1.2 Two kinds of peace
The Cease-Fire Agreement (CFA) signed between the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2002 ushered in a period of peace that is quite different to the peace that exists in Sri Lanka at present. In 2002, the people who had decided to live in the Vanni were seen by the mass of the Tamil population in Sri Lanka, and in the Diaspora, as pioneers, in negotiating a just and dignified settlement to the Tamil question in the island. But the military offensive that the people in the Vanni faced, starting January 2008 and ending in May 2009 with the defeat of the LTTE, meant that they had to experience the indescribable trauma of a 17 month long war, the intensity of which can be estimated by the fact that during the last several days tens of thousands of people were killed. Those that survived the ordeal - some 300,000 - were incarcerated in internment camps for Six long months. Now the government says, that they are technically free – but the reality is very different. Apart from anything else they live in the constant fear that any one of them could join the over 11,000 people who are held as suspected LTTE members. They know that there is a fine line between any one of them and what the government considers an LTTE member, as the government knows that they had all, on their own volition, taken an active decision to live in the LTTE administered area of the Vanni.
The ones who reached the government camps before the final days, remember their struggle to stop the tears from forming in their eyes – when they heard of the massacres of their brothers and sisters in the war zone - because if these tears were seen by the camp guards they will be regarded as hard-core LTTE sympathisers. To safeguard your life, so that maybe, you have a chance to safeguard your children, you have to show the Sri Lankan forces that you do not have any ideas of freedom, that you have no sympathy for those who died, that you are happy to be 'liberated' 'from the clutches of the LTTE' by the Sri Lankan soldiers. If you do not, then any day, the 'white van' could come to collect you or your children. From the 'white van' you will fall into a 'black hole' where, in general, no information can come out of. No records, no lawyers, no International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit you – only humiliation, torture and rape. If the fate of these 11,000 people (50 times as many as in Guantanamo Bay) are the threat hanging over the 300,000, then the fate of the 300,000 is the threat that hangs over the rest of the Tamils in the island. The people in the Vanni, from being the symbol for justice and hope of the Tamil people in 2002, have become the symbol of their enslavement and their torment in 2009. That is the kind of peace that exists in the island today.
The 2002 CFA between the GoSL and the LTTE and the internationally backed peace process that came out of it was a different kind of peace. For Four years the cease fire held and the peace process continued. This was unprecedented in the long history of ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. The non-existence of war saved ten of thousand of lives and created the conditions for the dialogue to take place. The Norwegian facilitator, backed by the powerful co-chairs of the Sri Lankan Peace Process, namely the EU, USA and Japan, and the Scandinavian based Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM) which monitored cease fire violations, seemed to provide a solid international basis for the process to succeed. That the international efforts were made in co-oporation with India and without any open opposition from any other power that was concerned with the region boded well for success. Most importantly, the Sinhala and the Tamil masses on the island were weary of the mounting death toll and the economic and social deprivations of the war and were supportive of the cease fire, and right up till the end of the peace process, were optimistic that the war will not start again. The Sri Lankan business community too, and their external partners – who had been thrown into shock at the economic collapse brought in by the war - were very supportive of the peace process. This appeared to all as truly a win-win situation.