(Reproduced from the Daily Mirror of November 30, 2004)
There was some anticipation that the LTTE leader would openly threaten a renewed war to express his frustration at the delay which has stood in the way of the LTTE obtaining a legitimate role in governance in the north east. Large sums of international development aid are at stake, and are clearly needed by the people. At present the resource flow to the north east is relatively small causing immense frustration to both LTTE and the people.
However, the nearest that the speech came to a declaration of war was its enigmatic closing reference to the continuation of the freedom struggle.
The downplaying of the military option came as a relief to most people. In the penultimate paragraph of the English translation of his speech, Mr Prabhakaran was quoted as saying, "If the Government of Sri Lanka rejects our urgent appeal and adopts delaying tactics perpetuating the sufferings of our people, we have no alternative other than to advance the freedom struggle of our nation" There could be a veiled threat here, as a resort to war is an ever-present option for the LTTE. On the other hand, the peace process has shown that there are other options as well. One would be a resumption of political negotiations, while another would be a creeping control on the ground.
In fact the thrust of the LTTE leader's speech was to demonstrate that their preferred option continues to be political negotiations. In this sense the speech was pitched towards the international and peace communities. At the ground level, however, the reality is different with the LTTE continuing to physically eliminate the opposition to its rule, especially those who collaborate with the government. It is this duality that continues to erode the LTTE's credibility as a negotiating partner regardless of the deficiencies on the government side, of which there are many as pointed out by the LTTE leader in his speech.
Much of the speech was devoted to the LTTE's demand for an Interim Self Governing Authority. Mr Prabhakaran described this as "an original and pragmatic framework embodying necessary structures and mechanisms to address the urgent existential problems of our people. The proposed framework is invested with substantial authority to effectively and expeditiously undertake all tasks of resettlement, rehabilitation, reconstruction and development in the Tamil homeland."
While it is a maximal proposal that the organisation has presented, the act of making such a proposal was welcomed by several members of the international community as well as by peace organisations who saw in it a concrete proposal on which negotiations could take place. In his speech Mr Prabhakaran himself has stated that the LTTE proposal could be negotiated on, clearly implying that it could be changed to the mutual satisfaction of both sides. He said, "If some elements of our proposal are deemed problematic or controversial, these issues can be resolved through discussions at the negotiating table."
The LTTE needs to reconsider this conclusion of theirs. Whatever difficulties they may be having with the government or with the President, it makes no sense to write them off. As Nelson Mandela has famously said,
"We need to make peace with our enemies, not with our friends." The indications are that the present government is getting stronger and not weaker. Ms Kumaratunga is the Executive President of the country and wields enormous power in that position. She is likely to be there for another two years at a minimum. As a political leader she is extremely charismatic and has a proven ability to convince the masses of people to accept her leadership and her promises.
Given these facts it would appear unwise of the LTTE to write off the present government and President as incapable of negotiating a settlement with the LTTE. Just as much as the government might prefer to negotiate with someone other than Mr Prabhakaran and with an organisation other than the LTTE, so might the LTTE prefer to negotiate with a different government and a different President.
But at this time there is Mr Prabhakaran and the LTTE on one side and Ms Kumaratunga and the UPFA government on the other. Neither is likely to go away in a hurry. They have to learn to deal with each other wisely and accommodatingly for the sake of the country and its people.
The second problematic aspect of Mr Prabhakaran's Heroes Day speech was his silence about the agreement reached with the Sri Lankan government at the Oslo round of peace talks in December 2002 on exploring a federal solution. At the conclusion of the third round of peace talks, both the government and LTTE chief negotiators signed a record of decisions taken, one of which was that "Responding to a proposal by the LTTE leadership the parties agreed to explore a solution based on the principles of internal self determination in areas of historical habitation of the Tamil speaking peoples, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka." This statement was regarded as a pathbreaking one at the time it was made. It needs to be kept in the public discourse because a negotiated solution to Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict can only be found within its parameters.
Quite apart from the LTTE giving up its demand for a separate state, it also meant that the Sri Lankan government had overcome its long antipathy to a federal solution. This statement therefore received worldwide publicity as an act of statesmanship by the two sides. However, since then, the LTTE has been resisting any reference to federalism in its public statements that have followed the Oslo peace talks. The latest Heroes Day speech of Mr Prabhakaran follows this disturbing path.
It is unfortunate that the LTTE leader's speech opens the door to the worst fears of the government and Sinhalese people regarding the possible division of the country on ethnic lines.
In his speech Mr Prabhakaran referred to the Tamil people as "people of Tamil Eelam" who are "entitled to the right of self determination, including the right to secede." Whatever one's own ultimate aspirations are, there are some things better left unsaid if conflict resolution on a win-win basis for both sides is really the goal.
It should be evident that neither a separate Tamil state nor a centralised unitary state are viable options, especially in the context of a peace process in which negotiations are the means of conflict resolution. When viewed from a conflict resolution prism, there is no doubt that it is the federal principle alone that could provide joint gains to both the government and LTTE and also meet the concerns and aspirations of all sections of the people. Unfortunately it appears that the LTTE is still not comfortable about thinking in terms of problem solving that meets the concerns of other parties.
They seem to
think only of their own concerns.
But this appears to have been to little or no avail. At the beginning of the peace process, and especially at the first few rounds of peace talks, the LTTE adopted a reassuring posture towards the government and Sinhalese people.
Dr Anton Balasingham as the chief negotiator at that time very skilfully articulated Tamil aspirations without using threatening language. This is also a mode of address and conduct that the government needs to take on. It is not only the LTTE that has to be more considerate about the other's fears and sentiments.
The government too has to show more respect towards the LTTE and stop making barbed references to them or needle them.
For example the
continuous poster campaigns against the LTTE and its political demands by
the JVP, which is a coalition partner in the government, does not befit a
government that seeks peace through negotiations.
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