Sri Lanka: Making, and keeping, promises

It has been a consistent feature of the Sri Lankan peace process that important initiatives by the LTTE are downplayed and trivialised by sections of Sinhala nationalist opinion, which could instead, more profitably, seek to hold Jaffna to its word. One of the biggest breakthroughs of the present peace process was the announcement by the LTTE's chief negotiator at the current peace talks, Dr Anton Balasingham, that the LTTE would be prepared to settle for a federal solution. The international media and most analysts outside Colombo viewed this statement as setting the basic parameters within which a negotiated settlement may be found. In Sri Lanka, the response to Dr Balasingham's pronouncement, made in Oslo in December during the third round of talks, was more qualified. Analysts pointed critically to the text of the official statement, prepared by the Norwegian facilitators, saying that the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government had agreed only to explore a federal solution, which was not equivalent to actually accepting one. The noticeable gap between the LTTE's words and deeds (especially in matters of human rights) makes this a plausible line of argument. LTTE negotiators and the top leadership have repeatedly denied that children are still recruited as soldiers, but they are. They have also verbally accepted that the north and east are constituted by a plural society in which democracy should prevail, but on the ground the Muslims and rival Tamil parties still find themselves suppressed.

This disjunction casts doubt on the credibility of the LTTE and its sincerity in the peace process. Those who go on the basis of the ground situation have reservations about the LTTE's commitment to a negotiated compromise settlement on the lines of generally accepted federal models. The presidential spokesperson's comments that the LTTE has recruited an additional 10,000 cadre since the commencement of the ceasefire agreement a year ago and thereby vastly increased its manpower, coupled with the findings by international monitors of the continuance of child recruitment, give credence to these apprehensions.

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Himal Southasian