Peace hopes dim as Sri Lanka hardens stance

[TamilNet, Monday, 05 February 2001, 22:43 GMT]
(News Feature) Sri Lanka's President Chandrika Kumaratunge hardened her stance on the island's ethnic conflict Sunday, dismissing the Liberation Tigers' extended unilateral ceasefire as "meaningless" and insisting the war would only be stopped when negotiations "progressed satisfactorily," dashing hopes amongst Tamil political parties of possible peace talks between the government and the LTTE.

Vowing to continue military operations against the Tigers, President Kumaratunge in her Independence Day speech, again rejected the LTTE's unilateral ceasefire: "We are not ready to accept meaningless cease-fires which take us nowhere. Our position is that we will commence negotiations for a peaceful settlement and if these negotiations progressed satisfactory, we can explore prospects of a genuine cease-fire", she said.

The LTTE maintains that it is ready for unconditional talks to resolve the protracted conflict once a climate of normalcy conducive for negotiations was created through a ceasefire and the lifting of a government economic embargo on Tamil areas. The Tigers said their unilaterally offered ceasefire, now into its second month, was intended to facilitate such conditions.

However, President Kumaratunge scorned the Tigers' peace efforts, saying that pressure from Sri Lankan military had compelled the LTTE to negotiate. "We see a small ray of hope emerging," she said of the Tigers' peace moves. "I believe that this is the result of our far seeing and correct policies on the ethnic problem adopted during the last 6 years." The Sri Lankan conflict has raged at its most intense levels since Kumaratunge assumed office in 1994.

President Kumaratunge heaped invectives on the Tigers, describing them as "only a small group of extremists who resort to terror to intimidate a nation to grant unreasonable demands." She said the Sri Lanka Army would "liberate the Tamil people of the North and East from a Fascist dictatorship." She called on the Tamil people to prevail upon the LTTE to negotiate with her government.

President Kumaratunge has also reiterated that the government's new constitutional proposals should form the basis for talks. "The bedrock of our proposals for peace is the new draft constitution which we have proposed", she declared. The LTTE, as well as Tamil political parties, have already rejected the proposals as "limited and inadequate to meet the political aspirations of the Tamils".

The LTTE's chief negotiator Anton Balasingham, in a recent interview said that the new constitution could not form the basis for talks, and emphasised that the fundamental issues of the Tamil national question - "homeland, nationality and self-determination" - should be the foundation for political negotiations.

President Kumaratunge lauded the Army for retaining control of Jaffna during heavy fighting last year. "We were able to maintain our hold on Jaffna entirely because of the bravery of our soldiers and the tremendous support they received from the people of our country -during those difficult times when we had to place the country virtually on a war-footing."

She was contemptuous of the Liberation Tigers' military capability. "It would now appear that the enemy has been somewhat tamed by the resoluteness of our armed forces. Hence, we are now receiving favourable signals from them to our open invitation for negotiations. I therefore propose that we make use of this opportunity- " she said, triggering widespread media speculation Sunday that peace talks were in the offing.

However, commenting on Kumaratunge's address, LTTE officials in London told TamilNet Monday there had been "no objective development in the political scenario" to signal any movement in the peace process.

Furthermore, the Sri Lankan President's "provocative and insulting" speech indicated a "retrenching of Colombo's hardline approach to negotiations", they said, adding that her "mistaken assumption" the LTTE had been weakened, would "encourage her to seek a military solution and escalate the conflict".

Meanwhile, Tamil political parties campaigning for international support for a ceasefire and negotiations Monday expressed dismay over the President's speech, and said optimism that had followed a flying visit last week by the Norwegian peace envoy, Erik Solheim, had been dashed by the hardline tone of Kumaratunge's address. "Whilst speaking about uniting the people for peace, the President is making it increasingly difficult to bring about an atmosphere for negotiations," said a senior official of a moderate Tamil party.


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