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Sri Lanka: peace is no longer optional

March 17, 2005

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COLOMBO: At its annual convention on Friday, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) gave the green light to its leader Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga to go ahead with resuming peace negotiations with the LTTE immediately. The decision was ardently supported by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse who moved a resolution urging the government to resume peace negotiations with the Tigers without delay. The SLFP is the dominant partner in the ruling United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA). The party has therefore decided to discuss an interim authority for the troubled northeast to which the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) are laying claim.

How the interim authority would be formulated, however, was not spelt out and no reference was made to the LTTE’s controversial Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) which formalizes the already existing LTTE administration in certain areas of the northeast.

The SLFP resolution on peace comes against the backdrop of Sri Lanka being precariously close to losing billions of dollars in aid if the government does not set up the long-stalled Joint Mechanism with the LTTE for humanitarian assistance and rebuilding operations in the war and tsunami ravaged north and east.

This Joint Mechanism is being seen as a harbinger of close interaction between the LTTE and the government. It is hoped that it will lead to ending the estranged relationship between the government and the LTTE and the resumption of peace talks stalled in April 2003.

Sources said the government had communicated to the LTTE its willingness to resume overall peace negotiations and was awaiting a response. The decision by the government comes in the wake of continuous clashes in northern Jaffna between the LTTE and the military, continuous killings by the LTTE in the east and fiery radical Sinhalese propaganda.

Udaya Gamammpilla, a key member of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), a party of Buddhist monks, accused the government of having a secret pact with the Tigers and trying to impose a federal system on the country.

“The government was not given a mandate to thrust a federal system on the people. The mandate this government received was to safeguard the country from the Tigers. We will oppose the joint agreement with the LTTE”, an incensed Gamammpilla stated, claiming that foreign countries were taking the government “for a ride”.

The JHU, which does not support Norway’s role in Sri Lanka and actively supported the recent “anti-neocolonization” campaign, broke into a fury last week at the World Bank country representative, Peter Harold, for stating that the LTTE was having its own state in the northeast.

Political sources said that the peace-facilitating Norwegians were concerned about the fact that the government was faced by outright opposition from radical groups such as the JHU, and from its coalition partner, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), with regard to the setting up of a joint mechanism with the LTTE in particular and the overall peace process in general.

Meanwhile, speculation is rising high as to whether Norway will continue its role as peace facilitator in the background where no development has been made for the past two years. News reports by the media in Colombo that Norway will pull out of peace talks if the joint mechanism between the government and the LTTE is further delayed have been denied by the Norwegian embassy.

However, it is clear that the government itself has come to the realization that it will have to push beyond internal anti-peace sentiments. “It is true that we would like the LTTE and the government to enter into the proposed agreement as soon as possible. But there is no question of us suspending our role as peace facilitators,” Kjershti Tromsdal, the Norwegian Embassy spokesperson said, while sources added that the next visit by the Norwegian envoy for Sri Lanka, Eric Solhiem, would likely be only after the joint agreement had been reached.

According to the latest Norwegian proposals, which the LTTE has accepted, the joint mechanism will include three committees. The main committee will comprise three members representing the Sinhala”.

With the total reconstruction plan estimated to b at US$ 1.8 billion and President Kumaratunga claiming that only a fraction had been received to the government as financial aid, it is clear that peace talks with the Tigers is no longer optional. And opposing all anti-peace radical elements including the government’s partner Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna seems to be the only way out for the UPFA.