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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2004

Sri Lanka Envoy in U.S. Bernard Goonetilleke tells American : Diplomats what ‘Traditional Tamil Homeland’ really means

Washington, D.C. 1 November (Asiantribune.com): Sri Lanka ambassador to the United States Bernard Goonetilleke had a field day in American diplomacy’s most important and sacred center, U.S. Foreign Service Institute that produces American diplomats to the world. He hit a ‘home run’ when he described the ‘myth’ of ‘traditional Tamil homeland concept’ before the diplomats, and would be diplomats, casting an insinuation to some experienced diplomats that, in supporting this mainly LTTE demand, they are doing so without proper understanding or accurate assessment of the ground situation in Sri Lanka.Bernard Goonetilleke wanted the interested parties, both in Sri Lanka and in the international arena, to list out what the legitimate Tamil grievances are to facilitate the resolution of political issues in his country. (File Photo)Bernard Goonetilleke wanted the interested parties, both in Sri Lanka and in the international arena, to list out what the legitimate Tamil grievances are to facilitate the resolution of political issues in his country. (File Photo)

He questioned as to why other Tamil groups, now in the democratic process, are not brought into the negotiating process while enlightening the American diplomats that a majority of ethnic minority Tamils live outside the domain of the Tamil Tigers among the majority Sinhalese in other parts of the country.

Reminding the miss-steps taken in the fifties and the seventies in respect of language and university admission policies that alienated the Tamils, Goonetilleke wanted the interested parties, both in Sri Lanka and in the international arena, to list out what the legitimate Tamil grievances are to facilitate the resolution of political issues in his country.

He cautioned the audience at the U.S. Foreign Service Institute in Washington that Sri Lanka is a vibrant democracy reminding them that it was his country that sowed the first seeds of democracy in the Asian region.

Following is the full text of Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke’s address before the United States Foreign Service Institute delivered on 31st October 2006:

When we focus on a topic like ‘Sri Lanka Today’, it is important to look back at the island’s past, even briefly, as it has a bearing on what it is today, just as much as what effect developments of today will have in shaping the country tomorrow.

Geographically, Sri Lanka is an island nation the extent of which is app. 25,000 sq. miles. While in size it is similar to the State of West Virginia, our population is much larger and is currently close to 20 million, with an average growth of 1.1%. Sri Lanka’s history goes back to over 2500 years and the island was inhabited by several groups of people even during the prehistoric times as evidenced by archaeological excavations. Arrival of immigrants from North India was said to have taken place around 483 BC. Repeated invasions by South Indians beginning in 205 BC, transfer of kingdom from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa in the 11th century, the arrival of European colonizers - the Portuguese- in 1505 A.D., followed by the Dutch in 1656 and the British in 1796, the fall of the last kingdom of Kandy into the hands of the British in 1815 and the achievement of independence in 1948 are some important landmarks in Sri Lanka’s history. These events, in one way or the other, have influenced Sri Lanka in modern times and probably will influence the island in the future as well.

Another important aspect, which relates to our topic today, is what we have done or some times failed to do in the past, that have impacted on today’s Sri Lanka. The time of independence from Britain would be a reasonable marker, to understand why we are here today and not somewhere else.

Policies that were positive

Let me focus on how some measures we took and policies we adopted then have impacted positively on today’s Sri Lanka.

Democracy

You know that Sri Lanka is a democracy. However, a little known fact is that Sri Lanka was the first country in Asia, where the seeds of democracy were sown. That happened three quarters of a century ago in 1931, when the Universal Adult Suffrage was introduced to the island, while it was still a British colony. Despite the passage of time, we have been able to nourish democracy and hold periodic multi-party elections at local government and national levels.

Human Development

Since independence Sri Lanka invested heavily on human development at considerable cost to the state coffers. Consequently, despite being a middle-income country, with a per capita income of $1197 GDP, our social indicators are similar to some countries which have much higher income levels.

Sri Lanka is perhaps among the very few countries in the world, which, since 1944, has provided education from the entry level at the age of 5 years up to and including the university level, free of charge. In addition, school children are provided with free textbooks and uniforms and needy university undergraduates are provided with scholarships. This has resulted in the creation of a level playing field for children to pursue education irrespective of their social or economic background. This policy has resulted in a literacy rate exceeding 90%. However, it has also contributed to unemployment among educated youth and their marginalization, which has contributed to two insurgencies in the south and the north and east.

As with education, health services are also free at government hospitals, whether the patients seek emergency treatment or have to undergo complicated surgery. The result of this policy is that Sri Lanka has been able to push life expectancy to 70 and to 72 years for males and females respectively. Our infant mortality rate is a low 11.2 per 1000 births and maternal mortality rate is 17 per 100,000.

A Robust Economy

Considering that Sri Lanka has been a victim of a vicious separatist armed conflict for almost 30 years, it is refreshing to note that our economy has been performing commendably. According to current figures, the economy grew at the rate of 8.3% and 7.6 % during the first two quarters, with the annual average for 2006 expected at 7.6 %.

It should be noted is that this commendable growth is despite the economically debilitating armed conflict which has been stepped up since December 2005 by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, also known as the Tamil Tigers. This growth reflects not only the resilience of the economy in the aftermath of the devastating tsunami and in the midst of escalating oil prices, but also the potential the country holds for development in an atmosphere of peace.

Policies that went wrong

Despite these positive indicators, it can be said that Sri Lanka is where it is today as a result of certain policy decisions taken by successive administrations since independence. The language policy of the 1950s and the university admission policy in the 1970s were some measures taken by former administrations to address historic injustices faced by the Sinhala community under colonial rule and those living in underdeveloped areas of the country, respectively. However, in the course of implementation, these measures adversely affected the Tamil community, who had hitherto enjoyed privileges especially in the field of education and employment, which created the first fissures that contributed to dividing the two communities, the results of which are now being experienced by the country.

Similarly, as many newly independent countries, Sri Lanka too wished to be separated from the umbilical cord that connected the country with its former colonial master, the United Kingdom. In that process, two Republican constitutions were adopted in 1972 and 1978, which unfortunately further alienated the Tamil community.

What was more ironic was how the second Republican constitution failed to meet an important objective. Focusing on the undesirability of the massive majority it won at the 1977 general election, which decimated the opposition, the new administration decided to move away from the first-past-the-post to proportional representation. While this measure met some objectives, the result of that exercise was that no political party was able to win a comfortable majority good enough to form a government, resulting in having to rely on coalition governments supported by several small parties. This prevented successive administrations from taking crucial decisions relating to pressing national issues, such as introducing essential constitutional changes to address the problems of the minorities and moving away from the Executive Presidential system, as desired by some, due to the inability to come up with a 2/3 majority in parliament.

Another shortcoming was the inability of successive governments to address policy issues in their right perspective. Instead, the party, which is in the opposition that is in US parlance the minority party, as a rule of thumb opposed whatever that was proposed by the ruling party. This practice, in the absence of bipartisan support on major issues as in the US, has made it impossible for Sri Lanka to address critical issues as they emerge and move on to the task of nation building.

The Armed Conflict

When we speak of Sri Lanka today, our minds generally go to news items and editorials that dominate the day. During the month of October there have been many such editorials and news reporting. Some editorials referred to issues concerning Sri Lanka with captions such as “Asia’s unending war” (Boston Globe of October 22), “Tiger terror”, (The Times of October 19), “Targeting the Tamil Tigers” (Washington Times of October 18) etc. These referred to issues such as the ethnic conflict, terrorism, self-determination, Tamil homeland, aspirations and grievances of Tamils, human rights violations etc.

I would like to begin by saying that these are issues, which require in-depth knowledge of the topic, and not superficial understanding of the subjects. The time available is not sufficient for me to address all the issues, but I shall focus on some major ones.

Is it really an ethnic conflict?

I would like to point out that the first mistake observers of Sri Lanka make today is trying to generalize the conflict and attach convenient labels to help those who do not know the subject. For example, they see the conflict as an “ethnic conflict” between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils. Some compound the situation by pointing out that the conflict is between Sinhala Buddhists and Hindu Tamils and others trying to explain that Sinhalese are descendents of fair skinned Aryans and the Tamils as dark skinned Dravidians! This is what we call stereotyping.

First, the Sri Lankan conflict is not a religious issue between Buddhists and Hindus. In Sri Lanka, there are Hindu places of worship cheek by jowl with Buddhist temples. Moreover, there are Hindu places of worship such as Kataragama in the Southern Province and Munneswaram Temple in the Western Province, which are places of veneration for the Buddhists as well. On the other hand, there are Buddhist places of worship such as the Sri Pada or to use the English name the Adam’s Peak, which is a Buddhist place of worship, or the Kandy Perahera, a Buddhist religious pageant, in which Hindus participate.

The census of 1981 provides a clear picture of the distribution of the population in Sri Lanka, which consisted of 74% Sinhalese, 12.7% Sri Lankan Tamils, 5.5 % Indian Tamils and 7.0% Sri Lankan Moors (Muslims) and 0.7% of others. However, what we have to understand is that the Indian Tamils, who live the Central Province, are a distinct group from the Sri Lankan Tamils who live predominantly in the North and the East of the country. What is more important is that they are not in truck with the Tamil Tigers, who are conducting an armed conflict demanding a separate state. Moreover, elected representatives of the Indian Tamils, as a rule of thumb, form part of the administration and hold cabinet portfolios.

The second aspect is that the conflict is not between the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Sinhalese based on ethnicity unless fanned by politics. While Sri Lankan Tamils live predominantly in the North and to a lesser extent in the East, a large percentage of them currently live in other parts of the country, along with the Sinhalese, Muslims and others, so much so, according to the latest census, a greater percentage of Sri Lankan Tamils live in areas other than the North and the East. The reason for this demographic change is, while a considerable number of Tamils left the country after 1983, in the recent past, large numbers of Sri Lankan Tamils have voted with their feet and left the areas dominated by Tamil Tigers, who call themselves “the sole representatives of the Tamil people.”

This being the situation, how accurate is it to describe the conflict as an ethnic conflict? My response is, it is not an ethnic conflict but a separatist war waged by an armed group using terrorism as a tactic to achieve its political goal. It is a fact that the Tamil Tigers have been engaged in an armed conflict with the democratically elected governments since 1976, with a view to establishing a separate mono-ethnic state in the North and the East, which comprises 1/3 of the land mass of the country in the name of Sri Lankan Tamils.

LTTE and Terrorism

The Tamil Tigers introduce themselves as a national liberation movement. Irrespective of labels, one must look into the modus operandi of the organization, to understand what they really are. The editorial of The London Times of October 19, 2006 speaks of the Tigers as “terrorists.” The Washington Times editorial of October 18 reminds us that the US has classified the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist organization. That was not a unique decision. The Tamil Tigers earned the classification of a terrorist group by hard work and sheer persistence. In May 1991 they assassinated former Indian premier Rajiv Gandhi by employing a female suicide bomber and New Delhi responded by classifying them as a terrorist organization. The US classified the Tamil Tigers as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in October 1997. In February 2001, four years after the US classification, UK followed suit. This year, Canada, after much soul-searching, imposed a ban on them. That policy decision was followed by the 25 member EU under the EU regulations providing for the designation of terrorist organizations. Meanwhile, Australia too has taken measures to designate the LTTE under regulations giving effect to Security Council Resolution 1373 to curb financing of terrorism. We must ask why, most of these countries, being Western liberal democracies, decided to classify the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist organization? As I said earlier, they have worked hard to earn that classification.

In case there is a disagreement, I would like to point out that while there is no universally accepted definition of international terrorism, the Department of State describes international terrorism as “involving citizens or the territory of more than one country”, and the term "terrorism" as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by sub national groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.” (“Country Reports on Terrorism” published annually has based its definition, as contained in Title 22 of the United States Code, Section 2656 f (d).

Needless to say the Tamil Tigers perfectly fit in to the description.

Self Determination

Tamil Tigers, who claim to be a national liberation movement, are seeking the right to self-determination. We are all aware that the right to self-determination is enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations as a universal right, which has also been embodied in the International Covenants on Human Rights, as well as in the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, contained in the General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960. However, it must be emphasized that none of these international instruments provide for or support the recourse to terrorism in pursuit of self-determination, and to secede from a state, which has already attained independence thereby in violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

We have seen numerous instances, where terrorist groups have suggested that terrorism is permissible to achieve self-determination. Some terrorist groups also try to support their claim by making partial reference to the 1970 Declaration on Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States on the same issue. The declaration does not in any way justify secession in violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of independent states. It is pertinent to point out that having deliberated on the matter extensively, the Vienna Declaration of 1993, while recognizing that all peoples have the right to self-determination, declared “Taking into account the particular situation of peoples under colonial or other forms of alien domination or foreign occupation, the World Conference on Human Rights recognizes the right of peoples to take any legitimate action, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations”. I need not labour the point that resorting to terrorism is neither “legitimate” nor “in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.”

Homeland Issue

The demand for a “traditional homeland” for Tamils or when it suits them for Tamil speaking peoples has been a rallying cry of the Tamil Tigers. Others have repeated or supported this demand without proper understanding or an accurate assessment of the ground situation in Sri Lanka.

With a view to understanding the demand of the Tigers, let us look at the facts, for which one must have an understanding of history, geography, distribution of people, politics etc., of the country.

First, as I said earlier, the size of the country is app. 25,000 sq. miles with a population of nearly 20 million.

Second, the demand of the Tamil Tigers is for the entirety of two provinces i.e. the Northern and the Eastern Provinces, which were temporarily merged by an executive order of the President, subsequent to signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement in 1987.

Third, the temporarily merged Northern and Eastern Provinces cover app. 1/3 of the landmass of the country and 2/3 of its coastline.

Fourth, over 50% of Sri Lankan Tamils live outside the Northern and the Eastern Provinces. In short, translated into figures, the demand the Tamil Tigers is to have 1/3 of the land mass of the country for fewer than 6% of Sri Lankan Tamils currently living in the North and the East.

Fifth, while the Northern Province is predominantly populated by Tamils, due to the systematic ethnic cleansing of the Sinhalese and Muslims from that province by the Tamil Tigers, in post 1983 period and particularly in June 1990 respectively, population distribution of the Eastern Province is quite different. According to the 1981 census, the Tamils formed 40% of the population in the Eastern Province, Muslims 32% and Sinhalese 25%. One needs not to be a mathematician to calculate that non-Tamils form the majority of the Eastern Province. Yet the demand is that the Eastern Province, irrespective of its demography, should form part of their traditional homeland. The Tamil Tigers are vehemently against holding of a referendum, as provided in paragraph 2.3 of the Indo-Lanka Accord, to consult the people in the Eastern Province with regard to the merger.

I can go on, but let me digress here a little and pose a few questions and at the same time provide answers to facilitate those who have not quite grasped the situation.

First, leaving the Northern Province aside, when did the Eastern Province become the “traditional homeland” of Tamils? According to Webster’s Deluxe Unabridged Dictionary, one explanation of “tradition” is “a long established custom or practice that has the effect of an unwritten law”. If tradition is something that has been long established, what about those practices that have been “established longer”? Those who have studied history of the country know that greater part of the present day Eastern Province, during the historical period, was inhabited by the Sinhalese and later by Tamils and Muslims. If one wishes to be fair, it can be said that the Eastern Province was inhabited by the aborigines of the island during the prehistoric period even before the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims made that part of the island their home and some of their descendants continue to live there to date. The claim of Tamil Tigers for a two nation theory has been based on a misleading reference made in a minute by Hugh Cleghorn, Colonial Secretary in June 1799, with regard to the areas supposedly inhabited by Tamils bordered by Chilaw on the western coast and river Walawe in southern coast during that period. If what he had reported was true, we have to accept that Sinhalese people originated in Siam - present day Thailand - and Jaffna was predominantly inhabited at that time by people of Moorish extraction! Such was his lack of knowledge of the country served by him briefly when the British took over maritime areas of then Ceylon from the Dutch. Sri Lankan Tamils began to populate the Eastern Province in significant numbers during the early British times, and even then they inhabited only the costal areas of the East, whereas the Moors made the East their home during the Kandyan King Senarath’s time, following the expulsion of Moors from the coastal areas by the Portuguese 1626. It is a fact that Sinhalese and Tamils lived together even in the Northern Province in the historical past as evidenced by archaeology, historical inscriptions and lore. Should we therefore not conclude, that the island being a multi-ethnic society is the traditional homeland of Sinhalese, Tamils, Moors (Muslims), Burghers etc.

Second, was the Northern, or for that matter, the Eastern Province demarcated on an ethnic basis by the colonial masters? The answer is no. When the British demarcated these two provinces in 1833 in terms of the Colebrook-Cameron Reforms, or when the borders of the 9 provinces which exist to date were demarcated in 1889, they were done solely for administrative purposes and not on ethnic considerations.

Third, what did the Indo-Lanka Agreement say about the so-called homeland? Was it by mistake the 1987 Agreement between India and Sri Lanka in paragraph 1.4 recognized that “the Northern and the Eastern Provinces have been areas of historical habitation of Sri Lankan Tamil speaking peoples, who have at all times hitherto lived together in this territory with other ethnic groups”. Thus, is it not clear that in that province lived “Tamil speaking peoples”, namely the Sri Lankan Tamils and Sri Lankan Moors with other ethnic groups, which included the Sinhalese? How can then the Eastern Province become the sole preserve of the Tamils?

Fourth, should the rights of the Sinhalese and the Moors living in the Eastern Province be sacrificed in fulfilling the aspirations of the Tamil Tigers to have a traditional homeland? If for a moment, we forget about the recent history, that is when the Tamils came to populate the Eastern Province in significant numbers, and look at the current population distribution in that province, we see that non-Tamils surpass the Tamils by a ratio of 6 to 4. The question we should ask is, by promoting a separate homeland for the Tamils, as demanded by Tamil Tigers, who are non-democratic, tolerate no dissention and promote a mono ethnic one party state, are they not attempting to deliver not only the Tamils in Eastern Province, but also the Moors and Sinhalese to a fascist dictatorship?

Fifth, what about the Tamils living in other parts of the country, if a Tamil homeland were to be established by Tamil Tigers? As I have pointed out, a majority of Sri Lankan Tamils now live outside the Northern and Eastern Provinces. If there is an agreement to establish a homeland for the Tamils comprising the Northern and the Eastern Provinces, how do the promoters of the proposal, plan to look after the “aspirations” and “grievances” of the majority of the Sri Lankan Tamil population currently living outside these two provinces? Do they support a mass migration, just like the one that took place in the Indian sub continent during the partition in 1947 and deliver the hapless Tamils, who left the two provinces to escape the atrocities of the Tamil Tigers, back to the grips of the Tigers for a second round of suffering? Or on the other hand, is there another formula to address their grievances and aspirations, while they continue to remain in areas other than the Northern and Eastern Provinces? You will note that I have not spoken of the aspiration of the Tamils in the Eastern Province to be free of the Tamil Tigers, who are from the Northern Province.

Tamil Grievances and Aspirations

When we discuss the conflict in Sri Lanka, we also come across of two terminologies viz. ‘grievances and ‘aspirations’ of Tamils. Sometimes we use the adjective ‘legitimate’ to highlight the two issues.

First of all, I have to make it clear that as human beings we all have aspirations. We aspire to do well in our lives; we aspire to our children excelling in studies and succeed in life, and the list can go on and on. Most of the time our aspirations can be legitimate; but then, some of us could also aspire to achieve certain other things, which are not quite legitimate. What is important is that, it is not only the Tamil community that have aspirations. Other communities too have their own aspirations and legitimate aspirations too, which may be similar to or different from those of Tamils.

The fact of the matter is, the administration has accepted in good faith to address the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil people. But nobody has listed or gone beyond such statements to list or examine what these aspirations are, whether they are legitimate or not, and more importantly, if they are justified, whether those give reason for creation of a separate state.

I could say the same thing about grievances too, but to a lesser extent. For example, earlier I acknowledged that the Tamil community had certain grievances resulting from the language policy adopted in the 1950s and the university entrance policy in the 1970s. The fact is that the issues relating to the language policy has been addressed when Tamil was made an official language along with Sinhalese, through amendments to the 1987 constitution. Yet, we have to acknowledge that still there are certain grievances experienced by Tamils, due to the practical shortcomings in putting the language policy in to practice. Likewise, the issues relating to university entrance have also been addressed and today the problem is that the two universities established in the Northern and the Eastern Provinces function sporadically due to the politicization of those educational institutions by the Tamil Tigers. Remember I said earlier that the financial responsibility of university education is borne by the state, and that being the situation we cannot admit all those who obtain pass marks. That is a problem faced by all communities – Sinhalese, Tamils as well as Moors. I admit that there are other grievances, such as the land issue faced by Tamils as well as others, which need to be addressed in good faith.

But the question that needs to be answered is whether the only remedy available for addressing the grievances and aspirations of Tamils is by radically changing the structure of the state to create a separate state. If that is the case, how could Sri Lanka address the aspirations and grievances of the other minorities, the Sri Lanka Moors and Indian Tamils? Are we talking here something else, namely decentralizing the administration and or sharing of power between the centre and periphery to facilitate people living in those areas, to be masters of their destiny? The next question is should that be done on the basis of ethnicity or on a geographical basis, democratically or in an arbitrary manner without consulting the people?

Southern Consensus

Needless to say that any agreement reached to devolve or share administrative power should be done through a democratic process. Such units must be established having consulted the people living there through democratic means, such as multiparty elections or referendums.

It must be emphasized that President Mahinda Rajapaksa has gone on record not once but several times that he is in favour of granting maximum possible devolution. It is with that commitment in view earlier this year; he took steps to establish an All Party Representations Committee (APRC), open to all democratically elected parties in parliament. Unfortunately, several parties have so far not joined that process. Moreover, a panel comprising legal and constitutional experts has been established to advice the APRC. The intention of this exercise is to build consensus among political parties in the parliament on the extent of devolution that can be legally and democratically granted to the people in the North and the East. It is our hope that this process would result in working out a comprehensive framework for maximum devolution of power and to address the grievances of all minorities. Among the proposals that are being examined are modalities for greater power sharing between the centre and periphery, including the representation of the periphery in the law making process at the centre, such as through the establishment of a Second Chamber comprising representatives elected by the peripheral units. That is the democratic way of governance - decisions through consultation to arrive at consensus.

In this context, the October 23 historical agreement between the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, the majority party in the ruling coalition, and the major opposition party the United National Party (i.e. the minority party in the U.S. political system), can be described as a harbinger for evolving such a consensus through the APRC process.

Negotiations with the LTTE

It will be fair, I suppose, to expect the LTTE to undergo a metamorphosis, so that it will also transform itself to a democratic entity as several other Tamil militant groups did after 1987. In fact, some former militants now hold cabinet portfolios and one is entrusted with the task of regional development.

However, those who have studied the conflict of Sri Lanka would notice that the Tamil Tigers engaged in negotiations with successive administrations on 5 different occasions, namely in 1985, 1987, 1989/90, 1994/95, 2002/2003. On all those occasions, they walked away from the negotiating table to wage war and on three occasions employed suicide bombers to kill those who were responsible for taking them to the negotiating table and succeeded on two occasions. More recently, in April 2006, having agreed to meet in Geneva, they refused to proceed to the venue, and in May, having gone all the way to Oslo, refused to engage in talks with the government negotiators on a flimsy excuse. They have adopted a similar tactic last week in Geneva.

Despite their intransigent behaviour, the peace facilitator Norway, and other Co-Chairs - the US, Japan and the European Union, and the Secretary General of the UN together with many others have encouraged the two sides to re-engage in negotiations. In the case of the US, it has taken the position, as explained by Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, who does not mince his words, that "The US does not recognize the LTTE. We don’t deal with them, we don’t support them, we are extremely critical of them…we have no sympathy whatsoever for the Tamil Tigers." Yet he urged the Government to negotiate with Tamil Tigers.

The international position on negotiations with the LTTE can best be described as seemingly contradictory but conditioned by circumstances. In the first instance, there is a strong feeling here in the US and elsewhere, that one should not deal with terrorists. Yet there is general support, if not urging, that the Sri Lanka Government should engage in negotiations with the LTTE. Is this due to the claim by the Tamil Tigers that they are the “sole representatives of the Tamil People” or due to the fact that they dominate certain areas of the north and the east and holding a vice-like grip on the Tamil people to the extent that separating the people from the LTTE is not a feasible exercise? On the other hand, is it due to the fact that the Government has so far not come up with a workable proposal for devolution or sharing of power with the Tamils? How come the international community have overlooked the need to support and empower those Tamil political parties, which are democratic and are at the receiving end by the Tamil Tigers?

There is general agreement within and outside Sri Lanka that the conflict in Sri Lanka cannot be resolved by continuing with the armed conflict. The way out of the impasse is through negotiation. However, to think that objective could be achieved through negotiations only with Tamil Tigers does not seem to reflect reality. The five instances of negotiations since 1985 and the last three experiences in Geneva and Oslo are sufficient to conclude that the vision of the Tigers is nothing but a separate state. This is confirmed by the well-documented thinking of the leader of the organization, that a separate state should not come on a platter either. The Tamils have to fight to realise that objective. In fact his call to his supporters was, if he deviated from the goal of a separate state, they have the right to kill him.

It is exactly that goal they are pursuing right now, which exercise was articulated by the leader of the organization last November as follows:

“The new government should come forward soon with a reasonable political framework that will satisfy the political aspirations of the Tamil people. This is our urgent and final appeal. If the new government rejects our urgent appeal, we will, next year, in solidarity with our people, intensify our struggle for self-determination, our struggle for national liberation to establish self-government in our homeland.”

I should try to explain the situation for the sake of clarity. During the 2002/2003 negotiations the two sides met on 6 different times in various cities of the world from Bangkok to Hakone with Oslo and Berlin in between. I speak, on those meetings with some knowledge having attended all of them. At none of these negotiating sessions was it possible to focus on substantive issues, as at each session the LTTE dodged dealing with core issues on the guise that they need to focus on the "existential" problems of the Tamil civilians. However, in December 2002, when they were urged by the facilitator to compromise, the LTTE delegation agreed to:

..explore a solution founded on the principle of internal self-determination in areas of historical habitation of the Tamil-speaking peoples, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka. The parties acknowledged that the solution has to be acceptable to all communities.

Guided by this objective, the parties agreed to initiate discussions on substantive political issues such as, but not limited to:

- Power-sharing between the centre and the region, as well as within the centre;

- Geographical region;

- Human Rights protection;

- Political and administrative mechanism;

- Public finance;

- Law and order”.

The fact that agreement ended up being still born is seen from what happened since then ending with the “temporary suspension of the negotiations” in April 2003 by the Tigers, and the demand for a federal structure been elevated to a ‘confederal’ structure in the ISGA proposals of October that year. It is in this context some believe that transformation of the confederal structure to a separate state will be a matter of time. Ahead of the October 28-29 round of talks in Geneva, political leader of LTTE, Suppiah Thamilselvan has gone on record that it was not the intention of the organisation to focus on substantive issues until the restoration of normalcy has taken place and only after that they will be able to talk about people's political aims and aspirations. Having assured the international community that they will go to Geneva without conditions, Tamil Tigers have insisted in Geneva that future participation in the negotiations will depend on the opening of the A9 highway to the north. This is very much like the position the Tamil Tigers adopted during the 2002/2003 negotiations.

Let me conclude my presentation with some steps that need to be taken, if we were to focus on Sri Lanka tomorrow rather than today.

I. There should be a commitment on the part of parties to the conflict that the conflict can be resolved only through negotiations and that it must be a democratic solution.

II. Parties should address all issues affecting all minorities, including the Tamils.

III. The APRC process should be fast tracked with a view to reaching consensus on political settlement within the shortest possible period.

IV. The latest round of negotiations commenced in Geneva on October 28 should, within a specific time frame, focus on substantive matters with a view to ending the armed conflict and achieving a political settlement.

V. In the process of negotiations for a political settlement, the Government should not overlook the moderate Tamil parties and Muslims in the parliament.

VI. Following the stance taken by the LTTE in Geneva last week, the international community should encourage, failing which, pressurize, the LTTE not to leave the negotiating table under spurious pretexts.

- Asian Tribune -

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