International Reports

Der Friedensprozess in Sri Lanka – eine unendliche Geschichte (zu übersetzen)

by Carola Stein
Four years went by since the peace accord between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was concluded, but the situation in the Asian country still is tight as a drum; after all, the military conflict that has endured for 25 years is far from solved. Even in colonial times, an English-speaking Christian elite had formed in Sri Lanka which continued to cling to power after independence and marginalized the Sinhalese majority in the country by adhering to English as the official language. The Sinhalese majority, in turn, regarded the Tamil minority as too powerful. Thus, a Sinhalese nationalist movement arose in due course which engineered the introduction of Sinhalese as the only official language in the country in 1965. Subsequently, Tamil politicians strove in vain to obtain equal status for the Tamil language with Sinhalese, and when access to universities, which had formerly been open to all, was restricted for Tamils in 1972, their rising anger led to the formation of various militant groups. One of these was the LTTE, which pinned the creation of an independent Tamil state, Tamil Eelam, to its colours. While Tamil was accorded the status of a national language in the Tamil regions in 1977, the decentralization that accompanied this move proved a farce as the central government in Colombo began to tighten the apron strings that held the Tamils. A massacre committed by the LTTE on soldiers was followed by a pogrom in 1983, in the course of which thousands of Tamils were murdered by Sinhalese, increasing tension to an even higher pitch. In the three wars that followed, around 60,000 people lost their lives. Even when the conflict began, Tamil politicians claimed the exclusive right to represent all Tamil-speaking citizens of Sri Lanka, including Muslims. Inevitably, this led to violent disputes between Tamils and Muslims, particularly after the foundation of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress. After September 11, 2001, the LTTE declared a unilateral cease-fire which was sealed by an agreement early in 2002. Peace talks and the introduction of a federal system raised serious hopes which, however, were shattered when the LTTE withdrew from the negotiating table in April 2003. Based on general autonomy for the northern provinces, the concept of an interim self-governing authority (ISGA) proposed by the LTTE even provided for an independent Tamil navy, among other things. The peace process ground to a halt, and it was not revived even when the United National Party rose to power. The situation was exacerbated further by the disputes between the new prime minister, Mr Wickramasinghe, and the president, Mrs Kumaratunga, who blamed the head of government for being too soft towards the LTTE. When the president dissolved parliament early in 2004, paving the way to victory for the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) in the subsequent elections, the former leader of the opposition, Mr Rajapakse, was sworn in as prime minister. Regarding herself as one of the winners in the election, the president did declare herself prepared to begin direct talks with the LTTE, but nothing came of that declaration. The rift between the government and the LTTE widened again, a process that accelerated when colonel Karuna, the LTTE’s commander-in-chief in the eastern provinces, seceded from the separatist movement and began to try for a separate armistice. Many expected that the tsunami disaster at Christmas 2004 and its aftermath might lead to a rapprochement between the government and the LTTE, but they were disappointed. It was only in June 2005 that an agreement was concluded on the distribution of monetary aid and/or the implementation of programmes, a move which, however, was doomed to failure. The elections of November 2005 propelled the Sri Lanka Freedom Party into power and the then prime minister, Mr Rajapakse, into the office of president. Mr Wickremanayake became the new prime minister. Mr Rajapakse owed his success as much to his nationalist utterances as to his tough attitude towards the LTTE. Some say, however, that even the LTTE is anything but dissatisfied with Mr Rajapakse’s rise to power, as his anti-Tamil policy would justify the increased use of force by the group on its way to a separate Tamil state in the north of Sri Lanka. And indeed, the LTTE’s demands from the government in Colombo became sharper, and violence escalated again. While both sides kept on emphasizing their desire for peace in Sri Lanka, there was little chance of that happening. In that situation, a small ray of hope came from the Norwegian mediator, Mr Solheim. It is to his credit that the embattled parties could at least agree on a venue for their negotiations, namely Geneva, where the talks will be conducted in the future. The question is whether the new perspective opened up by these talks really justifies any hope for peace in the Asian country. Further questions relate to the LTTE’s strategy against the background of Mr Rajapakse’s election as well as to its long-range objectives. Although a separate Tamil ‘state within the state’ does exist in point of fact in the north of Sri Lanka, the vision of an independent Tamil Eelam will probably remain the supreme goal of the group. After all, not only the government in Colombo but also the LTTE itself have by now drawn away from the option of a federal solution for the country, which seemed so close in 2003. The positions of the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government appear practically irreconcilable. This being so, many foresee yet another war, although it would not serve the interests of either side. Both sides have much to lose. International pressure on the warring parties is growing. The LTTE is exhausted. Lastly, the structures that have already been built in the Tamil region may well form the foundation of a separate state even without a war, although this is hardly likely to happen in the near future. In this complex situation, India might play an important role. It is true that Colombo’s endeavours to obtain India’s support failed, and the country will hardly allow itself to become embroiled in an armed conflict within Sri Lanka. Even so, the Indian government is not likely to remain idle in the face of the possible establishment of an independent state of Tamil Eelam, particularly because of the separatist movements in India itself. To give the peace process in Sri Lanka a chance, an answer would have to be found to the Tamil question, the reservations of the Sinhalese Buddhist majority about the peace process would have to be cleared away, the Muslims in the country would have to be given a role of their own in the process, and the LTTE itself would have to give up its demand for an independent state and agree to integration in a united Sri Lanka. The conditions for lasting peace in the Asian country are numerous and, to some extent, painful for everyone. At the present time, it is certainly impossible to answer the question of whether the peace process in Sri Lanka has any chance at all.