Colombo will shun peace, until LTTE demonstrates futility of military option- Gajendrakumar

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 23 May 2007, 01:24 GMT]
Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarian and Member of the Parliamentary Consultative Committees for Constitutional affairs, in an interview with TamilNet Tuesday, said that Sri Lanka will not pursue a political solution until it finds itself unable to prosecute a military solution, and the only option open for peace is for the LTTE to demonstrate that Colombo's military agenda will not succeed. Gajendrakumar added that this unfortunate reality is the direct result of the International community's demonstrated unwillingness to stop the Sri Lanka Government from proceeding with the military agenda.

Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam
Gajendrakumar pointed out that US and UK, while curtailing some development aid due to the worsening human rights record of the Sri Lanka Government, continue with their military assistance to the Government. "How is one to interpret this other than as support for the government’s military approach?... Then I ask you, why should the Sri Lankan Government change its ways?," he said.

Charging that the proposal exercise by the Government's All Party Representative Committee (APRC) is the usual ploy to buy time, Gajendrakumar said: "This strategy of the State is not anything new. The current Government’s strategy is a slightly cruder variety of the previous “War for Peace” campaigns. The Tamil people have no illusions about this... The SLFP proposals took a good one and a half years to be unveiled. Now the APRC can deliberate for many more moons to give sufficient time for the Sri Lankan Government’s military project to be unveiled."

The full text of the interview follows:

TamilNet: Your colleague Mr. Selverajah Kajendren's controversial statement on LTTE’s Air Force, is claimed by Sinhala MPs to have violated the 6th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution. Were Mr. Kajendren’s views consistent with those of TNA’s?

Ponnambalam: I don’t believe that Mr. Kajendren’s views were controversial. They are firmly based on unavoidable realities on the ground. Kajendran's statement is tied to the security of the Tamil people. Sri Lankan Government’s Armed Forces, particularly the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) have been responsible for committing the most horrendous human rights violations against the Tamil people. SLAF has bombed residential areas, schools, hospitals, and even Tsunami refugee camps causing hundreds of civilian casualties. Recently the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) has reported that the intensity of such bombing campaigns has resulted in the Tamil civilian population living with a sense of terror. In this backdrop, any action taken to neutralize these threats against the Tamil people is going to be viewed by Tamils as a necessary form of self-defense. These are not just the personal views of Mr. Kajendren. They are also the views of the TNA.

TamilNet: But are not these views contrary to the 6th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution?

Ponnambalam: The 6th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution outlaws promoting a separate state. Talking about the reality of the existence of the military formations of the LTTE, or the need for the security and safety of the Tamil people who have elected TNA as their representatives, has nothing to do with the 6th Amendment. These issues are raised not to promote a separate state, but to point out that certain unavoidable realities have to be recognized and accepted if ever there is to be a serious effort to find a negotiated solution.

The Sri Lankan Government’s Armed Forces are 99% Sinhalese. It is these Armed Forces that are waging a war against the Tamil people. The Tamil people have no faith in the Armed Forces; in fact our people need protection from them. There has been much talk about the need for a power sharing arrangement with the Tamils to pave the way for peace. Well, the Tamil people must first be able to live safely before they can they enjoy or exercise any political power.

The Sri Lankan State interprets any voice demanding change to the Unitary State as promoting separation. It is in Colombo's interest to trivialize issues in this way to avoid complex realities. The sixth amendment is a convenient tool to suppress democratic debate. When we raise serious political issues as elected representatives we are shown the 6th Amendment. The TNA would like to ask those who have been quick to label the LTTE as a terrorist organization their views on the harassment meted out to Mr. Kajendren and the TNA. Are these people who label the LTTE as terrorists prepared to prevail upon the Sri Lankan Government to repeal the 6th Amendment?

TamilNet: You mentioned that there are unavoidable ground realities that have to be addressed if there is to be a serious effort to finding a negotiated solution. Can you elaborate?

Ponnambalam: Certainly. The Tamil struggle is premised on the right to self-determination. Tamils want to manage their affairs in the areas of their historical habitation. It is precisely this right that is being denied the Tamils. The Tamil people are aware that the only structure that provides them with elements of self rule is the LTTE administration. This administration has become a reality not through negotiations with the Sinhala leadership but was established amidst much sacrifice through life and limb. It is extremely naïve to think that the Tamil people will agree to dismantle this reality. When the Tamils people say that they are willing to consider a negotiated solution, they are expressing their readiness to engage in a process that accepts and recognizes this reality. Only negotiating with the LTTE to reach a working arrangement can lead to peace.

This approach is also consistent with the long standing position of the Tamils that Sri Lanka comprises of two nations and that a peaceful solution can be found only on the basis of coexistence and sharing sovereignty of the island. Anything short of this approach will likely lead to failure.

TamilNet: But the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) signed in February 2002 recognized this reality. What has gone wrong then?

Ponnambalam: While I agree that the CFA recognized the existence of LTTE controlled areas, I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it was intended to be the basis for a conflict resolution process. The CFA was signed in the backdrop of severe military reversals suffered by the Sri Lanka's Armed Forces. It became evident to the International Community that very enthusiastically supported the Sri Lankan State’s “War for Peace” campaign that the LTTE was not going to be militarily neutralized. On the contrary, the nature of the military reversals suffered by the State was such that the International Community had doubts even about the ability of the State to contain the LTTE on the battlefield. It was clear to them that allowing the hostilities to continue might result in even further reversals for the State. It is in this backdrop that the State was pressured to enter a CFA with the LTTE.

My view is that the International Community did not approach the CFA as a basis for a conflict resolution process. The CFA was mooted as an extension of the counter insurgency strategy in containment of the LTTE. Despite the International Community being repeatedly cautioned by the TNA that it was the balance of forces on the battle field that has paved the way for the peace process, and that it was important that this balance be maintained for the peace process to genuinely make the transition from a counter insurgency strategy to one of conflict resolution, the International Community openly backed the State, politically, economically and militarily. With the defection of Karuna and the strong perception of weakness of the LTTE in the eyes of the Sri Lankan State, it was only a matter of time when the State was going to resume its quest for a military solution. Listing of LTTE by EU and Canada as a terrorist organization, especially at a time when the current administration made its dispensation toward the conflict amply clear, only exacerbated the slide to all out hostilities.

TamilNet: But the EU made it clear when listing the LTTE that the decision was an expression of their displeasure of the LTTE’s actions and was not intended to be an acceptance or legitimization of the Sri Lankan Government’s actions or policies?

Ponnambalam: I am aware of this justification. But that is not how it works in reality. The Sri Lankan State believes that the peace process was promoted by the International Community as containment strategy of the LTTE. What that means is that the Sri Lankan State believes that the International Community sees the LTTE as the primary problem. This coupled with the International Community’s rigid commitment to the Sri Lankan State’s territorial integrity means that any action taken against the LTTE is perceived as an acceptance and legitimization of its own actions. This is also exactly how the Tamil people view the approach of the International Community.

Take for example the recent announcements made by the UK and the USA to cut some aid to Sri Lanka. They have done so by pointing to the deterioration of the human rights situation for which everyone knows the Sri Lankan Government’s Armed Forces and its Paramilitaries are primarily responsible. Whilst curtailing some aid, there have also been reports of these very same countries providing military assistance to the Sri Lankan Government. How is one to interpret this other than as support for the government’s military approach? Whilst curtailing some aid by pointing to human rights violations on the one hand, the Sri Lankan Military which is the prime culprit for these violations is being strengthened! Then I ask you, why should the Sri Lankan Government change its ways?

TamilNet: But the Sri Lankan Government maintains that the LTTE is only interested in establishing a separate state and therefore needs to be militarily defeated. Simultaneously a political solution should be offered to the Tamil people and APRC effort will achieve this. Your comments?

Ponnambalam: The Sri Lankan Government by its own actions has proved the fallacy of this theory. The SLFP proposals have been unveiled. These proposals purport to take away even the token arrangements that currently exist. Now we are told that these proposals are only that of a political party and that it will be the APRC that will come up with a set of proposals after consulting all the southern political parties that will be the basis for negotiations with the Tamils. The SLFP proposals took a good one and a half years to be unveiled. Now the APRC can deliberate for many more moons to give sufficient time for the Sri Lankan Government’s military project to be unveiled.

This strategy of the State is not anything new. The current Government’s strategy is a slightly cruder variety of the previous “war for peace” campaigns. The Tamil people have no illusions about this.

TamilNet: So what then are the prospects of peace negotiations resuming?

Ponnambalam: I don’t see any prospects of any meaningful negotiations resuming anytime soon, under the present circumstances. However, if the circumstances change, then there is always the possibility of a resumption of negotiations. Let us be quite clear. The only time the Sri Lankan State is going to show interest in engaging in a meaningful way is when they are put in a situation similar to 2001. That is, the State must find itself unable to prosecute a military solution. I see this happening in only one of two ways. The preferred way is where the International Community, through concrete action and not mere statements, makes it impossible for the Sri Lankan State to proceed on its current military agenda. To be quite honest, I don’t see this happening, considering the policies that the International Community has been pursuing in the last five years.

The second is where the LTTE demonstrates that such a military agenda will not succeed to the Government. It is only when the futility in pursuing a military option to the Tamil National question is demonstrated can the Tamil people hope to keep the Sri Lankan State focused on the essential political nature of the conflict, and get it to address the root causes in a meaningful way.


Chronology:


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