Step by step to a settlement

Step by step to a settlement

SATTAHIP THAILAND : Sri Lanka Constitutional Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris (L) talks with Chief Negotiator and leader of the delegation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam Anton Balasingham (R) after the opening ceremony of the Sri Lanka peace talks at Jomtien resort in Sattahip, 16 September 2002. Historic talks between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebels began near here Monday in a ceremony opened by Norway’s special peace envoy Erik Solheim. AFP

Hakeem upbeat but wants actions to match words
Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) leader Rauff Hakeem who returned after the first round of talks in Thailand yesterday declared that during the bilateral talks he hopes to have with the LTTE leadership in Wanni, he would be taking up a series of issues concerning the Muslims and among them the continued tax collection.
Mr. Hakeem in an interview with The Sunday Times said changes made by the LTTE in the political set up had only helped ‘marginally’ to overcome these problems.
Excerpts of the interview.

How do you see the outcome of the first round of talks in Thailand ?
A positive and conducive climate has been built for various reasons. One important factor from our perspective is that the Muslims have been endorsed as an important partner for lasting peace. This goes well for the future of the peace talks. Having participated in the first round, I observed that there is an understanding among all involved to try and accommodate differences of opinion without trying to insist on entrenched positions. This does not mean that parties have compromised. What is evident is there is willingness to look for imaginative creative approaches to resolve the conflict.

Any specific concerns that were raised during the talks ?
The topics that were taken up for discussion related to humanitarian issues-particularly resettlement and mine action programmes. I have emphasized the need to consider the special and peculiar problems that the internally displaced Muslims face . These are different to the problems of the other Mulsims, particularly those living outside north and east. That itself very clearly illustrates there is a security fear which prevents them from resettling. There is a duty cast on the government and the LTTE to see that the security assurances for Muslims to return to their original habitats are ensured.

Any assurances from the LTTE ?
It has promised to look at it. I am sure at the bilateral discussions scheduled to be held in Wanni this will figure prominently. Regarding the removal of mines , I have given them a list of areas where Muslims have lived and which need to be defined in the programme. We need to actively involve the Muslims as well so that they will have the confidence to return. On the need for the Task Force, there again the composition was discussed. There were differences of opinion about the structure and the mandate. I am sure we can reconcile the differences.

What would be the functions ?
Basically to collect funds for humanitarian mine action and resettlement of refugees. If substantial funds could be obtained extensive reconstruction of the war affected areas of the north east could be undertaken.

What about the bilateral talks you plan to have in Wanni soon?
It is important for us to maintain the bilateral track of negotiations to minimize problems that might arise at the main negotiation table.
I have during private discussions with Anton Balasingham and the others representing the LTTE endeavoured to find out the broad parameters within which they envisage autonomous arrangements for the Muslims. From now onwards my party and other Muslim leaders who have agreed to support our endeavour will be setting up separate expert panels to work on different subject headings so that we may be able to formulate alternative positions for further discussions with both, the LTTE and the government.

What is your position regarding tax collections and harassment in the north and east?
Some symbolic changes in the political leadership in the LTTE in the north and east have had a marginal impact. But they remain marginal. That is a problem. I have been patient enough to endure this for so long in the hope that when the LTTE really understands the practical difficulties in running an administration without the Muslims being actively involved, it would make major changes. If that reality is not accepted it will have disastrous consequences. I am sure continued discussions will have results.

What about the proposed interim administration ?
No serious discussion took place on the institutional and structural arrangements . The talk about interim administration has become a virtual anathema to many. Now it appears that the task force is being looked at as an embryo for a provisional administration. If that is so, then we must all ensure that its composition reflects the diversity that is required.
We have decided to go step by step and we need to build the confidence every step of the way.

What is the long term solution you are looking at?
At a national level the LTTE considers itself as a partner with the government working out an acceptable political formula. In similar vein the LTTE has to look at the Muslims as partners to work out the self rule and autonomous arrangements, to use their own words.

They are referring to the north and east as the homeland for the Tamils and the Muslims. The LTTE has been saying this since 1988, the remarkable difference in Thailand was that it was referred to in the opening statement, for the entire international community to understand their strategy. We need to be convinced by the complete action on the ground. As far as the Muslims are concerned such a position must manifest in real political accomodation.Words alone or abstract concepts of homeland are meaningless. We don’t want to create more problems at this stage by bringing up those matters. We will take them up at a later stage.

Why is the SLMC going as a separate delegation for the next round of talks?
That role should be crucial when we enter into the latter stages of the talks relating to power sharing in the North and East. We are glad that both the government and the LTTE have understood and accepted this position.

Do you believe that all Muslim leaders are behind you?
I see general agreement for a collective concerted effort. I expect Muslims to shed petty differences and become partners with us to work out practical solutions. . That would be the prudent and responsible approach to achieve lasting consensus. I have had assurances from many senior leaders and it is up to us to co-operate and work together to make it a fruitful exercise.When it comes to details there may be differences. But I am confident that Muslims as a whole, those in the north east and living in the south will act as a collective pressure group.

Bala, G.L. clarify concepts
The pro-LTTE website ‘Tamil Net’ reporting on the press conference given by the government and the LTTE at the end of the first round of peace talks in Thailand quoted the rebel chief negotiator Anton Balasing-ham as saying that they are seeking “substantial autonomy and self government in the Tamil homeland and expressed optimism that a solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict could be worked out by negotiation.

Mr. Balasingham had said the LTTE would only seek an independent state “as a last resort” if the Tamil demand for “regional autonomy is rejected and conditions of oppression continue.”

Responding to reporters’ questions as to whether the LTTE had given up fighting for a separate state, Mr. Balasingham said: “The LTTE doesn’t operate with the concept of a separate state. We operate with the concept of a homeland and self-determination. Homeland doesn’t mean a separate state as such. It refers to a territory where the Tamil-speaking people live,” he pointed out. When we use the category or concept of self-determination, we mean that the concept entails substantial autonomy or self-government in our homeland or in the historical areas where we live.And [we feel] that solutions can be worked out if both the parties agree to a particular political system or model.

“But, if our demand for regional autonomy and self-government is rejected and if conditions of oppression continue, as a last resort our people have no option other than to fight for political independence and statehood,” he said. “That will be the last resort under the principle of self determination.

“[Therefore] saying that the LTTE is fighting for an independent state has no relevance because we operate with different categories and concepts,” he added.

Asked by a correspondent if Mr. Balasingham’s comments gave him hope of resolving the ethnic conflict, the Sri Lankan government’s chief negotiator G. L. Peiris said: “Definitely. We know that [separation] is not their [Tigers’] objective. They have stated it categorically on this occasion: a separate state is not what their aspirations are about.”

“Their aspirations can be fulfilled within one country if we set about it in the proper way,” he said .

Responding to a question as to whether the disarming of the LTTE was discussed at the 3-day talks, Mr. Balasingham said: “There is no question of disarmament at this early stage of the discussion. You know very well both parties- the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE have two standing armies and two navies and this is the first time a stable cease-fire has been established. The question of disarming and decommissioning the LTTE will not arise until we reach a permanent settlement that will satisfy the aspirations of Tamil people.”

Mr. Balasingham’s views were echoed later by Mr. Peiris who said “At the beginning of a negotiating process you don’t ask about disarmament. You have to achieve some progress with regard to substantive issues first and decommissioning of weapons or demilitarisation would come at a later stage. That is how any realistic, pragmatic negotiation process would be handled.”

Military training not for war claims Trinco command
Our Trincomalee Cor. Sinniah Gurunathan
An LTTE district commander has declared the group would maintain its military power to ensure the continuation of the present peace process, but nobody should assume they were preparing for war.

LTTE Trincomalee district commander Pathuman speaking at the passing out parade of a batch of LTTE cadres who underwent training in heavy weaponry said: “No one should think that the military parade is held in preparation for war. It’s a routine activity. Under the present ceasefire environment we held this in a public place enabling the people to witness the event. We must strength our military power to ensure the present peace environment continues. No one can deceive our leader Prabhakaran.”

“We are for peace. We participated in peace talks that were held in Thailand. However we cannot be idle. Under the present ceasefire agreement we also conduct military training for our cadres just as the Sri Lanka Army conducts for its recruits,” Pathuman said.

Presiding over the certificate distribution event, the LTTE’s Trincomalee district political secretary Tilak said people could ask whether it was necessary to have military training when a peace environment prevailed.

“We must strengthen our selves further if the present peace process is to continue. The government has come to terms in some aspects with us because of our military strength. Peoples’ participation is needed for strengthening ourselves,” Mr.Tilak stressed. TNA leader R.Sampanthan said,” the LTTE has shown to the government of Sri Lanka and the international community that the Tamils in the country cannot be suppressed and subjugated any more.

“This fact has been accepted by all sections of society. In the past the governments in power entered into pacts and agreements with the moderate Tamil leaderships and later abrogated them due to pressure by chauvinistic elements in the south. The governments were not prepared to accommodate the reasonable and just demands through negotiations with the Tamil moderate leadership,” he said.

” Tamils cannot be deceived this time because of the military strength of the LTTE. Political solutions based on concrete foundation and on certain principles could be found only if the Tamils are militarily strengthened,” Mr.Sampanthan said. Referring to the peace talks in Thailand Mr.Sampanthan said, ” We cannot expect a political solution within few weeks or months. It will take a long time. Obstacles and interruptions could take place in the long journey for peace.”

World aid pours in to rebuild North and East
Financial and technical assistance was extended by several countries and international donor agencies to rehabilitate and develop the North and East following the conclusion of the first round of peace talks in Thailand.

The European Commission offered a financial contribution to the Peace Secretariat to facilitate activities aiming at the dissemination of information concerning developments related to the peace process to key stakeholders and the people.

Its main objective, for which the total budget is £ 1.8 million, is to finance a series of measures to implement key provisions of the Cease Fire Agreement and to build confidence in the peace process.

The European Commission financed in May this year an assessment mission to Sri Lanka under its Rapid Reaction Mechanism (RRM

) to explore possibilities for RRM-assistance for the peace process.

The EU is to support the implementation of the Cease Fire Agreement by rehabilitating schools that had been used for military purposes before being vacated as agreed in the Cease Fire Agreement. This includes:

*Clearing the school areas of mines, rehabilitation of the buildings and refurbishing them with basic equipment.


*The rehabilitation of electricity lines between the checkpoint on the Kandy-Jaffna road in order to improve the movement of people between the former conflict zones by allowing the checkpoint to be operational on a 24h per day basis.

awareness among the population of human rights in general and minority rights in particular.

In parallel, the commission has started the process to mobilise £ 4 million under the rehabilitation budget line.

The Australian Government while supporting Sri Lankan Peace Process is to contribute A$7.5 million towards humanitarian objectives in Sri Lanka. As part of this assistance, the Australian government has decided to provide A$400,000 specifically for the rehabilitation of child soldiers in Sri Lanka.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Peterson pledged aid for the development of the North and East when he met Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesignhe in NewYork.

Germany has also come forward to give financial assistance for the development projects in the North and East, with a total of 48.8 million rupees.

Netherlands Development Co-operation minister Agnes Van Hoeven pledged fullest co-operation of her country when she met Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in New York. Services of experts of the Netherlands for de-mining was pledged.

The Japanese Government is to provide assistance for drinking water supply to Vavuniya.- US$ 69,214 (Rs. 6.6 million ) and US$ 31,201 (Rs. 3 million will be provided towards two projects for “Emergency Drinking and Sanitation Water Supply to Resettled Refugees in Vavuniya North” and ” Augmentation of Sate Drinking and Sanitation Water Supply in Vavuniya town. The signing of the contract is to take place on Monday.

NORAD is to give assistance for the rehabilitation of fisheries activities in Jaffna District. Rs. 3.4 million has been provided for the study.


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Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

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