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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2526

Aceh – Peace facilitation and Sri Lanka peace talks – A Comparison

By K.T.Rajasingham

A Comparison: Formal round – Acheh by Finland: Eelam by Norway

Delegates representing the Free Acheh Movement (GAM) were invited to participate in the formal round of talks along with the Indonesian Government representatives.

The delegation of the Government of Indonesia and the representatives of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) arrived in Helsinki on 27 January 2005. On the same day, President Martti Ahtisaari has met both parties of the Aceh to talk separately about their concerns and expectations in the formal meeting.

The parties of the ongoing Aceh talks - delegation of the Indonesian Government and the representatives of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) have had separate meetings initially and later had joint discussions with President Martti Ahtisaari on 28 and 29 January, at the Königstedt Manor, in Vantaa, Finland.The representatives of the GAM outside the meeting venue in Finland on January 28, 2005. From left to right: Dr. Zaini Abdullah, Mr. Malik Mahmud, President Martti Ahtisaari, Mr. Nurdin Abdul Rahman, Mr. Bakhtiar Abdullah, Mr. Nur Djuli.The representatives of the GAM outside the meeting venue in Finland on January 28, 2005. From left to right: Dr. Zaini Abdullah, Mr. Malik Mahmud, President Martti Ahtisaari, Mr. Nurdin Abdul Rahman, Mr. Bakhtiar Abdullah, Mr. Nur Djuli.

It was later reported that negotiations had been conducted in a constructive atmosphere. On 28 January covered issues on the humanitarian catastrophe in the region and the post-tsunami reconstruction.

Similarly, the ‘Formal Talks’ between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Government of Sri Lanka was held on 16 – 18 September 2004.

Before the scheduled talks, I (this writer) was invited to participate in a panel discussion, held at the Chulalongkorn University, in Bangkok, Thailand. This panel discussion was organized by an internationally reputed human rights organization in the South East Asian region - Forum Asia. This discussion was arranged to assist the Thai media with a brief overview of the situation in Sri Lanka. This media briefing was done with the view to make the participating media representatives to get to know the background information of Sri Lanka, so that they would be in a position to understand the forthcoming negotiations, to be held in Thailand, between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

I was invited in my capacity as a journalist, Editor and on top of it all, as a Sri Lankan. My views were heard by more than one hundred leading Thai journalists, as well as by dozens of editors, writers and political commentators.

In the panel discussion, one of the most important question asked was my views regarding the peace negotiation. They asked me whether I am optimistic of the whole process that is going to take place in Thailand, from 16 September, 2002, until the Doomsday. I used the word Doomsday, because even the Norwegian facilitators were yet not sure, whether the talks will ever continue and end that soon positively.

According to one news report, Norwegian State Secretary Vidar Helgesen has said, "If the parties get an interim solution it will still have a way to go to a final settlement. In that sense, I think we're talking of years rather than months." These were the very words of Helgesen.

I am giving below the report of the panel discussion held at the Chulalongkorn University, in Bangkok:

Peace is noble and elusive and better we pray for it.

K.T.Rajasingham

Last Friday, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion, which was held at the GM Hall, SASA International House, of Chulalongkorn University, in Bangkok, Thailand. This panel discussion was organized by one internationally reputed human rights organization in the Asian region - Forum Asia. This discussion was organized to assist the Thai media with a brief overview of the situation in Sri Lanka. This media briefing was done with the view to make the participating media representatives to get to know the background information of Sri Lanka, so that they would be in a position to understand the forthcoming negotiations, to be held in Thailand, between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

I gave them an objective analysis of the political situation in Sri Lanka. I also gave them a brief political history of the country. I think it was the first time the media personnel who participated in the discussion had come across a journalist from the Tamil ethnicity of Sri Lanka. They began to shoot many questions at me. It was indeed a hard bargain.

One of the most important questions asked was of my views regarding the peace negotiations. They asked me whether I am optimistic of the whole process that is going to take place in Thailand, from 16 September, until the Doomsday. I used the word Doomsday, because even the Norwegian facilitators are yet not sure, whether the talks will ever end and end that soon.

According to one report, that the Norwegian State Secretary Vidar Helgesen has said, "If the parties get an interim solution it will still have a way to go to a final settlement. In that sense, I think we're talking of years rather than months." These were the very words of Helgesen.

When Helgesen can say that, “we're talking of years, rather than months,” then I think that, there is nothing wrong in me making a remark of Doomsday. Furthermore, I told them that, the question of optimism does not arise. I am not sure of the meaning of the word ‘optimism,’ in this context. Optimism according to my dictionary means: (1) the tendency to take the most hopeful view in all matters; (2) the doctrine of the triumph of good over evil.
Therefore, how is it possible for one to have the tendency to take the most hopeful view in all matters in this issue of peace negotiation? I cannot be optimistic for the simple reason that Anton Balasingham representing the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam will be discussing with Professor G.L.Peris, who will be representing the Sri Lankan Government.

They can talk, and talk forever. They can even argue, they can agree and they can finalize anything and everything they wanted to finalize. As an eighth wonder, these talks can last that long to arrive at a conclusion and as the ninth wonder, even the Tiger Supremo could come forward to agree to agree with those decisions arrived at the conference table, but, LTTE leader is not going to be the final arbiter in this case.

It is the Sinhala fundamentalism, the chauvinism, the Sinhala-Buddhist ethno-religious fanaticism that is going to have the final say in these issues and no one else. I wish that the readers would mark my words and record them for future reference, when these words become a reality.

We have not got any earlier precedents to base our optimism in the forthcoming negotiations. Earlier, D S Senanayake moved a motion in the State Council, on November 8 1945, for the acceptance of the Soulbury Constitution. D.S.Senanayake gave the following solemn promise to the Tamil leaders and assured that they need not worry of any harm at the hands Sinhalese, in a free Lanka. He was appealing in the State Council to the Tamil members.

"Please have faith in us and see whether we are the worthy descendants of the mighty Sinhalese race or not. Do you want to be governed from London or do you want, as Ceylon, to help govern Ceylon? ... On behalf of the Ceylon National Congress and on my behalf, I give the minority communities the sincere assurance that no harm needs you fears at our hands in a free Lanka. Please let us work with this Constitution a trial and we will prove to you that your fears are unfounded"

But in 1948, the very year Ceylon (Sri Lanka) gained Independence; D.S.Senanayake blatantly went back on the promise by depriving one million Tamils of their citizenship. The Citizenship Act No.18 of 1948, made nearly one million Tamils, stateless and vote-less. This was the same Senanyake, who colonized the Sinhalese in South of Batticalao, thus changing the ethnic demography of the region.

In 1956, SWRD Bandaranaike introduced Sinhala Language as the official language of the country, without taking into consideration the language rights of the Tamils. Again he entered into an agreement with S.J.V.Chelvanayakam on 27 July 1957. Subsequently, in February 1958, when a large group of saffron-robed Buddhist monks occupied the lawn of Bandaranaike’s private residence, located at Rosmead Place, Colombo, demanding the abrogation of the Pact, he immediately tore the Pact in front of the clergies, without even considering informing Chelvanayakam of his intention.

His wife Srimavo Bandaranaike, as well as Dudley Senanayke failed to live up to the promises and agreements they entered with the Tamil leaders. It was J.R.Jayewardene who first ventured into a military solution to the ethnic conflict and at last Chandrika Kumaratunga, the present President of Sri Lanka, introduced a barbarous theory “war for peace.” It amounts to bring about peace after subduing the Tamils militarily.

The above facts are very clear indications that, for the last 52 years, the Sinhalese leaders have failed to live up to their words and therefore it is very difficult to be optimistic for the simple reason that Ramil Wickremasinghe, the Prime Minister has come forward to negotiate peace with the Tamil Tigers.

Furthermore, I can’t be complacent with the fact that, everything would end well, when Anton Balasingham represents the Tamil Tiger side. He has represented earlier too in a few unsuccessful negotiations on behalf of the LTTE, with the government of Sri Lanka.

From April 1989 to 11 June 1991, Anton Balasingham negotiated with the Sri Lankan government under President Premadasa. Finally on 11 June 1991, Eelam War 2 was launched by the LTTE against the Sri Lankan Government.

Since 1994 November until April 1995 Anton Balasingham was involved in a negotiation with Chandrika Kumaratunga’s representatives. Ultimately, Anton Balasingham wrote the book, “The Politics of Duplicity” and Prabhakran launched the Eelam War 3. Therefore, the ability of the Tamil negotiation team is undoubtedly questionable, when the life of the millions of the Tamils including me is on line.

Therefore, taking into consideration of the facts above mentioned, I told the Thai media representatives that, I cannot be optimistic, but I exercise caution and pray for a sustainable peace in my country."

The Formal Peace Talks was held at Sattahip, Thailand, on 16 September 2002. Along with the delegates of the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Norwegian facilitators invited Bangkok based diplomats, to participate in the launching of the formal meeting. Though Thailand played the role as host to the peace talks, Thai Prime Minister Thakshin Shinawatara or Foreign Minister Surakiat Sathirathai did not turn up for the inaugural meeting. Thailand gave a low keyed reception by sending the Permanent Secretary to the Foreign Ministry to participate in the Formal meeting. Some diplomats told later that there was no necessity for such Tamashas.

Vidar Helgesen, State Secretary, and Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the formal inaugural session of the Peace Talks at Sattahip, Thailand, on 16 September 2002 said: “There exists today a state of relative peace in Sri Lanka, built on the ceasefire agreement in force since February. This relative peace indicates that ultimately a political settlement of the ethnic conflict can be found. In this quest, the parties cannot be left alone. Neither can the accompaniment of the Norwegian Government suffice. They need to be accompanied by the entire international community. It has been a long and, at times, thorny process to get this far. No less difficult times are ahead. The parties will confront problems that can only be solved through painstaking effort and painful compromise. Close to twenty years of armed conflict cannot be resolved overnight. Coming from a very difficult past, Sri Lanka has no easy way forward."

The delegation of the Government of Indonesia outside the meeting venue in Finland on January 28, 2005. From left to right: Mr. I Gusti Agung Wesaka Pudja, Mr. Farid Husain, Mr. Sofyan Djalil, President Martti Ahtisaari, Mr. Hamid Awaludin, Mr. Usman Basyah.The delegation of the Government of Indonesia outside the meeting venue in Finland on January 28, 2005. From left to right: Mr. I Gusti Agung Wesaka Pudja, Mr. Farid Husain, Mr. Sofyan Djalil, President Martti Ahtisaari, Mr. Hamid Awaludin, Mr. Usman Basyah.

In contrast to Vidar Helgessen talks, President Martti Ahtisaari, Chairman of the Board of the Crisis Management Initiative of Finland made a statement after the successful conclusion of formal talks with delegates of the Free Acheh Movement (GAM) Indonesian Government representatives on 29 January 2005 as follows:

Search for a peaceful solution with dignity for all

“In my capacity as Chairman of the Board of the Crisis Management Initiative, a Finnish NGO, I 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 was to re-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. In order to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance I urged the parties to refrain from military activities.

The meeting served as a confidence-building measure and aimed to identify common ground on which to build eventual next steps. The discussions started as proximity talks on Thursday when I met both parties separately. On Friday morning the delegations met in joint sessions which I chaired. On Friday afternoon and Saturday the parties had direct talks without a facilitator.

The discussions started with a review of the humanitarian situation and delivery of assistance in Aceh. Then parties started exploring whether it would be possible to find a comprehensive solution in the framework of special autonomy for Aceh. Within this framework the parties covered issues such as long-term socio-economic development and reconstruction, security arrangements, terms for demobilization and reintegration, amnesty, lifting of the civil emergency, guarantees and monitoring of undertakings by the parties, elections, justice and human rights.

I have extended an invitation to the parties for a second meeting in Helsinki.

After the formal meeting in Helsinki, Free Acheh Movement (GAM) was keeping the peace negotiation in tenterhooks as they have so far not finalized their stance on their participation in the second round of the peace talks to be held in Helsinki.

Bakthiar Abdullah, spokesman of the Free Acheh Movement told this writer that they have received the invitation for the participation of the second round of Peace talks scheduled to be held on 21 February in Helsinki, but he added, “We are not ready yet.”

The spokesman said that invitation does not specify any important issues in the agenda except the formal request to participate in the talks with the Indonesian Government representatives facilitated by Crisis Management Initiative – a NGO based in Helsinki led by Martti Ahtisaari, the former president of Finland.

Earlier the first round of informal meeting was held in Helsinki on 27-29 January 2005. The aim of the meeting was to re-establish a dialogue between the parties in the aftermath of the tsunami on 26 December 2004.

That was the first meeting between the two sides since the Tokyo dialogue failed on 18 May 2003 and a martial law was imposed on the following day by the Indonesian government.

Bakthiar Abdullah reminded that Tokyo Conference failed because Indonesian delegation tried to impose on them conditions that were outside the agenda.

He said the first meeting served as a confidence-building measure and aimed to identify common ground on which to build eventual next steps, but the second meeting has to be formal and talks must proceed based on an acceptable agenda.

Indonesia announced after the first round of talks that the country would consider any solution to Acheh conflict that does not involve independence.

Free Acheh Movement expressed its full and unstinting commitment to achieve peace in Acheh and to negotiate a formal ceasefire that is the basis for further peace talks to bring to an end the armed conflict since 1976 December 04 after the Declaration of Independence by the Free Acheh Movement.

At the first formal meeting, Free Acheh Movement delegates insisted “A formal Ceasefire Agreement is the basis for future talks”

Bakthiar Abdullah told this writer that their position since 1976 December has not changed. He emphasized: “Achehean should have the right of self-determination leading to independence.”

– To be contiued -

- Asian Tribune -

Also Read:

Aceh – Peace facilitation and Sri Lanka peace talks

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