized as amendments to the ceasefire , whatever decision taken in Switzerland too cannot be regarded as amendments.If Geneva decisions are to be elevated to amendment status then all those earlier ones including the Oslo commitment to explore federalism should be regarded as amendments too.

Furthermore a close scrutiny of Geneva decisions reveal that these decisions do not change or transform the original CFA in any way. There has only been a renewal of commitment to the CFA and certain provisions. Decisions have been reached to help implement efficiently some CFA provisions. Guarantees have also been given to prevent impediments to the CFA recurring. In that respect the Geneva decisions if implemented on ground will strengthen the ceasefire.

It must be stressed however that in order to identify deficiencies in the CFA and its implementation and sugest remedies a review of the CFA would be necessary. It may not be comprehensive and deal with only some aspects but nevertheless a review and reappraisal is necessary . “Strengthening” is possible only if the existing agreement is examined and weaknesses are discovered. To argue therefore that the CFA was not discussed at all in Geneva is equally facetious as the argument that it was amended there.

In any case one party to the Geneva confabulations cannot unilaterally determine whether the CFA was amended or not. Such conclusions if they are to be binding can only be bilateral and with the facilitators concurrence. Any one is at liberty to inform the press or issue press statements about their respective interpretations but they require acceptance by the other party to be truly valid.

A case in point is the elaborate charade conducted by Mahinda Rajapakse’s regime prior to the Geneva parley. A massive media campaign was on to inform the Country that all sorts of issues were going to be discussed and held training sessions on many issues. The LTTE kept on repeating that only the issue of strengthening the ceasefire was on the cards in Geneva.The Governments “preparations” became redundant when Erik Solheim delivered a knock – out blow by asserting at commencement that only the issues about implementing the ceasefire was on the agenda.

The diversionay debate about the CFA being amended is superficially “legal” but in reality it is “political”. The Rajapakse regime is caught in a contradiction between precept and practice. Rajapakse comes to power saying he will replace or change the ceasefire but goes along with the CFA after assuming office. This in turn has resulted in puerile exercises to envelop reality in illusion.

The vulgar build – up to Geneva was one such attempt.Trying to get the term “ceasefire” instead of ” Ceasefire agreement” being included in the joint statement was another. The post – Geneva announcement about the CFA being amended is yet one more try to distort perceptions among his voters and allies.

Legal arguments are being paraded to suit political imperaives.It appears however that the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and Jathika Hela Urumaya have not been gullible. Likewise the bulk of Mahinda’s voters too though taken in by his tough posture on the ceasefire at the Presidential hustings are not likely to be deceived again.

The single biggest outcome of the Geneva conclave is not what was mentioned explicitly in the press statement but the implicit commitment provided by Mahinda Rajapakse that his government would abide by the ceasefire entered into by the UNF government with the LTTE. Of course by not attempting to change or replace it when he was Prime Minister Mahinda accepted the CFA tacitly. But he could palm “blame” for that on Chandrika.

After Rajapakse became President the buck stopped right at his desk. With the participation of a GOSL delegation authorised by Mahinda at the Geneva talks and the so called “consensus” reached there the new President has demonstrated clearly that he is bound by and committed to the ceasefire agreement. The “hocus pocus” prattle about the status of the ceasefire is only a sideshow stratagem to divert attention away from this salient aspect. Rajapakse in this is like a magician sidetracking his audience with a lot of chatter about various things while his deft fingers suceed in pulling wool collectively over its eyes.

Adhering to the ceasefire under normal circumstances is positive and not negative. Since Mahinda came to power by describing the ceasefire as treachery but is now sticking to it he is in a difficult position.He has to be seen “distancing” himself from the CFA on the one hand while doing everything possible to keep it going on the other.

If demonstrating its bona fides to the international community is of importance to the LTTE the Colombo regime regards the Sri Lankan people at large as the constituency it needs catering to. Illustrating this priority vividly was the press – conference after the sessions. Though there were many representatives of the International media there was little attempt to address them. Instead much of the allotted 20 minutes was devoted to statements in Sinhala and Tamil by Bogollagama and Ashraff for Sri Lankan TV.

Speakingof Bogollagama reminds one of another media related matter.Many attempts were made to undermine the LTTE by sections of the Sri Lankan media while the talks were in progress.Some for instance whipped themselves up into a frenzy over the LTTE releasing Balasingham’s opening statement to the press. “Foul” they cried alleging that the LTTE did not play by the accepted rules.
What these rants and raves left unsaid was the explanation proffered by the LTTE when Oslo raised this issue at the insistence of Colombo. Balasingham cooly pointed out that it was Colombo which broke the ground rules first. He referred to the various media interviews given by Bogollagama the official GOSL spokesman in Geneva prior to the talks. This was a breach of etiquette agreed upon the LTTE said. It was this travesty that necessitated the LTTE releasing its statement unilaterally it was pinpointed. The end result was the abrupt cancelling of Bogollagama’s “unilateral” press conference on the first day proving that the LTTE position on this was a valid one.

The GOSL’s response to the LTTE releasing its statement by coming out with its own statement had another consequence. It revealed that the GOSL stance as articulated by Nimal Siripala de Silva was that in the eyes of the Rajapakse regime the current ceasefire was detrimental to national security and sovereignity, illegal and anti – Constitutional. This revelation was perhaps the most glaring contradiction of them all.

Here was a Government engaging in talks about strenghening a ceasefire agreement it described in seriously negative terms. Even if the decisions reached in Geneva were accepted as ceasefire amendments those conclusions have little bearing on the GOSL criticism of the CFA about issues like national security, sovereignty, legality and Constitutionality.

Thus Rajapakse going along with the CFA is one more instance where Ranil Wickremasinghe has been proven right on the question of the ceasefire.. Politically this could be detrimental to Rajapakse and hence the pathetic attempts to distort reality. Fortunately for him the UNP instead of exploiting this opportunity is busily inactive being preoccupied with its own infighting.

At the inception of the talks Anton Balasingham observed that it would be better to avoid “acrimonious bickering” in the sessions. He also reportedly told Govt delegates that it was a political and not legal forum. Yet the bickering that subsided to the level of a limited agreement being reached in Geneva has now surfaced again after the conclave. In spite of the heated exchanges threatening dire consequences it does not seem likely that the “amendment” issue would prevent both sides from meeting again in Geneva during April.

What is likely to affect the fragile relationship however is failure to honour or implement the decisions reached in Geneva. Let it not be forgotten that similiar decisions have been reached in the past too. Erik Solheim says that the outcome in Geneva exceeded his expectations. May be so. The real test however is not in arriving at a joint decision but to carry it through. Both the GOSL and LTTE have claimed that they have scored a victory in Geneva.

Boasting of success now is premature. Let us not forget that there is a sense of deja vu in all this. We have passed through this path before. In fact many, many times. The very fact that Geneva talks became necessary and required both sides to reiterate their commitment to what was agreed four years ago is by itself proof that mere agreements are worthless as the paper they are written on unless and until they are adhered to faithfully.

Anton Balasingham addressing the Tamil media claimed it was a diplomatic victory. In 2002 he said the same thing after the ceasefire agreement was signed. The statements made after GOSL – LTTE meetings in Thailand, Norway , Germany and Japan too were very very optimistic. Yet what happened? After repeated assertions about significant progress being made at the various rounds of talks tiger political commissar SP Thamilselvan turned around and called them a profitless waste of time. Thereafter the LTTE quit talking saying nothing concrete was being achieved. The tigers accused the GOSL of not honouring commitments made in the CFA and at the talks .

There is very little change in the situation even now. In fact it has even taken a turn for the worse with the JVP and JHU gaining more clout with Rajapakse. The new President is also surrounded with notorious Sinhala hardliners. Against that backdrop one cannot see certain commitments and obligations being honoured at all. Take for instance the high security zones. It was not discussed this time but earlier during Wickremasinghes time some decisions were arrived at. Yet they were not honoured because the then Jaffna military commander Sarath Fonseka took a tough line. That was that. Now the same man is overall army commander. The writing is on the wall.

It is one thing to agree but entirely a different matter when it comes to implementation. It is easy to promise but difficult to deliver. The past experiences and historical memories of the Tamils can only make them suspicious of easy pledges. There are many examples of political perfidy in the distant and recent past.

There has also been the legal dimension. In Sri Lanka there has been a marked departure from many other countries where the Judiciary goes the extra male to protect the rights of the minorities. In Sri Lanka with a few honourable exceptions the legal system has failed the minorities many times. The Kodeeswaran case is a notable example.

In recent times too there are many such instances. Bindunuwewa massacre , Mailanthanai massacre , Trincomalee bus stand statue incident , bodies floating in Western province waterways etc are some of these.Another instance is that of the P – TOMS. After protracted discussions the GOSL and LTTE signed a document to set up a humanitarian structure to rehabilitate the tsunami victims. The JVP went to courts and now the P-TOMS is virtually abandoned.

The International community welcomes Geneva talks. The first phase was only about the ceasefire. Yet the hope is that both sides will honour the commitments given and proceed further till substantive issues of power sharing are discussed. The current talks are seen as confidence building measures. For these hopes to be realised there isa preliminary obligation to be fulfilled. Both sides must honour the guarantees given in Geneva.

What undermines the credibility of these mutual guarantees is the element of ironic absurdity. The LTTE has been saying that it is not responsible for the recent violence against the security forces and Police in the N – E. The tigers say that the people are on the upsurge and that it is a peoples war. But now the very same tigers are providing a guarantee that no such attacks will occur.

On the other hand the GOSL guarantees the disarming of other armed groups and also prevention of operations. The LTTE has been accusing the GOSL of backing these groups descibed as “para military” by the tigers. The GOSL has been denying responsibility saying these groups are independent functionaries. But now the same GOSL is guaranteeing the de – fanging of these groups.

What this demonstrates is that both the LTTE and GOSL were being economical with the truth when they disclaimed total responsibility for the respective acts of violence perpetrated against security personnel and tiger cadres.By agreeing to curb the violence both sides are tacitly admitting that they can control it. The underlying weakness in this situation is that both sides are required to control covertly what they have been denying overtly.

There are also ambiguities in the statement that may be potentially detrimental in the future. The LTTE is asked to guarantee that security forces and Police will not be harmed. But there is no such explicit reference to the members of non – LTTE groups. The general provisions of the ceasefire are invoked to cover these elements. Memories are short. These ceasefire provisions did not prevent the LTTE from unleashing attacks on these Tamil groups in the past. Without a specific assurance as in the case of security forces there is no restraint on the LTTE. In fact if the GOSL does disarm these groups they then become sitting ducks.

The Geneva statement stipulates that except for GOSL security personnel no other group will be allowed to carry arms or engage in armed operations. It is assumed that these provisions apply to the non – tiger groups alone. Yet there is ambiguity. The status of the LTTE in this sphere is not specifically outlined. The disarming clause could be extended to the LTTE also. There is no explicit reference excluding the LTTE. This could open a Pandora’s box. Already “Col” Karuna is insisting that the LTTE has to be disarmed and that his men will carry arms as long as Pirapakaran’s men do so.

“Col” Karuna’s protest cannot be seen as a maverick, solo performance. It appears to be more of an orchestrated exercise.It could be the beginning of a calculated attempt to obstruct the Geneva decisions being implemented. The inherent weakness in the agreement reached in Geneva is that the GOSL has promised something it may not want to deliver. If Colombo does deliver then Balasingham’s claim of a victory may ring true. But the reality is that this is a pledge Colombo wont or cant deliver. It is somewhat like the earlier promises on the high security zones.

The only “successes” the armed forces have been able to achieve in recent times have been through the manipulation of the so called Tamil “paramilitary” forces. This is a sad indictment of the security forces but nevertheless an incontrovertible fact.Balasingham in his opening statement charged the Government of aiding and abetting the EPDP, PLOTE, EPRLF, KAruna faction and a Muslim “Jihad” group. During discussions the political adviser stated that the ENDLF was also involved. Balasingam grouped the EPDP, ENDLF and Karuna faction together. He also referred to the revival of deep penetration squad operations.

The Tamil “paramilitaries” in the East have succeeded in driving the mainstream LTTE away from GOSL controlled areas. Moreover Karunas men have penetrated LTTE areas , ambushing and launching attacks on the LTTE directly. If full scale war erupts the Karuna cadres will be a great asset to Colombo.Tamil paramilitaries in the North have killed and abducted over a hundred supporters and sympathisers of the LTTE. This resulted in over 16,000 tiger supporters fleeing to the LTTE controlled Wanni. The “peoples war” of the LTTE was thwarted by these operations. Though deserving highest condemnation from a human rights perspective there is no denying that it was this brutal campaign that ended the so called “peoples war”.

Against this backdrop it is highly unlikely to expect the GOSL to genuinely disarm these groups or completely prevent armed operations. With the LTTE being untrustworthy and a roused Sinhala polity influenced by the JVP and JHU the chances of Karuna or Douglas having their “military wings” clipped seems impossible. A realistic expectation could be the curbing of these groups for a period of time. There could be a temporary lull. Expecting anything further is unlikely because Colombo knows that the Tamil groups are an asset that it cannot afford to let go of.

The LTTE however is campaigning excessively on this issue proclaiming that the Government will de-fang the Tamil groups. If and when this expectation turns sour the situation would certainly deteriorate. Violence could recur. The LTTE could also take the high ground on this because the tigers will initially honour their commitment. This is due to circumstances. The truth is that the LTTE sponsored “Tamil resurgent force” violence petered out because of state – sponsored repression through Tamil groups. The LTTE was dealt with its own currency. Thus the LTTE called off its campaign long before Geneva. By agreeing to curb the violence it has only made a virtue out of necessity.

Given this background it does seem a case of counting chickens before hatching to claim success in Geneva. Dovish promises by hawkish entities are uncharacteristic and usually unreliable. The litmus test will be in genuinely implementing the respective commitments. The coming weeks before the second round in Geneva will be a probationary period.
According to the statement the SLMM will be monitoring progress and report on it at the next session. If significant progress is registered the process could proceed to the next stage. If developments are negative the second round of Geneva talks could pave the way for war.If the assurances given at the first round are flouted constantly a question mark may loom large over Geneva soon

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Print this page