Co-Chairs to save CFA from Washington

The Co-Chairs, The Nation reliably learns, is to bring pressure on the Government to open the A9 road

The closure, according to the Government, was necessitated due to the massive artillery and mortar attack launched by the LTTE

By Wilson Gnanadass
The entire nation awaits the outcome of the Co-Chairs’ deliberations scheduled for Tuesday, November 21, in Washington.
Tuesday’s meeting in Washington is expected to be a crucial one in the backdrop of the escalating violence between the Sri Lanka troops and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
It is too premature to guess what is in store for Sri Lanka by the Co-Chairs but what could be expected is pressure from the Co-Chairs on the Government and the LTTE to recommence direct talks.
However, serious questions are raised whether any decision arrived at by the Co-Chairs; the United States, the European Union, Japan and Norway, would have any impact on either the Government of Sri Lanka or the LTTE. In other words, one wonders whether both the Government and the LTTE would take the decisions of the Co-Chairs seriously.
On September 12 this year, the Co-Chairs that met in Brussels demanded that both sides resume negotiations.
The Co-Chairs, while welcoming the expression of willingness of the Government and the LTTE to come to talks unconditionally, said that the parties should cease all violence immediately.
The Co-Chairs in its statement said they were deeply alarmed by the recent deliberate violations of the Ceasefire Agreement by the Parties adding that these have escalated violence and resulted in massive and widespread human suffering, including the abuse of human rights, the displacement of innocent citizens, a humanitarian crisis and an exodus of refugees to India.
The Co-Chairs also pointed out that the political challenges of the North and East cannot be resolved through war.
The statement further said that the LTTE must abide by all agreements and renounce terrorism and violence and show that it is willing to make the compromises needed for a political solution within an united Sri Lanka. It was also said that the Government must ensure its military abides by the Ceasefire Agreement and implements the pledges from the Geneva meeting in February 2006.
The statement also said; “Both parties must stop further violations of fundamental principles of Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. The Co-Chairs are particularly concerned that even major cases of human rights abuses are not successfully investigated or prosecuted. As in any modern state, the culture of impunity must stop. The Co-Chairs welcome the call of the President for international assistance on the human rights issue, and offer to send a mission of high-level experts to review the current situation and suggest further actions before the end of October.
“Failure to cease hostilities, pursue a political solution, respect Human Rights and protect Humanitarian Space could lead the international community to diminish its support.”
However until now, the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE have engaged in military ground operations and neither has responded adequately to the Co-Chairs’ call and taken the necessary steps to reverse the deteriorating situation as recommended by the Co-Chairs.
Outcome of Tuesday’s meeting
Whether or not the decisions the Co-Chairs make are adhered to by both the government and the LTTE, the Co-Chairs this time are expected to lay down some hard conditions especially on the Government given the present volatile situation.
The Nation reliably learns that the following matters are likely to be given prominence during the Co-Chairs’ deliberations this week in Washington:
1. Calling on both parties to immediately resume direct talks.
2. Calling on both parties to strictly honour the provisions of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA).
3. Calling on the Government to open the A9 road forthwith.
4. Welcoming the MOU signed by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and UNP and adding that these two parties should go ahead despite obstacles to achieve the target they intended to do so at the time of signing the agreement.
5. Condemning the decision by the Government to de-merge the Northern and Eastern provinces and insisting that the merger is the only panacea to the North-East crisis.
6. Placing emphasis on the role of India in solving the North-East crisis. The Co-Chairs are also likely to emphasise on the need by the Sri Lankan Government to solve the crisis based on the Indian model of federalism.
Of the above mentioned topics, the temporary closure of the A9 highway, entry/exit checkpoint at Muhamalai situated at the isthmus of the Jaffna peninsula on August 11, 2006, by the Government is expected to be a hot topic during the deliberations.
The A9 is the sole road to Jaffna on which supplies to the 600,000 residents must travel. The road has been closed since August. This has resulted in tens and thousands of Tamil civilians including children starving and facing near death.
The Co-Chairs, The Nation reliably learns, is to bring pressure on the Government to open the A9 road.
The closure, according to the Government, was necessitated due to the massive artillery and mortar attack launched by the LTTE on the Government forces on the day the LTTE destroyed the entire infrastructure built by the Government at Muhamalai to facilitate the movement of people and goods.
The LTTE has continued with almost daily attacks since then causing death and injury. The Government is therefore, unable to open the checkpoint until the area is safe for the movement of civilians and supplies and until it can be assured that national security will not be compromised.
The Government is determined not to open the A9 road. The LTTE on the other hand, has already rejected the alternative routes suggested by the Government.
However, the Co-Chairs The Nation learns, is not likely to justify the closure of the A9 road and therefore, is to mount pressure on President Mahinda Rajapaksa to open the A9 without any further delay.
The Co-Chairs are also concerned regarding the deteriorating law and order situation in the country and especially the humanitarian crisis in the North.
The United States is expected to take this issue separately with the Government of Sri Lanka The Nation learns.
The EU and Norway are expected to threaten the Sri Lankan Government by freezing foreign aid if the Government fails to open the A9 road and take meaningful steps to stop all air attacks on civilian populated areas in the North and East.
However, the US and Japan it is learnt, will give the assurance to the Sri Lankan Government that they would continue to provide aid to Sri Lanka.
Government’s reaction
The Government is unlikely to get upset over the decisions by the Co-Chairs.
According to Defence Spokesman and Cabinet Minister, Keheliya Rambukkwella, the Government is unable to open the checkpoint until the area is safe for the movement of civilians and supplies and until it can be assured that national security will not be compromised.
His contention is that if the Co-Chairs insist on the opening of the A9 road, then the Co-Chairs must give the Government the assurance that the LTTE will not carry out attacks on Government troops, tax the civilians, recruit child soldiers and the forced military training of these young people in the Wanni.
Can the Co-Chairs give this assurance to the Government of Sri Lanka is a question that should be answered by the Co-Chairs themselves.
The Government is also suspicious of the LTTE’s demand to open the A9 road while rejecting all other alternative routes. The closure of the checkpoint has considerably reduced the Rs 20 to 30 million daily income for the LTTE gained through the imposition of illegal levies through out the A9 from Omanthai to Muhamalai.
It is the Government’s desire that if the LTTE is prevented from collecting taxes from the people, the movement could easily be defeated.
However, if this was going to starve nearly 600,000 people, then the question is whether the Co-Chairs will remain silent.
The Co-Chairs are also going to hold more discussions with India and are going to insist that Sri Lanka honour the Indian model.
However, in an interesting comment to an Indian newspaper, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, two weeks ago, said that India need not play a direct role in the peace process in his country.
In an interview to the Chennai-based Daily Thanthi, Rajapaksa said that it would be enough if India carried on a global campaign against the collection of funds and arms by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Again one wonders whether Co-Chairs’ voice would be heard even if they at the Tuesday’s meeting, planned to insist Rajapaksa to allow India to play a bigger role in the Sri Lankan peace process.
Tuesday’s meeting in Washington and the decisions taken by them would mean nothing if the Government and the LTTE fail to honour and adhere to these recommendations.
On the other hand, the Co-Chairs too must realise that if recommendations made to both the Government and the LTTE were not going to produce results, there must be other ways of convincing them to halt hostilities and come for direct talks.
If the Co-Chairs are not in a position to systematically find ways and means of convincing these two parties, then why meet and deliberate?