Sri Lankan Peace Process: Problems and Prospects

23 Sep, 1999    ·   264

Zarin Ahmad analyses the latest developments in Sri Lanka and its implications

Sixteen years of protracted violence has torn apart the very fabric of Sri Lankan state and society. As the conflict becomes more deeply entrenched, solutions seem all the more elusive. Sri Lanka is now a war-weary society, and people feel a compelling need to end hostilities between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan armed forces. Since the beginning of the year, the political leadership as well as non-state actors have made a series of efforts to end the present crisis. There is a realization for a greater role of the civil society towards a peaceful solution.



A survey conducted by the National Peace Council (NPC) earlier this year, indicated that a military solution is not the answer to the problem. The year 1999 began with an effort by Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu and Muslim clergies (March 30) to unite for democracy and peace in the island. The National Movement for Justice Peace and Reconciliation asserted that it had become "incumbent on the non-political leaders of civil society to liberate the helpless citizens". The youth also expressed the need to end the conflict by participating in a Peace Rally organized by the Centre for Society and Religion on April 29 this year. In a significant change of stand, even the top Buddhist ecclesiastical dignitary Ven Palipane Sri Chandananda Thera, the Mahanayake Thera of the Asginiya Chapter expressed the need for mediation. 



Most significantly, the business community is taking an initiative to bring about a peaceful settlement. This section was spurred by the fact that the economy is collapsing and no commercial ventures can be undertaken due to the risk involved. Even the multinationals are reluctant to invest in the country. At present, their effort is directed towards bringing the ruling People's Alliance (PA) and the opposition United National Party (UNP) together, to sort out their differences. A delegation from the trade and commerce chambers is examining the government's proposals and the UNP's suggestions to solve the crisis.



The first round of talks between the PA and UNP was held on July 15 and it was agreed that the joint solution should be acceptable to the minorities. The proposed devolution unit for the Eastern Province was also discussed with the view that the right of the Muslims in the region should be protected. In the third meeting on August 11, the two parties have set September 30, as deadline for the government and opposition to come to a consensus on the government's new draft constitution for the devolution of the Executive Presidency and devolution package to solve the ethnic crisis. If this works out, the leader of the business initiative Lalith Kotalawala with the permission of the President and opposition will be presenting it to the LTTE. The LTTE will also be given a time frame to come up with a response, probably till January 2000.



In case, there is no consensus between the PA and the UNP before September 30, the Government can go ahead with its own solution to the conflict. There is also the possibility of an interim administration in the North East. This thinking comes in the wake of a prolonged lapse of an elected provincial council in the North East, as well as the advent of the election mode in the island, which will be going to the polls next year. Tamil parties may be involved in some form of administration of the North East during the run-up to Presidential and Parliamentary elections, scheduled for next year.



If the interim administration materialises, the participation of political parties in the administration as well as the role to be played by the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) will have to be sorted out. One implication of constituting an interim administration will be a signal that the doors will be shut on the LTTE, as far as negotiating a settlement is concerned. To that extent, the government's decision will depend largely on the narrowing of differences between the PA and the UNP.



The LTTE has so far not shown any willingness to come to the negotiating table. The LTTE on its part has made its intentions clear assassinating Neelam Tiruchelvam at a time when the Draft Constitution is to be tabled. Killing a moderate like Tiruchelvam further asserts their stance. It has also rejected the Army proposal for a 5 km civilian safety zone in Wanni. It insists on a 250 meters zone on either side of the A-9 Kandy Jaffna highway. Meanwhile, violence continues unabated. In a fresh offensive, code-named Rana Gosa V, 53 LTTE men and 18 security personnel were killed in the Mannar district on September 12.