Third party 'crucial' in any peace talks- Balasingham

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 17 April 2001, 14:33 GMT]
The Liberation Tigers said this week that the involvement of a third party was crucial in any negotiations between them and the Sri Lankan government, and suggested that Norway might be fill that role as an extension of Oslo's present efforts to bring about talks between the two sides. In an interview to the Tamil Guardian weekly, the latest issue of which hit the newsstands in London Tuesday, the LTTE's chief negotiator, Anton Balasingham said "In our perspective the third party involvement is crucial even after the commencement of the negotiations."

Mr. Balasingham also said that Oslo's proposal to de-escalate the conflict trough mutually reciprocating steps by both sides was "an essential part of the Norwegian facilitated peace process" and criticised the Sri Lankan government for ignoring the document for a lengthy period before substantially altering. The LTTE had accepted Norway's original document titled 'Memorandum of Understanding,' he said.

"As far as the LTTE is concerned the Norwegian Memorandum of Understanding is a crucial document to promote the peace initiative and if agreed on by both the parties and implemented with international supervision will create a congenial atmosphere of goodwill conducive for peace negotiations," Mr. Balasingham said.

The full text of the interview follows:

Tamil Guardian: Mr. Balasingham, the LTTE is accused of introducing new pre-conditions for negotiations such as the lifting of the Sri Lanka government's ban on the LTTE and a permanent cease-fire. Why have these issues been raised at this juncture?

Mr. Balasingham: We are not stipulating new pre-conditions for negotiations. We have been consistently insisting on de-escalation and de-proscription as practical and necessary steps to create a strong foundation of peace and goodwill conducive for serious political negotiations.

The issue of lifting the ban on the LTTE has been raised on several occasions. I have been telling Mr. Solheim that the LTTE will insist on lifting the ban before the commencement of peace negotiations. I have made this point in my speeches and also in the interviews given to your newspaper. This should not be viewed as a pre-condition. It is a call or rather a reasonable request for the recognition of the LTTE as a legitimate representative organisation of the people of Tamil Eelam. If Sri Lanka wants to engage the Tigers in a serious and constructive dialogue to arrive at a political solution, it is essential that the LTTE should be given the legal political status as the authentic representative of our people. If we enter the negotiations as a proscribed illegal entity, any solution or agreement that may be reached can only be an illegal product, which cannot be a basis for a permanent settlement. It is therefore crucial that we should enter the negotiations as equal partners with due recognition as the preponderant representative organisation of our people.

Our call that fighting should stop before talking is not a new condition. We have been consistently arguing that both the parties should cease armed hostilities to create a congenial atmosphere of goodwill before the resumption of peace negotiations. It is precisely for this reason that the LTTE had declared a unilateral cease-fire since Christmas eve last year and has been extending it on a monthly basis requesting Sri Lanka to reciprocate positively to our peace gesture. The temporary truce announced by the Sri Lankan government is a positive step. But it will turn out to be a futile exercise if the cease-fire is not extended indefinitely as a reciprocal goodwill measure to the LTTE's self-imposed cessation of hostilities.

Therefore, our call for reciprocation to our cease-fire and de-proscription should not be viewed as 'impossible conditions thrusted on Sri Lanka at the last moment' but rather as a pre-requisite practical steps to build a cordial atmosphere of mutual trust essential for the warring parties to enter into a peace process.

Tamil Guardian: Your detractors say that the LTTE is not serious about talks and these are merely delaying tactics to gain time for military preparations.

Mr.Balasingham: The LTTE is very serious about talks. I would say deadly serious. It is for that reason we want to remove all the obstacles in the path of peace and to establish a stable foundation for negotiations.

In the past peace negotiations collapsed since it started on a wrong footing; on a fragile foundation. This time we are insisting that peace talks should be on a right setting, in a conducive atmosphere of peace and normalcy. Those who call it a delaying tactic are seriously mistaken. We want a stable foundation of goodwill because we are genuinely serious about peace talks.

Tamil Guardian: The Sri Lankan government declared a unilateral cease-fire commencing on the Tamil-Sinhala New Year Eve for five days. Sri Lanka says it has also lifted the embargo on the LTTE held areas. Do you see these as positive signs from Colombo?

Mr. Balasingham: The brief truce declared by the Government is confined to the festive season but not related to the peace process nor is it a reciprocal response to LTTE's unilateral cease-fire which has been extended to the fourth month. The LTTE's cease-fire is meaningful, constructive and orientated towards peace.

We welcome the government's temporary truce as a good sign but it can only be a meaningful constructive exercise if it is positively related to the LTTE's cease-fire and extended indefinitely to provide ample time and space for the Norwegian facilitatory effort. Otherwise it would turn out to be an isolated event devoid of any significance, an exercise in futility.

The Government claims to have lifted some banned items. These items, though not very significant, have not reached the LTTE controlled areas yet. The Government is yet to lift the embargo on essential items i.e petrol, diesel, cement, fertilizers, vehicle spare parts, etc. The discussions on these issues are continuing with the Norwegian facilitators.

Tamil Guardian: The Norwegian 'Memorandum of Understanding' has been the subject of media speculation. Sri Lanka says the document does not exist, but it was reportedly discussed between the Norwegian Ambassador Mr. Westborg and the head of the LTTE's political section, Mr. Tamil Chelvan recently. Does such a document exist and how does it fit into the Norwegian peace process?

Mr.Balasingham: The 'Memorandum of Understanding' is a Norwegian proposal. It is an essential part of the Norwegian facilitated peace process. Undeniably the document exists.

The Norwegian Government submitted this written document to the LTTE and Sri Lankan government during mid November last year with the objective of improving the humanitarian situation and ease the human suffering and to create an atmosphere conducive for negotiations. The proposal contains mutually reciprocal obligations by which Sri Lanka Government has to lift the economic embargo facilitating free flow of goods into Vanni and the LTTE has to cease all acts of violence and sabotage in the southern provinces. An international monitoring committee is proposed to supervise the implementation of the reciprocal obligations. The LTTE leadership endorsed the document in principle without any alterations, except suggesting amendments to the formation of the monitoring committee. It should be noted that our liberation organisation with the declaration of the unilateral cease-fire on Christmas Eve last year suspended all hostile violent actions in Colombo and the southern provinces as required by the Norwegian proposal.

The Sri Lanka government was sitting on the Norwegian proposal for quite sometime, even denying its existence. It is only quite lately the government made alterations in the title and in the preamble and offered to lift the economic embargo while imposing severe restrictions on petrol, diesel and cement. The LTTE is not very happy about it. We wanted to retain the original title as 'MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING ON HUMANITARIAN MEASURES' instead of the amended version as 'AGREEMENT ON HUMANITARIAN MEASURES'. We also favour the retention of the purpose of the Memorandum as in the original text of the preamble as 'to create an atmosphere conducive for a negotiating process that will lead to a peaceful settlement and to take measure to improve the humanitarian situation and to reduce the human suffering caused by the conflict'.

The amended document strictly restricts petrol, diesel and cement specifying extremely limited quantities and also suggests other arrangements for its implementation, which required further clarification, discussions and agreement. It is for this reason Mr. Westborg, the Norwegian Ambassador, made a visit to Vanni recently and engaged in marathon discussions with Mr. Tamil Chelvan to sort out the necessary quantities of these essential items as required by the civilian masses in the LTTE controlled districts of Vanni.

As far as the LTTE is concerned the Norwegian Memorandum of Understanding is a crucial document to promote the peace initiative and if agreed on by both the parties and implemented with international supervision will create a congenial atmosphere of goodwill conducive for peace negotiations.

Tamil Guardian: The LTTE's cease-fire is due to expiring on April 24th. Will you be extending it if the Sri Lankan Government fails to extend its own truce?

Mr. Balasingham: The leadership of the LTTE will make an appropriate decision soon taking into consideration both the objective conditions of the ground reality and the new developments in the political world. Most probably I envisage that Mr. Pirabakaran will opt for a further extension of the truce if Sri Lankan armed forces maintain peace and abstain from armed operations against our forces and positions. If Sri Lanka government extends the cease-fire as a reciprocal gesture to the LTTE's truce we will welcome it as a positive step in the direction of de-escalation and peace negotiations.

Tamil Guardian: The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mr. Laxman Kadirgamar does not envisage a role for Norway beyond the commencement of direct talks. Do you share this view? Mr. Balasingham: We are fully aware that Mr. Kadirgamar has been very particular in defining the role and function of a facilitator, mediator and arbitrator. He wants Norway to function within the rules of facilitation, which is confined to brining the parties in conflict to the negotiating table. Once that is achieved, in Kadirgamar's conception, Norway's facilitatory role comes to an end. I do not share his view because it is very rigid, technical and non-creative. It is not flexible or dynamic enough to cope up with the set of new problems and difficulties that might arise when the belligerents, with a lengthy history of mutual distrust and hostility, face each other on the negotiating table without the assistance, advice and guidance of a third party.

We favour the concept of third party involvement rather than adopting the defined roles of facilitation and mediation. In our perspective the third party involvement is crucial even after the commencement of the negotiations. Playing the role of a neutral advisor and observer, the third party, in our case the Norwegians, can continue to involve themselves in the negotiating process to prevent misunderstanding between the protagonists and to help to promote the forward movement of the dialogue without imposing 'judgemental decisions' on the parties. It is our view that without the presence and participation of an experienced third party the negotiations between the two historical enemies may run into serious difficulties.

Tamil Guardian: Before Britain included the LTTE on its list of proscribed organisations the LTTE maintained that such a development would impede the peace process. Now the LTTE has been banned, what has the impact been?

Mr. Balasingham: The United Kingdom's regrettable decision to include the LTTE on the list of organisations proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000 has caused widespread dismay and resentment amongst the Tamil communities around the world. It is also adversely affecting the ongoing Norwegian assisted peace process. The proscription has also encouraged Sri Lanka government to adopt an intransigent position with regards to de-escalating the war and creating an atmosphere of peace conducive to political negotiations. The British action has also severely undermined the bargaining power of the Tamil people.

We have been calling upon the Sri Lanka government to lift the ban on the LTTE since a lasting solution through political negotiations could not be realised as long as the LTTE, the sole representative organisation of the Tamil people, remains a proscribed organisation in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lanka government's determination to maintain its ban on the LTTE is reinforced by Britain's proscription.

The British proscription has imposed severe constraints on our political activity in the United Kingdom. We are compelled to adopt alternative strategies to avoid prosecution.

My freedoms and liberties as the chief negotiator representing our organisation in the peace process is severely constrained by the proscription. Though I am liable for prosecution under the logic of this legislation I continue to live in London and function in the capacity of the chief negotiator. My precarious health prevents me from travelling to distant places or to live elsewhere. To put it briefly, the British proscription does have a negative impact on the peace process as a whole.

Tamil Guardian: Do you intend to appeal against the British ban?

Mr. Balasingham: Yes. We are already in consultation with eminent lawyers in the field of terrorist legislation and we are advised to apply to the Home Secretary for de-proscription. We will make the application soon through our lawyers. We are also considering with our lawyers on the appeal procedure to be made to the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission in case our application for de-proscription is refused by the Home Secretary.

Tamil Guardian: We understand some expatriate Tamils intend to launch their own appeals against the British proscription of the LTTE and are collecting funds for this purpose. Will this assist your organisation's appeal?

Mr. Balasingham: It is true that some individuals in London, without consulting the LTTE, are preparing to launch appeals and are collecting funds form the Tamil public for this purpose. They are also misleading the people by saying that the LTTE leadership is behind their efforts. We have contacted these individuals concerned and advised them not to interfere in this matter since the LTTE , as the proscribed party, is appealing against the British proscription and that this proscription has serious political implications to our struggle.

We appeal to the Tamil people to support and rally behind our legal effort to seek de-proscription in Britain and not to encourage or financially assist those individuals who are trying to undertake unilateral and disparate legal action in their own personal interests and ambitions, squandering huge public funds in the process.


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