India Intelligence Report

   Oslo Talks Non-Starter

  • LTTE refuses to meet Sri Lankan Government because no political participation

  • LTTE Objects to EU presence because it was banned in Europe

  • Sri Lankan Government fields Sri Lanka Peace Secretariat Head

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) surprised Norway facilitators saying that they will not meet with the Sri Lankan Government (SLG) delegation as it was not representative of Sri Lanka and also because of the presence of European Union members. The LTTE is taking umbrage to European Union’s listing of the group along with al Qaeda that curbs fund raising, recruiting, campaigning, and public relations. The EU was the only entity with influence with the LTTE as India, the US, Canada, and other nations had banned the organization for its violence-driven agenda.

Furthermore, the LTTE was suspicious that discussions with Sri Lanka Peace Secretariat Head Palitha Kohona fearing that the SLG will again resort to hiding behind an unviable accord blaming individuals instead of a process of negotiations. Past agreements had failed because of the lack of determination of both the SLG and LTTE to see peace return to the restive island. Since there is no political representation in the talks the LTTE is not sure to whom it is talking to.

However, Kohona was confident and upbeat hoping that the June 8-9 Oslo talks will bring the LTTE back to full-fledged negotiations. Kohona was quoted saying "We continue to hope that the LTTE will recognize negotiations as a better option than violence." This sort of talk generally angers the LTTE—it exposes presumption that the LTTE is the bad guy that is refusing peace unilaterally because of a delusion that violence is superior to peace. While the LTTE’s means have been violent and excruciatingly visible, blaming it solely for the present violent disease and breakdown in dialogue is disingenuous. After all, it was the SLG that refused safe passage to the LTTE causing the breakdown of the second round.

The Oslo talks is not about the continuation of the Geneva rounds but instead was to focus on the role of the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM) which both sides blame, sometimes unfairly, for biased behavior. The Norwegian-proposed talks, aims to discuss the "operational modalities and functional attributes" of the SLMM. Both the SLG and LTTE are blamed by the SLMM, which has been caught in several fire fighters and angered both sides by accusing them of repeated ceasefire breaches. The SLMM blamed the SLG for extra-judicial killings and want the Tigers not to send their Sea Tiger warships to sea. The Army denies the charge as they do the LTTE’s charge that they are arming, training, and funding the rebel group as a counter-weight to the LTTE. However, there is evidence, including an official acceptance by SLG, that they are pursuing the militia approach even while following the peace process. The SLG and LTTE accuse each other of attacks and violation of ceasefire even as talks on the safety of the island’s Nordic unarmed ceasefire monitoring mission remain to be discussed. There is no verifiable means available and the SLMM is the only independent entity that can provide an impartial view.

To be fair to the SLG, Kohona seems to take his role as chief negotiator earnestly although he was too quick to deny reports that the new security measures in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo and elsewhere in the country were being misused by security personnel to harass ordinary Tamils. He used the establishment line that "There are security operations in the country given the situation today, but every step is being taken to ensure that human rights and liberties are not being violated."

He pointed out that the SLG has also started the process of evolving a political solution to the conflict—this was key advice from India to develop a Southern Consensus  so the island can deal with the LTTE with a uniform voice. Last week, it organized an all-party conference and decided to set up a Parliamentary Committee to "come with ideas and evolve a constitutional structure" that would address Tamil political grievances. The Janatha Vimukthi Peramunna (JVP) and the United National Party were part of this meet but it is not clear if they will be part of the committee or if they are committed to finding a peaceful solution. Besides, Tamil grievances in Sri Lanka go beyond “political grievances.” It includes an ethnic and sociological divide, years of colonial subjugation, economic development, equal democratic participation, and freedom from the cycle of violence. It is not clear if the committee will handle these issues too.

Sri Lanka continues to be in a low-intensity conflict that has seen more than 400 people dead since April. Diplomats say that the civil war is on again although nobody is calling it as one.