What follows in an unofficial transcript of former Ambassador and Head of the Peace Secretariat Bernard Goonetilleke’s prepared remarks to Sri Lanka’s War Commission. It is taken from a reporters notes and is not intended to be a perfect or complete record of the event.
We have had agreements which did not bear any fruit, leading to the Vaddukoddai Resolution in 1976. We tried administrative arrangements, unfortunately none of these political or administrative efforts had any lasting result.
Then we had a different phase, many rounds of negotiation between the parties. Then in ’85 we had discussions in Thimpu, no result. In ’87 again through Indian mediation, no result. ’90, President Premadasa, ’95, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratnga tried, 2001, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe with Norwegians had another round, 2006 again President Mahinda Rajapaksa with Norwegians. Sufficient attempts were made. An important fact to remember, 1987 forced the death of the Indian Prime Minister, then there was an attempt on Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. We saw at various phases, those that were involved in the peace process facing threats, attempts and death.
Number two, the political situation was not conducive due to a confrontational situation within the administration, between the President and Prime Minister. It appears that by 2005, the LTTE had made up its mind which road it should take, having walked away from negotiations, using the word “temporary suspension”. As Prabhakaran said in his heroes day speech, it was clear that 2006 was to be a decisive year, and not through negotiations.
2001 was the closest to a negotiated settlement. After discussing ’87, 2001 was more closer. I would like to remind members that the process was not exactly started by Ranil Wickremesinghe but by Kumaratunga. If you read the book by Anton Balasingham, he refers to a letter from the Prime Minister of Norway to Prabhakaran in 2002 that spoke of arrangements that would lead to an agreement.
The CFA has been criticized by many for its shortcomings. There were numerous shortcomings. With benefit of hindsight, one could see, but we have to understand the circumstances under which the agreement was signed, as in what happened in 2002, the failure of the military effort, and in July that year, the attack on Katunayake airport which resulted in huge damage and destruction and negative growth for the first time since Independence.
When we look into the process of negotiation that went on, there as a very clear situation that the LTTE side never allowed substantive issues to be discussed. All we were allowed to discuss was existential issues affecting the civilian population in the North and East. There were numerous attempts to bring up this issue by the Sri Lankan delegation. There was a point where discussions virtually brokedown, there was nothing to discuss because the LTTE refused to discuss such substantive matters. The following day there was a piece of paper which came to be known as the Oslo Declaration which agreed to seek a federal solution.
Then immediately, what happened thereafter, Balasingham played his hand beyond the authority given, it seemed he was reprimanded by the LTTE, forcing him to keep away from negotiations for a while. This indicated that the LTTE leadership told the delegation not to discuss the substantive issues in Oslo Declaration.
If that agreement was not agreeable, then what was he [Prabhakaran] speaking of in November 2002 when he hinted that he was ready for an alternative solution? Was he genuine in the speech which Balasingham translated into wods, for which he was faulted by leader? Question is whether this negotiation was planned by the leader of the LTTE, foiling both the government and others.
Another factor to remember, at the time of signing the agreement, militarily the LTTE was in a stronger position that provided them with the opportunity to be, as Norwegian facilitators put it, equal parties at the negotiating table.
I’d like to discuss LTTE strategy as I saw it. We found from day one, violation of the agreement. The first violation was a result of the LTTE prohibiting plying of CTB buses in LTTE areas. I was told in Kilinochci, “We have to do this thing because we need the money to look after the families of martyrs. This was declared a violation by the SLMM but ignored by the LTTE. Other things like procurement of weapons continued. As we sat down we’d hear about shipments intercepted by the Navy.
On April 21st 2003, the LTTE decided to break off negotiations with the government. There was another institution that promised to bring relief to the North and East, a month before breaking negotiations I remembr going to Kilinochchi with nearly 400 projects. The LTTE came with 80 projects. They were negotiation at that time with the World Bank for management of the fund. We were ready to start, buta couple of days later they withdrew. Meaning that although the LTTE said it was temporary, they had decided to walk away. That was very cleary from the ISGA of 2003, in which they asked for concessions that could not be granted.
Following that, we see how the LTTE decided to face elections. The LTTE prevented people from voting. My belief is that the LTTE decided to enter a military phase and knew that would be impossible with Wickremesinge. It would be possible with Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was described by the LTTE as hrdline. The plan appeared to be for a unilateral declaration of independence. Modus was to blockade Trinco. If the plan worked Trinco would be blockaded, Jaffna not supplied and they’d enter Jaffna, making 2006 the decisive year for a separate state.
Ethnic conflict is case of a running sore with no timely intervention. It has an internal and external (India, diaspora) aspect. It is important for us to engage the expatriate community. Even if we have a solution in Sri Lanka, the expat community will continue agitation. LTTE leadership abroad must continue the charade for their own personal again. If there’s a solution those people will lose their position and livelihood. They will lobby against Sri Lanka, make representations to IMF and World Bank, influence politicians, facilitate statements like the elders have done recently.
Even if the situation is controlled here, they will keep the pot boiling. In the past we have seen LTTE groups carry out activities against tourism. When you witness demonstrations by pro LTTE groups, you find very young people being very active. There is a potential for these groups witout much knowledge to be radicaized. That could have repercussions in Sri Lanka.
I think I have shared my views and concerns.