|The Memorandum of Understanding
By Neville Ladduwahetty
According to media reports the Sri Lankan government expects to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the LTTE regarding the modalities of the current cease-fire as well as other issues that would be negotiated at a later date. It would be a mistake to mix matters relating to the cease-fire with those relating to political issues in a single MOU. The political negotiations that are to follow would have relevance only if the MOU relating to the cease-fire is effective and remains firmly in place. Therefore, the MOU relating to the cease-fire should be separate because it is the critical first step without which other negotiations would not take place.
The experience of three failed negotiations has conditioned the country to be very apprehensive about their outcomes. Every failed attempt has been followed up with an increase in the level and scale of the military offensive on the part of the LTTE. The new government is confident that it can succeed where others have failed. While the country wants the government to succeed, it also wants to be sure of the level of the governments preparedness if it fails. The government knows that the country desires peace but it is not sure of the price the country is prepared to pay for the peace it wants.
The government cannot assume that the negotiations would succeed. The surest way of being prepared for a possible breakdown is to separate the security issues from the political. The gulf that exists between what the country can accept in terms of political concessions and the expectations of the Tamil community makes a negotiated political solution a near impossibility. This makes it absolutely necessary that every precaution is taken to prevent the resumption of hostilities at an escalated level far in excess of what the country has hitherto experienced.
This precaution requires that the MOU relating to the cease-fire is separate and independent of the MOU relating to other issues.
In the event there is a single MOU, any breakdown or even an impasse in the area pertaining to political would give cause for the LTTE to abrogate the entire MOU. Therefore, in order to prevent issues that are not related to security from subverting security issues, it would be prudent to separate security issues from the rest and have two separate MOUs.
The government should address at least the issues listed below if an MOU relating to the cease-fire is to have any meaning. Such an MOU should have the input of military personnel with proven records and those designated must be part of a single authority with the responsibility to ensure conformance with the terms of the MOU that deals only with the cease-fire.
1. In keeping with the world view as expressed by Tony Blair during hist recent visit to India and Pakistan that: "Terrorism is terrorism, wherever it occurs, whoever are its victims... the only way of resolving it in the end is through political dialogue..." (The Washington Post, January 8, 2002), the LTTE should renounce terrorism and commit to political dialogue.
2. If the understanding during the cease-fire is that people are permitted free movement anywhere in the country there cannot be a differentiation of "cleared" and "uncleared" areas. The existence of these defined areas restrict the free movement of people. Therefore, if these restrictions are to be lifted it must follow that such areas must automatically cease to exist allowing complete freedom of movement. On the other hand, if "uncleared" areas are to remain during the cease-fire, the restriction on the free movement of people, whoever they may be, must remain in place in a manner that can be strictly enforced.
The government must give serious consideration to this matter. If the government allows the LTTE freedom of movement while they are permitted to restrict access to areas under their control, the government would lose control of the areas the security forces have cleared at the cost of the lives of thousands.
Under such circumstances, it would only be a matter of time before the LTTE gains full military control of whatever area they wish. If this happens to be the district of Trincomalee, they would end up controlling, perhaps under an interim arrangement, a contiguous territory that covers the whole of the northern province and the present districts of Trincomalee and Batticaloa.
It is therefore imperative that the government maintains restrictions on the movement between "cleared" and "uncleared" areas so that the status quo can be maintained.
To do so, all activities relating to the maintenance of these defined areas need to be coordinated by a single authority and Ministries should not be allowed to engage in uncoordinated activities that could threaten security. The military must be represented in such an authority so that security related issues are given the due attention they deserve. All of the above requires the Ministry of Defence to be far more assertive than it has been thus far.
3. The MOU should spell out what would constitute a violation of the cease-fire and therefore of the MOU.
4. The government should retain the authority to prevent by any means possible, the entry into the country of any and all unauthorized goods.
The LTTE and their proxies, the TNA, have made the lifting of the ban on the LTTE a precondition to negotiations. The fact that the government has chosen to ignore this particular precondition is encouraging. Since the LTTE was banned for resorting to terrorism, lifting of the ban should not be considered on the basis of non-verifiable assurances. Lifting the ban should be considered only if guarantees are verifiable. The only verifiable guarantee is the decommissioning of military hardware. Therefore, the lifting of the ban should be linked to decommissioning, and should not take place before this is accomplished.
Linking decommissioning with lifting of the ban would serve as a compelling inducement for the LTTE to eschew violence. If they are committed to political dialogue they would not have the need to hang on to the military apparatus that is in their possession.
The ban imposed on the LTTE has not affected their functioning. Despite the ban of the LTTE by Britain, their spokesman Anton Balasingham lives in London and is permitted to have meetings with representatives of the Norwegian government. There are reports that the LTTE has sought permission from India, another country that has banned the LTTE, to allow Balasingham and his wife to be resident in India during the negotiations. They have also requested helicopter facilities between the Vanni and India to enable consultations with their leader.
Whatever may be the reasons behind the sheer gall with which these concessions are sought, since todays technology allows video-conferencing regardless of location, the present administration should conduct negotiations in a manner that maintains the self-respect of the Sri Lankan nation without humiliating the nation as occurred during previous negotiations. Elected representatives should not dilute the dignity of those they represent.
It is a matter of serious concern that thus far there is no evidence of anyone with a military background being officially involved with the Committee responsible for the preparation of the MOU. Another concern is that the nation is uninformed as to the procedure to be adopted with regard to the MOU.
Would it be reviewed by parliament, or would it be reviewed by a select few? If it is to be the latter, how justifiable is it to subject the entire nation to conditions committed by a few? In view of past experiences the nation hopes that the government fashions the MOU in a manner that does not place the nation in a position that is more disadvantaged than at the commencement of the process.
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