Revisiting the MoU

By Neville Ladduwahetty
The Preamble to the MoU signed by the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE states that its overall objective is to "...find a negotiated solution to the ongoing ethnic conflict ...".

While the print media have published what is supposed to be the MoU, the public has not been shown a document bearing the signatures. If, as reported, the document signed by the LTTE leader was only a "Draft", it should have been labelled as such, in which event its validity is questionable. The country is also unaware as to when the MoU would come into effect, since it has to await the notification of the Foreign Minister of Norway.

The concerns of the public regarding the contents of the MoU have already been expressed effectively by several analysts. The Government has stated that the present MoU is the first step in a long process that is intended to eventually lead to a mutually acceptable political solution. The article explores what possible precautions could be taken in the event that a mutually acceptable solution is not achieved.

Even prior to signing the MoU the Government undertook confidence building measures as an indication of the seriousness of its intentions. While the Government was engaged in these activities the LTTE has been indulging in activities that cast serious doubts as to their intentions. The lack of reciprocity by the LTTE to the steps taken by the Government is a cause for serious concern. Activities such as abducting children, extorting ransom from the civilian population, and smuggling of arms convey intentions far removed from finding a political solution through negotiations.


Despite the LTTE professing to pursue peace and a negotiated political solution, the numerous reports in the press of LTTE activities confirm that they are preparing for war. The LTTE is bound to interpret the MoU to its best advantage and the Sri Lankan Government would be forced to seek clarification from the Monitoring Committee every time ambiguities arise, or will be compelled to permit transgressions whenever they happen. Since the LTTE is not likely to give the benefit of any lack of clarity in favour of the Government, the Government and the nation would be hard pressed to determine at what point it could terminate the MoU with justification. Therefore, it is imperative that the MoU defines the limits beyond which it would be justified to terminate the MoU without embarrassment and setback to the Government.

The Prime Minister has already conceded the need to clarify the issue as to whether the ceasefire extends to the sea. In the light of the unrestricted freedom of movement granted to the LTTE under the present MoU, a concession not granted under the 1995 agreement, limiting the freedom of movement at sea becomes a very significant issue. If this issue is not clarified early, the shipment of arms and military related material would continue to take place without any hindrance. The granting of both concessions is a serious flaw since it gives official sanction to the LTTE to regroup and rearm without restriction.

It is unfortunate that such a critical issue was left to interpretation. The fact that such ambiguities are obvious even before the MoU takes effect reflects poorly on the professionalism of the Government staff involved in this effort. In addition, it reflects poorly on the competence of the facilitators, and their integrity and bona-fides also become questionable. The hope of the nation is that the Prime Minister would bring his influence to bear on this matter before it is too late.

The MoU must not only define the circumstances that warrant the termination of the MoU but also establish the consequences that are to follow if and when the MoU is terminated. For instance, the MoU recognizes that the districts of Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi are under the control of the LTTE. This official recognition compromises the sovereignty of Sri Lanka.

The MoU must explicitly state the status of these two districts in the event the MoU is terminated. Would the Government be entitled to consider these districts as hostile territories and impose sanctions? Without a deterrent, the present MoU does not contain any inducement to abide by its terms. If violation of the MoU carries with it negative consequences, there is greater inducement for the parties to abide by its terms. It is the responsibility of the facilitators to make sure that the scope of the MoU is such that the advantages for abiding by the terms in the MoU outweigh the consequences of violating it and finally terminating it. Since the MoU provides for revisions and amendments it is the responsibility of the facilitator to clarify these outstanding issues at the earliest opportunity.

In the view of John W. Burton, a pioneer in the field of Conflict Resolution, is that "The role of the facilitator is not confined to helping the parties to a conflict to resolve their problem. It includes pointing out the wider social implications of any agreement. Parties immediately concerned can arrive at an agreement that could prejudice wider social relationships. It is relevant for a facilitator to enact this role because, ultimately, the parties directly concerned are also likely to be adversely affected by a short-sighted solution "(Conflict Resolution", 1996, p.28).


For the next phase to succeed, namely, negotiations that would lead to a political solution, it is vital that the present MoU be expanded and amended in order to clarify any uncertainties. Aside from this issue, it is necessary to consider the consequences in case it is not possible to arrive at a mutually acceptable political solution.The Prime Minister has already stated that any political solution worked out would be subject to a referendum. Prior to such a referendum the Government is obligated by the Constitution to seek the approval of two-thirds of the parliament. The Prime Minister has also stated that he is prepared to talk of any solution other than a separate state. Even if the LTTE is prepared to entertain an arrangement short of a separate state, the question is whether two-thirds of the parliament and the nation would approve such a political arrangement. Furthermore, in such an eventuality, whether compromises are possible, who would make them, and to what extent, are all related questions.

The rationality of these questions cannot be overlooked. The possibility of compromise requires that the Government must be prepared to consider solutions beyond what currently exists constitutionally. If the Government contemplates going beyond what was conceived by the previous Government (i.e., the Devolution Package), it is bound to meet stiff opposition; an opposition that in fact prevented the PA government from presenting it to parliament. Therefore, for the Government, compromise must mean more than what currently exists in the constitution but less than what was contained in the "package".

For the LTTE, realistic compromise means considering options no t just short of a separate state, but something well short of a separate state for the required approvals. Arriving at the right balance has been the problem. The pragmatist is likely to accept that a mutually acceptable balance is unrealistic. If the LTTE is of this view it is bound to use the opportunity presented by the MoU to capture its goals by force of arms. If it recognizes that what is politically possible for the Government to deliver is short of LTTE expectations, the opportunities presented by the MoU would be used to launch their final assault to achieve their desired goals. The scope of the present MoU must be viewed from this perspective.

The present demoralized state of the security establishment could very well tempt the LTTE to achieve their political goals through violence despite the prevailing world view on violence as a means to achieve political ends. The low state of morale in the security establishment is understandable given the fact that they are forced to do nothing about the build up by the LTTE, knowing full well that they would have to encounter a revitalized LTTE in the not too distant future; a condition granted by the ceasefire and facilitated by the MoU. The declared intention of the Government to curtail defense expenditure, along with the much publicised corruption among bureaucrats and security personnel at the highest levels only add to the low self esteem in the security establishment.


If the LTTE chooses to exploit the combined effect of these circumstances it would have a lasting impact on the territorial integrity of the country and spell disaster for the political future of this government, unless it has a fall-back plan as claimed by some as the only explanation for granting the excessive concessions in the present MoU. If such a plan envisages support from an external source, we need only remember the price the Indians extracted the last time they came to Sri Lanka’s ‘rescue’. The choice for the nation seems to be whether to surrender the country’s sovereignty to the LTTE or to some external power. To borrow a line from the late Krishna Mennon, it is like asking a fish whether it wants to be fried in margarine or butter.

Another explanation offered for the current MoU favouring the LTTE disproportionately is that it would give the LTTE the needed opportunity to abandon violence and transform itself into a legitimate organization while giving an opportunity for the Government to focus on the economy. The latter requires the creation of an environment of stability for an investor to invest. The preparations undertaken by the LTTE would make any investor cautious about the durability of the current cease-fire. It is only if there is visible evidence that the security establishment is being revamped to deal with any possible threats from the LTTE that investors would have the confidence to invest. In the absence of such evidence as well, investors are likely to be cautious. Alternatively, investors would feel confident if the current MoU restricted the LTTE from becoming a security threat. The liberalized approach adopted in developing the current MoU defeats the expectations of economic gains the Government hopes to reap during this time. An option open to the Government at this time is to reenergize the security establishment by developing a well conceived and coordinated plan not only to meet possible threats from the LTTE, but also to create a level of confidence in the local investors as well as in the minds of foreign investors. Economic development requires an environment of stability. To create such an environment the Governments needs to weed out the corruption in the security establishment and appoint top commanders with proven ability and in whom the ranks have confidence.

Even if the Government does not have the resources to equip itself with sophisticated military hardware, weeding out corruption and incompetence within the security establishment by replacing existing personnel with fresh blood, known and recognized for their integrity and their military capabilities, would by itself boost the morale of the soldier in the field. Such military commanders are not non-existent in Sri Lanka’s security establishment. This alone would create investor confidence; an essential prerequisite for economic development.


An objective review of the MoU reveals that the nation’s sovereignty has been compromised and the territorial integrity of the country has been weakened. However much the country may yearn for peace the facilitators should have ensured greater balance in the distribution of responsibilities and not permitted the LTTE to enjoy disproportionate advantages that if exploited could result in a divided country. The Government and in particular those responsible for the preparation of the MoU should realize that the success of future talks depends solely on the effectiveness of the current MoU. If observations and comments on the MoU are seen only as politically motivated, and the ambiguities remain unclarified, the territorial integrity of the Country would be seriously jeopardized. The Government must realize that the LTTE is conscious of the limits within which it can negotiate a political solution. This pragmatism is bound to influence their actions. The Government must be prepared to face such possibilities. A military capability and a high level of preparedness to face any threats to security would contribute significantly to project an image that the Government is able to maintain order and stability.

It is only in such an atmosphere that economic development can prosper. Therefore, it is vital that a complete reassessment of the security establishment is made with a view to placing men of integrity and competence in command; men who value the country and nation over personal gain.