|Clarifications on Thimpu Peace Talks
As someone who was seated across H.L.de Silva at the Thimpu Peace Talks as a member of the Tamil delegation, ( "HL" was a member of the Government delegation headed by H.W.Jayawardene, the brother of President J.R.Jayawardene), I feel constrained to place before the readers some clarifications emerging out of his article. Before I proceed to doing so, my intention is not to justify the Thimpu principles, but to clarify its context and relevance as it stood then. As to whether it is still relevant is a matter for future negotiations between the LTTE, the other representatives of the Tamil and Muslim peoples and the Government.
Firstly, it needs to be pointed out that the Thimpu Princples were placed on the table by the Tamil delegation only on the concluding day of the Round 1 of the Talks. The proposal brought by the Government delegation to the Thimpu Peace Talks was essentially the proposal that had been forwarded by the UNP at the All Party Conference of 1984 in which the TULF participated and rejected as being inadequate. The United National Party, the ruling party at that time, persisted with its position that the District was the only "permissible" and feasible unit of devolution and the District Development Councils as the basis for further devolution. These proposals were slightly modified to permit inter-district cooperation or collaboration in "defiined spheres of activity subject to necessary controls".
The Tamil politico-military organizations which took part in the Thimpu Peace Talks took the position that they would not consider these prposals since it ignored the legitimate grievances of the Tamil people. Further, they took the position that the burden of presenting a broadly acceptable formula lay with Colombo, since it was solely to be blamed for the militarization of the ethnic conflict. The Tamil Delegation, instead, subjected the Sri Lankan government delegation to a series of lectures on what constituted the Ethnic Question and as to why the burden lay with Colombo to come out with a solution worthy of our consideration. The culmination of this was the placing of the "Thimpu principles" .
But, what needs to be pointed out is that the Tamil delegation gave an opening to the Government delegation by stating that while they were embarked on a struggle for an "independent Tamil State different countries have fashioned different systems of government to ensure these principles and that we are prepared to give consideration to any set of proposals in keeping with the above-mentioned principles, that the Sri Lankan Government may place before us.
When the Government delegation returned for Round 2 of the Thimpu Talks a month later, the head of the delgation H.W.Jayawardene read out a prepared statement rejectng the Thimpu principles as constituting a negation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka, that they were detrimental to a united Sri Lanka and also inimical to the interests of other ethnic and religious communities living in the country. But, what is interesting is that like the Tamil delegation an opening was given in the same statement to enable the talks to continue. To quote: In so far as these ideas and concepts can be given a meaning and connotation which does not entail the creation of a separate state, we do believe that there is room for a fruitful exchange of views which can result in a settlement of the problem that beset us.
If we come to the present, it is clear that the wheel had taken its full turn. While the LTTE still continues to base its political demands on the basis of the Thimpu principles, an interpretation has been given to the right to self-determination by LTTEs chief negotiator Anton Balasingham at the Kilinochchi media conference of August 10 to imply "internal self-determination" or self-governance and autonomy, while not negating secession if a negotiated settlement is not found to the Ethnic Question. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremsinghe responded by accepting the liberal interpetation of "internal" self-determination as constituting a basis for a solution..
It is my contention that the time has come for the LTTE to demystify the Thimpu Principles and give it a concrete constitutional form as an alternative to an independent state of Tamil Eelam. It is also important that variants of constitutional reform proposals coming from the South should go beyond the hallowed notion of a unitary State. The Tamil National Question needs to be acknowledged, addressed and resolved. It cannot be dodged. Herein lies the challenge and the remedy.
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