[TamilNet, Saturday, 26 November 2005, 01:33 GMT]
The definition "supreme authority within a territory," captures the essential notion of sovereignty used to describe political authority of modern nation states. The origins of Sri Lanka’s long festering conflict lie in its unitary constitution which vests the exercise of sovereignty solely in the hands of Sinhala Buddhists. But Colombo wields no sovereign authority over nearly seventy percent of the island’s NorthEast. Radical Sinhala groups view the denial of their state’s sovereignty in areas controlled by the Liberation Tigers with extreme chagrin. Over the years, other events too have challenged Sri Lanka’s sovereignty.
Unitary constitution remains the cornerstone of Sri Lanka's new President Mahinda Rajapakse's peace policy. This is shaped by the nationalist forces including Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU). Rajapakse's victory reflects majority electorate's view that he will be a bulwark against further encroachment by the LTTE into Sri Lanka's sovereignty.
Tamils' demand for self-determination in the past three decades posed persistent challenges to Sri Lanka's sovereignty. Tamils have consistently articulated in 1969 (Kodeeswaran challenge to language act), 1972 (Tamil boycott of Republic), 1975 (By-election of SJV Chelvanayagam), 1976 (Vaddukoddai resolution), 1977 (General election), 1985 (Thimpu talks) and 2003 (ISGA), with increasing vigor, that they have never acceded their sovereignty to the Sri Lankan state
. Successive Governments have tried to introduce punitive legal measures, sought to enter into agreements with Tamil leaders, or used violence to contain Tamil dissent without much success.
Pirapaharan signing the MoU
Sovereignty has external and internal dimensions.
"A sovereign state should have the sovereign will and right to enter into any relationship with any other sovereign state in its best national interests. The Indo Lanka Treaty clipped Sri Lanka's sovereign right to freely enter into military or intelligence relationships with any external power other than India. It is India, and not Sri Lanka, that is legally entitled to draw the line regarding Sri Lanka's external military and intelligence relationships," a popular military analyst wrote pointing out the onset of erosion of Sri Lanka's external sovereignty.
Diplomats from Embassies from European countries and from Canada visiting LTTE leaders in Killinochchi (Click on the image for a larger version)
When President Jayewardene signed the Indo Lanka Accord, Sri Lanka lost its sovereignty over its internal affairs too. Article 2.16 (e) of the treaty states, "The governments of India and Sri Lanka will co-operate in ensuring the physical security and safety of all communities inhabiting the Northern and Eastern Provinces," the analyst adds noting similar erosion of Sri Lanka's internal sovereignty.
Although Indo-Sri Lanka Accord marked the beginning of GoSL relinquishing political authority to a State other than itself, India's political incursions went unnoticed, as they did not manifest in issues that challenged Sri Lanka polity openly.
LTTE delegation visiting countries in Europe meeting with Government officials (Click on the image for a larger version)
Provisions defining lines of control in the Memorandum of Understanding Agreement (MoU) of 23 February 2003 on the ceasefire between the LTTE and GoSL marked for the first time in the history of Tamil struggle a territory, where sovereignty of Sri Lanka Government did not reign, was formally accepted by both warring sides.
Article (1.4): "where forward defence localities have been established, the GOSL's armed forces and the LTTE's fighting formations shall hold their ground positions," and article (1.5): "In areas where localities have not been clearly established, the status quo as regards the areas controlled by the GOSL and the LTTE, respectively, on 24 December 2001 shall continue to apply...," have given the LTTE the space and legitimacy to continue to build its parallel state structure within the lines of control.
Following the signing of MoU on March 25, 2002 LTTE's political strategist, Mr. Anton Balasingham, arrived from Maldives in a seaplane which landed on the Iranaimadu irrigation tank in the LTTE controlled region. Although Sri Lanka's formal diplomatic procedures including stamping of visa were carried out the event symbolized LTTE's desire to present NorthEast as a loosely coupled entity with Sri Lanka proper. Pictures of the event are etched in Sri Lankans' psyche.
Liberation Tigers celebrating the legitimacy acquired thorough the CFA, started exhibiting the symbolism by hoisting Tamil eelam flags, declaring a national flower, in addition to setting up more concrete administrative structures including Tamil Eelam Police force, Tamil Eelam courts and formality rich customs at Omanthai, Muhamalai check points to project an image of a defacto separate state functioning in NorthEast.
Recognition afforded to the LTTE by diplomats visiting Kilinochchi to meet with LTTE leadership has been another significant development that followed the MoU. Senior leaders of LTTE also made frequent visits to Europe, meeting with European Government officials showcasing the increasing levels of diplomatic recognition international community, especially the European nations, were prepared to provide to the Tigers.
Recent EU's punitive measures against the LTTE strengthened Rajapakse's presidential candidacy. Sinhala nationalists began to see Rajapakse as one who can reverse the LTTE's progress towards separation.
Tigers demonstrated the support of Tamil intellectuals to their nation building project by drawing on diaspora talent pool in forming a formidable team of lawyers and academics from UK, US and Australia, to draft the Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) proposals. ISGA rejects the unitary constitution and calls for radical restructuring of Sri Lanka's polity reflecting LTTE's goal of moving towards a confederal arrangement. The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), a key member of ruling alliance rejected the ISGA and ruled out resuming peacetalks based on ISGA.
Norwegian facilitators and often the Nordic members of the SriLanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) have been accused of bias towards the LTTE not only by the extremists but even by members of Sri Lanka's Foreign Ministry.
LTTE also challenged Sri Lanka's sovereignty over maritime and air space.
Following incidents at sea that threatened the stability of the Cease Fire, both sides agreed after the Sixth Round of Peace Talks in Japan on 18 March 2003 to work out effective arrangements for the operation of their naval units in keeping with existing treaty obligations. In a resulting discussion paper Major General (ret.) Tryggve Tellefsen, head of SLMM, wrote: "...LTTE Sea Tigers exists as a De Facto Naval Unit...to maintain their Forces’ capabilities both Parties must have the right to carry out training and exercise in designated areas." Sri Lanka's President declared Tellefsen as persona non-grata and requested Norway to replace him after local media blamed Tellefsen for violating Sri Lanka's sovereignty in maritime waters.
Air-space controversy was triggered by the alleged discovery of light-aircrafts in Kilinochchi and of landing strip together with missile homing electronics in Iranaimadu.
GoSL had to grapple territorially sensitive issues related to visits by diplomats and head of states in the wake of Tsunami disaster of 26 December 2004. Colombo successfully blocked UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's intended visits to NorthEast of Sri Lanka and to meet with Tigers. Later when Annan sent a message of condolence on the assassination of LTTE's Lt Col Kausalyan Colombo was irked at the recognition afforded to the LTTE and demanded the resignation of UN's Sri Lanka representative.
GoSL also prevented US former Presidents Bill Clinton and George H Bush from visiting NorthEast. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) was deliberately excluded from a State Dinner given to the ex-Presidents by the President of Sri Lanka. As LTTE's proxy TNA has earned the wrath of Ms Kumaratunge as LTTE continued to captialize on tsunami's aftermath to assert its independence.
However, Prince Charles, privy to more detailed knowledge on disaster hit areas, succeeded in visiting Tamil areas of Batticaloa but avoided contacts with the LTTE. His visits to Hindu temples were widely publicized in the western media.
Outbursts against the World Bank and western NGOs during Ms Chandrika presidency were rooted in ‘sovereignty fears’ that trouble the Sinhala nation's psyche.
Sri Lanka Country Director for the World Bank Peter Harrold's alleged statement saying that the LTTE was running an "unofficial state" in Northeastern Sri Lanka, and was therefore a "legitimate stakeholder" in the reconstruction phase brought wide condemnation from the GoSL, Sinhala nationalists and media in the South.
These incidents and attempts by Sinhala nationalists to block Tigers' attempt to settingup financial channels directly with funding agencies bypassing control by Sri Lanka's treasury, can be viewed as a calculated reaction to fears that Tigers are rapidly consolidating their gains towards a parallel state.
The Sinhala Nation faces formidable challenges in negotiating a permanent solution with the Liberation Tigers while being haunted by "sovereignty fears," as Tigers continue strengthen their parallel state structures in the NorthEast.
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