ACHR REVIEW
[The weekly commentary and analysis of the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) on human rights and governance issues]

Embargoed for: 25 January 2006
Review: 109/06
Sri Lanka's proposed peace talks: The challenge of enforcing cease-fire

The announcement made by Norwegian Minister for International Development Cooperation and Special Peace Envoy, Erik Solheim today that the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have agreed to hold talks in Switzerland is welcome. Solheim has been on a visit to Sri Lanka since 23 January 2006 to salvage the deadlocked peace process. On 24 January 2006, Solheim met Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse. He met LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran today in Kilinochchi.

No talk has been held between the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE since the 6th round of the peace talks held in Japan from 18-21 March 2003. In April 2003, the LTTE walked away complain­ing not enough was being done to rebuild the war-ravaged north and eastern parts of Sri Lanka. Although there have been occasional meetings between the officials of the Sri Lankan security forces and the LTTE to keep the ceasefire going, the peace talks could not be resumed.

The eastern and northern parts of Sri Lanka have been facing an undeclared war with killings, abduction, explosions and clay mine attacks. The ceasefire agreement might not have broken down but there has been an alarming level of lawlessness and unrestrained violence. In Trincomalee alone, the Tigers have been allegedly attacking at will. The Sri Lankan military personnel have been accused of extra-judicial killing five young Tamil students on 2 January 2006. The ceasefire monitors reported that the deceased were shot through the head in execution-style killings. At least 120 people - including about 80 soldiers and sailors and many civilians - have died in the upsurge of violence since early December 2005.

Both the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE have failed to show requisite sincerity to carry the peace process forward. The United National Party's Milinda Moragoda, one of the negotiators who represented his government in the talks with the LTTE between September 2002 and March 2003, claimed in an interview to The Daily Mirror on 8 November 2005 the credit for engineering a split within the LTTE. Sri Lankan Government's support to the anti-LTTE armed group led by Col. Karuna has also been confirmed by Spokesperson of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), Helen Olafsdottir in an interview to The Sunday Leader, a Colombo weekly. She said, “The [Sri Lanka] government claimed that it had nothing to do with this [Karuna] group and was not aware of their existence. But when we visited the spot in the east and asked the Sri Lankan army where we could find Karuna, they told us where to go. So it was clear that the local army knew where he was.” The proxy war that Sri Lanka initiated with Col Karuna finally culminated into the assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadiragamar on 12 August 2005, an allegation denied by the LTTE but held by majority in the international community.

Since the killing of LTTE's political wing leader of Batticaloa and Amparai E. Kousalyan and former Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarian Ariyanayagam Chandra Nehru on 7 February 2005 by the government backed para-military groups, there has been an escalation of violence.

Many LTTE cadres have also been killed by unidentified assailants while traveling in the government-controlled territories. On 15 July 2005, the LTTE warned that they might have to use their own armed escorts for guerrilla representatives traveling through government-held areas. The LTTE had earlier given the dateline up to 14 July 2005 to improve security for its members traveling through government-held areas or risk a return to civil war. The government offered to conditionally increase their security. But the LTTE rejected the offer as inadequate and stated that they would have to start carrying arms in government territory unless the issue is resolved immediately. The 2002 cease-fire agreement allows rebels to enter government-controlled areas for political activity as long as they are unarmed.

While the acts of violence by the LTTE must be unequivocally condemned, the Tamils of Sri Lanka have “legitimate grievances” as stated by the United States' Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Nicholas Burns during his recent visit to Sri Lanka. [1] Mr. Burns while condemning violence by the LTTE, urged the Sri Lankan Government to address the legitimate grievances of the Tamils. [2]

Yet, Sri Lankan Government's whole focus has been only to focus terrorism of the LTTE and not address the “legitimate grievances” of the Tamil minorities. Asian Centre for Human Rights firmly believes that ethnic Tamil minorities still do not have fair and equal access to justice in Sri Lanka. The failure of the Sri Lankan government to release the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Bindunuwewa massacre of 25 October 2000 and the inability to prosecute any of the acused responsile for the death of 28 innocent and unarmed Tamil youths in the custody of the State in that massacre is a clear example.

In fact, the present judicial system has been an obstacle to the peace process of Sri Lanka. Asian Centre for Human Rights in its Briefing Paper, Constitutional Coup in Sri Lanka on 6 November 2003, one day after then Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga declared emergency stated, “A cursory analysis of the attempts to undermine each other by President and Prime Minister shows that rather than the LTTE proposals, the decision of the ruling United National Party (UNP) to put the motion to impeach controversial Supreme Court Chief Justice Sarath N Silva in the parliament on 6 November 2003 might have prompted the President to take such drastic steps”. During the hearing on then Defence Minister's regulations of retiring the commissioned officers at the age of 55, the bone of contention between then President Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickresmasinghe, Chief Justice N Silva criticised the government's conduct and indirectly tried to cast aspersions on the Government-LTTE ceasefire agreement. [3]

The failure of the Post-Tsunami Operational Management Systems can be attributed to Chief Justice Sarath N Silva. On 15 July 2005, Sri Lanka's Supreme Court stayed the implementation of the Post-Tsunami Operational Management Systems (P-TOMS) signed by the Sri Lanka Government and the Tamil Tiger rebels on 24 June 2005. The court ruled that implementation of certain clauses of the agreement between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the government be suspended until a final court determination, stopping short of declaring the agreement illegal. By transgressing into the ambit of the Executive, the judiciary in Sri Lanka has further eroded the faith of the Tamil minorities.

Many of the ongoing killings have been tough posturing by the warring parties. The venue of the talks should not have been an issue of dispute. Talks have been held in Thailand and Japan in Asia and in Norway and Germany in Europe.

The critical issue has been the commitment that both the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE will have to bring in once they sit across the table, especially in the light of violations of the Ceasefire Agreement in the last three years. Nor the proposals of the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE are an issue at the moment. The most important issue is finding mechanisms to enforce the Ceasefire Agreement to create conducive atmosphere to discuss the proposals. It requires amendments of the mandate of the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission, if necessary, for enforcement of the cease-fire agreement through the deployment of the UN Peace Keeping Forces.

But is the deployment of the blue helmets an issue the warring parties and the superpowers including India willing to consider? If not, other mechanisms must be found.


[1] . LTTE keeps Sri Lanka on edge: U.S. , The Hindu, 24 January 2006
[2] . LTTE using violence as its political weapon – Burns, Sri Lanka Newspapers.com, 24 January 2006
http://www.lankanewspapers.com/news/2006/1/5366.html
[3] . http://www.asiantribune.com/show_article.php?id=1071


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