SHARMINI PERIES, JOURNALIST, TRNN: On Sunday, April 12, Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa announced a two-day halt on all military assaults against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The announcement came as the country prepared to celebrate the Sinhala and Tamil New Year – on the 13th and 14th of April. In response, the LTTE leader, Prabhakaran has apparently agreed to a rescue mission by a Western country, according to the state-run Sri Lankan Sunday Observer. In the past, LTTE has repeatedly rejected calls to allow civilians to leave the region. They are claiming that the civilians in the conflict zone, do not want to leave because they accompanied the LTTE voluntarily and they are now afraid of government reprisals. Yet according to UN Under-secretary – John Holmes, there are continuing reports that LTTE fighters are shooting at fleeing civilians, limiting fishing -and sabotaging boats that might be used to escape – while forcing people to fight against their will. Human rights organizations have accused both sides of firing at civilians, The government has charged LTTE with using civilians as human shields. The number of civilians caught up in the government marked – 17 square-kilometre – No Fire zone, varies from 50,000 to 100,000. The Sri Lankan military says the remaining LTTE, including its Leader Prabakaran, have taken shelter in the NO Fire Zone and are operating from there. The Sri Lankan Military is looking for an opportunity to wipe out the LTTE. These announcements came on the heal of continued demonstrations in major Western capitals. On Saturday an estimated 100,000 people demonstrated in London calling for a ceasefire.This agreement seems to be at best, no more than a pause in the fighting. The UN and others have called for a more lasting ceasefire. There have been many attempts by outside countries to broker a more lasting agreement, but none have succeeded. Welcome back to The Real News Network. We’re talking about Sri Lanka and its war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. I’m joined by Dr. R. Cheran, who is assistant professor at the University of Windsor in the department of sociology and anthropology. Cheran is the former deputy editor of The Saturday Review, which used to come out of Jaffna in the 1980s, and he’s also a founding member of the Free Media Movement in Sri Lanka. Thank you for joining us.
RUDHRAMOORTHY CHERAN: Thank you again.
PERIES: Cheran, in the last segment we were talking about the international community’s lack of understanding of this conflict, and as a result, what it is proposing is unrealistic and cannot be achieved. So let’s get a better understanding of what this conflict is all about and what the international community can actually do. And in order to do that, we really have to understand what the two sides want?
CHERAN: Well, the international community had two important opportunities to deal with the conflict. The first opportunity was the ceasefire agreement between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the government of Sri Lanka .You know, it was an agreement for permanent ceasefire with an elaborate agreement supported by the international community.
PERIES: Tell us what the international community is for those who might not be following this issue.
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CHERAN: It was mediated by the government of Norway and supported by the US, India, and then what they call Japan, and all the other countries that were interested in seeing the conflict to an end.
PERIES: And this body was appointed by the United Nations?
CHERAN: No, the United Nations never had any kind of direct intervention in the Sri Lankan conflict. It was actually mediated by Norway. But the UN endorsed it, and most of the powerful countries in the world, they endorsed it. So the agreement treated both parties of the conflict as equals—there was parity. And the territory was demarcated as the territory controlled by the LTTE and the territory controlled by the government. Both parties kept on violating the ceasefire agreement, so that was one of the problems. But the other issue is that the agreement provided lots of space to constructively engage with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. So, you know, Norway and all the other countries, they went to their territory and they met with the leaders, and there was some kind of reciprocal arrangement. And for several years the process gave way to some kind of an opening up of a very close totalitarian section of the LTTE. And then, you know, international community had a wonderful opportunity to use the chance to partly, you know, educate the LTTE and also partly get them sort of educated on the nuances of the Sri Lankan conflict. So that kind of constructive engagement did not continue, mainly because at some point the United States decided to host [inaudible] conference in the US, but it failed to invite the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam that was part of the conflict. And, you know, that was followed by the subsequent banning of the LTTE as a terrorist organization by the European Union, and then—you know, and al-Qaeda.
PERIES: As well as the CIA.
CHERAN: As well, yes. So what happened was while there was a ceasefire agreement in place and while those negotiations were going on, and the so-called international community turns around and banned one party of the conflict as illegitimate. So that simply closed the avenues for a constructive engagement with an organization like LTTE. I mean, you also need to understand the nature of the LTTE. It was and is still a very militant organization. Their main focus is military tactics and attacks. So politics perhaps is not clearly an important option for them. You know, politics may play a second flute to the larger objective of military aims. So in order to bring them back to the process of political discourse, this kind of constructive engagement is necessary. The international community, during that period, they could have achieved a lot more, and also when the LTTE was demanded that, "Okay, separate state is impossible, so we cannot simply negotiate on that one. Come up with an alternative solution." So the LTTE came up with a solution called internal self-governing authority, that, you know, instead of—they used the notion of self-determination in a very creative way of saying, "Let’s demand internal autonomy, internal self-determination for the Tamil people in the north and east, as opposed to separation."
PERIES: That would be somewhat like the aboriginal people in Canada.
CHERAN: In Canada. Perhaps that is the best comparison. And that was also drafted by an international group of constitutional experts, you know, mostly from diaspora and also from others. And they put forward what they call ISDA, and the Sri Lankan government flat out rejected it, saying that it is very maximalist. And, secondly, you know, after the tsunami, there was a huge opportunity for both parties to work together at a time of great catastrophe. And then there was this—what they call PTOM, the Post-Tsunami Operational Mechanism [sic] that was mooted, supported by the international community, where the government of Sri Lanka and the Tigers would take part in the reconstruction on an equal basis, and the government of Sri Lanka did not want to implement that one, partly because the right-wing single-most extremely strong organization like JVP which went to the polls, and there was tremendous opposition from the Sri Lankan government side to attain to any kind of deal. So that fell apart.
PERIES: So that evokes a question: is there a role for the international community in this conflict? Can they actually put some teeth into some sort of a peace agreement? And even if they did, would that work?
CHERAN: I think there are a couple of options, you know, they might want to consider. (A) They should first come out of this myopic way of looking at things like LTTE is the issue. So the Tamil issue, it’s larger, that issue. LTTE is only one tiny aspect of it. (B) They should simply demand an immediate ceasefire, and expect both parties to come for talks, and (C) [if] they can facilitate the talks by saying, arguing, okay, so this is not going to go ahead, but we do not have to talk about a separate state for Tamils, but we would rather talk about what are the reasonable ways of addressing the issue. And (4) (D) (sic) I mean, this is a kind of a very realistic and, you know, kind of—it needs to be worked out that they could invite UN to have a referendum in the north and east to ask the Tamil people whether they would like to secede or whether they are willing to accept any other form of self-determination. So that is a simple way of knowing what exactly the Tamil people, they might want. So it won’t be easy, but that is the only way that, you know, international community can somehow [inaudible] constructively in this scenario.
PERIES: Is there any other body, besides the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who can be a part of these negotiations representing the Tamil people?
CHERAN: Well, that is a very question. So there is a Parliamentary group called the Tamil National Alliance. They are sort of pro-LTTE. Even though they are a couple of members, they have their own independent views. But the Tamil nationalism, you know, that has been articulated by the LTTE is so powerful and so articulate. So they have been very successful eliminating the other kinds of opposition in the past. So right now LTTE is the dominant force. And there are a couple of other Tamil groups and organizations that are working with the government. But most importantly, in any kind of negotiations, the Muslims of Sri needs to be represented; otherwise, this conflict cannot be addressed in a very holistic manner. So, realistically speaking, it is the LTTE that has been fighting, consistently fighting, for this separate state. So you need to talk to your enemy, right? So you don’t have to talk to your friends, because your friends are going to be part of it, right? So, realistically speaking, so any negotiations have to be had with the LTTE.
PERIES: So, Cheran, in this segment we talked about what the role of the international community could be, what are the elements that need to be taken into consideration in facilitating another peace agreement in Sri Lanka. In the next segment, let’s talk about what you have introduced here. Please join us again for the fourth part of our interview with Dr. R. Cheran.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.