US Ambassador Robert O Blake Jr says Sri Lanka has got an important opportunity to achieve peace and urges her to seize time by the forelock. `If a credible power sharing proposal emerges from the APRC, Sri Lanka has in President Mahinda Rajapakse a strong leader who can use his very considerable political skills and the trust that his supporters repose in him to help fashion the southern consensus that has eluded previous governments,` Mr. Blake has said at a peace symposium in Colombo. He thinks such a consensus can form the basis of renewed peace talks and an end to the conflict. He wants the solution to meet the aspiration of the Tamils, the Muslims and the Sinhalese.
Mr. Blake echoes the thinking of all reasonable observers of Sri Lanka`s conflict. There can be no argument about the fact that the conflict must be resolved politically without further bloodshed. But, those who advocate a political solution make one fundamental mistake. They all want the government in power to offer solutions without asking the LTTE what it really needs by way of a settlement.
The LTTE has, as the EU points out, rejected devolution at the district level, the provincial level, the regional level and the national level. Successive governments have done various experiments with devolution. The JRJ government introduced the District Development Councils, which fell through due to their rejection by the separatists. The same government devolved power, albeit under Indian pressure, to the provinces with the LTTE initially agreeing to it. The Provincial Council system, however, didn`t take root in the North and the East, as the LTTE spurned it and reverted to war. Not even its creator, India could make it fall in line.
In 1994, President Kumaratunga offered the entire North to the LTTE without elections for ten years. The LTTE turned down her offer. Then she offered devolution at the regional level or the Regional Councils in 2000. The LTTE rejected them, even before the UNP-JVP combine shot them down in Parliament. The UNF government (2001-2004) agreed in Oslo to pursue a federal solution. The LTTE initially indicated its willingness but instead of working towards a federal solution, it put the cart before the horse by putting forth the ISGA demand, with which it unilaterally stalled peace talks. Under the Rajapakse government, the LTTE agreed to talk but it chose to negotiate only the peripheral issues like the CFA violation to the exclusion of the core issues. That its peace intentions were not genuine were obvious: Even before talks began, Prabhakaran had promised war.
The absence of a southern consensus is said to be the bane of all peace processes. Yes, that argument may sound tenable to some extent. Unless the southern parties speak in one voice, the chances of achieving peace are remote, because the implementation of whatever solution to be evolved will be impossible, given the fragile parliamentary majorities under the PR system. But, that argument doesn`t hold water where the peace process under President JRJ is concerned. True, there was no southern consensus on the setting up of Provincial Councils. The JVP was unleashing barbaric terror against the government and the Opposition parties that endorsed the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord. The SLFP was playing the role of a comfort woman to the JVP, only to be disillusioned in the end. However, JRJ had a five-sixths majority to rush any Bill through the House. India was fully behind the Provincial Councils. But, devolution failed to work even after its implementation. Why? The LTTE remained intransigent.
Even if the UNP had subscribed to Chandrika`s Regional Councils and assisted in their implementation in 2000, they wouldn`t still have worked because of the LTTE`s opposition. The APRC is being urged to come out with a solution and the President is under pressure to bring about a southern consensus. But, who is going to guarantee that the LTTE, which is now reeling from a string of military setbacks and desperate for recruitment and procuring arms and ammunition, won`t play the same old trick of gaining a breather by agreeing to negotiate with a view to scuttling talks with the ISGA demand later on? The international community, including the US, which was represented by none other than Richard Armitage, it should be recalled, failed to make the LTTE honour the Olso Declaration and discuss a federal solution.
Therefore, the US and other members of the well-intentioned donor community ought to reveal how they are going to prevent the LTTE from abusing future talks to further its military interests. They must also spell out what action they will take in such an eventuality. All their bans and warnings have had no effect on the LTTE. Since they advocate that a solution to be evolved should be acceptable to all communities?quite rightly so?they must ensure that all stakeholders will have representation in the peace negotiations, unlike in the past. How will the LTTE react to such an arrangement?
Most of all, those who call for talks must wrest an assurance from Prabhakaran that he is amenable to a political solution short of secession. Unless he undertakes to depart from the path of separatist terror, no amount of talks is going to help Sri Lanka achieve peace.