Sri Lanka’s peace talks: the devil is in the details

By Somar Wijayadasa,
Former Representative of UNAIDS United Nations, New York
What’s the mystery surrounding the peace talks between the government and the LTTE?

President Chandrika Kumaratunga has charged that only Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Minister Milinda Moragoda are in the know. The rest of the cabinet is apparently in the dark. So is the country.

The current peace negotiations — all six rounds of them — are still shrouded in mystery. The people undoubtedly are eager to get an insight into the secret peace plan and the anticipated outcome. The devil, as they say, are in the details. But the details are hard to come by.

Judging from peace negotiations conducted thus far, many Sri Lankans construe that the government has already given too much to the LTTE and got little in return. "Do we negotiate a peace at any price?" and "Are the Tigers taking the Prime Minister for a wild ride?" These are questions that are being asked not only by Sri Lankans at home but also by expatriates overseas.

The United States, which hosted a seminar on the Sri Lankan peace process in Washington DC on Monday, is still skeptical of the LTTE. Speaking there, Richard Armitage, the Deputy Secretary of State, said that "Our position is crystal clear, the LTTE must unequivocally renounce terrorism in word and in deed".

These are all ominous signs that do not augur well either for the country or for the peace negotiations.

It is on record that Kumaratunga first brought peace to the forefront of the national agenda and began formal talks with the LTTE in 1994. She continues to maintain that our ethnic problem could only be resolved by a negotiated settlement of the political problems that gave rise to the conflict. She is firmly committed to substantial devolution of power ensuring that the country remains undivided, and towards that end, she invited the NorwegianGovernment to facilitate peace negotiations.

LTTE suicide squads that are recognized as the deadliest and most ruthless terrorists in the world have assassinated many Sinhala and Tamil political leaders, and killed thousands of innocent Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims.

Long before the tragic events in the US in September 2001, the Tigers were outlawed as a terrorist organization in half a dozen countries, including Britain and the United States — thanks mostly to Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar’s steadfast diplomatic efforts.

After the terrorist attacks on the US, we were in a stronger position to strike a deal with the Tigers because the LTTE leadership knew that the US would hunt them down. In fact, President George Bush has vowed to hunt down terrorists one by one from where ever they hide. "You can run", he says, you cannot hide." The warning applies as much to Al Qaeda as it does to Prabhakaran and his cohorts.

But the tragedy of our peace talks is that the LTTE is masquerading as peacemakers while at the same time it is in the process of consolidating its Army, Navy, Law Courts, Police Stations, and Banks.

While visiting India last week, Kumaratunga said that the LTTE cadre has increased from 6,000 to 16,000 in one year of peace in Sri Lanka.

LTTE continues to abduct children for conscription, extorts money by compulsory taxation, smuggles arms, and shoots at our Navy and foreign ships. According to the SLMM, the Tigers committed 502 of the 556 cease-fire violations last year.

These actions clearly demonstrate that the LTTE is hell bent in consolidating its authority in the Northern and Eastern Provinces with the ultimate objective of carving out a separate state.

Instead of conducting feigned peace negotiations and parading in world capitals, the LTTE leadership should be hauled before the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of war crimes and genocide.

What disturbs me most is the absolute apathy and double standards of the prosperous Tamils flourishing in the midst of the Sinhalese all over the country. They are well aware that if Eelam eventually becomes a reality, they would be forced to mass migrate to the North even if they hate the tyrannical regime of Prabhakaran.

The government thinks that federalism may be the answer to our problem. But how can federalism exist in a country with two different political cultures: a democratically elected government in the south and a potential fascist and authoritarian regime in the north?

LTTE should consider the colossal gains it has garnered thanks to the loopholes in the current ‘cease-fire’. LTTE is also fortunate that the President has not used the powers vested in her, which further proves her commitment to the peace process.

LTTE should reciprocate, right now, not only by making a public declaration renouncing all forms of threat and violence, but also by immediately eliminating its suicide squads, and by decommissioning its army, navy and all weapons. Federalism or not, it is mandatory that Sri Lanka maintains only one military (Army, Navy & Air Force), and one judicial system. That should be the supreme guiding force for eternal peace.

Needless to say that all these factors - which are grave impediments to peace - are causing a deep sense of anxiety in the minds of the people of Sri Lanka.


Perhaps the only answer may lie in the formation of a national government. But it is unfortunate that our political leaders have still not realized that this national problem deserves a national response.

The dissolution of Parliament and/or forming impractical political alliances would only weaken our position and further strengthen those who are already getting away with murder. The fretting non-partisan voters, who are wearied with the two main political parties’ failures since independence, have no choice but to look for other alternatives.

In a country with a multi-party system, it is a joke for one party to talk peace with the terrorists. Genuine peace could be achieved only if all parties discuss the core political issues in a transparent manner. It is inconceivable that our political leaders are yet to forget their yearning for power, and unite to find a favourable solution to our long-standing ethnic problem.

Only a united National Government committed to finding a peaceful solution to this ethnic conflict taking into account all the aspirations of the various communities could save the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.