British ban will scuttle peace process - LTTE

[TamilNet, Monday, 12 February 2001, 09:19 GMT]
The proscription of the Liberation Tigers by Britain would “seriously undermine” the ongoing Norwegian peace initiative, the LTTE’s chief negotiator, Anton Balasingham said this week in an interview to the Tamil Guardian newspaper. “A serious indictment of one party by Britain as ‘terrorists’ at this stage would be considered as a partisan intervention in Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict and therefore destroy trust in the Norwegian peace initiative,” Balasingham told the London based weekly.

"Furthermore, we have impressed upon the British authorities that proscribing the LTTE would seriously undermine the interests and aspirations of the Tamils and their bargaining power in peace talks while it would encourage the Sri Lanka State to be intransigent and to pursue hard-line militaristic project," he said.

The full text of Mr. Balasingham's interview with the Tamil Guardian, to be published Wednesday was made available to TamilNet Monday and is reproduced in full below:

Tamil Guardian: Positive sentiments are expressed in the Colombo media about imminent peace talks between the LTTE and Sri Lanka Government. Has Norwegian facilitation reached a stage where both parties can enter into political negotiations?

Mr. Balasingham: There is a lot of speculation about the peace talks in the Colombo media. Still there is substantial groundwork to be done for the commencement of the peace negotiations. The Memorandum of Understanding proposed by the Norwegian Government is yet to be finalised into a mutually acceptable document. We learn from the Norwegians that Sri Lankan Government has proposed some alterations and amendments, which we have to study. Discussions are continuing over the constituent countries of the monitoring mission. Norway is working on a list of countries agreeable to both parties.

As you know the LTTE is already observing an extended cease-fire unilaterally under which we have been already implementing the obligations of the Norwegian MOU suspending all offensive operations in the Sinhala south. We expect Sri Lanka to cease all armed offensive actions against the LTTE so that objective conditions conducive for talks can be created.

Tamil Guardian: President Chandrika Kumaratunga in her recent Independence Day speech reiterated Sri Lanka’s position that there cannot be cease-fire before talks and that a truce can be considered only when the talks progressed satisfactorily. Do you think that this position will turn to be a stumbling block for peace talks?

Mr. Balasingham: As far as the LTTE is concerned it is absolutely essential that the fighting should be concluded for the negotiations to commence. We insist on a cessation of armed hostilities as essential pre-requisite for peace talks for pragmatic reasons since it is impossible to conduct peace negotiations under conditions of war and violence. Guns must be silenced and a climate of peace should prevail to facilitate the LTTE leaders, both political and military, to participate in the peace process.

President Kumaratunga is talking about a proper cease-fire, the modalities and mechanisms of which can be discussed and agreed upon by the parties in conflict at the negotiating table. What we need at the moment is total suspension of all armed hostilities by the protagonists to create appropriate objective conditions conducive for talks. I sincerely feel that the Norwegian MOU and LTTE’s unilateral cessation of hostilities are positive measures towards the process of de-escalation and if Sri Lanka reciprocates positively to these goodwill gestures, conditions will be created for a stable cease-fire and serious political negotiations.

Tamil Guardian: President Kumaratunga continues to insist that her Constitutional reform proposals should be the basis for peace talks whereas you have been saying that Thimpu principles should be the foundation for political negotiations. How can this contradictory position be resolved?

Mr. Balasingham: I do not want to repeat the LTTE’s position on the proposed constitution. It is a well-known fact that we have already rejected the constitutional proposals as limited and inadequate failing to address the political aspirations of our people. As far as the LTTE and the Tamil political parties are concerned the constitution proposals have become a dead letter and there is no purpose served in resurrecting this demised document.

The peace talks are about the ethnic conflict which is exclusively a Tamil issue concerned with Tamil grievances and aspirations; an issue about the collective rights of a nation of people. When we address the Tamil question in peace negotiations we should explore in depth the fundamentals of the Tamil question, or rather we should deal with the core issues of the Tamil national question. It is in this context, we have stated that the territorial integrity and historicity of the Tamil homeland, the nationality status of the Tamil people and their right to self-determination are the fundamentals: the core issues underlying the Tamil national question. Those who seek a permanent peace and negotiated political settlement should be prepared to confront, recognise and discuss the fundamentals of the Tamil question and examine models, and mechanisms to accommodate the core aspirations of the Tamils in a newly defined polity.

We are fully aware of the fact that the concepts that define the core issues of the Tamils have been twisted, distorted and perverted by Sinhala politicians to such an extent that they have become dangerous categories denoting treason. We are fully aware how the concept of self-determination is viewed with suspicion and apprehension not only in Sri Lanka but also elsewhere among our friends. I do not wish to elaborate on the discourse of self-determination in this interview. It is suffice to say that it is a legal and political right that confers power and freedom to peoples to determine and chart their own political destiny. The Tamil people are entitled to this right because they are a people; a people bound by togetherness of identity and struggle.

Mr. Kadirgamar, whose mind lives in the pre-colonial theoretical universe, conceives self-determination primarily as a right to secession. He seems to be unfamiliar with the on-going debates and discourses on self-determination. Self-determination is a dynamic concept in evolution with wide ranging creative potentiality, which can assimilate and accommodate struggles for national identity in various forms of civilised political frameworks. Yet, the concept of self-determination does not preclude the right to secede. The right to secede and form an independent State, in our view, should be the remedy as the last resort when autonomy and self-government have been denied to a people and when gross human rights violations and State repression assume the character of genocide. I would say without hesitation that the Sri Lankan State has been pushing the Tamils to the brink of intolerable oppression and denying them self-government in their homeland thereby compelling them to seek political independence and statehood as the remedy of the last resort.

Tamil Guardian: Sri Lanka has been pressurising the British Government to proscribe the LTTE under the Terrorism Act 2000, which is coming into effect next week. Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mr. Laxman Kadirgamar is confident that the LTTE will be banned in Britain. To use his phrase, the LTTE is ‘eminently qualified for proscription under the criteria of the new legislation’. What are your views on this matter? Do you think that Britain will ban your organisation?

Mr. Balasingham: First of all, let me say a few words about the British Terrorism Act 2000. It is a draconian law. The definition given to ‘terrorism’ under the legislation is too wide and loosely conceptualised that it forbids violence in all forms for the purpose of advancing a political or ideological cause, however legitimate or morally valid the cause may be. Even armed resistance for self-defence against State sponsored genocide can be characterised under the provisions of this law as ‘terrorism’. All forms of revolutionary struggles, national liberation movements, armed resistance campaigns, even violent forms of political agitations and protests fall under the category of ‘terrorism’. It is unfortunate that Britain, with an illustrious political history of liberalism, democracy and tolerance behind her and with the deep global experience of the nature of war and violence against colonialism and racism, has enacted this legislation on ‘terrorism’ without giving due consideration of the legitimate political struggles of the oppressed humanity who have resorted to violence as the ultimate alternative to defend and liberate themselves against the repressive apparatuses of the States. This law, while giving licence to oppression to State actors, forbids the non-State actors from registering any effective protest through violent means, thereby stifling even the right of existence and self-preservation.

Under the logical criteria of this ‘terrorist’ law LTTE can be proscribed though our ideological and political cause is legitimate and ethically valid. This may be the reason that Kadirgamar is supremely confident over the ban.

The decision to ban the LTTE is the prerogative of the British Government. We cannot challenge the law of this land but we can only plead with the British authorities not to include the LTTE in the list of proscribed organisations for the sake of peace and ethnic reconciliation in Sri Lanka. We have been making representations to relevant British authorities that a ban from a major European power at this stage of Norwegian peace initiative will seriously undermine the peace effort. We have pleaded that Britain, which plays a complimentary role to Norwegian facilitation, should encourage constructive engagement between the parties in conflict to seek peace and a negotiated political settlement. A serious indictment of one party by Britain as ‘terrorists’ at this stage would be considered as a partisan intervention in Sri Lanka ethnic conflict and therefore destroy trust in the Norwegian peace initiative. Furthermore, we have impressed upon the British authorities that proscribing the LTTE would seriously undermine the interests and aspirations of the Tamils and their bargaining power in peace talks while it would encourage the Sri Lanka State to be intransigent and to pursue hard-line militaristic project.

Furthermore, the Tamil people in England, in Sri Lanka and all over the world are continuing lobbying the U.K. government not to proscribe the LTTE as we are the sole authentic representative organisation fighting for the political rights of the Eelam Tamils.

Tamil Guardian: Mr.Kadirgamar, in a recent interview to the Colombo media, expressed confidence that the British ban would not undermine the peace process, rather it would help to accelerate the process, because it would strengthen the position of the Tamils who had renounced violence and pledge to follow the democratic path. Do you agree with him?

Mr. Balasingham: We know that Mr. Kadirgamar has been operating with a single-minded determination to demonise and crucify the LTTE on the terrorist cross. He is not sincerely concerned about peace or ethnic reconciliation. His sole aim is to placate the Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinistic electorate by discrediting the Tamil struggle as a phenomenon of terrorism. His theory that the ban would enhance the peace process is absurd because all those Tamil political parties who have renounced the politics of violence and pursue the democratic path have been campaigning against the proscription arguing that it would seriously damage the peace process. Mr. Kadirgamar is not in touch with the political reality in Sri Lanka nor has he any grasp of the feelings, sentiments and the collective consciousness of the Tamil nation.

Tamil Guardian: Can you comment on the Norwegian perception of the possible British proscription of the LTTE. Have they made any representation on your behalf to the British authorities to ensure that their peace initiative would not be in anyway disrupted by the British action?

Mr. Balasingham: The Norwegians want to play a neutral role in this matter. They have told me that Norway will not interfere with the decision of a sovereign Government. But they said that they would appraise the British authorities of our concerns and apprehensions.

I have explained to Mr. Erik Solheim, the Norwegian Peace Envoy that the British proscription will definitely scuttle the peace process. Apart from the negative consequences it might cause by the degradation and criminalisation of one party in the conflict, there will be practical difficulties in pursing the peace process. For example, I as the chief negotiator of the LTTE living in London will not be able to function freely and efficiently under the constraints of this draconian legislation. The moment the LTTE is proscribed I will no longer be a legitimate representative of my people, rather I will be labelled as a ‘terrorist’ leader with severe restrictions on my political freedoms, including the freedom of speech and opinion. Whatever I say on the emancipation of my people will be construed under the logic of this law as a conspiracy against a constitutionally constituted government. I told Mr. Solheim that I may be compelled to go underground or possibly leave this country and may not be able to play the role of chief negotiator effectively thereafter.

I feel Mr. Solheim should impress upon the Sri Lankan Government, particularly Mr. Kadirgamar, the futility of pursuing Britain to get the LTTE proscribed since it will seriously disrupt the peace effort. Furthermore, we have communicated to Sri Lanka through the facilitatory good offices of Norway that Kumaratunga Government should lift the ban on the LTTE if serious peace negotiations are to take place. The LTTE will not be able to enjoy the political status of a representative organisation as a banned, illegal entity. Therefore the time is approaching for Sri Lanka to lift its own ban.

As the ethnic conflict has its roots buried in the colonial past, with European powers instrumental for the erosion of the sovereign status of the Tamil people, Britain as well as other European nations have a moral and historical responsibility to ensure that the Tamils get justice and that their interests and aspirations should not be harmed in anyway to the benefit of the oppressive Sinhala regime.

 

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