2nd lead

ISGA must be basis for talks- Gajendrakumar

[TamilNet, Monday, 22 November 2004, 00:31 GMT]
Speaking at a seminar on "Power Sharing for a lasting peace" held at the Social and Economic Development Center (SEDEC) in Colombo Saturday, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarian Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam said, "Tamil people believe that an interim administration is an essential prerequisite to embarking on talks for a solution to the conflict...and they will not allow the LTTE to give up the right to secession before the parties reach agreements on the outstanding core issues."

Gajendrakumar PonnambalamGajendrakumar spoke on the topic "ISGA proposals or Oslo Declaration: Basis for talks" in the seminar organized on behalf of the National Catholic Commission for Justice, Peace & Human Development, chaired by Lordship Bishop Raymond Peiris. Other speakers at the seminar were Dr. Mohamed Saleem, Mr. Asanga Welikala and Mr. R.M.B. Senanayake.

Excerpts from Gajendrakumar's speech follows:

"At the very outset, I wish to make a clarification. The topic talks of ISGA or Oslo declaration; I firmly submit to you that it is not a "either or" situation when it comes to the peace process. The ISGA is a proposal that has been put forward by the LTTE and endorsed by the Tamil people for an interim authority that would address the immediate humanitarian issues that face the war devastated Northeast so that normalcy can return to the lives of the people. The ISGA is in no way meant to be a substitute for a final solution that addresses the underlying core issues that have been the cause of the ethnic conflict.

On the other hand the Oslo communiqué, that is the statement issued by the Norwegian facilitators at the end of the third round of talks that was held between the LTTE and the GOSL, is with regard to the parameters of a possible final solution to the ethnic conflict. The Oslo communiqué stated that the parties agreed to explore a solution founded on the principle of internal self-determination. The wording in my view is very important since there has been a controversy brewing, namely that the Oslo communiqué was tantamount to the LTTE giving up its right for secession and committing to a federal solution. The Tamil people will not allow the LTTE to give up the right to secession or say that a federal solution has been accepted as a final solution to the Tamil National question before the parties reach agreements on the outstanding core issues that have been the cause of the ethnic conflict in the first place. I wish to reiterate that whilst the LTTE and the Tamil people have during the course of the Oslo talks expressed our willingness to look at the idea of federalism as a possible solution to the ethnic conflict, this in no way should be interpreted as a definite agreement on the final parameters of a future solution.

The Tamil people believe that an interim administration is an essential prerequisite to embarking on talks for a solution to the conflict. We believe this for two reasons. Firstly, the people of the Northeast are facing severe existential problems that require immediate attention. The complete disruption of the way of life due to the war has to first be addressed before we can be expected to consider the finer nuances of federalism or what have you. If normalcy does not return to the Northeast before we embark on the discussions on the core issues, we can never expect people participation in a process that stands to determine their entire future. Today "inclusive process" has become a very fashionable term. Well, the question that I would like to ask everyone is "how can you have an inclusive process in the Northeast, when the people at the ground level are unable to think about anything but finding a way to keep their family alive?"

In the south, some years ago when flooding took place due to torrential rains, the government put everything on hold in order to address the immediate humanitarian crisis that prevailed. The international community rushed in to help. Why, even a separate authority was created in order to coordinate the relief measures. But, what about the Northeast? Our suffering has not been over just a few days, on the contrary, our people have been suffering for over twenty years. So this suffering has to be addressed before we embark on the core issues so that the people will be in a position to participate themselves.

The second reason is political. The fundamental stumbling block that we have faced over the last fifty years, which has resulted in the non-resolution of the conflict, has been the complete lack of will on the part of the Sinhala leadership to share power with the Tamil nation. This is manifest in the unilateral creation of the Unitary state and thereafter the unwillingness to negotiate with the Tamil leadership in good faith to resolve the conflict. Instead of positively engaging the Tamils, what consecutive governments have been repeatedly doing is to somehow find ways and means to undermine the collective will of the Tamil people. We see this even today in the way the government is behaving in the east using the defection of one of the former military commanders of the LTTE. The institutionalization of the ISGA in our view is going to be the litmus test. Only the institutionalization of the ISGA will prove to the Tamil people that there genuinely has been a change of heart in the attitudes of the Sinhala polity, and will give confidence to the Tamil people that the Sinhala leadership is prepared to go the full distance. So, this is why the Tamil people are very firm that talks must commence immediately on the basis of the ISGA. And that whatever suggestions the government may have with respect to the ISGA the government can bring to the negotiating table.

What we must also understand is the idea of an interim administration is not a new one. It has been accepted even during the Indian intervention that such a measure would be a forerunner to negotiations on the core issues. There also has been a general criticism leveled against the LTTE and the Tamil people that we are inflexible and that it is unreasonable to expect the government to engage only on the basis of the ISGA. This criticism I totally reject. All those who conveniently make these charges must first closely study the course that was taken in arriving at the present situation. The LTTE and the Tamil people have repeatedly shown maximum flexibility during the three years. Everyone will recall, that the UNF government had clearly stated in its election manifesto that it is committed to the establishment of an interim administration for the Northeast. In fact, when formal talks commenced, the LTTE and the Tamil people went to the table in the hope of fist negotiating and interim administration. However, due to certain political realities, namely the fact that there was a hostile President in the then government who wielded immense executive powers that could be used to scuttle any agreement on an interim administration, the LTTE agreed to be flexible and explore alternative measures.

The result of this flexibility was the proposals for the establishment of joint task-forces that subsequently gave way to the establishment of various sub-committees. What everyone fails to realize is that, it is only in the event of the total failure of these measures, due to the total lack of any implementing authority, that the LTTE was forced to demand for the establishment of a full-blown interim administration. Further, it is after the then government came up with three sets of proposals that in the view of the Tamil people fell grossly short of our expectations, did the LTTE came up with the ISGA. This is very important for all those who are sincerely striving for the recommencement of talks to understand. Without understanding this, simply to indulge in accusations of the purported inflexibility of the LTTE, in my view, is not going to be helpful in restarting the process. To demand that the LTTE show flexibility, will only mean that we will be condemned to making the same old mistakes once again, which in our view is unacceptable.

Another, widely expressed criticism against the ISGA is that it goes beyond the federal idea that the LTTE had agreed to explore. That the ISGA is in fact a "blue print for a future separate state" as stated by the present Foreign Minister and Christina Rocca of the US State Department. This too I reject. As I have clearly stated earlier, the ISGA is a proposal for an interim administration, and not for a final solution. The willingness to consider a federal solution was only with regard to a final solution when addressing the core issues. This is the first point that has to be kept in mind.

The second point is that even if the point is made that "although the ISGA might only be for a proposed interim administration, such an administration should not be permitted to go beyond the federal idea", it is my submission that the ISGA does not in fact go beyond the federal idea. As we all should know, the federal idea consists of two ingredients. The first is self-rule or autonomy to the regions, and secondly, the regions sharing power at the centre. It is my contention that at worst, the ISGA can only be interpreted as addressing the Autonomy or self-rule aspect of the federal idea and not the shared rule or power sharing element. This in my view is the correct approach by he LTTE under the circumstances.

Let me explain.

Today we are dealing with a very rigid and unworkable Unitary Constitution. What this means in real terms is that the constitution leaves no room what so ever for even a semblance meaningful devolution, leave alone self-rule and autonomy. The ISGA on the other hand is a proposal that is to pave the way for self-government on all matters that are related to the rehabilitation, reconstruction, resettlement and development of the Northeast. Therefore, if the ISGA is to also address the power sharing component of the federal idea, firstly it would be going beyond its purpose, and secondly will become totally useless the moment any substantial linkage is created with the present Unitary Constitution. The whole purpose of the ISGA will be defeated as it will not be able to exercise any meaningful degree of self-government with respect to the stated objectives.

The other criticism, namely the ISGA is a "blue print" for a separate state once again in unacceptable. It is my submission that whilst the ISGA is deliberately weak on the linkage with the present constitution for the reasons I have mentioned earlier, the LTTE have established their bona fides by accepting representatives of the Government of Sri Lanka to the ISGA. This is a very important point that everyone seems to conveniently ignore. The LTTE, when describing the categories that will be represented in the ISGA could have easily said that there would be "Sinhala representatives form the Northeast", like it talks of the Muslim representatives of the Northeast. Instead, the ISGA deliberately talks of the representatives of the Government of Sri Lanka. It is my strong submission that if the LTTE genuinely wanted the ISGA to be a blue print for a future separate state, the last thing they would have done is to include the Government's representatives.

Therefore, I urge the participants of the conference to bring pressure to bear on the government to immediately commence talks on the ISGA as requested by the LTTE and mandated by the Tamil people at the last general elections. If there are doubts with respect to the substance of the ISGA that need clarification, these doubts can only be properly and comprehensively addressed in the course of face to face formal talks. Whilst I firmly believe that the ISGA is a perfectly legitimate and reasonable proposal, there cannot be any progress if the government is not even prepared to talk about the proposal. The ISGA is too important an issue to be put on the back burner, but unfortunately this seems to be the case.

Today, both the President and her PA, and its coalition partner have different priorities. Both these parties for their own reasons see the abolition of the executive presidency as the number one priority, and not the peace process. The PA wants it in order to give the president a future in politics by abolishing the executive presidency and creating an executive prime minister. The JVP wants the presidency abolished so that all executive powers can be brought to parliament, where they wield a lot of power and will have leverage over the executive. Whilst this is clearly the selfish agenda of the present government, the Tamils are once again put on hold. Everything is at the eternal expense of the interest of the Tamil people. This situation is completely unacceptable.

What all parties concerned should realize, is that the Tamil people sacrificed so much by way of life and property, all in the name of a separate state. Even today we are prepared to pay the ultimate sacrifice for the establishment of a separate state. The LTTE as an organization too has sacrificed 17,000 lives for a separate state. But despite all these sacrifices and suffering, the LTTE and the Tamil people have come forward to find a negotiated solution to the conflict. Even at this late hour, if the Sinhala leadership is not willing to change its ways, then this process will most definitely fail and all hope will be lost.

Everyone must understand that the Ceasefire Agreement from the Tamil point of view is not seen as an end in itself. We consider it a means to an end, which is the resolution of the ethnic conflict. The CFA was merely relevant to create conditions that would be conducive for a proper and meaningful engagement to find a solution. Therefore from our point of view, if there is not going to be any progress on the political front, then this ceasefire would become increasingly irrelevant. What is even more dangerous is that in the absence of formal talks, events can begin to take over and can result in the total breakdown of the process; this danger is a very real one, especially when you consider the ground situation that prevails. Therefore I urge all well intending members of the Civil Society in the south to bring pressure on the government. There is a saying that "Politics is too important an issue to be left to politicians". It is time that the silent majority is heard. Not to do so would be fatal, for this stale-mate cannot continue indefinitely. Although the Tamil people and the LTTE are prepared to be patient, you must understand that there are limits to such patience. And that limit, I am afraid might be fast approaching.

Now a few words on the Muslim factor. The very clear and firm view of the Tamil people is that the Muslim people cannot be left behind in this process. The Muslim factor is something that the LTTE and the TNA discuss every time we meet, without fail. We fully recognize that the Muslim people wish to project a separate identity. We understand that although the Tamils base our identity on language, the Muslim people, although share the same language insist on projecting their identity on the basis of religion. We also understand that the Muslim people resent a collective Tamil identity and wish to have their own representatives espousing their stand. This has been formally accepted by the Tamil people and the LTTE in the ISGA proposal, where it concedes that "the Muslim community has a right to participate in formulation of its role in the ISGA".

However, there is one position taken by some Muslim political leaders that we have difficulty with, and this is with regard to the insistence of "Third Party" status. The Muslim people must understand that the underlying dynamics that is sustaining the present process is the Military parity that was created on the ground. It is this military parity that has translated itself in to the political parity that is evident at the negotiating table. The parity therefore, is crucial if the peace process is to be sustained. The LTTE and the Tamil people are extremely sensitive to this fact, and cannot allow this balance to be upset. If a third party is included to the negotiations between the LTTE and the GOSL, this parity will be upset, and the entire process will be destabilized.

It is for this reason that we have difficulty with regard to third party status. However, if the Muslims are prepared to find an alternate means of getting their issues addressed, we are ready to negotiate. Besides, what both the Tamils and the Muslims must understand, is that the governments have consistently tried to divide the Tamils and the Muslims. They have systematically aggravated the tensions that have existed between our two communities. Whilst the need of the hour is to address these issues in such a manner that all outstanding issues are resolved, we believe that the best way to do this is by both the Tamils and the Muslims sitting together and resolving the issues. We cannot agree to allow a party that has divided our two communities to sit in on those talks, since this would be counter productive. The TNA believes that one way of overcoming these difficulties is for the Muslims to talk to the Tamil directly. Therefore we ask for the Muslims to be sensitive to these concerns."


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