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LTTE propanda organ asks:
Can Norway ensure implementation of ceasefire?

The pro LTTE Tamil Guardian (TG) of June 19 in its editorial has asked whether Norway can ensure the implementation of the ceasefire and says that ‘unnecessarily-much-hyped direct talks’ are not expected soon as ‘all actors now acknowledge.’ It blames the Sri Lanka government for having ‘hijacked the Norwegian peace initiative for an effort to railroad the LTTE into talks without any agreed agenda and irrespective of the objective conditions in the north andeast.’

It claims that Prime Minister Wickremasinghe by adopting ‘hardline policies towards the LTTE has ‘bankrupted - in Tamil eyes, at least - his government’s moral authority in the search for peace.’

The reasons for this delay, according to the pro-LTTE publication which calls them ‘starkly simple’ are as follows: Sri Lanka has reneged on its written pledge to restore normalcy in the Tamil areas by ‘demilitarising’ the region. The government instead of seeking an interim solution wants ‘core issues’ discussed at once. Troops continue to occupy Tamil schools, places of worship and public buildings across the north and east.

"The rationale for this is clear," says the TG, "International assistance is predicted on advances in the peace process and direct talks are the only acceptable evidence of this." The Norwegian facilitators, it says, now have work cut out for them.

Implying the LTTE’s desire for a troops pull-out, the TG says, "The argument that the troops cannot return to Colombo is fallacious."

The TG blames Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando for having told ‘the international community that the LTTE needs to be coerced to the negotiating table.’ It also faults the government for having stepped up rhetoric against the LTTE.

In its second editorial the TG says that ‘Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe’s honeymoon with the Sinhala public seems over and his careful selected cabinet will undoubtedly be feeling the pressure.’

The TG warns the government that the PA-JVP axis, which is undoubtedly an unprincipled alliance, will grow stronger in the coming months unless the UNF can significantly advance the peace process and secure international funding.’

The full text of the TG editorials:
A Blame Game
Can Norway ensure implementation of the ceasefire?

The Norwegian peace initiative is in the doldrums. The - unnecessarily - much-hyped direct talks between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers are not going to occur in June. In fact, they are not expected anytime soon - as all actors now acknowledge. The reasons are starkly simple. Firstly, and most immediately, Sri Lanka has reneged on its written pledge to restore normalcy in the Tamil areas by demilitarising the region. Secondly, it abandoned the phased approach to resolving one of the world’s most intractable conflicts and alarmingly gone for broke: instead of seeking an interim solution - the approach which had been accepted by all involved as the best, indeed the only viable one - the government about-turned and said ‘core issues’ must be discussed at once. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s subsequent vague statements suggesting the interim administration was back on the cards have decidedly failed to allay the now intense suspicion among Tamils that Colombo is pursuing a duplicitous strategy through the Norwegian peace initiative.

But the immediate problem remains, as ever, the belligerence of the Sri Lankan military. From the outset of peace efforts this year, this newspaper and several other voices have repeatedly warned against the military’s disruptive capabilities. Regrettably we have been proved right. The scale of non-compliance is staggering. Sinhalese troops continue to occupy Tamil schools, places of worship and public buildings across the north and east in unabashed defiance of the government’s signed undertaking. More importantly, the military has now declared it is either not going to comply with the ceasefire in some locations or is going to take its time in others.

Unfortunately, instead of moving to expedite the ceasefire’s implementation, the government is engaged in a public relations exercise, on one hand insisting stoically that all that is required has been done and citing a myriad of reasons for non-implementation on the other. The most favoured excuse for troops not withdrawing from public places is that there are no facilities to house them - which also conveniently provides cover for the substantial fortification efforts being undertaken by the armed forces. The argument that the troops cannot return to Colombo is fallacious. The four Army divisions crammed into the Jaffna peninsula, for example, were massed there for a major offensive operation in 1995. Unless the government is expecting to undertake another offensive in the peninsula soon, there is little reason to continue to maintain this massive garrison there. The military’s contempt for the ceasefire agreement - and continued harassment - is fuelling the intense frustration in the Tamil community - as demonstrated by the total shutdown protest last Wednesday.

But it is the acrimonious language of the present day that is fuelling anger in the Tamil community. Having failed to honour its first written commitment to the Tamils, the Sri Lankan government is now unashamedly blaming the LTTE for the impasse. Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando was last week advising the international community that the LTTE needs to be coerced to the negotiating table. If his choice of words did not raise hackles, then the demonstration of duplicity which Tamils now consider characteristic of Sinhala governments certainly would have. The LTTE reiterated this week that - as far as it was concerned - the date for talks was dependent on Colombo’s compliance with the ceasefire agreement. Incredibly, this position is being condemned as an unreasonable ‘demand.’ Apparently, the government can sign agreements and promptly ignore them but the LTTE has to meekly go along - simply for the sake of preserving a positive atmosphere.

Even assuming - and there are no grounds at present for this - that the ceasefire will eventually be fully implemented, the matter of the agenda for talks remains as yet unresolved. The rapid progress of the Norwegian peace initiative earlier this year was based on a common understanding between the protagonists to the conflict that a permanent solution would require compromise and accommodation which would be difficult, if not impossible, at this stage of a peace process, and that an interim solution is therefore required to bridge the present with as such time as ‘core issues’ can be agreed upon and discussed. But the government changed its mind and has been attempting to force immediate discussions about - unspecified - core issues. Although it is now deliberately avoiding clarity on the matter, the government’s rhetoric against the LTTE has meanwhile been stepped up.

Thus, from a Tamil perspective, Sri Lanka has hijacked the Norwegian peace initiative for an effort to railroad the LTTE into entering talks without any agreed agenda and irrespective of the objective conditions in the north and east. The rational for this is clear: international assistance is predicated on advances in the peace process and direct talks are the only acceptable evidence of this. The Norwegian facilitators therefore now have their work cut out. Restoring trust is always harder than creating it in the first place. But the optimism expressed last week by Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen is welcome, even though it is shared by few in the island. Last week Sri Lanka Army Major General Sarath Fonseka pointed out darkly : "after all, this is only a ceasefire agreement. [The Tamils] must understand that this is not the end of the war." Indeed.

Hobson’s Choice

The UNF’s future depends solely on peace

After its first six months in power, the United National Front (UNF) government is finding its performance under justifiable review. Unfortunately, the marks are not good. Sri Lanka’s southern press have not pulled their punches this week. The problems, as can be expected, centre on the cost of living: prices continue to rise inexorably. The hard fought battle against power shortages has been won, but there is precious little else to show. The economy continues to struggle without the massive international intervention it needs.

Admittedly, given the sweeping mandate it received when it drove the former People’s Alliance (PA) regime from power last December and the subsequent endorsement it secured in regional polls, the UNF need not be nervous. But Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s honeymoon with the Sinhala public seems over and his carefully selected cabinet will undoubtedly be feeling the pressure. Whilst he needs international funding, he needs to take concrete steps towards peace to secure it. In other words, begin talks with the Liberation Tigers. But the Norwegian peace initiative has been stalled and he has only himself to blame.

The UNF came to power - as it proudly declared - on public disillusionment with the PA government of President Chandrika Kumaratunga and its economically devastating pro-war policies. But Wickremsinghe’s subsequent woefully optimistic attempts at political cohabitation with the President have cost him dearly. Whilst seeking her cooperation, he gradually lost the momentum his poll victories gave him to challenge her authority - and into the bargain he betrayed the support extended by anti-Kumaratunga rebels within the PA.

On the other hand, by adopting her hardline policies towards the LTTE, he bankrupted - in Tamil eyes, at least - his government’s moral authority in the search for peace.

Little wonder then that the PA and its Marxist-cum-Sinhala nationalist ally, the Janatha Vimukthi Perumana (JVP), are now redoubling their efforts to recover lost political ground whilst simultaneously opposing peace with the LTTE. The PA-JVP axis, whilst un-doubtedly an unprincipled alliance, will grow stronger in the coming months, unless the UNF can significantly adv-ance the peace process and secure international funding.

But this requires the UNF to truly challenge the PA and JVP and genuinely pursue the Norwegian initiative - particularly since, by edging ever closer to the Sinhala far-right, Wickremesinghe has lost vital confidence amongst the Tamils. Mr. Wickremesinghe’s options for political longevity are either to enlist in the Sinhala-far right and try to steal the PA-JVP axis’s thunder or to embrace the peace process, satisfy Tamil aspirations and invoke an economic revival. He knows the status quo cannot continue. As does his opposition.


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