Kumaratunga flays truce agreement

[TamilNet, Friday, 01 March 2002, 17:02 GMT]
(News Feature) Sri Lanka’s President Chandrika Kumaratunga Friday condemned the Norwegian-facilitated permanent ceasefire agreement between the government and the Liberation Tigers. In a letter to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, her first formal comment on the landmark truce hailed by the international community, Kumaratunga said the agreement jeopardised Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and national security. Kumaratunga’s letter, which was reportedly drafted by Lakshman Kadirgamar, the former Foreign Minister and a close confidante of hers, again denounced the Premier’s signing of the pact as “improper and unconstitutional,” blamed Wickremesinghe for the friction between Parliament and her office and, with acidic sarcasm, also criticised what she felt were undue powers the agreement accorded Norway.

“There are … some Articles [in the agreement] which could impinge on national security concerns and will have to be reviewed by our Service Commanders and the Security Council,” Kumaratunga said.

In a direct criticism of the United National Front government’s strategy of de-escalation of the conflict and removal of conditions of war ahead of negotiations with the Tamil Tigers, the President said the truce was “not an end in itself,” and should have been explicitly bound to the starting of peace talks.

“I note that the Agreement deals substantially with questions concerning the ceasefire and humanitarian and confidence building measures, while making no reference at all to the important political issues that would have to be addressed, while the ceasefire is in place,” she said.

“I have taken note of the statement … that ‘the ceasefire is a process designed to prepare the ground for the negotiations which will deal with the substantive issues’. I cannot fail to stress the necessity for the talks on the substantive issues to commence and conclude as early as possible,” she said.

“The present agreement does not include any indication, let alone a commitment, that the LTTE agrees to come to the negotiating table and talk of the essential and substantive issues. This gives me reason for concern.”

Kumaratunga protested that the agreement did not forbid the LTTE from bringing in arms during the truce, and dismissed the Prime Ministers subsequent assurances to the country that this would not be permitted as “not binding in law” on the LTTE. She also warned that “if [the Tigers] have plans of taking over the entire North and East,” the security forces were at risk from the truce allowing unarmed LTTE cadres to enter government held territory.

But Kumaratunga’s greatest criticism was levelled at the demarcation of “lines of control” between the Liberation Tigers and the Sri Lankan armed forces across which the terms of the ceasefire are structured and that the ceasefire monitors, headed by Norway, would assume responsibility for policing the truce.

“Lines of control,” she said, citing Kashmir, “are a highly evocative expression in our region and also elsewhere in the world where lines of control and demarcation have been an endless sources of confusion, bitterness and tragedy.”

“This is the first time in the history of post independence Sri Lanka that a foreign government is being authorised to draw demarcation lines on the soil of Sri Lanka. The submission of such matters to the binding authority of a single individual appointed by a foreign government appears to be wholly inconsistent with the sovereignty of the people of Sri Lanka which is declared by the Constitution to be inalienable,” she said.

Expanding on her criticism of the Norwegian role, Kumaratunga said: “I also observe that the powers and the functions, which by this Agreement are vested in the Norwegian Government, travel far beyond the role of a facilitator for the expected negotiations towards a political agreement.”

“The Norwegian Government has now been cast in the role of a mediator or arbitrator in the resolution of disputes between the parties, which is not the basis on which Norwegian assistance was sought by my Government in 1999.”

“I was not aware that the nature of the Norwegian Government's mandate had changed to such an extent as to make it incompatible with the sovereign status of Sri Lanka,” she said pointedly.

Having in the past few years repeatedly denied the existence of an economic embargo on LTTE-held areas, the President said she “noted with satisfaction” the lifting of the blockade. Likewise, Kumaratunga said she “was pleased” with the agreed gradual easing of the stringent fishing her former People’s Alliance government had imposed.

Despite having been continuously briefed by the Norwegian facilitators and government officials as to the content of progress of discussions on the ceasefire’s terms and conditions, Kumaratunga protested that on February 21 Wickremesinghe had given her “the final version of the ceasefire agreement with the LTTE, which neither, Mr. Kadirgamar nor I had seen up to then.”

“It was clearly impossible for me at that late hour to make a useful suggestion regarding the text of an Agreement I had not read,” the President argued, reiterating a point of earlier stated irritation. “In any event it was too late to propose any alterations in the text as Mr. Pirabaharan had already signed his letter of consent and you were keen to sign your letter the next day.”

Kumaratunga has not concealed her opposition to the truce, but her comments at a local government meeting early this week where she threatened to annul the ceasefire “with just one letter to the Army commander,” triggered a storm, and according to a government minister, international pressure on her, resulting in a subsequent denial.

“We know she made those remarks, but she was forced to retract because of pressure from the U.S., Britain, Canada, Japan, Norway and India,” Agriculture Minister S. B. Dissanayake was quoted as saying Friday. “She may be waiting to scuttle the peace process, but the international pressure on her is too much for her to cause too much damage.”

Which was probably why, despite the vehement criticism of the agreement, Kumaratunga was at pains to point out “My commitment to peace remains firm and constant,” and that she was “indeed glad,” that the truce with the Tamil Tigers had been signed.

 

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