Stepping stone to a separate state

Print edition : November 21, 2003

The LTTE proposals are intended to pave the way for the immediate establishment of a de facto Tamil Eelam.

THE long awaited counter proposals of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are finally out. The six-page document represents the first ever proposals submitted by the Tigers for an interim political arrangement within a united Sri Lanka and, as such, deserve careful analysis by Sri Lanka watchers. It may be recalled that in the third session of the peace talks held in Oslo in December 2002 the two parties agreed "to explore a solution founded on the principle of internal self-determination in areas of historical habitation of the Tamil speaking peoples, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka". As a prelude to the final settlement, it was agreed to put in place an interim administrative mechanism in the Northeast. The government's proposals, announced a few weeks ago, were formulated within the framework of the existing Constitution; federal subjects such as police and security, land and revenue were naturally excluded from the jurisdiction of the proposed interim administration in the Northeast.

Since the Tigers were virtually administering a de facto Tamil Eelam in large parts of the Northeast, it was apparent that Prabakaran would not be bound by constitutional niceties. What is more, he would not part with any powers that he already enjoyed. The Pongu Tamil celebrations in Vavuniya at the end of September gave a clue to what the Tigers had in mind. The declaration adopted at the end of the conference emphasised that interim administration should include powers dealing with land, finance, police and judicial services. The Tigers would not only not part with any existing powers, they considered the interim administration as a device to extend their tight control over the whole of the Northeast. In the preamble to the proposals, the Tigers have made it clear that the Tamils did not participate in the making of the 1972 and 1978 Constitutions and, therefore, were not bound by division of powers enshrined in the Constitution. A solution, therefore, has to be found outside the Constitution.

The term federal or even confederal does not find any mention in the LTTE proposals. And, as has been pointed out by analysts, the document does not envisage any organic link with the Sri Lankan state. A careful reading makes it clear that the immediate objective is the establishment of a de facto Tamil Eelam in the whole of the Northeast. The highlights of the proposals are:

Until a final negotiated settlement is arrived, an Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) will be established to administer the eight districts of the Northeast. The members of the ISGA will be appointed by the LTTE, the Government of Sri Lanka, and the Muslim minority. The Tigers are emphatic that they should have an absolute majority in the ISGA. Elections to the ISGA will be held at the end of five years. The elections will be held by an independent election commission appointed by the ISGA and under international supervision.

The ISGA will have all powers relating to regional administration that are currently exercised by the Central Government. These powers would cover law and order, revenue and taxes, control over land, resettlement and rehabilitation. The ISGA will be vested with considerable financial powers. It will prepare annual budgets and negotiate and receive foreign funding, including loans. All Central Government spending in the Northeast will be channelled through the ISGA. The ISGA will have powers to engage in and control internal and external trade. It will appoint an auditor general who will audit all financial transactions.

The Tigers have demanded that the Sri Lankan armed forces immediately vacate occupied lands and restore them to the possession of previous owners. In case of any dispute between the Centre and the ISGA, the matter should be submitted for arbitration to a three-member panel. The Government of Sri Lanka and the Tigers will appoint one member each and the third, who will be the Chairperson, shall be appointed jointly. In the event of disagreement over the appointment of the Chairperson, the parties shall ask the President of the International Court of Justice to appoint the Chairperson.

The agreement will be in operation until a new government, pursuant to a negotiated settlement, is established in the Northeast. However, if at the end of four years, no agreement is reached, the two parties shall negotiate for "adding, clarifying and strengthening the terms of agreement". Given the track record of the LTTE, it can be safely assumed that it will demand that the ISGA should be reinforced with more powers.

Instead of taking the peace process forward, the LTTE proposals are intended to pave the way for the immediate establishment of a de facto Tamil Eelam. The proposals will confer on the Tigers the much-needed international legitimacy as the sole representative of the Sri Lankan Tamils. The borders of the Tamil `homeland' will be clearly defined and they will receive legal sanction. Their international prestige will receive a boost as the ISGA will have powers to negotiate and receive foreign aid. The immediate objective of the LTTE can be summed up as "One State, Two Nations". What is more, the ideologues of the LTTE are convinced that confederation, as a solution to ethnic crises have not worked satisfactorily. It was suggested in the Vance-Quen Pact in Yugoslavia, but never got off the ground. The next logical step, therefore, will be the establishment of a separate state. Balasingham's statement in the first press conference in Kilinochchi that while Ranil Wickremasinghe was the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Prabakaran was the Prime Minister and President of Tamil Eelam assumes significance in the new context.

A matter of great concern for India, especially Tamil Nadu, is the provision that the "ISGA shall have control over the marine and offshore resources of the adjacent seas and the power to regulate access thereto." If the proposals are implemented, two-thirds of Sri Lanka's coastline will come under Tiger control. The emergence of the Sea Tigers during recent years as a credible fighting force in India's immediate neighbourhood has serious implications for India's security. Violent clashes are regularly taking place between Tamil Nadu fishermen and Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen, backed by the Tigers, in the Palk Bay region. New Delhi can ignore these developments only at its peril. Adding to India's concern are media reports that the LTTE has reinforced its military preparedness in and around Trincomalee port, where the Indian Oil Corporation has been permitted to utilise the oil tanks for storage and trade purposes.

The proposals submitted by the LTTE go against the letter and spirit of the India-Sri Lanka Joint Statement issued at the end of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe's recent visit to New Delhi. The Joint Statement, it may be recalled, stated that the "interim arrangement should be an integral part of the final settlement and should be in the framework of the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka." On the contrary, as analysed here, the interim administration may turn out to be a stepping stone for the creation of a separate state of Tamil Eelam.

The Tigers have played their cards cleverly. In order to embarrass Colombo, the proposals even mention that "no religion shall be given the foremost place in the Northeast." The government is in a dilemma. Colombo has reacted cautiously; Prof. G.L. Peiris has admitted that the document for power sharing submitted by the Tigers "differs in fundamental respects from the proposals submitted by the Government of Sri Lanka." The two sides are keen to resume negotiations; but the basic question is: what will they negotiate?

It must be pointed out that the LTTE proposals have come at a time when relations between the Prime Minister and the President are moving to a point of no return. Unhappy with the partisan attitude of the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission, President Chandrika Kumaratunga has demanded the withdrawal of the Norwegian head of mission, Tryggve Tellefsen. The relations between the President, who is the Supreme Head of the Armed Forces, and the Defence Minister are also under severe strain. The President has recently sought clarifications from the Supreme Court on presidential powers vis-a-vis the armed forces.

Above all, the immediate problem is the constitutional hurdle. Under the present Constitution, the ultimate repositories of executive and legislative powers are the President and Parliament. Executive and legislative powers cannot be devolved to the ISGA without a constitutional amendment, which requires a two-thirds majority and its approval in a popular referendum. Given the slender majority of the Wickremasinghe government, a constitutional amendment at the present juncture is out of question. What is more, Sinhala chauvinist forces have unleashed an orchestrated campaign against handing over the interim administration in the Northeast to the Tigers. Political turbulence is in store for Sri Lanka.

Prof. V. Suryanarayan is former Director, Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Madras, Chennai.

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