7.1 Laying the ground work for ‘final war’
The widespread belief is that the recent war triggered off spontaneously when the Tigers closed a sluice gate in the Eastern province in May 2006, compelling the government forces to march into the Tiger territory which later developed into a full scale war. But this oversimplified interpretation of events fails to give a satisfactory explanation to the final episode of the Sri Lanka’s armed conflict. The factors that made the war a reality, is deeply intertwined with the conditions that destabilized the peace process with the weakening the CFA. Therefore in order to understand the underlying causes of the recent war, one has to grasp the logic behind the sequence of events that led to unravelling of the CFA, thereby destabilized the negotiation process.
The strength of the CFA depended solely on the progress that was achieved in the process of bringing normalcy and establishing demilitarized environment in the war torn north-east provinces of Sri Lanka, which were seen as a preconditions for the creation of a conducive atmosphere for the holding of dialogue between the two parties. Therefore, right from the beginning of the peace process, both parties accepted the fact that the “improving the living conditions of the war affected people” should be prioritized in order to find a lasting negotiated settlement to the conflict. This very fact was explained in clear terms in the preamble of the CFA: “The GOSL and the LTTE recognise the importance of bringing an end to the hostilities and improving the living conditions for all inhabitants affected by the conflict.
“Bringing an end to the hostilities is also seen by the parties as a means of establishing a positive atmosphere in which further steps towards negotiations on a lasting solution can be taken” (Agreement on a ceasefire between the Government of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – Preamble). It further mentions that “the parties have agreed to.... refrain from conduct that could undermine the good intentions or violate the spirit of this agreement and implement confidence-building measures...”
While stressing the importance of implementation of confidence building measures, under the “Article 2: Measures to Restore Normalcy”, both parties agreed to undertake such “confidence building measures with the aim of restoring normalcy”, to achieve a lasting peace. The importance of establishing provisional mechanisms (such as joint sub committees, an authority for interim administration or the post tsunami joint mechanism) should be viewed within the context of these agreed notions.
All such mechanisms ended in failure completely due to the structural incapability of the existing state to accommodate any such provisional set up and its inability or reluctance to build a common consensus within the majority community to support such initiatives. Therefore, by November 2005, though the CFA remained intact, there was no clear substantial progress achieved through the negotiating process that could have influenced the presidential election campaign. The fragility of the peace process was evidently visible.
As a consequence of the success achieved by anti-peace elements with the fullest backing of certain international powers in blocking every positive move towards achieving a permanent settlement, the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) was restructured by bringing the most right wing forces that had remained in the margins of power, into the main stream politics of Sri Lanka. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who maintained a dubious silence over P-TOMS agreement, was understandably chosen as the common candidate to voice the hard-line position of these forces. In his election manifesto, which was drafted under the influence of these forces, there was no declaration of any substantial policy which explains how to restart the stalled peace talks or how to address the disputed issues which caused the dead lock. Instead, the UPFA manifesto clearly signalled that they are intended to ‘amend’ the “Cease Fire Agreement entered into by the United National Front Government in much haste and in a short sighted manner...compromising national security.” (Victory for Sri Lanka: Mahinda Chintana – Page 31). The manifesto further stressed that Rajapaksa’s, “primary aim would be to arrive at peaceful political settlement where the power of each and every citizen is strengthened to the maximum, without being trapped within concepts such as traditional homelands and right to self determination” (Victory for Sri Lanka: Mahinda Chintana – Page 32). Since the very concepts of traditional homelands and right to self determination of the Tamil people had occupied the centre of Tamil national politics for over three decades, were rejected outright, the foundation were made for future hostilities. By expressing his will to unilaterally “amend” a bilateral agreement, the UPFA candidate clearly undermined the fundamental premises upon which CFA was based, namely accepting the parity of status and the importance of building mutual confidence between the two parties.
On one hand, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s grand strategy to win the upcoming presidential elections heavily depended on his ability to bring the JVP and the JHU into the fold of UPFA. But on the other hand, it was quite clear that such an alliance would definitely become a stumbling block that would restrain any further progress in the peace process. But Rajapaksa went ahead with his plan and signed a 13 point Memorandum of Understanding with the nationalist JVP on 8th September and on 13th he struck another 12 point deal with the JHU. Reporting on the developments, Indian daily “The Hindu” wrote on the 09th of September, “The key conditions set by the JVP and accepted by Mr. Rajapakse include a solution to the island's separatist conflict which would preserve the unitary state, abolition of the executive presidency, reworking the 2002 ceasefire agreement and the need to reconsider the role of the facilitators, Norway.... The JVP leader, Somawanse Amarasinghe, said the agreement was reached to defeat the "common enemy" and overcome the "threats to national interest." It was also "time for all forces to come together to defeat terrorism,’ he said.” (http://www.hindu. com / 2005/09/09/stories/2005090904721400.htm)
The impending and inevitable threat was clear. The faint hopes of a negotiated settlement that still remained slowly started to wither away. Expressing their deep dismay, Tigers “described the political alliances in Sri Lanka as having a "nullifying" effect on the steps taken during the last three years.” Speaking to “The Hindu” the Tiger political wing leader said, “The overwhelming desire one sees in the political landscape in the south seems to be the continuation of the unitary state and throw to winds any understanding on humanitarian delivery for tsunami victims through a well-structured mechanism....this nullifies the efforts taken during the last three-and-a-half years to build confidence.” (http://www.hindu.com/ 2005/09/09/stories/2005090904681400.htm)
The election became an open competition between the two main candidates determined to convince the southern voters about their capability to encircle and destroy the Tamil resistance, arousing the anti-CFA sentiments among Sinhala masses. While the UPFA candidate assured that the CFA would be “amended” and the “ceasefire monitoring mechanism would be reviewed” (Victory for Sri Lanka: Mahinda Chintana – Page 35), a week before the elections the UNF claimed credit for weakening the Tamil struggle by “splitting the Tamil movement through the peace process” (an interview with UNF minister Milinda Moragoda – Daily Mirror / 08.11.2005).
Reflecting on these electoral power plays that governs the collective thinking of the Sinhala polity, Sinhala intellectual Prof.Uyangoda writes: “Excessive politicisation of the peace process has been a negative experience in Sri Lanka’s recent peacemaking efforts. The politicisation has occurred on partisan electoral considerations. The two main political parties, instead of forging a coalition for peace, have engaged in an exercise in “ethnic outbidding”. When the party in power initiated the peace process with LTTE, the party outside the power mobilized the nationalist opposition to it.” (Prof.Jayadeva Uyangoda -Transition from Civil War to Peace: A policy brief / Social Scientists Association, Colombo – Page 05)
Fuelled by the competing claims made by two main pre-dominantly Sinhala political coaltions over their ability to outmanoeuvre the Tamil national movement, the Tamils were pushed further away from the electoral process. Ethnic polarization was clearly reflected throughout the election campaign exposing that the three and half years of ceasefire had not been able to end the alienation of Tamil people from the main stream politics of Sri Lanka. These bitter sentiments were vividly illustrated in a report compiled by a foreign journalist who travelled the Northern parts of the island during the height of the election campaign which was published two days before the elections: “Marutani Kesevarajah is 63 and has lived in Killinochchi all her life....She says she does not see a reason to vote. "Neither candidate will give us what we need. Eventually both will just bring war."...Just across the street, nineteen-year-old P. Selvan proclaims that he does not care one way or another about the Nov. 17 election...."These elections are not for the Tamils," he says. "They do not care about us in the North. No matter what happens we will not get what we need to prosper and be free...both [candidates] will probably bring war. One might bring it sooner, but it will come. We have lost our hope for peace."
“In Jaffna, a northern city that houses Sri Lankan troops, soldiers walk the street...Their presence has some residents on edge and some are too fearful to speak on record. They don’t see the election as bringing real peace and they don’t plan to vote. Just outside of town, in a refugee camp for persons displaced during the war, a group of adults has crowded into a tiny preschool. This particular village has not been allowed to return to their homes since 1990. For "security reasons," the Sri Lankan military now occupies their land. The residents plan to boycott the election, arguing that ceasefire hasn't permitted them to return home.”
“The polls open shortly, but many Tamils in the north are convinced that the candidates don't understand their real security and economic concerns. They will be staying away. Open warfare has ceased, but in some communities people say peace feels more like occupation than freedom.” (http://www.asiamedia.ucla.edu/article.asp?parentid=33699)
Under the pretext of “democratic elections”, the stage was set for renewed hostilities. The war had been virtually declared on the southern election platforms by opposing candidates who refused to respect the elementary democratic principles of equality and dignity, on which the negotiations were based upon. A victorious alliance consisted of extreme Sinhala nationalists groups that actively and vehemently opposed a negotiated settlement right from the beginning of the peace process including the CFA, setting up of sub committees, the ISGA and the P-TOMS could not assure anything other than a renewed military confrontation. What needed was an “event” to trigger off the conflict.