|Saturday, 14 August 2004|
The Karuna catch in the peace process
Everyone's talking of the ISGA and the varied reactions to it from the Government and others in the South. The LTTE remains adamant that any negotiations shall be based on the ISGA and nothing else.
The President is willing to make the ISGA the basis for discussions as long as it is linked to a permanent settlement of the issue. Even the JVP has, in a significant easing of position, stated that it recognizes the need for an interim administration as part of the final solution.
While accepting that an escalation of violence can only lead to dangerous consequences, is it a proper reading of current developments to state that the entire problem lies with the Government's or the JVPs attitude to the ISGA and nothing else?
In the context of all the declared voices for peace, including those of the international community involved in Sri Lanka's peace process urging both sides to begin talks, and pushing the Government harder with warnings of aid being lost, can one really say that what is holding up the resumption of talks is the ISGA issue and that alone?
The Karuna catch
A more serious study of what is taking place, especially with regard to the escalation of violence in the East, would show that while all the talk about the ISGA goes on at the surface, there is another more serious issue that is delaying the resumption of talks.
That is none other than the Karuna factor. While what is being passed off as conventional wisdom holds that it is the Government's or LTTE's intransigence on the ISGA that is delaying the talks, more serious analysts of current developments are of the view that the major split that has taken place in the LTTE, with Karuna's breakaway, is what is in fact holding up the resumption of talks.
The damage to a monolith such as the LTTE cannot put it in any mood for talks.
Undoubtedly, this is also the reason for the increase in violence that is causing much concern and even leading to fear of a resumption of war. The SLMM openly admits that it cannot monitor the violence that is taking place, and wants both the Government and the LTTE to help in bringing down the level of violence.
There appears to be little that the Government can do to curtail this violence, except give some protection to persons who are suspected of being Karuna supporters from being abducted or killed in government controlled areas. The terms of the Cease fire Agreement (CFA) make it impossible for the Government law enforcement authorities to carry out any activities in the LTTE held areas.
The Government is duty bound to give protection to any citizen who is under threat of attack, whether actually a Karuna cadre or not. No democratically elected government can allow any of its citizens to be victims of violence and terror at the hands any armed group, even if it is permitted to carry arms under the CFA.
However, under the curious circumstances that prevail, the Government gets blamed even for giving such protection to suspected supporters of Karuna, instead of handing them over to the mercy of the LTTE.
With this follows the repeated allegation against the Government and security forces of giving covert support to Karuna and his renegade group. The circle of such allegation goes on, repeated ad nauseam, and thus actually delaying the resumption of talks.
Those who have studied the ISGA proposals and the reactions to it in the South, have for some time considered the possibility of having a set of proposals of the Government too, which can be tabled for discussion together with the ISGA.
TamilNet reported this week that: "The Sri Lanka Government is also preparing a draft interim proposal like the Interim Self Governing Authority and the LTTE. Peace talks between the Government and the LTTE could commence on the basis of the proposals by the parties concerned."
The statement has been attributed to Dr. Jayantha Dhanapala, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Government's Peace Secretariat, addressing members of the Consortium of Jaffna-District Non-Governmental Organizations, last Monday.
This appears to be the most positive move made so far by the Government in making progress towards the resumption of talks. It will not be easy for the LTTE to reject outright the Government's proposals for an interim administration, and keep on insisting that talks will only be on the ISGA.
Placing a set of alternate proposals before the LTTE will also show to the critics of the Government's handling of the peace process so far, that it has in fact been doing its own homework, and is not ready to blindly give into LTTE demands, as the UNP kept on doing.
It will certainly be difficult for the LTTE to make an outright rejection of any such alternative proposals by the Government, and also impress upon the international community that it is in fact serious about the peace process.
The Peace Support Group (PSG) last week issue a timely statement detailing the instances of escalating violence, agreeing with the views of the Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister about the increasing threats on the horizon. It has made four useful appeals both to the Government and LTTE to help in bringing down the violence, which is fast spilling out of the North and East, and causing much public concern.
The PSG wants public affirmation by both signatories to the CFA that they will respect minimum humanitarian standards contained in the Geneva Conventions of 1949 that prohibit violence to life and person, the taking of hostages and summary execution of those not actively engaged in conflict.
The appeal is more useful if directed at the LTTE, with greater force and emphasis, as it is from that quarter that one observes these violations on an increasing scale today.
It also makes a useful call on the international community to support an initiative to send out a high-level fact finding team, consisting representatives of the four Co-Chairs of the Tokyo Conference, with the participation of Ian Martin, the Human Rights Advisor to the peace process, to work in close collaboration with the Peace Secretariat in Colombo and the North-East Secretariat on Human Rights (sic) in Kilinochchi.
It may well be possible for such a team to gather more information than the SLMM acting within the constraints of the CFA. There remains the uncertainty whether the LTTE will welcome such a fact finding team moving freely in territory under its control, especially in the East, under present circumstances.
Even with all this done, it is most unlikely that the LTTE would return early to the negotiation table with its eastern flank badly exposed due to the Karuna revolt, which has taken away at least 5,000 of its fighting cadres, and virtually denied the LTTE its major base for recruitment of fighting cadres, including child soldiers.
It is best, therefore, not to pin all one's hopes on the resumption of peace talks based on the ISGA and the Government's promised alternate proposals.
As long as Karuna remains a threat of any serious proportion to the LTTE, the chances for talks can only be delayed, and the violence can only increase. Yet, it gives the Government more opportunity to demonstrate its own practical commitment to a negotiated peace.
Produced by Lake House