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LTTE, main violator of CFA - SCOPP

Interview with Kethesh Loganathan, Deputy Secretary General, SCOPP, on the CFA, Geneva 2, Karuna factor, etc.

Q: In the wake of increasing ceasefire violations by the LTTE, and armed forces retaliation, is the Peace Secretariat becoming irrelevant?

A: The functions of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) or commonly known as the Peace Secretariat is not restricted to providing infrastructural and knowledge support to peace talks or what is known as 'Track One Negotiations', although that is one of its key functions.

However, Peace Talks is only one element of the peace process, the other elements being the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) and initiatives at reconciliation. In this sense, the Peace Secretariat is the principal state agency that liaises with both Norway as the facilitator and the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) in monitoring the CFA. The Peace Secretariat also strives to engage civil society in the collective efforts at bringing about reconciliation between communities.

Further, since the peace-making process is internationalised, the Peace Secretariat is also involved in engaging the international community and keeping it informed of the Government's approach to the peace process as well as the challenges it faces. SCOPP is also often approached by researchers and students, local as well as foreign, involved in conflict and peace studies.

In short, the Peace Secretariat's relevance or irrelevance is not determined solely by the vagaries of Track One Negotiations or the fragility of the ceasefire itself. Peace-making and peace-building is a long-drawn and a hazardous process that goes beyond events.

Q: Isn't the Tamil minority in the North-East, in particular, and all communities in the rest of the county in general, in some danger now of enduring another round of bloodletting as a result of hostilities resumed by the LTTE?

A: Certainly. The 'no war, no peace' situation that is characteristic of our peace process has now escalated into high-intensity hostilities. If not checked, it could easily spiral out of control and lead to an all-out war.

If that were to happen it will affect all communities in a manner that would be unprecedented. We are presently at the edge of a precipice and it is imperative that the parties should step back and take a deep breath before deciding on the next course of action. In this the LTTE, which precipitated the present highly explosive and volatile military situation, has the primary responsibility in stepping back from its military adventurism.

Q: In your opinion, how much of control does the Government maintain over the 'Karuna' group? How tangible a factor is this group in the peace equation?

A: The Karuna factor is largely the creation of the LTTE. It is the result of the failure of the LTTE leadership to resolve their internal differences democratically and non-violently. I do not believe that the Government has any control over the Karuna forces, although it is obvious that under the prevailing high-intensity military conflict there could be a coincidence of interest.

However, that does not make the Karuna forces a "paramilitary" as claimed by the LTTE. But, one cannot rule out the possibilities for the Government to prevail on Karuna to transform from a military mode to a political one.

It is generally assumed that the spoilers to a peace process has necessarily got to be a 'third force'. What is not recognised is that the parties to negotiations could themselves be spoilers, as is evident in the case of the LTTE. However, there is no doubt that if the Karuna factor is not handled correctly and factored into the peace process, it could emerge as a spoiler.

Q: Isn't it part of the function of the Peace Secretariat to induce the international community to rein in the LTTE in its perilous path towards endangering the longstanding ceasefire? What has been done toward that end?

A: As I had indicated earlier, the Peace Secretariat does engage the international community on the Government's approach to the peace process and the possibilities, challenges and problems that it entails. However, it is the Foreign Ministry and our Missions abroad which have a primary responsibility in this regard.

Q: As a minority Tamil working for the Peace Secretariat - what would you say? Have you given up hopes for peace?

A: Anyone engaged in peace-making, irrespective of whether that person belongs to the majority or minority community, cannot allow themselves to be overwhelmed by a seemingly hopeless situation. I also wish to stress that the Peace Secretariat represents the aspirations of all nationalities and communities for a just and a durable peace.

Q: What caused the breakdown of Geneva 2? In hindsight, is there anything the Peace Secretariat could have done better to ensure that Geneva 2 (the negotiations) got off the ground?

A: The Peace Secretariat has done its utmost in not only facilitating the preparatory meetings for the Government delegation in the run-up to Geneva 2, but in also working out different options relating to the conditionality of the LTTE that transportation be provided to its Eastern leaders to move to the North so as to enable the LTTE leadership to have its own internal consultations and preparatory meetings for Geneva 2. It is indeed ironic that the LTTE should seek to attack unarmed troops sea carrier at precisely the time when all efforts are being taken to ensure the safe passage of LTTE leaders.

The obstacles in the way of Geneva 2 comes largely from the LTTE, although it would be absurd to claim that the Government or its Peace Secretariat are infallible. It is important that we look at a range of policy options.

The emerging policy is that one should go beyond mere ceasefire talks to peace talks and broaden the agenda so that the parties begin to engage each other not only on matters relating to de-escalation and normalisation, but also on matters pertaining to the humanitarian and human rights issues, as well as democratisation and devolution of power.

Q: Some retaliatory strikes are now being made by the forces against LTTE strikes. These are sometimes characterised in the media as ceasefire violations. How do you see this phenomenon?

A: It is obvious that while the parties have not unilaterally or by mutual consent withdrawn from the ceasefire agreement, there is a war-like situation on the ground precipitated largely by the LTTE. The retaliatory strikes by the forces which technically may constitute a violation of the CFA, are seen by the Government as a response to a virtual undeclared war being waged by the LTTE and as a possible deterrence.

Q: It is the LTTE that is violating the ceasefire. Would you agree with that or not? If so, do you think the weight of the world opinion should turn sufficiently against the organisation to make a new "Eelam war'' utterly untenable?'

A: The LTTE even before Geneva 1 and from the inception of the CFA has been the main violator of the CFA. That is also accepted not only by the SLMM, but by the international community as well.

The issue is whether the LTTE cares for world opinion, leave alone caring for the opinion of the people that it claims to solely represent.

The Government is already on record of calling for sanctions against the LTTE, including an international ban. While world opinion understands the challenges facing the Government, it seems to be caught up in a dilemma as to whether they would lose their leverage, namely the threat of a ban, if that ban is actually imposed. The question then being asked is what next? Perhaps it is a false question.

Q: What would you do in the Peace Secretariat, if 'war' (hostilities) break out?

A: Prosecuting war, if it is thrust on them, is the primary responsibility of the security forces and the defence establishment. The primary responsibility of the Peace Secretariat is to keep the options of peace open all the time. But by peace we do not mean only the absence of war, but peace with dignity, democracy and devolution of power for all peoples of Sri Lanka.

 

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