Continuation of the unwise intent to keep the Tamil question
KILLING: The Indian daily "The Hindu" on August 17 in its editorial
titled "The LTTEs war trap" said: "The LTTE has used one provocation
after another to draw a military response from the Government. It has no
interest in a just, federal settlement for Sri Lankan Tamils in a united
The killing of Kethesh Loganathan, deputy secretary-general of the
Sri Lankan Government Peace Secretariat and a dissident Tamil - a year
after the assassination of Lakshman Kadirgamar - has reinforced this
reading. Over the past two decades, Loganathan dedicated his life to
finding a solution to the conflict that would allow Tamils to live as
equal citizens with Sinhalese in one country.
For this, the LTTE killed him. The editorial has also drawn attention
to 'Kumaratunga government' plan to woo Tamils with constitutional
reforms along federal lines (that) did not work, as an opportunistic
opposition joined hands with the LTTE to sink the project.
So it is not the LTTE alone there are other forces too hindering the
resolution of the conflict despite the continuing killings and turmoil
that are making life miserable for the surviving millions. This dilemma
that is denying peace and prosperity to Sri Lanka is discussed in some
detail later in this article.
The assassination of Ketheshwaran Loganathan, son of the illustrious
C. Loganathan, former General Manager of Bank of Ceylon on August 12 has
been widely condemned and his commitment to national unity and peace
highly praised. At the time of the killing, Kethesh Loganathan was the
Deputy Chief of the Government Peace Secretariat (SCOPP) and Secretary
of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC).
Kethesh joined SCOPP as its Deputy Secretary General in March this
year, having resigned from his post as Director of the Centre for Policy
Alternatives (CPA) and Head of its Conflict and Peace Analysis Unit.
He wanted to make a direct contribution to the formation of a
Constitutional framework that will be the realistic basis for settling
the national question, which has its roots in the unfair centralized
governing system that made the minority ethnic communities politically
The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) on August 13 also condemned
the murder of Peace Secretariat's Deputy Head Kethesh Loganathan. In a
statement issued to the media, the SLMM said: 'After having worked with
Kethesh Loganathan and for the last time met him on Friday, August 11,
2006, the message of his death came as a shock, not only to the SLMM but
also, for all people longing for peace.
Taking part in his experiences, his well founded arguments and his
professionalism, has been a pleasure for all people who got to work with
him. There are no words strong enough to condemn this new and cold
blooded murder of yet another statesman living for peace.
Bob Rae and David Cameron, who as members of the Forum of Federations
participated in the Sri Lankan peace talks in their tribute (The Globe
and Mail, Canada) to Kethesh said: 'We learned last week that a
distinguished colleague and friend of ours, Kethesh Loganathan, had been
murdered in Colombo, in one of the countless acts of violence that have
plagued Sri Lanka for decades. To the world, this is just a tiny
footnote in an endless tragedy unfolding on a small island in an ocean
To us, and to Kethesh' family and friends, it is an immense personal
loss. He was a brave and honourable man who sought the good of his
country, and cared greatly for his fellow citizens. For four years, we
worked with him on the peace process during many trips to Sri Lanka.
Kethesh represented the future so many fine Sri Lankans are
struggling to build pluralistic, respectful of human life and human
rights, deeply democratic. His life stands as a symbol of what is good
and right in the country. But his death is profoundly discouraging.
Kethesh's involvement in the struggle for a just political settlement
to the Tamil question began after the 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom. The Muslim
factor emerged after the ethnic cleansing in the North and the killings
and harassments of Muslims in the East by the Tigers as part of their
struggle for Tamil Eelam.
He got engaged in Tamil politics as a member of the Eelam, People's
Liberation Front (EPRLF). He was also a member of the Tamil delegation
at the Thimpu peace talks in 1985. Along with Varatharajaperumal (who is
now residing in India) he represented the EPRLF. Kethesh withdrew from
Tamil politics and the EPRLF in 1994.
I will not forget the day Kethesh visited me and presented his book
"Lost Opportunities" published in 1996 by the Centre for Policy Research
and Analysis (CEPRA), University of Colombo. This book contains basic
and analytical information which has been very useful to me in preparing
many articles on the ongoing conflict.
"Lost Opportunities" has revealed the special analytical intellect of
Kethesh. I was hoping he would publish the second volume as some more
opportunities for settling the conflict had been lost since 1995. The
entire country is now paying the price for the failures.
A key factor that must have led to the view that Kethesh is a
'traitor' to the separatists' armed struggle is his visionary outlook of
the future of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka.
He believed strongly lasting peace can be secured only by meaningful
power-sharing arrangement at the centre and 'maximum' devolution of
governing powers to the regions. A system that bestows a reasonable
degree of self-rule with shared rule was Kethesh's well-considered view
for regaining the lost peace.
As enlightened Tamils know, durable peace without unity is just a
delusion. Kethesh was a committed nationalist, who knew the limits of
Tamil Nationalism in a multi-ethnic society. He was committed to freedom
of _expression, democracy and human rights.
Three principal actors, there are three actors at the centre, whose
actions and counter actions are helping to sustain the violent conflict.
They are the Southern polity (this includes the Government), Tamil
Diaspora and the Tamil Tigers.
The very forces responsible for the unilateral abrogation of the 1957
Bandaranaike- Chelvanayakam Pact and subsequent failed attempts to
settle the Tamil issue, by their supremacist stance are opposing moves
to settle it through substantial devolution of power to the regions.
They are in effect providing vital support to the Tamil separatists
in their determined efforts to continue fighting for separate Tamil
Eelam , an aim rejected bluntly by India and the rest of the
Bob Rae and David Cameron have said in their tribute to Kethesh: The
LTTE is unwilling to make the transition as did the African National
Congress and the IRA from guerrilla army to political party. The
government is unable to present a coherent plan for a constitution that
would give important powers and guarantees to the parts of Sri Lanka
that have historically been the homeland of the Tamils.
It is foolhardy for any rebel movement to ignore the ground realities
when the people suffer endlessly incurring unbearable losses and the
prospects of achieving the original aim are dim to end the fighting and
join the democratic system as a distinct political party on some agreed
terms. What many have failed to recognize here is the unique makeup of
the LTTE that makes it very different from the ANC and the IRA.
From another angle too the LTTE is unique. It eliminates
intellectuals in their own community, who have different views on the
resolution of the dispute. Ketheshwaran Loganathan is the latest victim.
Jehan Perera of the National Peace Council in his tributes to Kethesh
said the assassination was "unbefitting of a national liberation
The same applies to the immoral killings of other Tamils committed to
peaceful resolution of the conflict. Kethesh was critical of the peace
process because of its main aim to sustain the ceasefire rather than
seek a speedy resolution of the conflict. Jehan Perera has now
vindicated Kethesh's honest stand.
Although the damage to Tamil culture due to the sole dependence of
violence to settle differences within members of the community is
visible, there is hardly any collective concern about this ghastly
The recent tragic events affecting the Muslims in Muthur and Tamils
in the North as a result of offensive operations by the LTTE aimed at
capturing more land should open the eyes of the supporters of violence
which is destroying the community. The attacks by the government forces
against LTTE targets are now more offensive than defensive contrary to
President's claim. And the casualties include innocent civilians. The
main aim of the liberators is to ensure that the land after liberation
is solely under their control. The danger to the future of the Tamil
community lies in this egoistic goal.
The Diaspora provides considerable financial support to the
separatists' war effort and the vital non-financial support is being
provided by the Southern polity. The financial support of the Diaspora
is sustained by the political stance of this polity and the military
Any hostile action that hurts the Tamils in Sri Lanka (as the recent
aerial bombings in the North) helps to sustain the funding to the
Tigers. Thus, the destruction and mayhem happen in a vicious circle. The
shouts and pleas of third parties, including the powerful U.S.A. EU and
Japan have not broken the cycle.
India's reluctance to get directly involved in the peace effort is
also helping the principal actors to continue with their hostile
activities. Specifically, the absence of concerted effort to change Sri
Lanka's present structure towards a federal model as agreed at the Oslo
Peace Talks (November 2002) and recommended by the donor community in
Tokyo in 2003 is also supporting the continuation of the war for
Obstacles JVP and JHU think the way to seek peace is to defeat the
Tigers militarily. They want the war to be intensified so as to
annihilate the Tigers. The JHU tried to disrupt the August 17 anti-war
rally organised by the National Anti-War Front (NAF) in Colombo for the
The violent disturbances, the Saffron clad men caused must have
embarrassed the enlightened Buddhists. Military victory has not been
possible for the past two decades not only because of the fighting
strength and shrewd tactics of the Tigers but also due to the fact in
major air attacks the casualties will be many innocent civilians.
The Tigers have used this constraint to their advantage. Leaders of
main political parties know that the international community will not
permit this kind of assault.
India's opposition to air attacks was evident from the recent tragic
events in which several non-combatants (including children) were killed.
It also showed the relevance of the Tamil Nadu factor when there is a
real danger to the safety of the civilians.
The fundamental problem that is preventing the country from advancing
like many countries in Asia-Pacific region is the politicization of
almost everything that should really be outside party politics. The
ethnic issue was no exception. It emerged from the power struggle within
the Sinhalese polity and hindered the settlement of the ethnic problem
for the past fifty years.
From the belligerent stand of the JVP and JHU the extremists too are
an obstacle to peace and prosperity. Any government that is influenced
by the views of these extreme parties cannot succeed in freeing Sri
Lanka from the predicament she had been driven by the divisive forces.
Dayan Jayatilleka in his comments on the killing of Kethesh
Loganathan (Daily News 14 August) has quoted the article his slain
friend wrote a year ago highlighting the obstacles in the South to
consensual political solution to the ethnic problem and by extension to
To quote: This absence of 'enlightened self-interest' in my opinion,
although now largely rectified in relation to Indo-Lanka relations but
not necessarily irreversible, continues to dog the Colombo political
establishment on other matters relating to the peace process, and has
provided the LTTE its very mode of existence.
The confusion between engagement and appeasement of the LTTE is a
case in point. Another is the failure to forge a southern consensus on
the Ethnic Question based on self-rule and shared-rule (Kethesh
Loganathan: Mervyn's Insights were Foresights, Sunday Observer, June 19,
2005) Pluralism and democracy are unimportant to the separatists because
their focus is solely on gaining control over the land in the North and
Dayan also agrees that the LTTE's conditions of existence are not
supplied by the LTTE itself but by others, including those who claim to
oppose separatism and terrorism. There are two types of people and
policies which furnish the Tigers with their mode of existence".
Amongst the policies the critical ones are those which obstruct power
sharing, self rule as well as the very recognition of the existence of
an Ethnic Question by the international community. A sea change with
regard to the Ethnic Question is needed from the Sinhalese polity, if
the existing conditions supporting the armed conflict are to disappear.
The current approach to reach a consensual political solution to the
conflict has not given the momentum needed for completing the task
early. The need to expedite the work is now greater than ever before.
The mechanism that has been set up is more appropriate during peace time
but not when the country is in a desperate situation.
Over 1000 civilians, militants and security personnel have been
killed this year. Moreover, tens of thousands of Muslim and Tamil
families have been displaced from their habitats. Around 10,000 Tamils
have fled to Tamil Nadu since the Eelam war restarted and are living in
refugee camps with minimum basic facilities.
SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem visited this week New Delhi and discussed
with Indian National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan the issue of the
vast number of people internally displaced due to the latest bout of
violence in Sri Lanka's North and East. He sought India's assistance to
the government of Sri Lanka to resettle the IDPs belonging to both the
Muslim and Tamil communities. There are nearly 100,000 IDPs who need to
Kethesh with his knowledge of the Indo-Lanka Agreement and
recommendations of previous committees, particularly the Mangala
Moonesinghe Parliamentary Select Committee process tasked at formulating
a constitutional solution to the national question would have helped the
APRC in speeding the work on matters decided earlier with regard to the
proposed constitutional change.
The earlier works on devolution have useful proposals for
consideration. The right path to peace is through a new balanced
governing system that gives administrative powers to the regions as in a
federal configuration. The suggestion to dispel the misgivings on this
issue is given below.
The future SCOPP Peace Secretariat Chief Dr. Palitha Kohona declared
at the press conference held the day after Ketheshwaran Loganathan was
gunned down at his home in Dehiwala that Kethesh has joined the long
list of Tamil dissidents who have sacrificed their lives because they
chose to defer from the LTTE.
Dr. Kohona also stressed the freedom to dissent must be protected and
they all must ensure his death will not be a waste. This is a pious
statement and its realisation requires as a matter of urgency a
political solution to the national problem that respects democracy,
human rights and the rule of law.
Here comes the contradiction in government's approach to political
settlement. The fact that any political settlement within united Sri
Lanka is anathema to the LTTE is well known. The UNF government made the
grave mistake of using the peace talks to buy time, hoping the LTTE will
eventually abandon separation. The so called 'international safety net'
on which the then Government relied heavily also failed to prevent the
collapse of its peace plan.
Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera said in Parliament on August 23:
"It is now time for the LTTE to focus on the substantial core issues of
devolution of power rather than chase an unattainable chimera of a
mono-ethnic separate state which does not belong in today's civilized
He also said: "The only way to resolve the conflict is through
negotiations and the Government remains fully committed to a political
process to address the genuine grievances of the Tamil speaking people
of this country".
If the government is going to wait for the LTTE to shun violence and
join the democratic mainstream even to deal with the Tamil grievances
let alone a political settlement, it will be a very long costly wait.
Even one life lost in the conflict in Sri Lanka is too many to ignore.
Government leaders continue to reiterate the commitment to a
negotiated political settlement and this seemed to have misled many
including the foreign governments to believe this is feasible. The
reason for being skeptical should be clear from the foregoing analysis
and no further elucidation is necessary.
According to August 20 PTI report, India has offered a devolution
formula based on the Sarkaria Commission's recommendations, which could
take care of the interests and aspirations of all sections of the
society of the island nation.
Given the past failures in drafting well-balanced constitutions, Sri
Lanka should accept India's offer to provide expertise in devolution of
powers within a structure that guarantees the unity and territorial
integrity of the island nation.
Even when drafting the 1972 and 1978 constitutions, it is the
political interest of the ruling party and that of the majority
Sinhalese that mattered most. Speaker of the House W.J.M. Lokubandara, a
UNP senior politician said recently: "The 1978 Constitution was drafted
and adopted by the UNP with the sole intention of ensuring a UNP rule
forever in the country and making Prime Minister J.R. Jayewardene the
Executive President of the country," Although JR succeeded in ensuring
that the UNP retains power even in the opposition, he did not think of
the problems the country would face with weak governments and an
obstructive opposition as has been the case during the past two decades.
The immediate challenge is to shun narrow interests and for all
parties to give importance to national interest in the efforts to settle
the conflict and restore peace throughout the country.
In a compassionate and moving article, "Love and protect thy
neighbour especially if he is a Tamil", published (Daily News August 14)
in memory of Lakshman Kadirgamar who was also assassinated a year ago,
the author has said: "The name of Neelan Tiruchelvam comes to my mind.
A man who resolutely fought for a solution to the ethnic question.
The memory of Neelan and the contribution he made to stall the ethnic
strife is kept aloft by his dear wife and the institution which he
funded. But, is that sufficient? As Sinhalese are we grateful to these
men who sacrificed their lives to bring peace and harmony to this
country. The article must have been written before the assassination of
The sentiments expressed have been underpinned by the loss of another
contributor to the same objective on August 12. The author has said two
principles are important for a political solution to the ethnic problem.
These are: "(1) to allow autonomy as much as it is necessary; (2) to
ensure safeguards against any type of disintegration, break away or
secession. We also believe that given current international developments
and the challenges that our country is facing we need to have a rather
strong system at the centre as well.
Therefore, we propose considerable power sharing at the centre in
addition to devolution of power to the regions or the periphery. All
seeking a just settlement to the conflict should take note of these
Kethesh in his own way was also striving for a constitutional change
along the same line.
Present fighters were not born when there was tranquility and peace
in the entire country. They would not know the sense of pride we had
then as Ceylonese. The author has also reminded in the pre-56 era, Even
the lower middle classes had enough money and time to spend in pursuit
of happiness. The Tamils, the Sinhalese and the Muslims lived in peace,
harmony and tranquility.
Ceylon was poised to become a growing high income country but then
our leaders had other priorities in their minds. "Who will do what is
right?" is the question posed by Kathleen Rutledge, Country Manager,
World Concern Sri Lanka after seeing the suffering children, mothers and
fathers in the conflict stricken Eastern province.
The moderate Tamils like Kethesh though they want to do what is right
cannot by themselves do much to liberate the people caught in the war
trap. Hopefully, the assassination of Ketheshwaran Loganathan will move
our Sinhalese brethren to take the same view of the national problem as
the compassionate author of the abovementioned article.
The political initiative needed to break the vicious loop and restore
peace is entirely in the hands of the Sinhalese polity. Those who
disrupt doing what is right are lending support to the project to divide
the island along ethnic line.