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 February 2002.

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 its implementation.

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 infrastructure.

  • 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 East.

  • 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 level.

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 in war”.



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