The Cease Fire Agreement – an Obituary

The Cease-Fire Agreement (CFA) between GOSL and the LTTE came to an end on 16 January 2008 after the two-weeks notice given by the Mahinda Rajapakse regime expired. Thus ended an agreement which was signed on 22 February 2002 with only a few weeks short of its sixth anniversary. It is therefore an appropriate time to write an obituary of the CFA. This is not a full analysis of the CFA nor a comprehensive account of what happened under it. Its main purpose is to reiterate some salient points about this agreement which are often ignored or distorted by those with a vested interest.

The CFA is unique among agreements between insurgent groups and sovereign states. In Sri Lanka's case the insurgents used principally terrorist methods targeting civilians and engaging in ethnic cleansing. The CFA consisted of a preamble and 4 articles each with several subsections. The Preamble stated that the overall objective of the Agreement is to find "a negotiated solution to the ongoing ethnic conflict". This clearly states that GOSL becomes committed to negotiations with terrorists so long as the CFA is in force, and it also perpetuates the myth that the problem is primarily an "ethnic problem". The principal features of the agreement were:

  1. Secure Territory. A clearly defined area was given to the LTTE within which GOSL had no jurisdiction. The boundaries were to be those already established in Dec 2001 and were to be certified by the Monitoring Mession. Essentially this amounted to a de-facto division of the country. The LTTE treated this as the nucleus of the Eelaam that they had always wanted. GOSL referred to this territory as "uncleared areas" but this was merely an euphemism to conceal its effective abandonment of sovereignty over the area. So long as the CFA was in power the area conceded to the LTTE could not have been "cleared" under the terms of the CFA. However under Art. 1.13 unarmed LTTE are given freedom of movement anywhere in the North and East. But unarmed GOSL can only move on the A9 route between Vavuniya and the Jaffna peninsula.

  2. Foreign Monitors. A body called the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) was set up. The Head of the SLMM is to be appointed by the Government of Norway. The first head was Eric Solheim who had been instrumental in negotiating the agreement. Several other powers have acted as "co-chairs" in the SLMM. This was the first time an external body was given authority to be involved in an internal problem of the country.

  3. Disarming of non-LTTE Tamil Paramilitaries. Article 1.8 requires that "Tamil paramilitary groups shall be disarmed by the GOSL". This of course does not apply to the LTTE against which GOSL can take no action (Art. 1.2). According to this clause GOSL undertakes to remove all armed opposition to the LTTE by other Tamil groups. Of course this article was not observed as GOSL supported the TVMP terrorists who were hostile to the LTTE.

  4. No Penalty for Violations. There were no penalties for violation of the agreement. One side could report a violation by the other side to SLMM which has to investigate the violation. In the event GOSL reported far more violations than the LTTE. The SLMM did not have the machinery or personnel to investigate each of the thousands of reported violations, and simply listed them in their periodic Reports. This has to be kept in mind when it is claimed that the SLMM had recorded more violations of the CFA from the LTTE than from GOSL. The lack of any real penalty for violations proved to be a fatal weakness of the agreement.
  5. Provision for Termination. The CFA could be terminated by either party by simply giving two weeks' notce to the SLMM. This was the provision used to terminate the agreement. The LTTE never gave notice of termination as they were clever enough to use the provisions of the agreement to their advantage.

  6. No long-term solution. By its very nature the CFA was not a long term solution but would only cause a pause in hostilities allowing time for negotiations. But the negotiations that did take place, both under the RanilW as well as MahindaR dispensations were abortive. Of course the CFA never really created a pause in hostilities.

The above are some of the extra-ordinary features of an agreement between a sovereign state and a terrorist group. It will be seen that the Agreement was loaded in favour of the LTTE. All GOSL administrations during the currency of this Agreement are guilty of perpetuating these iniquitous conditions.

Who was responsible for the CFA?

An important question that has arisen is who (on the GOSL side) should be held responsible for this nefarious Agreement. Many people, particularly the 'patriot lobby' (see ACSLU Glossary), have been blaming Ranil Wickremesighe, who was Prime Minister who negotiated this agreement, and his Party the UNP. The President at the time of the signing of the agreement was Chandrika Kumaratunga who was the leader of rival SLFP. However the involvement of the President in this Agreement is not clear, but as the chief executive under the Constitution the President cannot be absolved from it. This view that the entire responsibility for the CFA can be placed on RanilW and his UNP is questionable.

The fact is that whoever initially signed the agreement, because it contains the termination provision, anyone in power who kept the agreement legally valid, is equally responsible. The two principal political figures responsible for initiating and/or upholding the CFA were Ranil Wickremesighe (when he was PM), and Mahinda Rajapakse first as Prime Minister and then as President. Ranil was the Prime Minister from the signing of the CFA on 22 Feb 2002 until 6 April 2004 when he lost the election and was replaced by Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister, who subsequently became the President after the Presidential election of 20006. Thus the CFA was directly under his control from April 200r until its final revocation in January 2008. From these it is clear that RanilW was upholding the CFA for a little over two years and MahindaR for a little under 4 years. These bare facts show that the responsibility of MahindaR is much longer than that of RanilW. There are other factors that would reinforce this conclusion.

The original CFA diid not give any direct financial benefits to the LTTE. But when he was Prime Minister MahindaR introduced the PTOMS legislation. This made the Tamil Relief Organization (TRO), an LTTE front, a recipient of Tsunami relief funds given to the country by foreign donors. Under this the LTTE received foreign funds to be spent in the area under their control. Thus financially and well as legally the CFA gave tangible benefits to the LTTE. By the introduction of the PTOMS legislation MahindaR a new kind of support for the LTTE which was not foreseen in the original CFA of RanilW. Fortunately the PTOMS had to be nullified because of popular opposition.

Both RanilW and MahindaR conducted negotiations with the LTTE as the Preamble to the CFA required. All these negotiations were held outside Sri Lanka. Ranil's negotiations were held in Bangkok and Tokyo. Mahinda's in Geneva and Oslo. In all these negotiations the late Balasingham led the LTTE delegations while the Foreign Minister at the time represented GOSL. It cannot be said that these negotiations produced any tangible results. It has been claimed that during the Ranil negotiations Balasingham made a concession by expressing a willingness to accespt Federalism at least as a temporary measure. The position of the LTTE had always been a completely separate Eelaam or nothing. This concession was claimed as something of a victory by Ranil, but Prabhakaran is said to have been displeased by Balasingham's concession. By contrast the negotiations in Geneva during the Mahinda Presidency did not produce anything. By then the LTTE had gone back to their original position of Eelaam or nothing. The only concession made was a public pledge by GOSL to uphold the CFA.

Both Ranil and Mahinda supported the efforts of Solheim even though he was very publicly biased in favour of the LTTE. When Solheim first visited Sri Lanka after Mahinda was installed as President he was warmly greeted by the President who seized him with both hands. All indications are that Mahinda has a greater share of responsibility for the long period that this agreement was, even nominally, in force. It could more appropriately be referred to as the Mahinda-Ranil CFA .

Emergence of a de facto Eelaam

Under the protection of the CFA the LTTE was able to transform their territory into a de facto miniature state. At the time the CFA was signed the LTTE had its own land-based cadres and a rudimental naval presence. Under the protection of the CFA they were able to considerably augment its armed cadres, establish elaborate training camps, recruit soldiers (including children who were press-ganged into their service), and update their naval craft. More recetly they even established a rudimentary "air force" which was able to conduct bombing operation on GOSL territory without being shot down.

In addition to the military side the LTTE was also able to build a civilian infrastructure. A police force and a court system was established. This was able even to apprehend SL policemen entering LTTE territory in pursuit of offenders. They were apprehended and imprisoned by the LTTE with GOSL unable to do anything. Hospitals, stadiums and other public amenities were built, some with foreign assistance. A broadcasting system, with LTTE stations even operating in Europe and North America, was set up. The internet was used effectively to convey propaganda and even news of developments in Sri Lanka. All these enhanced their claim to be running a Tamil state.

Thus the LTTE made good use of the respite provided by the CFA. By contrast GOSL was able to little, other than make frequent complaints to the SLMM about LTTE violations. GOSL politicians carried on their corrupt practices and played their familiar political palour games completely oblivious to what the LTTE was doing. They did not have any hesitation for doing deals with the LTTE if it was to their advantage. The most prominent of these, and the most despicable, is the alleged pact between Mahinda Rajapakse and the LTTE to "fix" the Presidential election by getting Prabhakaran to prevent Northern Tamils from voting. A large sum of money is said to have exchanged hands in this deal. Despite the propaganda of the devotees of MahindaR that the UNP was an ally of the LTTE this deal showed that the LTTE actually preferred MahindaR to RanilW and was prepared to sacrifice the latter.

LTTE Reaction to the Abrogation of the CFA

The LTTE reaction to the abrogation of the CFA came on the very day that the abrogation took effect. This was the terrorist attack on a fully laden bus at the Buttala deep in the "Sinhala south" of the country. Buses had been attacked by concealed roadside bombs before but what happened here was that the bombed bus was ambushed by armed LTTE cadres who shot as many of the survivors before fleeing. This accounted for the high carnage of this attack. Later autopsies on the dead revealed that they had died from LTTE bullets and not from the effect of he explosion. The LTTE terrorists responsible for this attack also killed six farmers working their fields, and there were other attacks which claimed more lives even involving soldiers. Later that day several villagers in remote region adjoining the Vanni were also killed in a classic example of ethnic cleansing.

The Buttala attack was not unusual given the modus operandi of the LTTE. But it ranks with the worst of the atrocities perpetrated either before or during the CFA. It signals in fact the return to the old terrorist strategy of the LTTE. For a while during the CFA and LTTE had concentrated on attacking military targets and movement of GOSL soldiers. Even the bombing raids of the LTTE were confined to military and strategic targets. But before the CFA the principal tactic could be called "civilian terrorism". This is the bombing of "soft" targets like buses, trains, shopping centres, and places where people gather in large numbers like political rallies. It would appear that the LTTE response to the formal abrogation of the CFA us a return to civilian terrorism.

The Buttala attack also punctured the myth that the East had been liberated. Buttala is in the Uva province. If even in this province the LTTE can act with impunity what credence can be placed that the East has been truly liberated?

The LTTE may also try to regain its position as the leading militant Tamil organization. It is well known that the support for the LTTE amongst Tamils had declined over the last few years during which the CFA was in force. While we cannot assign a causal connection between these two it is nonetheless a fact. There was a break-up in its military wing with rival Tamil militias (like the TVMP) being set up. Many non-militant Tamil groups like the TULF of Sangaree and the UTHR came into prominence. The question now is whether there will be a return to the LTTE by these groups now that the CFA is dead. The Tamil Diaspora too which became divided may again unite behind the LTTE. But these developments are not certain are remain to be seen.

GOSL Response and Miscalculations

GOSL does not seem to have developed any coherent strategy to deal with the predictable consequences of the revocation of the CFA. It is still going on with the rhetoric of the Rajapaksa brothers that the LTTE will be annihilated in the Wanni. While daily reports of the numbers of LTTE cadres killed, and boats sunk, are being made there is no clear evidence of a gain like the capture of Thoppigala or the killing of Tamilselvan. The 'patriot lobby' is eagerly awaiting such a victory, and the tension amongst them is becoming unbearable.

The failure to respond to the Buttala killings on the day the CFA was disbanded shows that GOSL has no way of dealing with civilian terrorism. In this regard the population is put at the mercy of the terrorists. The political leaders of GOSL travel in well protected convoys, inconveniencing the ordinary public, but the ordinary public is left to fend for themselves. They have only the promise of the eventual elimination of the LTTE to feast one. And what happens after this elimination is not even hinted at.

But the immediate problem is the reaction of the International Community (IC) to the formal revocation of the CFA. It has been condemned universally by the IC. This in itself is not something that should matter, provided that the IC does not match it with some kind of international sanctions. The most obvious sanction would be withdrawal of aid or foreign investment. Japan which has now become the largest donor has said that it was reviewing new loans to Sri Lanka. Whether financial assistance would be cut off is also not certain. The Foreign Minister has repeatedly assured the IC that negotiations with the LTTE have not been ruled out. Of course there is no possibility of negotiation as LTTE demands are non-negotiable. Why does the Foreign Minister tell the IC that no negotiations will take place with the LTTE for this obvious reason. But as it is this carrot of negotiations makes no sense when the rhetoric of the Rajapakse brothers is that the military solution is the one that will be followed. So there appears to be different songs sung by the Rajapaksas and their Foreign Minister.

Why the CFA was the wrong strategy

There is no question that the CFA initiated by RanilW and expanded and continued by MahindaR was the wrong step for Sri Lanka to take. But the manner of its revocation has also left much to be desired. Briefly it was too little and too late.

Firstly the revocation did not go far enough. Thus the LTTE has still not been proscribed, and negotiations with them have not been ruled out. Without such complementary measures mere revocation of the CFA is meaningless. Besides the present GOSL President has a history of dealing with the LTTE. It was he who introduced the PTOMS proposal. It was he who came to a secret arrangement with the LTTE leader to "fix" his election as President. In the Geneva talks, and elsewhere, the President had made a pledge to uphold the CFA. Thus his present revocation lacks credibility. It has been speculated that this move has been dictated by the need to secure JVP support in Parliament.

Secondly the revocation was too late. It was clear for some time that the CFA had become a dead letter. The LTTE never respected it and of late its contempt for the agreement had become extreme. When Ranil signed the document he may be excused that in his folly he would have thought that the LTTE would respect. But by Mahinda's time it was abundantly clear that the LTTE had no regard for it. Despite this Mahinda embraced teh CFA even as enthusiastically as Ranil had promulgated it.

If we look at the military conflict after Mahinda beame President it will be see that most of the GOSL military successes came in the Eastern province in areas which had not been formally ceded to the LTTE under the CFA. Its actual successes in the core area of the Wanni have been more limited. If the revocation was to be believed it should have been revoked when Mahinda became the President. His actions as Prime Minister has been excused by the 'patriot lobby' on the ground that Chandrika Bandaranaike was the President at the time. Bu this should not absolve MahindaR for acts like the introduction of the PTOMS legislation because if he did not agree with what he was doing the correct thing to do was to resign. The failure to include the revocation of the CFA in the so-called Mahinda Chintanaya means that there was never any real intention of revoking it.

With the CFA gone the options before the President have become stark. He has to defeat the LTTE militarily. He has to meet the challenge of civilian terrorism. He has to announce his 'political solution' to the problem. He has to tackle the international community, and if it decides to launch econmic sanctions he has to deal with a deepening domestic economic crisis. The next step would be scheme to devolve or share power with the Tamils is to be released on January 24 2008. If this date is kept an analysis of the proposed scheme will be undertaken by ACSLU.