People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
January 08, 2006
Sri Lanka: Resume Peace Talks Without Delay
THE visit of Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapakse, to India took place in the background of rising apprehensions about the continuance of the ceasefire and the danger of war looming ahead in that country. Rajapakse’s trip to India was his first visit abroad after being elected as the president in November 2005. Following the election, the situation worsened further with 70 people being killed in the month of December, 45 of whom were Sri Lankan soldiers. The LTTE mounted attacks accounted for the heavy casualties for the armed forces. The killing of a Tamil MP belonging to the Tamil National Alliance in Colombo was another danger signal. The ceasefire, which was declared between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE in the beginning of April 2002, is under increasing strain.
President Rajapakse, on assuming office, offered to resume talks and requested the Norwegian government, who are the mediators, to take up the matter with the LTTE. Some differences have arisen on the venue of the talks, whether it should be held in Oslo, or, in an Asian country. Resumption of the peace talks, which were stalled in April 2004, should be the highest priority. It is the revival of the peace process which can check the existing drift towards the resumption of hostilities.
There is no need to emphasise the disaster which will strike Sri Lanka, if civil war breaks out again. The country is still recovering from the havoc of the tsunami which hit the island a year ago. A large number of Tamil people are still refugees within Sri Lanka and in India. Before the ceasefire, 65,000 people had lost their lives in the conflict in this small island country. The Sri Lankan government, with the help of the international community, should strive to bring the LTTE back to the table for talks. India should exercise its influence to assist all the concerned parties to resume the peace talks.
Negotiations with the LTTE does not mean accepting all its demands and its devious tactics. As far as India is concerned, the interests of Tamil minority is the crucial issue, but the LTTE cannot be identified as the sole custodian of Tamil interests. The Indian stand should remain: a political settlement based on autonomy for the Tamil-speaking areas within the framework of a united Sri Lanka. A solution by provision of autonomy would entail some form of federal set-up. The platform adopted by president Rajapakse during the election campaign for a solution within a unitary State has raised doubts, whether a political solution can be arrived on this basis. Such a stance will only help the LTTE to evade giving a concrete response to genuine autonomy instead of harping on an independent state of Eelam.
As far as India is concerned, the prospects of an outbreak of hostilities is a matter of grave concern. Apart from the suffering of the Tamil minority in the event of a war, there is also the prospect of refugees flooding Tamil Nadu once again. It is unfortunate that some parties in Tamil Nadu are, once again, projecting the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka from an LTTE perspective without acknowledging the disruptive role it is playing. Sinhala chauvinism cannot be countered by being blind to the machinations of the LTTE.
The joint statement on the occasion of the visit of Sri Lankan president has consolidated and expanded the economic cooperation between the two neighbours. The UPA government must closely follow the Sri Lankan developments and act in a manner which can help reconcile differing positions, so that peace talks can be expeditiously resumed.