Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Sudan’s Interim Power-sharing and Peace in Sri Lanka

by Dr. Victor Rajakulendran, Sydney, Australia

“Two different nations from a very ancient period, have divided between them the possessions of the island: First the Cinhalese (Singhalese) inhabiting the interior of the country in its southern and western parts from the river Wallowe to that of Chilaw, and secondly the Malabars (Tamils), who possess the northern and eastern districts.  These two nations differ in their religions, language and manners.”

Hugh Cleghorn

The first British Colonial Secretary to Ceylon in 1799


British authorities made few mistakes in recording what they saw when they went into a country to colonise it.  However, when they left these countries after granting independence, they failed to leave systems of governments in place that could satisfy the aspirations of all the citizens of these countries.  Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) is no exception to this.

The two Nations of people Hugh Cleghorn, the first British Colonial Secretary, observed in 1799 in Sri Lanka (Ceylon), the Singhalese and Tamils, never lived without political qualms in the post-independence era (from 1948).  This is because the Westminster system of government left behind by the British colonialists, paved the way for the numerically superior Singhalese nation to govern the country, discriminating against the numerically inferior Tamil nation in policies of language, land alienation, education and employment.

When the Tamil nation’s struggle for equal rights using non-violent democratic methods, within and outside the parliament, was subjugated with brutal force by successive Singhalese-dominated governments, the then democratically elected leaders of the Tamil nation realised that the establishment of a separate State in the traditional homeland of the Tamil people, the North-East region of the country, is the only way to live in this island with peace and dignity.  This culminated in the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), the then moderate democratic political party of the Tamils, passing a resolution for the Tamils to initiate their struggle to establish an independent, Sovereign, Secular, Socialist State of Tamil Eelam in their traditional homeland, the North-East of Sri Lanka.

The resolution calling for a separate state was passed at the TULF’s convention held at Vaddukkodai in 1976. It is now popularly called the Vaddukkodai Resolution.  Tamil people gave their mandate to the TULF for this resolution, which was their platform, in the parliamentary elections in 1977.  When the TULF’s non-violent struggle for an independent state was crushed, the Tamil youths opted for an armed struggle. This armed struggle is today taken forward by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Until the LTTE was able to grow and evolve with the support of the Tamil people into an equal armed formation to the Sri Lankan security forces (SLSF), and was able to successfully resist the SLSF’s occupation of the Tamil homeland, no serious ceasefire agreements (CFA) or international community (IC) involved peace processes were initiated.  Such a CFA was signed in 2002 between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE with the facilitation of the international community (IC), specifically Norway. 

Although the CFA is still holding (after nearly 4 years) political killings are not in short supply, which are blamed on both, the Tamil paramilitary forces aided and directed by the SLSF, and the LTTE. Six rounds of peace negotiations, with the facilitation of Norway and with the support of the co-chairs (USA, Japan, EU and Norway) of the Tokyo donor conference for Sri Lanka, have failed to produce any results.  Even the IC-initiated Post-Tsunami Operational Management System (P-TOMS), a joint mechanism between the government of  Sri Lankan government (GoSL) and the LTTE to share the reconstruction aid from the IC equitably among the affected people, has also been prevented from functioning, through a court action initiated by Singhalese hard liners. 

Recent Tamil Resurgence

Realising that their hopes on the CFA and the peace process seem to have evaporated, the disappointed Tamil people began to demonstrate their frustration and expectations to the SLG and the IC, by organising resurgence rallies in the Tamil homeland.  The first Tamil National Resurgence Conference was held on 27 July 2005 in the northern town of Vavuniya.  A conference of more than 1000 Tamil academics, religious leaders and social activists in Vavuniya on this day proclaimed that an environment must be created to enable Tamils to decide their own political destiny and called for the Sri Lankan armed forces to vacate the land and seas of the North-East.  This is now known as the Vavuniya Declaration and Tamil people living in all the other Tamil Districts have held similar resurgence rallies endorsing this declaration.

With the CFA coming into effect, it has been accepted in principle that, in the island of Sri Lanka, there exists an area controlled by the GoSL and another area controlled by the LTTE.  The international community has witnessed, especially after the tsunami disaster, the existence of an efficient civil administration run by the LTTE in the LTTE controlled areas, with their own judicial, police, banking, transport and tax collecting systems.  Therefore although the British and the post-independence governments in Sri Lanka have tried to erase the situation that prevailed before the British colonialists stepped into Sri Lanka as recorded by Hugh Cleghorn in 1799, Tamils have succeeded in preserving to great extent the parameters defining their Nationhood.  This is why they decided to proclaim their aspirations as those of a Nation through Vavuniya Declaration.

In the last parliamentary elections, Tamils gave a mandate to the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) (a coalition of all the Tamil political parties of the North-East except two small ones) to represent them in the Sri Lankan parliament on the basis of recognising the LTTE as their sole representatives.  This mandate also stipulated that any negotiations the GoSL wants to conduct regarding the ethnic issue should be with the LTTE only.  Only one Tamil member was elected to parliament from the North-East outside the TNA in this election.  Therefore, the  majority of the Tamil people have accepted the leader of the LTTE Mr. Velupillai Praphakaran (VP) as their National leader.

Recently concluded presidential election

Attempts by the fourth President of Sri Lanka, Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumarathunge (CBK), who was at the helm for the last 11 bloody years in Sri Lanka, to extend her stay in power by another year failed. As a result, an election to elect a new President was held on 17th of November 2005.  Although there were 13 candidates contesting, it was a two man race between the two major Singhalese political parties.  The contest was between the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the opposition leader and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe of the United National Party (UNP).

Although the SLFP nominated Rajapaksa as its presidential candidate, the leader of the party, President CBK, and a few other senior members of the party did not support him openly.  Aware of this in advance, and knowing that the Tamils would not vote for his party’s candidate, Rajapaksa decided to exploit the nationalistic Singhalese votes.  To accomplish this, he decided to depend on the two extremist Singhalese nationalist parties the JVP (Peoples’ Liberation Front) and JHU (National Heritage Party), a party represented by 9 militant Buddhist monks in parliament.  The JVP was a terrorist organisation that staged two armed insurrections in Sri Lanka and latter entered parliament without surrendering their weapons.  No Sri Lankan government asked them to do so.  As these two parties have been opposing negotiations with LTTE and the Norwegian facilitation from the inception of the CFA, they laid out conditions for Rajapaksa in return for their support.  Knowing that, without their support, he could not think of winning, although Rajapaksa is a realist with pragmatic political ideas, he decided to agree to all these conditions. 

 The most important of these conditions that affect the future prospect of peace in Sri Lanka are:

  • Any political solution will be within the unitary type of  constitution only
  • The concept of self government or separate homeland for Tamils is not acceptable
  • A revision of the CFA
  • No tsunami aid sharing deal (P-TOMS) with the LTTE which has been encouraged by the donors
  • No major role for Norwegian peace brokers.

For the JVP and JHU, preventing Wickremesinghe from becoming the next president was more important than electing Rajapaksa as the next President.  The JHU considers Wickremesinghe more conciliatory towards Tamils and, for the JVP, if Wickremesinghe becomes the president, where to hide will be a worry.

The Tamils, who usually do not actively participate in Presidential elections, (in the Dec. 2000 Presidential elections only 19% of the Tamils voted in the Jaffna peninsula), realised the futility of supporting one or the other of the candidate vis-à-vis the peace process, due to the experience of the last 4 years.  Thus, they decided to keep away from participating in the voting and let the Singhalese choose their leader.  As a result, only 1-2 % voted in the North and less than half the Tamil people in the government controlled areas in the east voted.  Therefore, Wickremesinghe, who was expected to win comfortably with the support of the Tamil votes, was defeated narrowly by Rajapakse, who received the support of the nationalist Singhalese voters.

Therefore, while the Tamils have accepted and proclaimed LTTE leader Mr. Velupillai Prabhakaran (VP) as their National leader through the last parliamentary election, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been chosen as their National leader by the Singhalese through the just concluded Presidential election.

Leaders’ addresses to their people

The victorious President Rajapaksa delivered a 1 hour long speech in parliament on the 25th of November 2005, outlining the policies of his government.  In this address to his people, he promised to usher in an era of peace by talking to all the stake holders of peace in Sri Lanka.  At the same time, he also reiterated a few key things he had promised to the Singhalese hardliners in his election manifesto.  He proclaimed that he will reject self-determination for the Tamils, that he is committed to a ''unitary state" controlled by the Sinhala-Buddhist majority, that he will revise the CFA, that he will dissolve the agreed joint LTTE-government administration of post-tsunami relief (P-TOMS) and that for mediation he will use the United Nations and all the other friendly nations that have shown interest in the past, including the nations in the region.  He purposely omitted specifically mentioning what Norway’s role will be.  Singhalese hardliners have been demanding Rajapaksa terminate Norway’s role as the facilitator during the presidential election campaign.

Two days later, in his annual address to his people, the LTTE leader Prabhakaran emphasised the LTTE’s aim of self-government in a Tamil homeland.  He compared the new president’s policy with the LTTE’s own policy and pointed out the existence of vast policy differences between the two and warned that Tamils are losing patience and have started to express their feeling through resurgence rallies that they have been staging in various Tamil districts in recent times.  He also said that ''the new government should come forward soon with a reasonable political framework that will satisfy the political aspirations of the Tamil people." If no such offer is forthcoming, Prabhakaran said, the Tigers will in the next year ''intensify our struggle for self-determination."   When Prabhakaran talked about intensifying the struggle for self-determination, many analysts and commentators have interpreted this as an ultimatum to the new President Rajapaksa.

Future prospects for peace

From the stated positions above, of the leaders of the two Nations of people in Sri Lanka, and going by past experience of peace attempts made in the country, a renewal of armed conflict is inevitable in Sri Lanka, unless influential forces among the IC exert their pressure on both sides.

Full implementation of the CFA is the number one priority to diffuse the existing tension that is building up between the two sides and to restart the peace process.  As the disarming of the Tamil paramilitary forces working side by side with the SLSF against the LTTE is a primary aspect of the CFA, and most of the violent incidents happening during the last few months have been a direct effect of non-implementation of this disarming, this is the subject that needs to be addressed immediately.

While power-sharing with Tamils has been previously accepted by both UNP and SLFP governments as the basic necessity to find a political solution to the conflict, President Rajapaksa’s insistence on maintaining the “unitary state” makes one wonder whether the new President is really as pragmatic a politician as he is being described.  President Rajapaksa’s policy of maintaining the “unitary state” also ignores completely the agreement, reached between the LTTE and the GoSL in Oslo during the peace talks, that both sides will explore the possibility of finding a solution based on a federal model.   

While previous agreements made (but not implemented) between the Singhalese leaders and Tamil leaders, including the 1987 Indo-Lanka Agreement, have recognised the North-East region as the traditional homeland of the Tamils, President Rajapaksa’s rejection of this fundamental concept is contradictory to the declaration he made in parliament that he will usher in an era of peace satisfying the aspirations of all the communities in Sri Lanka. 

In summary, President Rajapaksa seems to be prepared to sacrifice even the little consensus reached during the peace talks so far, for the sake of appeasing the Singhalese nationalist constituency which elected him.

The last round of peace negotiations came to a standstill when the LTTE proposed an Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA) to be established for the North-East of Sri Lanka to carry out rehabilitation and reconstruction work.  The LTTE argued that rehabilitation and reconstruction cannot wait until a final political solution is found for the conflict, which will take at least few years for both sides to agree on.  Without rehabilitation and reconstruction of the war-affected areas, Tamil people will not reap the benefit of the CFA and the peace process, the LTTE argued.  The LTTE also insisted that the Tamil people will have to play the major role in this interim administration.  But, at this stage, the then President CBK sacked the Wickremesinghe government, held a general election and installed an SLFP/JVP coalition government.  This government, headed by Prime Minister Rajapaksa, did not take any interest in renewing the peace negotiations due to the JVP’s opposition to the government negotiating with the LTTE.

Any long term conflicts like the one in Sri Lanka have to go through an interim administration to reach a final settlement.  The best case in point is the solution reached for the conflict in Sudan.  The conflict in Sudan started almost at the same time as the Sri Lankan conflict.  The armed conflict between the Arab dominated Khartoum government forces of the north of Sudan and the African dominated Sudanese People Liberation Army (SPLA) of the south has caused death and destruction in the south of the country for the last 21 years.

The government of Sudan in the North and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) headed by its military leader General John Garang in the South signed a permanent peace accord on 9 January 2005, ending Sudan’s 21-year civil war.  It is the culmination of a more than two years of intensive negotiations. The peace talks were mediated by the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), led by retired Kenyan General Lazaro Sumbeiywo.  A united diplomatic front to achieve peace was also led by the United Kingdom, Norway, Kenya, and the United States, with significant involvement from U.S. Special Envoy Ambassador John Danforth, during the past two years.  The peace accord was signed in Nairobi by General John Garang on behalf of the SPLM and Sudanese First Vice President Ali Osman Taha on behalf of the government of Sudan.  Importantly, it provides for a federal system, with a two chamber central government and a regional government for Southern Sudan which will have substantial powers. This structure will stay in effect for six years, after which South Sudan may choose to become independent through a referendum. During this interim period, a government of national unity will administer the country on a national basis.  The agreement provides for an internationally monitored ceasefire with U.N. peace monitors. Two separate armed forces with a joint coordinating mechanism will be maintained in the North and South during the six-year transitional period.  The agreement addresses many contentious issues, such as power-sharing in the transitional government, and how to administer contested areas such as the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, where resource and land-based conflicts have flared for years.

Another thorny issue addressed in the accord is wealth-sharing, including oil revenues. Sudan has some of the largest proven oil reserves in the world. The agreements provide wealth sharing formulas between the North and South and oil producing states.

The agreement also provides that Sharia law, which is applied in the predominantly Muslim North, will not apply in the predominantly Christian South or in the capital, Khartoum. This had been a major sticking point during the conflict.

An interim constitution was signed by both the leaders on 9th of July 2005 and General John Garang became the vice president of this interim government.  Although General John Garang died in a helicopter crash a few days later, his former deputy in the SPLA has replaced him as Vice President and the interim government continues.

Most of the countries in the diplomatic front that were behind the Sudanese peace process are also behind the peace process in Sri Lanka.  These countries have helped the two waring Nations in Sudan to agree to an interim federal system with a central government and a regional government for Southern Sudan with substantial powers for 6 years.  This 6 year period is considered an interim period in which there will be two separate armed forces, with a joint coordinating mechanism, to be maintained in the North and South.  At the end of this 6 year interim period, people of the South Sudan will decide the final settlement through a referendum vote based on their right to self-determination.

If the IC has supported and encouraged such a solution to the Sudan conflict with an interim arrangement, accommodating the functioning of the armed forces of both sides, can the same IC refuse the demand of the Tamil people of the North-East of Sri Lanka for an ISGA in their homeland?

Considering the positions spelt out by both the leaders, Rajapakse and Prabhakaran, the only possible way to avert a resumption of hostilities in Sri Lanka is for the IC to come up with a similar interim arrangement to the one they have sponsored in Sudan.  The only difference may be President al-Bashir of Sudan is not a prisoner of extremist parties like Rajapakse is to the JVP and JHU in Sri Lanka.  The only way for Rajapakse to become another President al-Bashir is to hold a parliamentary election and form a stronger government with his own SLFP, leaving the JVP and JHU out.

More importantly, India needs to be prepared to help Norway and the rest of the IC by playing the role Kenya played in Sudan.