I had already commented on the opening statement of Anton Balasingham , the leader of the LTTE delegation to the Geneva talks. This was because Balasingham had made his statement first. Subsequently the opening statement GOSL reached me and I am now considering this. The opening statement of the GOSL delegation given by Minister Siripala de Silva (hereafter SdeS). This is given below. Compared to Balasingham's direct statement of what he wanted from the talks, the statement of SdeS is for the most part somewhat vague with very little by way of specifics. In a conference of such short duration it is important to get directly to the point without waffling on generalities and courtesies. This lack of specific focus may reflect the confusion in the minds of GOSL on the whole separatist problem.
There are eight sections in this opening statement. I will comment on each of them and conclude with a few general observations on the whole speech.
SdeS says that the GOSL-LTTE agreement of 2/2002 is "contrary to our Constitution and law". If so the LTTE could ask why it was honoured after Ranil Wickremesinghe was defeated by the President when he was Prime Minister and subsequently when he was President. Yet he says that "benefits" flowed to he people from the CFA. As usual these benefits are not specified. This is why it was said that the statement does not deal with specifics.
The claim by SdeS that there is a popular consensus for the Talks ignores the fact that there is also a considerable degree of opposition.
This section begins by a restatement of the "patience and restraint" of the President. There is no mention of the terrorist outrages which this "patience and restraint" ignored. Any other nation would have reacted violently to a fraction of the number of service personnel killed by the terrorist supremo (who is humbly referred to as "Mr V. Prabhakaran"). The cowardly response to these outrages is described as "enlightened", not a "sign of weakness", and a commitment to peace!.
SdeS concludes this section by saying that "our Government is committed to talk, listen and think afresh". No mention of any commitment to action. There is no hint as to what the "fresh approach" is. It looks suspiciously like the old approach of the RanilW and Professor Peiris, i.e. talking to the LTTE terrorist representatives who have absolutely no intention of deviating from their original objectives. If there is another approach to this failed approach it is certainly not contained in SdeS's statement.
This section begins by asserting the democratic history of SL, which was after all a legacy of the much maligned British. The LTTE's proscription of people voting in the Presidential election is mentioned as a proof of the undemocratic nature of the LTTE, but no mention is made is of the claim that the President's narrow majority was a result of this very proscription. SdeS then affirms that GOSL is committed to "the multi-ethnic, multi-religious and pluralist character of Sri Lanka". This sounds very much like a recipé for multiculturalism which many Helas have denounced as inappropriate for Sri Lanka.
SdeS states that "All our people whichever part of Sri Lanka they live in, are protected by these basic fundamental rights.". Clearly this does not apply to those living in the region of Eelaam given over to the rule of the terrorist leader. So this statement is palpably wrong. But SdeS goes on to blame the LTTE for doing so unlawfully. However the LTTE has done this because of agreement with GOSL enshrined in the CFA. So GOSL is as much responsible for the people of the Kilinocchi and Mullaitivu districts being deprived of their rights.
The denial of political rights to the people living in the North is attributed to "the assassination and abduction of political activists" by the LTTE. But the LTTE has been able to do this either because of the powers given to them by the CFA or because of the incapacity of GOSL to act as the Government of the whole country. Thus GOSL cannot shake-off its responsibility in the denial of democracy and human rights to the people of the North.
This deals with the 3519 violations of the CFA reported to the SLMM by GOSL. There is no attempt to analyze these violations and to separate the really grave violations from the minor ones. Even the little detail that Balasinsham gave about alleged violations against them is not provided by SdeS. Only two specific instances are given. One is the killing of Lakshman Kadirgamar. Here the LTTE has denied their involvement, but GOSL has not been able to find those involved. Of course most reasonable people reject the LTTE denial but the killing is still unsolved. The second is the expulsion of the Muslims from the North. I think this took place before the CFA was signed. What is surprising is there no mention of the atrocities committed against the poor Sinhales villagers in the North-East or the killing of the security forces. I would have considered these the more important.
Thus what should have been an important argument against the LTTE has been neglected. This section concludes with the statement: "It is the belief of the Government of Sri Lanka that the dialogue about the ceasefire would take into account the urgent concerns of the Muslim community." One may well ask what about the other communities?
The section begins with extolling the President's concern for the rights of children. Given the publicity given to Sri Lanka as a centre for tourist pedophile activity and the recent focus on the abuse of children of the large number of women going to work in the middle-east this claim may wear thin. However this is not directly concerned with the separatist problem that the talks are supposed to center on.
The one aspect of Children's Rights in this regard is the recruitment of children for military duty by the LTTE. It was claimed that over half the LTTE violations of the CFA has been due to this recruitment. While the concern for Tamil children is certainly praiseworthy one may well question why the child victims of the LTTE belonging to other ethnic groups have not been raised. There has been ethnic cleansing of Sinhalese villagers in the areas close to the Eelaam territory,and many of those expelled are children who have been traumatized by their experience. At least some reference should have been made to this.
In this section after saying that "President Mahinda Rajapaksa is committed to maintaining law and order without discrimination in every part of our country" SdeS goes on to give several instances where the President has failed to discharge this duty in the face of LTTE violations. Several instances of murder and abduction in the Eastern Province in areas for which GOSL is responsible are given, but no explanation is provided why the President has not been been able to assure law and order in the areas for which he has responsibility. There is no mention of the law and order situation in the de facto Eelaam because the President has washed his hands for responsibility in this area despite his stated concern for "every part of our country".
Even the public officials responsible for enforcing law and order have themselves been the victims of LTTE lawlessness. The most conspicuous examples was the killing of the Superintendent of Police of the Northern Province, a still unsolved crime.
A large part of this section is devoted to the President's concern for economic development. Given the short period he has been President how much of this concern has seen the light of day cannot of course be ascertained.
Mention is made of the LTTE imposing levies on farmers, traders, etc. in the Northern Province. It is not clear if this takes place even in those parts of the Northern Province which are under the control of GOSL. Of course the LTTE has instituted a system of taxation in the areas under their control. This is another example of the unusual lattitude given to them under the CFA. SdeS should state explicitly if it wants to withdraw these rights from the LTTE.
These are directly addressed to "Hon. Minister Erik Solheim and the Facilitation team, Mr. Anton Balasingham and members of the LTTE delegation". How terrorists and their allies can be addressed on behalf of the President beggars belief. Of course we know that MahindaR never calls the Tigers as the terrorists they are. But this statement shows more than the usual servility to the terrorist. The rest of this short section are meaningless platitudes.
Overall Assessment of the Opening Statement
From the analysis of the salient points in the Opening Statement of the leader of the GOSL delegation given above it is clear that another opportunity has been missed. There are few specifics that GOSL wants in this phase of the problem. It is clearly stated that GOSL is still trying to "talk, listen and think afresh". If after 25 years of conflict they have not thought of the way out it is unlikely that they will now find a way by "fresh" thinking. Listening to an uncompromising terrorist is not a substitute to the complete bankruptcy of thought.
There is no mention of some of the things that the LTTE has foreshadowed will be their concern. Foremost of these is the role of the paramilitaries. Here GOSL should have stated that they consider the LTTE to be the greatest paramilitary that has to be disarmed, by force if necessary. Of course if this had been said it would have been the end of this dialogue. But persevering in a dialogue on false assumptions is futile.
There is also no mention of the fact that SL is today a bifurcated nation. It is the only country in the world where terrorists have been given a section of the country to rule at will in the most despotic matter. The ending of this situation would have been primary concern of any responsible government. But apparently not GOSL.
A great deal of noise has been made of strengthening the CFA. But there is no single specific way of doing this strengthening is mentioned in the whole speech. In fact what is needed is not the strengthening this agreement which SdeS says is against the Constitution and the law. If so the logical conclusion is to discard this agreement. But this obvious point seems to have escaped the attention of GOSL.
Balasingham made a monkey of Professor G.L Peiris in the previous round of talks. It looks as if he will do it again in this round of talks with a leader like SdeS.
On behalf of H.E. the President of the Republic of Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Government of Sri Lanka, I am pleased to make these preliminary comments at the commencement of the talks between the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE, facilitated by the Royal Norwegian Government and hosted by the Government of Switzerland. At the outset, let me thank all the parties, including the Co-Chairs, who have worked tirelessly to make this event a reality.
At this stage, I would also like to express the hope of the Government and the People of Sri Lanka that these discussions will mark a significant chapter in the dialogue between the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE. It is also our wish that this dialogue would form the basis of a meaningful ceasefire where the beneficiaries of it would be all the People of Sri Lanka.
An analysis of successful negotiations worldwide would perhaps establish the fact that successes have resulted on occasions where parties to the conflict have had the courage, dedication and determination to pursue a solution through a continuous process of dialogue with sincerity. We should keep in mind that no issue is insurmountable, if the interests of the People and the Country are kept uppermost in our minds. Accordingly, it is our desire to express our views in a frank and forthright manner, rather than to make vague and ambiguous statements that would serve no useful purpose, although they may appear more acceptable on the surface.
As we all know, H.E. the President Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected on a platform of "seeking an honorable peace." On that basis, our delegation affirms and emphasizes the position of the Government of Sri Lanka that the Ceasefire Agreement entered into between the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Mr. V. Prabhakaran, the leader of the LTTE on the 22nd February 2002 is contrary to our Constitution and law. Furthermore, it is prejudicial to the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of the Republic of Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, we acknowledge that certain benefits flowed to the People from the observance of the ceasefire, which resulted in our strong determination and desire to preserve the ceasefire. We also consider the ceasefire as a first step to arrive at a negotiated settlement to the ongoing conflict and we propose to rectify certain grave anomalies arising from the agreement.
Since assuming office, our President has at various times and occasions extended invitations to begin a dialogue with the LTTE. Furthermore, our Government has been keen that the overall process of discussion and dialogue should be of an inclusive nature since it affects the whole Nation. We take pride in the fact that the Government's participation at these talks in Geneva is with the support and goodwill of all the democratically elected political parties in Sri Lanka. The discussions at the All Parties Conference held over the past few weeks resulted in the consensus that we initiate this dialogue with the LTTE. These discussions also served to prepare a common platform for the dialogue that we are commencing today with renewed hopes and expectations. This fact is significant since it is the first time in the history of this conflict that such a consensus has been reached. Therefore, I am privileged and honored to lead the Government's delegation that is in Geneva today with the strong support from the Peoples' representatives of Sri Lanka.
H.E. President Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected to office on 17th November 2005 with a mandate from the Nation to work towards the achievement of an honorable peace. The Mahinda Chintana, which encapsulates the President's vision for the country, makes it clear that the President has recognized the need for a direct dialogue with the LTTE, in the pursuit of such a goal. He has even stated that he is prepared to meet with the Leader of the LTTE and other representatives for such discussions. Notwithstanding the clear enunciation of such a position, it was unfortunate that upon assumption of office, H.E. the President was confronted with a number of acts which would easily qualify as being highly provocative. Such acts had the potential to disturb and deflect us from the path of dialogue and discussion. However, our President with his deep commitment to peace reacted with patience and restraint to contain the tension that resulted from these acts of provocation and hostilities.
This enlightened response was certainly not a sign of weakness, but a display of our firm commitment to peace. We are therefore thankful to the international community for their steadfast encouragement for the commencement of these discussions. It is also our considered view that in the event such provocations had continued unabated, the repercussions may have been extremely dangerous with further loss of lives and the ceasefire becoming totally meaningless and leading to its eventual collapse.
Let me at this stage assure all, that it is the desire of H.E. President Rajapaksa to look at issues from a fresh perspective to find a sustainable solution to the conflict that engulfs our country. Let me also re-iterate that our Government is committed to talk, listen and think afresh.
Sri Lanka is one of Asia's most long-standing democracies. The people have enjoyed uninterrupted universal franchise since 1931, long before gaining independence in 1948. For over 65 years, our people have elected their own representatives to Parliament, from all ethnic groups. Both within the confines of Parliament and beyond, the right to criticize both the Government and the Opposition is an integral part of the freedom of expression. We must therefore ensure that all citizens of our country, wherever they may live, are free to exercise their franchise at free and fair elections, whether they be Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Malay, Burgher or any other group however small in numbers. The democratic process must prevail. Accordingly, no community or any section of a community should be deprived and denied their right to vote freely and to exercise their right to elect the representatives of their choice to whom they would entrust leadership.
It was a sad day for democracy in our country when at the Presidential Elections of November 2005, the LTTE forced the people in certain districts to observe a boycott of elections through coercion and general intimidation. It was a gross violation of democratic rights. In addition, the widespread rigging and corrupt election practices in many parts of the North at the general elections in April 2004 which was confirmed by the international election monitors could also be cited as further evidence of the LTTE's disregard for democracy. It is in that context that the Government of Sri Lanka sincerely hopes that with a meaningful ceasefire, the people in the North could participate freely in the democratic process. We are confident that these sentiments will also be endorsed by the international community where such democratic norms prevail.
Mindful of the respective rights of the ethnic and religious groupings as enshrined in the Constitution, our Government is committed to maintaining the multi-ethnic, multi-religious and pluralist character of Sri Lanka. All persons irrespective of their race, religion, caste or gender are equal before our law. All our people whichever part of Sri Lanka they live in, are protected by these basic fundamental rights. These rights must not be truncated in any part of Sri Lanka, thereby depriving those persons of equality before the law. It is unfortunate that the LTTE has unlawfully deprived the Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese of these fundamental and human rights, recognized in our law and in international law, in particular in Killinochchi and Mullaitivu districts in the North of Sri Lanka.
As we all know, as a result of the ceasefire that has been in effect since February 2002, the LTTE has been able to engage itself in political activity. At that time, it was the intention that other political parties, too, should also be permitted to engage themselves in political activity in the North and East without hindrance. However, it is regrettable that this aim could not be achieved due to the LTTE's hostile acts, including the assassination and abduction of political activists, which has obstructed the legitimate political activity of others. It is our hope that we would be able to move towards the restoration of the democratic values which are so important in a civilized society.
As set out in the preamble of the Agreement on a Ceasefire between the then Prime Minister Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe and the LTTE, entered into on 22nd February 2002, four years to the day today, the importance of bringing the end to hostilities and improving the living conditions of all persons affected by the conflict was recognized. An end to hostilities was also seen as a means of establishing a positive atmosphere in which further steps towards a lasting solution could be taken.
However, the available evidence suggests that the LTTE had taken undue and unfair advantage of the ceasefire to strengthen its military capability. Repeated calls by the Government of Sri Lanka, the SLMM, and the international community to the LTTE to desist from such behavior has unfortunately not been heeded. This has resulted in a large number of significant violations which has seriously undermined the spirit of the ceasefire and threatened its termination.
The number of ruled violations by the LTTE as determined by the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) since the beginning of the ceasefire up to the end of last month is a massive 3519. In comparison, the SLMM has determined that the GOSL has violated the agreement on 163 occasions. This shows that 96% of all violations have been committed by the LTTE. The violent incidents committed by the LTTE include assassinations, child recruitment and kidnappings, abductions of adults, suicide missions, killings of military and civilian persons, harassment of students and political workers, and destruction of property. Such incidents have seriously undermined the sustainability of the ceasefire and disturbed the return to normalcy for civilians in Sri Lanka, particularly in the North and East.
At this moment, we also wish to pay tribute to one of the great statesmen of our times, the late Hon. Lakshman Kadirgamar, President's Counsel, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka. Hon. Lakshman Kadirgamar was internationally respected, widely acclaimed and highly honored. As the Minister of Foreign Affairs, he toiled hard pursuing a solution to our conflict. The fact that such a person was assassinated by the LTTE when the ceasefire was in force demonstrates the disregard with which the agreement had been treated and also highlights the significant deficiencies of the current ceasefire.
These circumstances underscore the inherent weaknesses in the existing ceasefire agreement as well as the lacuna in setting out norms for its effective implementation. These also show that the lack of sanctions being attached to violations when there are clear determinations made by the SLMM, is a very serious shortcoming that needs to be addressed in the interest of all concerned.
In expressing its views about the ceasefire, the Government of Sri Lanka must take into account the concerns of all of the people of Sri Lanka. The Government takes this obligation seriously and has engaged in consultations with representatives of all ethnic communities in preparing for these talks. In this context, we also wish to raise some of the concerns of the Muslim community with regard to the ceasefire.
As we all know, almost the entire Muslim community in the North was forcibly expelled by the LTTE during the time of the conflict. Families were ordered to leave their homes with only the possessions they could carry in their hands, on a few hours notice. Lives were lost, homes abandoned, and businesses forced to shut down. It was the hope of the Muslim people that the ceasefire would create the conditions that would enable them to feel secure to return to their homes and re-establish their lives. Unfortunately, most of these internally displaced people still linger in refugee camps or have been resettled elsewhere. Muslim people also face serious challenges to their security in the East, where incidents of violence threaten the civilian population at regular intervals.
It is the belief of the Government of Sri Lanka that the dialogue about the ceasefire would take into account the urgent concerns of the Muslim community. Accordingly, these issues and interests must be adequately addressed for the ceasefire to be meaningful.
The Government of Sri Lanka has always endeavored to respect the rights of children. We have demonstrated this commitment by becoming a party to the major international human rights conventions, including the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. This convention casts upon the Government, the obligation to protect the rights of all Sri Lankan children including children affected by armed conflict.
Well before assuming office as President, H.E. President Mahinda Rajapaksa had earned himself an outstanding reputation as a champion of human rights and as an ardent advocate for safeguarding the rights of children. It was therefore not surprising that as soon as he was elected as President, he established a new ministry for children to provide for the legal and social conditions to protect all children and ensure their welfare. Naturally therefore, we are seriously concerned whenever the denial of these rights takes place within the territory of Sri Lanka as it is contrary to our law, international obligations and the basic fundamentals of a civilized society.
In the context of the Government of Sri Lanka's overall commitment toward children and the obligations it has undertaken under international law, we find the violations of the rights of children committed by the LTTE as being totally unacceptable and deeply distressing.
The use of children by the LTTE in combat has been extensively documented by the SLMM, UNICEF, and other international agencies. According to UNICEF documentation, 5368 children are known by UNICEF to have been recruited by the LTTE, a figure that UNICEF acknowledges is under-representative of the actual number. Since the beginning of the ceasefire through 30 January 2006, the SLMM has ruled 2,011 violations against the LTTE for incidents of child recruitment and abduction; this number represents 55% of the total violations of the Ceasefire Agreement. UNICEF has also reported that child recruitment and kidnapping is continuing unabated as per their latest report of January 2006. Notwithstanding the concerns of almost the entire world community, it is sad that the LTTE has continued to demonstrate their disregard for the rights of children. The recent incident where three Government police officers associated with the National Child Protection Agency were abducted by the LTTE while the officers were in pursuit of a known pedophile is a clear illustration of this unfortunate situation.
The importance and urgency of addressing the issue of child soldiers has been recognized by the United Nations Security Council, which in its recently passed Resolution 1612 urged strong action to be taken against parties that recruit and abduct underage children into their ranks. The LTTE has been identified as such a violating party in a Report submitted to the Security Council by the Secretary-General of the United Nations. However, despite repeated international condemnations of the incidents of recruitment and abduction of children, the violations continue to occur. It is the Government of Sri Lanka's fervent hope that a dialogue on this issue could contribute to creating a meaningful ceasefire, one in which all children of Sri Lanka are free to blossom and develop themselves into healthy and productive members of society.
One of the cornerstones of a democracy is an environment of security. Without law and order and its enforcement, individuals are not free to exercise the full range of rights they are entitled to. Freedom of speech and the right to engage in political activities are meaningless if the exercise of these rights could lead to abduction or death. A state of ceasefire does not override the existing law and order mechanisms in society. For this reason, the Government of Sri Lanka deplores the large number of killings of Sri Lankans of various ethnic groups after the ceasefire of February 2002. These killings have seriously undermined the ceasefire. The Government expresses its grave displeasure and disappointment that deficiencies in the ceasefire agreement have been exploited in this manner, leading to serious strains being placed on the enforcement machinery of our system of law and order.
The Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is committed to maintaining law and order without discrimination in every part of our country. His new administration initiated a program that extensively cracked down on organized criminals, underworld gangs, armed groups and narcotics dealers. This program is continuing with great intensity today. Criminals, whichever part of the country they operate in, are subject to this crack-down as the scope of this program covers the entire country. On that basis, the Government has already taken all necessary action to bring the perpetrators of certain recent crimes to justice in accordance with the due process of law. The murders of youth in Trincomalee, the reported abductions of members of the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization, TRO, the assassination of Parliamentarian Joseph Pararajasingham and all other reported incidents are being diligently investigated by our law enforcement authorities and we are taking all necessary action to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice.
It is also clear that certain parties with vested interests are attempting to accuse and discredit the Government of Sri Lanka for various alleged incidents. A critical examination of some of the recent allegations indicates that the media had been informed of some incidents well before such incidents have even been brought to the notice of the law enforcement authorities. In some cases, evidence has not been freely forthcoming and hardly any cooperation has been extended by the complainants. Such behavior casts serious doubt on the reliability and authenticity of the complaints themselves. These facts seem to suggest that some of these allegations may have been cleverly stage managed and hence we wish to inform the international community that such incidents would have to be more extensively investigated prior to opinions being expressed about the veracity of the claims.
From the first day of his election to the office of President, the Government of H.E. the President Mahinda Rajapaksa has demonstrated its unwavering commitment to achieve substantial and sustainable economic development in all parts of the country. It is our stated goal to bring prosperity to all citizens of Sri Lanka. It is with that objective in mind that the Government has invested heavily in provincial development. In particular, the Government recognizes that the Northern and the Eastern provinces should be accorded special attention so as to enable these areas to expeditiously recover from the devastation of the conflict and the tsunami.
It is in this context that the Mahinda Chintana has enumerated a series of development projects to expeditiously solve the problems of the people living in the Northern and Eastern provinces. These proposals have been given life through appropriations in the budget that was presented by H.E. the President. As a Government, we are committed towards implementing these projects so as to restore accelerated economic activity.
The Government is also fully aware that the people of the North and the East have suffered tremendously in the wake of the tsunami that struck our country in December 2004. We have already implemented many schemes to provide relief to the tsunami affected people with the consultation and participation of the affected communities.
In our view, certain violations of the ceasefire have resulted in serious economic hardships being caused to farmers, fishermen, and others involved in economic pursuit in the Northern and Eastern provinces. For example, in the Jaffna district, monetary surcharges are imposed on farmers and they also undergo tremendous difficulties in the transportation of their produce. Such factors result in lowering the prices that they could command for their produce. Consequently, their earnings are reduced considerably. The Government of Sri Lanka is concerned about the plight of these farmers and others whose living standards have declined as a result of the restrictive practices imposed by the LTTE. We believe these issues too, should be resolved so as to restore normalcy in the economic conditions in the North and the East.
The Government sincerely believes that taking steps towards establishing a meaningful and effective ceasefire would be one of the most important initiatives to provide for the improvement of the economic conditions of the people in the North and the East.
It is our earnest hope that our discussions would pave the way for the realization of such a ceasefire, which would thereby lead to a peaceful environment that is so important for economic development and investment.
Hon. Minister Erik Solheim and the Facilitation team, Mr. Anton Balasingham and members of the LTTE delegation, Our talks today marks a new beginning. Given the pragmatism, courage and far-sightedness of H.E. the President, we are confident that this beginning could be nurtured towards the achievement of the goals we have set ourselves.
We recognize, however, that the path ahead is likely to be one of challenge and complexity. Nevertheless, we sincerely believe that we should leave no stone unturned to bring about a peaceful environment in our country. We fervently hope that the LTTE would also respond with sincerity to develop a framework that would result in the cessation of hostilities and embark on the path of non-violence.
We owe that duty and commitment to our people wherever they may live.