|Monday, 3 November 2003|
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A blueprint for further negotiations
The LTTE has unveiled its long-awaited proposals for an interim administration for the North-East, marking a significant breakthrough in the peace process. The document, formally titled 'the proposal by the LTTE on behalf of the Tamil people for an agreement to establish an Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) for the Northeast of Sri Lanka', is now being studied by the government, the Opposition, academics and the public.
This will no doubt be a turning point in the current peace process, initiated by the UNF government in December 2001. Peace talks were put on hold in April this year after the LTTE's temporary withdrawal, but the ceasefire has held since February 2002 despite several incidents.
The LTTE document will be pivotal for the peace process because this is the first time that it has submitted comprehensive proposals on power sharing for debate and negotiations. They also come with an assurance by the LTTE's political wing chief S.P. Thamilselvan that the ISGA will not be a precursor to a separate state. In other words, the final settlement shall be effected within a united Sri Lanka. According to him, the LTTE also has no desire to go back to war.
With that assurance, the proposals are likely to be a springboard for jump-starting the peace talks. Both parties are seeking a preliminary meeting arranged by the Norwegians before full-scale negotiations re-commence, perhaps as soon as early next year. Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen is due in Colombo soon to work out the modalities in this regard.
It is clear that there are disparities between the government and LTTE proposals. Government Chief Negotiator Prof. G.L. Peiris noted that it "differs in fundamental respects from the proposals submitted by the Government of Sri Lanka". This was no surprise, as most observers of the peace process expected the LTTE to go the maximum distance in formulating the proposals. The LTTE itself has stressed that these are open to negotiations, so that both sides can come to understanding on what can be implemented in reality and what cannot.
Finding a compromise is what negotiations are all about and we earnestly hope that negotiators on both sides will have the courage to evolve a solution acceptable to all. In this exercise, it is vital for the government as well as the LTTE to create a debate on the proposals in the wider society. Negotiators on both sides must listen to these inputs without working in a vacuum.
It goes without saying that the interests of Sinhalese and Muslims in the East must be safeguarded in any interim set-up. The LTTE, which has promised representation to all communities in the ISGA, must allay any fears in this respect.
It is thus heartening to note that the LTTE has mentioned elections, human rights and protection of all communities in its ISGA document, since they do not have a good record vis-a-vis political pluralism and human rights. The LTTE must now show its commitment to its own aspirations, as envisaged in the ISGA document, by completely stopping the elimination of political opponents and the conscription of children for a start.
Both parties must not forget that the global community, which has pledged billions of dollars for reconstructing war-ravaged areas, is closely watching developments in the peace process. Their support will be vital for reaching an accord that can end decades of acrimony.
Produced by Lake House