Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

The LTTE and the IRA's Proposed Disarmament

by Dr. Victor Rajakulendran, Sydney, AUSTRALIA

"We welcome the announcement of the IRA.  We hope the LTTE would also

fall in line,"

Sri Lankan government spokesman Nimal Siripala de Silva to reporters in Colombo, 29 July 2005

"The weapons of the LTTE are the only protection for the Tamils.  Therefore, until the Tamils establish self-rule in their homeland and are able to look after their own affairs in the way they have been demanding, Tamils cannot hand over their weapons that provide self-protection to them."

Tamil National Alliance MP, Joseph Pararajasingam in an interview to the European IBC radio, 31 July 2005

Proposed IRA disarmament

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) announced on 28th July 2005 that it has formally ordered an end to its armed struggle and is to follow purely political means to achieve its aims.  The long-awaited statement was welcomed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who said it was in "a different order" to anything that had gone before.

"This may be the day when finally after all the false dawns and dashed hopes, peace replaces war, politics replaces terror on the island of Ireland," he said.  The statement of the IRA marks the end of more than three decades of IRA violence, during which the group’s activities resulted in the death of 1,800 civilians and members of the security forces.

The IRA made it clear that it was not disbanding nor renouncing its vision of a united Ireland.  The IRA said: "Our decisions have been taken to advance our republican and democratic objectives, including our goal of a united Ireland.  We believe there is now an alternative way to achieve this and to end British rule in our country."

The statement came in response to an April appeal by Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing, that the group renounce armed struggle and engage in the democratic process. Republicans had been under intense pressure to renounce violence and criminal activity after the multi-million dollar Northern Bank robbery in December 2004, for which the IRA was blamed, and the killing of Belfast man Robert McCartney in January 2005, allegedly by IRA members.

Although the move to disarm was welcomed as a potentially historic turning point by the British and Irish governments, both sounded a note of caution.  Blair stressed the need for immediate disarmament and verification by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning and the Independent Monitoring Commission.  He also emphasized that the order to volunteers to end "all other activities" would be taken as a "forthright denunciation" of criminal, as well as paramilitary, activity.

"The Unionist community in particular and all of us throughout Ireland and the United Kingdom will want to see this clear statement of principle kept to in practice," Tony Blair said.  However, he insisted that the statement was a momentous one, nevertheless.  "This is a step of unparalleled magnitude in the recent history of Northern Ireland," he said further.

A joint statement from Blair and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern was similarly cautiously optimistic.  "We acknowledge the significance of the IRA statement.  Both governments are hopeful that the practical elements of this statement will be implemented in the terms set out.  If the IRA's words are borne out by actions, it will be a momentous and historic development."  Likewise, on the other side of the Atlantic, the White House stressed, as usual, that "the IRA statement must be followed by actions demonstrating the republican movement's unequivocal commitment to the rule of law and to the renunciation of all paramilitary and criminal activities."  "We understand that many, especially victims and their families, will be sceptical," U.S. President George Bush said.  "They will want to be certain that this terrorism and criminality are, indeed things of the past," President Bush said further, stressing that, however, the decision was "potentially historic."

Situation and Expectation in Sri Lanka

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which has been involved in a bloody armed struggle for more than 2 decades to liberate the Tamil-speaking people living in the NorthEast of the island from the oppressive Sri Lankan Singhalese-dominated governments, has been observing a cease-fire with the Sri Lankan Government (SLG) for more than 3 years now.  Through this cease-fire agreement signed between the SLG and the LTTE, areas of the NorthEast are divided into government-controlled areas and LTTE-controlled areas separated by no-mans lands.  This cease-fire agreement has been adjudged legal by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka recently, in a fundamental rights case filed by a Singhalese political party.  In the LTTE controlled areas (70% of the NorthEast) the LTTE runs its own administration, including police stations and their own system of western-style judiciary.  Western media which have gone to these areas to cover the devastation caused by the Boxing Day tsunami have applauded the efficiency of this administration.

Prabakaran

Both parties to the Sri Lankan conflict decided to come to the negotiating table after realising that no one could win this protracted war.  During the early stage of the peace process 6 rounds of peace talks were held in various countries’ capitols under the facilitation of the Norwegian government.  The U.S, Japan, Norway and European Union have become co-chairs overseeing this peace process.

Like the IRA, although the LTTE has not abandoned their quest for establishing a separate state – Eelam - in the northeast of the country, during these negotiations they agreed to consider a Federal model, one that could satisfy the legitimate rights of the Tamil-speaking people for self-determination, as an alternative solution. 

After 6 rounds of negotiations between SLG and the LTTE, the LTTE was excluded from participating in a donors’ conference when it was convened by the co-chairs of the peace process in Washington, DC.  As a result, the LTTE boycotted the next donor’s conference, which was held in Tokyo, and until now the negotiations between the parties have not recommenced.

Although the cease-fire is holding without major confrontation between the two parties, it has come under severe strain in recent days due to alleged attacks by the Tamil paramilitary groups on LTTE leaders, cadres and supporters.  As a result of these attacks, the LTTE has pulled their cadres who were doing political work out of the government-controlled areas.

The Boxing Day (26.12.04) tsunami, that caused more havoc in the northeast of Sri Lanka than in the rest of the country, has further delayed the progress of the peace process.  The memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the Post-Tsunami Operational Management System (P-TOMS) signed between the SLG and the LTTE to use the foreign aid money that has been pledged by the international community (IC) effectively and equitably for the benefit of all the three communities in the northeast, has been vehemently opposed by the one-time coalition partner in the SLG, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP – People Liberation Front) from the day it was proposed. 

The JVP’s stand on any peace move has been that the LTTE has to surrender its weapons before the SLG initiates any negotiations with the organisation.  As a result, President Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumarathunga (CBK) could not even think of restarting the stalled negotiations as long as the JVP was an important partner in her government.  When the MOU on P-TOMS was signed, the JVP walked out of the government, making CBK’s coalition government a minority government in parliament.  The JVP also filed a violation of fundamental rights case in the Supreme Court (SC) and the SC has imposed stay orders on certain provisions of the P-TOMS, making the P-TOMS practically non-functional.

Tamil-speaking people of the NorthEast of the island, who have been affected by the war first and then by the tsunami, had a ray of hope during the cease-fire period that their life would become better.  But, with SC order on the P-TOMS, there are signs that the faith of the Tamil-speaking people of the northeast in the SLG has diminished to the minimum. 

On the 27th of July 2005, Tamil-speaking members of the clergy, academics, civil society leaders, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarians, and Tamil-speaking youths gathered for a Tamil National Resurgence Convention in the Northern border city of Vavuniya, in numbers exceeding one thousand, and proclaimed that:

1. The occupying Singhalese forces must vacate the land and seas of the northeast with immediate effect,

2. A conducive environment should be created for the Tamil-speaking people to decide their own destiny, and

3. The IC should recognise the Tamil-speaking people’s basic right to a life of freedom with peace on the basis of their traditional homeland, their nationhood and their right to self-rule and their struggle for sovereignty.

Because the IRA’s announcement to end its armed struggle has come at a time when Sri Lanka is at a cross roads vis-a-vis the cease-fire agreement (CFA) and the peace process, the issue of the LTTE disarming has once again become a talking point in the Sri Lankan media, both the electronic and print categories.  This has prompted even some prominent SLG VIPs to express publicly their opinion - or wishful hope - (like the one quoted at the top) on this disarmament issue. 

Therefore, it is appropriate to debate and discuss whether the expectations of these opinion-makers such as the SLG official spokesman, Nimal Siripala de Silva, and Tamil National Alliance MP Joseph Pararajasingam are justifiable or not.

Similar conflicts

It is relevant at this stage to examine what has happened in finding negotiated settlements to similar conflicts in other countries.

A. Bougainville Conflict

Elections for the Autonomous Government of Bougainville were held in May 2005 as part of a peace deal that ended years of fighting in the Papua New Guinean (PNG) province between government forces and separatist rebels.

Australia, PNG’s former colonial ruler, has been involved in the conflict from the outset and bears heavy responsibility for the resulting death and destruction.  Fighting erupted in 1989 after a group of landowners led by Francis Ona failed to make any headway in their calls for increased royalties from the giant Panguna copper mine operated by the Anglo-Australian Rio Tinto group.  Their demands broadened to Bougainville independence after the PNG government, backed by Canberra, reacted with savage repression.

At least 10,000 people, out of a total population of 180,000, died on Bougainville in the course of the bloody war or as a result of the economic blockade imposed on the islands.  Only after the PNG military proved unable to defeat the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) did Canberra adopt a new tack, pushing for a negotiated settlement with the BRA, in the hope of ultimately reopening the Panguna mine.

Following prolonged negotiations, the Bougainville Peace Agreement (BPA) was finally signed in 2001.  Once the UN secured the weapons of the warring parties, two unelected bodies—the official Bougainville Interim Provincial Government and the Bougainville Peoples Congress—established a commission to draft a constitution to go before a "representative" Constituent Assembly.  There was no provision for any vote by the Bougainville people until after the constitution was adopted.

The deal provided for greater legal autonomy for Bougainville, which was given effect by the recent elections.  The new local administration has the power to establish a police force, judiciary, taxation system, commercial bank and courts.  Port Moresby, the capitol of PNG, retains control over defence and foreign affairs, although the PNG military will largely be excluded from the island.  A referendum on full independence is due to be held within 10 to 15 years.

Francis Ona

Francis Ona, who spearheaded the armed struggle of BRA against thge PNG military, did not agree to the elections and Joseph Kabui, an ex-commander of the separatist BRA easily defeated John Momis, a long standing PNG parliamentarian by 37,928 votes to 22,970 in results announced on June 4, 2005 and has become the first President of the new autonomous island of Bougainville.  Kabui’s People’s Congress Party won 14 of the 40 seats in parliament and has formed a grand coalition with independents and other factions. 

The Bougainville government was sworn in on June 15, 2005, amid self-congratulations by the Australian government and the United Nations (UN), both of which pushed for a settlement to the bitter conflict.   Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer declared that it was "an historic day" for Australia and praised the role of some 3,800 Australian peace monitors in supervising the protracted election process.

Soon after the elections Francis Ona died of malaria and, with his death, the fear that the armed struggle might resurface again also has disappeared, at least for the time being.

B. Sudan Conflict

John Garang, who died in a helicopter crash aged 60 while the author was writing this article, became vice-president of Sudan after having had the distinction of starting, fighting and ending the longest civil war in Africa's modern history.

John Garang

Before the current round of the conflict, Garang fought in the north-south war in the 1960s until fighting ended with the Addis Ababa peace accords in 1972.

The latest round of conflict between the Arab, Muslim-dominated Khartoum government and the African, but Christian and Animist-dominated Southern Sudan began in 1983.  Garang himself personally started this longest - and by far the most destructive - round of the conflict.  As a Colonel in Sudan's army, he was sent to the southern region of Bor to quell a mutiny.  But this was Garang's home area, and he came from the same black African Dinka tribe as most of the 500 rebellious troops.

Like them, Garang resented the dominance of Sudan by the tiny Arab elite, including hardline Islamists who sought to impose Sharia law.  Instead of crushing the mutiny, Garang encouraged it.  Those 500 troops became his first recruits and they were joined by thousands more.  Garang became the founding leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), sparking an insurrection across the southern plains of Africa's largest country. 

By 1986 the SPLA was estimated to have had 12,500 armed men, organized into 12 battalions and equipped with small arms and a few mortars, according to Sudan specialists who have been monitoring the war.  By 1989 the SPLA's strength had reached 20,000 to 30,000 and rose to between 50,000 to 60,000 in 1991.  When negotiations started, Mr Garang's SPLA controlled much of the southern third of the country - including pockets of territory in central and eastern Sudan.

From the outset, the aims of the SPLA were obscure - even whether the SPLA sought independence for southern Sudan or only autonomy was unclear.  Most of its fighters believed that secession was the aim.  But Garang had higher ambitions.  Contrary to Khartoum's propaganda, Garang sought a united Sudan, but one that was secular, federal and willing to include him in the highest echelons of its government.

Garang’s key supporter was Mengistu Haile Mariam, the Marxist leader of Ethiopia.  A series of disasters struck in 1991.  Mengistu was overthrown and the SPLA lost its bases in Ethiopia.  Then bitter ethnic tensions caused the movement to split into three factions.  Garang was left with a rump of Dinka followers. 

External events rescued the SPLA.  Sudan's regime was becoming an international pariah, after openly sponsoring terrorists and hosting Osama bin Laden for five years after 1991.  Using the circumstances, Garang skilfully harnessed American might behind his movement.  Unlike many African rebel leaders, he was quick to abandon the heady brew of Marxism and anti-western rhetoric, understanding that American power was an unavoidable fact and that the trick was to mobilise it in your favour.  Garang became the unlikely darling of America's religious Right, whose leading lights somehow convinced themselves that he was fighting on behalf of southern Sudan's oppressed Christians, forgetting that most of the people inhabiting that huge region are cheerfully pagan.

America saw the SPLA as a means of exerting pressure on Khartoum.  In 1996, President Clinton gave Garang $20 million of "non-lethal" military aid and financial sanctions were imposed on Sudan.  Just as Khartoum found itself under international siege, Garang managed to reunite the SPLA and ally with other dissident groups in different regions of Sudan.  The SPLA became almost a national army of the southern Sudan. 

The SPLA has over the period managed to hold its ground and has, in several instances, scored surprisingly impressive victories. Its capture of Raga (similar to the LTTE capturing the Elephant Pass garrison), a strongly fortified Khartoum base in southwest Sudan in October 2001, is a case in point.  Though the government later recaptured the town, the incident did send a strong message to Khartoum about the SPLA’s potential.  Therefore, like the Sudanese protagonists, the US must also have realised (like the way they realised in the case of the Sri Lankan conflict) that neither Khartoum nor the John Garang-led SPLA is capable of winning the 20-year-old war comprehensively.  The US started to change its attitude towards this conflict.

Informal peace talks began, with the SPLA participating as an equal partner to the Sudanese government in Khartoum, and in July 2002 Garang held a meeting with President Omar al-Bashir.

Garang understood that American pressure was indispensable and he devoted his time to lobbying Washington, singling out the Christian right.  The result was the Sudan Peace Act, signed by President Bush in October 2002, threatening Khartoum with total isolation unless it dealt with the SPLA.

Negotiations in Kenya continued and after signing a total of 8 protocols and agreements, on 9th January 2005 President of Sudan Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Col. John Garang signed the final accord in front of South African President Thabo Mbeki.

According to this agreement Southern Sudan was to have an interim autonomous government with John Garang as the President and Commander in Chief of his SPLA, to be called the Government of South Sudan (GSS).  There was to be an Interim Coalition government in Khartoum with a Presidency consisting of Omar Hassan al-Bashir as President and John Garang as first Vice President and another Northerner as the second Vice President.  This arrangement is to be for 6 years until the Southerners decide in a referendum in 2011 whether to secede or remain a part of the Sudan.

The Sudanese army is to withdraw from the South within 30 months, while the SPLA has 1 year to leave certain areas in Central Sudan.  The military disengagement process is to be accompanied by the creation of integrated army units totalling 24,000 men with equal numbers from the Sudanese army and the SPLA.  These could form the nucleus of a new National Army if the South were to decide to remain in the Sudan in 2011.  Within one year the pro-government militias of the South Sudan Defence Forces (SSDF) are to be integrated into either the SPLA or the government army or disarmed.  There was no room or demand from anyone for the SPLA to disarm.

According to the terms of the agreement, John Garang became the first Vice President of the Republic of Sudan 3 weeks before he died.  The SPLA has elected Garang’s Chief of Staff Mr Salva Kiir Mayardit as his successor and now he will become the Vice President and hopefully continue the vision John Garang had for a united, secular, federal and democratic Sudan.

3. Northern Ireland conflict

After the Anglo-Irish war, which lasted from 1919 to the middle of 1921, the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 gave independence to 26 Irish counties, and allowed six, largely Protestant Ulster counties the choice of opting out.  The Northern Ireland parliament came into being, with James Craig as its first prime minister.  The politics of the North became increasingly divided on religious grounds, and discrimination against Catholics was rife in politics, housing, employment and social welfare.  The south of Ireland was finally declared a republic in 1948, and left the British Commonwealth in 1949.

Gerry Adams at an IRA ceremony, April 2005

Instability in the North began to reveal itself in the 1960s and, when a peaceful civil rights march in 1968 was violently broken up by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), the troubles were under way.  British troops were sent to Derry and Belfast in August 1969; they were initially welcomed by the Catholics, but it soon became clear that they were the tool of the Protestant majority.  Peaceful measures had clearly failed and the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which had fought the British during the Anglo-Irish war, re-surfaced.  The upheaval was punctuated by seemingly endless tit-for-tat killings on both sides, an array of ever-changing acronyms, the massacre of civilians by troops, the internment of IRA sympathisers without trial, the death by hunger strike of the imprisoned and the introduction of terrorism to mainland Britain.

Northern Ireland lost its vestige of parliamentary independence and has been ruled from London ever since.  The Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 gave the Dublin government an official consultative role in Northern Ireland's affairs for the first time.  The jubilantly received ceasefire of 1994 was undermined by further murders, the reoccurrence of terrorism in Britain and the perceived intransigence of the British government in Whitehall.  The mood shifted again with the election of Tony Blair in 1997 with a huge Labour majority to support him.  The two sides resumed discussions and, an agreement known as the Good Friday Agreement or Belfast Agreement was reached in Belfast on Friday, April 10 1998.

The Agreement sets out a plan for devolved government in Northern Ireland on a stable and inclusive basis and provides for the creation of Human Rights and Equality Commissions, the early release of terrorist prisoners, the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons and far-reaching reforms of criminal justice and policing.

The agreement proposed an inter-connected group of institutions from three ‘strands’ of relationships.

Strand One deals with relationships within Northern Ireland and created the Northern Ireland Assembly, its Executive and the consultative Civic Forum.  The Assembly has108 members (MLAs), elected by proportional representation and Ministers to the Executive are appointed according to party strength under the d’Hondt mechanism.  The last Assembly election was held in November, 2003.

Strand Two deals with relationships between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.  A North-South Ministerial Conference (NSMC) brings together members of the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government to oversee the work of six cross-border implementation bodies.

Strand Three deals with the East-West relationships within the British Isles.  A British-Irish Inter-Governmental conference was established to promote bilateral co-operation between the UK and Ireland.  It replaced the Anglo-Irish Inter-Governmental Council and Conference set up by the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985.

A British-Irish Council was also created that incorporates members of all devolved administrations within the UK and representatives of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, as well as the British and Irish governments.

The Equality Commission and the Human Rights Commision were created under the Agreement; there was a comprehensive review of criminal justice and policing arrangements and money was allocated to help victims of violence.

However, the peace process continues to wobble, with trust remaining the main sticking point.  Under these circumstances, the IRA has released its encouraging announcement that it has decided to disarm.

Conclusion

In all the three conflicts discussed above, protracted negotiations have resulted in relative peace, at least for the time being.

In the case of Bougainville, the BRA was not organised like a national army with battalions and it fought with rifles and shot guns only.  When Australia, the former colonial ruler of PNG withdrew its support to the PNG forces, the PNG government had no choice other than to negotiate an amicable solution with the BRA.  The BRA could not bring either a major portion of the island under its control or run its own administration there.  Therefore, it was reasonable to disarm all the armed groups, including the BRA, and legally recruit the island's own police force according to the provision provided in the changed PNG constitution.

In the case of Northern Ireland, the latest conflict has been mainly between the IRA and the British government.  There was no conflict between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.  The conflict was between the Catholics in the Northern Ireland (IRA) and the British administration that discriminated against the Catholics.  The IRA was only involved in hit and run attacks against the British forces and the police stationed in Northern Ireland, and in planting bombs in London.  The IRA was considered a paramilitary similar to the RUC.  This is why, under the Good Friday Agreement, all the paramilitaries were to be disarmed, but thus far this has not happened, although IRA has announced that it is going to disarm.

In the case of Sudan, the conflict has been between the Africans of the south and the Arabs of the North.  Africans in the south have had a formidable standing army built and commanded by Col. John Garang that could not be defeated by the Sudanese Army.  The SPLA was in control of most parts of Southern Sudan and have defeated the Sudanese Army in numerous battles.  This is why, when the autonomy for Southern Sudan was worked out, the international community that was instrumental in striking a peace deal did not have the moral right to ask the SPLA soldiers to disarm.  Instead, these soldiers are to be absorbed into the new Sudanese National Army to be created under the new agreement.

In the case of Sri Lanka, the LTTE over the past decade has developed into a formidable force capable of fighting a conventional army in sea and land battles.  It has beaten the Sri Lankan forces in major battles and controls70% of the NorthEast, which is claimed by the Tamil-speaking people as their homeland.  The LTTE has a navy capable of conducting sea battles and is alleged to possess an air force also now, although this has not been seen in action.  The LTTE also runs its own administration in the area controlled by it. 

Therefore, does the same international community which supports the Sudanese peace process and which is behind the Sri Lankan peace process also, have any moral right to ask the LTTE to disarm before, during or even after, finding a peaceful solution to the conflict?  Could any in the international community expect the LTTE to agree to any type of solution inferior to that has been accepted in Sudan?

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Posted August 8, 2005