Positions and Prospects

Positions and Prospects

By Shyamala Parameswaran

(Date: 20 Feb 1996)

The new rhetoric faithfully echoing the LTTE Supremo's response to Chandrika`s call to lay down arms, i.e. the desire to to resume peace talks, albeit under a third-party supervision among other conditions, has recently begun pointing to the PLO and the Bosnia negotiated success stories. However, to all intents the desire to resume peace talks is lacklustre in its sincerity as an estimated 500,000 continue to languish in in deprived and refugee conditions. There is also the fact that the LTTE`s return to violence and war is very likely to cause a resurgence in Sinhala extremism and a convergence in opposition to the devolution, thus "diluting" the proposals further, a charge LTTErs make without recognizing how they themselves help the dilution.

Lamentably, the Sri Lankan has also failed to come to terms with an objective view of the LTTE, as partners in peace and as vanguard of the Tamils. The fact of the matter is that the LTTE offers security through its well-trained corps of fighters to counter the terrorism of the Sinhala army that has continued to be communal against Tamils, fighters and civilians alike. None of these grim realities in any way shed any light as to when, if at all, the talks may actually resume. Chandrika, rebuffed yet again in her peace mission and overtures, has remained pre-occupied with getting the legal draft of the devolution proposals before the Parliamentary Select Committee while at the same time trying to contain possible future offensives by the LTTE and from exacerbating the situation.

In short, the reality is that Chandrika has delivered a devolution package, even if inadequate, for debate, thus edging closer to the goal of peaceful resolution. The LTTE, on the other hand, have uttered a distant interest in peace talks and mediation but have only delivered more violence and bloodshed in practice.

Recent events such as the hideous Colombo blast, the uncontrolled firing by Sinhala soldiers in the East and the sinking of Tiger naval vessels off Mulaitivu on a mission to supply arms to the insurgents, portend a full-scale war. These ominous signs further suggest that peace may be fast receding into the horizon. With the devolution proposals ready for negotiation and the LTTE stuck in its belligerent mood, unwilling to consider even a simple conciliatory gesture in the interest of its own ever enduring Tamil refugees, what are the prospects for negotiations?

It is not at clear that "mediation" has been mutually agreed upon. Clearly, with the devolution proposals on the anvil and the continued lack of initiative from the LTTE Supremo, the government could well take the stand that there is no need for third party intervention. The LTTE, on the other hand, appears to be led by the faith that its belligerence and call for a third-party mediation is sufficient to actually make such mediation happen _and_ deliver the goods.

One question remains unanswered. Why would the LTTE, if its sole interest is its Tamil population, not consider a conciliatory gesture such as extending a personal and convincing invitation to Chandrika to visit the suffering masses in their re-located areas? This would not only earn many points in their favor, it would also establish some of the needed groundwork for acceptable mediation plus raise the status for the LTTE in the eyes of the larger polity: both Tamil and Sinhalese.

The LTTE is neither willing to make any concrete moves towards peace in its acceptance of responsibility for launching Eelam War III, spurning a hand extended in peace, nor is it serious about not prolonging the needless agony of a hapless people. Observers are left with the view that peace is an empty rhetoric for the LTTE. Its goal was and has been and is an independent Eelam. Many of the landed refugee-immigrants on Western soil who are closely aligned in solidarity with the Supremo`s position clearly and repeatedly voice this single objective. A paltry few subscribe to federalist alternatives and devolution, more often, half-heartedly.

The truth is Western governments have been known to intervene as mediators only under self-interest and under a somewhat different set of circumstances. There are no Owens and Vances out on a mission in Sri Lanka. Nor is there a convinced Western nation consistently concerned and speaking of ending the crisis on the island. Besides, the PLO and Bosnian-Balkan exercises differ in how the Norwegians as mediators, faciliated contact, guiding dialogue in the former case, while the U.N. and a community of mediators as third-party intervenors exerted concerted pressure on warring factions, dangling the carrot and wielding the stick as it were, simultaneously on the latter.

Some lessons in a quick overview of recent conflict-situations and conflict-resolutions with regard to processes and actual outcomes might serve a useful purpose. Storks no longer deliver babies and visions of a "formidable peace package" dropping into the lap come from minds living in twilight zones.

The reality of negotiations, with or without mediators, lies in evolving *shared goals*. An evaluation of recent conflict situations shows that bridging gaps such as the one that exists between the Prabhakaran and Chandrika is basic to paving the way for talks to be resumed. As the present impasse continues, the one-sided desire voiced for third-party mediation begs two questions: Is there any evidence that both LTTE and the Sri Lankan government are willing and ready for intervention? Which of the outside powers will have sufficient interest in forcing an obdurate side bent on separation and a rebuffed side willing to devolve powers, to come face to face over the table?