There have been apprehensions in Colombo and the rest of the south of Sri Lanka that the peace process, being stuck these past three months, may not last much longer. Incidents such as the destruction of LTTE ships by the navy, the organisation’s own refusal to attend the Tokyo donor conference, and now its defiance of a directive by the international monitors of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission to dismantle their newly established military camp in government-controlled territory – these loom large in the minds of many Sinhalese and also among the international community. The campaign carried out by a section of the opposition against the ceasefire agreement also add to these apprehensions in the south.
But in the north of the country, neither in the LTTE-controlled Wanni nor in government-controlled Jaffna, are there similar apprehensions about an imminent or impending return to war. Prices of land in Jaffna have registered sharp increases compared to what they were two years ago, going up five to ten times in some locations, due to increased demand by expatriate Tamils who wish to provide for their families remaining in Jaffna, and also due to the arrival of international NGOs. Along the A-9 highway that connects north and south, new construction is on. People are returning to their homes and rebuilding them, investing in their futures. These are significant indexes to prospective peace.
More than any other community, the Tamil people of the north and east have reason to dread the return of the war which had broken up their homes and flattened their houses. Nearly every person who lives in Jaffna has a horror to tell. Take the case of P Selvarajah, who is President of the Guardian Association of Arrested and Disappeared Persons in the North. He lost his son when the army took him in for questioning, and his desperate desire in his old age is to find a job for his daughter. Mr. Selvarajah wants peace.
While they do not wish the LTTE to return to war, many in Jaffna believe it is the LTTE´s effort to keep up its military strength that is the mainstay of Tamil bargaining strength. Where democratic leaders of the calibre of SJV Chelvanayakam, founder of the Federal Party could not succeed, the militant leadership of Velupillai Prabhakaran has succeeded in forcing the Colombo government to take the Tamil negotiating position seriously. There is no doubt that the LTTE is using the period of the ceasefire to continue to strengthen itself politically and militarily. But there is no apprehension in Jaffna that the military build up at this time is for the purpose of launching a new war.
Wresting Tamil rights and autonomy away from Sinhalese nationalism and governmental domination is the task that the northern population has bequeathed to the LTTE. Therefore, as a community they will not oppose the Tigers’ military build-up, even as they try and keep their children from being recruited by the LTTE. And underlying their acquiescence, of course, is the factor of fear –the LTTE´s undemocratic nature that has it eliminate rivals and those they term traitors. Whatever the inadequacies of the peace process, however, the people of Jaffna have gained greatly from it, materially and psychologically. They do not feel weakened as a community as a result of the ceasefire agreement, which is why virtually all of them view it positively. Of course there are apprehensions about the future. But these revolve not around the possibilities of a resumption of war, but the makeup and work of the proposed interim administration.
Where the Tigers’ military interest and the people’s humanitarian demands converge, as in the case of resettlement in the High Security Zones, we find that the people’s voice is strong enough to be heard. But where the LTTE´s military interest do not necessarily tie in with the public’s desires, as in the case of child recruitment or taxation, there is silence. What the people want from the LTTE leadership is a sign that they will be able to deliver democracy, including the freedom to speak and to oppose what they deem to be harmful. Without this sign of democracy, there are sections who are apprehensive of the coming interim administration.
The people of the north want the same freedoms as enjoyed by those in the south of the island. The past 18 months of ceasefire have made the people of Jaffna impatient for a rapid restoration of their lost rights. People who stayed on in Jaffna over the past 20 years of war are worried about an LTTE which deems itslef to be the sole representative of the Tamil people. They are concerned that under a Tigers-dominated interim administration there may be no place for those who are not LTTE members or supporters. They fear marginalisation once the LTTE takes charge. Those who worry thus may be few in number, but they constitute the most educated people left in Jaffna.
As for the larger public in the north, their concern is with being able to live in their own homes and leading dignified lives. People from all walks of life complain bitterly that their houses are still inaccessible for being demarcated within the High Security Zones. Further, most of the houses in the High Security Zones are in various stages of collapse, having been abandoned 10 to 15 years ago. The bitterness among the people who have lost their homes or seen an army in occupation of their family lands provides a reservoir of support for the LTTE because of its to promise to get the army out.
One of the problems that the future interim administration is likely to encounter is a shortage of resources relative to its needs. This is particularly true in the case of resettling people in their original places. Most of the homes have been almost completely destroyed and would require SLR 1 to 3 million to rebuild. The interim administration that is set up is unlikely to be able to raise such a sum of money to provide tens of thousands of people who have lost their homes. The donor community could play a crucial role to ease the problem in this regard.
Another problem is that many of the houses of displaced persons are located within the High Security Zones that are not limited simply to the area around the Palali airport or Kankasanthurai naval port. An area is considered out-of-bounds pretty much wherever an army camp decides it is to be so. Until the people are permitted to resettle in their original homesteads, and adequate resources are made available to them to rebuild and refurbish, this is likely to be a focal point of tension. The Colombo authorities and the Tigers´ leadership should address these issues sooner rather than later, and try to find a reasonable balance between security needs and basic human requirements. In the end, progress is sought so that there will no longer be a need for high security zones.
Unless there is close cooperation between the Colombo government and LTTE, the proposed LTTE-dominated interim administration may not be able to tackle all the problems at the speed at and in the manner in which the people want them to. Without close cooperation, it is also likely that the interim administration will have neither the money nor the institutional competence to deliver on the hopes and expectations of the people. This can lead to a dangerous situation where the government and LTTE begin blaming each other for failure of delivery. From a civil society point of view, the interim administration should also be seen as a stepping-stone to federalism, democracy, freedom of speech and elections. These factors need to be carefully considered when the structure, powers and composition of the interim administration are negotiated.