The Three Basic Parameters For Lasting Peace

by Jehan Perera

(August 12, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Sri Lankan government’s ultimatum to all deserters from the armed forces to return to duty is one indication of the stresses that exist in society due to the ongoing war which is gaining in intensity in the north of the country. As the army advances deeper into LTTE controlled territory there is a greater need for larger numbers of troops to be deployed to secure the newly captured areas. The government needs to ensure that the LTTE will not infiltrate back into those areas even in small numbers, as these can harass and overrun small detachments of troops. Securing the territory is going to be a bigger problem in the north than it was in the east.

The difficulty that the army will be facing in the north is the mono-ethnic nature of the community located there, which is one hundred percent Tamil, as against the east, which is multi ethnic, and with a majority that is non-Tamil. Some parts of the north that have been recaptured were lost to the government some two decades ago. The problem of communication and getting information regarding LTTE movements from the community will be more difficult in view of the communication barriers between the Sinhala-speaking government forces and the Tamil-speaking population.

Another difficulty that the Sri Lankan army will face as it progresses deeper into LTTE-held territory is that the LTTE’s own resistance is likely to grow stronger. This again will be unlike the situation that existed in the east, where the LTTE cadre did not resist to the last man but withdrew from the battle. When it came to the east, the LTTE leadership appears to have decided that discretion was the better part of valour and their cadre would be better utilized by redeploying them to defend in the north, rather than to fight to keep hold of the east.

On the other hand, when it comes to resisting the incoming Sri Lankan army in the north, the LTTE cadre will have nowhere else to go. This suggests that they will fight very hard to keep the Sri Lankan army from overrunning the entirety of the northern territory they control. As the Sri Lankan army’s lines of communication get stretched with the need to defend more and more territory that is being captured, the LTTE lines of communication will grow tighter and their resistance greater. The reports of high casualties in the recent battles in the north suggest that the LTTE is still not collapsing under pressure.

Humanitarian crisis

There are also stresses in society due to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the northern war zones. Tens of thousands of people living in those areas have been displaced from their villages and homes. As the Sri Lankan army advances more and more areas are coming within range of the army’s long range artillery. The alleged artillery attack on Mullaitivu town, and damage to civilian infrastructure and persons which the military spokesperson has denied, is a sign of things to come. The LTTE’s own strategy of setting up their camps in the vicinity of civilian settlements is likely to have collateral implications on the civilian population.

Reports from humanitarian agencies working in the north indicate that they cannot meet the demand for emergency shelter, water and sanitation to meet the needs of the rapidly growing displaced population. More than 50,000 persons were reported displaced in the month of July alone. They join the ranks of those displaced by earlier phases of war and the tsunami. Unfortunately, it appears that the humanitarian organizations are lacking in capacity to deal with this crisis, in part due to the restrictions that the government has placed upon them.

The government’s legitimate concern would be that the LTTE will take a part or most of the supplies brought in by the humanitarian organizations for its own use, and to further strengthen its war machine. This may explain the restrictions on a host of materials, including cement, water pumps and fuel into the LTTE controlled territories. The government has recently been producing evidence to show that equipment and relief items sent in by humanitarian organizations have ended up in LTTE camps.

However, the welfare of Sri Lankan citizens ought not to be subordinated to military necessities. In an appeal to the government, the Bishop of Mannar, Rayappu Joseph, has given a first hand account of the plight of the people. He has referred to the displaced persons from his diocese of Mannar, whom he reports as mostly staying by the side of roads and in the adjoining jungles without adequate food, shelter, medicine and other basic needs. He has reported that the whole region is on the move, and that the worst affected in this situation are the children, women and elderly.

As a response to this humanitarian crisis, the Bishop has requested the government to spell out its plan for the safety and security of its citizens in the north. In the absence of any governmental initiative he has proposed that urgent action be taken to permit humanitarian organizations with access to these areas. He has also proposed the establishment of No Conflict Zones in each of the three northern districts affected by the present fighting.

Lasting peace

Unfortunately, the pleas of Bishop Joseph and those of a similar persuasion are unlikely to fall on receptive ears at the present time. This is because military imperatives have taken priority and the government is unlikely to do anything that can jeopadize its military effort. The chosen logic of both the government and LTTE, and their respective supporters, is that the war will be the foundation for a future solution. While the government seeks a total military victory, the LTTE resists being defeated. It is aiming for a situation of hurting stalemate as occurred in the period 1999-2001 which paved the way for the ceasefire of 2002. The underlying belief of both sides is that the ground situation, rather than justice and fairness, will determine the political outcome.

The values of democracy necessarily take a back seat in the face of this logic of war. In the LTTE controlled areas there is no democracy at all and in the government controlled areas a National Security State has come to the fore. This accounts for the frequent road closures, restrictions on parking, night time search operations of homes and unknown groups who supposedly operate with impunity in white vans. Accompanying these violations of the rule of law and democracy are regular reports from the government indicating that final victory is imminent. In these circumstances those who publicly challenge or criticize the logic of war and propose an alternative course of action, are castigated as traitors.

One of those who have taken a public stand on the issue of war and human rights violations has been the veteran social activist, Fr Tissa Balasuriya. A statement drafted by him has called for a southern consensus between the government and opposition, specially by the Government and the Opposition for a constitutionally guaranteed sharing of power within a United Sri Lanka, to be accompanied by a ceasefire monitored by international observers, with provision for the LTTE and the other Tamil and Muslim political parties also to share democratically in the administration of the North and East, and for the All Party Representatives Conference to include the TNA and be a body to work out the modalities of the ceasefire, and the constitutional reforms.

An initial draft of this statement met with considerable support from Tamils, including expatriates. At the same time the statement was strongly condemned by many Sinhalese, especially by those living abroad, who saw it as a conspiracy to keep the LTTE from being militarily defeated. When a subsequent draft of the statement included a reference to a commitment to lay down arms by the LTTE, the Tamil support dropped. The response to Fr Balasuriya’s statement shows how on both sides of the ethnic divide the belief in the armed struggle continues to retain its hold. But this is the path to endless war and suffering, which Sri Lanka needs to get off if it is to prosper. A united country, a federal based political solution implemented by the government and the laying down of arms by the LTTE are the three basic parameters for lasting peace.
- Sri Lanka Guardian