SRI LANKA PEACE PROCESS: PROBLEMS AND
SECRETARY GENERAL, SECRETARIAT FOR COORDINATING
THE PEACE PROCESS, AND
SENIOR ADVISER TO THE PRESIDENT OF SRI LANKA
ASIA SOCIETY, WASHINGTON DC
12TH SEPTEMBER 2005
Over nine years ago, I had the pleasure of addressing
the Asia Society’s Washington Centre as my country’s
Ambassador to the USA. The subject of my presentation then was
the conflict in Sri Lanka and the steps that were being taken
to negotiate a solution notably through the 1995 Constitutional
proposals. While those and subsequent steps have not been successful,
my themes were that the presence of disaffected minorities in
democracies was not a basis for secession and that violence and
terrorism are inadmissible as a means of redressing grievances
under any circumstances. Those themes remain valid.
Since my last address here the quest for peace
in Sri Lanka has gone on despite changes in government through
democratic elections. Each chapter of the peace process has contributed
its lessons both positive and negative. No peace process can succeed
unless both parties to the conflict genuinely want success. For
a non-state organization like the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
(LTTE) - built as a war machine with single minded aims of secession,
one party dictatorship, and racial exclusivism- the transition
into adopting a non-violent political approach, the give and take
of negotiations and abiding by the global norms of democracy and
human rights has been very difficult. Peace has to be built on
a foundation of democracy, human rights, development and disarmament
with the human security and legitimate aspirations of all citizens
assured if it is to be durable.
Before I focus on the problems and prospects
and in order to clear the unique “fog of peace” in
Sri Lanka, let me give you a brief background to the current phase
of the peace process. The genesis of this phase is in a ceasefire
agreement which was brokered by Norway and signed by the Government
of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in
Direct talks between the government and LTTE
with Norwegian facilitation began in September 2002. Six rounds
of negotiations were held with a thematic focus on political issues,
humanitarian relief, reconstruction and development of the North
and the East, military issues of normalization and de-escalation,
human rights, gender issues, and children in armed conflict. Full
implementation of the decisions made on these themes have not
been possible due to the fact that talks between the two parties
have been stalled since April 2003, when the LTTE unilaterally
walked away from the negotiating table.
The peace process in Sri Lanka at present can
therefore best be characterized as a ‘no war, no peace’
situation with the whole weight of the peace process being carried
on the shoulders of the CFA. The CFA is itself under enormous
strain due to almost daily violations by the LTTE which, at the
end of August this year had reached a total of 3113 as against
141 by the government according to the independent rulings of
the Nordic ceasefire monitors. The assassination of Mr. Lakshman
Kadirgamar, the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka on 12 August this
year was the most egregious of such LTTE violations. Acts such
as these have led to the collapse of peace processes in some other
countries. Despite this grave provocation, the GOSL will continue
to strictly adhere to and respect the CFA while seeking to improve
Because of the systematic violations of several
provisions of the Ceasefire, and especially the LTTE’s refusal
to hold problem-solving talks in conflict zones between commanders
of the GOSL armed forces and LTTE area leaders (Article 3.11),
the Government has been, for quite sometime, asking for a review
of the implementation of the CFA. This has been resisted by the
LTTE, until now. But, in the face of the outrage expressed by
the international community over the Kadirgamar assassination,
the LTTE agreed to these talks with remarkable speed. However,
negotiations on a venue for these talks have proved inconclusive.
The GOSL has maintained that it wants the meeting to be held in
Sri Lanka in consideration of the nature of the talks, while the
LTTE wanted a venue outside Sri Lanka or in Killinochchi, which
is in the LTTE dominated area. The Norwegians in their most recent
effort to find a compromise solution suggested the International
Airport as a venue, on the basis that if the LTTE is prepared
to travel abroad for a meeting, then they have to be ready to
pass through the same airport. The GOSL accepted this proposal,
but the LTTE has rejected it. The GOSL is, therefore, compelled
to come to the conclusion that the LTTE was not sincere when they
readily agreed to hold these talks.
Going beyond a review of the implementation of
the CFA, the GOSL is also concerned about the qualitative nature
of CFA violations committed by the LTTE and the lack of provision
for targeted sanctions against violations. Most violations of
the CFA by the LTTE fall into the category of human rights violations
such as child recruitment, political killings, abductions, torture,
extortions and harassment.
The LTTE has recruited and used children as soldiers
throughout the conflict in Sri Lanka and especially since 1987.
In 2003, the GOSL and the LTTE formally agreed to an Action Plan
for Children Affected by War that included a pledge by the LTTE
to end all recruitment of children. This was in fact the only
signed agreement to result from the peace talks. After initially
releasing a handful of children, they appear to have abandoned
the Action Plan altogether. Indeed UNICEF under whose aegis the
Action Plan was developed and signed, has documented a significant
increase in under-age recruitment in recent months. As of 31 July
2005, the total under-age recruitment cases known to UNICEF was
5081 children. Of these, 1209 children are continuing to be used
as child combatants by the LTTE at present.
In this context the government welcomes the United
Nations Security Council Resolution 1612 of July 26, 2005 on protection
of children in armed conflict. The Resolution calls for “targeted
and graduated measures” to be imposed on parties that are
in violation of international law relating to the rights and protection
of children in armed conflict. The LTTE is named as an Offending
Party under the Resolution, for its continued recruitment and
forcible abduction of children into its fighting forces.
The LTTE’s lack of tolerance for political
dissent, which made it one of the most feared terrorist organizations
in the world prior to the ceasefire, has also not undergone any
change in the post CFA period. Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader
of the LTTE in his first media conference following the CFA, when
questioned whether the LTTE would allow other political groups
to operate in the North and the East stated that ‘We can
assure you that other political parties, whatever their policies
may be - will be allowed to function in the north and east’.
It is a promise that he has not kept. Despite these assurances
systematic killings, abductions, and torture of opponents and
even inadvertent dissidents have continued posing a serious threat
to the CFA.
These violations continue with impunity, as the
success of the CFA depends on good faith of both parties, and
on a naming and shaming concept which does not work well with
the LTTE. Given these gaps in the CFA, there is now a growing
consensus on the need for a separate human rights agreement to
supplement the CFA.
This preoccupation with the CFA and its limitations
has also diverted attention from the core issues that underpin
the conflict. The lack of direct face-to-face peace negotiations
since April 2003 has meant that it has not been possible to make
any progress on the substantive core issues of the conflict, three
years after the CFA, despite the best efforts of the Government.
Dialogue is vital for a peace process to move forward.
The problem has been in relation to developing
an agenda acceptable to both sides. The LTTE has taken the stance
that the next round of negotiations must be based solely on its
proposal for an Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA) in the
North and East of Sri Lanka put forward in October 2003, whereas
the GOSL has insisted that the next round of negotiations must
be on all available proposals for an Interim Authority (IA), provided
the IA as well as the final settlement, is based on the Oslo decision
of December 5, 2002.
The Oslo decision was one of the most significant
achievements of the six rounds of peace talks, a paradigm shift,
where the GOSL and the LTTE agreed ‘to explore a solution
founded on the principle of internal self-determination, based
on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka’. This
was a significant breakthrough towards an enduring political settlement
of the island's armed conflict. It was an indication that the
LTTE was willing to give up its demand for a separate state, i.e.
external self-determination and that the GOSL was willing to consider
constitutional reforms to accommodate a federal system of devolution
and power sharing. The LTTE in recent times have however refused
to even refer to their commitment to power sharing on the basis
of a federal solution.
A factor which I believe has contributed to the
current impasse and the intransigence of the LTTE on the agenda,
is the internecine violence in the East of Sri Lanka as a result
of the defection of Karuna, the leader of the Eastern command
of the LTTE in March 2004. He demanded that the GOSL and Nordic
monitors recognise his group as an entity separate from the LTTE
under the CFA. The LTTE’s preoccupation with neutralizing
Karuna cadres in the East has certainly influenced their approach
to negotiations with the GOSL.
In this context where the LTTE appears to be
shying away from any direct contact with the GOSL whether on core
issues relating to the peace process or on issues related to the
CFA, the negotiations leading to the signing by the LTTE and the
GOSL of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the establishment
of a Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure (P-TOMS) has
to be seen as a significant milestone. Following the tsunami of
December 26th last year, the GOSL and the LTTE embarked on several
rounds of technical level negotiations to discuss an arrangement
for equitable allocation of tsunami aid which would be acceptable
to both parties. Based on these discussions which were facilitated
by the Norwegians a Memorandum of Understanding was agreed upon
and signed by the two parties on 24th June 2005. The joint structure
envisaged by the MOU is broadly as follows:
- It is a three-tiered structure comprising a high level committee
at the national level, a regional committee for the North and
the East, and District Committees in the 6 Districts of the
North and the East affected by the tsunami.
- The High Level Committee comprising one GOSL, one LTTE and
one Muslim member will be responsible for the allocation of
donor funds on the basis of the needs assessments and in proportion
to the number of affected persons and the extent of damaged
- The Regional Committee comprising 5 LTTE, 3 Muslim and 2 GOSL
will be responsible for development of strategies for implementation
and prioritization of post tsunami work, project approval and
management, and overall monitoring of projects.
- The District Committees will be responsible for identification
and prioritization of needs, preparing and receiving project
proposals and monitoring and reporting on project progress to
the regional committee.
- At the regional level a fund will be established comprising
donor funds for relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and development
projects in the tsunami affected areas of the North and the
- Safeguards for the Muslims and Sinhala communities have been
built into the structure and adequate space created for non
LTTE parties and civil society to function at the District Committee
The implementation of this MOU has, however,
been delayed due to a stay order issued by the Supreme Court on
some provisions of the MOU relating to the Regional Fund and the
Regional Committee in response to a petition filed by the JVP,
a southern political party.
The Muslims have also expressed their dissatisfaction
with the process as well as some of the substantive provisions
of the MOU and withheld their cooperation to implement the MOU.
The problems in implementing the P-TOMS MOU has
highlighted most vividly one of the fundamental challenges facing
the peace process which goes beyond the current impasse between
the GOSL and the LTTE - the Muslim dimension. Given the nature
of the conflict, Sri Lanka’s peace process has been very
much a bi-lateral interaction between the GOSL and the LTTE with
very little space for the participation of Muslims and also other
stakeholders such as non-LTTE Tamil political parties, southern
political formations and civil society groups.
Although Muslims were not a party to the conflict
in Sri Lanka, they have been demanding a place at the negotiating
table based on their identity as a separate ethnic and religious
group as well as being equally affected by the conflict. As the
conflict progressed Muslims experienced violence and oppression
at the hands of the LTTE over disagreements on the nature of a
separate state as espoused by the LTTE, and the status of Muslims
within the North and the East. When the LTTE realized that the
Muslims were not willing to be subsumed under the category of
‘Tamil speaking people’ and have their political rights
suppressed, Muslims in the North and the East became a target
of LTTE violence. In October 1990, in an attempt at ethnic cleansing,
more than 80,000 Muslims living in the Northern Province were
expelled from their homes by the LTTE, some of who are still languishing
in refugee camps in the South. The security of Muslims in the
East was also severely affected, and continues to be an issue
of concern today. Although at the fourth round of peace talks
both parties agreed to include Muslims in the negotiations at
the appropriate time when considering relevant and substantial
political issues, the LTTE does not appear to be ready to recognise
and accommodate Muslims as a third and distinct party in the negotiating
process. For instance the LTTE refused to accede to a Muslim demand
- strongly supported by the Government - to be a co-signatory
to the P-TOMS MOU.
The P-TOMS MOU has also highlighted another problem
- divisions within the southern polity which can undermine the
peace efforts of incumbent governments. Sri Lanka has a boisterous
democracy which accommodates a multiplicity of political opinions.
In Sri Lanka, as in other conflict situations, some of the core
issues dividing society - the nature of the state, power-sharing,
etc.,- have become extremely politicized issues, and some political
parties have been using these issues to deepen the divisions in
society and enhance their own support base.
Despite these endemic problems, I strongly believe
that the prospects for peace in Sri Lanka are strong. My reasons
are as follows:-
Firstly, despite the enormous strain that has
been put on the ceasefire Agreement, the present ceasefire is
the longest cessation of hostilities to date since 1983. The ceasefire
celebrated three years on 23rd February this year. Although there
have been numerous ceasefire violations there have been no direct
military confrontations with the LTTE. The CFA has helped to save
lives and improved the quality of life of people throughout the
island. The GOSL for its part has repeatedly stressed its firm
commitment to the CFA, despite continued and grave provocations
by the LTTE, including the recent assassination of the Foreign
Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar.
The ceasefire has also facilitated humanitarian
and development assistance in the war ravaged North and the East
of Sri Lanka, including in the LTTE dominated districts of Mullaitivu
and Kilinochchi. This is an area where the two sides have been
able to cooperate so far with the support of the international
donor community, UN agencies and the business sector in Sri Lanka.
The GOSL is strongly committed to continuing and enhancing its
development activities in the North and the East.
Three years after the CFA, people in the North
and the East are enjoying the benefits of a peace dividend. Development
is an investment in a permanent peace. Let me now identify some
of the very specific programmes being undertaken in the North
and the East, since the ceasefire was signed.
- The RRR Ministry with donor assistance is at present implementing
an impressive number of projects which include resettlement
of internally displaced persons and assistance to host communities,
rehabilitation of provision of basic physical infrastructure
such as roads, irrigation programmes, power, and communication
facilities as well as rebuilding of social and community services
such as health, education, sanitation and judicial services.
The CFA has also enabled the return of a large number of refugees
mainly from India.
- Consequent to the Ceasefire Agreement, a comprehensive programme
for demining is being coordinated and implemented by the GOSL
during the last 2 years with the objective of having a “Mine
Free Sri Lanka”. Assistance from the USA has been a notable
feature of this programme.
- Perhaps as a direct result of these efforts, GDP in the Northern
and the Eastern Province has shown remarkable growth. According
to research done by the Economic Affairs division of my office,
the highest GDP growth rates during the post-CFA period are
in the Northern Province (12.6% per annum) and in the Eastern
Province (10.1% per annum.), in contrast to other provinces
in Sri Lanka. The engine of growth in the North and the East
during the post-CFA has been the agricultural sector with the
industrial and service sectors also making useful contributions;
rice production in the North and the East has reached pre-conflict
levels and recorded a surplus during the last harvest. Unemployment
in the Northern Province is also the lowest in Sri Lanka at
5.8%, whereas the national average is 8.9%. In the Eastern Province
the rate is 8.4%.
- The GOSL is looking to further support these developments,
through investment promotion strategies specific to the conflict-affected
areas. Attracting private-sector investment in troubled areas
is never easy and the government is negotiating a Multilateral
Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) facility to promote investment
in the North and the East. MIGA is the political risk insurance
arm of the World Bank which promotes foreign direct investment
in developing countries by insuring against political risk and
by providing technical assistance.
Secondly, despite changes in the political leadership,
government policy in relation to the peace process has remained
fairly stable in the last few years. The present peace process
could be said to have been initiated by H.E. the President. The
United National Front government headed by Prime Minister Ranil
Wickremesinghe consolidated it in 2002 with the CFA. The United
People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) government which came into
office in April 2004, again pledged to respect the CFA, and continue
facilitation by Norwegians to resume peace talks. Sri Lanka is
today at the threshold of a Presidential election to be held later
this year, when the Presidency will change after a period of eleven
(11) years. I am confident that whichever candidate comes to office,
this process will be continued. It must.
Thirdly, despite a strident and vocal anti peace
lobby, there is a strong public support base for a peaceful settlement
to the conflict. Professionally conducted opinion polls by independent
organizations in our country have revealed the full extent of
the peace constituency in Sri Lanka especially at the grassroots.
The most recent polls reveal that 76.7% across all ethnic groups
want a permanent solution through negotiations.
Fourthly, there is a whole gamut of civil society
organizations working for peace in Sri Lanka, and involved in
a diversity of activities such as lobbying, researching and mobilizing
community level peace building. As you know, the role of civil
society in building peace cannot be underestimated. Civil society
played a significant role in conflict resolution in a number of
countries including in South Africa, in Northern Ireland, in Colombia,
and in Chile. In Sri Lanka, civil society groups are making a
significant contribution to the peace building effort by strengthening
and supporting the peace constituency. The establishment of a
National Advisory Council for Peace and Reconciliation last year
with Political, Religious and Civil Society Committees is intended
to foster a national dialogue on conflict resolution.
Here I would also like to refer to the potential
role that can be played by Diaspora communities both Sinhala and
Tamil, in promoting peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. The
Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora comprises an estimated 700,000 people
living mainly in Canada, Europe, India and Australia. The negative
role played by the Tamil Diaspora in sustaining and fuelling 20
years of conflict in Sri Lanka through their remittances is well
known and well documented. The GOSL insists that the international
community must come down hard on LTTE front organizations which
continue to fund the LTTE’s war chest through various disguises
as charitable, cultural and even religious bodies abusing host
country laws and regulations.
Fifthly the interest and commitment of the international
community, bodes well for peace in Sri Lanka. The international
influence and support to the peace process in Sri Lanka has taken
multiple forms be it at the “Track 1” level of facilitation
and monitoring of the CFA, diplomacy and international pressure,
or economic assistance for humanitarian and development work.
Key actors have been countries such as Norway, USA, EU, Japan
and India, as well as multilateral agencies such as the World
Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the UNDP. While outside actors
cannot enforce peace, external assistance, support, pressure and
sanctions where necessary will be vital to bring a negotiated
end to the conflict in Sri Lanka. Norway will continue as facilitator
and the SLMM will remain as CFA monitors. Their roles can be forcefully
supplemented by others such as by the UN in the human rights field.
I would like to conclude on an optimistic note.
Despite the daily sights and sounds of conflict which fill our
newspapers and television screens worldwide, researchers are now
saying that the prospects for peace in the world today may be
higher than it has ever been and that war itself may be in decline.
This is in part due to the enormous international
effort that is going into peacemaking from international facilitation,
mediation, to multilateral peace keeping missions to international
support for a multitude of other peace building activities at
various levels of the community.
There is an emerging concept in international
relations on the shared responsibility of the world community
to protect civilians wherever their welfare is threatened.
The sovereign right and legal obligation of
the democratically -elected Sri Lanka Government to protect national
security and her citizens from terrorism and human rights violations
by non-state actors like the LTTE is primary and indisputable.
But it requires the assistance of the international community
at this point of time. The discussions going on at the United
Nations show that the condemnation of terrorism is universal and
that acts of terrorism cannot be justified or legitimized by any
cause or grievance. There is one norm to judge terrorism wherever
it may occur in the world. Intra-state conflicts like the Sri
Lankan conflict have international linkages in today’s globalized
world. Financial flows help purchase arms and ammunition in foreign
countries to be smuggled in to Sri Lanka and thwart the peace
process. If the security consensus to be endorsed by the 60th
UN Anniversary Summit in New York this week, emphasizing the interlinking
of development, peace, security and human rights, is to be implemented
in Sri Lanka, international cooperation is vital for the peace
process to be strengthened.
Peace is indeed a process, not a static goal.
It is a dynamic, complex and difficult process. The recent Peace
Agreement that was signed by the government of Indonesia and the
rebel Free Aceh Movement, came after twenty-nine (29) years of
conflict. The historic declaration made by the IRA in July this
year, to disarm and work for a united Ireland through peaceful
means, came after thirty six (36) years of waging war. In both
countries, there have been many failed attempts at peace before,
and the future yet remains to be determined. It is not unlikely
that good news of a similar nature can come from my own country
with the right political will and the right decisions made by
the parties to the conflict. John Paul Lederach, the acclaimed
peace-builder and scholar, once observed that getting out of a
conflict can take as long as it takes to get into a conflict.
It means that those of us, who are committed to the cause of peace,
have to work a little harder and longer before we can realize
that dream. As the Chinese adage - which I never tire of quoting
- says. “The more you sweat in peace; the less you bleed