The peace talks between the Sri Lanka government
and the LTTE broke down on April 19, 1995. Since November 94, there were four rounds
of direct talks, and more than 40 letters were exchanged between the negotiating parties.
During the initial phase, there were promising gestures of goodwill from both sides. The
LTTE unilaterally declared a cease-fire and invited the newly elected government for
direct talks. The government in turn, announced a partial lifting of the economic
embargo (imposed on the Tamil homelands by the previous government), agreed to a cessation
of hostilities, and sent its emissaries to meet with the LTTE. In March, however, the
events began to turn sour, and the fighting resumed in April of 1995.
The mere fact that the LTTE was the first to disengage from the
process, has caused many outsiders to empathize with the Sri Lankan government and blame
the LTTE for the breakdown.
This response on the part of some of these foreign observers, however, is an impulsive
(and one may add, a very petulant) one, that disregards the complex nature of the
situation. The fact that, there must be a reason why this problem has eluded resolution
for forty years has escaped many of these observers.
Regardless, this attitude prevails in some international
circles, and in the western media, which keeps repeating - "LTTE broke the
This viewpoint, which is quite annoying to the Tamil
people, is based on a faulty assumption that in this struggle the players are equal, and
that the field is level, when in fact both are not.
The mere fact that the Sri Lankan government is an
accredited "state," endows it with an enormous amount power, something that the
LTTE simply does not have. The advantage of the legitimacy of "statehood", and
the consequent power to exercise virtually unlimited authority within its territory, the
co-operation and assistance it receives from other governments, the access to world media,
its network of embassies (to do lobbying and propaganda), etc., etc. are incomparable. The
players are not equal, and the field is certainly not level!
This dominance of one party (the Sri Lanka government)
would have been of no consequence if the talks took place with honesty of purpose and a
sincere intent to secure a just peace. But, regrettably, the government (under pressure
from its army and the extremist elements from within) did not pursue this effort with the
degree of sincerity it deserved. It was easier for the Sri Lankan government to exploit
the advantage of its "state power" against the LTTE, than to fight its own
ranks. It may have had its reasons, such as its slim majority in the Parliament, or its
inability to control the army or the militant clergy, etc., but none of these reasons make
it right or moral.
The lack of sincerity in its negotiations with the LTTE
was manifest at a number of levels, and the following is a partial list.
1. The governments efforts to have a dialogue with
the LTTE have been perfunctory at best. The government negotiating team consisted of
individuals with no official status, and the composition of the team changed
repeatedly. A Political columnist in Sri Lanka wrote,
"The President had two senior ministers
beside her in her discussions with the Tamil groups who were voting with her in
Parliament, (whereas) she sent as delegates to negotiate an end to a war that has cost
30,000 lives, her architect, her banker and her clerk. The only person she forgot to send
was her cook!"
2. The teams flew into Jaffna once in two months or so,
and that too in the mornings for a few hours of talks with the LTTE, and returned before
sundown; an effort that one would hardly consider as serious.
Mr. M.Vasantha Raja, ex-chairman of the Sri Lanka
Broadcasting Corporation, said,
"If the government was seriously trying to
establish trust and avoid misunderstandings there were many measures it could have taken.
For example as a part of a formal cease-fire, a "video link" between the LTTE
headquarters and the Presidential secretariat facilitating regular talks, would have been
of enormous value...
...In my estimation, the Sri Lankan government betrayed the sincere intentions of the
Sinhala people who put them in power - people who pleaded for, and deserved, a wholly
genuine peace effort. "
3. The government team, by virtue of their lack of
official standing, could not implement its agreements with the LTTE.
The initial talks centered around the restoration of
civilian life in the Tamil areas, which had disintegrated tremendously over the last 15
years. The people in the Tamil areas have been living in sub-human conditions; without
basic amenities such as fuel, electricity, adequate nutrition, clean water and sanitation,
basic healthcare, etc. They were deprived of their right to earn a livelihood and their
freedom to travel.
It was nothing but right that, the day-to-day suffering of
the Tamil people had to be lessened as an immediate priority. President Kumaratunga
herself, soon after the elections, announced this to be her chief task.
The LTTE asked that all of the
economic embargo imposed on the Tamil people be lifted. The government agreed to only a partial
lifting of the embargo, and that too was not fully implemented.
It is now well known that, although the government made
publicity capital out of this (partial) lifting of the embargo, it was not fulfilled
enough to help the Tamil people. The army stationed at the borders saw to it that even the
officially released items didnt get through. The Proceedings of Friends For Peace In
Sri Lanka, observed
"For although the Government has declared
that it has lifted the sanctions on most of the banned items, people from within Jaffna
Peninsula reported that the lifting of the embargo, although given wide publicity in the
south, in fact had not really been given effect."
Thus, the embargo in one form or another continued, in
spite of the worldwide publicity that "the blockade has been lifted."
4. The ban on fishing, although was officially lifted, was
continued by the Navy. The fishermen who ventured out were harassed and shot at by the
naval personnel, and many fishermen in the north were injured and/or killed.
5. Similarly, the restriction on travel also continued.
In the East travelers venturing out of their immediate
locality, were harassed, arrested by the army, and many disappeared; and in the north the
government refused to remove one army camp (out of 200) to make travel for the Tamil
people a little easier.
6. The army assisted Sinhala colonization of the Tamil
homelands continued during the talks.
The Tamil villagers were forcibly evicted from their homes
and replaced with Sinhala colonists, assisted by the Sri Lankan army. The Proceedings of
Friends For Peace In Sri Lanka, commented,
"The fourth important issue which
continued to be a serious irritant to the smooth progress of the peace talks is the issue
of colonization. In spite of several protests for a long time, the present Government also
has taken no steps to stop colonizing the Tamil areas with Sinhalese settlements and
surround them with army posts to protect them. The demography of the Eastern province is
sought to be altered and also the plan is to break the contiguity between the north and
the eastern provinces to avert the demand of the Tamil people for a contiguous
7. While the negotiations for peace continued, the
government continued to build up its armed forces.
If peace was the ultimate aim, the prevalent efforts
should have been to reduce, rather than increase, the size of the armed forces.
Instead, the newly elected Sri Lankan government increased, the already bloated
budget for the armed forces by twenty seven percent (27%). The government was already
spending US$500 million (30% of Sri Lankas Budget) annually on this war, and this
was a further increase. Sophisticated weaponry were imported, and new recruitment drives
were launched. The Deputy Defense Minister, Col. Anuradha Ratwatte, went around the Sri
Lankan Army Camps, giving well publicized talks to the soldiers about the next war.
Mr. Vasantha Raja observed,
"Launching a new military recruitment
campaign and ceremoniously opening up new settlements in Trincomalee did much to further
undermine the trust that was imperative to any successful outcome of the talks."
One cannot fault the LTTE for interpreting these events as
signals for preparation for war, rather than as groundwork for peace.
8. The government failed to present a common theme.
While the President was making conciliatory statements,
other members of the Kumaratunga Cabinet were contradicting her.
Eg: The Prime Minister, Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranayake, stated that the island belongs to the
Sinhala Buddhists, and that the "minorities" have to learn to live with this
Another Cabinet Minister stated that LTTE should be "crushed first" and a
settlement reached on "our terms."
9. The government procrastinated on their proposals, until
the hostilities resumed.
The reality over the last forty years has been that, the
successive governments in Sri Lanka, while performing political maneuvers, have not made
any serious efforts at resolving the conflict in any meaningful way. The abrogation of
pacts with the Tamil leadership, and unilateral legislations pretending to
resolve the conflict, etc. have made the Tamil people intuitively mistrustful of the
Sinhala leaders promises.
The government should have taken extra efforts to allay these justifiable anxieties, but
instead it actually perpetuated them by this vacillation.
10. Requests and appeals by the LTTE were persistently
ignored. The indifference and disregard on the part of the government were interpreted by
the LTTE as arrogance, and/or as attempts to denigrate the LTTE.
Mr. Vasantha Raja observed,
"Moreover, the governments behaviour
gave the impression that it was quite deliberately ignoring the LTTEs constant
request to arrange a formal cease-fire in place of the fragile "cessation of
hostilities," so that clear terms of agreement in writing could be reached,
particularly in relation to the controversial east. Even the so-called reconstruction
projects, the President admitted, were aimed at hiring Tamil labour on a mass scale,
getting them directly onto the governments payroll in the hope of changing their
loyalties. This explains why the government was not especially keen to accept the
LTTEs proposal to establish an Independent Authority with representation from all
sides to handle reconstruction work. Finally, the unilateral opening up of the government
controlled section of the Sangupitty Road - without consulting the LTTE - must have dashed
any remaining hopes of establishing trust between the two sides."
The government certainly had the motive to weaken and to
render the LTTE more pliable, so that it can give less to the Tamil people. If such was
the aim it not only failed, but it also derailed the entire process.
Many impartial observers have commented on the fact that
the LTTE took part in the negotiations in good faith. The LTTE made a number of goodwill
gestures, and worked hard towards a peaceful settlement. Here is a partial list.
1. At the very outset, LTTE publicly announced its
willingness to give up the demand for a separate state and to settle for a federal
solution. According to observers across the world, this was a major concession.
2. The LTTE unilaterally and unconditionally released
prisoners of war in its custody.
3. The LTTE repeatedly requested a formal permanent
cease-fire in place of cessation of hostilities.
The government ignored this request.
4. The LTTE agreed to the functioning of six international
observer missions, each consisting of an foreign chairperson.
These missions were to function after discussing the objectives and modalities with the
After the meetings between the LTTE and the observers took place, the government reneged.
5. The LTTE agreed to review the proposals for a political
solution at any time.
However, it requested discussions on such proposals be delayed until the day-to-day
needs of the Tamils were addressed.
The government used this against the LTTE, and kept accusing the LTTE of not wanting to
discuss the political solution.
However, it never presented its own proposals for a settlement until the hostilities
7. The LTTE agreed to cooperate with the reconstruction
and rehabilitation activities proposed by the government.
Initially this project (budgeted at $ 800 million) was to reconstruct the entire north,
was later watered down to the area of the Jaffna municipality first, and then to a few
buildings in Jaffna town.
8. The LTTE adhered to the rules of the peace process both
in letter and spirit.
Even on the discontinuation of the peace talks, the LTTE gave five weeks
notice, when in fact the agreement called for only 72 hours notice.
Foregoing analysis proves how serious and committed the LTTE was towards seeking a
negotiated solution. However, as the talks dragged on without any results or commitments,
in conjunction with the offhand approach of the Government, LTTE officially informed the
government of their intention to withdraw from the cessation of hostilities, as provided
for in the agreement. First ultimatum was ignored by the government. Government was
carefully implementing a strategy where it could take credit from the international
community for engaging in negotiations, and exploiting every opportunity to frustrate the
LTTE. Finally the LTTE was pushed to a corner, where they extended the ultimatum once more
so that the SL government could re-think their position. In the absence of any positive
response, the LTTE lost faith in peace talks.
LTTE was compelled to withdraw from negotiations as well
as cessation of hostilities.
November 15, 1995