On the 22nd of February 2002, the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) signed a permanent Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), formalizing the unilateral truce declared by the Tigers. The Norwegian peace envoys who facilitated the signing of the agreement were backed by the Co-chairs of the donor countries who were overseeing the Sri Lankan peace process, namely the EU, USA, Japan and Norway. The overall objective was to “find a negotiated solution to the ongoing conflict in Sri Lanka.” The CFA was intended to be “a means of establishing a positive atmosphere upon which further steps towards negotiations on a lasting solution can be taken.” A separate body, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), was created to monitor ceasefire violations. Its members were drawn primarily from Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland. The war-weary people on the Island, both Tamils, as well as Sinhalese, were supportive of the CFA, as was the Sri Lanka business community and their external partners.
There were certain initial benefits following the signing of the CFA. The ceasefire paved the way for six rounds of direct peace talks between the GoSL and the LTTE. Mutual confidence was rebuilt on the basis of the CFA and new political and social spaces were opened up allowing all communities to mutually interact with each other and to initiate a long delayed inter- ethnic dialogue. The ceasefire also facilitated the opening of the A-9 highway – the only land route linking the Jaffna peninsula with the rest of the Island – re-linking the North and the South.
Despite the historical significance of the ceasefire, its benefits were short lived as the CFA gradually fell apart. Even though the six rounds of talks achieved considerable success, the overall significance soon started to fade away. Limited hostilities recommenced in late 2005, and the conflict escalated after July 2006. Through massive military offensives, the GoSL drove the LTTE out of the entire Eastern Province and extended operations to the north of the country.
By 2007, five years after the CFA was signed, the situation was described as “undeclared war” characterized by high casualties, humanitarian strife and large- scale displacement. Following the completion of the eastern offensives, the GoSL announced that its troops would be moved to the northern areas, in order to regain the “guerrilla- administered territory”. On the 2nd of January 2008, the GoSL officially revealed its withdrawal from the CFA. Both parties accused each other of violating the CFA and thus weakening the mutual confidence that had been achieved.
The failure of the CFA has been attributed to a number of causes. While the GoSL accused the LTTE of repeatedly violating the ceasefire, the LTTE accused the state and its armed troops of undermining confidence- building measures and of not delivering peace dividends to Tamil people living in war-affected areas. In addition, both parties traded accusations regarding targeted assassinations of high profile individuals belonging to the opposing party. Furthermore, the delayed response of the GoSL in beginning reconstruction and rehabilitation work in the war-ravaged areas, and in failing to ensure the social and economic well- being of the people, contributed significantly to eroding mutual confidence. Especially after the Indian Ocean Tsunami, Tamils felt neglected, marginalized and discriminated against, increasing their distrust. Moreover, hard-line Sinhalese nationalists put all their efforts into blocking any positive development which would guarantee the rights of the Tamil people and improve their living conditions. They had opposed the CFA since its inception, and used every possible means to undermine and weaken it.
It has also been pointed out that international actors did not intervene in a productive and even-handed manner to strengthen the CFA and to uphold the achievements already realized. In particular, the USA, UK and others have been accused of undermining the LTTE and its commitment to peace by repeatedly calling for a complete renunciation of violence “in word and deed”. The European Union’s decision to ban the LTTE even before the war started has also been seen as a grave error that destroyed the parity of status necessary for the continuation of the peace process.
Furthermore, it has been asserted that the “Washington episode” led the LTTE to withdraw from direct talks after they were excluded from talks in Washington. In addition, the USA has been accused of being instrumental in undermining the Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure (P-TOMS), which was put in place as a unified mechanism to carry out joint rehabilitation and relief work in the Tsunami-affected Tamil areas, by insisting that it would not direct money to any joint fund other than the Government treasury. A further setback came in 2006, when the European Union added the LTTE to its list of terrorist organizations, while even the GoSL remained reluctant to ban the Tigers in Sri Lanka.
Throughout the six years that the CFA was in place, the SLMM, which was an autonomous and impartial body established to monitor the truce, accused both parties of violating the ceasefire agreement. Until its operation ceased in January 2008, following the GoSL’s unilateral abrogation of the CFA, the SLMM conducted verification and monitoring operations in the conflict areas. It had two main objectives: to assist the GoSL and the LTTE in implementing the CFA properly, and to inquire into and report on violations of the CFA. In the period that followed the signing of the CFA, the SLMM observed a “considerable and notable reduction of violence”.
In spite of minor setbacks, the initial period after the CFA marked a clear step forward with regard to decreasing acts of hostilities and achieving important breakthroughs in the direct talks. However, this success depended on the equal status of the two parties, and once this was breached, mainly as a result of the Washington episode, the CFA started to lose effectiveness. As a result, new hostilities emerged, which eventually evolved into a full scale war, and pushed Sri Lanka back into a becoming a killing-field once again.