Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Failed Norwegian peace bid in SL: Different perspectives, glaring omissions



(L-R) Dr. Jehan Perera, Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu and Mark Salter (pic by Jude Denzil Pathiraja)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former BBC journalist and analyst, Mark Salter, recently declared in Colombo that a meeting of Co-Chairs of Sri Lankan donors - the US, EU, Japan and Norway - in Washington, on April 14, 2003 led to the collapse of the Norway-led peace initiative.

Salter categorized the Washington confab as the primary reason for the failure of the peace process. He was addressing a gathering at the International Center for Ethnic Studies (ICES) at Kynsey Terrace, Colombo, at the launch of To End a Civil War: Norway’s Peace Engagement in Sri Lanka.

According to Salter, the Washington meet deprived the LTTE of equal treatment, hence it undermined the entire peace process. The LTTE was left out of the Washington meet due to it being on the US list of proscribed organizations.

The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), the National Peace Council (NPC) and the ICES backed Slater’s project.

Salter described the rejection of the LTTE’s ISGA (International Self-Governing Authority) proposal as well as failure to implement P-TOMS (Post Tsunami Operational Management Structure) as lost opportunities. The writer emphasized that the LTTE unveiled the ISGA proposal on Nov 1, 2003 in response to a longstanding government request. The then government and the LTTE reached an agreement on P-TOMS, on June 24, 2005. However, the JVP successfully moved the Supreme Court against P-TOMS. The Supreme Court issued its ruling on July 15, 2005.

Salter asserted that Sri Lanka failed to realize the importance of the LTTE agreeing to work with the government of Sri Lanka in accordance with P-TOMS.

Salter recalled the then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar’s assassination, close on the heels of the Supreme Court ruling on P-TOMS. The 73-year-old National List MP was sniped at his residence, at No 36, Bullers Lane.

Executive Director of the NPC, Dr. Jehan Perera, who had been a panelist at Salter’s book launch in a statement issued immediately after the Kadirgamar’s assassination on behalf primarily Norway funded NGO declared the killing was tragic but inevitable.

Interestingly, LTTE ideologue, Anton Balasingham, too, blamed the exclusion of the group from the Washington meet as the main reason for its decision to quit the negotiating table, on April 21, 2003. In a hard hitting letter, dated April 21, 2003, addressed to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Balasingham explained their decision. Balasingham, a former employee of the British High Commission, and a British national, also pointed out the failure on the part of the government to fully implement the CFA.

Recollecting the circumstances under which the UNP sabotaged President Kumaratunga’s proposal for a new constituent assembly, in August 2000, Salter asserted that the Norwegian initiative suffered due to the absence of bi-partisan political support.

Obviously, Salter didn’t find fault with the LTTE for the collapse of the Norwegian effort. The writer is on record as having said that he undertook to examine the Norwegian role, in Sri Lanka, on the request of Norwegian Vidar Helgesen, a key player in Oslo’s Sri Lanka team. The request that had been made in 2012 was backed by Erik Solheim, who spearheaded the effort. Helgesen had been the Secretary of State, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, during the Norwegian initiative in Sri Lanka. Consequent to the collapse of the much publicized Oslo project, Helgesen received the appointment as Secretary-General of International IDEA, a Stockholm-based inter-governmental organization. Salter, too, had been there at that time as a Senior Programme Officer responsible for a reconciliation programme. Salter’s responsibilities included Sri Lanka. Although, Salter had quit the Institute, in 2010, to go freelance, Helgesen remained there until his return to government following the Conservative-led coalition’s victory in the 2014 elections.

It would be pertinent to mention that Salter’s services had been sought in the wake of Norway launching Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka (1997-2009). Most probably, some of those who had been engaged in the high profile Sri Lanka project weren’t satisfied with the official version, launched in September, 2011. Chr. Michelsen Institute and School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, jointly put out the report. The team responsible for the official version comprised Gunnar Sørbø, Jonathan Goodhand, Bart Klem, Ada Elisabeth Nissen and Hilde Selbervik.

There is absolutely no basis for Salter’s assertion that the Norwegian arranged CFA had been very much similar to the text of the agreement between President Kumaratunga and LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, finalized on January 5, 1995. The government and the LTTE exchanged what was called the formal declaration of cession of hostilities through the LTTE on January 6, 1995. The 1995 agreement had been a mere declaration of cessation of hostlities to be supervised jointly by special five member committees, comprising government and LTTE representatives (two each) under the leadership of foreigners. The CFA of February 2002 recognized a specific area in the temporarily-merged Northern and Eastern regions under LTTE control while paving the way for the group to operate in areas under military control in the guise of being engaged in political work. The CFA also compelled the government to disarm Tamil groups opposed to the LTTE. The move helped the LTTE to further consolidate its power.

The CBK-Prabhakaran agreement and the CFA should be examined against the backdrop of the ground situation during January, 1995, and February 2002. The LTTE held the Jaffna peninsula though the military maintained isolated bases at Elephant Pass and Palaly-Kankesanthurai sector. The LTTE felt that an agreement on cessation of hostilities would facilitate its efforts to dislodge the military from Pooneryn to pave the way for easy access to and from the Jaffna peninsula through the Jaffna lagoon. In other words, the LTTE strategy had been especially meant to overcome a crippling military - imposed embargo on the Jaffna peninsula. By the time Norway finalized the CFA, in February 2002, the LTTE had been driven out of Jaffna and was entrenched in the Vanni region with substantial presence in the Eastern Province.

Dr. Perera essentially praised the Norwegian effort. Perera, formerly of Sarvodaya, didn’t offer anything contrary to what Salter said.

However, panelist Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka disagreed with Salter in respect of the three main contributory factors for the collapse of the Norwegian initiative, leading to the eelam war IV, in August 2006.

Having said that Salter’s book indispensable, Sri Lanka’s former Permanent Representative in Geneva discussed failures and shortcomings that caused irreparable damage to the Oslo project. Dr. Jayatilleka stressed that the author shed light not only on the past but present and possible future as well. Declaring that he didn’t repeat the opinion of those who lauded the Norwegian bid or condemned them, the veteran analyst said that his was nothing but a critique not neo-liberal or neo-conservative. Dr. Jayatilleke expressed the opinion that the Norwegian failure here could have been avoided had they been cautious in their approach. The outspoken former ambassador warned the Norwegians unless they recognized failures here similar strategies could be repeated in other parts of the world and even here, in post-war situation, much to the disappointment of those who genuinely value reconciliation.

Dr. Jayatilleke asserted that Norway’s failure to seek Indian expertise as the primary reason for their failure to sustain the peace initiative. Describing the Norwegian project as conceptually ill founded, Dr. Jayatilleka asserted that had the Norwegians adopted an efficient strategy, in consultation with New Delhi, the situation today would have been different even if war erupted. Norway could have avoided dismal failure had they examined India’s efforts to settle Sri Lanka’s national issue.

Dr. Jayatilleke explained India’s efforts with the focus on New Delhi bending backwards to appease the LTTE. "Tigers were treated very well by the Indians. Those who lived through that, such as myself, remember the first interim administration in which Velupillai Prabhakaran’s LTTE was given seven out of the 12 seats, including the chairmanship. And they walked out of the deal."

India’s decision to airlift Prabhakaran, in 1986, for talks in Bangalore underscored the absurdity of the situation.

Asserting that the Norwegian strategy, or model, meant to bring talks between the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE had been a total failure, Dr. Jayatilleka blamed Norway for not consulting Hardeep Singh Puri who had been attached to the Indian High Commission, in Colombo, in early 80s. Dr. Jayatilleka said that Puri, who later functioned as India’s Permanent Representatives in New York could have facilitated the Norwegian project. Puri had been in direct contact with Prabhakaran in the run-up to the finalization of the Indo-Lanka Accord of July 29, 1987. "Nobody bothered to talk to him. Indians were kept in the loop but nobody asked them. The most sensible voices, I read in this book, are the voices of the Indians."

Salter’s book conveniently ignored India’s despicable role in sponsoring terrorism here. Unfortunately, the expert panel at the ICES launch refrained from at least referring to Indian military intervention here. Puri’s expertise in dealing with Prabhakaran here should be examined against the backdrop of him calling for an investigation, in April, 2013, into alleged atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan military during the final phase of the Vanni offensive. Puri called for an investigation into what he called specific allegations of war crimes during the last 100 days of military operations. Puri also alleged that the Ramprakash wanted to do away with the Provincial Council system. Having funded half a dozen terrorist groups, India finally established Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to protect the then EPRLF provincial administration installed through fraudulent means. The formation of the TNA took place as India commenced gradual withdrawal of troops from Sri Lanka in late 1989.

Puri’s call for war crimes investigation in April 2013 prompted the then Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to castigate the Indian who had dealt with the man responsible for the assassination of one-time Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi (Gotabhaya reminds former Indian UN rep of his role in Colombo during 80 - The Island of April 11, 2013). Had the then Indian government acted with responsibility, Sri Lanka wouldn’t have experienced a 30-year war, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa asserted. People of all communities would have been still suffering horrors of war, if not for the eradication of terrorism in May 2009, following a three-year combined security forces campaign, the Defence Secretary said, noting that India could never absolve itself of the responsibility for creating terrorism here, though some of those directly involved in subverting Sri Lanka were blaming the Rajapaksa administration for the plight of Tamil speaking people here.

War veteran Rajapaksa reminded Puri of Indian trained Sri Lankan terrorists making an attempt to seize power in the Maldives in early November 1988. India could never absolve itself of destabilizing a friendly country, Rajapaksa declared.

Norway wouldn’t have had to depend on Puri or his wife Lakshmi, who was also stationed in Colombo at that time to realize the LTTE was not interested in a negotiated settlement. India paid a very heavy price for sponsoring terrorist groups in Sri Lanka. The Indian projected nearly cost the then Maldivian President his life. Successive Sri Lankan governments, including the war winning Rajapaksa administration pathetically failed to examine the national problem. Many interested in ethnic issue had read J. N. Dixit’s Assignment Colombo. But I believe Dixit’s memoirs titled Makers of Indian’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun Roy to Yashwant Sinha explained New Delhi’s intervention here. Let me quote Dixit verbatim: "India’s involvement in Sri Lanka, in my assessment, was unavoidable not only due to the possible ramifications of the Sri Lankan government’s oppressive and discriminating policies against its Tamil citizens but also in terms of India’s national concerns due to the Sri Lankan government’s evolving security connections with the US, Pakistan and Israel."(page 144).

Today, Israel is one of India’s major armaments suppliers and India-US relations achieved unprecedented high. Sri Lanka is facing a hybrid war crimes investigation thanks to US and its allies hell-bent on teaching the war winning Rajapaksas a lesson.

"It would be relevant to analyze India’s motivations and actions vis-a-vis Sri Lanka in the larger perspective of the international and regional strategic environment obtaining between 1980 and 1984."(page 144).

The international community, well-funded NGOs and various civil society organizations didn’t take notice of Dixit’s opinion. Dixit blamed Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for New Delhi’s decision to intervene here. Dixit said: "Indira Gandhi redefined the ideology of nonalignment more preciously in terms of the interests of developing countries. The two foreign policy decisions on which she could be faulted are: her ambiguous response to the Russian intrusion into Afghanistan and her giving active support to Sri Lankan Tamil militants. Whatever the criticism about these decisions, it cannot be denied that she took them on the basis of her assessments about India’s national interests. Her logic was that she could not openly alienate the former Soviet Union when India was so dependent on that country for defense supplies and technologies. Similarly, she could not afford the emergence of Tamil separatism in India by refusing to support the aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils. These aspirations were legitimate in the context of nearly fifty years of Sinhalese discrimination against Sri Lankan Tamils."(page 147)

Dr. Jayatilleka blamed the Norwegians for not having consultations with Puri. Salter, however, assured that the Norwegians, during their project here, closely worked with India and promised to establish the actual situation in respect of Norway-Puri contacts during his forthcoming visit to New Delhi for the book launch.

Referring to Chapter 8 of To End a Civil War: Norway’s Peace Engagement in Sri Lanka, the writer queried Salter whether he spoke to TNA leader R. Sampanthan or any other TNA representative in respect of allegations that the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa had bribed the LTTE to prevent Northerners from exercising their franchise at November, 2005 presidential poll. Salter admitted that he hadn’t been able to speak with TNA leaders in this regard. The writer pointed out that Sampanthan as the person who had announced the LTTE directive on November 9, 2005 to boycott the election should know whether Rajapaksa bribed the LTTE. Perhaps, Salter should talk to the TNA, at least now, to establish the truth. Culpability of the TNA in this matter cannot be ignored.

Did the LTTE help Rajapaksa to win believing he could be overwhelmed on the battlefield? If not for the polls boycott, UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe would have certainly emerged the winner.

Salter’s failure to interview TNA leaders is astonishing. If Dr. Jayatilleke felt that Norwegians could have understood the LTTE on the basis of information provided by Puri, anyone examining the events leading to eelam war IV and post-war situation should talk to the TNA. Several years before the outbreak of the final war, the TNA declared the LTTE as the sole reprsentative of the Tamil speaking people and worked closely with the group until the very end. Their relationship had been strong with the TNA parliamentary group receiving direct instructions from Kilinochchi until the military cornered the LTTE on the Vanni east front.