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President raises questions on ceasefire deal

President Chandrika Kumaratunge responded to the government LTTE ceasefire on Thursday noting that some of the clauses could impinge on national security concerns and moved that those would have to be reviewed by the service commanders and the security council.

In a 11-page letter to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the President also asked whether the nature of the mandate given to the Norwegian government had changed to such an extent as to make it incompatible with the sovereign status of Sri Lanka.

The President outlined her response after the ceasefire agreement was closely studied by a 20-member committee headed by Former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar.

The full text of the President’s letter is as follows:

"I refer to our meeting in the evening of February 21 in the presence of Mr. Kadirgamar when you gave me a copy of the final version of the ceasefire agreement with the LTTE, which neither, Mr. Kadirgamar nor I had seen up to then. You will recall that after our meeting had commenced you informed me that Mr. Pirabaharan, on behalf of the LTTE, had already signed his letter to the Norwegian Foreign Minister, as provided for in Article 4.1 of the Agreement, notifying the consent of the LTTE to be bound by the Agreement, and that his signed letter was already on its way to Colombo in the hands of the Norwegian Ambassador who has gone to the Wanni on Thursday by helicopter to collect the letter. You also infommed me that you intended to proceed to Vavuniya on Friday, 22nd February where you would sign and hand over to the Norwegian Ambassador your letter of consent addressed to the Norwegian Foreign Minister. Article 4.1 of the Agreement required only the signatures of yourself and Mr. Pirabaharan, not mine.

It was clearly impossible for me at that late hour to make a useful suggestion regarding the text of an Agreement I had not read. In any event it was too late to propose any alterations in the text as Mr. Pirabaharan had already signed his letter of consent and you were keen to sign your letter the next day.

I stated that I was indeed glad that you have arrived at a ceasefire agreement with the LTTE. I added that the manner in which the Head of State and Government was kept completely unaware of the contents of this agreement until it was signed by one party to the Agreements was improper and unconstitutional. I expressed surprise that you should have adopted this procedure, especially in view of the fact that the process of negotiations with the LTTE was commenced by my first government in 1994 and then again, with facilitation from the Norwegian Government in March 1999 and you as Prime Minister of my third government, were carrying forward the same process.

Whenever you requested advice and assistance, I and Mr. Kadirgamar gave it to you generously. The detailed document we prepared in February 2001 to ensure the "free flow of goods" to the Wanni was handed to you at your request, and you are presently using it almost "in toto".

I have invited you to Security Council meetings so that you may be briefed about military concerns.

The very late submission of the Agreement for my consideration and approval precluded what could have been a valuable opportunity for you and me to discuss the Agreement thoroughly and agree on the details of the text, thereby forging a consensus between the two major political parties in the country, which I am sure you would agree is essential for the bi-partisan momentum that is required for the sustained implementation of an agreement which is so important to the destiny of our people. I do not wish to say more on those matters at this time.

It is my constitutional duty as head of state, head of government, head of the Cabinet and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces to scrutinize carefully any agreement that might affect the security of our people and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.

On studying the Agreement, I noted with satisfaction that provision has been made for the "unimpeded flow of non-military goods to and from the LTTE dominated areas", subject to the quantities set out in Annex A, a concept worked out by my previous government in cooperation with the Norwegian government and the LTTE in the first quarter of 2001. This use of foundations for the peace process laid down by my previous government is most welcome. It will save time and strengthen the process.

I was pleased to notice the provision in Article 2.11 for the gradual easing of day and night fishing restrictions. This has been a troublesome point for many years and I am glad that a satisfactory formula has finally been evolved. But extra vigilance requires to be exercised in our coastal waters until the new arrangement is seen to be working smoothly.

There are however some Articles which could impinge on national security concerns and will have to be reviewed by our Service Commanders and the Security Council.

I note that the Agreement deals substantially with questions concerning the ceasefire and humanitarian and confidence building measures, while making no reference at all to the important political issues that would have to be addressed, while the ceasefire is in place, in order to achieve lasting peace. I understood from our discussion that your preferred approach was to leave out of this Agreement any reference to the political issues or even to a date for the commencement of Substantive talks, and to reach an agreement later with the LTTE on a date for the commencement of talks. I believe that it is important to include in the Agreement a date for the commencement of talks, so that it would be clear that the ceasefire agreement is not an end in itself: that it is not an arrangement that is intended to continue indefinitely without a political solution being reached. I have taken note of the statement in your press release from Vavuniya on 22nd February that "the ceasefire is a process designed to prepare the ground for the negotiations which will deal with the substantive issues".

I cannot fail to stress the necessity for the talks on the substantive issues to commence and conclude as early as possible.

A careful study of past experience of previous UNP governments and my first government of 1994, leads us to conclude that for effective results, the ceasefire agreement should have contained a commitment from the LTTE to come for negotiations. The Agreement which was almost finalized in 2001 between the PA government and the LTTE, through Norwegian facilitation had an objective - that of persuading the LTTE to come for negotiations and to immediately commence talking on the substantive issues - which would resolve the Tamil people’s problems, while safeguarding the rights of the Sinhala, Muslim and other peoples of Sri Lanka. It was clearly understood and accepted by all concerned that the issue of a separate state was not on the agenda.

The present agreement does not include any indication, let alone a commitment, that the LTTE agrees to come to the negotiating table and talk of the essential and substantive issues. This gives me reason for concern.

Some of the Articles in the Agreement, which raise concerns that require clarification, are itemized below: -

1. Article 1.2 refers to a number of prohibited military operations, including "offensive naval operations". This article read with Articles 1.3 which permits the Sri Lankan armed forces to continue to perform their legitimate task of safeguarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka "without engaging in offensive operations against the LTTE" could create the impression that the Navy is prohibited from engaging LTTE boats even if they are suspected of carrying arms. It might be argued that a naval interdiction in such circumstances would be a defensive, not an offensive, operation. What then would a prohibited offensive naval operation be? It would have been very much better to have had an unambiguous provisions on this point in the Agreement itself.

I have noted that on your statement from Vavuniya you say. "The Army, Navy and the Air Force will have the right to intercept the illegal movement of arms into Sri Lanka". You would. Of course realize that this being a unilateral statement made outside the Agreement does not in law bind the LTTE.

It must be remembered that if a dispute arises on this question involving the interception of illegal arms movements, which is vital to the security of Sri Lanka it will be the Head of the Monitoring Mission a national of a foreign government who will under Article 3.2 be "the final authority regarding interpretation of this Agreement". That is not as I point out later, a satisfactory situation for the country.

Rules of engagement at sea should be drawn up and placed before the Security Council. Until these matters are fully discussed at the Security Council our Naval authorities should be given clear instructions as to their powers and duties regarding the interdiction of illegal arms shipments.

2. (a) Articles 1.4, 1.5 and 1.6 deal with the ‘drawing up of demarcation lines" "regarding defence localities in all areas of contention". The parties are required to provide information to the Monitoring Mission about their defence localities. In the event of disagreement between the parties the demarcation lines will have to be drawn by the Head of the Monitoring Mission - "the final authority regarding interpretation of this Agreement".

2. (b) Article 2.7 refers to the establishment of checkpoints to facilitate the flow of goods and the movement of civilians on the line of control" - a highly evocative expression in our region and also elsewhere in the world where lines of control and demarcation have been an endless sources of confusion, bitterness and tragedy.

I only draw your attention here to the immense problems emanating from the "Line of Control" established in Kashmir which have so severely strained Indo-Pakistan relations and destabilised our region.

This is the first time in the history of post independence Sri Lanka that a foreign government is being authorised to draw demarcation lines on the soil of Sri Lanka. The submission of such matters to the binding authority of a single individual appointed by a foreign government appears to be wholly inconsistent with the sovereignty of the people of Sri Lanka which is declared by the Constitution to be inalienable. Thus, in my view, Article 3.2 calls for amendment and modification as envisaged under Article 4.3.

By way of contrast, in the declaration of Cessation of Hostilities of January 1995, which was signed by Mr. Pirabaharan and myself, provision was made (Article 5.a) for Committees to be set up in stipulated areas to inquire into violations of the Declaration. These Committees were to comprise of representatives drawn from Canada, Netherlands, Norway, the ICRC and from among retired judges, public officers, religious heads and other leading citizens, all approved by mutual consent (Article 5.c). Each Committee could consist of five members - two from the Government, two from the LTTE and one from a foreign country who will be the Chairman (Article 5.d). Those three articles are reflected in the present Agreement. But in Article 5.6 of the 1995 Declaration it was to be the responsibility of those Committees to take immediate action on complaints made by either party to this Agreement and to inquire into such disputes. The power to inquire into and resolve such disputes was a collegiate power to be exercised by the whole Committee, by a majority in the event of disagreement, and not by the Chairman alone, as in Article 3.2 of the present Agreement. These Committees were not given powers to draw "Lines of Control" or Demarcation.

Moreover, under the present Agreement (Article 3.8) "the Committees shall serve the Monitoring Mission in an advisory capacity." They will seek to resolve any dispute concerning the implementation of this Agreement only "at the lowest possible level."

It is only the Monitoring Mission composed of the "representatives of the Nordic countries" (Article 3.5) that will have the responsibility to take action on any complaints made by either party to the Agreement and to inquire into and assist the parties in the settlement of any disputes (Article 3. 11). The Sri Lankan representatives (from the Government and the LTTE) play no part in this procedure.

I also observe that the powers and the functions, which by this Agreement are vested in the Norwegian Government, travel far beyond the role of a facilitator for the expected negotiations towards a political agreement. The Norwegian Government has now been cast in the role of a mediator or arbitrator in the resolution of disputes between the parties, which is not the basis on which Norwegian assistance was sought by my Government in 1999.

I was not aware that the nature of the Norwegian Government’s mandate had changed to such an extent as to make it incompatible with the sovereign status of Sri Lanka.

3. In the light of the verified evidence coming in from various LTTE-controlled areas, especially in the East, relating to extortion, intimidation, abduction and harassment of civilians, much of it against members of the Muslim community but extending also to the Tamil and Sinhalese communities in these area, we must make sure that our people are protected by the strict application of Article 2.1 which prohibits such acts.

I have noticed that among the six districts (Jaffna, Mannar, Vavuniya, Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Amparai) in which the Monitoring Mission will maintain a presence and local monitoring committees will be established. Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu which are LTTE-controlled, are not included.

Does this mean that if "hostile acts against the civilian population including such acts as torture, intimidation, abduction, extortion and harassment" (Article 2.1 ) are committed in those two districts the Monitoring Mission and the local Committees will not, or cannot, intervene to help our citizens who live in these areas?

4. I cannot over emphasize my concern for the plight of children forcibly recruited by the LTTE. This practice appears to be continuing. The evidence gathered by reputable national and international sources is disturbing and irrefutable. Sri Lanka has been in the forefront of the international campaign against the conscription of child combatants, which is an issue that gravely troubles the conscience of mankind. There are many treaties and international resolutions on this subject. The LTTE has continued to violate assurances given by them to the United Nations, that they will not recruit under-age children. We cannot, even in the name of securing a lasting peace, compromise the rights of these children. We must be resolute on this point.

5. I have also observed that the extensive freedom of movement for "political work" in Government-controlled areas in the North and the East granted to the LTTE members under Article 1.13 will not be afforded to others (political parties, for instance) who might wish to do "political work" in LTTE-controlled areas in the North and the East. In a democratic society this is an indefensible distinction, which should be reviewed.

6. I note that although the Agreement gives ample latitude to individual combatants from both parties to visit family and friends residing in areas under the control of the other party, there is no reference whatsoever in the agreement to the plight of internally displaced persons (IDP’s) who surely would wish to enjoy the same rights conferred on combatants to visit their original homes and their families. I find it difficult to justify this disparate treatment of combatants and IDP’s who have suffered for so long and urgently require sympathetic consideration.

7. Article 1.13 further permits freedom of movement in the North and East to all unarmed LTTE members after D-day+90. This could prove extremely dangerous. The LTTE could freely penetrate into the Government controlled areas of the North and East and effectively attack from within if they have plans of taking over the entire North and East as demonstrated on numerous occasions by the LTTE during the past few decades.

Looking ahead, to the day when the ceasefire Agreement is subsumed in a permanent peace based on a negotiated political solution to the problem that has so seriously damaged our society, I must emphasize my concern that the final agreement will ensure the basic human rights of the people of the North and the East. Including the rights and freedom of association, movement, expression, political activity and voting, within a United, multi-ethnic, democratic Sri Lanka. It is very important, in my opinion, that our citizens who live in the North and East of the country, all of them, should enjoy the same rights and freedoms that are enjoyed by our citizens in the rest of the country.

In conclusion, I would like to reiterate briefly what I have said on numerous occasions before and after my first election as President of the Republic, and repeated after your appointment as Prime Minister of my third Government. I stand firmly and unequivocally for a negotiated political solution of the ethnic problem from which the country has suffered for many decades.

I do not believe a solution can be found through war alone. Soon after I came to office in 1994, I commenced talks with the LTTE because I believed that without the full engagement of the LTTE in the process of dialogue that must necessarily precede a final solution, a durable peace will not be possible. On 8th January 1995, Mr. Pirabaharan and I, without the assistance of any facilitator, affixed our signatures to a document entitled "Declaration of Cessation of Hostilities." Most of the provisions of that document are reflected in the Agreement to which you and Mr. Pirabaharan have now given your consent by your respective letters to the Foreign Minister of Norway. Several rounds of talks were held between my representatives and the representatives of the LTTE. Questions relating to humanitarian and confidence building measures were implemented. There was a lengthy correspondence between Mr. Pirabaharan and myself. Although the Cessation of Hostilities was violated on 19th April 1995, by the LTTE when they bombed our naval ships in Trincomalee harbour, I continued with my efforts to promote peace by directing that a new Constitution be drafted to devolve power substantially and to guarantee all rights of the minorities, and that intensive all party consultations should take place in a Parliamentary Select Committee. Work in the Select Committee was terminated because the UNP was unwilling to discuss conclusively the substantive issues.

We then engaged in intensive rounds of talks with all the six parties in Parliament and obtained the agreement of all but the one JVP/MP. The UNP delegation led by you held talks with the Government for five months and agreed to support the adoption of the Constitution in Parliament, but then pulled back from the promise when it was presented to Parliament in August 2000.

Nevertheless, in the first quarter of 2001, work began again, this time with the assistance of the Norwegian Government as facilitator, on an agreement for implementing additional humanitarian measures for the Wanni region as a prelude to the commencement of substantive talks with the LTTE. That draft Agreement was far advanced.

My commitment to peace remains firm and constant. I wholly approve of the concept of a mutually agreed ceasefire. On our side, as far as the Government of Sri Lanka is concerned, you and I must, in close consultation and cooperation with each other, make this ceasefire work. We must be ever vigilant against the consequences of failure; but we must strive to make it work. Equally, when the time comes - and it must come soon - to address the difficult core issues on the resolution of which a just and lasting peace will depend, we must work together in order to carry the mass of our people with us. I hope that you and your party will make an honest and sincere effort to assist me in my endeavours to make consensual government work effectively.


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