|Wednesday, 8 January 2003|
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Deft handling of issues
As the somewhat anxiously-awaited fourth round of negotiations between the Government and the LTTE entered its second day yesterday, it was abundantly clear that the peace process was continuing with its former vigour. At the time of writing it is clear that the constructive spirit which informed the talks from the very inception was continuing to sustain them.
The proof of this is the ability of both parties to reach commonality on issues, even contentious ones, rather than enter into acrimonious debates about them.
Before the current fourth round of talks got under way, security issues, such as the High Security Zones in the North, which proved controversial, were seen as potential spoiling factors in the negotiations. The considerable apprehensions which the talks generated in some quarters, were sourced to these perceived differences between the Government and the LTTE.
The popular perception was that the LTTE wanted the High Security Zones dismantled while the Government had made the dismantling process conditional on the decommissioning of arms and cadres by the LTTE. These differences were expected to make the fourth round less amicable than the previous rounds.
From what we learn so far, however, a spirit of compromise is continuing to guide the negotiations. It is learnt, for instance, that the Government side had made resettlement and not High Security Zones the prime issue at the talks. Accordingly, the two sides had decided to focus on initial resettlement activities outside the HSZs. The LTTE, we learn, had not called for the withdrawal of the armed forces from the Jaffna peninsula.
Meanwhile, the Government's chief negotiator, Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris was quoted saying that the resettlement programme would be carried out without endangering the security of the State.
This people-centred approach in the negotiations, we believe, is highly appropriate and relevant. After all, peace is all about the people and their essential needs. It is controversies over people's rights and freedoms which sparked the conflict and the subsequent war and it is clearly in order to bring the ordinary Tamil people and their needs right back into the picture. Issues that do not directly impinge on the people's freedoms and needs could be handled gradually although they shouldn't be soft pedalled.
There is great wisdom in handling the peace process in this fashion. Given the fact that mutual suspicion and distrust among communities have constituted one of the bitterest legacies of the ethnic conflict, it is the gradual building-up of trust and confidence among the main parties which would enable them to take up the more divisive issues confidently and with greater understanding. Accordingly, the Government and the LTTE have struck on the correct strategy by choosing to concentrate on the resettlement of civilians initially outside the HSZs.
The fund of goodwill which this joint venture would generate would enable them to resolve the thornier issues amicably.
We believe that the sides were also right in agreeing to have the North-East Development Fund handled by a neutral, multi-lateral agency. This would ensure that the funds needed for rehabilitation, reconstruction and resettlement would be disbursed on the basis of objective criteria and on the most keenly felt needs of the people. This mechanism would also guard against the occurrence of irregularities.
The challenge of the immediate future would be the launching of concrete programmes to ease the lot of the war-weary North-East populace. The desolate tracts of the North-East need to experience development quickly if the causes for discontent are to be removed. This will help in building bridges of trust and confidence between North and South, which will in turn accelerate the peace process.
Produced by Lake House