Wednesday, 9 July 2003  
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UNF and PA cannot escape joint responsibility to bring peace

by V. Thirunavukkarasu, Former Member, Colombo Municipal Council

About six years after his retirement, the late Junius Richard Jayewardene, first Executive President gave interview on 1.1.1995 to an English weekly reminiscing on his past. On that occasion, he stated, inter alia, that federalism would have been the best solution to the Tamil national question but that he did not have the courage to moot such a proposal while in office between 1977 and 1988.

The ruins of war in the North

Jayewardene was certainly not alone in this respect. Indeed, no Head of State and Government that preceded him had the courage to transcend parochial or sectarian considerations to steer the ship of State towards peace and prosperity. None of them refused to pander to the extremist forces of Sinhala hegemony and therefore none of them could prove to be a towering leader to guide the destinies of the whole country towards national integration, cohesiveness and progress. And the net result has been ongoing conflicts, episodic anti-Tamil riots and disturbances from the 1950s culminating in that horrendous 20 year long war which claimed over 60,000 lives as well as not less than 450 billion rupees, besides devastating the North and East and ruining the country's economy.

The war ended in December 2001 just after the Parliamentary elections, thanks to the unilateral declaration of ceasefire by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and reciprocated by the UNF Government.

In 1998, President Chandrika Kumaratunga, Head of the People's Alliance (PA), offered the LTTE an Interim Administration in the North-East for 10 years even though she had kept lambasting the LTTE as the most ruthless terrorist organisation in the world.

LTTE did not reciprocate perhaps because the LTTE elected to wait till the President's "war for peace" project was over. And, the Interim Administration proposal mooted in 1987 in the wake of the Indo-Sri Lanka accord also would not materialize due to the mutual disagreements between President Jayewardene and the LTTE on the question of the chief administrator to be nominated.

It is now known that the ceasefire agreement (CFA) entered into in February 2002 between Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and LTTE leader Velupillai Pirabhakaran, is still in place, and that six rounds of peace negotiations have been held since September 2002.

The North-East Tamils in particular had expected that the question of an Interim Administration for the North-East, would be taken up in the first round at Sattahip.

That was not to be, because of some purportedly constitutional/legal snags as projected by the Government's chief negotiator, Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris. Hence the LTTE did not push for immediate establishment of an Interim Administration in order to let the talks proceed smoothly. Instead, a proposal to set up a Joint Task Force (JTF) was mooted, but that again was dropped, and the LTTE did not push for it either at the instance of the Muslim leadership.

The LTTE was then finally prepared to settle for the establishment of the Sub committee on Immediate Humanitarian Needs and Rehabilitation (SIHRN). And now SIHRN has failed to deliver and the LTTE began to insist on the SIHRN being replaced by an Interim Administration, which the North-East Tamils had expected the LTTE not to budge from not withstanding constitutional snags. It is really incumbent on the Government to sort out any such snags. A constitution is there for the people and not vice versa. To say the least, there arises a civilisational crisis in any society that does not bring about timely changes of outdated instruments of governance.

After election of President Chandrika in November 1994 on a thumping 62.38% majority, the situation became ripe to call a Constituent Assembly to enact a new constitution incorporating a solution to the Tamil National question while also abolishing the Executive Presidency, (and the latter she pledged in writing to presidential candidate Nihal Galappatty, to accomplish by 15 July 1995). All that was needed was a motion in Parliament resolving to convert itself into a Constituent Assembly. It was contended by the Chandrika Government from a strictly legal standpoint that it was improper to do so, because the PA per se secured only 49-odd percent of the electorate in the August 1994 Parliamentary Elections.

We canvassed publicly and explicitly on that occasion that PA should take into consideration not only the votes secured by itself but also by the other parties that offered their wholehearted support to the PA.

In fact the Tamil leadership was prepared to give virtually unconditional support at that time. Moreover particularly because the North-East Tamils were grossly under represented, given the war situation and the incredibly low poll, it was open to the government to invoke even civil society organisations to partake in a Constituent Assembly. There wasn't that courage and political will to act boldly and, ironically, the much lamented Executive Presidency is still in place triggering a bizarre tug-of-war scenario, not in frequently, between the PA and the UNF. The Development Lottery Board tussle is a case in point.

Ranil-TNA discussions

At the recent discussions the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leadership had with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris did pose the question as to where the interim administration would lead. And Govt. Peace Secretariat, Helmsman, Ambassador Bernard Gunatilaka had quipped, "interim to what, a separate state?" Lo and behold, these sentiments have emanated from those who are closest to the peace talks, from those who have been face to face with the LTTE negotiators when the latter expressed their readiness at Sattahip to settle for a federal solution based on internal self-determination within a united Sri Lanka, explicitly declaring at the very outset that they do not operate within the concept of a separate state.

On the other hand, let us look at what the Financial Times, London, editorial titled "Tigers U-turn" says September 20, 2002 on the GOSL - LTTE talks. "It is rare for the first round of peace talks to yield a decisive breakthrough.

But that appears to be what has happened between the Sri Lanka Government and the rebel Tamil Tigers who waged a bloody insurgency for an independent state in the North-East of the island for nearly two decades.

After three days of Norwegian mediated talks the Tigers have clarified that their elastic concept of Eelam, kept ambiguous throughout the war, means a homeland and self-determination and not a separate state ... It was rightly greeted as a momentous development by Ranil Wickremesinghe - Sri Lankan Prime Minister, who says that Tamil aspirations can now be achieved within one country, with central government retaining control over Foreign policy, Defence and Monetary Policy".

It must be stressed in this context that Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, in his address to the UN General Assembly on 18-9-2002, emphasized that development would have to be an important part of the peace process as people wanted an immediate peace dividend, while President Chandrika, in her address to the 13th Summit of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) in Kuala Lumpur in February this year, stated that negotiations are the only option as the country cannot afford to go back to war and that she was pleased that the present government of Sri Lanka is continuing the peace process started by her some years ago.

Future at stake

What is at stake is the future of the whole country that still remains torn apart. Some international players, the seemingly Good Samaritans, are fishing in Sri Lanka's in troubled waters and the ruling classes would do well not to play into their hand, willy-nilly.

The masses of this country mandated neither the UNF nor the PA to fall prey to their machinations, since they are, after all, out to drain the country of its resources, to press the rulers to push ahead speedily and unswervingly with the Privatisation and deregulation programme much to the detriment of the general masses and the working class and even the local entrepreneurs.

Today, the PA too has stated its position for a federal solution to the National Question. Having received in 1999 and 2001 what should be deemed to be a collective mandate from the people, the People's Alliance leader and Executive President Chandrika and the Ranil Wickremesinghe Government, inescapably owe it to the people even at this 11th hour, to get their act together to resolve the National Question once and for all, since there is obviously no other way to salvage the country from the politico-economic morass it is in.

Perhaps it is as well to remember that it is the Tamil national liberation struggle that eventually resulted in the devolutionary concept being introduced not only to the North and East but also to the entire island under the Provincial Council scheme. For that matter, even the proposed federal arrangement could well be an island wide exercise, mutatis mutandis.

Thus it is the responsibility of all those who really mean to preserve the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka to open their eyes to the double standards of some international players and the interminable detriment the country as a whole would suffer by way permanent dependence on them.

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