Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Sri Lanka: Peace Chief bemused at UNP criticism of CFA

Republished for information and discussion only. This report does not necessarily reflect the views of Mike Hitchen Consulting.

Source: Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law & Order - Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

The Peace Secretariat views with bemusement the statement of the United National Party regarding the abrogation of the Ceasefire Agreement that former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe signed with the LTTE in 2002. It is replete with inaccuracies and illogicalities, which are of a piece perhaps with the whole approach of the UNP to the CFA. But its barefaced attempt through this statement to isolate the Sri Lankan government from the international community indicates that it still believes continuing betrayal of the nation is its only route back to power.

The statement declares that the UNP entered into the agreement 'when we had suffered severe military setbacks, and the economy was in shambles'. The statement does not mention that the most severe of those setbacks was inflicted by the UNP government through betraying the operations unit housed in Athurugiriya, which led to the decimation of military intelligence. Now that military intelligence has been rebuilt, now that the armed forces are able to perform professionally, UNP logic would demand abrogation of the CFA. However, the government continued for nearly four years after the rejection by the electorate of the UNP to abide by the CFA, under both Presidents Kumaratunga and Rajapakse, in the hope that the LTTE would return to talks. Given continuing intransigence, and continuing terrorist attacks, given the use made internationally of the CFA when many foreign governments are supporting Sri Lanka by trying to stop terrorist funding, the government has decided finally to call a halt to such abuse. But the opposition can only use this too as an opportunity to suggest to the international community that the government is 'blood-thirsty and war-mongering'.

With regard to the LTTE withdrawal from talks, the UNP claims that 'in April 2003, the extremists in the LTTE succeeded in getting the organization to withdraw from the talks. Yet, due to the pressure exerted by the international community the LTTE agreed to return to the talks. By July of that year ceasefire violations had been reduced to a minimum'. Evidently the UNP believes that the rest of the world forgets facts as swiftly as its leadership does. The LTTE withdrew from negotiations through a letter from Anton Balasingham, which in essence made two points. The first was that the people of the North and East had not benefited from peace, and this was unquestionably true given the hash the UNP had made of rehabilitation. The second was that the LTTE had not received political power. Instead of improving the rehabilitation process, the UNP then bent over backwards by offering to give the LTTE absolute political power through an Interim Self Governing Administration which allowed the LTTE to dominate all Pradeshiya Sabhas too in the entire North and East, whatever their ethnic composition. Far from the LTTE returning to talks, whatever private 'agreement' it had made if the UNP leadership gave in to all its political demands, six months later talks had still not resumed. The UNP statement, in claiming that it was 'the sudden dissolution of Parliament in 2004' that prevented the UNP government from proceeding with 'the gains accrued on the peace front', is grossly fraudulent.

The UNP statement also claims that the LTTE did not itself repudiate the CFA because otherwise the international community would 'subject them to various international pressures'. This again is nonsense. Certainly the LTTE benefited from the CFA, which is why it is now illogical to claim that abrogating it 'benefits only the LTTE's aspirations for a separate state'. But, in part because of the seminal work done by Mr Kadirgamar before he was assassinated, and the realization by many members of the international community, after that assassination, that the LTTE was not really serious about the CFA, it began to be internationally repudiated even while the CFA continued. More significantly, its funding was restricted, at least in those countries that have been serious about the fight against terrorism. Whether or not Canada and Switzerland and the Netherlands and Germany and Sweden and of course Norway follow the admirable example of France and the United Kingdom and the United States and

Australia and even Denmark in instituting prosecutions against terrorist funding will not depend on the CFA, it will depend on the will of politicians to put their mouths where the money of the LTTE is flowing. Indeed it is to be hoped that even Norway, following the admirable example of its current Ambassador, who has at last realized that there are Tamils who are not part of the LTTE, will now acknowledge that its obligation is to all the people of this country, not to a single terrorist group. Because of the CFA, the Norwegians, and thus by extension through a sense of solidarity the Nordic countries, felt an obligation to the LTTE, which we hope can be transferred now to Tamils in general, and in particular those who need to be liberated from the conscripting, constricting principles on which the LTTE controls its own.

CFA: dangerously flawed

Finally, in looking at the CFA itself, it is necessary to point out that it was dangerously flawed from the start, as pointed out by John Gooneratne, the former Deputy Secretary General of this Secretariat, appointed at the inception by the UNP government - 'that the LTTE had the advantage in this process was clear from the fact that the drafts shown to GOSL seemed to have been first shown to the LTTE. So, in effect it was a case of GOSL having to often react to texts that already had LTTE approval. This was a serious shortcoming. The Norwegian argument was that this was the faster way, by consulting Mr Balasingham of the LTTE in London first. Shortness of time available was always given as a reason by the Norwegian side whenever further clarifications or changes were sought by the GOSL side'.

Admirable as is the loyalty evinced in this attempt to suggest the Norwegians rather than the government were responsible for many shortcomings in the CFA, some of which are discussed in detail lower down in the text, the fact remains that the UNP Prime Minister signed the agreement, when he could - had he wanted to - insisted on revisions. Worse, when implementation of even this flawed CFA took place, the UNP government seemed to bend over backwards to indulge the LTTE.

Though there has been much criticism of the SLMM, this Secretariat has had occasion to point out that many members of the SLMM tried to do their duty insofar as they could. It was the government that failed to insist that the SLMM not only report on violations but also ensure cooperation 'to rectify any matter of conflict' and assist 'in the settlement of any dispute'.

A sad symbol of the appalling manner in which the then government dealt with violations became prominent after the decision to abrogate the CFA was announced in the person of the current head of SLMM operations in the East, Per Sander Skarvik, commenting on his imminent departure.

He was the gentleman who found an anti-aircraft gun on a ship which President Kumaratunga had been told was bringing in weapons. Her appeals to the then Prime Minister and Minister of Defence to prevent this met with contumacious rejection. It was only her determination and that of the navy which ensured that the ship was checked, when as Mr Skarvik put it last year in describing the incident to other new monitors at the Peace Secretariat, he was only doing his duty. He found the gun, and then had to throw himself off the ship which the LTTE arms smugglers blew up at sea.

The government of the time took no action, they took no action when a Chinese ship was attacked. It was precisely because of what might be termed such lickspittle indulgence that the LTTE found the CFA so very convenient. But to talk instead of the CFA as providing a framework for a negotiated settlement is abject nonsense, and it is childish of the UNP to assume that the world will be taken in by such ahistorical pronouncements. Of course the UNP is right in one particular, that a 'long-lasting peace is possible only through a negotiated settlement'. It is half right in saying that 'security measures are required to counter terrorism', failing to realize that, if terrorism is intransigent, purely passive responses will only lead to continuing destruction. It is myopic in claiming that 'the eradication of terrorism is possible only through democracy', given its signal failure to insist on democratic elections during the CFA, despite the attempts of the government's chief negotiator, Prof G L Pieris, to proceed with these, attempts vetoed by the then Prime Minister.

Reference to democracy brings to mind that terrorism emerged in Sri Lanka as a significant force primarily as a response to the anti-democratic activities of the UNP government between 1981 and 1983, when the Jaffna Public Library was set on fire and the TULF MP for Jaffna nearly lost his life to government goons (to sacrifice it before the decade was over to LTTE marksmen), when Mrs Bandaranaike was prevented from standing for the Presidency (despite which Jaffna was the only District in the country to vote against the UNP), when elections were postponed for six long years through a fraudulent referendum to alter the Constitution, when government attacks on Tamils nationwide were followed by legislation to appease racism which led to the elected TULF MPs vacating their seats in Parliament.

It was such anti-democratic practices that led to the emergence of terrorism. However abhorrent the practices of the LTTE, it must be remembered that those who spawned such practices through authoritarian indulgence must also share some of the responsibility for them.

If the UNP can rid itself of the last traces of those who remain unapologetic about the practices of the eighties, it might be in a better position to deal with terrorism. Until then it should leave policy to the elected government of this country, and refrain from overt and covert attempts to undermine it both internationally and nationally.

Prof Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretary General
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process