Originally Published 2004-04-19 06:17:28 Published on Apr 19, 2004
The end to ¿Karuna rebellion¿ inside the LTTE, as fast as it commenced in early March also marks the beginning of a new, rather revived pace in the Sri Lanka peace process. Within days of telling the world who was the boss in all the Tamil-speaking areas in the North and the East, the LTTE sat across the table with the Government team, facilitated again by the Norway-led Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM),
Sri Lanka: Taking the Peace Process Forward
The end to 'Karuna rebellion' inside the LTTE, as fast as it commenced in early March also marks the beginning of a new, rather revived pace in the Sri Lanka peace process. Within days of telling the world who was the boss in all the Tamil-speaking areas in the North and the East, the LTTE sat across the table with the Government team, facilitated again by the Norway-led Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM), in what is a symbolic revival. Almost simultaneously, the 20 new members of the Sri Lankan Parliament, representing the pro-LTTE Tamil Nationalist Alliance (TNA) has called for early revival of the peace process proper. President Chandrika was quick to rebutt the charge that the Government was delaying the same.

It was the first major call for the peace process to revive after the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) of Chandrika's Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the 'Sinhala nationalist' Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) came on the top of the heap in the April 2nd parliamentary polls. More so, it was the first such call after the Prabhakaran leadership of the LTTE had snuffed out the 'Karuna rebellion'. If tongues had wagged that the Chandrika Presidency was behind the rebellion, the TNA call only negatives such impression on the LTTE's part.

By staying away from the 'Karuna rebellion', the Sri Lankan Government has assuaged the suspicions of the kind that had all along lingered in the minds of the LTTE. There suspicions had centred more so around the Chandrika Presidency, and the Sri Lankan defence forces, which has had justified reservations on the peace process from day one. Yet, throughout the 'Karuna rebellion', the defence forces kept their cool. The relevance and importance would become clearer when one considers the fact that the nation was going through the political fluidity and administrative tentativeness attaching to any parliamentary polls in any country. In the case of Sri Lanka, the travails of cohabitation between President Chandrika and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had not made things easier, or smoother.
It should be said to the credit of President Chandrika and the armed forces that they did not seek to exploit the situation created by the 'Karuna rebellion' even during the run-up to the polls. It becomes even more relevant considering that the 'pro-LTTE' Ranil had been reduced to a lame duck Prime Minister and Chandrika had become her own Defence Minister, after sacking Ranil's nominee weeks ago. If anything, the armed forces, obviously with the approval of the President, even made public Karuna's suggestion for negotiating a separate ceasefire agreement with him for the Eastern Province - both did nothing of the kind.

Having said all this, it needs to be noted that the 'Karuna rebellion' has also exposed the weak-links in the peace process. While ceasefire violations of the kind alleged to have been committed by the LTTE before the 'Karuna rebellion' may be part of the process anywhere in the world, the subsequent violations leading to the LTTE cadres carrying on weapons inside the ceasefire zone cannot be explained away that easily. True, the authors of, and signatories to, the Ceasefire Agreement did not foresee the development, yet the fact remains that the LTTE cadres from the North were allowed to move into the East with weapons and all. Obviously, the Sea Tigers too have moved in to seal the eastern sea-board, and also encircle the 'Karuna group' from there.

What is palpable is that the LTTE troop-movement was done possibly with the knowledge of the Sri Lankan armed forces and the blessings of the SLMM - the latter, as always. To the extent the Sri Lankan Government has not particularly made a serious issue of the ceasefire violation involved in the LTTE putting down the 'Karuna rebellion' should be welcome. Such a course would have hampered the revival of the peace process. The nation needs peace more than ever, and President Chandrika and her UPFA Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapakse are facing the litmus test of 'LTTE acceptance', which was seen as doubtful even during the run-up to the polls.

As much as this, if not more, the Sri Lankan Government's silence, and the armed forces' non-interference have brought about a quick end to the divisions within the LTTE, thus clearing the air for the revival of the peace talks. A long military engagement between the two LTTE factions would have deviated from the peace process, and could have belittled it, too, without addressing the basic issues that would have continued to be real. The quick end to the 'LTTE rebellion' has served a purpose that way. Combined with the presence of 20 pro-LTTE members of Parliament from the TNA - the largest ever Tamil contingent - this has shown as to who is the boss, if still not the 'sole representative', of the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

It does not end there. If anything, it may begin here, when the peace talks commence all over again. Earlier, the Chandrika Presidency had looked upon the Ceasefire Agreement with suspicion as the latter tended to accept the military and administrative supremacy of the LTTE in the Tamil-speaking areas. The suspicion may have been well-founded, considering the political pattern, as well. After the Rajiv-Jayawardene Accord in 1987 made India fight Colombo's battles with the LTTE in the Tamil areas, the Ceasefire Agreement, involving another UNP Government in Colombo let the Tamils sort out the question of internal-supremacy among themselves. New Delhi would have none of it this time round - though for different reasons.

By looking the other way when the LTTE cadres loyal to the Prabhakaran leadership moved around armed, and targetting the fizzled-out 'Karuna force', and protesting any seriously to the violation of ceasefire on this count, the Chandrika Government may have legitimised not only the violations. It may have simultaneously acknowledged the LTTE supremacy in the North and the East, and thus the 'Tamil politics' of Sri Lanka. As and when the peace talks revive, the Government is going to find it difficult to say that the LTTE is not the 'sole representative' of the Tamils.

It is another matter that the Muslims, represented by the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), have a case of their own. Even without the need for the SLMC support, no Government in Colombo could now ignore the Muslims' claims for a final peace agreement addressing their larger concerns, independent of the LTTE's concerns and professed promises. Whether or not the Muslims would have a seat at the negotiations table, and if so, at or from what stage, all remain to be seen. Sure enough, the Muslims are bound to agitate over the issue as and when the peace talks are revived and a particular stage is reached where their concerns could not be over-looked or sidelined any more.

It would be interesting to watch in these circumstances if the Chandrika-Rajapakse dispensation would want to take the peace talks to the final rounds straightaway, or would like to grant the interim administration status that the LTTE demands. Repeatedly, spokesmen for the LTTE, including the TNA members of Parliament, have clearly hinted that the LTTE's proposals for an 'Interim Self-Governing Authority' (ISGA) was 'negotiable'.

Given the powers that the ISGA proposals have sought, any talks or negotiations on the same would be long drawn-out. It could also become a subject of heart-burns even within the larger Tamil community and also within the LTTE, though for different reasons. If sections of the Tamil community could question, if not openly challenge the 'sole representative' character of the LTTE, within the organisation, there could be dissatisfaction on the necessary amends the Prabhakaran leadership would have to make, to make it acceptable to the Sri Lankan Government and the international community.
Of particular concern for the Governments the world over is the 'third navy' status sought for the Sea Tigers. It would naturally become a point for negotiations, if the ISGA proposals were to be thrashed out at the table. Even if the LTTE leadership has a fall-back option on this count, how much of it would be acceptable to cadre on the high seas could become a question. The question would be even more relevant in the context of the LTTE's shipping businesses, and those running the show at different levels.

Considering such hiccups, and also the fact that the snuffing out of the 'Karuna rebellion' has proved concurrent yet contradictory points on the ground, it may interest the LTTE leadership to go in for the final negotiations. For one thing, the LTTE continues to hold the ground, and continues to run the de facto administrative and political set-up in Tamil areas. The snuffing out of the 'Karuna rebellion' has given the LTTE a God-sent opportunity to re-assert its supremacy over the Tamil areas, militarily and socially. The near-simultaneous election of all TNA nominees from the Tamil areas to Parliament has similarly re-established the LTTE's political and electoral supremacy, as well.

Yet, the 'Karuna rebellion' is also a crude and short-lived reminder of the problems facing the monolith organisation. Earlier too, the LTTE has faced 'rebellions' of the kind, real or imaginary. It may have been fortutious for the Prabhakaran leadership to be able to similarly snuff out all opposition, both from within the organisation and outside, in the past. There is still a discernible pattern. If in the earlier stages, the Prabhakaran leadership went after perceived and prospective opponents and challengers to the 'Tamil throne', and had them physically eliminated, subsequent killings, including that of Mahataiyah, was staged within the organisation. Reports suggest that Mahathaiyah may have been taken by surprise, and eliminated in cold-blood. Barring the early days, no Tamil leader was foolish enough to seriously criticise Prabhakaran or the LTTE in public. Yet, they were not spared. Anathasankari now may be an exception, if at all.

This is thus the first time that a critic of the LTTE leadership had gone to town with his grouses. It does not end there. It was also the first time that the LTTE leadership has been 'surprised' thus from within or outside. Even in the battles against the Sri Lankan armed forces that it had lost, the LTTE could not be said to have been 'surprised' thus. It might have been out-numbered, or out-smarted in battlefield techniques or firepower, or both. What more, Karuna went to the people, and also raised issues that are for real. He may have been snuffed out, but the issues that he raised might linger, and could find other voices to raise, in time.

Worse still for the LTTE, this is possibly the first time that it had not been able to lay hand on a 'traitor' like Karuna - a repeat of the earlier weakness that was indeed the facilitator for the 'surprise' rebellion in the first place. Even granting idle speculation that Karuna was acting for other forces, it would only mean that the LTTE monolith was capable of being penetrated - if not at will, as yet. To put it mildly, the unavoidable chinks in the LTTE armour, like that of any other, has begun showing. It is a process that could not be avoided or eliminated after a time, and no nation or organisation has been from it.

Simultaneously, the Chandrika Presidency is under greater pressure. Unlike Prime Minister Ranil, who had presumed that he had a full term to address the ethnic issue when he assumed power, the Chandrika-Rajapakse duo are racing against a two-year deadline, running up the presidential polls of 2006. Chandrika is also said to be keen on getting the Constitution amended, to facilitate her return as Prime Minister, after completing the mandatory upper-limit of two terms as President. It would require a two-thirds majority in Parliament, followed by a referendum. Indications are that the Chandrika dispensation would go to Parliament and the people with a single constitutional package, where the 'peace solution' with the LTTE would over-shadow controversial proposals targetting the Executive Presidency, and thus her personal concerns.

While there may be general agreement for ending the 'all-powerful' Executive Presidency, whether her allies and opponents would want to replace the existing 'proportional representation' with the 'first-past-the-post' system, as in India, is anybody's guess. The current debate on the twin-issues seems to have concluded that 'proportional representation' is as much to blame as the Executive Presidency for the problems of cohabitation that Chandrika and Ranil faced together in office. It is a wrong surmise.

A President, elected by Parliament and with limited or near-no powers, as in India, could be the answer, as the ruling combine would still have a say in his or her choice. Even such a course could not escape the problems of cohabitation, as again an occasional Indian experience has proved. But to confuse it all as a product of 'proportional representation' is another thing altogether. It is not just that smaller parties would shy away from giving up their claims to relatively high number of parliamentary seats - and thus a possible say in government-making.

Given the complexities of the socio-economic and politico-electoral problems facing the nation and its population, proportional representation at the level of Parliament, and panchayati-raj-like institutions at the lower levels could address the varying political aspirations of the emerging ranks of ethnic groups, whether 'majority' or 'minority'. Thus, a combination of 'devolution' as sought by the LTTE, and 'decentralisation' as suggested by the JVP, could be the answer. It would also address the immediate concerns of the two segments of the population that are extreme in their own way, but need to be heard for political reasons - and their views accommodated for social reasons, too.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
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N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.

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