FOREIGN EDITORIAL: The Tigers’ true stripes
Having unilaterally pulled out of the Norwegian-brokered peace talks, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has laid down impracticable and unreasonable pre-conditions for returning to the negotiating table as well as participating in the crucial `Aid Lanka’ conference scheduled to be held in Tokyo next month. In doing so, the Tigers have abruptly rejected a slew of proposals aimed at persuading them to change their seemingly inflexible and wholly self-serving stand. The price the LTTE wants for further participation is the setting up of an interim administration in Sri Lanka’s north and east with the additional stipulation that the Tigers be allowed to play a predominant role in such a mechanism. The LTTE must know that such extreme demands are simply impossible to meet in the existing circumstances and do little but expose the Tigers’ true stripes. The setting up of the kind of interim administrative mechanism the Tigers want for the north-east will require acting outside of Sri Lanka’s Constitution and the island’s President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, has made it more than clear that she will have none of it. Ms. Kumaratunga, who enjoys vast powers under Sri Lanka’s executive presidency, has been prepared to look upon the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickramesinghe’s initiative to hold peace talks with the LTTE with a sceptical eye. But her position on handing the LTTE the formal reins of power is unequivocal. This can take place only through changes in the Constitution and whether such changes are made or not will depend on the LTTE giving up terrorism and returning to the democratic mainstream.
It is revealing that Tamilchelvan, the leader of the LTTE’s political wing, should now describe the six rounds of peace talks since the ceasefire was declared in February last year as “a waste of time”. Such remarks only substantiate the widespread suspicions that the real motive behind the LTTE participating in the peace talks had nothing to do with a change of political heart, ostensibly manifested in such things as a willingness to renounce terrorism and to give up separatism for substantial autonomy. From the manner the Tigers have conducted themselves, it would appear that their real agenda is much more limited: to have their control over the north-eastern regions formalised through an officially recognised mechanism. This is why the LTTE has been so intractable about the interim administration issue, an attitude which resulted in the talks getting bogged down and eventually floundering.
The mega Aid Lanka conference is expected to pledge anything up to $ 3 billion for the development of the island, with a special focus on the war-ravaged regions. The international community and the multilateral donors are extremely keen that the LTTE attend the conference and the substantial package of aid has become inextricably tied with the continuance of peace and progress in resolving the conflict. It is apparent that the LTTE wants a free hand in the disbursal of funds earmarked for the reconstruction of the north-east. The absence of a formal financial mechanism that would enable the organisation to do this is an important reason for the decision to stay away from the meet. The Tokyo conference may well take place without the LTTE, but it would lose some of its gloss and, some would argue, possibly also a part of its rationale. An issue of even greater import is the fate of the peace talks given the LTTE’s insistence that any movement forward will depend on the setting up of an interim administrative mechanism. From the LTTE’s point of view, the maintenance of the status quo — which means, among other things, de facto control over the north-east, time to regroup and an opportunity to enhance military strength through the smuggling of arms — is tolerable in the absence of something even better. It is the Sri Lankan Government that pays the much greater price for the LTTE’s continued intractability, its stonewalling and its cunning ability of utilising the ceasefire and the peace talks to its own scheming advantage. —The Hindu, May 27