Sri Lanka - Rescuing the peace
The Economist, UK
COLOMBO - ONCE again the Sri Lankan government has turned to Norway to try to rescue its endangered peace deal with the Tamil Tigers. Norway brought the two sides together 18 months ago, getting them to agree to a truce in the civil war in which more than 65,000 people have died in some two decades of fighting. In April the Tigers suspended talks with the government that were designed to lead to a “homeland” for the minority Tamils in the north and east of the island. On July 8th a Norwegian envoy, Jon Westborg, travelled to Kilinochchi, in Tiger-held territory, to ask the Tigers their conditions for re-starting the talks.
Publicly, the Tigers have said that they are waiting for details from the government about how a proposed homeland would be administered. But the real differences between the two sides may be insurmountable. The Tigers want an international ban on their organisation to be lifted. It has been lifted in Sri Lanka, but remains in place in the United States, the European Union and elsewhere. The Tigers' bases in these countries have been shut down and their fund-raising activities made illegal. As a terrorist organisation, its known funds, estimated to be around $4 billion, have been frozen. The Tigers blame the Sri Lankan prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, for the international bans, but he cannot get them lifted. Nor, it seems, can the Norwegians.
To give this statelet legitimacy in Sri Lanka, the Tigers are keen to have an interim administration in the region. They believe that it will be a stepping stone to a separate state they still consider desirable, despite Mr Prabhakaran's declaration that full independence is no longer the Tigers' aim.
But an interim administration must not dilute the unitary nature of the Sri Lankan constitution. Defence, internal security, foreign affairs, monetary policy and the legal system would continue to remain in the hands of the central government. Mr Wickremesinghe knows that he could not tamper with these elements. However, if the Tigers are unsatisfied with what the government offers, there are fears they will scupper the peace talks and resort to war again. Four previous attempts to end the war have failed. There are reports from their strongholds in Jaffna that the Tigers are preparing for such an eventuality.
If it is any comfort to Mr Wickremesinghe, he has won the support of the international bankers and donors for his efforts to make Sri Lanka an open-market economy. At the next round of peace talks, probably later this month if Mr Westborg's efforts are successful, Mr Wickremesinghe will draw confidence from knowing that at least he is doing something right.
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