LTTE Opening Statement at Geneva Talks>
(This is a revised version of a post circulated earlier)
In the opening gambit of Anton Balasingham in the Geneva talks (see below) the chief of the LTTE delegation did not lose much time in putting what he wants from the talks before GOSL and the Mediators. Much of what he said was predictable from the statements issued earlier by the LTTE.
His main demand was that Article 1.8 should be activated as GOSL had failed in its undertaking to disarm the "paramilitaries". It is astonishing that such an undertaking should been accepted by the CBK-RanilW Government. But Balasingham can argue that the CBK-MahindaR Government and even the MahindaR-Wickremanayake Government by accepting the CFA originally negotiated also accepted this undertaking.
According to Balasingham the so-called paramilitaries are merely the agents of GOSL. He calimed that "In a recent statement President Rajapkse has pledged that he would rein in the Tamil armed organisations and would not allow them to function in the government controlled areas." If this is true the President has supported the main argument of Balasingham, viz. that GOSL has the power to rein in these groups but has not done so. This is a damning admission to make given that the LTTE flatly denies all the atrocities that it is accused of.
Balasingham named five groups that should be disbanded by GOSL. These are the Karuna, EPDP, PLOTE, EPRLF (Varathar) and Jihad groups. (The last named is a Muslim paramilitary group of which little has been heard.) Of these it is the Karuna group that is posing the greatest threat to the LTTE. But at the time the CFA was signed Col Karuna was part of the LTTE, from which he broke away later. So strictly speaking he should not be included Article 1.8 but whether this point will be emphasised by the GOSL side has to be seen. The other four groups have been somewhat ineffective and there is little to do to disarm them.
According to Balasingham most of the LTTE killed during the period of the CFA was by the paramilitaries. If this is so it is further proof of the inaction of GOSL. Nobody seems to have honoured the CFA to a greater extent than GOSL, from RanilW to MahindaR. This means that the CFA means more to GOSL than to the LTTE or to the paramilitaries.
On violations of the CFA Balasingham admitted to some violations on the part of the LTTE but disputed the figure of 5464 LTTE violatons. While other issues were mentioned by Balasingham such as the recruitment of children and the HSZs in Jaffna these did not rate as highly as the issue of paramilitaries.
Finally Balasingham reiterated the need to "to stabilise and strengthen" the CFA. This is not surprising as it is the CFA which has given the LTTE its de facto Eelaam. Paradoxically President MahindaR has also been speaking of strengthening the CFA. So both sides have common ground in maintaining the shameful CFA, whether or not it will be revised in the current talks.
While Prabhakaran's position holds no surprises what is surprising is that a sovereign government is even talking to such representatives of a terrorist. The very fact that these talks take place is a reflection of the impotence of the neo-Sinhalas. There is no other example where a sovereign state has given over part of its territory to a terrorist and is now negotiating with the terrorist how to strengthen the instrument of surrender under which the terrorist was given a part of the country to rule. But then this is what the President of the country means by a "unitary state"!
I will be posting my comments on the opening gambit of the GOSL chief-of-delegation Minister Siripala de Silva when this is known.Victor Gunasekara
The most constructive achievement of the Norwegian facilitated peace process has been the signing of the Ceasefire Agreement between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), exactly four years ago today, on the 22 February 2002. The event brought an end to the bloody ethnic war that lasted more than two decades, causing massive scale death and destruction. Though the truce agreement has been subjected to enormous strains, particularly during the latter part of 2005, it still holds, having prevented the parties in conflict from embarking on major armed confrontations. I should say that it is the truce agreement that has helped to avert the out-beak of an all-out war and created the present environment where both the parties could engage in a dialogue to enhance the conditions of peace and normalcy in the war affected northeast.
The Ceasefire Agreement was not formulated in haste to the advantage of one party, as some critics have argued, but rather, given careful and meticulous scrutiny to all aspects - terms, conditions and obligations - of the truce by both parties, with the skilled assistance of the Norwegian facilitators. The Ceasefire Agreement is a well crafted, valid instrument of peace, devised for the purpose of brining an end to hostilities and to create a positive environment conducive for meaningful negotiations. Therefore, the Ceasefire Agreement should be viewed as an effective mechanism that can facilitate and promote the peace process.
We are of the opinion that the Ceasefire Agreement is the foundation upon which the peace process has to be built. It is true that in recent times the truce accord has been severely undermined as a consequence of the rapid escalation of violence in the northeast, particularly during the latter part of last year and in January this year, when it turned into an ugly form of a shadow or subversive war. This violent phenomenon has been characterised by arbitrary killings, abductions and disappearances of Tamil civilians in the northeast. According to authentic records, 109 Tamil civilians have been arbitrarily killed by the Sri Lankan armed forces with the active assistance of the Tamil paramilitaries. Forty eight civilians have disappeared after being arrested or abducted by the Sri Lanka military. This horrendous violence was unleashed against Tamil civilians, particularly in Jaffna, with the sinister objective of terrorising the Tamil civilian population. This terrorisation of our people was intended as collective punishment against the whole Tamil population for the many soldiers killed in the subversive war.
Our delegation will submit, for your scrutiny, comprehensive reports providing detailed information about the nature of violence committed against Tamil civilians by the Sri Lankan armed forces since the new government took office on 19 November 2005. We will also submit detailed reports about civilians killed and injured by the Sri Lankan armed forces and Tamil paramilitaries during the entire ceasefire period of the last four years.
Similarly, we suppose that your government is going to submit detailed reports of acts of ceasefire violations, allegedly committed by the Liberation Tigers.
Your government has already released statistics accusing the LTTE of committing 5464 violations of ceasefire during the last four years. We cannot accept such exaggerated figures as authentic acts of ceasefire violations. A huge majority of those figures are attributed to recruitment. These are cases of under aged youth said to be joining the LTTE. Your government, as well as the SLMM, have accused the LTTE of under aged recruitment, without taking into consideration the complex child rights issues in the northeast and the number of children released by the LTTE under the Action Plan for the War affected Children undertaken in association with UNICEF. Mr Tamilselvan will give you a briefing later on the child rights situation in the northeast.
In this context I wish to point out that the government as well as the SLMM have conveniently ignored the vast number of ceasefire violations committed by the Tamil paramilitaries in the form of arbitrary killings of civilians, political assassinations, abductions, harassment, extortion, intimidation, assault, torture and forced conscription of children. Most of these crimes committed by paramilitaries are blamed on the LTTE. I am sorry to say that it is only recently that the SLMM has realised the negative consequences of the violence of the Tamil paramilitaries and expressed serious concern that such "armed elements" are posing a serious threat to peace. Since the criminal violence of Tamil paramilitaries has become a critical issue in the implementation process of the truce agreement, the government should give serious thought to containing such forces in order to stabilise the conditions of peace. The main topic for discussion at this negotiating table is the Ceasefire Agreement. As the parties in conflict who entered into this peace accord, we must endeavour to seek practical ways of implementing the Ceasefire Agreement effectively, so that the truce becomes constructive, productive and meaningful. We are of the view that the recent escalation of violence, that brought the parties to the brink of an all-out war, was primarily due to the non-implementation of the obligations of the truce.
The implementation of the confidence building measures, as enunciated in the articles of the Ceasefire Agreement, are extremely crucial to the process of the de-escalation and normalisation. The following are the key elements of the Ceasefire Agreement stipulated as confidence building measures that are vital to create conditions of normalcy in the northeast.
Ever since the truce agreement was signed the Government of Sri Lanka has failed to implement these key clauses. The LTTE has repeatedly appealed to the government to fulfil its obligations under the peace accord. We have also taken up the issue of the non-implementation of the terms and conditions of the Ceasefire Agreement during our peace talks with Mr Ranil Wickremasinghe's government. All our genuine efforts to ensure the full implementation of the key elements of the Agreement became futile.
The co-habitation conflict, or rather, the power struggle between the Wickremasinghe government and President Kumaratunga became a serious impediment to advance the peace process and to secure proper implementation of the ceasefire.
With the termination of the peace talks, the security situation in the north east began to deteriorate.
The violence of the Tamil paramilitaries intensified in the form of a dirty subversive war directed against our cadres and supporters, a shadow war in which the Sri Lanka armed forces actively colluded with the Tamil armed groups. We will submit for your examination a comprehensive report on Tamil paramilitary organisations operating in the northeast and in Colombo. The report provides ample evidence on the existence of the main paramilitary groups, their leadership, the command structure, the location of their camps and their close relationship with the Sri Lanka armed forces, particularly with the Sri Lanka military intelligence.
The existence of Tamil armed paramilitary groups is an indisputable fact. Since these Tamil armed organisations are sustained, supported and controlled by the Sri Lanka military, we categorise them as paramilitaries. They are not simply "armed elements" functioning independently in a political vacuum, as some people assume. They are well organised militant forces, properly trained and armed in subversive warfare and function covertly in connivance with the Sri Lanka armed forces. Some of the armed organisations have a long history, extending to more than two decades. Originally they took arms for a political cause, but later, with the Indian intervention in Sri Lanka, they abandoned their political ideals and became mercenary armed groups under the Indian Peace Keeping Forces to fight against the LTTE.
Following the withdrawal of the IPKF, these armed organisations changed their loyalty and allegiance to "new masters", that is, the Sri Lanka state and its military and intelligence apparatus, in the war against the LTTE. Though these armed groups registered themselves as political parties and claimed to have entered the democratic political mainstream, they have not dismantled their military units nor have they abandoned armed violence. We have, in our report, listed several incidences of armed violence committed by these Tamil paramilitary groups in which several leaders and cadres of our organisation, as well as prominent parliamentarians, journalists, educationists and civilian supporters, were executed in cold blood. We will provide maps in our report indicating the close proximity of paramilitary camps of the EPDP and other groups to Sri Lankan army camps and police stations.
You are well aware that Clause 1.8 of the Ceasefire Agreement specifically stipulates that the Tamil paramilitaries should be disarmed by the GOSL. Yet, the Sri Lanka government, to date, has failed to honour this crucial obligation, which is vital for strengthening the conditions of peace and normalcy. The SLMM has also warned that the peace environment is seriously threatened by the violence of these Tamil armed groups. The international community, represented by the Co-Chairs, have also made statements calling upon your government to disarm the paramilitaries and to put an end to their violent activities. In a recent statement President Rajapkse has pledged that he would rein in the Tamil armed organisations and would not allow them to function in the government controlled areas.
There are five major paramilitary groups operating in the northeast and in Colombo. They are known as Karuna group, EPDP group, PLOTE group, EPRLF (Varaithar) group and a Muslim Paramilitary group called Jihad group. In our report we have given detailed information about each group, the names of leaders and area operational commanders functioning in various districts and in the capital. We are certain that the Sri Lankan military hierarchy, particularly the Sri Lanka military intelligence, is well aware of the existence and activities of the Tamil armed paramilitaries. Nevertheless, we are also providing you with detailed factual information to reinforce our argument.
It is the considered view of our liberation organisation, as well as the general opinion of the Tamil people, that the armed violence of the Tamil paramilitaries is posing a grave threat to peace and stability in Tamil areas and endangering the Ceasefire Agreement. Therefore, we call upon the Government of Sri Lanka to disarm these Tamil paramilitary organisations, fulfilling a crucial obligation of the truce agreement.
One of the crucial confidence building measures laid down in the Ceasefire Agreement is that the parties, in accordance with international law, should abstain from hostile acts against the civilian population. Clauses 2.2, 2.3 and 2.4 stipulate that the Sri Lankan armed forces, within a limited time frame, should vacate places of worship, schools and public buildings.
In defiance of these truce obligations and in grave violation of international humanitarian law, the government's security forces, for more than a decade, continue to occupy schools and public buildings and made places of worship inaccessible to the Tamil civilian population. Several places of worship made inaccessible are Hindu sacred shrines of historical and cultural importance, so dear to our people. In Jaffna alone 35 prominent schools were forced to close down and 201 Hindu and Christian places of worship have been made inaccessible to our people. This vicious type of military occupation has seriously offended the cultural and religious sensitivities of the Tamil people, an activity specifically forbidden by the Ceasefire Agreement.
The creation of High Security Zones (HSZ) by the Sri Lankan armed forces in the militarily occupied territories of the northeast, particularly in the densely populated Jaffna Peninsula, has caused immense suffering to the Tamil civilian population. To facilitate the occupation of a huge number of troops, amounting to fifty thousand, the so-called High Security Zones were established by forcefully evicting several thousands of Tamil families from their homes. The worst affected region is the Jaffna Peninsula where entire villages were evicted with the civilian population and thousands of houses forcefully usurped and our people denied access to farmlands, fishing coasts, schools and places of worship. This is a grave injustice committed against the Tamil people by the invasion forces, destroying their social and cultural life.
We will submit to you a document on, 'The Human Costs of the High Security Zones', which provides comprehensive information about the nature of Sinhala military occupation of the Tamil region and its implications on the life of our people. Our statistics on HSZ shows that 28,830 house owners in Jaffna have been forcefully evicted from their homes and nearly 13,000 acres of fertile farmlands made inaccessible to them. The creation of High Security Zones has reduced 20,000 families to conditions of destitution and they have been languishing in refugee camps and welfare centres for over a decade. The forceful usurpation of public property to the extent of 30 percent of the landmass of Jaffna under the claim of High Security Zones, and denying our people their right to return to their homes and property is a blatant violation of human rights. This forced eviction of people by the state under the pretext of national security is condemned by several UN Human Rights instruments as gross violations of human rights. These UN instruments characterise this practice of forced evictions by states as serious crimes inflicting grave and serious harm to the basic civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of large numbers of people, both individual and collective (The issue is best explained in the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights Fact Sheet 25 on 'Forced Evictions').
The displacement of several thousands of families and their pathetic plight in subnormal conditions in the refugee camps has become a formidable humanitarian tragedy. Yet the Sri Lankan state and the military hierarchy continue to deny, on security grounds, the basic rights of our people to return to their homes and property. We wish to point out that the Sri Lankan government should no longer ignore this grave humanitarian issue under the pretext of "security". The problem of the HSZ has to be resolved without further delay, facilitating the resettlement of the internally displaced persons. The resolution of this issue is extremely crucial for the restoration of peace and normalisation of civilian life in Tamil areas.
In this brief statement I have touched on a few of the crucial issues to be addressed for the effective implementation of the Ceasefire Agreement. The other most important issue to be addressed is the severe restrictions imposed on fishing and the enormous suffering of the people as a consequence. We have given comprehensive information in our documents in regards to the suffering of the Tamil fishing community. We will take up the issue on the restrictions on fishing during the course of our discussions.
The other important matter we wish to raise is the freedom of movement of our political cadres in the government controlled areas. You are aware that the LTTE leadership withdrew our political cadres from the government controlled Tamil areas as a consequence of the violent activities of the paramilitaries, who, on several occasions attacked our unarmed cadres and bombed our political offices. Our political cadres can only function in government controlled areas if the paramilitaries are disarmed and normalcy returns to Tamil areas.
In concluding I wish to say that we do agree that there have been serious breaches of the Ceasefire Agreement, for which the parties in conflict, as well as the Tamil paramilitaries, should bear culpability. Nevertheless, I wish to point out that it would serve no meaningful purpose if we enter into a recriminatory debate, making accusations and counter accusations against each other over the abuses of the truce. Instead of engaging in acrimonious bickering that might poison the atmosphere of goodwill, it would be prudent to engage in a constructive discussion, exploring ways and means to stabilise and strengthen the Ceasefire Agreement. You will certainly agree with me that consolidating the Ceasefire Agreement is the only practical way open to the parties in conflict to stabilise the conditions of peace and normalcy, which are essential and crucial to take the peace process forward.