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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

> India mistaken on arms and talks

Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram’s call for the LTTE to surrender arms was not in keeping with international practice on conflict resolution, but an endorsement of the Sri Lankan government’s hardline position, scholars of conflict and peace said Monday. They pointed a number of successful peace processes, including those with the ANC, IRA and Nepal’s Maoists had proceeded without making arms surrender a precondition for talks. There had also been several peace processes involving the LTTE without this precondition, a scholar of Sri Lanka’s conflict pointed out. The Indian government was in effect supporting the Rajapakse government’s efforts to avoid negotiations on a lasting settlement by making talks conditional on a demand unacceptable to any party to a conflict, some academics opined. 

"No government will have a dialogue with an outfit which refuses to give up arms. LTTE's willingness will pave the way for the Indian government to impress upon the island government to declare a cease-fire," Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram told a public meeting in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu Sunday night. 

“Simultaneously, the Sri Lankan Government should suspend its military offensive," he said.

The LTTE has repeatedly stated its readiness for a ceasefire that could pave the way for negotiations and reasserted it had been committed to the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement.

The hardline government of President Mahinda Rajapakse abrogated the Norwegian-brokered CFA in early 2008, having already conducted a series of offensives against the Tigers since mid 2006.

International scholars of conflict resolution said whilst ceasefires were often pre-requisites for peace talks between armed opposition groups and the states they were fighting, disarmament was rarely a pre-condition or even part of the negotiations until when much later, when substantial progress had been made.

They pointed to the conflicts in Northern Ireland (between the British government and the Irish Republican Army), South Africa (between the Apartheid government and the African National Congress) and Nepal (between the Maoists and the Royalist government) as typical examples.

Even in Sri Lanka, previous governments had signed ceasefires and held talks with the LTTE without disarmament being a stumbling block, a scholar of Sri Lanka’s conflict said.

Indeed, the Norwegian-led peace process had produced a peace process and substantive political discussion without the matter being insisted on by the Colombo government, he said. 

“Even the Co-Chairs and the rest of the international community accepted commonsensically that this was a matter to be raised only in the wake of a successful political settlement,” he said.

The present calls for the LTTE to surrender arms are thus unprecedented and out of step with conflict-resolution orthodoxy, he said.

Regarding disarmament, the IRA’s policy of “not one bullet” was accepted by the UK and Ireland governments until well into the peace process, one academic familiar with the Northern Ireland conflict pointed out. 

Indeed, disarmament came only after the ‘Good Friday’ peace agreement and eventually it was carried out after the Irish Nationalists were satisfied that the peace deal was being honoured by the British government and Protestants, he said.

“Whilst a ceasefire had been observed as a condition for talks, the IRA only began ‘decommissioning’ weapons much later in the peace process. Even then, it was not termed as ‘surrender’ but ‘putting weapons beyond use’”, he said.

The issue of disarmament in Nepal’s conflict was only taken up after the peace process had produced a power-sharing deal in mid 2006.

Even then, the Maoists did not surrender their arms, but put their weapons and their cadres under United Nations supervision.

Another academic familiar with the South African peace process pointed out that the ANC did not disarm not only till after the peace process was successfully concluded, but in fact not until the ANC had assumed power by participating in elections.

The military wing of the ANC was called Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) or ‘Spear of the Nation’ – it was also known as Umkhonto.

MK was only formally disbanded in December 1994, almost eight months after the installation of an ANC-led elected government in a new South Africa.

Indeed, it was during – and thus not before - peace talks with the Apartheid government that the ANC - unilaterally – suspended its armed struggle, according to Mr. Mac Maharajah, a lead negotiator for the ANC in the talks.

Indeed, according to Mr. Maharajah, the ANC continued to import arms and build up its forces during the talks with the Aparatheid government.

“The suspension [of armed struggle] did not mean that the ANC ceased other activities such as the smuggling of arms into the country, arming self-defence units to protect the communities who were victims of violence [by government-backed black paramilitary groups], etc,” he says in an account of the peace process.

ANC leader Nelson Mandela emphasized that a permanent ceasefire was only possible when all sides of a conflict could be trusted not to return to war.

“Embedded in the meaning of a voluntary suspension of anything is the possibility of returning to what you have volunteered to give up,” Mandela is quoted as saying. On the other hand, “a cessation of armed conflict involves all the parties to the conflict, without the conditionality of a possible return [to war]”

Indeed, when the Apartheid government began to use anti-ANC paramilitary groups to wage ‘black-on-black’ war, ANC leader Mandela had raised the question whether it was not appropriate for the ANC to lift its suspension and revert to the armed struggle.

According to Mr. Maharajah, “It would be a rare instance where a party to an armed conflict was to [disarm] without progress in negotiations to justify the suspension of armed activities.” - Tamilnet.