MOVING SRI LANKA’S PEACE PROCESS FORWARD; SRI
LANKA GOVERNMENT POLICY AND THE ROLE
OF THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY
I consider it particularly fitting that today
we are engaging in this dialogue as to how Sri Lanka’s peace
process could be moved forward and how the international community
could help to achieve that objective. For, we are on the threshold
of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), which constitutes the major
partner of the ruling coalition, presenting the government’s
proposals aimed at granting maximum devolution of power, while
maintaining the unity of Sri Lanka. These proposals will be placed
before the All Party Representative Committee (APRC), which has
been the vehicle through which Sri Lanka, under the leadership
of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, has sought to move the peace process
forward. This Committee consists of representatives of the political
parties represented in parliament, including the main opposition
United National Party, and a number of Tamil and Muslim parties.
Over the past 13 months the APRC has gone through
a painstaking process with the aim of evolving a ‘southern
consensus’ to devolve power. As a result, very soon, after
considering the views of all stakeholders, Sri Lanka will place
before the people a comprehensive political proposal, for their
approval. What is most important to note is that any consensus
the APRC eventually reaches would possibly be the broadest ever
reached in the Sri Lanka’s history of power sharing.
Reflection of government commitment
The presentation of these proposals will effectively
debunk theories expressed in some quarters that the Sri Lankan
Government was seeking a military solution to the conflict in
Sri Lanka. It reconfirms the government’s firm belief, that
the conflict in Sri Lanka cannot be solved through military means,
and that while the security forces must not shy away when the
basic needs of the people are interrupted or the territorial integrity
of the country is threatened, it is the responsibility of a representative
government to meet such challenges.
It is in similar vein that the current administration
in Sri Lanka has sought to overcome the temporary hardships being
caused to sections of the population currently displaced from
those areas liberated from the LTTE. The Government has been careful
to ensure that civilians would not get caught in the cross fire.
This was evident in its recent operation to liberate Vaharai,
where approximately 34, 000 civilians voted with their feet, by
moving to the areas controlled by Sri Lankan forces, before the
LTTE were dislodged from Vaharai.
Together with the international community, through
the Consultative Committee on Humanitarian Assistance (CCHA),
the government is making every effort to restore normalcy in the
conflict affected areas in the shortest possible time frame. Ironically,
it is apparent that redressing the needs of the civilians in these
areas has become a problem to the LTTE, which as most of you know
well, led to their decision to target a group of Western Ambassadors
accredited to Sri Lanka, including the US Ambassador, who were
visiting Batticaloa on a humanitarian mission, as partners of
the CCHA process. In fact, the main purpose of that visit was
to assess the humanitarian relief requirements in Vaharai, in
the Eastern Province, which followed a successful similar needs
assessment undertaken by the CCHA in the Jaffna Peninsula.
In a meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon
at the UN Headquarters in New York earlier this week, I called
on the international community including the UN, to join in complementing
the Sri Lanka Government's efforts in uplifting the economic standards
of the people of the Eastern Province. As I noted, the re-development
of the Eastern province could serve as a model for post-conflict
peace building and development.
In addition to ensuring that humanitarian assistance is provided
to the civilians, who have been displaced, the government has
also taken concrete measures to address concerns of alleged human
rights violations, showing its firm commitment to address human
rights issues as a parallel process.
The Commission of Inquiry constituted by President
Rajapaksa to investigate into alleged human rights violations
and the eleven member International Independent Group of Eminent
Persons (IIGEP) appointed to observe the functions of this Commission
of Inquiry, which held its first meeting in Colombo last month,
are reflective of this commitment.
The appointment of the IIGEP is a unique arrangement
by a country faced with alleged violations of human rights and
the Government has taken this bold initiative, because it has
nothing to hide and it is firmly committed to ensure that such
violations should not go unpunished. I would like to emphasise
that while it is making all efforts to address concerns of alleged
human rights violations, the government will take preventive measures
and will remain responsible and accountable.
In moving towards a negotiated political settlement
to the conflict, the government’s approach is guided by
four broad principles. First, the proposals are firmly rooted
in democracy, justice, and equality. Second, they are also responsive
to the constitutional realities that any democracy must respect,
and therefore is framed in a manner that could meet possible legal
challenges that could arise. Third, they seek to empower people,
uphold pluralism and recognize the fact that there are many voices
within the Tamil community that are rational, devoid of parochial
interest and vested agendas. Fourth, above all, in contrast with
previous constitutional processes aimed at solving the conflict,
whatever consensus reached would not be intended to appease the
LTTE or to treat symptoms of a malaise, but to get at the root
of the disease.
This is a healthy development, because we are
well aware that the history of political negotiations with the
LTTE is replete with bitter memories. I have personally experienced
this having participated in the last two rounds of negotiations
with the LTTE in February and October 2006. The LTTE stands guilty
of having single-handedly wrecked five attempts of peace negotiations
in 1985, 1987, 1989/90, 1994/95 and in 2002/03. One could reasonably
come to the conclusion that the organisation has neither the will
nor the capacity to negotiate a political settlement to the conflict
and merely engages in political rhetoric as a means of achieving
their objectives of a separate mono-ethnic state by resorting
to force of arms.
Why should we expect to succeed this time?
Given the history of Sri Lanka’s conflict
resolution, the question could be asked why the current exercise
in constitution crafting is likely to succeed this time, when
so many similar previous exercises failed. I would suggest that
the present ‘moment’ constitutes a rare confluence
of favourable elements.
First, unlike on previous occasions when the
LTTE could have claimed that engaging in negotiations with southern
leaders was futile, as they were incapable of evolving a southern
consensus, today it is hard to deny the fact that President Rajapaksa
has been able to muster the broadest possible political coalition
in recent Sri Lankan political history and is well poised for
achieving the Southern consensus to offer maximum possible devolution
without adversely affecting the unity and territorial integrity
of the country.
Second, the main opposition party, the United
National Party led by former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe,
during whose period the ceasefire with the LTTE came in to being,
is on record as having assured support of his party for a meaningful
Third, the recent military operations in the
East have shattered the aura of invincibility of the LTTE and
have demonstrated to the LTTE very clearly that a military victory
is not possible and that if there is any genuineness about their
desire to serve the Tamils, the only way it could be done is through
Fourth, never before has the LTTE been so internationally
isolated as it stands today - proscribed in India, the U.S., the
UK, the EU and Canada; its leader Prabhakaran and a number of
top leaders being sentenced to death for the assassination of
former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, and its agents arrested
and taken to court by several countries including the U.S., for
engaging or seeking to perpetuate acts of international terrorism.
Unlike in some periods in history when the perpetration of terrorism
to meet political goals was condoned, today, there is zero tolerance
for its use under any circumstances.
What role could the international community play?
As the Sri Lankan polity moves towards bringing
to a conclusion the process of evolving a political settlement
to the conflict in Sri Lanka, a special responsibility is cast
upon the international community to play its role.
This is an opportunity Sri Lankans hope that
the international community would not miss, debating semantics
and ignoring the reality. The mistake made by some members of
the international community in taking too long to recognise that
the Tigers were no ‘freedom fighters’ but a group
of ruthless terrorists, must not be repeated.
What then must the international community do?
In the first instance, the international community
should once again seek to prevail upon the LTTE to return to the
negotiations and to negotiate in good faith. It should be made
clear to the LTTE that they should respond in a time bound fashion
with specific targets and not seek to use such an opportunity
to merely buy time or to score tactical advantages. Above all
they must join the democratic political mainstream. After all
there are several militant groups that have successfully made
Whether the international community would succeed
in convincing the LTTE is hard to tell. The often stated concern
is that the LTTE knows no other means of conduct but arms struggle
and its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran would not dare seek to come
out and live in the open. An additional question gaining currency
today is whether sustaining war is more lucrative for the LTTE
given their vast network of ships and communications, illicit
commercial pursuits such as arms and human smuggling and money
laundering, has taken precedence over their stated political goal
of achieving Eelam. The international community must push the
LTTE to make this choice, and make it now.
If it is clear that the LTTE is unable or unwilling
to make this transition, the onus falls on the international community,
including numerous non-governmental organizations that have championed
their political cause, to agree that the Tigers cannot be de-clawed,
and expect to commit themselves to work with those Tamil democratic
parties to further the interests of the Tamil community, both
within and outside Sri Lanka.
In this context, a fact that has been ignored is that 54% of the
Tamil population in Sri Lanka lives in areas outside the Northern
and the Eastern provinces among Sinhalese and Muslim communities.
It is also forgotten that besides the LTTE, who have refused to
change its ways, there are both longstanding Tamil democrats such
as V. Anandasangari as well as former militants, who have embraced
the democratic fold since 1987, such as Douglas Devananda and
D. Sidharthan. No longer should these alternate Tamil voices,
who have entered the democratic mainstream two decades ago and
are willing to reach an honorable and durable settlement, be sidelined
within Sri Lanka or by the international community.
It is unfortunate that up to now the misguided
faith of both some Sri Lankan political leaders as well as sections
of the international community of the transformational capacity
of the LTTE, has cost Sri Lanka dearly not only in loss of assets
and lives of civilians, but also at least two generations of Tamil
politicians and academics. It is a long list possibly starting
with Alfred Duraiappah, which includes to name a few- A. Amirthalingam,
V. Yogeswaran, Sam Thambimuttu, A. Thangathurai, Sarojini Yogeswaran,
Neelan Thiruchelvam, Lakshman Kadirgamar, and Keetheswaran Loganathan.
Many or at least some of these persons, whom I am sure you know
and some you might even count among your friends, were honourable
Tamil leaders, who were genuinely conscious of the problems faced
by the Tamils, and whose only fault was their refusal to abandon
the democratic path and yield to dictates of the LTTE.
Similarly, outside Sri Lanka too there is a growing
resistance developing within the Tamil Diaspora, that questions
the futility of the destructive path down which the LTTE has led
the Tamil people for over three decades in a struggle for an elusive
Eelam. In many western capitals today, which host sizeable Tamil
populations, there is a growing resistance developing, which has
manifested itself not only in refusing to pay LTTE taxes and ransoms,
but also who have also taken to the streets to demonstrate against
the LTTE and demand an alternate means of redressing Tamil grievances.
Thus, when the world assesses whatever political
settlement that emanates from Sri Lanka in the coming weeks and
months, they should bear in mind that it is not only the demands
of the LTTE that have to be met, but those of the totality of
the Tamil population, among which there is a tremendous yearning
for peace, as among the rest of the Sri Lankan polity.
In this context a special effort should be made
by the international community to persuade the Tamil Diaspora,
whose funding is the primary source of sustenance of the LTTE,
to support efforts being made by the Sri Lankan government to
find a lasting solution to the conflict rather than contributing
to fuel the separatist war that has been the bane of Sri Lanka
for over 30 years and has caused misery and deaths for tens of
thousands in Sri Lanka.
My earnest wish is that all of you in this room,
who love Sri Lanka, understand the issues and want to see peace
restored, rise to this challenge.
Sri Lanka is on the threshold of a new dawn -
your support will help make it even more possible.