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Pressure for talks and border realities

TALKS: For most of this week the LTTE has been playing hard to get with regard to participation in the Geneva 2 round of negotiations that the Government has already given its consent to. After its savage suicide bomb attack on Navy personnel near Sigiriya earlier this week, which came quick on the heels of the limited success it had at Muhamalai, the LTTE kept the guessing game live about its presence in Geneva later this month. It added to the speculation with the attack at Galle last Thursday.

Opinion remains divided whether the LTTE would come for the talks or not. With the developments of last week, what becomes more important than their decision to come to Geneva for another round of talks is how serious they are about a negotiated settlement to the ethnic conflict.

No doubt there is pressure being applied by the Co-chairs for the LTTE to come for talks. Although they were not all here together, the presence in Sri Lanka this week of the US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Richard Boucher, Japan's Special Envoy for the Sri Lanka Peace Process Yasushi Akashi and Norway's Special Envoy for the Peace Process, Jon Hansen-Bauer, gave the impression of a mini-Co-Chairs confab that sought to firm up moves for Geneva 2.

It would now appear that the LTTE would come to Geneva giving the impression that it was dragged there against its will due to pressure from the international community, and had nothing to do with the setbacks they faced from late July this year.

Some reports already state that Tamilchelvam, leader of the LTTE's political wing, has stated that they will attend Geneva 2 but see no purpose in talking of a long term political solution there under the prevailing conditions.

No doubt the LTTE would like to talk of solutions only when the conditions are best from their point of view. It is significant that while wanting to discuss the core issues relating to a political solution to the ethnic crisis, the Government is showing its own commitment to negotiations, by keeping to its resolve to attend Geneva 2, despite the LTTE's attempts to make it a non-starter.

Tiger reluctance

The LTTE's reluctance to engage in serious negotiations and its reservations about discussing a lasting solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka has to be viewed in the context of recent revelations about its activities involving global terrorism.

Writing last week in the "Global Politician" - an independent magazine, providing objective, in-depth analysis of world events, Dominic Whiteman reveals about the LTTE's links with Al-Qaeda.

Whiteman, spokesperson for the London-based VIGIL, anti-terrorist organization, states: "The annual publication of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) London 'Military Balance 2005/2006' referred to emerging links between the LTTE and the Al-Qaeda movement.

It was later revealed confidentially by the editors (of IISS) to diplomatic sources that these links were in terms of commercial transactions including trafficking for financial gain and acquisition of technology rather than any ideological linkage.

Experts are studying with interest links between the LTTE and Al-Qaeda in its financial, commercial and arms dealings. It is also believed that such links also exist in maritime transactions.

Dominic Whiteman also reveals how the LTTE, although officially banned as an international terrorist organization in the UK, continues to carry on its activities not with impunity but with an openness that remains unchallenged, thereby calling into question the honesty of purpose of UK authorities in banning it.

The details of the activities given, substantiated with references to the findings of Human Rights Watch and other sources are too numerous to be detailed within the limited space of this column. See - (http://globalpolitician.com/articledes.asp).

The Washington Times of October 18 in its editorial comment titled "Targeting the Tamil Tigers" said: "Any hope that the militant Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam would respond to diplomatic pressure and renounce their terrorist tactics ahead of the ceasefire negotiations scheduled for the end of the month was murderously subverted by a suicide attack that killed more than 100 Sri Lankan sailors this week.

Although the government is poised to enter peace talks backed by political consensus for the first time, its willingness to negotiate the end of violence in Sri Lanka is being undermined by the rebel group's continuing violence. The talks are still scheduled, but will only provide salvation for the war-torn South Asian nation if the Tamil Tigers can be forced into truly renouncing violence - an unlikely prospect."

"Legitimate ceasefire talks require the Tamil Tigers to match the government's level of commitment to peace. In the past two decades of peace efforts, however, this hasn't happened. The Tamil Tigers have entered negotiations and ceasefire agreements with a disingenuous promise of peace only to use the break in hostilities to secretly regroup, rearm and re-launch their offensive.

The Tamil Tigers are not interested in peaceful coexistence; their only goal is to win substantial territorial concessions, which is a nonstarter for the Sri Lankan government, and justifiably so. The Tigers, furthermore, lack any real support of the Tamil people and intimidate their opposition into silence."

These are other reports by those who have studied the tactics and actual objectives of the LTTE show that expecting the LTTE to be overly willing to agree to a negotiated settlement of the ethnic crisis is being too optimistic. However, given the current realities, it is necessary to keep the window of negotiation open, while not shutting out all other options, so that one could look forward to the time when the LTTE comes around to the yet unlikely prospect of renouncing violence.

This will need a great deal of reassessment of its own strength by the LTTE, and an clear understanding that it has no access to funds from the Tamil Diaspora in the West, whether by contribution or compulsion, and the curbing of its business interests, both legal and illegal in Europe where it is banned.

Patience and new reality

This involves a great deal of patience, of the type shown for many months by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, when the LTTE kept on escalating the level of violence against the Sri Lankan security forces and civilians ever since the new President's election in November last year.

It was a degree of patience and restraint that won him plaudits from the international community, and demonstrated he was not the war monger that many charged him to be. He proved his patience was not cowardice when the LTTE sought to deprive people of their life-giving water at Mavil Aru, and other subsequent provocations.

In the highly charged political atmosphere of today, particularly with the continued violence by the LTTE, the value of a proper mix of such patience with a demonstration of strength can continue to show the President as genuine peace maker, and help defeat the overall aims of the LTTE.

The decision of the Supreme Court declaring the earlier proclamation by President JR Jayewardene merging the North and East, as ultra vires and invalid in law, has brought about new realities in politics.

President Rajapaksa is on record having stated that the future of the Eastern Province should not be one that is imposed on the people by law, regulations or agreements to which they are not party, but a matter that has to be decided by them, expressing their freedom of choice. How this choice of the people is to be expressed is the new reality.

Another aspect of this reality is the question whether we should continue to live with the provincial borders bestowed on us by our last colonial ruler; borders that were drawn up purely to facilitate revenue collection for that ruler.

Apart from a merger of the North and East, there have been many proposals made by those who have studied our history, socio-political actualities, geography and economic factors that have suggested the de-drawing of provincial boundaries. Some of these suggestions hark back to the time of the Ruhunu, Maya and Pihiti kingdoms. Others are based on the contours of the main rivers.

There could be many other ways of studying this. What is necessary is to consider the present situation as an opening for new thinking on the subject of provincial boundaries and not necessarily be bound by old colonial demarcations.

 

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