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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2641

Aceh – Peace facilitation and Sri Lanka peace talks

By K.T.Rajasingham

Aceh and Eelam – agitations for separate states were launched - Aceh located in Sumatara, Indonesia and Eelam in Sri Lanka.

On 04 December 1976, ASNLF (Acheh / Sumatra National Liberation Front - Gerakan Acheh Merdeka (GAM), also called Free Acheh Movement, unilaterally declared independence. The leaders of the organization fled the country. By being in Sweden they continued with their struggle for a separate state of Aceh.

In the name of the sovereign people of Acheh, Sumatra, Tengku Hasan M.di Tiro Chairman, National Liberation Front of Acheh, Sumatra, and Head of State. Acheh, Sumatra, on December 4, 1976, unilaterally declared independence. Map showing location of Aceh in SumatraMap showing location of Aceh in Sumatra

“We, the people of Acheh, Sumatra, exercising our right of self-determination, and protecting our historic right of eminent domain to our fatherland, do hereby declare ourselves free and independent from all political control of the foreign regime of Jakarta and the alien people of the island of Java.

Our fatherland, Acheh, Sumatra, had always been a free and independent sovereign state since the world begun. Holland was the first foreign power to attempt to colonize us, when it declared war against the sovereign State of Acheh, on March 26, 1873, and on the same day invaded our territory, aided by Javanese mercenaries. The aftermath of this invasion was duly recorded on the front pages of contemporary newspapers all over the world.”

The struggle for Free and Independent Aceh went on until 26 December 2004. That was the fateful day nearly 170,000 people in Aceh perished due to Tsunami.

In the meantime, the promulgation of the 1972 Republican Sri Lanka Constitution resulted in the ethnic divide in the country, which led to the emergence of rebel organizations and the cry for a separate state. Tamil rebels began to show more and more inclination for a separate state of Tamil Eelam.

They found that successive Sri Lanka Governments as well as a large section of the Sinhalese ethnic group were not interested in even fulfilling the genuine grievances of the Tamils. This believes were confirmed by the successive ethnic riots where Sinhalese hoodlums attacked Tamil civilians, killed hundreds and chased the Tamils out of many cities and towns in the South. These events led to the Tamil youths to take up arms. Tamil youths took to arms to match the successive Sri Lanka Governments’ belligerent campaigns unleashed to subjugate the Tamils.

President J.R.Jeyawardhana in an attempt to find a military solution enacted the infamous Prevention of Terrorism Act (PATA) in July 1979. Subsequently Sri Lanka Army was for the first time given an active role in the Tamil areas. Jeyawardhana dispatched his nephew Brigadier Weeratunge to Jaffna in July 1979 with an order to wipe out terrorism by the end of the year.

Emergency regulations and the PTTA gave the opportunity for the armed forces to arrest, kill and cremate anyone with impunity.

Tamil rebel organizations gradually began to resist the Sri Lankan Army and police. After the ethnic holocaust of July 1983, Tamil youths were provided arm trainings in India. Raw – Research Analysis Wing was authorized to supply lethal weapons to these Tamil armed groups to fight the Sri Lankan army. At that time there were Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Peoples Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), and Eelam Revolutionary Student Organization (EROS) were the leading Tamil rebel groups which were involved in the militant campaigns against the Sri Lanka Government.

After 1984, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a rebel Tamil group led by Velupillai Prabhakaran expelled all the other Tamil groups and dominated the military campaign against the Government of Sri Lanka. They put forward a one line political agenda – “The thirst of the Tigers is the Tamil Eelam Homeland.” Unfortunately other than this they were not pragmatic enough to search for a political solution. They were branded as “separatists,” and gradually became an organization with impracticable political approach which in the end became internationally unacceptable.

In the meantime, Velupillai Prabhakaran in the name of Tamil nationalism was responsible for killing more Tamil civilians, Tamil academics and Tamil political leaders than the Tamils killed jointly by the Sri Lankan armed forces and Indian Peace Keeping Forces. Unfortunately, extra-judicial killings continue up to now unabated.

Since 1982, more than 19,887 Tamil youths have died in the battle for a separate state waged by Prabhakaran.

But after the 1987, after the signing up of the Indo-Lanka Accord, all the other major Tamil rebel organization has joined the democratic mainstream in Sri Lanka, thus isolating the LTTE.

International community which in the beginning recognized the Tamil rebel organizations as liberation fighters, but they gradually began to change their opinion and branded them as terrorists and terrorist organization. It all began with the suicide bomb attack, which led to the killing of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. Immediately, India proscribed LTTE, followed by United States of America, United Kingdom, 27 European Union countries and by Canada.

In 1995 December, Tigers lost Jaffna district to the Sri Lanka Army and were confined to Vanni which consisted of Kilinochchi, Mullaithievu and a section of Mannar districts in the North.

In 2000 Chandrika Kumaratunga, then President of Sri Lanka invited Norway to explore possibilities of playing a role as a peace facilitator between the LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka.

This invitation by Chandrika Kumaratunga brought the entry of Erik Solheim of Norway who put his political career on line in the peace process. Unfortunately he was outfoxed by the LTTE and Anton Balasingham.

Normally Scandinavians are straightforward people and they were new to the home grown cunningness of Jaffna man, especially that Vadamaradchians who are normally described even by the other people in Jaffna Peninsula as ‘submarines.’

With good intentions, Erik Solheim and the Government of Norway came forward to facilitate the peace talks between Tamil Tigers and the Government of Sri Lanka. Right from the beginning Erik Solheim and Norway adopted a very wrong concept in their role as a facilitator. Instead of treating the Government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers equally, they took the notion that Tigers are underdogs and they should be given special treatment in their facilitator role. This led to their failure to achieve any desired results in their peace facilitation.

In 2002 February, Norway managed to bring the Government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers to enter into a Ceasefire Agreement – script alleged to have been authored almost by Anton Balasingham.

When the Ceasefire Agreement was signed, LTTE remained a banned organization in Sri Lanka since 26 January 1998. The ban was lifted on 04 September with the view to pave way for the peace talks to be facilitated between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers.

The Ceasefire Agreement gave legitimacy to LTTE and declared that LTTE has under its control Vanni in the North and large part of Eastern Province.

Right from the beginning Tigers made use of the Ceasefire Agreement for their advancement, regrouping, building them militarily and working out a strategy to beat the Sri Lanka Government militarily.

Majority Sinhalese community begins to look at Norway’s peace facilitation as a pro-LTTE maneuvering, and they began to look at Norwegian efforts with suspicion and distrust.

The first Norway facilitated peace talks was held in Thailand on September 16 2002. The sixth round of talks was held in Tokyo, Japan on 18 March 2003.

After that LTTE refused to participate in the peace talks despite persuasion by Norwegian facilitators

The six rounds of talks were a futile exercise. All efforts, time, energy and the hope, trust and confidence Sri Lankans as well as the international community had on the Norwegian facilitated peace process was shattered.

Detail of Peace Talks:

1. Session 1 : September 16-18, 2002 – Thailand

2. Session 2 : October 31-November 3, 2002 – Thailand

3. Session 3 : December 2-5, 2002 – Norway

4.Session 4 : January 6-9, 2003 - Thailand

5.Session 5 : February 7-8, 2003 – Germany

6. Session 6 : March 18-21, 2003 - Japan

But it was a complete different story as far as the Aceh peace process was concerned.

When tsunami struck Aceh in Sumatra nearly 170,000 people in ach perished - a biggest single human disaster in the recent times.

Subsequently, Malik Mahmud, then Prime Minister of the Aceh Government in exile talking to this writer told “We decided that people deserve international aid and as Acheh was seriously affected and more than 170,000 people of our country perished. We ensured the safety of the international aid workers who came forward to help our people.”

Malik Mahmud, Prime Minister in exile told this writer that Gerakan Acheh Merdeka – (GAM), also called Free Acheh Movement, declared unilaterally a ceasefire to enable the INGOs and the international community to enter Aceh safely and help the people who were hit by a biggest catastrophe.

Following the declaration of the Ceasefire, a Finnish NGO - Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), Presided by Martti Ahtisaari, a former President of Finland, invited the Government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) to an informal meeting in Helsinki on 27-29 January 2005.

The aim of the meeting according to CMI was to establish a dialogue between the parties in the aftermath of the tsunami on 26 December 2004, which caused immeasurable human suffering and massive devastation in Aceh.

The meeting served as a confidence-building measure and aimed to identify common grounds on which to build eventual next steps.

“The discussions started as proximity talks, when I met both parties separately,” said Martti Ahtisaari in a press statement.

Leaders of Free Acheh Movement who were based in Sweden and in other Western countries participated in the formal round of talks along with the Indonesian Government representative.

- To be continued –

- Asian Tribune -

Also Read:

Declaration of Independence of Acheh – Sumatra To The peoples Of The World

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