LTTE Chief Negotiator and Political Strategist Anton Balasingham explains the circumstances in which the talks were held and the issues discussed.
This interview first appeared in The Sunday Leader.
Q: Could you first of all tell us your assessment of the talks after two days of deliberations?
A: Even though talks ended on a positive note it has been a very tough, difficult dialogue I should say frankly because the government came with a different agenda.
The LTTE from the very start, from the day Mr. Erik Solheim met Mr. Pirapaharan, we were making statements that the agenda for talks will be the effective or rather the smooth implementation of the terms and conditions of the Cease Fire Agreement. But we were disappointed to note from what Norway came and told us that the government had ideas of coming out with certain amendments and with the aim of revising the entire document.
Then I insisted we will not discuss anything about revision or reworking of the cease fire document because our agenda is that we should stick to the letter and spirit of the agreement and only see how we could implement the terms and conditions of the Cease Fire Agreement.
So with all that when the peace talks started I made my initial opening address with the purpose of articulating our point of view. Our objective in coming for the talks as you would have observed from my address was that the talks should be confined to the implementation of the Cease Fire Agreement.
Q: As you point out in the first paragraph of your opening statement itself you said the most important achievement of the Norwegian facilitation of the peace process has been the signing of the Cease Fire Agreement between the government and the LTTE. You also said the CFA was not finalised in haste to the advantage of one party as argued by some critics but to be the foundation on which the peace process can be built. Was that the position you maintained right throughout the deliberations?
A: Exactly. Absolutely. I’m also one of the architects of the CFA document and we spent months. Specific attention was given to each clause and both the parties were consulted with our military experts and Mr. Pirapaharan and from the government side Ranil Wickremesinghe was also informed of the various terms, conditions, obligations and finally both the parties agreed and both parties signed the ceasefire agreement.
So it was not worked out in haste to the advantage of one party. Both parties were given quite a lot of time to work out various formations. So what happened after my initial opening speech, I was disappointed to note chief negotiator of the government side, Mr. Nimal Siripala de Silva, insisting there were serious flaws in the CFA and that there should be amendments, revisions and it had to be reworked.
Q: Mr. De Silva said in his opening statement that the CFA in its present form, signed by Ranil Wickremesinghe and Velupillai Pirapaharan was unconstitutional, and against the laws of Sri Lanka. Is that the position he maintained during the two days of deliberations?
A: Not two days. Later on they had to give it up. After the first day, their legal expert, H. L. de Silva, he came out with the proposition that certain clauses in the ceasefire document contravened the constitution and that it was not endorsed by the President who had executive authority, so on and so forth. I challenged their contention saying that it was signed by both the parties with international assistance.
It was not the LTTE and the government of Sri Lanka only who were involved. The Norwegian government was also involved in this agreement and also five Nordic countries. So it was an international agreement and also we know that it is determined by the Supreme Court in the P-TOMS case where the Supreme Court ruled the CFA did not contravene the constitution, therefore we argued and said it is not a question of legal or constitutional validity of the document that is in question.
We have come here with the objective of analysing and arguing that each term, condition and obligation must be implemented and I read out what the main clauses that the government of Sri Lanka has failed to implement.
Q: But wouldn’t you say the government also had a moral obligation to seek a revision because President Rajapakse had signed an agreement with the JVP wherein he said there were clauses in the CFA, which were not only unconstitutional but also leading to separation and compromising national security. He pledged to redo and revise the CFA. Did you therefore expect the government to sit and discuss the implementation of an agreement, which it claimed was unconstitutional and paved the way for separation?
A: We are fully aware of Mahinda Rajapakse’s manifesto, his position with regard to the CFA, and we know that the government delegation brought a team of legal experts to question the legal and constitutional validity of the CFA. But we took up the position and argued there with the Sri Lankan delegation and Norwegians that the LTTE will not discuss any issues pertaining to the revision or the rewording of the agreement. That is not the mandate given to me by Pirapaharan, I said.
In front of me Pirapaharan told Erik Solheim that the LTTE will only participate in the peace negotiations to fully and effectively implement the clauses and terms of the ceasefire document.
So I told the delegation that I have come with a specific mandate from Mr. Pirapaharan to only talk about the implementation of the CFA. I said we will walk out if anybody raises anything or starts discussing constitutional or legal problems pertaining to this document.
I said the moment you claim the CFA is incorrect, then you are coming out of the CFA. That means you are giving two weeks notice for the resumption of hostilities. You better think very carefully, I said. So they kept quiet. Then after that they have been discussing among them and the Norwegians also. Erik Solheim openly said that the agenda for the talks according to Mr. Pirapaharan is to discuss the implementation of the CFA and not about changing the structure or coming out with amendments, so they kept quiet. They agreed.
Matters pertaining to implementation were taken up on the second day. The most contentious issue that was discussed on the second day was the disarming of the paramilitary groups. I took up Clause 1.8 of the CFA.
Q: Does that mean even when the next round of talks comes in April or even thereafter that the issue of amending, revising or rewording the CFA will not arise? That it is now only the implementation of the CFA that will be discussed? That the government has accepted the CFA?
A: Of course, the government has openly issued a joint statement reaffirming its commitment to the CFA. What does that mean? That they have accepted the meaning and content of this document.
Q: Are you saying then in the future the issue of bringing any amendment to the CFA is shut out for good?
A: That is absolutely correct. I can assure you the LTTE will not permit even in the future any suggestions for amendments or rewording of the CFA.
Q: Are you saying the understanding at the end of the two days of talks is that the government of Sri Lanka and that of President Mahinda Rajapakse have in fact accepted this CFA, every word, every comma, every full-stop?
Q: You were talking about the paramilitary issues…
A: That is very important. There when we raise the issue of paramilitaries, it is very clearly stated in Clause 1.8 that Tamil armed paramilitaries will be disarmed by the government of Sri Lanka and should be offered the opportunity of being fully integrated with the Sri Lanka military structure if they want to. That matter was taken up and I argued at length the violence cause by the paramilitaries.
We also provided the government with ample information, documents stating the entire paramilitary groups, how they operate, the location of their camps, the commanding officers of the various districts, how they are working in collusion with the Sri Lankan armed forced and particularly the Sri Lanka military intelligence.
Q: Did the government team dispute those charges?
A: Wait. We have given documentary proof. Of course the government says no. Mr. Nimal Siripala de Silva said, ‘I wish to dispute the arguments and say there is no connection between the Sri Lanka military and the paramilitaries.’ We know they will say that but I insisted there is a connection.
Mr. H.L. De Silva said the concept of paramilitaries does not apply because it entails, he said, quoting me regarding the definition I tabled of paramilitaries, that is paramilitary groups are ancillary forces who work in collusion with the regular forces. So we said these armed groups are working with the army and since they are working with the army under the control of the army, they are being supported and sustained and given sanction by the armed forces. They are undeniably paramilitary forces. I said, ‘Don’t bring any legal arguments, Mr. Silva, because this is the ground reality I am talking about.’
I said, you have no idea what the ground reality is. Because I have been working with the leaders of these paramilitary groups for the last 30 years. Some of them were my disciples. So I know who they are and how they operate and why they operate.
Then I explained the history of these paramilitaries and how they originally took up arms for the Tamil cause, how they joined the IPKF as mercenary groups, then when the Indians left they joined the so-called democratic mainstream as political parties and changed their masters. Their masters are now the Sri Lanka government and military intelligence. So this is the true history of these people.
The IGP, Chandra Fernando came out with a list of killings from various times. I told him it is not the question of individual killings that we are discussing here. It is a question of an armed conflict coming down for the last 25 years. Of course, the LTTE has killed several soldiers. There have been communal riots. And the army has killed a lot of civilians. So if we go through the history of the entire armed conflict I can say 70,000 Tamils have been killed by the security forces. We also killed. Our cadres – 20,000 – were also killed in battle. Therefore I said don’t pick up individual cases and say Alfred Duraiappah was killed, Amirthalingam was killed, etc. Then they said okay, that is in the past but after the CFA we have killed so many people.
Q: Did the government raise the issue of Lakshman Kadirgamar?
A: Yes. I said the government has no evidence to prove the LTTE killed him. They say so because everybody thought Kadirgamar was a target and the LTTE was angry with him. And it is an assumption. Assumptions cannot be a direct argument to accuse somebody unless you can prove. ‘Have you got any proof?’ I asked.
Q: Did the government furnish the proof?
A: No, no. Nothing at all.
Then the question they raised was that recently, in the last few months there has been intense violence in the north -east in which 80 or 90 soldiers were killed and civilians were killed and there were assassinations. Even those killings cannot be categorised as individual assassinations or political killings.
This is a phenomena we call shadow war. A subversive war because some of these paramilitary groups, particularly the Karuna group has launched a dirty war in collusion with Sri Lankan intelligence against the LTTE cadres and we have listed out the various people who were killed— Pararajasingham, Nehru, important journalists like Sivaram, so on and so forth.These are killings done in the context of a subversive war launched against the LTTE by paramilitaries.
So it cannot be categorised as intensified violence but action against the LTTE
Q: You stated that the LTTE conceded to the government the non inclusion of the word ‘paramilitary’ in the joint statement. Were you really being magnanimous or as some people describe you as being a cunning fox got it incorporated through the play of words and trapped the government into accepting the disbanding of paramilitary groups through the joint statement
A: Yes, there is no need to use the concept of paramilitary if you study the text of the joint statement because it specifically states that in accordance with the ceasefire agreement, that these armed groups will not be able to function.When we say in accordance with the CFA, there is a specific clause which is 1.8, which says these armed groups are none other than the paramilitaries. So the paramilitaries are specifically included in an undefined form.
Q: In the joint statement it says the government is committed to take all necessary measures in accordance with the CFA to ensure no armed groups other than the security forces will conduct armed operations or carry arms. Now the government in the same statement says it is committed to upholding the CFA. Now the moment you commit the government to upholding the CFA, Article 1.8 comes into play. Are you now expecting the government on the strength of the joint statement to disband all paramilitary groups including Karuna?
A: Of course they should because they are bound by this statement.And also by the obligations of the CFA they have to disarm the para military groups.We have also requested the government that if our political cadres are to go back to Batticaloa and Jaffna this should be done.You know that a few months back we withdrew our political cadres because of the violent activities of the paramilitaries.
Now we have told the government, you better start disarming these groups and put an end to their armed military operations so that we could send our cadres to the north and east.We are ready to do that.And if anything happens to them, it will constitue a very very serious violation of the joint statement issued by both the parties.
Q: Through this joint statement and the deliberations over two days, you have placed the government and President Rajapakse in a very vulnerable situation in that the President who said the CFA was unconstitutional and will pave the way for separatism,has now agreed to uphold and implement it.The President has thus been put in the position of intentionally violating Sri Lanka’s constitution which is an impeachable offence.Now you have put him into that position.You have also got him committed to disbanding the paramilitaries. Now did the government realise when issuing the joint statement that they were committing to disbanding the para militaries and what have you given in return for all these concessions by the government?
A: I dont want to go into the constitutional complexities because most probably President Rajapakse would have made this statement in his manifesto without considering the serious implications of the CFA. As far as we are concerned the CFA is signed by two parties, the GOSL and LTTE and endorsed by international monitors including Norway and Nordic countries. It is an international instrument. I also told you we know the Supreme Court has made a ruling that the CFA does not contravene your constitution. We have no problem in maintaining our position that the CFA has to be accepted and implemented without any amendments.
But the problem of Mr. Rajapakse, whether he has made any mistakes or faces political difficulties or whatever is not a matter for me to comment.
Q: Once talks on the CFA ends and political issues are gone into. are you expecting the government to start from where the talks stalled, that is with the ISGA or would you expect a fresh approach given the President’s position the ISGA will not be a basis for discussion?
A: Because we are going to talk about various other obligations under the CFA. Only we discussed in detail two issues, about under aged recruitment and the disarming of the paramilitaries. We have given an undertaking of putting an end to recruitment of underage children. Secondly so has the paramilitaries.There is a two month space for it.We have to see whether the government is going to disarm these groups.And if they are disarmed and made disfunctional and their operations halted then we will send our political cadres into Jaffna and Batticaloa. That is one issue.
Second time we are going to take up the issue of High Security Zones.It is a very sensitive and critical issue because it is concerning the security of your country and your military in the north-east and as far as we are concerned it is a fundamentally humanitarian problem.Thousands and thousands of people are thrown out of their houses, their villages,from their farm lands and languishing in refugee camps. So this is a very very important problem. For the last 10-15 years people are suffering
Time has come for the government to take some action because we will definitely come out with some proposals for the government. We are not asking the government to withdraw its troops from the north-east.At least there must be some relocation of these camps to enable and facilitate these people to go back.There are other issues such as fishing restrictions.Next time also there will be critical issues not implemented by the government.We will take it up. Political issues will come only when there is a total de-escalation and normalisation of civilian life in the north and east
That has being our stand for the last so many decades.
Even with Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe we insisted on fulfilling the existential problems of our people. Day to day problems. Here we are going to insist on de-escalation and normalisation of civilian life as a necessary condition to move towards the next stage which is the political discussion.
Even when we go to the political discussion, Mr. Rajapakse will have difficulties because there is a difference. Both the parties are living in different ideological universes.They conform to what is called the Mahinda Chintana but we go by Pirapaharan’s vision. So these are two different universes with a wide gulf between them. He is insisting on a unitary structure and we are fighting for a regional autonomy with self government in our own homeland. To bridge these two conflictual and controversial positions at the negotiating table is not going to be a simple matter. It is going to be a very very difficult task. Let us see.