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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2789

Co-Chairs issue the same old warnings after three years of failure in Sri Lanka

By H. L. D. Mahindapala

After three years of work since the original Tokyo Conference the four Co-Chairs – Norway, EU, Japan and US -- met in Tokyo “at a time when Sri Lanka is on the brink of war” and ended by issuing predictable warnings to both the Government and the LTTE.

Confessing in a press release that “the international community can only support but cannot deliver peace” the Co-Chairs warned the LTTE they should act to (1) re-enter the negotiating process; (2) renounce terrorism and violence; (3) show a willingness to make political compromises needed for a political solution within a united Sri Lanka and (4) respect the democratic rights of all peoples of Sri Lanka. “Failure to do so will lead to deeper isolation of the LTTE,” it said.

The Co-Chairs also warned the Government that (1) it must show that it will address the legitimate grievances of the Tamils; (2) it must immediately prevent groups based in its territory from carrying out violence and acts of terrorism; (3). it must protect the rights and security of Tamils throughout the country and ensure violators are prosecuted and that (4) it must show that it is ready to make the dramatic political changes to bring about a new system of governance which will enhance the rights of all Sri Lankans, including the Muslims. “Failure to take such steps will diminish international support,” it said.

The repetition of the usual formulas of the Co-chairs indicates that they are a more than a bit tired of their own failures to advance the peace process. Yashushi Akashi and Erik Solheim – the two key negotiators who had come out of the Vanni time and time again empty handed – are scouting around for new actors to get involved in the peace process. Both are pressuring India to play a more significant role. Akashi has even approached Australia to get involved. But there are no takers. Both Akashi and Solheim seem exhausted by their efforts which have not produced any measurable success. They seem to be even a tad irritated by the criticisms leveled at them. They say: “there has been increasing criticism of and even open attacks against these actors lately. The Co-Chairs condemn absolutely these attacks.”

Apart from patting themselves and Erik Solheim on the back (a regular routine of the Co-chairs) the vague silver lining in the gloomy war clouds gathering over Sri Lanka appears when the Co-Chairs states: “While the situation gives cause for grave concern, the Co-Chairs concluded that the ingredients for a peaceful settlement remain present. The majority in Sri Lanka still seek peace.” Analysts say that this is another cliché which fails to give any positive hope for the weary war victims of Sri Lanka.

This statement comes at a time when the LTTE has been hit hard by the EU ban. The LTTE, however, is confident that it can circumvent the ban – as it has done in Australia, UK and USA – and continue to raise funds and carry on their terrorist propaganda and lobbying, though with some difficulties. Political analysts do not expect a significant change in the tactics of the LTTE.

It may put a halt to the immediate break-out of its war postponed after it was hit by the tsunami. But this resolution of Co-chairs, like the Ceasefire Agreement which came with international guarantees, is not likely to restrain the LTTE from carrying on its violence. It gained a commanding position by eliminating all its rivals through violence. It has gained recognition through violence. It has survived as a political entity because of its near monopoly of violence. And it will continue with violence as it neither trusts nor hopes to achieve their goals except through violence.

Even as the Co-Chairs were warning the LTTE to renounce violence reports were coming in of LTTE massacring innocent civilians. The Co-Chairs also know that it has greater leverage with the elected governments of Sri Lanka than with the authoritarian regime of the LTTE. For instance, it can get away with snubbing the two “facilitators” – Yashushi Akashi and Erik Solheim – as often as it wishes which the Sri Lankan government, faced with all restraints of a democratically elected government, would refrain from doing.

LTTE has been allowed to get away with so many crimes against humanity and war crimes that they have become a law unto themselves knowing that the most that they will have face are warnings and press communiqués. So far it has defied the threats to ban it by the EU and even threatened that the EU ban is likely to lead them to war.

Most analysts believed that the threat to go to war was pure bluff and it was proved right. On the eve of the EU ban the LTTE agreed to go to talks in Geneva. But analysts do not expect the LTTE to follow the warnings of the Co-chairs and renounce violence and terrorism and show a willingness to make political compromises. If it does the LTTE might be a candidate for the next Nobel Prize for Peace.

Here is the full text of the communiqué issued by the Co-Chairs that met in Tokyo:

The Tokyo Co-Chairs appeal to Sri Lanka to pull back from crisis

Co-Chairs met today in Tokyo at a time when Sri Lanka is on the brink of war.

Japan convened this meeting, three years after the original Tokyo Conference on Reconstruction and Development of Sri Lanka, to decide whether the Co-Chairs, namely the European Union, Japan, US and Norway, can usefully help further in addressing Sri Lanka’s crisis when the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE do not seem to be able to prevent the sliding back into violence.

The Co-Chairs call on both parties to take immediate steps to reverse the deteriorating situation and put the country back on the road to peace.

The LTTE must re-enter the negotiating process. It must renounce terrorism and violence. It must show that it is willing to make the political compromises needed for a political solution within a united Sri Lanka. This solution should include democratic rights of all peoples of Sri Lanka. The international community will respond favorably to such actions; failure to do so will lead to deeper isolation of the LTTE.

The Government must show that it will address the legitimate grievances of the Tamils. It must immediately prevent groups based in its territory from carrying out violence and acts of terrorism. It must protect the rights and security of Tamils throughout the country and ensure violators are prosecuted. It must show that it is ready to make the dramatic political changes to bring about a new system of governance which will enhance the rights of all Sri Lankans, including the Muslims. The international community will support such steps; failure to take such steps will diminish international support.

The Co-Chairs recognize that both parties have responsibilities which they have failed to deliver upon, including the commitments made at their meeting in Geneva in February 2006. The LTTE is responsible for numerous terrorist attacks. The Government has failed to prevent attacks of armed groups, including Karuna and violent elements of EPDP.

The violence that has resulted is no longer confined to the parties to the conflict but has spilled over to ruin or end the lives of innocent civilians. This has led to a breakdown of law and order and the terrorization of the affected population. Abuses of human rights have been assessed recently by the UN and others. The Co-Chairs call on all parties to respect human rights and pursue human rights’ abuses. This situation is not sustainable and the country will continue its slide into greater conflict unless the two protagonists cease all violence and resolve their differences through peaceful negotiation.

While the situation gives cause for grave concern, the Co-Chairs concluded that the ingredients for a peaceful settlement remain present. The majority in Sri Lanka still seek peace. All Co-Chairs renewed their commitment to do all possible to help Sri Lanka in a manner that promotes peace and to support the current Norwegian-facilitated peace effort. Other countries and organizations share this view and wish to support the Co-Chairs’ effort. To this end, the Co-Chairs will explore interest for allocating tasks to other groups of countries to improve the efficiency of work within the areas defined by the participants in the Tokyo Conference three years ago.

The Tamil and Muslim peoples of Sri Lanka have justified and substantial grievances that have not yet been adequately addressed. The Co-Chairs encourage the Government of the Sri Lanka to further develop concrete policies for addressing the grievances of minorities and for building mutual confidence between different communities. The Co-Chairs and the international community will support the Government’s efforts towards implementing such policies.

However, three years of work since the original Tokyo Conference shows the international community can only support but cannot deliver peace. Peace can only be delivered by Sri Lankans themselves. The Co-Chairs’ role can be meaningful only where those parties want to help themselves in bringing peace with commitment and honesty.

Both parties have agreed to the basic principles of any future peace during the successful period of negotiation in 2002-2003. The parties should recommit to these principles set down in the Ceasefire Agreement, the decisions from the six rounds of talks, and the meeting in Geneva in February 2006. In this context, the Co-Chairs will support any solution agreed by the parties that safeguards the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka, assures protection and fulfils the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil people and indeed of the Muslim people, guarantees democracy and human rights, and is acceptable to all communities. Norway has prepared a number of initiatives for the parties to return to talks, which will be issued shortly. The Co-Chairs endorsed these initiatives.

The solutions to the problem cannot be brought through conflict – the history of Sri Lanka shows that war is not winnable for either side and simply causes immense suffering to the citizens. Finding solutions requires political commitment, imagination and spirit of compromise and the responsibility for this lies solely with the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE.

The Co-Chairs reiterate their support for the important role of Norway as facilitator to the peace process and the ceasefire monitoring activities of Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) in an increasingly difficult situation. At the same time, it is necessary to examine how to strengthen the role of SLMM.

The Co-chairs note that over $ 3,400 million has been provided by donors based on Tokyo pledges and tsunami funds, and more than 20% of that assistance has been allocated to the North and East including LTTE controlled area. Such assistance has contributed to improving the livelihood of people in Sri Lanka. As long as the commitment to the Ceasefire Agreement by both parties is proven by way of their actions, the international community will continue its assistance in addition to humanitarian aid. As improvement of health, education and development is important as confidence-building measures, the Co-Chairs could also provide funding to support the efforts to meet these critical needs.

The Co-Chairs reaffirm that a continuous and positive involvement of the UN, Red Cross, and civil society, including the NGOs, in the peace process is vital. However, there has been increasing criticism of and even open attacks against these actors lately. The Co-Chairs condemn absolutely these attacks. The Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE should ensure their protection so their positive work for Sri Lanka can continue. The Co-Chairs will follow up closely the findings of the agencies involved in monitoring human rights, such as the UN and SLMM.

Three years ago at the original Tokyo Conference, the international community was requested to support the peace process. The key elements to this process were the facilitation by Norway, the monitoring role of the SLMM, the Co-Chairs and substantial aid flows from a multitude of donors. The international community remains committed to its supporting role agreed three years ago but it turns to the government and LTTE to deliver on their side of the bargain if war is to be avoided.

- Asian Tribune -

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