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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 81

Tigers hide behind torn CFA to dodge Sri Lankan government's moves in Geneva

By H. L. D. Mahindapala - Editorial Consultant, Asian Tribune

Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, Head of the delegation of the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL), walked into the Geneva talks yesterday carrying a hawk on one shoulder and a dove on the other. In his opening speech he bluntly reminded the Tamil Tiger delegation led by S. P. Tamilselvam "not to consider (GoSL's) commitment to the peace process as a sign of weakness".

In the same breath he emphasized that the Government was strongly committed to finding a peaceful and indigenous solution to the conflict. He quoted the broad formula outlined by President Mahinda Rajapakse which states that "any solution needs to as a matter of urgency allow people to take charge of their own destiny."

While Siripala de Silva covered a wide range of issues - from human rights to dismantling of illegal facilities of the Tamil Tigers -- the response of S. P. Tamilselvan, leader of Tamil Tiger delegation, was confined essentially to the implementation of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA).

In the words of Tamilselvan: "The best we can hope for from the current talks is therefore, the strengthening of the CFA agreement that has the potential to lead to a permanent, just peace in this island....We request the international community, the Co-Chairs and the Norwegian facilitators to act to ensure one hundred percent the implementation of the CFA and the strengthening the role of the SLMM."

Reading this, analysts agree that Tamilselvan offered no hope of going beyond the framework of the CFA. The CFA is the only instrument available to the Tamil Tigers whose main objective is to silence the guns of the GoSL, either through their military offensives or through the pressures of the international community. . Tamilselvan says:

"The international community has an important role in ensuring its implementation. The international community has the capacity to bring pressure on the GoSL, stop lending
support to the GoSL for its ethnically motivated killings and end it sassistance to the GoSL for its military offensives."

Despite its bravado and threats to annihilate the Sri Lankan Army the Tamil Tigers are desperately soliciting the aid of the international community to put pressure on the GoSL to stop any military reaction to their provocative attacks on civilians and armed forces.

Yesterday Siripala de Silva openly accused the Tamil Tigers of resorting to provocative action when he said:

"The GOSL is all the more dismayed and shocked over the LTTE's violent designs aimed at deliberately contriving an ethnic backlash by provocations of this nature in the Sinhala majority areas and selecting civilian areas."

As things stand now, the Tamil Tigers need a breather to recover from the recent reverses and losses of men and military hardware. The only way they could recover is by manipulating the international community to tie the hands of the army. This explains why Tamilselvan is concentrating fully on the CFA excluding all the other factors.

Siripala de Silva's approach to normalize the current situation is different. He outlined the following conditions to take the peace process forward:

"First, political parties should be given free access to all parts of Sri Lanka, which include the uncleared areas as well as the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts. They should be able to campaign, express dissent, have offices, and operate free of intimidation, threats, and violence.

"Second, democratic institutions should be allowed to function freely and without interference. This includes all offices of the Government of Sri Lanka, including its judicial and law enforcement institutions.

"Third a single mechanism of law and order should be able to function throughout the country, in order to effectively enforce laws and prosecute criminals. This requires providing access to the Police personnel to certain areas, which are currently denied to them, such as the districts of Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi.

"Fourth the groundwork for full democratization of the North and East must be laid. All levels of society, from political leaders to students, could be involved in a process of exploration and discussion, the concept of free expression, on the substantive issues surrounding democracy, including issues of devolution and power-sharing," he said.

"Foremost among these issues are the restoration of democracy, political pluralism, meaningful devolution, human rights and economic development," he added.

To rub salt into their wound Erik Solheim, the Norwegian Minister and facilitator, is reported to have said, in his opening remarks that any proposed political solution must be "within the unity and sovereignty of one Sri Lankan state".

From the two opening statements delivered in Geneva yesterday by Siripala de Silva and Tamilselvan it is clear that there is no meeting point between their two positions. Solheim's statement too adds strength to the position taken by GoSL which insists on preserving territorial integrity. It is obvious that the only card available to the Tamil Tiger is to take cover behind the CFA - an agreement which they had violated until nothing is left of it.

Furthermore, in his speech Siripala de Silva has also come down hard on the Tamil Tigers and insisted that the LTTE should dismantle all illegal facilities that threaten national, regional and international interests. Example: illegal and clandestine airstrips in Iranamadu and Mullaitivu.

He said: "We would caution that such illegal facilities, which has been established contrary to international regulations, be dismantled before any serious harm is caused. In the past, the LTTE has been known to have recklessly carried out acts of violent aggression in our region, affecting the interests of foreign states not involved in the conflict, including the assassination of a former Prime Minister of India, publicly acknowledged by the LTTE, and the destruction of a Chinese vessel with death and injury to its crew. These must be immediately dismantled."

Where does this demand leave the Tamil Tigers and the peace process? Basically, it implies that the gap is widening. As the gap widens what will the desperate Tamil Tigers do? Their behaviour pattern runs on predictable lines: they immediately strike the pose of the good guys before the international community in order to paint the GoSL as the bad guys. Of course, both sides accused each other of violating human rights and the Ceasefire Agreement.

Apart from that, it is significant that the GoSL was not speaking this time in a passive or appeasing tone. Siripala de Silva did not hesitate to focus on the new political alliances between the SLFP and the UNP which represents 90% of the electorate. The tone and main thrust of his speech exuded confidence and a readiness to take on the challenges posed by the Tamil Tigers.

On his part, Tamilselvan admits that they came to Geneva because of pressure from the international community. The Norwegian facilitators found that unlike the hierarchy in Kilinochchi the GoSL officials were easily accessible, from the President downwards. But the same facility was not available to them to meet Prabhakaran. The reluctance to come to talks coupled with the intransigence attitude of refusing to engage in core issues
are not promising signs for the latest round of talks.

According to Erik Solheim, the international community is impatient, wanting a quick resolution to the longest running terrorist movement in Asia. They are happy that the last stumbling bloc of the south for a negotiated settlement was removed when the UNP agreed to join in a working arrangement with the GoSL on core issues. The odd man out is Prabhakaran.

Some commentators claim that this is the last chance for peace in Sri Lanka. From the positions taken by both sides it is also clear that nothing substantial is going to come out of the talks. And if anyone is going to pull out it will be the Tamil Tigers as they have done umpteen times before on flimsy excuses.

If anything at all, Geneva II is not likely to differ from Geneva I. The on-again-off-again talks do not augur well for peace. So how many more Genevas must we count before any hopes of peace can dawn?

- Asian Tribune -

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