Feature Article

Sri Lanka appeals to LTTE to resume talks

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 30 April 2003, 10:38 GMT]
Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister this week admitted that efforts to restore normalcy to the Tamil areas had not taken place “at the pace which we might have desired” and vowing matters would improve, appealed to the Liberation Tigers to nevertheless resume peace talks which the LTTE had put on hold two weeks ago.

Monday last week the LTTE leadership had informed the Sri Lankan government (GoSL) that it has decided to suspend its participation in the negotiations “for the time being.” Expressing deep displeasure over certain critical issues relating to the ongoing peace process, the LTTE also said it would not be attending a major donor conference to be held in Japan in June to raise funds for Sri Lanka.

In a letter addressed to Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, the LTTE's Chief Negotiator and Political Advisor, Mr. Anton Balasingham, while expressing the LTTE leadership’s regret at “having been compelled to make this painful decision,” reiterated the LTTE’s commitment to seek a negotiated political solution to the ethnic question and called upon the Sri Lankan government to restore confidence in the peace process by implementing, without further delay, the normalisation aspects of the cease-fire agreement.

Responding to Mr. Balasingham, Mr. Wickremesinghe Tuesday this week urged the LTTE to “review your present stance and continue a partnership which has, as you concede, already achieved considerable success.”

“I believe this would be in complete accord with the firm desire of all our people that the peace process continues without interruption,” the Premier wrote, arguing “there has been substantial progress towards peace and development throughout [Sri Lanka]” as a result of the “sincerity and determination shown by both sides.”

Mr. Wickremesinghe maintained his government “was committed to working with the LTTE to rebuilding the North-East” but acknowledged “there is much more to be done to make life easier for the people.”

In this context the Premier said his government would convey its views to the LTTE on making SIHRN (Sub-committee on Immediate Humanitarian and Rehabilitation Needs) “more effective” and said work would begin on the fifteen projects already approved by the joint LTTE-GoSL body even though formal arrangements on the World Bank-administered North East Rehabilitation Fund (NERF) were not yet finalised.

“Both sides have been impatient at the [slow] pace at which normalisation has taken place and it would be necessary to renew our joint commitment to make progress,” he offered.

“There is no intention to exclude the LTTE from the process [of] promoting economic development in the North-East,” Mr. Wickremesinghe further said. “The specific policies and plans will be worked out in consultation with the LTTE.”

However, whilst partially acknowledging the critical issues the LTTE had cited for suspending negotiations, Mr. Wickremesinghe generally defended his government’s track record.

Outlining the LTTE’s reasons for suspending negotiations, Mr. Balasingham had written to Mr. Wickremesinghe: “The exclusion of the LTTE from a critical aid conference in Washington [on April 14], the non-implementation of the terms and conditions enunciated in the truce document, the continuous suffering and hardship experienced by hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Tamils, the aggressive Sinhala military occupation of Tamil cities and civilian settlements, the distortion and marginalisation of the extreme conditions of poverty and deprivation of the Tamils of the northeast in the macro-economic policies and strategies of the government have seriously undermined the confidence of the Tamil people and the LTTE leadership in the negotiating process.”

Mr. Wickremesinghe formulated responses to the LTTE’s concerns in his letter. Regarding the LTTE’s exclusion from the Washington meeting, a preparatory conference for the Japan event, the Premier said that Tokyo had in fact requested three preparatory meetings in Washington, Brussels and Oslo. Norway had decided “to forgo this opportunity since the Oslo meeting last November had virtually served this purpose” and due to logistical problems related to Iraq the European meeting was replaced with one in Colombo in May, the Premier said.

The LTTE pointed out in its letter that holding a meeting in Washington was a defacto exclusion of its representatives. “Your government, as well as our facilitator Norway, are fully aware of the fact that the United States has legal constraints to invite representatives of a proscribed organisation to their country. In these circumstances an appropriate venue could have been selected to facilitate the LTTE to participate in this important preparatory aid conference,” Mr. Balasingham said.

“But the failure on the part of your government to do so gives cause for suspicion that this omission was deliberate,” he said.

Mr. Wickremesinghe however insisted “[apart from Japan’s request] there were two other significant reasons for going ahead with the Washington seminar in April. First, such a seminar would enable a gathering of major donors who would be present in Washington as participants at the spring meetings of the World Bank and IMF. The other reason was that it was important to obtain the commitment of the donors to this [Sri Lankan peace] process before their attention was absorbed by the needs of Iraq.”

Saying “I regret the LTTE could not participate [as the organisation is still remains banned under US law but] you will appreciate the [Sri Lankan] government cannot be blamed for this situation,” Mr. Wickremesinghe argued that, in any case, the Washington conference “was not a pledging conference.”

Regarding the “non-implementation of the terms and conditions enunciated in the truce documents,” Mr. Wickremesinghe said, “while there has been increasing compliance, I agree with you that there is much to be done to implement fully the provisions of the Ceasefire Agreement.”

“The final objective is of course normalisation of the ground situation. But because the conflict has been long drawn out, normalisation is bound to be a difficult process,” the Premier said.

On the “suffering and hardships experienced by hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Tamils,” Mr. Wickremesinghe wrote to Mr. Balasingham: “the highest priority has been given by the government, your organisation and the international community to alleviate the conditions of the internally displaced as quickly as possible.”

“In fact there has been progress,” the Premier argued, adding “the government has taken substantial loans from the World Bank and ADB for re-settlement of internally displaced people.”

He claimed the numbers of internally displaced people had “significantly reduced,” and said delays in implementation “were due to a breakdown in government administration as a result of the twenty year conflict.”

The LTTE had pointed out that the “million people who are internally displaced by the conflict and are languishing in welfare centres and refugee camps” had “have lost all hope the peace process will alleviate their immense suffering.”

Mr. Wickremesinghe said the government intended to “establish an effective coordination mechanism for administration in the Northern districts” and that it would “keep the LTTE briefed on these proposals prior to implementation.”

On the “aggressive military occupation of northern cities and civilian settlement,” Mr. Wickremesinghe said restoring normalcy had been the policy of his government “ever since the ceasefire.”

Furthermore, the Premier argued it was being done. “The visible signs of this are, increased production in fisheries and bumper paddy harvest in the Vanni,” he said.

Although the Premier referred to the LTTE controlled areas on which his government had lifted a decade-old economic embargo, the LTTE’s criticism was based on the Ceasefire Agreement which included crucial conditions of restoring normalcy which required the vacation, by occupying Sri Lankan troops, of Tamil homes, schools, places of worship and public buildings in government-controlled Tamil areas.

“Despite the agreed timeframe for this evacuation of troops, which has since passed, there has been no change in the ground situation. We have repeatedly raised the issue of continuing suffering of our people at every round of talks with your government. Your negotiators' repeated assurances that the resettlement of the displaced people would be expedited have proven futile,” Mr. Balasingham had written to Mr. Wickremesinghe.

Acknowledging that “there are steps to be taken to reduce the constraints now necessitated by security consideration,” Mr. Wickremesinghe however insisted “the difference in people’s lives over the past year is, I believe, quite evident.”

With regards military occupation, the Sri Lanka Army would vacate two hotels and surrounding houses in Jaffna, he added.

However the released areas are only part of the wider problem raised by the LTTE. As Mr. Balasingham pointed out, “Tens of thousands of government troops continue to occupy our towns, cities and residential areas suffocating the freedom of mobility or our people. Such a massive military occupation of Tamil lands, particularly in Jaffna - a densely populated district - during peace times denying the right of our displaced people to return to their homes, is unfair and unjust.”

With regards the “marginalisation of the people of the North-East in the macro-economic policies and strategies of the government,” Mr. Wickremesinghe said “a careful reading of the ‘Regaining Sri Lanka’ document … will indicate the degree to which conflict-related development has been emphasised.”

He said the document contained strategies to “achieve and sustain a high rate of growth for a decade or so” which, he argued, will enable “the creation of employment opportunities” and “generation of sufficient economic resources for long-term development of the North-East.”

The LTTE observed that the Regaining Sri Lanka document “completely lacks any form of identified goals for the northeast. Statistics presented for substantiating the policy totally ignore the northeast and solely concentrate on southern Sri Lanka. However, this has been promoted as the national strategy to the international community to seek aid.”

 

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