We are watching the political developments in the south keenly and patiently and hope that the state of confusion in Colombo will soon come to an end, enabling the peace process to move forward.
- The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (after meeting Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen on November 13).
THE chief of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), V. Prabakaran, is a busy man these days. As in war, so in peace, he emerges when he has a point to make. On November 13, when the Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister was on a visit to Sri Lanka, Prabakaran met him for close to two hours in rebel-held Kilinochchi. And at the end of the closed-door meeting, the LTTE was all but making the point "we told you so".
The southern political stalemate, the LTTE chief told the Norwegian facilitator, had "undermined the trust of the Tamil people" in the peace process and he therefore sought "guarantees" from the Norwegian facilitators that the Sri Lankan government "will continue with its commitment to the ceasefire agreement".
In the LTTE's first official reaction to the political stalemate, Prabakaran also reportedly told the team of visiting Norwegian facilitators, which included Special Envoy Erik Solheim and Ambassador to Sri Lanka Hans Brattskar, that the rebel group would remain "committed to the peace process and the ceasefire agreement".
According to informed sources in northern Sri Lanka, Prabakaran reportedly assured the Norwegian facilitators that the rebels "would not go back to war, but would decide suitably if a war was thrust" on them. "The Tamil people," he reportedly said, "had built hopes" on the peace process and their confidence had "eroded" following the southern political developments.
The LTTE chief "told the Norwegian delegation that unity regarding the peace process should emerge among the leaders of the south, that the LTTE has to be clear as to whom they can continue the peace talks and that the crisis and confusion in the south has undermined the trust the Tamil people had in the peace process," a report in the Internet portal TamilNet quoted the LTTE political wing leader S.P. Tamilchelvan as saying.
Helgesen told journalists in Kilinochchi that he conveyed to the LTTE, assurances given by President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe that the peace process would not be affected by the political standoff. Helgesen described the meeting as "good" and "constructive".
Tamilchelvan reportedly told journalists that the southern political differences were "a historical fact, whenever a solution to the Tamils was being worked out" and that the LTTE would watch the situation closely. He declined to comment on the southern political crisis or a snap general elections, but reportedly said that the LTTE "leadership would decide at a later stage, depending on the situation".
On the southern stalemate, the LTTE officially said that it "will remain committed to peace. The ceasefire agreement being the bedrock of the political negotiations should be maintained in full. The Tamil nation has historical experience of the various obstacles that have appeared in past negotiations and therefore is highly disappointed that this time round, especially with a third party facilitation, the power struggle in Colombo has again brought about an undesirable situation."
While this has been the stated position, the LTTE had also given instructions to its cadres in government-held areas to move back to rebel territory. Political analysts feel that the Tigers would let the situation come to a boil in the south, so that they could make a point to the international community.
The Tigers have also not formally reacted to emerging scenarios - such as the President holding the Defence portfolio while asking the Prime Minister to continue with the peace process. The Wickremesinghe administration is insisting that it will not do so unless it keeps the sensitive Defence portfolio and has asked the President to take responsibility for the peace process if she wants to retain Defence.
According to present indications, the LTTE could come up as a reluctant partner to a parley with the President. One strand of opinion is that the LTTE's ceasefire agreement was with the Wickremesinghe administration and so will be the peace talks. Yet, if talking to a divided southern polity will help them score another political point, the Tigers are not likely to lose that opportunity.