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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2611

LTTE demand for 30 % landmass for 6% of a population is utterly impracticable - Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke

By Walter Jayawardhana

Washington DC, 19 June, (Asiantribune.com): Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke told a US TV interviewer that that the LTTE’S intransigent demand of asking thirty percent land mass of the country for a population of six percent is utterly impractical.Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke:  "Looking back at history, at our community relations, people-to-people relationships go back to 2000 years. Our conflict has lasted about 30 years, and it seems a long time to us because we are living in these times. But what is 30 years in relation to 2000 years?"Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke: "Looking back at history, at our community relations, people-to-people relationships go back to 2000 years. Our conflict has lasted about 30 years, and it seems a long time to us because we are living in these times. But what is 30 years in relation to 2000 years?"

Ambassador Goonetilleke said, “Sri Lankan Tamils,” earlier known as “Ceylon Tamils,” today comprises less than 12% of the population……. more than 50% of this less than 12% Tamil population lives outside the North and the East. Then, you are talking about less than 6% of the population demanding 30% of the landmass, while ½ of that population would be elsewhere in the country….”

During a history of more than 2000 year in Sri Lanka in which all communities lived harmoniously what is a 30 year long conflict asked Sri Lankan Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke referring to the current problem existing in the country.

Answering questions during a television broadcast by the US station WCCATV-13 in Massachusetts, USA the Sri Lankan envoy in Washington DC said, "Looking back at history, at our community relations, people-to-people relationships go back to 2000 years. Our conflict has lasted about 30 years, and it seems a long time to us because we are living in these times. But what is 30 years in relation to 2000 years?"

So, all these communities have lived together harmoniously in Sri Lanka in the past, and it should be possible for us to live together harmoniously again, he said.

Answering the television interviewer, Masha, the Sri Lanka envoy said the proposed separate state solution put forward by the terrorists is an utterly impractical one when the majority of Sri Lankan Tamils are concerned as the majority of them live outside the putative state agitated for by the LTTE. It is actually asking 30 percent of the country’s land mass for six per cent of the population, he said.

Goonetilleke said, “Take, for example, the country itself. I always bring the example of the size of the country, a small country, 25,000 sq. miles in extent, a size similar to West Virginia, or twice the size of the island of Hawaii. Population of West Virginia something like 1.8 mn, and Sri Lanka’s population is something like 20 mn. And so, there is a huge pressure for land, resources, water, and everything. And this particular group, known as “Sri Lankan Tamils,” earlier known as “Ceylon Tamils,” today comprises less than 12% of the population. There are two interesting aspects here – if this demand comes to fruition, this less than 12% of the population, will get almost 30% of the country’s landmass.

“That is going to be difficult. The other issue is, more than 50% of this less than 12% Tamil population lives outside the North and the East. Then, you are talking about less than 6% of the population demanding 30% of the landmass, while ½ of that population would be elsewhere in the country, and one could ask what kind of arrangement we would have to make to accommodate their aspirations, desires ambitions etc.”

Ambassador Goonetilleke said, at a time when the whole world is turning itself into a global village it is no longer possible to divide nations according to ethnic or religious lines. After all, he said when one considers the ethnic ratios of the multi-ethnic Eastern Province of Sri Lanka it is utterly impossible to adapt that province as part of the putative state of a mono-ethnic Tamil Eelam.

He said: “the demand made by the LTTE for a separate state, comprising the North and the East, is not going to be something the government can agree to. Take, for example, the Eastern Province. It comprises Muslims, Tamils and Sinhalese – three different communities. According to the latest statistics, it appears Sri Lankan Moors form the majority of population in the East, Tamils comes second, followed by the Sinhalese. So, how can you separate that particular province and attach it to the Northern Province, which is predominantly Tamil? – which is partly due to the fact there has been ethnic cleansing starting in the 1980s and 1990s, during which time, large numbers of Sinhalese and more numbers of Muslims were expelled from the Northern Province.”Interviewer Masha  of the WCCATV-13 in Massachusetts with  Ambassador Bernard GoonetillekeInterviewer Masha of the WCCATV-13 in Massachusetts with Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke

During the interview Goonetilleke warned that in the Western world people should be aware of the purported charities connected to the LTTE like TRO or White Pigeon since every Penney paid to these so called charities end up in LTTE war chest.

He said, : “Actually, there are two things. Out of the goodness of your heart, you make contributions, and people do not know where that money actually goes. If you make a contribution in this country to the TRO, you can be 100% sure that the money goes elsewhere. In Canada, according to activities there, the WTM has been functioning like TRO. Likewise, there are many such organizations in various parts of the world, and people have no idea, when they make contributions that they are funding terrorists. They believe they are giving to a worthy cause. But they end up giving money to carry out acts of terrorism, to commit murder and mayhem in a country like Sri Lanka. And while we are trying to bring the conflict to an end, people in this country, in most cases, unwittingly, pour oil onto a raging fire in Sri Lanka - which is unfortunate.

The second thing is, they will have to bear in mind one factor – that if they make contributions knowingly, they would be violating the laws of this country.”

Goonetilleke speaking about human rights violation charges said, “When HRW says that violations are taking place, we do not deny the charge, we accept it. And when such violations take place, and credible evidence is available, we take action. You also need to remember that Sri Lanka is party to as many as 12 or 13 different international conventions relating to human rights, and, under these conventions, we have to submit periodic reports to the regimes of those conventions, where our reports are scrutinized, and officials of the Sri Lanka government have to appear before international panels who study our report and come up with questions, which we have to respond to. Thus, there are mechanisms to check the performance of the government with regard to our obligations in relation to international conventions. But, when it comes to the LTTE, although they are bound to protect the rights of the people living in the areas they operate, because they are not a state party, there is no mechanism to make them behave like a responsible party.”

Ambassador Goonetilleke explained the zero tolerance policy of the government of child soldiers and doing everything possible working very closely with the UNESCO to rehabilitate the child soldiers.

He said, Karuna Group, the TMVP, has released two groups of children – first, 11 child cadres, subsequently, 28. Altogether, 39 child soldiers. The first batch was given to the government. Of the 28, about 20 were handed over to the parents and 8 decided to surrender to the government rather than returning to their parents because they feared re-recruitment by the LTTE. The UNICEF is associated with such releases and the welfare of child soldiers.

From the UNICEF perspective, the best place for these child cadres is a return to their families. We do not disagree with that point of view. However, in the case of LTTE child cadres, there is always the danger of they being re-recruited by the LTTE –which is eventually what happened when they return home to their families.

So, while home is the right place for a child, in this particular instance, we believe that protection needs to be provided for the children, perhaps under supervision of the government and international agencies, and also to be provided with various facilities for skills development, so they become employable once they are ready to leave the camps and be absorbed into the community.

Ambassador Goonetilleke said that the LTTE came and sat at the negotiating table six times most probably to convince the international community that they are ready for negotiations and to buy time for them to re-arm and they never abandoned the idea of the separation of the island nation.

Masha: So, it sounds to me that they had already decided before they came to the negotiating table, what they really wanted to do.

Goonetilleke: Well, if you look back, on six different occasions we sat down to negotiate, and on six different occasions, they got up and moved out and never came back to the negotiating table. So, that leads you to believe that they had their own motives, although they sat down to negotiate. By sitting down to negotiate, they perhaps wanted to either convince the international community that they are indeed seeking a negotiated solution, or else they wanted to build up their military strength, which they did, for example, during the post-2003 period. Whatever it is, the eventual result was that they would abandon the negotiating table and go away.

The Sri Lankan Ambassador in Washington insisted that although the LTTE control s two tiny districts in Sri Lanka today the government of Sri lanka has not abandoned the people living in them and constantly looking after them: “And one way to build trust is to let them know we have not abandoned them. The government continued with its administration, even in LTTE controlled areas – staffing and managing hospitals, schools, providing drugs, paying for teachers – and so did not abandon the people. Where necessary, the government took steps to inoculate children against sicknesses. And, in conflict situation, in areas under LTTE control, the state looked after the welfare of the people, to let them know the government had not abandoned them, and even though they were living under LTTE control, they were being treated no different to people in government-controlled areas.

“I have been dealing with subject for a long period of time. In the early 1990s, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, Dr. Francis Deng, a Sudanese national, came to Sri Lanka. He said that Sri Lanka was an example for other conflict situations in the world, where the state looks after the people in those conflict areas. And coming from Sudan, as he did, it was a lot to say.

“There are also other ways to build trust and confidence. The government has taken measures in the Eastern Province, to hold elections so that the people will be able to express themselves, and there decisions, what ever they are, will be good enough for the government. So, the people will have to have trust in the government, and they will have the freedom to select or elect their own representatives.

“There are other things the government could do with regard to confidence building measures over a period of time, both in the East and the North. And I am sure it will do what it can. Meanwhile, we have to understand that civil society, various religious associations and civilians in general, will also have a very important role to play with regard to building trust and confidence among the various communities.”

Q:My last question, to resolve a conflict like Sri Lanka’s armed conflict, there are several factors which have to come together. Unfortunately, there are no magic solutions, so everyone has to work together as a team. It has to be the people, the Sri Lanka government, the LTTE and the international community. From your perspective, how can each of these parties participate in Sri Lanka’s peace process?

A: Very important question. You have brought four different groups. From the government’s point of view, it has been doing what it can. I have explained with regard to the Eastern Province. It appointed a Parliamentary committee to come up with proposals for devolution of power to the provinces. That particular committee consists of all 13 or 14 different parties – some have decided not to take part, but a large number of parties in parliament are participating. That is one step the government has taken. The government has also agreed to the first proposal made by this committee that the government should fully implement the 13th amendment to the constitution, which came into being as a follow up of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord, which will provide separate administrative powers, police powers to the provinces.

Already, the government has taken steps to recruit men and women from Tamil and Muslim communities in the east, to the police force there. The intention is to recruit about 2000 police personnel to police the area, so any criminal activities taking place there could be taken care of by the people in the area. Most of all, giving an opportunity for the people to vote their own representatives in after a lapse of 14 years, is a great step the government has taken.

Then, take the LTTE. What could it do? It is very difficult for me to speak on behalf of the LTTE, but perhaps, it could see that things are moving, and perhaps decide to change its policies and to adapt new policies so they would be able to work for the welfare of the Tamil people whom they want to represent. Beyond that, I do not want to comment on the LTTE.

And one way to build trust is to let them know we have not abandoned them. The government continued with its administration, even in LTTE controlled areas – staffing and managing hospitals, schools, providing drugs, paying for teachers – and so did not abandon the people. Where necessary, the government took steps to inoculate children against sicknesses. And, in conflict situation, in areas under LTTE control, the state looked after the welfare of the people, to let them know the government had not abandoned them, and even though they were living under LTTE control, they were being treated no different to people in government-controlled areas.

I have been dealing with subject for a long period of time. In the early 1990s, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, Dr. Francis Deng, a Sudanese national, came to Sri Lanka. He said that Sri Lanka was an example for other conflict situations in the world, where the state looks after the people in those conflict areas. And coming from Sudan, as he did, it was a lot to say.

There are also other ways to build trust and confidence. The government has taken measures in the Eastern Province, to hold elections so that the people will be able to express themselves, and there decisions, what ever they are, will be good enough for the government. So, the people will have to have trust in the government, and they will have the freedom to select or elect their own representatives.

There are other things the government could do with regard to confidence building measures over a period of time, both in the East and the North. And I am sure it will do what it can. Meanwhile, we have to understand that civil society, various religious associations and civilians in general, will also have a very important role to play with regard to building trust and confidence among the various communities.

Q: My last question, to resolve a conflict like Sri Lanka’s armed conflict, there are several factors which have to come together. Unfortunately, there are no magic solutions, so everyone has to work together as a team. It has to be the people, the Sri Lanka government, the LTTE and the international community. From your perspective, how can each of these parties participate in Sri Lanka’s peace process?

A: Very important question. You have brought four different groups. From the government’s point of view, it has been doing what it can. I have explained with regard to the Eastern Province. It appointed a Parliamentary committee to come up with proposals for devolution of power to the provinces. That particular committee consists of all 13 or 14 different parties – some have decided not to take part, but a large number of parties in parliament are participating. That is one step the government has taken. The government has also agreed to the first proposal made by this committee that the government should fully implement the 13th amendment to the constitution, which came into being as a follow up of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord, which will provide separate administrative powers, police powers to the provinces.

Already, the government has taken steps to recruit men and women from Tamil and Muslim communities in the east, to the police force there. The intention is to recruit about 2000 police personnel to police the area, so any criminal activities taking place there could be taken care of by the people in the area. Most of all, giving an opportunity for the people to vote their own representatives in after a lapse of 14 years, is a great step the government has taken.

Then, take the LTTE. What could it do? It is very difficult for me to speak on behalf of the LTTE, but perhaps, it could see that things are moving, and perhaps decide to change its policies and to adapt new policies so they would be able to work for the welfare of the Tamil people whom they want to represent. Beyond that, I do not want to comment on the LTTE.

- Asian Tribune -

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