Coalition Statement : New Year in Trincomalee : What is wrong with the Geneva Talks and the Peace Process?
The Coalition for Muslims and Tamils was formed during an intense period of violence last year between Tamils and Muslims in the East, culm in at in g in the grenade attack on the Grand Mosque in Akkaraipattu in November, which took the lives of 6 persons and in tensified the already stra in ed relations between Muslims and Tamils in the region. Despite repeated pleas by the communities concerned, the State and civil society took little notice of this incident. Today, the kill in g cont in ues. Kill in gs that are politically and ethnically motivated and steeped in the violence that has become an in tr in sic part of the peace process as we know it.
The peace process and its violences
The current peace process, Geneva Talks I, picks up the thread of negotiation from the stalled talks between the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL), the LTTE and the donor community that commenced with the Ceasefire Agreement of February, 2002. It adopted a two pronged approach to the conflict.
1. The idea of cement in g good relations between the LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka through confidence build in g measures.
2. Initiat in g talks on power shar in g between these two actors.
This strategy was hailed as pragmatic and realistic by political scientists, diplomats, conflict resolution experts and others. Politicians, political analysts, activists and the bus in ess communities considered it as the way to peace. But the success story left out a crucial aspect, critical to any successful resolution or transformation of conflict. The realism of the strategy did not br in g realistic relief to the people in the areas where the war and the conflict had been most in tense. As a result, this approach to peace is flawed in its very fundamentals. The failures of the peace process can be categorized, not necessarily exclusively, as follows:
a. The singular focus on the LTTE as the ma in actor on behalf of the Tamils and the concern with cementing ties between the organization and the Government give undue legitimacy to the LTTE, rid in g roughshod over any concern over its outrageous track record of human rights where people of all communities, particularly Tamils and Muslims, have been the ma in target; its blatant and repeated acts of ethnic cleans in g targett in g Muslims and S in halese in the north and east; and its repeated reneg in g on its promise of desist in g from carry in g out violent acts aga in st the Sri Lankan State, particularly the forces.
The current wave of attacks on armed personnel by the LTTE is strong evidence of the organization’s inability to transform itself in to a democratic movement, concerned about solv in g the conflict and work with in a ‘peace’ setup. Leaflets have appeared in Batticaloa announc in g that war is imm in ent, while leaflets in Jaffna have called on people to vacate the area and go in to the Vanni. The LTTE is able to function only with in a language of militarism. This is most apparent in the way it conducts negotiations by flex in g its muscle.
b. The Peace Process is sadly lack in g in another aspect. It holds the State to no account over the lives of large numbers of ord in ary people from different communities caught with in the conflict. With immense pressure brought to bear on the government to concede to the demands of the LTTE at almost every turn in the name of confidence build in g measures, the substantive issue of devolution of power was relegated to the background. Most crucially in this regard, the important issue of Muslim representation, both with in the peace process and in any solution to come, was deferred too. The Muslim question, whether it concerned the north or the east, was treated as a secondary and temporary problem of manag in g conflict and not as a fundamental part of the solution to the ethnic conflict. The State, dom in ated by diverse S in hala dom in ant factions in clud in g chauv in ist elements, has not committed itself to a peaceful and just solution, in which the in terests and concerns of all communities in the north and east are addressed.
c) The peace process has also betrayed the people in the role played by donor community, especially the Norwegian facilitators. Heavy on conflict resolution theory and weak on their preparedness for the task at hand, the Norwegian facilitators were mostly concerned about go in g home with a success story for the media; they did not hear the bombs go in g off, the pistol crack in g even in Colombo , the cry of a mother when her child was conscripted. The in ternational communities and the Norwegian facilitators should look beyond the LTTE at the people; the Tamil, Muslim, S in hala and other people in the north and east. The realistic approach of the in ternational community should look at the needs of “real” people.
d) Discussions on power shar in g have dealt largely with issues of rehabilitation of the north and east, particularly on divid in g f in ancial resources between the two parties. This is where the donor agencies were crucial to the settlement and the process. Whether it be discussion on the ISGA, P-TOMS or after the arrival of President Mah in da Rajapakse on the scene, RADA , power shar in g has dealt with f in ancial management of aid and other funds. The tsunami, which in its in itial stages, brought the Muslim, S in hala and Tamil people together, compounded ethnic tensions when aid poured in , br in g in g in its wake monies unaccounted for and a greater disparity between the haves and the have nots.
The peace process has miserably failed the people of Sri Lanka in heal in g old wounds; in stead it has exacerbated those wounds and created new ones. While the LTTE, GoSL and the donor community carried on with their barga in in g over the spoils of the tsunami, the north and east simmered with its own violences, new and old. In 2004, the break with in the LTTE caught many political analysts and activists by deep traumatic surprise. Not know in g how to react, they p in ned the ‘blame’ for the break up on the mach in ations of Colombo and India . Political wisdom in the country, caught up in the realism of aid, was neither able to identify the resistance well in g up from with in the Tamil polity nor understand and react to the in creas in g violence in the east in the past year or so. Preoccupied with cement in g ties between the GoSL and the LTTE, they and we could not see LTTE implode, tak in g the east down with it.
The Violence of Tr in comalee and the ongo in g crisis on the ground
Over the past few years, Tr in comalee has been at the centre of Tamil-S in hala tension, most of which is aggravated by the LTTE on the one hand and S in hala chauv in ist and anti-Tamil political mobilizations on the other. ON 2nd January, 2006 , personnel of the State forces, in response to a grenade thrown at a truck by unidentified persons, killed five young men who were mere bystanders at the in cident. No State agency claimed responsibility for this wanton kill in g at that time. Given this scenario, the State should have been alert both to the LTTE’s tactic of provok in g armed personnel to retaliate aga in st people and the mount in g tension with in the personnel as well. It should have taken measures to avoid further deterioration of relations between the Government and the Tamil people.
But when a bomb exploded in the market place on the 12th of April, kill in g a soldier and civilians belong in g to all communities, anti-Tamil and -Muslim riots took place and spread to other places. While the riot in g cont in ued, the LTTE too did not let up. In further provocation, they undertook to kill S in hala civillians, successfully turn in g such in cidents in to attacks on pockets of Tamil habitation in the Tr in comalee district.
We watched with sadness the grief of the families of bereaved soldiers on the media as the President publicly consoled them. And in that same spirit, we also waited to hear a word of consolation for those families, Muslim, Tamil and S in hala, who had lost their loved ones in the destruction, riot in g and loot in g, but heard none.. Most of the families were Tamils and Muslims. This partiality is unwise politically. It serves to alienate m in orities, Tamils in particular in this in stance, from the State polity, push in g them heedlessly in to the hands of the LTTE.
As the attacks on armed personnel in the north and east by the LTTE cont in ue, thousands of refugees have crowded schools and other places in the Tr in comalee District. While the LTTE is on a path of schizoid destruction, the State is wait in g for the next round of peace talks in Geneva , hop in g for calm. This wait in g game br in gs no relief to the soldiers at the front, the LTTE cadres, many of whom are young and forcibly recruited, political activists, and ‘ord in ary’ people. It br in gs no relief to those who feel they cannot expect justice from the State. It means noth in g to those who are not represented either by the State or the LTTE, the majority of the people in the north and east. . The State must undertake the follow in g measures to br in g relief to those suffer in g people and to ga in the confidence of m in ority communities.
1. The State must make provision for immediate relief to those who have been forced to flee their homes by the recent wave of violence in Tr in comalee.
2. It must also develop mechanisms that protect Tamils at times of raids and check in g, to safeguard them from Human Rights abuses at the hands of the forces.
3. There must be a check on the growing culture of impunity. The state must hold itself accountable for the acts of the armed forces. As an immediate measure, it needs to carry out an in dependent and thorough in vestigation of what happened in Trincomalee to provide justice for the victims of violence and ensure that the findings are made public.
Tr in comalee cannot be looked at in isolation. What happened in Tr in comalee in April 2006, is what happened in Akkaraipattu in November 2005; or in Batticaloa and Ampara in April, 2004; in Eravur in 1990, in Pesalai in February 2006; in the Northern Prov in ce on October 23rd 1990 ; in Anuradhapura in 1985; or in July1983 in Sri Lanka . Our task then as a community is to raise the cry of democracy, accountability on the part of the State for all its people, and to demand a people-centred approach to peace and not a war centred or partisan approach.
Toward Peace: what must the Process do?
The peace process must at this po in t prioritize above all the follow in g issues.
a) De-militarize the north and the east by curb in g all armed activity in the area, Including that of the LTTE.
b) Safeguard the Human Rights of all communities.
c) Protect all communities aga in st the terror of armed groups, above all that of the LTTE and chauv in ist forces.
d) Address the concerns of Muslims in the north and east.
e) Address security concerns of S in hala people in the north and east, particularly in the border areas.
f) Address the fears and in securities of m in orities, especially Tamils in this in stance, with regard to State forces and State patronage.
g) Immediately set to work on a programme of power shar in g in the north and east and work toward a pluralist structure that would accommodate representation of all communities and political allegiances.