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A new peace initiative in Sri Lanka

A new peace initiative in Sri Lanka Can the formerly warring ethnic groups agree on an architecture of government that allows them to co-exist peacefully? BY RUPAK CHATTOPADHYAY demand in the south marks the independence. Its much smaller on a mandate to end the LTTE. In short, no solution was possible without the LTTE. bombing. The current peace process in the price of northern started with the election of For its part, despite the high price it the United National Front paid in human lives during the civil Government in December war, the LTTE was no closer to 2001. Prime Minister Ranil achieving out-and-out Tamil Wickremesinghe won office recruitment base made a war of beginning of national attrition ultimately unsustainable. government initiated peace civil war. The new Peace is one step closer in Sri Lanka. On September 18 2002, the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Ealam concluded the first round of formal peace talks in Sattahip, Thailand. The two parties committed themselves to establishing a Joint Task Force to oversee rehabilitation in the war-ravaged north and also set dates for the next three rounds of talks. An event such as this would have been unthinkable a year ago. An earlier peace process in 1995, initiated by the Sri Lankan President Mrs. Chandrika Bandarnaike Kumaratunga, fell apart after the President herself became the target of a moves shortly after assuming office. The government recognized that it lacked the ability to bring about a military solution to the conflict and the human costs of the conflict had been horrendous. Almost two decades of war cost Sri Lanka 65,000 lives and has left the country’s economy in poor shape. It would not be an exaggeration to say that two decades of conflict have bankrupted Sri Lanka. Liberation Tigers hold entrenched position Any movement towards a final settlement would require rebuilding the confidence of the Tamil population and dealing with the Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Ealam, Rupak Chattopadhyay is a program officer with the Forum of Federations. popularly known as the LTTE. The north had been under sustained economic blockade for many years that had stunted economic progress and increased the population’s sense of isolation from the national mainstream. The highly militarized nature of the conflict had ensured the LTTE’s emergence as the de facto representative of the Tamils in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. Indeed, most ordinary Tamils are grateful to the LTTE for fighting the government to the negotiating table. Furthermore, the LTTE controls vast tracts of land, from which it could not be evicted. The new government also recognized that the failure of President Kumaratunga’s peace efforts stemmed from her unwillingness to engage the Heightened scrutiny of designated terrorist organizations after September 11 must also have been an important factor in contributing to the LTTE’s decision to enter negotiations. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe was probably speaking for both sides last February when he declared: “We have no option but to talk, there is no alternative.” Goods flow, roads re-opened Government controls on the shipment of goods to LTTEcontrolled areas were relaxed in December last year. The signing of a Norwegian-brokered Cease Fire Agreement between the government and the LTTE in February 2002 followed this. A team of Scandinavian observers oversees ceasefire implementation. Despite reports of minor infractions of the ceasefire agreement by both sides, the agreement has brought about an end to military confrontation on the island. Federations Vol. 2, No.5, November 2002 The government’s decision to de-proscribe the LTTE prior to the beginning of the peace talks has created a more conducive environment for the talks. The reopening of the strategic A-9 highway linking Jaffna, the main Tamil-dominated city in the north, to the south has brought much needed relief to the war-weary population in the north. Food, medicines and other supplies are now flowing in both directions. A recent rise in the price of northern produce (rice and mango) induced by rising demand in the south marks the beginning of national economic re-integration. End to travel restrictions There is much to celebrate in the south as well. The streets of Colombo are free of unpopular security checkpoints for the first time in a generation. Uniformed security personnel are no more conspicuous in Colombo than in any western city. Public sentiment in the country is buoyed by rising foreign investment and a resurgence of tourist arrivals since the summer. And throughout Sri Lanka, more than 100,000 displaced people have returned to their homes or are on their way. The process of normalization has been aided by the removal of all travel restrictions on civilians. Tamils traveling to the south from Jaffna and the east are no longer required to obtain special passes or register with the police on arrival. All restrictions on travel are being lifted – with the exception of LTTE cadres who under the ceasefire agreement are supposed to register with the authorities when traveling to government held areas. Encouragingly, people from the south have begun to travel to the north, in order to see first hand the scale of destruction. For many southerners this is their first glimpse ever of the Tamil areas. This free movement of people has contributed a great deal to a popular sentiment in support of peace. The Norwegian government has played the key role in securing a ceasefire and getting the two parties to the negotiating table. But there are limits to what it is able or willing to do. Sri Lanka: Ethnic communities and religions The apparent durability of the ceasefire is encouraging. But to consolidate peace the two parties will soon have to grapple with a range of complex political and humanitarian issues. In the short term, the two sides will have to work out the modalities of reconstruction and safeguarding minority rights across the island. Any future political settlement (interim or permanent) will have to address the concerns of these groups. While the establishment of an interim administration in the northern and eastern provinces is likely to be dominated by the LTTE, there are substantial minorities of Sinhalese and Muslims who are apprehensive. In the longer term, the two sides will have to put in place institutions that devolve power to north and east. The two sides will also have to decide how to demobilize the LTTE’s considerable armed force and how, if at all, the LTTE’s administrative apparatus can be integrated into that of the state. Federations Vol. 2, No.5, November 2002 More international help The two parties recognize the challenge ahead of them and have invited international assistance. To this end, at the end of the first round of talks the parties agreed to establish a Joint Task Force for Humanitarian and Reconstruction Activities. The Joint Task Force will constitute a partnership between the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE, and will have responsibility for the identification, financing and monitoring of urgent humanitarian and reconstruction activities in the north and east. The task force will operate with due participation of Muslims, who form a substantial minority in the east. The LTTE and the Sri Lankan government will jointly carry out an international campaign to raise funds for the redevelopment of the war-ravaged north and eastern provinces. The functioning of the Joint Task Force will test the ability of the two sides to work together. Indeed, it is certain to throw up issues of jurisdiction and division of powers between two administrative centers – the sort of issues that commonly arise in devolved systems. In recognition of the fact that any final settlement will entail a substantial devolution of powers to the Tamil community and its representatives, the Sri Lankan parties invited Canada to work on this process. Following meetings between representatives of all involved parties, the Government of Canada is drawing on the expertise of GEOGRAPHY Area: 65,610 sq km – two-thirds the size of Switzerland Population: 19,408,000 (2001 est.) – slightly more people than Australia Ethnicity: Sinhalese: 74%, Tamil 18%, Arab 7%, Other 1% Religions: Buddhist 69%, Hindu 15%, Christian 8%, Muslim 7% Languages: Sinhala 74%, Tamil 18%, other 8% ECONOMY Economic sectors: Food processing, agriculture, textiles and apparel, telecommunications, insurance & banking Employment sectors: Services 45%, agriculture 38%, industry 17% Export sectors: plantation crops 20%, textiles & garments 63% Export commodities: textiles, clothing, tea, coconut products, diamonds, refined petroleum products, spices Labour force: 6.6 million (1998) Unemployment rate: 8.8% (1999 est.) the Forum of Federations.” Following the first round of peace talks, it is already quite clear that any final political settlement will be accompanied institutional changes that devolve power asymmetrically to the Tamil areas. This means that instead of power being devolved equally to all provinces, as is the case in the United States, the Tamil provinces are likely to receive much greater administrative autonomy, as is the case with Catalonia in Spain. It is important to emphasize that any institutional model adopted may borrow features from existing federal systems but it likely to be unique to Sri Lanka. A daunting challenge Sri Lanka has historically been a unitary state. Consequently, any devolution process must address two substantive issues. The first of these has to do with governance issues. The parties who will ultimately share power must be provided with adequate technical advice so that they may be able to draw on the experiences of other countries when fashioning new institutions. Sri Lanka’s lack of substantial experience in issues of inter-governmental relations Federations Vol. 2, No.5, November 2002 presents real challenges to the smooth functioning devolved Engaging the public or federal state. The Forum has a role to play in providing In collaboration with the Sri Lankan Center for Policythe parties with expertise on constitutional reforms and Alternatives, the Forum organized a series of public lectures inter-governmental relations (specially on fiscal relations, and seminars in the cities of Colombo, Kandy and Jaffna. jurisdictions issues and dispute resolution mechanisms). These public events allowed the team to engage membersThe greatest challenge before the LTTE is transforming itself of the general public, some sections of which were hostile to from a military organization into a political party. the idea of devolution and/or a federal Sri Lanka. The second issue has to do with building public support for new institutions. The sessions provided the visiting group with an opportunity to address concerns While the government and the LTTE are about the costs and suitability ofin agreement about the need for a federalism for Sri Lanka and emphasizesubstantial devolution of power from the role that devolution can play in Colombo, the public may be less conflict management. Based on theenthusiastic about this. No mission, it was clear that there was a clear constitutional reforms can succeed public sentiment in favor of peace.without public support. Past efforts at Indeed, the volume of traffic on the A-9 devolution have stirred up mixed best illustrates why peace is good for theemotions across the country. Depending economy and public welfare. on which community one belongs to, the public sees devolution as either the first step towards the It was also clear that there are people who remain disintegration of the Sri Lanka, or as falling well short of apprehensive about the shape of any final settlement and minority aspirations. that the lack of any experience with multi-level governance It is important to provide the public with a more accurate causes many to be wary about its chances for success. understanding of multi-level governance and its potential Some form of asymmetric devolution now seems a forgone to ameliorate ethnic and communal relations, that is, its conclusion as part of the peace settlement. Asymmetric potential to preserve a unified state while guaranteeing devolution implies that the constituent units of a newminority rights. Sri Lankan government structure would not have identical Between September 2 and 7, 2002, a team of international powers and responsibilities, but would assume roles experts recruited by the Forum of Federations visited Sri appropriate to their situations. The concept also implies that Lanka to evaluate the exact nature of technical advice that there could be a system of cultural and minority rights the parties would require as they entered the peace talks – alongside the basic constitutional and political structure – a and to raise public awareness on multi-level governance. system that might, for instance, guarantee certain cultural The team included Forum Chair and former Ontario rights to Tamils living in Sinhalese dominated areas or Premier Bob Rae; academics David Cameron and Will Sinhalese living in Tamil areas. Kymlicka from Canada and Charlie Jeffery from Britain; and former senior official of the Alberta government Peter One of the most pressing tasks now is to raise public Meekison. awareness about the constitutional and governance options.The Forum’s team met first with Ministers G.L.Peiris, Minister for Constitutional Affairs, and Milinda Morogoda, Minister of Science and Technology, along with officials from the Prime Ten Months in the Peace Process Minister’s Office, the Peace 19 December 2001 LTTE announced a one-month unilateral ceasefire Secretariat and the Ministry of 24 December 2001 Government announced one-month cessation of hostilities. Finance. 15 January 2002 Government relaxed restrictions on transporting goods to North 22 February 2002 Government and the LTTE agreed to a permanent ceasefire The team then traveled to the 3 March 2002 Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission established to monitor ceasefire northern city of Vanni to meet 8 April 2002 Jaffna-to-Kandy main highway – the A9 – reopened the LTTE leadership 10 April 2002 The LTTE leader held first press conference in 12 years represented by Mr.Thamil 27 July 2002 First official meeting between the Government Minister and the Chelvan, the head of the LTTE chief negotiator in London LTTE’s political wing. 4 September 2002 Government lifted the ban on LTTE 16 September 2002 Preliminary talks began between the Government and LTTE Federations Vol. 2, No.5, November 2002