Feature Article

Eezham Tamil Diaspora activists in UK question SL reconciliation motives

[TamilNet, Monday, 19 December 2011, 00:41 GMT]
While structural genocide continues unabated in the homeland of the Eezham Tamils, certain well funded Sri Lankan NGO’s that harp on peace and reconciliation are steadily pursuing a war by other means on the Eezham Tamil Diaspora. Programmes initiated by organizations like the One Text Initiative, which receives generous funding from foreign donors as well as support from the Sri Lankan state, in the name of ‘engaging with the Sri Lankan diaspora’, are attempting to marginalize the Eezham Tamil diaspora polity that is pushing for international investigation into genocide committed by the Sri Lankan state as well as recognition of their political sovereignty. This agenda was evident from a recent meeting in London where such proponents of reconciliation were challenged by Eezham Tamil activists of various shades.

This model of ‘peace-building’ seems to fall in the counter-insurgency tactics of the Sri Lankan state and its foreign patrons, observers among the Tamil diaspora in UK told TamilNet.

In what appears an ideological prelude to legitimising the LLRC report, a delegation of ‘youth’ parliamentarians from Sri Lanka, comprising of politicians from the UPFA, the UNP and one representative from the TNA have been touring the United Kingdom as part of a programme that claims to ‘foster reconciliation’ in Sri Lanka and moving towards ‘progress’ and ‘peaceful development’. As a part of this programme, there was an event titled ‘Peace, Security and Development through Good Governance’ at Shiraz Mirza Community Hall, London, on December 11 which was co-ordinated by the Tamil Information Centre (TIC).

Kanaka Herath, Hunais Farooq, Eric Weerawardana, Vasantha Senanayake from the UPFA, Harin Fernando, Niroshan Perera from the UNP, and Raghu Balachandran as a representative from the TNA, comprised the panel. The meeting was chaired by Varadakumar of the TIC. Though only around a hundred people showed up for the event, the Eezham Tamils among the audience were quick to grasp inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the statements of the speakers.

To the opinion of one MP from the SLFP, who said that the LLRC report will help start the reconciliation process, a diaspora activist responded that the Eezham Tamil diaspora does not have faith in the report. He further accused the government of being more interested in land grabbing and colonizing the Tamil areas.

None of the speakers were willing to admit that the Sri Lankan government committed genocide or war crimes. Many of them blamed the LTTE alone for the predicament of the Eezham Tamils.

The opinion of SLFP MP, Eric Weerawardena, that only 5000 people were affected by the war was sharply contested by senior Tamil journalist Anandhi Sooriyaprakasam.

Another Sinhala MP observed that after May 2009, winter was finished and spring has begun. He was complemented by Hunais Farooq, who said that the past should be forgotten and a new chapter should be started.

David Pararajasingham, son of slain TNA leader Joseph Pararajasingham who was assassinated by the Sri Lankan state personnel inside the premises of a Batticaloa Church in Decemeber 2005, remarked that Tamils are still in winter and there will be no spring as long as the perpetrators of heinous crimes are still at large. He also said that for a true reconciliation and peace, there needs to be an independent international inquiry and an addressing of the fundamental grievances of the Eezham Tamils.

There were a few Sinhala participants among the audience, who also expressed their views.

Some of those who attended the event even wondered whether the ulterior motive of such meetings is to sow confusion among the diaspora and divert them from their demands.

The creation of the organization OTI was facilitated by Hannes Siebert, an international peace process and negotiations adviser from South Africa. According to a Wikileaks Cable, OTI began in 2004, but after a period of neglect, was redesigned and restarted in October 2007, with the stated aim of ‘building confidence and trust among stakeholders.’

While the US, Norwegian, Swiss, British and Canadian foreign ministries have provided funding to the OTI, according to the cable, the lead facilitator Nick Lewer has advised the US ambassador that ‘it would be helpful for the U.S. to encourage support for OTI at high levels in the GSL, but that the U.S. should do so quietly so that OTI remains under the radar.’

The cable, which is largely dealing with a pre-Mu'l'livaaykkaal period, says that Vidar Helgesen, Secretary-General of International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, aims to ‘bring together constitutional experts from India and the LTTE Diaspora, and gradually involve experts from southern Sri Lanka and eventually the GSL.’

But the intensification of such activities targeting the Eezham Tamil diaspora in a post-Mu'l'livaaykkaal scenario by such organizations, without seeking to address truth of genocide and structural genocide and justice for Eezham Tamils, but talking only about reconciliation makes the intentions of such actors questionable, activists in the diaspora observed.

The organizations International Alert and Royal Commonwealth Society have also endorsed this programme of reconciliation and are actively assisting such activities by highlighting token individuals from the diaspora and projecting them as voices of the community, while at the same time creating a negative image around those who stand by the position that Sri Lankan government is guilty of genocide.

Reflecting on these processes and the proceedings of the event, a veteran Eezham Tamil activist who was initially part of the liberation movement in the homeland, told the Sri Lankan delegation that came to UK that if the issue is not addressed in the right manner, Tamils will have no choice but to take up arms again.

On the OTI, involved in the UK meeting the following background was exposed by the WikiLeaks:

Subject	Sri Lanka: Several Track 2 And 1.5 
Initiatives Underway Or Under Consideration
Origin	Embassy Colombo (Sri Lanka)
Cable time	Fri, 20 Jun 2008 07:28 UTC
Classification	UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Source	http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/06/08COLOMBO600.html

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 COLOMBO 000600

SENSITIVE SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INS

E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: PGOV  [Internal Governmental Affairs], PREL [External Political Relations], PTER  [Terrorists and Terrorism], PHUM  [Human Rights], MOPS  [Military Operations], CE  [Sri Lanka]

SUBJECT: SRI LANKA: SEVERAL TRACK 2 AND 1.5 INITIATIVES UNDERWAY OR UNDER CONSIDERATION

¶1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Prominent Sri Lankans and interested members of the international community are pursuing a number of Track 1.5 and 2 initiatives to resolve Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict. The One Text Initiative (OTI) appears to have progressed the most. Other initiatives are either embryonic or stalled. OTI brings together senior political leaders to tackle difficult issues, such as access to humanitarian goods and services, and language policy. In the long term, OTI aims to build confidence and trust among stakeholders necessary for future peace talks. Post's interlocutors on these initiatives consistently emphasize that their efforts should remain out of the media spotlight to keep Sinhalese nationalists from pressuring the government to disengage. Post will continue quietly to support these efforts and encourage political leaders to remain involved. End Summary.

One Text Initiative -------------------

¶2. (SBU) The aim of the One Text Initiative (OTI) is two-fold. In the short term, OTI brings together senior leaders of Sri Lanka's major political parties to tackle difficult issues that are directly related to the conflict (such as access to humanitarian goods and services, and language policy). In the long term, through these exercises, OTI aims to build confidence and trust among stakeholders. Thus, when peace talks resume, OTI might serve as a parallel process in which leaders can engage on difficult issues and feed into negotiations.

¶3. (SBU) OTI began in 2004, but after a period of neglect, was redesigned and restarted in October 2007. Director Mangala Moonesinghe and Lead Facilitator Nick Lewer work to keep all parties on board and facilitate discussions. The main body, the Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue (or "Long Table"), is composed of senior political party leaders, plus four civil society representatives who attend in an observer capacity. The Long Table includes several cabinet ministers: Minister of Science and Technology and Chair of the All Party Representative Committee Tissa Vitharana, Minister of Constitutional Affairs D.E.W. Gunasekera, acting Minister of Justice Dilan Perera, and Minister of Transport Dallas Allahuperuma. Other members include: leader of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) R. Sampanthan, United National Party (UNP) member and former Minister of Finance K.N. Choksy, representatives from the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and the National Unity Alliance (the two largest Muslim political parties), and representatives from the government's Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) and the Peace Secretariat for Muslims (PSM). Members meet monthly and are supported by party-nominated researchers.

¶4. (SBU) J.S. Tissainayagam, a columnist for the Sunday Times, joined OTI as the TNA researcher and has since been appointed to the Board of Directors. He is currently being detained by the Terrorist Investigation Division of the Sri Lankan police. On June 6, the Defense Ministry issued a new detention order against Tissainayagam for an additional 90 days. The GSL maintains that he is under investigation for unspecified terrorist links, but no charges have been filed. OTI director Moonesinghe, this Embassy, and other foreign missions have intervened repeatedly to try to get Tissainayagam released - so far without success.

¶5. (SBU) The Long Table has chosen four themes within which to approach specific issues: 1) access to humanitarian goods and services, 2) official language policy, 3) human security and human rights, and 4) lessons to be learned from failed peace processes. A sub-group, or "Small Table" (composed of the TNA, SCOPP, PSM, and Lewer), focuses on humanitarian goods and services; one on language policy will soon be convened. Small Tables may invite outside experts to assist and produce by consensus a discussion document, which is sent

COLOMBO 00000600 002 OF 003

to the Long Table for comment. Ultimately, the Long Table comes to a consensus agreement on the document -- hence, "One Text." The process is intended to be fluid and flexible, with many different sizes and types of groups convening. Lewer reports that the GSL is sending senior ministers to Small Table discussions. Eventually, OTI wants to have three facilitators in addition to Lewer: a Tamil, Sinhalese, and Muslim.

¶6. (SBU) The Norwegian, Swiss, British and Canadian Foreign Ministries fund OTI. The U.S. is also providing $25,000 to OTI to cover lease costs for its office. In a meeting on April 23, Lewer told Ambassador that it would be helpful for the U.S. to encourage support for OTI at high levels in the GSL, but that the U.S. should do so quietly so that OTI remains under the radar.

International Study Group -------------------------

¶7. (SBU) In 2007, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, head of the Center for Policy Alternatives in Colombo, and Norbert Roper, then-country director of the Berghof Foundation, quietly put forward a proposal for an "International Study Group." Saravanamuttu is one of the most respected NGO leaders in Sri Lanka. Roper, a German national, is a highly experienced INGO executive who had to depart Sri Lanka in January 2008 when the GSL revoked his work visa.

¶8. (SBU) Saravanamuttu and Roper visited Washington in February 2008 to speak with former Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage about serving as head of an International Study Group of eminent persons. Its objectives would be: 1) to generate ideas on how international actors can support new indigenous peace initiatives more creatively and effectively than they did during the 2002 - 2005 Ceasefire Agreement and 2) to engage with the stakeholders in Sri Lanka in a discreet and effective way to explore which options for new peace initiatives are most realistic and promising.

¶9. (SBU) Saravanamuttu told PolOff on June 6 that he and Roper intend to hold meetings in Tokyo and New Delhi in July, at which they hope to decide who the Japanese and Indian eminent persons will be. Norway supports the initiative, and Saravanmuttu is hoping for funding from the U.S. Institute of Peace, as well as Japanese foundations. Roper may also arrange a meeting with EU representatives about the initiative.

A Norwegian Effort ------------------

¶10. (SBU) Norwegian Ambassador Tore Hattrem briefed PolChief on quiet efforts by former Norwegian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs (2001-2005) and Secretary-General of International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) Vidar Helgesen to implement a Track 1.5 initiative. Helgesen aims to bring together constitutional experts from India and the LTTE Diaspora, and gradually involve experts from southern Sri Lanka and eventually the GSL. Helgesen's approach to the Indians met with a cool reception, however. Minister of Tourism Milinda Moragoda supports the idea and has said he plans to encourage India to engage. Another obstacle to progress at this time is the difficulty of access to Kilinochchi. For the last several months, the GSL has not been permitting foreign diplomats to go there.

A South African Effort ----------------------

¶11. (SBU) A group of South Africans, Roelf Meyer, Ebrahim Ebrahim, and Ivor Jenkins, have been visiting Sri Lanka

COLOMBO 00000600 003 OF 003

occasionally since 2002. In the period after conclusion of the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement, they had regular contact with the LTTE through Anton Balasingham and Tamilchelvan. After the CFA collapsed, the group's focus has been engaging political parties in the south. Working with the organization Inpact, they plan to select a group of Sri Lankans from the south to visit South Africa, with the goal of building a better relationship between the President's UPFA and the principal opposition UNP.

¶12. (SBU) COMMENT: Post's interlocutors on the above initiatives consistently emphasize that their efforts could get derailed if they become politicized through media coverage. If widely publicized, the Sinhalese supremacist parties like the JVP and JHU would seek to derail these Track 1.5 and 2 initiatives, putting pressure on President Rajapaksa and other government officials and political leaders to back away from involvement. Ambassador and Emboffs will continue to quietly support these efforts and encourage political leaders to engage in them as much as possible. Post sees attempts to engage Sinhalese nationalists in the south as well as the Tamil diaspora community as particularly important in laying the groundwork for future productive negotiations. MOORE



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