A glimmer of hope in Lanka - LTTE counter-proposals


Deccan Herald, Bangalore
http://www.deccanherald.com
November 05, 2003

By S MURARI


The counter-proposals submitted by the LTTE to the Sri Lankan Government since it broke off peace talks last April offer a glimmer of hope for an eventual peaceful resolution of the ethnic conflict. The alarmists may call it a blueprint for a de facto Eelam, an independent State for which the rebel group has been waging an armed struggle for over two decades now. Of course, there are fundamental differences between the July 17 proposals submitted by the Sri Lankan Government and the counter-proposals made by the LTTE now. But that is only to be expected as the LTTE rejected the Government’s offer as far from adequate.

As Government negotiator G L Pieris has rightly said, the differences need not lead to a breakdown of talks. The fact that the Tigers have for the first time spelt out an alternative to separation itself is a welcome augury and the right strategy should be to keep them on course, even if it involves hard bargaining. The situation cannot be more propitious for the Sri Lankan Government than now, what with the world opinion against terrorism and the LTTE remaining on the banned list of the US and other western powers after the September 11 outrage. At the same time, however unfavourable the situation may be for the LTTE, it is naive to expect it to accept a tame alternative to independence after having sacrificed so many lives. In short, there is no other alternative to talks for both sides.

Viewed from this perspective, there is scope for negotiations however audacious the LTTE’s proposals may seem. The LTTE calls for an interim self-governing authority (ISGA) for the eight districts of north-east until a final negotiated settlement is reached and implemented.

Administrative Council The Sri Lankan Government’s proposals call for a “provisional Administrative Council “ for the Northern and Eastern Provinces for an interim administration. There is a subtle difference here. The LTTE considers the entire north-east as Tamil homeland. The Sri Lankan Government treats the north and east as separate entities as the Sinhalese, Tamil-speaking Muslims and Tamils are in equal proportion in the east. The Indo-Sri Lanka agreement of 1987 provided for temporary merger of the east with the north until a referendum was held in the east. In fact, on that basis, elections were held and there was a composite provincial council for the merged north and east. So the idea is not so repugnant as it may seem at first glance.

The LTTE wants absolute majority in the governing authority and concedes that it will have representations for Sinhalese and Muslims also. Here again, there is a subtle shift. While maintaining that it is the authentic representative of the Tamil people, it is ready to accommodate Muslims and Sinhalese in the proposed authority. This is in response to India’s concern for democratic pluralism in any set-up.

The Sri Lankan Government’s proposals concede majority for the LTTE in the proposed council. The council will consist of members nominated by the LTTE, the Government of Sri Lanka, including nominees of the opposition People’s Alliance, and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress.

A major stumbling block will be the LTTE’s insistence that the authority should have powers not only over resettlement and rehabilitation of people uprooted by the war but also to impose taxes, maintain law and order and exercise control over land. The Sri Lankan Government is ready to concede the proposed interim council all power, except police and security, land and revenue, but including rehabilitation, reconstruction and resettlement as are now being enjoyed by the regional administration of the government.

The most contentious is the LTTE proposal that the authority should have control over funds earmarked for the north-east by the Government and power to receive internal and external aid and regulate internal and external trade. This is clearly outside the Constitution as the government is accountable to Parliament. But then such powers to receive foreign aid are enjoyed by German states, to cite just one example. The Sri Lankan Government wants a say in the use of funds by the Council.

Another major irritant is land. The LTTE says the authority should have control over all Government land. Further, it will appoint a special commission to enquire into the rights of people dispossessed of their land, notwithstanding lapse of time. In simple terms, the LTTE wants to restore to Tamils the land taken away by the Government and given to Sinhalese under what it calls State-sponsored colonisation that had changed the demographic pattern in the east since 1950. The LTTE wants to open the Pandora’s box and the Ranil Wickremasinghe Government cannot yield to this without stiff opposition from the south.

Military balance The LTTE wants the armed forces to vacate civilian lands occupied by them. The Government is agreed to it in principle except in what it calls high security zones as withdrawal of troops from such areas may upset the existing military balance on the ground. The LTTE has also made a fanciful claim of control over marine and offshore resources in a bit to legitimise its Sea Tiger Wing. But such demands can be whittled down or given up in negotiations.The LTTE wants the authority to exist for five years, the time it considers necessary for the reconstruction of the war-ravaged north and east. If no final settlement is reached by then, the LTTE threatens to hold elections in the north and east. In the same breath, it says if no agreement is reached at the end of four years, both parties should hold talks for “adding, clarifying and strengthening” the proposals.

The most significant factor is that the LTTE has indirectly agreed to accept, though tenuously, Colombo’s suzerainty over north and east though it also calls for resolution of disputes, if any, between the two parties through a reference to the International Court of Justice. All in all, the LTTE has implicitly offered to renounce the use of force for five years provided an agreement is reached on an interim set-up. The Sri Lankan Government should not let go of this golden opportunity, however tough the going may get. For the longer the peace lasts, the more difficult it will be for the LTTE to resume war.

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