LTTE chief negotiator Anton Balasingham yesterday gave a strong assurance that the organisation was fully committed to the current peace process and declared a separate state was irrelevant provided substantial autonomy was granted to the North East region.
He made these observations at a joint news conference with Sri Lankan delegation leader G.L. Peiris for local and international media after concluding the first round of talks at the Sattahip naval base in Thailand.
At a separate conference for the Sri Lankan media later Dr. Balasingham was more specific saying the LTTE was willing to settle for a political solution within a ‘united Sri Lanka’ and urged the South to ‘trust’ them.
He said as the LTTE was now declaring that it has given up the demand for a separate Eelam state he asked whether it was not fair for the South to agree to an autonomous region.
He said he was reluctant to fly to Colombo simply for health reasons saying he had only one kidney and Colombo was unable to treat Dr. Balasingham who is also suffering from acute diabetes.
Dr. Balasingham will be proceeding to the Wanni next month and will line up a mid October meeting between LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and Economic Reforms Minister Milinda Moragoda and later with Eastern Development Minister Rauff Hakeem.
Dr. Balasingham dismissed the misconception that the LTTE was going to use a North East provisional administration as a stepping stone to establishing a separate state.
“There is a misconception in Colombo that the LTTE was only interested in the interim administration and then (planned) to run away from the peace process”, said Dr. Balasingham.
“The LTTE does not operate in a separate state. We operate within a concept of a homeland and self-determination”, said Dr. Balasingham observing that this posture was in line with the current United Nations thinking.
“This was a significant shift in explaining their position on a separate state. This time he cleared the ambiguity about what self determination and homeland meant. He clearly said that this meant regional autonomy and self government”, said Jehan Perera, the Media Director National Peace Council.
“Homeland does not mean separate state as such but the place where Tamils and Muslims live”, said Mr. Balasingham who however said if substantial autonomy was not granted the LTTE will as a last resort be compelled to fight for political independence and statehood.
Admitting that the LTTE were involved in a violent and brutal war, Mr. Balasingham said any final settlement had to be ‘amicable to our people and Sinhalese and Muslims living in the North and East’.
When asked whether other Tamil parties would have a place in the North and East, Dr. Balasingham said once the ethnic conflict was fully resolved there would be a place for democractic representation by Tamil political parties and other parties dispelling fears that the North and East will be the hegemony of the LTTE.
Describing the Sri Lankan team of negotiators as ‘men of calibre and understanding’ he said this was one of the five reasons he was confident the peace process would succeed this time.
The other reasons cited were third party involvement (Norwegians), a structured stable cease-fire agreement, international monitors and the fact that the entire international community was convinced that the government and LTTE were seriously pursuing the peace process.
Concurring with the government’s step by step approach, Dr. Balansingham said the contentious core issues will be taken up in the post interim administrative set up.
“The (peace) process will only succeed if we take it one by one, step by step”, he said adding that the interim administration was part of an organic process.
Prof. Peiris said he enjoyed working with Dr. Balasingham adding that no negotiation process can succeed unless the parties understand the other side’s ‘anxieties and concerns’.
Returning the compliment Dr. Balasingham said he had a very good rapport with Prof. Peiris, Minister Milinda Moragoda and the rest of the Sri Lankan delegation with whom ‘we are developing a permanent relationship’.
Prof. Peiris admitted the government delegation and the LTTE delegation did have differences but said negotiations are about ‘identifying the differences and tackling them and narrowing them’.
Mr. Balasingham agreed that there were contradictory views and said the success of the peace process will come in reconciling the different views.
“The positive relationship between Peiris and Balasingham is what struck me. They were both trying to convince their respective constituencies and the world that they were for peace”, said Perera a political analyst adding that if the spirit demonstrated at the press conference was reflected in the confidential talks as well then the outlook for the peace process was very positive.
Prof. Peiris cautioned that there was no such thing as handing over an administration to the LTTE but they were working towards creating structures to enable a partnership and there was no question of excluding anyone.
The ethnic and cultural diversity of a pluralistic society will be maintained in any future political solution, said Prof. Peiris.
The two delegation heads said the cease-fire has held for eight months and as there was no violence the conditions were conducive for the international community to start investing in Sri Lanka with various programmes.
Professor Peiris will fly to Ottawa to ask the Canadian government to invest in peace while Minister Moragoda will do the same in the US and London.
Commenting on the deproscription, Mr. Balasingham said it served to legitimize the LTTE with the government of Sri Lanka and in order to deliberate as equal partners. He said he was convinced the countries that banned the LTTE will lift the deproscription after a settlement was reached by the two parties.