“The SLMM is not the owner of the conflict. The owner of the conflict is the two parties and we are here to help the parties to implement the ceasefire agreement.”
“We believe that the ceasefire is based on an agreement between the two parties and also that they have committed themselves to cooperate and comply with the determinations of the SLMM. That is the whole thing about it and if the parties do not want to cooperate this mission is in void,” says the out going Head of the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission, Hagrup Haukland in an interview to Sunday Observer’s Ranga Jayasuriya.
Text of the intrerview as follows:
Q: What has your inquiry into the saturday’s sea incident revealed?
A: It is a very serious incident. We were not in the area when it happened seventeen nautical miles off the coast south of Mannar. The inquiry we have done so far confirmed the statement from the Sri Lankan Navy. I say again it is very very serious.
Q: Practically speaking, can there be another party other than the LTTE which can sail in an explosive laden boat and ram it on a Navy gun boat?
A: Well. Everything is possible as you know. We have said that we cannot rule out the possibility that LTTE was behind this. I think the most important thing is to be aware that a third party could also have been there.
Q: A third party has been blamed for most killings in the East in the past and now for this incident. Do you actually believe in the existence of a third party?
A: I don’t want to discuss that. Because there are also elements in the South using the same expression, holding a third party responsible for what is happening in the land, for all the killings. If you look upon capabilities and capacities then you may draw your own conclusions.
But you must not forget what is happening at sea, specially in the North-Western waters in proximity to India where there is traffic not only of mercenaries and smuggling, but also where drug smugglers are involved. But I am not saying that this incident on Saturday was done by drug smugglers. But don’t forget all criminals in the area.
Q: But, could drug smugglers sail in explosive laden boat?
A: I won’t comment- because you are pushing too much on this issue. I am not here to defend or complain. I don’t like the attitude…
Q: Ok. One complaint about the SLMM is the absence of an enforcement mechanism?
A: The problem of the SLMM, first of all, I want to be quoted on this. The SLMM is not the owner of the conflict. The owner of the conflict is the two parties and we are here to help the parties to implement the ceasefire agreement. We have no enforcement power. If we have enforcement power or executive power then we are talking about another dimension.
We believe that the ceasefire is based on an agreement between the two parties and also that they have committed themselves to cooperate and comply with the determinations of the SLMM. That is the whole thing about it and if the parties do not want to cooperate this mission is in void.
Q: Then how can the role of the SLMM be strengthened? If you are to make some recommendation for the next round of ceasefire talks to strengthen the ceasefire, what kind of recommendation will you make?
A: The parties must look into what they are doing. The LTTE and the Government side must stick to what they have signed and also I can mention that there is no confidence between the parties now, absolutely zero. And it is time for both parties to take responsibilities to implement in practical terms their commitments to the ceasefire agreement.
Q: The peace process had its initial achievements. But suddenly there were political killings. What went wrong in the agreement?
A: It started to go wrong when one part of the LTTE split from it in the East. And I personally think if the split did not happen, the situation would have been much better.
Q: But even before Karuna’s split there were certain political killings. You may remember a number of non-LTTE political activists were gunned down in the North-East?
A : You are forgetting the killings of the LTTE cadres. Why don’t you speak for both sides? You are telling me that I should blame the LTTE for every bad thing. But I won’t do that.They are guilty for some things, but the government side is also.
The main problem is there is no confidence between the security forces, police and the Tamil population. It is still a mistrust, because the security forces and police are not evenhanded. That is the main practical problem on the ground.
Q: Then how can we come to grips with this situation?
A: First of all we need to have a direct dialogue. We had one meeting in Geneva and I sincerely hope they can have some progress.Secondly the ceasefire agreement states that the SLMM should help the parties to establish direct contact on the ground.
It is not a question of political discussions, but a question to sort out practical problems relating to the implementation of the ceasefire agreement. That is the main thing at the moment. There is no direct dialogue at the local level and central level. A direct dialogue is needed and I am pretty sure the LTTE and government are aware of that. They don’t need my advice.
Q: Talking on statistics, if you look at the number of violations committed by the LTTE, it is far higher than the number of violations committed by the security forces?
A: It is up to every individual to hold his or her own view on statistics. The LTTE has committed more violations than the government side. There is no doubt about it. But it is also a question of how you read this. The majority of the violations committed by the LTTE is related to child recruitment. That is for sure very serious. Because it is illegal.
It is not enough to say this boy or girl joined the LTTE voluntarily. And it is difficult to distinguish for those who are not very informed about them. Also there are other minor things happening. No need to say killing a person is a ceasefire violation and flag hoisting by the LTTE is also a violation. See the difference. But nevertheless, it is quite clear that parties need to take responsibilities.
Because, specially killings in the East is creating mistrust and anger and also uncertainty among the population. These killings destabilize the whole situation. Whether you like it or not these killings are happening in the government controlled areas. Who is responsible for security and safety in government controlled areas? the security forces. But it is a difficult task
I think they should sit down and discuss practical things and also implement practical confidence building measures.
Q: What is the best confidence measure you can suggest?
A: That is a direct dialogue. A direct local dialogue . You can meet face to face, discuss and solve problems.
Q: But remember the LTTE refused to meet the security forces, some time after Karuna’s split, accusing the security forces of collaborating with the Karuna faction?
A: Karuna’s split was on the 3rd of March 2004. There were many meetings after that. The last meeting we had with the Commander of the security forces in Jaffna and LTTE political wing leader in Jaffna, Illamparithy was in August 2005. But nevertheless, it is clear that this lack of local dialogue is a problem. In December we tried to start direct meetings. Then the Security Forces said “No”.
Q: Have you seen paramilitary groups operating in the government controlled areas?
A: Yes. Last time we saw them was March 28 in Valachchenai area. And we spoke to them who were armed and in civilian clothes and asked them: ‘who are you’. And they told us, ‘we are Karuna’s’. You may be very well informed about the statements from those who are in charge in the South saying that there is no armed groups operating in the area. That is not true at all.
Q: Is the Karuna faction included in the category of the paramilitary groups. Because when the ceasefire was signed, Karuna was part and parcel of the LTTE?
A: Are you trying to say that, ‘they are not para military’. I cannot say they are paramilitary, because para military acts under the umbrella of security forces and supported by the security forces. we cannot say that.
But they are operating in the area. There are armed groups and that is enough. It does not matter whether they are para military or not, because armed elements can not operate in the area. And the government side has committed themselves to take care of that. Now the Army Commander says that there are no armed groups operating in the government controlled areas. I am sorry to say that is not true because we met them in the government controlled area.
Q: Do you think the Army can disarm these groups.
A: As long as there are armed elements, they have to be brought under control. It is out of question to think how bad it would be if you allow everyone to run around with weapons killing people.
Q: Practically speaking is it possible for the Army to disarm these groups?
A: Ask the Army commander.
Q: You have been here for four years. What is your assessment of the current situation?
A: There is a big difference. When we came here every body was positive. Every body was happy.And there was the first round of peace talks in september 2002 and there were six rounds of talks. and after that situation began to deteriorate.
I sincerely hope and believe that eventually they will find a solution to this conflict. I have been meeting people and they sincerely want peace, but not at all cost.
Q: There was a escalation of violence in the recent weeks. Could it have any impact on the next round of the ceasefire talks.
A: I hope no. But parties cannot afford to have serious incidents, because this is a very fragile situation.
Q: There are certain commitments in the ceasefire agreement such as the dismantling of the high security zones. In the present context, is it possible to dismantle the High security Zones?
A: I will love to say yes. But I must say “No” given the current situation. Dismantling of High Security Zones is a long and lengthy process. People must understand that the High Security Zones are for the force’s protection. I will also like to mention that there are High Security Zones in the LTTE controlled areas. If you want to get rid of High security Zones in the government controlled areas, it also needs to be done in the LTTE controlled areas. It is a political question.
It is beyond my imagination that they can dismantle High Security Zones during the ceasefire period. This is not peace.
This is ceasefire. To demand too much from the ceasefire is unrealistic. Like wise some of the hardliners in the South demand the disarmament of the LTTE and that then they could talk. I am sorry to say that this is bull shit. If I have been fighting for my cause, then they have to make sure, before I hang my arm, I must have a guarantee.
Q: Now that you are retiring after four years, are you more optimistic or pessimistic?
A: There had been ups and downs. During December and January, I thought the ceasefire was gone. I am a bit more optimistic now and I hope they can meet in Geneva and continue in direct talks.