Sri Lanka yesterday discarded the LTTE`s contention that the organization had sovereign rights over the `adjacent sea and airspace of our homeland`. Colombo also warned that recognising such arguments would have serious regional and international implications.
`The government categorically rejects this statement as one that is contrary to well-established principles of international law,` an official source said, requesting anonymity. `The assertion of sovereign rights jurisdiction, or any other form of control over sea areas, is an attribute of statehood. Such rights can only be asserted by states under international law.`
He noted that the SLMM had clearly reflected this position in their ruling last week: `The sea surrounding Sri Lanka is a Government Controlled Area. This has been ruled so by the Head of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission in line with international law. Non-state actors cannot rule open sea waters or airspace. The LTTE has therefore no rights at sea.`
The LTTE replied with defiance. A day after attacking a troop carrier with a SLMM monitor on board, S. P. Thamilchelvan told a press conference: `We entered the peace process based on a status-quo achieved in the battlefield in our territory. Nobody has the right to pass judgment on the sovereign rights of our access to the adjacent sea and airspace of our homeland.`
Speaking after meeting the ceasefire monitors in Kilinochchi, Thamilchelvan also rejected the classification of the LTTE as a `non-state` party.
On Friday, Sea Tiger leader Soosai reportedly told journalists: `We have openly established our control, and have unequivocally asserted our rights to maritime waters adjoining our homeland, in the same way we recovered and control large areas of northeast. We are not prepared to relinquish sovereign rights to the seas which we have won with the sacrifice of our people.`
`We are determined and will continue to engage in activities in sea in northeastern waters that lie within our control perimeter. Any obstacle will be overcome with appropriate debilitating force,` he warned.
Elaborating the regional and international implications of the LTTE`s latest statements, another official source cautioned that a dangerous precedent could be set by giving weight to claims of sovereignty. He also said the government had `brought this to the attention of those countries concerned`.
`Other non-state parties in the world can very well claim sovereign rights over sea or airspace,` he pointed out. `They might acquire naval capabilities or set up functioning aviation facilities, then conclude a ceasefire and claim legal rights on the basis of that truce.`
Referring to the Iranamadu air strip, this official noted that, `if such a facility was set up by a rebel group in any other country... it would have been taken out immediately`.
Thamilchelvam said during his press conference that, when the ceasefire agreement was signed, the LTTE already had a military with an army, naval force and air wing. `The LTTE has been effectively running a civil administration in the liberated areas consisting 60 to 70 per cent of the entire homeland,` he said. `There are necessary infra-structures for the civil administration, policing, judiciary. There are humanitarian bodies. The whole world has witnessed the efficiency of our infra-structure and civil administration.`
`You don`t attempt to classify us as a non-state actor,` he added.
`Unilateral statements don`t confer statehood,` said another senior official of the government. `Statehood can only be conferred by the international community. No entity other than a state can assert such rights unless recognised by the international community as a state entity.`
`The ceasefire agreement was entered into by the government with the LTTE for the purpose of setting out the modalities on the implementation of the ceasefire,` he continued. `It does not convey any rights or legal status to an entity outside this limited framework or purpose. The CFA does not apply, nor was it ever intended to apply, to governance issues such as sovereign attributes of a non-state entity.`
`If this wasn`t so, it would set a very dangerous precedent the world over,` he said. `The ceasefire agreement is a cessation of belligerence. It cannot be an instrument conferring sovereignty on anybody.`