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SRI LANKA: What is holding up discussion on ISGA?: Update 69.

Paper No. 241                                          01/10/2004

by Dr. S. Chandrasekharan

In our  update 67 dated 8th August, we had made a suggestion that the GOSL (Government of Sri Lanka) should relent from their position and talk on the ISGA proposals rather than continuing the stalemate. The GOSL may have reservations on the details and so de we ( see our update 52 and paper 1115), but as pointed out, accepting to talk on ISGA proposals does not amount to accepting the proposals as such.

Though the LTTE withdrew from the negotiations from April, 2003, it put forward proposals on October 31, 2003 and immediately requested for the dates to be fixed for recommencement of talks on the proposals. This came about after two earlier drafts of the Sri Lankan government on an interim administration of North East were rejected by the LTTE and when the latter on its own offered to make out its proposals, it was readily accepted and there were no objections from the previous UNP government.

But soon after the submission of the proposals, the dynamics of politics in the South changed, with Chandrika taking over ministries directly involved in the Peace talks, the Norwegians temporarily withdrawing from its peace efforts in November 2003 and this was followed by General elections in April 2004.

The ensuing elections then brought Chandrika’s party in alliance with JVP to power, though it was a minority government. Latest reports indicate that the government will be extended unconditional support by the Ceylon Workers’ Congress which has eight members in the parliament giving a simple majority to the UPFA. Arumugam Thondaman, the leader of the CWC said that they took the decision to assist the Government to go ahead with its development programmes and re-start the long stalled peace progress. The UPFA should be able to face the parliament in the next session commencing in November with greater confidence.

Chandrika has also staffed her peace secretariat with eminent and capable men who have immense experience.

She can no longer claim that the main opposition party the UNP has not been cooperating in moving forward with the peace talks. The UNP media representative G.L.Peiris in a Press Conference on 16 September declared that his party would support the UPFA government if it commenced peace talks based on the LTTE’s ISGA. He also added that the peace talks between the GOSL and the LTTE should be within the framework of Tokyo and Oslo accords.

The interim arrangement for the North East was envisaged in the Tokyo declaration of June 2003 and the Oslo accord of 5th December 2002 agreed to a federal structure.

The LTTE has also softened its stand on the issue of ISGA. Thamilselvan, the political leader told the Press that the proposals were not rigid or final and that it was ready to negotiate the issue. .

At the field level, interaction between the security forces and the LTTE commanders has been renewed thanks to the efforts of SLMM.

Frustrated over the delay in resuming the dialogue and continuing the peace process, an LTTE team headed by Thamilselvan is headed for Geneva to map out the next strategy in the wake of the present deadlock over resuming peace talks and dialogue on ISGA. Balasingham from London, former attorney Rudrakumar of USA, Siva Pasupathi of Australia and Prof. Swarnaraj of Singapore will also be participating. By that time Balasingham would also have met Eric Solheim after his return from Sri Lanka in the third week of September after unsuccessful discussions with the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE at Killinochi.

It is not clear what is holding up President Chandrika to agree to resume the dialogue and discuss the ISGA proposals. We have said in one of our earlier updates, that the GOSL’s position that the core issues should also be discussed along with the ISGA is not justified as the ISGA proposals have "in built issues" that could be considered as "core issues."

There is no doubt that the main opposition to the ISGA proposals come from the JVP and also from the hardliners within the SLFP. The JVP indicated that it was not against an interim administration for the North East, but against the "intransigent pre-condition that the ISGA should be the sole basis for talks."

There is also no doubt that the ISGA if accepted in toto would result in a "state within a state" . But the Sri Lankan government cannot get away without discussing the issues posed by the LTTE. And President Chandrika is in a position to persuade the UPFA partner to see the wisdom in negotiating the proposals rather than take a negative attitude.

It looks like that President Chandrika is waiting for LTTE to weaken itself in the east in the ongoing fighting between the LTTE and the break away Karuna’s faction. Though Karuna’s elder brother Reggie was killed in fighting in one of the encounters, the LTTE has been suffering considerable casualties from Karuna’s faction.. The LTTE has also changed the leadership in the east with Bhanu coming from the north to take the place of Rajesh. Though Bhanu has had immediate success in eliminating Reggie, it is unlikely that he would be able to eliminate the Karuna faction. Factional fighting is going to continue for a long time to come.

The LTTE is not likely to be weakened in the near future. Their assets are mainly in the north and the areas held by them are secure and cannot be easily retaken They can ignore the east for a while and concentrate in the north. In any recrudescence of violence Colombo and its environs will not be spared.

In continuing with the peace talks, President Chandrika made a surprising assessment that until the situation in the east is stabilised the LTTE will not come for talks. Actually the boot is on the other leg!

The important question is whether the LTTE would resume the war? There is no other strategy left for the LTTE and it is not clear what Balasingham and company can cook up another one at Geneva when Prabakaran has decided that it is ISGA or none. Softening of the stand by Thamilselvan cannot be taken as weakness of the LTTE. They have used the peace time to arm themselves to the extent necessary and to eliminate non LTTE rivals taking care to ensure that it is done in Non LTTE held areas!

The latest killing is that of the senior EPDP leader and Puttalam District Organiser Thambithurai Sivakumaran alias Bhawan. EPDP members brought the coffin from Puttalam before the Norwegian embassy at Colombo and protested over the killing. Bringing coffins before the Norwegian embassy has become a familiar feature.

Both the Norwegian facilitators and the GOSL appear to be helpless. All non LTTE Tamil groups were disarmed as part of the cease fire agreement. But it should have been followed by strong and credible protection given to them by the Sri Lankan Security forces. This has not been done. The Norwegians do not seem to think of these as even violations of cease fire!

Renewed fighting between the GOSL security forces and the LTTE has to be avoided at all costs. It is incumbent on both the GOSL and the LTTE to ensure that the cease fire holds on. Coffer Black’s visit notwithstanding and promise of defence agreements with other countries, the military balance will not change for a while. There is no military solution to the conflict. Dialogue should begin and begin early.