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"Regaining Sri Lanka" via Federalism

V. Thirunavukkarasu,
Former Member, Colombo Municipal Councul
(New Left Front)

The United National Front (UNF) Govt's "Regaining Sri Lanka " project is predicated on the twin goals of peace and economic development which are regarded as interdependent and inextricably intertwined. During the third round of negotiations in Oslo from Decembeer 2 to 5 , the two sides (Govt-LTTE) have agreed to explore a solution based on internal self-determinatuion in the areas of historical habitation of the Tamilspeaking peoples,on a federal model within a united Sri Lanka, There is a school of thought which contends that the principle internal self-determination is conceptually flawed, as opposed to the standard principle of the right of self determination which, one cannot dichotomize, allows that right to be exercised even to secede. If the counter -argument is that what matters is not the form but the substance, then that is a different kettle of fish.

Deplorable tradition

It has been the deplorable tradition in Sri Lanka for the main Opposition party, or Govt-in-waiting, to thwart whatever proposal has had been brought up by the incumbent Govt. to resolve the Tamil National question. It is common knowledge that the People's Alliance (PA), now in Oppoisition, has taken its turn to upset the ongoing peace process. Let us look at the PA media statement issued just before the November 25 Oslo 'Donor' parley. Stridently articulating it, former Foreign Minister and Presidential Advisor on International Affairs, Laksman Kadirgamar, accused the Norwegian facilitators of being partial and of exceeding their mandate. Also, the statement slammed the western powers, the US and the UK in particular for "rewarding LTTE terrorism" with their blesings to the Oslo parley. This drew a response from the US Ambassador Ashley Wills, who characterised the PA statement as a "bit harsh", while he also took it upon himself to urge the LTTE to renounce terrorism and violence and make it clear that it would no longer press for a separate State but accept S ri Lanka Governent's sovereignty fully including Island-wide application of the Constitution and the law enforcement system.

US Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage rammed it all down at the Oslo parley, while he also specifically added that the LTTE should make it clear to the people of Sri Lanka and the international community that it has abandoned armed struggle for a separate State. He stressed however that that the US was greatly encouraged that the LTTE has made a commitment to a political solution through peaceful means

Nevertheless it would be a travesty of justice if the US administration and the intrnational community were to gloss over the historical fact that the Tamils were forced to take up arms given (a) the futility of 3 decades of peaceful campaigns for a political settlement within a united Sri Lanka and (b) the reality that their very survival was imperilled by State terrorism even in the Northeast since the l970s. None other than President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga dwelt on this aspect, particularly when she presented a new draft Constitution in Parliament in August 2000.

Crude Irony

It is then a crude irony that President Chandrika who initiated the peace negotiations with the LTTE in 1995, and then invoked the Norwegian facilitation now seeks to undermine the ongoing peace process while at times expressing ostensible support. It is singularly unfortunate that the President, ably assisted by her confidante, Kadirgamar, egregiously failed to resume their own peace initiative. They refused to sieze the best opportunity of the ceasefire unilaterally declared by the LTTE in December 2000. And even by April 2001, Kakirgamar kept tinkering with the MoU that the LTTE had sought , and eventually dropped it altogether. The President was adamant that there would be no ceasefire or deproscription of the LTTE but that talks could be conducted while the war was on. Needless to say that the price the country paid for such myopic bellicosity has been enormous and devastating in every sense.

Present PA strongman, Anura Bandaranaike, led a delegation to Delhi a few days ago to "convince" Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee, Foreign Minister Yaswant Sinha et al that the Norwegian facilitated peace negotiations with the LTTE would be detrimental to the regional or India'sown interests; whereas,. it is well known that the Indian Govt. supports a political settlement without violating Sri Lanka's sovereignty and territorial integrity. And that is precisely what the LTTE has now settled for.

Breakthrough Hailed

The US is one of the first sources compliments to the Govt, and the LTTE came from for the breakthrough to address the core isue of a political settlement. Hailed by the Norwegian facilitators as exceedingly successful , the turning point came about largely, if not solely, due to the rare spirit of flexibility and compromise adopted by the LTTE from the outset of the negotiations in Thailand in September. Different federal models are to be analysed in the upcoming rounds, The anti-peace, chauvinist forces could be slowly but surely girding up their loins to campaign against the proposed federal solution as a betrayal of the Sinhala people. In the 1950s and 1960s when the Federal Party leader S J V Chelvanayakam led a campaign for such a solution, it was foolishly misrepresented by Sinhala hardliners in southern Sri Lanka as separatist poison. That is how the Bandaranaike - Chelvanayakam pact(1957) and the Dudley - Chelvanayakam pact(1965) came to be unilaterally abrogated by the then Prime Ministers, Bandaranaike and Dudley Senanayake. J.R.Jayawardena's infamous Kandy march against the B-C pact must also be mentioned.

In this context it shoul be proudly racalled that a former M.P. for Gampaha, S.D.Bandaranaike, now 86, cried halt at Imbulgoda to that March. The maverick has lived long enough to witness the gross disaster that opportunist,racist party politics has plunged this country into. One can only nostalgically reminisce the courage,wisdom and will that the likes of SDB summoned to counter such campagns.

The name of this game is party politics which, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe said in Japan the other day, has ruined Sri Lanka, while answering a question as to why Sri Lanka had lagged so far behind in economic development compared to the phenomenal rise of Japan which was behind Sri Lanka in the 1950s.

Let Sri Lankan Govts. genuinely learn proper lessons from their past mistakes if they really wish to bring peace and prosperity. Sri Lanka, once the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, became a Paradise Lost since the 1950's. "Regaining Sri Lanka" is sought to be achieved, ironically, through the once much maligned federal path. And "Regaining Sri Lanka" should not be to make it the happy hunting ground of rapacious Multinational Companies(MNC's) that would drain the country of its vital assets and resources. And that is the real threat to the country's sovereignty.

V. Thirunavukkarasu,
Former Member, Colombo Municipal Councul
(New Left Front)
143,Kew road
Colombo 2,


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